Archive for April, 2010


Garfield, Eat Your Heart Out!

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Yesterday's Memories

Almost everyone knows Garfield, that pudgy cartoon cat with an attitude created over 30 years ago by Jim Davis. Garfield’s “pudginess” comes in no small part from his great love of one particular dish – lasagna. He never seems to get enough of the stuff. I’m a big fan of lasagna as well; not quite to the point of devouring complete pans full of it, but well enough that I like to have it every few weeks or so.

I used to make my own lasagna using a recipe first given to me by my dad, who was also a big fan of lasagna. I fiddled with it and tweaked it over the years, adding a little here and changing a bit there, always looking to improve on it. I finally perfected it (at least for me, anyway) just before I got married back in 1993; in fact, for the rehearsal dinner I cooked and served my lasagna, receiving rave reviews from everyone and endearing myself to my now mother-in-law.

In the years since I got married, I didn’t make my lasagna very often; life and kids got in the way. In the last few years since we moved to Texas, I haven’t even made it at all. We would usually “settle” for store-bought lasagna, which was usually tasty but not quite the same as homemade.

This week, I finally got up the desire (or maybe the nerve) to make my lasagna again, and we’re having it for dinner tonight. It has been so long since I made it that I wasn’t entirely sure I picked up all the ingredients in the right quantities, so some things I know I over-bought (like too much cheese), but that’s okay because in my family nothing goes to waste! Part of the problem with making my lasagna on a regular basis is the sheer volume of it all. When I make it I go all out, both in ingredients and in size; this makes creating it an expensive proposition, hence the lack of making it regularly.

The actual list of ingredients is a closely guarded family secret, but I can tell you it involves a lot of everything – meats, cheeses, sauces, and seasonings. Once it’s all mixed together, the sauce simmers on the stove for 4-5 hours (the longer the better), filling the house with a heavenly aroma. Then when the time comes to assemble it for baking, it takes a roasting pan that is normally used for cooking turkey at Thanksgiving to hold it all. By the time it’s ready to go into the oven, the pan easily weighs over 20 pounds! 60 minutes of baking and 30 minutes to set, and then it’s ready to feed a crowd – there’s easily enough to take care of at least a dozen people, and usually many more. For my rehearsal dinner I prepared two extra-large pans, and there were enough leftovers that my in-laws invited some of their relatives over to eat dinner with them after the wedding reception!

This time will be much the same as in days past – we’ll have a big dinner and all get thoroughly stuffed,  maybe have it again for the next dinner, then package up and freeze the rest. It really does well when it’s frozen and reheated later, making it possible to enjoy this meal one or more times in the future.

But just to be sure, don’t tell Garfield where I live, okay?


Once a Photographer, Always a Photographer

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Yesterday's Memories

Looking at a friend’s recent photos posted on her Facebook profile, I was reminded of a different time many years ago when the most complicated part of my life was keeping the dust off of a camera lens.

Just as the personal computer age began (late 70s/early 80s), I had developed a very serious attraction to the hobby of photography. Back then, 35mm film was all the rage, and after borrowing a camera for about two weeks during the summer of ’79, I was hooked. Unfortunately, the cost of buying a new camera always seemed to be just out of reach, and there was nothing like eBay around back then.

Toward the end of 1981, I finally had enough income from a steady job to afford a camera. My choice? A Minolta XG-A. It was a clean, basic 35mm camera, really sharp for its day, and could take excellent photos. It was about as perfect a choice for a first “serious” camera as I could have made. Starting from a simple kit with a camera and a standard lens, I soon added lenses and a flash to my collection, as well as a tripod and special effects filters. To top it all off, I got a large camera bag to hold all these little bits and pieces.

I was in heaven! My camera went everywhere I did, and I annoyed more than my share of friends, family, and college roommates with all my picture-taking. I sought out new people, places, and things to be subjected to my photographic onslaught. I experimented with different types of film, from basic color and black & white to slides and professional portrait films.

My little Minolta served me well through my college years. After leaving school behind, I decided I wanted to move up to a better camera with more features. I traded away the XG-A and purchased a new Minolta X-570 to use with my old lenses. It was another great model, with enough bells and whistles to keep me busy for a very long time.

I was soon off doing even more shooting than before. I was invited by friends to photograph their weddings, which I gladly did; for a time I even flirted with the idea of developing a side business in wedding photography, but never followed through.

By the early 90’s my equipment was starting to show its age. Newer camera “systems” were coming out with better features and greater capabilities than ever before. I decided to take the plunge and start over with all new equipment. After many months of research and  hands-on testing I decided on the Canon EOS Elan. By then zoom lenses were the standard, and the lens that came with this camera was excellent for general purpose work.

Soon after getting the camera, my life started to change dramatically: I got married and started a family. My photography continued for a while, taking pictures of babies turning to toddlers, but as life got busier my time got shorter, and I was spending more of it working and caring for my family; as a result, the time I could spend working with my camera slipped away. It would come out of its bag for special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas, but otherwise it sat alone and forgotten in a corner of my closet.

About three years ago, all my business travel finally paid off in the form of a gift, a Canon Digital Rebel XT. With no more film to purchase and with images available instantly, it was easier to find a few minutes here and there to take a few photos. But still for the most part, both cameras (yes, I still have the Elan) have sat in silence.

Recently, my interests in photography have started to increase. The source of my interest has been the postings of photos by two friends on their Facebook pages. One has been posting very artistic photos for months, and they always catch my eye; the other hasn’t been posting as long, but many of her images remind me so much of the types of photos I used to take that it’s hard for me to not take notice. Between the two of them, especially the latter, I have felt a groundswell of desire to pick up the camera once again.

But which should I use? The Digital Rebel is pretty good, and film does have its limits – you get one chance per shot with film, so you have to really be on your toes to capture the right moment. But, there’s something about taking a picture on film that digital images simply can’t capture – a warmth of color and feeling that electronic sensors can’t detect and memory cards can’t record. Perhaps the thing to do is try them both and see which one works best for my interests.

Either way I decide, it surely promises to be a grand adventure. Look out world, my camera and I are coming back!


Old School

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

My two teenage sons are determined gamers, enjoying almost every kind of video game that can be found for a PC or Playstation. From sports like NFL football to WWII first-person shooters to Pokémon, these two dive right into it. Over the years, their gaming tastes have grown more and more sophisticated, pushing their PCs to the edge of their abilities and beyond, resulting in a string of upgrades that have kept me on my technological toes.

Tonight, though, they surprised me. Instead of clamoring for the latest and greatest whatever, they asked instead if they could play with an old game I had bought for my wife several years ago. Actually, it is a miniature game “console” that is programmed to play several popular arcade games from the early 1980s. This device connects to a television the same way as a camcorder, using jacks on the front of the set. Plug it in, turn it on, and you are instantly transported back into the gaming world we grew up with – Pac-Man, Galaxians, Ms. Pac-Man, and so on. The graphics are anything but modern; for example, Pac-Man has a simple grid, a bunch of dots, and ghostly-looking characters chasing the player around the screen.

What made the boys want to play such old games, most of which were taken off the market a decade before either of them were born? At their ages, they aren’t old enough to “wax nostalgic” about anything. I noticed how much they were laughing and carrying on about each old game, and then it dawned on me: they were having fun – simple, lighthearted fun! It is so rare these days to hear laughter when they play games; most of them require a lot of focus and attention in order to keep their character from getting killed. This evening, it didn’t matter when one of the ghosts caught Pac-Man; they’d just press a button and play it again.

I looked at other games they have, and some my wife has as well, and none of them seem to have any sort of carefree fun in them. They all involve some form of strategy, focus, attention, or intensity. I’m not a gamer; I rarely play any sort of video games because I’ve never been very good at them, and I haven’t had the propensity or desire to become better. But yet, I can see where gaming has evolved from lighthearted romps through cyberspace into complex applications which immerse the player into the action. I’m not sure that’s always a good thing, and from the experience I witnessed this evening, I am even more certain of it.

I can’t in good conscience stop them completely from playing games; they’re both straight-A students, so it’s a stretch at best to tie in reduced gaming time with making an improvement in their grades. I suppose the best thing to do is encourage them to step away from the intensity a little more often.

I also need to make sure the batteries in that old game console don’t run down.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am a fledgling watch collector. I currently own about a dozen wristwatches and three pocket watches. I am also a member on several online watch forums, where people get together and talk about – what else? – watches. They post photos of their latest purchases, there are all sorts of philosophical discussions about the merits of one brand or movement over another, and there’s even some buying and selling and swapping going on.

The part that stands out to me in all of this is the diversity in the forum members’ locations – the main forum I visit is based in Sweden, and there are members on it from every continent except Antarctica. You could find yourself posting a question, and having no two responses coming from the same country or even the same time zone – say, the first from Australia, followed by Germany, Canada, somewhere in the Caribbean, India, South Korea, and so forth. Many different backgrounds, many different lives and lifestyles, but all brought together by a common interest.

Members also help other members with locating and sometimes purchasing watches that are not always available in their home countries. I was recently involved in two such transactions – one for a watch I wanted that is made and sold only in India, and one for a U.S.-sold watch another member in England wanted for his collection, but could not afford to get shipped to him otherwise. Thanks to online ordering, global financial transaction services like PayPal, and the skillful mastery of each home country’s postal systems, these types of activities go on all the time and are perfectly safe. The watch I received from India took less than a week to travel halfway around the world, while the one I sent to England saved its new owner about 2/3 of the original cost he was quoted. Both arrived at their destinations in pristine condition.

I use all of this to illustrate how much smaller the world has become here in the age of the Internet. The transformation has been dramatic: in about the same amount of time it has taken for my daughter to grow up to adulthood, our society has moved from slow, crude (compared to today), one-to-one computer bulletin board systems (BBS’s) to sophisticated websites and e-mail services. Simple text files were a major stumbling block in the BBS days, and sending graphics like photos to one another was unthinkable; now, we can have live streaming video from the other side of the world sent to our desktops with a picture quality that rivals cable TV. Those watch transactions would have been impossible to complete or consider. Even this blog’s graphical appearance was unimaginable all those years ago. The latest breakthrough? Being able to carry the Web with you in your pocket or anywhere else in the world using smartphones or laptop computers and wireless networks.

What’s next? That’s hard to predict, but one thing is certain: the world will be even smaller then than it is now, and the generations to come will likely shake their heads and wonder how we were able to accomplish so much in our “larger” world.


The Long Haul

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

Have you ever bought or been given something years ago, and one day suddenly realize you’ve owned it longer than your children have been alive? I don’t mean an engagement ring or old photographs; those are too obvious. I’m talking about some other item that, say, you picked up while shopping one day, and probably used it at least from time to time over the years since without realizing its age.

I came to one of those realizations late last week, when I mailed off a Cross® pen to be repaired. The cap was broken, and under their lifetime warranty all I had to do was send it to them with a shipping and handling charge of $10, and they’d either fix it or replace it. That’s a great deal, considering the cost of a new one like it is over $50.

As I left the post office after mailing my package off to Rhode Island (where Cross is headquartered), I added up the costs –$10 for them to service it, plus the postage to mail it. Not bad, I thought, for a pen that I had paid only…wait…when did I buy that thing? It had to be the mid-1980’s. That makes it about 25 years old! My daughter is 19, so I’ve owned and used that same pen longer than she’s been alive.

What a concept: having something that actually lasts for years and years, rather than being disposable like most of the world has become. When it runs out of ink, you don’t have to throw it away — just pop in a new refill and keep on writing! There’s no telling how many times I’ve used that pen, how many words I’ve written or how many documents I’ve signed with it. Miles and miles of writing, to be sure.

I started looking around the house and found a number of things that I’ve owned and used for many years. I might not have the fanciest, the prettiest, or the most modern printer for my computer, but it’s still doing its job long after several of its younger and prettier “replacements” have bitten the dust. I have several mechanical watches that would be considered “vintage” but still run smoothly many years after their cheaper quartz cousins have broken and been thrown away. Even my cell phone isn’t the most current model, but it’s survived more punishment than some newer ones I’ve had. These items all have one thing in common: each one was built to last, unlike newer products that seem designed to break down as soon as their warranties expire.

Will we ever get back to those days where the quality of the things we buy starts getting better again, or will we continue on the downhill slide and watch as the quality gets even worse than it is today?

I don’t know for sure, but I’m definitely going to hang on to that pen for as long as I can!


19 and (Still) Growing

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

Tomorrow is my daughter’s 19th birthday. It’s the first year she will be celebrating it away from my home and the rest of our family. She will be with friends, who I’m certain will make sure she has an enjoyable day, and there is a remotely possible chance that her mother and I may get to speak to her for a few minutes.

This occasion has given me mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am sorrowful she will not be around to celebrate the day with us; on the other, I am proud to see her trying to move forward and trying to be more like the adult she has become. But, being proud of her doesn’t mean I have to like all of her choices; in fact, I’m not pleased with most of the ones she has made over the past six months or so (on which I will not elaborate here, other than to say she has chosen to take up permanent residence elsewhere). However, I do respect the fact that she is being the independent young woman we tried to raise, and she is making her own choices.

As a result, she is also learning what it truly means to live with the consequences of her actions. Because she has chosen to live elsewhere she is no longer considered a member of my household; among other things, this makes her ineligible for medical coverage through my employer’s health plan, and she must get her own policy. The same is true with her car insurance (she doesn’t own a car, but she is both licensed and living in a household that has one, and under Texas law she must have coverage or she gets points put on her driving record). On top of it all, at last word she did not have a job, so it’s uncertain to me how she plans to pay for any of that. It’s hard for me to know whether or not she has taken care of all these things; she has communicated very little with any of us in the last few months. But, from what I do know about her character as I watched her grow up, I am certain she will stick with it until she has everything worked out.

There have also been changes in the rest of my family as a result of her decisions. One of my sons spends a lot of his time in her old bedroom, where his computer is now set up on her old desk. Financially, I have one less mouth to feed (although my sons are quickly filling that gap), and there will be one less dependent to claim when my wife and I file our taxes next year (this is a fairly fresh one on my mind since yesterday was Tax Day). It’s also one less person for me to worry about taking to the doctor when she’s sick, or the dentist when she has a cavity, the eyeglass shop when she needs new contacts, or the pharmacy when she needs medicine. All of that burden is on her now.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, all of this change has hurt me greatly. I’ve tried my best to put it all in perspective by looking back at when I was her age, but the comparisons aren’t quite the same. Aside from the obvious difference in gender, when I was 19 I was living away from home as well, but my parents had been divorced for about 18 months and my three brothers were split up living with one parent or the other; my family today is intact and all living under one roof. She has had tremendous financial support for her college education; I was working two jobs and paying for my college classes out of my own pocket. Any way I cut it, it’s just not the same situation.

I don’t know if she will ever read this blog, but if she does I hope she comes to realize how difficult it is for me to watch as she heads down this road, knowing what lies ahead but unable to get her to believe, or even listen, to my experience-filled voice. It had been my hope that I could have helped her avoid going through the School of Hard Knocks, but it appears she decided to go there anyway. I have come to conclude that it must be a rite of passage for all of us at one time or another, and the cycle will likely repeat itself when she becomes a parent and her children head out into the world.

I do know that she’s very bright and very deep-minded, and I believe someday she’ll figure out what I was trying to tell her now, and come back and say “you were right.” I just hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

Happy Birthday Michelle!


An Economics State Of Mind

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

The debate over whether our country’s economy is improving or not always seems to get more lively around this time of year. That’s probably because tomorrow is Tax Day, the day everyone’s personal income tax returns should be at least in the mail heading to the IRS. [As I mentioned in an earlier post (Death and Taxes…Mostly Taxes), my wife and I filed our tax return a couple of weeks ago;  now, we get to sit back and watch as those late filers make their mad dash to the post office as the midnight deadline looms ever closer.]

I was reading a posting elsewhere today by someone who appears to be a strong supporter of the current Administration; he made a comment which (paraphrased) said, “Through his stimulus programs, the President has cut the deficit and lessened the tax burden on Americans more than any other president in our lifetimes.”

That’s a pretty substantial claim. Do you suppose it’s true? Or not?

I’m not going to argue either way about that statement; as I’ve also said in an earlier posting, I am not good at debates, so I won’t even try. I’ll leave that to you, my readers, to discuss/debate/argue any and all points of that claim. Please leave me out of it!

Instead, I would like to offer some personal observations:

When I studied economics in college 30-odd years ago, the rule was that if you are already in debt, and you spend more money (or you borrow money from someone else and then spend it), the result is that you go deeper into debt. How does one cut a deficit (or reduce a debt) by spending more money? Has our President somehow changed the laws of economics? Why hasn’t anyone else figured out how to do this before? Is there a secret handshake that goes along with knowing how to do that?

As far as tax burdens go, I can’t say that my situation has improved any in the past year or so. Last spring I had to take a pay cut to keep my job, and the entire company shut down for half of December; this year, we were told the pay cuts and annual shutdown will stay in place and that we shouldn’t expect to see any changes in the foreseeable future. I’m also paying more for my health coverage this year than ever before, and not hearing even a rumor about those costs coming down anytime soon. Wasn’t the new health care bill recently signed into law supposed to reduce my medical costs? When and how does that happen? I haven’t got a clue; no one (for good or bad) has been able to explain it to me in terms that make any sense, or that show me in real dollars where I’m going to save any money.

I don’t live an extravagant life by any measure I can think of. My newest vehicle is 14 years old, my house is in need of significant repairs, and I haven’t taken my family anywhere on vacation in close to 10 years. If something major breaks, it may take a while before we can afford to fix or replace it. Given that the costs for basic needs (food, fuel, prescription drugs, utilities, clothes for the kids, car insurance, etc.) continue to go up each year but my income does not, it is highly unlikely that I will have any disposable income to afford things like new vehicles or vacations in the foreseeable future. Even my future feels somewhat uncertain; when I took the pay cut, I stopped contributing to my 401k retirement plan to make up some of the loss…with the result that I’m not saving anything to live off of when I reach my golden years. I can’t afford it right now.

All in all, I suppose things may be better for some people, but from what I can tell I am not one of them.

I guess I don’t know the secret handshake.


Sibling Parity, Take Two

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Once again, one of my sons’ computers took the spotlight over the weekend. This time it was the older son, who until recently had a more powerful machine than his younger brother. The older one got a little testy when he lost his “top dog” status, and made sure everyone in the house knew it in no uncertain terms. What he didn’t know was that I had already been working on a solution.

I had anticipated this conflict, and determined there were two things left I could do to his machine to make it more like his brother’s – change the processor and change the video card (the memory is already maxed out). The processor was simple enough; I found the most powerful one his machine could handle, and fortunately for my wallet it was at a rock-bottom price, so I jumped on it and got one shipped quickly. The day it came in I swapped out the old for the new, and made sure everything still worked after I had made the switch. Fortunately for me it did. Every analysis I could find indicated he should see an improvement in the machine’s performance by 30 to 40 percent, which by any measure is significant.

He wasn’t home at the time I made the swap, so I asked his brother to test it for me. His brother found that while it was still a measure behind his in performance, it did run certain things more smoothly than before. Then, when he did get home, I had him try it out. He quickly pronounced that what I had done didn’t make any difference at all; in reality, I think he said that more because he was upset that HE didn’t get to try it out first.

Since that didn’t seem to placate the situation, I moved on to the second upgrade – a new video card. I found one at a reasonable price at my favorite electronics store, and on Saturday I made the long drive down and back to pick one up. What followed that was four hours of the most frustrating nonsense that I’ve ever experienced in working with any computer. The card would go in easily enough, and the computer would recognize it and run just fine as a “generic” video card. When I tried to install the files that would let the computer recognize it as a specific model, the computer went berserk. Most of the time it would get to a certain point in starting up and then reboot itself, and repeat the cycle over and over. Every time I tried something different, it would fail. Searching through online forums and trying other’s suggestions didn’t work either. In the end, I gave up and put the old card back in.

It’s a rare time when a computer completely baffles me like that, but it does happen. At this point, there is nothing left to upgrade short of replacing the motherboard, and that’s currently out of the question. The good news from all of this is, he could see that I was trying, and while I had some success the machine itself set the limits of what I could do to it. He’s a bit more sympathetic now, which is a far cry from where things were a week ago. He has a very solid computer now for doing his school research and class assignments; it just doesn’t play video games quite as well as his brother’s.

He’ll have to get along with what it can do until he graduates from high school in a couple of years; after that, he’ll want a newer laptop to use at college. Will he outgrow the video games by then? Probably not, but at least he knows I did my best to make things work better. Hopefully in his mind that will count for something; it does in mine.


Upgraded Software, Downgraded Minds

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

When it comes to computer software, I suppose I’m a little behind the times. Like a lot of PC users I have Microsoft Office software to take care of all my writing, spreadsheet, presentation, and e-mail needs; in fact, I use it to write and proof all of my blog entries before posting them. Where I’m behind is with the version I’m using – Office 2003. It’s already one release older the rest of the world (Office 2007) and soon will be two releases back (when Office 2010 arrives later this year).

Is being behind the times always a bad thing? I don’t think so. Neither does my employer; we’ve only recently been given approval to upgrade our office computers from Office 2003 to 2007. One of the reasons is that Office 2007 has a significantly different look, and would require a lot of people to go through expensive retraining to learn how to use it. I often enjoy being on the “bleeding edge” of technology, but having to relearn how to use something I already know how to use doesn’t make sense. I’ll have to upgrade it eventually to keep up with the rest of my office, so I’ll have to learn to use it eventually as well.

There’s another element that comes into play here, at least for me: the old adage “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” For years, the old version (and even the one before it) worked perfectly fine for 99% of the tasks that make up my job. Most of the documents I write or spreadsheets I create aren’t going to dramatically change just because the software I use in creating them looks different. Some of the new features may turn out to be useful, but for the most part I’ll still be churning out the same-looking stuff. Why? Well, that’s what I get paid to do.

Also along with each new upgrade, it seems that designers are moving more toward the use of icons and symbols and farther away from actual words; Office 2007, for example, uses icons and symbols in the place of worded menus. For someone who has made a living designing complex business applications and writing the instruction manuals for using them, the use of icons is a mind-numbing shift in thinking. They also don’t make the writer’s job any simpler; instructional materials are much more elaborate now, adding pictures of each icon or symbol and describing what happens when you click on them. “Type ‘start’ at the prompt and press the Enter key” has been replaced with “Double-click on the square-looking thingy with the red and yellow stripes.” Who could have guessed when PCs were invented thirty years ago that we would go back to using hieroglyphics like the ancient Egyptians?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying all icons are bad. They do have their uses. My kids learned how to start up a drawing program and how to shut down a computer by using icons long before they knew how to read or write. But, I also made sure they understood what the computer was doing “behind the scenes” each time they pointed and clicked on something. I’m sure there are some adults who don’t understand what they’re doing when they use a computer, and probably never will.

But, they do know how to double-click on that square-looking thingy.


Musically Inclined

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

The title of this posting is a little misleading. I’m not talking about my musical talents – I don’t have any to speak of, although my wife claims I sing fairly well at lower pitches (not quite as low as bass, but somewhere in the neighborhood). In this case, what I’m referring to is listening to music.

I enjoy a variety of musical styles, from country to pop, classical to jazz, and blues to New Age. My collection of a hundred or so CDs reflects my eclectic interests. With such a wide variety of tastes, choosing what to listen to at any give time can be a challenge. For years, many people have worked around this by copying, or “ripping”, their favorite songs from their discs onto their computers, and then arranging them to play in just such an order that the person is delivered into musical Nirvana. In the days before ripping software and CD burners we did something similar, only with LPs and cassette tapes. If you don’t know what those are, pretty much anyone over 35 should be able to explain them to you.

These days, the ultimate form of achieving an enlightened state is to put a computer-created arrangement of favorite music onto a portable player such as an Apple iPod or some other MP3 device. My children have all owned MP3 players (not iPods) for several years, and after having owned vehicles in which the radio was either broken or stolen, I decided that I wanted to jump on the MP3 bandwagon too. When I brought up the subject, my children didn’t believe me, and started asking me questions such as “why do you need one?” and “what would you do with a MP3 player?”.

It took a while, but finally my wish was fulfilled. My older son’s MP3 player had died, and he was a bit down over it. I found one at the world’s largest flea market (eBay) for a decent price, so I purchased it for him as a surprise Christmas present. The real surprise, however, was on me. When the player arrived and I unpacked it, I found a note tucked inside the shipping carton: “Dear Mr. Bernier, as my way of saying ‘thank you’ for your order, I have enclosed an extra gift. Merry Christmas!” Looking further into the carton, I found the seller had given me a second MP3 player! This one was much, much smaller than the one I had purchased for my son (1Gb compared to 4Gb for him), but I figured this would be perfect for my own needs, and put it away until my son had opened his gift.

With a MP3 player finally in hand, I set about trying to put together a song arrangement that would send me off to Nirvana along with everyone else. After all, why should I be left behind? I soon found that having a decades-long musical history in my head didn’t make it any easier to put such a collection together. TWO MONTHS later, after sifting through dozens of albums, ripping here and mixing there, I finally had my list. I downloaded the collection to my player, plugged in the headphones, and hit the Play button.

Ahhhh! Favorite songs from more than thirty years of listening filled the air. I closed my eyes, and the memories came flooding back. But that all-important question needed an answer: did I reach Nirvana, like so many others before me?

No. Or at least, not yet. I don’t know if I’ll get there either.

I may still be on the road toward enlightenment, and I may never get there, but at least the musical memories will help me pass the time…