Friend Uthaclena is 60

I’ll just wish my OLD friend a happy birthday.

We met the first day of college. He was an odd sort who tended to hang off the edge of his desk like Snoopy on his doghouse roof. He was even more socially inept than I was at the time, which is saying a lot. He turned me onto comic books at a point that I thought I had outgrown them, at a point when this was not particularly cool.

We fought against wars together, as recently as 2003.

I was in one of his weddings and he was in one of mine.

He’s actually a lot better now socially, thanks in no small part to a stint as a bartender. Most of his work, though, has been in social services. I follow his comments on Facebook but find them incredibly cryptic; one example: “Here we go…”

I usually see him at an annual event that’s been going on, in one form or other for decades, and for which he has been a primary moving force. He wasn’t there this year, though, and I got suckered into doing his part, as though I knew what I was doing.

A couple of years ago, around my birthday, I was in a particular funk about something or other. My wife had conspired with him, his wife, and his daughter to come to visit our house, which brightened my mood considerably. One of the few times I’ve been able to take off on a weekend afternoon was last spring, with him.

He’s currently dealing with some work issues that sound too familiar to me, as both my wife and one of my sisters have experienced it: you have a workload, then management increases it by 70%. They complain that you can’t meet the new goals. But you just can’t, unless you work about 20 unpaid overtime hours per week. Good luck with the forces of evil.

Rather than blathering on, I’ll just wish my OLD friend a happy birthday. Glad we got to talk, effendi.

40 Years Ago: March 5, 1972 – did not see that coming

It was a surprise birthday party for me!

In the Scudder Hall dorm, at the State University College of New Paltz, my room was B-2. I had a roommate named Ron, who was a graduate student; an odd pairing, a freshman and someone doing post-graduate work. But he was a pretty easy-going guy, and I guess I didn’t drive him too crazy.

It was surprising, though, that one day, Ron decided that we really needed to thoroughly clean the room. I didn’t think it looked that bad, but surely I would not have been the gold standard for that kind of thing.

A couple of days later, which was a Sunday, my friend Uthaclena was over at one of the dining halls playing billiards. I must admit here that 1) I love playing pool, but in spite of that, 2) I’ve never gotten very good at it.

After a time, he and I went back to my dorm room. If you have had glasses, you know how it was when it’s a bit cool out, then you walk into a room that’s a bit warmer? Right – the glasses steam up. So I walk into my room, and there are my girlfriend, the Okie (I think – I’m having trouble seeing), and our friend Alice, Ron of course, but wait? Is that my father, mother, and sisters? And who is THAT guy? (It turned out to be the quasi-boyfriend of one of my sisters.) And possibly others, though it was a small room.

It was a surprise birthday party for me! My birthday wasn’t for a couple of days, and so it caught me unawares. But it was great. I was feeling a bit melancholy, my first birthday away from home. And, more than that, they brought a lot of Kentucky Fried Chicken ((back when they called it that), and there was enough left over for me to have for a couple more meals.

The event had a profound impact on me. I have subsequently helped pull off a number of surprise birthday parties over the years. Of course, I can still be surprised myself; the very next year, my parents, coordinating with the Okie, puled off another event; I think we went out to dinner. And much more recently, Uthaclena and his wife plotted with my wife to surprise me.

One last thing about the plan two score ago: my father called our dorm room one morning at 7 a.m. Ron answered the phone, and my father revealed the plan. But even as I lay on my bed half-awake, Ron never let on who he was talking to. But it DID lead to a clean dorm room.


I essentially inherited both jobs from a guy named Walter Jones, who was the godson of my parents; his grandparents were my godparents.

I used to do these things called Sunday Stealing, but I stopped mostly because the questions started getting a bit repetitive. I found that to be somewhat true with this iteration as well -Have I sung karaoke? – no; have I kissed in the rain? -yes.

But there was a section of firsts that was fresher, so I decided I’d do that, and JUST that.

1.Who was your first prom (or homecoming) date?
Cecily. It was her prom, BTW, though she also went to my prom a few months later.

2. Who was your first roommate?
Ron Fields, a graduate student. His most obsessive habit was writing down EVERY SINGLE thing he spent money on, in these little spiral notepads. Coffee – 25 cents, candy bar – 10 cents. One day, he bought a used car ($1000).

3. What alcoholic beverage did you drink when you got drunk the first time? The first time I drank, I got a little tipsy. It was at a bar on Clinton Street in Binghamton, NY, which, according to legend, had more bars per mile at the time than any other street in the United States. My sister was singing there with a band, so my drinks were free. I was 18 and it was legal for me to drink. I had a Tom Collins, and it was so tasty, I had another. I WAS able to walk home.

4. What was your first job?
My FIRST first job was delivering the Evening and Sunday Press in Binghamton, NY. My next job was as a page at the Binghamton Public Library. I essentially inherited both jobs from a guy named Walter Jones, who was a couple of years older than I was. He was the godson of my parents; his grandparents were my godparents.

5. What was your first car?
I don’t remember the make, because it was really the Okie’s car. I know it was red and had a push-button transmission. I knocked a Dumpster over with it once.

6. When did you go to your first funeral and viewing?
Oh, it was so long ago that I can’t remember. Someone from my church, no doubt. The first one that I can remember was Agatha Green, my grandma.

7. Who was your first-grade teacher?
I had two because I had started school in February, and by September the teacher I had left; maybe she got pregnant, which happened a few times in later grades. Anyway, one was Mrs. Goodrich. BTW, I also had 2 teachers each in second, third, AND fourth grade.

8. Where did you go on your first ride on an airplane?
From Binghamton to Albany, when I was about 16. I was going to something called the Governor’s Conference on Children and Youth, and I was one of seven representatives from the Southern Tier. We flew in a plane with about a dozen seats, in a thunderstorm; I was terrified.

9. When you snuck out of your house for the first time?
Undoubtedly to see my HS girlfriend.

10. Who was your first best friend?
Possibly Ray Lia, with whom I was in Cub Scouts.

11. Who was your first Best Friend in high school?
Hard to say. Probably Karen and Carol, who I’d known since kindergarten, and saw just this summer.

12. Where was your first sleepover?
Don’t know that I ever did growing up. People slept over at our house, though.

13. Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?
Probably Norman.

14. Who’s wedding were you in the first time you were a Bridesmaid or groomsman?
Trying to remember. I was in two weddings on successive weekends, for Ray and Pam, and for Uthaclena and she who shall not be named, in October 1976.

15. What is the first thing you did when you got up this morning?
Check my e-mail.

16. First time you tied your shoelaces?
I was REALLY late at this. I had loafers until I was nine, I think.

17. Are you Facebook friends with your first crush?
No, and I have no idea where my first crush is.

18. Who was the first person you met from the blogosphere?
Gordon from Blog This, Pal! who I met when I went to Chicago for a conference in 2008. Well, there may have been some local bloggers from the Times Union site before that; I don’t remember the chronology.

19. What was the first music album that you bought?
Beatles VI.

20. Who was your first celebrity crush?
Annette Funicello.

40 Years Ago: First Day of College

That night, I went to my room and cried myself to sleep.

With colleges now starting before Labor Day, I’m fascinated to note that I didn’t begin my college career until September 12, 1971. As noted, I was attending the State University College at New Paltz only before my high school girlfriend was attending there. And well before I got there, but too late to apply anywhere else, she had dumped me for another guy.

So what to make of the place? I’d been there before and had had some affection for it. There were three red-brick dorms at one part of campus. Scudder Hall was where I was assigned, room B-2. My parents and sisters helped me drop off my stuff, which included bedding, a few books (a Bible, Roget’s Thesaurus, Robert’s Rules of Order, a complete Shakespeare among them), my record player, and about 30 LPs (all the Apple label Beatles, The Band’s eponymous second album, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, Daydream by the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, The Temptations with a Little Bit O’ Soul, a Mamas and Papas greatest hits album, Aftermath by the Rolling Stones, and a few others).

But my roommate wasn’t there yet. It turned out, when I met him the next day, that Ron was a graduate student. So why on earth would they match him with a freshman? Maybe it was because we were the only two black males in the dorm.

At some point, we were directed across the grass to another red brick dorm, Bliss Hall. I knew Bliss all too well; that’s where I had gotten dumped four months earlier. The food the college was serving was in the basement.

In the line, I met this weird guy who also was assigned to Scudder, Room 110. It turned out that Uthaclena collected comic books. How does a grown person collect comic books? I had given them up years earlier. Of course, he got me into collecting, seriously, for about two decades. He also had a weird habit of squatting off his desk as though he were Peanuts’ Snoopy as a vulture; it was very peculiar.

That night, I went to my room and cried myself to sleep.

The next night, there was a mixer, and Uthaclena introduced me to a friend and classmate of his, originally from Durant, Oklahoma. I started throwing peanuts in her beer; oddly, this was an effective pickup technique. And by the end of the month, the Okie and I were seriously dating.

Roger Answers Your Questions, Gordon, Tom, Demeur, and Uthaclena

When I’ve just written something difficult, the meme serves as a sort of intellectual “palate cleaners”, as it were.

Gordon of Blog This, Pal!, who had a birthday this month, the day before mine actually, asks:
With all the rampant de-funding that seems to be happening (NPR, Americorps), do you think it’s being done out of partisan motivations? Or simply (as I like to think of it) a case of relatively new legislators playing hack and slash without really considering the consequences?

Gordon, you attribute to these legislators a level of naivete that I just don’t find at all convincing. An opportunity to get rid of Planned Parenthood funding, for instance, is like a dream come true for the GOP, at least since 1994; maybe since 1973. Never mind the facts that 1) the funding, per the Hyde Amendment, cannot be used for abortions and 2) the services that are provided are often the only medical treatment some women get. I find it incredibly cynical that they want to, symbolically at least, support the unborn, while at the same time, imperil the born by cutting programs such as WIC (Women, Infants, Children.)

Getting rid of those damn liberals at NPR will be saving, at a cost, especially in some rural communities, of having any local radio at all. And speaking of NPR, it distresses me that a faux journalist with a microphone and video camera can help besmirch the network by clever editing, the same way Shirley Sherrod can be forced out of the Department of Agriculture based on the same clever manipulation.

Let’s be realistic, though: if cuts are to be made to the federal budget, it’ll have to come from somewhere. A good 88% of the budget has been deemed by pundits as non-discretionary. As much as I hate agreeing with columnist George Will, that’s nonsense. Most of the budget, save for payment on the debt, is discretionary; it may require Congressional action, but it’s not untouchable. But which jobs program is one to cut: a factory making weapons that the Department of Defense doesn’t even want, which employs a number of folks in the district of a powerful member of Congress, or Americorps, whose only native constituency are not-for-profits and some smaller governments?

There are choices as to what to “hack and slash”, and they seem to be quite targeted, while other programs, even within the 12% of the budget that everyone considers discretionary, have been considered off-limits by House GOP leaders.
Tom the Mayor, with whom I worked at FantaCo, wonders:
Do you think State budget cuts will affect your librarian job? How about your wife’s job? I know Medicaid cuts have already cost me one job and might cost me my present one.

Well, indirectly, yes. My job gets some state money, so that’s a possibility. But if the US Small Business Administration gets a 45% cut, as proposed in the Obama budget, that’d be even worse for the Small Business Development Centers, which do the hands-on counseling, and therefore, that’s not great for my colleagues and me if there are fewer centers and counselors. So it’s the federal budget I’m more worried about.

My wife’s job is with BOCES. If the district she works in decides to hire their own ESL teacher, my wife has been with BOCES longer, and with good evaluations, than any other ESL teacher in the area. So probably not.
Demeur, who I read regularly, relates:
Thomas, I feel for you I’m in the same boat that might sink any time now. I retrained for a different job only to have funding cut. I was lucky enough to get tied into a temp job with a government agency. I now hear that this program may be cut…

My question: Have you considered what you’d do if you had to change careers?

It’s difficult to think of my life as having a “career”. Besides being a librarian, the kind of jobs I’d like and for which I could make the case for which I’m currently qualified are writing, editing, customer service, retail sales, and some sort of instruction.
My good friend Uthaclena asked me – well it was more that he indicated that he didn’t understand me doing those meme things such as Sunday Stealing.

Well, here’s why I do them.

1. The process of answering predetermined questions I find as an interesting exercise for me. Moreover, I often find out things about me that I didn’t know before. It’s a controlled reveal.
2. Sometimes, when I need to write something that is difficult and/or time-consuming, it starts the writing juices going.
3. Related: when I’ve just written something difficult, the meme serves as a sort of intellectual “palate cleaners”, as it were.

And in writing this, I realize that I do pretty much the same thing at work.

We librarians generally take the next question in the queue. Sometimes, the query is a bear, requiring a certain learning curve before even attempting to respond to it. Occasionally, I get stuck, waiting for someone from a government agency or an association to call or write me back. While I’m waiting, I might take another question down the list that I know is answerable. Perhaps it’s Census data I know exists, or regulations for a type of business I’ve helped before, or a business list. After struggling with something difficult, I want a “win”, something I KNOW I can answer without great difficulty.

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