Friday, June 27, 2008

And now to something completely different

Hilarious and worth the 10 minutes.

(My question: Why do get IT guys such a bad rap? I guess it's because 99.9% don't really understand what they are doing. And when we don't understand the trade/prices/challenges of another trade, we tend to feel they're cheating us/are lazy/not worthy. Just like the plumber that charges you $500 for something that takes him 10 minutes. But that's another topic.)

Hope you get a laughter or two out of this one.

Friday, June 20, 2008

How much Bocholt is left in me?

I was born in Bocholt, a small town close to the Dutch border. Frankly, during my teens I realized how much I didn't like living there. I think it was more the circumstances that made me dislike Bocholt. It's a town with a lot of green, very bike- and kid-friendly. But I always felt under siege in this town.

When I visited a few weeks back, I took this shot at 1pm on a Wednesday. All cars parked in order, almost no humans around. Mind you, this is a street close to the town center...

I went to my father's favorite Yugoslavian restaurant and ate a mixed grill plate. 5 pieces of meat piled on top of Rice Pilaf. And I though TGI Friday's had huge portions. I barely ate 1/3 of the meat. But the beer was good.

A window in the restaurant stating: "There's no place better than Bocholt." When we took bus tours with our school or went on summer camps, we always sang a similar song, claiming Bocholt to be the best city in the world. And I always thought: "Is that really true? How depressing."

The small river running through Bocholt, called Aa. No, not AA, just Aa. Don't ask me why they would name a river like a plumber who wants to be first in the Yellow Pages. Many evenings were spent staring at the river. Can I swim out of here?

My elementary school is in the background. I was baptized as a Lutheran, a minority in Bocholt. The school to the right was Catholic. We started religious wars when we were 6. Even though we were in the minority, our Protestant brotherhood lead to many bloody victories. Don't ask me why. I guess just a wish to be different.

That's the view from the balcony of my father's last apartment. Bocholt doesn't have a lot of buildings with these views. You can see the water tower in the distance and some churches. I'm glad he had a way of looking out in the sky. Feels liberating.

The old city hall with the Europe fountain next to it. Originall built in 1618 and restored right before the Nazis took charge. Behind the fountain is one of the best Italian Ice Cream parlors. Or so I felt when I was 6. I didn't taste their offerings a few weeks back.

While walking through Bocholt, I was asking myself: How much of Bocholt is in me and how much did I leave behind? Is it worth continue trying?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fritz Roode - 1930-2008

Lieber Vati,
when I heard about your sudden death thousands of miles away, I knew immediately I had to pay you the respect you deserve by being part of your final journey. Yes, we haven't seen each other for more than a decade but deep down inside I knew I had to be there for you for the last time, together with your family and friends.

Maybe it's because you were there when I entered this world, held me, took care of me, were the best father you can be. Or maybe it's because I just felt both of us needed some kind of closure to move on to wherever destination we're going from here.

That we didn't speak for so long is nobody's fault. We both did our best. Your job as a father and my job as a son was to develop this little bundle of joy you held on his first day into a responsible, loving adult. This can be done in numerous ways. Unfortunately, I had to do it on my own, had to move away and take care of things without anybody's help. I know I hurt your feelings by doing it this way but, frankly, I had no choice. The challenges that our family had to face when I grew up were so serious that I had to take charge of my own life and make sure to become the best I can be.

This doesn't diminish anything you accomplished as a proud father: You instilled in me a strong work ethic, took Monday afternoons off to teach me swimming (just to make up the work hours at night), you were there at all my soccer games, always cheering me on. And, most importantly, you always answered the call: starting a family with nothing, getting an education after 12-hour days at the factory and you were always cracking a joke in the worst circumstances. Trying to make the best out of bad situations.

Vati, I hope you understand that I always respected you and were proud of your achievements. In your professional and personal life. And you should be proud that you helped myself becoming a happy person with a fulfilling work life, a happy marriage and an amazing kid. I regret that you never met these two most important people in my life. You would have loved both of them with all your heart and it would have been such a joy for you to play with Astrid and trick her, just like you tricked and amused me when I was a kid.

My heart was aching when I followed the coffin with all your family and friends to the last resting point. You deserved an easier life, a life filled with contentment. And I wish I could have done anything to make it easier for you. But fighting was always your strongest principle and you might not have wanted anything else than a fighters life. Walking with you on your last journey, I stopped wishing for a better life and started appreciating the life you had. And the joy you spread to others.

And when the funeral was over and everybody headed to the restaurant, I snuck out and bought two coffees at Tchibo, one of your favorite places in the world, and returned to your graveside to have a last coffee and chat together.

And while we were having a coffee, I finally could forgive you. More than that, I understood where you were coming from and just felt love for you. I felt our souls connected for the first time in a long time and I hope this gave your soul more peace and helped you with your final send-off.

Vati, you might not know it, but today is Father's Day in the US. Now it's my job to help my kid to become a loving, responsible person. To teach her swimming, be there for her whenever she needs me, be the best father I can be. It's going to be a lot of work. And a lot of fun.

You did your job. You worked hard all your life. You deserve to leave this world and rest for a while. You must be tired.

No worries, we'll take care of things. You don't have to fight anymore, we'll take the fight from here. Just know that I love you. And miss you.

I hope you understand.


Lost in Amsterdam

After flying for 15 hours, I finally arrived in Amsterdam. Saw in shock the exchange rate: 165 Euros for $300. The first time Rose and I went to Europe almost 7 years ago the exchange rate was almost reversed.
Found my hotel, took a quick shower and headed out. A beautiful day filled with orange soccer fanatics, coffeeshops and bars that serve pancakes. Most of the evening was filled walking around the city, just trying to get my bearings and adjust to the news I'm still digesting. In the end, I just felt lost. Thank God it was in Amsterdam.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Little update

I forgot the cable for my digital camera, so no images until Sunday. I'm in my hometown Bocholt now, feeling like an actor in the Twilight Zone. Almost nothing has changed here, the little corners that I used to hang out as a kid are still there, the snack shack with chicken and fries.

I moved away from here more than 20 years ago and time has stood still. I see names in telephone books that I recognize and I wonder: Would we have anything to say to each other if I picked up the phone? I doubt it. I went to a restaurant yesterday that my father loved to frequent and the menu is still the same. It almost felt like I was a small kid again, asking if I could get the mixed grill plate.

My father wanted a colorful funeral. I brought my black suit but I will go shopping for a crazy tie today. Red/Purple - whatever. And, as an avid coffee drinker, he wanted coffee beans in his grave. Bizarre? Sure. But this wish has a very endearing quality to it.

10 things i learned (re-learned) while being in Europe

1. The US Dollar is worth nothing. I exchanged $300 at Schiphol and got 165 Euros back.
2. Coffeeshops are basically done starting July 1 when the smoking ban will become effective in the Netherlands
3. I had no idea how ugly my hometown was.
4. People in small towns stare at strangers. For a long time.
5. The strongest Wifi signal can be found at McDonalds
6. National pride of a European nation rises and falls with their wins/losses in the European cup
7. Too much meat in Germany.
8. German radio stations blow.
9. The sun is up until almost 11pm. It rocks in Europe, would hate it in Los Angeles. Can you imagine not having the merciful darkness taking over during 90+ degree days?
10. German Beer is good.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thoughts while flying to the funeral

Let’s face it: For a lucky few, life will be a business of evenly rationed suffering: horrible parents to start off, the typical humiliations at school, common injuries throughout puberty, the love of your love doesn’t want to bother with you or cheats on you, maybe another love affair gone terribly wrong, even a marriage busted. Our parents die, we face our own steady demise. Sure, that’s enough suffering for a lifetime. The lucky ones will only have those few torturous moments. The rest will have to face the unspeakable – rape, murder, child abuse, dead children, torture. As if your daily world turned into gates of hell. Through no fault of your own.

Whenever we face suffering, most of us grew up with the idea that your pain is punishment for sinful behavior. Nice theory but not really worth discussing. Feels very Stone Age and too simple for all this complexity surrounding us. And whenever I read stories about dictators living swanky lives, I continue to believe that this theory might work intellectually for primates but not for humans.

So, when I entered the dark ages AKA puberty, I started to subscribe to the notion of suffering as a test or something to improve me, make me a better person. Frankly, this thinking helped me through a lot of surgeries, broken bones, broken hearts and lonely nights. But, in the back of my mind, I knew it was another bullshit theory to keep me from going nuts. When one of my best friends died of brain cancer, there was nothing redeeming about it. Nothing improved because of his suffering, nobody learned anything from it. It was just horrible to see him dying. Period. There goes that theory out the window.

Well, last but not least, there was still the hope that al our suffering is rewarded by eternal life in Heaven. Or as the bible says: “Heaven is where God will wipe away all tears from our faces.” At this point, I subscribe to Marilynne Robinson’s quote: “It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.”

Given all the suffering we experienced on a personal level and all over the world throughout my lifetime, I can’t even imagine how Heaven is going to make up for it. It might be a good idea for someone (God, Allah, Jehova, whatever) to wipe our tears off now. Or maybe I’m just going to peek over to the other side and check out this atheistic thing. Sounds pretty rational to me. And often more promising than waiting for Heaven.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

My father died

I just found out that my father passed away this morning, German time at 8.50 am. I will be heading out to Germany to attend the funeral. As you can imagine, it's a confusing and rather painful time. I'll use this blog to write about my experience going back to my hometown: a lot of pictures, a lot of memories.

Stay tuned.