Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Getting Back To Cincinnati

My parents are so anxious to get back to Cincinnati.

I think by the time they eventually move here, they'll have tried 40 different ways to prepare ramen noodles.

Let me start back at the beginning. No. Probably more in the middle.

We were a cute little family with a Volvo in the garage and a stay-at-home mom and three happy girls anxious for their Daddy to come home from work. He had a great job. Travel. Big paycheck. Prestige. My dad was the head of marketing for the largest lock company in the world. Not bragging, really, just telling the truth. As you'll read on, the glamour had a way of waning. But for a good, long run we were living really well. I was well traveled, well cultured and well educated. I went to the best public high school in the state of Connecticut, a district where the kids drove European cars (second hand, of course) and looked liked they stepped out of a J Crew catalog.

I guess you could say we were running with the big dogs.

When we moved there 14 years ago, Mom and Dad bought the worst house on the best street, and that proved to be the best business decision my parents ever made, as you'll learn later. It's a street that starts at the center of town and runs perpendicular, right to the Connecticut shoreline. We live about two blocks away from the water, which was pretty surreal for a family with Midwestern roots. We instantly loved the water. When my dad was home (which wasn't often) we'd go on walks at the nearby seaside state park and out to dinner at the local seafood spots.

Life was good. Really good.

Then he got the brain tumor. It was the week after my Senior year spring break in college, when my dad's secretary called me up with flight information. "You're coming home." What? I was just home three days ago. Mom was strong on the line, telling me that something happened... Emergency surgery... Ambulance ride... Brain hemorrhaging.

What the f*ck.

I instantly collapsed like a deflated balloon. My dad was the man who made my world. The man who held me up when I was sad or frustrated, the one who dusted me off and made me feel like a new, shiny penny when I was disheartened. He was the one who would sing goofy songs off the mix tapes I'd made him so I'd crack a smile.

My dad is my buddy. The one person in my family who gets me.

Flash forward a couple years and my dad was finally put together as good as new. After a couple months on the neuro-ICU ward and then a few months after that of rehab (he had to relearn how to feed himself, shave, go to the bathroom. My dad even had to re-train his eye to tolerate car rides without vomiting) he was physically put together. It took a few months later until he was mentally all there (anger and disillusionment can really do a number on your sanity) but eventually he was as good as new.

To this day, the only thing left over from the little brain tumor episode is my father's inability to taste (we think doctors overdid the steroids when he was on the operating table). I thank God for that probably once a week. I really can't say thank you enough, though.

Well. Corporate America isn't really the way it used to be, that's no secret. It's a shame, when you discover the friendships and alliances you've made, when the reputation you've spent years to solidify can come crumbling down because of a few schmucks. Somebody got caught with his secretary and pants down. Another somebody sold his soul to the devil himself to fill in for my father during his time out. And yet another schmuck somebody had a vindictive, hurtful streak to take my family, with it's foreign Midwestern values, out for the count.

It all added up to a bad situation calling for a scapegoat. And the finger was pointing at my amazing father.

My dad was only off the clock for about six months thanks to the brain tumor episode. He spent a lot of effort and time to get back to health, and we were very grateful his employer picked up the tab of his rehabilitation, all while sending a paycheck home. That was wonderful, and yet I firmly believe the right thing to do.

He finally got let go a year and a half after he went back to work. The company basically gave him the heave ho... passing on a nice little severance and some paper that basically said "If you take this cash, you promise not to sue the pants off us 'cause we know we did wrong... But we're the biggest lock company in the world and have attorneys in every berg so if you DO sue us, you'll be sorry."

So there.

Well. The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world, isn't it, and our cradle was definitely rocked.

Fast forward a few years, and for all his trying, my dad just could not cut a break. His name was blackballed in the industry. Those same vindictive bastards would whisper to the competitors "Oh, he's crazy. You know... brain tumor?" and my dad was pretty much forced into early retirement like so many other baby boomers.

Big Business wanting to put the fat cats out to pasture so they could hire workerbees right out of Acme University at half the price.

Fortunately my dad was a saver. He had quite a little stockpile of cash socked away (a habit I regretfully do not have) and so my family was alright. Since then, they've been able to nickel and dime their way through the past five years without having to move or change much of their life.

Sure, my parents haven't been to Europe in the past five years, which is quite a change from the way things used to be. We're quite appreciative of the good times and realize we were dealt a great set of cards back in the day. Mom and Dad don't eat at fancy restaurants anymore. It breaks my heart when I call home and I hear about how my dad had soup and popcorn for dinner "Because I wasn't that hungry."

It makes me feel like such a schmuck when I blow 40 dollars in a bar or a bunch of money at the shoe store. Or on bounced checks.


That old house I told you about? The worst house on the best street? It was pretty much as close to ramshackle as you could get. They bought at the bottom of a recession in 1992 and started putting the house together, room by room.

Today they're working on the last renovation project. It's a part of the house we use as storage, but they're turning it into an in-law's space. The house has almost quadrupled in value, so my parents are kind of chomping at the bit to get their equity back. Right now they're what you call "House Poor," hence the ramen noodles.

Mom and Dad are anxious to get back to Cincinnati so they can live in a more affordable part of the country, live in a smaller home, and yet anxious to Live Larger.

No more ramen noodles once Mom and Dad move back, I'll make sure of that.

And I'm picking up the bar tab, because we have lots to celebrate.

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