Empty House

20 years ago today I woke up alone in my father's house at the top of Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville, AL. Having recently moved up to the Washington DC area for Mom's new job at the Smithsonian, we had flown down to Huntsville to spend Memorial Day weekend with Dad. Saturday and Sunday had been great but Sunday evening Dad wasn't feeling well so we called it an early night.

When I woke up in an empty house Monday morning I remember feeling exhilarated. At 11 years of age I wasn't used to being left alone and the freedom was intoxicating. I could do whatever I wanted! Turn on the juke box, play pinball, play Nintendo, watch movies! Yes, it was shaping up to be quite an exciting Memorial Day!

Later that morning Mom came back to the house and let me know that through the night Dad had been feeling worse and worse and she had eventually taken him to the hospital. So began an emotional roller coaster of a day that began with such excitement and possibilities and ended with making phone calls to spread the word of my father's death.

Wow, 20 years. 2/3 of my life. In some ways it seems like yesterday; in some ways it seems like an eternity ago. What would he be like if he were still alive today? What would *I* be like if he had been alive through the rest of my childhood and beyond? Would he be proud of me? There are so many questions like this on a reflective day like today.

The other evening I was sipping some great wine after Katie and I had made a great dinner and the juke box was playing some great oldies. It struck me that, among the many things my father left me--most of them intangible--one very tangible item was his juke box. It's more than a machine, though; it really represents the gift of music. Wrapped up in all those old 45s is the soundtrack to my childhood--the pleasure, the pain, and everything in between. All those songs on their imperfect vinyl with pops and scratches hold a wealth of memories for me, memories of many aspects of my childhood, but especially of time with Dad.

As with most things parents impart to children, my father's gift of music wasn't static. It laid a foundation to which my mother added her influence and from which I explored and developed my own interests. It's like Dad started a melody in my life, a song based on oldies and folk music. Mom harmonized with him and added her own classical and contemporary musical themes. I jammed out to that for awhile and eventually added my own chords of classic rock, blues, and even some funky stuff that neither of my parents ever would have liked. Today the juke box still has many of Dad's original 45s but some of them have been swapped out for Mom's contributions (Hello, Jimmy Buffett!) and some for my own (Cream and Jimmy Hendrix, to name a few).

So the juke box represents the gift of music left by my father and embraced by my mother and me. Best of all it's a gift that can be shared with many others. When asked what's the one thing you would save from your house in a fire, I always go to the juke box. Practically speaking I don't know how I would manage the 400-pound, unwieldy load, but I hear that people are capable of great things in times of crisis!

So anyway, thanks for the music, Dad. And everything else. I miss you. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.


Congrats to the Rice Class of 2010!

This weekend was Rice's 97th Commencement and, despite the terrible weather, it was a blast. Friday night Katie and I took it easy just walking over to Barnaby's for dinner. While we were dining, though, the deluge started so we stuck around for awhile and made lists of our favorite actors to pass the time. Mine are, in no particular order: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, Val Kilmer, Christian Bale, Daniel Day Lewis, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, and Ewan McGregor.

Every moment we waited seemed to bring worse and worse rain so finally we just decided to make the mad sprint home. We probably covered the three blocks in under a minute but we were SOAKED by the time we arrived home sweet home.

Saturday morning the graduation festivities were rained into the newly renovated Tudor Fieldhouse. Meanwhile Katie and I slogged it out at the farmers' market to ensure that we had plenty of good stuff to eat for the week.

Saturday afternoon I attended my final Board meeting of the Association of Rice Alumni as my term ends June 3oth. It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve the 45,000 Rice alumni out there for three years and I look forward to continuing to do so even once I'm off the Board.

Saturday evening featured more Rice festivities, including the annual Laureates Dinner at River Oaks Country Club. It was a splendid affair and so inspiring to be surrounded by so many people who have contributed so much to the Rice community. Many congratulations to this year's winners; you serve as role models for the rest of us!

Sunday continued the Rice trend as we had dinner with some of the other college presidents from back in the day. When I stepped forward to serve Lovett College in that capacity for a year I had no idea that the bonds I made would be so powerful and enduring.

Since then my focus has 100% returned to fundraising. This week I'll be pitching to both the Houston Angel Network and the Central Texas (Austin) Angel Network. These represent the most significant near-term opportunities for our funding this next round so I really need to nail these pitches. 4th quarter, time running out, and we need a score--gimme the ball, coach!


New Orleans

Last weekend was spent at a bachelor party in New Orleans--what a blast! Of course what happens at a bachelor party stays in the bachelor party BUT I can blog a bit about some aspects of the weekend.

I flew in Thursday evening and immediately it was great to be surrounded by friends from high school and middle school. I played little league baseball with some of these guys and high school football with others, making it a great environment for a "reunion."

Thursday night was classic bachelor party stuff on Bourbon Street, finishing up around 6 AM. Due to the oil spill in the Gulf I set it as my mission to eat as much Gulf Coast seafood as possible so many oysters and shrimp met their demise that night. Friday morning began in the afternoon with oyster po' boys and bloody marys at Mother's. Friday afternoon I worked, worked out, and met another friend of mine at the House of Blues for an event hosted by the Entrepreneurs' Organization. This was, of course, followed by more bachelor party stuff.

Saturday I arose pretty early to meet a friend at Brennan's for brunch--so delicious! I had a cajun bloody mary, crawfish bisque, poached eggs a la nouvelle-orleans (in a sherry cream sauce with lump crabmeat), and crepes fitzgerald (basically strawberry blintzes). What a way to start the day. For lunch we all made a pilgrimage to Central Grocery to dine on the original muffuletta. Saturday night was dinner at L√ľke (Swiss fare) and more bachelor party shenanigans.

Sunday came too early and I caught my flight back to Houston. On the way to the airport we passed a taxi pulled over on the side of the highway so the passenger could throw up. Although it seemed very appropriate for New Orleans, I was very glad that it wasn't I!

I've always liked New Orleans, from the first time I went there to play (and beat!) Tulane in the Superdome to Mardi Gras (Once was enough for me.) to business meetings to bachelor parties. That city's had a rough go of it but it's about the most distinctive city in the US. There is so much more to it than just Bourbon Street--fine dining, music, art, antiques, museums, and culture. This was a great trip and I look forward to my next visit!


I am not the King of the Beach . . . yet!

Yesterday I played in a King of the Beach tournament at Third Coast Volleyball. This means that, instead of showing up with a partner, each player shows up individually. Each player plays several games, each with a different partner. At the end, the results are tallied and the player with the most wins is the King of the Beach. This is pretty cool because it tests not only your skill but also your adaptability.

There were seven players in the A/BB division in which I was entered. We arrived early and prepared for a long day on the courts. It was clear from the outset that the long spell of temperate Spring weather we had enjoyed for an unseasonably long time was over. Although things didn't get too hot (mid-80s F), humidity was very high and you could feel it.

My goal for the tournament was to improve on my last performance, 6th of 7 teams in a men's 2s tournament in March. As in that tournament I had a slow start but improved as the day wore on. I hadn't played doubles with any of the players in this tournament but I knew a couple of them for 4s back in the day.

My first partner, Tim, and I lost my first game 21-16. We both played pretty well but didn't really connect much. My second partner, Brian, and I connected much better and, after dropping some stupid points, we staged a great comeback to deuce it up but ultimately lost 24-22. I've known my third partner, Ricky, for years so it was fun to play with him. Although we lost by a LOT (I can't remember but we may not have even hit double digits), he gave me some beautiful sets that I was able to slam down pretty hard. He played differently than I was used to so I fear I didn't support him as well as I could have.

So yikes, there I was halfway through my games and winless so far. I was feeling great after the third game, though, so optimistic about the next three. My fourth partner, Matt, was a great player but, again, we just didn't connect very often and dropped that game. My fifth partner, Niel, had outstanding defense but it was clear that, by this point in the day, the heat and humidity were really getting to him. Some balls got by him that I think he would have had earlier in the day and we narrowly lost game five.

So even bigger yikes, as we began the very last game of the day, I was fighting for honor--I needed to win at least one! My partner was Rod, whom I had known for awhile and whom I liked so I was hoping we could connect better. The game right before ours, though, wasn't very encouraging. Rod and his partner gave away their 14-7 lead and wound up losing 21-15! They both looked very tired so I was just hoping that Rod would still be able to bring it in our game. I knew he would pick up if we could get rolling with a little momentum.

Instead of giving Rod "safe" sets off the net, I intentionally set him very tight. A couple of them were bad sets and went over but a couple of them were dimes and Rod slammed them down. This pumped us both up and created that momentum we were looking for. Rod gave me some great sets too and, although I didn't really kill anything, we were able to keep our opponents on the defensive. It helped that one of them was hurting in the heat but I intentionally tried not to pick on him and distributed the ball evenly.

We won the last game 21-11 and, despite coming in dead last in the tournament, I felt really great about it. My challenge in subsequent tournaments will be to reach that state of peak performance before the last game! Even though I failed to meet my tournament goal by a long shot, I had a lot of fun out there and still felt pretty good about my play.

May and June tournaments are going to be even hotter so conditioning--one of my stronger suits--will become even more key. Still, I can't wait to play again in Switzerland this summer--nothing beats the weather and the lake!