I Didn’t Want to be Don Draper

We recently started watching “Mad Men.” I have no idea what took so long; I graduated from college with a BA in Advertising, after all, and once dreamed of living the Madison Avenue lifestyle. There’s no way I wouldn’t find the show compelling.

What I did not find compelling was advertising. I knew I wanted to be a writer as far back as middle school and initially set my sights on a career in journalism, but there isn’t much room for creativity in the news biz. My dad suggested advertising, and I thought, why not? Becoming a copywriter and churning out campaigns for billion-dollar corporations sounded appealing, so I dove right in. don_d

Halfway through my college studies, I realized that advertising wasn’t for me. I hated the cutthroat nature of the business and despised the idea of trying to sell expensive things to people who didn’t need (and couldn’t afford) them for the rest of my life. By then, I had no interest in switching majors and starting over from scratch—I was tired of school at that point and wanted to get on with real life—so I decided to  push on through, nose to the grindstone. I just wanted that piece of paper rubber-stamped with the governor’s signature and a fancy frame to put it in, figuring being a college grad was enough to ensure doors would open for me.

Well, those doors didn’t open. I had to bust my way through them while taking a long detour to get to where I finally wanted to be. Adding insult to injury? I never even got that fancy frame. My diploma is…somewhere. Honestly, I don’t have a clue where exactly. But it doesn’t matter, because I have learned over the years that a diploma really is just a piece of paper. I haven’t succeeded because of it, but rather, despite it. I mean, three months after graduating from college, I was stocking shelves at The Sharper Image. That’s about as far from the likes of Sterling Cooper as you can get. Customer service and call center jobs followed. Eventually, I powered my way into marketing and, through sheer determination and force of will, writing. It wasn’t easy. But few worthwhile things in life are.

I’m not dissing college. If I had it to do all over again, I still would. I’d just make damn sure I was certain of my career path before embarking upon it.

Watching Don Draper on the small screen, sure—his life looks glamorous. But even if I had followed through on the advertising dream, I remind myself that the Madison Avenue I’d have encountered was already decades removed from the one that exists on the show. Besides, pretty much every male on “Mad Men” is a prick. Fascinating as it is to watch, I can’t help but feel that I dodged a bullet there.

Today’s unusually contemplative post is brought to you by the first day of fall.


The past two months have been a whirlwind of visitors, and this past weekend was no exception. My daughter, Audrey, came up for a visit. When last we saw her, we were backing a loaded U-Haul out of my parents’ driveway, about to embark upon a 1,250-mile journey across five states for a brand new life in the Midwest. That was 15 months and an entire lifetime ago, so we were looking forward to seeing her again.

She arrived Thursday morning and left Sunday afternoon. In between, we did a pretty good job keeping her entertained. Did all the usual touristy things first-timers need to cross off their bucket lists (Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Wall Drug, the Badlands). Cooked her favorite meals. Caught up on all the goings-on. It’s hard to say which she enjoyed best: the spectacular thunderstorm Friday night, a classic South Dakota storm that brought rain, hail, gusty winds, and nonstop lightning; or the opportunity to feed prairie dogs by hand. We stopped by Prairie Dog Village just outside the Badlands yesterday (was it really just yesterday??); it’s the only place I have ever been where the prairie dogs are so used to humans they actually run toward (rather than away from) you and eat peanuts right out of the palm of your hands. One of them even licked my fingers. Now, that is about as far from Sterling Cooper as you can get. How is THIS my life?!

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I’m so glad that fall is officially here! It was a downright chilly 39º this morning, forcing me to put gloves on during my walk. The weather is changing right on cue; there’s even talk of a few snowflakes over the Black Hills this weekend. It won’t be long until they’re flying through the air in town, as well. Autumn is hands-down my favorite season but it’s pretty short out here, so I intend to enjoy the hell out of it this year.

Revolving Door

We’ve had a revolving door of houseguests over the past four weeks. I feel so popular!

Following my FIL’s visit the first weekend in August, my MIL and nephew came up for a few days. They drove the 1,200 miles from Tacoma to Rapid City, which I can tell you from personal experience is quite the haul. Once again we played tour guide, taking them to the usual hotspots – Mount Rushmore, Custer Wildlife Loop, downtown Rapid City.

Anthony loved the dinosaurs almost as much as my blogging friend, Jess Witkins!

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Come to think of it, so did I…

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It was a pretty nice visit. All of our guests have been very impressed with western South Dakota and really like our house. You could call these visits soul-affirming, even though we already knew we made a great move!

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I was especially excited to see my parents, because – well, they’re my parents! And it had been 11 months since we’d seen each other. I’m pretty sure that’s the longest I’ve gone in my adult life without seeing them.

They arrived Thursday morning, and I was able to take Friday off to spend some time with them. In addition to seeing the local sights—Prairie Berry Winery, Crazy Horse, Pactola Reservoir—we have been enjoying lots of time on the patio. Evenings have been spent talking, drinking wine, listening to music, barbecuing, playing corn hole, and dodging mosquitoes. Not in that order. The weather has been perfect; temperatures have been mild and, so far, we haven’t had any thunderstorms.

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A fun thing happened yesterday. Our doorbell rang, and when we opened the front door, there was Doris’s daughter Kristi and her new husband Troy. We had spoken to her over the phone a few weeks ago and invited her to stop by when she was in town.

Kristi grew up in our house and you could tell it was a very emotional experience for her to be back inside. She approved of the cosmetic changes we made upstairs and was thrilled that we kept the basement the same. We learned a few more interesting facts about the house and what it was like for Kristi and her brothers growing up in the neighborhood, and we let her dig up several of the dwarf irises her great-great-great-great grandmother transplanted from Norway. She’d told us she regretted not taking any, so now she can plant some in her garden in Connecticut. They’re a very nice couple, about my age, and we told them they have an open invitation to stop by any time they are visiting Rapid City.

I’m glad she got to see the house. I still recall my road trip to Dayton, Ohio in 2011 and my own (failed) attempt to visit my childhood home. I know what a thrill it is and would never deny her the opportunity! Upon leaving, Kristi said she is happy we bought her mom’s house and is grateful that we are honoring her legacy so much.

Gotta run. We have some errands today, including picking up a new stand-up freezer—a generous housewarming gift from my parents. We’re zipping down to Fort Collins next weekend to stock up on items from Trader Joe’s and now I can stuff that bad boy with chile lime chicken burgers and steel-cut frozen oats to my heart’s content. We’re headed out to dinner tonight, and then Tara and I have to go back to work tomorrow. My parents will be here until Wednesday. But they’re talking about coming back in October, so I’m pretty sure I won’t have to wait so long to see them this time around.

I really have to brush up on my corn hole skills though, because my dad has been kicking my ass.

 

The Buck Stops Here

Oh, Deer

We have learned just how abundant deer are in the neighborhood. I see them every morning when I’m out walking. Sometimes, we don’t even need to leave the house! We were playing cribbage and listening to records in the basement Friday night when Tara went upstairs to grab a beer. She saw this buck in the backyard, so she got her camera and very stealthily opened the back door to take a few pics. Turns out there was no need to be sneaky, because this fella wasn’t the least bit concerned over our presence. I ended up within about 15 feet of him and he barely batted an eye.

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I know we should be chasing them away. Deer and gardens don’t mix. They’ve already eaten out hostas. But the problem is, they’re so damn cute – and it’s a novelty having them. So, we bought deer netting and I secured that over our raspberry bushes. Now that they are ripening and we’ve been able to taste their juicy sweetness, there is no way I’m going to treat the neighborhood wildlife to a free buffet. They’re so good, they almost make me forget all about the amazing PNW berries we can no longer get.

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Kamikaze Flight Path

Speaking of wildlife, we have learned that the picture window in our living room is a magnet for birds. In the short time we have been in the house, four birds have flown into it kamikaze-like. Apparently they see the reflection of sky and trees and assume they have a clear flight path. Next thing you know, there’s a loud “thud” and the birds either fly off in a daze or never fly again. It’s sad and a little disturbing, so I’ve looked into possible solutions. Window decals, wind chimes, or shutters would help, but I’m not sure any of these are options for us. It’s a weird problem to have.

Goodbye, # 12

Slowly but surely, we are settling into our house. We had our final walk-through with the leasing agent for our apartment today, after spending last weekend getting it all cleaned up. It felt weird going back there for the first time in 10 days; it might have still technically been ours, but it sure didn’t feel like home anymore. I noticed for the first time just how tight the living quarters were; it’s amazing how you don’t really feel like you’re living in a cramped space until you actually have some room in which to stretch out. I felt very unmotivated and a little bitter over having to give up part of a weekend cleaning a place that was no longer ours, but midway through wearing my fingers to a nub scrubbing caked-on grease from the stove, I started to focus on the excitement we felt when we first moved in 13 months ago and everything was brand new. That helped. As far as apartment complexes go this one wasn’t too bad, super thin walls notwithstanding. It served its purpose and was a good transient home while we settled into a new city and state, found jobs, and bought a house.

But I sure was happy to hand over the keys this afternoon.

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Impromptu Visit to a National Monument

After all that hard work on Saturday, we chilled on the patio. Grilled up some ribeye steaks and corn on the cob and kicked back with wine and beer. We even let Sydney roam around the backyard for a bit. She’s been strictly an indoor cat for 13 years, so this was a real novelty to her. I was paranoid to let her get more than a few feet away from me, but she was pretty well-behaved and seemed to enjoy the adventure.

The weather was very pleasant that day, so we decided to break in the chiminea, but we didn’t have decent kindling so the fire wasn’t really getting started. Tara turned to me and said, “Hey, wanna go to Mount Rushmore?” We actually hadn’t been to the monument since moving here; our last visit was during our road trip in October, 2017 (plus the hundred-odd times I went as a kid). We’d been wanting to see it illuminated at night, so we hopped in the truck and 25 minutes later found ourselves gazing up in wonder at the Shrine of Democracy. It really is an awe-inspiring sight and gets to me every time. I am so thankful that we can do spur-of-the-moment things like visiting a national memorial, which is less than half an hour from our front door.

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Well, It’s Not All Roses

Not everything is a bed of roses (and even if it were, the deer would probably eat them). We have been going through hell trying to get the contractors to finish installing the hardwood floors, and the latch on the door leading to the garage jammed over the weekend, necessitating a call to a locksmith. It feels like we’ve been unpacking forever, but there is still a seemingly endless pile of boxes and bags taking up half the basement. And we haven’t had a chance to truly relax, with no immediate pressing needs, in months. Hell, since the beginning of 2018, really. But in the overall scheme of things, these are minor inconveniences, a small price to pay for this awesome life we have built for ourselves. Because when I step outside before sunrise for a walk through the neighborhood and am treated to sights like these…

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…I know that I am, finally and truly, home.

 

Banana Belt, My Ass!

Woke up this morning to a temperature of -13º (yes, that’s a negative symbol in front of the number), which is about a million degrees below average. OK, maybe it’s only 40 degrees colder than normal. “Only” being a relative term!

Another relative term? “Banana belt.” In case you have never heard of a banana belt before, it is not this:

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The official definition of a banana belt is any segment of a larger geographic region that enjoys warmer weather conditions than the region as a whole, especially in the wintertime. Rapid City is considered the banana belt of South Dakota – even Wikipedia mentions us as an example of famous banana belts around the world (others include Whitehorse in the Yukon; Ireland and the U.K.; and Brookings, on the southern Oregon coast).

For the record: you cannot actually grow bananas in Rapid City or anywhere else in the Upper Midwest, in case you were wondering. But you can find temperatures 20 degrees warmer than in other parts of the state.

Usually, anyway. This winter has been the exception. It’s been relentlessly cold all over, for the last month+ and counting. Not surprisingly, February set records for third-coldest and sixth-snowiest in the city’s history.

All the locals are over it. Personally, the cold weather has really interfered with my ability to go for walks – a favorite pastime. So much so that I have taken to doing laps around the conference room table at work. I’ve been trying to do so surreptitiously because pacing in circles around a darkened room tends to give others the wrong impression about your mental state. Or maybe it’s the right impression? Whatevs! I have to do something to break up the monotony of sitting at a desk all day, and if I can’t go outside, I’m a-gonna walk indoors! Despite my attempts at secrecy, our bookkeeper caught me walking in circles on Thursday, which was mildly embarrassing. Luckily, she thought it was a good idea and asked if I’d be interested in walking up and down the basement stairs while I was at it. I had never even seen the basement before; I knew the building had one because we rent the space out to a recording studio after hours, but had no idea where the entrance was. So Anna gave me a grand tour. It’s a really cool space, sort of creepy  (though aren’t all basements?) with a labyrinth of rooms containing drum kits, microphones, and an iguana named Josie. How’s that for odd?

In any case, it’s nice to know I have cardio workout options within the building, given that March has come in like a lion and we show few signs of warming up anytime soon (though it is supposed to hit 35 by the end of the week – that’s progress).

Another embarrassing thing happened at work last week. Tuesday was our CFO’s birthday, so we had a little get-together in the morning with cake and balloons. One of those balloons ended up on the conference room floor, and every time I walked by (doing all those laps, you know!) I had this irresistible urge to jump on it. Eventually the temptation became too much to bear, so I did it – and the resulting pop was so damn loud, it sounded like a bomb went off. I guess because of the building’s acoustics? People came rushing out of their offices – even those in the adjoining chiropractor’s office – with terrified looks on their faces.

Shit.

In this day and age, I don’t blame them for assuming the worst. I had to apologize for instigating borderline panic and explain that it was just me acting like I was 12 years old.

Why do these things always happen to me?!

When I’m not embarrassing myself at work, I’m actually getting things done. I knocked out another proposal last week. The work, while not glamorous, isn’t nearly as hard as I’d thought – or maybe I’m just getting the hang of it?

My big accomplishment, though, was taking charge of my personal finances. When I left Fuel last June, I just kept my money in the company’s 401(k) plan even though I wasn’t making any contributions. I figured I’d eventually find a job here and just roll it over. Well, I’m not actually eligible for my company’s retirement plan for quite some time, and I was tired of seeing the value of my portfolio drop without making any contributions, so I rolled the whole thing over to a personal IRA I’ve had since 2011. I’d meant to close it out back then and had withdrawn what I thought was everything, but because of market fluctuations there was still something like $13 left in there. I decided to just let it be, and in the ensuing years that amount had grown to $70. I guess that’s small-scale proof of the benefit of these types of plans! Anyway, I transferred my money there last week, and am in a position to make the maximum allowable contributions now. It’s high time I let my money work for me rather than the other way around.

We (err, Tara) got our taxes done yesterday and while I owed quite a bit for my freelance income, I’d been socking money aside and was fully prepared for this. The amount was much less than I’d anticipated, so we are in good shape to begin our house hunting this spring.

I have to say, this is the first time in my adult life that I haven’t stressed over finances. Too many years I lived paycheck to paycheck, and then – when I was unemployed for 20 months – I damn near lost everything. Actually having money is a novelty. I have been focusing hard on completely eliminating my debt, and will probably make that happen within the next few months. Life is good, and moving here was the catalyst to really turning things around.

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Other than taxes and freelance writing and a quick trip to the grocery store during the tail end of a snowstorm, we haven’t done much this weekend. Kind of hard to get outside when the windchills are pushing -40º. We did walk over to Paddy O’Neill’s, an Irish pub in the lobby of the Alex Johnson Hotel, on Friday evening after work. Killed a few hours there with cocktails and some really good food. Then last night, we finally got around to watching Hitchcock’s classic “North by Northwest” on Netflix. We had never seen it before, but figured it was appropriate given the climactic scene atop Mount Rushmore. I have to say, we really enjoyed it! There was action, suspense, and humor. I get the appeal of Cary Grant now.

We’re going to make an effort to watch more older movies now. Queued up next: “Rebecca,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Goodbye Girl,” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” to name a few. Some of those were suggested by you, my dear readers!