Monday, March 25, 2013

the decade that was: 2003

“I’m tired of being what you want me to be –
Feeling so faithless, lost under the surface.
Don’t know what you’re expecting of me –
Put under the pressure, of walking in your shoes.

(Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow)
Every step that I take, is another mistake to you!
(Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow …)

I’ve become so numb!  (I can’t feel you there!)
Become so tired!  (So much more aware!)
By becoming this?  All I want to do
Is be more like me, and be less like you …”

-- “Numb” by Linkin Park, a huge, I mean hu-yuge, smash hit in 2003 (and 2004).  It’s been awhile since I posted one of these.  Enjoy?


Of all the years in my life … and I’m currently living number thirty six … I'd have to say that 2003 is without question the most charmed year of my life.  Not necessarily all good, not necessarily all bad -- just charmed.

It was the charmed year of my existance so far, seriously – charmed.  Everything that should have been awful in the year?  Wound up blowing up in the enemy’s face, so to speak. 

A shady boss hiring my job out from under me?  His hire was so incompetent, that he was fired within five months of starting, and I had my old job back, with a ten percent raise … and a few months later, said shady boss was fired with cause.  A drunk fan cold cocks me at Paul Brown Stadium?  His own buddies confirm my story to stadium authorities, as they haul him away to sleep it off in whatever the hell county jail Cincinnati is located in.  And hell, I was so forgiving and understanding of that dude, I refused to press charges against him, I let him walk. 

My favorite driver of all time wrecks out in the single most horrifying incident I’ve ever seen?*  Leads to my second favorite pic of all time (and sadly, I’ve lost it), of a drunken Stevo posing with him at the summer Indy race at Kansas less than nine months later**, and leads to him making an amazing, triumphant, final return to the place he owned in 1999 nine months after that, a slice of heaven known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

(*: sorry, but Paul Page's reaction NEVER gets old, three seconds in.  WHOA!  BIG CRASH!  No sh*t Paul.  No sh*t.  Oh, and the cause of the wreck?  (Norm MacDonald voice) You guessed it -- Frank Stallone.  No wait -- I mean, you guessed it: Tomas "Crash" Scheckter.  And yes, I re-link the clip in about 11 more pages, when we get to the moment, it was that horrific and memorable.)

(**: seriously, it’s the ultimate “yup, that’s Stevo” photograph, taken by “The Voice of Reason” almost ten years ago.  Me – drunk, shirtless, completely incoherent, with a couple (yes, couple) of Coors Light bottles in hand … and Kenny Brack, sober, shirt on, not an adult beverage in sight, with a “this dude is not all there” look of amazement and horror.  I really, really wish that phone hadn’t been lost – that pic was beyond priceless.)

Hell, even the scheduling Gods came through – not only did we get a Double Header Day … not only did the Royals somehow maintain a hold on first into early September … not only did the Chiefs win every game they played at home that year … the one “conflict” day, when NASCAR and the Chiefs started at the same time?

Was only the best, funnest, most amazing home game the Chiefs played, not just for that season, but arguably, ever* -- the outcome, the way the game ended, was so epically good.

(*: for the record, I’d rank it sixth, behind (at 5) Chiefs 37, donkeys 10, 1986 – jumpstarted the run to the playoffs for the first time in my life; (at 4) Chiefs 42, donkeys 20, 1992 – still my favorite game from the Marty years.  And yes, Santa Claus could NOT save the denver broncos that day; (at 3) Chiefs 48, Dolphins 30, 2002 – I’ll always tear up, watching Trent Green pancake the Dolphins DB to spring Priest for his third TD of the day, and I’ll never forget how awesome seeing a boatload of streamers fly out of the upper deck in celebration was; (at 2) Chiefs 35, Jaguars 30, 2006 – you all truly have NO idea, just how much that game means to me to this day.  It was (in hindsight) sadly the end of many eras … but if things had to end, what a way to go out!  And (at 1) Chiefs 33, Bills 6, Monday, October 7, 1991.  This isn’t even up for discussion, until and unless the AFC Championship Game is played at Arrowhead ... and even if that ever occurs, it’d better be an all time classic, because it’s gonna take the greatest game ever played, to bump (1) from its’ spot.)

And of course, 2003 also saw the arrival into my life -- for better or for worse -- of one of the best friends a dude could ever be lucky enough to have.

Here we go.  The Decade That Was: 2003.

Please, try to contain your excitement.

* Prior editions in this series that hasn't been updated in awhile:

* The year began with me, on the couch, toasting a not-yet Strokey Dick Clark with whatever adult beverages I had available.  Shocking, I know.

* My birthday was eventful -- as your AFC East Champion New York (Fireman Ed voice) J!  E!  T!  S!  Jets Jets Jets! spanked peyton manning and the Colts 41-0 to open the NFL postseason ... and then Michael Vick's career reached its peak, with the Falcons stunning upset in Lambeau of the Packers.

* As noted in other posts on this site, 2002 was the year my gambling addiction came to a crashing ending.  So how did I spend MLK Day weekend in 2003?  Absolutely -- in Vegas.  This was my first trip out there.  I flew out at 6am on a Sunday, landed at McCarron at close to 10am, and spent the next three days gambling my rear end off with my uncle Bill.  Let's just say, turning the two of us loose on Fremont Street, isn't the brightest idea in the world.

And yes, I am that one in a hundred person you'll meet, who would choose a week in downtown Vegas, over a week on the Strip.  I love me some Golden Nugget.

* Got back on Wednesday and had planned to relax, rest up a little bit, try to recover ... only, Nick Collison delivered the performance of a generation against Texas that night, a 90-87 KU victory that literally moved Dick Vitale to offer a standing ovation from press row.  The performance wound up looking even more amazing in hindsight, as both KU and UT would make it to New Orleans, and the Final Four.  More on this later.

* I honestly don't remember anything major or impressive happening in February.  I know, I know -- it's stunning that someone as hot as I am, had no girlfriend in sight.

* OK, ok, fine, that's an outright lie.  February saw an addition to the family: Phogger!  The little dog that could.  I freaking loved that dog -- not as much as Priest, but man, there was something so calming and reassuring about stumbling to the fridge at 2:14am, needing a glass of water, and she'd be following you, then flop on the couch, lie on her back, all four paws straight up in the air, and you knew -- you just knew! -- you had a twenty minute tummy rub for her, about to go down.

(my original "special little girl".  photo: unknown.  God I miss the good old days sometimes ...)

* March, on the other hand ... yeah, lots going on in March.

For starters, as we're all aware, the United States launched its invasion of Iraq in the middle of the month.  For the record, I supported the incursion, under the belief that even if there were no weapons of mass destruction, ridding the world, and specifically that region of the world, of a man who had killed over a million of his own people, was a good thing.  I stand behind that opinion, even in hindsight.

If I remember right, the war began on a Tuesday.  The next day, a Wednesday, was a typical day for most of the day.  Until I left for home.

I got onto the on-ramp (now closed due to how dangerous it was) from Wyandotte onto westbound 670, a little after 5pm.  It was a left lane merge, and you really didn't have room to do it, even at 2am on a typical Tuesday.  I looked right, to see if I needed to slam on the breaks or make a dash for it, and I saw this blue Dodge minivan skating across three lanes of traffic under Bartle Hall.  He took out the car on his left, which took out the one to her left ...

And meant I had two choices -- get plowed straight into, or turn into the coming wreck, and get hit from the side.

In the words of the late, great Randall Carlyle Wakefield: "I may be stupid, but I ain't that stupid!"  I turned.

And thus, died the Corolla.

Let me state, for the record -- I've never felt pain like I did, when that airbag deployed.  My arm was burned for three weeks.  (Go figure, it was the arm / shoulder that I separated in college.  That didn't feel too good either.)

Still, for as bad as the wreck was, it could have been worse -- noone was seriously hurt, the cops got there pretty quickly ... and then the idiot who caused the wreck, dropped a bomb on us.

He needed to call his son ... to bring his insurance papers.


Did dude actually have insurance?  He just took out three cars, plus his own, and he doesn't have an insurance card on him in the glove box?  Sure, right.

Half an hour later, dude's son showed up, and shockingly, he did have insurance, with Geico.  So allow me to state this: I know a few friends who had a bad experience dealing with Geico.

I've rarely had better, more positive things to say about a company, than how Geico handled things.

I had my dad take me to Enterprise the next morning (Thursday) to get a rental.  I needed one -- I had fun weekend plans awaiting (more on this to come).  To Geico's credit, they paid for every cent of the rental, and tossed in insurance to boot.  They had an adjuster look at my car that Thursday, declared it totaled virtually on the spot (it was -- to this day, I shiver in fear remembering what that car looked like when it was taken to the tow lot), and called me that night with a settlement offer.

I should probably note -- I had a good buddy, Jeremy, who I used to work with at Transamerica, who left for Farmers to be a claims adjuster.  I emailed him that Thursday, laid out the details of the wreck, and the condition of the car (pre-wreck), and asked him what he'd offer as a fair market offer to settle the claim.  He said he'd go as high as $6,500, but not much higher.

Geico's rep, on the phone that night, offered me his "best offer" ... of nearly $11,000.

Considering I only owed two more payments on that Corolla, that was unbelievable.

I bought the Grand Am to replace it, and paid cash, no payments.  Sometimes, life works in mysterious ways, to make things better for ya.  That definitely happened with that wreck.  Although I do miss that car -- it's the best car I've ever owned.

* So Saturday, we load up the rental, and it's off to Oklahoma City, for the NCAA second round.  KU was facing Arizona State, having somehow survived a last second shot to beat Utah State two days earlier, and OU was facing Cal in the early game.  Let that sink in -- both KU and OU Nations are descending on Bricktown for a tournament game ... and it's the same cession.  Good luck finding a ticket.

So I have to admit ... this?  Was "The Voice of Reason"'s finest hour.

After nearly an hour of finding zero, zip, nada for sale (cops were policing the scalpers pretty good too, which didn't help), we split up to try to find just two tickets to get in the door.  I managed to find a couple together way up in the third level -- face value (hang on, let me check the cigar box ...) of $55.  I paid $300 for the two of them.

I finally make my way back to "Mr. Reason", as he was headed my way, with a state of stunned disbelief on his face.

And for good reason -- a KU booster had seen him trying to buy two tickets, and gave him two for the club level.  For $0.00.

Are you sh*tting me!  Club level for nothing?  At the hardest ticket (up to that point) in the history of the city to come by?

We managed to unload the two I'd bought for $450 (paying for the whole trip), and then made our way to the gates.

And endured the wait of a lifetime.  Keep in mind -- the Gulf War had just gotten underway.  (US forces were attacking Baghdad that afternoon.)  However ridiculous you may think the security at Arrowhead has gotten, it had NOTHING on Oklahoma City that afternoon.  It took us a solid hour just to get to the metal detectors, and it's not like the Ford Center is a gigantic facility (it holds about 16,000).

* The games themselves were absolutely surreal. Nearly every TV in the club level, was tuned to CNN or FOX. The couple TV’s that were tuned into the tournament on CBS, CBS News kept interrupting at every commercial. There were two really great games going on – Arizona / Gonzaga (double overtime, and directly affected KU; Arizona was the one seed in the West, KU the two) and Mizzou / Marquette (which was in overtime, and ultimately affected KU as well), and nobody was paying attention.

“Survive and Advance”, the late, great Jim Valvano’s motto, definitely applied that day, as OU (the one seed in the East) gutted out a tough win over Cal, and KU survived Arizona State … although it was a much more comfortable win than the opener two nights earlier, when KU survived a last second three to hold on against Utah State.

* From there, KU headed to Anaheim, to take on Duke. In the interest of full disclosure, other than North Carolina, there’s no non-con I love more than when Duke and KU throw down. And this one more than lived up to the hype. KU held on yet again, to gut out a four point win over Duke. So far, they’ve won by three (Utah State), blowout (Arizona State), and 4 (Duke). And it’s about to get worse: Arizona was up next, on Saturday night.

And somehow, that game was the closest one of the amazing run to New Orleans, as KU won by three, thanks to a furious comeback and a game for the ages from Nick Collison, who absolutely owned the paint and the glass.

* You're damned right me and The Voice of Reason drove to Lawrence for a 2:15am arrival time at the Field House, for that team.  And could barely get in the door, so many fans showed up.

* Look it, my favorite KU team (non-championship) is the 2002 squad. That run to the Final Four, the first in a decade, was so epically satisfying. That drive to St. Louis for the second rounder against Stanford, I can honestly say, is the most stressful drive for a sporting event I’ve ever made. I didn’t think there was a chance in hell that team could beat Stanford, and most KU fans felt the same way. Coming out as they did, dropping three 3’s on them in the first 90 seconds en route to a 15-0 opening 90 seconds, is probably as rewarding a moment KU has ever given me.

But the funnest game? Had to be the first one in New Orleans, in the 2003 Final Four. The Voice of Reason put it best: there’s something surreal about sitting at a KU game, in the Final Four, looking at the scoreboard at halftime, seeing you’re up by 35, knowing there’s nothing Marquette can do to rally, and just getting to take it all in for the entire second half.

* So it totally figures that the last game of the season, as KU prepares to play for their first national title in fifteen years, the culmination of everything Roy built in the early 2000s, the climax of the Boschee / Hinrich / Collison / Gooden / Langford teams … is against the only other school I root for, Syracuse. And somehow, it figures, that KU played its worst game of that era – Collison couldn’t hit a shot, and fouled out with twelve minutes to go. And somehow, someway, that KU team never gave up. Mikey Lee started hitting every three he shot. Aaron Miles absolutely obliterated Gerry McNamara – what Hinrich couldn’t defend in the first half, Miles completely controlled in the second. Wayne Simien managed to at least slow down Carmelo Anthony in the paint. And KU crawled back to 81-78, with the ball, with 6 seconds to play.

Then Hakim Warrick happened, an epic block on Mikey Lee’s desperation three (he was open, gotta give Warrick huge credit for somehow getting there), and Roy was telling everyone he “didn’t give a sh*t” about Carolina … and, well, there’s a reason why yesterday’s second half at Sprint Centre meant something to a lot of folks, myself included.

* I went off on KU’s run there, so let me back up to three weeks prior, because I’m pretty sure I forgot something, a life-altering event. Let’s see. Covered the Corolla getting totaled. Covered the unexpectedly high settlement for it. Covered the KU run to the National Title Game. Hmm. It’s March, so there’s nothing involving the Chiefs, or really the Royals yet, to remember. Hmm. Oh. Yeah.

Josh happened.

The day after my car got destroyed, my boss Leif* comes up to me, and asks if I can spare ten minutes before I left for the weekend. I was like “sure, no problem”. So he hauls me into the small conference room that our reinsurance admin project** was consuming, and this is the conversation as best I recall it:

(leif) so I have some news for you.
(stevo) ok.
(leif) I hired a new person for the accounting group!
(stevo) ok.
(leif) and I’ve decided to move you to the claims area!
(stevo) ok.
(leif) this way, instead of doing both jobs, you can focus on one going forward. And yeah, it was cheaper to hire a new accounting person instead of trying to find someone with claims expertise, so this is how I decided to handle it.
(stevo) ok.
(leif) So over the weekend, I’ll need you to start documenting everything you do, so that you can start training this guy on Monday.
(stevo) Leif, that isn’t happening. I’m going to Oklahoma City for the KU game, and even if I wasn’t going out of town, there isn’t a chance in hell I can document all the manual stuff I do, in a couple days.
(leif) But we really need something for him on Monday.
(stevo) (sighing with disgust) Fine. I can take the laptop and work on the drive down and back.
(leif) thanks!

What a guy, huh? What a great guy to work for!  Oy.

(*: when / if I get to the 2004 look back, he will feature prominently in the story.)

(**: I do not miss that project in any way, shape, or form. Three years of my life in a conference room, when I was the least qualified person in accounting to be on the project, because neither of my co-workers could stomach the production representative on the committee. Also, given how over budget on both time and cost this thing wound up going, I always thought it was appropriate that the initial name of the project was the Ceded Reinsurance Administration Project, or CRAP.)

* So I get in on Monday, and late in the day (apparently Leif forgot about this thing called “orientation” on your first day. What a dumb f*ck.), Leif brings Josh around. The second I saw him, I cringed. I knew this guy – he was in my brother’s class growing up, and neither my brother nor I were a fan of the guy.

But being the nice, friendly, genial person I am*, I decide to give the guy a chance, and truth be told, he’s a likeable guy. He’s just a f*cking idiot with a drug problem. (At least he had one back then; I hope, for his sake, he’s cleaned up in the ten years since. But I wouldn’t bet that $3.27 of future earnings, on that happening.)

(*: this is true -- I am a nice guy!  You do right by me?  You'll never regret meeting me!  You don't?  You'll view the day you met me, as the worst day of your life.  Ask Leif.)

I go easy on the guy at first; he is starting right before month end and quarter end close, so I start with the trivial stuff I had to do every day, that wasn’t hard to learn, but would free me up to focus on the important stuff. Let’s just say, from the very start, I knew this wasn’t going to work.

For starters, the guy was clueless about debits and credits. That’s not a good thing if you are employed as an accountant. (It’s even worse since reinsurance accounting is backwards from typical accounting.) He messed up deposits. I mean, Jesus, who doesn’t know how to fill out a deposit slip? That guy, apparently.

He called in “sick” on day three. Which is ok – if you’re genuinely ill, probably a good idea not to come in. Unfortunately for Josh, I met my brother at Ameristar after work for dinner and a little bit of gambling … and there’s Josh, at a blackjack table, looking perfectly healthy.

He had this girlfriend, and readers, here’s the surest sign this guy wasn’t all there: she beat the crap out of him. No, really – she beat him. She verbally abused him. You ask, “well how do you know this, Stevo?” The answer? He lived above another guy in our company, and one day, me and my boss were running out of patience with the guy, and after work at P Otts, somehow we put two and two together, figured out Josh lived above him, and started plying the guy for info about Josh.

But the unforgiveable sin – more than getting high on company time (check), more than plowing through all 22 PTO days you’re given for the year in less than four months (check), more than forging your timecard since you have no PTO to use anymore (check), even more than the fact that he was a grade A moron, the unforgiveable sin happened on July 2nd. My boss from accounting comes up to me (now in the claims area! No raise, no promotion, job hired out from under me for a f*cking idiot, and I lost my pimp window seat in the southeast corner to boot for a spot 30 feet from a window, but hey -- I’m a happy, motivated employee!), and the conversation:

(mary) hey, you got a free minute?
(stevo) sure, what’s up?
(mary) well, Josh swears he understands the variable pool accounting process, but I don’t have time to check his work. Can you spot check a few of the pools for me?
(stevo) sure.
(mary) thanks. I know you know how they should look, and if you’ll just pick a couple that gave you the most problems, I’d really appreciate it.
(stevo) no problem.

So, I pick five of them, and three of them should have been extremely easy for him to do, if he followed my procedures I typed for him. The other two, were difficult even if you knew what you were doing.

He screwed up all five. And I don’t mean, screwed up like “wrong linked cell” or “forgot to input some data”, or some other simple fix. Oh no. I mean, he had numbers literally grabbed out of thin air.  There was one pool, a joint second to die pool, that had only 8 active policies, that paid on a YRT basis (meaning, once a year).  Somehow, he had us paying out nearly $560,000 on a pool, that in its complete and total history, 1995 to present (which would have been June 2003), hadn't even paid out $56,000.  That's how screwed up his effort(s) were.

Of course, it being July 2nd, he was nowhere to be found to "redo his work" -- he'd already hightailed it out of town to the lake.  So yes ... Mary and I literally worked all night long, to redo over 90 -- 90! -- separate spreadsheets*, rerun all the Access files, literally do an ENTIRE F*CKING QUARTER'S worth of accounting, overnight.  When Stan (our department boss) got in the next morning, he took one look at us, and I think he knew -- we'd reached our breaking point.  We were beyond broken.

And if he had any doubts, Mary sealed the deal when he wandered over to wonder why we were there so early:

(mary) you have a meeting request from each of us.
(stan) oh?
(mary) today.  10am.  I strongly suggest you accept them.
(stan) (genuinely confused) them?
(stevo) we're both going to unload on you, one at a time, for this bullsh*t.
(mary) what are we wearing, Stanley?
(stan) (it hits him we haven't been home yet)
(stan) (now he's p*ssed) are you kidding me?!?!
(stevo) Stan, have you EVER known me to show up before 7am on any day other than month end?
(stan) no.
(mary) me at 10, Steve at 11.  It will not be pretty.

And it wasn't ... because while we'd been working all night long to redo three month's worth of accounting, we'd also been writing down bullet points that we were going to hit, one at a time**, about how screwed up and beyond redemption this situation had become.

Breaking point.

(*: each variable pool spreadsheet had 23 -- 23! -- tabs the final figure was calculated off of.  23 tabs x 3 months x 90 plus pools = a very angry Stevo.)

(**: to this day, I still have mine.  (joe biden voice) Folks!  It was 22 hand-written pages on a legal pad!  22!  That's a big f*cking amount!)

* Let's jump back a little bit, before we get back to Josh, since in cramming all of his bullsh*t into one neat little narrative, I pretty much skipped April through early July, and a lot happened in that stretch too.

* The Royals got off to the best start in club history, opening 9-0, improving to 17-4 entering May, just an unreal, surreal start that nobody saw coming.  And that, predictably, didn't last, as the slide started in early May in Toronto, and hit it's floor on a Thursday in early June, when the Royals started Albie Lopez in a game against the Twins*.  Mr. Lopez' release was announced in the stadium before the game was over.  Yup, the Royals cut a player during a game, they were so p*ssed at his performance.  I know hindsight is 20/20 ... but that decision -- to cut a player during a game -- was (allard baird voice) without question -- without question! -- the best decision of Mr. Baird's failed tenure.

(*: I went to this game with my buddy Anthony.  To his credit, he called the "release before the game is over".  I figured we'd at least wait for the postgame presser.)

Come Father's Day, the ship had stabilized somewhat -- the Royals were 32-32, hosting the Giants, and taking a flyer on a 30 something year old pitcher from the Newark Bears Independent League team to somehow hold the rotation together, some dude named ... Jose Lima.

To this day ... that game is my favorite Royals game I've ever attended.  It was me, my dad, my brother, and my late buddy James.  Barry Bonds hit one off the roof of the old concession stand in right field GA.  Jose Lima started one of the great out-of-nowhere runs in franchise history.  Joe Randa won it with a two run double in the bottom of the ninth off Robb Nen.  (The Giants were the defending National League champions.)  And the march to respectability had begun -- by the time the All Star Game occurred four weeks later, the Royals were 7 1/2 games clear of the field in the AL Central.

* Easter weekend, The Voice of Reason and I spent the weekend planting the azaleas that welcomed you to our old place on 53rd Terrace, and that Sunday, honestly?  Was a great day.  We noticed some dark clouds to the north, over by the Speedway, but didn't think anything of it.  Hard at work, getting the place fixed up, and come about 6pm, we headed in, thoroughly exhausted.

And had a solid five or six answering machine messages from friends and family, scared to death we'd been caught up in the F4 twister that hit the Speedway area a couple miles from us.  I swear to God guys, and The Voice of Reason will back me up on this: we never once had a fear about anything.  Hell, the sun was shining where we were planting.  Weirdest weather event of the year?  Uuh, not quite.  There's still the weekend from rain-deluged hell, to get through come early September.

* It's not officially summer until the last weekend in May brings about my favorite race (and usual road trip) to the most sacred sporting facility on Planet Earth, a run-down track stretching the length of Georgetown, from turn one at 16th Street, to the North Forty and Coke lots at 30th.  The 2003 Indy 500 is memorable for, quite honestly, only one thing: it was the essential bottoming out of the split era, as not only did the race fail to sell out for the first time in decades, but all the major teams had bolted CART for the IRL.  Four years earlier, when Target / Chip Ganassi racing made the return to Indy, it was news.  Now, Penske, Ganassi, Rahal-Letterman, Andretti Green -- all the major names of the sport, had moved to the IRL full time.  Why it took six more years of mutual destruction to end the stupidest sports split in history, I have no idea, other than Tony George's ego and arrogance is that f*cking huge.

Oh -- Gil de Ferren, one of the most underrated open wheel drivers of the last twenty years, won the race, giving Penske three straight at the Brickyard.

And this happened too.  Frighteningly enough folks -- this isn't even close to the worst IRL crash of 2003 that involved Kenny Brack, who in the interest of full disclosure, is my favorite driver of all time (and your 1999 Indy 500 champion).  We'll get to that, once we reach October.

* Two weeks after Indy, my buddy Jasson got married.  Remembered well for two things: (1) it was hotter than hell itself, and (go figure) it was an outdoor wedding.  Genius!  (2) The reception.  Setting aside all kinds of ridiculousness that went down ... Jasson was dumb enough to make me and "The Voice of Reason" the bartenders!  I mean, I get that you're a cop buddy, and popping folks for DUI is good for the bottom line of the city ... but my God!  Letting me make people's cocktails, is bordering on reckless endangerment!  We all know I make every cocktail "Steve-style", which means that even accounting for melting ice, every libation is at least 50% alcohol in nature!  People do weird, unexplainable things when they're in love, I guess.  Because putting me in charge of a bar, is borderline criminal negligence.

* OK, I think we're just about caught up.  We're at least to early July on all fronts, so let's plow along.

* After our "you'll sit there and take it!" meetings with Stan, something had to give.  But still, Leif wouldn't fire Josh.  To do so, would be to acknowledge he screwed up, and his arrogance and ego wouldn't let him do that.  So for another THREE WEEKS, we tolerated the incompetence, the outright incompetence*, this kid brought to the table.

And then, we reached "Breaking Point Numero Dos".

(*: forgot to mention earlier, there was a day, when Josh showed up (and those were few and far between), wearing sunglasses.  He refused to take them off.  Finally I was like, "look it, you can't see the monitor well with those on.  I get that you're baked.  Christ, it's not like I haven't been high in my life, or even on this job for that matter.  But you gotta at least try to focus!"  So he takes the glasses off, and he has a shiner the size of the bottom of a can of beer on his left eye.  His excuse?  "I walked into a tree".  No, really -- that was his excuse.  "I walked into a tree".  Incredibly enough (since this was before we knew his girl smacked him around) ... I bought it.  I believed him.  The lesson?  As always, I am the dumbest, most gullible son of a b*tch in the room.)

After his latest "disappear for a couple days" routine, Mary and I start doing the math (as once again, I'm doing both my "new" job in claims, and my "old" job in accounting.  Leif was eight degrees of awful, and I hope I never see that son of a b*tch again.  But this?  Hiring Josh?  This was his worst decision, in a 22 hand-written pages bullet point listing, of bad decisions.)

And we realize ... there's no way he hasn't burned through all his PTO.  Which is how we brought him down.

Because the idiot -- and yes, the only way this can be described is "idiotic" -- the idiot hung his timesheet up in his cubicle!  Not the "filling it out as I go" timesheet -- the actual submitted timesheet, printed out off whatever our intranet site was!  He'd smartly (knowing Mary and I were gunning for him; we weren't even pretending to be doing anything but, at this point) thrown those things away.

In the department recycle bin.

You're damned right I went dumpster diving.  Armed with the evidence, we bypassed management, went to HR directly, and made the case for termination.

Which led to one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen, come 3:25ish on Monday, July 25th:

(stevo's email) (notifies me I have a new message)
(stevo) (opens his email)
(mary's email to stevo) get over here!  Now!  It's going down!

So I casually walk a couple aisles over, and there is Josh, clearing up the stuff he can carry; Leif, standing there looking like he just lost a loved one; and Mary, with a huge beaming smile on her face.  I stand next to Mary, and this goes down:

(leif) guys, don't gloat.
(stevo) Leif, you hired my job out from under me, for this unqualified jackass.  You have literally wasted the last five months of my life, because you can't stand me*.  And it's all blown up in your face.  I'm going to enjoy this sh*t for all it's worth, and don't you DARE try to stop me!
(mary) what he said.

So Leif had to escort Josh out the door, and our long, four month long departmental nightmare, was finally over.

(*: that man hated me with a passion.  The feeling, as you can tell, was quite mutual.)

* So Josh's termination meant I was officially back to doing two jobs for awhile.  So be it.  But his termination, along with a few other personnel turnovers, meant we had some openings.  And not even two weeks after Josh was shown the door, I am coming back from a late lunch*, and as I head down the main aisle (if you ever stepped foot in our old department at Transamerica, you'll understand the logistics), I see Stan has a guy in his office that he's interviewing.  I'd seen the dude around -- he was friends with my buddy Brett over in claims, and I thought he worked in claims, but I didn't know him from some random guy on the street.

So I make my way back to my desk (I got my old corner office spot back as "thanks" for what Josh's hiring -- and firing -- meant), walk past Mary's desk, and start to sit down and get back to work, when Mary comes around the corner.  This ... almost never happened.  Either I had to walk her way (a whole, at most, 8 steps), or she'd start tossing things over the wall to get my attention and make me stand up to talk.  She never -- never! -- headed my way.  This time, she did, for this conversation:

(mary) did you see him?
(stevo) see who?
(mary) the kid* in Stan's office!
(stevo) I saw there was someone in there, but didn't really pay much attention.
(mary) what?  How could you not notice him?
(stevo) why?
(mary) because he's so good looking!
(stevo) oh Jesus.

Mary had a thing about wanting the department to, uuh, only hire "good looking dudes".  So, of course, when the interview's over, she makes me follow the guy out, to "check him out" (her words, not mine).  It's the first, and I believe only, time in my life, I've ever been a stalker.

So, finding out nothing -- stunning, I know -- I head back upstairs, and she's already grilled Stan about this guy.  She tells me that "I told Stanley he has to hire him!"  After cracking a joke in response about how "I guess I'm not the hottest guy in the department anymore"**, she tells me what Stan told her about him: that he was working over in claims, was looking for something more stable / permanent ...

And his name was Dustin.

Or "Dunston", as she always called him.

(*: and now you know, why I call him, "The Kid".)

(**: she had a great one-liner comeback: "honey, you haven't been the hottest guy in this department since Justin showed up three years ago!"  Yeah, I miss that place sometimes.)

* I'd better start picking up the pace; we're barely in August.

* And August gave us "Double Header Day II"!!!

* Labor Day weekend ... (peter griffin voice) I've had better days, Lois.  I've had better days.  Friday opens with me meeting a few friends and co-workers at The Quaff after work.  I can honestly say, I have never, and I mean never, been drunker in public in Kansas City, than I was that afternoon.  I fell down twice walking to the bathroom.  Ugly.  And in true Stevo fashion, I made the decision while laying on the floor, that it was time to go home.  So I just left, somehow found my car, and somehow made it home.  (Note: I am NOT condoning that decision, in any way, shape, or form.  It's amongst the top 734 stupidest things, I've ever done in my life.  And yes, the fact that I can only count 734 things in my life as being completely stupid ... seems ridiculously low.)

That decision was memorable, only because all of my friends dropped the "you let him leave?!?!" line at poor Phil ... and the waitress was amongst those dropping the line.

Later that night ... the rain started rolling in.  One vicious storm.  Knocked out the power on our side of 53rd Terrace (and neighbors wound up running extension cords across the street, from our side on the north, to their side on the south, to try to salvage something, anything, of what was in our fridges and freezers.)  Come about 10pm that night, we decided to make a run to the Wal-Mart for ... well, only God knows why.  (For the peanut gallery, the answer is not just "yes", it's "hell yes".)  That?  Was THE scariest car ride of my life.  We barely made it halfway there (a trip of maybe four miles) before reaching the "f*ck it, we're going home!" moment of terror.  The storm was that bad.

Saturday, The Voice of Reason, his sister, and I headed up to Lawrence for the KU season (and home) opener against Northwestern.  It'd been overcast and drizzly all day, nothing like the day before, but still miserable.  Come mid-second quarter, it went from "mildly annoying rain" to "full on monsoon conditions".  I mean, it poured like a mother.  (But you stayed for the whole game?)  Hell yes we did.  (KU lost 28-20, but failed to convert a 4th and goal as time expired.)  On the bright side, somehow none of us wound up sick as could be from standing in three straight hours of pouring down rain ... and KU somehow overcame the loss, to make its' first bowl game in nearly a decade (losing in the Champs Sports Bowl to NC State).

Sunday, it was still pouring down rain, so I did what any reasonable person would do: I went to the casino.  I should probably note, I did not have a cell phone yet at that time.  I hated those things back then (and quite frankly, still do in many regards.  Sometimes, you just wanna get away from it all, and those things make it impossible.)  But, given where I lived at the time (western Shawnee), I was only a couple minutes from my grandma's, so if she ever needed anything (her health was starting to slip), I'd be the one either she'd call, or my folks would call.  She had a bad fall that day, and with that, my folks forced me to enter the mid 1980s, and get a cell phone.  (But grandma was ok, right?)  Of course she was.  She still had another fourteen months in her.

* A couple days later, the Royals made their last gasp stand, a Thursday make-up day game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  It's amongst the most painful defeats I've ever attended.  KC trailed 3-2 entering the bottom of the ninth.  Carlos Beltran walked to open the inning.  Stole second base.  Stole third base.  And scored on a sacrifice fly, to force extra innings (where the Royals ultimately lost).  The loss dropped them a week's worth of games behind the Twins, with only three weeks to play.  Still, by far and away, the 2003 season was the best Royals season of the last twenty years.  And in that last sentence, is all any person needs to know, about how awful this team has been.

* The Chiefs opened play by pounding the Chargers in the opener, then demolishing the Steelers, and winning by four touchdowns in Houston, to set up a battle of 3-0 teams in Baltimore to close down September.  After escaping with a 17-10 win via a late Dante Hall kickoff return for a touchdown, it was set up to open October.

4-0 denver ... at 4-0 Kansas City.

There are games you look forward to, simply because.  There are games you look forward to, because the hype is great, and you buy into it.  There are games you look forward to, because you get caught up in it, and just give in to emotion.  This game, was all of those things.

But every once in awhile ... a game lives up to the hype, the potential, the promise.

This one ... there is noone in Arrowhead Nation, who will EVER, forget this one.

Chiefs 24, donkeys 23, on the most unbelievable punt return in NFL history, a 97 yard, "holy f*cking sh*t!", Dante Hall literally eluding all 11 My Little Ponies, on the return, without the benefit of blockers (but ... sigh ... yes, with a few illegal blocks in the back, to spring him).

That play -- as amazing and incredible as it was -- was Dante Hall's 7th return for a touchdown in 10 games.  (Pause).  And it was the first one I witnessed.

Every other one -- and yes, this became a running gag -- every other return, I was in the bathroom, and missed it, whether at home, or at Arrowhead.  It got to the point (namely, the watching party we had for the Ravens game), when I was ordered to go to the bathroom, to make magic happen.  (Somehow, I swear that last sentence makes sense.)

In the words of Paul Wilson from "Cheers" fame, from the series finale: "This?  I am here for!"

* The following week saw two unbelievable moments.  First, the Chiefs, trailing by 17 with 8:03 to play at Lambeau, won in overtime, 40-34, over the Packers.

And secondly, my favorite driver of all time, damned near died on the track at Texas.  I was 100% convinced I'd just seen my favorite driver die.  I mean, watch the clip!  Even Paul Page is moved to emotion, and usually, Scott Goodyear had to poke that guy awake, back in the day!

* The Chiefs eventually got to 9-0 ... and then, the roadie at Cincinnati happened.  You can read the belated recap of the weekend here.

* Come mid-November (namely, right after that trip to Cincy), work reared its' ugly head again.  As the admin system project neared its' conclusion, we got to work "mandatory overtime".  Go figure -- Leif didn't show up for any of it, because after all: once an ass of a manager, always an ass of a manager*.  But, we did get yet another fun "Leif hire that blew up in his face" moment: Dennis!

(30 for 30 voice) What if I told you ... that there was an employee ... who literally had a television on his cubicle desk?  Who literally spent all day watching trashy talk shows, instead of working?  And what if I told you his manager was so obtuse, so inattentive, cared so little about what actually went on in his department, that said employee went undiscovered for nearly four months, with said television on desk?  And what if I told you the hatred for Leif was so intense, that us employees let Dennis get away with said television, because that's how little respect we had for our boss?

Well, that happened, with a racial epiteth meltdown at The Quaff one night after work to boot.  Believe it or not, folks -- I actually loved my six plus years in that department.  Just not the six plus month stretch to close out 2003.

(*: most people on this site, I will treat with at least a modicum of respect, and/or give a nickname, to hide the guilt.  Leif?  Can kiss my ass in hell.  I've never hated anyone like I hate that man.  (joe biden voice) Folks!  He feels nothing but hate for Leif!  A three letter word: hate!)

* Oh, yeah -- I also had to blow off a "mandatory overtime" Saturday, to take a weekend roadie away with The Voice of Reason for the Chiefs / Vikings game in Minneapolis.  Readers?  What we've experienced here in KC the last six weeks?  Is like a every other day occurance, in Minneapolis.  I will never, and I mean never, forget walking through 11 inches of snow that had fallen during the game, to get back to the car.

* Forgot to mention, the week before, the Chiefs clinched the AFC West for the first time in six years, by pounding the Lions on the morning US forces captured Saddam Hussein.  Still the most unreal tailgate, I've ever attended.  (The story is in there, you just have to read for awhile, to get to it.)

* And also forgot to mention, the gambling moment of a lifetime, when I bet damned near everyone I knew, and their brother, that Kansas State would upset Oklahoma in the Big XII title game.  A few folks at work, I didn't even have to win straight up (although I was willing to take that bet); they gave me the points.  I won nearly $400 from co-workers who didn't believe in that Wildcats team.  I did.  Fun times!

* And the truly funniest moment of December.  We did our "Secret Santa" deal as a department, where we drew one person that we were to give a minor gift ($10 limit) to every day for a week (if you chose to participate).  I drew a guy I, quite honestly, didn't know, didn't care to know, but hey, he's here, so let's do this.  If you worked with me at TA, you know which Tim I drew, and it wasn't the quiet, decent dude who worked in our claims area that I still consider to be a friend.  I drew the Tim in our department who literally drank at his desk.  No, that's not a joke -- he literally made Irish Coffee from the moment he walked in the door, until he left to go home.

So me, being both the awesomely nice dude I am, as well as being the laziest SOB to walk the planet, I approached him on Monday of Secret Santa Week, and this was our conversation:

(stevo) hey.
(tim) hello.
(stevo) so I'm not gonna lie; I'm your Secret Santa.
(tim) ok.
(stevo) and I have no idea what to get you, but ...
(tim) I smoke Winston's; I drink Seagram's.
(stevo) VO or straight 7?
(tim) surprise me.

So yes, my "gift" to my Secret Santa recipient every day for a week, was a pack of Winston's, and a pint of Seagram's.  Go figure -- he never complained.

* The year ended ... well hell, we all know how it ended: me, a couch, a cold one, and (pre-strokey) Dick Clark.  And that ushered in arguably the most difficult year of my life, 2004.

I can promise you, 2004 will be the LAST year of "The Decade That Was", to get a recap ...

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