Friday, April 18, 2008


“Are you counting down the days?”

This question has become de rigueur in any conversation about my retirement. (And it’s a conversation that I experience at least once a day.) I still find myself experiencing a brief flush of embarrassment as I form my now-stock answer.

“Actually, I am,” I admit, quickly adding a qualifier.

“Not that I’m eager to leave.”


“But it’s not as if I still don’t enjoy what I do.”

And then, so as to demonstrate that I haven’t given up, that I’m not miserable, that I can still compete in normal society, and that I have no intentions of wearing sweatpants (Seinfeld, episode 63, “The Pilot”), I stress the fact that I see this opportunity as a chance to “reformat my career”.

Maybe I should register this phrase. If you Google it – well, let me help you out here – your sole result will be Retiring Guy: New Library Director Recruitment & Hiring Timeline ...i.e., this very blog.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Googling Myself

I read a most interesting article in today’s New York Times: “Googling Me and Finding You: Names That Match Forge a Bond”. (In a book published this month, Finding Angela Shelton, the author describes her meetings with 40 other women who share her name. There’s even a term for this phenomenon: Googlegängers, or Google twins.)

I’ve occasionally done this, though never made a habit of it. Googling “Paul Nelson” results in an overwhelming number of hits. It’s like scanning the listings in a Minneapolis phone book; there’s just too much information – too many competing addresses, phone numbers, and middle initials.

The article opens with some observations by Sam Blackman, a 39-year-old pediatric oncologist. Dr. Blackman refers to his Google namesakes as “Sam 2.0” and “Sam 3.0”. When one of these Sams posted a picture of his new wife online, Sam 1.0 said he felt a twinge of pleasure.

“I’m like ‘Oh! Sam Blackman got married.’ I felt like I should send a card or check his registry on Amazon.”

All I could do after reading this statement was roll my eyes. I wanted to ask the guy, “Is your life so empty that you need to make a connection with someone you don’t even know, just because you have the same name?”

Maybe if people put this kind of energy into strengthening relationships with their immediate family members and flesh-and-blood friends, the world would be a much better place.

But some would say that’s just an ill-informed generalization based on my pre-Internet mindset.

Social scientists have an explanation, if not a defense, for this trend. They say – or at least the reporter says that they say – human beings are unconsciously drawn to people and things that remind us of ourselves.

So maybe I should go into the mirror business when I retire.

The article also mentions a psychological theory called the “name-letter effect”, which posits that people like the letters in their own names, their initials, in particular, better than the rest of the alphabet. OK, I admit that I frequently used PEN as part of a log-in or password, though not anymore. (Just in case someone was thinking about going on a phishing expedition.) Actually, I’m partial to my initials because they also serve as the acronym for the international writers group PEN, which originally stood for poets, essayists, and novelists but now includes writers of all forms of literature. Since the 9th grade, writing has been a very important part of my life. Once I reach retirement in four months, my goal is that writing will become the most important – and most successful – part of my life.

Of course, this commentary wouldn’t be complete without my own Google search. But to narrow the results, I needed to use a trifecta approach: “Paul Everett Nelson”.

And lo and behold! How spooky is this? The first result is a current resident of Auburn, Washington, my birthplace.

It Plays In Peoria Productions
Paul Everett Nelson 14 S. Division Auburn, WA 98001. (253) 735-MEAT Paul Nelson is a broadcast interview host, whole-systems journalist, ...

I hesitated to click on the link, fearing that I might find a picture of my other self. What helped feed this paranoid fantasy is the fact that I just finished listening to the impossible-to-categorize Anansi Boys, wherein Charles (“Fat Charlie”) Nancy, well into his 20s, discovers he has a brother, Spider, who has magical powers that thoroughly disrupt his life. Spider gets Fat Charlie fired from his job, steals his fiancée, and is instrumental in having him arrested for embezzlement and suspected of murder. (Perhaps it’s good that I’m almost retired and happily married! The book has a happy ending, by the way.)

What the hell! I told myself. I’m going to email Paul 2.0.

I briefly explained the reason for this unexpected contact – the New York Times article, my blogpost reaction, the Auburn connection – making a between-the lines effort not to sound like some weirdo reaching out for a friend. I provided one specific reference: My dad, now deceased, was the pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church from 1943-1952.

He responded within an hour

Too weird. Where do you live, Pablo?

He obviously hadn’t click on the link to my blog, which is included as part of my “signature”..

Then he added a postscript to his reply.

P.S. I live 5 blocks north of Messiah Lutheran.

My Dad is named Paul Everett Nelson and lives in Chicago. My brother named his 2nd son Paul Everett Nelson and they live in South Elgin, IL.

Paul 2.0

Outside of me, the only other Paul Everett Nelson who showed up in my Google search is dead.

Coroners’ Reports
July 28th Mrs Carrie NORLANDER 82 Willard St, fractured Femur in fall July 29th Paul Everett NELSON, age 12, 207 W 8th St accidental gun shot ...

The coroners’ report are from Chautauqua County, New York – the county line is just a 15-minute from where I grew up – and cover the years 1917-1936.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Spring Break 2008 Road Trip: What We Saw and Missed Along the Way, Part 1

Our 2008 spring break vacation began under conditions more suitable for Valentine’s Day.

JoAnna, Eddie, and I left the house at 2:40 p.m., with a light snow still falling and nearly six inches of the wet, sticky variety on the ground. The Altima rumbled over the washboard surface of Gammon Road as we headed toward the Beltline.

This is going to be a challenge to my sanity, I figured, keeping this thought to myself.

Surprisingly, the Beltline was in excellent “winter”-driving shape. The surface was wet, of course, and there was lots of spray from all the traffic, but I felt confident driving at 55-60 miles per hour. I-90 looked good, too, at least for the first 10 miles that we drove on it.

“Maybe this part of the trip won’t be so bad after all,” I said with a wary sense of relief.

A few minutes later, I realized I might have spoken too soon.

“I see a lot of brake lights up ahead,” I announced. “Not a good sign.”

The flow of traffic looked to be slowing down considerably. We were near the source of a 20-mile-long traffic jam that occurred during one of last months’ ice-and-snow storms. People who experienced this catastrophe were stuck in their cars for as much as 12 hours. I didn’t want even a mild version of this to happen to us.

The traffic going in our direction never came to a complete stop. We did have to slow down a few more times before reaching the Illinois border. In one case, a truck cab (no trailer attached) somehow ended up 30 feet from the side of the road, an icy stretch of I-90 just north of Janesville. In another case, a Matrix just like ours ended up in the breakdown lane facing oncoming traffic. In other words, the occasional slowdown was due to a combination of caution and rubbernecking.

The most direct route to Virginia Beach follows the Indiana Toll Road, the Ohio Turnpike, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike to where I-70 breaks off to the southeast. Had we followed this route, we would have accompanied the storm that had made our morning in Middleton so miserable. During the 24 hours before our trip, I went online and checked and double-checked the weather forecasts for points east: Chicago, South Bend, Toledo, Akron, Pittsburgh. It was the same bad news everywhere. Snow. Snow. Snow. Snow.

As an alternative, I selected I-39 south to Bloomington, Illinois, and I-74 east to Indianapolis, which was approximate destination on the first day of our road trip. Thirty miles south of Rockford, the snow had disappeared from the endlessly flat landscape, and by the time we reach Bloomington, the dashboard thermometer read 60º. It had been 30º when we left Middleton.

Traveling along I-39, I was reminded of how fast Illineasians love to drive, especially when traffic is light. Twenty miles north of Bloomington, I felt like a Grandpa putt-putting along in his old but well-maintained Buick, even though our speedometer needle rested between 75 and 80 miles per hour. An SUV on steroids blew past us going 100, I’d guess.

In spite of Eddie’s initial objections, we stopped for dinner at Woody’s Family Restaurant in Le Roy, population 3,332 according to our Illinois road map. From the vantage point of its only exit on I-74, the town looks to be about a quarter that size.

Woody’s looks like a dump from its back side, which is what we first saw as we left the Interstate. Two large, bright yellow awnings on either side of the entrance give the place a welcoming feel, however. We also noted a lot of cars in the parking lot, most likely of locals with no place else to go.

I lost a good portion of my appetite when our food was served. The size of my catfish looked as though Jesus had just performed his miracle of the loaves and fishes. Maybe it was the monstrous portion, or the breaded tail and dorsal fins, but the taste of the meat wasn’t what I remembered, particularly not from our visit to Louisiana in 1999. When Eddie took a sample, he immediately spit it into a napkin.

“That’s way too fishy,” he said.

No wonder most people prefer chain restaurants when they travel.

Woody's Family Restaurant is located in the middle of the light blob of earth above the final "r" in EnviroMapper.

Le Roy's other non-chain restaurant goes by the name of Uncle Tom's Pancake House. (Serious!)

Here's a photo of downtown Le Roy, with the sidewalks already rolled up well before the end of the day.