Dungeons and Dragons wasn’t always cool. Back in the 90’s, it was a game played by pimply, greasy, pubescent boys on shag brown carpet under dim incandescent lights with Led Zeppelin rocking in the background. I know because I was one of those boys. Back then I think my friends and I spent more time trying to make each others’ characters miserable, and by extension ourselves, by throwing sadistic, borderline hilarious plot devices at one another.
I had forgotten all about my own experiences until my daughter, Ashley, bought a Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set for her and her friends to play. At first I was astounded that she wanted to play. I mean, Dungeons and Dragons is ( was ) for nerds, right? I was comfortable with it when I was her age, but Ashley? However, after gauging her enthusiasm my attitude quickly morphed into encouragement and finally, well, rejection…
It’s been nine months since my last cancer treatment and in another couple of weeks I’ll be “celebrating” my cancer-versary, or three years since my initial diagnosis. According to recent bloodwork which I get done every three months, my cancer remains undetectable, too. For now the boogeyman is bound, gagged, and ( mostly ) silenced – well, at least until my next bloodwork and inevitable scanxiety.
Last weekend my friends, family, and I walked in the 2022 Prostate ZERO Walk in San Diego. This was our first time joining a physical event after COVID forced us to come up with our own last year. I felt a little guilty urging everyone to wake up early on a precious Saturday morning to attend, but they did. Later, I laughed as the DJ had everyone warm up with what I can only describe as Zumba-meets-line-dancing prior to setting foot on the course. We were the second biggest team and rose $2,382, putting us behind only Poseida Therapeutics. For everyone who participated, thank you!
For those of you men who are undergoing treatment I can assure you, that if you take care of yourselves you will be okay. Even though it may not seem like it, there is life at the end of the tunnel and, although it’s going to be different than the one you left, it can be a good one, and maybe even a little better, at least in some ways. The big things won’t seem so big anymore, the small things won’t bother you as much, and you’ll start to realize how important the things are that you always just took for granted.
“Guess what girls? As of August 1st I can get you all of the free bubble wrap and boxes that you want!”, I joked. “I just accepted a new job at UPS!”
“Which store will you be working at? The one next to CVS?”, Kaylee asked.
“Uh….no….”, I laughed, “No, it’s a management role. I’ll be managing other engineers.”
“Oh…..”, they said in unison. Almost disappointed.
More than a few of my friends have also suffered through a similar lack of enthusiasm from their own kids. Working for Apple does not mean you work at the Genius Bar, nor does working at Qualcomm mean you hustle popcorn and beer at football games, although admittedly, the latter is a bit stale given the closure of the prior home of the Chargers football team.
As a manager I’ll be herding engineers rather than the 1’s and 0’s that have been the hallmark of my prior positions. It’ll be a change of pace for me, but one I have been working towards for a while. Over the last couple of years I have been reading books on management strategies, interviewing past co-workers, and enrolling in classes. This year culminated with a Certified Associate Project Manager (CAPM) certification, a Certified SCRUM Master certification, and, of course, this new job.
“To be honest, there are faster, smarter, quicker engineers than me…”, I admitted to my soon-to-be boss during my interview.
He raised an eyebrow at me.
“…I mean, I’m no slouch!”, I corrected quickly. “But, over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing people, and, given my own experiences, I feel like I am in a great position where I can guide and motivate them to become what they were meant to be.”
“‘I’m a ‘People Person’, too”, I laughed, “You know, like Tom Smykowski from Office Space? You know, Office Space? The movie?”
A questionable stare. I guess not. Probably a bad analogy anyway, though, given that Tom was anything but a people person.
For me it’s all true, though. Between a one-two punch of a cancer diagnosis and COVID lockdown, I need to be working with people again, not staring at a computer screen. There will still be problems, of course, just of a different, more “people-y” nature, and I am so looking forward to it.
So, before I go, some job search statistics for those who are interested:
I submitted at least 80 job applications over a 3-month period. The first of which was on 4/17/2022, the last of which was on 7/15/2022.
I interviewed with 12 different companies. This equates to 15% of the companies that I had applied to. The majority of the interviews were split into three different parts – an HR screen, an hour-long interview with the hiring manager, and, finally, a half-day panel interview with the team. I am still waiting on responses from some of the interviews that I participated in.
I received 3 offers, which is roughly 4% of the companies that I had applies to and 25% of the companies that I had interviewed with.
The most responsive of the larger companies that I applied to were BD, Sony, and Amazon. The bad news is that BD, after several rounds of interviews and over a month-and-a-half of waiting, cancelled the requisition altogether. Meanwhile, two months and three interviews later I am still “waiting” to hear from Sony. As for Amazon, I almost felt I had to beat them off with a stick. I was contacted by so many of their recruiters over the course of my search that I lost count. I can’t help but think I was just a quota as follow-up calls were few and far in-between. An engineer with a heartbeat, yup, that’s me.
The least responsive large companies were Intuit and HP, both of which I submitted multiple applications, but never received a single follow-up. Intuit was by far the most frustrating as I attended not one, but two career events – uh, I mean, mixers.
Apparently, at some point in my distant past I was a camper, because I surprised myself and my much more outdoorsy neighbor, Missy, the organizer of the expedition, by the sheer amount of camping equipment I had stuffed into the deepest, darkest corners of garage. It was almost as if I never wanted myself to find it again. Planning ahead I had bought a brand new tent in celebration of Amazon’s Prime Day, only to find two more hidden in my garage during my excavation.
“This new tent will work out better“, I insisted, “It’s bigger and we’ll all be able to sleep together!”
On the first night I realized that our massive 6-person tent was a tighter squeeze than I expected. Worse, I shared an air mattress with Kaylee. Being heavier, I created a depression that she couldn’t help but roll into and subsequently, on top of me. I escaped to the van and spent a sleepless night reclined in the driver’s seat, sleeping for maybe an hour or two in 15-minute spurts. I wasn’t the only one, either. Jodie ended up reading through the night. As for my other daughter, Ashley? She rolled off the air mattress she shared with Jodie and slept, face-planted on the bare vinyl floor of the tent. To each her own.
The toilet and showers gave out early the next day. Suspiciously, the outage coincided with our fearless leader, Missy, contracting a very nasty stomach bug. Being the trooper she was, she insisted on toughing it out, to the extent of trying to follow along on a 3-mile hike in 90+ degree weather. Mercifully, she retreated back to camp only to be voted “off the island” and chaffuered home with a crate of Gatorade and saltine crackers.
A trip to Miner’s Diner in Julian and heaping scoops of ice cream cheered everyone up. Heck, I would have paid good money just to sit in the air conditioned splendor. As luck would have it the diner had an entire basement full of candy which each of the kids took turns exploring.
“Hey, Kay! “Check these out!”, I called to my youngest, Kaylee.
“What are those?”, she asked.
“Sugar candy cigarettes!”, I announced.
“I haven’t seen these in years. Pretty inappropriate for this day and age.”, I reminisced.
She nodded in agreement.
Later that night, back at the campsite, we dined on packaged ramen, canned beans, and store-bought tortillas in an effort to hedge against any more food poisoning stemming from the BBQ’d burgers we had eaten the night before. After getting the campfire started my friend, Mike, strummed guitar while the kids all lined up on a squat fence bordering the campsite.
“Uh, what are they doing?”, Jodie asked.
“Smoking cigarettes.”, I said.
I averted her eyes.
“Don’t worry, they’re sugar. I couldn’t resist.”, I smiled. “It’s nostalgic”.
The second night was quieter. Unsurprisingly, many campers decided to hoof it rather than risk stumbling through the brush in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. My bedroom, the van, was commandeered at least once to make the journey to the remaining operable bathroom a half mile down the road. Sleep was elusive, even more so when Kaylee popped her head in.
“I can’t sleep in the tent”, she moaned, “Can I sleep in here with you?”
“You can try”, I laughed. “I haven’t had any luck.”
She was out cold within minutes in the passenger seat next to me, snoring.
I would say I was up early the next morning, but as I never really went down it’s kind of a misnomer. We managed a pretty good spread of pancakes and scrambled eggs before everyone decided to cut their losses, beat the heat, and head home early.
“Next time? Cabins.”, Jodie suggested.
“Right?”, I agreed absent-mindedly. My exhausted mind theorizing where in the garage I could re-entomb my collection of tents and camping gear so that they would never, ever, be discovered again.
It has now been six months since my oncologist paused my treatments for prostate cancer and it remains undetectable. My doctor calls it a treatment “holiday”, and it’s one holiday I never want to return from.
I had forgotten what it’s like to have energy. I started running again, something I thought I’d never be able to do after recovering from surgery, radiation, and having zero testosterone for two years. I’ve also started playing paddle ball and pickleball a couple times a week, too. On some days I probably push myself a little too hard, but for me, applying a ice pack and swallowing an Ibuprofen is more symbolic of me being fixed than being broken. Life is good.
One day in particular that I am looking forward to is Saturday, September 17th. On that day my family, friends, and I will be walking in the 2022 ZERO Prostate Cancer Walk at De Anza Cove Park in Mission Bay. Last year, we, as “Team Vandervort”, raised $4,134, making us the second highest fundraising team in San Diego. We were also the second largest team with 44 people participating in the walk. This year I am hoping that we can do even better and I have set our fundraising goal for $5,000 and would love to have a team of at least 50 people. If you’d like to join us please go here and register.
My family and I were recently introduced to Paddleball by Jayme, my sister-in-law. Jayme and my wife, Jodie, were avid racquetball players before the onslaught of our children. A few months ago Jayme started playing a similar sport, called Paddleball, with a group at the local High School on Saturdays. She invited me to join her, and, naturally, I said “maybe”. My history with racquet sports isn’t a pretty one. I was the kid in high school that spent more time fishing tennis balls out of the bushes than hitting them. I was also the dude who screamed like a girl every time I played indoor racquetball with Jayme or Jodie. Simply put : They’re good. I’m not good. But, it’s more than a machoistic thing…
“I’m really not a fan of claustrophobia, 80mph balls, and swinging racquets in close quarters”, I told Jayme.
“It’s not a racquet, it’s a paddle”, Jayme encouraged me.
“And, it’s outdoors”, she continued.
“And, the ball is softer and doesn’t travel as fast.”, she finished.
“Maybe.”, I replied.
I eventually did join her, not to play, but because my youngest daughter, Kaylee, who had been going with Jayme, wanted me to meet “Grogu”, the “cutest puppy in the whole world” that frequented the courts. And, Kaylee was right, of course. Grogu absolutely was the cutest puppy in the whole world. But, I ended up playing a couple rounds of Paddleball, too, and, as expected, hit several balls over the wall in the process. But, everyone encouraged me to keep playing and had tips on how to improve my game. I remember coming home, sore and tired, but excited to tell Jodie all about it.
Fast forward a couple of months and Jodie and I now have our own paddles, made by Gearbox, a set of balls, portable chairs, and lots of new friends. We play Saturdays with the San Diego Elite Paddleball Group.
I drew these pictures for Kevin and my ongoing endeavor, a children’s book, titled “Jalapena”. If the name sounds familiar, that’s good, because my last post was over eight months ago. If not, well, it’s a story about a young troll, Jalapena, and her human friend, Raven, as they journey to save their world by means of saving a unicorn. Kevin based it upon stories he told his daughter when she was younger.
As per my last post I’ve been putting a lot more effort into drawing “au natural”, with pencils, pens, and paper. The first two drawings were done entirely on my Surface Pro using Clip Studio and Gimp. The later three were done using a blue pencil, an HB pencil, Micron Pens, and a sheet of printer paper. It takes a little more work, but is a lot more rewarding for me. At some point, if there’s enough interest, I’ll do a quick post on my process.
An unintended but unavoidable result of our trip to Vegas a few months ago was our new pet, Mochi, the Axolotl. Axolotl’s are almost extinct in the wild and illegal to own and sell in California, but quite plentiful in the city known for loose slots, loose women, and ( as we found out ) loose pet restrictions. After experiencing Mochi firsthand, I’m honestly surprised that Axolotls still exist in the wild at all. They’re clumsy for starters. Mochi, of course, is also bright shade of pink, a color that does everything but scream “here I am, come eat me” to any predator with more than an ounce of intelligence.
Although Mochi is my oldest daughter, Ashley’s, pet, my wife, Jodie, is her primary caretaker. Honestly, I am more than a little jealous of the amount of attention she gets, too. Every morning Jodie and her sister Jayme, who adopted an Axolotl of her own while in Vegas with us, compare detailed notes of water conditions, bowel movements, and the number of worms their respective legged-fish ate the day prior. The nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia levels all have to be just right as well as the water temperature. Since we got Mochi Amazon has chartered entire truckloads worth of fans, filtration devices, sand, rocks, blood worms, and nightcrawlers, water testing kits, etc… to our house – oh, and Jayme’s, too, of course. Mochi only cost about thirty dollars, but we’ve easily spent ten times that keeping her alive.
I’ve often caught Jodie staring into Mochi’s aquarium, wondering, I assume, if the clumsy, pink, legged fish staring back through the glass has developed any sort of affection for her. I can only guess…..
On a side note, you might have noticed that my artwork has changed. Up until a month or so ago I drew the majority of my comics and illustrations digitally on my Microsoft Surface Pro 7 using Clip Studio Paint and Gimp. I’ve since gone back to basics and started using pencils, inks, and paper. My reasons are threefold. First, after spending an entire day at work in front of a computer screen, it was getting more and more difficult to motivate myself to spend even more time in front of the same screen to do my art. Second, although drawing digitally allowed me to make corrections easier, I found myself taking it to extremes. I found myself obsessing over every detail and, in the long run, I felt my artwork was loosing some spontaneity. Third, I found myself not improving as much as I would of liked. Drawing digitally was making me sloppy. Paper can only be erased so many times before you wear a hole through it. Computer pixels aren’t so limited. While using pencil and ink I find myself carefully planning each stroke.
Admittedly, I’m still working out the details. My lines aren’t as crisp, my colors are streaky, and the scanner I’ve been using somehow manages to wash everything out, but I’m enjoying the whole process a lot more. I haven’t completely ruled out digital arts, either. I just needed a little change.