Hi rjpabich, a hearty welcome to SitePoint! This is a very active forum, and you can be assured that all your needs will be met.
Centering content as you describe is very easy. Just a few point, though. Use of the center element is badly out of date, so erase if from your memory. Secondly, absolute positioning is rarely a good idea for site layout—especially the main sections of a page. Only use it rarely, for special little items here and there.
So... the first thing you should do is wrap the contents of your page in a div, say with an id of "wrapper".
Then, in your style sheet, give that wrapper a width (be it fixed or fluid) and set left and right margins to auto. That will center the page, like so:
margin: 0 auto;
As for aligning text next to a picture, you can best do that with floats. How exactly to do that depends on the specifics of how you want the page to be laid out.
So, please provide us with a link to your page (if live) or the code you are using. You can post a link by removing the http bit and leaving a space for the dots, or just writing 'dot' each time.
If you are posting your code, please wrap it in code tags (by highlighting it and clicking the code (#) button.
If any or all of the above makes no sense whatever, don't despair. Just keep asking questions!