Friday, January 30, 2015

Logo Love


Just throwing around some ideas:








 



 Wouldn't absolutely any of these be perfect on a T-shirt?  


From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..."

"You put some music on and it becomes a paaaaar-tay."

Fact...


It is a lot of fun to isolate something from its context.  But, I really don't feel like I should do that here, seeing as how this is an historical record and all, so I'd better fess up.

The boys rushed into the house one day - I'd like to say they didn't do it straight from church, but they did - and went to work on a couple of "spellbooks."  They are pretty intense and they worked diligently on them and, well, that was the last I'd seen of them, until a couple of days ago.  I was trying to get a number of binders to shove into a space that could hold that number of binders minus one.  I had to remove them all to rearrange them and, lo and behold, behind them all were these two booklets.

You see, one hides one's spellbook.  They weren't hiding it from me, nothing nefarious mind you, but, well, ya gotta keep your spells safe.

Here's Nick's:







Zack rocked a different style





I am glad you took the time to come around today.  It was fun getting back to my roots here and being silly.  I've been a little too caught up in the words lately, forgetting that when I first started this I was mostly hoping to remember the silly bits and pieces I find around here.




Thursday, January 29, 2015

Andy and Me... and Pie


I don't watch much television during the day.  If I do it's usually when I am sitting down with something to eat.  Actually, I watch when I am sitting down with something good to eat, or something messy.  More often than not I just stand in the kitchen and look off into the yard and watch the maples grow as I eat a salami and mustard sandwich - true story.

Sometimes I watch - and laugh - at the news channels headlining a football controversy or a super-blizzard fixing to pummel the East Coast and neglecting the real news.  Oh, I know, these things are important to folks and push ratings, I get all that.  But, I usually just change the channel.

The Andy Griffith show is on often in the mornings on some station or another.  I land on it and sigh in relief as I see Aunt Bee loading Barney's plate with mashed potatoes as Sheriff Taylor loads on cobs of corn near the perfect pot roast.  You see, they need to fatten him up so he'll pass the deputyin' requirements so he can continue to work in Mayberry.  They've even hatched a hair-brained scheme to stretch him taller.  It all works out in the end.

"It all works out in the end."

Nick told me that about a book he really liked the other day.  Let me go on record as saying a lot books for kids these day are full of dragons and demons and wizards and spells and, well, stuff that's sort of scary.  I blame Ms. Rowling.  And it's fine, for the most part.

But not for every kid.

I read - at Nick's request - the book he was talking about.  It is called Pie and is by Sarah Weeks.  It's not perfect, it's not important, it's not allegorical or deep.  It is, in fact, a rather ordinary story.  But, it is sweet and tender and full of wholesome and good people and, and, it has a happy ending.

A lot of characters die in many books for kids these days, I guess that's always been the case, Disney and all.  Movies abound in which a parent is gone, or lost, or absent.  Pets die, fortunes are lost, people suffer.  Nick doesn't want any of that.  I've mentioned before in this post and again in this one, that Nick used to run out of the room when the plot got scary or the music got ominous or the parents went on a trip.  He used to say "I only like the endings!" by which he meant the happily-ever-after part.

I am the same way.

Could there be a happy endings gene?  Perhaps it is the same gene that compels us to wear things on our heads as silly hats.  Is it the same gene that makes our hearts beat fast when the brothers reunite or the main characters fight?

There is a scene in Pie where the main character insults her sidekick, an ordinary boy with a heart of gold, for not being smart.  She hurts the boys' feelings and he lets her know that.  She later apologizes and they make up.

When Nick suggested I read this book he told me there were a couple of spots that weren't too nice.  That was one of the scenes he was talking about, the other was when they spy on teacher they suspect catnapped the cat that has the pie-crust recipe.

It's funny, some folks just gloss over or don't notice or understand it is just fictional characters doing fictional things and don't take the tensions and heartbreaks and joys and sorrows good prose can offer into their hearts.

And then there are people like me and Nick.

He also told me to be sure to read the epilogue.  "It's really the best part."  In it the girl grows up and keeps the pie shoppe open, the sidekick boy marries the other girl but they all live happily ever after, friends forever, the legacy of Polly the piemaker continues.

That's just fine by me.

Which brings me back to Andy.  I feel certain that many of you, Nick and Zack included, may not know who Sheriff Taylor was, is - I never know which way to go with that - but you'd recognize him I'd bet.  He is firm and kind and good and true.  He's a widower and is raising a boy and lives with his Aunt and is the law in a small town in a Carolina in the early sixties.  He does the right thing, almost always, and when he doesn't, he makes it right.  Nearly every episode of the show is a morality tale and ends just as you think it should.

I often find myself as a parent thinking "what would Andy do?"  I guess that's not the whole truth, I think I try to treat everyone as Andy might've.  In fact, the storytelling voice I've chosen, the aw-shucks attitude, the non-controversial stance I use here is influenced by Andy.  I admired Andy.  I loved Andy.

Truly, I want to be Andy.


I could go on and on about Mayberry and Andy and Opie and Goober and Gomer and Barney.  I'll stop for now.  I will say this though, it is important to let your kids know that you have heroes, role models, mentors, man-crushes.  Boys - I know boys - need to look up, and they need to see you looking up and if they see Andy looking back down at all of us, they'll know they're safe and that everything is gonna be alright.


(I don't know if you get weary of the 'but wait, there's more to every story' thing I do around here.  I am sorry if you are.  Sometimes in the middle of things I don't want to stop and tell something different but I still want to say that thing and one thing reminds me of another and.... well, I have trouble ending things.  I'm going to go ahead now and do that, well... now.)


There's more to the story about the book.  Nick really related to the boy who was the main character's friend, the sidekick, Charlie.  He's a sidekick kinda guy, Nick, he's loyal and faithful and a bit bumbling, hopelessly romantic and painfully devoted.  Interestingly, there was a bit of grocery list Charlie had written:


Yes, misspellings, just as Nick would have.  Perfect imperfection, I think.  I am positive Nick would spell dozen as "duzzin" if he tried.

Also, Ms. Weeks, used an incredibly clever device to open each chapter, she includes a pie recipe, several actually.  These simple recipes become somehow a character in the book.  They are interesting pies, pies familiar and strange, pies you imagine smelling and tasting and sharing with a friend or loved one.


About halfway through the book Nick came out of his bed to ask me if we could make the chocolate pie recipe.  We did.  Nick did most of the work.  He seperated the eggs, by hand, which is really the only way, and truly the funnest; he measured and spooned and stirred.  He tasted cocoa powder for the first time - for the record I told him he didn't want to do that; he experienced the curious squeaky texture on cornstarch.  The pie turned out a little soupy, we weren't patient enough cooking it over the stove, but it was damned tasty and, well, pretty unforgettable as well.

If you have a second, read that bit opposite the recipe.  I'll wait.

That is exactly the kind of thing I want my sons to be reading.  I want them to feel emotions for themselves.  I want them to empathize with others deeply, respectfully.  And, mostly, I want them to know they are cherished.

It all works out in the end...


From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

Dad: "No wrestling, please."


Boys: "I was just giving him a hug."


*yea, right*



One last thing, if your child wants you to read a book they loved, do it.  Marci and I always try to and it means the world to them.

I am glad you came by.  Oh, I almost forgot.  This is the cover of Pie:


 ...and you can get it at Amazon here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Toaster, A Tire and Cinder Block Moss


Imagine I just got an envelope of photographs from the drugstore that sent away the film to get negatives and prints - negatives, lost forever, sad that - and I'm showing you some of them.  I'm not really sure what's here, I haven't seen them yet.  One at a time I show you some of them.  Talking as we go, a picture held in the space and time between us, my hand and yours on it together.

I wish there was more of that these days.  Something about holding the prints, sniffing a vague hint of the chemicals.  The colors so bold, the lines of black and white and gray so crisp.  The corners of the photo-paper are sharp and aggressive.  Each print has a bend to it, either arching up to you, or recoiling from you, lens-like.  The finish makes you want to stroke it, especially images of loved-ones or familiar scenes of youth.

There is a power that is in a photograph.  You can sense the urgency or spontaneity or necessity or tenderness the image maker felt.  You connect to them, you engage them, interact with them, cherish them.  Sometimes the are laid out in front of you on the coffee or kitchen table, a story board jumping through time

That doesn't really happen much anymore.  I'm just as guilty of the next guy.  I see almost exclusively digital imagery.  But, I'd like you to imagine the image in your hand, imagine I handed it to you, imagine our fingers touched and you smiled up at me and said thank you.


There is a trail not far from us where we've been walking around since the boys were three I'd say.  It is a loop through trees and hills.  A couple of bridges cross over a creek that meanders through.  There are a lot of brambles and downed wood and muddy creek banks.  Mostly oaks and a few cedars and elms, the undergrowth is thick and mean in the summer, but in winter it has fallen away.

We've been there dozens of times or more, in every season and all conditions.  We've seen it blanketed by eight inches of snow, we've smelled it in a spring rain and heard a cold autumn wind whistle high in the naked trees.  We've picked uncounted bouquets of wildflowers, collected pockets of acorns, spotted possums and, allegedly, a fox.  Deer have run in front of us, leaping impossibly over the path, as startled to see us as we them.

For the past several years now they've been allowed - encouraged - to roam freely through the roughly two and half acre woods.  (In fact, that's what I'm gonna call it, The Two and A Half Acre Woods, Pooh-like.)  I went with them early on, teaching them the wily ways of the brambles and Poison from other ivies.  But now they just take off into the woods to make their own adventure...

Oh, I'm sorry, look at me holding these pictures and not showing you a single one.

This is just along the path on the right, or left, depending on which path you traveled off the parking lot.  It has been a source of endless fascination to the boys.  Agreeably it is an odd sight and I am not sure of the circumstances which brought a substantial pile of blocks a quarter mile into the woods. The boys think was a fort, or a "prairie house," or "home for hurt animals during the war" (I'm still wondering about that one, which war, was it just to recover or was it a residential place, did animals die there, was there a separate carnivore wing?  - all this we've discussed).  My guess is an out-building..  Oh, Jeez, sorry:


That's how it looks from the path.  It looks as though you could walk right in there but the leaves are just covering up more blocks, unstable, crumbling blocks.  Don't try to walk in there...

When you get up closer, you can see how it looks like it was a building that fell, with perhaps a garage door on the wall facing us.

What's that?  No, no, don't worry about keeping them in order...


Here is what's interesting, at least to the boys, and me, well, us, I guess.  Initially, there wasn't any moss on them, it's come with time.  The age-old story of decay and our inability to do a thing to forestall it.  I'd say in another twenty years there won't be much but a pile of mossy sand and blackberry bushes. And an oak tree or two, we always throw the acorns we've collected into the blocks and like to imagine a sapling struggling its way up through the blocks, you know, right up through the center.


If you'll look closing in the first one I handed you - I think it's in back there, isn't it?  Well, just around that bend is a creek that winds through The Two and A Half Acre Woods.  It's a fairly healthy creek I'd say, no crawdads, but plenty of tadpoles and minnows.

One of the first times we walked through the woods we found an old park-style picnic table half buried in the shifting bed of the lazy creek.  We sort of tried to get it out, but it was stuck pretty good.

In fact, here in this one, you can a see a part of the table, I think:


But that isn't why I took the picture.  No, it's that damn tire right there.

This one:


It was, is still, may be always, buried in the frozen mud on the banks of The Creek That Runs Through The Two and A Half Acre Woods.

Nick and Zack and a good buddy of theirs spent upwards of two hours trying to get that tire out of that mud.  Now, this cannot be understated, they did everything possible to get that tire out of there.  Does it look to you like that's gonna come out of that sand and muck there anytime soon?


They tried everything they could think of.  They dug with flimsily gloved hands in the cold mud at first just figuring they'd dig it out.  When that didn't work, they decided to dig along one edge so they could get under it and lift it.  When that didn't work, they decided they needed a fulcrum and a long pole.  Here you can see it better in this one:


No, you can see it better in that first one, the one you just had.  It should be in back or is it just under this one.  The one where the four-by-four is in the top of the frame.  See how the managed a little hole there and stick is in it and a log is under it, yeah, a fulcrum.  They placed that log just so and found a good long stick.  For a while Zack even filled a water bottle over and over again pouring it in around the hole they were making to soften the dirt.

A few times they came to us, asking that we come down and help.  Inherently we both knew this was not our tire, not our fight, not our quest.  We'd had ours, we were still having ours - but this was theirs.

Oh, here, sorry, take the lot of them... just lay them out on the table if you need to.







I listened to the remnants of their conversation as the buddy's dad and I sat on a bench absentmindedly talking about this or that but really thinking of our own boyhoods.  You couldn't hear the words exactly but the tone was clear.  Earnest.  It's a funny word.  There is no better one.  You could hearts bits of commands and ideas and light-hearted banter. Two wandered off to pee and keep talking the whole time.  They were comrades-in-arms up against it bad.  They were the bonding brothers of history, the alliance of the yet-to-come, they were the essence of the moment.

They were boys.

They were boys doing the essentially stupid things boys need to do.  The blind hope and passion of boyhood is blinding sometimes.


What's that?  Whaddabout which one?  What, a toaster?  Hand it to me...


Oh, yeah...  believe it our not, the picture of the toaster started all this, I'm glad you asked.

Initially, I had a very bad idea for a post which compared cleaning my very used and dirty but reliable toaster-oven to the recent journey I took back into the archives here.  Ostensibly, I went back to "tag" my many posts here so things would be easier to find and there was some sort of a way to navigate around here.  I ended up reading the majority of the posts here and it was helpful.  I saw my journey.  I saw where I'd faltered or succeeded.  I was going to, hell, I don't even remember...  I never cleaned the toaster, and it was a bad idea.  I took several pictures of the toaster, do you want to see them?

No.  I don't blame you.

When I took the pictures I got to thinking about some of the snapshots from my youth.  Pictures of any youth, really.  I got to thinking about the backgrounds in some pictures, thinking when I see an an old photo from a holiday or party how often I look behind the subject matter.  I see an old cutting board or a can-opener, a lawn mower or tree lost in a tornado just a few months before the picture of a new car was taken.  I see the old green couch behind the shiny Christmas presents, a painting above the fire, the old pop-up camper behind the smiling, tanned faces.  It's almost like you are peering around the people in the way of the good stuff just behind.

It's those little bits back there that add the verisimilitude to our memories.

I think a lot about all this being really just a scrapbook for the boys.  Ultimately I think it is, was, will be.  I thought, well, I might as well stick a picture in here of the toaster.  The toaster that's toasted  thousands of bagels and muffins and, well, toasts, and tater tots and pop-tarts and pizzas.  In a few decades they may see that toaster and remember the breakfasts, snacks, dinners, the past.  They may see beside it the cookie jar they made when they were two, they may remember that the fruit bowl was always full - hell, they may remember that the toaster was always old and worn out - I'll probably still have it.  I don't know.

But because I got to pondering a toaster I got to thinking about a tire, and moss-covered blocks, and a trail through yellow woods and I had to go there and take these pictures.

Oh, thanks for straightening them all up.  It's fine if they're all jumbled up, life's like that...


From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"Can I get paid for eating donuts?"

I've always wondered that...


I wish you could hold these pictures, I wish you were right here with me.  Thanks for indulging me, I appreciate it.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Just Watching the Fire


The other night the living room was quiet and a fire was blazing and we were reading and I looked over at Nick.  His attention had left Solomon Snow and his eyes were dancing in the firelight or vice versa, which ever seems more poetic.

"Whaddya thinking about, Nick?"

"I dunno... thinkin' about watching the fire, I guess."


There are many things I'd like to know when and if I make it to an afterlife.  I sort of keep a list in my head.  It's a weird list.  I'd like to know how many nights of my life I've spent camping.  I'd like to see all the beer and booze I've ever had to drink in one room, or garage, or warehouse, whichever.  I'd like to know why people suffer.  I'd like to know how many books I've read in my life and see a list of them if you please.  How many places have I lived?  How many friends have I had?  How many meals have I cooked?  You get it.  There are more, of course, personal things that I'll save for that day.

I'd also like to know how many hours, days, weeks, months - whichever - I've spent gazing into a fire.  My very conservative guesstimate is one-hundred twenty-four hour days.  You can learn a lot about how a fire works in that long a time, you learn about combustion and flash points, wet and dry wood, how aluminum burns instead of melts, that sort of thing.  But, mostly, you learn about yourself and the stories you will tell.


My buddy Kirby (not his real name, unless it is...) and I were in an apartment I had once, seriously thirty or so years ago.  It was late.  It was one of those nice rentals with a pool and patios and, God forbid, a fireplace.  You know how when you stop by a convenient store and they have those little bundles of crappy wood for sale out front?  Yeah, that's the reason, so crazy twenty-somethings can have a fire in their relatively nice urban rental apartment... until the wood runs out.  Which it did.

Naturally, me being a country kid and he being a kid that grew up in that early suburbia where woods backed up a majority of the lots, we ran out to the patio and looked for sticks and such to throw in.  I'd be lying if I said we didn't find a few twigs and such downed from the anemic trees that surrounded the parking lot.  I'd also be lying if I said we didn't pull a dead limb from one of them and dragged it into the apartment and  cut it up with a campsaw we had.  Right there in the living room of that apartment.  Our best work?  No, probably not, but it gets more hairbrained.

The wood is running out; our beer is not.

In the corner of the room is a lamp, under the lamp is a pretty little blue placemat, like for dinner, under that is an end table.  But it's not, an end table, that is, it is a wire spindle.  A sturdy thing I'd grabbed on a construction site I'd worked the summer before my freshman year of college.  There were two once, the first having met its match under a keg of Rolling Rock - the keg was okay.  You understand what this is right?  A sort of large spool that wire comes on, in this case heavy two-twenty electrical wire, I know, I ran it.  Which is another important detail, these spindles come with a beer-can-sized hole in them on each end so it can lay horizontally, on a frame of some sort, and spool out.  I strictly forbade shoving empties in it when I had them in the dorm room.

Kirby lifts the lamp, sweeps away the dust and ash laden placemat, revealing what used to be an end table but is now, instantly, irrevocably... fire wood.  He tips it and sort of rolls it towards me, my heavy Timberland crushes the center hard cardboard tube with one lucky stomp, the ends fold in and it is, by our estimate, small enough to fit into the, well, small fireplace.

The embers of the ornamental pear tree we had so inelegantly pulled into the space, glow, hot and ready. We shove the thing in there. It smolders, seemingly ending our night of fire-gazing and genteel conversation.  But then, a trickle of a flame, first one side and then the other, climbs up the sides.  The heavy tube, dry as toast, first smokes heavily and then bursts into flame.

We hear a slight hiss. 

Remember, the beer is not running out.

You know how a when a roomful of people can't remember the same word, "britches" say, and one person says it and everyone knows at once the word, a sort of collective realization.  Well ours was that over the years a number of butane lighters, Crickets and Bics, had ended up down that hole in the end, the one I mentioned earlier, and they were harder to get out than a pick from a guitar.  We sensed our collective doom.

Having had a modicum of military training, and less beer, Kirby was first to act.  In one move he jumped up and over the couch and hunkered behind it.  I ran to the half open patio door and dove out headfirst as if Farrah Fawcett was drowning in the cement.  I stuck my head back in after a couple seconds and Kirby peered, Kilroy-like, over the couch.

Nothing but fizzling and dripping plastic.  Most of the lighters were most likely empty, I am sure we would have fished out a full one at some desperate point.  Also, they are designed to not explode.  Also, the beer was not running out.

We spent the rest of the night in a beat-death-endorphin-rush, laughing at ourselves and recounting my inglorious and painful dive and his glorious leap.  We still laugh about it to this day.  A friend called, I told him to get a couple of those bundles of wood at the convenient store, and while he was there to grab some beer... we were finally running out.



So, that's the story of the first time Nick and Zack burned a huge pile of brush after the remnants of Hurricane Ike took down a mess of branches and trees in our yard in 2008.  They had a hulluva good time using the fire pit and learning the fundamentals of...

What the hell!?  That's not the tender story I told, of memories made and stories begun.

Wait... Other-one-me!

Dammit.

You may remember that an annoying and brash alter ego haunts these pages.  He thinks he's me, but he most certainly is not.  He first showed up at a mandatory all-staff meeting which I'd intended to have alone, thank you very much.  He continues to pop in unannounced.  It's irritating.  He's interrupted a heartfelt Christmas post and a piece in which I had every intention of saying very deep things - he may have said deeper things, but that is beside the point.  He did it again in a Halloween piece I started which was going swimmingly until he interrupted just as...

Did which again?  Interrupted or said deeper things?

(He insists on using italics.)

Which this time you did neither of .  You just deleted what I wrote and told a completely different story.  One I don't think we should tell.

(I can see parenthesis.)  No, it's the right story to tell, today.  It'll be the right story for them to hear when they read it, sometime ahead, when they need it.

Oh, you're a fucking soothsayer now?

And, you say I'm the rude one...

Well... I, uh... Well at least I didn't destroy my copy. 

Ha!  You called it copy, which you once got pissed at me for.

Grrrrrr...

And I didn't delete it, I pasted it in as a new post, see right above this one.  Titled Boring Fire Stories.  And it was 'copy.'  You wrote it to impress.  You wrote it well, I'll admit, but for the wrong reasons.

And this is better.  How do you figure.  I don't need to have the whole world know I got drunk and rammed an end table into the fireplace.

Well, yeah... you do.

What? 

Listen and listen carefully.  This is the story you told.

No, the story I told was about watching Nick and Zack burn anything on the ground in a grand bonfire, the likes of which they'd never seen before.  It was about the awe of fire and our genetic lust for it.  About the foolishness and danger inherent in combustion.  About the passion and crazy excitement it can bring us, about the madness of it... Oh, I see.

You know better than anyone that the stories never finish.  That they loop back and around, meeting in the strangest places at the strangest times in the strangest ways.

But what about the drinkin' and carryin' on stuff. 

Dude, it's gonna come up.  It is a part of your story, and your theory is that our childhood is theirs, our past is theirs; our story is, by inheritance, their story.

And your theory is that these are the kinds of stories Nick and Zack will need to hear, someday.

Yes.

So, to help them better understand their story I must reveal mine as honestly and openly as I can?

Yes.

Not.  Gonna.  Happen.

We'll see...

Alright.  You may - may, mind you - have a point.  I'll just ask this, where is the line?  And which one of us will determine it?

We may have to work together on that.

Yeah, sounds fun... Can I still tell the story I was gonna tell?

No, of course not, can't you see how long this is already?

Well, that's your fault.  I just wanted to talk about...

... stuff you've already talked about.  Just tell it another time, tell it when it needs to be told.

How do I, you... uh, us, no, we, determine that?

I dunno.  Whaddya say we start with a quote from that note Kirby sent you a while back?

No, not yet.

Why not?

Length, dude.  This is already, like, seventeen hundred words.

Who cares?

Nobody'll read it...

And...

...

Listen, the right person might now, and the right grown boy might someday.


Kirby sent me this once.  They are good and true words and the stopped me in my tracks.  He succinctly and gently explained the very dilemma in which I find myself right now:

"I have this friend, and he is going through a fairly important moral crisis. You see, he spent
his youth questioning societal norms, flaunting rules, thinking for himself to find truths he
holds dear. This way of being served him well during his youth. He was considered a thoughtful,
intelligent, rational, creative individual by those who knew him. He struggled with concepts of
addiction, want, and desire, but found a path through situations that have ruined other men.

Several years ago he got married and had a couple kids, and very much like he is want to do, he
adopted a non-traditional approach to child rearing. He became a stay at home Dad. He did
everything that should have been done to ensure the successful raising of small children. He fed
them well, encouraged creativity, limited exposure to the societal pitfalls of violence,
stupidity, greed, sex, and selfishness. To this day they are the bright articulate hope of this
nation, and he deserves a medal of pride.

But, what he faces now is an ever increasing necessity to lie to them, to hide his past from
them, because he knows that children are easily influenced, and a misstep in this area could
mean the ruin of a child. Especially children raised by an honest broker of information.

If he lies and keeps the secrets of his youth, he can craft a message for his children that
possibly leads them to an addiction-free existence, filled with learning, and service to others.

If he tells them of his past his children could misinterpret him telling them stories as
approval for those actions. We all know the phrase, "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't hold much
water with children, never has, never will. Revealing the past is a sort of all or nothing deal.
Either you are honest, or not.

There is at least one other possible option to consider. He lies to them, crafts a message, and
they find out about his past anyway, and they eventually confront him about his lying to them...

It is a dilemma I don't envy having."


So, here we sit.  You gonna publish this or what?

I don't know.  I am not sure I am ready to.

I'll do it then.

Wait.  That image up there has nothing to do with your disreputable story and, well, I'm just a little uncomfortable with all this...  Hey, did you sneak a sentence into that paragraph up there about questions for God? 

No, I wouldn't do that.  Don't worry about it...

 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Arctic Howling"


If I were more ambitious and had unlimited time I would write a story for each of these titles Zack and Nick came up with.  Damn, that'd be fun...


When I was a kid it was band names.  I remember an old-timer - when I was a kid, that is, hell, now I am an old-timer - told me once that they used to make up minor baseball team names.  N and Z are making up guild names.  Yes, guild names.  For some multi-player game they like on their Kindles.  It is called Graal Online and some of their friends play it. Apparently, you can form groups of folks called "guilds" and name them.  There are quests and such.  I am a terrible parent...

These are their ideas, Zack wrote them down:

     Shielding the uknown (sic)
     Codekeepers
     Dragon Kids
     Dragon Born
     Arctic Dragons
     Arctic Howling
     iNoob
     Stir the Code
     Randomosity
     Death of the light
     Thorn holders
     Thorn keeper
     iGuild
     Juggling Death
     Forestfire
     Kong ko
     Mr. Turtle
     Copper
     Piniata
     Duck Forest
     Tiki
     Potion
     Kingly Alliance
     Acez
     Concortron
     The Avatars
     Wild fire
     Clash of the Uknown (sic)

I would name any band I've ever been in, or ever will be in, any of these names.

I hope to hell there is a band called Acez, or a blog called iGuild, or a monster truck called Concortron, or a college team called The Avatars, or a heartfelt memoir about a Luddite of a man awash in a sea of Apple products called iNoob.  And, there'd better be a craft beer named every damn one of these things...


This guy is cool.  He's a genie.


Nick made this guy.


He is clearly the new coach.


Hi! I'm your coach.  Why are you laphing?  its not like im a toatle airhead or enything RIGHT!?


Well uhhhhh... you are a Air-head I could use you as a hot air balloon if I tied a basket to your head and if I let air out of your head I could probably fly to Jupider.

 Clearly spelling is still an issue around here.  "Laphing" is my favorite...

Math isn't much of a problem these days since Zack started making these nifty graphic comics explaining some of the concepts they've been working on.  This one is called "Inverse Land."


This one is on the identity property.  I think it's called "Fraction Papers!"


I love this little detail:


What a happy place.


Anyone who's been around here knows that that ain't all of this story.  There is always more, whether we decide to tell it or not, of every story.

For instance, Zack came down while I was ironing in the basement to ask me which of the names I liked, he'd narrowed to several he had checked off on the list.  We talked a little about it and I went on to tell him about how when I was a kid we liked to make up band names.

"You know what, The Acez would be a good name for a band..." he said, running up the stairs.

That's what I'm sayin'...


When the boys came home today they didn't have much homework and decided to do it over the weekend - in-service day tomorrow - so we were sitting in the living room reading when I decided to ask them again about showing stuff they made, like the stuff above, on my blog.

They assured me there wasn't a problem but I came to a realization that, even though they are fine with it now, they may not always be.  I sort of pressed it a bit and Zack said he didn't understand why it could be a problem.

I didn't really know how to answer him, something long and drawn out about bullying and mean people and future political careers and future girlfriends and future employers seemed too much to really explain.

"For instance Zack, I used the comic you did in your math journal, and..."

"Awesome!"

"... someday someone might make fun of them."

"Really?" he asked, a bit incredulous.

"And Nick, I told you I wanted to use the air-headed coach you made up..."

"Cool, I love him!"

"... but someone might think you were mean or disrespectful or something because it seemed like you were making fun of him."

"Really?" he echoed Zack's incredulity.

"Oh, probably not..." I trailed off.

"But it could  seem like you weren't being very nice to him and making fun of his comically large head," I said.

He laughed, knowing that we both have cartoon imaginations.

"Yeah, I guess, maybe...  But, Dad, it was just a scene from something bigger, just make sure you tell'em that."


...just a scene from something bigger.

Yep.

Remember that every time you tell a story and your stories will serve you well.


From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."
 

"I just had a smart idea! Sometimes I scare myself."


I hear ya little dude, I hear ya...


Thanks for stepping in out of the cold today, at least here, now, today... but maybe not where you are, or, uh... when you are.  Yeah, I still get this all confused.  Peace to you and yours, today and always.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

In the House of Memory


There are many rooms in the house of memory, rooms full of the stories and touchstones that bind us uniquely to ourselves.  Down one corridor is Happiness, adjacent to it is Kindness.  Love is there on the right with its closets of Lust and Abandon, Addiction and Redemption.  In Escheresque twists and tricks, the hall now leads to Sadness.  Despair and Loneliness and Depression all open, doors wide.

The stairway down is now leading up toward the rooms of Faith and Hope and Freedom.  A dome unmarked, which I call God, holds all the memories in and allows them to breathe.  Hallway after hallway connect door after door, room after room.  Hidden passages, secret gardens, roaring furnaces, bittercold regrets, each door a place you've been before.

I blunder through the many rooms carelessly most of the time, usually careening toward some story or thought, desperately trying to not be called into the rooms I pass.  Sometimes, I choose to wander - although, in truth, I think I am compelled to wander - and find doors to places I haven't really been in for a while - months, moments, decades, ever.  I have peered in them, inventoried them and gone on, not needing the lesson that time, not wanting the hurt another.

They're not really marked for us, but like an old friend we recognize them, sense them.  When I opened Sadness yesterday, I knew it.  I knew where I was going, the corner where I've sat before.  Yesterday was the anniversary of my dad's death.  It would be inaccurate to say I don't remember him always - in the reverse reality of parenting, in the time-trip that is childhood, in that confusion I sometimes am my father, more often I am, again, his son.  But that's not so much memory as it is a separate reality, the one where time is edgeless and moves in möbius endlessness.

Yesterday, and, truth told, right now - which is the same time, you understand - I sit, waiting.  The smell of smoke and Old Spice; the roughness of an old, tired face; the taste of scotch and coffee; the look of tenderness in old-soul eyes; an endless loop of melody whistled through the years.  It is comfortable here.

I look toward a window and see the snow coming down and my now life comes back into focus, the weather and the truck battery and the doctors appointments and the boys and dinner.  That snow is really deep, though.  Yes, it snowed that day in nineteen hundred and ninety six.  A deep soulful snow.  The same snow I look out on every snowstorm, anticipate in every forecast.  A cleansing snow, a final snow.

Last night the sunset brought me to tears, so beautiful and lonely.  I wasn't far from them, the tears.  Nick and Zack practically sang the sunset's perfection.  Pinks and purples on line after line of wisps of clouds.  The snow glowing blue and the coal back outlines of the trees against the orange horizon.  It was - is - stunning.

I don't remember the sunset nineteen years ago yesterday.  I was probably otherwise occupied.  But now, that day has its sunset, unforgettable and fitting.  And my sons are here with me as we sit in the corner of a room called Sadness and remember the day my father died.

Snow.  A sunset.  Joy.  Why are these here?  This is the where I am sad, right?  Again I am in the corridor and open the door to Happiness.  I see it all in a flash and cannot slow it down, perhaps it is the only way it can come.  A camping trip laughs in the voice of a child, a pipe smokes in a man's hand, a hamburger, a tie, a church-pew, a song... it's too much.  I look across the room hoping to connect to just one thing, one happy thought and let it take me.

I see it now.

I see it clearly, impossibly... it is the corner I just left.

It's the same damn room.

And from it, Nick and Zack are waving...


I cannot presume to imagine your memory for you.  You may hear it in songs and narratives, watch it like a movie or see it dancing in a fire.  You may taste it, smell it in the wind or hold it, like driftwood.

I'd like to hope this may be how the boys see their memories, down the hallway of childhood.  It is how I see mine, which is theirs, you know...


Thanks for haunting with me today.  It is as though it all happens at once sometimes, like you're watching over my shoulder, or sitting in a room with me and listening as the stories tell themselves.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Happiness and Stuff, I Think"


So, I have a story, several images, an important observation or two and New Years wishes to work in today.  And, I feel a little pressure to post one last time before the year's end - that's self-imposed of course, I feel quite certain no one would notice if I didn't post today.  And, now I am irritated with myself for telling you all that...

Do over...

It is the Summer of 1973, we are camping at Hueston Woods State Park in Southwest Ohio, not far from the Indiana border.  It is midday, the paper plates are smoldering in the fire-ring, the bologna and American cheese are put away, the sparrows and a nasty jay are eating the Fritos and Lays crumbs littering the dirt of the campsite.  I am watching them skitter and bully each other.  I am bored.

I hear a familiar sound, the putter of a Volkswagen four-cylinder  engine, my Dad has a Beetle so I know the sound.  It's off though, lower, rumblier.  I see it finally, struggling up the slight hill, a VW micro-bus, '61 or so.  It comes huffing and puffing to a stop in the campsite next to us and continues to puff after the engine is quiet - if you get my drift.  The doors open all at once and seven beaded and vested, bandannaed and bespectacled young adults come spilling out in a joyful clown-car cacophony.

Hippies.

Three long-haired guys.

Four longer-haired girls.

Girl hippies, the best kind.

I am no longer bored.

They'd done it before, set up camp, but I'd never seen them do it.  One of the guys practically tosses the smallest girl up on the roof where a rack held several tents and and boxes of bedding and equipment.  She stands like an angel in the sun and throws the stuff down to the waiting hands of the others.  They go about their business, talking and laughing, smoking cigarettes, giggling here, hugging there - a model of, uh, stoned efficiency.

I watch.  One of the girls smiles at me.  But, and here's the truth, I wasn't watching her.  No, one guy has my attention.  He is probably the oldest.  His beard is long and red and straggly and inconceivably enviable.  He has a black bandanna on his head, gold rimmed glasses on his nose, a fringed vest - and only a fringed vest - on his chest, and patched bell bottoms ending in dirty bare feet.

He is the coolest looking dude I've ever seen.

But there is more.  As his happy hippie tribesmen set up camp, he grabs a guitar from a case he's extricated from the passenger front seat and sits on the picnic table and starts singing folk songs.  Songs I know, songs my dad knows.  Woody's songs, Joan's songs, James' songs, Bob's songs.  Songs from the American song book, songs from the very heart of us all.

I am blown away.

I vow, right there and then, to be that guy.  Not because he wasn't working, not because he looked so profound and interesting, not because he was in charge without seeming so, no, it was that damned guitar.  It was those songs he sang soulfully and honestly.  It was the dream and hope and peace and love that came from him and landed on me.

I did become that guy.  I learned guitar and memorized songs and grew my hair and smiled at the pretty girls and hoped and dreamed and...

I wish I could thank him - it worked out pretty well for me.  It's made me happy.  It's been fun.


I got a little annoyed at the boys a couple days ago for watching "too damn much television."  Now, I need to be clear here, I watched too much television when I was a kid but nobody cared.  So it's really not fair for me to feel this way.  Basically, I was tired of watching the same damn thing on Netflix over and over again.

I shut it all down.

They got mad.

I told them to find something else to do, ready for the battle that was about to ensue.  Nick grabbed a Nat Geo Kids and Zack got his craft box and some paper and drew this:


He showed it to me in the kitchen a while later.  Pencil, paper, a castle, a setting sun.  I told him I liked it.

He said:  "I forgot how happy it makes me just drawing a picture."

Marci found this in a book or on the floor or somewhere when she straightening the boys' closet:


"Kindnis."


There at the topped, erased but still visible it says "...the girls are happy too."

He saw it in my hand as I was taking it downstairs to put in the file pile I keep things I might use here.

"Oh, yeah, I remember that - it was about happiness and stuff, I think."

Nick brought this home one day last week.  Nice horse:


The next day he brought this one home.  They'd traced the horse onto a heavy water color paper and experimented with color on the black and white sketch:


"It was so much fun, Dad."

Another night last week they were both drawing because, well, I couldn't stand another Disney show again.  Zack drew this:


No, I am not sure what it is - something about a wizard and a glowing orb and "floating candles of destiny."  He starts out with a pencil squiggle and builds form there, not really knowing what he's going to end up with.

"I had a lot of fun making it," he said as he got ready for bed.

Nick wondered what to draw as Z scribbled away.  An elephant on a unicycle, correction, a talking elephant on a unicycle.

"I sorta saw it in my head and before I knew it he was talking to me.  He's really funny, Dad."  Yeah, I'm not too worried, yet...


"AWOOOGA!


Here I go trying to make some sort of point again.  It's simple really, obvious to the point of pain I'd say, but I'm going to make it just the same, I forget happiness sometimes.  I forget fun.

Later the same night Zack remembered how happy just drawing made him, I was putting my guitar away and I stopped for a moment.  I remembered how happy just playing guitar made me.  I remembered the happy hippies I met that trip and the hundreds more I would meet on the trips to come.  I remembered jam sessions and bands and singalongs and so much more.

When I was younger, high school and college, there was music everywhere.  Not just from the records we were spinnin' on the turntables, but live music.  My buddy's band, a flute in the kitchen, twelve guitars in a barn, two in a tent in a storm, a violin recital, an opera.  One big pile of happy memories.  One big pile of fun.

I don't hear that music so much anymore.  I think I'd get nothing but funny looks and a cold shoulder if I started playing a song at a social gathering or such these days.  I often sit through sports practices with the boys and think what a great time that would be to practice, imagine the looks I'd get...


I guess I'd say, here at the end of the year, that in the coming year I should celebrate the happiness I see around my life.  Try to remember that fun is all around us.  We manufacture it, we consume it.

In a way, sometimes I feel like I am letting that old hippie down, letting myself down, letting the boys down, by not having fun.


So, Happy New Year!  Have fun, make fun; be happy, make happy.  I'll try, too.


From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

N: "Oh, what's that thing called ... you know, the comma for contractions ... ?"

M: "The apostrophe?"


N: "That's it!"


Apostrophe is indeed a ridiculous word...


I'll see you next year, I am, as always, happy you come around every now and again, it means a lot to me, always.