Friday, May 22, 2015

Closeted Memories

Closets, in my experience, are never very neat and roomy.  No, they are messy and disturbingly full, adhering somehow to the universal law that nature abhors a vacuum.  The closet in the boys' room is just jam packed with shelves of games and trinkets and Lego sets and stuffies and dirty socks and building sets and so much more.

I know it must be organized, I know it must be weeded, I know we will never play that or get that out ever again.  The Game of Life has replaced Junior Monopoly which replaced Shoots and Ladders which replaced Candyland, Risk waits in the wings.  But, see there, all of them are stacked in one pile oldest to newest, toddler to now.  So many layers like this everywhere.  Simple Lego sets, cars and planes and the Three-in-Ones the used to love, replaced by complicated Harry Potter and Chima sets with more pieces and higher age brackets.

The walkie-talkie set they never quite figured out - although they thought they had because they simply shouted into them and in our small house the voice carried enough to be heard without the aid of radio frequencies and batteries - sit abandoned in a bin next to a yellow, squeaky duck, a car that races forward when wound up by rolling it back a little, a mini flip-flop keychain, a wizard wand, a wooden yo-yo and a plastic green lizard.



There were sand and gravel pits nearby when I was a kid within walking and biking range.  Between corn and soy fields, deep gouges worked by trucks and loaders and separators buzzed with activity.  We played in them when they weren't being worked and, at the edges where they met the fields in sandy cliffs, we jumped, recklessly, into the knee high sand.

Sometimes though we'd just sit on a fallen tree in the shade of the corn and watch the earthmovers and frontloaders and dumptruck after dumptruck work the veins of sand and stone and gravel.  It mesmerized me with its constant growl and crunch, dust and diesel fumes mixed to where I though it was one scent.  We'd throw rocks into the pits and under the edges of the cliffs, hoping to break away a piece so the sand would give way and make a small avalanche.  We'd munch blackberries from the brambles that served as fences and sip tepid, rusty water from canvas covered canteens and watch for hours.

I don't mean to make it sound obsessive.  My childhood was slow, lugubrious one might say, and I hadn't the modern barrage of toys and things to do my boys suffer today.  That's okay, and not the point.  Long, hot August afternoons in rural Ohio begged to be filled as slowly as they passed.

So, we sat at the edge of a gravel pit and watched as the dirt, our dirt it seemed, moved away from us to become the cement patios and tar and gravel roads we'd sit and drive on to pass the time as the years progressed.  We spent the day in a treehouse up in the wind pretending to be sailors on a long voyage but, really, we just sitting in a tree, in a wind that would someday blow us away, but for now cooled and comforted us.  We watched storms come up for hours and ride them out on a porch and then go play in the muddy spots we'd hoped would fill in the back of the yard, the "bottom" we called it.

I wasn't without things to do, I wasn't without toys and balls and gloves and bikes.  In fact, my heart is full of good memories of all those things, things when looking back on them, filled time surely, sweetly, slowly.

Through some impossible circle of coincidence, grace, happenstance and fate, I still have these:

They are called Tonka Minis although they are sometimes called by the misinformed, "Tiny Tonkas" which they aren't.  I'm not sure what started it when I was a kid, but, I liked little things - pocketable things, treasurable things - and I loved these Tonkas.

It is interesting to note - and, up until I started considering this story out I'd never noticed it - that I played with toys of the machinery I watched, of the trucks that rattled down our road, of the tractors that pushed and gobbled the earth underneath the fields and orchards around me.

By August in Ohio the dirt is parched most summers.  There was a place, shaded in the evening on what would have been the west side of the driveway, where the grass of the yard didn't quite reach the gravel of the driveway.  A rut, I'd call it, full of muddy water in the wet Spring but, once dry and cracked by the Summer sun, made for a solid surface to play at my imaginary gravel yard.  I'd dig out roads and pave them with loose sand.  I'd load up the dump truck and the "Bottom Dump" with the frontloader.  Sometimes the hippies in the incongruous dune-buggy would crash and have to rescued by the ladder truck.

I would like to tell you there was more to it than that, but... there wasn't.  I didn't harbor a deep desire to be the owner of a vast sand and gravel empire.  I might have had a fleeting desire to drive a truck someday or even an earthmover, but, honestly just 'cause it looked like fun, not as, like, a career or such.  I never thought much about that as a kid.  Hell, I hadn't even yet figured that I might like to be one of those hippie folks someday.

What I do remember is being happy.  Pushing sand and trucks with my dirty hands was the perfect way to spend my hours.  No pressures, mind wandering at times but mostly, truly... just pushing dirt.  It was mindless, I'd have to say, but it was so very important.  The sense of safety and permanence I had as a kid still lingers in my heart today.  When all is crazy, when all is surely lost, I remember that there is security, that I've known it, that the shifting sand settles and will once again be sure.

One truck in particular was my favorite:

To this day it looks so happy and willing and ready to help.

It did this...

... and still does.

I'd like to pause here and take you through story of Tonka Minis, but I won't.  I will though, say this:  You couldn't look for a more emblematic symbol of my journey from childhood to this place I am now, this otherhood.  That truck, in that old man's hand, is sturdy and strong.  It is dented and chipped, but beautiful for that.  It still rolls steady, it's windows are still clear.  It still believes in itself.  And, so do I, in both the truck and me.

I alluded earlier to the story that brought me here, to this moment where I share these images with you, and I'd like to tell it, but I don't think it is mine to tell.  For some reason I kept them as a kid but my Mom moved them several times from my childhood home to a condo to a house and then to another condo, all long after I was long gone  and for reasons unclear in the clouds of time.  They re-emerged a few years back and she gave them to me for the boys to play with.  They weren't interested them, I put them in a box.

The box is on a crowded shelf in the garage.  A shelf I keep saying I need to organize and weed through.  A shelf that looks like the boys shelf in their closet.

I understand that I can't keep every item that may someday elicit as strong a response as these beat up Tonkas and Matchboxes did in me.

But, when a boy says to me, "I loved playing Candyland with you," I'll find a place to keep it.

When a boy delights in finding an old notebook filled with silly pictures and impossibly cute misspellings underneath the seat of my truck, I'll leave it there.

When two boys can, between them, remember the name of over a hundred stuffed animals that have won their hearts over the span of only a few years, I'll keep 'em around.

When a boy tells his mom he loves this filthy, outgrown shirt, it'll be a pillow in few months.

More than that though, more than trying to hold on to the tangible stuff that is childhood, we will try together to hold onto what it all means.

The point is not that an old truck was saved for me.  The point is not even that I was happy when I held it in my hands.  No, the point is that I remember happiness.

There's the gift.

From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..." (Throwing ball in the backyard edition.)

"These gloves are righteousness."

Note to self, save those gloves...

Thanks for reminiscing with me.  As the boys get older I am working towards telling their stories with mine.  I can't tell if I'm doing it right or not.  Peace to you and, hey... remember to remember.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Belated Obligatory Post

I was going to write a long and lovely description of our Mothers Day Weekend.  But now it is Friday and I can't remember what we did.  You know, a baseball game that was emotional, a music concert that had been long and excitedly anticipated.  A trip there, a school project due tomorrow, a friend over, showers and meals and books taken and served and read, a walk here a hug there.  All this kinda happened between then and, well, now.  Just stuff, but, well newer stuff, stuff that now has the precedent over yesterday's stuff...


Well, I'll be damned, this is helpful.  On Mondays in both boys Language Arts part of the day, the boys write a journal style couple of paragraphs to get things started, I guess.  Here's Zack's which somehow made it home although I suspect it is supposed to be in a binder:

"Over the weekend I did some fun things!  On Saturday I had a baseball game, we had to not didn't have time to play extra innings so we tied 13 to 13."

This is all true.  He didn't mention he pitched again and Nick was his catcher.  He didn't say anything about the funny pride we all - the boys, Marci and I, his teammates, parents watching, coaches - feel when twins make up the battery.  He doesn't say how many hits he got or talk about the catch he didn't make.  He doesn't have to, in his mind "I had a baseball game" covers all that.  It's like a shortcut.

"Then we got home and I helped nick and Dad make one of my favorite meals, Stack Casiddias.  The chicken on it was perfect."

(Hell, I can't even spell quesadillas, and they're stack(ed), Stacked Quesadillas, oh, well, his name's better really.)  It's funny he mentions the chicken.  He and Nick spiced up the breasts we used and helped cook them on the grill.  They were perfect.  Perfect because they helped and worked together and all that.  But, yeah, perfectly spiced and executed.  That's just good coaching.  Here they are stacking them up:

And these are they straight out of the oven:

They really are a beany, corny, cheesy, chickeny pile of gooey goodness.

Then we watched first game of the Reds double-header.  And that was fun.  The next day we made breakfast in bed  <for mom>...

... watched the Red's game, and my grandma came <over> for sliders.  Then we went outside and threw the baseball after the reds lost the baseball game.  All in all it was a pretty good weekend.

By:  Zack P. #17

All in all, it was a pretty good weekend.  Was it forgettable?  Well, yes it was a little for me, I guess I should feel bad about that, but, well... I don't.  I'd guess though, it was unforgettable to them.

Sometimes I wonder how that works.  Which memories will collect where and in whom and when?  I suppose I could try to figure all those details, work out an algorithm of sorts, a hierarchy of needed memories, maybe that'd make childhood a better experience for the boys or help me make better sense of my own.  But, we can't do that, in my opinion.  We can't save just exactly the right thing, we can't do exactly the right activity, or take a photo of the perfect moment.  At least I can't.  I'm just trying to keep up and work with what I've got and am giving.

I wonder if that makes any sense?

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

Dad: (looking at boy's dirty knees) "We'll need showers tonight."

Boy: "So let's go get more dirty!"

Faultless logic...

Thank Zack for the relative brevity of today's post.  Sometimes I go on and on about this life because I want to try to explain it.  Perhaps, even, I want to try and justify it.  We don't go crazy with gifts and brunches and flowers and such on days like Mothers Day.  Of course to many that means we aren't doing it right.  Judging our weekend to the bar set up by social media over the past weeks, I'd say it looks like we didn't even try.

We did.  And, we made some sweet memories.

See ya next time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Having a Catch

Nick is home from school and his twin brother is not.  He'd been sick in class or something and he decided he just wanted to be home - second grade is, and shall forever remain, hard.

After some crackers and an apple juice he feels better.

"Let's have a catch, Dad," he says.  It is a dry Fall afternoon begging to be played in.

I'm game.  "Alright, what should we throw?"

Without a moments thought, as though it was a truth just sitting on his tongue, he says, "It doesn't really matter, it's just about being together."

And, a truth it is.

Boys - and by boys I mean grown men, because we are forever boys as well - know what throwing something back and forth is about.

Having a catch is about friendship, the connection to that other kid on the other side of the room or gym or field or pool is made in the exchange of one simple item, no matter what its shape or size or appropriateness.  I like to imagine the first game of toss happened on the way home from an unsuccessful hunt.  Two dejected boys, hungry for their first catch, and just plain hungry, are walking abreast.  One kicks a rock or a pine-cone or a small stick or piece of fruit, the other boy kicks it back and, before long, one boy picks it up and, looking at the other boy, tosses it across the path.  To their mutual astonishment and delight, the second boy catches it and sends it back.

Having a catch is a conversation, a primitive and deep way of communicating with one another.  It's a look that says 'you ready?' and one back that says 'yes.'  And then, 'I'm gonna throw this' and then, 'well, I'm gonna catch it.'

Having a catch is a relationship.  A trust, a covenant even, is made.  You throw that to me and I will give it back.  I will not keep it, I will not break it or ruin it, I'll hold it, welcome it, and then send it back. 

Having a catch is a collaboration.  A give and take is established, apologies made - "my bad" or "sorry the wind took it" - and affirmations offered - "good catch" or "perfect throw, dude."  It could be a short affair, perhaps only minutes, or it may last a lifetime, but it always right and good and necessary.

Having a catch is a metaphor.  It is a prayer.  It is a dance.  It is hope and peace and fellowship and a promise that is and will always be.


The boy with the long face is clearly better at this than the boy whose face seems wider, perhaps because of the round, silver wire-rimmed glasses.  They are dressed alike, which is not unusual for college freshman, but there is little to describe.  Both are shirtless, both in cut-off Levi's, both are wearing bandanas tied over their longish hair, red for the boy in glasses whose blonde hair comes out from the back, and blue with a black fringe for the other.  He, the boy in the blue bandana, is barefoot and the other wears a pair of black, high-topped sneakers, "Chucks" if memory serves, with no socks.

They are both tanned and somewhat muscular.  They both imagine they are impressive and appear comfortable with themselves and each other.  Perhaps twenty or thirty feet apart they are throwing a blue disk through the air at one another.  The blonde is new at this and just finding his groove, missing sometimes, throwing too high or too hard.  His friend, clearly skilled and practiced at this, tells him not to worry, that he'll get it, no problem, it's cool...

They are new friends and having a catch furthers a bond that will last decades.

A toss lands midfield and they both walk towards it.  They both bend over together, picking it up simultaneously, their heads nearly touch or perhaps do.  They are smiling and begin to talk there of subjects long forgotten.  There in the middle of a college green, four dormitories facing them, alone on a field of dreams in the zenith of their youth in the last year of the nineteen-seventies.

Into this simple, somehow sacred scene, a man walks towards them from seemingly out of nowhere.  He is dressed in baggy, pocketed shorts, a gray t-shirt, sandals, and a green Reds hat.  The young men ignore him, not out of rudeness, but because it seems so unlikely that this older man would have anything to do with them, their youth discluding his age, for aged he seems.  His hair is grey at the temples under the hat.  A large, unruly beard, clearly once red and brown, is now peppered with the same gray.  He is not thin nor muscular nor bronzed.  He is, somehow, plain and yet seems not so.

He wears round silver wire-rimmed glasses which don't hide his tired but still twinkling eyes.  He sizes up both youths with a look that suggests both great happiness and an autumnal melancholy.

What's up, guys?

The guys, as he's called them, are well-raised and polite boys who have come up in a time when elders still garner some semblance of respect, say hello and ask who he is and what he may want.

Let's just say I'm an alum I used to live in your dorm.  Listen, you there, Bubs, tell Willy here a little more about the mechanics of throwing the Frisbee - you know, the wrist spin and the force behind it and that stuff.  I don't think he's getting it.

Bubs, whose real name is Bob, smiles and says that the old man seems familiar.  The blonde boy agrees and both are not uncomfortable in the older man's presence or that fact he knows their names, in fact they seem drawn to him, as boys sometimes are to men who are comfortable in their wisdom.

Maybe we've met before, I've been around a while.  Can I tell you something else?

They are unusually eager to hear what the man might tell them, curiously sensing import for reasons they will wait decades to understand.

They older man sighs and a weight falls on his eyes, and in his heart.  There is so much to say and so little that can make a difference.

Let me tell you something, boys, what you are doing right now is important - perhaps the most important thing you'll ever do.  I mean more than throwing the Frisbee back and forth.  I mean all of it.  The parties, the classes, the friends, the relationships.  The late night conversations, the fights, the sorrows that will come...  the joys that will come.  Try to remember a piece of it all.  This detail, that one - like how to throw the Frisbee or tie a bandana on your head - will come up again.  A child will ask you how it's done...

He looks through the boy's glasses and into his future and the boy understands that, senses it. 

... and you'll need the right answers.  Right now you are learning them.  I promise that.  Every moment teaches you for another moment.

He pats the boy in the blue bandana on his shoulder in farewell and then turns to the other boy whose eyes are down looking at the Frisbee.  He reaches out and tenderly touches the smooth skin of the boy's face with the palm of his hand, smiles at the wisp of a mustache and patchy beard, and lifts the boys chin so they are looking once again at each other.  A tear runs down the boy's face, another begins in the corner creases of the old man's eye.  Neither understands why they themselves are teary, but know why the other is.  The man-boy asks if he has to go.  The boy-man says,

Yes, but we'll meet again.  Until we do, remember this:  It'll all work out, I promise.  I'll see ya, boys.

He turns to walk back the way he came, and seeing something off a ways, smiles and stops, deciding.  He turns again, for one last look and one more bit of advice.

Oh, and Bob, throw one a little off and make it land near that group of girls, they're dying to meet you guys.  Peace dudes.

The man heads back the way he came.  The boys look over at the girls smiling towards them.  Bob tells Willy to go long and he knows where he means.  He takes off, a long throw meets the blonde boy next to a few girls and another story begins as the old man fades into the future of memory.


When Nick and Zack were perhaps seven, I decided it was time to throw a Frisbee.  Seven is too young to throw a Frisbee.  Nick had a straight line bruise on his forehead for a week.

Just recently, in the last few weeks, they got it out again.  We've thrown several times in the back yard and usually in the driveway before the bus comes.  Zack was struggling and out of the blue I remembered Bob telling me about how it all worked, the aerodynamics of it all, and I explain it to him, understanding, finally, ultimately, why he explained it to me some thirty-five years ago.

It's been fun.  I think the boys like it because it's different than the the typical ball throwing or kicking.  It is also, well, unusual - they don't see it very often and I think they sense the thrill that is uniqueness.  

I can't imagine my nineteen year-old self, ever even casually considering the life I now have.  Never.  Yet, in a way, it seems like I've been a lifetime preparing for it.

I unburied this note from under the pile of scrap I call a desk.  It's what started all this today.

Thanks for listening again, I had every intention of writing on Mothers Day.  This is not about Mothers Day.  Honestly, until that note floated up and into my mind, I didn't know this was what I was going to write this time.  When that happens, I believe it is because someone needs to hear it.  Perhaps you, or the boys.  Perhaps now or some time to come.  Perhaps me, now and yesterday and today...

Time is so confusingly fluid.  In fact, The Man in The Green Reds Hat has wondered through here before.  He's a little creepy...

Oh, and from Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"Do The Armadillo!

Fortuitously, Bubs taught me (and about twenty others in a small dorm room) The Armadillo that same year of college.  I'm in...

Monday, May 4, 2015

An Alternative to Today's Long Post

The boys did something that irritated their mom and dad.

They did it again and were sent to their room.

Drawers opened and shut and about ten minutes later they came out with written apologies.  Zack's was one he'd written in faith formation when they were talking about forgiveness.  A sort of "get out of trouble free" card, as it were.

It's cute and it was sweet of him to think of it.

Nick couldn't find his.  He drew this instead:

It's him in an artist outfit, beret and all, painting a flying slug as ghost Zack watches on.  His signature smiley face is there to the right.

A little weird, yes.

He also gave me this:

A drawing of the painting he is rendering in the picture.  It's an angel not a slug.


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

Boy: "l want popcorn."

Dad: "We don't have any popcorn."

Boy: "That's a crime."

I lied, I had popcorn.  And then I felt bad and made them some...

Thanks for popping in, run along now.  Or, hey, tell ya what, if you've got like eight or so minutes, check out this post to which this is an alternative, uh, to...

With Your Choice of Fillings

I am remarkably ill-prepared for the Twenty-first Century. I reckon I can change that, accept that or adapt and learn from that. I don't know if others feel it; sometimes you don't comprehend the change as it happens. I'd guess that is adapting. I mean, here I sit writing away on a "Tooshba," internet open, streaming tunes on my Kindle because of the pathetic speakers on the laptop render music unlistenable. I've a cell phone in my pocket, an HD television behind me, hell, I'm even drinking my coffee from one of those insulated Tervis cups - mine's got Mr. Reds on it - the whole damn house is wifi-ed (I do not know how to conjugate the verb "wifi") and...

(Oh before I forget, this is kinda long.  There's an alternative to today's long post called "An Alternative to Today's Long Post" if you're short on time.)

... I don't understand it one little bit. Any of it. I've adapted to it, but just by blundering and jabbing and tripping through it. And screaming. And bitching. And complaining. And, surprisingly, none of that has stopped the march of technological advance. So, I work from a sort of defensive position, adapting when I must, hoping beyond hope that this is the last program or format or app or cable company or phone I'll have to fucking figure out.

It never is.

I suppose it's nice to recognize that I have adapted as I have to this new century. In a way it makes it easier to accept that I will never own it as I did the last. I am tempted sometimes. Tempted to immerse myself into it and figure out how to use to my advantage this bombardment of information and ideas. I see things that people do with technology today and stare slackjawed at it. In cars and homes and classrooms and hospitals, in sacred places and remote outposts, in orbit above us and in our basements at night, the utilization of these incredible technologies has transformed everything.

The obvious course of action here is for me to yield to that temptation and get with it. Become that aging hipster, technology-touting, older dad. You know, the cool one. Truth is the boys might like that and, to people around me, maybe I'd seem younger and more go-getting - or is it go-getterish - more an imperative part of this whole big thing. We could have an online calendar, Bluetoothed music, stylish tablets, wifi-linked thermostats and lighting systems and garage door and all those modern accouterments that make life so, well, modern.

It won't happen.

It'd be like playing a role and I long ago decided that was not the way I wanted to go. There's one other reason I probably won't try to learn to do all the things a modern-day dude needs to master. Besides the battle over time it would take, which I think is a legitimate problem - simply not being able to devote the time it might take and/or regretting that time when I have songs to learn, stories to tell, and dough to make, pizza dough, that is - the fact remains, I already learned all the stuff I was supposed to learn. You know, stuff that seems, well is, outdated or antiquated or, most often, profoundly unnecessary.

Like how to fix a VCR or cassette, as an example. Or using amps and preamps and mixers and turntables and miles of wire to get music into every room at a party. Or how to use a can opener, you remember, the little hingey one with a curved cutting blade, no? Well, you'll be glad I'm along when we need to open that can of beans, wontcha? I can dig a ditch or a hole, trim a bush, get a fire started, jump a car, all kinds of stuff no one does for themselves anymore.

I know how to butcher and make butter. I can milk a cow. I can make that honky noise with a piece of grass between my thumbs. I can hammer and saw and wire and plaster and sew and make sausages and jelly and sauce from fresh tomatoes and...

Stuff that doesn't matter anymore.

But, that's not really my point.

Growing up here in the rural Midwest when I did in the seventies and late sixties, one was never far from an internal combustion engine. From the great big loping diesels on John Deeres everywhere, to small little alcohol powered engines on my brothers model airplane; from the big block 357 Windsor in a '67 Cougar that same brother rebuilt to the primitive little four-cylinder in JB's Ford Falcon next door, they were ubiquitous. I understood how they worked by the time I was ten or so and by twelve I'd gotten my fingernails dirty and engine oil in my hair.

I've never really been a gear-head, but there were a lot of them when I was a kid, but you tend to absorb that knowledge if you're around it enough. We all had models that we'd built of engines. Some of them moved and showed how pistons worked and how a cam turned it all into a powertrain. I had the V8, Jim had the V12, an engine available in Rolls and Jaguars in those days. There was a lame four-banger that someone had. It was sort of a need to know thing.

I can't imagine the amount of boyhours I put into it all. I can't imagine the number of manhours I would go on to spend, head under a hood, trying to figure why an engine was running hot, or wouldn't charge or was stalling out.

Here's the thing, I knew what I was doing. I knew what I was doing because I'd spent a buttload of time learning it all.

There are hundreds of examples of this I could give you: the movies, the music, the food. Fence-building, drywalling; singing, throwing, chasing girls... the list is endless.

Again, what I've filled my mind with isn't the point of the matter - it's the filling. The fact that I've managed to fill my head with knowledge, both useless and useful, is really what I'm getting at. If we go back to my original contention - that I am profoundly ill-fit for this century - I'd argue it's true. However, throughout my boyhood, childhood, teenagerhood, young adult-hood, and now father and elder-hood, I see how appropriately I was skilled for the challenges and opportunities that came my way.

As always I am tempted to tell story after story in which the hero is my preternatural ability to seemingly foreshadow my own life. Clever, clever me...

All of this - my cleverness at learning all the "right" things, my reluctant adapting, my, frankly, cleverer-than-thou attitude - has resulted is a cavalier disdain for the technologies and products I am failing to master.

I have come to understand - am coming to understand - that I shouldn't judge how others choose what they are learning. Choosing - actively, aggressively, willfully - what we will fill ourselves with is, in my opinion, an extreme act of faith (uppercase or not, your call). A faith in serendipity, a faith in redemption, a faith in evolution, a faith in mystery - all are served by the sublime, sacred act of filling ourselves.

I'll tell you what made me start thinking more about this. It was an offhand remark at something disparaging I said about Twitter and/or Instagram or/and Reddit or... you get it, from a buddy of mine on the innerwebs. He's a go-getter and a social media whiz and I admire him a lot. However, we are completely different men, I mean polar opposites in many ways. I think he wanted to dismiss me and just get me to shut up already. He said:

"Use it how you want; and if you don't get it, play where you understand how to play."

Yeah, it's cool. After the initial rancor I found myself in, I let it sink in. I began to hear it less as a admonition and more of a reminder. I began to feel the reverence in the words "play where you understand how to play."

So, here's the not-so-obvious next question: Where is that place I know how to play? It seems in the past. It seems blurry and dim. It seems like memories. Like hope. Like dreams

Perhaps, that is where my place to play is now. In my memories. Maybe now is when I take the time to try to understand the course of my journey. Perhaps the filling is nearly done and it is time for me to stir, to distill, to contemplate.

Maybe I will tell one of those stories...

I know all things screen-porch. I can't say why, exactly, that is. Growing up without air-conditioning, gets people onto screened porches, and the bugs in rural Ohio get them behind screened doors. Being a boy leads inevitably to needing to replace them. There's a lot to learn. Tools and techniques and materials very specific to the chore.

My buddy Bruce leaned too far back in an aluminum webbed chair and it crumbled on the back legs and he splayed over backwards and his head hit the screen leaving an appropriately sized dent and ripping the seem up from the bottom. This was on my Mom and Dad's porch. They were out of town.

Now this porch ran along the western side of my childhood home. The north side opened up, with a screen door, into the front yard. However, the majority of the porch was over a garage and a story up. We went and got a ladder, and using our collective knowledge, set to fixing that screen panel. Our problem was that we didn't have a replacement screen, not, as perhaps it should've been, that the four of us were on a second case of Rolling Rock. We knew we could get the bottom reattached, but that dent would still be there. The head shaped dent.

Well, one of us cut that panel out (I won't go implicating any one) with a utility knife and a screwdriver for the staples, yes, on the ladder, mid-second case of beer. We thought we could "undent" it by walking over it, you know, squashing it down so it'd be flat again. That didn't work. We set a heavy piece of train rail my dad used for his, uh, heavy stuff needs, and left it on for a beer or two. That didn't work either. A car may or may not have been utilized in that attempted flattening of that screen. Catching on finally that the metal in the weave was actually bent, we considered a bonfire, primitive bellows, a sledgehammer and the aforementioned train track. Needless to say we were only freshmen in college not metallurgists.

I remember working and laughing as the sunset at our backs. Our final solution was worse than the bonfire would have been - I still wonder if that would have worked. It involved removing a panel from the east side of the porch, sort of down behind the picnic table, hidden, replacing it with the head dent piece and using the scavenged piece to replace it in the more obvious place. Remember, Rolling Rock.

As I think back on it now, how is it that four men - boys really - all knew how to, well, screen? We did though, and we got it done.

Yesterday I replaced two torn panels on our porch here, one punched out by a leaning nine-year-old, the other by a rolling basketball and the other nine-year-old. I knew how. And, I was beginning to understand why. I wasn't learning all those years ago how to screen and staple and nail and climb, I was learning how to fix. Filling that place, that solve it place, for a time I would need it.

At a cabin in the woods in my twenties the damn door kept falling apart because there were, like, eight men going through it every day a hundred or more times, each, and so I decided to do something about it. I popped the pins on the hinges, laid the door flat on a picnic table and resplined the whole thing with my thumbnail and a screwdriver. Years later when I built my own screen porch and had to screen the door, I learned what a splining tool and did two.

Since then, much to my frustration, I've replaced or resplined those doors dozens of times. I did the one that swings in from the garage and on to the porch yesterday. I didn't have to learn how to do it. I didn't have to mess up a dozen times or understand the way it all worked.

No, I didn't.

What I had to think about was doorways and memories and slamming screens and time.

I had to think about comings and goings. Realizing that practically every time these boys have left to school or church or Gramma's or Nana and Papa's or our friend's lake-house or a doctor's office or a hospital or a pool they went through this doorway, touched this door. Every homecomings was punctuated by the slam of this door. From toddler to teenager this is the portal they will go through to start their adventures and end their days.

If I hadn't know how to do this stuff...

Well, I'd've had to think about something else. I am glad I knew how to do it. Because I filled up the right spot earlier, I was free to think about something more satisfying, more substantial, more soulful.

The things that I've learned, the weird skills and arcane tasks with which I've chosen to fill myself are all the right ones for me.

If this is true, it must be true for you as well. And, for Nick and Zack. If God does come in the guise of our daily lives then I am wrong to judge others their choice of fillings. I am bound to believe what I have seen in my life holds true for others as well.

The screen behind the quote is one I replaced. This is what it looks like finished:

And this is the doorway through which we enter in and out of our sacred lives.

Oh, and this is the spline. A piece of rubber cord pushes the nylon screen into a groove and secures it tightly:

Thanks for dropping by today, or tomorrow, or whenever you do, or did... timelines are hard.

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

"I'd rely on the power of the traditional algorithm."

Well, duh, you know, like, who wouldn't...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Scrapel Guy

Some stories want to be told, are eager and willing to be let out into the jetsam of other words and images and sighs and shouts and whispers and wind. Some are more reluctant.

This was at the bottom of a pile in my window sill.  Those are the last two roses of last summer.  The "Seek your happiness..." stamp fell out of a book that hadn't been opened in over thirty years, at precisely the moment I needed it to.

I moved to NYC in the late eighties. I was tending bar downtown and hoping, basically, that I would fall into an acting job. I didn't, but I met an absolute circus of curious folks. As surprising at it seems to my "now self," I was once the kind of guy that said "yes" to whatever the plan might be.

Party in Brooklyn, two hours each way on a train. Sure.

A bar with a bunch of guys from the restaurant I worked at. I'll go.

A very gay bar. No prob.

A dilapidated shack in Belmar, New Jersey for the summer. I'm in.

A corporate service trainer for the company I worked for, traveling around the East Coast training new staff and, well, waitresses. Yes, thank you.

A Trip to Europe with a girl I barely knew. Why not?

So when Guy Norton, a regular at the bar I tended five nights a week, suggested I come up and party with him at his house in rural Maine, I said sure. I took a train up there, early on a Saturday. I vaguely recall a subway ride. Back then there were two main train stations, Grand Central and the ugly underground one. The train, Amtrak I'd guess, left from the ugly one.

I carried a guitar case and a knapsack sort of thing which grew heavier and heavier as I continued through the dank tunnels. I'd packed some clothes, not much, and two large bottles of whiskey - I wasn't sure how rural "rural Maine" was. I wore mostly white shirts and Levi's back in those days and I can see the jeans in that pack, a bottle in each leg, the shirts stuffed between them.

Guy met me some hours later at train station in Maine. Not coastal Maine, no, more like foothilly Maine. I do not know where it was, truth. He had a wonderful old International Harvester four-wheeled truck, probably from the sixties, and we bumped and banged our way through forest and little farms. Funny, just now I remember it was fall.

His house was in a pretty little cove of buildings and barns and bucolic outbuildings. There were maybe fifteen other houses - cottages, really - and a sort of party house and a pond out beyond with a dock and rowboats. Maine smelled like home, Ohio, and I liked that.

The place had been a summer retreat and camp in the early part of the century but had evolved into a bunch of different families coming and going all summer and fall. All the little cottages were stuffed full of interesting people and I'd say there were perhaps a dozen people in Guy's alone.

I didn't need the two bottles on Canadian Club I had in my pants. It's a good party if you end up not needing two bottles of booze. It was a hulluva weekend. I could go on about it but another memory comes to mind, a bit softer, more delicate... weirder.

I do need to back up a little. I have spent a life being naive, I'm used to it. I end up on dates I didn't know I was on, in places I should not have been; I bought a bag of moss once - and damn near smoked it, I even ate chicken feet. So, it actually came as no surprise when, about halfway through the rolling hills of Maine, I realized I was the hired help for the weekend, the bartender and helper guy, to Guy. Yeah, I should be embarrassed, but, hey, at least I figured it out there in the end. Guy was nice about it, he said maybe he hadn't been clear. I mean, we were friends and all, but, in retrospect I guess I should have wondered why a big time ad exec would invite me, a boy bartender from Mason, for a weekend at his Maine Summer house. Alright, maybe I am a little embarrassed, but...

There was a big party Saturday night, the first night I was there, and a more intimate gathering on Sunday during the day and early evening. Truly, I don't remember all the details, but what happened in the morning on Monday was pretty unforgettable.

I woke up to a pot of coffee and no food. I was standing in the kitchen drinking it black and I looked back off behind the house, past a fire pit, just where the trees began to get thick again, conifers and wildly red and yellow maples. Guy was standing in a pair of pajamas and a robe talking. Now this was in the days well before cellphones and bluetooth so I wondered what he was doing.

He came back up and I asked him what he was doing and he said he been talking to a moose. Well, this didn't surprise me that much. You see, he had a dog, a mixed sort of Golden retriever thing who he called "Dave Norton" like it was one word, Davenorton. It seemed natural that a man whose dog had a last name would talk to moose. I asked him what the moose had said and all he said was: "Scrapel."

I was hungry and immediately thought of the pork and oats breakfast meat. I was way off. Well, sort of...

It turns out Scrapel is a sort of mock apple pie treat invented up there in the woods of Maine some thirty or forty years ago. At it's most basic, I gathered it was torn up bread, apple sauce and milk in a bowl. Understand, I knew none of this at the time.

We were not going to have "basic Scrapel."

He has returned in jeans and a red flanel shirt.

"Let's go Scrapelling," is all he says.

All I’ve got is a getting colder cup of black coffee, an empty belly, and a whole morning to occupy before we head to the train station in... (I thought if I snuck up on it I might remember the town in Maine.)

"Alright," is my response, "let's go."

"First to The Widow Hazel's cottage, she should have some bread."

"The Widow Hazel's it is..."

The summer camp is set in a circle on a well-worn gravel road. The buildings all face an open meadow with a few trees and an old flagless flagpole, the top pulley dangling and bumping against it in the wind making that funny, difficult to discern clang all flagpoles make. The bigger main building is sort of in the center of the loop, facing the drive as it comes in, the pond behind it.

Instead of going across the green, Guy and Davenorton and I go out the back door and scurry through back yards and end up at the widow's back kitchen door. I'm catching on that all the cottages are the same. The Widow Hazel is maybe fifty or so and comes to the door in a robe and little else.

"Why, Little Guy and that cute young bartender from your party and Davenorton. Which Davenorton is this?" she says patting the dog while eying me uncomfortably.

"Mom thinks six," Guy says. "Listen, we're Scrapelling this morning and I was wondering if you had some bread."

"Scrapelling!? Well, I'll be damned.  Did you see the moose? Yes, I have a few loaves in my freezer. Why don't you come in and get it for me sweetie?" She is looking right at me.

"I wouldn't if I were you, " Guy whispers under his breath. The widow laughs and sort of coughs a bit and turns into the kitchen. "The Widow Hazel has been trying for years to get a young man in her kitchen, we were always told to not go in there. But, she always makes extra loaves of oat bread when she bakes and freezes them."

"Uh, for, uh... Scrapel, right." I'm new here.

"Yes, of course."

Davenorton barks as she returns with two big stainless steel silver bowls each holding two loaves of frozen bread. "Have fun," she says, "Old man Templeton should have some chunky sauce, his sister made some just last week, I could smell it."

We head on down the cottages, passing maybe five or so. Neighbors wave, some smile, a family of four gives us a thumbs up and someone says something about The Big House.

We come up on a porch behind a house and knock loudly. An older man, seventy, eighty, comes to the door in a plaid bathrobe. A cigarette jumps in his hands and his face is a little contorted, a stroke I guess correctly.

"Hey, Mr. T," Guy says loudly, Davenorton barks again. I am under the impression that the damn dog knows what's going on better than I do.

The old man looks at that dog and says, "What can I do for you, Davenorton?"

"We need some chunky sauce and The Widow Hazel said your sister made some a while back."

"Are ya Scrapelling?"

"Indeed." Guy says, smiling. I swear the dog nods his head.

"Well, lemme see what I got, Davenorton..."

He returns with four Mason jars and puts them in our bowls, two each. Each has a hand-printed label that says "CHUNKY Sauce: for SCRAPEL. Fall '86"

"Now remember, Davenorton, there's no damn nutmeg in that. If you want nutmeg just a little right before ya eat it. Nutmeg don't cook well and gets in everything."

We wander on down, off the porch and towards the pond.

"Mr. T is, well was, the caretaker here. He was a strapping man when I was younger, he organized the games and parties and all for years. He's had a couple of strokes and sometimes gets a little confused, his sister's boys look after things and he winters in Florida these days. He never married, lots of stories about that. He named my first dog Davenorton, man, forty or more years ago. He says he invented Scrapel, but then, so do all the oldtimers."

I am lost. I wonder if I am on a Snipe hunt, or if this is an elegant practical joke or what. But, I like Guy, I like the people here, I like the mystery of it, the silliness of it.

"What exactly is Scrapel," I ask.

"You'll see..."

It gets weirder.

We put our big bowls on the dock, in the sun, and head out down beyond the pond to a fence.

"Ayup. If it ain't Guy Norton and his dog. Who's this young feller with ya?"

"Just a friend up from the big city, Mr. Ambrose."

"Ayup. I heard you was a'Scrapelling. Here's four quarts a'cream I milked just this morning and some fresh Braeburns. I'll head around in a bit"

He hands over the fence an old wire handled milk carrier, circa 1939, complete with glass bottles with those clippy tops, like Grolsch beer used to come in, and an old box with maybe eight or so large, fragrant apples in them.

We cross the grass, our feet wet, Davenorton wet and smelly and happy.

I still don't quite get it. We go to retrieve the bowls and bread and "chunky sauce" but, before we do, we go out on the dock and watch the mist come off the water for a half hour or so. A slow commotion seems to rise in the main building behind us. A couple of cars roll up, kids are running and laughing, dogs without last names bark and run.

"Well, it's time," Guy says, "Let's head on up."

"For Scrapel?" I ask. Still confused.

"Ayup," Guys answers.

The main building has a big deck behind it and we climb steps up to it. I notice smoke fills the early morning fall air as it billows out of a chimney. A set of old French doors is open and we walk in awkwardly with our bowls and jars and boxes and bottles.

"Davenorton!" Everyone cheers at the same time. And by everyone, I mean everyone.

"Soon as I heard I put the flag up," Mr. T tells Davenorton.

I am beyond bewildered at this point, but, the whole thing is beyond me... not for me.

A Mr. Evans says he's got the syrup, "fresh this spring" he says. Mrs. Thompson has honey and there are walnuts from trees right here in the complex. A table is laden with crockery bowls and spoons and more loaves of bread and gallons of milk and berries and yogurt and flowers and coffee urns and a pot of hot chocolate and...

Somehow, sometime in the history of this little corner of Maine, on a Monday, a family didn't have anything for breakfast. A little boy wanted apple pie. A neighbor had a stale loaf of oat bread, another a jar of chunky applesauce, another some fresh cream. It was decided that they'd gather whatever they all had and "Scrapelling" was born. Some years later a flag was made that went up whenever it was a Scrapelday.

There were good-natured feuds, syrup versus honey, nutmeg or not, nuts or plain, berries or peaches or fresh, thinly sliced Braeburn apples still cool from the night wind.

So, basically, you tear up some hearty bread, put it in a bowl, add some "chunky sauce" and cream. I had mine with maple syrup, apple slices and walnuts.

Mr. T grated some nutmeg on right before I ate it. He was right, it was the only way to do it.

I learned a lot that day. I learned about tradition and community. I learned about love and respect. I learned how something silly and trivial can become something big and important.

I stood there, bowl in hand, The Widow Hazel standing next to me, trying to lure me into the kitchen and said, to no one in particular.

"This would be good with a chunk of cheddar cheese..."

A groan went up from the crowd. The widow actually hugged me, something she'd been trying at for an hour or so already.  How had they never thought of that? A mother sent a young boy to a cottage nearby and he came back with a perfect triangle of sharp Vermont cheddar.

I hope when that flag goes up, somewhere in Maine, that that beautiful, perfect tradition now includes a chunk of cheddar. I'd like that...

So, two stories, the first hard to tell, so, I'll just let it wait for another day.  The second?

Well, there's a little more to the second story.  There's a lot more to it actually... or, well, there could be.  You see, I made it up.

Well, why the hell would I do that?

It all started innocently enough.  Some folks were talking about strange things to eat on FB the other day.  One of the guys from Plaid Dad Blog, a newish blog with a lot of enthusiasm and character, wrote this:  "Scrapel. My father used to take a piece of bread, crumble it into a bowl, and mix it with milk, applesauce, and maple syrup and call it poor man's apple pie."  I commented "that is the best 30 word story ever told."

And, I couldn't get it out of my mind.  I actually made some Scrapel with a butt of a demi-baguette, apple sauce, honey and milk.  I added walnuts.  It was pretty good, but, I wanted to make it better. 

On the original thread I'd goofed around with the idea as a children's book.  I said:  "New title, "Scrapel Guy." Guy Norton and his dog Dave - Dave Norton - travel through rural Maine gathering ingredients for his "scrapel" from colorful locals including, and not limited to, a talking moose, a fingerless farmer, a hapless bachelor and a innuendo-riddled widow. I think there's a duck, too..."

Well, I left out the duck.

So, that's one reason I did it. 

I hadn't written any fiction in a while and I thought it might be fun.  I've written a novel and a half and I wanted to revisit that feeling, if that makes any sense. 

But, there's a deeper reason I did it.  You see, I am trying to figure out where to go next around here.  Don't worry, it won't be silly non-sequitur fiction like this, but it may be stories from my past written in a memoir style and that, that, is what I wanted to confront.  It is easy and tempting to make up a past, especially when you are older.  No one is around to fact check me.  There is no way to know if any of this is true.  Except for one thing.  I'm not doing this for me, or you, I'm doing it for Nick and Zack.  Oh, I know, yes, I enjoy an audience right now, and, frankly, writing this was a ton of fun - more fun that writing the truth, perhaps.

So, I want to say this.  As I go forward, and back, as I tell my stories and continue to tell theirs, I promise to tell the truth, as best I can.  Can I guarantee every fact?  I can't.  But, I can try.

The sad truth is that anyone writing in this medium can lie.  Some have been busted for it and I often find myself doubting the truth of many who write blogs, even folks I know.  This is a freewheeling forum, anything goes and I understand that.

I was watching an indie film on PBS, Independent Lens I think the show is called, about a Chinese dissident artist.  The filmmaker asked him why he didn't just lie to get some permissions or licenses he needed for a large installation he was working on.  "I'm fifty-four years old, buddy, I don't have time for lies."

And neither do I...

Thanks, I kept you too long again.  Oh well.  Peace to you.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Arbitrary Good and Evil

It's "Wordless Friday" right?  Or is that Wednesday?  No, Wednesday is "Post What You've Already Posted" day, isn't it?  No, that's Thursday.  Maybe it's "Silent Sunday" but isn't that the same as Wordless Wednesday, I mean Friday?  I know, Wednesday is "Words on Wednesday" and Tuesday's "Twofer Tuesday" and...  I can't keep it straight.  Maybe I'll just wait until tomorrow, Saturday isn't anything yet, is it?

I was going to just post some images and go.  It's nice and there's yardwork and housework and stuff to do.  (Did you know that housework is a word but yardwork is not.  Is this something I should become outraged about?  I can't figure what I'm supposed to get upset about these day.)  So, I was going to lay some images out here and go...

... it seems I am incapable of that.

This was, honest to God, crumpled up on the floor under the boys' dresser.  I was dysoning (not a word) and was getting the corners with that little tubey (ibid.) thing and this shmucked (nope) up into it.  I uncrumpled (really, that's not a word?) it and, well, wondered.

I know you've seen this concept before.  The boys like a show called "Brain Games" and this was one of the many 'lusions (not a word but the apostrophe makes it so you don't have to figure if you need allusion or illusion ) the show has shared with us.  But that's not the point.

I found this among a stack of papers on their dresser.

I could, of course, tease about the spelling of "forest" which is right, but I thought it was forrest, or wonder about the castle on the hill and the shadow doorway there on the left.  And that font...

But, that's not my point either.  I turned this over when I scanned it and this dapper dude was on the other side staring me down.

I might now wax poetic about self-perception, or ties, or patch pockets, but, hey, I don't know this guy.  I had no idea he even existed until just now.

And that, that is my point.

Slowly, unperceptibly (ibid.), we get to a point where we don't know absolutely everything about our kids.  I understand that I miss a lot when they are at school, anyone whose been around here before knows I've been inexhaustibly pleased with the surprise fodder that comes home from school, in fact it's a label in my Topics Cloud Thingey, Thingee, (nope, neither one words).  However, when they are here I usually know what they are up to.  I'm famous for listening around corners as they draw or play, they tell me their stories and I mine before bed, I watch from the window as they run and imagine and silently shout through the back yard.  I don't spy on them, really, I just... yeah, nevermind (how's that not a word?).

"My nearly seven [eight] (now nine) ((now ten)) year-old twin boys concoct, devise, arrange, invent, write, say, imagine and dream the damndest things."  That's a sentence from the explanatory blurb right up there at the top of my page here.  (You're right damndest is not a word either.)  When I wrote that nearly four years ago, I naively thought that I'd be privy to all of it.  As they grow up - and out, really, in a social way - I find I know less and less of their business, if you will.  By that I mean their daily affairs and plans and such, not more personal stuff...  well, I don't want them to not tell me stuff, so I'd welcome hearing about their personal stuff - struggles and angst and unrequited like and not fitting in and...  I know about that.

It's stupid that I didn't see this coming, it's a natural step in the march that is childhood.  These guys are marching out of our lives, that's their job, and mine, mine is to show them the damn way.  I have to understand I'm not always going to know everything about them.

I hope I know enough.

I sorta messed up.  You might remember that five-hundred-and-ninety one words ago I said I was just gonna post some pics and dash.  Yeah, well, by blathering on here - as I do - I've only managed to use three of them... I had, like, six.  Their fate is unknown for now, but, I'll keep 'em on my desk for now.  One is a strange apology and the other a strange 'lustration (I know, but I thought I'd try it).

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

"If you stick your butt in my face, I am going to smack it."

That should probably be an algebraic axiom...

It's funny, the other day I said I'd be bothering you less here as things move forward.  I guess I lied.  In my defense, this was meant to be brief, but brevitiness (dammit) is not my strong suit.  Thanks for coming by.