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 Dag 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.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I've Got Skidders

Our fenced backyard is surrounded on all sides, four neighboring yards, by dogs.  They range from tolerable to annoying - although I like Red, even if he is the third in a long line of dead Reds - but that's not my point.  Critters like our backyard.  If moles and squirrels were good to eat I'd be golden.  We've rabbits, a resident gopher (Gus perhaps?), an occasional chipmunk, a happy family of shed mice and even an occasional vole or vagrant duck.

And, maybe something else.  Skidders.  You know, those mythical, other realm, Middle Earth, sort of Narnian critters.  Maybe you've never heard of them.  They are a bit overlooked.  Left out of most of the great battle stories and magical histories because of their indefatigable joy and playfulness, they've none the less been around since anyone can remember.

Here's how I first suspected that I might have some:

A poorly camouflaged pile of pine cones.  Skidders, often called "Skids," like to fling them at one another and laugh maniacally into the wind.  It is fairly well-established that this a ritual celebrating victory over some Kingdom eons ago, either that or it's just damn silly to throw pine cones at each other.

 They like to pile them up along a fence-line.

I was checking out the yard before I mowed when I saw a couple of these piles.  And then I noticed a couple other things:

There was this little trampled circle of footprints in the grass:

And then I remembered another older patch that I might not have recognised for what it was a couple of years back:

Out of the corner of my eye I saw this:

Yep, a gouge in the turf.  You might call it a skidmark, it is technically called a "slidemark" and where there is one there are usually several.  Now, Skids are all limbs and knees and elbows and butts, it is told, and they make these marks in various ways.  The one above is most likely a knee.

This one could be a done by a foot.  They do not go barefoot, as was long suspected, but rather wear something they call "muddyshoes," primitive tie on shoes, worn out, split and dirt crusted.

I mentioned before that there were probably more.  It wasn't until I mowed that I saw them all.  Forty-three, by my count.

There were doubles:

And some real classics.  I think this is shoulder slidemark:

I still can't get over how many there are:

They are literally everywhere.  There isn't really a consensus on why Skids do this.  Many think it has something to do with a gloved ball game, some think it may be from ducking and avoiding incoming pine cones.  Others think it might have to do with trying to put a ball through a net at ground level, others believe it has to do with the flying discs Skids love to play with.

I think it has something to do with sticks.  If you look around enough, if you suspect you have Skids, you will nearly always find an arsenal of sticks.  Just as I found two piles of cones, I found two caches of sticks.:

I reckon I've got two Skids.  In retrospect, I'd guess I've had them for a while.  Here is a hole, once a bracken-filled ditch, that's been around for five or six years now:

Young Skidders like to ditch and dig holes and trenches.  I suspect this is an old one as well:

I'd guess my Skids are ten or thereabouts, most likely male, but there isn't much research on that.  By all accounts a Skid is a Skid is a Skid, they all act pretty much the same.  After doing some research I started looking for some other evidence.  For instance, they have a strange tradition of picking flowers for their loved ones but leaving one flower "For God to see."

In their wildness the tend to break things, like playsets:

And landscaping:

They also like to climb and have even been known to add ladders to the trunks of trees:

I like having skids.  They remind me to be wild and happy and free and playful.  They are sweet and right and wholesome and strong and remind me what I once was... and can be again, I just wish they'd close the damn gate...

I am glad you stopped by.  See ya again soon.

From Marci's Bill's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat pick up off of the floor..."

Um, well, we don't have any fish, at least I think we don't.

I gotta go...

Friday, April 10, 2015

Synchronous Serendipity

I take the bits and pieces of life - the hopes and dreams and responsibilities and commitments and all - and try, desperately, to order them, "rowing ducks" I've called it.  It's planning and prioritizing and playing odds and thinking about contingencies.  It's dinner and bacon and bananas about to go bad.  It's shorts not jeans, baseball not basketball, sunsets not sunrises.  It is all manageable, quantifiable, tractable, straightforward, though increasingly complex.

I get it.  I do it all everyday.

But there are moments or events that I do not see coming.  Not tragedies or hardships, I understand that these are a part of life.  Not the coming of understanding that springs from Faith, the unexpected  tears on Good Friday nor the relief of resurrection, that is simple Grace.

No, there are moments and events that just seem so well-placed.  Some are fleeting - the phone call from a friend just as you were thinking of them, a bolt that lands in your pocket as you work under a car to switch out an alternator in the snow.

Sometimes these moments are huge, unfolding over time involving dozens of characters and places and things.  Five teenagers thrown together in college dorm, each perfectly suited to a spot in the group, this one giving this song, another adds this book, another a story, another a center, another a spoke.  Decades later, still in touch, still marveling at the perfection of a few years of flawless synchronicity.

And then there is the sheer damn luck of it all.  How, possibly, could a cat wondering into an apartment - my cat, Marci's apartment - lead me here, raising up twin boys, happily married, safe, contented, something I never thought I'd be?  Serendipity?  Good fortune?  Divine intervention?  Or, as I said, sheer damn luck, the good kind.

Two weeks ago I posted a piece here about how I encountered music when I was coming up in the late sixties and early seventies.  I bemoaned the lot of N and Z not having the very visceral experience of vinyl records and paper sleeves and liner notes and poster art.  I was hard on myself for not introducing them to piles of music.

My brother and his daughter came into town to visit.  My niece said she had a gift for the boys' birthday.  She seemed pretty excited about it.  She's a pretty cool chick.

Yes, a portable record player, a stack of old 45's and some classic LP's.  Now, understand this, she did this well before I wrote the piece about records and such.  She sought out the player, selected the albums, made this all happen, without knowledge that I was even thinking about this.  Coincidentally, co-incident-ly.


There's more right?  Yes, thanks for asking...

You probably see Art Garfunkel's upside down head there.  That's Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits album, one I know so well I could sing it to you start to finish with little prompting.  That's just one of the odd little stack of albums she gave them.  There's some vintage The Ventures - you know, the "Mission Impossible" and "Hawaii Five-O" dudes.  There a 1971 pressing of J.S. Bach Brandenburgisches Konzert F - dur... yes, the gateway drug of orchestral music, in German.  There's a Jazz Immortals album, it's old school - Charlie Parker and Dizzy and that crowd.  There is also a curious thing called Space Songs: Ballads for The Age of Science sung by Joe Glazer.

I told you it was an odd lot, an oddly appropriate odd lot.

There was one other album.

This one:

I opened up that turntable when the boys went to school and played it.

It was fun.  The needle hit the platter and the sound was so familiar it took my breath away.  I quickly regained my ability to read the print as it spun,  "Rainy Day Women #12 & 13."  The loud, raucous horn section starts... You know the song, "Everybody Must Get Stoned," yeah, that one.  An influential song, an unforgettable song and a remarkably clever one as well.

This Greatest Hits album was released in 1971, I probably got it in '73 or '74.  I'm guessing.  To say I know this record would be understating.  I said once before that we "choose the soundtracks of our lives" and this is a part of mine.

The second cut is "Blowin' in the Wind," the quintessential Dylan song.  I'd say it was easily one of the first twenty songs I ever learned to play and sing.  I played it just Sunday, sitting on the porch as the boys made LEGO models... and sang along.  And, and, two days later the song literally lands in my lap.  Out of the shear damn blue.

"The Times They Are A-Changin" follows.  There is a scratch here and it adds another layer to the staccato strum that accompanies words I didn't understand people could say.  Not allowed to say, and these lyrics pushed some serious boundaries, no, could be said.  When I first heard this song, and then later as I went on to learn it, I was flabbergasted at the boundlessness of human creativity.  I've come to understand that as an adult, but man, that first glimpse at our collective potential is electrifying.

Come mothers and fathers, throughout the land
And don't criticize what you can't understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand,
For The Times They are A-Changin.'

I mean, who gets to write that, who is chosen for those words?  The words, as beautiful and carefully hewn as they are, aren't what impacted me.  The fact that this sort of inspiration can be available to us, to me, blew me away.

"It Ain't Me, Babe" is next.  A lament?  A defense?  An attack?  I've never known.  But at thirteen or sixteen on twenty-one hearing the words "It ain't me you're lookin' for, Babe," is a bit of foreshadowing worth noting.

Side one ends with "Like a Rolling Stone."  Another song I know forwards and backwards and still it still draws me in every time I hear it, no matter who sings it.  I forget it is a story song, a redemption song.

There is another whole side to go, wait...

I remember this moment, this intermission that every album offered.  I had forgotten it until I had to do it again.  A time to reflect and discuss and get a beer and wait, a time to anticipate.  What a gorgeous idea, an exquisite device - stop and savor and wait in the middle of things.  When do I do that anymore?

Not often enough.

I won't take you all the way through the second side.  It begins with "Mr. Tambourine Man" another song I still play, another song where the words seem so impossibly clever.  The side ends with "Just Like A Woman" with those haunting words "...but she breaks just like a little girl."

What does he mean by that?

What do I mean by this?

This album came back to me at precisely the right moment in time.  I didn't need the songs or the words or even the album in my hands.  No, I needed the event.  I needed to go through time with it.  I had to thank it with my time once again.  We, I, must study the things that move us, contemplate the ideas that stir in us understanding, curiosity and, perhaps, wisdom.

I started a journey with this music when I was ten or eleven.  Mind you, this is a "greatest hits" album, the music was released well before 1971 when it came out.  The vast majority of these songs had floated already into the zeitgeist of radio music and into the living rooms of booming families much earlier.  And, still they float.

Nick and Zack recognize nearly all the songs on this album.

I like that loop.

I like seeing continuity, seeking continuity.

Bob Dylan's words and melodies have been more than a soundtrack to my life, that would underplay it.  Dylan's music opened my eyes and ears and heart in a way nothing had in my life.  I've fashioned my vocal style after his.  I adore drawn out vowels and alliteration piled in precarious pillars, perfectly placed.  I love lists and details and difficult references.  Nuance.  He led me to an understanding not only of potential but of success.  I am right because of Bob Dylan.  He helped show me who I am, not as a role model, not necessarily as a hero, no... he was - and still is, I'm coming to understand - my Teacher.

I am tempted here to tease myself, poke fun at my melodramatic prose.  I don't think I will though, mostly because I feel I've learned something of myself.  Also, there's one more little bit...

The album came with a poster inside.  My niece unfolds it and I instantly recognize it and I nearly fall in the wind of images and places and people.  A dorm room, a childhood bedroom, a lover's bed, a living room, old friends, lost friends, New York City, rural Ohio, a Parisian bookstall, a dank basement, ping-pong tables, smoke, smoke, dreams and smoke.  All at once...

It is hard to impart to you how unexpected all of this is... was, will be.  (Fuck tense, I can't get a handle on it.)  And how arbitrary it is.  And how profoundly necessary it is, was, shall be.  (See!)

I've kept you, haven't I?  I'm sorry, this all sort of snowballed.  I hope you'll come back again.  I may not be asking you in as much here in the coming months but I'll holler when I do.  I've got chores to do, baseball games to think about, memories to sift through... and two boys to watch turn into men.

Peace to you...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Rowing Ducks or Crepe Paper Thumbs

I pride myself on a good title and I think this is a good one.  I don't do it right.  Apparently, I should be putting in keywords - something about "search engine optimization," I don't really get it  - so more people might come and visit.  Oh, well...  I'd really rather title something what I want to call it rather than what might get people to come and look at it thinking it was really something else, yeah, still don't get it.

We are in the middle of Spring break around here.  It is hard to find large chunks of time to devote to writing.  In fact I am not writing today.  It's "Throwback Thursday," yet another thing I don't really get around the social media world.  But, since today it works to my advantage, I'll go with it.

I wrote this piece awhile back for the Dad2.0Summit blog.


Crepe Paper Thumbs

You know crepe paper, right? In recent years, it has been replaced with a sort of plastic substitute that is stronger, more colorful, and, importantly, color-fast. It is vastly improved over the crap I used as a kid, but there was something about the way the original felt, a unique roughness.

I smiled as I saw it outside the gym where my 9½-year-old twin boys practiced at basketball in a school built in the 50s, a school exactly like the one I’d gone to 45 years and 15 miles away from this one.

The paper was white and red, framing a holiday-themed bulletin board, pine trees and snowflakes and wishes. It was January, and the display was tired. Situated next to an old porcelain water fountain, one edge had been spattered, and the red paper had bled into the white in Pollack-like patterns. I reached up and pinched it between my fingers and rubbed slightly. My thumb came away pink.

My dad is hunched down, flat-footed, knees fully bent – a “hunker,” he calls it. I am on one knee, incapable of a hunker. A 70s-style bike, banana seat with a sissy bar, long fork in front, you remember, is between us. We are weaving crepe paper around the spokes, decorating the bike for a parade my small Ohio town has each summer, “Community Unity Day.” I am weaving blue, and he is weaving the red in an alternating spiral.

“Dad, why don’t you ride your bike in the parade? Lots of parents do, and the guys in the Grange, and the teachers, and even Father Jim and Reverend Silven.”

My dad thinks about that for a moment. He finishes the wheel with his paper, straightens up, and peers at me above the swoopy, vinyl seat.

His tender eyes say it before he does, “If everyone is in it, who’ll watch the parade?”

His fingers are pink.

It is an important memory to me, and I still believe in the lesson he taught me, as I focus a great deal of time and energy watching the parade of my sons’ youth. But, that is not what I’m getting at. No, it’s the damn crepe paper; every time I feel it, I remember the story of that day, when I was 10, and his fingers were pink, and his soul was sweet.

Two wooden screwdrivers, dented and dinged with red handles, sit in my toolbox. The boys couldn’t be without them for a few months when they were toddlers.

A story.

Two teeny baseball gloves sit in the bottom of the baseball duffel. I know I should take them out, but when I find them, touch their smallness, I remember.

A story.

Two backpacks wait to be thrown away but never are. Two years of preschool and one of kindergarten were carried in them.


I hide little things like this away frequently. A pair of sweatshirt jumpers—one blue, one red—are in the rag drawer, but I’ll never use them to polish my truck or dust the shelves. A diorama of an owl’s habitat, a crazy computer made of paper, outgrown soccer and baseball socks, two candles they made at school, a notebook of homemade trading cards, six small cups they’ve used for every meal they’ve ever had here at home.

It is not the things I am holding on to. No, it is the memory they will serve me, the stories they will give me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the little toothmarks in the screwdrivers, the scent of those socks and jumpers. I can recall the hours spent making those owls and trading cards, each detail still bright. But the markers fade, the paper crumbles. I’d love to light the candles, but the stubs would seem so sad. And God, those cups. Every meal and spill and tears and laughter filling them. I hope I have them forever.

To tell me their stories.

We are the curators of childhood. Whose, I am not sure, I get mine mixed with theirs sometimes. Most times. We tell the story of their parade.


I wonder what I meant by "rowing ducks?"

Oh, I remember.  I've been trying to get my ducks tidied up around here.  I feel things blowing differently around here, the winds of change, perhaps, maybe it will even blow my candle out here.  I don't know.  I do know that I want what I've written all in one place.  And, I think that place should be here.

I've no faith left in Face Book, I'm only a pawn in their game and I don't know how much longer I'll be staying at young Mr. Z's party.  Consequently, I don't want to write anything particularly clever there for fear he'll want to charge me for it later.  I've had some pretty good conversations on the FB chat thingee, I've been capturing some of the things I said on those and pasting into my journal.  Might be some good topics for posts in there, I don't know.

The vast majority of bloggers have Twitter accounts.  I opened one, looked around for about ten minutes and found it to be salacious and mean and incredibly self-serving and, well, have you ever known me to get anything said in a few words - not my style.  I couldn't figure out how to close the account so I... well, that's not true, I forgot the password and didn't feel like jumping all the hoops to figure it out.  Oh, well.

Here's the hard part.  I like writing about the boys, I really do.  I like knowing I am writing the stories down I will want to remember in the future.  Up until now I've felt comfortable telling them to you.  This week alone I can think of four stories I wanted to tell that, after some thought, I decided I shouldn't tell - for fear of embarrassing them.  I don't know what to do about that.

Well, time's caught up with me as I new it would today The boys will be ten on Easter.  I wanted to write a post about that... I didn't.  This week is Holy Week.  I'd intended to write a bit about that... I didn't.

Maybe later.

Maybe never.

Wait.  It's Thursday and I can post pictures and stuff from another time, right.  Baseball season opens on Monday.  Here's an image of the boys and I watching a game a few years ago.  It's a cute picture:

Thanks for stopping around again.  It's been sort of hit or miss around here lately.  I'm not really very good at all this, really.  Or, you know, maybe I am...

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

"I don't care if it is pink, I like it."

*slow clap*

Remember I mentioned there were several stories I'd considered telling you this week about the boys?  This is the end of one of them.

This is the end of another, one that is perhaps not mine to tell.

 Thanks, Nana.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What Was Revealed

You know, boys, there is a lot I am sorry for. I guess that is sort of a sweeping statement, isn't it? I don't mean for anything I've done to you or that sort of thing. No, it's just that, well, I wish things were different.

For instance, I am sorry that you get music in such an generic and soulless format. You hear it on the internet and through the airwaves on radio stations at the pool and in the car, distant, tinny, filtered, compressed. But, you don't hold it in your hands, see it, own it.

When I was a boy everyone, I mean everyone, had records. Pop music was on affordable 45s and long-playing albums, often in stereo, were what our parents and siblings all played. The music came in paper sleeves and you had to carefully pull out the disc of vinyl and put it on something called a "turntable" and drop a needle on to it and give it a listen on speakers that knew how to make some noise, most bigger than breadboxes. You had to actively do all this... and, that made all the difference in the world.

I remember getting the new Bob Dylan album - Blood on The Tracks - like it was yesterday. I remember eagerly tearing off the cellophane around it, throwing that aside and pulling the inner sleeve out, hoping for "liner notes" so I could learn as much about the music as I could. I bought the songbook to the album along with it and sat on my bed and listened to it on a portable turntable that sounded better than the speakers on a laptop or tablet today. I searched the words for meaning, looked up references to Romantic French Poets in the World Book Encyclopedia just down the hall, in the den. I met Hurricane Carter and fell in love with Lily and Rosemary and probably the Jack of Hearts as well. I sat and learned, with a shiny new guitar in my lap, the truth about love songs, their structure and the sheer weight of their necessity.

As I reflect on it, I was probably a couple of years older than you, maybe three - and that's a lot in boy years - but that's not my point. I was gifted to grow up in an era where music was so prevalent and good. No, I am not making a judgment on the music of the era, that is not for me to do, and, well, I have eclectic (read questionable) taste in these things. It's just that it was such a common experience for us. Everyone sat and listened to 45s and the newest John Denver or Jim Croce album. We played, and got to know, even chose, the soundtrack of our lives. We weren't forced to look for it underneath a new car commercial or search for good music on the internet or radio through a barrage of commercials and crap. The music was right there, always.

We tripped over stacks of music, we packed album after album into apple crates, or, even better, peach crates - I don't know why. Our tables and desks and beds were strewn with liner notes, the faces of the artists we loved peered up at us and psychedelic covers of rock band albums, the twisting words of the lyrics and notes, made us wonder and hope for a day when we understood them.

I remember playing the song American Pie over and over on my little portable player. My friend JB and I had it in our head to figure out the words. The song is so damn long it took both sides of the 45 just to get through it. We'd stop and start the needle over and over again, finally getting all the words down. I cannot begin to impress upon you how very wrong we got those words. We didn't know who Jumping Jack Flash was let alone James Dean; we knew nothing of plane crashes or Buddy Holly or Jagger or Woodstock. I played that song wrong for a dozen years I'd say, until people grew tired of hearing it.

Maybe ten years ago I found the real lyrics online and decided I'd try to play it again. Once again I struggled with the words, understanding them for the first time took me back to when I sat, spiral-bound notebook in hand, writing down the wrong words as JB stopped and started the turntable. We were happy and young and naive and singing about Chevys and whiskey and rye and a generation lost in space, oblivious to the context, happy in the moment. That was in late in 1971 and I was ten.

The world back then was so sensual - I mean involving the senses. I fear we aren't giving our sons that so much anymore. I was never so happy, for years and years, as I was when I opened that new album, the smell and look and feel of it was everything right then and there. It had a wholeness to it, a wholeness that I think is fragmented these days. The boys listen to a song here, watch a video there, but - and this is why I am sorry for it is my fault - but they never experience that music through time and space, through taste and feel, that was so common when I was younger.

I should work to change that.

It's funny, this all started out as a list of things I wanted to apologize for to the boys. Mostly technologies, sensibilities. Simple things like, I'm sorry the bats aren't wood anymore, or, sorry there is so very little KoolAid. Stuff both silly and profound, funny and deep, sad and, well, sadder.

You see, when I started thinking about this all, outlined it, made notes, thought of how I might structure and format it I looked at all those "sorrys" and saw them all as one thing, they distilled down to one thought.

I'm gonna pause briefly here before I tell you what was revealed. I believe that life must be examined. We are obligated as humans to think deeply, profoundly. The very basics of our lives exist because someone thought about language and justice and wheels and fire and love and suffering and war and peace and literally everything else. We owe it to our heritage as people to consider our lives.

We think, therefore we are is...

I truly believe this. The thing is... sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it takes us places we would rather not go - sadness, inadequacy, loneliness, pointlessness. That's alright. Joy and faith and tenderness and purpose all balance it out.

I'm sorry I am your father.

It's alright... really. I understand why I thought this. I'm old and grumpy and borderline misanthropic and afraid and, well, a little weird. But, do I believe it. I'll let you be the judge of that. But, I wasn't afraid of the thought. That's what's important.

Fatherhood is big - thematically. I am willing to think about it.

Listen, I know saying I'm sorry that I am Nick and Zack's dad is stupid. Words don't exist to explain the joy a father feels in having children. Long paragraph short: I'm not sorry.

But, I thought about it. I thought about regrets and opportunities lost. I thought about providing and being available and paternity leave and money and heart and hearth and the future and the past. I flipped through memories and afterthoughts and moments lost and time and now.

I'm glad I did. That one moment of doubt, that one thought of hopelessness, well, has, is, making me a better father.

Anyway, I did this so... sorry can I be.

Remember, we get to think about stuff.  Zack's bear also made this helpful graphic:

"think mOAr thotS"  Nick must've helped him with the spelling.

Think more thoughts.

Zack went down to feed the cats the other morning.  He had his bear, Bear-Bear, under his arm and set him down to get the food and then left him there.  Face down on the cement.  It looked like a crime scene and, sadly, my first thought was to orange chalk a circle around the poor guy and tell Z there's been an incident.  I picked the old fellow up and was trying to console him as best one can an inanimate object.  I looked at his face.

I little piece of foil, a wrapper or tinsel or something, stuck to his face like a tear.  And I wondered if I'd feel as sad when someday I realized that the boys might forget me for a moment.  It was an overwhelming notion and I let my thoughts go with it.  Fathers and sons, sons and fathers.

Thanks for coming 'round again.  I suppose you'll flit off to some other cyberstop.  Cool.  Hey, don't forget to think.  Look deep into yourself.  You're allowed.

You're supposed to.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Of What Were We Thinking?

I try to come up with different ways to open here.  Different ways to frame the stories and thoughts I want to share.  As I pondered what I might try today an interesting thought came into my head, what if I wrote a piece...

Good God, get to the point.

... in the form of a list and illustrate each one with a silly image.  I wouldn't number them, so then it's not really a list.  Bullets maybe...

Listen to yourself.

Screw you other-one-me, I'm the one who has to get this all done.  You sit over there in dreamland and tease me while you stare out the window weeping and thinking.  You stay up late watching baseball or Disney movies or The American Experience, cavalierly drinking hard ciders oblivious to the fact that I have to get up a six in the morning.

Somebody's got to think about stuff.  You're all uptight and worried about the next thing.  This is supposed to be fun.  Who the hell uses "cavalierly," anyway?

Think hard on this for a second: this goes unrewarded.  My moral obligation is to do the job I need to do for my family, it is not to dream up lines of nonsense based on hours of quiet reflection, there's simply not time for that.

I suppose not...

See?  Thank you.

But I'm not gonna stop.

I know...  Now what?

You go on ahead, I'm sure your non-numbered listicle idea will be great.

You don't sound convinced.


What would you do?

I dunno, I haven't had time to think about it.  Whaddya got so far?

It's all right there on the SanDisk you just watched me load from the camera.  In a file called "3.23temp."

How very clever of you.

You don't give one measly single fuck, do you?

Surprisingly, I do.  I'll take it from here...

You don't even know what the pictures are.  You probably barely remember us taking them.  I've given this some thought and I think I can make this work.

The "List," right.  Cute...

You know what?  Have at, dude.

Alright... where's the folder?

Oh for the love of God, on the memory stick.

I knew that.  Let's see...  Alright, I'll randomly load this one:

Oh, I remember this one, I was considering writing something about transitions and was going to use a toaster image, in fact this was a "before" of what was to be two images.  I clean up the toaster, write a bit about taking care of your things and memories and stuff.  That'd've been a good piece.

What's next?

Yes, pulled this out of Z's pocket.  He did not draw it, I know his style.  It's sorta creepy, and why would someone hold up a placard with "ballon" on it with a balloon in the other hand?  Weird.  (I have evidence that this was given to him by a girl, I will not submit it.)

This is easy:

Aww, Snickers, our loaner dog.  Keep them coming.

Um... excuse me.

What!?  Don't sneak up like that.

Well, sorry... uh, it's just, well, is that all your going to say about the dog.  I mean, at the very least you could tell the story of what a "loaner dog" actually is.  Maybe a bit about friendship and mutual respect between people of different socio-...

Go away, the only reason you wanted this here is so you'd be sure there was a picture of the dog on your blog which is really a scrapbook which is really a memoir.  That's what all this is, just a way to get some images in here that you don't want to forget but you don't feel like you have the time to write the whole story so you use me, a cheap device, to get through it all hoping they don't notice.


Already did.  What do you want me to gloss over next?


Nick made this in the fall, why are you just now getting to this?  I mean you could google "fire prevention week" and do it then.  Well, it is cute and he did spell extinquisher right.

No, no he didn't...

Stop pestering me, at least I'm getting something done.



What the hell is this?  I've never seen this before in my life.

Well, that was sort of the point.  Remember, we found it in among the stuff the boys keep up on the shelves downstairs.

These shelves?

Yes, nicely played.  And this is the stuff that is usually up there on the ground forming the foundation of the fort they most recently made.

 Yes, nicely played on your part.  Let's see what's left...



What about the stories that go along with these pictures? You know, the shelves as a place where imaginations run wild - oh, remember, just the other day they were pretending they were...


Oh right, we decided that might be a little too personal.  That it might be time to stop telling their secrets.  Crap... But, at least you could tell how I wondered if that might be their last fort.  You know, all wistful and pretty about "endings" and the inherent sadness in it all.

We've been all through that.  Let's move on.

But what about the poster?  How we figure it was Marci's and how she must have had it up in a lot of different places and how I'd guess it brought her comfort and happiness and...

Isn't that her story?

Right.  I'm sorry, I keep interrupting, it's just that, well, I think we can keep telling them if we...

Well, that was rude.

Whatever, lets get through these.  N made a "leprechun" trap.  He baited it green yarn "pretending to be clover" and, get this, fake gold coins.  Just a few more to go.  

And, that's all your going to say about that.  It's cute, all misspelled and haphazardly covered with foil and all hopeless and strange and... oh, right.  I guess that could sound mean.  Go ahead.

An oakleaf the boys thought looked like a dancing angel.


And... you took a picture of it.

What about angels and dancing and leaves and the book you, uh... we, wrote and the Christmas card and all of that?

Humblebrag much?



I don't get it, you're the storyteller, you go on and on.  You go deep.  You tell the stories I can't... or won't.  You know when to do it and...

... when not to?

This is a "when not to" isn't it?

It didn't use to be, I am afraid it might be now...

Wow, that's rough.


A note that says "read" and a 'no' sign over kindle.  They boys are in a contest between their classes, whichever class reads the most total minutes gets a pizza party.  The other class doesn't.  We've not pointed out to them that if they read the same amount it sort of nulls their contribution.  Nick's figured it out though.  He's trying to outread his, well, oblivious brother.

Well, that's good.  So, there's only one more.  Throw it on here and we're golden.  Nice job, dude, this would've taken me forever.  I guess you are right, I need to think a bit more about what we are doing here.

Yeah, about that.


This is the one.

The one what?

The one that needs a story.

Naw, it's just an image of a boy with his hair pushed back, looking pretty cool, anyway the image is blurred and... oh.  Go ahead.

Recently, I took a bunch of blurry pictures of the boys playing basketball.  It got me to thinking about how our own perceptions of the past are fuzzy as well.  I took these pictures basically so I could show Marci how cool N looked with his hair all pushed back, I mean he looked seventeen.  I kept getting bad pics and I didn't have time to delete them on the spot so I kept them.  I got a good one of him finally, but when I went to look at them, this one stood out.

There are many reasons why.  I know I must start blurring the stories I tell about the boys here.  The time for revelations and personal bits and pieces of them is coming to a sad end.  It was easy at first, telling the stories of take-home folders and camping trips and vacations and simple hopes and dreams.  Not so much anymore.  I fear that something I say, although lovingly crafted and considered, might come back to haunt them.  It is a struggle for me, us, bloggers in general, parents, memoirists, storytellers.  Who does the story serve?

It's tough.

The coincidental blurriness is not the main reason this image sings to me.  Truth is my immediate and gut reaction to this was 'why am I staring back at myself?'  I can't look at it without feeling like I am at both ends of the lens.  I am the boy, blurred and a bit confused, coming into my own as much as I am the archivist trying to look at the boy and hoping that I can understand what's good for him.  It is the duality of fatherhood - for me at least - this feeling that I am both the son and the father, the future and the past, the what-I know-has-been and the what-I-hope-to-be. All at the same damn time.

That's nice.

It is tough.  I'm glad you came by today other-one-me.  Thanks.  You usually annoy me more.

Hey, we're in this together and it's gonna take both of us to move it all forward, right?


Say goo'bye to the nice people and don't forget the backseat thingee.  I gonna watch some trees grow.

Right, you do that.  I'm gonna do some chores and run to the store.  Hey, how 'bout a cider tonight?

We'll see...

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

"Pants. They are one of the most important things."

Oh, you say that now, you don't really mean it...

I hope you didn't mind him coming around today, I think he was a particularly civil this time.

I'm standin' right here, man.

Sorry, you can see more of our exchanges in the label just below here called "other-one-me" if you'd care to.  Nice of you to come around today and flip through some pictures with us, thanks.

Can I have the last word?



Of course you did.