Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Am Rough On Stuff

You might remember that a very kind fellow blogger, Larry, at Me, Myself and Kids Blog, took it upon himself to feature a song I wrote on his site.  I had read his blog before and his post titled "Ain't Feeling Love For the Monthly Bus Pass" really got me to thinking.

It's that feeling of exasperation at knowing, owning even, your flaws. When I read about poor Larry losing stuff all the time, I winced at his words. Each item in his list of losses hit me like a shoe because, I understood his frustration, sensed the burden – comic at times, tragic at others – that a simple fluke in biological design can yield.

You see, I'm hard on things. I guess it may sound funny, but, it's a real thing. This shirt I'm wearing, with the frayed collar and the missing button on the pocket flap? No, I did not inherit this, in fact, uh, I got it last Christmas, and it is LLBean, and I've worn it out. That Loveland sweatshirt, with the hole in the armpit and the unraveled waist, well, I got that about six months ago.

Oh believe me, it's not just clothes. I bought a new Chevy S-10 in nineteen-hundred-and-ninety-one. I sold it when the boys were born, almost nine years ago now. A milk-horse in the Middle Ages suffered less than that poor truck. Radiator after radiator after starter after alternator after radiator... ad naseum. Tires wearing out, rust eating the bed, the ceiling fabric drooping, clutch slipping all before their time. It was constant. I was hard on that truck.

In the late nineties, during a period of change for me - like now, like always, really – I bought some new furniture. “Heirloom quality” they said. Now, knowing how hard you are on stuff leads to the understanding that you have to get better stuff. So I bought a beautiful chocolate leather chair and suede couch. Both now sit in the basement, a broken spine on the couch and leather worn through on the arms and seat of the chair. Worn out. Spent.

Tents and toasters and washers and dryers and disposers and eyeglasses. Shoes, shirts, underwear, socks; sheds and mowers and shovels; well, everything, really. My wife didn't really understand what I meant when we first married, about being, sort of, hard on things. She does now. I wear things out. I break stuff. I broke a friend's two-hundred dollar chef's knife, snapped it in two. I sat on a brand new Saturn once and the whole front quarter panel fell off underneath me. I touch a zipper and it's stuck. String-trimmers vex me and don't get me started on computers and phones and audio and/or video equipment.

But, just as Larry has, I have learned to accept my, uh, eccentricity, no, malady, no, curse... no, my gift. Yes, gift.

You see, I loved that truck. It was my first truck and the first new vehicle I'd ever owned; it was deep blue and white, a V-6, and it got me where I wanted to go. Long road-trips, downtown parking, mountains, deserts, coasts, Route 66 - all experienced sitting in that worn-down-torn-up-fabric-blanket-covered comfortable, important bench. I was hard on it because I needed it and I knew its importance.

The furniture? Yeah, it got worn out. The couch broken under the weight of the jumping and giggling and fighting and dreaming and reading and hoping it endured from the minds and bodies of the young boys who grew up on it. The worn-out arms of that beautiful library chair I bought so many years ago, worn through by the dear little butts of the babies and toddlers and preschoolers and, even now, third-graders, who perched on them reading about trains that can and wolves who puff. They wore down because of love and purpose and the beautiful disintegration that is the haunting result of growth.

My son, Nick, loved a shirt, a white shirt with a a simple Xavier University logo on it. He wore it all the time and I couldn't really get it clean in the end. I remember it was way too big for him when he got it and it was showing his belly when I finally, uh, retired it. It was stained, graying, fraying, thin. I watched him put it on once this last summer and, as it settled over his tan torso and his cute little towhead popped out of the narrow neck hole, he sighed, smiled and sort of gave himself a little hug.

I asked him why he always wore that shirt, knowing, deep in my heart, the answer already. “I don't know, I love this shirt, I just do... it's so soft and it smells right and it feels like a hug when I put it on.” This tired shirt I have on, well, that above there, what he said, is exactly why I am wearing it. I understand what happens, I know what he's feeling. It is safety, familiarity, security. It is a constant amazement to me what things seem practically genetic.

Well, I guess you might be wondering what this has to do with being a Dad. It's funny, I always find myself a bit surprised when I actually arrive at some point, like, conclusion, I mean. But, for once I started with one: know yourself. I know I wear things out, Larry knows he loses things. It could be anything – tardiness, gluttony, loudness, a dark sense of humor, a weak spot for Disney Movies – but, by knowing it, this weakness, this flaw, you are made better.

My other son Zack is an “absent-minded professor.” I have seen him standing in front of the fridge shaking his head because he doesn't know why he's there; he gets into the shower with his socks on; he puts jeans on for bed; tries to eat his pencil instead of the pretzels and his shirts are constantly on backwards. But, you know what, he knows that about himself. He thinks it is silly and interesting and, most importantly, okay. “It's what makes me, me,” he said once. 

Oh, I nearly forgot.  That grand old Chevy still runs, I see it parked at the Post Office all the time:

And Nick's "Blue Blob" shirt as we used to call it... yeah, I've still got it, stuffed in the rag chest of drawers, which isn't so much for rags as it is for memories and the hope of childhood.  I found a picture of him in it.  Ignore the rally cap and the popcorn box sleeves, that's actually a story yet to be told:

And since I am shuffling around in the old picture folder, I am actually wearing the shirt I spoke of earlier in this pic:

And that bandanna, I'd worn it so thin in the eight or nine years I've had it that just about a month or so ago I tore it tying it up on my head.  I went to put it in the trash but... it ended up in the rag drawer. 

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

"I ripped it out so we wouldn't hurt it." 

Well, that's the sensible thing to do...

It's cold out there today, I am glad you could step inside and warm up.


  1. The beauty of LL bean is that it's lifetime guaranteed. Return it to them and they'll send you a new one for FREE. But I suppose, that's not the point.

    This post reminds me of one of my favorite songs right now... "I Hold On".

    Thanks for letting me warm up... it was 15 degrees while I was out delivering mail today.

  2. Bill the Breaker - it's me Larry the loser. Nice to meet you again. Thanks for the call out.
    I can also be hard on stuff. One of 4 boys. Being hard on stuff was all I knew.
    I like to say I see this as you enjoying things to the max. After all, the shirt, furniture and even the truck aren't mean to last forever. Their meant to be used and enjoyed. And you clearly have done this.