Saturday, May 30, 2015
Sometimes, life is plain. No sprinkles or caramel sauce or whipped cream or even Cool Whip on your ice cream. No Bearnaise sauce or Bordelaise or thinly sliced crimini mushrooms in a veal stock reduction or even pink sea salt on your bone-in ribeye. No swoop on your shoes, no clever saying on your shirt, no trendy trilby on your head, no pleats or lack thereof on your chinos.
Life is often vanilla with a little Hersey's.
Life is a hamburger patty with salt and pepper.
Life is a worn green Reds hat.
But that bowl of vanilla, dripping in the summer heat, next to fire you just roasted hot dogs on the last week of school, well, it didn't seem so plain then, did it, in the summer of 1971?
And that hamburger patty, grilled high in the mountains of Arizona over the coals of meadow driftwood as the sun blazed in a glorious sunset, cold beer in hand, was anything but plain.
And that tattered old hat, simple by design, faded and tired and perhaps a little smelly, is not so plain in the memories of two little boys who threw a ball with their dad who always seemed to have it on in the pool and back yard.
We are far too eager in this twenty-first century to complicate and fix. Honestly, I am as guilty as the next guy. I often try here to write words for the ages, to write the story that will change everything, explain everything, be everything. I fuss and arrange, unfuss and rearrange, trying to hit that chord that will ring through time and space towards you, towards the boys, in a time I do not know and a place yet to be determined. I rarely feel successful at that.
The sad part is that all I am trying to say, through all these layers and words and images and metaphors and tears and fears and hopes and dreams is really very simple:
I loved you today, boys.
Zack grew weary of a bad movie or TV show we were watching on something called Netflix the other night and wandered off and drew this:
Yes, Underground Bugs! by Zack, uh, Pooo. He spent an hour on this probably. There is much to note here, a lot to talk about, but... I am not going to. I've mentioned that those days are over, those days of trying to be cute about all of these images. It was fun when they were seven or eight, but now, at ten, I know it is time to stop because I don't want anyone to think I am making fun of them. I will say this, though, he has recently adopted an all caps printing style. I do that. My Dad did that.
Every year at the local elementary school the boys will be leaving this year, there was an "Art Show." Because it wasn't a sporting event and everyone was included and no one won or was featured or singled out, it was ill-attended. We always go, it's cute and is sometimes the only opportunity a certain kind of child gets to shine.
Nick had this piece in it:
Here are some details from it:
It is watercolor and chalk on paper.
That's really all I've got today.
Don't worry, I'll overcomplicate something again soon, but it is important for me to remember that it really is this simple most of the time.
From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ... "
Mom: "I think God has a sense of humor."
Boy: "He's gonna need one when I get up there."
Thanks, as always, for stopping by today. Listen, life is a love letter - a love letter to God, a love letter to friends and family, a love letter to the past and future and maybe, perhaps at its very simplest, a love letter to ourselves. Peace to you and yours.
Friday, May 22, 2015
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
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
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!"
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
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
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...
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.)
(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...