Archive for the ‘High school’ Category

Shine On, Spring Break!

March 10, 2013

Back in 1980, when I was studying at Ball State University, the two main spring break destinations were Ft. Lauderdale and Daytona Beach. College students from across Indiana would flock to the sunshine state for sun and fun. However, my love for the outdoors combined with a keen sense of adventure overrode this natural instinct to migrate south that year. Instead, my friend Bruce and I made plans for a fishing trip to the back hills of Kentucky and Tennessee on Dale Hollow Lake. We had all of the ingredients for a successful trip — gas money, a boat, enough tackle to stock a retail store, and a lifetime of fishing experience. Notice I didn’t mention anything about money for food? We didn’t have any. The lack of money, we reasoned, would not be an obstacle. We would eat like kings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, on the bounty we pulled from the lake. What fish wouldn’t want to be caught by two blindly ambitious eighteen-year-olds? The lake was full of fish and the world was at our feet.

The Ford LTD Station Wagon was jammed to the gills with fishing tackle and camping gear yet scarcely contained enough food to fill the glove compartment. No problem! We set off from Indianapolis to lose ourselves on the water and tame this giant reservoir. Nearing the lake we noticed that the countryside was dominated by simple homes. Seemingly forgotten for decades, these cabins lacking in paint had rusted tin roofs and cluttered front porches. They conjured up thoughts of the movie Deliverance. For two boys from the suburbs it was a culture shock. Surely, we naively thought, every cabin had a still on the property! The idea of buying a jar of moonshine to drink in the evening as we ate our catch became the topic of discussion. We stopped at a small country store that had a wood plank floor covering half the space and dirt covering the rest. We wondered out loud where we could buy some moonshine. How much could that stuff cost? Let’s ask the guy at the counter! Cutting our nonexistent food budget was the only way to afford some. So that’s just what we did, opting to purchase only a bag of potatoes, peanut butter, jelly, and bread. The potatoes, we reasoned, could be baked, fried, or diced and wrapped in foil with the fish adding diversity to our diet. Oil and foil we brought from home. Wisdom and his close friend common sense were left at home.

On day one we awoke before light. Full of energy and peanut butter we set out to conquer the lake while discussing the idea of stopping mid-day on some island for a shore lunch consisting of fried fish and potatoes. Arriving back at the campsite that night, our growling stomachs announced to the campground that we hadn’t eaten a shore lunch. Not one fish had been caught. Nothing too small, nothing that got away, not one hint of any aquatic dweller…turtles included. We fished from sun up to sun down without even a hint of a fish. The weather was great though, and as slumber came we were confident that day two would be different. Both days two and three ended in much the same way. By the end of the third day we were over the potatoes and peanut butter. It was time to find the fish. So we lit the lantern, opened the lake map and pored over it looking for a solution. Midway through day five we started discussing Plan B.

Finding someone selling moonshine had met with much the same fate. Every night we drove around in the dark looking for a cabin that had a moonshine vibe. (As if there would be some sort of rusted arrow pointing at the roof from the sky above with a sign that read…Get Your Corn Liquor Here!) The process went like this: Bruce would pull up to a shanty, let me out, I would walk up as if I were selling vacuums door to door and coyly ask if they knew of anyone selling sour mash. Sour was the look they gave me, and the conversation was over with the slam of the door. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t know them. In retrospect it was great training for both comedy (tough crowd…said like Rodney Dangerfield) and sales. In fact all sales people should have to do that as a rite of passage; if you actually talk your way into buying a jar then you are immediately promoted to director of sales!

As we drove further into this wild goose chase we continued talking about our empty stomachs. Small farms dotted the hillside. Farms have chickens we reasoned. I knew how to butcher chickens. My grandmother raised them and we butchered them every year. If we could find a chicken coop I’d sneak up, grab a chicken, wring its neck, throw it in the trunk and we would eat like kings… if kings stole chickens. As we rounded a curve we came across a big pig laying at the edge of the road — just a random pig…on a random gravel road…in the middle of nowhere. Bruce stopped the car and for a moment the two of us pondered the idea of butchering that pig. With our fillet knives. Thankfully that ridiculous idea was dismissed — as if stealing someone’s chicken wasn’t ridiculous.

Just beyond the pig we spied a chicken coop on the side of a hill between a barn and farmhouse. Our plan called for Bruce to stay in the car with the motor running and the lights off. I would sneak off to do the deed. Wearing denim from head to toe I was dressed for this covert operation…or a bluegrass festival. All was quiet as I crept up the hillside in the shadows. Slowly I snuck closer while listening for the sound of roosting hens. As I reached the door to the coop I was giddy with the thought that we were about to pull this off. The building was as weathered as the shanty homes. The door to the chicken house was on the side that faced away from the farmhouse. As I slowly opened it the hinges creaked. The silence was broken. Their dog started barking. Dog! Yes the dog! The chickens rustled and clucked in surprise. I quickly shut the door. My adrenalin spiked. The dog sounded big and he was on a mission to protect the farm. His bark was like a shot from a starter’s pistol. The race was on and I was off with a dog somewhere behind me. With the slope of the hill beneath my feet I ran like the wind so fast that I nearly ran out from under my legs. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the fence that separated the pasture from the barn area. Running full stride through the darkness I hit the fence at waist height and in an instant was flipped and hung up on the opposite side of the fence on the barbed wire that was strung across the top. Both of my arms were extended out in either direction from my body as if I were strung up on a cross. The sleeves of my denim jacket were trapped in the barbs. I struggled to break free. The dog was barking somewhere behind me. Suddenly Bruce was at my side helping to free me. He was laughing nervously having seen me run straight into the fence. How could I not see it, he wondered? It was plain to him, as he sat there comfortably in the car with nothing chasing him except the thought of flame-grilled chicken. Struggling to my feet I stumbled my way into the passenger side of the car and we sped off into the darkness with the lights still off, laughing. I never saw the dog. I never touched a chicken. We never ate meat the entire trip.


Wrapped Up In Cookie Dough

October 10, 2012

When our oldest was in Girl Scouts my wife was the “Cookie Chair Person”.  That meant we warehoused cookies while the girls….er ummm their parents took the cookie sheet into work and danced the dosido to get their coworkers to buy a box of Dosidos, or Thin Mints or…Our phone rang night and day as Girl Scout parents called needing more.  My wife put a message on our voice mail mentioning the cookies.  My friends would all call and leave lewd comments about the cookies.  As the sale was wrapping up I was a little cukoo about the cookies.  So I changed the voice mail to say, “If you are calling about Girl Scout Cookies, my wife isn’t here.  She took the money and went on a vacation to Florida.  She’ll catch you when she gets back.”  Well one of the mom’s…one who was wound too tight…turned us in to the cookie police.  We were investigated and when it was determined that my story was half baked…we were cleared, but asked to turn in our apron and not return as a cookie chairperson again.

I still buy the cookies because I want to help the girls.  I also buy popcorn from the Boy Scouts and when the band kid comes around I shell out ten dollars for the scented candle with a scent only a great aunt could love.  That’s because her olfactory nerves were burned out by years of lavender perfume abuse.  I’ve bought cookie dough and then wondered what the heck I’m going to do with a ten pound cask of macadamia nut/white chocolate cookie dough…feed it to the birds in the winter?  One year I bought Chanukah wrapping paper to use at Christmas….just because.

So when our youngest, Grace, had an opportunity to go to France as a foreign exchange student I braced myself for “the Fund Raiser” speech.  Then a friend told me about Crowd Funding.  There are websites dedicated to helping you raise money for things like…an educational trip to France without schlepping peanut brittle.  I think we all realize that the company rolling in the dough when it comes to Girl Scout Cookies is the bakery not the girl scouts.  So why not cut out the middleman?    If we really want our money to go to good use…donate the 10 bucks we would spend on a pumpkin spice candle…straight to the kid with the cause…that way at the end of the day…the cause ends up with a lot more money.  It sounded like a great idea so we are doing that for Grace and her opportunity to be a foreign exchange student in France.  Here’s a link if you’d like to donate.


Vom – Part 1

September 30, 2011

It was late one Halloween night.  The goblins had all come and gone.  The girls had compared loot and talked about their experiences.  The candles inside our jack o’ lanterns had flickered out and everyone was asleep.   Our dog Nick, a black lab who’d never grown up, decided he wanted in on the Halloween treats.  He ate all of the girl’s loot.  Every last piece of the candy was quietly consumed.  Sometime later that night as his stomach became upset he sought shelter in Carly’s room.  She was in preschool at the time.  In the darkness of her room he began to puke.  Immediately screams of freight erupted and late night mayhem ensued.  The sound of Nick’s Halloween lurching would torment Carly for years.  After the incident we had to rearrange her room so that furniture covered the area where the event occurred.   There wasn’t a physical stain, but there was a mental one.  Changing the view somehow made a difference.  Once we moved her furniture around and made sure the dog slept in another room we were able to reclaim our room and once again there was peace at night.

 Some people are better at coping with sickness than others.  As parents we are forced to deal with it.  I mean you can’t just move every time someone pukes and misses the intended target.  Someone has to play janitor and remedy the situation.  The vom episode as Carly now calls it has shaped her tolerance for the hurl.  I’d say her threshold is somewhere south of extremely low.  If she was married and starting a family today she would give the janitorial supplies to her husband and say, “Congratulations you’ve been selected.”  As Murphy’s Law would have it, Carly’s younger sister Grace is a world champion barfer.  So every year when school is back in session, the weather cools, and stomach bugs begin to sweep the nation, Grace’s number is called, and Carly does the, Serenity Now, chant until the storm passes and the sun prevails.  I’ve never seen someone so susceptible to stomach flues.  Luckily Carly, Keely, and I have pretty strong immune systems.  So the bugs Grace brings home seem to bounce off us more often than not.  However this year, we also have grand kids in the picture.  They brought over something wicked.  Forget the fact that we washed hands like we were OCD, we’re fit, and that we get more than our recommended dose of fruits and veggies.  None of that mattered.  This bug had claws or tentacles or little fists that grabbed us by the hair and pulled us kicking and screaming to the porcelain god.  Like an Olympic relay team we passed the baton to each family member and Grace ended up being the anchor of the team.  Apparently it gained some steam as it reached her.  The day I had it I received a call from the school nurse saying Grace had it too.  I couldn’t walk to the kitchen without falling down in a pile of sweat.  So I phoned a friend who donned her hazmat suit and picked Grace up from school. 

This semester Carly doesn’t have classes on Monday.  The night before, as we watched the Payton less Colts flop on Sunday night football, she made the comment that it was too bad that she would be home alone on her day off.  Twelve hours later when Grace came home and hurled she took it all back.  She was in hell.  Halloween came flashing back…again and again every hour on the hour all day long.  Grace doesn’t just vom.  She goes at it with a decibel level that is slightly less than lightning strikes, airport noise, and indoor concerts.  Relatives in California hear the sound, recoil, and call to make sure she’s alright.  Combine that with the fact she never hits the target and you get the picture of what it’s like…all…day…long!  Carly weighed her options.  Her friends were all in classes.  She saw me in the fetal position in my room.  I could have emerged to lay sick on the couch instead, but she didn’t ask, so I didn’t offer.  She could have fled to Starbucks, but she didn’t.  She stayed, found her happy place above the gaging…serenity now…serenity now!!!…and helped her sister.  That evening after Keely came home from the ER to find her home had been turned into a vomitorium she and Carly laughed about the episode as they sanitized the house.  She’d taken a step.  It took 17 years and a hurling sister to begin to exercise the demons of that Halloween night when her dog had one too many at the Snicker Bar.

The Boys of Fall

September 26, 2009

About 6 years ago I was raking leaves in the fall when a pack of boys Carly’s age came walking down the street tossing a football.  I heard my mom’s voice, “Please play touch. No one needs to get hurt.”  The truth is any time a group of boys get together someone may get hurt.  It has nothing to do with sports.  If there are five boys in a room full of feathers one of them could end up with a quill sticking out of his eye.  We played touch if the game was up near the house where parents could see.  We always played with three rules.  Defense had a five apple rush and no blitzes.  The offense couldn’t use running plays.  Running plays led to an endless string of touchdowns which took all of the challenge and fun out of the game.  A five apple rush is this; you have to count out loud, one apple, two apple, three apple, four apple, five apple, before you rush the quarterback.  It made up for no blocking.  Those are really universal rules for any sand lot game, any where in the country.  The count may change from apples to Mississippi’s, but everything else is the same.

Playing football in a house full of ballerinas just doesn’t happen.  My girls love to watch it, but that is where it ends.  I felt the need to get grass stained and sweaty.  When they made it to our yard I said, “Are you done playing or going to play?”  They said, “Waiting on some other guys before we play.”  I really wanted to play. I went straight for the justification. I can rake these leaves Monday evening. So I said,” Come get me if you need another player.”  One of them said, “Mr Phelps, you’re funny”.  I said, “Seriously, come get me if you need another guy.”  They never showed.  The following week there were even more of them walking down the street with football in hand.  Again I was raking.  Again I felt the tugging of childhood. So I threw out the offer…again.  They stopped, “Seriously?”  I said, “Yeah!  I wouldn’t offer if I was kidding.”  “OK Mr. Phelps we’ll call you before we play”. They agreed just because they are nice.  I had just finished raking when my wife came outside saying, “Some boys from the neighborhood want to know if you can come down and play football?”  She thought it was cute.  I thought it was cool.  I’ve known them since they were in preschool.  Now they were old enough I didn’t have to worry about hurting anyone.  On my way out the door she said, “Honey, please don’t play tackle.”  It had come full circle. 

Our neighborhood has a creek that runs along one border.  The homes that line that creek have perfect back yards for football.  I walked down there wearing a T-shirt about ballet, jeans, and tennis shoes.  I wasn’t even thinking about it.  That’s what I was wearing to rake leaves.  They were all dressed in NFL jerseys and athletic shorts.  I could tell by the looks it was like showing up wearing black socks and dress shoes.  Half the kids were from our neighborhood and the other half were school friends who rode their bikes or were dropped off by parents.  I think our neighborhood kids were embarrassed.   “Ballet shirt?  Jeans?”  Wisdom taught me that at this stage of my life, Russian Pointe shoes at $85.00 a pop, are a better investment than a Polamalu jersey.  I was picked last.  Truth be told I was picked at all because they felt sorry for me.  The dad who lived there came out and tried to convince me not to play.  He was permanently on the “Physically unable to perform” list.  Said another way, he was too old to play.   He wanted me to be too.  He tried to talk the kids into making me the all time quarterback so I wouldn’t get hurt.  I knew him.  I like him.  I said, “Bill I’m not ready for the wrinkle ranch.  I came down here to have fun.”  He mumbled, “Make sure you guys play touch,” and went back inside.  I had a blast.  Mr Ballerina shirt could still play ball.  They saw me as something more than a stale dad.  I came home dirty, wet with sweat, the knees ripped out of my jeans, and the feeling of youth in my heart.  It sounds funny, but I was happy to be accepted.  I hadn’t been one of the guys, since college.  Carly thought it was funny.  They talked about it on the way to school Monday.  “Your dad can play!”  From that point forward I was on the list.  Friday night we went to the high school football games and every Sunday the phone rang.  My wife would answer, smile, and say, “The boys want to know if you can play.”  For the last five years we played.  This year it ended.  Most of them have responsibilities that come with getting older.   Others went in a less productive direction.  For a while I was given a second chance at childhood, another opportunity to be one of the boys.  It was cool.


Protesting a High School

September 23, 2009

This week Carly’s high school is being picked by the members of a church because of a play they are staging.  I’ll let you digest that one for a minute…a school of kids…will be picketed …by adults from a “faith” based organization.

I’m all about faith.  I should get that out in the open right now.  I believe in the golden rule.  I teach my kids to live with love and treat people they way they wish to be treated.  Ask and ye shall receive – we live it, practice it, believe it.

This group has a bee in their bonnet because our high school is producing The Laramie Project.  This is a play about the brutal slaying of a gay University of Wyoming student and how it impacted an entire community.  They have a problem with the gay part of that play.  Not the beating part…and here’s the kicker.  It’s not a local church.  These “God loving souls” are driving from Topeka, Kansas to the north side of Indy because they are so offended by the content of this presentation.  We’ve been warned by the school that it’s going down…so to speak.  Maybe they can warm up by picketing one of the adult book stores along the way.  Those book stores are popping up along the interstates like rainbows in a gay pride parade.  I bet we passed 5 or 6 on I-65 south between Indy and the ABT summer intensive this summer.  No family trip is complete without a quick stop at the “Lions Den” for furry handcuffs and an X rated copy of, Woody the Wood Pecker.  OK…I’m going to hell for that.

This church must have someone who monitors the internet in search of sinners.  Talk about job security!  Seriously though how else did they find out about this play?  They must have some type of software that locates sinners using gaydar because Topeka is no where near the north side of Indy.  I Googled Topeka…yes it is now included in Google maps…just barely…but it’s there.  Topeka to Indy is 544 miles.  They also said it’s eight hours and twenty-two minutes by car.  I’m not sure how long it takes by Conestoga wagon or what ever time machine they are using.  Let me say that again, “Eight hours and twenty-two minutes away…by car”.  The twenty-two minutes are probably spent stuck in traffic on 86th St. between Meridian and Westfield Blvd.  I have a tip for all of you picketers.  Just incase you are monitoring me now that I have a kid who is going to hell for attending said high school.  You guys and gals should avoid 86th street and come around on 465 to the Keystone exit and then go west on Keystone.  After you’re done picketing there is some really great Satan free shopping at Keystone at the Crossing just east of the school.  However they do have Victoria’s Secret.  It’s common knowledge that lacy panties lead to fornication.  So you may want to avoid the North West wing of the mall.  Oh, and there is probably a gay dude or two working at the finer men’s stores because they have infiltrated the culture of our city and they know how to dress.  Now that I think about it they are probably working in the home furnishing stores too because they are great at decorating.  I guess you probably shouldn’t go to that mall unless you want another reason to picket. 

So I assume this “church” wink, wink, nod, nod teaches the quote, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Is there an unpublished part of that quote that adds, “Unless they’re gay.”  I’m not sure Jesus would have said that unless it was a different Jesus.  You know the switch hitter who played for the Astros back in ‘69. 

So why did they decide to use their resources to travel here to picket a school with a play that is staged for only one weekend?  Haven’t they ever heard of Broadway?  How about San Francisco, Key West, or any gay neighborhood in any city in the country?  I bet they really want to come to Indy for a Colts game.  If they stop to picket they can write it off as a business trip.

sometimes dads cry

September 19, 2009
I was at an Indiana Pacer Game with a friend back in the nineties.  They asked everyone to rise for the National Anthem.  A young kid with leg braces and crutches shuffled out onto the court to sing.  He had the confidence of a pro.  He belted out that song with such emotion and power that it made me cry.  Women are great with crying.  If a Hallmark ad hit’s them the right way – BAM – tears.  I can count on one hand the number of times tears came to my eyes in the last decade and still have fingers to spare.  Yet here I was at an NBA game with a buddy and I couldn’t look his way because I was sobbing.  I couldn’t use the, there’s something in my eye ploy because it was both eyes!…like sprinklers.  So I covered it by acting like I was looking all around the arena.  He was talking to me and I was talking to him, but I couldn’t make eye contact until my face was dry.  Watching that little boy sing was just one of those perfect moments that will live with me forever.  Those times are so special to experience. I think about how grateful I am to be there.

Last Friday the Butler Ballet had an open call for young dancers.  The Ballet was casting parts for the party scene in the Nutcracker at Clowes Hall.  Most of the cast is filled with Butler Ballet students.  Some years Clara is a Butler Ballet student, other times it’s a younger ballerina.  For young dancers in Indiana a part in this ballet is an honor.  Getting the part of Clara is the Holy Grail.  Clowes Hall seats a crowd of 2500ish.  There are eight shows and most are sold out.  Grace went to the open call on Friday evening and made call backs on Saturday afternoon.  After the call back you’re told… don’t call us we’ll call you.  They said we wouldn’t hear anything before Tuesday.  I mentioned the audition to that friend who went to the Pacer game.  To give you a little background on him, his exposure to culture takes place at the doctor’s office or when he walks down the world foods isle at Meijer to buy pasta.  His only interests are hunting and fishing.  The day they stage a deer hunting ballet with camouflage tutus and antlers is the day he MIGHT attend a ballet, but only if it’s realistically portrayed….if it’s interpretive…forget it.  He said, “Could she get a speaking part?”  I said “No it’s a ballet, not a musical,” which made him defensive.  “Why are they doing the Nutcracker again?  They did it last year.  Can’t they get a little more creative with their show selection? What about A Christmas Carol” He grumbled.  “That’s not a ballet.”  I said beginning to see where this is headed.    Do you ever have conversations that start well and then they slowly suck the life out of the moment to the point you make something up just to get off the phone?  I did that.  “Let me call you back.  I think I ruptured my spleen”.   Then tried to shake off the funk like a dog that was caught in the rain.

We didn’t hear anything on Tuesday.  Wednesday morning I wondered if we’d get a call then quickly forgot about it because I was so buried at work.  So when the phone rang and the ID said Butler University I thought it was work related.  The guy said his name and that he was with the Butler Ballet and I thought, “Cool, they want us to do some DVDs” He said, “We’d like to offer Grace the part of Clara in the Nutcracker.  I was puzzled….I remember thinking, that has nothing to do with DVDs.  I said, “What?”  Still trying to figure out how this was a work related call.  He said it again and it started to sink in.  I said, “She’ll be thrilled and so am I.  That’s when it hit me.  My daughter was going to be a featured ballerina at Clowes Hall.  I started to cry.  I have no idea what else he said.  It didn’t matter.  It is one of those moments I’ll never forget.

Grace - Les Sylphides
Grace from Les Sylphides

Grace - Les Sylphides

The Sex Talk

August 29, 2009

 The girls and I were watching the Colts preseason game last week.  A commercial came on that featured a man and a woman.  Carly looked at me and said, “Is this one of those boner pill ads?”  I wanted to laugh out loud.  I did laugh out loud.  It was a credit card ad.  The thing you use to pay for the boner pills.  I’m glad she is comfortable asking me questions like that.  I see she inherited my straight forward approach to life.  There was no beating around the bush…no pun intended.  When I was seventeen I would never have asked my parents that question.  I turned inside out if a tampon commercial came on when I was watching TV with my family.  We just didn’t have that kind of relationship.

When I was in Jr. High my mom walked into my room and gave me a book called, How Babies are Made.  She asked me to read it and if I had any questions I could ask her.   Thanks to Playboy, Penthouse and weekly conversations with friends I had a grasp on that concept without the aid of paper mache illustrations from her book.  Yep, she put her teenage son’s sex education in the hands of a book that depicted chickens made of construction paper “doing it”.  To think my wife wonders why I’m weird.  I don’t even remember if there any pictures of humans.  I flipped it open just to see what they had to say.  To…see what there was to see.  Were there any pictures of naked women that were better than the Playboys we had stashed in our tree house?  When I saw paper mache chickens I closed the book and never opened it again.  No matter how hard I try I can’t get those images out of my mind.  That brief encounter with her book had the opposite effect.  Though I do prefer chicken over beef when it comes to meals…and I love the feel of down filled pillows…I mean I really love them.

When I was in high school my dad took a stab at educating me.  We were driving to my grandmother’s farm.  OMG she had chickens…no wonder I loved going there!  Any way he asked me if I had any questions about sex.  I said no and asked him if he had any that I could answer.  He said no and that was the end of that.  Those two brief conversations were all they offered me. 

I vowed it would not be that way when I had kids.  I wanted them to be comfortable asking me anything.  So their education started when they were small.  When Carly was in first grade I was driving her to a sleep over.  We were talking about something unrelated when out of the blue she said, “Dad I get that a woman has eggs and a man has sperm, but how does the sperm get in there?  Does it crawl across the covers and hop in while the mom is sleeping”?  I said, “Only when I get home really late at night and I’m the one who crawls across the covers.”  Kidding I didn’t say that.  I took a deep breath and told her the truth.  We finished that talk about the time we arrived at the sleep over.  I asked her to please not make this a topic of conversation that night.  Then I gave the host mom a heads up about our conversation.  She was less than thrilled.  I think her idea of car ride conversations revolved around radio Disney play lists.

Back to the ads, how did they come up with those plots?  Who approved them?  A couple on a beach at sunset, each has their own bath tub.  The tubs are close enough they are holding hands.  Bath tubs on the beach?  Really?   Call me naïve, but I fail to see the symbolism.  Then again my education came from Hugh Heffner.


August 17, 2009

Near the end of the school year last year Grace, then 12, said, “Dad, next year I want to get up early, go to high school to take Latin, then catch the bus to middle school for the rest of the day.  Is that OK with you?”   First I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming.  Then I took her to the doctor to have her DNA tested.  I was sure she wasn’t my daughter.  I spent my school career trying to figure out how to get out of homework.  She not only embraces it, but looks for ways to increase her workload.  Surely her genes must be from her mother and a player to be named later.  It turns out she’s mine…must be a recessive gene.   She felt Latin would help her with English skills.  I felt that there is a smart guy in Indy with the same DNA as me who had a fling with my wife.  I signed the paperwork saying it was OK.  She wrote an essay campaigning to get in.  They said yes.  So last Wednesday was her first day of classes. 

When you look at Grace there is no denying she’s my daughter.  I remember the first time I picked up my wife for a date.  There were photos of two women on the mantle at her house.  I said, “Who are they?”  They were her sisters.  I said, “Were you adopted?”  They looked nothing alike.  Some of you are thinking there are better topics to discuss when picking up a woman for your first date.  Some choose to talk about the weather and pets.  Not me.  I dive in looking for family secrets and dirt.  She laughed which is always a good sign.  So I said, “Seriously…did your mom have an affaire with the milkman?  You look nothing like them.”  She stood her ground.  I made some comment about denial and we were married two years later.

The more I came to know her sisters, who are good people, the more I realized my wife was either wallowing in recessive genes or…was the product of (cue mystery music) a dum…dum…dummmmm torrid affair.  Was he a fireman?  He arrived in the neighborhood with his big ladder fire truck to save a cat stuck in a tree.  First he stripped to the waist, because….he’s her mom’s fantasy guy and that’s what they do.  She saw him as a compassionate man with a sweaty, muscular, fireman body and she fell into his arms.  Nine months later my wife was born.  It was fun to come up with scenarios. 

When her mom came to visit I would drop these obscure comments about having family members who look nothing alike in my family.  My wife would kick me under the table.  I would pass the salad and we would move on to other topics.

Then my mother in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  She moved in with us.  We took care of her up to the day she died.  I’m glad my wife and girls had that time with her.  In the last month as she was fading she asked Keely if there was anything she wanted to ask.  So she asked, The Question.  It turns out I was right, but he wasn’t a fireman or a milkman.  “Knowing” took the fun out of chasing my idea of the truth.  Confetti didn’t fall from the ceiling.  That disappointed me a little.  I really wanted horns to play and lights to flash when we found out the truth.  The truth was that she was raised by a mom and dad that loved her for who she was.  The truth didn’t change the relationship she had with them.  She grew up to be a smart, successful woman who married a sarcastic guy who looks like his parents, but acts like he was raised by strangers.

Parents, Concerts, & Technology

August 4, 2009

We were headed to the Dave Matthews show Saturday and it began sprinkling.  Thanks to technology I could phone a friend, have them jump on the internet, guide them to, where they could look at the heavens to tell me if this was a brief shower or of we needed rain gear for the show.   I don’t have the internet on my phone because I have Sprint.  They have more dead zones than a horror movie.  So we have unlimited text for the girls, but no other “extra services”.  What’s the point?  I go into digital roam in my home and I live 13 minutes from down town Indy.

Going to see Dave’s show has been a family event since Carly, now seventeen, was five.  I never went to see shows with my parents.  That would have been a drag on so many levels.  My dad would have complained about the parking, the traffic, the noise, and the cost of the tickets.  The tickets back then were $8.00, but I guarantee you he wouldn’t be hip to the cost.  My mom would have been worried about second hand smoke and the thought of someone shooting heroin into my arm if I went to the bathroom alone.  She still wants me to carry my money in my sock when I go out in public.  You can never be too safe!

So…this was probably the 17th or 18th time we’ve gone to one of Dave’s shows, but the first time to phone a friend for weather help.  As luck would have it no one was answering.  Against my better judgment I called my dad.  He switched from dial up to DSL earlier this month (don’t get me started) so I knew he could bring up the weather radar before …the show ended.  Talking to him can be a little like playing one of those Japanese TV game shows where you are unexpectedly hit in the head with giant padded balls.  I explained how to get to’s home page.  I told him to look at the top left of the home page and type in Noblesville, IN.  He did and he said it came up page not found.  I said, “Not in the tool bar, on the home page”.  He said there was no place to type on that page.  This went back and forth for 10 minutes.  He finally asked why I needed a weather report right then?  Because apparently I’m a glutton for punishment I muttered under my breath. Then I held out my wrist for my wife to check my blood pressure…The conversation was like a bad Abbott and Costello bit.  I direct him to the place on the page…he tells me it’s not there then I kick myself.  “Are you going to that Dave Matthews rock show?” he asked …and wasting your money he whispered under his breath.  I said yeah but we’ve been talking so long I missed my turn at Noblesville and now I’m in Canada.  At that point I went through a dead zone and lost my connection.  That’s the only time I’ve been thankful that I dropped a call.

During the show they played the song Dive In and Grace called her friend and held the phone so they could hear it together because it’s their favorite.  Her friend and family happened to be at a neighbor’s house for the evening.   The host is a dad who’s approaching 60.  He said “what band”?  Her friend responded Dave Matthews.  He said oh, “they are a marijuana band.  That guy is so stoned out of his mind he doesn’t even know what he’s singing when he writes that stuff”.  It made me laugh out loud, a marijuana band?  This guy grew up in the 60’s and went to jazz festivals in San Francisco!  I need to invite him to my dad’s birthday party.  They can bitch about technology; watch the movie Reefer Madness, while reminiscing about the days when Wes Montgomery played great jazz to a “sober?” crowd.  You know, back in the day when you got the weather from the local news on a black and white set and kids didn’t make phone calls from cars.

Appearing on the Lawn…

July 15, 2009

There is a young entrepreneur in our neighborhood who loves his lawn mower.   He has five lawns within walking distance.  He sees dollar signs every time he fires up that red and black Toro.  He’s so happy, he sings while he mows.  It’s like a concert on the lawn.  I don’t mean sings to himself while mowing.  He belts it out like it’s an audition for High School Musical – Lawn Edition.  He’s got one of those industrial mowers that you can walk behind or add a little pedestal on wheels for your feet.   So you can stand, ride, and sing…apparently.  So it’s more like a little stage on wheels.  Everyone can hear him coming up the street over the power of that engine.  I can tell what song he’s singing when he’s mowing the neighbor’s lawn across the street, if I’m standing in our house.  That’s how much he loves to sing.  He put’s the iPod on eleven, (that’s the second Spinal Tap reference in two weeks!) engages the blades, and becomes The Beatles.  He doesn’t care that other people can hear him.  This evening he finished a song, looked over, saw me in the garden, and bowed while saying, “Thank you and good night!” with a big smile on his face.  I think it’s cool that he’s that comfortable with himself at age fifteen.  I’m forty-eight.  I can’t even sing in the car at a stop light with the windows rolled up for fear of what the person in the car next to me will think.  I don’t sing in front of my wife for the same reason.  I wish I could.  I know what song I‘d sing.  I visualize it in the car, before I get to the stop light.  Currently it’s “You & Me” from Dave Matthews new CD Big Whiskey,

 Wanna pack your bags, something small
Take what you need and we disappear
without a trace we’ll be gone, gone
the moon and the stars can follow the car
and then when we get to the ocean
we gonna take a boat to the end of the world
All the way to the end of the world

 You get the idea.  It’s romantic and it says what I’d like to say musically…if I weren’t a wimp.  Anyway today he was jammin’ when two of my daughter’s friends rode up on bikes to say hi.  They couldn’t get “Hi daddy Phelps” out of their mouth before …um…we’ll call him Dane, belts out some heavy lead vocals.  They rolled their eyes, laughed, and with a puzzled tone said, “What is he singing today”?  I couldn’t tell because the Briggs & Stratton accompaniment was distorting his lyrics.  Apparently none of his customers mind being serenaded.  He’s had the lawn across the street for three years so they must be cool with it..  Actually at their age they may not know.  They probably don’t even hear the lawn mower.  They just look out the window, notice that the grass is shorter, and call him to come get his money.  I really wanted to know what group he was singing this evening.  It was like a riddle.  Then he finished the yard and fired up the weed eater which doubles as a microphone and stand.  It became clear that today he was Rick Ashton,

 Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you

 You get the idea.  I don’t know what he was singing on the rest of the lawn, but that was his on encore.  I wanted to call him over and in my best, disappointed surfer voice, say one word, “Dude”!?  How could he go from The Beatles to that?  Well who am I to judge?  I can’t even bring myself to sing to a woman who promised to love me till death.