Posts Tagged ‘High school’

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.

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Tom Sawyer and I

February 27, 2013

My daughter Grace is currently reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in Literature class.  Based on the way she groans about it, I’d say this book won’t make her recommended reading list.  To me it’s full of adventure, but I was raised in a different time.  When I was a kid, Words with Friends meant you were arguing, texting was done on a typewriter, and streaming images were only found on the surface of a creek.  By contrast, her days consist of homework done on a computer and a ballet life documented daily on instagram.  It’s easy to understand why there could be a disconnect.   So how about disconnecting all things digital and expanding your horizons?  Wow, I’m starting to sound like someone’s grandfather.  Wait!  I am a grandfather!  My driver’s license says I’m fifty-two, but I still feel like Tom Sawyer at heart.  To me there is no greater feeling of peace than kneeling on the bank of a creek listening to the sound of the water passing through stones, and tweets from…birds.  I am immediately transported back to my childhood via the water, back to a time when Tom Sawyer, Huck and I had a lot in common. 

 

My very first job was trapping.  In high school my friend Bruce and I caught mink, muskrat, and raccoon in the shadows of Lafayette Square Mall.  But one weekend the irresistible possibility that more fur lay waiting just beyond the confines of Indianapolis inspired us to pack a canoe and head down White River.  The plan was to float out of town on a trip that would carry us south to Green County, Indiana where my grandparents lived on a farm.  My grandfather was a fur buyer.  Our hope was that he would pick us up, buy our fur, and send us back to Indy with a pocket full of money.  It was a two-hour drive by car.  Canoeing there would take us…back in time. 

 

We attempted this trip was in a light blue plastic canoe that had been given to Bruce by a liquor distributer as a container for icing beers at a summer party we’d thrown.  (Yes we were under age.  Yes there was a cover charge.  Yes we made money.)  So my entrepreneurial skills were developing nicely, while my common sense…um…had a ways to go.  Let’s face it; the canoe was not designed to carry passengers who were setting out on an extended river trip, and we knew it. So we thought, in our pea brains, that we would only carry hunting necessities, dry clothes, food, and …well that’s it.  Our tent and sleeping bags stayed home along with any hope of a warm restful sleep during those cold November nights. At least we had enough brains to bring our coats…which were dotted with burn holes after the first night from sleeping right next to the fire because it was so freaking cold!  Amazingly, we persevered and began to accumulate a nice collection of raccoon pelts.  Floating by night we would shine the bank for the glowing eyes of raccoon using a light with a red lens.  Then in the dark, just before sunrise, we would make a lean-to from grape vines and leaves, build a fire, and shiver until mid-morning. 

 

On the morning of the third day we were awakened by the sound of an outboard motor.  Stumbling to our chilly feet, we were startled by a guy who looked like Grizzly Adams with an attitude — a bad attitude — and he was heading right for us.  He drove his flat bottom boat up on shore and with the motor still running hopped out with a shotgun pointed in our direction and accused us of stealing his fur.  Let’s just say at this point my knees were shaking for a reason other than low seasonal temperatures.  While our friends were spending Thanksgiving weekend with relatives, we chose the road less traveled.  Right now that road had detoured into the barrel of a 12 gage shotgun…cocked and loaded.  We offered him some soup.  He declined.  We offered him a shot of whiskey.  He declined.  We offered him the opportunity to look around our campsite to ease his worried mind.  He declined.  That was a good thing because we had incriminating evidence.  The evidence wasn’t his, but I’m not sure he was in the frame of mind to balance the facts.  He gave us an ultimatum.  If we weren’t off the river by the time he came back with reinforcements, our canoe would be shot full of holes and our asses would be kicked.  Thanks to a massive dose of adrenaline, I was no longer cold.  In fact I was the warmest I’d been since the beginning of the trip. 

Bruce and I must have channeled the ghost of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn because we stood up to this guy and his gun.  We didn’t freak out.  We didn’t challenge him to a dual.  In fact, we miraculously steered him away from the notion that shooting us was a good idea.  Outwardly we appeared calm and cool.  Inside I was filling my pants like a toddler.   As he shoved off from shore and headed back up stream we continued to stand tall.  Once he disappeared around the bend it was a different story.  Communicating telepathically, we packed and launched the canoe at a frantic pace. 

The last time that canoe moved that fast it was mounted to the roof of a car headed to our party.  Our paddles were stroking in a synchronized rhythm more perfectly than the Harvard rowing team.  From one bend to the next we navigated that river never pausing to look back.  About the time our arms were ready to fall off and float beside us we came upon two girls on horseback.  In a perfect world they would have been beautiful, amorous, and this story would have taken a twist commonly found in romance novels.  That was not the case.  Thankfully what the girls lacked in outward beauty, they made up for in compassion.  I climbed on the back of one of their horses, wrapped my arms tightly around the waist of this savior in plaid, and we rode like the wind back to her farmhouse.  Once safely inside I phoned a friend for help.  Long before iPhones with map apps, Garmin’s, or any other consumer GPS devices I explained my location.  My friend Steve agreed to meet us downstream at the next bridge.  I climbed back on the horse, held on to Annie Oakley, and we beat tracks back to Bruce who was keeping a nervous yet watchful eye up stream.  It took us the better part of an hour to paddle to the bridge where our trusted friend sat waiting in his 1973 Buick Riviera.  Not known for its canoe towing capabilities, on that day the Rivi worked like a seasoned Range Rover. Smelling a lot like campfire and a little like fear, we talked about our adventure the whole way back to town.

 

Later that year I wrote about it in English class.  At the bottom of my paper the teacher scrawled, “You certainly have a vivid imagination.”  Ha!  So Did Mark Twain.

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.

football

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.

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.

Genetics

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.

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.

Death Insurance

July 9, 2009

My wife and I have been together over twenty years.  We have a running joke that if one of us dies suddenly the other was going to use a little of the insurance money to morn our loss from the beaches of Hawaii.  When she started grad school I took a look at our finances and said, “If you died in school there won’t be enough left over to party on the beach because of your student loans.  We need to increase our life insurance.”  She felt that I presented that info in an insensitive way.  So I gave her a flower, took her hand, looked at her lovingly, and said, “If you die in school there won’t be enough insurance money left to party on the beach after I pay off your student loans.”  Like any good grad student she digested the data and drew a conclusion, then scoured the house for cyanide capsules.  After about a week she came over to my way of thinking and we began the process of shopping for additional coverage.  We decided not to stay with AIG, our original policy holder, because they were in Hawaii attending a “seminar” when we called.

 Conducting a physical is part of the application process.  My friend says it’s because I’m old.  I said, “I’m under fifty.”  He said, “You’re old”.  We agreed to disagree.  The nurse came to my home July third.  She started with an interview.  She learned that I don’t smoke, I eat healthy, I’m 6’ tall, and 174 lbs.  I’m a Capricorn….wait…wrong interview.  I exercise, I have a strong pulse, and my blood pressure is great.  I know how to pee in a cup and I know how to breathe without even thinking about it.  She asked me if I’d ever done any drugs not prescribed by a doctor.  I admitted to smoking pot when I was younger.  She laughed and said, “Who hasn’t”!  I felt good about being honest.  I’d never answered that question truthfully.  Then I asked, “How many people answer that question honestly?  She laughed and said, “Almost no one.”  I knew right then I was screwed.  She said, “Since you answered yes there are some supplemental questions I need to ask”.  Like have I ever done heroin, (because marijuana is a gateway drug!) and thirty-two other drugs.  Seriously!  The list was three columns wide and three inches tall.  I’m glad I didn’t disclose that this policy was facilitated because I wanted to “party” on the beach when my wife dies.  I could tell that honesty was not the best policy.  When dealing with insurance companies, lie like a crook.  Hmmm the word crook and insurance mentioned in the same sentence.  She asked me to disclose the years I smoked pot.  What was the frequency? (Kenneth)…The volume? (eleven)…My reason for stopping?  Did I enter a treatment facility?  Was I under a doctor’s care?  Really!?  Do people enter treatment centers for smoking pot?  Do you suppose Keith Richards kicked all of his drug issues by himself, except for that nasty pot habit?  I’m sure he needed a doctor supervised twelve step program for that one!  I guess I should also disclose that I attended concerts.  I laughed at Cheech & Chong.  I owned a tie die shirt and I believed that free love was a great concept even though I was in elementary school during the sixties.  So I was too young to partake.  I think it is also important to say I never knew Art Linkletter’s daughter.  So I did have boundaries.

 There is a space at the bottom of the “supplemental” form where I could leave comments.  I felt like writing, “Would you rather hear me say, “I didn’t inhale”? – get over it.”   We are still waiting to find out if I’m accepted.  By the way, my wife answered, “No” to the pot question.  She digested the data and drew a conclusion.

The Prom

April 24, 2009

My girls will jump at the chance to look like a princess.  I’m totally screwed when it’s time for them to get married.  I see them trying to get the horse drawn carriage and a corps of guards trumpeting their arrival…it’ll be bad…very bad.  This year our seventeen year old is a junior.  The junior prom is her chance to be princess for a day.  In January she began looking at prom dresses on the internet.  I viewed the process from across the room with the same morbid curiosity that I have when approaching a bad accident.  I ponder the damage… to my wallet.  With my wife in school I’m all about managing cash flows.  There will not be a hefty price paid for the dress.  The Salvation Army Thrift Store may be too extreme, but Old Navy…hmmm do they make prom dresses?  Could the Snuggie double as a prom dress?  I wouldn’t have to worry about post prom sex if she wore one of those.  Just two easy payments of $29.99!  I couldn’t do that to her, could I?

            I didn’t go to my junior prom.  High school was not the experience it could have been because of my introverted, dorkdome.  I wasn’t in the “in” crowd, I wasn’t hanging with the student council, the jocks, the nerds, the hoods, or the theatre people.  I got along with most everyone, but I didn’t feel like I fit in with any of them.  I didn’t wear the cool clothes.  I had enough zits and whacked out hormones to make me awkward and uncomfortable.  There were plenty of girls I would like to have asked.  One or two may have even said, “Yes” but I was haunted with the thought, “What if they say, No?”  Not asking was better than rejection.  So, instead I sat in class, pictured them naked (thank you hormones), and sat home alone on prom night.

I watch my daughter narrow her dresses/gown choices.  They ranged in price from “highly offensive” to “They want how much for that?”  Thanks to the influence of the media on teens there are other costs to consider too like manicures, pedicures, and hair stylists.  I may be nearing age fifty, but my vision is still good and I wasn’t seeing that happen.   I kept thinking, “What ever happened to painting your own nails, using your own blow dryer/curling iron etc.?”  

My wife suggested that she could sew a cool gown for her.  That concept worked about as well as using Jane’s Addiction to open the show for Clint Black.  But the more they discussed it the more they shared the vision.  My wife loves to sew.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell.  When the zipper doesn’t go in like it should she sounds more like a steel worker who hates everything.

Prom day came, the gown looked great, and my daughter looked great even without the professional manicure. There was a group of kids meeting at her date’s home before they went to dinner.  The parents were meeting there to take pictures.

It was a beautiful day.  I spent the whole day working in the yard until it was time for the photo shoot.  I grabbed the camera and headed off to take pictures.  Apparently it was a social event for the “in parents”.   I hadn’t gotten the memo.  They had all rushed over from the country club.  (Insert Ivy League accent here).  They were dressed to the nine’s and I arrived wearing a, “Here Fishy, Fishy” tee shirt my mother in-law bought me thirteen years ago, hole riddled jean shorts, and work boots.  The kid who answered the door thought I was the lawn guy.  Nice!  Crap!  The dad glanced at me to make sure I wasn’t tracking anything in…then he went back to his conversation about running for governor.  It was just like high school.  I had a couple of nice zits festering on my chin, the clothes were working for me, all I needed was an awkward erection and my flashback was complete.