Posts Tagged ‘Teens’

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.

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.

The Faucet Episode

October 29, 2011

I like doing home improvements (drip, drip, drip) I embrace the challenges and I gain satisfaction from a job well done.  I also understand my limitations.  So if it’s a repair I haven’t done before, there will be some type of… learning curve.  Before I start one of those projects I make sure my girls aren’t around because odds are good that at some point in the heat of the learning curve… the words that roll off my tongue …are four letters and commonly shouted by every football coach and fourth grade boy in the Western Hemisphere.  The girls would chastise me more than they already do…they think they are steering the ship. (drip, drip, drip).   I’ve noticed that the more challenging improvements in our home seem to come in groups rather than being spread out over time.  Lately they have all involved plumbing.  (drip, drip, drip) The tough ones are deceiving.  They appear to be simple half hour jobs and yet somehow they are magically transformed into an odyssey that requires an attitude adjustment, two hours of YouTube instructional videos, a part that is on back order, and schematics designed by engineers…for engineers. (drip, drip, drip)  I think I just realized that maybe I don’t understand my limitations.  However I’m not talking about installing a new furnace, or rewiring our house.  The latest task was…wait for it…fixing a dripping faucet in the girl’s bathroom.  Seriously, now that you know the repair, would you expect the fix to take…two UPS shipments, and seventeen days?  It’s important to highlight the fact that even though it appears I’m in denial about my capabilities…I didn’t discontinue the model of our faucet, I didn’t decide to only label the schematics in Chinese, Latin, and Mayan, or take the replacement parts off retailer’s shelves…I did however turn off the hot water in that bathroom until the parts arrived because the drip became a small stream after the third time I partially took the faucet apart (see learning curve for details).  So every day it wasn’t fixed…there was more of a sense of urgency to do so.

Several years ago we remodeled our home.  Our bathrooms were rebuilt from the studs…by studs.  I say that because they did a great job.  I draw the line at totally rebuilding a room because frankly that kind of construction project takes a lot of knowledge, resources, and time.  Time that I need to devote to working so that I can pay for the stinking upgrade!  I’d love to do a project like that, but I’d also love to keep my marriage, keep my job, keep my sanity, and the list goes on. 

So the new faucets were all higher end Brizo Faucets by Delta which look like this.  They’re nice…when they aren’t dripping.

 

 

They come with a lifetime warranty.  Our model was discontinued sometime between installation and malfunction.  So Delta replaced the bad parts for free.  That makes the repair inexpensive, but we had to wait for them to fill, ship, and deliver the order, which takes about ten days.  Thanks to technology upgrades in plumbing you don’t simply replace a washer to stop a leak.  The top of the handle slides off revealing a set screw, unscrew the set screw to take off the handle.  That leaves the inverted bell shaped thingy (in the schematic it’s called a 鐘形片) I had to unscrew the bell from the base.  That reveals a cartridge that is held in place by another part that screws…since I didn’t do this installation I didn’t know the bell had been cemented to the base with clear calk.  So my attempt at unscrewing had me a little… screwed.  The bell wouldn’t budge so I was stuck, and puzzled.  Could the schematic be wrong?  I was forced to regroup.  After two trips to Economy Plumbing for advice, a pair of vice grips, and some choice words, I was able to separate the base from…my life which revealed the cartridge.  Under the cartridge was a spring and a rubber ball like thing.  Thanks to my first UPS shipment I could replace the spring, ball, and cartridge.  Then I screwed everything back in place, slid on the handle, set screw, cap, and…presto change, no drip.  I get to undo it again in ten days when the new bell comes in.  At least now I know what I’m doing. 

Each time I worked on that drip I had to clean everything out from under the cabinet. That way I could get under the sink to bang my head and wrench my neck.  I didn’t realize the cabinet had accumulated so much stuff.  There were two hair dryers (two?) A curling iron, a flattening iron(?)…why the curling iron if you need a flattening iron?…two rags, tampons, pads, sponges (the cleaning variety), toilet cleaner, Clorox wipes, half of a fresh water clam shell, fifteen swear words, some of my thinning hair, and several hours of lost productivity.  The last three are relatively new additions.

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.

Where the Wild Things Are

September 27, 2011

One evening recently I was working on my computer when Grace shrieked and in a panicked voice called for me to quickly come over and kill a bug.  The Phelps women hate bugs in the house.  Especially anything that might be a spider…I say might because two of the three Phelps women wear glasses.  If they aren’t wearing them at the time…anything including the cat looks like a spider.  Grace doesn’t wear glasses.  So when I got there and saw what it was…the term, “overreact much?” came to mind.  I could understand it if she was calling me to get rid of some rain forest freak of nature or a killer mantis from a 1960’s horror movie.  However this wasn’t a mutant 350 pound cricket with the voice of Barry White.  It was your standard half inch cricket, not rabid, carnivorous, or venomous.  Thanks to one of our killer cats this little guy was missing both hind legs.  So he couldn’t even kick to defend himself.  He was an emasculated cricket who was reduced to crawling around with his stubby front legs like a beetle.  None of that seemed to matter to my five foot seven inch, sure footed, dancer.  She wanted me to send him to the white light post haste.  I didn’t kill him.  I like the way they sing at night.  I picked him up and tossed him out in the back yard to sing for his supper.  If he was a millipede, different story,  I’d have smashed him in a…Tell Tale Heart…beat.

My grandmother was the Anne Oakley of Greene County.  She bought fur from the trappers, butchered chickens, processed deer, and yet she was scared to death of snakes.  Her mother chewed tobacco, dried it on the window ledge, and smoked it in a pipe.  So she wasn’t raised by softies, but the sight of a snake, even one the size of an earth worm, made her scream like a high maintenance debutante.  They must have sensed her fear because every summer at least one would end up sneaking in into her house.  She found them in her bath tub, curled around her sewing machine, and curled in the branches of an indoor tree like a baby boa.  I think they were trying to say, “Embrace us.  We will eat your mice.”  She never got their message, but she gave them one at the top of her lungs.  I’m sure her scream could be heard all the way in Brown County.  After she recovered from the initial shock she would flip them out the door and show them the business end of a garden hoe.  “Take that you no good varmint”, she’d say.  Then she’d fling it out in the field.  There were so many snakes on her farm the dead snake probably landed on one of the live one’s who were lining up to take his place.  When I was little I remember thinking, “Never tell her I don’t like liver and onions.  I could end up like the snake.”

Several nights after our cricket episode the Phelps women were sewing while watching some show about murder.  My wife loves those shows, Unsolved Mystery, Criminal Minds, Forensic Files.   She’s a walking encyclopedia of ways to kill your spouse.  Paul Simon sings that song, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.  Keely could kill me fifty different ways and have fifty more to use on the next husband.  Not only does she know ways to do me in, she can sew a tasteful burial cloak too.  It’s no wonder she got along so well with Grandma Mengele, the snake killer.  A stitch in time…kills nine.  So as they watched the latest episode of murder by numbers (while taking notes) they heard a high pitched whine.  It grew louder and louder until they saw one of our cats with a mouse in its mouth.  Keely opened the door to the screen porch.  The cat ran out and dropped the mouse.  Thinking the mouse was dead, she picked him up in a towel.  Carly looked at him, cried a little, and named it Mickey.  That mouse needs to thank they were wearing glasses that night.  Just then Mickey opened its eyes, leaped to the floor, and began scurrying around the porch.  Carly opened the door and it scampered off into the night only to trip over a legless cricket and break its neck…kidding…or am I? Mwa hahahah!

Spats, The Badminton of Arguments

September 22, 2011

My friend Mike had parents who were married for life.  I’m sure they loved each other, but sometimes they argued over silly little things that didn’t matter.  One minute you hear, “pass the pickles” the next thing you knew they would erupt into some disagreement.  Opinions would ricochet between the two like a tennis ball in the US Open.  They’d spin their position back and forth.  It wasn’t the kind of argument that wasn’t upsetting so we would watch like spectators and he would comment to me.   “My parents will go through life arguing about the same things,” he’d say while shaking his head. The topic was always something life changing, like wiping off the ketchup lid.  They would volley back and forth.   Neither would give any ground and nothing would be resolved.  The Ketchup bottle would be wiped off by the irritated party in an overly dramatic way.  Maybe a sarcastic comment would accompany it from the other side like, “I think we will all sleep better knowing the ketchup lid is clean.”   There would be silence for a minute or two.  Then his mom would look at Mike and say, “would your friend like more milk?”  Mike would say, “Mom you can ask him he’s sitting right next to me.”  I would say, “Yes thanks” and suddenly the Ketchup cloud had passed and the sun would shine again.  The condiment issue would be tabled for further discussion the next time they had hamburgers.

Now that my wife and I have been together for nearly a quarter of a century (I said it that way because it seems longer than if I’d said twenty-five years)I understand what Mike’s parents were doing…aside from entertaining us.  Keely and I are a couple, but we are also individuals.  We may both be working together for the common good.  We love each other, our family, and our goals.  We just have different ways of daily living.  We both take our pants off one leg at a time.  However it’s what we do with the pants that can become the irritant.  I’ll give you an example; one of us reads the mail, shreds the junk, and files the other stuff.  The other places their mail in random piles around the family room.  Those piles grow and spread out incorporating magazines, textbooks, school papers, and other collateral in much the same way a glacier moves and collects things in its path.  The next thing I know our family’s counter top space has been covered in sprawl.  I’ll make a couple of attempts to rein in the debris field, but it’s like trying to contain an avalanche with a privacy fence.  The conglomerate takes over and there is no stopping it.  Keely knows where everything is regardless of the visual created by the filing system.  If I try to undo her system and she needs to find something…we have a ketchup lid conflict.  The flip side, if her system encroaches on the last bastion of open space on the counter I force a ketchup lid incident.  The jagged vibes I feel when I look at piles are equal to the ones that fly from her shoulders once I’ve uncorked the situation.   I understand.  I go there too.   I have to say that once she’s fueled by irritation she moves to dismantle the offending areas with speed and precision that would make Martha Stewart’s head spin.  It’s impressive to watch.  She multitasks.  While her hands are, filing, shredding, moving, and wiping.  Her lips are uttering things about me being anal, and my life insurance policy needing to be increased, and yet there is love in her heart.  Of course I don’t feel that love initially. I stay out of her way.  I learned early on to resist the urge to make sarcastic remarks or offer advice on clutter prevention.  I just let the magic happen while hiding the knives.  After the dust has settled and the flowers and card are received there is a feeling of harmony both visually and emotionally. 

The next day the mail comes, we get a magazine from her PA organization, a sale flyer from Kohl’s, and a coupon from Jiffy Lube.  Suddenly, subtly, there is a little bit of gooey ketchup forming on the lid again.

 

 

 

Pets Part 1

February 25, 2010

Driving home from ballet yesterday Grace was talking about the cute little lap dogs she wants.  I would interject, “When you move out you mean?” with a smile.  She would ignore that comment and continue on about these little dog hybrids and how badly we need one.   I can see it now; she’ll be walking down the streets of Manhattan with a little dog in a big purse.  The dog will be wearing a hat, cape, and go go boots.  It will have one of those names like Mrs. D.  It will only eat a certain type of food from a can and only when Grace feeds it to her with a certain spoon.  It will develop skin allergies and lose all of its hair.  The vet bill to fix this with steroids and follicle implants will be more than she makes dancing for SAB, but that’s OK.  She takes a third job to pay that bill and together they live happily ever after.

Then the conversation shifted to accusations that I hate all animals because I won’t drive right then to buy her this little furry bundle of love.  I hate animals?  Why do we have two cats?  We’ve had dogs, other cats, snakes, hamsters, and fish.  I don’t hate animals.  I have a full schedule and it doesn’t include adding more responsibilities to the list.  I’m not a pet person right now.  I don’t want to have to let dogs in, out, clean up after them, and feed them.  “I will,” she said sincerely.  Yeah she will for a week or less and then it’s on me.  We’ve done this experiment time and time again and it always comes back to me so…when you live in New York and you are dancing for SAB you can have a Puggle, Wiggle, Fuggle,  Piggle or any of the list of little shark bait dogs and I will visit it.

As a kid we had four dogs.  The first, Coco, was a brown poodle who didn’t mind.  The only way we could get it to come in the house was for me to run around yelling “charge!”  It would eventually follow me and I’d run in the house.  Once when we were visiting my grandmother Coco ran next door, knocked down a little girl, and bit her arm.  It was nothing serious…just a nip.  After that he took a ride with my dad and never returned.  Then they bought a poodle who behaved.  We named her coco # 2…because the kids were in charge of naming her.  We had cats.  I saw kittens born.  We had a Samoyed.  Those are white sled dogs.  She was hit by a car in front of our house, in the winter, on a snowy day.  I witnessed it.  Then our house burned to the ground and Coco # 2 and all of the other pets perished. 

My kids have seen their share of heart ache when it comes to our pets.  Nick, our lab, died of a heart attack in front of them.  That was…a life lesson.  Our coolest cat Henry was killed by a hawk on Father’s day.  Our oldest pet Tater just went to the white light earlier this month.  He was 22.  Yep he lived a long, grumpy life.  The older he grew, the grumpier he became.  He was older than Grace and Carly.  He missed Henry.  After Henry was buried Tater began this annoying habit of howling.  Not a normal cat howl.  This was more like a dying wolf.  It started low and would build like a storm siren.  It jolted you out of bed at three AM like a storm siren too.  Some times he’d do it when I was on a business call.  The person on the other line would always say, “Do you need to evacuate?” or “What is that sound?  Is everything OK?”  I’d cover by saying, “They are testing the sprinkler system in our office building.”  Tater had a stroke.  I had to use an axe to cut through the frozen tundra and bury him in a short ceremony in the back yard.  We are left with two cats, Tina and Tyler.  We rescued them when they were two weeks old.  We bottle fed them along with their brother Tim.  Tim lives with my brother…Tom and his kids.  Don’t worry none of them have names that start with a “T”.  It’s a hassle to keep the girls on task with the litter box.  I’m over the pet experience.  I like fish.  They are like living art and when they die…you flush them end of story.

Winter Olympics

February 16, 2010

I find the Winter Olympics more inspiring than the Summer Games by a land slide.  The beauty of the mountains, the snow, the ice, childhood dreams fulfilled.  Many of the sports seem to be games that kids made up and played long ago in their spare time after school. Like the luge, it’s sledding on steroids.  I remember daydreaming about being in that competition as a kid.  Since I lived in Indiana the day dreams were short because the hills aren’t very tall. Blink your eye and the fantasy is over and it’s time to walk back to the top of the hill for another brief ride.  We had a neighbor that lived on the top edge of a valley.  He had a sledding trail cut through the trees down the side of the valley’s edge.  The drop was steep enough the trees never came into play except to give it a more of an alpine feel.   No bank turns, no ninety mile per hour runs, nothing an energy drink would want to sponsor, but it kept us engaged for hours. 

Look at snow boarding, speed skating, down hill skiing, ice hockey, ski jumping.  Those are all sports that have kid ingenuity and fun written all over them.  Since kids will be kids they became competitive.  One thing led to another, parents got a hold of the idea, organized it, found support from local businesses and a cottage sport was born.  Then ABC’s Wide World of Sports found it or more recently, MTV, and the rest is history.  I think the only winter sport that didn’t evolve that way was curling.  That must have been invented by some grumpy old men who could no longer play hockey.  They liked the ice, they were still competitive, and they had cabin fever.  They told their wives they were going out to sweep the snow off the front porch.  One of their friends was ice fishing in the neighborhood pond.  They gathered down there to see if he was having luck.  It was cold.  The fish were frozen.  One old man pushed the frozen fish to the other with the broom and a sport was born.  Using fish wasn’t practical.  One of the old men was a stone carver, because that’s what they did before Wii was invented.  The rest is history.

Decades later their great grandkids grew to be successful business people who retired, moved to Florida, and invented Shuffle Board.

We have two ponds near our home.  Every winter we look forward to the days that are cold enough to freeze the ice to a safe thickness.  I drill a hole to test the ice and we skate outside in the evening.  That is inspiring.  The air is crisp, the stars are out, and the girls are laughing and acting goofy.  There is a freedom that comes with skating outdoors under the big sky.  The girls choreograph little performance pieces or we play tag.  They pretend they are tracking some type of alpine animal as they skate around.  We don’t talk about any of the pressures of life.  We just laugh, dream, and play in the winter night.  Those times are better than any of my childhood dreams.  Those are a few hours of perfection in our busy time that I carry in my heart.  We relive them as we watch skating in the Olympics.  The hours of dedication it takes to nurture your passion.   The childhood dream realized and the tears shed on the podium during the medal presentation.  Pride, passion, dedication, we live it every day as the girls train for ballet.  It’s nice to see examples of how that hard work pays off.  Their tears are real and their emotion is pure, as pure as childhood fun that is found on a frozen pond at night or in the daydreams of a boy, in a sled, on a small hill in Indiana.

Sexting the Wrong Number and Other Goofs

February 14, 2010

When Carly’s boyfriend went to college she lobbied for me to get a web cam so they could Skype.  She missed him and felt that if she could see him when they spoke it would make the distance seem shorter.  I was a boy in college once too.  If I had this technology I know what I would do.  I would enjoy talking with and seeing my girlfriend on the computer for about a week.  I would spend the next week trying to talk her into taking off her shirt.

After weeks of hearing her beg, I agreed to split the cost of a web cam provided she only used it in the family room when I’m there.  Using it in the family room if I’m gone …doesn’t work.  I can hear the conversation.  Boyfriend, “Just show me real quick while your dad’s gone.  Come on just real quick.  No one’s here.  No one will know.  If you love me you’ll do it.  Please!”  I know the tricks.  I was eighteen. 

Skype is only one of the tools boys can use to see the goods.  Sexting is another.  As much as I try to educate my daughters on boys and the do’s and don’ts it only takes one bad decision to cause heartache or worse.  Just ask Greg Oden or a parade of other public figures that have had candid photos posted on the internet. 

My favorite digital gaffe came from my ex boss who sent an email to all of our customers and prospects as we headed into the New Year, 2002.  He told them, (I’m paraphrasing), “Thanks for all of your support.  We are going out of business in 2002.”  That comment came at the end of an inspirational email that he sent without proofing.  We started getting calls from shocked customers almost immediately.  He was on suicide watch for about a week after that.  I was one of two sales people fielding the calls.  We asked him if he had anyone proof the email before he sent it.  He picked his head up off his desk, shook his head no, and went back to sobbing.  That was just one of a million things he did wrong, but it was my favorite.

Just recently my wife did something similar.  She sent me a steamy thought provoking text, but it didn’t go to me.  It went to a dance mom whose name started with “G”.  Wow!  Could you also copy Grace’s teachers?  Maybe my mom would like to know what you want me to do!”  After she hit send and realized what she’d done she called to tell me what happened.  I burst out laughing.  You can’t get it back…it’s out there.  I’d rather it hadn’t happened.  Now the mom will look at me with a little more knowledge of my abilities.  The mom responded saying, “I’m not Greg.  Maybe if you texted the right person he will grant your wish…good luck with that!”  Rather than letting sleeping dogs lie Keely tried to text an apology.  The mom responded saying, “Don’t know you or Greg, but good luck.”  Keely’s schedule hasn’t been dance class friendly for a long time so most of the moms don’t know her.  This one had forgotten who she was.  Add the fact that it was so out of context.  One minute this mom is in domestic mode and the next minute she is receiving a Penthouse Forum request.  So Keely sent another text saying, “You know us.  It’s Greg and Keely with the daughter Grace.”  I was saying, “Leave it alone you freak!  Who cares if she knows us?”  She ended up texting Keely the next day saying, “Oh yeah Keely!  It’s good to see you and Greg are keeping it fresh after being married all these years.”  Super!  Now she can put a face with the request. 

So Keely will be away at grad school for another seventeen months.  I guess the next step is Skype.  I’ll be content seeing her on the computer for a week.  The she’ll hear, “Are your room mates gone?  Take off your shirt!  Come on…no one will find out!”

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.

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