The Tragedy of Macself

April 12, 2014

*This post is best read if imagined in the voice of say, Sir Patrick Stewart or Sir Ian McKellen

Macself   Act 1, Scene-hogger

Is this a cell phone which I see before me,Macbeth5
The camera toward my face? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see me still.

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A photo of the mind, a false JPEG,
Proceeding from the need-oppressed brain?macbeth9 (2)
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I snap.
Thou marshall’st me the way my post is going;
And such an instrument I will to use.

Mine posts are made the fools o’ the other feeds,
Or else worth all the rest; I see me still,
And on thy wall and Twitter feed gouts of envy,macbeth7 (2)
Which was not so before. There’s no such thing:
It is the bloody self-portrait which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one viral half-word

Nature seems dead, and narcissists abuse
The curtain’d sleep; haters celebrate
Pale Hecate’s duck-face offerings, and wither’d murder,

Alarum’d by his viral sentinel, the message wolf,
Whose howl’s his forwards, thus with his stealthy pace.macbeth8 (2)

With hater’s ravishing dislikes, towards my design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
see not my poses, which way they face, for fear
Thy very updates prate of coffee shop ‘is at’ whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I Tweet, they live:

Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pusU90ov8pQ

The Legend of Home Plato, Baseball Philosopher

April 3, 2014

“Opening day of baseball season is like the first night of your honeymoon. Once that first pitch opening daysmacks into the glove, everything and anything is possible. Plus, you get to live it all over three, four, five times or more that day and you goo to sleep smiling”

-Home Plato, Baseball Philosopher

It is that most serendipitous and melodic harbinger of the end of winter - baseball. Spring training has wrapped its languid flow in Florida and Arizona and the teams have dispatched too locales from coast to coast. Optimism reigns as fans return like Capistrano Swallows to major league ballparks in an effort to get their initial, anticipated glimpse of the year at their favorite teams, beloved veterans and highly anticipated newcomers; to soak in the sun and think of the possibilities of what the new season will bring.

Opening week.

Their first chance since fall to experience baseball…to talk baseball in something more than wistfully nostalgic tones for last year or unbridled optimism in the unseen for the year ahead.

Talking baseball takes on a fresh urgency this time of year.

It was with this backdrop that I made a pilgrimage to a local watering hole for the chance to talk baseball with a true baseball legend. A man who knows baseball, the game of life.  I found him sitting alone in a booth, nursing a tap beer.  His business card lay on the table in front of him, facing the spot across the table from him. My seat on the mountaintop. He motioned me to sit down, gracefully extended his hand. We shook, he motioned for me to take his card.

BrooklynIt reads, simply, ‘Home Plato, Baseball Philosopher’ in elegant, 1946 Brooklyn Dodgers uniform font.

Now while Mr. Plato knows life and knows baseball, he does not see himself as a great thinker – more an observer of and ruminator on life and how it relates to all things baseball. I have quoted Mr. Plato frequently throughout the years in various forms, but more importantly, I have taken his wisdom and utilized it to full effect. The opportunity to sit down and speak with him face-to-face was not to be passed up.

I could not if I had tried.

Over beer and salted-in-the-shell ballpark peanuts, I spoke with (mostly just listened reverently to) Mr. Plato about some of his views on baseball and life. What follows is a sampling of our conversation covering a broad array of topics baseball.

“Mr. Plato, sir” I began, a bit nervously.

“Call me Home. But not ‘Homer’ – people should know that ‘Home’ isn’t ‘short’ for anything, and I do not write epic poetry. I simply observe it.” He smiled knowingly.

scorecard“A two-to-six putout, as it were.” I replied, thinking myself clever.

“Leave the philosophizing to me, kid.”

“Sure thing. Where do we start…”

“And don’t call me a ‘baseball card.’ I don’t do jokes or puns.” His tone had an impish quality.

“Yes sir, Mr. Plato.”

“Call me ‘Home’.”

Moving quickly on, I asked Mr. Plato when he first knew he had a gift for offering perceptions. He leaned back in his chair, and in one smooth motion he reflexively pried open a fresh peanut shell with his thumb and rolled the two peanuts into the palm of his hand before popping them in his mouth, all the while never breaking our eye contact.

“Back in the day – I was in high school -we were being coached on how to steal a base. I made a joke; something about ‘my mom told me I shouldn’t steal stuff’ and my teammates laughed, but the coach wasn’t amused. It kind of just took off from there. I just modified mama’s advice a little bit to fit the situation.”

baseball“Mama always told me, never lie and never steal…unless you can put yourself safely into scoring position with less than two outs and one of your big hitters coming up.

“Do you have kids?” I asked, figuring that much of Home’s advice needed a ready target, like a catcher framing the plate.

“I have nine.”

“What kind of advice do you give them?”

“Only the best kind.” he replied with a grin and a wink.

baseball2“Ask any infielder; bad hops are a part of the game of life. Even the easiest looking play can be set awry by a stray clump of dirt. What counts is how you handle the bad hop. If you don’t catch it, stay calm, knock it down, pick it up. Stick with it; you can still make the play.”

“Bad hops are indeed a part of life.” I agreed.

Plato nodded. “I always try to remind my kids that sometimes, even the best of situations can provide a challenge.”

I nodded, writing it all diligently down in my notebook.

“Everyone who has ever played the game has done it – lost a ball in the sun. Life is like that; even the best and brightest of days can sometimes blind you to what you need to do.”

“Sound advice.” I was jotting that down furiously. Home was on a roll.

peanutsbaseball-1“Being proactive is good, but you also need to know how to react when things go awry. There are always going to be bad hops and off-target throws coming at you; always expecting to have to react to the unexpected, then reacting expectedly to the unexpected, is what separates the all-stars from the guys who ride the bench.”

“I’ve read that one before. Heck, I’ve tried to live it.”

The Old Philosopher seemed pleased. He nodded knowingly. “That’s good.” He replied confidently,without ego, taking a healthy sip of his beer. I was eager for more.

“What else can you tell me about how to live life?”

“You can argue with the umpire whenever you want, but you’ll rarely prevail – and you might get tossed from the game. Sometimes the victory comes in just letting him know you disagreed with his call in a respectful way. Stay in the game. Keep disagreements civil, and pick your battles wisely. The next time you step up to the plate, forget the last at bat ever happened.”

Louisville Slugger“That’s good stuff, Home.”

“Thank you.” He cracked open two more shells simultaneously, rolling the four peanuts around in his hand, ala Captain Queeg – without the angst.

“When the game is on the line, you can be caught looking. Don’t rely on the umpire to decide the outcome, never take a called third strike for the last out of the game. Go down swinging.”

“Another classic, Home.” I was soaking in not just the wisdom but the masterful peanut shelling. “In all my years of ballpark peanut eating, I’ve never mastered the one-handed shelling like you have.” I ventured.

Home looked down at his hand, cocked an eyebrow as he threw the peanuts into his mouth. “It’s all in the grip” he said matter-of-factly. Just like throwing the perfect curve ball.”

Made perfect sense. I had never mastered the curve, either.

Home checked his watch; It was getting late. “Before we go, can I ask you about self-confidence?”

“Self-confidence.” He took a breath, repeated the phrase slowly as a smile creased his face.

baseball3“There are two outs, and you have two strikes against you – what do you do? You step back, make eye contact with the pitcher, smile at him. Then give him a wink, a quick nod, smile again, step back in. Nothing so unnerves an opponent as your self-confidence. You’ve got him right where you want him.”

Home paid the tab and we got up from our table, walking into the crisp, spring air. I could swear that in the distance, I was hearing a faint roaring of a crowd.

“Thanks for your time, Mr. Plato.”

“Home.” He reminded me gently. “You’re very welcome.” The old philosopher smiled, adjusting the brim of his vintage Dodgers cap.

“Any last thoughts?” I asked knowingly.

“You know why is baseball played on a diamond, son? Like the stone, a baseball diamond needs diamondto be cut just so to shine just so perfectly so. In both cases, it’s a sparkling thing of beauty when done just right, no matter what the setting is.”

I finished writing, adding the last period with a penciled stab, I closed my notebook.

I nodded, we shook hands. I watched him walk away into the darkness, and I swear I could hear, from somewhere, the gentle lilt of a ballpark organ, a gruff voice hollering ‘Play ball!’ the cheers fading into the night.

March Maddening.

March 29, 2014

“Maddening, the game is” as Yoda might say – more calmly than I, I might add. I am not all that much of a basketball fan anymore, in large part because the game has become way too aggravating for me to watch.

deflatedBB2I saw part of the Wichita State-Kentucky game and had to just walk away in frustration; the calls and non-calls by the officials left me wondering what I was watching, exactly. Was I watching a game, or a team scrimmage with stoppages for coaching instruction? Between whistles and time outs, there was no flow to the game, no smoothness. What they called as ‘fouls’ befuddled me; what they didn’t call was just aggravating. My biggest gripe with contemporary basketball is traveling.

Apparently, there isn’t any such thing anymore.

I don’t walk my dogs as far as modern-day players’ ramble with the ball but without it touching the touching hardwood. Forwards drive to the basket lugging the rock like a drunken fullback, weaving through alleged defenses and I almost expect the play to end in an announcer’s call of “First down!”

I try, but the college game is almost as unwatchable as the pro version.

Seriously, when a guy goes charging into the lane I half-expect him to hand off the ball to a teammate like a baton so that guy can run the next leg of the relay.

I saw at least two replays in the brief segment of the Wichita State-Kentucky game where I counted five steps that a guy took with the ball and in neither case was traveling called. Five. Full. Steps. Two more steps of that length, and the guys would have been in line to buy a Coke on the concourse level.

Then there was the Michigan-Tennessee game I saw the ending of the other night. There was a Tennessee player who had the ball bunnyhop1and hopped – HOPPED, two feet together, bunny- hop style – through the lane towards the hoop.

Kangaroosketball?

Guys run, jump, throw erstwhile passes, drive to the hoop from midcourt and the ball rarely touches the hardwood. I’ve seen more actual dribbling from bar drunks at closing time.

Then there are the inexplicable fouls: ‘reaching in’ and ‘over the top’ – we used to call that aggressive defense. Oh, and the bumping! I saw a Tennessee player guarding a Michigan player and they whistled him for a defensive foul. The announcers noted that he ‘leaned in with his hip.’

Ummm…yeah? We used to call that ‘defense.’ No harm, no foul.

They call charging fouls when all the offensive guy really needs is to have his visa stamped to verify all the traveling he has done.

Add that to the excessive timeouts and play stoppage, the three-point shot, zone defenses, goal tending, the ‘possession arrow’ (oh

man, how I hate the ‘possession arrow’) and ticky-tack fouls and basketball just doesn’t do it for me anymore. Timeouts happening after fifteen seconds of elapsed, actual playing time and it takes half an hour to play the last two-minutes of a close basketball game.

Zzzzzzzzz….

Snoopy and Linus watch basketball

Snoopy and Linus watch basketball

Timeouts = Strategy Sessions? Lack of acumen of the game, I think. If you can’t think two-or-three-plays ahead…

I realize that this is heresy for many this time of year, but I really don’t care squat about March Madness, as for me all it does is get in the way of sports page coverage of Opening Day

Ahhh, baseball.

Not that America’s pastime doesn’t have its issues – I could do without the DH, the ‘in-the-vicinity-of-second-base’ call and baseball and glove closeupinterleague play to name three. But baseball is like love; you put up with the quirks of the other person, live with the ups and downs of daily life, and the love continues to grow. Baseball is unbridled passion, basketball is a relationship ‘Hey, how ya doin?’ followed by a blank stare and silence.

But I digress.

Per my basketball irritations, I’m not a total slave to tradition – I am not advocating peach baskets, and I could live without the three-point shot. Zone defense saps the game of its flow and I don’t find the dunk nearly as interesting or entertaining as most. The call of ‘goaltending’ mystifies me as does the fact the bulk of the payers at every level only make sixty-percent of their free throws baseballand the post time-out mid-court throw-in instead of the baseline….

Bust all the brackets you want. Be a part of the madness. I hope you win your office pool. The greatest redeeming quality of college basketball?  Pro ball is worse.

Me? I’m hell bent for the sound of horsehide hitting leather, and the first “Steee-rike!’ call of the new year. Call me mad, if you will, but I’ll be glad when the Final Four finally exit the stage.

 

This will soon be old hat

March 3, 2014

oldworld4I am feeling rather old-world these days. Not OLD, mind you, but old world. My twenty-seven-month-old grandson Felix has taken to calling me ‘Papa.’ He calls his other grandpa ‘Papa’ as well, though he does differentiate between the two of us by referring to my wife and I as “Papa and Gigi’ – Gigi being the sobriquet that she has gone by since Felix was just a little guy.

I don’t mind the moniker; it just is not one I ever envisioned for myself.

‘Papa’ seems very old-world, European to me – which, considering my ancestral mix of Russian Jews and Norwegians, makes sense. Felix is, apparently, an old soul.

MG6 03 02 14 C2This Papa thing came about purely by accident, after I had posted the picture of myself  (left) on Facebook, following a full day of  New Orleans Mardi Gras parade festivities. My daughter got the notification, showed Felix the picture, then posted his response:  ‘To which Felix exclaimed…”Its PAPA!…..and HAT!!!”

FelixFBprofpic

 

 

The first time I had heard/seen the ‘Papa’ designation from him.

I don’t – or at least, I didn’t – see myself as a ‘Papa.’ Grandpa is great; Gramps would be fine, as that’s what my I called mine – the only grandfather I ever knew, my mother’s father. Granddad was always a possibility as well. But ‘Papa’ had never entered my solo, silent deliberations on the topic.

The resemblance is, well, there. "If I were a rich man..."

The resemblance is, well, there. “If I were a rich man…”

But once I started to think about it…

Of the old world Papas I could think of, the first two images that sprang to mine fit our (Felix and I) shared heritage. First there is Tevye, of Fiddler on the Roof fame, and also Leif Ericson, the famous Norwegian explorer. Tevya, Leif and I all spring from hearty stock, and are known for rugged hirsute-centered handsome natures. (Okay, Tevye is a fictional character. But Topol, the actor who portrayed him the most, is still going strong and is still a bit old world.)

“And hat!” Mazel Tov.

"Explore far-of lands? Moved to New Orleans from Minnesota, didn't i?"

“Explore far-of lands? Moved to New Orleans from Minnesota, didn’t i?”

Yes, of the Papas I could come up with, all were exciting, dynamic guys with well-known facial hair…and very prominent hats. I get where Felix is coming from.

While both Tevye and Leif are definitely ‘old world’ Papa-types, their respective headgear translates differently. I could, in today’s world wear Tevye’s milkman hat and not look at all out-of-place. Not as jauntily as Topol, perhaps, but I could pull it off.  Leif’s battle helmet would be another matter. Although, I do live in New Orleans. Metal headgear would not be the strangest sight seen around these parts.

“And hat!”

Interestingly, the other Papas I conjured up I also share top-and-bottom-of-head similarities with. Famed novelist Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway, for one.

Interestingly, I recently completed one of those online ‘discover your writing soulmate’ quizzes onhemhat2 hemhat3 Facebook…and got Hemingway as my ‘writing soulmate.’ Interesting, no?  Though Hemingway did have a strange thing for weird, cowl-neck sweaters. I couldn’t pull that off…but berets, wide-brimmed Panamas and pith helmets? Hell yeah!

Then there was Papa Noel and Papa Smurf – both noted for what resides at the opposite poles of their skulls, both red on top, white on bottom. Not my style, really. Those two may be pushing it a bit anyway. FYI: Papa Bear and Papa John Phillips did not make the list for various reasons.papasmurf papanoel

“And hat!”

Felix had seen my Mardi Gras  jester’s hat before, a week or so before Mardi Gras. During a Skype session in which he was goofily showing off his array of winter hats, I told him I had a hat as well, grabbing mine and modeling it. His response at the time was a vigorous head shake and a concerned, plaintive, drawn-out “Nooooo…”

It was obvious he didn’t much care for the hatting of our Skype session. Or maybe he just didn’t like the hat competition, me – me horning in on his hat spotlight. Either way, it’s okay. Felix likes his hats, winter and otherwise, including a straw fedora. He is one hip dude.

"Look, ma! No hats!"

“Look, ma! No hats!– me horning in on his hat spotlight. Either way, it’s okay. Felix likes his hats, winter and otherwise, including a straw fedora. He is one hip dude.

The more I roll it over in my head, I’m liking ‘Papa’ more and more, especially since I have plenty of hat-wearing papas in whose footsteps I can follow. I think we can work with this, Felix. I really do.

I’ll talk to you soon and we can discuss further, compare chapeaus.

Love,

Papa

And Hat.

Admonition

February 15, 2014

“Go forth…and don’t multiply!”creationofadam1

That was my pre-emptive rebuke to my students as they departed my classroom each period on Valentines Day. I would say it as I opened the door when the bell rang, using a tone of voice I intended to be ‘firm’ but after ninety-minutes with each group, my tenor may have leaned more toward exasperated crankiness.

“Hey, you kids! Get off of my lawn…and don’t multiply!”

Having Valentines Day on a Friday was both blessing and curse. Our students are usually pretty wired on Friday anyway, but with all the exchanging of gifts and the anticipatory lust wafting loudly and graphically through five-of-every-six conversations, It made for even shorter attention spans and less productivity than usual.

And the gifts.

I saw more large stuffed animals being lugged by/into/out of my classroom than a typical midway carnie . That might not be so surprising, but in a large, inner city high school where many of the students come from challenging circumstances, it is something else. (Zombie teddy bears, anyone? From Recycle-a-Bear Workshop, perhaps?)

The self-avowed gangbanger with an AK-47 tattoo and colorful profanity slathered up-and-down his arm lugging stbernardplusharound a stuffed St. Bernard roughly half his height is not something you see every day. Just to be clear, he was the recipient of said polyester pooch, though my understanding was he gave as good as he got in the stuffed animal department. That basic scenario was repeated an astounding number of times throughout the day.

Ahh, young…love?

Adding to the charged atmosphere was the fact that it was a ‘dress down’ day – pay a dollar, get a sticker, and you could come in street clothes for the day. Pay a buck to not have to wear a school uniform for a day? You bet! Get a chance to dress up for a dress down? Oh, baby…

Restraint is not a hallmark of our student body. Bourbon Street probably had a more casual vibe than our hallways did on Friday, especially fifth period, post-lunchtime. With the day winding down, the sugar from the truckloads of exchanged candy and baked goods kicking teen libidos into high(er) gear, the end of the day was…boisterous.

Glad fifth period is my planning period, as I was done with most of the craziness by lunchtime. Also in the ’pro’ column for a Friday Valentine Day? On Saturday, I don’t have to deal with students who are hung-over.

“Go forth…and don’t multiply!”

My speech class didn’t seem to get it, though it was early in the day and most of them just want the hell out of my classroom anyway. My third period English class of thirty-five seniors was mostly intact, and as usual they had found much to complain about with Friday’s class offering. They seemed mostly oblivious to my exasperated directive as I flung open the door – though a few stopped and stared at me with puzzled looks, and at least two of them seemed to have a light-bulb moment with it.

My fourth period seniors, who are much more subdued and a bit more cerebral than their third period counterparts, rubens adam and evehad a much higher percentage of kids who stopped, contemplated my words, and at least registered some recognition.

“Go forth…and don’t multiply!”

The end of the day did provide me with some redemptory satisfaction, though. I was standing in the doorway of my classroom as the kids were streaming out, many yelling out to me as they passed, which was normal for a Friday. Some tell me to have a nice weekend, some respond with muttered expletives when I tell THEM to have a nice weekend. Rinse and repeat. Mostly it’s jovial stuff, but this Friday was something else.

“Mr. Lucker! I’m going out tooooooo-NIGHT!”

“Mr. Lucker! Its goin on tonight!”

“Mr. Lucker! You be wishing you were me tonight!”

That’s a fair representation of the last five minutes of the day, and as usual I could only respond with a series of smiles, head shakes and, on this day, “Go forth…and don’t multiply.”

As the crowd thinned out, one of my favorite students, a bright young woman named Sandra* walked by, told me to creationofadam1Photo0407have a nice evening and weekend as she usually does. At the same time, two boys ran by yelling out to me that they were ‘Gonna have some fun toooo-NIGHT!’ and I responded with my plea du jour.

Sandra, stopped in the middle of the hall, looked at me with a quizzical smile, and said “Mr. Lucker, what’s that mean…’go forth and don’t multiply?”

“It’s a take on the Biblical directive from G-d to populate the earth – you know, ‘go forth and multiply.’”

She stared at me. The bulb clicked on, and she nodded as the remaining kids in the hallway whizzed by, headed for the buses.

“Mr. Lucker” she said with a knowing sigh, “Around here, that’s good advice to give.”

“Go forth…and…”

From soup to that’s nuts

January 26, 2014

‘Emily Johnson Dickerson died at her home in Ada, Okla., last week. She was the last person alive who spoke only the Chickasaw language….
…Dickerson, 93, was one of about 65 people fluent in the Chickasaw language, which has seen its number of speakers shrink from thousands since the 1960s.’ - NPR, 01/08/14

Things go extinct: animal and plant species, languages, cultures and customs. There are a number of things I personally think the world is a lesser place without – dinosaurs, Vikings, political moderates.

Rudimentary, simple-yet-tasty culinary stalwarts.

Case in point: For the past couple of months, I have had weekly physical therapy appointments as I try to get a bad case of bursitis in my elbow under control. My PT is a delightfully charming young woman named Ellen, and while I am being put through my paces with various exercises and routines, we chat about…stuff. As I am there late in the day, after school, I am one of the only patients and the staff is winding down the day. Usually the other five or six PT’s join in the conversation as they are putting their things away for the night. All are women, none of them are yet thirty, most of them are single or newly married, a couple of them have very young children.

A couple of Tuesdays ago was one such afternoon; me, Ellen, a PT in training, six other staff PTs and a sixty-something gentleman having a knee worked on at the station next to mine. We were discussing sports, and eating stadium and arena food. I remarked what I have been told by stadium workers: never buy a hot dog before the fourth inning of a baseball game or halftime of a football game because the dogs will taste better – that’s when all the oils and seasonings in the hot dogs get simmered into real tastiness. I added, “It’s the same basic idea behind making wiener water soup.”

wienerwatersoup1“Wiener water soup?”

A chorus of shaking heads and a puzzled “What’s that?” from Ellen was all I got in response. But they were looking at me with curiosity.
This poor-college-student-on-a-budget-not-even-worthy-of-the-title-‘budget’ staple was a foreign concept to all of the young women present. They stopped what they were doing. Blank stares and confused looks all around.

“Really? You guys have never heard of wiener water soup?”

Shoulders shrugged, heads shook.

“You know when you cook hot dogs in pot of water? After you eat the hot dogs, you save water to make soup. A little pepper and basil, and presto! A cheap, tasty broth.”

“You’re kidding, right?” asked Ellen skeptically.

“It’s a classic recipe.” More blank stares. “None of you have ever tried it?”

“You’re putting us on.” Said one, more curious than accusatory.

“Nope. Only piece of G-rated advice my brother gave me when I moved away from home; ‘Don’t forget the recipe to wienerwatersoup3the wiener water soup!’ It’s right up there with ramen noodles for cheap, single guy eats.”

“I. Have. Never. Heard. Of . That.” Said one PT in amazement as Ellen switched repetitive motion contraptions on my arm.

“Yep. Its right up there with going to a restaurant and ordering a cup of hot water so you can pour ketchup in it to make tomato soup…”

“Now I know people in college who did THAT!” chirped another PT, prompting a few ‘ewwws’ and one mumbled ‘disgusting’ mixed in with a fair amount of chuckling and head shaking as they continued their clean up. I turned to Ellen.”You should try it sometime. Might like it.”

“Yeahhhhhh. I don’t think so.”

“That’s all it is? Water with some salt and pepper?” asked one of the married-with-young-kids PT. I could tell she was seeing the potential.

“Hey” I replied “If you use all beef hot dogs, it’s essentially beef bouillon.”

“FATTY beef bouillon!” interjected one PT to laughs from the others.

“I don’t think so, Mr. Mark” said Ellen, shaking her head, amused.

“I’m telling you…a little pepper, a pinch of basil…”

“Hey, its sounds like gore-may eating to me!” The older guy getting his knee
worked on had remained silent to this point. “Yes it does!” He added cheerfully.

The staff looked at him, and at me. Shaking their heads and laughing.

“Hey” the old guy said “I’ll give it a try. Why not?!”wienerwatersoup4

“You let me know how that goes next time you’re in” responded his PT as she massaged his knee. The rest of the afternoon continued without incident, everyone going their merry ways. We all had a good laugh out of the exchange, but I got to thinking about that roomful of young women, none of whom knew of this culinary basic. Of course, the old guy with the bum knee didn’t either.

Sad, really.

It was just a day later that I heard the report on NPR noted above. The story referred to “the Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program, a program that tries to counter further erosion of Chickasaw by offering language immersion programs for both kids and adults including an iPhone app and a stream of videos, make the language accessible to anyone on the face of the planet…”

The Internet is a wonderful tool for such cultural reclamation projects. Sure enough, many of the top food and recipe sites on the web (seriouseats.com, cooks.com and familycookbookproject.com) all had variations on the venerable wiener water soup – though some take it a bit over-the-top with their more  ‘modern’ variations. (Sun dried tomatoes? Really?)

It’s comforting to know that in today’s fast-paced, modern world that there is still a place for good old-fashioned, time-honored American home cooking. Think back to the days of your youth and young adulthood. What did you do to get by? What simple things got you through those meager paycheck-to-meager paycheck days?

What sage wisdom could you pass along to the microwave-it-in-its-cup generation? (Sage, by the way, also accents wiener water soup quite nicely.) Think about these things. Write them down. Preserve the ways of the past.

Don’t let cultural touchstones just fade away.

Stray scraps of brain paper

January 19, 2014

scratchndentstoresignforpostHalf way through January, and my list of resolutions looks like a bargain appliance picked up at a scratch-and-dent clearance sale.

And you?

Most of the vehement independents I know (the one-man-for-himself, I-got-this, don’t need you for anything types) bring their rugged Individualist pseudo-swagger with little credibility to back it up.

suburbssuburbsBecause they live in the suburbs.

You know, those places with the cookie-cutter houses and ‘homeowners associations’ that dictate all those key things like flagpole height and how early in the evening you can/can’t put out your garbage cans for the next day pick up. Most of the go-it-alone tough guys I know prove they have starbukcspucthe moxie to be ‘their own man’ when they take the house blend at Starbucks because their chai tea hasn’t finished brewing.

If you live on a street with the name ending in ‘Court’ ‘Circle’ or ‘Place’ you don’t get to talk to me about your autonomous approach to life. But please, do continue to tell me with great excitement about the shades of beige you are considering for the new siding on your townhome.

Next!

darthJEJ!I love those Sprint Commercial with Malcolm McDowell and James Earl Jones, but once…just ONCE, I want to hear Darth Vader thunder “Totes McGotes!”

As I visualize him swinging his lightsabre and decapitating someone I…

Never mind.

Hasn’t the whole being part of a ‘nation’ thing passed? It was cute when ‘Red Sox Nation’ cropped up as a nice moniker for their all-of-New England fan base years ago when they made the World Series, but now it’s gotten out of hand. Every sports fan (pro and college) now thinks they are part of some sort of ‘nation’ because of their allegiance to a team or stray group.

TwinsTerritoryA few years back, my hometown Minnesota Twins began an ad campaign designating their expansive upper Midwest (Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa) fan base as ‘Twins Territory’ which I found a much more applicable moniker, and very much in keeping with a more middle-American sensibility.

Personally, I am much more comfortable roaming free and still being a part of someone’s ‘territory’ than part of some zealots’ nation.  (Less saluting.)

But the ‘nation’ thing has gotten way out of hand. I have, in recent weeks, stumbled across ‘Handmade Nation’ (a group of crafters) ‘Pie Nation’ (a group of Internet pie lovers) and others. Just the other day I saw a woman wearing a sweatshirt proclaiming her membership in ‘Poodle Nation.’

Yikes.

Unknown if there are any territorial/border disputes between French Poodle Nation and Standard Poodle Nation. If Penguinnationthere are, maybe Peekapoo Nation can mediate or send in peace keepers. I think most of the folks who proclaim themselves part of some sort of sports or celebrity ‘nation’ can’t even conjure a quorum in most other aspects of life.

And no, I will not be partaking in any events of ‘Blogger Nation.’ Unless they seriously consider my application for ‘Emperor.’

I’m sure they’ll be wanting references.

chiashirt774Stray, melancholy note of personal trivia: I’ve been on this planet for fifty-four Christmases and not once have I received a Chia Pet as a gift.

Just sayin.

Which reminds me, I have a milestone birthday coming up – my speed limit birthday: 55. That’s half-way between fifty and sixty, or 55% of my long-stated minimum age goal of 100. I’m no math whiz, but it seems that I’m like, ten-percent of my way through middle age, which seems incongruous. of 55signcourse, considering advances in medical science, bumping my target minimum age goal up to 110 doesn’t seem unreasonable, and I can remain solidly, legitimately in ‘middle age’ for another year without repercussions.

Maybe I should just skip the whole ‘speed limit’ angle to this birthday. There are far better flagpersonsignroad signage/birthday analogies I can think of for middle-age guys such as I, like the multi-dimensional ‘Yield.’ On a physical level, you have ‘Low Shoulder,’ ‘Bump,’ ‘Dip,’ ‘Rest Area’ and ‘Slow Down When Workers Are Present’ all come to mind. To represent relationships, there are ‘Do Not Enter,’ ‘Detour,’ ‘Road Narrows’ and of course the ever popular ‘Merge With Caution.’

malcolmMaybe that last one should also be on the physical list.

Of course I can still hope to occasionally get to use that old standby from my younger, single days, when a pretty girl would ask “What’s your sign?”and I could always reply, “Slippery when wet.”

A guy can hope, can’t he?

F.Y.I. – Chia Pets are usually discounted steeply after Christmas. Totes McGotes.

Like I said, just sayin.

Kids these days

January 13, 2014

You just never know how my students are going to react.

The new semester began this past week, and I have two completely new sets of senior English students to deal with and hybrid speech class of holdovers and newcomers. I like the freshness of two new classes – especially since this is the final semester for my seniors. It should be interesting.

Sure is starting out that way.

Two week one incidents at relatively opposite ends of the spectrum stand out to me in large part because I believe they both stem (at least in part) from a picture of my grandson.

Lucker_Opening_Day_Pp SLIDE 1On the first day of any new class I show a PowerPoint presentation that outlines my classroom policies and procedures; it also has some personal info about me, contact information and a few stray tidbits of stray oddities or bits of humor, just to keep my students attention.

This year’s version features a couple of pictures of my grandson Felix, who turned two in November. The first shot is on the first slide: a close up of Felix waving WITH HIS LEFT HAND and the title WELCOME TO MR.LUCKER’S CLASS!

Felix makes it all seem quite inviting.

There are a couple of other Felix shots scattered through the twenty-one slide blockbuster, including a simply gratuitous slide labeled ‘OOOH – ANOTHER PICTURE OF MY GRANDSON!’ Not that I am showing any grandfatherly overkill here, but I also used the ‘welcoming wave’ shot as the desktop wallpaper on my laptop; OOH ANOTHER PICTUREwhenever I am hooked up to my Promethean board (all the time during the school day) and I have nothing else feeding, there is Felix waving at everyone.

The reaction to the PowerPoint was predictable: ‘awws’ and ‘ohhhh, what a cute baby’ predominate, along with the also predictable, “Mr. Lucker, that your baby?” Which then prompts the brief, personal background segment of our introduction, teacher-to-new class.

One young woman was not so charitably inclined toward my little presentation.

Upon running through my list of family notables, I simply note that I have three kids, “ages twenty-nine, eighteen and almost fifteen” which prompted a rather forceful “Why there so much time between them?” from the girl. A bit taken aback, I replied that my daughter is from my first marriage, the boy from my second.

“You should have stopped.” Her tone showed annoyance.

“Ummm…”

“You shouldn’t have done that. You should have stopped after the first one.”

“Okay…” Even some of the other kids were looking at her in bewilderment. I had obviously struck some visceral chord in the young woman, but I just kept on with the presentation, answering the mostly innocuous questions the kids had about me, asking some of my own about them.

The girl remained silent the rest of the class.

As for the other females, a number of them were quite animated upon leaving at the end of the period; two informed me point-blank (and with some pride) that they had babies, another mentioned her baby sister, a couple of more added random comments about liking babies, and wanting one of their own…someday.

That was all on Monday.

On hall duty outside of my classroom on Thursday, one of my new students approached me, smiled and directly but politely asked, “Mr. Lucker, do you have one of those little refrigerators, like a dorm-room size one?”

“No I’m sorry, I don’t.”Some more things about me

“Oh. Do you know of any teachers up here on this floor that do?”

“I’m not sure, but I’ll ask around. You need it to keep your breast milk in?” (I knew she had been using restroom breaks to pump.)

“Yeah, it only keeps for an hour or so at room temperature, so I am looking for a place to keep it til I go home.”

“Let me ask around a bit. I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Thanks, Mr. Lucker.”

We put this one directly into the ever-bulging ‘conversations-I-never-dreamed-I’d-have-until-I-have-them’ file.

DesktopwithFelixpicShe has refrigerator options in another building across our rather expansive campus, but we are working on getting something squared away in our building to save some time and minimize being out of class. She is genial and greets me warmly every day, a do a number of the other young women in the class. The other group of seniors I have is pretty much the same, though without the extremes in reaction – though one young woman in that class told me she had a baby, and another has mentioned her baby in conversation about other, un-child related topics.

I attribute my new semester’s surprisingly open and free-flowing dialogue with my female students to those pictures of Felix, and I figure I have maybe another year or two of classroom mileage out of his cherubic countenance and bonding with my teen moms and assorted others.

A picture is worth a thousand words – or, sometimes, just a few well placed, well-chosen ones.

Signs of…

January 6, 2014

We spent our two weeks of Christmas break on the road, traveling from New Orleans to visit family in Minnesota. A wonderful time was had, but we put in 3,004 miles of windshield time; that leaves ample opportunity for “Umm….?” moments.

This first one actually resulted in my coining a new phrase.

Driving through northern Missouri, I saw a billboard for a real estate guy; (First name changed ) Bob ‘Hoodie’ Hood. asterisk1I teach in an urban high school, I know nicknames and monikers. I know American culture. I see a guy who calls himself ‘Hoodie’ I’m thinking someone who is hip.

Happening, with it. Yo.

Pretty much anything other than a middle-aged, white bread, white guy. And there he was, smiling (sort of), in his sport coat and open neck shirt on a big ol’ highway billboard; Bob ‘Hoodie’ Hood.

He is what I call a ‘badassterisk’ – someone who thinks they are a badass*

*…but they really aren’t.

Feel free to use the phrase, badassterisk*. I think it has a fair number of applications. If someone is trying to look or act tougher than they could ever hope to be, or just posturing in a ridiculous way for whatever reason, simply comment, “Oh yeah, that guy is a real badassterisk*.”

Trust me. You’ll be using that one.

Photo2392Another double-take-inducer was this sticker I noticed in the drive-through window at a Minneapolis area Arbys.

Black Friday hours? Seriously? Black Friday is now an official enough holiday to warrant its own fast food drive through hours? As a promotion or public service?

Really? Breakfast for Black Friday?

“Emperor Nero, please phone your office.”

But the true pièce de résistance comes this gem from Memphis, Tennessee. We stopped at a really small gas MemphisPosterstation/convenience store to get gas and use the restroom. While waiting in line for the restroom key, I noticed this poster on the wall. Next to the beer cooler, I might add.

The poster’s wording itself was jarring enough: ‘Give Responsibly. Lottery Tickets Aren’t Child’s Play’ was one thing; the visual of the gift boxes (which I took to represent Toys for Tots or some other such donation setting) really pushed this one into a whole new realm.

Then I really started to think about it.

Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall of the meeting where this whole concept came to fruition? “Okay guys…we have a major issue here with kids being given lottery tickets for Christmas gifts. People are even putting them in donation boxes for toy drives. I think we need an ad campaign to tell people ‘this is really not okay.’ We’ll hang ‘em up everyplace we sell lottery tickets. Preferably by the beer coolers.”

What I wonder is, what prompted the revelation that this was a problem? Oliver1Dickensian waifs showing up to claim their winnings? Family shout-outs on Facebook? (“Happy ninth birthday, Johnny! So glad you enjoyed the scratch-offs! Hope you win big!”)  Maybe it was kids themselves, Instagraming themselves holding wads of scratch-offs.  “Guys, we have a problem here…”

Yeah, that particular lottery meeting and subsequent creative session would have been something to behold.

Bet the guy who pitched this ad campaign is a real badassterisk.*

HiDef

January 3, 2014

A new year tends to bring life into sharper focus.

Failures and regrets of the year passed, feigned anticipatory enthusiasm for what lies ahead; milestones of various dressingroommirrorilk, things left undone. Reflections in mirrors that are sometimes more fun house than Broadway dressing room predominate, preoccupy, border on and at times become, blind obsession. Metaphors predominate in private thought, public proclamation: blank canvases, clean slates, an empty room.

Then the ball drops at midnight.

Looking ahead to the future with or without a crystal ball or tea leaves is tricky business, as unbridled optimism bests pessimistic reflection in emotional and intellectual new year sumo matches – especially if you like what you crystalballseersee in your self-prognostications. Much lies ahead, and it is all anxiously anticipated with glee, the past notwithstanding, reality an inconvenient, ignored nuisance. You have filed away the flotsam of the year-that-was like an old tax return. Been there, done that; someday distant, you’ll simply throw it away, stuffed in with some other no-longer-needed documentation.

Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.

Out with the old, in with the new…lives, relationships, homes will all to be repaired and refurbished. At least, that’s the plan. Personal improvements need to be made, changes that will be to your betterment – that much is certain. You know what needs to be accomplished and so you lay the groundwork, anticipate and minimize potential setbacks, confident in your ability to ‘carry on.’ Loses and gains are planned with haphazard meticulousness. Nice, neat, clean. Hey, you got this.

The best laid plans…

eyechartHindsight is 20/20, presumptive foresight is generally myopic. Honest insight is going through the eye chart methodically, working through and around the cataracts of self-doubt and lack of self-confidence – seeing clearly the differences between the F’s and the P’s.

Its o.k. if you need to stop and focus on the chart, but don’t blindly guess.

Hang all the inspirational posters around you that you want, but know that pictures of cats or long-distance runners grimacing while holding a death-grip on a symbolic baton (what is being passed to whom?) – regardless of the simple, pseudo-inspiring verbiage or font – produces only income for the publisher, not real motivation or revelation for you. You need to change, want to change; always know that you can change. But a list of declarations, pledges and promises tacked to your refrigerator with a magnet are no better than the realistic aspects of what you are trying to accomplish, and a well thought out plan for accomplishing them.

And always have a plan ‘B.’ Just in case.

Set realistic goals and be conspicuous and vocal with your plans to achieve them. Get encouragement when you can, Whackamole2from whoever you can. Don’t succumb to doubt or capitulate to momentary setbacks. They will each rear their ugly heads – play Whack-a-Mole on them with reckless impunity.

New year advice is plentiful; Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, doctor’s office brochures. Fortune cookies, Facebook memes, well-meaning friends. They all have their places, simply as reminders that change is needed, that now is as good a time (but not the only time) as any. They are nothing more than reminders.

But you already knew that.hidefgraphic

‘Practice makes perfect’ has an abysmal success rate as a philosophy, but has found its niche as a notorious catch phrase. Practice perfection? You have to first learn a skill before you can practice it to any degree of success. You can’t rehearse to be flawless, but you can refine your flaws into more typical qualities. Change negatives into positives, know your limitations and don’t obsess perfection.

Ideas and ideals get lost quickly in the shuffle of the ides of any make-myself-better-January.

Use both successes and failures as benchmarks. Become acquainted with both, treat each with healthy respect and ample does of humor. Neither should be taken too seriously or passed off lightly. Contrary to what contemporary society may tell you, every accomplishment is not cause for celebration, every stumble is not a call to go back and start over.

All things in moderation.

Your new year’s resolution needs to be in as many pixels as you can muster, live and in brilliant color. The best a crystal ball can give you is this for your 2014: February will follow January, March will come next…it culminates in December. What you see is what you get.

etchasketchLife is an Etch A Sketch. Don’t like what you’ve drawn? Shake it up, erase the picture, draw it again.

Carpe diem; today is simply tomorrow’s yesterday.

I teach English in an urban high school. A poster with the proverb below hangs in my classroom. I have used it in various forms to prompt reflection for writing, and as a counterpoint to various attitudes in both what we read and what we experience in real life. It is great perspective for a new year.

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a debate that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle between two wolves is inside us all. One wolf is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other wolf is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”


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