Dr. Paul Ton, my high school history teacher, and one of my all-time favorite teachers, had a highly effective, piercing stare, and when a class was disrupted by something going on in the hallway he could really crank it up, and add a verbal whammy: at said upheaval, he would slowly turn his icy glare towards the door and intone, simply, “Burn, baby, burn…”
I don’t think he was on a health kick, nor was he a disco fanatic – even though it was the 70’s
“Burn, baby, burn…” had the intended effect when used by Dr. Ton back in the day, but it is also a useful mantra if you’re trying to drop a few pounds like me.
Perusing health and wellness sites on the Internet looking at various calorie and exercise tracking ideas, I found a wide array of tools and approaches to using them. I stick to well-known, reputable sites; major universities, known health care systems, major insurance companies. Most of these sites that have interactive, on-line charts as opposed to downloadable forms, especially since I’m really into this whole 21st-century-technology, battling calories thing.
“Burn, baby, burn…”
I love the places where you can plug-in key demographic figures like height and weight, and the site will promptly generate a list of how approximately how many calories you’ll burn doing whatever the activity is, for the given time frame; a nifty setup. I usually chose 10 minutes as a base increment for most any activity, as it’s easy to multiply.
What I find interesting is not so much the methodology, as most of the results I have received vary only slightly, which leads me to believe that they are all using the same basic algorithms and such, but each site has its own, unique spin on how various activities are categorized and labeled.
While most everyone agrees on the basic exercise like aerobics, jogging, and bike riding, for example, the sites break other things down so much differently, and go off in wildly different directions. For example, ‘dancing’ appears on most sites, and some even break it down into modern or traditional. That seems reasonable, though one site goes even further:
Come on. Will I really burn 50% more calories disco dancing than tangoing? I may have to verify that firsthand with my wife. Where is my old boombox…and a rose to clench in my teeth?
There is also this ‘everyday’ entry:
The differences between ‘ultimate’ and ‘general’ Frisbee I’ll buy, but they left off the third, most obvious option: playing Frisbee with your dog. A bonus, with 2-for-1 fitness!
One of the great features about sites like this is the compare-and-contrast options; if you are looking for an entirely new exercise regimen, or to simply incorporate something new to keep you motivated, these sites are great. For example, at a glance I know that I can burn twice as many calories snowshoeing as I can snorkeling (Seems reasonable – though wetter snow would seem to be a crucial factor) I also learned that synchronized swimming burns 33% more calories than swimming in a lake, river or ocean (I’m skeptical, given currents, riptides, etc. in actual bodies of water versus synchronized bodies in calm, swimming pool water. But, okay.)
“Burn, baby, burn…”
It’s the daily household activities section of these sites that I enjoy most.
Childcare and house cleaning are dead even, burn wise, according to the fine folks at one health insurance company site, at 39.7 calories burned in ten minutes (.7 calories?) Making your bed is fairly light on the burn scale, though you’ll knock off the cals twice as fast doing hospital corners as you would as a couch potato watching General Hospital, no surprise there. For the household-activities record, ironing trumps them both, plus you’ll feel that great bicep-burn…if you forget to remove your shirt before you iron it.
But my favorite how-many-calories-you’ll-burn segment of these sites is always the romance and sex department.
“Burn, baby, burn…”
First off, most sites agree that you burn roughly seven calories for every minute of kissing; no allowances could I find on any site for intensity or form of said kissing, so we’ll stick with the fairly pedestrian seven cals, or approximately seventy calories for my little, math-friendly, ten-minute time chunk. Not bad, but I can probably do better. (The exception on this one was About.com, who put the 10-minute kissing burn at only 14.3 calories total. Who-or-what were they kissing for ten minutes?)
One major east-coast hospital website breaks the intimacy down as follows: ‘Sex – foreplay’ and ‘Sex – Intercourse.’ (Please pardon the graphic language). Using my ten-minute mantra, this particular site breaks it down to only 19 calories burned on the foreplay (again, they aint doin’ it properly) but 56 for the actual getting-to-it. Seems reasonable, and follows most of the directives I’ve seen on building up steam (graded exercise theory, or GET) toward optimal workout efficiency at shedding calories.
“Burn, baby, burn…”
For the record, I generally stay away from websites with kitschy names like caloriesperhour.com, but do enjoy WebMD.com’s Fit-o-Meter. Befitting their exalted and mainstream place in cyberspace, they have a whole section devoted to the more genteel ‘Getting Romantic’ with three sub categories:
‘general, moderate’ and
‘passive, light, kissing, hugging’
Now – who doesn’t like a little ‘passive romance’ from time to time? Yeah, I don’t know what that means either.
“Burn, baby, burn…”
Finally, there was this particular health and wellness site listing – a bit of a head-scratcher for me:The fact that all of these things are listed under the heading ‘Daily Life Activities’ is interesting, but to tell me that a ten-minute game of four-square is going to burn three times the calories as ten-minutes of ‘moderate effort’ sex? (And they don’t even include the far-sexier, uses-a-pole, tether-ball alternative. Go figure.) I know what I’m proposing next ‘date night’: “C’mon, baby! We’re going to the playground! Forget soap-on-a-rope, we’re doing ball-on-a-rope!”
Funny thing about this whole calorie burning business; not one site I have seen has yet proffered a calorie-burn listing for ‘blog writing’. Or, for that matter, blog research.
I stayed late at school today, and had a chance for a little fun, on the eve of our school’s first football game of the year, tomorrow night.
I had dropped something off in the office, and was walking down a nearly deserted hallway – maybe seven, eight, kids milling around, here and there – a few football players, a cheerleader, others that I did not recognize. As I approached, a kid I do not know as a student, but just from being around, walks to the middle of the hallway, facing me, and gets into a defensive-back stance: hunched over, hands out, flexing, as if to ‘chuck’ a receiver coming off the line. “Come on, Mr. Lucker. Show me.”
I reciprocate, mirroring the kid’s pose – except I have my clipboard in my left hand.
“No, Mr. Lucker! I’M the defensive back, YOU are the receiver – you got to line-up like a receiver. See? Offset from me, like this.” The kid shifts his feet and body to his right, gestures with his left hand. “See? Now my outside shoulder is lined up with your inside shoulder!”
I drop into my best Randy Moss impression; leaning slightly forward at the waist, up on the ball of my right foot which is pushed back a bit, left foot ready to push off. I am glancing slightly to the left, making eye-contact with my imaginary quarterback. My arms dangle at my sides, my fingers are twitching waiting for the make-believe snap of the ball.
“Ohhh” I say, casually, “you mean like this.”
“That’s it, Mr. Lucker! You know how it is! You done this before! Now — ”
He never finishes.
I bolt down the hallway: my arms pumping, my feet flying; I am yelling. “I beat him off the ball! I beat him off the ball!” Fifty, sixty, feet down the hall, I stop and look over my shoulder. The kid is still mostly hunched over at the waist, looking back over his shoulder at me, incredulous.
“Man, Mr. Lucker…!”
His voice trails off, he is smiling, shaking his head. The other kids are laughing, as I thrust both arms skyward, still holding my clipboard. “I beat him off the ball! I beat him off the ball!” Arms still raised in triumph, I turn the corner to head down the next hallway, the kids behind me all still laughing.
A little bit of guile, I can always make ‘em smile.
With hurricane Harvey now hitting Texas, those of us in New Orleans have wary eyes pointed westward – and still, we keep on truckin’. It’s what we have to do, in the classroom and out of it. Looking back at this piece, all the apprehension of watching Isaac had to have an impact on our classroom chaos – though it didn’t abate much even after our return.
Keeping those in the Texas storm path in our thoughts and prayers while we watch for updates, and think about what could come our way – no matter how minimized or unlikely – is still an uneasy balance of living, wondering, and hoping. But it is part of life here on the Gulf of Mexico. It is all about perspective.
From August 25, 2012
So as we warily watch the path of tropical storm Isaac as it sneaks into the Gulf of Mexico with a chance of veering toward New Orleans, let us take some time now to reflect on the classroom week that was in Mr. Lucker’s English class. Read this and you’ll see why it’s hard for me to get too worked-up about the possibility of the potential chaos of a possible evacuation.
We got this.
We finally got all of our computer snafus ironed out and student class schedules completed on Wednesday, leaving me and my co-teacher Ms. A with (as of Friday’s count) 97 students. This includes two sophomore English II classes and our end-of-the-day (eh!) Intermediate Composition class featuring deeeeeelightful-but-feral-freshman. The first two days with just them (see my previous post, ‘Annnnnnnd We’re Of’ https://poetluckerate.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/annnnnnnd-were-off-2012-13-edition/) were interesting. Not productive from a lesson standpoint, but interesting.
First, we need to teach these freshmen ‘high school’ before we can even get to the ‘composition’ aspect. (Sidebar to school administrators everywhere: don’t ever…EVER schedule a freshman comp class the last period of the day. High school freshmen are not nocturnal and classroom distribution of No-Doz is no-go, no-no.)
Now, let’s go right to the ol’ End of Week Three (EOW3) scorecard for Mr. Lucker’s classes, shall we?
Our number of confirmed cases of kids with probation officers now stands at five, though we suspect at least two others of having their own ‘behavior buddies’. (I have noticed, oddly, that P.O’s don’t show up on any teacher’s syllabus supply list. Huh. Go figure.) On the plus side, I did not have to sign any court excuses this week, though I did have four students return from I.S.S. (In School Suspension) in various stages of grumpiness but without recidivist incident.
One of our freshman comp students, Mr. Potty Mouth (MPM) from my previous post in this spot, has anger management (among other) issues. During a phone conversation with his counselor (not school counselor, but a therapist working with the family) the kid’s mom, who had apparently been listening to the conversation, began profanely yelling at her son as I was giving the counselor the details on his classroom misadventures.
That escapade was proof that, as the educational pros always tell us, ‘every child can learn’.
Also on the classroom management/student behavior front, one mother I spoke with understood her son’s non-compliance issues, and spent ten minutes tearfully explaining to me that it was ‘all her fault’ for the way she handled her divorce from the kid’s father. Seems her son had come home the other day angry that an in-class writing assignment focused on telling about himself, and he abhors talking about his past, which triggered his classroom defiance. Her story/excuse for him, anyway.
Aside from the fact that mom went into TMI-mode about a minute into the conversation, I appreciated the insight, but this could be a long semester for the kid, as the tenth-grade writing curriculum is heavily weighted toward self-discovery and making a personal connection with the texts.
Writing-as-therapy: worked for a teen-mom I had last year. This guy? We’ll see.
On the plus side, we ended the week on a high-note, parent wise: I finally touched base with a dad that I had been playing phone-tag with for three days. Turns out he is a police officer, and in his words: “Mr. Lucker, I. Don’t. Play.”
I believe that, based on the change in the kids behavior just from him knowing I had left his dad a voice mail. The dad’s parting, made-my-Friday words? “Mr. Lucker, if he even looks at you funny…you call me right away.”
We got this.
On the health front, our number of teen parents remains equally balanced at one sixteen-year-old dad and one sixteen-year-old mom, though Ms. A had to escort one of our English II students to the health center for a pregnancy test to basically confirm the results of the DIY version – and one of my homeroom juniors learned this week that he is going to be the father…of twins. The numbers quoted above may change.
No, we will not be distributing bubble gum cigars at any time.
Ms. A and I actually got some bonafide teaching in this week – I think some of it may have even been effective. Knowledge retained to be applied? We’ll find out this coming week. We have developed a bit of a rhythm and work well together, so I hope we are able to stay partnered, though as an inclusion teacher, she may be moved to a class with a higher percentage of students needing accommodations.
Ours may not have the official labels, but there are a sizable number of them we are sure that qualify.
We leave you with this rather curious exchange from one of our lighter morning moments with our sophomores. While preparing to leave, some students were asking if they could approach a certain issue from a bit different perspective than what we had discussed in class. Impressed with their creative thinking and trying to be affirming, I responded, “That sounds great. I’m jiggy with it.”
This was greeted with four blank stares, as a kid at neighboring table pseudo-whispered to his table, “Mr. Lucker said ‘he’s jggy with it’…what’s that mean?!”
The other kids at his table shrug and shake their heads as the bell rings. I left it at that.
As an only child, when I was sick or we were on a trip, my family always loaded me up with the latest and greatest in interactive toys of the time: puzzle books.
Yeah, that was my time – 1960’s, B.T. (Before technology.)
The books I favored the most featured a lot of word searches and brain teasers and word puzzles usually a couple of grade-levels above my chronology. I enjoyed them all, but even though they were the easiest pages in the book, I always had a thing for connect-the-dot pictures. Most of the time you could figure out what the picture was before you placed pencil-on-paper going from black-spot to black-spot to black-spot on easily torn newsprint, but oftentimes I was surprised at what the resulting picture really turned out to be, in detail. Especially while cruising some highway in the backseat of my parent’s Oldsmobile station wagon with my grandpa sitting next to me, this was not always the cut-and-dried, simple activity it may have appeared on the gas station magazine rack.
A new school year is beginning, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about connecting the dots of my life; how I ended up an English teacher in an inner-city, high school classroom. It is not a linear, algebraic equation.
I am a teacher in what has been, historically, one of the poorest performing cities (new Orleans) in one of the lowest-performing states (by most educational measures) in the country, Louisiana. My wife and I came here nine years ago as part of an influx of educational reform and general societal and infrastructure rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the area – though the problems in education here predated the storm by decades. I have seen some notable improvements in our years here; I have also encountered a huge number of folks who came here for many of the same reasons.
Though to date, I am the only classroom teacher who began their professional life as a radio announcer.
Start with that dot.
I joined a one-year program at Brown Institute of Broadcasting in Minneapolis, immediately following my high school graduation from Denver (Colorado) South High School. There are lots of dots I can connect leading to the front of a New Orleans classroom. To be sure, the picture turns out more Salvador Dali than Norman Rockwell – to the naked eye, sans connecting lines, the picture dots would not come into focus at all.
I may need to sharpen an extra pencil.
I am about to begin my tenth year as a teacher- time to take stock. Also, with one son having finished his senior year of high school, and my elder son entering his senior year of college, getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and beyond has become a conversational focal point around here; it has also sparked some discussion as to how we even got to this stage in life as a family.
Eyebrows frequently become cocked and locked.
Objectively, I get that. Analytically, maybe I can provide some inspiration to others also choosing a less-than-traditional path. In my days as an employment counselor, I was adept at helping people identify their ‘transferable skills’ – things they knew how to do, and could perform in other environments,
This a Readers Digest shot, working backward from now to then. Starting at the end was much the same approach I used so many years ago with those puzzle books in the backseat of the family Oldsmobile, so why not?
I first came to Louisiana in 2006 as a corporate trainer, helping the company I worked for in Minnesota get their Louisiana operations back on track following Katrina’s onslaught in August of 2005. I enjoyed training folks and helping them succeed, traveling all over the state – a unique experience. My wife and I had long discussed getting out of the corporate rat race and doing something more meaningful with our lives, so when sitting in an IHOP Restaurant in Alexandria, Louisiana one night, reading a newspaper article about the TeachNOLA program recruiting folks to come to New Orleans to help rebuild the city’s long-distressed school system, it was a sign that my wife and I both took seriously.
We both applied, and were accepted for the 2008 TeachNOLA cohort.
I was dramatically changing everything: locales, to be sure, and going from training adults to teaching inner-city teenagers. Logical, to a point, but I had become a corporate trainer only after I was laid off from my position as a job search trainer and employment counselor for the state of Minnesota – who had hired me away from my position as a county financial-aid (AFDC, food stamps, medical assistance) case worker and job coach in Minneapolis – all of which gave me great insight in dealing with my new students and, just as importantly, their parents. (Dot, dot, dot.)
I had come to the county job after having spent a very rewarding year working for a millionaire philanthropist/newspaper columnist named Percy Ross – who gave away money to folks in need via the column. A logical stretch from that job to case management, when you think about it: I was still helping people in need. (More dots linked.)
Mr. Ross had hired me after the children’s radio network I had been working for as an assistant business manager went out of business. That had come at the end of a ten-year run in the hotel business, which I had grown weary of only due to the twenty-four/seven nature of the beast…which was why I had originally phased out of the radio biz. But that’s another story.
My last hotel gig was at a four-star hotel in St. Paul where I assisted the night manager. One night, a situation required me to remove an intoxicated gentleman from our crowded lobby. As a rather exclusive property, our management wanted such things handled unobtrusively. Jeff, our restaurant manager, was so impressed with my subtlety and tact in getting the drunk guy out without notice, he wrote it in his nightly report. That prompted the hotel general manager to instruct my boss the night manager to have me train new security personnel in how to handle delicate situations without confrontation. (Direct-line-dot-dot-dot to the corporate trainer gig.)
My skills at low-key, tactful, drunk-removal-with-dignity, I had picked up from Dennis, our night manager at a Holiday Inn I worked at previously. Dennis liked the way I handled people, and had also witnessed me training newcomers to the hotel. I remain grateful for his tutelage.
These big dots are directly connected to eventually training new security folks in St. Paul, but what I learned from Dennis also helped me greatly in working with the county and then the state.
I had begun my hotel career after ending (so I thought) my professional radio work, moving back to Minneapolis and deciding to go to college for the first time at the age of thirty. Three years at the University of Minnesota didn’t result in a degree, but by the end of my freshman year, I had been hired as a teaching assistant, thanks to one of my professors, Dr. Yahnke. Via that gig, I also did some work as a tutor in the computer lab of the U of M’s General College. You can draw a direct line (with heavy lead) from those dots directly to today. Bob deserves as much credit for where I am as Dennis.
My first stint as a college student came on the heels of a dozen years of bouncing around small-market radio – not often a financially lucrative endeavor. That was why I became quite adept at supplementing my income with side jobs. Through the years, I moved pianos, and did construction. I had stints as a convenience store clerk, racetrack security guard, and census taker, to name a few.
Before getting into the hotel biz, I was a data courier – daily picking up and dropping off huge reels of computer tape for transcription and storage – for a company that, when I applied, asked if I had ever had a security clearance. As I had been working in radio in Iowa during the presidential primary season of 1980, I had gotten Secret Service clearance, which turned out to be an important dot to the data folks, as they had contracts with big name defense contractors and other security-minded firms. I not only got the
I not only got the job, but the higher paying, preferred, high-security routes. Dot, dot, dot…
This came in handy during my hotel days in St. Paul, where we hosted a number of V.I.Ps – which sometimes required staff to get security clearance. Mine aways came through first, as I was already on file, which again got me preferred shifts and duty assignments at the hotel.
Again, not a linear progression, but a solid gathering of a wide range of transferrable skills, all leading me here.
Each of those dots that I have touched on represent a number of different things; professional and personal experience, new skills, different perspectives, increased understanding of and empathy with folks covering a wide spectrum of socioeconomic America.
Experiences that continue to serve me well.
Which is why I feel pretty comfortable and confident in standing in front of a high school classroom of inner city New Orleans kids as their English teacher, trying to get them prepared on some level to take on the world, trying to relate to them all how what you do today has an impact on everything you do tomorrow in some way. In so many ways that are hard to convey, I tend to ‘get’ them (and their families and various situations) on levels that others may not.
Time to crank things up for one more year in the classroom.
My wife, two sons, and I are headed to a couple of days at the beach, on the beautiful Gulf coast of Mississippi. Bay St. Louis is a quaint little town with neat shops and cafes and soft, fine beach sand.
Some well-earned R-and-R in the midst of a hectic summer.
While we will be spending some quality family time, my wife and I plan on a little ‘us’ time – one of our two-nights there will be a date night, just the two of us; a kickoff to the celebration of our twenty-fifth anniversary in a few weeks.
We may have to reconcile some plans and expectations of our evening for two. The dinner part should be easy, but after that..?
I am pushing for a Burt Lancaster/Deborah Kerr, ‘From Here to Eternity’ finale to the evening, but my wife is dubious. I have broached this idea on previous beach trips, but those were day-excursions, not overnight, and there were always others around. But this time, things are different. It still might be a bit of a hard sell.
My wife can be adventuresome at times, but for this, she is thinking more along the lines of a toned down, middle-aged Frankie and Annette, beach-blanket-bingo sort of thing – minus the singing to her parts. To me, that is more a chaste, ‘just friends, golly-gee-whiz’ vibe, but I could probably be persuaded as a last resort. Before getting to that innocuous, innocent point, though, I would be propose something more ‘Blue Hawaii’-ish – but she remains unimpressed with my Elvis impression, so that may be a non-starter from the get go.
One thing for certain: I don’t have the patience for grabbing a stick and going all Pat Boone in with the sand – too G-rated and namby-pamby for a date night, though that set-up might serve as a romantic prelude and an ‘aww, sweet’ moment for other beach goers earlier in the day.
Put that one in column ‘BB’ (Boring, but…)
I am going to hold out as long as I can for the Lancaster/Kerr scenario – even though I haven’t got the jawline, I know we can pull this off. Among my selling points? We can keep our swimwear on all day, and we’ll already have sand in weird spots, so I’ve got the primary, ‘too messy’ argument countered – along with most others I can anticipate.
The risk of jellyfish-as-third-wheel intrusion is negligible. I think.
The gulf water will be quite warm, even in the evening.
We are not too old for this.
‘You are not Burt Lancaster’. Well, okay, I can’t counter that one. But I have his voice and hand mannerisms down pat.
Whatever we come up with will be very nice, but will probably end up more ‘Gilligan’s Island’ than ‘South Pacific’ but hey, a guy’s gotta give it a shot, right?
Wait a minute.
The ‘Gilligan’ thing might have legs – just like my wife, and like Mary Ann. Hmm. In reality, they couldn’t have been on that island too long being all coconut-pie-platonic, could they? And how did they always have meringue for those pies? Under the circumstances, I’m thinking if Mary Ann went to the trouble of whipping up a batch of meringue in those conditions, she was going to be using it for more than slapping on top of a pie. Besides, if it was just about the pies, Gilligan would have weighed close to two-fifty by the time they were rescued. I can swing by the store and get some meringue to throw in the cooler.
I wonder if my wife has anything gingham in her closet?
I have just hit on the perfect alternative plan for beach-blanket BINNNG-GO!
“I miss my friends tonight, their faces shine for me,
The clamor of their singing like some mad calliope.
Still ringing through the Lion’s Head until the morning light,
Comedians & Angels, I miss my friends tonight…
– Tom Paxton, ‘Comedians & Angels’
My fortieth high school class reunion weekend commences tonight – two evenings and a Sunday afternoon of remembering, reflecting, reconnecting; relationships reconstituted and rejuvenated. For some of us, festivities have already begun; coming into town a few days early, staying with friends:
Coffee and donuts with a friend, followed by a solitary, reflective walk through an old neighborhood.
Longtime besties and their respective spouses getting together.
A spontaneous, uproarious, karaoke outing lasting til the wee hours.
Old flames on a long-pined-for dinner date.
But tonight is our initial group outing; a mixer at a tavern near our old school. Beer and pizza, lively conversation. Scorekeeping; who is here, who isn’t, will be duly noted – some solemnly, some with a measure of relief. Some will not be remembered by many, as it is in a large school, with over four hundred-fifty graduates. The actual tally can be a daunting eye opener: just over four-hundred located, 39 deceased, 42 listed as ‘missing’.
Casualty numbers from the war of time.
Toasts will be offered to those not with us, a few tears will be shed, some rueful laughter; memories will be shared.
“A song for every season, a smile in every fight,
Comedians & Angels, I miss my friends tonight…”
My hope is tonight will not be one dedicated to mourning, but of celebration – of what those no longer with us meant to us, individually, collectively. We were more than classmates, not just friends. We were, in many way family. Make no mistake, those no longer here left their marks.
Great anecdotal stories, heartfelt toasts, tears shed: legacies not taken lightly at this stage of life. The indifference and sadness of youth has given way to appreciation for what – who – was lost, and what gifts and opportunities those of us who have preserved, survived, have been allowed to enjoy.
“I wonder where they are now – could be anywhere in hell, or California, or back in Sheridan Square! They left us where they left us, so we put o ut the light,
Comedians & Angels, I miss my friends tonight…”
Some of those we will raise a glass to were not even members of our class, but dear friends a year ahead of us, a year or even two behind. Part of us, members of our ’77 family.
“Each one drained a parting glass and sailed out to sea,
And what a crew of rogues they made, in gleeful anarchy!
They sang to the horizon a song no pen could write,
Comedians & Angels, I miss my friends tonight…”
Comedians and angels, indeed. Also rouges and connivers, charmers and brusque ne’er-do-wells. Not always the easiest to live with, not often recognized or saluted. The innocuous, the brash; those humble, and the ego-driven that often drove us.
Like I said, family.
The list of those no longer with us is lengthy, and the names vary in memory and significance to each of us, but on behalf of all of us still here, still carrying the banner of the class of 1977.
Godspeed, my friends.
And thanks to you all. We miss you, and hope we’ve done you proud.
“They sang to the horizon a song no pen could write,
Comedians & Angels, I miss my friends tonight.
From the Marchives: I originally posted this six years ago, and while a lot has changed, so much hasn’t. Eldest son Willi is now heading into his senior year in college as a political science major, youngest son Sam has just graduated from high school. The current political shenanigans in D.C….?
Still a solid postscript to the Fourth of July.
* * * * *
My wife, two sons and I recently spent a week in our nation’s capital – a first time experience for all of us. When the opportunity presented itself for me to participate in a teachers conference in D.C., we decided to make a family vacation out of the trip. As I had three-and-a-half days of conference to attend, we tacked on an extra day to the trip so I could see some of the sights.
Sons Will and Sam, ages 15 and 12, respectively, are both history and military buffs, avid viewers of the History Channel, CNN, the Daily Show and Colbert Report. They possess a fairly sophisticated understanding of American government, how it works and how it is supposed to work, and were enthusiastic participants from the get go.
It was our best family vacation ever.
While I was conferencing, Amy and the boys did D.C. They made it into the galleries of both the Senate and House of Representatives, even witnessing a vote on the House floor. High school sophomore-to-be Will aspires to a career in public service and was fascinated enough with the processes of the House to spend more than an hour watching routine procedural matters while Amy and Sam toured other parts of the building and had a Coke to kill time before a late afternoon roll-call vote.
It was, Will reported later that night back in our hotel room, an ‘interesting but drawn out’ exercise in hearing names called and people saying ‘Aye’ or ‘Nay.’ A day later, after having witnessed more lively debate in the Senate, he declared his intention to work there someday as “That’s where things actually seemed to get accomplished.”
His enthusiasm each night in relating his travels around Washington was palpable and infectious.
While my family was touring the town, I was getting an education myself – aside from the seminars and plenary sessions. The hotel complex our conference was held at was huge, and with a conference of some 2,000 attendees, things were very spread out. Every place you went in the hotel complex were large, flat screen televisions, most of them tuned to CNN. Bouncing from seminar to seminar, meeting room to ballroom, I was covering a lot of ground, but also taking the time to watch the shenanigans of the various players in the whole ‘raise the debt ceiling’ debate.
All in all, I was not impressed.
Oddly, those big-screen images were so much different than seeing the same stuff in my living room in New Orleans. Knowing that my family was hanging out on Capitol Hill, understanding all that was unfolding just a short subway ride away was an unusual experience in perspective. Even the potential of seeing some of the players in the drama/soap opera on the street was an option, and at least one lesser-known congressman made an appearance at our conference, speaking to a delegation of teachers from his home state.
Sidebar one: I snuck into the back of the room during his talk, and was more impressed with him than any of the ‘leaders’ popping up like a ‘Whack-a-Mole’ game at every flat-screen turn in the Marriot.
But I was not in Washington to fret about the nation’s congressional leadership or lack thereof; I was there to be part of a presentation, then pick up some teaching CLUs. My ‘teachable moments’ (as the best ones usually are) were coming from more than just the seminars.
Part of our family trip ‘deal’ was Amy and the boys holding off on some of the things I wanted to see, so we could experience them together as a family. My D.C. ‘wish list’ was headed by Arlington National Cemetery, and the presidential and war memorials: the Lincoln, Jefferson and F.D.R. monuments as well as those devoted to those who served in Vietnam, World War II and Korea, and the White House, if possible. While Amy, Willi, and Sam took in the Washington Monument and the back of the White House, they held off on the good stuff and I got my wish list.
Sidebar number two: I had gotten the idea that I wanted my first experience with the Lincoln Memorial to be at night, and was not disappointed in the encounter. I highly recommend the approach; it was amazing all lit up, especially for a first-timer. Still pretty impressive in daylight, but at night…
As with most things of this nature, pictures do not do any of it justice. Seeing it in person was incredibly moving. Looking at Lincoln sitting there in his chair, pensively looking out over Washington, towards the Washington Monument and the Capitol was impressive, but I was moved as much by the interior of the chamber, which features Lincoln’s words engraved in the marble.
Reading the words of the man in a book or on a computer screen is nothing at all like seeing them written high on a wall of smooth, Colorado marble.
Nothing at all.
Chiseled on the wall to Lincoln’s right is his Gettysburg Address, while the wall to his left features his second inaugural address, each given to the nation in the midst of civil war. Both messages are profound in their eloquence and simplicity, and I left there with a renewed sense of pride and hope.
A feeling that was relatively short lived.
On the evening we returned to our hotel from visiting the Lincoln Memorial, I walked into the lobby while Senators Mc Connell and Reid were blathering about some aspect of the debt ceiling discussion, with each in his own way trying in vain to sound senatorial.
‘Trying’ is the operative word.
After having just reread the Gettysburg Address, etched in marble soaring nearly fifty feet high, I was now confronted with the petulant children, grade-school playground-level discourse of our two key Senate ‘leaders’ whining about how nobody on the ‘other side’ wants to compromise or even acknowledge an opposing view.
The juxtaposition was jarring.
After having experienced a 272-word masterpiece of a message concerning sacrifices made for the sake of the greater good I was now stuck hearing our current Senate ‘leaders’ spouting the political equivalent of “There once was a girl from Nantucket…”
We can do so much better. I had just seen it.
No matter what you might hear from your nightly sound bites on CNN or FOX and your Sunday morning news shows, keep in mind that Washington (or our country) is not a place built on a single ideology. Ideology seeks to conform everyone to a specific and very narrow set of ideas; aside from the broad concepts of liberty and freedom, this country has built itself from the ground up with a mixture of individuality and shared purpose – not a rigidly adhered to set of ideas from one individual or group.
We have most always been able to find common ground.
Washington, D.C. is a city constructed upon high ideals, grand ideas and sweeping visions. It was founded by men who shared much in their ways of thinking about how to build a nation and nurture democracy, but they also had vast differences and knew the art and value in compromise for the greater good.
It is really the only reason we are here as a nation.
Keep in mind it is not just the monuments themselves, or the men they celebrate but what they all mean to others; Marion Anderson sang and Martin Luther King, Jr. made his ‘I have a Dream’ speech from steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The reflecting pool between the Washington and Lincoln memorials has been the site of many dramatic protests and powerful moments.
Such was my time with Mr. Lincoln.
The woman who had graciously offered me the opportunity to attend the conference and trip spends a lot of time in D.C.; she told me before we left New Orleans, that of all of the monuments to see, the Jefferson Memorial was her favorite, and that she sometimes just goes there to sit and reflect.
I immediately grasped why.
Jefferson holds a special fascination for a lot of people, and it his memorial was as high on Will’s list as it was on mine. As with Lincoln, the visuals of the monument are stunning and pictures do not do any of them justice; as with my visit to Lincoln, the words of Jefferson inscribed on the walls come powerfully to life. I came to Washington as an educator, and encountered one of the greatest educators in American history.
Now if only our current leaders had absorbed some of Jefferson’s lessons – or even read them.
The interior of the Jefferson Memorial features five of his most memorable quotations out of literally hundreds of choices they had. One is on the dome of the rotunda above his statue, four others are carved on huge, marble panels again soaring skyward between the giant pillars supporting the dome. In all five cases, Jefferson states his point, concisely and eloquently, without hyperbole or rant.
Of today’s congressional leaders, I defy you to find any five compelling comments any of them has made or any ideas put forth that are worth commemorating.
Jefferson would probably not fare well in today’s sound-bite climate. There is no vitriol, no sneering put-downs of his opponents. He spoke in clear thought, not rehearsed rhetoric. Ideas and ideals, not ideology. His words and ideas were and are righteous, but never self-righteous.
That is a concept and skill our current leaders in Washington sorely need to learn, as their whiny finger pointing and pandering to their respective ‘political bases’ is a never ending video loop of self-indulgence and self-righteousness.
There is very little being said by our leaders in Washington the week I was there that I could ever imagine being carved in stone. Most of it was barely worthy of highway overpass graffiti.
Our congressional ‘leadership’ seems absent any sense of their responsibilities, and are sorely lacking gravitas beyond the sycophants that stand around them when the face they media. Boehner, Mc Connell, Pelosi and Reid, et al are the anti-Jefferson, the anti-Lincoln, at a time in history when we need anything but, which is sadly ironic.
All around them, a five-minute limo ride away on any given day in Washington, are etched in marble and on bold, public display, not just words, but the wisdom and spirit that helped found this country, helped maintain it. The teacher in me thinks they all need to go on some field trips.
We can do so much better than what we have. I have seen the proof; it’s chiseled in stone.
It was late summer, 1979, and my friend Johnny was dying.
Our star fullback in high school, heavyweight wrestling champ, all around BMOC, sat there before me, slumped, in a wheelchair in his parent’s Denver living room. His once chiseled, athletic frame was basically down to half of the 215 pounds he burst through opposing defenses with just three autumns before. His purple South High jersey with the white number thirty-three hung loosely over him.
He looked like a man holding a purple tarp.
A virus he had contracted had attacked his heart, and he was awaiting a transplant. He looked old – sounded very old. To my twenty-year-old self, Johnny’s raspy, croaked-out whisper was more jarring than the visual. That Johnny Wilkins voice – Barry White-like booming bass, full-throated and billowing in laughter – was unrecognizable; a voice that, added to his physical maturity always made him seem much older than the rest of us, was now the gravely crackle of an old man.
But the perpetual Leprechaun-mischievous glint remained in still-vibrant eyes.
It was only when I sat down in front of him and he smiled, his eyes joining his mouth in playfulness as usual, that the Johnny I knew like a brother was again visible. His smile was even more pronounced, as it split the sagging skin of his jowls that had lost their elasticity, into something approaching Johnny normalcy.
Though I remember the day vividly, I oddly cannot tell you what we talked about in any great detail; he wanted to know my travels since we had graduated in the spring of 1977, and get an update on the whereabouts of some mutual friends is all I remember. He told me of his illness, what he had been through, how excited he was to be n the transplant list. His mind was sharp; whatever medications he was on had not dimmed his intellect or humor. He was still Johnny.
He was still Johnny.
I was one of two classmates who had come to see him since his illness; the other was Terry Tuffield, a kind and beautiful girl who Johnny and I shared a bit of history with. Knowing I had a crush on her, he had begged me to let him set us up on a date, but I had adamantly ordered him not to intervene, preferring to ask her myself and never having to think of her doing him a favor by going out with me. This became a running joke through our senior year and is still one of the more amusing episodes and fond remembrances’ of high school; especially his insistence in asking me to let him talk to her and my repeated, publicly-made threats to kick his butt if he acted on my behalf.
The absurdity of the 145-pound white dude threatening his black, locker-partner Adonis drew more than a few raised eyebrows on multiple occasions – usually the school lunchroom. These exchanges were always punctuated with a stern look from me and a sonic-boom laugh in response from Johnny.
We were, in almost every aspect of late 1970’s high school life, an odd couple.
The irony of sitting in the Wilkins’ living room, knowing that Terry was the only other visitor from our high school days was not lost on me then or now. That Johnny died less than a month later has always left me thinking that the Rebel visitor list ended with just the two of us – though I cannot be sure.
Life is funny like that.
I had been to Johnny’s house once before, in March of our senior year. I picked him up at his house and we went to Denver’s City Park to hang out for the day. We were preparing to graduate and we discussed plans for the future; college football at the University of northern Colorado, and eventual marriage to his long-time girlfriend Gloria for him; my impending summer departure for a year of broadcasting school in Minnesota. Our senior prom, various escapades to that point were bantered about while cruising City Park Lake on a rented paddleboat.
One small piece of our conversation that afternoon stands out to me to this day: Johnny’s casual mention that I was the first white friend that had ever come into his home. It was an observation, nothing more. My response, I believe, was no more than ‘Oh’ and it was left at that. At least until a year later, when Johnny, who had erroneously learned that I was back in town and dropped my house.
As he later related the story later in a phone call, he walked up, rang the doorbell. The door opened, and there stood my father, middle-aged white guy with glasses, all of five-five, who looked up at the hulking black dude with the bushy beard in front of him and said simply, “Oh, you must be Johnny.” Acknowledging that he was, my father then said, “Well, come on in!”
Johnny roared with laughter recounting the story later, finding my father’s initial statement – and its casual nature – both jarring and hysterical. His being asked in and hosted by my parents with conversation and lemonade for the next hour or so was stunning to him. It seems that mine was the first house of a white friend that he had ever been asked into, and I wasn’t even there for the party. Johnny typically roared with laughter when I explained the obviousness of my father’s initial assumption/greeting: “You are the only big, bearded black guy I know.”
Life is funny.
Our personal string of racial firsts ended with Johnny’s death in August of 1979. He was twenty-one.
I am now thirty-five years removed from that Denver living room and this story has come rushing back to me today. A mid-life career change, and I am a high school English teacher at an inner-city high school in New Orleans. It is my seventh year of teaching here and I have pretty much encountered every issue that traditionally plague poverty-stricken communities and their schools.
As I write this, I am sitting in the front seat of a school bus rumbling down a highway in rural Louisiana, helping chaperone a group of seniors on an overnight retreat. There is another teacher on the bus with me, two others follow in a car. Of the forty-two souls on this bus, I am the only white person. I sit with my back against the window, looking over my shoulder at row upon row of young black faces, and I wonder.
What would Johnny think?
I am new to this school. As a first-year-here guy, I get tested by my students on a regular basis. Most of them have not figured me out yet, especially those I deal with only tangentially. Another teaching newcomer to the school is Mr.K, a history teacher across the hall from me – it is also his first year as a teacher here, and we share most of the same seniors, so we are able to collaborate and share notes on students, and I mentor him a bit. We have come to be seen by many students as best of friends, and this idea has been cemented, I believe, by the fact that students constantly, to the shared bemusement of Mr. K and I, confuse the two of us.
Mr. K is tall, thin, bearded, and wears glasses; he is half-my age. I am five-five with beard and glasses, old enough to be his father. Yet on nearly a daily basis, I get called Mr.K. and he gets called Mr. Lucker. Usually students correct themselves, and will often apologize – sometimes profusely and with a sense of embarrassment. Mostly not, but sometimes.
The confusion has become a running joke between Mr. K, myself, and a few other staff members – black and white – who don’t find the constant confusion at all odd. Mr. K and myself? Color us ‘bemused’.
Looking now at the young faces behind me, swaying and bouncing up and down as we traverse a curvy two lane highway, I wonder about a lot of things. They are engrossed in every sort of electronic engagement, a few sleep with their heads tilted awkwardly on pillows against bus windows. I wonder if any of them had ever been a racial first for someone, as Johnny and I had been. There are a select few who I believe have contemplated such scenarios as they prepare to head off to college, although most of that is naiveté born of circumstance; outside of school, there are few white people with whom most of my students interact with any sort of regularity. Many of them will go off to college and be stunned with the diversity they encounter. I wonder what their reactions will be. I have had other students, from other area schools, who have returned to regale us with stories of suddenly finding themselves thrust into a world not-so-homogeneous as their high school or their ‘hood.
There are many firsts on their horizons.
Over the past six-plus years, when students have brought up the racial aspects of our teacher-student relationship it is usually brought up with a tone of curiosity rather than accusation. They are trying to figure me, or other white teachers out. At the (much larger) school I taught at the three years prior to this one, black students would occasionally ask me to explain white student behavior in some way, which I would usually try to deflect, and use classroom techniques to get them to do their own analysis of the situation on the premise (and observed belief) that teenagers are generally teenagers. Their basic curiosity was skewed by their knowledge base of those different; television shows about tweens and teens.
Usually the biggest looks of surprise (and the rare verbal exclamation of surprise) comes when I very purposely counter any talk of stereotyping (‘white people don’t…’ or ‘black people are…’) with a rejoinder that labeling groups of people is, in my classroom, automatically racist in nature, then adding something along the lines of “Well, I think most of my black friends would probably disagree with your generalization.”
Even amongst the most stoic, nonchalant of my students, there is almost always a sense of astonishment that I have (and had, as a teenager) black friends. I would go so far as to say that the most common reaction to this revelation is incredulity, mixed with skepticism, and some of my students adamantly stick to their initial belief that I am lying about having friends of a different skin tone. Those are sometimes jarring moments, when a student digs in their heels on such an issue, but such situations almost always lead to some positive discussion and food-for-thought. For them and for me, I hope.
I don’t know precisely why this all comes to mind today, during a kidney-busting bus ride through the countryside…then again, maybe I do. At least on some level.
Johnny, I hardly knew ye. But I’m still learning from our much-too-short time on earth together.
Father’s Day. A bit pretentious of a title for a holiday, but it is what it is. ‘Dad’s Day’ just doesn’t have the panache – except to me, because I had my dad.
A bit pretentious of a title for a holiday, but it is what it is. ‘Dad’s Day’ just doesn’t have the panache – except to me, because I had my dad.
Dad died in 1986 – now more than half my life ago, which is an interesting realization to come to – I have lived more of my life without his physical presence than with. In a way, that makes no sense to me.
It’s quite natural to wonder what he would think of the here-and-now; what his family has become, his grandchildren, great- grandchildren – life in general, the world in which we all live.
I don’t need to think too hard to reach a definite conclusion; he would see my life as it is today with a sense of pride, but also a heightened level of amusement and bemusement.
My dad wasn’t highly educated, topping out the formal end of things with a high school diploma, but he was knowledgeable and well read, a man of continual curiosity about the world. He would have some definite opinions the recent state of affairs of the country and it would be a blunt, probably sarcastic, enlightening and entertaining – LOL commentary. He would have appreciated his grandchildren’s fairly sophisticated interest in things social and political.
Life would still be pointedly funny, as would he
Aside from all of the typical moments I regret my dad and I missed getting to share – the wife and children of mine he never met, my career and creative and milestones, the man I have become – one thing I get oddly wistful about is the fact that my dad and I never got to sit down in front of a VHS or DVD player and watch funny movies.
That many sound funny as a major regret.
Dad was an aficionado of comedy. He spent the bulk of his working years as a television station film editor in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and then Denver. This was back in the fifties, sixties and seventies, when television was still a fairly new and burgeoning entity, and most places had only four-or-five channels to choose from, and aside from their network programming, had lots of local air time to fill. TV stations ran a lot of old movies; my father edited them to fit time frames and insert commercial breaks. He loved movies, and did some community theater work himself in his younger, pre-me days. He also made a few appearances in front of the camera at both stations he worked at; as a menswear model in Minneapolis, and for a number of years in Denver as Santa Claus. Dad was gregarious, willing to try new things and to have fun.
Dad knew comedy.
Most of all, Dad knew comedy and loved a wide array of comedic films and performers. Comedy of all kinds, actually. A favorite stand-up comedian’s appearance on a show noted in TV Guide or the newspaper listings and the television was thus appropriated for that time frame: my first, youthful experiences with ‘appointment television’ were comedic in nature. Comedy (and humor – a distinction, to be sure) and an appreciation for things humorous, was a trait he passed on to me, though we had somewhat divergent viewpoints on what/who was funny, and who wasn’t.
Hence, my regret over his not living to see the home video age come to full bloom.
Born in 1916, Dad’s early experiences with comedy were vaudeville and silent films. He was a fan of silent stars Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd, and also the Keystone Cops. When I was a teenager, any public television salute to either of those guys was duly noted and watched by my dad, and since we only had one t.v. in the house, me too.
I easily came to share his admiration for most of it.
Dad’s true passion, the guys he found funniest of all, were Laurel and Hardy. They were his heroes – especially Stan Laurel, the skinny straight-man of the classic duo. My dad did a pretty good Stan Laurel impersonation, and even as a young kid I was aware that I was seeing a different look in my dad’s eyes when we watched Laurel and Hardy versus other movies or shows.
Nostalgia is funny; sometimes you look back on something fondly, and wonder why, but this is truly not one of those times. I still enjoy watching Laurel and Hardy – probably even more so now that I am older, and grasp far more of the subtle nuances of their humor – the verbal mastery of the language of humor, the pathos in the true to life friendship that their humor (even when absurdist) came from.
I always laughed along with dad when watching Laurel and Hardy; now I know why he laughed much harder at some things than I did. I now laugh at the same things he did.
Watch a Laurel and Hardy short sometime, and you will see that even the physical, slapstick humor has a certain humanity to it, a gentleness. Chaplin is much the same, and Chaplin I also get in a much different way now than I did as a kid. Dad liked Charlie, and even portrayed him a couple of times for costume parties. He had Chaplin’s waddle and cane twirl down pat.
We did diverge, at times.
In a very different vein, Dad loved The Bowery Boys; I got quickly bored with their antics. Abbot and Costello did nothing for dad, I found them mildly amusing – though they don’t wear as well as the years move on, so maybe my sense of humor is aging like good wine – or my dad’s.
Dad loved the Three Stooges – about as far removed comedically from Laurel and Hardy as you can get, in some regards. There is little subtlety in the Stooges and their eye poking-head smacking mayhem, but my dad enjoyed them tremendously, as do I, as do both my sons – his grandsons. There is something timeless in a pie in the face or a poke in the eye. Don’t believe me? As an adult, I have, by way of actual demonstration, won a couple of bets on whether or not a pie-in-the-face would get a laugh in most any public setting.
Dad would be proud.
But while I grew up sharing dad’s appreciation for Laurel & Hardy and the Stooges (among others) we parted ways over the Marx Brothers. I was, and still am, a big fan; dad didn’t really find them funny, which is one thing that has always puzzled me. All he could say in response to my not-concealed disappointment was that he just didn’t find them all that funny.
Funny how serious a guy can get about a disagreement sbout what is funny with his dad.
As well read and cerebral as my dad was in terms of comedy and satire (both on-screen and in real life) the Marx Brothers would seem to be a natural for him. Oh, he watched some Brothers stuff with me a few times, but it just wasn’t really his thing. When I was in high school, PBS resurrected Groucho Marx’s ‘You Bet Your Life’ quiz show from the fifties and ran them on Saturday nights. I became hooked, and dad actually found Groucho Marx to be a funny guy, much to my relief and vindication of sorts. He still never really cared for their movies, though. Conversely, when PBS resurrected Ernie Kovacs old shows, I was puzzled as what Kovacs bits he liked and which ones he really didn’t. The Nairobi Trio did nothing for him, had me in stitches. Subjectivity reigns.
When asked on his deathbed if he was finding it difficult to leave this life, acclaimed actor John
Barrymore was quoted as saying, “No. Death is easy; comedy is hard.”
I get that.
Even though we didn’t get to plunk down in front of a t.v. with a handful of classics in black-and-white on DVD, my dad and I shared numerous moments of comedic television brilliance through the 60’s and 70′, and had quite lengthy and spirited debates about who and what was and wasn’t funny.
Comedians were prevalent on television when I was growing up, and not just late night with Johnny Carson; The Ed Sullivan Show, the Carol Burnet Show, Flip Wilson – there was always somebody funny on. He loved (and I came to appreciate) Myron Cohen and Morey Amsterdam; he couldn’t stand Buddy Hacket or Shecky Greene, puzzled over my love for the insult humor of Don Rickles or the confetti-throwing antics of Rip Taylor. We both liked Jonathan Winters, and I could stay up late with him on non-school nights to catch Carson when a comedic favorite was scheduled.
Dad was not so old school that he couldn’t enjoy contemporary stuff: he would sit with me on Monday nights and watch The Monkees. He enjoyed the antics, tolerated the music. Looking back, this makes more sense to me; while I used to equate The Monkees humor with the Stooges, viewing them now, I see much more of the love and affection of friends evident in Laurel and Hardy.
TV of the time of my youth was something my dad and I got to share.
Sitcoms we mostly agreed upon and enjoyed watching as a family: The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in The Family and M*A*S*H* were favorites.
Dad also loved Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, and my daughter Lindsay, now in her thirties, became a fan watching Laugh In reruns in her teens. She now owns some DVD’s compilations of Laugh In and uses a number of the shows memorable lines regularly in her personal repertoire, which would please my father to no end – probably even more than it amuses me.
But the quirkiest bit of humor/comedy that my father and I shared was The Muppet Show.
The Swedish Chef in particular always sent him convulsing with laughter, and he really enjoyed Rolf the piano playing dog. And Fozzie Bear and Kermit, of course. But the Swedish Chef was a whole different level of gut-buster for my dad. No, he wasn’t Swedish himself, but marrying into an extended family of Norwegian immigrants and their Swedish cohorts, he could somewhat identify. I think. The Muppet Show aired five nights a week at six-thirty, and if there was a particularly intriguing guest star that night, we had dinner on t.v. trays in the family room – a treat generally reserved for Apollo blastoffs or something equally noteworthy. Or to watch The Muppet Show.
Movies is why I really regret my dad missing out on the home video era.
One of the few ‘grown-up’ movies I ever saw with my dad in a theater was The Pink Panther Strikes Again, starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. My father loved the earlier Pink Panther movies, and thought Peter Sellers was brilliantly funny. I had only seen bits and pieces of the earlier films on t.v. and was unsure what to expect from a whole movie of Seller’s antics.
It was a memorable experience on a whole lot of levels, as I never saw my dad laugh as hard or as frequently as he did that evening in a Denver movie theater.
Two things vividly stand out in my mind from going to sse that film with my father. One is a scene in which Clouseau is chasing a villain, and exits a hotel as the bad guy drives off. Clouseau summons a waiting taxi, jumps in the back seat, and in his French drawl yells at the rotund cab driver to “Fullow that caaaaar.” The overweight cabbie responds by looking at Clouseau blankly, shrugging his shoulders, then jumping out of the cab and running down the road – following the bad guy’s car. The camera then cuts back to a close up of Seller’s face, mostly his eyes and eyebrows, as Clouseau realizes the result of his order.
It was the late 1970’s, dad had recently had heart surgery, and was laughing so hard I thought he was going to have a heart attack. Seriously, I did.
I could watch that scene a hundred times and laugh just as hard as he did then.
The other thing of note from that film has less to do with my dad, and more with my relationship with my sons. A few years ago I rented the original Pink Panther movie and my sons and I watched it together. My dad loved one particular scene, and my boys do now too, and they have been able to watch that particular bit over and over via YouTube.
Assassins are trying to kill Inspector Clouseau. One assassin disguised as Clouseau enters his hotel room, while another assassin follows and kills the first assassin, hiding in the bathtub, thinking it is the real Clouseau. When the lovely Russian assassin, Olga, enters, she declares her love for Clouseau and seduces the second assassin in a dimly lit room. He leaves and then the real Clouseau arrives, moving throughout several rooms turning on lights and turning off others while Olga is doing the same in his wake. He’s befuddled as to what is happening with the lighting and even more surprised when he gets into bed with some “cold hands.” Olga thinks she is with the same man, and a confused Clouseau then escapes to the bathroom, where he now finds the body of the first assassin in the bathtub.
To this point in the scene, there has been no dialogue. Clouseau goes to the phone and calls the front desk, matter-of-factly informing them of what he has discovered.
“Hello?… Yezzz. There eez a beautiful woman in my bed, and a dead man in my bath. Thank you.” Again, a close-up shot of Clouseau’s face – a pause, then his wide-eyed look when he realizes what he has said – the subtle, played straight absurdity of it all, makes the whole scene.
That line has become a piece of family folklore.
Whenever we check into a hotel room, one of the Lucker males is sure to pick up the phone and intone, in suave French accent, “Hello?… Yes. There eeze a dead man in my bathtub, and a naked woman in my bed. Thank you.”
With any luck at all, we remember to hold down the button on the phone so the call doesn’t actually go through.
Treasured keepsake hand-me-downs from my dad. Or at least, of my dad.
Father’s Day weekend is my ‘take stock’ time; gratefulness for healthy, happy, successful-in-their-own-unique-ways children, a self-check on how I’m doing as a father and grandfather. It is also a time of reflection and a reminder of the men who played the codified dad and grandpa roles in my life: my dad, Gramps, my pseudo-grandfather Ivar, my uncle Don and stepfather Gary. The value of what I received from all of them is incalculable – the sum only as great as it’s multiple, generous parts.
I am simply thankful that I was blessed by having them all.
Along with dad, Gramps, Ivar, Don, and Gary, there are other men that I think about on Father’s Day – gentlemen whose lives intersected with mine in a wide, ongoing array of ways for many years each; they all brought something special to the smorgasbord that is me.
There were Elving, Albert, Art, Cleo, and Harold, helping ride herd on me every Horseshoe Lake summer of my youth. Len, Henry, Win were family by choice, not blood. Hjalmer and Palmer, father and uncle of boyhood friends and our up-the-street neighbors; master mechanics, guardians of our block.
It’s an impressive roll call, and humbling when I stop to think of all the time and wisdom they invested in me. Each of them played very significant roles in making me into the man – the husband, father, grandfather, teacher, and leader that I am.
The list of tactile, hard skills that I learned from these guys would fill a flash-drive: plumbing, house painting, carpentry, roofing, lumberjacking. Ivar and would be proud that I still know my way around underneath a sink and can still handle a pipe wrench with aplomb. With satisfaction, Elving would see that with house paint and brushes, I’m pretty damn good at cutting a doorway or window.
The lines of memory blur when I try to place a specific skill to the individual in learned it from. Even so, I learned things then learned that everyone has their own way of doing things. So much the better for me.
Truth be told, it was a village effort. No matter who may have shown me how to do something, each person added their own take on how to handle, for example, chainsaws, splitting mauls and axes, logging chains and cross-cut saws – among other tools of the wood cutting game, and when and where (and why not) to use each of them. Knowing the difference between a framing hammer and ball peen hammer is good; skill with each of them, better. A number of these guys took a hand in teaching me the nuances (and their own peccadilloes and quirks) about how to drive a stick shift, change spark plugs or oil in Detroit’s finest, bait a fish-hook, hoe the weeds from a potato patch, scale and filet a sunfish.
Len showed me how to use a lathe, Albert how to properly seine for minnows, Harold showed me how to whittle. I remember each of those initial lessons vividly, and later looks of accomplishment and satisfaction when I showed some mastery at them. Those were just some of the unique slices of expertise I was served that stand out. Those guys were all present (and responsible) for so much more.
I also remember others who played lesser, but powerfully remembered roles as additional father figures; Mr. Keuken across the alley, Vic the taxidermist, Joe the bartender, and Birkland the electrician. That’s how I knew them, anyway, and what everyone else called them. Vic and Joe did have last names, Mr. Keuken and Mr. Birkland had given names. There was also Ray, the anthropology professor-cum-writing-coach/encourager, and Super Joe the grocer: laughing boisterously is a learned skill
As I peruse this list, I know I am forgetting somebody.
To this day, I tend to get more than a bit peeved with someone when they marvel at some skill I have displayed, or expertise I have shared. “Wow, where’d you learn how to do THAT?” Their ignorance, my bliss, I suppose. In my days as an employment counselor, I helped develop and then taught a class on skills identification – an easy and fun assignment, as I have significant expertise – and the thrill of acquiring it.
Writing that curriculum came rather easily to me. I saw it as a tribute to all of the men on this list, and quite a few others.
There is a popular meme that makes its rounds on Facebook pretty regularly stating ‘Well, another day has passed and I still haven’t used algebra.’ I used to share that attitude, but I now know better. Algebra? Maybe not; but the skills that go into solving equations, the critical thought involved…oh yeah, I use all of that. But I am still lousy at algebra itself. As an English teacher, I constantly have students complaining that (fill-in-the-blank) skill I am trying to impart on any given day will never be of use to them.
Their ‘aha’ moments will come for them. In time.
One more aspect to the men listed above that I have always been aware and in awe of: I wasn’t their sole focus. For the most part, there was no palpable obligation to include me in much of anything; these guys were volunteers in the purest sense of the word. They had their own children and grandchildren, other things to occupy their time.
The skills were hands-on, as was the problem solving; the lessons often implied, frequently not grasped until after the fact. Thanks, guys.
If you were to Venn diagram all of the key dads, granddad and facsimiles thereof in my life, the outlying rings – the ‘not in common’ stuff – would be filled to overflowing. As a village, ‘eclectic’ would be a good name for this tribe. The inner circle – the ‘in common’ – would be full and diverse as well, and would make a good primer for how to live a life: treat people with kindness, respect, dignity. How to develop patience and put it into practice. Do onto others. Help somebody. Follow your gut and your heart, but don’t lose your head doing it. Don’t get frustrated – figure it out. Have faith, live it out.
A good instruction manual for how to live a life.
No, I do not regularly use most of the skills I mentioned here on a day-to-day or even-year-to year basis. As an urban guy, I don’t have much need to lumberjack anymore, and adjusting a carburetor is not something I will probably ever need to do again. It is unlikely I’ll anytime soon be needing to shingle a cabin, patch a fiberglass canoe, or lathe a wooden flower vase. Maybe I will someday get a chance to again pilot a pontoon boat. Will I have to treat a maple dance floor with dance wax again? Probably not – but there is always hope in that one.
Oh, I may someday get a chance to play cribbage, or whist again, hopefully. Or canasta, chinese checkers, mumbly peg, the harmonica. But I will definitely have to fix another toilet, and there will always be a room that needs a new paint job, something to be repaired or replaced, and each day brings something that needs to be brainstormed, benignly finagled or simply figured out.
I will always write, always need to think. I will forever need to laugh, need to cry, need to empathize.
This is where the rubber meets the road; because of what I learned back then, refined and cultured through the years, I can dive in with confidence – anytime, ay place, anywhere. I am Mr. Problem-Solver, because of all of these guys
If anybody wonders how I can always say “I got this” it simply because….