Encounter

July 22, 2016

06/24/16

I was leaving the assisted living place we moved my mom into yesterday, and stopped by one of the big day rooms by the entrance; volunteers were setting up for a book giveaway – one thousand books, free to anyone who wanted one. I had seen them earlier on one of my multiple trips between mom’s new apartment, the center office, and my car outside, and they encouraged me to have my mom (an avid reader) come down – a good way to ease into her to new surroundings.

As I was leaving, the woman I had spoken to earlier waved at me, and asked if my mother would be coming down. I went in, picked up our chat from earlier, all the while she was lifting stacks of books out of a Rubbermaid tub. She told me the books were all donated, free to anyone, and I should help myself. I laughingly told her I was a high school English teacher and writer, and had way too many books already. Thanking her nonetheless, I was getting ready to leave, just as she sat one more stack of books on the table in front of me.

“Oh my God” I said, startling her a bit. The top book on the stack was a book of Bill Holm essays, ‘The Music of Failure’ – one of his I did not already have. “Bill Holm was one of my professors in college! A huge influence on me.”

(Seventeen-years my senior, his typical, thunderous greeting for 46-year-old me was ‘Nice to have another old fart in class’!) He could be appropriately (or sometimes not) bombastic at any moment.

“Well then…you should have this”. the woman said, handing me the book.BillHolmbook
I was more than a little taken aback.

On the road for nearly a month now, twelve hundred miles from New Orleans, trying to help my mother navigate this new phase of her life, from independence to assisted living, has been a roller coaster; ups, downs, loop-de-loops, wild turns- all really fast. Even though things have gone about as smoothly as possible for the situation, it is has been stressful for all concerned and at times and more than a few times you think ‘get me off this ride’. Hence a recent spate of Bill–like rants; some serious, some in mock-jest, some crazed takes on the vagaries of the universe. Some just to blow off steam at nothing or nobody in particular. I just stood there looking at the book and I started to laugh. The volunteer said, “Go ahead. Take it. Really something that it’s a guy you know, huh”?

Yeah, a guy I knew.

Of all places to find him again: a very nice, assisted-living place in upscale, suburban Minneapolis. Bill would surely have something to say about corporate, commercialized aging. I can only imagine eloquent tangents. I was still laughing and shaking my head in bemusement as I thanked the woman and headed for my car, the sudden gift of a book of essays to read tonight. I am not at all sure if this is the ghost of Bill telling me to ‘rock on’ or ‘chill out’ – or maybe, ‘keep it up, you old fart’.

I’m just grateful he stopped to say ‘hello’.

Reprise: Happily, Less Full of Phil

July 13, 2016

07/13/16

I learned just today of the passing of a great poet and incredibly influential teacher: professor Phil Dacey. I was finishing up college as a middle-aged non-trad, Phil was in his last year of teaching before retirement, and he helmed my first class at Southwest Minnesota State University. The year – and his tutelage – I will not forget. I wrote this piece four years ago.  Rest very well, Phil. You will not be forgotten.

MLL

This year provided one of the best last-day-of-school experiences I have ever had; certainly the best in the four-years since my mid-life career change placed me in front of various New Orleans high school classrooms.

The fact that I am slated to start the next school year in the same place I ended the previous one is a celebratory first. Being recognized for the accomplishments of my students via their test scores, developing a strong set of professional relationships at a place I really enjoy working and being part of a team-oriented environment all puts a decidedly different spin on reviewing the past year and looking ahead to the next. Add in the fact that I did most of what I did this year on the fly, being hired a month into the school year at a ‘turn around’ school, and there is a lot of personal and professional satisfaction to be had.

But there is another, doesn’t-show-up-in-the-grade-book stat that points to a successful year: I’m running low on my supply of Phil Dacey’s old poetry journals.

Phil Dacey

Phil is a poet, and a pretty darn good one  http://www.philipdacey.com/ . I first met Phil in the fall of 2003; he was one of my professors in the writing program at Southwest Minnesota State University, and I had the immense good fortune of catching him in his last year before retiring after over thirty years of teaching. As a forty-four year old ‘non-trad’ in a top-notch college writing program, I had a different take on things than my peers, and a different appreciation for some of the different verbal proclivities of some of my professors – Phil included. I was often the only student in the room chuckling at an obscure aside.

I spent my first semester back in school after a fourteen-year layoff in Phil’s very intense poetics class, where we spent the semester working our way through an 810 page volume entitled Poems for the Millennium; the University of California book of modern & postmodern poetry. A book and a class like that can either ignite or squelch a love of poetry. In Phil’s hands, we got to explore. And love. (Well, mostly love) poetry of all kinds.

Phil’s plan for retirement was to move from the plains of southwestern Minnesota to the confines of a New York City apartment. This required divesting himself of a massive collection of books, journals and other poetic paraphernalia amassed over a forty-plus year stretch as a student and teacher, and his preferred method of disposal of these goodies was hallway distribution to anybody who wanted them.

An added, tactile bonus to my first year at SMSU.

It became a routine of many of us: swing by Phil’s office to see what he placed in boxes or simply stacked outside of his office door under a Magic Marker-scrawled ‘Help yourself’ sign. While I snatched a few hard-cover books from my daily office drive-bys, I concentrated mostly on the myriad of poetry journals Phil was releasing from dusty shelf captivity and back into the wild.

I fancy myself a poet, and to be hanging out with and learning from poets like Phil and other SMSU notables every day was an experience that I was soaking in and enjoying to the hilt. The fact that I was also expanding my library exponentially on a weekly basis was just frosting on the cake – though a source of dismay to my wife, who was not a fan of my pack-rat tendencies in general.

But there was a method to my madness. As Phil and his fellow poet-profs reminded us regularly, if you’re going to write poetry, you need to read a lot of poetry. So I did.

To say Phil’s collection of journals was eclectic was an understatement. There were mainstream and underground selections, slick, university press journals and crudely mimeographed, hand stapled tomes and everything in between. Some were very high-brow, many were themed-endeavors of some sort, a lot were outright weird. Many of them were sent or given to Phil for review and were autographed with personal notes; many of them also had Phil’s notations covering much of the margins. (One thing I don’t think I ever told Phil was that I learned as much about his evolution as a writer and evaluator by reading his commentaries on the work of others as I did from actually reading his poetry.)

Most of these journals dated from the 1970’s and 80’s – apparently Phil’s heyday for such poetry publications, both in terms of volume and breadth of styles and topics. While there were a number of slick, professional looking entries (mostly from prestigious university presses) most of them were modest budget and fairly small and thin; thirty, forty pages or so in length, most about the size of a Reader’s Digest.

By the time the ‘03-‘04 school year and Phil’s career as an official teacher had come to a close, I had amassed a sizeable chunk of his journal horde – a couple hundred volumes, tightly filling three copier-paper boxes.

Phil retired and I went on to graduate in 2006 with a B.A. in literature and creative writing and an impressive personal library of books my professors had written augmented with a whole lot of interesting poetry journals prominent and obscure.

Fast forward to 2008. I moved with my wife and two sons to New Orleans to step into a new life as an English teacher in one of the worst public school systems in America, while at the same time  my wife was transitioning to become a special education teacher. While we left behind corporate careers and shed much of our stuff, I made sure my library (including aforementioned poetry journals) came with me – for professional as well as personal reasons.

While I had visions of some sort of initiating some sort of inner-city-Dead Poet’s Society-love-of-words epiphany for my students, courtesy of my personal love of poetry and my rather broad collection of non-mainstream poetical works, it has yet to materialize.

At least, the way I envisioned it.

Over the past four years, beginning with my first-year-of-teaching, aged 13-to-17, New Orleans ward-loyal, gang-banging, ankle-bracelet-wearing eighth graders, through last year’s 8th, 11th and 12th grade New Orleans East charter school wannabe toughs, to this year’s batch of struggling west bank (some well over age) sophomores and juniors, those journals have been trotted out at least a few times each semester, whenever poetry rears its mischievous head on our curriculum.

They get us out of the standard textbook’s American Literary Canon and mainstream stabs at diversity, and sets us off on some very different planes. (Oh sure, I still give them a dose of Whitman and Dickinson, and I love Frost so they get a bit of him, too, but we go off on some…definite roads less traveled.) It’s funny what kids will connect with.

Poetry overall is exasperating for my students. They are frequently confused with poetry in general, as the idea of interpretations varying widely from person to person frustrates them; they seek concrete yes/no answers, and poetry – good poetry- doesn’t often offer that singular certainty.

To top it off, in Mr. Lucker’s class, wildly different poetic interpretations (as long as they have some rational basis) are celebrated, further adding to my student’s consternation. Whether they are more frustrated with differing viewpoints, or my embrace of multiple viewpoints…I haven’t figured that out yet. I can tell you that my students test scores have been pretty good, and that when it comes to reading comprehension, my students score quite well. I attribute some of that to our reading a lot of poetry.

I don’t pander to the (often) lower common denominators of basic metaphor and simile examples in the textbooks. Phil’s old poetry journals help me go further than that. I like getting out those journals into my students hands – they’re different. They are compact, and for the most part, don’t look like the typical turn-off-their-interest book, especially once the students open them – often the most difficult part of the equation.

But my stash of old journals is shrinking.

I noticed as I packed up my room last week that I am down to my last copier-paper box of Phil’s poetry journals – and not a quite full box, at that. Over the past four years, many of them have disappeared into the bookbags of my students; many of them under some sort of subterfuge (I’m not sure I could ever accuse a kid of ‘stealing’ poetry, so I let ‘em go) and many go to kids asking if they could keep a particular journal, or specific poem. (Instead of letting a kid who asks to ‘tear out one poem’ from a journal, I tell them ‘just take the whole book.’) A few of the journals have basically disintegrated from classroom use and abuse, but for the most part, they have simply found their way into a student’s hands and head. Where they end up…?

I think Phil would be okay with that.

Making poetry accessible was, and I would think still is, important to Phil. Nowadays, it’s important to me, too. So even though my supply of poetry journals is running low, I figure the box I have left should get me through the next school year. It’s been fun while it lasted, and hopefully some of those kids got something out of whatever little volume they took from my class.

It is not what I had planned when I began collecting Phil’s old journals, but then again, what poet ever plans a really good poem?

Had a ball, to a tee

May 15, 2016

Baseball is prominent in Lucker family lore: my wife and I come from families of ardent baseball fans, and we met in the summer of 1991 – our dating life was intertwined with the World Series run and eventual championship of our hometown Minnesota Twins.

The following summer we were married, had a baseball-themed reception, took 60 relatives and wedding party members to a Twins game the day after the wedding, then followed our heroes on the road to Chicago and Milwaukee as a baseball honeymoon. We will celebrate the twenty-fourth anniversary of all that this summer.

But some of our greatest shared baseball memories don’t come from sitting in the cheap seats, or hanging out in a bar celebrating a World Series game two triumph with delirious strangers. Ours are far superior.

They come from our time on the field as t-ball coaches for our sons.

Amy and I spent four years as co-coaches for various teams our sons Willi and Sam played on, emphasizing fun and love of baseball over competition, and loved it all. We introduced not only our kids, but a number of others in south Minneapolis and Marshall, Minnesota, to grand additions to the grand old game such as pre-game bunny-hopping and conga-lining-around-the-bases warmups (10 minute warm-up periods were mandated by the Minneapolis park board – they didn’t say HOW to get them ‘warmed up’) to every-kid-wraps-up-practice-with-a-homerun, along with innovative team (and individual player) cheers and so much more.

Eldest son Willi is now a college sophomore, Sam the younger a high school junior. Willi’s teammates are also in college (or, in at least one case, a college grad!) and I see young kids in our New Orleans neighborhood in their t-ball uniforms, I can only think back…and smile.

The place was Sibley Park, in south Minneapolis. The time was post 9/11, jittery, uncertain 2002. It was the summer of the Bobbleheads – the greatest group of young ballplayers to ever cross a chalked baseline. No names have been changed because nobody’s innocence is threatened – only enhanced. What follows the chronicle of the magical season, as recorded and distributed at the time, from April through early June, in the Baseball Diaries – an emailed extravaganza that was the forerunner of this blog. It is a bit lengthy, but worth it.

Settle in for some baseball magic, in its purest form.

04/30/02
Dear Diary:

As the legendary Jack Morris said just before pitching 11 shutout innings in game seven of the 1991 World Series, “In the words of the immortal Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on!”

The above, I believe, is the Bartlett’s Quotations version of a double play.

This year’s dual-Lucker coached juggernaut is known as the Bobbleheads. The name stems from last years tee-ball experience with the SIBAC Tornadoes, where at least once per game one of the assembled parental or grandparental units would comment that “With the kids running around in those big, oversized batting helmets, they all look like bobble-heads!” First practice was tonight, and it went well. We caught some throws, we even caught a couple of batted balls, and not one kid ran to third base instead of first. We also kept the swarming of multiple fielders to hit balls fairly low, and registered just one “double wicket.” (A hit ball that cleanly makes it through two sets of infielder’s legs, ala croquet, while also eluding their gloves.) The new team cheer was a big hit, too.

Our SIBAC BOBBLEHEADS shirts should arrive tomorrow, just in time for our opening game against Hiawatha Park. We will try to refrain from extending our hands to the other team at home plate while uttering the phrase, “Hiawatha! We’re the Bobbleheads.” We’ll try really hard not to do that.

It’s always “A great day to play two!”

Goodnight, Diary.

autographed bat

 

05/02/02
Dear Diary:

Well, we celebrated a successful season opener on all fronts. The Bobbleheads had a rip-roaring grand time over at Hiawatha Park. It appears that our reputation is growing as we had three new kids sign on last week, and we got a little surprise when we met our Hiawatha opponents.

When their coach introduced himself to me he said he had never coached tee-ball before. He was a veteran of cubs, midgets and for the last few years, four pitch. He described himself to Amy and I as “really in the dark about how tee-ball works.” Not to fear I told him, just follow our lead. The Hiawatha kids were already a little taken aback at our calisthenic routines, but the parents and other crowd members seemed to enjoy it. The game itself was…an experience.

There wasn’t time to explain step-by-step what we were going to be doing, so we had to wing it. We were the visitors, and batted first so I was up at home overseeing. This made it convenient to simply yell out everything to everyone as loudly as I could. The first inning consisted of me yelling out instructions like “OK, coach Dan at first base! Reeeememberrrrr every kid who gets to first gets a high-five!” Followed by “Coach Bruce! Remember that evvvvvery kid who gets to third gets a high-five!” As I was at the helm at home, I took care of home plate-high fives.

By the time Hiawatha batted in the bottom of the first, their coaches pretty much had it down. Every kid getting to first got a high-five, every kid getting to third got a high-five, every kid getting home got a high-five. Every kid got multiple, well deserved, high fives. All in all a pretty smooth game in front of a large and boisterous crowd. (Hiawatha is a busy park next to a busy lake.) After they batted one of the Hiawatha kids asked what the score was. I announced/yelled out that after one inning of play, we were of course, tied “A bunch…to a bunch!” All concerned seemed satisfied with that answer.

Add in our conga-line base running warm up, five (count ‘em, five) different renditions of the “Gooooo Bobbleheadssssss!” cheer and game ending glove slaps, and I think you’ll find that tee-ball at Hiawatha is gonna start looking a bit different in the weeks ahead.

Spreading the word is what we’re all about. Its tee-ball gospel, the Bobblehead way!

Til the next time then, blazing new trails – the Bobblehead Way…

Regards,

Us

autographed bat2

 

05/16/02
Dear Diary:

With glorious sunshine and temps in the 70’s, weather the likes of which we haven’t seen for the past couple of weeks, spring returned today to the Twin Cities. It enabled the Sibley Park Bobbleheads to make their home-opener even brighter.

After squeezing in a practice between showers and then missing a game last week due to a deluge, it was good to be back on the Sibley aggregate basking in the glow of our fans and the sun. Resplendent in our fire-engine red shirts with SIBAC (Sibley Athletic Club) BOBBLEHEADS splayed in dazzling white across the chests we took on our brethren, the SIBAC TWINS.

Katie the park director was on hand getting us set up, and she informed us that the Twins were missing both their regular coaches for the night. She also said that their fill-in, Coach Chris, wasn’t well versed in tee-ball. Not to worry, I told her. We were ready to “Spread the gospel of Sibley Tee-Ball” just as we did a few weeks back at Hiawatha.

After filling in Coach Chris and his parental volunteers on the basics, I went back to our third base bench to address our parents. I explained that like in our first game, we were going to have to lead by example as our opponents were once again inexperienced both on the field and on the bench. I told them why I would again be yelling for both teams to hear me. Just so they knew the score, I had prefaced my remarks with “Lest you guys think I’m some sort of raving ego maniac…”

Play ball!

We batted first, doing wonderfully. Batting fifth tonight was Bailey, a ruddy kindergartener with reddish blond hair and freckles. He’s got game, and seems to enjoy the whole experience. As I was helping Bailey get settled in the batters box, I heard a chant break out from our bench: “Bay-LEE! Bay-LEE! Bay-LEE!” As I turned around to look, every parent gave me a shrug and an “I-didn’t start it” look. Seems that one of the kids did, and it took hold pretty quick. Bailey looked at me, blushed, rolled his eyes and said “Ohhhh man!” He then singled to short. The Twins just seemed puzzled by it all.

The rest of the inning went well until it was brought to my attention that I had overlooked young Joey, and that he hadn’t batted. As we were already taking the field I informed all concerned that we would just bat Joey at the beginning AND at the end of the second inning, and everybody was cool with that. Joey is a quiet kid. He is also the youngest and smallest kid on the team, but he can play. When the top of the second rolled around, Joey was seeking out a helmet and a bat, and I stage whispered to the kids on the bench that what they did for Bailey might be kinda cool to do for Joey. By the time Joey and I got to the batters box, the third base side of the field had erupted in the chant of “JOE-ey! JOE-ey! JOE-ey!” Looking somewhat BMOC-ish, Joey grinned at me and said “Oh boy!” before rapping a single to third.

That was all the encouragement the Bobbleheads needed. The rest of the inning was peppered with spontaneous chants for every kid from when they walked to the tee, til they hit the ball.
“SE-bast-YUN! SE-bast-YUN!”
“Han-NAH! Han-NAH!”
“MAHL-lee! MAHL-lee!”
“Ray-CHEL! Ray-CHEL!”
“Bay-LEE! Bay-LEE!”

There was a slight pause as our number six hitter came to the plate, as the lack of rhythm in “Wiiiiiiiil! Wiiiiiiiil!” sort of threw them for a loop, but they recovered nicely for “ANGE-gel!” “KEIR-nan!,” “Ti-ah-ZA!” and “JOE-ey!” one more time.

All in all, Diary, it was a great night. We played well, looked great, sounded awesome.

The kids were happy, the adults seemed impressed. And we helped the SIBAC Twins learn a few things. Like pre-game calisthenics are a must, especially frog hopping and then group running of the bases. They now know that wrapping up each inning with a home run is cool, too. It took them awhile to remember to give high fives at first and third, but they finally got that down pretty well. They still seemed puzzled when we applauded them at the beginning and the end of the game, and they need some work on their game-end glove slapping. They also had to be re-assembled quickly for the traditional high-five line of congrats after the game, but they did quickly come up with their own cheer. Now Diary, I know I am biased, but to be honest with you, “Tee-ball rules!” just doesn’t have quite the same panache as “Gooooooo Bobbleheads!”

Bobbleheads rock. Wait, I take that back. We bobble!

Goodnight Diary.

 

05/23/02
Dear Diary:

Please pardon the indulgence.

I’ve been thinking a lot about shirts this spring. The new Bobbleheads tee-shirts, bright red with bold white lettering across the chests; the wide eyes of recognition when the kids got them – “Hey! They even have numbers on the back!” I remember thinking briefly, that wouldn’t be such a bad shirt to have for a grown up.

Apparently, I am not alone.

At least a couple of parents have inquired about getting one, and we have even had a couple of Baseball Diary readers who have expressed an interest. Then on Tuesday night I walked into the park building to check out a tee and some bases, and was confronted by Sarah of the park staff. “Hey coach! We hear you guys are going to order big Bobbleheads shirts! I want one!” Turns out other park staff does too, including Katie the Park Manager. “Everybody loves ‘em,” she told me. “What can I say? You guys picked a really cool name!” Dale the park equipment guy called St. Mane sporting goods, and if we have enough interest we can get the shirts for the big kids at about eleven-bucks a pop. Bobblehead mania; coming soon to a torso near you.

Goodnight, Diary.

05/29/02
Dear Diary:

Sometimes life just happens, and we’re the better for it. Such was tonight’s Bobbleheads adventure.

Our scheduled opponents from Corcoran Park never showed up. Their coach had called Katie the Park Director yesterday telling her that this might happen, and she had cautioned me last night at practice. Having been forewarned, we arrived at Sibley #5 tonight with two alternatives to keep our charges occupied and to give them a suitable challenge as well.

5:45 arrived and no Corcoraners to be found. I announced to the assembled eight kids and nineteen moms, dads, grandparents and friends that as we were apparently opponent-less, but that I had come armed with plans B & C, just in case this had happened. Plan B was to take whatever Corcoran kids showed up, mix ‘em with ours and split into two teams. Now as our eight were the only ones on hand, 4-on-4 didn’t seem like a real enthralling idea, so after discussing it with fill-in coach (and team dad) Tom and getting his thumbs up, I proposed plan C:

The Bobbleheads versus their parents.

To their credit, the moms and dads were game; nobody had to be coerced, and most seemed genuinely enthused by the idea. The Bobbleheads themselves seemed mostly bemused by the prospect. All of them save young Keirnan, who ambled up to me after the announcement that plan “C” was a go and said, “Coach, don’t you have a plan ‘D’?!”

Coach Tom and I had decided that the Bobbleheads would let the parents bat first, and we took our spots in the field. It seemed that most of the kids were trying not to laugh at the parents coming up to bat, which was hard because some of them looked pretty funny squeezed into those smallish batting helmets. In all three moms, four dads, and one grandma batted – in a few instances escorted on their jaunts around the bases by younger Bobblehead siblings. Much whooping and hollering was heard from the parent’s bench, so we knew they were really into it.

It occurred to me midway through the top of the first that the ages of five, six and seven were good ones for watching parents (try to) play tee-ball. The looks of pride on the faces of each Bobblehead as his or her mom or dad (or grandma) hit the ball, ran to a base or thrust out arms in exultation upon reaching a base were the equal of any similar looks those same parents have had for their kids over the past month.

I spent the night stationed as the third base coach for Bobbleheads on offense and on defense, where I was privileged to overhear some of the great asides of the night.

Such as Rachel’s “Oh there’s my dad, he’s gonna do something goofy.” And showing mild disappointment when he didn’t. There was Keirnan’s repeated plea “Can’t you find a plan D?” Add in Joey’s mile wide grin when both his mom and his dad were on base simultaneously, Hannah’s incessant giggling, Bailey’s “Wow, my MOM!” when she got a hit, and Mali’s shear awe and pride at his grandmother gamely batting and running to first.

I personally declare plan ‘C’ a success. To use a common phrase from our household, “Hey, we’re making memories here!”

So to a red-shirted kid, the Bobbleheads as beamed with pride as moms and dads hit and ran with aplomb, shook their heads in disbelief when they missed catches and throws in Three Stooges-like grandeur while in the field, and just generally hammed it up. No petulance about “parental embarrassment,” no kid telling mom or dad to get off the field, nobody getting mad. Just the shared sheer joy of watching moms and dads goof off a little.

Now that’s tee-ball the Bobblehead way.

Good night, Diary

Us
(PS: Just between you and me I really don’t think Keirnan wanted a “Plan D.”)

autographed bat2

 

Thursday night, June 6, 2002. Late.
Dear Diary:

An era came to an end Thursday night. This probably goes against most any dictionary definition of the term era, but where the Bobbleheads are concerned, that’s kind of how this six-week season felt. This was one special group of kids and parents, Diary.

We said our goodbyes at the season-end potluck for the two tee-ball and two four-pitch teams from Sibley. Eight of our nine stalwarts showed up – and Bailey’s folks stopped by with a thank-you card and a gift certificate for the Coaches Lucker on their way home from the doctor where they had found out that Bailey had strep. They didn’t bring him in, but I went out to see the poor guy in his car seat. He was looking pretty rough until I gave him his participation ribbon and certificate and his sheet of Official Bobblehead Cards.

Bobblehead Cards are way cool, Diary.

Rachel’s dad Dan had brought his digital camera to our last game, and he took action pictures of the squad. Then with the help of his trusty computer, he whipped up a great set of baseball cards – just like real ones, with team name, player names & numbers and great shots of the Bobbleheads in action. Then he printed them all up in glorious color and stuck ‘em in three-hole punched plastic sleeves like real card collectors use. Each kid (and Amy and I) got a set and man, you should’ve seen their faces!

Thanks, Rachel’s Dad!

I don’t know that I have ever been tempted to apply the word noble to a bunch of five, six and seven-year olds – but these guys certainly were that. Never had to scold anyone of them in six weeks of practice or games; never an admonition to stop something, never an altercation amongst the kids themselves. They came every week; they came to play every week. They showed joy in the game, glee in each other. And dang, Diary – they could play! They could all hit like crazy. Heck, everybody batted 1.000 with multiple home runs.

We will remember the way the girls played the field (so to speak.) Week in, week out Angel, Hannah and Rachel all made great plays defensively. Kiernan and Sebastian can also flash some mean leather. Bailey was everywhere, every game – smiling ear-to-ear every minute he was on the field. Will’s love of leading calisthenics was matched only by his ease at being distracted by crawling bugs and other stuff in the infield dirt. He misses a lot of plays, but he sees more of things and life than most. And you gotta love Joey and Mali, the two youngest, two littlest guys we had – and with two of the biggest hearts on any diamond, anywhere. It wasn’t lost on me that the name chanting for batters by their teammates from the bench started with a spontaneous, enthusiastic focus on Joey and Mali.

At the end of the potluck we coaches each got to introduce our team and hand out their ribbons and certificates. I explained to the crowd our penchant for high-fives every time a kid got to first, third or home. We got in one last high-five as each kid came up to get their stuff and then we ended our team turn in the spotlight with one final group crouch leading up to a cacophonous “Goooooooooooo Bobbbbbbleheads!!!” I personally will admit to a couple of tears, and could rat out more than a few parents who were dabbing at their own eyes.

Funny what you’ll get from a bunch of tee-ball playing kids.

That’s it for now, Diary. See you next year.

Us

bobblehead bat

May, 2016.
Dear Diary

Epilog.

Alas, there was no ‘next year’ as we moved out-of-town. While I do know at least one set of our parents went on to spread the Bobblehead gospel at another south Minneapolis park, save for my own son, I have no idea where any of these kids are now, but I’d like to think that somewhere, deep down inside each one of them, at least a little bit of the joy of being a Bobblehead still remains.

Because man…could those kids play ball.

autographed ball2

Time to go fishing

May 14, 2016

Homage w SF

 

From the book ‘Gathered Pinecones’ – on sale now, in paperback or for Kindle: 

http://lrd.to/gathered-pinecones

Shakespeare: tragedy, comedy…and whatever it is my students do with it

April 24, 2016

william-shakespeareWhile getting my sophomore English classes ready to tackle Julius Caesar, we spend time wrapping up our unit on poetry with some Shakespearean sonnets, and then dive into a two-day crash-course in Elizabethan English, in part using a series of Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English ‘cheat sheets’. It makes for a nice segue from unit to unit and I have discovered that a few days focused on learning the language is worth the effort from a comprehension standpoint.

Some classes really get into it, some don’t – but there is one particular phrase that we always have some issues with: ho.

From one of our Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English glossaries:
ho—hey (roughly equivalent). “Lucius, ho!” [Brutus calling his servant]

There is, of course, some tittering the first couple of times this is said, but it is a very common phrase in Shakespearean language, and very soon the snickering becomes a natural, more comfortable, street-inflected ‘Hoe’ as opposed to the Elizabethan ‘Ho’!

juliuscaesar1953“Lucius, ho!”
“Lucius! Hoe! Come hither”!

The distinction is not very subtle, and adds a whole different layer of linguistic oddity to my sojourn through the Bard, as there is a vast difference between summoning someone and calling someone…

something like that.

Thou hast noooooo idea.

I always end our pre-Caesar or Macbeth week by having my students rewrite one of their daily start-of-class journal entries into a Shakespearean epic. The prompt I use is imagining or remembering a weekend outing with a friend, including a lot of dialogue. After the writing, we then share some of the results out loud – usually to a mixture of laughter and bewilderment, whether they read what they have written or have me do it.

Here are some of my favorite dagger-stabs at Shakespearean ignominy and glory – verbatim from student papers.


“I stood wall-eyed, “Whence did thee get that zany idea” I said, lapsed. “Thou art mad” I informed him. He discourses. “Thou shouldntst hark. I woo her”. I cursed him. I shook my head. “What are thee going to dost? Thee have a foe”’.

Heavy, he said “I know, come hither. Thou art verily something”. Balked and mated, he didn’t have the addiction of discourses words such as these”.

I am quite sure of that, actually. I think.

edwinbooth“Today, Friday the 13, my friends and I heard tidings that we had to go appoint to the mall for some hours”.

“My best friend hark me Friday, doth thee went to hie eat out”.
“Perchance, an I doth not have anything to doth”.

For which we can all be grateful, I suppose.

This next one from a kid who rarely writes more than a sentence or two…again verbatim:

“It’s Friday e’en, methinks perchance I should call my friend to see an thee wants to skate. Methinks also about thee girlfriend.  An thee hie hither, thee nots going to have a ride back home. I should privy the mom for a ride back home, but that’s too much. Adieu that idea, so thee calls my friend to come over. Soft, I left thee board in thee mom’s car”.

Hopefully, she’ll find it and give it back to the kid.

Some stray entries from our you-have-to-admire-the-honesty (HATH) department:

HATH #1 “Oft my morrow I am alone and maybe retired because I am an introvert. But were to I discourse and visit with my friends, we off hie to World Market and Barnes and Noble”.

HATH #2 “Today I shall couch. I fancy some chicken for today. Perchance even some tacos. Were I for my dad wrought me the money. I don’t want to woo a job with my friend”.

HATH #3 “Twas a quaint morrow and methinks of a cunning idea. The idea was to mate with a friend”.

The writer of HATH #3 and I had to have a little, um, sidebar conversation.

Moving on, as many of my New Orleans students and colleagues frequently say: “We were conversating”:

We couldn’t think of anything to do. So finally something came to me.

Hitting a bowling strikeCarla: Natalie, I thought of something
Natalie: Aye
Carla: Hark, the bowling alley.
Natalie: Perchance.
Carla: Okay because I couldn’t think of anything.

 Later that e’en we got dressed and my mom brought us.

Natalie: I bet I can rap a strike before thee
Carla: Methinks not.

Hair is always a popular topic with my students. ‘Going Shakespeare’ changes that not.

hair“It’s like this every Saturday night. Addiction hath I curl my hair. We go out after about two hours of unpregnant babbling”.

“This Friday I’m going to doth my best friend hair
It’s going to take all day but I don’t care
Thee will hie to the movies
whence everything is groovy”.

 

Stupendous efforts, all. But nobody else went quite in this direction:

One young woman, a recent transfer into my class and a very good, prolific writer, allowed me to read her lengthy and detailed entry, which centered on her mother, who suffered from a long-term illness,  giving her and her friends money to drive to a neighboring community to run an errand.

“Speaketh to Mary, Liz, Kenny and Jame” I told her as we got onto the bus. Charlene nodded, pulling out her cellphone and texting all the names listed. I called mother telling her we’ll clean the home, also that we made plans for the morrow. Mother insisted we’d deliver money to Sir Bradley for some of his homemade brownies”.

She went on, making good use of ‘forsooth’ and ‘hither’ among others in describing their nervousness in being followed (innocently and coincidentally, it seems) by a police officer as they returned home with the purchased baked goods from a neighboring suburb.

I read the entire piece, looked at the girl, asked if the story was true. She nodded. “Really? YC&Cfiberonebrowniiesou drove that far for brownies? Those kind of brownies”?

“You knew what I meant”?

“I grew up in the sixties and seventies. I know exactly what kind of brownies you meant.”

“Cool”.

Verily. Shakespeare with my students always is.

To dye for

March 26, 2016

Easter eggs always make me chuckle. Not the inside-joke or special treat hidden inside a movie or video game ‘Easter egg’ – not the trinket filled, plastic variety, but real, from a chicken, dyed-with-food-coloring-tablets-and-vinegar Easter eggs, in all their splendor.

Some years ago I lived in Marshalltown, Iowa, and was a member of the local Jaycees chapter. We hosted an annual Easter egg hunt on the grounds of the Iowa Veterans Home; a sprawling, hilly landscape dotted with Civil war cannon2cannons and statues of various ilk – ideal hiding places for eggs.

And man, did we hide eggs.

The egg boiling and dying took the better part of the week, as did the stuffing of plastic eggs with candy and trinkets. On the appointed Saturday before Easter, we showed up early in the morning, two hours before the start of the event. Taking care to avoid places rabid egg hunters might trample, we avoided neatly manicured flower beds, but pretty much everything else was in play. We used every nook and cranny of statue bases, shrubs, antique cannons, trees…you get the idea. We had two pickup trucks filed with eggs, and we used the bulk of those two hours making sure things were distributed over a wide area.

When we looked back over the scene from the high ground where the hunt would begin, we could see a smattering of eastereggs3color here-and-there, but for the most part we knew we had concealed the bounty well. Then the kids arrived, roughly one hundred of them, none older than nine. They had their baskets and bags clenched tightly in their hands, the starter got ready with a countdown to let them loose, and long-term Jaycees suddenly flipped their wrists to check their watches, and the starter yelled “GO!”

It was over in forty-seven seconds; an impressive Biblical-in-scope-locust-swarm-in-OshKosh-B’gosh had stripped the grounds of anything pastel in color and/or plastic in nature. Over. Done. Clean as a whistle Kids were wandering aimlessly, finding nothing else, carrying looks of everything from utter joy to bewilderment: ‘YESSSSS!” to “I got nothing.”grasss3

In less than a minute.

There were other activities for the kids to partake in elsewhere on the grounds, and as the kids departed, baskets of goodies in hand, some of the Jaycee vets of egg hunts past started strolling the various cannons and statuary, and I overheard multiple variations on a theme.

“How did they find THAT one?!”eastereggs4

“They found the one in the cannon fuse hole.”

“Didn’t think they’d find the one I hid THERE!”

“Yep, they plucked us clean again.”

I have not seen anything like it in the thirty-plus years since.

Since my muse is egging me on…

When my daughter Lindsay was two, we helped her dye Easter eggs, and to her delight but eventual boredom, we whipped up an extra dozen to give to our staff at the small town radio station I managed.

eastereggsThe Thursday morning before Easter, I stuck a whimsically decorated egg into each staff person’s mailbox, including a bright, purple egg into the slot labeled ‘Don Thomas’. In reality, ‘Don’ was Tom Shumacher, a middle-aged, part-time announcer at the station. Uncle Tommy (as we sometimes called him) was a quirky guy with deep bass radio voice and a hearty laugh that got ample use, as his sense of humor and inability to keep a straight face were both easily triggered.

I made the plain, bright purple egg special for Uncle Tommy, because I wanted to make sure I didn’t get his egg confused with one of the eggs for the other staff.

Because Tom’s egg was the one of the batch that was not hard-boiled.

I had learned that Tom liked hard-boiled eggs, during a conversation about our respective family Easter plans. I figured giving Tom and only Tom an egg would have seemed suspicious, so I came up with the plan to color eggs for all to basically legitimize my prank.

As I envisioned the gag, there were three, highly possible outcomes:
1. He decides to eat the egg at work, cracks it open, makes a mess, we all have a good laugh
2. He takes the egg home, gives it to his (then) wife to make egg salad with, she cracks it open and, as a woman with a droll sense of humor would find her annoyance overridden by the amusement
3. Tom takes the raw egg home, and somehow his teenaged son Patrick gets a hold of it, cracks it open, and responds with confusion

You know what they say about the best-laid-eggs. I mean, plans.

I had not considered option number four: that Tom, finding the egg to be quite colorful, would bring it to his sister, a resident of a local long-term care facility, to brighten up her room during the holiday season. To top things off, he had also taken with him the little die-cut cardboard chicken to hold the egg (I had put some of those in the mailboxes, too) so the egg could stand on the table in her room for all to see.

Eggsactly what happened.

One of the staff nurses came in later that afternoon, complimented Tom’s sister on how lovely the egg was, to which she replied, “Well, it will just go to waste here, why don’t you take it home for your little girl?” The nurse, very
appreciative, did just that.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Tom returned to the station the next afternoon to help record some commercials. There were still a number of eggs sitting in mailboxes, which prompted Tom to thank me for the nice purple egg. Keeping a straight face I said, “Oh you’re welcome….” I paused, as comedic timing is everything, before adding, “How was it?”purple-easter-egg-38169082
“I don’t know. I gave it to my sister. Thought her room could use some holiday cheer.”
“Are you headed back over there today?” I asked, hopefully.
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
“Do you think she’ll eat it?”
“No, she doesn’t like eggs and it’s been sitting out.”

I figured I needed to spill the beans (or, in this case, let him in on the intended yoke) to which Tom responded with gut-busting laughter. Once he caught his breath, he calmly said, “’ll just call over there and make sure the nurses tell her not to eat it.” He was still laughing.

He made the call, explaining to the nurse that there was a purple egg in his sister’s room he wanted to make sure she didn’t try to eat. There was a pause, Tom waited. A minute later the conversation began anew. “It’s not? Oh, realllllllly…” he started chuckling. “O.K., thanks a lot.” He returned the phone receiver to its cradle and, between guttural chortles explained that his sister no longer had the egg, that she had given it to a nurse to bring home to her daughter, and that the nurse in question was off all weekend, not returning until Monday.

By the end of relating his phone call with the care center, he had tears in his eyes from laughing. I was laughing as well, but figured there would be some eventual blowback on this – and there was, but nothing bad. As the story eastereggs5eventually made its way back to us, the nurse brought the egg and holder home, her daughter displayed it on the counter, as mom suggested she not eat it since it hadn’t been refrigerated. The girl agreed, but somewhere along the line, the girl grabbed the egg to show to someone, dropped it, and it went ‘splat’. Child and mother cleaned up minor mess, the mom simply figuring somebody goofed, and colored a raw egg by accident.

By the Tuesday after Easter, the story of the wayward egg had made the rounds of the care center, Tom’s family, and the WYRQ staff, all of whom seemingly found the story more odd/dumb than amusing, causing Tom to find it even MORE amusing with every retelling, especially when he related the dialogue, starting with his sister and the nurse.

“That egg you gave me was raw.”
Broken-egg-on-the-floor“I know. I’m sorry. My brother called and told me it wasn’t cooked, but you had gone home already.”
“Why did your brother give you a raw egg?”
“He didn’t know it was raw. It was a gift from his boss.”
“Why would his boss give him a raw egg?”
“I think it was supposed to be a joke.”
“Oh.”

Although, I could have laid a gigantic egg with this gag, Uncle Tommy and I at least amused ourselves (and occasionally, others) with the story for many years after.

And as far as Easter egg stories go, “Ebbeddaebbedaebbedda! That’s albumin, folks.”

raw-eggs

 

 

Baseball Hymnal

March 20, 2016

For true baseball fans, the months of February and March are equivalent in their intensity and anticipation as an eight-year-old wakes up the morning after Thanksgiving and begins awaiting the arrival of Christmas morning.

The move from winter doldrums to the idea of spring training sites coming to life all across Florida and Arizona is the transition from the gluttony-to-couch-hibernation of Thanksgiving to the rest of the holiday season – a joyous, springtraining1anticipatory harbinger of the great thing to come: a fresh baseball season.

And much like the end-of-the-calendar-year excitement, spring training starts with thoughts of thanks being given, ends with an opening day.

Ahh, spring.

A few Sundays back, I was driving with my wife Amy, and seventeen-year-old son Sam. My cheery mood was noted and I replied that it was based, in large part, on it being the day that it was pitchers and catchers spring reporting day for my hometown Minnesota Twins. This came on the heels of a chat the three of us had been having about something that occurred at Christmas. And since I had both baseball and Christmas on my mind…my family was spontaneously feted with song:

“‘Fill my mind with thoughts of baseball! Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!”

This got me a ‘don’t-quit-your-day-job’ glance from my wife, and a verbal “Please don’t” from my son. Then, stopped at a red light, I asked for some assistance to complete this ditty:

“Out to the shortstop, skip, skip, skip…”

Silence. There were no takers or baseball lyricists in our van. Yet.

But, try as she might, my fellow baseball aficionado and spouse of twenty-three plus years could not avoid adding her
meshbagmusical change-up. A pause at a stoplight and the conversation was suddenly enlivened by Amy’s quick-thinking ‘carol of the balls’:

“Throw red stitched balls!
Hit red stitched balls!
Baseball is here!
Baseball is here!”

She ended with a deep sigh, then an apology to Sam – with the rueful disclaimer that after many years together, couples oddly but unwittingly begin to often think alike. By then, however, the damage was done. (Did I mention my wife and I had a baseball-themed wedding back in ’92 after having met during the Twins World Series run in ‘91?)

As the drive and the day continued, it occurred to me that baseball and Christmas have a lot in common: both are celebrated by a large portion of the populace – many with a certain, near obsessive vehemence – and both baseball and Christmas have components that are deeply ritualistic and spiritual in nature, and aspects that are purely secular. Each is celebrated with prescribed formalities and habits, each brings joy to many (and corresponding disappointment to some) hope to most all who partake. Each pursuit requires ample faith that is tested regularly.

The symmetrical intertwining of Christmas and baseball is as tight as the one-hundred-eight red stitches that hold together a regulation sphere of horsehide.

catchingballAnd speaking of horses (like your team’s best starting pitcher)

“Just hear those baseballs thwacking
and gloves-a-smacking anew!
No matter the weather
its baseball, and we are renewed!”

Until writing this piece, I never realized that two of my favorite Christmas songs (Oh, Christmas Tree and Oh, Holy Night) have some eerie similarities in rhythm:

“Oh baseball time,springtraining2
oh baseball time
your stars are
brightly shining…”

or

“Ohhhhhh, baseball tiiiiime….
…your stars are brightly shiiiiiiining….”

Oh-kay. Moving up a base, because that was a hit-and-run.

springtraining3“It’s the MOST wonderful time of the year!
With no cellar-dwelling, the coaches all yelling,

in get-in-shape cheeeeer…
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Admit it: you heard that sung by Andy Williams.

CurrierandIvesThough not historically accurate, this one is Currier and Ives all the way

“God rest ye merry baseball fans!
Let nothing you dismay!
Remember that in Cooperstown
was born our glorious game!”

Of course, while spring brings tidings of good baseball cheer and a new sense of optimism for the season ahead, there is always the powerful factor of longing and nostalgia to account for.

“I’m dreaming of an old baseballVintage-Baseballcrosby
just like the ones we used to throw
We played like our heroes, 
threw shutout zeroes
made all the catches when we dreamed.
I’m dreaming of an old baseball
just like the ones I used to throw…”

Fact: Bing Crosby was a huge baseball fan, and once owned a majority share of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Coincidence? I think not.

In closing, I offer a joyous wish all baseball fans can appreciate this time of year.

“We wish you a series season! We wish you a series season!
We wish you a series season, and a World Series win!
We hope you hoist the trophy! We hope you hoist the trophy!
We hope you hoist the trophy, while being sprayed with beer!
We wish you a year of home runs! We wish you a summer of fun!
We wish you lots of baseball….It’s time to playyyyyyyy balllllll!”vintagekids

So, in the memorable words of Twins pitcher Jack Morris, prior to his unforgettable, eleven-inning masterpiece, game seven of the ’91 series: “In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye…let’s get it on!”

Batter up!

Middle-aged, and sticking it

February 18, 2016

calf-strainIt has been a while since I have feted you with a pogo update.

The last two weeks have been shorter workouts due to weather issues and a pulled left-calf. Fine for the most part, mid-pogoing, it tightens up once done. It is also a bit twingy on the dismounts – but improving. Not debilitating enough to keep me on the pogo sideline.

There have been some more interesting street encounters while on the stick. (Keep in mind I always stop pogoing and stand to the side when traffic is on the block.)

One day last week, a young police officer pulled up, rolled down the passenger window, said to me quite sternly, “That thing looks very dangerous!”

The SuperPogo 2 was leaning up against my chest, so with outstretched hands, I pleaded my case: “Ahh, but not in the hands of a pogo6qualified, with-it user!”

The cop laughed and we chatted for a few minutes; I ran through the Reader’s Digest version of the story – always wanted one, got it for Christmas, longest stretch I’ve stuck with an exercise routine in decades, etc. He seemed mildly impressed.

“I tried a friend’s pogo stick out when I was a kid. Hit some gravel, wiped out. Hit a hole, fell on my face in a puddle. That was it for me.” He shook his head, smiling ruefully.

“Again” I stated, arms outstretched, palms up, pointer fingers aimed back. “Skilled, responsible practitioner.” He laughed heartily, told me to keep it up, and to be safe, I wished him the same good fortune.

Two nights ago, longest workout in a while, breaking a nice sweat and had a strong rhythm – except for the traffic interruptions: a young couple walking a schnauzer that I apparently scared the hell out of, and two young moms pushing toddlers in baby strollers. One child was fascinated enough to stop sucking on her bottle, the other one…not so much; he kept working his pacifier. The moms glanced at me awkwardly, looking up from their texting briefly enough to do so.

pogo2A middle-aged guy on a pogo-stick may strike some as odd, but moms pushing kids in strollers down the middle of a street, talking to each other while also texting on smartphones balanced on the trays of their strollers, brings a whole new twist to ‘distracted driving.’

Just sayin’.

I was just winding down my workout when the guy across the street came home from work. I don’t know him, but he is usually pretty amiable, waving and saying hello and such. He is about my age and works out fairly regularly – or is just in really great shape. I think he hits the gym on a regular basis, while his wife, Mary, is an avid runner.

Per street-pogo protocol, I hopped off, stood to the side as he pulled up. He got out, waved and said, “Now THAT looks like quite the workout!” in a tone that suggested ‘impressive stuff, dude’!

“Is that something new?” He, too, then got the Reader’s Digest version of Mark’s Pogo Saga.

“Well, that’s great!” (same, ‘impressive, dude’ tone) “Keep it up and have a good one!”

With that, he waved, went inside his house, I worked a couple more med-range runs of 30-40 in and called it a night.

(Sidebar, here: at the start of the new year, I took a teaching job at the same school my wife has been teaching at for the last five years, so we now get to commute together, which is pretty cool, but was very funny the morning following my encounter with the guy across the street.)

pogo1

The next morning, Amy and I are headed out to go to work at the same time that Mary, our neighbor across the street is doing the same.

The next morning, Amy and I are headed out to go to work at the same time that Mary, our neighbor across the street is doing the same. The three of us greet each other with waves, and then Mary (the avid runner) says, “My husband said you were out here last night jumping on a pogo stick!”

“I was indeed. It’s my new workout regimen.”

“That’s awesome!” I could hear my wife sigh.

I gave Mary the R-D version of the story, adding, “And it works! Dropped two pounds and two belt notches since I started!”

“Oh, wow. That’s great! Be careful and keep at it!”

“Oh, I will. “

With that, she got into her car; I climbed into the driver’s seat of the van. Amy had already taken up residence in the passenger seat. She was shaking her head, and then, with a rueful smile, she sighed. “Yeah….” We started driving away. “The neighborhood must all think we’re nuts.”

“Funny how they all express concern about my safety.”

“Yeah, well, you probably look a little…wild out there. They ARE entertained by you. “She shook her head.

The situation reminded me of a previous street pogo-encounter. “I’m guessing their conversation was something like that jogging-guy who was staying with his parents I met a few weeks ago; ‘Hey, mom! Some old kid down the block let me use his new pogo stick!’”

“Yeahhhhhh, I’mmmmm sure it was something like that.” We had turned two corners, were heading for work. Amy was still shaking her head. “You. Are. Something.”

“What can I tell you?”

“Pogo on, I guess?” she offered, with another sigh.

“Pogo on!” I confirmed.

What more is there to say?

pogo13

 

In the bag

February 11, 2016

A true tale of romance.

I spent the bulk of my thirties working at the Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis. The 260-room hotel was a very nice, well run property right off the edge of downtown, and along with the usual array of business travelers and sports fans, its setting in a vibrant theatre and restaurant hub made us a prime locale for many a romantic getaway roses6for locals.

Ahh, romance.

As a top-notch schmoozer, I had mastered the art of making myself indispensable to my hotel guests. As a bellman, van driver and concierge rolled-into-one, I would greet guests, get them settled in, all while providing as much assistance as I could for needs logistical and practical: dinner suggestions and reservations combined with transportation to-and-from via one of our hotel vans were easy ways to make a special impression.

My most memorable tale of hotel romance began one Friday afternoon right after Labor Day.

I had just come on duty for my three-to-eleven shift when a middle-aged guy pulls up at the front door. I greet him warmly, he returns the pleasantries, we introduce ourselves and I walk-and-talk him to the front desk. There is only one desk clerk on duty, and she is with another guest – my ideal scenario for getting to know guests quickly. I ask him the purpose of his visit, which turns out to be a surprise weekend getaway for him and his wife, commemorating both their twentieth wedding anniversary, and his wife’s recent promotion at work.

Noting that he was there by himself, he explained that his wife was working until five, and that he wanted to get checked in and get everything ready in the room so he could pick her up at work, then bring her right to the hotel instead of home – a big part of the surprise, as she was under the impression that they were simply going out for dinner with friends. He had gone to great lengths to set up the whole ruse and hoped she would share his excitement.

He was delighted to hear about our personalized van service. He already had dinner reservations made, so I quickly firmed up transportation to and from dinner. I also offered to drive him to pick his wife up at work downtown, but he roses9 wanted to pick her up himself and play out his scenario; she wondering all the while why they were driving a route that was not sending them toward their south Minneapolis home.

I liked this guy’s style.

We went out to the man’s car and unloaded their luggage; one suitcase for each of them, the man commenting that he had his sister-in-law pack his wife’s bag, so everything she should need for a romantic weekend getaway would be in place, and would actually go together appropriately. He had obviously done his homework and seemed quite confident about it.

Along with the suitcases, I took charge of a gift-wrapped box of chocolates and a cooler filled with ice and beverages. As I loaded the last of the items on the luggage cart, the man carefully reached into the front seat and pulled out a brown shopping bag, the top rolled over neatly, and creased tightly. Handing it to me, he said simply, “Here, Mark, roses7please put this on the top – and be very careful with it. Don’t squish it!”

It was very light and I couldn’t imagine what was in it, but I held it carefully in my right hand while steadily guiding my loaded luggage cart through the lobby, onto the elevator, and up to the fourteenth floor and room 1429 – one of our two ‘honeymoon suites’ complete with whirlpool for two, elevated bed and panoramic view of the Minneapolis skyline.

I gently placed the brown paper bag on the bed, set the cooler on the floor in the corner, and the suitcases on luggage stands while he proceeded to case the joint. He was very pleased with the room and the view, and when I asked him if there was anything else I could assist him with, he looked at me sheepishly and made one of the more unique requests on record:

“Yeah, do you have a few minutes…” he paused, adding, cryptically, “…are you very artistic”?

Assuring him that, as an artist and writer, I had the expertise – though I could not imagine what I would be using it for. With an excited smile, he grabbed the bag off the bed and thrust it back into my hands. “I need your help spreading these around the room!”  I opened the bag, peered inside.roses10

It was a shopping bag full of red rose petals, harvested from his wife’s backyard garden.

The next few minutes involved some impromptu interior decorating teamwork, as we brainstormed how to scatter the rose petals for maximum visual effect. We agreed a path of petals leading from the door to the raised-bed area and a branch off path toward the hot tub was a must. The bed itself would, of course, need a liberal upholstering of red, but that clashed garishly with the teal and rust colored bedspread. My solution was to do a nice turndown of the bedspread; the fleecy beige blanket underneath made a much less cluttered, more neutral canvas for our rose petal artistry.

It started looking pretty sharp.

roses1He then realized to his dismay that we were out of rose petals. He had wanted to save some for sprinkling in the hot tub and for…something else he had in mind but would not divulge. With disappointment he asked if we could pick up some of what we had already scattered and redistribute them, but I had another thought: there was a florist nearby that could probably accommodate our extra-petal needs fairly cheaply. I also offered a half-joking suggestion that maybe he could even get his wife a corsage for the evening out. He liked that idea – a lot.

So off we went.

Hearing my telling of the guy’s story, the staff at Riverside Floral was all over this one. Ten minutes later we were on our way back to the hotel with a prom-like wrist corsage, a plastic bag full of red rose petals, and some sound advice I have kept on hand to this day: don’t put the rose petals in the hot tub until after the water had cooled a bit.

Warm water, so we were told, would just make the petals shrivel up.

(That information came in handy not just that night, but a few other times with other hotel guests. Plus, I have been roses8able to casually drop the advice into few random conversations throughout the years with people looking for that little something extra in the romance department. Good information is always useful.)

We returned to the hotel, I double checked with room service to make sure the champagne the guy had arranged for with his reservation would be on ice in the room by five; already done. We then said our goodbyes, and he graciously thanked me both verbally and monetarily. I then made sure I was the driver for their six-forty-five van run to the restaurant.

As curious as I had been about the bag, I was even more interested the love interest in our story.

I saw them get off the elevator, and got my first glimpse at his wife. She, too was middle-aged, svelte, shoulder-length roses3blonde hair, wearing a stylish, basic black dress, hip, black pumps…and a wrist corsage she kept glancing at quizzically. The dress was simple and stylish, appropriate and definitely not in high-school-homecoming dance way, which made the corsage seem a bit whimsical. Her sister had pulled together a very nice, stylish ensemble.

The corsage drew some curious looks.

Her husband and I exchanged waves as he stopped by the desk to take care of something, and she walked over to the bell stand. She looked at me, graciously held out her hand while shaking her head and barely suppressing a smile. “And you must be Mark, the guy who helped with all of…this.” She held up her flower-bedecked left wrist, twisting it around to see it from all angles.

“Yes, ma’am. I guess I am.” I said with a smile. “And how are you this evening?”  Her husband walked by, said “It’ll be just a minute” and disappeared into the gift shop.

“Well” she said, a bit incredulously, leaning casually on the bell stand counter. “I feel a bit like I’m going to the prom. And I haven’t been to a prom in over thirty years.”  She held up her left arm again, twisting it back and forth a few times, perplexed. “I understand this part was all your idea”?

“Umm, yes, ma’am…I guess it was.” I replied with a slightly embarrassed chuckle.

She shook her head, smiling. “Let’s seeeeee. You, my sister…I wonder who else is in on this?” I could only shrug in roses2honest ignorance.

To my relief, her husband emerged from the gift shop, said “I see you’ve met Mark!”

“I have” she responded, with a chuckle. I got the impression that she was finding the whole situation a bit ridiculous, and didn’t want to hurt his feelings or ego. We got into the van, had an uneventful drive to the restaurant and I picked them up after dinner and returned them to the hotel. They were both very gracious, and he was a very generous tipper.

At evening’s end, she had not yet mentioned the rose petals.

The next day I was standing in the lobby and the wife walked up to me, greeting me warmly, and extending her hand. She seemed far more at ease than in our first meeting. She confirmed that I was scheduled to drive them downtown for shopping and sightseeing, then she thanked me for roses11helping her husband set up her surprise weekend. I asked her if everything was okay with the room and with her stay over all, if there was anything else I could do to make their stay better.

It was all I could do to not hint at anything concerning roses.

“Oh, everything is just fine” she replied, cheerfully, adding, “Last night…was… just…just…” she trailed off, seeming a bit sheepish, and at a loss for…more genteel words. “It was all wonderful. Last night was…wonderful. Everything was….”
She paused, looking at the floor, seeming a bit embarrassed, then adding with a chuckle “The wrist corsage was a bit much. And the roses in the hot tub…”

She shook her head and smiled, then sighed deeply. “And I understand you helped with sprinkling the roses, and even getting some of them”?

“Yes, ma’am. Your husband’s idea. I just helped him get some extra petals. He brought most of them with him.”

Her eyes opened wide, she shook her head ruefully and chuckled “Ohhhh, yeah. He told me all about THAT! Those rose petals were from MY garden, did he tell you that? I work hard on that garden!”

Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure where this was going. But at least she was still smiling, still shaking her head in disbelief.

“You know, I was going to deadhead those roses for fall this weekend, anyway” She paused, looked at me with mock seriousness. “If this had been in June…you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. The only flowers here would be for his funeral!”  She laughed heartily.

“So it’s okay, then”? I asked.

“Oh, Its fine. I’m sure he deadheaded them properly”. She stood there for a moment, shaking her head again and laughing to herself. “This was just so not ‘him’ – getting my sister involved, planning a surprise weekend…rose petals…corsages…” her voice trailed off. “Crazy.”

I could not disagree.

“It’s been a really great weekend. Thank you, Mark”. She grabbed my hand gently and shook it –vigorously, warmly.

“You’re welcome. And congratulations on the promotion”.

“He told you about that, too?”

“He said it was part of the reason for the celebration along with your anniversary”.

“Wow.” Was all she could muster at that point. She seemed more than a little surprised that I had that information. She just stared at me.  “Wow” she repeated.

Her husband came off the elevator, waved, walked up to us. “Ready to head downtown”? I asked jauntily. We got in roses12the van. The whole drive there I couldn’t help from glancing at them in my rearview mirror: when they sat down, she pulled him close to her side, her arm intertwined with his, her head on his shoulder. Sitting side-by-side on the bench seat of that garish green Ford Econoline van, you may have thought I was driving a couple of Hollywood hot shots to a red carpet somewhere in a shiny black stretch.

Looking in the mirror, I knew the shoe was now on the other foot: he was the one now who seemed genuinely surprised.

I, for one, was not.

Leaps and bounds

January 31, 2016

This past year, gift wise, I got the Christmas I should have had when I was twelve: a pogo stick, and a guitar.

I am fifty-six years old.

The guitar has gotten little use as yet – I am awaiting getting a friend to get it tuned properly, and the book/CD set I ordered on ‘how to teach yourself to play the guitar’ turns out to no longer be available.

Groucho1There is, however, I similar book available via Kindle that references YouTube videos. We’ll see how THAT goes.

The pogo stick, on the other hand, has become my sticking-with-it-in-spades workout regimen.

And pogoing has turned into a real head turner in my New Orleans neighborhood.

Full disclosure: the SuperPogo 2 that my wife and son got me for Christmas is the first pogo stick I have ever owned – only the second, maybe third I have ever been one; this is NOT Citizen Lucker’s ‘Rosebud’.

I have just always wanted a pogo stick.

When I first started out, I figured it would take me a while to get the balance part down, but figured since I still ride a bike from time to time, there should be nothing vertigo-inducing – so far, so good on that count.  I also figured that since I was going to feature pogoing (pogo sticking? pogo-stick-jumping seems redundant, but I can find no grammatical consensus, so I stick with pogoing) I was going to have to work into getting my legs – specifically hamstrings, calves and knees – back into more functional order.

I never considered my thighs to be the most pogo-abused part of my anatomy.

For the most part, no issues with the legs themselves. Being a teacher, and spending all day on my feet in front of a classroom, I think is a huge plus in that area.  But the thighs – oh man. As my workouts have intensified in length POGOand rigor, the old upper legs have had to get up to speed.

On the plus side, the old gluteous has fared pretty well. Aside from one big spill on day two, and one a few weeks later, I have mostly avoided major spills. In fact, the clean, land-on-feet dismount was the first thing I mastered. Though I have yet to get anything above a 6.1 from the East German judges.

Oh, and I have discovered that pogo is great DIY-chiro: after a stressful day in class, nothing loosens up the neck, shoulders and lower back better.  Who knew?

Sitting here on the verge of February, I have stuck with this exercise regimen farther into the new year than any other attempt I can remember. In fact, I think I have developed a bit of an addiction. There are times at school where I have made note of how long it was til the end of the day, and mentally started plotting out in my head the schedule for picking my son p at school, getting home…and should I start dinner, then go pogo, or pogo and then start dinner.

I am hooked.  And getting much better – regularly stringing together sixty, and seventy pogo sequences. I can break a good sweat and get the old ticker rate up there with a solid fifteen minute workout.  Which brings me to that ‘head turning’ bit I mentioned earlier.

By the time we get home, and I get changed and get out to the street in front of my house, it is usually around four-thirty in the afternoon.  We live on a nice residential street that doesn’t see a ton of traffic – until my neighbors start arriving home from work.  There have been some rather, eh, interesting encounters to date.

One afternoon, just as I got started, our thirtyish neighbor arrived home with her daughter. They are always friendly, she waved ‘hi’ and hollered from a house away, “So – you got a new toy?”
“Always wanted one. First workout regimen I’ve stuck with this far into the new year!”
She nodded. “My father loves to pogo. My cousin got a pogo stick for Christmas and my father basically stole it from him. You can’t get him off the thing.”
“If I may ask, how old is your father?”
“Oh, I want to say…sixty six.”
“He’s got ten years on me!” Catching my breath, I added, “If I do say, your father is a great man!”
She laughed. Her kindergartenish daughter looked perplexed. They waved, went inside. I went back to work.

A week or so later, I had a rather intense, broke-a-decent-sweat, multicultural twenty minutes of neighborly encounters.

Well, fifteen or so, anyway. I must have killed five minutes chatting with…

A white guy in his late twenties, maybe thirty, named Ben who had been jogging through the neighborhood stopped by on his third lap, said “hey, man – that is cool. Is that one of those that they do backflips and stuff with?” I laughed and said, “No, I don’t think so. This is one of the stripped down, basic models.”

Admiringly he said, “It’s cool. Do you have a record set yet?”
“Yeah, eleven.”
SP2-1“Why pogo?”
“I’ve always wanted a pogo stick, so for Christmas, my wife and son sprung for one.”  You want to give it a try?”

“Sure!”

He did, and ripped off a couple of fairly high five-pogo runs, then handed me the stick. “Nice workout plan.” We exchanged pleasantries about where I really feel the burn (the thighs more than hamstrings thing he found of interest. Fellow health nut) he said “Oh, I get that. Thanks again!” I asked him if he lived in the area and he told me that he was ‘staying with his parents, up the street’ for a while.

As Ben started to jog away, our Hispanic, twenty-something, neighbors drove up, started getting stuff out of their car. The husband says “Hey, Friday afternoon workout! Great!” and gives me a big thumbs up.

Pogotracker MON 01 18 16

Imagine if a FitBit could track pogo…

Then our mail carrier, great guy, African-American, early sixties, drives up, delivers to the house across the street, then starts walking to the next house, stops. He looks at me, peers over the top of his glasses and dryly offers my favorite pogo observation to date: “The minute I see YOU on one of those hoverboards . . . I’m HEADIN’ for the hills!”

Building middle-aged street cred, I am.

What I didn’t think about until long after y workout was young Ben returning to his parent’s house, and what the conversation might have been like:

MOM: “Hi, Ben. How was your jog?”
BEN: ‘Oh, nice. I met a new old kid down the street who let me try out his new pogo stick!”
MOM: “Oh. Well that’s, um….nice? I guess, dear….?”

Five bucks says there was some variation on that conversation at Ben’s temporary domicile.

But my favorite encounter (from afar) was just this past week. I have gotten pretty consistent, and have also begun IMG_20151229_222000actually pogoing in the direction I wish to go, instead of just random hopping around. This past week, I was out on the stick, pogoing toward the end of our block. The cross street, Filmore Avenue, is fairly busy, and also has a lot of pedestrian traffic. As I am boing-boing-boinging up the block, I catch a glimpse of a boy, seven, maybe eight, from a local elementary school (recognized the uniform) with a backpack that was at least the size of his diminutive torso. He was running at a fast clip, eager to get home, when he caught a glimpse of me bounding his way…

About two strides into the street, he slows, but his overloaded backpack weighs him down, forcing him into a bit of a crouch, and he slowly covers the rest of the street bent-over, looking like some demented, walking upright turtle, until he reaches the opposite curb, which he almost stumbles over. He then straightens up, keeps on walking out of my line of vision, headed for home, probably with a story to tell HIS mom.

I’m just waiting for the day when I am not out there, and someone comes to our door and asks “Can the pogo stick guy come out and play?” If that does not happen before April first, I’ll owe my wife twenty-bucks.

my dog has fleasNow that I am getting more proficient (and addicted) to my daily pogo routine, I will have to be more creative in working the guitar into the mix: MY dog HAS…has..FLEAS. Fleaaas.

This one may take a little more time.

Pogo on.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 101 other followers

%d bloggers like this: