Adamantly not skeptical

September 26, 2015

‘The scientific method is a way to ask and answer scientific questions by making observations and doing experiments. The steps of the scientific method are to: Ask a Question. Do Background Research.’ –

Apollo11 modelGrowing up as a kid in the sixties and seventies, I was enamored with science – the space program and geology were youthful passions. For Christmas one year I got a subscription to a National Geographic space club of some sort. I got a monthly, TV Guide-sized magazine (and cool storage boxes to keep them organized in my bookcase) and once in a while I got to order a model of some sort to build: a lunar landing module was a favorite, though getting the legs glued on straight vexed me for quite some time. As for the geology part, I have always loved rocks, and would pick up cool ones, encouraged, to my parents later chagrin (ask my mom about the eleven case of rocks they had to dispose of when they sold our house) by my Gramps, who at least feigned the same curiosity as I in all things mineral, and encouraged me filling my pockets with favored specimens at every turn.

Science was cool when I was a kid.

While I was always inquisitive and curious and did ample scientific experimenting on my own – other Christmas and birthday gifts I treasured were my Skill Craft Chemistry set and my microscope – science was not my strong suit in school. Still, like most kids of my vintage, I soaked in every televised moon launch and landing (big, box TVs on skillcraftchemlab2rolling stands in the hallways at school for every Gemini and Apollo liftoff and splashdown, oh yeah) and just generally enjoyed exploring nature and the world around me.

Which is why I really don’t get all the folks who, vocally and publicly, shun scientific ideas like global warming and the dangers of fracking, to name two. Did these folks never get introduced to the scientific theory in school? I did and I can put it into very easy-to-understand concepts why these things don’t strike me as odd but opposition to them does.

Global warming doesn’t seem logical to you? Think on these examples for a few minutes:

So the world has been humming around for millions of years (even if you are among those of a faith-based belief that the world is just a few thousand years old, same rules will apply here) and just going about its planet thing without much in the way of human screwing around to foul it up. At least until the industrial revolution gets rolling, then we Minneapaolis 1906start digging up, pumping up and burning up more and more stuff from the earth that cities start getting bigger, and most get soot covered and grimy because of the stuff we dig, pump and burn. Pretty basic cause-and-effect stuff here, hard to deny any of that – there is plenty of historical and literary record.

So why then is the idea that after millions/thousands/a-whole-big-bunch-of-years of pristine air and water being fouled by a few hundred years of spewed gunk seem so illogical to so many?

Ahh, here is where the scientific method comes through as always! Don’t believe in global warming? Let’s gather our materials, kids! You’ll need a working stove, a frying pan, and a pound of bacon. Ready to experiment?

Here we go!

First, unwrap your bacon, put it in the frying pan. Put the frying pan on the stove, get the burner going and cook the bacon. Then keep cooking the bacon. More. Keep cooking the bacon until it can’t be cooked anymore or until your baconsmoke alarm goes off. Then keep cooking the bacon.

The soot stains and smell of burned bacon will have permeated your ceiling, and will likely remain until you repaint it. Now, multiply the same basic scenario about 986 billion times and tell me that the concept of global warming is far-fetched.

And before you even go there, don’t be the idiot who shares this post and proclaims me the idiot who blames global warming on over-cooked bacon. And for the record, I’m not big on the cow flatulence theory, but have no real desire to put that to the test.

I could also give you the details about cleaning the tar off the walls of the apartment my two-pack-a-day, widowed grandfather occupied for twenty years, but that’s probably better saved for a post on why I will never be a smoker.

Now about that fracking stuff being just hunky-dory. Kids, don’t try these at home.

People who think that there is no harm in displacing millions/billions of tons of rock by means of hydraulic pressure strike me as really naïve or else they have always lived in places with level, even sidewalks. Like in Steppford, or something.

The house I rented when I first moved to New Orleans was nice, but when they started to demolish the house next fracking4 fracking2door, cracks started to appear in the foundation. They did street work out front and the cracks got bigger. A friend of mine in Minneapolis had the city repairing multiple foundations in his neighborhood after a year’s worth of street work created small cracks in foundations and walls that then became bigger cracks and structural concerns.

My mom’s stepmother’s house was on a primarily residential street that got a fair amount of truck and bus traffic; every time a truck or bus rumbled down the block, the stuff in her china cabinet would rattle like crazy. Eventually, her house got cracks in the front steps and foundation. I can cite numerous other, similar incidents.

Full disclosure, here: I am a Christian, a man of faith, but also a logical thinking guy who doesn’t see things in terms of pure black-and-white. I know that a lot of people of varying faiths don’t believe in global warming, or the dangers of fracking, or a lot of other things that have a lot of evidence behind them; I also know of a lot of others see that these things do happen, but who say it doesn’t matter, because G-d gave humans dominion over the earth, so anything Copernicusgoes. This goes directly against the concept of stewardship (a biblical term that refers to a manager who is responsible for the goods and property of another) my readings and understanding of scripture put me solidly in the stewardship camp.

Just one note for the we-can-do-whatever-because-God-made-us-the-top-of-the-food-chain folks: ‘dominion’ is mentioned juts six times in the Bible, while stewardship is referenced over sixty.

Though this is one idea I can’t back up with scientific theory, I am quite certain that G-d meant of us to take care of the world – not obliterate it for selfish means.

Guess you could say I’m kind of a frying-pan-Copernicus.

Hiatus. How ya doing?

August 12, 2015

Back and posting.

Busy July. I should have hung up the ‘gone fishing’ sign but, alas, I planned no, and did no fishing this summer. I did eat some fish, however. What else did I not do on my summer vacation of which I didn’t really have because my school goes year around? I didn’t clean my garage, for one. Threw some stuff out, but organization time escaped me.

While I didn’t get my garage cleaned out, I did clean out my wallet and phone and it was quite the purge – especially the phone, whose memory I had completely tapped out with photos, videos and saved text messages. Some of those were interesting back-and-forths with my wife that were fun to reminisce on. There were at least a dozen ‘Hey’ ‘Hey’ ‘Goin?’ ‘Fine’ ‘What’s for dinner?’ exchanges of at least twelve comments each. Romance probably isn’t dead, but sometimes the files are corrupted.

‘Cleaning out’ a phone in this day and age is the twenty-first century equivalent of delving into the attic to see what might garner a few bucks at a yard sale or set up a messy tax return after the sale of an Antiques Roadshow find.

Except it’s all in pixels and the really interesting stuff you already forwarded or printed out. Plus, my current phone is only a year old, so the whole ‘antique’ concept is lacking – though the pictures from last summer of my grandsonFelix 05 07 15 - CopyFelix at Honkers game 2014 - Copy seem like an eon removed from now.

His current, ‘almost-four’ (far R)  looks a whole lot closer to fifteen than last summer’s ‘almost-three’ (near L) was to two. Wow. Pretty cool, actually.

Not to say that there weren’t a few other treasures unearthed in my July data-dumping. To wit…

IMG_20150605_144103 IMG_20150605_144114The fire alarm system outside of my classroom. Seriously. I’m all about self-sufficiency and try to impart that to my students, but I am not at all down with a DIY fire alarm. Besides, set one of those air horns off here in New Orleans, and people will just think it’s a drunk Saints fan or reveller just coming-to from last Mardi Gras. This falls somewhere between ‘epic fail’ and a Dr. Phil “What were you thinkin’?!”

IMG_20150212_210159I saw this late one night at the drug store, and was then able to document this historical note: most people are unaware that the Swiss Miss eventually left the world of hot cocoa, grew up and went off to med school. For a time, she had a thriving pediatric practice in Bern, but lost most of it after a stint in rehab due to an addiction issue after she was caught popping excessive amounts of little, white, freeze-dried marshmallows.

Eventually, trying to build a new life, she moved to Nebraska and worked with a colleague in developing this new product. Note the generic packaging; the financial backers of the venture wanted to put her picture on the box, but there was an ugly ‘trademark infringement’ issue that was rasied.

Who knew? Yeah, me either.

An actual conversation that occurred during the rather swift  demise of this suburban New Orleans restaurant after less than a year in business:

Customer, pointing“Umm, excuse me waiter. There is a typo on  your menu here: it should say ‘Cajun-blackened-chicken pizza,’ not ‘Cajun black-lung-chicken pizza.”

Waiter, sighing deeply, for the umpteenth time and with deep resignation, “No, sir. That is NOT a misprint.”



On the more practical end of things, I really like the new style coffee cans with the little foil seal across the top, and no lid to cut off, leaving tendon-severing edges behind. These little lips on the cans are great for bloodless storage in IMG_20150807_065956most any setting, once the coffee is gone.

Except the coffee is never gone. There is always that little, grainy glob of coffee that you cannot get out of the can. It just slides around underneath the can lip – back and forth, back and forth. Maddening, and the only foolproof way to jettison that little amoeba-like colony of coffee grounds would appear to be with the suction doohickey the dentist uses for saliva. To all the dentists I have ever known: could be a nice little side ka-ching for you.

Hey, Kopi Luwak (monkey digested, pooped out) coffee beans sell for about $165 a pound, retail.

Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, most of my personal books in my classroom are labeled with my name – a common teacher practice. As I was IMG_20150508_080507shuffling some things around one day, I glanced down and saw the book I was holding and wondered just how many of my students, former students, colleagues, friends, relatives, offspring, mother – would actually lay down a few greenbacks for any understanding provided by this particular, personal  installment of the popular ‘Dummies’ books..

My wife failed to see the humor, noting that it would defeat the purpose of the series to have one that would require multiple volumes.

Point taken.

Then one day I saw this really big display in the grocery store and all I could think of was every mother and grandmother I have ever known IMG_20150407_172636saying, over-and-over, “Stop playing with your food!”

My real fear here is if the fine folks who make Pringles find success with this ad campaign, we will be deluged with copycat store displays, leading to possible picketing of grocery stores and boycotts of produce departments.

Look, I could have been cheesy here and gone for the meat department joke, but I didn’t. So there.

Before we reach the end, there was this sign that I noticed while walking by a Porta-Potty at a local music festival. At first glance, I thought the sign said ‘MUSE’ and being the writer-guy I am, I thought, ‘well, that is interesting’ and then upon closer inspection I saw that the supposed ‘M’ was really a small, smooshed-together ‘IN.’ Then the poet-guy inside of me thought, ‘well, this is even more interesting’. And so, without further ado-doo:

IMG_20150216_153400The Green Lavatory

so much for Depends

a Porta-Potty

used with pain
no water

hot, fiberglass box
you’re chicken.

Faith, law and compassion

June 30, 2015

This past Sunday I attended services at one of my favorite, regular church stops – a small United Methodist outpost in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The woman who gave the morning’s welcome was a lay person, not overly polished but very compelling as she relayed a personal story from the past week.

The middle-aged woman had been reading a devotional that asked her (I paraphrase) ‘what blessing would be of most use to (her) at this moment.’ She told the congregation her immediate response was to win the lottery, so she could set up a charitable foundation with the first grant going to the church.

She went on to say how she then posed the same question from the devotional to other family members, and that they gave roughly the same response as she had, until she asked her younger daughter. The daughter has struggled at times with being bullied, and other issues, and simply said, “Mom, the greatest blessing for me would be that people could just be nice to each other.” The woman then spoke about how her daughter’s answer made her proud, and how she began to rethink her own answer a bit.

Then she spoke of the rest of her week, and a real-life blessing: the announcement of the SCOTUS decision upholding the Affordable Care Act.

Her story was simple, and compelling; the ACA left standing the way it was meant that three of her children, all on their own but not making a lot of money, could now keep their affordable health care. The emotion in her voice was palpable as she related what a comfort that news was to both she and her husband, let alone the children. A simple court decision with a huge impact, upholding a law that actually plays to the narrative of America being a compassionate nation. To me it seems legally logical and socially appropriate, helping millions who could truly use it – what fair, just laws should ideally strive for. I could only imagine how many households across the country had experienced similar relief.

And yet, many of my fellow Christians remain adamantly opposed to the ACA.

The woman’s story continued with a retelling of how her excitement was compounded later in the week by the second SCOTUS ruling striking down prohibitions on gay marriage. To hear the woman speak, it didn’t seem as if this particular ruling had a deeply personal impact on her, but that she was elated “for friends, for all of us.” It was, she noted, a ‘wonderful week.’

One might say extraordinary.

Many of my fellow Christians remain adamantly opposed to this second decision, and the idea of gay marriage itself, but on this issue the Chicken Little Faithful approach (proclaiming churches will be sued, forced to do things against their beliefs) goes overboard. Truth is, every Christian denomination I have ever been around has their own will/won’t marry someone in their church reasoning, and certain things that are/are not acceptable practice in that particular congregation. They have always, and will remain free to exercise those beliefs.

Fact: the Supreme Court is not now, nor have they ever been in charge of, ruling on G-d’s law. SCOTUS rules on American civil law – the U.S. Constitution. The key part of both those entities in the ‘U.S’ for United States. We are a pluralistic nation: different states, different peoples, different ideas, one country, one set of laws. Not biblical law, not Sharia law, not Talmudic law.

American civil law. The U.S. constitution.

It is striking to me that in both the case of the ACA and marriage ruling, the laws being dealt with are based in large part on not just law, but concern and consideration for all American citizens. As Christians, it seems to me that we should be rejoicing in the (sadly rare) convergence of American civil law and compassion.

Jesus calls us to be compassionate.

When discussing faith, people will sometimes get frustrated with me, as I don’t ‘cherry pick’ verses to back up my point of view, as I believe it is far too easy to take most any singular line or two of the Bible and use it in a way that fits some point we as humans are trying to make. This is mostly because people will take singular verses out of any reasonable context: the speaker, the setting, the situation at hand. Part of that is the discomfort with a lack of context is the English teacher part of me, but it is also something that disturbs me more the older and deeper into my faith I get.

My challenge to you as a Christian: grab your Bible and find a favorite verse – look for the highlighting and underlining, the pages you dog-eared. Look at where that verse lies in the chapter it is from, and see if reading the entire chapter, or passage, doesn’t at the very least give you a different perspective on what the verse you like really Finch 06 30 15says or means. Try it for three or four more verses.

You may be more than a little surprised.

Personally, I cannot boil my faith down to a solitary verse; I could when I was younger, not so much now. For the record, and for example, I try to use the book of Matthew as a life roadmap – the whole book, not just a this-verse-to-this-verse excerpt. You have to read the whole thing to get my point; there is so much more to Matthew than ‘feed my sheep.’

Hence my consternation at stray lines from the Bible used to condemn or condone much of anything. Especially the past week or so. There are a lot of strange things being said these days in the name of Christianity.

In reading and hearing all the vitriol spewed toward recent court rulings by prominent and not-so-prominent Christians, I am disquieted. As Christians, we are called to be compassionate – not called to be judgmental – that is not our job. I am trying to follow my own advice and simply point out a few things that disturb me about much of the Christian rhetoric surrounding the past week.

While not biblical, the seven deadly sins are certainly part of the Christian canon, and there are numerous takes on them, with some differences to be sure, but also with some decidedly pointed overlaps.

In Proverbs, King Solomon takes his crack at numbering and classifying sins; among the two that stand out as applicable to much of the faith-based discourse on SCOTUS and the law, Solomon’s admonitions against ‘a lying tongue’ and ‘Him that soweth discord among brethren.’ The latter is pretty obvious, as any quick perusal of a Facebook wall or various blogs will show. The former? All the nonsense about churches being forced to participate in things they don’t believe in. Again, G-d’s law, as opposed to American civil law. A number of outright lies are being told in the name of Christianity. The recent arguments from both public figures and private citizens calling themselves Christian seem rooted in one or more of the sins greed, wrath, and pride.

Not Gay pride, but Biblical, sinful pride.

Pride (hubris) as a sin is ‘believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, excessive admiration of personal self.’ Want to rant and rave about how you, as a Christian, are being persecuted by recent SCOTUS actions?  Think about where your pride comes into play in your viewpoint more than a specific Bible verse does. Present yourself as being above others, proclaim as a public official that you will not follow the law of the land because it is ‘against your faith’ and we can talk about where your pride fits in. Much the same goes for greed; think about what is it that makes you want to deny to others (civil rights, health care) things that you may have without question. What is it that makes you want to tell others ‘no’ besides greed. Wrath? It is hard to not see anger and rage in much of the discourse about these (and most other social and political issues). Jesus does not call us to wrath.

He calls us to compassion, with little equivocation room.

To be abundantly clear, my faith drives my political beliefs – not vice versa, and while last week’s SCOTUS rulings may not affect me directly, they did have a powerful impact on many people I know and love. It was a good week, topped off by another extraordinary event: hearing our President sing my favorite hymn at a funeral service. It was a quite a topper to a five-day stretch.

Oh, and sorry to disappoint my more conservative Christian friends here; while Mr. Obama is our president, his singing from a pulpit was not a matter of an endorsement of faith over and above anything or anyone else, he was simply exercising his faith, just in a very public setting. His personal prerogative, not a point of law.

Amazing grace, indeed.

It took some village elders

June 21, 2015

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 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 some 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, riding herd on me every Horseshoe Lake summer of my youth. Len, Henry, Win – family by choice, not blood.  Hjalmer and Palmer, father and uncle of boyhood friends and 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, 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, framing and  ball peen hammers, chainsaws, splitting mauls and axes, logging chains and cross-cut saws – among other tools of the wood cutting game.  A number of them 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 handsremember 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 standout.  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 barkeep and Birkland the electrician.  That’s how I knew them, anyway, and what everyone else called them. Vic and Joe did have last names. Same with initial monikers for Mr. Keuken and Mr. Birkland.

And still, as I peruse this list, I am probably 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. 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.  They 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, and ‘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: How to 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.  Clichés?  Maybe.

But not a bad life instruction manual.

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 get a chance again someday to pilot a pontoon boat. Will I have to treat a maple dance floor with dance wax again? Probably not. Oh, I may again someday get a chance to play cribbage, or whist again, hopefully.  But I will someday 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.

That’s 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. I am Mr. Problem-Solving-R-Us, because of all of these guys

If anybody wonders how I can always say “I got this” simply because….

I had them.

Why the laughter never fades

June 20, 2015

From Dad’s talent agency head-shot/statistics sheet, circa 1979

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.

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.  But then again, it does.   It’s quite natural to wonder what he would think of the here-and-now; what his family has become, his grandchildren,

It’s quite natural to wonder what he would think of the here-and-now; what his family has become, his grandchildren, great- grandchild – life in general, the world in which we all live.

Then again, I don’t need to think too hard to a 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.

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 – the 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, but I’m quite serious.

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 even did some community theatre in his younger, pre-me days.

Most of all, Dad knew comedy and  loved a wide array of comedic films and performers. Comedy of all kinds, actually. A favorite comedian’s appearance of a show noted in TV Guide or the newspaper listings and the television 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 love 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 shared his admiration for all of it.

But 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 remember seeing a different look in my dad’s eyes when we watched Laurel and Hardy versus other movies or shows.

Stand and Ollie

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 their subtle nuances, 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.  Now I know why, and I 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 him I 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.

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 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.

Larry, Moe, Curly. Soitenly.

My dad also 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 as well; 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.

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 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 seriously a guy can get about a disagreement with his dad.

Nairobi Trio

Ernie Kovacs Nairobi Trio

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.

When asked on his deathbed if he was finding it difficult to leave this life, acclaimed actor John Barrymore was quoted as saying, “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 on non-school nights to catch Carson.

He 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.

Here’s Dan and Dick

Other sitcoms we mostly agreed upon. The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in The Family and M*A*S*H* we watched together and laughed with and at as family. Dad also loved Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, and my daughter Lindsay, now 30, 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 more than it amuses me.


“Eeety beety chunkerdere bork bork bork…”

But the quirkiest bit of humor/comedy that  my father and I shared? Dad loved The Muppet Show.

The Swedish Chef in particular always sent him convulsing with laughter, and he 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 immigrant-types, 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 resereved for Appolo blastoffs or something equally noteworthy. Or to watch The Muppet Show.

Oh yeah, I get it. Always have.

One of the few ‘grown-up’ movies I ever saw with my dad in a theatre 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 theatre.


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 getting 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.

My 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. To this day I wonder what dad found funnier; the line and the cab drivers response, or the look on Clouseau’s face. It is a fond remembrance worth puzzling over.

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. (Thanks, YouTube!)

Assassins are trying to kill Inspector Clouseau. One assassin dressed as Clouseau enters his hotel room, while another assassin follows and kills him 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 other assassin in a dimly lit room. He leaves and then Clouseau arrives. He then moves throughout several rooms turning on lights and turning off others while Olga is doing the same. 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 dead assassin in the bathtub. He calls the front desk and declares “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.

“Heeelo? Izs dis zee front desk?”

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 house 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.

He would find that incredibly amusing.

“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

May 30, 2015

Motion pictures are a part of our culture – no more so than in the famous lines, rejoinders and catchphrases that quotes5immediately jump off the screen and into our cultural lexicon.

Who among us hasn’t at one time described a strange situation with “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” or ‘Show me the money!”.  “Houston, we have a problem” you hear quite a bit, usually at work, though it is not a movie quote, per se, but a real-life quotation used in a movie.

Ever turned to an alleged sidekick and said “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”? That one is quotes6certainly a classic, and while I personally have the Oliver Hardy down-pat…but it always seems a little condescending to be passing off the blame for something, and then I feel guilty.

Many of these just come naturally, without thinking, because they are so ingrained. But there are those great moments where using a great movie line just seems to fit. Or not. I’ve never quite been able to pull off Ratso quotes8Rizzo during a crosswalk altercation with an over-aggressive driver; the accent is all wrong and I end up sounding more suave Kevin Spacey than manic Dustin Hoffman: “I’m walking here! I’m walking here!”

“You takin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?” Admit it; you’ve done it – just like DeNiro.

My home state is Minnesota, and as I spent three years on the campus of the University of Minnesota, there have quotes10 quotes11been ample opportunities to slam our archrivals just to the east, Wisconsin. Especially when wearing U of M gear, it is easy to summon a hearty, derisive and sneering, “Badgers? We don’t need no badgers! I don’t have to show you any stinking badgers!”

Maybe that one loses something in translation of time and place.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,”May the force be with you” and “Go ahead, make my day” and are way too cliché to carry much conversational weight anymore – though I can sometimes summon up a darn-fine Clint Eastwood in letting one of my high school English students know he has gone jussssst a bit too far by leaning in and whispering the reminder, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Subtle, but effective. Used sparingly.

A classroom quotes12staple I always have at the ready (with perfect Strother Martin dialect) “What we’ve got here is fail-yure to comm-un-i-cate.”

I’m probably not alone in this one, but “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?” was a line I once quotes13hoped (like a lot of other American males) I would get chance to utter, but it may be past its freshness date. I’m thinking now, at this stage of middle age, that if I am in the type of situation where I would be truly saying this it would be, at its very best, a dicey proposition all the way around.

Using famous movie lines I will admit to freely and unapologetically doing, but there is a whole other set of classic quotations that I would someday like to be on the receiving end of. Not the cliché or paraphrased stuff – ‘You can’t handle the truth!” or “I love the smell of napalm/coffee in the morning.”

There are some great movie lines I long to hear said to me, in proper context and in earnest.

For example, someday I would love to be the recipient of a heartfelt, “I love you, Spartacus.” Maybe if I changed my quotes7name to ‘Spartacus’ (Marktacus?) it would give someone the idea…though I would hope if someone ever does say that to me, it would be on merit than campiness. While hopefully I’ll never be in the position of leading a slave rebellion, you would think some sort of leadership opportunity on a large-scale could be in the offing. Just once, with feeling: “I love you, Spartacus.”

Equally esoteric I that I have long harbored the dream that someone will feel compelled to honestly tell me (about whom or what I am not entirely sure) “If you build it, he will come.”quotes15

I probably have a better shot with baseball than the rebellion/leader thing, though I suppose getting into the next presidential race is always an option.

Those situations could crop up at any time, but there is a big one I hope to be hearing someday, well down the road – from the end of the classic On Golden Pond;“Listen to me, mister. You’re my knight in shining armor. Don’t you forget it. You’re going to get back on that horse, and I’m going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we’re gonna go, go, go!””


My wife and I (hopefully) circa, 2043

Hopefully, it is not said in response to a heart attack or disorienting walk.

If my wife is reading this, she will hopefully do the math and realize that, if we play it age-wise like in the movie, she has roughly twenty-six years or so to master the clipped, Katherine Hepburn New England parlance. If she can master that more quickly…

A guy can dream, right?

Hey, most days I can be Henry Fondiash. Humphrey Bogartesque, too. What I really need at this stage of my life is a Captain Renault; a rakish friend who, at some point in time, will redirect his about-to-nail-my-rear-to-the-wall quotes4minions to simply “Round up the usual suspects.”

“Louis, (or whomever) I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Would, of course, only be fitting and proper in response.

Of course, the one I really long to hear in real life I would never really hear, as it would be said about me to someone else, either in regards to the job of my dreams or a publishing deal: “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” It’s all about the context, I suppose – go all Don Corleone on me, just in a less nefarious way. And with better intentions. Maybe in a Captain Renault sort of way.

“Ebbedda, ebbedda, ebbedda, ebbedda – that’s all, folks!


May 25, 2015

The old man stood peering down the rows of white marble. Wisps of his thin, white hair fluttered in the breeze, two birds chirped from the branches of a distant tree. He read the names etched in the headstones on either side; one he knew, the other, based on the chiseled information, he felt he could have. He stepped back, looked up and down the crisp row of stones, turned on his heel, and stepped between the two, coming to swift attention.

Passersby would have found it a strange sight; an old man, standing at attention between two gravestones, facing the cleanly polished, unadorned side of more headstones. He would have appeared to be facing the wrong way to read 2_Fort_Snelling_Looking_Southeastanything on them.

The idea had just come to him to stand, one more time, in formation with comrades. He had never done, or even thought of doing it, before today.
He thought back to the fateful end of his basic training as a paratrooper, his last jump from a plane, one final practice jump before his unit was shipped out; the jump where he landed awkwardly, shattered his left leg, ending his dreams of combat, nearly ending his career in the army. Only the intervention of an influential friend of his family kept him from getting an honorable, medical discharge. One week to the day before his discharge from the hospital, his unit had jumped behind enemy lines. For three of his old unit, including his best buddy, it was their final jump. Now, here they were, back in formation. It all came back to him.

Three weeks in traction followed by grueling physical therapy, and he was bound for a desk job, somewhere. He had hoped to go back to some sort of active duty role with a combat unit, but his leg was too badly damaged. The thought of sitting behind a desk held little appeal, and after he overheard someone in physical therapy mentioning mortuary duty, he decided to investigate the prospects.

The colonel in charge of the unit he was assigned to was skeptical at first; very few men eagerly volunteered for the duty, and of those that did, many couldn’t hack it. The washout rate – even more than in paratroop school, he learned – was high.

He soon understood why, though he never once thought of asking to transfer out. The work was, in most every regard, as fear-laden, emotionally controlled, as jumping out of a plane had been.

He had once encountered a Navy Chaplain, a slightly older man, on a train who was on the same mission as he, for one of his own. They spent hours talking about their jobs – their ‘calling’ the chaplain termed it. The two men shared a common bond, many of the same experiences, except for one story the chaplain told him that he could never push out of his mind even if he had wanted to. The pastor told of his despair of not knowing what to say to a grieving family disappointed that their son died in a simple training mission, and not in the perceived glory of actual battle. The young man had served honorably and had earned promotions earlier than most of his peers, yet the family, for some reason the chaplain couldn’t grasp, felt cheated. Though it had been a year since he had brought the sailor IMG_7637_1200home to his final rest, the chaplain was still troubled by the family’s reaction, and his lack of answers for them. He wondered, he whispered repeatedly, if time had lessened their disappointment in the fate of their son.

As he listened intently to the chaplain’s story, the young soldier thought he knew something of what he family meant about disappointment, though he could never articulate that at the time. In the years since, he had thought often of the chaplain, and of that story.

Time had his experiences in the graves registration unit had softened his frustration with never having jumped in combat.

One-hundred-thirty-seven times he had escorted a fallen serviceman home to a family. He had been one only two men in his thirty man platoon to request to stay in graves registration when his tour was up. The rest had enough after one go around – those that didn’t transfer out early. There was no animosity towards the men who left, silent admiration for those who stayed.

Bringing the dead home was not something every man was equipped for.

One-hundred-thirty-seven times. Big cities, small towns; the northeast, the Midwest, the south and the mountain west. He had seen it all, through train windows. The routine came naturally to him, and he was determined that every wooden casket was treated with proper respect. At every destination stop, he was the first one off the train. The short hop from top step to station platform was just like the step out of a plane.

Only for this duty, he never had a parachute.

After ensuring the dignified removal of each casket from the train, he would meet with the local mortician and escort the soldier to the mortuary. Sometimes the family had gotten word of their arrival and would be at the train station; at other times he carried out his duties in anonymity, contacting the family only after arriving at the funeral home. Over time he became conversant in the routine of the local mortuary staff; identifying the remains, preparation of the body for initial viewing by the family. The decisions laid out for each situation: open casket or closed, dress uniform or favorite suit for interment. Every situation different, every situation the same. No matter where, no matter who.

Death, especially in combat, knew nothing of the victim: black, white, rich, poor, urban, rural. Death was death, grief was grief. There was a finality as universal and as individual as each soldier he escorted home.

He came to know intimately the liturgy of saying goodbye to a soldier, whether they be Protestant, Roman Catholic or Hebrew. He had heard the 23rd Psalm spoken in more than a dozen languages, and could recognize most any wwii imageChristian hymn by its first six or seven organ notes. There had been lengthy oratory and simple readings; standing-room-only crowds, audiences in name only and times of hastily recruited, unknown, volunteer pallbearers. High church, tent revival, ten-minute graveside homily – he had seen them all. Men of various cloths; elaborate robes, simple, white collars, plain brown suits and bib overalls. He knew which model rifle an honor guard was using from the clattering of shell casings hitting cemetery grass in the unison of the salute of a graveside volley, knew instinctively when the trumpet player had never before played ‘Taps’ in public…

One other consistency was his amazement at the thankfulness expressed by grieving families.

There was often a family gratitude – a realization – that, as tragic as the situation was, at least their soldier, their loved one, was coming home. He lost count of the number of times that family members would tell of another family they knew, who received word of the death of a soldier who was now at rest on some foreign battlefield somewhere, or of a sailor lost at sea, or an airman who went down with his plane. Those families would never have the opportunity, to say goodbye, to have a place, right there in their hometown, to physically grieve.

It never ceased to amaze him that so many of these families that he met in their darkest hours, were aware that they, in a great many respects, were among the fortunate ones.

That was a long time ago, he reminded himself. He smiled for a moment, remembering his sixtieth birthday, and the atonement gift from his wife and children of a free fall skydive.

He remembered his last jump in uniform, and the excruciating pain of rehab. He thought of the despair known only by a young man who had his dreams suddenly, irrevocably altered by events, and reflected with the wisdom of an old man on how those changes had worked out. Though he had never fired his weapon at an adversary, he had fought many, sometimes brutal, battles; the dignity of returning a fallen soldier was not always smooth, rarely without incident. Ill-fitting uniforms, incorrect insignia, stuck-in-traffic or lost on a country road honor guards were constant obstacles. There was dealing with the pain, bitterness, or denial of families; the blank faces of young widows whose dreams and plans were no all gone and the uncomprehending-the-magnitude small children, fascinated by the pomp of death, confused at the sadness displayed by adults. He thought briefly of a chaplain on a train, myriad other travelers who would engage him in fascinated conversation until their discomfort of his assignment came into play…

He had fought the battles as he had been ordered, emerged from them all with scars. Victorious and without regret. He had done his duty.

He came to old-man, near-parade rest for a moment, before turning to the headstone of his old friend, where he snapped off a lingering, still crisp salute. He knew more about finality in all its forms than most anyone, and was grateful, thankful of the opportunities he had been afforded, hoping he had been the warrior he needed to be, at the time people needed him. Then, turning on his heel, he walked steadily between two rows of symmetrical marble stones, and went home.

Small packages (An allegorical, real-life fable for moms everywhere)

May 10, 2015

My mom found the
dead chipmunk
I surreptitiously brought home
from the lake at the end of the
summer I was ten;

lifeless, stripe-tailed rodent
in a black-and-blue JC Penney
chipmunkshoebox sarcophagus on which
I had scrawled ‘stuff’ in obvious
‘keep out!’ black Magic Marker

He was well-preserved, lifelike.
I, the accidental taxidermist.

A car, perhaps the Jeep, had
run him over on the long

driveway leading to Ivar and Lila’s

catching him dead-on from
behind as he was in full-gallop,
running uphill in the sandy
right-rut, flattening his chipmunk
carcass into a faux-bearskin rug
fit for use before the hearth of
Barbie’s Alpine Chalet

Absolutely flat, a
cookie-cutter perfect
silhouette, all four
paws outstretched

With two sticks I gently
moved him to the cement fringe
of the garage slab where the
north woods sun used July to bake
him into perfectly-tanned,
odorless, furry, hide

I placed the chipmunk in the box
for transport home in our solemn,
dark-blue, Plymouth Fury
then slid him, sans fanfare, into
where he was soon forgotten

Until the week before school
archeologist mom was cleaning
my room, found the box
did not share my
enthusiastic solemnity

She phoned up the block
to where I was playing,
tersely ordering me home

Mrs. Gilberg stifled a laugh as
as I left, non-challantly
and very unaware
(doubled over, she told me,
laughing still, years later)
once I had gone out her door
as my mom had confided in her
of her Tut-like discovery

Once home I caught
all sorts of hell about
dead animals, germs,
unwelcome surprises in
shoeboxes under beds

To my mother’s everlasting
credit at least I never got
my hide tanned, put into
a box, shoved under a bed.

First Quarter Earnings and Learnings

April 25, 2015

Dear Shareholders: Mr. Lucker’s first quarter 2015 did not live up to the high expectations expressed as 2014 drew to a close, due primarily to his unexpected layoff on January fifth. This occurrence necessitated a quick retooling and1Qgraph reshuffling of prospects and potentials, and a reallocation of resources, including, but not limited to, time, resourcefulness, resumes and minimal pandering in various guises.

Mr. L FQ 2015 could be summed up as a bull market: when you are in a job search, plenty of it is flung at you in various forms verbal and electronic, and human nature being what it is, you also end up shoveling some of your own.

Though the Midwestern sensibility I was raised with sees that aspect of the process as nothing more than good preparation of soil to make it suitable for the sowing and reaping of your next career step.

How am I doing so far?Too Big To fail

It has been an odd start to the year for me not because of the job search (which is a process I actually enjoy and used to train people in) but because of it’s totally unexpected nature and that fact that finding teaching gigs in the middle of a school year is neither the norm nor the ideal. Unlike my previous professional incarnations in the year-round corporate world, being an unemployed teacher at mid-year is a whole different ballgame; most of the available positions are open for less than ideal reasons.

The job I have at present teaching English and TABE (pre-GED, vocational related) test prep is a bit more corporate in nature, being at a year-round vocational training program, and has its own set of unique attributes in terms of student mindset and methodology. Maybe it is more a pathology. On any given day…

There were not a lot of reasonable teaching prospects available throughout most of the winter, but with my varied background and array of experience, I did have other options to explore; options that made sense to me, but required some convincing of others. Broadening my search to more than just the classroom steered me into a whole different set of job search websites and parameters than I have been used to dealing with the last few years.

The byproduct of this was triggering an algorithm avalanche of oddities to my email inbox – along with the usual flood of requests to interview for sales positions, ostensibly based on ‘the perfect fit’ my resume seemed to be for their particular product.

I really love this combination, T.P. and private airtravel, which tends to crop up two, three times a week:

tpandorjet highlighted

Affordable. Yep.

As has been the case since I was teaching Internet job search a decade ago, insurance companies of all ilk are still trying to suck up anyone and everyone in their inimitable, voracious ways. There were days when I was receiving two and three requests to interview with different managers of the same companies.

Every time I get one of those insurance, investment, or real estate company queries all I can hear in my head is Charlton Heston crying out, “Soylent green is people!!!”

Full disclosure time: as a former job search trainer who still dabbles in the field and writes the occasional piece for a job seeker newsletter, I tend to come at the whole process of job search with a more discerning, questioning, at times cynical, eye.

Man, there is some weird stuff coming my way.

One of the biggest head-scratchers was a posting for a ‘Secondary English Teacher’ (Aha! said I, initially) that began with this:

Actively monitor students during all duties which include, but are not limited to bus, morning, lunch, dismissal, after school and class transitions
Report and sign in on time daily
Have current lesson objective, current lesson agenda, positive message and all other required information clearly posted
Maintain professionalism at all times. This includes, but is not limited to:
o Professionalism in attire (no flip-flops. Attire determined inappropriate by admin will be addressed individually)
o Discussions/conferences involving or concerning students and parents are to be conducted in an office or conference room; not in hallway or front office

About the only thing about this one that screamed ‘secondary’ to me was that fact that the first reference to what the school Socrateswas looking for in terms of the classroom was actually on page two of the posting. Even then, the lead was the incredibly vague ‘create engaging lessons.’

‘Report and sign in daily and no flip-flops’ seems like a professional no-brainer to me, but then again…this IS New Orleans. Maybe they would let me wear leather sandals on Socratic circle days…

Not to be outdone in the ‘hey, potential employee guy’ oddities department was the application for a local temp service I thought I might have to utilize as a stop-gap.

I have filled out a lot of job applications throughout the years – both in New Orleans and in Twin Cities area, where I temped for over fifteen years. I have never encountered a lengthy series of questions like these rather, um POINTED inquiries:

  • drugusefriendsHow would your friends describe your current use of illegal, non-prescription drugs?
  • If someone disrespects you, how likely is it that you would hit that person?
  • How often do you report for work in a condition where you feel your work performance may be hurt by alcohol?
  • In the past two years, how often have you physically had to hurt a co-worker to get him/her to leave you alone?

As charming as the actual questions were, the drop-down menu answer choices were reasonably balanced, I thought. For example, I could describe my friends describing my use of illegal drugs with ‘out of control’ ‘a little out of control, but still manageable’ ‘recreational use only’ and ‘does not use.’ I breathed a sigh of relief at that last option, knowing I would be safe for at least one more question.

“If someone disrespects you, how likely is it that you would hit that person?” gave me interesting options: ‘I definitely would’ ‘I probably would’ ‘I probably would not’ and ‘I definitely would not.’  No vacillating on that one, by golly.


Exhibit ‘P’

Hands down, my favorite question and option choices was, ‘If you had to take a urinalysis (urine test, drug test) for illegal drugs today, do you think you would pass the test?

As an English teacher, I am reading this question and thinking are they asking if I would actually pass the test by having drugs in my system. Whoever wrote this questionnaire could use one of my handy-dandy lessons in inference. The answer choices (see exhibit P, right)  were the mundane ‘I would definitely not pass the test’ “I might not pass the test due to recreational drug use’ and the absolutely priceless ‘If I did not pass the test today, I would later in the week.’

I think this particular answer is meant to assess just how high (pun intended) your level of determination for the job is. ‘If I did not pass the test today, I would later in the week.’  A little cramming the night before, and badda-BOOM! Test passed.

One question asked specifically about ‘the category that best describes your current use of meth’ that included the wonderfully oxymoronic option ‘Heavy,but controlled.’   Heavy stuff, man.  And like the teacher posting above, the actual skills/abilities (a.k.a important stuff) was secondary.

Not that all the questions dealt with substances: they also asked me ‘In the past two years, how often have you physically had to hurt a co-worker to get him/her to leave you alone?’ and ‘If someone disrespects you, how likely is it that you would hit that person?” 

I left the whole mess mid-application.

Amongst the daily insurance/investment/sales inquiries (‘reviewing your C.V. we believe you to be a perfect fit for our autopsy assistant - Copycompany’) I did get something a bit more, ummm…targeted. Just not (in a way I could grasp) to my skill set and/or resume: Autopsy Assistant.

Curiously, the requirements for the position are ‘High School Diploma or equivalent’ with ‘1 – 3 years experience is preferred.’ Always love the innocuous ‘preferred’ in this setting, because it leads to ‘knowledge of standard autopsy techniques and procedures required.

Near as I can figure, the algorithm gods tapped me for this one because of a Marty Feldman comment I had made on a friend’s Facebook post the previous day.

Now, D.O.A or don’t I apply for this opportunity

So, rolling on into the second quarter of the year, the Mark-et has stabilized, so to speak. Back working in a vocational setting is different, and presents its own challenges – not the least of which is dealing with the same types of students with the exact same issues I have had at the high school level. Only many of these kids believe, since they have a high school diploma in hand and are in a vocational program, that they don’t need to be in a classroom trying to improve their reading proficiency.

Their test scores and their demonstrated abilities in my classroom say otherwise.

For now, things are on the upswing for the second quarter. Keeping things on an even keel is starting to give way to more of an upswing in all aspects of the process. I am planealready seeing a higher degree of orders, and anticipate a definite uptick in sales and production, along with a much stronger R.O.I.

If not, then I may just have to delve into my Spam folder, rent a private jet, and get the heck on out of here. I just hope I remember to bring those coupons I printed out.


March 17, 2015

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

 – Deathbed quote, famed character actor Edmund Gwenn

The world is a little less jovial than it was a few days ago. I learned today of the Saturday passing of an old high school friend, Dave McGrew.  As so much does these days, the news reached me stealthily via a Facebook messagefrom a woman I never had the pleasure of meeting, his new wife.

Dave and I shared a rather off-kilter sense of humor and a love for old comedians: The Marx Brothers (both of us) and W.C. Fields (mostly Dave).  We also shared an affinity for the more contemporary antics of Johnny Carson, McGrew 1Johnathan Winters, Henny Youngman and Don Rickles.

What can I say? It was the 70’s and we had a good ear for things funny.

I came to know Dave because of his friendship with another Denver South friend, Randy Hill. While I knew them both for a while, we really didn’t our stride as friends until midway through our junior year, when we found ourselves in the same afternoon drama class, headed by the illustrious J. Joe Craft.  Randy, Dave and I were enthusiastic in our theatrical endeavors, though our depth and range as thespians was not extensive.  J. Joe appreciated our efforts, though the finished products were probably more than a little uneven.McGrew 2

Still, in a drama class producing one-act plays our little cadre stood out due to the sheer volume of productions we performed. In one semester we pulled off three one-acts, dave mostly a behind-the-scenes guy. Most of the other groups spent their semester honing a singular production.  With the added participation of one of my locker partner and good friend Kirke Fox, plus whoever else we could drag in for a given show, we had quite the gallant little troupe.

Room 204, our drama classroom, had a small rehearsal stage, and we gave it quite a workout.  For both Randy and Dave, it was their first time performing. We had a blast.

It didn’t hurt that we would spend a lot of lunch hours and much after school time honing our comedic timing with/on one another – Dave and I alternately utilizing Randy as the straight man/verbal punching bag.  It was never a competition, though Dave had impeccable timing and recall of Youngman one-liners, while I excelled at the Rickelesque insult shot.  We each had a good ear for voices and were reasonably proficient at impersonations, although we never had the confidence to ‘go live’ in a public setting with that. Ironically, we never did a stand-up routine together on a true stage, though we both did comedy bits in a talent show our senior year; Dave and Randy did a bit, and I teamed with pal Rick Hunter for an esoteric set didn’t get near the laughs of Dave and Randy.

As our senior year approached, we learned that our beloved Mr. Craft was going to be leaving us to take on teaching duties at Denver’s brand-spanking-new Career Education Center – a facility that was geared for students who wanted to learn everything from drama and dance to auto mechanics and retail business. It was a huge facility with performance areas, a store, restaurant, auto shop – all staffed by students in a true learning environment.

Somehow, perhaps through pity if nothing else, Dave, Randy and I all applied and were accepted into J. Joe’s inaugural class at the CEC: Children’s Theatre.  The idea was to create and perform small-scale productions (much like the one-acts we had done at South) that we could take on the road to various elementary schools. Now there is childish, and childlike – we were more the latter, but could devolve into the former, so performing for children was a double-edged sword – a tough crowd, and we had to know our limits. The CEC experience was fantastic; along with students from three other area schools, ten of us wrote, produced and executed an eclectic mix of traveling shows including Little Red Riding Hood and the Tropical Talk Show, a parody featuring Dave as a pseudo-Johnny Carson, me as Alley Oop the caveman, the evening’s featured guest.

Even our bus rides to-and-from South and the CEC were a hoot, as we were joined by Kip Craft (J. Joe’s son, a good friend, who was in the CEC dance program) and another good friend and locker partner of mine, Johnny Wilkins one of our BMOC’s, who was training to be a paramedic. Johnny and Kip laughed easily, making for a great, easy to please and captive audience.

But our crowning children’s theatre triumph was in the spring; we appeared in a producMcGrew 3tion called The Wise Men of Chelm, from the stories of Sholem Aleichem – tales from the same group of stories which formed the basis of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ What made the show so special was not just the material, but the venue – the main stage of the Schwayder Theatre at the Jewish Community Center. It was big time, and thanks to J. Joe we managed to pull it off.

Dave told me many years later that it was his one and only appearance on a main stage, and he loved every minute of it. I never really realized until tonight what a privilege it was for me to share in something like that. In the nearly forty years since, I have done a lot of theatre, spent twelve years in radio, and appeared in all sorts of stuff and a lot of unique places, but that Schwayder Theatre experience was, indeed, something special, for a lot of reasons.  It is even more of a singular experience now: not only is Dave gone, but so is Randy. He died about ten years ago.  Kip, he of the bus-backseat audience was our technical director for the Wise Men of Chelm, died tragically just a few years after graduating from high school. Same for Johnny; member of our practice audience, tireless encourager and real audience member when it counted.

I can’t help but think that all four of them are somewhere, riding on a rickety old school bus somewhere – the other three laughing their fool heads off at something Dave has said. Probably at my expense.

The last twenty years or so were not easy for Dave; a bad motorcycle accident cost him big chunks of his life due to a severe head injury, among others. I only found out about the accident because he contacted me out of the blue after finding me on a genealogy bulletin board somewhere. He would pop in and out of my life via email (and later, Facebook) sometimes going two years between contacts.  The first few times, he was plying me for information, trying to recover bits and pieces. His messages were at times rambling, and filled with medical minutiae.  Then, as time went on, more of the old Dave emerged: emailed jokes, reminiscences, comments on current affairs. Sometimes he had been looking through old yearbooks, and he would ask me about certain people and events. Sometimes, quite tentatively.

In later years, the emails were few and far between, but more of the ‘before’ Dave (his words) would shine through. Even the chronic pain and other issues provided fodder for humor.  I only wish there had been more emails, more Facebook posts. But, unlike one-act plays in drama class, sometimes there is something to be said for quality over quantity. Good friendships are like that.

David, my friend, may you rest in peace.  I have no doubt that you brought joy and happiness into a lot of lives through the years, whether you ever stepped on another stage or not.  Thanks for being there, and letting me be there with you – bad Yiddish dialects, obnoxious kids, groan-inducing punchlines and all. You done good, kid.fields2 Rest well.

I know as I type this there is only one thing Dave could or would possibly say to me in response to this salute, and in his best W.C. Fields voice, I can hear him just as plain as day:

“Well, Mark, on the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”

And the rest of the guys are cackling madly, as the bus drives slowly away.


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