(Take a Fall) Saturday Fun

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Of also-rans. A pseudo rant.

I hate it when a bartender pours or skims the foam of the top of a fresh mug of beer. The foam is the best way to start off a pleasurable experience.  Beer foam is like the first kiss of a make-out session in the front seat of a car – all about the expectation of the succulent experience to come. Like Carly Simon once sang, ‘an-tic-uh-pay-ay-shun is making me wait…’

Don’t mess with my beer foam. Or the first kiss.

There are a lot of other things in our modern culture that just leave me in perpetual SMH mode. Like restaurant chicken.  The recent kerfuffle about chicken sandwiches is a good place to start that one. Chic-Fil-A! Popeyes! Sold out sandwiches!

Why? 

Restaurant (especially fast food) chicken sandwiches are a complete waste of time in terms of flavor and general yumminess, all for the same, simple reason: the use of chicken breast meet.  ‘All white meat chicken’ is a lousy advertising tag. Why try to entice people to eat something made from the blandest, most un-appetizing, most taste-challenged part of a bird. The white meat? Yuck. You might just as well promote serving the feathers, though they would probably get stuck in your teeth more.  

Know this, America!  You’re only eating those sandwiches because of the breading and/or the seasonings. 

“Hi. Can I take your order?”

“Yes. I’d like the cayenne, oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic flour-and-egg wash sandwich, please? Hold the mayo.”   

Yep, that’s how you really need to start seeing those bird-things-on-a-bun. Hey, restaurant gurus! Want to create a fast-food-chicken feeding frenzy of epic proportions? Start making your chicken sandwiches from some really tasty dark meat and they’ll be flying out of there.

Now, America. About your suddenly ubiquitous use of the term ‘sammiches.’ We need to have a serious talk.

For those of us with a sweet tooth, what is the deal nowadays with salted caramel?  Diabetes and heart disease now rolled into one treat?  Nice.  And why caramel to begin with?  Caramel (car-MEL? care-a-mel?) is like the chicken breast white meat of confections.  Boring. Puts most taste buds to sleep.

Caramel is simply the poor man’s butterscotch.

A few years back the folks at (chain name redacted) decided to drop butterscotch as a flavor from their ice-milk concoctions. No more butterscotch malts, no more sundaes, no more cones dipped in the stuff. Egad. 

But the ridiculousness didn’t stop there. Not only were hapless counter people told to suggest caramel instead of butterscotch, they were also instructed to add on a cheery ‘or peanut butter’ to their caramel proclamations as a reasonable alternative.

Umm, yeah. No.

 I spoke with a (chain name redacted) franchisee who simply sighed as I asked her ‘why nix butterscotch?’ as many of her customers had the same question. Fortunately, common sense and subterfuge won the day, as most locales still have butterscotch, they just don’t advertise or list in on their board.

Which frankly makes it taste that much better. It’s like the absinthe of sweets; even more flavorsome when it is illicit.

Food and beverage choices notwithstanding, our culture tends to mislabel and misjudge things. If have you ever been at a wedding, sitting there and looking at the bridal party, and wondering ‘If that guy is the best man, why is the bride marrying the other guy’ you are not alone.  A recent survey pegged that specific comment as the third-most-likely musing to start a brawl at a wedding.

I blame our American English.

Oh, about that first kiss thing I mentioned earlier.  While the first kiss is with little exception the most memorable, it won’t even be remembered at all if there isn’t something special in the rest of the kisses of that particular lip-locking event. If kisses seven, ten, twelve, fifteen, eighteen, twenty-one, thirty-two-thirty-three-thirty-fourtyhirtyfivethirtysix…ahhh….!

But that’s another blog post in it’s own right.

Betrothed, be cool. Because.

Who knew that becoming a wedding officiant would be this cool. I started this little side venture a few years back while still living in New Orleans, where my first get-em-hitched-gig was a destination wedding for a couple from Texas who had met as co-workers at a New Orleans bar. Together for ten years, the bride was very much pregnant with their third child and the groom had recently landed a new job, and they wanted everyone on the same insurance…and it was just the right time.  I married them under the Spanish moss-laden branches of a 200-year-old live oak in New Orleans City Park with a unique knot-tying ceremony incorporating four lengths of rope and both their kids.

Lovely, lively, funny.  We remain Facebook friends.

Since moving back to Minnesota just over a year ago, I have traversed the metro Twin Cities and western Wisconsin with more geographic bounding in the works for next year.

Have credentials, will travel.

As much as a wedding is about the people and their families and situations, place is a big deal to most of the couples I have dealt with – and it usually has little to do with cost, lots to do with the feel of a place, and how it fits the lives of the wedding couple. Venue dive into the world of the modern-day weddings, anything goes.

Yeah, I went there. 

Just in the past twelve months I have ridden herd on wedding parties in a meadow outside a century-old Wisconsin barn (the reception in the barn itself was dazzling) a wildflower-strewn Wisconsin hilltop overlooking the homestead of the family I was blending, and on a patio  next to a fence surrounding the air conditioning unit at a casino. (That one was a plan ‘B’ as the arranged locale in a grove of trees on the side of a lake was underwater due to spring flooding.)

The delightfully off-beat and vivacious wedding party more than compensated for the hum-drum, substitute surroundings. Hey, we still had the water and some boats in the background.

My other ‘plan B’ wedding was the community room of an upscale retirement community taken over when rain washed out a sister’s backyard garden.  A very charming, soft-spoken, go-with-the-flow couple – both my age – who had been together for a few years, threw a planned-for-later wedding together quickly because the bride had been diagnosed with a serious illness and the groom wanted to make sure he could easily access all his FMLA benefits. Life lessons in relying on ‘later’.

A poignant, memorable Sunday afternoon to be sure.

It dawns on me how much water has played such a large role in my officiating. In fact, two of my favorite weddings were held on – not alongside or by, but actually on, in the middle of –  the mighty Mississippi River.  One was on Minneapolis’ historic Stone Arch Bridge, the other on Raspberry Island in the heart of downtown St. Paul.  Interestingly, in both cases, neither the bride or groom had any real historical connection to the locales, they just liked the look and feel of time and place.  In both cases the couples were a bit quirky, and gave me the command to make it fun and memorable.

Aye aye, captains!

The Stone Arch Bridge event was unique in locale and audience, as it was early evening, with sun beginning its descent behind us, and joggers, bikers, and dog walkers passing by continually as the historic ( It is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire length of the Mississippi River)  span that once handled railroad traffic is now a haven for those on feet and wheels of every kind.  Quite a backdrop, and quite a backstory.

Some of the wedding party had yet to arrive, and the bride and the groom were both very apologetic for the delay, and I assured them multiple times everything was fine as I had no other evening plans. Plus, I had a great view of the river and the wedding party was just a fun group of young people I was enjoying interacting with. 

Then the groom stepped aside to take a call. Once he was done, he announced that his parents were just leaving on their way from a small town about an hours drive north of Minneapolis.  I was a bit puzzled, and asked, “So we are waiting for your parents to get here?”  He was quick to assuage my confusion. “Oh, no, no, no. They are coming down for the reception.” Then the bride filed in the blanks. “We called our parents to let them know while we were walking out here.  We just wanted the wedding itself to be us and our friends, out here. We all come here a lot, it’s one of our favorite spots. Besides, the real celebrating will be at the party.” 

Waiting for the last of the wedding party to arrive, the comments I overheard were all of the ‘Oh, your mom and dad are so cool’ and ‘I just love your mom’ with a few ‘I love your mom!’ exclamations plainly complimentary.

Once we got going, it was very cool.  The wedding party facing me, I had my back facing upstream but had a perfect view of all the joggers, bikers, and dog walkers passing by and those who were stopping to take pictures of the nuptials – as well as the passersby who stopped, then applauded (some tearfully) the self-written vows of bride and groom. Very cool.

Those young people touched a lot of folks that evening.

The wedding on Raspberry Island was held on a glorious spring afternoon, with a bride and groom that while being from here, currently live on the east coast, making it as much a reunion as a wedding. Our planning had been accomplished via Skype and phone and had been a laugh-filled process. They wanted some humor in their ceremony, and I was certainly the guy for the job.  One big thing I learned in our Skyping was their shared affection for a dog they had acquired a year before. So devoted are they to this canine (whom they cook up a weekly batch of chicken for) they had even considered bringing her for the wedding, but eventually decided against it for a variety of reasons – though I could tell it led to some melancholy on their part.

My solution to that was to incorporate a short note (‘love you guys, miss you, wish I could be there, etc.) from their beloved Swedish Vallhund. 

In Swedish.

Ending with a heart-tugging, laughter-inducing salutation: ‘P.S. Vi har nästan slut på kyckling.’ (‘We’re almost out of chicken’.) 

I grew up around a bunch of old Swedes, so getting the cadence and inflection down was no problem, as Google Translate is a wonderful tool. The hardest part of adding that note was getting a hold of the dog’s email to actually get the note. Overall, it was a well-received, highly complimented sermily.

Sidebar: When I officiate a wedding, the message I craft and deliver is not truly a sermon, it is not literally a homily – when you hire me, you get a customized sermily.  

I have also been honored to marry people in the courtyard of an old estate, the ballroom space of a renovated, nineteenth-century warehouse, the bridge over a pond in a Japanese garden, a federal detention center, and at a historic, refurbished (now urban) farm site. 

The only true church I have officiated a wedding in was a beautiful, deconsecrated, 1853 New Orleans edifice that is now a lively performing arts and events scene. 

Go figure.

It is more than just the traditional locales that are not now in vogue; brides and grooms these days seem to want their officiant to be something more than a figurehead with some sort of credentialing. They want someone to be part of the wedding team, as it were.  This is a different time when people do not have traditional relationships with home churches and/or pastors, and this is a generation quick to meet new people and establish relationships. Today when people choose a wedding officiant, it is a very personal and yes, rather intimate thing. The officiant becomes part of a le mariage à trois, so to speak.

I don’t use that concept in my marketing pitch, but…

Many would categorize these events as ‘non-traditional’ marriages – some in a not-so-positive way – and I would have to agree.  While I have been a part of blending a few families, I have yet to preside over the bonding of royal bloodlines, the uniting of strategic alliances, or sealing trade deals – though I did wed a couple who met in their respective roles as a grocery store buyer and a cheesemonger.

The bride and groom thought the cheese puns in my sermily were very gouda.

Now, cold weather time is approaching and I surprisingly have a number of wedding officiant proposals in the pipeline.  Winter weddings are a bigger deal than I would have thought, and certainly more prospects are coming in than last year. Minnesota winter weather can sure change the tone and logistical planning of any wedding discussion – especially for exterior venues.

Have parka, boots, and long johns. Will travel.

To be honest, I am hoping somewhere along the line I can find an ‘anything goes’ couple and land a winter gig like one of those mentioned above; picturesque, outdoorsy, and with a couple who wants something quirky, original, and fun.  Oh, and who will have early access to the site so I can set up a snowman – or maybe I can just officiate dressed as a snowman. Either way, I can get a big, wide-brimmed hat, ala an old-school parson, like in the song Winter Wonderland

In the meadow I can build a snowman
We’ll say I am Parson Mark
I’ll say, “Are you married?”
‘You’ll say, “No man!
But you can do the job since you’re in town…”

Winter is coming.

Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

Reverence

Summer Sunday mornings on Horseshoe Lake were quieter than most.  There were no chain saws running, no motorboats save the rare fisherman. The Senness kids were in town, at church with their parents and grandparents.  The Brandt kids next door wouldn’t be coming out from town until after Sunday dinner, and if the Holm kids were around on a given weekend, they just preferred to sleep in until their grandma whipped up one of her extraordinary brunch breakfasts.  Even the loons usually seemed to be taking the day.  The other denizens of the west side of Horseshoe were elderly, and either sleeping in or sitting quietly on their respective porches, sipping coffee.

Summer Sunday mornings on Horseshoe Lake were quieter than most, at least until Lila started playing hymns on her old pump organ. 

As devout and G-d fearing as Lila Andren was, we did not go to church. She and organized religion had had a falling-out, and for the last forty years of her life, save the stray wedding or funeral, she never set in a church. 

But her faith was among the strongest I have ever known.

The brownish-gray pump organ had been found and refurbished by her husband Ivar, a large, gruff exterior/teddy bear interior of a Swedish immigrant. A retired plumber, Ivar had rescued the old organ from a long-defunct church and brought it to a guy in Brainerd who brought the musical innards back to life, while Ivar himself tackled refinishing the wood of the organ and its matching bench. 

The finished product was about the same length as a standard upright piano, and just a tad longer than Ivar and Lila’s couch, and they placed it smack-dab against the back of the couch, facing due east, with a view out the large bank of picture windows.

The morning sun, rising over the jack pines on Huxtable Point and shining through those windows, turned that living room into as pure a chapel as I could have ever sat in.

Though I rarely did, able as I was to hear Lila’s playing and singing quite clearly from my bedroom in the basement just below. 

I reveled in waking up on summer mornings with the sun piercing through open windows, the breeze bringing the scent of pine, the smell of the lake through screened windows I never closed. Sunday mornings brought the added soundtrack of pump-organ music, and classic Christian hymns.   Mostly she played, sometimes she sung – in English, and on rare occasions German, her native tongue.  Lila had left Austria for America shortly after Hitler came to power.  Among her belongings from that trek were an old Bible and a couple of piano books and hymnals.

Ivar and Lila once had a small upright piano, but it didn’t get played much.  Ivar tracking down and revitalizing that pump organ, with all its hand knobs and foot bellows, seemed to awake some dormant part of Lila.  She dove into playing hymns on Sunday mornings with a fervor, and her voice was not the typical higher-pitched woman’s but more of a gravely baritone – though she could hit the high notes when needed. 

I could lay there in bed and her every note played, every word sung drifting in through the window – with the added backbeat of her feet working the foot bellows through the floor just above.  Well into her seventies, she was in great shape – had to be, to work that old organ.

Not only was I able to enjoy those Sunday morning hymn fests, but much of the west side of Horseshoe Lake did as well.  That old pump organ, built to fill an old church with the music of faith, was a bit overpowering for a modest, Minnesota lake home living room. 

On days when Lila was really cranking them out, I could not even come upstairs, as it was too loud even for my pre-teen ears.  If I went out, I simply used the front door of the walkout basement, and would head for the dock.  There I could sit, watch the new day unfurl, hear Lila playing and singing just as clearly as if I had been sitting in church.

It may have been as close to G-d as I could get here on earth, though I was too young to appreciate those moments for what they really were at the time. 

Snippets of hymn lyrics come back to me from time-to-time, in moments logical and odd. To this day, I still prefer a classic set of hymns to contemporary church music.  For my money, any church could flip-flop Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art every Sunday and we’d all be the better for it.

One of the hymns that always strikes a chord with me because Lila almost always played it is Great is Thy Faithfulness, which includes these lyrics:

‘Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me’

‘Morning by morning new mercies I see’ may be the perfect description of how my summers at Horseshoe Lake came to shape who I am today.  When you are eight, ten, fifteen years old and the daily sunrise is your alarm clock, the lapping of lake water on a shore and the call of loons and herons your snooze alarms, you carry that with you, see life in a different way.

My faith today is strong, I believe in large part because I didn’t spend much time in church as a youth, but I lived my summers in an ecclesiastical place, and time, and way.  I was fortunate.

Play on, Lila.

Great is thy faithfulness.  And mine.

Dear Dad

June 16, 2019

Dear Dad

How ya been? So, here we are. Father’s Day again. You must’ve liked Father’s Day because you sure saved a lot of crap I gave you for it.  Found it all after you died. The polished rock cuff links with matching tie bar are just as fashionable as they ever were. Granite was always stylishly classic.  Not so much the figurine of the drunk guy on the cast iron bar stool. There sure was a lot of oddball junk in the cigar boxes in your dresser drawer. You didn’t even smoke cigars!  Good thing I was an only child, right?

You’ve missed thirty-two Fathers Days.  A lot of stuff happened in those thirty-two years, but you know that I’m sure. I think.

I don’t know how much of the mythology and Hollywood see-all-and-watch-over-those-of-us-still-on-earth from your perch in heaven I believe.  I still don’t totally not believe in ghosts thanks to you and mom teaching me to be open minded.  Actually, you never really said that that I can recall, but you did tell me to be skeptical but not dismissive of other ideas and other people’s ways of looking at things.  That’s different from being open minded, I think. So ‘maybe’ on ghosts and signs. Still ‘no’ on sushi.

How in the hell are things in heaven?   That should make you laugh or at least cock a bemused eyebrow. Ha.

Don’t know if you know this, but a part of me is pretty sure you do.  I’ve been spending a lot of time lately on your old turf in Highland Park. No, we don’t live in St. Paul but we are right across the river in south Minneapolis – a brief jaunt (less than a mile) over the Ford Bridge. We moved back home last fall and to be honest I wasn’t even thinking much about the proximity to St.Paul and I sure wasn’t thinking about the fact you used to live there, in that part of it. Even going there to shop a few times a week I didn’t think about it.  Until I started driving through Highland Park every day to get to work.

I spent the last half of the school year substituting at a high school over by the river and I was a few days into my new commute when I realized I was making a turn on Cleveland Avenue, a block from where you used to live. It only looked vaguely familiar to me until I recalled driving down Cleveland some years ago after I found some old correspondence of yours with that address.  Weird but cool. One day on the way home I took a slight detour from Montreal Street and went by your old address on Cleveland. I knew from originally discovering the letters and the neighborhood some years ago that the building you lived in was gone but considering the age of the one that replaced it you were probably one of the last tenants there. There are still enough homes and apartments of a certain vintage that the neighborhood would probably look somewhat familiar to you.

As the school year rolled on it was kind of cool to think about rolling through your old ‘hood every morning. Did a little research too. From the apartment on Cleveland you probably went downtown via Montreal to West Seventh.  Maybe you drove that route and maybe you took the bus down Montreal and transferred to the streetcar on West Seventh.  I drove that route every morning.

Getting this teaching gig for a half a year and driving through Highland Park everyday to get there is not exactly Moses seeing a bush-on-fire level ‘sign’ – more the universe gently tapping my shoulder and clearing it’s throat.  Maybe it’s just my long lack of faith in something as dubious as coincidence.  Which brings me to the lamp.

One day after work I stopped at an old hardware store on Randolph Avenue – the description of the place on Google even says ‘old school neighborhood hardware store’ – as I had an old lamp that belonged to Amy’s grandmother that needed to be rewired and they proudly offer that service.  Some of your old letters that I have were addressed to you on Randolph Avenue and when I double checked I had to smile, figuring that maybe you even hit S & S Hardware to get a key made or something, as your home apartment for a time  was right down the street. No burning bush at the corner of Randolph and Fairview, but S & S does carry a full line of gardening tools. So there’s that. 

Once the weather warmed up and I could drive around with the windows down I took a few afternoon detours through Highland Park on my way home. I’ve driven some of the streets you used to travel and seen some of the places you lived in the years before you met and married mom and before I came along. Even walked the neighborhood extensively one Saturday while waiting for some work to be done on my car.  For all of its contemporary touches and new development the residential sections of Highland Park would still be familiarto you, I think. More colorful paint jobs perhaps, but it mostly retains enough of the 1950s look and vibe that you would probably feel at home.  Cecil’s Deli is still there, dad.  I have been in there just once – the day I walked around waiting for my car – but I haven’t eaten there yet.  I figure that needs to be a time when I can just sit and soak it in. It sits right where it was, five blocks from your place on Cleveland. Still all things Kosher.  With your affinity for corned beef, pastrami, real cheesecake, and (allegedly) speaking Yiddish, it is hard to imagine that you didn’t hit Cecil’s at least once in a while.

As I have driven those Highland Park streets I’ve wondered more about some of the mysteries you left behind that I have spent years trying to unravel – and more importantly why the secrets you kept about your life needed to be secret. Years of digging up clues and piecing together the puzzle have pretty well explained most of it (at least crcumstantially) and at least now I get it. Mostly.  For the record, the story I have pieced together offers me a comforting, ‘ahh-ha’  perspective and some times I find it all laugh-out-loud funny. Figures, as I inherited your rather quirked sense of humor.

But dad, the real kicker came just a few weeks ago.

I had a wedding to officiate on Raspberry Island in downtown St. Paul. I had not been to Raspberry Island for decades and what I didn’t realize until I started driving there that the access point was on the river flats across the Mississippi from downtown St. Paul. Truth is, I didn’t realize exactly where I was until after the wedding, as I was leaving Raspberry Island and saw the sign for the West Side Flats condos. I immediately pulled into the parking lot across from the brand spanking new complex.  Their advertising says they offer ‘style, practicality, and luxury’ – words that I am sure you never heard as a ragamuffin kid running the streets of St. Paul’s old River Flats.  The condos and other new development have rendered the Jewish ghetto that used to flood out every spring to nothing more than wispy memories and photos in historical center archives.  ‘Urban renewal’ in the 1960s started the process, but what it is today…

So while none of these reminders falls into burning bush territory, there aint no urban Smokey Bear gonna shut this escapade down now. So to speak.  You would enjoy certain aspects of modern vernacular.

Gotta close this out, dad.  Heading down to Rochester for the annual seafood boil my son-in-law throws. It is the first year all of us will be together for Father’s Day in a lot of years and I’ll surely be thinking about you.  You would love them all, dad and I know that would be reciprocated. My wife, daughter, sons, son-in-law, grandson all have rich and full lives they are very cool people. Amy, Lindsay, Willi, Sam, Brad, Felix are all something to behold in their own unique ways and even though you only met one of them, they sure miss you and your presence.  But they at least have me which is kind of you, lite – so that’s something.

Thinking about you today dad, even not roaming the streets of St. Paul. Miss you. Happy Father’s Day.

Mazel tov.

Love,

Mark

It’s All the Rage

A few years back, prompted by the writings of my erstwhile high school seniors at the time, I coined a new phrase for a phenomenon I never knew existed. Two-plus years later, the spectacle I envisioned then came back to my classroom (an entirely different locale and temperament than where the original story occurred) via a conversation amongst some of my new crop of students – sophomores. The phrase?

‘Sprite Rage.’

It all started with a simple start of class, ‘Do Now’ writing prompt. When my students come in, there is a prompt up on the classroom smart board that they are to ponder for a moment, and then quietly write on in their journals for ten minutes. Sometimes I post a simple statement or quotation as a brain jump-start, or it could be a multiple-part question, sometimes it is something visual. I sometimes post a visual along with an idea. Usually the prompts relate in some way to whatever we happen to be working on in class, though some days they are just (meant to be) thought-provoking or just a humorous day starter.

This particular day was simply meant to prompt some creativity, a chance to write something whimsical, and a bit of a break from what we had been working on in class.

As we transition from the daily ‘Do Now’ into the meat of the day, I replace the writing prompt on the screen with the daily agenda, which my students are supposed to copy down. While this is going on, I collect the notebooks and invite students to verbally share their responses to the Do Now prompt.

Sharing is a hit-or-miss proposition with my students, truly feast-or-famine. Mostly, we starve, as even my best writers usually eschew sharing their work out loud.

The main reason I chose the picture below with no caption was that we had been in a bit of a sharing dry spell and I thought they could not only have fun writing on the prompt, but also be willing to share verbally – have some fun with it.

I present, just as shown in class, seemingly felonious Ronald:
ronaldmcdonaldstatuearrest
A few more of my students than usual did have some fun writing on the visual, though a significant number of my street-smart, street-life-isn’t-funny, urban teens saw the event portrayed a less than humorous – some to the point where they refused to write at all about what some of their classmates saw as amusing, though not uproarious.

There was precious little whimsy to be found in the day’s writing.

Ronald McDonald getting arrested was apparently not all that funny to my students – even if it is just a statue of him, and he really wasn’t getting arrested.

The ‘why’ to all of this is what got me.

I may have become a bit jaded after six years of teaching in New Orleans, as the visceral vehemence with which some of my students approached this one did not strike me as all that unusual. At least at first.

Who knew?

My rather over-the-top third period group of thirty-three students saw at least six of them tell essentially the same story in different ways. Once one student shared their story, two others wanted to give their take on the situation portrayed. My fourth period group of twenty-five had roughly the same ratio of similar takes on the same theme, though only one felt compelled to share his out loud.

The situation my students saw (with some notable variations) in this picture was that of Ronald McDonald being arrested after either confronting and/or assaulting a restaurant customer for the apparently commonplace-but-much-frowned-upon practice that I have now coined:

Sprite Rage.

Apparently, Sprite Rage occurs when a restaurant customer orders water to drink, but when getting a water cup,subsequently goes to the fountain dispenser and puts Sprite in it, not water.

The first kid who shared his version of Vigilante Ronald told it humorously, but with a fair amount of physical violence. The offender, in this kid’s version of the prompt Screenshot (38)response, was an “old lady who should have known better” and Ronald took care of her after jumping over the counter, leading to his arrest.

His work was cartoonish, but with some serious and very violent overtones. This prompted a girl in the class to share her version of Ronald and a soda scofflaw; hers lacked any humorous subtlety and while there was less physical violence, Ronald apparently can have quite the mouth on him when provoked.

I chuckled warily in response to both versions of the story. “Ohhhhh-kay, anybody else have a take on this one that they want to share?”

Two more students imparted their perspectives on customer’s pilfering of pop, and Ronald’s subsequent arrest-inducing response.

“Seriously? Is ‘Sprite Rage’ really such a big deal?” I was asking only semi-rhetorically, though; I was curious to see how much of a big deal this really was to my students.

“Mr. Lucker! Why you laughing?”

I started picking up notebooks. “Because I think it’s funny.” 

Uh-oh.

“You never seen that?!” The kids eyes showed great surprise, as did his tone of voice.

“Seen people putting Sprite into a water cup? Yeah, I’ve seen that, but I’ve never seen anybody get all bent-out-of-shape about it…”

The resulting tumult was instant and incredulous.

“WHAT??!”

“Mr. Lucker! You serious?!”

“Mr. Lucker, where you been?”

“I work at McDonalds, Mr. Lucker; we got to do that all the time! My manager jumps over Vintage-1970S-4-Tap-Coca-Cola-Diet-Coke-Spritethe counter yelling at people when he sees ‘em doing it!”

“Oh, man, that happens all the time, Mr. Lucker!”

“Mr.Lucker, man, don’t you ever eat at McDonalds?”

“I do, but I have never experienced ‘Sprite Rage.’” I continued picking up notebooks, more slowly.

There was a pause.

“Mr. Lucker – why you call it that?”

“Because that’s what y’all are telling me. If somebody at McDonalds gets a water cup and puts Sprite in it, somebody goes off on ’em. It sounds to me like road rage, only in McDonalds, not in cars.”

A pause. Quizzical looks were exchanged, multiple frowns swept my class.

“It aint funny, man. I seen people get beat up for that s***!”

“I’ve seen other customers beat up people for that!”

“Seriously?” Now it was my turn to be incredulous, though I should know better by now.

Nods of approval came from all corners of my classroom

“Seriously?” I repeated. It was all I could think of. I stopped and stared at them. Had it been April first I would have felt like I was being punked, but there had been no time for coordination, or even jumping on a lets-jerk-Mr.Lucker’s-chain-today bandwagon. This was purely spontaneous, and heartfelt.

Struck a nerve, I did, with one of the most innocuous of intended-to-be-humorous visual writing prompts.

Interestingly, Sprite Rage seems to be a very commonplace shared experience amongst my students, and the circumstances don’t change much: In all but one case, the stories they wrote usually portrayed older women as the pop-for-water perpetrators and resulting recipients of Ronald’s (to me) overzealous response.

Calling Dr. Phil.

As my students completed their agendas and I finished picking up the notebooks, the daily writing coup de grâce was delivered solemnly, with conviction, by a kid who normally writes a fair amount but generally doesn’t say much in class:
burgerkinyoudaman
“I’ve seen it happen at Burger King, too.”

Apparently, I need to get out more often.

When I do, I’ll play it safe…and just order a shake.

In/on the joke

I wrote my last Dad Joke this week.

No, I am not jumping on the Dad Joke wagon, and I have not given up Dad Jokes for Lent graphica few days early. I have not tired of Dad Jokes nor do I think that there is an over-abundance of them contributing to global warming and that I need to reduce my Dad Joke footprint.

No, I simply wrote my last Dad Joke today.

Or, more accurately, I wrote the last Dad Joke that will be attributed to me.

On a brand-new baseball.

For now tucked away in a box with five other brand new, autographed-by-me baseballs.

One of my kids (or grandkids, great grandkids, great-great grandkids, or some combination thereof) will read said joke, off of said baseball, at my memorial service – some (very hopefully) forty, fifty years or more down the road from today.

Because that is the way it is laid out in my dead file; the red file folder with all of the details I want taken care of at my passing. Quotations to use in the program, songs to be played, that sort of thing.  Along with the instructions for distributing the baseballs.

The ones I autographed, including the two with my final Dad Joke. The half-dozen baseball - Rawlingsautographed baseballs (total) with my ashes inside. My family, long aware of this plan, has grudgingly said agreed that they will do their best to adhere to my wishes – though occasional requests for someone to take the lead on this little project of mine has yet to result in any enthusiastic volunteers.

Why baseballs?

The obvious answer is, of course, that I am a huge baseball fan.  Those that know me all know this, and my baseball-cum-urns will serve a two-fold purpose: not only can they displayed like any regular piece of sports memorabilia, but they will still be usable baseballs. Years after I am gone, when my grandkids, great-grandkids, and great-great-grandkids get together someone will always be able to say, “Hey! Let’s go outside and play catch with grandpa!”

And they will still be able to.

I actually purchased the baseballs about two years ago, along with the hole-saw attachment so whoever handles such things at the funeral place can drill out a hole in each ball, insert the ashes, then put the previously drilled out plug back in with some sort of sealant. (The hole-saw is secured in the box with the autographed balls.) But until recently, I just had not gotten around to getting the autographing done, and packing away the baseballs all nice and neat for storage – in part, because I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to write on the balls, and because I have been busy and just hadn’t gotten around to it.

We relocated back to my hometown of Minneapolis last fall, and this winter, while trying to organize my basement office space, I had the package of balls and decided now was as good a time as any to get them prepped, so I could hand them off to one of my sons for safekeeping.

I had them sitting out next to my desk for a few days, and while I had narrowed down baseball-ed3my phraseology to a select few ideas, I wasn’t totally sold on whether I should say the same thing on each one, or if I should go in a more creative direction.  Then, as these things tend to do, inspiration came from out of the blue.

I was on my laptop, reading about my hometown Minnesota Twins going through spring training down in Florida.  There was a humorous sidebar story about a Twins broadcaster, and then, bingo…there it was!  It just popped into my head; the needed line for two of the six baseballs.  The perfect punchline; short, sweet, on point…definitely me.

I finally had it: my last Dad Joke.

I thought about it for a bit, just to make sure it was THE line. I ran it through my head, then out loud, using different inflections, sticking the emphasis in different places.  Yep, I realized I had nailed it.

Later that evening, I signed the baseballs, adding the LDJ (Last dad Joke) to two of them, then gently secured them back in their tissue paper wrappers, putting each one back in its box, then placed all six baseballs and the hole saw in a larger box, slapping a big sign on the front, and sealed it all securely with packing tape.

Finished.

Bringing the box upstairs, I informed my wife and two sons that the baseballs I had long mentioned were ready to be placed in the safekeeping of one of them.  All three of them looked at me warily, my wife reiterating her long-held position on the topic; “Don’t look at me.”

Fortunately, my twenty-year-old son Sam acquiesced. “Why not? I’ll just put it in my closet and leave it there when I move out.”  His succinct, immediate repsonse seemed to edge toward surrender more than cheerful agreement, but I think when the time comes he will probably take it with him. We’ll see.

It is a nice feeling to finally have that little project done. Something else I can check off  popcornmy bucket (of popcorn) list.

Yeah, that one just came to me as I was typing this.

So, I wrote my last Dad Joke today.

To paraphrase the great comedian and baseball fan Rip Taylor, “They’ll LAAAauugh!”rip

 

 

 

#baseball #dadsashesinabaseball #deadfile #baseballliferanddeather

High-def Resolutions

FACT: A majority of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.
FACT: A majority of those same Americans break, abandon, ignore, postpone, or modify-beyond-reasonable-recognition those same resolves-to-self-betterment pledges within the first two-to-three weeks of the new year.
FACT: Statistics don’t lie, and the figures I quoted above are polygraph certified.

As I type this, we are roughly forty-three percent of the way through the month of January, or about three-point-six-percent of our way through the year. It is way too early january-2019-calendar_lito abandon plans and goals; you have plenty of time to snap out of your ‘I already blew it’ doldrums and get your 2019 (and life in general) on the track you want it to be on.

The basic problem with resolutions (and resolving in general) as I see it is twofold: lack of follow through and support for setting/meeting any goals that may have been set is certainly the main culprit, but just as big an issue is a basic fact: just how grounded in reality and real life are your goals?

The solution to the busted resolution problem also has two key components: realistic expectations… and Post-It notes.

Yeah, those ubiquitous sticky-squares can make your life so much easier by allowing you to post basic, to-the-point reminders in the places where they will be easily visible, posit1.jpgthereby doing you the most good. You can slap those suckers on dang near anything, and the good ones will stay stuck there.

Think of them as pulp-based Jiminy Crickets.

The second part of the keep-the-resolution equation is basic self-improvement book/class/system/TED talk: SMART goals.  That is, your goals/resolutions should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

For this project, the goals should also be simple, so add another S, and the ‘time-bound’ part can be more flexible being as self-improvement of this type is more an ongoing thing, in varying Interludes. So, we’ll go with SSMARTI.

Yep. Set some SSMARTI Goals for yourself.

Today is that day! You still have over fifty-percent of January left to pull off a full reboot – heck, over ninety-five percent of the year still lies in front of you!

But enough with the statistics.  Let’s get real with some genuine, reality based, SMARM goals. Eh, resolutions. I won’t pretend to be some sort of self-improvement guru; I simply present here my personal examples of life-betterment for 2019 as simply a template for you to use and/or modify as you see fit.

Start by printing out my list, then tack it to your refrigerator or at your desk (or any suitable location) as a reference for when you use it as a guide to start making your Post its. (I recommend a darker color version; the pastels are way old school, and the yellow postit2_liones, in particular, remind too many people of legal pads, micromanaging bosses, and work in general.)  Oh, and if you attach a Post-It to a bulletin board, do not also stick a tack in it. That sort of redundancy kills any of the self-improvement-coolness vibe you’ll want to nurture.

Think of this entire exercise as a potential-for-many-paper-cuts-Fitbit. It can be done. You have plenty of time to get on/back on a new year/new you track.  Below is my list to use as your SSMARTI template. You can be a SSMARTI, too.

Here we go:

My Personal Resolves for a Better Me, 2019

(with footnotes)

More gut, less data

Less microwave, more crock pot

Make love, not war

More poetry (reading it, writing it)

chocolateLess chocolate…eh. Who am I kidding?

More hiking

More passion, less whining

More doing, less complaining

More compassion, less condemnation

Less La-Z-Boy, more chaise lounge ***

More peanut butter-and- jelly sandwiches.  With different jellies. Maybe even different nut butters (keeping them ALL chunky, however)

Challenge the status quo

More spirituality

2019-01-13More Bukowski and Kerouac

Write some Bukowski and Kerouac

Sip (not drink) more whiskey

More maraschino cherries

Quote Dylan and Sinatra more often

Camping!

Less salt, more cilantro

Beer

kickball.jpgMore blogging, less graffiti

Play kickball with grown-ups

Play more cards

Fewer emails, more notes and greetings cards

Walk the dogs more frequently ^^^

Honor an urgedrama

Make more whoopee, make less drama

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

More instinct, less planning/second guessing

More podcasts, less TV

More reading

Moderated hedonism °°°

More coffee/beer/lunch/dinner with friends

Make more friends to have coffee/beer/lunch/dinner with

Try different places for friends/coffee/beer/lunch/dinner

dsjjwp6uiae9e8yTry different coffees and beers

Try harder

Try harder more often

Try.

Always try.

Here is to a successful 93.4% of the year 2019 you have remaining.

*** Goes more to locale; deck, backyard, dock, beach, etc.
^^^ Post-it notes should not be stuck to dogs proper
°°° This may possibly conflict with anything related to poetry, chocolate, or whiskey

#resolutionsredux  #reboot2019

Lexiconvenience*

(* lexiconvenience noun  lex·i·con- ve·nience  \ˈlek-sə-ˌkän- ˈvēn-yən(t)s
language made to fit personal preference) 

I need a new word for euphemism.

As the world gets progressively weirder, and as I try to maintain some sense of dignity and self-control in my communications with others – both written and verbal – all the good euphemisms seem to be losing their luster from overuse – especially the ones people use euphemism-ed2to avoid to whole insensitivity-to-deity issue: gadgadzooksgosh; geejeepersjeez.

Aside from their overuse, they lack etymological ‘oomph’ – unless you are currently starring in a production of Grease.

Before you offer up new, non-offensive, not oblique suggestions, keep in mind that euphemisms are not exactly synonyms – although the major disparagements of our language are showing a fair amount of wear-and-tear as well; moron, idiot, nitwit, halfwit, imbecile, twit, dolt, nimrod, et al, are repetitively redundant in an accelerated manner as never before seen.

Personally, I blame Facebook and Twitter, though the case could certainly be made that we are living in different times – the Age of the Buffoons, perhaps.

Doesn’t have the same pleasing lilt to it as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ does it?  Since we seem to be living in a time that is just the opposite realm of intellectual renewal, 235bff49638c63dfa6d69b1a5bb587ab945db2d8maybe my first euphemistic recalculation can be something along the lines of ‘The Age of Fried Filaments’.

Eh, rather clunky.  And too obscure, as younger folks used to curly bulbs will be as clueless as they are filamentless.

I do have a personal euphemism that I coined a few years back, but it hasn’t really caught on in any major way: “Son-of-a-Bisquick-pancake!” I find S.O.B.P. a catchy little euphemism good for all sorts of occasions, and with a tweak to a syllabic inflection here-or-there, you can punch it up to convey a wide range of emphasis and meanings. Starting out with a hard, guttural “SON-OF-A…’” will get attention more quickly than a wistful, musing, ‘I’ll be a son of a…’ – the euphemistic equivalent of a Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey “Well whattaya know about that.”bisquick-4ed

‘Son-of-a-Bisquick-pancake!’ perfectly fits the definition of euphemism, too.  As is my wont, I turn to my friends at Merriam-Webster:

‘Euphemisms can take different forms, but they all involve substituting a word or phrase considered to be less offensive than another.

The substituted word might, for example, be viewed as a less coarse choice, as when dang or darn is used instead of damn or damned.’

“Damn, Skippy!”

That is another personal, flexible euphemism I like to use, and it usually hits its mark because, as I have gleefully discovered, if you say it with a bit of a chuckle, it gets a laugh, but when you add in a disapproving look and an edgier inflection, not a lot of people find skippythe applied moniker ‘Skippy’ to be one of subjective endearment.

“Damn, Skippy! Lighten up!”

As sometimes happens, though, doing my homework results in some different perspectives that don’t always fit my narrative thesis.  As the fine folks at M-W reminded me, ‘a euphemism may also consist of an indirect softening phrase that is substituted for the straightforward naming of something unpalatable: people being “let go” rather than “fired”; civilians killed in war described as “collateral damage…”

Ugh.

Damn, Skippy! That’s just watering stuff down to make things seem peachier than they really are, and I don’t think we need to go down that road.  As it stands, the idea of making something all soft-and-sweet-and-vague in this age of chaos and uncertainty is already being expanded by the absurdity of ‘alternative facts’ – which is not a euphemism for alternative-facts‘opinion’ it is just plain wrong from a grammatical and practical standpoint.

And that last statement is an English teacher fact, though this next one is my opinion: ‘alternative fact’ is the purest and unspoiled of oxymorons – a complete and contradictory abomination of language and rational thought. Though not being totally comfortable with the medical origins of the word ‘moron’ maybe I should opt for something more neutral; oxyclod? oxydolt? Oxydunce, perhaps.

This is the point where you, dear reader, gets to say to me, “Damn, Skippy! Step back!”

Son-of-a-Bisquick pancake!  You really did.

Santa Fidelis

“‘Twas a Wednesday before Christmas, and all through the mall
tho no children were present, this day topped them all…”

Some twenty-five years ago, I decided to pick up a few extra holiday dollars by taking a part-time job as a shopping mall Santa in suburban Minneapolis. As I was neither the natural size, age or type (nor naturally hirsute enough for the role) I wore a roll of foam rubber beneath my suit, silver nylon beard on my chin, and ended up working mostly the mall’s lower-traffic hours – late morning, midday.

On a very quiet Wednesday afternoon in early December, I was sitting there in my big Santa chair chatting with my college-student, elf-for-the-day Susie, and grad-school student/photographer,  brookdaleholiday2Jen. They, like me, were simply making some extra holiday cash; we were Santaland rookies, all. This particular day, we hadn’t taken a picture in an hour or so, though we did a lot of waving and yelling ‘Merry Christmas’ to assorted passers-by. As the three of us chatted about school stuff, I looked down the nearly deserted mall and saw a sight that was interesting, but not really of the season: walking towards us down the center of the mall was a tall, young, U.S. Marine, in full dress blues; alongside  him was a petite, simply dressed woman, maybe forty-five, fifty years old.

It quickly became obvious they were indeed headed right for us.

Elf Susie walked cheerfully back to the gate of Santa Land to greet the pair, and I straightened up in my throne and smoothed out my beard – although I wasn’t sure why as I didn’t see any kids. I watched the young Marine, who glanced around nervously, while the woman spoke to Susie.brookdaleholiday1

“O.K. Santa! This young man is next!” chirped Susie merrily, as she swung open the little white picket gate for the youthful Jarhead to pass, as Jen took her spot behind the camera. The Marine walked up to me and I greeted him with my usual “Ho-ho-ho” shtick, to which he replied quickly, coming to crisp, serious attention, “Merry Christmas, sir.”

Their story was short, sweet, uncomplicated. Unless you are a twenty-year-old Marine having his picture taken on Santa’s lap.

The young man was an only child, U.S.M.C. Corporal home on leave, and his widowed mother was very proud of his recent accomplishments: a marksmanship award, three ribbons and a training award. Having her only son home for the holidays was a huge thrill, and, per what the young Marine told me, and what his mother shared with Susie and Jen, she wanted only one other thing in the world for Christmas: nice pictures of her son in full dress blues.

With Santa Claus.

The young Marine told the young women  – and then me – he said had no idea why this particular setting was so important to her, but it was. So thus began a suddenly interesting Wednesday afternoon, just the five of us: Susie, Jen, proud mom, Santa…and the Marine.

This was in the days before digital photography; our pictures were the time-consuming, one-shot-at-a time, Polaroid-you-stick-in-a-cardboard-frame variety – and the young man’s mother wanted nine of them to send out to relatives all over the country. My arm around his waist, the young Marine sat awkwardly but patiently at attention on the arm of Santa’s throne, glancing around nervously.

After the first picture was snapped, he staged whispered to me, while staring directly at the camera, “I’m really sorry about this, sir.”

I smiled, quietly chuckled “ho-ho-ho” as Jen readied the next shot. “Sorry about what?” I asked, robustly Santa-like.

brookdaleholiday4“About doing this, sir. It’s my mother’s idea. I’m a little…uncomfortable.”

“Ho-ho-ho!” I bellowed.

I didn’t much look the part without help, but I could sure play it.

The scene played out, the Marine finally getting comfortable enough to lean into my shoulder a little bit, as Jen continued to focus and shoot, reminding us to smile – which the Marine did only slightly less uncomfortable with each shot. We sat there, his mother beaming with pride while chatting with Susie the Elf, me ho-ho-ho-ing-it-up, trying to help the guy out with his discomfort. After a few shots, I whispered to the young Marine.“O.K., I know this feels silly, but it’s making your mom really happy.”

He glanced at his mother, smiled slightly. “Yes, sir.”

He was loosening up a little, though that was countered a bit as by now as a small crowd was gathering, eyes wide; guess it’s not every day you see a Marine sitting on Santa’s lap. He smiled self-consciously. I made more Santa-small talk while Jen snapped away. “Grow up around here? Afraid you’re going to see somebody you know?” I inquired.

“Yes, sir,’ he said, staying focused on the camera, “I graduated from Park Center.” which was a high school within walking distance of the mall.  I nodded, ho-ho-hoed some more, asked him a few more questions, reminded him a couple more times about how his mother was smiling, talked sports with the young man, while Jen finished getting all of the pictures to the mom’s satisfaction.

It took fourteen shots to get the nine pictures the Marine’s mom wanted (I saved a couple of the botched extras for a time; they were wonderful.). As his mom was paying Jen and newly Marine-smitten Susie (from the fevered looks on many of the women in the crowd, she wasn’t the only one) finished sliding each picture into its candy-cane-and-reindeer-motif cardboard frame, the young Marine stood up, turned toward me, started to salute but then stuck out his hand to shake mine.

“Thank you, Santa, sir.” He said crisply, with just a hint of relief, in what I believe was proper-holiday-Marine-etiquette for the situation.

Then, bag of pictures in hand, proud mother and dutiful, loving son walked off, arm-in-arm back down the mall, as the smiling crowd quickly dispersed.

To my understanding, the young man was probably breaking protocol by wearing his dress blues in such a setting. But in the years since, I’ve gotten the opportunity to tell this story to more than a few Marines to not one objection. Younger Jarheads tend to dressbluehatlook at me quizzically, apparently pondering the obvious ‘what ifs’ if their own situations. Older Corpsmen mostly nod, smiling proudly.

All have agreed at my story punchline: it’s a pretty unique take on ‘Semper Fi’

As for me, every year around this time I read newspaper or magazine articles about mall Santas, the at times heartbreaking requests they get, the funny things kids say, that sort of thing, and I invariably think of twenty-minutes on a long-ago afternoon in a quiet, suburban Minneapolis mall.  Sometimes in conversation, someone will start talking about the best Christmas they ever had, or the favorite present they ever received.

I can always take things in a slightly different direction – with the story of one of the best Christmas presents I ever had a small part in giving.

brookdaleholiday3