A passed torch

I’ve become the old guys I grew up around.

My youth was filled with a fascinating blend of old timers that I joyfully gleaned much of what I needed to know about life by just hanging around with all of them. They were mostly retired, blue-collar guys; my grandfather worked on an assembly line making gramps-and-his-son-bowling-team-that-went-to-national-tournamentbatteries, and we had close family friends – integral parts of my childhood and life – plumbers, house painters, storekeepers and tractor makers, among them.

I learned about life through their eyes and thick, immigrant-dialect-honed English; specific and pointed advice was given when needed, but most of the lessons learned were implied; eye contact, a raised brow, a nudge or a nod during an event or incident of some sort that I instinctively knew meant I should be paying attention because I just might learn something.

I have now become that nudge-and-nod (though nowhere close to retirement) guy.

The other day I was at the chiropractor getting an adjustment. The doc is a good guy, twenty-six years young, and we chat amiably while I get my treatment. I was lying on my stomach while he worked on my back, and he was having trouble adjusting the exam table. After a moment of struggle, he got it to lock into place where he wanted, then joked, “That’s the most difficult thing I do all day.”

“I suppose a lot of people think that your job is kind of easy – spending your day massaging backs” I replied, as he continued working out my shoulder kinks.

“Yeah, kinda” he chuckled, adding, “They see me for twenty minutes at a time, then leave, and figure that’s what I do all day – wait for people to come in, spend twenty minutes getting them adjusted, then go back to doing whatever else I do.” He cracked a couple of vertebrae into place.

“People don’t realize what goes into a job like yours. You know the story of the guy and furnace1the busted furnace?”

“No, I don’t think so” he replied, bending my spine the other direction.

“It’s winter, and the guy’s furnace goes out. He calls the furnace guy, who comes over, looks around for a minute, then takes a hammer out of his tool box, whacks the furnace, and it starts running again. He puts the hammer back, then hands the guy his bill for a hundred dollars…” I feel a nice, loosening jolt to my neck. “The guy looks at the bill and says ‘a hundred bucks!’ All you did was whack it with a hammer! The furnace guy nods and says, ‘Yeah, that’s ten-bucks for the hammer tap, ninety bucks for knowing where to tap.”

The doc stops. Even though I am face down on the adjustment table, I can see him with my peripheral vision, hands on his hips, thinking. “Wow. That’s a great story” he says with surprise, “I never heard that before.” He starts back in on my neck

“It’s a good analogy for you.” I add.

“All the time I spent in school – yeah, it is. ‘Ninety bucks for knowing where to tap.’ I’ll have to remember that story. I’ll use that.”

“Feel free” I say as another disc gets pushed into place.

Just passing it on.

Making my best pitch

I have a dead file, in need of its annual updating.

The file dangles in the front of our family filing cabinet, a red hanging folder filled with all of the important stuff my family will need for when I depart this mortal coil: the songs I want played, the songs I wish to have sung – the how-I-want-them-played-and-sung at my memorial service – dead-file-e1327109698717along with the scripture, quotes and poetry I want to be read, and what I want printed on the program.

Pretty basic, but important stuff.

My wife and kids know where this file is, they know that all that key info will be right there, as I am trying to be proactive, not controlling.  They are mostly okay with this arrangement, and though they don’t know what’s in it, they figure they will deal with that if and when the time comes.

Or, hopefully, my children will simply be able to pass on the whole thing to their adult children under the banner of ‘you cousins can all take some responsibility for grandpa/great family-tree-relationship-chart-free-pdf-templategrandpa/great-great grandpa here.’

Good Lord willing, that’s the way it plays out.

As is my custom, I review the file at the beginning of the year – though not as some sort of resolution ritual, or anything like that. I am always reminded to do this by all of the year-end/year-beginning, tax-and-estate planning reminders from every direction and the television commercials featuring thought-dead-already celebrities touting ’providing for your family’ with mail-order life insurance. Though sometimes I get those commercials confused with those of some other thought-dead-alreadys and their reverse mortgage ads.

Now there is a spiritual analogy post just dying to be written.

This year, I found as I reviewed the tattered red folder that there is one key piece of information that I keep neglecting to place in my dead file: I’ve got to tell them where the baseballs are.  I also remembered I actually have to purchase, and then partially prepare said  baseballs.

Yeah, the baseballs.

Anyone who knows me and my family will attest to our love of the game. My wife Amy and I began dating late summer, 1991, as our hometown Minnesota Twins were en route to their second World Series championship, and let me tell you, World Series victories are great new-relationship aphrodisiacs. The following year we got married and had a Twins-themed wedding reception, followed up by family members and the wedding party (60 of us, all told) going to the Twins-Brewers game the next day, after hich we (just Amy and I) followed the Twins on the road to Chicago and Milwaukee for our honeymoon

So yeah, as a passionate aficionado of all things America’s pastime, baseball will certainly be as much a part of my departure from this world as it is in my existence on this rotating-like-a-fine-change-up celestial orb.  My immediate family understands that, and figures they will deal with whatever zaniness I have in that red file folder when the time comes, though the one particular aspect they do know of gets the ‘hot potato’ treatment amongst daughter Lindsay, and sons Will and Sam. (Amy wants no part of my baseball bequest and has long since informed all the kidlets that this one will be totally on them.)

Somebody is going to have to put me in the baseballs.

It’s pretty simple, actually, and far more feasible than other preferred options, like a traditional Viking viking-funeral-799141funeral.  The whole ship set ablaze and afloat (with my remains on it) while  in keeping with my ancestral roots and desires, is impractical and expensive (EPA permits and whatnot) and maybe just a bit pretentious. So while the whole Viking ship thing would be as exciting as an inside-the-park home run, my baseball brainchild is an easy, knock-it-outta-the-park game-winner.

That I hope doesn’t result in me getting knocked around.

Upon my demise, after everything donatable has been donated, organ and tissue wise, the rest of me will need to be cremated. That will leave me as a nifty little pile of ashes, which will then need to be handled in some way. As I have never been one easily confined to conventional parameters (literally or figuratively) I don’t see myself as sitting in an urn or ornate box on someones’ mantelpiece somewhere.  Bor-ring.

Hence the baseballs.

It’s pretty simple, really. A set of regulation, major league baseballs will be purchased, then will official-major-league-baseballs-edbe autographed by me; some signed as ‘dad’ some as ‘grandpa.’ Then, when the time comes to stash the ash, each ball will have a small core drilled out of it, just big enough to contain some of my ashes. Once the ashes are placed in each ball, the hole will then be sealed up with the drilled-out core and some epoxy, and the baseballs will then be ready for distribution to the next generation(s).

The idea could catch on – a sort of national pastiming-on, if you will.

The great thing about me being ensconced for eternity in baseballs is not only will what’s left of me be suitable for display in a ball cube, on a mantle or in a memorabilia cabinet, I will also be able to remain part of the family in a tangible, practical way.

For years after I am gone, when my grandkids and great grandkids get together someone will baseball-ed3always be able to say, “Hey! Let’s go outside and play catch with grandpa!”

And we still can.

Ummmm….but please, no batting practice, kids.

“Because grandpa said so, THAT’S why!”





February fourteenth.

Whether you’ve been in a relationship for sixty years or twenty minutes, the day means something more than ‘Oh, it’s Tuesday, Hamburger Helper for dinner night’. Even if it is, for most of us, this particular Tuesday falling on February fourteenth, it probably better not be.

Just sayin’.

One of my favorite real-life stories of romance I played only a tangential role in, but I am willing to bet it is still being remembered or being retold by someone, somewhere, twenty-plus years after the fact.

HIMThe locale for this tale was the Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis, where I worked as a bellman.  The hotel’s location on the edge of downtown made it a prime sport for romance. The fact that hotel offered shuttle bus service and van transportation within a five-mile radius of the hotel was also a nice draw – for guests and for bellmen. Guests could park their cars and party on with us as chauffeurs. The van driving part of the job not only added to the variety, it was also a prime income-generator. Add in the fact that we. as bellmen, were also the hotel’s concierge staff, and we could develop a pretty all-encompassing (and lucrative)  relationship with many of our guests.

We had a ring binder with the daily van schedule of scheduled runs (corporate clients, conventions and such) and could schedule other runs at guest request. We had three vehicles at our disposal: a twenty-five passenger bus, and two small vans – an eight passenger and a five passenger. You generally tried to schedule runs to maximize use, and keep dealing with the same guests. If you were the guy who scheduled the run, and it was during your shift, you could add your initials to indicate it was going to be your run. Otherwise, the runs were made by whoever was available when it needed to be done.

I was a bit older than most of my college-aged colleagues and I quickly mastered the art of unobtrusively making myself a constant presence in my guests stay.  Meet you at the door, help you with your bags and check- in, inquiring all along why you were here, and what I could do to make your stay easier and more enjoyable came pretty naturally to me. Oftentimes, by the time I had delivered guests and their bags amenities2to their room, I also had a dinner reservation made and the van run scheduled to get them there.

I had it going on for my clients.

One Saturday night I had some guests in town from Arizona; a mid-fiftyish couple who had grown up in the neighborhood around the hotel – before redevelopment and glitz. Returning to town for a family gathering, they had come in a few days early to revisit some old haunts and friends, and to celebrate the wife’s birthday. Meeting them on check in, I ingratiated myself (in part with my knowledge of the neighborhood as I also had family ties to the area) and by setting up their dinner reservations, and scheduling their ride to the restaurant. Inquiring about a pickup and return to the hotel afterward, they told me they would be meeting some friends after dinner for an evening of dancing, a favorite pastime of their youth, when the neighborhood featured three or four prominent places for young people to dance.

We commiserated about how those days (at least in the immediate vicinity) were long gone; the college-oriented area now was loaded with plenty of hot spots featuring live music but very little dancing. I asked where they would be headed out to dance and they said they didn’t know for sure, but their friends knew of a place where they could at least get in a few spins around the floor to music ‘they could all relate to’.

always4Somewhere along the line, as we headed upstairs to get them checked in, the husband mentioned the fact that he was looking forward to dancing with his wife to ‘their’ song: the Irving Berlin standard, ‘Always’. “You mean ‘I’ll be loving you…always’ – that ‘Always’”? I asked. “Yep” the man replied. “We danced to it on our first date at the old Marigold Ballroom, and it was the first dance at our wedding.”  His wife added a skeptical “Wherever we go, I hope they have it or know it!” We got them checked in as I promised to see them for the ride to dinner.

But first, I had some memorable-evening-planning to do. I started with our piano player.

Our compact lobby lounge had an upstairs; a balcony area overlooking the lobby. Most of the week it was quiet, many guests even unaware there was an upstairs to the bar area. But on weekend nights, the black baby grand up there was manned by Bill Duna, a music professor, and masterful pianist. Bill was very personable and musically knowledgeable, always game for serenading guests (and staff) with unusual requests: all he needed to set a scene was the song needed and a cue from me and no matter what he was playing, it would suddenly segue into whatever song it was I had requested. (This was usually accomplished with a hand gesture or billdunahead nod of some sort, and I often imagined myself as Rick Blaine to Bill’s Sam – but that is a whole other post).

Asking Bill if he knew ‘Always’ was silly; he responded with mock annoyance by simply knocking out the chorus on his ivories – punctuated with an ending flourish and a big smile.

Part one, ready to go.

That evening, when our happy couple stepped off the elevator and into the lobby, I saw them coming, and a quick “Oh, Bill”! turned a jaunty ‘Sunny Side of the Street’ into a much more melancholy and sensual ‘Always’ – causing a few lobby patrons to look around bewildered and stopping the couple dead-in-their-tracks. Puzzled, they looked all around the lobby before realizing where the piano music was coming from – above them, on the balcony. Then they looked up at Bill, smiled and waved, they both looked at me. I told them I thought since it was ‘their song’ we might as well have Bill serenade them out the door. They waved again to Bill, and I got them into the van for their ride to dinner.

Part two about to unfold.

As was our practice, before pulling away from the hotel, I grabbed the microphone of our Motorola two-way radio to informed the 124723973_vintage-motorola-motrac-fm---two-way-radio-system---w-4-operator on duty that I was out of the lobby for a bit, headed downtown to Murray’s restaurant. Only this time my report was less a procedural courtesy, more a cue to Todd, our operator that night. Todd was a college student who nicely supplemented his income as a wedding singer. I had also asked him if he knew ‘Always’ (he of course did) and if he would be willing to sing a verse or two for our guests over the radio as I drove them to dinner (how could he refuse?)

I didn’t know he’d do the entire song.

As we pulled away from the hotel, I radioed my destination, got an o.k. from Todd, said “Ten-four” and hung my mic on the little silver clip on the dash by my right knee. We had no sooner made the turn out of the driveway when the Motorola crackled to life with Todd’s A cappella baritone:

“I’llllll be loving youuuuuu, always
With a lovvvvvee that’s true, alwaysalways2

When the things you’ve planned
Need a helping hand
I will understand

Thinking Todd was finished, I started to apologize for the sound quality – but Todd was not finished.

“Days may not be fair, always
That’s when I’ll be there, always
Not for just an hour
Not for just a day
Not for just a year
But alllllllllways…”

The couple was laughing heartily, the husband shaking his head as we drove through downtown bingcrosbycrooningtraffic as Todd continued to croon away on the Motorola, until I keyed the microphone so his audience of two could have their applause heard back at the hotel (where, I found out upon my return, a small crowd of staff had converged in curiosity over Todd singing to my passengers).

When we arrived at Murray’s, the couple asked his name, and if they could express their thanks to Todd, and I gave them the radio mic to do so while I went around to get the door for them. As they left the van, the man pulled out his wallet, peeled off a couple of twenties and a ten, instructing me to give one twenty to Todd, the ten to Bill, and take myself out to dinner with the other twenty.

“You know” the husband said “Sitting in the back of that van with Todd singing on the radio, was like being back in high school in the back seat of my father’s Ford listening to A.M. radio. Thank you, Mark. And thank Todd, too”.motorola2

We shook hands and they headed into Murray’s for dinner, both shaking their heads and laughing at their mini-concert for two.

We were big on teamwork at the Holiday Inn.



He had it in the bag

A true tale of romance, just in time for Valentine’s day.

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

Ahh, romance.

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

My most memorable tale of hotel romance had nothing to do with Valentine’s day; it actually began one Friday afternoon right after Labor Day.

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

His pride was quite evident.

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

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

I immediately liked this guy’s style.

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

My kind of guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It started looking pretty sharp.

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

He liked that idea – a lot.

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

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

The rose petal tutorial came in handy not just that night, but a few other times with other hotel guests; I had the idea, and knew where to get them.  Plus, through the years I have been roses8able to casually drop the advice into few random conversations with people looking for that little something extra in the romance department. Good information always serves a purpose.

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

As curious as I had been about the bag, I was even more interested in the love interest of our story. It was just a few hours later.

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

The corsage drew some curious looks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At evening’s end (at least my portion of it) she had not yet mentioned the rose petals.

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

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

“Oh, everything is just fine” she replied, cheerfully, adding, “Last night…was… just…just…” she trailed off, seeming a bit sheepish, and at a loss for…more genteel words. “It was all wonderful. Last night was…wonderful. Everything was….”

She paused, looking at the floor, seeming a bit embarrassed, then adding with a chuckle “The wrist corsage was a bit much. And the roses in the hot tub…”

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

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

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

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

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

“So it’s okay, then”? I asked.

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

I could not disagree.

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

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

“He told you about that, too?”

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

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

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

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

I, for one, was not.

The Tragedy of Macself

Macself, Act 1, Scene hogger

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

selfie1Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A photo of the mind, a false JPEG,
Proceeding from the need-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I snap.

Thou marshall’st me the way my Tweet is going;
And such an instrument I will to use.
Mine posts are made the fools o’ the other feeds,
Or else worth all the rest; I see me still,
And on thy wall and Twitter feed gouts of envy,
Which was not so before. There’s no such thing:
It is the bloody self-portrait which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one viral halfworld
Nature seems dead, and narcicists abuse
The curtain’d sleep; haters celebrate

Pale Hecate’s duck-face offerings, and wither’d murder,
Alarum’d by his viral sentinel, the message wolf,
Whose howl’s his forwards, thus with his stealthy pace.
With hater’s ravishing dislikes, towards my design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
see not my poses, which way they face, for fear

Thy very updates prate of coffee shop ‘is at’ whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,

Which now suits with it. Whiles I Tweet, they live:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.


This week we celebrated, with typical American aplomb and over-the-top fanfare, Groundhogs Day (GHD).  This event is commemorated in many locales, in many different levels of silliness, though folks in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania take top honors year-in, year-out with their top-hatted men rousting a poor, large rodent by the name of Phil from ghd2his hibernating slumber.

This is known, in celebrity circles, as ‘Sleep Photo-opnea’.

The routine is rather macabre, as, in front of a large crowd, assembled news cameras and various reporters, the portly (winter weight, hibernation burn not complete) Phil from his cozy den by the nape of the neck, and thrust him skyward for all to see.  Think:  the birth of Simba in  The Lion King – minus the animals cheering him on.

Oh yeah, and we commit this public mugging of a defenseless animal ostensibly to ‘predict’ whether or not we will have six more weeks of winter or if spring is here.


There are greeting cards you can purchase to commemorate GHD. Of course, we also have greeting cards that congratulate people on their divorce, celebrate a promotion at work, or even a lottery win. (FYI – don’t send one of those. Seems too much like you want a cut. So I am told.)

Contemporary Americans, though, celebrate all things notable (and less so) with an Internet meme. These greeting cards for the twenty-first century are posted on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Facetime. Or, if you are really old school, you email emailsomeone your meme.

(Dude, if you emailed a Groundhog Day meme, you have been in technology hibernation. I digress.)

People simply do not know what to do when their casual, “How’s it going” merits a casual but heartfelt, ‘’Pretty good. Oh, happy Groundhogs day.”


There are, of course, variations – when combined with physical salaams (fist bump, alternate shoulder hug, full on hug, hand jive handshake) can make for some delightful, purposely awkward encounters.  Start with the hand shake, pull-you-in, bro shoulder hug and it goes something like this.
“Yo, man! Wazzup?”

“Dude! Groundhogs day! You on it?”

“Ummm, I guess, man….”

I have discovered that when you welcome people with GHD greetings, you disrupt the normal, suggestive, expected flow of personal discourse and the brain of the person on the receiving end of the greeting has a little brain hiccup, resulting in a mumbled, vocal ellipsis.

As amusing as this past GHD was, it is an event that only rolls around once a year.  Ah, it then occurred to me that there are ample applications for incongruous holiday greetings in regular conversation over the next few months.

For example, Arbor Day is coming up…a lot (check local listings). People aren’t used to diving right into tree talk, so this one has potential.

tree2“What’s up, birch?”  is an eye-opener; you receive a startled look in response before adding. “Happy Arbor Day!”

Or you could try responding to “Hey man, how’s it going?” with something like, “I’m kick-ash, man! Happy Arbor Day!”

Then again, maybe I have been hanging around my urban high school students a bit too much.

There are other celebratory opportunities of conversational note coming up soon – though tread lightly in some cases.

National Organ Donor Day is February the fourteenth – Valentine’s Day.  I am absolutely behind organ donation (as my driver license will attest) but seriously?  Valentine’s Day? I guess I can see the alleged symmetry, but I would think there is definitely some mixed-messaging going on with ‘giving your heart’ to someone and ‘giving your HEART (or liver, or kidneys)’ to someone. Be cautious with any greeting having to do with human tissue.

Then again…

February is also An Affair to Remember Month where we celebrate a romantic movie made in 1957.  Approach this one with care as well – saying ‘hi’ connected in any way to the word ‘affair’ leaves way too much open to (mis)interpretation.

And not to muddy the waters further, but at the same time you get to play tidily-winks flirtwith your heart, know that the week of February 12 – 18 is International Flirting Week. I am not sure if this means this means the entire world revels in this particular pastime (though in France and Italy, this is less a holiday, more like, umm, Tuesdays) or if it means you should broaden your personal circle and flirt with someone from a different culture.  Who knows, ‘flirt with an immigrant’ could easily become a ‘thing’ here in America, because that’s what American’s do in this post-industrial age. We no longer make things, but we make somethings ‘things’…

Maybe hauling cranky rodents out of bed to demand prognostications isn’t the worst of ideas.


(* lexiconvenience noun  lex·i·con- ve·nience  \ˈlek-sə-ˌkän- ˈvēn-yən(t)s
language made to fit personal preference) – editor’s note

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 linguistic 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-ment’.

Eh, rather clunky.  And too obscure – the 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 it 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, ‘son of a…’ – the euphemistic equivalent of a Jimmy Stewart-ish “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 the 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…”


Damn, Skippy! That’s just watering stuff down to make things seems peachier than they really are, and I don’t think we need to go down that road, as 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 is an English teacher fact, though this next one is my opinion: ‘alternative fact’ is the most pure and unspoiled of oxymoron, 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.