Judge, jury and…say what again?

Recently called for a month of jury duty, I showed up at the various appointed times, and actually made the next-to-final cut for two different cases, but never got the nod to actually sit on a trial jury.

Not to say I didn’t leave my mark in Orleans Parish Criminal Court.  OPCH

My second day there, I got the call to go upstairs as part of a pool of fifty potential jurors. We were escorted to the courtroom in groups of twenty-five, and for the questioning, I was seated in the top row of the jury box – an interesting comfortable vantage point to the whole voir dire process.

This particular trial was not a typical situation – it was a cold case; nearly twenty years had passed since the crime, and both the prosecution and defense told us they would be relying on the reliability of possibly degraded DNA evidence, and two-decade old memories for testimony. Both sides acknowledged up front that testimony via hazy recollections and recalled memories presented a variety of challenges.

The defendant sat stoically through the proceedings as the prosecution took their turn at interviewing us. He remained that way through the early part of his defense team doing the potential-juror questioning, though by then he had started making more notes on his notepad – adding a few doodles at times.

The prosecution had moved us through all the basic stuff – occupations, background, our attitudes about a variety of issues, what television crime shows we watched regularly. That part surprised me, but apparently this is standard procedure these days in cases of this nature due to the proliferation of the ‘crime show procedurals’ as one of the prosecutors put it. Both sides said they want juries bloodvialsto understand the science of crime fighting via DNA and other forensics is not as cut-and-dried as on ‘CSI and shows of that ilk’ s one of the attorneys phrased it. When asked, most of my fellow jurors and I were in agreement that was all a very reasonable line of questioning, though a few seemed expressed bewilderment that watching TV would be a factor.

It was interesting.

As this was a cold case, both the prosecution and defense took great pains to note that this trial would hinge primarily on witness testimony – twenty-year-old memories and changed relationships. Both sides also asked a series of questions focusing on how we judged people’s trustworthiness, especially after a lot of time had elapsed. When the lead defense attorney got his crack at us, he said right at the start that we may not find some of the defense witnesses to be particularly likable or even all that supportive of the defendant they were testifying for. He was very pointed in asking us if we felt we could still believe what someone had to say, even if our personal opinion of that person was not very high.  Some of my fellow jurors-in-waiting were very uncomfortable with the prospect.

Me? Not so much.

The defense attorney, an African-American man of about thirty-five who had pretty much stuck to confirming questions about my background and neighborhood of residence to that point, finally got around to asking me about how I viewed people and their credibility.

csalesofjustice“Mr. Lucker” he intoned calmly, “Would it be possible for you to accept and believe the testimony of witnesses who may not seem at first glance to be all that credible, and decide the case on that testimony if you didn’t always find them credible?”

“It depends.  I guess a lot of it would depend on the rest of the equation, how much I did or didn’t believe the other side’s witnesses. ”

He looked at me intently, and his tone turned somewhat quizzical, and very pointed. “Mr. Lucker, are you saying you could foresee a trial situation where you didn’t necessarily believe anything that anybody had to say?”

I shrugged. “I teach high school. I deal with that, evvv. ry. -DAY!”

The place erupted in laughter; even the judge was chortling. The court stenographer actually turned and looked at me. The bailiffs seemed especially tickled, as did all four attorneys. The defendant was chuckling as he scribbled away on his yellow legal pad. The defense attorney smiled, shook his head, looked down at his notes briefly before looking back at me, making eye contact and giving me a little ‘good one’ salute before moving on to one of my partners-in-jurisprudence, still smiling and shaking his head.

I made the initial cut down to ten out of our pool, but did not make the final jury. Nor did I get in the last word.

Wrapping up his juror questioning, the defense attorney revisited a few of us who had made the cut down to ten with a series of final questions – though in my case it was more his pre-follow-up-question salutation that was noteworthy: “One more question, Mr. Lucker. We have already established…” he paused dramatically. “That you teach high school….”

william_talman_raymond_burrThe room was again enveloped in laughter, including mine. I returned the attorney’s ‘nice one’ gesture from earlier, and he smiled.

Touché.  I had been Perry Masoned during jury selection.

So while I never did get to provide much service-to-society in the way of fulfilling my civic duty, I did get a good taste of both sides of our judicial system:

I got to deliver the punchline and play the straight man.

Corn is in the eye of the beholder

Speaking with some of my A-day sophomores at the end of class on Friday, I was informing them that I wouldn’t be seeing them for nearly a week, as they will spend the bulk of the day Tuesday doing pre-ACT testing – new territory for them, and I’m not sure they are ready for the rigor of this sort of testing. I was collecting work as I reiterated some of the test strategies they should be using, and they were generally agreeable – then, one young man, usually one of my hipper, more engaging students in that group, asked what I would be doing on Tuesday, if I would be giving a test.

“Nope. I have a senior homeroom, so I get to spend the morning being SpongeBob.” I continued my stroll around collecting tests.
“Being SpongeBob?”
“Yeah. I get to be…HALL MONITOR!
There was a pause, then the same young man said, “Mr. Lucker – that was so…corny.”
His tone was one of great concern.
“Corny?”
“Yeah. Saying you get to be SpongeBob is corny.”
“O.K. But it will be a nice opportunity to wear a SpongeBob tie.”
His tone switched to one of disapproving admonishment. “But that is really corny.”
“Corny that I will be a hall monitor?” The rest of the class seemed nonplussed.
“Yeah, and I don’t think you should be.” He was serious, though the disapproving tone was mostly gone. He was drifting into disappointment.

I shrugged, the bell rang, I told them to have a nice weekend.

I thought the kid’s use of the word ‘corny’ was out of place, so I did a quick check on Urban Dictionary to see if I might have missed some nuance to his concern. What I found didn’t stray very far from my initial thought of how I would use the word ‘corny’ – meaning a lame joke or reference to something. Turns out urban teen ‘corny’ is pretty much middle-aged-dude ’corny’:

‘Something presented as fresh or original, but which is actually tired
and/or lame.’

‘Especially, when its lameness derives from being obvious or done to death.
Oh Grandpa! That joke is soooo corny.’

‘Trying to be cool, but ultimately very uncool indeed, and often even extremely embarrassing’

‘Something cheesy or lame’

‘The status of “corniness” is achieved when something picks up old and overused fads just to “fit in,” falsely believes it is cool, and then takes itself too seriously, resulting in a complete destruction of its social life’

I was going to post the encounter for a throwaway, end-of-week classroom anecdote on Facebook – until I did a quick search for a graphic to go with my little tale and got this from Google:

 

 

 

 

 

Encyclopedia SpongeBobia?

I have been a SpongeBob fan since the beginning of the show in 1999, but haven’t watched much the last few years, kids being pretty much grown up and all, though I have watched a few recent episodes with my five-year-old grandson – and, of course, I have seen the movies.

But Encyclopedia SpongeBobia was new to me.

Having two sons both into comic books and superheroes to one degree or another, and being a high school teacher, I have a reasonable understanding of fandom and general obsession with the minutiae of certain characters and their environs, but this?

Of course, I had to (virtually) thumb through the ESB.

Original episode air dates, character list, plot synopsis (‘In this episode, SpongeBob becomes hall monitor, resulting in chaos.’) pretty basic, sums it up nicely. But so does the six-paragraph full synopsis you can scroll to further down the page. And you can keep scrolling, because there is a lot more. In fact, reading through the key points on this compendium entry will take you far longer than the eleven minutes it would take you to watch the actual episode.

Who knew?

Then I noticed a little notice at the top of the page: ‘If you were looking for the article about the book, then see Hall Monitor (book)’

OK, kids cartoons being made into books is not a new thing – you could purchase Little Golden Books of many of the cartoons I watched as a kid, but my curiosity being hat it is, I decided to click to see if the unbridled enthusiasm of the episode Wiki was as detailed for the book.

All sixty-four pages. Thirty, if you are reading on a Kindle.

I am a Kindle-kind-of-guy, so I had to check it out. Sixty-four pages gives you a lot of time for character development and story exposition, and by golly the folks who put it together deliver on all counts. Pretty decent read, to be honest – a bit of an Alexander Wollcott/Robert Benchley vibe, actually – and it did hold my attention, probably more than it should have.

This started out being about the concept of corniness, and while some of this strikes me as all rather corny, and while others may say there are people with way too much time on their hands, I think Encyclopedia SpongeBobia is a good example of how information can be mined, refined, and shared with a broad audience. I mean, somebody had to take the time to compile this information, reformulate and format it, post it for the world to see. That took a certain set of skills that I would love to impart to my students and I might just be able to turn this little classroom anecdote into a true ‘teachable moment.’

My students would surely find that to be a very corny thing to do.

But I’m still wearing a SpongeBob tie on Tuesday.

Listing, while shopping

New Orleans offers ample opportunity for St. Patrick’s Day weekend revelry – no big surprise: any given Thursday here offers the same. But for those of us of the middle age persuasion who no longer fit the ‘party animal’ designation, there are other, quite viable (and cheaper) options via which to get our ‘party on’.

cartsLike grocery shopping.

Today I was out and about, and I needed to swing into the grocery store for a few items, so I swung into a Rouses Market I don’t normally frequent, simply because it was handy, and I was there. As usual, I entered through produce, and had to go through the liquor/beer/wine department on my way to frozen foods. While I was making my innocent swing through libation land I was accosted by the sampling women.

‘Accosted’ might be a bit strong.

Attractive, personable women with the souls of carnival barkers made up the sampling force, their small tables were strategically stationed along main aisles and offering-up regulation shot glass size samples (none of this thimble/communion wine sip-size) of Bushmill’s Irish whiskey, three types of Guinness beer and ale, and Bailey’s Irish Cream – all of which are on special this weekend, of course. So much for my five-minute quick in/quick out – it’s like getting off the interstate and taking a scenic drive.  But instead of a panoramic view from an overlook, I became engaged in a couple of amiable product-virtues conversations with the aforementioned sample ladies.

It seemed impolite simply to chug-and-run.

It isn’t just at the locally-based Rouses that I have encountered this holiday weekend phenomenon, as Winn-Dixie offers the same holiday-themed samplingsampling opportunities. The days before Christmas were a bonanza of egg nog and flavored rum variations.

It occurred to me that I had written of such a similar experience as this one and I had, in a Facebook post last summer:

“I just got done with the pre-July 4th family grocery shopping excursion and must say it was quite busy and…festive. Got most everything on the list and enjoyed most of the samples. The margarita mix was good as was the tequila. Tried five of the eight available wines; one of the reds was particularly boring. Of the two rums, the citrus was very tasty. Also tried both vodkas, which took a little longer as there was a chatty woman with a product survey, but she valued my feedback and asked for more detail. For the record, the cherry vodka was very good, the sweet tea vodka…not so much.

With any luck, Amy will discover she forgot to have me get something and I may have to go back to Winn-Dixie to get it.”  bag

So if you are ever in our town over a holiday – any holiday – party on. And don’t forget the milk and eggs. Or you’ll have to go back to get ’em. Maybe even in separate trips. To different stores.

It’s just something else to love about New Orleans: you can go grocery shopping and be half in-the-bag long before anybody gets a chance to ask, “Paper, or plastic”?

Through different eyes

Another Mardi Gras is in the books.

Friday night before Fat Tuesday, the forty days of revelry preceding Lent are in high gear.  My wife and I hadn’t been to the Friday night parades in a few years, but we had a friend marching in one of them, so we decided it would be a good time to check things out.

IMG_20170224_200001.jpgWe got there about an hour before the first of three parades on the night, located a nice spot in an intersection by a school and set up our lawn chairs and cooler; we like hanging out in an area with families, away from the pockets of rowdy college kids and assorted partiers.  Contrary to much mythology, Mardi Gras is primarily for families. Yes, there are places for rowdy people to be rowdy, and there are a few krewes that roll each year with satirical themes and more adult oriented humor, but for the most part, it’s mostly PG rated stuff at worst.

Our friend Kristin was rolling in Krewe d’Etat, the second of the evening’s extravaganza, and we figured two parades would be plenty for us as we had been to two-of-the-three Thursday night parades.  Just as the evening festivities began, we noticed a multi-generational family sitting next to us.  The grandma and grandpa we had exchanged pleasantries with when we first set up, but a husband, wife and young son had just arrived at ground zero and were ready for action.

It was a toss-up as to whether the kid or the dad seemed more psyched.

We were about four blocks from the start of the parade and by the time the first units started coming into view, the excited little boy and his amped-up dad were inching their way up to the curb, where the dad said “Ready?” before crouching in a frog-squat so his son could climb up on his shoulders.

Then the fun began – theirs and ours.

For the next half-hour, the dad would step into the street, kid on his shoulders, waving for the attention of the float riders and their various throws, while his tentative son, wide-eyed, tried to catch whatever came their way; beads, stuffed animals, trinkets of all sorts.  After the first three-or-four floats, the kid was starting to get into it – waving his arms and yelling along with his dad.  Every time they would get a couple of armfuls of goodies, they would head back to mom, grandpa, and grandma, dump their treasures into a big back, then get back on the street for the next float.

Catch-and-repeat.

img_20170224_201428_burst002The dad, who I pegged as being in his early forties, was working hard at giving his son the true Mardi Gras experience. I guessed from the kid’s body language and facial expressions that this was his first Carnival, and dad was working it; the kid spent probably twenty-five of the first thirty minutes of the parade on dad’s shoulders, briefly dismounting to stand in the street, waving for stuff with other kids and giving dad a (brief) respite to roll his shoulders and neck.  But dad was a gamer; the kid was not on his feet for long.

This routine continued the full hour-plus of the Hermes parade – sans a few short breaks where the mom, whom I also thought to be in her early forties, would take the kid on her shoulders for a minute or two at a stretch.  She was smaller, and the kid was a load, but she, too was in it for keeps. The kid was amassing a fairly impressive haul of stuff – in large part because of the visibility provided by his perch and the fact that he religiously yelled “Thank you!” at anyone and everyone who threw him something.  Float riders I am sure could not hear him, but they can read lips and body language.

And smiles of awe.

The grandparents mostly stayed in their lawn chairs, with looks of wonderment nearly equal to that of the father and son, and a lot of bemusement.  There is a short gap – ten, fifteen minutes –  between parades, and this gave time for the dad and mom to take a breather, and for grandma and grandpa to ooh-and-ahh with grandparental amazement as their grandson observed for himself, then showed them, his accumulated treasures.  Then it was time for Krewe d’Etat, and the craziness (and piggybacking) started all over again.  Different parade, same routine; father and son crazily waving arms, running up to floats, collecting stuff. Dad and son bringing stuff back to mom to put in bag, grandma and grandpa beaming from the cheap seats.

About halfway through the second parade, there was a lull in the action, as a couple of non-goodie-throwing units were cruising by.  The mom of the family we had been having so much fun watching was standing next me, and we exchanged a bit of small talk which turned the father-son spectacle we had been experiencing all evening into something a bit more special.

Her son was four, and as suspected, was experiencing his first Mardi Gras – as was his father, who, while being born here, had been back sporadically to see family, but never during Mardi Gras.  The family currently lives in California, so the whole New Orleans Carnival experience was new to them all, and as she confided to me, “I still cannot tell which one of them is having more fun – neither can my in laws!” She glanced back their way, I waved at them, they chuckled and shook their heads, as their grandson was at the moment waving a prize throw he had nabbed in exultant celebration.  Dad turned our way img_20170224_195514to give his family a big ‘thumbs up’ but you could tell he was running out of gas – but there was still plenty of parading to be done.  The mom was alternately taking pictures and rubbing her (for now) childless neck. “I sure hope you guys can locate his-and-hers chiropractors’ tomorrow.”
“That’s probably not a bad idea” she laughed, rubbing and twisting her neck, “I’ll get some referrals from in-laws!”

Here came more floats. Action time.

Just to my right was another family – a younger couple than the first, with a small boy in a stroller. His vantage point down there was of little use, so his dad had picked him up and was holding him up high enough so he could see what was going on, but the young man, aware of the other kid on his dad’s shoulders, pointed, then taped his own dad on the head.  Dad got the message, and soon the two boys were side by side, perched atop their fathers, and now drawing even more attention from the bead and trinket-tossers on the floats.

Quite the attention-getting pair – or quartet, I suppose.

As with the first family, the newest young man had a look of bewildered glee, indicating that he, too, was experiencing his first Mardi Gras.  The younger man and smaller child (a bit over three, I learned from his mom) had a bit more energy than the first father-son combo, but all four guys were having a blast.  By this time, both moms were wildly recording the craziness with their phones – the younger mom breaking only to answer a quick call or send a text, before returning the camera focus to her husband and son.  Then I heard her mumble, “Incredible!”  I looked up to see that her son had been handed a foam rubber sword, and that the young man on the other dad’s shoulders was also handing her son something: a foam crown that he had been given.  Apparently, the older boy (and/or his dad) thought the younger boy needed to have the whole set.

Awesome.

The mom next to me was shaking her head, mumbling ‘Unbelievable” over and over as she took some video, then stopped to send it to someone. “Going through a lot of your plan data tonight?”  I said with a laugh, which she returned. “You got THAT right!  Between his aunt in Houston, and his grandma in north Louisiana…bye-bye data for this month!”
“His first Mardi Gras?”
“Yep.  His dad’s first one, too. He grew up in Chicago.  I’m from Louisiana, I’ve been to Mardi Gras before, but I didn’t grow up here in New Orleans. This is crazy!” Her phone beeped. “Oh-oh. I guess I am a little slow in feeding video to my sister!” With that, she returned to feeding a live stream to her sister in Houston.

There are worse ways to burn through a data plan.

The parade continued, each boy enthralled as each float rolled by, as every strand of beads was flung, as all the noise, the lights, the music, and the color flooded our little intersection of Napoleon Avenue and Chestnut Street.  With both father-son combos img_20170224_200232.jpgstanding in front of me, I continued to enjoy their interactions; the boys with their respective dads, the boys with each other. A few times I caught the dads looking at each other and shaking their heads in amazement, and though over the tumult I could only catch snippets of their conversation, I am decent at reading lips, eve in profile; “Wow” was their common refrain.

As D’Etat began winding down, so did both kids, and at least the older of the two dads – though in fairness, he had been at it longer – with an older, heavier kid.  The older of the two boys had by now become fairly adept at waving, getting float riders attentions, and catching stuff thrown his way.  He was also becoming increasingly generous with sharing his bounty with his younger friend, who, in his awe, could only look at the older boy in amazement as his father added repeated ‘thank yous’ to the older boy and HIS dad.  The surrounding crowd of mostly adults was now also into the piggy-backed-boys scene, and had taken to cheering every time a float rider made note of the two boys and tossed them both something.

By the time the parade ended, and people started gathering their third wind, my wife had returned, and we were packing up to go, as were both the families with whom we had been interacting.  The three-year-old was returned to his stroller, his eyes transfixed on a pretty elaborate set of beads he had obtained. His mom thanked us for giving them a grocery bag that we had handy, as they had not thought to bring anything of that sort, and had been stuffing stuff in the pouch beneath he stroller. As they said goodbye, the mom smiled at me, adding with a chuckle and a shake of her head, “I have no idea how much overage we’ll be paying on our data, but oh well…”

“Happy Mardi Gras” I laughed in response, waving goodbye.

The other family had come prepared, and they were efficiently exiting in typical New Orleans fashion, with folding chairs and cooler quickly and neatly stashed in a small wagon, goodies in bags stuffed and stacked appropriately.  Grandma and grandpa, it turns out, are seasoned pros at this, with lots of family in the area. But even they seemed to be seeing the whole carnival experience in a new light, via the first timers; their son and grandson.

The crowd began filing toward the street as the final parade was coming, so it was easy to make our way in the opposite direction, back towards our car. We emerged from the crowd walking next to the family from California, and I got a chance to talk to the dad.
“It was a lot of fun watching you and your son.  Your wife said this was your first Mardi Gras?”

“Yeah, I was born here, but we moved away because of my dad’s job. I get back a lot, just haven’t been here for Mardi Gras. We live in California, and now that he is old enough, we had the time and the chance, and I wanted to do this with him.”
“Very cool.”img_20170224_181504
We had reached the end of the block, and we were about to veer left, they were drifting to the right, and the father, who had a now nearly asleep four-year-old using his head for a pillow, grinned at me and said, “You know, I just wanted to give him the experience and have it with him. I’m just trying to be a good dad and give him great experiences, you know?”

“Well, it was very cool to watch.  Made it more fun for me. Enjoy the rest of your stay.”
“Thanks. We will.”

As they turned right at the corner, and we turned left, I could hear the man talking to his son, his voice trailing away; “Hear that buddy?  Other people had fun watching YOU have fun…”

My wife and I had seen our friend dancing in the parade and gotten some pictures; we had enjoyed a date night and got to see Mardi Gras through less-jaded eyes.  It was not a bad way to spend a Friday evening.  Good times all around.

Oh, did I mention that, of the two families in whose orbits we intersected, one was white, and one was black?  I don’t think I did and I guess it doesn’t really matter, but then again, considering the times in which we live, maybe it really does.

Because while I didn’t get many strands of beads that Mardi Gras night, but I did catch a little hope for the future.

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!”

 

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B017LALIES

 

‘Always’

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
Always…”

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.

 

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B017LALIES