First Quarter Earnings and Learnings

April 25, 2015

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

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

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

How am I doing so far?Too Big To fail

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

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

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

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

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

tpandorjet highlighted

Affordable. Yep.

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

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

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

Man, there is some weird stuff coming my way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

passthepeeinthecuptest

Exhibit ‘P’

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

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

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

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

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

I left the whole mess mid-application.

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

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

Near as I can figure, the algorithm gods tapped me for this one because of a Marty Feldman comment I had made on a friend’s Facebook post the previous day. D.O.A or don’t I apply for this opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

Requiem

March 17, 2015

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

 – Deathbed quote, famed character actor Edmund Gwenn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crashing my own party

February 20, 2015

I’ve canceled the pity party. I returned the decorations and told the caterer it was a no go. She was nonplussed as I wasn’t serving anything, and the party store clerk just shrugged.

Sometimes, we all get a little ahead of ourselves and can’t get a hold of ourselves. The start 2015 year has not been among my best – almost from the get go.

January fifth, first Monday of the year, I returned to school from our two-week Christmas break to greet my colleagues and sit through a day of welcome-back/here-we-go professional development in preparation for the return of our students on Tuesday.

I never saw them. The end of the day saw me handed my walking papers; the dismissal was unexpected and unexplained. A job search – usually something I relish the excitement and challenge of – was now the extent of my list of New Year resolutions. This one was different: it was a challenge, but I was not excited.

As January rolled into February, and as the results started coming in from various applications and resume submissions, and as the ‘TBNT’ (thanks-but-no-thanks) section in my job search ring binder continued to fill, the situation became more frustrating, the opportunities – the potentials – more scarce. My aggravation was growing in inverse proportion to our bank account. My frustration was duly noted by family and friends, though I was also complimented on my optimism. I don’t think I was becoming a total malcontent.

Since moving to New Orleans nearly seven years ago, I had begun to look forward to February, and the onset of Mardi Gras season – a big deal in New Orleans. While we are not among the formal-ball-and-pageantry oriented, socialite crowd, my wife and I have developed some traditions centered on favorite parades, and scoping out comfortable, familiar spots from which to view them. Nothing major, but some couples time that we enjoy. This IMG_20150217_114308season promised a bit of a respite to my employment situation. Figuring correctly that most employers would be putting their hiring practices on the back burner for a few weeks, I would temper my frustration in lack of any new job postings or progress in any processes

The first full weekend of Mardi Gras festivities, my wife and I broke with personal tradition to take in three of the Sunday parades (they run parades back-to-back-to-back on multiple days). The weather was great, we found easy parking, got to our usual curb-watching locale, set up our lawn chairs and settled in. A little journal writing and some reading, plus talking to nearby revelers quickly and amusingly kills off an hour of wait time. The parades themselves were good, the beads plentiful, and floats creatively amusing. All in all, a nice relaxing day.

Yet we headed home with me in something of a funk.

It had been an enjoyable afternoon, with thoughts of my job search temporarily shelved, until two not unexpected encounters with the marching bands from the school I had been let go from and from the school I taught at the bandprevious three years. No big deal, I thought. It was even enjoyable in a way, as I was able to exchange shouted greetings and a high-five with a teaching colleague and a couple of students that I wouldn’t have expected to take notice of my presence. Still, thoughts of what was and what could have been had me frustrated and had me mentally playing the self-pity game.

Then I got home, and hopped on my computer.

Expecting to simply check Facebook and then some email before moving on to other simple, to do list items, I logged on for a late Sunday afternoon, quick perusal of Facebook postings. Not much new, numbers wise, than I had left off at that morning, though one particular post immediately caught my eye in its abrupt casualness: an old friend was passing on the news that his wife had died that morning of breast cancer. She was forty-eight, and they have five kids, the oldest of whom is in college.

I read the string of condolences from various friends –  their fellow church members, mostly, who expressed sympathy and admiration at her strength – noting in many cases at her resolve in that most of them were unaware of just how seriously ill she had been. It was touching, sad, inspiring and thought-provoking. I left my note of condolence for an old friend and moved on.

A few minutes later, checking my email, I noticed one that I had read already, but had left in my inbox; an update frcaringbridge1om the website CaringBridge – an update on the adult son of old friends. His leukemia, thought to be five years in remission, had recently returned and the email was an update on the status of his re-hospitalization and the hope behind an impending bone marrow transplant.

Two shots of perspective is a good prescription for what ailed me, but it didn’t stop there.

I didn’t have to look too hard for other there-but-for-the-grace-of-God examples, they were just sitting there: the multiple, usually lame, emailed jokes from an old friend in his second decade of battling Parkinson’s – the internet provides his solace and socialization these days. There was the Facebook chat transcript from an even older friend, back on the wagon and doing well after a sobriety relapse, and an entry from another friend who periodically shares the inspiring blog posts of her cancer-battling, twenty-something daughter. I also took note of some funny Facebook posts from another old friend – a former college professor of mine – who has inspirationally beaten his cancer back three different times.

More sobering was another post by a friend, commemorating the accident seven years ago that claimed the life of four school kids, including a member of my son’s then-scout troop. And there was also that day’s text message exchange I had with an old friend, during which I was mindful that we are approaching the one-year anniversary of their child’s death.

Perspectives.

Each social media induced realization was like the end of an ophthalmologist’s new-glasses exam: “Which one makes theyechartings clearer? THIS one…or this one? This one…or this one….?” By the time the new week rolled around, I had a new outlook and viewpoint on my job search, and a different take on my life in general.

As humans, we tend to be myopic in our approach to life; sometimes we just need to put on our glasses, sometimes we need to purposely seek out a different set of lenses.

Oh, about that party I mentioned earlier? Don’t hold your breath. I won’t be sending out any ‘save the date’ cards.

The Best Laid Plans…

January 31, 2015

RobertBurnsBut, Mousie, thou art no thy lane

In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley,

Anlea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

  • Robert Burns

The oft-quoted and modernized (‘Gang aft a-gley’ really means ‘go kablooie’) axiom about plans and planning are from Burns’ immortal poem To a Mouse.  It tells of how the great poet Burns, while plowing a field, upturns a mouse’s nest, and he then composes the resulting poem as an apology to the mouse.

toamouseAs a poet myself, I can appreciate Burns’ remorse and assuaging his guilt in displacing the little guy. As a teacher laid off by his school upon returning from Christmas break, I identify quite strongly with Burns’ mouse.

Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

Hence the fractured nature of my New Year’s plan of action a month into 2015.  Not to say that the news is all bad; there have been a few, pseudo-positives resulting from my suddenly acquired professional inactivity – financial security not making that list at this time.

Maybe I should backtrack a bit before delving into the whole silver lining aspect, keeping in mind that silver can tarnish rapidly.

Like the majority of Americans, I came up with an annual list of pledges to do some things better, some not at all, calvinandhobbesand some that I had never attempted before. This is hardly unusual, though as a writer, I went to the additional effort to codify my personal improvement plan in the public forum of my blog, asking, tongue only partially in cheek, for loyal readers to help me with the accountability in keeping me on track.  (My original post can be read here: (https://poetluckerate.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/2015-showing-and-telling-some-resolve/)

In the interest of full blogger-disclosure, and keeping in mind that with the arrival of February, the year is only 8.3% complete; I still have time to get back on any tracks I may have jumped or will jump.  With that perspective in hand, here is an update on where things now stand.  Originally ‘resolved to’ items offset in bold, ‘in progress’ status below it.

Write more. Read more.  For fun.

So far, so good – with a few caveats. My cover letter writing skills, while pretty good and getting better, are not being nurtured into Hemmingway territory. However, there is definitely a Kafkaesque nature to much of what I have been reading in terms of position postings. expectations and job descriptions. The ‘fun’ part has yet to crop up.

highlyselective Build a better, quirkier vocabulary. Utilize said vocabulary. Without excessive, superfluous verbiage.

As adept as I am in writing cover letters, I am quickly running out of appropriate adjectives and verbs to describe myself while also avoiding clichés. Fortunately, I am a ‘green’ writer and can reuse and recycle at will as I am writing repetitively, but for (a lot of) different, minimalist audiences.

Be inspiring.

Not to my knowledge, but there is always that possibility. I haven’t found a posting for that gig, actually.

Avoid saying ‘paradigm.’ Unless being sarcastic.

Check. On both counts.

Keep in mind that sometimes, less is more.  More or less.

SEE: ‘Cover letters’ (above)

 Don’t immediately disregard real-life deus ex machinas.

I am hoping to soon encounter one…a big one, in the form of a new gig.

 blessingsjarMake regular, daily contributions to my blessings jar.

A bit of a struggle, though knowing what some friends are experiencing with personal and family health issues, this is not as difficult as I might have thought. It’s all about perspective. As an added bonus – job leads from unexpected sources fit this quite nicely.

 “Don’t perspire the piddly stuff.”

When middle-aged and suddenly unemployed, nothing seems piddly.

Fill my spare change bottle. Multiple times.

On an unemployed guy’s budget, this becomes ‘two   steps forward  quarters deposited, three  steps back quarters withdrawn.

drumming Felix 01 17 15 Sing to grandson Felix via Skype. Don’t sing to anybody else via Skype.

Actually, Felix sings to me. Or plays his drum set or his guitar.  He is very Dylanesque and his musicianship is extremely therapeutic. Chalk this one up as a big success.

Edit better.

That cover letter thing rears its head again.

Lose the additional 3.2 pounds I didn’t by the end of 2014. Don’t reclaim the 16.8 pounds discarded in 2014.

buzzers3ERRT!!!! Wrong answer.  I have been far too sedentary, rooted to desk chair hour-after-hour while job searching and composing the corresponding correspondence. I am actually up four pounds cumulatively since January first – though that is down two pounds from last week. Sheesh.  I need to walk the dogs more often.

 Take a penny, leave a penny.

Taking these days, mostly. SEE: ‘Fill my spare change bottle’ (above)

More prayer. Less frustration.

Got the first part down. Part two is an ongoing strugggle.

IMG_20140808_191355Yell less.

This one is easy, not having classrooms full of profanely mercurial high school students every day. Unless you count stuff muttered loudly at various websites and the processes encountered therein, anyway.

 Practice succinctitude.

Cover letters, anyone?

Write more. Read more.  Blog more.

Check, check, and….check. Though in ongoing slogging through a plethora of job search, school district, charter school, and company websites, I can say with impunity that it aint all edification and revelation.  The plot lines are derivative, and character development is nil – consisting mostly of bizarre caricatures of laughable expectations and unrealistic qualifications.  These readings do, however, provide ample opportunity to hone one skills in interpretation, reading between the lines, and separating fact from fiction.

More to come, coming soon. Always.

Ever hopeful.  This one is stretching my patience mode.

The-Road-Less-Traveled Find other roads less traveled. Take them.

This current road found me. I am taking it out of necessity, not choice. I have to follow the faceless GPS voice and not stray….too far. I have unwittingly become the anti-Robert Frost.

 In 2015 I will endeavor to….Look before I leap, think before I speak, think after I speak.

This one is fraught with nuance; phone and face-to-face interviews have so far gone very well, I have said nothing glaringly stupid.  Job interviews of any kind are like roadside sobriety tests: slow it down,even though your anxiety is up, try not to be too glib, and follow the officer’s interviewer’s instructions without questioning glances….

Yeah, pretty much the same thing.

 Right some wrongs. Make amends.

IMG_20140607_200720Work in progress.

 Live faithfully.

Always

That is the update, February bound. So far, so good.  There is still 91.7% of the year to go, so I have plenty of time to get things moving back in more advantageous direction on all counts. In the meantime, as Frank Bartles used to say, “Thank you for your support.”

 

 

Chivalry in an Age of Indifferent Insouciance

January 27, 2015

This post is for you romantic-wannabes – guys, I’m guessing, for the most part.  Consider this your Valentine’s Day primer; a free, on-line graduate course in pitching-and-wooing that special someone.  What can I tell you? I’m a teacher.  Read and learn from my friend Jacques.  MLL

In an age where there is sometimes a fine line separating ironic Hallmark cards and the Kama Sutra, I have discovered a modern-day Yeats lurking in my friends listing on Facebook.  ‘Jacques’ is a friend from thirty-odd years ago, a native Midwestern guy like myself; about two years back we reconnected via Facebook.  A few weeks ago during a casual, early-morning-over-coffee, back-and-forth chat session we had the following exchange concerning his new love (we’ll call her ‘Lenore’) who is actually an old love, a reconnect from a distant past.  Note that the drive he refers to is roughly 400 miles, and that the key locale in his winter adventure is Fargo, North Dakota.  I’ve been to Fargo; in the Midwest, this is as true-love as it can get.

Jacques:  I did make it to Fargo though

J&L1Me:  Ooooh….life in the fast lane…or the turn lane, maybe

Jacques:  That day it was the snow lane

Me: figures

Jacques:  Drove Minneapolis to Brainerd to Fargo to Brainerd in a blizzard

Me: yuck. What possessed you?

Jacques:  Lenore.  She had a meeting in Fargo

Me: That’ll do it!

Jacques:  I wasn’t letting her drive it aloneJ&L2

Me: Chivalry! Good call

Jacques:  Usually works

Me: True. One of the lost arts. There are not many of us left

Jacques:  Funny, was just having that discussion with Lenore

Me: The utter lack of Don Quixotes still hanging around?

Jacques:  Yeah

The typedversation (my word, no copyright) continued to the point where, while musing about potential topics for my blog, Jacques offered some examples of his recent correspondence with Lenore. Proof positive that there are, indeed, still some of us true romantics still futzing around the planet. To wit:

 My most precious Lenore:

I think by now you know that I am, deep down, a risk taker, a gambler.  Not at casinos, or in the lottery.  But with my heart.

romance4 I told you once that there were many kinds of love; the love of a friend, the love of a dog, the love of chocolate ice cream.  There is the love of a parent, a brother, and also a lover.  But then there is that one, that one love that makes the others fade in comparison – the love of THE LOVE.  It is the love of that one, true love of your life – your soul-mate,  your sunshine, your rock, your existence.  It is the one that you would die for, kill for, steal for, cheat for.  The one without whom, you cannot imagine going one day.

 In you, I believe, I truly believe, I have found that Love – my love, THE LOVE.  And, I think, I hope, I pray, that in me, you will find that too.

 But what would you risk for such love?  What would you gamble for that one, true, love – the kind of love that makes the world stop turning, and time and space cease to exist; the kind of love that blocks the sun with it’s brilliance, and hides the stars with it’s blanket of serenity; the kind of love that makes some men speechless, and charges others to write great tomes; the kind of love that makes you wish you could freeze the moment, any moment of it, forever, yet gives you the courage to move forward together.

 I don’t know what you would do or give or risk..

Now I do not know Lenore, and it has been a number of years since I have seen Jacques, but I must note here that great minds do think alike; however there are two key difference between Jacques and myself when it comes to writing romantic letters: One, he does it and I don’t anymore. Two, where I would infuse mine with irony and humor both subtle and overt, Jacques stays the legit, Casanova course:

romance5 But me?  I would give anything, risk anything, do anything, endure anything for that kind of love.  I would bear any burden – I would pass through the gates of hell, and spit in the devil’s face.  I would suffer any hardship, take on any pain, and welcome death, if I could find that kind of love for only a single day.

 Pretty bold. But wait, there’s more!

 Maybe you think I am crazy; maybe I am. But I am honest in my words, because that kind of love comes once in a lifetime.  Once in a lifetime if you are lucky.  If you are very, very lucky.  Lenore, please believe me when I say that there is nothing, nothing, nothing on this planet that is more precious, more valuable, or more sacred to me than that kind of love.

 Gallant stuff from Jacques, and to be admired.

 I am willing to risk everything for that love – for real love.  For your love.  What are you willing to risk?  You tell me you are torn, but it is not, it was not, my intention to ever have you find yourself in that position; to ever have pain or worry because of my love.  Because of your love.  Because of our love.  And so, I ask you one simple question:  What are you willing to risk?

 Sitting down at a keyboard to write these missives would be a risk in-and-of-itself for most guys.  For those of you still with me, who hope to learn from this crash-course in romantic communication…read on, MacDuff, keeping in romance1mind that Jacques and Lenore have rekindled a long-ago, youthful romance here now in middle age.

 There are numerous other examples in the correspondence Jacques so graciously shared with me. I am certainly glad that he shared this very personal material with me – and allowed me to share it with you.  A few more tidbits for those of you still taking notes at home.

 I don’t need to tell you I love you – you know that. I can’t even tell you how much, because every moment it is more than the moment before. You take my breath away when I am with you – and you steal my heart when I am not….

 …I love you. I will love you always and forever. I will love you until time itself stops. I will love you until I am no more.

 ….My love, you are the reason I live, the center of my being, the purpose for my very existence.  Until now, my life has been a series of meaningless adventures.  Adventures which brought me from point to point, day by day, until by some small miracle, I arrived once again at your door.  A door which you opened.  A door I should never have walked out of to begin with….

romance2…Let me love you as you should be loved.

…..And so it began here – the place I first set eyes on you.  I was in awe of you that day; I am still in awe of you today, for so many reasons, I can’t recount them all.  You are so beautiful, so kind, so loving, so full of God’s grace – but with an inner strength and resolution that it seems impossible, compelled by an undying devotion that endures long after it is no longer deserved.  I am so in awe of you . . .

My freshman year in college I took a class in film appreciation, and one of the notable takeaways that still resonates with me from that class is that there really no ‘endings’ to a story; that whatever concludes that portion of a story is simply the stepping off point to another story, or a continuation of the primary story. In short, there are really no endings in life simply more beginnings.  As for Jacques and Lenore, this part of the tale ends with Jacques pièce de résistance is (spoiler alert!) something you might expect.

 …I have loved you for so long, from so far away – never daring to hope or dream that one day I would again look into your eyes and see that which I now see – touch your hand and have the breath drawn from my body – kiss your lips and have time and space stand still…

Chivalry3..but I thought, until not long ago, that you were lost to me forever.   But here you are.  Lenore, let me give my life to you.  Every ounce of my strength, my love, my loyalty, my fortune, my industry – my very soul are yours from now until eternity – if you will have them.

If you are scared – know that I am terrified.  I am terrified that I will disappoint you.  I am terrified that I will let you down.  I am terrified because there is no owners manual, no user’s guide, no how-to book…

 …I am not perfect – I am far from it.  But I will spend the rest of my life trying to bring you happiness – helping you to find peace – and loving you the best way I know how – if you will have me….

Lenore – my most precious angel – I Love you so very, very much.  And I will give everything I have, I will do whatever it takes, to make you happy, if you will do me the honor, the most incredible honor, of being my wife.

chivalry1Go ahead. You know you want to.  Modern etiquette allows you to ‘awww’ over a blog post.

As I noted earlier, there is no true ending to a story, only another beginning, just a continuation on a path that has changed in composition or direction.  Life goes on, love goes on – especially a love that has returned.

Valentine’s Day is a few short weeks away.  It doesn’t matter if you are a freshman pledge or taking graduate level courses, there is an end-of-course test coming; print out, annotate and use this as your study guide and you’ll pass with flying colors.

Lenore, BTW, said yes.

C’mon. Like you didn’t see that coming.

 

 

Onward we go

January 23, 2015

My pink sip was eggshell white, with jaunty blue-and-yellow letterhead; feigned cheerfulness that, bureaucratically, told me nothing of substance, yet spoke volumes.

Terminated. ‘Let go’ and my personal favorite, ‘released from your contract’ – like I was a Hollywood star jettisoned by a studio and not an inner city high school teacher who enjoyed his school, students, colleagues and administration and had never had any expressed negativity from any of them.

Well, except for the students. But that was just typical teenager stuff; too many expectations, too much work, not enough of not-those-things.  Mostly, they were a good bunch who had given me very little trouble in or out of the classroom.

‘It wasn’t working out’ was the phrase that accompanied my walking papers at the end of our first day back following a two-week Christmas break, with an added ‘it was not a good fit’ for extra measure.  I am still not sure what they meant by either of those things; my former colleagues remained mystified as well…not to mention paranoid.  A week after being released, I noticed an on-line job posting for a different position at the same school I had been at. Texting a few folks asking what was up got me puzzled responses that eventually gave way to the knowledge that the other teacher was told they would not be retaining his/her services next year, hence the posting.

Nothing like spending the rest of the school year looking over your shoulder. Sometimes, being on the outside looking in can be advantageous.  It is a small consolation; I liked my job – a lot and thought everything was fine with no reason to believe otherwise.

It is difficult to not be introspective and retrospective simultaneously: where did this thing go south and why did I not see this coming? I pride myself on being intuitive, insightful and proactive – that all failed me here.  It is truly a puzzle, but I need to move on.

Thirty years.  Thirty years since I have been abruptly told ‘hit the road’ by an employer. There have certainly been other situations that I have come and gone from, but there was always some sort of prior indication that things were not progressing positively.  This was totally out of the blue.   As they say in my home state of Minnesota, “That’s different.”

‘Terminated’ ‘let go’ ‘released from your contract’ are euphemisms that mean something much different from they did thirty years ago – and not in a semantic sense.  Being unemployed at middle age, in the middle of winter, in the middle of a school year is not comfortable territory for a teacher – especially one as new to the field (six-point-five years now) as I am.   his is the mid-life, mid-year, mid-career-change crisis I have heard about, but didn’t want to contemplate.

Being contemplative about career choices is not something I have the luxury of at this point in time.

My previous incarnation as an employment counselor and job search trainer is now equal parts irony and instructive.  I know how to play the game; I have the skills, expertise and varied background that should make me an attractive candidate for someone who needs something done and done well.  The specific who, what, where is still unknown.  But ‘it’ is out there. Somewhere.

Once upon a time, I was a state-certified Creative Job Search trainer, and one of the most challenging but interesting segments of the class to me was chapter one; moving on what was, and start focusing on what is next.  Easier said than done to be sure, but I had a plethora of anecdotes and strategies that addressed the issue and I always felt energized when I could get a class to buy into those ideas.  Yes, it usually took a fair amount of follow-up in more intimate, one-on-one settings, but it was one of the more gratifying aspects to teaching the class.

Probably because it was one of the most challenging things I had to teach.

Time now to practice what I preached lo those many classroom sessions; it is time to move on, not dwell on what was, focus on what will be. There is a world of opportunity out there, I just need to corral some of it.  Starting noIMG_20150123_143929w.

So if you know someone who needs a writer, teacher, trainer, mentor, consultant, jack of most trades master of the majority of them, drop me a note.  If you are in the market for someone with abundant talent, strong work ethic backed up with a broad background…a creative thinker infused with drive and patience and an uncanny, dogged ability to make it work when it really isn’t, you know where to find me.

This past Christmas I got a tee-shirt from my grandson, aged three, and the phrase across the front of it has become quite prophetic and will become my new mantra:  ‘The diem aint gonna carpe itself.’

Indeed it isn’t.  Call me, I can fit you in. We’ll make it work.

2015: Showing (and Telling) Some Resolve

December 31, 2014

“When a person is accountable to someone else for doing what they said they would do, they get stuff DrothyGale (2)done. They make changes they’ve been toying with for years. They reach their goals.”

– Shana Montesol Johnson

Accountability. People can’t help you with achieving anything if they don’t know what you are trying to achieve. Dorothy would still be roaming around Oz if she hadn’t shared her goal of going home with everyone around her, after all.

Some of the items on the list that follows are one-shot deals, others are lifestyle choices I am consciously making that will require sustained effort. And accountability.

The things on this list are obviously personal, some are professionally oriented. Some of them are slam-dunk, one-planned (2)shot deals while others will require stick-to-itiveness and more concerted effort and accountability. Some of the entries are spiritual, many are fairly esoteric.

New Year’s Resolutions? Not in the traditional sense. I think of this as more of an ‘Intention Martini’- positives are the gin while the not-to-dos are the vermouth. And I like my resolve dry. Very dry.

Throughout the coming year, feel free to prod, cajole, remind, opine, encourage, support, and reassure me should I stray or simply get lazy from carrying out the objectives set forth below.

Without further ado:

Do’s, Don’ts and ‘Ehhh…I dunnos’ for 2015

Write more.Photo0541

Read more. For fun.
Blog more frequently.

See more movies.
See more good movies

Coin a new phrase, at least once each fiscal quarter.
Be never enough to be too much of a good thing.

More baseball.

Keep my ‘eyes on the prize.’ Unless I am eating out of a box of Cracker Jack.

Finish at least two major writing projects, submit them for publications.

-.-. — — — ..- -. .. -.-. .- – . -… . – – . .-. .-.-.-

Build a better, quirkier vocabulary.2015b
Utilize said vocabulary.
Without excessive, superfluous verbiage.

Be inspiring.

Avoid saying ‘paradigm.’
Unless being sarcastic.

Insert tab ‘A’ into slot ‘B’ with impunity

Keep in mind that sometimes, less is more. More or less.

Write a mantra – in Dr. Seuss style rhyming couplets. Use it.Mack

Keep experiencing

Avoid referring to others as pedantic.
Avoid being pedantic.

Walk more.

Don’t immediately disregard real-life deus ex machinas.

Write more.
Read more. For fun.
Blog more.

“Don’t perspire the piddly stuff.”

Adopt ‘Do-overs done right’ as a pseudo-credo.

More music, less static.FW412c
More poetry.

Fill my spare change bottle. Multiple times.

Make regular, daily contributions to my blessings jar.

Love more
Like less
Eschew vacillation.

If it aint broke, don’t try to fix it. Especially if it is someone else’s.

Dream.
Teach others how.

Pay it forward
Cash-and-carry.

Take a penny, leave a penny.Feixreading

Sing to grandson Felix via Skype.
Don’t sing to anybody else via Skype.

Don’t say that I’m ‘thinking outside of the box.’ Unless brainstorming with someone who actually lives in a box.

Learn to tie a bow tie.
Wear a bow tie from time to time.

Edit better.

Lose the additional 3.2 pounds I didn’t by the end of 2014.
Don’t reclaim the 16.8 pounds discarded in 2014.

Engage more actively in the Shalom of others.

More baseball.
More poetry.

In 2015, I will measure twice, cut once. Maybe measure three times, on occasion.

Read more books to grandson Felix via Skype, including bedtime stories.
Read bedtime stories via Skype to anybody who asks nicely.

More prayer.MD3
Less frustration.

Yell less.

Use the word ‘repugnant’ once in a while. As a noun, gently.

Practice succinctitude.

Mentor more.
Engage better.

Write more. Read more. Blog more.

More to come, coming soon. Always.ONLY o.k. sign (2)

Keep promises
Keep issues in perspective

Find other roads less traveled. Take them.

In 2015 I will endeavor to….

Look both ways before crossing
Close cover before striking
Look before I leap
Think before I speak
Think after I speak.

Check local listings,
Void where prohibited.
‘Serving suggestion.’

More baseball.
More poetry.

Honor an urge.

Procrastinate less. Or at least, less often.
Partake in more rainstorms.2015a

Go camping
Go bowling

Live faithfully

Right some wrongs
Make amends

Live a life worth living.

Happy 2015

Signature2

Driving Chistmas beat

December 22, 2014

natkingcolechristmasalbum soundtrackDecember means swapping out the CDs in my car’s changer; Nat King Cole and Vince Guaraldi move in and represent the month of as only the two greatest Christmas albums ever recorded can.

Unlike their vinyl and cassette tape predecessors, these electronic incarnations are durable, and stand up much better to continual and repetitive playings for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas year-after-year and have yet to be worn out.

I know just by my daily commute that I am not alone in my fondness for these two classics.

Drive down any highway this time of year and see the unmistakable signs of this specific holiday music being played in vehicles: enhanced and widespread in-car karaoke. You can tell when a fellow commuter is crooning along with Nat on The Christmas Song, be-bopping with Brenda Lee around the proverbial tree or rocking their jingle bells with Bobby Helms.

You do not need to be a lip-reading savant to note any of those songs on any given urban commute.

But it is the most ubiquitous of all Christmas albums and instrumental songs that I enjoy seeing in others as I partake in myself…and I see it every day.

A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack being played in a vehicle: head shrugging to the beat of track four – Linus and Lucy. Or, as you might more accurately recognize it, the dancing scene music.

You know….
Charlie-Brown-Christmas-Peanuts-danceIt is joyous, infectious, unstoppable. Try to resist – I dare you. Your efforts are futile, as you are only human.

Forget about Santa Claus watching your every move this time of year. Just driving down the highway we see your every musical bob and twitch. There is nothing like a little holiday inhibition cutting loose. For one month out of the CBCdance3year, we are all Peanuts characters, seat-dancing down the highways.

Track four triggers something holiday-primal: involuntary and immediate tapping and sashaying of a drivers left, non-driving foot. Observe:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSbX3oudyBc&feature=youtu.be

In the opening scene of a Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown bemoans his lack of holiday cheer

Charlie: (to Linus) I think there must be something wrong with
me. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I might be
getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees
and all that, but I’m still not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m
supposed to feel.

Linus: Charlie Brown, you are the only person I know who can take
a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.
Maybe Lucy is right. Of all of the Charlie Browns in the world,
you are the Charlie Brownest.

If only Linus could drive Charlie up and down the highways of America every December, he could show ol’ Mr. Brown just what the two of them have wrought.

So go ahead and toe-tap, shrug, bob, rock and jingle your way down the road this Christmas season. You, in every positive respect, are indeed the Charlie Brownest.
Charlie Brown and tree

 

“You’ll bob yer eye out, kid!” A Christmas Party Tale

December 6, 2014

Some twenty-plus years ago, when I was thirtyish and divorced, a co-worker and I decided to become roommates and we rented a small home in the Minneapolis suburb of Robbinsdale.

Emphasis here on ‘small’.

John Lloyd, my new roommate, had one prized possession that had to be a part of the new set up: a full-sized, 1960’s

John 'Minnesota No-Trans-Fats' Lloyd, circa 1990

John ‘Minnesota No-Trans-Fats’ Lloyd, circa 1990

vintage pool table he had inherited from his grandparents. What better for a hip bachelor pad than a pool table? One problem: the pool table occupied our entire dining room and still jutted a good foot-and-half into the living room. Even then, when shooting from wall-side of the table, or the dining room wall end, you had to hold your cue at an 81-degree angle in order to shoot.  Minnesota Fats would not have been at home in ours.

Our ‘nose pool’ (using your nose as your cue) became legendary.

Having moved in late that summer and thrown a swingin’ house-warming party that co-workers and friends were still rehashing, we logically decided a Christmas party was a must for our first holiday season in our cozy abode.

John and I were co-workers at a small radio station in the Minneapolis suburb of Anoka. ‘Small’ again comes into play; the station was by no means a player in the Twin Cities market. What the station lacked in basic amenities, technical quality and signal strength, it more than made up for in ownership and managerial dysfunction and sheer comic relief.

What kept the place functioning and an enjoyably quirky place to work was that we also had a very talented, close-knit and fun-loving staff: a dandy core-group for a top-notch party, as we had proved with our summertime housewarming.

KANO boasted a truly eclectic mix of old-school broadcast veterans winding down their careers, and twenty-something guppies straight out of broadcasting school with dreams of stardom and underdeveloped reality checks, and a forty-something, mid-life career change newbie finally living his dream.

A typical week of chaos at KANO made WKRP seem like a weekend in cloisters.

This was no wine-spritzer and brie crowd; radio people genetically predisposed to being allergic to the mundane. Add in their assorted significant others, and a few folks from other parts of our various lives, John and I had invited quite the eclectic and enthusiastic crowd. They wanted, and now expected John and me to deliver, plenty of party action.

Thus was born the centerpiece event of our epic Christmas House Party: Bobbing for Pine Cones.

We had started planning this extravaganza not long after the summer soiree. Somewhere around Halloween, when bobbing for apples was en vogue (Anoka proclaims itself ‘The Halloween Capitol of the World, so we had a lot of experience with such things) the idea occurred to us that this whole bobbing thing had some definite Christmastime applications – with a few modifications. The first tweak we made was to replace apples with the more festive, holiday-oriented, easier-to- grip-with-yer-lips pine cones. Secondly, boring old, not-all-that-competitive (or interesting) water was replaced.

eggnog_09_400With eggnog.

Pure genius, it was. What, agreed John and I, says ‘holiday party fun!’ more than bobbing for pine cones in turkey roasters filed with eggnog?

The night of the party came, and with it, all the high expectations for a rockin’ around the Christmas tree good time. We were truly able to deliver, due in large part to a factor we didn’t have for the house warming party: his name was Jim Holt.

Jim was a fairly recent addition to the station, fresh out of Brown Institute of Broadcasting (the alma mater of both John and I, and a number of other colleagues) but wise to the ways of the world. You see, Jim was a married guy in his early forties; being a disc jockey had been a dream of his for many years. He had been working in the construction business, and when the company he worked for went belly up, he used the opportunity to go back to school and be retrained as a broadcaster, of all things, eventually winding up on KANO’s doorstep where he used his business acumen in sales during the week, and picked up weekend and evening shifts as a part-time announcer. He was having a kid-in-a-candy-store blast and we were glad to have him.

Jim was neither fish nor fowl, so to speak. He was certainly a radio neophyte, which we seldom let him forget, with a wide array of on-air pranks and booby traps pulled on the guy, but he was much farther along the chronological and maturity scale than most of the rest of us.

At least, in some regards.

Okay, he was older than most of the rest of us. He reveled in the role of rookie/old dude; for Jim, it was 1969 all over again – only done better this time around.

pinecones3We had set up the Bobbing for Pinecones as an eight competitor, three-round tournament – poster board tourney bracket taped to the dining room wall to document the fun. Jim arrived fairly early with his wife Kathy, and signed up eagerly for the bobbing. Kathy, as she was during the whole mid-life career shift for her husband, could best be described as…warily supportive.

The party zipped along quite nicely for a couple of hours; food, libations, people and laughs in abundance: at one point, John counted over 30 people in attendance. Sardines-in-a-can analogies ran rampant and getting from one point of the house to another meant holding your food and/or beverage high above your head, lest you find it smashed into your chest. About ten o’clock, we got folks quieted down and announced that it was time for the big event; Bobbing for Pine Cones. (Grand prize for the winner: a new Fram oil-filter and a generic trophy we had found at a garage sale. We shopped at Class- R-Us.)

We asked those that had signed up to step forward (most actually did) while friends helped us spread out plastic all over the living room floor. Then we brought out the aluminum turkey roasters and the pine cones, placing them on top of the plastic, as we explained the rules: contestants were to kneel in front of their roaster, hands behind their backs, and using only their mouths, were to bend over at the waist, and pluck as many pine cones as they could in turkeyroasterone minute from the roaster, dropping them onto the plastic next to their tubs, then repeating the process until we said “times up!” A good sense of balance was crucial. We had an ample supply of pine cones, and would continue to add them to each roaster as play continued, should someone pluck their entire supply of pine cones. (Nobody did, though Jim came close in round one.)

I’m not really sure if people didn’t read the sign-up sheet closely, or maybe we even forgot to put it on the poster – who can remember? I was pretty sure that we had told people, and maybe they just forgot, about switching out the water for egg nog, but when we brought out the nog and started filling the roasters, there was definite surprise and apprehension from some of the participants and a noticeable uptick in the level of crowd anticipation.

Of the eight bobbers, there were a few I didn’t know; dates of various guests who decided to sign up on a whim and were never seen again dating those coworkers. (Go figure.) Our station engineer Dan Zimmerman made it through eggnogwithnutmeground one, if I remember correctly (Dan was hard to forget; competitive eggnog bobbers should probably crop their beards/goatees before a competitive event) but the true break out star of the night was Jim Holt.

We got the first two competitors lined up on the floor, gave a countdown and said “Go!” to instant shouts of encouragement and exclamations of “Ewwww” “gross” and “nasty” from onlookers. Things quickly got a little…umm….messy.

But hilarious.

Once the competition started, we realized a few things very quickly; it is one thing to dunk your head in water, and inadvertently suck some in, then come up for air. It is a whole different thing when you accidentally inhale stuff the consistency of rich, creamy, dairy-fresh holiday eggnog – Its a much different sort of gasping for breath.

We also learned that a human face hitting a tub of eggnog with any velocity makes more of a ‘bluorp’ sound than a splashing noise.

The first round went pretty quickly, as most of the competitors had little natural ability at the sport, or were just laughing too hard to effective bob/grab/drop.  Not so, our pal Jim. He took to jim-h-bobbing-1-19881bobbing in eggnog like a young penguin takes to belly sliding on ice. Truly a natural.

After successfully plucking a pine cone with his mouth, he quickly dropped it on the plastic and went back for another. It was never a contest; the competition was just not up to matching Jim cone-for-cone during a round, beer-for-beer between rounds. Plus, he was one of those athletes whose natural charisma just showed through, which got the crowd quickly on his side. Jim would come up for air at the end of a round, shaking like a wet St. Bernard – his sopping, floppy moustache spraying the crowded-around onlookers with ‘nog. It was a glorious thing to watch.

From as far afar as you could get in a house that small. You don’t sit in the front row of the Shamu show at Sea World and expect to stay dry. Same principle applies for pine cone bobbing in egg nog.

After the first two rounds, we were ready for the championship. Jim and the other finalist had another beer, as we prepped the tubs with fresh eggnog for the finals; nothing but the best for our competitors. We also had a slight competition ‘tweak’ for the finals; just like the World Series, or the Super Bowl, any great sporting event needs a little ‘sumptin’ sumptin’ for its championship round.

nutmegWe had nutmeg.

The nutmeg was meant to spice things up, of course. Which it did in unexpected ways. What, after all, is eggnog without a sprinkle of nutmeg on top? It is traditional serving method and we felt it only fitting that the finals of our little event should be…showcased a bit. Plus, it added a touch of holiday class.

And, unwittingly, a sneeze factor.

Once the final round started (two minutes, not the typical one – twice the fun for the finals!) We learned very quickly that inhaling large quantities of nutmeg makes one sneeze, and that adult males sneezing into tubs of nutmeg-laced eggnog makes something akin to eggnog ‘depth charges’ as little geysers of the stuff were flying up from the living room floor with each sneeze. (Spreading the heavy plastic over the living floor was a very smart move on our part). Jim of course, won going away. It was quite a show.

Fortunately, our friends and other guests were agreeable to helping us clean up the mess – so the party could continue, if nothing else. At the end of the night, a sticky, haggard Jim proudly clutched his oil filter and trophy as designated-driver/wife Kathy walked him out to their car, shaking her head in awe. Or disbelief. It was hard to tell.

End of the party, not the end of the story.

As was related to us later by a still incredulous Kathy and Jim: At about 2:30 in the morning, Jim wakes up screaming that he can’t open his eyes. Kathy gets up with him, and realizing that her husband indeed, cannot open EggNogGroup Visinehis eyelids fully, takes him to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital. There, the attending E.R. doc determines the problem; Jim had forgotten to remove his contacts before the festivities, and some traces of eggnog and nutmeg had apparently dried on them, essentially gluing them to his eyelids. I do not know the correct medical terminology for this condition. As Kathy related the story later, the doc and the nurses just shook their heads and tried not to giggle while they repeatedly flushed Jim’s eyes with saline solution before sending him home with a bottle of Visine and a suggestion to take up other forms of holiday recreation.

As with all good stories, this one has a ‘part two’.

The eggnog-glued-eyes event had its sequel the following summer, when the KANO staff participated in a celebrity donkey race at the Hennepin County Fair. Jim got tossed off his donkey upwards of twenty times (13 by our count before the race had actually begun) usually right over the donkey’s head. Jim would get tossed, then quickly scamper back up on his donkey, repeat the process. This then necessitated another late-night, same E.R. visit, this time for a dislocated shoulder. The attending doc this time around quickly diagnosed the problem, asked how it occurred, as he was checking Jim’s file, said “I see you were last here in December for….ummmm. Oh my. That’s interesting.” much to Kathy’s chagrin and Jim’s uh…justifications.

Following the donkey escapade, the next time I saw Kathy, her first words to me were; “Jim can’t come out and play with you guys annnnnnnNEEE more!”

The man had become a legend for the Christmas party (and radio station) ages.

So this year, as always, I will indulge my own passion, quaffing a tasty mug or two of cold eggnog, toasting along the way the competitive spirit of bobbing, friendships forever (and eyelids temporarily) bonded. Here’s to John; best roommate I ever had. Here’s to my old KANO pals; “Gooood times…gooood times, my old friends”. Oh, and here’s to pinecones4ya’ Jim, wherever you may be today.

A little free advice, should you want to enliven your holiday gathering with a BFP event: . Bobbing for Pinecones is an exciting, competitive event with broad appeal and accessible to a wide range of ages and talent levels. Just go easy on the nutmeg, and don’t forget to have competitors read and sign the ‘wearing contacts’ waiver.

Just sayin’.

Happy Holidays!

Thanksgiving

November 27, 2014

Thankful. Or is it grateful?

I have been watching my Facebook feed with great interest the past few days as people debate being ‘thankful’ versus being ‘grateful’ – a semantic back-and-forth that I have taken more than cursory interest in.

It is the writer and English teacher in me.

Curiosity drove me to Merriam-Webster where I found that being thankful and being grateful have some very unique connotations, to wit:

To be thankful is to be conscious of benefit received.

To be grateful is be appreciative of benefits received.

The distinctions are important. Am I conscious of the blessings in my life? I hope so. Am I grateful and appreciative? That is something I ponder.

Consciousness is pretty straightforward, and my list is a lengthy one starting with my loving, healthy family; wife, sons, daughter, son-in-law and grandson. My extended family and in-laws. Friends old and new. Health, shelter, a full pantry and refrigerator. For a loving G-d, for a country where I can live freely. These are some of the people and things I am conscious of and thankful for, but rarely think of in such terms as thankfulness. Except on days like today.

Am I appreciative of all of these things? Probably not as much as I could or should be.

Bigger picture. There is much, as Americans, that we are conscious of, and should be thankful for, but I think take mostly for granted. In 1943 Norman Rockwell painted an iconic series of oil paintings entitled The Four Freedoms; Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. Those are enduring things that resonate (or at least, should) more strongly today than ever.

Four_freedomsThere is nothing new or unique about these musings on what to be thankful for; every fourth Thursday of the year we are awash platitudes from various points and perspectives, Hallmark cards to social media, everything in between. Hence the debate I alluded to: are we thankful, or grateful.

Thankful or grateful? We all know we should be one or the other for something or another – our culture tells us so every November.

Still, when it comes right down to it…

I am grateful today for my life, what it is today and what it was and who it was that got me here: family, friends, mentors, past and present. I am grateful today for the memories of those who have been a part of my life at every step, but who are no longer here physically. I am thankful to live in a time and a place where technology allows old friends to find me, new friends to enrich my life. The ability of all of them to reach out in support – theirs and mine. To ask for and offer advice and comfort, to share a laugh or kind word when most needed.

I am grateful and thankful for the love of family. They help teach me humility, to see beyond myself.

I am thankful for the children in my classroom, for they teach me patience and understanding.

I am grateful and thankful for friends who are hurting and who have suffered loss, for they teach me compassion, and allow me to share it.

I am grateful for the gift of discernment, which allows me to see where I can do better, understand that I always can.

Mostly I am thankful and grateful for G-d’s grace in my life, as all of the things I am thankful for and appreciative of stem from that grace. I am happy and blessed to be who I am, where I am today. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

Peace.

Mark,
Thanksgiving 2014


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