November 26, 2015

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.


Thanksgiving 2014, 2015

Leftover Turkey

November 26, 2015

marchives-icon-editThanksgiving Redux, pulled from the musty and cluttered Marchives. Reprising a favorite holiday tale. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 1979 found me in living in on my own in Marshalltown, Iowa and working at KDAO radio. I was going to be working on Thanksgiving, but what was cool was that my friend Rick Hunter was going to be joining me, on his holiday break journey home to Colorado from college life in Minnesota.

An actual guest! A real opportunity to make a full-fledged Thanksgiving.  A couple of cookbooks supplemented with phone calls home to mom in Denver to help iron out some nuances and I was ready. I was nineteen and knew my way around a kitchen.

With Rick scheduled to arrive sometime Wednesday, I thought I could get a lot of stuff done on Tuesday. Mom had confirmed my planning, but she also added a key point: thawing the bird. My initial plan was to pick up the turkey on Wednesday and be ready to go, but mom cautioned that thawing was a time-consuming process, that should start on Tuesday at the latest.

The bird.

As a Thanksgiving gift from the radio station, every staff member got a fifteen dollar gift certificate to the local Fareway store, and a gift certificate for a free, ‘up-to- twenty-pound’ frozen turkey.


The gift certificate covered the bulk of the non-poultry essentials: cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, and brownpaperbaggravy. Marshmallows, a box of instant mashed potatoes, a pumpkin pie, an apple pie, a package of a dozen (big) bakery chocolate chip cookies. Rolls, a jar of olives, a jar of pickles, a bag of Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing and a pound of Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage so I could duplicate my mom’s fabulous sausage stuffing rounded out the list.

We also needed appetizers: cheese, sausage and crackers.  Just like mom would do it at home.  I also picked up a bulbous turkey baster, a six-pack of Coca-Cola, and a disposable aluminum turkey roaster. Fifteen bucks went a lot farther in 1979 than it does today. My out-of-pocket was less than three bucks.

Oh yeah. The bird.

Getting a free turkey was a big deal. Small market radio was not lucrative. Plus, popping into a store with a gift certificate from the radio station was a sign of small town prestige and celebrity. The dang things were a full sheet of parchment, like a stock certificate. People at the store knew who you were.

The key phrase here was  ‘up-to-20 lbs.’ This of course meant I could have chosen pretty much any turkey, but in my 20-year-old mind, the gift certificate screamed, ‘Free twenty pound turkey’.

Never look a gift bird in the mouth.

turkeyrawI picked out a prime, nineteen pound, ten-ounce bird; the twenty pounders all gone by the time I showed up at the store Tuesday afternoon. Arriving home as pleased hunter-gatherer, my next order of business was to get that rock-solid bird thawed.

Dilemma one.

My apartment was on the third floor of an old bread factory where the former executive offices had been made into apartments. The rooms were spacious, with high ceilings, funky old moldings, and big water and steam pipes snaking their way through the place. But in redeveloping, they furnished the kitchen like an efficiency apartment; the gas stove was one of those old, narrow jobs with burners so close together, that if you were cooking more than one stove-top item at a time, you could only use small saucepans and angle the handles oddly so they would stay on the stove. The single compartment porcelain-sink-on-legs was so small the plastic dish drainer I got when I first moved in barely fit in it.

Where to thaw a 19-10 bird?

The refrigerator was small and filled with other stuff. I had a cheap, Styrofoam cooler the turkey dwarfed.  That left the bathtub. What they had skimped on in the kitchen, they made up for in the bathroom: a Chester Arthur-sized, cast iron, claw foot tub with single spigot that took roughly 20 minutes to fill to take a bath in. Or to get enough water to cover a twenty pound turkey to thaw.

Dilemma solved, provided I didn’t need to bathe.

drainstopperThe bird bobbed placidly in the filled tub, though I periodically had to refresh the water level. The rubber drain stopper was cracked and not very efficient, and the large, cast iron radiator next to the tub accelerated evaporation.

I called mom to update her on my progress to date, commenting about the hassle of filling the tub to thaw the bird.

“Couldn’t you just put it in the refrigerator or a cooler?” she asked quizzically.

“Nope” I replied, “It wouldn’t fit.” There was a pause.

“Well, how big is the turkey?” I told her about my free, nineteen-pound, ten-ounce bird. There was another pause.

“What the hell are you doing with a twenty pound turkey!?” I knew that tone of exasperation.

“It’s what the station gave me.”

“For two people!? I thought it was a gift certificate. Couldn’t you pick out your own turkey!?”

“Yeah, I did. It was a gift certificate for a twenty pound turkey – so that’s what I got.”

“Oh, Mark!” She was trying to be cross. She was snickering (sort of) as I heard her turn away from the phone and exasperated, tell my father, “Mark has a twenty pound turkey for he and Rick.”

I heard my father reply dryly, “I hope they like turkey sandwiches.”

My mother then calmly tried to explain to me that even for the six guests she was expecting on Thursday, she did not have a twenty-pound bird, and that I had better make sure I had plenty of aluminum foil to wrap leftovers in.

foilExtra foil had not been on my shopping list. I ended up needing two full rolls of Reynolds Wrap.

Wednesday arrived, as did Rick. The bird continued to bob and thaw.

My Thursday plan was to wake up early enough to get the turkey in the oven, prep whatever else I could, get to the station for my 10-to-2 shift, come home, watch some football and hang with Rick, and feast.

Getting the turkey in the oven was the biggest issue.

As noted, my oven was narrow. I plucked the bird from the tub, and began prepping it by cleaning it, taking out the gizzards, buttering it, seasoning it, stuffing it, etcetera, without incident. Rick awoke, joined me in the kitchen, observed the scenario and said, matter-of-factly, “Is that thing going to fit?”

Well, wasn’t that spatial.

The turkey didn’t fit – at least not at first shove. Fortunately, I had a disposable aluminum roaster and the sides were pliable enough to be bent on both sides, plus get scrunched up against the back of the stove. It took some extended shoving and pan bending, but we got the bird into the oven without getting ourselves burned.

That oven was wall-to-wall turkey.

A good turkey needs to get its moisture regularly, and I had devised a plan that would benefit everyone: the ‘KDAO Bird Watch.’

JackLaLanneEvery twenty minutes on-air I would announce “It’s KDAO Bird Watch time!” and remind people that it was time to ‘baste those birds’ – leading them through the process ala Jack LaLane with the mantra, “And baste, one…two…three! Baste! One…two…three…” as I then smoothly segued into the next record. Sometimes we basted on the beat of the music.

(It was a public service and programming success to the extent that, much to the bewilderment of Paul, the guy on after me got phone calls of complaint when he failed to announce the bird watch every twenty minutes, and he was also later blamed by some listeners for dried out birds.)

It was one fine, juicy turkey we indulged in that afternoon….save for the leather-tough burns on the outside of each drumstick, where they had spent their roasting time shoved up against the walls of the oven.

We ate, watched football, called high school friends in Colorado, ate some more. On Friday, Rick hit the road for Colorado with a load of turkey sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and I can’t remember what else. If memory serves, he took the offered sandwiches grudgingly, as he appeared to be turkeyed out. Me? I had no such qualms…until about mid-December.

turkeydoneTo this day, I enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers almost more than the initial meal.

Mom was right about the foil, dad the sandwiches. Every last nook and cranny of my meager freezer was stuffed with turkey (pun intended) and the last frozen pack made its way out for freezer-burned consumption on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, 1980.

My best advice for a successful Thanksgiving feast? It’s pretty simple, kids: “Baste! One…two…three…”

Flounder on the Counter *

November 22, 2015

* actual fish not included – editors note


Kids ever ask you “But how does Santa KNOW?”

Naughty or nice, every December a big show

behavior is coerced, by threats and cajoling; the

latest big thing? A shelf-elf spying, all-knowing


elfplain“At holiday time Santa sends me to you

I watch and report on all that you do!”

Kids get elf paranoia from Santa himself!

“I am his helper a friendly scout elf!”


‘Scout elf’ is a ‘pal’ that your kids gets to name

so years later in therapy they know just who to blame

He sits in a new spot every day in December

elftextingtil one day he doesn’t – cause you forgot to remember


Each night while kids sleep he must send Santa a text

all the bad stuff they have done, but in proper context

elf reports to him each day if kids have been good or been bad

then make creepy small talk about the day that you had


Don’t swear or be cranky, don’t be a gossip – or skanky

mind your manners, never forget to say “please and thanky!”

Every finger flip-off, push or a shove, elf will report to his boss –

fear not elf surveillance; acts of kindness will not be a loss!


elf15So that is how a shelf dwelling elf takes over your duties

minding behavior; as parent scams go, this one’s a beauty!

There must be a better way to keep kids in line

here is an idea from some good friends of mine.


Want your kids to toe the line til Christmas?

I have a plan much sounder; replace the elf

on your shelf with a Flounder on the Counter


Steely dead-fish eyes will watch every move

a flounder just lays there, nothing to prove

a fish with a backstory, you’ve nothing to lose

make a new tradition, find your holiday groove


Just tell your kids that Santa’s Flounder is watching

read them his tale they will comply without scoffing

if they desire all the toys they have on their lists,

they must keep beholden to a big, flat, dead fish:


Flounder on the Counter


“Here is his tale, your first encounter

flounder12here is how Santa came to hire a flounder


“I am a flounder, a big, flat fish from the seas!

I spent my time swimming, I was easy to please!


One day I found myself trapped in a big net

ending up on some ice in a fish market, I sat.



A  big guy with a beard came walking along,

grumpily humming a strange jingle-bell song

I was suddenly purchased – destined for dinner

but at our meeting I came out the winner!


The man you call Santa was in a foul mood

the business of kid spying, not favorably viewed

elves he employed were balking at workelf5

the kids they were spying on? A  bunch of jerks


moved from shelf to shelf was ignominious duty

then people really began to treat them quite cruelly;

elf muggings and tortures for Internet amusementelf6

elves quit, filed suit, claiming workplace abusement


I offered a solution Santa took just like that

“Keep kids in line with a dead fish that lays flat!

You won’t have much Internet screwing around;flounder2

threaten kids with dead fish, they won’t make a sound!”


Here is the story, written by me and Santa himself

(I am better behavior-mod that a green-tighted elf)

What follow is the poem that comes with the flounder

read it as a family, then place me on the counter:


“Each morning you’ll find me on a chair or your bed

Santa’s spying, all-knowing fish, not completely dead

flounder5AAAI’ll be laying there watching, a daily encounter

everything you do – your Flounder on the Counter


Why do I keep track of all that you do?

Why do you parents put up with my peyew?

Simple, young friend, old-fashioned extortion!flounder6

Intimidation by fish? Not out of proportion


Oh, and always beware as you often pass my counter

no matter the smell – don’t you dare dis the flounder!

Even if you hanker to screw around while at school

I’ll know from the cafeteria or some undercover tool


And before you go to bed each holiday nightflounder4AAA

say your prayers, spray your Lysol, I’ll still remain ripe

come the next morn, I’ll have taken short flight

I’ll be on the job someplace – just doing my job right


You’ll never know where I will next appear

unless your sense of smell has totally disappearedflounder9

I’ll be lying there, mouth agape, open eyes staring,

bad behavior I see and don’t say you’re not caring


There are the rules that govern my magical spell

there is nothing to do ‘bout my dead flounder smell

don’t try to remove me or I’ll just have to tell

then your Christmas gift getting will be shot all to hell.


But all threats aside, I can help you get what you seek

flounder21Don’t believe me? Just look in my eyes, ignore the reek

Tell me your wishes! What presents you would like!

Don’t be put off by my death smile, impressionable tyke!


I hope we will become friends, and you will not feel abused

by a dead fish reporting on everything you say and do

santahatonfishdon’t be paranoid, for this is just for the toys

a dead fish just coercing young girls and boys


I am just another cog in

the holiday enterprise

I am Flounder on the Counter –

Santa’s all-seeing dead eyes.”




First letter to a new grandson

November 16, 2015

It’s hard to believe it has been four years since I first penned the missive below.  But it has been. My grandson Felix turns four on Tuesday. In looking back over my initial thoughts at this wondrous event…well, not much has changed. Except everything has.  All for the good. Time flies, and flying with Felix?  That is not flying – it is soaring.  Happy birthday, dude.
Grandpa Mark

*    *    *    *


Dear Felix:

First off, let me welcome you to this wild, wonderful world. Yeah, it has issues – always has and always will. Maybe as time goes by, you’ll be one of the ones fixing the problems. Still, it’s a great place to hang for the next century or so. Make it count for something.

Your parents have been really amazing awaiting your arrival – later than predicted as it may have been. Though you were something of a surprise, they have embraced you from the get-go with more gusto than I would have thought, and we are quite proud of them.

That gusto and clarity of purpose says a lot about both of them. They have been very impressive. Let this be your first  life lesson from grandpa: don’t under estimate people…especially the ones you love.

Your parents are really quite remarkable, both as individuals and as a couple. Your mom is my daughter, so I obviously know her very well. She’s pretty cool, and she chose well when she chose your dad – he is very cool, too. I take a fair amount of pride in her making that choice, though I can take absolutely no credit for it. Pride in your kids is something special to experience, Felix; pride in your parents is a wonderful gift, and I hope you have, hold and treasure it.

You’ll come to love them both as much as we all do, more so, in fact. I’m sure it  took you all of about, oh, say twenty-five seconds, once you got past that where-the-heck-am-I entrance-disorientation.

Felix, you are being born into a theatrical clan; your mom your dad are true theatre geeks, just as I was and as my father was – though neither my father or I have or had the depth and breadth of the passion that your parents do. Along with that passion comes a whole unique cadre of like-sentiment folks that are your parent’s friends and peers and that are eagerly waiting to embrace you. Let them.

You have grandparents to whom you are the first such member of your new family generation. They will attempt to spoil you. Allow them the privilege. Being first also means you will be a leader of your generation. When the time comes, lead with purpose, compassion and a sense of humor.

You have two teenage uncles who are also eagerly looking forward to getting to know you. They have favorite toys and movies and loads of life experience they want to eventually share with you; they plan on showing you the ropes, and how to be a guy. They’re both pretty good at that in some very different ways, so let them teach you what they know. Someday you’ll be able to tell them “Its okay, fellas – I got this” and fly solo. But in the meantime, take advantage of every moment of them that you can. And always keep their numbers on speed-dial.

Their old wooden trains and blocks (Will and Sam aren’t that old, so the paint is safe and all) are boxed and handy for when the time comes. Low-tech, I know, but I can’t wait for the day when they show you how to fit together those train tracks, and stack a few primary color squares and rectangles. They can’t wait, either.

I know; in time. We’ll get there. Let’s get started with some grandfatherly advice and stuff you need to know:

First of all, have faith. Need proof that there is a God? He has blessed us with you, your mom and your dad. Proof that God also has a sense of humor? He has blessed you with all the rest of us.

Remember to say ‘I love you’ frequently – to pretty much everyone. And mean it.

You can be tough and be gentle, often simultaneously. It is not as difficult as some would lead you to believe.

Roll with what you’ve got, improvise when you need to. Admire the finished product no matter how cumbersome it looks or functions.

Oh, your mother hates The Princess Bride. We’ll have to watch it at our house.

Moving on….

There is a popular phrase about not being constrained in life, and living in the moment: ‘Dance like no one is watching.’ It’s good advice that, as your grandfather, I heartily endorse. Even if, like yours truly, your dancing looks more like a man being attacked by a swarm of bees than it does dancing, pretend nobody is watching…and then dance even harder when you know that people are watching.

While we’re on the topic, there was a very popular song a few years back by Lee Ann Womack, called  I Hope You Dance. The song includes these lines:

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean;
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens…
promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,
I hope you dance…”

Amen to all of the above sentiment, kid. I really hope you don’t sit out too much in life, and that you’ll always try to dance. And sing, too. Maybe you could use a more contemporary take: treat life-like every day is commando-karaoke.

Okay, as metaphors go, that last one may need some work. But its good practice now to start realizing that not every pearl of wisdom you get from me is going to be fully cultured.

While we’re on the topic of music, there are some songs you should know, and I’ll try to teach them to you. (Your dad is the musician; he’ll be able to take you places with music I never could. Enjoy that ride.) That being said, there are best learned as grandpa/grandson duets and CD singalongs. Puff the Magic Dragon, for one, Marvelous Little Toy for another, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Oh, and The Unicorn. Your uncle Sam likes really that one, so I’ll try to get my Irish dialect back on track for you so we can all do it up right. We may have to turn that duet into a trio act.

About music. Someday when we’re driving in the car, I can see the family rule about the driver choosing the radio station or CD getting bent for you, especially once you start riding shotgun. It’ll be your call, of course, but it would be nice if you developed a taste for the 1960’s. Your mom really likes The Monkees, and other good stuff from my era, and she also shares my affinity for The Rat Pack; Frank, Dean, Sammy. I think you are genetically predisposed to some Sinatra-coolness factor anyway so it should work out. Cross-generational music appreciation is something we are definitely used to and in favor of in this family. Savor it.

Your dad has a wide range in musical tastes, so you’re likely to experience a lot, musically. Take it all in…from all of us. But always march to your own drum beat.

But you know, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you decided you liked jazz…and The Beatles. We can work it out as you get a little older.

I do have one inviolate music-in-the-vehicle rule; there are certain songs that you cannot change stations or tracks during, or turn the car off on…EV-VER. Hey Jude and Let it be are on that short list along with Turn, Turn, Turn. And, of course, American Pie. If we are just getting home from somewhere and we hear Don McLean start in with the opening trill “A long, long time ago…” on the radio, we will circle the block twelve times if need be to get in all 8:14 of American Pie.  Deal with it.

Felix, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help or advice; the world is not always a do-it-yourself-at-all-costs endeavor. There is strength in numbers…and usually better stories to tell and people to share them with once it’s over. Share the experiences of life.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be independent, far from it. But here is a little secret you should know: the best kind of independence comes from self-assurance, and self-assurance comes from the confidence to know yourself and your own limitations and know that there will always be others who have knowledge and expertise you can utilize. Seeking out the counsel of others is a sign of strength, not weakness. Anyone who tells you otherwise has little of the former, tons of the latter. Ignore them.

By the way; although the lesser version is generally palatable, real cheesecake is made with ricotta cheese, not cream cheese.

‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – so every once in a while you can surprise them with a big, sloppy smooch on the cheek.’  That’s a grandpa paraphrase. You may encounter the original version; mine is more…functional.

Another popular adage you might hear is “Eighty percent of life is simply showing up.” Now while I mostly see the value in that, I think the advice I have given your mother for years is even more applicable to life in general: “Be good…or at least be prompt.”

Oh yeah. Your mother (and probably the rest of us) will periodically and inadvertently introduce you to the growing and evolving thesaurus that are ‘Luckerisms’ – our family’s own, rather unique set of catch phrases and interjections for all occasions. For example, by the time you are old enough to understand what a ringing phone is, you’ll have also learned the correct thing to yell out across the house in response. (“Somebody get that – it might be a phone call!”) When riding in the car with your mother and stuck behind someone at a stop light, you’ll also learn something about traffic light colors most people don’t ever  think about. (“Only one shade of green in this town, buddy!”) Like I said, it’s a thesaurus not a mimeographed handout.

“Oh yeah, baby grandma.” That one will someday be explained to you by Will and/or Sam.

I hope you are able to blaze your own trail to the things that satisfy you in life. I’ll try to be supportive, even when and if I don’t understand where exactly it is you’re coming from. Hey, it’ll happen. But I’m always open to trying new things and different points of view. Hopefully you will be, too.

Dude; spontaneity rocks.

Another key item: people will always think they know what’s best for you, even when they don’t. Follow your gut instincts.

While we’re talking about self-awareness, don’t ever confuse bravado with taking a stand on principle. You can always be Don Quixote. Just make sure you have a fully capable Sancho Panza along for the journey, someone you can always count on to come up with sharpened lance and a well-rested mule.

Inspire loyalty.

You’ll always need some down time along the way. When you’re not blasting your way through life, you should know that porch swings and reclining chairs are great venues for grandpas and grandsons and sharing things. Things like sunsets and summer evenings, fall afternoons and spring rains, a cold Coke or some sweet tea, good books and chats about…stuff. Guys stuff and, you know, other stuff. Porch swings and recliners are also excellent stuff-contemplation vehicles.

Of course, Coke…not Pepsi.

Recliners are especially good places to hang and watch and listen.

Music of all kinds. A Prairie Home Companion, CNN, Turner Classic Movies. The Marx Brothers, Spongebob Squarepants and all three Toy Story movies. The original Star Wars trilogy. Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Three Stooges, Davey and Goliath. A little Vivaldi is nice sometimes, as are sports. Baseball, football and hockey, to be sure. Basketball only if you insist. Hey, it’ll still be my recliner.

Recliners and porch swings are also the best spots for stories that we can make up on our own. And also good spots for a choice a corned beef sandwich on good rye bread. With mustard. (Just needed to fit that sandwich in here somewhere.)

By the way, porch swings are very neat places to hang out and take naps on during rainy days – with or without a grandpa. Better with, but that’s one of those you can also savor on your own whenever you get the chance. While naps on rainy days are great, walks in the rain might just be greater. We will have to go on some rainy-day quests for the perfect puddle.

And, contrary to what your mother (and my mother and  most any mother says) puddles are cool. So is mud.

Porch swings are also good locales for learning the finer points of brief literature: limericks, haikus…nursery rhymes the ‘Lucker Way.’ When the time comes your mother can explain what Old Mother Hubbard really went to that cupboard for and I’ll take it from there.

Along with porch swings and reclining chairs, there’s a lot to be said for small boats. Fishing ranks right up there as a good stuff-sharing and story-telling time. Fishing is also one of the few times in life when people expect you to fib just a little bit. Take advantage of such times with nature, and always keep in mind it’s called ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching’ for good reason.

Speaking of fishing, there is another piece of homemade advice I distribute fairly freely. ”Always strive to be like the biggest, fattest bass in the lake – know when to not take the bait.”

Restraint and that whole gut-instinct thing come into play here. You’ll figure it out.

There are a few secret wishes I have for you; I hope you like baseball. And going camping. And pizza. Annnnd…cheeseburgers. Not the lame, limp, fast food variety but some top quality, inch-thick, pressed-by-hand, fresh-off-a-grill cheeseburgers. And be creative with the cheese, Felix; there is far more to life than just processed American. Taste it all.

And somewhere along the line you’ll get to learn and taste a little something my grandfather taught me many years ago; the joy of dipping a sugar cube into a cup of coffee, then sucking the coffee back out of it. Mmmm-mmmm. You’ll find it’s the little things, Felix, that make life so special.

In closing, you should know that as you grow up you’ll hear many wild and wacky stories about your family. If they sometimes sound too outrageous to be true…you’re probably being too much of a skeptic. Embrace your familial eccentricities. Grow with them. You’ll learn to love them and those us who possess them. A little head shaking in disbelief is okay – as long as you keep smiling through it and don’t ever do it with disdain.

Single best advice I can give you, Felix? Hang out with grandpa whenever you can, for as long as you can. You’ll learn stuff. But I’ll learn so much more and you’ll teach me. It’ll be exciting for both of us.

We’ll start to get to know each other soon, the rest we’ll work out as we go.

Oh, and have somebody print this missive out and put it in a ring binder for you. We’ll be adding to it as time goes by. ;-{)

What’s up with that, anyway?

October 18, 2015

You cannot watch a televised sporting event without an onslaught of Viagra, Cialis and Levitra commercials. It makes sense that the target market for said products would be males living vicariously through big, strong athletes doing stuff most men never got close to accomplishing outside of their fantasies and backyard they had when they were ten. ED1Frustrated, wannabe, could’ve been athletes watching the real thing, drug makers unrealistically marketing a product that mimics a real thing. It’s a package deal.

Pun intended.

‘Erectile dysfunction’ is one of those quintessential American phrases that entered the lexicon to titillation and ridicule and has now become mainstream in its conversational usage, if only for its catchy initialism, E-D. It has become such a part of conversation that I rarely even hear parents having to try to uncomfortably explain to youngsters just what ‘E-D’ is. The ads are ubiquitous, and most people, I think, just tune them out – except for those who are fantasizing about and/or ridiculing the people and situations depicted in them. But…

Ever pay attention to the sales pitch wording and the disclaimers?

ED2For the sake of this piece, in place of actual product names, we’ll just use the generic ‘Boing!’® as a surrogate, made-up trademark. Plus, as a generic, available over the Internet placebo word, it is less than ten percent of the cost of the name-brand words.

Ask your doctor.

I wonder if those who put together these ads for E.D. products realize just how counter-intuitive their copy proclamations (especially the disclaimers) are for most men. To wit:

“Stop taking ‘Boing!’® if you have any sudden hearing loss or decrease in vision.”

This one is immediately problematic for most men as hearing loss and fuzzy vision are natural byproducts of the attraction to someone being strong enough to require a dose of ‘Boing!’® to begin with.

Especially on a Saturday night at last call.

“You could be more confident in your ability to be ready.”

ED3I really like this one. It makes a totally illogical connection between a man’s confidence level and his ability at much of anything.  Oh yeah…that’s why the ads target couch potato sports fans and DIY home improvement shows and rarely on Dancing With the Stars’– though I have seen a few pop up during presidential debates.

THAT is an entirely separate post.


And this should persuade men…how?  “Side effects may include headache, upset stomach, delayed muscle ache or ED5backache’

Man-logic sees this as a neutral proposition; not being able to perform gives you the headache and upset stomach, actual performance gets you the delayed muscle and backache.

Pick your poison, guys.

My favorite part is where the serious-as-all-get-out announcer says,“Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sexual activity.”

This one sounds reasonable, in a medical-professional way, but…come on, most men lie to their doctors about their diets, level of physical activity, sleep patterns and vitamin intake. How many men will actually bring the ‘hey, doc, if I get lucky tonight, will I have a heart attack?’ up in doctor conversation? Is there such a thing as talking-to-your-doctor Boing!’® because I’m pretty sure the traditional ways men get up the nerve to talk to anyone about anything serious/sensitive/personal is not appropriate here. Showing up to see your doctor with Jack Daniels breath is going to pretty much negate any virility advice – especially if you start hitting on said physician.


And of course, there is the best medication-disclaimer-punchline ever:

“To avoid long-term injury, seek immediate medical help for an erection lasting more than four hours.”

This one actually seems tailored to the psyche of the modern American male, who if he is still going after four minutes is going to know something different is up.

An hour into such a situation, most guy’s bravado will supplant any rational medical thought and go straight to braggadocio potential. They are going to want to document the experience, and will take to Facebook, Instagram, ed8Twitter, Vine – pretty much any social media with prominent time-stamps to share the progression (or, really, lack of regression) with the world. Even the more introverted or shy types will simply use their phones to take sexting shots they will then later share surreptitiously in health club locker rooms, with their pals on their over-fifty softball teams or the barista at their neighborhood Starbucks.

You think I’m kidding? ‘Boing!’®

Use this post only as directed.

Now, about those ridiculously unsafe hillside bathtubs…

Adamantly not skeptical

September 26, 2015

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

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

Science was cool when I was a kid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiatus. How ya doing?

August 12, 2015

Back and posting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knew? Yeah, me either.

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

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

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



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

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

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

Just sayin’.

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

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

Point taken.

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

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

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

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

IMG_20150216_153400The Green Lavatory

so much for Depends

a Porta-Potty

used with pain
no water

hot, fiberglass box
you’re chicken.

Faith, law and compassion

June 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One might say extraordinary.

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

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

American civil law. The U.S. constitution.

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

Jesus calls us to be compassionate.

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

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

You may be more than a little surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

Not Gay pride, but Biblical, sinful pride.

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

He calls us to compassion, with little equivocation room.

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

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

Amazing grace, indeed.

It took some village elders

June 21, 2015

Father’s Day weekend is my ‘take stock’ time; gratefulness for healthy, happy, successful-in-their-own-unique-ways children, a self-check on how I’m doing as a father and grandfather.  It is also a time of reflection and reminder of the men who played the codified dad and grandpa roles in my life: my dad, Gramps, my pseudo-grandfather Ivar, my uncle Don and stepfather Gary. The value of what I received from all of them is incalculable  – the sum only as great as it’s multiple, generous parts.

I am simply thankful that I was blessed by having them all.

Along with dad, Gramps, Ivar, Don, and Gary, there are some other men that I think about on Father’s Day – gentlemen whose lives intersected with mine in a wide, ongoing array of ways for many years each; they all brought something special to the smorgasbord that is me.

There were Elving, Albert, Art, Cleo and Harold, riding herd on me every Horseshoe Lake summer of my youth. Len, Henry, Win – family by choice, not blood.  Hjalmer and Palmer, father and uncle of boyhood friends and up-the-street neighbors; master mechanics, guardians of our block.

It’s an impressive roll call, and humbling when I stop to think of all the time and wisdom they invested in me. Each of  them played very significant roles in making me into the man – the husband, father, grandfather, teacher, leader that I am.

The list of tactile, hard skills that I learned from these guys would fill a flash-drive: plumbing, house painting, carpentry, roofing, lumberjacking.  Ivar and would be proud that I still know my way around underneath a sink and can still handle a pipe wrench with aplomb. With satisfaction, Elving would see that with house paint and brushes, I’m pretty damn good at cutting a doorway or window.

The lines of memory blur when I try to place a specific skill to the individual in learned it from. Even so, I learned things then learned that everyone has their own way of doing things. So much the better for me.

Truth be told, it was a village effort.  No matter who may have shown me how to do something, each person added their own take on how to handle, for example, framing and  ball peen hammers, chainsaws, splitting mauls and axes, logging chains and cross-cut saws – among other tools of the wood cutting game.  A number of them took a hand in teaching me the nuances (and their own peccadilloes and quirks) about how to drive a stick shift, change spark plugs or oil in Detroit’s finest,  bait a fish-hook, hoe the weeds from a potato patch, scale and filet a sunfish.

Len showed me how to use a lathe, Albert how to properly seine for minnows, Harold showed me how to whittle. I handsremember each of those initial lessons vividly, and later looks of accomplishment and satisfaction when I showed some mastery at them.  Those were just some of the unique slices of expertise I was served that standout.  Those guys were all present (and responsible) for so much more.

I also remember others who played lesser, but powerfully remembered roles as additional father figures; Mr. Keuken across the alley, Vic the taxidermist, Joe the barkeep and Birkland the electrician.  That’s how I knew them, anyway, and what everyone else called them. Vic and Joe did have last names. Same with initial monikers for Mr. Keuken and Mr. Birkland.

And still, as I peruse this list, I am probably forgetting somebody.

To this day, I tend to get more than a bit peeved with someone when they marvel at some skill I have displayed, or expertise I have shared. “Wow, where’d you learn how to do THAT?”  Their ignorance, my bliss, I suppose. In my days as an employment counselor, I helped develop and then taught a class on skills identification – an easy and fun assignment, as I have significant expertise – and the thrill of acquiring it.

Writing that curriculum came rather easily to me. I saw it as a tribute to all of the men on this list, and quite a few others.

There is a popular meme that makes its rounds on Facebook pretty regularly stating  ‘Well, another day has passed and I still haven’t used algebra.’ I used to  share that attitude, but I now know better. Algebra? Maybe not; but the skills that go into solving equations, the critical thought involved…oh yeah, I use all of that. But I am still lousy at algebra itself! As an English teacher, I constantly have students complaining that (fill-in-the-blank) skill I am trying to impart on any given day will never be of use to them.

Their ‘aha’ moments will come. In time.

One more aspect to the men listed above that I have always been aware and in awe of: I wasn’t their sole focus. For the most part, there was no palpable obligation to include me in much of anything.  They were volunteers in the purest sense of the word.  They had their own children and grandchildren, other things to occupy their time.

The skills were hands-on, as was the problem solving; the lessons often implied, frequently not grasped until after the fact.   Thanks, guys.

If you were to Venn diagram all of the key dads, granddad and facsimiles thereof in my life, the outlying rings – the ‘not in common’ stuff – would be filled to overflowing, and ‘eclectic’ would be a good name for this tribe. The inner circle – the ‘in common’ – would be full and diverse as well, and would make a good primer for how to live a life: How to treat people with kindness, respect, dignity. How to develop patience and put it into practice. Do onto others. Help somebody. Follow your gut and your heart, but don’t lose your head doing it. Don’t get frustrated – figure it out. Have faith, live it out.  Clichés?  Maybe.

But not a bad life instruction manual.

No, I do not regularly use most of the skills I mentioned here on a day-to-day or even-year-to year basis.  As an urban guy, I don’t have much need to lumberjack anymore, and adjusting a carburetor is not something I will probably ever need to do again. It is unlikely I’ll  anytime soon be needing to shingle a cabin, patch a fiberglass canoe or lathe a wooden flower vase. Maybe I will get a chance again someday to pilot a pontoon boat. Will I have to treat a maple dance floor with dance wax again? Probably not. Oh, I may again someday get a chance to play cribbage, or whist again, hopefully.  But I will someday have to fix another toilet, and there will always be a room that needs a new paint job, something to be repaired or replaced, and each day brings something that needs to be brainstormed, benignly finagled or simply figured out.

That’s where the rubber meets the road; because of what I learned back then, refined and cultured through the years, I can dive in with confidence. I am Mr. Problem-Solving-R-Us, because of all of these guys

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

I had them.

Why the laughter never fades

June 20, 2015

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

Father’s Day. A bit pretentious of a title for a holiday, but it is what it is. ‘Dad’s Day’ just doesn’t have the panache – except to me, because I had my dad.

Dad died in 1986 – now more than half my life ago, which is an interesting realization to come to – I have lived more of my life without his physical presence than with.  In a way, that makes no sense to me.  But then again, it does.   It’s quite natural to wonder what he would think of the here-and-now; what his family has become, his grandchildren,

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

Then again, I don’t need to think too hard to a conclusion; he would see my life as it is today with a sense of pride, but also a heightened level of amusement and bemusement.

My dad wasn’t highly educated, topping out the formal end of things with a high school diploma,  but he was knowledgeable and well read, a man of continual curiosity about the world.  He would have some definite opinions the recent state of affairs of the country and it would be a blunt, probably sarcastic, enlightening and entertaining – LOL commentary. He would have appreciated his grandchildren’s fairly sophisticated interest in things social and political.

Life would still be pointedly funny.

Aside from all of the typical moments I regret my dad and I  missed getting to share  – the wife and children of mine he never met, my career and creative and milestones, the man I have become – the one thing I get oddly  wistful about is the fact that my dad and I never got to sit down in front of a VHS or DVD player and watch funny movies.

That many sound funny as a major regret, but I’m quite serious.

Dad was an aficionado of comedy. He spent the bulk of his working years as a television station film editor in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and then Denver. This was back in the fifties, sixties and seventies, when television was still a fairly new and burgeoning entity, and most places had only four-or-five channels to choose from, and aside from their network programming, had lots of local air time to fill.  TV stations  ran a lot of old movies; my father edited them to fit time frames and insert commercial breaks. He loved movies, and even did some community theatre in his younger, pre-me days.

Most of all, Dad knew comedy and  loved a wide array of comedic films and performers. Comedy of all kinds, actually. A favorite comedian’s appearance of a show noted in TV Guide or the newspaper listings and the television appropriated for that time frame: my first, youthful experiences with ‘appointment television’ were comedic in nature. Comedy (and humor – a distinction, to be sure) and an appreciation for things  humorous was a love he passed on to me, though we had somewhat divergent viewpoints on what/who was funny, and who wasn’t.

Hence, my regret over his not living to see the home video age come to full bloom.

Born in 1916, Dad’s early experiences with comedy were vaudeville and silent films. He was a fan of silent stars Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, and also the Keystone Cops. When I was a teenager, any public television salute to either of those guys was duly noted and watched by my dad, and since we only had one t.v. in the house, me too.

I shared his admiration for all of it.

But dad’s true passion, the guys he found funniest of all, were Laurel and Hardy. They were his heroes – especially Stan Laurel, the skinny straight-man of the classic duo. My dad did a pretty good Stan Laurel impersonation, and even as a young kid I remember seeing a different look in my dad’s eyes when we watched Laurel and Hardy versus other movies or shows.

Stand and Ollie

Nostalgia is funny; sometimes you look back on something fondly, and wonder why, but this is truly not one of those times. I still enjoy watching Laurel and Hardy – probably even more so now that I am older, and grasp their subtle nuances, the pathos in the true to life friendship that their humor (even when absurdist) came from.

I always laughed along with dad when watching Laurel and Hardy; now I know why he laughed much harder at some things than I did.  Now I know why, and I laugh at the same things he did.

Watch a Laurel and Hardy short sometime, and you will see that even the physical, slapstick humor has a certain humanity to it, a gentleness. Chaplin is much the same, and him I get in a much different way now than I did as a kid.  Dad liked Charlie, and even portrayed him a couple of times for costume parties.  He had Chaplin’s waddle and cane twirl down.

IN a very different vein, Dad loved The Bowery Boys; I got quickly bored with their antics; Abbot and Costello did nothing for dad, I found them amusing – though they don’t wear as well as the years move on, so maybe my sense of humor is aging like good wine – or my dad’s.

Larry, Moe, Curly. Soitenly.

My dad also loved the Three Stooges – about as far removed comedically from Laurel and Hardy as you can get, in some regards. There is little subtlety in the Stooges and their eye poking-head smacking mayhem, but my dad enjoyed them as well; as do I, as do both my sons – his grandsons. There is something timeless in a pie in the face or a poke in the eye.  Don’t believe me?  As an adult, I have, by way of actual demonstration, won a couple of bets on whether or not a pie-in-the-face would get a laugh in most any public setting.

But while I grew up sharing dad’s appreciation for Laurel & Hardy and the Stooges (among others) we parted ways over the Marx Brothers.  I was, and still am, a big fan; dad didn’t really find them funny, which has always puzzled me. All he could say in response to my not-concealed disappointment was that he just didn’t find them all that funny.

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

Nairobi Trio

Ernie Kovacs Nairobi Trio

As well read and cerebral as my dad was in terms of comedy and satire (both on-screen and in real life) the Marx Brothers would seem to be a natural for him. Oh, he watched some Brothers stuff with me a few times, but it just wasn’t really his thing. When I was in high school, PBS resurrected Groucho Marx’s  ‘You Bet Your Life’ quiz show from the fifties and ran them on Saturday nights. I became hooked, and dad actually found Groucho Marx to be a funny guy, much to my relief and vindication of sorts. He still never really cared for their movies, though. Conversely, when PBS resurrected  Ernie Kovacs old shows, I was puzzled as what Kovacs bits he liked and which ones he really didn’t. The Nairobi Trio did nothing for him, had me in stitches.

When asked on his deathbed if he was finding it difficult to leave this life, acclaimed actor John Barrymore was quoted as saying, “Death is easy; comedy is hard.”

I get that.

Even though we didn’t get to plunk down in front of a t.v. with a handful of classics in black-and-white on DVD, my dad and I shared numerous moments of comedic television brilliance through the 60’s and 70′, and had quite lengthy and spirited debates about who and what was and wasn’t funny.

Comedians were prevalent on television when I was growing up, and not just late night with Johnny Carson; The Ed Sullivan Show, the Carol Burnet Show, Flip Wilson, there was always somebody funny on. He loved (and I came to appreciate) Myron Cohen and Morey Amsterdam; he couldn’t stand Buddy Hacket or Shecky Greene, puzzled over my love for the insult humor of Don Rickles or the confetti-throwing antics of Rip Taylor. We both liked Jonathan Winters, and I could stay up late on non-school nights to catch Carson.

He was not so old school that he couldn’t enjoy contemporary stuff: he would sit with me on Monday nights and watch The Monkees. He enjoyed the antics, tolerated the music.

Here’s Dan and Dick

Other sitcoms we mostly agreed upon. The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in The Family and M*A*S*H* we watched together and laughed with and at as family. Dad also loved Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, and my daughter Lindsay, now 30, became a fan watching Laugh In reruns in her teens. She now owns some DVD’s compilations of Laugh In and uses a number of the shows memorable lines regularly in her personal repertoire, which would please my father to no end, probably more than it amuses me.


“Eeety beety chunkerdere bork bork bork…”

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

The Swedish Chef in particular always sent him convulsing with laughter, and he enjoyed Rolf the piano playing dog. And Fozzie Bear and Kermit, of course.   But the Swedish Chef was a whole different level of  gut-buster for my dad.  No, he wasn’t Swedish himself, but marrying into an extended family of Norwegian immigrant-types, he could somewhat identify.  I think.   The Muppet Show aired five nights a week at six-thirty, and if there was a particularly intriguing guest star that night, we had dinner on t.v. trays in the family room – a treat generally resereved for Appolo blastoffs or something equally noteworthy. Or to watch The Muppet Show.

Oh yeah, I get it. Always have.

One of the few ‘grown-up’ movies I ever saw with my dad in a theatre was The Pink Panther Strikes Again, starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. My father loved the earlier Pink Panther movies, and thought Peter Sellers was brilliantly funny. I had only seen bits and pieces of the earlier films on t.v. and was unsure what to expect from a whole movie of Seller’s antics.

It was a memorable experience on a whole lot of levels, as I never saw my dad laugh as hard or as frequently as he did that evening in a Denver movie theatre.


Two things vividly stand out in my mind from going to sse that film with my father. One is a scene in which Clouseau is chasing a villain, and exits a hotel as the bad guy drives off. Clouseau summons a waiting taxi, jumps in the back seat, and in his French drawl yells at the rotund cab driver to “Fullow that caaaaar.”  The overweight cabbie responds by looking at Clouseau blankly, shrugging his shoulders, then getting out of the cab and running down the road – following the bad guy’s car. The camera then cuts back to a close up of Seller’s face, mostly his eyes and eyebrows, as Clouseau realizes the result of his order.

My dad had recently had heart surgery, and was laughing so hard I thought he was going to have a heart attack. Seriously, I did.

I could watch that scene a hundred times and laugh just as hard as he did then. To this day I wonder what dad found funnier; the line and the cab drivers response, or the look on Clouseau’s face. It is a fond remembrance worth puzzling over.

The other thing of note from that film has less to do with my dad, and more with my relationship with my sons. A few years ago I rented the original Pink Panther movie and my sons and I  watched it together. My dad loved one particular scene, and my boys do now too. (Thanks, YouTube!)

Assassins are trying to kill Inspector Clouseau. One assassin dressed as Clouseau enters his hotel room, while another assassin follows and kills him in the bathtub, thinking it is the real Clouseau. When the lovely Russian assassin, Olga, enters, she declares her love for Clouseau and seduces the other assassin in a dimly lit room. He leaves and then Clouseau arrives. He then moves throughout several rooms turning on lights and turning off others while Olga is doing the same. He’s befuddled as to what is happening with the lighting and even more surprised when he gets into bed with some “cold hands.” Olga thinks she is with the same man, and a confused Clouseau then escapes to the bathroom, where he now finds the body of the dead assassin in the bathtub. He calls the front desk and declares “Hello?… Yezzz. There eez a beautiful woman in my bed, and a dead man in my bath. Thank you.” Again, a close up shot of Clouseau’s face – a pause, then his wide-eyed look when he realizes what he has said – the subtle, played straight absurdity of it all, makes the whole scene.

“Heeelo? Izs dis zee front desk?”

That line has become a piece of family folklore.

Whenever we check into a hotel room, one of the Lucker males is sure to pick up the house phone and intone, in suave French accent, “Hello?… Yes. There eeze a dead man in my bathtub, and a naked woman in my bed. Thank you.”

With any luck at all, we remember to hold down the button on the phone so the call doesn’t actually go through.

Treasured keepsake hand-me-downs from my dad. Or at least, of my dad.

He would find that incredibly amusing.


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