Santa Fidelis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Santa Claus.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ho-ho-ho!” I bellowed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

brookdaleholiday3

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Listen to your body

Two weeks ago Sunday, I had a heart attack. By Monday, I had learned a lot about a number of things; first and foremost, pay attention and listen to your body. I am glad I did.
A synopsis.
Sunday morning, just past nine. I was working on my laptop, and checking the time, as I was going to get dressed, and be out the door just after nine thirty to go to church. I was just wrapping up what I was typing, noting that it was 9:05, and I felt a weird pain behind my breastbone.
This is not an unusual are of pain/discomfort for me, as I have a touch of arthritis on an upper rib, and sometimes, especially when I have been physically active, the tendons and muscles running across the are become inflamed. I can usually massage out the resulting muscle knot with my fingers, and sometimes throw on an ice pack.
But this was different.
It was not an intense pain, but it was steady, and noticeably different. I cannot describe exactly how it was that much different, but I knew it was out of the norm. I figured I would let it go for a few minutes and see, but then I felt two pin-pricks on each side of my jaw. That, I knew was not right, even though they lasted just a few seconds and were not radiating to/from anywhere. Then, I felt the same sensation is each shoulder, and even though it lasted only a second or two, and was again not radiating, I knew I should get into the hospital.
I woke up my wife, who had dozed off while reading, and told her I needed to get to the ER. We quickly got dressed, informed our son Sam about what was going on, and got in the car for the fifteen-minute drive to the hospital. While getting dressed, I felt a minor wave of nausea, so quickly popped in a TUMS.
The drive was fine, until the last few minutes, when the pain in my chest intensified a bit; not tremendously, but enough so that it was noticeable. I was not, at this point in great pain, but I knew something was way off.
Two minutes later, we pull up to the Oschner ER door, Amy goes to park the car. It was a blustery fall morning, cool and windy, but when I got out of the car and stood up, I felt flushed. When I walked in through the automatic doors, the desk staff commented on the cold wind blowing in. I walked up to the desk, gave them my info and insurance card, and they had me go sit down. I still felt ‘off’, but was not in appreciable pain. The clock on wall said 9:45.
A young triage doc named Lance quickly called my name, had me sit and took my BP. He looked at the reading, then immediately ushered me into a room about ten feet away, where he hooked me up to an EKG. he asked how long I had been having this pain, and I said, “It started just after nine” to which Lance responded, “And you came right here?” We finished, he walked me out and told me to take a seat in the waiting area. Amy had just walked in from parking the car, so this all (BP, EKG) happened very quickly. Lance said he would be right back, and I took the chair next to Amy.
By now I was very warm, and as I sat next too Amy, the pain started to intensify – actually, the pressure in my chest started to intensify, which led to pain all throughout my torso. A few minutes later Lance reappeared with a wheelchair, and said “Mr. Lucker, let’s go.” By now I was feeling rotten; chest pressure, I was hot, starting to become nauseous. As Lance started picking up speed with the wheelchair, it was like being on a carnival ride; I was relieved because the rushing air was cooling, but my nausea was getting worse. It seemed like a reasonable trade-off.
Lance then turned sharply into a big exam room, and I counted at least eight people there, including a blonde woman who immediately introduced herself and said, “Mr. Lucker, Hi, I’m doctor —-, and we’re going to get you taken care of.” I, unfortunately, can’t remember her name, but she was incredible.
It was just like on TV; the doctor who had introduced herself was obviously the maestro, conducting the crazy medical symphony; directing some staff members, asking for various stats from others, and talking to me directly, pointedly, calmly. One of the first things she asked was the same series of questions I got from Lance, with almost the same response: “How long have you been having this chest pain?” and “And you came right in to the ER? That’s good.”
This pattern repeated itself, but with variations once the catheter lab guys and cardiac surgeons got involved: “How many hours ago did the chest pain start?” followed by obvious surprise when I replied, “about nine this morning” – every time the question was asked an answered, the doctor would glance at the clock, then verify my response with something along the lines of, “So just in the last hour or so?” to which I kept responding, “Yes.”
At least six times that I remember, I went through this routine with a doctor – and that was just between my arrival in the ER, a trip to the exam room, and then being wheeled into the cath lab; a bit more than an hour, all told. Over the next day or so, I had the same conversation over and over, with other doctors and technicians, and all four of my stellar ICU nurses.
The response was always one of surprise, and clarification was always sought, accompanied by a glance at whatever clock or watch was handy. Turns out, I am something of an anomaly.
I listened to my body.
What I have come to learn from the excellent doctors and nurses who have been caring for me is that most people in my situation do not listen to their own bodies, and wait – sometimes too long – to take their situation seriously and seek medical attention.
I know this, because I later asked, noting my surprise that doctors kept phrasing the question in terms of hours; “How many hours were you having this pain before you came in?” and seeing their surprise when I replied, “about forty-five minutes before I got here.”
I listened to my body.
The medical professional said that most people wait – either because of denial or fear. A quick bit of research on what the pros told me was easily confirmed; one NIH study I quickly found showed that 69% of heart attack patients had delayed seeking treatment for their symptoms.
This quote from the NIH study:
‘The most important causes of having delay were: “hoping the symptoms to alleviate spontaneously”, “attributing the symptoms to other problems other than heart problems”, and “disregarding the symptoms”.’
I listened to my body.
I cannot imagine what would have happened had I not. Had I waited, or just blown everything off, or headed to St. Marks, the worst part would have hit somewhere else other than the ER. I would not have been two minutes away from a team of professionals, one of who immediately placed a nitroglycerin pill under my tongue and told me to hold it there. Had I not been in the Oschner ER when this episode escalated…?
I listened to my body.
Most people, faced with similar circumstances when it comes to their heart, apparently do not.
I am not writing or sharing this just to share my story; there are much better, more amusing, more curious parts of it to share from a storytelling standpoint. I am sharing this because I was very fortunate, in large part because I realized that something wasn’t anywhere near right – even though I really didn’t feel ‘all that bad’ at the time.
I listened to my body.
Oh, and ignoring or downplaying heart symptoms is not just a stubborn-male attribute. One of the more interesting statistics I found when doing some basic research? Women are more likely than men to delay treatment.
Thankfully, I listened to my body.
I hope this encourages you to listen to yours, too.

The Bird

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 chefcollege 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, having worked in a professional one for most of my high school years.

O.K., I was a dishwasher. Still, I picked up more than a few tricks-of-the-trade.

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.

Perfect.

The gift certificate covered the bulk of the non-poultry essentials: cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, and gravy. 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 grocerieslist.

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.

I 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 turkeyraw1order 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.

The 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 turkeyraw1ewas 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.

foil(Extra foil had not been on my shopping list. I ended up needing two full large 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! Baste! One…two…three…””

Disguised as good ideas

It is Halloween season, and as always, I hope to be invited to a costume party.  So far, my mailbox remains Charlie-Brown-on-Valentine’s-Day empty, but I am hopeful.

Being a positive-thinking, proactive kind of guy, some costume ideas are definitely in order so I am not caught totally off guard – though the thought that, should I ignore Halloween altogether, I will get an invite has crossed my mind.  Worst-case scenario here, maybe someone else can utilize some of my ideascostume_party_iii.

This being a political year like no other, I’ll stay away from any of that craziness.  That whole scene is scary enough without my participation. besides, who needs a brawl (or verbal, Facebookish harangue) while at a party?

If I do end up getting invited to a costume party, it would be in concert with my wife so it would seem prudent to consider a couples costume idea or two as part of my brainstorming.

She will probably cast a more dubious eye on that particular concept.

 

There are a world of possibilities that go far beyond renting Yogi and Cindy bear costumes (too old school)  Antony and Cleopatra (too pedestrian) or Grant Woods American Gothic (too dangerous, see: pitchfork) plus, I  am not shaving my head, so that’s another nada.  F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald have potential, but Scott was clean-shaven and I don’t think I want to go there, though I could see my wife Amy as Zelda.  Some of that would work in our native Midwest – not sure about our current, New Orleans locale; we’d need something more universal.

Maybe is we still lived in (their and our) native Minnesota, people would know who we were. New Orleans? Not so much.
250px-grant_devolson_wood_-_american_gothic
The pitchfork would be a party liability, safety wise, though it would be handy to hold multiple hors d’oeuvres

In the past, Amy shot down going as the best couples costume idea that I have ever seen.

Some years ago, I was at a costume party with some friends, and there was a young couple there that nobody could quite figure out at first. The young man was about six-one, dressed in a tight-fitting, dark brown body suit; the woman was a good foot shorter, very petite, and was wearing a snug white bodysuit stuffed with foam rubber. They each had a rectangular piece of cardboard with dots on them attached to their backs, and periodically they would have people stand back so they could run to the center of the room and embrace. They were, of course, a s’more.

Ehhh…no. So sayeth my wife.

Back on the literary front, I could try to talk her into going as the Venus de Milo and me as Ernest Hemingway, her biographer, billing ourselves as the “Original Farewell to Arms” – though the Venus get-up would probably impair her ability to easily partake in any culinary delights or libations, which would not go over very well.

Scrap Papa and muse concept

We will probably just have to go as separately costumed folk, sans connective theme. In fact, Amy might just prefer that.

There are options aplenty, of course.

If I could find a pair of grey long johns and some knee-high red wool hunting socks, I could glue dollar-store Barbie dolls all over me and go as a chick magnet – though with recent political events being what they are, I think I’ll file that one away for…never.

I do have an old, red, shortcut tuxedo jacket that passes as a matador’s uniform – though I would need some sequins or a Bedazzler. That could be fun as the evening progresses and people get a bit more…loosened up. I could walk by with a swoop of my cape and a pseudo-Latin dialect, telling pretentious-sounding people, “That is bull! Ole’!”

Probably not.

Contemplating costume ideas, I took a good look at myself in the mirror and that’s when it came to me: Sigmund Freud! Let the beard grow out a little bit, add some gray, get a big cigar, a pocket watch and a nice vest from Goodwill, then brush up on my best Viennese dialect. I can walk around introducing myself: “Hell-lo. I am Doctor Zigmund, Freud. I oonderstand you are having zum trouble vit your… zexxxxx?”

There is your primo costume, party-conversation starter double-play.

This seemed workable, so I dug up a picture of Freud and then went looking for one of myself to use in this blog post. Taking most of the family photos leaves me out of most of them, so my pickings on the ol’ hard drive were rather slim, and none too complimentary, save one.  And there was my costume idea, jumping off the screen and into my head:

Mardi Gras Sigmund Freud. freud-2

Vest, cigar, Viennese dialect – I could wear crinolines instead of pants; very southern, in a Freudian slip sort of way.

Or is that mixing too many costume metaphors?

This whole thing is still a work in progress, so I am very open to suggestions. Please act now; this operator is standing by.

“Burn, baby burn…”

Dr. Paul Ton, my high school history teacher, and one of my all-time favorite teachers, had a highly effective, piercing stare, and when a class was disrupted by something going on in the hallway he could really crank it up, and add a verbal whammy: at said upheaval, he would slowly turn his icy glare towards the door and intone, simply, “Burn, baby, burn…”

I don’t think he was on a health kick, nor was he a disco fanatic – even though it was the 70’s

“Burn, baby, burn…” had the intended effect when used by Dr. Ton back in the day, but it is also a useful mantra if you’re trying to drop a few pounds like me.

Perusing health and wellness sites on the Internet looking at various calorie and exercise tracking ideas, I found a wide array of tools and approaches to using them. I stick to well-known, reputable sites; major universities, known health care systems, major insurance companies. Most of these sites that have interactive, on-line charts as opposed to downloadable forms, especially since I’m really into this whole 21st-century-technology, battling calories thing.

“Burn, baby, burn…”

I love the places where you can plug-in key demographic figures like height and weight, and the site will promptly generate a list of how approximately how many calories you’ll burn doing whatever the activity is, for the given time frame; a nifty setup. I usually chose 10 minutes as a base increment for most any activity, as it’s easy to multiply.

What I find interesting is not so much the methodology, as most of the results I have received vary only slightly, which leads me to believe that they are all using the same basic algorithms and such, but each site has its own, unique spin on how various activities are categorized and labeled.

While most everyone agrees on the basic exercise like aerobics, jogging, and bike riding, for example, the sites break other things down so much differently, and go off in wildly different directions. For example, ‘dancing’ appears on most sites, and some even break it down into modern or traditional. That seems reasonable, though one site goes even further:

 

Come on. Will I really burn 50% more calories disco dancing than tangoing? I may have to verify that firsthand with my wife. Where is my old boombox…and a rose to clench in my teeth?

There is also this ‘everyday’ entry:

Frisbee: general 39.7 Frisbee: Ultimate 106

 

The differences between ‘ultimate’ and ‘general’ Frisbee I’ll buy, but they left off the third, most obvious option: playing Frisbee with your dog.  A bonus, with 2-for-1 fitness!

One of the great features about sites like this is the compare-and-contrast options; if you are looking for an entirely new exercise regimen, or to simply incorporate something new to keep you motivated, these sites are great. For example, at a glance I know that I can burn twice as many calories snowshoeing as I can snorkeling (Seems reasonable – though wetter snow would seem to be a crucial factor) I also learned that synchronized swimming burns 33% more calories than swimming in a lake, river or ocean (I’m skeptical, given currents, riptides, etc. in actual bodies of water versus synchronized bodies in calm, swimming pool water.  But, okay.)

“Burn, baby, burn…”

It’s the daily household activities section of these sites that I enjoy most.

Childcare and house cleaning are dead even, burn wise, according to the fine folks at one health insurance company site, at 39.7 calories burned in ten minutes (.7 calories?) Making your bed is fairly light on the burn scale, though you’ll knock off the cals twice as fast doing hospital corners as you would as a  couch potato watching General Hospital, no surprise there. For the household-activities record, ironing trumps them both, plus you’ll feel that great bicep-burn…if you forget to remove your shirt before you iron it.

But my favorite how-many-calories-you’ll-burn segment of these sites is always the romance and sex department.

“Burn, baby, burn…”

First off, most sites agree that you burn roughly seven calories for every minute of kissing; no allowances could I find on any site for intensity or form of said kissing, so we’ll stick with the fairly pedestrian seven cals, or approximately seventy calories for my little, math-friendly,  ten-minute time chunk.  Not bad, but I can probably do better. (The exception on this one was About.com, who put the 10-minute kissing burn at only 14.3 calories total. Who-or-what were they kissing for ten minutes?)

One major east-coast hospital website breaks the intimacy down as follows: ‘Sex – foreplay’ and ‘Sex – Intercourse.’ (Please pardon the graphic language).  Using my ten-minute mantra, this particular site breaks it down to only 19 calories burned on the foreplay (again, they aint doin’ it properly) but 56 for the actual getting-to-it. Seems reasonable, and follows most of the directives I’ve seen on building up steam (graded exercise theory, or GET) toward optimal workout efficiency at shedding calories.

“Burn, baby, burn…”

For the record, I generally stay away from websites with kitschy names like caloriesperhour.com, but do enjoy WebMD.com’s Fit-o-Meter. Befitting their exalted and mainstream place in cyberspace, they have a whole section devoted to the more genteel ‘Getting Romantic’ with three sub categories:
‘active, vigorous’,
‘general, moderate’ and
‘passive, light, kissing, hugging’

Now – who doesn’t like a little ‘passive romance’ from time to time?  Yeah, I don’t know what that means either.

“Burn, baby, burn…”

Finally, there was this particular health and wellness site listing – a bit of a head-scratcher for me:The fact that all of these things are listed under the heading ‘Daily Life Activities’ is interesting, but to tell me that a ten-minute game of four-square is going to burn three times the calories as ten-minutes of ‘moderate effort’ sex? (And they don’t even include the far-sexier, uses-a-pole, tether-ball alternative. Go figure.) I know what I’m proposing next ‘date night’: “C’mon, baby! We’re going to the playground! Forget soap-on-a-rope, we’re doing ball-on-a-rope!”

Funny thing about this whole calorie burning business; not one site I have seen has yet proffered a calorie-burn listing for ‘blog writing’.  Or, for that matter, blog research.

“Burrrrnnn, baby, burn…”

In mid-season form

I stayed late at school today, and had a chance for a little fun, on the eve of our school’s first football game of the year, tomorrow night.

I had dropped something off in the office, and was walking down a nearly deserted hallway – maybe seven, eight, kids milling around, here and there – a few football players, a cheerleader, others that I did not recognize.  As I approached, a kid I do not know as a student, but just from being around, walks to the middle of the hallway, facing me, and gets into a defensive-back stance: hunched over, hands out, flexing, as if to ‘chuck’ a receiver coming off the line. “Come on, Mr. Lucker. Show me.”

I reciprocate, mirroring the kid’s pose – except I have my clipboard in my left hand.

“No, Mr. Lucker! I’M the defensive back, YOU are the receiver – you got to line-up like a receiver. See? Offset from me, like this.” The kid shifts his feet and body to his right, gestures with his left hand. “See? Now my outside shoulder is lined up with your inside shoulder!”

I drop into my best Randy Moss impression; leaning slightly forward at the waist, up on RMOSSthe ball of my right foot which is pushed back a bit, left foot ready to push off. I am glancing slightly to the left, making eye-contact with my imaginary quarterback. My arms dangle at my sides, my fingers are twitching waiting for the make-believe snap of the ball.

“Ohhh” I say, casually, “you mean like this.”

“That’s it, Mr. Lucker! You know how it is! You done this before! Now — ”

He never finishes.

I bolt down the hallway: my arms pumping, my feet flying; I am yelling. “I beat him off the ball! I beat him off the ball!” Fifty, sixty,  feet down the hall, I stop and look over my shoulder. The kid is still mostly hunched over at the waist, looking back over his shoulder at me, incredulous.

“Man, Mr. Lucker…!”

His voice trails off, he is smiling, shaking his head. The other kids are laughing, as I thrust both arms skyward, still holding my clipboard. “I beat him off the ball!  I beat him off the ball!”  Arms still raised in triumph, I turn the corner to head down the next hallway, the kids behind me all still laughing.

A little bit of guile, I can always make ‘em smile.

Keeping Score

With hurricane Harvey now hitting Texas, those of us in New Orleans have wary eyes pointed westward – and still, we keep on truckin’.  It’s what we have to do, in the classroom and out of it.  Looking back at this piece, all the apprehension of watching Isaac had to have an impact on our classroom chaos – though it didn’t abate much even after our return.

Keeping those in the Texas storm path in our thoughts and prayers while we watch for updates, and think about what could come our way – no matter how minimized or unlikely –  is still an uneasy balance of living, wondering, and hoping. But it is part of life here on the Gulf of Mexico. It is all about perspective.

From August 25, 2012

So as we warily watch the path of tropical storm Isaac as it sneaks into the Gulf of Mexico with a chance of veering toward New Orleans, let us take some time now to reflect on the classroom week that was in Mr. Lucker’s English class. Read this and you’ll see why it’s hard for me to get too worked-up about the possibility of the potential chaos of a possible evacuation.

We got this.

We finally got all of our computer snafus ironed out and student class schedules completed on Wednesday, leaving me and my co-teacher Ms. A with (as of Friday’s count) 97 students. This includes two sophomore English II classes and our end-of-the-day (eh!) Intermediate Composition class featuring deeeeeelightful-but-feral-freshman. The first two days with just them (see my previous post, ‘Annnnnnnd We’re Of’  https://poetluckerate.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/annnnnnnd-were-off-2012-13-edition/) were interesting. Not productive from a lesson standpoint, but interesting.

First, we need to teach these freshmen ‘high school’ before we can even get to the ‘composition’ aspect. (Sidebar to school administrators everywhere: don’t ever…EVER schedule a freshman comp class the last period of the day. High school freshmen are not nocturnal and classroom distribution of No-Doz is no-go, no-no.)

Now, let’s go right to the ol’ End of Week Three (EOW3) scorecard for Mr. Lucker’s classes, shall we?

Our number of confirmed cases of kids with probation officers now stands at five, though we suspect at least two others of having their own ‘behavior buddies’. (I have noticed, oddly, that P.O’s don’t show up on any teacher’s syllabus supply list. Huh. Go figure.) On the plus side, I did not have to sign any court excuses this week, though I did have four students return from I.S.S. (In School Suspension) in various stages of grumpiness but without recidivist incident.

One of our freshman comp students, Mr. Potty Mouth (MPM) from my previous post in this spot, has anger management (among other) issues. During a phone conversation with his counselor (not school counselor, but a therapist working with the family) the kid’s mom, who had apparently been listening to the conversation, began profanely yelling at her son as I was giving the counselor the details on his classroom misadventures.

That escapade was proof that, as the educational pros always tell us, ‘every child can learn’.

Also on the classroom management/student behavior front, one mother I spoke with understood her son’s non-compliance issues, and spent ten minutes tearfully explaining to me that it was ‘all her fault’ for the way she handled her divorce from the kid’s father. Seems her son had come home the other day angry that an in-class writing assignment focused on telling about himself, and he abhors talking about his past, which triggered his classroom defiance. Her story/excuse for him, anyway.

Aside from the fact that mom went into TMI-mode about a minute into the conversation, I appreciated the insight, but this could be a long semester for the kid, as the tenth-grade writing curriculum is heavily weighted toward self-discovery and making a personal connection with the texts.

Writing-as-therapy: worked for a teen-mom I had last year. This guy? We’ll see.

On the plus side, we ended the week on a high-note, parent wise: I finally touched base with a dad that I had been playing phone-tag with for three days. Turns out he is a police officer, and in his words: “Mr. Lucker, I. Don’t. Play.”

I believe that, based on the change in the kids behavior just from him knowing I had left his dad a voice mail. The dad’s parting, made-my-Friday words?  “Mr. Lucker, if he even looks at you funny…you call me right away.”

We got this.

On the health front, our number of teen parents remains equally balanced at one sixteen-year-old dad and one sixteen-year-old mom, though Ms. A had to escort one of our English II students to the health center for a pregnancy test to basically confirm the results of the DIY version –  and one of my homeroom juniors learned this week that he is going to be the father…of twins.  The numbers quoted above may change.

No, we will not be distributing bubble gum cigars at any time.

Ms. A and I actually got some bonafide teaching in this week – I think some of it may have even been effective. Knowledge retained to be applied? We’ll find out this coming week. We have developed a bit of a rhythm and work well together, so I hope we are able to stay partnered, though as an inclusion teacher, she may be moved to a class with a higher percentage of students needing accommodations.

Ours may not have the official labels, but there are a sizable number of them we are sure that qualify.

We leave you with this rather curious exchange from one of our lighter morning moments with our sophomores. While preparing to leave, some students were asking if they could approach a certain issue from a bit different perspective than what we had discussed in class. Impressed with their creative thinking and trying to be affirming, I responded, “That sounds great. I’m jiggy with it.”

This was greeted with four blank stares, as a kid at neighboring table pseudo-whispered to his table, “Mr. Lucker said ‘he’s jggy with it’…what’s that mean?!”

The other kids at his table shrug and shake their heads as the bell rings. I left it at that.

Sigh. Kids these days.

Connecting Disparate Dots

As an only child, when I was sick or we were on a trip, my family always loaded me up with the latest and greatestdottodot CTDcaptainkangaroo in interactive toys of the time: puzzle books.

Yeah, that was my time – 1960’s, B.T. (Before technology.)

The books I favored the most featured a lot of word searches and brain teasers and word puzzles usually a couple of grade-levels above my chronology. I enjoyed them all, but even though they were the easiest pages in the book, I always had a thing for connect-the-dot pictures. Most of the time you could figure out what the picture was before you placed pencil-on-paper going from black-spot to black-spot to black-spot on easily torn newsprint, but oftentimes I was surprised at what the resulting picture really turned out to be, in detail. Especially while cruising some highway in the backseat of my parent’s Oldsmobile station wagon with my grandpa sitting next to me, this was not always the cut-and-dried, simple activity it may have appeared on the gas station magazine rack.

A new school year is beginning, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about connecting the dots of my life; how I ended up an English teacher in an inner-city, high school classroom. It is not a linear, algebraic equation.

I am a teacher in what has been, historically, one of the poorest performing cities (new Orleans) in one of the lowest-performing states (by most educational measures) in the country, Louisiana. My wife and I came here nine years ago as part of an influx of educational reform and general societal and infrastructure rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the area – though the problems in education here predated the storm by decades. I have seen some notable improvements in our years here; I have also encountered a huge number of folks who came here for many of the same reasons.

microphoneThough to date, I am the only classroom teacher who began their professional life as a radio announcer.

Start with that dot.

I joined a one-year program at Brown Institute of Broadcasting in Minneapolis, immediately following my high school graduation from Denver (Colorado) South High School.  There are lots of dots I can connect leading to the front of a New Orleans classroom. To be sure, the picture turns out more Salvador Dali than Norman Rockwell – to the naked eye, sans connecting lines, the picture dots would not come into focus at all.

I may need to sharpen an extra pencil.

I am about to begin my tenth year as a teacher- time to take stock. Also, with one son having finished his senior year of high school, and my elder son entering his senior year of college, getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and beyond has become a conversational focal point around here; it has also sparked some discussion as to how we even got to this stage in life as a family.

Eyebrows frequently become cocked and locked.

Objectively, I get that.  Analytically, maybe I can provide some inspiration to others also choosing a less-than-traditional path. In my days as an employment counselor, I was adept at helping people identify their ‘transferable skills’ – things they knew how to do, and could perform in other environments,

This a Readers Digest shot, working backward from now to then. Starting at the end was much the same approach I used so many years ago with those puzzle books in the backseat of the family Oldsmobile, so why not?

I first came to Louisiana in 2006 as a corporate trainer, helping the company I worked for in Minnesota get their Louisiana operations back on track following Katrina’s onslaught in August of 2005. I enjoyed training folks and helping them succeed, traveling all over the state – a unique experience.  My wife and I had long discussed getting out of the corporate rat race and doing something more meaningful with our lives, so when sitting in an IHOP Restaurant in Alexandria, Louisiana one night, reading a newspaper article about the TeachNOLA program recruiting folks to come to New Orleans to help rebuild the city’s long-distressed school system, it was a sign that my wife and I both took seriously.

We both applied, and were accepted for the 2008 TeachNOLA cohort.

I was dramatically changing everything:  locales, to be sure, and going from training adults to teaching inner-city teenagers. Logical, to a point, but I had become a corporate trainer only after I was laid off from my position as a job search trainer and employment counselor for the state of Minnesota – who had hired me away from my position as a county financial-aid (AFDC, food stamps, medical assistance) case worker and job coach in Minneapolis – all of which gave me great insight in dealing with my new students and, just as importantly, their parents.  (Dot, dot, dot.)

thanksamillionI had come to the county job after having spent a very rewarding year working for a millionaire philanthropist/newspaper columnist named Percy Ross – who gave away money to folks in need via the column.  A logical stretch from that job to case management, when you think about it: I was still helping people in need. (More dots linked.)

Mr. Ross had hired me after the children’s radio network I had been working for as an assistant business manager went out of business.  That had come at the end of a ten-year run in the hotel business, which I had grown weary of only due to the twenty-four/seven nature of the beast…which was why I had originally phased out of the radio biz. But that’s another story.

My last hotel gig was at a four-star hotel in St. Paul where I assisted the night manager. One night, a situation required me to remove an intoxicated gentleman from our crowded lobby. As a rather exclusive property, our management wanted such things handled unobtrusively. Jeff, our restaurant manager, was so impressed with my subtlety and tact in getting the drunk guy out without notice, he wrote it in his nightly report. That prompted the hotel general CTD5manager to instruct my boss the night manager to have me train new security personnel in how to handle delicate situations without confrontation. (Direct-line-dot-dot-dot to the corporate trainer gig.)

My skills at low-key, tactful, drunk-removal-with-dignity, I had picked up from Dennis, our night manager at a Holiday Inn I worked at previously. Dennis liked the way I handled people, and had also witnessed me training newcomers to the hotel. I remain grateful for his tutelage.

These big dots are directly connected to eventually training new security folks in St. Paul, but what I learned from Dennis also helped me greatly in working with the county and then the state.

I had begun my hotel career after ending (so I thought) my professional radio work, moving back to Minneapolis and deciding to go to college for the first time at the age of thirty. Three years at the University of Minnesota didn’t result in a degree, but by the end of my freshman year, I had been hired as a teaching assistant, thanks to one of my professors, Dr. Yahnke. Via that gig, I also did some work as a tutor in the computer lab of the U of M’s General College. You can draw a direct line (with heavy lead) from those dots directly to today. Bob deserves as much credit for where I am as Dennis.

My first stint as a college student came on the heels of a dozen years of bouncing around small-market radio – not often a financially lucrative endeavor. That was why I became quite adept at supplementing my income corelationdotswith side jobs. Through the years, I moved pianos, and did construction. I had stints as a convenience store clerk, racetrack security guard, and census taker, to name a few.

Before getting into the hotel biz, I was a data courier – daily picking up and dropping off huge reels of computer tape for transcription and storage – for a company that, when I applied, asked if I had ever had a security clearance. As I had been working in radio in Iowa during the presidential primary season of 1980, I had gotten Secret Service clearance, which turned out to be an important dot to the data folks, as they had contracts with big name defense contractors and other security-minded firms. I not only got the

I not only got the job, but the higher paying, preferred, high-security routes. Dot, dot, dot…

This came in handy during my hotel days in St. Paul, where we hosted a number of V.I.Ps – which sometimes required staff to get security clearance.  Mine aways came through first, as I was already on file, which again got me preferred shifts and duty assignments at the hotel.

Again, not a linear progression, but a solid gathering of a wide range of transferrable skills, all leading me here.

Each of those dots that I have touched on represent a number of different things; professional and personal experience, new skills, different CTDCTDperspectives, increased understanding of and empathy with folks covering a wide spectrum of socioeconomic America.

Experiences that continue to serve me well.

Which is why I feel pretty comfortable and confident in standing in front of a high school classroom of inner city New Orleans kids as their English teacher, trying to get them prepared on some level to take on the world, trying to relate to them all how what you do today has an impact on everything you do tomorrow in some way. In so many ways that are hard to convey, I tend to ‘get’ them (and their families and various situations) on levels that others may not.

Time to crank things up for one more year in the classroom.

Dot…dot…dot…

From Here to…There?

My wife, two sons, and I are headed to a couple of days at the beach, on the beautiful Gulf coast of Mississippi.  Bay St. Louis is a quaint little town with neat shops and cafes and soft, fine beach sand.

Some well-earned R-and-R in the midst of a hectic summer.

While we will be spending some quality family time, my wife and I plan on a little ‘us’ time – one of our two-nights there will be a date night, just the two of us; a kickoff to the celebration of our twenty-fifth anniversary in a few weeks.

We may have to reconcile some plans and expectations of our evening for two. The dinner part should be easy, but after that..?

I am pushing for a Burt Lancaster/Deborah Kerr, ‘From Here to Eternity’ finale to the fromhereto2evening, but my wife is dubious.  I have broached this idea on previous beach trips, but those were day-excursions, not overnight, and there were always others around.  But this time, things are different.  It still might be a bit of a hard sell.

My wife can be adventuresome at times, but for this, she is thinking more along the lines of a toned down, middle-aged Frankie and Annette, beach-blanket-bingo sort of thing – minus the singing to her parts. To me, that is more a chaste, ‘just friends, golly-gee-whiz’ vibe, but I could probably be persuaded as a last resort. Before getting to that innocuous, innocent fromhereto3point, though, I would be propose something more ‘Blue Hawaii’-ish – but she remains unimpressed with my Elvis impression, so that may be a non-starter from the get go.

One thing for certain: I don’t have the patience for grabbing a stick and going all Pat Boone in with the sand – too G-rated and namby-pamby for a date night, though that set-up might serve as a romantic prelude and an ‘aww, sweet’ moment for other beach goers earlier in the day.

Put that one in column ‘BB’ (Boring, but…)

I am going to hold out as long as I can for the Lancaster/Kerr scenario – even though I haven’t got the jawline, I know we can pull this off.  Among my selling points?  We can keep our swimwear on all day, and we’ll already have sand in weird spots, so I’ve got the primary, ‘too messy’ argument countered – along with most others I can anticipate.

fromhereto4The risk of jellyfish-as-third-wheel intrusion is negligible. I think.

The gulf water will be quite warm, even in the evening.

We are not too old for this.

‘You are not Burt Lancaster’.  Well, okay, I can’t counter that one. But I have his voice and hand mannerisms down pat.

Whatever we come up with will be very nice, but will probably end up more ‘Gilligan’s Island’ than ‘South Pacific’ but hey, a guy’s gotta give it a shot, right?

Wait a minute.

The ‘Gilligan’ thing might have legs – just like my wife, and like Mary Ann. Hmm.  In fromhereto1reality, they couldn’t have been on that island too long being all coconut-pie-platonic, could they?  And how did they always have meringue for those pies?  Under the circumstances, I’m thinking if Mary Ann went to the trouble of whipping up a batch of meringue in those conditions, she was going to be using it for more than slapping on top of a pie.  Besides, if it was just about the pies, Gilligan would have weighed close to two-fifty by the time they were rescued.  I can swing by the store and get some meringue to throw in the cooler.

I wonder if my wife has anything gingham in her closet?

I have just hit on the perfect alternative plan for beach-blanket BINNNG-GO!

To absent friends

 “I miss my friends tonight, their faces shine for me,
The clamor of their singing like some mad calliope.
Still ringing through the Lion’s Head until the morning light,
Comedians & Angels, I miss my friends tonight…

– Tom Paxton, ‘Comedians & Angels’

My fortieth high school class reunion weekend commences tonight – two evenings and a Sunday afternoon of remembering, reflecting, reconnecting; relationships reconstituted and South 2rejuvenated. For some of us, festivities have already begun; coming into town a few days early, staying with friends:

Coffee and donuts with a friend, followed by a solitary, reflective walk through an old neighborhood.

Longtime besties and their respective spouses getting together.

A spontaneous, uproarious, karaoke outing lasting til the wee hours.

Old flames on a long-pined-for dinner date.

But tonight is our initial group outing; a mixer at a tavern near our old school. Beer and pizza, lively conversation. Scorekeeping; who is here, who isn’t, will be duly noted – some solemnly, some with a measure of relief.  Some will not be remembered by many, as it is in a large school, with over four hundred-fifty graduates. The actual tally can be a daunting Screenshot (12)eye opener: just over four-hundred located, 39 deceased, 42 listed as ‘missing’.

Casualty numbers from the war of time.

Toasts will be offered to those not with us, a few tears will be shed, some rueful laughter; memories will be shared.

“A song for every season, a smile in every fight,
Comedians & Angels, I miss my friends tonight…”

My hope is tonight will not be one dedicated to mourning, but of celebration – of what those no longer with us meant to us, individually, collectively.  We were more than classmates, not just friends. We were, in many way family.  Make no mistake, those no longer here left their marks.

Great anecdotal stories, heartfelt toasts, tears shed: legacies not taken lightly at this stage of life. The indifference and sadness of youth has given way to appreciation for what – who – was lost, and what gifts and opportunities those of us who have preserved, survived, have been allowed to enjoy.

“I wonder where they are now – could be anywhere
in hell, or California, or back in Sheridan Square!
They left us where they left us, so we put o ut the light,
Comedians & Angels, I miss my friends tonight…”

Some of those we will raise a glass to were not even members of our class, but dear friends a year ahead of us, a year or even two behind. Part of us, members of our ’77 family.

“Each one drained a parting glass and sailed out to sea,
And what a crew of rogues they made, in gleeful anarchy!
They sang to the horizon a song no pen could write,
Comedians & Angels, I miss my friends tonight…”

Comedians and angels, indeed. Also rouges and connivers, charmers and brusque ne’er-do-wells. Not always the easiest to live with, not often recognized or saluted. The South 3innocuous, the brash; those humble, and the ego-driven that often drove us.

Like I said, family.

The list of those no longer with us is lengthy, and the names vary in memory and significance to each of us, but on behalf of all of us still here, still carrying the banner of the class of 1977.

Godspeed, my friends.

And thanks to you all.  We miss you, and hope we’ve done you proud.

“They sang to the horizon a song no pen could write,
Comedians & Angels, I miss my friends tonight.

Comdians and angels…I miss my friends tonight.”