Signs of…

We spent our two weeks of Christmas break on the road, traveling from New Orleans to visit family in Minnesota and then back. A wonderful time was had, but we put in over 3800 miles of windshield time, with plenty of stops; ample opportunities for “Umm….?” moments.

This first one actually resulted in my coining a new phrase.

Driving through northern Missouri, I saw a billboard for a real estate guy; (First name) ‘Hoodie’ Hood. asterisk1I teach in an urban high school, I know nicknames and monikers. I know American culture, and I know hoodies. I see a guy who calls himself ‘Hoodie’ I’m thinking someone who is hip.

Happening, with it. Yo!  Ya know?

‘Hoodie’ should be pretty much anything other than a middle-aged, white bread, white guy, yet there he was, smiling (sort of), in his sportcoat and open neck shirt on a big ol’ highway billboard: ‘Hoodie’ Hood.

‘Hoodie’ is what I now call a ‘badassterisk’ – someone who thinks they are a badass*

*…but they really aren’t.

Feel free to use the phrase, badassterisk*. I think it has a fair number of applications. If someone is trying to look or act tougher than they could ever hope to be, or just posturing in a ridiculous way for whatever reason, simply comment, “Oh yeah, that guy is a real badassterisk*.”

Trust me. You’ll be using that one.

blackfridayAnother double-take-inducer was this sticker I noticed in the drive-through window at a Minneapolis area fast-food outlet.

Black Friday hours? Seriously? Black Friday is now an official enough holiday to warrant its own fast food drive through hours? As a promotion or public service?

Really? Breakfast for Black Friday?

“Emperor Nero, please phone your office.”

But the true pièce de résistance comes this masterpiece of modern culture from Memphis, Tennessee.

We stopped at a really small gas MemphisPosterstation/convenience store to get gas and use the restroom. While waiting in line for the restroom key, I noticed the poster at left posted on the store’s limited wall space. Next to the (fairly large, for a small store) beer cooler, I might add.

The poster’s wording itself was jarring enough: ‘Give Responsibly. Lottery Tickets Aren’t Child’s Play’ was one thing; the visual of the gift boxes (which I took to represent Toys for Tots or some other such donation setting) really pushed this one into a whole new realm.

Then I really started to think about it.

Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall of the meeting where this whole concept came to fruition? “Folks…we have a major issue here with kids being given lottery tickets for Christmas gifts. People are even putting them in donation boxes for charity toy drives! I think we need an ad campaign to tell people ‘this is really not okay.’ We’ll hang ’em up everyplace we sell lottery tickets. Preferably by the beer coolers.”

What I wonder is, what prompted the revelation that this was a problem? Dickensian waifs oliver1showing up to claim their winnings? Family shout-outs on Facebook? (“Happy ninth birthday, Johnny! So glad you enjoyed the scratch-offs! Hope you win big!”)  Maybe it was kids themselves, gleefully Instagraming themselves holding wads of scratch-offs.  

“Folks, we have a problem here…”

Yeah, that particular lottery department meeting and subsequent creative session would have been something to behold.

Bet the person who pitched this ad campaign is a real badassterisk.*

Advertisements

Showing some resolve

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

– Shana Montesol Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Without further ado:

Do’s, Don’ts and ‘Ehhh…I dunnos’ for 2017

Write more.Photo0541

Read more. For fun.
Blog more frequently.

See more movies.
See more good movies

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

More baseball.

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

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

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

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

Be inspiring.

Avoid saying ‘paradigm.’
Unless being sarcastic.

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

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

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

Keep experiencing

Avoid referring to others as pedantic.
Avoid being pedantic.

Walk more.

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

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

“Don’t perspire the piddly stuff.”

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

More music, less static.FW412c
More poetry.

Fill my spare change bottle. Multiple times.

Make regular, daily contributions to my blessings jar.

Love more
Like less
Eschew vacillation.

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

Dream.
Teach others how.

Pay it forward
Cash-and-carry.

Take a penny, leave a penny.

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

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

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

Edit better.

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

Engage more actively in the Shalom of others.

More baseball.
More poetry.

In 2017, I will measure twice, cut once. Maybe measure three times, on occasion.

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

More prayer.MD3
Less frustration.

Yell less.

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

Practice succinctitude. With brevity.

Mentor more.
Engage better.

Write more. Read more. Blog more.

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

Keep promises
Keep issues in perspective

Find other roads less traveled. Take them.

In 2017 I will endeavor to….

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

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

More baseball.
More poetry.

Honor an urge.

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

Go camping
2017Go bowling

Live faithfully

Right some wrongs
Make amends

Live a life worth living.

Happy 2017

 

2015: Showing (and Telling) Some Resolve

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

– Shana Montesol Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

Without further ado:

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

Write more.Photo0541

Read more. For fun.
Blog more frequently.

See more movies.
See more good movies

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

More baseball.

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

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

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

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

Be inspiring.

Avoid saying ‘paradigm.’
Unless being sarcastic.

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

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

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

Keep experiencing

Avoid referring to others as pedantic.
Avoid being pedantic.

Walk more.

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

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

“Don’t perspire the piddly stuff.”

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

More music, less static.FW412c
More poetry.

Fill my spare change bottle. Multiple times.

Make regular, daily contributions to my blessings jar.

Love more
Like less
Eschew vacillation.

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

Dream.
Teach others how.

Pay it forward
Cash-and-carry.

Take a penny, leave a penny.Feixreading

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

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

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

Edit better.

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

Engage more actively in the Shalom of others.

More baseball.
More poetry.

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

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

More prayer.MD3
Less frustration.

Yell less.

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

Practice succinctitude.

Mentor more.
Engage better.

Write more. Read more. Blog more.

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

Keep promises
Keep issues in perspective

Find other roads less traveled. Take them.

In 2015 I will endeavor to….

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

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

More baseball.
More poetry.

Honor an urge.

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

Go camping
Go bowling

Live faithfully

Right some wrongs
Make amends

Live a life worth living.

Happy 2015

Signature2

A Teachers Summer on the Road; Episode 1

My first Monday back in my hometown of Minneapolis.Hire Me computer key

Reupping with an employer you haven’t worked for in over ten years is a bit like having dinner with a former lover. You start by discussing your separate, mostly unknown here-and-now’s before you move on to on shared pasts, getting each other up to date, filling in some blanks. Sometimes it is smooth flowing conversation; sometimes it’s a bit clunky.

Then you get a bit more comfortable, relaxed.

You also begin to remember all the good things you liked about each other ‘back in the day’ and why the relationship was so mutually beneficial…while also realizing why the relationship came amicably to an end, and just why it probably wouldn’t work for the long-term, then or now.

Or would it?

The folks at my favorite old temp service, Pro Staff in Minneapolis, have been gracious and helpful, and I am now officially back in the fold for the summer.

I can use the work, and I can do it. Jack-of-All-Most-Trades, master of a goodly percentage of them, proficient at the rest. A freelancesummer work fling would be just the ticket, with them or someone else.

If you need a writing or other creative project accomplished in a pinch, let me know. I am not a monogamous guy when it comes to earning some extra cash. If you are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and have some other sort of job or project you need handled, and handled well…hey, you know where to find me. I have wheels,desire, talent.

Have skills, will travel.

Hey, I won’t even expect you to buy me dinner first.

This will soon be old hat

oldworld4I am feeling rather old-world these days. Not OLD, mind you, but old world. My twenty-seven-month-old grandson Felix has taken to calling me ‘Papa.’ He calls his other grandpa ‘Papa’ as well, though he does differentiate between the two of us by referring to my wife and I as “Papa and Gigi’ – Gigi being the sobriquet that she has gone by since Felix was just a little guy.

I don’t mind the moniker; it just is not one I ever envisioned for myself.

‘Papa’ seems very old-world, European to me – which, considering my ancestral mix of Russian Jews and Norwegians, makes sense. Felix is, apparently, an old soul.

MG6 03 02 14 C2This Papa thing came about purely by accident, after I had posted the picture of myself  (left) on Facebook, following a full day of  New Orleans Mardi Gras parade festivities. My daughter got the notification, showed Felix the picture, then posted his response:  ‘To which Felix exclaimed…”Its PAPA!…..and HAT!!!”

FelixFBprofpic

 

 

The first time I had heard/seen the ‘Papa’ designation from him.

I don’t – or at least, I didn’t – see myself as a ‘Papa.’ Grandpa is great; Gramps would be fine, as that’s what my I called mine – the only grandfather I ever knew, my mother’s father. Granddad was always a possibility as well. But ‘Papa’ had never entered my solo, silent deliberations on the topic.

The resemblance is, well, there. "If I were a rich man..."
The resemblance is, well, there. “If I were a rich man…”

But once I started to think about it…

Of the old world Papas I could think of, the first two images that sprang to mine fit our (Felix and I) shared heritage. First there is Tevye, of Fiddler on the Roof fame, and also Leif Ericson, the famous Norwegian explorer. Tevya, Leif and I all spring from hearty stock, and are known for rugged hirsute-centered handsome natures. (Okay, Tevye is a fictional character. But Topol, the actor who portrayed him the most, is still going strong and is still a bit old world.)

“And hat!” Mazel Tov.

"Explore far-of lands? Moved to New Orleans from Minnesota, didn't i?"
“Explore far-of lands? Moved to New Orleans from Minnesota, didn’t i?”

Yes, of the Papas I could come up with, all were exciting, dynamic guys with well-known facial hair…and very prominent hats. I get where Felix is coming from.

While both Tevye and Leif are definitely ‘old world’ Papa-types, their respective headgear translates differently. I could, in today’s world wear Tevye’s milkman hat and not look at all out-of-place. Not as jauntily as Topol, perhaps, but I could pull it off.  Leif’s battle helmet would be another matter. Although, I do live in New Orleans. Metal headgear would not be the strangest sight seen around these parts.

“And hat!”

Interestingly, the other Papas I conjured up I also share top-and-bottom-of-head similarities with. Famed novelist Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway, for one.

Interestingly, I recently completed one of those online ‘discover your writing soulmate’ quizzes onhemhat2 hemhat3 Facebook…and got Hemingway as my ‘writing soulmate.’ Interesting, no?  Though Hemingway did have a strange thing for weird, cowl-neck sweaters. I couldn’t pull that off…but berets, wide-brimmed Panamas and pith helmets? Hell yeah!

Then there was Papa Noel and Papa Smurf – both noted for what resides at the opposite poles of their skulls, both red on top, white on bottom. Not my style, really. Those two may be pushing it a bit anyway. FYI: Papa Bear and Papa John Phillips did not make the list for various reasons.papasmurf papanoel

“And hat!”

Felix had seen my Mardi Gras  jester’s hat before, a week or so before Mardi Gras. During a Skype session in which he was goofily showing off his array of winter hats, I told him I had a hat as well, grabbing mine and modeling it. His response at the time was a vigorous head shake and a concerned, plaintive, drawn-out “Nooooo…”

It was obvious he didn’t much care for the hatting of our Skype session. Or maybe he just didn’t like the hat competition, me – me horning in on his hat spotlight. Either way, it’s okay. Felix likes his hats, winter and otherwise, including a straw fedora. He is one hip dude.

"Look, ma! No hats!"
“Look, ma! No hats!– me horning in on his hat spotlight. Either way, it’s okay. Felix likes his hats, winter and otherwise, including a straw fedora. He is one hip dude.

The more I roll it over in my head, I’m liking ‘Papa’ more and more, especially since I have plenty of hat-wearing papas in whose footsteps I can follow. I think we can work with this, Felix. I really do.

I’ll talk to you soon and we can discuss further, compare chapeaus.

Love,

Papa

And Hat.

From soup to that’s nuts

‘Emily Johnson Dickerson died at her home in Ada, Okla., last week. She was the last person alive who spoke only the Chickasaw language….
…Dickerson, 93, was one of about 65 people fluent in the Chickasaw language, which has seen its number of speakers shrink from thousands since the 1960s.’ NPR, 01/08/14

Things go extinct: animal and plant species, languages, cultures and customs. There are a number of things I personally think the world is a lesser place without – dinosaurs, Vikings, political moderates.

Rudimentary, simple-yet-tasty culinary stalwarts.

Case in point: For the past couple of months, I have had weekly physical therapy appointments as I try to get a bad case of bursitis in my elbow under control. My PT is a delightfully charming young woman named Ellen, and while I am being put through my paces with various exercises and routines, we chat about…stuff. As I am there late in the day, after school, I am one of the only patients and the staff is winding down the day. Usually the other five or six PT’s join in the conversation as they are putting their things away for the night. All are women, none of them are yet thirty, most of them are single or newly married, a couple of them have very young children.

A couple of Tuesdays ago was one such afternoon; me, Ellen, a PT in training, six other staff PTs and a sixty-something gentleman having a knee worked on at the station next to mine. We were discussing sports, and eating stadium and arena food. I remarked what I have been told by stadium workers: never buy a hot dog before the fourth inning of a baseball game or halftime of a football game because the dogs will taste better – that’s when all the oils and seasonings in the hot dogs get simmered into real tastiness. I added, “It’s the same basic idea behind making wiener water soup.”

wienerwatersoup1“Wiener water soup?”

A chorus of shaking heads and a puzzled “What’s that?” from Ellen was all I got in response. But they were looking at me with curiosity.
This poor-college-student-on-a-budget-not-even-worthy-of-the-title-‘budget’ staple was a foreign concept to all of the young women present. They stopped what they were doing. Blank stares and confused looks all around.

“Really? You guys have never heard of wiener water soup?”

Shoulders shrugged, heads shook.

“You know when you cook hot dogs in pot of water? After you eat the hot dogs, you save water to make soup. A little pepper and basil, and presto! A cheap, tasty broth.”

“You’re kidding, right?” asked Ellen skeptically.

“It’s a classic recipe.” More blank stares. “None of you have ever tried it?”

“You’re putting us on.” Said one, more curious than accusatory.

“Nope. Only piece of G-rated advice my brother gave me when I moved away from home; ‘Don’t forget the recipe to wienerwatersoup3the wiener water soup!’ It’s right up there with ramen noodles for cheap, single guy eats.”

“I. Have. Never. Heard. Of . That.” Said one PT in amazement as Ellen switched repetitive motion contraptions on my arm.

“Yep. Its right up there with going to a restaurant and ordering a cup of hot water so you can pour ketchup in it to make tomato soup…”

“Now I know people in college who did THAT!” chirped another PT, prompting a few ‘ewwws’ and one mumbled ‘disgusting’ mixed in with a fair amount of chuckling and head shaking as they continued their clean up. I turned to Ellen.”You should try it sometime. Might like it.”

“Yeahhhhhh. I don’t think so.”

“That’s all it is? Water with some salt and pepper?” asked one of the married-with-young-kids PT. I could tell she was seeing the potential.

“Hey” I replied “If you use all beef hot dogs, it’s essentially beef bouillon.”

“FATTY beef bouillon!” interjected one PT to laughs from the others.

“I don’t think so, Mr. Mark” said Ellen, shaking her head, amused.

“I’m telling you…a little pepper, a pinch of basil…”

“Hey, its sounds like gore-may eating to me!” The older guy getting his knee
worked on had remained silent to this point. “Yes it does!” He added cheerfully.

The staff looked at him, and at me. Shaking their heads and laughing.

“Hey” the old guy said “I’ll give it a try. Why not?!”wienerwatersoup4

“You let me know how that goes next time you’re in” responded his PT as she massaged his knee. The rest of the afternoon continued without incident, everyone going their merry ways. We all had a good laugh out of the exchange, but I got to thinking about that roomful of young women, none of whom knew of this culinary basic. Of course, the old guy with the bum knee didn’t either.

Sad, really.

It was just a day later that I heard the report on NPR noted above. The story referred to “the Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program, a program that tries to counter further erosion of Chickasaw by offering language immersion programs for both kids and adults including an iPhone app and a stream of videos, make the language accessible to anyone on the face of the planet…”

The Internet is a wonderful tool for such cultural reclamation projects. Sure enough, many of the top food and recipe sites on the web (seriouseats.com, cooks.com and familycookbookproject.com) all had variations on the venerable wiener water soup – though some take it a bit over-the-top with their more  ‘modern’ variations. (Sun dried tomatoes? Really?)

It’s comforting to know that in today’s fast-paced, modern world that there is still a place for good old-fashioned, time-honored American home cooking. Think back to the days of your youth and young adulthood. What did you do to get by? What simple things got you through those meager paycheck-to-meager paycheck days?

What sage wisdom could you pass along to the microwave-it-in-its-cup generation? (Sage, by the way, also accents wiener water soup quite nicely.) Think about these things. Write them down. Preserve the ways of the past.

Don’t let cultural touchstones just fade away.

Stray scraps of brain paper

scratchndentstoresignforpostHalf way through January, and my list of resolutions looks like a bargain appliance picked up at a scratch-and-dent clearance sale.

And you?

Most of the vehement independents I know (the one-man-for-himself, I-got-this, don’t need you for anything types) bring their rugged Individualist pseudo-swagger with little credibility to back it up.

suburbssuburbsBecause they live in the suburbs.

You know, those places with the cookie-cutter houses and ‘homeowners associations’ that dictate all those key things like flagpole height and how early in the evening you can/can’t put out your garbage cans for the next day pick up. Most of the go-it-alone tough guys I know prove they have starbukcspucthe moxie to be ‘their own man’ when they take the house blend at Starbucks because their chai tea hasn’t finished brewing.

If you live on a street with the name ending in ‘Court’ ‘Circle’ or ‘Place’ you don’t get to talk to me about your autonomous approach to life. But please, do continue to tell me with great excitement about the shades of beige you are considering for the new siding on your townhome.

Next!

darthJEJ!I love those Sprint Commercial with Malcolm McDowell and James Earl Jones, but once…just ONCE, I want to hear Darth Vader thunder “Totes McGotes!”

As I visualize him swinging his lightsabre and decapitating someone I…

Never mind.

Hasn’t the whole being part of a ‘nation’ thing passed? It was cute when ‘Red Sox Nation’ cropped up as a nice moniker for their all-of-New England fan base years ago when they made the World Series, but now it’s gotten out of hand. Every sports fan (pro and college) now thinks they are part of some sort of ‘nation’ because of their allegiance to a team or stray group.

TwinsTerritoryA few years back, my hometown Minnesota Twins began an ad campaign designating their expansive upper Midwest (Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa) fan base as ‘Twins Territory’ which I found a much more applicable moniker, and very much in keeping with a more middle-American sensibility.

Personally, I am much more comfortable roaming free and still being a part of someone’s ‘territory’ than part of some zealots’ nation.  (Less saluting.)

But the ‘nation’ thing has gotten way out of hand. I have, in recent weeks, stumbled across ‘Handmade Nation’ (a group of crafters) ‘Pie Nation’ (a group of Internet pie lovers) and others. Just the other day I saw a woman wearing a sweatshirt proclaiming her membership in ‘Poodle Nation.’

Yikes.

Unknown if there are any territorial/border disputes between French Poodle Nation and Standard Poodle Nation. If Penguinnationthere are, maybe Peekapoo Nation can mediate or send in peace keepers. I think most of the folks who proclaim themselves part of some sort of sports or celebrity ‘nation’ can’t even conjure a quorum in most other aspects of life.

And no, I will not be partaking in any events of ‘Blogger Nation.’ Unless they seriously consider my application for ‘Emperor.’

I’m sure they’ll be wanting references.

chiashirt774Stray, melancholy note of personal trivia: I’ve been on this planet for fifty-four Christmases and not once have I received a Chia Pet as a gift.

Just sayin.

Which reminds me, I have a milestone birthday coming up – my speed limit birthday: 55. That’s half-way between fifty and sixty, or 55% of my long-stated minimum age goal of 100. I’m no math whiz, but it seems that I’m like, ten-percent of my way through middle age, which seems incongruous. of 55signcourse, considering advances in medical science, bumping my target minimum age goal up to 110 doesn’t seem unreasonable, and I can remain solidly, legitimately in ‘middle age’ for another year without repercussions.

Maybe I should just skip the whole ‘speed limit’ angle to this birthday. There are far better flagpersonsignroad signage/birthday analogies I can think of for middle-age guys such as I, like the multi-dimensional ‘Yield.’ On a physical level, you have ‘Low Shoulder,’ ‘Bump,’ ‘Dip,’ ‘Rest Area’ and ‘Slow Down When Workers Are Present’ all come to mind. To represent relationships, there are ‘Do Not Enter,’ ‘Detour,’ ‘Road Narrows’ and of course the ever popular ‘Merge With Caution.’

malcolmMaybe that last one should also be on the physical list.

Of course I can still hope to occasionally get to use that old standby from my younger, single days, when a pretty girl would ask “What’s your sign?”and I could always reply, “Slippery when wet.”

A guy can hope, can’t he?

F.Y.I. – Chia Pets are usually discounted steeply after Christmas. Totes McGotes.

Like I said, just sayin.

There are these stray scraps of paper with blog ideas just laying on my desk…

First, a couple of baseball notes from my hometown stomping grounds of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

midwaystadiumsaintsI found this tidbit the other day in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where the very popular, minor league St. Paul Saints will soon be building a new ballpark downtown, leaving behind their current home – venerable Midway Stadium, which will then be transformed into an industrial park. I quote from the paper: “The stadium authority will demolish Midway Stadium, a job estimated to cost about $700,000, and then spend millions to clean up pollution and prepare the soil”.

Interesting. What sort of pollution would there be to clean up from an old ballpark? Are there toxic levels of brown mustard and ketchup sediment to be removed via end loader and sealed lead-lined tubs? Two decades of peanut shells and players spit morphing into radon gas needing to be vented by guys in woolen, pin-striped hazmat suits? What is the acceptable level of pickle relish PPM in topsoil, anyway?

It’s probably just ground water contamination from all those years of spilled beer.

Prediction: At least 100 people who read that last line and live near a ballpark will now try to dig makeshift wells in their yards.  Trust me.

brewatmidway
Then there was this little nugget in an interview with Minnesota Twins pitcher Glen Perkins, who grew up just outside of St. Paul and is now living the dream playing for his hometown team.

“I grew up here, and I grew up cheering for the Twins and you idolize them. You always think you can’t talk to the players, you can’t approach them. You think that person is untouchable. I think that’s why I like Twitter so much. You can interact with them. What I hate more than anything is when I go eat lunch at Chipotle or I go to Target, and an hour later I get a tweet that says, “Hey, were you at Chipotle?” Or, “Were you at Target?” I always think, “You should just come up and say, ‘Hi.’ ” What I strive to do is relate to the fans because, hell, 10 years ago I was a fan”.

“Hell, ten years ago I was a fan”. A throwback kinda guy in the modern world of Twitter. What’s not to love here? Rock on, Mr. Perkins.

glenperkins
My current linguistic pet peeve might get a rise out of you, too.

Three years ago, I taught a summer school program for ‘rising eighth graders’ – a phrase that simply made me roll my eyes. The class was an English enrichment program for young men who had just completed the seventh grade, and the school wanted to give these risingwhateversseventh graders a leg-up on what they would be dealing with in the fall as eighth graders – rising eighth graders. Whatever that means.

It was the first time I had heard the phrase ‘rising eighth graders’ and at the time I just found it pretentious. Now, my youngest son has completed eighth grade, is headed on to high school, and here comes the phrase variation: ‘rising freshmen’. The more I heard it used at graduation the more I’m thinking the term ‘rising’ for anything grade-advancement related is just…silly. AND pretentious. But it. Is. Everywhere.

Especially here in New Orleans.

I have heard educators at all levels referring to kids who have passed their 4th grade testing as ‘rising fifth graders’ and I have even heard pre-school children described as ‘rising kindergarteners’ . A quick Google of the phrase ‘rising ___ graders’ shows that the term has spread like an insidious etymological virus. Everybody is rising to something…odd because while they are all ‘rising’ their test scores and other metrics are remaining generally stagnant.

Sigh.

To me, if you are a fourth grader headed to fifth, a sixth grader headed to seventh, or a group of teenagers who have completed eighth grade and are now headed to high school – fantastic. Congratulations and kudos. Good luck and keep up the good work. Carry on, do what you need to do.

And keep in mind you are doing simply what is expected of you; clouds will not part with sunshine and harp music raining down upon you. You are not a flock of Phoenixes arising from some middle school ash heap.

Though a few of you sure look like it.

End of rant. Blood pressure no longer rising.

phoenixlinedrawing

Spolier alert! Nifty segue here, if you try not to think about it…

I had some paperwork to fill out for something, and I was asked to identify my ethnicity. I asked my wife if it would be okay to check Vikingfuneral‘indigenous’ as she frequently refers to my ‘various diatribes.’

Yeah, I didn’t think so, either.

Not to be outdone, eldest son Will is entering his senior year in high school and our mailbox is awash in mailings from colleges and universities prestigious and obscure. Most of the stuff gets tossed, as he has a pretty good idea of what he does/doesn’t want in prospective schools. One school he is interested in sent him a mailing  seeking some more involved demographic information. He immediately sat down to submit his info.

“These guys at least are asking about my ‘ethnicity’ instead of my ‘race’” he stated, adding dryly, “But do I still put ‘white’”? After we briefly recapped family genetics he filled out the post-paid card listing his ethnicity as ‘Nordic’.

That’ll skew somebody’s demographic breakdown.

Vikingtribe
And finally…

During the last week of school, one of my sophomore students was standing next to me in the hallway asking a question about something, when a pair of classmates walked by, loudly singing, generally acting ridiculous, throwing around a few choice profanities. In other words, a bit over-the-top, but certainly not unprecedented high school hallway behavior. The kid who was speaking to me stopped, watched the pair go by, then looked at me, frowning, sadly shaking his head. “Mr. Lucker…that makes me wanna change my race”.

I’m just glad it’s summer.

Photo1824

2012 Leftovers: Scraps, tidbits and what-thas…?

100_3851The ever-present-in-my-back-pocket Notebook of Niftiness (NON) becomes something of a Rubbermaid tub throughout the year; while many of the ideas and tidbits make their way into a post on either this blog or into a full-fledged poem for my poetry blog, some just languish there, out of sight, out of mind, but safe in the tub for future use. Or not. Many will never see the light of day again.

Some the notes in NON are tantalizing tidbits to build upon, some are merely interesting quotations I ran across during the year. Some were shorthand notes that made little sense days, weeks or even hours after I jotted them down. Some were interesting or amusing at the time I jotted them down, not so much after-the-fact. Some of the hasty chicken scratches I can’t even read.

Sometimes NON is more than an acronym.

Time to empty the tub. Or at least, rummage through it.

Wile-E-Coyote_fallingYear End News Item #1: ‘Congress reaches a short-term deal to avoid the fiscal cliff’.

Why do I continue to get mental images of Wyle E. Coyote and the word ‘ACME’?

Prime Misconception of the Year 2012: So with all the hubbub about the end-of-the-world via the Mayan calendar, even though it was well documented that the Mayans failed mayancalendar1to account for leap years and Monday holidays, many people were still fixated on the prognostication skills of a vanished culture that couldn’t even foresee their own demise.

The real reason the Mayan calendar ended with December 2012? Impractical design. Made of chiseled stone and measuring three feet or more in diameter, the damn things kept ripping the nails out of the Mayans adobe garage walls before the calendars crashed to the floor in pieces.mayancalendar2

That, and the sacrificial virgin pin-up pictures weren’t much to look at.

My 1st Prediction for 2013: Having moved to New Orleans nearly five years ago, I have become well acquainted with hurricanes, having had to evacuate for one twice in that fifty-some month span – including this past August for Isaac. The naming of hurricanes is curious. Something called the World Meteorological Organization (think ’10 o’clock news weather guessers in super hero tights’) have come up with the list since 1953, only adding male names in 1979. There are six lists that continue to rotate. The lists only change when there is a hurricane that is so devastating, the name is retired and another hurricane name replaces it. Interestingly, 2013 seems to have a decidedly more ethnic flavor; Fernand, Humberto, Ingrid, Lorenzo, Olga and Pablo standing out.

bookieMark my words: somewhere along the line, some elected idiot will somehow work this year’s hurricane names into the national debate on illegal immigration.

My bookie is standing by to take your sucker bets.

MarkTwainNotable quote seen…somewhere/Affirmation:
“In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards”.
– Mark Twain

In addition to the new state testing procedure were are now in year two of teaching toward, this year we also began the implementation of the new national Common Core Curriculum (don’t get me started). Oh, and this year our district is also adding mandatory ACT testing and the associated…uhm, teaching? It’s less ‘teaching to the test’ and more teaching ‘which test is which, again’?

Conclusion? Twian’s faith was grossly misplaced.

Year End News Item #2: Twenty percent of Americans who admit to making New Year’s resolutions say that ‘spending less time on BLOG in Portugese (2)Facebook’ was one of their main decrees to self. The Facebook proclamation came in third after ‘quitting smoking’ and ‘losing weight’.

As long as ‘reading blogs’ stays in the single-digits as a resolution, I’m jiggy with the whole ‘resolve to give stuff up’ approach. Good luck with that Facebook thing, by the way.

Things come in threes…

Early last fall, I wrote in this space about a sophomore who wrote an essay commenting on her sister’s positive attitude, and the inspiration the sister provides all of her younger siblings. She lauded, in worthy prose, her sister’s ‘self of steam.’

surprised-lady steamDiscussing her paper with her, I was met with a puzzled look as I tried to explain that what she meant was her sister had a lot of ‘self-esteem’ – even going so far as to having her look up ‘esteem’ in the dictionary. She paused, looked at her paper, looked up at me standing over her and said, distinctly, and with a definitely-correcting-me tone of voice: “Yeah, it’s her SELF. OF. STEAM, Mr. Lucker…how good she feels about herself”!

The young woman’s ‘self-of-steam’ stayed that way in the final draft.

Toward the end of the semester, we had some more writing to do that focused on sense-of-self and self-awareness. Sure enough, ‘self-of-steam’ once again reared its pesky head…not only with the girl who originally coined the phrase, but in the papers of two other classmates as well.

This episode reminded me of my first teaching gig a few years back. On a district social studies test, much to the amusement of our social studies teacher, three of my homeroom fifth graders used the same, oh-so-unique answer on a question about the effect that iron tools had on irontoolsthe new world: “When they got iron tools in the new world, people didn’t have to take their clothes to the dry cleaners no more”. Much as with my current sophomore, they could not be swayed that their answer was not perfectly logical and correct.

Maybe they could all get together to use some self-of-steam to press their uniform pants.

goodtimecharlierecordHey, it could always be worse. With apologies to Danny O’Keefe: “…sometimes it pours…sometimes it only sprinkles; Good Time Charlie’s got the periwinkles…”

A final thought: School cafeteria food raises the intriguing question, “Haute cuisine or hot food?” If you answered neither, you are correct.

Happy 2013.

The Thrill Is Not Gone

“Political elections are a good deal like marriages, there’s no accounting for anyone’s taste”.
– Will Rogers, American Humorist

Election day always makes me nostalgic; not for the things you might expect like civility, logic and actual hope that win-or-lose, my guys could work with the other guys. My wistfulness is more visceral.

I get sweaty-palms, heart-racing nostalgic for the adrenaline rush of being a reporter on election night.

I started my career in radio (first real, full-time, ‘grown up’ job) in 1978 in the town of Nevada, Missouri (spelled like the state but pronounced ‘Neh-VAY-da’) a town of some 10,000 folks ninety-eight miles south of Kansas City. I had moved there that summer from my native Minnesota after being hired to work at the local radio station, KNEM.

It was quite a cultural change after growing up in very urban Minneapolis and Denver.

Small-town/rural politics, I quickly learned, was quite different from the urban variety I had grown up with and dabbled in. In a small town there is no detachment for candidates or issues; everyone knows everyone on some level, and it is always personal; school board to county commissioner, assessor to sheriff. Win or lose, you will have to live together and encounter one another on a regular basis. The saying ‘all politics is personal’ is never more true than in a small town.

While election night 1978 was not a presidential year, it was a congressional mid-term, and there were a ton of local races, so it was shaping up to be a big night – my first as an on-air election reporter. Not that I had anchoring duties or anything; that role belonged to Ken White, the station owner, who had put KNEM on the air in 1949. He worked out of studio ‘B’ where we usually did all of our recording and newscasting from; it had a boom-mic and a big round table that allowed Ken to have all of the various accoutrements of reporting scattered all over but within easy reach, along with his cigarettes and ashtray. Ken was a diminutive, grey haired guy with oversized ears and a raspy, authoritative, smokers-voice; through the smoke-filled air of studio ‘B’ he resembled a Hobbit Edward R. Murrow.

The entire staff was involved with election coverage: Vernita the office manager handled the incoming phone calls (two lines!) from various officials while Tim and Rich, my fellow full-time announcers, were stationed at city hall and the county courthouse. As the new guy on the block I was relegated to the least desired, but right-up-my-alley, wire service duty tracking the regional and national scenes. This required me to station myself next to the UPI teletype doing a rip-n-read: tearing stories off the wire-service machine, then sitting down in front of a microphone in the control room and waiting for a cue from Mr. White to update anxious listeners on what was going with any congressional or senate races of note in Missouri and Kansas.

If you’re not familiar with a classic teletype machine, it was essentially a noisy typewriter in a large box that received news via a dedicated phone line before typing it out on 8.5 inch wide rolls of newsprint. The story came in, the machine finished typing it, you ripped it off the machine and headed for the studio – in our case, a full fifteen feet away. And woe be onto you if the typewriter ribbon in the thing either ran out or got jammed; there was no retrieving a missed story. Hence, a box of spooled typewriter ribbons next to the machine and extra rolls of paper beneath it.

KNEM was usually a pretty laid-back place – but not on election night. The excitement was palpable and with the phone constantly ringing, the teletype going non-stop and ringing like crazy itself as a series of bells indicated ‘bulletin’ status: the more bells, the bigger the bulletin. The damn thing rang constantly on election night. I can still close my eyes and here the typewriter keys clacking furiously, the return carriage banging out new lines of type, and the incessant dingdingdingding indicating big news.

I delivered no earth-shaking results that night (I actually got comparatively little airtime, and in very short bursts) but the frenetic energy and all-around excitement was intoxicating, even in a place where the biggest battle of the night was for county commissioner. It was live, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, late-breaking-developments radio.

I was hooked.

By 1980 I was in Marshalltown, Iowa where I had been working for small, local station KDAO before being hired to work part-time at KSO/KGGO in Des Moines. Even as a part-timer, I had built a good rapport with the news director there, and he promised me a role in election coverage. Unfortunately, I never got a shot at that. As luck would have it, in October I got what I thought at the time was my ‘dream job’ working for a station in my old summer stomping grounds of Brainerd, Minnesota, and they wanted me there in early November.

The evening of election night 1980 found me in my loaded-to-the-brim 1969 Plymouth station wagon leaving Marshalltown for Minneapolis; a roughly five-hour drive and the first leg of my move to Brainerd. Missing out on being a part of election coverage was a disappointment, but that isn’t to say I missed out on the excitement. Driving through the rural Midwest on election night in that era meant A.M. radio was my only companion featuring wall-to-wall coverage on a wide array of small town radio stations, all broadcasting earnestly and breathlessly live from county courthouses, Grange halls, fire station polling places and various party headquarters.

As the Reagan electoral blowout of Carter was not at all compelling, the local stations seemed even more intent on pumping up their local races.

While I never did hear of any municipality electing a dog catcher, I remember being mesmerized for a good ten-mile stretch of I-35 cruising through southern Minnesota, as two local-yokels used every ounce of gravitas they could muster for an extensive chat about the “Too close to call, hotly contested race for library commissioner”. They, unfortunately, faded quickly away into the prairie night, and I was forced to scrounge the dial for fresh political fodder.

The only non-political respite I was able to summon from my dashboard was when, about an hour south of the Twin Cities, I scored a late-night signal of a clear channel Mexican station. After a couple of mariachi numbers, an announcer came on with a commercial (as a radio guy myself, I knew commercial inflection when I heard it) speaking rapid-fire Spanish, the only words of which I understood were ‘Pepto-Bismol’. Due to the various inflections the guy was using on the ad copy (“PEP-toe Bizzzzzmol” “Pepto. BIZ-mollllll” “PEP -TOE BEES-MOL? Si”! to mention a few) I got to laughing so hard I had to pull over for a minute before returning to regularly scheduled driving and election returns.

That night of rolling through the darkness listening to the pulse of democracy just fed my election-night-action fire.

Fast-forward to 1982, and I was working at KKCM in St.Cloud, Minnesota. We had just launched the station, and had been giving the established local stations a pretty good run for their money both in our country music programming and in our news coverage. At the time, St. Cloud was a city of about 40,000 with surrounding suburbs bringing the population up to around 60,000. It was one of the fastest growing metro areas in the state, and a hotbed for all sorts of tightly contested legislative and county races, and a slew of local ballot initiatives concerning growth, annexation and all sorts of other local issues .As election time approached, we were also actively tracking mayoral and city council races in nine communities. To top it off, the city of St. Cloud sits on the apex of three counties: Stearns, Benton and Sherburne. This geographical oddity presented some unique municipal election quirks. Some of the cities precincts covered parts of two counties, but not all three; others covered different portions of a combination of counties. This had an effect on various legislative races, as well as voting for county offices. Ballots in neighboring city precincts a block apart  could look vastly different. Tracking these races was going to be a challenge.

Enter Les Kleven, our station owner and wannabe political numbers-cruncher.

Les was a curiously odd bear of a man; nearly three-hundred pounds with a rather squeaky voice that got even more high-pitched when he got excited (and Les got excited A LOT) he was a small town rancher-turned-radio tycoon hell-bent on sticking it to the ‘big boys’ of St. Cloud’s radio establishment. To this end, he had hired a great staff of top-quality professionals, including news director Mike Sullivan, who hailed from Chicago and new politics and political coverage from every aspect imaginable.  I was an announcer/reporter/public service director for the station, and Mike and I had a great relationship. He wanted me in the studio with him on election night to serve as his right-hand-man, keeping info flowing and spelling him on air from time to time. Mike had looked at the local geographic issues and had come up with a simple but seemingly effective set of spreadsheets to help track the myriad of races.

Then Les unveiled his new baby: a brand new, roughly the size of a Fiat coupe, Tandy computer. “This” said Les with great confidence, “Will be the tool that helps us kick everybody else’s ass on election night”!

It didn’t. Not that we couldn’t get the data input fast enough (Les was a keyboard demon) or that the miniscule screen couldn’t display data fast (or big) enough but mostly because by the time the even-large-than-the-computer printer spit out its voluminous dot-matrix precinct returns on the over-sized tractor paper which I then had to try and manipulate on the desk in front of me without blocking my microphone the results were already out of date.

I realized by Les’ second and third batch of ‘results’ that his numbers didn’t add up to the raw numbers we had already been reporting via our reporters and stringers in the field, and brought it to Mike’s attention. His solution was brilliantly simple: keep taking the reams of printouts Les was producing from his office and keep them in front of me so that it actually looked like I was using them. “Whatever you do” Mike warned me, “DO NOT throw any of those in the garbage or onto the floor! Make notes or something on them to seem like they are getting USED”.

That’s why Mike got the big bucks.

After I had unfurled a set of Les’ numbers once, they got crumpled and appeared pretty well looked over – like the map you can never get folded up and back in the glove compartment neatly. Add in some legitimately made notes and some coffee cup rings, and Les was never the wiser.  One lasting impression of that night and our data-or-lack-thereof was Les periodically bellowing in exasperation from his office “What about Sonia Berg”?!

Berg was a legislative candidate in one of those districts that covered parts of two of St.Cloud’s three counties; in some precincts there were no results to be had, which puzzled Les, and which also left a hole in Les’ data, which the Tandy apparently didn’t like and wouldn’t compute until you put something in, which we couldn’t do except for ‘zero’ and Les couldn’t/wouldn’t grasp that there were no Sonia Berg results for some precincts.

We got through that election night in fine style – and I do mean ‘through the night’ as Mike and I greeted Don the morning show guy and tromped through the morning reveling and recapping all the election action, toasting each other with a couple of cold Cokes after signing off our coverage about nine a.m…a mere fifteen hours or so after we had begun.

And “What about Sonia Berg”?! Became an uproarious KKCM battle cry for all situations in the months after our first great foray into electronic political journalism

There were other election nights at other stations for me, all exhilarating in their own different ways. By the mid 1990’s I was out of the radio business, save some freelance gigs, but had moved on into the hotel business as I worked my way through my first stint in college. Election night excitement was to be found there, as well, in a more personal vein.  There is nothing quite like a big city hotel that is hosting a campaign party for a major candidate on election night….

Except for maybe a radio station studio somewhere.

Election night 2012 will have me in front of the television, remote in hand, watching history unfold in front of me. There will be moments when my heart will race, my palms will sweat a bit, and I will be thinking, at least a couple of times, “Oh man, if only for a night”.

My kingdom for a microphone.
x