My village elders

It takes a village, and mine was well populated.

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

I am simply thankful – well aware that I was blessed by having them all in my life.

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

A lengthy and impressive roster, it is.

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

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

The list of tactile, hard skills that I learned from these guys would fill a flash-drive: plumbing, house painting, carpentry, roofing – and my personal favorite, lumberjacking.  Master plumber Ivar and would be proud that I still mostly know my way around underneath a sink and can still handle a pipe wrench with aplomb. With satisfaction – and with a brag or two directed toward Ivar –  his best friend – and master housepainter – Elving would note that with house paint and brushes, I am more than proficient.

I’m still pretty damn good at cutting a doorway or window.

The lines of memory blur when I try to place a specific skill to the individual I got tutoring from. Even so, I learned things then learned that everyone has their own way of doing things. So much the better for me.  Youthful understanding of the concept that there is always more than one way to skin a cat has served me very well.

Truth be told, it truly was a village effort.

No matter who may have shown me how to do something, each person added their own take on how to handle such tools as chainsaws, splitting mauls,  axes, logging chains and cross-cut saws – among other tools of the wood cutting game; how and when and where and why (and why not) to use each of them.  Knowing the difference between a framing hammer and ball peen hammer is good; skill with each of them, even better.  A number of these guys took a hand in teaching me the nuances (along with their own peccadilloes and quirks) about how to drive a stick shift, change spark plugs or the oil in one of Detroit’s finest, and I still know of multiple ways to bait a fish-hook, hoe the weeds from a potato patch, scale and filet a sunfish.

That is only a partial list.

Len showed me how to use a lathe, Albert how to properly seine for minnows, and how to properly stack a cord of firewood;  Harold instructed me in how to whittle – knife safety of paramount focus, aside from the artistry. I handsremember many of those lessons vividly, and later on the looks of accomplishment and satisfaction when I showed some mastery at any of them.

Those were just some of the unique slices of tangible skills – physical expertise I was shared that stand out.  Those guys were all present and responsible for so much more than that I just listed.

I also remember others who played lesser, but powerfully important and fondly remembered roles as additional father figures; Mr. Keuken across our Minneapolis alley; Vic the taxidermist, Joe the bartender, and Birkeland the electrician – role players in my summers at the lake.  That’s how I knew them, (Vic, Joe, Birkeland, anyway) and what everyone else called them. Vic and Joe did have last names, Mr. Keuken and Mr. Birkeland had given names.  I remember my dad’s friend Bill, theatre manager and raconteur extraordinaire. There was also Ray, the anthropology professor-cum-writing-coach, and Super Joe the grocer: trust me, loving life and laughing boisterously is a learned skill.

As I peruse this list, I still know I am forgetting somebody.

To this day, I tend to get more than a bit peeved with someone when they marvel at some skill I have displayed or off-beat competency I have shared. “Where’d you learn how to do THAT?” 

Their ignorance, my bliss, I suppose.

In my days as an employment counselor, I helped develop and then taught a class on skills identification – an easy and fun assignment, as I have significant expertise in a lot of areas – and I could also honestly imbue my students with the thrill of acquiring skills and how such knowledge itself has benefitted me in learning other things.

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

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

Their ‘aha’ moments will come for them. In time.

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

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

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


A damn good instruction manual for how to live a life.

No, I do not regularly use most of the skills I mentioned here on a day-to-day or even-year-to year basis.  As an urban guy, I sadly have little need to lumberjack anymore, and adjusting a carburetor is not something I will probably ever need to do again.

It is unlikely I ’ll anytime soon be needing to shingle a cabin, patch a fiberglass canoe, or lathe a wooden flower vase – though in a pinch, I could still show the younger crowd a thing or two.  Especially on a roof; you modern day guys and your wimpy nail guns; do you even own a framing hammer?

On the other hand, maybe I will someday get a chance to again pilot a pontoon boat.  That would be exquisite.   Will I have to treat a maple dance floor with dance wax again? Probably not – but there is always hope; a man’s got to have a dream.

Oh, I still get to play cribbage from time to time, and might hopefully get a chance to get a hold of some cards and play whist again.  Or canasta, Chinese checkers, mumbly peg, the harmonica.

But I will definitely have to fix another toilet, and there will always be a room that needs a new paint job, something to be repaired or replaced, and each day brings something that needs to be brainstormed, finagled or simply figured out.  There will always be stories to tell, lessons to imbue, parables to impart, jokes to be told.   Spiritually, to me wasting a skill is sinful.

I will always write, always need to think.  I will forever need to laugh, need to cry, need to empathize. I will always need to give a damn, and to help others.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Because of what I learned back then, refined and cultured through the years, I can dive in with confidence – anytime, anyplace, anywhere. I am Mr. Problem-Solver, because of all of all of these guys.

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

I had them.



Disclaimer: The following piece is not religious satire.  If you are easily prompted to get haughty about such things, go read something else.  If you would like a peek at American culture and consumerism at its most absurd…read on, MacDuff.

My family and I are in the midst of selling our New Orleans home, as part of relocating back to our home state of Minnesota.  The process has been much slower than we would like, and I have shown a bit of my frustration in that regard on Facebook.  The other day, IMG_20180601_195403a friend of mine (an avowed agnostic) mentioned in response to a humorous post I had made that she knew some people would bury the statue of a saint in their backyard, in order to sell their house.

Knowing I was a person of faith, with a good sense of humor, she correctly presumed (I’m guessing) I would find the suggestion amusing.  She was not the first to offer up the suggestion, but knowing her beliefs, I was more amused than I was with previous nudges in the ritual direction.

I laughed, but it got me to thinking – a dangerous habit.

My first encounter with the ritual of burying of a St. Joseph statue came in the mid-70s.  I was in high school, and our next doors neighbors -good friends of my folks –  were selling their south Denver home.  Devout Roman Catholics, Madeline, the wife, was more vociferous in her faith than her husband, George, and one afternoon after work, my parents were out in our yard and they saw Madeline – a rather petite woman – digging a hole.  My father, from whom I inherited my immense curiosity, asked her what she was doing.  Madeline explained that their house wasn’t selling quickly enough, and, to my parent’s bemusement, explained the St. Joseph statue concept in great detail.

Within two days, they had an offer on the house, and accepted it – much to the smug stj9delight of Madeline, and a fair amount of chagrin for her husband George…the realtor.

My friend’s Facebook message the other day got me thinking, that, should I decide to bury a statue in my backyard, it would be as easy as hopping on Amazon to buy one and have it shipped right to my door. Just for kicks (as I needed a break from resume send-outs) I clicked on to Amazon.


It was indeed that easy – or should I say queasy.  True to form of modern society, not only stj1could I find a St. Joseph statue – ‘suitable for burying’ –  in any number of forms, in prices starting as low as $5.99, but I could also buy stj2complete St. Joseph House Selling Kits (statue, instructions prayer) in various forms.

In typical online shopping style, the product descriptions alone were of great interest – as far as the theology here, you’re on your own.  A sampling (verbatim; all misspellings, etc as I found them):

‘Countless millions have followed the age-old practice of burying a statue of St. Joseph with the hope of selling or buying real estate. Practitioners say that petitioning St. Joseph for help brings almost immediate results.’

‘You can bury the statue upside down, in the back yard, in the front yard, near stj3the “For Sale” sign, in a flower bed, or even to bury him exactly 12 inches deep.

Kit is 3.74″H x 0.98″W x 0.98″D, and includes 3.0″ RESIN St. Joseph figure, prayer to St. Joseph, and instructions.’

Grammar not their strong suit, but they have the specs aspect nailed. On the other hand, these folks cut right to the chase:

‘Bury it next to your for sale sign & say the included prayer. It’s a tough economy. Get every advantage available.’ 


 ‘In more recent times it has become common practice to bury a St. Joseph statue to help sell your home. Pray to St. Joseph daily and witness the power of prayer! Results not guaranteed.’

Results not guaranteed, but the product itself?  Yeah, not so much on that front, either. Ah, ye shoppers of little faith.

This version seems to be the spiritual equivalent of a Yelp review:

‘It is important to proudly display your St. Joseph statue and share your story with others if your prayers are answered’  

Befitting the price range, there are many different forms available for St. Joseph statue buyers: wood, stj7plastic, resin, pewter.  And while you can certainly purchase the statue, why not just buy the full kit: statue, instruction manual, prayer card. Again, there are…options.

There are also multiple cultural kit options; instructions and prayers in different languages, and this cultural visual:

‘St. Joseph House Home Sellers Kit Deluxe Italian Picture, Selling Instructions BEST KIT ON THE MARKET IT WORKS ! Exclusive Copyrighted xxxx xxxxx xxxx

Can one copyright a prayer?

My St. Joseph Amazon adventure was an eye-opening reminder of how even the most basic of ideas takes on a whole different aura in our Internet age. Amazon being Amazon, most sellers also offered bulk-pricing options.stj6

Not a fan of Amazon?  No problem.  Modern-day accouterments to the ritual of selling your house via burying a statue are available all over the Internet, and can ebb-and-flow easily from the ridiculous to the sublime:

Various religious supply companies (though interestingly, a few specifically state they do not stock St. Joseph kits) and other retailers of note?

• TrueValue Hardware’s website offers a ‘St. Joseph Statue For Home Sale Practice’

• On the WalMart website, they have the green kit. (Biodegradable, in case you leave the statue when you move).  But wait, there’s more!  Thanks to WalMart’s helpful algorithms, you are also shown the ever-popular  ‘Customers also viewed these products’ feature:

’16 inch Buddah statue, Design Toscano Aloha Hawaii Tiki Moai Haku Hana Statue, a $149 Venus of Pietrasanta Statue (nude! at WalMart!)  and (my personal favorite product non-sequitor) Loonie Moonie Bare Buttocks Garden Gnome Statue: Medium’
(thank you Lord, that there is no ‘large’ version of Loonie)

Of course, you can also find a variety of new and used statues and kits on eBay.


My personal St. Joseph-statue-on-the-Internet favorite? The ‘plaster, paint-it-yourself St. Joseph’ available on Etsy.

Don’t laugh; it’s how Michelangelo got started.

And man, that dude had some really big holes to dig in his yard.

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.


“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, 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, but do enjoy’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…”

Judge, jury and…say what again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was interesting.

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

Me? Not so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touché.  I had been Perry Masoned during jury selection.

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

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

A passed torch

I’ve become the old guys I grew up around.

My youth was filled with a fascinating blend of old timers that I joyfully gleaned much of what I needed to know about life by just hanging around with all of them. They were mostly retired, blue-collar guys; my grandfather worked on an assembly line making gramps-and-his-son-bowling-team-that-went-to-national-tournamentbatteries, and we had close family friends – integral parts of my childhood and life – plumbers, house painters, storekeepers and tractor makers, among them.

I learned about life through their eyes and thick, immigrant-dialect-honed English; specific and pointed advice was given when needed, but most of the lessons learned were implied; eye contact, a raised brow, a nudge or a nod during an event or incident of some sort that I instinctively knew meant I should be paying attention because I just might learn something.

I have now become that nudge-and-nod (though nowhere close to retirement) guy.

The other day I was at the chiropractor getting an adjustment. The doc is a good guy, twenty-six years young, and we chat amiably while I get my treatment. I was lying on my stomach while he worked on my back, and he was having trouble adjusting the exam table. After a moment of struggle, he got it to lock into place where he wanted, then joked, “That’s the most difficult thing I do all day.”

“I suppose a lot of people think that your job is kind of easy – spending your day massaging backs” I replied, as he continued working out my shoulder kinks.

“Yeah, kinda” he chuckled, adding, “They see me for twenty minutes at a time, then leave, and figure that’s what I do all day – wait for people to come in, spend twenty minutes getting them adjusted, then go back to doing whatever else I do.” He cracked a couple of vertebrae into place.

“People don’t realize what goes into a job like yours. You know the story of the guy and furnace1the busted furnace?”

“No, I don’t think so” he replied, bending my spine the other direction.

“It’s winter, and the guy’s furnace goes out. He calls the furnace guy, who comes over, looks around for a minute, then takes a hammer out of his tool box, whacks the furnace, and it starts running again. He puts the hammer back, then hands the guy his bill for a hundred dollars…” I feel a nice, loosening jolt to my neck. “The guy looks at the bill and says ‘a hundred bucks!’ All you did was whack it with a hammer! The furnace guy nods and says, ‘Yeah, that’s ten-bucks for the hammer tap, ninety bucks for knowing where to tap.”

The doc stops. Even though I am face down on the adjustment table, I can see him with my peripheral vision, hands on his hips, thinking. “Wow. That’s a great story” he says with surprise, “I never heard that before.” He starts back in on my neck

“It’s a good analogy for you.” I add.

“All the time I spent in school – yeah, it is. ‘Ninety bucks for knowing where to tap.’ I’ll have to remember that story. I’ll use that.”

“Feel free” I say as another disc gets pushed into place.

Just passing it on.


Six summer weeks on the road, traveling from my New Orleans base back to my Twin Cities home turf. Let’s call it a ‘working vacation’…that I now could use a vacation from.

The trip itself was mostly a success, but while living in the south, sometimes a return to my Midwestern roots leave e scratching my head. Vice versa upon my return.

I was able to document some of the quirkier things I ran across. Maybe it is because I have spent the past eight years in a region where the odd is commonplace and celebrated, but some of these things I encountered seemed misplaced – especially some of the gastronomical quirks.

IMG_20160624_173647For example…barbeque hummus? Yeah, a Midwestern take on Middle Eastern staple that even I would think thrice on before trying. For real overkill, I suppose you could use barbeque flavored chips for your dipping/sopping option.

Even in the barbeque-happy south, grilling peas seems a cultural mismatch. It is also mildly disquieting that there is a certain ‘that aint kosher’ element to this little snack.

In downtown Minneapolis, I pulled up alongside a food truck – not unusual. The cuisine? That’s different.

In Minnesota parlance, where fishing is almost a faith, I used to refer to sushi as ‘lure on a plate’ which was usually IMG_20160602_131031greeted with a nod of acknowledgement. Now I guess the saying would have to be ‘bait on a tortilla’.

Or in true Minnesotan, ‘Minnows on lefse’.

Speaking of fishing, there is a small, family-run hardware store right by my mom’s new apartment, and as I frequently needed hardware items or tools to fix something at her old house, or prep something at the apartment, I became something of a regular. My first stop, the window signage caught my eye, but it wasn’t until my next-to-last (73rd but who’s counting?) stop that IMG_20160629_145402I said something almost pithy about ‘duct tape and nightcrawlers’ to the clerk at check out.

She sighed, glanced over her shoulder at the ‘live bait repair’ window paint job, with resignation and said,  for what sounded like the ninety-sixth time,“Yeah, they didn’t think that one out very well”.

Honestly, I did not see the upper-pane labeled ‘screen and window’ until at least the fifth time I passed by.

Off-beat signage always interests me, though this theatre marquee in Minneapolis is spot-on, local language wise.



On the other hand, I don’t know the genesis of this little gem I saw posted behind the counter of a neighborhood café where I was having lunch with a couple of old friends, but it definitely has a New Orleans/Mardi gras vibe

But this t-shirt? Definitely a Midwestern thing.IMG_20160628_122559




That hopefully stays right where it is.

I need to get back to my unpacking. More on-the-road shenanigans hiding between the dirty laundry and stolen hotel towels. So…

Later, kids.

Middle-aged, and sticking it

calf-strainIt has been a while since I have feted you with a pogo update.

The last two weeks have been shorter workouts due to weather issues and a pulled left-calf. Fine for the most part, mid-pogoing, it tightens up once done. It is also a bit twingy on the dismounts – but improving. Not debilitating enough to keep me on the pogo sideline.

There have been some more interesting street encounters while on the stick. (Keep in mind I always stop pogoing and stand to the side when traffic is on the block.)

One day last week, a young police officer pulled up, rolled down the passenger window, said to me quite sternly, “That thing looks very dangerous!”

The SuperPogo 2 was leaning up against my chest, so with outstretched hands, I pleaded my case: “Ahh, but not in the hands of a pogo6qualified, with-it user!”

The cop laughed and we chatted for a few minutes; I ran through the Reader’s Digest version of the story – always wanted one, got it for Christmas, longest stretch I’ve stuck with an exercise routine in decades, etc. He seemed mildly impressed.

“I tried a friend’s pogo stick out when I was a kid. Hit some gravel, wiped out. Hit a hole, fell on my face in a puddle. That was it for me.” He shook his head, smiling ruefully.

“Again” I stated, arms outstretched, palms up, pointer fingers aimed back. “Skilled, responsible practitioner.” He laughed heartily, told me to keep it up, and to be safe, I wished him the same good fortune.

Two nights ago, longest workout in a while, breaking a nice sweat and had a strong rhythm – except for the traffic interruptions: a young couple walking a schnauzer that I apparently scared the hell out of, and two young moms pushing toddlers in baby strollers. One child was fascinated enough to stop sucking on her bottle, the other one…not so much; he kept working his pacifier. The moms glanced at me awkwardly, looking up from their texting briefly enough to do so.

pogo2A middle-aged guy on a pogo-stick may strike some as odd, but moms pushing kids in strollers down the middle of a street, talking to each other while also texting on smartphones balanced on the trays of their strollers, brings a whole new twist to ‘distracted driving.’

Just sayin’.

I was just winding down my workout when the guy across the street came home from work. I don’t know him, but he is usually pretty amiable, waving and saying hello and such. He is about my age and works out fairly regularly – or is just in really great shape. I think he hits the gym on a regular basis, while his wife, Mary, is an avid runner.

Per street-pogo protocol, I hopped off, stood to the side as he pulled up. He got out, waved and said, “Now THAT looks like quite the workout!” in a tone that suggested ‘impressive stuff, dude’!

“Is that something new?” He, too, then got the Reader’s Digest version of Mark’s Pogo Saga.

“Well, that’s great!” (same, ‘impressive, dude’ tone) “Keep it up and have a good one!”

With that, he waved, went inside his house, I worked a couple more med-range runs of 30-40 in and called it a night.

(Sidebar, here: at the start of the new year, I took a teaching job at the same school my wife has been teaching at for the last five years, so we now get to commute together, which is pretty cool, but was very funny the morning following my encounter with the guy across the street.)


The next morning, Amy and I are headed out to go to work at the same time that Mary, our neighbor across the street is doing the same.

The next morning, Amy and I are headed out to go to work at the same time that Mary, our neighbor across the street is doing the same. The three of us greet each other with waves, and then Mary (the avid runner) says, “My husband said you were out here last night jumping on a pogo stick!”

“I was indeed. It’s my new workout regimen.”

“That’s awesome!” I could hear my wife sigh.

I gave Mary the R-D version of the story, adding, “And it works! Dropped two pounds and two belt notches since I started!”

“Oh, wow. That’s great! Be careful and keep at it!”

“Oh, I will. “

With that, she got into her car; I climbed into the driver’s seat of the van. Amy had already taken up residence in the passenger seat. She was shaking her head, and then, with a rueful smile, she sighed. “Yeah….” We started driving away. “The neighborhood must all think we’re nuts.”

“Funny how they all express concern about my safety.”

“Yeah, well, you probably look a little…wild out there. They ARE entertained by you. “She shook her head.

The situation reminded me of a previous street pogo-encounter. “I’m guessing their conversation was something like that jogging-guy who was staying with his parents I met a few weeks ago; ‘Hey, mom! Some old kid down the block let me use his new pogo stick!’”

“Yeahhhhhh, I’mmmmm sure it was something like that.” We had turned two corners, were heading for work. Amy was still shaking her head. “You. Are. Something.”

“What can I tell you?”

“Pogo on, I guess?” she offered, with another sigh.

“Pogo on!” I confirmed.

What more is there to say?



Songs of Myself

Like a lot of other folks there are certain songs that transcend a flash of memory of time, place, or person; something above and beyond a simple moment in time.  Eagles New Kid in Town is one of those songs for me:  it was the first forty-five I ever spun as a professional disc jockey, way back in 1978. Fresh out of Brown Institute and just off a Greyhound bus to my hired-sight-unseen new gig in smallish-Nevada, Missouri.  New Kid in Town summed me up pretty well – then and now.

There are other  moments when even innocuous comments bring a song to mind, triggering the memory attached to it; something as simple as being asked to remember a piece of information, or someone simply sharing a reminiscence staring with ‘remember that time…’  can be triggers for me. One of my father’s favorite songs was Try to Remember – from his favorite musical, The Fantsticks. I inherited a love of the song long before my father died, certainly fantasticksplaybilllong before I could really grasp the songs many nuances.  Now?  I still love the song, but on a wholly different level.

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow…

That song – those lyrics – obviously meant something very profound to my father, and as the years have progressed, they have come to mean a lot to me as well. While I was a theatre and American songbook geek from a young age, Try to Remember has never been out of place on my mental playlist ( I even owned the 45!). The connection between me, the song, my father – any combination thereof – has never waned.

Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow….

I do remember being that fellow; quite fondly, in fact.

What these particular ‘connection’ songs have in common is that they are linked to something ‘back in the day’ – coming of age, big moments, that sort of thing. My situation with New Kid in Town I think is fairly unique; I’m not sure many of my friends have a song so inextricably tied to the first real job they ever had. And not just the first real job or first day on the job – my first day in a new, small, town, my first five minutes of my career. I can still remember Rick, the guy who trained me, setting me up to take over the control board coming out of news and a commercial break; “So whattaya want for your first record on the air? I’ll cue it up!” There on top of a stack of 45’s on the counter, next to some news copy and baseball scores, was New Kid in Town.


New Kid in Town 45There’s talk on the street; it sounds so familiar
Great expectations, everybody’s watching you
People you meet, they all seem to know you
Even your old friends treat you like you’re something new

Johnny come lately, the new kid in town
Everybody loves you, so don’t let them down….

Songs like these usually resonate because they are tied not only to a specific event or person, but to a time when your life was simpler, things were more black-and-white. While I could rattle off a short but fairly impressive list of such tracks, I can honestly say it has been many years since there were any new entries into the canon of soul-shaking songs.

Until now.

Interestingly, it is a not a new song, nor is the situation it is tied to all that new or unique. On the contrary, it has been a favorite of mine for years, but not on the level that it is now. It is a song I have always loved, but something 100_5066has subtly, but profoundly changed.

The song is White Christmas.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

A native Minnesotan who spent most of his life in the Midwest, I am quite familiar with white Christmases; in fact, I far prefer them over other Christmases. A little over seven years ago, my family and I moved from rural, southwestern Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana. New Orleans rarely sees more than a few wisps of snow every couple of years, and I think they have approximately two Christmas snowfalls in recorded history and certainly in no abundance.

This will be my eighth Christmas as a New Orleanian, and fifth Christmas –and second in a row – that we haven’t been able to make it home during the holiday season and will be spending the holidays in the land of twinkling-light bedecked palm trees. Not my ideal, and we will certainly be missing family, and yes I will even miss the twenty-hours 100_5072-e1388166919353of driving to get there, though I will not miss the twenty hours driving back, if that makes any sense. None of this is terribly new, or unique.

But then again, it is. Damned if I know exactly why.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write…

The day after Thanksgiving, I was working on a variety of projects while listening on-line to a radio station that was kicking off the holiday season with non-stop Christmas music for the day. Nothing unusual; I really enjoy Christmas music and can always find someone playing the marathon thing to kick off the season. I was bouncing in and out of my desk area all day Friday, catching a piece of a song here or there, snippets of a few favorites that caused me to sit down, listen to the rest of the song, check some emails. I even heard a couple of different versions of White Christmas as I kept going about my business.

After lunch, I was sitting down, catching up on some email and Facebook notes about Black Friday craziness, and that when I heard it – or rather, heard him: Bing , singing the original. And I just sat there and listened, like I never had before.

I have heard Crosby singing White Christmas for all of my fifty-six years; literally a thousand times, I’d bet. Watching the movie White Christmas is an annual family tradition and I know the stories behind the song, why it was such a he hit with GI’s overseas during WWII, and I have always loved it and really don’t even mind most (and even really like some) of the cover versions I have ever heard throughout the years; the song is that good.

But now, just now,  it is something very different.

I am certainly not going to try to compare myself to some far-from-home G.I. freezing-in-a-Normandy-foxhole for whom the song transported – however temporarily and imaginary – to home, family, community. I am simply a WC Crpsby 1Midwestern-expatriate who finds himself living in the deep south of New Orleans – still an oddly foreign environment in many regards even after seven-and-half years of residency.

Hearing Bing croon White Christmas the other day was almost like hearing it for the first time; this was no superficial nostalgia or sappy sentimentality come home to roost – it was something else entirely…something I can’t really put my finger on. I can’t just be the missing snow, sleigh bells, glistening Christmas trees – I have been doing without those things (for the most part) for eight Christmases now. No family, friends to be with – no grandson? True; not something I am looking forward to, but not something I haven’t dealt with previously. And again, this is not melancholy or depression it’s all about a singular song, one that I have known well all my life but one that now means something different, something so much more.

…may your days be merry and bright, 
and may all your Christmases be white…

I get it now, like I never have before.

As an English teacher, I spend a lot of my time trying to get my students to grasp the tricks to comprehension; reading between the lines, the nuances of ideas inferred, feelings implicit. I could possibly take a tip from the Apostle Luke, who once said, “Physician, heal thyself.”

Maybe I have already begun to do just that, even without really knowing what, precisely, ails me.

Please excuse me. I need to go listen to some more Crosby.

What’s up with that, anyway?

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

Pun intended.

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

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

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

Ask your doctor.

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

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

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

Especially on a Saturday night at last call.

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

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

THAT is an entirely separate post.


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

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

Pick your poison, guys.

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

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


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

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

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

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

You think I’m kidding? ‘Boing!’®

Use this post only as directed.

Now, about those ridiculously unsafe hillside bathtubs…