One year later

11/18/17

One year ago I was still living in New Orleans – enjoying the weekend that started our week-long Thanksgiving break from school. I was a bit reflective, as it was going to be our last Thanksgiving in Louisiana and I had big plans focused on preparing for our move back home to Minnesota at the end of the school year.

John Lennon was right: ‘Life is what happens while you’re making other plans’.

The Sunday morning before turkey day was pretty typical get up at five, feed the dogs, enjoy good weekend coffee, check out Facebook, and online news outlets, get some writing done, all before heading to the French Quarter for church.

All was routine until nine-oh-five. In the intervening 8,763 hours (as I write this) a lot has changed:

We are back home in Minnesota as planned – wiser, happier, none the worse for wear. Well, maybe a little extra wear and tear. Well earned, I might add.

Later today, we will drive an hour to my daughter and son-in-law’s house to help celebrate my grandson’s seventh birthday. First time in six years this event will have us as real-life, not Skyped-in, participants.
On Friday, I received a thumbs-up on all that I am doing from my new doctor here in Minneapolis.

Over the passed year, I have learned to lead a healthier lifestyle, and I mostly stick with it. I learned much of what I know of such things from the staff at my cardiac rehab unit in New Orleans, where I was something of a rock star due to my A. regular attendance and B. the fact that in twelve weeks of grueling, challenging, but fun work I was the only member of my group to never fall off a treadmill (or any other piece of workout equipment) and/or get stopped in the middle of some sort of activity because my heart monitor was going bonkers.

I learned a lot from the four women running that rehab unit, and miss them tremendously. I am pretty sure they miss me, too or at least the different twist I brought to the proceedings. I am fairly certain I am still their only patient to regularly and repeatedly have this exchange in cardiac rehab:

“So, am I cleared to get back on my pogo stick yet?”
“No. And before you ask again, pogo stick is not considered appropriate aerobic exercise for rehab.”

Yeah, they miss me, too.

I have learned a lot over the last 365 days. On a Sunday very much like this one, yet nothing at all like this one, life changed for me. Here is how it all went down, as I recorded it then.

Tuesday, 11/21/17

Listen to your body

On Sunday, I had a heart attack. By Monday, I had learned a lot about a number of things; first and foremost, pay attention and listen to your body.

A synopsis.

Sunday morning, just past nine. I was working on my laptop, and checking the time, as I was going to get dressed, and be out the door just after nine thirty to go to church. I was just wrapping up what I was typing, noting that it was 9:05, and I felt a weird pain behind my breastbone.

This is not an unusual area of pain/discomfort for me, as I have a touch of arthritis on an upper rib, and sometimes, especially when I have been physically active, the tendons and muscles running across the are become inflamed. I can usually massage out the resulting muscle knot with my fingers, and sometimes throw on an ice pack.

But this was different.

It was not an intense pain, but it was steady, and noticeably different. I cannot describe exactly how it was that much different, but I knew it was out of the norm. I figured I would let it go for a few minutes and see, but then I felt two pin-pricks on each side of my jaw. That, I knew was not right, even though they lasted just a few seconds and were not radiating to/from anywhere. Then, I felt the same sensation is each shoulder, and even though it lasted only a second or two, and was again not radiating, I knew I should get into the hospital.

I woke up my wife, who had dozed off while reading, and told her I needed to get to the ER. We quickly got dressed, informed our son Sam about what was going on, and got in the car for the fifteen-minute drive to the hospital. While getting dressed, I felt a minor wave of nausea, so quickly popped in a TUMS.

The drive was fine, until the last few minutes, when the pain in my chest intensified a bit; not tremendously, but enough so that it was noticeable. I was not, at this point in great pain, but I knew something was way off.

Two minutes later, we pull up to the Oschner ER door, Amy goes to park the car. It was a blustery fall morning, cool and windy, but when I got out of the car and stood up, I felt flushed. When I walked in through the automatic doors, the desk staff commented on the cold wind blowing in. I walked up to the desk, gave them my info and insurance card, and they had me go sit down. I still felt off, but was not in appreciable pain. The clock on the wall said 9:45.

Then a young triage doc named Lance called my name, had me sit and took my BP. He looked at the reading, then immediately ushered me into a room about ten feet away, where he hooked me up to an EKG. he asked how long I had been having this pain, and I said, “It started just after nine” to which Lance responded, “And you came right here?” We finished, he walked me out and told me to take a seat in the waiting area. Amy had just walked in from parking the car, so this all (BP, EKG) happened very quickly. Lance said he would be right back, and I took the chair next to Amy.

By now I was very warm, and as I sat next too Amy, the pain started to intensify – actually, the pressure in my chest started to intensify, which led to pain all throughout my torso. A few minutes later Lance reappeared with a wheelchair, and said “Mr. Lucker, let’s go.” By now I was feeling rotten; chest pressure, I was hot, starting to become nauseous. As Lance started picking up speed with the wheelchair, it was like being on a carnival ride; I was relieved because the rushing air was cooling, but my nausea was getting worse. It seemed like a reasonable trade-off. Lance then turned sharply into a big exam room, and I counted at least eight people there, including a blonde woman who immediately introduced herself and said, “Mr. Lucker, Hi, I’m doctor —-, and we’re going to get you taken care of.” I unfortunately can’t remember her name, but she was incredible.

It was just like on TV. the doctor who had introduced herself was obviously the maestro, directing the crazy medical symphony; directing some staff members, asking for various stats from others, and talking to me directly, pointedly, calmly. One of the first things she asked was the same series of questions I got from Lance, with almost the same response: “How long have you been having this chest pain?” and “And you came right in to the ER? That’s good.”

This pattern repeated itself, but with variations once the catheter lab guys and cardiac surgeons got involved: “How many hours ago did the chest pain start?” followed by obvious surprise when I replied, “about nine this morning” – every time the question was asked an answered, the doctor would glance at the clock, then verify my response with something along the lines of, “So just in the last hour or so?” to which I kept responding, “Yes.”

At least six times that I remember, I went through this routine with a doctor – and that was just between my arrival in the ER, a trip to the exam room, and then being wheeled into the cath lab; a bit more than an hour, all told. Over the next day or so, I had the same conversation over and over, with other doctors and technicians, and all four of my stellar ICU nurses.

The response was always one of surprise, and clarification was always sought, accompanied by a glance at whatever clock or watch was handy. Turns out, I am something of an anomaly.

I listened to my body.

What I have come to learn from the excellent doctors and nurses who have been caring for me is that most people in my situation do not listen to their own bodies, and wait – sometimes too long – to take their situation seriously and seek medical attention.

I know this, because I asked, noting my surprise that doctors kept phrasing the question in terms of hours; “How many hours were you having this pain before you came in?” and seeing their surprise when I replied, “about forty-five minutes before I got here.”

I listened to my body.

The medical professional said that most people wait – either because of denial or fear. A quick bit of research on what the pros told me was easily confirmed; one NIH study I quickly found showed that 69% of heart attack patients had delayed seeking treatment for their symptoms. This quote from the NIH study: ‘The most important causes of having delay were: “hoping the symptoms to alleviate spontaneously”, “attributing the symptoms to other problems other than heart problems”, and “disregarding the symptoms”.’

I listened to my body.

I cannot imagine what would have happened had I not. Had I waited, or just blown everything off, or headed to St. Marks, the worst part would have hit somewhere else other than the ER. I would not have been two minutes away from a team of professionals, one of who immediately placed a nitroglycerin pill under my tongue and told me to hold it there. Had I not been in the Oschner ER when this episode escalated…?

I listened to my body.

Most people, faced with similar circumstances when it comes to their heart, apparently do not.

I am not writing or sharing this just to share my story; there are much better, more amusing, more curious parts of it to tell from a storytelling standpoint. I am sharing this because I was very fortunate, in large part because I realized that something wasn’t anywhere near right – even though I really didn’t feel ‘all that bad’ at the time.

I listened to my body.

Oh, and ignoring or downplaying heart symptoms is not just a stubborn-male attribute. One of the more interesting statistics I found when doing some basic research? Women are more likely than men to delay treatment.

Thankfully, I listened to my body.

I hope this encourages you to listen to yours, too.

Peace,

Mark

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Self reckoning

For the record, I was never a fan of Judge Kavanagh as a SCOTUS nominee; far too conservative for me. I also need to note that as a young man, I was once a volunteer at a women’s shelter and have a unique perspective on issues regarding sexual assault. As an English teacher, I am all about context – and transparency. That being said, this is my perspective, one I have thought about seriously before sharing. If you disagree, that is fine. I don’t wish to engage in a back-and-forth on this; it is simply a commentary.  I just want to share a different perspective.

Most males of my generation have their judge Kavanaugh moment.

Yes, I said and mean ‘most’.  I understand that many will see that as hyperbole, and I also understand that it is a broad brush to paint an entire generation with, but I also believe it. I stand by the statement above: most males of my generation have their judge Kavanaugh moment.

High school, college, in their twenties – most heterosexual men of my generation have, at some point in time, gone too far with a woman, physically or verbally. I am comfortable saying that most men of my generation have at some point pushed beyond whatever boundaries there may have been in place, with varying degrees of consequences (if any) for themselves.

Not so the females involved.

I can say this based on a variety of tangible and intangible factors including, but not limited to

  • Well documented, reliable statistics
  • The glorification of such male ‘exploits’ in popular culture (music, movies, television)
  • The personal experiences of most yes, (that word again) of the women I know who are roughly the same age and demographic, plus the experiences of many of the younger women I know
  • My own, personal experiences with girls and women

Statistically, even just scratching the surface the numbers are grim: one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives, one in three women experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Nearly eighty-percent of women report getting catcalled, or whistled at, or getting unwanted comments of a sexual nature.

When you break things down statistically, in all categories those numbers are much higher for women of color, and also those women on the lower ends of the socio-economic scale.

My personal experience with women I know would seem to roughly parallel those statistics, so I have little reason to doubt their veracity.  The scary thing is, that is just amongst women I know who have spoken (publicly or privately) about these issues.  I am quite certain that there are many women I know who have not shared their experiences with me.

The raw numbers alone are sobering.

Here is why I believe that most males of my generation have their judge Kavanagh moment: If I know this many victims, I must, percentage-wise, also know roughly this many perpetrators.

Myself included.

As men, if we are being honest with ourselves we must acknowledge our complicity in the problem here, how pervasive the ‘boys-will-be-boys’ mentality has influenced us. Gentlemen, who among us could, under oath, swear that we had never gone too far in some respect?  How many of us have never made a crude sexual comment or request directly to a girl or woman?  How many of us, in the heat of a moment, failed to heed the request of a to a girl or woman to ‘stop’ or ‘wait a minute’ or even ignored a flat-out ‘no’ – at least the first time such a protestation was made – even in the most seemingly benign of situations?

Looking back on my life as honestly as possible, I can certainly think of at least a few instances where I crossed some sort of line with coercion, ignoring signs or statements,  or simply not stopping something when asked the first time. And those are just scattered situations where I am thinking of.

People – women – who have known me at various stages in my life may have different takes.

I am just six years older than judge Kavanagh; it is reasonable to say that we are of the same generation. His testimony the other day about his youthful drinking habits did not shock me, as I believe that what he was describing was, while not necessarily typical behavior was certainly not an anomaly. Nor I would guess, was it seen so by most members of the senate committee (and the US. Senate as a whole) because they too had their youthful indiscretions in regards to a lot of things – beer, and drinking in general. Not uncommon.

They seem oblivious because they are; most of the committee members hail from a generation older than Judge Kavanaugh or myself.  News flash: wink-wink, boys-will-be-boys is learned behavior. Look at the people on that panel through that lens and all of this grotesque spectacle makes a lot more sense.

While there has been some rather pointed scorn, ridicule, and satire leveled on Kavanagh for all of his thirty-odd mentions of his like for beer, one thought keeps coming back to me in regards to the entire situation as most on both sides seem to agree: there was a lot of teenage partying and shenanigans going on…but little or no sexual stuff.

I call bullshit on that entire concept.

Somehow, I am expected to believe that a bunch of teenagers and college students, with their not-fully-developed prefrontal and frontal cortexes could regularly add copious amounts of alcohol to their social interactions, and yet still have the capacity to know where to draw the line in terms of sexual activity with any veracity at all?

Bullshit.

Men of my age, I have a question: how many of us have a story or two that we still tell (either humorously or as a cautionary tale) about some youthful indiscretion – sexual or otherwise?  How many of those incidents involve alcohol use (yours or by peers that sucked you into their orbit) and how many occurred stone-cold sober?  How many of your stories that involve youthful drinking would probably not have happened at all was it not for alcohol-fueled judgment?

Can’t break that down into percentages?  Try the math on this one: how many of those stories you know tell – gleefully or ruefully – were a direct result of you being an idiot teenager with a not fully developed brain? If you want to say ‘100%’ I’m good with that.

The fact that so many of the players in this drama (on all sides) are so blasé about the drinking culture that is being arduously rehashed over and over and won’t or don’t make the connection between the drinking and its links to other inappropriate behavior speaks to their privilege and their age; “Hey, it’s just we did back then.”

Thus, most males of my generation have their judge Kavanaugh moment.

Most females of my generation have their judge Kavanagh moment, but from a far different perspective – as victims. They unfortunately also have their Dr. Ford moment.  In many cases, multiple such moments.

Where does this leave me?  Having been a teenager of roughly the same vintage as Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford, understanding the problematic nature of the pervasiveness of boys-will-be-boys culture, having shepherded three children of my own through their teen years and been an observer of multiple nieces and nephews spanning the same, plus ten years of teaching high school English, I say this with confidence:  to me, Dr. Ford’s accusations and recollections are credible and believable, Judge Kavanaugh’s denials about the incidents and chummy culture of his youthful times are not.

You want me to believe that teenaged drinking started and ended with just drinking?

Bullshit.

Overall, we need to look at the big picture here as a country, and address some hard issues: does youthful indiscretion preclude one from public service as an adult?  Hopefully not, or the candidate pool then becomes very small. The bigger question to me is, was this teenaged behavior something someone grows out of, or did it set a pattern that carried on into adulthood?  There has to be a distinction there.  Most crucial is this: can the accused person not see or acknowledge how their behavior impacted others, or how it may retroactively be seen in a different light?

To not see this all-in logical context – teenagers and drinking can, and often does, lead to other misbehavior – I think requires a special sort of denial. To think that a group of teens drinking excessively or on a regular basis always knew where to draw the line defies logic.

Most males of my generation have their Judge Kavanaugh moment.

The bottom line for me is Dr. Ford’s accusations and recollections are credible and believable, Judge Kavanaugh’s denials about the incidents and culture of his youthful times are not.

Walking with Studs Terkel

The first job I ever had was delivering newspapers – tossing
them with vigor at various doorways from atop my big, black,
steel-framed paperboy bike, and the paper’s rubber bands would
sometimes slip, causing the paper to take the form of a cone
rendering them aerodynamically unable to fly well but…

…they looked a lot like the cones I filled by hand with
hard. muscle-building, ice cream in my next job at
Baskin-Robbins where the scooped gobs of vanilla were the same
shade as the naked potatoes I peeled by the fifty-pound bag to
make potato pancakes at my other gig at the Alpine Village Inn
where we garnished every plate of German food with a spiced-apple
ring, round and hollow just like the crullers and glazed-raised
I served to cops, mechanics,teachers, and folks my next stop
at the Donut House…

…where, in fact, all of our donuts (except long johns and the
crème-or-jelly-filled Bismarck’s) had center holes that resembled
the 45 rpm records I played on my first ‘real’ career-jobs at
multiple radio stations I worked at as an alleged adult for a
decade or so – places where people would call in to request songs
and birthday greetings or to win bumper stickers, chat about aliens,
vent about their loneliness because all they had was my voice
and cats and I tried to politely get off the phone, back to work
entertaining 24/7 hot-and-cold running weirdoes…

…a lot like the people I met in my next career incarnation in the
hotel business I grew to love, except hotel guests you encountered
face-to-face while they complained about cold pools, thin towels,
noisy ice machines, bad food or the fact that they got put in
a room on the 13th floor; at least they usually tipped you for
your time, effort, charm, expertise – except for a short stint when
I worked behind the desk with reservation computers and
boring accounting stuff…

…but that all came in handy when I went back to broadcasting and
helped manage a national radio network which gave me more technical
skills that were more helpful when I became a county social services
case manager, helping folks who could never tip, but who often just
needed someone to talk to besides their cats and the guy on
the radio with a call-in-show, so sometimes I could help make their
lives a bit easier…

…like I did in my next stop as a state employment counselor
which I enjoyed and did well with because, holy cow! I could relate
to most of the people on my caseload because I had done so many
different things that helped me be successful at helping people
find better jobs than the ones that had been snatched from them and
I could also talk with great authority on making transitions –
especially once the economy went south and the irony of being
laid-off as an employment counselor sank in…

….so I went to work for a company training their employees to do
their jobs, until they started cutting some of those jobs
and of course you don’t need to train someone to do a job that
isn’t there anymore and so then I finally finished a long-ago begun
college degree and mentoring my much younger classmates.

Now I daily find myself in front of a classroom full of often
disinterested, inner-city, high school, English students who don’t
understand at all how the real world works and see themselves as
not having many future options or long-term prospects…

…so the world just doesn’t need as many people to deliver, throw,
scoop, peel, and serve like back in my day so they don’t learn or need to
learn these seemingly but not really innocuous skills and now
any empathy I share with people falls on mostly deaf ears of kids
wearing earbuds which drowns out the siren-call of potential for
opportunity beyond being a discount store cashier or shoving lattes
across a counter…

…and I think back over the blue-collar and white-collar phases of
my careers and all I can say for certain now is that whatever the
color of my shirts, there was almost always a well-earned,
mostly-enjoyed-making-it, had some laughs, ring around those collars
and how maybe, just maybe, circles and rings and holes and loops
are some kind of theme in my life and then I find myself
talking in circles to my students because it’s what we sometimes
do just to get something to stick and quite often at the end of
the day I can easily picture myself back in a paper hat somewhere
asking…

”You want coffee with that cruller?”

Dressing the part

As I have now returned home to Minnesota (and landed a new teaching gig there) this little classroom escapade from a few years back in New Orleans resonates even more.  A good start-of-a-new-school-year memory from the Marchives.

Friday was a ‘dress down’ day at school – pay five bucks for the privilege of wearing your favorite pro or college team jersey and jeans. Yee-ha!   My inner-city New Orleans high school kids know img_20161007_155732nothing of hockey, so I was interested in gauging their response to me wearing my U of M hockey jersey.

With the exception of one kid who said, “Ummmm…Michigan?” (detention, AND an automatic ‘F’ for him) the kids mostly got the ‘M’ for Minnesota part, because they know me well enough, but my favorite interaction was with one of my more thoughtful tenth graders, a gregarious kid who always shares his writing with the class, and who often ponders things before speaking – a rarity in my classroom.

“So, Mr. Lucker…Minnesota, right?”
“Yep.”
“That’s where you went to college?”
“One of the places.”
“That a hockey jersey?”
“Yes it is.”
“You were a hockey player?”
“Nope.”
“You played football.”
“Nope.”
“Baseball.”
“Nope.”
Pondering pause, trying to fathom, “You weren’t a basketball player?!
“Nope.”
Pondering pause, ‘I give up’ head shake, shrug.
“I was a mascot.”

Pondering pause, eyes growing wider.

“You mean, a suit and everything? A costume?”
“Yep.”
Pondering pause, eyes still wide.
“Costume, big fiberglass head. I was awesome.”
goldie4Pondering pause, scrunched-up face, look of confusion.

“What Minnesota is again?”
“The Gophers.”
Pondering pause, head shake of incredulity.
“Damn, Mr. Lucker.”

He smiled, still shaking his head as he went back to his writing.

On the St. Mark

I will soon walk through the doors of St. Marks United Methodist Church one last time.  I first entered that hallowed space on the edge of New Orleans’ historic French Quarter in the spring of 2006; it was sixth months after Hurricane Katrina had wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast, and St. Marks was in a state of disrepair.StM1

No. St. Mark’s was in a state of renewal – it’s historic, perpetual mode.

That Sunday morning, I was a visitor; a tourist on my first trip to New Orleans, there at the urging of my boss, who thought that I should spend the weekend of my extended business trip to Louisiana getting a first-hand look at what hurricane recovery looked like.

The trip to New Orleans changed my life. So did St. Marks.

I had arrived in town the previous Friday afternoon, and checked into a hotel on the edge of the French Quarter; it was a place best described at that moment as ‘creepy’.  It was an older building (not by any stretch one of the oldest, but it had seen a few years) and the entire first floor had been gutted down to the studs as part of its post-Katrina revelation. Stark, and empty, but that isn’t what made it strange. The second story of the hotel had been untouched by floodwaters, so they were open for business.

Floodwaters not an issue, but my room appeared to have been untouched by time.

The dark, wide-grained, walnut paneling, large, clunky, light fixtures and olive-green carpeting dated the room to sometime in the late 1960’s.  The old desk phone by the bed – while not as dated – was of only less ancient vintage, adorned with myriad instructions and extensions for various hotel services.  The creep factor quickly gave way to kitsch, especially considering I was staying in a hotel in a part of a city that was older than the country itself.

It fit me.

As a writer and history buff, this entire sidebar trip was one of great anticipation and opportunity – and I used my time to simply stroll, observe, and record.  I spent Friday night and Saturday traversing every street in the Quarter, stopping periodically to drink chicory coffee, and write.  Or to stop, eat and listen to some jazz, and write.

I filled a brand new, five-by-seven-inch spiral notebook I had brought with me.

My first visit was twelve years ago.

That Sunday morning found me at a small breakfast spot I had stumbled across the day before. the night before, I had checked the old hotel directory binder in my room for a local church I could attend – figuring that most any nearby church would have ample amounts of history and quirk to suit my rather eclectic faith tastes.

It was a quick thumb through, as I discovered St. Mark’s UMC was just two blocks from my hotel and had services at ten o’clock – ample time for early-riser me to hit the streets, see some sights, and get some breakfast.  Plus, it was a Methodist church, and I was a Methodist churchgoer back home in Minnesota.

And we shared a name.

After breakfast, I went back to my hotel, packed up my stuff and loaded it in my rental car, before making the short stroll to church.  It was a muggy morning, and the Quarter had an air about it; a whiff of old mixed with new.  There was the typical ‘old’ smell – earthy, damp – mixed with new: freshly cut wood, new plaster, and cement -all held together with the mortal of lemon disinfectant, a special treat laid down that morning by street sweepers washing away a night of revelry.

I arrived at the church and took in the look of the place. It was old, dating to the early 1920’s, but on the exterior, it didn’t seem that Katrina had done much damage. Above the stmark2door was an old, hand-painted sign, reading ‘ST. MARK’s the METHODIST CHURCH OF THE VIEUX CARRÉ ’ – Vieux Carré the French for ‘Old Square’.

The sign and the sentiment are still there.

Once inside, I immediately got the sense that this place was not typical, and that it was not going to be business as usual. Scaffolding along the sides of the church showed where stained glass windows, wall plaster, and the ceiling were all getting some badly needed repair.  The corners of the sanctuary had piles of materials and tools, and there was a definite vibe of renewal.

Same for the folks in the pews.

People milled about, some with cups of coffee in hand, a few were engaged in conversation, many sat silently, by themselves, and some were even sleeping in the pews. A number of those in attendance looked to be homeless – because they were; all of their worldly belongings with them in backpacks, suitcases, boxes.  Scattered here are there were a different set of folks; more neatly dressed, seemingly more middle class.  Racially, I was surprised to pretty even split, black and white.  I have lived and worked in the inner city; my first thought was that I had stumbled into some sort of homeless shelter.

But that idea was quickly overshadowed by a humbling realization; if these folks were disenfranchised from their communities or families, they certainly were not in this place, on this Sunday morning.  The conviviality was palpable, unforced.  This was an interesting place.

Piano music was playing and people were starting to find their spots.

As I accepted a bulletin from an usher and began to look for a seat, a petite, blonde woman walked up to me, excitedly welcoming me, then warmly clasping my hand and shaking it. In a southern drawl as thick as cane syrup, she thanked me for being there, before excusing herself and answering a question of the ushers had about something.

Her name was Anita Dinwiddie, and she was the pastor.

What followed was as uplifting a service as I have attended, and the quirks I anticipated were everywhere. Among the most moving was the greeting and the call to come up to the altar, and ‘grab a flower’.  Just in front of the polished wood altar railing was a small table and scattered across it were a variety of fresh-cut flowers – daisies and carnations. Without hesitation, and with piano music playing, the majority of the congregants got up from their seats, walked to the front of the church, grabbed a flower, and then went to img_20170820_110909.jpgthe altar to kneel in prayer, placing the flower on the altar in front of them.

At least, some folks laid their flowers down. Many people held on to their daisy as they prayed – some clutching the stem intently, others twirling them around absentmindedly, as they prayed, got up, and headed back to their seat, giving the next person in line their chance.

It was a fascinating and profoundly moving five minutes – always is. I had never seen anything like it before or since.

Anita later explained that the tradition pre-dated her tenure by many years, and that the premise was simple; those who felt they had nothing to bring in terms of an offering would always have something – a simple flower – they could bring to the altar.

This simple, small piece of the Sunday morning experience at St. Mark’s is one of my favorite things about the place – and one of the things I will miss the most.  And though confession isn’t necessarily a Methodist thing (in a formal sense) I have one to make: as many times as, I have seen and participated in the flower ritual, I am often getting more from watching how others – especially first-time visitors – are moved by the sight of watching people pick up their flowers, and how they handle them.

Hey, I’ve been there.

The rest of the service was standard issue, traditional Methodist; classic hymns, prayer requests, joys and concerns, sermon.  Though very little is done without some special flair or twist.  The music on any given Sunday, was provided by some wonderful musicians of varying ilk.  Often, the soloist or vocalist you were listening to from the pew would have been performing on some nearby French Quarter stage twelve-hours before.

What might have been your cover charge on Saturday night is an offering plate drop-in Sunday morning.

At the conclusion of my first Sunday there, I was startled to see that not many people were all that anxious to scoot out the door. In fact, many were coming from the back of the church to the front.

Because it was time for the weekly meal.

Each week – then and now – the church serves a meal to the homeless immediately following the service; they have it down to a well-oiled routine, and the carts are rolling out while the pastor is at the back of the church saying goodbye to those who are leaving. each week, the meal is prepared, and then served by, groups from different churches – local, regional, and otherwise.

It is an impressive and impactful undertaking.

Along with their homeless ministry, St, Marks also has a strong, long-standing bond with the LGBTQ community. Back in 1973, an arsonist set fire to a well-known gay bar in the Quarter, and thirty-two people died.  Some of the victims went unidentified, and bodies were not claimed by families.  St. Mark’s was the only church that would allow memorial services and funerals for the victims; this church is not new to the ideas of diversity and social justice.  In the 1960s, during the turmoil of desegregation, the pastor of St. Marks held integrated services, and sent his children to help integrate a local school.

Service to all and inclusion have deep roots here.

Obviously, that first, not-at-all random (thanks, G-d) visit to St. Mark’s was not my last. Two years later, my family and I moved to New Orleans to help with the post-Katrina rebuild, and I became a semi-regular St. Mark’s attendee. The place – and the people – have made an extraordinary impact on me. Some of the deepest, most meaningful friendships I have made in my time in New Orleans began at St, Mark’s; some of the most meaningful and delightful discussions on faith I have ever been involved with came during St. Mark’s ‘disorganized religion’ sessions – for years held weekly, on Tuesday nights, at a local bar.

Pastor Dinwiddie, now retired and living in Texas, is now simply my friend, Anita.

My friends Brett, Jerry, Karl, Ed, Michael, Reita, Noble, and Corey (who took over for the retired Anita) – all welcomed me with warmth, and good humor, strong counsel.

It is a long list of things to be grateful for in my connections with St. Mark’s UMC; twelve years is the longest stretch I have ever spent with a single congregation.  I have seen a lot of people come and go, heard wonderful sermons and fabulous music.  I have signed many of the sympathy cards the church puts in with the guest register, then sends to victims of violence around the community.

I have learned a lot – about myself, about others, about life.  St. Mark’s is a cool place, and one that I will deeply miss.

Every Sunday service at St. Mark’s closes with a group sing; first run through with accompaniment, the second done a Capella, as everyone looks around the congregation and makes eye contact with someone else – bringing an entirely different perspective to the lyrics we sing; rinse-and-repeat. Incredibly cleansing:

Shalom to you now, shalom my friend!
May G-d’s full mercy, bless you my friend!
In all your living, and through your loving,
Christ be your shalom,
Christ be your shalom.

Backatcha, my St. Mark’s friends.  Backatcha always.

Today is my last visit to St. Mark’s.  I don’t know that I’ll ever feel as at home in a church.

And I am very okay with that.

 

Laughter never fades

Father’s Day.Mom and Dad and I and Gramps

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

Dad died in 1986 – now more than half my life ago, which is an interesting realization to come to – I have lived more of my life without his physical presence than with.  Logically I get that, but it still hard to wrap my mind around sometimes.

Because my dad is still hanging around.

It is natural to wonder what he would think of the here-and-now; what his family has become, his grandchildren, great-grandchildren – life in general, the world in which we all live. His political commentary on modern times would be something to behold. Mostly NSFW – but due to tone, not language. My father was not generally a profane guy, not always quick to anger, but get his dander up, and he would not hold back, and he could be caustic when really provoked.

But the message, no matter how pointed, would be leavened with ample humor.

I don’t need to think too hard to reach some definite conclusions; he would see my life as it is today with a sense of pride, but also a heightened level of amusement and bemusement. Same holds for grandchildren, and his great-grandson.

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

Life would still be meaningfully funny, as would he.

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

As life regrets go, that may sound funny.

My dad was an aficionado of comedy. He spent the bulk of his working years as a television station film editor in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and then Denver. This was back in the fifties, sixties and seventies when television was still a fairly new, burgeoning entity, and most markets had only four-or-five channels to choose from, and – aside from their network programming –  had lots of local airtime to fill.  TV stations back then ran a lot of old movies; my father’s job was to edit them to fit time frames, and to insert the commercial breaks.

Dad loved movies and he did some community theater himself in his younger, pre-me dad the waiterdays. He also made a few appearances in front of the camera at both stations he worked at; as a menswear model in Minneapolis, and for a number of years in Denver as Santa Claus, on a live, local morning show.  Plus, he did some ad modeling after he retired. Dad was gregarious, willing to try new things and to have fun. Privately, and in public, his comedic timing was superb – on par with professionals.

And Dad knew comedy.

My dad loved a wide array of comedic films and performers. Humor of all kinds actually. A favorite stand-up comedian’s appearance on a show noted in TV Guide or the tvgnewspaper listings and the television was thus appropriated for that time frame: ergo, my first, youthful experiences with ‘appointment television’ were all comedic in nature. Comedy (and humor – a major distinction, to be sure) and an appreciation for things humorous, was a trait he passed on to me, though at times we had somewhat divergent viewpoints on what/who was funny, and who wasn’t.

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

Born in 1916, Dad’s early experiences with comedy were vaudeville and silent films. He was a fan of silent stars Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd, and also the Keystone Cops. When I was a teenager, any public television salute to either of those guys was duly chnoted and watched by my dad, and since we only had one TV in the house at the time, me too.

I easily came to share his admiration for most of it.

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

Nostalgia is a funny thing; sometimes you look back on something fondly and then wonder why. This is not one of those; I still enjoy watching Laurel and Hardy – probably even more so now that I am older and grasp far more of the subtle nuances of their humor – the verbal mastery of the language, the pathos in the true-to-life friendship of their humor, and how grounded in reality even their most absurd moments were.
L&H2
I always laughed along with dad when watching Laurel and Hardy; now I know why he laughed much harder at some things than I did back then.

Watch a Laurel and Hardy short sometime, and you will see that even the physical, slapstick humor has a certain humanity to it, a gentleness. Charlie Chaplin is much the same, and Chaplin I also grasp in a much different way now than I did back then.  The poignancy is palpable, and while I got some of that while watching as a boy, Chaplin also grounded his humor in painful, adult reality.  Dad loved Chaplin, and even portrayed him a couple of times for costume parties.  He had Chaplin’s waddle and cane twirl down pat.

We did diverge at times, however, humor-wise.

In a very different vein of comedy, my dad loved The Bowery Boys; I got quickly bored with their antics. they were New York imps, and he grew up in Brooklyn, so I guess there may have been some connection to real-life for him. Me? Meh. Abbot and Costello did nothing for dad, I found them amusing – though they don’t wear as well for me as the years move on, so maybe my sense of humor is aging like good wine – or my dad.

Ahh, but our shared loves!

My Dad loved the Three Stooges – about as far removed comedically from Laurel and Hardy as you can get, in many regards. There is little subtlety in the Stooges and their 3Seye poking-head smacking mayhem, but my dad enjoyed them tremendously as do I, as do both my sons – his grandsons. There is something timeless in a pie in the face or a poke in the eye.  Don’t believe me?  As an adult, I have, by way of actual demonstration, won a couple of high-stakes bets on whether or not a pie-in-the-face would get a laugh in most any public setting.

Dad would be proud, and he would have laughed like hell seeing me splattered with copious amounts of shaving cream. Plus, I do a damn fine Curley impression.

But while I grew up sharing dad’s appreciation for Laurel & Hardy and the Stooges, we sadly, strangely parted ways over the Marx Brothers.  I was, and still am, a big fan; dad didn’t really find them all that funny (though he enjoyed Harpo and marveled at how great a musician he was). Dad’s attitude towards the Marx Brothers is one thing that has mb1always puzzled me.  All he could do in response to my not-concealed disappointment was so shrug and say that he just didn’t find them very amusing.

Funny how serious guys can get in a disagreement about what is humorous.

As well read and cerebral as my dad was in terms of comedy and satire (both on-screen and in real life) the Marx Brothers would seem to be a natural for him. Oh, he watched some Brothers stuff with me a few times, but it just wasn’t really his thing. But, when I was in high school, PBS resurrected Groucho Marx’s ‘You Bet Your Life’ quiz show from the fifties and ran them on Saturday nights. I became hooked, and Dad actually found Groucho Marx to be a funny guy, much to my relief and vindication of sorts. He still never really cared for their movies, though.

Conversely, when PBS resurrected Ernie Kovacs old shows, I was puzzled as what Kovacs bits my dad liked and which ones he really didn’t. The Nairobi Trio and Percy EKDovetonsils the poet did nothing for him but had me in stitches. By the same token, Kovaks was a pioneer in visual effects, and stretching the bounds of the young, television technology. Most of that I just found weird, my dad loved that stuff. he was, of course, a TV guy.

When asked on his deathbed if he was finding it difficult to leave this life, acclaimed actor John Barrymore was quoted as having responded, “No. Death is easy. Comedy is hard.”

Indeed.

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

Comedians were prevalent on television when I was growing up, and not just late night with Johnny Carson. The Ed Sullivan Show, the Carol Burnet Show, The Flip Wilson Show –  it seemed there was always somebody funny on, and my dad and I enjoyed watching them all.

He loved (and I came to truly appreciate) Jewish, Borscht-Belt comedians Myron Cohen and Morey Amsterdam; yet he couldn’t stand fellow BBers Buddy Hacket or Shecky Greene.  Dad MC and MAoften puzzled over my love for the insult humor of Don Rickles or the confetti-throwing antics of Rip Taylor – neither of whom he could stomach, either. We both liked Jonathan Winters, and Burns and Schreiber – even George Carlin, to name a few.   Although my dad usually went to bed early, I got to stay up late with him sometimes on non-school nights to catch Carson’s show when a comedic favorite was scheduled, thus delaying his bedtime.

Forget the tapes and DVDs: my Dad would have become addicted to YouTube reruns of all those guys.

The great thing was, Dad was not so old school that he couldn’t enjoy contemporary stuff: he would sit with me on Monday nights and watch The Monkees. He enjoyed their antics, tolerated the music.  Looking back, this makes more sense to me; while I used to equate The Monkees humor with the Stooges, viewing them now, I see much more of the gentle love and affection of friends evident in Laurel and Hardy.  And my dad would also take pride in my 36-year-old daughter’s love of The Monkees – which she and her peers got hooked on in their middle-school years, via repeated re-airings.

Dad also loved Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and daughter Lindsay also became a fan of that show too, watching Laugh-In reruns during her teens on Nike at Nite. She now owns some DVD R&Mcompilations of Laugh-In and uses a number of the shows memorable lines regularly in her personal phraseology repertoire, which would please my father to no end – probably even more than it amuses me.

She is also a hard-core theatre geek (and married another one) so he would have been all over that, too.

TV of my youth was something my dad and I got to share as it happened.  Sitcoms of the day we agreed upon and enjoyed watching as a family:  The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, All in The Family, The Odd Couple, and M*A*S*H* were favorites that stand out – and he really loved Barney Miller.

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

The Swedish Chef in particular always sent Dad convulsing with laughter, and he really enjoyed Rolf the piano playing dog. And Fozzie Bear and Kermit, of course.  But the Swedish Chef was a whole different level of gut-buster for my dad.  No, he wasn’t SC2Swedish himself, but marrying into an extended family of Norwegian immigrants and their Swedish cohorts, he could somewhat identify.  I think.  Dad was also partial to Statler and Waldorf, the old guys kibitzing from the balcony.

The Muppet Show aired at six-thirty, and if there was a particularly intriguing guest star that night, we had dinner on TV trays in the family room – a treat generally reserved for Apollo blastoffs or something equally noteworthy.

To watch The Muppet Show. As father and teenaged son.

Comedy – slapstick, self-deprecating, absurdist, topical, improvisational –  are some of the main reasons I really regret my dad and I missing out on the home video era.

One of the few ‘grown-up’ movies I ever saw with my dad in a theater was The Pink Panther Strikes Again, starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. My father loved the earlier Pink Panther movies, and thought Peter Sellers was brilliantly funny. I had only seen bits and pieces of the earlier films on TV and was unsure what to expect from a whole movie of Seller’s antics.

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

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

It was the late 1970’s and my dad had recently had heart surgery. With that scene, he was laughing so hard I thought he was going to have a heart attack. Seriously.

I have watched that scene a hundred times and laugh almost as hard as he did that night.

The other thing of note from my dad’s affection for Peter Sellers and the Pink Panther series really has less to do with my dad, and more with his influence on my relationship with my sons. A few years ago I rented the original Pink Panther movie and my sons and I watched it together. My dad loved one particular scene, and my boys do now too – especially since they have been able to watch that particular bit over and over via YouTube.

Assassins are trying to kill Inspector Clouseau. One cutthroat (disguised as Clouseau) enters the hotel suite, while another follows and then kills the first assassin, hiding in the bathtub, thinking it is the real Clouseau. When a third killer (lovely Russian assassin Olga) enters, she declares her love for Clouseau and seduces the second assassin in the dimly lit room.

Then the real Clouseau arrives, moving throughout several rooms of the suite, turning on lights and turning off others while Olga is doing the same in his wake. He’s befuddled as to what is happening with the lighting and even more surprised when he gets into bed with some “cold hands.” Olga thinks she is with the same man, and a confused Clouseau then jumps from the bed, and escapes to the bathroom, where he now finds the body of the first assassin in the bathtub.

To this point in the scene, there has been no dialogue. Clouseau goes to the phone and calls the front desk, matter-of-factly informing them of what he has discovered:

icf“Hello?… Yezzz. There eez a beautiful woman in my bed, and a dead man in my bath. Thank you.”

Again, a close-up shot of Clouseau’s face – a pause, then his wide-eyed look when he realizes what he has said – the subtle, played straight absurdity of it all, makes the whole scene.

Even without my dad at hand, that line has become a piece of family folklore.

Whenever we check into a hotel room, one of the Lucker males is sure to pick up the phone and intone, in his best, suave, French accent, “Hello? Yayes. There eeze a dead man in my bath-tuub, and a naked woman in my bed! Thank you.”  before quickly hanging up.

With any luck at all, we remember to hold down the button on the phone so the call dad 3doesn’t actually go through to the desk.

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

He would find that more than just wonderfully amusing.

Joe-oh.

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.

Joe-oh.

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.’ 

Indubitably.

 ‘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:
stj5.jpg

’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.

Michaelangelo

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.

By the number

33 is my number. Not my lucky number, not my magic number, and there is no numerology, or other mysticism-related mystique surrounding it. But it is my number. And no, I am not an athlete – at least in any sort of organized, uniformed way – though I have worn the double-three on my back for various softball teams and radio station flag-football retinues. Even when it doesn’t go with an actual jersey or t-shirt, 33 is written in Sharpie marker on the inside brim of most of my baseball caps.

It is, after all, my number.

And yes, I know my sixth grade English teacher is rolling over in her grave seeing me not spell out ‘thirty-three’ but when you are writing a story about a number…

33 it is.

If you are one of the fellow denizens of the Denver South High Class of 1977, you may remember the number as having nothing to do with me, but rather as the number indelibly rumbling through our collective mind’s eyes on the broad, muscular back of Johnny Wilkins – our star fullback, BMOC, genuinely one of the nicest guys ever.

And a guy who was taken from us much too soon.

Johnny died before reaching his twentieth birthday – felled by a virus that attacked his heart. Johnny was a close friend; my locker partner, protector – and verbal foil. We laughed a lot, screwed around in ways that were at times less than appropriate in some people’s eyes. We liked playing off the personal disparities that skewed how others saw our relationship: our size, demeanor, race. We had fun making fun of ourselves on those levels and more.

“Seriously?” Johnny’s reaction to all of this, as imagined by me.

For the nearly forty years since Johnny’s death, his 33 has become my 33. I have used it on the aforementioned softball jerseys, employer t-shirts and the like, but 33 also shows up in more esoteric ways – part of my ATM PIN or computer passwords, online login names – that sort of thing. When I am simply reheating something in my microwave, I reflexively zap in 33 seconds. I just do.

33 has become ingrained. My number.

This past weekend, my wife, youngest son, two dogs, and I were out killing time, driving around while our realtor showed our house to prospective buyers. We have gotten used to this routine over the past few weeks, and between having two old dogs with us, and the heat index around 100, there are not a lot of comfortable options for the five of us. So, we usually grab a bite to eat, have a quick picnic someplace in relative shade, then drive around in air-conditioned, vehicular comfort. Besides, showings don’t take all that long.

Except on Saturday, one did.

We had driven around after having lunch (in our own yard, oddly, between two showings) and my wife sent a text to our realtor asking if it was okay for us to return. the response was ‘Nope. People still looking.’ Figuring it wouldn’t be too much longer, and not wanting to get too far away from the domicile, I decided to stop and put gas in our car at our neighborhood, self-serve gas station. I got to the pump, used my credit card, put the pump nozzle in, cleaned the windows on the Pathfinder. The pump clicked off, so I went over, returned the nozzle to the pump, put the gas cap back on, pressed the button to get the receipt. It printed, I looked at it, did a double-take, just shaking my head.

I got back into the car and proclaimed to the assembled masses (all four) that the folks currently looking at our house were going to make an offer on it. My wife, looking dubious, said, “Ohhhhkay. Because…?”

I handed her the receipt. She laughed: $33.00 even. Not a pre-pay, just a nozzle in, let it flow till it stops on its own. I started the car, still shaking my head and chuckling – a bit.  An incredulous bit.  We drove off to cruise the neighborhood a bit longer.

Not five minutes later came a text from our realtor: ‘Done. They are definitely considering an offer.’

Again, 33 is not my ‘lucky’ number – it is just a figure that means something to me. Do I take it as a sign of some sort? Yes, and no. Is it some sort of divine pronouncement? Maybe, though I don’t see it in the clouds-part-and-harp-music plays vein.

If anything, this 33 is G-d showing his sense of humor and whimsy…

With maybe just a little prompting or cajoling from an old football-playing friend. I’m pretty sure that somewhere close at hand, Johnny Wilkins was laughing like hell.

I’ll keep you posted.

Everything is on the table

Our kitchen table is an heirloom in training.

Sitting alone at this table with open notebook, a pen, and a fresh cup of coffee in the early morning light of day I can, with an angular glance, see the extensive preparation and practice for remembrance that it has already put in. At a mere sixteen-years, the table is hardly an antique – yet its smooth, blonde-maple surface is already pockmarked with the memorable nicks and ruts left by stray utensils and homework-prodding pencils – stray treatises to family,  assorted Christmas cards and letters.

All embossed in memory and maple.

My wife and I assembled the table the first night we lived in a rural, southwestern Minnesota Victorian we had just moved into from big-city Minneapolis; a new board-with-legs for our small-town fresh-start. The nondescript table fit perfectly in our new, multi-windowed, breakfast alcove; perfectly seating the four members of our family.  While we read the instructions, inserting the right bolt into the right hole, our boys, then seven and three, were tucked soundly into sleeping bags in the bare living room, as our furniture still in transit. We labored to assemble the table, determined to have a place at which to properly commemorate our first meal together in our new home and community.

The last screw was secured in the final chair leg just after two a.m.

Today, a decade-and-a-half later, when the southern sunlight of our now-home in New Orleans smothers it, you will see the signs of the life the table has nobly earned in service to our family. Worn spots mark each place setting. Plates and bowls of china, paper, and plastic have been repeatedly set down, slid around, eaten upon, picked up again – sometimes dropped. A knot on one end of the table has dried out, a small crack has now settled into a browned notch out of the edge. If you put your face close to the table’s edge and look at its surface, you can trace the hard-scrabble pencil indentations of the two boys who completed their homework each night 100_49891while mom or dad prepared dinner.

Look more closely and you can find a worn two-digit, kindergarten math problem overlaid with something more algebraic, far more recent.  The ancient nine-plus-three-equals-eight-no-twelve is still bold from the pressing of a hot dog-diameter pencil; the more recent equation made by a more elegant and confident ink pen.

The table has made its way south with us.

A million small lines zigzag the surface;  swooping in graceful curves atop the now-worn maple, resembling a vacant skating rink in January. Every member of our family has triple-axeled this table countless times to the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of each of the others. It is a spot of triumph, of place of individual and group confession, reflection, renewal. It has hosted countless meals, endless discussions, prompted numerous revelations; it has echoed the laughter of day-to-day  100_4986life, heard the solemnity of nightly prayers of thanksgiving and praise, sorrow and intercession. It has been spilled on, bumped into, lived on, all the while quietly, steadily. Always smoothly supportive.

It has served us well.

Some ten years ago, we uprooted our brood again – this time to New Orleans. The table that once bore mostly pedestrian, traditional Midwestern fare has become attuned to hosting more exotic and at times experimental and quirky meals of gumbo, jambalaya, and crawfish.  I am certain the resulting changes in dietary spills and slops has only served to enhance the preservation and aging process of the maple; it is a seasoned patina – the spice of memories – adding character to the worn, blonde, wood

The table is loyal; it has been almost exclusively devoted to our immediate family; guests have usually necessitated a shift to the more expansive, less lived-on, dining room table.  It, too, has stories to tell, but nothing approaching the quantity of those with that our kitchen table could regale us. And now, our time here is coming to a close; both boys have graduated high school, one has completed college as well,  while the younger begins his collegiate experience. We are headed off on new adventures, different adventures.

Our inexpensive-when-purchased, still not priceless, D.I.Y. table will accompany us.100_4979_00

Boys who once needed help to scootch up their chairs now find little elbow room to spare when we are all together. The table’s chairs creak a bit beneath their more considerable heft. Still, neither of them has asked if we will ever get a new kitchen table, or why we just  can’t eat in the dining room. The table has adapted nicely over the last few years from a haven of group work, to more solo time with family members; a boy with a bowl of cereal and spread out newspapers or school project is now more common than then the full-fledged mealtime family foursomes of the past.

The table also spends more time sheltering two aging dogs seeking the relaxing companionship of their boy’s stocking feet –  adept as each has become at absent-minded, foot petting.  Both dogs are equally content to lay there, just soaking in affection, less time frenetically awaiting dropped crumbs from younger, less observant boys,  who used to provide ample treat-pouncing opportunities.

Mealtimes are cozier than they used to be, though this is just a phase of sorts. Our sons have more hectic schedules, and sporadic all-of-us-home home evenings often find us in the living room, munching pizza and binge-watching Netflix – another family ritual once confined to Friday nights, now preciously savored whenever we can scrounge one up. One son still lives at home; mealtimes for three of us frees up some of that vaunted, and coveted, elbow room, though probably to some occasional chagrin on our part.

Soon, the table’s adaptability will again be tested,  as the term ‘table for two’ will be de rigueur.

Someday the table may serve in an entirely different capacity – maybe a first-apartment-hand-me-down for one of the boys, or maybe someday many years down the road and to the 100_4977puzzlement of a spouse, a much-wanted keepsake for one of them.

Not that they are likely to ask about its eventual fate now, but if they do I can just tell them, to their confusion and my satisfaction, that this little kitchen table is, indeed, our heirloom in training.

Shakespeare: tragedy, comedy…and this.

william-shakespeareWhile getting my sophomore English classes ready to tackle Julius Caesar, we spend time wrapping up our unit on poetry with some Shakespearean sonnets, and then dive into a two-day crash-course in Elizabethan English, in part using a series of Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English ‘cheat sheets’. It makes for a nice segue from unit to unit and I have discovered that a few days focused on learning the language is worth the effort from a comprehension in reading plays standpoint.

Some classes really get into it, some don’t – but there is one particular phrase that we always have some issues with: ho.

From one of our Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English glossaries:
ho—hey (roughly equivalent). “Lucius, ho!” [Brutus calling his servant]

There is, of course, some tittering the first couple of times this is said, but it is a very common phrase in Shakespearean language, and very soon the snickering becomes a natural, more comfortable, street-inflected ‘Hoe’ as opposed to the Elizabethan ‘Ho’!

juliuscaesar1953“Lucius, ho!”
“Lucius! Hoe! Come hither”!

The distinction is not very subtle, and adds a whole different layer of linguistic oddity to my sojourn through the Bard, as there is a vast difference between summoning someone and calling someone…

something like that.

Thou hast noooooo idea.

I always end our pre-Caesar week by having my students rewrite one of their daily start-of-class journal entries into a Shakespearean epic – and the efforts are, frequently, epic in nature. The rewrite comes from a prompt I use where I have students imagining or remembering a weekend outing with a friend, including a lot of dialogue. After the writing, we then share some of the results out loud – usually to a mixture of laughter and bewilderment, whether they read what they have written or have me do it.

Here are some of my favorite dagger-stabs at Shakespearean ignominy and glory – verbatim from student papers.


“I stood wall-eyed, “Whence did thee get that zany idea” I said, lapsed. “Thou art mad” I informed him. He discourses. “Thou shouldntst hark. I woo her”. I cursed him. I shook my head. “What are thee going to dost? Thee have a foe”’.

Heavy, he said “I know, come hither. Thou art verily something”. Balked and mated, he didn’t have the addiction of discourses words such as these”.

I am quite sure of that, actually. I think.

edwinbooth“Today, Friday the 13, my friends and I heard tidings that we had to go appoint to the mall for some hours”.

“My best friend hark me Friday, doth thee went to hie eat out”.
“Perchance, an I doth not have anything

 

 

 

to doth”.

For which we can all be grateful, I suppose.

This next one is from a kid who rarely writes more than a sentence or two…again verbatim:

“It’s Friday e’en, methinks perchance I should call my friend to see an thee wants to skate. Methinks also about thee girlfriend.  An thee hie hither, thee nots going to have a ride back home. I should privy the mom for a ride back home, but that’s too much. Adieu that idea, so thee calls my friend to come over. Soft, I left thee board in thee mom’s car”.

Hopefully, she’ll find it and give it back to the kid.

Some stray entries from our you-have-to-admire-the-honesty (HATH) department:

HATH #1 “Oft my morrow I am alone and maybe retired because I am an introvert. But were to I discourse and visit with my friends, we off hie to World Market and Barnes and Noble”.

HATH #2 “Today I shall couch. I fancy some chicken for today. Perchance even some tacos. Were I for my dad wrought me the money. I don’t want to woo a job with my friend”.

HATH #3 “Twas a quaint morrow and methinks of a cunning idea. The idea was to mate with a friend”.

The writer of HATH #3 and I had to have a little, um, sidebar conversation.

Moving on, and as many of my New Orleans students and colleagues frequently say, “We were conversating”:

We couldn’t think of anything to do. So finally something came to me.

Hitting a bowling strikeCarla: Natalie, I thought of something
Natalie: Aye
Carla: Hark, the bowling alley.
Natalie: Perchance.
Carla: Okay because I couldn’t think of anything.

 Later that e’en we got dressed and my mom brought us.

Natalie: I bet I can rap a strike before thee
Carla: Methinks not.

 

Hair is always a popular topic with my students. ‘going Shakespeare’ changes that not.

hair“It’s like this every Saturday night. Addiction hath I curl my hair. We go out after about two hours of unpregnant babbling”.

“This Friday I’m going to doth my best friend hair
It’s going to take all day but I don’t care
Thee will hie to the movies
whence everything is groovy”.

 

Stupendous efforts, all. But nobody else went quite in this direction:

One young woman, a very good, prolific writer, allowed me to read her lengthy and detailed entry, which centered on her mother, who suffered from a long-term illness,  giving her and her friends money to drive to a neighboring community to run an errand.

“Speaketh to Mary, Liz, Kenny and Jame” I told her as we got onto the bus. Charlene nodded, pulling out her cellphone and texting all the names listed. I called mother telling her we’ll clean the home, also that we made plans for the morrow. Mother insisted we’d deliver money to Sir Bradley for some of his homemade brownies”.

 

She went on, making good use of ‘forsooth’ and ‘hither’ among others in describing their nervousness in being followed (innocently and coincidentally, it seems) by a police officer as they returned home with the purchased baked goods from a neighboring suburb.

I read the entire piece, looked at the girl, asked if the story was true. She nodded. “Really? YC&Cfiberonebrowniiesou drove that far for brownies? Those kind of brownies”?

“You knew what I meant”?

“I grew up in the sixties and seventies. I know exactly what kind of brownies you meant.”

“Cool”.

Verily. Shakespeare with my students always is.