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.

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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.

Making my best pitch

I have a dead file, and it is in need of its annual updating.

The file dangles in the front of our family filing cabinet, a red hanging folder filled with all of the important stuff my family will need for when I depart this mortal coil: the songs I want played, the songs I wish to have sung – the how-I-want-them-played-and-sung at my memorial service – dead-file-e1327109698717along with the scripture, quotes and poetry I want to be read, and what I want printed on the program.

Pretty basic, but important stuff.

My wife and kids know where this file is, they know that all that key info will be right there, as I am trying to be proactive, not controlling.  They are mostly okay with this arrangement, and though they don’t know what’s in it, they figure they will deal with that if and when the time comes.

Or, hopefully, my children will simply be able to pass on the whole thing to their adult children under the banner of ‘you cousins can all take some responsibility for grandpa/great family-tree-relationship-chart-free-pdf-templategrandpa/great-great grandpa here.’

Good Lord willing, that’s the way it plays out.

As is my custom, I review the file at the beginning of the year – though not as some sort of resolution ritual, or anything like that. I am always reminded to do this by all of the year-end/year-beginning, tax-and-estate planning reminders from every direction and the television commercials featuring thought-dead-already celebrities touting ’providing for your family’ with mail-order life insurance. Though sometimes I get those commercials confused with those of some other thought-dead-alreadys and their reverse mortgage ads.

Now there is a spiritual analogy post just dying to be written.

This year, as I reviewed the tattered red folder, I added a note about where the baseballs are – and nobody has to look far: they are right next to the folder.  Nice to have a decent file cabinet wide enough for legal files – I can have my letter-sized files, and room along the side for a half-dozen baseballs, in their boxes. Where they will hopefully remain for a long time.

Yeah, the baseballs.

Anyone who knows me and my family will attest to our love of the game. My wife Amy and I began dating late summer, 1991, as our hometown Minnesota Twins were en route to their second World Series championship, and let me tell you, World Series victories are great new-relationship aphrodisiacs. The following year we got married and had a Twins-themed wedding reception, followed up by family members and the wedding party (60 of us, all told) going to the Twins-Brewers game the next day, after which we (just Amy and I) followed the Twins on the road to Chicago and Milwaukee for our honeymoon

So yeah, as a passionate aficionado of all things America’s pastime, baseball will certainly be as much a part of my departure from this world as it is in my existence on this rotating-like-a-fine-change-up celestial orb.  My immediate family understands that, and figures they will deal with whatever zaniness I have in that red file folder when the time comes, though the one particular aspect they do know of gets the ‘hot potato’ treatment amongst daughter Lindsay, and sons Will and Sam. (Amy wants no part of my baseball bequest and has long since informed all the kidlets that this one will be totally on them.)

Somebody is going to have to put me in the baseballs.

It’s pretty simple, actually, and far more feasible than other preferred options, like a traditional Viking viking-funeral-799141funeral.  The whole ship set ablaze and afloat (with my remains on it) while in keeping with my ancestral roots and desires, is impractical and expensive (EPA permits and whatnot) and maybe just a bit pretentious. So while the whole Viking ship thing would be as exciting as an inside-the-park home run, my baseball brainchild is an easy, knock-it-outta-the-park game-winner.

That I hope doesn’t result in me getting knocked around.

Upon my demise, after everything donatable has been donated, organ and tissue wise, the rest of me will need to be cremated. That will leave me as a nifty little pile of ashes, which will then need to be handled in some way. As I have never been one easily confined to conventional parameters (literally or figuratively) I don’t see myself as sitting in an urn or ornate box on someones’ mantelpiece somewhere.  Bor-ring.

Hence the baseballs.

It’s pretty simple, really. A set of regulation, major league baseballs has been purchased, to be autographed by me; some signed as ‘dad’ some as ‘grandpa.’ Then, when the time comes to stash the ash, each ball will have a small core drilled out of it, just big enough to contain some of my ashes. Once the ashes are placed in each ball, the hole will then be sealed up with the drilled-out core and some epoxy, and the baseballs will then be ready for distribution to the next generation(s).

The idea could catch on – a sort of national pastiming-on, if you will.

The great thing about me being ensconced for eternity in baseballs is not only will what’s left of me be suitable for display in a ball cube, on a mantle or in a memorabilia cabinet, I will also be able to remain part of the family in a tangible, practical way.

For years after I am gone, when my grandkids and great grandkids get together someone will baseball-ed3always be able to say, “Hey! Let’s go outside and play catch with grandpa!”

And we still can.

Ummmm….but please, no batting practice, kids.

“Because grandpa said so! THAT’S why!”

 

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B017LALIES

 

Listing, while shopping

New Orleans offers ample opportunity for St. Patrick’s Day weekend revelry – no big surprise: any given Thursday here offers the same. But for those of us of the middle age persuasion who no longer fit the ‘party animal’ designation, there are other, quite viable (and cheaper) options via which to get our ‘party on’.

cartsLike grocery shopping.

The Saturday before St. Patricks Day, I was out and about, and I needed to hit the grocery store for a few items, so I swung into a Rouses Market I don’t normally frequent, simply because it was handy, and I was there. As usual, I entered through produce and had to go through the liquor/beer/wine department on my way to frozen foods. While I was making my innocent swing through libation land I was accosted by the sampling women.

‘Accosted’ might be a bit strong.

Attractive, personable, young  women with the sweet, cooing-souls of carnival barkers made up the sampling force, their small tables were strategically stationed along main aisles and offering-up regulation shot glass size samples (none of this thimble/communion wine sip-size) of Bushmill’s Irish whiskey, three types of Guinness beer and ale, and Bailey’s Irish Cream – all of which are on special this weekend, of course. So much for my five-minute quick in/quick out – it’s like getting off the interstate and taking a scenic drive.  But instead of a panoramic view from an overlook, I became engaged in a couple of amiable product-virtues conversations with the aforementioned sample ladies.

It seemed impolite simply to chug-and-run.

It isn’t just at the locally-based Rouses that I have encountered this holiday weekend phenomenon, as Winn-Dixie offers the same holiday-themed samplingsampling opportunities. The Fridays and Saturdays before Christmas are a bonanza of eggnog and flavored rum variations.

It occurred to me that I had written of such a similar experience as this one and indeed I had – in a Facebook post last summer:

“I just got done with the pre-July 4th family grocery shopping excursion and must say it was quite busy and…festive. Got most everything on the list and enjoyed most of the samples. The margarita mix was good as was the tequila. Tried five of the eight available wines; one of the reds was particularly boring. Of the two rums, the citrus was very tasty. Also tried both vodkas, which took a little longer as there was a chatty woman with a product survey, but she valued my feedback and asked for more detail. For the record, the cherry vodka was very good, the sweet tea vodka…not so much.

With any luck, Amy will discover she forgot to have me get something and I may have to go back to Winn-Dixie to get it.”  

So if you are ever in our town over a holiday – any holiday – party on. And don’t forget the milk and eggs. Or you’ll have to go back to get ’em. Maybe even in separate trips. To different stores.

It’s just something else to love about New Orleans: you can go grocery shopping and be half in-the-bag long before anybody gets a chance to ask, “Paper, or plastic”?

Word(s) of love

I am a writer and English teacher, and I do not consider myself a grammar fanatic, though I do of course love language, and am fascinated by all of its nuances. I am a firm believer in the idea that the American English language is a living, breathing, constantly evolving organism, and that what may have been true ten, twenty years ago, in some cases may have no place in the language today.

Don’t believe me?  Get ahold of any English textbook from fifty or one-hundred years ago, and do a quick compare-and-contrast.  Rules, especially in regards to language in all its permutations, are made to be broken. Not all rules, all the time, certainly – but many convheartsof them, much of the time.

Many of my fellow writers and (mostly) English teachers will surely disagree with my basic premise, but I ask for their indulgence.

Now that you know my baseline, let us partake in today’s lesson:
Valentine, Valentines, or Valentine’s.

In terms of proper use, this one is sort of the ‘their, they’re, there’ of romance, so strap in for the ride, kids.

First off, from the website Grammarist:

‘The standard spelling of the holiday that falls on February 14th is Valentine’s DayValentine is singular and possessive, so it takes an apostrophe s. This is how it is spelled in edited writing everywhere.

The day is named after Saint Valentine. It is his day, hence the possessive. Because there has been only one of him, it wouldn’t make sense to pluralize his name. Of course, one could argue that Valentine now has two alternative senses in which it can be plural—namely, (1) the person one loves on Valentine’s Day, and (2) a Valentine’s Day card—and in light of these, it might make a little sense to spell the holiday Valentines Day. Nevertheless, the form with the apostrophe is the more common one by a large margin.’

Ummm, I respectfully disagree with their logic, in terms of contemporary usage.

Let’s be honest: who is actually spending February 14th celebrating St. Valentine?

Yeah, I thought so. Both of you can skip the rest of my pseudo-tirade.

The possessive form (Valentine’s) makes sense if you are celebrating in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Lutheran traditions, and you are into the whole martyr aspect of good ol’ St. V – but f you are a contemporary, twenty-first century, Hallmark cards, candy-stvaland-flowers sort of person, the possessive form makes little sense for most of the populace. You give not a whit about the saint, but you damn well should about your valentine (Valentine?).

If you know what is good for you.

Because, you, my friend are actually celebrating your Valentine. Hence, ‘Valentine Day’ makes a lot more sense to me, linguistically and logically, than the possessive ‘Valentine’s Day’. Of course, you could argue that throwing that pesky apostrophe in there makes it all about the day being all about YOUR Valentine, and it being ‘his’ or ‘her’ day – but then, that leaves you out of the equation entirely.

In a (grammatically) and overly possessive way, anyway.

Then, of course, there is the also ubiquitous ‘Valentines’ day – no apostrophe, so no possessiveness implied, but a plural nature that screams, in a less-than-romantic imagery, ‘I’m a play-ah!’ If you consider yourself as such, that is all well-and-good, but making ‘Valentine’ into ‘Valentines’ thereby demotes your Valentine from singular, val1appreciated, lover to part of  a throng – not exactly romantic (in most circles) and not to be confused with thongs, which are reasonably effective gifts for your Valentine, not so much for all of your Valentines.

And if you are doing your February fourteenth shopping, in bulk, at Victoria’s Club, we will have to talk privately about a few other things.

And that is my case for the etymological superiority of ‘Valentine’ day over ‘Valentine’s’ or ‘Valentines’ day.

Eat your chocolate hearts out, grammar fanatics.

Antipasto!

Dinner with my Valentine;
wine and Sinatra
Fine haiku-be-do-be-do

– Mark L. Lucker
© 2018
http://lrd.to/sxh9jntSbd

He had it in the bag

A true tale of romance, in time for Valentine’s day…

I spent the bulk of my thirties working at the Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis. The 260-room hotel was a very nice, well-run property right off the edge of downtown, and along with the usual array of business travelers and sports fans, it’s setting in a vibrant theatre and restaurant hub made us a prime locale for many a romantic getaway roses6for locals.

Ahh, romance.

A world-class schmoozer, I had mastered the art of making myself indispensable to my hotel guests. As a bellman, van driver and concierge rolled-into-one, I would greet guests, get them settled in, all while providing as much assistance as I could for needs logistical and practical: dinner suggestions and reservations combined with transportation to-and-from via one of our hotel vans were easy ways to make a special impression and cultivate great relationships with guests.

My most memorable tale of hotel romance had nothing to do with Valentine’s day; it actually began one Friday afternoon right after Labor Day.

I had just come on duty for my three-to-eleven shift when a middle-aged guy pulls up at the front door. I greet him warmly, he returns the pleasantries, we introduce ourselves and I walk-and-talk him to the front desk. There is only one clerk on duty, and she is with another guest – my ideal scenario for getting to know my guests. I ask him the purpose of his visit, which turns out to be a surprise weekend getaway for him and his wife, commemorating both their twentieth wedding anniversary, and his wife’s recent work promotion.

His pride was quite evident.

I noted that he was there by himself, in response he explained that his wife was working until five, and that he wanted to get checked in and get everything ready in the room so he could pick her up at work, then bring her right to the hotel instead of home – a big part of the surprise, as she was under the impression that they were simply going out for dinner with friends. He had gone to great lengths to set up the whole ruse and hoped she would share his excitement.

He was delighted to hear about our personalized van service. He already had dinner reservations made, so I quickly firmed up transportation to and from dinner. I also offered to drive him to pick his wife up at work downtown, but he wantedroses9 to pick her up himself and play out his scenario; she wondering all the while why they were driving a route that was not sending them toward their south Minneapolis home.

I immediately liked this guy’s style.

We went out to the man’s car and unloaded their luggage; one suitcase for each of them, the man commenting that he had his sister-in-law pack his wife’s bag, so everything she should need for a romantic weekend getaway would be in place, and would actually go together appropriately. He had obviously done his homework and seemed quite confident about it.

My kind of guy.

Along with the suitcases, I took charge of a gift-wrapped box of chocolates and a cooler filled with ice and beverages. As I loaded the last of the items on the luggage cart, the man carefully reached into the front seat and pulled out a brown shopping bag, the top rolled over neatly, and creased tightly. Handing it to me, he said simply, “Here, Mark, roses7please put this on the top – and be very careful with it. But don’t squish it!”

It was very light and I couldn’t imagine what was in it, but I held it carefully in my right hand while steadily guiding my loaded luggage cart through the lobby, onto the elevator, and up to the fourteenth floor and room 1429 – one of our two ‘honeymoon suites’ complete with whirlpool for two, elevated bed and panoramic view of the Minneapolis skyline.

I gently placed the brown paper bag on the bed, set the cooler on the floor in the corner, and the suitcases on luggage stands while he proceeded to case the joint. He was very pleased with the room and the view, and when I asked him if there was anything else I could assist him with, he looked at me sheepishly and made one of the more unique requests on record:

“Yeah, do you have a few minutes…” he paused, adding, cryptically, “…are you very artistic”?

Assuring him that, as an artist and writer, I had the expertise – though I could not imagine what I would be using it for. With an excited smile, he grabbed the bag off the bed and thrust it back into my hands. “I need your help spreading these around the room!”  I opened the bag, peered inside.roses10

It was a shopping bag full of red rose petals, harvested from his wife’s backyard garden.

The next few minutes involved some impromptu interior decorating teamwork, as we brainstormed how to scatter the rose petals for maximum visual effect. We agreed a path of petals leading from the door to the raised-bed area and a branch off path toward the hot tub was a must. The bed itself would, of course, need a liberal upholstering of red, but that clashed garishly with the teal and rust colored bedspread. My solution was to do a nice turn-down of the bedspread; the fleecy beige blanket underneath made a much less cluttered, more neutral canvas for our rose petal artistry.

It started looking pretty sharp.

roses1He then realized to his dismay that we were out of rose petals. He had wanted to save some for sprinkling in the hot tub and for…something else he had in mind but would not divulge. With disappointment, he asked if we could pick up some of what we had already scattered and redistribute them, but I had another thought: there was a florist nearby that could probably accommodate our extra-petal needs fairly cheaply. I also offered a half-joking suggestion that maybe he could even get his wife a corsage for the evening out.

He liked that idea – a lot. We went downstairs, got into a hotel van for a three-minute ride.

Hearing my telling of the guy’s story, the staff at Riverside Floral was all over this one – adding their own flourish. Ten minutes later we were on our way back to the hotel with a prom-like wrist corsage, a plastic bag full of red rose petals, and some sound advice I have kept on hand to this day: don’t put the rose petals in the hot tub until after the water had cooled a bit.

Warm water, so we were told, would just make the petals shrivel up.

An aside: the rose petal tutorial came in handy not just that night, but a few other times with other hotel guests; I had the idea, and knew where to get them.  Plus, through the years I have been roses8able to casually drop the advice into few random conversations with people looking for that little something extra in the romance department. Good information always serves a purpose.
But I digress.

We returned to the hotel, I double checked with room service to make sure the champagne the guy had arranged for with his reservation would be on ice and in the room by five; already done. He and I then said our goodbyes, and he graciously thanked me both verbally and monetarily. I then made sure I was the driver for their six-forty-five van run to the restaurant.

As curious as I had been about the bag, I was even more interested in the love interest of our story.  A few hours later…

I saw them get off the elevator and got my first glimpse at his wife. She, too was middle-aged, svelte, shoulder-length roses3blonde hair, wearing a stylish, basic black dress, hip, black pumps…and a wrist corsage she kept glancing at quizzically. The dress was simple and stylish, appropriate and definitely not in high-school-homecoming dance way, which made the corsage seem a bit whimsical. Her sister had pulled together a very nice, stylish ensemble.

The corsage drew some curious looks.

Her husband and I exchanged waves as he stopped by the desk to take care of something, and she walked over to the bell stand. She looked at me, graciously held out her hand while shaking her head and barely suppressing a smile. “And you must be Mark, the guy who helped with all of…this.” She held up her flower-bedecked left wrist, twisting it around to see it from all angles.

“Yes, ma’am. I guess I am.” I said with a smile. “And how are you this evening?”  Her husband walked by, said “It’ll be just a minute” and disappeared into the gift shop.

“Well” she said, a bit incredulously, leaning casually on the bell stand counter. “I feel a bit like I’m going to the prom. And I haven’t been to a prom in over thirty years.”  She held up her left arm again, twisting it back and forth a few times, perplexed. “I understand this part was all your idea”?

“Umm, yes, ma’am…I guess it was. With help.” I replied with a slightly embarrassed chuckle.

She shook her head, smiling. “Let’s seeeeee. You, my sister…I wonder who else is in on this?” I could only shrug in roses2honest ignorance.

To my relief, her husband emerged from the gift shop and said, “I see you’ve met Mark!”

“I have” she responded, with a chuckle. I got the impression that she was finding the whole situation a bit ridiculous, and didn’t want to hurt his feelings or ego. We got into the van, had an uneventful drive to the restaurant and I picked them up after dinner and returned them to the hotel. They were both very gracious, and he was, once again,  a very generous tipper.

At evening’s end (at least my portion of it) she had not yet mentioned the rose petals.

The next afternoon I was standing in the lobby and the wife walked up to me, greeting me warmly, and extending her hand. She seemed far more at ease than in our first meeting. She confirmed that I was scheduled to drive them downtown for shopping and sightseeing, then she thanked me for roses11helping her husband set up her surprise weekend. I asked her if everything was okay with the room and with her stay overall, if there was anything else I could do to make their stay better.

It was all I could do to not hint at anything concerning roses.

“Oh, everything is just fine” she replied, cheerfully, adding, “Last night…was… just…just…” she trailed off, seeming a bit sheepish, and at a loss for…more genteel words. “It was all wonderful. Last night was…wonderful. Everything was….”

She paused, looking at the floor, seeming a bit embarrassed, then adding with a chuckle “The wrist corsage was a bit much. And the roses in the hot tub…”

She shook her head and smiled, then sighed deeply. “And I understand you helped with sprinkling the roses, and even getting some of them”?

“Yes, ma’am. Your husband’s idea. I just helped him get some extra petals. He brought most of them with him.”

Her eyes opened wide, she shook her head ruefully and chuckled “Ohhhh, yeah. He told me all about THAT! Those rose petals were from MY garden, did he tell you that? I work hard on that garden!”

Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure where this was going. But at least she was still smiling, still shaking her head in disbelief.

“You know, I was going to deadhead those roses for fall this weekend, anyway” She paused, looked at me with mock seriousness. “If this had been in June…you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. The only flowers here would be for his funeral!”  She laughed heartily.

“So it’s okay, then”? I asked.

“Oh, It’s fine. I’m sure he deadheaded them properly”. She stood there for a moment, shaking her head again and laughing to herself. “This was just so not ‘him’ – getting my sister involved, planning a surprise weekend…rose petals…corsages…” her voice trailed off. “Crazy.”

I could not disagree.

“It’s been a really great weekend. Thank you, Mark”. She grabbed my hand gently and shook it –vigorously, warmly.

“You’re welcome. And congratulations on the promotion”.

“He told you about that, too?”

“He said it was part of the reason for the celebration along with your anniversary”.

“Wow.” Was all she could muster at that point. She seemed more than a little surprised that I had that information. She just stared at me.  “Wow” she repeated.

Her husband came off the elevator, waved, walked up to us. “Ready to head downtown”? I asked jauntily. We got in roses12the van. The whole drive there I couldn’t help from glancing at them in my rearview mirror: when they sat down, she pulled him close to her side, her arm intertwined with his, her head on his shoulder. Sitting side-by-side on the bench seat of that garish green Ford Econoline van, you may have thought I was driving a couple of Hollywood hotshots to a red carpet somewhere in a shiny black stretch.

Looking in the mirror, I knew the shoe was now on the other foot: he was the one who seemed genuinely surprised.

I, for one, was not.

‘Kids, don’t try this at home. Again.’ A Valentine vignette

We were young, we were broke….we were living in rural Iowa, for cryin’ out loud.

My roommate Jim had a girlfriend, and one Friday night he was going to impress her with a nice, home cooked meal and an evening of romance. This necessitated me finding somewhere else to be for the night, which was no problem, but his plans also included a bottle of wine to go with his home cooked feast. That was a bit of a problem.

SEE: ‘we were broke’, above.

A plan was developed to overcome both limited funds, and lack of quality and variety (fancy-schmanzyism, as the locals might say) in the local municipal liquor store wine selection. Keep in mind this was Marshalltown, Iowa 1979 – stocking both Mogen David and Boone’s Farm qualified as ‘wide selection.’ The solution to Jim’s dilemma seemed to be simple: what couldn’t be procured could be made.

I’m not really sure how the initial idea unfolded, but our plan seemed sound when concocted in our living room – ‘concocted’ being the operative word here.

Part one of our scheme was to procure the container, and Jim had a friend who worked at a nice restaurant and got Jim an empty French wine bottle – cork included.

French! Even better than Jim had hoped for – and it had the cork, to boot.

Jim cleaned out the bottle, and then we made a trip to the grocery store for the ingredients necessary for one bottle of Jim’s date-night wine; Welch’s grape juice, a bottle of vodka, a box of Alka-Seltzer tablets. And a funnel.

Returning home to our apartment, we poured a couple of small glasses of the grape juice, in varying amounts, then added the vodka. A quick sampling led us to the conclusion that a 50/50 mix was pretty close to real wine – real French wine – save for the fizz.

Sophisticated palates such as ours would know this, right?

Taking the funnel, we carefully filled the empty (French!) wine bottle half-way up with the Welch’s, and then he filled most of the remainder of the bottle with the vodka.

Jim then got a couple of packets of the Alka-Seltzer, and opened a pack of two tablets. We had to break them to get them down the neck of the bottle, and once inside they began to fizz and foam, threatening to overflow the bottle, before settling down. Two tablets didn’t seem to add enough fizz (maybe for a chintzy domestic, but not for decent French) so he ended up opening two more packets of Ala-Seltzer and repeating the procedure until our little instant-ferment seemed to fit the bill. A couple of sips convinced us both that we had hit upon the recipe for im’s night success.

Jim was able to get the cork snugly back in the bottle, and the bottle into the fridge for proper chilling. (I know what you’re thinking; red at room temperature. Not this bottle, baby!)

One bottle of Jim’s Impress-A-Chick; vintage, Thursday – under four 1979 dollars!

Jim’s date night went off without a hitch – his home cooked meal, the accompanying wine both a big hit – though their evening ended a bit earlier than he might have wished. You see the wine was cheap and easy, the girl wasn’t.

Resolute

New Year’s resolutions are not a recent phenomenon – in fact, the practice of beginning a new trip of the earth around the sun has its roots in ancient Babylonia.

A recently uncovered document in the papers of Thomas Jefferson shows that even he had his doubts about certain aspects of his life and that he endeavored to change them, even going so far one year as to put these pronouncements to writing.  Scholars are currently assessing the validity and provenance of this document, but most of those who have seen the original agree it is Jefferson’s own hand that wrote the document that is reproduced, word-for-Jeffersonian-word, below.

It is a basic template still is use today for those trying to better themselves.

(Note that this is apparently a rough draft, replete with grammatical errors, and Jefferson’s own, written asides – presumably he edited his draft at a later date, though the final document has yet to be discovered. It is a bit lengthy – boy, could that man preamble.)

INEBRIATED, January 1, 1775

The Unanimous Declaration of Me

When in the Course of human events (Life, 101) it becomes necessary for one to dissolve the bands which have connected them to their bad habits, bad outcomes, and general lack of success or forward movement, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of others requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation from these old, destructive ways, and give doing better the ol’ college try.

Here we go, then.

I hold these truths to be self-evident, that I was created, that I am endowed (not to brag) by my Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. I have pursued, to be sure, but have not always captured my prey— but to secure these rights, resolutions are instituted among Men such as myself when a new year arrives, those resolutions deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, me — That whenever any Form of behavior becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Guy to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new behavior, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness. At least until the second week of January.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate – wait!  Prudence isn’t here, she left the party early, so I am doing my own transcription!   that bad habits long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

Therefore, resolved, hereby, that in the year ahead, I should state my claims and points more succinctly.

But when a long train of self-abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism of self-crumminess, it is my right, it is my duty, to throw off such behaviours, and to provide new ideas for their future security in place of the old ones that aint working so hot. Hence, this declaration of determination to change for the better henceforth the year ahead of 1775.

— Such has been the patient sufferance of those around me; that I get my doodie together and such is now the necessity which constrains me to alter my former Systems of Self Government/Control.

For instance, I should trade gluttony and ale for more roughage and juice drinks. To this end, I bought myself a juicer at ye after Christmas Norfolk docks bazar.

The history of my present behaviours generally sucks – a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over my life. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world, I will eat less, drink less, exercise more and continue swear off my use of the product of tobacco – grow it, don’t blow it.

Except for occasional use of the unusual, greenish variety proffered by my good friend, F-Ben-jammin’.

I have refused Assent to Laws and Logic, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. But when I’m good, I am very good, tho when I am not so good I am not good at all. I can, and will, do better!

I have forbidden myself to pass personal Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till my Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, I have utterly neglected to attend to them. be it resolved that I do better with items of import, not just what I want to do when I want to do it. I have long been too much a davenport slug of the garden variety.

I have refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. ‘My way or the highway’ needs to be more forthwith and inclusive of the opinions of others.  Sometimes I need to just shut up.

I have called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with my measures. Sometimes I can be a real ass. I need to do better – especially when hanging out at C-hall with the guys.

I have obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers. I need to be less judgmental of others, except in cases when absolutely necessary – Madison and Hancock notwithstanding.

In conclusion, I resolve the upcoming for the new year ahead:

Depriving myself of excessive carnal pleasures and whatnot, to the goal of extending and enhancing my self-control in all facets of life. Excepting the periodic consumption of the food known as pizza. Pizza stays.

That transporting myself beyond the boundaries of Monticello be more by foot, less by horseback or carriage

I will endeavor to be less Mercenary to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized family.  I resolve to spend more ‘quality time’ with stated familial members – say in games of ninepins, playing cards, or Colonopoly.

In every stage of these self-Oppressions I have Petitioned for Redress in the humblest terms: this coming year, I shall succeed where in the past I have failed after short periods of the passing of the calendar, therefore I have appealed to my native justice and magnanimity, and have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence, hence this document of self-revelation.

Oh, I will also hold and hold others, as I hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends. With the exception of my pitiful neighbors, the Crown-loving Johnsons.

I, therefore, the Representative of my own countenance, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of my noble intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of my own free will, solemnly publish and declare, the support of this Declaration of Resolutions for 1775, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, I pledge to myself good Fortunes, and sacred Honor.

T. Jefferson,

Monticello, Virginia

1/ January/1775

 

– Mark L. Lucker
© 2017
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