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.

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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.

“Yes, we have no bananas”. But we do have the trees.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HygopC4S5W0    I am always on the lookout for good deals, and while driving around New Orleans one early August Sunday, I spied a potted palm tree sitting on a curb with a sign that said ‘Free Banana Palm.’

Deals don’t get much better than that.

A palm tree to decorate for Christmas is something my wife had an expressed an interest in, but while they are in plentiful supply in these parts, they are rather pricey. (O.K: in the interest of full disclosure, since moving here, she has wanted an inflatable palm tree to put Christmas lights on. But for me, why go plastic when you get the real thing?) I had been periodically hunting for a palm, but the ones I had located for free on Craigslist were in the 15-20 foot tall range and were free “if you remove it”. As I am more lumberjack than catch-and-release arborist, this was an option I had passed on numerous times.

Free, in a large pot, was right up my alley. Well, somebody else’s street, actually.

As I couldn’t get the thing into my van solo, I returned home, put our trailer-hitch platform on the van, and recruited my sons, aged 13 and 16 to help capture the beast in the wild and return it home for transplanting in our front yard.

Let’s just say, at first glance the boys were…dubious. Said thirteen year old Sam, “And we want this thing because…?”

But after some rather, uhh, creative, sweat-inducing tree wrangling, we got the vaunted (and heavy) potted banana palm home. Actually, it turned out to be four banana palms; the big one in the center of the pot, and three smaller sprouts in varying stages of growth. This was an even better deal! Four for the price of free, save a little sweat equity. Added bonus: some other funky, sub-tropical flowers had also taken root in the pot. Sweet!

Once home, my wife shared the doubtful look her sons had donned just a few minutes before upon meeting the tree(s). Nonetheless, within a couple of days I had the big palm from the center of the pot transplanted on the boulevard in front of our house, and was then immediately confronted by family members all asking the same question: “Why’d you plant THAT one?”

Though the largest, most mature of the four, the one I chose to transplant looks a little worse for wear. As sixteen year old Will said, “Its dead. Or about dead.” I didn’t think it that critical, as there were some new, small green shoots poking out of it. I likened it to the Christmas tree Charlie Brown and Linus bring back to the Peanuts gang in ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ – it just needed a little T.L.C. ala Linus and his blanket.

Unconvinced looks were again shared by wife and progeny.

One key reason I planted that particular tree (besides its being the tallest) was that I thought it had the potential to rebound nicely out of the pot and actually in the ground. Plus, I planted it to fill up a hole where an old tree trunk had been decaying and sinking since Katrina took out the original tree itself. Knowing that even dead trees can have extensive root structures that can regenerate, I figured the banana palm would take root and (hopefully) thrive. Transplanting it was quick and simple, except… required being staked down just to keep it upright. I began to see that my family’s skepticism may have been justified.

Over the last month or so, we have watched that scrawny little banana palm do pretty much nothing but survive.

I trimmed off the dead and broken leaves, and the one primary leaf (yeah, singular leaf) that remained perked up a bit, but that was about it. The new little green sprouts stayed that way; new and little. But like with Charlie Brown and Linus, the little tree seemed to be growing on my own FamilyPeanuts. Jokes about its appearance were made on a fairly regular basis by sons and wife, though they were interspersed with grudging admiration for the banana palm’s tenacity. So I decided to just call it CBT (Charlie Brown tree).

Then, last week came hurricane Isaac, and a three-day evacuation for all six of us (including both dogs). Upon our return to our New Orleans neighborhood, we saw plenty of storm damage, including some very large trees that were ripped from the ground and thrown about just blocks from our house. This increased our anxiety about our home, as we had no idea what to expect. With trepidation and collective breath held, we turned onto our block…

…and there was our little banana palm, still standing, in front of our undamaged house.

Much to the amazement of Will, who’s incredulity only increased as we saw the toppled fifty-foot pine across the street that fell into our neighbors yard, “How could that stupid little thing stay standing through a hurricane?!”

How indeed, with no blue blanket wrapped around its base.

I quickly explained the whole small object/wind resistance thing using the mast of a ship analogy: with the sails down, there is little for the wind to catch, but with the sails unfurled, the wind has plenty to get hold of. (He is taking physics this semester, so he got it – at least on a scientific level.) But Will was even more shocked at the survival of CBT when he noticed the pounding our neighbor’s elephant ears plant and our whatever-it-is-I-got-from-Leslie-and-Ina’s-yard plants took.  Coleslaw on stems, basically, was what those plants were – just a few feet away . But our CBT was still hanging tough. Will just shook his head.

Now that we have been back a few days, have cleaned up the sticks and other stray debris, and since my school is still closed a few more days, I thought it would be a good time to finally swap out CBT for the more hearty of the other three still in the pot.

But CBT seems to have other ideas. The dang thing has taken root.

A tree that two weeks ago needed bracing appears to have hunkered down against Isaac and settled in for the long haul. It does not want to budge. This morning I removed the rope tethers, and it stayed standing upright. I grabbed hold of CBT and shook it; it barely wiggled. I shook it more vigorously; it stood there, defiantly.

Upon further inspection, I noticed that there is some fresh green down toward the bottom, some bark is growing back, and the leaf (yeah, still just one leaf) shredded by Isaac has started to regenerate nicely. I think CBT is gonna be A-O-K.

That still left me with another banana palm that was showing some signs of vigor now that his pot had more room, so I figured we can get him going in his own little plot of real estate and see what happens. As of today, our second little banana palm (as yet unnamed) has been transplanted a little further on down the boulevard from CBT. The new model stands at 45 inches tall as of today, but I’m willing to bet most anyone a burger at Bud’s Broiler that a month from now, on October sixth, that newly relocated banana palm will stand 55 inches tall, same height as me.

Provided we don’t get any more hurricanes.

By December, I am hoping that one of our two palm trees is hearty enough to help fulfill my goal of giving my wife a real, decorated New Orleans Christmas palm tree. So, with apologies to Joyce Kilmer:

I think my wife will have no qualm
stringing lights on her new banana palm

Below(L to R)  What my wife initially wanted to hang Christmas lights on, what we are trying to achieve, what we hope to avoid.

x

Blind sided

The other night, son Will, the high-school-junior-to-be, was assisting me with a handyman project. We had to hang two new blinds in our living room windows, after removing the hardware for the old, broken ones. Those with engineering degrees need not apply.

We got this.

One of the blind brackets needed to go in the inside far right corner of the window box, which was problematic because it caused me to use my cordless drill with my left hand, and I am not left-handed, (though Will is. Next time, he gets up on the barstool!) Add in the fact that I had to get the elongated screwdriver drill bit up through a hole in the bottom of the bracket, and it was a hassle, and I was having little success.

So I did what I usually do in such situations, which is to devise a plan ‘B’ on the fly.

In this case, that meant a (seemingly) convoluted maneuver of using a regular screw driver and a dry wall screw to start an extra pilot hole to hold the bracket in place for a moment, then holding it in place with a regular screwdriver. Add in the fact that I was doing this while standing on a bar stool and not a step-ladder, using a sectional couch for occasional balancing purposes…

I glanced back and down at Will and saw his quizzical look as I asked him to hold the drill for a moment. Hence, as I turned back to futz with the new blind bracket,the following conversation.

“Yeah, this little set up probably has my junior high shop teacher rolling over in his grave.”

“You said that about him last fall when we were working on my I.R.P. project.“

“Well, he probably still is.”

“I hope he’s had a chance to stop spinning for a while, get a break.” replied number-one-son, quite dryly.

“Yeah, well, one can hope. Hand me the drill.”

Mr. Clark was my junior high shop teacher, circa 1975; a stereotypical former Marine with a barrel chest and buzz cut and an ‘inside voice’ that could overpower a running band saw. He usually carried a slim, steel ruler with which he was known to whack perceived miscreants on the rear end with – but never while a piece of equipment was running. Safety first, dontchaknow.

As you might presume, Mr. Clark was also a stickler for details and doing things the ‘right’ way. I am quite certain using a barstool instead of a step-ladder would not have been okey-dokey protocol with him. I figure I’ve spun Mr. Clark around enough the past couple of decades that he has permanently scared away all the local moles.

“So do you think he is still spinning, or spinning again?” asked Will, ever-so-chipper, as I exchanged the drill for the second bracket to position, scooting to my left, pivoting on the barstool, and balancing one foot on the back of the other sectional couch.

“I think I have given Mr. Clark enough opportunities that by now he has bored his way out of his grave and is probably encroaching on the neighboring plot. Buzz cut acts like a drill bit.”

“Think he’ll get much farther?” Will said dryly, his implication perfectly clear.

“I think if I tackle too many more projects like this he’ll move far enough that either G_d or the Devil figures he’s making a break for it,”

“Nice, dad. Really nice.” Will deadpanned with cocked eyebrow as he passed me the drill.

Okay, that may have been a little excessive, even by my standards. I suppose before I go making pronouncements such as this I should clarify one thing above all others.

Is Mr. Clark even dead?

Like Son, Like Father, Like Wow, Man

“You young kids and your crazy ideas.”

That’s a phrase my thirteen-year old son Sam uses dryly when a topic comes up and I refer to something from the past, or throw in some sort of archaic phrase like ‘groovy’ into a dinner table conversation.

One of Sam’s favorite treats is a cold Dr.Pepper; so much so that he has, on a few occasions, been given twelve packs of the stuff as a birthday present. We limit his consumption of pop to just a couple a week, usually our Friday night family ‘Pizza Picnic,’ and/or if we are at some special event or gathering, so it really is a treat for him, and a gift that keeps on giving.

The other night at dinner my wife and I were discussing coffee, and Sam got to musing about how when he was an adult, he didn’t think he would drink coffee, and would probably stick to Dr. Pepper and root beer as his beverages of choice, adding, that maybe sometime, somewhere along the line, he would want a hot beverage of some sort, but didn’t think it would be coffee.

“Well” I said, “You could always heat up some Dr. Pepper. It’s pretty good that way.”

“Dad, who would ‘heat up’ Dr. Pepper…or any kind of soda?” as he shook his head dismissively.

“We did with Dr.Pepper. Put it in a pan and heat it up, add a lemon slice.”

An incredulous stare and cocked eyebrow were, for a moment, his only response. Then, “Annnnnnnd why would you do that?”

“Because it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“This was your idea, I suppose?”

“No. They marketed it like that for a while back in the sixties.”

“They did not.” Sam replied dryly, with just a hint of skepticism. He knows this is dangerous ground, as I had, some time ago, proved to him that the Mr. Potato Head toy of my youth was far superior to the plastic, pre-drilled holes version of today, because you needed to use a real potato. (See my post from last August: https://poetluckerate.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/kids-don%e2%80%99t-try-this-at-home-or-not/ )

“You really made…and drank… hot Dr.Pepper?”

“Yep.”

He furrowed his brow as I continued eating. Before adding a dismissive, “You young kids and your crazy ideas.”

One of the great things about the Internet Age is that things like this don’t have to become ‘because-I-said-it-was’ ‘no-way-I-don’t-believe-you’ things; a few keystrokes on the ol’ laptop, and presto!

Proof. It took all of about forty-five seconds.

As his mom and older brother cleared the dinner table, I went to the computer and summoned Sam. He looked at what I had pulled up, shook his head. “O.K. “You young kids and your crazy ideas.” As he walked away he calmly and defiantly stated, ‘I’M not gonna be trying it.”

I smiled with satisfaction, leaned back in my chair. The Internet: “You young kids and your crazy ideas.”

More memorable (and enticing) than warm Dr. Pepper.

Digging in the Dirt Pile of Memories

The other day I was standing on the front porch with my sixteen year old son Will, waiting for his family car pool ride to school, sophomore year now in the homestretch. I was on spring break from my school and was savoring the opportunity for a little morning one-on-one we don’t normally have; younger son Sam and wife Amy were already off to their respective schools.

Mug of coffee in hand, I watched Will sitting on the porch swing, organizing his contemporary teenager-self: loaded, full-size backpack, small, nylon pull-string backpack, insulated cooler lunch bag, personal electronic device (with ear buds dangling from his neck) and cellphone. His school I.D. badge and flash drives dangled on lanyards beneath his beatnik-hearkening goatee. He was texting his girlfriend and I could see him smiling beneath the brim of his ever-present grey baseball cap.

Leaning against the porch post and looking down the block I motioned to the big pile of dirt two lots down; another new home for the neighborhood as the post-Katrina revitalization continues. I jokingly mentioned that the big pile of dirt made me want to “Get some old Tonka trucks and go play in the dirt for a few hours.”

Will finished his text and glanced at the dirt pile. “Do you remember that crane we had in our yard back in Marshall? That thing was so cool.”

I nodded, remembering the homemade wood-and-steel contraption: a small, square, carpet-remnant covered seat attached to a couple of wooden runners hat made it look like a really small sled – except for the two-foot long arm with a two-levered metal crane bucket attached to it. One lever made the crane arm extend, the other made it curve inward like a hand and wrist, which allowed the actual digging to occur. A kid could sit on the thing, dig a hole, swivel around (360 degrees, even!) dig another hole, then another. Homemade and won by Will’s uncle Ted at a church raffle after his own sons were past sandbox stage, we placed it in the sandbox beneath the ‘crow’s nest’ of the big, wooden playset we had built in our backyard when we moved to Marshall, Minnesota – when Will was seven.

Will gleefully dug a few holes in his day with that thing, as did three-years-younger brother Sam. We more than got Ted’s dollar raffle ticket worth out of it.

“You remember that thing, huh? Uncle Ted won that in a church raffle, if I remember correctly.”

“That’s where we got that? From Uncle Ted?”

“I think so.” I nodded, taking a sip of my coffee. Just then, Will got a text from his girlfriend Lien. Without looking up from his cellphone, fingers flying on the tiny keyboard, he added, “That thing was so cool.”

I nodded, and got to thinking…

A few years before the crane, some friends of ours found a swing set being dismantled and put on the curb by neighbors. With their help and a borrowed pickup truck we got it, took it apart and brought it to our yard in south Minneapolis.

Nothing fancy, just two plastic swings on chains, a short sheet-metal slide, a plastic glider and a swinging trapeze. Four-and-a-half year old Will was fascinated by the prospect of the pile of spot-rusted metal actually morphing into a swing set. He would pick up the yellow seats and then stare at the pile of tubing with a quizzical look on his face. But a few dollars’ worth of new nuts, bolts, bushings and three hours of re-assembly later, there it was.

The shiny new hardware stood out more than the rusty old ones, highlighting its age and hand-me-down nature. No matter. It became Will’s pride and joy, the thing that he most looked forward to coming home to. Even after full summer daycare days in the park, with the big swing sets, Will wanted to come home to “his playground.” On Saturdays, Will would take his lunch outside and eat it while sitting on his favorite swing (the one next to the trapeze.) It became a focal point for Will’s friends on the block, and became a trusty companion when they weren’t around. It was also a refuge on those days when the world got a little gloomy, and many were the nights it barely got to rest while dinner was consumed.

Came our first snow, and I hadn’t removed the swings yet. It didn’t much matter. Our parka-clad boy brushed off the seats and got in a few minutes of action before dinner, and another ten or so after, till it just got too dark. The cool air accentuated every creak of the metal, chains and “S” hooks that made it all work. Spring eventually returned and become summer again and Will continued swinging away until we moved, leaving the swing set out on the curb for someone else to claim as their own – which they did within a day.

Once we moved, Will had his big, wooden playset and his gift-crane…

“Here come the Worthylakes.”

Will’s carpool had swung into view from around the corner, and in a few quick seconds he, seemingly in one, fluid motion and without getting tangled in multiple lanyards, effortlessly threw on both backpacks (lunch bag clipped to the big one with a carabiner) adjusted his cap, stuffed his PSP into his pocket, threw his arm (with hand still clutching cellphone) around my neck, gave me a hug and said “Love you dad” before bounding down to the steps and out to the S.U.V. at the curb.

“Love you, bud. See you this afternoon.”

“Bye.” He threw the farewell over his shoulder, hopped into the backseat, gave me a quick wave as they drove off.

I took another sip of coffee and went inside, lacking any old Tonka Trucks ® and figuring I had had my dirt pile enjoyment for the day anyway.