Betrothed, be cool. Because.

Who knew that becoming a wedding officiant would be this cool. I started this little side venture a few years back while still living in New Orleans, where my first get-em-hitched-gig was a destination wedding for a couple from Texas who had met as co-workers at a New Orleans bar. Together for ten years, the bride was very much pregnant with their third child and the groom had recently landed a new job, and they wanted everyone on the same insurance…and it was just the right time.  I married them under the Spanish moss-laden branches of a 200-year-old live oak in New Orleans City Park with a unique knot-tying ceremony incorporating four lengths of rope and both their kids.

Lovely, lively, funny.  We remain Facebook friends.

Since moving back to Minnesota just over a year ago, I have traversed the metro Twin Cities and western Wisconsin with more geographic bounding in the works for next year.

Have credentials, will travel.

As much as a wedding is about the people and their families and situations, place is a big deal to most of the couples I have dealt with – and it usually has little to do with cost, lots to do with the feel of a place, and how it fits the lives of the wedding couple. Venue dive into the world of the modern-day weddings, anything goes.

Yeah, I went there. 

Just in the past twelve months I have ridden herd on wedding parties in a meadow outside a century-old Wisconsin barn (the reception in the barn itself was dazzling) a wildflower-strewn Wisconsin hilltop overlooking the homestead of the family I was blending, and on a patio  next to a fence surrounding the air conditioning unit at a casino. (That one was a plan ‘B’ as the arranged locale in a grove of trees on the side of a lake was underwater due to spring flooding.)

The delightfully off-beat and vivacious wedding party more than compensated for the hum-drum, substitute surroundings. Hey, we still had the water and some boats in the background.

My other ‘plan B’ wedding was the community room of an upscale retirement community taken over when rain washed out a sister’s backyard garden.  A very charming, soft-spoken, go-with-the-flow couple – both my age – who had been together for a few years, threw a planned-for-later wedding together quickly because the bride had been diagnosed with a serious illness and the groom wanted to make sure he could easily access all his FMLA benefits. Life lessons in relying on ‘later’.

A poignant, memorable Sunday afternoon to be sure.

It dawns on me how much water has played such a large role in my officiating. In fact, two of my favorite weddings were held on – not alongside or by, but actually on, in the middle of –  the mighty Mississippi River.  One was on Minneapolis’ historic Stone Arch Bridge, the other on Raspberry Island in the heart of downtown St. Paul.  Interestingly, in both cases, neither the bride or groom had any real historical connection to the locales, they just liked the look and feel of time and place.  In both cases the couples were a bit quirky, and gave me the command to make it fun and memorable.

Aye aye, captains!

The Stone Arch Bridge event was unique in locale and audience, as it was early evening, with sun beginning its descent behind us, and joggers, bikers, and dog walkers passing by continually as the historic ( It is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire length of the Mississippi River)  span that once handled railroad traffic is now a haven for those on feet and wheels of every kind.  Quite a backdrop, and quite a backstory.

Some of the wedding party had yet to arrive, and the bride and the groom were both very apologetic for the delay, and I assured them multiple times everything was fine as I had no other evening plans. Plus, I had a great view of the river and the wedding party was just a fun group of young people I was enjoying interacting with. 

Then the groom stepped aside to take a call. Once he was done, he announced that his parents were just leaving on their way from a small town about an hours drive north of Minneapolis.  I was a bit puzzled, and asked, “So we are waiting for your parents to get here?”  He was quick to assuage my confusion. “Oh, no, no, no. They are coming down for the reception.” Then the bride filed in the blanks. “We called our parents to let them know while we were walking out here.  We just wanted the wedding itself to be us and our friends, out here. We all come here a lot, it’s one of our favorite spots. Besides, the real celebrating will be at the party.” 

Waiting for the last of the wedding party to arrive, the comments I overheard were all of the ‘Oh, your mom and dad are so cool’ and ‘I just love your mom’ with a few ‘I love your mom!’ exclamations plainly complimentary.

Once we got going, it was very cool.  The wedding party facing me, I had my back facing upstream but had a perfect view of all the joggers, bikers, and dog walkers passing by and those who were stopping to take pictures of the nuptials – as well as the passersby who stopped, then applauded (some tearfully) the self-written vows of bride and groom. Very cool.

Those young people touched a lot of folks that evening.

The wedding on Raspberry Island was held on a glorious spring afternoon, with a bride and groom that while being from here, currently live on the east coast, making it as much a reunion as a wedding. Our planning had been accomplished via Skype and phone and had been a laugh-filled process. They wanted some humor in their ceremony, and I was certainly the guy for the job.  One big thing I learned in our Skyping was their shared affection for a dog they had acquired a year before. So devoted are they to this canine (whom they cook up a weekly batch of chicken for) they had even considered bringing her for the wedding, but eventually decided against it for a variety of reasons – though I could tell it led to some melancholy on their part.

My solution to that was to incorporate a short note (‘love you guys, miss you, wish I could be there, etc.) from their beloved Swedish Vallhund. 

In Swedish.

Ending with a heart-tugging, laughter-inducing salutation: ‘P.S. Vi har nästan slut på kyckling.’ (‘We’re almost out of chicken’.) 

I grew up around a bunch of old Swedes, so getting the cadence and inflection down was no problem, as Google Translate is a wonderful tool. The hardest part of adding that note was getting a hold of the dog’s email to actually get the note. Overall, it was a well-received, highly complimented sermily.

Sidebar: When I officiate a wedding, the message I craft and deliver is not truly a sermon, it is not literally a homily – when you hire me, you get a customized sermily.  

I have also been honored to marry people in the courtyard of an old estate, the ballroom space of a renovated, nineteenth-century warehouse, the bridge over a pond in a Japanese garden, a federal detention center, and at a historic, refurbished (now urban) farm site. 

The only true church I have officiated a wedding in was a beautiful, deconsecrated, 1853 New Orleans edifice that is now a lively performing arts and events scene. 

Go figure.

It is more than just the traditional locales that are not now in vogue; brides and grooms these days seem to want their officiant to be something more than a figurehead with some sort of credentialing. They want someone to be part of the wedding team, as it were.  This is a different time when people do not have traditional relationships with home churches and/or pastors, and this is a generation quick to meet new people and establish relationships. Today when people choose a wedding officiant, it is a very personal and yes, rather intimate thing. The officiant becomes part of a le mariage à trois, so to speak.

I don’t use that concept in my marketing pitch, but…

Many would categorize these events as ‘non-traditional’ marriages – some in a not-so-positive way – and I would have to agree.  While I have been a part of blending a few families, I have yet to preside over the bonding of royal bloodlines, the uniting of strategic alliances, or sealing trade deals – though I did wed a couple who met in their respective roles as a grocery store buyer and a cheesemonger.

The bride and groom thought the cheese puns in my sermily were very gouda.

Now, cold weather time is approaching and I surprisingly have a number of wedding officiant proposals in the pipeline.  Winter weddings are a bigger deal than I would have thought, and certainly more prospects are coming in than last year. Minnesota winter weather can sure change the tone and logistical planning of any wedding discussion – especially for exterior venues.

Have parka, boots, and long johns. Will travel.

To be honest, I am hoping somewhere along the line I can find an ‘anything goes’ couple and land a winter gig like one of those mentioned above; picturesque, outdoorsy, and with a couple who wants something quirky, original, and fun.  Oh, and who will have early access to the site so I can set up a snowman – or maybe I can just officiate dressed as a snowman. Either way, I can get a big, wide-brimmed hat, ala an old-school parson, like in the song Winter Wonderland

In the meadow I can build a snowman
We’ll say I am Parson Mark
I’ll say, “Are you married?”
‘You’ll say, “No man!
But you can do the job since you’re in town…”

Winter is coming.

Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

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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.

‘Always’

February fourteenth.

Whether you’ve been in a relationship for sixty years or twenty minutes, the day means something more than ‘Oh, it’s Tuesday, Hamburger Helper for dinner night’. Even if it is, for most of us, this particular Tuesday falling on February fourteenth, it probably better not be.

Just sayin’.

One of my favorite real-life stories of romance I played only a tangential role in, but I am willing to bet it is still being remembered or being retold by someone, somewhere, twenty-plus years after the fact.

HIMThe locale for this tale was the Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis, where I worked as a bellman.  The hotel’s location on the edge of downtown made it a prime sport for romance. The fact that hotel offered shuttle bus service and van transportation within a five-mile radius of the hotel was also a nice draw – for guests and for bellmen. Guests could park their cars and party on with us as chauffeurs. The van driving part of the job not only added to the variety, it was also a prime income-generator. Add in the fact that we. as bellmen, were also the hotel’s concierge staff, and we could develop a pretty all-encompassing (and lucrative)  relationship with many of our guests.

We had a ring binder with the daily van schedule of scheduled runs (corporate clients, conventions and such) and could schedule other runs at guest request. We had three vehicles at our disposal: a twenty-five passenger bus, and two small vans – an eight passenger and a five passenger. You generally tried to schedule runs to maximize use, and keep dealing with the same guests. If you were the guy who scheduled the run, and it was during your shift, you could add your initials to indicate it was going to be your run. Otherwise, the runs were made by whoever was available when it needed to be done.

I was a bit older than most of my college-aged colleagues and I quickly mastered the art of unobtrusively making myself a constant presence in my guests stay.  Meet you at the door, help you with your bags and check- in, inquiring all along why you were here, and what I could do to make your stay easier and more enjoyable came pretty naturally to me. Oftentimes, by the time I had delivered guests and their bags amenities2to their room, I also had a dinner reservation made and the van run scheduled to get them there.

I had it going on for my clients.

One Saturday night I had some guests in town from Arizona; a mid-fiftyish couple who had grown up in the neighborhood around the hotel – before redevelopment and glitz. Returning to town for a family gathering, they had come in a few days early to revisit some old haunts and friends, and to celebrate the wife’s birthday. Meeting them on check in, I ingratiated myself (in part with my knowledge of the neighborhood as I also had family ties to the area) and by setting up their dinner reservations, and scheduling their ride to the restaurant. Inquiring about a pickup and return to the hotel afterward, they told me they would be meeting some friends after dinner for an evening of dancing, a favorite pastime of their youth, when the neighborhood featured three or four prominent places for young people to dance.

We commiserated about how those days (at least in the immediate vicinity) were long gone; the college-oriented area now was loaded with plenty of hot spots featuring live music but very little dancing. I asked where they would be headed out to dance and they said they didn’t know for sure, but their friends knew of a place where they could at least get in a few spins around the floor to music ‘they could all relate to’.

always4Somewhere along the line, as we headed upstairs to get them checked in, the husband mentioned the fact that he was looking forward to dancing with his wife to ‘their’ song: the Irving Berlin standard, ‘Always’. “You mean ‘I’ll be loving you…always’ – that ‘Always’”? I asked. “Yep” the man replied. “We danced to it on our first date at the old Marigold Ballroom, and it was the first dance at our wedding.”  His wife added a skeptical “Wherever we go, I hope they have it or know it!” We got them checked in as I promised to see them for the ride to dinner.

But first, I had some memorable-evening-planning to do. I started with our piano player.

Our compact lobby lounge had an upstairs; a balcony area overlooking the lobby. Most of the week it was quiet, many guests even unaware there was an upstairs to the bar area. But on weekend nights, the black baby grand up there was manned by Bill Duna, a music professor, and masterful pianist. Bill was very personable and musically knowledgeable, always game for serenading guests (and staff) with unusual requests: all he needed to set a scene was the song needed and a cue from me and no matter what he was playing, it would suddenly segue into whatever song it was I had requested. (This was usually accomplished with a hand gesture or billdunahead nod of some sort, and I often imagined myself as Rick Blaine to Bill’s Sam – but that is a whole other post).

Asking Bill if he knew ‘Always’ was silly; he responded with mock annoyance by simply knocking out the chorus on his ivories – punctuated with an ending flourish and a big smile.

Part one, ready to go.

That evening, when our happy couple stepped off the elevator and into the lobby, I saw them coming, and a quick “Oh, Bill”! turned a jaunty ‘Sunny Side of the Street’ into a much more melancholy and sensual ‘Always’ – causing a few lobby patrons to look around bewildered and stopping the couple dead-in-their-tracks. Puzzled, they looked all around the lobby before realizing where the piano music was coming from – above them, on the balcony. Then they looked up at Bill, smiled and waved, they both looked at me. I told them I thought since it was ‘their song’ we might as well have Bill serenade them out the door. They waved again to Bill, and I got them into the van for their ride to dinner.

Part two about to unfold.

As was our practice, before pulling away from the hotel, I grabbed the microphone of our Motorola two-way radio to informed the 124723973_vintage-motorola-motrac-fm---two-way-radio-system---w-4-operator on duty that I was out of the lobby for a bit, headed downtown to Murray’s restaurant. Only this time my report was less a procedural courtesy, more a cue to Todd, our operator that night. Todd was a college student who nicely supplemented his income as a wedding singer. I had also asked him if he knew ‘Always’ (he of course did) and if he would be willing to sing a verse or two for our guests over the radio as I drove them to dinner (how could he refuse?)

I didn’t know he’d do the entire song.

As we pulled away from the hotel, I radioed my destination, got an o.k. from Todd, said “Ten-four” and hung my mic on the little silver clip on the dash by my right knee. We had no sooner made the turn out of the driveway when the Motorola crackled to life with Todd’s A cappella baritone:

“I’llllll be loving youuuuuu, always
With a lovvvvvee that’s true, alwaysalways2

When the things you’ve planned
Need a helping hand
I will understand
Always…”

Thinking Todd was finished, I started to apologize for the sound quality – but Todd was not finished.

“Days may not be fair, always
That’s when I’ll be there, always
Not for just an hour
Not for just a day
Not for just a year
But alllllllllways…”

The couple was laughing heartily, the husband shaking his head as we drove through downtown bingcrosbycrooningtraffic as Todd continued to croon away on the Motorola, until I keyed the microphone so his audience of two could have their applause heard back at the hotel (where, I found out upon my return, a small crowd of staff had converged in curiosity over Todd singing to my passengers).

When we arrived at Murray’s, the couple asked his name, and if they could express their thanks to Todd, and I gave them the radio mic to do so while I went around to get the door for them. As they left the van, the man pulled out his wallet, peeled off a couple of twenties and a ten, instructing me to give one twenty to Todd, the ten to Bill, and take myself out to dinner with the other twenty.

“You know” the husband said “Sitting in the back of that van with Todd singing on the radio, was like being back in high school in the back seat of my father’s Ford listening to A.M. radio. Thank you, Mark. And thank Todd, too”.motorola2

We shook hands and they headed into Murray’s for dinner, both shaking their heads and laughing at their mini-concert for two.

We were big on teamwork at the Holiday Inn.

 

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First letter to a new grandson

It’s hard to believe it has been four years since I first penned the missive below.  But it has been. My grandson Felix turns four on Tuesday. In looking back over my initial thoughts at this wondrous event…well, not much has changed. Except everything has.  All for the good. Time flies, and flying with Felix?  That is not flying – it is soaring.  Happy birthday, dude.
Love,
Grandpa Mark

*    *    *    *

11/18/2011

Dear Felix:

First off, let me welcome you to this wild, wonderful world. Yeah, it has issues – always has and always will. Maybe as time goes by, you’ll be one of the ones fixing the problems. Still, it’s a great place to hang for the next century or so. Make it count for something.

Your parents have been really amazing awaiting your arrival – later than predicted as it may have been. Though you were something of a surprise, they have embraced you from the get-go with more gusto than I would have thought, and we are quite proud of them.

That gusto and clarity of purpose says a lot about both of them. They have been very impressive. Let this be your first  life lesson from grandpa: don’t under estimate people…especially the ones you love.

Your parents are really quite remarkable, both as individuals and as a couple. Your mom is my daughter, so I obviously know her very well. She’s pretty cool, and she chose well when she chose your dad – he is very cool, too. I take a fair amount of pride in her making that choice, though I can take absolutely no credit for it. Pride in your kids is something special to experience, Felix; pride in your parents is a wonderful gift, and I hope you have, hold and treasure it.

You’ll come to love them both as much as we all do, more so, in fact. I’m sure it  took you all of about, oh, say twenty-five seconds, once you got past that where-the-heck-am-I entrance-disorientation.

Felix, you are being born into a theatrical clan; your mom your dad are true theatre geeks, just as I was and as my father was – though neither my father or I have or had the depth and breadth of the passion that your parents do. Along with that passion comes a whole unique cadre of like-sentiment folks that are your parent’s friends and peers and that are eagerly waiting to embrace you. Let them.

You have grandparents to whom you are the first such member of your new family generation. They will attempt to spoil you. Allow them the privilege. Being first also means you will be a leader of your generation. When the time comes, lead with purpose, compassion and a sense of humor.

You have two teenage uncles who are also eagerly looking forward to getting to know you. They have favorite toys and movies and loads of life experience they want to eventually share with you; they plan on showing you the ropes, and how to be a guy. They’re both pretty good at that in some very different ways, so let them teach you what they know. Someday you’ll be able to tell them “Its okay, fellas – I got this” and fly solo. But in the meantime, take advantage of every moment of them that you can. And always keep their numbers on speed-dial.

Their old wooden trains and blocks (Will and Sam aren’t that old, so the paint is safe and all) are boxed and handy for when the time comes. Low-tech, I know, but I can’t wait for the day when they show you how to fit together those train tracks, and stack a few primary color squares and rectangles. They can’t wait, either.

I know; in time. We’ll get there. Let’s get started with some grandfatherly advice and stuff you need to know:

First of all, have faith. Need proof that there is a God? He has blessed us with you, your mom and your dad. Proof that God also has a sense of humor? He has blessed you with all the rest of us.

Remember to say ‘I love you’ frequently – to pretty much everyone. And mean it.

You can be tough and be gentle, often simultaneously. It is not as difficult as some would lead you to believe.

Roll with what you’ve got, improvise when you need to. Admire the finished product no matter how cumbersome it looks or functions.

Oh, your mother hates The Princess Bride. We’ll have to watch it at our house.

Moving on….

There is a popular phrase about not being constrained in life, and living in the moment: ‘Dance like no one is watching.’ It’s good advice that, as your grandfather, I heartily endorse. Even if, like yours truly, your dancing looks more like a man being attacked by a swarm of bees than it does dancing, pretend nobody is watching…and then dance even harder when you know that people are watching.

While we’re on the topic, there was a very popular song a few years back by Lee Ann Womack, called  I Hope You Dance. The song includes these lines:

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean;
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens…
promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,
I hope you dance…”

Amen to all of the above sentiment, kid. I really hope you don’t sit out too much in life, and that you’ll always try to dance. And sing, too. Maybe you could use a more contemporary take: treat life-like every day is commando-karaoke.

Okay, as metaphors go, that last one may need some work. But its good practice now to start realizing that not every pearl of wisdom you get from me is going to be fully cultured.

While we’re on the topic of music, there are some songs you should know, and I’ll try to teach them to you. (Your dad is the musician; he’ll be able to take you places with music I never could. Enjoy that ride.) That being said, there are best learned as grandpa/grandson duets and CD singalongs. Puff the Magic Dragon, for one, Marvelous Little Toy for another, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Oh, and The Unicorn. Your uncle Sam likes really that one, so I’ll try to get my Irish dialect back on track for you so we can all do it up right. We may have to turn that duet into a trio act.

About music. Someday when we’re driving in the car, I can see the family rule about the driver choosing the radio station or CD getting bent for you, especially once you start riding shotgun. It’ll be your call, of course, but it would be nice if you developed a taste for the 1960’s. Your mom really likes The Monkees, and other good stuff from my era, and she also shares my affinity for The Rat Pack; Frank, Dean, Sammy. I think you are genetically predisposed to some Sinatra-coolness factor anyway so it should work out. Cross-generational music appreciation is something we are definitely used to and in favor of in this family. Savor it.

Your dad has a wide range in musical tastes, so you’re likely to experience a lot, musically. Take it all in…from all of us. But always march to your own drum beat.

But you know, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you decided you liked jazz…and The Beatles. We can work it out as you get a little older.

I do have one inviolate music-in-the-vehicle rule; there are certain songs that you cannot change stations or tracks during, or turn the car off on…EV-VER. Hey Jude and Let it be are on that short list along with Turn, Turn, Turn. And, of course, American Pie. If we are just getting home from somewhere and we hear Don McLean start in with the opening trill “A long, long time ago…” on the radio, we will circle the block twelve times if need be to get in all 8:14 of American Pie.  Deal with it.

Felix, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help or advice; the world is not always a do-it-yourself-at-all-costs endeavor. There is strength in numbers…and usually better stories to tell and people to share them with once it’s over. Share the experiences of life.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be independent, far from it. But here is a little secret you should know: the best kind of independence comes from self-assurance, and self-assurance comes from the confidence to know yourself and your own limitations and know that there will always be others who have knowledge and expertise you can utilize. Seeking out the counsel of others is a sign of strength, not weakness. Anyone who tells you otherwise has little of the former, tons of the latter. Ignore them.

By the way; although the lesser version is generally palatable, real cheesecake is made with ricotta cheese, not cream cheese.

‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – so every once in a while you can surprise them with a big, sloppy smooch on the cheek.’  That’s a grandpa paraphrase. You may encounter the original version; mine is more…functional.

Another popular adage you might hear is “Eighty percent of life is simply showing up.” Now while I mostly see the value in that, I think the advice I have given your mother for years is even more applicable to life in general: “Be good…or at least be prompt.”

Oh yeah. Your mother (and probably the rest of us) will periodically and inadvertently introduce you to the growing and evolving thesaurus that are ‘Luckerisms’ – our family’s own, rather unique set of catch phrases and interjections for all occasions. For example, by the time you are old enough to understand what a ringing phone is, you’ll have also learned the correct thing to yell out across the house in response. (“Somebody get that – it might be a phone call!”) When riding in the car with your mother and stuck behind someone at a stop light, you’ll also learn something about traffic light colors most people don’t ever  think about. (“Only one shade of green in this town, buddy!”) Like I said, it’s a thesaurus not a mimeographed handout.

“Oh yeah, baby grandma.” That one will someday be explained to you by Will and/or Sam.

I hope you are able to blaze your own trail to the things that satisfy you in life. I’ll try to be supportive, even when and if I don’t understand where exactly it is you’re coming from. Hey, it’ll happen. But I’m always open to trying new things and different points of view. Hopefully you will be, too.

Dude; spontaneity rocks.

Another key item: people will always think they know what’s best for you, even when they don’t. Follow your gut instincts.

While we’re talking about self-awareness, don’t ever confuse bravado with taking a stand on principle. You can always be Don Quixote. Just make sure you have a fully capable Sancho Panza along for the journey, someone you can always count on to come up with sharpened lance and a well-rested mule.

Inspire loyalty.

You’ll always need some down time along the way. When you’re not blasting your way through life, you should know that porch swings and reclining chairs are great venues for grandpas and grandsons and sharing things. Things like sunsets and summer evenings, fall afternoons and spring rains, a cold Coke or some sweet tea, good books and chats about…stuff. Guys stuff and, you know, other stuff. Porch swings and recliners are also excellent stuff-contemplation vehicles.

Of course, Coke…not Pepsi.

Recliners are especially good places to hang and watch and listen.

Music of all kinds. A Prairie Home Companion, CNN, Turner Classic Movies. The Marx Brothers, Spongebob Squarepants and all three Toy Story movies. The original Star Wars trilogy. Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Three Stooges, Davey and Goliath. A little Vivaldi is nice sometimes, as are sports. Baseball, football and hockey, to be sure. Basketball only if you insist. Hey, it’ll still be my recliner.

Recliners and porch swings are also the best spots for stories that we can make up on our own. And also good spots for a choice a corned beef sandwich on good rye bread. With mustard. (Just needed to fit that sandwich in here somewhere.)

By the way, porch swings are very neat places to hang out and take naps on during rainy days – with or without a grandpa. Better with, but that’s one of those you can also savor on your own whenever you get the chance. While naps on rainy days are great, walks in the rain might just be greater. We will have to go on some rainy-day quests for the perfect puddle.

And, contrary to what your mother (and my mother and  most any mother says) puddles are cool. So is mud.

Porch swings are also good locales for learning the finer points of brief literature: limericks, haikus…nursery rhymes the ‘Lucker Way.’ When the time comes your mother can explain what Old Mother Hubbard really went to that cupboard for and I’ll take it from there.

Along with porch swings and reclining chairs, there’s a lot to be said for small boats. Fishing ranks right up there as a good stuff-sharing and story-telling time. Fishing is also one of the few times in life when people expect you to fib just a little bit. Take advantage of such times with nature, and always keep in mind it’s called ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching’ for good reason.

Speaking of fishing, there is another piece of homemade advice I distribute fairly freely. ”Always strive to be like the biggest, fattest bass in the lake – know when to not take the bait.”

Restraint and that whole gut-instinct thing come into play here. You’ll figure it out.

There are a few secret wishes I have for you; I hope you like baseball. And going camping. And pizza. Annnnd…cheeseburgers. Not the lame, limp, fast food variety but some top quality, inch-thick, pressed-by-hand, fresh-off-a-grill cheeseburgers. And be creative with the cheese, Felix; there is far more to life than just processed American. Taste it all.

And somewhere along the line you’ll get to learn and taste a little something my grandfather taught me many years ago; the joy of dipping a sugar cube into a cup of coffee, then sucking the coffee back out of it. Mmmm-mmmm. You’ll find it’s the little things, Felix, that make life so special.

In closing, you should know that as you grow up you’ll hear many wild and wacky stories about your family. If they sometimes sound too outrageous to be true…you’re probably being too much of a skeptic. Embrace your familial eccentricities. Grow with them. You’ll learn to love them and those us who possess them. A little head shaking in disbelief is okay – as long as you keep smiling through it and don’t ever do it with disdain.

Single best advice I can give you, Felix? Hang out with grandpa whenever you can, for as long as you can. You’ll learn stuff. But I’ll learn so much more and you’ll teach me. It’ll be exciting for both of us.

We’ll start to get to know each other soon, the rest we’ll work out as we go.

Oh, and have somebody print this missive out and put it in a ring binder for you. We’ll be adding to it as time goes by. ;-{)

Chivalry in an Age of Indifferent Insouciance

This post is for you romantic-wannabes – guys, I’m guessing, for the most part.  Consider this your Valentine’s Day primer; a free, on-line graduate course in pitching-and-wooing that special someone.  What can I tell you? I’m a teacher.  Read and learn from my friend Jacques.  MLL

In an age where there is sometimes a fine line separating ironic Hallmark cards and the Kama Sutra, I have discovered a modern-day Yeats lurking in my friends listing on Facebook.  ‘Jacques’ is a friend from thirty-odd years ago, a native Midwestern guy like myself; about two years back we reconnected via Facebook.  A few weeks ago during a casual, early-morning-over-coffee, back-and-forth chat session we had the following exchange concerning his new love (we’ll call her ‘Lenore’) who is actually an old love, a reconnect from a distant past.  Note that the drive he refers to is roughly 400 miles, and that the key locale in his winter adventure is Fargo, North Dakota.  I’ve been to Fargo; in the Midwest, this is as true-love as it can get.

Jacques:  I did make it to Fargo though

J&L1Me:  Ooooh….life in the fast lane…or the turn lane, maybe

Jacques:  That day it was the snow lane

Me: figures

Jacques:  Drove Minneapolis to Brainerd to Fargo to Brainerd in a blizzard

Me: yuck. What possessed you?

Jacques:  Lenore.  She had a meeting in Fargo

Me: That’ll do it!

Jacques:  I wasn’t letting her drive it aloneJ&L2

Me: Chivalry! Good call

Jacques:  Usually works

Me: True. One of the lost arts. There are not many of us left

Jacques:  Funny, was just having that discussion with Lenore

Me: The utter lack of Don Quixotes still hanging around?

Jacques:  Yeah

The typedversation (my word, no copyright) continued to the point where, while musing about potential topics for my blog, Jacques offered some examples of his recent correspondence with Lenore. Proof positive that there are, indeed, still some of us true romantics still futzing around the planet. To wit:

 My most precious Lenore:

I think by now you know that I am, deep down, a risk taker, a gambler.  Not at casinos, or in the lottery.  But with my heart.

romance4 I told you once that there were many kinds of love; the love of a friend, the love of a dog, the love of chocolate ice cream.  There is the love of a parent, a brother, and also a lover.  But then there is that one, that one love that makes the others fade in comparison – the love of THE LOVE.  It is the love of that one, true love of your life – your soul-mate,  your sunshine, your rock, your existence.  It is the one that you would die for, kill for, steal for, cheat for.  The one without whom, you cannot imagine going one day.

 In you, I believe, I truly believe, I have found that Love – my love, THE LOVE.  And, I think, I hope, I pray, that in me, you will find that too.

 But what would you risk for such love?  What would you gamble for that one, true, love – the kind of love that makes the world stop turning, and time and space cease to exist; the kind of love that blocks the sun with it’s brilliance, and hides the stars with it’s blanket of serenity; the kind of love that makes some men speechless, and charges others to write great tomes; the kind of love that makes you wish you could freeze the moment, any moment of it, forever, yet gives you the courage to move forward together.

 I don’t know what you would do or give or risk..

Now I do not know Lenore, and it has been a number of years since I have seen Jacques, but I must note here that great minds do think alike; however there are two key difference between Jacques and myself when it comes to writing romantic letters: One, he does it and I don’t anymore. Two, where I would infuse mine with irony and humor both subtle and overt, Jacques stays the legit, Casanova course:

romance5 But me?  I would give anything, risk anything, do anything, endure anything for that kind of love.  I would bear any burden – I would pass through the gates of hell, and spit in the devil’s face.  I would suffer any hardship, take on any pain, and welcome death, if I could find that kind of love for only a single day.

 Pretty bold. But wait, there’s more!

 Maybe you think I am crazy; maybe I am. But I am honest in my words, because that kind of love comes once in a lifetime.  Once in a lifetime if you are lucky.  If you are very, very lucky.  Lenore, please believe me when I say that there is nothing, nothing, nothing on this planet that is more precious, more valuable, or more sacred to me than that kind of love.

 Gallant stuff from Jacques, and to be admired.

 I am willing to risk everything for that love – for real love.  For your love.  What are you willing to risk?  You tell me you are torn, but it is not, it was not, my intention to ever have you find yourself in that position; to ever have pain or worry because of my love.  Because of your love.  Because of our love.  And so, I ask you one simple question:  What are you willing to risk?

 Sitting down at a keyboard to write these missives would be a risk in-and-of-itself for most guys.  For those of you still with me, who hope to learn from this crash-course in romantic communication…read on, MacDuff, keeping in romance1mind that Jacques and Lenore have rekindled a long-ago, youthful romance here now in middle age.

 There are numerous other examples in the correspondence Jacques so graciously shared with me. I am certainly glad that he shared this very personal material with me – and allowed me to share it with you.  A few more tidbits for those of you still taking notes at home.

 I don’t need to tell you I love you – you know that. I can’t even tell you how much, because every moment it is more than the moment before. You take my breath away when I am with you – and you steal my heart when I am not….

 …I love you. I will love you always and forever. I will love you until time itself stops. I will love you until I am no more.

 ….My love, you are the reason I live, the center of my being, the purpose for my very existence.  Until now, my life has been a series of meaningless adventures.  Adventures which brought me from point to point, day by day, until by some small miracle, I arrived once again at your door.  A door which you opened.  A door I should never have walked out of to begin with….

romance2…Let me love you as you should be loved.

…..And so it began here – the place I first set eyes on you.  I was in awe of you that day; I am still in awe of you today, for so many reasons, I can’t recount them all.  You are so beautiful, so kind, so loving, so full of God’s grace – but with an inner strength and resolution that it seems impossible, compelled by an undying devotion that endures long after it is no longer deserved.  I am so in awe of you . . .

My freshman year in college I took a class in film appreciation, and one of the notable takeaways that still resonates with me from that class is that there really no ‘endings’ to a story; that whatever concludes that portion of a story is simply the stepping off point to another story, or a continuation of the primary story. In short, there are really no endings in life simply more beginnings.  As for Jacques and Lenore, this part of the tale ends with Jacques pièce de résistance is (spoiler alert!) something you might expect.

 …I have loved you for so long, from so far away – never daring to hope or dream that one day I would again look into your eyes and see that which I now see – touch your hand and have the breath drawn from my body – kiss your lips and have time and space stand still…

Chivalry3..but I thought, until not long ago, that you were lost to me forever.   But here you are.  Lenore, let me give my life to you.  Every ounce of my strength, my love, my loyalty, my fortune, my industry – my very soul are yours from now until eternity – if you will have them.

If you are scared – know that I am terrified.  I am terrified that I will disappoint you.  I am terrified that I will let you down.  I am terrified because there is no owners manual, no user’s guide, no how-to book…

 …I am not perfect – I am far from it.  But I will spend the rest of my life trying to bring you happiness – helping you to find peace – and loving you the best way I know how – if you will have me….

Lenore – my most precious angel – I Love you so very, very much.  And I will give everything I have, I will do whatever it takes, to make you happy, if you will do me the honor, the most incredible honor, of being my wife.

chivalry1Go ahead. You know you want to.  Modern etiquette allows you to ‘awww’ over a blog post.

As I noted earlier, there is no true ending to a story, only another beginning, just a continuation on a path that has changed in composition or direction.  Life goes on, love goes on – especially a love that has returned.

Valentine’s Day is a few short weeks away.  It doesn’t matter if you are a freshman pledge or taking graduate level courses, there is an end-of-course test coming; print out, annotate and use this as your study guide and you’ll pass with flying colors.

Lenore, BTW, said yes.

C’mon. Like you didn’t see that coming.

 

 

@55

55 3I just celebrated birthday number 55 – as a friend so euphemistically put it, my ‘speed limit birthday.’

The Double Nickel. Stay alive, drive 55.

The 70’s called – they want their slogans back.

I’ll go with ‘Thrive 55.’ No copyright or datedness issues, plus it’s mine and I am. Thriving, that is.

55 2For the most part I am. My health, and that of my family, is good; we are all happy and in relatively good spots in our lives. I am keenly aware of this blessing as many long-time friends struggle with a myriad of different chronic ailments. Even the dogs got clean bills of health from the vet this week.

I am blessed.

Approaching this mid-decade birthday, I have been paying extra attention to my health and well-being. Having dropped thirteen pounds since January the first, I can honestly use my new, self-appointed nickname: Lean, Mean Aw-What-the-Hell? Machine.

O.K. it’s a bit clunky.

I am generally of the just-another-year mindset with birthdays, but this year seems to have a lot of quirky numerical significance of milestones and anniversaries.

bouquetWP_20140420_015It’s a busy year. My daughter Lindsay turns thirty in June, and is getting married in July. She does not wish to be reminded of the former and eagerly anticipates the latter. Her two-and-a-half year old son – my grandson – Felix plays a prominent role in the festivities and I am greatly looking forward to it all.

Felix is a bright kid; he has figured out how to call or Skype me when he gets his hands on his mom’s phone. We pick up where we leave off whenever we can.

My eldest son Willi graduates from high school in a few weeks; he was accepted into two top-notch universities and has settled on mortarboradwhere he will go. Thus begins the process of his nest-leaving.

Meanwhile, youngest son Sam is wrapping up his freshman year of high school on the upswing after hitting a few fairly typical first-year-of-high-school rough patches. He now begins the process of flying more solo than he has had to up until this point in life. Daily life without his brother around to torment, nurture, harangue, bicker with, cajole and love (in all directions and all combinations) will be an interesting transition for all of us.

I recently realized that fifty-five is a big deal in part because of all the stuff that happened 40 years ago, when I was fifteen, which I have been thinking about a lot because that’s how old Sam is now. Looking back, fifteen was filled with all sorts of good stuff.

Driving legally comes to mind.

By the time my driving privileges were codified by that little yellow paper permit in 1974, I had been behind the wheel of various66 Valliant1964 Yeep pickup vehicles for a few years during my summer sojourns to Horseshoe Lake in northern Minnesota. I had driven Ivar and Lila’s ’64 Jeep pickup, in which I had learned to drive a manual transmission (though for the first few years, Ivar had to work the clutch from the passenger seat) which I proved my clutch prowess with by mowing down a sapling at age thirteen. I had also driven their ’66 Plymouth Valliant, a zippy little automatic transmission number that was compact enough for the smallish, pre-teen me to handle effortlessly.

Fifteen was also the age at which Ivar let me use the Homelite chain saw, and it was also the summer I occasionally (VERY oHomelite chainsawccasionally) got a full bottle of beer to myself. A story for another (and from another, very different) time.

2014 is also the 40 year anniversary my first job…of the approximately 72 different employers I have worked for to this date. Unless you include all the different things I did and places I did them while employed by five different temp firms. And of course, there was all the stuff I did on the side and sometimes off-the-books. Add in all the fun and funky stuff and the number of gigs I have actually been paid for easily tops 200. (see my poetry blog for more on that: http://markluckerpoet.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/walking-down-sesame-street-with-studs-terkel-at-graduation-time/)

As Sinatra sings in my was then/still is now theme song, That’s Life, “…I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet…a pawn and a king…..”  

If it is not illegal, unethical or immoral, there is a good chance I’ve dabbled in it.

Fifteen, the summer of ’74, was also when I discovered that girls were…? Aww hell, that they were girls. Different but still the same girls as in previous summers. They were something entirely new and familiar.

Fifteen was also the age when I began filling notebooks with teenaged profundity on solo cross-country Greyhound jaunts from Denver to Minneapolis at the start of the summer and back again before school reconvened. At fifteen, I was old enough to roll Grehound SeniCruisersolo. Add in shorter Greyhound hops from Minneapolis to Crosby, Minnesota and back, and I put a lot of miles on those spiral notebooks. That was over two-thousand miles a summer of life and writing about it, experiencing a wide array of people, different places. Big city kid soaking in small-town stopovers and all-night truck stops. Best scrambled eggs and link sausage I’ve ever had were at a truck stop in North Platte, Nebraska, somewhere around two a.m. on a June morning surrounded by bus vagabonds and truckers, great conversationalists and monologists straining their necks to see just what I was writing down in my green steno book.

I had seconds on those eggs from the truck stop buffet, more sausages, too. They were great eggs.

When I wasn’t writing, I was watching and listening. Sometimes to my fellow travelers, sometimes to Sinatra or Dean Martin on the cassetterecorderlittle Radio Shack cassette player with the single earphone I had squeezed into my travel bag. Now and then I listened to all of the above simultaneously, and I vividly understood how movies soundtracks really enhanced the flow of a story.

Forty years have passed. An anniversary of a coming of age.

Fifteen was a crucial demarcation point for me. Now, here I am, some forty years hence.Sinatra singing

“I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king;
I’ve been up and down and over and out and I know one thing –
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face…
I just pick myself up!  and get back. in. the. race!
That’s life…”

At fifty-five.

 

First letter to a new grandson

Dear Felix:

First off, let me welcome you to this wild, wonderful world. Yeah, it has issues – always has and always will. Maybe as time goes by, you’ll be one of the ones fixing the problems. Still, it’s a great place to hang for the next century or so. Make it count for something.

Your parents have been really amazing awaiting your arrival – later than predicted as it may have been. Though you were something of a surprise, they have embraced you from the get-go with more gusto than I would have thought, and we are quite proud of them.

That gusto and clarity of purpose says a lot about both of them. They have been very impressive. Let this be your first  life lesson from grandpa: don’t under estimate people…especially the ones you love.

Your parents are really quite remarkable, both as individuals and as a couple. Your mom is my daughter, so I obviously know her very well. She’s pretty cool, and she chose well when she chose your dad – he is very cool, too. I take a fair amount of pride in her making that choice, though I can take absolutely no credit for it. Pride in your kids is something special to experience, Felix; pride in your parents is a wonderful gift, and I hope you have, hold and treasure it.

You’ll come to love them both as much as we all do, more so, in fact. Im sure it  took you all of about, oh, say twenty-five seconds, once you got past that where-the-heck-am-I entrance-disorientation.

Felix, you are being born into a theatrical clan; your mom your dad are true theatre geeks, just as I was and as my father was – though neither my father or I have or had the depth and breadth of the passion that your parents do. Along with that passion comes a whole unique cadre of like-sentiment folks that are your parent’s friends and peers and that are eagerly waiting to embrace you. Let them.

You have grandparents to whom you are the first such member of your new family generation. They will attempt to spoil you. Allow them the privilege. Being first also means you will be a leader of your generation. When the time comes, lead with purpose, compassion and a sense of humor.

You have two teenaged uncles who are also eagerly looking forward to getting to know you. They have favorite toys and movies and loads of life experience they want to eventually share with you; they plan on showing you the ropes, and how to be a guy. They’re both pretty good at that in some very different ways, so let them teach you what they know. Someday you’ll be able to tell them “Its okay, fellas – I got this” and fly solo. But in the meantime, take advantage of every moment of them that you can. And always keep their numbers on speed-dial.

Their old wooden trains and blocks (Will and Sam aren’t that old, so the paint is safe and all) are boxed and handy for when the time comes. Low-tech, I know, but I can’t wait for the day when they show you how to fit together those train tracks, and stack a few primary color squares and rectangles. They can’t wait, either.

I know; in time. We’ll get there. Let’s get started with some grandfatherly advice and stuff you need to know:

First of all, have faith. Need proof that there is a God? He has blessed us with you, your mom and your dad. Proof that God also has a sense of humor? He has blessed you with all the rest of us.

Remember to say ‘I love you’ frequently – to pretty much everyone. And mean it.

You can be tough and be gentle, often simultaneously. It is not as difficult as some would lead you to believe.

Roll with what you’ve got, improvise when you need to. Admire the finished product no matter how cumbersome it looks or functions.

Oh, your mother hates The Princess Bride. We’ll have to watch it at our house.

Moving on….

There is a popular phrase about not being constrained in life, and living in the moment: ‘Dance like no one is watching.’ It’s good advice that, as your grandfather, I heartily endorse. Even if, like yours truly, your dancing looks more like a man being attacked by a swarm of bees than it does dancing, pretend nobody is watching…and then dance even harder when you know that people are watching.

While we’re on the topic, there was a very popular song a few years back by Lee Ann Womack, called  I Hope You Dance. The song includes these lines:

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean;
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens…
promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,
I hope you dance…”

Amen to all of the above sentiment, kid. I really hope you don’t sit out too much in life, and that you’ll always try to dance. And sing, too. Maybe you could use a more contemporary take: treat life-like every day is commando-karaoke.

Okay, as metaphors go, that last one may need some work. But its good practice now to start realizing that not every pearl of wisdom you get from me is going to be fully cultured.

While we’re on the topic of music, there are some songs you should know, and I’ll try to teach them to you. (Your dad is the musician; he’ll be able to take you places with music I never could. Enjoy that ride.) That being said, there are best learned as grandpa/grandson duets and CD singalongs. Puff the Magic Dragon, for one, Marvelous Little Toy for another, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Oh, and The Unicorn. Your uncle Sam likes really that one, so I’ll try to get my Irish dialect back on track for you so we can all do it up right. We may have to turn that duet into a trio act.

About music. Someday when we’re driving in the car, I can see the family rule about the driver choosing the radio station or CD getting bent for you, especially once you start riding shotgun. It’ll be your call, of course, but it would be nice if you developed a taste for the 1960’s. Your mom really likes The Monkees, and other good stuff from my era, and she also shares my affinity for The Rat Pack; Frank, Dean, Sammy. I think you are genetically predisposed to some Sinatra-coolness factor anyway so it should work out. Cross-generational music appreciation is something we are definitely used to and in favor of in this family. Savor it.

Your dad has a wide range in musical tastes, so you’re likely to experience a lot, musically. Take it all in…from all of us. But always march to your own drum beat.

But you know, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you decided you liked jazz…and The Beatles. We can work it out as you get a little older.

I do have one inviolate music-in-the-vehicle rule; there are certain songs that you cannot change stations or tracks during, or turn the car off on…EV-VER. Hey Jude and Let it be are on that short list along with Turn, Turn, Turn. And, of course, American Pie. If we are just getting home from somewhere and we hear Don McLean start in with the opening trill “A long, long time ago…” on the radio, we will circle the block twelve times if need be to get in all 8:14 of American Pie.  Deal with it.

Felix, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help or advice; the world is not always a do-it-yourself-at-all-costs endeavor. There is strength in numbers…and usually better stories to tell and people to share them with once it’s over. Share the experiences of life.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be independent, far from it. But here is a little secret you should know: the best kind of independence comes from self-assurance, and self-assurance comes from the confidence to know yourself and your own limitations and know that there will always be others who have knowledge and expertise you can utilize. Seeking out the counsel of others is a sign of strength, not weakness. Anyone who tells you otherwise has little of the former, tons of the latter. Ignore them.

By the way; although the lesser version is generally palatable, real cheesecake is made with ricotta cheese, not cream cheese.

‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – so every once in a while you can surprise them with a big, sloppy smooch on the cheek.’  That’s a grandpa paraphrase. You may encounter the original version; mine is more…functional.

Another popular adage you might hear is “Eighty percent of life is simply showing up.” Now while I mostly see the value in that, I think the advice I have given your mother for years is even more applicable to life in general: “Be good…or at least be prompt.”

Oh yeah. Your mother (and probably the rest of us) will periodically and inadvertently introduce you to the growing and evolving thesaurus that are ‘Luckerisms’ – our family’s own, rather unique set of catch phrases and interjections for all occasions. For example, by the time you are old enough to understand what a ringing phone is, you’ll have also learned the correct thing to yell out across the house in response. (“Somebody get that – it might be a phone call!”) When riding in the car with your mother and stuck behind someone at a stop light, you’ll also learn something about traffic light colors most people don’t ever  think about. (“Only one shade of green in this town, buddy!”) Like I said, it’s a thesaurus not a mimeographed handout.

“Oh yeah, baby grandma.” That one will someday be explained to you by Will and/or Sam.

I hope you are able to blaze your own trail to the things that satisfy you in life. I’ll try to be supportive, even when and if I don’t understand where exactly it is you’re coming from. Hey, it’ll happen. But I’m always open to trying new things and different points of view. Hopefully you will be, too.

Dude; spontaneity rocks.

Another key item: people will always think they know what’s best for you, even when they don’t. Follow your gut instincts.

While we’re talking about self-awareness, don’t ever confuse bravado with taking a stand on principle. You can always be Don Quixote. Just make sure you have a fully capable Sancho Panza along for the journey, someone you can always count on to come up with sharpened lance and a well-rested mule.

Inspire loyalty.

You’ll always need some down time along the way. When you’re not blasting your way through life, you should know that porch swings and reclining chairs are great venues for grandpas and grandsons and sharing things. Things like sunsets and summer evenings, fall afternoons and spring rains, a cold Coke or some sweet tea, good books and chats about…stuff. Guys stuff and, you know, other stuff. Porch swings and recliners are also excellent stuff-contemplation vehicles.

Of course, Coke…not Pepsi.

Recliners are especially good places to hang and watch and listen.

Music of all kinds. A Prairie Home Companion, CNN, Turner Classic Movies. The Marx Brothers, Spongebob Squarepants and all three Toy Story movies. The original Star Wars trilogy. Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Three Stooges, Davey and Goliath. A little Vivaldi is nice sometimes, as are sports. Baseball, football and hockey, to be sure. Basketball only if you insist. Hey, it’ll still be my recliner.

Recliners and porch swings are also the best spots for stories that we can make up on our own. And also good spots for a choice a corned beef sandwich on good rye bread. With mustard. (Just needed to fit that sandwich in here somewhere.)

By the way, porch swings are very neat places to hang out and take naps on during rainy days – with or without a grandpa. Better with, but that’s one of those you can also savor on your own whenever you get the chance. While naps on rainy days are great, walks in the rain might just be greater. We will have to go on some rainy-day quests for the perfect puddle.

And, contrary to what your mother (and my mother and  most any mother says) puddles are cool. So is mud.

Porch swings are also good locales for learning the finer points of brief literature: limericks, haikus…nursery rhymes the ‘Lucker Way.’ When the time comes your mother can explain what Old Mother Hubbard really went to that cupboard for and I’ll take it from there.

Along with porch swings and reclining chairs, there’s a lot to be said for small boats. Fishing ranks right up there as a good stuff-sharing and story-telling time. Fishing is also one of the few times in life when people expect you to fib just a little bit. Take advantage of such times with nature, and always keep in mind it’s called ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching’ for good reason.

Speaking of fishing, there is another piece of homemade advice I distribute fairly freely. ”Always strive to be like the biggest, fattest bass in the lake – know when to not take the bait.”

Restraint and that whole gut-instinct thing come into play here. You’ll figure it out.

There are a few secret wishes I have for you; I hope you like baseball. And going camping. And pizza. Annnnd…cheeseburgers. Not the lame, limp, fast food variety but some top quality, inch-thick, pressed-by-hand, fresh-off-a-grill cheeseburgers. And be creative with the cheese, Felix; there is far more to life than just processed American. Taste it all.

And somewhere along the line you’ll get to learn and taste a little something my grandfather taught me many years ago; the joy of dipping a sugar cube into a cup of coffee, then sucking the coffee back out of it. Mmmm-mmmm. You’ll find it’s the little things, Felix, that make life so special.

In closing, you should know that as you grow up you’ll hear many wild and wacky stories about your family. If they sometimes sound too outrageous to be true…you’re probably being too much of a skeptic. Embrace your familial eccentricities. Grow with them. You’ll learn to love them and those us who possess them. A little head shaking in disbelief is okay – as long as you keep smiling through it and don’t ever do it with disdain.

Single best advice I can give you, Felix? Hang out with grandpa whenever you can, for as long as you can. You’ll learn stuff. But I’ll learn so much more and you’ll teach me. It’ll be exciting for both of us.

We’ll start to get to know each other soon, the rest we’ll work out as we go.

Oh, and have somebody print this missive out and put it in a ring binder for you. We’ll be adding to it as time goes by. ;-{)

No fine print, just a fine woman.

Nineteen years ago today, I got married. For the second time. There are all sorts of things that I could say here about getting it right this time, first time around is just practice, etcetera – but that is all very cliché – and not all that reflective of the realities of life.

I could also go the ninety-nine cent greeting card route and throw out some platitudes about ‘marrying my soul mate’ or some such, but again – cliché and not really on point.

Getting married nineteen years ago changed the course of some people’s lives, made some lives better, even created new lives that will now perpetuate and reverberate through other lives. That Saturday extravaganza and assorted hoopla pre-and-post made the world, I think, just a little bit better in the process.

At the very least, it made me better.

I met my wife Amy via a personal ad she had placed in a quaint little start-up newsprint tabloid called ‘Single World’ that was available at free newsstands at grocery and convenience stores, hotel lobbies, restaurants, bars, and – where I found my copy and eventual bride – the Laundromat in the Hi-Lake Shopping Center in south Minneapolis.

Ahh, romance before it got all high-tech and ‘matchy.’

At the time, the whole singles-ad thing was still relatively alternative in nature; meaning it was a revenue boon for the Twin Cities alternative newspapers, and were usually just listed just after the display ads for bongs and other paraphernalia and just before the display ads for strip clubs. Good for amusement purposes when hanging out with pals post-bar rush at Perkins, but nobody in my crowd saw them as viable ‘love connection’ reading

What set Single World apart from the other freebie publications of the time was that its stated mission was to be a ‘Christian singles magazine.’ Now while I never saw anything that was in contradiction to the publisher’s stated intention to deliver a high-brow, faith-oriented forum for singles, the primary nod to its Christian underpinnings was a weekly listing of events at area churches: singles dances, special interest Bible and other book studies…and a slew of self-help and twelve-step programs.

Looking for love in all the ‘My name is….’ places?

I have nothing but respect for most such organizations, but whenever I picked up a copy of Single World, I saw that the ‘Weekly calendar of singles events in the Twin Cities’ was an increasing longer alphabet soup heavy on the vowels: AA, NA, ACA, GA , OA, with the occasional TOPS and POS thrown in for good measure.

Know that I am not making fun of any of these organizations or the work that they do; I have had many friends throughout the years that have been helped by them, and the church I belonged to at the time sponsored three different AA groups and a TOPS chapter. Many weeks more than fifty such groups and their respective meeting places and times were listed – all in the name of ‘meeting other eligible singles.’

A novel approach; the antithesis of the bar-pickup scene

But the idea of utilizing that weekly listing as a ‘hangout checklist’ seemed fraught with a variety of issues for a single guy like me, not the least of which being, do I want to actively seek romance with someone who has the same neuroses as mine, or go for someone with completely different issues than my own? Plus simply going to a meeting and pretending to have whatever issue was at hand seemed at best, deceitful.

I avoided that issue entirely by just reading the personal ads.

The first ad you placed was free, so anybody could join in.  As befitting the goal of the magazine, the ads were free of anything overtly sexual, and were divided into just two categories: men seeking women and women seeking men. Aside from that, the formatting and singles language was pretty much the same as in other publications: SWF, DWM, SBM, and so on. The only other thing that set these ads apart from other locales was a predilection of many of them to note, usually as an end line, what twelve-step group(s) they belonged to.

But mostly, they were fairly benign verbal snapshots of women’s likes and dislikes, turn-ons and turn-offs. This being in Minnesota, ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’ and ten-times that many recalcitrant and reserved Scandinavians, they tended to rely heavily on ‘loves walking around lakes’ proclamations over the proverbial and Playboy-Bunnyesque ‘long walks on the beach’ shtick. Aside from that…

It being Minnesota, the ads were also abundant with ‘quiet evenings’, personal reading lists, and helpful ideas on how to spend long winter nights with that ‘special someone’ – which usually steered back toward the reading lists, with the added ‘in front of a roaring fire.’ It being Minnesota, there were also those who specified their blaze of choice; fireplace or campfire.

No, the personality types are not interchangeable. That’s another post entirely.

All in all, Single World was an entertaining read, good for a few spin-cycle chuckles every week or two. There were only a few ads that ever really enticed me; one that ended up as a lunch date at a suburban Pizza Hut, chosen, I learned only later, because it had a bus stop out front and my lunch date had some lost driver’s license issues stemming from a DUI.

The other ad I responded to with a letter led me to where I am today; very happily married for nineteen years.

The ad Amy placed was, to hear her tell it, strictly to not get left in her roommate Marla’s dating-dust in the summer of ’91. Having discovered Single World and its non-threatening nature and placed an ad, Marla’s potential for a more active social life was all the encouragement Amy needed to place her own romance classified.

Amy’s ad got my attention immediately.

While most of the ads in Single World were fairly commonplace X-and-so seeks companionship with potential for romance, the ones that went (in any way, shape, or form) outside of the basic parameters stood way out.

The ‘home teams’ thing was intriguing to be sure, but more so was the ‘friends call me a woman with a taste for the bizarre.’ In two sentences we had moved from ‘intriguing’ to ‘where’s my Crayon?’ as her ending picture request sealed the gotta-write-this-one-a-letter deal.

Suffice to say, I sent the letter (and Crayola Norman Rockewell), she got it. Phoned me on a weekend I was out of town, and left a couple of messages on my answering machine that I retrieved when I returned home that Sunday night. I called her, we clicked pretty well. We spoke again the next night, and then a third time, racking up some thirteen hours of phone conversation before meeting for our first date, at little restaurant in my neighborhood; The Lake Street Garage.

I was smitten the moment I walked in, and saw her sitting alone at the near end of the bar, nursing a Diet Coke. She was wearing khaki pants and a peach colored blouse; her long, rather curlyon-the-ends blonde hair hung down over her shoulders. She had a white headband holding her hair back from a very attractive face, and the most unique shade of blue eyes I could remember seeing.  A stunning smile….

I immediately discovered that all the cool stuff discovered in over a dozen hours of phone chat was contained in one really fine package. Still is, by-the-way, on all counts.

But the deal was sealed then and there by Amy’s opening comment to me as I walked into the Lake Street Garage. Having spent much of our phone time getting to know each other’s basic likes and dislikes, she turned my way as the bell on the back of the restaurant door announced my arrival, and I stepped inside saying “Amy?”

Her response? “Well I know why you picked THIS place – they serve Coke and not Pepsi!”

We enjoyed dinner, then a lengthy walk around the neighborhood. Stopping for a bit to rest on the vacant plastic-sling swings at Longfellow Park, we sat next to each other, swinging and talking, her hair fluttering in the breeze. Even though she went home that night and told roommate Marla, “Well, I’m sufficiently underwhelmed!” she did agree to see me again. And again.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

A couple of interesting footnotes: it took another year or so, but roommate Marla also found her husband via Single World. Oh, and Amy’s pop of choice these days is Diet Coke, not Diet Pepsi.

Nineteen years. Wow.

When we met, Amy was a social worker running a teen center in the basement of a north Minneapolis church, and I was a non-traditional college student working in the hotel business. Eventually, she moved on into the corporate world, I advanced in the hotel business, not completing college.

In the meantime, our family grew; Will was born in 1995, Sam came along in 1999, and Lindsay – who was seven when Amy and I met – remained a constant in our blended clan. Before long, I was working in social services, first at the county, then state, level (sort of the Diet Pepsi/Diet Coke thing, in reverse)while Amy’s career track trended upward, which eventually led us to relocate from the Twin Cities to Marshall, in rural southwestern Minnesota, where Amy was in corporate human resources.

While there, I eventually finished my degree, and after a round of state budget cuts eliminated my employment counseling job that I had transferred to, I joined the corporate ranks as well. During all that, the company I was working for sent me to Louisiana, to help rebuild company operations post-Katrina. While having dinner in an IHOP one night, I read a newspaper article about the TeachNOLA program, which was recruiting people from the business world to come teach and help rebuild the city.

It wasn’t an ad, it was a full-fledged article. Still, there is a certain symmetry to the scent of newsprint…

Here we are, 2011, still happily married, now teachers in New Orleans. Professionally, the most difficult thing we’ve ever tackled, but arguably the most rewarding. The boys continue to thrive, Will having made it to his second year in a high school ranked among the top thirty in the country. Sam wants to follow in his footsteps. Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, Lindsay is about to bless us with our first grandchild.

Life is good. Nineteen years and counting good. The adventure continues.

Happy anniversary to us.

Portability

Graduation from high school
meant moving on, getting on
with life, trying something new
somewhere else – leaving

Graduation gifts were practical
to the situation; a typewriter,
a briefcase, cash, sage advice…

a contradictory set of luggage,
gifted by mom and dad.

Not wanting me to go, knowing
I must; wary, hopeful, resigned
questioning all the inevitability
that raising children nurtures

A matched set of five brown
vinyl bags; two suitcases, under-
seat tote, garment bag, shaving
kit, all filled quickly, portaged
across multiple states, stages,
careers, life transitions – stuffed
with the tactile accoutrements
of a life, with room remaining in
corners and zippered pouches
for moments, memories. A life.

A few quick Junes from now
my eldest son reaches the same
well-trod crossroads, whether to
go or to stay will not be the point;
moving on a given, a goal reached

The temptation will be to send
him on his way much as I was; a
laptop, a briefcase, cash, debit card
and a large, sleek, shoulder-carry,
nylon duffle bag along with prudent
counsel to travel light while still
taking it all in; to bring it with him
when he comes back, take it all
with him when he leaves again, but
most importantly of all, to use it
along the way, carry himself well