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.

 

 

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Admonition

“Go forth…and don’t multiply!”creationofadam1

That was my pre-emptive rebuke to my students as they departed my classroom each period on Valentines Day. I would say it as I opened the door when the bell rang, using a tone of voice I intended to be ‘firm’ but after ninety-minutes with each group, my tenor may have leaned more toward exasperated crankiness.

“Hey, you kids! Get off of my lawn…and don’t multiply!”

Having Valentines Day on a Friday was both blessing and curse. Our students are usually pretty wired on Friday anyway, but with all the exchanging of gifts and the anticipatory lust wafting loudly and graphically through five-of-every-six conversations, It made for even shorter attention spans and less productivity than usual.

And the gifts.

I saw more large stuffed animals being lugged by/into/out of my classroom than a typical midway carnie . That might not be so surprising, but in a large, inner city high school where many of the students come from challenging circumstances, it is something else. (Zombie teddy bears, anyone? From Recycle-a-Bear Workshop, perhaps?)

The self-avowed gangbanger with an AK-47 tattoo and colorful profanity slathered up-and-down his arm lugging stbernardplusharound a stuffed St. Bernard roughly half his height is not something you see every day. Just to be clear, he was the recipient of said polyester pooch, though my understanding was he gave as good as he got in the stuffed animal department. That basic scenario was repeated an astounding number of times throughout the day.

Ahh, young…love?

Adding to the charged atmosphere was the fact that it was a ‘dress down’ day – pay a dollar, get a sticker, and you could come in street clothes for the day. Pay a buck to not have to wear a school uniform for a day? You bet! Get a chance to dress up for a dress down? Oh, baby…

Restraint is not a hallmark of our student body. Bourbon Street probably had a more casual vibe than our hallways did on Friday, especially fifth period, post-lunchtime. With the day winding down, the sugar from the truckloads of exchanged candy and baked goods kicking teen libidos into high(er) gear, the end of the day was…boisterous.

Glad fifth period is my planning period, as I was done with most of the craziness by lunchtime. Also in the ’pro’ column for a Friday Valentine Day? On Saturday, I don’t have to deal with students who are hung-over.

“Go forth…and don’t multiply!”

My speech class didn’t seem to get it, though it was early in the day and most of them just want the hell out of my classroom anyway. My third period English class of thirty-five seniors was mostly intact, and as usual they had found much to complain about with Friday’s class offering. They seemed mostly oblivious to my exasperated directive as I flung open the door – though a few stopped and stared at me with puzzled looks, and at least two of them seemed to have a light-bulb moment with it.

My fourth period seniors, who are much more subdued and a bit more cerebral than their third period counterparts, rubens adam and evehad a much higher percentage of kids who stopped, contemplated my words, and at least registered some recognition.

“Go forth…and don’t multiply!”

The end of the day did provide me with some redemptory satisfaction, though. I was standing in the doorway of my classroom as the kids were streaming out, many yelling out to me as they passed, which was normal for a Friday. Some tell me to have a nice weekend, some respond with muttered expletives when I tell THEM to have a nice weekend. Rinse and repeat. Mostly it’s jovial stuff, but this Friday was something else.

“Mr. Lucker! I’m going out tooooooo-NIGHT!”

“Mr. Lucker! Its goin on tonight!”

“Mr. Lucker! You be wishing you were me tonight!”

That’s a fair representation of the last five minutes of the day, and as usual I could only respond with a series of smiles, head shakes and, on this day, “Go forth…and don’t multiply.”

As the crowd thinned out, one of my favorite students, a bright young woman named Sandra* walked by, told me to creationofadam1Photo0407have a nice evening and weekend as she usually does. At the same time, two boys ran by yelling out to me that they were ‘Gonna have some fun toooo-NIGHT!’ and I responded with my plea du jour.

Sandra, stopped in the middle of the hall, looked at me with a quizzical smile, and said “Mr. Lucker, what’s that mean…’go forth and don’t multiply?”

“It’s a take on the Biblical directive from G-d to populate the earth – you know, ‘go forth and multiply.’”

She stared at me. The bulb clicked on, and she nodded as the remaining kids in the hallway whizzed by, headed for the buses.

“Mr. Lucker” she said with a knowing sigh, “Around here, that’s good advice to give.”

“Go forth…and…”

Eternal spring

“You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.” – Former major leaguer & Author Jim Bouton

Life is a scorecard; an encrypted story in exotic-to-the-unwashed hieroglyphs, easily and quickly translated by those versed in the language. We can excitedly tell the detailed story.

I’ve been told – more often than I can count – to take a walk.

I have sacrificed.

Took lots of pitches and touched all the bases. Made it to a few when I probably shouldn’t have, gotten thrown out when I tried to take an extra one…often experienced the thrill of sliding in safe at home.

I have played the field and struck out in love. My ears have echoed with the cheers of the crowd and have felt the sting of their boos.I have made may share of errors.

There are times when I have been left stranded, others when I have been benched. I have been shelled, and pulled for a reliever who could close out what I started.

I have made more than a few long, slow walks back to the dugout.

Ah, but the home runs have been plentiful.

I loved the game and life – and it returned the favor far more often than it could let me down. Oh yeah, a few pennant races broke my heart – but isn’t that life in a nut shell? I’ve had good winning streaks and a few tough loses.

There have been brush-backs, bean balls and I’ve thrown and been thrown more than a few curves in my day.

Hurled a few biting changeups of my own, too. Others will tell you there are times when I’ve been a real screwball.

Sometimes I’ve had to play hardball. I have usually won.

I have been thrown out, tagged out, shut out.

I have balked.

I have loved the game – my life – it has returned the favor.


Now, the grass is greener than ever, lush and rich; the sky is always a vivid blue. In my mind I can always I feel the breeze on my face, breathe in the aroma of oiled leather, hear the distant crack of solid horsehide colliding with polished ash.

Someday I’ll be rounding third and headed for home, with someone waving me on. I’ll know then as I do now that it’s been a grand and glorious event, an extra-innings affair to remember; a ninth inning grand slam in every sense.

It’s hopefully a long time before I need to come out of the game, many years before I’ll need a curtain call to acknowledge the home crowd, tip my hat and then disappear, headed for the clubhouse to hang up my gear for the last time.

Not now, not today.

It is spring again.

Hope, potential and promise fill the air, a game has yet to be lost.

A long, blissful summer awaits. There will be highlights and losing streaks, rainouts and glorious days you’ll hope will not end. For now, the joy is in simply taking the field again.

As Ernie Banks always says, “It’s a great day to play two!”

Characters who helped shape mine (#2 in a series) The Professor

It would be cliché to say that some of the greatest teachers I have had in my life never stood in front of a classroom; the best lessons rarely came framed by chalkboard proscenium. One of the most unique teachers I ever encountered, I had  the privilege of seeing in action holding class for his solitary student in a south Denver donut shop.

I matriculated, pushing maple bars.

Ray Rector was an anthropology professor at the Denver University; I was the seventeen year old nighttime clerk at the Donut House, a small, ma-and-pa shop in a dingy, half-block long strip mall at the busy intersection of Illiff Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.

No ivy-covered hall of academia, except maybe to me.

I began working at The Donut House in the summer of 1976, just before starting my senior year of high school. Ray was a regular at the shop, which was just a five-minute drive from the D.U. campus, and he could be found there many evenings grading papers or reading, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.

Morning was the busy time of day at the shop; evenings providing the chance to eat donuts and write, as my more sporadic nighttime clientele consisted mostly of some local beat cops (who always got free coffee) the guys from the Chicken Delight restaurant down the block, and friends of mine from school. We would also get the stray D.U. student or two who would hang out and study.

And there was Ray.

We met early in my Donut House tenure. My usual perch in the evening was on a bar stool situated in the doorway leading from the donut frying area to the back office. This elevated vantage point was centrally located, and high enough that I could easily see over the glass display cases, affording me an unobstructed view of the front of the shop and door.

Sitting on the stool also allowed me to brace my right foot on the door jamb, so I could use my propped-up thigh as an easel for my notebook: ‘The Thinker’ in apron and paper sanitary hat.

This is how Ray saw me one night as he came in for coffee and a cruller. I had chatted with him a few times before, but this particular night I was apparently a little too much in what I was writing, and was a little slower than usual to react to the jingling bell of the door opening.

He greeted me with a chuckle, commenting on how engrossed I was in what he assumed was homework, when in actuality I was actually me writing a poem. Our casual small talk that led to this discovery piqued his curiosity, and he asked if he could read some of my work sometime.

‘Sometime’ became a regular thing.

I worked three or four nights a week at the Donut House, and rare was the week Ray didn’t pop in at least one or two of those nights. He became an ongoing reader and editor of my stuff, offering up elaborate, eloquent critiques from a little round table in a neighborhood donut shop.

That is, when he wasn’t grading his real/classroom student’s papers from the same table by the wall, or when he wasn’t regaling me with anthropological insights on all things word and language related. Ray loved words, as did I. The volume of my writing amazed him, and the quality impressed him. Every night I went to work I brought at least one or two of my notebooks along, hoping for enough time between raised glazed sales to get some good stuff down on paper, and in hope that Ray would stop in – not just to share my latest work with him, but simply to engage in fascinating conversation.

Ray was middle-aged and divorced. He had grown up in rural Oklahoma, traveled a lot, seen and done a lot, and was more than happy to share his stories and expertise. And I was a willing listener, soaking it all in. As an anthropology professor, he had a curiosity and interest in all things human-oriented. This included my regaling him with tales of my yearly summer Greyhound bus jaunts from Denver to my ancestral homeland of Minnesota, and all my summers at the lake. Tales of the northwoods and young love got special attention.

As interested as Ray was in my writing, the process of my writing fascinated him; tales of writing while watching Nebraska roll endlessly by through SceniCruiser windows, my purchase and reading of small town newspapers from various, obscure stops. Overnight layover stays in depots in Omaha and Des Moines, all perfect locales and people-watching, behavioral fodder for my writings.

My perspectives of small-town middle America as a city kid fascinated him, and his interest only intensified after I graduated and moved on to a career in small-market radio, and we continued our friendship via the U.S.P.S.

But that year wasn’t just about my writing; Ray was expanding my horizons.

As often as he was in residence at one of our tables with a stack of papers to grade or a book, he would frequently find himself engaging other patrons (D.U. students, my favorite beat cops, fellow professors etc.) in various lengthy and in-depth conversation on politics, religion, philosophy, sports and more over coffee and raised glazed. I was always invited to participate, which I did when customer traffic (or lack thereof) allowed.

A Formica topped Algonquin Round Table, littered with cake crumbs and sprinkles.

Learning of my Minnesota background, Ray familiarized me with the work of proletarian and feminist writer (and fellow Minnesotan) Meridel Le Sueur, gave me off-beat books on vocabulary building. We discussed my literary hero Sinclair Lewis, and Ray also introduced me to the quirky history of E. Haldeman Julius’ ‘Little Blue Books.’

(Beginning in the early 1900’s Haldeman-Julius began printing 3.5″ x 5″ pocket books on cheap pulp paper. The Little Blue Books were consciously directed at “Mr. Average Man.” Through them, for a nickel, he could buy works by Thoreau, Shakespeare, Goethe, Tolstoy, Sophocles and many more classics, along with contemporary scientific journals and Socialist-leaning political tracts. Haldeman-Julius called his books ‘A University in Print.’)

Ray gifted me with two-dozen of these classic little books as a graduation gift, and I still treasure them.

I have almost always been surrounded by people who encouraged and supported my efforts at writing, but Ray took it to a whole other level; he was my first serious editor – and a damn good, brutally honest one at that. Ray Rector didn’t teach me how to write, but he made me a better writer. And, I’d like to think, a better person.

That’s what the best teachers do, isn’t it?

My senior year of high school had a lot of high points, and one of those was a part-time job working nights at small donut shop. Off all the classrooms I’ve spent time in, The Donut House was one of the sweetest.

Ray and I communicated via mail and phone for a number of years before losing track of each other in the late 80’s. I’ve tried to track him down a number of times since using everything from the D.U. alumni association to a website for anthropological studies and the SSI Death Index, all to no avail. I’m betting he would see the Internet as the ultimate anthropological petri dish.

I’d love to reconnect and get his take on contemporary society – over donuts and coffee, of course.

I’d also like to show him my blogs; this one, and of course, my poetry blog, Ponderable polemics, poetic https://markluckerpoet.wordpress.com/

And I’d like to tell him, after thirty-five years, I’m still taking his nightly parting words to heart: “Be well. And keep writing.”

Thanks for everything, Ray.  As we said in our donut days, “It’s in the bag.”

Santa Thoughts for a Grandson’s First Christmas

Yes, Felix – there is a Santa Claus.

Or in the case of the Family Lucker, there are numerous Santas.  Not to mention a pervasive spirit of Santa Claus and what he represents.

In the late 1800’s, a young girl named Virginia wrote to New York newspaper editor Francis Church asking ‘if there really was a Santa Claus.’  Her letter and his response were published and have become classics.  But our Santa isn’t necessarily the metaphoric and mystical Santa Claus that Church wrote about.

And, as you will see as we stroll through family pictorial history with ol’ St. Nick, the Luckers, in their own quirky and unique way, sort of embody Santa Claus in the true American way: it is an oddly varied, sometimes-not-all-that-photogenic, what-were-you-thinking sort of rouges gallery of holiday tradition.

Let’s start at the beginning – or at least, my beginning.

Back when I was a  lad, Santa was found waiting in big Dayton’s department store  in downtown Minneapolis. My mom, your great-grandma, trotted me down to the store ever year for their annual Christmas displays and obligatory picture.

As the photographic evidence shows, I was a fairly stylin’ dude for the time (the early 1960’s) and that the representative Santa’s were a rather eclectic bunch. The first guy appears to be in the process of passing out; I believe the guy in the middle has just directed a kid to smile for approximately the 3,000th time that day, and the guy on the right appears to be hung over.

Fortunately, my mom was not obsessed with the whole pictures-with-Santa-every-year thing, so this is about all there is of my youthful history with Kris Kringle.

But of course, it doesn’t end there.

By the time I was in junior high, we lived in Denver, and my dad worked at KWGN television as a film editor. A community theatre veteran and all-around-ham, he was eventually recruited to portray Santa once a year for a daily live, hour-long local program the station did called ‘Denver Now.’ The host of the show was a wonderful woman named Beverly Martinez, and every year she devoted a show to a ‘giving for the holidays’ theme and would have Santa as a guest along with children of KWGN staffers, and at the end of the show he would give a little toy to each of the kids. Beverly said many times that once she got my dad to be Santa, she would never consider anyone else for that yearly job.

I still have a couple of the wind-up toys he gave away one year, Felix. I’ll let you play with them when you’re a bit older. I also have the wrist band of jingle bells he wore during those broadcasts, and I get them out each December. You’ll get to hear them very soon.

My dad did the Santa gig for ‘Denver Now’ his last six or seven years at the station before retiring, and it was always a high point of the season for him – one year in particular. The winter I was a junior in high school, our drama department at South High was doing a children’s theatre production of ‘Sesame Street’ and somehow Beverly got wind of it. She asked if a couple of costumed characters from our production could come and be on the Christmas show along with Santa. Allen Schultz, the guy who played Cookie Monster, and me as Oscar the Grouch, were the only two able to make the live broadcast.

It was great publicity for our production, and a great experience for all of us. Allen recalled the whole episode fondly as a high-point of high school even at our twenty-year class reunion, and as for me, it was the only time I ever appeared ‘on stage’ with my dad. It was a great, goofy morning.

For so many reasons: Thanks, Beverly!

As time goes by, Santa makes other sporadic and sometimes curious appearances in our Lucker history.

Your mom got her turn on the big guy’s lap a few times; case in point to the right.  I’m sure your mom has other Santa-related pics to share, as she is a big aficionado of all things Christmas, though with your recent arrival, maybe that’s less of a focus this December. Next year, you’ll have just turned one? Oh, baby! It’ll be something, I’m sure. You’ll love it.

There is a Santa and your mom episode that while, not visually represented here, deserves some mention. For four years I played Santa on WYRQ radio in Little Falls, Minnesota. The station sponsored an annual ‘Letters to Santa’ promotion in which kids dropped off their letters at various businesses while trying to win a new bike, and then we read those letters on-the-air every weeknight; an elf and an announcer  in studio reading the letters, Santa supplying commentary and occasional ho-ho-ho’s over the phone, ostensibly from his North Pole workshop, being the basic premise.

It was a fairly straight-forward promotion when I arrived as the station manager, Santa saying ‘Oh sure’ and ‘That’s great’ and ‘Yes, yes,’ a lot as the letters were read to him, but it turned into something entirely different with me on the phone in our living room as Santa and my morning on-air partner Damian Dupre back in studio ‘A’ as letter-interpreting  ‘Sparky the Elf.’  The madness escalated rapidly the first year– to the point where a nightly twenty-minute show ballooned to a forty-five minute long surrealistic, comedic, ad-libbed romp five nights a week for a month. (Station management hated it, but the sponsors and listeners loved it; the letters kept flowing in, and we kept reading them.)

‘Irreverent’ grossly understates our take on the whole Santa and Elf mystique.

Egged on and set up for gags by the extraordinarily talented and extremely demented Mr. Dupre as high-pitched Sparky, my radio turn as Santa was described as everything from ‘overly caffeinated’ to ‘manic.’ Al the while, your mother was usually right there in the living room, observing her father warily, as he sat in his easy chair, screaming Santa and elf jokes wildly into the telephone, while periodically jangling a large set of gold jingle bells and yelling “HO-HO-HO!!! ” to punctuate a punch line. Any rather, uhh, skewed ideas she has about the whole Santa Claus experience likely stems from that pre-school through kindergarten holiday era of hers.

While there is some photographic evidence of this yearly escapade somewhere, it is the audio that is most telling, and probably a little much for your young ears. Someday, lad, someday.

After a couple-of-decade hiatus, my picture-taking with Santa returned in a somewhat different form, but a familiar locale. Here I am (below) with Grandma Amy, visiting Santa at the downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s. The picture on the left is from 1991, the year Amy and I met. We went to see the Dayton’s display that year, which was the Pinocchio story, hence the red Pinocchio hat I bought her. On the right is our obligatory ‘1992 first Christmas as married geeks’ shot to serve as the companion piece for the ’91 picture. (Grandma Amy is a mighty good sport.)

We still have the Pinocchio hat in one of the plastic Christmas tubs in the attic. You’ll get a chance to wear it someday, if you want. It goes nicely with my dad’s wristband of jingle bells.

Speaking of those jingle bells, here’s a little secret I’ll share just with you, Felix: the elasticity has long since been wrung out of those bells, but I sometimes carry them in my pocket during December, professing ignorance of the source when someone says, “Does anybody else hear jingle bells ringing somewhere?”  Usually, it’s only someone I happen to be walking close to who can hear them, muffled as they are in my pocket, and others in the vicinity react with puzzlement at the question. It’s just my little tick to slyly spread some holiday cheer.

Santas, Santas everywhere.

When Amy and I were first married, Santa popped up in some different situations. For instance, he made an appearance (in much different ways and personas) at two Christmas parties we threw at our house in Minneapolis. As I mentioned, Santa is all about diversity.

Santa Kenny was a friend and co-worker. He was stationed on our front porch and greeted people as they arrived, bringing a very hip, urban flavor to the proceedings. Once all the guests had arrived, Santa Kenny moved into the living room and sat in our big, green Adirondack chair, and people spent the evening their conversing and having their pictures taken with Santa. Many of our friends had never met a black Santa before. After that memorable night, they had the pictures to prove that they had.

The following year, Santa Don, my cousin’s son, took over greeting and picture-taking duties. A younger, more suburban take on St. Nick, Santa Don held his own from the same chair, dispensing holiday gift ideas and jokes that many of the older (over thirty) guests didn’t get.

Both Santa’s were big hits in their own, very unique ways. (One thing Luckers can do better than most, Felix, is throw a decent party. This is another heritage you have been blessed with.)

Oh, you might notice the hats laying in Santa Kenny’s lap. They were pilfered from Brookdale Shopping Center, where I had taken a part-time gig that year as a mall Santa. (The hats were actually tag-board reindeer antlers with ‘BROOKDALE’ across the front headband. Some white labels and a black Sharpie marker turned that into ‘LUCKERDALE” and were quite coveted mementos from a holiday party and picture session at the Lucker’s.)

I played the mall Santa role for one holiday shopping season, and that was plenty. Not being the prototypical Santa physically, I sported lots of make-ya-sweat foam rubber underneath the red suit, and nearly fried my vocal chords trying to keep my voice in the lower octaves for hours on end. But it was good money, a lot of fun, and I cherish the experience. I even got to wear my dad’s wrist bells.  And I got to keep the wig and beard.

You know, Felix, it wasn’t until I started looking at all of these pictures together that I noticed some of the striking similarities in them. It’s not just about ho-ho-ho and smiling for the kids and the camera, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff to take care of. For example…

The shot on the left is ‘Denver Now’ Santa in 1981, making his yearly post-broadcast visit to the KWGN office staff. On the right is Brookdale Mall Santa with number-one-elf Marji in 1996. Interestingly, Santa appears to be, in his various incarnations, something of a ladies man.

And for future reference, Felix, girls simply  love a guy in uniform.

Another similarity; both Santas also had to deal with children less than enamored of being in his presence…

As time went on, your uncles Will and Sam came along, and they, too, got their turn with Santa pictures – sometimes more successfully than others. To wit, this is one of those ‘what was everyone thinking’ Santa shots:

 

 

 

On the other hand, sometimes Santa can get it to all come together and get pictures that really capture the essence of someone. Better shots of (L to R) uncle Will and uncle Sam in their much younger days, and what they look like now:

Yeah, uncle Will is wearing a camouflage Santa hat.

 

 

Finally, here is a side-by-side of my dad and I in our respective Santa roles, some fifteen years apart. Notice any family resemblance?

Maybe someday you or maybe even Will or Sam will add another holiday mug shot to the gallery.

Felix, I of course have no idea when or where you will encounter Jolly Old St.Nick in your life, but I’m pretty confident you’ll make each other’s acquaintance in some form or another. Santa is a good friend to have, embodying as he does, a lot of the goodness in the world, and a lot of the magic that is childhood.

He’s a pretty cool dude. And don’t get all hung up on all that one-and-only stuff; as you can see from all the above, there is no such thing as a singular Santa. Santa is wherever you need him to be, whenever you need him.

To paraphrase Francis Church, “Yes, Felix, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to our life its highest beauty and joy.”

And a few laughs along the way.

Merry First Christmas, Felix.

Somedays, a regular blog-read just won’t do it.

Thats when you can check out my recently-migrated-to-WordPress poetry blog.

https://markluckerpoet.wordpress.com/

All poetry, all the time.

Just my type, writer

Walk into our home at any given time my fifteen-year-old son Will is home and you are likely to hear the distinctive sounds of typing emanating from his room at the far end of the hallway.

Typing.  As in metal keys striking paper rolled around a cylindrical tube called a ‘platen.’ The steady, rhythmic click-clack-clack-click is tangible, loudly audible proof of two key things my son has inherited from dear old dad: a passion for storytelling, and my old portable, electric typewriter.

The 1977 vintage, brown and tan Montgomery-Ward (made by Smith-Corona) beauty was a high school graduation gift from my parents, and along with the Samsonite brief case I got from my brother, my most prized possession heading into my new life as an adult.

Thirty-four years later, the typewriter is still humming along (and boy, it still hums loudly) and at this stage of the game has more miles on it than any vehicle I have ever owned.

And now, after a few years of down-time in attics and garages, it is happily back in action. Not that Will is some sort of Luddite – far from it; he is as wired and technologically savvy as most any teen I know, and is still far more likely to be found multi-tasking in front of the laptop on Facebook while simultaneously texting friends and listening to music on his PSP.

Except when he really feels his creative juices flowing. As Will says, “I just like writing with it. It’s cool.”

Indeed it is.

My plans post-graduation from Denver South High School were to return to my hometown of Minneapolis to spend a year at Brown Institute of Broadcasting, emerging a year later as a full-fledged, certified radio announcer: the typewriter a logical and well received parting gift. I had made the he 1,000 mile jaunt across Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa on into Minnesota solo the previous five summers via bus, but this time would be different; my little onion-paper ticket was of the one-way variety, with no reminders from my parents about keeping the second part in a safe place.

Leaving home just two week’s post-graduation night, I was set to conquer the world as the next Edward R. Murrow or Charles Kuralt. I had spent the past couple of summers watching the Midwest scroll by and filling up a few notebooks with a wide array of poetry, short story fragments and perceived witticisms. Now I could really go to town and actually type my manuscripts.

The Smith-Corona came encased in a brown plastic, impact resistant case, which nicely squeezed (with a hard shove) underneath the seat in front of me on most any Greyhound Scenicruiser.   The case also had a front ridge that dipped down in front, following the slope of the keyboard, and that little ridge made for a perfect footrest.

It was also my typewriter security system, for I prized that shiny, humming-when-plugged-in gem, and feared it disappearing to some while I slept through central Nebraska. Truth be told, it took a good, strong yank to get the thing out from beneath that seat so any potential thief would’ve had to work at it – waking me in the  process and (I imagined) incurring my writers wrath.

Being electric, the brown beauty needed to be plugged in to function, so I couldn’t use it on the bus – though on one late-night layover in the downtown Omaha Greyhound Depot, I surreptitiously plugged the thing in and tried to use it in my lap. The sheer ‘portable’ bulk of the thing and the heat it generated made for a quickly abandoned writing session.

Just ahead of my time with the whole ‘laptop’ concept, I guess.

Back on the bus, typewriter under seat again, I returned to putting pen to notebook, looking ahead to my arrival at my grandfather’s apartment, where I could translate notebooks of road jottings into profundity via pica-type neatness.

Whatever my year ahead at Brown Institute might hold, I knew that I was bound to heed the advice of my father – and take a job wherever one was offered as I graduated with my certificate in radio broadcasting. The idea of trying something new – someplace new – while I was young and unattached was not only sound advice, it fit with my vagabond, Kerouac spirit.

The typewriter has been with me every step of the way since, professionally and personally

Our first stops were my grandfather’s apartment, where I was to live for the next year, and our friends Ivar and Lila’s place on Horseshoe Lake – my traditional summer home-away-from home. I have fond memories of typing away using a T.V. tray in Gramps’ living room – my bedroom during that glorious time we spent as roomies – and of committing the joy of ‘The Lake’ to paper from the small table in Ivar and Lila’s guestroom…the room with the eastward view of many sublime sunrises over Huxtable Point.

And that was just the first year I had it.

From there it was on to small radio stations in Nevada, Missouri and Marshalltown, Iowa and then back to Minnesota: outpost stations in Brainerd, St. Cloud, Luverne, Rochester, Little Falls, Minneapolis – sounds a lot like a P.A. boarding announcement at the Minneapolis bus depot.

Too bad Smith-Corona did not equip such machines with an odometer.    

It’s not just the miles and locales; the thing has been used to type up a little of everything; radio scripts of all kinds, poems, short stories, resumes, job and loan applications, holiday letters, love letters…the list is a long one. It has typed on plain paper, resume paper, postcards, triplicate carbon forms, mailing and file-folder labels and on pilfered, obsolete rolls of United Press International teletype newsprint ala Jack Kerouac.

Alas, a great-American novel has yet to emerge, but we’ve had fun trying.

Okay, it aint Hemmingway’s moleskin notebook but it’s mine – and now my son’s, at least on loan. I am looking at the case as I type away at my laptop. A weathered, wrinkled Greyhound ‘baggage identification tag,’ its elastic band having long ago lost its stretch, still dangles from the handle of the dusty, scuffed case. The metal clasps that hold it shut show some rust, but the M sticker on the left latch and the L sticker on the right are worn, but legible.

From the back of the house, I can hear Will, click-clacking away on the old Monkey-Wards/Smith-Corona as I use the laptop – his keystrokes drowning out mine from three rooms away. And that’s all right by me.

Liner notes from a week in ‘Nawlins

New Orleans is indeed, a musical town.

Friday morning I was driving to work, and one of my favorite oldies comes on the radio, so I crank it up and start singing along. I’m zipping down the interstate singing along with Simon & Garfunkel’s rockin’ Cecilia, and I look over to find the guy in the nice Sonata next to me is also singing along, and it seems like he is really belting it. I also see that while his left hand is secure on the wheel, with his right he has really got the bongo -beat going to town on the steering wheel and dashboard. I catch another glimpse, he looks my way, we make eye contact, he sees that I too, am singing along, nods in agreement, keeps on singing – as do I.

At this point, most people in most places would get self-conscious and stop singing, look the other way, slink down in their seat a bit, blush, or…

But not in ‘Nawlins. Here, we all just keep singing, keep driving. I know this, because it happens once or twice a month during my morning commute.

It’s New Orleans, baby; even when you can’t hear each other, you keep on singing for that shared musical experience.

“Jubilation She loves me again,
I fall on the floor and I am laughing!
Jubilation! She loves me again,
I fall on the floor and I am happy!

Ooooohhhh Cecelia….”

# # #

The other day the alarm went off right on the opening bars of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ Tijuana Taxi. It’s a nice, jaunty little tune to pop out of bed to – even prevented me from hitting the snooze for once, as I mariachied right into the bathroom.

There is no punch line for this one; I just wanted to use the phrase “mariachied right into the bathroom” in my blog.

# # #

Saturday night we went with some friends to a legendary ‘Nawlins po-boy place, the Parkway Bakery &Tavern; it was everything it was said to be and more, food and atmosphere wise. A great time was had by all, and one of their special little quirks is truly New Orleans as well.

It’s one of those places where you place your order, then get called over the P.A. system to pick it up – only at the Parkway, you can’t use your name, they ask you what musical artist you want to be known by. The guy who ordered just ahead of us was Elvis, and as I was ordering, I heard a call for Bruce Springsteen. I also heard a quick call for Phil Collins ( I didn’t need to be eating with him) and one of our dining companions was Paul Simon.  (A guy behind me also wanted to be Elvis, but was told Elvis already had an order in.)

Michael was the gregarious, middle-aged guy at the counter taking our order, and as he rang it up, he asked the question I had been told to expect; “And what musical artist would you like to be known as tonight?”

“Just call for Frank Sinatra.”

“Ohhh, good choice, Frank!” as he swiped my debit card through the register. “What’s your favorite Sinatra song?” He handed me the card.

“Mmmm. That’s Life.” I replied without hesitation.

“Ooooh, great choice, Frank! ‘You’re riding high in April…”

“…shot down in May… “ I continued, to the chagrin and head shaking of my wife, who went quickly around the corner to get her Diet Coke.

“You ever hear him sing in person?” Michael asked.

“Nope.”

“I caught him once right toward the end of his career, wasn’t at his top form, but still worth every penny.”

“I have found some great videos of him in concert on YouTube, though.” I added

“You know, there is a brand new boxed DVD set just came out. It’s fabulous. You should check it out.”

“Cool. I’ll have to do that.”

Michael handed me my receipt. “You have a great night now, Frank.”

We certainly did.

And our New Orleans beat goes on…

Roooomance

Loin cloth, tuxedo;
so many moods, so few nights
we have to ourselves

First Love

The young ballplayer drags his bat to the plate, leaving a neat,
shallow furrow in the dirt in which the seeds of success are now
sown; there is purpose to his gait, no fear. He is resolute.

He practice swings the bat in a warped, pendulum loop while his
oversized, red plastic helmet acts a boa constrictor trying to
digest his head. Dogged determination shapes the boys eyes

He stands beside home plate, tongue protruding from the lower
left corner of his mouth in intensity; his face drawn in pseudo-
sneer, he spreads his feet, digs toes firmly into the sacred dirt

The boy is ten.

He looks every bit the ballplayer; body language poised – just
shy of cocky; seriousness finger-painted in bold red dirt streaks
across the white script team name adorning his uniform shirt

His bat slowly rises, coming to rest on his shoulder as he fixes
a nearly-hardened gaze on the adversary forty-six feet ahead;
takes a deep breath, wrinkles his nose to move the sweat off

The pitcher looks at him, cocks his arm, throws. Bait not taken;
a ball! The bat in the boy’s hands wobbles alongside his head,
goes still a brief moment as the next pitch approaches before

whipping violently from his shoulder, thrust in a swept-sword
arc at the hurled sphere coming; arm muscles strain, elbows go
straight, torso and hips spin wildly, eyes close as bat meets ball…

Momentum causes the boy to teeter briefly, before an ungainly
burst from the batter’s box sends him lurching toward first as
the ball, like a flat stone on water, skims the infield dirt, kicking

up four quick puffs of diamond dust and the boy’s thought is of
only one thing; the sudden grandeur of a double – a double! – as
he rounds first, and the ball comes to a stop in the outfield grass

The boy playing right field for the opponents charges in, plucking
the ball from the turf where it has come to rest while in the same
odd, Quixotic-windmill motion he catapults it toward second base

Then it all happens so fast.

The boy has ducked his head rounding first, doggedly running
fast as he ever has or ever will, only looking up in time to see the
ball jutting from the webbing of the glove suddenly before him

the sight alerts the boy’s baseball instincts to his only option;
intuitively he launches his feet out from under him, left leg fully
extended, right leg tucked beneath him, curled at the knee

his left buttock slams into the dirt with a cloud of dust, his body
sliding to a stop a full foot in front of second base, he sees the
glove smack his shin, hearing a soft, excited voice; “You’re out!”

Lying there looking up into fading afternoon sun he can make the
silhouette of his vanquisher; arms raised in exultant triumph, ball
in one hand, glove the other, and a look of surprised satisfaction.

From flat on his back he lifts his head to focus, and through the
dissipating cloud of grit the face of his rival comes into soft focus
from beneth her frayed bent cap brim. No gloating countenance,

the gentle face is a wide smile, large eyes – framed by two tightly-
braided, long, dangling, swaying pig-tails; near the end of each
dangle shiny plastic barrettes the exact hue of her cap and jersey

There is an oddly comforting lilt to her voice saying “You’re out!”
He doesn’t hear moans of disappointment from his team’s bench.
Still on his back, chin on chest, he smiles, repeats; “You’re out.”

His head flops back on the dirt. She leans over him, still holding
the ball, hands on her knees, he again repeats, “You’re out.”
The girl nods. “Yep” she repeats with a broad smile, “You’re out.”

From that moment on, though he will often try, he can never quite
accurately articulate or explain to anyone (even himself) his inate
passion for baseball, his true love. His love of the game.