Making my best pitch

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

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

Pretty basic, but important stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, the baseballs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hence the baseballs.

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

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

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

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

And we still can.

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

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

 

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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.

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

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

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

SEE: ‘we were broke’, above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophisticated palates such as ours would know this, right?

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

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

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

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

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

A passed torch

I’ve become the old guys I grew up around.

My youth was filled with a fascinating blend of old timers that I joyfully gleaned much of what I needed to know about life by just hanging around with all of them. They were mostly retired, blue-collar guys; my grandfather worked on an assembly line making gramps-and-his-son-bowling-team-that-went-to-national-tournamentbatteries, and we had close family friends – integral parts of my childhood and life – plumbers, house painters, storekeepers and tractor makers, among them.

I learned about life through their eyes and thick, immigrant-dialect-honed English; specific and pointed advice was given when needed, but most of the lessons learned were implied; eye contact, a raised brow, a nudge or a nod during an event or incident of some sort that I instinctively knew meant I should be paying attention because I just might learn something.

I have now become that nudge-and-nod (though nowhere close to retirement) guy.

The other day I was at the chiropractor getting an adjustment. The doc is a good guy, twenty-six years young, and we chat amiably while I get my treatment. I was lying on my stomach while he worked on my back, and he was having trouble adjusting the exam table. After a moment of struggle, he got it to lock into place where he wanted, then joked, “That’s the most difficult thing I do all day.”

“I suppose a lot of people think that your job is kind of easy – spending your day massaging backs” I replied, as he continued working out my shoulder kinks.

“Yeah, kinda” he chuckled, adding, “They see me for twenty minutes at a time, then leave, and figure that’s what I do all day – wait for people to come in, spend twenty minutes getting them adjusted, then go back to doing whatever else I do.” He cracked a couple of vertebrae into place.

“People don’t realize what goes into a job like yours. You know the story of the guy and furnace1the busted furnace?”

“No, I don’t think so” he replied, bending my spine the other direction.

“It’s winter, and the guy’s furnace goes out. He calls the furnace guy, who comes over, looks around for a minute, then takes a hammer out of his tool box, whacks the furnace, and it starts running again. He puts the hammer back, then hands the guy his bill for a hundred dollars…” I feel a nice, loosening jolt to my neck. “The guy looks at the bill and says ‘a hundred bucks!’ All you did was whack it with a hammer! The furnace guy nods and says, ‘Yeah, that’s ten-bucks for the hammer tap, ninety bucks for knowing where to tap.”

The doc stops. Even though I am face down on the adjustment table, I can see him with my peripheral vision, hands on his hips, thinking. “Wow. That’s a great story” he says with surprise, “I never heard that before.” He starts back in on my neck

“It’s a good analogy for you.” I add.

“All the time I spent in school – yeah, it is. ‘Ninety bucks for knowing where to tap.’ I’ll have to remember that story. I’ll use that.”

“Feel free” I say as another disc gets pushed into place.

Just passing it on.

Making my best pitch

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

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

Pretty basic, but important stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

This year, I found as I reviewed the tattered red folder that there is one key piece of information that I keep neglecting to place in my dead file: I’ve got to tell them where the baseballs are.  I also remembered I actually have to purchase, and then partially prepare said  baseballs.

Yeah, the baseballs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hence the baseballs.

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

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

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

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

And we still can.

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

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

 

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Everything is on the table

Our kitchen table is an heirloom in training. Sitting here, with

Sitting alone at the table with open notebook, a pen and a fresh cup of coffee in the early morning light of day I can, with an angular glance, see the extensive preparation and practice that it has already put in. At a mere fifteen years, the table is hardly an antique – yet its smooth, blonde-maple surface is already pockmarked with the memorable nicks and ruts left by stray  100_4990utensils and homework-prodding pencils – stray treatises and Christmas letters.

All embossed in memory and maple.

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

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

Today, when the sunlight smothers it, you will see the signs of the life the table has nobly earned in service to our family. Worn spots mark each place setting. Plates and bowls of china, paper, and plastic have been repeatedly set down, slid around, eaten upon, picked up again. A knot on one end of the table has dried out, a small crack has now settled into a browned notch out of the edge. If you put your face close to the table’s edge and look at its surface, you can trace the hard-scrabble pencil indentations of the two boys who completed their homework each night 100_49891while mom or dad prepared dinner. Look very closely and you can find a worn two-digit, kindergarten math problem overlaid with something more algebraic, more recent.  The ancient nine-plus-three-equals-eight-no-twelve is still bold from the pressing of a hot dog-diameter pencil; the more recent equation made by a more elegant and confident ink pen.

The table has made its way south with us.

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

It has served us well.

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

The table is loyal; it has been almost exclsuively devoted to our immediate family; guests have always necessitated a shift to the more expansive dining room version. I do not know how long we will live here in this house, this city; I do not know where the next stop on the journey might be.

I do know that the inexpensive-when-purchased, still not priceless, D.I.Y. table will accompany us.100_4979_00

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

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

Mealtimes are cozier than they used to be, though this is just a phase of sorts. Our eldest son is almost through college, and his periodic sojourns home usually find us in the living room, munching pizza and binge-watching Netflix. Mealtimes for three of us frees up some of that vaunted and coveted elbow room, though probably to some occasional chagrin on our part.

Another school year and the table’s adaptability will again be tested,  as the term ‘table for two’ will be de rigueur.

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

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

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.

 

 

The Summer of My Clip-On Name Tag (or, Loves Labor Days Renewed)

Mark. My first name, in plastic, on a small clip. People readily took to using it, too, all summer. Mostly folks I didn’t know. An interesting departure from my full-time gig, where students and staff alike universally refer to me as ‘Mr. Lucker.’

IMG_20140901_120110It had been a few years.

I have written before of my rather, ummm, varied career (radio announcer to hotelier to social service case manager to corporate trainer to high school English teacher) and the numerous detours and sidelines I had earned money on along the way. (Check out my poetry blog for more on THAT topic ( http://markluckerpoet.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/walking-down-sesame-street-with-studs-terkel-at-graduation-time/ )

This summer fit right into my life’s working-guy theme. (English teachers are big on things like ‘theme’ in a narrative).

It was an interesting adventure.

I needed to make some money in my ‘off’ ‘ time and the chances of me doing it in my present locale seemed iffy, at best. Summer work is hard to come by in New Orleans, where, due to heat, humidity and threat of hurricanes, tourist season goes into a dormant period; here is not much temp or part-time work to be found. Hence my brainstorm: I would need to be in Minnesota for my daughter’s sisterssludge2014wedding come the end of July, so instead of (maybe) finding something then having to bail, why not work in my old hometown for the summer? I could stay at my mom’s, help her out with some stuff, get reacquainted with some old friends. I even lined up an art exhibit at Sisters Sludge, an old-stomping-grounds coffeehouse.

I’m clever that way.

During my previous career incarnations, I often supplemented my income with temp work through a variety of staffing services. In late spring, I contacted ProStaff – whom I worked for so long and so well for over fifteen years. An emailed resume and an office appointment to complete paperwork, and I was ready to go.

There was irony and symmetry in how that played out.

IMG_20140622_231206In short order, I got my first assignment: at a downtown hotel as part of the host staff for an international convention for management accountants. It was not the hotel where I had spent nearly a decade, but a hotel that I knew well. A temporary name tag in conventioneer plastic holder and I was set to go.

Working, essentially, as a mercenary concierge, I immediately took to the gig and made it my own. Like riding a bike, I foamboardquickly adapted and remembered why I enjoyed my hotel years. It was an enjoyable three days.

And, contrary to any stereotypes, the accounting folks were anything but staid, soulless, number-crunchers. They were, in fact, a lot of fun, and they were also helpful, as they allowed me to come back post-convention and take all of their high-end foam core signage that would have just been thrown out. Six-by-four foot sheets of top-quality stuff that come in handy in a classroom, and that I also used as the backing for some of the artwork I put together for the art showing.

The hotel was the ironic gig.

The symmetry came when fine folks at ProStaff then found me a longer term assignment working with an on-line university adapting materials for students needing accommodations. Interesting summer work for a teacher, very enlightening to get a different Ginellisperspective on that end of educational accommodations. Plus, the unit was a fun-loving group and we had more than a few laughs. It didn’t hurt that, being a teacher, I understood the basic concepts of what we were trying to do as well as the terminology. It was a good, easy fit for a temp job.

Plus, I got to roam the downtown Minneapolis Skyway system and even got to have lunch at a favorite old pizza place, Ginellis, which was right where I had left it decade ago. The pizza is still outstanding.

Meanwhile partaking in my hotel and educational endeavors, I had continued to search for other options, one of which turned out to be product demonstrator for a large, local supermarket chain. Actually, it was a contract gig through a marketing firm that had just gotten the contract, and between my teaching experience and my background in customer service, the outfit eagerly signed me up, and sent me my demonstrator kit: a matching red cap and apron set, a debit card to purchase the items I would be selling at each IMG_20140709_155112assignment, and a clip-on name tag with ‘Mark’ in big, white font.

Dressed in black slacks and white shirt (a combination I am usually loathe to participate in due to its mundane sartorial aspects) I spent weekend days in various Cub Foods aisles pitching everything from high-end hot dogs to exotic cold cuts to Greek yogurt. The only dud assignment came in trying to interest customers in some new cereal varieties. They were tasty enough, but even I had a hard time trying to spin breakfast cereal with the term ‘digestive blend’ in the name.

Yum.

Met some interesting folks, but never did run into anyone I knew, which was disappointing, because I had the opening line all set: “Off all the gin joints in all the world, you walk into mine.”

So it goes.

My favorite paid gig of the summer was serendipitous to say the least: I got to sell caps at Major League Baseball’s All Star Game at Target Field.

The Minnesota Twins were hosting this year’s extravaganza, and were seeking help during All-Star week festivities. Ironically, my wife, still in New Orleans, saw something about an All-Star game hiring fair on Facebook, and forwarded me the info. Much like with IMG_20140714_205827the food demonstrator gig, my background in the hospitality field got me the gig and the choice assignment in the stadium pro shop selling fitted caps. Far better than outside somewhere working smokey, messy concessions.  I got a spiffy plastic name tag in bold black font stating MARK L with the notation ALL STAR GAME-TEMPORARY WORKERS. Nice.

Baseball is one of my passions, and the Twins are my team. This wasn’t my dream job, but it certainly was a primo assignment that was interesting and fun, plus got me back into mid-semester on-my-feet-all-day form with four nine-hour-days of cap-hawking. A sweet deal all the way around as I got paid for spending my days talking baseball with all sorts of folks.

And I learned something very comforting: there are plenty of grown adults with a poorer grasp of math than I.

Fitted hats (at least the sizing of them) befuddled more than a few of my customers.

Caps were in a large set of wooden cubbies aligned by size in 1/8 inch increments, starting at 6 ¾ and going up to 8. The whole fraction thing was a puzzle to many, as customers would as to try a cap in what they thought was their size, only to find it too small. This was the typical exchange that transpired (more times than I would care to count):

IMG_20140712_210634CUSTOMER: “Seven and 1/8 was too small. Let me try the next size up.”
ME: (handing them the 7 ¼ in their preferred design) “Here you go.”
CUSTOMER: “No, I said the next size up. That should be 7 2/8.”
ME: “Yep. Seven-and-a-quarter is the next size up from 7 1/8.”
CUSTOMER: “That should be 7 2/8 then, shouldn’t it?”
ME: “Yes sir. But 7 2/8  is 7 ¼
CUSTOMER: “How does that work? Won’t that be too small?”
ME: “If it is, we’ll just try 7  3/8  or 7 1/2.”
CUSTOMER: “Huh? Those seem like they would be way too big.”
ME: “Nope. We should be able to find one in that range that fits.”

It usually ended up as a mini, chapeau-oriented version of Abbott & Costello’s classic ‘Who’s on First’? routine, and the whole 1/8 and ¼ thing got people even more confused at the higher end of the size scale. For some reason, the jump from 7 ½ to 7 5/8 got people even more adamant that my math skills were deficient. Most were pleasant about it, but a few got somewhat riled – one indignant woman in particular who was convinced that the cap manufacturer had screwed up, in that the 7 ¾ hat her husband tried on was too small, but the 7  7/8  he tried fit fine must be mislabeled, because, “That is a much smaller size.”

Aside from playing fun-with-fractions with numerous customers, my favorite encounter was a husband and wife in their forties who came to me with an interesting dilemma: she wanted the quality of a fitted cap, but needed the ‘hole in the back’ for her pony tail to IMG_20140715_204054hang out, as a fitted hat just gave her ‘a lumpy head’. (The ‘hole in the back’ of course comes only with adjustable hats, as the ‘hole’ is the space above the adjusting strap.) Clear to the fact that no fitted hats would fit the bill (pun intended) the wife had resigned herself to an adjustable cap, though she didn’t want any of the ‘cheap or cheap looking’ styles.

She was trying on a lot of caps, and her husband seemed more exasperated, rolling his eyes as she modeled each. We chatted while she browsed, and then I remembered some dazzling, sequined Twins hats that I had seen in a remote cubby, as the Twins had moved much of their regular merchandise off to the edges to make way for All-Star logoed stuff.

I excused myself from the husband, went and found the hat I remembered, brought it to the wife, proclaiming proudly, “Here you go – pretty cool hat and with a pony-tail hole!” She eyed the cap, tried it on, turned around a few times, took it off, put it back on, checked it out in the mirror from different angles…as her husband turned to me and said, quite dryly, “ I really admire your initiative.”

Hats off to me.

caps