Checking Out, Checking In.

Ten years ago, I started a business. It never became large. It never made me rich, or even that well off, frankly. What it did was suck up mountains of my time, force me to work weekends, holidays and late nights. It took a toll on my body, on my sleep and my psyche. I worked long, hard hours and on more than a few occasions, I had to call in backup to help get an order out by the date I promised. If I had put in anything close to this amount of work anywhere else, I would probably be a VP of some division by now.

Over my working life, I’ve held quite a few jobs in many different industries. I like to think that I’ve done a good job at all of those places and if I decided that it wasn’t the place for me to stay, I’ve always reminded myself that I had learned a valuable lesson in the interim. I had learned what I didn’t want to do and whom I did or didn’t want to work with. Essentially, I got to know myself better through the trial and error of employment.

Putting in overtime always bugged me, especially when I was a salary man. I don’t think I’m a slacker as much as I believe that I have my priorities set correctly. I recall with horror the moment many years ago when I was confronted with this information and I had to keep it from showing. I had just started a new job managing a retail store and my new and enthusiastic boss, in an effort to make me feel… empowered, I guess, clapped a hand on my shoulder and said, “Are you ready to make XYZ store you top priority?”

I’m sure that he was trying to instill a feeling of responsibility and pride in me but what shot through my brain was, “My Mom, my Dad, my girlfriend, my friends, my health, my mental well being, hiking, biking, fishing, painting…. Buddy, this store doesn’t even make my top ten list.” I’m a hard worker though and I tried to make improvements and boost sales. That’s what he SAID he wanted. That wasn’t so true in practice.

badboss

He turned out to be a very difficult person to work for and after I had been there for about a year and a half, I left under a cloud after he caught me idly doodling on a piece of scrap paper when I should have been helping nonexistent customers. I had worked for a number of individuals after this particular individual, but always chafed a bit at being told what to do and when to do it. I confess, I’ve never “played ball” well and when I saw an opportunity to start my own shop and do things my way, I took the leap.

Being a small business owner means a lot of things, but what it means the most is time. You get none. The business gets it all. The funny thing was, all the unpaid overtime that I had put in before and resented like hell, didn’t bug me when it was for my own shop. It was all for me, and I enjoyed the work, which is good because there was a hell of a lot of it. More than I had ever seen before. But, hey, I was young, had a wife who also worked crazy hours and though this lifestyle almost ensured that we’d be toiling away through nearly every single holiday that came along, we had no kneebiters of our own, so why not? Then, about three years ago, that last part changed.

With the birth of my son, and then my daughter two years later, the slowing of the economy and my general weariness at having bent my shoulder to this particular grindstone for the last decade, I decided some months ago that I was done, cooked, burned out. I needed a change. The work isn’t fun anymore and what’s most important in my life are the two little munchkins who light up when they see me come through the door. I want more of that. A lot more.

Once the initial decision to sell my business a week or so of flopping around and coming up with strange and unusual ideas as to my next career came and went. I set aside the applications for hamster wrangler and licorice gunrunning and decided to take another look at my fading college diploma. I blew off the dust and just made out the faint cuneiform scratching on the crumbling clay tablet. It read, “Bachelor’s of Art Education, K-12”

Hmmm.

I had given up on teaching a long time ago, mostly because it’s fiendishly difficult to find jobs teaching art. Most school shave one, perhaps two art teachers and in times of economic trouble, Art is almost always the first on the chopping block. I had done a lot of substitute teaching during my years of begging for work and I had taken two very important lessons away from that. The first was that I was going to grow old and die before a position opened up. The second was that I loved working with the little kids. K-3 is where I felt the happiest. The students are interested and interesting. The curriculum never leaves you confused and best of all; almost everything you show them is new and exciting.

I thought it was time to reexamine my college major with just a tweak or two for today’s reality. What I’ve found out is that I’m about six college classes and two tests away from being a K-3 teacher. I have a new goal.

Today, I will be signing the papers with the new owner. He will be handing me a check for, if not everything I was hoping for, an adequate amount to set my new life in motion. I’m going through a lot of emotions about this. Relieved that soon, I will be free of the burden that is small business ownership. Sad, to see a decade of my efforts leave my sphere of influence. Regretful for not having gotten to do a few things that I wanted in the business. Empty, realizing that I won’t come here and toil away like I have for so long. Pissed, that I ordered so many now useless business cards a few months ago.

Still, this is a good thing. Better than that, it’s the RIGHT thing. I’m tired of this work while the new owner is excited. He can’t wait to dive in and I have no question that he will do very well with it. He’s even invited me to come back any time and get my hands dirty, if I need a fix, for old time’s sake. That’s very nice of him, but I don’t see it happening.

He’s due to show up in the next hour and I’ll sign the business away. It’s just me, so there are no employees who have to be considered. I’ll put my John Hancock on the line, collect my check and stop at the back on the way home. When I walk through the door, my family will be waiting for me. It’s Christmas Eve today and the house will be warm and cheery. I’ll hug them all, Short Stack, Lulu Belle and Action Girl and get down to business. Being home for my family is my new endeavor. Teaching will help give me that ability.

Finally, I’ll be home for Christmas, and that’s the only gift I really need.

christmas-tree

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!

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Seasonal Geography

Behind the school sat the parking lot. Though not terribly large, it was big enough to afford a spot for all the teacher’s cars as well as the massive Catholic Church that backed up to the opposing side of the flat, paved playground. Naturally, the school had a proper playground as well, a chain link fence enclosing a sandy patch of ground, keeping wayward first graders from drifting off into traffic or worse, the carefully manicured garden that belonged to the adjoining nunnery.

The black top was truly the place of big kids. Four square and dodge ball commanded large swaths of pavement, as did noisy games of kickball. Sun faded, red rubber balls flew around like demented bees, rebounding with a satisfying “THOING” as they ricocheted off the back of an unsuspecting head. Scraped knees and hands were part of the bargain and though tears were no doubt shed at such moments, it didn’t keep us from getting right back out there and tempting fate just as soon as the gravel was plucked from wounds and Band-Aids were attached. I can remember with vivid clarity the spot near the school building where workmen had needed to fix some subterranean pipe or some such thing. When their work was finished, the pavement was patched and it’s darker surface was dubbed “the lava pit”. Naturally, it wasn’t a pit at all. It was perfectly flat with hardly a bump of transition from the old black top to the new but we all avoided it and the threat that was often offered up by one kid to another was that he would be dumped in the lava. I’m sure its long since cooled and faded to match the surrounding area.

Though I’m hard pressed to remember any particular moment or game I spent on that huge paved lot, I happily recall what it spawned come the first snowfall. There was only one direction to plow the snow when they needed to clean up after a storm and that made for a truly monstrous snow bank. By mid winter, it loomed not only far over our heads, but over our minds as well. The anticipation of the fun to be had during recess pried more attention from us than the lessons of the day and we bolted for it as soon as we cleared the doors of the school.

I can still hear the shrieking and squealing from kids as they scrambled up the sides of the snow pile only to be shoved back down its slopes, stand up and again and mount a “Once more into the breach” attack on those school mates who held the high ground. As dozens and dozens of my schoolmates scurried over and around the mountain of snow, others busily turned it into swiss cheese. Tunneling through snow banks comes naturally to kids and though the going was slow due to lack of proper tunneling gear, the drive that pressed us on was all consuming. Chains of kids would work doggedly in the snow mines, digging their way to glory. It was like something out of “The Great Escape”.

Naturally, the teachers on recess duty were less than inclined to let their students entomb themselves in a collapsed snow cave. For some odd reason, they had less then one hundred percent confidence in the engineering skills of fourth graders, and so technically, tunneling was forbidden. The way we figured it, if the teachers didn’t know about it, then it was “technically” fair game. We dug like wombats.

I never did see any of our extensive excavations collapse, thank God. If one did, I’m sure that we would have never been able to dig out the victim in time. When you’re nine though, it all seems worth it. One particular memory does come back to me of my time spent on the white mountain. I’m looking up the hill of heavily trodden snow and above me is a classmate, on his belly and busily digging like a mole, mittenfulls of loosened ice and snow are being flung back past his feet and our of the deepening hole. Only his boots are still in the sun. Just over the spot where his head would be on the above is another kid, madly jumping in place, trying for all he’s worth to collapse his friend’s project.

Kids are helpful like that.

snow-cave

As the winter wore on, the pile would grow, new tunnels would be dug and then filled in as fresh plowings were added. One thing we did notice with a sort of head cocked curiosity was how over a period of weeks, tunnels which we had excavated round and perfect, slowly turned into ovals as the ceilings drooped. Eventually, they would become impassable, flattened by the tons of snow over head and too flattened for the smallest spelunker to wiggle through and frankly too creepy to venture into anyway.

By the end of the winter season, the snow had transformed from the white, soft stuff of December to the dirty brown ice chunks of March. The pile was abandoned by all but the most desperate and we amused ourselves by tormenting each other with the cold hardened rubber kickballs and lava pits. It was never cold enough to freeze the lava pit.

The bell would ring and we’d head inside. Coats were hung in the massive cloak closets and mittens set out in haphazard rows on the steam radiators, humidifying the classroom as they dried.

Years after I graduated, a young cousin of mine attended my Alma matter. I was asking him about the happenings there and making a mental list of the things that had remained the same and those that had changed. When I mentioned the snow bank, he replied matter of factly that they weren’t allowed to play on that. Though horrified at the notion, I wasn’t overly surprised. We’ve worked hard to make the lives of our children as safe as we can and to that effort, we have sacrificed a lot of the best parts of play. When I thought about it, I could immediately see why the snow bank had been designated a no man’s land. The games of King of the Mountain with all its forceful shoving and kicking as sappers gleefully undermined the very ground the roughhousers were trying to hold. It was only a matter of time before calamity hit.

Still, I felt sorry for the kids who came after me. I picture them huddled in bunches on the ice covered parking lot in the afternoon sun, looking with longing at the virginal white peaks of snow piled to the height of a two storey house. A wintertime playground that might as well be on the moon. What a loss. Still, I’m glad for the memory and gladder that none of my friends disappeared into the depths we plumbed. There might have been a few scrapes and black eyes from overly excited mountain kings but all in all, I’d say those were worth it. Being a kid can be dangerous sometimes, but the memory of my afternoons spent on out seasonal mountain were worth the peril.

Outside, It’s snowing to beat the band right now. Tomorrow the snow banks will be impressive. I wonder how my digging skills have held up over the years? Only one way to find out!

Power For The People

As I wrapped up my various projects at work, I glanced at the clock.

“Crap. It’s getting tight!”

Living on an island makes you a slave to the ferry schedule. In years past, missing a boat would have just been mildly annoying, but now with kids to pick up from daycare, simply going across the street and having a beer while I wait for the next boat is no longer an option. I HAVE to make the boat. No excuses.

As I bolted out the door and headed to my car, I was quickly reminded that living in New England means that the weather is never to be trusted. Though the tiny, high windows at my shop, I had noticed that it was raining out. This, as it turned out was not accurate. What had been actually happening was freezing rain. As I bolted out the door to the parking lot, I noticed with an expletive flourish, that my car was neatly encased in a quarter inch of ice. When I needed to hip check the driver’s door to encourage it to open, I knew that the scraping necessary was going to be athletic. Boy, was I right.

Peaking through the tiny holes I’d managed to clear and with a judicious use of sneaky back roads and a lot of colorful language, I did manage to get to the boat just in time and picked up the kids when I reached our little home off the mainland. When Action Girl finally ended her shift and made it home as well, it was pushing eleven o’clock. The rain continued to fall and freeze everywhere it hit. Trees were starting to bow and the roads were truly treacherous. We were asleep by midnight, pots of water filled and sitting on the counter in anticipation of the power taking a hiatus and giving us that “Little House on the Prairie” experience that we’ve come to expect in bad weather. This is far from our first ice storm and with both of us being native to New England, we’ve gotten used to Mother Nature trying to freeze us to death every year or two. You make the preparations you can and hunker down.

Confession time. Power outages don’t worry me any more. I don’t have to since I can make my own. I have a generator.

Growing up, I had gotten used to the power going out for prolonged periods and since we had a wood stove, the most a blackout meant was a game of Parcheesi rather than TV and sandwiches and popcorn instead of something warm. Honestly, I liked it. It was sort of like an adventure and best of all, it gave a valid excuse to get the hurricane lanterns out and play with fire! Action Girl had it a little rougher growing up in rural Vermont. They too had a wood stove to keep the children and pipes from freezing, but they also had a well. What that meant was that no juice equaled no water. If they suspected an outage was on the way, anything that could hold water was filled. I, having lived more suburbanly, had city water and could flush the toilet with reckless abandon.

When we moved to the island, we essentially combined aspects of our two, different childhood environments. Our neighborhood is packed pretty tightly like any suburb yet, we live on a well. If the weather is bad enough, no one is going anywhere and it wouldn’t matter much any way since everyone else on the island is in the same situation you are.

A few years ago, we experienced a North Atlantic thrill. It was dubbed the “Patriot’s Day” storm, after the holiday it occurred on and man oh man, was it a good one. This was our first instance of island living during hurricane-type weather. Our son was only about eight months old at the time and since my wife was out on the angry, frothy sea trying to get people back to their various costal homes, it fell to me to take care of things here.

The first thing to know is that we had just done some major construction on our house. What we bought when we moved here was a hundred year old structure that was built as a summer camp. So far as we know, we are the first people to ever spend a winter within its walls and I had been doing a lot of insulating. Because it was just a cottage, it also had no basement. The house sat on posts and the posts sat on flagstones. When the ground heaved in the spring, the whole structure would groan and twist. The kitchen was a downhill walk form the living room.

After a couple of years with our undulating floors and nowhere to store the Christmas decorations, we decided that it was time to fix this permanently. With only a truckload of money and several months of crazy work, the house was raised, the ground under it, excavated and a basement poured. Our house wasn’t going anywhere again and a marble, dropped by the front door, no longer makes a beeline for the back.

houselifting

Then, the storm came and our beautiful, new basement transformed its self in to an indoor pool. No power also means no sump pump. As I stood in my cellar watching the water rise, I was keenly aware of my son asleep up stairs, the foolish amount of stuff about to be ruined before my eyes and that the house was getting colder. When the house was lifted, we had to take down the chimney and thus, had no wood stove. Things looked pretty bad. As luck would have it, the self inflicted isolation of island living comes with some really fantastic community support. A neighbor, spotting a despondent looking, young father standing on a front porch asked if he needed any help. Within about ten minutes I had a small army emptying my basement ahead of the floodwaters and a couple of nice ladies caring for my infant son.

It all worked out fine in the end. We stayed for several days at a good friend’s house who had a guest room, a wood stove and tolerance for a baby waking up twice a night. The storm passed and the waters slowly receded and I waded back to deal with the mess at our place. With my Father’s help, I also got a generator. He had to look like hell to find any, but he came through.

As last night’s storm pelted the already heavy power lines and trees with yet more ice, I thought about the generator, topped up and ready to go in the shed out back. It made me smile. At three-thirty in the morning a huge crash from a tree giving up the ghost and a “Kra-KOW” and accompanying blue flash of a transformer going with it, got my attention. The power flickered, went out, and then back on. It did this a few more times, but always came back again after a second or three.

This morning we walked around the house resetting digital clocks and emptying emergency pots of water, no longer needed. Every surface out side was covered in ice and it looked like a world made of blown glass. Tree branches bent low or lay snapped, on the ground, encased in an heavy, clear skin. On the lawn, ever blade of grass was entombed in it’s own icy sheath.

frozen-grass

As it turned out, I didn’t need the generator this time, but I’m really happy to have it. I have children I can use as an excuse for owning it, but to be honest; I’ll never be without one again. Living the simple life is great when it’s your own choice, but me, I like to plan for it.

As things sit now, my plan runs on unleaded and produces about six thousand watts.

The Dump

When I was kid, we didn’t have curbside garbage pick up. At least, I don’t think it was an option. What that meant was that every weekend, my father would load the trunk of his otherwise pristinely clean car with bag after bag of household refuse and drive them to the land fill himself. This, on the surface, doesn’t sound so bad, but you have to know my Father to understand the ramifications. Though my dear and understand Dad is normally a very level headed and flexible individual, when it comes to caring for his cars, he’s obsessive, verging on the pathologic. His vehicles are always cleaner than clean and could double as an operating theater for brain surgery if it weren’t for the facts that first, it would be too cramped, and second, he would chase everyone out with a window scraper before they could leak brain juice on the upholstery.

His rabid defense of his cars from all things messy has always been a bit of a mystery to me. For the most part, he couldn’t care less about vehicles in general. He doesn’t lust after a Mustang or drool over Mercedes. The various makes and models just don’t turn his head much. He would (and has) however, defended the unblemished interior of both a brand new Chevrolet behemoth-mobile or a company owned AMC Eagle with equal gusto. The bottom line is, if it’s his car, it matters and it will, oh-yes-it-will, be perfect. If you ever are in the market for a used car, you want his.

This makes the dump trips all the more amazing. It must have been a teeth clenching experience for him to drive his car, with a trunk full of trash, down the muddy road and into a giant valley of garbage. These trips took place on Saturday mornings and more often than not, they happened with a little boy in the back seat. I was always game for going to the dump! I thought it was awesome!

The long, dirt road snaked down into the craterous pit and moving along the periphery, yellow monsters with massive steel wheels groaned, shifted and feasted on the stinking piles. All around us were the leftovers of thousands of homes, cast off and destined to be pawed through by some alien archeologist of the future. What ever will they think we were like?

trash

Naturally, getting out of the car was the very first thing that I wanted to do. What kid wouldn’t? Everything was fascinating to look at and most of all, I wanted to “help”. Children of a certain age are almost always up for “helping” and it is a trial for just about every parent out there. The efforts of the son or daughter are earnest and heart felt and will inevitably make the job at hand go six to eight times slower than if you could just handle it yourself. The Saturday morning dump trip had the added bonus for my Father of having his son track dump juice back into the car when it was time to go. I can only imagine what this did to his blood pressure. Being a kid and thus possessing the attention span of a squirrel on amphetamines, I would naturally forget myself and put my feet up on the seat back or pull my legs up next to me, smearing someone’s old lettuce and fish sticks on the upholstery. My dad, doing the best to be his best would remind me a gently as possible about keeping the car clean. This would happen roughly every sixteen seconds for the rest of the way back to town.

As we headed back, dutifully cleaning hands with moist towelettes that appeared magically from the glove box, we’d chat about this and that and more often than not, make a detour to a local doughnut shop and pick up provisions for a successful Saturday morning back at home.

These days, we don’t call them “dumps” any more. They are “transfer stations” and the massive land crawlers that buried our troubles in leaky pits have been reassigned to move bins of segregated household items so that they may be recycled at the proper facility. Or, perhaps buried in segregated pits far far away. Our own transfer station is a lot cleaner than the one I remember from my youth. Though we do have city pick up, this requires us to remember to get the cans out the night before; a seemingly simple task that we somehow forget astonishingly often. I pack up my less than pristine car with the cast-offs from our home and drive the short distance to the facility, my own son chattering away to the back of my head. We pull in and naturally, he wants to help. Mercifully, the various bins are far too high for his little arms to swing bags into, so I get that envious job all to my self.

Though missing the massive pit of refuse, what our dump does have are all the sleeping metallic dinosaurs that had entranced me so long ago. Short Stack likes to review them as they sit, lined up for inspection. All he needs is an officer’s hat and riding crop and it would be the perfect image of a general reviewing the troops.

“That’s a front loader. That one’s a backhoe. This one is a grader.”

It’s an instructional way to spend a morning.

Once the trash has been deposited and the battalion reviewed, we head back to the car and buckle in. His boots will inevitably wind up on the seat back and I’ll wince as I feel my seat get kicked and think of the mud. This is nothing to what my Father had to endure, however. Our dump isn’t a dump at all. Just a collection of skids and dumpsters full of neatly separated debris. There are no elderly fish sticks to trod on and bring inadvertently back home on our shoes. The seagulls don’t even seem to visit there, looking for an easy, if not rancid, meal.

There’s no doughnut shop nearby for us to stop at, but that’s okay. Action Girl might be making waffles or pancakes back in the kitchen. Into the garbage will go the eggshells and the empty bag of flour, priming the trash can for next week’s trip so we can see what’s going on at the dump.

Tickets, please

“Hey Kiddo, I have an idea.”

My wife audibly sucked in her breath on the other end of the phone. She’s used to my “ideas” and to her credit, lets me try a fair number of them. The ones that I think wouldn’t pass her scrutiny, I tend to start first and tell her about later… If they work.

“What’s your idea?”
“Do you want to see a show? I’m looking at two seats to see David Sedaris, live. They’re front row, center, balcony.” I held my breath. I love David Sedaris and the chance to hear him read his stuff in person sounded like a lot of fun.

“When is it and where?”

This was tricky. Not only was the show soon, but it was also a two hour drive away. If we were going to be going to see the performance, it would require kid watching.

“Well, it’s on a Thursday and it’s a drive. I think we can pull it off though. What do you say?”

Silence. Then, “Well, if you think we can swing it… Sure. It would be great to get out and do something fun.”

Gleefully, I hung up the phone and punched my credit card number into the computer, reserving two fantastic seats. We were going out. No, not merely out, we were going out to see a show! After nearly three years of small children, the prospect of going out to see something live made me giddy. Though I love my children with all my heart, I’m pretty sure that since Short Stack joined us in 2006 we have seen exactly three movies, gone out to dinner as a couple no more than five times and gone to see a live performance, zero. There’s a song written by the musician Jonathan Coulton that explains this the best I’ve ever heard it put. He wrote it for his first child when she was born and it’s titled, “You Ruined Everything in the Nicest Way” I find the accuracy of that song to be dizzying. But, hey! We were finally going out! This was going to be fun.

hands

I knew that making this happen was going to require some juggling. For starters, the show didn’t begin until eight o’clock. With an almost two hour car trip to get back home, that meant we were looking at eleven-thirty to midnight for our return time. The added rub is that we wouldn’t actually be home. We’d be close but barred from making the last leg. The problem is, we live on an island. It’s not a very big island and it’s not too far off the mainland, but it is surrounded by water and you do need a boat to get you there. We own no boat and every time a storm blows up, I’m eternally grateful for that fact. It does, however, make us dependent on the ferry and the ferry does not run all night.

So, we wouldn’t get to go home, but that’s not the end of the world. A ways down the coast, my Grandfather has a place and as luck would have it, it would be empty on the dates around the show. Now I had a place to go but needed kid watchers. What I needed were parents. Luckily, I have those too! My folks love to be with their grandchildren and watch them most weekends while I try to do industrious things to the house with spinning saws and overpowered drills. Action Girl works Saturdays and Sundays, so if I’m going to be loud and lumber minded, someone’s got to sit on the children. My folks enjoy this and have gotten comfortable watching two munchkins. What they haven’t done is watch them over night and frankly, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Lulu Belle is still a wee-critter and gets up two to four times a night and while Short Stack will sleep right through MOST of the time, if something goes wrong, having both kids up and unhappy at three in the morning is just miserable. So, the plan goes thus:

1: Bring kids to my Grandfather’s house on the mainland.
2: Meet my folks there.
3: Go to show
4: Return to Grandfather’s and spend the night.
5: Go home to our island in the morning.

Perfect!

You know where this is going, don’t you?

The first fly in the ointment was that I’m bad at paying attention. I had gotten the date of the show wrong. As things turned out, if I had actually read it correctly, I would have noticed that it took place two days earlier than I had planned. The next problem was that Action Girl worked that day. She would have to take personal time to make it. Then there was the fact that my parent’s couldn’t watch the kids on Tuesday so I’d need to find a sitter. Then, the last straw was the weather. Snow was forecast, and a lot of it too boot.

I gave up. It wouldn’t happen. If it were just me, I probably would have pushed on through sheer bloody-mindedness and testosterone poisoning but with Action Girl giving me “the look”, I admitted defeat. Now I need to find a buyer for my two wonderful tickets.

Anyone on the island would have the same problem that we had. They wouldn’t be able to get home, so I knew that it would be a long shot. Surely, someone would know someone else and a buyer found. I put out the word and called all my friends who were likely suspects. Nothing. No takers anywhere. Lots and lots of them WANTED to go, but for one reason or another, no one could. I heard a lot of, “Aw, MAN!”s. It was time for Craig’s List. The tickets were offered for face value and I waited for a bite. And waited, and waited. The show was just a few days away now. It was really quiet out there. I had one nibble, but no bites.

It would have been a crime to let the seats go unwarmed by someone’s butt and when a friend who had to pass on the tickets her self, called with a lead, I jumped on it. Her roommate would love to see the show. The problem was, being a poor graduate student she was broke. Was I still interested? With a small wince and a thought about this being the Christmas season, I said, “yes”

As it turned out, her roommate wasn’t just happy, she was ecstatic. In our phone conversation, she told me about how things had been going so miserably wrong for her the last month. There had been few bright spots and mostly trial after trial, capped off with the fact that he car had just died and needed to go into the garage. This was the first thing that had gone right for her in weeks. I smiled, told her where to meet me the next morning and packed the tickets in my bag.

The next day, we rendezvoused and I handed over my dream of a night out with my wife to a stranger who had been beaten down by life of late. She was gleeful, thankful and promised me Christmas cookies, banana bread and a piece of her artwork just as soon as she could make it. With a big hug and a “Merry Christmas” she just about danced off in the freshly falling snow.

I hope she has a great time at the show. I’m betting she will. I’m out the money, but honestly, I feel pretty good. It is Christmas, after all.

I will, however, do my best not to notice when eight o’clock on this Tuesday rolls around.

Whatalya have, Hon?

There’s a newly reopened landmark in my city and I’ve been watching with some excitement if not out right glee for it to officially welcome the public in through its doors. Only one kind of establishment could get me this pumped up. It has to be a food related. Specifically, it needs to be a greasy spoon. Preferably, it should be a diner. It is!

When Action Girl and I moved to our adopted hometown in Maine, we did so with little working knowledge of the city. We knew generally how to get around and where the city anchor stores were but the back roads, cut throughs and eating establishments were mostly unknown to us. This was fine. We were, after all, broker than broke so the prospect of going out to an upscale eatery was practically laughable. Diners, on the other hand, were not only with in our price range but had the added bonus of being one of my favorite places to find “nourishment”. Food designed to give a thick, protective lining to heart and arteries. Now all I needed to do was find one.

The only fly in the soup was that at the time, Action Girl was a vegetarian. This didn’t rule out diner eating, but it mostly forced it to be a breakfast only option. Lunch menus at such placed tend toward the carnivore aesthetic, rather then tasty quiches and portabella burgers. For those meat free years, I had to pretty much let go of the notion of eating at such places.

This wasn’t always the case. When my wife and I had first met, she was still an omnivore. She was never a big fan of meats in general, but she tolerated it and eating out at these types of establishments was not that big a deal. Being younger and possessing a stomach lining made from space shuttle heat shields and Kevlar, we happily stopped at diners wherever we found them and partook of their greasy bounty.

There’s just something about a proper, old diner. To qualify in my book, it needs to be the real McCoy. A long and narrow restaurant that found its way to its current home by being driven there. Once in place, the wheels were removed and substituted with cement block and a decorative skirt added to hide the now useless axles. Inside is a long counter with backless stools that spin easily. On the opposite side are the booths, capable of seating two full grown adults or four midgets. The countertops are Formica, the surfaces behinds the counter, stainless steel and the floor, made up of a mosaic of itty-bitty tile. To finish the picture and for extra points, add a rotating display rack of pies and a waitress who will call you, ”Hon” or “Sweetie”. Put these all together and you have a slice of heaven.

The diner in my hometown was always my favorite place to go and seating was at a premium. You had to be fast and early, At one point in my early working life, I had the double benefit of not only being located just next door to this diner, but also having a boss who liked to eat heavy, greasy breakfasts with company to chat with. I often didn’t get a lot of work done until after ten, but I did get to have second breakfast on company time, sanction by the individual who signed my paychecks. Not great for my cholesterol but it made the day easer to take.

When I visited my girlfriend, Action Girl in Vermont, we often haunted a diner that sat on the main drag on the way out of town. Though the original diner car had been all but obliterated through numerous expansions and renovations, it stayed true to its roots and more than a few tractor trailer rigs and other delivery trucks filled the parking lot. I specifically remember a waitress my mother’s age with peroxide blond hair piled high on her head calling me, “Hon”

I love these places.

When we moved to Maine, I heard about a diner that was hidden down in the rough end of town, and by “Rough”, I mean literally rough. On the back side of the city where the roads are still partially paved in heaved cobble stone through disregard and lack of caring rather than preserved as a kitschy tourist attraction or in the conservation of history, sat the diner. Surrounded by scrap yards and the municipal truck garage, the little blue diner fed the blue collar and black fingered inhabitants of this corner of an otherwise polished town. I wanted to go.

My wife however, though never one to shrink away from the rugged, hard working crowd, wondered aloud if this was a good idea. It was the look of the establishment rather than the clientele that put her off. The diner was obviously on hard times and she surmised that the condition of the kitchen must have been suffering right along with the façade and roof. She begged off and we simply never went back. A year later it was closed by the health department. Sometimes she has a good eye for the better decision.

Being a landmark since the 1930’s and having been constructed to be mobile from the start, city officials did something astonishing. They made a choice to save the structure from the wreckers, though it would have only needed to be dragged a few hundred yards to the car crusher down the street. Saved for the moment, it was put back on its wheels for the second time in its life and parked in a city lot next to the snow plows and earth moving equipment and wait for a knight in a stained apron to take it home.

One day, not long ago, a publishing executive living in New York read about this wonderful old diner and how it languished, unloved and unused. Being a native son of our fair city and remembering the diner from the days of his youth, he took a look at his life and career in the Big Apple, and decided, “Screw it”. Moving his family back to whence he came, he bought the diner and did what needed to be done.

It can’t have been cheep.

As luck would have it, new college housing was being put up in the vary area where the diner had sat for over seventy years. The scrap yards are disappearing and the roads repaved and widened. This portion of the city is really starting to come into its own. The diner’s benefactor moved right next door to the college apartments, made some improvements and enlargement and opened for business. With a building full of fresh faced college students not more than a few steps away, this beacon of all things fried will no doubt do well.

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The aesthetic of the rejuvenated diner is just right. The stainless steel is polished and shines nicely, the ice cream bins are loaded with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry and though on my visit, I didn’t find a waitress to call me “Hon”, hope springs eternal. Everything is just as should be. The food is basic, good, hot and filling. The booths, though small, are intimate and comfortable. I can’t wait to go back.

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The best part? After thirteen years of vegetarian eating, three years ago, Action Girl had a change of taste. Meat was once again back on the menu. With that decision, our dining options have blossomed. You can guess where I hope that will take us.

If you want to find me around lunchtime, I’ll be at the counter with the cheeseburger and side of onion rings.

I’m not dead yet…

Just buried. I mean that figuratively, naturally…

So… here. For now.

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