The Long Trail to Happiness

When Action Girl and I decided to have children, one of the things that I couldn’t wait for was to find out what their “thing” would be. Everybody’s got a “thing.” At least, every kid seems to. I think a lot of adults forget their passions when they get lost in adolescence and are forced to focus on areas of academia where minimal interest resides. That and peer pressure, of course. There is no cleanser more astringent than the scorn of your contemporaries. So many childhood passions are lost through these effects and I wanted to be a powerful force in the corner of my children’s imagination versus the rest of the world. The older I become, the more sure I am that a person’s true strength lies directly within the sphere of their passions.

Thomas Jefferson once said that a man who loves his work never works another day, and I think that’s about right. He also said that he was all about freedom and yet owned slaves, so I’ll grant you, you do have to keep an eye on TJ. Still though…

My son, Short Stack showed his cards early on. There was a brief flirtation with trucks, which is far from unusual for small children, but that had ended pretty abruptly the moment he saw his first rocket.

I believe he was two and a half.

He’s six now and has been focused like a laser on his own personal prize since the day he realized that that he could have something to do with them. Like any parent, I ask my kids every so often what they want to do for a job when they grow up, just to test the waters and see where the wind has shifted in the previous weeks. Last week, Short Stack’s answer was, “I want to build propulsion systems for new kinds of rockets.”

Oooooh kay.

My four year old daughter, Lulu Belle though, is a very, VERY different little critter. She want’s to be a cowgirl.

Or maybe a fairy.

Nope… a cowgirl.

Or princess.

Maybe a cowgirl princess?

But Pirates are good too!

Hey, dad. Did pirates ever play with cowboys?

Tell you what, dad. You be Dale Evans and I’ll be Roy Rogers.

YEE-HAW!

(I love the fact that I somehow wind up being Dale. Better than being assigned Pat Brady, I suppose.)

And that’s about how it goes. She loves playing dress-up from her considerable pile of costumes she’s amassed and they all get a work out, but the cowboy hat, vest, sheriff’s badge and pink handled six shooter get by far the heaviest work out.

The fact that we can not possibly live farther away from the Western Plains and still be within the boundaries of the contiguous United States only adds to the perplexity on how this all got started. To the best of my knowledge, I never pushed the cowboy lifestyle to my children, but Lulu Belle seems to have embraced it with a fervor previously reserved only for children born between 1940 and 1955. When it comes to requested video entertainment from my young daughter, it’s usually black and white episodes of the Lone Ranger or the much loved, Roy Rogers. She knows all the names of the characters, their horses, origin stories and will back them up with her own cap gun when things get tough.

Clayton Moore would be proud.

So now, I know. Lulu Belle wants to be a cowgirl. I’m not sure how this translates into a life for her, let alone an income stream, but we can deal with those details later. What I do know is that right now, it makes her the happiest. When her brother discovered his love of aerospace, I pandered like hell to it. His room is an homage to NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Shuttle program. When he was four, I took him to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the shuttle Discovery take off. I’ve tried as hard as I could to feed him what he craves the most in the hopes that it will allow him to be as happy as he can be.

Now it’s time for sister.

The trick is, since the 1960’s have long since ridden off into the sunset, finding good cowboy material has gotten substantially trickier. We watch the old shows on YouTube. We dress up in cowboy gear, though some of it has to be manufactured right here in our little house due to scarcity in the market. We talk in cowboy-ese and naturally, she has her very own Wonder Horse! You remember those, right? The giant plastic horse mounted on a frame by means of exceptionally squeaky springs.

If there is anything she loves more than pretending to be a cowgirl, it’s making up stories, (Can you guess what they tend to be about?) and this has now spilled over into bedtime. For the last little while now, once the bedtime books are all read and the light is out, she’s hit me with a request which I find hard to pass up. She wants a story, as she puts it, “You tell me. Not from a book.”

I’ve told her stories about me growing up. I’ve told her stories about things her Mom’s done. I’ve told her fables as best as I can recall my Aesop. The thing is, if you don’t have a theme, it’s hard to pull up a good story on the fly. That’s when she pointed out the elephant in the bedroom.

“Dad. Tell me a story about a cowgirl!”

It took a minute or two for me cook up the basics, and an additional night for us to ascribe names to the players, but we’ve gotten it worked out pretty well now.

In a valley in Wyoming, sits a small ranch. The road that runs in front of it will take you to town. The paths that lead away from the ranch will take you to the high pasture and then on to the aspen forest. Another path goes to the pond while a third leads to Big Rock, which has a breathtaking view of the valley below. To the West, the Rocky Mountains tower, capped in snow. The inhabitants of the ranch are a girl of unspecified age named Annie and her Horse, Thunder. Thunder, naturally, lives in the big red barn next to the corral. There’s also a shed where Annie keeps her tools.

Now all she needs is a friend. Enter some occupation diversity.

In our very first story, I also introduced Piper and Scout. Piper has short, red hair and lives in Colorado. Scout is her trusty, silver airplane with the big blue stripe that goes all the way down each side. They met when Piper got lost and had to land at the ranch for directions as the evening closed in. Naturally, Annie invited her to stay for dinner and the night and the two have been best friends ever since.

Sometimes the stories are just about Annie and Thunder. Sometimes they’re just about Piper and Scout, but her favorite stories include them all.

It’s still trick to come up with a believable and engaging story arc off the top of my head, but I must confess, I think I’m enjoying them just as much as she is. With each evening of me kneeling on the floor next to her bed in the darkened room, the world of Annie and Piper gets more and more vibrant. We now know about the fixed hole in the barn roof, how long it takes to ride to town and the tree Annie chopped down up in the aspen forest. Last night, I couldn’t help my self and after my little cowgirl was asleep, I sat down and wrote out that night’s story.

I’ll share it with you, if you’d like… But you have to wait for bedtime.

Hotel Guests From Home

Where we were driving was not my originally intended destination. Three weeks before, we had booked all our nights at the Jamison Inn at Palm Bay, but now we had someplace much closer to go. I always sort of dread making reservations for a hotel I know nothing about because you just never quite know what you’re in for. Will it be a fleabag motel? Are you destined to spend the night next to the ice machine or a roaring party? Is it really a new and clean as the pictures make it or has it been worn out by two decades worth of weary travelers and revilers and in bad need of a serious gutting?

Thanks to the Internet, we could at least see what other people had to say about their experiences at one place or another. It’s still kind of tricky because peoples’ perceptions are so radically different. Still, no one likes rude staff, closed pools or extra, unexpected room guests in the form of bed bugs. The Jamison had looked clean, the staff well liked and it was reasonably priced…with a pool! The one problem that I had come up against was that it was far away from our destination. About an hour or so, actually.

With the Shuttle’s carrier coming to a swift end, people had once again raised their heads and taken notice of the program and there was urgency now for those who cared to see it but hadn’t mustered the initiative to actually do something about it yet. If you wanted to see a launch, you’d better move fast. And people had. In the process, we last-minuters had bought up every viewing ticket and booked just about every room within reasonable driving distance. This put Short Stack and I at Palm Bay. “An hour in the car isn’t so bad” I had rationalized… but had forgotten about that first day. It would mean an hour drive down to the South East, checking in, sleeping for a couple fitful hours and then driving for an hour to the North East, completing a huge, two hour “V” by the time we finally made it to the Space Center.

While talking about this with my wife two nights before I left with our son, she made the point that we didn’t actually have to spend the whole time at the Jamison.

“Why don’t you book some place in Orlando for the first night?”

“Because… well… it’s Orlando. It’ll cost an absurd amount of money and so will everything else.”

I have a hard time with Orlando.

Being a home for Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios, the Orange County Convention Center and roughly twenty three thousand restaurants and hotels, the place is built with one goal in mind. Money. Specifically, YOUR Money.

I have never, in all my travels, seen a place that is more geared to sucking your wallet dry then Orlando, Florida. Everything costs and it costs in astonishingly large amounts. If they could charge for the air, I have no doubt that they would. I have traveled more inexpensively through Switzerland than through here and I wanted to avoid it as much as possible. I always dread going to Orlando.

“It’s a big place you know. You don’t have to go downtown.”

“Yah… but…” I was getting squirmy. I was letting my natural repulsion of paying for twenty-two dollar hamburgers affect my judgment and I knew it. “It’s Orlando. I really don’t want to stay there if I can help it.

As I whined about having to navigate the nightmare of International Drive without a copilot, she dutifully ignored me while finding a quick and semi-affordable solution.

“There! You can stay there for the first night!”

“Night” was a dubious word to choose since we would actually be checking out on the same day as our arrival, but she was right in that is was a neat solution. Right near the airport was a new and shiny Hyatt Hotel. It was geared to business travelers, had a pool and restaurant and was miles from the tourist traps, which could, I was sure, already smell my credit cards from here.

“Look, it’s only about five minutes away from where you fly in. That way you get an extra hour of sleep and one less driving on unfamiliar roads.”

She had a good point.

“Well…” I could feel my budget slipping away like sand through the fingers of my convictions.

“And an extra hour of sleep means that you will be more rested to drive and thus keep our son safer. I’m booking it.”

That last bit was impossible to argue against and so, now I found my self on the afternoon of our arrival pulling in to the parking lot of the Hyatt for the shortest hotel stay of my life.

Lugging out our giant suitcase and smaller bags, I hesitated over bringing the stroller. Did I really need that? Short Stack was bounding around like a ping-pong ball on a sugar rush as he gleefully checked out all the unfamiliar plants in the gardens and commented on the palm trees. “Look at that one! It’s so tall and funny looking!”

He was a bundle of enthusiasm and it seemed foolish to lug yet another thing in with me when I would need to lug it back out again in just a few hours. I went back and forth on this a few times as I stood at the open trunk.

“No. Bring it. You may not need it, but if you do, you’ll want it on hand.”

I often talk out loud to my self in situations like this. Some might seek medication, but I’ve decided to embrace my vocal self advice since it tends to be good. Plus, it helps keep the seat next to me empty on long trips.

With some light cursing and knuckle scraping, I lugged it all out and pointed the mass in the direction of the front doors. My jeans, so perfect for the northern weather I had just left, were now working against me under the strain of my load and the heat of the Florida sun. I couldn’t wait to get inside and into a bathing suit.

“Daddy, Is there a pool here? Can we go swimming?”

Apparently, I wasn’t alone.

Inside, I headed directly for Check In.

“Let me check your reservation and we can get you all set…”

The young woman behind the counter smiled happily as she looked into our booking. Short Stack was doing his best to contain himself, but the hours of sitting still were starting to show. The boy had energy squirting out his ears and the pull of the lobby furniture was finally too much for him. With a glance back at me to make sure he wasn’t about to get scolded for scooting too far from reach, he happily crawled up on an ottoman roughly the size of his toddler bed and was immediately lost in an imagined world of his own making. There’s something about ottomans. Kids just can’t resist them.

I kept an eye on my son to check any behavior that could cause damage to him, the furniture or his reputation as a well behaved child, but I was sympathetic as well. He had been doing a great job and had easily burned up at least three days worth of patience in the last twelve hours.

“Here you go sir. You’re in room four-oh-five. The Elevators are just around the corner.”

I accepted the little plastic credit card that is used in lieu of good old fashioned metal keys these days and chuckled at the fact that she had handed me two. I trust my boy and everything, but I had serious doubts that he would even be able to reach the key slot in the door, let alone open it. That, and I wasn’t crazy. While we were in Florida, the only time he was going to be out of my line of sight was when I was in the shower. “I think we’ll be good with one key.” I replied with a smile and slid one back. “Oh, will there be someone on desk duty at eleven tonight? We’re heading out to see the Shuttle launch and need to be checked out.”

“Oh, yes! That’s no problem at all. Are you excited to see the launch?”

That last statement was directed at my ottoman surfing son a few feet away and I had to say his name two or thee times to snap him out of what ever game he had concocted for himself to answer her. “She’s asking you a question, buddy. Are you excited?”

With the realization that he has just been included in the conversation, his head snapped up and he smiled as he nodded vigorously. Then, to drive his enthusiasm home, he quickly pointed a tiny index finger up, squinted one eye shut for better effect and started emitting some very convincing rocket noises as his adlibbed rocket slowly traveled skyward.

I turned back to the check in girl. “Oh, yah. He’s excited.”

As soon as we had managed to find the room and successfully drag in what seemed like a foolish amount of luggage, Short Stack was gleefully checking the beds and sofa for bounciness. He was wired and I was exhausted. I put thing down, changed into a pair of shorts and clicked on the wall sized television for no other reason than the novelty of having a television to click on. We’ve been without one since some time in the mid nineteen-nineties but I sill reflexively click them on when I have one at had. I wasn’t ready for what I saw.

Our room was very nice and well put together but narrow and this combined with a flat screen television that was big enough to make into a ping pong table meant that figures on television were pretty much life size. That, and because of the thing being mounted at head height, it was almost like having someone peaking at you through an electronic window. That alone might be a tad unnerving, but when you have traveled over a thousand miles away from your home out on an island in the Gulf of Maine, check into an airport hotel and are left looking at the life sized face of your neighbor, Nancy when you click on the tube… well… that’s just beyond weird.

I had to call home.

“Hey Honey! Did you get to the hotel okay? How’s our little traveler holding up?” She sounded perky.

“It’s great. He’s great. Guess what…” I told my wife who was on TV.

“What? Nancy? You mean from home?”

“Yup. I’m looking at her right now. She’s being interviewed.” Short Stack, oblivious to the madness of this, contented himself with leaping from one bed to the other.

“That’s just weird”

I agreed.

As it turned out, our fellow islander was being interviewed for a travel segment being run on the Weather Channel. As I stood in my room in Orlando, telling my wife about our flight down, I watched images of our little main street and post office flash by. The front door to our one and only little market opened and faces whom I could put names to, walked in and out as usual. It felt almost as if I was spying on what was happening back home. It was very surreal.

With the segment concluded and my wife’s curiosity assuaged, it was time to find some fun. I was pretty sure that if we didn’t, Short Stack was going to eventually start running across the ceiling. In record time, we had both been slathered in sun block, dressed in our swimming trunks and one short elevator ride later, floating in the pool.

Inanity Verbatim

“He seems to have a problem with remembering and memorizing.”

These are the words that made my parents twitch and fight to stifle an explosion of, “Are you joking?!?”

I was not, to put it delicately, a stellar student. I did fairly well in first and second grade but other than a bizarre hiccup where I made honor roll one year in Junior High, I spend the vast majority of my time in school just trying to play catch-up in the hopes of pulling those C’s and D’s that had appeared on my progress reports up to some more respectable C’s and a few B’s. It wasn’t easy for me, but not because I found the work impossible, but totally uninteresting.

I should clarify here that I LOVE learning. It’ one of my favorite things to do, and when I have a few precious moments to my self, you are more than likely to find me with a book on First World War Artillery pieces, manuals on how to get more out of your table saw or reading up on the best ways to set up an office server with the new operating system that came out last week. I just love knowing… stuff.

The problem is that I love knowing stuff that I feel is important to me and if what a teacher was talking about fell outside that ring, well… in my head, they tended to sound like the adults on the Charlie Brown TV specials.

Teacher: “Wa-waaawa wa-wa-wa waaaaaaaah. Did you understand?”
Me: “Ummmm. Yes?”

Toss in a hearing condition I’ve had all my life and I was pretty much doomed from the get go. What drove my poor parents and the few observant teachers I had batty was that I could dive into something with no academic merit whatever and it would stick to my frontal lobe like warm gum on a sneaker sole. Let me demonstrate.

Mousebatfolicle-Goosecreature-Ampizantz-Bong-Whappcapplet-Looseliver-Vendetta and Prang.

You have to take my word on it, but I just typed that from memory. I may have gotten the spelling wrong here and there but otherwise, I do believe it’s correct. What is it? Easy. It’s the name of a marketing company used in a Monty Python skit. I’ll spare you the details since nothing clears a room faster than a careful recounting or reenacting of a Python skit, but trust me, it’s in there. Not only have I not seen that skit for easily fifteen years, but the name is mentioned only once during the entire thing.

Once!

And yet, it is seared into my brain cells. I couldn’t forget it if I wanted to… which, I must confess, I don’t.

This might sound like fun, but I have the overwhelming feeling that mental garbage like this is the reason that I can’t ever seem to remember to get my car registered on time or when my wife is scheduled to work tomorrow or when in God’s name is my anniversary!

I find it annoying.
Those around me, I believe, have been plotting electroshock treatment.

It’s an interesting way to go through life, to say the least. There are perks. I tend to be the one who people call with nagging trivia questions that are driving them nuts. It can also at times give me the illusion of being smarter than I feel I actually am. Not bad, really. Where it never stood me well, was school. The rigid set-up, the chapters to read, the homework never quite completed and the utter and total lack of classes on Monty Python, made my education mostly an arduous torture. I can clearly remember counting the number on months I had left of my educational experience… when I was in ninth grade. I can actually remember that! See?! But ask me anything about the three years of Latin class and all you’re getting is, “Gallia est in Europa”

The weird thing is, I love history. I love language. I love… well… learning! Just not learning “The System’s” way. This is where my kiddos come in; Short Stack, at the moment, Lulu Belle, possibly later.

They say that the apple doesn’t land far from the tree sometimes and with him… boy! Do they ever have that old chestnut right. Sometimes with pride, sometimes with worry, I see myself reflected in his little three year old actions and ideas. He can’t remember to wash his hands after I’ve drilled him about nine hundred and thirty four times about this, BUT he can remember that there used to be a plant in the window at a friends house. A house we haven’t visited in easily a year. When we went over last week, what were the first words out of his mouth?

“Where’s the plant?”

It wasn’t a big plant. It wasn’t the only plant.

It was the MISSING plant!

+4 points for observation skills, I suppose.

Ok, ok. So the kid’s good at noticing things, (with the obvious exception of his younger sister whom he mows down with startling regularity as he careens around the house like a bat on fire) but that’s just being visually observant. Right?

How about this one:

Mercury
Venus
Earth
Mars
Asteroid Belt

Ceres
Pallas
Vesta
And a bunch of other stuff.

Jupiter
Saturn
Uranus
Neptune
Don’t forget about Pluto
Eris
And a bunch of other stuff…

Not only can he run through this list like it’s nothing, but he can quiz you on what color the various planets are, if they have rings and which ones have moons. He can also tell you them out of order and which ones are next to which. How? Because of this…

Essentially, this is simply the School House Rock of my children’s generation. Think about it. Remove the folksy guitar chords and soft lyrical voices of the seventies, substitute with amps, electric instruments and vocals by They Might Be Giants, and you’ve got it! Learning never looked so fun!

I don’t know what it is about music and cartoons that makes stuff like this stick, but it works! To this day, I can securely say that the only reason I know the preamble to the U.S. Constitution is because of Saturday morning TV. Now, with kids of my own, we don’t have a TV and don’t plan to get one any time soon. School House Rock is still available on DVD or the Internet, but lets be honest, we watch it mostly out of my own need for nostalgia. I subject my children to it from time to time but when it’s done, Short Stack wants me to pop in the “Science is Real” DVD and watch John and John sing about meteorites, the scientific method or how cells grow. You might suggest that it doesn’t mean much to him beyond the fun video and songs, but I’ve already been commissioned by him to construct his own solar system in his bed room and he gleefully points out the different things that are made of cells as we walk to the store. He gets it.

So, why can’t he remember to wash his hands!?!?

Some day, shockingly soon, it will be time for Short Stack to begin his school career and I for one am truly apprehensive. He’s not so good at focusing, following directions isn’t his strong suit and he’s prone to periods of gazing off into space, lost in a world of his own making. Getting good marks is going to be a challenge… unless that is, it’s what he wants to do. For me, it’s like looking into a time machine, except this time around I have red hair and freckles.

It’s going to be interesting. In the mean time, I just hope they come out with a really jazzy way of remembering times tables and parts of speech. If they don’t, I’m just popping in disk one of the complete Monty Python collection. It might not get him a job, but he’ll be able to quite British comedy at length.

In my book, that’s an accomplishment I can be proud of.

That, and I’ll finally have someone to do the Dead Parrot Sketch with.

Basement Archiology.

I know that using the TV as a babysitter is not going to win me “Parent of the Year,” but there are moments where there just aren’t a lot of other options. To be fair to myself, I don’t actually own a television and haven’t for well over a decade. What I do have though is a laptop and my own personal “Leaning Tower of Pisa” built entirely out of the kid’s DVDs and the empty cases in which they are supposed to be put neatly away. I do my best, but the cases often do far less of a job protecting the movies that came in them than duty as coasters for either my coffee or beer, depending on what time of day you happen to catch me. Either way, provided that a disk remains relatively scratch free, popping one in will buy me about a half hour of productivity as Short Stack and Lulu Belle learn about something wholesome and educational. Thus far, I haven’t mistaken a Miffy DVD for say… The Guns of Navarone or Big Trouble in Little China, but I could see that happening eventually. THAT will be a fun time to explain.

Being the Christmas Season and I, being a sucker for the trappings thereof, I’ve been slowly tarting up the house with the trapping of the Holiday. It’s something that I get form my Mom and though the gene isn’t as strong with me as it is with her, it’s there nonetheless. Her house is always decorated like something out of a children’s book and it was magical to watch the transformation happen as a child. As a kid, I just assumed that everyone’s Mom went bonkers with the seasonal decorations and cookie making. I’ve since learned that’s not the case, so I do what I can with my own meager attempts to carry the torch for the sake of my own children’s holiday memories. The DVD that the kids were now successfully glued to gave me the chance I needed to do some rooting in the boxes that lurked in darker corners beneath the house.

Let me explain my house, just briefly. It’s small. No. It’s VERY small. We have exactly one closet in the entire structure and that is crammed to the bursting point with coats and boots. When we moved in here seven years ago, it was only a summer camp with no pretensions of being anything but that. It sat on posts and scoffed at the notion of insulation. I’ve spent the last seven years and a wheelbarrow full of cash changing all that. We now mostly have insulation in the walls and ceilings, but most importantly enough, we also have a basement. A FULL basement that is about seven and a half feet high at its shortest and nearly nine and a half at its highest.

It is also, do to the lack of storage anywhere else in the house, packed to the point of horror/hilarity. Finding anything down there requires persistence, the ability to balance on one foot for extended periods of time and very strong arms so you can carefully tilt four stacked boxes at once so you can peek into the fifth one. This can often result in something that Action Girl and I refer to as a “stuffalanche.”

With the few moments I had and the baby monitor turned up all the way and clipped to my belt, I moved boxes and totes in an effort to find a missing piece in my Christmas preparations. I didn’t find it, naturally, but as is often the case when I go spelunking through boxes of odds and ends, long forgotten, I did find something else that made me stop cold.

A rapidly disintegrating cardboard box spilled its contents at my feet, and among the old pay stubs, bank statements and notes to my self to do things in 2006, I saw a red binder.

My red binder.

THE red binder.

Once, I had a business that was based some distance from my house. It was a drive to get there and though it was hell on my car and the gas I burned up was impressive, it did give me one thing that I don’t really have any more. Solitude. I’d leave in the morning for work and since Action Girl works mostly night shifts, she’s be too groggy to be calling me as I drove on my commute. Content to leave the radio off, I’d spend that time in my car just letting my mind wander and observe things as I whipped by. It was a very nice way to start the day, to be honest.

One day as I trundled along the highway, I started to compose a little poem in my head. By the time I made it to work, I had worked most of it out and was pretty happy with it. Once my coat was hung up and the lights turned on, I sat down and scribbled it on a bit of lined paper. The next day, I did it again. Then again. I really grew to enjoy what quickly transformed into a morning ritual, and though I did not write something everyday, I did put my mind to it pretty often. By the end of the year, I had quite a little pile of prose. I’m hardly the one to judge its quality in the world of poetry, but it was good to me.

At some point, I got concerned about the scraps of paper with all that work and thinking poured onto them and decided I needed to transfer it all to my computer. I put them all in a red binder and brought them home. Then we lifted the house and the binder disappeared.

Normally, I’d not be too concerned about this. My attitude about these things tends to be, “Hey, it’s got to be here somewhere.” and I’m usually correct. This time though, I was worried. Very worried. After the house was picked up, had a basement put in and plopped back down on it’s new underpinning, my Father-in-law had come over and “helped” This is a dangerous thing. Though he has a good heart and the nervous industry that most twenty year old do not, he also has a very bad and well earned reputation for throwing things out that do not belong to him or that no person in their right mind would toss, all without clearance from the owner. Here I’m thinking about the bag of nuts and bolts that held my table saw bench together. No joke.

Long after the visit, I discovered that he had “helpfully” cleaned up an area in the house that, though I admit it, was knee deep in… stuff and debris, it also contained my binder of poems. It had been hastily put there with everything else during the house construction and was going to be dealt with… later… whenever that would be. When I looked at the spot now, it was empty. I knew he had also been to the dump at least twice during his time here. My heart sank. I never asked him if he saw it. I didn’t want him to feel guilty for only trying to help.

I actually wrote one last poem about my book of poetry moldering away under piles of trash at the city landfill, and then I didn’t write again. For whatever reason, the spirit to write poetry just sort of went dormant for me. I tried here and there over the years, but it just didn’t flow like it did before. Not having the commute to quietly reflect anymore, no doubt was a major impact, but thinking of a year’s worth of writing, gone for good also killed the joy.

With a lightning fast snatch that would have caught a fish by surprised, I grabbed it with both hands before it disappeared once again. Eye’s wide, I fearfully examined the open edge of the binder to look without really looking. I had other red binders like this one. It could easily be filled with receipts or old product information, long since irrelevant. No. It wasn’t that.

A smile spreading across my face, I opened it up to see sheet after sheet of hand written thoughts and personal observations. A year’s worth of thinking and writing. I scanned quickly and then snapped it shut and hugged it to my chest, eyes held tight.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” was all I could say.

The little spy speaker on my waist told me that the show upstairs was coming to an end and thus too, my ability to remain here any longer. Holding the long lost binder under my arm, I headed back to the living room where Short Stack immediately burst into a long and accurate description of the show they just watched as Lulu Belle scurried off in search of a lucky stuffed animal with whom to have tea. I listened with half an ear as I made a new home for my memories in a safe and easy to remember location upstairs.

I still have a lot of Christmas-ing to do around the house and that’s the main priority for me, but it will be over soon as well. Once it is, and the kids are tucked into bed, I have some transcribing to do. I don’t know what is in store for me present-wise this Christmas, but I’m already as happy as I could be. What was lost is found and with the distance of time, I’ll be reading these again with new eyes as I type away in the night.

Merry Christmas to me!

Cartoon Musicology

It happens with amazing regularity. At some point, my impressively large music collection works its way down to about seventeen songs that seem to loop in an endless… well… loop, I guess. I’m stuck like a needle in a record scratch and the same tunes go drifting through the house in a predictable pattern until, like the wall paper, we don’t even notice it anymore.

Wait.. Do I have wallpaper?

I hit this point again last night and decided, with minutes to spare before dinner, that we desperately needed to have something new to listen to as we ate the wonderful pork meal that Action Girl had been toiling over for the last hour or so. Looking thought what I already had on file was not the right place to start when making a new playlist. Those waters have already been plundered pretty heavily and in an effort to make a fresh approach, I wanted something new, and the best “something new” in my book, is something old. I needed a tune I hadn’t heard for a long, long time.

“Is You Is, Or Is You Aint’ My Baby,” by Louis Jordan.
Perfect!

To old jazz aficionados, this is no doubt a timeless classic and I’m sure that it brings back any number of wonderful memories to them as they reminisce about smoke filled jazz clubs deep in the dark of a sleeping city. To me, it brings back memories of a cat and mouse trying to kill each other to the highest comic effect.

Ah, Tom and Jerry.
Good times.

My introduction to this musical masterpiece came as I sat on the sky blue, deep pile rug of the living room floor in my parent’s house. I’m willing to be that a bowl of something soggy and sugar coated was in my hands and feety pajamas might have been part of the bargain as well. I won’t bore you with the plot, but I’ll just mention that Tom was using a double bass and the syrupy lyrics to good effect in his attempt to woo an improbably curvatious female cat. Jerry objected to his disturbed slumber and alerted Tom to this with a lemon meringue pie wrapped around an iron. Subtlety was not Jerry’s strong suit.

The point is, the likelihood of me encountering this song at home was next to nil. My Dad’s idea of enjoyable, “rowdy” music was confined to some of the more lively Beatles singles with the complete and utter exclusion to anything released post “Rubber Soul.” Classical could be lively as well providing it didn’t get too full of its self, but that’s about it. My Mom always had a more accepting ear toward music. After all, it was her “Best of the Doors” LP which I nicked and transported off to college. Still, since my dear, sweet, happy-go-lucky Father becomes downright insufferable if the music gets too uppity, my exposure to the musical world was pretty much limited to ABBA, Mozart, Cat Stevens, Beethoven, Simon and Garfunkel, Vivaldi, and a little Jerry Rafferty when Dad wasn’t home. Jazz? Not a chance.

As I think back, I actually learned a heck of lot in the way of music from a variety of Saturday morning cartoons. I clearly recall singing along with, “Yes, We Have No Bananas” as I followed along with the bouncing ball at the bottom of the screen. Another Tom and Jerry episode that took place on a waterfront taught me most of the lyrics to, “Moonlight Bay.” Dad wasn’t a Verdi kind of guy, but that was all right because Bugs and Elmer opened my mind up to, “The Barber of Seville” and later a little Wagner and a taste of the Ring Cycle, even if highly… altered in a “Spear and Magic Helmet,” kind of way.

KILL THE WABBIT! KILL THE WABBIT!

The classical hits are great, of course. I’ll always equate various cartoon characters with what ever classical piece that Warner Brothers decided to ascribe them to, but it’s the “modern” music that I learned of that I am most thankful for. Most of these cartoons were made in the 40’s and 50’s and the topical music of the day, the really big radio hits of the era, largely disappear into the mist of the social fabric that is our world. The fact that in 1975, a little kid, jigged up in high octane cane sugar and corn syrup (part of this balanced breakfast) could happily chirp out the song, “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” with the TV, quite frankly, makes me smile.

Grabbing a bit of couch that would keep me momentarily out of view, lest I be seen as slacking, I hopped on my computer and took advantage of the miracle of modern living. With a quick look through iTunes, I found it.

“Is You Is…”

I had never even heard of Louis Jordan before that moment. To my astonishment, there were about twelve recordings of his to choose from for this one cut alone. After sampling a few, I heard the one that had been used by Tom all those years ago. Action Girl heard me fiddling around from the kitchen.

“Hey! What was that? I like those brassy horns. That sounds really fun!”

In about five minutes, I had put together a new playlist for us all to enjoy over our meal. I don’t know if Short Stack and Lulu Belle appreciated it, but we did. It was new but old and Action Girl knows me well enough not to ask why I already knew all the lyrics or where I learned them from. Smart Girl.

To Tom, Jerry, Bugs, Foghorn Leghorn, Daffy and all the others, thank you, guys.

“Oooh!!! There ain’t-a-nothing finiah than to be in Carolina in the moooooorning!”
Thanks Daffy!

Local Talk

Short Stack and I were out the door early this morning and though he didn’t know it, it was motivated more by me wanting him to see his next birthday rather than getting the jump on a beautiful, late Spring day. He hasn’t quite developed the survival instinct about waking his mother up earlier than she wishes, so I, who already bare the scars, decided to intervene and remove him from the premises before he came tottering in to ask her yet another question in that whisper/not-a-whisper that three year olds seem to have perfected.

Other than my own vision being blurry around the edges with the half vaporized dreams of sleep, the day looked crisp and warm and I was happy to get a chance to go and enjoy it with my son. A long walk to the beach, down said beach and then up to a beautiful expanse of grass that overlooks the bay, left him happy but understandably tired. When he started inquiring about breakfast, I knew that he wasn’t making it back to the house under his own power and in one fluid motion, *WHOOSH*, up on my shoulders he went. I’m used to carrying him like this and although he’s getting bigger by the day, I enjoy it very much as he hugs my head and points out items of interest with a pudgy finger.

“Look Dad! A butterfly! Can we catch it?”

As I hefted my chatty load up the last hill and away form the beach, we happened to pass an elderly islander who was on her own morning jaunt.

She greeted us with a smile and approving nod to my wiggling burden. “Well, that’s a mighty fine perch, isn’t it?” She spoke through that smile only old, white haired women can flash, but the smile I came back with was spurred on by more than just a friendly salutation. It was the way she said “perch”

“peauuurch”

This is spoken with the lips extended into an almost kiss when you say the “u” sound.

THAT is how a real Mainer says it. Or, I should say, “Mainahh.” Actually, it extends far beyond the borders of Maine. My Grandmother lived in the flatlands of New Hampshire and I vividly remember the first time she encountered the word “Nerd.”

“Neauuuurd? What on eauuurth is a Neauuurd?”

What is commonly referred to as the “Down East” accent was widely heard in my youth, but is disappearing at mind numbing speed today. Words such as Yassah (yes sir), proppah (proper) and my personal favorite, “wicked pissah, meaning a mighty good time and/or a bad storm and/or someone full of moxie and nerve… um… neauuuurve, are drifting away into the past and being replaced by the bland, universal TV speak that we’re bombarded with, daily.

I have an ear for accents, both conscious and unconscious. I perk up when I hear one and can’t help trying to guess where the speaker is from. I suppose that makes me a bit like the jerk at the embassy ball in “My Fair Lady,” though I do not, in fact, “know everyone in Europe” or teach linguistics, but there is a reason I pay close attention. For me, accents are contagious.

When I am thrown into an environment with foreign or heavily accented speakers, my speech starts to bend and twist in an effort to match. I can’t stop it and it drives me nuts at times.

In England, I sound like a Brit.
In France, I start sounding French.
In Massachusetts, I sound like a Kennedy
In Germany… I sound like a Brit again… I don’t know why. This one REALLY bugs me, especially since I can speak some german.

Action Girl hails from central Vermont and as such, speaks crisp, soft English through mostly closed teeth. When I’ve been visiting old relatives from the coast of New England, she quickly points out my changed speech patterns.

“Please stop! You’re not from Danvers, Mass!”

“That’s pronounced ‘Daanvzz’” I helpfully quip. That usually wins me a flash of “the look” which I attempt to deflect with a toothy grin and quick retreat.

In my head, I can hear both of my Grandmother’s voices with their accents, dropped consonants and drawn out vowels, but my memory is the only place to regularly encounter them. Outside of the pale and pathetic comedians impostering these old linguistics and spinning them into a form of kitsch, you need to hand around with the disappearing generation if you need your yankee-talk fix. I have to say, I love it. It makes me feel like I’m home.

Oddly enough, Short Stack seems to be picking it up here and there, though I don’t know if it has a chance of sticking. Every once in a while, he’ll be telling us something and out will slip my Grandmother, or my friend Jeff or old George, the lobsterman, gone now for over twenty years. Short Stack will be yammering away, as per usual, about the interesting bug he’s spotted or whatever and say something such as, “Well…. That’s rathahh funny, innit?”

There is no way I would ever correct him in this situation.

Someday, the accents will be gone, buried beneath the tidal wave of perfectly quaffed anchor men, gritty action heroes and infomercials, but until then, I’ll try my best to enjoy each one ‘till at last, the bowl is empty.

As we walked home, we spotted a white lilac, decked out in its full springtime glory. My diminutive shoulder monkey pointed to them with enthusiasm and declared that we should get some for Mom. Balancing my son around my neck and snipping off a few branched with my pocketknife, we quickly had our bounty clutched in his happy, little hands as he chirped his monologue the rest of the way home.

Mom was thrilled, naturally, having eked out another half hour of uninterrupted sleep before Lulu Belle decided to start her day. She gratefully received the gift and put them in water as Short Stack pulled out toy trucks, preparing them for a hard day’s workout.

If Grandma were there, she would have told him that the flowers were “wondah-ful.”

All in all, it was an excellent way to spend a morning. In fact, I’d say that it was wicked good, indeed. Finest kind.

Right Grandma?

“Yessah!”

Movie Night

So, the kids are in bed and Action Girl won’t be coming home tonight due to a late night at work and an early morning shift that precludes getting back to our island home. Lulu Belle’s put me through the ringer this evening and Short Stack is freshly tucked in bed and hopefully drifting off. I’m pooped. It’s been a heck of a day. I should probably go to bed too, but I just can’t. I’ve always been a night owl and need a good distraction before I’m ready to turn in.

Normally, I’d be in the kitchen cleaning up the wreckage that two little kids and a their dad make around the dinner hour and possibly making something chocolaty and gooey for tomorrow, but Lulu’s got me spooked. Her room is right off the kitchen and after the hour and a half of screaming that she put in after I put her down for bed… for the third time… there is NO WAY I’m willing to risk dropping a pot or clanking a plate and reawaken the tiny, pink beastie. No way.

Plan “B” for nocturnal distraction is to head to my basement lair to make ammo for the ridiculously odd and ancient firearms I collect. Many of them require ammunition no longer readily available in commercial hunting supply stores, so I make it my self. It may sound like a lot of tedious work, but just like any other solitary and repetitive task such as knitting, whittling, or fishing, it can be very rewarding and calming. Two problems present them selves tonight. Firstly, I’m out of bullets. I have shells, primers and powder, but without the actual projectile, there’s not a lot of point in starting a new batch this evening. The other issue is that I’ve locked the cat down there after his incessant meowing threatened to wake up the kids. The same kids I just spent the last hour and a half getting to finally drift off to Dream Land. The cat isn’t allowed out side, so to the basement he goes. The second I open the door, he’d blast by me like he was fired from a cannon.

cat-cannon

What to do? I can’t make noise in any way and since we own no TV, I don’t have the option of turning my brain to mush the tried and true American way. I’m feeling lazy. I want to be entertained.

I need a movie.

I truly miss having Action Girl home in the evenings, but her current schedule has her gone about half the week. The one bright spot in being solo for the night is that the viewing choice is mine. ALL MINE! When movies are concerned, my wife and I have limited crossover interests. True, she does have a thing for Chow Yun Fat and that means a lot of good shoot ’em up movies. She’s also is willing to see most of the comic book inspired films that seem to be coming out of Hollywood faster than the actual comics are being drawn. The line is drawn very definitely however, at war movies.

I’m not sure why watching gunplay and explosions interests her so long as uniforms aren’t involved, but there you are. This means that on nights like this, I reach for some old standbys as I warm the couch on my own. Casting around in our disheveled video collection, I paw past the ancient VCR tapes and look longingly at my double tape, directors cut of “Patton.” My VCR has long since died and gone to a better, landfill-ier place and as I said, I have nothing to hook one up to anyway. I wonder sadly if I’ll ever get to watch it again. Then my eyes fall on a DVD, still in it’s cellophane.

“Midway”

midway

Now THAT’S a classic! This was a gift from one guy to another and I, for one, am thrilled to have it. “Midway” was one of those movies that I first saw years and years ago on television. Probably, it was some lazy Sunday afternoon when I should have been out playing in the sun but instead, managed to get some time clicking the dial around and around until I spotted dive bombers making their runs on the Japanese carrier fleet. Being the airplane junkie that I am, I stopped to watch.

Since that day, I’ve caught the movie being rebroadcast at least a half a dozen times. I remember parts of it in perfect detail and love stumbling upon it and I’m always blown away at the cast: Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Hal Holbrook, Toshiro Minfune, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, James Coburn, Erik Estrada, Tom Selleck, and Pat Morita, just to name a few. It was a bizarre fusing of the old Hollywood and the new and they threw in just about everyone they could get their hands on. The score was by a new and untried composer named John Williams. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?

One night, just before Christmas, we were over visiting my folks for dinner. As I walked through the living room and glanced at the TV, a familiar movie caught my eye. “Midway” was just starting. Frozen in my tracks with a goofy smile on my face, I paused to catch a few minutes of history, Hollywood style. As my Father came over to deliver my drink I commented on how, though I’ve seen this movie so many times before, I seriously doubt that I’ve ever watched it from beginning to end. Whenever it seems to be on, I either come in half way through or get to start it and am then called away. That night was no exception. Dinner was already laid out on the table and the kids needed to go right home afterwards and get tucked into bed. Oh well.

A month or so later on Christmas day, I unwrapped a small rectangular present from Dad and happily thanked him. My copy of the movie has been sitting since then, waiting for the right moment. The house is quiet and mercifully, Lulu Belle has tossed in the towel and seems to be sleeping happily. Short Stack must be snoozing now too. As quietly as I can, I peel off the wrapper and pop the DVD into the laptop and pop in the headphones. The acting is stiff by today’s standards and let us not even talk about the “special effects.” Parts of the film look almost amateurish in their lack of glitz and method acting, but I love it nonetheless. In some ways, it’s almost like watching a play. It isn’t about making the pilots look like they are actually flying a plane or seamlessly cutting in real gun camera footage. It’s about the story, and I find that pretty refreshing.

I like old movies, and old war movies are even better, in my opinion. They may not be Action Girl’s cup of tea, but that’s fine. There are lots of movies that she likes that I wouldn’t go near with a ten foot pole.

I’m looking at you, Romantic Comedy.

I’m looking at the clock now and just realized that there is no way I’ll be able to finish “Midway” before I need to get to bed tonight. At least I can stop it and pick it back up when I want. Action Girl will be home tomorrow night, so it will have to wait a while. If I start watching now, I think I can just make it to the part where the American’s break the Japanese code.

Once again, I’m thwarted at seeing it all the way through in a single sitting.

I’m okay with that, though. Why mess with tradition?

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