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.

Cape and Mask, Optional

I firmly believe that we are super heroes. Not, naturally, the “leaping tall buildings in a single bound” type, but in more mundane ways. If you take the time get to know someone, really, really well, or if perhaps, if they are too eager to share, you will no doubt find that there is some strange, or perhaps not so strange thing that they can do far better that the normal human.

super

My friend Mountain Man, for instance, is a spider. It was he who first talked me into clinging to a rock face, several meters above the very hard and unforgiving ground. He had been climbing with his dad for years and through blind trust and peer pressure, I succumbed to his offer one day, roped in and cheated gravity with each lost grip and momentary plummet before the harness yanked tight and sent sensitive parts of my anatomy into internal hiding until the coast was clear. The process was then repeated.

As it happened, I grew to quite like rock climbing and with a sizable investment in gear that could have been more wisely put in Apple Computer stock, I have continued to enjoy the sport. I’m not great, but I’m not bad either. I like to think of my self as an adequate rock climber and although I have seen some very accomplished climbers do some truly amazing stuff, none have been even close to the “wow” factor of Mountain Man. Somehow, my good friend has the ability to momentarily distract gravity in a, “Hey, look! A puppy!” kind of way and just sort of scurry up what I would swear was an un-climbable surface. I am continuously in awe over what this man can get traction on and scamper up.

Another friend, The Doctor, is in possession of a gift that is perhaps, more easily understood than being the “human fly” like our mutual friend. His power though, is no less impressive. It’s his memory. As an example, when we were kids, there was a strategy board game that ruled our lives. It was called Battletech. It had a bajillion rules and components and with out getting all geeky on you, it involved big anthropomorphic machines called “Mechs” that would blow each other up with heavy weapons at great distance. The game was played on a very large and changeable map covered in hexagons. The multitude of mechs, vehicles, troops, building types and what not literally filled volumes. There were easily a dozen compendiums that took in the rules and scope of the game. It was a lot of fun. It was also a very, very long time ago. Though I can remember some of the salient points of the game and what some of the mechs were called, maybe even what some of them were armed with, The Doctor remembers them…ALL. That’s not to say that he hasn’t had anything else to fill his head with in the intervening years. With a doctorate in micro-biology and a staff of minions in lab coats, I assume that he’s made good use of his giant brain. What amazes me is that somehow, the information on any fine point of playing Battletech has some how avoided being overwritten with say, how to save the universe from cholera… which he’s also working on. Me? I’m lucky if today’s grocery list doesn’t overwrite my memory of third grade.

Then there is Ioseph. This man… is a wonder. You can’t miss Ioseph, for he is a landmark among men. He’s big in every dimension, including his heart, stands at well over six foot tall and has flaming red hair. He is also, occasionally on fire.

Don’t ask.

This man could be caught in a china shop, it’s contents obliterated into dime sized shards, a baseball bat in his hands, sweat on his brow, and wearing a t-shirt reading “I did it”, and somehow, he’d manage to skate away scott free. Watching Ioseph wriggle out of some situational noose is like watching a master watchmaker craft you a beautiful and perfect mantle clock out of nothing but a box of random gears and springs. It’s watching a master at work. When it comes to culpability, the man is the living embodiment of Teflon and his side-stepping of conviction is art in its most perfect form. I’d say that he should be in charge of making excuses for the military or some other governmental agency, but frankly, I’m pretty sure that if he ever got himself that job, within a week, he’d get his new office set up on some south Pacific island where clothing is not merely optional, but possibly forbidden and staff the place with beautiful women… and get away with it. In fact, they’d probably give him a metal or something. Ioseph is my hero.

As for my family, Short Stack is still too young to spot his superpower and Lulu Belle is a very long way off from that day of discovery. You might think that I’d say that Action Girl’s power would be to dock a hundred ton, sea going vessel in a space that is about two feet longer than the boat she’s piloting, or perhaps how she can comfortably hop into just about any piece of enormous earth moving equipment and drive it with the delicacy of a waltz, but no. Though these are impressive, to be sure, that’s not it. I think that it’s her innate ability to make an amazing meal out of bizarre and disparate ingredients that she finds in the dark recesses of our kitchen cabinets. Some how, she knows what will be delicious and I do not believe that she has ever been wrong. This, more than the heavy machinery, holds me in awe.

That brings us to me. My superpower is pretty easy to overlook. Many folk might even think I didn’t have one. Oh, contraire! My superpower showed its self at an early age and my parents took note of it. When I was a child, we did a lot of world traveling. We all had an aspect of the trip that was our responsibility. Mine, was packing.

The thing is, with little to no effort, I can pack any amount of stuff into any small space. Your bag might tip the scale at four metric tons when I’m done, but if you want to get that foot stool that you bought in Turkey (an Ottoman ottoman?), that vase you picked up in Italy AND the three bottles of retsina, four framed pictures of nymphs and one statue of Athena you pick up in Greece, home and in one piece… well then, I’m your man. Most of the time, I don’t need my power. Only when moving, cleaning up the basement or going on holiday does it come out for use, but as superpowers go, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not so impressive as a party trick, but practically speaking, it means that four of us living in a teeny tiny house can fit quite comfortably. It also means that I kick butt at Tetris.

Still… Flying would have been nice too.

So… What’s yours?

Solo Dad and the Grand Adventure

Well, calling my day out with the kids this Sunday a “Grand Adventure” might be laying it on a bit thick. The three of us (Lulu Belle, Short Stack and I) decided that rather than knocking around the home stead on such a beautiful July day, that we’d strike out and have an adventure. Action Girl was working a full day today so it was just dad (me) and the kids. For those of you who might not me keeping track, Short Stack is two and a half now and thus, chatty, inquisitive, funny and hard to keep track of. Lulu is only three months and is by far the easiest to deal with as far as kid-maintenance goes. Two caveats… Short Stack, though chatty, inquisitive, etc, etc, is also of the age where he wants to do stuff that is not necessarily on the agenda. This can be problematic. Lulu, though a cooing little ball of pink who fits nicely in a car seat, can go from smile to full on air raid siren in .3 seconds with no rhyme or reason and there is no talking her out of it.

I try very hard not to let these things effect my decisions. I flat out refuse to be held hostage to what MIGHT happen. Life’s too short to worry about all the stuff that could go wrong. I get in a lot of trouble for following that line of thinking sometimes. It’s usually worth it though.

So, the original idea was to zip up the Maine coast to surprise and visit Action Girl. She works as a sea captain and I thought I knew the harbor she was going to be in at noon. Luckily, at the last minute, I called. Nope, she wasn’t taking that route today. I would have missed her and far worst of all, I would have gotten Short Stack all revved up to see Mom and then not have delivered the goods. To put things mildly, that could have been a very bad scene.

So, my choices were to head back home or throw caution to the wind and simply call it a road trip day. I decided on the road trip.

With no particular plan in hand, I picked “North” as our direction. Not only north, but north via pretty secondary roads. This worked for about three minutes. “Where’s Momma? Daddy, where’s Momma? Where’s Momma? Daddy? Wh…”

Ok… have to think fast… “Hey Short Stack, maybe we’ll see a water tower.” Silence from the back seat. Short Stack has a few very important areas of interest in his life. Trucks rate at the highest but there are others that can completely derail his current train of thought as well. Water towers, for what ever reason, are a particularly effective distraction. “Where’s da water tower? I can’t seeeee it.”

The next few minutes were comprised of me trying to explain to my back seat occupant that he couldn’t see the water tower yet because we weren’t near one. I also was stepping on it in an effort to get off Old Route 1 and to the highway. The next water tower was at least ten miles away, and I didn’t know how long I could keep his interest and my sanity. Lulu Belle seemed unimpressed with the entire situation.

After about a thousand iterations of why we couldn’t see the much vaunted water tower yet, it’s bulky green mass finally loomed into view. All was right with the world and Short Stack was grinning from ear to ear. “Dare it iiiiiiiiis!”

As I continued on past it, I was quickly given directions from the back. “Daddy will back up, please. Want to see it again. Daddy… Want to see it again!”

Think, think, think…. COWS!

“Hey Short Stack, let’s see cows!” I was greeted with more blessed silence as this information was digested. We bumped along and the roads got smaller and rougher. I knew that there was a farm down this way and I thought that I remembered that they welcomed the public. Actually, I preyed that they welcomed the public. This is the danger of winging it. “Where’d da cooooooows go?”

Come ooooooon, COWS!

The fates smiled and they had a wonderful little set up for visitors. Diapers were changed, children were fed and shoulders were burped on. Then, we were off to see the cows in the barn. As it turns out, there were far more than just cows. Goats, sheep, and pigs rummaged around in neat, clean stalls and chickens wandered all over. Short Stack desperately wanted to touch a chicken but the combination of his and their skittish behavior made this highly predictable. He never made it closer than a meter. Lulu Belle watched the whole show from over her pacifier, Maggie Simpson style. “Nook, nook, nook.” What a good baby!

We spent perhaps an hour there looking at the animals and riding the thoughtfully provided toy tractor around the barn. After knocking the majority of the poo out of his and my footwear, we hopped back in the car and headed off back down the road. It was lunch time and we needed hot dogs. We discussed hot dogs at length as I scanned the various road side stands. He has a book called “The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog” and we quoted it back and forth as I tried to locate at lunch stand.

Lulu had nodded off and missed the Hot Dog vendor I stopped at as well as our witty banter involving birds and processed meats. The seating arrangements at the stand were fine but rudimentary and I was not going to risk waking her. We continued on with me handing french fries, one by one over my seat into the waiting pudgy hands behind me. After a few false starts, we finally found not only shade to sit in and eat our hot dogs, but a play ground to boot.

More diaper changes, a hundred tips up and down the slide by Short Stack, punctuated by his dad calling him in for bites of lunch and another happy hour passed. I noticed various approving looks from other moms at the playground and I’d be a liar if I said that it didn’t make me feel proud. I was a dad out by my self with my two little kids and we were having fun.

Action Girl happened to be back in port by the time we were ready to head home and we stopped in for a visit. We managed to find her a hot dog of her own at a street vendor and presented it to her with pride. She got lunch and a cuddle from her kiddos and a kiss from me before we headed out for home. Short Stack was pooped and was out cold as we pulled into the drive way. I put the windows down, brought in Lulu Belle and let him sleep.

As I sat down with my daughter, I realized something about the day’s adventure. It had been a success and a good time but the realization hit me that I would be the only one to remember it. Short Stack is still too young for the memory to stick and Lulu Belle… well. This would be my memory, alone. Rather an odd thought, really.

It was a little tricky to pull off, naturally, but it’s a day I’ll always remember as being special. It was my first day out adventuring with the kids on my own and they had both behaved wonderfully. I can’t wait to do it again.

I wouldn’t have minded a little help, though. Next time, I think I’ll check Action Girl’s sailing schedule a bit closer and be in the right port at the right time.

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