Sunday, June 16, 2019

Two life lessons at 14

Parents have a way of teaching you life lessons you don't realize you learned until decades later. My dad taught me two in the same year; the year I turned 14. 

In eighth grade, I was in love with this beautiful tall blonde, Julie. She was 5'11" in eighth grade. I was maybe 5'6". But I found out, amazingly, she was also into me too, not by talking to her; I was way too shy for that. Her best friend told me. Perhaps out of frustration that I wouldn't say anything to her at school, Julie began coming to my church, maybe to give me another shot at sparking something, I don't know. It didn't work. 

One day after youth group, Julie and a couple of my guy friends and I were standing around chatting. Well, they were chatting; I was listening. It's what I did. My dad walked up to take me home. He stood with us for a couple of minutes, then he and I headed out. 

Walking down the sidewalk, he said to me out of the blue, "So...is that your girlfriend?"

My head almost exploded.

I thought for a feverish second that my dad could read minds. I was well into adolescence. I had things in my mind which definitely did not need reading! But I calmed myself. I figured there had to be another explanation. I was noncommittal. I answered as casually as I could, "Why do you ask, Dad?"

He said something I have never forgotten. He said, "The way she was looking at you."

The way she was looking at me?! I was into her and I hadn't noticed she was looking at me in any particular way. Mind blown, because my dad, in my brief 14 years, had never given me any indication, at any point, that he was, in any way, perceptive.

Life lesson number one: 

Dads know.

Later that year, still 14, I started high school. I joined the cross-country team. My dad left work early, a rare treat, to come see me run. Afterwards he was driving me home in his station wagon, my 10-speed thrown in the back. We were coming up on a restaurant we used to go to a lot when I was younger. Betsy Ross. The theme was colonial kitsch, everything red, white and blue. 

Dad asked, "So, do you think you've earned a milk shake? Do you want to stop for a shake?"

I know now, as a father myself, that all he wanted was a little father-son alone time, something which had become very rare. But that never occurred to me at the time. I was a little embarrassed. I was wearing my running uniform, burgundy tank top and burgundy short-shorts. (It was the 1970s.) 

Mentally, I flashed forward to us in the restaurant, sitting at the counter together. I imagined a couple of old ladies at a table watching us, one saying to the other, "Oh look, a father and son out for a milk shake after a sporting event. How adorable."

The last thing I wanted to be at 14 was ADORABLE. I was cool.

So I said something along the lines of "Oh, no, no thanks, Dad, I'm good."

He gave me such a look of incredulity. I had just run two miles! He knew I loved ice cream.  At least I have always hoped it was a look of incredulity, and not one of realization—that I just did not want to be seen with him. 

They say love is the strongest thing a person can feel, but I'll tell you, shame is right up there. After 40+ years, it can still bring tears to my eyes. 

My dad lived to a ripe old age. He lived to 92. But he's been gone for more than a dozen years now. Do you have any idea what I would give to have one more milk shake with that man?

Life lesson number two:

Dads go.

Some of you reading this still have your dad. Call him now. Tell him you want to take him out for a milk shake. Or, if you're lactose intolerant, O.K., a vegan raspberry smoothie. And when he asks "What the hell?" (and he will), just say "George insists."





Sunday, June 9, 2019

Fuhgeddaboutit

I've been binge-watching "The Sopranos," which has resulted in the subliminal effect that whenever someone says something I disagree with now, my mind whispers "Fuhgeddaboutit." 

At the risk of eliciting the kind of gapes one gets when confessing they have never seen "Harry Potter," I had never watched "The Sopranos." Didn't have cable. Heard great things. Never caught up with it until streaming, and the HBO Now app. 

I am probably 20 years late to a lot of things. If we went down that list, you would most likely un-friend me just on general pop-cultural grounds. 

Side note: "Un-friend" is the best compound word since Shakespeare's "Un-sex." 

"The Sopranos" is actually very Shakespearean. You have the flawed hero and his lieutenants, his hangers-on, and the women they keep inventing new ways to disappoint. It's like Greek tragedy, even. The hero is pre-destined to destroy himself and all he holds dear. Humans have always loved watching some other schmuck do this. It makes us feel better about ourselves. 

Side-note: If you never saw it, and you didn't, go find, at a library or on streaming, the James Gandolfini/Julia Louis-Dreyfus movie "Enough Said." It's that rare thing, an adult comedy for and about middle-aged adults, warts and all. It will make you want to go put flowers on Gandolfini's grave.

The World Trade Center's twin towers appear in "The Sopranos" opening credits. Bill Clinton was president. There are references to the Lewinski scandal. Computers in the show are the size of dorm refrigerators. You have to pull up the antenna on your cell phone to take a call. 

Corrupt and violent as they are, the mobsters, raised in the Catholic church, live by very defined rules. In one episode they even take a jab against "moral relativism," against the idea that good and bad can be more than just black and white. Mobsters don't like shades of grey. Audiences love them. Ask Aristophanes. Dig him up. Go ahead, I'll wait. 

I love the mob lexicon. You can ice a guy, or burn him, or even clip him, and he's still just as dead. 

Butt-legging is bootlegging untaxed cigarettes. 

To "come heavy" is to pack heat. 

I had long heard of being "on the lam," but I never knew it was a verb, that you could "lam it," most typically to Boca Raton. 

"Spring cleaning" means getting rid of evidence.

A jamook is a loser, an idiot, who may even be

Oobatz: crazy.

I am only one season in, and of course I know about the iconic final moment of the series, since that was so widely discussed at the time it even reached a non-viewer like me. Knowing I have 60 more hours to watch, many weeks or months, is daunting. How many bees will have been killed by pesticides in that time? How many glaciers melted? Couldn't I spend that time more productively for the world? 

Maybe one season is enough. I got the flavor of the thing. Sixty hours is probably oobatz. Besides, it's summertime, and I never did get around to "Outlander." 


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Wednesday Wa Pic - Nothingness


"Try our new Flavorless Menu!"

Sunday, May 26, 2019

To George (verb)

We got new name tags at work recently, and my job title was gone. My last tag said "George Librarian," which allowed my library customers to joke that with a last name like that, what other job could I have possibly ended up in? 

Now, due to the ever-unexplained vagaries of city government, it simply says "George." Now I could be anything. Now I could be in Public Works. Code enforcement. Planning. In a way, it is freeing. 

Maybe I should consider "George" my job title now. My new job description? To George. So I have resolved that I will George the crap out of any task given to me. Georging will be the new goal from here on out.

"What are you doing?" a coworker will ask as I settle new DVDs into the New DVDs rack.

"Georging the crap out of these DVDs," I will say. "What are you doing?"

And because she also went from a titled name tag to a name-only one, she will say something along the lines of "I'm about to Jackie the hell out of these periodicals." 

George meant farmer in the old days, but now it can mean anything! Georging has got to be easier than Bobbing, don't you think? That's got to be tough on the neck. Easier than Kenning too. To Ken you have to know stuff. Georging is easier than Billing for sure. And Georging has to seriously beat the heck out of Harrying. I do not think it is even possible to break a sweat Georging. I'll get back to you.

Imagine if Shakespeare had gone a different way:

"To George or not to George. That...well...that is just puffery. When in doubt, by all means George!"

If George as a name goes in the direction I think it soon will, years from now when they ask schoolboys what they want to be when they grow up, instead of cop or fireman or TV talking-head, they will say "George." And the person asking the question will smile, knowing that all things are possible, and surely a kid should aim high. "Good answer," they will say. "Stay in school."

I have had name tag jobs before, and they never had my job title on them. It was always obvious what my job was because of what I was doing. I was delivering plates of food. I was serving up boxes of popcorn and sodas. 

What customer, upon approaching me and my previous name tag and reading my job title, would smack his forehead and say "Wait, seriously? You're behind a desk on the main floor of a library but you are a LIBRARIAN? I thought maybe you were in custodial. Mind BLOWN."

So titles on name tags are mostly a perk, a bit of an ego thing, like the chevrons on a sergeant's sleeve. Ideally, we shed ego as we age, so this name tag revision is a good reminder. Accepting change is hard, but I tell you this—I am going to George the living daylights out of it. 


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Charles is dead. Long live the deer-dog.



Years ago I went to a writers conference at which the humor columnist for USA Today, Craig Wilson, spoke. Craig said that he got the most reader mail, by far, after he wrote about his beloved dog dying. Knowing we would all love a ton of reader mail ourselves, he said something I have never forgotten: 

"A dead dog is GOLD." 

It was dark, so dark, and so self-aware, and we all laughed and felt guilty, and then laughed some more. It was a moment of unselfconscious truth-telling. Yes, our laughter said, bring on that sweet, sweet reader deluge, whatever the cost.

Three months later our family got a dog. 

Our daughter had been begging us for a dog for a long time, but we made her wait until she was 10 years old. Ten, we apparently thought, was the age at which a child is responsible enough to properly watch her parents do all the work a dog requires. 

Skipper was a delight from the start, a rat terrier, white with big brown spots and a loving personality. Is a delight. Skipper is fine. He's, like, 14 years old. It's Charles the Chihuahua who took the H train to Poochville this week. 

Charles we only had a year. We inherited him last summer when my wife's Aunt Sue passed away; our adoption a final weight off her mind. I've written about him here before, he of the single canine tooth and the wheezing/hairball-hacking cough. He of the fainting spells right in the street or right off the side of the couch. He was probably 16, with a heart which thought pumping was only a part-time job. Many's the day in the last year that my wife went off to work expecting to find him expired on her return. 

But there he would be, yipping excitedly, then keeling over on the carpet because lying still on the couch for hours before a sudden, full-mom-welcoming-happy-dance was not a good call at his age. He would lie on his side on the carpet for about a minute, equalizing his blood pressure, before getting up again. He keeled like that about once a month. Every time we thought he was dead. 

Faker. 

Sunday, though, I was grocery shopping and my wife was out at an art exhibit, when I got a text from my son. He tried to put it gently. "I'm pretty sure Charles might be dead." 

The use of "pretty sure" nicely softening the blow, leaving open at least a chance, and the "might" also keeping possibilities in play. My son should work for the government. 

I called him from the produce aisle. "Try pinching him," I said. "He'll respond if he's still alive." 

"O.K.," he said, and I could tell that the last thing he wanted to do was pinch a dead dog. I still don't know if he pinched him or not. He reported with fair certainty that Charles was not getting back up this time.

I got home 15 minutes later and picked up Charles first thing. He always freaked at being picked up, went completely rigid, as if he was sure I was about to juggle him. This time, limp as a noodle. I shook him, because that has worked for my wife's cousin's dog, has brought him magically back to life several times. 

Nothing. I checked his neck for a pulse. I guess that's where you check. Nothing.

His tongue was lolling out the side of his mouth, no teeth to keep it in. I fitted it back inside; it was one of those weird unconscious impulses, like Jackie crawling onto the back of the limo for that piece of JFK's head. I wanted the little velvety-furred, deerlike pup to have his dignity. 

I put him in his doggie bed, the one he rarely tolerated. Waited for my wife, his "Mom," to get home. She was his queen, pawing at her hand whenever her petting paused. Growling if Skipper even considered jumping in her lap when Charles already was. 

Knowing an ancient pet will die soon does not make it any easier, especially if that pet was a fellow witness to your aunt's and mother's deaths in the last year, a little bony, seven-pound fellow traveler. He was a link to them both, and for my wife, letting him go is hard. 

Charles's ashes will mingle with Aunt Sue's soon. Perhaps in Valhalla she is already feeding him bananas, his favorite. 

Sorry, Craig. A dead dog is not gold. But our memories of him will be, as soon as enough time has passed that we forget how he peed on every possible surface within reach. 

. . .

My three previous columns about the dear little deer dog are here: