Tuesday, May 31, 2011

15 minutes Late.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.

As of my post last week, I can’t say I’ve met too many new folks and had deep, meaningful and life altering conversations with them. But, I have met new people, and I’ve spoken with them about common interests and common dislikes. I’ve stepped out of my box and became a participant in a Memorial Day Parade. (Which, I normally would have not just NOT been in but I would have tried to avoid attending said parade in the first place.)

The new Museum opened and over 600 people showed up on opening day. The subsequent days brought another 1,500 people on Saturday and 500 on Friday. To say we are a hit is an understatement. The museum made all the local news stations, papers and radio announcements. Photographers, videographers, interviewers and all sorts of other “ers” were on hand to talk with anyone with anything to say “On the record.” (Me? Soon as I see a camera or a talking head, I head towards my office and turn out the light and pretend I’m not there. This tactic actually works.) Now, don’t read that I avoid people, ok, I do, but in this case, I actually avoid cameras and interviews and it is only because I’ve been interviewed before and when I watch the footage later, I always feel like I sound like an idiot.

I did manage to graciously accept a compliment about my work from Millie Lancaster and how my vision of the trains at the museum matched her late husband June’s vision. (Extremely high praise and I was struck speechless and even teared up a bit when Millie hugged me and whispered that fact in my ear.) I watched as some folks stood in awe and wonder at what we have accomplished over the past eighteen months. I listened to all the compliments and waited for the complaints to follow. Those complaints never came, but, that is to say they won’t come in the future.

On to more serious things:

Memorial Day, a day in which I spent remembering my fellow shipmates I served with and trying to remember and honor the men and women that came before me and that are serving now. As I sat in my buddies truck traveling down High street in 103 degree temperature at 5 miles an hour waving to people of all ages. Some waved back, some stared blankly into space wishing it were cooler, some smiled blankly at us and wondered who we were and what happened to the marching band kids who had passed out to heat exhaustion. Looking at the faces of the citizens of Portsmouth and being a part of our countries longest running Memorial Day Parade made me wonder how many of these people actually understood the sacrifices the men and women of our military have made for America throughout history. These rhetorical questions were answered when I realized most of the onlookers were missing one small but vital accessory on Memorial Day.

Not a flag, not a button, not a hat… but just the simple patriotic colors of the day. Red, white and blue. It was not until we were two blocks from the grandstand that I saw the first flag waving in the hands of a small child. We had traveled over a mile, the heat was oppressive and our moods were quickly waning from joy to annoyance. The driver and I had made more than our share of snide, rude and snarky comments about the lack of patriotism were seeing, most of those comments were made with AC/DC blaring on his speakers which only fueled our cynicism. But seeing that little kid waving the American flag as if her life and the lives of our nations finest depended on how franticly she waved it.

I smiled, I laughed and I waved to her. I made a comment to the driver and he almost wrecked the truck he was laughing so hard. I don’t believe for a second that kid knew what the day was for but to me she had a gleam in her eye told me she knew it wasn’t about store sales, getting drunk and making some pathetic attempt at a sport you haven’t even thought about for at least a year. She seemed to think it was about watching a parade and seeing all the really cool people in uniforms marching, playing music and driving small cars with large men in them. You know, America. A minor victory for my psyche and hope for our country.

And this concludes my Memorial Day tale. Hope you all had a good one.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Season of Searching

Spring is here. From my front porch I see cardinals whistling their song of lust from the tree in my front yard. Bicyclists rush past my house shouting “Clear, Clear, Clear!” and “Right Turn, Right Turn, Right Turn” followed by “Hep! Hep! Hep!” There is a cat sitting on a log across the street trying not to move as he stalks a robin that is catching worms in the wet grass left over from my neighbor’s efforts at washing his car.

Yes, warm weather is officially here in the heart of the south. Temperatures are up, citronella candles are burning and there are rumors the Brood 9 Cicadas will be emerging from their 13 year slumber any day now. People are starting to move a bit slower, air conditioners seem to be working overtime and the beaches here in Virginia are starting to fill up with tourists complaining about the humidity and lack of waves with the ability to surf on. Not that some of these tourists would know how to handle large waves with an incalculable undertow.

Ahh… Spring turning to summer… A time when kids forget what they’ve learned in school, teachers pick up part time jobs as waiters and more and more folks flock to the cool, canned air of malls, movie theatres and museums. When the pollen from the flora and fauna are so thick that you can barely catch your breath and every car in the tri-state area is a pale shade of green. Yup, it’s time for the hazy, lazy days of summer.

Watermelons’ ripening on the vine and the sun stays in the sky longer; most folks take life a bit easier. Me? I start working harder. But ya know, the older I get the harder it is for me to keep pace with my old self. I’m chasing after the memories of my youth and that is not an easy thing to do. I hear from people all the time about how tough things are for them. They can’t find a job, they can’t get ahead, they can’t find friends, they can’t… Aww, you know the song. I don’t have to spell it out for you. But you know what I say to them? Do you? It’s simple… Just do what you can to survive. Do what you have to do. It’s that easy. Especially now, when most folks want to slow down and enjoy the longer days by sitting on the beach or in the shade, I try to speed up. And, so can you.

Ya know, Thomas Jefferson only believed in taking two days off a year, the first was New Years Day and the second was July 4th. Since he was a Deist he did not celebrate any religious holidays nor did he celebrate birthdays. He just wanted to work and look where that took him. Not that I’m comparing myself to Jefferson or his work ethic. I’m just pointing out that even our founding fathers were hard workers and tried to do everything they could in their power to make a better life for not just themselves but also the future of the country they were forming.

But it’s summer time, almost… and I need to take a much needed break. Not from writing, not from my family but from work. So, in a few weeks I am going to take a few days off. Well, I’m going to try to at least. I’ve submitted my paperwork and I am currently waiting for the approval signatures. My work has taken on a life of its own and demands as much attention now as it did when I took on the job eight years ago. These past two years have been nothing but a blur of days and nights, storms both natural and manmade. I’ve traveled to see long lost friends and made some new enemies close to home. Seasonal celebrations have been mostly phoned in and the few conversations I remember with my close friends seem to take place either outside in the cold, heat, rain or wind. I enjoyed those times and I look forward to those brief interludes of friendship that seem to warm my soul more than lying on a sun drenched beach of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The earth has moved through eight of its season’s and I can’t seem to truly remember any of them. Sure, I see the glitter of winter’s snow in the photos I’ve taken, the sun burst leaves of autumnal foliage and the pantone palette of spring’s blossoms. I have enjoyed each of those photos. And the brief memories that well up inside my mind’s eye and all the emotions those memories bring with them. Those emotions and memories make me realize how starved for more memories and emotions that only experience with close friends and family can bring.

John Donne wrote: No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind… I suppose this is what I am getting to… I need to become more connected with people that increase the value of the seasons of my life.

With this thought I am going to sign off for the week and go in search of more experiences and fulfilling seasons.

Be good to each other this week.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A New Beginning

Hi, welcome back…I hope you enjoyed the 16 part tale from my youth. I know, I know, it seemed a bit long and drawn out and I have to admit that it grew into a tale larger than I expected. But I feel each chapter grew into a standalone story and I just want you, my dear readers, to know that I enjoyed the telling of the tales as much as I hope you enjoyed reading them. I am going to say now that part 16 is not the final part of the story of my friendship with Fish and Fin but it is the final part of this tale. Maybe, possibly, hopefully, one day I will move on and finish the craziness and adventures the three of us had together and the events of our separation and why we have never sought each other out since we called each other by our private names… names one day I may reveal to you.

Today, however; I am pleased to announce that I’ve finally moved on. No, I’m not dead… the renovation project for the Children’s Museum of Virginia where I am an Exhibit Technician and where I work primarily as the Train Technician for the Lancaster Antique Train and Toy Collection is less than a week from completion and I’ve moved out of the Administrative offices and into my new office where I’ll be able to work on, repair and operate toy trains for a living. (DO NOT HATE ME BECAUSE I PLAY WITH TRAINS FOR A LIVING. Matter of fact; don’t hate anyone for what they do for a living. I don’t.)

Over the past two years I have packed up, moved, stored, moved again and unpacked almost 10,000 trains and toys. It has been an amazing and crazy experience. Also, I’ve seen my vision of the future of the Lancaster Antique Train and Toy Collection come to fruition. My design for the train layout, train cases and toy cases are complete. The trains run beautiful on the tracks and the toys and trains look spectacular in the train cases. The kids who visit the museum will now be able to not only see toy trains running but also, they will have the opportunity to operate a toy train, in a limited capacity, but they will still be able to experience the wonder and joy that millions of men and women experienced as youths during the 20th century. And I was a part of that. On my death bed I will hopefully be able to look back at my life and see the ripples of my work in the blueprints of time. That thought, and others actually help me sleep better at night.

We, as a human collective, seem to always be striving to better ourselves, leave an imprint or legacy for others to see when we are gone and mostly forgotten. Some people create artistic masterpieces; some write tales of conflict and woe, others have children which bear their name. I have the distinct honor of being the third Technician to the Lancaster Antique Train and Toy Collection… but… but… this is not about me is it? Nope… I owe my job, my livelihood, my family, my present, past and future to a man I only met once. A man, who when I met him was stuck in a wheel chair, stunk of feces, and was unable to control his saliva glands. A man, who for all intense and purposes had lost his ability to feel a sense of pride and honor in the work he had dedicated his life to and the amazing collection he had taken up as a hobby that spanned more than 25 years of his life and the life of his high school sweetheart. A sweetheart that he married built a life and legacy with, which will affect generations to come and also instill in anyone who takes time out of their lives to experience the effort of their labors a joy and wonderment they themselves felt during their time of collecting and amassing a large collection of American toy history.

Yup, Mildred and Arthur “Junie” Lancaster have found a way to pass on to children of all ages for years to come through toy trains and a desire to pass on the joy they felt when they saw kids of all ages visit their old museum in Bennett’s Creek in Suffolk, Virginia.

Now, the dawn of a new beginning is upon us and I have a front row seat where I will be able to observe the joy and the birth of a passion to all visitors to the new museum. I am truly blessed to be in my position for the rest of my work life.

So, I shall now say something that everyone who visits the Children’s Museum of Virginia and the Lancaster Antique Train and Toy Collection should say:

“Thank you Junie and Milly Lancaster for all you’ve done for the city of Portsmouth and every visitor that graces the doorstep of my place of employment."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Flatheads, Crescent Wrench's and Pliers (Part 16)

I met up with Fish and Fin near the bike racks. Fish had his lunch out and was splitting an orange with Fin when I arrived.

“You mean to tell me you missed the whole thing?” Fish was saying.

“Yeah, I got up to go to the bathroom and then everything went crazy. I got out of there as fast as I could. Hi Skip!” Fin said. “Tell Fish what happened in the classroom. I told him about how we didn’t get in trouble.”

“Yeah, Man, tell me all about it. Did Cornett get covered in puke? Who got stabbed? And who started the fire?” Fish peppered at me.

“Fish, you’ve been listening to too many rumors. There wasn’t a fire and no one got stabbed. And Karen did get hit with a ton of spitballs. Then everything just became a free for all. It was crazy. I hid behind the A/V cart because I didn’t have a straw or paper on me.” I told him. He seemed a bit disappointed in my relaying of the story.

“So you weren’t involved? Man, that sucks. But I suppose it’s a good thing too. You managed to stay out of trouble.” Fish laughed.

“It is a good thing. But, ya know, somehow I don’t think my Mom or her boyfriend are going to see it that way.” I complained as I handed Fin his lunch bag.

“Aw, Skip, forget them” Fin said as he tore open his bag and started to devour his sandwich. “We’ve got three more days till summer starts and we go camping. None of us can afford to get grounded. You can’t get in trouble for not getting in trouble.” And with that a big wad of grape jelly fell on his shirt.

Fish and I started laughing at Fin as he put his sandwich down on the torn paper of his bag and started to suck the jelly off his shirt.

“Man, you are one messed up cat!” Fish said.

Fin looked at us with a puzzled look on his face, part of his shirt still hanging out of his mouth and his pale stomach glinting sunlight. “Wha? Wha yu luughin at?” he choked out.

A few of the girls from our class walked by an pointed at Fin and started snickering under their breath and pointing at him. “What a pig.” “He should learn some manners” “How gross!” they said as they hurried away from us.

“Fin, you’re never gonna get a date!” I said and fell over on my side unable to contain the burst of laughter that had built up in me. I saw Fish lean over and grab some of Fin’s lunch and start to eat it while Fin just sat there looking befuddled about what we found so funny.

Fish shook his head and started to eat Fin’s apple. I sat up and pulled out my lunch, split up my sandwich and apple with my buddies and enjoyed our lunch. It passed to quickly and when the bell rang to go back to class we were still talking about the camping trip and what to bring.

As we headed in to school Fish told us to meet back up at the bike rack after school and we would go to his house. We agreed and went our separate ways.

Afternoon classes sucked. The teacher was in a foul mood and made us all write pages from the schools code of conduct for most of the afternoon. When the final bell rang everyone in the class had to stay back except Karen, Marky, Fin and myself. As the four of us marched out of class I looked back at all my classmates, unhappy looks and glares met my gaze and I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for them.

“Serves them right!” Karen said when the door to the room shut. “They should have listened to me. And you Jimmy Finnegan! You should be in there with them!”

“Sit on it Karen!” Fin said and pushed me between him and her as she tried to swing her books at his head.

“OUCH! Karen, watch it!” I said as her school books hit me in my arm. “Don’t take it out on Fin, he’s innocent. Just ask the Vice Principal.”

Fin grabbed me and we ran down the hall away from her and Marky. “You’ll get yours one day Jimmy!” She shouted

We responded by waving and laughing at her empty threats. At the stairs we got stuck in the line of students making their way outside. I saw a few kids from Fish’s class but no sign of Fish. Fin and I dodged questions about the riot in our classroom. Some kids thought the police had been called and that some of the kids had been arrested. One kid was saying he heard our teacher was going to be fired for not doing her job. A few kids expressed sympathy to us for the student who was killed. (FYI… NO ONE WAS KILLED!) Fin and I ignored everything and made our way outside.

Fish was waiting for us by his bike; he already had it unlocked and was pulling some smokes out of his backpack for us. “What took you so long?” He asked.

“Ah, Karen and her bullshit. She hates me.” Fin said as he grabbed a smoke from Fish. “I swear, God himself could come down and tell her I’m innocent and she wouldn’t believe him. That girl hates me!”

“Are you sure it’s hate she feels towards you?” I asked and took a cigarette from Fish’s hand.

“Yeah Fin? Maybe she really has a crush on you. Maybe you two are gonna get married and have kids and stuff.” Fish added.

“C’mon guys… leave it alone. I don’t need to be hassled about this crap right now.” He pouted.

Fish gave in “Ok, ok… besides we have better things to do anyway.”

Fin smiled and glance at me “Yeah, we do. Don’t we?

I looked at each of buddies standing before me. They were both grinning at me and had a gleam in their eyes that I’d seen before and that gleam meant trouble. “All I know is that we have to work on the bike.” I stated.

Fish stood up, dusted off his pants, lit his cigarette and turned to grab his bike, “Fin, you gonna get your bike?” he asked

“Yup!” Fin said.

I stood there confused as my pals pulled their bikes out and mounted them. I looked from Fish to Fin and back to Fish. I didn’t know what to do. Fin had told me his mom had given him a ride to school that morning and here he was with his bike. Our trio was getting ready to be cut down to a duo and I was going to be left alone to fend for myself… again.

Fish looked over at me, smiled, nodded to a bike that had been sitting next to Fin’s… “Hey, Space Cadet… You coming or are you gonna stand there looking like an idiot?”

Fin laughed.

My frustration disappeared and a smile as big as the Fox River spread across my face. I pulled my bike out of the bike rack, hopped on it and caught up to my buddies.

The Three Musketeers rode off into the afternoon and the only thing they left behind was their laughter.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Update May

It’s been a crazy week here in the Heart of the South. Full of ups and downs, ins and outs and, well… if you’re a believer in Karma… equality and balance in life.


The cover art for a book one of my stories is in was released. The artwork is amazing and the writers’ line-up is incredible. I am honored to have my name included with these writers.

Work at the museum is going great, we are looking to open up by the end of May, and we have been steadily moving offices, collections and exhibits into the expanded digs every day.

The new uniform shirts at my part time job seem to be a big success. No more tuxedo shirts, this is a good thing.

Finished a short story and sent it out to my Pre-readers (YES! I KNOW I NEED TO USE THE APPOSTROPHY MORE), and they all liked the tale and want more. I don’t know what to make of that aspect.

I caught up on some decent television, Thank you HBO, and I even saw a movie I’ve been waiting to see for years. Atlas Shrugged, (Go see this film NOW)


Too much work and too little time with family.

I had to answer for someone else’s inactions.

A distance between me and an adversary grew and peace was not made.

My craving for solitude grew and I embraced it with open arms.

The longing for seeing my friends, however briefly, grew. ( I know, this is in direct opposition of my craving solitude but that is part of the glorious didactic that makes me who I am.)


Ok, those of you looking for more “Fish Tales” and the ongoing epic tale of our bike build, I shall return with another addition next week… or maybe sooner. I’ve already written most of the next episode and I have to say, I have really enjoyed writing this entire journey of my youth and I ask only for your patience and for you to enjoy the rest of the tale.

Thanks… Talk to you soon.