Friday, November 29, 2013

Deconstructing Thanksgiving

                 It’s the day after Thanksgiving, the leftovers are put away and the food comas are slowly wearing off and another day has dawned in our frost covered world.
            I abstained from using my computer yesterday and for the most part, my phone. Instead, I concentrated on relaxing. You see, my family and I had no real plans for the day of thanks we celebrate once a year. No special trips to local family members or friends, no travel plans out of state to see relatives and no visitors coming over. For the most part, we stayed home and enjoyed a quiet day filled with good, homemade food, parades, football and relaxation.
            In the past, everywhere we went or whomever we had over filled the home with laughter, conversation, brief glimpses of football scores and snitched food fresh from the oven along with semi-mandatory naps after the feast was finished. At the end of the gathering, the chaos that filled the day left one exhausted yet strangely satisfied.
            This year, no chaos, no human shields in front of the television, no brief overheard conversations and no interruptions of my thoughts during cooking or festival tasks. The minutes passed evenly into hours. From the time the sun came up to the time it went to bed the zen-like air of the house was a profound change from previous years.
            To say I stayed home and spent the day with my family would be a lie. I did venture out twice into the empty streets of my adopted city. Once to a drug store and once to a friend’s house who had invited me over. The trip to the store was easy and without incident. The trip to my friend’s house was not so brief and quite chaotic. The place was filled with his friends, family and a football team of kids running around, screaming, consuming food and beverages like a platoon of starving soldiers just back from a two week field exercise. I sat in a corner and quietly smoked a cigar while the parade of kids, adults and pets passed by me with full plates of food, cups and stomachs.
            I stayed for the length of my cigar, and several conversations. When I left the kids had been taken home, the food cleaned up, trash taken out and dishes were being done. My pal looked as if he had been through a wringer with the amount of work he went through to host a four family feast. As I fired up my motorcycle I thought “I’m glad for my quiet, non-hectic day.”
            When I arrived home, I finished carving my families turkey, making sure the potatoes were sealed properly, the biscuits put in an air tight bag and the green beans were sealed tight. Yes, that was my families Thanksgiving dinner, turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and biscuits, for desert I made a Dutch apple pie. A simple meal but with enough leftovers for a few days, by the time I went to bed, my house was no worse for the wear, my nerves weren’t frazzled and I wasn’t mentally exhausted from trying to sort out a cornucopia of information I had absorbed through endless hours of listening to people talk about things I had interest in or concern with.
            In the end, it was a very pleasant day spent with the people in my life I am closest to and with as little stress as possible. I’m not saying this is how I will want to spend all of my holidays or even that I will be able to. But I do know that it was a pleasant change from my past holidays and I can now highly recommend that you try it sometime. Just turn off the phone, the computer and spend the day with your spouse, kids and enjoy the day as it slowly unfolds and shows you the mysterious ways of your loved ones as they re-bond with the transient population of your home.
            Have a great week and I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An Early Gift

            It’s forty-some degrees outside and there is an idiot sitting on my porch. I can barely make out the shadowy figure but he appears to be wearing a leather jacket, hoody and has his legs covered in a fleece blanket. I bet he’s sitting on a heating pad too in my comfortable beach chair. Oh, and do I smell a good cigar… I do. His features are bathed in the incandescent light of the laptop he is fervently moving his fingers across. What sort of idiot would be outside doing such heinous and unknown acts at this time of night, especially since the wind chill brings the temps into the mid to high thirties. Oh, that idiot would be me.
            Why am I out here writing? Because it’s what I do and where I do it, weather be damned. Rain, sleet, snow or close drenching humidity and heat are almost always ignored when I need to purge my brain with you kind folks. I’ve tried writing inside my home and it normally fails. Too many distractions, besides, I like my semi-private outdoor office, it is quite peaceful to me. But, now that the hints of winter are brewing and the sounds of crickets and cicadas have been replaced with the noise of heat pumps of my fellow residents, it can be quite eerie at times.
            So, what thoughts are racing through my mind, besides the joy of digesting some luscious turkey in a week? Simple, work, food and family, also known as “The Holiday Season”, now it is no secret that I’ve been steadily working on this year’s Christmas display for, oh, let’s say, since January. This is the tenth straight year we’ve set this particular display up for my adoptive city and there are some changes that have been made. For starters, instead of just two people doing most of the work, we had five. Which helped immensely in saving my buddies back as well as mine when it came time to move a lot of the heave props and sets, also, we have rebuilt several sets from scratch and they look better than they did when they were purchased new.
            Along with the new sets, we have dusted off and repaired dozens of broken figures that have been sitting in storage for many years. Each room received a makeover to the “N’th” degree, with the exception of the “Sleeping Santa” room. That room scene seems to be sanctified in the minds of the visitors young and old who make their yearly pilgrimage to the “Winter Wonderland and Coleman Collection” that is displayed from Thanksgiving through the end of the year.
            I can’t even imagine how many new twinkle lights have been stapled to wood, fiberglass and plastic over the past week but I do know that on more than one occasion either myself or one of my co-workers would take a trip to the local mega-hardware store and purchase every box they had on their shelves. We also laid down uncountable yards of new snow, had umpteen hats, mittens and scarves made for penguins, straw-heads, Victorian folk and creepy trolls. We used every extension cord we owned and even bought dozens more when we ran out and it still wasn’t enough. We used paint by the oil drum load and chopped, sanded and destroyed a small forest in our attempts to make the tenth anniversary of “Winter Wonderland” a success.
            But through all that hard work and tireless hours of frustration, laughter and brian-storming sessions we never truly looked at the project as a whole. At least I didn’t. Instead we tried to stay focused on the task at hand, whatever that task was. And, we tried to make sure we were proud of what we had accomplished, so much so that in some cases, we scrapped the project just before it was complete to start over from bare wood and metal. Our view as a collective was myopic at best. Our endeavors were rarely interrupted because we are known to be a surly lot when asked to divert our efforts to a task somewhat less important. Even people whom my department has little to do with knew better than to try and steer us off course, but a few times, we were sidetracked. Usually because we had been ordered to from someone higher up the food chain, in those rare instances, we did what had to be done and did it quickly and quietly.
            Although, this one time, not too many weeks ago, some guy with an expensive camera, a nice set of clothes and a cameraman showed up and started to interview us peons. Yes, we are peons. We don’t make the decisions on a grand scheme, we work for others and at the will of others. We rarely are asked for input, just given an idea and when the task should be done. Then we go to work, like the shoemakers elves. No one ever really sees us doing what we do and we like it that way. Less interruption and more work. It keeps us happy, and we get to listen to whatever music we want. I usually choose AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Ceann or Bruce Springsteen. Others pick Dropkick Mruphy’s, Flogging Molly, Weird Al Yankovic, Bob Dylan and in one rare and disastrous attempt at humor, show tunes.(We almost mutinied when that happened but it only lasted for one minute, but it was an excruciatingly long minute.)
            Consider everything I just wrote a prologue, if you will… now on to the meat.
            This past Monday, like every Monday ten days before Thanksgiving we held our Annual Winter Wonderland Training session. A day that most of us in the Exhibit Department dread for the simple reason that we have spent at least five weeks setting up the display and months working on. The last thing we want to do is sit around and listen to others interpret what we’ve done. We feel, ok, I feel, that our work speaks for itself and stands alone.
            Everyone in the museums was invited and they all showed up promptly and descended like a hoard of locusts on the minor refreshments that were supplied. But, since my team had arrived first, we managed to stuff our faces and pockets like ravenous hoards from a failing third world country. Matter of fact, today I just finished off my last purloined granola bar and I must say, purloined granola is as delicious as it is nutritious. So, when the niceties were finished the people started talking. I found my mind wandering to the bullet list of minor chores that needed finishing and I made myself as invisible as I could as I walked through the crowd of fellow workers and did the tasks that needed to be done.  This of course is nothing new to me, I’ve done this for the past nine years and no one seems to think anything of it. Besides, how many times do I have to listen to the history of how the collection was amassed and obtained before I can recite it drunk, face down in a gutter outside a bar I’ve just been thrown out of in a foreign country?
            By the time I returned to the group they were getting ready for the walkthrough. My supervisor, myself and the other members of our team, rushed ahead of everyone and tuned on all the power strips to activate the lights, animatronic figures, disco ball, and trains of the second floor part of the tour. (Yes, I said DISCO BALL!) When the first members of the staff walked into the room with the sounds of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” blasting on the snow covered speakers their shocked expressions and look of awe and wonderment was uplifting to me, but I did not let it show. They all filed into the cavernous room that looked as if Christmas itself had vomited every kitschy idea it ever had into one space. The twinkle lights were twinkling, the trains were moving, the figures appeared alive and in some cases, the scenes themselves looked as if they had just been plucked out of a Currier and Ives print.
            I strolled behind people and listened to their comments, words like “Amazing, Awesome, Wonderful and Shocking” seemed to be on every ones lips. When everyone had walked through and over dosed on Christmas, the speeches started yet again. I knew what was going to be said so I tuned out most of the verbiage. If you want to know, then I will tell you as succinctly as I can “We’ve rearranged the second floor and tried to make the visitors concentrate on one scene at a time while maintaining a flow of BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH…” Ok? You get the gist of it too.
            We then headed down to the first floor, exhibits in the lead so we could get the scenes fired up and working before the rest of the staff poked their curious heads into what we had accomplished. The snow babies looked pristine in their white on white set with blood red cardinals perched gently on the white trees as the refurbished ferris wheel slowly turned. The penguins in their hats and mittens looked out of place with the eskimos as they built igloos to protect them from the walrus’s and seals that seemed to invade the South Pole. The elves looked busy building wooden toys as a giant rubber band airplane glided overhead and in the corner a wooden yo-yo the size of a birthday cake lay somewhat forgotten. Behind the busy elves, wooden blocks that spelled out “Send Cocoa” seemed to be a clear message to one and all that while work is important, hot cocoa cures the arduous long hours.
            Across from the busy elves, a hoe-down band of elves and trolls appear to be read to strike up some music to help alleviate the tension that comes from trying to fill want lists from good little girls and boys from around the world. Not too far from them, you can see some of Santa’s chosen few busy decorating a revolving tree that is being encroached upon by presents and dolls from another nearby tree. Off in a quiet corner, if you peer through squinted eyes you will see Santa fast asleep while a classic tin train slowly makes its way around his bed. He is guarded by many elves and a couple of bears so be careful not to wake him.
            All these scenes were greeted with the same joy and enthusiasm from our staff. I left the room and went outside. My quiet reverie was soon interrupted by the multitudes as they also came outside to get yet another speech from our gift shop manager. There, they learned what was on sale, what crafts they were going to do and of course watch a video on the history of the “Winter Wonderland and Coleman Collection”. I stood in the back and tried to be invisible. I failed.
            About twenty minutes into the video I head my voice and when I looked up I saw my face on the large flat screen monitor. I tried to make my way to the door but was stopped by several people. So I moved to the back of the room behind everyone only to discover that the people that were supposed to be watching the television were now looking at me in person and not me on a pixelated device. I scowled at them and they quickly turned around and finished watching the video.
            When the video was finished several people came up to me and said “Skip, I didn’t know you had a sentimental side.” Or “Wow, I didn’t expect that from you.” And “I don’t think you’re such a mean person now.” Those are things I don’t want to hear. My mind quickly hatched schemes to burn the disc, or lose it or even pay some crazed serial cat-burglar to come in and steal it, but I knew that it would only be replaced by another copy.
            The rest of the training… well, I can say this, I had other pressing matters to attend to so I missed it and any embarrassing mentions of my name associated with what was done. But I did come away from the training session with a very interesting perspective… People get what we do when they view the finished product and the look of amazement is all that I need or want from them. I don’t need platitudes or thanks. I just want them to enjoy the fruits of my labor and the labor of my fellow co-workers.
            Have a great Holiday Season and gorge yourself on turkey!

Monday, November 11, 2013


           It’s a powerful thing, fear that is. With this passing season of death and the coming season of slumber we have all taken some time to look into the eyes of the monsters that haunt us. For me though, fear does not come in the form of monsters and boogey men. Fear is a much more complex thing for me. I don’t fear the tangible as I once did in my youth.
            Youth, funny thing looking back at the formidable years of my making, I was once very afraid of heights. But, in 1976, while on the cusp of turning eight, I faced that fear by going to the top of the Washington monument with my mother and sisters. All the way up that long elevator I was nervous, scared and afraid the entire building would collapse or somehow I would fall out the window or someone would push me. Those feelings were laid to waste when my mother sensed my reluctance and leaned down to me and said “Skipper, do you really think they would allow us up here if it wasn’t safe?”
            I couldn’t argue with her, after all there were two park rangers in the elevator with us and two more at the top of the monument when we stepped out of the elevator and onto the observation deck.  Soon I was looking out all four sides of the monument with amazement and joy at the city below us. I didn’t want to leave and we stayed for as long as we could, my families patience was worn thin while I discovered my new found appreciation of heights.
            Years later, my mother’s comment gave me the bravery to ride roller coasters, jump dirt bikes, launch myself in an uncaring manner off of cliffs around the world and be seen by my peers as an almost reckless individual. Now, to be fair to my mother, there were other factors going on inside of me that made me do some pretty dumb shit during my teen years and even into my twenties, so much so that I almost died a couple times. Fear it seemed had been crushed beneath the words and successful experiences of my youth.
            Nowadays, when I’m in soulful conversations with friends and the subject of fear comes up, I usually say I’m not afraid of anything. I scoff at heights, fast speeds, quick drops and even spiders. To me fear has become a practice of control. This truth in me and how I live has given me an insight to myself I did not expect. You see, in all my excursions and adventures I knew there was control. Someone was at the control of the roller coaster, the construction of a building, or I was in control of my own body as I pushed it to its limits in the air, land or water. Even now, when I ride my Harley faster than the posted speed limits, I am in control. I know my machine and my machine knows me. And through all those times, control has been the wall that has kept the fear out.
            Losing that control is what I fear now. Everything in my life has been built with a sense of control. I don’t feel as if I’m losing my grip on it either, but I know one day it is bound to happen. Life is that way, the older you get the less your faculties are readily bent to your will and into your control. This is where the fear comes in. For some reason I feel as if I have less days ahead of me than I have behind me and the thought of losing my control over that which I’ve carved out has become a tangible monster in my life. And if I’m totally honest with myself and you my dear reader, there I times where I don’t even care about it anymore.
            I seem to be taking more pleasure from clouds that look like jelly fish, leaves that look as if they are on fire and the wind that stings my face and chills my legs as I race down the roads of my adopted city. Two of those things are beyond my control, one is. But the nature aspect of life has always been something that has brought joy to me, crunchy sounds beneath my boots in the fall as the hair from the skeletons that line the roads and country sides of our nation always bring a smile to my face. The crisp air and the surreal formations of frozen water and dust particles in the sky fascinate me and stoke the fires of my inner child. Sweeping winds making God’s music in the brief interludes of quiet send waves of tranquility to the core of my soul. I know I’m not in control and my fear sends waves of cracks into the walls of my life.
            We are all a dash in the history of mankind and what we have done in that dash is our legacy. The people we interact with and their perceptions of us are the epilogues of our journey. Lately those words have come to weigh upon me, words like surly, grumpy, obnoxious and rude. But there are also words like kind, generous and insightful. I don’t know what people will say about me when I succumb to my greatest fear or even if I become so feeble that I can’t even control my own bodily functions, but the only words that will matter to me are the words from the people I care about, the people I’ve been close to and with whom I’ve shared my secrets with.
            The outsiders in my life, well, I know they have plenty of things they can say about me, but you know, one of those outsiders said to me the other day “You take care of things, and that makes you better than most.” I thanked her and went about my day only to be haunted by them later. It was not an insight I was ready to receive but it was a truth I needed to hear.
            What happens when my fear comes to fruition? Will the bill collectors knock down my door? Will the trains stop running? Will the lessons I’ve tried to instill in my offspring slip down the stream of life like a piece of drift wood?
            I don’t know. I don’t want to know. For now, I have a firm hand on my fear but there are days when I feel as if it is slipping slowly away. As if all that I’ve been doing is wrong and there will be a day of reckoning in the future that will only leave me full of despair and loss. But then again I am fast approaching middle age and the warmth of the summer is gone now and so is the joy it brings.
            There is hope though, our season of celebration is soon to begin and the warmth of family events, good food and nights filled with laughter are on the cusp of the horizon. Moments that we will enjoy forever and memories that will be conveyed at times when darkness is upon us. So, I bolster myself, grab ahold of what I need to do next, lower my head and concentrate on the job in front of me. I tell myself “Fear be damned, I will do what is necessary to get this task done.” And my control is back.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Favor (Part Three, the end?)

            Okay, so I posted on Facespace not a few minutes ago, what people wanted to hear about and it was a total disaster. For Chuck a Gurkha, for Sue Winter Wonderland, for Bill bananafish are foul and for the rest of you… enjoy the ride.
            Normally, this time of year, I blog about how wonderful nature is in all its decaying glory, but today I received a text today informing me of a private message on my facebook page. I quickly cleared the message and told myself that I would check it later. Which I did, and now that I think about it, I should have ignored it, but you know, there are some things a person can’t ignore. This is one of those things.
            Now, if you, my dear reader have been keeping vigilant watch over my blog page, you know I was asked to act in a religious play not too long ago. I reluctantly agreed and found myself amongst some very nice people who, over the course of several weeks, endeared themselves to me. Do I miss them and the practice? Sort of. I don’t miss having one of the only two nights of my week taken up but I do miss the fun we had while practicing. No, we did not have crazy times like the band Guns and Roses listed in their liner notes of Appetite for Destruction. But I do miss seeing the friendly faces that greeted me easily and with no expectations in a joint effort that consisted of just us being in the same room with our only goal being “Just do the best you can.”
            Yup, that’s what I miss. The simple goal of doing what we believe is right and to the best of our abilities. The topic of our assembly is a joint agreement of faith that no one on this mudball could question. Although, in truth, if someone truly looked at me they would not see a person who wears his faith on his sleeve, no, they would see just some jerk in a leather jacket spouting earthy, fleshy quotes of those who’ve come before him.
            Back to the message.
            It is/was a request for me to come to the church where I performed as an actor and give a testimony of what I experienced.
            I was dumbfounded. Wordless. Lost in thought and in dire need of direction. I did the only thing I could do, I called my wife, only to get shoved into her voicemail. I thought about calling my pal Brian, but I knew what he would say. So I pocketed my phone and waited for a return call.
            It only took a half an hour before my wife called me back. What she told me was what I already knew.
            So now, I have an appointment on Sunday for not just a small photo shoot but also a time slot to give a speech. I’ve given the people in charge fair warning that I am a “What you see, is what you get.” Kind of person. I tried to emphasize that I may say things that may not want to be heard in a church type setting. They ignored or accepted that warning.
            In conclusion, I may or may not be damned by many or few people in the near future. But you know, that seems to be the daily walk for me in my life.
            Have a great week.