Friday, October 31, 2014

High School Confidential

            It is the last day of October, the air is cool, and the streets are filled with super-heroes, zombies, mad-scientists, princesses and snowmen. This year, instead of sitting on my porch, smoking cigars and handing out candy to the creatures of the night, I attended my daughters first High School Homecoming. It was a bit odd, to have a Homecoming football game on Halloween, but, truth be told, it was completely appropriate. Especially since her school colors are orange and black. Which added to the whole feel of the night.
            The schools clubs even had a “Safe Trick or Treating” event. My daughter, a member of the film club, helped set up her booth, provided candy and dressed up as “Sandy” from the movie “Grease” and her current boyfriend dressed up as “Danny”. At first I was a bit confused about the costumes but then I remembered going to the theatre with my mom when the film first came out, I recalled the homecoming scene in the movie. You know the one, where it was homecoming and Sandy was dressed in her cheerleader costume and meets Danny again for the first time since summer? Yeah, that one. That’s when the costume made a lot of sense to me.
            To get back on subject… I believe in my high school career I only attended two homecoming games. My freshman year at my first high school, where the game was held during the day and followed by a dance after. Then I went to a homecoming game my senior year at my third high school. I spent most of the time at that game under the bleachers with my buddies smoking and drinking. Afterwards we went to a house party. No dance, no watching of the game and a total lack of school spirit.
            What I do remember, or should I say, my primary memory of those two events was the concession stand food. The rubbery hot dogs that were too hot and overcooked sitting in a soggy bun. Then to help kill the over salted taste of the meat tubes you’d end up dumping as much ketchup, mustard and onions on it just to fool your palette into thinking you were eating something else. Then there was the luke-warm soda pop in a three ounce cup followed by the cold, stale and once again over-salted popcorn.
            In order to get these glorious gastronomic treats you’d have to stand in a line fifty people deep and hope no one tries to jump in front of you. Back then, in the early to mid-eighties, I was about five foot four inches tall and weighed a whopping one hundred and fifteen pounds, was unable to stop anyone from jumping in front of me. But it wasn’t just my size, I was a bit shy, unless directly confronted. So I kept my mouth shut, my head down and waited… and waited… and waited. After all, I always seemed to be the new kid in town, or in school and pretty much anywhere I went. However… I always seemed to find a good party, filled with greasers, stoners, jocks and wall-flowers. I got along with them all, yet never really fit in with any of them. After all, there was no place for a motorcycle loving, camping all summer, partying, rocker with an affliction for reading to fit in. Nope. There sure wasn’t.
            Fast forward to today, as I sat in the bleachers, making snide comments that bordered on the rude and perverse and bringing laughter to the one or two people who could hear me, I reflected upon those long lost days of my youth.
            A youth filled with pain, loss, laughter, great rock music, constant moving and a sense of total alienation. I don’t really feel that way now. Those feelings disappeared when I was in the Navy. That’s where I learned your past doesn’t matter and that when people ask you questions about who you are and where you are… you don’t have to tell the truth, nor do you have to lie. All you have to do is give cliff notes and deflect the answer and let the questioner fill in the blanks and then you just have to sit back and let the tales get taller as they get passed on down the line.
            About this time in my train of thought I looked over at my daughter, she was huddled up in her pink ladies jacket, and under the arm of her boyfriend. They were talking, laughing and drinking hot chocolate. She didn’t appear to have any of the awkwardness I had, nor did she display any of the disenfranchised emotions I had at her age. Nope, she was enjoying her first homecoming and absorbing all the craziness a homecoming football game has to offer.
            The cheerleaders screaming and dancing and totally distracting the onlookers from the extremely amateur game being played on the gridiron. The costumed kids walking by in all sorts of modern character driven extremes. One kid, dressed in a green nylon suit from head to toe must have walked by us thirty times. There were a few zombies, a couple super heroes and even though the temperature was a tepid forty-eight degrees, some kids were barely wearing any clothes at all. Shorts and t-shirts were in abundance. (I believe there will be a large population of my daughter’s school whose kids will be sick next week.)
            One of the biggest differences I discerned was the lack of participation from the high school bands. Back in my day, the bands were everything. The marched the field, they played loud and crazy when the home team scored. And they definitely were the biggest instigators of crowd noise during the game.
            Yeah, there was none of that. They were present and even sitting in the bleachers, but I didn’t hear one single note come from any of their instruments. However, there was a DJ. He was sitting in the announcer’s booth playing hip-hop music so loud my teeth were rattling. I didn’t hear a single common sports song. No “Crazy Train”, no “Rock and Roll Part 2” and no school fight song. Nope, instead we were accosted with club music. The cheerleaders were happy to bump and grind to these tunes. Their gyrations made me feel a bit uncomfortable because the last time I saw girls dance like that was in a club, overseas, with chrome plated poles that went from the ceiling to the floor. Not at a High School football game.
            I guess I’m just getting old. I suppose that Mr. Jefferson was right when he said “The earth is for the living.” My life is past its half-life and I don’t think when I have a grandchild I will attend his or her homecoming game. I don’t think my ears could handle it, I don’t think my mind could handle the machinations of the younger generation and I know that the football being played will be so far away from where I’m sitting that I wouldn’t be able to see it.
            So, just prop me up on my porch, put a lighted cigar in my lips and let me drool uncontrollably as I attempt to curse at the kids walking in my front yard.
            Have a great week.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pre-Digital Holiday

            So, here it is a week before Halloween, the streets are filled with people moving to and fro dressed as ghouls, goblins, zombies, werewolves, vampires, cups of coffee, mad doctor’s, zombie killers and serial killers. The weather is cooler, the leaves on the ground crunch pleasantly under my boots and on television there is seemingly no end to any and all horror movies available to the young fear mongers and elder fear aficionados.
            It is truly one of my favorite times of year. Ghost stories abound as people light camp fires in their back yards and celebrate the ending of summer and the beginning of the end of the year. So what am I doing? For the past two weeks I’ve been carrying elves, Victorian figures, Christmas trees, train sets, sound systems and garland by the acre. Yup, I’ve been getting ready for the impending festival of green and red lights, mint flavored everything and an unabashed consumer mentality that borders on the obscene.
            It appears that I’m not the only doing this however; Nope, not at all. Two weeks ago when we started all of this, on a trip to the local big box hardware store, there were two aisles dedicated to the season of overindulgence. Yet, only one small display, not fifteen feet square for the night of the dead. It is a bit disheartening to me. I suppose it’s because I don’t have much time in my life now as I did when I was younger to immerse myself into the make believe culture of terrifying thrills.
            It’s not that I ever really dressed up in excess. Not like some folks. Nah, that wasn’t me. I just enjoyed people watching. Sitting back in a pub or at a party and marvel at the creativity people put into their costumes. I also enjoyed popping some popcorn, flipping channels to find a good or fun horror movie, or curling up with a nice scary book and in some cases, sitting by a campfire with friends and family telling ghastly stories and even some funny ones of days gone by.
            I suppose what I’m trying to say is that when I was younger, had too much time on my hands and not enough work and responsibility, I lived in the moment. Most of those moments were at this time of year. The time, in the Midwest, when all the farm work was pretty much done, food has been canned, dried, smoked and stored. The cords of wood, all chopped, split and stacked from one end of the house to the other and stood six feet high and four logs deep. Enough to keep the cold wind of Wisconsin winters from permeating the house.
            No matter where I went back then, during the fall season, I always seemed to end up surrounded by friends and sometimes family. Although some friends seemed like family and some family didn’t seem like any relation of mine at all.
            Then there were the Octobers where I spent with a special lady friend just curled up under a blanket on the couch, sipping beverages and watching the latest installment of Halloween, or Nightmare, or Zombie series. Nights that ended in sleeping with the lights on because she was a bit more afraid of the creepy crawlies than I. Nights where I had to call home and tell them I was not going to be home but instead I’m spending the night at a friend’s house.
            Of course, my memories also bring me to the days when I was a kid back in Green Bay, where me and my buddies would rush home from school, don our costumes, grab pillow cases and rush out to meet each other under the street light just to go door to door demanding candy in exchange for not egging the house once the darkness set in. After our initial round, we would switch costumes and head out again. After all, most folks would remember a five foot tall Lone Ranger and a four foot five tall Batman, but when you look and see a five foot tall Batman and a four foot five tall Lone Ranger, they readily give more candy. Then again, maybe they did know and just didn’t care.
            Then later, sitting in our basement, our candy splayed between our legs the trading began. No one wanted the gum, everyone wanted the Snickers and only one or two wanted the 3 Musketeers. Yeah, we swapped our goods and no one ever fought about it. We respected each other tastes. Although one of our crew loved the Pixie Stix, while the rest of us thought they were the worst damn things in the world. His name was Ricky and he would give away whatever he could to get every tube of powdered color sugar he could get his hands on. We were more than happy to give it to them.
            Yup, I have plenty of fond memories of this time of year. As well as a yearning to make more. To experience more, to fill the void in my heart for this time of year. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon. How could it? As a man in the middle age of his life, much like most people at this station, there are bills to pay, plays to see, work to perform and four hours of rest to get to each day.
            Hell, in this world of instant information, streaming videos, dvr’s, gratification of anything you want at the tip of your fingers, shouldn’t we have more time to live? Wasn’t the information age supposed to simplify our lives? Give us more freedom? Not constrict our lives to the point where you can barely breathe without being charged data usage rates by some cellular company, information delivery system or satellite or cable service.
            Which brings me to another point, or epiphany, I believe that is what I miss, yet in some strange way I seem to be a part of the greater problem. After all, I spend time writing these blogs and communicating with you instead of seeking out the things I miss from my life before the digital age and the age where Christmas had yet to take hold of the American people as soon as the school year starts.
            Maybe, one day in the hopefully near future, we as a group of disgruntled consumers, horror fans, family units and all around citizens have had enough, we will stand up and with one great voice shout “Enough!” We want our holidays separate yet equal. Give us time to enjoy the moments that lead up to the holiday without forcing the next one, two or three down our throat. No more commercials for car sales, furniture sales, toy sales, and clothing sales to celebrate a holiday whose roots are anything but commercial. After all, to me at least, each holiday is supposed to be a time of reflection for that particular event.
            Of course these are just the reflections and opinions of a middle aged man who sits on his porch hoping and praying he gets to yell at some kid to get off his lawn.

Have a great week and enjoy some good scary movies and stories.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Saturday Scares

            This weekend, on Saturday the 18th, I will giving my first and most likely last public reading of one of my stories. It’s not a long story, just a bit over sixteen hundred words. I can’t say I’m nervous about standing up in front a crowd of people, nor can I say I’m worried about my reading of the tale. I overcame any fears of speaking in front of a camera, or live audiences a long time ago. Hell, you can’t be an effective waiter, public servant or even a one-time actor if you have those issues.
            The thing that does give me pause is whether or not anyone will understand my story. Is it going to be scary enough? Creepy enough? Will it be too vague? Will anyone actually like it? Yeah, those are the things that make me second guess myself. Less than a handful of people have pre-read and edited this particular tale and they all liked it. Hell, I even like it. So much so that I wish I didn’t have a time limit and could sit down and expand parts of the story to see whether or not it has the makings of a short story or novella.
            Unfortunately there is not much I can do about the piece of fiction I’ve created because the person in charge of the reading has already accepted the tale as is. We are also not allowed to lengthen or make changes to our accepted works. This, from what I understand about these functions, is pretty much standard. I can’t say for certain those are how all the rules go for all readings, but for this one, the rule applies.
            That all being said, during my countless re-readings of the story out loud in an empty room, I’ve made certain tweaks so the story flows easier for the spoken word. Which is something new to me. I’ve never read aloud my tales and I’ve come to realize, when I do read aloud, I find many things I want to change. Nothing that would affect the stories plot or tone, but changes of audible flowing words. Clunky sentences I hadn’t noticed before have been rewritten so my tongue won’t stumble upon the recited words.
            This little epiphany got me thinking about how things are said in real life. Like conversations, body language and how communication in general works between people. It has given my mind a lot of food for thought so to speak. Sure, I’m still a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-cerebral-cortex kind of guy. I’m known for saying inappropriate things at the inappropriate times and that bothers me not one iota. But it has given me a certain… leash, yes, leash on what I say to people and when I say it.
            So much so, today I had the opportunity to actually rip into someone and feel no remorse about it but instead of saying what I wanted to say, I substituted with something a bit less cruel. Then I walked away and realized what I had actually done. It surprised me a bit, but I chalked it up to growing older and wiser. (Yeah, right.)
            I guess what I’m getting at, the enlightened moment where my sharp edges have been softened over the decades so that I have become a more congenial was a surprise. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a long way away from being a civilized person, and there are moments where I want to verbally tear into someone so deeply that when I turn and walk away all that is left of them is a greasy sludge like creature with no hope for a decent life left in their eyes.
            Yeah, I’m getting softer as I step ever closer to my eventual demise. But I’m not as soft as some people half my age and I don’t think I ever will be.
            Finally, if you’re in the Hampton Roads area on Saturday night, stop on by the Portsmouth Arts and Cultural Center and hear several stories that will hopefully haunt you until the day you die.

            Have a great week.

Monday, October 6, 2014


You ever have one of those days? You know the kind, where you wake up feel rested and ready to face the day. Take care of all the chores, and when done relax in your favorite way? Yeah, that was me this morning. I woke up knowing I would get the bathroom cleaned, the dishes done and change the burned out tail lights in the Jeep.
And this is where it all went wrong. I knew it was going to be a relaxing and easy day. And this is how it all went down…
Instead of taking the Jeep up to the parts store to get the light bulbs I figured I’d take my motorcycle, Bernadette. But when I went to start her, she wouldn’t turn over, so I pulled out the jumper cables and used the Jeep to get her started. I let Bernadette idle for a bit, then I went for a ride, instead of going right to the parts store I pulled into the Chick-Fil-A drive through for an egg, sausage and cheese biscuit. I then drove to the parts store with my breakfast stuffed inside my leather jacket. At the parts store, I parked in a parking spot, put Bernadette into neutral and let her idle why I ate my breakfast.
Now, this is my second attempt at digesting a Chick-Fil-A breakfast biscuit and I have to say it was awful. The biscuit itself was soggy and undercooked, the egg was tough, the sausage seemed undercooked and I believe they use Velveeta cheese instead of American. After two bites I tossed three quarters of the disgusting, over-priced meal into the bottom of the bag and ate the hash browns that came with the meal. Those little Betties, were awesome. When I finished those crispy spuds I stuffed all the trash into the bag, turned my ride off and went into the parts store just a few minutes before 8:30.
In less than five minutes I had the bulbs and was paying for them. The clerk at the counter looked at my leathers and my helmet and asked “What sort of Harley do you have?”
I answered “2013 1200XL Custom.”
“I ride a ’73 Shovel.”
“Why a Sportster?”
What ensued was ten to fifteen minutes of biker talk. I won’t bore you with the details because unless you’re a biker, most of what we spoke of would be Greek to you. Needless to say, we bonded. His name is Matt and damned if he didn’t know his shit. From bikes to four wheel vehicles, he was on top of his game.
When I left, I knew I’d made a friend who travels on two wheels and would have my back in any bar in America. When I got to Bernadette, I stuffed the light bulbs in my jacket pocket, put the key in the ignition and turned it, flipped the start button, waited for the injectors to inject and then hit the start key. What followed was just a loud set of clicks. No ignition, to engine turn over, no rumbling and low thumping and beautiful aroma of American made pipes kicking out the sensual scent of exhaust.
I hung my head. Shook my head. And pushed the start button again. Same results.
I took my key out of the ignition, dismounted Bernadette and walked back into the parts store. I walked straight to where Matt was standing talking to a customer, I ignored the three other employees and there salutations. When Matt finished with his customer, I told him what happened. He grabbed a battery charger and we went out to try and jump start my ride.
It didn’t work. The battery, not two years old was kaput. Matt assured me he had a replacement. We went inside and $120.00 bucks later, I held in my hands a ten pound motorcycle batter as Matt pushed a cart full of tools out the door.
Two and a half hours later, Matt walked away frustrated. My old battery was still stuck in the battery box, the instructions for replacing the battery had been followed by the two of us yet the battery refused to be removed. I sat there, frustrated, upset and close to getting a jaws-of-life to cut the damnable and useless plastic dry-cell from the frame.
That’s when I thought to myself “What would I do if I were at the museum and had to trouble shoot an exhibit that had no instructions?”
Five minutes later, the old battery was sitting on the ground next to the new battery. However; the new battery was taller, wider and the terminals were on the opposite sides. It was the wrong battery.
I took both plastic cased energy sources back inside the building and showed Matt the differences. He quickly tried to find a battery similar to mine. He failed and reimbursed me my money. I called for a ride to the Harley dealership. Once there, I spent another $120.00 bucks on the proper battery. Back at the parts store, within five minutes I had the new battery installed. The only problem, the battery housing cover wouldn’t snap back into place. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I smacked the metal plate, nothing worked. So I tucked the plate into my jacket and drove the mile and a half up to the dealership. After thirty minutes of waiting my bike was road worthy.
By the time I got home it was 1:30 in the afternoon with only a few minutes to get the bulbs changed and go pick my wife up from her appointment that her father took her to earlier in the day.
Now if you’ve never changed the tail-lights in a Jeep then you’re in for quite an experience. Torque screws and plastic retaining pegs make it a delicate and time consuming evolution. Which I performed as quickly and delicately as possible.
So quickly in fact I had enough time to consume a Red Bull and sit on my porch trying to decompress from a day full of aggravation, comedic errors, lost nuts and bolts along with endless hours of head scratching.
While my day was consumed with all the negativity of a pessimist giving a speech to the deaf ears of congress, I managed somehow to survive. I completed one very important task. Even if I didn’t clean the bathroom or do the dishes. The lights got replaced and my motorcycle received a new battery.
I was rewarded with fried food and a watered down soft drink for my endeavors. Which is better than no reward at all.
Lastly, while I was riding Bernadette to my part time job tonight, I made a deal with myself. It went like this “Skip, no matter what happens, no matter what is said, no matter how poorly you may be treated tonight, nothing and I mean NOTHING will top the comedy of errors and the level of frustration you experienced during the daylight hours. So put on a smile, laugh at the grim tidings of people who’ve had equally bad days and try to bring just a bit of joy into their lives.”
And you know what? It worked. During my shift, I was cheerful, I spoke with my coworkers, I chatted up my customers and I had a good night. Matter of fact, I’m still in a good mood. Which leads me to believe in the old adage “Attitude is everything.”
Have a great week.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Growing too Fast

            It is a very interesting night for me. Interesting in the fact that I’ve been forced once again to grow as a father. It’s not something we fathers like to do. Nope, as a matter of fact, in my experience from speaking to all fathers of daughters, we don’t like to let our children grow up. More to the fact, our daughters. We want to keep the innocent little princesses they have always been. But time, age and the unstoppable forces of nature are beyond our control.
            Tonight, my offspring of fourteen years is out on her first official date. I’m not a fan of it. How could I be? After all, I remember when I went on my first date. I was thirteen and I took my then girlfriend to see Convoy with Kris Kristofferson. I paid for the tickets, soda pop, popcorn and even ice cream afterwards. There was no parental supervision whatsoever. During the movie, I put my arm around Rhonda, which is her name. Rhonda. My first date. The first of many things for me. She was almost two years older than me and to this day I don’t understand what she saw in me.
            Of course this all took place in another century in a decade of overindulgence and decadence. To be honest, I never met Rhonda’s parents, nor did she meet my mother. I didn’t ask permission to take her out. We just did it. To be honest, we should never even have gotten into the movie because we were underage, but back in the 1970’s, ticket sellers had a pretty relaxed view about MPAA ratings. They just cared about money. It probably helped that I tipped the elderly, blue haired ticket seller five bucks. Which back then was enough for a six pack of beer and a pack of smokes.
            Now, thirty-six years in the future from my first date, my daughter is out on her first date. And my how things have changed. The boy who asked her out was vetted by my wife, as was his parents. And, while the boy is two years older than my daughter, the date is being chaperoned by her parents and the date is taking place at his family’s church. Which is showing a religious movie.
            I doubt this boy will try to recreate my first date. Hell, when I looked him in the eyes as him and his parents picked up my daughter, I saw nothing but fear and healthy respect of the large, hairy man dressed in Harley Davidson leathers and holding a motorcycle helmet. I would have it no other way.
            After all, I spent years trying to have a child and I’ll be damned if anyone will negate the pain, suffering and money spent in trying to attain that elusive goal of passing on my Polish genes for posterity. I’ve chased away many young suitors over the past two years. I also have no qualms about chasing off more. It is a gift all fathers of little girls develop quickly. Usually as soon as they discover they are having a little girl.
            Why do they do this? Simple, they remember all the smack talk and shenanigans they pulled as young teenagers with raging hormones. We recognize our own. As adults we can respect other adults. But as an adult meeting a kid who is on a path of ill-gotten gains, we recognize the up and comers. That’s when our defenses kick in, our guns get cleaned and we find out which friend has access to a back hoe.
            None of us can go back in time and redo our first dates. Or for that matter any of our firsts. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’d want to. However, as a father of a daughter I can set up certain… road blocks. Make things a bit difficult for any would be suitors. Which I not only do at any chance I can but I also relish in the fear I instill in the boys that are brave enough to ask my daughter out.
            As for my offspring, she looked great. Remarkable. Even stunning. And, if I’m honest, she was more nervous than I was. Her stomach was all tied up in knots and her heart was beating faster than a butterflies. She even admitted to it. Also, for the fifteen minutes leading up to her being picked up, she didn’t leave my side. She held my hand, tightly. She hugged me and said she loved me over and over again.
            When her ride finally arrived, her nervousness grew exponentially. She tried her best to maintain her cool demeanor. I think she succeeded. Either that or the boy was so nervous he didn’t pick up on her nervousness.
            She got in the van with the boy and his folks, they left. I walked away. I was and still am conflicted. As a father, I know I will never be able to clip my daughter’s wings. Much like Daedalus and his son Icarus. You know, he told Icarus not to fly too high or the wax on his wings would melt and he would catch on fire and crash into the ocean. Yeah, Daedalus allowed his kid to fly, and warned him of the dangers, yet Icarus didn’t listen to his folks. He died. This is what all fathers try to avoid.
            We try to instill in our kids safety factors an lessons which we learned firsthand the hard way. Do kids listen? Rarely. I do think that there is minimal risk for my kid on this, her first official date. After all, it is at a church, I’ve spoken with her and there are chaperones. What could go wrong?
            This is the point where I’m going to shut my brain off to stave off all the mischievous, evil and vile thoughts my inner teenager can come up with.

            Have a great week.