Friday, May 29, 2015

Packer Dreams

In 1923 the upstart football team called the Green Bay Packers offered the citizens of Green Bay the opportunity to purchase stock in the team to help keep the team from going bankrupt. In essence, they asked the people who loved the team to pay to keep the team going. It worked. Instantly turning a private charter which was owned by local businessmen into a publicly owned and loved franchise for the rest of its existence.
            Then in 1935 the organization needed to raise more money, so they sold more stock. For the second time in history, this idea worked. Fifteen years later, in 1950, they sold more stock, this worked as well. Then, forty-seven years later at the height of a resurgence of Packer fever, a new and shiny Lombardi trophy, the Packers once again sold stock to raise money for stadium renovations. This worked so well, the stadium was added on to and finished in record time. Lastly, in 2011, the organization did it again. For stadium renovations again. This worked as well as much as the other offerings.
            The citizens of Green Bay and the rest of Wisconsin love their team so much that they have no problem answering the cowbell call of assistance whether the team was succeeding or failing. I was lucky enough to be able to purchase one share of the stock in its 1997 offering. A small piece of paper that I’m extremely proud of, yet it was a piece of paper I’d seemed to have misplaced over six years ago.
            When my wife asked me to help her go through some boxes in our spare bedroom/junk room, in order to find a misplaced piece of paper she was looking for I balked at first. The last thing I wanted to do was to stand in a room, pick up a box of books or pictures or clothes or kitsch or who-knows-what but then I thought the better of it and went spelunking through our history. A history that was piled up in a dozen boxes with no labels on them. I didn’t find what she was looking for but I did promise I’d go into the attic and look in the boxes we’d stashed up there.
            It took me several days to get into the attic, when I did, it was a cool early morning. I climbed the ladder, pushed the door aside and poked my head into the dusty, musty dried out space. The heat was still an hour away from melting my brains. I knew I didn’t have long so I crawled to the front of the house over Christmas boxes, small chairs and bags of stuffed animals.
            For the next forty-five minutes I tore open more boxes of books, clothes and just crap I can’t understand why I still have. I suppose it’s because I had no clue as to what was up there. When the mercury rose to an almost unbearable level, with sweat rolling down my face and neck I was about to leave. That’s when I saw the first of four large blue boxes. Boxes I hadn’t seen in years but were very familiar to me. I opened the first one and saw my feelings were not wrong.
            My Green Bay Packer memorabilia. Sorted, stored and tucked away for over six years. Every artifact wrapped with care and tenderly placed inside containers so they’d never deteriorate. I knew then I had to go through them all until I found my elusive piece of shareholder paper.
            It was in the third container. Wedged in its glass frame between two super bowl plaques, I gently pulled it out so as not to break the glass or cut myself on the edges of the glass. When I looked at it, it was no worse for wear. No fade marks, no water marks and no chew holes from critters large or small. I smiled. Wiped the sweat from my brow and placed the frame on the furnace so I could close the box back up. I then made my way downstairs, drank 100 ounces of water and realized I stunk to high heaven and it was time for another shower.
            Hours later, when my wife arrived home I told her I’d spent the day looking for her paperwork and I found something special. Her face lit up with hope thinking my hint was for her. When I held up my framed stock certificate, she frowned a bit and shook her head. I apologized for not finding her papers but told her this particular piece of paper had a history that goes deeper than sitting in a classroom for several years learning to recite cases and understand contracts and all that other mumbo jumbo that involve an entire profession of men and women who wear suits most every day.
            No, this paper is earned through a lifelong love of a sport, a state, a town and a team whose history goes back almost a hundred years and whose players and tactics change. Win or lose you love them. Good years, and bad decades you love them. You need them in your life and you can recite the greats like the Pope can recite Cardinals.
            Yes, my team and the fact that I am one of thousands of owners is like a religion to me. As I am sure it is for most of the owners. Going to Lambeau Field is like walking into the Vatican. Meeting the coach, current players and Hall of Fame players is a holy experience. Yes, I know these are just men who put their clothes on the same way I do, but I can say this with all honesty; Church has never been as entertaining to me as a Sunday in Green Bay.
            My stock is now hanging on my wall in my office, I can look at it and feel as if I am an actual part of the great men who helped build my franchise. A franchise in the smallest venue of the NFL. A franchise that will never move because if the NFL tries to do so, they have to buy all of our stock back and all of that money will go to the local VFW. Which I think would be cool. How big of a building can a billion dollar franchise purchase for our vets? That would be ridiculous.
            Okay, I could go on and on about the nostalgia I feel for my team and my hometown but the day is getting late and I’m sure I lost most of you readers in the second paragraph.

Have a great week.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Comics... our Future

            In the early 1970’s my parents bought a new house in a new subdivision of Green Bay. It was needed, after all, at the time, there were three kids and two adults living in an 800 square foot shotgun shack. We were more than cramped. So, they did what any caring parents would do and moved us to a larger home. Away from our friends and familiar surroundings.
            It took almost two weeks before I found someone in the neighborhood that was my age and had similar interests. Albiet… one big difference.
            His name was Mark, I’ll never forget him. He was scrawnier than I was, same age as me and yet, he had a more firm grasp on his place in the world than I did. When I asked him how he knew so much about things he didn’t answer. He just walked away and motioned for me to follow.
            We ended up in his bedroom and he pulled a torn and tattered box out from under his bed and handed me my first comic book. It was a Spiderman comic. One of many where Peter Parker fights Doc Oc. I was enthralled. Smitten. Worse yet, over the next four hours spent in silence, where we did nothing but read, I became an addict.
            Mark had a huge collection of comics. Spider Man, Batman, Superman, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, The Hulk and many more I can’t even begin to think of. I remember not caring too much for Superman, but the Batman and Spiderman books were fascinating. I read those faster than I could comprehend the morals of the stories.
            Over the next few years, Mark and I became close friends, not just sharing comics but also a love of building things. Soap box racers, bikes, forts, and launch ramps for skateboards. Eventually he moved away. I was heartbroken. But I found more friends. Friends who had no interest in comics but an interest in building things and adventure.
            I took those friends into my life and we had many excursions into life. Lessons taught to us through experience and not through the colored pages of cheap magazines. Magazines found at spinner racks of the drug store or even the grocery store. Yup, I put the comics behind me.
            Until I joined the Navy, then I discovered more comics. I spent endless hours reading them in my rack. Most of them were compliments of a pal of mine who had a footlocker full of them. He also seemed to be able to get them through mail order. They arrived in plain, brown paper wrappers and most guys speculated he had an unnatural affliction for pornography. This was not the case. Nope, he had an affliction for well written stories with colorful artists who’d spend endless hours making sure the graphics matched the tales. I was honored to be one of the few who was able to borrow these books.
            Flash forward to today… 2015, comics are everywhere. The biggest movies in the theatres, the conventions, the culture and even the clothes of today all herald the rise of the geeks. The kids who back in the seventies and eighties sat alone in their rooms and read the colorful splash pages of cheap books have taken over the world. (Thank you Joss Whedon).
            I’m happy to see this. I don’t feel so alone. Matter of fact, there are nights where I crawl into my bed and my teenage daughter crawls in beside me and we do nothing but read comic books. Her choice, Batgirl, my choice Batman.
            On television there are at least four shows that descends from the comics or have comic references. The movies we go to are based on comics and I know that in our future a comic convention will be attended by the two of us.
            The stories, the morals, the ethics and the love of all things good versus evil in the pages of inexpensive tomes will finally come to fruition. I try to teach her about the men and women who helped make this possible but she is only interested in how Batgirl kicks the shit out of the next villain. Or, how Barbra Gordan and Dick Grayson will wind up their next date. I couldn’t be more proud of her.
            Yes, the geeks and nerds have a strangle hold on this world for now. Right versus wrong seems to be a popular theme in our country right now and what better way to tell a story than through the medium of comics. It is glorious.
            Yet, I’m sure as the day is long, eventually, those types of stories will get tired and worn out. No matter how unique and wonderful they are. After all, everything is cyclical. Including our movie appetites. Yet, for now, I’m happy to take my offspring to the films, read beside her the adventures between the pages and share a love for all that is dark, colorful and based on good versus evil.
            Sure, my favorite villain will always be the Joker; my favorite hero the Batman with Spiderman coming in a close second, yet I can only hope and pray that my daughter and future generations will see great stories and there teachings the writers and artists portray between the pages of comics.
            Yet I can’t foresee a future where villains will change, heroes will change and our taste as Americans in the film world won’t change. It is after all, the nature of things. The land of our life is for the living, not for the soon to be expired. We are here for a brief period and our only hope for influence is teaching those that will come behind us what is important and what matters. I hope I have done this within my life as I hope you have done the same within yours.
            Yet, for the time being, I have a stack of comics to get through, Batman mostly. So I hope you don’t mind… I’m going to go read for a while.

            Have a great week.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Nostalgia comes Home

Six years ago my family moved. We were evicted from our rental house not because we were delinquent on rent but because the owner lost his own home in the housing crash. We understood, a bit reluctantly, we found a home to buy and moved. Now, as you know, moving is a total pain in the ass. You end up boxing up all your valuables and possessions and throwing away a metric ton of stuff you never knew you had.
            When you finally get moved and unpacked, inevitably, you find that there are some items missing. In my case, a lot of my lost memories. My Navy records, my cruise books, my cruise jackets and more. Four years of my life gone in the blink of an eye.
            I searched unpacked boxes, storage containers and tossed the house from attic to basement. It was a search that turned up nothing but dust bunnies and lonely memories. It took some time but eventually I came to terms with my loss. I understood that all I had left were memories and I enjoyed what fleeting thoughts the ether of life sent to me whenever it sent them to me.
            Even when talking with old shipmates and languishing in the shenanigans of our youth I relished in their take on our adventures. In turn, I shared my own perspective with them. Yet all of us longed for physical proof of our internment with the United States Navy. Some shipmates had a plethora of evidence of their service, but most of us had nothing but some snapshots and our own skewed memories.
            Until today. You see, my wife, who decided it was a good time to root through a mountain of boxes we keep in our spare bedroom, discovered a box with all of her high school year books and other early to mid-1980’s memorabilia. That’s when she called to me for help. I reluctantly trudged my way up the stairs to aid her. I did what she needed and then a flash of blue and red caught my eye. My heart leapt and my stomach plummeted.  I knew these colors. I’d longed for these tomes. I reached my hand down to the bottom of the box quickly and felt the supple leather of the books and immediately knew my long lost past had somehow survived. I pulled the tomes from their dark home into the light and was lost in joyous thoughts of a less stressful and na├»ve time in my life.
            Not only were my cruise books intact but my bootcamp book was there as well. As I looked up into my brides face I saw her concern for her own quest but I couldn’t help becoming self centered on my discovery. I turned to look back down into the box to see if any more treasures were waiting for me, but my gaze was stopped short of the box by a torn bag, a flash of color sewn onto wool stopped me from delving deeper into my treasure chest. Yes, I thought, yes, here is more evidence of my previous life. I reached into the bag and pulled out not one but two of my cruise jackets. Jackets adorned with patches of flags from countries I’d visited. Jackets embroidered with places I’d been. My brain was awash with long lost visions of a younger me filled with angst, pride and arrogance.
            I took ahold of those garments in one hand, my books of memories in the other, kissed the cheek of my wife and walked away. I was so filled with nostalgia that I couldn’t bear to be so emotionally naked in front of anyone. I took my treasures to the dining room. Spread them out on the table and paged through them. Trapped inside the books were certificates and tattered paper that held trials and tribulations of a time long past. In the pockets of the jackets I found more patches of my excursions. I quickly took photos and texted them to the men I knew who would find them as amazing as I had. I then posted some of them on facebook.
            After a while, I sat down on my couch and slowly flipped the pages of each book. Each page bringing forth a new long lost gem of my past. Showing me a facet of my life I’d forgotten long ago. Filling me with a longing for who I was and what I was doing. In other words, balancing me out for a brief period of time.
            I remember, back when I first signed the order forms for each book and jacket that I’d never really need them, that these were frivolous items that would mean nothing to me in the future. Then again, those were the thoughts of a young man, barely nineteen years old.
            Today, these items are invaluable. They are as precious to me as the first pictures of my daughter. I cherish these baubles of life and I can’t believe it has taken me almost forty-eight years to actually appreciate the past endeavors of my life.
            But I am grateful, I am honored and I am overwhelmed by the memories of the men I served with and I hope that one day, in your own way, you too will be able to travel down the road of your life and be as fulfilled with your own memories in some tangible way.
            Thank you Sue, for giving me back a part of my life I’d thought was lost in some landfill in a dismal swamp filled with flesh eating crabs and hillbilly’s.

            Have a great week.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Rust Bucket

In the mid-1970’s, when my pals and I weren’t playing baseball, riding skateboards off of ramps or traversing the ever expanding city of Green Bay on our bikes, hanging out at Lambeau field, trying to figure out the weirdness of girls or even try and kill each other with our BB guns, we’d hang out in one of the ever disappearing empty lots and fields in our neighborhood. Truth be told, with the expansion of residential construction we had to travel further away from our normal haunts, which is where we discovered “the car”.
            Now, mind you, we weren’t even teens, obsessed with girls, games, guns, bikes, boards and cars. So, when we stumbled upon a rusted out hulk of mid-1960’s rusted American steel sitting not five feet from the East river, we immediately claimed it as ours. Truth be told, the car was more a tetanus factory than a car. The hood was missing as was the engine, there were no tires or axels, half the trunk hatch was missing, as if it had been ripped off by Godzilla. The front passenger door was gone as was the rear drivers door. Not a single window existed yet evidence of them once being there littered the ground and inside of the car. Lastly, there were no seats in it. Oddly enough, the steering wheel was present and most of the dash, except where the glove box should have been. That part of the dash looked as if a grizzly bear had tried to eat it. Big slashes and holes all over the place and what looked like dried blood. We convinced ourselves it was most likely paint or rust.
            My pals and I, Jimmy Finnegan (Fin) and Al Minnow (Fish), drug some logs inside the car so we could take turns sitting behind the wheel pretending to drive. Fin pulled out his transistor radio and turned it on. WIXX the ROCK on the shore of lake Michigan, a local rock and roll station was blasting Aerosmith “Toys in the Attic”, we all sang along as Fish, who was behind the wheel shouted out imaginary destinations. “New York, Times Square, COMING UP! Now headed for sunny Southern California via the Grand Canyon. Make sure the turbo thrusters are ready for firing we don’t want to end up like Evel Kenivel.”

            “Aye, aye Cap’n.” I shouted and flipped imaginary switches on the dash. “Turbos charged and ready for firing.”
            “Cap’n, we have reports of bad weather, we’re going to have to scrub the jump.” Fin shouts over Steven Tyler’s screams.
            “Screw the weather, there are girls in bikini’s on the other side of that overgrown ditch. We’re gonna jump or die trying. Skip…. Ready to fire in 3…2…1… FIRE!!!!”
            All three of us pretended as if we were weightless and looked out the empty holes where windows should be. Instead of seeing the overgrown grass and weeds, we saw dust, dirt, desert and the gapping maw of the Grand Canyon. We felt the wind in our hair, the g-force of the thrusters as we sailed over the largest hole on earth.
            We landed safely, albeit a bit roughly and we laughed and elbowed each other as we fell off the log and into the back of the car. Reality making it’s ugly presence known in the form of fly’s buzzing around our head and the sloppy sound of the East river in front of us. Still, we were euphoric from our fantasy.
            Over the course of a few days, we turned that old Chevy into our fort. We brought in blankets to sit on. Some tools like hammers and pliers to bend sharp points of metal into angles that wouldn’t puncture our skin, fishing gear and comics. Every day we’d use that beat up piece of junk to escape our troubles. The Chevy took us to places like Italy, Florida, California, Alaska, Ireland and even the Moon. No geographical boundaries could stop us. If we thought of it, we could get there.
            Then, after two weeks, the car disappeared, leaving only behind a dead grassy area where it had once sat. All around the spot the grass and weeds were waist high. But where the Chevy had been, just dirt and dead grass as if some sort of rectangular foot had stepped out of the sky and left a strange mark on the face of the earth. We were all confused.
            I saw our stuff first. It was piled up about three feet from where the front passenger door should have been. That is, if the Chevy had had a front passenger door. Our blankets were folded neatly in a pile. On top of the blankets were our tools, comic books and fishing rods. Next to the blankets was the tackle box.
            Our fort had been stolen. Stolen right out from under our noses and the only thing left behind was our personal gear. Left behind like it wasn’t good enough to steal but a rusted out piece of crap car was. We slowly gathered up our stuff and headed home. None of us in the mood to talk because we all felt the same way… like we’d had something important stolen from us and there wasn’t a damn thing we could do about it. We were helpless. It sucked. There was no justice and no peace for us. Only memories, great memories truth be told.
            Which is sort of where I am right now, while I remember those days with great fondness and joy, I just don’t connect with who I was back then. I don’t associate with the 12 year old kid I was. No, instead… I feel more of a connection with that beat up, rusty, missing almost everything that’s important piece of crap Chevy. I suppose I identify with it because of all the aches and pains I feel in my body. Of all the missing pieces I feel are readily identifiable in my life and with just how useless I can sometimes feel about my path on this journey.
            Yet, you know, thinking about it now… in a way, that old Chevy gave us three some great times in its last days in our lives. Memories and experiences that I hope will last the rest of my lifetime. Even when I’m really old and have swiss cheese for a brain. That useless piece of metal had an impact in my life.
            As I sit here, looking at a piece of paper in my hands, a paper that lauds the impact I have had in other people’s lives, people I don’t even remember I feel even more like that inanimate object.
            How do we know what impact we are making on others? I mean, certainly not during the act of the impact. Nope, it’s not until much later we realize others have impacted us and we’ve impacted others. For good or bad. That is what happens. Those are the memories we hold onto and those are the influences that help us become who we are. It’s a weird revelation to come to just by thinking about an old car from over thirty years ago. But if one rust bucket can bring a smile to my face, then maybe this old rust bucket can bring a smile or two to others before he disappears forever.

            Have a great week.