Friday, August 26, 2016

The Visitor

At my primary job, you know the one, where I get paid to conserve, preserve and repair antique toys and trains? Yeah, that one, the one at the museum, well, we use radios to communicate to each other. I am part of the exhibits department there. Now, I am one of five exhibit personnel there and we are on a rotating schedule, meaning that at any time of any day of the week there are at least two of us present. So when something goes wrong on the floor or someone needs our services that person keys up their radio and says “Come in Exhibits.”
            This has been normal operating procedure for years. Occasionally, like when a visitor has a question about the trains or the train layout, I will get a personal call on the radio which goes something like this “Come in Skip.” This is nothing new. As a matter of fact, each person in my division gets an occasional call by their name if the floor staff knows that they are uniquely qualified to handle that particular issue or problem.
            So today, at 12:45 in the afternoon when my radio squawked “Come in Skip, Jesus is here for you.” I stopped what I was doing and looked down at the small black communication device and wondered “What the hell did I do now?” I slowly picked up the radio.
            I was sitting at my desk, typing away on accessioning records and elbow deep in research books on pre-world war II toy trains built by the American Flyer company. To say I was stunned at the radio in my hand would be an understatement. After all, how often does Jesus come visit you at your work? Well, unless you’re a member of the clergy, not often I bet.
            I keyed the microphone, “10-4, I’ll be right there.”
            What would you have said? “Tell Jesus to wait, I’m in the middle of something right now.”
            Nope, I stood up and headed towards my office door. Lots of thoughts crossed my mind as I took those 12 steps to the door, by the time I put my hand on the door knob I realized why Jesus was there to see me. I’d made an ad-hoc appointment for him to stop by earlier in the day without even thinking about it. Hell, I’d gone so far as to make sure my supervisor was cool with it. Which he was. That surprised me.
            When I got to the front, I saw an elderly man holding a small basket with Jesus in it. I smiled, introduced myself and took the basket from him and carried the baby Jesus to my office. Jesus didn’t complain, didn’t move, and didn’t do anything as a matter of fact. Simply because this was an animatronic baby Jesus that had stopped working. He is part of a nativity scene and the parish he belongs to wants him to move again.
            Over the next hour or so, through interruptions of co-workers who rarely come to my office but to see a person like me with Jesus must have laid their personal feelings aside just to see me and the Christian savior in the same room, I un-swaddled, unscrewed and removed any and all unnecessary parts of the figure. I was not mean, cruel or spiteful in my actions. Nope, I was professional and caring, after all, this particular model is over fifty years old and will break easily.
            I found the problems, repaired them, tested all the mechanisms and lubricated the moving parts as well as cleaned the new covenant up as best as I could. Then I added a better cooling system, a few support brackets, replaced his body, tested him some more, swaddled him and then put him back on test again. I left him there for the rest of the day. The little body in the basket waved his arms back and forth without stutter or jerk. I was happy and I knew others would be too.
            I looked up the number of the woman at the church who wanted him fixed and informed her of the good news. She was happy.
            Then, one of our staff members who is a minister pops into my office, I believe it was his first time ever in my office, and he wanted to have a look at what I had done and then informed me that no matter where I go, Jesus will always find me. I scoffed.
            But maybe it is true. After all, I have to say, I’ve been mired so deeply in listening to online courses on physics, astro-physics, higher mathematics, quantum mechanics and any and all science related material just to feed my lust for learning that I’ve begun to question everything. Look for proof where only faith can answer back.
            These thoughts made me sit down in my chair, lean back and stare at the ceiling while I tried to figure out not just where I stood in this world, this solar system, this galaxy, this universe, but where mankind stands as well.
            Our lives are short, almost insignificant to all that has been and will be, both personally and species wise. In that light, the greater expanse of things light, bills don’t matter, pressure doesn’t matter, and pettiness and anger don’t matter. All that matters is love and being in the moment. Creating bonds that will keep you happy until your last breath of life leaves your body.
            Of course that is easier said than done. However; whether you believe in Jesus or not, whether you think he is the savior of the world or just a prophet or even if he was just a really good and decent person, he cared about everyone and tried to make peace with everyone he came into contact with. As long as they were willing to treat him like person, he was willing to treat them with the same respect.
            And I think I can do that. Or at least try.
            I guess you could say, I had a really good visit with Jesus today, even though he did nothing but show up and let me clean his feet.

            Have a great week.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Forgotten Dreams of the Future

As an adolescent, I dreamed of running away. I dreamed of living on my own, off the wilderness and traveling freely. I read so many survival books, they seemed to have overtaken a shelf of their own on my bookshelf in my sparsely decorated room. Books on edible plants and foliage, books on how to make your own wilderness traps and books by Jack London all shared the same wooden shelf.
            I dreamed of escape.
            I dreamed of a life filled with learning.
            I dreamed of a life that is faced on my own terms. Where money didn’t matter, where relationships mattered and where I succeeded on my own merit and knowledge.
            Then, almost unwillingly, I joined the Navy.
            I suffered culture shock, homesickness, loss, and stared into the pit of loneliness.
            Those were my years of coming of age after being culturally sheltered from the world.
            My wanderlust and passion for discovering myself and this country waned. I don’t begrudge those years or what I learned but, now, looking back from where I am to where I was and what I wanted, I feel a sense of loss.
            My youth was filled with dreams of going to Alaska, traveling by boat to the Galapagos, seeing the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon. Enjoying all the sights, sounds and experiences this world has to offer. Most of all, I miss the passion for knowledge, the lust for learning and the energy for experiencing all that life has to offer.
            I’d like to say that I could point my finger at one person or incident in my life that knocked me off my course. But I can’t. Because by doing so would mean I would not be the man I am today. I wouldn’t have my daughter, my family or the ones who care about me most in my life.
            No, instead, I have become what I never wanted to become. I’m a man who is chained to the tasks of daily life in a prison so to speak. A prison built by my own hands out of love and concern for those closest to me.
            The dreams and passions of my youth have passed me by, so that I can try to make a better place for my progeny. So that future generations will have opportunities I cannot even fathom at this mid-stage of my life. I am but a cog in a great machine. A machine called life.
            Occasionally, like tonight, my young self rears its adamant and arrogant thoughts and demands an explanation. My answer is always the same. My daughter. My progeny. My future. And my living will to the world beyond me.
            Mr. Jefferson wrote that the land is for the living. That our constitution should be re-written every generation. I suppose that should go for us to, the living. The middle age and semi-wise. We are not here now for our own hubris. No, instead, we are here to ensure the future through our actions and ensure options for those who come behind us.
            In short, we are here to give our kids a better world.
            What does that mean?
            Well, you’re asking the wrong person. I don’t know. I wish I did, I’d be a millionaire if I knew. However, I do know that if you put in the time with your kids, if you teach them, if you show interest in their lives and passions, you will not be disappointed and the rewards will be endless.
            Which is why I do all that I do.
            I want a better place for my daughter, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren and more.
            I don’t want to be a forgotten footnote in someone’s genealogical study of their past.
            Yes, I wanted to discover who and what I am. I got sidetracked, but in that sidetrack I did discover who and what I was. I am a father, a husband an actor, a writer, a tinkerer and a man who refuses to quit.
            I still have dreams of traveling the world. Seeing ancient places and meeting new people from cultures I’ve never heard of. I still have a passion for learning and sucking out the marrow of life, but I’m not willing to pay the price of my child’s future for it. Instead, I have books with beautiful pictures. I have the internet with videos of all the things I’ve wanted to see in person to fill my mind. I have the stories of others, written on pages by their own hand or some hired ghost writer to tell me what they’ve experienced.
            I only hope that one day, when I’m feeble, stuck in a wheel chair or a crappy hospital bed, my child or grandchild or even great-grandchild will come to my side and tell me all about their wonderful adventure into the world and that knowing I had some small part in their growth and life altering experience will be enough for me to pass on into another realm.

            Have a great week.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


“That’ll be $20.12 sir.” The young lady behind the counter of the fast food restaurant my family and I had recently walked into.
            We don’t normally eat at fast food places. I don’t really care for them too much. Usually only when I get a craving for some greasy food that I know will do nothing but upset my stomach. Although, truth be told, we didn’t have much of a choice. You see, we had driven my wife’s jeep to Virginia Beach for a doctor’s appointment. After sitting over an hour in the waiting room, spending a half hour talking to the doctor, getting good news and then paying the bill, we left. Only to discover three miles down the road the Jeep was overheating.
            This was not much of a surprise to us. We’ve been having vehicle issues for over a month now and it seems out of the three vehicles, my motorcycle is the only transportation we can fully rely upon. So we pulled over to the side of the interstate, I got out, popped the hood and watched as steam rose from the radiator fill. I could see through the semi-clear overfill of the radiator that the fluid was bubbling and I all could think of was how quickly I could cook some pasta in it.
            We had nothing to do but wait. So I called my mom and spoke with her, then after about thirty minutes we started the Jeep up, took the nearest exit and parked in a convenience store parking lot. I went inside, got a gallon of water, poured it into the radiator, checked with the owner/clerk of the store to make sure we could leave the Jeep there while we went to get something to eat and then walked a block and a half to the fast food restaurant.
            Like most fast food places these days, this one had been remodeled to look like some sort of upper middle class bistro. But no matter how much spit, polish, Swedish furniture or modern lighting, you can’t upgrade the food. Yes, the atmosphere of the place tried to be something it wasn’t. A mental picture of Joey Ramone in a tuxedo attending a fancy gala came to mind and I could do nothing but laugh at myself.
            “$20.12 for burgers?” I said a bit astonished to the young lady behind the counter.
            “Yes sir. May I have your name for the ticket?”
            I shook my head, pulled out my wallet and handed her a twenty and a five dollar bill. “Skip.” I responded.

            “No, my name is Skip.”
            “Can you spell that for me?”
            And I almost did. You see, all my life I’ve been asked to spell my name, either my given name or my nickname. It seems damn near impossible to discover folks who can actually understand how letters go together. So when people ask me “Can you spell that for me?” my normal response is “T.H.A.T.”
            Invariably, ninety-five percent of people type out or write “THAT” without even thinking. Then, as I watch their face go from boredom to amusement to frustration for falling for an old and invariably joke on their idiocy, they become offended. But I didn’t spell that. I simply said “S.K.I.P.” then I looked at her nametag.
            Her name was “Eleasia” which I have no idea how to pronounce or even if it means something. Truth be told, I don’t care. I thought to myself “With a name like Eleasia, you should be able to spell Skip.” Instead, I just shook my head and took my receipt which she was holding out to me like it was some sort of dead and rotting bug.
            My family and I sat at a booth. Chatted for a moment, and then I went up to the counter to pick up the food. Which had been piled onto two, dark brown plastic trays with cheap paper liners. The fries looked soggy and stale, the burgers, wrapped in some type of aluminum and paper foil with no distinguishing characteristics sat crookedly and I could see some of the grease and condiments slowly leaking onto the paper. My daughter’s chicken bits were falling out of a cardboard box with a yellowish brown crust on them. Everything smelled like grease and fat. My stomach rumbled.
            I took the food to the table, sat down and passed it out. We sat there, eating and talking. My fries were terrible and I ate maybe a dozen of them. My burger, which mainly tasted of mayonnaise and ketchup was barely palatable. The only reason I ate it was because I needed to. I have to. I don’t have a choice in most of my eating times. I eat when I’m hungry, which is rare, or when I’m told to by the people in my life. Or, in some cases, when my doctor orders me to. (Hint, I’ve lost weight and it seems to be a growing concern to everyone in my life.) So I forced myself to eat one of the worst pieces of meat I’ve ever come across. As I was eating my brain was filled with Soylent Green references or even the protein bar scene from the movie “Snowpiercer”.
            I suppose the highlight was the fact this particular establishment had one of them newfangled drink dispensers. I was able to get peach flavored water, after spending about five minutes trying to figure the contraption out and of course, being the overgrown kid, and making all sorts of weird concoctions. In my mind, as I was doing all this, I pictured myself as some ancient alchemist in his creepy tower laboratory mixing all sorts of chemicals in an attempt to discover the mysteries of life or how to turn lead into gold. It was a man behind me who cleared his throat that made me finally decide on peach water. Or else I may still be there playing with that machine.
            After food, more conversation and patiently waiting, we trekked back to the Jeep. The temperature gauge was within acceptable driving limits and we set off on a twenty mile journey home. It wasn’t until we were a half mile from our house that the temperature gauge rose again and steam started pouring out of the engine compartment. We drove that way to our drive way.
            Yet through all of this mess, this misadventure, this travail of our lives, our mood never faltered, we stayed cheerful, told jokes and all I could think about is that I should have said “T.H.A.T.” to Eleasia behind the counter of the crappy fast food joint.
            After all, when you get a chance to make a pun or joke at someone else’s expense, and it does no harm whatsoever to anyone involved but speaks more to the situation of life you are in, I say do it. Laugh in the face of adversity and you will be a much happier person.

            Have a great week.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Where I Can't Say No

I wanted to say no. I really did. Yet, for some reason I didn’t. What I said was “Sure, I’ll read for a minor part.”
            Oh, I’m sorry, I suppose I should tell you, the conversation was about me trying out for a part in a local theatre troupe. Now, for those of you who don’t know, I have been asked on occasion to perform in small productions at a local church and occasionally work as part of set building.
            I suppose all of this started in the fourth grade when I acted in my first school play. Something I didn’t really want to do but my teacher said the experience would be good for me. I didn’t like doing the performance but I did it. Then, many years later, I was tasked with a part in a play in High School. The only reason I agreed to that part was because I only had three lines and for the most part, I stood in the background and occasionally handed a sword to the lead character. No one really saw me or even knew I was in that play. Which was cool. I dig my anonymity. Plus, I got to play with swords!
            Then I went on acting hiatus. For thirty or so years.
            If you’ve read my blogs throughout the years then you’ll already know how I was brought back into the theatre fold. If not, that’s okay. I will say this, I said no then but the director refused to take no for an answer.
            What followed was two more plays for them.
            So, two weeks ago when I received a phone call saying that the local theatre troupe wanted me to read for several parts, I said I would. After all, it would give me an opportunity to act with my daughter and wife. A true family experience. Something we can all bond over, complain about, enjoy and grow as a family and community.
            When I went to the audition, I read for three parts. Two minor and one major. (Because I’ve been told there is no such thing as a small part or large part.) After my readings the director and I spoke for about thirty minutes and then he excused himself by saying he was going to go get me the script for my role.
            When he returned moments later he had an orange folder in his hand. I couldn’t see the name on the folder and as he handed it to me he said “You’ll make a handsome Falstaff.”
            I couldn’t speak. I didn’t expect that roll. The lead male that everyone hates. A man who is a Knight and is destitute. A man with a devious plot to gain fortune through courting married women. A man who is despised by not just passerby’s but the men under him as well.
            I know, it’s another typecast role in my life.
            So, now, once again, I’ve committed myself to memorizing lines, learning to act, and committing what little time I have from working to performing a character I have little knowledge about. So, I’ve been studying. A lot. I’ve even gone so far as to watch other productions of the play performed by professionals.
            Every time I watch one of these actors perform I cringe. Not because of their performances, but because I see the character a bit different than how they are performing him. This might be due to the fact that I’ve never had an acting class or any direction from a professional director, or maybe it is because I see this guy as a desperate, arrogant man who is used to getting what he wants when he wants it. Then, when he has nothing left, not even one friend, he reverts to vile underhanded tactics that he knows he can get away with because he has been knighted by the king.
            Of course this is my uneducated opinion. After all, I haven’t really read Old Bill since I was in High School. Which means, I have no clue as to what I’m doing, well, except for making a total ass of myself in front of ten people or so over six performances.

            Well, that’s enough for tonight. You all have a great week and if you have any suggestions, recommendations or thoughts, please, let me know.