Saturday, August 5, 2017

Cancer of Attrition

I saw an old friend today. It was a serendipitous meeting, he was walking away from me as I came out of a parking garage. I called out to him. Three times. He turned around, waved and started walking towards me.
For fifteen minutes we sat and talked. Mostly updates on our lives, nothing important. We shared a few laughs and then we went our separate ways.
I was not thirty steps from where we had sat when it struck me that while we still liked each other, we were not as close as we once were. Sure, I used to see him almost every day, then once a week or a couple times a month and later, when he left his job, maybe twice a year. But we always managed to pick up and reconnect easily.
Not this time, no, this time everything felt a bit forced. Well for me, I’ve no clue as to what he felt. And I probably never will.
I know our time on this spaceship is short and almost everyone we meet is just another transient passenger, but there are some people I wish never would leave my life. This inevitability saddens me all the way through. 
Over the years I’ve lost too many people I allowed myself to get close to and each time they move on, I die a bit more inside. Sure, we chat on the internet or text each other and on rare occasions we actually have conversations on the phone. I know, an archaic form of communication but a lovely one it is.
Now and again, I’ll actually get some face time with them, no, not the app for your phone, but real life sitting across from another human being face time. It’s always good. Except for today.
Maybe we’ve both grown too much, or maybe I haven’t and he has… or vice versa. I don’t know. I do know I miss how comfortable I used to feel when I spoke with him. I miss our quick witted banter and the easy smiles and laughter. I guess what I’m saying is I miss our friendship. 
This is the first time this has happened to me that I can remember. Where a pal one day becomes almost a stranger overnight. To be truthful, it wasn’t overnight, no, this has been years in the making. After all, we haven’t seen each other in months and the last time was just another quick conversation in a parking lot. 
Looking back at that chance meeting it was much different than today’s meeting. Then there was a sense of comradery, a connection of years working together, fighting for what we felt was right and trying to get others to understand our greater vision of where we wanted to be in our jobs. 
Today, very little of those emotions were felt. 
I miss those emotions.
I miss that connection.
I miss my friend.

Have a great week.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A 1982 Kiss

In 1982 I spent the summer in Indiana working with the maintenance crew at a Christian Summer Camp. Not on the weekends, no, on the weekends I stayed with my step-sister and her family. I was fourteen, angry, alone, frustrated and with almost no communication skills what-so-ever.

You see, unbeknownst to me, my mother and her husband had somehow managed to get me signed up with an interstate youth work program. So instead of spending the summer with my pals riding dirt bikes, camping, partying and awkwardly fumbling around girls in the hopes of some deeper meaning to the male-female relationships, I went to work. 
I went to work with college kids. Yup, I was a kid and everyone else I was around day in and day out were pretty much of legal drinking age. They had no use for me hanging around them, they had their own lives to lead. I spent a lot of time reading alone in my cabin, or on the mini-putt-putt course or just swimming in the pool by myself. 
On the weekends when I was “in-town” I stayed with people I didn’t know, didn’t trust and didn’t know what to do with me. So I’d hide in the basement, or attic or just go wander around town where I’d usually end up in the arcade. I’d spend my hard earned cash on Mrs. Pac-Man, Tempest and Robotron 2000. I’d gorge myself on hotdogs and ice cream from the shop next door and eventually I’d made a friend or two. 
When I say “friend” I don’t mean a permanent or even life-long pal. Hell, I can’t even remember the names of the kids I met up with. But I do remember them. At any given time we would be three to seven strong. Our common link was that we were all outsiders who didn't have anywhere to go. Didn’t fit in with anyone else. And we damn sure didn’t like being at home with quite parents or guardians who never seemed to be able to connect with us or us with them. So we found our home at the arcade.
At the beginning of July I discovered my step-sister had a moped and I sheepishly asked if I could use it. Shockingly enough she said yes. This is of course after I assured her that I did know how to handle a two wheeled vehicle. I never told her about tearing up the dunes back home on Kawasaki 125 cc dirt bikes. I think that would have sent her head spinning. Instead I just pointed out on the moped the controls and how to start it. She seemed satisfied and handed over the keys.

That was the first time I rode that little scooter to the arcade. My town pals were in awe, after all, they were on bikes and prior to this night I had to either ride on the handle bars or run along side them. Now, they had to fight to keep up with me. We didn’t play games that night, nope, we toured the town and all the great hiding spots that only kids know about. Places where no adult would ever think to look for a kid who didn’t want to be found. 

Places like the tool shed by the public pool, or the sand and gravel mounds in the public works lot and even under the river gully bridge where everyone would spray paint their name on the i-beams and lastly, the boarded up colonial house three blocks from the high school. A place where teenagers took dates and held parties and everyone was welcome… that is if you stay within your own age bracket. Can’t have juniors and seniors mixing with freshmen and sophomores now can we.

Those weekend nights were great. Even if I did have a curfew. I managed to live more in those three or four hours than I did the rest of the week. That is until my step-sister took away the keys to the moped. I’m sure it was my fault. I probably did something, said something or even worse, I didn’t do something. Who knows.

The repercussions were severe. Sunday’s were spent at church. I don’t mean for just an hour or two. No, no, that I could have handled. Instead we would get up at seven on Sunday morning, arrive at church by nine and then leave around six in the evening. It was exhausting.

So exhausting that when we got home I’d just crawl up to my bed and read and sleep. I’d try to forget that I would soon be back at work surrounded by Christians and ministers and cleaning out clogged toilets, mowing grass and eating dull cafeteria food. 

My solace during the week was that I could read as much as I wanted to and I could sit behind the equipment shed and smoke. Or I could just go down to the river and soak my feet in the stream and read. I didn’t have to try and make friends, I didn’t have to talk and I didn’t have to try and fit in. After all, I didn’t understand half of what my co-workers were saying. Although I did listen to their morning after stories all the time.

You see, being on maintenance we got to eat before everyone in the camp. We sat at these long tables, usually with me several chairs away form them and they would talk. I’d try to eat and get out as fast as I could. After all, their morning stories were not much different from my Friday and Saturday nights in town. Only they had cars, more money and the ability to stay out later than I.

I was jealous. They were doing everything I wanted to do and they had no supervision. They were free. Well, at least in my eyes they were. So one morning, instead of eating and leaving I stayed and tried to fit in. 

It took a few days but eventually I was accepted into the fold.
By the end of July all my coworkers showed up at my step-sisters house and threw me a birthday party. I was surprised and for the first time that summer I actually felt like I fit in somewhere on this planet. All the women I worked with kissed me on the lips. These were not friendship kisses either. Nope, they were full blown make-out kisses. Kisses that left me confused and awed. Kisses that I had dreams about for months after. Kisses that made all the loneliness and strife of the summer disappear. Kisses that made me wonder if I would ever truly find someone who would make me feel the way they did that night.

To this day, I can’t remember a single gift I received from any of them, but I remember those kisses. Those will never be forgotten.

So, as I sit here, just days before my half century mark, I wonder, will I get another birthday kiss that will stick with me for the next five decades?

Have a great week. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4, 2017

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Damn I just love Thomas Jefferson’s writing. Don’t you? He’s so elegant, simple and just plain poetic. 

Now, normally, on this day I post the entire Declaration of Independence. Why? Because I believe in it as I do our Constitution. So much so that I joined the United States Navy and served our country. I swore an oath to uphold the constitution and I did my best to do so.

However; this year, on this day, I’m having a hard time finding anything to be patriotic about. The state our country is in concerns me greatly. People everywhere are fighting about this or that. Blind loyalty is only being rewarded with sophomoric leadership. It seems everyone has a finger pointed at everyone else for the problems they perceive to be plaguing the country. 

The funny thing is, there are no two sides to the issues. There are a plethora of sides for a cornucopia of issues. Everyone has an opinion or a solution, yet all those opinions and solutions seem to do is alienate more and more of us fellow americans. 
The rift between the classes has grown wider than the Atlantic ocean and the strife between the races is a close second.  People everywhere are scared, concerned and worried. I’ve observed people in the streets not looking each other in the eyes. They just pass by, head down, not making any attempt at acknowledging the other citizens as the y pass by about their daily ways.

This worries me. I know the cause of the problem. It’s trust. Things have gotten so bad with the leadership in this country that no one can trust anyone else.  After all, the last thing you want to do is to get into a fight with someone who doesn’t believe the way you believe or think the way you think. Whether it is right or wrong. This is America, we are all entitled to our beliefs. We are all entitled to our own sense of right and wrong. What we are not entitled to is getting verbally or physically abusive when someone says or does something we don’t agree with. Which is part of what makes this a great country. But if you can’t even trust someone to listen to your opinion without them lowering themselves to name calling or verbal assault, well then, your self preservation kicks in and you just end up keeping your head down and mouth shut.

The first amendment of our constitution gives the citizens of the united states these rights: Prohibition of Congress to making any law respecting and establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

That’s just the first amendment. That’s a lot.

Now, I know, I know, some news sources have a bias whether to the left or to the right and finding a source that just gives you the facts is an exercise in futility. I find it best to listen to as many different sources as possible and then after I’ve got enough information, I make up my own mind as to what was actually said or done in whoever’s name. It’s hard but it makes my own life a bit easier. 

I suppose that is what I’m trying to get at here. I’ve heard people screaming about “Fake News” for months now. People claiming they are going to boycott such and such station or paper or website because they don’t agree with the reporters. Well, that is your choice and right. I won’t take it away from you. I however find that the more you know, the better off you will be when it comes time to make a decision. Also; there are times where I learn details from other news sources that some say are fake. (And yes, both sides of this problem are guilty of throwing that stone.)

I’m for an open and honest communication of news, thoughts and ideas. It makes a person better for knowing as much as they can about any and all situations. To aggressively act out in hostility towards someone who doesn’t agree with you is just childish. Maybe if a person or people listened to what others had to say, they might learn something. To naturally assume you are right and have all the best ideas and answers is beyond arrogant and egotistical. So beyond that I don’t even have a word for it. It’s just downright childish.

What is the solution Skip?

This is a tough one for me. Simply because I like Mr. Jefferson like a bit of revolution every now and again. I think it’s healthy.

That is what I wish would happen. But it wont.

What needs to happen is that our leaders need to start acting like leaders and listening to both sides. Not just one or two people who have agendas that you agree with or that will make you even wealthier than you already are. Listen to the people in need, the people who are hurting, the people you take for granted.

Why should you listen to those people? Because I am those people and I know many others like me. Matter of fact, there are more of us than there are of you. And we’re getting tired and sick of your rhetoric, but mostly we’re getting scared of what you’re doing. And scared people are a dangerous people and scared people with nothing to lose are deadly.

So, I say to you, the leaders and wanna be leaders, read that opening to the Declaration of Independence, I mean, really read it. Read it until you understand it. Until you have it memorized and remember… this country was founded by men and women who were fed up with the fact that their voices weren’t being heard.

Have a great week.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Fathers Day

It’s cool here on my front porch. The thunderstorm we had earlier washed away most of the humidity and heat. Now, it’s quite temperate out. the streets are quiet which is unusual. Normally I have to struggle to listen to music while I write as the neighborhood kids chase each other in made up games. Their screams and shouts scaring most of the squirrels, cats and birds away from them. Now, however, it seems the semi-wildlife of my adoptive city know that it is safe to move around.
I can hear the chirp and calls of birds over the frantic piano playing of Dave Brubeck and the insane rhythms of Joe Morello on drums, somehow the call of the wild seems to meld in with the great jazz. This brings a smile to my face. After all, it’s not often when two worlds fit so snuggly together. This is a happy experience for me. 

Which I suppose brings me to the upcoming non-holiday. What? Non-holiday? What is that? Well, I’ll tell you…

Father’s Day.

To me it has always been a non-holiday. After all, I can’t say as I really know any fathers who actually celebrate it like mothers do. Mothers get all the credit as they should. Us fathers, yes, I am a father, don’t really think about it too much. Well, in my experience that is. 

Sure as a child I would make a card for my dad and maybe buy him a gift every now and again. Then with a sheepish grin on my face and a anxious and fluttering heart I’d present it to him with shaking hands. He would of course take the gift from my hand, smile and tussle my hair. He’d open the card or gift, pick me up and hug me and thank me. Then I’d be off to my room to do a puzzle, play with my action figures or go outside and go on adventures with my pals.

Then came the divorce and my mother got custody of us kids. There was no more celebrating fathers day for years after that simply because we didn’t have a father around to give cheap trinkets, ties, cards or cologne to. Fathers day was lost to attrition. 

Then my mother remarried and us kids were expected to give her second husband fathers day cards and gifts. I never felt comfortable with that for more reasons than I wish to go into here. We obliged. Me grudgingly and mainly for the sole purpose of making my mom feel good.

When I left that home and moved in with my father and his family we celebrated in the usual way that families do. Cards and gifts and that was about it. While I went along with this ceremony, I still did not feel completely comfortable with it. After all, it’d been seven years since I’d really had anything to do with my real father and the man that had replaced him was in my opinion, a total ass.

Still, I cowed to the tradition and supplied a card or a token of respect or both and carried on with my life. I never truly understood why I was uncomfortable with this holiday until many years later.

I was in the Navy. Serving my country. Doing my duty and following in the footsteps of my own father. He served in the 1960’s and now I was serving in the 1980’s. During those years in the fleet, I can’t remember sending him a single card for the celebration of his contribution to my life. However; this time, it was not because I didn’t think about it or didn’t know it wasn’t coming up. After all, the Navy is one place where they do not allow you to forget Mothers or Fathers day. No, this time I do believe I made a conscious effort to not send warm thoughts and peaceful wishes to the two men who’d try to shape and influence my life in their own unique way. 

I was in a very arrogant and pissed off position. I was on a journey to prove to those men that I was in charge of my life, I would do something they said I couldn’t do and I would succeed without them and their views on who and what I was.

Did I succeed in this quest?

Maybe, but it wasn’t without help.

In 1988 I met a man who would change my life. He was an older man, grizzled, tough and wise. He had a family of his own and in fact, he was the father of the woman I was dating and would later marry. Through his quiet acceptance of me and his encouraging words and patience with my naive youth, he helped mold me into a better person.

Then I went to work at his machine shop for ten years. In those years he taught me more about mechanics, machinery and life than I think I could have gleaned from the wisest of men in the history of the world. Every day I found myself learning something new, and when I’d make a mistake he didn’t get angry and yell at me or hit me, although he most likely wanted to. Instead he took his time to explain my error and how to correct it and even how to avoid making it again.

This sort of reserved teaching was not something I was used to nor had ever experienced in my life. A patient master teaching an eager apprentice. He taught me more than he could ever know.


He taught me how to be a man and more importantly he taught me how to be a father. For that, I am truly grateful. 

So today, right now, I’m want to wish all you fathers day out there a “Happy Fathers Day”. 

And for you George, I want to say “Thank you, your presence in my life has been invaluable in more ways than I can express. I love you and while you are not my father but my friend, I want to wish you a very happy and wonderful fathers day.”

Have a great week.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Curds with Gwen...And Kay-O

The smell of a campfire fills my nose as I sit on my porch tonight. Someone, somewhere in my neighborhood is having a small gathering of friends over for an intimate night of conversation and good times. Sound bites of their conversation drift on the wind and land upon my ears and I almost feel apart of their group. 

This feeling makes me miss even more the event that I wanted to be at tonight. The event is called “Curds with Gwen” and it is taking place in a small town in Wisconsin. People I knew from another century and another high school are getting together for an ad hoc reunion of sorts.

And in case you’re wondering about the name “Curds with Gwen”, well, Gwen is the one who came up with the idea for everyone to get together and eat fried cheese curds… a staple in any Wisconsinites diet. The crispy, tender, golden crust hides the liquefied magma of melted cheese inside… damn I wish I had a pound of them right now sitting in front of me… I’d devour them and be thankful for the blisters on the roof of my mouth in the morning.

But more than that, I miss the folks who are there, and even the folks who aren’t. I don’t normally get nostalgic about my high school days. After all, I attended three different high schools, so it was hard for me to make lasting friends. But somehow, the kids from Roncalli High School, class of 1985 seem to have burrowed their way into my psyche. 

How do I describe Roncalli in the 1980’s… it’s hard… it… well… 

It was like a John Hughes film. Pick any of them, “Pretty in Pink”, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “Breakfast Club”… that was Roncalli.

We had all the stereotypes in abundance. Jocks, Preps, Geeks, Dorks, Druggies, Greasers… you name it, we had it.

My first day there started halfway through the first quarter of school. I was transferred in and as soon as I stepped foot on the school bus I knew I didn’t fit in anywhere. After all, I saw in myself not just one stereotype, but all stereotypes. I was a geek, a jock, a greaser, a prep, a druggie and a dork. Within a week of attending classes, I’d made friends in each clique. 

I played chess with the chess club, I helped rebuild an engine with the greasers, I programmed computers with the geeks, I was on the wrestling team, for a short time, I dressed like a prep, I smoked weed with some of the jocks and I had a voracious appetite for the schools library.

My friends spanned the cliques and I had no problem talking to anyone. Even if it was someone I didn’t know. Well, with one exception… a girl…

A girl named Jody.

Our lockers were next to each other and I rarely said anything when she was around. Yes, I had a crush on her and it killed me. Anytime I’d ask anyone about her, they’d say she was going out with so and so, or she was dating a linebacker or that she was stuck up and wouldn’t talk to anyone.

So when she actually came up to her locker one day as school was letting out and asked me for a cigarette, I about damn near shit myself. I quickly fumbled for my pack and pulled out a Marlboro and handed it to her. She said thanks, turned and left. Her ponytail slowly swaying back and forth across the middler of her back.

I was in shock. So much so that I didn’t even see Brother John walk up and start scolding me for having cigarettes in the school. It wasn’t until he grabbed ahold of my arm that I realized he was standing there. I quickly apologized, shoved the smokes back in my pocket and ran away from him hoping he wouldn’t come after me and try to confiscate my illegal Marlboros.

On the bus ride home all I could think about was Jody. Did she try to set me up? Why didn’t I know she smoked? How come I’d never seen her at any of the parties I’d been to. Why the fuck didn’t I talk to her?

Teenage bullshit… that’s what it was. Being uncomfortable in your body and not really knowing where you fit in… I know that now. Then, not so much. I was awkward, a bit shy around girls I liked and definitely in fear of getting my ass kicked by the football team.

So, when the invite went out for this “reunion” I really wanted to go. To see these people and how they’ve changed over the years. Are they married? Do they have families? Divorced? Alive? Dead? Hell anything.

Social media only gives you the filtered information of what someone wants you to see. I’m not saying the person posting pictures of kittens, hiking the Appalachian trail, espresso under the Eiffel tower and shaking hands with some Hollywood star is lying, what I’m saying is that they are putting out what they want you to see.

It’s different then when you hear the stories from their lips and see the light of joy gleam in their eye as they tell you what they’ve done and how they've done it. That’s what I miss. 

That’s why right now, at this very minute I wish I were in Manitowac, Wisconsin, hanging out with a bunch of people I only spent two years of my life with. Because they are awesome to me, even if they don’t know or realize it.

Have a great week.

PS. I don’t normally  do this, however, my third high school, Washington High School, the one I graduated from, you guys, if you're reading this, mean as much to me as well. I love the friendships I made there and I wish I could give you all a big hug. We went through some crazy times together, both good and bad and this blog is written in honor and memory of friends, you guys are included as well.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Little Things

I was about a half a mile from my house when I realized something was wrong. I leaned forward on my motorcycle so I could hear the engine a bit better. No, she wasn’t misfiring. I pulled in the clutch and applied breaks, she slowed perfectly. I accelerated a bit, swerved a bit to test the tires, everything was fine. I shook my head and saw my shadow on the road do the same thing.

I took a better look at my shadow as I slowed to a stop sign. My shadow looked funny. the top of it was blurry and fuzzy. My shadow shouldn’t look like that. As I came to a full stop I placed my feet on the ground and looked closer at the dark silhouette stretching out from my bike. I laughed when I realized what was wrong. I quickly turned around, headed back to the house and fixed the problem.

At home I went inside, walked up to my desk and picked up my helmet and strapped it to my head. Another small chuckle escaped my lips and I went outside and mounted my trusty steed once again.

Seconds later I was blasting through the neighborhood streets.

This isn’t the first time I’ve forgotten my helmet. As a matter of fact in the forty years of riding I’ve done, I can actually say I only remember getting on a motorcycle without a helmet twice. Both times have been in the last six months.

Growing up in Wisconsin, where helmet laws are pretty much non-existent, or at least they were back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, it was not an uncommon occurrence to see people ride without helmets. I never did. Simply because my parents and my friends parents would not let us kids ride without them. Makes sense. After all, the last thing any parent wants to witness is their kids injured. 

So strapping on a helmet is second nature to me. It’s like putting on my socks or my boots. It’s something I always seem to do when I get ready to go somewhere. It’s just something I’m trained to do. 

As I’m sure there are things you’ve been trained to do, whether it’s double check the lock on the door when you leave the house or jiggle the toilet handle to keep it from running all night. It’s just something that we as humans learn to do to make our lives safer, better and easier.

So, what would cause me to forget my helmet and hop on a motorcycle and run pell mell into the abyss?

Simple, stress.

Well, in my case that’s what it has been. I allowed my mind to be distracted by all the craptastic events in my life and in doing so, I put myself in harms way. Lucky for me I didn’t get into an accident or pulled over by a cop and given a ticket. No, each time I figured out what was wrong and fixed the problem.


I forgot.

I put myself in danger because I was too concerned with things that truly don’t matter.

This is where I find myself a lot lately.

Thinking about shit that doesn’t matter. Well, won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. For some reason I’ve developed a strange sense of placement in my world. I don’t feel as if I actually belong where I am. As if I’ve been displaced by a ghost of myself and the real me is actually just an observer to the events that affect my ghost. Which leaves me standing by the roadside trying to figure out what just happened.

Its not a good feeling. It feels as if you’re lost on a strange planet and home is an obscure concept you think you remember.

I’ve no true idea how to fix this problem. I have an idea. And for now, an idea is good enough.

I’m going to have to shut down all the incoming bullshit in my life for a while. I feel this will act as a pressure relief valve for me. Just stop caring about all the unnecessary crap that seems to be distracting me. And, if somehow some crap starts to creep back into my life, I’m just going to have to smile and wave and send my mind off to a place where I don’t have to listen to the garbage that is in front of me.

This is my solution to my forgetful and dangerous behavior. I just don’t have the amount of concern for shit in my life that does not matter. If that sounds cold or cruel, it really isn’t. It is a form of self-preservation.
Which is the only thing all of can really do. Preserve ourselves and sanity for the ones that matter to us in our lives.

Have a great week.