Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Crisis of Etiquette

            Standing in line at a grocery store checkout counter is one of the least fun things in life for anyone.  Especially on those occasions when you’re in the “Twelve Items or Fewer” line with three items and the person in front of you has a month supply of groceries in their cart. Fortunately for me, the woman in front of me was not that person. No that person was behind me. So I was in a state of bliss because the Grocery Gods had smiled down upon me.

            However I don’t think those Gods were smiling upon the woman in front of me. I watched as she placed her items on the conveyor belt, four fruit pouches, box of children’s night time cold and flu medicine, box of children’s daytime cold and flu medicine, box of Kleenex, popsicles and a large bottle of red wine. For those parents out here reading this, you know what she’s been going through.

            I took a step back and studied this woman. Late twenties, pale olive skin, hair pinned up in a bun, oversized tan cable knit sweater, black yoga pants, tan Uggs and a large scarf wrapped around her neck. Not totally inappropriate clothing for forty degree rainy day, but surely she should have worn a coat. A noise behind me caused her to turn her head and I saw her face.  

            Her lips were thin and stretched tightly at the corners, her jaw was flexing and I could see her cheek muscles pulse as she silently ground her teeth. Under her non-blinking, emotionally exhausted light brown eyes were dark circles. I knew that look, hell, I’ve had that look as all parents have.

            It’s how you look after days of little rest, too much worry and fruitless attempts to comfort and care for your sick child.

            My heart cried. I knew her pain and I empathized with her. I wanted to say something nice, something uplifting, something… anything that would lift her spirits. My mind was blank. I wondered where her child/children were. Were they in the car? Was her husband home taking care of them? Maybe it was her mother or friend who stopped by so she could go to the store and enjoy a brief reprieve from household doctor duties. I suppose it doesn’t matter. She deserved the break and I know she deserved that bottle of wine.

            The clerk bagged up the woman’s groceries and the woman paid.

            That’s when her day got even worse

            When the young lady turned to grab her bags I saw something flapping behind her out of the periphery of my eyesight. Something I’d only ever seen in movies as a cheap comedic trope.

            Toilet paper.

            About two and a half feet of toilet paper, hanging out from under her oversized sweater all the way down to her calf. I composed myself by thinking about her situation. Well, the situation I envisioned in my mind.

            I wanted to say something to her. But I knew if I said anything she would either die of embarrassment on the spot or get extremely angry at me and verbally accost me. So I just stood there and empathized with her and hoped she’d not be too embarrassed when she discovered she’d miraculously sprouted a thin, wispy, white tail.

                        I paid for my groceries, picked up my bag and turned to leave. That’s when I saw the same woman in the parking lot. Her back was to me, arms laden with bags and that new tail of hers was dancing in the wind. A ridiculously silly sight. I laughed. Out loud. I couldn’t look away. It was just too surreal.

            After all, seriously, tell me. How many times have you ever in your life seen someone with a toilet paper tail? Hmm? I can’t imagine the number is large. Hell, I’m fifty and this is was my first real-life-in-person experience.

            By the time I got to my motorcycle the woman was gone. I was still laughing. I was also feeling pretty ashamed at my juvenile response to a woman who was having a bad day.

            So, exactly what is the etiquette in this situation? I’ve no real clue but I’m glad I didn’t laugh in her face at the outset.

            But I’m still laughing now.

            Have a great week.

Friday, October 13, 2017

To Goose on your 18th Birthday

            I love you. I have loved you since before you were born and I will love you until our respective lives end. You have been a constant source of joy, happiness and wonderment since the beginning. I have loved you in every stage of your life and have enjoyed watching you learn and grow into the amazing person you are now.

            On my 18th birthday I woke up in bootcamp being screamed at by my Company Commander. Yours will not be like that. Thank God. No, yours will be “normal”. Which makes me happy.

            I can not begin to list all of the accomplishments you’ve achieved that make me proud of you. You are more mature than I was at your age, and, most likely, more mature than I am at my age. You have a dream that you are following with more passion than I’ve ever had for anything. You’ve made more of a mark in your life with your peers than I ever have or even realized until now.

            When I was a younger man, much less wiser, much less mature and a lot less responsible; I thought I’d be dead by the time I turned thirty. You were born when I was thirty-two. The reason for me initially not dying when I was thirty was your mother. We were three years steeped in trying to have you. We, I didn’t know there were still two more years of daily shots, weekly trips to Virginia Beach and endless phone calls to the insurance company to cover the incomprehensible expense of fertility treatments.

            Your mother went through hell. I just punched a needle in her a couple times a day, then moved on in a macho-type of manner. She suffered, I just donated.

            The day Dr. Robin confirmed you’d been conceived is a blur in my memory. I remember your mothers and my excitement on the trip out to the beach. I remember the big smiles on everyones face. I remember the hugs and I remember the weight of worry and stress on my shoulders when that amazing news was delivered.

            The stress of “not fucking up”.

            It is no secret that my childhood and my teen years were less than perfect. I didn’t have a stable home life. I didn’t know how to communicate. I didn’t even know if I’d be eating my next meal in the same place as my last. I didn’t know if I’d have a bed to sleep in or if I’d have to find a friends couch to sleep on or if I’d sleep in the rail yard.

            I know that you’ve never had that issue.

            Your mother and I in some cases I, have tried to build safeguards in your life to prevent that. And, the fact that we’ve never had to call upon those safeguards is a testament to your family. Both of us, your mother and me have learned from the success’s and failures of our past and put those lessons to use in the raising of you.

            And you’ve done us both proud.

            Despite all the things in this life that can and will go wrong, somehow our magic number of three, our family, have succeeded where so many others have failed. Your mothers good heart and my childish outlook have somehow miraculously found their way into you. And you have used those traits to handle just about every stressful, happy and mundane event in your life. It is truly an amazing thing to watch.

            With this event, your turning eighteen, you are now legally an adult. You are your own person and there is no decision you make that your mother and I can not stop you from making. Whether those decisions are personal, public, legal or illegal, you are now wholly responsible for your actions.

            That scares the hell out of me.

            Not because I am afraid of losing you, no, it is because I am afraid I will never be able to protect you. Protect you from heatbreak, pain, assholes and all the bad things in this world. You see, as a parent, as your dad, I have always wanted what is best for you. I’ve wanted you to stay safe and happy.  You turning eighteen sort of holds me back from that in a lot of tangible ways. However; I will always be there for you in every intangible way possible.

            I have so many fond memories of your life so far. How as an infant I would bundle you up in a stroller and push you around Old Town. As a toddler when you and I would make pancakes. Every first day of school. Rollerblading down High Street. Watching you crawl around the train layout and play with all the houses and people. Watching you skate in the museum when no one else was allowed to. The excitement and anticipation of you going on your first sleep-over. Your first summer in Michigan without your mother or I. Your first heartbreak. Your first script idea and even your first film.

            These are just some of the memories I have of you that are playing on a constant loop in my brain. These memories make me happy. Happy because you were took everything in stride and learned from each moment. You somehow managed to avoid most drama of childhood and adolescents and by doing so have become a beacon of trust and maturity to any adult that happens to be in your vicinity. That is a rare quality and you should be proud of yourself.

            Well, this is getting long and I feel as if I have been rambling on and on so I am going to try and wrap this up

            Goose, you are my only offspring. My progeny. And while I know having a child is a huge gamble in peoples lives, I don’t think I could have asked for a better person to bring into this world. You are amazing. You may not know it but you have changed the life of every person you’ve ever met for the better and it is my belief that you will continue to do so as you move forward in this world. You have a unique talent of making people comfortable around you and you are genuinely interested in anyone who cares to spend time with you. Most people of this world can’t say that.

            There is not much left for me to say just that I will always be here for you and I know you have an amazing future ahead of you.

            I love you Goose, I always will.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

For George.

            I sat in a 6X10 waiting area. Sixty square feet. Four chairs and one end table. The hospital tried to make the area warm and relaxing. In truth, it was not. How could it be? Sure the chairs were comfortable, sort of. The lights were dim and not fluorescent. But no matter what, you couldn’t forget that you were sitting in a waiting area on a ward that is set up for people to die.

            Visitors, family, old friends and religious leaders occasionally walk by. Maybe they stop and say some kind words, maybe they don’t. I try to listen to the ones that do stop, but after just a few words, my mind drifts off to fond memories of my friend, my adopted father-figure and my mentor.

            Not thirty feet from me he lies dying in a hospital bed. His death has not been quick and merciful. No, for all the good deeds, the right choices he’s made in life, the great father and husband he’s been, the kind teacher he was, the gentle mentor he became to many, for that he doesn’t receive the gift of a quick and painless exit from life. Instead he is rewarded with a year in and out of hospitals and nursing homes where one day is good and the next ten are mired in pain, suffering and mental torture.

            Right now, as I type this, he drifts between sentient human being and man with swiss cheese for a brain. He’s passed out from drugs and is just a drooling meat bag. it is painful for any and all to watch. Even for the nurses who have to wipe his wounds and clean him up every few hours. We as a family try to help, but soon we realize that not only are we not professionals we are inept at giving advanced care to the invalids.

            So I sit and wait. I don’t know what I’m waiting for but I’m waiting. I try to surf the net on my phone, I get bored. I try video games and get bored. So, I open the laptop and start typing.

            What I remember most about George is his hands. Not the soft, pale, pink ones he has now. No, what I remember are the hard calloused, permanently grease stained, irreparably cracked skin and fingernails that were either torn to the quick, black from being slammed by a hammer, or just plain torn right off. Strong hands. Hands that could build things. Hands that could fix anything. Hands that could lift a two hundred pound engine block as if it were a feather.

            Hands that were also gentle enough to remove my just born daughter from my arms and carry her across the room and make loving noises to her. Hands that gently patted her head. Hands that over the years held my daughters hand in tenderness. Hands that like the man they were attached to, were strong, helpful, gentle and kind. Hands which held the muscle memory of ten thousand engines and tools.

            He is a great man. He means a lot to me. More than most people know or will ever know. I met him when I was nineteen years old. Just a na├»ve sailor from the mid-west who was dating his daughter. I’m sure he wasn’t fond of me then, most people aren’t when they first meet me, but it’s all good. I grow on you.

            When I asked him for his daughters hand in marriage he said to me “No matter what happens, no matter how mad you get, no matter how crazy she makes you, never lay a hand on her, just send her home.” Which scared the shit out of me. He didn’t need to say it, not to me at least, but I believe he needed to say if for himself. Which I can understand and is something I will say to the future Mr. Madison Novak, when he works up enough courage to ask me for my daughters hand in marriage.


            Well, I didn’t finish this before George passed. There are lots of reasons for not finishing, primarily, sometimes you just can’t find the words when you’re in a moment. No, those words come later. Hopefully they will come to me now.

            It is a sad day for all of us. Yet, unlike most losses of friends and family, George’s death was expected. It seems most of the immediate family have made peace with his passing before the actual event crashed into our respective realities. Sure there are tears and hugs, but mostly, there are wonderful stories from great people.

            Stories of George in his youth, his teen years, his adult years. Stories lovingly told by his wife, his son, his daughter are plentiful and filled with laughter and an occasional tear. Stories by nieces, nephews, cousins and grand-children are all heartfelt and filled with recent nostalgia.

            Then there are the stories from long lost co-workers, employees and close acquaintances. These people have some of the most amazing tales. Tales of how important George was to them. How he influenced them by saying the right thing at the right moment in their lives. Showing grace and dignity when mistakes were made. Mistakes that could have cost money, time or even a person’s reputation.

            See, that’s who he was. To everyone. He was always there for you. He always knew the right thing to do and was more than happy to guide you towards what was right and steer you away from what was wrong. He always afforded you a second chance, even if you were on your hundredth second chance. He cared for you. He wanted the best for you. He was always there to help you. And he never complained about any person or people who reached out to him.

            He was genuine in his care for his fellow man. Even if it was some knuckleheaded sailor from Wisconsin who didn’t know a dip-stick from a transmission fluid stick. He cared when most people walked away.

I’m reminded now of how at Christmas time he’d don a red jingle hat and wear a red plaid shirt. Those two things combined with his stark white beard made him the toast of Christmas, wherever he was. Whether it was the mall, a restaurant or even just walking down the street, kids of all ages would walk up to him, smile and sometimes hug him. Occasionally he’d get toy requests and he always smiled and promised he’d do the best he could for the happy child.

            When the child skipped, ran or just wandered back to their parents, George would just smile with a happy and content glow on his face. He knew he’d made someone genuinely happy. Happy to their core. He’d given them a happiness that was so pure and filled with love that no evil on earth could taint it. He delivered the peace and joy to others and asked for nothing in return. But boy did he get peace and joy delivered back to him a hundred fold in the eyes and smiles of all the children he spoke with.

            Which I suppose is who George really was. Sure, he was a father, a husband, an uncle, a mentor and a teacher. But when I think of him, his smile, his beard, his calm demeanor and his humble sense of self, what I think is “That is someone I wish I could emulate. A caring, happy and wise man. A man who never set out to change the world but whose influence will never be lost to anyone who ever had the honor to meet him.

            I’ll always love you George and you’ll always be one of the greatest humans I’ve had the pleasure to meet.

            Fair Winds and Following Seas.