Rainy days and Mondays…

I didn’t go to work today.

It’s a dark, unusually cold and rainy morning in Southern California, a Monday. The first day of the work week is usually a bit of a struggle because two days of being out of sync with my workday routines tends to throw me just a bit. It’s not that I ever have a case of Monday blahs, it’s just a psychological phenomenon I’ve had to deal with for as long as I can remember. Monday mornings are like turning the clocks ahead to Standard Time every seven days. It’s not big deal but merely a nagging one day oddity which I shouldn’t have to worry about for awhile.

I lost my job this past Friday.

I have always had the odd (you can say “weird”) habit of viewing my emotional reactions to things from a perspective of detachment.

I watch and try to analyze my emotions even as I am experiencing them. Many years ago I started kibbitzing my marriage counselor about how she might help me survive and prosper through my divorce. Now I am trying to understand why I am having my standard workday Monday funk even though I’m not working.

It’s cold and rainy. Did I mention I lost my job?

I’m going to study this for a bit because introspection is a tricky business. False conclusions beg for sudden embrace.

I love cold, rainy mornings. Truth be told, I liked the people very much but that job was very frustrating. So, why the funk?

Did I mention it’s Monday? That’s all it is. Just Monday.

You can overthink this crap to death.

Merle

A week ago today we lost a dear friend and my heart still aches for him.

Merle was the cat who said his own name. We got him when he was a tiny, black as coal kitten nearly twenty years ago. He grew up with our kids and tolerated several other cats, dogs and even a pig in what quickly became his kingdom.

He was the coolest cat I ever knew.

Unexcitable, always able and willing to defend himself, Merle was never the aggressor. He put up with a lot of nonsense from kids and puppies. He grew to be nearly thirty pounds of impressive reflexes, muscle and sinew. But near the end he had withered away to merely ten pounds and was having trouble finding a reason to eat.

Merle wasn’t in pain but he was tired. Our backyard was still his domain but he patrolled it less often near the end, preferring a soft basket chair in the shade of an enormous avocado tree. We prayed for him to slip away quietly in his sleep but when he stopped eating altogether we knew it was time to say goodbye to one of our babies. Quality of life is a subjective call but Merle’s magnificent integrity deserved preservation. It was time.

He loved us deeply. He was purring loudly and looking calmly into our eyes as Carolann and I gave him our tearful goodbye kisses.

Even then he gave us comfort.

The backyard is awfully empty now. When I open the screen door I still expect to hear him calling his own name, “MURRRL!” and to see him ambling toward me with his graceful, regal gait so that he might allow me to scratch behind his ears.

And as I think of him now I am painfully aware of how the hearts of our beloved pets are so great as to selflessly wrap us in their furry, purry love when we are in need of compassion.

I wish I could hug Merle one more time. I certainly owe him that.

I get to.

A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.”  ~Author Unknown

These days teachers come under fire from all sides. They’re pressured by bureaucrats, abused by parents; disrespected and ridiculed by their own students. They work longer hours under more stressful, thankless conditions than anybody in any other business I can imagine. And, on those rare occasions when they’re forced to stand up for their own needs they’re often shouted down with scorn.

How dare they be so selfish!

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”  ~Jacques Barzun

Some who become teachers can’t hack it, and how can you blame them? Overworked, underpaid, hardly ever appreciated, they continually reach into their own pockets to buy school supplies and to decorate and liven up drab classrooms in the hope that they can excite and ignite a fire in their students, many of whom would rather be anywhere else.

Those who do manage to hang on grow. The good ones grow large enough to find a higher regard for themselves and humanity. They become leaders. The occasional great teacher grows large enough to inspire greatness in others.

The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”  ~Khalil GibranEmily's 7th grade science class

This week my daughter-in-law, Emily Williams, was named one of sixteen Teachers of the Year for all of Los Angeles County. That’s sixteen teachers out of eighty (80) thousand!

To say we’re proud of her would be an understatement of the magnitude of saying it’s nice to be alive.

I could write pages of praise for Emily and the extraordinary, loving family that raised and still nurtures her. I could enumerate her higher qualities until I simply exhaust my own limitations in recognizing them and still she would have more. When looking for the right words to express gratitude for teachers even Shakespeare came up wanting:

“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.”  ~William Shakespeare

It’s enough for me to know that Emily is the perfect wife for my son, a truly wonderful mother for my grandson and a teacher of such high standing that she has earned the adoration of her administrators, her peers and her charges.

But what blows me away is how she does it in the face of all that pressure, abuse and disrespect. How she does it and why.

She is simply head over heels in love with life. She possesses an eternal wellspring of idealism and hope. She never thirsts for a dream.

And while the rest of us open our eyes each morning and think, “I have to go to work,” our Emily explains, with perfectly ingenuous wonder:

“I get to.”

 Emily's award

The age of merging memories

Today I got an email from a longtime friend named Gregg Fishman. To protect his identity I’ll just refer to him here as “Fish.”

Fish is about ten years younger than me, give or take a couple of years. I love helping my friends who are about to discover paths I’ve recently trod.

Here’s Gregg’s — er, I mean Fish’s note and my reply:

——————————

My 12 year old daughter Jayna has a book report due this week for her seventh grade social studies class—and of course, I find out over the weekend that she read the book, and then lent it to a friend. Jayna could get started on the book report, but “It would be a LOT easier if I had a COPY the book DAD!”

 

Against my better parental judgment, I found myself in a foul mood, striding up to the customer service desk at the local Borders store and asking brusquely “Where can I find a copy of George Orwell’s book “Animal House.”

 

The clerk looked a little non-plussed.

 

Now I was sure that the younger generation was doomed—if this 20-something had never heard of the book—she’s a clerk in a book store for Chrissake.

 

“Animal House?—by George Orwell?” I repeated—

 

“Do you mean Animal FARM by George Orwell?” she asked.

 

Visions of U.S Senator Blutarsky swam before my eyes. Strains of “Louie Louie” wafted through my ears—I swear I could smell stale beer. “Was it over when the German’s bombed Pearl Harbor?” You bet it was.

 

I started laughing—and told the clerk that “Yes, I meant Animal FARM” by George Orwell.

 

 Jayna Finished her book report on Sunday…

——————————

Fish,

Welcome to the age of merging memories.

It’s a time in your life when your child finds out you not only don’t know everything, you really are a complete numbskull. Before you know it you will begin to agree.

Your brain will start combining actual, experiential memories with half-remembered black and white movies. Something your dad told you when you were six will suddenly surface in the middle of recounting a funny conversation you had last Thanksgiving at the dinner table. Your family will look at you oddly. Your daughter will correct you and roll her eyes. Soon after that you’ll start keeping your mouth shut in confused, self-conscious self-defense.

Then everybody will be talking behind your back, worried because you’re not as much fun as you used to be.

Dave

PS.Happy Monday!

 

Perspective

While on our recent camping trip my three-year-old grandson, Tyler, asked me to help him with his socks. He had taken them off and now had one stuck on his left hand and the other dangling uselessly from his right.

With the foolish pride of a man fifty-four years older, wiser and more experienced I took the dangling sock from his fingers and started to place it on his foot. He protested sharply. It was clearly not what he wanted.

This picture was taken a few minutes later when the situation had been rectified to his satisfaction and he was able to rest.

After I snapped the picture I looked at him, hands tucked snugly in his socks where they belonged. I looked at him and I saw my son, and then I saw myself.

And I just sat there and watched us all for awhile.

Going home

After a wonderful week and a half visiting family and friends while exploring the Pacific Northwest Carolann, Cricket and I are on our way home, relaxed but sensing a measure of home-based stress that increases by the mile.

We get sad when we have to go home. We look like a couple of little kids who dropped their lollipops in the dirt.

We’ve always been lousy at ending vacations. Once, while waiting to board our flight home from vacation in Hawaii we looked at each other and and knew what we had to do. We got out of our chairs and walked out of the airport in Honolulu to find a new hotel room and spend just one more day in paradise.

When Jeremy and Nathan were young we took them on a cruise to Mexico. When our ship returned to Southern California for our drive home to Sacramento we decided, in a burst of spontaneity, to take the kids to Disneyland, which we did. The next morning, preparing to drive home, I noticed on the map that the Grand Canyon was only about six hundred miles away, so off we went.

Thataway!

Driving south in July is a predictable experience. The air grows disagreeably warmer, the sky less blue. The forest-green forests of Washington fade in the rear view mirror. Mountain peaks give way to rolling farmland, scrub oaks and the mundane fast food and gas stops of I-5.

Yesterday we passed a sign that read, LEAVING MEDFORD. That made me laugh. Medford is nice enough but I don’t understand why Oregon felt it necessary to tell us we were departing the place. To me the sign said, LEAVING VACATION BEHIND. GO HOME, SUCKER. GET BACK TO WORK.

I know, I know… What good is vacation if you have nothing to compare it to? I’d love to find out and report back to you.

Road apples

The wonderful thing about vacation is that nothing is familiar. Every mile that passes brings you a new visual experience. I’m excited to be in a town for the first time. Crossing a state line gives me a thrill completely out of proportion to the true magnitude of the achievement. I think most of us feel this way. Admit it, you have to read the “Welcome to Oregon” sign in a loud, happy voice, don’t you?

Yesterday we awoke in Klamath Falls. This morning, a couple hundred miles north, near Madras, I watched the sun rise on a panorama of lush, green farm land along a wide rushing stream called Crooked River. Isn’t that delightful? Of course it is.

Along the road just south of Redmond we visited the Petersen Rock Garden just because we could. For sixty years it has stood as a mind-numbing four acre collection of self-made tributes to the ambitious eccentricity of a Danish immigrant named Rasmus Petersen, who picked up a couple of rocks one day and decided that building miniature cities out of small stones was his divine purpose on Earth.

Scoff if you will, most of us never figure out why we’re here.

A few miles farther north brought us to Shaniko, an old West town that sprang up during the 1860s. Originally called Cross Hollow it was renamed after the town’s postmaster, August Scherneckau, who must have been a swell guy to receive such an honor but the locals apparently (and reasonably) decided trying to learn to spell his name properly was too much to ask of anybody.

But here’s the thing about road trips: some of the most awe-inspiring sights you stumble across have no explanation, no real purpose, indeed no reason whatsoever for existing except that they do.

This tree, for example…

We came upon it unexpectedly. Without fanfare, announceme
nt, roadside glorification plaque nor explanation it just sits there, adorned with hundreds of shoes passersby felt compelled to deposit in its branches.

There’s a wonderful story here but I can’t find it.

And for some reason that makes it all the more wonderful.

Our Vegas re-honeymoon

The lovely and feisty Carolann Williams and I just celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary.

Thank you very much. Yes, we’ve very happy. Twenty years is a significant milestone but now that we’re home I’m wondering why I chose for us to celebrate by doing the most mundane thing imaginable:

We went to Las Vegas in our motorhome.

The very notion just reeks of middle-class, middle-aged convention. Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip-flops, that’s me wandering through the gilded monuments to luxury and excess: Caesar’s Palace, the Luxor, Mandalay Bay et al.

We had a lovely time, we really did. Finally at an age where we can spare personal pretense Carolann and I strolled through the casinos, hotel lobbies and cavernous convention centers as the middle-class American tourists we are with zero sense of displacement. We even managed to while away a giddy half-hour of guffaws seated before the awe-inspiring circular escalator at Caesar’s making fun of the people who passed by. (I’m sorry but it’s not rude if they can’t hear you!)

I learned a few things during our trip:

Everybody who goes to Las Vegas for the first time looks around and asks, “Who the hell decided this would be a great place to build a major city?” This is an especially insistent question if you didn’t fly in but, rather, drove from Southern California across the Mojave Desert as we did only to be rewarded with Southern Nevada as your achievement.

But think about it. What is there to do outdoors there? Only one thing: get indoors as quickly as possible! And what can you do indoors? Only one thing: spend money. Lots of it.

No. The location is perfect and brilliantly conceived.

I also learned from our ignominious people-watching session that nobody belongs in a place like Caesar’s Palace. George Clooney isn’t there. Most people are like us, more in our element at Target or Chili’s. Those who attempt to dress properly for the place tend to go too far and either look like they were playing in Mom’s closet or are fifteen pounds and twenty years beyond their imagined, sexy selves.

But the single most important lesson I learned in Vegas had nothing to do with casinos or hotels and yet, it has to do with money.

Never buy a beer from a guy in a tuxedo!

Ignorantly nonchalant, I approached a mini-bar in Caesar’s Forum Shops mall and asked for a Heineken. Seven bucks. Plus tax. And, the free Las Vegas visitor guides all insist you tip a bartender one dollar per drink!

That was the worst and last $8.54 beer I will ever have.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be hair stylists…

Every generation of young guys does crazy-ass things with its hair.

The fifties invented pompadours, d.a.’s and flat-tops. The sixties gave us the Butch, the Beatle and a wild conglomeration of styles brilliantly described by the lyrics of the title song of Hair, The Musical:

“Let it fly in the breeze
And get caught in the trees
Give a home to the fleas in my hair…”


 

In my lifetime alone we have buzzed our hair so short nothing remains but terrified roots broiling in helplessly bare scalp; we’ve gobbed it with Butch Wax and Dixie Peach Pomade — sweet smelling petroleum based mysteries with exactly the same consistency as axle grease; we went neat with Brylcreem (“A little dab’ll do ya!”) and after the Afros, the grunge bands and Alice Cooper had their way with us we were pretty much spent.
That desperation led us — briefly, thank you, Jesus! — to the mullet.

 

Now, here comes the twenty first century and it’s all been done. I mean all of it, everything you or anybody else can imagine — from spikes and mohawks to weird colors and intentionally butchered patches and guys who had barbers carve symbols and entire words into their cranial filaments…

…IT HAS ALL BEEN DONE.

So…what’s next? Nothing.

 

Seriously, literally, absolutely nothing.

Just look at your American Idols.

If you’re already a hair stylist I strongly suggest you go to school to learn tattoo removal.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

* Hair, the Musical: Book and Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt MacDermot

The flip side of child psychology

Hammy, my friend and colleague, has just posted a new essay entitled Denial – The Earlier The Better in which she shares her pride and pleasure at the realization that her toddler granddaughter is learning to hone her feminine wiles very early in order to get what she wants. Actually, I had always suspected that this particular skill in female humans was as instinctive as a cat’s aloof indecision once you have finally opened the door to let it in as it had been demanding for the past twenty minutes. They’re just born with it and I’m fine with that. Vive le difference!

Entire books have been written on how men and women are wired differently. To me the subject is so obvious I can’t imagine being curious enough to read one. But Hammy’s composition did give me pause to pay closer attention to my grandson after he came home from school today.

Isaiah and Hammy’s granddaughter have never met but they’re close in age and have similar social and familial backgrounds. And that’s as scientific as this comparison is going to get.

Hammy’s little girl is sugar and spice and all that and Isaiah, well, Isaiah is all boy. Aside from a peculiar fastidiousness about his hands — he hates getting them messy — he loves boy toys and rowdy play. He roars for no reason whatsoever. It’s just energy demons demanding their release, I guess.

But today I discovered something unimaginable.

We ran some errands after school and while Isaiah was strapped into the his car seat he began asking Nana if we can all do certain fun things when we get home. He always asks Nana and not me, though to be honest Nana is a lot more demanding of him than I. This, I believe, clearly exhibits his naturally ingrained and perfectly developed male instinct to defer to women at all times. It’s the five-year-old equivalent of “Yes, dear,” and it serves us well to learn it before we begin elementary school. I’m proud of the kid.

But then he began to show a shocking aptitude I never imagined in a boy so young or, indeed, in most men of any age. He has an outright panache, a real gift for psychological manipulation!

“Nana,” he said sweetly and brightly, “I tell you what…” That got my male gyroscope wobbling just a bit. “When we get home,” he continued, “we can either walk the dogs or play a game! You decide!”

I was stunned. That Carolann didn’t flinch at the suggestion (in fact – she didn’t respond at all) confirmed for me that this male poppet was, under my wife’s tutelage, actually learning the ways of women!

Until today Isaiah had merely been a typical kindergarten boy, more prone to fuss, pout, stomp and shout or wail like a banshee when he couldn’t have his way. Suddenly, inexplicably, he is negotiating and doing so by coyly assuming a position of power!

It’s frightening. I will keep a closer watch on that boy for fear that he may suddenly conjure visions or call upon some etherworldly power from beyond the veil that will allow him to force other men to wait on him as personal serfs and have them thank him for the pleasure and privilege.

It’s far too early to assume this isn’t a passing phase or that some natural intervention…say, puberty… might not eventually turn him from this path.

I shouldn’t profess this now. I just worry, that’s all…

The boy shows every classic early sign of becoming a politician.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved