Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Innocence Lost

As the weeks of late summer tick on by, there is an excitement building in the air.  The cooler nights and the fall colors mean one thing.  College football season.  This year, that anticipation is accompanied by an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

Growing up in central Ohio, Buckeye football was the biggest thing going.  Still is.  I would soak up every detail of the game in the Sunday newspaper, memorize the statistics, know what number every player wore, and re-enact games while playing outside after school.  It was the most popular subject of discussion among my group of friends.  As I got older, graduated, got a job, married, started a family, and moved on in life, I still tried to make time on Saturdays in the fall to watch, or at least listen to the Buckeye games.  I still enjoy watching football, but each year I have noticed that it is less and less important.

Overshadowing the college football season for me this year is the Penn State scandal.  Not the NCAA’s punishment.  Not the death of Joe Paterno.  Not the firings.

That “kicked in the stomach” feeling comes from realizing that the cover-up (or failure to investigate further) of Jerry Sandusky’s actions is my fault.  And for that I am dreadfully sorry.  It is my fault for getting sucked into the multi-billion dollar college football machine.  It is me, the fan, who had a part in creating this monster that is college football.  It is my purchase of school merchandise, my attendance of the games, my need to know everything that is going on with my team.  I am the fuel for this machine.  Jerry Sandusky will need to be responsible for the pain he caused his victims.  The former administrators at Penn State will need to answer as to why they did not follow up on the allegations.  But who made the machine?  Did I not help build it?  Should I not bear some responsibility for contributing to the “too big to have any trouble” culture in college football?

The players are pawns in the hands of greedy businessmen.  I am sure there are good, upstanding administrators and coaches around, but power and money have a tendency to corrupt.  Two of the most respected coaches in the sport fell victim to it.  Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel.  They were the class of college football, the guys who did it the right way.  They got sucked into the machine.

College sports have very little to do with the mission of most universities.  It has turned into the income division.  What does the business of college sports have to do with education and research?  Besides creating lots of revenue.

I approach the upcoming season with mixed feelings.  I will most likely still follow the Buckeyes, but with a heavy heart.  The pure sport that existed in my youthful mind, is gone.  The innocence of amateur sports has been lost.  Actually, it has been gone long ago.  I am just now realizing it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Father's Day

There is something about Father's Day that puts me in a reflective state of mind.  A time to look back and remember.  To remember the first years, the newness, the long nights, first steps, first words, the nice things that got broken, stained clothes, and interrupted schedules.  It is also a time to look forward and resolve.  To  be a better dad, to provide the best childhood ever, to dream big.

All this thinking often puts me on a guilt trip.  I think of how often I am off pursuing my own dreams without regarding what is best for my family.  Of how often I fail, get frustrated, or blow up.  I can get overwhelmed by the bigness of fatherhood.  Many of today's cultural problems stem from inadequate fathers.  Even fathers that are present and involved can cause a myriad of hurts.

But this year will be different.  I will celebrate.  I will embrace the past, enjoy the present, and look forward to the future.  I will not let past failures keep me from future successes.

I will live in the present, realizing that this twenty year period will be over far too soon, and I will find myself looking wistfully at the scratched furniture, the rubber cement stain on the carpet, and wish for the days of toothpaste globs in the sink, piggy back rides, fingerprinted windows, and all the other things that go with having small children.  Seven years of fatherhood have flown by so fast that I know it will be over in the blink of an eye.  And I will realize giving my best effort is the most I can do.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Man's Best Friend?

Throughout history the dog has always enjoyed the lofty title as “man’s best friend.”  Always glad to see his master, always ready to protect him, always faithful.  A friend no matter what.

Last summer we had dreamy visions of how a puppy would bring our family such enjoyment.  A cute little female yellow lab mix would be perfect.  Our family would give her plenty of attention, and she would be the faithful family dog for many years to come.  And we would all cry and be devastated when she was no longer with us.  With these ideal images in our heads, Yeller became part of our family.

It was hard for the kids to play with her at first because she would bite and chew on them.  But it was only the “puppy stage” we were sure.  We got chew toys and bones for her to chew on, but that didn’t seem to make much difference.  She will grow out of it we told ourselves, and the kids would just need to be firm with her.  It would be fine.

Soon the kids were too boring for her, and she set her sights on things like the dryer vent, a drain cover, siding, pipe insulation on the air conditioner, the grill brush, the grill cover, the swing, any toys left outside, or any random arms or legs that came close to her.  A child’s ear was once the target as well.  Putting hot sauce on the items worked for a little bit, but you can’t put hot sauce on a child’s arm.  Her chew toys she left alone.  I would give her bones, but those she would bury in the garden or flowerbed, then re-bury them over and over again so that no one would steal them.  These activities led to much sighing and exasperation on our part.  She would grow out of it we kept saying.  We would be able to train her, we were sure of it.  It would be worth it.

Yeller is now one year old, and looks just like a miniature version of a yellow lab.  Except she is missing the brains.  About twice a week I tell my wife that the time has come for us to give up on her, and admit that she (Yeller) is just plain stupid. Mercy has prevailed so far, and she has stayed here despite my threats.

My wife’s grandma gave us a beautiful rose bush; and after much debate and head scratching about where to put it, we planted it in the backyard, close to the deck. One morning, I looked out the back door and asked her if she had decided to move the rose bush. She assured me that she had not moved it from the designated spot. The spot was dug up as if someone had used a shovel to remove the bush.  I decided to investigate.  My theory was that Yeller had dug it up, dragged it out into the yard, and left it somewhere.  I expected to find the bush lying around after Yeller discovered the thorny qualities of the bush. A quick scan of the premises did not show any rose bush lying around.  Surely it would be behind the playhouse, or under the deck where Yeller likes to cool off on the hot summer days.  Nothing.  I did find a couple of small leaves in the grass close to where she had dragged the bush out of the flowerbed.  The plastic tag describing the missing plant lay there too as evidence of foul play.  After walking through the yard searching diligently, I found the story.  What I found was about a foot in length with half of it being the root. Yeller had eaten the rose bush. The whole thing. Flowers, thorns, leaves, branches, everything.  Except the tag and the root.

The snack had not been without sacrifice. The right side of her mouth had a large area of dried blood. It was of little consolation. I stuck the remaining root/branch through her collar, so she could think about it for a while.  With the seemingly small quantity of brain in her head, I doubt the stick in her collar did much good.

I still hold on to the hope that Yeller will eventually respond to our efforts of training her.  She will grow out of it.  I am sure that she will become “man’s best friend.”  Or maybe it will be like the old saying, “With friends like this, who needs enemies?”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Frugality of Gardening

Plant a garden they say.  Or raise chickens in your backyard.  Compost, re-use, recycle.  Preserve your own food.  Be green and save money.  Thriftiness and frugality are in style.  There is advice everywhere on how to do these things.

And so I have bought into it; partly to save money, and partly because I enjoy it.  Last year, I decided to build a raised bed for a garden.  Of course, it had to be just right, and the materials were not cheap.  But I forged on with thoughts of baskets full of vegetables at harvest.  The most frugal thing about the garden was the free tomato plants I scored.  Those tomato plants did very well.  I had also purchased two other tomato plants from a greenhouse, and only one survived.  The pepper plants I bought died too.  The cucumber plant produced five small fruits until it gave up, and the carrots, lettuce, and spinach didn’t even make an appearance.  The garden became the neighborhood litter box for all the local cats (there are lots of them).  I tried Critter Ridder, fertilizer, regular watering, prayer, encouraging the plants, yelling at the plants, and various other proven growing methods.  Nothing seemed to help, so we had a garden full of tomatoes. Very expensive tomatoes on free plants.

So this is a new year and hope springs anew.  We have acquired a dog since last spring, and she is quite effective in keeping the cats out of the yard.  I need to learn to be equally effective in keeping the dog out of the garden.  I am thinking that keeping one dog out of the garden may be easier than keeping 20 cats out of their old litter box.  Last year I saved seeds from my favorite (free) tomato plants.  I am trying to start my own plants inside this year instead of buying them at a greenhouse, but my hopes are dwindling since I keep forgetting to water them.

In my experience gardening and frugality have not gone hand in hand.  I think I could save money by just buying produce locally.  It gets frustrating when things don’t grow and produce as planned, but the hope that comes with the warmer weather, the joy of working outside, and dreams of a bountiful harvest, will keep me trying again each year.  I have a feeling though that this will be the year…

Friday, December 31, 2010

Once In a Lifetime

Once in a lifetime – such an over-used phrase.  “A once in a lifetime sale, opportunity, event, etc.!”  Advertisers love to use that phrase excessively to hype their products.  There are only a limited number of actual once in a lifetime events or opportunities - births, deaths, weddings, funerals, graduations and such.  It is most unusual to experience two such events at the same time.  Several months ago I had the opportunity to experience exactly that, two once in a lifetime events.  And I lived to tell about it.

It began with a blind date in the spring, and ended with a wedding in the fall, my brother-in-law being the groom.  In the spring, several family members set up the blind date, and all went well.  The couple had a great time, and made arrangements to see each other again.  Things went well again, and again, and again, and again…you get the drift.  Many trips were made from Ohio to Texas.  And then came the realization that the rest of the family would need to make a trip to Texas for a wedding.

To fly or to drive, that was the question.  Personally, for the six members of our household, we decided we would drive.  Some people had made the drive in 17 hours.  That seemed reasonable, and with the price of airline tickets, it just made sense.  Oh!  And what if we would rent a large van, fill it with more family, and make memories that last a lifetime!

And so was hatched the fateful plan to put 12 people in a 15 passenger van, and travel around, oh, let’s say 2500 miles.  That sounds like fun!  And so we did.  Three preschoolers, four adults, and six youth, in a confined space.  No overnight accommodations, we were traveling the whole way in one shot, because that’s how we roll.  It wouldn’t be so bad.

We got an enclosed, locking box to attach to the hitch of the van for extra luggage space.  That didn’t quite carry everything, so we strapped an ice chest on top of that.  We would soon discover that all weight back there would make for an interesting driving experience, not only for the driver, but for all the passengers as well.  The van would dance and weave to the beat of a different drummer, as the driver would try to corral it between the lines, all while appearing calm, as if everything was normal.  He would get it under control, and then the next semi would come roaring past, sending the van into its next series of gleeful swerving.  As a passenger, it was hard to relax, especially after dark when it was time to sleep.  As a driver, it was stressful and tiring trying to keep the van under control.  A little bit of rain added another dimension to the mix, but thankfully it didn’t last long.  We were only a couple of hours into the trip, when one of the kids expressed all of our thoughts by asking, "Are we in Africa yet, I mean, Texas?"

The next issue was lack of planning from the parents of the preschoolers.  It seems that they forgot to make each one go to the bathroom every time a stop was made.  This resulted in several extra, unplanned stops, much to the chagrin of the other passengers.  Then of course, there was the normal complaining that comes from sitting in a car seat for an extended period of time.  Also, every spare inch of the van was cluttered with luggage,  blankets, pillows, books, ipods, snacks, and various other items designed to distract us on this un-ending journey.

We did eventually get there after what seemed like several years.  Actually it took us 22 hours. 

We were able to have an enjoyable time while we were in Texas, and the couple is happily married.  We broke up our trip home with an overnight stay, so we never reached the levels of despair we had previously experienced.  We also had less weight in our luggage box in the back, and the van ceased its happy dance, much to our delight.

It was a trip that needed to be made, and a wedding we were privileged to attend.  If such a situation were to occur again, I hope we would be wiser now in choosing our method of travel.

I truly hope this was a once in a lifetime event.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

That Day

Nine years.  Has it really been that long?  It seems like just last year.  Has it only been that long?  It seems like a lifetime ago.  September 11, 2001.  Everyone remembers exactly what they were doing when they heard the news, who they were with, the eerie feeling in the pit of their stomach, etc.   There are very few events of this magnitude in a person’s lifetime.

Looking back, I realize that I may soon forget some of the details of my own September 11th story, unless I take the time to write them down.  My story begins in April 2001, when I moved to New York City (Brooklyn).  My parents and girlfriend came along with me that first weekend, and we took the opportunity to do some sightseeing.  This included going to the top of the World Trade Center.  This would be my only visit inside the towers.  From the glass in the observation area, I took a picture straight down.  I would later look at this photo, and imagine what it would feel like to decide to jump out from that height.

My job in New York involved delivering books to various retail locations throughout New York City, Connecticut, New Jersey, and upstate New York.  My schedule had me going to Manhattan on Mondays and Tuesdays of each week.

Tuesday September 11, 2001 dawned a beautiful, clear sunny day.  It was Primary Day in New York City, with the mayor’s race being the main subject in the news.  As I recall, our day started around 7:00 AM.  Our route that day was known as “North Manhattan” and consisted of about 8 stores located between 14th St. and 96th St. mostly on the east side of Manhattan.  We crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, and went to our first store, on First Ave. near 23rd St.  Our next two stores were located on or near 14th St.  We were just getting done with these stores when the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center.  My co-worker, remembers hearing a noise, but not thinking much about it since we were in a city filled with constant noise.  At this point, we were about 1.5 – 2 miles (as the crow flies) away from towers.  We got into our van and drove north towards our next store at 75th St. and 1st Ave.  We were unaware of anything that was going on.  Parking at the next location was hard to find, so I dropped off my colleague and circled around the block to find parking.  I flipped on the radio as I spotted a parking spot along 1st Ave.  The time was 9AM.  They were talking about an airplane that had hit the World Trade Center and how downtown was a traffic nightmare.  I assumed they were talking about an amateur pilot in a little Cessna who had gotten lost or was too busy looking at the scenery, and had inadvertently smacked the tower.  It was only when they started talking about a second airplane that was heading for the towers that I realized the magnitude of what was taking place.  I quickly did my parallel parking routine and rushed into the store we were delivering to.  As I crossed First Avenue, I looked south to see smoke rising above the skyline.  We were too far north to see the towers themselves, but the smoke was very much visible.  I informed my co-worker what had happened, and the store employees turned on the TVs to see what was going on.  What just happened!?  We were shocked.  The only thing we knew to do was to keep on working.  As we left, I had the presence of mind to buy a cheap disposable camera.  We didn’t know what we should do, so we continued north to our next store.  While we were working there, we spoke to our manager in Pennsylvania.  He said he would contact our families to let them know we were ok, and told us to wrap it up and head for home.  Neither of my parents were home, so he was unable to reach them.  I called my girlfriend, told her we were ok, and that we may try to get closer to see what we could see.   Things were mostly quiet in the area where we were, except for the occasional siren, which was typical a sound anywhere in New York City.  We spoke several times with another co-worker, who was working by himself in the Bronx.  He was also stopping for the day.  We finished at the store and drove west toward Central Park.

We headed south on Fifth Ave. hanging on to every word of WCBS 880.  Our minds were swimming.  Both towers were hit, the Pentagon was on fire, there were unaccounted airplanes out there somewhere, all the bridges and tunnels were closed…the bad news seemed endless.  And it would not end for a while.  We continued driving, not knowing what we were going to do.  The commentators on the radio interrupted with an excited voice saying that one of the towers had fallen.  My heart sank with it.  In all the horror of the day, this was the worst.  It had not entered my mind that they would fall.  I had no words.  My mind raced.  One of the towers had fallen.  Would the other one stand, or was it doomed as well?  Was this just the beginning, or the end?  These were the landmarks, the points of reference for Manhattan.  Every time we went into the City, my eyes were drawn to the twin towers.  They were my compass in the City.

We drove south far enough that we started getting into traffic.  Every bridge and tunnel was closed, and Manhattan being an island, that was a problem for us.  We crossed through Central Park, and found parking near 68th St. on the west side of Manhattan.  We had no choice but to walk.  And walk we did.  We walked down to Times Square to see what the news tickers were saying.  The streets were eerily silent.  People were huddled in groups listening to a radio or watching a portable tv.  Everyone seemed to be in a state of shock.  We came into Times Square and watched the breaking reports on the big screens.  When they reported another airplane that was still un-accounted for, we decided Times Square was not the place to be.

Meanwhile, my parents still had not heard anything from me.  Making phone calls became impossible.  All the circuits were completely jammed making our cell phones useless.  Landlines and pay phones were no different, no one could get through.  Close to noon, our manager finally got hold of my Dad at his job, and told him I was ok.  My girlfriend had not heard from me since before the towers fell, and she remembered that we were trying to get closer.

From Times Square we walked south on a deserted Broadway.  Never before or after have I seen New York streets so deserted.  We walked all the way down to Delancey St.  All the streets south of there were barricaded and we could get no further.  There we saw emergency vehicles covered in dust.  We walked across the Williamsburg Bridge in a sea of humanity.  Looking back at Manhattan from the crest of the bridge gave one an ominous feeling.  Smoke was billowing from the site of the twin towers, battle ships were parked in the bay, and fighter jets were circling the skies.  It looked like a scene from a movie, unlike anything I had seen before in real life.  I was in a war zone.  Like a refugee, trying to get away.  The magnitude of it all started to grip me.  Our sense of security and innocence had been ripped away in several moments.  I am sure the Statue of Liberty had tears in her eyes.

On the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge, the local Jewish communities had rows of tables set up and were distributing bottles of water and snacks.  There were rows of city buses, and they were packed.  We stood on the front step right inside the door.  After walking 7 miles, we were just glad to have transportation.  By late afternoon, the trains in Brooklyn started running again, and we got back to our apartment around 4:30.  We spent the rest of the day watching footage and news reports.  The full impact of everything started soaking in, and I realized this was a day I would never forget.  I was able to get hold of my family and my girlfriend and assure them I was ok.

We had the next day off as well.  It took some time for the numbness to wear off.  The new reality was here.  Our delivery vehicles were searched at every bridge and tunnel.  Everyone was more watchful and on edge.  Patriotic displays were everywhere.  Many tourist attractions were closed indefinitely.  Downtown was a traffic disaster, and we didn’t do any deliveries south of Canal Street for about two months.  We saw cars parked, covered in dust, whose owners' never came back.

In the weeks and months that followed we slowly adjusted to the new normal.  Our innocence and naivety were stripped, our vulnerability was exposed.  Our landmarks were gone.  Forever.  Never the same.   A deep sense of sadness and loss was still there, but we knew that as a city, as a nation, we had banded together.  We were closer.  We were stronger.  We were scarred and battered, but we were better.  Forever.  Never the same.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Goodbye, For Now

I hate goodbyes. Mostly when I have too much time to think about them. With too much time, I start getting sentimental and reflective, and it puts me in a melancholy mood for a while. Quick and unexpected are the best goodbyes for me. No thinking, just goodbye. And that is why I don’t understand my urge to write this goodbye post. I have never said this goodbye before. Maybe the heat of the summer is getting to me, or I am just being sentimental again.

I am saying my goodbyes to Summer. It has been nice to have you around, but I know that you need to go away soon.

We tend to cram August full with activities, so much so that it is October before we realize that summer is over. August is the “Do All The Things That You Were Going To Do All Summer But Have Not Taken The Time Yet” month. Do some camping, go to the zoo, finish the outdoor projects that were started in April, go fishing, grill, go to the fair, have a cookout, and all the other similar things. We have done lots of these things this summer, yet with August here, we feel the need to maximize the short time of summer that we have left.

So my sentimental, reflective side takes over in a review of the summer. We added more animals to our “farm” this year. In April we brought home some fuzzy little chicks (all pullets we were told). Over the months, they have grown into full grown chickens. There was a time when their pen had some places where they could get out. The kids became quite skilled in chasing them down, catching them, and getting them back into their pen. One of the chickens has developed a different body type, and has started crowing in the morning. We are assuming that the feed store gave us a rooster, and that we do not have a cross dressing pullet. So the chickens have added action to our place, in addition to the rabbits who continue to reproduce each month without fail. So far, the record longevity for the baby rabbits has been 1 week. There is always next month. And the kids have enjoyed the animals. All except taking care of them of course. That is now officially Dad’s job. Just like I figured. Once the chickens start laying eggs, they may gather them for a week or so before it is solely my job again. I have never thought of chickens as pets, but the kids enjoy them. They have gone as far as giving them rides on the baby swing. And the chickens don’t seem to mind too much.

Memorial Day weekend we went camping with some friends. The most eventful night was when one of the kids fell out through the side of the camper in the middle of the night. Thankfully there were no injuries.

And then there is the garden project. After my experience with container gardening, I decided to build a raised bed garden this year. I got a late start, but my resolve was strong. I built the bed and filled it with dirt, compost, cow manure, and potting soil. I would give my plants the best possible chance of survival. I planted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, and spinach. I carefully watered and fertilized the bare dirt with dreams of giant vegetables by the bushels. Reality came by and crashed into my dreams. I pulled one of the tomato plants due to its lack of interest. I have one carrot, and two lettuce plants. The pepper plants were pulled as well after most of their leaves fell off. The cucumbers and the rest of the tomatoes have made up the empty spaces. One of the tomato plants has gone out of control. It has grown over the top of its cage and spread its vines over all the other tomato plants. It is the ruler of the garden, the conqueror of the cages. So I have had mixed results. The lettuce, spinach, and carrots were doomed when the neighbor’s cats decided to use the area as a litter box. I still don’t know what the problem was with the pepper plants. I have bought a product to spread over the garden to keep the cats out. We will see how the fall planting of lettuce turns out.

As the heat of summer burns out, the final camping trip is planned, the cookouts are done, and the last burnt hot dog is eaten, football season will distract us long enough to let winter slip right in. And then is when we fondly remember those 90ยบ scorchers, that day at the zoo, the swinging chicken, the times with friends, the daylight until 9:30, the grilled fare, the ferris wheel ride, a picnic in the park. And my heart will be a little sad. So Summer, leave if you must, but return as quickly as you can, and stay a little longer next time.