Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Stars Might Lie But the Numbers Never Do


As we head into another new year, for some reason, it’s suddenly all about counting. Everything! In every area of life! How many? How far? How much? But if we didn’t quantify it, how could we know exactly how much success we were having? And that’s the most important thing, right? And the numbers don’t lie…unless we help them out just a bit.

How many steps in a day?
Just the ones the device actually counted? Or all of them?
Including the ones I faked by swinging my arm?

How many pounds does the scale read?
With one hand on the counter? Toes hanging off? Heels?
After I’ve reset it to “true zero” because it weighs heavy?
After I’ve thrown it across the bathroom?

What size do I wear?
Well, what size are my fat jeans?
What size are my skinny ones?
What is the average?
Including underwear size, because those are tiny numbers?
No?
What does it matter? Really? On say, a scale of 1-10?

How many calories in a day?
How many carbs?
How many grams of fiber?
How many grams of protein?
How much fat?
How hungry am I now from thinking about all of this?
How many hours until dinner?

What is my heart rate?
How many beats per minute?
How come it says zero?
How come this stupid thing isn’t counting…?
Oh, for the love of…what…?
Why won’t you @#%*ing work?!?
How come that number's suddenly so high?

How many glasses of water have I had today?
How many should I have?
How many can I safely drink in the next hour to catch up without peeing myself?

How much farther?
How many miles?
No? How many minutes because of weather or traffic?
How late are we going to be?
In addition to the amount that we were already late? Or how many later than late?
How many more times do you think they’ll believe it was weather or traffic?

How many likes?
How many views?
How many shares?
How many comments?
How many friends? Actually friends?
How many followers do I have?
How many people, other than me, think that sounds like a cult leader?
How many opportunities have I missed with my face in my phone?

How much does it cost?
How much do I have?
How much do I owe?
How much is enough?
How much, exactly, is more?

How many times have I failed?
How many have I quit?
Gotten back up?
Started over?

How many times have I just stopped counting…for just one day?
Stopped quantifying success?

Just been content?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Annual Reddening Of The Face Is A Tradition I Highly Recommend


Running in circles and hurling their halos, the preschoolers pressed on through their presentation. This was their first time performing what we had rehearsed, on the actual stage. A situation my inner voice of experience from so many years of working with small children had warned me against…but I ignored. Because I had planned. Because we had practiced. But mostly because before we even began, I had known and accepted, it would be imperfect.

The previous year, one bare bottom made its debut as a pair of tights suddenly slipped down a backside after intense shaking led to their shucking. I could feel the crimson creep as I snuck up to the stage and secured the spandex once more before they bashed on. The annual reddening of the face is a tradition for those of us who have spent extensive time with your tots. I highly recommend it. And it can be counted on to happen at least once during the holiday season. Why, you ask?

Because children scratch themselves through Jingle Bells.
Songs are sung far softer or louder or more off key than they have ever been.
There is a spontaneous solo about Batman’s odor and Robin’s miraculous ability to lay an egg.
A child loses her first tooth in the middle of a medley and starts screaming, “I’m bleeding!”
All but two of them hold the hand-painted signs for The Twelve Days of Christmas completely upside down.
“Now bring us some frigging pudding!” is shrieked as a demand. Not sung as a fruitful request.
The Christmas tree falls over.
They have to go to the bathroom right before their entrances while wearing the world’s most complicated costumes, even though they just went. And once one has to go…they all have to go.
Cameras on tripods from times gone by get caught up in capes and come crashing down.
Angels pick their noses and hurl their halos and bat their neighbors with wayward wings.
Shepherds shove crooks down their costumes emerging with Captain hook hands or completely disrobe because “olden clothes are itchy.”
Sheep get scared and run off and not a single shepherd goes after them.
We are informed at full volume that “P!U! Frankincense stinks!!!”
One king is feeling generous and passes out all of his gold before making it to the manger.
And when you try to correct this with costumes in the coming years, Myrrh decides he has had enough and makes an exit.
Someone refers to the donkey as an ass and all manner of giggling ensues.
Mary and Joseph get into a marital spat and will have none of an angel’s immediate attempts at mediation.
Everything is an adventure and a distraction and demands to be enjoyed in that very moment.
And Mommies and Daddies are helloed to, no matter how inconvenient or inappropriate because the children spy or at least suspect that they are out there and call to them seeking reassurance.
And the children are loved in their imperfection.

Which is exactly the point. Of it all. The very essence of Christmas itself.

And with crimson faces we are reminded of this, by the children who in that moment are teaching us, rather than the other way around.

Because the annual reddening of the face is a tradition for those of us who have spent extensive time with your tots. One that I highly recommend.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

If I Had Known How Crazy Christmas Could Be, I Never Would Have Gotten Married In December





Suspended by my seatbelt, I stared through the windshield at a snowy wall of white. The ditch was deeper than his car, now grounded on its grill, barely balanced by two tiny bushes that unbelievably broke our impact instead of surrendering us to slam headlong into the frozen fathoms below. This was not a good start to the wedding week.

If I had known how crazy Christmas could be, I never would have gotten married in December.

Just days before “I do”s we went careening off an icy rural road, crashing in the middle of the night. 

It was after a Christmas party. A party at my professor’s place. A party I had been late to the previous year because I had found myself unexpectedly pushing my car without help…up a hill…in heels. A feat, to this day, we still cannot comprehend. I guess if you’re mad enough in the moment, you can do just about anything.

But in this particular moment, I was more marveled than mad. And grateful beyond measure because miraculously, we had managed to make it.

Just moments before, there had been a curve, that we didn’t take. Instead, the ice ensured we just journeyed onward under our own inertia right into the ravine. I remember watching in what seemed like slow motion as a mailbox came flying at my face and then thankfully thwacked off the glass. It had been the mailbox of the first house we approached after our accident, in the dead of winter, where no one was home.

This was of course back before smart or even stupid phones, so we had to walk another mile through the moonlit arctic intensity in our party clothes…and the party was now definitely over. 

Weathering the winding road and whipping winds, we wandered on to the next drifted over driveway. Trudging on together.

Finally a farm had one little light glowing in the darkness. We knocked just after midnight and in their mercy they actually answered! Not only the door but our prayers! They welcomed and warmed us. Bundled us in blankets and sat us before space heaters until help finally arrived around three in the morning. The tow truck got lost on those outlying lanes trying to locate us.

But we made it through the mayhem and emerged a couple brought closer by calamity. Even though, over what remained of that week, the chaos continued. I contracted walking pneumonia from the extra exposure, took my college finals, did my Christmas shopping and got married.

And we still are. Happily. Though in the years to come, there has seldom been a sedate anniversary.

The celebrations have been spent sleeping in airports, putting on pageants, attending office parties, and wishing one another well from a distance because sometimes that’s just what December demands. But once it was even spent…

With his parent’s house completely engulfed in flames while our wedding album sat smoldering on the kitchen table. 

And his parents, being the wonderful Midwesterners that they were, didn’t call to tell us that their house burned down that day…because they didn’t want to ruin our anniversary!

But that album somehow survived, a little singed and smoke stained having gone through the fire. Kind of like us, so we left it that way.

Because over the years, like most married folk, we have from time to time found ourselves a little road weary. Somehow missing those curves that we never saw coming and continuing on under our own inertia only to wind up in a ditch. Then, climbing our way out and wandering on, weathering whatever life whips our way. At times trudging, but always together.

And year after year, I reflect on all I didn’t know about the craziness yet to come, from Christmases and all other matter of life’s little lessons, and that decision to say, “I do”, despite it being December. And I find myself far more marveled than maddened. And grateful beyond measure because miraculously, we managed to make it.

Friday, December 1, 2017

My Unreturnable Gift To You, Whether You Want It Or Not!


And now, my unreturnable gift to you, whether you want it or not!
A selection of stories, with their links collected together in one location. 
To help celebrate the season. 
Or if nothing else...to at least find the humor in it.


How The Grinch Didn't Bother To Steal Christmas Because It Was Filled With Malaise

In the big picture window of our home is the spot…
Where there should be a Christmas tree, but right now there is not.
Not because we hate Christmas! That just isn’t the reason.
It’s the lingering malaise left from election season.





Because Nothing Says Romance Like A Bread Maker


The tree was dead. Completely dead. Brown, crispy, surrounded-by-a-circle-of-needles-half-naked dead. And under it was a bread maker, that he swears to this day had no ulterior motive.








I Don't Want Anyone To Die For Me, I Just Want A Barbie

The moment my Dad lined the three of us up along the lip of our harvest gold and walnut couch, I knew it was a trap. I may have been seven years old, but I was savvy enough to see through “Do you know what Christmas is really about?”


Amish Underpants And All

Many families watch A CHRISTMAS STORY or IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE or read Dickens as part of their annual holiday traditions.

In our household, we retell the tale of my Christmas past, spent in a squad car, the "bad Denny's" and ultimately...Amish underpants.


The Beauty Of An Ugly Brown Hairdryer

You see, it was my Christmas present. The present. The only present…8 months before my family finally threw in the towel and limped our way kicking and screaming to Iowa after my dad's company was "acquired."

If I Had Known How Crazy Christmas Could Be, I Never Would Have Gotten Married In December 

Suspended by my seatbelt, I stared through the windshield at a snowy wall of white. The ditch was deeper than his car, now grounded on its grill, barely balanced by two tiny bushes that unbelievably broke our impact instead of surrendering us to slam headlong into the frozen fathoms below. This was not a good start to the wedding week.






Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sheltered



A sheltered life is not lived as an example.
It is lived as an echo.
Aimless screaming noise unleashed into the empty void unchallenged. 
Absorbed by no one, hitting the wall and returning unchanged.
Repeating and reverberating and received as false evidence of resounding agreement.

Sheltered is a deceptive sense of security that ventures nothing. It buries our talents in the ground and hides our light to avoid detection.

Sheltered is shackled to the "shall nots." A self serving state of survival that seeks avoidance over intimacy. 
Apathy over action. 
Excuses over engagement.

Go. Give. Do. Be.
All of them commands to encounter "the other." Personally. Not through platforms or posturing. But proximity.

Close enough to hear the voiceless.
To see them.
To know them.
To be known by them.
By our love.

A sheltered life is not a life.
It is entombing ourselves before we die.
Buried alive by fear in a crypt of our own creation. Enduring what remains rather than living. 


Truly living the rest of what's in store for us. That which will continue long after we are gone if only we choose to live a life and lead not by our empty words. But by our example.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Eternal Flame of the Touchdown Jesus Barbecue


USC's shellacking at Notre Dame last weekend has me reminiscing about my first trip to South Bend, which is now -- my god -- more than 25 years ago. 

But that experience in October 1991 explains why I still have a special place in my heart for Notre Dame and its fans.

I'd grown up watching Notre Dame during the time when the Irish and the "U" fought in the tunnel before they battled on the football field.

I watched Rocket Ishmael perform miracles on TV before I saw Reggie Bush perform them in real life at the Coliseum. 

But I'd also taken a screenwriting class as an undergrad and had the improbable idea of going to film school at USC.

I even started walking around the Iowa State campus wearing a Trojans baseball cap. 

The road trip to South Bend started out as a good idea. A guy I knew from ISU (Patrick) had transferred to be a student trainer for the Notre Dame football team. 

(He may have been the only person who actually enjoyed Lou Holtz yelling at him). 

Late on a Thursday, he called to say he had two tickets, which were already paid for. If we just showed up…they were free.

Notre Dame was ranked #5 at the time. How could anything possibly go wrong?

It was college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Things kind of just happened.

***

I called a friend with a reliable car and told him the good news.

As I recall, other than my college roommate, no one really knew where we were headed. There were no Facebook status updates or texting (and I guess there were phones), but I didn't bother to call anyone. 

We just took off on the six-and-a-half hour road trip on a whim. 

It was college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Things kind of just happened.

***

For some reason, we got a late start on Friday, so we didn't get to South Bend until early morning. 

It was raining like crazy, the soaked streets surging like a river.

Rather than go to Patrick's apartment at such a crazy hour, we decided to stay in the only cheap hotel that appeared to have a vacancy. 

It was college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Things kind of just happened.

***

The next morning we slept too late, so of course we drove way too fast toward Patrick's apartment, which was apparently near the stadium. 

(Before Google Maps...or even Google...all we had was a complete address and half of a clue). 

Fortunately, the rain had stopped and the sun was now beating down. 

What we didn't anticipate was the long line of cars snaking their way to the stadium. 

My friend's car, which was very reliable speeding down an open road, turned out to not be very reliable sitting in traffic. 

It overheated and we pulled into a driveway, steam spilling from under the hood. 

There we were -- dressed in our USC gear -- in a stranger's driveway in South Bend. 

Not far away, a group of 40-something guys was grilling out, the traditional pre-game tailgate. 

As my friend fretted over the car, I tried to lighten things up by quickly (and quietly, I thought) dubbing their tailgate -- "The Eternal Flame of the Touchdown Jesus Barbecue." 

My friend laughed. Then he said, "Uh, oh. Maybe they heard you." 

Like a massive offensive line, the Notre Dame guys walked toward us as a group and the short one said, "What's the problem, guys?" 

We apologized for parking in their driveway, explained about the car, and then told them we also needed to find our friend's apartment to get our free tickets. 

They informed us there was no time to find our friend because the game would be starting soon. 

And instead of giving us grief about our USC apparel, they gave us food. 

They told us to leave the car parked in the driveway until after the game. 

And they walked with us to the stadium to help us find tickets. 

But the game was sold out. It was Notre Dame vs. USC. No one had tickets. Except a guy scalping them for $100 each. 

The barbecue guys generously offered to pay for the tickets, but it didn't seem right.

So, we dug out the cash, handed it over, thanked the barbecue crew, and searched for our seats.

It was college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Things kind of just happened.

***

So, now we were sitting in the middle of the Notre Dame alumni section, the only two people wearing USC gear. 

And this guy next to us, a physician from Pennsylvania, who flew back for all of his alma mater's home games, started up a conversation. 

We told him about the car and the free tickets and how we ended up next to him. 

He and his wife were amused (and probably took pity on us), so he pulled out his checkbook, signed one of them, and handed it to my friend.

A blank check. From a total stranger. To help pay for the car repair. 

We thanked him, but declined politely. It just didn't seem right.

The game was close. Notre Dame won 24-20, thanks to some little-known fullback named Jerome Bettis, who ran for 178 yards and two touchdowns.

*** 

After the game, the embers of the "The Eternal Flame of the Touchdown Jesus Barbecue" were still alive.

They were no longer tailgating. They'd just transitioned to grilling dinner.

They razzed us a little bit about USC losing, but not too much. And they fed us again. 

Then they asked us if we needed a place to stay. We reminded them of the friend who had the free tickets.

(Of course, that was the plan all along, right? Free football tickets, then party with Notre Dame students afterwards.)

We showed the barbecue guys our friend's address and they began to laugh. One of them might have even done a "spit take" with his beer. 

Confused, my friend and I looked at each other as they started laughing harder...and then pointing.

Patrick's apartment -- where our free tickets were waiting -- was visible from their driveway. Maybe half a block away.

The guys told us just to leave the car, go have fun with our friends, and pick up the car the next morning. 

It was college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Things kind of just happened.

***

When we get to Patrick's apartment, there was a decent group of Notre Dame students, who were all eager to laugh at our misery.

And we were eager to entertain them with our mishaps and misadventures.

To rub salt in our wounds, we learned they'd left the door unlocked for us in case we showed up at the last minute.

Patrick said, "Sounds like everything went according to plan. Only mistake you made was not taking that blank check."

It was college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Things kind of just happened.

***

To prepare for the long drive home, we stayed up basically until dawn. Why? 

Because there were girls there, of course. Notre Dame girls who were infinitely interesting -- smart, funny, and, well, Catholic.  

It was college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Things kind of just happened.

***

The next morning, my friend and I shuffled down the street to find the "The Eternal Flame of the Touchdown Jesus Barbecue" still burning brightly.

It was Sunday morning. They all attended mass on Saturday night. And besides, someone had to keep the grill going for the NFL games later in the day. 

The Notre Dame guys razzed us a little bit about USC losing, and striking out with the Catholic girls, and then they give us more food.

Finally, we headed for the car to make the long drive home, and the short guy shouted, "Hey, kid!" 

I turned. He raised a beer and said, "To the eternal flame!"

Slightly embarrassed, I did the only thing appropriate for a guy wearing a USC cap in a stranger's driveway in South Bend.  

Instinctively, for whatever reason, I raised two fingers in what could have been a peace sign and said, "Fight on!" 

***

Somehow we found maybe the only mechanic in South Bend open on a Sunday. 

He gave us a "special discount" for people dressed in USC gear and stuck in South Bend. 

As I recall, it was just north of $600. 

It was college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Things kind of just happened.

***

The long drive home was a quiet one. 

We were probably both contemplating how a road trip to get free tickets had turned into the price of a hotel room, $200 in scalped tickets, and a $600+ car repair. 

When he dropped me off back at college, I wrote my friend a check for $300 and hoped it didn't bounce. (I'd already paid cash for my ticket and for my half of the hotel room). 

At first he refused, but I insisted. 

"My three hundred dollars is for being dumb enough to suggest this trip," I said. 

"Yours is for being dumb enough to go with me."

*** 

Was it wasteful? Probably. 

Was it worth it? Absolutely. 

Would I change anything? Nope. 

Well, okay, maybe I would have taken the blank check. 

If there’s doctor from Pennsylvania, who remembers this story, just know that I’m now much older and only slightly wiser…so, if the offer still stands...you can overnight that blank check to Redondo Beach. 

***

A few years after the road trip, I met a girl who was infinitely interesting -- smart, funny, and, well, Catholic (at the time).

And a few years after that, I eventually made it to USC. 

Most of the college kids I know these days are very bright, very focused, and very driven. 

There's a lot of pressure for them to fill their resumes with accomplishments, or even start their own businesses, on the way to a good career and a good life. 

But I hope they still have those experiences where they can look back after more than 25 years and say...

It was college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Things kind of just happened.

Guest blogger Donnie Becker is an accomplished speechwriter who currently resides in Redondo Beach, CA with his wife, that girl who was infinitely interesting -- smart, funny, and, well, Catholic (at the time). And except for the Catholic part...still is.