Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Under The Bridge Downtown - Enlightenment Through Joe

Joe may be one of the hardest working people I know. Several times a week, I see him sitting on a milk crate in front of his weathered, yellow Cutlass station wagon under the bridge next to my office. He spends hours stripping copper wire from its insulation to sell at the local scrap yard. He works efficiently with a just a few tools. Some days he works feverishly with small engine parts, digging through their housings for a scrap or two of copper like he is trying to shuck an oyster.

“Three Forty-One a pound today. Highest it’s been in a long time, “ he tells me as I look at the carefully wound brick of wiring at his feet. It’s shiny, and reminds me of gold. To him, it is.

“That’s a lot of work,” I tell him.

“It sure is. Tougher now that the price has gone up so high. These damn garbage men, they take all the good stuff – appliances and what have you. Before they go to the dump they detour to their buddies garage or some damned thing. So they are getting a pay check from the city and making money scrappin.” He neatly slits a length of red insulation and effortlessly removes another two feet of wire.

“You see that hockey game last night? Vancouver could not get a shot off.”

This was not an entirely surprising conversation starter from Joe. Scrap may be at $3.41 a pound, but that is not enough to pay for cable – not even basic. Therefore, Joe relies on the one channel he can receive on his television for all of his entertainment and news. It just so happens that the station Joe gets is our local NBC affiliate, channel 11, which had the game on last night.

It seems unfathomable to me the dire prospect of living without cable. But I wonder if for Joe this provides some sort of freedom. Maybe he is the new American – the anti-media-magnate. No more channel surfing, no more worrying about a misplaced remote, no Blackberry or email. I’ve checked Facebook three times just writing this – who’s crazy?

Joe goes home, his pockets filled with a few dollars from a very honest day’s work, turns on the TV (probably, GASP! from the button on the set) sits back in his faded recliner and relaxes. Whatever is on NBC is good enough…it is only television, after all. I just fretted for five minutes looking for a radio station to listen to on the TunedIn Radio app on my iPad for Chrissakes! I ask again, who is crazy? I feel like I am making a hundred decisions a day just to satiate my media fix.

Joe and I chatted for a few more minutes. Finished with the wire, Joe pulled out a brush and swept up the remnants of the insulation and scooped the debris into a cardboard box that he put into the back of his station wagon – a trait that speaks volumes about the kind of guy he is. Me? Well, I walked across the street, jumped in my car, checked my Blackberry, started the engine and started to flip through my satellite radio stations. Really, who is crazy?

(Joe has one very quirky trait. He has an interesting and conspiratorial view about the issue of stink bugs that are the bane of us here in Western PA. I need to do a little more digging on this with Joe – I’ll get back to you.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Furniture and Location

After thirteen years, one month and twenty-two days together, my two boys will not be sleeping in the same room tonight. (I am not counting the thirty-five weeks they spent in the kiddie pool of amniotic fluid in Bonnie’s stomach. I am also not counting the ten days Dylan spent in the NICU after he was born.) Suffice to say; along with the boys becoming teenagers, a switch was flipped that required some more…personal space.

There is nothing worse for a parent than not being able to come up with a reason to not allow something. “You have a perfectly good bike.” “We don’t need chocolate AND vanilla ice cream.” Even the parental fall back, “because I said so.” None of these were going to work. And to be truthful, Bonnie and I begrudgingly understood it. After all, we have a spare room inhabited only by the remaining gerbil. (Blackjack, the gerbil would be moved to the “computer” room. Does anyone else have names for rooms based upon contents and not function? The spare room has alternately been called “the gerbil room” and the “PS2 room” because the old Play Station game system lives there.)

The biggest challenge would be deconstructing the bunk beds – bought to be two single beds specifically for this inevitable occasion. I found an allen wrench that fit and Dylan and I took the bunks apart without anyone being crushed and me uttering not one single swear word. Once we moved the futon (bought from Ikea that came in a container as large as a shoe box holding enough wood to build an arc) and the antique armoire (not very fashion forward for a 13 year old) from the spare room, all that was left was to negotiate the bed and a desk to its new quarters.

The boys have been busy redecorating their new living spaces – Dylan in another room and Chris adjusting to life with a bed without a top. Posters are being re-hung and the futon has a new home in Chris’ room.

After college, I moved four times in six years - two apartments, an apartment with Bonnie and then our first house. Each time I moved a new chapter was starting for me (admittedly, I moved to my second apartment only because it had a balcony – but you get the idea.) For thirteen plus years, we have always said, “the boy’s room.” But as minor as this may seem, it is not lost on me that my kids are starting a new chapter. Today, it is a new space; someday it will be a new place.

And this is all as it should be. Cribs and bunk beds, or sharing a room – it’s all just furniture and location. The rooms will always be there, but the names will change; “the boys room,” “Chris’ room,” and eventually “Dylan’s old room.” But the names that stick, like Dylan, Chris, mom and dad…they can live anywhere.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Debunking the Myth - Why "Chasing Your Dream" is BS.

Last night I dreamt that I peed the bed. This is always a very dangerous narrative to have swirling around in your head in the middle of the night because of the very real possibility that you may actually pee in bed. Anyway, it woke me up (in my dream) and I went downstairs in a house that was a mish-mash of my first house and a four star restaurant. It also had women who would cut your hair. So, I sat down in a barber chair and the lady began to give me my no-fuss buzz cut – but with scissors. It took forever and she stopped several times to help out the wait staff for the restaurant.

During these breaks I would look in a mirror that was suspended in mid-air and wonder why in the hell she was doing this with scissors when shears (is that what they are called?) would be so much faster. Anyway, during one of these intermissions, someone came up to me and asked me if I wanted to adopt the puppy that wandered in. So this stranger, who was recognizable to me in the dream but unknown in real life, and I went into the living room where the little puppy was being cuddled by a full-grown male lion. One of us remarked that it would make an awesome YouTube video. Neither of us remarked that the lion seemed out of place.

Things get fuzzy after that. I awoke, for real, and was infinitely relieved that I wasn’t relieved, though I really did have to pee. It was during this toe-banging free darkened trip to the bathroom that it hit me what a crock of shit it is about: chasing, following, capturing, running down, etc. your dreams really is.

When someone says, “I always dreamed of…” I want say, “Really? You really had that dream? You sure you weren’t confusing that with the dream about your buddy’s mom down the street who asked you to hand her the shampoo while she was showering?”

See, I think anyone who says “it was always my dream to…” is a liar. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I am the only one whose dreams feel like Dali and Warhol were turned loose in a Crayola factory with a tank of helium and a case of absinth. But I doubt it.

It may be your goal or even your fantasy to spend your life fetching Lady Gaga her Diet Snapple. But trust me, in your dream that Diet Snapple would be at the convenience store on Mars – and you wouldn’t think twice about going there to get it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Losing To My Kids - So They Think

I get it; my kids are coming into their intellectual, athletic and know-it-all prime. But why does that have to be at my expense?

Last week I picked them up at our local field where they were watching a lacrosse tournament with their “we are da badasses” group of friends. In one corner of a field, they and their buddies were firing lacrosse balls into a net while another kid clocked their shots with a radar gun.

Routinely, these boys were zipping shots in the low to mid-sixties. Now, all six foot two inch, two-hundred pounds of a reasonably in shape forty-two year old should certainly be able to muster the energy to get something close to that. One would think. After I was told reluctantly that I could give it a shot, I cranked the lacrosse ball a whopping forty-eight miles per hour. I also managed to damn near need Tommy John surgery.

“Alright, “ I said, “Well, I will be at the refreshment stand.”

It was yet another example that the list of things I should be able to do better than a thirteen year old is diminishing faster than a co-ed’s inhibitions on a booze cruise.

Because of this continued depletion of self-worth, I have retreated to secret little pleasures that only I know about. Where I am my own competition – where success and failure are determined by my own hand. That is to say, I go to Apple’s App Store.

At Christmas, my ever thoughtful wife bought me an iPad, thus giving me access to thousands of apps of which I have absolutely no need for and largely do not understand.

Recently, I downloaded a game called “Rat On A Skateboard.” It is, so goes the cliché, what it is. You control a little rat with aviator sunglasses as he tools through a cartoonish urban setting. You tap the screen to make him do tricks, all the while avoiding the bouncing basketballs. Yes, it’s stupid – and also uncannily addictive. The point is, it was my game. I learned to grind some rails and flip the tiny skateboard to amass extra points.

When I broke a hundred points I was thrilled. When I scored a personal best 131, I was ecstatic. Then, one day my son Dylan was playing with my iPad and said, “Dad, what’s this skateboard game?”

“Nothing,” I said. “It’s a work application that I use to develop depreciation schedules for outside the box, going forward, value added capital appropriations.”

“Oh yeah?” he said, “Well I just scored 235 points.”

I considered deleting the game to avoid having to look at a score I will never beat prominently displayed at the top of the screen. My son tells me to use that as an incentive to get better. He doesn’t understand that the 131 was an anomaly – it is not unusual for me to score in the fifties.

I will never beat 235 and I will never shoot a lacrosse ball faster than my kids. On the other hand, I get to be their dad – beat that!