Sunday, September 13, 2015

Stuck the Landing: A Football Story

Autumn is here and with it the milder days and chilly nights. It's a welcome change, and I've been chanting, "boots and pants and boots and pants and boots and pants" longing for the days where new boots and jeans become a staple of my wardrobe again. Quick! Someone get me a pumpkin spice latte and a beret! I feel a harvest festival in my blood, and it can only be cured with pumpkin and wool blends!

Some people feel a rebirth with the arrival of Spring. Perhaps it is my SAD that has me twisted, but Autumn always makes me feel alive. Maybe it's the snap of cold that wakes me up or the promise of family gatherings and the smell of spices. There's something about the scent in the air, the bright blue canvas of the sky, and the orange and gold pops of color from the trees. It is like living inside a coloring book. 

Even waking up is different. Last night, I left the windows open and there was a chill in the air. I felt the embrace of the new season and smiled a little on the inside. As is often the case, I fell asleep with the TV on and, as always, the program showing was much different than when I drifted off. Maybe it was fate or maybe I just read into things too much, but today I woke up to HBO State of Play. Sports? Ugh. I normally avoid sports shows like I avoid onions... at all costs.

I expected to continue watching about as much as you'd expect a sports star and soldier to be engrossed by a show on the finer points of flower arranging or needlepoint. Maybe it was my affinity for men with broad shoulders, but I didn't change the channel. I didn't even get out of bed. I continued to watch Peter Berg talking to Michael Strahan and Marcus Luttrell about... happiness. 

This seemed an odd topic for a show about sports, but in the name of all that is touchy feely and introspective I held on. I listened while they talked about where they find happiness, moreover, HOW they find happiness. Two men of steel, a football player and a war hero, managed to help me understand where happiness is better than a shrink and more quickly than years of writing, erasing, rewriting, and mulling over my past. 

The happiness was in the doing. It wasn't in the achievements. It was finding a purpose, that thing that kept them going after victory faded, that brought happiness. Every high moment suffers a downturn. Purpose beyond a single goal is where the lasting happiness lives. 

Now there's a very good chance that I draw too many parallels. There is also a high probability that I was slightly hypothermic and really had to pee but wasn't ready to make the frigid run to the bathroom. I am choosing to believe it was the Universe telling me that there's something to be learned every day, often from those you least expect to learn from. 

Sadly, nothing I learned by watching State of Play helped me understand what the actual f*ck the point is of my fantasy football team. I still don't know anyone on my roster, and I have yet to find a desire to learn. I'm not saying I will participate in "collusion", but I did follow my morning epiphany with Kevin Costner in Draft Day, so I am going to be making some offers and accepting some trades for lunch or money or whatever. 

So far today feels like I stuck the landing, or whatever the cool football people call it. Maybe sports writing is my purpose! Probably not. 

Oh well, "Boots and pants and boots and pants and boots and pants..." 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sidewalk Awakenings

Tonight I ended up doing my nightly walk far differently than normal. My typical walk involves earbuds, volume high, me mouthing lyrics, and occasionally texting. Tonight as I crossed the street (texting and walking like a millennial) a woman grabbed my arm and warned me to pay attention, as the sidewalks ahead were treacherous. I stopped to acknowledge her advice and I walked slowly next to her as she told me how she'd lived in the neighborhood since she was a child.

She spoke of her house, how it had been built by her father, how she'd raised her own children there, and how she now lived there alone... recovering from cancer. She told me about her treatments, her choices, and her remission. Her bones were more fragile, but walking helped build her strength and her bone density.

She told me about her grandchildren and the changes she's seen over the years.We discussed all of the new owners in our neighborhood. In my mind, we were seeing a new neighborhood blooming from the poverty it had always known. In hers we were seeing a return of what was great about our little corner of the city. The groomed lawns it started with were coming back. People were planting again. Flower beds now bloomed where weeds had once choked out all that was splendid about our blocks of bungalows and postage stamp yards.

Eventually, I found myself walking toward her destination. We stopped to compliment a landlord on his efforts to rehabilitate a long-untended property he obtained. As we walked she mentioned the creeping-Jenny in the sidewalk cracks and how dangerous it was for handicapped people. I found myself walking a step ahead and clearing the weeds for her. It was easy to see how a person's foot could get tangled in a split second and how brutal that could be on a brittle knee or wrist.

"I'm going to the Get-N-Go." she said, as she bent to pick up a lost penny on the sidewalk. I had been heading in the opposite direction, but at the moment it seemed inconsequential. We carried on and she found more and more pennies in the path that she picked up to carefully place in her pants pocket. "They add up, you know." and she winked.

When we finally reached her destination we walked inside. I hastily walked to grab my green tea. As I walked to the cashier she walked to the cafe section to read the newspaper. She sat and made herself comfortable. The employees knew her by name. I had obtained a green tea. She obtained something far greater. Immediately I felt humbled. This woman who collects discarded pennies was part of a neighborhood that no amount of landscaping on my part could buy.

I thanked her for her company, promised to see her again, and headed back toward home alone. As I walked the opposite side of the street I found myself still clearing the sidewalk cracks of noxious weeds. I passed another elderly woman tending her flowers who smiled and said, "they keep coming back, don't they?" she said. "Yes, but it's a great day for pulling weeds!" I replied.

It has been a long time since I've felt that my interactions with others had any significance. Tonight, I can't help but wonder if it all held some worth that I can't quantify. Maybe I've just been so self-involved that I didn't look up from my texts, didn't take out my earbuds to hear, or couldn't imagine anything was more important than my own insignificant tribulations. Regardless, I think I'll go back tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Class of 2015 - Reality Check

When I started working legally in 1987 I was making $3.25 an hour. For most farm kids the rule was to work for your family (the first form of OJT) until you were old enough to know what you were doing and take jobs in the summer for a farmer who had no kids to walk the bean rows for them. I did that. I took babysitting jobs in the non-field months, and I did chores around the house regardless of what else I was doing. If Grandma was going to visit we were going to make the place spotless. My mom kept a very tidy house, and even as an adult it is difficult to understand why Grandma might have looked in the cupboard with the pots, pans, lids, Tupperwear, and lids. I don't think she ever did! Holy shit... I just realized she just wanted us to clean the cupboards! Tricky, Mom... real tricky!

I remember the call when my mom told me I would be starting a job at a local restaurant that Friday night. I was scared and a little excited. I would be working a regular job for regular pay. This would be money for me. ME! Over the years, I worked in fields, bars, and day care facilities. My first job was the dirtiest, smelliest, and most grueling job I have ever had. Clearing up after a table full of people who don't have any self-respect in how they eat outside of their own homes is pretty disgusting. Cigarette butts in coffee cups, water glasses, and plates, phlegm in cups or half wrapped in tissues, food chewed up then spit onto plates; Welcome to the world of restaurants in the 80s. None of that mattered in the end; I was making money and I was the mother f*cking queen.

It wasn't long and I was on to bigger and better jobs. Just like with field work where we pimped ourselves out to other farms, kids of my day were always on the come up. Is someone paying more? Are the hours better? We went where the money was. We did everything we could to earn the independence we were seeking. In my home, if we wanted the freedom of travel we could either get a job and get our own transportation or we could abide by the rules of driving a family vehicle. The family vehicle had far more restrictions. When the ultimatum came down, "if you live under my roof you live under my rules", you had fewer options if you were driving the family LTD. If you had your very own 1980 Pinto you pretty much had the world by the balls.

Like the ambitious young idiot that I was I opted for the freedom of a 1980 Pinto in 1990. I took jobs that paid more and ended up convincing myself that I was better off going it alone. I left home and school. I worked my ass off. Following that there was a marriage, kids, pain, divorce, more pain, more stupidity, college, jobs that didn't quite fit, student loans, and trying to raise two kids alone for many years.

Now I find myself preparing my youngest for the real world. He's graduated early and I feel I've done a piss poor job of preparing him for the real world. He knows how to wash his laundry. He knows how to take the trash out. He knows how to load the dishwasher. If ever he shares a place with friends he will not be able to blame me for his lack of home maintenance skills.

It seems that no matter how much life experience I have and the amount of real life skills I've imparted to my kids there is still something I do not understand. How is it that I made 1/3 the wage in an era of higher inflation, and kids these days still think their parents owe them more?

If you're living at home past the age of 18, college or not, you should be putting money aside to GET THE HELL OUT. If you're one of the fortunate ones who have parents that can support you while you go to college then you should be saving like a mofo. If you choose not to go to school and your parents are gracious enough to let you live at home then you should be helping out and paying your own incidentals.

For those unsure of what an incidental is...
1. Car insurance or the extra your parents pay to have your young ass on theirs.
2. Cell phone bill.
3. Party tab. Don't ask your parents for party time spending money. Screw you.
4. Car payment if you have one.
5. Anything above and beyond what your parents need to get by.

If you're out of high school and not in college full time you should be contributing. The rest of your money should be saved so you can, again, GET THE HELL OUT. This isn't just for your parents' sake. This is something you need to do for yourself. Grow up. Take ownership of the life you're choosing.

These days parents aren't pushing kids out of the nest as early as they used to, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't know the expense you create. You eat like adults, use the electric, gas, water, cable, and internet. You want all the joys of independence and adulthood without the responsibilities. Please understand that when you complain the look on your parents' faces is one of a complete lack of understanding. We don't get it.

What the hell are you spending money on? This relates to the parental question, "Are you doing drugs?" We ask this because we know the cost of shit. As adults, we spend a lot of money on things. At the end of the month we have to look back and account for where the money went. We still have a few bucks left over though our expenses are far higher and a good portion of what you cost is still on our bill. So what is a parent supposed to think?

If I made what today's kids can make right out of high school, my parents gave me a place to live rent-free, and I didn't have groceries to buy or kids to feed I'd have a ton of money. What the hell are you buying if not drugs? Is it stocks, bonds, or precious metals? For real, clue me in. Maybe we can all retire early.

Please, if your parents are gracious enough to not turn your room into a sewing room, man cave, room for let, or a sex dungeon.... have the decency to contribute a bit without being a complete asshole. They've already given you life and a safe place to grow into the beautiful snowflake you are. Make the best of it for your future. Don't take it for granted. The lazier you are now and the more you ask of them the less your inheritance.

My son's graduation announcements arrived today. On the back it reads, "Stepping off the stage, diploma in hand, he will throw away the map drawn for him and begin to create his own." No truer words will be spoken. When you receive that diploma you are bound to yourself, your choices, your passions, and, above all, the consequences those things create.

Learn to think before you act. Remember that some of the hardest decisions you make will be the ones that steer you down the road. Believe that no matter where you are today this is not exactly where you'll be tomorrow. It is a long journey, and as the saying goes, "Life is a journey not a destination."  The ultimate goal in life is to find someone who believes you grow more beautiful, intelligent, and loving with each passing year. My wish for all of you is that when you find that person that it is you.                           
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