Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Ever have a relationship that suddenly went awry for a weird reason? Something happened that made you think, “Uh, this isn’t going to work.”

Yeah, me too.

As a matter of fact it’s happened to me more than once. Let us review the sordid details . . .

I once went out with a girl in college that I’d had my eye on for awhile. We finally arranged a date, I picked her up, and things were going well. As always I had my music playing, and at one point I asked her what she thought of a particular Beatles song.

And then it happened, words spilling out of her mouth that were destined to ruin our relationship before it even started:

“I’ve never really cared for The Beatles. I think they’re overrated.”

At that point I spat out my coffee and I wasn’t even drinking any. Then I said something along the lines of, “Whaa . . . you . . smrgffft . . . wait . . . EXCUSE me?”

Listen, I can date somebody who hates sports, who doesn’t like to read books, who doesn’t like to travel, isn’t crazy about kids, hell, I can even date a Republican. But can I date somebody who dislikes The Beatles? I cannot.

Be ambivalent about them? Maybe. Dislike them? Nah.

Let us revert back to a quote from one of my favorite artists, the one and only lead singer of The Eels, Mr. Mark Oliver Everett, better known as E. E said this:

“Kids know what’s going on. They always respond to The Beatles, for instance. Doesn’t matter when they were born, they always seem to respond. Show me a kid who innately doesn’t like The Beatles and I’ll show you a bad seed.” 

Yep.

Listen, you don’t have to love The Beatles, but you certainly have to appreciate them for what they contributed to modern music. After all, virtually every band or artist today has stolen from them on one level or another. To not acknowledge that fact makes you, in my opinion, dumb.

Another time a date went sideways even more quickly. After I picked her up we walked out to my car, she opened the door and then proceeded to get out a handkerchief and wipe the seat before sitting down. Then she continued to look for dog hair on her coat all evening, making sure to hold it up for me every time she found one.

It didn’t take a genius to see that relationship was going very far. I mean, if a little dog hair bothered her that much we were in big trouble, ya know? I mean, if ya can’t make some allowances for The Spark you’re not my kinda girl.

I once dated a dated a girl who I was beginning to really like. We’d gone out a few times and hit it off. She was from a nice family and showed no signs of abnormal behavior. Well, that all ended abruptly one sunny afternoon when she casually uttered a racial slur in the middle of a casual conversation regarding one of my friends. I asked her how in the world she could talk that way, she didn’t see a problem with it, I pointed out that I thought it was ignorant, and from that moment on I couldn’t wait to get her home and get the hell out of there.

It’s amazing how someone so pretty could turn so ugly so fast.

Finally, this last one is a little weird and sounds like something out of a Seinfeld episode. Years ago I was just out of college and seeing a girl that seemed really normal, at least by my standards. Anyway, things were going well until the day we went to a mall in Columbus. At some point we were ready to go up to the second floor and I sort of guided her over to the escalator. Just as we were about to step on she froze in her tracks and we had the following conversation:

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t get on there.”

“Huh? Why?”

“I haven’t told you this yet but I have a fear of escalators. It’s called Escalaphobia.”

“Hahahahahaha! Nice try weirdo.”

“I’m serious. They frighten me. I’m afraid I could get hurt on there.”

“Ooooooh.”

Long story short, she wasn’t kidding. This otherwise nice young lady had a legitimate, actual fear of escalators. Me, being the immature idiot that I was, couldn’t get past it. All I could think of that something must be inherently wrong with this woman, that if she was afraid of escalators what other irrational fears or thoughts might she have? Seriously, all I could think of were conversations I’d be having with people for years to come:

“Sorry, we have to take the stairs. She’s afraid of escalators.”

What can I say? Empathy wasn’t my strong suit then, nor apparently now since I just made myself laugh out loud as I typed that.

Anyway, so there ya go. Four weird things that can ruin a relationship. Well, plus me. I can ruin a relationship. On a related note, let’s not go there.

PS – Listen, I know too much dog hair is a pain and people have irrational fears that the rest of us have trouble comprehending. I get it, so save your complaints (I can hear the Society of Social Anxiety folks organizing as we speak). The racism, on the other hand, I will never get.   

PPS – And yes, I know I’m afraid of clowns, dolls and mannequins. Hey, I didn’t say I was perfect.

PPPS – And puppets, in particular marionnettes. There. I said it.

The nation’s demographics are on a clear trajectory: White people are dying faster than they are being born, which means they are on target to become a minority in the United States in 30-years.

“This is without historical precedent,” said Kenneth Johnson, the senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy. “The minority population is growing, and the non-Hispanic white population is not.”

Whites currently account for 62% of the population but 78% of deaths, according to Johnson’s analysis.

“I don’t think people fully appreciate how much natural increase [more births than deaths] contributes to the nation’s growing diversity,” Johnson said. “If you ask people why is America more diverse, they would say it’s because minorities are being born. What nobody ever thinks about is that a lot more whites are dying.”

Well, well. How the tide has turned. Honestly, I can’t decide if this is good or bad for the White Supremacy crowd. On the one hand, how can they be supreme if they’re a minority? Can’t have that. Somebody might build a wall to keep them out, man. We can’t be getting all diverse and whatnot, that’s un- American!

On the other hand, they may soon be getting all those great privileges they say minorities get, like getting the first shot at jobs and the cute girls and stuff.

The world, man. How dare it change like this on us?

PS- Is it me or does Kenneth Johnson seem a little too happy about all these white people dying?

PPS- I swear to God I’ll get messages from people who don’t recognize sarcasm and think I’m serious. I can’t wait to show them to you.

Hey, we all have regrets, right? Dumb things we’ve done that we wish we could do over? God knows I do. What follows is one of the dumbest decisions I ever made, not including relationship mistakes of course. If I included those this one would be knocked down to about #79. Anyhoo, I shall now take a deep breath and come clean . . .

Back in 1988 a friend of mine had a buddy who worked for CBS Sports. This guy got us tickets to the 1988 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago. We had passes for the dunk contest, the whole works. Well, by the time we checked into The Omni in Chicago that Saturday we were, uh, having a little too much fun. Later on we were in a bar near the stadium and were having such a good time that we decided, in our infinite wisdom, to stay there and skip the dunk contest. Hey, screw some dumb contest! We’re in Chicago! Plus they don’t have bars back home in Ohio, right?

Sigh.

Kids, I’m embarrassed as hell to report sad to report this would turn out to be the contest where Dominique Wilkins and some loser named Michael Jordan would have their legendary showdown. You know, the one where Jordan came in from the side, looking down on the basket, and nearly ripped the rim off? The one where Jordan jumped from the free throw line to win?

Yeah, that one. Personally I thought Wilkins won, but what the hell did I know? I was in a bar 3-blocks away barely paying attention. To put a cap on things, as we were walking into the stadium for the All-Star game the next day some guy offered us $300 for our tickets. Of course we promptly sold them. What can I say? We were idiots. But hey, it wasn’t like that game wasn’t memorable or anything.

I mean, Jordan only scored 40-points that night, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the all-time leading All-Star scorer in history, and the teams included, in addition to Jordan, Wilkins and Kareem, some losers by the names of Larry Bird, Danny Ainge, Kevin McHale, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and James Worthy.

Man, that actually hurt to type.

Dumb decisions? I’d like to see you top that one.

cub_scout_1968

Not me but damn close.

The following story took place a long time ago, during my 2nd grade year. Yep, way back in 1963. Here’s how it all went down . . .

We were sitting in class at Twin Elementary when our teacher told us that somebody wanted to talk to all the boys. In walked a guy, I can’t remember who, who proceeded to tell us all about the Cub Scouts. It sounded great. There would be hiking, camping, building model cars, all kinds of cool stuff to do. My buddies and I were all amped up. Couldn’t wait! All we had to do was go home and get the forms signed by our parents, which we couldn’t wait to do.

Of course, with my father there would be stipulations.

After I excitedly told him of the opportunity, he sat me down and we had a talk. Number 1, he thought the Cub Scouts would be a great idea. Number 2, he said there would be no quitting once I started. One full year would be completed, no excuses, end of discussion. Hell, that wasn’t a problem with me. I was stoked!

I couldn’t wait to get back to school to tell my buddies I was in, and it turns out they were too. It was gonna be fantastic.

We had our first meeting at the local church, the Cub Scout guy explained everything, and it all sounded great. Then he brought out the uniform. Hey, it was a little different with the little hat, scarf and knee socks, but what the hell, we’d all be wearing it so it’d be cool. I was ready to roll.

Not so fast Scout Boy.

Here’s what I heard from my friends when I got to school the next morning:

“No way I’m wearing that uniform, man.”

“That uniform looks stupid. I’m not wearing that thing.”

“Sounded good but I’m out. I quit.”

Wait. What? You’re quitting because of the uniform? After one meeting?

Turns out they were. My closest friends were out. The only other kid in my class who stayed in was a nerdy little kid named Quincy (name changed to project the nerdy).

Did I ask my Dad for a reprieve so I could stick with my buddies? I did not. I was dumb but not that dumb. A deal was a deal, man.

So, as it turned out every Tuesday Quincy and yours truly wore the uniform to school as required by the Scouts, and every Tuesday I was ridiculed, mocked, jeered, belittled and spat upon.*

*OK, nobody spit on me but it seemed like it at the time. It was 2nd grade hell I tell ya. 

On a related note I’m pretty sure that was the year I learned to fight.

Anyway, at the next meeting we learned who our pack leaders would be, and it turned out mine was a new guy who had recently volunteered.

That man was my father.

Did he join because he knew I was going through a tough time? Did he know it would help me get through it if he was around?

Probably, but if it was true he never said a word.

Bottom line, pretty soon we were doing cool stuff like building and painting little cars to race down a ramp, constructing airplanes to fly, even going on all-night camping trips. It wasn’t long before my non-Scout friends wished their parents hadn’t let them quit, and in fact they joined up the next year. Hey, maybe it was how cool I looked in that uniform. Chicks dig uniforms, ya know.

All-in-all it was fun, and we did it all while learning about being leaders, being responsible and providing service to others.

But what I learned the most was to never, ever quit.

Thanks Dad.

Losing Tim

Posted: September 27, 2016 in Death, Inspiration, Life
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Today marks 17-years since I lost one of my best friends, Tim.TimBeckMike

I first met him when I was in high school. I played basketball at Paint Valley and he played for Bishop Flaget. Honestly? At first I hated the guy. If you think trash talking began in the 90’s you’d be mistaken. Tim had it down to a fine art in 1974.

It was one of those deals where you wanted to be mad at the him but it was difficult because you were too busy laughing at him.  Bottom line though, we respected each other.

As time went by we found ourselves running into each other more and more. We both worked at a State Park in the summer, doing odd jobs around the lake like mowing, picking up trash and cleaning bathrooms. It gave us a lot of time to talk about life, sports, politics, and most importantly, music.

Beatles music.

Tim is the only person who I ever felt appreciated the Beatles as much as I did. We’d talk for hours about them, arguing about song lyrics or album covers, the relevance of certain songs, who was the most talented Beatle. I was always a Lennon guy, he leaned towards McCartney. We used to argue about which was the greatest Beatle album. He always said it was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and I always argued for Abbey Road.  We could never come to an agreement on that one, arguing for hours on end over which was the greatest album.

I remember once when he came up with the idea that he and I should do a radio show. We sat down and had it all planned out. The format, ideas for different shows, everything. It was to be a 3-hour show from 10-1 on Saturday night. We were going to argue about music and different songs, compare cover versions of songs, play Beatles stuff backwards, point out songs that were clearly rip-offs of earlier tunes, we had it all figured out.

Tim knew everyone in town, so it was no problem to arrange a meeting with the head of the local radio station. The only problem was, when we met with the guy he’d already asked around about us. Turns out there was zero chance this guy was going to unleash us on the unsuspecting masses. We even told him we’d make a demo tape for him, but in the end we had no chance.

Seems our reputations had preceded us, damn it.

Tim was honest to a fault. If you didn’t want to hear the truth he wasn’t a guy you wanted to have around. It wasn’t uncommon to run into Tim, and if you hadn’t seen him for awhile he’d say something like, “Jesus Shoe, you’ve gained some weight, right?” or “Man, you’re losing more hair every time I see you.”

You know, pleasantries like that.

Listen, I’m not going to sugarcoat things here. Tim rubbed some people the wrong way. They didn’t appreciate his brand of honest, straightforward candor. As for me, it was exactly what I expected from a friend.

And often times that honesty was exactly what you needed. I remember running into him years ago, after I’d flunked out of college and was working in a local factory. I hated my job, was unhappy with my life, and was generally making everyone around me miserable. Tim took one look at me and said, “You look like hell. What’s wrong?” I told him I was fine but he wasn’t buying it. He said, “No you’re not. You hate yourself because you know you can do better. You need to get out of that fucking factory.”

ShoeTim98

And I did.

He was exactly right and I knew that, but sometimes it takes a friend to say it out loud.

Over the years we grew even closer as I became a teacher and coach and he worked as the chairman of our local political party as well as holding other jobs in local and state government. My family had been active in local politics my entire life, so it was one more thing we had in common. We did a lot of work together with local government, and because of Tim I got to meet President Bill Clinton and several other important political people.

Bottom line, he was exactly what I needed – honest with me when I needed it most, pointing out my faults without exception, and accepting me for who I was, warts and all. What more could anyone possibly want in a friend?

It was the early summer of 1999 and I was vacationing in the Outer Banks when I got a call from my father. He said he’d heard some bad news regarding Tim and that I might want to give him a call. I did, and after the usual greetings we had the following conversation:

Me: “Hey, I heard you got some serious news yesterday. Are you OK?”

Tim: “Well, only if you consider being told you have 12-weeks to live serious. Otherwise I’m great.”

Good God. Leave it to him to make light of the most morbid situation imaginable. But seriously, you know what he was doing, right? He was worried about my feelings. He’d heard the worry in my voice was trying to make me feel better.

Think about that. That should tell you all you need to know about him.

Over the next few weeks Tim gradually deteriorated despite seeing the experts and doing all the things recommended medically. It was difficult to watch, and he handled it much better than the rest of us, believe me.

Later that summer we talked him into going to the first game ever played in Cleveland’s new football stadium. It was a preseason contest against the Minnesota Vikings, on August 21st. We knew he didn’t have much time left but he sucked it up and agreed to go. He was down to probably 130 pounds, maybe less, and was feeling awful. In fact, he was spitting blood into a paper cup on the way to the game.

I remember he’d gotten a rather severe haircut before we left, and I kept telling him he looked like a Nazi war prisoner. He was so thin and gaunt, and that combined with the haircut made his ears look twice their normal size. At some point one of our wives started calling him “Wingnut” and it stuck for the rest of the weekend.

After checking in at our hotel, Tim and I got a cab to the stadium. For some reason we only had two tickets so the ladies stayed behind. After arriving we realized our seats were in the nosebleed section, w-a-y up top. It immediately became clear that the walk up there wasn’t going to be easy for Tim. He was already out of breath, and we’d barely started. No way he was going to make it.

Finally we saw an elevator, but it had a “V.I.P. Only” sign on it and was being guarded by a humongous man with a shaved head and arms the size of tree trunks. I walked up and explained the circumstances, hoping the guy would see our situation and cut us a break. But, it was the first game ever played there and the guy was under strict orders. He was having none of it.

Suddenly, Tim was there:

Look at me. I can’t walk up there. It’s obvious I’m dying. Help me out.”

At that point the guy stared at Tim for what felt like an eternity, then nodded his head in the direction of the elevator, punched in a code and said, “Get on.”

And we did. Then Tim looked at me, smiled and said, “Might as well use it to my advantage while I can.”

We finally made our way to our seats and sat down. Now, anybody who knew Tim will tell you he was a flirt with the ladies. He definitely had a weakness where beautiful women were concerned. That said, a few minutes later a hot blonde took the seat right next to him. He glanced over, did a double-take, and said, “Well, hell-ooo. How YOU doin’?

I could only stare and shake my head. Here he was, days away from dying, skinny as hell, hair sticking up all over, spitting blood into a paper cup, just so damn sick.

But still flirting with the girls? Hell yes.

On September 26th my wife and I had a political fundraiser at our house for my cousin Mike, a State Senator at the time. I believe it was a Sunday. There were 25-30 people there, and towards the end of the party Tim walked in. The place grew completely quiet, as many of the people there hadn’t seen him in weeks or even months and were stunned at his appearance. I remember our Scottish Terrier, Poe, coming out of the bedroom and looking at Tim. Poe normally stayed in the bedroom when we had large groups of people over, as he wasn’t crazy about big crowds. This time, however, was different. He walked over to the chair that Tim has just sat down in, jumped up on his lap, and began crying and licking his face. For the rest of Tim’s stay Poe wouldn’t leave his side.

Somehow, Poe knew.

The next evening I got the phone call nobody ever wants to get, and I immediately went over to Tim’s house.

I’ll always be thankful for the fact that I was able to spend a few of his last minutes with him.

I’d lost friends before, but they’d all passed suddenly. They never had a chance to think about what was happening, no time to say goodbye, no time for anger or sadness.

Tim had time for all of those things.

The thing is though, over those last 3-months I never saw him angry. I never saw him play the victim, never saw him feel sorry for himself, never saw him scream at God and ask why. Around me at least, he carried a quiet dignity that was remarkable. I respected that so much.

Once, towards the end, I mentioned this to him. I said that if I were in his position I’d be tempted to avenge very person who ever did me wrong, at the very least tell them how I felt before I left this earth, really let them have it.

His response?

“That’s because you’re an asshole. I am too, but something like this makes you see things a little differently. Why waste time on negative stuff like that? Life’s too short.”

Coming from him at that moment, truer words were never spoken.

I’ve not always been successful, but ever since he said that I’ve tried to not waste time using negative energy in my life. It seems a cliché, but you really do have to try and be the best person you can be every day. Like he said, why waste precious time?

He was only 42 when he died, and that was way too soon. And as difficult as it was to watch him suffer, at least he got to say his goodbyes to those he loved, especially his daughter Becky and his son Mike. That’s a kind of blessing, right?

After Tim’s funeral, we went out with some mutual friends and basically reminisced about him. It was an emotional day, and afterwards I just wanted to get home, spend some time alone and relax.

I went down to my basement where I had a bar, my library, and my music collection. I made a drink, sat down on my couch and laid my head back, just trying to unwind after a trying day. When I finally looked up, though, something caught me eye. A CD had fallen from one of my shelves and was on the floor, right in the open, where it had inexplicably landed right in the middle of the room.

The album was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. 

It seems that Tim had gotten the last word.

I walked over and picked it up, put the CD in the player, hit play, and listened.

A Lesson Learned

Posted: September 23, 2016 in Classroom, Life
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Note: I’m going to leave names and locations out of this story, although a lot of you will know who and where I’m talking about. There are no hard feelings regarding any of this, as I was young, hard-headed and stupid in many ways, sort of like I am now minus the young part. In addition, some people may remember what happened differently, and that’s cool. This is simply how I recall what happened.

It was during my third year of teaching when I learned a valuable lesson, a lesson that I’ll explain at the end of this recollection. As I said, I was young at the time, wasn’t particularly involved in teacher unions or anything like that, just excited about teaching and the future I had to look forward to. Anyway, here’s what happened . . .

I was teaching middle school Reading at the time and we had a pretty good thing going at our school. Our principal was a great guy, loved the kids, got along well with his staff, blah-blah-blah. Our high school? Not so much. The principal there was having some problems. I don’t even recall what those problems were, but suffice it to say trouble was afoot.

As administrations sometimes do, they made a decision that made zero sense. They simply decided to switch principals. Yep, their answer was to move the middle school principal to the high school and the high school principal to the middle school. While this decision was great for the high school, we at the middle school were pretty pissed about it.

So, a meeting was called. I’m not even sure who called it, all I remember is walking into a classroom where the entire staff had gathered to discuss this act of egregiousness.  As the teachers in the room were going back-and-forth regarding possible ways to deal with the problem,  I distinctly recall sitting in the back, talking with my buddy Joe about something, probably basketball or politics. At some point during the teacher’s discussion a decision was made to send a representative to talk to our superintendent, let him know how we felt as a staff.

To this day I don’t know how I was chosen to represent our staff, but maybe it was because I was young and idealistic, possibly because I didn’t give a damn, likely because I was naïve enough to think there would be no repercussions.

I should have recognized the foreshadowing of events to come when 4 or 5 of the more vocal teachers pulled me aside after the meeting or early the next morning and whispered something along the lines of, “Hey, you’re not going to mention any names over there, are you?”

Uh, no? But as I mentioned, I was young, idealistic, and evidently a little dumb.

The meeting had been after school, so the next morning I called over to our Superintendent’s Office to schedule an appointment, which was made for noon that day. After eating in my room I headed that way.

As I walked over I passed my aforementioned good friend and fellow coach Joe’s room, where he was sitting at his desk finishing his lunch. I stuck my head in and said, “Hey, I’m heading over for my meeting. Want to walk over with me?” He sort of shrugged, replied, “Sure,” and hopped up to join me. Just providing a little backup, nothing more.

Or so we thought.

We walked into the Supe’s office, sat down, and I expressed the feeling of the staff, being extra careful to not mention anyone by name. I basically just said the middle school staff was happy with the way things were and didn’t agree with the switching of principals. My friend Joe sat there and didn’t say a lot, although he did pitch in with a thought or two along the way.

When I finished I was basically expecting a “Thanks for your input Mr. Shoemaker. I’ll consider the staff’s opinion. Have a nice day.”

What I got instead was, “Well, if you two don’t think you can work with your new principal we can make other arrangements.”

Hold on a sec there, boss. What?

Number one, I was just the spokesperson. Number two, aren’t we all professionals here? Just because I don’t agree with the decision doesn’t mean I won’t continue to do my job the way I always have. What the hell?

At that point things got a little tense, but not out of hand. I sort of vocalized the points I made in the previous paragraph, and my buddy Joe added his 2-cents as well.

So, the meeting ended with some awkward handshakes and terse goodbyes, but I otherwise thought we’d made our point, been unceremoniously rebuked, and sent on our way. I was sort of shocked but otherwise unscathed. End of story.

Wrong.

The next morning I stopped at my mailbox, and in it was a letter informing me I was being transferred to one of our outlying middle schools in the district for the next school year. Stunned, I walk down to my room. Shortly thereafter Joe, the guy who had walked over with me because his room was on my way to the meeting, walks in holding a letter of his own. He was being transferred as well, to our other outlying school.

Nice.

And you know what? Although some parents complained, not one teacher spoke up in our defense.

In the end it turned out fine for me because I spent two wonderful years at the school I’d been transferred to, and I met some outstanding students and families who are friends to this day. Then I moved to Paint Valley where I taught until I retired. Joe only spent one year away before moving back to his original school when a job opened up.

All in all it was quite a learning experience, but my biggest lesson was this:

When things go bad a lot of people will talk big, but when it’s time to go to battle and you’re the one leading the charge, don’t look behind you.

There may not be anybody there.

Back when I was the Athletic Director at our school I had several students whosara regularly worked for me, doing things like taking tickets at games, running errands during the school day, just performing tasks that I didn’t really have time for. These kids were called my “AD Aides” and I really couldn’t have done my job without them.

Many times I’d ask one of these kids to go do something with very little  instruction, and they’d ask me how they were supposed to complete the task. My response was always this:

“Be resourceful.”

I did this partly because I didn’t have time to go into detail about what I wanted them to do, and partly because I knew I was teaching then to think independently and to complete tasks entirely on their own.

On a related note, you really had to be a special kind of student to work for me. It wasn’t always easy.

That said, I had some great aides, among them Casey, Megan, Cindi, Cara, April, Roxanne and Chris. I won’t go into detail, but they know who they are.

And then there was Sara.

Sara was a girl who, although she worked for me in the Athletic Department, wasn’t athletic at all. She was overweight and had some pretty serious health issues, even back in high school.

Sara was as loyal as any kid I ever taught or coached. She had a big heart and saw the best in everyone. She worked for me during the day at school, and after school during games. Like I said, she had some serious health issues but never, ever let it slow her down. She simply loved helping out the athletic teams at our school any way she could. Sara helped at all my events doing all sorts of things – concessions, ticket taker, virtually every job I had as Athletic Director.

Sara was willing to do anything to help out.

Some days you could tell she was tired, but never once did she complain to me. She was just so happy to be a part of the athletic department at our school, and I was thrilled to have her as an assistant.

Everybody knew Sara, all the athletes, parents, teachers and fans, and she always greeted them with a smile. She was a great representative for our school.

After Sara graduated, she still came back to help out when she could. After I’d resigned as AD and returned as the head basketball coach, I was having trouble getting workers for our specified night helping with concessions at a football game. I sent out a request on Facebook for help, and guess who was the first to respond and lend me a hand?

Yep. Sara, even though she was clearly not feeling well.

At the end of the evening that night, after the game, most of the people were gone and Sara and I just sat and talked as she was waiting for her ride home. She told me that some of the best moments of her life were working for me when I was Athletic Director. She told me how much she looked forward to the games and the opportunities to meet and talk to new people.

It made me realize that sometimes, the best moments for some are right here at school, doing things that many of us sometimes find boring or mundane. For Sara, school and in particular the athletic complex was a place of refuge, a place to shine, even to cherish.

Sara died on March 27th, 2015. She was only 32.

Shortly thereafter I received a message from her brother Michael. It seems that, before she passed, Sara had requested that her ashes be spread somewhere over the Paint Valley Athletic Complex. He asked if it would be possible to grant her wish.

And one day awhile after, on a quiet, beautiful Saturday afternoon, we did just that. As I looked on, Michael and mother Terri laid Sara to rest over an area near and dear to Sara’s heart.

And it was exactly where she wanted to be.

1Another story from my misspent youth . . .

We had a kid in our neighborhood when I was growing up that was, shall we say, lacking in the looks department. Ah, what the hell, he was the ugliest SOB I’ve ever seen. He had a bulbous nose, elephantine ears, beady eyes, and his complexion was so bad it looked as if his face had caught on fire on somebody’d put it out with a rake.

God, I can be mean. But seriously, this dude’s parents had to tie a steak around his neck to get the dog to play with him.  I swear he had to sneak up on a glass of water to get a drink. Hey-O! I could go on forever.

In addition, he was really big for his class at school. Alright, so he’d been held back a couple of times. But he was still big for his age, and not just big-big. Humongously fat-big. Add some long greasy hair to the mix and I think you get the visual.

The guy’s last name was Granderson, and for some unknown reason that only our then-addled minds could understand, we called him Grungy. Grungy Granderson. Hey, it seemed to fit.

Anyway, he hated the nickname. Hated it. If you ever called him that you best be sure that you weren’t within grabbing distance or you were in for a severe ass-whipping. However, since Grungy was lacking in the footspeed department some of us would occasionally get away with actually calling him that to his troll-like face. The fact that Grungy was such a mean and hateful guy somehow made this acceptable in our world.

Wait. Now that I think about it, it’s sort of obvious why he was so angry all the time. The world can be a cruel place, man.

I actually felt a hint of remorse there for a second. Hold on . . . OK, it passed.

That said, one day I was cruising by Twin School on my bike with my buddy Buddy (seriously, his name was Buddy) when we noticed Grungy shooting some hoops on the playground. Buddy, who could be a bit of a jackass, then suggested we ride over and torment Grungy a bit. After all, we were on our bikes and he was not. Seemed like a safe and entertaining way to kill a few minutes. Have I mentioned I was once one helluva a punk-ass kid?

Before we rode over there, though, Buddy and I had this conversation:

Buddy: “Hey, why don’t you see how close you can get to him, call him Grungy, and then take off?”

Me: “Why don’t you?”

Because I’m quick like that.

Buddy: “C’mon. I dare you.”

Me: “No way man. That dude would crush my spleen if he caught me.”

Buddy: “You’re a chicken.”

Me: “For once in your life you are correct. I am a chicken.”

Buddy: “C’mon. I double dare you.”

Now, when I was 12-years old you could dare me, you could call me chicken, you could question my manhood. But you could not double dare me. Ever. Double dare me and I would take you up on it. That was the the rule of the street in Bourneville, Ohio in the late 60s my friends. I know, it makes no sense, but anyone in my age group knows exactly what I’m talking about.

So . . .

We rode on over and I immediately began circling Grungy on my bike, saying clever things like:

“G-r-u-n-g-y . . .”

“Hey GRUNGY!”

“Grungeman!”

“What’s up Grungy?”

“G-R-U-U-U-U-U-N . . .”

A-n-d I never got that last part out because a basketball had just slammed into the back of my head at approximately the speed of light. I swear it felt like a cannonball had hit me from a distance of 10-feet, thrown by an angry King Kong after 17-Red Bulls and a shot of liquid adrenaline. To this day if you look closely at the back of my head I’m pretty sure you can see the faint outline of the word “Spalding” there, backwards.

Of course I flew off my bike, and when I came to my senses Grungy was towering over me like an enraged Goblin on steroids.

Man, was he pissed.

He then picked me up by the front of my t-shirt and belt of my pants, held me over his head, and threw me like a rag doll into the air. While airborne it felt like I was moving in slow motion. Everything became quiet and it was actually quite peaceful for a few seconds. While up there I believe I actually caught a glimpse of Buddy, my supposed friend, pedaling away at warp-speed while glancing over his shoulder in fear, like a hobo being chased by a guy with a job offer.

Of course all that ended when I landed on the playground blacktop.

I sat up, stunned, looking around wildly for the expected onslaught that was to come. But nothing came. All I saw was Grungy riding away on my little bike, looking like one of those bears in the circus that they’ve taught to ride a bicycle. It would have been funny if I’d had any feeling in my upper torso.

After sitting on the ground for awhile trying to catch my breath and my bearings and feeling around for missing teeth and you know, blood, I got up and walked home.

And there, leaning against a tree in my front yard, was my bike.

Grungy had left it for me.

God knows I deserved what I got and he had every right to roll my bicycle into Paint Creek or something, but for some reason he didn’t.

Grungy moved away soon after that, and I never got the chance to ask him why he left my bike for me. I guess somewhere deep inside that big, mean, ugly body there beat a good heart.

I sort of wish I’d known that sooner.

I see it every day on social media or hear it in the hallways – kids anywhere coupleholdinghandsloveboycutegirl-6337b3b373e70eab74f82c9f0d784d4f_hfrom 7th grade to 12th telling their boyfriend or girlfriend, “I love you!”

Sigh.

First off, how does a 13-year old kid know what love is? I’m pretty sure I was 25 before I ever uttered those words, and even then I wasn’t sure what it meant. Hell, I’m not 100% sure I know what it means now.

Has the word been cheapened so much that everyone just sort of tosses it around haphazardly? Because 90% of these kids will break up within a month, ya know? Apparently they don’t know this?

Hey, when I was in high school we were terrified to say those words, because it meant commitment. We were under enough pressure in our relationships without bringing that strain into it.

Yikes.

Another phenomenon I see these days are parents being really, really involved in their kid’s relationships. You see the parents of both kids having picnics together, going on vacation with each other, all sorts of activities. Hey, my mom and dad wouldn’t have known my girlfriend’s parents if they walked through their front door.

Then again, my parents probably knew I wasn’t in it for the long haul anyway, so there’s that.

Still, doesn’t it put pressure on the kids when their parents get involved with each other? When the inevitable breakup occurs, you’re not only breaking up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, you’re breaking up with his/her mom and dad, brother Seth, little sister Emily and Uncle Ned from Illinois.

Geez, back off a little, will ya? Give those kids some breathing room, man. Like I said, teenage relationships are tough enough without that kind added of burden to haul around.

So kids, save your declarations of undying love until, you know, you’ve been together for more than a week. In fact, let’s make it a combination of a 2-years and at least 18-years of age. Even then it’s too early, but I’m feeling generous today.

And mom and pop? S-l-o-w down a tad, ‘ite?

slowdown

Robbery with Ray

Posted: September 10, 2016 in Life
Tags:

The following story illustrates how one’s upbringing affects how one reacts to the different imagescircumstances life may throw at you. Listen up . . .

Back when I was at Ohio State I was sharing an apartment with a guy named Ray. Ray was born and raised in a poor, tough neighborhood on the outskirts of Wheeling, WV. Trust me, I spent a couple weekends there and it was, shall we say, not the best place to raise a family. This fact will be relevant to my story shortly.

Anyway, Ray and I had become pretty good friends and had agreed to rent an apartment together out near Reynoldsburg. One night after we’d been out partying with friends, we returned home around 3:00am to find our door ajar. Upon walking in, it was apparent we’d been robbed. The TV and stereo were gone, and stuff was strewn everywhere. The apartment had been ransacked.

Being the naïve bonehead that I was, I immediately began storming about the apartment, waving my arms and raging at the injustice bestowed upon me. Hell, I’d never been burgled before.

Ray? Not so much. He had other thoughts.

As I turned around, I saw that my friend had grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen drawer and was moving stealthily down the hallway, opening doors and closets, looking for the thief, or thieves, that might still be there, hiding.

I swear he looked like a freaking ninja, ready to pounce.

So, as yours truly had lost his gourd and was barreling around the house like a madman screaming at life’s injustices, Ray was a step ahead, hoping to exact some sweet revenge on a crook that had picked the wrong apartment to burgle.

You see, Ray had been there before.

Turns out that the apartment was empty, but I learned a valuable lesson that night – before you react like a moron, stop and consider the possibilities.

And always think a step ahead, kids. Always think a step ahead.

“I dropped a tear in the ocean. The day it is found is the day I’ll stop missing you.”

Nine years ago, on September 8th, I lost the best little friend I’d ever had.

I first laid eyes on Delaney in early December of 2000. She was a 4-year old rescue and my wife and I had to go pick her up from the Dayton Scottish Terrier Club of America. She was unrecognizable as a Scottie. Her hair was long and unkempt, totally full of knots. When we reached down to pet her she would immediately hit the floor, going flat on her stomach. She just assumed she was going to be hit.

Del had been terribly abused by her owners. She trusted nobody, and would growl and shy away from anyone who tried to touch her. It would be over a year before she would even lick your hand. She had no idea how to love or show compassion. When we brought her home to meet her new brother Poe, she growled and nipped at him, generally making his life miserable for several months.

Over time, Del learned that we weren’t going to hurt her. She slowly and gradually warmed up to us, but it seemed to take forever. When she finally opened up to us, her incredible personality was revealed. She was a feisty, tough, animated, energetic little girl, albeit one with a giant chip on her shoulder. She had the most amazing eyes and expressions that just spoke to you. When she wanted something, she never hesitated to let you know with a yelp and a nudge of her nose. In fact, she came quite proficient at using that nose as a battering ram. If a door was left even slightly ajar, you could soon expect Del to come barging in to see what you were up to. To make matters worse, she taught her brother the same trick.

Del was a fighter. She didn’t back down from anything, whether it be a bigger delsleep11dog or a terrible disease. Ten years ago we took her in for a vet appointment and found that she had an abdominal mass inside of her. We’d had no idea. She’d been at the beach all summer and hadn’t shown a bit of discomfort. Her spleen had to be taken out, but she was as good as new in a month or so.

Then, in the fall of ’07 Del fell ill again. This time it was cancer, and she had to have a 9-pound tumor removed from her little 25-pound body. After surgery, pancreatitis set in and it was really bad. She was at MedVet for several days, and at one point the doctor told us that we shouldn’t hold out much hope, that Del didn’t have much of a chance, probably wouldn’t make it through the night. She could barely hold her little head up, and we basically said our goodbyes.

But as I was leaving a young vet called me aside and whispered this:

“Don’t give up. She’s a hundred times stronger than you or me. I can tell.”

And he was right.

The next morning we called expecting the worst, but incredibly we were told she was sitting up. Stunned, we went to see her and were thrilled to see she was much better. The doctors were shocked and Del was quite the little celebrity among the vets and staff at MedVet. Everyone was just amazed that she’d fought through it and came out alive. Del was a little miracle dog. She came home a few days later and just kept recovering until she seemed as good as new.

Unfortunately, the cancer came back and this time it had spread to her bladder. In January 2008 we were told that Delaney had 4-months to live. You would never had known it as she was as perky and vibrant as ever, hopping around, standing on her back legs asking for treats, just generally being Del. The 4-months passed and she was still going strong. Once again Del was beating the odds. Then, in late August, she started showing signs that things weren’t right. She started to decline quickly, eventually stopped eating and our local vet told us that it was time.

We lost Delaney on September 8th, 2008. She was nearly 12-years old, and I held her as she passed. She was wrapped in an old robe of mine that she loved so much. You know, I learned more from her than anyone can imagine. Her determination, resiliency, and lust for life were inspiring. Once she learned that we loved her, her loyalty, compassion, boundless energy, and sheer will-power made her a remarkable pet and the perfect companion.

She’s been gone for 8-years now, but she will never, ever be forgotten.

I loved that little dog so much.

1

Music is such a big part of my life I barely know where to begin. I can’t even fathom not having it around me constantly. If I don’t see a live show every couple months I start getting all jittery and whatnot, like I’m going through withdrawal.

How do people get by without music? I have friends who barely listen to music. A girl I once knew listened to two artists exclusively – Bon Jovi and Jimmy Buffett. Seriously, those two. Exclusively. All the time. That just baffled the hell out of me.

And some people are stuck forever in their favorite genre or decade for all-time. For instance, I know guys who limit their collection to 70’s Rock, groups like KISS, Journey and Boston. This is incomprehensible to me.

Hey, I like that stuff as much as the next guy but my mood sort of dictates what I listen to, ya know?  And sometimes KISS just doesn’t do it for me.

Sometimes R.E.M. or The Eels do it for me.

Or The Ramones.

Or even Tchaikovsky.

Or often, the sweet sounds of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles or The Stylistics.

Like I said, it just depends on the mood, ya know?

I have friends who only listen to Sports Talk Radio or the news in their car, and that’s perplexing to me as well. To each his own I guess, but I just can’t relate, man.

I listen to music everywhere – my car, the bathroom, my office, my classroom, the beach, or when I walk or ride my bike.

On the rare occasion I leave Sparky at home, I always leave music on for him. I just make sure Taylor Swift isn’t in the mix. If you missed that blog, Sparky hates Taylor Swift.

And I love all music – classic rock, alternative, reggae, hip-hop, country (old and new), R&B (especially The Philly Sound), classical, everything. That doesn’t mean there’s music out there I don’t like, but for me, everything is in play.

My parents listened to guys like Dean Martin and Al Martino, and I used to listen to my oldest sister Karen’s records by Gene Pitney, Bobby Vinton and yes, Elvis Presley. But let me tell you, when The Beatles came along it was on.

When my middle sister Sara began dating a guy named Dave my music tastes were suddenly broadened considerably. Dave used to bring 45s to the house every time he came over, and all of a sudden I was hearing stuff by The Grass Roots, Lou Christie, The Bee Gees, The Byrds and many more.

I can’t tell you how many hours I spent just lounging on the living room couch, listening to music on the stereo. It’s hard to explain, but I just got lost in it. Hours would pass as I became immersed in the music.

Back then I often turned to it in times of trouble. Still do. When things are going badly music can take you to another place.

A better place.

We’ve all been there. You’re listening to a song, and you suddenly realize that the person who wrote the song has experienced the exact same thing that you are experiencing. Suddenly, you’re not alone.

And that’s comforting, right?

Anyway, here’s a sample of some moods and what you might find me listening to when I’m in them:

Sad = The Beatles or The Eels. These bands cheer me up without fail. They make me happy.

Angry = The Clash or Breaking Benjamin. Punk can be pretty angry music so it works and so does Post Grunge/Alternative Metal.

Happy = Al Green. I dare you to listen to “Let’s Stay Together” and not smile. I love Al Green.

Nervous = Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky soothes the soul. I also often listen to Tchaikovsky when I clean the house, which makes no sense whatsoever but is nevertheless true. I’m a complex dude.

These are just samples. Like I said, on any given day it could be anything.

So, is music as big a part of your life as it is mine? If so, who are your go-to bands or artists?

Let’s hear it!

ANDY RAY ANDERSON

AndoFace

Andy Anderson: 1958-2016

November 18th,1958 – July 30th, 2016

Andy Ray Anderson of Venice, Florida passed away Saturday, July 30th, 2016 after a brief fight with cancer. Andy passed with his loving wife Cindi, beautiful daughter Ashlei, and old friend Rick Baum and wife Sue at his side.

Born and raised in Bainbridge, Ohio to Patricia “Patsy” and Charles “Dink” Anderson, Andy attended Paint Valley High School with his older brother Brent.

Andy’s exploits on the football field, baseball diamond and basketball court are legendary. He played college baseball at Kent State University and was inducted into the Paint Valley Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.

In the late 1980’s Andy moved to Florida where he met and fell in love with the love of his life, Cindi Paine. On March 13, 1993 they welcomed their precious angel Ashlei Mae Anderson into this world.

Andy worked at many of the local pubs in Venice as a bartender, including Flannagan’s Pub and The Green Diamond, where he worked for the last 6-years.

In his spare time Andy loved to spend time with Cindi and Ashlei, who he loved more than anything in the world. By moving to Florida, Andy truly found what he was looking for.

Andy was loved by many and had a multitude of friends in both Ohio and Florida. Among those who spent time with Andy during his last days were lifelong friends Dave Shoemaker, Tom Elliott and Rick Baum.

Andy had a vibrant personality that could light up a room, was extremely loyal, and to count him as a friend was truly a blessing.

Andy was preceded in death by his parents, Patsy and Dink Anderson and sister-in-law Traci Paine Bartram. Also grandparents Helen and Starlie “Jim” Anderson and Frank and Sarah Swisshelm, Uncles William “Bill” Anderson and Donald “Jigger” Anderson, and cousins Ann and Mark Anderson.

He is survived by wife Cindi, daughters Ashlei and Lindsay, his brother Brent and sister-in-law Jill, his Aunt Lucy and Uncle Dave Anderson, Aunts Charlotte Anderson and Aunt Karen Anderson-Armstrong, and several cousins .

They say that the quality of one’s life is more important than the quantity, and Andy lived a fulfilling life that touched everyone with whom he came in contact.

Andy Anderson is gone, but he will never, ever be forgotten.

The school year is starting soon. Well, at least for some of you. Not for me of course. Have I mentioned I’m retired? B-W-A-H-A-A-H-A-A-H-A-A! But I’ll try and not rub it in too much. Ah, screw it. I can’t lie. While I’m looking forward to my retirement from teaching, the truth is I’ll miss it.

A lot.

But anyway, with the kids returning this week I thought it might be a good time to give my advice to future teachers. Hey, I don’t claim to have all the answers so you can take it or leave it, but I do have a little experience ya know. I had to learn something in 30+ years, right?

Right?

Let us proceed with my pearls of (hopefully) wisdom . . .

  1. Be yourself. By this I mean don’t try and emulate your favorite teacher, your mother, your coach, etc. While you can learn from others, you have to stay true to who you are. If you’re a phony the kids are going to see right through you, but if you’re honest the kids will appreciate it and respect you for it.
  2. Teaching is the best discipline. Yep, the best way to avoid problems in the classroom is to simply keep the kids engaged. Teach. Keep them interested and focused. Don’t hand out a bunch of worksheets or quit early. Downtime leads to trouble. A couple years ago I had a kid who’d had trouble focusing in years prior, and of course this led to behavior issues. Anyway, he was doing fine for me and during a meeting with his mother the principal asked him why he paid attention in my class. His answer of “It’s sort of hard not to” was probably the best compliment a kid ever gave me.
  3. If you don’t know, say so. You don’t have to pretend to be some all-knowing brainiac because you aren’t. Again, the kids will see right through you. It’s perfectly alright to say, “Hey, good question. I don’t know the answer to that one. Let’s look it up.” That’s what Smart Boards are for, folks. In addition, admit it when you’re wrong.
  4. Never, ever, talk down to your students. The best teachers I’ve ever known are the ones who just talk to their students as if they’re talking to an equal. Sure, kids need ripped from time-to-time but it’s best just to keep them on your level, not below you.
  5. Be prepared to fail. Try as we might, we can’t save ’em all. You can’t let one kid drag down the entire class. And remember, when you make all those grandiose plans on Sunday evening? There’s a good chance they’ll all go straight to hell by Tuesday afternoon. Be flexible.
  6. Don’t have a preconceived opinion of your students. Don’t listen to a teacher who had some kid last year tell you what a horrible child he is. Let all of your students start the year with a clean slate, and tell them that the first day. You might be surprised as to how they respond.
  7. Manage your classroom. Want respect from your principal? Don’t send a student to the office every time he or she looks at you funny. I actually had this conversation with a fellow teacher after laughing when she’d sent a kid to the office because he kept forgetting to bring a pencil to class. Teacher: “Oh, and what would YOU have done?” Me: “Uh, give him a pencil.” See, you can buy a box of 72 pencils for $5.99. Hell, give the kid a pencil every day. He’s winning the battle otherwise. It ain’t Rocket Science, folks.
  8. Trust your students. I always believed that, with students, to receive trust you have to give it first. I used to pick the so-called “bad” kid early in the year to perform some task that required some level of trust, like maybe taking the lunch money to the office or something. The point is, when the kid performed said task without hightailing it to parts unknown you’d built a level of trust. Sure, if he failed miserably you dealt with it but if he met your expectations you had something to build on. In addition, listen to your students. Ask them what’s working and what they like and dislike about how you’re teaching. They’ll tell you the truth.
  9. Treat your co-workers with respect. In particular custodians and secretaries. They know what’s going on in and around the school. You can learn a lot from them. Learn every name in the building and call them by name. In addition, these folks can get things done for you when many others cannot. I always assigned different “trash ninjas” to pick up at the end of the day. I’d yell “trash ninjas!” and they’d leap and bound around the room gathering up random pencils, paper and whatnot. Fun but efficient, and the custodians will love you for it. And secretaries can take care of you and help you out more than you could ever imagine. Trust me on that one.
  10. Teach beyond the test. I know, you’re supposed to be teaching directly to the test. Screw that. There are going to be times when you have one of those “teaching moments” where every kid in the room is focused on you and what you’re saying, and it may have absolutely nothing to do with your Course of Study or Content Standards. Take advantage of that focus and go with it. The state has been trying to take creativity out of the classroom for years. Keep fighting the good fight. Don’t let ’em do it.
  11. If you don’t enjoy teaching, please do something else. Listen, I’m not mad at ya if you don’t like teaching, but this isn’t a regular job we’re talking about here. I mean, you can hate your job selling Veg-O-Matics and the only person who’ll suffer from it is Ron Popeil (I know, that’s sort of an obscure reference but if you don’t get it search it up on The Goggle). My point is that, as a teacher, you’re affecting a lot of young minds and attitudes. Don’t let your unhappiness with the vocation you chose carry over to the classroom. And don’t bitch about your job. Believe me, there are a lot of people who would love to work 8:00 AM-3:00 PM with weekends, holidays and summers off. Don’t be one of those teachers who breed resentment among those who aren’t lucky enough to do what you do.

So there ya go. And remember, I don’t claim to have all the answers. Lord knows I screwed up as much as anybody. But remember this, new teachers – you’re going to want to quit about 17-times during your first year.

Don’t do it.

Trust me, it’ll all be worth it. Every time a former student comes up to you on the street and mentions something you told them years ago, something that may have seemed small to you at the time but obviously had a lasting impact, something that left an indelible and positive mark on a kid, well, it makes it all worthwhile.

Have a great year.

With all the stuff I’ve posted recently regarding The Wussification of America, wussificationI started thinking about all the things that happened to me as I was growing up and how I could have possibly survived my treacherous, unprotected childhood. I already touched on this in previous blogs entitled Killer Toys, Soft Kids and a Sobering Realization, Dodgeball, a Microcosm of Life and others, but I feel as if I need to expound on it a little more.

You know, because you guys deserve it.

Anyway, I started thinking about all the accidents I was involved in as a kid and how my parents and other family members reacted to them. I gotta say that, in retrospect, I’m damn lucky to be alive. Because when I got hurt, more often than not (and when I say more often than not I mean every time), I was told to suck it the hell up.

I know what you’re thinking, kids. Shoe, let’s hear some examples. Well, as always I’m hear for ya . . .

I don’t recall the following story but it’s been retold to me several times so don’t let any of my bloodline deny it, OK? It happened.

As the story goes, I was just a wee, innocent baby, the third child of my mom and dad. I had two loving older sisters who were disgusted thrilled to have a new little brother. One day my wonderful mother had put me down for a nap and had gone to do the dishes. She heard me crying for a bit, and then I’d become very quiet. Too quiet. So quiet, in fact, that mom became a little concerned. So, she went to check on her little angel. What she found was this . . .

My 5-year old sister, who I shall not name here (it was Sara), was carrying yours truly around by the neck, swinging me around like a lifeless Cabbage Patch Kid. Oh, and my face was blue. Hence the silence on my part. You know, because it’s hard to cry when your windpipe is being crushed. Mom saved me, but she never rushed me to the hospital or anything and I don’t think there were any long-term adverse effects on me.

I don’t think.

Then again I do suffer from periodic blackouts and an intense fear of people touching my neck, so there’s that. Oh, and I’ve never turned my back on my sister since. By the way, she’s way meaner than she looks. Kidding. Love ya Sid.

Later on, when I was around 10-years old, I was climbing a tree in our front yard with my buddy Ted. I believe it was Halloween and we were climbing up there in order leap down and scare the bejesus out of passing Trick or Treaters. Seemed like a good idea at the time. So I was ahead of Ted, probably 20-feet off the ground, when I reached for a branch to pull myself up higher. Well, the branch snapped and I henceforth plummeted downward, past Ted, hurtling towards the ground.

I hit, and my mouth must have been open, tongue out, because when it slammed shut upon impact I bit a substantial sized hole in my tongue. And yes, it hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. It was dark, and I first thought I’d bitten my tongue completely in half. I ran into the house screaming my head off, blood gushing out of my mouth and in a state of panic. Mom and Pop were sitting on the couch, probably watching “My Three Sons” or something. Here’s the conversation that followed:

Me: “I bi my ‘ongue! I bi a hole in my ‘ongue! A-h-h-h-h-h-h! 

By the way, it’s hard to say the letter “t” without using your tongue. Try it.

Mom, not looking away from the TV: “Put some ice on it.”

Me: “Wh-a-a-a-a-a-a-a???”

Dad, eyes glued to the screen: “Shhhhhhhh! Ernie got into some trouble at school! His dad just found out! Put some ice on it!”

So, I put some ice on it and laid on the bed in my room in agony. I think maybe Dad came in during a commercial, took a look, and said I’d be fine. I might have even got a pat on the head out of it.

So, I walked around for a few weeks with a hole in my tongue until it finally grew back together. I can still feel a lump there though, swear to God.

I guess my point is that If this happened today the emergency squad would come and a team of doctors would be called to do reconstructive surgery to repair the damages. Back then? Nah. Put some ice on it.

Another time my buddy Billy and I were bored and decided to have a war with some old 45s my family had in the basement. For you youngsters out there, a 45 was a record, not a gun. It was round and had music on it. You see, you put it on a turntable and . . . never mind.

Anyway, we set up a couple forts with some old couch cushions and started firing these records at each other like frisbees. I happened to peek up at the wrong time and caught a record right over my right eye, and it put about a 2-inch gash right through my eyebrow. Did I mention it bled like hell? I looked like Mike Tyson had caught me with a right cross. Billy, horrified, ran home like a banshee while I ran upstairs looking for help, where I found Mom doing the dishes:

Me: “Mom, I cut my eye! MY EYE!!!”

Mom, grabbing a dishrag to wipe the blood away: “Oh, settle down. It’s not your eye. It’s above your eye. Put some ice on it.” 

Do you see a pattern here? By the way, I still have the scar in my eyebrow. Battle scar, baby.

Another time my friend Ted (yes, him again) and I found some empty beer bottles in a ditch and thought it would be a cool idea to act out a western bar fight. Hey, it looked harmless on TV.  We both got a couple bottles and started swinging, and about 5-seconds in Ted caught me with a shot right to the temple. Turns out those bottles are harder than they appear. I went down like a sack of hammers, blacked out for a few seconds, and awoke to find Ted standing over me, laughing. Our “pretend” bar fight was over.

I never even told my parents. I just put some ice on it.

I used to spend a lot of time up at my Uncle Myrl’s house. He and Aunt Dorothy had 8-kids so there was always something going on. Everything revolved around sports. One summer day I was up there and we went outside to play some baseball. The problem was, we couldn’t find a baseball so cousin Kevin grabbed a croquet ball from somewhere. We’d been playing awhile, I was pitching, when cousin Mick sent a screaming line drive right back at me. I didn’t get my glove up in time and the croquet ball caught me right between the eyes, knocking me out cold.

And what was the reaction of my loving cousins? They all ran back into the house.

I have no idea how long I was out, but I do remember getting up and staggering back into the house, where everyone was watching TV:

Me: “What the hell? Thanks for nothing.”

Mick: “Hey, look. Dave’s alive.”

Kevin: “Better get some ice on that.”

What can I say? We were a little more hardcore back then. Once I was in the woods with my cousins John, Mark and Martin when I leaned on a tree, embedding a humongous thorn in my upper arm. I mean, it was in deep. Hurt like heck too. I mentioned something about going home to get it looked at when somebody said, “Screw that, we’ll get it out.” Next thing I knew they’d heated up the tip of a bowie knife with a cigarette lighter and went to work. After 10-minutes of painful probing, the offending thorn was found and pulled out.

Couldn’t forego a fun hike through the woods because of a silly puncture wound and copious amounts of blood, now could we?

One when I was about 5 or 6 I my parents and I were sitting on the front porch and Dad told me to run around the house to see how fast I could go. In retrospect it’s pretty obvious he was just trying to get rid of me for a little bit, but that’s neither here nor there. Any, I was barefoot as usual and when I made it back around and stood there panting, he sort of looked down, pointed, and calmly stated, “Hey, looks like you cut your foot there.”

I looked down, and sure enough there was a 3-inch slice of meat hanging off my instep like you would not dream. Blood everywhere too, I might add. But hey, no biggie. Mom just slapped some mecuricome* on it, added a band-aid or six and I was ready to rock and roll.

*For you younger folk out there, mecuricome was a wonder antiseptic that was used to prevent and cure all sorts of maladies. And yes, it had mercury in it. I recall it was red and it stung like a mofo. Sadly it was discontinued years ago. Something about causing cancer or some such nonsense. On a related note, I bet mom still has a bottle stashed somewhere.

I’m also 90% sure I broke a kneecap that went untreated when I wrecked my bike as a kid. How do I know this? Because when I get down on that knee today if feels as if I’m kneeling on a live power line. Somehow, I soldier on.

And it wasn’t just my family. I remember a basketball game back in the day at our school. A player suffered a horrific arm injury, complete with a bone sticking out and everything. As he lay on the court writhing in pain, his dad came out for a look. Here’s the conversation that transpired:

Trainer: “This is bad. We need to get him to the hospital right away.”

Father: “Yeah, I’ll go get my truck.”

Trainer: “We have an ambulance outside. Let’s bring in the stretcher and get him out of here.”

Father: “Nah, I’ll take him. Leave the ambulance here. Somebody might get hurt.”

Kid: “Wait. What?”

Random fan: “Better get some ice on that!”

The father then helped the kid up, walked him to their Ford  F150, and went to the hospital. Screw the ambulance.

What can I say? It was a different time. Hell, every kid I knew back then has similar stories to tell. We knew our parents loved us. They just didn’t panic at the sight of a lot of little blood on their kid. They knew that by not running screaming to our aid we’d learn to handle our problems by ourselves and, in turn, become more self-sufficient. They wanted us to be independent of them, not dependent on them.

So we got hurt. Suffered a little. Even bled.

And somehow, some way, we all survived.

We just put a little ice on it.

I love my mom. We’ve always had a special bond, and at 90-years young she’s still my Mombest friend. We’ve always been sort of on the same wavelength, and that’s probably because I’m her favorite. On a related note, you might not want to mention that to my sisters.

Want a straight answer? Ask my mom and you’ll get one. She’s always been brutally honest and really isn’t one for “sugarcoating” things. It’s one of the many things I love about her, because what more could you really ask for?

Mom has always loved me absolutely and unconditionally. And she has always, without fail, been there for me. And even when I had no right to expect it, she believed in me.

But that doesn’t mean I was always treated with kid-gloves. Sometimes I was treated with no gloves, which you’ll hear about later.

One summer my mom took me aside and said she had something important to ask me. She then proceeded to tell me she’d been offered the fifth grade teaching position, a class of which I was to be a part. How would I feel about this?

Are you kidding? Having my mom as my teacher? Su-weet! This would be like having a year off! Let’s do this!

She paddled me the third week of school. I mean really paddled me. I’m pretty sure it was 3-whacks. I begged her not to do it, to wait until we got home, to please not humiliate me in front of the class.

No go. She walloped the hell of me. Did I mention it was 3-whacks?

In retrospect I know exactly what she was doing. Number one, I was being an ass, thinking I could take advantage of the situation. I deserved it. Number two, she was proving a point to the rest of the class – everyone will be treated equally.

Point proven Mom! Thanks!

But back to the “no gloves” thing. I was probably, oh, maybe 13 or 14, and my mother was in the kitchen doing dishes. I was apparently in a playful mood, she, apparently not. For whatever reason I got in a boxing crouch and began hopping around her, feigning jabs and hooks, not making contact but coming damn close.

After a minute or so she asked to stop, but I kept it up, even throwing in the occasional uppercut just for kicks. Then she turned around, and as she wiped her hands on a dish towel said this:

“Stop it. Now.”

But I kept it up. Why, you ask? I guess I was just young and dumb. You know, as opposed to now, when I’m old and dumb. For whatever reason I kept it up. Well, for a few more seconds.

I didn’t really see the punch coming, but I’m pretty sure it was a right cross because it connected on the left side of my jaw. The next thing I knew I was flat on my back, knocked out of the kitchen and onto the living room floor.

Mom just went back to drying the dishes.

In retrospect I should’ve known better. Mom grew up on a farm with two brothers. Plus she’s badass, so there’s that.

I guess in today’s world, where paddling in schools has been banned and spanking children is considered barbaric, my mother would be considered a terrible teacher and parent. Hell, she’d probably be reported to the authorities and somebody would have to step in and “save” me. But had they done that, how could mom have saved me so many times in the years to come?

Ha! Save me from my mom? I would have liked to seen them try.

Artist’s rendering.

This was one of the stories in a series about my susceptibility to almost getting killed as a kid. I’ve alluded to this little mishap before, so stop me if you’ve heard it already.

On Halloween when I was, oh, maybe 11 or 12, my buddy Ted and I decided to climb the big willow tree in my front yard and scare the bejesus out of passing children. If you have to ask why you don’t know what fun is, folks.

I was climbing ahead of Ted, at least 20-feet up. He was probably 10-feet off the ground behind me. I reached for a branch, it broke, and next thing I knew I was hurtling downward, backwards, towards the gaping jaws of death. You ever fall from a great height backwards? A lot of stuff goes through your head as you fall all slow-motiony and whatnot through the air, like “I hope mom will be OK without me” or “I sure wish I would’ve kissed Debbie Mirkelson on the playground last Tuesday when I had the chance“, or perhaps, “Oh no, when they clean my room they’re going to find those magazines under my mattress.”

Too specific? never mind.

My point is, you actually experience great insight and retrospection on the way down. I actually think I may have understood The Grand Unification Theory for a second, but sadly it vanished from my brain upon impact. Anyhoo, as I flew past Ted, and you may find this hard to believe, but he actually yelled, “A-h-h-h-h-h-h-h . . .” imitating a man falling down a hole.

What can I say? I’ve had some really weird friends in my life.

So I hit the ground, landing on my back, and all the air went out of me. Things went black and I thought, “So this is what it’s like to be dead.”

Except I wasn’t, although for a second I’m pretty sure I saw Jesus.

Soon Ted came down and shook me, probably not the preferred method of treatment, and it was only then that I began to feel the pain. My back hurt like hell, but something was seriously wrong with my mouth. I instinctively reached in there to see what was wrong, and to my horror there was a a lot of blood and a substantial sized hole in my tongue. I ran screaming bloody murder into my house, only to be chastised by my parents for interrupting a scintillating episode of “My Three Sons” or something.

Did anyone call 911? Nah. Was I taken to the emergency room? I was not. I got a wet rag, stuck it in my mouth and got on with my life.

Bottom line? Even though I still have a lump in my tongue today, it healed. And my back is fine if you ignore the fact that, on rainy days, it feels like a honey badger is chewing on my lower lumbar vertebrae.

What can I say? ‘Twas a different, and in many ways better, time.

The Fried Hand

Posted: August 5, 2016 in Humor, Kids, Life, Parenting
Tags:

Note: I realize I touched on some of these subjects in one of my critically acclaimed “Wussification of America” blogs, but my editor here at Shoe: Untied, which is me, said it was fine to be a little repetitive. So there.

We all got hurt when we were kids, right? Except back then our parents rarely did the whole “running off to the doctor” thing, correct? Doctors schmocters, we healed up and moved on. Nobody had ever heard of a torn meniscus or an anterior cruciate ligament injury. If you could walk you were good to go, amirite?

You know it, sista. I am right.

With that in mind, I got to thinking about my myriad of childhood injuries and how they were handled. Here’s the first in a 15-part series (yes, 15) that I like to call “Childhood Injuries” because I’m creative like that. Sounds scintillating, doesn’t it? Just read, damn it.

Here’s Part 1:

THE FRIED HAND

1

Spark’s like, “What the hell’s he doing now?”

When I was really young, around three-years old, I was at my grandparent’s farmhouse. They had a woodstove in the kitchen and I was doing what toddlers do, which was toddling. I walked over to the stove and I remember that it looked almost fuzzy, which I know realize indicated that it was red-hot. Being a little kid and not knowing any better, I placed my flat palm on the stove. I don’t remember a lot after that, other than it hurt like a mofo and skin was hanging off my hand like melting plastic.

I have no idea how my burn was treated, but knowing my family at the time grandpa probably killed a chicken and rubbed it’s spleen on me or something (I can’t believe I just typed “Do chickens have spleens?” into The Goggle).

Anyway, it was a serious burn, man. How do I know? Because the scar’s still there, as you can plainly see. On a related note, I used to tell girls I got the scar from pulling an old lady out of a burning car. Hey, whatever works.

Legend has it that my parents had been pretty sure I was left-handed (like dad) up to that point, but I had to go so long using my right hand I became right-handed.

Anyway, it’s weird that I can remember an accident from so long ago, but I think it was so traumatic it’s burned into the banks of my memory. See what I did there? Burned? Never mind.

Note: I just talked to Mom about this. I asked if I was taken to the hospital or the doctor that day and here is her exact quote:

“No, the lady across the road was a nurse or something and she put some kind of salve on it.”

God, that’s just too perfect.

Remembering Andy

Posted: July 31, 2016 in Inspiration, Life, Things I Love
Tags:

I lost one the best friends I’ve ever had yesterday. He was a guy that, when he walked up to me, AndoFaceeverything became better. He could light up a room like nobody I’ve ever known, simply with his personality. He was funny, smart, tough as nails, and as loyal a friend as you could ever ask for . . .

I first met Andy Anderson probably 50-years ago, when his Uncle Jigger began dating my sister Karen. Andy and I played sports together, went on vacations together, partied together, and got in trouble together. Andy was one of those friends that you could call at the drop of a hat and he’d be there for you, ready to do whatever was necessary to make things right for you.

I don’t know anybody who ever met Andy that wasn’t drawn in by the sheer force of his personality. He was one of those people that, when he talked to you, you felt as if you were the only person in the room. That included people that he’d just met.

In reality he probably had maybe 4-5 genuine best friends, but I’ll bet 100 considered him their best friend. Make sense? That’s just how he made people feel.

The truth is that most people who knew him will tell you that they’d never really met anyone else quite like Andy.

Andy spent roughly half his life in Ohio and half in Florida, and he had many people who loved him in both states. I didn’t get to see Andy enough in Venice, but when I did it was like we were back in Bainbridge – people yelling out to him as we passed by or waving from their front yards.

Seems Andy had won over Venice, Florida just as he had Bainbridge, Ohio.

Some of my fondest memories as a kid are of Andy going on vacations with my family. We went to Florida a few times, and once took a memorable trip to Colorado. My parents loved Andy like everyone else and although they’re both 89-years old still tell stories about him. A particular favorite is the time Andy attempted to order a Brazier Burger at Dairy Queen and ordered a Brassiere Burger instead. My dad loved that one. Still tells the story to this day. He doesn’t remember everything but he sure remembers that one.

Andy was an amazing high school athlete who excelled at football, basketball and baseball, and was inducted into the Paint Valley Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010. Andy even played some college baseball at Kent State University.

AndyTomMe

Tom, myself and Andy.

And Andy always, always had my back. One year I had been out at our County Fair hanging out with some friends. Later that night I decided to leave and was walking to my car alone. As I rounded a corner near the grandstand a group of guys from a rival high school stepped out of the shadows and blocked my way, ready to settle an old score. I was outnumbered probably 8 to 1, and I knew I was about to get a beatdown.

Then, as suddenly as they appeared the group stopped. I could tell they were looking over my shoulder, so I did the same. And there, appearing out of nowhere, stood Andy. He walked up, and without saying a word, stood beside me. The other guys then slowly walked around us and left, taking a wide berth as they did. 8 against 2? No problem. The presence of Andy had weighed the odds in my favor.

Make no mistake, as nice a guy as Andy was, he was the last guy you wanted to mess with.

Andy and I were involved in some crazy stuff over the years, and he was in the middle of several stories I’ve told right here on Shoe: Untied. I’ll give you links to a few of the more notable and most-read stories below:

OSU vs. Michigan and the Road Trip to End All Road Trips

This is the infamous trip that we all somehow survived. As always, Andy was right in the mix.

The Accidental B & E

In this little saga you’ll see how Andy, through sheer power of confidence and brashness, saved myself and a couple of others from going to the slammer.

The Festival of Leaves Parade and the Legend of the Renegade Float

This is the story of Andy, myself and some friends and the time we built our own float and crashed a local festival parade. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Oh, believe me, there are plenty more stories to tell.

There was the time Andy, Tom and I decided we were going to catch the infamous 22-Caliber Killers, a couple of brothers that had been murdering people around the Columbus, Ohio area.  We actually cruised the neighborhoods looking for suspicious vehicles and stuff. Yeah, this happened. Hell, it’s a wonder we weren’t arrested that night.

And one day soon I’ll tell you the story of Ando stealing the bathroom door from a local watering hole called The Silver Lady. I’ll never forget the owner telling us later, “Boys, you’re welcome to come back to my place anytime. But please, PLEASE, would you mind bringing my bathroom door back with you?”

The NC trip. I drove most of the way.

The NC trip. I drove most of the way.

On another occasion Andy and I were getting ready to take a trip to North Carolina. As always, Andy was hyped up, full of excitement for the trip. He was so pumped he made a promise he’d make the entire drive himself, all I had to do was relax and enjoy the ride. We left from my house in Bourneville at midnight for the 12-hour drive, and as we pulled out I settled in on the passenger side, falling asleep after a few minutes. Sometime later I was awakened by Andy, and the following conversation ensued:

“Shoe, I can’t make it man. I’m wiped out.”

“Uh, OK Ando, no problem. Where are we?”

It was then I looked up and saw the sign by the road that said “Piketon, OH”.

Piketon is 24-miles from Bourneville. Andy had driven 33-minutes before tuckering out, and I never let him forget it.

Here’s something I bet you didn’t know about Andy and I. We were undefeated at Chicken Fighting. Hell yes we were. Chicken Fighting is where one guy hops up on another guy’s back and takes on another pair of guys. The goal is to knock the other pair down. Hey, I was 6-2, 210 and Andy was 5-9, 240 but he was always the bottom guy. The thing is, you could never knock Andy down. He was like a Weeble, he’d wobble but never fall over. Had a center of gravity like you read about. We once ran through about 20 straight fights at Plank’s Bar in Columbus, taking on all comers. Unbeaten and unbowed, baby.

Many, many years ago I was in Chillicothe, Ohio with a date. We were at The Majestic Theater, which is actually America’s oldest continuously operating theater. It’s beautiful, with a cool balcony, ornate decor, the works. I believe it was my first date with this particular girl. We were watching a movie and the place was packed. The movie might have been Jaws or maybe The Towering Inferno, I can’t be sure, probably because I missed the whole damn thing.

You know why?

Because some asshole was continually pelting me with Milk Duds from the balcony the entire time. I kept looking up trying to catch the jerk, with no luck. I would’ve gone up there but we were in the middle of the row and I didn’t want to disturb people, unlike the jackass up top. What made it worse is that whoever it was kept hitting not only me but people close to me. Like I said, movie ruined.

As soon as the lights came up I looked up to see if I could recognize the perpetrator, the Mild Dud Dickhead if you will. I was pissed.

Anyway, as I looked up wanna guess what I saw?

Yep.

There was Andy, peering over the balcony, pointing at me with a smile a mile wide. Dude thought it was the funniest thing ever.

I met Andy in the lobby afterwards, and his his date told me he missed the movie too. He was too busy running out and buying Milk Duds.

All I could do was shake my head and smile. Hell, I wasn’t even mad. After all, it was Andy.

The truth is we never had an argument in 50-years.

And this next story sort of embodies what a young Andy Anderson was like. He, Tom and I (yeah, those three again) were returning from Columbus one late night when we stopped at a roadside rest to use the bathroom. Tom and I were back in the car, waiting for Andy, but he was nowhere to be found. Finally, in our headlights we saw him. Actually we saw the cat first, with Andy following. He’d spotted a little stray kitten and decided it needed to be taken home and cared for, so he proceeded to chase that tiny cat around the roadside rest for the next 20-minutes, despite Tom and I screaming for him to get the hell back in the car.

He never caught the cat that night, but that was Andy – impulsive, caring, and never without a dull moment.

You know, I’ve heard it said that the quality of one’s life is much more important than the quantity, and I believe that. Believe me, Andy Anderson lived a full, vibrant life full of friends and family that loved him. His quality of life was unmatched.

Andy is gone, but trust me, nobody will ever forget him. His impact was so strong and lasting that he’ll be remembered forever by those who knew him. Try mentioning his name to anyone who knew him without getting a smile in return.

You can’t.

Last weekend I made the drive to Florida to see my friend for the last time. With me was Tom and my girlfriend Amanda. Amanda had only met Andy a couple of times but of course had fallen in love with him just like everybody else. We drove all night and day and arrived on Friday evening.

You need to know that Andy, Tom and I have a theme song, a song we sing to each other every time we see or call each other. That song is “I Will” by The Beatles. As Tom, myself and Amanda walked into the front door that day we could hear a voice from a couple rooms away.

It was Andy singing the opening lines to our song.

Tom and I just looked at each other and smiled. Here was our friend, sick and with not much time left, making us laugh the moment we walked through his front door.

I’ll always be grateful for those last couple of days with Andy. He knew he didn’t have much time left but he was the exact same guy I’d known for 50-years. He was funny, self-deprecating, and full of that one-of-a-kind Andy personality. We laughed and told stories, and yes, we cried.

Like I mentioned above, I believe it’s the quality and not the quantity of one’s life that counts. Anyone who knew Andy, from his old Ohio friends to the scores of friends he made in Florida, will tell you he had a rich, fulfilling life.

As we left last Saturday we hugged and kissed, basically saying goodbye for what we all knew would be the last time. As I walked out I turned around for one last look, and there he was, smiling at me as always.

You’re gone from this earth Andy, but as I said you’ll never, ever be forgotten. Hell, we couldn’t forget you if we tried.

To wife Cindi and daughter Ashlei, I’m so glad Andy found what he was looking for. He loved you with all his heart. I know you’re thankful for the time you had with him, even if it was cut short. Quality over quantity, right?

And to Ando, rest in peace my brother. Say hello to Mom and Dad, Jigger, Mark, Scott and the rest.

We’ll be along soon.

AndyBeer

 

I was in Columbus at a Barnes & Noble recently, perusing the history section. 098766hhhBig history guy here as you know. Anyway, I’d grabbed a couple books and was headed out when I heard my name being called . . .

“Dave? Is that you?”

I turned to look and three women were walking towards me, one of which was the person who’d called my name. They were well dressed, attractive ladies who appeared to be on a weekday shopping excursion. Who they were was a mystery to me.

“Dave! It’s been years! Where have you been? What have you been up to?” 

I’ve been in these situations before with men, women and kids, and my usual modus operandi is to pretend I know them, ask some relevant questions, and sort feel them out with the hope that something will click in my addled brain and I’ll remember to whom it is I’m talking.

In this case, though, nothing was clicking.

As we talked, though, I did garner information. I hadn’t seen this person in over 25-years, she was married to an attorney in Columbus, and although she had that psychology degree she’d worked so hard for she’d never used it.

Still, nothing.

How did I know this person? Through family? School? Politics? I was lost, man.

I must have been looking at her a little too intently, because she finally paused, cocked her head, and said this:

“You don’t remember me, do you?”

Crap. I’d been called out. At this point I figured I could either say, “Of course I do!” and take my chances, but I was afraid she’d say “What’s my name, then?” and I’d then be exposed as not only an insensitive, forgetful fool but also a liar.

So, I decided to be honest . . .

“No, I don’t. I’m terrible with faces. I’m so sorry.”

It was then she dropped the hammer:

“We dated for two months in college.”

Crickets.

She stared.

I stared.

Her friends stared.

Somewhere, a loon called.

What to do? Well, what I wanted to do was crawl under the nearby Nora Roberts book display, get in the fetal position, and suck my thumb.

Instead, I sort of stammered another apology, because really, what could be said at that point? Two months? She wasn’t a casual acquaintance, a friend of a friend, even a business associate. And we hadn’t gone out on a few dates. We’d dated for two freakin’ months.

Good God.

The fact the her two friends witnessed this whole ordeal didn’t help a whole lot, and after a few stilted, awkward goodbyes I got a stilted, awkward hug and she left, undoubtedly muttering under her breath to her friends about what a horrible, insensitive person I’d become.

All I could do was watch them go, shaking my head at my callousness, unintentional as it was.

And you know something?

I still don’t remember that girl.

Scanning the perimeter for seagulls.

So I got Sparky a little over a month ago, and since that time we’ve been together constantly. We travelled down to Oak Island, up the coast to the Outer Banks, and back home in a little 10-day excursion. When we’ve been home he pretty much goes with me everywhere, except when it’s going to be too hot and he can’t stay in the car. And you know, when you spend a lot of time with somebody you learn a lot about them. Here are a few things I’ve learned about Sparky so far.

Sparky hates things that fly. As a matter of fact if you were to believe his accusers he hates anything with wings, as he may or may not have been involved in a chicken massacre back in his hometown. But that’s neither here nor there. Details are unclear and nothing was proven. Still, I do know with certainty that in a little over a month since I’ve had him, Sparky has gone after seagulls, sandpipers, sparrows, gnats, flies, crows, moths,  mosquitoes, my mom’s parakeet, an entire cage of assorted birds at PetCo, and a kid on the beach pretending to be an airplane. What’s interesting is that he can take or leave a cat, he doesn’t really give a damn. If it has wings, though, he’s going after it with murderous intent.

Sparky will chase anything that runs. O.K., remember what I just said about cats? That’s true . . . unless they run. Same for rabbits, squirrels, groundhogs, or rhinoceroses. Size is of no consequence. If you run you will be pursued. Seriously, if an animal just sits there he’ll pay it no mind. If it runs? All hell breaks loose. The chase is on, and something must die. Now.

Note to self: Don’t take Sparky to track meets.

On Hobo Watch.

Sparky hates hobos. Regular people he has no problem with. But you know those guys who stand by the road out at WalMart with the signs begging for money? Sparky has no tolerance for those dudes. I had the window down as I cruised by one of them and thank God I had his leash on because Sparky went for it. And when I say “it” I mean the jugular. He lunged right out the window at the guy, and I thought for a second he was going for the sign, but then to my horror I realized he was going for the throat. Luckily I pulled him back in before blood was spilled. Either Sparky hates hobos or the guy smelled like chicken.

Sparky would rather jump than walk, always. I have a couch and a chair that are about 5-feet apart. If Sparky is on the couch and I am on the chair he invariably attempts the leap to get to me rather than simply hop down and trot over. Walk around a 4-foot wall? No way. Spark’s going over the top, and more often that not he makes it. In addition, if he wants something he’ll do a series of vertical pogo jumps straight up and down, practically looking me in the eye at his apex. Dude has a helluva set of hops.

Sparky has the reflexes of a mongoose. Well, at least when I throw cheese balls at him. You know, the little cheese puff balls you get in those industrial size plastic jars. I tell him to get on a chair, say “stay”, back away about 20-feet, and fire away. I’m telling you I can’t get a cheese ball by him. For fun I’ll lob some pop-ups for awhile, then just zip a line-drive at him for a change of pace.  He never misses. I’d say he has a 99.2% field percentage. Amazing.

And oh, you may want to avoid rushing towards me. Sparky gets a little tense when I’m approached in a hasty way. He perceives it as a threat to his best friend. Rush at him? No problem. Rush at me? Problem. He gets j-u-s-t a little protective. You’ll see a lot of growling and showing of teeth and whatnot. So, fair warning, approach respectfully and you’ll be treated thusly. You may even want to bow or even go to one knee first. Just a suggestion. And you know, it’s about time somebody understood the respect with which I should be treated.

Thanks Sparky.

Mom

Note: I run this twice a year, on Mom’s birthday and Mother’s Day.

For those of you who don’t know, my mom is a saint. If you ask anyone who knows Kathryn Shoemaker or had her as a teacher they will say the same. I have never met a person my mother taught that didn’t say she touched them deeply and had a positive effect on their lives. If I’ve been lucky enough to have had that same effect on a student, they can thank my mom. She’s the reason I became a teacher.

I know what you’re thinking. Everyone thinks their mom is a saint.

But my mother really is.

You know how many times I’ve screwed up in my lifetime? I mean really screwed up? Made some damn poor life decisions that hurt people I love? Do you know the one person who stood by me, loved me unconditionally, and believed in me no matter how big of an idiot I was?

Mom.

My mother thinks I can do literally anything, which in turn has always made me believe that, damn it, maybe I can. It’s amazing what you can do when one person totally and completely believes in you. It makes you want to prove them right.

And it makes you want to never, ever, let them down.

My mom has taught me many things, not the least of which is independence. Let me tell you a story about the day I entered 1st Grade. We lived across from Twin School in Bourneville, and my sisters and I were to walk to school from there, a short jaunt of perhaps 100-yards or so. I don’t remember what I wore, but I remember carrying a lunch pail that was yellow and in the shape of a school bus. I was very excited to go to my first-ever day of school.

Anyway, Mom was staying at home at the time and she’d sent us off, probably enjoying the thought that summer was over and she wouldn’t have the three of us in her hair all day.

I should probably add here that my sisters are older than me, Karen by 8-years and Sara by 4-years. So, at the time I was entering 1st Grade, Sara was entering 5th and Karen the 9th. Their job? Walk their innocent little brother to his first day of school.

And that they did until I got about halfway there. At that point I got cold feet and hightailed it back home. My sisters, loving siblings that they were, waited about half a second and continued on to school without me.

Thanks sisters!

Note: My sisters claim no memory of this, but I’d probably block it from my mind too had I performed such a heinous act.

But anyway, I didn’t care, I was heading back to Mom and the safety of my home. Screw this school stuff, I’d made the decision. Even if I hadn’t even started yet, it wasn’t for me. Mom would understand. With all this in mind I get back home, walk up the steps and open the front door, or try to.

Locked.

But hey, I knew Mom was in there because I’d just left 3-minutes ago.

“Mom!”

Knock knock.

“MOM!”

Knock.

“Mom?”

After a few minutes of knocking, yelling and getting no response, I did the only thing I could do. I walked back to school, by myself.

I don’t know what happened when I finally walked in, but I survived. The point is Mom knew that it wouldn’t help me to hold my hand and walk me to school. I’d learn more quickly and get over my fear by doing it myself.

That story explains my mother in a nutshell. She never jumped in to rescue me from adversity because she knew that letting me get through it by myself is what would build my self-esteem and confidence.

Why is that so hard of a concept for some parents to understand?

ShoeMom1There are a thousand other stories I could tell about my mom, Kathryn Shoemaker. She’s honest to a fault, just ask my sisters. I distinctly remember Mom opening up a Christmas present one of my sisters had given her. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember her opening it, taking a look and saying,”What am I going to do with that?”

Of course, since I’m her favorite she likes everything I get her.

Mom reads this site and, unsurprisingly, she thinks it’s great, even the weird stuff. So this next part is for her . . .

Mom, I know I’ve been far from perfect, but you’ve never cared about that. You’ve told me when you thought I was wrong while loving and appreciating me just the way I am. You’ve always been right there, loving unconditionally, providing support, and believing in me no matter what. I‘ve always known I could count on you, and from the time I was a little kid I’ve always known that you were on my side. 

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you more than you’ll ever know.

Yeah, I know I’ve sort of been purging my soul lately. Once again I’m about to tell you a story that bvlaI’m not particularly proud of. Just try and remember that there is no correlation between my compassion for people and my ability to joke about their misfortunes.

But as I’ve said on previous posts, funny is funny.

Right? Besides, no laws were broken that I’m aware of and nobody was injured as far as I know so it’s all good.

It happened years ago when my friend Jay and I got the idea to spend a lazy Saturday floating down Paint Creek, from a few miles west of Bainbridge to just west of Chillicothe, a distance of maybe 20 miles. Problem was we had no kayaks or a boat of any kind.

After asking around, one of my relatives mentioned that my late grandpa had a big old Jon Boat in his shed, one of those that was rectangular shaped and about 12-feet long. The thing was huge. Perfect, we thought. We’d commandeer that baby and go to town.

We loaded up the Jon Boat in my buddy’s truck (not an easy job – I think we turned it upside down and it practically covered the cab of the truck), stopped for some beverages, and hit the highway. Soon we were at our drop off point (a friend was to drive the truck to our destination and leave it there) and we were ready to turn off our minds, relax, and float downstream.

Note I: That was a Beatles reference. However, they weren’t talking about Jon Boats, creeks and whatnot. Trust me.

However, as we exited the truck we noticed something a bit unnerving – the water was really, really high. And fast. Being the inexperienced boaters that we were, checking the water level had never crossed our minds. In addition, being the moronic doofuses that we were, we didn’t even have lifejackets.

Note II: While looking up the plural of doofus, I discovered that “doofi” is also accceptable. Doofi. How cool is that? 

Bottom line, we were woefully unprepared to launch our vessel into the raging, swollen tributary that was Paint Creek. Hell, anybody with a brain would have turned back right there. Of course, we thought about it for about 3-seconds, tossed our cooler into the boat and ventured onward.

It became clear right away that we were in over our heads, so to speak. The place where we entered the creek was just above a section called The Falls, and the water was high and moving fast. On a related note, it soon became clear that Jon Boats weren’t made for white water rafting.

We began moving and immediately started picking up speed. The original idea of a leisurely float down the creek seemed like a dim memory. Still, we thought if we could get through the upcoming falls things would slow down a bit and we’d be fine.

And we probably would’ve been, had it not been for the Cincinnati Area Youth Kayak Club awaiting us around the bend.

We first saw them as we rounded a slight turn in the creek, and there had to be thirty of the little bastards in the water up ahead. Turns out they were having one of those team building exercises that day. They all had these cute little different colored kayaks, nice little protective helmets, and of course lifejackets. They weren’t stupid, after all. That would’ve been us.

Yeah, sorta like this.

Yeah, sorta like this.

In addition, there were counselors among them, some in kayaks and others on the bank with bullhorns, shouting instructions. I found out later that many in the Cincinnati Area Youth Kayak Club that day were kids who had had been in trouble at school or with the law, the idea being that spending a day on the creek, learning to operate a kayak and getting in touch with nature would do them good.

Oh, they got in touch with nature alright.

Who knew a 12-foot rectangular shaped Jon Boat could go faster than a 6-foot kid’s recreational kayak?

Chaos was about to ensue.

We stormed through the kayakers, all the while being screamed at and chastised by the men with bullhorns on the shore. Jay may or may not have flipped them off as we flew by, but that can’t be confirmed. The little kayakers paddled away frantically, desperately trying to avoid contact with our battleship. I can’t lie to you, I’m pretty sure I heard some crying, and yes, there were screams of terror as we barreled through. I swear at one point I thought we were going to t-bone a kid in a kayak, but somehow (out of pure terror I suspect) he summoned the power to miraculously paddle out of harm’s way.

Not all were so lucky, however. We clipped one of the pint-sized kayaks on its tail, sending a youngster overboard and into the drink. I’m pretty sure I yelled “Sorry!”, though I can’t be sure. Last I saw he was dog-paddling his way to the outstretched oar of one of the adults.

It was sort of like Moses parting the Red Sea, the way those little kayakers got out of our way. It was a beautiful thing, really. You know, other than the kid that almost drowned. As we pulled away from the mass confusion, we saw instructors, kids and parents alike shaking their fists at us as we made our escape.

Of course, Jay and I had a great view of all this because at that point we were floating backwards.

We continued on downstream that morning, half-expecting the authorities to be waiting up ahead somewhere, ready to charge us with inducing panic or negligent use of a Jon Boat or, you know, attempted murder.

But alas, nothing. We’d escaped unscathed.

Too bad I can’t say that about the kid we nearly killed. Little dude probably never went near a creek again.

Every Thursday is garbage day. And every Thursday 3-year-old Brooklyn Adracke is glowing with anticipation as she waits for her favorite person in the world, Delvar the garbage man. Last Thursday was Brooklyn’s birthday and she really wanted to share one of her cupcakes with Delvar. She stood and waited with the cheeziest smile, until Delvar finally arrived. Then, that following week, Delvar showed up with a surprise of his own.

Awww. Check out the whole story told in photos below.

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Listen up, people, because I’m getting right to the point. If I’m sitting in a bar or a restaurant, you are 2-tables away and I can hear yourimagesFWI3066D entire conversation something is wrong. There’s this thing called “proper speaking volume in public” that you apparently don’t understand. When I’m in a restaurant I keep my talking at an appropriate level, and that’s a level that can’t be heard from 2-tables away.

Did I mention it’s inappropriate to be heard if you’re 2-tables away?

I cannot imagine talking so loudly that somebody halfway across a restaurant could hear me. It’s unfathomable to me. Hey, I’m not perfect but I’m not that guy.

I met my son for lunch awhile back, and we sat in the bar area of a restaurant to enjoy some quiet conversation, emphasis being on the word quiet. What did we get instead? A young mother near us screeching so loudly at her daughter that she could be heard throughout the entire restaurant.

And she wasn’t even yelling at her kid, whom she clearly thought was a one-in-a-million toddler. The kid was taking after her mother because she was yelling as well. Mom apparently thought her interaction with her daughter was so cute, interesting and fascinating that we’d all want to listen in . . .

MOM: “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO EAT, HONEY? NO, NO, YOU CAN’T HAVE A STEAK. PICK SOMETHING ELSE. HAHAHAHAHAHA! LOOK AT YOU! OH, YOU’RE ADORABLE!”

KID: “S-T-E-A-K!!!”

And so forth and so on.

But uh, you’re not adorable, sweetums. You’re annoying. And your mommy’s worse.

And this conversation took place as mom glanced around the restaurant, certain in the knowledge that we were all enthralled by her interaction with her unique, precious little wunderkind.

But seriously, haven’t we all been in establishments where we could hear a conversation from a table 20-feet away? Why, I ask you? Why? How difficult is it to keep your volume level down? Is it because you can’t handle your booze? Or are you just rude? Maybe you’re egotistical enough to think the entire restaurant wants to hear your titillating conversation? Or, you know, maybe you’re just stupid?

I’m betting on the last one.

So here’s a message for all you loud, obnoxious, unaware asshats that either think we want to hear you or are simply too dense to realize what an ass you’re making of yourself:

Nobody cares.

We don’t want to hear you speak baby talk to your child, your opinions on politics, religion, the state of the rednecks on Duck Dynasty, or the evil spawn of the Kardashians and Jenners.

Please, in the name of all that is holy, just shut it.

SHUT. IT.

Man, that felt good. Thanks, and enjoy your Spring.

PS – And gentlemen, please remove your baseball hats.

PSS – And everyone turn off your damn phones.

asshats