Thursday, December 28, 2006

Guess Where I'm Going

These are the trains that are regularly scheduled to run on Saturday nights. I’ve listed all the trains that come in to Five Points Station. We can either walk to Five Points Station to catch our train after the game or catch a train at W1/Dome stop then transfer at Five Points. I suspect that we will have to walk to Five Points Station.

Five Points Station

05:00a; 05:20a; 05:40a; 06:00a; 06:20a; 06:40a; 07:00a; 07:20a; 07:40a; 08:00a; 08:20a; 08:40a; 09:00a; 09:20a; 09:40a; 10:00a; 10:20a; 10:40a; 11:00a; 11:20a; 11:40a; 12:00p; 12:20p; 12:40p; 01:00p; 01:20p; 01:40p; 02:00p; 02:20p; 02:40p; 03:00p; 03:20p; 03:40p; 04:00p; 04:20p; 04:40p; 05:00p; 05:20p; 05:40p; 06:00p; 06:20p; 06:40p; 07:00p; 07:20p; 07:40p; 08:00p; 08:20p; 08:40p; 09:00p; 09:20p; 09:40p; 10:00p; 10:20p; 10:40p; 11:00p; 11:20p; 11:40p; 00:00a; 00:20a; 00:40a; 01:00a; 01:21a;

***********************************************

All Northeast runs

11:04p to 11:44p

Airport Station at 11:04p; College Park Station at 11:05p; East Point Station at 11:08p; Lakewood Station at 11:12p; Oakland City Station at 11:14p; West End Station at 11:16p; Garnett Station at 11:19p; Five Points Station at 11:20p; Peachtree Center Station at 11:21p; Civic Center Station at 11:22p; North Ave Station at 11:23p; Midtown Station at 11:24p; Arts Center Station at 11:26p; Lindbergh Station at 11:30p; Lenox Station at 11:34p; Brookhaven Station at 11:37p; Chamblee Station at 11:41p; Doraville Station at 11:44p;

11:24p to 00:04a

Airport Station at 11:24p; College Park Station at 11:25p; East Point Station at 11:28p; Lakewood Station at 11:32p; Oakland City Station at 11:34p; West End Station at 11:36p; Garnett Station at 11:39p; Five Points Station at 11:40p; Peachtree Center Station at 11:41p; Civic Center Station at 11:42p; North Ave Station at 11:43p; Midtown Station at 11:44p; Arts Center Station at 11:46p; Lindbergh Station at 11:50p; Lenox Station at 11:54p; Brookhaven Station at 11:57p; Chamblee Station at 00:01a; Doraville Station at 00:04a;

11:44p to 00:24a

Airport Station at 11:44p; College Park Station at 11:45p; East Point Station at 11:48p; Lakewood Station at 11:52p; Oakland City Station at 11:54p; West End Station at 11:56p; Garnett Station at 11:59p; Five Points Station at 00:00a; Peachtree Center Station at 00:01a; Civic Center Station at 00:02a; North Ave Station at 00:03a; Midtown Station at 00:04a; Arts Center Station at 00:06a; Lindbergh Station at 00:10a; Lenox Station at 00:14a; Brookhaven Station at 00:17a; Chamblee Station at 00:21a; Doraville Station at 00:24a;

00:04a to 00:44a

Airport Station at 00:04a; College Park Station at 00:05a; East Point Station at 00:08a; Lakewood Station at 00:12a; Oakland City Station at 00:14a; West End Station at 00:16a; Garnett Station at 00:19a; Five Points Station at 00:20a; Peachtree Center Station at 00:21a; Civic Center Station at 00:22a; North Ave Station at 00:23a; Midtown Station at 00:24a; Arts Center Station at 00:26a; Lindbergh Station at 00:30a; Lenox Station at 00:34a; Brookhaven Station at 00:37a; Chamblee Station at 00:41a; Doraville Station at 00:44a;

00:24a to 01:04a

Airport Station at 00:24a; College Park Station at 00:25a; East Point Station at 00:28a; Lakewood Station at 00:32a; Oakland City Station at 00:34a; West End Station at 00:36a; Garnett Station at 00:39a; Five Points Station at 00:40a; Peachtree Center Station at 00:41a; Civic Center Station at 00:42a; North Ave Station at 00:43a; Midtown Station at 00:44a; Arts Center Station at 00:46a; Lindbergh Station at 00:50a; Lenox Station at 00:54a; Brookhaven Station at 00:57a; Chamblee Station at 01:01a; Doraville Station at 01:04a;

00:44a to 01:24a

Airport Station at 00:44a; College Park Station at 00:45a; East Point Station at 00:48a; Lakewood Station at 00:52a; Oakland City Station at 00:54a; West End Station at 00:56a; Garnett Station at 00:59a; Five Points Station at 01:00a; Peachtree Center Station at 01:01a; Civic Center Station at 01:02a; North Ave Station at 01:03a; Midtown Station at 01:04a; Arts Center Station at 01:06a; Lindbergh Station at 01:10a; Lenox Station at 01:14a; Brookhaven Station at 01:17a; Chamblee Station at 01:21a; Doraville Station at 01:24a;

01:05a to 01:45a

Airport Station at 01:05a; College Park Station at 01:06a; East Point Station at 01:09a; Lakewood Station at 01:13a; Oakland City Station at 01:15a; West End Station at 01:17a; Garnett Station at 01:20a; Five Points Station at 01:21a; Peachtree Center Station at 01:22a; Civic Center Station at 01:23a; North Ave Station at 01:24a; Midtown Station at 01:25a; Arts Center Station at 01:27a; Lindbergh Station at 01:31a; Lenox Station at 01:35a; Brookhaven Station at 01:38a; Chamblee Station at 01:42a; Doraville Station at 01:45a;

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Christmas Story

I was going through my old writings and came across this Christmas story from 2001. With only minor editing, I decided to post it here in its entirety. So in the spirit of the season, I bring you this story...


A Christmas Story

2001 has been a difficult year for us all. We've all been ripped from complacency by horrible acts and devious deeds seeded across the world. Anger, fear and righteous justification have all been brewed within us. With such a backdrop, I would like to speak of Christmas, my own little tradition born in family and love.

I always had two markers of the Christmas season when I was a child: lighting the Advent candles and soaking the lonely tree in the bucket. Four weeks prior to the big day, my mother and father would haul out the styrofoam circular base and solidly plant four tall pink and purple candles. Each successive Sunday in December, one candle would be lit until the royalty purple candle would catch fire on the last Sunday before the big day. For me, that wait to light all four candles seemed to take an eternity.

Sometime during that stretch, we'd go out and snag our Christmas tree. We generally weren't a tree cutting family. We'd scour the local Winn Dixie grocery store, and look for that special tree. Every few years, my father would take us out on an expedition to some far away place to chop down our Christmas tree. These adventures usually produced a tree just like the trees we got at Winn Dixie. Invariably, my father would take our tree, whether the grocery store or natural version, and place its trunk in a bucket of water. Then my brothers, sisters, and I would begin heckling him to set the tree up. I honestly believed that if he weren't heckled properly, that tree would sit in that bucket of frozen water behind the house until after Christmas. Eventually, my siblings and I would persevere. We would break my father and force him to set up the tree. Strange though, we never broke him until about December 20th.

After the tree was up with bubbler lights bubbling and the purple candle had been lit, I knew that the long wait was almost over. All that was left was the timeless wait through Christmas Eve.

My sister, Becky, set the tone that day. She'd begin working on my parents, trying to get them to allow us to open at least one present. My brothers and I would all join in on the effort. Sometimes, although my mother would like to think otherwise, we wore her down and got her to allow us to open one present that evening. Those victorious times were fleeting and the satisfaction gained was often disappointing. I learned on those rare occasions that the most exciting presents were not always in the most curious packages.

Bedtime on Christmas Eve for me was wait time. I'd go to bed and lay there for hour after hour listening for any signs of Santa Claus. One year, I remember seeing a red light outside my window. I was absolutely convinced that I'd seen "The most wonderful reindeer of all."

Every Christmas morning, my sister, Becky, would begin stomping around in her room in the pre-dawn darkness. When my sister, Libby, was old enough, she'd join Becky. Soon, my brothers and I would take up the chorus of foot stomping. I'm sure that my parents got a chuckle out of our morning rustling. Between noisemaking, we'd hear the telltale signs of impending present feeding. A rustling here, a scurrying there.

Soon…not soon enough, my father or mother would call upstairs for us to come down. Moments later, the stairway would be bathed in 8mm camera floodlights, and we'd form a single file line arranged in order of seniority: Becky, Jody, Greg, Tommy, and Libby. Together, in unison, we'd march downstairs in the movies and proceed to be shocked and amazed.

While my father etched those moments on film, I need no film to recall them or the innocence surrounding that time. That's my Christmas story. I suppose that it's not altogether different than anyone else's.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Message to the Family




My Friends,

After many stops on this most busy of nights, I found myself here before this magnificent tree. As I stood and studied each individual ornament, I came to understand the stories associated with each. Some stories are more complete than others are, and some stories are more relevant for you fine folks than others.

As happens from time to time, certain ornaments leaped out to me delivering special messages just for each of you. I would like to share those messages with you now.

Callan, you were the first I received a message for this year. Located on your tree is a beautiful dancer bearing your name. She’s graceful in her white costume with pink trim. Her radiant smile brightens your tree like a heavenly star. She’s light and delicate; serious and thoughtful. This girl points herself in a direction and takes aim. Not too far away from this lovely girl, rests a three-tiered glass bell ornament. Each bell represents a key component for you to treasure. The largest of the three bells represents healing, both within yourself and within your family. Allow this bell to resonate in your heart. The middle bell resonates with happiness. Allow this bell to sound off inside you reverberating joy. Search for its delightful sound. The smallest of the three linked bells represents hope. Hope is something you must never allow to fade. It sometimes can be the most difficult to hear, but you must resolve to listen even more intently for its delicate sound. Our world depends on hope. Healing, Happiness, and Hope. That’s the message I hear for you, Callan, my dancer.

In 1992, sometime in December, Sam, you created a simple Christmas ornament. Carefully at your Small Steps Preschool, you glued together two golden canning jar lids and fixed a yarn loop between them. Then you selected two beautiful birds from a pair of old Christmas cards and carefully cut them out. Finally, you glued your cardinal and yellow grosbeak, cementing a lasting memory for you. You could have chosen practically any object, person, or scene, but you chose to express Nature. These birds rest in your tree this night, quietly keeping memories safe for you when you find great need for them. Above that golden ornament, skates a strapping young lad. With his warm coat and flowing scarf, he’s ready to face the elements in Nature and sail across the ice. You, Sam, are ready to launch yourself across the glass and etch your future with your sharpened blades. Remember well the birds that mark the location of your memories, of your past. Guard well their message and all of the other treasured memories you hold secretly dear to you.

This Christmas day is a wondrous moment, a time of rebirth and rededication. Jackie, two ornaments called for you as I glanced at the sparkling tree. One is a joyous Santa moon and the other is a simple sisal horse. Your journey on the back of this most dedicated beast will be long and fraught with pitfalls and challenges, but in the end you will have a celebration with the moon. While you may be tempted to get off the horse when the climb becomes too taxing, stay put; for the horse, although made of nothing but twine, is very strong. He will get you where you want to go. Not many are allowed to ride this special horse.

Thom, you strayed away from your family this year, but they saved you. You owe them two things that are magnified by two ornaments on your most glorious tree. A prickly bear rules the upper branches. I know this bear; he’s been on your tree for many years now, and you’ve never given him the respect he’s due. Each year, you try to get rid of him, but each year he comes back. He seems to have more faith in you than you have in him. You need to stick to that prickly bear. He may hurt you a bit, but he’s a care bear after all. A clown sits stoically near the top of the tree. His antiqued face is a bit faded and cracked, but his clown smile still shines through. You, Thom, need to invest in joy. You’ve always had it, but you allow it to get clouded by dark moments.

Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Savior, is a time to bring families together. While they may stray from each other or move along different paths, families remain eternally bound to each other. Make the most of those bonds. Healing, Happiness, and Hope.

Merry Christmas,

Viejo Pascuero/Pere Noel/Papai Noel/Dun Che Lao Ren/Kerstman/Mikulas/Babbo Natale/Weihnachtsmann/Julenissen/Swiety Mikolaj/Santa Claus

Christmastime 2006

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Johnny Cash-Hurt

Johnny Cash passed from this world September 12, 2003. His wife, June Carter-Cash, left him on May 15, 2003. This video was Cash's last. A cover of a 1994 Nine Inch Nails song, Hurt appeared on Cash's last record in 2002.

Seeing Cash sitting in a lonely rocking chair simply experiencing the sadness of this song with a time-etched face mines a deep well of emotion rarely captured in video and song. Having his wife look over his shoulder as a spirit looking down seems eerily prophetic.



Saturday, December 23, 2006

Annoying Ways to Entertain Children

This piece was originally created back in July of 2004; in my pre-blog days. Take it for what it's worth.


Annoying Ways to Entertain Children in Public Places

I was glancing through my local newspaper, The Roanoke Times, this morning, pretending to read the insightful articles on Methamphetamine, Moroccans losing track of 300 al-Qaeda terrorists who were visiting their fine country on a training mission, reports of pirate killings reaching a "worldwide high" (whatever that means), and Princess Diana fleecing Prince Chuck for his entire fortune in their divorce settlement when I stumbled onto an irritating piece in the "Entertainment" section just above the annoying column by noted child-rearing specialist, Dr. John Rosemond. I suppose in newspaper speak, the piece entitled "Book Suggests Ways to have Fun on the Run” is a related piece to Rosemond. I would agree completely. Both are annoying and both are about kids.

In the article, the reviewer, Suzanne Perez Tobias, highlights some clever tips from the book entitled Fun on the Run by Cynthia Copeland to keep your children entertained when you are forced to be in the same contained physical space with them for an extended period, apparently with no televisions or nannies around.


Here are some of the tips: Fun on the Run! 324 Instant Family Activities (Workman Publishing, $8.95):


In the car

Encourage participation in car games by offering “prizes.” For instance, the winner gets to: choose the radio station, determine when to pull over or choose the fast-food restaurant.

My Annoyed Response: I will not listen to Briteny Spears when I'm driving, I stop when I need to pee or whenever someone begs me to stop before they wet their pants, and
Chuck E Cheese is simply out of the question.

Take turns making up stories about the people in the cars you pass. Who are they? Where are they going? Why are they going there? What have they brought with them?


My Annoyed Response: Do we really want kids making up stories about people in cars that they pass. Today's kids wouldn't always create sanitized, "Leave It to Beaver"-type stories. A typical 10 year old boy would most likely say that a lady passing you in a red Ford Focus while talking on a cell phone is being abducted by aliens who are slimy and puke green and are hiding in the backseat. She most likely is being forced to speak with the mother ship on their communication device. She's living in fear because the aliens have already tortured her with their electrocution device, and she's bleeding badly from her stab wounds. The alien likes the blood and is lapping it up greedily as it pools on the floor of the back seat. At any moment the whole world will be attacked and everyone will become food for the voracious attackers.

How well do you know the people in your family? Can you name everyone's: best friend, favorite song, favorite movie, happiest moment, ideal pet, favorite spot in the house?

My Annoyed Response: Children, again, have certain programmed responses to stupid games like this one. That typical ten year boy would answer this way. "Best Friend-Pukeman, Favorite Song-Monster Mash, Movie-Freddie (they never know the real title), happiest moment- the time I threw up in the grocery store, ideal pet-a boa constrictor, favorite spot in the house-Play Station." Now a ten year old girl would have different answers. Best Friend- Briteny Spears, Favorite Song-(Some Briteny Spears song that I've never heard), Movie-Confessions of a Teen-aged Drama Queen, Favorite spot in the house-in front of the 60 inch TV watching episode after episode of 'Seventh Heaven.'"

@@@@@@@@@@


At a restaurant
Assign the differently colored sugar packets various monetary values. Close your eyes and divvy them up, then let the kids add up the total to see who is the richest.


My Annoyed Response: Ah your basic capitalistic training...I'm sure that the restaurant owners don't mind donating sugar packets to the cause.

Try lip reading. Take turns mouthing a sentence to those sitting across the table. Can they figure out what you're saying?

My Annoyed Response: Good parents are always training their kids. This little exercise will really help in the future when there can be rich gossip mined. If your children master lip reading across the table, why not have them read lips of couples sitting across the restaurant?

Drop a dime into a water glass. Now try to drop a penny into the glass so that it will completely cover the dime.

My Annoyed Response: Ok, I'm at a restaurant and am sitting right next to a family where the kids are screaming and chucking coins into their water glasses. Eventually, one of the kids will tip over a glass, and it will shatter on the floor and spray me with water. I suppose that's better than being sprayed with glass and Dr. Pepper.


Dribble water on your paper place mat and blow on it through your straw to create a masterpiece.

My Annoyed Response: Kids don't know how to "dribble water." That is a skill that is better practiced at home. Oh yeah, water soaked place mats are by no stretch of the imagination 'masterpieces.' Plus, I sure hope that if you use this method of entertaining that you tip the waiter and bus person very well for having to clean up all that soggy crap.

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At the doctor's office


Have your child hold a penny above his head and try to drop it into one of his shoes.


My Annoyed Response: I'm at the doctor's office because I have something wrong with me. I'm feeling like I've been run over by a truck. Sitting next to me in a stuffy, germ infested, crowded waiting room is some kid with one of his smelly shoes off (luckily
my cold doesn't allow me the pleasure of smelling the tired shoe) who is screaming and haphazardly throwing coins. I'm sure enjoying my wait.

Grab one of the disposable gloves doctors use for exams. Blow it up like a balloon, secure the ends and: draw faces on them, play keep away, or try to keep one in the air by tapping it with a pencil as you walk.

My Annoyed Response: Taking one of the doctor's gloves is stealing. Do we really want to raise children to simply take what they want without asking? Do we really want children to think that it is ok to scarf medical supplies. Imagine what an enterprising ten year old boy could do with the used bloody needles in the bio hazard waste container.

Have your child lie down on the examination table and outline him or her on the disposable paper with a pen or marker. Then let her fill in the details: face, hair, clothes, shoes. When you're done, just pull and tear off the used paper.

My Annoyed Response: I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is something really wrong about this. What would happen if the Sharpie permanent marker bleeds through to the vinyl surface of the examination table? The next patient to use the table might think that the previous patient died there under suspicious circumstances.

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In the grocery store
When you first get to the store, grab a six- or eight-pack of paper towels and a comic book. Your child can sit in the cart on top of the paper towels (rather than the metal grating) and leaf through the comic book.


My Annoyed Response: I suppose that when you are through shopping, the slobbered on comic book goes back on the shelf in the canned soup section and the pooped on paper towels get left in the middle of aisle 9 along with the soiled diaper from your six month old who was riding and screaming in the front of the cart.

Engage your cart-bound child in a visual scavenger hunt using magazine covers: Can you find a blue letter "M"? A man riding a horse? A poodle?

My Annoyed Response: With this kind of entertainment, how does a
happy shopper get any shopping done?

Keep older kids entertained (and put them to good use) by giving them a shopping basket and your coupons and asking them to find the coupon items.

My Annoyed Response: Actually, I'm not annoyed by this idea. You might have some issues with redirection or clarification, but it's a solid idea. A better idea for older kids would be to have them get out of your sight while you shop by sending them to the magazine section or have them walk with you and help you pick out the items you want to buy.

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I can't explain why Ms. Tobias' review of Ms. Copeland's book annoyed me so; it just did. Maybe it's because some aliens have injected my brain with some oozing green chemical that is slowly changing my blood to cat piss.



Read the Tobias review of Copeland’s book.

http://www.azcentral.com/families/articles/0722waiting22-CR.html

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Helping

Sorry for having not written lately. I needed to get Christmas cards out into the mail. :) That's everyone's favorite excuse this time of year.

The story I'm about to relate is based on actual true events. I've tried to recount the facts as accurately as my brain possibly can, but I'm sure I've twisted some detail here or there. If so, please forgive the errors. I believed that the story was so powerful in a simple way that it must be told. One day, perhaps, I can write the story with a complete ending and full of rich detail.

Many of you know that I am a public elementary school teacher. For the purposes of this story, I'd like to simply say that I teach somewhere in Virginia.

Last week, a young girl appeared in our school office. She was toting three kids: an infant, a toddler, and a 7 year old autistic boy (we learned in the conversation that he had medical issues as well). She was hoping that our school would accept her handicapped son and provide him an education.

The mother spoke no English, nor did any of her children. Her autistic boy spoke no language whatsoever. Luckily, we have a staff member who is fluent in Spanish, and she was able to converse with this mother and begin to learn a little of her story.

She and her husband set out for America after attempts to get help for their autistic child in Mexico repeatedly failed. No one and no school would consider teaching him. Being very young and illiterate themselves, the mother and father struggled to care for their children, but they were torn up over the life that their oldest child had in store.

So with no contacts and no assistance lined up, they left for America with nothing but hope and desire. They stopped first in Texas and tried to find some assistance for their child, but every single place shut them out (sort of reminded me of another story where there was no room for them in the inn). They could find no low income shelter and no school for their child to attend.

So they moved on. The husband was willing to do any work he could find and that work eventually took him to Tennessee where he he works to this day. But Tennessee schools and low income housing would not accept his son or his family. Yet the jobs he had there were too good to just toss away and move on from, so his wife struck out from Tennessee by herself with the kids in tow and found her way to Virginia where by chance she stumbled onto an opening at a low income housing unit in my school's district. The family settled in to the apartment. With the husband gone all week, life was very difficult for the mother. They had no possessions but somehow managed to scavenge a two old mattresses. These were placed on the floor in the living room. The only light they had was from the kitchen ceiling fixture. The rest of the pad was dark at night. They had little or no food.

When the mother came in to our school last week, she was literally at the end of her rope. She was desperate and so very much in need. The children had a lean look about them and they were dirty and scantly clothed. There never was a question about what we were both legally and morally obligated to do. We accepted her son into our school and willingly accepted the formidable challenge of providing the best possible education for him.

When the mother found out that her son would be able to get an education and have a chance at a life, she broke down right there and cried. It was joyous, sad, and pitiful all rolled into one. Her cry went on and on. You couldn't be any kind of human being and witness that scene without becoming overcome with emotion yourself.

Part of the son's education had to begin right away by helping to stabilize the family's home environment. So over the last week, the faculty and many school parents have spent time gathering furniture and supplies for this family, and earlier today I was a part of the crew that delivered the goods. Both of the parents were there, as was the boy (he has been very sick the last few days), his toddler sister, and the infant. Our teacher translator spoke with the mother and gave her some basic instructions on how to mix the formula, how to use this and that appliance. We unloaded the stuff and were sent away with very warm and genuine thank-you's. I'll never forget the cute toddler looking up at me and smiling as I walked out the door or that mother's tears today.

After our Christmas break, we will all set about the daunting task of providing the boy with his education. We've dealt with many challenging special education situations and children in the past, but this case will be the most difficult. It will be the hardest assignment our school has ever taken on. This child has never been in a social situation, has no communicative skills, cannot feed himself, still drinks from a bottle, nor is he in any way toilet trained. He is a most basic blank slate. We know that in all likelihood, our SOL (Standards of Learning) AYP (Adequete Yearly Progress) and NCLB (No Child Left Behind-AKA The Elementary and Secondary Education Act) numbers will take a hit down the road because of this child. That was the primary reason the other states would not touch this kid. But none of us really care about that. Really all that matters is that we do our best to help every child we can, every child that's in our school district...no matter what.

I've heard some around the community bemoaning the fact that here we are helping this one kid from another country when there are so many in need in this country. I suppose that's true enough, but in helping this one child that means that there is one less child in this world in need. Those same bemoaners were heard to say, "Oh now you've gone and done it. Next thing you know there will be thirty kids from Mexico on your school doorstep. What are you going to do then?" I honestly don't know. I do know that we won't turn them away, and we will try to help them in any way we can. That seems like what we're supposed to do as humans.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Same Old Numbers


The Same Old Numbers

Perhaps no one is more fascinated by Bingo than me. I can’t say that I’ve ever played a game of bingo at a parlor in my life, but I sure have worked many sessions. During that time I’ve come to loathe the game and the smoke-saturated environment that always permeates every hall. Yet despite my intense dislike, there’s something innocent and raw about both the game and the players that draws me. What follows is part two of a look at “Beano”, as it used to be known.

In part one, I looked at the organizational structure along with a brief history of Bingo. I gave a brief overview of Bingo in the Roanoke Valley. In this edition, I will delve into the unique world of the players.

Last Sunday, they were all there ready to play right as the clock struck 1:30. Some had warmed up by playing one of our instant scratch games. Others simply sat and organized the bingo sheets as they casually smoked one cigarette after another.

A gaggle of blue haired ladies, elegantly dressed with neat handbags and large bird broaches plastered on their solid colored turtleneck shirts, occupied the back row of the expansive room. Rumor had it among the players that the bingo hall is going to be torn down soon and a Lowe’s put in its place. Many, including the blue-haired ladies, were worried about where they would go to play Bingo if this place closed. One theory was that my charitable organization would head across town and get an unattractive Wednesday night spot at a rather dumpy bingo hall. The ladies didn’t much care for following us there if this place were torn down.

Certainly, as I hopped from table to table selling instant card game tickets in mostly $20 increments; this was the hot topic of conversation of the day. The thing I noticed most as I went from table to table was that even though these people rarely speak to one another, they seem to consider everyone there as members of the same family, and they even seem to share the exact same thoughts and bits of wisdom.

Bamboo Lady was there. This older gal with tangely, gray-streaked hair is a person you can count on. She is always there sitting in the same seat and with the same little potted bamboo plant beside her cards. I asked her how long she had been bringing her lucky plant with her and she told me that she wasn’t rightly sure, but maybe two or three years.

Two or three years of playing Bingo several times a week would have to exert some kind of financial impact on these players, yet they seem to arrive each week with wads of cash. I don’t really understand how they can afford to play. They must be millionaires. I’m a fairly modest middle class person, and I can’t imagine spending more than $100 on my entertainment in any single month. Yet these players all drop hundreds of dollars on their game every time they play. Many of them play several times a week. As much as they play, they really don’t win very often because what usually happens is that one of the players gets hot and wins multiple games. I’m not sure why that is.

Sunday, this one large black man with a short graying hairstyle won time after time. In one game, he won on two different cards at the same time. Pretty amazing stuff. Earlier in the afternoon before the action got all cranked up, I was visiting the restroom when this very man walked in. He found a spot beside me and began carrying on a conversation with me. Now usually men are not very chatty with strangers as they are relieving themselves. But this guy immediately started in by wishing me good luck in the afternoon’s games. When I explained to him that I was a worker, he immediately became curious about our organization. So I told him we represented a local athletic booster club, and he immediately had a story to tell me about the ex-football team’s coach. It seems he used to work in the same place as the ex-football team’s coach’s wife back in the early 70’s “…and man was she something to look at back then. I mean that lady was mighty fine.” We talked a few minutes more in that empty bathroom before I wished him good luck and went about my business. Later when he’d won, I told him that he owned me a percentage of his winnings for wishing him good luck.

I remember one young man from another parlor I worked who would come in absolutely stuffed with cash. He’d then proceed to buy instant ticket after ticket. Sometimes, he’d even buy the whole box, guaranteeing himself to be a winner. Of course, you can’t win that way, because a box has about a $200 dollar profit built in to it, maybe more. So when the guy would buy a box, he’d be losing money. That didn’t seem to faze him. He’d just whip out wad after wad of cash. All tens, twenties, and fifties. I often wondered if this was some scheme to pass counterfeit bills or to launder drug money.

Withered old man was there. He or someone just like him always shows up. In fact most afternoons, many withered old men dot the room. You can always spot them. They are always so thin they could slide through the crack of a slightly opened door with ease. They always wear worn jeans and tired t-shirts. Covering their slightly balding heads and crowning their Elvis sideburns are some type of mine worker hats, usually those softball type hats with the plastic adjustment tabs on the back. These guys always look as if they have scored their last breath upon this world before they exit for the hereafter. The cigarettes they draw toward their toothless faces seem longer than their hard pointed chins. These men are both brittle and everlasting. They don’t have much to say; they just stare straight ahead with their beady coal eyes.

Sitting on one side about midway back from the front of the room sat a man who was out of place. He was a fairly tall and trim mid-30’s white man who was wearing a nice pair of blue jeans, a freshly pressed Arrow pinstriped shirt, and a large expensive looking wristwatch. He studied his bingo sheets from behind his stylish wire rim glasses as a bookie might pour over horses at a horse race. This man exuded class and fine standing. He didn’t seem to fit in. In fact, he sat there throughout the whole afternoon without smiling or saying anything at all. I was very suspicious of him. Perhaps he was from the Bingo Commission.

Probably the most interesting conversation I eavesdropped on as I went about my business involved two real characters, a mother and a daughter-I think. The mother-like person was one decrepit old lady who looked to be barely clinging to life. I had seen her many times before at the bingo halls I’ve worked. I didn’t actually see her arrive, and although she had a cane beside her, I can’t believe that she actually walked in. I think she was just plastered to the chair from the previous night’s game. She was dressed in a nice holiday red sweatshirt and had giant ball shaped earrings stretching her old ear lobes to the ground. Her wild, matted gray hair almost covered the huge vertical scar that ran from her right ear to just above her collarbone. I can only imagine what hideous surgery she must have experienced. Yet that didn’t keep her from sucking down her menthol Virginia Slims one smoky stick after another.

Her “daughter” was a different looking lass. She was of indeterminate age. Back when I was a weight/age guesser at an amusement park, she would be the type of person you could never accurately guess their age. This gal looked about forty-five, but she was probably much younger. She had a butch haircut covered by a Firehouse Subs hat. This rather chunky, block-shaped miss sported a worn pair of bib overalls that covered a nice plaid shirt.

Once as I was walking behind them, I stopped to watch a little of one of the games. I don’t think either of these ladies noticed that I was standing right behind them when the Firehouse Sub gal leaned over to her mother and said, “Man, I sure know why my luck stinks lately.”

[pause/inhale]

“Why’s that?” grunted her mother.

[pause]

“Cause I ain’t had me no sex lately.”

[pause]

“ Know whatcha mean.” The mother replied solemnly.

That’s about when I silently walked away from that very dangerous couple. Later, I was standing some distance from them when I happened to see that the old mother was having some type of conniption. I was about to go over to her when I saw her start to throw up. She immediately put her hand to her mouth and caught the whole wad of foamy white stuff, mostly saving her cards from a smelly soaking. Then she threw what she could in the trash can beside her and wiped her hands clean on a napkin. As a true bingo professional, she continued to play. I decided I had better check on her, so I went over and asked the daughter if she needed anything? The mother immediately and proudly interjected, surprising me by asking for $20 in instant cards. Then she reached into her bra and pulled out a wad of bills and passed me the money with her contaminated hand.

You just have to love bingo players. They’re so down to earth. I was just a little repulsed by this old lady’s actions and immediately went off to tell my co-workers about the duo and their sexual frustrations. Everyone had a good chuckle. That’s when one lady told me about a guy who used to come in to the hall every Sunday. Each Sunday, the VA (Veterans’ Administration) van would drop this old coot off at the hall and he would play. This, of course, is a fairly normal thing except the wounds with which this man was burdened kept him from swallowing food. Yet, he would order massive quantities of food from the snack bar anyway and would sit there nibbling on his meals throughout the afternoon. He’d take a bite, chew it up, then spit it out on his plate. At the end of the session, the workers would have to clear away his pile of chewed food.

My absolute all time favorite bingo player had to be this old blue haired lady who would visit another bingo hall I worked a few years ago. Before each session, she would waddle in to the room with her walker, rolling oxygen bottle, and lit cigarette dangling from her mouth like a character from an Andy Capp comic strip. I was always amazed to see her fire up smoke after smoke in between breaths of pure, flammable oxygen. Frankly, I anticipated seeing her simply ignite one day, a spontaneous combustion, perhaps taking a few of her nearest competitors with her when her bottle exploded.

Sadly, that lady stopped coming after a while. Same is true with Mr. and Mrs. L. I haven’t seen them for some time now. That’s the case with most bingo players. In reality, it’s a dying game played by dying contestants. One wise player told me Sunday, “You know what it is?...”

“What’s that?”

[pause/inhale]

“It’s the same old numbers over and over again.”

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Decoration Update

A week or so ago, I wrote in this forum of the journey my family and I took to capture our tree. So I thought I'd drop a few photographs in to show you our progress in readying our home for the glorious holiday.


This is the front walk of our home. You can compare the before photo in the earlier tree entry to this shot. The colorful lights are placed at my insistance.


Our house is almost completely decorated on the outside. All I need to do is add lights around the lamp post.




Our tree turned our as beautiful as we imagined. It's every bit of 8.5 feet high and very fat.


That's it for the photo update. I have way too much writing on my plate right now. I'm in charge of a newsletter for my local teacher organization and my deadline is tomorrow. I also need to finish our family Christmas letter very soon so I can get the cards out before the actual holiday. Plus, I really have a bunch of entry ideas for this blog that I'm itching to write. One is a recounting of my latest experiences working at a local BINGO parlor over the weekend. So much to write.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Gibbous Was Waning Tonight

There’s a popping sound from my Christmas tree. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it just keeps randomly popping. I don’t know why. The hour is late, and I am not asleep yet. I’ve been busy thinking of things. Thinking of the moon. This evening my wife and I were returning from a play when she spotted the most beautiful and lonely moon rising just over the horizon, a peek-a-boo moon –as she called it. It looked to me like a moon that someone played a trick on. It got all dressed up and someone covered a third of it up. Regardless, that orange gibbous moon sure was beautiful. It made me start looking into the romantic aspect of the moon, and I realized after a while that many moon songs can sort of be knitted together kind of like this.

Gibbous was Waning Tonight

It was on a moonlight night. The stars were shining bright. Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart. Well, it's a marvelous night for a Moondance. With the stars up above in your eyes. Dancin' in the moonlight. Everybody feelin' warm and right. It's such a fine and natural sight. Everybody's dancin' in the moonlight.

Fill my heart with song, and let me sing for ever more. Your silvery beams will bring love dreams. We'll be cuddling soon. Don't close your eyes or I might drift away

Under the night my image bends it's shape. Shining on the one who waits for me. One more Moondance with you in the moonlight. On a magic night.

Because I’m still in love with you. On this harvest moon. So shine on, shine on harvest moon. For me and my gal. There's a moon in the sky. It's called the moon.

Of all the moon songs out there, this one kind of sums up my feelings this evening. Goodnight Moon.

Fly Me to the Moon

Bart Howard

Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On a-Jupiter and Mars
In other words, hold my hand
In other words, baby, kiss me

Fill my heart with song
And let me sing for ever more
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words, I love you

Fill my heart with song
Let me sing for ever more
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words, in other words
I love ... you

All About the Moon

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Marching Band and the world

I have several odds and ends to share this evening with the people who check out this space.

First, I've spent considerable time over the last month sharpening my video production skills. No, wait. Let me state that a bit clearer. I've spent the better part of two months now trying to get a darned video transferred from a mini-DVD camera and into a computer file that can play. Anyway, thanks to a friend at my elementary school, I finally found a way to convert irksome files.
Back on October 28, I filmed the Northside marching band at a competition, and I've been using that video as my working subject. After I figured that process out, I began looking for ways to share. Normally, I'd just post the completed video file on YouTube, but I learned that YouTube has a maximum five minute video length. That's when I remembered a file saving service that one of my colleagues uses. It's called FileFront and basically it allows people to store their video and pictures in an unlimited sized storage space. Once stored, you can set the space up so that it's completely private or completely public. I've gone the public route.

So all you have to do to see the

Northside High School Marching Band

perform their 2006 show, Founding Fathers of Funk, all you have to do is click on the link and then download the file. Once downloaded, I suggest you play it on your computer using Windows Media Player.


http://hosted.filefront.com/Newt9/

*************************************************

On another note, my wife placed lights on our massive Christmas tree this evening. It took about 600 mini lights to cover the tree. There is no doubt that we've never had a bigger Christmas tree. The strange thing is that out in the field, it looked kind of small compared to the expanse of the surrounding mountains and sky.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Eyes Have It



Salvador Dali Museum


The Eyes Have It

Sometimes you just have to throw up your hands. Take today for instance. I witnessed incidence after incidence of people engaging in amazingly rude, insensitive, and mostly embarrassing behaviors. I even found myself quite accidentally joining the party.

This morning I woke up and dressed for the day. On my way out the door, I decided to wear my special warm Turkish coat that my brother-in-law had given me many years ago. He had bought it at a market while he was stationed in Turkey. The coat is vibrant in much the same way that Joseph’s coat of many colors might have been. With the coat on, I decided to wear a hat to warm my head on this frigid morning. So I reached for my Land’s End blaze-red flop-eared Elmer Fudd hat. Once I got to the car, I realized that my hands were freezing, so I put on my black leather thermal gloves. My outfit was completed when I donned my special Roy Orbison black plastic shades. I can only imagine how completely ridiculous I looked.

What would you do if your child’s school called you and the school secretary told you that your child was requesting to borrow lunch money again in order to get a meal? Furthermore, in order for your child to eat, you would have to come to school, pay your debt, and deposit sufficient funds into your child’s lunch account. Keep in mind that the call only came to you after two previous bouts with insufficient funds and two letters home. Would you have responded the way a parent at one of my schools did today? After screaming at the secretary on the phone about how rude it is for a school to be following this policy, she slammed the phone down, charged over to the school, barged in to the office yelling at the top of her lungs. She was threatening to call her lawyer and suggesting that we would be getting a visit from “NewsChannel 10.” What that lady obviously didn’t comprehend was that if you look at the root cause of her issue, she was getting all upset and blaming others over a situation where she neglected her parental responsibilities.

Some might believe that the lady was justifiably upset. I would disagree completely. In my view, it is never acceptable to deal with others the way that lady did with our secretary today. Secondly, the school has the call home rule in place simply because cafeteria programs in my county school system are not allowed to float loans to kids and the school does not receive any additional money itself to float loans to kids. In years’ past, our school has been burned to the tune of hundreds of dollars a year when kids were allowed to borrow repeatedly even if they never repaid their debt. That funding deficit was impacting our instructional program. That lady was so unreasonable and rude.

After school today, I went to Mal-Wart to visit my eye doctor. I’ve been trying to get contacts again after going for several years without them. I find playing basketball in clunky glasses to be hampering my game. So I went in and was ushered right in to the exam room where the doctor gave me a new pair of contacts to try on. So I took out the pair that I had been wearing for a week or so and stored them in my case with the lid off. Unfortunately, these new contacts were too loose, so she had me take them out. Haphazardly and since I didn’t have a case for them, I placed these new contacts on the lids of my regular case, because when I looked down at my case I saw that it was filled with liquid. My usual practice is to rinse the case out then put in fresh solution before I put my contacts in for storage. Forgetting that I had placed my colorless set of contacts in the case, I picked it up and rinsed it out in the sink as I usually do. As soon as I did that, I realized that I had just dumped my good contacts into sink. Geez, I felt so stupid! Quickly, I grabbed the contacts, rinsed them and put them back in; however, they didn’t feel right. I figured that I had gotten my left and right contact mixed up, so I took one out and placed it in the case’s lid. Then I put them back in the proper eyes. I took the one from the left eye and shifted it to the right eye. That one seemed to be much better. Next I reached down and placed the other contact on my index finger and inserted it into my left eye. While it felt just fine, I realized that I couldn’t see anything but blurriness out of my left eye. Throughout this whole episode, my doctor was watching me and laughing at my incompetence. My blurry eye befuddled me. I couldn’t figure out exactly why I couldn’t see. A little voice kept nagging me, however. It was suggesting that perhaps someone had committed some blunder. Perhaps even I messed up again. I looked down at the case lid to find the other pair of contacts I had tried on. I easily spotted the right lens, but I could not find the left lens. That’s when the embarrassing theory came to mind. I must be wearing two contact lenses in my left eye. My doctor, still laughing, thought that sounded like a sound theory. She told me of a lady who drove all way to the office with three contacts in one eye. After finishing her chuckle, she had me belly up to her optiscope, and she bored in to the emptiness of my head. There she validated my embarrassing theory. I was indeed wearing two contacts in my left eye. The rest of the appointment proceeded without further personal embarrassment.

After my appointment, I walked further in to Mal-Wart to visit my friend who works at the Mal-Wart bank. The good people who own that place had the good sense to give their Wart bank a fancy name. So anyway, I walked in, sat down at my friend’s client desk and proceeded to catch up with him. We were having a great conversation when our peace was interrupted by a lady at the teller’s window who was busy chatting on her cell phone as her two small children pushed the shopping cart all around the smallish bank floor, crashing into desks, counters, and me. I watched as the little three year old girl climbed in to the shopping cart over and over again. I was sure that cart was going to flip her over, but she managed to avoid that disaster. Meanwhile her chatty mother only glanced over once or twice to order the six year old girl to “...take care of your sister! Get over there.” Then the lady would go back to her man-friend on the phone. I have no idea why she was even in the bank. That lady was embarrassing.

My journey through Mal-Wart continued, and I continued to encounter embarrassing people. There was a lady at the head of the 20 items or less check-out line who had finished checking out, yet she stayed planted at the cashier to talk to the guy behind her in line. They carried on a conversation for several minutes as I and several other people waited patiently behind them. Finally, I just gave up and moved to another line. That lady was insensitive.

On my way out of Mal-Wart, I was dodging my way through the parking lot when I passed by a lady with her four year old boy in harsh tow. I heard her say to the tyke, “Now, am I gonna haf to swat you again?” That lady was clueless.

This evening, a friend sent me a link to a silly sketch I performed with some colleagues last week at a technology conference. We were testing out a new green screen technology in which we read script off a tele-prompter and stuff happened seamlessly behind us. The whole idea reminded me of one of those sketches you might see on the TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" Since I'm sharing such embarrassments, I'll share this one with the world, too. Me at the Virginia Technology Leadership Conference.

Why aren’t we all more perfect all the time? Why am I so judgmental all of the time? What’s going on with this world? Are we all nuts?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

We Drive On




We Drive On

It must be Christmas time again. Charlie, my next door neighbor, screwed his tree together and hung out the electronic door wreath. Mrs. K decorated her bushes with a kaleidoscope of colorful lights and flanked her doorway with the big Santa and the big snowman. Down the street, the concrete driveway people have gone a bit bezerk with their holiday light decorations, covering every twig and roofline edge. Over on the main drag, both sides of the road are illuminated with enough lights to make Las Vegas look dim. It was time for my family to get in gear.

Charlie's House

A neighbor's house

Another neighbor's house

Normally, my family puts off the advent of Christmas for at least a week or two longer, but there is no denying it this year. With stores taking down Christmas decorations in favor of Valentine’s Day and with a full social calendar for the next few weeks, we decided that we really needed to get our family tree before we simply ran out of days. So today, Sunday December 3, we went off in search of a Christmas tree, much earlier than ever before.

Some families simply go into a closet and pull out an artificial tree and screw it together. Others head over to the neighborhood Christmas tree lot to select their beauty. We, however, have always been a bit more adventuresome. Each year we head out into the wild and hunt down our tree, bag it, and bring the trophy home for display.

Up until a few years ago, our hunts were easy. All we had to do was head over to a small tree farm near my parents’ house and search for our white pine. Then once we’d bagged it, we’d head over to my parents’ house and show off our prize. That old farm was sold to a developer a few years back and all of the trees were bull-dozed. This left us to find a new place to catch a tree. That has not been easy.

One year, we discovered a small place in town that advertised itself as being “…the only cut your own tree farm in the city.” We found a couple of decent trees there, but there’s not much thrill in hunting down a tree that sits comfortably next to a busy city road. A couple of years ago, we found a remote farm about 30 miles out of town. It had about 50 semi-managed trees rooted on a hillside. For two years, we hunted trees there and the trees we ended up getting there were a bit deformed, but held a unique character. The selection there was a bit too thin; we were afraid that they wouldn’t have any trees left anymore. So we were determined to find a new location this year.

With our schedules cramped, we decided that today would be the day to capture our new tree. To start off, we decided to visit our town’s cut your own farm and see what they had to offer this year. Wandering around there, we found a section that we had missed in years’ past. However, after looking at the stock, no tree there seemed to scream, “I belong to you!” So we moved on to Plan B.

Plan B involved driving across the valley to the southern mountain wall. Then we planned on driving up and out of the valley, searching for cut-your-own farms. We passed by a small sign next to one side road, but that sign looked too simple and plain, not the kind of sign from a place that might harbor a tree that we might want to capture. So we rolled on.

Up the mountain we went. The view of the valley opened below us, and it was absolutely stunning. You could actually see forever. I saw an iceberg way off to the north and the dark void of space and time beyond. Since I was driving the family mini-van, I really couldn’t stop and gaze at infinity for more than a brief second.

Soon the road crested the mountain, and we found ourselves rolling along a two-lane highway across a high plateau in a strange marshy, deciduous world. We passed by a lonely elementary school where sometime last year the PE teacher was attacked by a deer as she was herding her fourth graders inside to escape the rampaging doe. Just a few miles later, we passed by a small white cottage-styled house with a gravel drive. There, striking the traditional driveway statue pose, stoically stood a live deer snorting frozen air. At first, my wife and I both thought that the creature was one of those concrete pottery deer that wives of old hunters buy. Then we thought it must be one of the Disney-like animated creatures people put out at Christmas time. Luckily, it stayed frozen long enough for our Caravan to pass safely.

All along our drive through this beautiful plateau, I was transported in time back to my youth when my father and mother took my brothers and sister to the farm of one of his co-workers. This man, Curtis, groomed Christmas trees and allowed us to come up and select any tree of our choice for free. I loved that place, a white farmhouse beside the rustic highway right in the little post office stop of Copper Hill, VA. As we neared Copper Hill, I told my wife and my i-Pod daughter that story from my youth. I just knew that Curtis must have passed this tree farm on to his boys, and it would be loaded with lovely trees ready for cutting. As we rounded the corner into Copper Hill, I immediately spotted Curtis’ old house, except it seemed rather tired and the tree field was just a field with no trees. We drove on.

Finally after two hours of searching, we found a place to look for our tree. Reynold’s Christmas Tree Farm. Pulling up the gravel drive, we were greeted by a large, lonely attendant sporting a VT sweatshirt, wearing brown overalls, and smoking a Dutch Master Honey Sport Cigarrillo. We were the only customers amidst a sea of finely pruned holiday trees. The white pines were groomed like Labrador retrievers with shiny shampooed coats. The Norway Goose Spruces were delicately molded into pristine poodle shapes. After sizing us up with a puff or two, the attendant gave us the basic price structure. Yellow tags $40…blue tags$35. So grabbing a saw, we went off to confidently find our tree.

We found one tree. It was pretty. It was nice. We almost started cutting it. Then we all looked at each other a realized that the tree was talking to us. It was not being imprinted onto us. It dawned on us that this was not our tree and this was not our tree place. So we returned the saw to the attendant who was now busy with many, many mini-van families from the valley. He would not be hurting for business on this day. We drove on.

A few more miles down the road, we were just about to give up hope of finding a tree when we spotted a sign pointing to a narrow road off to the right. We decided to give it a shot, after all the sign said the place was only 1.25 miles down the road and the trees were advertised at only $10. True to the word, the tree place rolled in to view at exactly 1.25 miles. This was definitely a “pop” operation. Out front of the large modern house beside the road was an older man playing fetch with his dog. Flanking his wooded home were two fields of very young $10 trees. There was one couple with their two young kids in tow looking bewildered at deciding among the tiny choices. We turned around and drove on.

Actually, we pretty much put aside the notion that we would find a tree today as we left the $10 farm. Heading back to town, we decided that we would stop by the first place we saw a sign for and ignored with the plain and simple sign. We weren’t holding out much hope that we would actually find a tree though.

The place didn’t seem any more promising when we turned off the road and headed down a remote lane for several miles twisting and turning. Then the land opened up into a lovely little valley with nothing but Christmas trees lining the right side of the road. Apparently, there were two farms side by side. We chose the second. It was a farm with a house beside the road but a driveway a few hundred feet beyond. So we drove up that long hillside driveway to a ranch house way up the side of the small mountain with an old pickup truck parked in front. On the truck were one saw and a sign that had hurriedly been scrawled on white poster board, “Help yourself to any tree. $20. Put the money in the truck.” No one was in sight. So after dealing with disappointment for the better part of three and half hours and with my bladder operating in the red zone, we decided that we had nothing to lose. In fact, my wife felt that at least I’d be able to sneak off to relieve myself somewhere in the woods.

Moments after we entered the tree field behind the house, we knew that this place was different. There were hundreds of trees spreading down the hillside to the road below. What we immediately liked best about them was that they weren’t perfect. They looked like they all belonged on that hillside, and they were all talking to us. “Take Me!” “Take Me!” “I want to be your tree!” All of the trees were screaming at us at once, battling for our attention. It was a little baffling after striking out in so many places. What tree would be for us? There were so many to examine. I filtered away from the group and took care of personal business. When I emerged from hiding, my wife motioned me to a tree down near the bottom of the hill by the old house and the main road. So it was quite a trek down the hill and would be even more of a trek back up with our trophy tree. As soon as she showed the tree to me, I knew and heard that this was the tree for me. It seemed a bit big, but not too big. It had a pleasing shape but with a few interesting personality gaps and quirks. My daughter, though chilled and wanting to get this over with, agreed. This would be our Christmas tree!

Excited and full of energy, we formulated our capture plan. My daughter and I would stay by the tree, and I would use the saw on it. My wife climbed the mountain back to the house to give the truck its $20. Then she was going to bring the van back down to the old house where we could load up the tree. We had seen another couple doing this, and I asked them if it was ok if we loaded there, too. The man said that the property all belonged to Dr. So-and-so who ran the tree farm-so it would be all right.

It took me a long time to saw through the bottom of that tree. Its base was surprisingly thick, but I wasn’t concerned that the tree was too tall. I was fully aware of the basic illusion that some trees present to hunters. They make themselves look very small in the field, but they end up being very large in the house. I think that’s a tree defense mechanism. Our tree certainly looked the right height. So what if the trunk was a bit thick. It took me the better part of ten minutes to saw through that trunk with that dull blade. By that time, my wife had brought the car down after paying the truck. She helped push the tree off its stump on that final stroke. Finally, we had captured our prize. Now all we had to do was load it and take it home. That proved to be a bit problematic.

It seemed that this tree was built like a defensive lineman. It was thick and extremely heavy! It took all of my energy to simple drag it over to the van. Then my wife and I had to dead-lift it onto the roof rack. While most real modern farms have special tree bailing machines to tidy your tree up into a cute and convenient package, this farm had no such luxury. So I proceeded to tie it down as best as I could, first with bungee cords then with nylon rope reinforcements.

The trip home was slow, satisfying, and a bit anti-climatic. But in the end, we had accomplished our mission: to capture our trophy tree. Once home, we dragged the tree in to our garage and have let it rest there soaking in a huge bucket of water until we can prep it for the final decoration. Of course, it’s way too big for our living room. Standing at about 9 feet tall, it would dwarf our room unless I trim it a bit.

Our tree. The white freezer on the left is exactly five feet tall. Our tree is just a wee bit taller than that :)

As I reflect back on the day, I struck by several thoughts. I really don’t know understand why getting a Christmas tree is such a big deal to me. Yet, getting a tree is one of those time-honored traditions. Hunting that tree with my family is something I cherish. The script is usually the same, although rarely as protracted as this year’s hunt. Find a place; look for the “perfect” tree. Find it. Feel joy. Cut it down and bring it home.

While the script is the same, I find that I can remember almost every hunt vividly. Grabbing trees from a remote farm in Botetourt County, visiting Curtis’ farm, cutting trees as a newlywed with my bride at my sister’s house, all the years spent getting trees from our good friends, the Lumadue’s. I cherish each memory. From the time I spent with my parents hunting for trees to the times I spent with my young children getting candy canes, coloring books, and beautiful trees. Today I added a new chapter to that memory book with my almost grown up daughter and wife. It’s about more than trees. It reaches into something much deeper, much more soulful. We drive on.

Our house as it looks this evening, prior to decoration



The blurry photo effects were created by me using a special

proprietary method. I reserve all rights.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why Break the Illusion?


Why Break the Illusion?

For more years than I can count I’ve loved to play sports. Basketball and football were and are most important to me, but volleyball is a sport I love to get up and charge in to. My appetite for playing sports has always been there, but early on my body and my talent didn’t allow me to compete. I was always smaller than the rest of the guys in class as I passed through middle and high schools. When teams were picked, I was last boy standing. When I was much younger in elementary school, I was a fine athlete of regular size. I boasted the second fastest 600 yard run time during the spring of my fourth grade year. Only Robin Roberts beat me. He ran a 1:59, and I clocked in at 2:04. Two years later, the guys were all growing past me, and I was stuck with a fourth grade body.

I suppose it’s no surprise that when I graduated from college, I found myself teaching and in charge of a group of kids in a fourth grade class that loved to play outside. Every day, we’d head out to the playground and spend joyous minutes playing all sorts of games. I joined every activity they participated in.

Some days, everyone seemed to gravitate to the playground equipment. Back in those days, the equipment that today is considered dangerous and litigious was considered fun and care-free. Hours were spent in reckless enjoyment. I can’t remember how many kids I saw trampled on the merry-go-round and how many kids flew off the rings. Yet we continued to take the chance just so we could all experience the joy.

Old-fashioned swinging was a real adventure back on that playground. The long arcing swings reached to the sky with the standing challenge being to see how high you could go and successfully jump off. Proving my swing skill is when I first realized that I had become some kind of athletic god to my fourth grade class. Gradually building my swing up and up until my feet were practically tickling the power line leading to the ratty old trailer beside the swings, I looked down on kids gathered around to see if I would indeed launch as promised. They cheered me on as I pumped higher and higher, each cheer sealing my resolve to get serious about and go through with my launch. After a final, massive pump that nearly sent me swinging around the bar, I released from the seat and sailed with beauty and grace through the air. It all seemed so effortless. I remember glancing down and seeing sixty wide-open fourth grade eyes and thirty gaping mouths screaming encouragement. As gravity took hold of me, my spirit launched higher. When my body reached the ground some distance from the swing, I tucked and rolled with the impact, popping immediately back to my feet with a grin the size of Chicago. I knew right then, as I posed being showered by cheers from adoring fans, that I could fulfill my athletic fantasies. So I seriously went about that business. Every day brought the same fresh newness and wonderful exploration of a special universe where I occupied the dominant position.

The rest of that year, I tossed football, always possessing the most powerful 30 yard arm in the grade, hitting my receivers in stride. On the hoops court, I could drive and score lay-ups at will, even with six or seven kids hanging all over me. I was the Shaq Daddy of the fourth grade. I could also go back to half court and sometimes sink amazing jumpers from great distances. Every time I struck, the crowd gathered around me would “ooooh” and “aaaah.” In kickball, the kids all screamed for me to come to the plate and smash a homerun. Every time up, I cleared the bases. I was so dominating that I required myself to play for both teams, pitching as well as batting. In dodgeball, I could not be knocked out because I was able to move my relatively huge frame spryly from side to side in wood-elf fashion. There was no stopping me or my ego. I was a monster out there on the playground.

For many years, I continued with my private ego-induced trip. Over the course of time, kids I taught had grown up. One boy went off to play football at UVA. Another group of boys ended up winning a state football championship (1991 William Monroe Dragons-Single A) with many of the players being graduates of my private athletic school. My own kids were born and I raised them to play sports in the backyard or on the driveway. I never liked losing a basketball game much less Candyland, Life, or Monopoly to my own kids.

I began playing volleyball against adults, transferring my arrogant, relentless style to that court. Year after year, I dove after balls slamming my body onto the hard concrete or wood floors. Bruised and battered, I’d usually only be sore for a day or so afterwards. As I grew older, I prided myself on being able to play pick-up basketball games with large teens without getting hurt or owned.

My egocentric world came crashing down upon me several years ago. The tube and spirits had made me lazy and out of focus. I had just resolved to begin getting in better shape so that I could continue to enjoy the sports that I loved so dearly when my heart suddenly decided to miss a few beats. The fact that I turned an ashen color along with the dizziness from the skips were enough to get me admitted to the cardiac wing of the local hospital for the extended July 4th weekend in 2004. Trapped in my seventh floor bedroom, I seriously began to contemplate the possibility of death. My youthful invulnerability was stripped away from me leaving me naked and helpless on that most uncomfortable bed with liquid-filled plastic tubes plugged into my arms and sticky wires connected to my chest by spies.

Any residual trace of youthfulness and the associated arrogance all finally left me last year, and it was a stupid thing that did it. I was attending a Virginia Tech vs Boston College home football game. My brother had somehow managed to get some excellent seats on the 50 yard line. Virginia Tech struggled all through the first half of the game. Then, sometime in the third quarter, Tech exploded for a quick score. The crowd leaped as one, pumping fists and screaming Hokie yells. It was such a beautiful moment, but one that came with a steep price for me. As I pumped my fist high in the air, I felt something snap in my shoulder. I didn’t really feel much pain until a day later. Then the pain was just nagging and irksome. Sometimes it seemed to build like a crescendo to forte then a few days later it would calm to pianissimo. However, it never went away. These days the pain comes and goes, but I’m no longer able to throw the football the way I did. I can’t lift anything heavy. Shooting baskets is something I can still do, but I have to plan my shooting motion very carefully so as not to upset my shoulder. My doctor said that I could get surgery to repair the damaged labrum or I could just find a way to cope with the pain. So I’m coping.

When you swing high into the sky, you need your arms and your shoulder to supply the power. My power is gone, eroded away in a moment of great triumph, never to be tapped again. Leaving the classroom in favor of a more technical job in education was in some manner a farewell to the wonderful arrogance of youth and an introduction to the inescapable finality of this life. Oh to be a god of the playground once more. What I would give. What would I give? The illusion was so real.