The Evergreen State College

I attempted to go to college more than once. The first time I was too young and immature to make sound choices…read “The Gasthaus.” The second time I ran out of money and joined the army. The third time I had to quit to support my family. The fourth time was the charm because the VA supported me while I got my B.A. in Computer Science, Social Science, and Writing. For this, I attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

Some of you may have heard of Evergreen. A few famous people graduated from the school like Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), Michael Richards (from Seinfeld), and Macklemore (the Rapper) to name just a few. Evergreen is constantly appearing on top lists for Liberal Arts Colleges in our country and seems to be well-respected everywhere…except in Olympia.

In Olympia, a lot of jokes are made about Evergreen, even though a good number of residents have attended the school. It’s said that you can attend Evergreen, make baskets, and graduate. Not entirely true (the graduation part) but they do have a couple Native American classes where you learn to make baskets…it’s part of learning their culture. I have to admit, however, that I saw some real slackers graduate and wondered how they did it. I also met some of the most productive people I know who graduated from Evergreen.

One of the things that makes Evergreen unique is that there are no grades. You cannot have a grade point average and that confuses people, especially prospective employers who are not familiar with Evergreen. Instead of grades, you have evaluations. Each class finishes with a self-evaluation, a class evaluation, and a faculty evaluation. By the time you graduate, your transcript can be well over 20 pages long. Instead of reading that you got an “A” in Discrete Mathematics, you read an entire page of what you did, what you learned, and what you can actually do. I think this is a much better document for a prospective employer to read.

Another thing about Evergreen is its quirkiness. Some of the commonality of some of the younger students is that they wished they had lived through the 60s. They are wannabe hippies that actually try to live the hippy lifestyle…but with electronics. There are more colored hairstyles at that school than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. Also, a lot of armpit and leg hair. Like I said, a hippy college.

The ultimate quirkiness is the mascot. Other schools use tough sounding mascots like Trojans, Wolverines, Bears, Lions, etc. Evergreen’s mascot is something most of you have never heard of…the Geoduck (pronounced Gooey-duck). It’s a mollusk…um, Google it.

I, personally, got a lot out of the college. One of the things they are known for is using groups to learn. I know a lot of people don’t like groups because you can end up with stragglers or lazy people in your group. You end up putting in most of the work and everybody gets credit. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care, as long as my work isn’t eroded by their lack of effort. Fortunately, every group I was ever a part of was good, everybody worked.

The other part that makes Evergreen unique is that the classes are clustered. While it’s possible to take an individual class, most are grouped together where you get multiple credits in multiple subjects. It’s kind of cool to see how science, writing, philosophy, psychology, indigenous studies, and communication can all be a part of a single class and how the instructors are able to have them intertwine with each other to make sense.

I’ll tell you right now, however, that Evergreen isn’t for everybody. Some people need the familiar structure of grades and separate classes. I get that. Also, some people can’t handle the sometimes extreme liberalism that exists on campus. If there’s something to protest, there will be a group protesting it. If you’re an ultra-right conservative, Evergreen can be your worst nightmare come to life. If you’re a believer in freedom of speech, Evergreen might just be up your alley. Just remember, however, that there are just as many hard-headed liberals as there are hard-headed conservatives. You’ll have plenty of disagreements…but if they’re in a controlled environment and there’s respect, you’ll be fine. I know my Christian values were sometimes out of place, but I hung on to them and tried to live right rather than just talk about everybody else and how they should live like me. I was respected and had no problems.

Of course, sometimes a conversation with a fellow student in your group went like this:

ME: Ok, so how do we code this using Java?

SLACKER: I have my own cup, thanks.

ME: Huh?

SLACKER: Well, it’s obvious you don’t need me to help. I’m gonna go, dude.

ME: Huh?

SLACKER: I can stick around, but I have to finish weaving this basket. I need it to graduate this Summer or my parents will kill me. Do you mind?

ME: Huh?

SLACKER: Grab the end of that reed, will ya?

It could be like that sometimes, but it rarely happened to me. I thrived in that school and never made a basket my entire time. My wife did, however…several, I think.

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Send in the Clowns

One of the time-honored gimmicks used by businesses is a mascot, especially mascots geared towards kids. They have spent years of research and a lot of money to figure out the best ways to get kids involved in the consumer business.  Obviously, most kids don’t have a lot of money of their own, so the businesses come up with things the kids want so bad that they drive their parents nuts until they buy it for them.  In the case of a mascot, they had to appeal to kids.  In the Sixties, clowns did the trick.

There were clowns on television, clowns on cereal boxes, clown toys, and a clown at a restaurant chain.  It was the restaurant clown that caught my attention.  This one came with food, a favorite hobby of mine.  All the kids knew when this clown would be at the local restaurant.  When it happened, there were often free burgers or fries involved.  What more could a kid want?

Back in the Sixties, free was still something that meant free.  Today, free usually has a catch.  It might be magazines, or a four-year lease, or even a way for law enforcement to catch you.  They send you a card that says you won something, you show up to collect it, and then you’re in handcuffs.  We just can’t resist the word, “free.”

Anyway, my parents understood that free burgers or fries meant free food for us kids and a savings for them.  It wasn’t too hard to beg for this.  The clown was just a bonus.  He just walked around and handed out coloring books while we ate the free food.  Those were the days.

Clowns are a little different today.  Thanks to a host of horror movies, a serial killer named John Wayne Gacy, and a great loss of innocence in youth, clowns are scary.  My youngest son once told me they just creep him out.  I told him about the free burgers, but that didn’t seem to help.  I’m sure he envisioned poison in the burgers or something like that.

It’s a shame that what amused me as a child simply doesn’t exist today.  We live in such an information-rich and violent society that innocence is often lost before a child enters Kindergarten.  Of course, this isn’t true for everybody, but when an innocent four-year-old girl gets shot while jumping rope in front of her house, this steals the innocence of all the other children who knew her.  When kids are watching a dance on television and the dancers are bumping and grinding, there’s little left for imagination later.  This becomes life for these children and they often will imitate what they see or know.

Clown’s used to be one of the ways we could escape the realities of life and see through a different set of eyes for just a moment.  Red Skelton was an awesome clown that not only amused us but also often taught us how to smile at what life would bring us.  It’s not that bad.  Look at the clown.  It could be worse.

I say we need to get back to the days of free burgers and clowns.  That was just good stuff.

Cabbage Patch Craze

After high school, I went to college. After spending most of my financial aid on alcohol and other substances, I dropped out. Then I worked as both a machinist and forklift driver for a while. Then I took off for Florida for a while, saving my money to eventually go back to college and do it right. The time came and I tried college again. To make ends meet, I shoveled coal at the power plant. I generally avoided spending any money (certainly not on alcohol and those other, ahem, substances) but still managed to run out of it. After working graveyard shift at a convenience store (with the added bonus of bringing home day-old donuts and sandwiches) and sleeping in my brother’s basement, I joined the army.

I had to wait 3 months before leaving for basic training, so I continued to work and sleep in the basement. Like I said, I worked graveyard shift so I would get to sleep at about six in the morning and was woken up several hours later by the same alarm clock every day, my three-year-old niece. She wouldn’t actually shake me or even make a sound, she just stood there staring at me until I woke. Then I would open my eyes to a cute little smile and a day of playing whatever she wanted. I couldn’t help but adore that kid.

This was 1983 and I found out I was leaving for the army the day after Christmas. This was also the year they introduced Cabbage Patch dolls. I found myself determined to get my niece one of those dolls.

Now, those of you who were around back then might remember the frenzy around these dolls. Stores would announce they received a shipment and the mob would respond. I never seemed to get the timing right to become part of the mob, until a couple days before Christmas. A local department store announced they had a shipment of the dolls, but only the first 100 people in line would get one. I was determined to be one of them.

I left work at six in the morning and drove to the store. The line was already long, but I decided to hope and wait in it to get this chance. At nine in the morning, the store door opened and a store employee began the count as she let people in line into the store. I lucked out being number ninety-nine. I followed the crowd and grabbed one of the last dolls before being bumped and having it torn from my arm.

“I SAW IT FIRST!” the woman yelled who had robbed me. Looking into her eyes, I swear I saw the pits of Hell! She ran away and I realized I was totally unprepared for this. I looked around and the dolls were gone. How could that be? We were only allowed a single doll each! I made my way towards the checkout to complain when a box containing a doll was kicked in front of me by somebody. With little hesitation, I grabbed the box, wrapped both arms around it, and got into line to pay for it. All in all, a rough experience, but the look on my niece’s face at Christmas made it worth every brutal second.

Through the years, I’ve seen these fads come and go. Never again have I had to go through the same experience. Fortunately, my kids weren’t into the fad toys so it never came up. I do know, however, that had I been to basic training before the onslaught in the store, that lady would have never torn the doll away from…oh, who am I kidding? There’s no training in the world that could prepare you for that situation. The shock alone of seeing people in that kind of frenzy gives you pause…at least it gives me pause.

There’s nothing scarier than an insane crazed mother getting what she wants for her child, um, except, perhaps, an insane crazed mother with a weapon…yeah, we’ll stay away from that one.

Jimi & Fozzy

In my second or maybe third year of working at the Boy Scout camp, I was the Nature Director. It was a good job and it sure beat working in the Dining Hall. I loved nature and I loved teaching the kids who came in for nature merit badges. I worked out of the Nature Lodge and it was an old cool little building that hung off the hillside, just across from the Indian Mound and the Flag Grounds. Every morning, we held the raising of the flag and most of the staff and scouts attended.

One of the things I discovered about the Nature Lodge was that it used to be part of the civil service warning system during World War II. Nearby was a civil service tower (radio) about 150 feet high and the lodge had a huge loudspeaker that was used with it. Even though the loudspeaker was probably 40 years old at the time, I figured it would still work. A wire here and a wire there and I soon had it connected to my boombox. I tested it quietly and it still worked.

The next morning, I waited until a good number of people gathered for the raising of the flag. Then I qued the music. What came out of the loudspeaker was a fine rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner performed by none other than Jimi Hendrix. It was magnificent! That is until the Camp Director showed up. So much for a little hippie culture…

I was forbidden to ever do anything like that again. Being young and foolish, I saw this as a challenge. The next morning, I once again waited until most everybody was gathered before queuing my next selection. This time it was a fine rendition of America by Fozzy Bear. Seriously, who could argue with that? I’ll give you one guess.

CAMP DIRECTOR: I told you not to play that!

ME: No, you told me not to play Jimi Hendrix.

CAMP DIRECTOR: No, I told you not to play anything!

ME: No, you distinctly said, “None of that hippie crap.”

CAMP DIRECTOR: I MEANT ANY MUSIC!

Just then a Scoutmaster of one of the troops walked by. He was also an influential committee member of one of the committees for the district.

SCOUTMASTER: Loved it! I loved Jimi from yesterday, but who was this?

ME: Fozzy Bear from the Muppets.

SCOUTMASTER: I loved it! What’ll it be tomorrow?

ME: I’ve been censored.

SCOUTMASTER: By who?

Then his eyes rolled over to the Camp Director, whom nobody seemed to like, and shook his head before walking away.

CAMP DIRECTOR: Maybe you could find something non-offensive to play while we gather?

ME: You found Fozzy Bear offensive?

Anyway, I did find some music that seemed to work for everybody. It was a tape of the Army Marching Band playing patriotic hits. It wasn’t the effect I was going for, but it worked. A year later, the loudspeaker was used to play Reveille, Retreat, and Taps when a bugle player couldn’t be found.

GI Johnny (Fiction Friday)

The ear-laden stalks of corn beat at me mercilessly as I ran through the row.  I could feel the tassels and insects getting caught in my hair and clothes.  I had no other route.  The cornfield provided my best cover.

I paused momentarily to listen for sounds of pursuit.  I couldn’t hear anything except for the sounds of Red-winged Blackbirds shrillingly proclaiming their territories.  With relief, I cautiously proceeded at a slower pace.

I could feel the hot afternoon sun burning the top of my scalp that my crew cut failed to conceal.  I looked down at the rich and moist soil that lay all around me with an idea in mind.  I scooped a handful and rubbed it into my hair hoping that it would have a soothing effect on my scalding head.  It did and I went on my way.

Earlier that morning, my team and I had been conducting a recon mission in hopes of locating the enemy stronghold.  As anyone that understands the art of war knows, we were not to be seen and especially not to be caught.

We were only twenty minutes into our mission when we were ambushed coming out of the cornfield.  Being the last man in our column, I was able to duck down and avoid detection.  I watched silently as the rest of my team was rounded up and disarmed.

I was going to lay low and follow the captors from a safe distance until I had the chance to free my comrades.  At least, this was my plan until I heard one of the enemies shout and point in my direction!

“Wait!” he yelled.  “There’s one more out there!”

I didn’t hang around to see if his buddies heard him or not.  I ran for my life!  The one good thing about escaping through a cornfield is that your pursuers could hear you, but they couldn’t see you.  With my speed, this was definitely in my advantage.  I quickly outran and outmaneuvered my pursuers until I could no longer hear the breaking cornstalks.

So now I had to figure out what to do.  Thanks to the soil I had rubbed into my scalp, my head felt much clearer and I was ready to think this through.  This was a situation I had rehearsed in my mind and in my dreams a thousand times, but this was different in that it was real.  I knew that if I weren’t careful, I wouldn’t be the hero I had pictured in those dreams.

I finally decided to continue with the recon mission in hopes of locating where my team would be held captive.  I quickly and quietly doubled back through the cornfield, while stopping for numerous sound checks, and located the site of the ambush without mishap.  It was easy to locate the dozen or so footprints in the soft soil that would lead me to my intended destination.

I followed their path for about five minutes through a new cornfield when I spotted two separate sets of tracks veering sharply to the right.  I immediately crouched down and feared the worst.  The enemy may have sent a couple of guys to double back and see if they were being followed.  I looked at the tracks more closely and ruled that guess out.  Both sets were running and took no care to cover their tracks.  Cornstalks were ripped down and trampled, almost as if one set of tracks was pursuing the other set.  I came to the conclusion that this was an escape attempt by one of my buddies.

I followed the escape route for about twenty yards to the location of the recapture.  Another set of prints joined the first two and there were signs of a struggle.  I then followed the three sets of prints as they rejoined the main body.

Suddenly I heard a noise and froze.  With my breath held, I tried to locate the source of the sound.  I heard it again.  It sounded like a voice that wasn’t too far away.  It was followed by a flurry of accompanying voices from the same location.  It definitely wasn’t the sound of pursuit so I assumed I had found my destination.

I cautiously made my way towards the sounds and came upon a drainage ditch.  I looked both ways and then low crawled across to the other side.  With my head slowly lifting over the edge, I caught my first glimpse of where the sounds had come from.  It was the base camp of the enemy, the stronghold we had been sent to recon.

The base camp was located at the edge of a town behind an old farmhouse that looked deserted.  Just off to my right, I could see a cluster of trees that formed a ring around my captured comrades.  Unfortunately, there were also about a dozen guards posted behind most of the trees.  I needed a plan and I needed it quick.

The sun once more began its merciless burning on top of my scalp and I was finding it difficult to think.  With my thought process muddled, I had to get away to a safer location to think this out.  My comrades were depending on me to rescue them so the plan needed to be flawless.

I carefully slid back from my vantage point then froze.  Have you ever had that feeling you were being watched?  I was feeling that feeling now.  I slowly turned my head to the left and saw her.  I couldn’t believe that with the entire enemy around me, she would find me before they could!

I frantically shook my head back and forth and then put my finger to my lips while silently mouthing a “shhh!”  I was hoping that she would understand, but I could see by the dumbfounded look on her face that I was about to be given away.  I also figured that I was in a heck of a lot of trouble.  I bolted forward even as her mouth was opening to yell at me.

“Johnny!” she yelled.  “Johnny!” she again wailed at the top of her voice.  “Johnny!  You come here right now!” 

I didn’t flinch.  I kept running.

“I’m not kidding, Johnny!” she belted.

I had done the only thing I could do!  I was running to free my buddies while the guards stood with their mouths agape at the awful shrieking voice behind me.  I couldn’t have asked for a better distraction.

I was only ten feet from my goal when my comrades began to cheer me on.  This was the heroic moment I had dreamed of my whole life!  My lightning speed and unplanned distraction had caught the guards by surprise and this left me closer to my goal than they were.  As I reached out my hand to free the first of my comrades, I saw the hope that was written all over his face.  Then I watched the hope turn into surprise as I felt my foot snag on something and I began to fall.

“Arrrgh!” I yelled as I hit the ground.  The guards began to jump all over me and I could hear their laughter, as well as my comrades’ laughter, fill the air.  In fact, it almost sounded like my buddies were laughing the hardest.  My most heroic moment quickly turned into my most humiliating moment and I began to look for a rock to crawl under.

“You should have seen your face, Johnny!” one of my soon to be ex-buddy’s pointed out between guffaws.  “That was the funniest thing I’ve ever saw!”

Then they stopped laughing and all began to walk away from me like I had the plague or something.  Heck, I thought, all I did was fall down and ruin the rest of my life.  It was hardly contagious.  Then I noticed they were all looking past me so I turned around to see what they were looking at.  It was her again!  I had quite forgotten about her.

“Just wait till your Dad comes home, Johnny!” my Mom shrieked.  “We’ll just see if you ever run from me again, you naughty boy!”

With my humiliation now totally complete, I slowly walked home to the real enemy stronghold.  I knew that my Dad would torture me with a spanking to teach me a lesson and that I would be held as a prisoner of war for at least a week.  All I could hope for was some protection under the Geneva Convention while imprisoned.

One of these days my heroic moment will come, but until then, I would just have to be content with my dreams.  Besides, real heroes didn’t get spankings.

Foiled Again

One of the places I’ve worked in the past was in a cubicle in a big office. It was a good job with a good boss and plenty of good co-workers. I’m still not sure why I left, but I did eventually. It was also a job with some high-pressure situations so occasionally, we had to let steam off. I’m a natural at blowing steam.

Rubber band fights was something I started (although not original) but I added an element to the battle. Since we were all in our individual cubicles, every now and then you would stand up to stretch and look around. When this happened, you suddenly looked like a Prairie Dog or Meerkat popping out of a hole. Also, when this happened, you became a prime target for rubber bands. It began when three of us were popping our heads up at the same time. I launched the first rubber band and a tradition began. We just had to be sure there weren’t any unsuspecting clients wandering around.

Another stress breaker began one day when I decided I didn’t feel like walking to the coffee pot. I took my desk chair and rolled my way to the breakroom. When I came back, I was suddenly joined by a co-worker and he rolled behind me as we did the circle around the cubicles. Then another co-worker joined and another. Before long, we had about ten of us rolling around in the circle. When we passed my boss’s window, he just looked at us and shook his head. Like I said, he was a good boss and he knew we were just letting off steam. He was good with that because he knew we would still work hard and get everything done.

Another nice thing about my boss was that he would take a two-week vacation every year to go to his timeshare in Mexico. It was nice because it gave me a chance to decorate his office before he came back.

The first time we were a bit unoriginal again but it had to be done. We foiled his office. We foiled everything. We foiled his computer, his keyboard, his mouse, his desk, his chair, and even his coffee cup. He came back and his office was a shiny example of foil paper run amuck. It was great! He shook his head again.

BOSS: Dazeodrew!

ME: Yeah? Oh, welcome back.

BOSS: You gonna clean this up?

I’m not sure why he always assumed I was behind the prank…I was, but still. I cleaned it up and recycled all the foil paper. It was worth it.

The next year was an original. I bought 50 bags of 100 pack balloons and recruited most of the office to help me. There was no way I could blow up 5000 balloons by myself! Yes, you guessed it, we blew them up and piled them in his office until the balloons were waist deep. He came back and shook his head again.

BOSS: Dazeodrew!

ME: Yeah? Oh, welcome back.

BOSS: You gonna clean this up?

Popping all those balloons was a heck of a lot more fun than cleaning the foil paper. I had no problem getting help for this chore.

The third-year I did nothing…kind of. He came back and had a rough time all day because he kept looking around, waiting for the prank. It wasn’t until he needed a paperclip that he discovered we had hooked them all together…all thousand of them. A week later, he needed to refill his stapler and discovered we had superglued all the staples together. A week after that, he needed to refill the paper in his printer and discovered clumps of paper were taped together.

BOSS: Dazeodrew!

ME: Yeah? Oh, printer problems?

BOSS: You gonna clean this up?

ME: Sure.

BOSS: Is there anything else I should be concerned with?

ME: Nope that was…wait, have you been drinking out of that cup?

There’s nothing that builds morale better than a few pranks on the boss. Especially when you have a good boss who knows exactly why you’re doing it. Because of him, that was an extra special place to work.

Metalhead

When I was given orders to Germany, I was excited. It would be my first trip outside of the United States…other than Canada, but we only went there to fish and get beer, so I didn’t really count that. My parents drove me to St. Louis from Milwaukee and I set off on my adventure from there.

On the airplane, in the seat in front of me, was one of the most annoying people I had ever met. It was obvious he was a fellow soldier, but his demeanor was something else. We hadn’t even taken off and I was annoyed. He had a Walkman and you could actually hear the music being played despite his headphones because he had it so loud. That wasn’t the annoying part…it was when he would try to sing along with the lyrics periodically that it became annoying. He did this for about half the flight and snored for the other half.

When we landed in Frankfurt, I thought I would be rid of him. Of course, that didn’t happen otherwise this would be a very uneventful and short blog post. Instead, after I boarded the bus that would take me and my fellow soldiers to Army Posts to the south, he boarded right after me and sat in the seat in front of me. The bus ride was similar to the flight. Loud music and crappy singing. I hoped to be rid of him soon.

When we reached Nellingen Kaserne, both of us left the bus. We were met at the gate by a young soldier who took us to our barracks. He showed us to our room and I was pleasantly surprised (not) to find out we were going to be roommates. We unpacked our gear and he continued to sing with his Walkman. I couldn’t stand it.

ME: You suck at singing. (No reply because his music was too loud).

ME (again): YOU SUCK AT SINGING! (He took the headphones off).

HIM: What?

ME: I said, you suck at singing.

HIM: I know. If I was any good you’d be listening to me on the Walkman.

Fortunately, his batteries died a few minutes later and he didn’t have replacements handy. We settled in, met some fellow soldiers, and actually became friends after a while. Not only were we stationed at the same post, in the same Battalion, in the same Company, in the same barracks, and in the same room, we were also assigned to the same Engineer Shop. We had little choice but to get to know each other. Once I got to know him, I liked him and he liked me. I gave him his new nickname…Metalhead.

We spent the next two years as best friends. We partied together, worked together, traveled together, and just had good times together. Even when I was promoted to Sergeant and took over the shop as the boss, we remained friends and he became my biggest help when we had to get things done. Of course, it wasn’t always rosy, we had our moments.

One moment came when we had a surprise inspection and he was extremely hungover. He would find a creeper, lay down, and roll it under a vehicle. Then he would wrap his arms around whatever was above him and go to sleep. From the outside, it looked like he was working on something. Since he was one of the best engineers I had, I let it go because when he was alert, good work happened. This time it backfired. The inspector walked right up to him and stood there. I walked over to see if he needed anything and I heard it. Anybody within twenty feet could hear it. Snoring. The inspector let it slide because he thought it was an ingenious way to get some sleep. We got lucky.

Another moment came when our platoon went out for dinner at a nice German restaurant. I ordered the sauerbraten and it was delicious. Metalhead just reached over with a fork and tried to get some of it. What happened next happened purely by instinct. I stabbed his hand with my fork. I mean, I STABBED his hand with my fork. It was deep and it was bloody.

METALHEAD: You stabbed me!

ME: Sorry…

METALHEAD: This hurts! I think I might need stitches!

ME: And some antiseptic. I’ve been using that fork in my mouth…sorry.

METALHEAD: You stabbed me, man!

ME: Yeah, sorry.

Possible moral of this story? Don’t try to take my food. I grew up with brothers and it was brutal at dinnertime sometimes. Also, don’t judge a metalhead book by its metalhead cover.

You Sunk My Battleship

When we were kids, making models was a big thing. You could get a model kit for existing cars, cars that didn’t exist, airplanes, ships, tanks, and even lunar modules. You would also get a temporary buzz from using the glue, a bonus at that age.

For my best friend and I, we were into World War II airplanes and battleships. We were heavily influenced by shows like “12 O’clock High” and “Combat” with a little “McHale’s Navy” for comic relief. We lived and breathed that war.

Of course, his little sister was into destroying them. Whenever we had a destroyed battleship, we gave it a burial at sea, which was only proper. This involved some tactical planning on our part and we were more than up to the task.

We figured some firecrackers, smoke bombs, a couple bottle rockets to imitate emergency flares, and some underwater fuse would do the trick. I’m not sure where we got the underwater fuse, but it was handy. The first broken battleship we filled up with these items and took a walk to nearby Lake Michigan. It didn’t go like we hoped…

We decided to use about 5 feet of the fuse and pushed our ship out to sea…or lake in this case. Every wave kept pushing the ship to shore. We took off our shoes and waded out further even though it was Spring and the water was still frigid. We tried it again, lit the fuse, then watched in dismay as an errant wave sunk our ship without letting us blow it up. We ran out and pulled the fuse and cut it with a knife to save what we could. We fished out the battleship and went home to take out all the wet fireworks because the model battleship was still good to go.

We realized that Lake Michigan was a lousy place to blow up a ship so we opted for a small pond next to the train tracks. The only sign of life in this pond were some frogs and a billion mosquito larva. Most of the frogs swam away and hopped on the shore on the other side so we didn’t have to worry about hurting them…yes, we were worried about hurting something that didn’t deserve to be hurt…except for the mosquito larva, we had no qualms about destroying them. They were acceptable battlefield casualties.

The only thing we did a little different was to put a balloon inside the hull and blow it up. We figured this would keep the ship afloat until the fireworks. It was a good idea…so we thought. We pushed the ship out into the water and it floated just fine. Then we lit the fuse and waited.

ME: Is it me or is the ship beginning to list sideways?

BEST FRIEND: It’s listing sideways…

ME: Oh no! It’s going to flip upside down!

Sure enough, it flipped over and we watched our fireworks get wet again. It was too late to pull it back and neither of us was willing to jump into the brackish water so we just watched as the fuse burned it’s way to the ship. Nothing happened. We used a long stick to get our ship back and went back to the drawing board. We were determined to make this work. We only had about ten feet of the underwater fuse left so we couldn’t really screw up again.

Our next idea was a better one. As usual, we stuffed the hull with fireworks but omitted the balloon this time. Instead, we stuffed the gaps with gasoline-soaked paper. Then we took two balloons, the skinny kind that people use to make balloon animals, and taped them to both sides of the hull. We filled up the kitchen sink and placed it in to see if it would float properly. It did and off we went back to the pond.

We pushed the ship out, lit the fuse, and waited. We could just barely see the lit fuse in the water and when it was only inches away, we backed away so we wouldn’t get hit by any plastic shrapnel. Then it blew up, creating loud pops and smoke before shooting a flame about three feet into the air. It was awesome!

ME: That was awesome!

BEST FRIEND: That was so cool!

ME: Do we have any more ships?

BEST FRIEND: No, but I’ll leave one that my little sister can reach…maybe.

Then we heard the shouting. About 200 yards down the tracks was the switching station for the trains. There was a guy who worked there and I think his sole function was to chase us kids off the tracks with a salt gun. We had heard of kids getting shot, but we weren’t one of them. We ran as fast as we could in the opposite direction and got away cleanly.

During the next couple years we blew up another half dozen ships and one airplane…the airplane didn’t go as well. We became sabotage experts at destroying battleships. The one thing we always did before destroying the models was to take off any American flag decals that were on the ships. Even at that young age, we respected our flag.

All About That Bass

Being the youngest son, I was used to a life of hand-me-downs. Before I grew taller than my brothers, I used to get their clothes. I also would get their old used baseball mitts, one left-handed and the other right-handed. I learned to use both. The most anticipated hand-me-downs were electronics. I started with a transistor radio and eventually up to a boombox. It was when my oldest brother decided to get a new stereo system that I finally truly made out.

I wasted little time setting up the system in my room. I couldn’t wait to listen to my favorite bands the way they were intended to be listened to…loud and in stereo. I figured I could crank it because my parents were deaf. For the most part, it was fine, but then my dad came to visit me one evening to tell me to turn it down. Apparently, my bass was turned up a little too far and my parents could feel the music. It took them a week to figure out what the rumbling was.

I turned down the music and toned down the bass some more. My dad put his hand on one of my speakers and after a moment, began to tap his fingers with the drums and the bass. He could still feel the music.

DAD: Who is this?

ME (using my hands to talk): Led Zepplin.

DAD: I like it.

This new-found enjoyment of music for my dad continued for the next few years until I finally grew up and moved out. My dad would come upstairs to see me almost every evening and put his hands on the speakers. He got so good at identifying bands and their styles that he could sometimes guess the band with a song he never felt before. He became an expert in musical style. It was amazing!

That’s how my dad was. Instead of feeling sorry for himself because he couldn’t hear music, he found a different way to enjoy it. Once, he actually stood with his hand on my speaker for the entire album “Dark Side of the Moon.” He really liked Pink Floyd. He also liked Led Zepplin, AC/DC, The Who (Baba O’Reilly was his favorite), Queen (heavy base on some songs), and my occasional forays into R&B, country, classical, and even the Muppets. He specifically asked me to play the Beatles on a few occasions because he wanted to know what all the hype was about in the 60s. My dad really was amazing!

The most amazing thing about my dad’s ability to distinguish sounds that he could only feel was when he used the telephone. Yes, he figured out how to use a telephone before they had teletypes or video phones for the Deaf. He only called from work when he was going to be late so we could tell my mom. This is how it worked.

My dad would go to the rotary wall phone at his job and dial our home number. Then he would hum softly. When we would pick up the phone and hear his humming, we would make a deep “Huh” sound that he could feel on the phone at his end. Then he would verbally tell us what he needed to tell us. My dad was able to speak fairly well and was easy to understand. We would do “Huh” for yes and “Huh Huh” for no. Then we would hang up and tell our mom what he said.

Like I keep saying, my dad was amazing.

Another example of how awesome my dad was is that he could’ve used hearing aids. He had been tested and he had just enough there for a high powered hearing aid to slightly work. He refused because my mom was tested and she was profoundly deaf and no hearing aid would’ve helped her. My dad didn’t want something my mom couldn’t have. In fact, he never even told her that he could wear hearing aids if he wanted. He felt that being deaf could be lonely enough without losing your best friend to the hearing world. He didn’t want my mom to be alone.

I write a lot about my dad. He was the only person I ever looked up to. Everybody else I look eye-to-eye and let them determine how I see them as time goes. My dad’s always been on top because he was such a good man. He was tough when he needed to be, soft if the situation called for it, and always forthright and honest in everything he did.

My dad has always been my inspiration and hero.

What Kids Remember

This morning when I went to the store to get milk, I had to wait in the parking lot while a father took pictures of his little daughter. She had her hands up in the air and he was directing her to move them closer, then further apart, then he started taking the pictures. I was standing behind him (because my car was right next to where they were standing) and caught on to what they were doing. Behind the little girl, about a half-mile away, was the capitol building. He was lining up the photo so it looked like she was holding up the dome of the capitol.

He finally noticed me and apologized but I just smiled and told him to finish. He showed me the pictures and they were really good. Then he showed his daughter and her face lit up like an angel in the presence of Jesus. This was a big deal…a bigger deal than I think the father and daughter realized. This was a good memory that the little girl would probably remember forever. It was just a small thing, but the potential for a life-long impact was huge.

When I was very little, my dad found the time to teach me a little about fly-fishing. Even though we were in the backyard and the closest water was in the birdbath in the front yard, he taught me how to tie a fly and then the best part, he taught me how to do a casting arc. I was clumsy at first but developed a rhythm all my own by the end of the day. Learning to fly fish was great, being with my dad was greater. It’s still one of my best memories.

My Brother-in-Law relates a story about his father when he was very young. They had an accident in the car and the engine began to smoke. His father pulled out each kid before the car burst into flames. What makes this story unique is that my Brother-in-Law saw a different side to his father, a man that could be so abusive to his wife and children that they remain scarred by it to this day. Still, that one good memory shines through.

When my wife was very little, she went with her family to see her grandpa at the hospital. He was dying, but they still wouldn’t allow children into the room. She was heartbroken because she loved her grandpa and he had always been kind to her. She had a new pair of shoes she really wanted him to see and apparently, he thought it was important to see them. Even though he was in the last stage of life, he still wanted to please his granddaughter. Since he was on the first floor, they solved the problem easily. They took my wife to his window where she could show off her new shoes and he could express joy at them with her. This memory is etched in my wife’s slate of good memories as a child, a brief list because most of the memories were bad.

A couple weekends ago, I was able to watch one of my sons teach his son how to fish. The warm feeling I got while witnessing this was wonderful. There was so much loving interaction between the two, it made me proud just to be able to see it. My grandson will grow up and this will be one of his good memories that will resurface when he has kids, or even if he doesn’t.

The things that kids remember can go on and on. As parents, we wish all the memories were good ones, but we can only do what we can do. I guess my point is, it’s the little things that might not mean much to us, but mean the world to a child. Sometimes, as a parent, we have to embarrass ourselves to make a child’s day.

When my youngest son was still in pre-school, he made me a tie out of construction paper. It was very colorful and had circles, triangles, squares, and crayon artwork all over it. It was about 2 feet long. He came home very excited about the gift for me. His excitement caused me to give him a childhood memory he still hasn’t forgotten. The next day, I wore his tie to work.

CO-WORKER: Um, nice tie…

ME: Thanks! My son made it for me.

This went on all day long. I even left it on for a board meeting I had to attend.

BOSS: Um, nice tie…

ME: Thanks! My son made it for me.

BOSS: Do you think this is the right place…

ME: Yes I do.

I’m glad I did it because when I came out of the meeting, my son was waiting for me. He always walked to my work from preschool with the son of a co-worker who was in sixth grade. He would come into the courthouse, drop his bag off in my office, then make his rounds. Every office had a cookie or a piece of candy to give him.

When he saw me come out of the meeting wearing his tie, his face lit up like, well, like an angel in the presence of Jesus. I realized it was all worth it just for that moment.