My Father, the Blind Squirrel

November 5th, 2012 / #bliss, #family, #sports

I think I met God today.

God is an older gentleman who’s hard of hearing and has a knee brace. And yes, he was on a golf course.

Dad and I don’t golf much. But it’s a thing that’s become more and more commonplace in our lives, either as a result of my maturing or as a result of his growing acceptance that with or without him there, the restaurant can survive an afternoon in early winter. Regardless, I really like golf with Dad.

We go to a little course in Clearwater; always have. It’s changed ownership a few times over the years, but the trademark course annoyances haven’t changed. For as long as I can remember, there’s always been the long par 4 second hole with the pond on the left that beckons for your company. There’s been the hole with the punk tree right before the trap to the right of the green. And there’s been the short, deceptive par 3 that only remains in my memory because it’s the first one with an Igloo cooler of water on particularly steamy summer days. Save a line of trees here and a filled sand trap there, this has always been our little course.

We played our little course today, on November 4, 2012. Not a particularly noteworthy date for me, but it was for Dad. November 4 was his mother’s birthday, and she would have been 80 today had she not passed four months ago. Dad hadn’t mentioned that until after the round, but it seems at least tangentially relevant to this story.

After playing eleven holes of par-for-Peterson golf, Dad and I were feeling surprisingly optimistic: the weather was unseasonably nice, we were armed with fresh Diet Cokes from the bar, and we were on pace to make it home in time for football. We noticed that, after starting out from the clubhouse after nine holes, an older gentleman was on pace to drive us off the course. So, like any decent group of massively mediocre golfers, we decided to let him play through.

We finished the hole and pulled aside, waiting for him to catch up. Dad and I got involved in some conversation or other, and didn’t notice the old man’s flop shot sink into the hole from the fairway.

When he saw the man marching up to the hole without a club in hand, Dad was impressed. I was jealous.

“That’s a neat way to golf,” Dad yelled to the man.

The man didn’t hear him. It could have been because of the sounds of helicopter blades clipping the wind in the small airpark next to the course, but the man still couldn’t hear after the sounds of the chopper began to taper off. Finally, he heard.

“That’s a neat way to golf,” Dad repeated a third time. “Without a putter!”

The man smirked. I thought he was being smug. But it turns out he was just as humbled by physics.

“You know,” he said. “Every now and then a blind squirrel finds a nut.”

We let him play through, and he was on the green in one stroke. I’d like to think he two-putted after that, but I know he was probably cutting through our little course like butter. Still, it’s a nice thought.

It came Dad’s turn to tee off on the hole he’d played hundreds of times before. The same hole he played when he’d pay me a nickel for every intact tee I could find in tee boxes, and a dime for every ball I could fish out of ponds and from the other side of the chain link fence along the second and third fairways.

He hauled off and split the fairway in two. Bounced once, rolled up the green, and plummeted into a hole that seemed so impossible 112 yards ago. I did all the requisite millennial customs: took a cell phone video of him discovering the ball, snapped the proudest photo I’ve ever taken, and posted to every social networking website I’m a member of. By the time I was done, the old man from the previous hole was nowhere to be seen.

We finished the round, complete with a predictable I-can’t-believe-what-I-just-saw inability to concentrate. Then, we went home, where Mom was waiting with a beer on ice for Ace Peterson. It was a day that played out like a child’s storybook, absolutely devoid of any conflict or difficulty. It was a perfect day that unfolded like it would if you were imagining it in a daydream while waiting to tee off.

I’m probably making too much out of this. Aces happen every day in golf courses around the world, and old dudes in knee braces can get a lucky bounce from time to time.

But, if there is a God, I think I know where he spends his Sunday afternoons. Not a bad gig.

Funeral for a friend

February 22nd, 2011 / #family, #friends, #funerals

My neighbor, Gary, died a few weeks ago. When last we visited Gary on this fair blog, he was a fifty-something mailman who lived with his mother and rode his Harley for an hour each week. In the time since I penned – with very questionable sentence structure, I might add – my piece, Gary retired, sold his bike, and buried his mother.

Last weekend, we buried him. Figuratively, of course, since he was cremated, but I want to tell the story of his funeral because I’d hate for my lasting memory of his life to be a vague and fading recollection tucked away in the recesses of my mind. So, here it is.

I remember the night Gary died. It was a Saturday in January. He had only been really sick for a week, and I took that at a testament to how he liked to do things: efficiently, without making a big production of things. Only a couple days before, I came home from school in the afternoon to find hundreds, if not a thousand, large black crows flying in the crisp winter air above my block. I don’t think this was necessarily an omen, but later that day the ambulance was called out to his home for what would be the second-to-last time.

It arrived again long after nightfall that Saturday. I, like the nosy neighbor from Bewitched, watched as the anticlimactic drama unfolded. All in all, a small army of emergency response vehicles showed up: an ambulance, two large fire rescue trucks, a fire rescue pickup truck, and three police cruisers that stayed until after I dozed off. After all, I had church in the morning.

The service was on a Saturday a couple of weeks after he died. Given his lifetime of public service and his tendency to be an old school kind of guy, it was held at the local VFW post, only a couple of blocks from where we live.

Now, I had never been in a VFW before this. As a kid, I would always pass by the building and be amazed that a gigantic cannon could sit outside, exposed to the elements, and no one would try to fire it. It was a mythical place: I had no idea what went on inside there, but it must have been important.

The lodge is split into two main rooms: a hall where Lt. Dan can win a four corners payoff on his bingo card, and a canteen where he can invest his hard-earned winnings in the finest American beers. Late in the morning, everyone arrived and was ushered into the canteen, since student speakers of some sort were speaking to representatives from the State Department. I wish I could have listened to what they had to say.

As we stood in the corner of the smoke-filled canteen, I noticed that behind the veil of coziness, the canteen was in many ways a product of the protocol-driven forces that inhabited it. There were no barstools in this place; the bar itself sat no higher than a common desk to accommodate wheelchair-bound veterans. On the walls (and bar, and windows, and hanging from the ceiling) were signs declaring the bartender’s authority: “If the bartender asks you to leave,” one read, “you have five minutes to comply or 30 days to think about it!” Near the entrance of the canteen hung numerous postings of the rules of the house – chief among them the fact that you must be a member to purchase alcohol. The carpet was the industrial, textureless kind that you see in government buildings. The ceiling tiles were stained yellow from decades of smoking. This was the most American place in which I had ever been.

I’m not sure if it was a response to the smoky atmosphere of the canteen, but as we waited for the State Department to clear out from the bingo hall, some people migrated to the parking lot. There, Gary’s coworkers from the post office gathered, many of them wearing their USPS uniforms, as they were merely taking a break from the never ending postal delivery cycle. Gary’s biker buddies also showed en masse (they were the ones who looked like varying degrees of Santa Claus). After nearly an hour, we were corralled into the bingo hall for the service.

Now, the only funerals I had ever been to were in churches. So when I entered the hall, I was expecting to see some makeshift pew system, perhaps composed of a couple hundred chairs in rows. What I encountered was almost the polar opposite: rather than a bunch of chairs assembled facing the front of the room, there was a large, open area in the center of the room, presumably for when the VFW holds its heavily-anticipated singles dances. (I’ve always wanted to see how these events go, but since I’m not a veteran I assume they will remain a great mystery for the rest of my life. A pity.)

Around the periphery of this open space were old wooden tables, each with four plastic chairs. Beyond these tables were long banquet tables arranged against three walls of the room. This was no setup for a funeral, I thought, but who was I to complain? It’s how they did things here, after all.

As the crowd milled about, the service began when the local VFW Chaplain (who, by sheer coincidence, was a family friend) queued up a recording of Taps on the large wooden console at the front of the room. Then, Gary’s brother Steve was asked to say a few words about the man who has always cared for him and his family. There, below the large, unlit bingo board that hung on the wall behind him, Steve broke down.

One letter carrier got up to speak to the room full of grown men drinking bottles of beer and smoking their fifth cigarette. “I sure hope no one is waiting for their mail today,” he said, “because you’ll be waiting for a while. We’re all here.”

While we listened to the service, the color guard shuffled in. A geriatric militia complete with white gloves and black berets, this group of septuagenarians displayed an amazing amount of respect for a ritual they had undoubtedly practiced hundreds of times. We marched back out to the parking lot for the last part of our goodbye to Gary.

One member of the guard, rigid with respect and sincerity, presented a crisply folded American flag to Steve. Another member, after fiddling for a few seconds with a phony bugle that played the same recording of Taps we heard in the bingo hall, stood with the instrument to his lips for a half minute. Three members of the firing squad then shot forth into the suburban sunlight three shells each.

And Gary was gone.

(41.43707625753898, -88.42245876789093)

February 13th, 2010 / #bliss, #family

In the middle of a corn field just outside a corn town about an hour southwest of Chicago, there is a cemetery. It has been the final resting place for an entire community of corn-fed people for what I can only assume has been hundreds of years, judging from the illegibly worn grave markers that lie underneath tall oaks and maples in the back corner of the place. The cemetery is unofficially and very roughly divided down the middle, with folks from either one of the two major families in the town on each side, and as you move down the path toward the rear of the field there is a hand-pumped water well that people use to water the flowers that they bring to honor their kin. On one side of the yard is a two lane road, and across that road the corn seems to go on forever, save for the old wooden barn that rises above the stalks in the distance. On the other three sides of the yard, past the trees that shade the benches and cracked stones, there is only corn.

My father took me to this place months ago. He was born in the town, only a couple of miles down the two lane road. I had never been to this town before, and I had never known the relatives I was visiting in that cemetery. But one thing stood out to me above all others as we wandered around looking at people that we never knew but with whom we probably share some genes. This was the calmest place I have ever seen.

I know that all cemeteries are meant to be calm, but it is impossible to find such tranquility in the city. In the city, the daily activity that surrounds any place intended for quiet and reflection is bound to seep in. But in this place, the only possible distraction might be a sluggish tractor chugging up the two lane road. More often than not, however, the only sound you hear is the wind among the stalks of corn. This is the ultimate calm, and this is where I want to be buried.

I hear next week Mom's learning how to text message

May 22nd, 2008 / #awesomeness, #family, #videogames

Interesting fact about my awesome parents #4381: Today, they bought a Wii. For themselves.

It's like Chariots of Fire, except way less gay and way more pathetic

May 21st, 2008 / #family, #funny stories

Recently, my dear father turned 52. Or 53. I can’t remember. Either way, he is knock-knock-knocking on Heaven’s door. And I try to remind him of this on a semi-regular basis just so, you know, he can keep it all in perspective.

A few weeks ago, though, Dad took exception to my friendly jabbing and claimed with the authority that only a father can exert that he is, has been, and always will be in better shape than Yours Truly.

Now, I know very well that I am not what experts in the health field would call “in shape,” but I think I am in better shape than my Pop. We are of a similar build, with Peterson funk handles (they evolved from “love handles” at about the time when The Macarana came into its prime) and a fondness for crab legs. Dad is pretty much exactly like me, only with less facial hair and thirty years added to my age. This is why I doubted his claim that he was in better shape than me.

When I expressed the extent to which I opposed his ridiculous claims, he thought of a way to settle the issue once and for all: a footrace.

While the thought of two overweight, pale, and otherwise weak individuals racing each other is hilarious, I ask you to bear with me.

This challenge was posed a few weeks ago, and we set the date for this past afternoon. Well, it went down. Pop challenged me to race up Keene Road from Druid Road to Lakeview Road and back. We each took our positions at opposite corners of the busy intersection and awaited the signal from Mom. Her arm dropped, and we were off.

I had a strategy: I thought I would sprint from the starting line to gain as much ground on Dad as I could, allowing myself periodic sections of my journey where I could walk. Dad’s opposing strategy of taking the course at a steady, mildly-paced clip proved inferior. And wouldn’t you know it, 1.2 miles later I was waiting on the corner where I had started, watching my old man hobble toward me with a look of both resignation and defeat.

Victory is sweet. Victory is sweet, indeed.

Ben

December 29th, 2007 / #animals, #family

A few years ago, when I was about 11 or 12, our dog died. I watched it happen. It was quite traumatic for me, as you can imagine; a boy entering into the new millennium with his one true friend, a miniature sheltie named Chelsey, who suddenly has half of his duo taken from him by the fact that dogs are seven times as mortal as humans.

I remember the day it happened. I was sitting in the very spot I’m in now as I write this. We all knew the dog was in poor health, but we just kept on living merrily without the fact at the forefront of our minds that this day was inevitable. I even remember how, in her waning months, I would take the care to pick out the disgusting little clumps of dead hair and crust to which I can only imagine those who are in line for the elevator up to doggie Heaven are entitled.

As I sat in this room, Mom called for me. I ran into her bedroom to find Chelsey on the floor, convulsing like I had never seen before. Not many preteens are privy to the uncontrollable shaking of a canine seizure so early in their lives, I suppose. After writhing on the floor for a minute or so, she calmed down. And, in a last gasp of life, Chelsey moved her little peg legs because she thought she was running. Then, complete still.

You know how when you get on in age, what you did during the first fifteen or so years in your life become a giant blur and you can’t really put your finger on exact happenings of the distant past? Well, and this sticks out in my mind as clear as day, for some reason I remember the exact dialogue between me and my mother:

“Is it over?”

“I think so.”

Then, we cried. Mother because she had witnessed – and had her son witness – a depressing doggie death. Me because I knew nothing would ever come along as great as that dog.

Boy, was I wrong.

A short time later, we came driving home with a new golden retriever. I knew this one could never fill his predecessor’s paw socks, but the family was lonesome with no trouble making varmint around Peterson Manor. Again, was I ever wrong. Ben is, without a doubt, the sweetest and most loyal animal with which we may share our world.

As I sit here in this same room where I heard my mom’s call so many years ago, Ben lies at my feet. I know he may not be here forever, but I should enjoy what time I have with him and move on to the great things life has to offer me after his departure.

I realize that this entry is seemingly not in keeping with my overtly optimistic posting style, but the entire point is one of hope and goodness: While you may be disappointed and sure that the world will never be as good tomorrow as it is today, you are very likely wrong. Life has a funny way of working itself out.

Maybe it's just because we can relate

September 14th, 2007 / #awesomeness, #family, #movies

Hey, everyone over at Rotten Tomatoes. Yeah, you. And heck, everyone else on the Internet that seems to hate The Brothers Solomon: Screw you guys, it was a funny film.

Granted, not as genius as Superbad, but I doubt we will see many movies that compare in our lifetimes.

It’s a funny movie with a funny plot and, yes, good acting. In fact, I would say that the acting trumps all other aspects in this film in the humor category. It’s a far-fetched, fun movie. Will Arnett and Will forte paint a beautifully absurd picture of life as the Brothers Solomon, and if people are too stupid to see that, it’s their loss.

Funny enough though: when Ian and I saw the movie at 9:55 last night, we were the only ones in the theater. I would rather have it that way than to have the house packed with people who don’t appreciate the genius that we were able to see last night.

Inevitable

September 12th, 2007 / #family, #funny stories

We knew it was going to happen. We just didn’t know when.

Well, it happened.

Allow me to set the scene. Ian, in all of his fortunate goodness, was able to lease a (very nice) new Nissan Altima a few months ago. He kept his old jalopy of a Saturn so he could drive it to and fro while not accumulating miles on his new, fancy-shmancy car. This left me high and dry outside of the garage, which only has room enough for two cars. So, I have to park in the backmost portion of the driveway, leaving Ian to play musical cars to work his vehicle around mine, meandering into and out of the garage. I have no problem with parking where I do; it will be especially cool in the winter (no pun intended!) when ice forms on my windows.

We both agreed at the beginning of this system that my car was going to be hit. We didn’t know when it would happen, but we knew it was coming. It’s sort of like a far less interesting return of Jesus to Earth.

Sure enough, last night Ian took a page out of the book of my grandmother, whose two year old Mitsubishi Gallant has been wrecked no fewer than five times as a result of her not looking behind her when the backs up her car. He hit my front fender. No actual damage, though – just a good amount of paint that has found its way off of my bumper.

Interestingly enough, though, Ian was far more upset than I was. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so genuinely apologetic. It was kind of nice – I could get used to that. As for the car, it will be fixed in time; it’s really no big deal.

Until then, I’m parking in the street.

Mother's Day Showdown 2007

May 14th, 2007 / #family, #holidays

Every Mother’s Day, Mom annoys us and annoys us until we take part in her little game. See, a few years ago we all decided for some odd reason to make our own cards. Little did we know, this action set an unfortunate precedent. Now, we are required to make our own cards, year in and year out. Ideally, upon reception of these cards Mother would immediately choose a favorite, thereby signifying the favorite of her children, at least for the next year. Unfortunately, she has yet to actually pick a card.

So, I bring it to the Internet to find out who wins. (Note that I am including my card and Ian’s card; Dad forgot that we play this game, so he went to the nearest Walgreen’s and bought one. Talk about taking the coward’s way out.)

Ian’s Card: Marker on white computer paper. Reads “To the bestest Mom in the world,” with the “o” in “world” being a blue and green circle, with what appears to be two continents that don’t actually exist. Inside, written in orange, there is a poem:

“I am writing this note
Yes, it is true
Without sugar-coat:
I (heart) you!”

Below this reads “Happy Mother’s Day!!!” in green and “Love, Ian” in purple.

My Card: Construction paper cut out on a yellow backdrop. On the front reads, “To the best Mom in the world,” with “Mom” written in large red glitter atop a large pink heart in the middle of the page. Inside, there is a cutout of a white body under a red oval meant to represent a uterus. Inside is a pink fetus with a beard giving a thumbs up. From this area emanates a blue speech bubble, causing the fetus to say, “Thanks for birthing me!” To the right of this, written in orange, green, and red is, “Happy Mother’s Day 2007, (heart) Casey.”

I’m sorry that this textual representation of our artwork is the best I can offer, but sadly I haven’t yet discovered how to operate the scanner here in Clearwater. I also don’t think it would be prudent to stick glitter in there. However, I do state that my description of each card is as accurate as possible, and I don’t think it takes a genius to know who the favorite son is going to be this year.

It had to happen sometime

May 11th, 2007 / #family, #tickets

Well, it happened. The invincible man, best driver in the world, and all-around nice guy got a speeding ticket. It happened on Monday. I only post this now because, originally, I had planned to keep my fau pax between myself, my parents, and John Q. Law. My tactic here was simple: I didn’t want my dear brother to know.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Ian is my closest friend and all, but we have somewhat of a brotherly rivalry. I had fully expected him to ridicule me and pull an eternal “I told you so.” I just would rather have him in the dark on the issue. I told both of my parents, distinctly and deliberately, to refrain from mentioning this blunder to anyone. Then Dad let it slip.

I stormed off, angry at the fact that I was so close to getting off the hook, and in the interim I assume they explained my logic to my brother, which is why he has been a pretty good sport about this entire thing.

So, now that the one person I didn’t want to know has discovered the unbearable truth without much adverse reaction, I can tell everyone. So there you go.

I look at it this way: getting a speeding ticket is sort of a necessary step in my own self betterment. For the time being, at least, I will watch my speed.

And if I had to get a ticket, at least I was going a somewhat humorous speed: 69.

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