Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Grandpa died Friday morning. I've lost my second football buddy now. My dad passed in 1995. I would sit with Grandpa in the living room, partly to hang out, because I had a sense that he wouldn't live forever, and partly also to escape the noise and commotion in the Pretty Room.
As soon as I went in the living room, he'd start to try to hand me the remote, no matter how invested he was in whatever he was watching. He would get upset if I'd refuse to take it. I got to where I just assumed he wanted to watch some football or maybe the car race for a while, until it would be time for me to go.
Here are a couple of Grandpa stories.
The Five Dollars
One time I was borrowing Grandpa's truck, and after he made sure I checked the oil, he warned me that "it ain't got much gas in it." I always made sure to put some gas in his truck, but this time I thought I'd mess with Grandpa a little. I said, "Well, then you're gonna have to give me some money for gas." He reached in his pocket and snatched out a $5 bill and snapped, "I got money, goddammit. Here."
To mess with him just a bit more I took the money and started walking towards the truck. I looked back, amused to see him standing there with his mouth hanging open. I came back and handed him the money, saying, "Hey, I was just messing with you. I'll put gas in it."
He refused to take the money back. "I don't want the damn money. I got money, damn it. I don't want the damn money." He wouldn't take it back. I finally tucked it into the fence post and left.
The Short-Caning Incident
One Labor Day we were all gathered at Grandma's for a cookout. I was at the grill, and several of us were sitting around on the patio. I sat down to take a break, and I noticed that Grandpa had left his aluminum adjustable cane sitting there on the porch swing. I looked at it for a second and decided for the hell of it to shorten it to its smallest size, about two feet long. I put it on the midget setting. Diana's brother David noticed what I was doing and we both had a quiet laugh about it.
Some time later Grandpa came back and I was back at the grill. Grandpa got up and started towards the house and he picked up his cane and studied it for a second. His face turned blood red and he flung the cane down on the deck of the patio and started muttering to himself as he limped off towards the house. Everybody wondered what happened. David was laughing and snitched me out immediately. I was assaulted by a chorus of relatives who all thought I should be ashamed and I was lucky I didn't hurt him, etc.
I felt kind of bad, so I picked up the cane, pulled it out to its proper length, and headed for the house. I found Grandpa in the kitchen, muttering to himself about how "that's a good way to get somebody hurt." I handed the cane to him without a word and headed back to the patio. I went back to the grill and everybody waited for me to give my report. I said, "He's okay." I turned to Diana's other brother and said, "I told him you didn't mean anything by it, Derek." Derek's stricken reaction was priceless.
Later, Grandpa tried to figure out who short-caned him and narrowed the suspects down to Derek and David. I was ruled out early on as being incapable of such meanness. As the years went by, from time to time I would bring it up: "Well, at least I never short-caned your dad like you did, Derek." Derek would tell me that I was going to rot in hell, but to his credit he never snitched me out, which I respect.
Grandpa always treated me with kindness. I love him and miss him badly. I look forward to catching up with him one day when he has plenty of wind and we can actually take the walks "up Crab Orchard" he was always talking about.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
We lost Nathan one time at Universal Studios in Orlando. It was the year 2000--Nathan was 8 years old. The five of us went with Diana's sister, Sally, and our friend, Rob. We had just gotten off the water ride. Rob had sat this one out. We gathered up to go meet Rob, and it suddenly became obvious that Nathan was gone.
Diana and I and Sally split up looking in various directions. We had Rachel and Whitney wait with Rob. A thunderstorm broke out. I looked in the restrooms. I went back through the line to where we had gotten off the water ride. I didn't see him. I had no emotions. I couldn't quite believe it was real. It couldn't be real. We could not have lost our son. It wasn't real. I felt very tired--I knew that I wasn't looking the right way. I felt like I should shout his name out but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I asked God to give me some idea of where Nathan was, but nothing came to mind. The place was full of people, but no Nathan. It just didn't seem real. It poured the rain.
After a while, Sally came back through the crowd holding Nathan by the hand. He was crying. We all cried. He told us all that he loved us. We certainly loved him too. (Nathan had gotten off the ride, pulling his wet money out of his pocket to inspect it, looking down, walking along with the crowd. He discovered himself to be lost quite a ways up the path, then wandered in a circle, crying, until Sally found him.)
For a long time Nathan compulsively had to hold someone's hand if we were out in a crowded place. To this day, if I can't see him in the back of the van, I feel a bolt of fear wondering if we've left him somewhere. Diana does the same thing.
Although I have to admit: more recently, we did lose Adrian at the Johnson City Mall in almost the same way. It was the Tax Free Day before the start of school. The mall was packed. One second, Adrian was right behind me, navigating for a place to open his brand new 20 oz. Coke. The next second, he was gone. Diana found him at the Customer Service Center, eating ice cream, his face stained with tears. Two teenage girls had brought him up there.
You know, I had been mindful the whole time. Careful to watch Adrian, Miriam, and Baby--it was crowded in that mall. How did this happen? Do I have Alzheimer's Disease? I had that same sick feeling as I walked around, wondering just what in the hell happened. I thought about what I did not want to think about--some horrible person waiting for the brief inattentive moment to snatch your child and then do unspeakable things. But somehow Adrian had just wandered off, to be rescued by two teenage girls.
When I was a kid, we had a strip of woods behind our house. Robert Taconi was a classmate who lived on the other side of the woods over on Felicity St. He thought they were his woods. We got into a debate over who owned the woods, and there was no way to reconcile it besides war.
I started preparations immediately, by digging several traps. My traps involved the digging of a hole, then the laying of sticks and pine straw over it--thus, a trap. Early on a Saturday morning came the appointed day of battle. It was a clear and cool morning, the woods were dripping wet from the cold front that had passed through the day before.
I waited in a cedar tree that had been blown down by Hurricane Camille, holding a carton of eggs. With me was my ally, Dale Scafidi. Robert Taconi was supposed to enlist the help of Royce Hathaway. Whatever--we were ready.
We waited and we waited. Robert Taconi never showed up. We finally ended up pitching the eggs at pine trees. But then we heard rustling behind us! Finally somebody was coming, but they had snuck around us and outflanked us! Time for the traps to do their nasty work.
Sure enough, we heard the crunch of branches and the squelch of somebody falling into a muddy hole. But then I heard my sister Karen crying. She had come out to see what was going on, and now she was muddy and crying. She was going to tell Mom.
What a crappy war this was turning out to be. But at least the woods were ours--by forfeit.
Friday, October 20, 2006
Here it is--Opus #61--up on the wall and grouted. Done, except for coming back with some sealer once the grout has cured for a few weeks.
I'm pretty satisfied with the design and construction. I used stained glass and cut the tiles to various sizes, within a certain range of mostly square pieces. I hope that it comes off as having a certain life of its own. One good thing about a long, drawn out project is that every little corner of it has its own life and statement, if anybody wants to see it. There is something very satisfying to me that this project is tucked out of the way at Opportunity House.
Technically, we had a few problems. The old bricks were very hard and ruined a succession of tap screws, until we finally did the best we could. (By "we" I mean Jack and Johnny.) But a few of the panels didn't lay quite flat. So there are some uneven spots that you can see if you're looking for them. Hopefully they aren't too obvious to the casual walker-by.
Also, in the "Fourth Step", you know, in AA-speak, I had another unexpected problem that it turns out you can see if you know what you're looking for. They didn't have enough pieces of the Spectrum Swirled White & Clear for my background at Kingsport Stained Glass, so I had to go back a second time once they got some more in. The second batch was more white--not a perfect match--and you can kind of tell. But you have to look closely--it helps to know what you're looking for.
The wall itself is a bit cruddy, having had probably five different signs on it over the decades. It has round patches of what must be old glue of some kind, as well as old wall anchors, it's just a well worked-over wall. I was tempted to take a sander and grind off the glue spots that you can see right around the sign, but you know, heck with it.
On the whole, I can live with it. I don't know if I'll do any more signs. I'm not dead set against it, I don't guess. But I don't think I want to put any more on bricks. Next time I'll figure out a different way to mount the sign. That is, if I do any more signs. I can't decide if I like doing them or not. There's something cool about doing them, but they take time away from other things.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
The Saints are kicking some righteous ASS. Nathan and I watched the Monday Night Football game on Sept. 25th against the hated Atlanta Falcons, which was the big homecoming to the Superdome. Oh, man. It was rocking.
Who knows how far they'll go, but they've got good coaching, an infusion of young talent, and a tough attitude. I love it.
Friday, October 13, 2006
I have a list of people who are waiting for me to make them something. Sometimes they have an actual deadline in mind, like Christmas. I hate to disappoint them, but I am going to disappoint them. Jaki wants a dolphin for her daughter by Christmas, but she is like fourth on my list. April wants a Captain Marvel by Christmas for her husband. I may stop what I'm doing and try to make those, but should I let them cut to the head of the line? Next on the list is actually Jennifer, who wants a castle, and then next would be Karen, who wants a rottweiler. Just yesterday, Karen was checking to see when she was coming up on the list. But I am working on the morning glory border for Diana, actually a pretty large project as it turns out. It's going to take me a while. When Diana wants something, she goes to the head of the line, because that's just the way it is.
Besides all these requests, I have ideas of what I want to make for myself if I ever get "caught up." One thing I want to do is a series of Lee County mosaics. I have two already, which I consider my orphans. I'll take a photo of them and post them some time. I have two other ideas. One is the Ed's Grocery sign, from the perspective of above the building from behind. Ed's is out of business, so I need to take a digital photo of the sign before it's gone. Another idea is an old BF Goodrich sign at an old gas station that is now Mark's Alignment in Pennington. I think that would make a cool mosaic.
But I saw this one thing that would go right to the head of the list, and in fact I might even try to do this. There is a car around town, an old multi-colored Geo with the personalized tag, "WELFARE." I think that's cool. I happened to pass by the car yesterday parked near St. Charles, and I saw where the owner had letters in the back window that read, "DIRT POOR." There were some other bumper stickers. My idea is to take a photo of that back window, with enough design elements to show that it is the back window of a Geo, and then render it with as much realism as I can bring. I think that will make an awesome mosaic. I couldn't exactly put it up in my office, because not everyone would appreciate the humor.
Is it time I made one for myself? Maybe after I get the border and at least the two Christmas projects done.
All this pressure to make things is good. It keeps me productive, and I make things I otherwise would never think of doing and each one is a stretch in its own way. As long as I don't have to make more than one of the same thing, I'm game.
There is a feeling I get sometimes. It's kind of weird, it's hard to explain. It's a good feeling, a sense of rightness. It's a feeling like all the planets are lined up and everything is cool. Here are some things that give me the feeling:
- Listening to some new music that just sounds completely right. It speaks to me on a level of just what I need to hear.
- Visiting a shop or gallery where the art is unique, it smells good, and the temperature is just right. I may not buy anything, but the vibe is just right.
- Sometimes when Diana is telling me a story about one of her patients, and I can picture the scene so vividly in my mind, it feels like I'm there.
- When one of the kids, especially Adrian or Baby, says something totally off the wall or cute, and I exchange a look with Diana that tells me that it struck us both the same way.
- When I have an idea for a new mosaic that I can't wait to make, but I just know it will be cool, and if I ever make it, it will look just like I envision it, and yes, it will be cool.
- In choir, when the harmonies are just right and balanced and I am a part of it, and we're in the groove, if only for a moment.
- When I'm telling a funny story to Nathan and he appreciates the humor of what I'm saying and starts to laugh, which enables me to catch a groove and tell the story with more confidence and humor.
- When the girls forget their usual reserve with me and really start to talk to me about their peers and all the dramas they are a part of.
- When I'm down on the river bottom sitting on a big fallen log, and the temperature and the light are just perfect and it feels like home.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
One time when we were kids, Davey Smith and I used machetes to clear out a bike path into and out of the woods around an area called The Gully. We were proud of our engineering project, and wouldn't you know it, immediately all manner of riff raff wanted to try out our new bike loop. Some of these kids, like Lloyd Bing and Timmy Wesselman, were banned just on principle. But you know how kids are when they're banned--just determined.
So Davey and I devised a way to keep people out of our bike path. We took a couple of small pieces of plywood, and drove many nails through them. We took these boards and buried them under some pine straw, and we put up a sign saying, "Warning: Nailboards."
Timmy Wesselman declared that he was going to ride on our new path, nailboards or no nailboards. We invited him to go right ahead.
A while later, a bunch of us were playing basketball in my driveway, and up the road comes Mr. Wesselman, Timmy Wesselman in tow, crying. Mr. Wesselman is pushing Timmy's bike up the street--it has two flat tires. Mr. Wesselman is carrying one of the nailboards. Mr. Wesselman asks to speak to my dad, who wants me to explain myself. I lamely insisted that there was a plain warning. So, we have to go dig up the other nailboard and take down the sign.
See--how could you not hate Timmy Wesselman?
Monster--that was my brother, James, or Jim, as he prefers to be called now. I started that one myself. He came into my classroom when I was about in the fifth grade and he was in the second, and he was missing his front teeth at the time. I told the other kids that he looked like Dracula. So we called him Dracula for a while, which evolved into Frankenstein, and then finally Monster, which stuck. I am still tempted to call him Monster. I can't bring myself to call him Jim--it just won't come out of my mouth, so I call him Jimbo or just Bruh.
Duck--that was Herbie Carver, who lived down the street. He was called Duck because he had cerebral palsy and had an odd, shuffling gait. I can still imitate his gait, and a lot of people are offended by that. Duck despite his limitations was an aggressive basketball and football player. He did lack speed.
Gutter--Duck's older brother, who was the one who nicknamed Herbie Duck. I can't remember Gutter's real name. He was a little older, kind of crude, and not real bright. His real first name will come to me later and I'll revise this.
Coke Bottle--I don't know who put this label on Melvin Barnes--probably all of us, kind of like how everybody killed that dude in Murder on the Orient Express. Coke Bottle got that name because he had a constant supply of sodas, which he would luxuriously drink right in front of us until we hated him. He was also a bit of a crybaby, but he was good natured enough to come on back and try again.
One time we were hassling Coke Bottle over something, and he got mad and went home crying. He emerged from his house with a piggy bank, and started flinging pennies at us as we stood in the street taunting him. We calmly bent down and started picking up the coins. "Hey!" he exclaimed, wanting somehow to reclaim the money he had flung out in the street. That wasn't going to happen. He was just going to have to learn something from this, which he did.
Chili Hot Dog--this was Amy Hille, the second oldest of six Hille girls who lived across the street. She was the MVP, unanimous first round pick in any street football, baseball or basketball games. She was a loyal friend and a fearsome enemy. One time she held Lloyd Bing's head underwater in a flooded ditch until she almost drowned him. I can' t remember why. Lloyd Bing lived up the road and was more or less banned from any of our activities. To show his disdain for us, he would rike his bike through our yard and then speed off. I think Amy just collared him one time and made him pay the price.
We had a neighbor, the Smiths, who had some cayenne pepper plants growing in their flower bed. We were playing baseball in their yard, and we told Lloyd Bing that the red peppers were strawberries and he should try one. He did try one and started crying and went home.
Tronnie--I named my sister Tronnie, which was short for Fatronda. Her real name is Karen. I don't know where I got that name, but I called her that for a long time. I don't think it caught on with anyone else much.
Fatso--I am not proud to say that I labeled Terry Hille, the oldest of the Hille girls, as Fatso. She had a crush on me, and she was chubby, and she really put me off. I couldn't stand her and never understood why she liked me.
In fact, it was not long after we moved into the neighborhood that a bunch of us kids were sitting around at the Hilles, shooting the breeze. I was sitting on a tricycle, and the Hille's screen door busts open and here comes Terry Hille running, wearing her mother's wedding dress. I can still remember the swishing sound of the lace as she came barrelling towards me. I was frozen. She literally tackled me off of this tricycle and started kissing me. I was 8 years old. I was traumatized and screamed, "Get off me, Fatso! I hate you!"
I tried to insult her into leaving me alone, but it never worked.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
I was hit by a car two different times when I was a kid. When I was in college, I fell out of a car on the interstate, but that's another story. I was always considered accident prone.
The first time I was hit by a car, I was in the third grade, walking to school. I saw my friend, George diBenedetto, coming up the sidewalk across the street, so I crossed over to walk with him. Suddenly this car was sort of right there and just knocked me down and drove up over me just slightly. The guy got out and asked me if I was okay and I was. I dusted myself off and continued on to school.
Then when I was in the sixth grade, I was riding my bike to school. (At the time, I had a cool bike that had a steering wheel, a long sissy bar in the back, and solid rubber tires. That bike was the bomb.) I was carrying my football uniform in one hand (The pads tucked into the helmet, the shoulder pads over the helmet, the jersey pulled down over the pads. I would grasp it by the face mask.) I had my math book and notebook propped up in the middle of the steering wheel. I was cruising.
An old lady ran over my bike from behind--I guess she thought she had enough room to pass me. She crushed my cool bike under her car, and I got thrown clear and landed in the ditch, skinning my head pretty good. I saw my math book flapped open in the street and my homework blowing along in the breeze. I thought, oh crap, my homework.
A lady coming the opposite direction stopped and took me on to the hospital, where they x-rayed my head and then bandaged me up. The little old lady was all upset and I guess she went on home.
I did see the old lady when I was out trick-or-treating that year. I recall that it was my last year of trick-or-treating. I wore a home-made costume, going as a hobo. I remember my mother smearing some kind of make-up on my face to make me more like a hobo, but I felt way too girled up with that make-up. Anyway, I trick-or-treated at the old lady's house, by accident, and she looked me over and pronounced me as healing up real good.
Not long after this accident they were taking school pictures. I complained to my Mom that I didn't want to have my picture made because I had a huge scab on my forehead. She reassured me that they would touch up the picture and you'd not see it. When the pictures came in I was horrified to see the scab there big as life.
Some time back I was going through old pictures and found that school picture, which I now keep in my wallet. (It's a good thing, because Katrina rendered all the family photos as slimy pieces of white paper.) I like that picture. Sixth grade was a good year in my life--I was cooking on all cylinders there for a short while.
To complete the accident prone trifecta, one time in the fourth grade, I was stirring hot vanilla pudding on the stove in a double boiler. Mom was making banana pudding, Daddy's favorite. It was Sunday morning, after church. Somehow, the thing went BOOM, and the boiling pudding covered my face. I was disoriented and blinded and it hurt real bad. My mom rushed me into the bathroom and took a washrag and got the pudding off, but my face blistered up.
She took me to Hancock General Hospital at the end of our street, where I stayed for 10 days. I guess my dad had good insurance through the military. I was blind for a while because my eyes were swollen shut. One day my dad gently convinced me to open my eyes, and I was surprised that I wasn't really blind. I got a lot of presents for being in the hospital, one of which was a model car, which I remember because due to a production mistake, it had two left sides and no right side.
I finally got to go home and remember that my face was all burnt and peeling, and the kids in the neighborhood wanted to get a look at me and they all gathered outside the glass door in the back yard and I showed them what I looked like. My mother was concerned that I was going to be "scarred for life" but today I just have a small scar on my temple from it.
Friday, October 06, 2006
My next project is a border along the ceiling of our back porch we've converted into a dining room. I've had a hard time figuring out how to draw morning glories, and it took me about six feet of border before I figured it out. So I'm going to have to go back and redo the flowers on the left.
I've had a hard time getting going on this one. I can't draw, so my self confidence is at low tide when I have to start out by freehanding something. I have had to push myself really hard to overcome procrastination on this one, but I think I'm finally shaking loose and getting down to work.
11: On the Wall
Here it is, on the wall. Jack and Johnny helped me put it up, or rather, Jack and Johnny put it up while I stood there trying to act like I was involved somehow. The old bricks on this building were very hard and boogered up a succession of tap screws, but finally "we" got it up.
Now I'm having to go back and fill in the gaps. At Jonesville this went quicker, because the sign was right outside and if I got some free time I'd work on it awhile. This sign is about 20 minutes away from the office, so I can work on it for a short while at lunch time, or look for bigger chunks of time which are harder to come by.
Slowly but surely...
Thursday, October 05, 2006
On the highway: Do you think old people get aggravated when they get stuck behind another old person who is even slower than they are?
I posed this question to my brother-in-law, Dale, who has logged his share of time riding with his Dad, whom we call Grandpa. Dale's answer was emphatically that yes, they do.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
One time when Nathan was about four and Rachel was about six, the three of us were at the Pay-Less, shopping for groceries. Nathan asked if he could push the shopping cart. Why not? He made it down one aisle and around the corner, and meanwhile Rachel decided it was "her turn."
Nathan was not willing to pull over and let Rachel drive, so they grappled for the shopping cart as they went up the aisle. Nathan started running with the shopping cart, Rachel hot on his heels.
Nathan sped up as he went, and finally crashed the cart head on into a tall dispay of Easy Cheese. The display consisted of a tower of at least five levels of Easy Cheese, each level separated by a round piece of plywood. I know this because several of these wheels rolled in various directions. The rocket ship of Easy Cheese collapsed like a ton of bricks, with a big clatter, sending cans of Easy Cheese rolling in all directions.
We were in a strategic crossroads of the Pay-Less, and nobody could get through. Nathan started trying to pick up the cans, but I hissed at him to stand right there and not move. I was embarrassed, you see. Pretty soon, a teenage Pay-Less employee came along to salvage the Easy Cheese. Nathan stood there crying. I kind of felt bad for being mean to him. It was an accident. Rachel was equally to blame. She stood there with a quizzical look, like "Huh."
P.S. Mitch Hedberg said that he wished there was a glow-in-the-dark version of Easy Cheese, for times you might be on a bus at night and not be able to see how much you're applying to a cracker. He adds further that if you're willing to buy cheese that you spray out of a can, you shouldn't be upset if it glows in the dark.
I've been looking for a book to read, and while googling, came across Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. The excerpts looked pretty cool, so I ordered it.
I decided furthermore to steal the concept and start using my blog as a way to put down some of my stories. Sometimes I am alarmed that the rate of new stories has slowed dramatically over the years. I think the biggest reason is that I have changed somewhat over the years--I am no longer as outgoing. I don't interact enough to generate new stories, and I don't tell enough stories to hone them into shape. But it's okay.
Also, it has been my experience that most of the pain I've caused myself over the years has been the result of things I have said or written. I think that's one of the reasons I started doing mosaics, because I can express myself without words. But anyway, I have some stories.
I am going to put a few stories down.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
I've been neglectful of my blog lately. I'm trying to finish up my new sign--it's up on the wall, but I'm having trouble making time to go over in the middle of the day to work on it. So it's dragging on. Meanwhile, I'm doing a new project at home for Diana, but I'm off to a slow start. It's a morning glory vine border for our remodeled back porch/dining room. I'm having trouble drawing the design out. None of the flowers look right. I'm no artist. It has caused me to get into an avoidant funk and I'm having a lot of trouble taking the Artist's Way advice to "show up at the page."
Here is a cool web site: The New Orleans Review. I'm going to put up a permanent link.