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Thursday, August 26, 2010

When you coming home Dad?

Any father who does not weep when he hears Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" is not worthy of the title. i'm just saying.

i was working the seventh or eighth hour of what i suspected was going to be a twelve hour day when it came on the digital jukebox. Yes, i put the music in the pod. i did this to myself. i am my own worst enemy. Tell me something i don't know. Now i also cannot hear it without singing it but as i kept coming to the chorus i choked up. For i can see how it's already begun.

My eldest, Happ, is sixteen. As soon as he realized he could ride his bike to other towns, we started seeing less and less of him. Now that he works and can drive, we don't even bother making dinner for him anymore. Which, come to think of it, is probably saving us hundreds on fodder. My interactions with him consist of occasional shoving matches as we pass in the hall. He's just the vampire who watches tv while we all sleep.

While we may never know where the tall guy is, we always know Rascal's whereabouts. My twelve year old is a video game enthusiast. He's the kind of guy who wonders out loud how a dude in Japan could be a level ninety-three while Rascal has had the game only two weeks and is a level thirty-seven. Or should that read, "has had the game two weeks and is ONLY a level thirty-seven?" When i think about connecting with Rascal, i realize i don't possess the hand-eye coordination or virtual patience to spend quality time with him.

But that apparently won't be a problem now that i am a freehammer. Of the four days of beautiful camping weather the Ballyhoo had off of school this weekend past, i spent three working. The day i didn't work, the Sabbath, i spent not in my Father's house, but sleeping, watching baseball and clicking plastic bricks together. We're always teaching our kids something, even when we're not around. i shudder to think what mine are learning from me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where's Sargent Ermie when you need him?

i am not a marine. i wanted to be one once though. A nasty knock on the noggin from a secret admirer that i got as a kid kept me out. Seems the marines don't want guys who may suddenly slip into a coma during training or combat unless it's from something they did. Public Service Announcement kids: if you're planning on going into the Marines after high school or college, start wearing a helmet now, just in case. Looking back now, i'm surprised i wanted to be in the marines at all or even the army. i tried them too. i was not what you'd call a recruitment model. i was a small, long haired kid who preferred to sit and read or draw than run, take orders and run some more. Worse yet, i tend to cynically question most authority. Not disobey mind you, just not go along with any real enthusiasm. Think of marines splashing into the water to storm a beach and one of them just kinda moping along going, "yeah, yeah, but what's the point?" i probably wouldn't have lasted long. Most of us navy brats growing up had military dreams but that was more of a chance to use cool hardware to blow stuff up, legally, than a carefully considered career path. Of all the choices i had coming out of high school, what made me think the military was a good one?

Up till now i had always thought that i chose that as an "out." i didn't know what to do so i just kept the military option open. Presidents do this all the time. Yesterday, however, i had a revelation, a peeling back of my psychic onion, if you will, that, after the tears from the fumes cleared up, showed me this was not the case. The real reason was much more bothersome than mere lack of creativity or options. For the fact of the matter is, i normally have plenty of creativity and options tend to be what you make for yourself. i learned that from reading. No, the real reason i wanted to be a marine is the same reason why i didn't hit the road and travel after failing to get into the service and the same reason i've never tried to become a professional writer or artist, why i stare at a blank page and then give up, why i hate days off, it's the same reason i don't volunteer unless asked to and the same reason i'm weirded out by being my own boss now. It's the very same reason that through all these years the most constant prayer i've made no matter what was happening in my life, has been, "Lord, show me Your will." As pious as that last bit sounds, i now know my motivations were slightly wrong of center.

i want to be told what to do.

Whether it's from a Sargent, a parent, a boss, a wife, a pastor, a total stranger with a gun or God Himself, i would rather have an unpleasant but clear task or responsibility to perform than be cut loose to my own devices. i honestly don't trust me to make a decision in a vacuum of authoritative opinions. That's why the end of high school totally freaked me out. Why the thought of not having a job gives me shingles. It's like being turned loose out of prison. i don't know what to do but i know i have to do something! It's why i became a carpenter in the first place. It's something i knew, gut level, that i could do. It was the lowest common denominator that i thought i could stand when i looked at the newspaper classifieds. It was the reason i was looking at the newspaper classifieds at all! i needed a limited set of pre-approved options from which to start my adult life. The idea of carving out my own path gave me the willies. Granted, it wasn't as if i had no responsibilities, no dire consequences for failure. i had two, a wife and a child on the way who needed me. As it was though, my wife earned more than i did for the first seven or so years we were married but it was safe. i was flogging my body instead of my mind because i knew, solid-as-a-hammerhead knew that if i sweated and bled for certain people they would give me a little paper that my family needed to survive. No one could say i wasn't doing anything. i had protected myself from absolute failure and the harsh but accurate criticism of laziness. To protect my ego and my selfish right to complain, my mind labeled everything else as "impossible." i was a carpenter because i had no choices. When the real reason was, i chose to become a carpenter because there were too many choices and i lacked the confidence to choose one!

So now, i'm laid off. i'm only a carpenter right now because that's what people are offering to pay me to do. The stakes are just as high as they ever were. Absolute failure means not just my family out on the street but the one living with us as well. i think about the options and my soul wants to pull back into its shell and let somebody kick me to the side of the road. The possibilities are limitless, anything could happen, there's no one telling me what to do...

and that gives me the willies.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Post from beyond the grave.

It seemed a strange way to begin the afterlife. He was sitting in the dark, staring at a computer. He kind of thought the coffee would be better. Instead it had that nutty flavor it got when the coffee pot needed cleaning. He would have to throw that in the dishwasher more here in the New Life. He had only been reborn for a half an hour and he already had chores. Clean the coffee pot, shoo scavenger cat away from the recycling, the only semi-holy thing he'd done since rising from the dead was pray for a minute. He had wanted to do this right. He had wanted to dedicate this second life to God. He thought rising up from the dead should start in prayer and meditation like a monk in the lotus position upon a windswept seaside cliff, instead, he had said, "grace" over bad coffee.

Maybe being resurrected meant that he didn't have to force it. Was he closer to God now? That seemed a dangerous line of thought. People who thought they were closer to God seemed to him the type who could justify any fool thing they did and call it "blessed." Like medieval popes, since they were God's emissary, whatever they did was sanctioned. Down that path lay madness. God asked for humility. The Bible called it "fearing" God. Blithely assuming that he and the Big Guy had an understanding now didn't sound like "fearing."

This new life still included scrubbing pots, nocturnal nuisances and breaking wind, what was different? How was he different? The cursor stayed still for a long time after that question. To pass the time it blinked. This is how eternity would be marked, by a steadily blinking cursor next to a question mark. A great, black carpenter ant tried to skitter across the keyboard to remind him that this was not eternity. The forces of decay and destruction were still at work. He had been reborn only to die again some day. So what was this New Life? Again, what made it different from the old life?

The sky beyond the window began to lighten. Somewhere the Sun was rising. The scavenger cat came back and meowed for mercy. Soon he would have to stop writing and go do work that people actually paid him to do. Work that would need to be cleaned and maintained and even so, carpenter ants would eventually devour it. Only the intangible and invisible was eternal. To be seen and to be touched was to be able to be destroyed. Just ask Jesus.

What did Jesus do when he rose from the dead? He made his bed, folding the grave clothes and laying them neatly on the stone. He played peek-a-boo with his friends, serving and sharing meals and talked with them. Then, about a month later, he just flew away. He had just stuck around long enough to prove he lived, to be touched and to be seen and to say his piece and his peaces. Were they new words or did they just have added weight from being said by a formerly dead guy who now lived? Do the words of the resurrected have more impact or are they just more focused from a new point of view?

The writer guessed he could only write some words and find out.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

For Nick

The thirteenth Jester sweated in the center of the hall like a single rat in a room full of terriers. He removed his belled hat and mopped his bald head with a nervous jingle. It was a stalling tactic. Everyone over the age of seven probably knew that it was a stalling tactic but the Jester was only worried about the Prince.

The Prince was exactly seven.

"I'm sorry," the thirteenth Jester squeaked for his mouth was as dry as the firewood piled up around the stake that stood in the courtyard outside. He tried to clear his throat. Nothing happened. He tried again. Just to make sure, he gave it a third attempt but his throat was acting as if there was a rope already knotted to it. There was a long silence broken by a man chuckling. It was not a nice chuckle. It was the chuckle a man might make if he saw a bullfighter flying through the air in a fight where the bull won. The Prince scowled. The Jester sprang into action!

He dashed across the room like a man who ate footlong burrito and has just spotted the bathroom. The courtly crowd fell out of his way as if he were a man who had eaten a footlong burrito and will probably not make it to the bathroom. His path clear, he ran, skipped a step, stumbled just a little and then fell gracefully face first into the punchbowl. He drank like a lost walrus crawling across the desert who finds a fishbowl. For a few seconds all that was heard in the Great Hall was the sound of his mighty gulping. He drained the bowl and then smacked his lips with a relieved smile. His eye's met those of the royal steward. The Steward was not smiling. Remembering where he was and what he was supposed to be doing, the thirteenth Jester slinked back to the center of the Hall like a puppy who had made a puddle in the kitchen but thought he might get away with it. His face and motley dripped crimson punch. His belled hat, hung limp and askew like a wilting flower. He cleared his throat, successfully this time, and in a bold voice that echoed in every corner of the Hall, he asked, "I'm sorry, sire. What did you say?"

The Prince squinted like he thought he was being stalled and said the four most terrifying words ever uttered in the kingdom of the Oaks. The last four words the twelve Jesters before him had heard: "Tell. Me. A. Story."

"Ah. A story. Of course. A story," the thirteenth Jester took off his hat and looked in it as if the story might be hiding there with the swishing punch. All his life he had loved, read and listened to stories but now as he tried to remember just one, all he could think of was what had happened to the the twelve Jesters before him. For the first time in his life he wished he had become a carpenter like his father and his grandfather and his grandfather's father and his grandfather's father's father before him. What made him think he could do this? Why had he not just stayed in his little village and learned to make cabinets? It would have been dreadfully boring but there was very little risk of ever taking off your hat one day and your head coming with it. What kind of story would the Prince want? His mind was as blank as an unmarked grave.

The Prince grew impatient. "Welllll?"

There was nothing for it. The Jester would have to tell the truth... sort of, "In the land of Pennslobovia, in the village of Chalfont-along-Neshaminy, there lived a boy who didn't want to be a carpenter," he began.