Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Crappiest Teacher

Artist's rendition of what Ms. Vasbinder might look like today

I said aloud in the car yesterday that I thought I might write a blog about the crappiest teacher I ever had. My 11 year old son asked me “what if she sees it?” with concern in his voice. And it reminded me of just how I felt when I was in her class. It reminded me of a time when I, too, feared the judgment and respected the opinion of any person who the school district assigned to stand in front any class I was enrolled in. His question reminded me of a time in which I might be scrambling to reword the previous sentence because it ends in a preposition for fear of the dreaded red mark!

But a lot of that changed in 8th grade and red marks be damned! Maybe it was because I was beginning to come of age. Maybe that was when I transitioned from shy little guy to obnoxious goofball. Or maybe, just maybe, I began to dole out respect to teachers based on their character and teaching ability simply because I had to endure a year with Ms.Vasbinder…a lonely, chain-smoking bar-fly whose hypocrisy knew no bounds.

I’m pretty frequent with the humble-brags and here’s another: I was one of those kids in all the advanced classes (until my junior year in high school when I became too lazy to yearn for this thing the grown-ups called ‘achievement’). In 7th grade the advanced Language Arts was taught by Mr. Fuller. He was a nice enough guy. We all liked him. And we envied the hell out of him because he was totally dating Ms. Weber whose classroom shared a door with his. And Ms. Weber made your imagination run a little wild because you were a 12 year old boy and she was your basketball coach…

What was I saying? Oh, right…most of us did just fine in Mr. Fuller’s advanced LA class and were moved along the following year to 8th grade advanced LA class. Where we were introduced to…DUN DUN-DUNNNNNNN!...Ms. Vasbinder…aka The V.

I wish I could tell you my first impression of her, but there were a lot of teachers at Rowe Jr. High and the day I met her I probably met 6 other teachers. What I can tell you looking back is that she had a very raspy voice, she smelled of cigarettes and she ALWAYS wore what was either an oversized sweater or an undersized knitted dress with stretch pants (yes, I know this is now fashionable with leggings replacing stretch pants, but I can assure you that in 1993 it wasn't and it wasn't flattering for her).

It’s been so many years that I can’t remember too many details, but I can tell you this with certainty: The V did not like men.

One of our term-long study units was on sexism. And there are, of course, many many many valid points to be made on that subject. But it was clear from the beginning that Ms. Vasbinder wasn’t teaching this class to make kids aware of and to recognize sexism. The V was speaking directly to the girls in the class and leaving the boys to sit aside as bystanders. I would give you examples, but this was 25 years ago and most have faded away. What I can tell you is that instead of creating an environment of equality in her classroom she clearly was building a female-empowerment space to intentionally ostracize the boys. From a distance you might see that as constructive in a creative way that flips social convention on its ear with a larger purpose creating a new perspective on gender relations. But I’ll tell you this, (insert fart noise here) it wasn’t. In fact, the other class (there were two advanced classes) had a male revolt of sorts. They turned the entire session on its ear and wrote about the objectification of men through song/media/advertising. As for me and my class? Us guys just whimpered, cowered and conformed.

The three units I remember studying in the V’s class were 1) Sexism 2) The Holocaust and 3) Discrimination. All I remember about the Holocaust section was that The V encouraged all the girls in the class to openly weep and sob with her while watching videos. They were incredibly sad videos but the weeping and wailing made me just want to leave. Which I did the moment the bell rang. On my way out the door I noticed The V hugging and consoling her fellow mourners.

The last unit was on discrimination. And this is really the reason I’m writing this post. You see, there are many types of discrimination in the world. But when you’re an active life-victim like The V it’s impossible to fully grasp the larger picture while blinded by your own emotions. The V assigned a paper. Each of us was to write about a time in our own lives when we felt we had been discriminated against. Well, to that point…despite being half-Japanese…I swear to you I couldn’t think of a time I had been discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, religion. Knowing that the class was mostly a bunch of white kids from Milwaukie I didn’t know what anyone was going to write about. I didn’t know many racial slurs at that point in my life. I simply hadn’t been exposed to it…despite this bleeding heart trying to cram it down my throat to make me feel guilty about it.

Then it hit me…my topic. You see, in jr. high I had always felt out of place. I had a solid group of friends but we were not at the top of the social pecking order. There was clearly a caste system in our jr high, like most others. And between my horrible hair, crooked teeth, acne, membership in the band and poor fashion sense (anything neon is cool, right?) I didn’t often feel great about who I was or where I fit in. So I chose to write about feeling picked on and belittled by kids who were cooler than I was. And I included my sister in that group of kids because she hung out with more popular kids than I did. I wrote that she and others called me names like ‘nerd’ and ‘dork’. It was hard to write and it was hard to really think about and put into coherent thoughts. But I wrote it and I turned it in and I was proud that I had at least dug deep and found a place in my life where I felt there was discrimination. I could have just made up a story about someone slanting their eyes at me and calling me names but I’m not the type to fabricate things like that.

I got the paper back with a big, fat D -. I had never had a D in my life. There were notes all over the paper about how this was not the assignment. I felt like Ralphie seeing his teacher’s response to his Red Rider Bee-Bee Gun essay. I had poured my heart into it and it had been rejected...much like I had felt this school’s social order had done all along.  

You probably think that’s the end of the story. You probably think I’m just whining because I got a bad grade on a paper one time and I didn’t get along with the teacher. Well I’ll tell you this…that wouldn’t be worth writing about. What IS worth writing about is this: when I got home from school my sister was there and one of her friends was over. And this is what my sister had to say: “Ms. Vasbinder showed me that paper you wrote about me. She said you were being a whiny little baby and that you deserved an F for writing it. She said she likes me and she thought I should know you were writing about me.”

Wait, what? I was asked to write about being discriminated against. I did just that and the authority figure who assigned it took this paper to the person I wrote was discriminating against me so that together they could perpetuate the ridicule? I guess it would take 25 more years and the internet to make it not okay for teachers to bully their students. Because that’s what The V was. She was a biased, cruel, dirty person who took out the frustration of her own failed life on select students, most of whom were male. She was an oversized bully who would have better served society by staying 100 yards from any school yard than by teaching.

I was glad that when I tried to Google her before I wrote this that a) I couldn’t find her on the internet and b) I couldn’t remember her first name.

And just to prove to myself that The V was a dark soul who had it out for me I tried a little experiment. I had written a research paper on the early life of Adolf Hitler as part of her Holocaust unit. She gave me a B -. I worked my ass off on that paper and she gave me a B -. Two years later I had to write a paper for my sophomore English class. It had to be a biography. So I took that B - paper from The V and I turned it in to Ms. Nemes (who, by the way, was totally dating Mr. Gilbert and made your imagination…). When I got that paper back it had a big, fat A on it.

And one day I still believe I will walk into a depressing little alcoholics’ tavern and see a solitary lump at the end of the bar and I’ll think to myself:
 “I think that may be Ms. Vasbinder but it’s hard to tell because of the glare of the neon lights reflecting off her shiny, balding head.”

Friday, October 23, 2015

37 Years a Curmudgeon

I was once at an Eastern Star (what the old-timers call “lodge”…think The Masons) installation for my grandma and I heard someone at the microphone refer to my grandpa at a “curmudgeon”. My grandpa didn’t know what that was so it kind of pissed him off. I guess the guy at the mike knew what he was talking about (although, in general my grandpa was one of those guys who would go far out of his way to help just about anyone in any situation).
Well, now I’ve reached that age where 40 is on the horizon and my body doesn’t always do what I ask it to anymore. So you get to listen to me slap on my suspenders, yell at the kids to get off my lawn and complain about the government.
1. My Finger Hurts
There’s a scene in Happy Gilmore where a lady at the retirement home complains to Ben Stiller’s character as she is being forced to relentlessly sew. She says “my fingers hurt.” His response? “Now your back’s gonna hurt cuz you just pulled landscaping duty.”
Well, I’ll tell you something. My finger hurts. And my back doesn’t feel so great either. The middle finger on my right hand is sore at the first knuckle. I don’t remember doing anything to it, but every time I make anything more than a typing movement it really hurts. I’m 37 and my wife asked if I have arthritis…and she was serious…and I didn’t know the answer.
And just about every day I get up out of a chair at some point and say “oh, hello there back…thanks for reminding me you’re there.” It wasn’t too many years ago I didn’t even know I had a back unless it itched in a spot I couldn’t quite reach. Now I’m aware of it…ALL THE TIME.
2. Customer Service is Garbage
I called the eye doctor’s office a day before my followup appointment during my trial week of contact lenses. I said I needed another brand because these ones were uncomfortable. Andrew, the lazy dope of a receptionist who has no customer service skills, replied “oh…Abie just left for another office but I’ll try to get her a message.” The tone he used when he said “try” had two meanings: a) I was really burdening him and this was going to be a difficult task b) there was no way in Hell Andrew was going to call Abie. I showed up the next day for my appointment. Andrew had no idea who I was (my third time there in a week) and Abie had no idea I wanted another brand of contacts. Result? They gave me a new brand in the wrong prescription. So I have been wearing glasses all week instead of trialing the contacts because I can’t very well be blurry all day. It’s exhausting. Screw you, Andrew.
I also had a debacle trying to get an exchange on the baseball (Cubs) shop website. That’s a whole blog unto itself. I hate that place. Two hours of my life later I have nothing to show for my efforts. They literally ‘accidentally’ hung up on me AND put me on hold for 10 minutes because of an ‘emergency’.
And would it KILL any single fast food or fast casual employee to grab a moist towel and wipe down a few tables? Are employees allergic to terry cloth? Why do I have to ask every time I go somewhere for one of the 4 gossipy employees doing nothing to break away from their catty chat about Tracy and how she was flirting with Jimmy to wipe down one of the EVERY TABLE IN THE STORE for me to sit at because they are ALL covered in food? And why, after they have wiped down said table, is it STILL DIRTY??? For this we are asking THE LAW to pay them $15/hour?
3. Warranties
Remember when you would go to a store and buy something and then it would perform the function for which it was MADE and you didn’t have to worry about it? Remember when even if that item broke you could take it back and the store would replace it? What the hell happened to THAT? I guess you can still find it at Costco, so that’s good. Other than that every store basically asks you to gamble your money, one way or the other, on whether or not that piece-of-crap-Made-in-China thing is going to make it 12 months. “Sir, this is a $1,000 TV…are you sure you don’t want to lay down that side bet of $150 that it’s going to roll over and die like a diseased feral cat? Roll the dice, sir, it’s fun!” Screw you. Everybody knows that side bets are sucker bets. If this TV breaks I’m going to punch you in the face…which is really going to piss off my arthritic finger.
4. Lanes Merge
There are four working theories on how to merge in a “this lane ends” scenario:
a. Left-Wing Driver Guy:
Tra la la, I have a bunch of socialist bumpers stickers on my car so I’m far too intellectual to care about things like driving etiquette. I’m not really even certain which lane I’m in and the divinity of nature is far too important for me to do anything but weep about my carbon emissions while I’m driving, let alone pay attention to merging lanes.
b. Continuing Lane Only Guy:
This person finds the long line and stays in it no matter what. When you are this person you hate the guy in the right lane with a passion. You say things like “What? Is he so much more important than the rest of us? What an a-hole.”
c. Merging Lane Only Guy:
This is the a-hole. But the thing is, if we all played by either b) or c) theory then there wouldn’t be an issue here. But there are two competing theories in play. So this guy, who rides the ending lane all the way until he’s about to run into the barricade, pisses off the other people. And the other people want to punish him. Everybody thinks they’re in the right. There are a lot of slow motion near fender benders that really nobody is going to let happen, but everyone claims they will. There is also a lot of cussing behind closed windows. Also, many of this guy is driving a BMW.
d. Merge Before the Lane Ends Guy:
This guys screws up the whole system. He’s your typical timid driver. He wants the advantage of the fast lane, but he’s insecure about it. So he stops halfway up the waiting line and turns on his blinker until some a) lets him in because she’s so involved in her Ani Defranco music that she didn’t notice the line was moving…or that there was a line…or that there’s something called ‘shampoo’. Meanwhile the true b) people are irate because now d) has merged in before the lane ends and c) is zooming by to merge in up there too…all the while pushing the b) line back into oblivion.
The point is we all need to subscribe to one system. My suggestion is that all of us b) drivers literally smash into every c) driver out there. Also, the a) drivers need to have their licenses taken away and d) guy should be confined to the retirement home.
5. Gluten
Sure, some of you may be allergic to gluten. But you know what? Most of you aren’t. And I don’t care. I really don’t. Unless you’re in front of me at Chipotle the ONE TIME the line isn’t 20 miles long. AND YOU INSTRUCT THE EMPLOYEES TO STOP THE LINE AND WIPE OFF ALL FOOD SERVICE SURFACES FOR 5 MINUTES BEFORE PREPARING YOUR FOOD. Sure, you’re 23 and you and your life partner have bonded over this hypochondriatic sense of self-righteous gluten evasion. But you know what? The only damn thing on that line that has gluten in it is a stack of tortillas that is sealed in a plastic package. Every one that has gone down that line was on a sheet of foil. If you want the employees to change their gloves, be my guest. But you, ma’am…sir, you are a self-important tool. And I’m hungry. If I take a bite out of your arm in lieu of my carnitas bowl, will that make you change your actions next time? WILL IT?
6. Microsoft Windows
Windows 8? That was a joke, right? Oh, yes, I upgraded to 10 for free. IT’S THE SAME PROGRAM! Hate.
7. Your Dog
I know you don’t think you’re part of the problem. But you know who isn’t part of the problem? Me. Do you know why? Because I don’t have a dog. Your dog barks at 6:30 am and it barks at midnight. Sometimes the excuse is ‘there was a raccoon’ and sometimes it’s just ignorance: ‘I had no idea…’. Your dog craps in my yard and sometimes you even pick up that steaming hot pile of dog ass. But even when you do pick it up you’re leaving feces, excrement, sh*t smears in my grass and I’m going to step in it (or roll in it when I’m playing with my kids). Also your dog leaves snot on my arm. It glues my arm hairs together. It makes me go to the dry cleaners and pay $8 to have my pants cleaned. Your dog knocks over my kids and licks my sandwich when nobody is looking. But we live in a society where all of this considered cute because dogs are basically stupid people. So maybe I AM the problem. But still, just for good measure, screw you and your baby (dog). Keep it out of my grocery store you selfish prick.
8. Healthcare Costs
We always talk about how everyone needs to have health insurance. But you know what we really need? A healthcare system that doesn’t gouge the crap out of us every time we get a paper cut. Do you know what insurance does? Creates a GIANT bucket of money so hospitals can charge outrageous prices for just about everything.
When Taela and I were first married she cut her hand washing dishes. We went to the ER to get her stitches. The itemized bill came. Suture string? $65. Latex gloves? $30. Umm…what? Yes, I’m serious. And that was 15 years ago!
Ever notice that different clinics and different pharmacies charge different prices for the same care or drug? No, you didn’t. Do you know why? Because none of them ever talk about prices. It’s all hidden behind the copay on your insurance. Is there ANY OTHER SERVICE/ITEM IN THE WORLD that you buy that doesn’t show you the price before you pay?
We get mad at this guy:
 Martin Shkreli
Because he is openly holding sick people hostage. But the entire medical industry does this! They just don’t openly throw it in our face.
Get off my lawn!!!!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Youth Sports

One of the things I have begun to figure out as I have grown older is that there is a story behind every headline. So often I scroll through the news and I read some sentence fragment in bold print and draw critical and judgmental conclusions from it. But the more I live the more I realize that I get myself in some situations and there are a handful of small steps, some of which aren’t all that irrational, that lead to whatever situation I happen to be recounting in my head. There is, of course, at each step the option to walk away…but we’re all human beings right? We all have the “fight or fight” instinct, right? Wait…wasn’t there supposed to be an ‘L’ in there somewhere?

So this past winter I was at my son’s basketball game. He was 10 years old at the time and on a team of 5th and 6th graders. Remember that 6th graders are technically middle-schoolers now so we’re not talking about tiny little children running around here. One of the kids on his team has a very ugly (please shave it now!) dark but not whiskery teenage mustache. One of the kids clearly has BO.

The point is that while these are kids, they are kids who are at an age where they need to be playing the game by the rules. And, as with any youth sport, the referees are a total crap shoot. Now I’m not talking about literally firing guns at feces here, I’m talking about the dice game craps. Or, as Mama always said, youth sports is like a box of chocolates.

At this particular game our family had a pretty good turnout. The folding chairs line the sideline and we occupied 7 of them. We were near the end of the court and were seated as follows: my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my dad, my 3 year old son, me, my wife, my 8 year old daughter, some guy, his 8ish year old daughter.

Well my father-in-law, John, gets into any game he attends. Doesn’t matter if it’s minor league baseball or youth soccer or church league softball…John hates poor officiating. And he’s vocal about it. He also happens to look exactly like every adult male cast member from Duck Dynasty. So his manner is abrasive when it comes to being a spectator. I happen to be similar in that regard, but I do my best to be sensitive to the fact that someone’s parent is likely sitting somewhere near me.

During this game the referees were seemingly calling some rules but not others. Two of the things they just kept allowing were travelling and double-dribbling. For you non-sports folks out there those are the rules that relate to how you have to bounce the ball while moving around on the court. They are foundational to how basketball is played. So when the refs kept not calling it John would bark something and then I would yell out something like “come on! You’ve gotta call that!”.

After another of these incidents a voice came from my left. “Are you guys coaches?” I ignored it because nothing good could come from walking down this path. 15 seconds go by. “Are you coaches?” I turned to him and played dumb “What?” “Are…you…coaches?” “Are we coaches?” “Yes. Are you coaches?” “No, obviously not. We’re sitting over here. (as opposed to the other side of the court with the team)” “Then shut up.” “These kids need to learn how to play the game the right way.” “F%@# you.”

Screeeeeeeech….this thing just got bumped to a whole new level. I have some decisions to make here now. This guy is sitting next to my sweet little daughter. My wife is between us. His daughter seems unfazed so I can only assume this guy acts like this regularly and she’s going to grow up with a warped sense of what being a human living in a society is supposed to look like. Decisions, decisions. My blood is pumping.

“You’re going to say that right in front of my kid, huh?” (More slowly this time) “F % @ # YOU”.

There are certain lines you do not cross with another man. I don’t pull out this rule often, but I do believe in it. One time a neighbor who I like and get along with was mad that there was cat poop in his bark dust so he flung it all over onto my walkway and my house and I nearly stepped in it before I realized what he’d done. There are certain lines you don’t cross with another man. I gave that neighbor a pass on that one but I did talk to him about it and let him know I was aware he was flinging crap at my house. And had he done it again we would no longer be cordial neighbors.

Back to this situation at the basketball game…there is no solution here that will not leave me with regrets. I was at a cross roads. Either I can do what really SHOULD be done and tell the guy to follow me outside and break his nose. But then I end up in the newspaper tomorrow (or the following Thursday…whenever it is the newspaper actually gets delivered anymore). And that leads me back to my original point: every headline has a story. Everyone to the last person will read the headline about the two guys who got in a fight at the youth basketball game and shake their heads and talk about the demise of society as morons are fighting over youth sports. But this wasn’t about youth sports. This was about learning life lessons about how not to conduct yourself with other adults in front of their spouse and children. I truly believe even now I SHOULD have punched this guy. And a very big part of me regrets not doing it.

What I did do was say “You’re a really classy guy. Class act.” And then full on turned my back to him. Now the astute reader is remembering that my back turning, while demeaning to him, has left my wife and daughter kind of isolated by this guy. I thought about that too. But the truth is my daughter didn’t know what this guy was talking about. And had I traded places with her I’m almost certain we would have fought. It’s an aggressive move and I was literally trying to stay out of the newspaper, really.

A few minutes later a hand came into my vision. He was trying to shake my hand. “I’m sorry.” I looked at him. I almost shook it out of pure instinct…someone extends a handshake you usually take it, right? “Last week the parents were pretty out of control and I got pretty worked up.” So I looked him right in the eye and said “apologize to my daughter.” He did. She had no idea what was going on. I think he extended his hand to me again and I turned my back again. That’s the last I saw of him. Never looked at him again.

My wife says I should have accepted his apology. And to an extent she’s right. But my point is that he needs to learn you don’t go where he went. I don’t know who’s right…maybe we both are.

Good news though! I didn’t end up as a punchline at the water cooler. I didn’t lose my reputation or job. I didn’t get a black eye. All I lost is a little bit of self-respect. But I don’t really count that up very often anyway.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

36 Years...What I've Learned Along the Way

I chose this picture solely because my daughter is pretty.

I recently had my 36th birthday and it got me to thinking. It got me to thinking about how long it takes for life experiences to become wisdom. I mean, I'm in my late 30's now and I feel like I'm still learning new things, new perspectives every day. But I have picked up a few things along the way and I thought maybe I would just put them in a list here in case some of you hadn't yet learned some of them. So, in no particular order, below are all the things I collective 36 year old wisdom...

        You and your spouse can be soul mates. You can eat together. You can sleep together. You can shower together. You can make love together.  But you never, never poop in front of each other.

        If you pluck out your nose hairs they WILL come back thicker than before...and then you'll pluck them out again.

        Socks are only gross once you take them off...same as underwear.

        There is no such thing as “bad pizza”.

        People LOVE to spend other people's money.

        Tracy Chapman is a woman.

        1 in every 4 times you lend something out you will never see it again.

        There is no immune system capable of combating the disease-incubators we also refer to as “children”.

        65% of junk email is specifically about my“junk”.

        Don't lose your retainer.

        The tighter the jeans, the higher pitched the voice.

        Always keep a spare towel with you.

        Never put yourself in a position to ask “do these back rolls make my tattoo look fat?”

        You don't sing as well as you think you do.

        There is absolutely no good reason to board a plane early.

        Everything in the world, no matter how dangerous, is statistically safer than driving a car.

        People who think they are smart rarely change their minds. People who ARE smart are open to new information.

        When you are not home, your dog is outside barking.

        I like turtles.

        Celebrity is moronic and may eventually lead to our ultimate downfall.

        Social media is the modern day lynch mob...and nobody seems to care.

        'Irregardless' is not a word. It just isn't. Don't say it. Ever.

        People are inconsiderate and self-interested.

        80% of drivers are the self-proclaimed best driver in the world. 10% of drivers live in fear of those 80%. The rest are Asian women.

        Man's finest achievement may very well be pants with zip-off legs.

        Credit card debt is bad.

        Cold cereal is better as a late night snack than as a breakfast food. 

        Hair shouldn't be very important...but it is.

        Hate is a word that should be avoided at all costs...except when discussing the New York Yankees.

–    Money is a tool...and so is Ryan Seacrest.

–    Friends who don't recommend that you watch Impractical Jokers are not real friends...seriously, watch this show.

        And, most importantly...Life is short...don't screw it up.

Friday, September 5, 2014

How not to be a host family

My high school baseball coach was a pretty damn cool guy named Jim Hoppel. He was ex-military and just tough as hell. He was the kind of guy you just couldn't seem to get one over on too because he was always a step ahead of you.

I remember one time we were having a little scrum after practice. It had been raining out and, as often happened, a bunch of the guys on the team broke out into various wrestling matches. Why did we do this? Because we were stupid teenageboys. Well this particular rainy afternoon my best friend to this day, (not yet Dr.) Scott Kennedy, decided he would take on Coach Hoppel. Scott was a good sized kid. He had played linebacker and tight end on the football team and he had wrestled for the school as well. But nobody had ever had the guts to mess with Hoppel. It was pretty incredible because before anyone really knew what was going on Scott had both a) done the stupidest thing any of us had ever seen by taking on The Man and b) amazed us all by getting up in Hoppel's chest and driving him back-pedaling and seemingly off-balance toward a large puddle out behind second base. Holy crap! Scott's gonna get him!

Then, in no more than a nanosecond, JimHoppel bent the laws of physics. I swear to you he was literally falling backward into the puddle with a 220 lb athlete grabbing hold of his shirt right up in his chest and driving him downward when all of a sudden Scott is flying and twisting in the air over Hoppel's body and being half thrown and half pile driven like a rag doll square onto his back into the middle of this brown, muddy puddle. It was perhaps the quickest movement I have ever seen and yet I'm positive I watched it in slow motion. There was no real explanation to where the torque came from to wrench Scott over him like that, but WHIP-WHOOSH-SPLAT. Scott is on his back. But Hoppel isn't done. You see his hand pull up Scott's shirt, he closes his fist, rips his hand away from Scott's exposed belly then thrusts his fist into Scott's face, like a freaking flash, and yells “ODD OR EVEN? ODD OR EVEN????” Then hethrows the belly hairs down onto Scott's astonished and defeated face and casually walks away as if nothing has happened. I'm telling you, I'd never seen anything like it before nor since.

That story was actually a bit of a tangent. I just got to remembering it because Jim Hoppel was the reason I was able to play on a couple of all-star teams that traveled on behalf of the Oregon Baseball Academy (OBA) back in those days. Am I about to brag that I was kind of at one time technically (did I mention “kind of”?) an all-star? Noooooooooooo. This story isn't about the fact that on this particular trip I batted .500 including 2 home runs and a third shot off the very top of the fence. It's not about the fact that more than half my hits were for extra bases and that, oh by the way, this was actually the best pitching I probably ever faced in my life. I'm actually pretty sure that a one-day-to-become MVP of the National League played for the team that beat us in the championship game...a guy named Jimmy Rollins.

None of that is what this story is about. This story is about what happens when unprepared people take 4 complete stranger teenage boys into their home without forethought.

You see, at the time these OBA teams would keep these trips inexpensive by a) driving most of the players across multiple states in a 15 passenger van and b) having us crash with host families instead of hotels. So after a very long, cramped drive from Portland to Salt Lake City with a bunch of sweaty, randy, dirt-bag, 17 year old baseball kids we were doled out to a group of awaiting hosts.

Our host family had a decent sized house so instead of bunking with one other guy I was put in a house with 3 of my teammates. One of the guys was a friend and classmate of mine named Jeff Brunold. He was the only other kid from my high school on the team. Jeff was an amazing hitter, but had his senior season cut short because of a self-inflicted broken finger. He had slammed his helmet down (with his finger still in it) after a second baseman had made an amazing diving catch against him. There was also a self-confident, baby-faced kid from a private school in Portland named Ash (it's unbelievable I just found this guy on the internets!) and a tall, goofy redneck from Hermiston named Eric (I actually can't remember his name but Eric will do). We were all picked up by a couple in their early 50s in their minivan. The drive to their house was quiet.

We arrived at their house as it was getting dark outside. When we walked in and started down the hallway it wasn't too difficult to put the pieces together...we were in SLC, there are pictures of about 8 kids on the wall...this is a Mormon family. Well...I wasn't a drinker so this probably wasn't going to affect me a whole helluva lot. STOMP! What the?...STOMP STOMP! Hands flying around. Hands. Awkward silence. What the?... “Boys, this is Lucas. He's our 10 year old. He's deaf so what we do is stomp on the ground to get his attention. He feels the's a way of hearing us.” Whoa! Okay. We're not in Kansas anymore.

So, stomping aside, this household was freaking weird. It just felt strange being there. The dad was a little too old. The mom was a little to submissive. The cute daughter had a picture on the wall, but we never saw her (trust me...we were looking). The reason this family hosted us was because their son who was our age was on the host team scheduled to play against us in the tournament. I have never seen a kid less interested in playing baseball. In fact, he never once spoke to us while were there. Not once. He kind of looked like Napoleon Dynamite and it felt as though his dad had forced him to play ball and he felt like we, as ballplayers, were somehow competing for his dad's affection. Does that sound weird? It was.

The only thing I remember about this kid is that he brought his girlfriend over and watched TV with her a lot. I remember the mom telling us he was “courting her” which was a phrase I didn't know and didn't bother to investigate. I just figured that nerdy boys in SLC 'court' nerdy girls while the rest of us “go out” with them. Whatever.

So that first night it was about 9:00 when we had all our stuff put in the bonus room where we slept. That was when the parents came in and told us it was time to go to bed (and by "bed" I mean the floor and a shoddy sofa) and they would see us in the morning. What?!?!?! I'm 17 years old, I have two baseball games tomorrow, I'm crashing with three other guys, I've been cooped up in a 15 passenger van all day, I'm in a strange town and you're telling me it's 9pm so it's time to go to bed? They disappeared. We hung out for about 10 minutes before deciding we were hungry. All four of us tip-toed our way into the kitchen to investigate. Nothing. What? Nothing. If you've never been a teenage boy maybe you don't know what it's like to be in a constant state of starvation. Where is the food? We went to sleep (a couple hours later) hungry...empty...

The next morning it was cold cereal and off to the field. When we returned in the evening we were expecting dinner, but I don't think they were expecting to feed us. I'm pretty sure they scraped together some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We didn't have much to do since our “host brother” was literally hiding from us (I pictured him cowering under his covers occasionally poking his beady little eyes out to make sure we weren't standing there taunting him with our baseball gear reminding him how inept he was at the game his father loved). We still hadn't seen the cute sister featured on the wall in the hallway. At one point I poked my nose into the garage (hoping for a fridge with it PLEASE FEED ME!) and found it was packed from wall to wall with electric wheelchairs and wheelchair parts. To me it was like a junkyard for all the mutant toys created by the psychopathic neighbor kid in Toy Story.

After dinner (or, as we called it, snack time) we asked if there was a store we could go to (BECAUSE WE WERE STARVING!). They told us we could walk down to the local was about a mile away. And so we walked. Well...actually this Suburban full of girls pulled into a driveway about a half mile from the house and we asked them to drive us. They were cute and we were idiots so they quickly dropped us off at the store then high-tailed it out of there. Thanks ladies, I don't blame you.

I remember specifically that Jeff and I bought some food and we started telling the 20-something cute female checker that we were stuck in the host-house-from-hell. They were keeping us alive on a minimal diet and they all stayed locked away in their rooms during the few hours they were awake. She said something like “awwww...I wish I had room to have you crash at my apartment.” Missed opportunities...

So the next day they promised us a feast. And, for the one time, a feast we had. They barbecued hot dogs (pretty sure they were the Bar-S dogs made from chicken, pork and turkey parts  [what in the world are gibblets?]). I was able to eat at least two and maybe three dogs along with all the fixings. A couple other host families and teammates were there, so we figured they were just putting on a show to make it appear they were indeed nourishing us. And something amazing happened at the bbq. The girl on the wall came out of her room. She ate with us. I don't remember her speaking. But she was there. She had a sweet face and shiny smooth hair. And when she was finished eating she dissipated...vanished into thin air never to be seen by any of the four of us again. To this day I question her actual existence. It's entirely possible that in my state of prolonged malnourishment and teenage hormones I simply imagined that there was a cute girl in the house. If you ever bump into Brunold or Ash or even (probably not named) Eric, ask him.

Well, all of us had been complaining to the coach about the living situation. I'm sure we embellished, but it really was a crappy host family. We may as well have been staying in a cheap motel. We complained about the lack of food. About the lack of interest anyone in the family took in showing us anything. We rightly complained about the stupid kid who was supposed to be showing us around but instead was “courting” (whatever that meant). To be frank, I was a little worried my body might end up buried in that wheelchair graveyard.

So they gave us a new home! No kidding. We finished our last game on like day 4 and our coach let us know that our bags were at the field and a new family was going to take us in. Like a stray dog through an open door I was giddy, wagging my tail and looking for somewhere to pee. So this lady picks us up in her mini-van. She had two little kids (I really can't say how old...maybe 4 and 6?) so we're packed in there pretty tight. I didn't really think much of it when she a) got lost on the way to her house and b) came to a stop at a green light. I should have. Oh...and I don't recall saying goodbye to or thanking or even seeing the other host family again. It was a clean divorce...we let them keep the kids.

We did eventually get to her house. She introduced us to her husband. She let us know they were the one non-Mormon family in Salt Lake. And then she said the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me. She said, “here in this freezer we stocked up so you can feel free to have anything in here any time you want. We just stocked up at Costco.” Is this heaven? “No, it's Utah.”

Next morning we head up for breakfast. 15. I think they had Eggos for us. As many as we wanted. It was awesome. Butter, syrup, mmmmmore please! Wait...15 what? Oh right. 15 as in 15 empty beer cans upside down in the kitchen sink. Wow. Well, maybe that accounts for the stopping at green lights and whatnot. But who cares? They're nice and there's food and their house downstairs is perfect for us and I just used all three forms of the homonym "thare" in one run on sentence! They had a Nintendo downstairs and a TV. The kids liked playing with us. We were allowed to walk around the neighborhood. All the world was right.

One night we put an old shoe on top of a rock wall and threw dirt clods at it until it was knocked off (I made the final blow). One night we went on a walk and found a construction site...climbed into a big backhoe, found the key and tried (unsuccessfully) to fire it up. One night we walked by a sign outside a music shop that read “BEAT THE RUSH, REPAIR YOUR HORN TODAY.” About two seconds later it read “BEAT THE RUSH, REPAIR YOUR HORNY TOAD.” Word play high jinks!

Over the course of a few days the other guys had hit if off pretty well with the dad. At this point he was pretty clearly an alcoholic. Every morning there were X-teen empty beers in the sink...this was a nightly ritual. We were downstairs when the drinking happened so we didn't really know the routine, but the evidence was clear. So the other guys were asking him to buy us beer. We had some money our parents had given us for the trip...we just needed a buyer. He wasn't opposed, but his wife was. So the deal was dead. I really didn't care because I didn't drink. You may or may not believe this, but my first sip of alcohol was when I was married and nearly 22.

So the last night came around and, no shizz, this guy comes through with a half-rack of cheap beer. Eric grabs one. Ash grabs one. Jeff grabs one. Eric goes for number two. Door opens. The mom comes in. The poop hits the fan. She looks at us like we're the devil and yells something. She then marches straight upstairs and we start hearing an argument. It's not good. “How could you?” “Contributing to the delinquency of...” “Supposed to be supervising them!” “What about our kids?” “I'm taking the kids and leaving!” What? Yes. That's what happened. Rustle-rustle-rustle. Plead, plead, plead. Door slam. Car engine. Doppler effect (vroooo-ooo-oooommmmm). No more mom. Dad comes downstairs, points at all of us and says “You little sh*ts! You had to ruin it for all of us, didn't you?” Door slams. Car engine. Doppler effect. We're all alone.

We were all pretty shaken up. I didn't feel guilty because, as I said, I didn't even want the beer. The other guys kept drinking as they contemplated the consequences of what had just happened. We had just broken up a marriage. I did the only thing I could think to do. I went upstairs and microwaved one of those amazing frozen, single-serving, deep-dish pizzas they used to sell by the barrel at Costco and licked the silver cardboard lining clean.

The next morning the dad had come to his senses. He was sober. He was sorry. He apologized to us and told us this had been bubbling under the surface for a long time. He would drop us off at the field with our stuff because it was the last day and we were headed home after the game. We found out at the field from the mom's sister that this was the first time anything like this had ever happened between the two of them. She had never taken the kids and left...ever. To this day I wonder what ever became of them, but I don't really remember anything about them other than that amazing pizza and I don't think they make those things anymore.

Oh...and that last day was the day I hit both those home runs AND the ball off the top of the fence. BOOM!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Norm makes a friend

Trivia question: What's better than having a time share in a tropical paradise?

Give up?

Answer: Having a close relative that has a time share in a tropical paradise.

My dad and step-mom bought an annual two weeks in Cancun a number of years ago. They went for the best weather weeks of the year. And the best part about it is it has two separate rooms that both have access to a common living area. So Dad and Catherine can (and do) take the main living quarters while another couple can (and does) take the secondary bedroom/bathroom area. AND...get this...we're as close as blood relatives can get (my dad and I even have the same NAME), so Taela and I typically get precedence for the years that we choose to go. We have been down there 4 times now and it's freaking muy bueno!

Relaxing in Cancun
Well, it had been a few years since we had taken advantage of this amazing standing offer so Taela talked me into going this year. I was all “ok...if that's what you want, honey” out loud while internally I was all “how great is it that my wife thinks she has to convince me to vacation in paradise?”

So there's a really great group of people that all time-share down there the same time every year. We have come to know many of them because Dad and Catherine are tight-knit in this group. They are all nearly inseparable...during happy hour. I mean there's a lot of bonding to be had when you're laying motionless in the sun for hours and hours on end....looking forward to that refreshing margarita at whatever o'clock. The point is there's a great group of folks from all over the country and may different walks of life who have made a little community and it's totally boss.

Happy Hour Group
Well...because we have been down there a few times before we are pretty much over the touristy things to do. We don't need to go to the markets anymore. We sure as hell don't need to see another bull stabbed to death by a scrawny looking matador (which literally translates to “killer”). But there was one thing I had always wanted to do but never had. I wanted to go tour Isla de Mujeres. Was it because “Isla de Mujeres” means “Island of Women” It was because I had heard...and seen in some pictures, that La Isla was still somewhat authentic to what vacationing in Mexico used to be 30 years ago. Quaint little towns with small markets. Cantinas on the beach without all the corporate fanfare. Places where locals sought their own recreation, not bikini contests (yes, we actually stumbled across a bikini contest up the beach from our resort on hotel row this past trip).

So a handful of us from the happy hour group decided we would head over to Isla de Mujeres and form what the regulars call a Biker Gang to tour the island. Why do they call it a biker gang? Because what you do is go over there and rent either a golf cart (wuss) or a motor scooter (macho, macho man) to drive all over the island seeking the sights and sounds of paradise.

Most of the Biker Gang
So I'll fast forward a bit. The Island of Women is beautiful. There are amazing little towns with old buildings and narrow streets that give you a feel for what it's really like to live in a small Mexican community. There are breathtaking views everywhere. We ate on the beach at a restaurant that serves a bbq mackerel platter that's just incredible. Oh, and there was a cat walking around in the sand begging for our fish. Oh, and the bbq grill was dirty and disgusting and right next to the piss trough they called a men's restroom. Oh, and Taela and I witnessed the garbage man literally vomiting as he took in the rotting fish stench of the restaurant's refuse. Talk about being in Mexico!
Me, Taela and Norm @ Playa Tiburon
Wood pile and fish prep

But by far the highlight of our time on the island, the magical island of women, was our trip to the little roadside stand that the ladies in the group love to visit on every trip. The women from a lovely little family sells all sorts of decorative seashells right in front of their home. We made a special trip to the far end of the island just to buy from them.

So our chain of motor scooters came to a stop across the street from this roadside stand. We all dismounted our bikes like Ponch and John...moving a bit more slowly than normal because it gave us an air of authority. What I haven't yet mentioned is that at least 3 members of our biker gang were active or retired cops. We were bad arse!

Biker Gang...preparin' to transact

Shells were not the only available merchandise
Well the ladies are all looking at the shells and the little 13 year old girl is doing a good job explaining all about them. This is a male conch, this is a female...blah blah blah. The matriarch of the family is sitting behind in a spot back behind the booth. She is holding a very young baby and casually supervising the older daughter's saleswomanship.

My lovely wife loves babies!
I notice that my dad and Norm have moved off into the only shade to be had over against a wall. They've had enough of women fawning over dead mollusk exoskeletons and it's hot so why not take a break from baking in the kinda-near-equatorial sun? Oh...Norm. Norm is awesome. Norm is, if you watch Parks & Recreation, exactly like Ron Swanson except with personality. Norm is the guy that doesn't have to say much but you know he probably has the answer. He has one of those mustaches that makes him instantly respectable (as opposed to those mustaches that you want to singe the ends off with a lighter). Norm is the guy in the room that everyone instantly likes and they should.

Norm & Keith Sr. - Shady
So my dad comes back to the group to take some pictures. This leaves Norm on the wall by himself. Now, coming down the wall (seemingly out of nowhere) is this skinny dog. I'm not too keen on dogs myself so it puts me on guard a bit. I mean, who knows what this dog's intentions might be? Maybe he wants to bite me or my wife. Maybe he wants to give me a disease. Maybe he wants to rub his gennies on my leg. But lucky for me Norm is between me and this dog. And the dog decides to befriend him. I open the camera on my phone and snap a few shots of the dog with Norm. They are literally dancing with one another. Norm says something like “this is so cool! Strange dogs usually shy away from me.” This is kind of weird because Norm and Lori have pugs and there is no stranger dog than a pug. But Norm and this dog are bonding big time. Dancing, petting. At one point the dog gives a little dog lick kiss right on the ole mustache. Adorable!

Then s*** got real.

The dog leaves Norm in the dust, trots back behind where the woman is rocking her baby and grabs something out of a small trash can with its mouth. It carriers this thing 40 feet down the grassy strip next to the wall. It starts tearing into it to open it up ready to greedily devour its contents. Words cannot describe the rest. But fortunately, video can.

Warning...what you are about to see is real and unedited. If you have a weak gag reflex you should stop now and assume the worst. Otherwise...enjoy!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Fix

My wife, Taela, is amazing. She is great at everything she does because she has the rare ability to focus on things she has passion for. She's an amazing musician, an exemplary nurse and a wonderful wife and mother.

She also has the ability to make big, life-altering decisions at just the right time. Without her instinct and drive we wouldn't have reaped the benefits of buying our first house when we did nor would we have locked in a historically low interest rate when we most recently refinanced our current home. But most of all Taela has known when it's time for us to make-a somebabies!

I was always one of those people that thought there was going to be some moment in time when everything would be perfectly ripe for adding to our family. I was going to be successful and have a great job making tons of money. We were going to be living in our dream home...that kind of thing. But Taela knows more about life than I do. And people kept telling me what everyone else in the world already knew...namely that there is no perfect time to have kids. Kids are additional human lives brought into your family for which you have ultimate, constant and enormous responsibility.

So first we had Caleb. Anyone who knows us knows how amazing he is. Then we had Tenley. Equally amazing! Then there was this period of a few years in which I was (I thought) completely satisfied by the general size of my fatherhood. But people would ask me all the time if we were going to have a third and the answer I gave would always sound like this: “I think we are set, but my wife has this biological need to have a third. Her work has her delivering babies all the time so I don't think that need is going to go away.” She would say either we had to have a third or I needed to “get fixed” because being in between was too much for her.

And so along came Micah. That kid is fantastic. She was TOTALLY right. He's the funniest little booger and our house wouldn't be complete without him.

And then it was time to “get fixed”. Here's the thing...I didn't even know I was broken! The only thing I knew about getting a vasectomy was how pitiful my cat was in the aftermath of having him neutered. And that was pathetic. He rolled off my bed and dragged himself after me any time I left the room. But he didn't have the strength to do anything but squeak. I certainly didn't want that to be my fate.

Well, fortunately for me it turned out that getting a vasectomy and being castrated are two (slightly) different things. The doctor explained that he would be going into something he called my “scrotum” (a word with which I was unfamiliar) and he would be cutting and tying off my “vas” (which, he corrected me, is not the same as a “vag”). After thevas is severed my sperm would no longer be able to do something called “fertilize eggs” which apparently has literally absolutely nothing to do with Scotts Turfbuilder or store-bought chicken products sold by the dozen.

My instructions for the procedure were as follows:
  1. Shave everything you can reach “down there”
  2. Wear tighty whities

So apparently I'm supposed to be en vogue and out of fashion all at the same time!

My wife drove me and the kids to the doctor's office. The family waited in the...drumroll...waiting room while the procedure was performed. In my head it was going to go like this: a pretty nurse was going to “prepare the area” and compliment what she saw. The doctor was going to numb me up, then badda bing! badda boom!..five minutes later I'm sitting in the car with a bag of frozen peas in my lap. Instead it went like this:

I was told to get naked and lay on a table. An unattractive nurse very clinically sterilized my bag of goods and failed even one time to mention anything about how nice they looked even as she was poking my nads through a hole in a sterile cloth. The doctor then entered and we immediately began talking about golf. He was very good looking and he was a better golfer than me AND his junk wasn't laying out in the open for both of us to look at so I felt at a distinct disadvantage. Talk about not being in a position of power. For just a moment I considered the idea of trying to get aroused just to get the upper hand, but quickly decided he would probably take that as a compliment which would only further humiliate me.

The doctor was very good about letting me know what each step would entail. First he was going to numb up the right side. He stuck a needle in somewhere and I felt some uncomfortable pressure before the blissful numbness. The numb was delightful. I then began studying the ceiling. I looked for shapes in the texture. I listened for sounds outside the room. I considered what it would be like to have an out of body experience because, quite frankly, anywhere was better than here. I felt him go in through his freshly cut sac hole. I felt tugging and pulling. He said something about how my skin was nice and easy to incise. We then uncomfortably laughed about how old men have thick scrodes. He said I was going to smell something. It was going to be my burning flesh. It was a pretty gnarly smell, but hey...unlike where I'm writing this right now this was no day at the beach. I could deal with a little barbequed Keith smell. And then it was done! No big deal...well...halfway done.

Time for the left side. Needle poke: numb. “Can you feel this?” No. “How about this?” Nope. “ we go.” Home freeeeeeeeeeOOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!

Me: “It hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts” It was odd because I was looking right at this guy and I swear that, visually speaking, he wasn't turning the screws on a vise with my left testicle about ready to pop inside it. But that's exactly how it felt! “Hold on...I'll numb it more.” It took precisely 11 hours and 47 minutes for him to administer the additional anesthetic...or so it seemed to me. It was probably more like 30 seconds but it was an eternity that I have never forgotten.

After that he continued about his work and the pain was, mercifully, gone. But as he worked I felt strange. I felt the same as I did the time I gave blood. I know what you're're thinking “like a wuss?” Yes...kind of. But also like I was going to pass out. That was a huge shot of adrenaline for a naked guy who just had his tube tied. He said he'd keep an eye on me and I wouldn't be the first guy to pass out on him during this procedure (are you sure you're doing it right???). Tug tug, pull pull, sizzle sizzle, sew sew...

After it was complete he gave me a few minutes to compose myself. Then he had me stand up and slowly put my underwear on (not provocative-like, but careful so as not to blow a gasket). I had brought boxer-briefs (because I didn't want the hot nurse to say something like “1982 called and they want their panties back”). The doctor looked at me like I'm an idiot (I feel like I type that a lot) and says these underwear won't provide as much “support” as the tighty whities. As he said “support” he cupped his hand under my balls and lifted them up...apparently because I was such an idiot as to not know what “support” means. Then he went and grabbed a huge wad of gauze...I'm talking 30, 40 pads of it (which has to be about $1,500 worth when itemized on an ER bill) and shoved it all under my dangles. I must have looked exactly like one of those ballet dancers (come know they stuff).

The doctor then gave me a sealable container and told me to “fill” it in a few weeks after I had sufficiently “flushed out my system”. I was to bring back my pearly treasure for them to examine.

Then he walked me out to the waiting room and presented me, like announcing the happy couple at a wedding, to my family. And there I stood...bruised but not broken. Sad but not dead. Manly but not really.

They asked me how I was. “A bit woozy but fine.” They were proud of me and sympathetic. We got into the elevator and went down to the first floor. I took about 10 steps down the hallway toward the exit and said to Taela “I can't make it to the car. I need to sit down or I'm going to pass out.” We found a chair in the hall and I sat in it. I breathed in deeply. You know the old ladies that volunteer at the hospital and just sit up front and welcome you but they don't really know enough to answer your questions? That lady was sitting at a desk right next to us. She was probably 90. Taela asked what she could do. I said I wanted to get down on the floor because if I fainted I was going to fall there anyway. So I slowly got down and laid on my back on the floor of the hospital. The old lady at the desk began laughing. “Huh huh ha ha ha ha ha! don't look very good! Ha ha ha ha!” Well at least I don't look 90.

I almost passed out, recovered. After 5 minutes or so I stood up and we walked out the door only to stop 20 feet short of the waiting car (where the kids were already buckled in). I had to sit down against a concrete pillar. Another 5 minutes and Taela was helping me into the passenger seat to return me home...a mere shadow of the man who had left so boldly on this adventure not 90 minutes before.

And then, for the rest of the weekend, peas on my crotch and sports on TV.