I passed by a house today that is falling apart. It is literally falling apart. One side of it was slumped over like an old man with years on his frame, about to drop from exhaustion. The other side was pretty much held up by baling wire, but the front of the place still looked like it probably had about 10 years ago when someone was still living there.

I didn’t see the back, but it was probably a combination of the two extremes. I know I wouldn’t want to go inside it for fear a gust of wind would knock the place over and turn it into my burial shroud.

But it got me to thinking, as I drove past on my way to someplace that didn’t look quite as bad, about the word “disrepair.” I can completely get its usage when talking about places that have some yard work to be done, or a trick step that could hobble anyone who forgets about it. I can even understand disrepair to mean some rust underneath the sink, a floorboard that squeaks, or a garage door that is stuck open.

For all of those things there is still hope. It can be repaired with a minimum of effort, some money, and a little elbow grease (I still don’t quite understand that term, though). Sure, it might take some work, and some serious initiative, but these aren’t issues that will usually bring down the house or the value of the neighborhood around it.

However, when a house is like the one I mentioned earlier (and it was roped off with what seemed to be retired police tape from 1995) it’s time to call it something a little more than “in disrepair.” Let’s call a spade a spade, and this one isn’t an Ace or a King. It’s condemned. Absolutely no one will be able to live in this house again — ever.

And it’s time we admitted it to ourselves so that admission can bleed out into the community around, so that no one anywhere will look at it and think “This can be repaired.” No, it can’t. Stop trying. Let it collapse and its pieces blend back into the dirt from which they all came at some point or other. Or raze it. Get a bulldozer in there, a wrecking ball, Miley Cyrus, something.

Call it a wrap. Give it a much delayed eulogy. Stop allowing it to be an eyesore on my journey to and from places that are actually in disrepair, that I can polish so they look like jewels again.

That’s not to say I don’t feel sad for the current state of the house. I imagine it was probably stunning in its heyday, welcoming to everyone and everything that entered into its sanctuary. I imagine there was a family who lived there, quite wealthy at some point, who had a large chandelier in the front hall, twin girls who wore taffeta dresses all day long, and a dog named Rudy.

There was probably a maid there who washed the draperies, who ironed the underwear, and who had her own room in the attic. I can see the room doubling as a sewing room. I can envision an attached garage that has since been demolished, only bare grass testament to its ever having existed at all, that and the memories of children long since grown and moved away, who have forgotten all about that house and its contents.

Now the house is condemned, or it should be condemned, or it has been condemned and someone has forgotten to tell the house itself, which is still struggling to stand, to fight against the elements, against Mother Nature herself, but it is losing. It has lost. It cannot be repaired. So stop saying it can.


16 Years Old

I had an interesting conversation today with some of my colleagues  (and a student). We were talking about what we were doing at 16 years of age. Both of my colleagues are a bit older than I am, so 16 for them was 1968. They talked about the Vietnam Conflict, President Johnson, and the 1968 World Series between St. Louis and Detroit. They compared notes from being halfway across the country from each other, yet experiencing the same world events over the miles. They surprised themselves with how much they recalled of the world, of their families, and of themselves and their emotions during that rocky time in our nation’s history. And they told me something about themselves and how their own world view was shaped.

My student chimed in with his own history of 16, how he had just gotten into politics then, and the first debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He talked about high school and how it was an awkward time for him, about the sad nature of being bullied by older students. He gave his limited world view from that period of time, seen through the lens of a mid-2os student looking back on something that wasn’t all that long ago in the grand of scheme of things.

And there I am in the middle of the two extremes. My 16th year was also political in nature, with the ribald humor of presidential satire on Saturday Night Live driving my newfound sense of hilarity. Dana Carvey as Ross Perot was especially poignant and eerie for that time period. The World Series heartache of my Philadelphia Phillies when Toronto hit a home run against Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, ruined my entire fall. Then there was my own high school issues, not with school work but with social issues, and lunch ladies who drooled on our pizza, and girls who didn’t accept stuffed animals from boys who liked them. I kind of forgot just how sad 16 can be.

Then I think of my summer school students, how most of them are just a couple of years away from that magic number themselves, how they think they’re going to be rap stars and reality stars by then. They think they’ll be the next Kardashians, as if being that kind of famous will be good enough for them. They dismiss politics as just a bunch of old folks who “don’t know nuffin.” They only follow football and think concussions are all lame attempts to get extra pay. Or something. To them nostalgia is remembering when Justin Bieber had bangs. Or who Justin Bieber even is.

And for my kids 16 will look infinitely more different than all of the above. That’s how quickly this world is spinning, moving farther away from what we’ve known and deeper into the unknown, dragging us along for the ride. I just hope I never forget how it was for me, like my colleagues still hanging on to 1968, safe and secure in their admittedly hazy memory of it. And I hope that by the time my grandkids hit that magical number I would have forgotten Justin Bieber.

I really hope.


Dear Journal: Drinking Beer

20160417_191601.jpgDear Journal,

I’m drinking beer on a Sunday night at 7:20. I can’t remember the last time I did that. Maybe it was when I was 19 and I shouldn’t have been anywhere near alcohol. Or perhaps it was when I was 24 and drowning my sorrows over all the negative things that happened when I was 24. It might have even been last Sunday for all I know, because my memory’s just not what it used to be.

Nobody told me that the closer you get to 40 the worse your memory gets. I naturally assumed the age for memory degradation was 10 years away at the least. I was wrong.

And at least this is Irish Ale, so I can pretend I’m not hiding in this back room by myself drinking swill that I could have gotten for a couple of bucks at the corner store. For one, there are no corner stores here because there are no corners in the country. I bought this Irish Ale at Target, a place which up until about 6 years ago didn’t even carry alcoholic beverages. Oh how the winds shift.

So I’m drinking beer, and still trying to figure out whether or not I like the taste. I had a conversation the other day with a youngster who told me she hated dark beer, and I asked why. She said it was too thick, and I think I knew what she meant. When you take a sip of dark beer you need to be prepared, because it fills you up faster than the light stuff. It’s what I would call an “acquired taste.” And yes, I like dark beer, but I like the amber stuff too, and the light stuff too.

I just don’t drink very much of any of it too often. And that’s not because of the taste. That’s because I honestly have such a low tolerance that more than one bottle of beer (I don’t drink cans if I can help it) makes me just a bit tipsy. I used to think I was a silly drunk. I’m not. I’m just a bit more hyper than usual, which sounds like an innocuous thing but can get me into serious trouble. So I draw the line at two.

At least tonight.


Friday Top 5: Kid Questions

“Dad, why do some people go to hell?”

“Uh, well, um… How did you even hear about that place?”

See what I did there? Instead of answering her question I turned it around and asked her one instead. It’s not great parenting, granted, but it did give me some time to think about what my real answer would be. You know those kinds of questions that kids ask, all innocent like, just because they WANT TO KNOW. She said that one of her friends asked that question during lunch one day, and no one had an answer, so she decided she would ask me.

Lucky me.

If that were the only awkward question my kid has asked me in her life, I would count myself lucky indeed. But I’m not anywhere near that lucky. These questions either come to her out of the blue, because of something she saw, or because of friends at school who just can’t keep their mouths shut about whatever queries they have. And leave it to my kid; she can never let something go.

Here are the Top 5 questions she has asked me that gave me pause…

5. “Is there a God?”

Now, we’ve read her the illustrated Bible stories, but we don’t go to church. We have never taken her to church, but we try to talk to her about these existential conundrums and about what real spirituality is. However, for the other kids at school you can only believe in God if you go to church, and you’re a good person if you believe in God, so if you don’t go to church then you don’t believe in God and you’re a bad person. Huh?

4. “Where do babies come from?”

Well, the easy answer is that she’s too young to hear about that right now, or you’d think that would be the easy answer. But as you should know by now, this kid doesn’t take the easy path, not if she can help it. I can hear the choruses of “Am I old enough yet?” on Monday, on Wednesday, on Friday, and so forth, until we are forced to answer her anyway. “They come from love, my dear. From love.” Oh, if it were only that simple.

3. “Why do people die?”

Death is this nebulous thing when you’re a kid. You know that people you used to see are no longer around, but they could just be hiding in closets somewhere, waiting to spring out at you when you least expect it. They see pets get old and disappear too, so why not people? But at some point the question comes up, and we all know that death is this great mystery. What happens after we die is up for all kinds of debate, and the question above is merely a gateway question for that one. Batter up.

2. “How are boys and girls different?”

Talk about a loaded question, and one that might be just a little bit easier if I were raising say boys rather than girls. And I wonder what they hear from their little friends at school on the subject, if it might be better to tell them the real differences instead of having them hear it from other kids, who may or may not be tactful in the delivery. 10 just seems a little too young to me right now.

1. “How come some years are Leap Years?”

When she first asked me this question I laughed out loud because the answer seemed so simple. I refused to look it up on Bing, but try as I might to answer the question, she just kept looking more and more confused. I mean, I knew why there were Leap Years, but I just couldn’t translate it into language she would understand. I even twisted myself up with my science and logic. It was an almighty debacle that eventually forced me to look it up. Then I felt stupid. Oh well.

And, by the way, if you were curious… There are 365.25 days in a regular year, so every four years that .25 adds up to a whole other day. I know. It blew my mind too.


Not MC Hammer

“Till now I always got by on my own. I never really cared until I met you. And now it chills me to the bone. How do I get you alone?” ~Heart

mc-hammerI was never quite as good with the ladies as I thought I was. In fact, I would bet you that 90% of the women I hit on at some point or other never even knew I was hitting on them. Either that or they just didn’t care, and ignored the gesture, because it wasn’t like I had my own “champagne room,” or anything.

I’ve always been a little bit awkward, and you happened to be a lady who liked that sort of thing then I was golden. If not then you would have given me a “sucks to be you” look and gotten away as quickly as you possibly could. I used to try and pretend I was my favorite casanova — MC Hammer — that I was cooler than the average guy, but I don’t think I ever really pulled it off as more than simple caricature.

Besides, when it hit 1994 and Hammer was no longer cool I had nothing to hang my hat on anymore. I mean, there was no way I could be Lenny Kravitz, was there? I used to pretend it didn’t matter to me, when the ladies rejected me in increasingly more creative ways as the years went along, but it obviously. Every one who walked away was another reason for me to dislike myself, because as much as I pretended to be independent, I was all about how others saw me.

Sometimes I think I still am. At least on some level. I’m a work in progress.

sad alone boys guys emotional lone quotes wallpapers (1)And I really don’t like being alone. I never have. It’s one of those things that makes me nervous just knowing I’m going to be alone ahead of time. Maybe that’s why I hit the ladies with my charm so early and so often back then. I knew if I could just snag one, for however long, it meant I would be part of a “we,” a member of an “us” that was so much more important to me than money ever would be.

See, being part of an “us” meant I didn’t have to go to the movies alone. It meant I didn’t have to go out to eat alone. It meant I didn’t have to watch my favorite TV shows alone. It meant I never had to BE alone… you know, unless I really wanted to. Because it’s not really being alone if I know I have options, if I can choose it for myself instead of someone else deciding it for me.

Odd how that works, isn’t it? But it’s still true. And luckily for me I found a lady who doesn’t mind the awkwardness, who didn’t dismiss me just because I’m not the typical guy, who understands my issues and who lets me be myself without judging. She laughed at what I perceived was my “game” when we first started talking, but she gets me in a way that I’ve maybe never even gotten myself.

Even if I’m not MC Hammer. Perhaps precisely because I’m not MC Hammer. And I can live with that.


Learning to Speak

I’m outgoing, or at least I’d like to think I am. I can play the role well enough, anyway, the title character in a multi-act play that is set to run for eons off-Broadway. And I guess that’s all I could ask for before. But now… now I feel like I’ve simply been grandstanding, pretending to be the man who speaks his mind. When it really matters, though, what do I actually say?

I’m just going to come out and say it. I have a hard time saying things that matter. Maybe it’s because I’m always so concerned with how others view me. Perhaps I’ve gotten so good at playing the devil’s advocate that speaking what I actually feel has become a daunting task? Sometimes I blame my writing skills for the marbles in my mouth. Why say it when I can write it?

That’s gotten me into trouble before, though. Like the time I…

  • broke up with someone over email
  • explained my financial dishonesty over email
  • wrote a letter to explain my verbal issues
  • wrote a scandalous poem about a friend
  • ended a friendship over email

When I can write beautifully crafted prose explaining myself, when I can go on for over 1000 words putting every essence of my soul into the written word that I feel will always save me, why should I make the insane effort necessary to sit down and talk to someone face to face? Well, because of the reactions to each and every one of those written missives above. That’s when I realize I’m a coward.

To write down words that I should speak instead makes me worse than the characters I write who cheat, lie, and steal to get what they want. They embrace their baser instincts. They rely on what has always worked for them in the past to get them through whatever they’re going through in the present, never learning from their mistakes, and hurting others in the process.

So I’m learning to speak, learning to open up my mouth and, despite the butterflies, get it out there in the open. So there can be feedback. So the other person can look into my eyes when I speak my truth, whether that truth be positive or negative. Other people deserve that much, if not so much more.


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