Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What's Up with That?/Batting Practice

I went to the gym this morning. I've started a new routine that's kicking my butt. When I finished and walked out to the car, I sat listening to music and drinking water. I watched a young guy in a wanna-be monster truck circling around the parking lot. There were plenty of spaces where I sat, but no, the guy wanted to get closer. There's a pizza place a few doors down from my gym, and I assumed he was heading there. But no: he finally scored a more desirable parking spot, jumped out of his truck wearing workout attire, and walked into the gym.

If I find myself slipping into a bout of low self-esteem, I'll just reflect on that little moment.


I'm not a big team-sports fan. In fact, when my dad died in '91, I pretty much lost interest in pro sports.

I've been determined to avoid pushing Dylan into sports. That said, we've introduced him to gymnastic lessons, karate, and swimming, but I've sort of furtively hoped he might gain an interest in baseball. The kid has a hell of an arm on him, something we discovered when he was but six months old.

My sister-in-law's boyfriend has an acquaintance who was, for a short time, a pitcher in major league baseball. He had the guy talked into coaching Dylan when he was only four, but I nixed that idea. I don't want my son being channeled into something he's not interested in simply because he has a good arm.

Still, I confess I've been a wee bit disappointed that he's shown little interest when I've parked the TV channel on a baseball game, or when we've given him baseball gloves.

Something changed last month. Rhonda took Dylan to a sporting goods store to buy some gym shorts, and when he saw the section with baseball gloves and bats, he locked on. First she bought him a glove and a ball. Then we took him back for a bat. That was a couple of days ago, on my birthday.

For my birthday, Dylan decided that Daddy should be taken to see Shrek the Third. (He's a very considerate kid.) We had some extra time before the movie started, so we drove to an empty part of the parking lot. I asked Dylan if he wanted to try a little batting practice. He didn't take much convincing.

I helped him get the correct grip on the bat, and maneuvered him into something approximating a correct stance. Before I backed off to throw the ball, I reminded him to be patient with himself, because batting wasn't an easy thing to learn.

I threw the first ball. He hit a decent ground ball. Wow, I was surprised. I threw the ball again. He hit a line drive directly to my forehead. It hurt.

Since then, I've been a little less complacent with his batting practice.

That evening, he watched about a half-hour of a baseball game. It was his idea.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ranting Sometimes Comes with a Price

I try not to talk about people behind their backs. But sometimes, I do.

Back in the eighties, I realized that I was doing too much of that for my own sense of self-respect. So, I made a New Year's resolution: no more badmouthing people unless it was to their faces.

For about two months, I stuck faithfully to my resolution. I was proud of myself for taking such a high road. But then, I began noticing that nearly everyone was irritating the hell out of me.

So, I began allowing myself the occasional rant. Most of us, I suppose, need to vent now and then. I simply decided to be more judicious about it.

I've been feeling seriously grumpy since I've been back home from my last stint in the Gulf of Mexico. I don't know why, but it might have something to do with having to be away part of the time again.

I've felt more need to vent.

A couple of days ago, Rhonda and I went to Dylan's school to pick him up. We hung around after school so Dylan could play with some of his classmates. We were talking with one of the moms, and the subject of pushy people came up.

Since I'd been in the mood to rant for a week or so, I brought up a woman I'll call G. G worked in the same field as my wife. Upon moving to town, she decided that since they both worked in the same field, and since they were both women, they simply had to be friends.

G began calling with an itinerary for Rhonda, an itinerary with all of the activities they'd be doing together over the weekends. The itineraries didn't leave much time for Rhonda's husband. (That would be me.) In any case, Rhonda didn't feel comfortable with G from the onset, and even if she had, she wouldn't have been inclined to spend her weekends as designed by someone else.

Rhonda is too nice for her own good at times, and she tried to disengage herself gently. When G finally got the hint, she took great offense nevertheless.

So, I was just getting up a curmudgeonly head of steam about how irritating G was when I noticed a look on Rhonda's face. It was a look of disapproval. I was a little surprised, since I was trying to couch my comments about G in a humorous way. But still, there was the look. Married guys know the look.

Finally, I interrupt myself. "What?" I ask Rhonda, feeling a little irritated that I might be robbed of an opportunity to vent about someone or something other than Starbucks. "I never told you?" "No," I answered.

"G committed suicide."

Whomp. I tried to salvage the moment by making further comments about G in an overtly funny way, but they fell flat. I tried to get out of a hole by continuing to dig. Rhonda looked pained; the other mom looked decidedly uncomfortable.

For the last couple of days, I've been feeling kinda small.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Field Trip

Friday was a fun day with the Dylan and his classmates. His school had its annual “Heritage Day” field trip, dealing mostly with the mining boom days in California in the mid and late 1800’s. I didn’t get a shot of Dylan in his full western garb because the little rascal lost his hat in the first half hour. He looks pretty natural in his western boots and cowboy hat. Maybe I’ll get him to don his duds another time for a photo.

There were some reenactments and demonstrations. One of them involved a replica of a stagecoach. I was drawn to the obvious craftsmanship involved (when I pick up a wrench folks tend to flee in terror), and had a short conversation with Jack, the owner, builder, and “driver” of the stage.

He’s built five of ‘em. He started 16 years ago, when he helped a friend build one. It’s a labor of love for him; he says that he probably couldn’t sell the stage for what he his invested in it, and that’s not even counting his labor.

He also raised his mules from birth. The two girls are fifteen and sixteen, and come from a line of horses and donkeys first owned by Jack’s grandfather. I was almost as fascinated by the mules as by the stage: Mules, despite their association with comedy and such base traits as stubbornness, have always seemed almost regal when compared to horses. Jack says that they’re really not smarter, they’re just sort of different.

Dylan had a grand time. It was great to see his music teacher, Mr. Burkett, back in action following a health problem. The guy is just amazing in how he gets kids to respond, and I’m very happy to see him back.

Hm. Sometimes I’m jealous of my own kid. When I was in elementary school, field trips were never so fun.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

In the Shell of Serendipity

So, my favorite coffee place in town, Serendipity, closed down last year when yet another freakin’ Starbucks moved in down the road. I liked Serendipity, with its vaguely bohemian atmosphere and mixed clientele.

I’m sitting in what was Serendipity as a write this. It’s now a Bad Ass Coffee Company store, with company headquarters allegedly based in Hawaii. They did an excellent job of obliterating the spirit of the old Serendipity; I scarcely recognize it as the same locale.

One reason I avoid Starbucks is that I refuse to join their damned culture to get a damned cup of coffee or tea. A small cup of coffee is not a “tall,” for cripe’s sake. But hey, order a “small coffee” in Starbucks, and there’s a good chance the employee, his or her mind absorbed by the Starbucks Collective, will look at you like you just pooped on the floor.

I'm a wee bit afraid to walk into a Starbucks. I'm afraid some day I'll snap. "JUST GIVE ME A SMALL COFFEE AND SPARE ME YOUR CORPORATE NEWSPEAK, ASSHOLE!" And, y'see, I just can't risk that, since I'm supposed to be so freakin' mellow.

The employees here at Bad Ass have their own irritating habit: As you walk up to the counter, they yell out “ALOHA!” Sheesh, I jump every time they do that! What the heck is that, anyway? Do they really think that my heart and soul will magically be transported to the Kona Coast because they yell out “Aloha”? Give me a freakin' break! I think the manager who mandated that greeting should be bitch-slapped by Paul Reubens.

Oh well. At least they don’t look at me like I’m a bug when I order a small cup of coffee.

I’m feelin’ grumpy.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sadness 'n Me

“Sadness is but a wall between two gardens.” Kahlil Gibran.

I don’t think folks who work with me would describe me as a sad person. In fact, unless people are misleading me, I’m viewed as a generally upbeat, cheerful kinda guy. That’s good. We’ve all worked around those who practice the “misery loves company” religion, and folks like that can drag a workplace down.

My wife apparently doesn’t view me as a sad-sack either. One day, after we'd been married for a couple of years, she looked at me, and out of the blue asked, “What happened to you, anyway?” “Whataya mean?” “Well, I remember you when you were seventeen. You were always so serious, so wrapped up in thought, so . . . pensive. And now. . .” She giggles. “Now, you’re such a goofball.”

“Thanks a lot,” I said, wearing my best mock "I'm offended" expression. “I didn’t mean that in a bad way,” she maintained. “I like it that you’re more willing to be silly.”

It’s true. As a teenager, when Rhonda got to know me, I tended to be lost in thought, brooding, and pondering all there was to feel sadness over. I didn’t smile a lot, and I tended to live inside my head.

Maybe flying for a living changed my demeanor. I dunno. My outlook on life just seemed to change as I grew older. I held to the notion that life is full of sadness, and that’s all the more reason to bask in joy, humor, and laughter when they come around.

And yet, nothing seems to stir my creative juices like sadness. I love to read sad tales, listen to sad songs, and write about sad moments. Heck, I could write blog after blog entry about homesickness, and how I miss my wife and son when I’m away. Folks kind enough to stay with me would soon no doubt think, “Geez, Hal, you have a lot to feel thankful for, so give us a break, okay?” I wouldn’t blame them.

Still, I'm drawn to the exploration of blue. George MacDonald wrote, “Beauty and sadness always go together. Nature thought beauty too rich to go forth upon the earth without a meet alloy.” That’s so true of my state of mind when I’m leaving home. I’m wrapped in sad when I leave my “real” life, and yet, that sadness grounds me in all I have to feel appreciative about, and it spotlights the beauty of the little things in my life, like listening to my wife and son laugh together.

Also, I’m afraid to leave it alone. I’m afraid that if I leave it alone, it’ll grow into a big scary monster—depression, maybe—and it’ll sneak up and bite me on the ass. Sadness needs to be aired out, in my book. Leave the door locked on sadness, and there’s a risk mold will grow.

I’ve known people who avoid sadness at any cost, or so it seems. Sometimes, I feel sorry for them. Why? Well, I can best express my feelings on that with another quote. Erich Fromm wrote, “One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often.”

And hey, some goofballs want to be responsive to the world.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Sports World Death/Meeting Clint Again

In Lou Schuler's blog this morning, I read about about another alcohol-related tragedy involving a professional sports athlete. Here's an excerpt from Lou's blog.

"Late last Saturday night -- Sunday morning, if you want to be precise -- a 29-year-old relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals died in an auto accident. He plowed his rented SUV into a tow truck, which was parked in the left traffic lane, clearing up an earlier accident. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the pitcher, Josh Hancock, had been drinking heavily, according to eyewitnesses, and was on his way to do more drinking with a group of teammates. A restaurant manager had offered to call a cab for him. He'd declined."

This, following in the wake of Bob Barbanes' blog post concerning an intervention he participated in, brings to mind that old saying usually attributed to George Bernard Shaw: "Youth is wasted on the young."

Now, I'm not one to get sanctimonious about the use of alcohol. The fact is, I was somewhat of a party animal throughout my twenties and thirties. Luckily for me, I was addicted to the bars, taverns, and live music, not so much the alcohol. Still, I willingly gave into that "when in Rome" syndrome when out on the town. I felt, back then, that I needed the social lubrication adult beverages provided.

So, no, you won't see me pointing a pious finger at those who imbibe. Alcohol will likely have a place in our society for generations to come. For all of its potential evils, it's the most accepted recreational drug in our world, and we learned in the U.S. that making it illegal did nothing but make some folks rich. In moderation, it may well protect against heart disease. And, while I sometimes go weeks without touching an alcoholic beverage, I still enjoy downing a glass or two of beer or wine now and then.

But still, I can't help but ponder the costs . . .

One day in the early 90's, I was helping our swamped dispatcher manifest passengers. I was compiling names and weights for a helicopter flight to an offshore oil platform--one of mine, as it turned out--when I saw his name. I hadn't seen Clint in person since junior high school; we went to different high schools. I had seen him on TV, though, playing in the defensive backfield for USC. He would go on to play four seasons for the Minnesota Vikings.

Looking at the sign-in sheet, I expected to see something indicating Clint was an engineer or geologist. When I noted that he worked for the catering company, I assumed that he must have taken a position as a manager, and was taking a day away from his office to visit employees offshore. I looked out over the waiting room and spotted him. He was wearing a catering uniform.

I'd once watched Clint on TV, catching an interception and running it back for a touchdown. Now I was flying him out to an offshore platform to clean living quarters. His boss later told me that Clint's downfall was part of that Same Ol' Story: alcohol, drugs, gambling, and women.

The whole thing hit me surprisingly hard. I'd been in awe of the guy's athletic prowess since the second grade. He was a soft-spoken, gentle giant who we all wanted the best for--he was easy to like.

We landed on the offshore platform, and I watched him walk down the stairway. I remembered watching him dunk a basketball in the eighth grade. I remembered that as a high school freshman, he dominated senior varsity players in both basketball and football. Now he was making beds and doing laundry for a living.

It was not a good feeling.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

David's Rules

David's rules for aspiring writers. (I paraphrased from his recent blog post. Hope you don't mind, David.)

1. Write more.
2. Read more.
3. Trust yourself more.
4. Open up more.
5. Listen more.
6. Meet more people.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Update on the Parking Lot Incident

The police contacted one of the witnesses over the weekend. We know the guy personally, and he's always seemed like the model of conscientiousness. He's beside himself that he froze and left Rhonda alone to handle things. But then, so did two other grown men.

An online buddy, Algernon, questioned a comment I made on the previous post. I tend to value this guy's opinion, even when I disagree with him.

"What's this 'high-minded' and 'low-minded' concept you're carrying around? You can just feel mad at the guy. No one's going to talk you out of having your own feelings about what this man did."

I wrote back, "What it betrays, really, is a bit of self-conflict, as well as a preemptive reaction against a couple of friends who will urge me to put aside my anger and find compassion for the S.O.B. The thing is, I believe in compassion, and I believe that violence too often begets violence. But hey, for the time being, I need to fantasize about repeatedly kicking that so-called 'father' in the scrotum."

"Fair enough," Algernon answered.

I continued, "I still feel disbelief over the whole thing, too, as does Rhonda. That 'dad' didn't react with a momentary flash of anger. No, he gave his helpless son a prolonged beating. Rhonda said it looked as if he wanted to kill his son."

Algernon again: "I would be willing to bet you dinner this man was himself an abused child. In other words, he is ANOTHER abused child. And if his 14-year old son does not get access to therapy, there is an excellent chance he'll grow up to be a domestic abuser as well. This is something we know about domestic violence."

I answered, "No argument from me there. And my God, I hope that fourteen year-old does get therapy. How does one so young process the reality that his own father may have been trying to kill him?"

Algernon: "Throwing him in jail or perhaps doing worse things to him in order to "punish" him satisfies an emotional need for vengeance, because what he did revolts the conscience. We want him to pay for what he did."

I answered, "That's true, and I'll admit that that's part of my motivation. But there's more to it than that. I suspect this 'father' is a genuine threat to society, and may very well be a out-and-out sociopath. He's probably intelligent and willful enough to get through any court-mandated counseling program with his violent tendencies intact. It would be wonderful if he could be 'cured,' but I suspect the only real solution is to put him away for a good while."

I had a little fun with Rhonda a few nights ago while talking to her on the phone. I reminded her of a conversation we had back in '94, when we were getting back together. We'd talked through the night, and at one point, from out of the blue, she said, "I think I'm missing something as a woman." "How's that?" I asked. "Well, I don't think I have maternal instincts."

I started laughing. "What's so damn funny?" I just pointed to her two dogs, surely among the most pampered creatures in northern California.

When Dylan gets older, I suspect he'll find that story funny as can be. Maybe a certain fourteen year-old would as well. And, I'm hopeful that a certain sorry excuse for a father will learn a harsh lesson when he gets slam-dunked in court by my better half's testimony.