Thursday, November 30, 2017

Nonconsecutive Gratitude - Mowing the Grass*

What CAN'T Jeremy Be Grateful For?

On Tuesdays and Thursdays we're gonna answer the question, "How in the world can Jeremy be grateful for _______?" The blank is up to you to fill. Leave your suggestions in the comments below or find me on Instagram @nonconsecutive

Upon having a son some men rush to the sporting goods store for a mitt. Others purchase the junior-sized fishing pole and still others open a 529 college savings plan. I suppose all fathers have ambitions for their sons. Mine is getting the grass mowed. I don’t want to set the bar too high for the boy. It’s self-serving you say? What do you think, those other guys are playing baseball and fishing out of a sense of moral duty? Well, the 529 guy maybe.

Anyhow, we need to go back a ways. When I was getting on towards middle school, my family moved into a house with a half-acre yard. The mowing of this large yard would be my charge. It was essentially flat and basically square and completely fenced-in. The soil was rich and the grass was caterpillar. And the growing season felt like it was eleven and a half months of the year.

When I initially assumed my duties, the lawn tool I received was a self-propelled push mower. The bulky self-propelling mechanism on top of the machine didn’t actually work, but its added weight did make turning around at the end of each row more difficult. I grew strong of back and numb of hand mowing those heavy rows every Saturday. We acquired a rider by and by. It had a wide deck and a strong engine and, owing to some sort of collision, only turned left. It wouldn’t so much as veer to the right, but it was the industry’s first zero-turn left-hand mower. The battle was no less hard, but it had gone from infantry to strategy. Failure to plan would mean being stuck in a corner or having to double back on a row. Since I had very many much better things to be doing on Saturday there was no time to waste on re-work, and I became painstakingly tactical.

Years later I would move north and buy a house of my own with a half-acre yard. It was almost exactly the same except without the fence and with some sort of poison exuding from the soil. Whether it was a change in me or the change of locale I cannot say, but one thing was sure, I was suddenly and alarmingly allergic to grass. After a session of mowing it was like someone had taken a rubber mallet and beaten fiberglass insulation into all of my head holes. And I would be down for 20 hours at a clip.

So how can I be grateful for mowing the grass? Because it’s past tense. I’ve got some people in my life who show me great kindness lawn-wise. I hide inside, not even going near the doors or windows while I hear the mower running. As for my son, he will never feel the crushing pressure from his old man to achieve on the ball field. He will never get dragged out of bed while the stars are still twinkling to go shiver in a rowboat. And he will surely never have a funded 529 plan. My sole ambition for him is to get out there and get that grass knocked down.

Suggested by Jane LaTour

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Nonconsecutive Gratitude - Mrs. Mitchell

When I was in fourth grade I brought to school a discarded pair of my Grandpa’s Air Force issued eyeglasses. They were aviator style glasses - the ones without the customary curve to the earpiece. My Grandpa was not an aviator and I did not require corrective lenses, yet there I was sitting at my desk wearing aviator glasses and getting a headache. What could possess an elementary school boy to do such a thing? Duh, a girl.

Katie was the brown-haired kewpie doll that sat a couple of seats down from me. She and I were an item in the simplest, most innocent possible sense of the term. We liked each other. And Katie had been prescribed glasses halfway through the school year. I watched her awkwardly pry their case open and put them on, never raising her gaze from her lap. Maybe it was my heart aching that Katie was self-conscious or maybe it was just an attempt to score brownie points, but the next day I casually donned Grandpa’s aviators.

Mrs. Mitchell was our teacher. In the course of her duties she was walking amongst us, perhaps handing out worksheets or taking up homework. She got to me. She stood over my little desk, her hands busy with the papers. She had seen the glasses and I felt a slight twinge of embarrassment. She said that she didn’t know that I wore glasses. I gave a half-baked explanation as my ears warmed. She glanced over at Katie and then back at me and then continued passing out papers. Or maybe collecting papers, I don’t remember.

But I do remember the relief I felt. Not the relief in my eyes and forehead when I finally took the glasses off later. The relief that Mrs. Mitchell walked on wordlessly. I didn’t have the sophistication at the time to think of her perspective on it, I just knew she had walked on and that was that. Imagine what I must’ve looked like squinting through those 50’s era government-issued spectacles. Imagine the foolhardy audacity of my plot. But she just walked on. She could’ve crushed me with public correction. She could’ve scarred me with ridicule and derision. But she just walked on.

Later in the school year we came to the point in our science curriculum that would teach us about the universe springing uncaused from nothing and man’s ascent from lesser species by blind chance. She went over the details from the textbook. Then in the front of her public school classroom, sitting halfway on a barstool with one foot on the carpet, she made a modest declaration. She said that while this was the teaching approved by the administration, she didn’t hold to it personally. She said that she believed that God had created all that we know. I had been taught the same thing at home, so it only surprised me in the way that she said it. She, who dealt so gently with even preposterous ophthalmological assertions, was different somehow. She was bold, even if quietly so. She was mildly insurgent.

I’m so thankful for Mrs. Mitchell. The impact that she had on my life continues nearly thirty years later. Sometimes she walked on without a word and sometimes she took a stand.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Nonconsecutive Gratitude - Gold Teeth*

What CAN'T Jeremy Be Grateful For?

On Tuesdays and Thursdays we're gonna answer the question, "How in the world can Jeremy be grateful for _______?" The blank is up to you to fill. Leave your suggestions in the comments below or find me on Instagram @nonconsecutive

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but my most immediate association of a gold tooth is Joe Pesci in Home Alone. I love the way the fabulous director, John Hughes, had light glint off of the tooth when Joe was in the cop uniform and smiling at Kevin. You’ve got to love the panicked way Pesci realizes it’s missing later. And how can you not love the way the beautiful Katherine O’Hara finds the tooth and visibly ponders what exactly she has found?

Do old school gold fronts count in the same way as Pesci’s tooth? You know fronts, AKA grills, those clip in tooth covers for adding bling and swag to your smile? I knew a guy once that bought some 14k fronts on a whim. I mean, how many among us have not heard the siren song of amateur cosmetic dentistry? He said that they fit in a technical sense, but that they became exceedingly uncomfortable after a few minutes. Imagine that. Certain hip-hop notables have gone around the bend with the gold teeth and are now sporting diamond encrustations. Braces caused my middle-school friends to have abrasions on their inner lips. What must princess cut stones do?

I might hazard a guess that at some point in dentistry’s past there was a more (legitimate) reason for gold in the mouth. Before it gave you street cred it gave you hygienic fillings. It sounds a little scammy, I know.

“So doc, ya say I’ve got holes in my teeth? What in the world can ya fill them holes with do ya reckon?”

“Uh, well . . . I’m not exactly . . . GOLD! Yeah, gold is uh . . . safer and . . . so forth.”

It probably didn’t go down like that. There was probably some trial and error. Maybe even some deliberation. Perhaps a scholarly paper in a peer-reviewed journal of dentistry. The Benefits of Gold as an Elemental Filling and Coating for Cavities and Replacement: All That Glitters is Not Molar.

I’m not trying to blow my own whistle here, but I only have one filling. I’m a man of a certain age, and I’ve only had the need to have addressed one tiny pinhole in a noncritical tooth. I actually don’t know what tooth it’s in. My tooth health is so primo that I can’t even specify the one incisor that had the lone issue of my oral history. I’m grateful for a mouth devoid of decay. But I’m not sure the congratulations should go to my brushing technique. And I know that it can’t be the flossing. Because other than at the dentist and in the terrified 24 hours immediately following a visit, I have not flossed. I don’t gargle. I don’t mouthwash. You hate me, don’t you.

I’m of the opinion that tooth health has a huge genetic component. Some folks just have tooth enamel that’s harder than trigonometry. Some people have some baller enzyme action preventing the sugar bugs from wreaking their havoc. I don’t know what my dental advantage is, but I sure am grateful for it.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Nonconsecutive Gratitude - Dining Common

I didn’t come by my rotund figure by accident. I loves me some food. I know this doesn’t make me special amongst humankind, but it’s nevertheless true. There’s an art to getting your grub on. And please understand from the outset that I don’t practice this art in a strictly gourmet setting. I like fine dining just fine. But I like Hamburger Helper every bit as much. Y’all don’t know nothing about Tuna Tetrazzini. I’ve had caviar and sashimi, and they were both terrific. Can they keep up with the Double Whopper with cheese? Barely. And you may as well know that I am a chips and dip sommelier. Pair the barbecue Lays with straight-up sour cream and thank me later. The Quincy’s restaurant in the town where I grew up made a steak sandwich that haunts me after twenty years.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been known to munch a bunch. And when I think about really throwing down on some groceries, there’s one place that stands out: the University Dining Common.

Room and board included unlimited access to the Dining Common, and fortunately it was only open at traditional meal times. Who knows what dietary havoc could have been wrought otherwise. There was a salad bar where you could make the unhealthiest salads imaginable. My go-to was tons of chopped ham, shredded cheese, and boiled eggs with a dash of iceberg lettuce. Sometimes I would sprinkle in some julienned carrots. There were soda fountains and tea. But then there was chocolate milk. Yes, I was 19 years old, so what? One fall they accidentally mixed the chocolate milk with some egg nog. I drank enough to float a pontoon boat.

There were all manner of entrees from the plumb ordinary, like spaghetti with meat sauce, to the wildly esoteric, like Welsh Rarebit. There was a special buzz around campus when word got out that the famous fried chicken fingers would be served for Sunday lunch. It was shoulder to shoulder in the serving lines until the last tender was tendered. There were a variety of sandwiches at weekday lunch: cheeseburgers, chicken patties, and even a pulled-pork barbecue deal. It was those barbecue sammiches that my friend Jamey and I contended over once. I bested him by finishing five. What a day that was.

When it comes down to it, I’m not sure if it was the Dining Common that I was so thankful for. Looking back I realize that the real gift was a metabolism that could process such indulgences. Without so much as a jumping jack or calorie count I could consume bushels with apparent impunity. But it was more than just the food. I’m thankful for the friends that I gathered with there. I’m grateful for the University that comprised the common. And I’ll never stop counting my lucky stars for the fateful lunch date at the common when I met the woman who would become my wife.