Monday, December 11, 2017

Nonconsecutive Gratitude - Woodland

A wise man once said, “it’s funny what a young man recollects.” I absolutely agree. Some of the things I remember from childhood were a formative watershed that reverberates in my life to this day. Some were a bellwether either troubling or promising, back to which I can trace a line of development. Some are just dumb things, and I can’t imagine why they stick with me. Come to think of it, that’s actually Forrest Gump I was quoting. Let’s move on.

Woodland Elementary was, as far as I know, a fairly typical small-town public school. It was brick with old-timey louvered windows and covered sidewalks. It had a main building where the principal worked in his office and two classroom wings where the children worked, hoping they would have no interaction with the principal. There were a couple of mobile classrooms out back. These served to provide additional classroom space and to provide recurring nightmares to the children who happened to be in one during a tornado watch. Or tornado warning. I’m not sure which is which, I just know the teacher was crying a little and we were all going to die.

The mobile classrooms were adjacent to the playground where the main draw was the swings. You may think you’ve swinged well, but you’ve not swung better than a Woodland swing. I recall the support legs looming many stories high with chains reaching above my head into low-level clouds. These were jumping swings. The seats were springy and the chains were smooth. The sand under each spot was wallowed-out perfectly for your feet to clear on the kick phase. I was never comfortable with the elbows-out exit maneuver, but I don’t think it hurt my distance too much.

The time would fail me to tell of the lunchroom with its slurpy Jello served in paper cups, or the library with its copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark that traumatized me. I faintly recollect the school secretary wearing a giant paperclip necklace. Also I recall the school nurse being casually dismissive of my fears of lead poisoning when my pencil tip broke off under my thumbnail. But by far the clearest memory I have of my time at Woodland was the day the television was wheeled-out for us to watch the Space Shuttle launch. The Challenger was taking a teacher into orbit and everyone was excited. Boy, that still chokes me up a little. I guess that’s one of those reverberating watersheds I mentioned earlier.

I’m grateful for my time at Woodland as a student. I’m even more grateful for a moment I spent there a decade and a half later. When I decided to ask Christy to marry me I felt burdened to imbue the moment with meaning. Not just to ring the doorbell of a new life together, but to match its tone to the echoes of the past. I craved continuity to undergird my ardor. So on Valentine’s evening she and I held hands and walked from the parking lot to the playground. We stood under the stars, not too far from the swings. Knee, ring, yes, kiss, done.

At some point later they tore the school down and built another one with the same name a couple of miles away. I’m sure it’s very nice, but I’m awfully glad I was there for the old Woodland.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Nonconsecutive Gratitude - Garlic Bread*

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

I know how you probably function. If you see a delicious patty of beef then your hand instinctively goes for the ketchup. You’re gonna spread a bun, crown and heel, with mayo. Maybe you’ll squeeze some mustard and call it good. Maybe you like some salad in the mix. Lettuce, tomato, onions, you people are all the same. I know you’re thinking about bacon. You think I don’t know where you’re planning to put those crispy strips? All the same, I tell you.

What if there were another way? What if you gave the usual condiments the day off? What if you left the salad for the bunnies? Do this for me. Toast that bun. Not too much, just crispy not crunchy. Now grab the butter. Do you trust me or not? Slather the bun. Don’t spread it, slather it! Now find your garlic powder in the cupboard. Yes, garlic salt is fine. Shake it on both bun halves. More. Don’t be stingy with the garlic. Now put the delicious patty between those two buns. Yes you will, we’ve come too far to go back now. What do you mean, what else? That’s it, bun, butter, garlic, patty, done. You’re welcome.

It was a cool autumn day in the early ‘90s when we discovered the garlic bread burger. We didn’t call it that at the time. In fact, it wasn’t until I was describing it to a friend at work a few months ago that it dawned on me. Why, that’s just a burger with garlic bread for buns. Clearly I’m a little slow on the uptake.

The reason I’m most grateful for garlic bread is it’s accessibility. If you’re having a bread-in-hand kind of meal and you’ve poorly planned then there’s hope where there’s garlic. You’re going to be hard pressed to whip up a mess of biscuits before the pasta cools. You don’t even have the pan seasoned right for cornbread. Does anyone actually know how to make yeast rolls? I think there’s a special machine. Short of pulling a fistful of 7-grain from the sack (which I’ve seen done) you’re going breadless. But not if you've got garlic and butter, my friend.

Imagine the gulf between the expert and the novice. Your home-made lasagna is barely Stouffer's, so how would it ever pass muster at a restaurant with no crayons on the table? But your made-in-your-robe garlic bread could compete in the finest haute cuisine ristorante.

My favorite, for sentimental reasons, is the long, frozen loaf sold in the cooking foil. It has center pieces that are like sponge cake and ends that will require a dunk in the gravy just to make chewable. C'est magnifique! I can live peaceably with the the garlic sticks and knots. I understand the pressures of marketplace and fashion, but thanks for staying the course. My utmost respect goes to the garlic toast. Wherever there is even a rudimentarily provisioned kitchen, there awaits garlic toast. Nothing could be easier and nothing more delicious. We could all learn a lot from a slice of garlic toast.

This idea is based on the book 14,000 things to be happy about by Barbara Ann Kipfer

Friday, December 8, 2017

Nonconsecutive Gratitude - Nicknames

The word “nickname” comes to us from the Middle English reference to “an eke name,” where “eke” means additional. So now you know that, and if you’re like me then you will now always pronounce it like “neekname.”

Obviously a lot of nicknames are just shortened versions of the given name:

Jim, Tim, Tom.

Will, Bill.

Bob, Rob.

Don, Ron, Jon.

They’re dean’s list in simplicity, but are flunking in creativity. They’re considerately efficient nicknames, not wanting to waste a moment of the name caller’s time. It’s commendable, though one wonders about some examples of the simple shortening. Like Steve for Steven or Pete for Peter. Are we really saving any time dropping that one letter?

There are some that shorten yet make up their own rules. Elizabeth spawns Liza, Beth, and Betty. I think we all support that. But the guy on the radio who shortens Jonathan to Than? I hate that guy. Margaret breaks into Maggie, Meg, and amazingly Peggy. Google that if you don’t believe me. I have an aunt Martha that we call Mott. It’s short AND creative. Will and Ron, are you paying attention?

Some nicknames are creative, but at the expense of efficiency. Or sanity for that matter. Sally is short for Sarah, and Molly is short for Mary. What? Of course, they seem perfectly reasonable compared to Jack being short for John. There’s actually a fascinating reason for it that involves the Dutch practice of using “-kins” for terms of endearment, like lambkins. As I said, Google it.

Some nicknames are short to the point of laziness. D.J. and J.R. have always annoyed me. Extra points to you if you thought Tanner and Ewing. J.R. is cool if it’s short for so-and-so junior. It has a country authenticity bordering on hipster chic. I don’t follow sports much, but you have to feel bad for guys called L.T. or A.Rod. You know they’ve heard of The Fridge, Pistol Pete, and The Yankee Clipper. What would you rather be called, A.I. or Clyde the Glide?

There are nickname niches. Less-common sub-genres. The ones that misdirect like the XXL dude called “Tiny.” The ones that may tell a little too much like “Digger.” The ones that don’t flatter one's character like “Slick.” The throw-aways for when you (clearly) don’t know the person’s name like “chief’ or “pal.” There’s even group nicknames like “folks” and “fam.”

You can believe it or not, but when I was a kid I was given the nickname “Rock.” Not “The Rock,” you understand, just a “Rock.” Only a couple of people used it when I was little, but I sure tried to get it going again in my teens. You can’t pick your own. I know a guy who absolutely insists on being called T-Bird. The more he corrects me, the less I want to do it.

Not picking you own nickname is especially true when it comes to trucker handles and pilot callsigns. You’re given it by your peers and you hope for a good one.

“Maverick, Bandit, Hollywood”. Nice.

“Goose, Toad, Braindead.” Meh.

The best nicknames that you don’t get to pick yourself are the ones you get from the Secret Service when you achieve high political office. Barack and Michelle were “Renegade” and “Renaissance.” Donald and Melania are “Mogul” and “Muse.” Awesome, right? The protective detail called Joe Biden “Celtic,” but I’m not sure if it was with the hard-k like the famous knot or the s-sound like the basketball team. The best Secret Service name ever bestowed was on Al Gore’s daughter Karenna. Are you ready? “Smurfette.” Once again, Google it.

I’m grateful for nicknames because sometimes they rise above convenience or humor. Sometimes they can reveal someone in a different light. I have a friend that I respect greatly who is a serious guy with a serious name but is called “Buddy” by his family. When I found that out, I saw a facet of him that made me appreciate him even more. I had an uncle called “Plow,” and just typing that evokes deep feelings of love and loss. Many people knew him as Shannon. I’m grateful that I knew him as “Plow.” My Uncle “Huey” is the same way, as is my honorary Uncle “Snugs.”

What’s in a name? Sometimes not much. But sometimes a whole lot.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Nonconsecutive Gratitude - Gary V.

I tried to write a poem the other day at work. I say tried to write. I wrote some. It was a sentimental enterprise about a feeling I was having. It was a carving in a tree along a path that I feared I may never travel again. I was thinking a lot about the form of it. I even Googled iambic pentameter to make sure that I was remembering it correctly. For years I’ve had this notion of writing what appears to be prose, but is unceremoniously a sonnet. This thing I wrote on the buck-slip that had been in my pocket was not that. It was just a few lines, a cobbled-together overarching metaphor, and some slant rhymes. It left me fairly spent of the feeling that had inspired it. And it left me with that old feeling that poetry is a dead art form. So why am I writing this about that? As a place holder. I watched a YouTube video the other day. It’s a show with hot questions and even hotter chicken wings. I love the show, but I wasn’t sure that I had ever heard of the guest, Gary V-something-or-nother. I normally skip episodes that don’t include people that I’m already pretty familiar with. But not this time for some reason. And this guy was pure inspiration. All energy. Positive mojo oozing from simmering dynamite. I was blown away by him. And at the end of the most amazing appearance I’ve ever seen on the show, he was given the customary opportunity to plug a current project. He didn’t. He took the moment to look the audience in the eye and say, “suffocate your [baloney] excuses and go do something. Forget about what I’m doing. Go do something. It’s time." Mind blown. Half a tear in one eye. Inspiration. How grateful should we be for those who inspire us? I’m so thankful for that show having Gary V. on the show. I’m so psyched that he keeps it real and doesn’t let people off the hook for how they phone-in their lives. Thank you for the motivation. Thank you for the incitement to get up and get going. Thank you for riling the inner drive to create. So this is what I’m doing. I write. I aspire to write. My ideal self is a writer. Maybe I’ve misapprehended this fact. Maybe I’m more of a talker who hasn’t realized his opportunity. But I talk way too much junk off the top of my head to be a professional. At least with writing I can proofread for dumb mistakes and untenable philosophical positions. Having started and stopped a million new things, I claim this thing to be nothing but this one thing. I would love to look back on this as a turning point where I stopped being a passive-voice consumer of culture and became a force in my own right. But this is at least a tree carving that will be here the next time I come this way.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Nonconsecutive Gratitude - The Prospect of Learning*

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

There’s a certain feeling that I’ve felt. It’s anticipation ringed with curiosity. It’s very close to the sensation of holding a gift that you’re just about to unwrap. It’s the brink of discovery. There comes a new electricity to the brain and a liveliness to the fingers. The brain may be grappling with the presents possibilities while the fingers pry around the edges of the wrap. It’s the feeling of the lecture hall when the mind is pondering potentials and the hand steadies the pen for the note paper. It’s the hum of the church auditorium when the soul leans-in and the thumb presses the Bible’s pages. You’re about to know something that you didn’t know.

These are the immediate examples, and they are lodged in so many crannies of life. It’s what keeps us turning the pages of a novel. It’s what makes us start the next episode when we’re already up past bedtime. It’s the taste of the new recipe when it’s still a little too hot. It’s walking up to the door for a party when you’ve never been to the house before. It’s a blind date, a how-to video, a letter with a hand-written envelope, and the first day of school. You’re about to find out something that has been essentially a secret.

There’s a slower moving and more nebulous variant. It’s how you know that you’ll get better at billiards if you keep playing. It’s buying a used boat and knowing that you’ll figure out it’s idiosyncrasies. It’s learning the vocabulary and conjugation of a foreign language with the potential to someday be fluent. It’s planting a tree, or planning a vacation, or following a new Instagram account, or buying the cookbook that will eventually lead to the aforementioned singed lips. You’re embarking on a journey that will lead to a revelation.

My wife and I decided to adopt a baby a few years ago. Once the die was cast there was no possibility in our minds of relenting. We didn’t know how long the journey would last or who was waiting for us at the end. We nervously fluttered on the backs of butterflies and we dreamily soared on the wings of eagles. We knew everything we wanted and nothing of what would be. Having agreed to take on a difficult-to-place baby, we had more specifics than one might with a pregnancy. This only provided us more fodder for particular hopes and intentions.

Then the day came. We walked hand in hand up the sidewalk to the agency’s front door. We waited breathlessly on the sofa in the lobby. We walked toward the room with our hearts pounding in our ears. What would we see when we saw him for the first time? And then in an instant the prospect of learning all of these things became the actual knowledge of a tiny beautiful angel. I’m so thankful for the journey of discovery that began and I still have so much curiosity about where we’ll go from here. We live and we learn.

This idea is based on the book 14,000 things to be happy about by Barbara Ann Kipfer

Monday, December 4, 2017

Nonconsecutive Gratitude - Remote Controls

Being grateful for remote controls should probably be easy for anyone. Anyone over the age of 30 that is.

The first TV that I remember is sketchy on detail like make and model, but I remember exactly where it was placed. We can’t have been the only family to have a great big nonfunctioning wooden console TV in the living room. And if that’s true then we certainly can’t have been the only ones to place the new TV right on top of the old one. But how many of y’all had a nice lace doily between them? The point is that there was no remote control for either one of them. So it’s time to chillax and you’ve gotten the rabbit ears situated. You’ve burrowed deep into the corner of the couch. And you realize after a long commercial break that Knots Landing doesn’t come on this channel. Oh, the humanity!

Of course, once you got up and stumbled over to the TV set(s) at least you only had three or maybe four channels to try before you found your choice in programming. Now re-adjust the rabbit ears. Tweak the vertical hold knob. And then burrow back into the couch with a blanket in your hand and hope in your heart. At this point fate would decide your further viewing. If this wasn’t the channel that Carson came on then you would just watch Arsenio. And heaven help if the volume wasn’t high enough. Y’all can just strain your ears ‘cause I ain’t getting back up.

The next TV we bought was a very sweet Panasonic with cool clicky chrome buttons. But it didn’t have a remote either. This one got some of that cable-vision hooked up to it. This was a good thing in the sense that there was more to watch, but a decidedly bad thing in that by this time I was old enough to stand beside it and tap the chrome “Channel +” button until something was declared good. They don’t make TV’s that solid anymore. It kept humming along in our frugal household until well after remote controls had become commonplace. It was still in the living room when I left for college. No kidding.

Fast forward to the present and everything from the ceiling fan down has a remote. When we moved into our first house we had a TV, satellite receiver, DVD player, and VCR all hooked up together. The four remotes were lined up on the coffee table like little entertainment soldiers, aimed and ready to fire. We went from controller poverty to an embarrassment of remote riches. But our story doesn’t end here.

Behold the universal remote! Now this is a thing for which to be thankful. Especially in a house with something like six children or so. When they lose the remote, it’s never to be found again. If I had to track down a manufacturer replacement remote then there would be trouble. The trouble being that I am as frugal as my parents were. So we would have no remote and my kids would get to learn what my childhood was like.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Nonconsecutive Gratitude - Shower Thoughts

You know what shower thoughts are. Maybe you haven’t thought of them this way, but if you shower and you think, then you’re having shower thoughts. It’s the mind wandering in the midst of a routine task. Shower thoughts aren’t entirely different from driving thoughts or dishwashing thoughts. But there’s more privacy and less distraction. This ramps up the profundity.

Many shower thoughts are to-do’s that you recognize the need for, but that you will forget before you dry off. Some of them are things you should’ve said. There in the steam you will hone the words knowing that you actually wouldn’t have said them. Some of them are reminiscences with running commentary. Some are skillful legal arguments to excuse a regret. Some of them are profound in a dumb way. Like this one from Redditor Gpig16:

“Jerky is more like an animal cracker than animal crackers are.”

Well, maybe that’s actually dumb in a profound way. I’m only speaking for myself here, but I am at least three notches funnier in the shower than in real life. I’ve concocted stage-ready comedy routines about the shampoo ingredients. I had myself plumb tickled with a bit I invented about the lonely useless decorative bathroom towel. Other times I explain things to imaginary shower audiences. Maybe it’s a way of processing things that I’m learning. Maybe I just like to hear myself think.

And I’ve spent tons of lottery money in the shower but way more while driving. There’s no Mega Millions billboards in my shower after all. I don’t play the lottery, but if I ever were to win, then I’ve got a lot of the tough decisions already made. I’ve held a lot of high-level negotiations in the shower too. Often my singular expertise are needed by the highest echelons of state and corporate leadership. This may be straying from shower thought into make believe, but it’s nonetheless instructive.

Is it possible that the cultural fact (and subreddit for that matter) of shower thoughts is owing to the fact that the shower is the only place that any of us get any peace and quiet? Is this the kind of thinking that people did all the time before the invention of the car radio? We can’t even absent-mindedly watch TV anymore because of smartphones. I bet the Amish still have just a constant procession of shower-type contemplations.

I’m grateful for shower thoughts or driving thoughts or mowing-the-grass thoughts because of their clarity. When you realize something important or maybe something troubling, you can’t run from it or distract yourself. You’ve got a head covered in shampoo and you’re gonna have to face facts. I’ve latched onto some pretty important spiritual realities this way. I’ve got a long commute and many times as the asphalt has droned underneath me, the heavens have opened above me. I’ve made life-changing resolutions while occupied with perfectly banal tasks. And other times I’ve had earth-shattering thoughts like:

If you think you miss the 80’s, try being a soulful saxophone soloist.