Archive for March, 2010

Ready or Not

I was watching television the other day, flipping channels and killing time that I should have been using to do something productive, when I had a thought. This thought caused me to sit bolt upright.

My wife is expecting, so, God willing, there will soon be a little boy in my house. Since my wife and I have been cruising along for a number of years with only ourselves and a dog to worry about, I’m not sure that we’re ready for the whirlwind that is a little boy. I think of some of the things I did as a kid, and the sweat just explodes out of my forehead. Some examples:

– I used to try to see how many stairs I could jump down in my house. I would climb up a number of steps, pause for dramatic effect, and leap for the bottom. Often, upon landing my head would ring off of our heavy wooden front door at the bottom of the stairs. Once the world stopped spinning, I would bounce back up and do it again. This probably explains quite a bit about the current state of my brain.

– Speaking of stairs, I cannot count the number of times I would fall down the stairs. I would be hurrying down, get my feet tangled, and end up in a pile at the bottom of the steps. I’m glad the stairs were carpeted, and also that little boy bones are made of rubber bands.

– Along the same lines, when I was on the schoolyard swing set I would try to get the swing as high as possible – and then I would let go. I would soar through the air, briefly, and crumple to the earth in a cloud of dust. Then I would get up and run back to the swings to do it all over again.

– I would write my name on every flat surface I could find. The problem was, I wasn’t sure of the whole left-to-right part of the English language, so there were several spots in my parents’ basement that proclaimed “MIT” in large, shakily drawn letters. This was clearly dangerous because of the real possibility that my parents would kill me when they found out.

– This doesn’t necessarily go along with the other items, but my favorite sandwich as a young boy was American cheese and grape jelly on white bread. Now, nothing about this sandwich is inherently dangerous, but it’s disgusting. And, as a parent, how do you even discover that your kid likes a cheese and grape jelly sandwich? I find myself wondering how many other combinations my mother tried that I didn’t like…maybe it was revenge for me writing my name on her walls.

– When I was really young, I once pulled whiskers out of my dog’s face – not with the intention of hurting her, but just to see what would happen. What happened was, she winced, yelped, and ran away. Looking back, this sickens me, and I realize that my poor dog was a saint in fur for not chewing off my ear. She survived that stage of my development, thankfully, and we got to be good friends. It occurs to me that this activity probably puts my psychological profile into a category with all kinds of fun people – like serial killers. Comforting.

– When I got a little older, I used to put bugs in the freezer – again, just to see what would happen (I know you’re curious, so I’ll tell you: When I took them out they would defrost and keep on trucking like nothing had happened). My mother never knew, and if she reads this, I won’t be surprised if she drives to my house and slaps me for putting bugs in her freezer. I don’t think there is a statute of limitations on stuff like that.

– Also, once, I ate a live ant. Because some other kid dared me to do it. That wasn’t the worst thing that happened in my backyard, though – once I watched one of the neighbor boys eat dog poop because someone dared him to do it. I don’t even know what to say about this, except that it just couldn’t have been healthy.

– I also went through a phase, again when I was a bit older, when I just had to find out about fire. I lit little fires in the back yard, with either magnifying glasses or stolen matches. Then, as I got a bit more brazen, I used to burn my brother’s model airplanes (he had already moved out of the house, so I took them through eminent domain). I used to sneak his models into the woods because, if you are going to be lighting fires, you want to do it in an area far from the nearest water source, and that has dry pine needles and leaves hanging around.

– Long before I ever saw the movie “A Christmas Story” I found out about skin sticking to cold metal. One winter, I walked up to my neighbor’s above-ground pool and for no reason at all put my lips on the cold metal trim. They stuck. I then tore my lips off (literally) and noticed the resulting blood. I remember thinking, “Cool!” Then I did it again. And again.

Those are just a few of many, many things I remember doing. And, that doesn’t count all of the things I did as a teenager. The funny thing is, I don’t think that I was that much different from the other kids that I grew up around. As soon as our parents were looking the other way, or ducking into the fridge, we would do dumb stuff. And, most of the time, we would be lucky enough to survive and learn a lesson from the experience (even if that lesson was, “Cool!”).

I noticed some time back that my friends with kids had a certain haunted look about them. I always thought it was from a lack of sleep, but remembering my childhood makes me think that perhaps there is a deeper reason. Our son isn’t due for a couple of months, but I’ve already started to lose sleep.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 26 Mar 2010 1 Comment

Anecdote

Work and life have conspired to keep me from writing a column this week, but something interesting did happen to me this morning:

I was waiting for the elevator at work. Now, understand that my commute yesterday was 2 hours each way on Rte 2 (probably because of all the flooding on the side streets), so to avoid that this morning I drove all the way into Cambridge in bumper to bumper traffic. It was only 1.5 hours (my usual time), but miserable. So, I’m standing in line for the elevator. There is a guy in front of the doors, waiting for them to open, and a woman off to my left.

The doors open, and the guy pivots and waves the woman into the elevator first. A chivalrous move, to be sure, but a bit odd since he didn’t open the door for her or anything. Also, she’s not a hottie, so I don’t think he did it to discreetly check her out. So, anyway, the woman smiles and walks into the elevator and the guy pivots and goes in after her and I go to follow him in when I realize that this dude has just cropdusted all over me. I mean, there was a pungent cloud of ass all over me and my ice coffee (including the straw). The cloud gets dragged into the elevator and I have to breathe it for 14 floors. A really great start to the day. Thinking about this more, I suppose the woman could have been the one to lay down the chemical warfare. That might explain the smile.

I used the straw anyway. Is that gross? I figure it can’t be any grosser than blowing a bubble gum bubble while standing at a urinal in a public bathroom and I did that the other day. Funny, that was right before I caught this cold that has been dogging me.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 18 Mar 2010 1 Comment

The Floater

With the coming of the warmer weather, I have been thinking about how much I miss Steve Garvey. Since I’ve never actually met the real Steve Garvey (who was a first baseman for the Dodgers), that sentence might not make any sense, so allow me to explain.

When I was growing up, my brothers and I used to play a game in our back yard called Home Run Derby. Essentially, it was a game of Wiffle Ball, but with no base running and no fielding to speak of, just pitching and hitting. Hit a ball off the porch for a single, off the siding was a double, the gutter and windows were triples, and a blast onto the roof was a home run. If you swung the bat and the result was anything other than the ball landing on some part of the house on the fly, you were out.

My father was not the biggest fan of Home Run Derby. With Wiffle Balls constantly bouncing off of his house, he was convinced that we were going to break something, or ruin the roof. Also, there was the time a line drive struck my grandmother, who was sitting innocently on the deck during a party. It was nothing more serious than a bit of a startle and a spilled beverage. My grandmother was a good sport about it, but seeing his mother get plunked didn’t raise my father’s opinion of the game any. There were other incidents, as well (like the time he got hit by a ball that had flown through an open bathroom window) but in general, since nothing ever broke and it kept us from destroying the inside of his house, Dad mostly tolerated the Derby.

That was good, because we played a ton of it.

Each of my brothers had a specialty pitch, crafted for years before I showed up – my brother Mike had a rising fast ball (thrown at about 100mph) that would have you ducking out of the way as it swept through the strike zone. My brother Jim had “The Floater,” which would come dancing up to the strike zone, pause briefly, and then pull your pants down. My brother Bill had a variation of The Floater he called “The Blooper,” but in my memory The Blooper spent most of its time flying up onto the roof (Bill will likely not be pleased about this recollection). Me, I just threw as hard as I could and hoped for the best.

My best, playing against people at least 9 years older with their fancy pitches, was often not good enough. I lost and lost, but I loved to play so much that I would just keep on plugging. I remember one game in particular where my brother Jim and I were pretending to be major leaguers – I was the Red Sox and Jim was the Dodgers. I was actually leading, 3-2, in the 9th inning and I was desperate to win.

That desperation is a funny thing. My brothers were not people who would lay down for anyone, not even their little brother. I had to earn it. That might have been discouraging for some people, but it drove my competitive fire. I wanted to get better and better and keep playing until I could dominate and pay them back for all the years of losing – even at a game like backyard Wiffle Ball.

So, on this particular day, the sun was shining and it was hot, probably July or August. I was standing in my backyard with sweat rolling down my back and into my shorts. I was pretending to be Dennis Eckersley, with his high leg kick, and I was going for a complete game victory.

There were two outs when my brother announced that Bill Russell (the old Dodger shortstop), was batting. I reared back and threw a medium ball on the outside corner and Russell (who, after a long career of being right-handed, was suddenly batting in my brother’s lefty style) flicked it off the siding of the house for a double. The tying run was on base. This was before the World Series collapse in 1986, but I had already been trained to expect bad things for the Sox, even the Wiffle Sox, in the 9th inning.

I tried to reason with myself as Jim announced that Steve Garvey was batting. One out to go and anything – a foul tip, a ground ball, or even a swing and a miss – would mean victory. Sweet, precious victory could be mine. I smiled greedily at the thought of it. I took a deep breath as Jim waved at me with a couple of practice swings. His face was all concentration.

I kicked and threw as hard as I knew how. The tendons in my shoulder strained from the effort, and there was a soft grinding sound in my elbow. The ball tumbled over itself as it whistled unevenly toward my brother. The long plastic bat cut through the air, and in the next instant the ball was bouncing down the shingles of my father’s roof. Home run. Steve Garvey. Ballgame.

My brother wasn’t one to gloat. He patted me on the back, then shook my hand and said, “Good game.” As we walked back into the house, I snuck a look back at him, and noticed him smiling to himself. It was a wide, contagious smile, and it was clear that it came from a place of joy and was not at my expense.

I saw the smile again this past November. Jim was bed-ridden from the cancer that would soon take him from me, and he was quiet, as he often was then. I was sitting on his bed, trying to think of something to say. I looked at him, held his gaze for a moment, smiled, and said, “Damn that Steve Garvey.” He chuckled, and for just a split second we were in the backyard with only Wiffle Balls to worry about.

Back in the Day Tim 11 Mar 2010 7 Comments