Laws.. I’ll start off bluntly by saying I think we need a lot fewer of them. If you ever doubt it, I’d encourage you to go to the nearest school and pick up a neat little 12 pound volume called the Common School Handbook. It is 4 times larger than the bible, the book of Mormon, and Grimms Fairy tails combined. It is filled to the brim with every bright idea that found a majority vote of the state legislature, and slid past the governors veto pen. And that’s just the state rules. It take a CD ROM to hold the policies and procedures necessary to support those laws. And that’s just for the schools. We all live our life out here where the other 172 pounds of law books apply. I honestly don’t believe it is possible for a normal person to go through a waking, working, day without breaking some law some how. Breaking a law is easier than you might think. It could be something as simple as obstructing traffic by driving 54 miles an hour on a two lane road where every one else wants to drive 70, or it could be speeding by driving 60 on the same road the next morning. Heck in here in Kennewick Washington, it could be something as simple as going to the hardware store and buying a water heater. Don’t laugh too quick, I have a dear friend who made the mistake of being a plumber. He happened to install a hot water heater for a city councilman. Now this city councilman had made a serious mistake of his own. He happened to be on the outs with the City Building Department. A big OOP’s. These guys found out about the water heater and then went and dusted off the law books. Seems it was illegal to install a water heater without a special permit. Like I said big OOP’s. Of course only one such permit had been issued in the last several years, but that didn’t stop the forces of law and order. The result was the that the city councilman and his wife spent a weekend barricaded inside their home while the police waited outside. Kind of makes you think that tax levy to buy new police cars might not seem like such a crisis now. Might be hard to convince the tax payers that we need more money to police water heaters. Of course, don’t think the city of Kennewick isn’t tough on other problems. To keep things balance, the police department did confiscate a store full of marijuana trading cards and other similar items deemed drug paraphernalia. The same stuff one can buy legally almost anywhere in the state of Washington. That wouldn’t have been so bad but the city’s been collecting taxes on the sales from this shop for a while now, and had granted the license knowing full well what was being marketed. Nope, it seems the owner made the mistake of calling the police about some BB gun holes in his front door. Next thing you know, he’s a criminal element selling drug paraphernalia. You know how it is, Marijuana trading cards today, Hot water heaters tomorrow. Like I said, I think we got a few too many laws.
Well, Benton City Daze , Benton City’s annual Hoo Raah, has come and gone. The corn has been shucked, cooked and eaten. The pancake breakfast done. And the lawnmower races held, and even the Saturday night fights went ok. Curt had to close the mini mart up last year because it was getting out of hand . He can still point to where they bent the bread shelves before they got the action moved out of doors.
This year things were much better. That’s good, because this is the year that Chyenne,my now 8 year old daughter went to her first street dance. This was because the other Cheyenne was going and had invited her along.. You see there are two 8 year old cheyennes on our street. The other one lives accross from us. The two girsl are a perfect match, theres is the outgoing, athletic blonde, and ours is the shy, not yet studious, brunette. They take turns being in charge, depending on what the event is. We call them the Cheyennes. If I’m not very specific when I call and ask for Cheyenne to come home, I’ll get a random selection of 8 year old girl instead of the one I want. They think it is hillarious. Usually I notice right away if I don’t have the right one.
On this particular night, the Cheyennes had been promised to be taken to the street dance by the other Cheyenne’s parents. Happy that it wouldn’t interrupt my Saturday evening nap, I consented. I watched my Cheyenne put on a dress. Her new school shoes. I watched her watched the clock tick. And then I dozed. When I looked up, it was 8 0’clock. A large disappointed look was swinging over that precious face, tears were not yet forming, the disappointment was coming too gradual to inspire tears. Are they home yet, I asked her. She shook her head, the one with the quivering chin, yes. The two Cheyennes have a built in radar that tracks the movement of parental vehicles. Inside I groaned. I sensed plans gone awry. Time for Super Dad I sensed. Napping Dad didn’t agree, but he still groggy from his nap and so couldn’t argue very well. Call over to Cheyenne and tell her that we’re ready to go I said. Napping dad looked down the hall to the bedroom where covers were pulled back on the bed. Super Dad told him to shut up. Eight years old and stood up for her first dance. I don’t think so. The speed and precision with which she contacted her companion, learned of a mothers headache that had sidelined the expedition, and negotiated the terms of evening was mindboggling. In 15 minutes I had the two Cheyennes on the way to Benton City Street Dance. Moussed, spiffed, and ready to Dance. And Dance they did. They were awesome, they stumbled a bit at first, but soon organized a quarter of main street as kids territory, collected their friends and friends of friends. They formed a large circle, and held hands while they danced to the band up on the trailer bed. The band was good, kind of sounded like Merle Haggard. On the break the girls made me walk them up to Curt’s mini mart where they counted out thier dimes and quarters and bought a package of index cards. The band, they assumed, would want to sign autographs. The band did. I’m not sure who was more pleased. The band or the girls. As for me, I thing even Napping dad was satisfied.
My grand daughter is now 5, going on 6. Her mother was the 4 year old in this piece from my Northwest Public Radio Days.
Bedtime has become a foreign concept in our house. We have a four year old. For the first four years of our little angels life we enjoyed a rare parental privilege. We kissed our child good night, told her a story, brought her some milk, and maybe some grapes or half an apple, and we were free. She went to sleep. No longer, now it’s I'm hungry, seconds after the treat. The water is yucky, the TV from the living room is too loud, could we put on the Aladdin tape instead. The dog is on her bed. The dog isn't on her bed. She wants juice, no she wanted milk. She wants to kiss her mom good night. She wants to tell us she loves us. I've gotten bad. "I'm hungry," she implores. "Good, you'll be hungrier for breakfast." I reply on the way to my own bed, where I'll be met by a smack. "Don't talk to her like that." My wife is a great purveyor of advice. Meanwhile the door opens, a cherubic 4 year old, reminds us that she loves us. And could we make apple sail boats (that's cored, peeled, and quartered for the childless among you). A glare from my wife tells me to get to the kitchen. Apples in hand, I split them with her while she tells me that I should read her a second story. I read to her about Curious George, It's almost 9:00, I'm tired. Like I said, Bedtime has become a foreign concept in our house. Except for my wife, she is sleeping rather soundly.
This was number 39 in my seven year time as a commentator for Northwest Public Radio
Words I admit, I've actually used the word Groovy in a sentence. I've referred to my fellow man as dude, and actually used the phrase: Far Out. I love words, and I love what we do with them. I'll be the first to admit I've had no education in language, so I'm fairly clueless on the mechanisms by which the language change and grow, but like the guy who likes race cars, I don't have to be able to rebuild the engine, just to think it's cool how fast the cars can go. What I like most is how words evolve quickly enough to stump us from time to time but also to fill in uncomfortable voids that our society creates. Take for example the phrase, :Don't go there. This phrase is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's like an exit ramp on life's freeway. It's a non threatening way of saying everything from SHUT UP, to No, thank you, but I don't want to talk about that now. In fact used correctly it can prevent the use of the Phrase SHUT UP or Butt Out in nine out of 10 likely scenarios. Think about it. When John, on his second date, asks Julie, about guys she used to date, she simply says :Don't go there. John, not being a complete fool, listens, avoids the landmines and gets a third date. Our language is developing a huge number of phrases that warn people that they are approaching sensitive territory and need to BACK OFF or Chill. Or Not have a cow, or any other number of things that seem to be a lighter way of using humor to deflect inquiring minds or soften a response. Scarcely a year can't go by that we don't hear an interview with a so cool young lady explaining the nuances of the current "youth speak" to a chuckling interviewer. I kind of envy the people who can pepper their conversation with these tidbits of wordsmithing. By time I get a handle on most of the new words in the language, they have expired. For instance, the Simpsons were on for 4 years before I ever saw an episode. By the time I actually saw the Simpsons, and understood the meaning of the phrase "your such a Homer", to use it in a sentence would have akin to being a homer. I missed out on a big one. Of course now we have the new "Show me the Money" Having missed the movie that gives this phrase it's context, I afraid to use it. I'm hoping the phrase lasts until the movie comes out on video. That would be really groovy.
I grew up in the shadow of my Grandfather. He was cantankerous. In fact, his picture is in the dictionary next to it. But, he lived in a house with indoor plumbing and had horses. Two things that made him tolerable to a five year old. I remember once, on a Sunday after church, him sitting us all down in a restaurant and then getting us all up and leaving because he couldn’t see that a hamburger platter was worth 50 cents. It just wasn’t logical. And he was a logical man. I don’t believe he ever watched Star Trek, but I think he would have liked Mr. Spock, had he gotten over the illogical concept of space flight. He died, secure in the knowledge that man had never really landed on the moon. No, for him, he was sure it had only been a Hollywood sound stage. God only knows what he would have thought of cell phones, but I figure he would have bought one to put out on the tractor. Of course I could be wrong. I can still remember him poo pooing the concept of an air conditioned cab on a tractor. He never had one, didn’t intend to. He didn’t have one on his combine either. I’m not sure he would recognize the combines of today. Of course I don’t think it would matter, if he were still alive today he’d be a 102 years old and probably wouldn’t care. Now I’m not opposed to air conditioning myself. I enjoy it. Without it the weather would be intolerable for the soft bundle of mush I’ve become. But I can still remember when air conditioning meant a swamp cooler that was ran sparingly. It filled the air with moist coolness that smelled great coming out in that great steady gust. But I also remember that an air conditioner went off in the evening when the extended family gathered. Ice cream would be cranked out by hand, each of us taking
our turn setting on the burlap bag atop an old wooden freezer. Guitars would come out, bats would dive in the dusk, the family would sit on the porch and talk of things, we younger ones would sit in the dark, hot from chasing fireflies, content to look up into the night sky for shooting stars. Always looking the wrong way when one came. But we kept looking. The older folks would sing. “I’ll Fly Away, old glory, I’ll Fly away”, and other hymns that were the musical staples. Uncle Ray would play Bill Anderson when he could squeeze it in. And then we would go home. Falling asleep in the back of the car. Recently, I made it home to a family reunion. It was hot. I noticed the guitars cases. I looked forward to the evening. But the heat continued. The air conditioner kept running. No one made a move for the porch. Finally it all broke up and the guitars stayed in their cases.
And I rode home, awake all the way. I can’t blame it on air conditioning, but it did make me think maybe, just maybe, my grandfather was right.
This was from about 15 years ago. For the record I was right and have grandsons to prove it. My stepson Brendon is getting hitched. He just doesn’t know it yet. But I’ve met the girl and it’s pretty clear she and he are heading for that great ceremony in the sky. I only met her once, but she impressed me with her brave soul and light spirit. It started innocent enough. Brendon announced to the family he was making a trip to South Dakota. I have been to South Dakota, many times. I was pretty sure it was either a CIA mission or a girl. Mount Rushmore is a sight, but you don’t go to South Dakota to see it. You see it on your way through South Dakota to get somewhere. And since Brendon isn’t the CIA type, I put my money on the girl. Sure enough he was back in a month, he brought a friend. She was in town for week to “meet the family.” Did I mention her brave soul. She came 1500 miles across the country walked into our house and was assailed by a little sister looking for a new big sister, a mother looking for a grandchild, and two cats looking for a lap. And she met the challenge. She smiled She laughed, she petted the cats. It didn’t stop there, soon came the baby pictures. Had I been this girl, I’d have been hiding out in the driveway looking for my keys. This was clearly a case of two much information, to fast, and occasionally, too bizarre. Suzanne, my wife showed a mean streak that frightened me. She had the best of the worst of the picture album earmarked. You could watch Brendon shrink as his future fiancee, giggling all the while, went through the pictures that chronicled his miss-spent youth. Here was her honey dressed in samurai costume, here was her honey eating rice off of the family shrine (her honey had been raised a Buddhist). The rice was there to feed the ancestors. Here was her honey dressed up in a slinky dress for Halloween. The evening ended, and she still held his hand as they walked into the drive way. She took him back to South Dakota with her. Of course the big question now is what is this brave young girl going to. Since she took him back to South Dakota with her, I figure we didn’t frighten her too much. Of course we still have another picture album.
I wrote this before Washington State became more enlightened, but I still like it.
Laws.. I’ll start off bluntly by saying I think we need a lot fewer of them. If you ever doubt it, I’d encourage you to go to the nearest school and pick up a neat little 12 pound volume called the Common School Handbook. It is 4 times larger than the bible, the book of Mormon, and Grimms Fairy tails combined. It is filled to the brim with every bright idea that found a majority vote of the state legislature, and slid past the governors veto pen. And that’s just the state rules. It take a CD ROM to hold the policies and procedures necessary to support those laws. And that’s just for the schools. We all live our life out here where the other 172 pounds of law books apply. I honestly don’t believe it is possible for a normal person to go through a waking, working, day without breaking some law some how. Breaking a law is easier than you might think. It could be something as simple as obstructing traffic by driving 54 miles an hour on a two lane road where every one else wants to drive 70, or it could be speeding by driving 60 on the same road the next morning. Heck in here in Kennewick Washington, it could be something as simple as going to the hardware store and buying a water heater. Don’t laugh too quick, I have a dear friend who made the mistake of being a plumber. He happened to install a hot water heater for a city councilman. Now this city councilman had made a serious mistake of his own. He happened to be on the outs with the City Building Department. A big OOPs. These guys found out about the water heater and then went and dusted off the law books. Seems it was illegal to install a water heater without a special permit. Like I said big OOPs. Of course only one such permit had been issued in the last several years, but that didn’t stop the forces of law and order. The result was the that the city councilman and his wife spent a weekend barricaded inside their home while the police waited outside. Kind of makes you think that tax levy to buy new police cars might not seem like such a crisis now. Might be hard to convince the tax payers that we need more money to police water heaters. Of course, don’t think the city of Kennewick isn’t tough on other problems. To keep things balance, the police department did confiscate a store full of marijuana trading cards and other similar items deemed drug paraphernalia. The same stuff one can buy legally almost anywhere in the state of Washington. That wouldn’t have been so bad but the city’s been collecting taxes on the sales from this shop for a while now, and had granted the license knowing full well what was being marketed. Nope, it seems the owner made the mistake of calling the police about some BB gun holes in his front door. Next thing you know, he’s a criminal element selling drug paraphernalia. You know how it is, Marijuana trading cards today, Hot water heaters tomorrow. Like I said, I think we got a few too many laws.
I was in Texas for a stopover. My mother’s family was having a reunion in the old school on the mountain. I went out. I didn’t know most of the people. To them I was Betty’s boy, a small memory in a full life. Among these semi strangers was an aunt that I’d known only by name. She left Texas the year I was born, but her name had majic. Juanita. Whenever stories were told of times where fun or interesting things had happened, her name had always come up. I’d never met her. And there she was. 70 years old. Elegant, in a room full of normal. She had come from Virginia to see the family. I listened. Tootsie they had called her. One only had to look at the easy smile, happy eyes, and full figure to know why this woman would bear the name tootsie. It fit like a glove. Later in the day I found her later standing under a live oak tree. She was looking out over the the brown sun baked pasture, dotted with scrub and ceder. I decided to join her. Two Texas expatriots, home, together. It seemed right. You’re Juanita, formerlly known as Tootsie? She laughed a majic laugh. Tootsie and few other names yes. I introduced my self. Sorry that I had to remind her that my grandfather was dead in order for her to place me. He had been her brother. I shared her gaze over the country we had both grown up in, a generation removed. Beautiful, isn’t it. No. She said it’s not beautiful. She was right. It was sun baked, dry, and the trees had to be a hundred years old just to be big enough to give shade. It was home, but it wasn’t beautiful. Not when the temperature in the shade was 102 degrees. I left here 40 years ago. She said. I think of moving back. Her husband had been dead for 14 years. She was alone except for scattered children and grand children. All of which were raised well enough to not need a grandmother. But human enough to want one. As much as she wanted them. My yards too big. She continued. I nodded. I replied, It’s hard to have a nice yard here. Nothing grows good here except for weeds and other things you don’t want to grow. She didn’t need the reminder. We collectively looked at the johnson grass that covered the fence line in front of us. She told me about my great grandfather. Her father. A man that died the year I was born. My mother was 8 months pregnant. No one had ever spoke of him to me before. I listened. She was right about the Texas scrub, It wasn’t beautiful, but it had been home, once.
A Day in the Park “Hey Michelle.” That’s how it started. “Hey Michelle, let me steal Willie from day care. Cheyenne and I are going to the park.” Willie is an instant playmate. For Cheyenne and Willie, 7 and 6 years old respectively, it becomes an afternoon of bliss. A long afternoon of daycare, sterile walls, rules and small play areas give way to the park. Multiple acres of green grass and large play things. Stop by the store, pick up a tub of watermelon pieces, pre cut into those little squares that drip down your chin when you eat them, and you have an instant picnic. Parks are wonderful things. They are one of the few things I believe the government does well. I look at government, it’s collective maze of rules, regulations, and unclear mandates and I wonder how the same process that brought us organized war and the nuclear bomb can actually run a park. But I don’t think of it much because the children are there. They summon my attention, and I give it gladly. These are indeed the halcyon days of parenthood. Bed time stories are still desired. A small hand extends it self for comfort when crossing the street. Your knock knock jokes still bring peals of laughter. Seagulls run and your child still thinks they can be caught, if only they could run faster or turn sharper. If you listen carefully, while pretending to read your book, serious conversation can be overheard. Some concerning how well a six legged green Kangaroo can hop. Other things can also become very clear in the minds of children. My daughter, said to her friend Willie: “God is everywhere. In the grass and in the trees.” While a good catholic, she has a very open mind. “That means we’re sitting on God,” said Willie. He laughed. He likes the power and continued. “That means if we climbed a tree, we would be standing on God." Not to be outdone Cheyenne took it to the next level. “If we were flying, then we’d be stepping on God.” Now I’m not sure that great theologians of the world would appreciate the thought. But in the midst of my pondering on parks and the government, this talk of God gave me more to ponder. Wondering how governments can make parks and war is trivial next to wondering how the same God than can cause an earthquake that kills thousands can manage to create the delicate beauty of a butterfly. I don’t know the answer to either question. But I do know this. Neither Gods nor governments are all powerful. They both need us, the believers. They need our confidence and our faith to survive. A government without confidence of the people is a failure and god without believers is a myth. And since I find that both God and government seem to be doing a good job of it, they can have my confidence and my belief. So for now, I’m content to set in a government park on God’s grass and watch a child I fathered play with her favorite playmate in a bliss that can only be found in childhood and only appreciated in parenthood.
There are few things in the world that are as valuable as our memories.Some linger under the surface, constantlythere to remind us of the good, or bad times that make us who and what we are.
Others lie deeper,hidden, waiting for the chance encounter,These memories wait,until the chance encounter with that trip wire that pulls them from the depths with raw jagged power.These are not the memories worn smooth from constant use, these memories instead tear us out of our rut, they carry us back in time to feel the raw pain of loss , regret, or simply smack us with the hard reality that we were once that person.We caused that pain, that hurt.
Others wash over us with warmth and joy.They make laugh out loud, smile with the knowledge that life is worth living and we have lived it with a vigor that is deserving of the blessing of life.These memories will give us a bittersweet joy that is bestsavored before we let them fade.
As for me, I find that few of the paths not taken call to me from the deep, instead they give me a warm sense of satisfaction,they let me revel in the paths taken, the friends known and loved, the goals achieved and the love of those who have surrounded me.The greatest blessing I would bestow on any fellow traveler in this world is that they can find the same comfort in in the paths taken as they look on the memories as a solid path leading forward to the future when they become our lessons, and our guideposts.They give the contrast for us to measure and define the good and the bad within us,Who we were and who we are. The most fortunate bit of all of this is that these guideposts can serve to guide us in who we become, what are the paths we will take.
To all my friends that have led to me to today and held my hand from beside me or from a thousand miles away, I love you and thank you.