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Hey Amy, check out the picture below. Not the butt of the guy or even your butt-of-a-guy, husband, but that playground contraption first butt guy is kneeling in front of (his dog leach is wrapped around the base—that’s another story). I want to call it a carousel, but I don’t think that’s right.

During my daily walk, in my efforts to delay the Reaper I went to the “Fish Park” one of many parks we took the boys when they loved us, before we became just branch offices of “Need Cash Now.”  Other parks were “The Scooper Park,” and “The Purple Park.”

One Saturday you tasked me to get out of the house with Brandon when he was like four maybe. It was an overcast day, but a lot of kids and similarly tasked parents were at the Fish Park. At one point the kids were on that very contraption in the photo and spinning it in a lame, uncoordinated way that is symptomatic of ignorant youth. So, I went over, maybe at Brandon’s urging, I don’t remember, and started spinning the thing in one direction. The children were delighted, laughing and shouting. The faster it spun, the greater the thrill, or so it seemed. Children came from every corner of the city and piled on for the ride.

At one point, a fellow father joined on the other side and aided my propulsion with his efforts. Silent, male teamwork began. We formed a testosterone bond, the kind in old drawings of fortresses being erected. We doubled the exertion and the contraption picked up speed. I heard my wedding ring clang against the metal rails, I looked over at Other Father and he was working it, his face a knot of determination to spin this thing faster. We nodded at each other. Men. I leaned into it, together this thing was gonna be the best ride ever.

The screaming continued, but the tone changed, I was aware that the ride was ejecting children who lacked the iron will to remain, weaker things that the herd needed to expel. Some just flew into the sand, but at least one soared with eagles into a tree. _Find your destiny_ I remember thinking. The contraption was white hot, and the fabric of time was beginning to rend, I could see glimpses of ancient Spartans clashing with Persian hordes, and the glittering spires of a grand Trump-less future.

And then this woman began cursing! She turned the air blue with outrage, telling me and my fellow locomotion provider that children were scared and we were “dumb fucks” for not paying attention.

To be fair, only one or two, clearly green, children were still blurring by. One had apparently lashed himself to a handle. Many were crying in heaps, some limped to their mothers’ embracing arms.

Somewhere in all of that Brandon had removed himself, in the four-year-old-version of “fuck this.” Brandon has always impressed me with his survival acumen.

Other Father and I said something to foul mouthed mother, I did not appreciate her vulgarity in front of children, but I engaged her respectfully.

Other Father and I shrugged at each other and went back to our lives of quiet, parental desperation.

Wanted to share that golden memory with you.

 

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Job Security Part Two: “Oh, the Places You’ll Guard”

(Some names have been changed ‘cause some of this stuff is embarrassing)

Amy, my love (who isn’t me), as my birthday approaches, it’s time for another covid fueled look back at ‘80s J.

In our last installment your husband-to-be was a college student in the Reagan years freshly hired as private security. Guarding was a temporary gig, a dues-paying layover on the way to glory.

My plan to embrace my future was simple: get my bachelors’, search the want ads, go to the many “Writers job fairs” no one ever hears about, get hired to compose prose and start spending the torrents of cash my words would earn. Swimmin’ pools. Movie stars. Stephen King was looking nervously over his shoulder as I neared graduation.

Yes. You married an idiot. I know that’s not news, but this document is more evidence for your file.

I settled into my new job of taking a bite out of crime by working any location in the metro where trouble was likely to surface. Of course, I wasn’t Batman, my boss, Jim S. negotiated a contract before we were dispatched to protect and secure. Wherever there’s a parking lot, convention center, festival, wedding, alcohol being consumed, wherever there’s a cop beating a guy, look for me ma, I’m probably the cop.

There was little glamor or flash to guarding things, most jobs are like that I suppose. At no time did I ever have to carry Whitney Houston through a concert crowd or away from Bobby Brown. If someone had amassed a mound of feces on a railcar that needed protection from turd burglars, we were likely to be the successful bidders.

Thanks to guarding I’ve been to more wedding receptions than those guys in _Wedding Crashers_.  I was not as accomplished at picking up available women at these events, but it may have had something to do with the fact that my job was suppressing peoples’ fun.  That did not prevent many of my fellow guards from scoring, however.  Is it possible that I was not as handsome? Not as charming? That my night stick was less alluring? I must be careful as I stare into the abyss. But then, how much interest does my wife have in the action I wasn’t getting in my twenties?

Moving on.

In security work you often have to be out in the weather. Murderous heat, meat locker cold, biblical rain, nuclear winter snowfall—-all on the wind-swept Great Plains. Security contracts, like the honey badger, don’t care. Some underpaid chump must occupy a dimly lit place and make rounds to protect other people’s property. Compensation was a major drawback. Working for the lowest bidder in town translates to your income being equivalent to the change that gathers in the cup of a dancing monkey. And the monkey is held in higher esteem.

On the plus side there was no shortage of interesting material for a man who was working on his novel. As I’ve demonstrated, security work treated me to a panorama of characters and situations not offered by stocking at Hy Vee. It was like a circus parade.

There was Malone, an ex-cop who ran call girls out of a bar downtown. Malone taught me that when hitting someone with a pistol try to drive the butt into either side of the head and discharge the weapon upon contact.  “It can blow their ear drum,” he advised. So far, I have been unable to work this tidbit into my life, but tomorrow shines brightly.

Frank (my friend since the 4th grade). Frank took his authority to heart. Once, at the Civic Auditorium, Frank refused to let Tom Petty (yes, THE Tom Petty) into an event without paying admission.  Petty was heartbroken—har! I hope Frank would have made an exception for Springsteen.

Stoop and Poop. Honestly, if I ever knew his real name, I forgot it. He branded himself with this cognomen by making a bold speech at a mandatory team meeting (for which we were never paid) wherein he declared loudly he was ex-service, and “I know how to stoop, and I know how to poop!”  On a hot sticky night guarding the Summer Arts Festival, Frank, the site supervisor, convinced Stoop and Poop that he was too good for such a stupid assignment and he should quit. S&P took Frank’s argument to heart and walked off the job. Jim was furious, because Stoop and Poop pure gold in the showing up department.

Scrap Iron. He didn’t work for SL&B, he was the bouncer at Big Jim’s Bar, a ROUGH establishment on the north side where SL&B guarded the parking lot. One night the manager came out yelling for security to come inside to break up a fight. One guard asked: “Where’s Scrap Iron?” The manager replied: “They threw him out the back door!” When the sound of gun fire began echoing from inside, SL&B’s close out sale merc squad wisely scattered under various parked cars to await the arrival of professionals.

Big Tom (my friend since the 7th grade). Tom was a very good guard, so he was doomed. Tom not only showed up, he took the job seriously, believing people deserved service. The big in Tom was both his heart, and his measurements. Around 300 pounds. Anytime Tom had to lay down security law his opponent would pull the fat card and try to fat shame him.  This will reach critical mass in part four.

Naut. Naut was something you send to haunt a house. It would not be out of line to expect Naut to swing out of a bell tower. He was as big as a sofa, and like most sofas just got dirtier, rougher looking over time and for God’s sake never smell it. He carried a revolver with a butt held together with electrical tape and would often set himself on fire. Okay, he let his cigarette ash drop and burn holes in his clothing. I watched it happen and would alert him that hot cinders were eating through his shirt. Sometimes he would brush it off. Sometimes we both just watched it burn. But, and this is key: HE SHOWED UP. Jim’s gold standard baseline of employee performance excellence (which pertains to all jobs):  SHOW UP. My job was to show up to relieve Naut in the mornings before human beings arrived to discover we had shaved a Big Foot and given it a job. Naut was also stunningly inarticulate and could not always be understood. It may have been his lack of teeth, but his sentences often came out sounding like: “Ardy-Ardy-DingDong.”  Big Tom’s young son would announce Naut’s arrival shouting: “Daaaad! Ardy-Ardy-DingDong’s here.”

The fact that he was a real human being that could be conveyed in such fantastic fashion remains incredibly sad to me. I never tried to discover how he became Naut. That is on me.

Salted through this period of my life was my growing appreciation for the loveliness of the night.  Evenings where the stars glittered like glass beads and birdsong and summer flowers seasoned the air. People were mostly sleeping; traffic sounds were far away so it was just me and God. There is something comforting in the isolation of the midnight stretch.

But being a rent-a-cop was about establishing and keeping peace more than savoring it. In the early ‘80s I worked a lot of places where the faces changed but the ugly never let up.

Parking lots. Lots and lots of parking lots. Any parking lot where teenagers would gather to be teen aged (Burger Kings, W.C. Franks, haunted houses) that had an owner with insurance liability had the potential to have me show up and confiscate their beer, interruptus their coitus and generally rain on the fun. I did not enjoy it, but I got very, very good at it. At some point I started to take security work personally.

Apartments. Apartments seem to host a lot of bad human behavior. Probably because people live in them. I walked around various apartment complexes at night watching cars, smelling dinner being prepared, hearing favorite television shows behind closed doors, periodically asking people to turn their music down. I was a force for mundane justice. On the more intimidating end of the dial there was low income housing on the north side. There, when fun went sideways on Fridays and Saturdays people got shot. Other nights too, but I only did apartment search-and-destroy-fun missions on Fridays and Saturdays.

I worked every weekend for eight years.

Salem Baptist Church. Churches are hot beds of sin. It isn’t just teenagers that have sex in cars. Cheating spouses and the horny faithful all chase the backseat boogaloo. One of the dumbest things I ever did (yes, I know how large that list is) was walk into a mob of people having some dispute over race, religion, sex, or some damn thing, and order them to disperse. God was at Salem Baptist Church that night and he kept me alive.

The House of Large Sizes— a clothing store for plus size women. I walked the aisles in uniform preventing full-figured ladies from shoplifting. Nothing I say here will ever be as funny as I think it is, so I’m moving on.

See? I have gotten marginally smarter in 61 years.

The Game Gal-Ry a hugely popular ‘80s video arcade at the bustling Southroads Mall. Teenagers, underage drinking, cocaine, parking lot sex, Donkey Kong. It was all there. I broke up fights and persuaded players not to beat the machines that beat them. I was a parent without the grocery overhead. I so endeared myself to the clientele (One regular named me “The Bald Eagle”) that twice someone loosened the lug nuts on my left rear tire and each time that tire flew off in traffic. Checking my car for sabotage became one more game played at the Gal-Ry.

The Franklin Credit Union (pre-embezzlement, prostitution and devil worship scandals). I worked the lobby during the day and later the night watch. This was pre-Internet or 24-hour television (dinosaurs still roamed the Earth and three channel TV actually went off the air). I had to read books.

Car dealerships. We would often watch car lots at night to prevent vandalism and theft. I would protect vast sprawls of expensive property I could not afford. I would dream over the gleam of vehicles, wrenched from my fantasy at how distant such a purchase was by the stickers in the windows. I came to understand why cars get stolen.

Not every miniscule paycheck involved guarding things. My boss Jim was a licensed private investigator, so I got to follow cheating spouses and collect proof; when we delivered the news to one cuckold, I was sure we were abetting a murder. Instead, the giant husband wept, his heart entirely broken.

We repossessed cars. With the title and keys in hand we would legally reclaim the bank’s property when folks fell behind on payments. The pure act of stealing a car and knowing you will get away with it is a big rush.  Frank had a shotgun leveled at him during one escapade and his partner, Bone, advised the defaulted fellow: “You kill him. I kill you.”

Over a car.

On the plus side we were tipped twenty dollars for every car we reclaimed.

One security task prevented folks from stealing cars, in another we stole those cars when folks couldn’t afford them: It’s the circle of life.

Motor vehicle adventures continued with valet parking for the upper crust at swanky parties. Our ever-present companion was the weather. We stood outside in the heat, the rain, the falling, clinging snow watching other people going inside to have a great time. Did you know that the wrong Lincoln Continental key might still start some other guy’s Lincoln Continental? Yes, you will drive up with the horn honking, the lights flashing and the alarm going off, but the wrong car is running and can be driven. There is no tip in such circumstances.

Frank and I painted Jim’s house. When I did the math, I found that we made less money painting than we did guarding shit, so I had to negotiate a pay boost. Jim hated having me around the office because I was always reading his official business communications and correcting his text. Terminating me for insubordination was not on the table, because I was the poster child for showing up.

Why did I keep showing up? One, I’m pretty sure we’ve established I’m a dipshit. Another factor is the whole economy was in a massive recession with an unemployment rate around 10%. Options were not abundant. Also, I was taking the work personally; guarding became in some way about me.  I refused to back down. I would do whatever I was being paid fool’s wages for because I was not going to give in to fear.

Yep, you had children with that guy.

One aspect of security work that resonated– the range and complexity of human situations I met on the clock. While I spent most of my time thinking only of myself (my greatest natural ability), sometimes I got a window into other lives that forced me to pause.

Once, I had to guard a federal prisoner. Before you think I was staring down some tattooed thug with a sharpened toothbrush looking to shank me (and I may change the story later) I was actually watch-dogging a tiny young woman in the hospital who had just given birth to her son via Caesarian section. I was pretty sure I could catch her if she made a break for it. Just watching her try to walk was painful, so I can only imagine how she felt. I have no idea what crime put her behind bars. I don’t know her story and I wasn’t sharp enough, human enough, to ask. On a warm Friday night, I watched her rock her newborn son. From a distance I saw doctors take the infant away. She cried as her bonding time concluded and she surrendered her baby to whatever was ahead. I don’t remember the prisoner’s name.

I don’t know if anyone does.

Next: Part Three, “There is an A-hole in Everyone.”

 

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It’s Yesterday Once More

The very last thing I ever texted you were these words: “Ed, where are you?” I was trying to come visit. That was when I still stupidly thought you were going to get better, to go back to being some young, healthy man again. I held onto that idea until a few days before the end.

This month marks a year since that day we stood in your hospital room and watched them disconnect you. You fought to keep breathing but slipped away pretty fast. Maybe twenty minutes.  I wanted to say something that did not focus on those last, awful years as your vitality rotted and you shuffled painfully when you could move at all.

That’s not the way I choose to remember you.  I think of you pretty much every day and the memories are embers that bring me warmth.  I heard someone say that life is a series of moments. Now not all of them are vital or even coherent but for me some radiate a kind of comforting light. What follows isn’t a rounded, fair account, it’s a vaguely directed, drifting free association, because recently a song came on and suddenly it was a hot Saturday afternoon in the late ‘70s…

City News and Book on 16th and Douglas is crowded with readers. You’re standing at the front counter ringing up purchases, I’m helping someone find a book in the aisles. I’m thinner and you are heavier. I have a first-time beard, all my hair and yours is jet black. We are both 19, maybe 20, we will never die, and just getting started in the thing called life.

City News’ summers were hot. One didn’t just perspire, one might actually confess or hallucinate. People really had to want to buy books and magazines to stand around in that inferno. Wet summer customers would quietly simmer in the racks, reading.

At City News we sold books, magazines, newspapers, Hallmark products, pickle cards and smut. Lots of smut. Lots and lots, many thousands of dollars’ worth of porn. Dirty books with titles like, _The Devil’s Sperm Runs Cold_ and magazines full of exposed, air brushed flesh. No novelties. The city fathers often went after the owners as filth mongers. The skin mags revealed a lot, not just in their content, but in who sought them out. The porn aisle was the great equalizer.  One might meet a preacher’s son or a city father.

We worked the weekend and week day evening shifts for a woman we called “The Wolf.” Our pal Frank used to advise us on how to negotiate with her (“Listen, woof…”). We didn’t take his advice, but we found lots of other ways to be rude and obnoxious. There was a crew of antique women who worked alongside The Wolf during the week. Marian, Jane and Mary. You became good friends with Mary often visiting her and fixing things at her apartment.  I think she filled some kind of mother gap in you.  On Sundays we worked with the Wolf’s giant cub, Monica.  A towering high schooler who routinely paid to see _Grease_ or _Star Wars_ every weekend.

At City News we each earned two dollars an hour. I’ve earned lots more an hour since but have rarely had as much fun on the clock. There was also the sole benefit of being able to take anything we wanted and read it. We all treated the place like a lending library. Take it away, read it, bring it back, never spend a dime.  Remember Katie who worked one night a week for the reading rights? Katie could never be fired because she wanted the reading benefit. The Wolf would fire her and Katie would still show up and work. The Wolf did fire one young lady named Ruth for being “too short” and I said, “Wow we’re Ruth-less.” The Wolf fired both of us eventually and oddly I ended up firing Katie and others.

We’d use rubber bands to shoot flies. You got pretty good at it. When we’d compete you’d always have more dead flies than me.  Why were there so many flies? Probably because we ate a lot of food from so many places now long gone (the Olympic, Pik Wik, Maxies, Shiksa’s Deli) and we made a mess that we left behind for others. Then came the morning The Wolf chewed my ass and called us pigs.

Inventory. We hated inventory. We had to bring friends in for that princely two dollars an hour and we had to count every book, magazine and card in the effing place. It took a small army a long night to get it done.  Porn loses something when you have to count it.

You took over my shift the day my mother died. Months later we were both at the counter when you got the call that your father died. I said I was sorry and that I would take over so you could go home. You said there was no need and you kept on working. I did not understand that then and just attributed it to the part of you that you kept hidden. You kept that closeted part until the end.

One Saturday we closed the store, stayed on the clock and went to the Star Trek Convention at the Orpheum before The Motion Picture came out. You let me stay and hear George Takei speak and you went back and opened the store. An unusual act of kindness for young Ed WhiteEagle (that was how you traveled back then).

On a Sunday we closed the store stayed on the clock and went to the Auto Show at the Civic Auditorium. A terminal offense? Probably. An abuse of trust?  Absolutely. Fun? Oh yeah.

We watched parades go by the front window, we closed the store (again on the clock) and watched them implode the Woodman of the World building.

There are no photos of you in the bookstore because for a guy who had a photography hobby you oddly refused to have your picture taken. You only loosened up as you got older. I wish I had pictures of late ‘70s Ed. You had that Yashica camera that you would loan to me and I took awful snapshots of Willie Nelson’s Kansas Summer Picnic and Elvis Presley’s last Omaha concert.

On Tuesday August 16th 1977 when Elvis died you called me at City News. You said, “J., did you hear? Elvis croaked.” While I was sacking a woman’s purchases I parroted you out loud, “Elvis croaked?” The woman went white, her eyes clouded over, and she ran out of the store without her purchase.  Over the weeks came the incredible rush for Elvis material. Books, magazines, newspapers. Elvis was indeed everywhere. It was a frenzy. You had never liked Elvis, but your antipathy grew exponentially with all the demand and furor in the weeks after his passing. Remember the Elvis fan who wanted the National Enquirer with the photo of Elvis in his coffin? You yelled out to me so everyone could hear, “J! We got any more ‘Elvis in the box?!’” The lady went crimson with rage and accused you of disrespecting and being jealous of The King. You laughed like you were talking to a half-wit and asked, “Why would I be jealous of a dead fat guy?” You had a way with people. Not always a good way…

Once you marked some little Hallmark pencil decorations as “Ten cents apiece or eight for a dollar.” We sold a lot of that bargain. Only one guy questioned it.

We almost got robbed by a guy who was smarter than us but not equipped to deal with our complete lack of customer service. The guy faked a pickle card win. We didn’t know it was fake but we told him we couldn’t pay him. The Wolf was THRILLED we did not honor the payout.  She made it clear that we had no winners in our pool of pickle cards. We thought about that. She knew we had no winners in our jar? Hmmm.

We did get robbed by two guys who were smarter, or at least more experienced than you or me. They spilled change over the counter and when you bent down to pick it up one reached into the open register drawer and pulled out the tens and twenties. We used to keep the twenties under the tray but we got busy, sloppy and got nailed. I remember you shouting to me in a panicked voice. I think you were most angry because you were outsmarted by someone. I was just glad we were robbed without looking down a gun barrel. We went to the police station and looked at acres of mug shots.  All criminals look alike.

This was when Omaha had a horse track, so we sold racing forms and many tip sheets.  For a time, we opened the tip sheets, compiled a summary of all the details cited and calculated the best horses then re-sealed the tip sheets. We made a chunk of change having your uncle place bets for us. And we lost it all.

We’d play the stereo loud. Mainly pop music radio or whatever you wanted to hear. I don’t remember having a say when we were both on duty because you felt I had no taste. Sometimes you brought in LPs of your choice that we’d drop on the turntable. Sometimes the customers liked the music, sometimes not.  The band Kiss came in once when I was working solo and playing my 8 track tapes. They told me I had no taste.

Bookstore visitors covered a broad spectrum. We had regulars, stars, freaks and friends. The dyspeptic Barrel with Legs who hated any tunes we played, (“That music is raucous, purely raucous!”). I caught Waxface stealing porn. When I told him he couldn’t come back he looked shattered. There was the lady who was praying loudly in the center aisle for God’s angels to smite us. I advised her she could not call down God’s wrath during business hours. She objected strongly to that. A battle of wills ensued. I ended up strangling her to death. You helped me hide the body because you were my pal.

Kidding. Like so many things long ago I don’t remember how that episode ended.

Shoulda taken better notes. My biggest flaw, if we ignore the fact I was a jerk, was not taking better notes. I stupidly thought I would always remember the incredible variety of events that swept us along at City News and Book.

We brought our imaginations to City News. We were creating all the time. We were both going to be writers back then. You would sit down on the step ladder we used for a chair and scrawl out stories on the backs of brown paper magazine bags. You wrote stories about Thudmore Crevice, Helen Earth, who married H. G. Wheels and became Helen Wheels. There was Wek, the shadow boxing Neanderthal, Mo and Jo, Space Chumps, and their ship, the Zircon Reflection.

Me? I would just goof around making jokes doing funny voices and mixing incongruent situations, trying to twist reality to get laughs. I would free style with oral monologues like The Tribulations of Officer O’Clancy, Beware the Mayonnaise Harlequin, The Uninteresting Adventures of the Shadow and of course, Mike Blaze: Personal Dick. I was always looking for stories, ways to change the mundane into something memorable.

We created our music group, the Great Plains Buffalo Chip Band. We had album titles like _Chip to Shore_ and _Chippity Doo Dah_.   We didn’t have albums, just titles.  We sorta wrote songs. We riffed on things like the word “funk” years before it was a thing (“Mean Mother Funker, “What the Funk”). I wrote lots of funny, small minded lyrics that aren’t funny anymore but are still small minded. We had our entrances to the stage planned when we played the big arenas. You would rise out of the floor wearing a giant hat with a hologram of the Battle of Gettysburg, I would fly in on a flaming chariot. Mike had to swing in on a rope because we ran out of money. Seemed super hilarious then. The band was doomed because you were the only one of us who could play an instrument.

We started our company, Ewe-Fokker Enterprises. “Ewe Fokker, the world’s oldest expression” it said on our business cards. No one was ever so creative, not even us.

The Mighty Avengers social club and bowling team would gather at the front of the store on Saturday afternoons. We’d all be reading something.  John Monasterio, Andy Monasterio, Russ Marquardt, Dave Austin, and we’d plan our Saturday night. Foosball, pool. Almost always a movie. And of course, the bar.

Sunday mornings I’d walk down from church clear eyed and sober while you’d crawl into work, late, hung over at legendary proportions. Towering Monica, who worked those mornings with us would do everything she could to increase your misery. She truly delighted in irritating you. You had a way with the ladies, but not always a good way…

We worked together at the bookstore for how long? Two years? Is that all? So much wonderful in a short span. I suspected the time was special and I tried to savor it but it went fast. Should have taken better pictures, made better notes. I wish I knew what I have forgotten. You know, I have no idea if the bookstore years meant that much to you.  Those days glow golden in my heart.

Many more adventures ensued and sometimes I took better notes and you appeared in more photos. We grew together where we could and respected where we couldn’t, all while the years kept tumbling forward.

Until for you they stopped.

So, this memory ends where they all start for you and me: the laughs. Like the song says, “It’s the laughter we remember, whenever we choose to remember.”

Ed, here’s to the series of moments called City News and Book, their golden glow and the way we were.

City_news_sign

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On the Last Day of Summer Vacation

Amy, during my most recent quarterly review as your husband you expressed concern in the Fatherhood competency category. You asked, “Why did Brandon try to reach mom on a day dad was clearly designated as the Parent on Duty?” My report on those events is below. I have filed it as, “The events of August 16th, 2016” I suspect you will add it as another chapter in your ongoing story: “J. is an Idiot.” I have recreated the key scene below. I have omitted some minor facts which make me look bad/worse:

Brandon and Ryan are sitting with me in the living room. I am in dad mode: calm, thoughtful, almost beatific, and ruggedly handsome.

J: “Gentlemen, all morning long what did I say had to happen?”

Ryan: (age 8, responds like someone who has memorized a speech): “Boys, I have a conference call at 11:00. I am at work and cannot be disturbed during that time.”

J: (patiently, radiating fatherly mastery of the situation) “I got everyone set-up with device codes after making sure chores were done, I did my part. I really needed to have that hour come together. I was phoning-in to an important meeting.”

We sit in silence until Brandon (age 12) says: “Can I go now?”

J: “No. (pause for effect) So I’m downstairs and I hear lots of commotion, but I think, _the boys will handle themselves, they know that dad is Working from Home_. Then during my conference call I get a text from your mother who is asking why Brandon is trying to call mom. Brandon, why were you calling mom at work?”

Brandon: “Because you were on your important call.”

J: “And what was so urgent that you needed a parent at just that moment?”

Ryan: “You suck Brandon.”

J: “Quiet Ryan. Brandon, why did you call mom?”

Brandon: “Because you were on your…”

J: “I get that, what were you calling her about?”

Brandon: “Ryan was shaving his legs.”

Ryan: “I hate you Brandon.”

J: “Ryan was shaving his legs? Ryan, why were you shaving your legs?”

Brandon: “Well…”

Ryan: “Shut up Brandon! Because the hair was getting long! Geez! (he does not use the word, “moron,” but I sense it was there).

Brandon: “Guys don’t shave their legs, Ryan!”

Ryan: “Olympic swimmers do!”

Brandon: “You’re not an Olympic swimmer!”

Ryan: “Not if I can’t shave my legs!”

J: (holds up hands) “Quiet please Ryan. So, Brandon, did he have a razor, or a knife, was he in danger of hurting himself?”

Brandon: “No…”

J: “Did he have scissors?”

Brandon: “No…”

J: “So how was he shaving his legs?”

Brandon: “He had mom’s noise hair trimmer.”

J: (long pause): “He was shaving his legs with a nose hair trimmer?”

Brandon: “Yes.”

J: “So, you tried to call your mom.”

Brandon: “Yes.”

J: “Why?”

Brandon: “Uhm, well, I figured it was wrong to shave your legs with a noise hair trimmer. I have to do something.”

(I recognize the need to do something, because I’m feeling it now, but at this point I go into a kind of parental vapor lock. If I were a TV computer I’d be waving my arms and smoking and repeating, “Punish, laugh, be wise! Punish, laugh, be wise!”

J: (after a long silence I make a weak choice and go with “Punish.”) “Okay, until I figure out what to tell your mother everyone is grounded.”

So, that’s my report. On the plus side Ryan’s legs look fabulous.

Respectfully Submitted,

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Interesting, But Not Fantastic (Four)

My intention is not to take cheap shots at this film. I’m sure a lot of talented people worked very hard to produce a winner here. There have been a total of four FF films made. An early, Roger Corman cheapie, two Fox big budget misfires in the first ten years of the 21st century, and now this one.

Sadly, the advance reviews and word of mouth seem very accurate in registering the disappointment this most recent outing delivers.

As someone who grew up in the ‘60s reading and re-reading, steeping in the original Lee/Kirby 101 issues I have a profound home in my gut for the legend. I’m not married to the canon but clearly no big screen interpretation has been able to capture the spirit of those foundational stories. Actually an argument can be made that Brad Bird did so with The Incredibles. The key there and in the comic book FF is family. The FF are ultimately a dysfunctional family that bonds together to save the world from equally fantastic perils.

This iteration of the FF is directed by Josh Trank whose movie Chronicle was a truly superior “found hand-held footage” people-with-super-powers surprise a few years back. Like that film his FF is dark both visually and in tone. There isn’t a light touch moment to be had here and that was something the founding FF had in great abundance once it found its footing. This interpretation takes matters too seriously and fails to capture the soap opera froth of the source fiction. In canon the four steal a United States rocket ship and accidently expose themselves to cosmic radiation. This question provoking origin is the launch pad for some of the greatest super hero comic story arcs of all time.

It may be that very collective history that works against this movie. Take away the weight of the Fantastic Four and this is an interesting idea that is professionally crafted. This flick has great effects and good performers but the script takes itself very seriously so little fun is had by the principles and the audience. The hour and forty minutes goes by with little energizing audience engagement taking place. You watch it not really caring about the characters once the early, childhood years are put behind us. The sheer burden of having to be the Fantastic Four may have hurt an otherwise interesting story.

The Thing has improved visually with each flick, from a rubber suit with visible zipper to Michael Chiklas sheathed in shiny orange plastic we now have a totally CGI figure. This all digital Thing is the best to date, but even this one fails to capture the great pain that is felt by him in this science experiment gone super-wrong.

Still, my greatest disappointment is the continual failure to put Dr. Doom on the screen in the way he deserves. Doom is probably the greatest comic book villain of the 20th century. Without him there is no Darth Vader, but so far he is not being portrayed as the genius/noble/disfigured diplomatically immune Latverian ruler in techno armor. I would say the same thing to folks dumbing down Doom as I would to Zack Snyder: “Have more faith in the source material. Stick to the legend.”

I don’t imagine this interpretation will have legs or produce a sequel. Another reboot is almost certainly going to come about. Anyone know what Brad Bird is doing?

NOTE: The contents of House of J. are copyright 2015 by J. D. Rummel. Use of any material contained therein is expressly forbidden without the written permission of the author.

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I Was Spock

Today, I’m reflecting on something big that is suddenly gone.

Like so many I got into Star Trek when it went into syndication. Sometime around the summer of ’70 or ’71, one of our three TV channel pipelines to the world began running it at 6:00. I started watching it every day. I’d seen episodes of the third season when it ran on prime time but in reruns I was captured forever. From that run I watched every episode many times and many times since. I’ve viewed and enjoyed the other Trek offerings, but Trek classic, the original series, is hosted in me today. I know that of the 79 episodes only a handful are really good. But I still watch the beautifully remastered reruns on Saturday nights now. Yes, I know the episode titles, who wrote many of them and how they have been surgically damaged, editing “disposable” scenes and lines in order to cram in a few more ads for siding and car insurance.

Yesterday, Feb 27th 2015, Leonard Nimoy passed away. Mr. Nimoy was many things. He was an actor, poet, director, photographer, husband, father, but mainly to me he was Mr. Spock.

Mr. Spock. I don’t have to tell anybody who that is. That is a testament to the cultural footprint of Star Trek. The details on Mr. Spock can get foggy for some. We know the pointy ears, a smaller but still quite large contingent know he was the alien who claimed to have no emotions but in reality he managed the same ones we all have.

I so admired his mind, the cool, cerebral approach to things. I don’t know how Spock would have been developed by another actor because Mr. Nimoy was the artist granted the privilege of breathing life into the fiction. Spock has taken his place alongside all the great characters of human stories. In my eyes he changed the world with his portrayal. Well, my world.

My world. In my RIP message on Facebook I thanked Mr. Nimoy for Mr. Spock, because that is what I felt: gratitude. While the character was a gift to the world of fiction, it was also something special that he gave to me, that I could cling to growing up, trying to find my way. I loved when he would calculate quickly when presented with a need to know the percentages on some issue facing the crew of the Enterprise. I quickly learned I could not do that. When the weekly crisis presented itself he met it with a raised eyebrow and a refusal to just react without thought. He insisted on engaging his mind in stressful situations. I have managed over the years to get better at that. His relationship with Kirk was my relationship with my own emerging personality traits, my ego, my temper my emotional side, the 360 degrees of my humanity. I was very emotional growing up, crying “too much,” or raging around. I had only a few good friends in my grade school and middle school years. On some level when I was an angry or hormonal young man I used Mr. Spock as an approach to manage my emotions and reactions to the world. I used my vocabulary and brain to build a place I could survive like a primitive might use a cave. Before I found my own place in most interactions I used Mr. Spock as a way to cope with being different on a ship full of humans. Spock helped me deal with my alien side. I now know that we are all aliens in some way, that all of us feel like an outsider at times regardless of who loves us or how good a life we have.

So, thank you again Mr. Nimoy for Mr. Spock. Like so many things I did not realize how big you were until you were missing.

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Another Glowing Bruce Springsteen Review

In November of 2012 on a Thursday night I watched Bruce perform during his “Wrecking Ball” tour. I never posted the review. So, a half year later…

Another Glowing, Awe Struck Bruce Springsteen Review

Yeah, the world needs another one of these, but Hell, it’s my blog so here goes:

Was it my last Bruce Springsteen concert? I wondered that going into the arena because both the Boss and I are continuing our advancing time lines (better than the sudden stop, but the Hover Round waits patiently for all of us). Well, if the extravaganza I watched is any indication, Bruce and I may just live forever. To some degree any ticket to any show is a contract. Buy the ticket, get a show. You go hoping it’s worth the money, but how seriously the actors/players/perfomers take the contract is always a gamble.  Bruce clearly takes his end of the contract very, very seriously. He told us so, stating that he wanted our hands to hurt, our feet to hurt, and our sexual organs stimulated. He does not coast, he never phones it in. Many stories have been written about how Springsteen always performs like it’s the last show he will ever do. It is true. He comes on that stage and labors joyfully, bringing an intensity that is almost always spellbinding. I’ve seen him eleven times and have never left the show feeling less than totally spent and completely full at the same time. Last night he played 26 songs for 3 hours and six minutes, about average for this leg of a tour that started in April. Bruce’s average would be most performers’ best night ever.

Last Thursday I watched a 63 year old man work a crowd of 12,000 people into an ecstatic mob. He did it with a set of tools any entertainer should study like his/her career depended on it. Bruce has a razor sharp band of dedicated professionals backing, him, a catalog of profoundly powerful work going back 40 years, a breathtaking breadth of live performing experience across the globe which has allowed him to hone his own audience manipulation skills to some kind of Jedi-black belt level. Anybody who knows anything about working an audience could tell you, last night was a master’s class in mass hypnosis, performed by the Sorcerer Supreme.

The show this tour is a kind of delicious Jambalaya of previous shows, taking home run moments from the past for the entertainment equivalent of what would be a lethal set of combinations in boxing.  He jumped into the audience multiple times, singing, and walking, high-fiving and allowing hands to tap and brush him. At one point he trusted that dancing mob to carry him as he literally surfed the audience in the pit and they carefully, and kind of reluctantly returned him to the stage. He led the audience in multiple sing-alongs often letting the masses sing whole choruses of his songs. He engaged children, complimenting one ten-year old boy for requesting “Badlands” and assuring him that tune was coming, not to fall asleep and granting the boy the day off from school, “You don’t gotta go to school tomorrow, tell ‘em the Boss says so.”

He sweetly (and smartly) brought  a little girl out of the audience to sing “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” with him at one point carrying her on his shoulders and then tenderly with an avuncular kiss returning her to the pit. Bruce also responds to handwritten signs to take requests. He brought a woman on stage to dance with his drummer in response to her written appeal and likewise inviting up an Australian man who wanted to dance with Bruce. One wish was a very nicely done poster board note asking for, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which Bruce granted while wearing the Santa hat that came with the sign. Because he was in the state of Nebraska he played six songs from his _Nebraska_ album once again displaying an attention to detail most artists don’t pursue.

Yet for all those practiced, spontaneous moments he keeps it legitimately fresh too. In his last tour the band played 192 different songs. Last night debuted four songs from that aforementioned vast catalog unplayed so far this tour.  He has added new talent to replace departed players and addresses their absence head-on with solemn reverence that binds him to us, because he misses them as much as we do, but, “what’s a poor boy to do but keep singing his song”? One of the things that struck me was the range of his work on display. Swing, boogie woogie, jazz, zydeco, rock, Irish folk, gospel, country, in the moment it propels the listener ahead, in retrospect it is jaw dropping.

He reads his listeners with an accuracy that is deeply impressive, giving them, himself and the band breaks to regroup, winding everyone up then bringing us back down, then ascending again until that last 30 minute stretch where the house lights are up and you can’t even hear the man because the house is shouting his lyrics back at him in a deafening, hoarse frenzy of pumping arms and rocking bodies.

Moments I can’t get out of my mind:

A chilling, blacklit “State Trooper” that he wailed with a soulful voice and electric guitar. “Mr. state trooper, please don’t stop me, please don’t stop me, please don’t stop me.”

The version of “Highway Patrolman” was brilliant, showing the grey world that he evokes so masterfully so dependably. What is right and wrong? Does the officer pursue his murdering brother because that’s his job? No, he pulls over and watches the tail lights fade into the Canadian border. “Man that turns his back on family, that man he ain’t no good.”

I shrieked like a man celebrating a game ending touchdown when I heard the piano intro to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and whooped with Pentecostal fervor as the band pumped into the big band swing version of “Open all Night.”

At the end of the night I husked out a, “thank you!” or two. Indeed, my voice was gone, my ears were ringing, my hands hurt and I had a good sweat going. I’d have loved if he came back out, but knew that he’d more than fulfilled the contract we made when I bought that ticket after running in the rain back in August.

If last night was my last Bruce show, it was a great exit.

But let’s see what the next tour brings. The Boss can always “rise up,” if he does his part, I’ll do mine.

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The Window

It is Saturday morning. My wife and oldest son are out shopping for school clothes, my youngest son is fed, dressed with chores done waiting on a Scooby Doo marathon to begin. I got the laundry moving and the trash and dishes handled. I’m skipping my breakfast.

This is my window. It is a morning spot where I can write. I write best in the mornings. A friend recently suggested that I write more off-the-cuff, less editing and revision, so we’ll see how that works. Apologies for grammatical snafus and word eras the computer doesn’t catch. The writer is winking at you.

What to work on? I have several manuscripts friends have asked me to look at, I owe letters to people but this is a selfish time, for the next hour or so I can focus on just fiction, creative lies. I’m going to work on my stuff. I have two Fan Fiction pieces that I’m working on. The one is old and has folks asking about it, the other is new and is pretty grim. Only the few fans of my writing that I’ve accumulated are waiting on that one. It’s well written, but oddly sloppier than some of my more controlled, revised, edited efforts. It also scares me. I’m killing two popular characters in the future and examining the lives of their children. I’m spring boarding from another writer’s works into my own fiction. I think that’s what all writers do to some degree. They take what they read by others and go off in their own direction. It’s fun and scary.

This is my blog, I’ve started an essay on today being August 11th the anniversary of my first girlfriend going away to college and all the truths that showed me. That essay needs a lot of work. I’ve been chewing around the idea of James Bond. This year is his 50th anniversary in film. (My son shouts from the living room that Scooby is on and I think about my own youth and the fun I had on Saturday mornings—my fun is different now, but maybe not so much because even then, I watched those shows and then went off and made up my own stories. I’m still doing that today.)

Oh yeah, Bond. I have watched a LOT of Bond over the years, both my wife and I love them, particularly the older Connery and Moore installments. I know the films are fantasy, but how does he juggle all the women? Not the logistics of conquest, heck I understand how to do that. The writer is winking at you. No, how does he handle the conclusion of those relationships? He makes busloads of women fall in love with him over the course of his film adventures, but in every film there are new ones. Doesn’t he get midnight calls from old lovers? Isn’t he stalked? I suppose that license to kill thing might dial down the heat on that angle a bit, but still. Relationships are complicated and relationships that involve sex are more so by an order of magnitude (one of the truths I learned that long ago August 11th).

I have some thoughts on why we write, also,  what drives people to the page when we could just play with our kids, do our chores, sink into the visual hum of the cable signal? Something makes me have to write. I’m pretty sure it isn’t a noble drive, either. I think I write to get attention. Laurence Olivier once explained (my son just raced up concerned that only Scooby and Shaggy are in this episode. Where are the others? He is perplexed seeking answers. Just like all of us I suppose). Oh, yes, Laurence Olivier was asked why people choose the theatre and acting. His answer? He looked right into the enquiring face of Dustin Hoffman who was asking and said, “Why do people choose acting and the theater? Lookatme,lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme, lookatme.”

Was his response. I think many artists, whether one is strumming a guitar, telling a joke, or making up a story want attention. I do what I do for attention, I want to connect with others. It is human but (four year old has come up to ask questions about the Scooby Doo episode, I explain what little I know from the synopsis in the guide. He is scared of werewolves but buttresses his courage with, “it’s not real” I remind him that Batman will always help if he is needed. Son looks perplexed, states, “But he’s not real,” I feign shock, tearful disappointment, son smiles and reassures me that things will be all right. He goes back to watching Scooby Doo).

Our sprinkler system comes on. There is something wrong with the timer. This needs my attention.

The window is starting to close.

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I Might Have Killed Us All

Almost everyone on the planet is responding to the horror in Colorado. That’s good, because it should be responded to. I’m not referring to raging hatred at the perpetrator, I understand that reaction I just don’t think it has a lot of value.

What’s on my mind is oddly selfish. A common reaction we have is: it could have been me that was in that theatre that night, I get that. That’s partly where all reactions come from: how did it impact me? How do I relate to this event? It could have been me or someone I know or love in that cineplex. That impact is spiderwebbing out and people are becoming aware of how they were touched by one man’s sickness.

No, my reaction came about from my recognition of my own obnoxious behavior patterns. My wife was telling me what she had read about the murderer’s apartment and I realized with shock like a cigarette burn that I might have died that night had I lived in his building. I might have killed everyone in the building because I can be an overbearing jerk.

Let me briefly explain. The murderer wired his apartment stereo to go off SUPER LOUD at approximately the time he was at the theatre indulging his sickness. Residents of the apartment responded by calling the police, knocking on his door, the usual, acceptable responses to obnoxious behavior in a shared space.

My history is such that I might have tried to get into the apartment. I do outrageous, dumb stuff like that. Once when a stereo was playing too loud in my old neighborhood I walked down the street turned the speaker that was facing outside back into the house so the noise was not blasting out to the world. Understandably the owner took exception to this violation of his space and the two of us almost got in a fistfight.

Stupid. Stupid from a lot of angles.

I’m the guy that might climb out on the balcony to see if the patio door is open so I can go in and shut the stereo down. I’d try to figure out a way to get into that apartment to turn off the noise. I wouldn’t break down doors, but my mind looks for an angle to exploit, a backdoor. That outlook makes me a good problem solver.  I might very well have looked for some way into that apartment that night.

I’m told Colorado murderer had his apartment wired to blow. Right now they think there’s enough explosives in that apartment to take out the building and beyond. If I had acted in my own ass-hat over-the-top manner I might have tripped one of these explosives and killed everyone in that building.

And stupid would be my legacy, not problem solver, not good dad or whatever label I might have earned when I’m gone. Worse there would be another spiderwebbing of grief out amongst a larger roster of victims. That’s what I’m thinking about today.

The world is a complicated, dangerous place.

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Job Opportunity

This week I was asked if I would be available to teach some sections of World Lit or Rhetoric and Composition. It wasn’t an offer of a job, but could my name be put in a hat with others when the work becomes a reality (funding approved).

I have a full-time job so I would be doing this in an adjunct capacity. I’ve done it before and I really love it. I love it for reasons that are good and bad. The good is, I think I’m qualified, and I do an above average job. I usually get back solid evaluations and some students remember the class as having been beneficial (or so they tell me).I haven’t employed more scientific methods of measuring my success so it is possible that I suck. The less noble or bad reason I teach is that it is kind of an ego trip. I like standing in front of a room and running my mouth. I try to make sure that the lesson is at the forefront and the student comes away having been given a quality product in the academy. I am careful to be sure that I’m not simply hosting the _The J. Show_ but I would not be honest if I denied the ego massaging portion of it all. Maybe someday I will out grow that part.

But I’m not putting my name in the hat. While my family could use the extra income, the hours one must put in teaching even three credit hours are substantial. Preparing lectures, assignments, reading papers, responding to students fairly and wisely, coaching and grading, all the things that teachers do take a lot of time to do it right let alone doing it well.

Time. As I mature (okay, get older) the scarcity of time is an ever more obvious theme. My day job demands my full attention, my home has a wife and children that need me to participate and contribute. To be present and effective in those endeavors takes time.

If I add the teaching component I end up too divided and not contributing fully and robustely to any of my commitments. The students in my class are cheated by half-assed instruction, my boss gets half-assed management of his staff and projects, my wife suffers a half-assed husband-partner, and my children endure half-assed parenting.

All of which is uncool.

The right thing to do is easy to see, but hard to do.

 

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