Tag Archives: writing

Dirty Hands and Cool Old Dudes

We had to have our boiler serviced yesterday and today. One of the pumps that pushes the hot water through our radiators had failed and was blowing a fuse and shutting down the burner. We were without heat Monday night but it was thankfully a mild evening and we fired up our wood stove and kept cozy. A new pump and five hundred plus dollars later and we are all fixed up, hopefully until next year’s annual service call.

Larry, our service guy is an old-timer, sixty-eight years old with white hair and beard and a thin, wiry build. I honestly can’t say whether he has a full head of hair, for as long as I can remember, he has always worn a baseball hat, khaki with little structure or style and decorated with some unmemorable logo. His worn and wrinkled hands are permanently stained with black and the pungent smell of oil on his clothes wafts through the air when he moves. He has driven the same white van, trimmed in rust and unadorned with any advertising, for the twenty years he has been working with us and probably longer. On cold days he wears a khaki barn-style jacket, old and dirty and frayed around the seams and pockets. He doesn’t own a cell phone and still uses his land line phone to contact his accounts.

But he is a skilled serviceman from an era when more men knew how to fix shit. An era when more men knew how to work with their hands and understood machinery and weren’t afraid to bust up their knuckles cranking a fused nut off a rusty old bolt. As a guy who has become only moderately skilled at these kinds of tasks, primarily because I’m too cheap to hire most repairs out, I envy the talents of guys who can fix shit.

Larry told me at the most recent annual service call a few months back, that he had semi-retired but was keeping a small number of accounts that he enjoyed working and that he would continue to service our boiler as long as he could. He moves slower than he used to and his handwritten invoices, sloppy and difficult to read twenty years ago, have become even more and more illegible. My guess is, his decision to continue servicing our house has more to do with the fact that most heating and cooling equipment these days probably requires a Ph.D. in Computer Science, and that ours is still a piece of machinery he understands.

Someday Larry will have to retire completely but until then, he is honest and trustworthy and reliable and friendly and quite frankly just a cool old dude. I’ll call on someone like that any day of the week.

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A close friend of ours passed away somewhat suddenly last week. Another shining light in this world that for whatever reason, had to burn out too soon.

Mike was not someone we saw regularly, just several times a year and certainly not enough, but we’ve known he and his wife for close to eighteen years, ever since our two daughters had ended up at the same day care center back when we were all brand new parents struggling along without an instruction manual. He was an honorable man, genuine and friendly and loving and very funny and the most wonderful husband and father a family could ask for.

He could tell a story and make people laugh like nobody’s business.

And he could fix shit.

Mike had made his living as a highly skilled Ford auto mechanic until debilitating back pain, likely from years of lifting and bending over car engines, took its toll and he had to stop working full time. In the years after, he continued repairing cars and other small engine machines in his home-garage, as the pain permitted and he often did work for us on our cars when repairs were necessary. His invoices were handwritten on grease coated scraps of note paper with more detail than any modern day auto shop would ever provide.

As our kids grew into teenagers, for both of our families, schedules became more and more hectic and those repair visits became some of the few times each year that we would see each other. Yet, as close friends are able to do, when we would get together even after a long span of time, conversations happened, jokes were told, stories were shared, time was spent, as if it had only been days since our last visit. Those are memories that my wife Kim and I will hang onto and cherish.

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As I spoke to Larry today, I thought about how similar he and Mike were, old-school guys, educated not at some prissy, rich-kid liberal-arts college like myself, but at the school of hard-knocks, where the admission requirements were a commitment to learn your craft, work hard and live a productive, honest and meaningful life. Where baseball hats and flannel shirts, worn leather work boots and black-stained hands took the place of preppy sweaters and letter jackets and polo shirts. That’s a school that’s just as hard to get accepted into and an education as equally relevant as any.

If there’s a silver lining to any of this, it’s that Mike is no longer dealing with the devastating pain that plagued his life for the last several years and with that, his close friends and family, including Kim and I, are able to find some solace. But as when anyone close to you passes away, its hard not to dwell on what the future would have held for him; to be able to watch an incredibly bright and talented daughter going off to college, perhaps some grandchildren, peaceful days in rocking chairs with his wife on their front porch… and that quite frankly he would have been just a cool old dude.

As the clichés say, “the world works in mysterious ways” and “only the good die young.” As difficult as these days are for so many, life will keep moving forward, though just a little less brightly than it was several days ago. Like an old Ford driving down a dark highway with one headlamp burned out.

But as Mike would want it, with the dawn of a bright, sunny new day just over the horizon.

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Happy Anniversary Old House

house

We recently passed the twenty-year anniversary of living in our old house on Brown Road. My wife and I moved into this house around mid-December 1995, young and just a few years married and child-free with the world at our fingertips. One of our very first adventures as new, first-time home owners was to take a drive to the Christmas tree farm a few country blocks away and buy an overpriced Frasier fir tree that we promptly set up amongst our few pieces of furniture and still unpacked boxes, and decorated with twinkling white lights and a smattering of ornaments we had accumulated.

There were no celebratory parties, champagne toasts or blessings made on this twentieth anniversary. The day… I don’t even remember the exact date… just passed by in the hectic rush towards another Christmas holiday and the beginning of another year with its resolutions and promises to “change this” and “improve that.” A house doesn’t get that kind of recognition, no participation trophies just for showing up. It just does its job faithfully, day after day, year after year, stoically providing shelter and heat and comfort to its residents with no motivation but the occasional reward of a fresh coat of paint or a new roof or to be filled with the laughter of family and friends.

Our house was built in the early 1890’s and has been the home to countless families over the years, all caretakers of a special place that has now been the idyllic backdrop to my family memories for two decades. Throughout 120 plus years, children have been born, people have died, birthdays have been celebrated, jobs have changed, family meetings have been convened, renovations and repairs have been tackled, history has been lived. A man named Ralph Brown and his wife owned the property for a long time and like many of the families in this area got the road named after him. He and his wife are buried and share a gravestone in the small cemetery about a half mile up the road along with several other previous residents. Now we are the caretakers of this place and it’s a job we accept proudly.

A couple nights ago my daughter and I were eating a late-night dinner at the small counter-top island that juts out into the center of our kitchen. It was a bitter cold night as winter’s wrath had finally begun to strengthen its grip on the Midwest and we sat bundled in warm clothes and wool socks. The old oil furnace in the basement would cough and choke, like a three pack-a-day smoker, every ten or fifteen minutes as it fired up its burner to heat more water. The industrial water pumps attached to it like appendages on a modern-day Transformer, would hum as they forced hot water upwards through cast-iron radiators. It’s an epic battle that the old soldier fights every winter against its nemesis; leaky windows and old house cracks and crevices.

This kitchen island is not a place we will typically sit and eat but on this night it seemed right. As we chatted, I had a Pandora radio station of old-time Irish and acoustic roots music playing in the background and my daughter doodled with colored pencils on a scrap piece of printer paper. It occurred to me that even when my kids were bossy little pre-teens, they never commented on or were critical of my sometimes eclectic tastes in music. So we sat and enjoyed each other’s company and it was a rare moment, unencumbered by the usual hectic schedules and electronic devices that often control our lives.

Like conversations do, ours evolved in slow Darwinian fashion from discussion of college next year, to family and school, to her job at the movie theater, to our old house and some of its history and age. She joked at one point and asked if she were to help contribute some money, would we be willing to turn the heat up and I resisted the urge to pull out a recent oil delivery bill or suggest putting a heavy jacket over the sweatshirt she already had on. But that’s old house living, cold winters wrapped in sweaters and blankets and hot summers with nothing but the night breeze and a cheap window fan to cool off the rooms.

Next fall my daughter will be off to college and my son will be in tenth grade and whereas when I was their ages, I had already lived in several homes, they have always lived in this old house on Brown Road. As I look back on being a kid, I never really thought too much about where I lived or what my house was like. I grew up mostly in suburban neighborhoods and modern homes, places with not much character but with doors that closed properly, windows that sealed up tightly, heating and cooling that kept the climate at whatever precise temperature the thermostat was set. And admittedly, fond memories.

But I’ll keep my old house with its quirks and drafts.

My kids probably don’t really think about what their house is like either… it just is what it is… and as a kid you have more important things to worry about, like school and sports, boyfriends and girlfriends, clothes and cars and what’s happening on social media. And just plain old growing up. But somewhere inside them the seeds have been planted and the roots are growing deeper and someday whether they live around the corner or across the country, they will talk with pride about this place as their childhood home.

Unless something drastic changes, my wife and I will hopefully still be here, caretakers of our old house on Brown Road.  Anniversary or not, that’s something worth celebrating.

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My New Year’s Resolution

have-to-wake-up-at-6-am-alarm-gif

My New Years Resolution is to no longer try to be a morning person.

It’s not that I haven’t given it the old college try… well, not actually while in college… but I have as an adult.

Nor is it that I don’t particularly like morning people. It’s just that they are way too morning-y for me and they are always doing things in the morning… like talking to me.

My wife is a morning person and I really like her. Except she’s always trying to talk to me early in the morning when we’re both awake. It will be 6:00 am and I’ll be desperately tightening down the tourniquet on my arm for the coffee drip, and she’ll expect me to be able to process difficult and complicated questions like “do you think we should remortgage the house to help pay for college next year, especially since interest rates are hovering in the low single digits?” or “Good morning, how are you?”

I’m not sure she chooses to be a morning person, she just has to get up really early, but somehow once she’s up, she becomes a morning person. There’s probably some kind of complicated common-core math formula that explains how morning people end up marrying non-morning people.

Me, on the other hand, I’ve been trying to be a morning person ever since I can remember having to get up early to the sound of a blaring alarm clock. I don’t typically wake up before about 8:00 am when I let natural sleep take its course. But most weekdays I try to get up between around 6:00-6:30 am. So, if my common core math is right, that’s about two and seven-twelfths to three and four-fifths hours of totally unnatural awake time.

But there’s something glamorous and romantic about the idea of being a morning person, effortlessly getting up at the crack of dawn to work out, or sipping coffee in quiet solitude while you blog or catch up on emails or meditate while the rest of the lowly, unproductive world slumbers away.

Plus, there’s all those articles that pop-up into our Facebook feeds proclaiming how very successful people get up early and get lots accomplished before the sun comes up. People like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and even Ben Franklin and probably lots of successful authors… all morning people.

6:00 am: June 15, 1752

Ben Franklin (to his wife): “Good morning, how are you? Boy, you look electric this morning!”

Deborah Read Franklin: “Ugh, go fly a kite!”

For years, I’ve had it in my mind that someday I would evolve naturally into a morning person. My mother, when she was alive, was a morning person. She’d get up at crazy hours… mostly because she couldn’t sleep… and accomplish all kinds of stuff with a great attitude and a big bright smile on her face. I probably shouldn’t hope for an insomnia problem, but I always envied that ability in her and figured maybe there would be some kind of genetic factor that would eventually kick in.

But alas, at 48 years old, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s likely just not going to happen.

So, starting in 2016 I will no longer try to be a morning person.

My only concern is, I’m not really a late night person either. I like to be in bed around 10:00 pm. I guess I’m more of a middle of the day person, that’s when I tend to be most productive. But that’s okay because if my common-core math is right that adds up to just about the perfect amount of medically recommended sleep.

And we all know how important getting nine and seven-sixths hours of sleep is each night.

How about you? Morning, noon or night?

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A Brown Road Campfire

Hi gang, sorry I haven’t been around much the last couple months. I’ve been busy displaying my awesomeness in ways other than being a world-famous blogger. I promise there are some things in the works and that I will be back soon. Until then, in the spirit of Summer which is finally here and warm campfires on crisp, clear, starry nights, here’s a pretty epic old post from Summer of 2011 when this blog was a younger version of itself and which many of you have probably never had the privilege of experiencing.

So that you can vicariously enjoy the whole Brown Road experience and since I can’t think of anything to write about, here’s me singing a campfire song, including all of the outside bird and peeper sounds from the swamp behind us! One of the critters got so loud towards the end, I think maybe it was sitting right underneath me. Maybe it was singing along. I laughed because I thought it sounded like one of those combination music and nature sounds CD’s you can buy.

Sweet Baby James is one of my favorite songs.  My Mom sang it to me to help me fall asleep when I was a baby. I don’t really remember that, but I imagine that’s where it all started. My parents had a copy of the James Taylor album that this song was originally recorded on and I would listen to it all the time.

If you’d like, here’s a video I found on youtube of a crackling campfire, that you can look at as well!

You should play them both at the same time to really get the full effect! You may have to adjust the volume settings on the videos to watch them together, the crackling fire is pretty loud.

Have fun at the Brown Road campfire!

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64 fl. oz. Miracle Bubbles

The weather in Michigan this weekend was spectacular, warm but not too hot, cool but not too cold. I spent as much time outside as I could, doing manly things that involved an array of outdoor tools; shovels and rakes and brooms and axes, all the while sporting several days of unshaven stubble, old dirty jeans and a t-shirt, broken down leather work boots and gloves. A heavy flannel shirt was added in the evenings when the newly found Spring temperatures gave way to pleasant cool air that felt more like Fall. The peepers and other critters in the swamp behind our property sang spiritedly the whole weekend.

Part of Saturday’s workload, was cleaning out one of my barns, the one filled mostly with lawn equipment and outdoor tools and a diverse assortment of everything else you could imagine that needs a place to be stored. It was dirty work and over the recent long, cold Michigan winter, it had become a disorganized mess of shit piled everywhere that I could barely walk through without risking a certain trip to the emergency room.

It felt good to clean it out, to make space, to put tools back where they belonged, to throw stuff away. That’s probably the closest place I have to a man-cave, although there’s no television, no couch, no sports memorabilia, no cooler full of beer. But it is a place where I can go and tinker around and have a little solitude. The extent of the decorations dressing up the few rustic timbers that aren’t covered with tools hanging from rusty, bent nails; a dirty, old, yet still proud American flag that once flew from our house, a wall of our old Michigan and Massachusetts license plates, a stop sign that I picked up some time ago, and a KIMBERLY TERRACE street sign that my wife was given back when she was a teenager… acquired, I’m sure legally, of course!

I worked through the clutter, throwing away old spark plug packages, empty oil containers, cans of dried paint, pieces and parts of stuff that I didn’t recognize and figured if I have no idea what it is or where it came from, it must not be that important. Tools were sorted into tool boxes, screws and nails and bolts and nuts and washers were relegated to a recycled coffee can to be reused at another time. I learned long ago to never toss away a perfectly good fastener. The floor was swept of dirt and grime and oil and hay. I pulled a couple of old mowers out, stripped of their parts like abandoned cars on an urban freeway, and dragged them to the road along with a FREE FOR PARTS OR SCRAP sign, handwritten in black marker on a scrap piece of board.

Then I came across this:

bubblesIt was dirty and covered in spider webs and had been sitting in this same spot for who knows how many years. I picked the jug up secretly hoping it was empty so I could quickly toss it into the ever-growing trash bag. It felt full and I unscrewed the cap and looked inside to see about 2/3 of the container was still filled with the soapy bubble mixture that has given kids endless delight for decades. Without giving it a second thought, I started carrying the jug to the far back part of our property where I could dump out its contents, then dispose of the packaging in the trash.

But as I walked, I felt this profound pang of a loss of innocence… and frankly, more than a little sadness. Shovels and axes and several days of unshaven stubble and old dirty jeans and a t-shirt and broken down leather work boots and gloves… had been instantly trumped by a container of dish soap disguised as MIRACLE BUBBLES!

I thought of my two kids, surely who we had purchased this giant 64 fl. oz. jug of MIRACLE BUBBLES for many years ago. Neither of whom, I surmised, now grown up, knew or cared that it existed anymore. My daughter will be a senior in high school next year, and my son a freshman, the first time since elementary school that they’ll be in the same school again. I stopped for a minute, unscrewed the cap again, pulled out the MIRACLE WAND and watched as the warm spring breeze sent oily, rainbow tinted bubbles flying through the air. I dipped the wand three of four more times and watched as more bubbles soared through the air only to disappear in the blink of an eye the moment they landed on the grass or a log pile or the branch of a tree.

I questioned my decision to dump out the container.

Then it occurred to me that experts often recommend using dish soap if you are trying to get a new tire to seal to a rim while filling it with air. I dropped the wand back into the container, screwed the cap back on and turned around and headed back towards the barn where I set the jug back down where I had found it, still covered in dirt and grime and spider webs.

Because I learned long ago to always be prepared and who knows the next time I’ll need to seal a new tire to the rim of my mower or lawn tractor.

That’s why I kept the bubbles…

Really…

Okay, maybe not…

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Slicing bananas like a Fucking Ninja

My grandmother could slice up a banana over a bowl of cereal like a fucking ninja!

As kids, my two older brothers and I would be sitting at her large dining room table. The same table that now sits in my dining room. We’d pour the Rice Krispies from the box. We’d pour the milk from an old ceramic pitcher.

SNAP, CRACKLE, POP, CRACKLE, SNAP, POP, SNAP, POP, CRACKLE, POP…

Then my grandmother would walk in dressed in a 1960’s house-dress, uncomfortable shoes, panty-hose rolled down to just under her knees, a helmet full of bobbie-pins, a razor-sharp knife in one hand and a bunch of bananas in the other.

She’d walk up and stand next to you, pull out a banana… you didn’t have a fucking choice… you didn’t want a banana on your cereal? TOUGH SHIT… you were getting a banana on your cereal.

Then all you saw were flashes of silver blade and flying disks of perfectly sliced bananas and within a few bananoseconds you had a bowl full of Rice Krispies covered in bananas.

This story doesn’t really have anything to do with bananas.

Or Ninjas.

But it does have to do with peeling potatoes.

The other night I walked into the kitchen and my wife was peeling potatoes to make mashed potatoes for dinner. I watched carefully as she held the potato, her thumb on the top side, then she’d… GASP… DRAW THE BLADE TOWARDS HER BODY!!

scream

Granted she was using a vegetable peeler with a large rubber safety grip handle and covered by a few dozen OSHA regulations… but you can never be too cautious.

I quickly programmed 911 into my speed dial and waited for that catastrophic moment when she might slip and slice open her entire forearm or possibly slice off her hand or accidentally slip and jam the potato peeler into her heart.

I questioned her methodology of drawing the blade toward her body rather than away from herself as I had learned from all my hunter-gatherer friends that had trained me in my limited outdoor skills and blade-wielding techniques. While I pontificated, she continued peeling the potatoes. Rather eloquently I might add, with each piece of peel landing in a nice little organized pile in the sink.

I asked my daughter, who was standing nearby, how she peeled potatoes. “Do you pull the blade toward you or push it away from you?”

“I usually pull it towards me” she said, “but I do it both ways, I guess.”

Whoa…….

I’ve peeled more potatoes in my life than a boot-camp marine. But I peel potatoes like an elementary school age Cub Scout on the first day of summer camp, who has just earned his right to carry a pocket knife. Give that kid a knife and within an hour or two of slicing and dicing and little shards of flying wood, he will have carved a few dozen sticks into pencil shapes and a few logs into spears.

With any luck you’ll have only gone through a few band aids and no trips to the emergency room.

That’s how I peel a potato… like a Cub Scout on the first day of summer camp!

Pick up the potato, hold it out in front of you, and start swiping the peeler AWAY FROM YOU. Hunks of peel fly off the potato in all directions, similar to when you are cutting your fingernails in a hotel room.

Gross… I don’t really do that.

But that’s how I peel a potato. I’d never think of drawing the blade TOWARD ME.

That must be how the pros do it. Or how women do it. Or how professional chefs do it. Or how Ninjas do it.

Come to think it of it, that’s how my grandmother used to slice the bananas.

Like a fucking ninja!

Maybe this post really was about bananas.

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The Ladybug Song

In my ongoing effort to become a world famous author, songwriter and creator of content for children, I decided to write another song and figured you can’t lose with ladybugs. Everyone loves ladybugs and if you look at the number of published children’s books about our little spotted wing friends, writing about ladybugs is a sure thing.

So please take a listen and let me know what you think. It’s a cute little song, soothing and melodic with a great denouement at the end. See that big word I just used there? Only world famous authors and songwriters can use big words like denouement.

Thanks for listening, I hope you enjoy it… make sure you listen to the whole song though… you know, so you don’t miss the denouement!😉

What do you mean you sense sarcasm in my voice?!?

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