Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Nothing like the classics

This past Saturday was the first one I’ve missed posting something new. It’s harder in the summer to be faithful to this writing. Harder still with no comments to keep things moving. We were busy with Max’s birthday party. He is four.

Without consulting each other, the grandparents bought him some of the classic toys of our own childrens’ youth. Remember Hungry Hungry Hippo? Our kids drove us nuts banging away on the hippo tails. It was my brilliant (every pun intended) idea to buy Lite Brite. In the olden days, this was a plug in affair with a hot light bulb in side the plastic frame. Now it runs on three D cell batteries. Where’s the adventure in that?

It cracks me up that they bill it as a “flat screen” device. It was always a flat screen. It’s the only way it could work.

Max dove right into the low tech toys, dancing around the room when he won a Hippo game. Kathy gave him one of those cards that plays a song when you open it. He peered inside, trying to find out how it worked. When his father explained that there was a computer chip in there, that prompted more dashing about the room as he pointed it out to all in attendance.

Max had another sleep over this weekend. On Saturday morning, Kathy and I woke up leisurely at 6am and she asked me if I had heard her scream in the night, and for once, I hadn’t. She then told me that she had had a nightmare. Max was standing outside our door and stuck his head in to say that he had had a nightmare too! His dream involved flying ice cream trucks that you had to take an airplane up to in order to get ice cream, and then you had to parachute down. Terrifying! He was very pleased with the box the washing machine came in, since it makes a great clubhouse. We cut windows and doors in it Saturday night, and he put his little plastic chair in there. Since I have two boxes, I’m thinking of tying them together to make a mansion.

Doesn’t take much to make us happy.

Friday, June 16, 2006

It's the most wonderful time of the year

This is the most wonderful time of the year, despite what the Christmas carol says. I can read outside till it's after 9pm and I don't even realize it's that late. It's still a teensy light out even at 10pm when I turn off the bedside lamp and go to sleep. I love these long days leading up to the summer solstice. Even though I have to go to work, I look forward to getting home and being outside doing things or being outside not doing things. Just...being outside. In the light. I like light.

This week I took three days off, since it's the week of the church rummage sale and our Social Justice group runs it. Three of us men lugged the tables over to the gym on Monday night. We had to get some from the second floor of the school and some from the church basement, and we never had to hunt for tables before. Then we set all fifty of them up. I was so tired I could barely function at work, so I decided to grab Friday as a day off too.

Just as well—I had to be home to take delivery of the new washing machine. Have you ever noticed that just when you happen to have four hundred dollars laying around, something pops up to swipe it out of your hand? The washer died on Wednesday morning. At first I scheduled a repair visit but then I realized that it would cost as much to fix it as it would to replace it. So now we have a new one, sparkling over in the corner of the laundry room.

Two guys came to deliver it, and neither one was especially big or heavily muscled as one might expect. They did a curious thing in removing the old one and then bringing the new one down into the basement. Instead of using a dolly, they wrapped a wide strap under the machines and around their necks and carried them that way. Never saw anyone do that before. I was talking to one of the guys about it, and remarked that surely he wouldn’t be doing this for the next twenty years, and was he in school now? He said he probably would be doing the same thing, since he didn’t graduate high school and didn’t get his GED, though different people told him he should. The job didn’t allow much time to do all that though. He said he was 31 years old now and it was apparent that he didn’t see much more for himself in the future.

This exchange made me think about my own privileged background, where it was understood that of course all the kids would go on to college. Kathy and I brought that same attitude into our own family, that of course our children would get their degrees.

I didn’t really know what sacrifices my own parents made for us, but I know that whatever we did for our own children, we didn’t think it as sacrificing anything. It was just what parents were supposed to do. Our parents valued education—Kathy’s mom was a teacher herself—and we carried that into our own family.

While the one guy was working on hooking up the new washer, the other guy was standing around looking at the stuff in our basement, noticing shelves and shelves of books. By the door to the laundry room there is poster from 1978 that one of the school children in our parish made. It says, “If you wake up one morning and Christ seems far away, guess who moved?” I saw him reading it but I didn’t remark about it, deciding to let the Holy Spirit talk to him about that while I exhorted his comrade to get back to school. Between the two of us, maybe we gave them each something to think about as they went on their way.

SPECIAL NOTE: Grandson Max is four years old today. One of his presents will be the box the washing machine came in: A four hundred dollar playhouse.

Friday, June 09, 2006

What's your favorite song?

The other day someone asked me to name my three favorite songs of all time. I think he was talking about rock, so that’s how I started to think about the songs that I never grow tired of listening to. If you grew up with the Beatles, it’s easy to pick some of theirs. I was shocked when iTunes classified them as “Pop”. I never really thought about them as anything other than rock and roll, but maybe it’s so, that they don’t really fit that category. I did include them on my list, since I decided to keep going past the “rock” category and add some more types of music.

My sisters were listening to rock before I was, and they were the ones who turned me on to WMCA in New York City and the “Good Guys” collection of DJ’s who worked there. There was also WINS with the famous Murray the K disk jockey. I even have a cassette tape from one of those Golden Oldies collections from 1964 that features his show and his goofy catch phrases.

I had no idea that that beautiful, amazing music was out there. I was too busy playing baseball and doing guy stuff to realize that my younger sisters were onto something good. We pooled our resources to get the three dollars it took to buy The Beatles’ first album and then shared it carefully. Later I would be in the record stores each week looking for the next big single, gradually accepting that maybe people other than The Beatles would also be worthy of inclusion in my collection.

So, without further ado, here is my list along with an explanation of why each song is meaningful to me.

1. Gimme Shelter--Rolling Stones
2. Let the Day Begin --The Call
3 All Revved Up and No Place to Go --Meatloaf

Gimme Shelter became some kind of anthem in the small group of friends I hung out with sophomore year in college. One stoner pointed out to me that little bit where Merry Clayton’s voice cracks on “oh, baby” and even now, 36 years later, I still wait for it. The way the song builds in intensity, driving and driving thrills me every time.

Let the Day Begin was a song I didn’t pay much attention to from a group I didn’t know about. In fact, this is the only song of theirs that I like. When the Clinton-Gore campaign bus rolled into our town in the summer of 1992, “Let the Day Begin” poured from the speakers at the campaign stop just a half mile from my house. Maybe it was kind of sappy, but I heard what I wanted to hear in it, and identified immediately with its message. Was it hope? I think so.

All Revv’d Up and No Place to Go is the song I played when I was finished studying for my masters degree comprehensive tests and just wanted to get them over with. “Bat of Hell” is still one of my favorite albums—hardly a clunker on it.

If you are talking about blues:
1. Angel from Montgomery --Bonnie Raitt
2. Piece of My Heart --Janis Joplin
3 Can't You Hear Me Knockin' --Rolling Stones

Angel is chock full of wonderful feeling. I always liked angels (married one, in fact), so I was naturally drawn to this song. “How the hell can a person go to work in the morning, come home in the evening, and have nothing to say?”

Piece of My Heart kind of sums up poor Janis’ life to me. I was lucky enough to see her in concert once. Her wrenching vocals haunt even to this day. How could she dredge up such emotion and put it out there as a voyeuristic feast?

Knockin’ has this wonderful passage in the middle, a classic blues passage where you feel as though you are being led down into a tunnel where you are shown both the mysteries of and maybe some of the answers to life. Gradually you climb up out of the depths into the sunlight, but maybe you pine for the dark passage just a little.

If you are talking about folk:
1. Widow with Shawl: A Portrait --Donovan
2. Simple Twist of Fate --Joan Baez' version of Dylan's song
3. Tangled Up in Blue -Bob Dylan

Widow--now before you get all up in my face about it being Donovan—just listen sometime to the story. I like it because I love the ocean and I know what a “widow’s walk” is. The prayer expressed so plaintively here is, well, touching.

Fate is just a hoot the way Baez handles it, especially as she does her Dylan impression at one point. Sometimes it really seems like a simple twist of fate that brings people together or keeps them from ever meeting.

Blue is my favorite color. Besides, I like to think I’m “the solid type.”

If you are talking about pop:
1. Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles
2. Rocky Raccoon - The Beatles
3. Things We Said Today - the Beatles

Here Comes the Sun became Kathy’s and my song. I shan’t describe the circumstances that led to this momentous decision since my children sometimes read this blog.

Rocky Raccoon. What’s not to like? It’s just a fun story, and you can’t help pulling for good old Rocky.

Things We Said Today hit me just right in high school. It seemed to articulate my feelings about girls and relationships in general.

If you are talking about country:
1. I've Been Everywhere - Hank Snow
2. Wild One - Faith Hill
3. Long Black Veil - either Johnny Cash or The Band

I’ve Been Everywhere. Now come on—how does he remember all the names of all those places? Someday I will memorize it just to see if I can.

Wild One is a nice jumpy little song. I always think of Daughter Ann and her strong willed contrariness. In sign language class, this is the song I signed. Everyone else picked slow songs—they were shocked when the opening strains of Wild One started up.

Veil tells a great story—one I first heard by The Band. A tragic story, but a classic. Son Patrick sang it for us in Ireland when we were at Peter’s parents’ house. Peter’s mom and sister started singing one of their classics and Patrick answered with “Veil”. That was a fun night.

OK, I'll stop now.

When someone asks about a favorite song, it’s very difficult to pick one. It seems to depend on my mood, as melodies shift like albums in a six-disc CD changer.

So, how about you? Can you pin down your favorite songs and justify your choices?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Funny things

An email I received the other day:
There are more Catholic churches than casinos in Las Vegas. Many people drop casino chips into the collection basket instead of cash. The churches ship these tokens to a group of Franciscans who sort them and turn them into cash which is returned to the various churches. This work of course, is all done by the chip monks.
Kathy and her sister on the phone the other night:
They were in their respective homes watching the National Spelling Bee. As the tension mounted in the contest, the sisters began calling each other on the phone, back and forth, answering by spelling “H-i!” or “H-e-l-l-o!” and questioning each other, “Language of origin?” or “Use it in a sentence.” They cracked each other up.

An alum came into the office to see me last week. He was out of work and wanted some help finding his next job. He had only been in his last position for six months. I asked him what had happened, and he demurred, saying he didn’t want to bad mouth his former employer. I said, that’s a good idea, but you have to tell me, so I can help you handle the inevitable interview question, “Why did you leave your last job?” Oh, ok, he said. So he actually told me that when his supervisor told him that he would have to come in at 7:45am now instead of 8:30am, he said, oh, that’s too early. No, the supervisor insisted, you have to come in earlier now. “In that case,” the alum said, “I resign.” He went on to say something about how he wanted to balance his life. I wondered how he was going to balance his check book now.


From the Medical Blooper calendar:

“When coming in for a routine office visit, a patient brought in her two year old daughter along. The child had been very inquisitive while the nurse took the patient’s vitals. The nurse asked the child if she would like to help take her mother’s temperature. The little girl walked over to her mother and said, ‘OK, Mommy, bend over!”