Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Few Haiku

The Gray Slab has passed
Sunshine radiates again
Energy abounds

Deep blue skies and warmth
Summer's not quite over yet
Please keep lingering

Autumn beckoning
But birth still trumps decay
Life is found elsewhere

Stand by the window
Close your eyes, soak in the warmth
Forget you're indoors

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Chevette

"I really think you should get a Chevette."

That was what my Aunt Vicki suggested as an idea for my first car.

"Yeah, right."

That was my response as a 15-year old kid back in 1990.

"I would look like a total idiot," I said. "No way am I EVER going to own a Chevette."

She chuckled and said, "Oh, I think it would be really cool," and then chuckled some more.


Thankfully for my teenage ego I did not purchase a Chevette. I wound up buying my grandma's rust-colored, four-door, 1981 Toyota Corolla. Not a huge leap up on the cool scale from a Chevette, but still...

That car was like a Timex watch; it took a lickin' and kept on tickin'. I worked it over like an alum of Abu Ghraib. I busted an axle, bent the frame, warped the head and discovered several gallons of pooled water in the trunk. I don't remember ever taking it in for an oil change and I certainly never did that job myself. And yet it just kept bouncing back, taking me wherever I pleased and accepting whatever punishment I doled out.

It was a nearly-perfect first car. I made 16 monthly $100 payments to my grandparents and every single one was worthwhile.


Fast-forward nearly 20 years later. My most recent car, a 1999 Chevy Metro, has become temperamental. It doesn't like to start when it rains. Or if it has rained within the last six or seven hours. Or if it's a particularly dewy morning. Or if the Farmer's Almanac says this might be a rainy month.

As you might imagine, this can be very inconvenient. And irritating. And frustrating. Especially when you consider that this car has given me eight sturdy years of service. And it runs neck-and-neck with the aforementioned '81 Corolla in the race to be the favorite car I've ever owned.

But the life I lead requires that I have a car that works both in sunshine and in precipitation. Thankfully, a multi-pronged solution was made aware to me.


My friend Judson told me that his mom was getting ready to sell a couple of vehicles. He said they would be available at a "family discount" if I was interested. Considering the fact that my current car was hydrophobic and I had a son who was nearing driving age himself, I expressed my interest. He said that she was selling an early '90s Buick that ran smoothly but had a lot of miles. And he said that she was selling a 1976 Chevy Chevette that had only 40,000 original miles and had been used to teach himself and his siblings how to drive. I told him I was interested in both, thinking I would hedge my bets against my current car and have a cheap alternative for my son to drive when he was ready. But when Judson got back to me, his mom had already sold the Buick. He asked if I was still interested in the Chevette at the low, low price of $300. At that price, I just couldn't pass it up.

He drove it up from his mom's place in Pratt, KS and arrived at my place on a Sunday afternoon. It was a stunning orange marvel. The shape and color of the car reminded me of an orange Skittle. He had put on brand new whitewall tires and and a new pair of windshield wipers. It was a two-door with a hatchback and beige interior. The seats were faux leather and the steering wheel felt as big as an 18-wheeler's.

Being a product of the oil crisis '70s, it got 30 miles to the gallon. The emergency brake didn't work and when it was hot outside it wouldn't go into reverse. The radio seemed to work but the speakers didn't. It was a four-speed with no passenger side mirror and no rear defrost.

And I absolutely loved it.


When my kids first saw it, they picked up on my enthusiasm and they loved it, too. They wanted to ride around in it all the time.

But then I started dropping off and picking up David from high school. And football practice. And all of a sudden, he was meeting me out in the parking lot rather than near the entrance to the locker room. I asked him what he was doing clear out here and he said he was just making it easier on me to pick him up. I told him he didn't need to do that and he reluctantly grinned and said that he was a little embarrassed being picked up in this car.

I laughed to myself and decided I loved this car even more. And I told him he'd better get used to it because this is what he was going to be driving in the not-so-distant future.


Sitting at a light, I noticed a guy in the car next to me was giving the Chevette the once over. He rolled down his window and said to me, "Boy, they sure don't make 'em like that anymore, do they?"

A convertible full of high school kids was in the left turn lane when I pulled up. One kid had been eyeing me for about 30 yards until I came to a stop. I heard him as he leaned toward his buddy and said, "I want THAT car."

After picking David up from practice one day, he chuckled and told me about the reaction one of the football managers had when seeing my car: "That is a pimp car." Feel free to interpret that in whatever manner you choose.

One of the special needs guys that lives in my apartment complex mentioned this as he walked by one day: "I really like that car. What year is it? Is it a '74? Oh, it's a '76? Man, that's a great car."

These anecdotes only complement the vast number of incidents where people have been staring at my car. I've never experienced anything like it before. I never would have expected. it.


I was wrong. I DID end up owning a Chevette. But I was partially right, too. I know many of the stares I get are because I look like an idiot. But Aunt Vicki was right, too; it's pretty cool. And we'll see what David thinks once he starts driving it. He might give in like me and think it's pretty cool, too.

Monday, September 08, 2008


I just got done watching The Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith. After seeing this, I couldn't be more proud of my own children. They haven't had it as rough as the little boy in that movie, but the movie sure reminded me of all the things they've been through in their relatively short lives. And it reminded me that they are truly great people.

They haven't had to sleep in a subway bathroom. They haven't had to wait in line for the chance to sleep in a shelter. Their mother did not leave them and move to the other side of the continent.

But they were each born prematurely, neither weighing more than six pounds. David even spent his opening days in the neonatal intensive care unit to make sure his lungs developed properly.

They have lived in no less than 10 different homes in their 14 and 12 years, respectively. Long-lasting friendships were sacrificed because they moved from school to school to school, six times in all. They have had (and continue) to endure the separation and divorce of their parents. They have had to adjust to being shuffled between their mother's and father's homes for over half their lives.

They survived their parents' simultaneous bouts with clinical depression. They learned how to fix their own cereal and do their own laundry when they were much too young because their father couldn't move himself off the couch. They had to share a room and even a bed for far too long.

Their paternal grandparents moved so far away that they were only able to spend as much as 60 combined days together in 10 years, with a week's worth of those days spent mourning their grandfather. Their paternal uncle has seen them only a little bit more. And their great-aunt moved away, too.

They trailed along behind their father as he worked cleaning office buildings. They trailed along behind their mother as she submitted to receiving her groceries from a food pantry.

Despite all these losses and challenges and hardships, they've managed to persevere and learn and press on.

After touring five different grade schools in six years, Samantha is starting to come into her own in middle school. After coming to know many children in many schools, she came to middle school unknowingly having built up a large network of friends. This has allowed her to feel more comfortable at school than she has felt in years.

David decided to pursue football in his debut semester in high school. And after a rough initiation, he appears to be embracing his new lifestyle. The amount of running, yelling and physical pain far exceeded his expectations at the beginning of the year. And though he wanted to give up, he has managed to hang on.

My kids have built up skills and character traits in their short lives that have taken me twice as long to achieve, if I've managed to achieve them at all. They are kind and compassionate and sensitive. They are funny and intelligent. The are polite and respectful. They are helpful. They are self-confident. They are selfless. And, above all, they are loving.

They are not all these things, all the time. They are not perfect. But they embody all these things at their core. And only by the grace of God are these things possible, because their parents are imperfect teachers.

It's been said that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. We all know that's a load of crap. We've all been witness to people who can't seem to catch a break. We've seen people struggle with just getting through life. There are people who become homeless or sick who never recover, who never get stronger, who are utterly consumed by life.

My kids have been through an awful lot. But they've also been incredibly blessed. And, as a result, I've been blessed. And that brings me immense pride and happyness.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Presidential Limericks

McCain's VP pick Sarah Palin
Kept conservative voters from bailin'
She's a tough hockey momma
Throwing barbs at Obama
Creating some liberal wailin'

Democrats vote for Barack
Republicans think he's all talk
They think it quite strange
That he talks about change
But his donors continue to flock

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Freshmen

The freshman cheerleaders were soaked. The game hadn't even started yet, but their hair was plastered to their foreheads. The cute red and black ribbons they wore were rendered pointless. When they enrolled in high school and signed up for the cheerleading squad, they never pictured a day like this.

It was the first freshman football game of the season. Just the day before it had been partly cloudy and 80 degrees. But the temperature on this day had barely nudged above 60. Rain trickled down at a steady pace. There was just enough breeze to keep permanent goosebumps on any exposed skin.

"How many demerits will I get if I leave now?" asked the cheerleader with the strawberry blonde hair and pink-framed eyeglasses. The sponsor's reply was barely audible but it was satisfactory enough for the cheerleader to immediately grab her backpack and head for dry land.

Utilizing only their eyes, the four remaining cheerleaders asked each other if they should follow suit. They silently shared their fears and reassurances and came to a consensus: They would tough it out. The sopping-wet freshman cheerleading sponsor reacted less than enthusiastically. The sopping-wet freshman football coach might have recruited them instantly.



These words were being launched at the defense by the head football coach of the freshman squad. Moments ago, his kick return team committed the unforgivable sin of allowing the opponent to recover its own kick-off, deep behind enemy lines. Now the defense was backed up against its own goal line.

The ex-Marine's team was short-handed because twelve players had failed to show up for practice on Labor Day. And now the inexperience was showing up at the worst possible time.


One kid who had skipped practice that day was blocking out his coach's entreaty and staring blankly at the cheerleader who had justified the demerits in her life's economy and was retreating quickly to the parking lot. For numerous reasons, (some of which he wasn't even conscious of) he wished his own economy resembled hers. He stared at her while his team gave up another touchdown. He was completely unaware of his team's maladies until the freshman water girl came by and handed him some Gatorade.


Her friends were all on the cheerleading squad. But she didn't make the team. So to help cushion the blow, she decided to be a freshman football water girl. Sure, it wasn't as glamorous, but she got to talk to a lot more guys than her friends did. Plus, she really wanted to be involved in something. It was hard work filling giant water coolers and pulling a cart filled with giant water coolers and constantly being on alert as to when 50-some guys needed a water bottle. But she got to go to every game. And that meant she got to see her friends every game. And sometimes the distinction of their separation would eat at her. And other times she would feel just fine. And today she just wished it would stop raining.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

FOLLOW-UP: Mysterious

I decided to test the waters again at Adrian's Cafe. Instead of the normal egg salad on wheat, I went with seafood salad as a change-up. Of course, Adrian's Girl was on hand.

"Seafood salad? You like that stuff?"

"Yeah, sure. You don't?"

"Oh, I guess it's alright. Hey, did you go to the Royals game last night?"


"Too bad, 'cause you would have seen me there."

"Oh, really? How so?"

"I was up on the Jumbotron."

"How'd you manage that? Were you on the Kiss Cam...?"

(Notice my clever casting for information.)


"...Bad Hair-do Cam?"

She squinted her eyes at me and gave me a sly grin.

"No. I was just on the regular fan cam. I guess I'm just really talented."

"I guess you are. I'm sorry I missed it."

I sat down at my usual table by the window. I opened my book and started reading but I had a hard time concentrating. My mind was on her and my magnificent ability to construct witty banter on the fly.

After ten minutes or so, I had finished my sandwich and devoted my entire attention to The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I had hardly gotten through a chapter when I noticed some shuffling in my periphery. I looked up and saw her standing in front of me, wearing an apron and a playful smile.

"Whatchya reading today?"

"The Bell Jar."

"What's it about?"

"I think it's about a woman who goes insane or something."

"Hmm. Have you read Blue Like Jazz yet?"

This is the book she recommended after I had completed her previous suggestion, The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis.

"No, I haven't gotten to it yet. It's on the list, but I have some other recommendations from friends that are higher in the queue. But I'll definitely get to it."

Just then, she realized that the cash register had been left unattended this whole time and scampered back to her duties behind the counter.

At this point, I figured she had given me more than enough evidence to show she was interested. I planned on introducing myself before I left. But as I still had ample lunch break left, I went back to reading.

After a few more scattershot minutes of reading, she plopped down in the seat opposite me.

"Well, hello there," I said.


I offered my hand across the table. "My name is Nick. It's nice to officially meet you."

"Hi, I'm Stacey. So, Nicholas, huh? Nicholas what?"

"It's not Nicholas, actually. Just Nick. Nick Blakeley. How about you? Stacey what?"

"Stacey Tennant. With two n's. It's Irish. Soooo...Stacey Blakeley........"

Cue the sound of tires screeching and my jaw slamming against the table.

"Uhhhh...whoa. That's a little forward, don't you think?"

"Oh, I'm just kidding. So what are you doing this weekend?"

"Ummm, uhhhh..."

My magnificent ability to construct witty banter had evaporated much quicker than the sweat beads that were forming on my forehead.

My brain finally got up off the mat and I uttered, "Well, I'm going to see the "Bodies Revealed" exhibit at Union Station. What are you doing?"

"Oh, I don't know. I've got a paper to write for school..."

"Do you go to school up the street?"

"Yeah, also at Baker."


She got up to headed back to her duties. Against my better judgement, I asked,

"So what are you doing Friday night?"

"Oh, I don't know. Why?"

"Well, would you like to get together?"

The look on her face cued her own inner tire screeching.

"Oh! Umm, well, umm, uh maybe not right now, ahh, umm well maybe some time as friends, uh, umm."

As off-balance as I was after the appellation scene, I was now overly-corrected and in danger of falling off the other side of my chair. All I could think to myself was "What the hell am I missing here?"

I said, "Oh, ok. That's fine. Whatever. Alright."

She paused for a moment to regain her composure and said, "Well, I hope you don't stop coming in here because of that."

"Oh, no," I said, trying to remain polite despite the fact my brain synapses were re-creating the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. "You're right around the corner. Where else am I going to get a sandwich as good as this?"

She smiled nervously and retreated behind the counter. I made a lame attempt to read again, but mostly just rehashed the previous 20 minutes of my life. After a few minutes, I decided to cut my lunch break a tad short. I looked toward the counter and saw her busying herself and not looking in my direction. I decided this would be a good time to slip out the door and head back to work.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. Mysterious? Suddenly, I'm not quite as big a fan.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Day One

It's Day One.

I woke up late and flipped on the TV. Though it was creeping toward the noon hour, my favorite morning news reporter was still reporting live from a standoff in Edwardsville. There are plenty worse ways to start things off.

I flipped from the news to the telethon to the infomercial informing me of the latest breakthrough in exercise-related weight loss techniques. I flipped past Barney and Friends, through Montel and Maury, and landed on tennis.

The marquee matchup was not due to begin for another hour. Instead, there was an unseeded American taking on a guy who may or may not have been French. The possibly-French guy was getting his ass handed to him, even though the announcers had mentioned that he had loads of talent.

His body language was poor. His shoulders drooped. Every time he would hit a bad shot, he would spin through a Rolodex of reactions and choose one of his liking: drop the racket; yell; throw the racket; give a look of exasperation to no one in particular.

The American finished off his opponent with relative ease. During the post-match interview the American answered that he was thrilled to have advanced so far, especially having played so well against the allegedly-French player. This was a player, he said, that was more physically talented than anyone on Tour.


I flipped off the TV. I finished reading a story about a brutal, troubled, revolting French guy from the 1400s. The guy had all the resources he could ever want at his disposal, yet he still couldn't find what he thought would fulfill him. His actions devolved into the basest and most horrifying acts. He ended up being burned at the stake.

I got up from the couch and sat on the floor next to the movie that I rented last night. I still hadn't watched it and contemplated watching it now. My contemplation ended in my remembering that today was supposed to be the first day of my 90 Days of Writing project. I sprawled out on my stomach, feeling languorous. My inner dialog started up:

"What am I going to write about?"

"You have numerous sources of inspiration from which to choose."

"Yeah, but I don't know which one I should start with."

"It doesn't really matter so long as you just get started."

"But what format should I go with? A poem? Fiction? Some anecdotes with an interlocking meaning?"

"It doesn't make a difference so long as you utilize the talent you've been given."

So I sat up and turned on the computer.

I decided not to drop my racket. I don't want to be allegedly-French.