Sunday, September 19, 2010

How YOU Doin?

As I begin today's post I feel I need to offer a smidgen of a disclaimer first. Not only do they allow me to roam the country,,,unsupervised...unmedicated...and without a helmet...(we'll discuss who exactly "they" are in a future post) they let me be in charge of influencing a future generation of kids that are not related to me! I am able to hold down a job and can find my way home without a homing beacon. I have even been known to operate complex machines with multiple moving parts! (I've almost mastered the electric pencil sharpener!)

That said, let me talk about one of the many random thoughts that skittered through my head like the white rabbit trying to get to his tea party. I only caught a glimpse but it stuck there like the red dots after the paparazzi assault your eyes with their Nikon Uzis. Not that I have ever been assaulted by numerous people trying to get my picture. Even though I should be famous by now for writing a book. I mean did you notice that I have been adding similes to my writing like Julia Child added butter to her cooking? There I go again! I am a fountain of literary cascades. (metaphor, by the deal...any day now...I can feel it)

This post's idea came to me while watching a dad holding his baby. The baby was reaching up to play with his dad's face like he was some sort of living Mr. Potato Head (Sorry, once you start with the literary devices it's hard to stop) and I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if we could change someone's mood by actually, physically moving their face?" I know, don't worry, Sylvia has already alerted the authorities...but hear me out.

When my own kids used to squeeze my cheeks or push on my nose (last week...we have a very strange family) I would assume a different personality to go with each motion. Partly because I love to have fun, but mostly because the cost of those pull-a-string the-cow goes-moooooo toys were outrageous! Touch my chin, smile. Touch my cheek, blow a raspberry. Touch my forehead, say "Peek a Boo!" You get the idea. And I need to say that I am glad I will finally be famous after Larry King has retired. He would probably think this was some sort of interview technique.

"So Jeff. Says here you do something funny if I touch your

"Ummm, no Larry, I did-past tense-something funny when my babies touched my

"Let me reach over and I think we'll see what happens when I..."

"Larry seriously, don't do it. This is embarrassing for the both of

"Well, when I touched your nose you just frowned and you got kind of red. That doesn't seem very funny at all."

"Can we get Larry's doctor in here to check his medication, please!? Stat!"

So after watching this baby and his dad for a while I thought, Why not? Think of all the useful applications we could have. When you already knew about the surprise party but didn't want to offend the people putting it on, you could pull your eyebrows up and open your mouth wide! When you wanted to spend a little more time studying for the final you could just pry your eyes open and tilt your head back to straight up.

And not just yourself either. If you were having a bad day at work and the boss was enumerating many instances that could have been handled differently you could just reach across the desk and mold him into a happy face and then go out and grab a beer together. Going in for surgery...give your doctor a face of rigid determination and self confidence. Need your teammates to be intimidating on the football field? How about a snarl with a dash of eye of the tiger for good measure. But the most important thing would be the crime rate. Can you say plummet? (that was rhetorical follower number goodness we can be literal sometimes.)

"This is a stick up!"

"My but we're grumpy today."

"Shut up! Put the money in the bag!!"

"Well let me just reach over and adjust those eyebrows. There you go. Better?"

"I'm sorry ma'am. I just felt so angry but I'm over it now."

"There there. Be on your way. Say hi to your mom for me."

"Ok, I will. Bye."

See! A different face could make all the difference. There are scores of comedians who have known this for a fact. Change a persons face and you can change an outcome. And I can tell you from painful, personal experience (not so much physical but I felt like I had a target on my back at times...and I probably won't be the first person to sign up for the reunion) that if I can make a bully laugh it is harder for them to be mean.

Of course if you take my idea to its logical conclusion you will understand why people who have lived here longer than me (but the gap is getting smaller every day) tend to be considered grumpy. No Muscle Tone! You can pretend their face is play dough all you want. Mold happy, congenial, funloving faces until the cows come home. It won't do any good. The infrastructure needed to hold up a smile is just plain tuckered out. Oh sure, there could be hooks and levers and pulleys to maintain a smile but that would all be just too cumbersome. Much simpler to just embrace curmudgeon-ness. Now if you'll excuse me I need to go tell those darn kids to get off my lawn...and to turn that music down!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Crayon or Dunce?

Today I sit here with that tingle and tightness one feels when one has been in the sun too long.

OK, I know I am being redundant but I would be remiss if I didn't take this early opportunity to point out to the publishers in the...universe...that I really deserve to have a multi million dollar book deal. I mean who says "one" in a sentence? Sophisticated authors, that's who! Then in the sentence explaining the first great sentence I used "redundant" and "remiss"! (of course then I put the exclamation point on the outside of the quotes so I guess it all evens out and I am not ready after all.)

The reason I have a tingly tight face is due to the fact that I was, indeed, out in the sun too long. You see, the tiny little city where I work has a nice little tradition involving standing out in the sun, on a Saturday, for a significant amount of time. Well that is not really the intention of the day but we all get to enjoy the added benefit of excess vitamin D absorption. We celebrate something called Newark Days out here on the west coast. It's a lot of fun, really. There are games to play, rides to ride, and a parade to get sunburned in.

All sorts of people and groups march in the parade. Today I saw marching bands, classic cars, firetrucks, two floats with giant rotating crepe paper globes, and a large crowd of people wearing construction paper cones on their heads. I was in this last group...and I am not complaining in the least. One reason I have no complaints is that wearing a somewhat silly hat helps support a school that I am very proud to be a part of. Another reason is that my students, both past and present, get to see Mr. Garrett in another light, and the more connections, the better we can relate and learn together. But the most important reason, and I really need you to understand this, is that I didn't have to plan any of it. As a busy teacher and parent I really appreciate when someone else is in charge of decisions and I would have been happy to wear a t-shirt that said, "I'm with Stupid"...even if the arrow pointed up! In the past several years I have been part of the leadership of our school's parade preparation and it was nice to be only a participant. For the last two years I have had to pass the "Boss" hat around like it was a hot potato. That "ahhhhhhh" you heard this morning at approximately 8:30 was me realizing that I had no truck to decorate, no choreography to rehearse, no banner to waterproof, no permission slips to keep track of, no responsibilities whatsoever. Just thinking about it again...ahhhhhh.

Friday after school I met with one of the planners for the first time. They had always planned their meetings on Wednesday nights and I am booked on Wednesday until...well let's just say that there will probably be a new president before I can get away on a Wednesday. When I went it to see what I needed to do, I was told how to curl a large piece of paper into a cone and strap it to my head with yarn. When I tried mine on I couldn't help but feel like I had done something bad in a one roomed schoolhouse in the middle of a prairie. Wearing my new dunce hat I was ready to sit on a stool in the corner.

In reality we were not a large collection of Dennis the Menace wannabes. We were, in fact, a walking collection of very colorful crayons that were all set to "Color The World." (The theme of the event.) A fun time was had by all. I do have to say that a highlight of the parade was something from my very creative son. As we were getting ready Jake saw a large cardboard tube. He immediately thought, "I can make that into a giant crayon and write the name of the school on it." He did and, in my opinion, that element tied in all of the colorful hats and magically turned us from dunces into crayons. Bravo Jake. Of course that didn't keep a small contingency of elderly parade watchers from giggling as we walked by. That's OK. I can take it. I have broad, colorful, shoulders.

So we walked, we sang, we chanted, we clapped, and we performed flawlessly in front of the judging stand. The only information I don't have is whether or not we were able to secure a trophy for our hard work...oops, I mean their hard work. HA! (I mean ahhhhhhhh) I'll keep you posted on whether or not we need to start packing for the New York on Thanksgiving!

Actually one of us is going to New York this year but not to walk in a parade. Kristiana, excuse me...the lovely and talented Kristiana... will be performing in New York in a choir competition. It is a wonderful experience and we are glad that she is going to be able to go. Of course it is rather expensive and I hate to do this but I am going to have to beg. The way I see it my book deal is stuck in some sort of red tape snag right now. I have done the math and since I have 23 followers...if I could just get every one of you to send me 100 dollars, that ought to take care of it. Of course the reality is that about half of you just won't do the other half will need to actually send 200 dollars. The thing is, in this economy many in that group will not be able to manage that. So if three of you were to send 800 dollars we would be fine. But, given my past blogs, two of those final three will think I am kidding. So if one of you would be so kind as to send me a couple thousand dollars for the honor of being able to read this blog I would be most appreciative. In fact, I'll send you a package of coffee. This the way that everyone who isn't writing a blog is having to raise money. Can you imagine?

So talk amongst yourselves to see who the lucky donor will be. I'll be over here...holding my breath. heh heh heh.

Monday, September 6, 2010


"Giddy" isn't often used to describe guys who are six-three and (mumble mumble) pounds...well there was that one time when, wait, that's not the blog I'm going for.

When I opened my e-mail today I clapped my hands, I laughed, I did the end zone dance, I felt...well...giddy! (in a manly way of course) Why? You may ask. Well I am inclined to tell you. Almost literally. I am actually reclined to tell you as I type this on the laptop while laying down to sleep. I just wanted to let you all know why I was happy. So happy, in fact, that I am writing for the second time today.

I'll get right to it. I am not one of those writers who drags on and on after setting you up for something big. I find that annoying when authors do that. I remember one time when I was reading a book and there was a major plot point about who the mysterious man was...I couldn't go to sleep until he revealed the murderer. It turned out that the author wanted to draw out more suspense so I was stuck reading for an hour even though I was dog-tired. Wouldn't you have hated that!? Me too!

Well, you don't even need to be a reader to experience people making you wait after setting you up and then making you wait and wait and wait. The TV news is famous for that scenario. "HUGE WALL OF TOXIC WATER RUSHING TOWARD AN EAST BAY CITY! MILLIONS OF DOOMED PEOPLE IN ITS PATH!! story at eleven." Dreadful behavior! Shame on all who make people wait for you to get to the point...

Now, what was I talking about? That reminds me of a time when...ok, just kidding.

Oh yeah, I was talking about why I was happy! I have been secretly and not quite so secretly looking for someone who doesn't know me to tell me that I have a little bit of talent in the writing arena. I am humbled by all the people who have said that they like the way I write but there has always been one small problem...they all know me. I always thought that it would be great if someone who has never met me (and can't imagine my actual voice when reading my written voice) told me that I was a good writer. I mean my mom tells me I write well but, let's be honest, she's my mom...I could probably get her to tell me that I did a good job trying out for the lead in Swan Lake. Trust me, I am not begging for compliments. When I do that, I will be holding my checkbook.

I received a compliment today that I relish more than the average, "Good Job." It started when I mentioned Ray Orrock the other day. I mentioned him to illustrate a point in my story. He always made me smile and often made me laugh. His descriptions were wonderful and rich and insightful and I respect him and his ability to write as often as he did. I actually wrote to him a few times at the newspaper and he quoted me a couple of times. I even gave him an idea for a column. I was thrilled! (and I still have the copy I cut out of the paper) He did once publish a poem I wrote that I felt proved that it was possible to rhyme with "purple" and though he didn't go so far as admitting that I had nailed it, he did write that I came as close as anyone could.

Well, I am happy to say that he is one of the people in my imaginary audience when I sit down (or lay down as the case may be) to write. Sadly I will never be able to hear his opinion of my blog from his own lips. He passed away shortly after his retirement a little more than two years ago. And now I just realized that I have been holding you hostage, in a literature sense, long enough. I have been given a great compliment and I am touched.

It seems that Mr. Orrock's daughter was looking for some information about her dad and my blog came up because I had mentioned him. She wrote to tell me that he would have liked my blog and that I was a good writer. For me that is like not only hitting a home run, but doing it in front of the talent scout who just happened to be in the audience. She didn't join my group of followers (which is steadily growing at a stupefying continental drift pace...thanks to you all. Seriously! It would have been nice to get to 24 and out of the odd/prime 23 follower zone) so I don't think I can send her a direct message. So I would like to thank her here.

Dear Ms. Orrock,
Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me. I was thrilled,
touched, happy, excited, and many other adjectives pertaining to but staying on
the manly side of giddy. I am honored that you took the time to write to me and
I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your father was like a friend of our
family and I cannot even tell you how many times my family has passed around his
writings to make each other's days. You, in writing to me, have made my day.
Thank you,
P.S. If you happen to be a publisher and still think
I write well, I would be willing to thank you again on a daily basis. (kidding)

Keep tuning in and I'm sure I'll get around to telling you about the time Ray took his son to a baseball game with an exceptionally messy sandwich! It's priceless!

So now it is time to go to bed. I just couldn't go to sleep without letting you all know. Good night. And by the way, don't you think this little vignette will play wonderfully when they turn it into a movie? Just saying!

Whew! I'm Beat!

I am a dedicated writer. I even get up early on days when I could sleep in to come beg publishers to discover me and pay me kajillions of dollars to turn my blog into a book, movie, TV series, t-shirt, or refrigerator magnet. There are those out there who would say, "But Jeff, isn't it possible that you are only up early because you forgot to turn off the alarm clock that is set to go off 5 days a week?" Oh Ye of little faith...and loads of insight. Yup, six o'clock on the dot and I hear the wonderful light rock selections beginning to ramp up. A few beeps later and the alarms are all turned off so Sylvia can remain sleeping, but I am completely awake. Good for her, and good for you (if you enjoy reading this) because I have sort of taken the position that I am not going to just get up and turn on the TV to wait for everyone else in the world to get up. Thus this post.

I also need to give some credit to my sister who made a special request that I "labor over a blog entry before the end of Labor Day." She is, in fact, a big reason I started writing this in the first place. You can alternately thank or blame her as the case may be. (she is the follower whose name rhymes with snoozin)

It may seem like my idea stream has slowed to a trickle over the summer, but the fact is that my writing time has been impeded by getting things done around the house. "Laboring", as it were. It used to be that I could get up around 7 or so and start to write for about ninety minutes before anyone even knew I was up. Fudge, the wonder dog, is as reliable an alarm clock as anything Timex has ever produced. You remember the slogan, "There is no ticking, he just keeps on licking." I would get up, wipe off my face, let him out (which is a euphemism for something), and feed him...right before I sat down to write. I would be a paragraph away from done before there were any other sounds in the house.

Over the summer we had the goal of getting our van into the garage and, since Sylvia didn't like my idea of just backing way back and ramming it in, we needed to sort some things out. In order to do that Sylvia started waking early to get started for the day. When she came out she would always say, "It's OK, keep writing." But guys, it was that tone. You know the one. The same as a "nothing" that you know darn well means "something." So I put down the laptop and started in helping. It made for some really long times between also made for a big empty spot in the garage that fits the van nicely. Or rather it did until we allowed Jake to buy a set of drums with his own money...but that is another post.

So now we come to Labor Day. I know to capitalize it because I am a teacher and I know that some people call it a holiday. But I submit that it is not a real holiday as the evidence clearly shows.

First the name. Labor Day. Websters defines labor as "doing stuff." Well I'm pretty sure that's what it would say if I felt like getting up and looking. I'm nothing if not thorough. The name can be interpreted as meaning that we need to "do stuff" because this is the day for labor. But we all know that this is not the meaning. Otherwise only presidents would be allowed to buy washers and dryers with no interest for three years on Presidents Day. No, Labor Day is to take a day off from doing your labor. But wait! Isn't this the opposite of what is happening these days? It starts early on. Paper Men (I am convinced that there are no more paperboys) need to work harder than almost any other day other than the Friday after Thanksgiving because of all the ads. Then, because of all of those ads, the stores need to have almost all of their employees come in to handle all of the extra customers who find it impossible to live without the newest big ticket item at no interest for three years...even if you aren't a president. It seems to me the largest group of people who get the day off are those who work for the government (and lets be honest, they fail at even my definition of labor).

So the name doesn't lend itself to being an actual holiday. Thanksgiving - give thanks. Christmas - Christ Mass. Independence Day - the day of independence. Arbor day - the day you are supposed to walk under one of those flower draped white arches they have at weddings. I mean those make sense! Labor Day, seriously?

Now I don't want to complain too much because, well, I get the day off too. But let me tell you when someone deals with a room full of five year olds (and nearly five year olds) where one of them comes up to you and says, "Amo pego" (I love to Spanish) there is labor involved. I shall not be purchasing any big ticket items this labor day (even though I am the president of the Bonnie Hunt Fan's an honorary title I bestowed upon myself) and I will feel mildly guilty if we should happen to need to go to the store for something. I will not, however, admit that it is a real holiday.

The final and most compelling evidence that this is not a real, honest to goodness, holiday rests in the most reliable purveyor of holiday validation. I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen of line....any takers?) that Labor Day is simply not a holiday because has not turned its logo into anything involving labor! Case Closed!

Have a nice Labor Day! Whether you "labor" or not is completely up to you...unless you are a president.