The Day Howard Johnson’s Died*, Part 1

It’s surprising how big round numbers of historic significance can sneak up on you. The day I wrote this–December 31, 2016–is the thirtieth anniversary of my first major move as an adult. It was a cross-country move from Indiana to Virginia. It was career oriented. It was a game-changer and a life-changer. It opened my eyes to cultural differences I was unaware existed. All it required was the sacrifice of a Chevy Vega.

I have no pictures of me from that time. I wish I did, especially of the Vega. Fortunately the Power of Google allows me to show you a substitute for the Vega. Here it is:

Imagine this car with a dark-green vinyl top and about 47% more rust, especially around the driver’s side front wheel well, and you have my first car. I called it the Flaming Turtle. For the ’73 year a two-barrel Holley carb was offered as a performance option, kicking its horsepower into the three-digit zone at a whopping 110. The combination of that two-barrel carb and the natural weight decrease of excessive oxidation made it a delightfully ass-hauling machine. It hauled my ass quite well over the ten hour drive.

It didn’t haul my ass without some assistance, of course. Unable to pull a trailer of any kind, I had to settle for mounting a U-Haul rooftop carrier to it. You don’t see those much anymore. The Power of Google produced only one picture of the type I had, in fact, from a “Throwback Thursday” page on U-Haul’s website:

imagehandler.jpg

Too bad I couldn’t  have a VW Bus to make the move with as well. In the ’80’s, nothing  would have set apart a budding young air personality quite like having a VW Bus. Alas, the Vega was all the character I could afford (free, from my parents, for driving to college a few years earlier).

The move was from my first job in radio to my second, back when I still believed a successful radio career for an iconoclastic loner was a practical, possible thing. I’d grown up in Indiana, gone to college in Bloomington, had plenty of family still in the state or close to it, and had no desire to leave it. So I happily accepted a radio job inside my home state to begin my career, figuring if it was good enough for Sid Collins–original Voice of the Indianapolis 500, look him up–it was good enough for me.

Where I had started was the property of a man who preferred things done a very certain, very specific way. He would have you believe this was his unique way, time-tested, infallible, and needed by a wayward nation without moorings; but in reality it was spelled out in The Blue Book of the John Birch Society, and after having read it, I decided this was not the direction my life needed to go. So I looked for opportunities elsewhere in Indiana.I found none. My employer’s reputation preceded itself. It was possible to escape it in-state, but you had to know someone else, and I was young, and did not.

So I researched and found there are companies who, for a fee, will work with talent of all levels of experience. Somehow, without anyone figuring out what I was doing, I managed to produce a passable demonstration tape and send it to one of these companies. They had me placed within a month’s time. I gave two weeks’ notice. The owner reluctantly let me go, noting where I was going was a scant 40 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., “The Disneyland of the East.” Being one of two others leaving, the staff threw us all a “Has-Been” party. This would be our tie to the stuff of legend this station, and this owner, really was, having its origin from a popular on-air personality who engaged the owner constantly in philosophical discussions over what was right and proper for a personality to discuss over the air. The personality left not only the station, but radio altogether, for something with more sound economic potential so he could feed, house, and clothe his family.

“Looks like you’re a has-been now,” the owner said to him upon receiving his notice. “Too bad. Oh, well, I’m sure we gave you a few fond memories.”

The staff threw him a party and gave him a T-shirt with “W— HAS-BEEN” stenciled across the front. Ever since, all who left the station received the same. I may still  have mine someplace.

The same weekend a brother with a pickup truck came to get the furniture I couldn’t take with me, and a few days later I rented the rooftop rack for the Vega, stuffing it full of personal belongings, then stuffing the trunk full of personal belongings, then stuffing the back and passenger seats full of personal belongings. Finally I stuffed my person into it and aimed the car towards I-70. I was off. I was out.

I’ll write more later. Right now I want to kiss off 2016, much like I wanted to kiss off 1986. Let’s hope this next one is better than we have any right to expect. Excelsior.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Old memories and french toast

I’m in a happy state of mind right now. My belly’s full of french toast. My good wife made a loaf and a half’s worth, some to eat this morning, most to freeze for others so we can both have a yummy hot breakfast on cold days to come without either of us having to bust our tails. So now I want to write something, because I’m full of yummy french toast.

Fair warning, this is going to be a long and rambling entry because I’ve been away from the blog so long. I’m fully aware what TLDR means, even at 50. So if you crave constant action and suspense rather than deep thought and introspection, you’re welcome to watch these videos instead:

They should all play in order, but if they don’t, the link to the playlist is right here. Knock yourself out.

Fishing at Lake Vermilion in Minnesota is one reason I haven’t been blogging lately. I went the middle of August with my dad and two of my brothers. We had a good time and yes, I “filmed” it, a good three hours worth at least of it in glorious 1080p high definition this time, part of it with an obsolete Kodak camcorder and part of it with one of my employer’s fine non-GPS products, a Garmin VIRB. Editing that sucker down to something presentable should kill a few cold winter days.

So far as the past few weeks where I haven’t been fishing, I wish I could tell you it’s because I’ve been putting hour after hour into making my first self-published book, The Rain Song, a legitimate novel if not an outright work of art instead of the overwritten emotionally-stunted POS the original version is. I wish I could say that.

I can’t say that.

I haven’t been writing at all.

Which, applying a Calvinistic approach to some of the entries on the “Sheer Arrogance” pages of this blog, makes me one of the more evil hypocrites to ever walk this Earth. I know. Writers write, you haven’t been writing; therefore, you have no right to call yourself a writer. Begone, poseur, and let us never mention your name again.

That’s a lot of nonsense, frankly. I have a life, and I have been living it, and living it is time-consuming, and consumed time lived well doesn’t leave a lot of room for navel-gazing. You want rationalization? There it is, and for most people it’s legitimate. I’m no exception. It’s been a busy time.

So why am I writing this blog entry now?  Guilt? Pressure? Narcissistic tendencies bubbling back to the surface? A stubborn refusal to grow up and accept what my life has become, even though it may not include being a successful novelist with millions sold?

Nah, none of that. It’s an old yearbook page.

A Facebook friend of mine, for reasons all her own I do not know, has been posting class pictures from an elementary school yearbook. She had the wrong person tagged as me in one, so I politely let her know.

This morning she posted the right one. And there they all were, out of the dust of sixth grade, Mrs. Bodine’s first-ever class at Neil Armstrong Elementary, circa 1975-76. Me, in big dorky plastic-framed glasses, a striped orange-and-green dress shirt and with my hair in its usual never-combed state. My best friend of those days a few pictures down, looking happy and confident and ready for anything that came, three things I could never manage. My first serious unrequited crush a few rows down, looking elegant and graceful and intelligent, three things I could never appear. All these blessedly normal kids… and me. A flood of memories pouring back of what was, in spite of so many awkward and stupid things, a very good year.

And suddenly I wanted to write something.

Anything.

Except about those experiences, of course. Jean Shepherd I am not and will never be. Sorry.

So who am I?

Why not figure it out, then write about it?

Or vice-versa?

Maybe I will, after having some more French toast. Hm? 🙂

Making up for lost time

Another blog I stumbled onto commented about ending its “summer of drought.” The blogger, a professional writer and movie critic, hadn’t posted anything in weeks.

Sure made me feel better. Here she was getting paid to do this, and struggling to keep it real and regular. I’m just some loser in the middle of the country lucky to get ten readers at a time, I should try harder? 😉

Seriously–I did have an entry ready to go three weeks ago. It was evocative. It was provoking. It was esoteric and loopy and deep. And with one click of a wrong button it was flushed into atoms, something I didn’t discover until getting back four hours later from keeping an appointment, and I couldn’t remember a word of it. Not a single word.

It was crushing, I tell you. My delicate, sensitive ego could not take the blow… okay, enough of such crap; I laughed my ass off. Even looked at the sky and said “Well, God, guess you wanted to keep that one all to Yourself, huh?” and laughed some more. Then moved on with life.

So now you have to settle for this hopefully entertaining alternative. Ladies and gentlemen, The Three A.M. Blog World Premiere of the 2012 Butterfield Fishing Show. right here.

If I can find the time, I’ll put up the 2004-2005 Show for you, too.

I’ll write more later–really, I will–but for now, 45 minutes of the most fascinating “fishing” footage known to humanity will have to do. Enjoy.

(NOTE: I’ve noticed playing this back that it isn’t playing the playlist in the proper order. If it does that to you too, click here to get to the playlist in its proper order.)

Midwest Stoicism, and other exorcisms

Sometimes the good Lord reminds me people do read this blog. The latest reminder came at a funeral just this past Saturday.

The funeral was for someone well-loved who passed from the effects of leukemia. The time between its discovery and his passing was barely over a month. He leaves behind a wife and very young daughter both brave beyond their years. He was 47. Way too young. Always, way too young.

Just after the service I caught up with a friend who I used to work with. “I’ve been reading your blog,” he said almost instantly. “Been working on any books lately?”

I had to tell him no, because it’s been hard to write anything period. For one thing, as I pointed out a few entries ago, this death thing has been a rather persistent presence lately and that’s to be expected when you break 50. It’s just the law of averages. The older one gets, the more people he knows, the more people one knows, the more likely before he passes himself, others will pass. Sometimes it happens to people way too soon, like the mutual friend and co-worker we were both mourning, but in most cases It’s just nature. It’s just life. It’s reality.

All that said, I wish reality would knock it off awhile.

This year is not quite six months in and already two co-workers and friends, a cousin’s wife, a high school friend’s mother, and the last surviving grandparent of my boss, have all “transitioned,” as someone I currently work with would put it. Only one was no surprise. Maybe two. The rest, uh, no.

Sounds like I’m complaining about it, doesn’t it? What if I am? More importantly, what about the survivors of those people? Don’t they most of all have the right to do a little fist-shaking at the sky?

This past weekend’s service, like most, had a time for those who wanted to speak about the bereaved. I didn’t keep track of how many went up.  I can tell you with confidence it was more than any other funeral service or celebration of life I’ve attended.  My God, this man was loved. And why not? This man was so loving. He had the gift.

Then a minister said one of the most honest things I’ve ever heard a preacher say, not exactly these words but close enough: “This isn’t right. We shouldn’t have to say these things right now for someone as young as this.”

He’s right, you know.  Yet more often than we care to admit, we do.

I need to take you another direction, one that will make the title of this entry make more sense.

Six days earlier we had an absolutely glorious Sunday morning, perfect for walking, so I did, to church and back. My Vivofit claims that’s a ten-mile round trip. I don’t think so; an old digital pedometer I once wore said it was merely six. Either way, it’s healthy, and you do build a thirst. A new convenience store on Santa Fe in Olathe sells Yoo-Hoo, one of my worst vices since childhood.  I stopped in and got a bottle. There was a line three-deep before me.

“How ya doin’?” the friendly lady of a certain age behind the cash register said to a tall man in either business or church clothes, I wasn’t sure which. Either way he looked liked a young professional. Does anyone still call them “yuppies?” Like that.

“I’m dying,” he said casually. Like he had a cold, maybe.

“Oh, come on,” cash register lady said, still smiling, “it’s not all that hot today.”

“No,” he said matter-of-fact, “My doctor told me a few days ago I have cancer.” He grabbed his stuff. “Have a great day,” he said, just like anyone else would have said it.

It got quiet, and stayed that way.

I told my wife about it later. She was disgusted.

“I get the shock,” she said. “Five stages of grieving and all that; he’s in Denial. I get that. But God!  No one has the right to casually drop bombs like that on people they don’t know!”

She’s got a point–she always does, that’s why I love her–but I didn’t see it that way, then or now.

Posting a summary of it on Facebook, I asked if anyone else could face being told ‘you’re dying’ as calmly as he seemingly was, admitting I couldn’t. (Don’t let my ‘fraidy bump‘ entry fool you.)

“Midwest stoicism can be an asset at times,” one friend posted.

That one nailed it.

“Denial?” Maybe–yeah, probably.

But also the realization “hey, this happens to us all, now it may be my turn, and at least I got a little warning.”

Would we all get such grace.

Back to the funeral. A slide show was part of the visitation. Along with the usual pictures of happy times with friends and family at wonderful places, there were also pictures taken during his last month, during treatment–including one where his face was completely covered with what I believe was an oxygen mask. He was hugging his little girl, also wearing a face-covering oxygen mask.

It looked like aliens having a PDA.

That makes it sound funny. It wasn’t, at least not to me. It was more shocking than anything, at first.

Then I thought no, wait a minute. This is some more of that  Midwest Stoicism my Facebook buddy was talking about.

This picture, when taken, was acceptance of the reality that at least for a little while, life would require a full-faced oxygen mask.

Not only was the good man we were mourning good with it, you could tell in that picture he was finding a way to love his little girl right through it. She wasn’t scared at all. It was still Daddy, and she was still Daddy’s girl. Her own mask proved it.

How better to exorcise the demons of loss than to stare right into their faces and say “I don’t fear you?”

Grief is its own exorcism. Not of the beloved’s memory, we forfeit that at our souls’ peril. But, ultimately, of the shock and ache of loss.

We know the exorcism is complete when we’re able to think of that person and think “I was blessed to have known him, I will never forget him, and now I must move on,” and the next voice we hear isn’t the word “No.”

It’s not bottling your emotions. Rather, it’s facing them head on and telling them “I don’t fear you.” Even if early, that’s a lie. Given time and repetition it becomes the truth.

A lot of people are in shock right now over this man’s passing, but we will move on and we won’t fear life without him. Nor should we. He’d probably laugh and say so.

And now we’ll move on.

 

This won’t fix all our problems, but it would be a mighty good start

I’m a fairly mellow guy, I think. I’m not one to fly into rage when I read something online.

I have been known to scream “Oh, come ON” at my screen, though, and this CNN opinion piece on climate change made me do just that.

It’s not because I think it’s wrong. What Jane Velez-Mitchell, the writer, wants is for media to openly advocate that climate change is real and we need to do something about it. If our media can do that factually and objectively, fine. No quarrel. Knock yourselves out, folks!

What made me facepalm, multiple times, was her use of May tornadoes in the Midwest as evidence that climate change is a real, immediate threat to us all.

OMG. O, M, G.

Excuse me, Your Humble Blogger said, currently living in Kansas and having lived in Indiana, two parts of the country known as Tornado Alley, for virtually all of his life;  having childhood memories of April 3, 1974, having read stories of Palm Sunday 1965  and the Tri-State Tornado which occurred well before that; just because a couple of towns in Missouri and Nebraska got blown to bits as has happened every year in the Midwest since at least when they started keeping records of this stuff–I’m supposed to consider tornadoes evidence that all of humanity is in danger unless we do something about climate change?

OMG, AYFKM? The “F” standing for “fully,” of course? 😉

I made myself read the rest of Ms. Velez-Mitchell’s article in spite of my immediate visceral reaction to that… that… well, that; but I’ll tell you right now, I didn’t want to.

See, there’s this thing about human nature: If in an argument an example used to make a point demonstrates ignorance of reality as a human being sees it, that same human being will consider the point itself equally ignorant.

And from there, from that, most human beings will read all kinds of things  into the motives of those trying to claim it fact, most if not all of them, unkind.

Why is there debate about whether or not climate change is really happening? Right there is your answer.

What people have grown up with, have heard about and perhaps dealt with all their lives, is being presented as evidence not only that climate change is happening but that it’s an immediate, high-level emergency that must be dealt with right now. A crisis.

Normalcy doesn’t equal crisis in most people’s minds.

I don’t consider a bunch of  tornadoes proof of anything other than life in the Midwest has its risks. My wife considers wildfires in California proof of nothing more than that Santa Ana winds fan flames quickly. She grew up there. She remembers it having fires every year.

If you tell either of us it’s proof the climate is changing and unless we do something fast we’re doomed, most likely we’ll ignore you. Your fear doesn’t equate with our facts. We think you’re trying to manipulate us. We resent it. Thoroughly.

Just so you know, this is from someone who believes climate change is real.

How much of a threat it is, is hypothetical at this point. But it is happening, and it’s wise to apply thought and resources toward determining why it’s happening, if it’s natural or man-made–I don’t buy that already being settled; little people, big Earth–if it can be stopped, if it can’t, how best to deal with it; if it can, whether or not it should be. All this should be done.

But it should not be done with fear.

It should not be done with ignorance.

Manipulating people through fear and ignorance is a guaranteed, time-tested, historically-proven way NOT to get something done in the long term. Anything good, anyway.

Yet it seems today for any cause, any belief, any action, they’re the very first things our so-called leaders go for.

No wonder we’ve become so polarized as a country. No one knows what to think anymore because no one appears to know how.

I would love to see a new age of reason in this country.

Just once–let’s use climate change as an example–I would love to see someone in a high place say, “Look, whether or not we believe this is real or not is irrelevant. It’s beside the point.  If there’s evidence that it is happening, wouldn’t it benefit us all to take the time and the research necessary to know how best to deal with it?  Surely we’re smart enough we can do that without it costing anyone his way of life, if we think about it, if we apply ourselves to it.  Why, we might find ways to improve everyone’s lives along the way whether it’s really happening or not.  This doesn’t need to be a crisis. It’s simply a challenge, and any challenge we’ve faced together before, as one, we’ve met successfully, the record proves it. Nothing makes this one any different. So let’s just deal with it, as one, together. What say you?”

I’d be a lot more receptive to that approach. Wouldn’t you?

 

 

“We need the moisture”

Good morning. It’s 4:30 CDT as I type, but I’ve been up since this blog’s title because that’s when the storms rolled in. They’ve been forecast for the past five days, and this morning, after a long and busy weekend celebrating a multi-generational Mother’s Day, they finally hit. No complaint. They’re not like the weather to the north and east for sure, and we need the moisture. A Midwestern U.S. saying if ever was one, “We need the moisture.”

So where the heck have I been since Palm Sunday weekend? Busy, people. The older you get, the more you have a life and that means doing the stuff of life. We can’t always sit on our butts being profound and brilliant, you know, even we so-called bloggers. There are yards to be maintained, houses to be kept, cats to be fed and shot up with yearly drugs, garages to be cleaned out, grandchildren to see and goof with. Much of that, and my wife’s been working overtime and will be indefinitely, so I’m picking up a lot of her home chores on top of my own. Not complaining, it’s good for me to do that and as long as it doesn’t kill her we can always use the money. And have. Babyproofing a house so a grandchild can come play and his family not worry is not cheap.

All that and yes, I have been writing. Thank God. I need to. When I don’t, bad things happen upstairs. Nothing too psychologically horrid, mind you, just a sense of the skull not being swept as it should be. I’m on revision two of my rewrite of The Rain Song, or Burke’s Siren. I can tell you right now it will be called neither of those things when I’m done. By the grace of our Lord, it is becoming a very different book, the one I should have written in the first place. For the 20 or so of you who bought the original, I will make it very worth your while to read this one too. For the 6,000,000,0080 of you who did not, I will make it very worth your while to read it the first time. I won’t claim it’s Fitzgerald or Hemingway or even a minor Vonnegut, but it’s going to be good. All I ask is your patience while I get it completely right.

Assuming the good Lord gives me time to do that. Fair warning: you may have noticed I’ve been writing a lot about death lately. Can’t help it. As noted in the last entry after Palm Sunday, people I know have been experiencing a lot of it. It’s normal, it’s natural, and the older you are, the more of it you will see, especially once you crest 50.  My manager at work is the latest on the string. She lost her grandmother a couple weeks ago, a good Catholic woman strong as a bull into her late 80’s, only recently did she need a nursing home. Tempus fugit, memento mori. 

And I may as well come out and say it: I got thrown a scare last week when I found a huge painless bump, ten-cent gumball-sized, on the left side of my chest right above the sternum, where Web MD says one of my lymph nodes should be.

Don’t panic. It’s nothing. At least I’m sure it’s nothing, because–gross part ahead–by the middle of the week I could pop it, and now it’s much, much smaller than it was. Probably just some clogged pores. You can’t pop a tumor like a zit, right? But I’m due a checkup soon, and I will point it out to the doctor just to see what he says.

Still, at my age stuff like that makes you think. Apparently right now I’m supposed to. I keep an adoration hour at St. Paul’s here in Olathe. Some gracious soul left behind in the chapel a copy of On Death and Dying by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross the same weekend my bump was its biggest. I’m not quite eighty pages through it. It’s a book for medical professionals on how they should approach their patients who are terminal or enduring malignancies that may be terminal. It is a deeply sensitive book written by a deeply sensitive soul. It’s also a secular book, not given to flights of metaphysics or spiritual loftiness. I frankly found it odd it would be left in an adoration chapel among books about adoring Christ and the suffering of the saints. But there it was, and no one’s taken it out, and I’m glad it’s there because it’s a strengthening thing. Anyone can read it, it can get a little dense in spots, but it’s not jargony or technical.

I want to finish it before writing much more, if anything, about it, but it’s point seems clear to me: A medical professional must meet death at the same level his or her patient is ready to meet it. This is difficult, for sure; but worthwhile in that it establishes the credibility to face death together and honestly, for the entire family as well as just the doctor and patient.

And it makes the point, several times over, that our culture runs from death when it should not. Death is inevitable. It is good to think about it–how we will deal with it with others, how we will prepare for it when our time comes. Let’s repeat that–it is good to think on death.

It is. My little fraidy-bump forced me to consider, if only theoretically, that maybe fifty years is all I get. What about that? If it’s true, am I okay with it? Can I deal with it? If I knew it was coming, how would I approach it with the others in my life?

I won’t hit you with the heaviness of my own answers to those questions. I would encourage you instead to ask them of yourself and see what your answers are. I will say if I did get, say, a diagnosis of something nasty enough to snuff me out, I would thank the Lord for the chance to get things in order before it did. Not everyone gets that chance.

Every morning is a miracle. Thank God for the moisture of another. We need it.

 

A few thoughts on the Big Inevitability

OK. Good news first: my oldest brother Brad and his wife Cindy just found out from eldest daughter Erin and son-in-law Joel that sometime in October, they too will become grandparents. They are thrilled, as they should be and is most appropriate. It means one day, someday, they’ll have a little critter to come visit who may look something like this:

1979863_10203396730219485_721027260_n

And who can resist something who looks like that? Not you, certainly not me; that’s my grandson right there and let me tell you he is a blast. I worked with someone who became a grandmother in her mid-30’s, had four of them by the time I worked with her in her early forties, who said there was nothing better on this earth than being a grandparent. She was right. Quite right.

So I’m happy for them, and looking forward to adding “great-uncle” to my multiple hats, and look forward to meeting the star of future Butterfield Fishing Shows. As there is nothing better than being a grandparent, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing the future right before your eyes. It is the reward of age. The good Lord’s way of saying, “You’re not done yet. All those mistakes you made with your own? Here’s another chance. Good luck.”

It’s good to think of birth right now. Lately, I’ve been thinking an awful lot of death. My oldest cousin lost his wife unexpectedly a few weeks back. A high school friend lost his mother unexpectedly just a few days ago. While I’m not worried about either of them because both of them have the most fantastic support network of family and friends people can ask for, I’m still praying for them because both of them are in shock. They don’t have to say it. I know it. Neither of them are that old. My cousin’s wife wasn’t that old. My friend’s mother wasn’t that old. This wasn’t supposed to happen this soon. Yet it did. Tempus fugit, memento mori, but not yet, not now!

No. Sorry. It’s yet. It’s now. There is no way of knowing how much that hurts until you experience it. I’m not about to claim I know how they feel.

But here’s the reality I do have to face: This is going to happen more and more often to people I know, because that is the lesson of age. The great inevitability of life is on our way to death, people we love will die first and the older we get, the more this will happen until it finally happens to us. It’s no one’s fault. It’s not part of a divine plan. It’s just pure cold logic, frankly. Mathematics. The branch of such called probability. The older we get, the more people we know, that simple. The realization doesn’t really hit you until your late 40’s to early 50’s, though, because that’s when it starts happening more often. It’s no longer this rare event that occasionally disrupts your life. There’s a reason your grandparents read the obituaries in the morning paper every day.

So what can you do about it? Not much. Be supportive. Show in some way how much the lost soul was loved and the survivor still is. Give your heart and your shoulder. Pray. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This weekend is Palm Sunday. If you’re Christian, let this weekend and next remind you as well that death isn’t the end and this life is not all that we live for.

And hug those children and grandbabies while you can. 🙂