Thursday, February 4, 2016

Music of Enormous Consequence

Gotta listen to this music.

Omigod, enough already.

First David Bowie, then Glenn Frey, followed by Paul Kantner.

Today, Maurice White.

When you've fallen headlong into the precipice of middle age, you're gonna lose a few rock stars, comes with the territory. Turns out rock stars are actually human beings, too, subject to cancer, bum tickers, Parkinson's and all the other maladies that end the lives of modern man.

Church on time puts my trust in God and man.

Our generation has as much capacity as any for loss, more than some, maybe, but do we have to lose our rock and roll heroes once a week?

We took our niece to dinner tonight in downtown MHK. Ribeye for the birthday girl, fish and chips for Uncle Precipice Approacher. Aunt Jackie went with the vegetable quinoa. Our niece is a second semester freshman (freshperson?), struggling with all the coming of age challenges second semester freshmen (freshpeople?) struggle with on the day they turn 19.

The conversation led inevitably (because isn't it all about me?) to where I was on the night I turned 19. 

December 5, 1976. Wichita. I'm sure I was partying. No doubt there was rock and roll. Chances are better than even it was Bowie, Jefferson Starship, Earth, Wind & Fire or the Eagles.

So put me on a highway,
and show me a sign, and 
Take it to the limit one more time.

At 19, I tended to not think beyond the end of the evening. Living by impulse. The melodies, lyrics and riffs of the era of enormous consequence.

There's only one solution to this weekly loss of Those Who Make a Lasting Impression (my caps). Kerry Livgren, Anne Wilson, Peter Frampton, Lindsey Buckingham, etc., et al, just have to live forever. 

If only you believe in miracles, baby (If only you believe in miracles, baby), so would I.

Sigh...

But that's not going to happen. Harry Wayne Casey will not become the World's First Immortal Rock Star (album title, maybe?) We'll lose more of the women and men who wrote and performed the music of a generation of precipice approachers. 

On the way home (separate cars, I picked up our niece and we met Jackie there, Jackie took her back to her dorm -- busy, hectic, logstics-laden lives we lead...) tributes to Maurice White emanate from the satellite radio. Boogie Wonderland cranked to a volume sufficient to feel the beat into my core.

When I hear the music today, I am at once 19 -- and deep into the precipice of middle age.

If you look way down in your heart and soul,
Don't hesitate 'cause the world seems cold.
Stay young at heart, 'cause you're never, never old.        

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Dogs Are People Too

Why can't I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?
                                                   --Hank Williams, 1951
  
For the first three or four years she wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. We had reached a manageable d├ętente. I’d feed her twice a day but otherwise, I was persona non grata.

Screw it, I thought. You go your way, I’ll go mine. I can be stubborn, too.

We finally determined it wasn’t me and it wasn’t her. It was exigent circumstances traced to her first few months. We rescued Rover from a heartless prairiebilly, deep in the Flint Hills of Wabaunsee County. Her first five puppy months were spent in a cage with little or no human contact. 

Jackie was hip. “You have to make the first move,” she advised. The gifts I have received from this woman since we first met in 1994 cannot be counted, but among the most cherished is this notion that dogs are people, too. 

My wife was right and it was to be a watershed moment of clarity on my glidepath to the precipice of middle age. I tried harder and slowly, incrementally she warmed up. Turned out Rovie had every bit as much emotional cognition as me. Who knew?
  
Rover. January 28, 2004 - January 7, 2016.
We entered each other’s orbits and taught each other. The canine and the human each acquired knowledge and understanding through experience, judgment and reasoning toward an eventual full blown rapprochement. We each gave, incrementally at first, all in at the end.

The Cold War was over. Nixon went to China. Mr. Gorbachev tore down the wall.  

I first got Rover as a birthday gift for my wife. But the offering Rover gave me, through Jackie, will stay with me all the days of my life.

The last couple of years, we settled into a comfortable pattern. Rovie preferred to dine in and amongst the chairs under the dining room table, so that’s where I served her. While she was enjoying her breakfast or dinner, I’d be in the kitchen, preparing an insulin syringe. She’d finish eating, find me and then trot to a very specific space between the coffee table and couch in the living room.

She’d plop down and without complaint, receive her insulin injection. Then she’d stand up, position herself with her front paws on my left leg and allow me to administer daily eye drops. Then, this dog who once wanted nothing to do with me, would lick my hand.
 
Somewhere between 4 and 4:30 each afternoon Rovie would find me, regardless of my location in the house and purposefully place herself directly within my line of sight. Just sit there and stare at me, accompanied by the occasional low growl.

“Chill, Rove. It’s another hour and a half until chow time.” 

More staring. One blue eye, one amber eye drilling into me. Predictably, I’d give in and 6 p.m. chow time became 5:45, or 5:30. She had me figured out, Rovie.

We first noticed the blood in her left ear Tuesday night. On Wednesday, our veterinarian diagnosed spontaneous bleeding. By Thursday evening Jackie and I forced ourselves into the dreaded ‘quality of life’ conversation and made the heartwrenching decision.

Rovie often slept on my side of the bed and as I arose, I’d hear her tail thumping on the floor in the darkness. She would literally herd me out of the bedroom, down the hall toward a morning routine, sustenance and another day of thawed, cordial relations. Another days gift of mutual love and respect.

I got up this morning by myself. This is the time of day I’ll miss her the most.

Rovie lived three weeks shy of a dozen years. During her time on the planet she survived the heartless prairiebilly, allergies, diabetes, temporary blindness, eyeball surgery, various and assorted infections, doggie scrapes and my stubbornness. 

Our hearts are broken and sadness permeates our home on Sunnyside Drive this winter weekend, but we know this too, shall pass. 

I can’t pinpoint the exact date, hour and minute God’s will entered our hearts, Rovie and me.

I can only judge by the results.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

'86 the Socks

AN ACTUAL CONVERSATION is just that. Actual words spoken as a means of communication between my wife and I (my wife and me?) Verbal cross sections, snapshots of our existence. When shared via social media, they’ve sorta become a thing. Here are a few o’ my faves from 2015:

(While picking up our recently-serviced Ford Escape) 
Mike: “Hey, look! A fire engine red 1989 Camaro RS..!” 
Jackie: “Don't get any stupid ideas.”

Mike: “Who’s pitching for the White Sox?” 
Jackie: “Danks.” 
Mike: “You're welcome.”

Mike: (Making car collision noises while pulling into a tight parking space).  
Jackie: “You're such a boy.”

(Encouraging her to '86 the socks in favor of just feet in tennis shoes).
Jackie: “You were right, this feels much better.” 
Mike: “What was the first part of that sentence again?”

(Driving past R.C. McGraw’s in MHK)
Mike: “Man, lookit all the cars in the parking lot of that night club.” 
Jackie: “Night club? How old are you, anyway?” 
Mike: “Whaddayou call it?” 
Jackie: “A bar.” 

Feta, bleu, gorgonzola, et al. Sans goat.
(On the phone) 
Mike: “They have feta cheese crumbles, bleu cheese crumbles, gorgonzola cheese crumbles. NO goat cheese crumbles.” 
Jackie: “Where are you?” 
Mike: “Standing before an immense dairy case with cheese as far as the eye can see.” 
Jackie: “You’re in the wrong place.” 
Mike: “Of course I am.” 

(During my post-dinner kitchen cleanup)
Jackie: “Anything I can do to help?” 
Mike: “You can cheerlead my efforts.” 
Jackie: “Gimme an ‘M,’ gimme an ‘I...’”

(Preparing to do a load o’ laundry) 
Jackie: “Tide, Downy, ‘normal wash’ setting.” 
Mike: “Please bear in mind, I was doin’ laundry long before you entered the picture.” 
Jackie: “Yeah, but not very well.”

(As Alex Gordon tries to take an extra base)
Mike: “DON’T GO!” 
Jackie: “When you’re aggressive and take risks, sometimes there are costs… and sometimes you go to the friggin’ World Series.”

(Via text)
Mike: “Golden State 22 Cleveland 20, 3 minutes and change left in 1st quarter.” 
Jackie (in Topeka): “Thanks. Sitting on pins and needles awaiting those NBA updates.”

(Handing over my brand new Surface Pro 3, ostensibly for one specific task)
Mike: “You're just dorking around with it. I coulda done that.”
Jackie: “It's not ‘dorking,’ it’ strategic problem-solving.”

(Cruising Nashville for a specialty game store)
Jackie: “If we strike out, we can try Toys R Us in the Opryland Mills mall we passed last night... and maybe stop at that Ralph Lauren Polo store.” 
Mike: “I didn’t see that in the dark.” 
Jackie: “I did. I can see that pony from a long ways off.”

(Following a mild health complaint)
Mike: “Do you feel feverish?” 
Jackie: “I donno.” 
Mike (hand on her forehead): “A little bit, but then you always tend to run a degree or two hotter than the rest of humanity.”

(Me asleep, apparently. Her awake)
Jackie: “Are you OK?” 
Mike: “I just don't wanna hafta go to prom again...”

Mike: “D’you see that Tom Cruise announced today that he's running for President?” 
Jackie: “You mean Ted Cruz?”

(Discussing clubs we belonged to in high school)
Jackie: “...of course, there was FFA.” 
Mike: “FFA? Isn’t that more like a cult?”

Jackie: “Wanna see Fleetwood Mac in concert?”
Mike: “I think I prefer to remember my rock stars in their youthful glory.” 
Jackie: “Then I guess I won’t give you your Valentine’s Day gift.”

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Deep Into the Precipice

The morning routine’s well-practiced. (That’s why they call it a routine?) 

Arise between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m., visit the room with all the porcelain accoutrements, start a cup of coffee, feed the dogs, prepare a hypodermic syringe and inject 14 units of insulin into the left side of Rover, the Dynamic Diabetic Doggie (my caps and alliteration).

(Left side/morning, right/night).

Fetch the coffee, read something spiritual that reminds me of why TF I am on the planet. Today: “I pray that as I have received, so may I give.” 

Check out Facebook, cnn.com and royalsreview.com. Second cuppajoe. Sometimes a second visit to the room with the porcelain.

Yesterday, I combined those two and as I’m standing there in front of the porcelain accoutrement that loosely resembles a chair, cup of coffee in one hand and, well, you get the picture, it struck me that I’m 58 years old.

No longer approaching or even standing at the precipice of middle age. The U.S. Census lists the category ‘middle age’ between 45 and 64. That puts me deep into the precipice. I mean, do the math. 58 + 58 = 116. I sure as hell won’t live that long, and if I’ve learned anything in 58 years it’s that euphemism and spin are perishable commodities.

So let’s name it accurately.

OK, twist my arm. I'll have a third.
My father turned 58 in 1990. On this date in 1990, his eldest son was in chemical dependency rehab in Johnson County. The third of three and it still didn’t take. My last drink would come less than a year later.

So as I sit here at the dining room table at 58 years and 24 hours, enjoying my second cuppa joe in a Waechtersbach coffee mug (my lone nod to Christmas decorating – hey, we’re busy), I contemplate whether to have a third.

Being carried along in the mainstream of a river than runs directly through the precipice of middle age, I gaze east through the sliding glass door at yet another breathtaking Flint Hills sunrise and wonder if my mother looked at one just like it 58 years ago, right here in Manhattan, Kansas. Donna Fargo was dead wrong, btw.

I wrestle with such monumental Earthling problems as determining the social media etiquette in acknowledging the nearly 300 Facebook happy birthday greetings (“like” ‘em all?) Then I translate that into nearly 300 individual decisions made to take the time and energy to think about li’l ol’ me and I am humbled.

I ponder how a seeming malcontent like Zack Greinke can earn 34.4 million dollars a year throwing a baseball. Part of me thinks it patently obscene. But another part of me has happily and oh so willingly shelled out big dough for Playoff and World Series (MLB’s caps) tickets and togs each of last two seasons.

How can I rage against the machine when I’m greasing its cogs? 

When my son called to wish me happy birthday, I was standing in a line at Bill Snyder Family Stadium to visit another room with porcelain accoutrements (they’re everywhere). It was the second time this season I got a call from him whilst standing in this queue, which probably speaks more to my demographics.

Scott will be 58 in 2043. By then I’ll be 86.

I could make it to 86.

But not if I don’t make continual, purposeful choices and decisions. Salad instead of a cheeseburger. Truth instead of spin. Water instead of coffee. Others instead of me. Moderation. Common sense. Logic. God’s will instead of mine.

I try to do all this as quietly as possible, so as not to disturb my still slumbering wife.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Holler With Impunity

The things we touch
bear us up and change with us
There may be no message
but nothing survives us
without a name
Given away       altered      and given back

  --Lawrence Raab, February 1971 
   
It can be traced to Max Alvis.

Influenced by three brothers from Brooklyn, I started collecting baseball cards in June 1968 in Berkeley, California. While my father studied the origins of the universe during a summer fellowship at Cal-Berkeley, Id study the back of Max Alviss baseball card.
  
My Brooklyn chums, Yankee diehards, lived in the apartment building next door and spent the summer hoping to land a Mickey Mantle. We’d sit beneath a palm tree and wheel and deal. Max Alvis was always a throw-in. Never a pot sweetener.
  
Observant, my father. He watched our growing interest in baseball cards and on a Friday night in August, loaded us in our red-over-white 1967 Volkswagen microbus, across the Bay Bridge and into Candlestick Park.
  
Late in the game, Pop asked if I was hungry. “Kinda,” clueless about ballpark eating etiquette. Pop spots a guy with a big satchel a section over, stands up and hollers, “HEY PEANUTS!”
  
I learned ballparks were these wonderful places where you can holler with impunity. A place where guys would actually come right to your seats bearing peanuts and hotdogs. Back home in Wichita, more baseball experiences, one right after the next, would seal my love of the game.

In the spring of 6th grade, the Kansas City Royals started playing ball just up the turnpike from Wichita. A year later, the Cleveland Indians moved their Triple-A minor league club to our city and my best buddy, Scott Scheuerman, and I would bicycle downtown from Pleasant Valley, eat peanuts, hotdogs and holler with impunity at future big leaguers.

The 1970 Wichita Aeros remain vivid in my mind’s eye. Chris Chambliss in left, Buddy Bell at third. Vince Colbert throwing gas. John Lowenstein hit a home run out of Lawrence Stadium that bounced in front of a taxicab on McLean Boulevard and rolled into the Arkansas River.
  
Munley got around (KFH, KWBB).
Scott (for whom my son is named) taught me some gems. “HEY CHAMBLISS! IS THAT A FLASHLIGHT IN YOUR POCKET OR DO YA JUST LOVE THE GAME?” I wanted desperately to lay that one on Jose Bautista from our right field seats in the ALCS last month, but my wife was next to me... and... well, I guess I’m no longer in seventh grade.

Holler with impunity. Within reason. As the circumstances dictate. So I opted for, LETS GO ROYALS!

At home, I’d tune my parents’ antique (even then) dark grey breadbox-shaped Zenith radio to KWBB and hang on Jack Munley’s every call of Aeros play-by-play. I used my mom’s pink nail polish to paint a line on the tuning panel at 1410.

“In there... for a CALLED... strike three!” 

Then a book that would change my life.

Jim Bouton, erstwhile Yankee pheenom who had lost his fastball and was trying to hang on with a knuckleball, published a diary of his 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots. Not an idealized portrayal, but accounts and descriptions of the game that were legit, written and disseminated without the expressed, written consent of The Man.

Bouton’s first line of Ball Four remains my fav from all of literature.

I’m 30 years old and I have these dreams.

Sharing Ball Four with my son when he was a kid, ca. 1999.
At age 10, my first pack of baseball cards, from a little mom-and-pop grocery store at the corner of Ellsworth Avenue and Parker Street in Berkeley, California.

Forty-seven years later on a November night in Queens, Eric Hosmer made a mad dash for home. The memories have been washing over me since. The Brooklyn boys in Berkeley... Max Alvis and his career .247 batting average... my father hollering at the peanut vendor... Jack Munley on the radio... my childhood best friend... Jim Bouton... my son... Eric Hosmer. 

Life is about moments and experiences. As I ease down into the precipice of middle age, my team won the World Series. 

It just keeps getting better.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Put a Sock In It

I've heard this song before.

When I was about 13, I took issue with Curt Gowdy’s play-by-play. I’d watch NBC’s Game Of The Week on our Amazing 1971 Zenith Color Television featuring Chromacolor 100, a Totally Advanced Color TV System.

(Zenith. The quality goes in before the name goes on). 

I had two specific laments about his efforts:

1. He told the story about Darrell Evans’ mother playing professional softball every time the Atlanta Braves were on. Sometimes twice in the same game.

2. He about wet his pants anytime there was an infield popup with fewer than 2 down and runners on first and second or the based were loaded.

Breathlessly, Gowdy used the exact same words and inflection every time. If you just tuned in, you’d think it was the Emergency Broadcast System, that Soviet ICBMs were on the horizon and our only option was to duck and cover.

“THE INFIELD FLY RULE IS IN EFFECT... (GASP!)... THE BATTER IS AUTOMATICALLY OUT AND THE RUNNERS ADVANCE AT THEIR OWN RISK (PANT, PANT)..!!” 

My grandmother grew weary of my complaining and urged me to write him a letter. So I did.

July 21, 1971 

Curt Gowdy 
NBC Sports 
30 Rockefeller Plaza 
New York, New York 10112

Dear Curt,

Deep breaths, fella. It’s a pop fly.

Your friend,

Mike

Today it’s Joe Buck. My problem is a general ‘know-it-all’ vibe he gives off that I find annoying. Harold Reynolds thought maybe Hosmer’s foot was on the bag in the 4th inning of Game 2. Replays appeared inconclusive. Buck was convinced Hoz’s foot was off the bag. Rather than swallow it, he then felt compelled to share that sentiment.

Acting on his compulsion, showing up a colleague and strengthening the know-it-all vibe.

In addition, there are just too many voices. Three people in the booth, Rosenthal with the bow ties, Erin Andrews and her penetrating on-the-field interviews. No fewer than five bodies on the pre/post-game “committee.” My God, that’s ten throats vying for a finite amount of air time. Each trying desperately to come up with some new, undiscovered pearl or insight.

There’s little, if anything, plugged-in Royals fans will learn from these ten. We know they Keep The Line Moving, that Esky swings at the first pitch. We know Salvy’s preponderance to go oh and 2. We know sometimes Ned leaves pitchers in too long, but often comes up smelling like a rose. 

Die-hard Mets fans know their team the same way.

Plus, with the savviness in which big league ballplayers stay on message, the “interviews” seem pointless.

On-air personnel used to be ancillary to the action on the field. Today, unfortunately, they have become the show, the unwanted drama. We’ve blown way past the sweet spot and are mucking around in the bitter and sour. 

My bottom-line message from age 13 remains unchanged: 

Less is more.

I think I’ll buy five pair of Officially MLB-Sanctioned Kansas City Royals Men’s Team Socks.
  
That’s ten socks. One for each mouth.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Positive Influences

Sitting in the lobby of the Four Points Sheraton across the street from Kauffman Stadium. Just tried to confirm our reservations for this Tuesday, the first night of the World Series. Almost had to communicate via the written word, because my voice is shot.

That’ll happen after nine innings of hollering, “LET’S GO ROYALS” at the top of my lungs. I learned long ago my voice carries. So I feel compelled to lead the cheers in our right field section, just below Rivals. These seats also proved to be prime real estate to share with Joey Bats just how those of us in the right field seats feel about his antics. 

The jeers are toned down a bit from my youth. They’re also modulated considerably due to the influence of the woman I love.

Jackie’s still in the hotel room, asleep. I wake up every day, 6 a.m.-ish. Makes no difference whether I go to bed at 9 p.m. or 4 a.m., I wake up at 6. When we stay in hotels, I get dressed quietly, find the coffee in the lobby and hang out until she awakens.

Pictures of Jackie Taking Pictures. Pennant winning style.
She’ll wake up happy this morning. Her beloved Kansas City Royals won the pennant last night. That’s two pennants in a row, first time ever in franchise history. 

My wife credits her love of the Kansas City Royals to her parents. Jack and Jean were in their 40’s when Jackie arrived, the baby of the family, last of a line of six kids, ten years after the most recent one. Jackie was supposed to be a boy. In fact, she was supposed to be Jack E. McClaskey, Jr. 

But she was the fifth girl in a row and Jack E. Junior became Jackie. She’s her father’s daughter in every sense.

Jean’s pushing 90. This season, Jackie made it a point to call her Mom after every Royals game. The ones we watched on TV and the ones we saw in person.  Wins and losses.

Last night, amid the din of a pennant winning celebration, on the phone with her youngest daughter, Jean didn’t question Ned’s managing, she marveled at Lorenzo’s speed and gave credit to the guts and heart of the Greatest Relief Pitcher in the Game (my caps). 

So my natural default tendencies to second guess and to sometimes skew negative when the ball bounces the wrong way are overshadowed by my wife’s 2015 Royals mantra... “Trust Ned.” 

That comes naturally for her. You see, she’s also her mother’s daughter.

We’ll be back in the right field seats Tuesday and Jackie will call her Mom after Game 1 of the World Series.

Win or lose, all is right with the world.