Bermuda Shorts Mafia

indexMy friend Jeff is a human torch. Sparks are shooting out of his hand. I have retreated to the safety of Jeff’s carport in Ocala, Florida. Avery is standing beside me. “Do not ever do what Jeff is doing,” I caution my son. “Should Jeff be doing what Jeff is doing?” he asks. “No, he should not,” I tell him. “But there are many things he does that he should not be doing.” Avery nods in agreement. If Jeff wants to hold a Roman Candle firework in one hand while it shoots sparks into the night sky, all we can do is get out of the way and pray for him.

It’s the Fourth of July, and we are standing in Jeff’s carport. But we are also standing in his Man Cave. Jeff has just purchased a pool table that was installed there with a lot of help from his friends. I was kind of shocked to see how many people assembled to help him realize his dream. Naturally, I was there. Tuey and Hank were there. But there were about six of us in all so somewhere somehow he dredged up two more friends and the loan of a flatbed trailer. If I had to move a pool table, I would just be screwed because I could never come up with that many friends willing to move impossibly heavy things for me.

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Bermuda Shorts Mafia

Island of misfit toys

imagesAvery should not be behind a wheel. He’s four years old, and he’s strapped into a fully drivable miniature jeep his grandparents bought him for Christmas in a fit of largess and careless disregard for his personal safety. He lives for speed and has absolutely no appreciation for the functions of the brake and steering wheel. As soon as he gets in the jeep, it lurches forward in whatever the most dangerous direction is – a steep ditch, a barbed wire fence or the open road.

This gift represents a significant financial investment from my wife’s father. We are often at odds when it comes to gifts for my son. My job is to keep Avery safe from traumatic brain injury while Robb’s mission is to prepare him for life as a NASCAR driver or drummer in a heavy metal band. Every gift he gets seems unnecessarily loud and designed to scare the bejesus out of me.

I have been carefree and mellow for most of my adult life, but as a new parent I am on constant guard against forces of destruction. I can’t seem to shut off my protective instinct. I’m like an out-of-control robot on “Lost In Space” spinning madly and reporting “Danger Will Robinson” at the slightest provocation. An uncovered electrical outlet sends me into palpitations because I recall sparks flying out of such an outlet when I was a small child and began sticking random metal objects into outlets in my room out of boredom and curiousity.

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Island of misfit toys

Tacky trashy Christmas blues

imagesMy wife is staring at the angel I just purchased. “What is that?” she asks. “That goes on top of our Christmas tree. It’s amazing, right?” The angel is really large. It’s rigged to change bright colors every five seconds. “If I want to have a seizure and disrupt the entire feng shui of the Christmas tree, that’s a great angel,” she says. “So, you don’t like it?” I ask. “Not so much,” she says.

I plug the angel in and put it on the windowsill. This seems like a great idea until Robyn says that when she comes home from work and gets out of the car, seeing that particular angel in our house makes her want to walk into some other house on the block and start a new life there. “Where would you suggest I install my angel?” She ticks off five ideas. “A spare drawer, the closet, under the bed, a trash can or anywhere out of sight would do.”

I’m all about Peace on Earth. But when you get Christmas wrong, it’s Hell on Earth. No Good Will toward Men. Christmas should be a time for togetherness and love, but it can be a battleground. When you first start sharing your Christmas with someone, you might discover some of your holiday traditions clash. We’ve been married 16 years now, but those early Christmas times were hard.

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Tacky trashy Christmas blues

The Town Fathers are Watching

imagesWe can’t kiss. Shouldn’t hold hands. Why not? I ask. I’m walking around tiny Faith, North Carolina with my new girlfriend during spring break from college. I think it’s me. It’s not me. It’s them. She points. “The town fathers are watching.”
I try to glance over casually in the direction she indicates. Sure enough, a few old guys sitting on some courthouse steps are checking us out. I thought Salisbury, North Carolina where I grew up was suffocatingly small and southern. But this town is a postage stamp with old vultures posted as moral lookouts under the glow of the town’s single street light to keep you from getting any kind of action at all.
“They’re not literally the town fathers. They’re just these old guys who keep a watch over everyone,” she explains. “That’s just creepy,” I say. “It reminds me of a Stephen King novel.” She nods. “It’s actually kind of nice,” she says. I don’t get it. But since I try to get along with women I’m trying to kiss, I don’t press my point.
It’s natural that I would mistake caring for fascism, especially when she uses the evocative phrase “town fathers.” There is an element of fascism involved in care giving. But you have to be a care giver or that rare emotionally mature person who respects the benefits of the presence of authority in your life to appreciate that.

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The Town Fathers are Watching

Why does God hate Florida?

indexWe are in a timeless limbo. The moments when our son Avery is in front of the church in a small group talking with the pastor are moments when we as parents must hold our breath and pray that nothing he says will be held against us. He speaks nothing but the truth, but there are truths that need not be shared in front of the entire Presbyterian Church in Ocala, Florida. We didn’t think we had so many of these truths until they threatened to slowly unravel in public.
“It’s Christmas time,” the pastor tells the children gathered around him. “Do you know what that means?” Their answers are pleasant and mild. “Presents,” says one. “Baby Jesus,” says another. “Snow,” responds Avery.
Avery was born in snow. It was March, but the snowy season in Pennsylvania lasts long past a reasonable winter time and threatens to claim Spring Break. He is only in the second grade, but he has seen the snow in Asheville, North Carolina and even in Florence, Alabama, which is in our immediate rear view mirror. He likes playing in the snow, watching it fall, rolling around in it.
The pastor asks him where he has been living. Avery explains. “Well,” the pastor says, “I’m afraid it doesn’t snow down here in Florida.” Avery responds immediately, “Why does God hate Florida?”

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Why does God hate Florida?

Avant-garde a clue

imagesCue the music. Bring on the noise. Fanfare. Hoopla. Hurrahs all around. Shouts and screams and shiny things. Reverberations. Feedback. Busted drums beating like mad. Tambourines shaking like a nervous night. What does it mean? Everything and nothing. Who will hear it? No one and everywhere and all the time.

The “Carnival of Light” was an avant-gardeĀ  studio piece by the Beatles. Or perhaps it was a moment in time that lingers in the mind that never actually took shape or form but might have or should have. You can catch little tantalizing glimpses of the experimental piece here and there on the nifty thing they call the Internet. Click on a site that purports to play the song, only it won’t. You can do that as many times as you like until you tire of it. You can see an interview with Paul McCartney describing it in detail as if it actually exists. But then if it exists, how come we can’t hear it? Will we ever? Who knows? Does it matter? Maybe. Probably not.

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Avant-garde a clue

Limits of Perception

indexThe color of Jesus is love. Let’s not get hung up on whether he was white, black or tan. He could not have been white, by the way. But let’s move on from that. Let’s focus on what he did and what he said and how we live by that. Not what color he was.

New York City is not a place where you will be immediately mugged and raped and killed as soon as you cross the border. You could be mugged or raped or killed here. Just as you could anywhere in the country. But you don’t have to be. Certainly all of that will not happen to you on your first day here. I, for instance, have been here for a year and four months and have experienced none of the above.

That’s certainly not what I believed growing up in the South. It was somehow communicated to me as a child that I needed to fear New York City. It was a dangerous place full of bad people who wanted to hurt me and my family. Living in Salisbury, North Carolina, that’s what I thought. New York City was a more dangerous place when I was a child. So were a lot of big cities whose violent crime rates have fallen over the years. I just had to get over the perception that it was a brutal urban jungle with cutthroat pirates for citizens. It’s not like that at all.

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Limits of Perception