Francis, Frederico eh what’s in name?

I believe it was Juliet, that girl in that yonder window with all the light breaking that uttered the now immortal Shakespeare line, What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.

Well if that rose was being called Frederico and the sweet smell was Barbisol from the local hair shop, then Jules would be on to something. As it turns out the good people of Great Clips, the place where I’ve been getting my hair cut since I retired from the military in September of 2009, thought my name was Frederico.

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Just me and my dad. Francis and Frank. No Frederico’s present.

They have me in their data base as Frederico M. Linardo. Look, even in Italian my name, Francis, does not translate to Frederico. It would be Francesco. Phonetically: Fran-ches-co. As it turns out Frederico is Portuguese for Fredrick.

So universal a name is Francis, even in other languages it translates to… well Francis. Maori, Icelandic, Catalan, German, Latvian, you name it. Only in Latin, where it translates to Titus, does it really take a different form. Of course I’m ruling out the other languages that use symbols non-similar to ours. And by ours I mean the 26 letter alphabet.

Gotta be honest, I was less than amused.  I won’t go so far as to say I was hurt, but it was disconcerting to say the least. And the topper, she wouldn’t change it. That’s how it’s in the system, she says. And guess what, that’s how she put it up on the monitor that showed who was next in line for a great clip. Great Clip, see what I did there. Jokes are free at this level folks.

So there I was, getting my hair cut under a false name like a criminal on the lamb, praying the real Frederico did not decide to get his hair cut today. In defense of Great Clips, this was not my normal stomp. The monitor at the Great Clips I usually go to had seven names on it. No Frederico’s if you were wondering. So I went a block and a half east to this one. Only one Frederico there, me. But I went from being 8th in line to being 2nd. Fair trade I guess.

Sadly this is not the first time the locals have had issue with my name.

When I moved to Tennessee in 2000 I sought to change my home of record to Maryville so I could escape the “gubment” oppression of New Jersey. They don’t really have “The Man” in Tennessee. No more car inspections, no more state taxes, 1/3 the real estate taxes, a veritable financial heaven on earth. One step was changing my driver’s license over from the Garden State to the Volunteer State. That meant the a trip to the DMV.

Well let me tell ya. If Tennessee is heaven, the DMV is the waiting room.  Not a soul in the joint. I could not believe it. While I was filling out the forms a lady walked in with her daughter, grabbed their forms and sat down. That was it, me and this lady and her kid. I handed up my forms to the DMV lady and took a seat for what I thought could only be a few minutes.

Five minutes later I hear the DMV lady yell out for Michael. I don’t look up from the Home and Garden June issue I’m reading. A riveting debate on men who were opting to stay at home instead of work was holding my attention. Damn dead beats.  Anyway a few seconds more and a few more yells for Michael. My first thought was what a strange name for a girl, until I realized my name was Francis. The wheel of judgement comes round quickly in God’s country.

A few minutes after that the DMV lady was screeching the name Michael.  From the smell of Pall Malls, Jean Nate’ and Listerine filling the air space around me I knew she was close. I risked a glance up and she was looking and yelling at me.

Sir! Do you want your DL or not!?!!

I sheepishly responded. You… you didn’t call my name yet.

I was quickly ashamed of my blatant display of weakness. If the DMV lady was a dog she would have immediately peed on me to display her dominance as the alpha dog in the pack. I wreaked of yellow freakin fear.

Instead she yelled back.

I’VE BEEN CALLING YOU FOR THE LAST TEN MINUTES!!!!!!

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Francis? Bet your ass lady. She’s lucky I wasn’t packin that day I’ll tell ya.

I regained my footing. I’m from Jersey, South Jersey. We come from the blood line of Rocky Balboa. We don’t stay down even though we should.

Ah hun, you’ve been calling Michael for the last ten minutes.

Well isn’t that your name?

The condescension was dripping from her mouth like so much drool. But I realized her confusion, until I perceived it was not confusion, but a jab at my lineage.

No ma’am. My name is Francis.

You mean you actually go by that name.

In the North we go by first names. It’s why we won the war you know.

To say that little phraseology went over like a fart in church would be a gross understatement. But her bark was apparently worse than her bite and she backed down, handed me my stuff and, as they say down here, I got my picture made.

She got in a parting shot.

I never met no boy named Francis before.

Cross it off your list DMV lady cause you just did.

 

 

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Family: Just a dinner table away.

A rare respite on a warm Saturday night. Seems so easy right now but I can’t for the life of me figure out why I don’t sit in the cul-de-sac and write more often. Girl is riding her scooter, Milo T Dog is at my feet, my long lost friend Diet Coke is losing it’s battle with the melting ice. We’re approaching some sort of Norman Rockwell worm hole.

Of course it’s not like the heyday of the Sac. Those were the lazy hazy nights, and some mornings, as we sat out in the darkness night-drinking, fixing American politics and Tennessee Football. That gang is gone now but we have to start anew at some point.

Americana in the South.

So today, at the precipice of the dog days of August, I decided was the day to take a seat and fire off something that’s been buzzing in my head since an old friend passed through town not too long ago.

I’m gonna ask your forgiveness for this obvious point, family is a great thing. A lot of you are aware I had a huge family growing up. And still do. Holidays were great. They still would be if not for the almost 700 miles separation between me and my family in Jersey. I love living in Knoxville but there are time’s I’d rather be in South Jersey. But it’s tough to complain. I’ve been spoiled my whole life. I grew up with seven brothers and sisters. My mom hasn’t skipped a beat and my father lived into his late 80s, sharp as a tack until the moment of truth.

I was born into another big family when we decided to settle in Knoxville and raise our kids there. Staying in the Sac has been one of the better decisions I’ve made. Lifelong friendships have been forged on those weekend nights in the street. But like all things, change is inevitable. Several Sac-ites have moved off, and now my forever Friday golf partner is moving to Arizona to run a church.

Honestly my first thought was how much I’d miss him. A millisecond later my next thought was how great the golfing in Arizona is and when am I slated to visit Amarillo for work again. Arizona is just a quick plane ride from the Panhandle. And I know John would be disappointed in me if I thought otherwise. And a big thanks to those of you who have reached out to check on me. I’m fine. And as John and I both agreed a long time ago, if one of us died on a Monday the other would still tee it up that Friday. And while I’m aware people will not believe this, it’s not the golf. The lunch at Soccer Taco after or the breakfast at Waffle House when we get rained out that makes the Friday meet up so enjoyable. Tough to quantify the last nine or so years breaking bread with the same dude every Friday.

And of course I lucked out again with my work family. New members are added almost daily it seems these days. And as the family “down the plant” gets bigger, and the lunch table more crowded, it keeps getting better. Like I said, spoiled rotten for as long as I can remember.

But the family roaming around my thoughts right now is my military family. Normally I’d say Air Force but now after 22 years in and almost nine retired, it occurred to me my military family not only spans different branches, it spans different countries. Hey Bernie, Go Les Habitants! I’ve been spoiled there too. Not just with great lifelong friendships but with great mentors.

I named four friends/mentors in the bio of this blog. Click on my name next to the link that says Home and you can read about them. A person could not dream up a better start to their military career than I had. That continued on during my time at the NCO Academy. I have no idea why I was granted such advantages, but I was and I’m a better person for it. I can’t imagine the giant ass I would have become without those family members in my life.

Well, yes I can.

Part of that family rolled through Knoxville a week or so ago and immediately extended an invite to dinner to catch up. I had not seen Chief Joseph E Thornell, or JET and his wife Kerry, in a long while. He was the commandant I served under the longest when I was an instructor at the NCO Academy. To this day I cannot call him Joe. Regardless of differences in opinion he will always be my commandant and will always be Chief to me. But more importantly he and Kerry will always be family.

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Birthday time for the then unknown Warden.

In Jersey my whole family spent hours around the dinning room table. That’s where life happened. Witness the birthday of my youngest sister. You may know her by her given name Kathleen. But those special few know her by her real name, The Warden.

That’s me wearing a white belt on November 30th. I was a fashion risk taker even back then. I’m also sub-consciously flipping the bird. The verbalization of that gesture has become the foundation of my vocabulary.

Anyway the point is family’s just don’t eat. They break bread. They commune. The commiserate. The food is so secondary. What’s special about that space in the picture is no matter how old we got, no matter how far we moved away,  when we came to visit we gathered there.

Last Friday I met Chief Thornell and Kerry and some other old friends from my Academy days and we sat ourselves down at the dinner table. Now that table was in Calhoun’s, a restaurant in Maryville TN, but dinner is where the food is.  And family is where the dinner is.

Chief JET

Sorry Chief, still can’t call you Joe.

It was like the years since we’d seen each other never happened. We told old war stories to be sure, but the bonds between all of us showed no signs of time or distance. It seemed to me as I drove home thinking about all of that and paying zero attention to the road, sorry lady at the Kroger intersection, real family is like that.

Time is different for family. Time doesn’t have the same impact, it doesn’t move in the same way. It’s not linear. Time in familial bonds happens all at the same time regardless of distance and frequency. And then time restarts when that family sits down to eat. In fact if it wasn’t for the gray, and or lack of, hair there would be no sign that time had passed between any of us.

The restaurant itself had changed over time. Chief was quick to point out we had all gone to a lunch in this joint way back when it was a Ruby Tuesdays. I remember it as the site where part of my family, who will remain anonymous, Hupp, Stoudt, and Kumes, bet I could not take down the deluxe ice cream cake sundae on the menu. It was the kind that came with four spoons. I said, “Remove the other three my good man as I will be doing desert alone this afternoon.” That was a situation where winning quickly became losing.

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Chief Davidson on my right. Ramey on my left. Family.

It must be the dinner table. Maybe it’s a time machine that turns back the clock when family members gather round. Honestly the conversation wasn’t even that profound. But the visit with Chief JET and Chief Davidson, my last commandant, and some of the gang from the academy, left me with a feeling of wonder on the ride home. I have been spoiled with some great families in my life time.

Ironically this little weepy screed is the product of time. Surely my age has left me to take stock of my life lived so far. I’m only 50 so I have no designs on the big dirt nap yet. But enough time has passed to take stock of what life has been so far. And so far, no matter where I’ve lived or served, it’s been dinner tables and family.

As far as life goes, that’s not too shabby.

 

 

You’re throwing out my best work!

I knew it would catch up to me sometime. Honestly I thought it would be him to catch me and not her. She just seemed so indifferent about it all anyway. I really didn’t think she’d care. She never showed much interest at all as far as I could tell. So her reaction was a little surprising.

No matter. The deed was done and I was caught red handed. Not much to say at this point. Her reaction is really the least of the concerns. It’s a trust issue now. The sideways glances and the constant wondering will be my punishment.

Funny really, it’s been going on for some time, a few years at least. But it’s the same old story. I got complacent, got lazy, too comfortable. Let my guard down and I got busted plain and simple. Obviously the relationship will never be the same. My only hope is she’s not damaged from this.

I can tell you it will be a moment I will never forget. The sadness on her face, the slumped shoulders and that phrase that keeps replaying in my mind over and over and over again. “Daddy! You’re throwing out my best work!”

I’m not sure what was worse, the tears welling up in her eyes as if to say How could you do that? Or her feeble attempt to rescue some of her work from the trash, clutching it like a strung out former Disney artist trying to get past the gate guard with some sketches she did on a cocktail napkin, hoping for one last shot.

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This one is safe!

Yeah I’m not proud of throwing out her completed school work. And I owe an apology to her teacher Mrs Givens and her pre-school teachers. They put in the work to get AM to this point. But really, if I’m being honest, I’m more disappointed I got caught.

You know it’s really just a pragmatic thing. Where the hell are we supposed to store every macaroni art or penmanship paper with upper and lower case Ks written on them? Well? Where do you keep it all? You know you’re glad it was me and not you. You all are secretly agreeing with me as you publicly judge.

Look it’s not like she’s dropping the first act of Othello or something. She had to pick four words that started with the letter K and then draw each word. One of the words she picked was Kind. Kind! I asked her how in the world was she was going to draw Kind. Well, screw me cause she did it. And it was good. So yeah it was a great effort, and vitally important to her development. But lets not get crazy, they aren’t clearing room on the roof of the Sistine Chapel for it.

But for the next few days, after she came home from school, she glanced in the kitchen trash can before putting up her backpack. I know it’s not funny but it made me laugh for some reason. Yeah, I’m a chooch. That ain’t exactly breaking news.

So now I burn them in the fire pit.

Haha just kidding. No really, now we have storage boxes, unused, pure as the driven snow, kept as secure as any repository could be, to preserve her works of art and penmanship. I’m now reformed and a new mission has risen from the trash heap as it were.

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Treasures

When we move from this house or I go to the eternal dirt nap that comes for us all, very large trucks will deliver all the boxes that will have kept me from having my own man cave. In my dream, the trucks drive in formation while some weird old time show tune plays in the background.

They pull up to wherever Anne Marie is living, preferably a 3rd floor walk up in Manhattan. The drivers, festooned in the garb of their profession, will move quickly and quietly in perfect unison, much like the Marine Corp Silent Drill Team.

And if there is a God in heaven, the first boxes will break the plane of Anne Marie’s apartment threshold just as her five year old is blasting her for 86ing that newly created Rembrandt, crafted on finger paint day.

The first box will have a note on top that will simply read, “AM: This is why.” And in that moment, as box after box parades into her living space to the back hallway between the kitchen and the guest can, a revelation. A true moment of self reflection in which my little Anne Marie, all grown up with Anne Marie’s of her own, will say the same thing I say now about my old man: The older I get the smarter he gets.

Twas ever thus.

 

Back to Work: To look or not to look…

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The Denier

What do you do with your eyes while at work? I’m serious. If you work in a large office building or a large plant, and I do both, what do you do with your eyes while passing people? Do you look right at them? How soon do you look at them once you acknowledge their presence? From all the way down the hall or wait till they get closer? Are there basic rules or etiquette for this particular situation?

This has been an issue with me for a while now. It really has become a bizarre situation. There appears to be no un-akward resolution either. So the questions is: To look or not to look, what to do when passing someone you don’t know in the hall or on the street at work.

It’s easy when you’re out and about in town or at the mall. There really is no obligation. But when you work at a place there is this implied teamwork thing; this Hey we’re all in this together vibe. So there is some obligation to acknowledge people as you pass them during the work day. Or at least I thought there was.

I have evolved through some stages of acknowledgement not unlike the stages of grief or hunger. During that evolution I’ve encountered several different species of Eye Contact Avoiders, or ECAs as I like to call them. Here are the five most prevalent ECAs I have encountered during my movement about the workplace.

Second Shooters

beeker

MEEP!

The most passive of the bunch, they might acknowledge you as you pass, but unlike Han Solo, they will always shoot second. Preferring to be sure there will be no snub on your part, they wait till they know you’re acknowledging them. Then and only then will they offer a quick greeting that sounds like high pressure air escaping a tire. For you aged like myself, think of Beaker from the weekly Muppet Show.

 

Undeciders

Much like the Second Shooters, Undeciders are a passive bunch. Their greeting is hit or miss. They wait and at the last second they’ll slide you a head nod or a Sup. No matter if you gave them the eye contact or not, they will sometimes look at you and sometimes not. There is no rhythm and no rhyme to their eye contact-ability.

Swivelers

These expend more energy finding ways not to look at you then if they simply made eye contact and said hello.  An overweight swiveler is as rare as Big Foot, the Jersey Devil, or the Ohio Grass Man. They may go as far as to take a different route or circle around just to avoid having to make eye contact. So much of their time and energy is spent trying to find ways not to make eye contact that doesn’t make it look like they aren’t trying to make eye contact the poor bastards can’t keep any weight on.

Scanners

Now we’re to the more aggressive and less passive of the ECAs. They scan you and decide way before hand if they will grace you with their eye contact. Once decided they will either stare right at you and nod in some fashion or they will look away until safely by.  Scanners have a pretty obvious tell. The faster they walk at you the less likely there will be eye contact.

Deniers

The most aggressive of the non eye contact crowd a Denier will simply refuse to believe you exist. I don’t mean they look away, although some will look at the ground through the entire encounter. No these crazy bastards will look right at you and refuse to acknowledge you’re there, even if you engage them. Their minds just won’t let them believe you’re walking by looking at them. It’s at the same time the most awkward and most hilarious situation of them all.

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No, this mean Jack will ignore your very existence.

Well there you have it. The five known ECAs indigenous to the workplace. How you deal with them is really a personal choice. For my part it took almost a year of studying them in their natural habitat and experimenting with various methods. Not exactly on the level of Jane Goodall but there was an ape in the wild quality about the work.

I have evolved from a chameleon type method where I adapt to the ECA coming at me, to bull in the china shop method where I take all ECAs head on.  I now make eye contact and greet everyone I pass on the street of the plant or in the hallways of it’s buildings. I must say going right at a Denier, making eye contact, and then greeting them is the most fun out of the group.  There is a bit of an Alpha Dog empowerment to that method.

Quite honestly it’s mostly just good for a laugh. And who doesn’t need to laugh at work from time to time.

Milo T. Dog: A Reluctant Epiphany

No. I don’t want a dog. I don’t like dogs. I am not taking care of no dog!

This is more of an update to the original story found here: Yeah, so we got a Mutt.

Let me be clear on this point. I don’t like any animal if it means harboring it in my house and then caring for it. This is not a singular objection to dogs alone. Simply a practical objection to what any baggage a creature might bring with him/her into my house of clean carpets and breezy crisp fresh air.

I may have mentioned this once or twice before, but when I put my foot down around here people get to jumpin. Of course they usually jump to do the very thing I put my forbidding foot down about but that’s another story all together.

This particular foot putting resulted in getting the very thing I didn’t want; a dog. Milo T Dog to be exact. The T stands for his middle name, The. As in Milo The Dog. And yes Dog is his last name. You need only inquire with his vet down the street to verify that little fact. If she refers to him with my last name she does so only in the presence of my wife. And she does that at her own peril.

So yeah, breezy freshness gone, clean carpets, gone. Enter Milo. The carpets didn’t stand a chance. He immediately did the very thing I hate about dogs. He licked me. Hate may be too strong a word. Repulsed might be better. Yes I am repulsed by dog licking. At least I was. Now, god help me, Milo licks me with impunity. To his credit Milo employed that old prison axiom. Find the biggest dude in the joint and kick his ass. It’s the only way to establish dominance and improve your survivability.

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Watch out, he’s a dangerous beast.

Milo clearly marked me as the alpha in the house but instead of going the tough guy rout he came at me with his cuteness. I mean look at this freaking mutt. Even I could not resist that. And I’m from Jersey.

So yeah I admit it, I was warming to the idea. What of it. As much as I hate to shatter myths about myself, I am not a godless, inhumane, dog hater. I’m just lazy. Dogs, specifically six week old puppies, cut into my laziness at a 45 degree angle. But again I refer you to the photo of Milo the day he showed up. All of six weeks old we think, he was oozing cuteness.

I was not swayed at first mind you. Me and this mutt had some dancing left to do. Once again I put my foot down. My declaration went something like this, If I have to take this dog out once in the middle of the  night to pee, I will throw a rib-eye steak out into on-coming traffic, however light that may be at 3am in Knoxville, and I will not look back nor lose one second of sleep over it. And once again that little rant went largely unheeded. A fact I contemplated while standing in the yard at 1:30 one morning at the end of a leash waiting for Milo to take care of business. One thing can’t be denied, no matter their effectiveness, I can throw down a good rant.

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Big deal. Do the dishes, fold laundry, then I’ll be impressed.

Needless to say his first few days did not impress me much. That’s him in the second pic. Sleeping sitting up. Yeah I get it. That in itself is impressive. What dog sleeps sitting up? At least he wasn’t barking or crapping. Small victories I guess.

It may have been his reluctance to bark that first started to change my mind a bit. One thing is for sure, the dog is not dumb by any stretch of the imagination. He obviously sensed my animosity toward him, especially after he licked me with his dog tongue. He had a tough road ahead if he was going to remain in the house.

Then one evening he made his move. It felt a bit like a set up after I saw the pictures. Mind you I was asleep. This was all orchestrated by Mrs Frank’s Place. Since she’s the one who did dirty getting Milo in the house in the first place I guess she figured she needed some photo evidence to continue her case.

Milo T

Sneaky bastard. Tracy I mean, not the dog.

Behold. Milo T Dog violates my personal space. It may not be clear in that picture, but I was sound asleep. He knew it. Tracy knew it. Then apparently the entire neighborhood knew it as she texted out further evidence to the Sac. What’s also clear in these two shots is how comfortable that mutt is.

That was his first time on the bed and he had to be helped up there. But once there he quickly realized how cushy the adults in the house have it in the sleep department. That isn’t some rock hard, prison mattress we’re sleeping on. Since that night the dog has slept on my side or Tracy’s.

Thankfully he’s not much larger. He’s put on weight but he’s not much longer. He fits on the bed still and it appears that he’s grown as large as he gonna grow. I mean look at that mutt. He has not one care in the world in that picture.

Milo and me

Yeah we were both sawing the lumber that night.

Again, he ain’t dumb. He found a crack in my armor and he exploited it. I do not recall how long we were like that. But it is safe to say this was the beginning of a season of mutual understanding between me and Milo T.  He followed that up with sitting the first time a yelled SIT at him. I was just curios to see what he would do. The damn dog sat. He wasn’t three months old yet. With a few more tips from the neighbors he started to heed other commands as well.

That, more than being my new sleep buddy, endeared the mutt to me. No one else in the house listens to me. So to have a living organism not only listen but obey was a huge plus in Milo getting to stay. Also, surprisingly, the dog has a heart.

Milo Frank

Milo the comfort dog.

When one of the kids goes to bed upset from any number of idiotic actions they take that gets them chastised during the go to bed routine, Milo sleeps with them instead of me or Tracy. So apparently bad bedtime choices gets you a visit from Milo for the night.

Look, I’m not saying I want to let the dog lick me on the mouth. After all he does lick his own butt. Do people who kiss dogs on the mouth realize that? Anyway, I’m not ever going to be a dog lover to that level, but I clearly have warmed to Milo and he to me. He got the better of me. I’m big enough to admit it. Am I a dog person now?

Well yes by simple definition I am a dog person by virtue of having a dog. But am I a dog person? Not really. Currently I’m glad he’s more house broken than he was and still obeys when I speak to him. Will I ever be a dog person?

Sure, the minute he stops eating my dirty laundry.

City Swim Meet: Water World meets Lord of the Flies

Heat Sheet

Go time at the University of Tennessee!

Talk about living vicariously through your kids. The City Swim Meet at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville is the living definition of that. Having missed out on the traditional college experience I always enjoy going to the UT campus, which conveniently sits just 10 minutes from my house. The first pic is the kid’s events for the day to include time, heat and lane. There was my 8 year old in the program for a real live competition with hundreds of other kids from all round the Knoxville area. My nerves were waking up.

The kid? Well he could care less. Maybe it’s that deal where he’s too young to feel magnitude. For me the magnitude of this was enormous. Very soon after arriving I would be taking him down to this giant holding pen where he would await the call for his first race. As his races were all so close together I thought this might be the last time I got to talk to him until the end of the meet. That meant he would be on his own in the huge swim arena, jumping into that huge pool, racing all those other kids and the best I could do would be sit in the stands and watch, helplessly. You bet your ass I was nervous.

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Keeping his head while all about him lose theirs.

There he is, in the 2nd pic, sitting like a Jedi in deep contemplation. Sat like that for almost 6 minutes. I only started to watch the clock after Mrs Frank’s Place texted to ask if he was nervous. I sent her this pic and then realized he had been like that for a few minutes. He had just returned from his first race, the individual freestyle, to the team tent, waiting for the call for his individual backstroke event. From that 6 minute meditation came this bit of discovery. Daddy, if they let me be on the team next year I’m gonna race the breast stroke too. So we were both feeling the moment. My moment was giving me irritable bowel syndrome, his moment was apparently giving him the taste for blood.

Honestly I started not to recognize him. I usually take him to the evening swim practices during the week. I’ve never seen him be very competitive. But after this weird little moment and then his backstroke event, I realized he was finally feeling the spirit of competition. In that race he started 9th. Of course he starts every race last because he watches the other kids and won’t dive until they do. He’ll never false start that’s for sure. But he puts himself behind right from the jump.  But unlike most meets and practices, in the pool at UT he found a new gear.

Backstroke

Amazing what a competitive atmosphere can do. Or maybe he’s juicing. Hard to tell.

By the halfway point he had drawn even with most of the field and I figured on a decent finish. But he kept going and touched the wall for third. He’s best finish to date. Shaved serious time off his previous best. I was ecstatic. He was more interested in the shaved ice truck sitting outside the door where the swimmers came out after they were done. I tried not to yell like a crazy parent. I can’t tell you if I did or not. I was in a bit of a euphoric haze. And I ain’t ashamed to admit it.

Don’t let the title fool you. It was a great event. We had a great time. It was well run and organized inside the arena. However, outside the arena, the staging area, the place I began to refer to as the pen, was at times bedlam, and most times utter chaos. In the midst of that chaos was one dude, a sentinel of sorts, already hoarse from the Friday events. One man against a tide of kids and screaming parents.

We had three kids going in the same heat in the backstroke. We went to the pen before they called for us. From his view it looked like a relay team and he motioned to me. They were in the midst of being overrun by relay teams of 8 and 9 year old boys and girls. Some squads had two and three relay teams. The commotion was caused by relay teams showing up without all four members. But mostly it was caused by parents trying to show they knew better than the sentinel. It was crazy. When the sentinel motioned to me I spoke before he wasted more of his dwindling voice. Hey man, we’re early. We’re not the relay team, just early for the backstroke, event 42.

the pen

The sentinel is in there somewhere. And this was a dull moment. It’s Lord of the Flies in there!

I got a quick nod of appreciation from the sentinel and he went back to stemming the tide of rebellion in his little fenced in island. I put an important mental note away for the future. When Frank’s relay event comes up don’t come to the pen without the full team and let the dude be the dude. I say this to Tracy all the time when we go out to eat. Let the waiter be the waiter we’ll just be the eaters. Well on this day we were just the swimmers. Some of the other parents had figured this out as well and you could see them standing back a bit waiting for the din to die down. That moment never came.

It wasn’t until the kids began to get past the sentinel and dictate to their parents what should be happening that I pulled Frank back to the other side of the lot where all this was going on. He was getting real tired of all this and I could see it was weighing on him. Finally the relay teams moved into the arena and it was Frank’s turn to enter the pen to wait for his race. When the sentinel came up to me I just had to ask him. Who did you piss off to get this job?  But the sentinel’s job is never done and he was back at the chaos, moving kids to arena. Time for me to get in there too. That’s where I watched my kid rip off a personal best and finish third in his heat after all that nonsense outside.

Later as the meet ended Frank’s coaches mentioned the same guy does that job every year. He actually volunteers for it. God bless that poor bastard. I assume the job gets a little easier as the kids get older. So this must be some sort of purgatory or something. Either way the sentinel was the real MVP that day. And because of him my 8 year old wants to drop boy scouts and fall baseball so he can work on his swimming for next year.

freestyle1

Small kid. Big pool.

As one of my friends said, if Frank gets long like his grandfather, my dad, he’ll go far in swimming. I have no issue with that. It’s a great sport. And after this City Meet deal I’m hooked too. I mean look at the last pic. That’s Frank in Lane 7 in the same pool Michael Phelps and the rest of the 2012 Olympic swimmers trained in during the run up to the London games.

That is a small kid in a big pool. He’s just starting to find his stroke. I’d much rather walk golf course seeing his smooth swing but I admit I wouldn’t mind spending my retired years going to college pools to watch this kid swim.

Wonder what the sentinels are like at that level?

 

50 Years a Memory: Treasures from the Attic

As I may have mentioned, the house I grew up in, the house that was built for us 50 years ago this past July, is on the market. My mom is moving out after the death of my father in 2015 and it’s time to clean the place out. I may also have mentioned we are the only people to ever live in that house and we have accumulated 50 years worth of “stuff”. Well the work has begun and actually nearing its end. My little sister, aka The Warden, is running the show. Sometimes 660 miles is a good distance.

Not gonna lie, the thought of all that work makes me tired. I sheepishly have to admit I have the best of both worlds. I am doing none of the work but getting a lot of the stories and pictures of the stuff they find as la mia famiglia work through 50 years of stuff stuffed into two attics. Here is one of the treasures they found.

Yeah you can say it, I was adorable.

That’s me, your humble author, spring of 1972 I think. Had to be cowboy day in kindergarten or something. I know it’s not first grade. I was sentenced to eight years at St. Vincent De Paul Catholic school for grades 1-8. Hence I would have been in uniform or some type of prison togs or what have you.

That picture, as it turns out was the tip of the iceberg. I really never considered what documents or photos they might find. The bulk of the conversation always centered around the big orange tractor pictured two stories ago, the massive above ground pool filter that favored a small fission reactor, and a conspiracy laced theory that my parents had just tossed my brother’s, now worth a small fortune, collection of baseball cards from their youth in the small downstairs attic. Since their youth occurred in the 1960s there may be some good cards in the pile. Probably gonna be a Capone’s vault type of thing but it’s a fun story.

Micky Mantle’s rookie card aside there was some finds of more significance , at least in my mind. My brother has always had a nose for politics and we have great conversations every time he rolls through Knoxville. Now I know why that is.

A little highbrow but it gets the message across.

Behold, historical documents from his first campaign for public office. Not sure of the date on this but campaign budgets were clearly a little tight then. It’s also unclear from the historical documents recovered from what I believe is the upstairs attic dig, of exactly what the outcome was. There was no evidence of a reelection campaign so I think it’s safe to assume this particular bid at public service went begging.

Maybe one of my sisters or even The Man himself will clarify that and what exactly the Office of Chairman was. Keep in mind what we know about politics now was completely different back then. For all we know Chairman might be Class President. Or it could be chief chalk eraser clapper/cleaner. Hard to say.

There were some other good finds in those attics. At the risk of breaking my arm as I pat myself on the back, here is some evidence of where my love of reading comes from. My kids both howled at this when I explained the play on words. But it was a timely find as Frank is starting to learn the importance of reading well. Not just because it’s smart to do so, but because reading is the key to being good at math and science, two of his favorite subjects currently.

Some subtle irony there if you can see it.

If I remember correctly 1978 would have been 5th grade for me. I do remember my teacher, Mrs Fisher. Even at the rip old age of nine years old I thought she was cute as a button. She was the teacher who figured out I needed glasses. My grades predictably went up from that point. Mrs Fisher was a cool teacher and a large part of my roaring success with reading. Scanning the landscape of Frank’s, and now Anne Marie’s grade school, I take comfort in how many Mrs Fishers I see waiting for them as they progress. Lot of memories in that little card.

Some other cool finds were my dad’s duffle bag and nap sack from his time in the Army. My sister’s leg brace that she wore for a s long as I can remember when we were kids was unearthed. Of course there were more pictures and other things. Mostly more memories.

Here are a few of the pics recovered from the operation.:

That’s us. Must be 1980ish in our living room.

Three generations – one house.

That last one was not found in the attic. That’s just a shot of my Frank and his grandfather Frank, Poppy as they called him. Both with the official name of Francis. Summer of 2010 I think. So if you’re keeping score that’s three generations of Francis’s in our dinning room.

The other pic was clearly found in the attic. That’s the eight of us with our parents in 1981/82 maybe. Not sure the occasion but we are lined up for some reason in our living room at the time.

Final memory from the attic in the only house we ever knew.

Birthday time for the then unknown Warden.

That shot is my childhood. All of us around the dinning room table. The warden was having a birthday. So it’s November 1975 maybe. That’s me sporting the white belt after labor Day. Always the risk taker.

Brace yourself, I’m going nostalgic. Birthdays for us happened around that table. Period. Granted with 8 of us we had a built in party, but the dining room table was our spot. All those trips back to Jersey since I’ve moved to Knoxville end up in that room, sitting around the table telling stories or making fun of someone. Well at least they did. Someone else will get to sit there now. Maybe for another 50 years.

Imagine the stories they’ll share.