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.

Chief Davidson

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.

 

 

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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…

dont-make-eye-contact

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.

eye-contact211

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.

Milo11

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.

milo1

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.

Six months in writers Siberia: excuses, justifications, and all that other jazz.

Twain has that famous line about his obit being reported in error. He dined out on that damn line for years. Well I’m here to tell you that cat is dead now, no matter what the paper’s say. Me on the other hand…

Proof of Life – the author and his kids. (The Frank of Frank’s Place is in the middle)

Yeah I’m still here. All evidence to the contrary, I did not fall off the face of the earth. Sorry to disappoint all you loyal members of the Flat Earth society, but it’s round, and it keeps spinning. No matter what we do, it keeps spinning. Now, some things may spin on without you. Take for instance the daddy blogosphere. It has hummed along nicely in my six month absence. There has been a shift toward video blogging or vlogging as the kids call it, but there are still writers out there defending the long form and kicking out good stuff. For that, and them, I am grateful.

This paragraph is where I’m supposed to regale you with tales of the exploits and adventures that have kept me from the key board these last six months. Honestly the only reason I know it’s been six months is the last post on the blog was my end of year Best of 2016 Posts post. And even more honestly, there has been no great reason, no wild tale to tell that would explain my literary solitude. In fact there is no tale at all, wild or otherwise.

If I had to pick a simple word to excuse the lack of stories here it would be work. Yep, that’s it. Just work. That word serves as an excuse, justification and simple fact all at the same time. I got a job in 2015. I got a promotion in March of this year. As much as I hated leaving the most important thing I’ve ever done in raising my kids, I love my new job. Other than the 4am wake up I can’t think of one thing I don’t like about it.

But the simple fact is, I haven’t had the gumption, the drive, the want to, that enables me to sit down and write. I don’t know how all those working dads blog on such a regular basis. Well other than the fact I’m extremely lazy and they aren’t. But that seemed too obvious an answer. I have no trouble getting up at 6am on my day off (Friday) to make my tee time with my buddy. But sitting down to bang on the keys was escaping me. And I have no idea why it’s not now. That’s not entirely true. I have a few ideas.

For one I’m on vacation in the motherland. Sitting on the deck of a beach house in South Jersey seemed like a good time to look at the blog and see what’s been happening. Yeah, did I mention I haven’t even seen my site in six months? Not a post, not a stat. Ignoring blog stats for a blogger is like depriving normal people of things like food, water or air.

Second, I’ve actually read a few other blogs this week and felt a little inspiration. One in particular is Skipah’s Realm. A good blog written by Gary Matthews, a divorced dad working and raising his kid and doing all the other things people do. He weaves his stories in a tapestry of analogy and metaphor with a good dose of humor. The big thing for me is this, the dude is a single dad with a job and he’s banging out stories on the regular. I don’t care if you like his style or not, that’s impressive.

So I’ve charged up the tablet, dusted off the key board and started tapping some keys. This is what has come out so far. At some point, probably this paragraph, I’m supposed to tell you I’m back. At some point I’m supposed to tell you I have story upon story que’d up and ready to type. Even if that were true I would not make that mistake again. Or again. I’m pretty sure I said I was getting my work legs under me and finding a good writing schedule and all that jazz. I’m more than sure I said it twice already. So no more.  I’ve got a few stories, some work, some home, some about this vacation. Who knows when if ever I’ll type them up. Hell I may never type again or I could bang out one a day for weeks. No tellin.

So for now let me say thanks to you all who have kept checking back. You’re loyalty will be rewarded, or you know, not.

How’s that for specific vagueness.