Friday, September 23, 2022

Fly Like an Eagle

Without meaning to, my friend Kevin Eames – sadly now the late Kevin Eames – nearly ruined a couple of good songs for me.

I remembered one of them recently, when J. and I were on our way home from somewhere, listening to a playlist of a bunch of old rock songs on shuffle, and the song randomly picked by MediaMonkey (one of the apps I use) was "Fly Like an Eagle" by the Steve Miller Band. It was the first time I'd heard it in a long time. I'd forgotten how hokey and pseudo-profound – but also embarrassingly sincere and actually kind of meaningful – it is, including as it does the following lines:

Feed the babies
Who don't have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin' in the street
Oh, oh, there's a solution

I can't hear this song without thinking about something Kevin said to me at least twenty-five years ago. He told me once that when he was a kid and heard this song, he thought "house the people" was an inquiry into the well-being of "the people" – not "house the people," but "how's the people?", as in (as Kevin said at the time, in a faux-Jersey accent) "How's them people? How they doin'?" (Neither of us said anything, in any accent whatsoever, about how the next line, "Livin' in the street," is a depressing reference to the homeless problem.)

I don't know if what he said was true or not; I don't know if Kevin ever actually misinterpreted the song in this way, or if he was just being silly. But I'll tell you this: Whenever I hear or think about "Fly Like an Eagle," which admittedly is not often, I can't help but hear "how's the people?" in the lyrics.

Kevin told me another time, even before he had nearly ruined "Fly Like an Eagle" for me, that when he was teaching history at a small private Christian school, the school had a Christmas store they called Santa's Secret Workshop, and that one day he heard one of his students sing "Santa's Secret Workshop" to the tune of that great guitar riff that starts off Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" – and that he surprised the student by saying, "Hey, that's Jethro Tull, isn't it?"

And now, whenever I hear Aqualung – again, admittedly not often – I hear a deep voice intoning "Santa's Secret Workshop" in the same melody as Martin Barre's repeated six-note guitar riff at the opening of the song. (And yes, in case you're counting it out on your fingers as I did, "Santa's secret workshop" and "Sitting on a park bench" – the opening line of the song, sung by Ian Anderson to the same melody – do have the same number of syllables.)

I'm sure Kevin's children know that he could be really funny – Kevin told me once that Hilary told him he was "sillier than the other dads," which I have no trouble believing he was. But do they also know, I wonder, that Kevin had friends who prized his sense of humor, were perhaps even changed by it, and who really, really miss it?

I miss Kevin. I'd give anything to hear one of his corny stories again.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Eighteen Years Ago

Eighteen years ago today I taught my first college English class.

It's significant that it was eighteen years ago because in that English 1101 class, virtually all of the students were "traditional" college freshman, in that they were nearly all eighteen years old and just out of high school. So, for them that class was half their lives ago; they were eighteen then – approaching adulthood – and they are 36 now – approaching middle age (with a rapidity that probably sometimes surprises them, if they're experiencing their late 30s like I did.).

For me, however, that English 1101 class in 2004 wasn't even quite a third of my life ago; I was 37 then, and had already spent a decade and a half in the computer training industry before being able to leave that field and move towards what I'd decided I really wanted to do nearly twenty years earlier, teach college-level English.

Next year, in 2023, most of those former students of mine will turn 37, and I will probably post something then about how now the students I had in my first year of teaching are the age I was when I taught them. The student has become the master (or something like that. I wasn't really a "master" when I was their teacher, but I was finally becoming old enough to begin to recognize that fact, which is perhaps the beginning of wisdom.).

Of course, I'll still be older than they are; they may turn 37 next year, but I'll be 56, the age at which…well, an age I've never been before, so I don't know "at which" what. I guess I'll find out. In any case, I'm pretty sure that then I won't be any wiser, despite being nearly two decades older, than they are; probably I never was. They may be approaching the beginning of wisdom, as perhaps I was at their age, but I'm approaching my dotage with a rapidity that sometimes surprises me.

So, anyway…eighteen years ago today I taught my first college English class.

(The picture above was taken eighteen years ago, around the time I started teaching; the picture below, for contrast, is just a couple of months old. I've changed a bit in eighteen years, no?)

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Air Conditioner Is Me

See this dilapidated window-unit air conditioner? Ancient, rusty, falling apart; it looks like it couldn't possibly work, doesn't it?

Well, guess what (I know I'm broadcasting this so obviously you can't possibly miss)? IT WAS RUNNING!

I encountered this air conditioner yesterday afternoon while cutting through an alley in Clayton, GA, on my way back to my car. Since I saw it from the back, I'm not sure what store or office it was cooling, but I'm sure the people inside appreciated the relief from the heat and didn't care how dilapidated the air conditioner was.

As someone who is a little dilapidated, and who sometimes feels ancient and rusty and like I'm falling apart, I'm grateful for the lesson. Whatever it is.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Stay Proud

In just a little more than an hour, Pride Month will end, and I'm sorry to see it go. All the rainbows have been really nice, haven't they?

You know what else is nice? The notion that a person shouldn't be ashamed of being different. And the idea that people should respect each other and be good to each other. And the belief that a person should accept themself for who they are, and not be afraid to be true to themself.

That's nicer than a rainbow.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Becoming a Dad at Forty (or so)

Me, shortly after becoming a parent for the first time, and right around the time I turned 40

Another picture from around the time I turned 40. I'm not sure if I was really asleep in this picture or just pretending.

I was forty when I became a parent for the first time.

Actually, that's not true, that's just what I tell people. I was 39 when my first child was born, though I did turn 40 about ten weeks later. For simplicity, though, I tell people (if it ever comes up, which frankly it hardly ever does) that I didn't become a parent until I was forty – even though the truth is that I was still in my thirties. Just barely, but technically in my thirties nonetheless. Practically still a kid!

There are, of course, a lot of things a person isn't prepared for when they become a parent for the first time, but in my case there was one extra thing I wasn't prepared for, in fact hadn't even thought about: How often I would be mistaken for, just assumed to be, the grandfather rather than the father.

The fact that I was going gray, was in fact mostly gray, by my mid-forties didn't help. By the time my second child came along when I was forty-three, I probably really did look like a grandfather. A young one, true, and devastatingly handsome – er, well, young, anyway – but lots of people become grandparents when they're in their forties. There are plenty of people my age, younger, even, who look like me, and who are grandparents.

But I was not one. And it really bothered me when people just assumed I was.

I can't remember the first time it happened, but I remember once when Elyse, my second child, was about three and I was forty-six, we went to McDonald's for breakfast – Elyse had gotten a McDonald's gift card for Christmas; whoever gave it to her knew that we liked to go there once a week or so and get pancakes and sausage after taking my other child to school.

So this one morning I'm writing about, as Elyse and I sat and ate our breakfast at the McDonald's in Snellville, the one near the Target, there was an older couple at a table near ours – and by "older," I mean older than me; probably in their sixties if not in their seventies; old enough to justify an assumption that they were grandparents – anyway, this older couple was smiling and waving at Elyse and trying to make friends with her, as some people do when they see young children in public.

On our way out I tried to avoid them, but we had to go right by their table to get to the door, and Elyse smiled at them and told them her name (after they asked, of course) and proudly showed them her gift card. The woman looked impressed and said, "Did you take Grampa out for breakfast?"

My heart sank. Elyse was probably confused. (Grampa, or Pa, my father wasn't with us; what was this lady talking about?) I just smiled a smile I didn't really feel, didn't bother to correct them, muttered something about how we loved the pancakes, and got us out of there as quickly as I could. I hope I didn't show it to Elyse, but I was in a funk the rest of the morning.

This was not the first time some version of this had happened; by then it was common enough that I steeled myself for it, knowing it was likely to come.

Why did I dread it so, though? There's no shame in being a grandparent, even if you aren't even fifty yet, and, as I've already said, plenty of people are grandparents before they're fifty. I'm sure if I really had been the grandfather, I would have been proud and pleased to be recognized as such. But since I was not the grandfather, I felt a little insulted that these people might be implying (not on purpose or with any awareness, of course) that I looked too old to be the parent of a toddler. I wasn't obsessed with youth or with looking young or anything; it didn't bother me at all to look like I was in my mid or late forties when I actually was.

But to be someone who was forty-six, and looked it, and was just assumed to be too old to be the father of a young child? That bothered me. And I guess in part that's what I felt like was going on when someone referred to me as Grampa or Granddad or whatever.

But I was proud of my kids – still am – and didn't like it when people didn't realize I was in fact the father of these wonderful children. Now that their ages are in double digits – Elyse is less than a year from being an official teenager, for pity's sake! – people tend to realize I'm the father, which I appreciate. Also, it does give me a bit of added security, and also some pride, when I fill out an official form, at the dentist's office, let's say, and on the "Relationship to Patient" line, I get to write Father.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

1995: A Saturday Night at ExecuTrain

Kevin Eames, in his office at ExecuTrain, one Saturday very much like the one described below (except, obviously, this picture was made during the day and not at night). I really miss Kevin.

A corner of my office at ExecuTrain in the middle of the 1990's (and man do I wish I still had that Marx Brothers poster!) 

The lake and the back of the ExecuTrain building

It's dark outside. Sitting at my desk, not actually working, I can't see the lake that my office window overlooks, but I can see my own reflection in the window, and the reflection of my office and all the stuff in it. From my computer's CD player and speakers Ella Fitzgerald sings "Oh, Lady Be Good." [I realize now, more than twenty-five years later, that she was still alive then, though only for a few more months.] I love that album – The Songbooks (a compilation of some of the best songs from Fitzgerald's "Songbooks" recordings for Verve). I borrowed that CD so many times from my friend and coworker Chris Luse that my boss, Karen, gave me my own copy for my birthday. Ella Fitzgerald and jazz are still new to me, and I love this form of music that is so different from what I grew up listening to.

It's Saturday night and I am at work in my office at ExecuTrain in Alpharetta, Georgia. I'm twenty-eight years old. During a lot of weekday afternoons, when I otherwise would be at work, I go out looking for a house to buy, my first house, which I will borrow from my 401(k) to purchase. [The house I ultimately picked was that blue two-story in Lawrenceville, the one I lived in when I first met Anna, and in which we lived for the first three years of our marriage.] The arrangement I have with Karen is that I can leave work early in the afternoon to go house-hunting with my real-estate agent, Evelyn, provided that I still get all my work done and meet my deadlines. That is why, despite being in what is typically a Monday through Friday job, I am at work on a Saturday night.

My friend Kevin is here, too, working in his own office a few doors down from mine. He has an arrangement like mine with his boss, Jason, except instead of looking for a house – he and his wife Lisa already have a house – he is working on his Ph.D. at Georgia State. [I didn't know this at the time, of course, but a little less than a year later Kevin would have a heart attack, from which he recovered fully, but which was the first manifestation, as far as I know, of the years-long struggle with heart problems that would ultimately end his life, twenty-three years later.] I wish I could spend the whole evening hanging out in Kevin's office and talking about the things we like to talk about -- books, music, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and sometimes even work -- but we both have a lot to do.

So we are in our offices working. Right now, in this moment [and from the present I am writing in, as opposed to the present I am writing about, "this moment" is actually a quarter of a century ago], before any of what I know will happen to us happens, Kevin and I are both young – I have yet to turn thirty; Kevin is still five years away from forty – and healthy, and we have years of living before us. We have a lot to do; we are at work on a Saturday night; it is dark outside, and we cannot see the lake that's just outside our office windows.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Having Breakfast with the Birds

The tufted titmouse
Doesn't flee when I step out--
But she looks my way
And the scolding she gives me
Is quite unmistakable.

After a short while
None of the birds seem to care
That I am out here.
There are no more screeching scolds
Aimed at me. Just the flutter

Of dozens of wings
And the hammering of beaks
On sunflower seeds.