Month: April 2013

50th Anniversary: What’s the big deal?

50 years is an arbitrary combination of moments and experiences that are significant because life is short. When I was young life seemed long and endless, a series of lengthy summers connected and lengthened only by the boredom of the school year. At that time in my life 50 years was a concept that didn’t really register. Most of us assume that our lives will be lengthy and special,  but life is incredibly brief and most of the time not especially special. Most of the time we plod our way through life occasionally looking up to see what is on the horizon, or looking into the past to see where we have been. If our journey has been a lengthy one we are encouraged to mark it and celebrate our accomplishment. We make a big deal about people working for 40 years in the same job, the Today Show celebrates people who live 100 years, and when people have been married for 50 years we all look on with amazement.

This week my parents celebrate 50 years of marriage.

Observing this marriage from the outside there were times I wondered how these two people ever came together and married. I’m sure this is something most children think because we have no concept of what our parents were like before they met us. We can page through old yearbooks, look at pictures, hear stories, but in the end what we create in our heads is a fictional representation of who our parents were when they were single.

The English poet William Wordsworth wrote of “spots of time.” He described these spots as the moments in our lives when time expands and slows to show us something amazing. Almost all of us experience these moments in life, when the world slows and no longer marches to 4/4 time. These moments eventually mix with other memories and turn into something significant. These spots can sometimes be life-changing events and other times can be the mundane happenings of the everyday that for some reason become more than just a trip to Safeway. In 50 years of marriage my parents have had their spots of time, but I am certain they do not know how significant a few of those moments were for me.

When I was in high school I may not have been the easiest child to parent: I was self-centered, sure I was right about everything, and confident that the world would soon bow down to my every whim. (In other words, a typical American male at the age of 18.) My mother figured she could sand down some of my rough edges and turn me into someone who cared about other people more than myself, it was a foolish endeavor, but one that many mothers attempt to keep their little boys from destroying the world. Her efforts were not appreciated and we spent a good portion of my high school years in a state of cold war (which was appropriate for the time period.) School became a place for me to escape, and I spent as much time away from home as possible.I buried myself in playing basketball, and during the season I would arrive to practice early and stay late not just to work on my game, but to be away from home. One evening our team had a late practice so I left home about an hour early. When I arrived at the gym, no one was there so I got in my parents’ truck and decided to drive around a bit. I won’t go into the dirty details of how I rolled the truck off the overpass because it isn’t important to the story, but let’s just say I was driving too fast and was suffering from a condition called “teenager.” As fate would have it, I caught a ride home with a friend, and left the truck at the bottom of the on-ramp. When I walked into the kitchen the first words out of my mom’s mouth were, “Why aren’t you at practice?” I told her that I had just crashed the truck. I was fully expecting to receive a verbal lashing, but my mom surprised me. She grabbed me, and didn’t ask about the truck at all. She was worried about me. I wasn’t really injured because my body was made out of some kind of rubber that just bounces off stuff and never gets hurt (these days my body is more like rubber that has been left in the sun too long) but she checked to make sure I didn’t have any head injuries and then called my dad to come home. Neither of my parents lectured me about what an idiot I was; they showed me that they still loved me beyond all my selfish and stupid acts. At the time I really needed to know that my parents would be there for me throughout my challenges because no matter how old you get, no matter how confident you are, you still need to know that your parents love you more than they love their truck.

I was four or five when my parents sat me down on my bed and asked me if I would like to have a brother. I did. Then they asked an odd question, “Would you like an older brother, or a younger one?” Even at that age I knew the answer: Younger. Only sadists want an older brother, sane people order younger brothers when given the option. My parents didn’t own a time machine so I really didn’t understand how they would acquire an older brother. Nevertheless, a few months later our family drove to one of the Montana metropolises (Miles City? Great Falls? Butte?) and picked up a little brother. He was a chubby-faced little Native American boy who became the sixth member of our family, Mike. At the time it seemed like a pretty normal thing to do because when you are a kid everything your parents do seems like the normal thing to do. Looking back on Mike’s adoption now I see that it was not a normal thing to do. People who adopt children are not normal, they are extraordinary. My parents brought Mike into our family because they do that kind of thing. I don’t know the real reason my parents decided to adopt Mike, but I do know they met each other while working on a reservation in Arizona and their entire lives they have helped other people. Even today, when they are both older than Methuselah, they are busy helping others. Their commitments to causes and those less fortunate has been a focus of their marriage. Their two daughters (aka my sisters) are both involved in occupations that are attempts to carry on this tradition of assisting others. My older sister, Kay, lives in El Salvador and has been saving the world from there for about 20 years. My younger sister, Jenni, lives in Oregon and helps developmentally disabled children. My parents will probably be helping other people right up to their final moments of life and that is one of the reasons I believe they have been together for 50 years.

When I was in 7th grade and life was as miserable as it should be for a 13 year-old kid, my parents took another risk. My dad had a chance to exchange jobs with a minister in some strange country I had never heard of: New Zealand. So after making all the arrangements with the church he was serving in California, we packed our bags and spent a year living in New Zealand. My older sister was just entering high school, my brother and younger sister were still pretty young and I was just starting to become the problem child I would blossom into a few years later. It must have been a difficult decision for them, but it was life-altering for me. I can say that living in New Zealand changed the course of my life. The experience of living in another country should be a requirement for all people of the world. Just one year away from your preconceived notions of what the world is like will shake all of your stereotypes and prejudices out of the tree. I went to NZ thinking that the American way was the only way and the best way in all cases, but I came back with an understanding that the rest of the world does not always agree with that. I still think America is pretty great, but live in a country with universal medical coverage and gun control and you begin to understand that maybe, just maybe there are other ways of doing things.

One of the reasons my parents are still active and able to celebrate 50 years together is because they were married at a relatively young age. I remember thinking that I would be waiting until I was at least 30 before deciding to get married. It didn’t work out that way. I met a great young lady in college, we went on a series of dates, she attempted to dump me several times, and eventually my charms overwhelmed her to the point that I was making a long-distance phone call to my parents to let them know that I was going to be getting married. My mom asked how we were going to afford to live and I told her that we were going to live on love. I still think it was a very funny line, but no one on the other end of the phone laughed. They might have been tempted to try to talk me out of getting married, but they didn’t.  I am certain that my parents thought I was being impulsive and stupid, but they have changed their tune over the 24.9 years I have been married. By the time my wife and I were married my parents loved her as much as I do. At our wedding ceremony my dad spend what seemed like three hours telling the gathered band of misfits how he and my mom were certain there was no one in the world stupid enough to marry me, and that Cheryl turned me into a decent human by being such a sweet and wonderful person.  (I am condensing the speech a bit, but that is what I remember.) My wife and I spent a few years working odd jobs to finish up college, and in a way, we really did live on love. I like to think my parents have been living on love for 50 years, but in reality there probably have been tough times. I really don’t know when those tough times were because my parents have always looked pretty happy together.

My parents will celebrate their 50th anniversary with a trip to the Netherlands and Belgium to look at tulips. It makes me really happy to know they will be traveling someplace far away together, although looking at tulips sounds like something you can do in the backyard. The life they have experienced together has been long, but I am sure it has been just a flash to them. The 50 years of marriage is just a marker, the real accomplishment is living on love for 50 years. Robert Frost writes in his poem Birches that, “Earth’s the right place for love,” and it is. Love is what has held my parents together through tough times and it is what brought them together. It is what keeps them dedicated to helping others, and it is the legacy they are leaving for everyone who knows them. Happy 50th Mom and Dad, and thanks for being my parents.

Hey, Macklemore, can I come to your Pizza Party?

My son and daughter have grown up in a family of two English teachers so it is not unusual for all of us to talk about fictional characters as if they are real. My children have not suffered because of this phenomenon, but there have been times when it has confused my kids.  The tables have not only turned, the tables have been upturned as my children have gotten older. The world they exist within is not the same world I grew up in, but like any supremely cool parent (sarcasm intended) I have tried to allow them to exist within this alternative universe while doing my best to educate myself about this other place. It is why I have attended my first rap concerts, learned to text message, watched the stupidest television shows ever produced, and kept my fingers crossed that I wasn’t a terrible parent.

This past week I learned a few more things: 1. Each year Seattle rapper Macklemore has a pizza party for his fans, 2. There is always a contest to get into the pizza party, and 3. Columbia City is not a bad place to spend three hours if you have not been invited to Macklemore’s pizza party but your daughter has.

On Tuesday morning, I received an email from my wife (we still like to communicate the old-fashioned way) that informed me that Owour sent a text to my daughter and invited her to Macklemore’s pizza party. I knew who Owour was because my daughter talks about these Seattle rap folks by first name, and I have seen him on television several times jumping around with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis as they played that “funky” music the children love so much.

The invitation was an unexpected and generous act that caught us unprepared. The party started a 6PM and was in an area of Seattle that my wife and I were not familiar with, so that meant I would be going. I get to venture into the unknown because I am taller than my wife and don’t mind getting lost.

We live a bit away from Seattle so it was a dash to make it to Columbia City in time, it didn’t help that the Mariners were having a game downtown, but we made it to the pizza party in time for my daughter and her invited guest to stand in line for a few minutes before being swept in through the VIP entrance. It was a little like taking her to the airport and dropping her off for a three-hour trip to some place fantastic. I know enough about the band to know that she was in a safe place with some great people.

Here is what her evening was like:

The line to get into the world premire pizza party.

The line to get into the world premiere pizza party.

Em, Jon, Ray

My daughter with the director of the Thrift Shop video (Jon Jon), and Ray Dalton.

Shoes

Macklemore’s shoes. I believe those are Ryan Lewis’ shoes to the right.

same love

Macklemore, Mary Lambert and Owour performing Same Love.

While my evening was not as glamorous, I did manage to survive. I ate an entire pizza in about ten minutes. Wandered down to Starbucks and watched some old ladies knit up a storm.

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This is before Charlotte arrived. Once Charlotte showed up some serious knitting went down.

I found a great eyeless gnome.

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My son was afraid of gnomes when he was younger, so I took a picture of this guy and sent it off to my son with this message, “Is this under your bed?”

I ate a small plate of nachos.

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After the pizza, I could not finish the entire plate of nachos.

After the pizza, the coffee at Starbucks, the discovery of the gnome, and the plate of nachos, I still had about an hour to waste. So I wandered aimlessly around the streets until it got dark. I did discover a “Gentleman’s Club” just down the street but decided that even though I am a gentleman, I should probably skip that one. (I did not have my top hat and tails with me.)

My daughter eventually emerged from the party and by all accounts had a great evening. She saw the world premiere of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ new video, met lots of people, witnessed a mini-concert, and most importantly had an experience that she will remember forever.

If there is one thing life has taught me it is that experiences are priceless. My greatest regrets are when I passed up opportunities to do something because it was slightly inconvenient or cost more than I was willing to pay. I look back on those handful of opportunities with the knowledge that the $40 I saved by not seeing Pink Floyd in Auckland was wasted someplace not as memorable, the $75 I didn’t want to spend to rebook my flight to include a Fijian stop-over probably got spent on rice and beans in Spokane, and the chance to drive to LA to see Linton Kwesi Johnson in concert would have made me tired for work on Monday, but it would have created a memory that I still have today. It is those moments I regret, but those are the moments that help to remind me that driving to Seattle on a Tuesday night and getting back late was worth it even if the only thing I got was heartburn and a great big hug from my daughter.

Here’s the new video if you were curious.

I’m not panhandling! I’m holding a three ring binder!

I have reached a new historic high in grumpiness. The other day I found myself yelling at someone across one of the wide sidewalks in downtown Seattle. It didn’t happen just once in my little stroll, it happened three times. The first time was when a young lady dressed in a blue ACLU shirt and holding a three-ringed binder yelled to me, “Would you like to help gay rights?”

I yelled back, “No!” Now if I were walking down the street in the bible belt I might have gotten a bunch of slaps on the back, but in downtown Seattle that kind of attitude is not widely accepted. My son thought it was pretty funny because I sounded like a homophobic jerk, which for the record I am not.

Two blocks later it was a young man wearing a Save the Children shirt holding a three-ringed binder, “How would you like a tax break?”

Well, I would like a tax break, but I yelled at this poor young man anyway, “I would like a tax break, but I’m not going to give out my personal information to some stranger on the street holding a three-ringed binder.”  I’m sure he didn’t hear my whole rant because I didn’t slow down to give him the pleasure of my company.

Two blocks later I ran into a dancing three ringed binder guy, I don’t know what charity he was supposedly working for because he was dancing like he was at a Grateful Dead concert and all the spinning around made it hard to read his shirt, but this guy wanted a fist bump. I did not give him the pleasure of a fist bump, but I did give him a very angry look.

I don’t like these people. It isn’t that I don’t like them personally, it is that I don’t like what they are doing. I am certain that charities are looking for new ways to get money, but this is just stupid on multiple levels. The first time I ran into someone doing this guerrilla fund-raising was in London about ten years ago. She was wearing a green tunic with Oxfam printed boldly on it and I was still young and naïve enough to be interested in what she was doing on the street so I stopped and had a 30 minute discussion about her charity. They were trying to help homeless kids get off the streets and back in school. I like Oxfam, I think it is a great charity, but in the end I told her that I would not be giving her my credit card information. She was disappointed, but are there really people stupid enough to give a complete stranger their personal information just because they have a three ringed binder and a t-shirt? I can get a t-shirt made for about $10 and I could also print off lots of colored pages from websites to make me seem to be working for those organizations. I could even get a plastic badge made to look even more official.

Seattle, like many cities these days, has laws against aggressive panhandling. Homeless people are not allowed to loiter and  aggressively ask for money, but if you wear a t-shirt and dance around like you are on acid, you can be as aggressive as you want. Charities like the ACLU should know better. Are they really expecting people to give credit card information to complete strangers? I can’t imagine that this form of “fund-raising” is successful, and I can only imagine how personally damaging it is to the poor saps that have to deal with jerks like me. I felt bad for two whole blocks after I told the ACLU girl that I didn’t want to help gay rights, because I really do want to help with gay rights, I just don’t want to help Russian gangsters steal my credit card number and go an a vodka spending spree.

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