Hey Dad. Wanna Have a Catch?

 

 

Baseball season is starting and as always, my thoughts turn to my father. As some of you know, my Dad instilled a love for baseball in me as soon as I could hold a baseball and put a cap on my head. This is a picture of my Dad back in high school just about 60 years ago.

 

 

In my baby book under age two, my mother wrote that my favorite song was “Bye, Bye Baby, the song that opened San Francisco Giants radio broadcasts on KSFO. As you can see, I started early. As soon as I could stand, Dad was tossing a ball to me. He taught me how to catch and how to hit as well. He often said that he did this, not because he secretly wanted a boy, but because he believed all children should be coordinated and develop a love for sports. The photo at left is of me at age 3 wearing my trusty Giants cap. It seems that my little friend Monica was going for more of a Jed Clampett Beverly Hillbillies look.

This year marks the 21st baseball season that my Dad hasn’t seen. A lot has happened in our national pastime over those years and I often wonder what his thoughts would be. One of the things I miss most is talking baseball with my Dad. He took me to so many games at Candlestick Park and we sat everywhere from the luxury boxes to the bleachers. His favorite spot was behind homeplate so he could describe to me what the pitcher was throwing. I learned everything I know about baseball from all those times with him. They are memories that I treasure.

He would have hated the strike in 1994 but would have applauded Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak in 1995. The steroid era would have disgusted him, especially with hometown kid Barry Bonds at the head of it. I think he would have initially disliked inter-league play (mainly because he despised the designated hitter rule), but would have come to enjoy seeing the Giants play the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox. The idea of the All-Star game determining home-field advantage in the World Series would have annoyed him and struck him as “PR bullshit”. I can’t say that I disagree with him.

He would have loved AT&T Park. He never got over the fact that the Giants left cozy Seals Stadium for God-awful Candlestick Park. He always said, “They left perfect weather here in the Mission for cold and fog out in the Bayview. Political bullshit.” I can hear his voice now saying, “Hey, Kel. Wanna catch the streetcar downtown and see a game?” How many times he came home from work on some random weeknight and asked if I finished my homework and asked if I felt like hopping the bus and heading out to the ‘Stick. It was the 1970s and the Giants were horrible, but I always wanted to go.

When the Red Sox finally won a World Series in 2004, he would have cried like I did. His tears would have been mainly because Ted Williams hadn’t lived to see it. My tears that night were for my Dad for the same reason.

 

 

But, by far, sharing the World Series victory of the Giants in 2010 with him would have been great. He would have loved that team. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson and the rest of the staff would have thrilled the old pitcher’s heart. And he would have loved the spunk of the rest of the guys.

So, in honor of the start of the 2012 baseball season, here’s the scene from Field of Dreams that makes me cry like a baby every time I see it. I’d give anything to have a catch with my Dad right now.

Baring My Soul About Bearing Arms

This is a 9 mm Smith & Wesson M&P. I bought it three and a half years ago and I’m not sure I want it anymore. The gun itself is very nice. The recoil isn’t too bad and there are interchangeable grips; a helpful feature for someone with small hands like me. The dilemma regarding ownership is purely a moral one.

Just like I didn’t come from a camping or skiing family, I didn’t come from a hunting or shooting family either. Oh sure, my Dad had a .38 Special he kept in his dresser drawer for protection living in the ‘hood and for shooting cans when we’d go on vacation to Guerneville on the Russian River. Luckily, he never had to use it in self-defense. It was never locked in a safe, or had a child lock on it. He did keep the bullets somewhere else, however. Back then, child-proofing involved a talk from Dad:

Dad
(showing me the gun)
This is Daddy’s gun. It’s not a toy.
Don’t touch it. Do you understand?

Kelly
Yes, Daddy.

That was it. He did try to teach my mother to shoot it once while we were on vacation. It didn’t go well. Even with such a tiny gun, Mom kept dropping the barrel and Dad worried that she’d shoot her foot. Or his. Hence, the lessons ended. When he died, Mom and I didn’t want the gun around since neither of us had the skill or the desire to shoot. So, we turned it in to the city of San Francisco for cash.

Fast-forward to 2008 and I found myself contemplating learning how to shoot. Part of my reasoning had to do with not wanting to be afraid of firearms. There was a lot of talk at the time about the Second Amendment and gun rights in general, so it got me to thinking that I should give this “right to bear arms” thing a whirl.

I took classes, bought the gun and for about a year, I went to the gun range almost every weekend. I found it empowering and humbling. Until you’ve fired a gun, you have no idea about the power that it expends. There is definitely a skill to target shooting and I loved challenging myself. I was also pleasantly surprised that the stereotype I had in my mind about “gun people” wasn’t what I experienced. At the range I frequented in Silicon Valley, the demographics included all age groups, men and women, and all different races and ethnicities. I realized that this was the Bay Area, but still, it was refreshing.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself not only disinterested in shooting but actually pondering the karmic ramifications of gun ownership for me. The main question is, am I inviting unwanted violence into my life by merely having a gun? I’ve always been someone who gave credence to the belief that we manifest what we focus on. And if my focus is on shooting a gun and getting better at it, am I somehow inviting the universe to provide me with an opportunity to do just that, but not at a paper target? It’s a frightening thought.

I’ve wondered if I’d have the same karmic dilemma if I decided to take self-defense classes or martial arts. Is there a difference between these two situations? I honestly don’t know. I do know that I’m really curious to get some input from any readers who have an opinion one way or the other.

Making the Skies Friendly for Adults

I’m sure that most of you have heard about the recent actions of a JetBlue captain when confronted with a disruptive child who wouldn’t calm down before take-off. If not, read about it here. To summarize, he threw the child and her family off the plane. All of us who have suffered through a flight with a child kicking their seat or screaming until dogs in other countries start howling, rejoiced.

What I was most surprised to see, at least on Twitter, was that even the general reaction was favorable. This is progress. People with children are sensitive to criticism about how children today behave and how they as parents, well, parent. I understand that. I’d probably feel the same way if I had children. The fact that I didn’t see an outcry over JetBlue’s actions made me wonder if parents are finally seeing misbehaving children as the rest of us do: as overly-coddled, whiny little brats.

 Maybe this explains the success of Pamela Druckerman’s book about the ways of French parenting, Bringing Up Bébé. It’s been on the New York Times Best Sellers list for three weeks and counting. In the book, Ms. Druckerman discusses the differences between how French and American parents see and treat their children and see themselves as parents. From what I can gather, a pilot wouldn’t have to throw a French family off a flight because of little Monique or Marcel.

 This news story also got me to thinking about an idea I’ve long had for airlines. So, listen up, JetBlue’s Dave Barger and Virgin’s Richard Branson. I think this could be a moneymaker for you. (Feel free to cut me in on some of the action, okay?) I have long thought that airlines should market “Family-Friendly” flights and “Child-free” flights, so that those people with children could have a flight geared towards keeping their children entertained and engaged with other kids. You know, special movies, games, etc. It’s the same idea behind movie theaters having family movie nights. By the same token, the main appeal of child-free flights would be, well, NO CHILDREN! Woo hoo! I don’t have to sell that one very hard, do I?

 When I used to suggest this idea to friends in the past, I was accused of hating children. This is not true. I don’t hate children. I hate the behavior of misbehaving children and the seeming obliviousness of their parents when they misbehave. I will admit to not having the patience gene when it comes to children. I’m impatient about most things. This doesn’t negate the argument for what I think is a fabulous business idea.

 I think this is a much more positive solution than the other one I’ve come up with: The Brat “Watch List”. Just like Homeland Security has a database of names of individuals who want to terrorize our skies with bombs and the like, maybe there should be a database of misbehaving children. Perhaps airlines should set up a “three strikes” type of policy. You get warned and/or reported twice without being thrown off a flight but, if it happens a third time, it’s back to the terminal for you, Junior.

 If it took off with airlines, it could be expanded to movie theaters (except on those designated family movie nights) and restaurants. The possibilities are endless! Going out in public could once again be enjoyable for adults! You can thank me now. And, Mr. Barger and Mr. Branson? I’m open to negotiation. Call me.

 

 

With Age Comes…

Wisdom? Peace? Loneliness? Death? Anyone who knows me at all is familiar with my angst about age, time passing, unfulfilled dreams, etc. It’s been a constant lament for as long as I can remember. Most often, it only hits me twice a year: on my birthday and on New Year’s Eve. Those are logical occasions at which we take pause to whine about the past, lament how the present sucks and fear what the future holds. What? You don’t do that? It’s just me?

I’ve had more opportunities to contemplate what my future holds over the past year or so. Let’s just say that I re-discovered the irony in one-hit wonder Timbuk 3’s song, ”The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”.

In 2011, I helped my mother recover from a major back surgery, I hurt my own back in the process and then I was fired. So far this year, I remain unemployed, I’m now helping my mother recover from arthroscopic knee surgery (which has not been without complications, by the way) and I’m still trying to get my back better.

All of this has given rise to many tears, Yoko Ono like screams and other frustrating coping strategies on my part. And it has led to me asking some rather difficult and depressing questions. Would you like me to share a couple of them with you? Of course you would, you lovely masochists!

Question #1:  Is this how my life is going to be from now on?

If this is true, then my future is one of constant care-taking of my mother, spotty employment if any at all, financial stress, physical pain and basically no life, no love, nothing. Woo hoo! Now, who wouldn’t want some of that?

Question #2:  What’s going to happen to me if I need care-taking in the future?

I don’t have children, so there’s no hope for sympathetic and loving offspring to take care of dear old Mom. These are the moments when I wish I had wanted children. Then again, I probably would have spawned ungrateful brats who just wanted their inheritance. I don’t have siblings, so I don’t even have anyone to guilt or blackmail into helping me. And finally, if, as Question #1 explores, my life is devoid of love, then there’s no significant other to whom I can look for comfort. So, what then happens to those who have no one?

The images that come to mind when trying to answer that question conjure up scenes from a Dickens novel or talking points from the Santorum and Gingrich campaigns. Or I picture myself fighting off polar bears for the last space on the ice floe and I don’t like my odds. For one, they have sharp teeth and claws while I have well-flossed teeth and short nails. Second, ice = cold and I’m a wuss from California.

So, kids, how’s this for the humor blog you were anticipating, huh? It is said that comedy often comes from tragedy. And while nothing over this past year can be considered tragic, thank goodness, I am, nevertheless, ready for a good, hearty laugh.

Finding Paradise in a Cruel World

 

 

 

 

We’ve all heard the saying that “Music calms the savage beast”. I haven’t been in the company of any beasts bordering on savagery lately, so I’ll just have to take it on faith. What I do know, however, is how music can inspire and soothe a sad and solitary soul. That has been the state of my own soul more times than not lately.

When I’m in one of these dark places, the last thing I want to do is go out and be around people. But that’s exactly what I need to do. Luckily for me and my morose mood, I decided to venture over to Berkeley a couple of nights ago to hear some music. Two musicians who I knew via Twitter were performing. Gretchen Peters is an award-winning singer-songwriter and a fellow “grammar geek”. I mentioned Gretchen back in this post. She has a new album out called Hello Cruel World. Accompanying her on the tour is Barry Walsh, an amazing pianist and songwriter and also Gretchen’s husband. Barry, too, has a new album out called, “Paradiso”.

Barry’s piano playing evokes such powerful emotions in me. Whether the songs are his compositions or his take on something by French composer Erik Satie, for example, Barry’s playing brings me to tears. The tears may be joyful or filled with sadness, but I’m definitely moved.

What sets Gretchen’s music apart from much of what we hear today is authenticity. She not only tells you a story but she uses her words beautifully to paint a scene, set a mood or describe a character. There are no clichés or gimmicks to be found. Take for example these lyrics:

 

There’s a man out here puts his head in the mouth of a crocodile.
Puts the whole thing in, takes it out and gives the crowd a great big smile.

“Woman on the Wheel”

The moon had a fight with the parking lot light
And slunk off to hide in the clouds.

“Camille”

I’m a ticking clock, a losing bet.
I’m a girl without a safety net.
I’m a cause for some concern.

“Hello Cruel World”

Hello Cruel World walks on the darker side when it comes to the mood it exudes. You may think that a dark collection of songs would be the last type of music to lift me out of my heavy fog. When I listen to Gretchen’s stories about regret or resolve, passion or pain, it provides exactly what’s been lacking in my life: connection. Certain lyrics resonate and make me feel less alone in my solitude or sorrow. When you add the benefit of sharing the experience with others, be they friends or strangers, the effect is like an elixir.

I know that one night out, or one CD isn’t a cure-all for life’s problems. But what it is a cure for is that sense of isolation that arises from the feeling that nobody else knows what you’re going through. A gifted artist can reach inside himself or herself and pull something out that reverberates with something within you. Gretchen and Barry do this for me and I want to thank them for that.

I urge you to check out both of their sites and if they’re coming to a town near you on their tour, make a point to see them in concert. At the very least, take a listen to some of their music. You will not be sorry.

Patience

I spent all day yesterday watching the grass grow.
What I learned is that grass really grows slow.
Now I’m hanging around trying to get inspired.
Punch a hole through my cage and I reach out blind.
She said, “Have patience. Everything will be all right.
Have patience. Give it just a little time.
Everything will be all right.”

This is from the song “Patience” by the late Mark Sandman. I started humming this to myself today because I’ve been really battling my impatience lately and his slightly tongue-in-cheek lyrics appeal to me. Let me just say upfront that patience isn’t one of my virtues. I must have gotten tired of waiting in line when it was being handed out.

I often tell people that I have the patience of a gnat on crack. Just take a moment to visualize what that would look like. Do you see it? Well, that’s me, all the time, in virtually every situation. Yesterday at Walgreen’s, the first line I stood in featured a woman who couldn’t decide on which diabetes meter to buy. After about 5 minutes, I tried another line. This time, I was behind a man arguing with the cashier over a coupon for toilet paper. After a couple minutes of this, I went in search of yet another line. This time, I had luck. No diabetes, no coupons. Success.

My impatience isn’t limited to standing in line or being stuck in traffic. I’m impatient with myself too. Take this blog for example. I haven’t known what to write about lately. Nothing has struck me as particularly amusing or annoying and those seem to be the two emotions I need to feel in order to write. (See how annoyance won out today?)

When I’m blocked creatively and in my life in general, I swing between panic and passivity. Both of these lead to impatience because the tick, tick, tick of my life clock gets louder and louder. What have I done with my life? I’m running out of time. I’m too old. I need to get going. This is taking too long. What’s the point? Why bother?

I know the way out of my impatience rests simply in being in the present moment. Patience won’t be found in focusing on where I thought I’d be five years ago or five minutes ago or where I want to be five years from now or five minutes from now. Patience exists when I accept what is. Right now.

Well, shout “Hallelujah” and call me Oprah! Alas, if it was only that easy and I had Oprah’s money. Since it isn’t and I don’t, I have to take baby steps. The first is to take about three minutes and listen to that song from start to finish without thinking that I have something more important to do. Are you with me?

Lighten Up Your Enlightenment

Is it possible to be spiritual and funny at the same time? This has long been a dilemma of mine that I recently shared over the phone with my friend and fellow blogger, Adele Uddo. We were discussing blogging, life and being on a spiritual path.

Like Adele, I’ve always been a spiritual seeker. 12 years of Catholic school provided me with a good head start. At the very least, studying Catholic Church history during my junior year in high school enabled me to answer “Charlemagne” for the pie in Trivial Pursuit years later. Take that, you public school kids!

What I didn’t find spiritually while growing up Catholic, I tried to find in other ways. I’ve had Tarot cards read. (22 is a powerful number for me but I don’t recall why.) I’ve had my natal chart done and discovered that my Leo sun is buried in the 12th House (probably along with those three Gillian Welch CDs that I can’t find). I went to a psychic who told me that my dream man was a swarthy Greek. The only time that I’d want a man, let alone a swarthy Greek one, would be if I needed a waiter because I ran out of ouzo on vacation in Athens.

So, I have the curiosity but I’m afraid to really embrace my spirituality because I don’t want to become one of those annoying people. I’m not talking about the Tim Tebow types. That goes without saying. I’m talking about those perennially blissed out, airy-fairy types who are always spouting New Age fortune cookie advice at you. You know the type.

New Ager
Money is an illusion.

Kelly
Tell that to the credit card company.

And spiritual people can be so serious! I can’t imagine that anyone ever sat down with Mother Teresa and told her a joke.

 

“So a priest, a rabbi and a duck go into a bar…”

 

 

How can I find inner peace while not losing my desire and ability to poke fun at the absurd aspects of everyday life? Will I lose my satirical streak if I meditate and commune with the universe? If any of you have any ideas, please let me know. I’ll be over in the corner with the Dalai Lama, a martini and a karaoke machine.

Out With the Old

The dawning of the New Year, like a birthday, offers an opportunity to review the last 12 months. Some people relish seeing how far they’ve come, what they’ve accomplished, etc. When I do one of these “life reviews”, I usually end up with an urge to cry, mumble to myself and rock in a corner. Not pretty.

 

Like many of you, I dutifully put the proverbial pen to paper and figure out what I want to get done in the New Year. Some may call them resolutions; others may call them goals. No matter what I’ve called them in the past, I most often find myself at the end of the year looking at the same list of unfulfilled desires.

This year, I thought that I’d change up the language. I decided to call the things I wanted to do, change, and experience, “promises” instead of “resolutions”. The word “promise” is more personal and a promise is something you make to someone about whom you care, or at least, respect. This is a more emotional connection. The term “resolution” seems terribly unforgiving and carries an almost detached, legalistic feel about it.

I do waffle with how specific and detailed this list should be. Do I list every aspect of something I want to experience or change? Am I too specific if I say, “I’ll do upper body and 40 minutes of cardio on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and lower body, abs and 40 minutes of cardio on Tuesday and Thursday”? Will doing that be overwhelming and a set-up for failure? Or should I go broad with my promises and stick with a general “exercise at least three times a week and see what happens”? I’m exhausted just contemplating it (the exercise and the list).

The overarching theme of 2011 for me was, “The only thing you can count on is change”. This was demonstrated over and over again in big and small ways all year long and it wasn’t easy to deal with. I’m a control freak and it seemed that everything was out of my control last year. This was detrimental to my health on every level and it rendered me sick in mind, body and spirit. Despite the humorous tone I most often take in this blog, I wasn’t a “laugh riot” to be around for most of last year.

So, armed with promises to myself to live a happier, healthier, more engaged life in 2012, I make a promise to you. I promise to always be honest in these musings, whether I find something amusing, annoying or edifying. Thanks for coming along for the ride and I hope that you find it worthy of an “E Ticket” most of the time.

Ho, Ho, Hum?

(Text inside reads, “Yeah, yeah. Merry Christmas…Whatever.”)

This Christmas card sums up my mood this year perfectly. And this isn’t how I usually feel. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. When I was a kid, I’d play Christmas music in July because I just couldn’t wait for December to arrive. This is why I’m puzzled about my lack of Christmas cheer this year. Oh, sure, the tree is decorated, my shopping and wrapping are done and I have the Christmas movies ready for the DVD player. But, something is missing. I’m not going to pull a “Bah, humbug!” on you, but the sentiments of “Santa Claws” above seem to be mine as well.

Let me say up front that I hate feeling this way about Christmas. I want to be excited and happy but so far, I’m not feeling it. I think a lot of it has to do with how challenging this year has been. As some of you know, my mother underwent major back surgery and had a couple of other minor procedures done. I hurt my back while taking care of her and then I was fired. 2011 has felt like a never-ending exercise in crisis management and I haven’t always handled the stress very well.

As a result, I haven’t been in the “merry-making mood”. Picture Jimmy Stewart in the first part of It’s a Wonderful Life (sans the suicide angle) and that’s how I’ve been feeling. I want to shake it off, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. Maybe the time has come for me to put It’s a Wonderful Life in the DVD player and really take it to heart. We all need to be reminded of the impact we have on the lives of others especially when we’re feeling like we don’t matter much at all.

So, with wishes for internal and external peace for myself and for all of you, I leave you with the scene that never ceases to make me cry every time I watch it. For some reason, when Harry says, “To my big brother George, the richest man in town”, I cry like a baby. Here’s to discovering just how truly “rich” we really are. May we all find peace and love this holiday season.

Yes, Sister Gabriel, There is a Santa Claus

This is me back in 4th grade in 1974. I can hear the giggles and see the pointing all the way across the blogosphere. God, that was a bad look for me. Although, the hair and sweater may have made me an excellent candidate for a spot with the Bay City Rollers. All I needed was a little tartan and a Scottish accent. What do you think?

It was before Christmas when this woman, Sister Gabriel, my 4th grade teacher, decided to drop a bombshell. No, she wasn’t retiring immediately and thus making 4th grade safe for children once again. That would have been too wonderful. Her announcement wafted over our heads menacingly like the smell that occurred when she made a boy named Tony sit on the heater to dry his pants after he peed them. And it was just as disturbing.

I can’t remember what led up to it but this is what she said:

Sister Gabriel
There is no Tooth Fairy. There is no Easter
Bunny, and there is no Santa Claus!

 Miscellaneous Children
(Whimpering and Screaming)
No!

As you can imagine, we were distraught and all ran home crying to our parents. Kids back then weren’t as jaded or grown up as kids are today. Our childhoods, and in many respects our innocence, lasted longer. All of my friends still believed in Santa at the age of nine, so Sister Gabriel’s announcement caused a bit of a moral dilemma. On the one hand, there was this authority figure, and a nun to boot, telling us this “truth”. On the other hand, she was a mean old biddy who hated children. What to think, what to think.

When I informed my mother what Sister Gabriel had said, she was very upset, saying that Sister Gabriel had no right to say such a thing, who did she think she was, etc. Then Mom calmed down and proceeded to dazzle me with her explanation.

Mom
Well, I feel sorry for Sister Gabriel
because the only thing she’ll get in
her  Christmas stocking is coal.

That was an excellent passive-aggressive response, wasn’t it? Fake concern for Sister Gabriel’s stocking contents while delivering an insult. Give my mother some props! Mom then went on.

 Kelly
But, is she right? Is Santa a lie?

Mom
Let me ask you a question.
Do you fill your own
Christmas stocking?

 Kelly
No! Who fills their own stocking?

 Mom
That’s right. Mommy doesn’t fill
hers and Daddy doesn’t fill his.
Let me ask you another question.

Do you see how my mother has mastered the art of deflection? Like a smooth politician, she never answered my original question but went on to distract me with other questions and answers. Brilliant!

 Mom
(continuing)
Do you fill Daddy’s stocking?

 Kelly
Of course not!

 Mom
How about Mommy’s stocking?

 Kelly
No! You’re silly.

 Mom
Well, if you don’t fill your stocking and you
don’t fill Mommy’s and Daddy’s stockings
and Mommy and Daddy don’t fill their
stockings, who fills them? Hmm?

This reminds me of those annoying word problems in math class that would include lots of extra information not needed to actually solve the problem. Instead of focusing on the trains traveling in opposite directions, I’d always get hung up on what the conductor’s name was or what kind of sandwich he was eating. Now I see why.

 Kelly
Well, it has to be…Santa!

I proceeded to hug my mother and I ended up believing in Santa Claus for another couple of years. Mom gave me more than answers that year. She gave me the permission to continue believing despite the protestations of others.  And she gave me love. These two things have always been the most treasured gifts. They certainly beat coal. Do you hear that, Sister Gabriel?