This is where 'everything else' goes.

What Do You Say?

Filed under: Baseball,Hockey,Life,Social Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Wigi @ 7:14 am April 18, 2009

The phone call ended a bit strangely: “I’m still short, I wear about a size 12, I am kinda blond now, and I’ll be wearing a white Nationals shirt and a blue jacket.”

This is strange because it was uttered by a friend I had known all my life. There was just the matter of the intervening nineteen years since I last saw her.

The nexus of the Facebook era and a trip to my family home brought about this strange interaction. Making it all the stranger was that our appointed meeting place was a subway platform. Oh, and one other thing. I was confronting one of my greatest personal shortcomings.

This past spring I rediscovered Facebook. I had been a member for quite a while, but my contact list remained very short. Someone cajoled me into poking around with it again, and in one short week, I had rediscovered dozens of childhood friends. My plans for a spring trip were certain to include a number of reunions. I arrived in town with a fistful of email addresses and phone numbers of people I hadn’t seen in ten or twenty or even thirty years.

And so it was with my friend with whom I would be reunited for the first time in nineteen years. When I arrived in town, I dialed my friend’s phone number. As I was dialing, my mind was flooded with thoughts of my friend’s mother. Her name was repeated over and over in my head. When my friend answered the phone, we exchanged the usual pleasantries, but immediately following that, my friend gave me the news: her mother had passed away a few weeks before. That I had been thinking of her mother as I dialed the phone was a very strange feeling. I would have called it coincidence, except that a very similar thing happened to me once before in my life; the first time even more spectacularly than this one.

We made plans to get together for lunch, but we changed them. We decided to go to the baseball game together. I would take the Metro down to her stop, and wait for her on the platform. As much as I was looking forward to our reunion, I was dreading it, too. I have no idea what to say to someone who has lost her mother. There are some things I don’t do particularly well. There are some things that I don’t do at all. This was one of them.

Back when I lived in the Washington, DC area, I played hockey on a men’s team. One of my teammates was a good friend – not only did we play hockey together, but I also hunted and fished with him and his father, and his mother was one of the people in my season ticket group for the Washington Capitals.

Shortly after I moved to Alaska, my hockey buddy’s father passed away. As I remember it now, it was very sudden and unexpected, and it happened during the holidays. I happened to return to Washington to visit my family for Christmas, and my parents told me of my friend’s loss. My mother suggested I call.

I was paralyzed. I had no idea what to say. I thought about what I would say. I thought about how awkward it would be. I wasn’t ready. I put it off for a day… and then two. Maybe tomorrow I will have some inspiration. Or courage.

Inspiration and courage never came, and I returned back to Alaska having abdicated my responsibility. I never called my hockey buddy. It wasn’t that I couldn’t have called from Alaska, either.  I let weeks become months, and months become years.

Essentially, I lost a friend because I was… a coward.

There was no turning back here. Not that I would want to; the benefit of twenty years of life experience is that you gain some maturity and coping skills. I knew I wasn’t going to be the utter idiot I had been with my hockey buddy… but the skill set hadn’t been tested in quite a while.

The day of the game, there was a bit of phone tag played. My insecurities about the situation played games with me as we traded voice mails. I imagined my friend finding the idea of going out so soon after her mother’s passing to be too much, and that I would get a message telling me that she was going to cancel. If she had, I would have totally understood. If I had been thinking, I would have known that this was the last thing she would do. Once she made a commitment to do something, there was little that one could do to distract her from that commitment.

She’s just weird that way.

Having a reunion and hugging someone that you haven’t seen in nineteen years – on a subway platform – isn’t nearly as strange as I imagined it to be. I think there are some friends that you just know so well and have such an affinity for that allows the years to melt away as if it had been nineteen days or even nineteen hours. We were so caught up in catching up that we actually got on the wrong train. We were going the right direction, but took the scenic route. It hardly mattered, and in fact, I had to make a concerted effort to pay attention to exactly where we were so we didn’t miss our stop.

We talked about everyone and everything we’d ever done. We laughed a lot. I was amazed at the details I remembered from way back. One Fourth of July she and I went to the National Mall to watch the fireworks. It was a pretty spectacular evening – there had been thunderstorms earlier, and we were soaked to the skin. As it started to get dark, the skies were filled with spectacular lightning, which brought cheers from the crowd as if it were part of the fireworks show. Finally the skies cleared and the fireworks started. They were spectacular, as they always are, and of course, the backdrop of our national monuments makes the celebration all the more amazing.

After the fireworks, we wandered back to the Metro, where thousands of us boarded the trains to head home. Every free inch of space on those cars was packed with people. Everyone was nose-to-nose with their friends and butt-to-butt with strangers. Nobody cared, it was just a part of the annual July Fourth ritual.

At the baseball game we talked about everything. As the night wore on, my friend’s voice got squeakier and more hoarse. As difficult as it was to hear her it was strangely familiar. I hadn’t remembered it at first, but it seems that whenever she and I did one of these outings, whether to a ballgame, or the fireworks, or the Preakness, she would lose her voice. I hadn’t remembered that detail until we were walking back to the Metro after the game.

As we walked down Half street there were some awkward pauses. I told her, we should get together again when I come to town in September. She said she’s really like that, and she’d like to get together with my parents, too. I told her they’d really like that.

We filed into the subway station, only to find ourselves on the wrong side of a temporary barrier. Our college-years sensibilities came to us as swimming comes to fish: we moved them and walked to the side of the platform we were supposed to be on. Moments after we did that, I heard one of the station police chastising others for doing the same thing.

Our train came, and the crowd poured onto the car. Every inch was occupied. Friends were nose-to-nose, and strangers were butt-to-butt. I said to her, “I’ve seen this movie before.” She laughed. We only had two stops on the train before she’d change trains and head off towards her home, and I would head back to Maryland and my parent’s place.

We didn’t say much during those few minutes on the train. She was looking off at nothing in particular. I looked at her face, and she had that look that you see right before someone starts to cry.

The train pulled into the station. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. She said, “I’ll see you soon, sweetie” and walked off the train.

I said nothing.

What do you say?

I *AM* the Easter Bunny

Filed under: Life — Tags: , , , , , — Wigi @ 9:22 am April 12, 2009

Of the pop culture holidays, Easter has become one of my favorites. Retailers haven’t been able to find that hook that turns Lent into the consumer feeding frenzy that some of our other religious-turned-consumer holidays have. And while the religious pageantry is now lost on me, a nice dinner with family, a steady supply of (mostly chocolate) candy, and the celebration of spring… I can get behind that!

I have created some interesting Easter traditions over the years, mostly having to do with some non-traditional Easter baskets that we’ve created for the kids in the past. This year, I find myself visiting my parents in Washington, DC, and I will spend Easter with them, and my brother and sister and their families.

One of their traditions is to have an Easter Egg hunt for the nieces. When I was a kid, such an event required considerable effort and planning. A couple dozen eggs, hard-boiling, dyeing, cooling… and all of that on the days before Easter… followed by wandering the yard and hiding the eggs here and there in the yard. Today, a trip to Costco (in January, because that is when the retailers put out the Easter stuff) scores you a plastic bucket of three dozen plastic eggs, stuffed with candy. Twenty minutes in the yard, and voila… Easter Egg Hunt.

I’ll admit, some of the artistry that comes with hand-dyed eggs is lost when you substitute candy-filled orbs of plastic. But this is about the kids, and if you think back to your youth, if given the choice between a hard boiled egg that was going to be blue on the inside when you peeled it, and a plastic egg full of jelly beans, which would you choose?

So this morning, I took my little plastic bucket of eggs and wandered the back yard, putting eggs here and there. About half of them are lying in the open on the lawn, but the remaining half are actually pretty well hidden. My parents have a hedge of forsythia bushes, which still sport a fairly full load of yellow flowers. This was the perfect place to hide the yellow eggs. In fact, some of the yellow eggs have a brown-striped pattern to them – it was almost as if they made forsythia-specific camo for them. They’re hidden at eye-level for a six year old, but they’ll never find them unless they’re right on top of them.

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Egg in Forsythia

I always hide a few for the adults, too. Not that the adults will search for them, necessarily… but they are so far out of reach for the kids that only daddy can grab them. One is in the crook of a maple tree, about nine feet off the ground.

Egg in a tree

Egg in a tree

Another is in the branches of a sprawling peach tree.

Egg in peach tree

Egg in peach tree

This will be fun… watching the kids search the yard in their Easter dresses looking for candy eggs.

I have only one regret – I didn’t notice the extension ladder in the yard until after I had hidden all the eggs.

Next year…

UPDATE: I got the extension ladder out after all!

Fresh and New

Filed under: Life — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 7:24 pm December 26, 2008

I don’t remember how old I was, but probably not any older than ten. I had received a “snorkel parka” for Christmas… and while clothes are generally not at the top of the list of things that a ten-year-old kid wants for Christmas, this parka was very cool, and I loved it.

The parka was navy blue, and had an orange liner. It had a hood with a drawstring, and a fur ruff. When you put the hood up and tied the string, the hood and ruff made a short tube in front of your face – hence the name, “snorkel parka”.

We always exchanged gifts on Christmas eve, and on Christmas day, it was dress-up, go to church, come home for Christmas dinner, but not too much playing with the new toys. The first day where us kids had the day to plan as we liked was December 26.

This particular December 26th was a typical winter day in Washington, DC – It was cold and the wind was howling at about 30 miles per hour. It was perfect “Snorkel Parka” weather. I loved cold weather, and I loved the idea of bundling up and going outside, for no other reason than to brave the elements. The only thing that might have made it more perfect would have been to have some snow.

I bundled myself up. I put on long “thermal” underwear. I put on two pairs of socks. I had some hiking boots that offered a bit of insulation. I had a nice warm sweater, and then bundled myself up with my parka and a ski cap, and some gloves. I pulled the hood over my head and tied the strings. It was as if I had put on a space suit. I was wrapped in a 98.6 degree cocoon.

My mother was not so keen on me going out in such weather. I don’t remember specifically, but I am sure that there were warnings on the news about going out in the “bitter cold”. It might also have been that she didn’t want me going in and out and letting the cold air in the house.

I stepped outside. The front door and storm door shut behind me. I was left with the sound of the wind howling through the branches of the crabapple tree in the front yard, though it was muffled as I heard it through the ski cap and insulated hood that covered my ears. November’s leaves blew here and there across the brown grass. I could feel the cold on my face, but it seemed tempered by my attempts at insulating myself from the elements.

I stepped down the concrete steps of my parent’s front porch, and surveyed the frozen landscape. It certainly wasn’t still, but it was also not filled with life. There was movement, but it was the sterile, lifeless motions of a blustery winter day. If there were birds around, they were certainly perched safely in some evergreen tree, avoiding the winds and cold.

And then I noticed it. The sun was shining. It seemed brighter and cleaner than I had ever seen before. Of course, the sky was cloudless and blue, but that wasn’t what left the impression on me. It was the brilliant, heatless white of the sun. The day seemed brighter. It seemed fresh and new.

I don’t think that a ten year old can really appreciate all of the implications of this perception, but I am sure I was aware of them, and they seem crystal clear to me today – This day was different than the days that came before. Left behind were the obligations and expectations of Christmas. For a ten year old kid, the obligations had to do with participating in the Family stuff and going to church. Not that these things were terrible, but my brothers and I would have been much happier with a football and a couple of friends. And that was another thing… being a family day, you were left without your friends – they were off doing family things with their families. So here it was, December 26th, and we could return to ‘normal time’. And it wasn’t just that the sun was shining, but that the sun was shining, and everything was starting new. Our lives as kids had been restored to its best possible state – a week off from school, days to do with as we liked, new toys and Christmas gifts to play with.

I was walking into work this morning, and I caught a whiff of that experience again. There was new snow on the ground, most people had the day off. The weight of obligation and commitment that burdens the Scrooges of this world – myself included – had been lifted from my shoulders.

Perhaps others feel this way too, and it was this feeling of newness that caused them to choose this time of year to move from one calendar year to the next. Thinking back about previous December 26ths, I think I always feel this way in some form. It isn’t always as vivid as that winter day back in Washington, DC when I was ten, but it is a real and visceral feeling. And of course, the feelings are much more complex when you’re an adult – it isn’t just about pursuing an afternoon football game with friends, but about bills and going to work and new projects and paying the rent. But now, those things that we consider ‘End of the Year’ things are behind us, and what lies ahead are ‘Beginning of the Year’ things.

It didn’t matter that there was eight inches of new snow in my driveway this morning. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It was fresh and new.

Intelligent People Could Disagree

Filed under: Baseball,Life — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Wigi @ 8:02 pm November 3, 2008

I was born and raised in Washington, DC.

I didn’t notice anything unusual about my childhood. The Smithsonian was where you went on a class field trip a couple times a year, and the Kennedy Center is where your high school graduation was. It never occurred to me that kids in other places didn’t go to school with the sons and daughters of senators and congressmen (and women, though less so back then), or regularly share a church with the vice president.

Looking back now, what was notable was that the parents of my friends were patriotic Americans first, senators or congressmen or vice presidents second, and Democrats or Republicans third. The partisan distinctions were important, to be sure, but they really only mattered for a few months every two years.

I was a huge baseball fan as a child, and my team, the Washington Senators, moved to Texas in 1971. The following year (1972, an election year), the annual congressional charity baseball game took place at RFK stadium, before an exhibition game between the Mets and the Red Sox. I was just eleven years old at the time, and I was the guest of one of my neighbors, who happened to work on presidential campaigns. We arrived early, and spent time walking through the VIP dining room. Seated at every table were congressmen and senators from almost every state, and from both parties. I met a congressman from Michigan, and had my picture taken with him. Two years later, this congressman, Gerald Ford, became President of the United States. I met the Speaker of the House. I met George McGovern, the Democratic nominee for president. I dozens others.

In an election year, on this particular evening, these men got together to play baseball and watch baseball… They had cocktails and food. They respected each other… but they had day jobs, and their jobs were to debate and craft the direction of the country. They disagreed about how to achieve their goals, but ultimately, they knew that their jobs, first and foremost, were to debate… and that the first ground rule of these political debates were that intelligent people could disagree.

Here we are today, on the eve of an election, thirty-six years later. What has changed is that today, intelligent people can’t disagree. The nature of the debate has become such that to disagree is to make you defective. Perhaps it makes you a racist. Perhaps it makes you a radical. Perhaps it makes you a terrorist. Perhaps it makes you a pagan. Perhaps it makes you intolerant. Perhaps it makes you stupid.

Most importantly, it makes you shut up.

I am tired of being made to feel like there is something wrong with me because I disagree with you.

Tomorrow morning, I am going to do something about it. You should, too.

I have decided, I will go and vote, and then I will love you.

Round Numbers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Wigi @ 10:19 pm March 22, 2008

I am just a few days from departing on my twice-annual pilgrimage to the place of my birth, Washington, DC. Whenever I go back, I often find myself immersed in nostalgia for things that I remember from my childhood – Some rather impressive and grand, such as school field trips to the Smithsonian, and others rather mundane.

My mother still shops at the same grocery store that she did when I was very small… An independent grocery store with only one location. She likes that store because they have excellent meats.

When I was a kid, my mother would take us shopping with her, and she would walk the aisles, routinely grabbing things off of the shelves and placing them in the basket. At some point, we would find ourselves at the Deli counter. The store was always busy, so it was rare that you would walk up and be served right away. Off to one side, there was a little machine, where you’d pull down a handle, and out would pop a a little ticket with a number on it. As a kid, it was always a special treat to get to “pull the handle”.

As you walked up to the Deli, you’d see the number, and wonder what number you would get. The mechanical sign behind the counter would read, “NOW SERVING: 9″ and when you went to pull the handle and get your ticket, you wondered if you were going to get number 10, or number 17.

I was thrilled when I got number 10… but as a kid, you start to wonder… What if someone else has also has number 10? What if she just skips past you, and on to number 11, or stops taking numbers altogether? Of course, she would always serve number 10, but it always took longer than you thought it should.

However long the wait, it was always worth it. They really did have the best meat anywhere. In fact, it would have been worth the wait even if I was number 11!