Monthly Archives: June 2013

A Pain in the Grass

Coming downstairs this morning – after stepping in a nice pile of cat puke, thank you – I noticed that our yard needs mowing. Again.

This spring/summer has been a real struggle with my scraggly yard. At least the front is scraggly. The back trends more toward rain forest undergrowth.

Seems like every time I get ready to roll the mower out, monsoon season hits, and by the time Garrett and I get down to business, it’s a long, mower-choking mess. So I guess we’ll have to buckle down and get our grasses out there before the rains hit.

But not just yet. First a little trip in the wayback machine …

Umph. That landing was a bit rough. The wayback might need a little tuneup. But here I am, back in SoBo or, to be precise, Cluster Springs. Don’t know the precise year, but I’m guessing something like 1971 or 1972.

It’s a bright summer day, the grass is tall. I’m at my parents’ house, scrambling to find some cover so no one will see future me. Yes, the yard has trees – I’ll likely get to that later – but they’re really thin. No real protection there. So I head to the woods that surround my house on two sides. I cross the little ravine carefully on the 2x4s we’ve put over the creek at the bottom. No one will see me now.

I don’t have to wait long – a good thing, since it is typically broiling. “Somehow it was hotter then …” and all that.

I spy 14- or 15-year-old Arthur coming outside and rolling the mower out – checking the oil and filling up the gas tank. It was the latest in a series of mowers we had, purchased after I’d succeeded in breaking its predecessor.

Yes, you read that right. I hated to mow the lawn – our yard must have been at least five times larger than the one I have now. I’d put it off until my mom had finally had it with me, then do my best to make the mower fail so I could quit at least until my dad would take it apart and put it back together. Sometimes I’d get to the point that even he couldn’t fix it – in my mind, at least, my dad could fix almost anything.

This mower was different. Try as I might, I couldn’t break it.

Let me amend that. It was broken, but it was not of my doing. Allow me to explain. When we bought it, this was one of them self-propelled lawn mowers. You didn’t push it so much as guide it. Which means you’re basically just walking around the yard making sure it didn’t run into and damage the trees – I sucked at that part, that’s why we didn’t have very much cover in the yard for future Arthur to hide behind. So cutting the grass became a much less odious chore. At first.

When the self-propel part of it broke, things changed. Because the actual grass-cutting part was still in fine shape. And would remain so. We – and by we I mean I – just had to push it now instead of follow it. Only the part that made it self-propel also made it about twice as heavy as a conventional mower.

From my vantage point across the ravine, I saw Past Arthur succeed – again, despite his best efforts – in getting the mower cranked and start at it. The front went smoothly enough. It was fairly level, with only occasional obstacles to go around. Even the hard part didn’t seem too hard that particular day. The hard part was a steep hill to the right of the house. It was treacherous – if the grass was even the least bit damp, you’d easily slip.

Then young me went to the back yard. I wanted to shout at him to call it day. (I knew what happened next.) But I couldn’t. Because of the Butterfly effect, I couldn’t stop what was about to happen because it could change my reality – and I’m more than happy with my reality these days.

So I stayed in the woods and watched as Past Arthur kept mowing, inching closer to the small hole I knew was in the ground. I watched as Past Arthur ran over that hole. Nothing happened right at first; then Past Arthur swatted a bit at his ankle.

From across the ravine I knew what had happened – and would happen. That little hole actually was a nest – a yellowjacket nest. They’d been disturbed. To put it mildly. Past Arthur’s swatting only made the critters madder. They stung and stung and stung him, all up down the legs and arms. He managed to get the mower away and turn it off.

I watched as Past Arthur flapped his arms and rubbed at the stings on his lower legs. I could still feel that pain – it brought tears to eyes that have seen much in the days since.

Then I saw him go inside. I didn’t have to peek in the windows to know what would happen next. The burning from the bites got worse and worse, and Past Arthur decided to see whether first a shower and then a bath would help cool things off. I knew they’d help to a point – to a point where Past Arthur would relax.

That wasn’t a good thing. What Past Arthur didn’t know – but I did – was that I am allergic to yellowjacket venom. It might not have mattered anyway. Because Past Arthur was getting sleepier and sleepier.

I watched, getting frantic, because I knew what NEEDED to And it didn’t seem to happening. See, going to sleep would have been terrible. It would have meant that my air passages were closing – or closed. 

Then I saw it. My mom’s red Chevy Vega turned into the driveway. She would call out to me and keep me awake until she could give me a shot of epenephrin and then get me to her doctor’s office – she was a nurse. They’d fix me up in a hurry …

Back in 2013 now. I’ve only been stung by yellow jackets a time or two since that day – and never had multiple stings or that type of reaction. That doesn’t mean I don’t still think about that day every time I cut the grass.

Which I’m about to do …

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” _ Walt Whitman

“Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. Shovel them under and let me work – I am the grass; I cover all.” _ Carl Sandburg

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Son, I Need to Tell You Something

Back in mid-October, Austin told me the news, starting with the words, “Dad, I need to tell you something.” I wrote about it here.

What he had to tell me, of course, was that I was going to be a grandfather. It happened April 5. I’m much too young to be a Granddad, so I became Pop.

But in the two months and change that have followed, a lot more has happened. My son has become a Father, in all the best ways.

He graduated from high school last week. We all piled in the car for his graduation at the Cabarrus Arena, about 30 or so miles away. It wasn’t easy to find, even for Austin’s GPS on his phone. We got there first, as it turned out, because we wanted to get a good seat when they opened the doors – it was festival seating.

As we waited outside, we saw a car that might have been his. Karen said she thought it was because of one of the dents. I said it definitely was his – because of the Baby On Board placard on the back of it.

We got through the ceremony – despite the best efforts of the speaker, who mostly talked about himself and what a wonderful life he’d had – and later that night had a celebration dinner.

About that dinner. When Karen and I had Austin, we were living in Gastonia (the hellmouth of weird, detailed here), We had no family around. And we really couldn’t afford to pay a babysitter. So we pretty much took Austin everywhere. He was a really good baby (as opposed to me – my mom always told Karen what a bad baby I was).It worked out fine.

So anyway, when we were planning the graduation ceremony, we originally made a reservation for six – Austin and Grace, Karen and I and Garrett and Nicki – figuring little Samu-El (his Kryptonian name) would stay with Grace’s mom or one of Grace’s sisters. Austin let us know we were wrong. “We take him with us, Dad.”

So we changed the reservation. The restaurant accommodated us with an even better table, and we had a fantastic time. He was great while we ate, though I caught him looking longingly at the ribs I was pounding.

The point is, they wanted him with them whenever possible.

And you should see them with their little Superbaby. They’re so attentive. Austin takes great care of his boy, and he just beams whenever he’s holding him.

We asked whether there were any graduation parties: Austin didn’t know and didn’t care. He was focused on his little family, not worrying about parties. (An aside: I didn’t go to a graduation party either – I was still in the doghouse from the prom that year – a tale for another time, if I haven’t told it already.)

Here’s the other thing: Austin got his final report card last week. With everything he had in front of him, from worries about jobs and babies and everything else, he got all “A’s.”

He starts a new job tomorrow. He’s pretty excited about it. He hasn’t by any means ruled out more school of some kinds.

So here’s what I need to tell Austin:

You’re already a great dad. I’m so proud of you, and I wish I could be more like you.



“When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry.”
– William Shakespeare


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Shakespeare’s In The Alley Again

“Why don’t you say a few words about it?”

That question, aimed at me, caught me off guard. It happened Friday during our insurance cluster social at work. (What, you mean everyone doesn’t have one?)

Tim K., cluster boss, posed it. The topic was the Ballantyne Relay for Life event which would begin within an hour or so.

I’d signed up for Relay the first day it was announced at RV. I had some experience with it, so I told Christina, captain of the insurance team, that I’d help out with any events that she scheduled to raise money for it. And then promptly forgot I’d offered.

Which was OK. The Relay train chugged along without me very well. I was still planning to go, enjoy the scene and walk a few laps. But I didn’t count on doing much more than that, and in truth, I didn’t.

But the outlook changed a few days ago. Christina walked over to my cubicle – that’s really not such a good sign, because at RV we mostly conversate by interoffice message or email. When there’s real personal interaction, something is generally wrong.

And so it goes. She had plans surface and would be out of town the day of Relay. But she’d remembered my offer and asked whether I’d stand in for her. There probably would be little to do – she was right about that – other people had pretty much lined everything up by then, but somebody had to kinda be in charge of the insurance team.

I agreed and decided that I would be the team’s vice captain. The only thing I did – up until the Friday social – was reforward an email. Which I did mainly because I wanted to make a pun about being “vice” captain – I’d always wanted to be officially in charge of vice, I told fellow insurance cluster members – marveling at my cleverness.

(An aside here: It was kind of stolen cleverness in the first place. From, of all places, “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Mr. Drysdale formed a corporation for the Clampetts – for tax purposes, of course. Jed was president, and Granny was vice president. She didn’t want to be in charge of vice. So they changed her nameplate to say “Nice president.”)

Anyway, I didn’t feel so clever when Tim asked his question.

It wasn’t because I mind speaking in groups – far from it. And it wasn’t that I mind speaking about Relay. I just didn’t have anything prepared. My face likely changed to the same color as my fire-engine red Relay T-shirt.

But it was OK. I’m pretty passionate about Relay, so speaking wasn’t difficult. My dad died from what started as tongue cancer but proceeded to get progressively worse – it was horrible. So the cause is important to me.

And I had a particular affection for Relay as well: It was one of about three good things about my three-year term in Henderson. (The other two were a local grocery store and a fried fish restaurant – that probably tells you about all you need to know about those days.)

So I’m waxing on about Relay, etc., getting my speech on and all, and it occurs to me I need to close with a joke (talking about Relay can get pretty intense). I’m running through my material as I’m talking, and nothing’s really coming to mind. Then I hit on it: my T-shirt. “I’m so committed to Relay,” I say, “that I’ll even wear this fire-engine red shirt. That’s something you’ll never see otherwise from this Tar Heel.” It broke the tension, and I got out right then. Success!


Speaking of nameplates, we’re getting new ones at work. So the people-in-charge-of-nameplates sent around an email to tell us of this fact and to ask us a question: What would be your theme song.

I considered the question and did what I do. I asked Karen for a suggestion. She came up with a winner right off the bat. More on that later. I’ve said quite often that my life is a song and blogged previously about it here and here, if not elsewhere.

So I posed the question to my Facebook friends, allowing the following choices:

  • Forever Young (Bob Dylan). Pro: I love this song, and it plays well with working at RV, where pretty much everyone is really young. It would signify my commitment to stay at least young at heart. Con: There’s a pretty awful Rod Stewart song with the same title and I didn’t want anyone to be confused about my loyalties.
  • Dazed and Confused (Led Zeppelin): ‘Nuff said.
  • Yesterday’s News (Whiskeytown): Because I’m not in the news biz anymore.
  • Dancing Days (Led Zeppelin): See the second of the posts I just linked to.
  • Gimme Three Steps (Lynyrd Skynyrd): Like Sherlock Holmes and The Giant Rat of Sumatra, the world is not ready for this tale – and the statute of limitations has yet to expire.
  • Theme from Shaft (Isaac Hayes): Karen’s initial suggestion, and hands down, the winner. Love the music a lot, And like Shaft, I’m “a complicated man” and other parts of the lyrics, too. I’ll let you figure that one out.

“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate. So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

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