Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Life with Father

I figure my children are at the age now where their linear memory of events is starting to fall into place.

This means they will remember me from here on out, so it's time to start considering my legacy.

The long shadow I cast over their lives should be a smart one, so I let them find me reading tomes or standing around in quiet contemplation.

It's hard to sound much smarter then when you say 'yes' interrogatively. All the embarrassment you should be feeling is just kind of thrown back on the other person when you say, 'yes?' like that.

After writing this down, I felt uncertain  of myself and said 'yes?' to the empty room around me. Far from making me feel smart, it made me feel crazy.

Having spent a life time being mistaken for a deep thinker, I feel I have perfected my stance of quiet contemplation. 

When the weight of my thoughts becomes especially unbearable, it's time to put one hand on the wall for support.

This is how I want my children to remember me when I'm dead.

My wife does some things that really get in the way of my legacy, however.

She is kind of the Biff to my Willie.

Part of the problem is that when she sees a ridiculous dance or facial expression, she insists that I reproduce it for the amusement of the entire family.

Now I am not spineless, or lacking in self-determination, but when someone commands you to make an ass out of yourself, you do it. It's just how I was raised.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Competence Game

It bothers me that I lack competence.

I wish I was one of those guys that could be trusted to draw up blueprints, or could stab a map confidently with one finger and say "There." Then I would double tap the spot to show just how sure I was. 

But instead, I find myself living under a carefully built layer of apparent intelligence.

I know about knowledge, but I don't have knowledge.

I've always managed to fake it somehow, though.

In fact, in many of the classrooms I have worked, I was the go-to guy for all questions requiring a high level of know-how, especially technical know-how.

Sorry guys, I am having some technical issues. I have to use a different, unfamiliar drawing program to finish this post.

Of course, I was a fraud. I had a secret competent friend I would call when no one was looking.

 Like when my poor father always tried to help me with my geometry homework.
He'd walk in the door, barely lay his keys down, and get a greeting of:

I guess I have trouble paying attention to a lot of things in general.

Just the other day, I forgot to pay attention to how much ice was on the sidewalk, and I lost Amy Ting for a second.

She managed to heave herself back to standing by using first my knee, and then one of my belt loops, as anchor points.

It was plain stupid of me to let her walk without support. Amy is unsteady on her feet in good times. When she approaches a curb less then half an inch high, she hesitates forever.

"Do you need some help?" I ask.

"I'm coming, I 'm coming." She waves me away.

But she doesn't move. Minutes pass, and she might even tentatively dip one toe onto the street beneath her, but she quickly pulls it back. "All right," she tells herself, breathing hard. "I can do dis, I can do it." 

The day after she slipped on the ice, Amy came in limping. She saw me down the hall and yelled out, "Hello there, savior! Hello, strong one!"

I was confused.

It turned out that she had dubbed me "Savior" not because I had saved her from falling, because I so obviously hadn't, but because I had written up an accident/incident form for her to take home.

"Thank you so much for the yellow paper, strong one. It was so nice of you."

Now, at the end of every day, I wait just by the door, my arm cocked out expectantly. After a long, long while, she arrives, slips her arm around my own, and says, "ready, savior."

I escort her across the snowy ground to her waiting cab; our steps hesitant, clumsy, like confused and nervous lovers just learning to walk.

Now I do currently know a competent man. Or I guess I should say, I am often summoned by a competent man.

Skip is the dishwasher at the college cafeteria. He is always telling me to c'mere and see things.
Sometimes, it's to c'mere and see the president of the school as she gets into her little Volvo and drives away.

"Guess how old she is?" he always asks me. I don't know. She looks oldish and has heels on. I think there's hair in the equation.

But I never throw out a guess.

"Seventy-five!! You believe that?? Still looking pretty good, huh?" At this point, he usually claps me on the back or just smiles.

He likes to have me c'mere and see the compost bucket, as it gets fuller and smellier. Or a cage down the back hall with a sign on it that says "DON'T BLOCK".

"Shitheads are always blocking it," he tells me with disgust.

When I prepare the student's lunches, I am parked directly outside the door that leads into the kitchen. This gives Skip and I a lot of time together.

One day, Skip called me over to see the garbage disposal nestled at the bottom of a deep steel sink.
"I call it the Terminator," he said proudly. "This thing actually ate the old garbage disposal. Seriously. We had the parts from the old one on the ledge there, and BOOM! They fell right in. The Terminator ground'em up to nothing."

I could tell Skip loved the Terminator and wanted me to say something, but I couldn't think of anything.

If it was a baby, or a new truck, well, then there was a script to work from-'Awww cute' or 'Maaan, horsepower'-but with a garbage disposal, there wasn't a script. It was just two guys staring at a loud hole, one of them smiling.

After awhile, I nervously giggled out, "Man, we don't even have a garbage disposal at our house."

He squinted at me for a long time, taking in the fullness of my measure, eyeballing the cut of my jib.

Several days later, Skip challenged me to produce a better pulled pork then the one being served by the cafeteria that afternoon.

I was smacking the bottom of the ranch dressing to get at least a few gobbets onto a student's salad.

"It's pretty good stuff, is it?" I asked Skip absently.

That was his cue.

"C'mere,just c'mere."

I followed him back through towers of dirty dishes.

Skip pulled a black serving bin off of a cart, reached into the bottom of it, and lifted an orangey red piece of meat up to me.

"Don't believe me? Try it." His hand holding the pulled pork was slick with soap bubbles and dishwater; the many black hairs flattened into wet swirls.

Maybe it was the best pulled pork in the world.

I felt that weakness in me, that instinctive surrender to a competent voice.
Engine flush? Um, sure.
Take these pills? Well, OK.
Eat this pork?
Eat it?

God help me, I did.