Thursday, June 24, 2010

When the Bough Breaks

This story actually starts three or four years ago, in the wintertime, when one day Jen noticed that the large maple tree in the back corner of our yard had developed a crack. About twelve or fifteen feet up, the trunk split into two large limbs, and a vertical crack had started at the crotch where the two limbs came together. The tree seemed fine, for the time being, but Jen made a few calls to the 'Tree Department' at the university, and a guy even came by to have a look at it. He outlined a 'treatment plan' involving a large band to hold the crack shut, and perhaps allow the crack to heal itself shut. It had a fairly hefty price tag, but at least we knew what we were facing. Alas, in the spring, before we had the opportunity to implement any plan, for 'treatment' or anything else, Nature took care of our problem for us, when the smaller side of the crack completely fell over. We were pretty fortunate in that nothing much was harmed in the process. It took out a section of our neighbor's fence, but between her insurance and ours, the cost was pretty minimal. The 'Tree Science' professor came back out to see what was left, and he told us that, sooner or later, the tree was gonna need to come down, but it was stable for the time being. The section that remained involved about 90% of the original trunk, so it at least had a good base. Although the missing third of the tree left behind a sort-of imbalanced situation, and the tree leaned a bit more to the left than it had before. I checked the tree a couple time a year, just to stay in touch with how it was doing, whether the crack was growing, or any rot was setting in. It always seemed OK, or at least unchanged, so I let it ride, even knowing that I was eventually going to need to take the tree down. ------------------------- Last Friday, I came home from work to find the house unoccupied. Jen and 8M had gone with friends to one of the summertime 'Plays In the Park' that they have over at the university, and all the other kids were at various and sundry of their friends' houses. I don't get a lot of quiet solitude, and so I fairly cherish it when it comes around. I got out some dinner for myself, and grabbed some reading material to catch up on while I ate. Eventually, Jen came home, with her friend Mary, the mother of 8M's friend Thomas. Jen and Mary stood chatting on the front porch, watching the sky darken as a storm approached from the west, while 8M and Thomas ran to play in the back yard. When the weather got progressively more threatening, they came inside, and soon 8M and Thomas came in, as well. Mary was concerned about driving home in a storm, so she said good-bye and took Thomas out to their car, and left, while the wind whipped up to a feverish pace. They left before it started raining, while Jen and I and 8M took in the excitement of the rushing wind and the oncoming storm. We went back in the house, and while I returned to my reading, Jen quickly went through the house, tidying things up just a bit. When she got to the family room in the back of the house, I heard her gasp sharply, and she called for me to come quickly. I hustled back to the family room, and the view out the back window, along with virtually the entire back yard, was filled with leaves and branches. In the back corner of the yard, the maple tree stood, with another gaping wound where one of the remaining limbs had broken off. The broken limb was huge - a foot-and-a-half in diameter, and 40-50 feet long, with numerous thickly-leaved branches. In its fall, it had also knocked a rather sizable limb off a neighboring tree. The pile of branches and leaves, even laying on the ground, stood 8-10 feet high. Amazingly, it hadn't hit anything else when it fell - the kids' swingset, right in the shadow of the tree that had just fallen, was untouched, as was our utility shed. Unlike the previous episode, even the neighbors' fences were unscathed. As we beheld the leafy carnage in our yard, 8M said, "Thomas and I were just playing right there a few minutes ago." And we realized how quickly it had all happened, with the wind whipping up so quickly, and so noisily that we didn't even hear a foot-and-a-half limb breaking loose. And how near a thing it had been - a pair of eight-year-olds had been playing in the yard just minutes before it fell. Their guardian angels deserve a raise in pay for urging them into the house with scant minutes to spare. ------------------------- So now, for the time being, our kids have a whole new maze of tree limbs on which to climb and explore, until we can get the chainsaw fired up to convert it into firewood (and you can trust me, that it'll be a few years' worth of firewood). Jen's brother is going to come with his more 'professional-grade' chainsaw; he's a wood-worker, and he might even want to take a big chunk of the limb home with him, to turn into furniture. Which will be fine with me. I also know that I can't afford to 'let it ride' anymore - that damn tree has just got to come down. It seems such a shame - when we moved in, it was a big, beautiful tree, providing abundant shade and sound insulation between us and our neighbors. It does a lot less of that now, aside from having now scared the bejabbers out of us for the second time. And never let it be said that I can't take a hint. . .

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Best Man I've Ever Known

In the past, my Fathers Day posts have tended to focus on my own trials and tribulations as a father. Which is OK, I suppose, as far as it goes, even if a bit more whiny and self-focused than what I really aspire to. . .

This year, though, in honor of Fathers Day, I'd like to tell you about my dad. My father has been, in many ways, the rock of my life. Mothers have come and gone for me, over the years (strange as that is to say, and I really don't mean it in any way to denigrate any of them); my family has moved from town to town, and from house to house even when we stayed in the same town; I have changed schools; friends have come and gone. But from the time I was adopted around my first birthday, my dad has been one of the few constants in my life.

As well as it being Fathers Day, his 88th birthday was this past Thursday; it has not been unusual for his birthday to fall on Fathers Day. Actually, I count myself extremely fortunate that my dad is still with me - his two brothers were 47 and 58 when they died, and his own father didn't live to see 70, either. Ever since Dad turned 70, I've been mentally preparing myself for him to leave anytime; even so, I know that when he does, it will be an utter earthquake in my life. That he is still living midway through my 50s is a blessing of the highest order.


Dad was born and raised on a farm in central Michigan, the oldest of five children - three boys, two girls. He attended a rural one-room schoolhouse (which, of course, he walked five miles through the snow just to get to, uphill both ways). Those were the days before Rural Electrification; chores were done, and so was schoolwork, by kerosene-lantern-light. Electricity didn't come to my grandpa's farm until Dad was in his teens.

By a combination of genetic endowment and abundant hard work, Dad grew into a large man - he's 6'-4" tall. When he was young, he was rail-thin - about 180 pounds or so (by the time I came into his life, he was a fair bit bigger than that) - but his 'Popeye-esque' forearms bespoke many cows milked, and a good deal more physical strength than might first meet the eye. When I was in high school, and doing weight training for football, I got pretty proud of how strong I was becoming, and so I challenged my dad to arm-wrestle. The fruit of all my training was that I could then 'hold him off' for a second or two before he slammed me. Even to this day, I don't want to arm-wrestle him; I don't think my ego could take getting slammed by an 88-year-old man.

Dad is one of those 'Greatest Generation' guys, whose lives, into their 20s, were defined by the Great Depression and World War II. As a boy growing up, my grandpa always had the farm, but there were significant stretches of time during which the family lived in a larger city about an hour away, where grandpa ran a gas station, when farming wasn't so lucrative. Eventually, even that bit of provision went away, and they returned to the farm. My aunt recalls her dad saying that, as long as they had the farm, they wouldn't go hungry.

Dad graduated from high school in 1940, part of a graduating class of eight. He went to college 20 miles from his dad's farm. He wasn't the first of his family to go to college - both his parents had attended college, although neither of them had graduated. After two years, he transferred down to the larger school which I later attended, to study Chemical Engineering.

He only completed one semester there before he was drafted, and became the lucky recipient of an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe, courtesy of the US Army. He was in an artillery unit, which was probably fortunate for him, in that he generally stayed 15-20 miles behind the front lines, and so, besides firing his own big guns, he was not often being shot at in anger. He doesn't tell many 'war stories', but he has a few about being strafed, and diving for his foxhole. And during the Battle of the Bulge, the front lines got considerably closer to his position than was usual, or comfortable.

Dad survived the war, and even stayed on after the war for two years, working for the US State Department in the post-war reconstruction. During that time, he met and married my 'first mother', returning stateside in late 1947. He finished college on the GI Bill, earning his BS degree in Chemical Engineering in 1949. I have his college yearbook, and I was amused to find among his fellow-graduates a future head basketball coach at our mutual alma mater, and a future governor of Hawaii.


The one huge, overriding lesson that my dad taught me, by example much more than by anything he ever said, was a commitment to duty, and the deep connection of duty to love. Dad always - ALWAYS - did his duty, and I came to understand that 'duty' was how my dad expressed love. He is not the most outgoing of people (although he can be 'social' when he has to), and I often longed to just sit down and engage in a relaxed, flowing conversation with him, but, with few exceptions, Dad just doesn't do 'relaxed flowing conversation'. But he has shown his love to me hundreds of times over, often as not without saying a word.

He and my 'first mother' were married for nine-plus childless years before they adopted me. Not long before she died, I had a conversation with my aunt - Dad's sister - and she told me that adopting hadn't been his idea - that his wife had dearly wanted children, but he'd been ambivalent about adopting. But, out of care and concern for his wife, he'd signed on for it, and I came into their life. A year or so later, they adopted my brother. All of which became almost bizarrely ironic after Christmas of 1964, when my mother left him, and, in the process, my brother and me. I have no idea exactly why she left him, or exactly what her grievances were. I will say that, as I've known my dad over the years, he has not always been the easiest of men to live with. But, even so, he is, at one and the same time, the best man I've ever known.

So anyway, my dad, who'd been ambivalent about adopting in the first place, was suddenly a single father to two boys. We moved out of our house on Lake Huron (which, while we'd lived there, had been a pretty good working model of heaven), to a house in town where my brother and I could look after ourselves a bit easier. For a year, we ate a lot of mac-n-cheese, and I got introduced to kippered herring; Dad was not exactly a gourmet chef.

In the finest fashion of doing his duty for us, he quickly set about finding a new mother for us (and not incidentally, I'm sure, a new wife for himself), and by the following fall, he was engaged to the woman who would be his second wife, and my-brother's-and-my 'new mother'. She was a divorcee herself, with three kids, two girls and a boy. So when they were married in early 1966 (just before my tenth birthday), Dad was suddenly the father of five children, spanning less than three years in age. Which was pretty intense right from the start, as we were all trying to figure out how to live together. To say nothing of what it was like when all five of us were teenagers at the same time.

In the next five years, Dad and Mom had two more boys together, so my dad, who might have been content to be a childless husband in the mid-50s, was, by 1970, a father of seven. Without going into brutal detail, I'll just say that blended families have a unique set of challenges all their own, and Dad, in the course of doing his duty to his new family, endured far more grief than he deserved, for trying to do right by his new wife, and seven kids. It is a testimony to his and Mom's love and perseverance that today, 44 years later, their marriage, and our family, are intact, and stronger than ever.


Dad was my baseball coach for much of my youthful 'career'. Not because he knew so much about baseball; he didn't, and the 'baseball guys' in our town tended to regard him with a certain degree of embarrassed contempt (but come on, he wasn't as dumb as they took him for, either). But, as our dad, he knew instinctively that he wanted to have his hand on our lives, and coaching our Little League teams was just obviously a really good way to do that.

He was also very solicitous of our schooling; one of my enduring memories, especially of my young childhood, was that I had all the books I ever wanted, and maybe even a few more besides. It wouldn't surprise me, though, to find out that he got into the whole baseball thing when he started thinking I was becoming too much of a sedentary nerd. . .


As my own family has grown, and I have endured the trials that come along with raising my own kids, I have come to understand and appreciate my dad in new ways. As I've coped with my own kids' troubles, it has occurred to me, many times, that Dad had endured similar stuff, and at the hands of kids who weren't even 'the fruit of his own loins'. And he did it without complaining. Honestly, I never once heard him whine about the latest outrage that one of his kids had perpetrated, or the latest of their messes that he'd had to clean up after. I am sure that he grew from the experience, and is today a kinder, gentler man than he started out being.


As I said above, my dad is the best man I've ever known - by far. His quiet strength, his patient endurance, his utter faithfulness to his duty, no matter how unpleasant, have taught me volumes. I know that I am not, nor will I ever be, even half the man he is, but if I can even get close to being half the man my dad is, I'll have done well, indeed. Happy Fathers Day, Dad. Being your son has been a privilege. . .


June 21 - A brief (OK, maybe not so brief) postscript to Fathers Day. . .

We got up to go to church, and 7M (our 12-year-old son) was complaining that he didn't feel good. Nothing specific, he just felt lousy; didn't feel like he wanted to barf, or anything, just lousy. We told him to buck up, and get through church, and he'd probably feel better. But all through the Mass, he was just kinda mopey and dish-raggy.

We got back home, and he continued to complain. I was just about to tell him to go back to bed and sleep until he felt better, when I noticed that his lips were swollen, and his eyes were puffed up like someone had inflated a balloon inside his face. Obviously, he was having some kind of allergic reaction. In the past, a couple of our kids, and I myself, have had the swollen-lips allergic thing, and we've learned that it's nothing to be trifled with - Go straight to the Emergency Room, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

But, you know, it was Fathers Day, and we had a bunch of Family Stuff planned. So we gave him an antihistamine, and waited to see if the swelling would start to subside (which, honestly, is what they'd have done in the ER, anyway). It didn't, at least not immediately, so we gave him a dose of another, more potent antihistamine. When that didn't produce immediate results, we started preparing to take him to the ER.

Then I remembered that the last time I'd been to the ER with the swollen-lips thing, they gave me an Epi-Pen and told me if/when it ever happened again, to inject myself. So I rummaged around and found the Epi-Pen, and told 7M that I was gonna give him a shot to see if we could start getting this thing settled down. At which point, the young man just freaked out. You know those kids who hate the idea of a shot about a hundred times more than the shot itself? Yeah, he's one of those.

So we practically had to tie him to the chair just so we could give him the shot. And in the midst of the chaos of his screaming and thrashing, I was trying to read the instructions, and figure out how to actually make the thing work. 'Press the rubber tip against the thigh'. OK, got it. And hey, that didn't hurt at all; 7M relaxed a bit. 'Now press the plunger at the end of the pen'. OK. And a split-second later, the spring-loaded mechanism in the pen fires, with a small bang! and drives the needle half an inch into his thigh. Which startled me as much as it did 7M. But for him, it was suddenly, searingly painful, and the conniptions began all over again. 'Massage the injection site'. Gee, ya think? We finally got the boy settled down, and after 20 minutes or so, we finally noticed the swelling starting to subside.

We gathered the family around the table for Fathers Day Sunday Brunch, and had a warm time. About halfway through the brunch, 7M was groggily swaying in the breeze from all the medications we'd dumped into him, so we sent him off to bed, and he slept the rest of the day. We went in to check him several times, just to make sure he was still breathing. When he got up around 9PM to use the bathroom, the swelling was almost completely gone, and we finally relaxed.

We never did really figure out what he'd reacted to. On Saturday, he'd had a baseball practice, and we'd gone to a graduation open-house. He hadn't eaten anything unusual. The only thing we could figure was either that he'd been bitten by an insect, or that the prolonged 'outdoor time' had just exposed his system to more cottonwood (or whatever) than it could deal with, all at once.

Anyway, we're all fine now. And 7M, who seems to attract more, uh, 'stuff' from the Universe than his fair share, could hardly be blamed for quoting Gilda Radner - "it's always something. . ."

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Fire Next Door

My friend Michelle Hickman, over at The Surly Writer, wrote a while back about her Neighbors From Hell. Which poked my memory for a somewhat similar story from my own young life. . . ------------------------- I bought my first house a few months after I started my first 'real job', a few months after I finally finished college. It just seemed like The Thing to Do - you know, getting 'established', owning a house, being in debt, all that good stuff. Alas, I was too terribly 'green' to know much what I was doing, and I didn't make the wisest choice for my First House. It was small, had virtually no yard, was three doors from a main thoroughfare, and two from a KFC (those Eleven Secret Herbs and Spices are tasty enough when you're eating some chicken-fast-food; but when they inundate your senses day after day after DAY after freakin' DAY - not so much). And there was an alley (sort of a cut-through in the middle of the block; I think it was meant to provide access to back-door parking for businesses along the aforementioned thoroughfare) that ran right alongside the house. But, being so new to drawing a paycheck, I hadn't saved up much of a down-payment, and so this little mislocated dwelling was all I could afford, just yet. This lack of available cash also had its impact in terms of what part of town I could afford to buy into, and who my neighbors were. Now, I had lived in the same general neighborhood a couple summers when I was in college, and I rather enjoyed living in a more, um, 'working-class' neighborhood, alongside folks who were pretty 'real' and unpretentious. Which has its good side and its bad side. (It's sorta like what Bill Cosby once said, in response to the assertion that 'cocaine intensifies your personality' - "But what if you're an asshole?"; unpretentiousness can cut both ways. . .) My closest next-door neighbors were a wonderful old couple, whose children were our age. They could not have been more delightful - we had each other over for dinner, and in the few years we lived in that house, we formed a friendship that lasted for years. Jen and I went to the wife's funeral visitation just a couple weeks ago; she was 96 years old. My other neighbors, across the alley, were not quite so delightful. It was a couple (I don't know if they were married; not that it matters, at least for purposes of this story), probably close to my age, or a few years older, and their relationship was, how shall I say - volatile. Both of them had a fondness for the distilled spirits, and it was a regular occurrence, especially on weekends, for me to be awakened at 2 or 3AM by the two of them screaming at each other in their front yard. I don't know what either of them did for their daily sustenance, but I'm pretty sure that at least part of it involved sales of recreational pharmaceuticals. Once, I came home from work and parked my car behind the house, off the alley, and saw the guy toss a small packet down from the second-floor balcony, to a guy I'd never seen before, waiting in the alley below. So I feel justified in saying that these were not the nicest of people. Of course, this was also around the time that Jen and I were about to begin our courtship, and in the back of my mind was the thought that, if all went well, I'd be bringing my bride to live with me in this house before too much longer, and possibly raising children there, as well (if I'd only known, heh-heh-heh). So one night, when I was once again awakened in the middle of the night to screaming and multiple crashes of broken glass (both windows and whiskey bottles), I turned to prayer. I told God that I aimed to bring my wife to this house, hopefully before too long, and to raise children here, as well. It was all very earnest and young-aspiring-husband protective. I told Him that I couldn't properly bring my family into a house with neighbors like these. In my desperation, I asked God to get them out of there - move them someplace else, whatever - just get them away from next door to my house. And then I drifted back to sleep. ------------------------- As it happened, the next weekend, I was gone on a retreat. It was a good retreat, and I returned home refreshed in body, mind and spirit. As I turned my car onto my street, and then into the alley, a surreal scene greeted me. The roof of the house across the alley was missing, and the entire second floor was blackened and charred. A mattress lay in the alley, still smoldering from a few burned holes. "Oh, Lord!" I thought. "I didn't mean for You to burn their house down!" Immediately the thought came into my head, "You asked me to get them out of there. They're gone." And I confess that chills ran down my spine, when I considered the almost off-handed (though certainly desperate) way in which I'd prayed the prayer, and now to be faced with what, at least to my eyes, was the very stark answer my prayer had recieved. . . ------------------------- I don't know what ever became of those neighbors of mine. As far as I was able to know from the other neighbors, neither of them was hurt in the fire, so I was glad to know that. But I never saw either of them again after that, as far as I know. Within a few weeks, the landlord had begun repairs on the burned-out second floor of the house, and before the snow fell, the house was good as new, at least to outward appearances. Jen and I got married the following summer, and we lived in that house for another two-and-a-half years. 1F was born during the time we lived there. When she was six months old, we moved to a larger house two blocks away, which was more happily located in real estate terms. We lived in that house for 17 years, moving to our current house ten years ago this spring. I owned that first house for another two years, renting it out (and proving to myself, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I really, really didn't want to be a landlord) until I was finally able to sell it. But that's another story for another day. . .

Thursday, June 10, 2010


We are at the height of the ‘Birthday Season’ in our family, right now. Oddly enough, my birthday is in early March, and Jen’s is in late July; and all our kids except 4M have their birthdays in the five-month window between my birthday and hers. And 4M’s is only a couple weeks after Jen’s, so all ten of us have our birthdays in the same five-and-a-half-month window from March to mid-August (I guess Jen and I have been fond of the summer and fall). . . Our two oldest daughters both have their birthdays in June – 1F’s was last week, and 2F’s is next week. I was teasing 1F a little for turning 28 (and honestly? When did I become old enough to have a 28-year-old daughter?), and she just rolled her eyes at me and said, “Geez, Dad, it’s not like I’m turning 30, or anything. . .” OK, that made me feel so much better, that I’m two whole years away from being the father of a 30-year-old. . . Anyway, I am reminded of a story (aren't I always?). . . ------------------------- When 1F was a young girl, she was very much the perfectionistic first-born ‘pleaser’ – the kind of girl who, if her parents told her to jump, would ask, “How high?” Which was kinda fun for earnest young parents, but masked some underlying, uh, problems. Aside from lulling us into a false sense of competence when 2F, who was, um, a bit less compliant, came along. Around the time 1F turned 10 or so – double-digits, and all that – sensitive young father that I was, I started cracking wise about her impending entry into teenager-hood. “Don’t worry about it,” I’d say. “You’re gonna be stupid, but all teenagers are stupid. I was stupid when I was a teenager, and you will be, too. But if we can just get you through to the other side of your teen years, you’ll be just fine.” I think one time she asked me, “What about Mom? Was she stupid when she was a teenager?” I had to think long and carefully before answering that one. (I think I said, “Probably not, but you should ask her. . .” Or words to that effect. . .) So, we got to 1F’s twelfth birthday, and gave it a suitable observance, involving cake and ice cream. And our very own Family Birthday Tradition, whereby each member of the family writes the Birthday Person an honoring note, telling of the various ways in which the BP is loved, and admired, and appreciated. On the whole, I think it’s been one of the better Family Traditions we’ve instituted over the years. If only because it forces everyone in the family to think, even if it’s only for a few minutes once a year, about the ways in which they love the other family members, instead of just being annoyed or irritated by them, and wishing that they could conjure up a hole in the earth to push them down. . . Later in the day, I noticed that 1F seemed a little downcast. I gave her a little sideways hug and asked her if something was bothering her, at which point, she burst into tears. I couldn’t imagine what could be causing her such inconsolable grief, and I repeatedly asked her what was wrong, but she could only bawl, her shoulders heaving involuntarily with each stricken sob. At last, she calmed herself a little, and once more I asked, “What is it, sweetheart? What’s wrong?” “It’s my twelfth birthday,” she wailed. Yes. . . And that should make you happy, shouldn’t it? “But next year, I’ll be thirteen!” she wailed. So. . . what’s wrong with that? “I’ll be a teenager. . . AND I DON’T WANT TO BE STUPID!!” And the sobs began anew. . . You ever have one of those moments where you realized that something you said, even long ago, that you’d meant as a kind of offhand, smartass remark, a light-hearted casual joke, was really just incredibly stupid? (Since we’re on the topic of Stupid. . .) And you want to get yourself into a time machine, to go back and expunge your words from existence? Yeah, this was one of those. . . “I tell you, on the day of judgment, people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, chapter 12, verse 36) (*sigh*) ------------------------- (edit, 1:30 PM) And of course, this recalls my favorite quote from George MacDonald (maybe I should adopt this as my personal motto, or something?): "The business of the Universe is to make such a fool of you that you will know yourself for one, and so begin to be wise."

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Parents' Prayer

This prayer was sent home to us from our kids’ school. It struck me as really solid, and really wise, and it resonates with my own paternal heart (if not quite always with my paternal actions; so it can help inspire me to do better, right?). So, I offer it for the edification of my friends. . . ------------------------- Most loving Father, our example of parenthood, you have entrusted our children to us to bring them up for you, and prepare them for everlasting life. Assist us with your grace, that we may fulfill this sacred duty with competence and love. Teach us what to give and what to withhold. Show us when to reprove, when to praise, and when to be silent. Make us gentle and considerate, yet firm and watchful. Keep us from weakness of indulgence and excess of severity. Give us courage to be disliked sometimes by our children, when we must do necessary things, which are displeasing in their eyes. Give us the imagination to enter their world in order to understand and guide them. Grant us all the virtues we need, to lead them by work and example in the ways of wisdom and piety. One day, with them, may we enter into the joys of our true and lasting home with you in Heaven. Amen.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sick To My Stomach

I was just casually listening to my Tigers on the radio last night, first as I was driving home from work, and then while I was putzing around the house after I got home. Armando Galarraga was pitching for the Tigers, against the Cleveland Indians. The Tigers haven't been playing well lately, so I was hoping that maybe last night would go a little better for them.  Galarraga, who had started the season in AAA Toledo, and was making only his third start of the season for the Tigers, started off really well. As I pulled the car into our carport, he had retired the first 15 Indians batters in order, and the Tigers led 1-0.

I went into the house and got my dinner. Nobody else was home, so I pulled up an online summary of the game, while I ate. By the end of the 8th inning, the Tigers led 3-0, and Galarraga had retired all 24 batters he'd faced. So I quickly turned on the radio; if history was going to be made, I wanted to catch it live.

The first Indians batter of the 9th inning was out on a long fly ball that Austin Jackson, the Tigers centerfielder, made a nice running catch on. The next batter grounded out to short. Young Mr. Galarraga was one out away from a perfect game, which would have been the first in Tigers history, and the 21st in 135 years of major league baseball (incredibly, it would also have been the third perfect game of the 2010 season; until this year, there have never been even two in the same season). The batter hit a ground ball wide of first that Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera chased down, and made the throw to Galarraga covering first, beating the runner by a full step. And the first base umpire called him safe. Base hit. Infield single. No more perfect game. Even though, by all rights, it was. (Check out the video here.) (And's Tom Verducci wrote an excellent piece here.) (And if you're still interested, the Detroit News' Lynn Henning has another excellent piece here.)

I am sick to my stomach. It is simply awful for the game to come down to that. And there is nothing to do for it. The young man should have made history tonight, but instead, he'll just add his name to the list of guys who came really, really close (including the Tigers' own Milt Wilcox, who also lost a perfect game with two out in the 9th in 1983). Because of a blown call.

Please don't misunderstand me - I don't want to exact any revenge on the umpire. I don't want to use this as ammunition to expand the use of Instant Replay in major league games. Baseball has always been a very 'human' game, and errors - by players, managers and umpires - have always been part of the game (the '85 St. Louis Cardinals know what I mean). So I'm not bitter, or angry. But even so, it's just awful. Armando Galarraga deserved better. There's nothing to do for it; it is what it is. But I'm still sick to my stomach. . .


(edit, 1:55 PM)

It is worth being clear, given the events of last night, that Jim Joyce, the first base umpire who made the egregiously bad call that broke up Armando Galarraga's perfect game, admits that he blew the call. In fact, he is quite likely more upset about it than Galarraga is. The two of them met after the game; Joyce apologized; Galarraga forgave him (even gave him a hug). Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager, however upset he was on the field during and immediately after the game, has been magnanimous (heck, even philosophical, which isn't terribly common among baseball-types) in his interviews since the game. None of the Tigers seem inclined to jump up-and-down or point bitter fingers of blame; the prevailing attitude has been, we know he pitched a perfect game, whether the record-book says so or not. And that is good. And, it seems to me, right.

There has been some talk of the commissioner overturning the call, thus awarding Galarraga his perfect game after-the-fact, as it were. And I understand the sentiment behind that. There has also been some talk about expanding the role of Instant Replay in baseball, and I suppose I understand that, too. But really, I hope neither of those things happen - as I said above, baseball has always been a 'human' game, that doesn't mesh well with 'technological' approaches like, say, football does. People make mistakes. Even the very best people. And it has been interesting, in the aftermath of last night's game, how many 'baseball people' have been quick to say that Jim Joyce is widely regarded as one of the best umpires in the game today.

So, chalk it up to the tragedy of human fallen-ness (if that isn't just too god-awful high-falutin), and play another game today. . .


And I just saw that Jim Leyland, the Tigers' manager, had Armando Galarraga take the lineup card up to home plate before today's game. Jim Joyce is the home plate umpire today; the two shook hands. . .

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Shorts Stories. . .

A while back, my friend Lime, in one of her posts, made passing mention of cycling shorts (something about riding a bike on the Jersey Turnpike; I didn't quite get the full reference). Oddly, she seemed to mention them in a somewhat pejorative sense, at least as far as fashion-sense is concerned. Which perplexed me the least bit, since, as a somewhat avid cyclist, I've come to a genuinely deep and heartfelt appreciation for cycling shorts (actually, as far as 'feeling' is concerned, the part of me that is most directly engaged, and is, in fact, the reason that I overcame my instinctive resistance to wearing cycling shorts in the first place, is about a foot-and-a-half lower than my heart). Anyway, her little passing mention prodded me to tell you a story or two of my own. . .


I've blogged a few times in the past about my bicycling habit, and how I love to get out on the back roads and commune with nature on my bike.

When I first started riding, it was very much on the 'casual hobby' level, but as I rode more, I got better, and enjoyed it more, and it became less casual. I started signing up for organized tours, and subscribed to Bicycling magazine, to read up on the latest stuff and news, and get tips for improving my bicycling experience, and just generally raise my consciousness as to all the possibilities of the bicycling experience that I hadn't yet realized.

Before long, I was upgrading all sorts of things on my bike - brakes, gears, derailleurs, even the wheels. And I was riding enough that my hands would occasionally get sore, from the road-shock travelling up through my handlebars, so I picked up a pair of the nifty finger-less cycling gloves, with the padded palms, to reduce road-shock to my hands. I bought a pair of special 'touring shoes' (which I still have), with stiff soles to reduce the abuse my feet experience from the pedals, but with toes flexible enough to wear walking around (unlike the more typical 'cycling shoes')

The one thing I resisted, in those early days, was the cycling shorts. With a body like mine, it just didn't seem like a good idea to wear anything quite so, uh, 'form-fitting'. And besides, just regular shorts had always been adequate for my purposes, and I didn't mind being seen in public in them.

Until I went on my first DALMAC tour - four days, 350+ miles, from Lansing to the Straits of Mackinac (the 'L' and the 'MAC' in 'DALMAC'). By the end of the second day, my backside was beyond crying 'Uncle!' I had a raw welt where the seam of my underwear passed between my tender tushie and the bicycle seat, and it hurt just to walk, or sit down on a regular chair, to say nothing of a skinny, hard bicycle seat.

So I rode the last two days of the tour 'commando', which alleviated some of the immediate cause of my suffering, but on an 'absolute scale', was still, um, less-than-fully-to-be-desired. So I decided to break down and get myself a pair of the lycra cycling shorts (the chamois crotch-liner was a major selling-point for me by that time), and do my best to endure such humiliation as accrued to me for wearing them where I might be seen. Which, honestly, other than when I was specifically on the road itself, wasn't very often at all. . .


In one of its issues back in those days, Bicycling magazine ran a readers' poll, which, for the most part, wasn't all that remarkable; at least, I don't remember anything about it. Except for one question. "What is the worst place to go," it asked, "wearing cycling shorts?" Which, given my own earlier concerns, was both interesting to me, and humorous. My first instinct, having by that time grown positively rhapsodically appreciative of their benefits in terms of cycling comfort, was to say that I'd wear them anywhere, at least in a cycling context. And I never wore them, except when I was cycling.

The readers' responses were published in a subsequent issue, and there were basically only two answers to that question: 1) To church 2) To the bar And I could only nod with rueful understanding, because, in fact, I had done both of those. . .


When Jen and I went on a 'family tour' together, with two-year-old 1F riding in a 'kid-seat' on the back of my bike, the tour began in a town on Michigan's Lake Michigan shore, bright and early on a Sunday morning, and proceeded in a west-to-east direction over the ensuing six days.

The tour was set up for us to arrive at the departure town on Saturday evening, for an 'orientation' meeting, then camp out in anticipation of commencing to ride the following morning. So there really wasn't much provision for the riders to attend church, even given the flexibility of most Catholic parishes' Mass schedules. Jen and I were a little dismayed by that, because we try to take our 'Sunday obligation' seriously, and we didn't want to miss Mass lightly.

Sunday morning came, and we got on our bikes. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, bright and sunny, with even a bit of westerly breeze to help us on our way. The first few miles followed the Lake Michigan shore, and the breaking whitecaps stretched off to the blue horizon. It was glorious. We were relishing the beauty of it all, and even allowing as to how this enjoyment of God's Creation was not a bad consolation for missing Sunday Mass.

A couple hours into the morning's ride we were on a back-country road, when we started encountering significantly heavier traffic than we'd have expected for such a road, on a Sunday morning, in a somewhat sparsely-populated area. It soon became evident that the large bulk of the traffic was headed to a little country church just up the road from where we were. As we rode up near the place, we saw that it was a Catholic church, and that Mass was starting in just a few minutes. Jen and I looked at each other, and said, hey, we could go to Mass after all! It was like God had seen our situation, and was providing a Mass for us to go to, even in the Middle of Noplace, far from home. So we went in, and grabbed a couple spots on a pew in the very back, dressed in our full cycling regalia. We took our helmets off, finger-combed our damp hair into presentability as best we could, and settled in to enjoy our worship.

Now, I've often gone to Mass in 'vacation area' parishes Up North, and it's not unusual for folks to come dressed pretty casually - shorts, T-shirts, sandals - but this was not a 'vacation area'. It was a little rural country church, attended mostly by stalwart-farmer-types and their stalwart-farm-wives and stalwart-farm-kids. And by the time we got to the homily (which, in the Catholic Mass, is still fairly early in the service), we were feeling well-and-thoroughly out-of-place. And it was increasingly apparent that the regular parishioners didn't know what to make of the oddly-clad couple sitting in back, either.

Now, I suppose it would have been OK, maybe even advisable, for us to admit that our little serendipitous-Mass-attendance wasn't working out to our, or anyone else's, benefit, as much as we'd have wished, and for us to slide graciously out the back door and invoke the 'Traveller's Dispensation' and go on our way. But we were so enamored of God's obvious provision of this Mass for us, that we just stayed on. Of course, at communion time, we got in line, and walked up to the front of the church to receive Communion, so the folks in front, who'd been blissfully unaware of our presence, could share in the spectacle of our wardrobe, along with the folks in back. After receiving Communion, we didn't hang around for the announcements and the final hymn, but just scooped up our helmets and slid out the door, got back on our bikes, and continued on our way.

So yeah - 'In Church'; not such a great place to wear your cycling shorts. 'Check' on that one, Bicycling magazine. . .


Another time, a buddy and I were out riding on a hot summer Saturday morning. At the height of summer, we would ride as early as we could manage, to avoid the hottest part of the day (which is really only good common sense). We'd try to hit the road around 7 or 8AM, but sometimes, life got in the way, and we had to ride a little later than we'd have preferred.

That day, we rode a typical circuit of 35-or-so miles in the countryside around town, and by the time we were finishing, it was a bit after noon, and getting hot. We were back in town, a mile or two from home, when we rode past a 'neighborhood' bar. Back in the day, when my dad had been in college, this bar had actually been a college bar, since the college town was 'dry' in those days, and so the city limits between the 'city' and the 'college town' were lined with bars, to serve the college crowd who couldn't get a beer any closer to campus. The college town had given up 'dryness' back in the 60s, a few years before I arrived in town, and so most of the old 'college bars' had closed. This one, and a couple others, had managed to stay open, catering to a more 'blue-collar' clientele in the larger city.

Anyway, it was a hot summer's day, and as we rode past, my buddy said to me, "Boy, I could sure go for a beer right now." We were only a mile or two from home, and there was beer waiting for us in the fridge, if we wanted it, but something about sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of a bar, even if only for long enough to have one glass of beer, was very appealing right at that moment. So we turned into the parking lot, locked up our bikes, and walked in the door, not the least bit mindful of how we were dressed.

It was early in the afternoon, and there weren't very many people in the bar - maybe a dozen or so, scattered among a few tables. There was no-one sitting at the bar, so, since we were only after a quick brew and a few minutes in the A/C, we decided we'd sit there. The bartender, for whatever reason, seemed pointedly uninterested in taking our order. We were just about to wave him over, when, from somewhere in the dark back corners of the building, came a deep, rumbling, ominous voice - "FAGGOT BIKERS, GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE!"

My buddy and I looked at each other. I didn't think this was a terribly opportune moment for me to set the gentleman straight (HAH!) as to how many children I'd begotten, or the truth about my sexual preferences. "You know," I said, "I've got some beer at my house. How 'bout we have a beer back home?" "Good idea," my buddy replied, and we left.

So yeah - 'At the Bar'; not such a great place to wear your cycling shorts, either. Bicycling magazine, you really know your stuff. . .