Sunday, May 17, 2009

Don't say it...

When I was starting out, I landed a job in an after school program helping kids out, keeping an eye on them, teaching a bit, and generally having a lot of laughs. Which is good, 'cause the pay stunk. We used to make extra snacks for the kids, in the hopes there would be leftovers and we'd have something for dinner.

At one of our requisite trainings on dealing with kids and conflict, the director of the program mentioned she didn't want us to ask the kids to say 'sorry' if they hurt another child's feelings. At the time, I thought she was wildly out of touch, a do-gooder, a liberal. But her point was simple and straightforward. If a kid just says sorry, what really have they done to fix their error? They had to address the problem they caused directly. Actions, not words.

Years later, I have come to believe she was -- is -- absolutely right. The word 'sorry' is a cheap out, junk food, a distraction. Too many people -- famous or not -- seem to think saying you are sorry means anything. On the famous side, take Manny Ramirez as an example. Suspended for 50 games for using juice, he was expected to say sorry to his teammates. Not even to the fans, mind you, not that it would matter. He makes millions of millions, screws his team, and his teammates are supposed to listen to an apology? Oh, sure, he's gonna cough up 7 million while he sits by the pool, but when he comes back, he'll start collecting the 20+ million owed to him. If he were sorry, he'd go to every game and take tickets at the turnstile, maybe lug some popcorn or beers to the fans (...and pay for it, too), and take turns washing the team's jockstraps. Maybe he is sorry, but what I'd like is to see him do something to fix the mess he caused.

It's not the rich and shameless that worry me, though. It's us regular folks. My kids, as an example. Our daughter, bless her kind soul, leaves her junk all over the house. When I'm tripping all over it, the first thing out of her mouth is "I'm sorry, Dad." I'm not interested in how she feels about me tripping or disrespecting the rest of the family, but I'm very interested in her picking her stuff up. It's simple, really. Don't say 'sorry' because it doesn't do a whole lot. Instead, I'm trying to teach her to pick up before it is a problem, and when she forgets, I'm really hoping she'll start saying "I'll get it picked up now."

To be honest, I'm fighting a losing battle. But I love long odds, so I'll keep chipping away. The next time my daughter leaves her cleats in the kitchen and I call her out on it, I'd be perfectly happy if she just spoke the truth. "Dad, I'm not sorry. My feet were hot and I took off my shoes immediately upon entering the house. Then I saw the puppy and forgot all about the shoes. My feet feel better and, boy, the puppy really is cute." Oh, if she then puts her cleats away, that would be cool, too.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Stuff Goes BOOM!

I want to work for Myth Busters. What a crazy good job, no? Adam and Jamie are building a cannon with match heads and a shaved-down bowling ball. I mean really, what COULD be better? Okay, so they missed their target the first time but it would have left a mark. The damn ball went 1500 feet! They get paid to blow up, maul, spindle, and otherwise totally trash random stuff. Oh, the glory.

My favorite personal stories of wrecking stuff? Drum roll, please.

Number 5 - tennis ball cannon. I was like ten and my brother (14'ish at the time)duct taped a couple of tennis cans together and had himself a homemade mortar. Into his highly crafted, well designed device went about a pint of gas. Next, a tennis ball. And finally, a match. We ran, expecting a huge WHOMP! and a flaming tennis ball to arch through the summer sky into the baseball diamond behind our neighbor's house. What actually happened was the gasoline leaked out of the bottom of the mortar and caught merrily on fire. The puddle of burning gas spread out on our lawn and we charred about 50 square feet of grass and dandelions. Kinda'

Number 4 - fluorescent light bulbs. I had this sweet gig at my summer camp working maintenance before all the kids showed up. Good money, clean living. Every spring we would hit the grounds and clean up after long, hard New Hampshire winters. Little bit of this, little bit o' that. Learned how to sweat joints, a bit of carpentry, and even took a turn with dowsing rods. But the light bulbs, oh man. For some reason there were like 60 of these long-ass fluorescent bulbs that were no good and me and a buddy were tasked to get rid if them.

So we load up this flatbed with the bulbs and a bunch of other crap and drove over to this massive, empty dumpster the size of a tractor-trailer. I climbed up into the bed of our truck and grabbed one of these 6 foot long bulbs and tossed it overhand like a spear, not really thinking about it as I let go. The sucker flew straight as an arrow and disintegrated in this amazing slow-motion implosion. It was beautiful. For the next fifteen minutes, me and John threw these oddly graceful tubes of glass into the side of the dumpster, howling like mad men as they transformed from tubes to dust in a split second. We dreamed we were Zeus, hurling thunderbolts from Olympus. We were gods, wearing Dickeys and leather gloves.

Number 3 - oh, brother, what hath thy done? I was not a fan of church as a kid. Pretty much fought my parents like a feral cat when they woke me up Sunday mornings and said, "It's time for church, buddy." About every six weeks or so I'd outlast mom and dad, freaking out so royally they probably figured bringing the Antichrist with Tourette Syndrome to church was not gonna' look too good. Of course, I'd get grounded, but hell, once you go ape shit, go all the way, right? Two weeks with no television versus not having to sit in church listening to some wacky sermon I didn't understand, the whole time making paper airplanes out of the bulletin. Easy time, brothers and sisters, easy time.

So this one Sunday I go nutty, push my parents over the edge, get grounded, and get to climb back in bed. I'm in under the covers, wondering why my parents still love me and I hear this hiss, followed by an angry gurgle, followed by a muted thump, and culminated by a mad cackle from my brother. (I think I was still ten; it was a very good year) A few minutes pass, same drill. A few more minutes, repeat.

Okay, so now I'm curious because the next sound I hear is the bathtub draining in the kids' bathroom. And then my brother is whipping off my covers and dragging me out of bed, saying "You gotta see this, you gotta see this!" And I'm in the bathroom and he's holding up a bottle rocket. And I'm looking at him and I've got no idea what the hell I'm supposed to see. I've seen bottle rockets before, no big whup. And he goes into this frenzied, breathless description about shooting the things into the tub and how they whip around in the water like angry bees, and I'm looking at him like a dolt, and he looks at the empty tub and figures he can shoot one into the toilet and I'll get the big thrill.

So, before I can even start to get worried, he lights this rocket and it shoots out of his hand into the 1/2 pint of water at the bottom of the toilet. It hisses and bubbles and, wham! There is this big old hole in the bottom of the crapper. I look at him and he looks at me. I say, "Hey, I think you blew up the toilet." And he says, "Naw." And I, with even thinking about it, reach into the toilet and bring out this honkin' piece a porcelain and hold it up. "No, you blew up the toilet."

Number 2 - Duck, you sucker. Okay, so when I was kid we had records. Yeah, I'm that old. And back in the day, our parents mostly left us to our own devices. So me and this good buddy were bored with our Legos or whatever, so we decided to play some of my mom's records. We were that bored. Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka, stuff like that.

One of the album covers had this brunette totally covered in whipped cream, showing a tad of cleavage. Racy. After holding the cover at every possible angle to see if we could look down this woman's breasts (no luck...), I flipped the jacket at my buddy and the damn thing flew like a Frisbee, nearly clipping my pal in the head. He picked up a record, without thinking it all the way through, and gunned it at me. So like a pound of vinyl came winging at my head at mach 2, missed me by a hair, and shattered on the wall of my living room.

Smart kids would have crapped their pants and hidden the evidence. We obviously ate a few too many paint chips, 'cause we grabbed two armfuls of my mom's records and hauled butt over to the park near my house. We spent the next hour winging records at each other like little rabid ninjas. When they broke, we flung the jagged pieces at each other. It was really, really fun. God, how I didn't end up hurt or sent to reform school, I will never know. My poor mother...

Number 1 - Down with the ship. My dad's sister won this sunfish by saving labels from Kool cigarettes, but she lived in Rochester and we lived on the ocean, so she gave us the boat. So one day in 1975 this truck pulls up and off-loads this sailboat. I'm a kid and I'm happy that we got a boat. My dad, he is practically bursting with pride. We haul this 12 foot rig up to the local family beach every Saturday for the next few summers, and dad teaches us the basics of sailing. When you are seven, that is called bonding with dad.

When you turn fifteen and dad -- who is six foot, two inches -- still crams his ass into the Styrofoam sunfish (yeah, no wonder my aunt gave it to us...), it's called future therapy sessions. Hell, he loved this boat so much he actually fiberglassed it to get it to last longer. I think sometime after I turned twenty, he finally gave up on the idea he and I were gonna' go sailing in it again and used it to store the recycling in the garage. He couldn't throw away anything, and certainly not his prized possession, his yacht.

Well, dad passed away when I was thirty. By that time, I had learned to love everything about the guy. Except the damn boat, which was still in the garage full of old Boston Globes and Opera Digests. And my poor mom, she needed to do a bit a cleaning and saying goodbye, so she called the local dump and they told her the freakin' boat would cost $600 to dispose of because -- in 1998 -- it was considered a hazardous-material! She was on the verge of tears. Her heart was tearing up, as she was mourning my dad, but she hated the damn boat as much as me. I gave her a hug and asked her to go to the store to get me a diet coke or something random.

As soon as she left the house, I got out some big ole' contractor bags and an axe, and knocked that fucker into fifty pieces. Stuffed 'em into the bags. Drove up to the dump, and merrily pitched the bags into the maw of the town's massive compactor. Not the greenest move ever, but when mom got home, no boat. She looked at me, I looked at her, and that was that. Loved my dad, but bustin' that boat up probably saved my mom.

I have a respectable job nowadays. I don't get to break much, and I keep a close eye on my son. Someday, though, I'm gonna have to find some crap around the house we don't need or want, and he and I are gonna bust it all to hell. And then watch Myth Busters together.