The Listener

Judy Bright Photo

Have you ever met someone who listens to you?  Like really listens?

Judy Bright, my other mother, did just that.

I wish I had her skills.

Sometimes when I visited her house, typically once or twice a month, I’d make a commitment to ask her questions before we broached the subject of Danny Tanner.  The conversation went something like this:

“Judy, how is your health?”

“Danny, we’ll get to that.  But first, I have a question for you.”

An hour and a half later, about the time our conversation had to end, we’d move back to the topic of her.  She’d share for a minute or two, and then, the conversation would end with a hug and a kiss and a promise to talk more about her at our next visit.

Oh she shared bits and pieces about her life during our time together.  But that was secondary – to add to the conversation, not the primary focus.  I was the primary focus.

Judy was more interested in others than she was in herself.  Admirable.  Unusual.

We would grab lunch periodically.  She was the queen of using condiments to visibly guide me through strategy to help me get through the problems I was facing.

“Danny, now you’re the Sweet and Low, and (pick the person I’m having a tough time with at the moment) is the salt.”  She would then move the condiments around the table as we strategically worked through the problems bringing the mustard bottle or sugar packets in for supporting roles as appropriate.

Judy was one that freely said, “I love you.”  Not just to me, but to everyone she loved.  And she loved a lot of people, deeply.

She was a person who made each person she came in contact with feel like he was the most important person in the entire world.  We all thought she was our “other mother.”  We all felt special in her presence.

She encouraged and challenged us all to be more than we ever thought we might be.  She had more confidence in me than I ever did in myself.  She gave me the gift of self-confidence.  She gave that gift to others too.

Judy passed away last Thursday after an 18 month battle with colon cancer.  She was 72.  It breaks my heart to lose people like this, good people in a tough world.

At the end of many meals at Camp Seafarer where Judy was the director for many years, she would give a closing charge to the eight hundred campers and staff.  She would say, “You know what to do,” and the campers would respond, “Now let’s go do it.”

In her absence, I think that’s what she’d want us to do.  She has taught us well.  Now, we must just go do it.

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The Final Driver’s License

Michelle got her driver’s license yesterday.

These transitions, they are glorious.  These transitions, they are painful.

How happy I will be that I can sleep a few minutes later each morning, I do love my bed especially before 7 AM.  How nice it will be NOT to have to spend 8 minutes of my day at the stop light at the corner of Wade Avenue and Dixie Trail.  Seriously, you could cook a 20 pound turkey on low while you wait at that light.  How nice it will be not to be running into the office with my hair on fire, the last one at the meeting, ALWAYS.  How nice it will be not to have to rush out of the office at the end of the day, the laptop constantly needing to update on my way out the door, knowing my kid is likely the last one sitting on the bench outside wondering if dad will ever come.

And SAT-TUR-DAY MORNINGS!  How does this kid end up with so many stinkin’ activities on Saturday mornings at 8?  When I was a kid the only activity we had on Saturday mornings was quietly watching Shazam so I didn’t wake my old man:

Chosen from among all others, by the immortal elders Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Achilles, Mercury – Billy Batson and his mentor travel the highways and byways of the land…

I loved Billy Batson and his mentor.

Michelle can now go on a weekend morning.  I can give her a hug and wave goodbye, still in my sweats with a warm cup-o-joe.

It’s a wonderful rite of passage.

It is breaking my heart.

My favorite time of the day is when I ride around with Michelle.  It’s when we debrief.  I tell her about my day, she shares about hers – unless she is cranky, and then we just ride.  We laugh.  We run errands.  We solve the problems of the world.  She shares new music with me, I’m hip like that.

Now it’s just me.  Me and my tired Spotify playlist.

I remember the last lunch I packed for her over a year ago when she was a student at St. Timothy’s School.  Before that day, I cursed the turkey sandwich.  The Zip Lock bag was my nemesis.  I wished for a lunch fairy to meet me each morning with the bag packed and the water bottle filled.  I dreamed of a day when I wouldn’t slop greasy lunch meat at 6:30 AM.

My dream came true.  Now I miss turkey.  Funny how that happens.

So often I ponder and wish for the stuff that will come.  Then it does, and I wish it weren’t so.

Yeah, I’ll enjoy a few more minutes of sleep.  I’ll get used to her new independence.  But damn, it went by too fast.

The Ads, Good Lord, The Ads

Deviere

I am thankful, thankful that political ads are OVER!

What the heck?

Apparently Kirk Deviere, a candidate for the North Carolina Senate, dresses nicely, with cuff links and  pocket squares – a criticism from his opponent that he looks good on the outside but apparently is a scoundrel on the inside.  I don’t give a rat’s behind how Kirk Deviere dresses.  I just care about what he might vote for!!  And whether he’s competent!  And I also have cuff links!  And his opponent, who had a photo, very small, at the bottom of the ad, looks sort of messy.  AND, Kirk Deviere is NOT even in my district, yet I am subjected to this hourly bashing of him!

One Super Pac, whatever that is, found the worst photo that has ever been taken of a North Carolina US Senate candidate, and accused her of not paying her taxes on time.  Like not paying them on time 66 times!

I’ll have to admit, I was quite appalled, until I read an article in the local newspaper that quoted her OPPONENT as saying that the ad was unfair and misleading to her explaining that the candidate in question received her property tax notice that says it is due by Sept. 30 each year but delinquent if paid after January 1.  Apparently she paid before January 1 like EVERYONE else in Wake County but missed the September 30 “due” date.

Guess what?  My property tax bill, which was due on Sept. 30, is sitting on my kitchen counter.  It will be paid by January 1, and my $5,000 will be collecting interest in the interim.

What ding dong would pay it in September?  Maybe the guy who ran against Kirk Deviere?

By the way, I don’t even know Kirk Deviere, whether he is a Democrat or Republican.  I also don’t know his opponent, not even his name.  The ad just annoyed the crap out of me.

You can tell when an ad starts if it is going to be snarky.  The images are gray, clouds are surrounding an unattractive candidate wearing workout clothes with her mouth wide open, a sprig of spinach tucked in her front teeth.  And then, suddenly, like the second coming of Christ, the clouds part, the sun comes out, the photos become clear and spring flowers descend upon the screen while the professionally taken photo of the sponsoring wannabe politician slowly comes into clear view.

Give me a break!  I know what they’re doing, and it makes me want to vote for someone else!  Stop it!  It is rude and distasteful.

I have an idea.  What if folks running for office honestly told us what they believe?  What their values are – what issues they would vote for and what they would vote against.  How about disqualification if they mentioned their opponent?  And what if we limited their commercials to two.  Only two.  And only the week right before the election.  We could all go to Singapore that week to put us out of our misery.

I recorded CBS Sunday morning before the election and turned it on last night to catch up.  Because it was a week old, I walked in the room and heard a political ad.  I had a visceral reaction.  It threw me back to a time of my life I didn’t want to return to: last Tuesday, pre-election.

It’s just a sad, sad state.

Parent Weekends, Here We Come!

Georgia Parent Weekend

Elon Parent Weekend

St. Mary’s Parent Weekend, the day after shoulder surgery – un…

Whew.

Julie and I have attended three Parent Weekends at three educational institutions in three different cities over the past three weekends.  I have slept in more beds this past month than Marco Polo did when he traveled through China.  I have met folks from all over the country and hung out in multiple dorm rooms.  I have eaten cafeteria food, attended ball games, partied in a Frat house and listened to seven acapella groups.  I have walked, Ubered, driven and ridden in a train.  I feel like a Fed Ex package.

Our first affair was in Athens, Georgia, at the University of Georgia, with Julie’s sophomore son.  This two day event was sponsored by his fraternity.  I know nothing about frat life so I have no idea which one he’s in.  Alpha Gamma Phi Epsilon Mu Pi Omega – or something like that.

This weekend was a bit different than the others.

On Friday night, after a nice dinner under a big white tent with a swanky port-o-potty, we went to a bar which the brothers had rented out for our pleasure.  When it was suggested that we hit another bar at around 10:30 PM, all the parents put on a smile (it was past our bedtimes) and began the trek down West Broad Street.  At our second stop, I received a high five from a tall young man when I walked out of the bathroom enthusiastically singing the DJ’s current tune, Remix to Ignition by R. Kelly.  It actually made me sort of proud although it’s a pretty old song so I’m not sure I should feel so hip.

I became quite uncomfortable when six young college ladies climbed up on a table in very short shorts and began twerking right before our eyes.  I gave them a disapproving look and then turned away.  It was like watching a train wreck – I could tell something bad was about to happen.  Fortunately we left so I didn’t have to see it.  If I’d had their parents phone numbers, I would have called.  Had it been my child on that table, I’d have snatched her down, put her in the car and sent her to a convent far, far away.

We ended the night at a dance club across the street from the Twerking Tavern.  This place had a movie screen larger than my house with videos that accompanied the 275 decibel music.  I was offended when I was walking in and two dudes yelled, “Daaaad,” as if I didn’t know I was too old to be there.  But when you have the moves, it don’t matter your age.  And I have the moves.

Our second weekend was with Stephanie, my freshman at Elon.  It was different from Georgia.  Her dorm room was immaculate.  The music was an acapella concert in a huge concert venue in the middle of campus.  We met several of her professors on Saturday, went to a ballgame where it was 106 degrees, and ate lunch with one of Steph’s best friends and her family from Texas.

Our final romp was at St. Mary’s, Michelle’s high school.  It was rather tame, and I’d had shoulder surgery the day before.  After walking to the science building a quarter mile from our previous destination, I nearly threw up.  I think it was the Oxycodone, but it may have just been the bad memories that overwhelmed me from my days in Mr. Boyd’s biology class in 1982.  I can still picture that enormous, gray worm he made us dissect.

But I did get to see my kid perform with her chorus in an incredible concert on the lawn.

Julie’s youngest doesn’t have a Parent Weekend, so we’ve only one left.  For DJ, the senior, we’re gonna skip the formalities and spend a casual weekend in DC next semester.  We had to have a breather – we are just so tired.

Pre-op

PhotoI just bought Stephanie a new car – well, a new used car.  She was driving my 2007 Acura MDX.  It has 260,000 miles on it.  It’s on hold for Michelle who gets her license in two months.  It has to make it for three more years before I can afford another.

Sometimes I feel like I have 260,000 miles on me.  On Saturday I turned 53.  I still have some hair which is good, but there seems to be less on my head and more in my nose and ears.  Sometimes my knees hurt.  Sometimes my right hip hurts.  My cholesterol is high, and I couldn’t touch my toes unless you amputated them and put them on the table.

And tomorrow I am scheduled for shoulder surgery.

When I first saw the doctor for the incessant ache to the left of my neck, he told me I had several bone spurs.  “Simple surgery.  You won’t need physical therapy, and you’ll be back to normal in no time.”

I think he sells used cars on the weekend.

When I went in for my pre-op appointment in May, the physician’s assistant told me that I would not be able to lift weights at the Y for 10 – 12 weeks.  That is not “no time.”  So I cancelled the surgery.  When I went in for pre-op in late July, because my shoulder still hurt, the same PA gave me a waiver and shared the news that, although unlikely, I might die from this surgery.  I cancelled again.  Last week I went back for my third pre-op appointment because my shoulder still hurts.  They made me put down a deposit.  The only thing I like more than not having surgery is money.  I assume I will be sliced open like an apple this week.

My parents enjoy surgery.  When one of them has a procedure, the other gets jealous and gets the same one.  They both had their eyes lifted because the skin on top was skewing their sight.  They both had their hands operated on because they hurt, and they couldn’t open the pickle jar.  My mom just had knee surgery.  She told me, “I need to get well soon because your dad has to have the same thing done to his knee.”  I’m guessing my dad tried to have a hysterectomy after my mom.  They are like conjoined twins that aren’t attached anywhere.

I think they sort of look at their bodies like car maintenance.  I call the dealership when the service needed light comes on in my vehicle, “I’m showing a B12 indicator light, what needs to be done?”  “An oil change, draining and replacement of your rear differential fluid, a full check of the transmission and a tire rotation.”

They call the doctor with similar questions:  “I’m showing an 80+ indicator light Doc.  What needs to be done?”  “A colonoscopy, an eye lift and a double hip replacement.”  “Can you take me on Thursday?”

I am not looking forward to this week.  Nor am I looking forward to the next “10 – 12” weeks of recovery.  I’ll let you know how it goes in an upcoming blog post… that is if I can type.

Hurricanes, Go AWAY!

It must have been the first of September in 1996 when Lisa’s grandmother, Tutu, called to see if she and Papa could stay with us.  Hurricane Fran was on her way.  The grandfolks were living in a very nice retirement community in Wilmington.  The place was evacuating.

I loved Tutu and Papa.  She was more fun than a barrel of monkeys, she called me Mr. Wonderful.  And he, he was just a very good man.

Fran left us without power for over a week.  The devastation was significant in eastern and central North Carolina.

Toward the end of their stay, Tutu called a friend who had evacuated with the other residents of the retirement community on chartered buses.

“How was the armory?” Tutu asked.

“We didn’t stay at an armory!  We stayed at the Omni.  The nicest hotel I’ve ever been to!”

While Tutu and Papa had been roughing it out in an unairconditioned home, brewing coffee on the backyard grill, their friends had been hooting it up at a five star hotel in Chapel Hill, NC, one city over!  Apparently, they didn’t clearly catch the evacuation plan.

For Florence, my workplace had an extensive, well thought out plan.  One slight glitch:  I was assigned to check on our corporate office in the event of significant damage.  Made sense.  I live nearby.  The conference call for preparations went something like this:

We may take the servers down on Thursday afternoon.  If we do, we will just need someone to bring them back online when the weather clears.

I heard a few snickers on the line.

Someone asked, “Didn’t you say Danny was the primary contact for the corporate office?”  My name was emphasized like when Scotty Cannon didn’t pick me for the kickball team in elementary school – “I don’t want Danny on my team.”

More snickers.

I knew what they were implying.  I’m not that technical.  My mind is just not made that way.  But I am very adept at talking, something not every IT genius excels at.

I jumped in the conversation:  Hey, hey.  I know what you’re implying.  Don’t you worry.  Those little servers are in very good hands!  I got it.  By the way, where are the servers and will they have food?

I knew that’s not the sort of server they were talking about, but it was fun to envision the head IT guy squirm a bit.  I’m still frustrated that my Google Chrome keeps cutting off for no reason what-SO-EVER!

I am thankful that, for the most part, my family and friends were sparred the worst from the storm.  I am, however, very sad that so many people are suffering.  And often it seems like those who get the most damage are the ones with the least financial resources.  My heart goes out to them.  Perhaps we can all find a way to contribute to the recovery effort.

Roll Call

Last week, at Elon’s orientation, Julie and I were with a group of parents and were asked how many kids we have.  It’s sort of complicated, I thought to myself, but at the time, the word “five” just rolled off my tongue.  The other females in the group looked at Julie like she had lost her mind because y’all, that is a lot of kids!  Like more than two is a great plenty.  But FIVE?  Had she birthed them all she would have been pregnant for half a decade.

Three are in college.  One in DC, one at the University of Georgia and one in Burlington, NC, at Elon University.  Julie and her youngest are in Charlotte.  Michelle and I are in Raleigh.  We span five cities and three states.  If you speak to various members of this new tribe, you can often piece together a picture of what’s going on with each family member.  I secretly love it when siblings know something about each other that I’m unaware of.  It means they might talk to each other and be kind in the long term future.  A nice change from “You wore MY DRESS without MY permission????”

Keeping up with the crew is becoming increasingly difficult.  I believe it was DJ who started the first family Roll Call.  One kid sends a text to the entire family group:  Roll Call.  The appropriate response is a photo.  A come as you are, right then, right now pic sent back to the group as soon as possible.  This was our last call from earlier this summer.

Bailey

Child #1

Will

Child #2

Lucy

Child #3

lizzie

Child #4

Annie

Child #5

When Julie and I sent our picture, Michelle was shook!

“I cannot believe that the kids all sent pictures from our bunks at camp, with boxes of Cheez-It’s, hair in towels, unshaven, looking all regular and you and Julie sent this!”

Bruce and Julie

“I mean seriously?  Julie’s all in a long dress, and you’re wearing pants!  Probably just finished a glass of wine or something.  Are –  you –  KIDDING?  Is this how it is going to be?  We sit at home eating Cheez-It’s while y’all go out to fancy dinners?  We want in on that action!”

Truth be told, this crew would probably prefer the Shake Shack to grilled salmon and Nike shorts to pants with a button any day of the week.  Regardless, a little Roll Call every now and then is a good way to see your kids’ faces – which is nice when they are not coming in your door on the daily.

Another One Bites The Dust

packing

Stephanie, my middle kid, is heading to college on Friday.

I’m not sure what else I can do to prepare her.  We’ve covered sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, credit card abuse, #metoo, diversity, opioids, hygiene, tattoos, the benefits of making your bed each day, getting involved and academics.

Our conversations go something like this:

Me:  “Opioids killed 2,500 people in North Carolina last year.”

Stephanie:  “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Me:  “Often folks get addicted after having surgery because they use them for pain.”

Stephanie:  “Then don’t use them for pain.”

Me:  “I won’t.  You don’t either.  They may be running rampant at Elon.  I’m just not sure.  Please don’t take them.”

Stephanie:  “I won’t.”

I’m not sure if these lessons are seeping in.

I have such hopes and dreams for this kid.  She’s like the best kid in the world, and I’m about to toss her into the ocean of life.

Thankfully she will only be an hour away.  I can get to her quickly if I need her.  I guess I could just drive over there each morning to make her bed – just to ensure it gets done.  I’m sure she’ll be up early.

No, that’s ridiculous.  I wouldn’t really do that!  I’ll just see her on Sundays when she comes home to go to church with me.

OK – I’m going to be brave.  I’m going to unpack her stuff, drop her off and drive away without tears or a scene.  And I’m not going to drive to Elon to see her – until the second week when I’m “passing” through to go to Charlotte.  I mean seriously, I’m gonna drive RIGHT by the Elon exit on I-40, what do you expect me to do?

Theara and the Beatitudes

I recently taught a Sunday school lesson on the Beatitudes.  I think I may be plagiarizing, but I no longer have a copy of the book, and I don’t remember the author’s name.  So know that credit for the following concept goes to whoever the guy is who wrote this Presbyterian book on the Beatitudes.  Sorry dude.

The author says that often people who struggle economically find their joy in the allness of life.  He says that allness isn’t even a real word, he made it up.  But maybe it should be.

Am I’m making life too complicated?  Maybe it isn’t about the house or the car or the college tuition or the next vacation or the number of years ‘til retirement.  Maybe it isn’t about being included in the important meeting at work or having everyone in the world like you or being President of the Board.  Perhaps it is about being in the moment – being fully satisfied with what you are given today; right now.

Matthew 18:3 says to approach life in a childlike way.

When I worked at the Cary YMCA, there was a kid in our programs named Theara.  She had Downs Syndrome and came to the Y after-school and during the summer most days for years and years.  Now, Theara could get frustrated and definitely told you what was on her mind.  One day we were walking to Bond Park about a mile down the greenway from the Y.  She got tired, sat down, and refused to go any further.  It was hot, and she let us know that we, in her opinion, had mucked up her day with this ridiculous trek.

I sort of liked the fact that you never had to guess where you stood with Theara.  If she was happy, you knew it.  If she wasn’t, you also knew it.

But what I most admired about Theara was that she was full.  She was full of love, and joy.  She delighted in a camp skit, song or cheer.  She loved theme days where you had the opportunity to dress up in costume.  She loved running into me in the hallway, walking up to greet me with a high-five and a joke or some little tidbit about her day.  She would get so excited about the smallest things.

She wasn’t waiting around for happiness to find her.  She found happiness in almost every aspect of life, with the exception of hot walks to Bond Park.

The Beatitudes encourage us to be meek, merciful, peacemakers, pure in heart and several other things that I’m not very good at.  Who in the heck even wants to be meek?  Is that a good thing?

Perhaps what Christ was saying was to take the talents you’ve been given and maximize them.  Or maybe, that the things society says are important, like leadership and clout, are not the things He finds important.  He made this world and wants us to enjoy it no matter who we are or what we’ve been given.

The author says that happiness replaces pain but that joy embraces it.  He explains that joy takes conquest of all the stuff of life, both good and bad, while happiness depends largely on circumstances.

I, for one, too often seek happiness instead of living with joy.  And when you do that, happiness is sometimes evasive.  Joy isn’t fickle.  It doesn’t leave us even when things aren’t going our way.

I think Theara has it right.  She has contentment with who she is and where she is.  Maybe I should spend more times with kids – I might learn something about living.

I HATE Snakes!

black_snake_l1

About two years ago, my fiancé, Julie, sent me a frantic text.  It was afternoon.  I was sitting at my desk.

I’ve been bitten by a snake. 

Julie has a large natural area in the front of her house.  She walks her dog down to the mailbox most afternoons.  On this particular day, the coiled up viper saw her.  He was jaywalking across her driveway.  Unfortunately, she didn’t see him.

Ever since, I’ve been leery of walking outdoors in Charlotte, NC.  I DON’T LIKE SNAKES, and apparently on that side of our state they are rampant!

Therefore, I was rather taken aback two weeks ago when I walked into Julie’s kitchen on a lazy Saturday morning at 10.  It was hazy outside – thus not real bright inside the house.  I glanced down at the floor and saw a long, black, squiggly rope half way under the fridge.

I stopped.

It was still.

I turned on the light.

It was still still.

I took a step forward wondering if it could be rubber foam from underneath her appliance that had fallen off.

As I approached, the squiggle wiggled.

“JULIE!  COME HERE!  NOW!  There’s a SNAKE in the KITCHEN!”

By the time she entered, homeboy had slid all the way under.

I don’t care if a snake is black, white or polka dot.  Poisonous?  Doesn’t matter.  As a friend says, I don’t trust nothing that ain’t got shoulders.

Julie called Critter Control.  He said they didn’t have a technician on hand and that it was the weekend.  They’d charge an awful lot to come get him.

“I’ll pitch in!”  I yelled.

I love my money, but I hate snakes more.

He told her to call 311, it’s a city number.  And to tell them the snake was distressing her.  That would not have been a lie.

What the heck is 311?  It sounds like a place that you put people who flunk out of the Police Academy.

I told Julie to watch the refrigerator – not to let the snake out of her sight while I went to get a weapon.

When I came back in, Julie was chatting it up with the 311 operator while she stood on the other side of the dining room.  Julie tends to stroll around when she’s talking on the phone.

“You’re not watching the snake!!!!”

But she and the operator were having a lovely conversation.

It was clear that this job was not going to be taken care of by a professional.  No.  It was going to be taken care of by me.

We called Joe, a neighbor.  Joe too dislikes snakes, but perhaps less than I.

Joe asked, “Danny, do you want to pull the refrigerator out from the wall, or do you want to kill the snake.”

That’s like asking “Do you want a hand full of cash or a rectal exam?”  But it was my fiancé’s house, I had to offer.

“You pick Joe!  I’ll do either.”

I’m sure he could sense fear.

“I’ve never killed a snake before.  This’ll be a great story for my wife.”

I love Joe.

He got the spade. I grabbed the appliance.  As I started shifting it forward, Joe informed me that our friend was headed my way.  I jumped ten feet in the air grabbing my flat shovel in the process.  He squirmed along the baseboard with his mouth wide open.  His fangs were enormous (or maybe incisors, I couldn’t really tell).  I pinned him against the wall as he squirmed for his life.  Joe got his tool near his head.  Victory was ours.

The next day the critter man did come out.  He checked for entry points.  Nothing.  I’m guessing he came in through the door just like the rest of us.

The only unanswered question I have from this incident is “Why would someone work for Critter Control?”  I just don’t get it.