Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Word About My Father

Hello, Readers.   I trust everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a meaningful and restful holiday weekend.  It was nice to have a few days free from the cluttered pile of work on my desk and--as is always the case--it sucks to be back. 
I ate more than a fat kid in a candy store.  I feel like Kirstie Alley for crying out loud.  I'm so bloated I've resorted to taking Midol and water pills.  Late-70's Elvis would look at me and say "Man, you look bloated."    
I'm like a terrified puffer fish. I sneezed earlier today and gravy came out of my nose. My six pack feels like it's been vigorously shaken. I'm as blocked up as the Lincoln Tunnel during rush hour. Mt. Vesuvius was less angry than my digestive system is right now.
I trust you're beginning to get the picture so I'll stop beating the dead horse--although, as I type that sentence it occurs to me that a bloated farm animal in extremis is perhaps the most accurate metaphor for my post-Thanksgiving condition.  At any rate, I ate a ton and I had a good weekend.    

I awoke early this morning, a rare exception to my biologically imposed status quo and an amazing feat for me in the absence of an angry alarm clock.  Some Guy is a bona fide night owl with diagnosable insomnia and I have been since perhaps the age of ten or so.  I have vivid memories of my father literally dragging me out of bed for 8 a.m. soccer games when I was a child.  In fact, the majority of the posts on this blog have been written between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.  In law school, those were also my most productive study hours. 

After reading my current literary choice for a bit (I won't bore you with the title), I grabbed my iPad and began to peruse the news.  Let me restate that.  I went straight to my TMZ App in order to see who was arrested last night.  I guess that's "news."  LiLo and behold I was shocked to see that, yet again, Lindsay Lohan had been arrested in GASP! a New York night club and charged with assault.  Frankly, I don't know how that self-entitled little brat has stayed out of jail as long as she has, but she's apparently going to have a bit of time to contemplate that in her new cell for 6 months to 1 year very soon.  The up side for her is that she'll have nothing to do all day but smoke.   

Amazed, I got up and jumped in the shower thinking about poor LiLo's (I hate the new trend of abbreviating celebrity names, by the way) run ins with the law, which inevitably lead me to the topic of personal responsibility.  At this point it is difficult to argue that she is anything but responsible for her own situation.  However, between Dina and Michael Lohan, her "parents," it's almost impossible to ignore the deplorable example they've set as human beings.  It's incredible that she made it past adolescence although I suspect that has something to do with the fact that she's been a cash cow since she was a child.  It's sad, really. 

Inevitably, my thoughts wandered to that aforementioned rude awakening by my own father who, from the first time I stepped on a field, court, diamond, or track coached every sports team I was on until those duties were wrested from him by junior high and high school coaches.  I have a vivid memory of my father running from the parking lot late for soccer practice with clipboard and whistle in hand still in his work boots and jeans after getting stuck at work because of the 1983 phone company strike.  My father didn't believe in unions or in strikes and he was one of very few people to cross the picket line and continue to work.  His reward?  90 hour work weeks, little sleep, and the same gold watch he would have received anyway when he retired.  In hindsight, those were probably insignificant things to endure in exchange for keeping his principles and integrity.  I digress. 

With the exception of one high school basketball game on a Tuesday night that was a 3 hour drive from home both of my parents attended every single event I, my brother, and my sister ever participated in as children.  I've often reflected upon that feat as an adult trying to manage his own unbearably busy life and there is no other explanation for it other than the fact that my parents unquestionably and without hesitation always made us their first priority, often (very often) to their own detriment.  I'd like to share with you some thoughts about my father.  In the spirit of brevity and clarity, I'll save mom for a different post.

There is something inherently odd about reaching an age (my birthday is this Tuesday) that I have a clear and distinct memory of my father reaching when I was in my early teens.  When I think back to my earliest memories of my father I remember his hands.  I can't explain why, however.  I look down at my own hands now and I see his hands and I am forced to compare myself to my father not just physically but in every other way as well. 

I have many memories of my relationship with my father from my childhood through my early adulthood.  Few, if any at all, are negative.  My father was a consistent model of hard work (he began climbing telephone poles at the age of 16 for the phone company and eventually worked his way into management), dedication to his family, self sacrifice, and practicality.  We lived frugally not, as is the case with many people from immigrant parents like his, out of an unwillingness to spend money but rather from a constant shortage of money.  We certainly weren't poor, but--as I learned in an offhand comment my father made many years later--we lived literally paycheck to paycheck and, thanks to my mother's liberal use of the local mall, sometimes beyond that.  

My parents made significant financial sacrifices so my siblings and I could grow up in a safe place with an excellent school system that would prepare us all for a college education--neither the former nor the latter were afforded to my father who had both the intellectual capacity and the desire to attend college. 

While most of my friends' fathers came home with fresh shoe polish on their shoes and a sharp crease in their slacks my father came home with fresh mud on his work boots and fresh grease on his jeans.  On many occasions he shared that he regrets allowing himself to be talked out of his first semester of college by his parents and extended family in order to "find a trade" and "put money away for the future."  Not everyone benefited from the Depression mentality. 

As short sighted as that advice may have been it's understandable considering it came from uneducated, Italian-speaking immigrants who arrived on Ellis Island with nothing and who had sacrificed greatly in order to establish themselves.  My grandfather's name was "Faustino" until his first American teacher declared it "too silly for a little boy" and began calling him "August"--the month he began school.  He was "Grandpa Gus" for the rest of his life and, in fact, into eternity because his gravestone bears that rather than that silly other name. 
I am fortunate that my father realized the value of both education and environment long before I was born and I am even more fortunate that he was unselfish enough to do whatever it took in order for me to have access to both after I was born.  
There's a point to all of this and I'll get to it . . . eventually. 

I recall being dragged out of bed on a Saturday morning in order to play a soccer game.  I was probably around 10 years old.  We got in the van and my father drove through our neighborhood and picked up a couple of the other boys who played on the team with my twin brother and me. 

Assuming the roles of both coach and bus driver were things I took for granted at that time.  It never occurred to me that the reason that both roles were available for my father to assume was because the other fathers weren't clamoring at the doors of the gymnasium on registration day in order to assume them for him. 
On the way to the field, we stopped at the local Shell station for gas and headed to the field where my father coached the game.  An hour later we loaded up to head home and dropped all of my friends off at their houses.  Incidentally, I recall pulling in a one of those boy's driveway and seeing his father sitting in a lawn chair reading the morning paper with a cup of coffee and waving to my dad as he dropped off the man's son. 

My brother and I were playing the requisite game of grab ass in the back seat when the van stopped.  I remember looking up and expecting to be in our driveway.  However, we were back at the Shell station and my father was inside talking to the cashier.  He quickly returned, put the van into gear, and headed home.  My brother asked, "Dad, why did you go back to the gas station."  My father looked calmly in the rear view mirror and said, "because I realized at the soccer field that I was in such a hurry this morning that I forgot to pay for my gas."  "Oh," we responded in unison. 

In retrospect, I don't believe I could have been given any lecture, textbook definition, admonishment, or any other form of lesson that would have so succinctly and cleanly illustrated the concept of honesty.  In fact, I cannot think of any other instance in my life since that day that has. 

As formal as I've made him sound, my father also has quite a sense of humor.  Indeed, both of my parents are inherently funny people.  I have to admit that my saltier side comes almost exclusively from my maternal roots; however, the clever side may be traced back squarely to the paternal ones. 

From the time I was old enough to assist my father insisted that my brother and I help him with the yard work.  In retrospect, our yard was a standard sized corner lot in a suburban neighborhood but to a kid saddled with the duty of mowing it, it seemed much larger.  Yard duties consisted primarily of 3 things:  Mowing, Edging, and Sweeping.  When we were big enough to manage the mower my father gladly surrendered that chore in favor of edging.  My brother and I (never without a fight) would switch from week to week between mowing and sweeping.  Invariably, my father would be the ultimate arbiter on "who's turn it was" to mow or sweep.  This was usually preceded by 15 minutes of "did not", "did too" followed by a fist fight.  Boys. 

Now, in my neighborhood yard work was a standard burden for all school age boys.  Like Toughskins jeans, it was passed down from older generations to younger ones.  However, if you'll recall earlier I listed among my father's greatest attributes "practicality."  While the majority of my friends mowed their own yards with the Holy Grail of lawn mowers--the self propelled, self bagging, super efficient Lawn Boy--my brother and I were relegated to the cheapest model my dad could find at the local Sears store.  Another important fact to mention for those of you reading this in far away places is the fact that Texas is rife with St. Augustine grass.
It looks like this:

Remember Toughskins? They looked like this:

St. Augustine grass is used for a few reasons:  It's thick as hell, impossible to kill, and outgrows weeds.  In short, if it's left to it's own devices it will be thicker than spray tan on Snooki.  Add in a good rain and it gets mushy and squishy to walk on--also like Snooki.  Whenever my brother and I would bitch about it being too difficult to mow due to the aforementioned qualities, my father's response was a canned "tough" or "Can't means you're not trying hard enough"--one of his favorites.  In retrospect, his refusal to assist me forced me to figure it out--albeit while cursing his despotism.  That skill--figuring it out--has been innumerably applied throughout my adult life.   
One Summer evening, I recall my father standing in the driveway with my mother talking to our neighbors as I struggled tremendously to push the mower across the lawn after rain had soaked it the day before.  I failed to mention that the average high temperature in Houston, Texas in the summer is around 98 degrees, which much to my chagrin, is also the average humidity. 
As I pushed and pushed I succeeded in getting the mower to go five to ten feet before stalling under the suffocating thickness of the wet grass.  Frustrated, I'd clear the mower, restart it and push some more.  After stalling for the fifth or sixth time I remember my neighbor, Nancy, looking over at my father and saying, "You really need to get yourself a self-propelled mower."  My father, without hesitation, replied, "I have a self-propelled mower.  I put a kid behind it and it propels itself."  Oddly enough, I found that neither humorous nor practical at that particular time.  I still don't.   
I mentioned my father's propensity for dispensing wisdom to me with a single word or a simple phrase.  As annoying as those bits of wisdom were to me at the time, their repetition has permanently embossed them on my brain.  Below are a few of them.    
  • The saddest thing in life is wasted talent
  • Always do your best
  • You don't get rewarded by me for doing what you're supposed to do in the first place
  • Education gives you options
  • Can't means you're not trying hard enough
  • If I told you to jump off a bridge, would you?  (His response to "He told me to do it")
  • Were you raised in a barn? (upon seeing my disheveled room)
  • Get out of my chair
  • Apply Yourself (this in response to a poor progress report or difficulty with homework)
Am I plagued with the impression that my father is perfect? Absolutely not. Like any human being, he has flaws and weaknesses.  He is, however, by any measure an exceptional person.  Time has proven him to be a consistent, moral, humble, dedicated person.  Indeed, I have been be direct beneficiary of all of those things in my lifetime.  However, there is a bitter side to that realization as I approach the date of my birth.  I do not have my father's habits nor do I have his integrity.  I have often fallen short where he has succeeded.  I have wasted the precious talents I was given.  I haven't always done my best nor have I tried my hardest.
I think it might be comforting to a person who grew up with a disinterested or abusive father to realize that he has overcome his father's faults and has emerged a better person than his father.  I, on the other hand, have become less than he was at my age and am less than he is now.  That realization makes me admire him more and it makes me want to do better in the years ahead of me.  I'm thankful I have access to a good set of blueprints in order to try and make that happen. 
Thanks for reading this week.  Take care of yourselves.  In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be shopping for a self-propelled mower.  DP   

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I'm Thankful To Be Back

Hello, Readers.  I know it's a huge assumption on my part that my salutation is still plural; however, I'm feeling horribly optimistic today.  I'm certain that most of you ceased wondering where I've been and when in the hell I'm going to post some time ago, but humor me here.  I'd like to explain for--if nothing else--my own edification.  I'll be brief. 

As most of you know, Some Guy's day job is as an attorney.  Granted, that word alone conjures up images of greedy, ruthless, money-hungry hucksters uttering nothing but half-truths sandwiched between words like "notwithstanding" and "allegedly" or pointing directly at you from a highway billboard or the back of your phone book. 

Incidentally, if you currently use a phone book for anything other than a booster seat during your toddler's haircut, please open the door and walk outside.  There's a whole world out there waiting to surprise you with its technology.   Phones are actually their own phone books these days and they no longer have cords.  They do, however, make lousy booster seats.  Anyhooo . . .

I suppose my industry has its fair share of those aforementioned huckster types, but in my experience it's not any better or any worse than any other industry.  It's more apparent, perhaps, but not any different.  The profession is much maligned.  I believe there are many reasons for that; some are fair, most are not. 

For the past 14 months I've been working on a case involving the most horrible death imaginable.  For privacy's sake and out of respect for the surviving family members--of which there are many--I won't go into detail.  Suffice it to say that the case is an extremely contentious one between the opposing parties in addition to being especially adversarial between the lawyers.  Put all of that in a bowl and mix in an inordinate amount of travel, many 12-14 hour days involving shouting matches, verbal jousting, not-so-veiled threats, graphic color pictures, and diametrically opposed theories of the apparent cause of the "accident" and you'll get an idea why I have had neither the time nor the inclination to wow you with witticisms lately.

Everyone is playing for keeps with this one and I take my duty to vigorously and unapologetically advocate for the family's interest very seriously.  Granted, I take that duty seriously in every case I handle.  I this case, however, I've come to take it very personally.  At my level of experience, that occupational hazard rarely, if ever, makes an appearance anymore.  When it does, however, it's difficult to handle.  I hope that explains my absence.  With that out of the way, let's get to the good stuff. 

Happy Freaking Turkey Day, Folks.  Yes, it that time of year when retailers across the world fill us with holiday cheer like Thanksgiving Day turkeys packed from neck to rectum with stuffing.  It's time to shake off the serotonin stupor and post-alcohol haze in order to venture out at 4 a.m. on Friday in anticipation of the opening of the nearest Best Buy or Wal-Mart to land the best Black Friday deal possible while simultaneously trying to avoid being trampled literally to death.

It's time for perfectly rational mothers to shake off any modicum of civility toward any other human being in the name of securing the last (insert name of this year's hot toy) in the store so her little angel--sleeping innocently and unknowingly at home or perhaps locked in the laundry room with a jug of water and a sandwich while 'mommy shops'--can have the perfect gift from Santa this year.  It's time for everyone's overbearing mother-in-law or creepy uncle to add stress to an already stressful weekend.  It's time for single, childless people and the black sheep of the family to huddle together and drink their faces off attempting to kill the pain of being ostracised.  In short, it's time to forget about the real reason we have a couple of days off this time of year.   

School children are forced to memorize outdated, historically inaccurate, culturally insensitive songs about Indians and Pilgrims harmoniously breaking bread together in the New World in order to perform them for anxious parents obliged to sit on miniature plastic chairs in the school cafeteria while others jockey mercilessly for position in the SRO section with cell phone cameras and iPads fighting for a glimpse of their little angel mouthing the words in unison.


Incidentally, I've been to one or two of those "Fall Presentations" before and they never teach the kids a catchy jingle about giving the Indians small pox and "purchasing" their land with fire water and shiny trinkets before herding them together like the buffalo they used to hunt and making them walk to Oklahoma in the cold 210 years later.  Perhaps that bit was cut due to time constraints.

As if the blatant mischaracterization of their history and the complete marginalization of the systematic disassembly of their entire way of life are not enough, we rub it in by dressing the kids in construction paper head dresses and face paint.  There's always that one chubby white kid or the Asian kid in the Indian costume that strains the authenticity of the depiction for me.  There hasn't been a casting error that blatant since Leonardo DiCaprio played Howard Hughes in The Aviator.  They might as well take the chubby white kid and the Asian kid and put them in blackface during the Civil War reenactment play.

Alright, I'm exaggerating.  Lord knows I'm not that cynical and all of you know that I'm far from that culturally sensitive.  All I'm saying is that they should at least make the Mexican kids play the Indians and the white kids play the Pilgrims.  While they're at it, they should give the fat kid a hall pass and send him to the back of the classroom with a snack.  After 65 days at sea on the Mayflower I seriously doubt there were any fat Pilgrims.  Now let's get back to my cynical side.  I find it far more interesting than my preachy, indignant side.
Here's a Thanksgiving kid's song I found online. In addition to its fiendishly clever lyrics, its author was so devoid of originality it was actually annotated above the song that it is to be sung to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot."  Sing along with me, would you? 

I'm a little Indian on the go,
Here is my arrow and here is my bow.
When I go a-hunting, hear me shout-
Bears and buffalo better watch out!

I'm a little pilgrim on the run,
Here is my knife and here is my gun.
When I go a-hunting, hear my shout-
Deer and turkey better watch out!

As delightful as that is, I've taken the liberty of writing a few supplemental versus.   Sing along with me, would you?

I'm a displaced Indian on the go
The paleface took my arrow and stole my bow
When I'm robbed of my dignity, hear me shout
Small Pox and Dysentery, I'd better watch out!
I'm a Presbyterian Puritan watch me twist
I'm an old fashioned English Separatist
The Indian people helped me and that's just great
My progeny will oppress them until they assimilate

Now THAT'S the version I want to hear the kids singing at the play.  I find the thought of the judgey school moms' jaws hitting the floor between their seasonal winter boots--which are so in this year, by the way--hysterically funny.

Incidentally, while Googling "kids pilgrim costumes" in order to find the pictures above, this popped up--which I also find hysterically funny--and unusually confusing.  I'm guessing that there were few Pilgrims dressed like this in Plymouth.  Perhaps this is the traditional dress of the San Francisco Pilgrim who, unlike the Plymouth Pilgrim, had an affection for chilled sangria and dancing.

Alright, let's talk about my real opinion of Thanksgiving. 

Throughout my entire life my Thanksgivings have--like for a lot of people--grown increasingly secular in nature.  It's another long weekend to be enjoyed with friends, football, and plenty of the aforementioned fire water.  However, I always take a moment or two alone to say thanks for the things in my life that were supposedly placed there accidentally by Someone responsible for making us all. 

I suppose we all have a version of that Someone and we all have a version of how "accidental" the things in our lives actually are.  The Pilgrims believed in pre-destination.  The Indians didn't.  The Pilgrims wore funny hats and doilies around their shoulders.  The Indians were shirtless and wore headdresses.  They believed that the Earth was where God showed himself and found the Bible to be nothing more than a book as strange as the people who brought it across the ocean with them.  The Pilgrims were a structured, patriarchal society governed by strict rules dictating their entire existence.  The Indians were a largely matriarchal society of hunters and gatherers who lived communally. 

They were opposites.  Regardless of what Manifest Destiny would eventually visit upon the Indians and in spite of the strife the Pilgrims would endure in their New World, they were all able to come together as equals in November of 1621 and be thankful for the good things in their lives.  The first Thanksgiving was a recognition of an abundant harvest in spite of seemingly insurmountable difficulties.  Take a few moments during this hectic weekend and sit alone in order to appreciate the abundant harvest in your own lives in spite of your own seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.  Gobble, Gobble, Gobble.

Thanks for continuing to stick around.  I'll post as often as I can.  Enjoy your weekend.  In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be hanging out in the back of the classroom with the fat kid eating a snack.