kids, lesson, life, memories, nostalgia, observation, reminiscing, summer, youth

How Do You Make Summer Less Magical?

Two words: “GET OLD.”

I cannot stress the importance of this enough: if you have children who are in school, teach them the value of summer. Teach them to go out and absorb the wonders that surround them every time that season of freedom rolls around.

Why? Because that magic doesn’t last.

I was talking to my 13-year-old son a few weeks back. It was a weekday. I asked him how his day was. He said, “Boring. There was nothing to do. I just sat around all day watching videos on YouTube.”

I said, “That might feel boring now, but you ought to enjoy it. Don’t take it for granted because someday you might WANT to do nothing but watch YouTube, and you won’t be able to, even if it is summertime. Want to know why?” I paused for dramatic effect. Then I said, “Because you will be old like Dad, and you will have a job, and summer won’t mean the same anymore.”

Yes, it’s sad but true: summer has no more magic once you finish high school/college/grad school. Once you have bills to pay and a job to attend, that season means nothing. The only exception would be if you are a teacher, but even they can be busy with “adulting” instead of getting some sun on their faces.

I hate feeling so jaded, but I can’t help it. The only positive thing I see about summer is that I don’t have to go outside earlier than usual and clean mounds of snow off my car. For a moment, I was tempted to say that I don’t have to warm my car UP, but summertime means you have to cool it DOWN, so there is no difference between the seasons (other than the way the temperature gauge moves, of course).

Although we are one-third of the way through September, we are still clinging to summer-type temperatures here in upstate New York. Yesterday I got home early, and I was alone because my girlfriend had an appointment. After taking some time to catch up on emails, I had nothing to do. I found myself standing in my living room, looking out the window at the empty street, my arms folded, my mind slipping into a haze of nostalgia. For a moment, I thought, “Man, I wish I still had a bicycle because I’d take it out for a ride right now.”

Then it dawned on me: no I wouldn’t. If I did, I’d probably enjoy the ride for a block or two before adult thoughts crept in. I’d start looking at my phone to see what time it was. Then I’d start to wonder when I should get back home. I’d start to feel anxiety over any chores I hadn’t done or any writing that I was neglecting by going on this bike ride. Not only did I have to get back home so I could get all that done AND get to bed at a decent time, but I also had to be sure I didn’t go so far that I still felt worn out from my trek the next day. Shoot! What was I thinking, taking my bike out on a weeknight???

You see what I’m trying to tell you, ladies and gentlemen? Please do this, for me and for the love of all that is sacred, teach your kids EVERY DAY to appreciate those “boring” summer days because when they get older, “boring” days will be all they wish for!

jobs, life, memories, reminiscing, universal

First Job

My first job was working at the bottle register in a grocery store called Price Chopper (now known as Market 32). Back then, they didn’t have the machines that took the bottles for you. However, there was one thing that was similar to the machines of today: instead of me giving the customers money, I gave them a receipt for how much they returned, which they could then cash in at the customer service desk or when they went through the checkout line with their groceries.

Needless to say, it was a dull job. When there were no customers, I had to find things to do. There was always taking out trash, taking out the buckets that had all the smashed-up bottles in them, and cleaning up behind the counter. If I finished that up and there were still no customers, then I would either go over to the end of a cashier’s aisle and bag up groceries for the customers, or I’d go out to the parking lot to gather up the carts that customers left near their cars.

Was it a stressful job? No, it was a simple one. Not too hard to understand or execute. And that was what made it irritating when people did certain things. For example, there were these two “dudes” who looked like Keanu Reeves and what’s-his-name from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure  who would come in every now and then with MONTH’S worth of returns. Their order alone would take fifteen minutes.

The policy of the store was that we weren’t supposed to take any single order that was over $25. If someone had that much, then we had to tell them to go to the end of the line with whatever was left over. I knew this, but one of the girls who covered the register while I was on lunch break didn’t, so when I come back and take over, the next customer in line gets mad at ME for what someone else didn’t know.

“That was ridiculous! i shouldn’t have had to wait that long,” he said.

I understood his frustration, but at the same time I didn’t like him (1) getting mad at me about what SHE did, and (2) getting mad at HER when she didn’t cover my station a lot. I don’t think it’s right to hold it against someone when they didn’t have the knowledge to know any better, so I decided to address it.

“I’m sorry about that, but she was just covering for my lunch break. She doesn’t normally work over here, so she didn’t know the policy,” I said.

“That’s no excuse. She….blah blah blah blah blah.”

At that point, I realized there was no reaching him. I just processed his order while he complained.

Other employees could be irritating too. I remember going outside one morning to start bringing in carts. Another employee came in and said, “Hey, someone left a six-pack of empty beer bottles out there between my truck and that car.”

I looked at him, dumbfounded, and I said, “So instead of picking it up and bringing it to me, you just walked past it…even though you knew it shouldn’t stay there?”

“That’s your job,” he said. “You’re bottle boy, not me.”

As he went into the store, I said, “It’s probably better you left it for me. Wouldn’t want you to strain yourself.”

Then you had your usual pain in the ass supervisors, who liked to be condescending every chance they got and/or flex their authority. For example, one night I was upstairs cleaning the break room when I got a call that there was a customer at the bottle register. When the customer was gone, the front end supervisor said, “You can’t take breaks whenever you feel like it.”

I said, “I wasn’t, I was CLEANING the break room.”

She left without another word.

Another time, I was only halfway through my shift when I got an upset stomach. Fortunately there were no customers, so I made it to the bathroom in time. (Yes, this part of the memory is gross: I had diarrhea.)  When I got back, I asked the supervisor if I could leave because I could tell I might be hit with another bout of it.

She said, “Are you sure you can’t stay? Because if you go home, I’ll have to work the bottle return.”

I was thinking: aw, poor baby…so don’t be a supervisor…so now I have to run the risk of crapping myself because the bottle register is beneath you…sorry it would add one more thing to your plate, but that’s why they pay you the big bucks!

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad. In fact, during the summer when I went in and found out I would be on carts instead of the bottle register, it was actually fun. Between runs to the parking lot to get the carts, I would go inside and bag groceries for customers. There was one cashier in particular (a stunning blonde named Suzanne) whose aisle I would always pick. Things never went anywhere with her, but it was fun to flirt.

Also, I was completely unsupervised when I was out on carts. I’d often just walk around the parking lot, writing poems in a tiny notebook that I could keep in my pocket. If a supervisor did come out and see me, I told them I was walking around to see if there were any carts hidden between cars. Hell, one time I even took a stroll behind every store in the Price Chopper Plaza, simply because I wanted to kill time…although, to my surprise, I DID find carts back there!

I was young. My biggest responsibilities were homework, bottle return, bagging groceries, and retrieving carts. At the time I hated that menial job, but now…shoot, I WISH I could walk behind those stores again!

Got a first job story that YOU would like to share? Comment below!!!

~~~Steve

memories, music, Nirvana, reminiscing, Smashing Pumpkins

Thinking About Kurt Cobain

Why am I thinking about Kurt today? It’s not like it is the anniversary of his death; he died in April. I can’t say for sure, other than I was driving around in my car yesterday and decided to put on some Nirvana tunes.

All these years later, it’s easy to forget the impact Nirvana had on music. Music listeners these days look at them as just another band, but in 1991 they caused a seismic shift. Before them, the airwaves were cluttered with songs like Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” and Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me.”

Then Nirvana came along, and we heard things like this:

“Just because you’re paranoid

don’t mean they’re not after you.”

~~~Nirvana, “Territorial Pissings”

Man, what great lyrics. They have the ability to evoke dread and a laugh at the same time. A lot of Kurt’s lyrics can do that.

For example, there are these lines from “Smells Like Teen Spirit:”

“And I forget just why I taste.

Oh yeah…I guess it makes me smile.”

While the obliviousness/cluelessness of the narrator is humorous, it also has a dark side to it. Think about it: this is a person who might be running the world someday. Do you really want it left in their hands? Sure, we could maybe attribute his “duh-ness” to being young, something they might outgrow, but we can’t be sure.

Imagine if someone like Bill S. Preston Esquire (Keanu Reeves’ character from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) was the guy in charge of pressing “the button.” I can just see him looking at it and going, “Dude, what does THIS do?” That is the fear Kurt’s lyrics evoke in me because I grew up with the generation listening to his music. I knew those people, and most of them were fucking idiots!

I can’t say for certain Kurt was writing about the upcoming so-called “Generation X” when he composed those lines. According to Dave Grohl, the lyrics were cobbled together only minutes before they were recorded, so he finds it hard to believe they were “about” anything. However, even if that is true, that makes it even scarier how on target he was about the attitude most youth had at that time.

Kurt wasn’t just a lyricist. He was a poet, which is another class of artist entirely. (It’s kind of like the difference between a singer and a vocalist, but that’s for another blog.) In a way, he was like the “Gen X” version of one of his heroes (and mine): Leonard Cohen. By that I mean they discarded the usual topics that most musicians favor (girls, cars, and any other shiny happy topics) and went for something deeper. They used their words to explore their souls…and, whether it was an accident or not, they explored ours as well.

From interviews with him and about him, I feel like I knew the type of person Kurt was. For example, there was an interview with Billy Corgan (from MY favorite band, the Smashing Pumpkins) who said that Kurt was a better guitar player than the albums might lead you to believe. According to Billy, Kurt could play a mean lead guitar, but on record he always played the “I can’t play the guitar solo” type of solo.

What do I mean by that? Well, listen to most Nirvana guitar solos. “Teen Spirit” would be a great one to check out. You will notice that the solo basically copies the notes that he sings in the verse. That is how MOST Nirvana solos go. The only exception that comes to mind is the solo on “In Bloom,” which is one of my favorites, not just from Kurt, but from any guitar player ever. It’s proof that he could play a REAL solo instead of just mimicking his vocal line.

So why did he do that? My guess: Kurt was uncomfortable with praise. If he let out his inner guitar god and played wicked solos on their albums, then he’d get people saying, “Wow, man, you are awesome!” To avoid that, he just played the vocal line as his guitar solo. Then, instead of hearing praise, he got to hear people say, “That dude sucks. He can’t even play a real lead part! Lazy bastard just plays the notes he sang!” I believe he was more comfortable with insults than with praise.

Sadly, there are many people like him. I’m one of them. (After all, one of my previous posts was about not being able to take certain compliments.) This is just based on interviews with him, but I feel like Kurt was a gentle, humble soul. He strikes me as someone who didn’t want to be perceived as arrogant; he didn’t want to let the praise he received go to his head, so he sought to reject it.

Of course, he went too far in the opposite direction. Not only did Kurt not become arrogant, but he also never felt like he was worth much of anything. His actions on April 5, 1994 prove that much.

The impression I get of him is that, in terms of personality and demeanor, he was a lot like me. If we had met, we would have been close friends. I wish that had been so, because I know one thing I definitely would have done: I would have tried to do something to make sure he was still here.

Make no mistake about it, folks. Even if he DID only play the vocal line for his guitar solos, we lost a talented, sweet, gentle soul when he went away. He had the ability to do whatever he wanted with his music, but for whatever reason, Kurt felt like it had reached the end of the line.

RIP, dear Mr. Cobain.

break-up, everyone, kids, lesson, life, memories, mental health, relationships, reminiscing

Sometimes the Worst Part of a Break-Up is Missing the Kids

I don’t know what got me heading down this particular memory this morning, but it moved me enough to share it. Now you get to reap the benefits.

Several years ago, I dated a young woman (who shall remain nameless). She had three kids, although the focus of this blog is on one of them. He had a very unique name, so I am going to rename him Pete. He was the middle child. Having had no siblings, I was unaware of this, but middle children are supposed to be the most difficult. This was true of Pete, but not for the reasons usually attributed to them: he just happened to be the one child of hers who exhibited severe mental health issues.

“What kind?” you might wonder. Well, I’m not sure of his official diagnosis. I do know that he could have an explosive, violent tempter. She told me that, when he acted out in elementary school, he would throw desks and chairs around the room. There were also some things that I witnessed first-hand. For example, I remember Pete sitting in the living room, playing a video game, and I walked past him to head upstairs. I didn’t say a word to him and yet, completely unprovoked, he looked at me and said, “What are you doing here? You should be dead already.” This wasn’t him taking a stab at dark humor either; he was SERIOUS.

I imagine most guys who heard that would have two reactions: either they would (1) get aggressive toward Pete, or (2) they would say to his mother, “Um, I gotta go.” As for me, I had a third reaction: I brushed it off. It wasn’t personal.

Anyway, you’re probably thinking back to the title of this blog and wondering, “How could you miss a kid like that?” Well, I’m going to get into that now.

One time, my ex and her kids came over to my place. A friend of mine was also visiting. He saw a piece of martial art equipment that I have, which is called a “wooden dummy.” (If you don’t know what that is or looks like, just Google “Wing Chun wooden dummy.”) He asked how it was used, so I showed him. It wasn’t until much later when Pete’s mom told me, “You know, all while you were doing that, Pete watched you the entire time. He was transfixed.” While I wasn’t sure I wanted a young man like Pete to know how to hurt people more efficiently, it did make me proud that his attention hadn’t waived. It made me feel like I had somehow connected with him.

A few days after that, I was at Pete’s house again. He was playing a Batman video game, and there was one tricky part that was getting him very agitated. The more times he tried and failed, the angrier he got. It looked like he was going to act out, so I went up to him, placed my hand gently on his shoulder, and I said, “Hey, Pete, I’ve played this game before, and I beat this part. Would you mind if I got you past it?”

I was braced for him to throw the controller at me, but he didn’t; he held it out for me to take. Then I sat down next to him and got him past the difficult part. Once I did, I handed the controller back to him and said, “There you go, bud.” And that was it.

The next day, I called Pete’s mom when I got home from work. I hadn’t planned on going over because I had some writing to get done, but I wanted to at least hear her voice. While we were talking, I heard Pete ask her something in the background; he was too far away, so I couldn’t decipher what he said.

His mom said, “I don’t know. I’ll ask him.” Then, turning her attention back to me, she said, “Pete wants to know if you’re coming over tonight.”

For a moment, I was too stunned to talk. Eventually I regained the ability to talk, and I said, “I wasn’t planning on it, but I can.” Then, after a moment, I said, “Has he ever asked if a friend or boyfriend was coming over?”

She said, “No.” One word, one syllable, but I could tell she was just as stunned.

Pete’s mom and I were together for a few months after that. She was the one who broke up with me. I’m not sure why, and it doesn’t really matter…not in the grand scheme of things, nor does it contribute to the point of this post, which I am going to reveal here and now. It is the answer to the question, “Why the hell would you miss a kid who got violent and asked why you weren’t dead yet?”

The answer is, “Because I reached him.” And I wanted to reach him more. I could have, but it just wasn’t meant to be. At least I gave SOMETHING to his life.

Many people would have the sam reaction to Pete, which is to want to run away screaming. Not me. You see, in my mind, Pete’s behavioral issues weren’t that big of a deal. Why? Because when you get down to the nitty gritty of it, they were just problems to be solved. What most people don’t realize is that some problems are more difficult than others. For example, calculus is more difficult than algebra. That doesn’t mean people should stop trying to solve calculus problems, does it?

Treating the kid like a monster or a freak doesn’t help anything or anyone. Most importantly, it doesn’t help PETE any.

Sometimes I wonder how he is doing. I have no way to contact his mom and ask because when she broke up with me, my ego couldn’t handle it, so I said some pretty mean-spirited things. I did run into her at an event and apologized about them. She said, “Don’t worry about it. We’re good.” That was wonderful to hear, but I know we aren’t so good that she will unblock me on Facebook. LOL Well, what can you do but live and learn? If you want to remain friends after a break-up, don’t say nasty things. It might be too late for Pete’s mom, but I can avoid that mistake going forward.

As for Pete, I hope he’s doing okay.