Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's a Turk?

Ah, August, when we men sometimes grease up our faces and hairy chests in our team colors, don wigs and masks worthy of the most elaborate African tribal traditions, attach various rubber and plastic animal parts around our heads, and head for the stadium, the favorite sports bar, or only the TV of our choice to whoop and bellow and support our team in the preseason games, renew our word by word attention to the slightest mutterings of coaches and players in the sports pages, and generally gloat that "our time" of the year, as real men, has arrived at last.

"It's that time of preseason in the NFL again, time for a visit from the Turk," the sports reporter glibly announced on Channel six, NBC's local channel. "Ah, the dreaded Turk," I echoed knowingly.

"What's a Turk?" my better half asked innocently. "He's the guy who comes around to tell a player he's being cut," I said, through a covert "Duh." Everyone knew who The Turk was, at least every sports fan.

"Why is he called 'The Turk'"? she persisted. "Where did they get that name? How do they designate who's going to be The Turk?"

"Well, em, r--, dunno," I had to admit ala Harry Potter, influenced by just having finished reading his final novel. Who cares? It wasn't my job to bring my wife, who originally thought the football-shaped "C"'s on Chicago Bears' helmets were supposed to be Teddy Bear ears, up to speed on my fraternity of real men's sportslore gained over many seasons. If she really cared, she could learn all those things herself. Hoo hoo, I pounded my chest and dismissed the questions out of hand.

Then I thought about it, and realized I might not know as much as I assumed I did. I looked up "The Turk" origins on the internet and found rather little to explain its origins or mechanics, other than each NFL team designated someone, often an assistant coach or other assistant, to knock on a player's door and ask for his playbook, and tell him the coach wants to see him--in other words, he's been cut from the roster. The Turk is therefore aka as The Grim Reaper of the team at issue. "Why doesn't the coach do it himself?" "You tell me." Where did the name arise? Ditto. What other esoterica is there to be known about the term? Ditto again. Like most slang, having shortcut standard dictions and meanings, it doesn't stand up to much logical scrutiny.

Gradually it dawned on me that not only didn't I know much about The Turk, but also I didn't know squat about terms like "weak side/ strong side," the difference, really, between a corner back and a safety, "the ole' hook n' ladder har-har"--always muttered in tandem-- or even why someone needs to be designated as a "franchise player." "Aren't they all franchise players?" "No." "Well why not?"

"M, er, duhnno." It's embarrassing to be exposed as a know-nothing by the innocent quizzing of a non-sportsfan.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pottered and Planted

I'm the last in my family to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but once I began reading, I finished in under three days, straight through. I was amazed how quickly it read, since I'm a rather slow reader usually. Perhaps I'd overheard enough chatter among the rest of my family that I had a pretty good idea of what I would find. But still, it really read quickly and seemed to flow well, with chapter breaks about every 25 pages or so.

J.K. Rowling seems to have done a really good job with her final Potter book of the series, I think. She managed to tie up all the loose ends of previous ambiguities of characters and still write a childrens' story. I especially appreciated the flashbacks explaining the motivations and passions as well as foibles of Dumbledore and Snape, the most complex of Rowling's protagonists. And she managed to weave in a masterful, totally unexpected but plausible surprise re: true ownership of the elder wand. Without giving anything away, I was a little bored with some of the episodic near-certain-death escapes and deux ex mechina devices which seemed at times a little too glib for my tastes. Whenever J.K. appeared to be writing herself into a corner, it was just too easy to press the vanish button and have the terrific trio suddenly rematerialize at a safe new location somewhere, or if in hostile traffic, duck under the invisibility cloak. But I was very glad for the rising action and final battles which rose and fell then rose again before the real climax, and the epilog chapter of the new generation of wizards and families. Over the course of so many novels she had quite a task making so many subplots and characters come to a head in a coherent way, but she did it up right, and with grace, humor, suspense till the very end, and a lot of style.

For me, it was a good way to end the summer break, and got me used to reading lots of words again after a summer of more physical than intellectual pursuits before I begin teaching again next week.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


There are times when we do whatever just to get through the day. We're waiting for something to change externally, some new opportunity to appear, perhaps, or a shift in the many patterns which play out in our lives. We know we're not moving toward anything important in any dramatic way, but at the same time we're doing useful things so we don't feel the time is wasted. We're waiting. And I imagine we do it a lot.

This week--actually this month-- has been like that, at least most of it. No major epiphanies of thought, no breakthroughs of understanding or accomplishment. But I've kept myself busy during each day by doing something I knew needed to get done: tending to the lawn, trimming the back ficus bushes so they don't get out of control again like they did when we had Wilma roar through and topple and uproot several, costing me a couple of thousand dollars to remove.

Today I tuned my ten dollar piano. I call it that because that's all the lady I got it from wanted, just to get it out of her hurricane-drenched second floor apartment with mold all over the walls. She had tried to protect the Kimball spinet with a tarp, but it still got soaked pretty well. I reglued several felts and tuned it several times, and eventually it dried out enough that we can play it normally. But every piano needs to be tuned, especially with the changing seasons and humidity levels here in south Florida. We have a 5-watt damp-chaser plugged in that keeps the soundboard air ambience reasonably dry, but it still gets out of tune over several months. Anyway, it was worth doing, and went well.

But it was something I did while I waited, and I knew it as I did it, just like I knew mowing and trimming the property, fixing the various things that needed fixing, and busying myself with self-assigned tasks each day that I was basically waiting. What I don't know is what I am waiting for.

I assumed I was waiting for was my fall semester to start so I could get into my class routine. Barb went back to her media center each day this week, and her students return next Monday. I have the NFL preseason games to look forward to now nearly five of seven days per week, and enjoy those, but I don't watch as many as I thought I would. The college games will explode all over Saturday within a week and we'll be swamped with that scene, always a kick for me. But those things aren't what I'm waiting for. At least I don't think they are.

Am I waiting for Godot? Waiting for the A Train? Waiting for the hurricanes to come at us from Cape Verde like a big hooking bowling ball across the Atlantic and wonder if each will hit us, in the head pin position, sticking out six hundred miles toward doomsday into the ocean? Hurricane Dean was born today, three-fourths of the way to us, but it looks like he will bowl by as a gutter ball to our south and smack the Yucatan. I'm pretty sure he's not the last, just the first this season. Dr. William Gray has been so wrong so often in his predictions of hurricanes during the past several years that I have little credence in them, and no one else's predictions either. No, I'm not waiting for the weather drama. It will happen or not soon enough.

Maybe I'm waiting for that "great idea," like Hjalmer Ekdol in Ibsen's "The Wild Duck" who would undertake no tasks or necessities which might distract him from the Great Idea if it came. I think most writers suffer from that delusion, that they always need more space or time or fewer things to do so thay can get inspired better. But no, I'm not waiting for inspiration. I've found that comes best when I'm busy as hell at something else anyway. It never comes from invitation or meditation.

Truth is, I don't know what I'm waiting for. That's the problem I have when things are basically going so well that I don't have much I need to do. Normally, we feel like we're running behind the curve, that there just aren't enough hours in the day to get done those things we need to attend to. But what about those rare times when it feels like the reverse is true? That we're actually ahead of the game?

Then we wait. Wait for the universe to catch up with us. Wait for our dreams and goals to clarify. Wait till the stores open (since when did everyone start opening at 10:30 or 11:00 am?). Wait for the eggs to fry. Wait for the mailman to bring the junk and bills. Wait for the wagon. Wait for morning. Wait for night. Wait for rain. Wait for the sun. We're ahead of them all sometimes, and we must wait.

I don't know which is harder, to wait or to try to catch up. But I suspect waiting is harder, because it's the negative, the non-action, the grinding halt. Our dreams outrace our means. It's why we can't get to sleep at night. If we're behind, at least we can act to try to catch up, and that's positive, purposeful, rewarding even if we don't quite finish all we tried to or even if our labor makes us tired. Rest comes sweet to the weary--not so to the waiters. Yes, I think waiting is the hardest part.

Monday, August 06, 2007

This trip was about family most of all

The big Ritz trip was everything we had hoped for. We returned Saturday after 19 days and nearly 4,500 miles that took us to Nashville, Wisconsin, Indiana, New York, and Gatlinburg, and the only casualty the Ritz RV suffered was it took a round from a truck tire's stoneshooter treads, right in the windshield. They're replacing it tomorrow.

During those days we saw a Nashville Nights show, met Cousin Bob and Nancy, saw the folks and visited Aunt Lillian and Ellen in Huntington, and went to the 4-H fair twice. We met Mark in New York and got to tour where he works his magic sounds at Heavy Melody and play with some of their stress-reliever toys like Guitar Hero. And we saw his apartment for the first time live, and went to the piers for a sail he'd given Barb as a Christmas gift, but got rained out. Even so, it was great to visit him in our Ritz, and he came out to the campground with us for two days and nights of cookout camping and the good life.

When we left New York for a surprise rendezvous with first-born son Dr. Stephen and his beautiful, charming wife who remains forever young, Rhonda the Great (knew you'd read it, R.) in Gatlinburg, they took us up to their mountaintop rental cabin retreat. And up. And up. And around. And how that vertical trail could be driven up without a funicular or cable car I'll never know. Egad, what a grade! I thought San Francisco had steep hills for driving, but it was no contest compared to the Smokies.

We did Dollywood with our grandson and granddaughter the next day and had a wonderful time. And we began and ended our trip with a night at Scott's Kissimmee apartment, which was a great way to ease into our trip and ease out of it. One big advantage of his living in Kissimmee is that they have a fabulous Camping Center full of goodies we need and want, like some drawer latches that broke from the pounding our unit took from the buckled, pothole-ridden interstates of Illinois and New York. But if the latches couldn't hold the drawers shut, good old duct tape could. We were very comfortable throughout our trip, both travelling and stopped. And we really enjoyed "pimping our ride" with lights and doodads and little niceties that are probably silly to everyone but trailer trash. Like the 6'x9' astroturf mat for outside the door. Okay, so we're giddy with our personalizing our ride, but darn it, it's ours. And if we want to put the Florida Gator magnet on the door, we can.

This trip was, looking back on it, about family. We got to see all of ours, going as we did basically where they each now live, and even got to expand our family contacts by meeting my newfound first cousin Bob Kauffman of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, who has written a great book on our Kauffman ancestry and geneology that he gave me copies of for each of my sons. On this trip I got to give those copies to each of my three sons. Mom and Dad are nursing-home-bound and not alert most of the time now, but at least we got to see them and be with them again. And Aunt Lillian, who never ages, is busy as usual, this time quilting gift quilts for three graduating grandchildren. We got to take her out for a root beer at the drive-in in our Ritz, which she seemed to really enjoy. And we got to do the 4-H fair with Uncle Steve and Thi-Thi, who hadn't been to one for many years.

Yes, it was the family time I enjoyed most. And I appreciate our good fortune in getting a good RV that managed even the most strenuous roads with relative ease, and our good health throughout the journey. We both used muscles setting up and tearing down that we didn't even know we had, and by the last few days we remarked that we were getting things down into a routine. Whatever came up, we found a way to deal with and resolve, and I guess that's part of the fun of it.

When we finally came home Barb cleaned the Ritz in and out, top to bottom, and I caulked up the few leaks over the shower and lined up a windshield replacement for the errant truck tire slingshot that pinged me. Now we're getting back to "normal," whatever that is.

Barb said it best, I think: "Life is problem-solving." One damned thing after another, I believe Mark Twain remarked of it, but I like Barb's conciseness. If you want to visit her trip journal with some neat pix, go here. Nice going, Sweetheart.