Rock-a-Bye Bully

horned bull I stood in the fresh country air, feet on the lower runner of a split rail fence, elbows on the upper. The strong sun beat down from behind the hazy clouds in the cadet blue sky and beaded sweat from under my long, silky bangs. The tall grass tickled in the muggy breeze and bugs buzzed and whined somewhere in it.

In the distance the trees seemed dense. Jungle dense. To a west coast kid, this place was like Africa or South America. It felt like being in the Amazon basin, and I expected night time to be filled with alien sounds of nocturnal animals crying their bloodthirsty wails into the stillness at the moon.

But it’s only Kentucky, and this is just my first visit to a farm. I’m less than ten years old, and while it feels like I’m in a tropical foreign country, it’s just a family vacation. I’m standing beside my cousin Michael, with bottle-brush haircut and ragged sneakers, wearing a shirt with sleeves ripped from the torso and hands toughened by years of being a farmer’s kid.

Click here, faithful reader, to hear the rest of the saga!

Misty-Water Colored

A Twisted Family Tradition ~ The Lime Jello Brain

I remember my eighth grade teacher.  And my sixth grade teacher.  I’m having a harder time with the seventh grade teacher, because that time was in the south, and I never really fit in with those folks.  Truth be told, I never fit in anywhere, but in the south the outcast feeling was more pronounced.

My sixth grade teacher was a great guy.  Nice guy.  Fun teacher.  Sort of an easy-going, relaxed teaching style.  I learned a lot.  I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what subjects I had with him now, more than thirty years later, but I remember homeroom.  Does that count?

In eight grade I returned to the school from the deep south, from being outcast, from being the alien amongst the natives.  I need not go into the reasons why that was true, but it was.  I remember the gentle nature he had, how he was patient and encouraging.  I enjoyed my time in his class.  He taught math, I think.  The math teacher I’d had in sixth grade moved on to be dean of discipline for the high school I eventually attended.  But my eight grade homeroom teacher and math teacher, and a couple of other subjects as I recall, was as great a guy in a different way than the sixth grade teacher.

The seventh grade teacher was the upper grade science teacher.  So from fifth through eighth grade, he was your science teacher.  While I missed having him for homeroom, he was … different.  A portly man with a waddling throat and double chin, soft lard coated and more business-like than the others.  He took himself more seriously.  He was also part of a choir group at my parents’ church.  He had that unusual tenor voice heavyset men seem to have, and sang well.

Eventually, I grew up, finished high school, and set out on my long, winding and dusty road which eventually lead to continued failure and hardship.  As I wandered along this lonesome trail, I went out one night with a friend from school.  We both lived in the same crappy town, went to the same elementary school, but he went to the local public high school while most of my other “friends” went to the Catholic high school I attended.  I still saw him on a regular basis though, and one night I caught up with him and we went out drinking.

In those days, drinking was a specialty of mine.  I got warmed up at a place on the main drag of town, notorious among those of us who grew up in that particular burg for being a rough, edgy place of mafioso and drug dealers.  I wasn’t scared of anyone or anything then … not even bullets.  So we decided to go in and have ourselves a li’l drink.

It didn’t take a lot of liquor to loosen my tongue in those days, but it did take a fair amount to get me ripping drunk.  When I reached that point, my companion pointed out to me that our sixth, seventh and eighth grade teachers were sitting at a table not too far from us.  Well, I’ll spare you the gory details, but one whispered rumor led to another, led to another, and another.

Long story short, when my father roused me from my drunken slumber the next morning, I couldn’t find my glasses.  He was shouting about his truck — I’d borrowed his truck to go out because I didn’t have my own vehicle — and raging to know what I had done.  Then he stopped, mid-scathe, and gestured at my hand.

“What happened to your hand?”

I looked down.  My knuckles were scrapped, scabbed and red.  Both hands.  I quickly felt my face, then body … no bumps or bruises, no injuries I could find.  I looked at him helplessly, and shrugged.  “I don’t know,” I whispered, and realized I had no idea where my glasses were.

I don’t remember what happened that night, and I don’t know if I ever saw those men again.  I know I probably never will now, but I can tell you this — if there was an exchange of violence between us and them, they must have gotten the worst of it.  I found my glasses amid my bedclothes later, but never did remember what happened to my father’s truck or my knuckles.

It’d be nice to tell you that was the last time I ever got that drunk, but that’d be a lie.  I was just getting started and my inebriated escapades had only just begun.  But that’s the last time I couldn’t explain what happened to my physical person.

I still wonder after those teachers of old.  I wonder what they must think of me now, once a prize pupil, with their last memory (so far as I know) that of a raging, nasty drunk making horrible accusations in a full bar.  If they’re still alive, I hope they find it in their hearts to forgive me — but I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t.

Not one bit.

-JDT-

Mentoring

National Mentoring Month logo, designed by Mil...

When I was young, I had a friend who spent a lot of time teaching me the fine art of being a boy.  As we grew older, he taught me more about being a man.  The problem was, he lived a long way away from us and I hardly ever saw him.  My father wasn’t the best source of that kind of information, though I’m sure I must have gleaned something from him too.  So, I had few if any strong male role models in my life.

As I look at my son, I realize I’m a lot more like my father than my friend.  I have no idea how to teach a young boy to be a man.  I don’t know if I even know what that is.  I have to try and figure out how to teach him about honor, honesty, caring, balance, responsibility, and myriad other topics about which I know diddly-squat.  So he’s already starting out with a strike or two against him.

As I continue to wish upon a star for a miracle to salvage my “career” situation, I realize I still, even to this day, seek a mentoring relationship with people for whom I work.  I’ve done it almost everywhere – almost – I’ve ever worked.  I hope that somehow one of them will take me under their wing and teach me the “ropes” of … something.  Anything.  But the fact is, I’m not a young lad anymore who someone wants under their wing, and the idea of doing that with a man fast approaching middle age probably creeps people out.  Then I can’t figure out why I don’t get job offers.  Heh.

I guess all my life I’ve wanted a mentor.  Someone who would not just work with me and give me instructions, but teach me, show me something – a trade, a craft, the way the job should be done – and become that missing role model in my life.  The world is harsh and expects us to stand on our own two feet even if we’re not shown how to do that.  It’s like swimming in many respects – no one cares how you learned to get across the pool, only that you did.  If you don’t know how to do that no one cares whether or not you drown.  And being taught to do it right saves a lot of energy, time, and lives.  It certainly would’ve saved mine.

But I don’t know if anyone gets mentored anymore.  Does an old vet in some industry, craft or trade take a young buck and teach him the right way, the wrong way, the best way?  Is there anyone out there doing that, going through things day by day, step by step, making sure the protégé gets it, is able to do it, and can be turned loose into the field without fear of embarrassment, harm or failure?  Does that ever happen anymore?  Are apprentices treated that way?  Is there a bond, a friendship or paternal (or I suppose maternal, depending on what we’re talking about) relationship forged between the two, or is it just two guys working together and that’s it?

I’ve never known.  I’ve always wanted to.

What about you?  Did you have good, solid role models in your life to guide you, steer you the right way, make you straight and true as you fly through life?

-JDT-