Baseball, Boys and Dads

Today was opening day for the Chicago Cubs.

To most of you that’s not a big deal. In fact, I’m sure there are a good number of you who read that first line and said “Who cares?”

Well to this baseball fan, it’s a big deal. Because baseball means more than just nine guys running around a field hitting a ball with a wooden stick. It’s because, for the most part, boys and dads have a sort of innate relationship around baseball. Sometimes that relationship blossoms into a loving and wonderful coexistence; and sometimes it harbors a lifetime of regret and/or agony.

For me, the relationship between me, my Dad and baseball has almost always been a positive one. I remember playing catch with him in the backyard and going to the park to hit a few line drives (which were probably only bloopers but to me they were line drives.) I was never much good at playing the game, but I definitely recall the first few trips we made to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play.

One of my fondest memories is during our second visit to Wrigley Field. I was probably about 8 or so and my sister was 6. We were seated in the main grandstand area, to the right of home plate, just under the upper grandstand. They were pretty great seats. I had my program and my Cubs baseball cap, and my sister was sporting her trademark Cubs fisherman’s cap which was so cute on her little head. Mom and Dad were reviewing the lineup with us, getting us ready to start keeping score for the game.

I looked up and saw a mob of people forming from the Cubs dugout, walking up toward the stairs of the grandstand. In the mob I could see Jack Brickhouse, the legendary Cubs broadcaster. I knew he was probably just finishing the “Lead-Off Man” interview with one of the players and was heading up to the announcer’s booth in the Mezzanine. The only way to get there was through the crowd, so every time he made the trek, he would be besieged by autograph seekers.

I asked my dad for a pen, and he found one for me. In a flash, I grabbed my program and took off. I could hear my dad calling after me, “Ricky! Get back here! RICKY! You’ll never find your way back!” But I knew where I was going. I ran after the mob, and followed them down the stairs into the concourse. Just after turning to the right, I reached the the mob and tunneled my way between the legs of the taller fans. I got right up to Jack Brickhouse, smiled with my toothless smile, and said, “Mr. Brickhouse, can I have your autograph?”

Jack replied, “Sure, little fella!” and grabbed my program and signed it with my felt-tip pen. I looked at the signature, said “Wow! Thanks!” and dashed back to the seats.

When I got back, my dad was fuming and my mom was frantic. “We thought we’d never find you! How did you find your way back?” they cried.

I responded quite confidently, “I knew where I was going!” and not another word was spoken about it.

Throughout my dad’s and my life together, baseball remained as a constant in an otherwise symbiotic relationship. No matter what else was going on in our lives, we could always fall back upon what the Cubs were doing that year, or what bonehead moves the management made that would plunge the season into another fit of despair.

As I said before, I wasn’t much of a player. I did play on a Little-League type team in grade school, but I wasn’t all that good. I was always stuck in right field, and I spent more time picking dandelions than running after base hits. Dad, of course, was furious with me and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t a better player– but I assured him that it wasn’t because I didn’t like the game — I just didn’t enjoy playing it as much as I enjoyed watching it.

So that’s why, when the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus started rehearsing the song “What You’d Call A Dream” from the little-known off-Broadway play called “Diamonds,” I was struck by how much meaning the game has in so many people’s lives. Whether you’re the greatest or worst player, or whether you ever made the game-winning hit or cost a team the game; there’s something special and meaningful about the relationship between fathers, sons and baseball that can never be broken.

So this Friday and Saturday, when I’m on stage, choking back tears during that song, I will remember the trips to Wrigley Field; the days playing catch in the summer sun; the baseball cards and team rosters, and his recollections of years past; the afternoons watching WGN and Jack Brickhouse– and later, Harry Caray– call the games; and the good times–and bad– that revolved around the game.

What You’d Call A Dream

There are two men out, and its in the ninth, and the score is four to three
There’s a man at first, and a man at bat, and the man at bat is me
And I’m sorta scared, and I’m sorta proud, and I’m stronger than I seem
And I take a swing, and my dad is there, and its what you’d call a dream

For the ball flies in the sun, and it sails off as I run
The crowd is roaring, cheering as I go, so are all the guys on the team
And I run for home, and we win the game, and its what you’d call a dream
And the sun shines like diamonds
The summer sun shines like diamonds
The summer sun, high in a baseball sky, shines like diamonds
And the sun shines like diamonds

There are two men out, and its in the ninth, and the score is four to three
There’s a man at first, and a man at bat, and the man at bat is me
And it’s what you’d call
A dream.

Chaos!!!!

You know how it seems like things go nuts all at once? That’s life in my humble little abode lately.

I renewed my lease again, which means I’ll be staying in my apartment for a record seventh year. I swear it doesn’t seem like I’ve been here that long, but the leases don’t lie– first one was in 2002, and this one goes until 2009. Geesh.

Cracks and Chips in the Tile

So to celebrate, I decided it was high time to ask my landlord when my kitchen floor would be replaced. Most of the other apartments had theirs replaced when the tenants moved out, and they were replaced with a really nice ceramic floor. Mine is this cheap-ass, nasty no-wax tile that was laid in squares which is now coming up and/or cracking and denting all throughout my kitchen. It’s so ugly. I want it gone.

So when I told my landlord I was renewing my lease, I threw a bargaining chip on the table– fix my floor. She cautioned me that it would take a few days and my kitchen would be out of commission for a while, but I replied that I didn’t mind. I’ll take a new floor over a few days of inconvenience.

I wasn’t ready for the next part though… apparently there is a leak coming from my bathroom that has been seeping into the apartment below me. She just found out about this from the guy who lives under me — who, along with me, is the longest-term resident in our building. Apparently it’s been a problem for a long time but he never mentioned it to her. Um, hello… if your walls are falling down around you– fix it! That’s the glory of renting. Someone comes in and fixes everything for you. Why live with crumbling walls?

Of course I had no idea that this was happening either — the leak is obviously not visible to me, so how am I supposed to tell if there’s a problem?

So in addition to the piles of tiles and bags of spackle, there are about 5-6 panels of sheetrock outside my apartment door.

Does anyone have room for a guy and his two kitties for a few days?  I might need to get away from this insanity — and quickly!

Fire + RcktMan don't mix

I seem to have a bad relationship with fire.

I should immediately add that nothing terrible has happened.  Nothing burned down, and everything is fine.

But if I wasn’t quick, I could have had a much worse story to tell.

My poor relationship with all things flammable goes back to 1995.  I was camping with my friends in Saugatuck, MI.  It was a different group of friends that I camp with today.  Back then the campground was a lot smaller, and had many less amenities.   I was alone at our campsite one day and decided to start my miniature “Smokey Joe” grill to make some lunch, so I threw some charcoal on it and lit it.  After the flames seemed to die down a bit, I threw the grill on top and stepped away to use the bathroom and take a shower.

Dumb idea #1 – Walking away from a flaming grill.  It still hadn’t completely died down, and I left the lid off to let it “breathe.”

Dumb idea #2 – Not throwing away the now-empty charcoal bag.

Dumb idea #3 – Doing all of this so close to my tent.

You can see where this is going.  After my shower, I walked back to the campground, where I saw a few of my friends milling around.  The loudest, queeniest one of the bunch saw me and came running up to me.  “OH GIRLLLL!” he shrieked.  “Your TENT burned DOWN!  Where have you BEEN!?”

I said “I was just in the bathroom!  How bad is it?”

When I got there, I saw it wasn’t quite as bad as he had claimed, but it was bad enough.  The charcoal bag had somehow blew onto the hot grill, started on fire, and then blew onto my tent.  My brand-new, just-out-of-the-box tent.  And it burned a hole in the corner of the tent, and subsequently burned my sleeping bag and air mattress inside. Everything else was fine– my clothes and other supplies hadn’t been touched.  But I was definitely without a tent, and most certainly the talk of the campground– and certainly my friends — for a very long time after that.

That Christmas, my mom got me a fire extinguisher; both as a gift and as a joke.  Thank goodness she has a good sense of humor.

Cut to today, almost 14 years later (ouch).

I had taken out my shoe polishing supplies to start polishing my badly-scuffed brown shoes.

When I was a kid, my dad would take nearly-empty or dried-out shoe polish cans, combine the cans together in one, and light the polish aflame.  The polish is highly flammable and melts, and allows it to combine together and become somewhat usable again.  When the polish was sufficiently melted (you don’t want it to burn too long or it will scorch), he would slip the lid on top to put out the flames.

As an adult, I have carried on this “tradition”.  It works well, and I’ve never had any problems– until today.

I combined the half-empty cans together, lit it aflame, and then tried to slip the lid on top– but my hand slipped and the burning polish poured all over my desk.  I immediately jumped up, went into the kitchen, grabbed the fire extinguisher that my mom had bought me in 1995 off the wall, pulled the pin, and in seconds the fire was out.

I had never used a fire extinguisher before.  In fact, up until about a month ago, the extinguisher I had was buried deep in my broom closet.  I decided that day it was time to actually mount it to the wall so it was ready to use.  I’m glad I decided to do that.  I also discovered that my smoke alarms — both of them– work very well.  They went off almost immediately after I put the fire out.

No damage was done, thankfully.  The fire never spread any further than the polish itself.  But let me tell you, it was a bitch to clean up.  The extinguisher emitted a fine white powder, and it got EVERYWHERE.  But man am I glad I had it.

So the moral of the story is this– don’t play with fire.  Don’t do things just because your dad did them.  And please, please, PLEASE… get a fire extinguisher and mount it up so it’s ready to use.  This story could have ended a whole lot worse if I hadn’t done that.

Keeping my head above water

Good Times.

Any time you meet a payment.

Good Times.

Any time you need a friend.

Good Times.

Any time you’re out from under.

Not getting hassled, not getting hustled.

Keepin’ your head above water,

Making a wave when you can.

Temporary lay offs.

Good Times.

Easy credit rip offs.

Good Times.

Scratchin’ and surviving.

Good Times.

Hangin in a chow line

Good Times.

Ain’t we lucky we got ’em

Good Times!

Times aren’t tough but boy are they ever busy.  Just wanted to chime in and say that everything’s alright and I’m alive and well.  Hopefully when I get a moment to breathe again I’ll write.  And then after that I’ll clean my apartment.  Catch up on my Scrabulous games.  Meet a friend for lunch or dinner.  Go out and be among the living.

One bright spot through all of this– it’s finally feeling like spring around here!!!

No

I’ve always had a hard time saying “No.”

I’m one of those people who always tries to do whatever is asked of him.  I’m not saying I’m gullible by any means, but if I’m asked to help with a project or contribute to something, my first reaction is to say “Yeah! Sure! I’d love to!” without thinking of the consequences of my response.

I could list all of the examples but the list would be far too long– instead I’ll just list a few of the bigger blunders:

  • Agreeing to sing in a second chorus, then agreeing to sing in a THIRD.  Being bi-choral is one thing; being TRI-choral is insane.
  • Serving on the board of directors for two different groups at the same time.
  • Serving on the marketing committee for two choruses.
  • Putting down a deposit on a vacation I knew I couldn’t afford.

And the list goes on.

Eventually I get so overworked and/or overextended that I just can’t take it anymore, and I have to cut the cord and walk away.  I always try to do it amicably, but I’m always left feeling as if I let people down.  That’s not healthy for me, nor is it for the people I’m leaving behind.

Recently, however, I’ve been getting better at saying no right away.

For instance, this weekend is the time I would normally be making a trip to Madison, WI for the Delta Epsilon Chi/DECA State Conference.   I’ve been involved with this organization since 1989, when someone asked me if I wanted to run for a local chapter office.  This was, of course, another instance where I said yes immediately; but it ended up being one of the more rewarding things I had ever done for myself.  In the years since, I have remained fairly active with the organization, but in recent years my involvement has essentially been to participate as a judge at the State conference and that would be it.

This year, for numerous reasons, I decided it just wasn’t in the cards for me to participate.  I needed to simply take a year off.  I’ll miss not seeing my friends from the area, but there will be other years and other opportunities.

So instead of committing to go, then cutting and running at the last minute; I simply said “no.”

And it felt pretty good.

I also said “no” to attending the GALA Choruses convention in Miami this summer.  In this instance, I did pay for my registration with the full intention of going; but as time went on, I realized I needed to say no again.  My sister had her babies and needs a lot of help.  My mom still wants to have another rummage sale this summer and get rid of more stuff from the house.  And yes, money was another issue, but there were other, more pressing issues ahead of money this time that influenced my decision.  I could have made it work monetarily.  I just felt that this year was not a good year for the trip.  So I said “no” to the opportunity.

I’ve also started paring down other commitments that take up a lot of my time.  Even my blog has been a sort of a “victim” of this new attitude.  I always used to think I HAD to post something every day.  I no longer think that way.  If something comes to me, I’ll write about it.  If I go for a week without posting, so be it.   Why should I beat myself up if I don’t post something?  That turns something that should be fun into a chore, and let’s face it, nobody likes a chore.

But don’t think that I say “no” to everything these days.  Au contraire.  There is plenty that I still say yes to.

I’ll leave that to your imagination.