Entries in My personal history (41)
It is not very often anyone gets to see his own brother burnt in effigy. Yet I was in attendance when a wooden man who's head was wrapped 360 degrees with photographs of my brother's head was placed on a bonfire in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado last weekend. See attached picture for explication.
My uncle saved one important piece of wood from my grandparents’ house after they were gone. He kept one vertical piece of trim from inside of the doorway in one of the upstairs closets. That board is valuable because it is the repository of a lot of family history.
When I traveled to Europe earlier this summer with my brother to watch some World Cup soccer games, we engaged in a couple of knowledge-based contests to pass the time on our long flight to Munich. For instance, we each attempted to independently write down every country in the world, with each continent (more or less) a separate contest. We are both pretty strong on geography, and it turned out we had little problem dredging up the Lesothos and Andorras of the world, though neither of us demonstrated strength in Oceania. And, embarrassingly, I did not think of Azerbaijan. We moved on to other lists, like major little baseball hitters with more than 500 home runs (sorry Eddie Mathews and Eddie Murray, I forgot you). We tackled the elements of the periodic table cooperatively, something which I do think I have contemplated in over twenty years, since high school chemistry.
This morning I have decided to tackle a subject designed to appeal to a wide audience – explicating my personal, rather idiosyncratic, stance on facial hair removal.
I am very sympathetic to vegetarianism, and yet, so far, I remain an omnivore. I have a lot of close experience with vegetarians. When I was a teenager, both my sister and brother became vegetarians. (I did not, and they have both lapsed.) My wife has been a vegetarian since 1989—I met her for the first time in 1992.) And we have raised my daughter as a vegetarian since birth—four years now.
I “slept in” this morning until 6:30am and when I got out of bed, I thought for a minute about how much my relationship with sleep has changed since I was a child or teenager.
Last night I had dinner with my sales team. We went to the Melting Pot in Dupont Circle. It was an enjoyable evening with a significant helping of banter. One subject that came up during our conversation was the difference between types of work. We compared jobs like the framing part of construction, where there is a tangible feeling of progress and creation each day and where you have a visual and tactile relationship with your output, to office work.
I thought I would cheer up my little daughter by frying up some potatoes for breakfast because she was missing her mom who had gone to work early.
I have not cooked up that particular dish in a long time. I thought it was a good idea -- it reminded me of the fun I had with my brother and sister when we were kids -- we would slice, cook and eat potatoes on summer mornings in Vermont. In those days we kids would have boiled them first (which turns out to be unnecessary if you slice thinly), then put them on the griddle with a little oil until they browned on both sides. A little salt and ketchup and -- tasty feast.
So I made a ceremony of it this morning. The sights and sounds were nostalgic to me. My daughter enjoyed watching (she me peel her potato -- I usually leave the skin on) and was enthusiastic about eating. But then she decided she likes ketchup, but not necessarily potato. She did not seem to have the same history with the dish as I did. I don't think she'll be clamoring for it again.
I felt a little deflated, but I ate up the rest myself. Maybe when she's a little older.
I recently received through the mail some memorabilia that had been languishing in a box under a workbench in the unfinished back room of my parent’s basement. One small item I noticed was a project that I had undertaken at Jarrow, the Montessori pre-school I attended when I was four to six.
I am looking at a 3x5” black and white photograph from about 1976 of five kids engaged in a tug of war. All five children are exerting themsleves, leaning backwards, pulling enthusiastically on a rope. There seems to be a hint of hilarity as well as effort in all of the faces. The scene is from the lawn in front of our old farmhouse in Bradford, Vermont. It is summer. In the near background is a tree with a sign that reads “South Road Pottery. Open.” In the far distance there is a spectacular elm tree. Behind the action, an unpaved driveway winds off into the distance and meets with a road.
I turned forty years old yesterday. It is my personal record for longevity. As I reflect on this milestone, this unavoidable step into a new decade, I find that I feel surprisingly peaceful about it.
In 1975-6, instead of attending my familiar neighborhood school—Flatirons Elementary in Boulder, Colorado—I spent what would have been fourth grade at the St. Stephens School in Canterbury, England. I did not have much choice in the matter: my dad had exchanged his teaching job for one at the University of Kent for a year. It was quite different for me: kids in that new school officially wore green uniforms; Monday assemblies included the Lord’s Prayer; there was a lot more boiled cabbage and hot pudding in the dining hall; and the other students kept asking me if I really was a “Yankee.” It took me quite awhile to adapt to a foreign country, a different school and new classmates, unfamiliar sports and words and customs.
According to MapQuest, it is one thousand nine hundred eighty six and a half miles from my parents’ home in Boulder, Colorado to the farm in Bradford, Vermont where we spent our summers when I was a kid. According to that web site, it should take about thirty-one hours to drive the distance. We made the four-day trip to Vermont at the beginning of every summer vacation and returned each fall. The trek, in most cases with all five of us in the car, was a part of the rhythm of my childhood, just as much as the start of new school semesters or the changing of the seasons.
When my daughter was a baby, I decided that I would build her a desk for the day she would be big enough to use one. It seemed hard to imagine at the time that she would someday be able to sit on a chair and draw or write. But yesterday, just shortly after her third birthday, I finished her desk, a simple affair, and took great pleasure at seeing her sit at it and draw in her coloring book. (She sat on a little Ikea chair that took a relatively tiny amount of time to assemble.)
In the summer of 1984 I worked at Computerland of North Denver. A father of a good friend owned the store and was kind enough to give me the job. I remember that I made $5.50 per hour. I commuted from Boulder to Westminster, transferring buses once. I had a tiny purple portable radio and earphones that helped make the bus ride more pleasant. I learned a little bit about retail computer sales—profit margins, quality control, inventory, and so on.
As a kid I was a reader (and re-reader) of Greek and Roman mythology (and to a lesser degree of Norse, Christian, Egyptian, and Native American myths). One day when I was a ten-year-old (in school in Canterbury, England for a year while my Dad taught at the University of Kent), we were given a class assignment to locate the answers to fifty wide-ranging questions like “What is the term that describes the type of trees that drop their leaves? It was basically and open-book test to help us learn research skills. So I discovered the word “deciduous.”
For a few seasons quite some years ago I coached a coed soccer team of ten to twelve year olds in the Washington, DC league called “Soccer on the Hill.” It was quite a fun experience, but it was also a lot of work. The kids varied in every way that I could imagine—race, gender, economic background, size, skill, work ethic, and coachability. There were children of Senators and bus drivers, competitive players and others who were easily distracted by butterflies.
In basketball, relative to other players my age, I peaked in sixth grade. I played in the “after school basketball” league at Flatirons Elementary School. We played on nine-foot rims on a shorter than regulation school gym court. I was something of a star, averaging about seventeen points per game (according to my possibly untrustworthy memory) while playing three of four six minute quarters. For years I held the season free throw percentage record that was posted on a wall at the school. I remember from introductions that I was 4’11 1/2 inches tall. (The tallest players, the centers, were in the 5’3” to 5’5” range). I played point guard.
All of life’s big decisions have a quality to them that makes them hard to judge in retrospect. Whatever direction you turn at a particular moment utterly affects the rest of your life, but you will never be able to compare that path with any other. Or, for a better way of putting it, see Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken. Only in the movies (or other fiction) can you explore multiple futures. I have been thinking this morning about the spring of 1984 when I was a senior at Boulder High School deciding what college to attend. It was one of those moments that make all the difference in your life.
Some couples say that they found love at first sight, describe each other as “soul mates,” tell and re-tell their engagement story, or see their relationship as a fairy tale. Today is my wife’s birthday, so I thought I would honor the day by telling the story of how we met. (I have been striving for years to build a romantic mythology around this event, but I have not received as much cooperation as I would like.)
I grew up in a family that valued money management. That background has served me well in running my business. My parents, both teachers, conserved money by turning down the heat at night, shutting off lights when they were not in use, cooking our meals rather than going to restaurants, packing lunches to take with them to their work, cutting our hair rather than paying a stylist, cleaning their own house rather than hiring help, sharing one car, and shunning conspicuous consumer goods.
One of the many ways that I asserted my difference with other teenagers was to avoid the rush to learn how to drive a car. Instead, I bicycled, got rides to soccer games, and found other ways to get around. In fact, I did not get a driver’s license until I was twenty-five.
When I was a kid, I read and reread the adventures of Robin Hood and his merry men. I knew every detail about quarterstaffs and longbows and Will Stutely, Will Scarlet, Little John, and Guy of Gisbourne. In third grade, I wore a green shirt and green pants to school day after day because I knew that Robin Hood and his merry men preferred “Lincoln green.” I read different retellings of the stories and came to strong opinions about which were the correct versions.
I just returned from a NGP happy hour at Chadwick’s in Friendship Heights (it is April 7th, 2005 , my half birthday, but no one noticed). I felt proud as I looked across a series of tables packed with attractive and energetic employees who were clearly enjoying each others’ friendship. I thought back to the month when I first incorporated the business and how little I foresaw—or aimed intentionally for—in what has transpired.
In the spring of 1984, when I was a senior at Boulder High School, I interned for a short while at the Westminster, Colorado district office of then-Congressman Timothy E. Wirth. I still have a letter from July 2nd of that year—on Congress of the United States stationery (recycled paper, no less)—thanking me for “being so much help to Jickie and my staff.”
Doing new things, particularly activities or undertakings that you have avoided for psychological reasons, takes courage. What is interesting to me is how many obstacles seem large and imposing when they are in front of you but turn out to have been quite modest in size and surprisingly easy to surmount after you have passed them by.
As a junior in high school I attended Colorado Boys’ State, a weeklong citizenship program run by the American Legion. The Legion selects hundreds of boys from across the state and brings them together to build a mock government complete with elections for various offices. The idea is to instruct the participants about the structure of government and the glory of American democracy.
I spent two high school summers, 1982 and 1983, as a computer programming aide/instructor and camp counselor at the Rocky Mountain Computer Camps in Wild Basin, Colorado. I had always spent summers with my family in Vermont and I missed that, but instead I got paid to have fun, hike, teach, and hang out with a bunch of kids and other counselors and teachers in a beautiful national park setting. It was an extraordinarily gentle transition toward working life and a great experience
I own two pieces of “found metal” sculpture by the same artist, Bill Heise. He made both objects from a variety of rusted metal parts. One is a more than seven-foot-tall iron man who bears a sword and shield and is called Don Quixote. He stands in the corner of our dining room. The other is an ingeniously caped and spikily winged spirit figure, also iron. As a result of overzealous baby-proofing, that one sits outside my office at work.