Life’s been good (to me so far)…

Every now and then you find yourself sitting inexplicably in a mile long line of traffic on your way home from the office. As you’re sitting there building up a good head of steam wondering what slack jawed yokel is standing between you and the sweet, nurturing balm of home, you sometimes get a gift. I know this because I got one of these gifts this afternoon. It was a gift in the form of my phone serving up a song I probably haven’t heard for more than a decade; one that I first heard when it was already playing on “classic rock” stations; one that takes me right back.

Instead of sweating my ass off in a Jeep with the windows open hoping to catch a breeze, I was behind the wheel of a ’91 Chevy Cavalier, its paint peeling, and seat frames welded something close to upright. I was beating the hell out of that old car on 4×4 trails, and running it flat out across railroad crossings to see if we could get all four tires off the ground, and planting it high center on a snow bank when I though I could pass a coal truck on snow covered roads. I was riding shotgun in an ’81 Camaro – you know, the kind with the side pipes and blue light in the dash.

For those almost nine minutes, Joe Walsh blazed forth one of the definitive songs of my youth misspent in pool halls and arcades and at backyard bonfires and some of the tamest house parties you could possibly imagine. For a couple of minutes rolling at dead slow along Route 40 in Havre de Grace this afternoon, we got the whole band back together and we were young and brilliant and brave and foolish again with a whole wide world stretching out ahead. Those were some times, man.

The universe couldn’t have picked a better time for a reminder that it really has been good (so far).

Towards the sound of the gun…

My first professional job after college was as a history teacher at Great Mills High School. I spent two and a half years walking those halls. A decade and a half has passed since I last set foot in the building, though I have kept in touch with a few of my former colleagues and more than a few of the students who I know count as friends.

It’s a hard day for Great Mills and those students, teachers, and staff past and present. It’s a hard day for the community. It’s a hard day.

Even in the midst of a hard day, though, the story of Deputy Blaine Gaskill, the school’s resource officer, has come to the fore. His is the story of heroism that came unbidden and unwanted. You see, he was the man charged with standing between his community and danger. When faced with uncertainty and chaos, Deputy Gaskill ran towards the sound of the gun. He ran towards the danger, engaged it, and ended it.

Blaine Gaskill is a hero. His actions reflect great credit upon him, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Department, and the good people of St. Mary’s County.

It’s the kind of debt that can never be repaid. I don’t know if the teachers and staff at Great Mills still gather at the Brass Rail or maybe the Green Door from time to time, but if they do, there’s a man who should never buy his own beer again. That might at least be the very beginning of a start on a downpayment.

Prune juice…

While I’ve been fiddling around on the internet this week I’ve gotten a steady stream of reminders that friends from high school are becoming parents of high school graduates themselves. I’ll just sit here for a minute and let that sink in. Their kids are finishing something I feel like we just finished ourselves a few years ago… Except of course we didn’t. As I was reminded when I saw someone mention the impending arrival of our 20th high school reunion next summer. How exactly that happened, I have no idea. It’s like I turned around to get something on the other side of the room and 19 years snuck away while I wasn’t paying attention.

I won’t get into the realization that these days 50 is way closer than 15. Aside from the occasional ache and pain (and other assorted indignities), I don’t feel like that could possibly be true. It is, though. Don’t bother to consult a calendar. Trust me. It’ll be unnerving if you do the math.

So if you’ll excuse me I’ll shuffle off to the kitchen now to enjoy a refreshing glass of prune juice and see if my dentures need scrubbed.

Passing…

Sometimes news hits you so hard in the head with a 2×4 that you don’t have any option but to just sit there and be stunned. Unfortunately you stay stunned only long enough for a deep, quiet sadness to rush in and fill the gap.

We kids of the 70s aren’t kids any more. We’re subject to the same laws of nature and time as all those who came before, but I never once imagined we could die. The reality, of course, is something completely different and made all the more appalling from its arrival on a crisp, clear, beautiful Saturday morning. Out of the clear blue, indeed.

Godspeed, Drew. The world is all the more dim for your passing.

Absolutely inconceivable…

inconceivableSure, I’ve been a curmudgeon for as long as I can remember, but the flood of pictures this weekend of many, many of my friend’s kids heading off to homecoming left me feeling a bit like I’d stepped through the looking glass. I mean weren’t we the ones going to those dances just a year or two ago? It’s inconceivable that anyone I grew up with could be old enough to comment about their offspring’s high school milestones.

Despite my 9PM bed time, constant state of near exhaustion, and the nagging aches and pains that seem to accompany me everywhere now, I don’t feel like all that much time has passed. I don’t feel that far separated from our younger selves. Maybe I’m better informed, a little more cynical, and a lot more medicated, but I still feel a strong connection to that dopy, awkward version of me.

Seeing so many of the next generation on the cusp of adulthood themselves is absolutely inconceivable. So if anyone needs me, I’ll be busy rejecting reality… and possibly checking to see if we can get a group discount if we all order our Life Alert systems at the same time.

Garden of Allah…

Don Henley released the song In the Garden of Allah in 1995. That would have made me a high school junior or senior depending on the date. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it before. I’m willing to bet that most people haven’t. I spent a lot of time driving around – because that’s what you do when you grow up in the sticks – and there was almost always music on the radio. It was a catchy tune back then and mostly I forgot about it until about two years ago when it started popping up when I told iTunes to shuffle. I must have been listening to a lot of Eagles tunes then, because it kept coming around. It’s one of the very few seven minute songs I don’t get bored with halfway through. After a few times through, it really got stuck in my head… and that’s about the time I started writing.

It wasn’t anything coherent at first. Maybe a few scribbled notes, a sentence here or there, but nothing with substance. Then a funny thing happened. It evolved and coalesced into the nucleus of an idea. I started off with the idea of writing something political and ended up with something clearly more religious. Blatantly so as it turns out.

So there’s the inspiration behind the short story I’m heroically trying to edit. It’s all there on paper now not because I wanted to explore than nature of good and evil, but because a really liked a quirky Don Henley song back in high school. Clearly the muse works in strange ways.

The big game…

This past weekend was Homecoming weekend in the little part of the world where I grew up. For anyone who grew up within earshot of Cumberland, Maryland the cross-town rivalry between the city’s two high schools is the stuff of local legend. Without rhapsodizing it, the homecoming game is a big hairy deal.

I don’t hail from the mighty city of Cumberland, of course, so I’ve always watched their version of homecoming with something of a bemused look on my face. You know, in the way that people watch others who are taking something just a little too seriously. But it seems to make them happy, so no harm, no foul.

I’m not going to lie, the idea of homecoming being a big deal is a concept that eludes me. I graduated from high school in 1996, went to college, and promptly moved away. Not long after that, my alma mater, along with a few other schools, went defunct. They ceased to be. They are no more. It became a dead parrot. In its place they opened a shiny new school that presumably is better equipped to meet student needs. I say God bless. Seventeen years after graduation, it’s not exactly like I spend a lot of time pining away for my junior year locker. In fact, writing this post has accounted for more time pondering high school than I’ve spent in total since I walked across the stage to get my diploma.

I have great memories of high school. My closest friends today are the guys who were my closest friends then. I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of thing that only really happens in a small town. Maybe it’s because I moved away, but I don’t lose any sleep about what’s happening at or happened to the school I graduated from the better part of two decades ago.

Maybe homecoming is an anachronism – a throwback to a time when you graduated, stayed put, and the social life of your town revolved largely around the comings and goings of the local school. Maybe it’s different if you have kids and it does provide some kind of continuity from generation to generation. Maybe it’s different if your school is something that exists as more than an ever fading memory. That’s a lot of maybes involved in a concept I clearly don’t grasp.

I guess I’ve just never felt the need for a special weekend designated for homecoming. Whenever I’ve felt the compulsion to stroll down memory lane or stir up the ghosts of the past, I just go do it on my own accord. No parade or big game needed. Then again, crowds always make me nervous so it could just be my inner hermit talking out loud.