Guitar Man

Our oldest son has been interested in learning to play guitar for quite some time.  We recently bought him a “starter” guitar and he couldn’t be more excited about it!  What makes it even better is his Dad knows how to play and he’s almost as excited to learn from me as he is to learn how to play the instrument.

I’ve played acoustic guitar since I was a wee lad of 13 or so.  I learned on my Mom’s guitar (couldn’t even begin to tell you the brand name, but it was a small one and served its purpose well).  She didn’t get it out much, but when she did, she’d sing John Denver songs or children’s songs that my brother and I would sing along with.

There were some college students at the church we attended who played acoustic guitar.  Well they put their heads together and decided to offer free lessons to anyone who wanted to learn.  There were probably around 12-14 other kids in there with me and 5 or 6 college students teaching us and we had a blast!  They taught us basics and then went into chord playing where we formed certain chords with one hand (which is placing certain fingers at certain places on the fretboard to produce certain tones from the strings) and strummed the strings with the other.  Once we got that down, we learned all kinds of praise songs and choruses together and eventually played for the Sunday morning youth services at our church.  I’m telling you, some of those songs sounded amazing with nothing but a piano and eight to ten guitars strumming along!  One of the college students went over to Japan for a few months and came back with a 12-string guitar that he bought over there for $80.  What was so amazing about that was back then, at least, that same guitar would sell over here in the U.S. for around $1000.  I’d say that was a good buy.

We would typically have the first part of our time together be practice and the last part be devotions of some sort (usually a few minutes learning something out of the Bible and then spending the rest of our time talking about it).  One night during this devotion time, one of the college students was reading a passage from the Old Testament and came across the word “circumcision”.  Then–still not sure why he did this–he asked us all if we knew what that was.  Well, that opened a can of worms!  It didn’t matter who did and who didn’t; between laughter and guffaws, we all agreed that he should expound on the subject at hand.  He pointedly refused and, with a very red face, told us to ask our parents about it (which, I’m sure, resulted in some very interesting conversations occurring in multiple households with some parents wondering afterwards what kind of Bible studying was being done in this “free” guitar class).

Interesting the memories that stick with you.

The Breakdancer

Let’s talk some more about this.

I realize that Breakdancing has morphed into something truly spectacular with today’s dancers.  All we need to do to see that is watch the last few seasons of America’s Got Talent.  I say that it has morphed because, as amazing as it is to watch today, there’s something about it that’s different.  And then I find myself thinking back to what it was like when it really came on the scene in the early- to mid-80’s…..

I mentioned when we last caught up with each other that I was the Breakdance King of Bath Middle School.  That was 1984 in eighth grade. For me, it started a couple of years prior to that when we were up in northern Michigan at the family cabin on Paradise Lake.  We had made a trip to Cheboygan or Petoskey and on that trip I found a big instructional picture book on how to breakdance.  I absorbed that book for the next year, practicing behind closed doors and then making my talent known to my family as I got better.  (Although Mom wouldn’t let me practice any “helicopters” on the living room floor.  Of course, I really didn’t mind that, since I had no desire to get rug burns or smash into Dad’s stereo equipment.)

So I learned from a book!  Says a lot in today’s world of YouTube videos and such.  Some moves I never did–like The Helicopter–but most of them I mastered as best I could:  The Wave, The Centipede, The Crab and everything else the book had.  But oh, the music!  Remember the music?  There were a couple of songs that were just the best to breakdance to.  I have them both on my music list (for nostalgia’s sake, of course.  No other reason….)  The first one was “Jam On It” by Newcleus.  A good one, but not near as good as “Freakazoid” by Midnight Star!  What a beat this song has at the beginning!  Definitely the best by far.  In case you don’t remember it or haven’t heard it in years, here is the first 50 seconds of the song (you’ll see what I mean!):

Breakdancing came to an end for me when I entered high school as a Freshman in the Fall of ’85.  The high school had its own version of Friday night Fun Nights, but by then breakdancing’s popularity was beginning to wane.  That wouldn’t have stopped me–because breakdancing to me was a lot of fun–but the style of breakdancing the high schoolers used was aggressive and very suggestive.  It only took one visit to a high school Fun Night for me to know that this was no longer something I was going to be doing.  I could see egos on that dance floor, making it more about competition than having fun.  So when one of them repulsively taunted me to come out on the floor, I stood there with my arms crossed and refused to lower myself to that kind of breakdancing.  I figured everyone would think I was scared to dance in high school, but I didn’t care.  I knew the real reason…..

Well obviously that was years ago.  Many years ago.  But  four or five years back, my co-workers where I worked at the time got wind of my middle school fame (my telling them about it may have had something to do with it, but all that really did is just cement my fame in their eyes).  They bugged me and bugged me to dance for them.  I told them I might eventually possibly get around to doing something for them, but “we’ll see”.  I worked with quite a few other people in a fairly open room that was inside a big garage for trucks.  It was towards the end of a work day and we had a “lull in the action”, so-to-speak.  So I grabbed my phone, started the “Freakazoid” song and started playing it over the intercom.  I have to admit, it was cool!  I could hear it echoing in the garage:  “Freakazoids, robots, please report.  Freakazoids, robots, please report to the daaance flooooorrrr….” and then the drum beat and keys started:  “Bear/chick/bear-bear/chick/bear-bear-bear-bear/chick/bear….”

They came running!  And I could hear them hollering, “He’s dancing for us!  He’s gonna do it!  Hurry up!….”  And they gathered around in that inner sanctum and watched a 40-year old do something he hadn’t done since he was 14.  At one point, while doing The Centipede, I just about knocked the air out of me.  Maybe almost pulled a muscle or two.  It was all a big blur with the adrenaline coursing through my veins and all.  I was definitely rusty.  But the joints still worked sufficiently enough to warrant an autograph and a couple of pictures.  Actually, it got me on YouTube for a short while, but I never saw it (no, you can’t either.  I already looked for it.)

So my “Breakdance King of Bath Middle School” days will now live on in infamy–at least in the minds of a privileged handful of co-workers who witnessed something that will probably never happen again.

First Day of School

Remember when?

There really was something exhilarating about getting all that new stuff for the first day back to school.  And then, an hour into it, you were ready for it all to be over.  But you still got to see friends that you hadn’t seen all summer (and maybe even a chance to see that playground bully again–yup, really missed him).

Of course, the older I got, the more interested I became in how much the girls had changed over the summer.  Whether you’re a man or a woman, you know the reaction I’m talking about:  “Whoa!  Who’s the new girl??  No way!!  You’re serious?  That’s Jessie Nimrod??  That’s the girl who had braces on her teeth and was shaped like a stick at the end of the school year last year?  You sure that’s not a new girl in our school?”  And all the boys would be huddled in groups of two or three debating and arguing over who was going be the first one to ask her to dance at the Friday night Fun Night (and trying to act like it’s no big deal when they know good and well that their insides are liquified at the thought of asking her).

Remember those Friday night Fun Nights?  Dancing and games and junk food.  How about this:  remember when Break Dancing was king in the mid-80’s?  Well, you might not be able to tell now, but back then, I was the “Break Dance King” of Bath Middle School.  If I had a picture of what I looked like back then, I’d show it to you.  Since I don’t, though, let’s see what I can do to give you a decent mental picture:  black parachute pants with a black-and-white-checkered bandana tied around my right thigh; pink high-tops (remember the pastel colors of the 80’s?); a long-sleeved blue shirt under a white muscle-shirt (the very popular “layered” look for break dancers); and plenty of cologne on for when I might be asking a girl to dance.

Never quite got the hang of that last part.  Really, though, I think every boy probably felt that way if he’s honest with himself.  That walk across the dance floor to the other side where the girls are all huddled around each other is the longest walk in a young man’s life.  I swaggered or moon-walked across the dance floor (don’t remember which) and as I would get closer, they would start “talking”.  Ladies, do you realize what that does to us guys?  Reindeer games, that’s what that is.  As soon as we see that, it’s “game on” in our heads.  What are they talking about?  Do I have toilet paper sticking out of my pants?  Is it stuck to my shoes?  Why are they laughing?  They keep looking at me.  Can they see a booger from there?  Is something so big in my teeth that they can see it from there?  Can they smell my breath from there?  Is someone making bunny ears behind me?  It’s sure hot in here!  It feels like everyone’s staring at me.  Wait a second!  Did the D.J. make an announcement that I was coming over?  Who keeps turning up the heat?  She keeps looking at me!  What’s she gonna say?  What if it’s “No”?   What if she laughs at me?  Why do I feel like Charlie Brown?  Wait a minute!  She’s got red hair too!!  What am I thinking?!  She’ll never say yes!

I don’t think I ever got a “No”.  Not because I was a stud (although my wife thinks differently about that); I think it’s just because I was one of those “nice guys” that girls couldn’t help but give a courtesy dance to.  I’m sure you remember those “courtesy” dances.  It’s when you can tell the other party doesn’t really want to be there, but nonetheless, you can at least say that you got to dance!  Don’t get me wrong….I didn’t do a whole lot of asking to begin with and most of the dances that I remember were “legitimate”, so-to-speak.

It’s interesting what memories stick with you over the years.  And for this visit, it’s all thanks to our kids going back to school!

More Camping Memories

My wife and I both grew up with our individual families going camping in pop-up campers.  So, it would naturally be inevitable that my wife and I would own a pop-up of our own.  But it didn’t start out that way…

Like most campers, we’ve done most of our camping on or around holidays.  We started with a five-man tent about four years ago and camped with some friends of ours who have a full-sized camper.  That’s where the camping bug first hit us.  That winter we discussed what we wanted to be–tent campers or pop-up campers–and decided we would commit to the work needed for being full-fledged tent campers.  We had a great set-up, too!  The family tent we bought consisted of three 8×8 rooms and an outdoor 8×8 canopy (so it looked like a big square of four equally-sized spaces).  The center room (which was ours) even had an opening in it for an air conditioner (which, of course, we also had)!  We then had our 5-man tent as the “kitchen” and a gazebo tent for the picnic table.

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But the first time that we set all of this up was  a very hot-and-humid Memorial Day weekend camping trip.  That was the first and only time that we camped as “tent campers”.  With the notion that camping is supposed to be relaxing, we set in on that trip with a whole lot of work getting everything set up.  Then we turned around a day-and-a-half later and did all that work again tearing it all down and packing it.  I was wasted.  And definitely not relaxed.

Lesson learned.

Then my wife found a great deal on a high-wall pop-up camper.  It’s beautiful!  And it’s got everything:  gas stove, microwave, toilet/shower, and a refrigerator (all things my wife realized she wanted after the tent-camping incident).  We had to replace our awning a couple of years ago and decided to go with a “Dome awning”.  So now, this what we camp with when we’re camping with friends and family:


It’s also never boring when we camp with these people.  Far from it.  In fact, one of our buddies decided to surprise us last year and dress like Cousin Eddie from the “Vacation” movies (he’s holding a beer, but it is of the “root” variety):


So far, though, I would have to say that my fondest memory of camping with our friends took place last year.  We typically camp with three other families.  One of the wives from one of those families had a rather interesting experience when she went to take a shower at the campground.  (For the sake of everyone involved and to protect the identity of innocent parties, we’ll just call her “Patty”.)

It was around 7:30 in the morning and Patty decided she was going to the shower.  As she approached the building, she couldn’t remember which side of the building the showers were on.  But since she noticed men were going to and from the right side of the building, she headed to the left side, saw a door marked “Showers” and walked right in.    She thought it odd that the undressing/dressing area would be completely open like it was with the showers being off to the side in separate stalls, but didn’t think much of it.  She was the only one in the whole shower room, so she took advantage of it by taking her time undressing, showering, toweling off and getting fresh clothes on for the day.

As she started heading for the door, a man walked in, saw her and they both stopped in their tracks.  She gave him a compassionate, knowing laugh and said, “I think you walked into the wrong shower.”  He, still looking at her like a deer in the headlights, said, “No, I think you walked into the wrong shower.”  She, now feeling a little perturbed at him, said, “Nooo, I think you walked into the wrong shower.”  He then said, as he backed up and checked the shower sign, “Nooo, you definitely walked into the wrong shower.”  And she said, “Nooooo!” in complete shock, embarrassment and  amazement as she walked to the door–a door that clearly said “MEN” under the word “SHOWERS”.  She took all that time to do all that she did in there without one man entering that shower room!

God is merciful…