According to the puck some nice boy gave Beth last Friday, this is the tenth season for the FHL.* Like any young league, it has had its ups and downs getting established, but it seems to be moving in the right direction now. The league is up to ten teams now, most of which have a few seasons under their belt. Danville is the most established team at this point, having joined way back in 2011, though there have been teams in the Watertown and Danbury areas on and off since the league's founding in 2010. So, now, a decade later, let's take a look at where the teams are playing and how they are drawing.
*Well, apparently the "Federal Prospect Hockey League" or FPHL now, but I think that name is stupid clunky and I'm refusing to use it anywhere else here.
I have taken screenshots of all the arenas in the league using Google Maps, both overhead and at street level. Of course, some pictures are better than others. Delaware especially just did not have a good street level picture. I did my best, I promise. The overhead views are more to get an idea of how the arenas are situated in their respective cities. I have also included links to each teams most recent home game as I could find on YouTube which will give a good idea of what the inside of each arena looks like. Of course, this gives an idea of the ice and seating areas. It is doubtful these broadcasts are going to give any sort of sense of the concourses and amenities of each arena, but I still think this will give a good sense of the state of the league after its first ten years.
If you are just now learning about the league and are curious about your local team, the league does provide a full team directory, and here is a graphical footprint for the league if you want to get an idea of how far these buses are traveling between games.
Current Record: 1-27-0-0 (3 pts.)
Arena: The Rink at Battle Creek
Average Attendance: 355
Total Attendance: 3545
Population: 51,247 (2018 estimate)
Current Record: 21-3-1-1 (66 pts.)
Championships: 1 (2019)
Arena: Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex
Average Attendance: 2897
Total Attendance: 23,173
Population: 255,969 (2019 estimate)
Current Record: 8-15-3-1 (31 pts.)
Arena: Columbus Civic Center
Average Attendance: 2708
Total Attendance: 18,954
Population: 194,160 (2019 estimate)
Founded: 2019 (Previously Danbury Whalers [2010-2015], Danbury Titans [2015-2017])
Current Record: 18-6-1-2 (58 pts.)
Championships: 1 (2013, as Whalers)
Arena: Danbury Ice Arena
Average Attendance: 1063
Total Attendance: 8504
Population: 84,730 (2018 estimate)
Current Record: 15-10-1-2 (49 pts.)
Arena: David S. Palmer Arena
Average Attendance: 948
Total Attendance: 7587
Population: 30,898 (2018 estimate)
Current record: 8-17 (24 pts.)
Arena: Centre Ice Arena
Average Attendance: 555
Total Attendance: 3886
Population: 3643 (2018 estimate)
Current Record: 11-12-2-2 (39 pts.)
Arena: First Arena
Average Attendance: 3110
Total Attendance: 27,991
Population: 27,204 (2018 estimate)
Current Record: 13-13-0-2 (41 pts.)
Arena: Mentor Civic Arena
Average Attendance: 500
Total Attendance: 2498
Population: 47,273 (2018 estimate)
Current Record: 13-9-0-2 (45 pts.)
Championships: 1 (2016)
Arena: McMorran Arena
Average Attendance: 1165
Total Attendance: 5827
Population: 28,927 (2018 estimate)
Note: I could not find a current broadcast for the Prowlers for whatever reason, so this still image of the arena is the best I can offer.
Current Record: 14-10-1-2 (46 pts.)
Championships: 2 (2015, 2018)
Arena: Watertown Municipal Arena
Average Attendance: 916
Total Attendance: 7328
Population: 25,290 (2018 estimate)
Some final thoughts after that info dump. When the FHL first came to Danville, I was very hopeful but guarded at first. Danville had tried so hard to find a good replacement since losing the Wings to Indianapolis. The Wings were great hockey, and I remember them drawing very well. I actually remember them drawing better than the current Dashers, but some research has shown that actually isn't true. The Dashers are drawing at the exact same level as the Wings ever did. In any case, I'm sure I've written about it before, and one day I'll probably write a book about this. After the Wings left, there was a couple year gap until the Pounders came in 2006. That was just, to be blunt, such awful hockey. Games were routinely played in the 20's, which coincidentally was probably also about what the average attendance was for those games in Danville. After that league moved on, Danville had another junior team, the Inferno. That was pretty decent hockey that drew well again, but again the team moved to Indianapolis after a few seasons and then almost immediately folded. The Dashers picked up right where the Inferno left off and never looked back.
The FHL provides a really solid level of play for a great price. I guess I haven't checked other teams prices, but Danville charges $11 for an adult ticket. It's hard to beat that for a professional ticket. I also barely spent more than that on concessions to feed myself and Beth last weekend. The play is great, the atmosphere is good, and it would only be better if the arenas were more full.
That's where I'm left scratching my head a little bit. I don't understand why this league isn't drawing better than it is. I don't know what kind of advertising is happening in each of these cities, but I'm assuming they are doing what they can to get the word out. And maybe this sort of attendance is just what you would expect for low-level professional leagues. Not everyone is naturally drawn to this level as I am, I suppose. But, let's go back through these numbers. By percentage, here are the most full arenas:
Carolina: 2897/3050 - 95%
Elmira: 3110/3784 - 82.2%
Delaware: 555/700 - 79.3%
Watertown: 916/2000 - 45.8%
Danville: 948/2350 - 40.3%
Columbus: 2708/7259 - 37.3%
Danbury: 1063/3050 - 34.9%
Port Huron: 1165/3568 - 32.7%
Mentor: 500/1600 - 31.2%
Battle Creek: 355/1600 - 22.2%
Only three teams are more than half filling their arenas, and one of those is only a 700-seat arena. If you'd like, though, just swap Delaware for Columbus, as Columbus is drawing the third-most fans per game, but are playing in a building that is clearly pretty outsized for this league. These numbers just seem too low for the level of play demonstrated by the FHL. I really hope more people start tuning in, so to speak, now that games are available for free on YouTube as well. I'm hopeful that will allow people to be more plugged into these teams for the full year, not just the games happening at home. And more people plugged in hopefully generates more word of mouth buzz, which generates more interest, and the thing keeps growing. That's obviously what the FHL is banking on, too.
The people are there. To use Danville as an example, as of the last census, there are a little over 33,000 people in Danville alone. That's not even counting some pretty immediate suburbs (in no particular order) like Covington (2645), Georgetown (3474), Westville (3202), and Oakwood (1502). Add those four together, we'll call the Danville metro area something like 44,000 people. That's not even counting some bigger cities a bit further away that might draw some fans, like Lafayette (in my case) and Champaign, to name two cities with Big Ten universities without varsity hockey. Crawfordsville (15,915) is another potential draw, only being about a half hour's drive away, also with a potential audience of college kids. Out of all those people, it really seems like squeezing out another thousand people shouldn't be that big of an ask. Routinely drawing 2000 people to a 2350 seat arena would be a much different and more exciting feel than just under a thousand.* And it definitely ought to be in reach for an area that size.
*If you were curious, that would be 85.1% capacity crowd.
Like I said, I can't blame the players. They're bringing the product. I haven't put in the research for these other markets, but I would imagine they are all in a bit similar situations. Lots of untapped potential. I hope the FHL has some smarter people than me on how to get these people into the arenas, because the players deserve it.
Editor's note: I've thought a lot about this article since I wrote it. I decided against writing an entirely new post, so this one was updated on 1/16/20 to include the city population, to give an idea of the various market sizes of the league. I also updated the records of the teams at that point as well, because why not? I did not change the attendance numbers, because I used them later in the article and I didn't want to rewrite that portion.
I'm supposed to be putting together my final paper/project for this Assessment class, but I've found myself here instead. I suppose life would get pretty boring if we all just did what we're supposed to do. Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans, right?
This is something I've thought about for, well, probably all my life, really. Well before I knew the words for such things. But I think that's true for all of us. It's natural for us all to figure out what it means to be a boy or a girl, both on the larger scale and to us personally. And I think there is always a bit of fluidity in our notions about this, about the different personas and phases we try on as we try to figure out what fits on us and just what the hell we're supposed to do on this Earth anyway.
I've been thinking about this in particular again, though, since I would say Andrew Luck retired. There was a lot of talk about why he decided to walk away from football, if he should have walked away, if players of earlier generations could have ever done the same thing or what would have happened if anybody had. It got me thinking if I could have done the same thing if I had been in his shoes. I think there are points in my life* where I would not have understood why. You just don't walk away from that kind of money, and (maybe more importantly) you don't walk away from a team and a city like that.
*Which, if it means anything, Andrew Luck is three years younger than me.
Now that I'm a bit older and (hopefully) wiser, I get it. There are things worth throwing away your body and your sanity for, but a job just isn't one of them. Even if your job is being an NFL quarterback. He's done quite well for himself. I trust he will be sensible with his money. And he felt he had other things he could and should be doing.
And that loops back around to today, what finally motivated me to write this out. Before I sat down to start writing school stuff, I opened YouTube to kick off some music. But, instead of that, YouTube offered up a bit about Mr. Rogers. I don't really know why. Beth has recently gotten into watching Mr. Rogers on the PBS Kids app, maybe she's watched some clips on YouTube as well. In any case, I couldn't resist it. I watched it, and found myself just inexplicably crying almost immediately.
I don't know what that reaction is. I had similar reactions to watching Won't You Be My Neighbor?, which I would highly recommend by the way. There is just something about watching a man who just seems to have an infinite well of caring and compassion for everybody. And somebody who used that caring to talk to children, to help them understand the world around them armed with nothing more a soothing voice, some puppets, and honesty. He wouldn't put it this way, but I do admire his commitment to talk to children on their level and do so without any bullshit. It gets pointed to a lot, but for good reason. The episode done in the wake Robert Kennedy's assassination is just brilliant. It might have been more geared to adults than the usual program, but the reason it works is just the same as any other episode.
So, this all touches a nerve with me now, but I'll admit that I didn't always get it. I obviously understood that Mr. Rogers was a grown man, but I don't think I would have told you, even in my high school or college years, that he was a man I would have liked to grow up to be. He was too soft, he wasn't active, he was dorky and too straight-laced. I had a picture of masculinity that was maybe more traditional. You were more manly if you could be bigger or stronger or just somehow better and more aggressive. Not being a very big guy myself, that didn't always work out for me very well. But I learned that I was pretty bright, and I could cut pretty deeply with my words when I needed to. That was my edge, so to speak.
Something changed along the way, though. I was getting older, and it didn't feel like a lot of things were going right for me, and I wasn't quite sure how I was going to get going in the right direction. Or even what that direction was. I'll write about that part in more detail some other day. I've got a whole article on failure I've been composing in my head. Anyway, one of the things I noticed about myself is that I had become pretty lonely. I wasn't doing a good job at connecting to the people around me, and the people I did have connections to weren't physically close to me.* And I think these ideas I had come to about what made a man had an awful lot to do with it.
*Obviously that doesn't include Kristine. I was at least smart enough to hang on to her and marry her. And thank God for that.
I don't think I'm some special case when it comes to this, either. I think I had a pretty similar view as to what makes a man as an awful lot of men, especially in this area of the country. But I came to learn about myself that, not only was I not doing a very good job at living up to this idea, but it was actively harming me. It was about this time that two things happened pretty close together. For one, I become aware of "toxic masculinity." Secondly, Brad Montague started becoming more involved with the Fred Rogers Center.
The first thing gave me a vocabulary to put to the things I was feeling and becoming uncomfortable with being and participating in. The second thing gave me another lens into what I could be as a man and what I could be doing. Now, it may seem like the second thing is awfully random, and you're not exactly wrong. But, there is a history here. Let me take a minute to explain that a bit.
I first heard of Brad through Dr. Demento, which searching the archive must have been 2002. I heard "I Would Still Love You," and I laughed so hard. It stuck with me enough that, a few years later in 2005, I reached out to Brad. My buddy Nelson and I were hosting our morning radio show, and we thought it would be fun to host a concert. We just needed somebody to play. I thought "Well, getting a comedy musician probably isn't that hard." And, by golly, apparently it isn't! Brad readily agreed to it, spent a couple nights in my dorm in Morris Hall. He kicked around the show with us, played a set that morning, played a show that night. Just generally hung out with us for the time in-between. He turned out to be a really cool dude. We became Facebook friends and kinda stayed peripherally in touch through the years.
Then, the Pep Talk happened. It propelled Brad into a totally different atmosphere and opened up so many doors for him. It was weird as hell for me, because I saw it when Brad first posted it. I liked it, it's cute and uplifting. But I didn't give it a ton of thought. But then it started popping up on my Facebook feed, and people would ask me, "Hey, have you seen this?" And I would say, "Yeah, actually. I know that guy!" Huge, viral YouTube videos are not supposed to happen to people you know.
Anyway, Brad was doing the Kid President thing, which led to him publicly espousing his admiration for Fred Rogers and now his expanded work over at Montague Workshop. And then Brad posted the picture you see up there, which also went weirdly viral. And, damn. Did that hit me hard. That might have been life altering.
So, what did I need when I was younger? I think I needed somebody who would have told me that it was okay to be a little sensitive. Because I had been hiding that hard for a long time, to varying degrees of success. That not only is it okay to be creative, but it is good to be creative and to put that out for everybody to see. I did that a lot when I was really young, and I would get good feedback and everybody would dote on it. But, as I got just a little bit older, it somehow became frowned upon in school. By teachers and my peers. So, I kept doing it, but I got a lot more selective about who got to see it and when. Some different encouragement, and some differently placed encouragement, would have gone an awful long way. If somebody would have sat down with me and started shaping whatever native talent was there to begin with would have gone a long way.
Hell, if somebody had just told me, "Hey, your story matters. Your story is important." That would have gone a long way.
I did get that bit in college. I remember a time after picking Nelson up from the airport, we decided to eat at Little Mexico and we ran into Dr. Joy Castro. We said our hellos and chatted for a few minutes, but we didn't linger. Didn't want to pester her too much in her off hours, you know? To our surprise, when we went up to pay, we were told that our bill was taken care of. We both sent an email of thanks, and I remember getting a response back that essentially said it was her pleasure to give a little gift to a pair of budding writers like us. It's a little thing, and I hadn't thought about that episode in years. But getting that response back at that time was such a needed boost.
So, now I am a parent and a full-fledged adult. That's terrifying sometimes. But now I feel like I have my feet under me a bit. I have a better idea of the kind of person I want to be and the kind of person I want to be known as. It's been a culmination of a lot of thought and experimentation and introspection and observing the world and the direction things are going. It might have taken me thirty-three years, but I think I've finally got a handle on the kind of man I want to be.
I'm sure I'm about the millionth person to do this, but my curiosity finally got the best of me today, and I did my own side-by-side taste test of the Original and Impossible Whoppers.
I've read a little bit on this to begin with, and essentially everything I read praised the patty's ability to imitate beef, but then really harped on how it is also basically just as unhealthy for you as a regular burger. Or, in some cases, did that, but also had to go out of their way to tell you how rarely they eat fast food and looked at disdain on the entire industry.
To start, that Forbes article is just awful. Really just one of the worst things I've ever read. In no way should anybody have ever published Mr. Rubenstein's opinion of anything fast food, regardless of context. If I were the editor, I would have just outright rejected it. I wouldn't have even offered a chance for revision. It is just so clearly a terrible mismatch between subject and author, I don't know how it ever got assigned in the first place.
Luckily for you guys, I most definitely do not have this sort of aversion to fast food.
Secondly, if anybody is ever looking to eat healthy at Burger King,* you're on a fool's errand anyway. The health benefits mean very little to me. I am much more receptive to arguments that talk about lessening the impact of industrial farming practices, both on moral and environmental grounds. I haven't read any of those, but I'm sure they exist. But saying that this product failed because it is no healthier than the "real" alternative is missing the point.
*Or any other fast food restaurant, to be honest.
With all that out of the way, here are my take-aways. I ordered two Whoppers, both with cheese. I ate the original one first, though that was just the luck of what I grabbed out of the bag first. I could make arguments either way about the order in which I ate them, but I think I've concluded that I'm better off doing it the way I did. The goal to my mind is make a plant burger as close to the meat product as possible, so having that taste fresh in my mouth was the best way to make that comparison.
My first impression was the same as everyone else's I've seen so far: Just So. Much. Salt. Fast food is notoriously salty anyway, but this was to a complete other level. At this point, it's been close to an hour since I ate the Impossible Whopper, and I still can't get the taste of salt off my tongue. Even after drinking roughly 22 ounces of water* and most of my Dr. Pepper. That alone nearly made this inedible.
*As measured by my trusty Wabash Nalgene. Think one of these, but darker red and Wabash. Or, you know, I guess I could take a picture. Despite working at a major university, I have no idea if this is still a big thing with college students. I also don't know if they were ever as universally popular at Purdue as they were at Wabash. I swear at least 90% of campus owned this exact Nalgene when I was there.
That major criticism aside, the rest of the patty could probably pass as meat. I would describe its texture as "meaty," quotation marks and all. It is definitely a different texture than beef, but if I had not literally just eaten a beef burger, I'm not sure I would have given it too much thought. I would notice that it is noticeably drier, but had nobody told me what I was eating, I likely would have chalked it up to a cooking error or just too-lean beef rather than "literally not beef." It melded well enough with all the other toppings.* It wasn't some foreign object in my mouth that clearly seemed out of place. It was, more or less, like eating every other burger. It did have a different color to it than beef. The patty had a bit more of a reddish-tinge to it. But, again, I'm not sure that's a difference I would have noted if I hadn't been specifically observing it for differences.
*Which, just for the record, I always get Whoppers with cheese but no pickle or onion.
So, upon this bit of reflection, did the Impossible Burger do what it set out to do? I think I'd have to say, largely, yes. It's not a perfect imitation, but it's close enough. If you had put a blindfold on me and told me to taste this burger, I would have probably told you* "Jesus, that's like three times too much salt." And after a bit more chewing, I would have told you "It's kinda dry." But I don't think I would have told you "This is plants." For now, I think that is the hurdle the Impossible Burger is trying to clear. I am sure there will be improvements on it. I can tell you, from working in the College of Agriculture here at Purdue, that the Food Science department is a pretty magical place. They will figure out some way to get better flavor on these patties instead of just "add salt." And they will come up with some way to make it either actually juicier or at least feel juicier. But this definitely is a base to start from that, again, largely succeeds in the "Is this beef or not?" imitation question.
*Well, you know, after I got done protesting the blindfold and wondering what sort of trick you were playing on me.
Is it healthier? Is it something you should be eating all the time? No. But that's not the point, and I think that's a misguided way to look at a vegetarian or vegan diet to begin with. Is it lower environmental impact, and did any sentient being have to die for this? Those seem to be better questions to ask, and until we discover something pretty shocking about soy and potatoes, that seems promising.
I did something last night I had not done in years, but it was just as rewarding and satisfying as I remembered it being. I kept score while I watched the Cubs and Giants, which is something I don't think I have done for a game since Beth was born.
While I've known how to do the scorebook since little league,* it never occurred for me to do it for a Major League game until college. This might require a little bit of background to explain.
*I don't know what percentage of little leaguers know how to do that, but I'd imagine it's fairly high. Even so, being the coach's kid probably also helped.
Back during my era of Wabash,* every freshman had to go through a class called a tutorial. These classes weren't "serious academia" subjects, but instead just something professors had a passion for and to give freshman an idea of how to adjust to college-level work given a subject they would be interested in. When I was admitted to Wabash, I got a blue card with a list of all the available choices, and I was asked to rank my top three. I know I put baseball as number one, video games as number two (which was the tutorial my buddy Nelson was in), and I do not remember my third choice or any of the rest of the card. That was back in 2004, so it has been a bit.
*And very possibly still now, though I haven't gone out and confirmed this.
Anyway. As you might have guessed, I did get into the baseball class with Dr. Butler. We were promised a trip to Wrigley as part of the class, but those tickets proved to be too difficult to get, so we had to settle for Cincinnati. That still worked out beautifully. I think by the time Andrew took the same course two years later, Cincinnati had become the default trip. If I remember right, their class acted a fool enough to land themselves on the Jumbotron.
I'm getting off track again. One of the assignments in that class was to pick any game going on that night, keep score during the game, and then write a game story about it. I don't remember if we actually had to turn in our scorecards or not. I would imagine Dr. Butler probably required it. I love her to death, but she was tough. As tough as you would imagine the first tenured female professor at an all-male college would be. I somehow settled on the Braves playing the Expos in Montreal. I'm guessing I picked that game just from ease of having the Braves on TBS at the time. The Cubs probably had a day game I couldn't make work. I also don't know why that sticks in my memory so clearly. Paul Byrd pitched a great game that night and was the star of my story. The TBS broadcast picked up some Braves players having some fun with the fact that nobody ever went to Expos games, at least not at the end. I don't remember who said it, but somebody in the Braves dugout said "Wait, did you hear that? Somebody just dropped their popcorn up in the thirteenth row!"
Some sleuthing on Baseball Reference tells me it must have been September 3rd, 2004. Reported attendance was under 9,000. For reference, Olympic Stadium has over 55,000 permanent seats.
What I found doing this was it really did improve my attention to the game. The trends of the game really were much clearer, and it made the commercial breaks go by much more quickly. So, it ended up being something I did a bit off and on at first before becoming a regular thing I did during games for a long stretch.
Having Beth probably killed that off. It became difficult to watch too many games at that point, and even the ones I was watching, my attention was many times a bit split. But now she's a bit older and much more independent than she used to be, so I think I can start getting back into the habit.
I think another reason I like keeping score with baseball is just that the cards themselves are a thing of beauty to me, more than any other similar type scorekeeping. Every sheet feels a bit like a work of art to me. I don't think I'm alone in that, either. I remember a Uni-Watch interview with Bethany Heck, who at the time was developing her Eephus League site. She back then was developing an "artsy" scorebook. That was eight years ago, and you can still get that product today: The Halfliner. It really is a thing a beauty, and I probably would have already invested in several if her scoresheet included boxes for the count. If I remember right, she thought/thinks it makes things too cluttered. So, I just stick to my printouts.
While trying to track down that article, I learned there is an even bigger community out there who appreciates the beauty of keeping score. A whole book as been written about it. There are so many appreciative articles which also want to remind you scorekeeping is a lost art.
That last link also wraps back around to Bethany Heck. I think she hit a homer with that project.
I've posted my scorecards before, so I'm sure you're all familiar with my style. I like to think it's pretty straight-forward and easy to follow. The most notable thing here is that this was the first time maybe ever I'd kept score watching a game through an antenna, rather than satellite. Using a paid service like cable, satellite, or streaming, you have the ability to pause the action and make whatever notation feels appropriate. Or, there is the chance to run to the bathroom and not miss a thing. When you're going over the air, there is no such luck. In my haste to keep up with the broadcast, you'll see my first attempt to spell Hunter Wendelstedt did not go super well, and my writing careened a bit trying to get down Vic Carapazza. I was a bit rusty trying to get down Mike Yastrzemski, too. I also put the H in the wrong place for Steve Cishek, which was also a product of haste, but one that I really should have known better regardless.
I think the only notable difference between my scoring and the official scoring is I gave Robel Garcia the benefit of the doubt on his bunt, crediting him with a sacrifice. It seemed like a just reward after putting a ball firmly into McCovey Cove. Although maybe that's exactly why the scorer in San Francisco wasn't feeling as charitable.
I didn't realize I had quite this much to say on the topic. All of this to say: if you are so inclined to keep score during a baseball game, or are willing to learn, I really can't recommend it enough. I've found it difficult to do at the stadium itself, but I feel like it works wonderfully when watching from home.
As I'm sure nearly everyone in the developed world knows, Disney just released The Lion King as the next installment in their current strategy of "Let's demonstrate why our movies work better in animation." Well, okay, that line might be a little bit harsh, but it does feel particularly true in this case. Look at this side-by-side of "Hakuna Matata."
It's not bad, necessarily. The CGI is very impressive, and I can definitely see the argument of people who say this has the potential to change filmmaking as we know it. The problem, though, is by making the animals as life-like as possible, it greatly limits their abilities in a musical format. There's a reason nobody stages Cats with actual cats, you know? I haven't seen this new Lion King yet, but I have read that this clip is pretty representative of the movie. To boil it down, this is a great technological achievement. As a storytelling or even entertainment achievement? Maybe not as much.
All of this circles back a bit. Over at The Ringer, Shea Serrano wrote a piece to remind us just how thoroughly solid and airtight the original movie is. I'll definitely admit that I just generally like reading his work to begin with, but his writing style is just perfectly married to a piece like that.*
*I'd also point you to a piece he wrote about seeing the new Grinch movie with his sons.
He does a great job of building this list, so I won't rehash his points here. But there is one particular passage he wrote that I have not been able to shake, as much as I might want to. I'll let him tell it:
The way Simba begs Cloud Mufasa not to leave him. A thing I did not see coming as I aged into adulthood was the way my perspective would change while watching movies. What I mean is: The first time I watched The Lion King, I was 13. I very easily and clearly saw myself in Simba, and understood a lot of the stuff he was experiencing, in part because he was the star of the movie and that’s the point but also because I had only ever lived my life as someone else’s son. When I rewatched it to write this article, I felt myself more drawn to Mufasa, who, at his core, was just a dad and a husband who was trying to take care of the people he loved. Watching Mufasa didn’t make me feel like I was watching my own dad die anymore, like it did when I was a kid. Watching Mufasa die made me feel like I was watching myself die; like I’d somehow let my own family down; like I’d left my wife and sons to fend for themselves; like I was no longer there to love them and care for them and protect them. It was immeasurably more heartbreaking this time around.
You remember the scene. Still, maybe you haven't seen it since 1994. Here, refresh your memory.
It really shouldn't be a surprise, I guess, that this is the part that he me hardest. These last couple years have hit pretty hard in the circle of life. As I've stated many times, I don't deal well with mortality anyway. There have been a lot of reminders lately that it's closer for me than I really feel comfortable with.
For most people, their first experience of death in the family is likely to be grandparents or even great-grandparents. The reason for this is fairly obvious, there's an age factor. When you are young, it still feels removed from you. There is a generation or two in between. It's sad, of course, but it doesn't feel so personally threatening. But then some years pass. Then, suddenly, it's your parents' generation. That feels a lot more immediate. I'm not looking forward to when I start hearing about my classmates' natural deaths.
My mom hasn't lost of her brothers yet,* but one of those brothers just lost a wife last year. My dad's side has been hit fairly hard. Out of eleven of them, there are only six of them still alive, several of them have lost spouses, and I understand we're about to lose another one very soon.
*She's the only girls out of eight kids.
This is all coming off the heels of Kristine losing her grandpa on her dad's side. I have also had several friends and old classmates lose a parent just in the last three months or so.
It also puts the time in perspective, at least for me. A quick Google search tells me my Grandpa Bushue died in 1994.* He was 65 when he died. At the time, that didn't seem that weird to me. For one, I didn't really know anything about dying. That was the first death I really had to deal with head-on. For two, he was my grandpa and he seemed old to me. Even in my memory now, he looks old to my eyes. But, upon further reflection, I can see how short a time that is. My own dad is just a few months short of 63. Maybe it's just me, but he doesn't look nearly so old as my memory of my grandpa, and he's still going along more or less as I've always known him to, other than he doesn't play as much catch has he used to.
*I had no idea that year was going to come back up until right at this very moment. I wasn't trying to be overly clever by linking this to The Lion King, I promise.
That doesn't mean I can't see that he's aged, of course. I have a very clear memory, from back when I was in high school, sitting in the living room with my dad. Just kind of all at once, I realized his mustache was almost completely white. My dad was bald way before I was born, but I also realized the hair he had left on his head didn't have much color left, either. It had probably been like that for a long time, or at least trending that way. I never saw it until that moment, though, and I'll admit it scared the fuck out of me. That might have been my first real personalization of mortality.
It's not just that generation getting older that has been a reminder of the full circle. The generation coming up behind me as been a reminder as well. My sister-in-law, Katelyn, did manage to land a good full-time job. But, now that she is making her own money, she has suddenly been thrust into the realization that she has to sink or swim. She just moved out of her college apartment and into her dad's, which prompted a lot of tears and her barely being able to sob out, "My whole social life has to change."
All Kristine and I could say was, "Well, yeah. It is."
I don't think she fully realized, at least not in that moment, that we both went through the same thing. Of course we both had so much more robust social lives during that time. All of our friends were close, we had pretty minimal responsibility or supervision. College is a fantasy world of chasing whatever flight of fancy seems interesting with hardly any repercussions, and you get to do it with some of the coolest people you ever meet. But then the party ends. Everybody moves away, and suddenly there are responsibilities. And responsibilities means paying a lot of money. So while the full-time paycheck is so much more than your college-self might have needed, those bills pile up quick.
It is so hard to get yourself established, and I think she's realizing that. Even with a better landing spot than Kristine or I ever had. I can definitely tell you that part straight out of Wabash up until I'd say finally getting on at Purdue full-time was the most miserable I've been. Some of that is documented here, but adjusting to having all these pressures and obligations while spending 40 hours a week doing something that seems meaningless at best, or just soul crushing at worst. Yeah, it's horrible.
I couldn't say all that while she was crying, though. All I could muster out was "Well. Yeah."
It gets easier, of course. Even during those miserable years, Kristine and I got married and finally started living together. That was a good thing that might have even been life-saving while I went through my eight months of unemployment. I started this blog, which kept my writing skills at least somewhat in practice during an otherwise pretty barren point in my life, creatively. But, goodness, compared to the Wabash years, or Kristine's Purdue years? We aged practically instantly as soon as we got our degrees.
So, life cycles on. The good parts, the hard parts. Those long stretches of mindless routine. It isn't easy, and yes, the past continues to hurt. Knowing there is hurt coming, well, hurts. "Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." All that. I'm still not an expert at any of this. I don't have any idea when I become an adult. I still don't feel like one, and maybe I'm not. I've heard nobody is truly grown up until they've lost their parents. If that's the case, I hope I still have a very long way to go.
Goodness, this has turned into quite the long post, hasn't it? I'll finish this up soon, but let me tell one more story. I think I've written about it before, but I'll try to tell it quick. I had a professor at Wabash, Dr. Campbell, who I had for quite a few classes, and we really clicked. I liked him a lot, and I spent a lot of time visiting back with him as a new alumnus, most talking about how he, too, remembered how hard it was to get established, but how life has a way of working out. So keep the faith, keep working, all that. I went back to his office one last time not long before he retired. We talked about meeting up some time in Carmel, keeping in touch. I also really clearly remember him talking about leaving Wabash after so many years. "It doesn't feel like 35 years, but it's not a blink of an eye, either," he said. What he didn't tell me was that he was battling cancer. He would die just two years later.
His death hit me hard. It was just around the time where I really felt like I was getting my life fully together. And I never got to tell him. He never got to see me make it. He never got to see me start finding my literary groove again and start making serious moves into teaching myself. I think he would have appreciated my roundabout path back to the classroom, which I'm still trying to chart.
I can so easily imagine, like Simba, wanting to tell a Cloud Dr. Campbell "Wait! Wait! I have so much I need to tell you! So much I still want to ask!" But then he would be gone, just as quickly as he was there.
And if I feel that way about an English professor I had for a few years, I can only imagine the sorts of things I'd feel when it came to a parent.
I think I've managed to come up with a list of every MLB game I've attended. I might have forgotten a few Cardinal games before our family reunion, but I think I've gotten them all down. In addition to this list, I've also driven right past the stadiums in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington. I'm starting to make a better faith effort to check off the whole list now.
July 26, 1995 - Busch Stadium II, St. Louis, MO - Mets 2 - 3 Cardinals
(I wrote about this one already.)
July 21, 1998 - Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD - A's 1 - 7 Orioles
(This may have actually been the 22nd. I don't remember the game being close, so I'm going with this one. Unfortunately, Rafael Palmeiro homered in both games, which is the key memory I was going off of.)
June 16, 2001 - Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL - Twins 4 - 11 Cubs
(This was with the high school baseball team when we got a luxury box. I'm not 100% sure this is the right game in that series, but the Saturday game seems most likely, and I remember a lot of homers.)
October 3, 2004 - Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati, OH - Pirates 2 - 0 Reds
(This was our trip with Dr. Butler's baseball class at Wabash. It was originally promised as a Cubs game, but the College couldn't get those tickets. So we had to settle for Cincinnati. I didn't mind much, even if both the teams were bad. It was a new stadium for me, and only the second season for that stadium. It was a real fun day, but I managed to leave my wallet sitting on my bed, so I didn't eat the entire day because I was too embarrassed to say anything. This was also Barry Larkin's final game.)
July 21, 2005 - Busch Stadium II, St. Louis, MO - Brewers 12 - 7 Cardinals
(I know Chris Capuano started, and this was his only win in St. Louis in a time frame that makes sense to me. I do vaguely remember Jason Marquis pitching that day, too. I mostly remember sitting in the outfield seats in Old Busch in 100 degree heat. I don't know how much Dad spent in drinks that day.)
August 21, 2007 - U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago, IL - Royals 2 - 5 White Sox
(Went with Andrew to this game mostly because we hadn't been to this stadium before and tickets were $8. This may have been the August 20, but I don't remember the game being that close, so I feel pretty good that this is the right game. I gave up doing some Wabash Orientation Leader stuff to go to this game. To be fair, I'd bought the tickets before I volunteered for that. I wonder where that shirt got off to. I've probably gotten big enough for it to actually fit on me now.)
July 12, 2008 - Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL - Giants 7 - 8 Cubs (11 innings)
(I'm sure of this game, because Carlos Marmol got off to an All-Star start, but the league was figuring him out by now. And he played a big role in the Cubs coming this close to blowing this game against a really bad Giants team. Thankfully, they pulled it out. Kristine had gotten me these tickets as a birthday present.)
July 17, 2009 - Busch Stadium III, St. Louis, MO - Diamondbacks 1 - 6 Cardinals
(This is another "not-totally-sure" game, but Pujols only had two multi-home run games against Arizona as a Cardinal in the new stadium, and this date makes more sense to me. Pujols hit a home run right off the left field foul pole, which was basically right in front of our seats. Except I missed it. I was standing at the concession stand ordering nachos for my mom. I thought I'd have plenty of time, but Yadi cut the top of the inning short picking somebody off first. I was mid-order when I heard the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd, so I knew immediately what happened. Pujols hit another homer into the bullpen later in the game, though, so that made things better.)
July 30, 2010 - Busch Stadium III, St. Louis, MO - Pirates 0 - 1 Cardinals (10 innings)
(Most of what I remember of this game was an awfully long rain delay. Our seats were tucked just on the fair side of the left field foul pole, right underneath the overhang of the second deck, so we were nice and dry. We just sat around and watched the highlights from one of the 80's World Championship teams until it was time to get started. I also remember wearing my Indy Indians Andrew McCutchen shirt.)
June 4, 2016 - Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL - Diamondbacks 3 - 5 Cubs
(This was a 30th birthday present from Kristine. A little bit of a rainy day, but our seats were under the upper deck, so we stayed dry. We were by the right field foul pole, a great view other than a post that was directly blocking the plate. We got to see Rizzo's homer that day go out right in front of us, though. Definitely a low-drama game compared to the last time Kristine got me birthday Cubs tickets. Also so glad I got to see the World Series team in person.)
June 30, 2018 - Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL - Twins 9 - 14 Cubs
(We went to this game because Katelyn had never been to Wrigley before. It was a fun game, but it was a scorcher. Several Twins ending up leaving the game with heat exhaustion. We were going to go to dinner and out to Howl at the Moon after the game, but instead, we took the Red Line back to the Palmer House so we could all just cool off and shower before we went back out. This was also everybody's first trip to the Cubby Bear, which was a fun time.)
July 27, 2018 - Busch Stadium III, St. Louis, MO - Cubs 2 - 5 Cardinals
(I wrote about this one in that first link, too. This was Beth's first big league game.)
April 27, 2019 - Rogers Centre, Toronto, ON - A's 1 - 7 Blue Jays
(I wrote about this one here.)
July 26, 2019 - Busch Stadium III, St. Louis, MO - Astros vs. Cardinals
(Obviously this hasn't happened yet, but the tickets are bought. Big family affair before the yearly family reunion in Dexter.)
One of the only reasons I would be happy to cast a vote for Joe Biden should I be forced into it is that Amtrak might finally get some long-overdue attention. I'm a very big fan of the train, but I don't have a station named after me. Maybe they'll name Lafayette's station after me one day, but I have my doubts.
We recently took a train trip to Chicago, which I just can't recommend enough. Especially from Lafayette, it is such an easy trip, and it cost us maybe $100 round trip for the three of us. Over three days, we would have easily spent that in parking, to say nothing of the relief of not having to drive downtown myself. Like, I've done it, it's fine, but it's not my favorite thing by any stretch. Having talked about this trip, both before and after, though, it's become very clear that there is a lot of misunderstanding about how the train works between Indianapolis and Chicago.
First thing I have to say: you can still take the train from Indianapolis to Chicago. It just takes more more planning now, as it is now a three-day-a-week service instead of daily.
For those that are totally unaware, from at least October 1, 1980, to June 30, 2019, there was daily train service between Indianapolis and Chicago. For at least the last decade,* this service was provided three days a week by a long-distance route, The Cardinal. This train runs from Chicago to New York,** routing through Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and then a stretch of apparently gorgeous West Virginia countryside before coming back up to Washington. It is said to be the prettiest route in the Eastern half of Amtrak's trains. This is what you think of when you think of train travel. Sleeper cars, cafe, baggage cars, the whole shebang. The days the Cardinal did not run, the Hoosier State filled the gap, which was a coach-only train that ran strictly between Chicago and Indianapolis, stopping in Dyer, Rensselaer, Lafayette, and Crawfordsville. This was a small train, just two or three coach cars. Which was fine for the distance it was going.
*That's how long I can personally attest to this setup, I'd imagine it has been around much longer. I did research for this, but not that particular bit of research.
**At certain points, this train has stopped in Washington, DC, but it has extended all the way up the Northeast Corridor to New York since 2004, as best as I can tell.
This setup worked well, and having the daily service (to Chicago in the morning, home again in the evening) made it easy to plan taking the train, because there was essentially no planning involved. But, the funding laws with Amtrak required that the state of Indiana would basically have to fund the train, and Governor Holcomb decided there wasn't enough demand to justify the $3-million price tag to keep the train going. And that is just a damned shame.
First off, an additional $3-million is chump change for the state. As of the last census, there were over six and a half million people living in Indiana. Asking for that funding would only be an additional fifty cents or so a person. That doesn't seem to be asking much for a service that benefits regular citizens.
Hey, I hear a hypothetical person saying. It only makes five stops in Indiana. Why should the whole state pay for a service that's only servicing that corridor? Fine. I took Wikipedia's population numbers for the counties where the Hoosier State stopped. That gave me a total of 1,682,358 people, which comes out to $1.79 a person. That's not the sort of tax increase that should be stopping such a valuable daily service.
And that's just looking at plain dollars and cents. Even more disappointing than the lack of funding for the current setup is the lack of imagination for what could be.
One of the great things about trains over planes is that train stations tend to be right downtown, right in the thick of things. Small stations, such as Lafayette, have a very small footprint in a city and are easy to tuck in convenient places, unlike the space landing planes demands. Lafayette's station is right on on the river, and actually utilizes the pedestrian bridge that literally bridges Lafayette and West Lafayette, joining Purdue to downtown Lafayette. I have walked that bridge a few nights going between campus bars and downtown bars. I don't think I'm unique in that either. Chicago's Union Station is just a couple blocks away from the Willis Tower. Indianapolis' station opens right into Lucas Oil Stadium's Touchdown Town. If done right, it would be very easy to make these trips with no baggage or further transportation necessary, or at least very minimal.
But we don't do it "right." When we had daily service, you could have pulled off a day trip to Chicago. It wouldn't have been hard to get into Chicago in the morning, spend the day at one of the museums or something, have a good lunch, then catch the train back home. Which is nice, but it is still just so Chicago-centric. And that's nice. Chicago is undeniably a major American city with lots to do, and just generally a huge transportation hub. But, you know, Indianapolis is a "real city," too. But Indianapolis seems to have a hard time treating itself as such.
The Cardinal is a great, scenic route by all accounts.* But, it is focused on a timely terminus in Chicago and hitting West Virginia during daylight hours to appreciate that natural beauty. Which is well and good, but there's just no reason to limit ourselves to that schedule. Why can't we make Indianapolis a destination, too?
*I've only taken the short trip to Chicago. I'll get around to taking it east one of these days, though.
Let's make trains that go into Indy in the mid-morning and then leave just after dinner. Let's make special Sunday services on the days the Colts are at home that drop off (again, right at the stadium's doorstep) at like 11 AM for a "standard" 1 PM kickoff* and then head back out at six or something. I'm sure the Pacers could come up with something that plays into this plan as well, and the Indians already play Sunday afternoon games that would work with this. And, well, just daily there are just the usual Indianapolis things to do, like the Zoo and the Children's Museum.
*Times would be adjusted for other time slots. 4 PM wouldn't be so bad. Sunday Night, Monday Night, and Thursday Night get trickier, but doable.
If we really did this right, I'm envisioning the state putting down several lines of dedicated passenger track. And, well, if we're doing it right, it would be high-speed, too. Indiana is generally a pretty flat place. Especially in Central and Northern Indiana, there's no reason these trains shouldn't be hitting triple digits. We can run one train down the same corridor the Cardinal runs now.* Run another that traces the Capitol Limited, but then turns south after South Bend and follows US 31 into Indy, maybe stopping in Logansport and Kokomo. Maybe another line starts in Richmond, curves up to Muncie, then back down to Indy through Anderson and Fishers.
*And I do mean The Cardinal, running the path all the way from Chicago to Cincinnati, but under my plan, using two separate trains to cover the northeast and southwest parts of the state.
From the south, one line could start around Louisville and come up through Columbus, with another starts in Evansville and comes up through Bloomington. These lines would have some attractions of their own, with the riverboat near Louisville and the resort in French Lick. Then maybe another line that starts in Terre Haute and runs through Greencastle.
Would it be expensive? Yeah, probably. And, clearly, these are commuter trains. Just simple coaches that would run back and forth two or three times a day from Indy to their respective terminuses. It would be a big investment up front, and these likely wouldn't all be built at once. But, again, there is no reason to think all six and a half million Hoosiers* couldn't be potential riders. Purdue, IU, and Notre Dame would all attract ridership for football and basketball. The smaller schools would pull some ridership as well. If you didn't have to worry about doing the driving and finding/paying for parking, wouldn't you pay a few dollars a trip? I think most of us would, especially if we can hit the sort of speeds I'm imagining on these tracks. And since they are dedicated passenger tracks, there really shouldn't be much in the way of delays. Most delays with Amtrak are freight related.**
*I'm not a big fan of the H-word, but it is the state's official demonym.
**Part 2 is coming.
Supposedly, Indiana is doing very well as a state. Compared to our neighbors, our economy has been booming and our cities are growing. Indianapolis has grown almost all the way to Lebanon, and I can personally attest Lafayette and Purdue are building like crazy. So let's invest all this into a system that will benefit all of us, and will continue to benefit us and even turn a profit for the state with time. For once, let Indiana have some imagination and forward thinking to do something that will be of great convenience and benefit to its citizens while also providing some environmental relief.
Clearly it's not going to happen with our current government. It likely won't ever happen, especially not in my lifetime. But it's fun to dream.
I like to drive by myself. It doesn't really matter if it is for hours or just around town. It doesn't really matter if the radio or is on or not. Either way, the same thing happens. But it only truly happens when I'm alone. When anybody else is around, there's too much pressure to make conversation or make sure they're comfortable. None of which is a bad thing, not by any stretch. But it is different. When I'm by myself, my mind is able to wander to a different place, some weird space where my thoughts are both melted away and all-present at once. I guess the best way I can put it is to say that sort of driving is a bit of meditation for me, and I'll usually find myself refreshed and my thoughts better organized than when I set out.
I've realized we all have so many "That Day"s in our lives. Some are dreaded, some are great. Some are a mixture of bittersweet. It might be the arrival of a baby, it might be moving away for college, or figure out where the next move is afterwards. But, I think the That Day we all most talk about is death. Whether it be our own or our elders. It always seems to open those conversations that none of us want to think about, but we all know we must plan for. "When That Day comes..."
Many of you reading this are probably aware That Day has come to our family. My wife's grandpa passed in his sleep a few days ago. We will be heading to Columbus* in the morning for services and whatever else awaits us in Southern Indiana. I don't really know what I'll feel or see, I guess. Maybe I should have waited until afterwards to write this. But, regardless of how things go this week, there are a few things I can say about the sixteen years I knew the man.
*Yes, this one is the Columbus the movie is set in. I still haven't seen it, but I have heard good things.
Before I met him, I was given all sorts of warnings about how to act, topics and language I needed to be careful to avoid, a general overview of the things he was for and against, not a lot of which lined up well with me. It was pretty intimidating for a teenage boy as I was at the time. In the end, I pretty well decided that I couldn't contort myself in all the ways I was being asked to do, so all I could do was be myself. Like Oasis said, I can't be no one else.
And, well, I don't actually know how well it went over at first. I might be a bit of an acquired taste. He did say* at one point, well into Kristine and I dating, that there would never be anybody good enough for his granddaughter. I wasn't some unknown quantity at this point, so it was hard to take it any way but personally at the time. Or now, honestly.
*Not to my face, just to be clear.
But, time went on, and I am very persistent and very stubborn. And I didn't go anywhere. Before too long, he came not only to respect, but even all the way around to liking me. I still tried to watch my language around them, but everything else got to feel comfortable and easy around him. He always seemed genuinely happy to see me and always had questions for me or wanted to show me something with his guitar. As I wrote here before, even towards the end, he always recognized me and perked up in the hospital when I was around, even when he was having so much trouble keeping everything and everyone else straight. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was nothing, I don't know. But it touched me all the same.
The last time we saw him, it was the Sunday right after we had gotten back from our Chicago train trip.* He had moved into a Columbus nursing home at that point. He was doing better physically that trip, compared to the last couple times we had seen him. Not great, but better. Mentally, though, he was a shell. We probed his short- and long-term memory, and there was just nothing there. He did the best he could to make conversation with us, but it was visibly difficult for him and often he had trouble doing much other than just shaking his head a little bit.
*I've got a whole posts about trains written in my head and have for some time, but as you might imagine, other things have taken precedence lately. Maybe I'll get it out of me soon.
It was a marked change from the man I first met, still tinkering with his beloved truck, still on top of everything Purdue basketball, and, as we all reminisced today, still a bit fiery yelling at Kristine's basketball games. He had been docile and having trouble communicating the last couple years, noticeably slowing down. At the time, I thought he was just having a very hard time hearing and just being isolated from that. In hindsight, I can see the decline now. But that's how hindsight works, then, isn't it?
This is a lot of talk about the end, though, and nobody should be judged by the way things end up. Not everyone gets to grow old, but those that do were not old forever. Even Clyde was a young man once. I wasn't around for that, but here's what I pieced together. He lived a simple life, and truly took joy in the simple things. He loved to tinker. He was a Purdue engineer, after all. And many of us like simple things and like to take some moments to slow down and just appreciate the world sometimes. It wasn't quite that simple with him, though.
Many times, when we say these sorts of things, we are talking about somebody whose means or background or whatever didn't allow them access to the finer things. Not so here. I won't give away all the family secrets here, but money was never a worry for them, and he was able to retire very young. He spent more time being retired than he did working. Unless you were very close to them, though, you'd never know it. They lived simply. Same little house in Columbus they bought for a pittance today. Just the size of their plot alone will bring in a lot of money whenever it sells. They mostly traveled with their motor home, and their entertainment was fishing and become fixtures at whatever local diner they found. If they had to stay in a hotel, I think their first choice was consistently Motel 6. That was certainly true in Lafayette, anyway.
If you haven't been to Lafayette lately, we're a bit of a booming town right now. Lots of new high rises* going up around campus, new factories coming in, and all these brand new or totally renovated hotels. They had the means to stay in whatever room they damn well pleased, but they chose Motel 6 every time. And that was true basically in every facet of their life.
*At least what counts for high rises in a town of 100,000 or so, depending on how you count Purdue.
I've heard stories about how they took yearly trips to Canada to camp and essentially live off the land for a few weeks or a month at a time. I heard about the lake cabin they used to own that they essentially built themselves and then sold for almost nothing, just barely covering their own costs. They certainly did not cover their labor.
We just recently learned from Kristine's grandma they eloped. "We didn't want anything to do with a big wedding," she said. So they just went over to her childhood minister's house and had him do the honors. With a lot of stories like that, you'd just assume there were maybe some shotguns involved. But in this case, it just fits so nicely in the rest of the story.
And those are just the stories I know. I'm sure there's so much I've never heard and never will. I'm sure there are stories Clyde took with him to the grave, as I guess we all do. He'll be buried in a Purdue sweater, which just puts the perfect cap on his story. Simple, casual. Unfussy. I don't know what sort of diners they have in the hereafter, but I'm sure he's grumbling right now that the bacon isn't cremated enough and they buttered his grilled English muffin. They'll learn, though. They've got eternity to get it right now.
"Didn't you just write about mortality?" you might ask. And, well, yeah, kinda. But I think you'll find this to be a bit of a different direction. The last post was more speculative, this one is unfortunately much more concrete. Just in trying to get my thoughts together, this post likely promises to be quite a mess, too. But what else could it be? It reminds me a bit from the beginning of Slaughterhouse-Five: "It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, never to say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like 'Poo-tee-weet?'"
I've actually thought a lot about that book over the last couple days. Kristine's grandpa is not doing well, and it seems things are taking turns for the worse. The conversations have definitely drifted toward "when," not "if." I suppose it's "when" for everybody, but his "when" seems more at hand. Anyway. Kristine went to visit him on Friday, then we went together on Saturday. When we first arrived, we really didn't know what to expect. How responsive he would be or how coherent. He seemed to be a bit better than the last time I saw him. He was talking more and seemed to at least somewhat recognize us. He called me by name, which he did the last time I saw him as well. I don't know if it's just luck or what, but he has consistently recognized me through this whole ordeal.
He asked me how school was going, but I was unsure if he was referring to my current master's program or confusing me for being about ten years younger. He also asked Kristine's brother if he had a heart attack, seeming to confuse him with his dad. It brought back some immediate flashbacks of my own grandmother and the way she would have a hard time placing her visitors and frequently getting them mixed up.
My Grandma Parrish died when I was in fourth grade, the same month my Great-Grandma Summers died. I don't remember which one died first. Anyway. By the time she died, Grandma Parrish had been really bad for a long time. It had been years since she knew who I was, and it became a pretty regular occurrence for my dad to be confused for my Uncle Jessie.
I don't have a lot of memories about my grandma, and I don't know that I can say I have any of her in her right mind. I gather that is a real shame. I haven't heard anybody who knew her say the first cross word against her. Maybe it's just people not wanting to speak ill of the dead, or maybe there's a measure of pity of how life worked out for her. But, I don't think so. The stories I hear speak of a genuinely warm and caring woman. I'm sorry I never really got to find out for myself.
There are a few stories I do remember first hand. The first was when I first found out she was moving to a nursing home. I think I had just started school, or maybe just slightly before. I remember asking when she would get back from the hospital, because that's how it worked to my knowledge. You went to the doctor, maybe you stayed a little while to rest up, and then you came back up, ready to go. It took some explaining to me that she would be there for a long time, but it took even longer for me to really realize that she was never leaving that home. I don't think that was ever really told to me. I had to eventually figure that one out on my own. I don't know when I puzzled that one out, but I do know I spent a long time wondering when she would go back to living with my Aunt Connie.
The other memory I have is a bit shameful. I can only plead ignorance, and I would certainly never do anything like this today. As you might expect for somebody who raised eleven kids, mothering was a huge part of my grandma's existence. During her time in the nursing home, she took to caring to dolls as her real, living babies. To my elementary school mind, it was just weird and I couldn't really comprehend what was going on. She was going on about one of the doll babies waking up and crying, and she was trying to rock it back to sleep. I said something snarky about it, I don't remember exactly what. But I remember the glare I got from my mom. It was a look to kill, and it hit me somewhere deep. I never did anything like that again. Now that I'm older, I see that whole incident in a different light. Instead of it being bizarre and pitiable to me, now I can see it in a more touching, sweet light. Grandma was too far gone for it to phase her, but it's still a moment where I'm deeply disappointed in myself.
I've heard other stories that remind me more of Kristine's grandpa, how he gets people and times confused, sometimes within the same breath. Like I said, it was not uncommon for my dad to be confused for his eldest brother.* I also heard stories where my Uncle Jessie went to visit, and Grandma tried to attack his wife, believing her to be some other woman her husband had brought home. Or trying to convince another uncle (thankfully by marriage) to go to bed with her.
*Again, with eleven kids and Jessie being the oldest and my dad being the youngest, there was quite a gap there.
I don't think it was at all the point or subject Kurt Vonnegut had in mind when he wrote Slaughterhouse-Five, but it did occur to me over the weekend that the idea of being unstuck in time is a pretty good one when dealing with dementia. There is healthy literary debate about whether the things Billy Pilgrim experienced actually happened or not. It isn't hard to find arguments for either side. But that's missing the point here. Whether or not anybody else could ever confirm it, it was all still real for Billy. It all certainly happened as far as he was concerned. The same was true for my grandma. Maybe I couldn't see or hear her doll babies crying or wanted fed, but she certainly could, and she was going to care for them to the best of her ability. And if Kristine's grandpa could see her being three again in Beth while talking to me at the same time, that was reality for him. The rest of us may not be able to reconcile it, but it is the world as the clouds in their head can put together.
I didn't understand it as a child. I hadn't developed that sort of empathy yet. I still don't know that I can say I understand it as an adult, but I certainly have a different capacity to roll with it and extend my sympathies. All we can do now is just try to make things as easy and comfortable for him in the meantime and worry about the rest as it comes. The rest is just too big and crushing to try to take on at once.
It might be "when" for all of us, but God damn does it suck when that "when" is staring you in the face.
Today, I am Larry Bird years old.* I'm slowly making my peace with getting older and accepting that my body is probably not going to do some things that it used to do, but that doesn't mean it's the easiest thing.
*There are a few other options here (Scottie Pippen races to mind), but being from Indiana, I think I'm legally required to pick Larry Bird.
Somebody recently told me I am "honestly [one] of the only people I know who have their shit together in regards to being an adult. I mean, I look up to you." And that honestly scared me to death. Let me be absolutely clear here: I have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm pretty sure nobody else really does, either. To paraphrase maybe the most quotable movie ever, anyone that tells you different is selling something. I don't know what it looks like from the outside, but I'm just making all this up as I go along, and I'm not entirely sure I'm doing the best job.
I'm not trying to get all "woe is me" about it. I have a pretty good life. For the most part, I like what I'm doing professionally and who I do it with. I love my family, and I think we generally run a pretty solid household. There's nothing awful in my life. But, I did make some choices that have now left me working pretty hard to undo and to break into some more fulfilling roles in my life. And I'm starting to come into some healthier terms understanding that my time is limited. It used to be a thought that would just stop me in tracks, often for several days at a time. And, just to be clear, it's still a thought I don't necessarily deal well with. But I'm able to at least push it away and keep functioning.
I've also not been taking great physical care of myself over the past few years. Maybe really since I got back into working an office job. It's left me heavier than I've ever been, and it's starting to spawn new trouble. I constantly complain about having to wear insoles so I can continue to walk without pain. I think I've also developed some sleep apnea. Kristine tells me how awful my snoring as become and how I just stop breathing. I've also started having a lot of nightmares* and morning migraines. So, you know, that's great. I'm hoping getting some weight off will go a long way to fixing that.
*Many of these nightmares seem to center around mortality as well. I wish I could have a real conversation with my brain and say "Look, I get it. I am dust and to dust I will return. I. Know. You're my brain, remember? You know what I know. Can't we just go back to having dreams about teeth falling out or completely forgetting about a college class?"
There are a few things I think I've picked up along the way, though. First is to have courage. Unfortunately, I've mostly learned this one by not having it. I'm pretty good about speaking my mind and standing up for what I believe. I'm not shy about that. But to have the confidence and courage to do something for myself? That is . . . not as much of a strength.
When I went to Wabash, I thought I was going to become a teacher. Then a combination of things pushed me away from it early on before thinking I should have gone through with it far too late. I had several people (one former Bachelor editor in particular) push me hard that I should do Teach for America. And they were right. I should have. That would have been a relatively quick-and-easy way to make up for my own indecision. But, I didn't. I didn't like not having complete control over where I would live and couldn't break out of that comfort zone. So I didn't, and instead kept struggling at jobs that barely kept me afloat and led to an awfully long bout of unemployment. All of that just to come to a point where I'm taking graduate classes to start plotting a path back into the classroom.
I never had a real passion for IT. It's fun, it's a nice enough hobby. To make it my life's work, though? That was always foolish, and some part of me always knew that. There are several Disney movies that should have taught me this a long time ago, but, to steal a bit from Moana, when that voice inside you keeps telling you what you want to do, maybe it's worth listening.
The next thing I learned about courage is to have confidence in what you've created. If you think you have a talent, share it. I'm still learning this, by the way. Rejection is hard, but it is just part of the game. I've written some stories and some books, but I've been too paralyzed by fear of rejection and finding out that maybe I'm not as good as I thought I was to try to sell it. I'm finally reaching a point to where I feel a responsibility to try to get my stuff professionally published, and I've gone through a few drafts of a book that I'm going to try to get there. It's not ready yet, and I haven't really had the time to polish it during this master's program. But that ends in December, so I'll be able to get back to it.
It's taken me ten years of writing just to get to the point of feeling like I could possibly put myself out there to be rejected, though. I think about it now and think how much wasted time that was and wonder if I might gotten a break that could have meaningfully changed my life and career already. Don't spend that time wondering or being afraid. It isn't worth it. Find out, and if you find out bad news, just take it as an opportunity to grow and get better.
Again, I'm still learning this.
And the last thing is something I think we all know at some level, but nobody appreciates until it's too late. I'll say it anyway, but I know it won't do anybody any good, because this happens to generation to generation. Nobody ever appreciates it until it is over.
Value your youth. That doesn't necessarily mean to appreciate all the things your body can do and all the free time youth affords you. That is important, but I think I even understood that to some level as a child. What I didn't quite understand is to value the opportunities youth gives us.
Maybe this is a problem of modern technology, but I don't think that's the whole thing. In any case. I did not realize how lonely adult life would be, and (for lack of a better word) I am not alone in this. Back during childhood, all the way through college, there were always easy-to-join sports teams and clubs, and having similarly aged peers all geographically close to you always made it effortless to find somebody to connect with. It was never hard to go hang out at somebody's house or have them hang out at yours. If anything, as a kid, it could be difficult to find some moments alone.
Then everybody dispersed into their own lives and their own timelines. Everybody has their own story to live, and so many of those connections are lost. I've written it several places, but I don't know if it's ever been in a public place before. There is absolutely no better way to put a pep in my step and change my whole outlook on a day than to spend a little bit of time talking to somebody who knew me when I was young. And, not only knew me, but knew our circumstances. Crossing paths from a classmate (or near-classmate, anyway) from Covington or Wabash just hits in a totally different way. There's a level of understanding there that other adult friends, as great as they are, just won't understand. But, you just can't live there forever.
Childhood is like that. Innocence is like that. You cannot ever go back, and you cannot ever unknow or unexperience anything you pick up along the way. I lament that for myself sometimes, and I get to see it now from another level as a dad now. I get to see Beth's wild abandon because of her absolute trust in the world and the absolute lack of care of judgement. I want her to always keep that, but I know I'm powerless to stop it. It's something we all learn, for better and worse.
I'm 33 now. I can't really tell you what that feels like, and I don't really know what that's supposed to feel like. I don't know that I ever really thought that hard about what my future would look like. I just figured I'd do my best and see where life takes me. If I don't fight against the current too much, I would just end up where I needed to go. I'm not sure if I believe that as much any more. Even if the times I've fought against the current didn't end up getting me much but a story and some bitterness, I think I've just learned better ways to struggle. And, well, that's not such a bad thing. I spent a lot of time dreading getting older and finding new ways to tell myself I'm not a full adult somehow. But, I think I'm done with that now. I'm still scared as hell of the end of the road, don't get me wrong. But this part of life? It's taken me a while, but maybe it's not quite as scary as I imagined it would be.
I watched this video a little while back, and this game turns out to be a great metaphor for childhood. I'm not sure if that was the intention or not, but damn does it work. I would encourage you to give it a watch.