On November 7, 1950, in the quaint town of Morris, Illinois, a boy by the name of Larry Allan Lanier was born. This turned out to be a very important event in my life, since he would become my father a little more than 20 years after that. If you don't feel like doing the math, he would have turned 65 today, which I think is somewhat of a milestone. Yes, he left our Earth on November 30, 2007...the very day that Evel Knievel left our Earth (I always found that little coincidence kind of cool, since Evel Knievel was another one of my heroes when I was just a boy myself).
First off, Larry, in his case, is not short for Lawrence--or anything else for that matter...it was always just "Larry." The picture above showing the star registry for Lawrencio was a gift I had done for my mom last year...I wanted him to have a star named after him. Why Lawrencio? My friend and bandmate from many years ago (Steve "Buzz" Werthe) can officially take credit for that. Steve and I were at my parents' house visiting one night--he always enjoyed chatting with my dad...but my dad wasn't around that evening, so Steve asked my mom "Where's Lawrencio, your Latin lover?" (Steve always had a way with words). My mom got quite a chuckle out of that and the nickname just sort of stuck. My mom started calling my dad Lawrencio at times when she was being silly, but it remained always just an in-house joke. Until I had a star named after him. Now it's a part of history.
You see, for my mom and I, dad's birthday is sort of the kickoff for a long and often challenging season for both of us...it goes right on up through the new year. Mom and I both get a little weird and overly emotional during this time (holidays aren't what they used to be, and all that jazz). Thoughts of dad tend to pervade most of our conversations and lots of reminiscing happens without any effort at all on our part. Sometimes it can become a little overwhelming, so I try to offset some of the heaviness with little bits of humor...something I learned from my dad of course. Lawrencio is always good for a chuckle with my mom.
The picture below the star registry photo is my dad holding a falcon that was a gift to him from some of his coworkers when we were moving away from one Air Force base to another. I believe that was from when we were leaving Travis AFB in California, and moving to Elmendorf AFB in Alaska...I'm not positive though, as we did way too much moving over the years, and I sometimes lose track. He was a handsome dude though, and had a great smile. In my opinion he was by far the best looking of the three brothers in his family, and I'm sure Mom would agree. He was also the youngest of the three, though he had a sister who was the oldest of them all, and another sister that was the youngest of them all.
When Weasel and Butterfly were up here with me in Alaska, we used to always celebrate my dad's birthday after he passed, instead of the day he died. It made him feel more alive that way to me. We'd have cake (with candles, of course) and ice cream, wore party hats and had little party horns to blow. All three of us would blow out the candles on the cake of course, and the cake was always yellow cake with chocolate frosting since it was my dad's favorite. The ice cream we just sort of picked what sounded good to us at the time, because my dad was never big on ice cream.
This reminds me how Weasel started a tradition for us when he was 3--on accident. We had the candles lit, our party hats on, and our party horns in hand. I remember Weasel saying "Maybe if we blow our horns three times, Grandpa Larry will come." I shed a joyful tear when he said that, and told him, "Yes, you just might be right." And we blew our horns three times. The spirit of young children never ceases to amaze me...and why do they have to grow up, by the way?
This is a great memory, and I wish that I had planned ahead now and had a party hat and a horn to blow, despite being here alone. My mother thought of it earlier tonight too when we spoke on the phone without me mentioning it. As we were getting set to hang up, she said "Be sure to blow your horn three times tonight." Now I'm really wishing I had one. I will have to do so in my imagination.
It is duly noted that when I get to constructing that new raft, it will have to be equipped with an official Grandpa Larry (Lawrencio, the Latin lover) birthday horn...to be blown three times on the 7th of November each year.
I love you, Dad.
I didn't do any rummaging through the archives tonight aboard the old raft, but I did think of some things I could have rummaged through. Mostly I was thinking of digging through the secret treasures I keep in an old laptop case that are all related to my dad--no, a laptop isn't one of them. Many of the things inside it were placed there around the time he died--many are items he gave me just a couple weeks before he died. I'm not going to say what treasures are in there--not tonight anyway--but I will only say they are treasures indeed. Aside from my Alice Cooper action figure (still in the package, of course) that's autographed by both Alice Cooper AND Todd McFarlane (creator of the action figure), several items inside that case are my most prized possessions.
I was very close to retrieving the sacred laptop case and sifting through it again tonight, but I decided against it. It's not that I didn't want to, of course, it's that it occurred to me I really haven't spoken much of my mom yet on this blog, and the time is overdue for me to do so. Before I go on more about my mom and what this season means to us, here is a song I wrote and recorded for her as a Mother's Day gift..it was 2001 I believe, but could have been 2002. It's inaccurate to credit the song as Atomic Honey, as we were still almost a decade away from me forming Atomic Honey...but I digress.
As many of you will know, my father was both born and died in November, so it's always an interesting season for us, and thoughts of him tend to permeate whatever else happens to be going on in our lives at the same time. As we get closer to November, thoughts of him--and sometimes even dreams--increase, and carry on right through the holidays. Mom and I have discussed this at length, and it happens to both of us in much the same way. In all honesty, that's what tempted me to sift through the laptop case filled with treasure...but my heart told me it was time to share about my mom, so I left the case alone for now.
My mom, as most of you would guess, is a very sensitive and compassionate human being--those traits I most certainly inherited from her, and I'm grateful for it. My dad taught me strength, and how to stay calm under pressure, and how to stand up for yourself when you needed to; but my mom taught me compassion: how to hug and say "I love you" without feeling awkward. No disrespect intended in the least, but strength has never been my mom's forte. If you needed to know how to comfort someone and make them feel they mattered, she was perfect; if you crashed on your bike and needed a bandage, she was perfect for that too. But if you were being bullied at school, her counsel would very likely get you pummeled ten times worse, and destroy any chance you might have had at a happy social life. I'm exaggerating, but not by much.
See, my mom was sheltered as a child: she wasn't allowed to date or even go to a rock concert. Her father actually escorted her to her senior prom (that's no joke or exaggeration, unfortunately). So of course the first thing she did when she graduated from high school was get married. That's a happy thing in the sense that I exist because of it, but my mom never had a chance to be independent--never had her own bank account, never had her own apartment or car...never had the chance to so much as change a light bulb. She was totally unprepared for the dog-eat-dog world we live in. And of course, my dad did a fantastic job of caring for me and my mom, so she remained dependent for the most part even after she escaped her parents. This is the extremely abridged version--there are a million stories I could share about my mom over the years--and maybe some of those will make their way into later chapters of this journal.
Fast forward now to August of 2006: my dad is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and all our lives are suddenly turned upside-down. For my mom, that meant--for the first time in her life--facing the very real possibility of having to fend for herself. It meant having to deal with things breaking around the house, balancing checkbooks, paying bills, mowing the lawn, raking leaves...oh yeah, and it meant she would be without her companion of more than 30 years--the love of her life. She'd eventually go to sleep to an empty California King bed each night, and wake up alone. All for the first time.
It occurs to me now that I should tell you my mother had held different jobs over the years (she even has one now!), and had her own car many of those years--my dad took care of her, but he didn't shelter her. When I was with them, I wasn't at an age to contemplate these types of things, but I suspect in retrospect that my dad worked very hard to help her grow after they were married. She did learn a lot of new skills over the years, but strength was never her forte. Like I said, this is the extremely abridged version. I sorta digress.
I did the best I could to help her through all the transitions after my dad died, but it was difficult. I grieved along with her, of course, but it's one thing to lose a father, and another thing completely to lose your only human companion. I tried to empathize as much as I could, but it was impossible for me to see things completely from her perspective. This turned out to be a good and beautiful thing over time.
As it turns out, I was a product of both my mom AND my dad: I had the compassion to empathize just enough because of her, and I had the strength and calmness-under-pressure because of him. I'm leaving out all the details for the purpose of this journal (I'm sure it will come up again sometime), but over time I learned how to apply what I learned from both of them to help her through this. During difficult days (and there were many early on), I was able to say, "Well, Dad would say/do this I think" and so on. And she would listen. As she told me more about herself, I would tell her more about myself, and we started growing together. Yes, we have always grown together, but we did so on a different level after Dad died. She started seeing me as a male role model in her life (her parents have long been dead), and I started seeing her as someone who was starting their adult life all over again. In an odd way, it was a bit like she was my daughter that had went away to college. We have never been closer than we are today, despite our geographical distance. I think I have embraced my new role in her life, and she has embraced her new role in mine. It's really a beautiful thing. We are both very blessed and grateful, and we discuss that often.
Mom is always quick to tell me how proud she is of me, and I'm quick to shrug it off and say "You guys taught me well. If you feel the need to thank me, you should thank yourself first." I tell her how proud I am of her too, but not quite as often--I have to keep my image up you know, just like Dad taught me *wink, wink*.
I really am so super proud of her though. I could write many pages on just how and why I'm so proud of her, but I won't. Not yet anyway. She has become so much stronger and more calm under pressure with each passing year since Dad left us, and I'm so honored to be a part of her journey. Truly, a person could not ask for a better mother.
November 30 this year will mark year 8 without us having Dad with us in the flesh. Much as I miss him, I've no doubt things worked out just the way they were supposed to. If you're listening, Dad: Mom & I have found ways to be very happy even though we miss you--not every day of course--we have good and bad days which you taught me is normal in this life.You would be happily amazed to see how she's grown...and in all honesty, Dad, I think she was much stronger to begin with than we ever gave her credit for. Thank you for helping me help her. You are the best father a person could ask for. We will all be together again when the time is right--even my baby sister Trisha. I trust you & Trisha enjoy your time together, even as I type this--please tell her I said "hello" and that I love her.
My rummaging process through the old raft was pleasantly interrupted this last week by an unexpected visit by Weasel...a much-needed visit for both of us, I think. The visit didn't last as long as I would have liked (no matter how long a visit is with your children, it's always too short), but I'm very grateful for the few days we had together.
Without going into too many details, Weasel had been living up to his name--at school, and at his mother and stepfather's house in Arizona. He was caught doing more than his share of lying, had been somewhat defiant (out-of-character for him), and was failing all subjects in school. Yes, all of them. It turned out that though he was the top of his class on his tests each week, he hadn't done a single page of his daily work--neither at home or at school. For my digression of the night, I'm reminded how I did the same exact thing when I took Chemistry in high school (though I didn't lie, my parents just never asked)...except that I was able to pull off a C+ for the year.
My Chemistry teacher, Mr. Pritchett, had pissed me off by asking me if I was stoned one time in front of the whole class while he was giving a lecture and I wasn't paying attention. A friend of mine, John, and I, were looking at Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic books and giggling during the lecture. I didn't mind that he called me out for not paying attention, but I didn't like being wrongly accused of being on drugs--especially in front of the whole class (and the irony of it was that my friend John probably WAS actually stoned, lol). I let Mr. Pritchett know as much as class let out. He pointed out that I hadn't done any of my daily work and that there was no way to pass his class without doing the daily work. I, of course, took that as a challenge, and made a point of doing none of the daily work the rest of the year. I read the chapters, though, and my friend John and I were always in the top 3 on test scores out of all his classes. Mr. Pritchett was so pissed about having to give me a C+ that he wouldn't speak to me for many, many years. Anchorage is a small town, so you run into people at grocery stores and what not; so I of course would run into him on occasion. Every time I saw him somewhere I would say "Hi, Mr. Pritchett" in a sincere and pleasant tone...he wouldn't return the "Hello" and would instead glare at me, grumble, and walk past me. This went on for many years--even after he'd long been retired from teaching--until about three years ago. I bumped into him at Costco a few years ago and tried again with my "Hi, Mr. Pritchett," and, much to my surprise, he smiled and was so gracious. He took my extended hands with both of his and held them so warmly, and I could feel he was genuinely happy to see me. We exchanged small talk for a few minutes and parted ways...it was such a beautiful moment though. I haven't seen him since then, but I'll always have that fond memory.
In fairness to Mr. Pritchett, I did give him much more cause to be pissed at me than simply not doing my daily work and acing the tests. He was out one time for a seminar for a couple days, and had left a notebook of instructions for his substitute sitting on his desk. I scanned over it and noticed that he had instructed him to make 2.0 liters of sodium something-or-other solution, and he had handily written the instructions in pencil so I was able to erase the "." from the page. Mr. Pritchett nearly exploded when he came back to 20 liters of sodium something-or-other solution and spent most of an entire class letting us all know how upset he was. I never did fess up to that one, though I imagine he always suspected me.
And there was the time I squirted a girl on the backside with a water gun--Amy, I think it was--and he sent me to the principal's office. Amy (if it was her) even pleaded with him not to bust me, as we were friends and I was just messing around, and she didn't really mind...but he'd have none of it. So I went to the office, and was issued a week's worth of work details. Mr. Pritchett was satisfied with that, until he later found out that I never actually had to serve any of them. There was another girl--Cassie, I think was her name--who was a friend of mine who worked in the school office, so she marked me off on my work details each day to reflect that I had served them. She offered to do this for me, because she felt the punishment was unjust. Since I seem to be sort of confessing things here, I should point out that the way Mr. Pritchett learned that I never actually served the work details was by me telling him so--on the last day of school. I made a special trip to his classroom to let him know as I was on my way out the door of East Anchorage High school for the last time. So now that I think about it, I guess I deserved years of him glaring and grumbling at me. But all's well that ends well, right? Hopefully Mr. Pritchett never reads this and learns I was responsible for the sodium something-or-other debacle.
There were other things too, but those were the big ones--and I've already let this digression run on too long. I'll finish the digression by saying I actually wasn't a bad kid in school at all--I was an honor student, and, for the most part, what every mother wanted their high school kid to be. The only punishment I ever received in school at all were the work details issued after the squirt gun incident that I never served. A squeaky clean record aside from that. Anyway, on with the unexpected Weasel visit.
Weasel spent three days and two nights with me here at My Blue Heaven, and it was all quality time. We didn't talk too much about his troubles at school and home, but enough I think. When he left the other night he promised me that he'll graduate the 5th grade, so I'm taking him at his word. We ran some errands together and ate out a few times, but mostly we hung out and played video games. We mostly played Primal Rage (which he knows I was addicted to when I was in my mid 20's), but we also played Mortal Kombat--both II and III. Thank God for the retro games they release for Xbox by the way!
I kicked his ass on Primal Rage, of course, because I knew all the special moves; then he returned the favor on Mortal Kombat because he knew THOSE special moves. While we were playing Mortal Kombat, I discovered I was putting up a much better fight against him when I was playing as Mileena, so I just kept playing as her. I even won a few rounds against him, which annoyed him enough to start playing as her. Even when we were both playing as Mileena, I was putting up a good fight against Weasel every round (though I didn't win them all). The highlight, though, was that I successfully executed a finishing move against him, which in Mortal Kombat is called a fatality. This particular fatality had me eating him then spitting out the bones. He was very pissed about this...that is the moment captured in the photo above. He accused me of "button spamming" as he calls it, though I honestly wasn't. I was trying a sequence of buttons as an experiment that was intentional, and the fatality happened. I've always understood "button spamming" (I call it "button mashing") as just randomly hitting different buttons, having no intention or idea what you're doing. The jury is still out.
It was also nice to have someone to watch Thursday Night Football with...we both enjoyed watching the game together I think, and I'm glad he's at an age now where we can have football in common. In all honesty, though, that kind of went off the rails: since we both can always muster enough flatulence for our own entertainment, we engaged in plenty of that during the football game, and we ended up making associations between penalty calls and farts. Gas Interference, Illegal Shift (lifting your butt up to let the stink out), Unsportsmanlike Conduct, Holding (pinching your nose), Roughing the Gasser (punching someone after they fart), Delay Of Game (a fart that lingers too long), Illegal Contact (butt cheeks actually touching the other person when you fart)...and so on. I think you get the idea. It was fun in a father/son kind of way, with no ladies present.
We also watched the Adam Sandler movie "Click" as Weasel really liked that one and I had never seen it. I've enjoyed many Adam Sandler movies over the years, by the way (Happy Gilmore has always been my favorite), but "Click" was one I hadn't seen. We enjoyed that very much too, and made no fart associations with it that I know of--though I'm sure we both still engaged in flatulence while watching it.
We also had found a copy of the Indiana Jones Lego's game for Xbox for $5 at Ian's Game Paradise, so we picked that up and spent some time on that one too. And we farted some more. And we watched cartoon episodes of "Clarence" and "Regular Show" on demand that we both enjoy...and were likely farting during those as well. Maybe I should have worked "flatulence" into the title of this chapter?
In summary, I'm so grateful for the few days Weasel and I had together. He is much more grown up every time I see him (I last saw him late in July, when he and Butterfly were here), and not just in stature. I don't always know that I'm a good father (though my intentions are always good), but I always know that I'm a father...and that goes a long way in defining me I think. No matter where any of us are, no matter what we are doing, I am always a father and always will be. And I'm grateful for that every single day. Dynamic as life is, that is something that can never be taken away from me--in this life or any other. Sometimes life is heavy and we aren't always where we want to be, but we always have to believe that we are where we are supposed to be that moment. We have to believe that the best things in life cannot be changed--that we build our houses (or rafts) upon a rock instead of the sand; and that our rivers always lead us to good so long as we remember that.
I love you, Weasel and Butterfly. I always will.
While rummaging through the upper port side chamber of my old raft tonight, I didn't really have anything in mind that I was searching for, so I decided to break out my most special of special archive boxes and just see what jumped out at me. The toy phone pictured above is what caught my eye. I knew right away why this toy phone has been so precious to me for so long, but initially I was just curious to see if it would turn on--I wasn't sure there were even batteries in it, and, even if there were, they would have to be about 7 years old. As you can see in the picture, it DID in fact turn on...and I spent the next several minutes pressing its buttons and remembering old sounds and songs from long ago. You see, this was Weasel's favorite toy by far from when he was an infant and toddler. I remembered it had to go absolutely everywhere he went. Over time, I had learned to memorize the songs and phrases it played and spoke--and would sometimes have them stuck in my head when I'd try and sleep at night. That is certainly enough to make this keepsake extra special, but that's not what made it extra extra special.
I took my mind back to April of 2005: Butterfly was almost 4 months old, and Weasel was almost 15 months old (yes, they are what I believe they call "Irish twins"--they are the same age for 8 days out of the year). That was the time H had de-boarded my old raft and began building her own--and it was a very intense time indeed. While I was at work one day, she had stopped by My Blue Heaven and cleared out absolutely every trace of Weasel and Butterfly's presence there. Not just the furniture/crib/playpen, toys, bottles, and diapers (down to the last one)...but also every single toy and article of clothing. Seriously, every single item. The idea was that I was never going to see my kids again...an ominous idea, of course, but, I suppose that was her point. I have had long nights in my life before--many of them--but that was by far the longest night I had (and have!) ever experienced. I had been through breakups before, of course, but this was my first time facing separation from the two most important parts of myself. Had I been rational that night, I would have seen that there is no possible way I would never see my kids again...but I was far from rational, so I spent the entire night not sleeping, being utterly heartbroken, and completely terrified.
There was no comfort for me that night, and I didn't even bother trying to find any. Not for comfort's sake, but I suppose just for something to do, I decided to make some tea...because that's what you do, I guess, when you're broken, afraid, and don't like coffee. So I reached down into the back of the cupboard for a sauce pan, and stashed inside it is Weasel's favorite toy--the suddenly extra extra special toy phone. The joy seeing that toy phone brought me is hard to describe, but given the state of mind I was in that night, it was pretty much overwhelming. I plopped straight down to the floor, sat cross-legged, and began playing with it. I felt right away that Weasel had stashed it there on purpose--possibly while his mother was loading the rest of his belongings into her car. I imagined that he loved me and was so gifted beyond his years that he was looking after me...that he hid it from her just for me. Had he done that intentionally, that would have been a tremendous sacrifice he made for me. Of course, I will never know if that's how it went down (imagination is a powerful thing), but I would never forget how much comfort that little toy brought me that night--at a time when even my imagination offered me no hope of comfort.
I didn't sleep that night, but after I found Weasel's most precious toy--the only remnant of my kids left in My Blue Heaven--I became calmer, and a little less heartbroken. More importantly, it awakened hope. I knew already that I would not be able to go into work the next day since I hadn't slept a wink, so I started making plans for the next day: first off I would go to the library and would study child custody law in the state of Alaska. I would arm myself with information. I would learn what I could and couldn't do legally, and I would prepare to take whatever steps necessary to see my kids again. And I already knew of a good family law attorney here in Anchorage, so I would schedule a consultation with her. The fire and determination awakened again within myself. I knew inside that there was no way I wasn't going to see my kids again, that I couldn't be defeated--not when it came to my kids, anyway. All this from a simple toy phone.
I did follow through with those plans the next day; I spent a few hours studying law books at the library, and I got the answers I needed. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but that it could be done. I learned that if I played my cards just right, I could win full custody of my kids and H would never again hold that kind of power over us. I didn't get to meet with the attorney that day, but I did get my appointment scheduled with her. I felt better after doing that too. I guess it's true what they say: knowledge really IS power.
I'm not sure exactly how long it ended up being before I saw Weasel and Butterfly after that, but I think it may have been close to two weeks. Only that first night was awful, though...until I found Weasel's favorite toy. I do remember meeting with the attorney, and she was most encouraging. She confirmed what I had understood from the law books at the library, and added some great pointers of her own. She would represent me, of course, if we had to go to court; but she emphasized that it's always better for the children if the two parents can work it out on their own. Thankfully, in the long run, we WERE able to work it out on our own (though this was no simple or speedy process), and we never had to include the court system. That is a huge blessing, by the way, that I will forever be grateful for. All because Weasel stashed his favorite toy in a sauce pan.
The lesson in this: never underestimate the power of your child's favorite toy. I believe it's understood without me saying, that toy phone will most definitely be aboard my new raft when I build it. It will always be one of my prize possessions. As a final note, the sticker of the sun that is on that toy phone was placed there by Butterfly (later on, of course--not when she was 4 months old). True to her character always, she can be relied upon to leave her mark in the most precious of my places. I am a lucky dude.
I believe I'm getting better at searching the archives in My Blue Heaven aboard my old raft: for the first time since I've started this journal, I actually found what I was looking for instead of getting sidetracked by something else unrelated that interested me beforehand. Granted, I didn't just walk straight into the room, select the correct box, and there was the poster pictured above--it's NEVER quite that easy for me. My archives are a bit of a labyrinth in a sense, and I'm not nearly as organized now as I used to be years ago. Perhaps there's a lesson in there for me somewhere?
I used to have sort of a peculiar way of organizing things, though it worked for me for many years. I organized things more chronologically rather than by subject. As an example, I wouldn't have just a box of old VHS tapes; I would have a box with old VHS tapes I had watched and/or acquired in that era, as well as other novelties I had found around that time, up to and including greeting cards and letters/pictures I had received at that time. You would also be likely to find AA batteries in that box as well because they're just so handy. And pens--lots of ink pens. So yes, AA batteries are a common theme with me, and small flashlights. And portable compact disc players. Because you just never know when the power will go out, right? I digress.
My old manner of archiving things became obsolete soon after Weasel and Butterfly entered my life. Necessity dictated that I started grouping items by subject rather than by era, but I had a lot less time to organize memories once the kids were born. So ultimately, what I'm left with on my old raft are a couple different series of archives--those arranged by era, and those arranged by subject...and the unfortunate boxes that are a blend of the two. It would take a mathematician of considerable skill to make sense of my current archives. I am not that mathematician, as I'm sure calculus and imaginary numbers would come into play. It just occurred to me that this whole chapter so far has been nothing but a digression. It'll have to do...I'm not re-writing the entry.
So the Star Wars conundrum: that was the original point of all this. In a way, it does tie in, because I also have Star Wars items littered throughout nearly ALL of my archives--but I won't digress further. Not yet anyway. Weasel was born in January of 2005, so the poster pictured above confirms that this was the first Star Wars film released after his birth--and the first one released with me as a father. I was fortunate to have gone to see the movie on Father's Day, because the usher gave me this wonderful keepsake that helps me keep track of memories. I remember now wanting to go see the new Star Wars movie as a Father's Day gift to myself, and making arrangements for the grandparents to watch Weasel so I could do so (he was much too young to take to a movie at that time--and even if I could have enjoyed the movie while changing diapers and feeding and entertaining him, I was certain that my fellow Star Wars nerds would NOT be so understanding). So I went alone--just me. Peace and quiet, and finally seeing exactly how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader for the first time. I enjoyed it thoroughly, of course, and it was the best of the prequels in my opinion.
Later that night after watching Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith (when I was going to sleep, no doubt--or the next day while showering), I got to thinking just how I was going to introduce the Star Wars saga to Weasel when he was old enough. Episodes I and II were bad enough that I thought we might just be able to skip over the prequels completely as if they never existed. Certainly my preference was for Weasel to experience Star Wars the same way that I did--beginning with Episode IV, then V, and finally VI. I considered ways I might shelter him from the prequels and how he could just live his life feeling satisfied knowing that Darth Vader really WAS Luke's father--and that Emperor Palpatine was dead, and that Luke saved his father's spirit. And that Ewoks were lame--though we enjoyed C-3PO telling them stories in their native tongue.
At some point during my inner dialogue, however, reality reared its profit-making head, and I knew that by the time Weasel was old enough to enjoy Star Wars, he would also be old enough to recognize Jar-Jar Binks underwear, Qui-Gon toothbrushes, and Clone Trooper costumes & bicycles...and I'd have lots of explaining to do. And if I didn't explain things well enough, then he'd also be old enough at this point to just search the internet for his answers. I most certainly didn't want important questions like this answered by bloggers and YouTube videos I didn't know and trust--they might somehow convince him that the prequels were actually GOOD--then Weasel and I would forever have an awkward father/son relationship. So I came up with a plan. I didn't yet know, of course, that Butterfly was going to be in the picture the next year, but the plan applied just the same toward her.
I don't like to pat myself on the back for things--certainly not as it pertains to fatherhood--but I believe I solved the Star Wars conundrum and nailed at least this one small part of parenting. What I did was only own the DVD's for the original Star Wars movies (Episodes IV, V, and VI) but owned the Star Wars Lego's XBOX game for Episodes I, II, and III. In all honesty, I did own the DVD's for the prequels as well, but I stashed them in the archives so they didn't know we had them. But you get my point. It worked like a charm! The only Star Wars movies they got to see were the real ones...all the underwear, toothbrushes, costumes, and bicycles could be explained away by the Lego's video game. I could even have them play the XBOX game as Jar-Jar Binks so they could see how he couldn't do anything except jump high--he had no blaster, grappling hook, or anything cool to offer at all in the game. See, I never had to explain to my kids that Jar-Jar was lame--I could just smile smugly as we played XBOX and they said "I don't want to be Jar-Jar...he sucks!" The more time we spent playing the video game, the more Weasel and Butterfly associated the prequels with animated Lego's characters. And we could watch the DVD's so that they also had a chance to understand why Star Wars is so sacred and important. I never once had to answer awkward Star Wars questions with Weasel and Butterfly, and to this day, Episodes IV, V, and VI remain the "real" Star Wars to them.
I'm still nervous about Episode VII coming out this December (even more so now that it's being put out by Disney), but I'm trying to stay optimistic. Whether the new movies are wonderful or horrendous, I'm guessing fathers having kids over the next several years will have to find a new strategy...my Star Wars conundrum solve will be obsolete, I'm afraid.
I have decided, however, that any and all Star Wars related items from the old raft will be transferred to the new raft once I build it. No exceptions.
As I was fooling about in the lower main cabin aboard my old raft, I bumped a shelf and somehow only the book pictured on the top of this page fell down. I reached down to pick it up and noticed it had fallen open to this page (the second photo pictured here). This struck me as odd because, though I had remembered having this book, I had forgotten that my dad had found it and sent it to me. I actually recognized his handwriting even before I read any of the words. Apparently I needed to be reminded of this treasure, and I'm glad that I was. Aside from the wonderful memories of my dad that its discovery brought, it is also one of the few very popular classics that I've never read..and I've enjoyed all the other books I've read by Robert Louis Stevenson (My favorite by him that I've read is "Travels With A Donkey" in the event anyone would ever wonder). I used to read from "Treasure Island" sometimes for Weasel and Butterfly at bedtime...they never took much of an interest in it, but it DID help them to fall asleep I think.
My love of classic literature is something that probably not too many people have known about me...aside from close personal friends, and family of course. Literature was really my first love--long before music--and the use of words is something that always came natural to me from a young age...unlike music (that's another story for another time, but I was far from a natural-born musician). Stumbling on to this book tonight reminded me just how much I used to read--and WHAT I used to read--before Weasel and Butterfly came into my life. I used to read many spiritual and theological works too, and a bit of philosophy. Somewhere in the archives below the captain's bed there are journals that list dozens of books I had read in years past. I remembered a co-worker named Shawn Gumbleton many years before who had accused me of only reading such books as an attempt to be a "literature snob." I'm not sure I ever fully convinced him that it really WAS just because I love the older writing styles that much more--the wit and humor of the classics is unrivaled in the last two centuries--in my opinion. For what it's worth. And there is my digression for this chapter.
One last digression as a note to myself: at some point I really need to journal about times working with Shawn...we had some great memories together, and he taught me lots of cool stuff about the internet underground at a time when it really was like the wild west. No more digressions tonight. I hope. That's my intention, anyway.
So I had decided that I need to read the classic that fell beneath my nose tonight, and considered that I need to spend more time with the classics in general. I really do--they brought me so much joy. Since November is just 'round the corner, and that's an emotional time for me (both the day my dad was brought into this world, and the day he left it, fall in the month of November), I have slated "Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde" for reading during that season.
Early on, after Weasel and Butterfly were born, I was quite busy of course...there really was little time or energy for reading of any sort, except the occasional board book at bed time. And by the time they had gotten old enough to be more independent, I was deep into making music again, and any free time I found was slotted for the writing and recording of music (and time on the Internet, of course, so that people actually KNEW I existed and was making music). On the rare occasion I'd make time to read, I found myself reading rock biographies and more recent books on space...specifically as it pertained to the possibility of multiple universes, and the role of dark matter/dark energy in our existence. The rock biographies helped me understand different perspectives on making it in the music business (my interest often centered upon the psychological impacts of the "rock star" lifestyle, as well as the struggles of the creative process itself); and the space books often became inspiration for songs I would write and record.
So as I continued to sift through these memories here in the kitchen of My Blue Heaven, I realized that the Jekyll & Hyde book comes 'round full circle...over the years as a musician I had really become a Jekyll & Hyde myself--I had created the alter ego KeV Atomic that most people on the internet know me by. He is me--and not me--at the same time; the two are ever intertwined. Both Kevin and KeV have positive and negative traits, as do all people, I believe. Balance became a greater issue for me over time, as it continues to be even as I write this. Where does one end, and the other begin...or is this some difficult thing for the mind to grasp, like comprehending the Holy Trinity? And no, in no way am I attempting to compare myself to the Holy Trinity--that is most certainly not my intention, nor would it ever be.
What generally happened, I think, is that I was Kevin when I was with my kids, and I was KeV Atomic when I was writing, recording, or making myself known online. But the lines were sometimes blurred. Sometimes Kevin would show up to Cub Scout meetings in nail polish and makeup--which is much more of a KeV type thing to do (Weasel was a Cub Scout, and somehow I got chosen to be the den leader for a time). And there were times that KeV was online promoting his music, but Kevin would take over and start tweeting about Weasel and Butterfly or "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" or any number of domestic, non-music-related things. What became sort of a balance for me was really a marriage of two different pendulums--always in motion, and sometimes synchronized. I imagine the possibility of two pendulums (in motion, of course) intersecting one another at perfect right angles. I'm not sure if that's possible in this universe, but that seems a way to try to explain it.
When Weasel and Butterfly moved away on Star Wars Day of 2014, and I was left alone aboard my old raft, I was also left with decisions I could make. The makeshift balance between Kevin and KeV Atomic that got us by for a few years wasn't going to work anymore. I knew that much. Simply put, I was given the opportunity, for the first time since Weasel and Butterfly were born, to just be KeV Atomic pretty much all the time. I could write, record, and make new definitions for "absurdity" pretty much any time I wanted (except when I was at work). That was my theory, at any rate. And it made sense to me. Heck, I could even go on tour now if I wanted to...just so many choices.
And I did just that for a while--but only a little while (I didn't actually tour, but I made the right contacts and rehearsed so that I COULD tour whenever I was ready for that adventure, as I surely would be). Reality has a way of knocking on your door even when you have your "No Soliciting" sign prominently displayed, though, and melancholy eventually set in. I knew how much I would miss Weasel and Butterfly, I knew what a tremendous challenge it would be to restructure my life...but I didn't suspect for a second that KeV Atomic wouldn't be able to get me through this. He is a super hero, of sorts, you know--at least in my mind. Surely he could do it, and surely he would. But he didn't, and he couldn't. For the first time since I brought KeV Atomic into existence, I realized he wasn't all-powerful, and wasn't the answer to everything. Even HE has his limitations, and I was living in a season that limited his strength and energy. I lost my passion to write and record songs, I lost my desire for my music to be known on the Internet--not entirely, but mostly. This didn't happen overnight, of course--it was a process, as all meaningful things in life are. A gradual slide, slow and silent--but downward nevertheless.
I filled a lot of the void with social networking. I found that Kevin could awaken KeV Atomic that way...as you know, no one can brighten another's day quite like KeV Atomic! There was a rejuvenating element to it for sure, but it was only a postponement of the inevitable; I would eventually have to confront my own melancholy--Kevin's melancholy--and though KeV could help others with theirs, he was incapable of helping me with mine. That reminds me of how Nostradamus was able to save many lives (possibly thousands) from the plague, but he lost his own wife and children to it. True story. He was not just a visionary, he was a prominent doctor in his day. Perhaps he was a Jekyll & Hyde too? Did I just digress again? I'm sorry.
I didn't set out on this chapter with the intention of explaining all this, but it feels good to me that I did. I remember my mother telling me soon after Weasel and Butterfly moved away that I'd have to experience something very similar to a grieving process--and I believed her. But I never really confronted it--I guess I got sidetracked. She is a wise woman. So wise, in fact, that she'd never admit to it (Another digression--sorry!). I feel in my heart that this journal is maybe the beginning of really coming to terms with all this. I shall choose to believe so, in any case.
I was digging through archives in the upper starboard side of My Blue Heaven earlier today, in search of some of the Pitfall treasures I mentioned in Chapter 5. I didn't find them, but I did stumble onto a box of Lunger treasures...items involving my all time best noun--mostly items he has sent me over the years. Lunger would have been my best noun from high school had he not gotten expelled, so instead he became my best noun outside of school--and ultimately, my soulmate as the years progressed.
Lunger was ultimately expelled from our high school for wearing a cape, a creepy green samurai mask, and attacking an unsuspecting classroom with a fire extinguisher conveniently provided by the Anchorage School District (though in their defense, they DID keep it locked away in a glass case). But that was only the icing on the cake...Lunger was very close to expulsion even before that. You see, Lunger was a bit like Ferris Bueller, but he took it to a whole new level. Lunger had a very difficult sophomore year at East Anchorage High School: Three of his grandmothers had died, and a few of his houses had burned down--all within a single semester. Not only was the vice principal and head of security less than compassionate toward Lunger's tragedies, he even became suspicious that Lunger was just finding excuses to not attend school. Apparently the fire extinguisher/costuming incident was more than dead grandmothers and ashes of previous homes could explain, so Lunger attended East Anchorage High School no more after that.
Over the years, Lunger and I have endured many experiences together...from yard animal hunting to KISS concerts, to dissecting Star Wars movies, to solving the mysteries of the universe upon the kitchen counters in My Blue Heaven (which I purchased from him in September of 2000)--and everything in between. I could easily write a Moby Dick-sized novel about the times we spent together, but I won't. I will only say, for the time being, that he has often been the Jonathan to my David, the Sonny to my Cher, the Butthead to my Beavis.
The picture that precedes these words is one I highly dislike for a couple reasons, but I adore for many others. It is from Lunger's wedding in May of 2005, which took place in a seedy chapel in La$ Vega$--complete with an Elvis impersonator performing the legal ceremony. I was his best noun, of course--the one wearing the button up album cover from Iron Maiden's "Live After Death" double LP. That crooked smile of mine is one of the reasons you rarely see me smile in selfies--I inherited that from my maternal grandfather. And yes, I was still working a white collar job at that time, so I had short hair and pretended most of the time to be quite the professional. I always find a way to digress and regress, don't I? Maybe there's a lesson in that for me somewhere? (Yes, I'm playing on that theme now that I've discovered it, lol). H was a few months pregnant with Weasel at the time that picture was taken--and she was there too...we were already having "relationship" issues, which is why I looked so fatigued--and much older than I do now--in that picture despite my unbridled joy that allowed the camera to capture the crooked smile my grandfather handed down to me.
So why the title "Lungarelli & Lee Lung Cho" for this chapter? My soulmate and I had a great fondness for the movie "Tombstone," and we both particularly admired Val Kilmer's role as Doc Holliday. We began calling each other "Lunger" because of it, and the campy insult took on a life of its own...that led us to start coming up with variations of the name as sort of a creative exercise. "Lungarelli" became the preferred version of me, and "Lee Lung Cho" became the preferred version of my best noun. There were many other variations, mind you--Senor Lungero, Monsieur Lungios, Lungenheimer, Von Lungen--those are a few that pop into my head as I type this--but the variations used in the title of this chapter became our standards. To this day, even Weasel and Butterfly don't know my actual best noun's name; they only know him as "Lunger." It's not that his real name is confidential, that's just how it worked out--and they've never asked. For the record, his name is Chris Kauffman...this is the first time I've ever revealed this on the internet in any way. As a matter of trivia, Weasel's legal name almost contained umlauts because of Lee Lung Cho, but H would have no part of it.
Should any wonder, my soulmate Lunger and I rarely speak these days. There is no tension between us--whenever we speak again we will pick up where we left off. One of the things that makes us soulmates is that there are never any conditions. He lives with his wife in Brazil now, and their son Noah Moon will turn 2 years old next month. I hear from his mother that they will be spending some time in the United States next year, so I'm hoping we'll catch up. I suppose I'd better start coming up with "Lunger" names for his toddler before he arrives huh? I can't use "Little Lunger" because he already used that when Weasel was born (it is sung--not spoken--from the AC/DC song "Little Lover").
If you take the time to read this, and feel compelled to steal the picture from it...I have no issue with that, but please don't share it online in any way--let it be for you. That picture of me is not the way people like to think of KeV Atomic, and I'd not have you ruin their happy illusion.
I'm journaling tonight from the kitchen...because it's where I have my space heater running...because my furnace is out, and My Blue Heaven is starting to get chilly. My lovely assistant Kaylee is none too pleased about this...and in fact, she's been cranky the last couple nights. I'm starting to think cats do not like cooler temperatures. She won't have to suffer much longer though, as the new furnace is being put in on Thursday morning. I suspect we will survive just fine until then. Wow...not even a paragraph in, and already I digress!
I found my old smoke machines earlier, beneath the captain's bed in the upper port side chambers of my old raft (yes, the same place the aforementioned old journals of mine are stored in a box that you're not likely to ever stumble upon). We used to use those smoke machines for live shows years ago in my band Pitfall back before Weasel and Butterfly were born. I formed Pitfall with my best noun from high school in 2004, and I was a part of Pitfall up until our New Year's show in 2005. I was not kicked out of the band, nor did I leave in a fit of rage. It was all planned from the beginning. My best noun from high school had decided he wanted to play bass and form a band. Since I had experience doing these types of things, I told him I'd help him get it going but that I'd be stepping down once my son was born (H was pregnant with Weasel when we started this venture). We auditioned necessary band members in my best noun's basement, found the right ones, and started writing songs and rehearsing. We went through a few lineup changes early on but eventually settled in. We all thought of and suggested band names, but I came up with Pitfall. That ended up winning out. It turns out there was a semi-well-known band by that name in Germany at the time, but we figured since we were in Anchorage, Alaska it would be okay to use it. And it worked out fine.
I don't remember the exact date we played our first live show, but I know it was in September--so it was very nearly 11 years ago this date as I write this. It was at the Carousel Lounge...a popular biker bar here in Anchorage. The turnout wasn't huge, but we dominated and won them over right away. We became popular in Anchorage very soon after and played a few more shows at different venues. Our pinnacle (in my opinion) was when we played the Halloween show with my all-time favorite band from Alaska, T.S. Scream (their guitar player and primary songwriter was another high school noun of mine). I was dressed up as Alice Cooper--complete with top hat and cane. That was a night for the ages...we went back to the Carousel Lounge for that show, and all their records were shattered--attendance, liquor sales, decibels, etc. The fire marshal showed up because the venue was over capacity (there were over 300 people there, and I believe the capacity was 250), and the police showed up because they were getting noise complaints by residents that apparently were able to hear a show from the Carousel Lounge for the first time. The Carousel Lounge had been around for at least more than 20 years at that time, and probably more than 30. That was a part of Anchorage's history we were particularly proud of. I have video footage of that show on DVD in my archives somewhere, but as far as I know none of it has been put on the internet. I even sang "Eighteen" and "Welcome To My Nightmare" (famous Alice Cooper songs) at one point, though I wasn't the front man. Jason was our singer, I was the rhythm guitarist--but we traded places for those two songs. Jason was dressed up as a "hooker from Fairbanks" as he called it--he was wearing combat boots and a flowered dress he found in my best noun's basement while we were rehearsing one night. The smoke machines used during that infamous show are the very ones beneath my captain's bed.
So why the pictures of Butterfly and Weasel in this chapter? Because back in 2013, they stumbled onto the smoke machines and asked me what they were. I didn't tell them as much as I've shared in this chapter, but I let them know that the smoke machines were used for live rock shows. They were intrigued, of course, asked questions, and deserved an actual demonstration. I got the smoke machines up and running that night, and we had a blast. I think Weasel and Butterfly enjoyed the smoke machines even more than I enjoyed using them during Pitfall's Halloween show. Maybe there is a lesson in there for me somewhere?
Weasel and Butterfly enjoyed the smoke machines so much, in fact, that I spent the next several weeks saying "Not tonight" when they'd ask me to bring them out every night after we had dinner. I did say "Okay" a couple of those nights, but not nearly as often as they would've liked. Yes, I think those smoke machines should find their way over to the new raft once I've built it. Sometimes smoke and mirrors are really more than just smoke and mirrors...though I still believe much of life really IS just smoke and mirrors. For what it's worth.
So rummaging through a chest of plastic drawers in the upper deck on the rear starboard side of my old raft, I found a couple tennis balls. These weren't just any tennis balls, however--these were the last of them. At one point, I probably had 30-40 tennis balls aboard my old raft--and I've never really played tennis--but I believe all but these two have long been tossed into the river...or maybe some of them into the woods, when I felt like seeing just how far I could throw one. Not that far, it turned out. The world is certainly a better place not having me in the outfield of a Major League baseball team--or even little league, for that matter. Perhaps tee ball, yes...I believe I could excel at that. I'm starting to think I will digress in every chapter of this journal, though I swear it was never my plan or intention.
Before Weasel and Butterfly had come into my life, I used to take my canine companion for late night walks after work. Our walks would often lead us near the tennis courts at my old high school, where, to this day, instructors give tennis lessons to kids during the summer. One night, on one of our walks, I found a tennis ball in the grass...then another one under a tree...and another one in a bush. And I even spotted a tennis racket stuck on a branch very high on a pine tree--and used one of the tennis balls I had just found to knock it out of the tree (it took many, many tries, of course!). So my collection had started, and my tradition of hunting for tennis balls lasted for many years. My canine companion Sheba, of course, loved the tennis balls, and we got much use out of them--that was my official excuse for going tennis ball hunting, though there has always been enough of a boy left inside me that I have a fascination with objects that are found. They become special to me.
The accumulation of tennis balls I had amassed coupled with the racket I had acquired caused me to consider actually learning how to play tennis some day. It was a brief thought, and I never did follow through. I did go to the tennis courts late at night a few times when no one else was around, and knock the balls around...but that was as close as I ever got to playing tennis.
When Weasel and Butterfly were old enough, I passed the tennis ball hunting tradition on to them. My canine companion was still with us during the first few years of their lives, so that was still my excuse--we were finding tennis balls for Sheba...and sometimes we'd cheat and use the tennis balls ourselves. That was allowed--and, in all honesty--sometimes encouraged. Wouldn't it just make the perfect story now to say that this sparked an interest in tennis among Weasel and Butterfly and that they are now very dedicated & gifted tennis players? It would be fiction, for sure. We did find a second racket on one of our hunts--I think it was Butterfly that spotted it in the bushes (I can't remember for sure)...but that was as close as any of us got to becoming tennis players. But Sheba was very happy having more tennis balls than she knew what to do with, and so were we--that was enough for us. Maybe there is a lesson in that for me (have you noticed how every chapter so far has had a possible lesson in it for me? That also was not planned). And, in case you're wondering, yes--both of the tennis rackets are still currently aboard my old raft.
You've probably guessed that the picture preceding this journal entry is from one of our tennis ball hunts. It is. We did find a few tennis balls that day, I remember. Also, during the same hunt that day, I had taken a picture of Butterfly that became my dad's favorite of her...he liked it so much that he had it framed and it was displayed (per his request) at his memorial service in 2007. As a side note, the little Cubs dress Butterfly was wearing in the picture still hangs upon a rod in their closet in the Crumbmakers' quarters. That, for sure, will be transferred to the new raft, when it is built...but I still haven't made up my mind about the last two tennis balls, and the two rackets.