Friday, June 14, 2024

BLOG RERUN: For it's money they have and peace they lack

NOTE: This post originally ran on the blog on September 7, 2017. I bring it back today for three reasons: (1) It is baseball season; (2) It feels even more relevant today than it did nearly seven years ago; (3) While I mostly don't love my own writing, I've always thought I did an OK job with this one. I hope you do, too.

There is a cult within America – populated largely by white, middle-aged males, but certainly not limited to them – that has romanticized the game of baseball beyond what it probably deserves.

I am perhaps one of them, but at least I know I am one of them.

The reasons for this idolization of the sport are varied. For many, baseball was their best (and perhaps only) connection with their fathers. Many of us root for the teams our dads rooted for because there is an indelible bond, strengthened ever further by blood, among those who live and die with the fortunes of a common athletic team.

For others, baseball represents a simpler time. In most cases, I think that simpler time for which they yearn was really no simpler than today, but it certainly seemed simpler in a pre-Internet age...and with the passing of time, of course, which tends to whitewash every flaw.

In the days before massive youth soccer leagues, baseball was the one sport in which most young men – it was softball for the girls – participated at one level or another. I played through the age of 13 until I could no longer keep up with the fastballs and had no hope of hitting a curveball. More importantly, I became a fan of the game at the age of 9 and remain one to this day.

It is a slow game, some will say, and I don't disagree with them. But "slow" does not equate with "boring." Watching a well-played baseball game is just about the best way I can think of to spend a summer afternoon, even if it takes 3+ hours to play and ends with a 2-1 score.

I bring this up because, as I type, my beloved Cleveland Indians have won an astounding 14 games in a row (the second consecutive season in which they've accomplished this feat). And tonight they go for No. 15 with ace pitcher and Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber on the mound.

So many people I come across these days (including my doctor as she poked and prodded me this morning as part of my annual physical) want to talk about the Tribe. Could this be their year? Will they stay healthy? What's up with Jose Ramirez's incredible bat? And his hair, for that matter?

They ask these questions with that note of restrained, even fatalistic, optimism that Cleveland sports fans have perfected. We have been burned in a variety of creatively cruel ways over the years, and there is a part of us that always assumes the worst will happen.

But the important thing is, talking about the Tribe is fun, and it makes us happy. It gives us a few minutes to stop thinking about hurricanes and politics and flag protests and everything else that makes us cry and worry and act viciously toward one another.

There are poor people in this country, no doubt, but as comedienne Marsha Warfield said about hunger in the U.S., "It ain't but so bad." The vast majority of us have the essentials we need to live. Most have roofs over their heads and some sort of food on the table. We have the things our wages can buy.

What we don't have, what perhaps we've never had, is peace. A sense that everything is going to be OK. Maybe that's impossible to have in this (or any) age, so we settle for small glimpses of it. We talk about the things that make us feel good and remind us that humans have the capacity to do meaningful, inspirational things.

And I include baseball in that. It's just a game, you might say, and you're right. But it's also an escape, albeit temporary, from everything else that weighs on us. It is a way to connect to the part of our collective consciousness that shuts down in the face of worrisome news and constant conflict and our own mortality.

There are bad characters in baseball as in anything. There is greed, there is selfishness and there is cheating.

But there is also purity and honesty and beauty that mostly eludes us as we slog our way through everyday life.

It's purity, honesty and beauty that can be had for the price of a ticket, or even the click of a TV remote.

If acknowledging that simple fact constitutes over-romanticizing baseball, then I can only plead guilty.

In the end, I'll be back season after season to watch and cheer and fret and fume. I follow other sports, but in the end, it was baseball that was my first love. And she never fails to deliver.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Just because I go into the office five days a week doesn't mean anybody else has to

This is my office at Materion. I spend a lot of time here (and I like it).

Back in December I had a post here about how much I enjoyed my company's hybrid arrangement of working three days in the office and two days at home each week.

Let's pretend I never wrote that.

Actually, I still stand behind every word I said, particularly how smart it is for companies to give their employees flexible working options that make life a little more manageable, at least when compared with the old non-negotiable approach of five days in the office for those of us in the white collar world.

For the last five months, however, I have been coming into the office every day, Monday through Friday, of my own volition.

There have been a couple of exceptions, but the most part, I commute to work five days a week like it's still 2019.

This is completely my choice. I do it for me and not as an attempt to suggest to others that they, too, should be back in the office full time.

They shouldn't be. They should be doing whatever works best for them and their employers.

It's just that, for me, the office is the one place where I am most focused on the task at hand. It's not that I can't be productive from my home office, but that, on balance, I get more done at Materion corporate headquarters than I do working upstairs at 30025 Miller Avenue.

The one person I supervise, Courtney, knows I do this, and more importantly, she knows I don't expect her in any way to follow my lead. She has a little boy at home to take care of. It's just easier and better for everyone involved when she can work from home at least a few days a week.

(It doesn't hurt that she's very smart and talented and would be just as productive if we gave her a laptop, a rechargeable battery and a tent and sent her out in the middle of the woods to work.)

The point is, my Materion office is my favorite place to work. I love it on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays when my co-workers are in the office with me and I can collaborate and converse with them, and I love it just as much on Mondays and Fridays when the parking lot is nearly empty and only a few of us are onsite.

My work schedule, my choice. Your results may (and really should) vary.

Monday, June 10, 2024

When I was growing up, this was about the time we would get out of school

It was only when I became a parent that I realized how amazingly short our kids' summer break from school really was.

At least in our district (though I think this is common), they don't even have 12 full weeks off before they're right back in the classroom.

Not that I think there's anything wrong with that, by the way. Indeed, during my time working with The Cleveland Foundation, I came to see some advantages to having year-round school with extended breaks between quarters/semesters.

It's just that, when I was a kid, summer vacation seemed to go on forever. It was great. We would get out in mid-June and not be back until after Labor Day.

I don't remember a single summer ever flying by or seeming too short, which may suggest that my friends and I did it right and made the most of our vacation time.

Later on as a parent, however, those 11 1/2 weeks would fly by in an instant. That's probably a function of time in general passing more quickly once you become an adult, but I could never reconcile the fleeting nature of my kids' summer vacations with the seemingly longer breaks I had as a kid.

In any event, as today's headline suggests, this is about the time of year in the 1970s and 80s when we would have our last day of school. That seems quaint now because, as far as I know, no local school district has been in session for at least a week, and many for longer than that. The kids almost universally get out in mid/late May or early June these days.

I don't know that that's any better or worse than the way we did it in my youth, it's just different.

Even with my kids grown, I still can't get used to it.

Friday, June 7, 2024

To the Great White North we go, this time without the guy on stilts

A street performer very similar to this one
almost cost me my marriage in 1994.

My son Jack and I will be taking a weekend trip to Toronto, a wonderful city that is conveniently situated a mere 4 1/2-hour drive from our home.

I love Toronto, but more generally, I love Canada. This probably has to do as much with my passion for hockey as anything else, but there are many things to embrace about our neighbors to the north.

The first time I traveled to Canada was in 1985, when my dad took me and my friend Mel to Niagara Falls for a few days. There was something exotic about getting into the car and driving to a foreign country.

Because, let's not forget, Canada is its own nation. Many Americans, while acknowledging all that Canada has to offer, see it merely as the 51st U.S. state. This is both insulting to Canadians and ignorant of the fact that they have their own unique culture and worldview.

That should go without saying, but sometimes it feels like it needs to be said.

Over the years I have often returned to Niagara Falls (probably 10 times since that first expedition in '85) to go along with half a dozen trips to Toronto, five visits to Montreal, and one memorable-but-short stay in Ottawa. I've never been to Western Canada, but I hope to get there eventually.

The memorable day in Ottawa occurred in 1994. Elissa was only a few months old at the time, and Terry and I took her with us on a week-long driving vacation with stops in all of the cities named above.

When we got to Ottawa, Terry was feeling a little sick, so she tasked me with finding a drug store and getting some medicine while she stayed in our hotel room with infant Elissa.

Without an Internet to rely on, I asked around for a local drug store and got directions to a place a few blocks over. On my way there, I came across a street performer on stilts. He was very talented, so I stood for a while watching him.

I watched him longer than I realized, because by the time I reached the pharmacy, got Terry's medicine and returned to the hotel, an undeniably lengthy period of time had passed. She was understandably well shy of pleased at how long I had been gone.

For all she knew, I could have been dead.

But no, I was just watching the guy on stilts. Did I mention how good he was?

Anyway, I had just gotten into hockey around the time we visited Ottawa and decided I needed an NHL team of which to be a fan. The Ottawa Senators had come into the league a couple of years before, so I decided they would be my team, no matter how horrible they were at the time.

They have remained my team ever since. I have seen them play in person eight or nine times over the years in a variety of cities, though never in Ottawa itself.

I hope to get back there someday. And this time, if my wife is again sick, you can be sure I'll ignore the guy on stilts and focus on my mission of getting her medicine.


Wednesday, June 5, 2024

32 years later, here we are


This shot was taken many years after we were married, but it was a re-creation of a photo we took on our honeymoon in 1992 at Universal Studios in Florida.

This post should technically appear here on the blog tomorrow, seeing as how Terry and I celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary on June 6th and not today. But my Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting schedule yields to no milestone or special occasion, thus making me 24 hours early in wishing my bride a very happy anniversary.

However long you've been married, you can't help but notice, as the number creeps higher and higher, that the years pass impossibly fast. Father Time is, without a doubt, undefeated.

And he's running up the score on some of us.

I am grateful for everything and everyone I have in my life, but my wife is at the top of that list. I don't necessarily deserve someone as wonderful as she is, but I take some small amount of credit for recognizing that fact and being grateful for her.

Thirty-two years ago tonight we had our wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. I look back at those grainy old videos and realize we were just kids at the time. I was 22 years old, having only graduated from college a few weeks earlier. Terry was 23.

And here we are now, somewhat older than 22 and 23.

Our kids marvel at the fact that we were married so young, and even more so at the fact we were the parents of three children before either of us had turned 30.

It was a different time. Everyone lives life in their own way and at their own pace.

Our chosen pace, in those early years, was "frantic."

As I type this in mid-May, I have no idea what Terry and I will do tomorrow night to mark the passing of 32 years. Probably dinner out and an early return home to watch TV. (EDITOR'S NOTE: It turns out we'll be attending a playoff hockey the insistence of my awesome wife.)

Happy anniversary to the best wife a guy could ask for. Without her, this blog could only be called "5 Kids," and well, that just wouldn't be as exciting.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Five ways going to our local library now is different from what it was back in 1981

(1) I now take a car to get there instead of a bike
My visits to the Wickliffe Public Library these days require a short car ride of only 4 minutes. When I was growing up, the library was located clear on the other end of the city from me, which usually meant I would have to ride my bike all the way down Euclid Avenue to get there. It was only a few miles, but it seemed farther. On the way home, as I carried the books I had selected in a plastic bag with the drawstring wrapped around my wrist, the bag would constantly bump up against my front bike tire and start to tear. I remember at least one time when it burst open and the books fell out before I reached home. I think I like the car trips better.

(2) Computers
There are probably a dozen computers at the library that are free for public use. When I first started going decades ago, there were zero. And even a few years later when the first few green-screen models were installed, I recall them being coin-operated and time-limited. Nowadays it's difficult to imagine a library that aims to serve its surrounding community to the fullest not offering free computer use.

(3) The card catalog has gone away...
Speaking of computers, that's how you look up materials at the library now. When I was a boy, you had to go the card catalog, pull out the appropriate drawer depending on the first letter of what you were looking for, and find the card that would tell you where in the library it was located. If it was a book, you had to memorize the call number. One time when we traveled to the library for a field trip in 6th grade, I ripped the card out of the file drawer and took it with me as I searched for the book. I wasn't exactly a genius back then (or now).

(4) has the old checkout machine...
The only loud sound I remember in the library growing up was the "chuh-CHUNK" of the little machine they used to check out items. They would insert your library card in a little slot, then place the card that was kept in a sleeve on the inside cover of your book into another slot, and that would cause the "chuh-CHUNK" sound that meant the due date (and I think your library card number) had been printed on the book card. Now it's just an innocuous little beep when the circulation clerk scans your title. I miss the "chuh-CHUNK."

(5) ...and so have the ethnic jokebooks (I think)
Back in the 1980s, the Wickliffe Public Library offered a whole shelf full of jokebooks aimed at various nationalities and ethnicities. I remember a Polish jokebook for sure, and I'm pretty sure there was an Italian one. And I wouldn't be surprised if there were books of off-color jokes about Black people, White people, Chinese people, Eskimos, Antarcticans, etc. The culture ethos was...a little different in the 80s. I assume these books are now off the shelves, but as a 12-year-old I would happily check them out, read them, and laugh uproariously.

As I often say, it was a different time, you understand.

Friday, May 31, 2024

When your life is no longer governed by the academic calendar

The AI Blog Post Image Generator tried so hard.

Every weekday morning on my drive to the office, I pass an elementary school. Unless I'm especially early or late, or unless it happens to be a bank/government holiday, the 20mph school zone lights are always flashing as I approach.

Recently, though, for the first time in a while, the lights weren't on.

Initially I didn't understand why that would be. It was 7:45am, prime school arrival time. It was a Wednesday. I couldn't imagine why the kids might be off that day.

Then it hit me.

It was late May. School was out for the summer. The kids wouldn't be back for nearly three months.

It was the first time I realized that virtually every school district around me was on break. It just hadn't occurred to me before.

Not coincidentally, this past year was also the first time since 1998-99 that Terry and I had no kids in school.

For 25 years, we lived within the confines of the academic calendar. Our lives were directly affected by teachers workshops, spring breaks, band concerts, sporting events, and everything else you as a parent experience in the course of the school year.

And now, apart from my PA announcing gigs, that schedule means almost nothing to us. The last day of school  an annual milestone that would have been ingrained in my mind in years past  was irrelevant.

To the point that I didn't even know the kids were on break.

It was strangely disconcerting. Just another little thing to adjust to in our post-secondary parenting lives.

When you're raising kids, there are all kinds of "firsts" and "lasts." And when you have multiple children, the "lasts" aren't truly "last" until your last kid.

Then they go away forever. Just like my recognition of where we were in the year and how teachers and kids had already been set free for the next 11 weeks without me being the least bit aware.

Cut me a little slack. I'm still an empty nester in training.