Sunday, October 14, 2012

Procrastination...I'll Get Back to You!


 I originally posted this as an email, but thought I'd share...


Procrastination is not a smart thing. You’d think I’d learn. I planned to write this yesterday, but other things got in the way—not more important things, just stuff that I erroneously decided needed to be completed first.  
Guess it served me right that when I sat down this morning to compose and send this note, the power winked out. 
I heard sirens, so my guess is something slammed into a power pole.
As many of you know, I publish a blog. If you’re not familiar with it, take a look at www.keithaferstl.com.  On average, I post a new blog once a month. For me, the process is like mining. You sift through a lot of material before you find something of value, then it needs to be shaped and polished before it can be presented to readers, who are themselves miners, looking for gems that may amuse, educate, or entertain them.  
I tend to gravitate toward amuse and/or entertain.
The only way I know if I hit the target is when someone lets me know.
Most readers are as swamped as the rest of us, and don’t have time to comment, or they’re like me and think that they’ll write something later and don’t get around to it.
Lee Hayward is a good friend, whom I first met when I worked at Malibu Grand Prix. In 2004, as a tribute to his mother, he wrote and published a remarkable book entitled “Six Months to Say Goodbye.” It’s available in paperback through Amazon.
He now resides, as he puts it, “across the pond” (a charming British accent pinpoints the location). I recently found an email from Lee in my inbox.


“Did you know, yours is one of the few blogs I have read with any consistency.
I like it because of your humor, your humanity behind it and you speak from your heart.
Keep it going my friend, I need the laughter.”

I don’t think Lee’s alone. It feels like we could all use a bit more laughter in our lives these days.
I’ll take my friend’s request to heart and keep going. Hopefully I can bring a bit more laughter into our world. Seems to me, I could do a lot worse.

Thanks, as always, for taking the time.
~ Keith

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Does Not Compute



“I hit the button and nothing happens,” my mother exclaims. “Wait, the screen just shrank. What’s going on?”

I have my Uncle Elmer to thank for this. 

He shipped his old laptop to her last week. When she retired from the Hillsborough County School system, use of the World Wide Web was about to explode. After her retirement, she vowed to keep computers out of her home and out of her life. My in-laws did the same thing. They’re still holding out.

I don’t blame them—not a bit…or should it be byte? 

I’m familiar with all the ‘pro’ arguments for why you must absolutely, positively own a computer: they connect you to the world, you can email your kids or grandchildren, send your favorite photos, and stay in touch with family members—all true and valid arguments. 

To be perfectly honest, I’ve used them myself—on my mother!

What was I thinking? I know what I was thinking...

 Sitting at her kitchen table and perhaps feeling a tad superior, I could lay out the reasons why she should get a computer, while still secure in the knowledge that her fear of all things technical (she still uses a rotary phone—kidding, but she does have an old-fashioned answering machine—no call waiting or bundling for her, no sir) would stifle any urge to buy into my B.S., or a computer for that matter.

She’s a fish out of water. I bet she feels as overwhelmed as Jonathan does when he follows McKenna to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana in Madman Dreams Book Two: Revenge.

But I can’t take all the credit or blame. Family members have offered their advice. The topic often raises its ugly head when Thanksgiving dinner winds down, before the tryptophan has a chance to kick in.

“If you had a computer and internet service, you could Skype your brother in Michigan,” one family member said.

My mom’s deer-in-the-headlights stare suggested that a) she had no idea what that meant, or b) she had no idea what that meant and why would anyone suggest she do such a thing to her brother—she loves her brother.

And she loves me, and since I’m not eager to risk having that change, let me include this disclaimer: My mom is an incredibly intelligent woman, capable of extraordinary feats, planning and preparing fabulous holiday meals for large numbers, troubleshooting and repairing plumbing and electrical problems, accurately diagnosing various human and pet ailments, helping others avoid costly financial and personal mistakes. She’s got a real talent for unraveling political doublespeak and spotting a phony a mile away. Her volunteer work at my wife’s library helps keep things running smoothly for the entire elementary school. 

It’s a good idea for me to find the patience to explain to her why you don’t necessarily want to write the body of an email in the subject line.

“I made you mad, didn’t I?” she asks me, during one of our recent phone tutorials.
“No, mom. I’m not mad.”
“I know you think I’m dumb.”
“I don’t think you’re dumb. There’s a learning curve. I’ve been at this a while and I’m still learning.”
“I know you don’t believe me, but I don’t have that thing on my screen. And I have to hit this icon to make the cursor move down.”
“We’ll check it out the next time I drop by.”
“I can’t find Tracey’s…”
“Tracey’s what?”
“You know…when I want to send her a message.”
“Address?”
“Yeah, that. But it’s called something else. Computer address, I think.”
“Internet address?”
“Is that it? See. I don’t know all the terms.”
“Not to worry. It takes a while.”
“You’re mad, aren’t you?”

You would think with my acting experience I could modulate my tone of voice. I’m sincerely attempting compassion, kindness, understanding, and patience. She hears anger.

I smile to myself. “Mom, that does not compute.”

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The More Things Change...



One evening in January 1987, I sat at the foot of my dad’s bed and watched him write on a yellow legal pad. Cancer had stolen his voice. We carried on our conversation with a notepad. 
As he wrote, I noticed his hair, once black, had turned almost completely gray. Parted neatly on the left side, it was a little longer than usual, and somehow softer than I remembered.
I read his answer written in his beautiful cursive—Catholic school training.
I quickly wrote my comment.
He took the pen and pad from me, smiled and jotted a reply.
I looked down at the page. “You don’t have to write, son. I can hear just fine.”
I nodded. “It just seems like the right thing to do.”
That was the last conversation I had with my dad. He lost his battle with cancer on January 25, 1987, a few months shy of his 57th birthday.

While recently rearranging a bookcase, I discovered a folder of letters that my father wrote to his parents, dated from September 17, 1968 through February 9, 1972. They lived in Inkster, Michigan. We lived in Tampa, Florida. My grandparents had kept the letters and my parents had inherited them. My mother passed the correspondence on to me.
As I poured over these colorful, illuminating snapshots of our family life, I realized that there is a lot of truth in the saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” From gas prices to politics to technology, my dad’s comments and observations ring as true today as they did when he wrote them over forty years ago…   
[including original grammar and misspellings]

Politics

August 30, 1968

“Never before have I watched the conventions, but this year I have to say they were a riot. As soon as a speaker showed on the screen, I’d switch channels and there would be the war in the street. Even the commentators William Buckley on ABC threatened to hit Gore Vidal in his God damned face if he didn’t shut up.
I had to take a couple hours off from drinking beer, and try to explain to my sons why the Mayor of Chicago used the police force in the manner which he did.
And there are intelligent people who write articles about how the violence in the T.V. cartoons on Saturday morning are ruining our children.”

October 2, 1968

“If you think your state is the most mismanaged, then ours is second. At least your governor comes home to say what he would have done. Ours has been in residence maybe two months since he has been elected.”

Economy

September 1970

“Mom, with no reservations, I’ll admit you are right. Michigan is in for a hard time. For that matter, I guess you could have mentioned any state and picked the right one. Construction is on the downside here. I’m O.K. because we have two big jobs. [Florida Steel Corp.]”

Research Pre-Internet

August 21, 1968

“Chris [my brother] caught his first fish. We now have a fourteen inch long, one inch thick needle nose fish residing in the freezer compartment of our refrigerator. It will reside there until word on how to stuff or mount it comes from the Encyclopedia Co."
 

March 26, 1969

“Pa, I got together with David [family friend] and a schematic from my encyclopedia co. and lo and behold we now have a radio receiver tuned to the airport…it copies both tower and air traffic. It’s transistorized and has a regenerative circuit and works on a nine volt battery. How about that?”

Say What?

October 2, 1968

“You mention people being able to fix things on their own. Don’t forget nowadays most things can’t be fixed. They just get replaced. Readers Digest article says everything can be classified one of two ways.
1.       Things that won’t work
             2.    Things that break
Much truth here.”

Weather

October 30, 1968

“Was looking at your date line mentioning leaves almost gone. This reminded me I haven’t mentioned our last hurricane. Extent of damage to us was four tangerines blown off the tree. But the wind did me a small favor and blew most of the leaves into neighbor’s yard, so I didn’t have to rake them up.
The weather men really goofed on this storm as far as arrival time and where it would touch land, etc. Only people reported injured were those who took shelter in schools or were trying to reach public shelters. We lost electric power for twenty minutes.
As poorly mismanaged as most things are here in Fla., I have to take my hat off to the power companies. Their line crews work right through the hurricanes. Right after the lights came back on, I looked outside and rolling down the street were three line trucks and a supervisor’s car.”

August 23, 1969

“No hurricane damage here!!”

Pollution

February 16, 1970

“Pollution wise, we have as much or more trouble than you all. We had a factory owner poison a lake. One about the size of Wall Lake out in Farmington [Michigan]. His defense is, that it is a free country. Him, I don’t like. A professor from the University of South Florida tried to save the fish by rigging up an old gas engine and pumping oxygen into the water…The poor old engine couldn’t do the job. It was just too much for it. It broke down and there are no available funds to carry out the project.
At the same time, we had a tanker spring a leak and dump I don’t know how many gallons of oil in Tampa Bay…It started yesterday on the radio. They were asking for volunteers to bring corn meal and card board boxes to various centers. Today 900 students from St. Pete Jr. College were released from classes to go wading in the oil slick waters rescuing sea gulls. The card board boxes are used to transport the rescued birds to what is referred to as foster homes, until the bay can be cleaned of oil. The corn meal is used to clean oil from the feathers. It’s interesting to note that tonight you can’t purchase a box of corn meal in the city of Tampa. All sold out. Kind of makes the human race look a little bit humane.”

Healthcare

April 4, 1969

“Mom, I’m not familiar with what you have, but there must be something the doctor can do to help you feel a little better. Maybe if you changed doctors it would help. This one sure doesn’t seem to be doing much for you. A vacation for the doctor isn’t much of a cure for the patient. I am glad you feel a little better and hope and pray you get much better.”

Cooking Shows

April 17, 1969

“Pa, I caught the last few minutes of the “Galloping Gourmet” when I was off sick the other day.”

Space Exploration

July 16, 1969

“What a wonderful weekend it would be for Pa’s friend George Droste. At last, men on the moon. One thing puzzles me, Pa, how did they manage to do it without our help?”

Hectic Life

September 4, 1969

“Would you believe, since Monday, I’ve been called upon to diagnose the troubles of two record players, build a carrier for a drum on the back of a bike, design a crest for a potential yacht club, translate a Spanish lesson for the boy next door. Break a coded letter Keith sent his girlfriend. Correct the copy and design three bulletins for Betty’s [my mom] employer at the nursery. Not having much to do, we run over to the beach to get a sun tan to impress Northerners. And I do a few water colors. In my spare time, I roll cigarettes and drink beer. For a hobby, I work nine hours a day. Sometimes, just for kicks, I write letters.” 

Now that I’m older, and maybe wiser, I cherish the opportunity these letters give me to glimpse my family’s life through my father’s eyes. His letters, along with the quick, delightful notes my mom and my younger brother Chris wrote, are an incredible gift.
I realized Jonathan Chaulk and McKenna Dupree from Madman Dreams would relish the discovery of letters from their parents. 
Some things never change.