Saturday, August 10, 2013

Clean Plates

Clear back in March of 1990, the ship I was teaching on, the USS Cape Cod, pulled into San Diego after I had ridden it across the Pacific from Atsugi, Japan.  Once I got to San Diego, I got to see my friends, Mark and Barbara, their two beyond adorable daughters (Erin Nicole, then six and Seana Christine, about to turn three) and their infant brother Bryant Edward, then four months. 

If you have never had the experience of seeing a six-year-old and a three-year-old jumping around with excitement, “It’s Uncle Kent!  It’s Uncle Kent!”…trust me, I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.  That night at dinner (which was a really delicious dish of pasta, ground beef and fried tomatoes—yes, I remember what Barbara cooked twenty-three years later),  Erin and Seana were doing their eating-like-little-kids bit.  That’s where you divide your food into nine neat piles, you stir them around and put your fork down before you give an expression that seems to say, “Sorry, I’m not hungry.”  Mark said very quietly, “Barbara, when you finish eating, if those girls haven’t cleaned up their plates, they’re going to bed.  And don’t eat slowly to give them more time.”

At that gesture, I made a point of eating a large forkful of pasta and ground beef and pronouncing it yummy.  (What I am I going to do, say, “Girls, you don’t have to eat that?”  I don’t think so.)  I am proud to report that, by the time Barbara had cleaned her plate, Erin had cleaned hers and Seana had done the same.  By the way, I had cleaned up my plate, too.  And if anyone is snickering, you can just knock it off, because if *you* were there, you would have done the same thing!

(This may look like a brand new plate, but it's actually what the dishes look like after people eat Barbara's food.)

A Story About Parenting

Clear back in mid-December of 1970, my brother Boyd drove back to Columbus from Cedar City, Utah, where he was attending the University of Southern Utah.  With the entire family gathered around the dinner table (my parents and my three brothers and me), my mother asked Boyd how long he was going to be in Columbus.  “Just long enough to get some snatch,” was his reply. 

There was silence at the table.  Even forty years later, what he said seems like a spectacularly disrespectful thing for a young man to say to his mother.  My younger brother is of the opinion that our mother didn’t understand what that word meant.  My father just said, “We’ll discuss this later.” 

I’ve thought about that exchange many times over the years.  I don’t think my father handled that at all well.  Back on New Year’s Day of 2003, I had the good fortune to be visiting some dear friends of mine in San Diego, Mark and Barbara, who have three wonderful children who sometimes call me “Uncle Kent.”  A couple days later, Barbara asked, “Who won the Air Force game?”

At that point, clear out of the blue, Mark and Barbara’s then-fourteen-year-old son Bryant Edward said, in a sarcastic voice, “Oh, look it up yourself.”  I was genuinely shocked.  First, because Bryant Edward was ordinarily a well-behaved gentleman and second, because I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to say an unkind word to Barbara.  And thirdly, because that fourteen-year-old boy was mouthing off while sitting beside his Marine Sergeant father.  I briefly considered diving under the living room coffee table to avoid being decapitated by a young man in flight.  I also considered saying, “Kid, have you lost your mind?  In the first place, you don’t diss your Mama, and in the second place, you don’t do it while sitting next to your Dad.  You’re in danger of going to the Moon without a rocketship.”  I let discussion be the better part of valor and kept my mouth shut.

After what I estimated was two seconds, Bryant’s father said, “Son…you *know*…you can *not* talk *back*…to your *mother*.  Now…what…are we going to do about this?”

I was no more than twelve feet away from Bryant and I could see the wheels turning in his head.  A few seconds later, Bryant picked the sports page off of the floor, walked across the room and handed it to his mother.  He then made himself scarce.  I waited until Bryant and his two older sisters were out of earshot and I told Mark and Barbara that, in my opinion, they could make training films on how to raise well-behaved children.

P.S.  Are you curious about the score Barbara was asking for?  The Air Force Falcons played the Virginia Tech Hokies in the 2002 Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl.  The Falcons lost 20-13.


A Pizza Delivery Guy’s Story

I recently heard this story from a friend of mine who is a lawyer who does criminal defense work.  One recent night in Columbus, Ohio, a driver was about to deliver a pizza.  When he arrived at his destination, a young black man stepped out from an alley and said, “Deliver the pizza here.”  The delivery guy did not like the looks of things, so he refused to step into the alley.  At that point, the young man pulled out a gun and said, “Give me your money and the pizza.”  The delivery guy dropped his pizza and emptied his pockets, but said as he stepped away, “You know, the police are going to be down here.” 

At that point, the kid swore at him and started firing his pistol at a distance which was described to me as a little more than five feet.  The pizza man began to run until he heard a repeated CLICK-CLICK-CLICK.  Either the gun was empty or it had jammed.  The driver reversed course, tackled his assailant and beat the hell out of him.  When my friend got the case, he met with the kid, who was seventeen years old, the kid’s mother and the kid’s father showed up (now there’s a surprise).  My friend informed the family that the prosecution had made an offer of six years in prison for aggravated robbery.  (The seventeen-year-old has been bound over as an adult.) 

I like to think that it takes a lot to shock me, but when I learned of the boy’s mother’s response, I was flabbergasted.  Apparently, Mom said, “That’s bull****; I killed somebody and I only got two years.” 

Jonathan Winters

Jonathan Winters died a few months ago at the age of 87.  I always loved his off-the-wall sense of humor (who else could make a commercial for garbage bags hilarious?  Check out his HEFTY commercials.) 

I also admired his courage in the battles he fought with clinical depression throughout his entire adult life. 

He was institutionalized twice in the late 1950s/early 1960s and seriously considered getting electroshock treatments.  (He also had an extremely stormy relationship with his father—talk about a guy with whom I can identify.)  He even managed to make jokes about his days in the psychiatric ward a part of his act.  According to Winters, at one point, he managed to climb a tree on the hospital grounds and when an intern asked him who he thought he was, Winters reputedly replied, “I’m Robin Redbreast!” 

To which the intern replied, “That bad?”

And Winters replied, “Okay, I’m a blue jay!”

An old friend of Winters’ called him a few months before his death and asked him how he was doing.  Winters replied, “Well, I promised the kids I wouldn’t commit suicide inside the house because that would make it difficult to sell.”

Millions of people loved Jonathan Winters’s comedy and he became a spectacularly rich and famous man, but he still had demons to wrestle.  I can’t say that he beat them, but he fought them to a standstill in a battle that lasted well over half a century.