Real Life Lessons Becoming Less Real

I’m lucky to be alive.

“When is the expiration date on this?” said my daughter, turning the milk bottle around in her hand. Unable to find one, she returned the container to the refrigerator.

Years ago my mother would’ve simply given the contents of the bottle a cursory sniff before pouring milk over my bowl of cereal. And for what it’s worth, she was usually right.

Welcome to the Nanny States of America – one where we are not only protected from spoiled milk but from ourselves.

As a qualifying member of the north of mid-century birthday club, I believe I’ve earned the right to look back and marvel at the reckless, dangerous, and outright stupid things I did in life – and survived. I also believe this gives me the right to say we’ve crossed the line from common sense and personal responsibility to a strange world where everyone is protected from the slightest of danger or unpleasantness.

As kids, we played lawn darts without injury. And, yes, as testosterone-filled boys, we threw the darts straight up in the air, testing fate – and each other – with a game of chicken. Yes, we were idiots, but we survived.

We also rode our bike off rickety homemade wooden ramps and shot bottle rockets at each other with makeshift bazooka-style launchers made from our worn out Whiffle bats.

We also knew the taste of spoiled milk.

Every day was a lesson to be learned. If you found a slice of bread with something organic growing on the edge, cut it off. If it broke, duct tape could probably fix it.

Today I read of a lawsuit where someone filed suit against Starbucks for putting too much ice in their iced tea. As kids, we learned if we requested light or no ice with our drinks, we’d get more drink for our money. Like I said, we learned to develop an important skill we’d later hear referred to as common sense.

We built wings out of sticks and cellophane, jumping off the roofs of our houses to see if we could fly. One jump is all we needed to learn that lesson.

We made homemade bombs from empty Gerber baby food jars and a bag of gunpowder we once discovered – waking neighbors and dogs alike.

We even explored the dark underground storm sewers without the aid of flashlights, mapping out how we could travel underneath our neighborhood and come up through different manhole covers.

And those same storm drains, when the rains would come, would swell the creeks – drawing all of us to jump in on one end and ride down the white-water, branch and debris-filled waters a few hundred yards later.

And yes, our parents knew we were doing these things (well, maybe not about the box of gunpowder we found…). Their advice was simply to not be stupid and get hurt.

And thanks to this bygone era of my youth, I can detect spoiled milk without reading the expiration date.


Democracy Alive and Well in Small Town

Democracy is alive and well – at least in one small town in the Hill Country of Texas.

Earlier this week I found myself visiting a friend in Seguin, Texas, a small town tipping the scales north of 25,000 residents. Beautiful Town Square, picturesque Live Oak trees, and a population fired up like a nest of angry hornets at the local school board over a proposed purchase of a radio station.

Angry might be an understatement for what I witnessed.

“The meeting is at noon if you’d like to go,” said my friend.

He told me about how the local school board was proposing spending nearly a half-million dollars purchasing a radio business.

“What does this have to do with advancing the education of the students? What about books?” I said.

We both looked at each other knowing there was no good answer.

A couple hours later we arrived a converted shopping mall. The first thing I noticed was a police car at the entrance and people, young and old, pouring into the building. My friend mentioned the school board had posted the minimally required notice of the meeting and the newspaper told the community. Considering the day and time, a Thursday at noon, one could see the school board was not making it easy for the community to attend.

But people were angry – and angry people in a big way.

As the meeting time approached, hundreds of people filled the room to beyond capacity. Men stood offering their chairs to women and the elderly. Students with homemade protest signs lined the walls while others waited outside in the hallway hoping to hear what the board had to say.

Again, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a local population so angry.

The meeting came to order as if the crowd did not exist. Testimony began between members, each reading into the record their thoughts. Someone in the crowd made an unsolicited reply – and it was then I learned the board had made the rule the public would not be allowed to speak or participate. I was stunned. The attorney for the board took to the microphone and warned anyone else who spoke would be removed.

A few moments later, following a remark from another board member saying he hadn’t heard too much opposition to the proposal, brought laughter from the crowd. The board then announced the next interruption would result in the police clearing the entire room.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such a tone-deaf publicly elected body in my life.

One mother, holding her two-year-old son, leaned over to me and said, “this feels like a scene from the movie The Music Man, doesn’t it?”

Testimony revealed the business had lost nearly $150,000 in the past two years and the board tried to promote the education and career opportunities of operating a radio station for the students. While the board continued to try and sell the concept, the people became increasingly upset.

Unable – or lacking the courage – to reach a public decision, the board retreated into executive session, a protected format for narrow and legally specified reasons. The crowd read the move behind closed doors as hiding from the public.

In the end, the board backed off from voting in public to move forward with the purchase – but rather continue to explore.

But what I witnessed, a mass of independently energized voting public attending a meeting intentionally scheduled to keep attendance down will forever stay with me. And all I can say is God help those elected officials if they ever need to come to the voters for help.





Gears Between Our Ears Getting Rusty

 My wife and I finish each other’s sentences – but not for the reasons you might think.

This time-honored romantic cliché hoping to illustrate to how two people are alike – sharing not only the same universe of interests but also thoughts – would be a stretch for us. I like to ride my bike. My wife likes for me to ride my bike – alone. As excitedly as I pack my cycling gear, she excitedly packs the books she will read while I am out burning off what she claims is excess energy. On the other hand, she loves to visit a spa for a deep-tissue massage. One time, while accompanying her for a couples session, she woke me up claiming my snoring was taking away from her relaxing experience. I should probably stick to the bike.

Don’t get me wrong – we love each other to death (both figuratively and literally). But the increasingly finishing of each other’s sentences is more survival than shared passions. Something sinister is going on between our ears – and I point to Father Time. Cobwebs? Rust? Whatever it is, having a tag team partner during this stretch of time is priceless.

These moments can be a simple as me walking into a room and discovering a fog of confusion enveloping my brain.

“Why did I come in here for?” I find myself saying with regularity.

And within a few moments, my tag team partner reminds me what she sent me off to do. Or maybe one of us is talking about something a simple as an actor in a favorite movie, but the gears between our ears cease to move. And effortlessly and without malice, the other offers up a strategically placed shot of mental WD-40 by dropping the name, then gracefully getting back out of the sentence. The goal is never to be smarter than the other, only be there with the assist and expecting nothing in return.

This new development in our relationship is actually leading to new experiences together. Puzzles or brainteasers are good examples. While doing these alone probably yields self-satisfaction, doing these together not only allows us to do them more quickly but working together usually ends up with us laughing at how each other’s minds work. Or don’t.

Marriage is a fun ride. When we got into this, we believed our individual interests and strengths made us a great team – the sum of the parts theory. But recently we’re discovering ourselves in a new landscape where, while we’re still individuals, we are growing together. And in this new land, one of shared interests, unquestionable trust, and a newfound respect for looking to each other for assistance in the simplest of situations are beautiful.

They say the difference between getting old and older is the latter is defined is you never stop learning or doing new things. From what I’m finding, with the help of my wife, we might make this destination together. That and share a few laughs along the way.