I Regain a Chance to Perform

We’re coming up on our two week anniversary; I think it’s cotton. Possibly macaroni and cheese. We spent our two day honeymoon in a cabin in Mt. Ida eating the food packed by wedding guests and watching Chopped on the Food Network. Best honeymoon ever.

We moved into a guest house that was converted from a large garage. It’s a wonderful space where our clothes dresser and Holly’s make up mirror are right beside the breakfast table in the living room. Each wall is stacked with furniture and art pieces except for the three foot wide thermostat wall, which refuses to work with any accent.

I went back to work this week; though it was the end of December it felt like I was in a biodome. Most of the staff took the week after Christmas off so I knew I could listen to music and punch dance without Rob the Carpenter seeing me.

While I was cleaning gutters with a leaf blower I started thinking about Turkey. Once at a staff dinner the Turks were taking turns singing traditional Turkish songs and they asked me and Mark, the other American teacher at the university, to sing a traditional American song. We balked and withered and eventually, under pressure, sang Mary Had a Little Lamb.

However, as Mark kept saying, “We don’t have songs in America,” I was halfway towards singing Wagon Wheel, a folk song about hitch hiking and smoking dope. When I was in high school listening to it in the car, my mom had to explain what a toke was. I thought it was a colloquial version of ‘talk’. However, to my everlasting shame I joined Mark in denying the Turks the joys of American backwoodsmen.

On a twelve foot ladder operating a leaf blower, the song came on Holly’s iPod. Trying to recapture a lost moment of American expression, I belted it out, even the parts where the words blended together in a solid hum. I tried to imagine myself playing a banjo with a straw hat in front of a room full of Hassans and Murats.

When I went back to the maintenance building for break, Rob the Carpenter was reading a tractor parts catalog and drinking unsweetened tea because he’s from Kansas. As I opened a bag a pretzels Rob asked, “Having fun down there?” Sure, I said. Gutters are better than insulation, and the bits of decomposed leaf on my face don’t feel like an angry cat clawing my cheeks. “Doing a little performing?”

As I looked at him with terrified confusion, Daniel the Mechanic came in and said that occasionally I hit the continuous transmission button on my radio and happened to do it during one of the three choruses of Wagon Wheel. He couldn’t make out the words but he got the melody.

I had to admit that I didn’t know all the words.


Wedding Planning Probably Finished

When Holly and I got engaged four months ago, we vowed to make everything ourselves. I went as far to suggest a potluck wedding – woe to the groom who utters that phrase. Apparently its a synonym for white trash. Months down the road, my mom approached me and said, “I have a wonderful idea. What if Holly’s dad smoked all the meat for the wedding and I asked a few of my friends to prepare a few fancy side dishes?”

I responded, “So, like a pot luck?”

After that I was laid off of the reception committee.

One of my ideas that did make the final cut was cupcakes and milk. Originally the milk was scoffed at until Holly came up with the idea of milk bottles. Then it became very hip. The idea was to strip and clean old Starbucks Frappuccino bottles down to blank glass, then press on some vinyl letters and a bow. Viola. Violin? Voila!

The first obstacle was finding 250 old Starbucks bottles. For the first month and a half, Holly drank one or two per day. She was past seventy when she vowed never to drink another cold coffee. Friends who were a part of the bottle drink accounted for another thirty. We were a hundred and fifty short.

The current pledge captain of my old fraternity, Ryne, was once one of my pledges. I had attended a few chapters this year to watch the new ways of members who had no idea who I was. I took my problem to Ryne and he promised to take care of it. Two weeks later I came to a chapter where each of the 80 pledges had come with at least one bottle. In casual conversation before chapter, I asked a few questions about that peculiar pledge mission. “I have no idea what this is for,” many said. “I was just told to find a bottle. I got it out of a trash can behind a sorority.”

One of the over-achievers had a box full of 47.

Holly and I did have to clean all of them. True to college freshman form, a few of the bottles hosted colonies of bacteria large enough to declare their independence and become a democracy. We also had to scrub all traces of labels and drink-by dates. Now that the bottles are finished, I estimate that we’ve washed each one four separate times.

I’m getting married in two days and the bottles are finished. They turned out to be the largest stressor of the whole process – everything else has gone relatively smoothly. Even when we discovered there would be no sound system at the wedding yesterday, another one of my old pledges agreed to rent it from the University under his own name. Family friends have practically paid for the wedding. However, Holly’s and my one complete contribution will be beautiful, Pintrest worthy bottles that people can take home. Or else we will be drinking out of two hundred under sized milk bottles.

A Nice Fitting Jacket, at a Price

I’m getting married in a week and a day. Holly and I moved some of our things into our new apartment. It’s a converted garage in a family friend’s yard. You follow a number but nameless road for several miles until a right turn on Beav-O-Rama. There’s an actual, city printed street sign. It borders a homemade rodeo pit with a pair of wooden bleachers and a pre-fabbed Home Depot shed on ten foot stilts.

We did a carload of my clothes and a carload of her wedding gifts. We have all our china. SCORE.

My groomsmen and I are wearing our own black suits to cut down on costs. My dad gave me his old one a year and a half ago; I had it tailored by an older woman who worked out of her small apartment with a tiny and loud dog. Ms. Polly. The suit itself came from Trumbo’s, an old men’s clothing store that closed a couple of decades ago.

I found out a couple of weeks ago that the suit was charcoal. I brought it out for Holly and she said, “No, I want to see your black suit. Where is your black suit?”

The day after Black Friday (Dark Grey Saturday), my brother and I went suit shopping at J.C. Penny’s. We had to call my mom to ask if polyester blend was a negative. The clerk helping us said she’d never heard anyone yell like that before. We went with wool.

I took the suit to Ms. Polly. She’s in her seventies and she lives with a terrible and powerful dog the size of my shoe. She’s learned to ignore him, although I can barely hear her through the barks.

Ms. Polly also tailored Holly’s dress. It’s white, but that’s all I know. As I held my arms up and spun around, Ms. Polly said, “Isn’t Holly just a doll? I tell you, she is just stately.” Stately, like a queen I guess. That’s another gem to put in my book of adjectives. I’m saving it for an anniversary.

A few sharp pins later I was putting my flannel back on and edging away from the dog, towards the door. Ms. Polly stopped me for a hug and said, “You know, Holly will tell you that I think you’re the most handsome man. I can’t stop talking about you.” That was odd thing to admit, but I thanked her and put my hand on the doorknob. “And if you’re interested in someone fifty years older than yourself,” she threw in, “I live alone.”

My mom is going to pick up the jacket when it’s finished.

Scary Terry Faulkenberry

Summers ago as a counselor at Camp War Eagle, the scariest person on staff was Terry Faulkenberry. Mid-fifties with misaligned teeth, he always wore sunglasses and was hardly ever around to hear counselors sing-song his name. However, the lake crew were all afraid of him, and that was enough for me.

Now on maintenance, Terry has become my favorite coworker. He’s usually the only person who doesn’t make fun of me when I sharpen a chainsaw backwards. In fact, he’s the person who teaches chainsaw safety.

Terry lives near camp, out in the isolated woods, and has never married but I can tell from his lunchtime stories that he has a lot of people in his life. Teenagers, mostly – he teaches them to hunt or drive. He has one who is working off a Grand Torino type debt by painting his house or hauling off brush. However, Terry can’t sit on his porch and watch with a beer in hand because of his stomach. Chicken noodle soup only.

Yesterday Terry and I planted trees. He ordered about thirty for camp to replace the dead or dying trees we’ve been knocking down. He started the morning the cab of the Bobcat, using the forks to dig a 32 inch deep hole.

“I think I caught a tree branch,” he said on his second scoop. As he pulled the forks up, a two-inch watermain snapped and water started fireworking out like a Roman candle. I’ve never seen such urgency in my three months as a groundskeeper. Within minutes there were three valve keys running across the boys cabin area, turning off any switch we could reach.

Like I said, Terry works a lot with neighborhood or family kids. Whenever we work together it makes me feel like I’m a mentee. A few weeks ago he taught me how to mix and trowel concrete. I think he redid the whole project on my off day.

Terry used to pilot Huey helicopters in the army. He quit right as the Blackbirds came out because “they were falling out of the sky.” He’s had a lot of jobs but my favorite was attack job trainer. Assistant to, really – he used to be the guy in the padded suit that wobbled away from the teeth and jaws of a doberman.

“I got paid to put on masks and slap the dogs around. It’s probably not legal now.” He offered this over lunch as he ate his chicken soup. “People think dobermans are the best attack dogs, but let me tell you: German shepherds hit the hardest.”