Mom Letters by Jack Brackitt - HTML preview

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Covering 1999 in Chicago

A novel by

 

Jack Brackitt

 

Copyright © 2003

 

Copyright © 2003

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between the characters in this book and real person(s), living or dead, is purely coincidental. Any resemblance to any place(s) and entity(ies) is purely coincidental. There is no real connection whatsoever at all.

Copyright © 2003 by the Richmond Heights, MO native whose character is Jack Brackitt. All Rights Reserved.

 

For the print version: No part of Mom Letters may be reprinted, re-keyed, distributed, and/or sold.

For the PDF version: The person who has rightfully received this is allowed to print one physical copy for individual reading by him or her. Otherwise, no part of Mom Letters may be reproduced, distributed, posted on a website, and/or sold.

All copyrights and trademarks belong to their respective owners. For Dad.

 

Acknowledgements

Acknowledgements
Thanking everyone would almost be a book in itself. It would fill many pages,
and I would still miss a lot of people.

So, if you have a question about who should be thanked for what, could you email me at brackitt@yahoo.com. You’ll receive a response, and – depending on the circumstances – I’ll probably put the answer up on the book’s website: http://www.geocities.com/brackitt. My plan is to make the website a timely source of information about Mom Letters.

Table of Contents

C OPYRIGHT © 2003 ......................................................................................................... 2
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS..................................................................................................... 4
TABLE OF CONTENTS....................................................................................................... 5
CHARACTER LIST BY CIRCLE............................................................................................ 9

1. January ............................................................................................................................................................................................ 10

1.1 T IMELINE................................................................................................................. 10
1.2 ANDY AT SIX MONTHS.............................................................................................. 11
1.3 NEW CAR STORY...................................................................................................... 12
1.4 MORNING................................................................................................................. 16
1.5 DREW BRACKITT PROFILE........................................................................................ 18
1.6 MUSIC...................................................................................................................... 21
1.7 SCANDINAVIAN FURNITURE SHOPPING..................................................................... 23
1.8 SUPERMARKET......................................................................................................... 25
1.9 CHICAGO PROFILE: DIMENSIONS............................................................................. 28

2. February........................................................................................................................................................................................... 33

2.1 T IMELINE................................................................................................................. 33
2.2 ANDY AT SEVEN MONTHS......................................................................................... 35
2.3 GOODBYE TO THE FAMILY HOME ............................................................................. 36
2.4 CLOTHES.................................................................................................................. 41
2.5 ANDYS DAY............................................................................................................ 43
2.6 FOOD PREPARATION................................................................................................. 45
2.7 DAY IN COURT ......................................................................................................... 48
2.8 TV ........................................................................................................................... 50

3. March................................................................................................................................................................................................ 58

3.1 T IMELINE................................................................................................................. 58
3.2 ANDY AT EIGHT MONTHS ......................................................................................... 59
3.3 CIRCLE UPDATE ....................................................................................................... 60
3.4 HYGIENE.................................................................................................................. 62
3.5 MOMS MARCH VISIT............................................................................................... 64
3.6 CAR STORIES............................................................................................................ 65
3.7 QUICK SHOP............................................................................................................. 68
3.8 TOYS........................................................................................................................ 71

4. April .................................................................................................................................................................................................. 73

4.1 T IMELINE................................................................................................................. 73
4.2 ANDY AT NINE MONTHS........................................................................................... 74
4.3 CIRCLE UPDATE ....................................................................................................... 75
4.4 JIMMYS BIRTHDAY.................................................................................................. 76
4.5 JIMMY STORIES ........................................................................................................ 77
4.6 EASTER.................................................................................................................... 79
4.7 HOUSEWORK............................................................................................................ 83
4.8 RYANS CAST........................................................................................................... 84
4.9 SCHOOL ................................................................................................................... 86
4.10 ST. LOUIS PROFILE: LAND .................................................................................... 89

5. May ................................................................................................................................................................................................... 94

5.1 T IMELINE................................................................................................................. 94
5.2 ANDY AT 10 MONTHS............................................................................................... 97
5.3 CIRCLE UPDATE ....................................................................................................... 98
5.4 PARK...................................................................................................................... 100
5.5 LANGUAGE ............................................................................................................ 104
5.6 MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND.................................................................................... 105
5.7 HEALTH................................................................................................................. 108
5.8 CHICAGO PROFILE: TONE...................................................................................... 110

6. June ................................................................................................................................................................................................ 119

6.1 T IMELINE............................................................................................................... 119
6.2 ANDY AT 11 MONTHS............................................................................................. 120
6.3 CIRCLE UPDATE ..................................................................................................... 121
6.4 AL BRACKITT PROFILE........................................................................................... 122
6.5 FOOD ..................................................................................................................... 130
6.6 TRIP TO BOYSANGIRLS AMUSEMENT PARK ........................................................... 133
6.7 MONEY.................................................................................................................. 136
6.8 TRIP TO STOUGHTON, WI ...................................................................................... 137
6.9 TECHNOLOGY ........................................................................................................ 140
6.10 TRIP TO LAKE ZURICH AND FREEPORT, IL........................................................... 142

7. July ................................................................................................................................................................................................. 145

7.1 T IMELINE............................................................................................................... 145
7.2 ANDY AT 12 MONTHS............................................................................................. 147
7.3 CIRCLE UPDATE ..................................................................................................... 148
7.4 ANDYS BIRTHDAY................................................................................................. 149
7.5 BIRTH OF ANDY..................................................................................................... 150
7.6 DOUG BRACKITT PROFILE...................................................................................... 156
7.7 SUMMER DAYS....................................................................................................... 163
7.8 TRIP TO VIRTUACTION AMUSEMENT PARK ........................................................... 164
7.9 CHICAGO PROFILE: THE LOOP............................................................................... 166
7.10 RYANS FLIGHT TO GRANDMAS.......................................................................... 173
7.11 JULY 4TH WEEKEND .............................................................................................. 176

8. August ............................................................................................................................................................................................ 178

8.1 T IMELINE............................................................................................................... 178
8.2 ANDY AT 13 MONTHS............................................................................................. 179
8.3 CIRCLE UPDATE ..................................................................................................... 180
8.4 TRIP TO ST. VALENTINES CASTLE........................................................................ 181
8.5 COMPUTER............................................................................................................. 183
8.6 CHAMPAIGN WEDDING........................................................................................... 184
8.7 GAMES................................................................................................................... 187
8.8 MOMS AUGUST VISIT............................................................................................ 190
8.9 READING................................................................................................................ 192
8.10 ST. LOUIS PROFILE: LIVING ................................................................................ 193
8.11 GRIMBO BRACKITT PROFILE ................................................................................ 198

9. September...................................................................................................................................................................................... 201

9.1 T IMELINE............................................................................................................... 201
9.2 ANDY AT 14 MONTHS............................................................................................. 202
9.3 CIRCLE UPDATE ..................................................................................................... 203
9.4 KARENS BIRTHDAY............................................................................................... 204
9.5 KAREN STORIES ..................................................................................................... 205
9.6 TRIP TO VEITH ISLAND, MI.................................................................................... 206
9.7 VEITH ISLAND TOUR .............................................................................................. 212
9.8 CORRESPONDENCE WITH SCOTT RUSH................................................................... 215
9.9 TRIPS TO INDIANAPOLIS AND GALENA................................................................... 218
9.10 TELEPHONE.......................................................................................................... 222
9.11 CHICAGO PROFILE: READ L ABOUT IT................................................................. 225

10. October ........................................................................................................................................................................................ 229

10.1 T IMELINE............................................................................................................. 229
10.2 ANDY AT 15 MONTHS........................................................................................... 230
10.3 CIRCLE UPDATE ................................................................................................... 231
10.4 RYANS BIRTHDAY............................................................................................... 232
10.5 RYAN STORIES ..................................................................................................... 233
10.6 MOM PROFILE...................................................................................................... 236
10.7 DRINK.................................................................................................................. 242
10.8 HALLOWEEN........................................................................................................ 243
10.9 WRESTLING ......................................................................................................... 245
10.10 MEMORIES......................................................................................................... 247
10.11 CHICAGO PROFILE: STRUCTURES...................................................................... 250

11. November..................................................................................................................................................................................... 257

11.1 T IMELINE............................................................................................................. 257
11.2 ANDY AT 16 MONTHS........................................................................................... 258
11.3 CIRCLE UPDATE ................................................................................................... 259
11.4 SAM BRACKITT PROFILE ...................................................................................... 260
11.5 BAPTISM.............................................................................................................. 267
11.6 HOUSE ................................................................................................................. 271
11.7 THANKSGIVING.................................................................................................... 273
11.8 VCR .................................................................................................................... 275
11.9 TRIP TO ORLANDO ............................................................................................... 277
11.10 RESTAURANT..................................................................................................... 282
11.11 DAD PROFILE ..................................................................................................... 286

12. December..................................................................................................................................................................................... 293

12.1 T IMELINE............................................................................................................. 293
12.2 ANDY AT 17 MONTHS........................................................................................... 294
12.3 CIRCLE UPDATE ................................................................................................... 295
12.4 CHRISTMAS STORIES............................................................................................ 296
12.5 CHICAGO PROFILE: FOOD.................................................................................... 300
12.6 FAMILY PHOTO..................................................................................................... 304
12.7 BEDTIME.............................................................................................................. 306
12.8 NEW YEARS EVE................................................................................................ 308

13. Afterwords ................................................................................................................................................................................... 310

13.1 I NTRODUCTION .................................................................................................... 310
13.2 WHO.................................................................................................................... 312
13.3 WHAT.................................................................................................................. 323
13.4 WHEN.................................................................................................................. 329
13.5 WHERE ................................................................................................................ 329
13.6 WHY.................................................................................................................... 330

Character list by circle

 

Character list by circle

 

The families are shown in age order, and the circles are in alphabetical order.

Immediate family Andy, b. 1998 Grimbo, b. 1986 Jack, b. 1963
Jimmy, b. 1994 Karen, b. 1961 Ryan, b. 1989 son
cat
self/copywriter son
wife/accountant son

extended family
Mutte, b. 1883
Grandma, b. 1901
Gram, b. 1903
Grandad, b. 1903
Grandpa, b. 1911
Fritz Markley, b. 1929 Martha Markley, b. 1933

May-Jane Flick, b. 1936 Neil Berensen, b. 1955 Irvin Nielsen, b. 1955 Madeline Nielsen, b. 1967 Peggy Brackitt, b. 1967 Sylvester Brackitt, b. 1991 Eva Brackitt, b. 1998
Ava Brackitt, b. 1999
great-grandmother
grandmother/homemaker grandmother/homemaker grandfather/bookkeeper grandfather/doctor
father-in-law/locksmith
mother-in-law/special
education instructor
godmother/principal
brother-in-law/IT professional brother-in-law/doctor
sister-in-law/nurse
sister-in-law/nurse
bird
niece
niece

original family Al, b. 1959
Dad, b. 1934 Doug, b. 1962 Drew, b. 1970 Mom, b. 1936 Sam, b. 1960

Chicago circle Angela Freeman Brian Love
Carl Freeman Chaim Popkin
Chloe Goodfriend Chris graphic designer Louis artist David Daniels illustrator
Dorothy P. Woods writer
Elizabeth Fluornoy IT professional Emily Freeman playmate with Jimmy Evan artist
Guy Kitterman classical musician brother/lawyer
father/IT professional brother/lawyer
dog
mother/writer
brother/artist

researcher
lawyer
English instructor lawyer
art instructor
Gwen Martinez Heather Johansen Henry Russell
Jennifer Anderson Jessica Morgan Joe Anderson Julie Clarke
Kyle Edwards
Lee Kirby
Lou Morgan
Maja Lorenzie
Marco Torez
Matt Benjamin Matthew Martinez Melanie Bricker Michelle Jennings Nikos IT professional Odin Martinez dog
Paul Lorenzie IT professional
Rebecca Johnson doctor
Roz Sandburg writer
Sarah Popkin Marketing professional Sari Fare tailor
Sebastian illustrator daycare provider editor
sales professional sales professional bank professional CEO
office administrator IT professional
artist
home contractor school counselor security officer
IT professional
supervisor
office administrator office administrator

Sid Fluornoy
Tammy Lorenzie Taylor Johansen Terrence Johansen Tommy Morgan Valentina entertainment facilitator Warren Sandburg bank professional
Windy dog therapist sales professional playmate with Ryan playmate with Jimmy supervisor
Playmate with Jimmy

Wyatt Sandburg

St. Louis circle Cleveland Como Bert Dunne
Frank Dinty
Jeff Larson
Larry Lawrence playmate with Jimmy

sales professional lawyer
IT professional IT professional meteorologist

Luke Westerhold Russ Orvis
Scott Rush
Tim Campbell

delivery administrator entrepreneur
editor
sales professional

1.1 Timeline

 

1. January
1.1 Timeline

 

In Mom Letters, the first part of every “month chapter” is devoted to the timeline – some events that actually happened in the month.

OK – why isn’t everything that happened in January in the January chapter? Because this book is weird! Since a lot of Brackitt family activities aren’t timerelated, they’re lumped together by topic. This will all become clearer as you go along…maybe.

Now, here are three notes I need to squeeze in before you get started.
1. A lot about the book is explained in the “Afterwords” section. You’ll find it after the December chapter.

2. We live on the north side of Chicago. My Mom and original family reside in St. Louis, and all that gets explained in a February section called “Goodbye to the family home.”

3. I’m 35 years old. My wife, Karen, is 37 (she doesn’t mind me saying so), and we have three sons. In this January 1999 month, Ryan is 10, Jimmy is five, and Andy is five months old. This makes for a great game of Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Dear Mom,
Last night we had a big blizzard. Once it was over, I walked through 21.6" of
snow and returned three videos.
Karen: Did they clear the sidewalks south of us?
Me: I didn’t have to walk that direction.
Karen: Where’d you drop off those videos?
Me: Uh oh. Did I go to the wrong place?
Karen: Yes! Can you go back out? We don’t want to get lost video charges. So, I tromped all over the neighborhood and straightened it out. The worst part: I
couldn’t think of anyone to blame.

1.2 Andy at six months

 

1.2 Andy at six months

 

Since Andy is changing more than everyone else this year, he gets a monthly update.

Andy’s waving! This is a major deal. I see him and I wave. He brightens up, and then he throws both hands up and down.
Andy: Ah! Ah!

When Andy would climb up on furniture, I’d have to say, “No, baby!” He’d stick out his lower lip and cry. Now, Andy just stands next to the furniture, looks at it and cries. He removed the middleman.

I get Andy all bundled up in his pumpkin seat and carry him around like a package. I deliver him, and I might as well make recipients sign for him.

 

1.3 New car story

Part 1. Hatchback
Ryan had a vocabulary assignment at school, and here’s what he wrote: “My dad’s SHABBY old car was a real BURDEN. All the repairs that it

needed INDICATED how much he needed a new car. When I would say something his RESPONSE was that other things were more urgent.” He got an “A Excellent” on it.

Background: I have a blue ’91 hatchback with 129,000 miles on it, and it’s starting to fall apart.
Jimmy: This car is worth 29 bucks.

Me to carwash guy: I’m just going to get the basic wash – no deluxe. Guy: Yeah.
He said it like, “Yeah, of course that’s all you’d want.”

The older boys and I sat in the hatchback.
Me: So, what’s wrong with this car?
Ryan: The paint’s peeling, and it needs new mats because they’re all dirty. It needs to be washed. The whole car needs repairing. Your seat’s torn – it looks like rats chewed on it. The head thing on my seat’s busted. And it’s a very dangerous car. The muffler’s rotted. And the paint’s peeling.
Jimmy: You already talked about the paint. Oh, and there’s a crack right here. Ryan: Let’s just bury this car in the yard.
Jimmy: Why don’t we get a new car?
Me: Because I’m broke.
Ryan: Why don’t you just write them a check?
Me: I can’t just do that. They’ll arrest me.
Ryan: Oh, please.
Jimmy: Hold it – if you’re broke, why do we still have our house? Me: The bank owns most of our house.
Jimmy: They took it?

Part 2. Problems

 

Here are five of them:

1. The engine light would go on occasionally, and then exhaust came in through the heat vents. Oddly enough, this wasn’t a problem, because the heater fan didn’t work.

2. If I turned on that fan-less heater the radio stopped.

3. It often has a bad muffler, because it’s set so low to the pavement. During one bad snow storm the muffler tore off completely, and some lucky guy got it.
4. This piece of oddly shaped plastic fell from under my dashboard, and I still don’t know what it is. I put it in the glove compartment and hoped it wasn’t part of the steering.

5. It has a bad case of the “mysterious dashboard rattles.” This annoying mmmmmm sound came from somewhere near the...I don’t know. I banged on the dashboard to stop it, and that made it louder.

6. A few weeks ago, I drove over 50 mph and the front end shook like a wet dog. I never noticed this before, because Chicago rush hour traffic goes about 30 mph top-speed – perfect for this car. (The shaking story is foreshadowing, by the way.)

On the bright side
Years ago, I installed this $97 car radio/cassette deck, and surprisingly, it
continues to work perfectly. I always wanted to talk with the workers who
built it.
Me: You thought you were making some cheap junk car stereo, and here it’s
lasted four years.
Worker: Yeah! We figured they’d break as soon as people bought them.
Wow, four years.

Another good thing: The timing chain works. Seriously, do cars really have these things? I’ve never seen one, but car enthusiasts warn me about them – with all the fervor of a foot-stomping preacher.
Chainer: How many miles do you have on your car?
Me: About 100,000.
Chainer: Ohhh, my friend. You know, I was just like you. I drove my car very hard, and I never thought about my timing chain. Then one day I was on Damascus Road, and this light came on…

Part 3. Estimate

Now we get back to the story of the shaking front end. (See, I told you.) I took the car in for an estimate. A few hours later, the mechanic called me and sounded grim.
Mechanic: Let me tell you the simple part first.
Uh oh – if they divide it into sections I know trouble is coming.

In sum, the mechanic told me the front-wheels-connected-to-the-steering parts were all worn, and they would need $1,300 worth of repairs. And the car has a resale value of $200. Well.

I left Karen a voicemail about our problem. A significant amount of our marriage is conducted via voicemail. Karen left a message back. She was optimistic about the whole thing, and she suggested I look for a new car. What’s another payment, anyway?

Part 4. Reviewing
Long ago I chose the car I wanted – this particular four-door model. I went on
the Internet and put a deal together with a dealership in the western suburbs. My
car came in three types: The LE, the SE and the Cheap-E. What I selected is
needless to say.

Buyer’s note: The LE (priced $5,000 more) offers many extras that cost the manufacturer little or nothing. For example, only the LE can be black, while mine is blah earth tone that looks like primer coating.

Saturday

 

We drove out west and laid down $100 to hold a particular car.

The salesman thought it odd I didn’t ask for a test drive, but that wasn’t necessary. It’s a new and familiar car – what’s going to be unacceptable? But I gave in and tried it out. It felt like a rental car – one of those rolling marshmallows that puff up our roads.

Two things I noticed:

1. The seats are comfortable. That’s another reason I never want a sports car, because they chisel their seats out of rock.
Sports car salesman: If you were driving in the Helsinki Grand Prix you’d want these seats, believe me.

2. The speedometer goes up to 140 miles per hour. Under what circumstance will I need to drive my car that fast? This is only good for the joy riders who’ll steal it.

On the way back, I told Karen if we were desperate money-wise, we could put the car on a number of credit cards.
Karen: At least I’ll have a new car to visit you in prison.

Part 5. Arrangements
What a pain to buy a car: upgrade insurance, get a loan, order the car alarm,
install the truck bed liner – that last one was a mistake. My life is a mess already,
and I have to make sure a man with my name doesn’t take free ownership of the
car.

Also, I needed to get rid of the hatchback, but I couldn’t find the title. Hmm, that was a piece of paper I got nine years ago – odd that it was lost. This gave me the opportunity to write the state with a request...something I don’t get to do often enough.

Monday
We arrived at the dealership to pick the car up, and the finance guy’s
computer system was being repaired. That took a few hours, so we watched a
lot of daytime TV in their waiting room. One talk show was themed, “Who’s
the Father of My Teenage Daughter’s Baby?” Finally they showed the real
father, but the mother-in-law demanded a retest. After seeing the dad, who
could blame her?

After the computer was fixed, we went into an office about the size of the cardboard box for a washing machine and signed a stack of papers.

My new car was fine, except someone forgot to put in the alarm system. Driving it home, I realized our insurance only covers this car if there’s an alarm in it. I considered asking Ryan to sleep in the backseat with a baseball bat (and he would have). Instead, I found a pay phone, called the insurance company, and got an adjustment in our policy.

Me: That’s wonderful. Now my wife won’t beat me up.

 

Insurance guy: I understand.

What became of the hatchback? I sold it for $20 so it could be repaired and sold to a worthy person. A junkyard would have paid $50, but later they might’ve claimed I took advantage of them.

Part 6. Ownership

 

This car is so quiet I can’t tell whether it’s on or off.

I carry around a lot of two-liters bottles of soda in the car. In the hatchback trunk, the bottles rested comfortably, but they roll around in this new trunk. It sounds like a person is in there banging to get out, and that makes me feel less lonely.

Friday
I was heading home with Ryan. Suddenly, the cars in front of me slowed
up and I had to brake. The guy behind me banged right into me – not ultra
hard. We pulled over.
Guy: What happened?
Me: Well, we all braked, and you ran into me.
Guy: It’s not my fault. Man, look at my bumper. I just bought this car.
Me, looking at my bumper (just scratches): It would be your fault, because
you ran into me. But it doesn’t look bad, so you want to forget it?
Guy, walking to his car: OK. Man, you’re lucky.

Me: Now that I’ve got this new car, what are you gonna have to complain about?
Ryan: We’ll see.

1.4 Morning

The short, non-time-related tales from the Mom letters aren’t presented in the chronological order they were written and sent. Instead, they’re grouped into different subjects, and “Morning” is the first one of these.

Ryan
Ryan went to bed with wet hair last night, and this morning he looked like a
Picasso painting.

Me: Time to wake up. Ryan! If you don’t get up, I’ll start singing. Ryan: I’m up.

Ryan: Can I have this bread for breakfast?
Me: Absolutely.
Ryan, eyeing it suspiciously: Why, what’s wrong with it? Me: It’s fine.
Ryan: I don’t want it.

Jimmy
Jimmy was already having a grumpy morning, and then...he noticed a dryer
sheet stuck inside his shirt.
Jimmy: Errgh!
He angrily pulled it out and threw it to the floor.

I was getting the kids ready, and I called Karen at work. Me to Karen’s voicemail: Is Jimmy going to school or daycare? Karen, from the kitchen: School!

I was loaded down with baby and briefcase, we were walking down the long steps, and I saw that Jimmy was about to take his Slinkyè to school. Me: Jimmy, that Slinky should stay here.
He handed me the toy, and I couldn’t get a firm handle on it – the thing was falling all over the steps, and I was flopping around with it.
Jimmy: Dad, stop playing with my Slinky.

Andy
Andy awoke and sat up sleepy eyed.
Me: Hi, baby!
He gave me a squinty, “oh, please” look, clunked over and went back to sleep.

This morning Andy attacked Jimmy’s remaining breakfast and knocked it over. While I was cleaning it up, Andy grabbed Jimmy’s toothbrush and cup and threw them around. Apparently, we have a baby who creates diversions.

I put on Andy’s shoes. Then, my shoes. Then, Jimmy’s shoes. Then Andy’s shoes again – because he pulled them off.

 

Karen

Good deeds and compliments become currency in this family. Me: Thanks for cleaning the kitchen this morning. It looks great. Karen: You’re welcome! Can you do me a favor?

For breakfast, Karen ate last night’s chicken curry.

 

Jack

 

I dreamed that I got up and went through my morning routine.

 

I have no problem picking a morning newspaper out of a public trashcan, but if it’s got muck on it, I pass.

Family
Sometimes when we’re getting ready, there’s an infomercial running silently
in the background. This morning, we were joined by women getting facials.

Jimmy: Mom, I can’t find my dress shoes. They searched all over.
Karen: Jimmy, you’re wearing them.

We had a holdup – Jimmy couldn’t cross the safety gate we have for Andy...it’s between the kitchen and the living room.
Me: Ryan, help Jimmy get over the gate.
Ryan: Jim, c’mon!
Jimmy: No, I want Dad to do it.
Ryan: Here, I’ll lift you.
Jimmy: No!
Me: Jimmy, Ryan’s strong – he’ll help you get over.
Jimmy, crying: Unh unh!
Me: Hey – just open the gate.
Ryan: Oh yeah.
And they did.

Talk
I wish the commercials would come out and say it: “…and no other cereal
tastes more like wet newspaper.”

1.5 Drew Brackitt profile

Quick note before we start: All of my original family members are profiled in this book, and their stories are delivered in whatever month they were born in. This puts our dog Drew first, and my Dad would have liked that.

Also, the story below introduces my three older brothers. Here they are…in their birth order:
Al
Sam
Doug
Me
Drew

“Jack, take your youngest brother out for a walk.” – Dad, 1977

Introduction
A pedigreed black Labrador retriever was born on January 17, 1970. Dad
paid the $400 adoption fee and gave the puppy his official name: Drummer
Brackitt. He got his first name because Mom loved the Christmas program where
the boy plays the drums. Dad brought Drew home to us, and he became the
seventh and proudest member of the Brackitt family.

Drew was...

~ 140 lbs, over double the average for a Labrador. He was almost the size of a Saint Bernard.
~ well-composed – except when it came to wanting food and outside.
~ afraid of the vacuum cleaner.
~ the smartest dog I’ve ever known.

Eating

 

Drew wolfed down almost every table scrap left by his fellow family members, and he wasn’t choosy. One time he ate Dad’s transistor radio.

 

In the Brackitt family, secretly snatching food from each other is a respected skill. Drew was the best in the family at this, and he knew it.

A Christmas story: Mom knew she shouldn’t give a dog turkey bones, so she carefully wrapped the carcass, put it into the trash can on the side of the house and pushed down the lid. A few hours later Mom looked into the yard, and Drew was running with the carcass in his mouth.

Bravery

 

Drew’s oldest brother Al writes on this subject:

“The best Drew story is one of great courage. Circa 1977, this miserable mutt ran across our backyard and tried to bite me. Drew leapt out of the shadows, grabbed that dog by the neck, shook him five times, and threw him aside. The mutt hid behind a picnic table and barked feebly at Drew. That dog never tried to attack me again.

“I also remember a good story about this German shepherd named Dack. He was trained to attack. The owner was always bragging about his ‘Killer German shepherd.’ One time Dack attacked Drew. Drew rose up like a bear, grabbed Dack by his throat and held him. The owner and Dack both howled. Drew had a great deal of courage. He was an excellent dog and is sadly missed.”

Activities

 

Drew’s favorite activity was sleeping on the couch.

I would watch these B&W 16mm films at school about life on the farm. The dog was named Shep, he slept with one eye open, he was up before the rooster crowed, and he helped round up the cows.
I thought: Drew is nothing like this.

Drew’s third oldest brother Doug worked more than any brother to give Drew the life he was supposed to have – as a retriever. Doug took Drew hunting for squirrels, but Drew chased them instead. However, Drew did love to swim in the lake, so all our cars had that long-lasting lake/wet dog smell.

Dad tried to get Drew to retrieve ducks, but Dad never shot one, so it was a moot point.
Duck: Did you see that down there? That hunter never had his gun ready, and his dog was just rolling in the grass.

Walks

Brother Doug would stand and cook at an all-night diner for eight hours, get off at 6:00 am, trudge a mile home, open the door, and Drew would jump around – wanting Doug to take him for a long walk. And Doug took him.

Sam: I enjoyed walking Drew and getting outside. He spent a lot of his time smelling everything, and that was fine with me.

If I was lying on the couch and Drew wanted to go out, he would stick his big face right into mine, then pant, drool, nudge and breathe on me for about five minutes. If that didn’t work, he would walk on top of me and lay down on my chest. That would work.

Functioning
Drew pooped in the basement a lot. We family members were used to this,
and we simply walked around his droppings. However, some visitors stepped in
the wrong spot, and they were sent flying. (Basement floor + dog turd + shoe =
airborne.)

Drew had the worst gas in the house. He’d lay in the family room and let out one that filled up the place. Then he’d give this look like, “What’s that terrible smell?” And he’d walk out, clearly disappointed in us.

Family
Drew revered his Dad, adored his Mom, and knew his four brothers as his
equals. One morning, we human brothers walked to school, and Drew was in the
yard. A few hours later, Drew picked up our scent and walked a half-mile to
come see us. He went into the building by himself (school doors were open in
those days) and trotted down the halls. …

The principal saw him and handled the situation well. He kindly took Drew by the collar to the school basement, checked his tags, recognized our family, and called Sam out of class. Sam tried to get Drew to leave, but the big dog wouldn’t budge. He wanted to stay in the same place his brothers were at. The principal called Mom, and she arrived. She sat with Drew for a little while, told him that lunch was waiting at home, and he went back with her.

In the early 1980s, Drew was getting on in years and moving slowly. I arrived home after a few months at college, and Drew greeted me energetically. Me: Why’s Drew jumping up and down like this?
Mom: Well, he’s happy to see you!
Really? That day I learned two things about our dog:
1) He could tell each of his brothers apart.
2) He could miss one of his family members.

We miss him too. In 1983, Drew quietly left his place on the couch and walked proudly into our hearts forever.

 

1.6 Music
Ryan

We were listening to a famous old song on the radio. Me: This is a platinum record.
Ryan: It’s Latin?
Me: No, platinum. It sold more than a million copies. Ryan: It’s Spanish?

Ryan put his the headphones on, but I still heard his music as loud as through a regular stereo.

Ryan was watching one of his cable music shows – a live concert by a band with five members who choreograph together and don’t play instruments. Me: They’re lip synching – not really singing.
Ryan: No, they’re singing.
Me: Son, I have some hard facts to tell you about lip synching. [And I did, in an instructive, parental way.] You know, I’d like your bands a lot more if they actually sang in concert.
Ryan: Well, your bands have long hair and they just stand there.

Jimmy
Jimmy wrote a new song:
Dad’s a big scaredy cat
He’s afraid to go to the store
Dad’s the stupidest guy in the world
Dad’s the oh so
Oh so
Stupidest guy in the world

Jimmy is taking guitar lessons. As our reward he gives concerts for us, and here’s how it goes:

The performance is held on our top floor. Karen, Andy, Ryan and I take our places in the audience – we sit on the futon. Jimmy sits on a short black stool and rests his left foot on this gas pedal thing. Karen hands him his little acoustic guitar, and he plays, “Hot cross buns.” We applaud.

Karen
Me: We might get tickets to a classical music concert. Karen: Wow!
Me: You want to go?
Karen: Not really.

Jack

 

I can’t tell the difference between country music and bluegrass.

Talk
We have a kids’ music cassette that’s a total ripoff – it’s the exact same music
on both sides. And geesh, why? They play copyright-free songs, so there aren’t
any royalty problems.
Music executive: I like this idea – have the same songs on both sides. The kids
will never notice. In fact, they’ll like it, ’cause they won’t need to flip over the
tape. We’re doing a public service. I’m a friend to children everywhere.

I recently discovered these overnight sensation all-girl bands also make music. I only know them from the trashy celebrity TV shows and tabloids. Now I understand they also sing songs and release CDs.

1.7 Scandinavian furniture shopping

 

Friend Marco Torez and I went to the bigger-than-Norway Scandinavian furniture store out in the suburbs. Here’s the breakdown:

 

Overall

This store is a mecca. It’s the only place of its kind for hundreds of miles around, and people who are quasipolitan (meaning “city types who live in the suburbs”) come from all over to buy their furniture. If the store were conveniently located, it wouldn’t have nearly the business, because driving a long distance is part of the appeal.

The outside of the building is bright orange, and it can be seen by the Voyager 11 space probe. I would tell you how many floors it has, but I didn’t pay enough attention. It’s a big place – long escalators. Lots of furniture...as one would imagine. They have a play area just for the kids, an ice cream parlor, and a restaurant.
First date gal: Where are we going for dinner?
First date guy: The furniture store.
First date gal: Good. I can get an end table.

Items
We saw a display of “rag rugs” – brown, clothy floor mats that cost $30 each.
We have some rag rugs in our basement, and I’m glad to know their worth.

Getting down to price and value, let’s examine one of their Scandinavian TV stands. It’s particleboard with white paper laminate. If we went to a US discount store, that un-Scandinavian stand would be $22. Here it’s $25, and it’s designed in a Nordic land. That’s a good deal. For three extra dollars we can tell visitors, “This TV stand is Swedish. Look at it!”

A true oddity in this place is their inflatable furniture. I sat on the end of an air-filled sofa and it rolled me to the floor. I re-sat carefully, and I spoke calmly to it.
Me: Don’t move…we’re doing fine. OK.
Sofa: Man, you’re gonna puncture me...you’ve got a pen in your pocket, I know it!
Me: I don’t. I promise.

Other uniquosities
There are plenty of “they must do this in Scandinavia” aspects to this store. For example, they provide peculiar looking baby strollers. They’re verticalized, are a dull-gray metal, and have a lot of knobs at the connection points. They look like something steelworkers would build on a lunch break.
The store offers free paper yardsticks to measure the furniture. I guess if they had real yardsticks, bargain hunters would beat each other with them.

Employees there are called associates, consultants, or some title that’s as inflated as their furniture. I’d tell my bosses there: Call me a schmuck and increase my pay.

Checkout
The store has a lot of accommodations, but fast checkout isn’t one of them – it
took about 20 minutes. Next time we’ll bring friend Lee Kirby and have him
stand in line for us. Marco and I will eat lunch, browse around, watch some
Denmark TV (Hamlet marathons), select our items, and Lee will be ready at the
register for us.

1.8 Supermarket
Ryan

Ryan: You’re only taking me to the store to annoy me.

Ryan: Pleeeze don’t make me go into the store. Me: Why not?
Ryan: Because they play stupid songs and you sing them.

Jimmy
I was at the grocery store with Jimmy. We were in line, and Jimmy was
studying the candy. I released a little gas. This would have gone unnoticed, I
promise – but Jimmy stands a lot lower than most.
Jimmy, announcing: Daddy, you had gas!
Me, sheepishly: Yes, Jimmy. What candy do you want?
Jimmy: I’m going to pull my hat over my face so I don’t smell your gas. And he did.

I was at the store and called home to see if we needed anything. Jimmy answered the phone.
Jimmy: Hello.
Me: It’s Daddy.
Jimmy: What are you doing?
Me: Can I talk to my mom? I want to know if we need anything from the grocery store.
Jimmy: We don’t. I need eggs.

Jimmy sat in the cart and helped me cross things off the grocery list. Because Jimmy can’t read, I told him the letter a particular product started with, he would scrutinize the list, make an assessment, and scratch something off. This worked fine...I just need to buy items that start with different letters. Then we heard a loud noise. This upset Jimmy, and he scribbled up the entire list. Me: How can we see what else to get?
Jimmy: Dad, that noise startled me and made my eyes pop out.

Andy
We were outside the supermarket.
Jimmy: Let’s take Andy into my special door.
This is the three foot high entrance that shopping carts get pushed through.
Jimmy went first, and then I scooted Andy into it.

One baby-formula maker is smart: They have a different illustration on the front of each type of formula – for us it’s now rocking horses. This is for fathers who get sent out to pick up cans of formula for the baby.
Wife: Get the formula with the rocking horse on it! Can you remember a rocking horse? Rocking. Horse. Look at me. Say “rocking horse” for me. Picture a horse, and it’s rocking.

Karen
Karen was sending me to the all-natural grocery store for milk. Then she
noticed we also needed jelly, and she asked me to get that. I looked at her.
Me, asking telepathically: Wouldn’t all-natural jelly be too...natural?
Karen: On second thought, we’ll do without.

Karen asked me to call her on my cell phone when I got in the store, and she would help me select a certain type of cheddar cheese. My cell phone never works right when I’m that deep within a building – and that’s where the cheddar cheese is. So, I called her from the front of the store and started walking back. Karen: Hello?
Me: OK, stay with me. I’ve got to go back to the cheese. I’m walking back there, I’m –
Karen: Are you there yet?
Me: No, I’m walking past the sodas, I’m wal –
Karen: Which cheddars do you see?
Me: Hang on, I’m almost –
Karen: Jack? I can’t hear you. Jack? Jack?

Karen asked me to buy her cranberry juice. She wanted pure cranberry juice – not cran-coconut or cran-avocado. So, I went to the store and made it a point to skip all the “cran +” drinks. But then, I could only find cranberry juice cocktail. Hmm – that’s not pure cranberry juice. So, I looked way on the shelf and saw this totally obscure brand. It was pure cranberry juice, made on a farm somewhere. I proudly took it home.
Karen, holding the bottle and looking skeptical: What’s this?
Me: Pure cranberry juice.
Karen: Oh, I meant cranberry juice cocktail.

Jack
Cans of soup are normally about $2.20, but they were on special – two-for
one. I asked Karen how much we could afford to stock up on.
Karen: You can buy $30 worth.
I figured that would be about 15 cans. This turned out to be incorrect.

For a while I was buying food at the grocery deli, but I stopped...because it’s almost as costly as eating in a restaurant.

I went to get this big 24-pack of toilet paper. It was the super-cheap brand, so the paper is very thin… it doesn’t have airy cushioning…making it quite heavy – more like a big block of wood. But I didn’t realize this when I pulled it down from a high shelf. The toilet paper fell on me – hard. I was thrown off balance, and my glasses were knocked to the floor. Now, my bent glasses sit lopsided on my face, and I look like an alcoholic British actor.

I was in the checkout line.
Guy behind me: Somebody’s number is lost. Me: I’m sorry, what?
Guy: Lost. Permanently lost!
Me: Have a good day.

When I have to return something, I’ll stand in line and rehearse my “here’s

When I have to return something, I’ll stand in line and rehearse my “here’s year-old with a nose ring.

When I put the food away in the refrigerator, I leave everything in their grocery sacks. The baggers usually put similar items together, so it all works out. For some reason, Karen prefers I not do this.

Talk
We have an all-natural food store in our neighborhood. They... ~ have a sign up in their butcher department. It explains how they treat the

animals humanely.
~ sometimes give massages…near the food we’ll eat.
~ have a big seafood section, and they sell these exotic fish – the ones with

gnarly teeth, red warts and blobby triangular shapes. I guess people watch those deep-sea TV documentaries and say, “Look at that gross fish. Makes me hungry!”

This new mega-grocery store near us...

~ over-planned their entrances and exits – no left turn…no right turn. I can’t figure out how to get in there.
~ sells dress shirts and ties, because it’s long overdue.

1.9 Chicago profile: Dimensions

 

There are six parts to the profile, and this is the first one.

History
Thousands of years ago, this glacier was pulling back after a long stay in
Illinois. Glacey (affectionate nickname) had done an admirable job leveling out
the ground beneath it and creating all that fertile Illinois farmland.

But one day, tragedy struck: Glacey took a fall into a giant ditch. She broke a hip and was never the same again. That ditch became Lake Michigan, Chicago settled on the southwestern shore of it, and that brings us up to modern day.

Finally getting to the dimensions

 

Chicago is flat – flatty flat flat. You’ll only need a four-cylinder car.

You’ll also need a map of the area we’re going to explore, so I’ll draw you one:
Lake Michigan looks like this: U
Chicago’s aptly named Chicago River connects to the lake like this: -U
The river has north and south branches: >-U
We live up north: *>-U

Chicago stretches about 25 miles North-South and 15 miles East-West. It’s like a city in itself.

Here’s how Chicago fans out from the Loop. It goes from...
...businesses in the Loop – lots of banks, insurance companies and ad agencies ...to service companies (printers, office furniture stores), loft buildings, highrise condos, an ever-shrinking number of manufacturers, and tourist places

...to homes, low-rise condos and fun bars

 

...to homes, apartments/condos and old-time manufacturers.

Where we live…
Our house is about a mile west of Wrigley Field (the most famous landmark in
North Chicago), and we’re right in the middle of bustling intersections, bars,
liquor stores, cabs, and restaurants with sidewalk dining.

When you want to identify a part of North Chicago, here are three ways to do it:

1. By neighborhood. There are over 70 of them, and they have names. In most cases, I can’t tell where one neighborhood ends and the other begins.
2. By intersections. Chicago is full of them. If a guy said he was in Chicago but he rarely experienced intersections, I’d say he was in the wrong city.

3. By ethnicity. A lot of immigrants settle in Chicago. A fellow explained the phenomenon to me this way: “It’s like the Pied Piper. One immigrant comes to Chicago, makes it, and he tells others back at home.”

Chicago isn’t as congested as some big cities, but it does have a lot of humans. The city proper (or improper) has three million people, and the entire metropolitan area has 7.2 million. Sometimes it feels like 7.3 million.

Lake

 

There’s no water shortage in Chicago, and that’s because of Lake Michigan.

Since the 1870s, people have been fighting to get mega-polluting factories off the lakeshore, and thanks to them, there are parks next to most of the lake. There’s even a runner/bike path that goes along the water for about 18 miles. Next time you’re here, we’ll jog it.

Five years ago I was on this path and a little kid, about four years old, was standing by himself. Very strange. This lady was walking in the opposite direction from me, and we both looked at the boy. Then we looked at each other. Then we started yelling out to the park:

“Hey! There’s a kid over here!”

Wonderfully, a mother quite far away heard us and came running over for her child.
Me to the lady who also yelled: We parents have to stick together. Lady: I agree. Have a good day.

Downtown, the Lake Michigan shoreline is about half a mile further into the lake than it was years ago, and that’s because of landfill. After Chicago’s huge 1871 fire, there was no place to put the rubble except into the lake...hence, landfill.

Every year, when the first winter storm hits, one group of snow-lovers swims in the lake. Twenty people get in and only seven get out, but they get their moment on the 10:00 news.

Beaches
Surprisingly, Chicago has sand beaches on Lake Michigan. They ain’t no
Gulf of Mexico beaches, but considering our inlandedness, they’re A-OK.

Chicago River
The Chicago River is most important from an historical standpoint. If there
hadn’t been a big river going into the lake, there wouldn’t have been all the water traffic/trade that built the city. Now the river is a cove for rich guys to park their sailboats.

Before 1900, the Chicago River flowed into the lake. Everyone threw their garbage and sewage into this river. They drank from polluted water that came out of the lake, and people got sick. …

The solution was to 1) reverse the flow of the river – get the lake to pour into it instead of the river pouring into the lake; and 2) have that polluted river flow south – away from Chicagoans. To do 1) they used locks and gravity. For 2) they dug a channel that connected the south branch of the Chicago River (which originally was kind of worthless) with a big river that ultimately connects with the Mississippi. This meant St. Louis – 300 miles south – would have to deal with Chicago’s sewage, and that was fine.

Streets
Chicago streets are laid out in a grid – some go N-S, and others go E-W.
Theoretically, there are eight blocks to a mile, so all the roads are 1/8 of a mile
apart.

If a suburbanite needs something from the grocery store, it’s a three-minute drive. If I need something, it’s an eight-minute walk. This is life in the city.

Chicago has bizarre problems. One year we had a terrible snowstorm, and all these vehicles were crawling on the interstate. Drivers couldn’t leave their cars, and they crept along for at least 10 hours.

Pedestrians walk in traffic as if the car is the weaker one.

Walking in the city brings up a combination of smells: car exhaust, concrete, a lack of dirt and grass, and whatever food seller is close by. It’s not like being in the suburbs, because I don’t experience the sudden manure smells...unless someone is throwing his own.

There are a lot of homemade signs tacked to telephone poles: “Lose 30 lbs. in 30 days! Doctor guaranteed!” Why is a respectable doctor advertising in this way?

Chicago can confuse out-of-town drivers. For example: Two of our nation’s major East-West (note that) interstates are 90 and 94. These highways come together and run North-South through Chicago – fine! It’s just a quirky thing: “While these interstates in this major city, they’re going to take a vertical swoop.” However, those big green highway signs still say that 90 and 94 are going EastWest – when they’re actually going North-South. So, you come into Chicago from the south, drive up north on 90-94 to visit a friend, and the sign will say you’re going west. “Agh!” you say. “My friend says he lives north of Chicago – what happened?” It’s a lovely experience.

Coming into town on Interstate 55, there are several billboards for whiskey. That says something about Chicagoans.

 

Repair people like to strap stuffed animals to the front bumpers of their utility vehicles.

 

North Avenue runs East-West (not North-South). 2600 West North Avenue is North and Western.

 

Speaking of Western, it’s the longest street in the world. I would have guessed some road in India would claim that honor, but no.

 

Chicago is continually under repair. Workers are out there making our lives better, and I don’t have to help them do it.

Intersections
Several famous diagonal streets fan out of downtown Chicago. They look
like spokes in a wheel, and they cut through the grid. This creates 1) big sixway intersections, 2) triangular-shaped buildings (because they’re sitting in a
wedge between, say a N-S street and a diagonal one), and 3) lots of car
accidents.

One triangular-shaped three-story building near us was being remodeled, and the workers unwittingly knocked out some supporting beams. While the guys lunched elsewhere, the structure collapsed, and the exterior walls fell outward into the street. It made the news. Amazingly, no one was hurt.

Many intersections have no signs naming the streets. It’s done so visitors will explore more of the city.

Friend Marco Torez knows more intersections than anyone I know. Me: How about Elston and Central Park.
Marco: Sure, I know that. There’s a chop suey place right there. And a

pizza place next to that.

Lake Shore Drive
Lake Shore Drive is a huge deal. People sing about it. This eight-lane
road is always well paved, partly because the city knows visitors like to travel
on it. The main part of the Drive is about 29 miles long, and it’s one of our
country’s scenic-est experiences.

Here’s how it looks traveling north on the Drive: On the right, there’s always a lake and sometimes a beach. On the left, there might be a ...

~ series of high-rises. The tall apartments/condos battle each other for lake views.
~ park…with the picnic tables, playgrounds and boom boxes.
~ sailboat harbor.
~ mansion…now usually home to an association or a school.
~ zoo. Giraffes get the lake view.

They don’t allow pickup trucks on the Drive, because they’re trying to keep it scenically pleasing. But a $50 junker car is OK.

Parking
Rule of thumb: Parking in the Loop and the near north is nearly
impossible, but it gets easier the further out you go.

Private parking lots have plenty of available spaces, because if a car is there illegally, aggressive moneymaking operations will tow it. Some of them…

~ were breaking into the cars they towed and stealing the radios, etc. ~ charge about 35% more if you pay with a credit card.
~ are kings of the “you’d better be nice to us because we have your car”

attitude.

Friend Tim Campbell and I parked in one such lot, came out, and there was a tow truck going for my car. We ran and got to my car in time. But then the tow truck wanted to block us in the lot, and we had to race out of there. But why would they block us in – what could they have done? That part was kind of silly.

I always wondered how the city tows a car in a parallel spot, because the car has a vehicle in the front and back of it. Answer: They tow guys have this flat x-shaped jack thing that goes under the car’s front, rises up, and rolls the vehicle out diagonally.

Finding a parking spot is like securing a nice parcel of land I’ll own for a short time. “Hello, Mom? Guess what I got!”

 

2. February
2.1 Timeline

 

February just seems shorter.

We were in the car and for the first time, (sad pause) Ryan wanted to hear the totally funky teenage/dance/rap/thump, thump, thump radio station. Ohhh...I’ll have to go through many years of this.

Jimmy created a Valentine, and he asked his Mom to write on the back, “Jimmy made this.”

During Mardi Gras season, I celebrated by going to the all-natural supermarket for milk. I admired the new cute gals working at the registers...until I discovered they were guys wearing drag.

I’m now introducing our black cat Grimbo.

We were in our house, and I wanted to sit where Grimbo was, so I put him in another spot. But he wasn’t happy with the body position I put him in, so he moved himself a little. He always does.

Snow
I was digging out a parking space. This car came slowly by and stopped.
Passenger: Why are you doing that?
Me: I’m putting my car in.
Passenger: But I don’t see your car.
Me: It’s up the street.
They stared at me.
Passenger: You’ve already got a spot up the street. Can we have this one?
Me: I wish I could. I’ll give you the other spot when I’m done here.
Passenger: How long will that be?
Me: About an hour.
They stared at me.
Driver: Man, you got two spots!
And they drove off.

After the big snowfalls subsided, North Chicagoans finally got out to the supermarket. They looked Rip Van Winklish.

Yesterday the snow fell. I shoveled it, and today there was no snow anywhere. It all melted.
Lady on the radio: Yesterday I saw people out there shoveling – how stupid can you be?

Brother Sam visit

 

Today is Wednesday. No, Thursday. Brother Sam came into town and we had a fine time together. First order of business was getting something to eat.

A diner near us serves three eggs, toast and potatoes – all for just 99 cents. True! This is the only place I’ll treat visitors. Sam ordered two 99 centers, piled both onto one plate, poured hot sauce over everything, and ate like he hadn’t eaten in a week.

Sam drove back home, but he left a nice sweatshirt behind, and that was a good windfall for me.

 

2.2 Andy at seven months

 

2.2 Andy at seven months

Andy is trying hard to communicate. We play patty cake, and he’s right there in the game. He doesn’t give me a big laugh when we “throw it in the pan,” but I think it’s because he’s concentrating on the action.

Andy likes to be held so he can stand. I can’t blame the little guy, because he’s been sitting or laying for 96 percent of his life, and it’s time to stretch out.

I’ll be lying on the couch, and Andy will climb up and peer down on me. I’ll lose the “he’s only a small baby” perspective…he looks like a mad dentist who’s about to operate on me.

2.3 Goodbye to the family home

Are the Mom letters written only to my mother? No! I also write to my motherin-law Martha, and my godmother, May-Jane Flick. That’s especially true when Ma Brackitt becomes a central player in the story…and that’s the deal now.

Brackitt becomes a central player in the story…and that’s the deal now. year home, because Mom was moving to a nice new place.

 

Long background

 

At this point, I’m giving you a short history of our original family in St. Louis, because I can center it around our family house and...I dunno, it seems to fit here.

 

In 1958, my parents married, and they had four ne’er-do-well sons.

 

1960s

On July 17, 1965, we six Brackitts moved into our house. It’s a ranch style with four bedrooms on the main floor, plus (thanks to efforts in 1980) two more bedrooms in the basement. The exterior is red brick, because there’s a lot of red brick in St. Louis. It’s on a corner lot, so we dealt with people driving on our lawn and tossing beer bottles, and sometimes they weren’t even family members.

Our house received the typical punishment over the years – nothing too unusual.

Growing up, most of our household items were in an 80% workable condition. This included our light switches, garage door opener, screen door, bathroom tile, and carpeting. Only when something was beyond kaput did it get repaired…about a year later.

1970s
Of course, the most important event of the decade was the addition of
Drew to the family.

We ignored many of the normal rules families followed. Mom happily gave up on the sit-down dinner each night, and neither parent tried to keep track of us. Instead, we kids made our own choices about what to do. While we made many atrocious decisions, none were fatal and we all learned from them – except Doug.

Example of our freedom: The brothers and I rode our bikes miles away from home at a time when neighbor kids weren’t allowed out of their yards.

Notably, there’s a precedent for all this. Dad grew up in a family of nine in a 250-person farm town called Brace in central Illinois. They had quite a rollicking household. Family members were always running everywhere, leading adventurous lives and coming back when they were hungry. …

This type of household is more expected in a small town, because everyone knows each other, etc. But Dad introduced unregimented family behavior to 1970s metropolitan suburbia, and we were a fright in the subdivision. Though Mom didn’t grow up this way, she supported having a boisterous household, because she was a free spirit in her otherwise-organized family.

1980s

In the late ‘70s/early ‘80s we kids went to college. I graduated in 1985, and – strangely enough – we all settled back in the house. It might as well have been 1964 all over again. The truth is we enjoyed being together. We were comfortable with the coming-and-going thing, and the kitchen had food.

As for the house itself, we had a lot of cars out front – three on average. A county cop asked a neighborhood punk about the goings on in the subdivision. Cop: And why does that one house have all the derelict cars out front?

Maybe he thought it was a questionable boarding house, and he would’ve been right.

Finally, in late 1987 I was the first to leave home for good. I moved to the big city – Chicago. Dad understood my reasons better than anyone else, because he always loved the Windy City.

1990s

 

Al was the second to leave home. In 1990, he moved into an apartment complex 1/2 a mile away.

Then Doug left. In 1991, he moved to Chicago and became a prosecutor for the city. But Doug came back to the family house, chose a bedroom, and started a law partnership with Al. He married Peggy in 1995, and Doug moved out for good because she was against living in the basement.

Goodness, Dad left next. In late 1996, he moved into the outstanding veterans residence in Cape Girardeau, MO – two hours south of St. Louis. Dad had a 10-year series of strokes, and while he was still conversant and self-mobile, the VA folks could give him the help he needed.

In 1998, Sam moved into an apartment near the airport. He was always helping to keep the family house up (mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, etc.), but Mom was planning a move to a condo, so everything worked out.

Mom was the last one left, and she would be leaving in a month. That’s why I was going to STL. Uh, no, I wasn’t planning to help Mom move. I wanted to ensure all my childhood possessions would either 1) survive the move to Mom’s new home, or 2) go with me back to Chicago, because I was sure Karen wanted them in boxes in our living room.

Thursday prior to my trip
An e-mail exchange:
Me: I’m coming down for an official goodbye to our family house.
Al: We’ll have a ceremony where Doug slips on a replica of a Drew turd in the
basement.

Friday
When I arrived, a lot of Mom’s stuff was already packed up in boxes.
Mom: I just did a little every day and got it done.
Me: What will you miss about this house?
Mom: I’ll miss the curtains. I made those on my sewing machine.

Mom was upbeat about this whole business – she looked forward to getting into her new place.

To help the movers keep track of furniture, I got Mom to buy some colored dots, stuck them onto boxes, then created a chart that showed what color of dot went into what new room. If the movers weren’t color blind or dogs, we’d be in good shape.
Mom, later: Your dot idea didn’t work.

Friday night
I went to Al’s apartment to hang out. He lives across from the New
Cathedral, and just a few weeks before, the Pope had a Mass there. Yes, Pope
John Paul II! Al threw a Pope party, and everyone stood on the balcony and
saw the real live pontiff.

I watched their home video of the whole thing, and Al wasn’t lying – there, on the TV, was the Pope out waving to the crowds. They had elaborate security for the pontiff. The Pope’s guards wore all black, but I doubt they were priests.

Saturday
I got out the camcorder and made a video record of the entire home –
documented every corner, wall and window. I made about two hours of tape, and
next time there’s a party, I’ll show it to everyone.

Afterwards, we got together with Mom’s handyman and our family friend Louis, and we drove out to her new home in Chesterfield – West County St. Louis. Chesterfield is one of the nicer towns in the suburbs, and they have a mobile home park there.

I saw Mom’s house, and it’s nice! Now I’m glad she fought my attempts to put her into that boarding house.

Her home is one of three connected together. It’s a town home, but it’s more homey than towney. These places aren’t big in front, but they extend way back – they’re like three ranch houses set sideways and glued together. This is necessary, because in West County the “visible to the street” space is expensive.

Because the previous owner was in the process of moving, her new home had all the previous owner’s furniture in there. It’s odd how a buyer and seller quickly form a trusting relationship with each other.

The new place presented Louis and Mom with a whole new set of to-do’s, and though they might not have said it, that pleased both of them a lot.

 

Saturday night

Sam and I went to his favorite bar and hung out with a couple of folks from our old high school. None of them threatened to beat me up, so I guess that’s progress.

I have a good story about Sam, but you need some background first. Last summer I drove down to St. Louis, and we cleared 30-plus years of family junk from the attic and basement. We sorted it amongst the brothers (“Look, all my old school papers”) and decided whether to keep things or take them to the dump. We had half the garage piled near the ceiling with pure junk. Sam had everything hauled away, and that was that. ...

I had rashly tossed a number of things I regretted, including my beer can collection and some books from my youth. I mentioned this to Sam. Sam: You know, I think we can get back everything you need.
Me: What? You drove it all to the dump six months ago.
Sam: No, I couldn’t throw any of our stuff out. I just took everything and put it in a big storage locker.
Me: You’re kidding me. That must cost you a lot.
Sam: Yeah, it’s about $130 a month. …

I had to tell Mom about this.
Me: Mom, did you know Sam has all that old junk in a storage locker? Mom: Oh, I heard about it. You know, Sam shouldn’t pay for that. I’ve got lots of room in my new basement, and he can put everything down there. So, all that junk we almost threw out is going back to Mom.

Sunday
When I got home to Chicago, it hit me that I left my portable radio in St.
Louis. Ouch! Where did I leave it? But then it also hit me: I had videotaped the
entire house – I could find it that way. Acting like a crime detective, I watched
the tapes, and...there my radio was, on a table next to the bedroom phone. I called
Mom and we solved the case.

2.4 Clothes
Ryan

Ryan: I’m going to change my clothes. Me: Aren’t the ones you’re wearing fine? Ryan: C’mon, I slept in these.

I didn’t know that mattered to him.

 

Me: Ugh, my shoes are wet. Ryan: Microwave them.

Jimmy
I handed Jimmy his hat.
Jimmy, snatching it: Hey, that’s mine!

Andy
I spent two weeks looking for my left slipper, and then Andy pulled it out of
his toy box.

Karen
Karen is an air traffic controller and we’re the planes. When one of us is off
the flight pattern, she gets worried.

Me: Can you help me find my shoe?

 

Karen, pointing at the one I’d already found: It’s right there.

Me: I did the laundry.
Karen: Did you run out of pre-treater? Me: No, it’s fine.
Karen: But there was hardly any left. Me: Hm.

(I didn’t use the pre-treater.)

Jack
Yesterday I tied my tie too long, and today it’s too short. On average, I’m
fine.

I’m trying out mending fabric on the elbow of this shirt. This is the third appliqué (fancy word) on the shirt, because the cloth is so weak that everywhere the patch stops, a tear begins. Ladies and gentlemen: The All Mending Fabric Shirt.

I bought these $29 “leather” shoes, and… ~ they soaked this brown dye into my socks. ~ when I scuffed them, this white plastic appeared.

I concluded my purchase was a mistake. State prisoners riot against wearing shoes like these.

Family
Let’s just surrender and agree that kids look neat with hoods on. They have
that little round face peeking through – how could anyone not love hoods.
Mittens don’t have quite the same charm. Hoods are 3.7 times cuter than mittens.

Circle

Sari the dry cleaner is also a tailor, and I’ll bring my clothes to him for repair. He’s always sympathetic with my requests for service, but when I press him (play on words) he’ll come out and say it.
Sari: Jack, I have to tell you. These pants of yours will never be good again. You’re only wasting money. I cannot, in good conscience, try to fix them. Turn these pants into gardening clothes.

Would he classify half my wardrobe as gardening clothes?

Talk
I’m seeing a lot of ladies use plastic grocery bags as emergency rain bonnets.
Who’d have guessed grocery bags would replace those little packed-up plastic
bonnets that go into purses.

I wish sneaker makers would actually wear the shoes they sell, and see if the laces stay tied.

Why did sneaker makers get rid of the metal rings for their holes (eyelets)? When my laces lose their plastic tips – which always happens – I can’t lick the ends and thread them through those holes. A celebrity jock endorser adds $35 onto the price of shoes just so he can buy a new mansion, so five cents worth of metal eyelets get cut.

Why do some people wear chokers? It looks like they broke from their leash.

 

2.5 Andy’s day

 

Since you’re coming for a week, I’m heretoforthwith delivering a report called “Our six month old’s entire day.” Here it comes:

 

3:00 am?

Andy chooses his wake-up time more often than we do. He might scream for a ba-ba at any point, then he’ll probably want to stay up and watch the overnight shows.

6:15 am

 

Andy sits on my lap and looks with interest at whatever he cares to. Often he fixes his eyes on something up high, and I finally get to see his neck.

My goal is to keep the baby happy so I can get us out of the house and to our destinations. He likes this one toy: It’s plate-shaped, and little ‘joystick barnyard animals’ are stuck on top. Andy moves the pig.
Pig: Oink, oink.

It keeps him occupied for about five minutes. This is remarkable, considering he throws everything else.

 

I get Jimmy going and eating breakfast, and Andy sits in his stationary exerciser – this round command center. Warp speed to Planet Ba-ba. …

I like this round thing because we originally had it with Jimmy, and it sat in the basement four years waiting for another baby. That baby’s making much use of it, and we didn’t stress the credit card.

7:30 am

 

I put Andy into his full-body coat. His arms stuck out to the side, and he looked like a lower case t.

 

7:45 am

Andy used to go everywhere in a handled pumpkin seat that became a car seat. Now I carry him to my car, and he sits in the middle big boy car seat. We drop off Jimmy at school, and Andy might fall sleep.

7:55 am

 

I drop Andy off at daycare provider Gwen Martinez’s home. There, Andy is a big star and I’m his roadie. Andy and Gwen enjoy a nice day together.

4:30 pm
Karen takes Andy home around this time, I think. (I don’t keep track of
Karen’s schedule, because it’s hard enough for me to accept that I’m on a
timetable.)

7:30 pm
I get home, and Andy can be in any number of places:
~ lounging with a bottle in the guest room.
~ sitting in his high chair
~ relaxing on the couch upstairs – surrounded by pillows and looking like one

of those 19th century babies who was crowned king.

 

8:00 pm

 

Andy sits with me as I type on my computer. He lunges forward and bangs on the keyboard.

8:15 pm
It’s Andy’s bath time. Ryan was OK with baths, Jimmy hated them, and
Andy loves them.

8:45 pm

It’s near bedtime. Andy sits on my lap, brightens his eyes, and occasionally takes deep breaths. He gets a ni-night ba-ba and blanky, and I move him to his 45 degree angle bouncy chair. (Andy doesn’t need to sit with someone in order to sleep.) He scrunches his blanky up to his face and kicks his legs. He nods off, and I carry him upstairs to his crib.
Me: You had a big day today Andy – we love you.

2.6 Food preparation
Ryan

I pulled Ryan’s slice of pizza out of the oven and it fell upside down onto the hot oven door. The pizza started cooking on the door and they welded together. I pulled off what I could and gave it to Ryan. When the door cooled, I scraped off the cheese…and sure, I ate it.

Me: What do you want on your hotdog? Ryan: Eh, the usual.
Me: The usual?

I baked a pizza for Ryan and cooled it in the freezer. About 45 minutes later... Ryan: Where’s my pizza?
Me: Oh! I forgot it. Hang on. It’ll be nice for you.
Ryan: Nice and frozen.

Ryan has been particularly good lately. He even made a sandwich for Jimmy, which is something of a miracle.

Jimmy: Can I have an apple?
Me: Apples don’t grow on trees you know. Ryan: Hold it, Jim.

Jimmy

Jimmy wanted cereal, but all we had was raisin bran, and he doesn’t like raisins. So, I surgically removed the offending raisins. A few minutes later Jimmy called for me. He silently poked at a wet raisin that I missed and gave me a disapproving look.
Me: Jimmy, there’s no way I can take back the terrible thing that happened to you here. I can only give you a big, “I’m sorry,” and promise to try and do better next time.
Jimmy: See here? I took a bite of it, too.

At my request, all the cookies in the house are hidden from me. Jimmy: Can you help me get the cookies? Mom said it’s OK.
Me: But then I’ll know where they are.
Jimmy: Close your eyes then and lift me up – I’ll get them.

So, I put Jimmy on my shoulders, and we stood in the pantry – me with my eyes closed. This went on too long.
Me: Have you got your cookies?
Jimmy: No. I don’t know where they are.

Jimmy was in the kitchen and Karen’s pot was beginning to boil. Jimmy: Mom, the top is starting to shivel.

Jimmy is reading a book about vegetable soup, and it inspired him. Jimmy: I wanna make vegetable soup.
Me: Why can’t we just open a can of vegetable soup and eat it? Jimmy: Mommy says she and I will make some. Me and Mommy will. Me: You’re gonna get all those carrots and stuff? It all comes in a can. Jimmy: Mommy and me will make vegetable soup, and you won’t get any.

Me: You want peanut butter and jelly? Jimmy: No, just peanut butter and air.

 

Andy

 

I opened a jar of baby food for Andy and it smelled like dog food.

Karen
We had a cookie cutter that sat in the toy box for a few years, and Jimmy was
determined to utilize it. So, he and I baked cookies. Karen was sitting with the
baby in the living room and tried to assist from there. She gave lots of helpful
hints…but I could hardly hear them.
Karen: Don’t forget to gredserk!
Me: What’d you say?
Karen: Yes, that should help.
I did hear Karen say we needed to chill the dough, but I had no patience for
that. As a result, the dough stuck to the cutter – this was problematic. So we
went to Plan B: Jimmy shaped his own doughies (my name for pre-made
cookies). He made a tyrannosaurus, a “bronchiasaurus,” a handprint, a big “J,”
and an elephant. They came out of the oven looking more like flat blobs, but he
did it – and they were good.

Jack
I’m shopping for food scales so I can weigh my meals, but those scales they
sell only go up to 16 ounces. Nothing I eat weighs less than a pound.

I eat about a fourth of my food while preparing it.

 

Oatmeal story

I decided to make oatmeal, and Jimmy observed. Jimmy, looking at the flakes: Can I taste one of these? Me: Sure.
Jimmy: Yuck! This is birdseed.

I poured the oatmeal out, and Jimmy had snuck a toy in it.

This hunk of butter fell onto the stovetop. Since the stove was hot, the butter pad melted and slid all over the place, and I couldn’t catch it. I was 35 years old and chasing after butter.

While cooking, I added milk to my oatmeal, but that made it too soupy. So, I added oatmeal (making it too lumpy), then milk, then oatmeal. Finally, I made enough glub to feed the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Talk
Household hint: What can be done with those ketchup, mustard, and soy
sauce packets in our refrigerator door? I make a sassy nacho dip for our guests.

The toaster forces me to put my single slice of bread into the far left slot, and I think it’s because that’s one with the temperature gauge. Fine. But I still believe the toaster makers are on a control trip.

Life imprisonment should be given to those who put spaghetti noodles onto the plate before completely draining them.

 

2.7 Day in court

A month ago, I was in this relatively small town about an hour from home. I passed someone illegally, and while the kind cop didn’t give me a ticket for that, I did get one for not having proof of insurance. I needed to stand before the judge and show that I indeed was underwritten.

This required a trip back to the town on the required date. I walked into their huge, ultra-modern court complex – “The House that Speeding Tickets Built.” Inside the entrance, my name was listed on this large electronic board that showed the courtroom I was supposed to be in. Did I deserve this public humiliation?

I went into said courtroom and sat in one of the pews, though I guess they’re not called that. Here sat 70 other accused criminals and me. We were rounded up, and we looked it. They were my brothers and sisters in crime, and I felt this peculiar need to help them. At the very least, I wanted to pass around a hairbrush.

About five attorneys were up front representing some of us, and I wouldn’t have guessed who among us had legal council. For example, a lousy punky guy had a lawyer, and an upstanding citizen like me was defenseless.

Those lawyers wore their day-to-day frumpy suits, which was expected. But then…in strode this wavy-haired Attorney Adonis in a sharp, double-breasted suit – quite a handsome fellow. Many of the women in the courtroom oh-so-casually fixed their eyes on him.
I thought: Ladies, get real. He’s not interested in accused criminals!

Finally, I got called up to the judge. Here’s how he looked at me: “You’re sleaze, and I don’t like you. Furthermore, I’m only going through the motions with this boring job until I reach retirement, which is 5,192 hours from now.”

I handed the judge my insurance information, and he reared back slightly – uh oh, I’d offended him. He blandly pointed to the man on my right (prosecutor?), and I gave him the paper.
Judge: August 28. [The date I was apprehended.]
Man: August 16. [The date I got the insurance.]

The judge then called the name of the next defendant, and I stood there baffled. His honor didn’t say, “You’re dismissed,” or, “Bailiff, escort this man out.” Should I have walked away and risked getting cuffed? The next defendant came up and started talking. I stood there like a mannequin until it occurred to me I was supposed to leave their presence. I certainly didn’t want any connection to that next defendant.

I went to the clerk to pick up my driver’s license. She looked over my documents and got this perplexed look. (Note: She was the first person to show an expression.) Clerk: Mr. Brackitt, you didn’t need to go to court. Next time just come here during regular hours and show your proof of insurance.
Me: Oh.

2.8 TV
Ryan

Me: Do you ever watch those talk shows where people throw chairs at each other?
Ryan: No, they’re boring.

Ryan was watching TV.

 

Ryan: That guy’s gonna be dead, if he ever lives long enough to find out.

 

We had to ban Ryan from the TV for a day. Ryan: Can you tape my shows for me?

 

If a show is on Ryan’s favorite kids TV channel he likes it. If that same show is on another channel, he doesn’t like it.

 

Karen: Ryan, the TV’s too loud. Ryan: Can’t hear you.

Ryan watches these super low budget made-for-cable pre-teen movies. They always start with a typical family, and then some strange variable is thrown into their lives. Three examples:

1. A robot helps the family out.
2. They adopt a pig.
3. One person is actually two.
They like #3, because it saves paying for an extra actor.

Me: They’ve got 140 characters on that cartoon? Wow. Can you name all of them?
Ryan: I can name some of them.

Actress on commercial: Come close and smell my breath. Ryan: Lady, I don’t want to.

Me: Why’s your TV channel all fuzzy?
Ryan: I dunno, I didn’t do it.
Me: I know you didn’t do it. I’m just asking what’s wrong. Ryan: It wasn’t me.

We were watching a show.
Me, being tutorial: This is a Japanese cartoon, and they redo the voices in English.
Ryan: Don’t say that! Dad, we’re kids – we want to enjoy these shows, not have you tell us things like that.
Jimmy: Yeah.

Jimmy
Jimmy gets mad when I set up a tape for him and fast-forward past the FBI
warning.
Jimmy: Stohhhhp! I like this part.
With some of his tapes, it’s the best part.

Jimmy had me watch this cartoon with him because it scares him. I did my best, but suddenly a monster jumped into the screen.
Jimmy: Aghhh! ...Dad! Next time hold me and cover my eyes.

Jimmy watched some Latin TV. Jimmy: That’s for Mexicos.

Jimmy has watched every “Mr. E. Dog” half-hour cartoon several times. Tonight we sat together and viewed one. At the show’s beginning, our teen heroes were greeted by a Canadian Mountie.
Jimmy, whispering: That guy’s the slime monster.

Jimmy has tantrums that last the commercial break.

 

Jimmy: I know how to spell TV: T V.

Jimmy was watching TV and I was paying attention to my laptop. Jimmy: What was the last cartoon about?
Me, thinking fast: Um, these people and animals were chasing each other. Jimmy: Oh yeah.

Jimmy will watch anything – and I mean anything – as long as it’s a cartoon. He viewed an entire four-hour marathon of some imported junky show that was barely translated into English, and I figure it helps him learn about the world.

Jimmy: Was Hercules real? Me: No, he was made up.
Jimmy: Dad, he’s got a TV show.

Me: Jimmy, don’t you want to watch educational kids TV instead of this? Jimmy: Um, no.
Me: Jimmy, we really need to watch that instead.
Jimmy: Sorry, I can’t.

Andy
Andy is at an in-between age. He isn’t large enough to get in the way of the
TV, but he does block the “beaming zone” between the VCR and our remote
control.
This morning baby and I raced for the TV listings, and I barely won.

I was watching TV and saw, “No cassette” flash on the screen. I thought: Huh?
Then I looked over and saw Andy playing with the VCR remote.

Karen
When we got cable TV installed, Karen ordered an extra 25 feet of cord
behind each television set. We never use this additional wire, but if necessary, we
could view three TVs on the sidewalk.

Me: I’ve never seen this whole movie.
Karen: You haven’t seen this movie?
Me: I’ve seen parts of it.
Karen: I can’t believe you haven’t seen this movie. Me: Well, I haven’t. I’ve seen parts of it.

A few moments passed.
Karen: You haven’t seen this movie? I can’t believe it. Me: Can you get over it so I can see it?

Karen’s 1800s costume drama films are so much alike, I know how they can save a lot of money: Dub a new story and script over the old movie and make a new one. For example: “My, what a splendid horse,” can be replaced with, “I love to go riding.”

Karen, watching one of her movies: That guy’s name is Will Byron. No…it’s Byron Will.

 

I wouldn’t have questioned either name.

 

I put out my hand and Karen held it. But actually, I wanted the remote.

Karen was watching a documentary on the 1970s sitcom with the singing family, and I walked in on the middle of it.
Me: Oh. They’ll have to do the bulimia thing.
Karen: They just talked about that. Did you see this already?
Me: No – this family has been profiled on like seven documentaries. Have they fired the one kid yet?
Karen: Yes, of course – that’s early on.
Me: They’ll also talk how the real dad was jealous of his son.
Karen: They said that’s coming up next.
Me: Mm hm. Did they show the star being naked on the magazine cover and shocking producers?
Karen: I haven’t seen that.
Me: Yeah, most of the profiles don’t mention it.
Karen: Maybe they’re showing good taste.
Me: No, they just don’t know about it.

Karen likes watching those movies where five 34-year-olds – one with a British accent – get together at somebody’s spacious rehabbed barn/house in Vermont, drink coffee in the kitchen, talk about their anxieties and start dancing spontaneously when the one putting away dishes starts making music with pots and pans. This improvised music is then placed on the film’s soundtrack.

Fact 1: Karen rents movies then falls asleep in front of them.

Fact 2: I sit in a chair in the same room with Karen, work on my laptop, and won’t get up for about three hours.
These two facts caused a problem when Karen got this totally annoying movie. She fell asleep while clutching the remote, and because I don’t get up, I had to sit there and watch this terrible film. Now, I’m more knowledgeable about the movie than Karen is.

Karen and I watched the news, and they showed amateur videotape of that dangerous nut who shot up the White House with a machine gun (luckily, no one was hurt). On the tape, there was this normal guy pushing a baby carriage, and normal guy ran over and tackled the nut.
Karen: If that ever happens to you, please don’t leave the baby carriage. I thought: Under what circumstances would this happen to me?

Karen views these movies shown on lesser-known cable networks. I figure we’ll get a call from someone at the channel: “You were the one who watched! Can we talk to you?”

Jack
If I hit the wrong button on the TV, this bright blue box called MENU appears
on the screen and takes over most of the picture. I’m stuck – if I hit any buttons
to make the almighty MENU go away, it changes settings (“Sleep, Reminder,
Caption, Vol. Bar, Language, Exit” – like we’d use any of these.) Two minutes
go by before MENU figures it has better things to do and leaves. Shouldn’t I just
simply turn the TV off? It might never turn on again.

I laid on the couch and watched this aerobics program. Instructor to the camera: Look at you! You’re doing great. Me: Thanks.

Karen was watching this Macbeth movie, and that leads me to say this: I don’t get Shakespeare. I’m sorry! I can’t understand what he’s talking about. I’ll hear two minutes of Shakespeare dialog and I’ll think, “Hunh?” Reading Shakespeare is even harder. Here’s an example:

The sentences get broken any Which way, and I’m
Always pausing when I shouldn’t be.

When I watch these 24-hour news networks, I’m tempted to call their hotline and say, “Hey, that guy in the corner of your newsroom – yeah, in the light blue shirt. He’s a loafer – tell him to get some work done.”

This movie was on one of the cheapie basic cable channels, and it hit me that I’d seen this film in the theater less than a year ago. From theater to basic cable in less than a year – that was a poor cinematic investment for me.

Here’s a weird thing about having a pay channel: I’ll wander around the dial

Here’s a weird thing about having a pay channel: I’ll wander around the dial minute part.

Commercial: We have eight well-respected hospitals. I thought: How many total hospitals do they have?

 

Family

 

Our photo album is filled with pictures of kids watching TV.

While watching TV, Ryan sits on the back of the couch, and Jimmy lies under the bed.
Jimmy, looking out: I like it here.

It’s a parent’s right to throw pillows at kids while they’re watching TV.

 

Karen: What’s wrong with the remote? Ryan: Here, let me check.

 

He examined it..

 

Ryan: Did you soak it in water?

A snapshot of current TV watching in the house:
Jimmy is viewing the tape of the 24 cartoon channel that he had me make for him this morning – even though he could watch the channel live and get about the same thing.
Ryan is tuned into a kids award program. The show’s producers tell the celebrities in advance that they won, then bully the stars into appearing. “All the kids will expect you!”
I haven’t checked what Karen is watching, but it probably has subtitles.

I crossed in front of the TV.
Ryan: Move, move, move!
Me: I’m not gonna move – it’s a commercial. Ryan: It’s a MonstaSquad commercial! Jimmy: Dad, MonstaSquad is Ryan’s favorite.

The two older boys were playing in the sink and got water everywhere, so Karen sent them upstairs. I happened to be up there.
Ryan, entering the room: Dad, don’t ask.
They both sat on the couch.
Jimmy: Ryan – how about we watch TV?
Me: No, if you’re being punished you shouldn’t do that.
Ryan: Oh, you’re a lot of help.

I wanted to watch television. But on our one TV, Ryan was watching the allcartoon channel, and on the other TV, Jimmy was watching...the all-cartoon channel. They refused to view it together.

The cable was out tonight, so we actually interacted as a family. But then we found a videotape to watch, and things got back to normal.

Ryan does show a lot of patience with Jimmy when they watch TV together. They’ll both be sitting in the kitchen watching a show.
Jimmy: Ah haaah heh heh! He can’t do that! Ahh hehhh!
Ryan: [Rolling his eyes.]

Ryan: Can I watch my TV? Jimmy: No, I’m watching! Me: We’ll flip a coin. Ryan: I call heads.
Jimmy: No, I want heads.

Talk
I see these promos for this hospital show on TV. It’s always “one you’ll never
forget,” or “shocking.” They said tonight’s episode would be simply
“compelling.” Obviously, they’re ashamed of it. ...

This show is at that stage where they lose half their original people, and they bring on actors with British accents.

A pre-recorded videotape for kids might contain one episode of a half hour TV show. The rental cost is $2.98 – same as for a movie-length videotape. Ryan wants these short tapes but I won’t go along. The whole point of renting a movie is having kids sit zombie-like for at least 90 minutes.

Why did Australians become the authorities for everything sold in infomercials?

One of the premium movie channels explained why they run the same movie every five hours.
Announcer: Our encore presentations let you see the film ahead of time and determine if it’s appropriate for sensitive viewers.

I’m glad they clarified that. I thought they ran nonstop repeats because they already took me for $11.00, and they want to give me as little as possible as often as possible.

Regarding TV documentaries: It’s hard to have sympathy for downtrodden cultures when their traditional songs are playing so annoyingly in the background. Photos: [1800s people working on farms.]
Song: Waaaaaaa wwwwhaaaaaaaa waaaa waaahhhh!
Me: Turn that heart-wrenching music down!

I watch these senators during televised hearing. Regarding these staff people who sit behind them: Why aren’t they working?
Friend to staffer: What did you do today?
Staffer: I sat behind Senator Bruhaha at the foreign relations subcommittee hearing, then I sat behind him at lunch. He wanted me to sit behind him at dinner, but I said no.

For decades, the kids cereal commercials have been saying, “enjoy it as part of a balanced breakfast.” And so far, 12 children have.

This TV newsmagazine will promote a story thus: “He’s a stay-at-home-dad. She’s a working mom. Now they’re divorcing, so who gets custody of the kids?” They should add, “Flip the channel for awhile. We’re not gonna tell you who gets custody until the last three minutes.”

Two comments about TV news:

1. Any time those trash entertainment shows have something I’d like to see, it’s always, “And that’s tomorrow on our show.”
2.The local news has promos like: “Caught on tape – a mini-mart robbery gone bad,” And the promo shows a little clip – fine. But those quickie previews are usually longer than the actual news stories. So, I’ll just watch the promos and get all my news.

I saw this celebrity doing an extra-strength mint commercial. Who knew the star’s breath is so foul?

 

When I watch the first season reruns of a long-running hit show, the actors don’t have their confident, “I’m a star” hairstyles.

I watched this drama series about a 30-ish, ponytailed judge who goes out at night and wields vigilante style justice on the criminal defendants in his courtroom. To disguise himself in the wee hours, the judge rides a motorcycle and un-rubber bands his ponytail. So, these thugs have no idea that the judge before them during the day is the mystery man tormenting them at night. Apparently, they never notice the judge’s ponytail and put things together.

Before cable, the British comedies shown on public television were really funny. With cable, I’m seeing bad British comedies, and their worst shows are worse than our worst.

3.1 Timeline

 

3. March
3.1 Timeline

Grandma Martha and Grandpa Fritz are in town. It’s always nice having you grandparents here, partly because you bring sanity to the household. To date, Fritz has played 1,039 games of solitaire on my computer, and I’m not exaggerating.

Ryan and I were driving home for dinner. He called Grandma on the cellular phone, because she was cooking something special for him.
Ryan to Grandma: Let me guess. Is it spaghetti?

Grandma said no.
Ryan: How about, is it mashed potatoes and corn and gravy and peas and...OK, I’ll wait ‘til we get there.

Important news: Ryan was on the playground and broke his arm. He slid down the slide without knowing it was wet, went too fast, and he fractured his forearm. Of course we’re worried, but it was set in a cast, the hospital said Ryan will be fine, and he’s feeling OK.

We’re being hit with a huge late snowfall. These climate patterns are so suspicious – I’m starting to believe those groups who say the government controls the weather.

Serious news about Grimbo: He was moving strangely and slowly, so we took him to the vet. On Sunday, the vet said he had slipped into a coma. I should elaborate on this, but I don’t know any more right now.

[A few days later] Excellent news! Grimbo came out of the coma, got back his appetite, and was his old self again. Our beloved cat will now require medicine every day, but that’s no matter for us humans. He’s a big part of the family, and we’re going to all stick together.

[Another coupla days later…] Every morning we have a Grimbo safari. The cat hides and sleeps somewhere in the house, and at 5:30 am we have to find him so he can get his medicine. Karen and I holler, "Grimbo!" and wake up the whole neighborhood. Passersby must think we’re playing a bizarre version of Bingo...and so early in the morning.

I’m glad you became an election judge in your new town. If I applied for that, I doubt they’d even let me put up folding tables.

 

3.2 Andy at eight months

 

3.2 Andy at eight months

Andy now follows along with conversations. As I spoke to Karen, Andy looked at me and listened. Karen then replied, so Andy turned and looked at her. Andy: Dglah.

Andy is attempting to scoot along, but his tummy is too big. Picture an egg trying to crawl.

 

Andy was playing with a toy.

 

Me: Baby, I hate to break it to you. You’re doing something we don’t mind.

 

Andy and his Mom like to say “Grrgh” to each other. It’s like they’re in a gorilla documentary.

It was near Andy’s bedtime. He was tired and crying big crabby apple tears: “Ah hoo hooooo. Bllehehl. [Deep breath.]”
I sat with him, rocked him, and he calmed a bit.
Me: It’s OK, little Andy.
I thought: There’s only one time in Andy’s life he’ll be a baby, and I’ll be able to comfort him this way.

3.3 Circle update

 

This section tells you what’s new with some of the good folks in our lives.

Friend Jeff Larson came into town, because he travels everywhere giving computer classes. Jeff wanted to go to his favorite Chicago restaurant – an ultrastylish Euro club for cool adults who love exotic racecar driving. The whole rambunctious Brackitt family took Jeff there, and though we aren’t stylish or European, they still made us feel very welcome. Ryan played pool with the white ball only.

Jeff is single, and he always has good dating stories.
Jeff: I had a date with this one gal, and we had a good time. The next day she emailed a nice note, and she bcc:d her friend. The friend accidentally replied to "all," so I got her reply note. She said, "He’s 35 and never married? What’s wrong with him?" And she said things I can’t say in front of the kids. Anyway, we laughed about it later.
Karen: Are you still dating her?
Jeff: No, it didn’t work out.

That’s the big story about Jeff! He has no luck with women – it never seems to happen for him. Following are some of his countless reasons. She’s...
~ messed up.
~ moving to another city.
~ carrying more emotional baggage than O’Hare.
~ too young.
~ not my type.
~ got issues.
~ into having kids, and I’m not.
~ controlled by her parents.
~ always talking about her old boyfriend.
~ got everything – but she knows it.

Jeff is famous for remaining single.

 

Friend Bert Dunne: Jeff Larson, why don’t you get married? You disgust me.

The whole love thing is weird with Jeff. Once he attended the wedding of a friend, and here’s what happened:
Preacher: Do you take this woman to be your wife?
Groom: No.
Preacher: What?
Groom: Um, no.

The groom walked down the aisle and left. The poor bride just sat down on the alter. However, they still had the reception. Apparently, the groom’s old girlfriend had suddenly appeared to prevent the marriage, and that gave him cold feet. A couple days later, the groom’s feet warmed up and he went back to the altered bride. They married in a civil ceremony, and gave their whole family unforgettable wedding memories.

Jeff: I’ve gotta get married so I can stop working out.

 

Jeff said he had $20 to contribute to dinner – part of his travel meal allowance. I tried to keep the whole bill under $20, but that didn’t work.

I got lost taking Jeff back to his place. People trust me to drive them in Chicago because they figure I know what I’m doing – after all, I’ve been here 11 years. This time others get the blame, because they should know better with me.

3.4 Hygiene
Ryan

 

Ryan was taking his bath. I threw his pajamas into the bathroom for him, and they landed in the toilet.

 

Ryan took a bath, and came out wearing all the same dirty clothes he had on before.

Ryan: Can I have my hair like that singer – Justin Farentino? Me: I don’t know him. What’s his hair like?
Ryan: It’s like that guy from Muzicade: Adam Miliusi. Me: I don’t know him either.
Ryan: You don’t know anybody.

Ryan: Did you brush your teeth? Me: Yeah, why?
Ryan: It kind of doesn’t seem like it.

Jimmy
Me: Do you want your hair combed? Jimmy: Nyah.
Me: Is that a yes or no?

I handed Jimmy his toothbrush.
Jimmy, angry: Daddy, don’t! I’m coughing! I coughed once and then again a little bit.

I was shaving with my electric razor, and Jimmy looked at me. Me: Do you need to shave too?
Jimmy, rubbing the side of his face: Yeah, I feel a little rough right here.

Andy
Andy got the ba-ba all over his hair this morning, so I gave him a quick wipie
head bath. Afterward, his hair looked like a fountain.

Karen
Karen was combing Andy’s hair, and never got the “part your hair on the
side” deal figured out (I guess it’s a guy thing). She started at Andy’s left ear, and
swooped his hair in a northwesterly direction to the right top of his head. He
looked like the infant Caesar in those 1950s wide-screen movies.

Karen: Come on messy boys, time to take a bath. Jimmy: Mommy! You mean sticky boy.

Family
It’s wrong to take the last toilet paper roll from the upstairs and put it
downstairs, because this will eventually catch up with us.

Talk
To save time, it would be wonderful to have a barber who slips into houses
and cuts the busy family’s hair as they sleep. Obviously, there’d have to be some
agreement beforehand.

3.5 Mom’s March visit

 

3.5 Mom’s March visit

 

Ma Brackitt joined us in Chicago. She took care of Andy while Gwen had the week off.

On Sunday, Jimmy and I picked up Mom from the airport. Because of Jimmy’s height, he was able to get a first view of Grandma Alice coming down the steps. Jimmy broke three airport security rules and ran to give Grandma a big hug.

Our first stop was the ice cream place. Young Jimmy had to learn something we older Brackitts know too well: We sneak ice cream from each other. Jimmy was eating his sundae slowly, and Grandma and I had our long spoons moving in on him. Jimmy: Hey!

When we arrived, Karen had her girlfriends over, and Mom joined right in with them. They got into some adult topics, so I watched cartoons with Jimmy.

 

Here’s a collection of stories from Mom’s stay with us:

Mom: Johnny, your Internet connection is so slow – it’s driving me crazy. Me: Mom, when our family came to America they didn’t have the Internet. Mom: Oh…get a faster modem.

Mom wanted to read this paperback in our house, but we were using it to prop up the refrigerator.

During the week, Mom watched a lot of the house and garden channel, and she got hooked on this weeklong court case on the trial network. The verdict was just coming on, and… our cable company automatically switched from the trial channel to another station.
Mom, calling me: What happened to my verdict?
Me: I don’t know.
Mom: Call the cable company.
Me: I don’t think that’ll help.
Mom: I’ll call Al.

So, Brother Al phoned me from St. Louis.
Al: Here’s what you do. Call any attorney in the town where the crime took place. I guarantee you – that lawyer’s gonna know what the verdict was.
Me: I’ve got a better idea. You call a bunch of lawyers in that town and make a fool out of yourself.

Andy had a terrific time with Grandma (and so did the rest of us), and we thanked her very much for staying with us!

3.6 Car stories
Ryan

Me: You want to help me wash the car?
Ryan: I’d rather be locked in a room with Jim for a year.

Ryan, Jimmy and I were in my car.

 

Jimmy: Ryan, what did you do there?

No reply from Ryan.
Me to Ryan: Jimmy asked you a question. Ryan to Jimmy: What?
Jimmy: What?
Me: Jimmy, didn’t you ask Ryan a question? Jimmy: No.

I was driving with Ryan, and the radio DJs said their photos were on the station’s website.
Me: Did you see their pictures?
Ryan: Yeah, they’re gross looking.

Ryan: I’m gonna slug you.
Me: Save up your slugs and give them to me when we get out of the car. Ryan: OK.

Jimmy
I was moments away from buckling Jimmy in.
Jimmy: Buckle me in!
Then I was making a few adjustments before driving off.
Jimmy: Let’s go!
The boy was having these moments I call “tell Jack to do things three seconds
before he’s about to do them.”

We drove by six police cars all together.
Jimmy: Police are gonna lock them up in jail! Me and Ryan could catch any criminal ’cause we know karate. Criminals go to jail in the police apartment. Can we visit them?

Jimmy leaves the car like he’s jumping out of an airplane.

 

Andy

The hatchback is low to the pavement, and it’s hard to pull Andy out because I don’t have the leverage – we’re too top-heavy. But I found the solution. If I take my right foot and prop it under the driver’s door, I become a (lever? block and tackle?), and out we go.

When Karen sets the car alarm, we can hear the “beep beep” from inside the house.
Andy: Mama!

Karen
Karen and I were looking for this place on Riverside drive, but the street signs
weren’t helpful.
Me: This can’t be it. It’s gotta be back there.
Karen: Jack, we’re driving along the river, so this is probably Riverside Drive.
Me: Oh yeah.

Jack

 

The guy in the next car was playing Bolero, and I didn’t want to see more.

I was driving and saw a car the same as mine – same year, color, and rust spots. I gave the driver a friendly double honk and wave, but he just looked at me.

I called the city.
Me: I’m John Brackitt. My city sticker went to the wrong address, and – Clerk, immediately: Yes, John Brackitt. We have your sticker right here. Me: Wow. Don’t you get a lot of those returned?
Clerk: Your sticker’s been right here.

Family

 

Our car insurance is fine as long as we never have a claim.

 

The only thing that changes around here is the oil in the car.

 

Original family

Regarding the “fresh air/recycled air” switch on my dashboard: Brother Doug will get in my car, can’t believe I have it on Fresh and switch it to Recycled. Two weeks later friend Nikos will get in my car, can’t believe I have it on Recycled and switch it to Fresh. I can never put those two in the car together.

Circle
I’m borrowing Marco’s car because mine is in the shop. If anyone blares their
horn at me, I figure they’re honking at Marco.

Daycare provider Gwen’s husband is Matthew, and he’s a car detailer. The other day, Matthew showed me this orange trash-mobile.
Matthew: This is my next big project.
Me: Oh man. Why would anyone pay you to fix this piece of junk?

It turned out to be Matthew’s car for himself.

Talk
It’s weird how some drivers have 10-foot long antennas on their cars. Hey
buddy: Are the interplanetary messages finally coming in?

Illinois doesn’t have full vehicle inspections, but they’re wild about checking the emissions. I could build a car out of cabbage, and Illinois would only care about the exhaust. And there would be plenty.

If I lean on the horn at every intersection, it helps keep the traffic moving.

 

If a driver can have two bumper stickers on his car, he can quickly make the jump to nine.

 

It’s wrong to avoid tollbooths by driving on the grass.

 

3.7 Quick shop

 

On most summer evenings, Ryan, Jimmy and I go to the quick shop. Here’s an account of all that.

Preparation
I gave Ryan one of my white jackets so he’d be seen at night.
Ryan: Dad, I don’t want to look like your evil twin.
Jimmy: You mean Uncle Doug?

Jimmy had a dollar you gave him and wanted to buy his own candy. He put the money into this light green nylon wallet he got from Grandma Martha and stuffed it into his little back pocket.

Journey

 

Sometimes we sneak out of the house, because that makes it more fun.

The quick shop is a 10-minute walk away, and we usually run. There are two home construction sites on the way, so we creep around in them. Ryan: Can I have this door for my loft?

The bigger construction site has a lazy security guard, and he showed up just as we were done exploring his whole area. He must have been observing us from the nearby bar.
Guard: Hey, don’t walk back in here.
Me: Yes, of course.

We arrive at the quick shop and go inside. Jimmy has trouble opening the door by himself.

 

Choices

The boys get slush drinks – ground up ice mixed with a flavor. Ryan gets all four flavors layered one on top of the other. Once he accidentally got some pina colada – he hates that – so he drank the layers around it.

Ryan wanted the big size bag of potato chips. Me: No, you can have the small size.
He picked up the big size bag anyway. Me: Hey – I said the small size.
Ryan: But you were looking at the big one.

Me: You can have something cakey to tie you over – like a donut. Ryan: How about candy?
Me: No, but you can have cupcakes – something like that. Ryan: Chips?
Me: No chips.
Ryan: Playing cards?

Jimmy: Did you try this candy, Ryan? I hate it.

 

Ryan: I know. It makes you wanna faint, and throw up doing it.

Selections:
Jimmy: chewy candy squares Ryan: ice cream
Me: mini-bottle of whiskey sour

Loitering
Ryan: See that security camera? That’s so if you do something bad they send you to juvenile detention. And then you know what? You go to military school, where they make you get up at 5:05 and go to bed at 4:00 in the day. And guess what: They make you crawl through the mud, and if your uniform gets dirty you’ve gotta wash it yourself.
Jimmy: By yourself?

Jimmy brought a toy to me.
Jimmy: Can I have this? I found it.
Me: I’m sure they’re selling this. It’s still in the box. Jimmy: I’ll ask them.

Paying

Jimmy picked out his candy bar, and wanted to pay for it himself with that dollar you gave him. He went up to the counter and gave the clerk his wallet. The clerk took the dollar out, and Jimmy was proud of himself.

Consuming

 

We walk to the park and eat/drink on the way.

 

Ryan: Dad, what’s the green soda? Me: It’s the one loaded with caffeine.

Ryan said nothing.
Me: Your slush is all green soda, isn’t it. Ryan: Yes.

I look for opportunities to be helpful with Jimmy – pick his candy or drink up for him, carry it for him. As my reward, I quietly get some of it. One time Jimmy caught me and yelled.
Jimmy, after calming down: Dad, I’m very disappointed in you.

Ryan suddenly stopped, pulled his slush away, and paused. Me: Brain freeze?
Ryan nodded.
Jimmy: This grape soda tastes too purpley.

Ryan stuck out his green tongue at me. Me: I’m gonna call you Green Tongue. Jimmy: Is my tongue purple?
Me: Yeah, it’s real purple.
Jimmy: Dad, yours is yellow.

Extra
About six months ago, I walked by our quick shop and saw five police cars in
the lot. I walked in and asked the clerk what happened.
Clerk: This guy came in, all drunk and walkin’ around. I looked over and he had
a handgun strapped to his side. That scared me, so I went into the back and called
the police. ...

I looked out the store window and saw the man in question. He was lying on the pavement and quite subdued. All these cops were standing around him, and I doubt he still had the gun.

3.8 Toys
Ryan

Me: What have you been thinking about?
Ryan: I dunno.
Me: Have you been thinking about your MonstaSquad characters? Ryan: Yeah! I was wondering if they were real big, like skyscrapers, as big as the building where Nan works. If Nan looked out the window at them she’d be like, “Whoah.”

Note: Nan is Ryan’s special name for Karen.

Ryan makes a lot with his connect blocks, and says his best work to date is his scorpion spaceship. We won’t be surprised when, in 20 years, NASA unveils its crustacean fleet.

There’s a toy battlefield on the floor of Ryan’s room right now. Considerable damage was done to spaceships and transports.

Ryan and Jimmy were going to perform an electrical experiment on one of Jimmy’s stuffed animals, but I said no. They were even getting batteries out of the remote control.

Ryan had this chain – it looked like a short dog leash. He flung it all around, wore it, tossed it from one hand to the other, and dropped it onto tables. This string of metal was annoyingly loud, and after several warnings, I took it away from him.
Ryan: But that’s my chain! I take it everywhere with me!

In the drawer it went. That was two years ago, and that chain is still in there. Ryan never mentioned it again.

Jimmy
Jimmy: I got this toy from my cereal, didn’t I? Me: I guess so.
Jimmy: Yeah, I think I did.

Jimmy: I made a Trackimo Robot. It does the main thing that a Blastamo Robot does. Last time in Tokyo town, it just got 49 monsters and it’ll come and get you. You’ll be in boat races and it’ll peel you with his superpowers. Then it’ll go like this, and you’ll be grounded to the ground.

Andy
Andy found a big whistle toy, and that’s his new favorite. He sneaks up on
me with it, and that’s a memorable experience.
Andy has this little plastic tractor. When he pushes a button it yells, “Harvest
time! Chugga, chugga, chugga.” I was watching TV, and that farmer began
yelling, “Harvest time!” from the toy box. He’d stop every time I got close to the
box, and start when I sat down again. He was mad that I wouldn’t help with the
harvest.

Karen

Karen and I have different philosophies about kids picking up toys. Karen works on a theoretical level: We parents tell the kids to pick up their toys and they do. I work on a practical level: If the kids don’t pick up their toys they get boxed up and sent to the basement. The toys, that is.

Andy peered into the toy box. What he wanted was stuck lower, and he had trouble getting it out.
Andy: Eeeaaaahhhhh!
Karen: Hold on Andy, I’ll help you.

Talk
Toy makers should create kids’ playthings that look exactly like grownup
items – no “happy baby colors.” Everything should look like small black
electronic devices – because that’s what the toddlers want.

4.1 Timeline

 

4. April
4.1 Timeline

 

Grimbo is the picture of health now. He has no trouble walking on Karen’s face in the middle of the night.

Doug and Peggy bought a new house. Karen: Are you jealous?
Me: Yes!

This weekend Jimmy has two birthday parties to attend. Here I sit, and this boy is out partying until three pm. It reminds me how our friends the Freemans had a golden lab – she was always at other homes visiting canine friends.

Angela Freeman: Our dog has a more active social life than we do.

 

The Freemans used to live below us, and their little Emily was only a few months older than our Jimmy – so they played together a lot. Coupla notes on them:

Husband Carl attended the country’s most prestigious military training academy, and they had a system where the students policed themselves. Carl’s classmates voted him to watch over their activities.

Angela worked for a Chicago research firm, and for one study, they interviewed many women on the effects of breast implants. It was a major secret, because some of the women’s mates didn’t know they had them.

I bought some fat free cheese and happened to show it to Carl. Carl, alarmed: Get that out of this house! I don’t want to see that.
(Oh gershies, he was joking.)

A few years ago, the Freemans moved to greener pastures in Denver…but we still e-mail a lot.

 

4.2 Andy at nine months

 

4.2 Andy at nine months

Tonight the baby tricked me. At 9:00 pm he acted tired (good – because I was also sleepy), so I gave him a ni-night ba-ba. He laid down and drank until 11:15 pm. Then he surprised me by standing up against furniture getting into everything. Me: Baby, I’m gonna make you watch the Congress channel.

Together we viewed a meeting of the Committee on Rules. He rather enjoyed it.

When we last tuned in Andy wasn’t crawling. We’re making progress: Now he sits, leans down like he’s going to get a toy, then inches a little – I think. Almost imperceptibly, he scooches across the room.

Like a commando, Andy is determined to scale the couch. He pulls himself up using his arms, legs and teeth.
Andy: Argh! Agh!

With Andy, so much person is concentrated into a little body.

 

The baby drained his sippie cup onto the couch and I sat near the wet spot. Then I started smelling this reawakened vomit that had dried into the fabric.

 

4.3 Circle update

4.3 Circle update
We went to the Sandburg’s house yesterday. They have a nice home out in Oak
Park – where you and I went to see the Frank Lloyd Wright house. It was Roz
Sandburg’s birthday, and husband Warren and son Wyatt always give her a big party.
I was recovering from a cold, so I mostly sat and ate all their homemade candied
pretzels.

Oak Park is where hundreds of hippies decided to settle down and become homeowners. The Woodstock documentaries never tell this part of the story.

 

Also, I went for lunch the other day with friend Henry Russell. Henry could pass for a biker, but he doesn’t drink and has nice handwriting.

Henry gets expressive with his stories.
Henry, in the restaurant: So I told the guy, [raising voice, wagging finger] “Buddy, you’ve got a problem!”

To people sitting near us, it looked like Henry was making a verbal attack on me.

Halfway through our lunch, Henry said he was a little perturbed because I didn’t mention that he lost weight and stopped smoking. But the deal is this: I never observe those kinds of things. If people want me to notice anything, they need to tell me ahead of time.

Henry is so wild about his classic car, his kids asked him who he loved more – them or the car. He replied, “Hmm. I can adopt other children.”

 

4.4 Jimmy’s birthday

4.4 Jimmy’s birthday
Me: Jimmy, how does it feel to be five? Jimmy: Good.

We went to PizVid – the pizza and video place – for Jimmy’s birthday. I got there late, and Karen was watching the boys. I sat down and ate some pizza. Karen came over.
Karen: Jack, this isn’t our table.

Prices in this place are worth noting. They’re always up-upping me with incentives – ‘buy a super large pizza, get more tokens, and save $10.’ If I bought a franchise, I’d save $45,000.

Ryan played skeet ball and got tickets – the ones you turn in for prizes. Ryan: I’m gonna save enough for a cell phone.
(Indeed, they had the cell phone up there.)
Me: That’s fine, but we can’t pay $30 a month to keep it going. Ryan: Don’t worry. They pay that, too.

4.5 Jimmy stories

 

Jimmy is a five-year-old who’s experiencing his second childhood.

 

He and I were out and about.

 

Jimmy: We’re walking on the United States of America.

Ryan
Jimmy: Could we buy that?
Me: We’ll talk about it.
Jimmy: Yay!
Ryan: Jim, that means Dad’s not gonna do it.

I froze – what would Jimmy say? But Jimmy let Ryan’s comment pass, and I breathed a sigh.

We had to flip a coin over which TV channel to watch. Jimmy chose tails and lost, so he threw a fit at Ryan.
Ryan: Blame Dad, he flipped the coin.

Andy

 

Jimmy: Can we get a new tent? Baby wants one.

 

Me: Jimmy, what did you and Andy do today? Jimmy: Andy and me lost our knowledge of that.

Karen
Jimmy: When we go to the zoo, can we see the lions and giraffes? Karen: Oh yeah sure, of course we will.
Jimmy: But not the snakes, right?
Karen: Why not?
Jimmy: They’re dangerous.
Karen: I’m sure they’ll have them under glass or something. Jimmy: I think they’ll hypnotize me.

Karen: Let’s get going. Jimmy: I kno-ho! Err!

Jimmy: Mommy, I’m too big to wa. Karen: Too big to what?
Jimmy: Yeah.
Karen: No, what are you too big for? Jimmy: Yeah, I am.

Jimmy: Mom, I’ve got two red Vikings underground in my head and I’ve got to tell them to stop. Mom! Guess what they almost made me do!
Karen: What?
Jimmy: Pull your hair.

Karen: Jimmy, do you know how much we love you? Jimmy: According to my calculations, 16 and 100. Karen: That plus two million.

Jack
Jimmy: Oh, jeeze.
Me: Jimmy...
Jimmy: I only said the first part.

Jimmy and I were walking by a big house under construction. Jimmy: Look!
Me: Yeah, that’s something.
Jimmy: They’re tearing it down.
Me: No, they’re building it. See all the new wood and everything? Jimmy: I’ve seen ‘em tearing it, though.
Me: Why would they do that?
Jimmy: Becuuuze it’s beeeen a milyyyun yeeooors.

Me: Jimmy, we love you whole lots. Jimmy: When I punch you I still love you.

Jimmy: Do you wanna checkmark any days?
Me: OK. Um, Tuesday.
Jimmy: Which one of my fingers is Tuesday? Me: This finger.
Jimmy: Thanks.
Jimmy left, and I had no idea what he was talking about.

Family
Jimmy scheduled a family meeting last night, because he wanted to talk about
an experiment he’s working on. But then he postponed the discussion, and he
didn’t want to say why. So right now, there’s not much to report.

Extended family
Karen: You’ve got two grandmas.
Jimmy: I’ll have 12 if Dad doesn’t quiet down.

4.6 Easter

We headed down to St. Louis over the Easter weekend. Part of our mission was to pick up Ryan, because he was staying at Grandma Alice’s during his spring break. Here’s the story.

Preparation
Karen drove us in our minivan that looks like a space transport vehicle from a
late 1970’s syndicated sci-fi TV show that was canceled after one year. A
minivan is great, because this close-knit family can be as far apart from each other
as possible.

Grimbo was along with us, because he needs his daily medicine. So OK: We’re now a family that travels with a cat.

On the way down, we rested at a rest stop, and I struck up a good conversation with this retired Michigan autoworker. We talked about his travels, how he was going to a Missouri campground...it was a pleasant conversation. Then Karen brought Grimbo around and handed him to me. The autoworker had a stunned expression.
Autoworker’s look: Why didn’t you tell me you’re the kind of person who takes your cat everywhere?
Me, bumbling: We’ve…he’s…the cat’s sick! We have to bring him along.

The autoworker glared at me. We both knew I had entered a point of no return.

It’s time to give you a description of the 300 miles between Chicago and St. Louis. I’ll try to avoid saying, “There’s a lot of farmland.”
Hmm. There certainly is a lot of farmland. I’ll get back to this later.

We ate at a truck stop, and I got a bowl of grits from the buffet. Karen watched me eat.
Karen: You might want to salt your grits. They taste good with salt. Me: OK.
Karen: What butter did you put on them?
Me, pointing at the pads in front of me: This butter.
Karen: Oh. They’ve got honey butter at the buffet – that would taste good. Me: Mm hm.
Karen: They still look good.
Me: Yeah, they are good.

Does it surprise you Karen ate half my grits?

Jimmy, Andy and I went into the trucker’s men’s room because Jimmy needed to, well. I waited near the sinks with Andy, and as one would expect those truckers on the toilet made a lot of loud gastrointestinal noises. Since Andy imitates what he hears, he started making louder and longer “blllllllllrrrrrrrrr!” sounds than any of the truckers. This silenced them for a moment. Some truckers must have thought, “Oh man, that poor guy’s got a problem.”

Back in the minivan...

 

Jimmy: Mom, I think we’re driving around in circles.

 

Jimmy: Mom, I think we’re driving around in circles.

 

wheelers only a fraction of an inch away from the overpasses above them?

When Andy is handed a toy – like his big plastic keys – here’s the drill: First, he gives it a vigorous shake to get the feel of it. Then he scrutinizes the toy. Then he secures half of it with his feet (they’re close to his hands) and chews on it.

We drove to Collinsville, IL – Karen’s hometown, Martha/Fritz’s winter home, and part of Metro St. Louis.
Me: Jimmy, there’s the church your mommy and daddy got married in. You were up shining the stars, looking down on us.
Jimmy: Yeah! I thought, “What in the world?”

We had a fine visit with Grandma Martha and Grandpa Fritz. Jimmy: Most of Grandma’s cooking is really good.

 

Then we traveled on to Grandma Alice’s home in the western St. Louis suburbs.

 

In St. Louis

 

Here are some random notes on Mom’s life:

 

Mom plays more bridge than ever. She went on a cruise last year and won first prize in their bridge tournament.

 

Mom is doing very well on her own, but I think she misses cleaning up after me.

 

Mom is also into genealogy. Two points about that:

~ She keyed our entire family tree into the computer. But currently we’re all deleted – she’s hoping to find us.
~ Some years ago, Mom ran out of ancestors on her side of the family, and she began researching my father’s side. Dad was happy to refute most of what Mom discovered.

Easter Sunday
Daylight savings time is either starting or stopping – don’t ask me which.
And here they had to do it to us on Easter, when we already have enough
pressure.

Mom asked me to call the church’s telephone recording to hear the start times of the Easter Mass(es). The priest gave the most peaceful voicemail recording I’ve ever heard.
Priest, quietly intoning: Easter Mass is at seven o’clock, eight thirty, ten o’clock and noon.
Me: Yes, Father.

We pulled up to the church and I dropped everyone off…but there were no parking spaces anywhere. I take that back – there were spots in front of the priests’ garage – sacred asphalt. I was reminded of Mom’s other priest friend and the sign over his garage-near-the-church: “Thou Shalt Not Park Here.” …

These priests had no such sign, so I took the forbidden space. Ten minutes later, I looked over there, and six other cars had joined mine. I had led them astray.

Afterwards…
Me: Ryan, what were they talking about in church? Ryan: Easter Sunday, what else?

Doug, Peggy and Eva came over to Mom’s for an Easter visit. Grandma loves to buy Eva pretty clothes, and Uncle Al pawns them.

Doug and I went on an errand together. Me: [Five minute summary of my life and career.] Doug: I’m sorry – I wasn’t listening.

I called friend Frank Dinty while in town. I hadn’t talked to Frank in some years, though we have e-mailed a lot. He recognized me immediately. Me: I was hoping my voice had changed.
Frank: I think it’s gotten higher.

Fact about Frank: He can summarize all of the plots to this series of teen horror pics. One time he went through all of them with me, and it took about an hour.
Frank: ...so the guy was dead in the swamp, but then this gal freed him with her psychic powers – that started part seven.

I was riveted through the whole saga. What does War and Peace have on this?

Monday
During his week there, Ryan went over to Uncle Doug’s and saw a TV
concert by a new rock band.
Me: Did you like seeing Brilliuntz?
Ryan: Yeah. They have really cool music you can actually understand, and you
don’t have to have someone translate it.
Me: Who’s the coolest guy in Brilliuntz?
Ryan: Musk.
Me: Musk?
Ryan: It’s just his name. It’s his European name.

We thanked Mom for everything and headed home.

Ryan, a few months later: I remember that trip coming back from Grandma’s. I had to watch Grimbo and make sure his medicine stayed cold. You guys should’ve gotten more ice when we stopped, because it started to melt.

4.7 Housework

4.7 Housework
Ryan

Ryan: Dad, this garbage is totally full. Can you take it out?

Ryan, coming into the house: Nan, you cleaned my room?!? Karen: Yes, go look.
He opened up the door.
Ryan: Accchh!

Jimmy

 

Jimmy: I can’t clean my room because it’s too messy.

Andy
Andy threw up on a big blanket. I took it downstairs, washed and dried it. I
brought it back up, and man did it smell – a combination of vomit and laundry
detergent. Ohhh: I had put it in the washing machine but forgot to turn the
machine on. But I did remember to dry it.

Jack
I had to 1) take a basket of dirty clothes to the basement, then 2) drive to a
store. I drove off, got a few miles away, looked at the passenger seat, and there
sat the basket of dirty clothes.

I’m weak at making a bed. Karen can give a bed that tight flatness, but mine looks like the scale model of a WWI battle site.

 

Family

 

Our house would be easier to keep clean if none of us lived in it.

 

In almost no time, our house can look like a natural disaster. It’s clean in the morning, and by nightfall, we qualify for federal relief.

 

We buy these economy refill bottles of detergent, and we’re supposed to pour that liquid into our original bottles. Like we’d ever go to that trouble.

 

4.8 Ryan’s cast

Some weeks ago, Ryan fractured his left forearm while out with his friends on the playground. It had just started raining and he went down the slide too fast. We’re all relieved it wasn’t worse, and he’s on the mend.

Al, via e-mail: Ryan should be glad he’s not living during the time of King Richard III. Richard broke his arm and it was withered the rest of his life.

 

I took Ryan to the doctor to have his cast changed from a full-arm one to a forearm-only one.

At 11:45 am, I picked up Ryan from school and we drove down to the hospital. We walked through their “Pardon our dust, we’re remodeling to serve you better” area. Hospitals always act like their remodeling is temporary, but they’re constantly under construction.

We sat in the waiting area until Ryan’s name was called. There were a lot of personnel attending to us, and that was excellent. It was hard for me to tell what smock represented what role. I think we had...

1) The man who cut and put on the cast.
2) The resident who...resides.
3) The young “I’m a doctor” doctor.
4) The older, wiser doctor. He happened to mention that he’s almost 40. That means I still have four years to match his income level.

The cast-man took a hand-held electric saw and expertly cut right through that plaster thing, and he pulled it off.
Ryan: My arm! I haven’t seen it for so long. Oh, my ar-har-har-harm.

Happily, Ryan could move his arm, and our medical congregation said it was coming along fine. Understandably, Ryan’s hand was very dirty near where the cast ended.
Doctor: We’re going to put on the new cast – why don’t you wash that hand off. Ryan: Eh, I don’t need to.
Me: Yes he does.

It was time to put on the gauze wrapping.
Doctor: How about pink gauze?
Ryan: No way! Do I even need a cast?
He got the blue gauze, and he’ll wear the forearm cast for three weeks.

We went to the Stackers fast-food restaurant inside the hospital. A big-sized kid’s meal and a large diet cola cost $6.40. Sheez.
Ryan: I think I’m the world’s hungriest kid.
Me: So, you got your cast off. Ryan: Yeah. They used a chainsaw.

4.9 School
Ryan

Ryan and Jimmy talked about a girl at Jimmy’s school.
Ryan: She sits next to you? Uh oh, I know what that means. That means she’s going to get a crush on you. Believe me, I know a lot about women. She’ll get a secret crush, and she won’t tell you about it until you’re older. And for you that’s going to be in 11 years. …

Ryan then turned to the subject of dating. He said a date occurs when a boy goes to a girl’s house, and he’s done that.
Me: We never called that dating when I was a kid. We called it “going together.” And believe me, nobody ever went with me.
Ryan: I can see why. You’re a computer geek, and girls don’t go for that.

Ryan: I can’t do my book report. I’ve got to go to bed. I need my health. A book report, that’s one thing. But my life – I’ve only got one life.

Ryan: I don’t like fractions anymore. Karen: Why?
Ryan: I thought 3/4s was the only one.

Ryan told me the kids got up and talked about their fathers. Ryan: I said, “My Dad is the weirdest guy I know.”

Ryan: In science today they brought in all the parts of a cow. Me: Ooh, what did you think?
Ryan: We hid under our desks the whole time.

Karen asked me to get Ryan a present so he could give it to his teacher. We were at the supermarket together.
Ryan: This is embarrassing. None of the other kids are going to give presents. Me: Let’s discuss this. …

We negotiated and settled on just giving his teacher a card. But this morning, Ryan was trying to back out of the deal
Ryan: Just to let you know? I might not get a chance to give it to her, because we’ve got a short day.
Me: Just put it on her desk. That’ll be fine.
Ryan: No wait, you see Dad? We’re gonna be in the auditorium the whole day. Me: And you can’t give it to her there?
Ryan: No way!
Me: Then put it under the door to her classroom. She’ll get it.
Ryan: No Dad, they won’t let us upstairs, I’m telling you. And besides, someone else might pick it up.
Me: Here – take my pen and write her name on the envelope. Ask permission to go up to her room. If you’ve got to give the card to anyone else, they’ll give it to her.
Ryan: Do you have a stamp? I’ll mail it.

Jimmy: Ryan, I just counted to 79. You can’t count that high. Ryan: Oh man, I can count a million times higher than that. One, two, three– Me: We believe you.

Ryan: Ergh! I hate all the homework I get.
Jimmy: I’ll have homework too, Ryan.
Ryan: In kindergarten? You’ll just have to bring in a leaf.

Ryan: Can we move the toy chest out of my room? Me: What does your Nan say?
Ryan: She says OK.
Me: Good.
Ryan: When can we move it?
Me: Tonight.
Ryan: OK. What time is it?
Me: Um, 6:00.
Ryan: Is that night?
Me: It’s more like evening.
Ryan: Close enough. Can we move the toy chest? Me: In a little bit.
Ryan: When’s a little bit?
Me: In ten minutes.
Ryan: Can you tell me when it’s 10 minutes?

Jimmy: Ryan, are you learning about the Silver War? Me: Um, it’s Civil War.
Ryan: No, it’s the Sybil War. They named it after a guy’s wife.

Jimmy
Jimmy and his friend got a time-out at school because they called a classmate
“Baby.” When I asked Jimmy about this he grew terribly embarrassed.
Jimmy: Don’t talk about that!

Jimmy told me that tonight, he secretly dug into his next day’s lunch and took one of his cookies from his lunch bag. That little schemer!

 

Me: What did you do in school today? Jimmy: I’m not telling you.

We were supplying the snacks every day last week at Jimmy’s school, so I kept loading Jimmy down like a pack mule. I put a weighty book bag on him this morning.
Jimmy: Ohhh, what is it this time?
Me: Pretzels.
Jimmy: Pretzels! Ohhh, my aching back.

Me to Jimmy: What are you working on at school? Jimmy: Sevens.
Me: Those are easy to draw.
Jimmy: Eights are easy to draw.
Me: Why?
Jimmy: It’s just two circles.
Me: What’s hard to draw?
Jimmy: Zeroes.

Jimmy was in Sunday school, and he made a paper balloon for his Grandpa up in heaven.

 

Me: Jimmy, time to get up, go to school. Jimmy: I quit school.

 

Me: What did you do at school today?

 

Jimmy: We pretended. Tommy played circus master, but he lost his job.

 

Jack

I’m grateful you and Dad spent so much getting me a higher education, because telemarketers call offering me special credit cards on behalf of my college.

Self-improvement classes would be better if I just paid the money and didn’t have to attend.

I’m glad you had a topnotch time at your high school reunion. My school won’t hold that for some years, because so many of my classmates are still in prison.