Ghost Story

In the ‘spirit’ (yuk yuk) of Halloween, I thought I’d share a story with you. This is a true story, and even though I can’t remember how young I was, the incident is still as clear as a bell in my mind.

For years, my family has ventured to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on or around the anniversary of the battle. At first it was as the usual tourists. We went to see museums, did tours, and saw the sights, gradually building an interest in the history of the place that led to a long-lived hobby of living history and eventually historical reenacting.
Before we got into all that though, as I mentioned, we would tour the battlefield on a constant basis. We did the guided tour, the audio tour, the bus tour….you name it, we did it.

One of our favorite spots to visit was “The Angle” – the place on the field where the frontal assault known as Pickett’s Charge was ultimately defeated on the afternoon of July 3rd, 1863.

Our tours and explorations were always cut short after nightfall, since the park closed at dusk. There were always places where people were out ghost hunting or something like that. At this time in our family history, none of that particularly interested us very much. Well, one summer night we were passing through the area of The Angle, and decided to stop for a little bit. I don’t remember what time it was, only that it was getting dark, quick. We sat around the stone wall near the copse of trees which was the focal point of the attack. After the sun went down, we started to walk back to the car which was parked back behind us on the road. On the way, we decided to stop at the monument that commemorated the spot where Brigadier General Lewis Armistead was mortally wounded.

As we walked nearer to it, we suddenly became aware of three men in confederate uniforms hovering over the stone in the dim light. We were almost on top of them by the time we realized they were there. They were all dressed in complete uniforms including their rifles, which at the time was illegal on the park grounds. We thought it was weird that they’d be so bold as to carry their weapons around with them.
One of them was sobbing uncontrollably, his head bowed over the stone. The second man stood near his distraught friend with an arm on his shoulders as if trying to comfort him. The third man was running his fingers over the lettering on the stone and reading it out loud in a very slow and broken manner.

“Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead, C.S.A. fell here, July 3, 1863.”

The reader stopped at the end of the inscription, then added “He was our brigade commander. We came from all the way down there, (Indicating Seminary Ridge, the starting point of the attack) up to here, then all the way back again.”

My father, always the people person, said something at this point, but was completely ignored by the three men. Instead, they all gathered themselves and began to walk away. Not back towards the road where cars were parked, but back out into the darkness, towards Seminary Ridge…which was almost a mile away. As they walked, I can distinctly remember hearing the clatter of accouterments that accompany reenactors. Tin cups clattering against metal canteens, the creak of leather belts and straps, all of it. As the men left visible sight in the darkness, the sounds vanished all at once. As if someone had turned off a soundtrack with the single push of a button.

At the time, nothing really registered with us, but after we left and started to think about it, the question became “What the hell did we just see?” So many things didn’t add up. Why was the one man so distraught? Why did these guys have weapons on them? Why was the reader commenting in the first person? Where the hell did they GO?

As strange an incident as it was, part of me always dismissed it as just an odd run in with some hardcore reenactors.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Several years later, we were milling about some of the shops on the main commercial street of the town. My parents were in one of the shops, while I wandered into another right next door. As I went in and browsed, I heard a couple of people talking to the clerk, telling him a story about the time they ran into three spooky characters at the Lewis Armistead monument on the angle. Like some sort of adolescent lunatic, I interrupted their conversation. “Excuse me, what did you just say? Hang on a second!” I rushed out of the store and found my father, and hauled him almost bodily into the shop I’d been in. To our astonishment, the couple’s story matched ours.

Exactly.

Music isn’t Important.*

A commercial came on TV the other day between the kids’ shows, underscored by some song talking about ‘whips’ and ‘nae naes’….whatever in the hell those might happen to be.

I focused on the song for a minute before thinking that I may have already slipped into that ‘old people’ phase of my life where the music of the ‘kids these days’ simply doesn’t appeal to me, and on some level I think it’s the worst think that has happened to humanity since the black death.

The more I mused on that though, the more I realized that it wasn’t that I hate today’s music, its that I have a very low interest in ANY music.

Let that sink in, and hear me out.

My relationship with music throughout my life has been a strange one. A ‘I could take it or leave it’ one. Both of my parents are incredibly musically inclined. My father can pick up any stringed instrument and teach himself to play it in no time. With no formal training, he is skilled on everything from the cello to the banjo, and can sight-read and write music.
But, none of that ever rubbed off on me.
As a result, I could never create, or perform it. Music never factored in as a major part of my life. Where my friends during my teenage years were both discovering classics from our parents’ times, and frothing over the latest and greatest, I simply didn’t care.

My brother-in-law is incredibly musically gifted, but hates to ride in the car with me because I either forget to, or don’t bother to turn on the radio, even on very long road trips. Other times, my wife has turned the radio on in the car and it’ll be an hour before I even realize it.

I can’t tell you who the current a-listers are, nor could I really give you a lot of information on who they might have been when I was younger. More often than not, I’ll be chastised by my wife for not knowing a classic piece of music beyond a single line or its hook.

I don’t stream music on my phone, I’ve never owned an iPod, I think I have an empty iTunes account somewhere, and you can count the number of CDs I’ve ever owned in incredibly short order.

I have specific SONGS that I like, and I’ll listen to them for a while, until they get stale, then I’ll not bother to look for something new until it happens along somewhere. I don’t follow bands, I don’t buy albums, I don’t own an instrument beyond the kazoo that I had to take away from the boys. (Santa screwed that up, big-time.)

I’ve got a classical music station as one of my presets in the car, and I’ll tune into that for a while every now and again, but more often than not….I forget to.

I’m happier with silence than I am with music. Silence lets me ponder, wonder, and think. Some people can do that with music, I can’t. I focus too much on the lyrics, and when they’re stupid, I can’t help but lose all focus on what I’m doing to verbally berate the song.

Take this gem from The Killers:

“Somebody told me you had a boyfriend that looked like a girlfriend I had in February of last year.” 

WHAT? Really? What in the hell does that even mean? Why would you say that? What are you even…..shut up.

As a result, music often fails to relax me, but will catch my attention and put my brain where I didn’t really want it to go in the first place, as a result, I’d rather not listen to it at all. If I have to choose, I’ll listen to classical music when I can. It isn’t for any particular appreciation for the culture of it, but a simple happiness that there aren’t lyrics. When I was a kid, my father was listening to Bolero by Ravel in the car. I asked him “What is this song about?” His response, “Anything you want it to be, you can make up a story in your head that fits the music.” And I did, and still like when music doesn’t tell me what to think about, especially when it does it in a nonsensical fashion.

I realize I’m in a very tiny minority. I understand the draw that making and listening to music has on people. It simply doesn’t have that for me. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the art, it just doesn’t do anything for ME.

Some people can look at a painting hanging on the wall of an art museum and be moved to tears by it. Others would look at the same painting and not see anything more than the drop cloth of a messy house painter. The same with music. It speaks to some. It moves, and inspires others. To me, it says nothing I want to hear most of the time.

This is just another realization that I’ve come to that demonstrates my disassociation with art.

Or….hell. Maybe I’m kidding myself its just that I’m old.

(*To me. Music simply isn’t that important to me. Sorry for the jerk title.)

“Sleep Buzz”

My wife and I have a nightly ritual after putting the kids to bed at night. We usually put something on the television, then pass out cold before it’s over. The usual setup is her stretched out on the couch, and me enjoying the recliner. Occasionally we’ll mix things up and I’ll be on the couch, or sometimes, we’ll both fall asleep cuddled up on the couch. No matter the configuration, we’re more often than not completely zonked out by 10pm.

She is usually the first to wake up, and wake me up and tell me its time for bed.

This is where we enter the phase of the ‘sleep buzz’ as I call it. Like when you’ve been drinking alcohol and you’re not quite hammered, but absolutely impaired, and it wouldn’t take a lot to tip the scales over into inebriation. The sleep buzz is you not being quite asleep, but you’re not awake either, and there’s a small window where you can get to bed and fall immediately asleep again.

While in this state we need to complete various ‘go to bed’ tasks, which include turning off the TV, making sure there are no drinking glasses on the tables or counters, (Stupid cat #1 likes to knock them over)  flick out the lights, use the bathroom as necessary, and get to bed.

All of this has to happen before you ‘wake up’ again completely, or getting back to sleep becomes difficult, and at the times we usually make for the bedroom, you don’t want to waste time going through all that again.

The obvious question is simply ‘why don’t you just go to bed earlier?’

Well, the reason is, we like to have a small space of time after the kids to go bed to wind down before going to bed. Even a few minutes to enjoy a cup of tea, a beer, or see each other without one of us rushing out the door or having a child being attached to one or both of us. That small window of ‘quiet time’ between the chaos of the day and its ultimate ending helps us rest when we do finally get to bed, but we’ve got to beat the clock before the sleep buzz wears off and we’re awake again and it’s now the middle of the night and a 6:30 alarm going off isn’t that far away anymore.

’tis a delicate balance every night. Rest without going to bed, then get to bed without waking up.

It’s a system. A weird one, but we’re pretty good at it.

Tomorrow.

My latest exchange with Human Resources for my new job came this morning.
“Has <The Boss> been in contact with you about a start date?”

When I said no, he had not, I was patched through to his line. He wasn’t in today but I was told he’d call me tomorrow with the information. I also need to meet with HR on Wednesday for the plethora of paperwork that precedes a job like this one.

So, tomorrow promises to be the day that I’ve been looking forward to for a very, very long time. Two and a half years of training and work culminate in the completion of a professional goal, and the start of something new and exciting.

Ghosts On The Stage

The school where I work has a modest little auditorium where school drama productions and concerts take place. I’d been up there a few times to set up some presentation or another, but never really spent much time there.

Recently, I was waiting to meet someone in there, and I strolled around and realized something. The stage and surrounding areas were visually no different than any of the other ones I’d been on throughout the years.

The heavy black wing curtains obscured the usual clutter that one finds backstage. Cabinets and shelves holding battered props and costume pieces, various bits of cable, half-used rolls of tape, and inevitably a piece of set wall, the back of it ‘tagged’ by cast and crew-members from some long-forgotten show.
The plywood stage deck itself was painted the typical black, marred here and there by a gouge or scrape, with a piece of two of marking tape stuck to it. No, it looked exactly the same as all the others.

I’ve had a long-running relationship with theater, having started out as various ensemble or minor cast members in productions in high school. I worked tech there a bit too, lights, sound, set construction, etc. When I went to college, I again landed a few bit parts and ensemble pieces before realizing that I belonged backstage. Set work and crew was a ton more fun than being onstage was. I got to improvise set pieces and problem-solve on the fly. I actually had directors call me to work on shows with them because they knew I could work a stage. Hell, I got so good- someone screwed up and billed me as the chief fly operator in a show I had nothing to do with!

After college, I did some of the same tech work for a local theater company, teaming up with my old high school director for a couple of productions. As family and career grew, I sort of drifted away from the stage and its allure. Still, I often get nostalgic for the sights, sounds, and various strange smells that often accompany a theater production.

With this in mind, I realized that the stage at the school where I work is wildly different than all of the others I’d been on, and the difference was not aesthetic. It had no life. It was simply a wooden floor with curtains around it. I’d done no work there. When I was student teaching in that school a lifetime ago, I volunteered to run a bit of sound for a show that had been put on there, but I never had much to do with the production otherwise. Aside from that bit, I had no connection with the stage. I couldn’t hear the voices of the actors or see the sets I’d built on it. If I stood on the deck and looked into the auditorium, I couldn’t feel the lights as I directed cues.

Basically, the stage, though similar in its appearance to every other stage everywhere….held nothing for me to recall. It was just a big empty floor.

Theater productions take on a life of their own when you work on them. Each with its own set of challenges, problems, and triumphs. I remember wrapping shows and striking sets with people that I’d see tomorrow in class or work with on another show, and it still felt like I was saying ‘goodbye.’ Some shows were hellish nightmares to work on, and I wasn’t sorry to see them end, but they still burned themselves into my memory.

I know full well that if I were to walk out on the stage at my old high school or college, or anywhere else I worked after that, the feeling would be different.

Theaters are strange places. It’s really easy to imagine even the newest of them as haunted, with their various nooks and crannies, alcoves, closets, and dark, sometimes spooky atmosphere. The truth is, they ARE all haunted. Perhaps not by chain-rattling ghouls, but by the memories of each and every show that they host, and anyone who had a part of those shows can walk into the darkened theater and see and feel those memories, those ghosts.

Having worked on so many shows in so many places, I’ve known those ghosts, and to be honest, an empty stage devoid of those memories was just a little spooky.

The good news is that I know that this stage DOES have a life to those that worked on it, and it always will. Ghosts that I can’t see or feel are very real to someone else, which is comforting. No stage is really ever empty I suppose.

How Being Mildly Annoyed Will Cost Me $200.

This morning started like any other day. We got up at 6:30 and my wife started getting The Narrator ready for school while I took a shower and puttered about for a bit. After the boy was ready for the bus, I went into the kitchen and found my wife had taken out several pans from the dish washer that I had loaded in last night, and was washing them by hand.

“Why did you take those out, I loaded them last night?”
“I took them out to make room for other things. I’m washing them now.”
“Why didn’t you just turn on the machine and wash them?”
“I can wash them now.”

….that was literally the extent of the conversation, but I became annoyed. She’s been busy with her shop work, so I thought I’d clean the kitchen up a bit last night by loading the dish washer. Now, at 7am, I’m feeling like that was all wrong, since she was undoing what I’d done. I got a little grumpy. (Lack of sleep, no coffee, who knows. It was a stupid reason to get annoyed, I even knew it at the time.)

As a result, rather than stick around and make coffee, I kissed everyone goodbye and rather than drive right to work, I drove left into town to buy a cup of coffee.

….and hit a rock in the middle of the road.

Said rock flattened my tire. Actually, no. It bent the rim of the car, which flattened the tire. I made a few phone calls this morning for a replacement, and found out that a USED one will cost me anywhere between $100 and $200 bucks.

Kids, being annoyed, angry, miffed, or pissed over stupid crap simply isn’t worth it. You may end up paying for it. Literally. So essentially, keep calm and cut the bullshit.

This Friday’s got one hell of a Monday vibe to it.

Precipice of Change

They say that good things come to those who wait. It’s beginning to look like the universe is finally convinced that I’ve waited long enough.

Last night I received an email from the director of Human Resources at the job which I’ve been coveting since getting into law enforcement. In short, it said:

“You’re good to go, we’ll be sending you a packet of employment paperwork.”

I still don’t have a start date, but even though they offered me the job almost a month and a half ago, I’d been convinced that it could fall through, and wasn’t going to celebrate until I signed on the dotted line. Now the dotted line is in the capable hands of the U.S. Postal Service and on its way to me.

I slept last night better than I have in almost six months.

More to come on this, stick around and see how AD does on his first day of his dream job.

Permission Granted- A Childhood Phase.

Our youngest child is three. Like every other parent that’s ever existed, I’m inclined to think he’s smarter, cuter, funnier, and more talented than every other three year old that is currently in existence.

However, every now and then the little darling will do something to ground my often-inflated faith in him.

His latest is an annoying phase that he’s been in for a week or so. He’s asking permission to do everything. Now, when I say everything….I mean EVERYTHING. Each individual bite of his dinner. Each goldfish cracker in a bowl. Do you know how exhausting it is to answer affirmatively to each “Daddy? I can eat this goldfish?” He can’t be ignored either, because he just gets louder in his inquiries. A sweeping permission doesn’t cut it either.

“Yes baby, you can eat that goldfish. You can eat all of them. They’re yours.”
“Okay. Daddy?”
“Yes?”
“I can eat this goldfish too?”

As excruciating as this is, it is worse when we’re dealing with situations where permission is implied. The other day he came up to me and was handing me his juice cup.

“Daddy? I can drink juice?” 
“I just gave you juice one minute ago, that’s empty already?”
“No.”
…he was handing me BACK his full juice cup because I hadn’t granted him permission verbally to drink it.

A few nights ago he woke up at 2am, having had a little accident. Nothing minor, but it necessitated a change in pajamas and sheets. I stripped him from the waist down, plunked him down on the potty, and went in to change his sheets. When I came back a few moments later he sleepily asked me: “Daddy? Can I go pee now?” He’d sat there and didn’t do his business until I gave him permission to go.

I know this won’t last forever, but at 2 in the morning when I’m cleaning up a minor bathroom accident, it wasn’t cute.

What IS funny, is if I thought that this would last forever…certain situations could be a lot easier to deal with when he’s a teenager.

“Dad?”
“Yes?”
“Can I go smoke weed with Tommy under the bridge?”

Or:

“Dad?”
“Yes?”
“Can I $20 from your wallet to buy beer with?”

(The joke here is that by the the time he’s old enough to ask this, I’ll have two teenage boys, and the likelihood of having seen a $20 bill in years will be pretty slim)

For now, its a little irritating, especially when I’d rather be sleeping than giving a three year old permission for his bodily functions. If he keeps it up, he might be the easiest teen that there ever was to raise.

Houdini Mouse + Worthless Cats = Chaos

Living rural in an old house, especially now that the weather is getting colder, we have the occasional mouse that ventures into the living space. Usually the strategically-placed traps take care of them for us, but every now and then, one gets past the first line of defense and a Benny Hill-like situation occurs.

Last night’s was epic, and is still ongoing.

Somewhere around 9:30, Hobbes, our male cat starts going berserk. He’s usually pretty even tempered, but his erratic and unglued behavior indicated that he was on to something. It didn’t take long for us to find out what. A mouse (Whom I will refer to from here out as Houdini, for reasons which will become apparent momentarily) runs into the living room and dives behind the boys’ lego bin. Hobbes does this back and forth run from one side of the box to the other trying to catch it.

Houdini eludes both of us, for by this time I’m out of the comfort of my recliner and pulling on a pair of boots. For stompin.’

He flees back into the kitchen. I get there to find that Hobbes has been joined by his corpulent sister, Snack. The two of them are nosing around the vacuum near the refrigerator. I move the vacuum and figure he must be behind the fridge. I strategically set two tunnel traps and wait. As I wait, Hobbes goes back to the vacuum. He’s sniffing and batting the bottom of it. Holy hell, the little bastard is IN the vacuum. I get clever, and put the bottom of the vacuum into a big cardboard box. Sure enough after some shaking and whacking, out he comes into the box. I cackle triumphantly. I’ve got him trapped.

Nope.

The little shit LEAPS out of the box and takes off. Into the dining room, followed closely by Hobbes and I, one of us shouting obscenities, and it wasn’t the cat.

My wife freaks as it becomes apparent Houdini is CLIMBING THE DRAPES in the dining room. He’s up on the curtain rod now. Trapped. We’ve got him!

Nope.

I take a swipe at it with a rolled up news paper, he falls to the floor and takes off under the couch. Hobbes and I pin him behind the couch. He manages to escape into the closet in the living room. Now I’m tearing apart the living room closet while my wife stands on a chair. He escaped the goddamn closet and goes behind a bookcase. At the back of the bookcase is a piece of cardboard which I press against and trap him. Hobbes closes in. It escapes and darts back into the dining room. My obscenities are absolutely ruining the atmosphere at this point.

Here’s the incredulous part.

As it takes off into the dining room, Snack, our fat, worthless beast is sitting under the table. Houdini is running right for her. He gets closer, she sits. Closer still, she sits. The mouse runs RIGHT INTO THE CAT, bounces off her fat ass, and screeches off into the kitchen again. This time I watch as he vanishes behind the fridge. For real this time.

Knowing he’s trapped, I set the two tunnel traps again. There’s nothing I can do so I start cleaning up the living room, and we go to bed.

This morning, not only are the tunnels empty, but one of the cats had apparently moved one away from the side of the refrigerator, creating an escape alley for the little bastard.

We wake The Narrator up for school and I get ready for work. Hobbes immediately bee-lines into his room and starts sniffing around. Suddenly, there’s the effing mouse! Hobbes and I chased it around the bedroom for a solid fifteen minutes before it flees into the hallway and into Mini-Me’s room and into HIS closet. Hobbes had it at one point, but I realized his intent is to play with the effing thing, not kill it. So, he’s virtually as worthless as his stupid sister.

Having to leave for work, I sealed the bottom of the closet door with some duct tape and a couple of heavy books. I’ll hopefully finish the job tonight when I get home from work. I have a plan. I’m going to seal myself into Mini-Me’s room and line the walls with sticky traps. Mice have terrible eyesight, so they tend to stick to walls when they run if they can help it. He’s in the smallest room of the house now. If I lock myself in there with him, this should be the end of the tale.

….should.

Stay tuned as AD combats the most clever mouse in the history of vermin.