Saturday, July 30, 2011

You People Are Parking on My Memories....

          Homecoming is in full swing in the enchanted valley of Young Harris College. I am not going…again.
Why, you ask? Well, the official answer is that I can’t afford the gas plus Kim and the kids return Friday night from Texas and will need me to pick them up. It’s a lie I say to cover up how I really feel. As much as I value and love my time at Young Harris, I also kind of have developed love/hate feeling towards the place.
Young Harris means much to those who have gone there to study whether they got their diploma or not. I got mine a little later than expected because it meant that much to me! At least the parties and womanizing meant a lot to me at the time. I respect others’ feelings toward the institution and love to share with those fellow alumni.
I hope these next words do not sound arrogant but I am just going to say it. I appreciate everyone’s perspective but mine is a bit unique because in addition to going to school at YHC, it was also my home. We moved into a tiny house on Maple Street the summer of 1980. It was so small that my room was actually the basement and I loved it. Eventually we moved to a larger house up on top of the hill that overlooked the campus and the Richardsons called that place home until about seven years ago when Mom retired and moved to Savannah.
Growing up on a campus was pretty sweet. I spent more quarters than I’ll ever admit to in the Little Store playing Ms. Pac-Man and Mario Brothers. I used to go to all the campus events especially all the movies and that is exactly how I discovered Monty Python. By the time I was in high school, I began to make friendships with many of the current students and even got to go on camping trips with the outdoor club my father sponsored, Quantrek.
High school was a rough time for me because I just never could fit in. When you’re as big as me and not playing sports then most folks assume that something is wrong with you. I would much rather be drawing or painting in my room to create something interesting. While these were traits that did not impress my high school colleagues, it helped me get my foot in the door with many college kids and create a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
I look back at my time at YHC and shake my head because I had to be so unbearable to be around. For the first time ever, this high school dork felt accepted and was set forth to play and create his own identity. This was where the birth of Baby Rich would come into play but more about him another time. Needless to say, what could go wrong when 18 year old ego catches up with 18 year old attitude?
I graduated and moved on to West Georgia then the adult phase of my life. Young Harris remained a constant in my life. No sooner had I got used to the idea of moving when my baby sister started there and I got to revisit college through Mary.
My father and I did the unheard of and become quite close through the magic of camping trips with Quantrek. We spent a lot of time together and finally began to see the other for the men we were and becoming. I ‘d also like to point out that my friendships with fellow YHCers may became more solidified and would evolve out of just sharing the connection of where we’d gone to school.
Years passed and we all began to grow up. The last time I’d ever see my dad alive was as I was about to pull out of Savannah at Christmas in 1998. We were by the garage and I was teasing him about how much gray was in his beard and how people were going to start calling him, the Big Grey Guy instead of the Big Orange Guy as he was often referred to on campus.  I drove off, not even contemplating that I’d be getting a frantic call from my sister in a few weeks stating that Dad had been rushed to the ER.  We know how this ends so let’s just move on….
I was always impressed at how well my father was remembered by the college. Hell, even Zell Miller showed up for the funeral which made me realize just what an impact Dad had made in his almost 20 years at YHC. The annual was dedicated to him whom I always appreciated and I even attended the Spat banquet that year with Mom and Mary. (There is some serious irony, here) The library hung an amazing picture that captured my Dad to a tee.
We all moved on but what bothered me the most was how some of the faculty chose to move on and be a dick to my mom. It was interesting to see just how much effect having my dad around kept my mom from having issue with the more “petty” of their colleagues. Mom had been administrative assistant to the Dean of Students since 1986 and had worked through about 5 deans that I can remember off the top of my head. The Dean at the time did his best to get my Mom fired because he didn’t like her. Fortunately, the President, Tommy Yow, intervened and moved Mom to a different position where she had no problems. A lot of folks don’t care for Tommy but he made a promise to me at Dad’s funeral to keep an eye on my family and he always lived up to that. For that, Tommy Yow has my respect.
Other incidents began to pop up. Some were quite minor but others got under my skin. The a-hole in charge of campus housing kept trying to push my Mom out of the house so it could be leveled for a parking lot.  Like all things that happen in Young Harris, minor events become bigger and finally Mom decided it was time for a change and decided to retire to our place in Savannah where she is holed up to this day.
It has been to relive some of these moments during this blog. It has made me analyze the love/hate relationship that I have with Young Harris College. It wasn’t just a school for me but also my home where I grew up and began to learn about the guy I’d become and the legacy that I’d leave behind.
I am not na├»ve enough to realize that all good things must end and move on. It’s just a little hard to sing the praises of my former alma mater when I return to see the house I grew up in has been leveled for a new parking lot, the fraternity that I joined disbanded, and even Quantrek is no more. I have also heard rumblings that Dad’s picture has been removed from the foyer of the library lobby and moved to God only know where. That really stings.
I want to look back at my time at Young Harris with mystically whimsy but unfortunately, I can’t. YHC probably is in my top 3 of influences upon my life and I am grateful for all the awesome things that have come into my life as a result of living/attending there. The people and experiences there have touched and shaped my life to partly make the man that I am today. Unfortunately, there is a negative side to some of this that also has affected me quite a bit. I hope that as I grow older and wiser, I can let some of this go but for right now this is where I stand.
I am softening a little. Recently, I was interviewed for Echoes, the college alumni magazine about some of the traditions from YHC. It was a lot of fun talking about all the crazy ways we used to pass the time up in those mountains, both sober and not.  When the magazine arrived at my home, I was surprised to at how quickly I got pulled back into reading about my home/alma mater. I guess you got to take the good with the bad and try hold on to the good memories.
Still, I am going to take a cue from my good friend and semi-mentor, Susan Scarbrough. Without giving away too much, I suspect Susan had some similar experiences from her YHC days because she always has unique reply to when she gets hit up by the college pledge drives over the phone.
The unknowing student that calls Susan to solicit donations will always get this question, “Is So-and-So still teaching there?”  (Name withheld to prevent individual getting to play the part of martyr)
“Why, Yes, Ms. Scarbrough. I even had that particular teacher last semester!”
Susan dryly replies with,”Well, you won’t get one thin dime of my money so long as that individual is teaching there.” And then she hangs up.
I love that and really wish they’d call me because I might be tempted to steal Susan’s little bit but take out teacher and replace it with “Is my house still a parking lot?”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Enjoying that Perfect Moment

David Westbrook-Math Teacher-Wine Expert

This is going to be a quick one because it’s not really so much any sort of story but just a neat experience I had the other night with my good friend, Dave. The other night, Dave and I went out to Doc’s Bar for the weekly jam session and it was awesome.
Dave and I share a pretty unique friendship that I have to come to put great value on. It started as two guys with good senses of humor dealing with the joys of teaching on a freshman wing in high school. Over time, our friendship became more than just making awful jokes (which we still do at every possible opportunity) but collaboration.
My girlfriend has pointed out to me on several occasions that I have surrounded myself with outstanding and very unique people as my friends. Dave certainly qualifies.   The guy is just this awesome math teacher and so very intelligent that sometimes I swear he’d be part Vulcan if wasn’t for his insane sense of humor.
Dave is also extremely talented when it comes to music. The guy plays a little of everything but mostly guitar and the recorder. Now, I have a long history of disliking the recorder. It goes back to middle school band in the 70s when we were all started out on the recorder and goes up through my wacky Californian uncle and how he got into medieval music about the same time.  Dave has had to tolerate a lot grief regarding my “prejudice” towards his recorder but the truth is that he is pretty amazing at it.
The other night during the jam session I had one of those rare moments that occur in life. I got to see Dave at his best and happiest as he played his recorder. Words can’t honestly describe how cool the scene was involving my friend. There was a palpable energy that came from the joy Dave was exuding. I realize that is some fancy words but it honestly sums up what I saw.
I think it’s important to recognize when those type of moments occur because it happens so rarely and is also such a moment of seeing that person at their very best. Thanks for sharing that moment with me, Dave.
Dave at Tybee doing his thing.....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Yes, I Am a Geek

          Comic Con opens, as I type, in San Francisco. It’s the largest comic book, Sci-Fi-Fantasy convention in the North American hemisphere and just as in years past, I long to be there.  I always get a kick about how big of a deal it’s become especially because, historically speaking, comics and science fiction have usually been looked down on by the mainstream.  Comic-Con is now the launching point for Hollywood movies trying to capitalize on the new found public awareness of comics.

First comic I ever bought.

          I bought my first comic at a gas station next to my Grandma’s hair dresser and I’ve been hooked ever since. During my younger years, Mom and Dad were cool with it because all kids read comics. Dad used to go on and on about Pogo. As I got up in the junior high phase, there was no slowing down until my Dad put his foot down and I could only buy one comic per month.  Having to make my own Sophie’s Choice, I went with Marvel’s Star Wars.  

1970s Comics were so cheesy...

 Side Note: I could do a whole blog just on how much Star Wars and Star Trek had an effect on me while growing up but that is another day. I am trying to stick to just the world of comics.

      At some point in high school, I gave up comics entirely. It was kid’s stuff and no one seemed to respect it. As I look back, it cracks me up at how embarrassed I was about enjoying comics. I was so desperate to fit in during my teen years that I turned my back on something that I loved.
          Fast forward to the summer of 1989 where a twenty year old Robby was working at Camp Glisson and surrounded by comic book geeks. Tim Burton’s Batman had come out and somehow I fell off the wagon and have never gone back.
          I wish I could explain it but comics are a true passion of mine. I used to think that part of it was it completed a minor OCD tick of mine which is to complete things in sets. The older I get, the more I think it’s because comics are another way of storytelling. A well written comic has some pretty sharp character development complete with rising and falling action.
 Some comics get pretty sophisticated. Neil Gaiman wrote a comic about Morpheus,  the lord of dreams. Because the comic was set in his dream realm, Gaiman scope of stories were unlimited. He wrote about everything from how Shakespeare got his ideas, serial killer conventions, lost gods and even a story from the point of view of a cat. Reading his stories gave me a sense of pride because I realized that I had to have a bit of knowledge to “get it.”

Now mainstream society thinks it’s “cool” to read comics no matter how old even though the Japanese have know this little tidbit for eons. On one hand I am happy because I can see more people enjoying something that I have loved for years and I am more than happy to share. Yet, I also get a bit irritated. I consider myself a fairly intelligent guy who is somewhat well read, Why have I had to fight so hard against people to have my guilty pleasure? Parents, teachers, even an ex-wife have all tried to get me to give up something that as much a part of me as my love a history. It’s all because people don’t understand it or dismiss comics as “kid’s stuff.”
It cracks me up to see how comics are now getting respect though they are now referred to as “graphic novels.” The kicker for me was a few years back when I chaired a committee at the middle school I was teaching at to select appropriate  “graphic novels” because their librarian had read about them in one of her school librarian journals. It was quite satisfying to deal with the same sort of teachers who used to chastize me for reading comics and now be able to tell them that we are getting titles like Maus which won the Pulitzer back in the 80s.
Mary asked me the other day if I had introduced Jude and Veronica to my world of comics yet and I was sorry to say that I haven’t. It just has not had the opportunity to come up. Mary suggested she bring some Spider-Mans and a few Archie comics when she comes to visit in a few weeks. At that point that I decided to sit back and let Mary be the one to introduce it to them.  I am getting the hang of this dealing with kids thing and I realize that the cooler something is to me then it’s not cool to rising 4th graders.
I like the idea of Mary being the one to broaden Ronnie and Jude’s world a bit and I am taking a bit of pride in it. Growing up, Mary was always my sidekick and we shared in all things together like comics. Her collection is almost as good as mine, I’m proud to say. I think it would be awesome for Mary to share something we both love and has been a formative part of lives with my two new sidekicks. They just better not be a fan of DC because we’ve always been a strict Marvel family……

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Yes, I Am a Pirate......

Rum? Why, yes,  a small glass would be lovely
Like many of the events in my life, I have fallen accidently into my latest part time job. Being a teacher, I often find the need to supplement my more than ample income. Previous endeavors include book store clerk, liquor store employee, pizza delivery, and now I am a pirate (200 years too late).
          It’s the easiest gig I have ever had. I show up to birthday parties, public events, day camps, and such to entertain for about an hour. I do face painting, story-telling, and even have learned how to make balloon swords. To add to my already witty repartee, I am learning a few coin tricks. The thing that has surprised is how much I am getting out of it. I had no idea how much fun I’d have playing pirate for little kids. The best part is that it’s fulfilling a life-long dream playing the part of the sea faring pirate.

          I’ve been thinking a lot about this and have come to realize that my new found pirate status is long overdue. It all goes back to my childhood. My mom made a memory box for a birthday present a few years back. One of my oldest toys were the pirate cake toppers from my 3rd birthday. Dad and I watched the Disney version of Treasure Island multiple times as well as we read it together. One of my favorite memories with my grandparents was when they took me
He's a Pirate and he also shot first. Get over it...
to Walt Disney World back when the Pirates of the Caribbean were first opened in 1970s. Even one of my earliest heroes was Han Solo and he was a pirate only set in outer space.  I could write a whole series of blogs just on the Jimmy Buffett influences here.  Needless to say that “A Pirate Looks at 40” is a favorite and always makes me think of the old man. (His fave too)
          I’ve always fancied the idea of being a bit of the rogue. Jimmy Buffett sings, “I read dozens of books from heroes and crooks and I’ve learned much from both of their styles.”  The bad guy is always more interesting. Which character comes to mind first from Treasure Island? Is it Squire Trelawney or Long John Silver? C’mon, it’s Long John hands down.
          I think it’s because they get to do what we all secretly dream of which is to rebel against the society. Pirates are the original version of “Damn the Man!” They illustrate a freedom from laws and consequences unless they get caught by the Queen’s Navy and then….CRICKK!!!!!! It’s pure escapism flavored with a bit of high seas adventure. Besides what kid or adult never dreams about the joys of finding buried treasure? Every time I get my college loan bills, I have a very vivid desire in finding Billy Bone’s li’l treasure chest of gold.
Pirate Fest 08, Tybee
          And the clothes…..I have my own outfit that I wear to become Pineapple Rob and have to admit that I love wearing it. The footwear is a bit uncomfortable and the hat unwieldy, but the jacket makes me feel like a rock star. If it was fashionable, I‘d wear that jacket constantly, much to the delight of my very understanding girlfriend. The whole swashbuckler get-up makes me feel like coolest guy on the planet.
          Now, I get to pass on my secret life to the next generation.  Kim’s little boy, Jude is seven and at that perfect pirate-magic-age. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies were how we first bonded and it’s laid the ground for higher purposes like Indiana Jones and of course, Star Wars. I never realized how much fun I’d have sharing this interest with my sidekick as I’ve come to refer to Jude.
I so want some door knobs like these..
On our recent family vacation to St. Augustine, we took in the Pirate Museum.  Needless to say a good time was had by all but especially the boy and me. I honestly can’t say who was more thrilled to see all the pirate replicas, weapons, flags, and such. Kim and I had to keep a weather eye on the lad because Jude was running around the interactive exhibits like a squirrel on Red Bull.
I can’t blame him. Having a sense of 40-year old propriety was the only thing that kept me in place too. Well, that and the need to read every little display as instilled in me by my old man. (I could hear his voice saying, “Son, what good is it coming to a museum, if you don’t take the time to read what its teaching?”)
I restrained myself from saying this to Jude. As a result, Kim and I had a lot of great laughs and few awwws watching Jude and his sister, tear through the museum like they were sacking their own Spanish Galleon. On the sensible level, I realize that Jude probably didn’t really learn all that much about real pirates. On a more relatable level, I get it. It was one big over load of pirate stimulus and a large part of me wishes I could have seen it from his eyes and been transported back to that little boy that wanted to run away and sail around the seven seas looking for adventure.  Besides how well should one act when visiting a Pirate Museum? It kind of defeats the purpose…..