Sunday, July 29, 2012

Antics, Fifty Bucks, and how Jeff Ragsdale Gave Me a Story to Share

            I grew up in the 80s which meant all of life’s big problems could be solved either in 30-60 minute increments or by some elaborate big scheme. The first time I watched Animal House, it wasn’t the parties, the boobies (though very nice), or even the toga party that stuck with me. It was the death mobile tearing through the streets and wreaking havoc on the squares from Faber College. As I wrote in the now famous proposal blog, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
Ramming Speeeeedddd!!!!!!

            As I grew older, I found myself surrounded but not only very good and intelligent people but also quite a few characters that grew up with similar sensibilities. Back when the Big Guy was with us, we’d all gather in Savannah and the best part would come in the evenings. We’d settle on the deck facing the marsh. Many beers met their demise on that humid spot as we’d entertain ourselves by telling stories and smoke cigars.

            The Big Guy would chortle and laugh in convulsions as we’d share some of our infamous antics like the time Rags convinced the fraternity to hire strippers for rush (Sensitivity training, anyone?) Or the time Nick drank 13 shots called an oatmeal cookie which resulted in him throwing up so badly that Nick’s left eye looked like Sigourney Weaver in Alien 3. Or the time everyone showed up to the annual Quantrek camping trip at Edisto to find Gid and I about passed out with pink stained lips. We added a pint of 152 to a Strawberry Shortcake Pre-Mixed cocktail. It may sound like a bad beer commercial but good friends equals to some pretty fun times. Looking at Facebook today reminded of one of the greatest moments we ever pulled off. The Infamous Bad Tux Formal Night of the Parrothead Cruise of 2000.
No one can hear you wretch in space from too many Oatmeal Cookie shots

            It’s a pretty funny story. We had all moved up to the Atlanta area after college and gotten involved in the Atlanta Parrothead Club. Our buddy, Brent, had started an annual Parrothead cruise through the Caribbean. Of course it would be rude not to go and we did.

            This particular cruise line hosted a series of formal nights during the course for the week. Over 200 parrotheads would be intermingled with the variety of characters that ordinarily spend a week cruising the high seas. After a viewing of Dumb and Dumber, I suggested to Gid and Rags how we should show up in horrible tuxes for this event. The idea snowballed as you can see.  

            I always knew this would be good for a few laughs. What I underestimated was just how much of a surprise this would be to the rest of the Costa Victoria Cruising Community. See, some people take the night of the Captain’s Dinner as a that just right time to break out the furs and jewels usually reserved for the safe. I looked at as an excuse to wear my black Chuck Taylor high tops with my spats. Nowadays when I describe this evening, I usually use the comparison of it being one of those Three Stooges shorts when they go to a High Society Ball.

            The Captain’s Dinner starts off with a champagne/martini reception in one of the classier ballrooms. Enter Eight Parrotheads not afraid to shop on Ebay for formal wear. Three fourths of the guest couldn’t stop laughing and even kept having us pose with them for pictures. Some folks even thought we were paid entertainers to keep the party going. One-fourth was not as amused. Enter Ragsdale.
Jeff Ragsdale: Family Man, Statesman, Threat to fish everywhere

            This one lady had a serious stick up her ass about our entrance. Rags overhead her complaining about our lack of decorum and disrespect for the sanctity of Captain’s Night to her poor, overtaxed husband. He seemed like a decent Joe whose only crime was making the mistake of saying “I do” to Greta the Wonder Bitch.

            Rags love to poke the bear especially when he has had a few. Being a cruise taken in the honor of Jimmy Buffett, all of our blood alcohol levels would have been classified as jet fuel. Rags saw his moment and took it.

            In his best Mr. Mooney voice, Rags struts up to the lady in question, “Pardon me, ma’am. Mind if I join you?” I could almost hear Rags saying, ”Yesssss” to Lucille Ball.

            Greta the Wonder Bitch responds in a manner that is only egging on Rags.

“It’s a free country.”  Greta snapped. I almost groaned fro Greta. She was setting herself up for the inevitable torment that Rags was about bring along with some noise and some funk.

            Now, keep in mind how this is a cocktail party and reception. In addition to all those cute waitresses wandering around with trays of champagne and martinis, the cruise line also provided the traditional finger food and snacks expected at any cocktail party. About every two or three table would sit small bowls of Spanish peanuts. Rags saw that Greta was stationed perfectly.

            Rag’s moment to strike and he played it like an old vaudevillian comic with perfect timing. “Pardon me, ma’am, could I trouble you for a nut?” Again with the Mr. Mooney voice.

At that moment, Rags selected a Spanish peanut while attempting to peel the red skin off it then proceeded to eat it like corn on the cob,

            It was quite the sights and even Greta’s husband began to snicker. Greta was not amused. She grabbed her husband by the arm. And growled, “Well, I never.. Come on Charles.”

            Exit Greta from our lives forever except through the passing of this tale. May her bitchiness live on..

            The rest of the evening was a blur of laughs, double takes, and shots bought by amused fellow cruisers. At one point, our picture was taken with the Captain. To this day, I can’t tell if his confusion was due to the language/cultural barrier, our outfits, or a combination of both. All I clearly can remember is waking up the next morning with a serious case of the brown bag flu.

            I love my friends and all of our wacky adventures. Even though I could hear the Big Guy saying it was a rip off to buy photos from the cruise line, I sprang the five or ten bucks for it. It still hangs in my room to this day. Once while teaching Sociology, I even used it to explain how social mores work.
Kings of the World 2000

            A few years ago, we lost the gent in the Captain’s Hat. Monty was not only a character but a classy guy. He is missed. The world seems s a little smaller without his huge and exciting personality.  Monty brought style and class to everything he did. Once he made a Bloody Mary for me and it took him thirty minutes because he used over thirty ingredients.

            Fortunately, I have been lucky to keep in touch with the  rest of those guys. A few of us even made a pact to wear those tuxes at our rehearsal dinners. A waiter at the Atlanta Country Club bought Gid and I drinks for an entire because we had the balls to do so. .

            We have all settled down now but the tuxes are not mothballed yet. Every now and then, opportunity strikes. Gid wore his a few times to the Jimmy Buffett concerts. Rags dusts his off and uses his for his Sunday School Classes. Last spring, I took Kim to the High School Prom where I teach. The theme was Mardi gras so I felt festive enough to share the magic of the tacky tux. We had a blast. It’s nice to know that over ten years later this might be the best fifty bucks I have ever spent.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Like Step-Papa, Like Step-Daughter

Having Roni and Jude in my life has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve been granted. Jude and I hit it off immediately. We filled a need we both craved in our lives. He needed a guy and I wanted someone to pass down all the Richardson ways of life to. We made our way through a river of pirates, explosions, and a certain Sci Fi movie we both adore to seal what we share.

Roni was trickier and not as easily impressed. We had a rocky relationship which eventually led a huge fight in my dining room. All cards were laid out on a table and I knew that I would have to leave if we couldn’t find some sort of common ground. We did.

Since that rough night last summer, a relationship has been forged where I now have a step daughter and she has what we refer to around the house as “Step-papa.” (It works better if you could hear it said like Christopher Plummer in his Sound of Music outfit) We bump heads frequently which I am guessing is just a hint of what the impending teenage years have in store. Quite honestly, the kid drives me crazy yet as I say this there is a big spot in my heart where Roni has taken over. (Roni doesn’t simply walk into Mordor)

Oddly enough, I recognize it’s our similarities which cause the clashing rather than our differences. Roni has my sense of smart assness and loves to get those zingers in. She can be fearless in waiting for that right moment to pounce then burn the shit out of your ego. It’s a quality that I respect and look forward to her using on boyfriends rather than me.

She has to be right. Being right is a Richardson family characteristic imported over from the Neders and the Mother country. To steal an idea from Game of Thrones, combining a quality like that into both of those houses will create a dragon of their own. I find myself arguing with my step-daughter over bullet points like what she said over dinner last night to what was the Professor’s name on Gilligan’s Island. (It was Roy Hinckely, Jr. by the way). I am 43 and have found the ability to walk away from pointless arguments so please explain to me why I find myself arguing with an eleven year old girl.

Today, the most impacting similarity came to light. I realized we both have disappointing relationships with one of our parents. This is the one that hit me about an hour ago and prompted me to sit down on the couch and write.  Roni’s father and Kim’s ex-husband have been brought up before but never in a positive light.  Quite frankly, he made it easy for me to come in be a Dad to Roni and Jude because he ain’t doing it.  I watch Roni around her father and she is never herself. When Roni is around her father, she makes a point not to make waves. They guy makes big promises with no intentions of fulfilling them and it breaks my little girl’s heart. Yet she says nothing but hugs on her father when he eventually shows up. She’d call me out on that shit in a NY minute.

   Granted the Roni I know and love is sweet, beautiful and intelligent yet I am well aware she has no problem with arguing with me or showing me her darker side when it involves getting her way. She is being herself which is good. I appreciate this because it shows me how Roni is not afraid that I will leave her. It stinks when we are arguing about which Netflix show to watch but I know we are in it for the long haul like I was raised.

Which brings me to me. I am not being honest in my relationship with my mother. The past year has exposed all the cracks and breaks in a relationship that not been healthy for some time. The majority of my decisions over the past four months have somehow revolved in a way either reaching out or trying to make my mother happy. Her actions show she does not want to reach back.

We had a huge sit down before the wedding to try to resolve all the issues brought to a head after the big incident with her boyfriend. I do not like the boyfriend yet invited him to our wedding to show an olive branch. She came to the wedding but bailed out on the reception to be with him. She felt that she had “done her duty” She and the b/f have been invited to Jude’s birthday party, over to dinner several times, and Jude’s first play at the Savannah Children’s Theater. No show.

It kills me because the kids really love her and want to love her as their grandmother. It makes me angry because I can hear Mom sayin to me how people turned their back her after her Dad died. Yet she is now doing the same to us. And we want her in our lives.

Jude was very hurt because she had promised to go to his play. When Kim spoke to her, she was going to be out of town. Jude was crushed. He wanted more people to go see his play.

For the past year, I have been like Roni. For fear of running my mom away, I have sat and taken this constant rejection. I’ve tried to be careful so as not to run Jan away. Kim has pointed out that I have internalized this to be an issue of my creation yet she’s not seeing it. Kim is right. Whatever sin I have done to create this, I have tried to reach out and make up for it several times over. It comes down to the simple fact that my mother no longer wants to be my mom. I am tired of reaching out. I am tired of hurting myself. I am more tired of hurting the ones around me because I carry this huge weight on my shoulders.

I feel for Roni because as I sit and type, I realize just how much I miss my mom and wish that she was a part of our lives like when she used to be Mama Rich. Mama Rich is gone. If I had tried any of this crap and choose not to be around the family like she has done now,  Mama Rich would be on my ass in a second.   

One day I suspect Roni will be at the same crossroads that I appear to be standing at now. I wonder if she will feel the same amount of guilt I feel as I try to decide what I need to do. It scares me as I look in one direction where I try to do what is best for me and family while the other direction focuses on keeping the status quo but with more sleepless nights.

I hope she will know what I know. It feels horribly alone bit I am not. She has a brother that is pretty comparable to the awesomeness that I have in a little sister. Maybe she will have someone in her life like I have Kim. I hope so.

I know this. I will be there because whether I am blood or not, I am her Dad. Someone taught me a long time that Parenting is a lifelong occupation. Besides, we are a lot alike and I know just how this feels.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ramblings from the Tide: Taking Care of Business

Ramblings from the Tide: Taking Care of Business: The summer of Kim progresses nicely. Routines are establishing themselves. I wake up around 8 with enough time to take Roni to Fashion Des...

Taking Care of Business

The summer of Kim progresses nicely. Routines are establishing themselves. I wake up around 8 with enough time to take Roni to Fashion Design Camp and Jude to Theater Camp. I head back to the house to put off work on the tour and find ways to waste the day as Kim trudges through her mounds of homework. Some days we sneak out and eat lunch where we pretend to be adults without kids. Life is going quite well. Until someone decides to muck it up.

            Kim’s Ex has popped back into the picture and refuses to work and play well with others. For the majority of our relationship, her Ex has been waaaaay in the background. He has shown little interest in the kids’ lives by irregular calls missing birthdays, holidays, and even Roni’s surgeries last summer. He has popped up and dropped by in what feels like a courtesy call. It’s like a bad case of the crabs. You think he’s gone and then “Guess who’s back?”

For the most part I have been silent about my feeling. He is a part of Kim’s life that happened before us. I respect the fact her Ex (Let’s call him X for the blog’s sake) is the birth father and always tried to be cool about it.  He has always been cordial in our dealings. Frankly, I should be threatened by him. The guy is an ex-Ranger  with a college education. He made up to the rank of Major before retiring. X did several tours overseas in Iraq and apparently was in some serious stuff. He lost his leg after going back and working in the private sector in Iraq. On paper, he would give Captain America a run for the money.

Yet, I am not threatened by him in the least.  And I am fed up with his crap.

X never bothered to finish his court ordered program to receive the rights to full visitation with his children even though it was his second chance.  X never bothered to get them on medical insurance after the divorce even though he promised. (Remember, one of those kids is disabled) X never did a lot of things that I am learning should come naturally as a parent.

I tell a lot of funny stories on here about me and the Big Guy. Often we are odds and one of us usually trumps the other. I have not really talked much about what I learned about being a man from my father. (Though, I do assume there is a lot of subtext in that) Ol’ Bob taught me a lot and I find myself using it every day.
The Big Guy is Content. Jack's River Falls 1991

First and foremost, a man takes care of his family. I never got an Atari 2600 and not from a lack of asking. I also never was hungry, needed medical care, or wondered if my Dad loved me and Mary.  I do not see this in X. He has shown none of this in performance, attitude, or track record.

X moved back right around the time Kim and tied the knot. I knew it was a game changer but was curious about what would happen. Based on previous performance, I figured he’d run out of steam by now and fade back into the distance like X usually does. Keep in mind that X has never finished the three steps required to get full visitation. This was almost two years ago. Starting something is no problem. Finishing is another story.

At first, X has tried to maneuver Kim into ways to avoid dealing with this agreement. My favorite quote was along the lines of “Are you really going to follow that plan?” to Kim about six months ago. This pisses me off because the guy was given a second chance and still refuses to do what is required.

I often speak to my teacher buddy, Steve Freenor, because he is also remarried like I am with kids. During our Fourth of July Cookout, he summed it right up and his words have resonated within for over a week.

“If this was important to X, he’d take care of it immediately.”

 A man takes care of his family. Not makes constant excuses.

X wants to have the kids overnight as part of step 3 of the court process yet he was supposed to finish this 2 years ago. For the past month, he has badgered harassed and even threatened to take Kim back to court. It has been borderline harassment we have consulted two attorneys and even the court appointed psychologist who almost laughed because too much time had passed for her observations to be valid.  Kim has been as professional as possible, stayed firm and has put her foot down. She is finally not playing X’s game. I am proud of her.

A pattern has emerged that upsets me greatly. X will send an e-mail where he requests legitimate bits of information regarding the kids’ schedule. Hidden in those e-mails are little nuggets where he gets a dig in on Kim.  Kim has handled this like a pro but I am a Richardson. We take care of our family.

No, I am not going to do anything stupid. 20 year old Robby would have pulled something like that. You are reading about 43 year old Robby. I almost hate to admit that I have matured a bit over the years and finally have learned a bit about dealing with ilk like this.

The one thing I have learned in dealing with problems is to remove the factors that make the issue. X is making Kim’s day harder. No more. Starting today, X is more than welcome to communicate regarding the kids’ schedules, schools, camps, etc. through me.

Between 15 years of social work, Wal-Mart service desk, and teaching, I know a bit regarding dealing with difficult people. I am more than happy to let X know what he needs to know, where to be, when to pick up the kids. He is their father and it is his right to know these things. This is by no means an issue with me.

But Mr. X, I want to get something straight. I respect your rights that come with being a father of two of the most amazing children I have ever had the privilege to love. I also understand any frustrations that come with dealing with an ex-wife (been there, done that, had a bag of lime and a shovel)

You have a history with Kim. I respect that too. But as far as we are concerned from this point on, you interactions will be based upon the needs and wants of our kids. You will leave my wife alone and not play your childish games with her. I am more than happy to showing where to look for whatever necessary and pertinent info you will need. You know what you need to do. Do it. Take care of your business and be a Dad not a father.

As I say to my students, I share with you. Please do not mistake my courtesy for weakness. If High School, Depression, Back Surgery, Losing my Dad, Heart Murmurs, a cavalcade of crazy exes, and Kidney disease didn’t do me in, this is whole situation is a walk in the park. I will happily do what I must because as the greatest man I have ever known once showed me though his works and deeds:

Afterall, A man takes care of his family.
For the first time  in a while, the Bible and I agree

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Marty McFly, Catch Phrases, and Just a Little Bit of Shock and Awe

            I think it’s funny how every group comes with its own set of in jokes and references. Mary and I have often joked about writing the Richardson Family Book of In-Jokes which would include words and phrases such as Mug Wump, Cherry Cheeks, Choo-Choo-Wah-Wah, and hour three (which I have already written about).

            As I settle into a daily routine of a house with a wife, two kids, and dogs, I am noticing our own jokes begin and in-references are growing. Jude has way too many to share but I’ll settle with his famous, “Waka, Waka!” he does in a little kid’s voice. Veronica has created her own catch phrase, “Oink!” When Kim screws something up she does this adorable impersonation of the John Hughes movie, Dennis the Menace. “I made a mistake?”

            Being one of those people who constantly quote pop culture, I probably have way too many but for today’s blog; I bring up the Summer of Kim. Last summer, we had what is referred to as the Summer of Robby. It is a phrase borrowed from Seinfeld’s Summer of George. (YouTube, it) Basically, it means I had an amazing summer. Because this summer is proving to be even better, we have continued the joke to become the Summer of Kim. It basically means we are sitting by the pool with hand muddled mojitos and enjoying life as the kids splash themselves to an early bedtime.

            So far Kim and have had out honeymoon where we travelled around the world. Ok, we went to Epcot but we did try to drink our way around the world. Unfortunately, approaching middle age and the fact we have become light weights allowed us to make it as far as Germany before giving up. Good thing too because I have heard stories about the margaritas over in Mexico that were fast approaching.
A quiet moment in a Italian Cafe.

            Now that we are back home with the kids, the Summer of Kim is in full swing. The house is almost unpacked, the kids are happy in their new rooms and the dogs are contributing by digging up the back yard to help rid me of my unknown mole problem. Life is actually pretty good.

            We have been watching movies almost every night before bed. Kim and I have started a project to help round the children. We believe it’s not only important to add culture to Roni and Jude’s life but also to make sure there is a proper amount of pop culture too.

            We began the lessons with Back to the Future. We assumed the kids would love it as much as we did. Heck, BTTF holds a special place in my heart because it was the first movie I went out on a car date with. Imagine my surprise when my sidekick was not amused by the adventures of Marty Mc Fly. Jude was unimpressed and even wanted to stop the movie about 30 minutes in.

            “What’s the matter?” I asked Jude.

            “Marty McFly is a jerk.” Jude said plainly.

            I am very confused. Michael J. Fox is rather endearing and somewhat cool in my book. I look at Jude and ask, “I am confused here. How can you not like Marty McFly?”

            ‘Jude replied,”He is messing with the space time continuum.

            How do you even know what the space time continuum is?

            Jude wrinkles his eyes in disbelief like I have asked if he understands his ABCs.

” Robby, everyone knows not to mess with the fabric of time. Why didn’t he just drive off?  He chooses to go back in time. He is screwing up our future.”

            An awkward silence comes between us as I hear Christopher Lloyd yelling his catch phrase of “Great Scott.” I have this overwhelming urge to ask if I am addressing my step son or a Spock, Jr. Instead I go with a different approach.

            “You do realize that Marty didn’t choose to go back in time but rather was pushed into the circumstance because he was being chased by terrorists?”

            Jude ponders this for a moment. He always gets this serious look like I am getting a glimpse at Adult Jude. A few long seconds pass.

            “OK, Robby that makes sense. I’ll give this movie a chance.” Jude lays back on the futon and stares intently on the screen just in time to watch Marty thwart Biff by skateboarding into Old Man Jone’s Manure Truck.

            Since that conversation, we have worked our way not only through the first BTTF but also the second one as well. After finishing the sequel, the kids were clamoring to watch the third BTTF even though it was 10:30 at night.

            Perspective is a funny thing. I have watched Marty McFly fight to get his self back to 1985 well over a dozen times. Not once have I ever questioned the motives of any of the characters like Jude did. I think it is because I grew up in a time when Science Fiction was still finding its feet with the viewing public. There has always been a certain amount of cerebralness to it but thanks to Capt Kirk and Han Solo, Sci Fi also had a certain Wild West cowboy element in it in my younger years.

            Jude and Roni have come up in a different time. I find it funny that in an age of political correctness and social responsibility, even science fiction reflects these ideals. Kirk has been replaced by Jean Luc Picard and the Prime Directive. Thanks to movies like Star Trek IV and BTTF, concepts like the space time continuum have become common plot points.   I think it’s interesting to see how our audiences are becoming more sophisticated in their plot devices. An eight year old is catching it and then explaining it back to me.

            While it excites me to see how smart Jude and Roni are, it also saddens me a little in that due to their sophisticated palate, it’s going to be more difficult for them to be dazzled. We tried to watch Jason and the Argonauts last night but the DVD was scratched. I was a little glad. They have been brought in a time where dinosaurs and aliens are computer generated. While hopeful, I somehow couldn’t see Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion work wouldn’t shock and awe the kids like it did me at their age. I guess it’s generational.
A true Artist

            I remember being home sick on day back in third grade. The Big Guy stayed home to help out. We watched The Adventures of Superman on Atlanta’s channel 36 with George Reeves. It was the Big Guy’s favorite back when he was a kid. I hated it. The flying sequences were cheesy and the other special effects were on par with something my friends and I could create in the back yard.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I could look past the cheesiness and begin to realize how Superman was actually a pretty well done show for its time. George Reeves does a great Clark Kent and the other actors did well with what they had to work with.

            I am guessing that many years in the future, Roni and Jude will be setting down with their kids and to watch whatever passes for a DVD by that time. They’ll explain to their kids how cool it was when their Mom and Step-dad took them to see The Avengers. The special effects were state of the art. Their kids will laugh at how computer generated the Hulk looks. How silly it was to believe there could be such a thing like the SHIELD Heli-carrier as compared to the orbiting space wheels that would exist in this future. Roni and Jude will be frustrated because all they will remember was the feeling of “wow” and wanting to share that moment with their children.
"Hulk,.....smash." Best line that movie.

            My wish is that at that moment Jude will remember a humid night in June when he had just turned eight. His Mom and Step-Dad were so excited to show him and his sister Back to the Future for the first time. I hope that as he remembers pointing out all the plot holes and things wrong with the movie to his step-dad, he’ll make the connection that the same exact event is re-occurring. The only difference is Jude will be the dad saying, “Now, wait a minute. This is a really awesome movie. Give it chance.”
            Maybe Jude will start using my new catch phrase which I am openly admitting to stealing

 from the Big Guy. “Just shut up and watch the damn movie.”