Monday, January 26, 2009

25 Things

1. I have a brother who’s a fighter pilot, a brother who’s the stadium voice of the Colts, a sister who does work for Special Olympics and raises cool kids, a brother who’s an actor, and a brother who builds things and has the nicest house of us all.

2. I have a total of 249 skydives. On jump number 79, I had a malfunction that required me to chop away my main and ride down on my reserve. From my logbook: “I was scared – but not panicky. I was placing my faith (& my life) in that GQ Security X210R reserve chute. Seeing that white reserve canopy blossoming over my head was one of the most beautiful sights ever. When I landed, I ran over and grabbed Mark [[the rigger who’d packed my reserve]], kissed him square on the mouth, then went out and bought him a case of Bud Dry.”

3. I was born in Wisconsin, and we moved from there when I was very young. I have very little recollection of Janesville, so I must find some other excuse for my abiding love of cheese.

4. My mom has been a fan of Dennis Kucinich, went to DC to work for Ralph Nader, and did all the get-out-the-vote stuff that qualifies her as a dedicated Obamaphile. How she gave birth to six staunch conservatives remains a mystery.

5. My wife is also a writer, and that is very cool to me. I was introduced to Jill through her sister-in-law, who is the friend of a sister of a coworker. Who says there’s no fate?

6. I split my head open when I was about 4. With a towel “cape” around my neck, I was playing Superman by jumping off the stairs, and smacked my gourd into the edge of the telephone table. Later in life, I determined that being a 4-year-old superhero was more dangerous than being an adult skydiver.

7. Songs that choke me up when I hear them are “East of Eden” by Michael McDonald (if you’re a parent, go into your kid’s room and listen to it while your kid is sleeping… I dare you), the National Anthem (when it’s sung well; you can zip your soup-cooler, Roseanne), Bach’s Prelude to Cello Suite #1 (for which I have no explanation), and "My Wish" by Rascal Flatts.

8. I was a stunt extra on an episode of Rescue 911 (1 of 2: The novelty of actually getting paid to skydive was offset by the memories of actually having been on the scene when the event occurred.

9. I figured out that there’s a limit to how much Jack Daniels one can drink in a lifetime. I hit my limit nine years ago. And that was that.

10. The closest I ever came to getting hit with a beer bottle was in a little bar in the port city of Douala, Cameroon, in West Africa. A certain lady of questionable character expressed interest in remuneration in return for the pleasure of her company. I declined with my elementary French. I may have said, “Mademoiselle, you are kind to offer, but I must respectfully refuse your generosity.” On the other hand, I may have said “Take a hike, hog-jowls.” Regardless, I am grateful for keen peripheral vision and quick reflexes.

11. I earned an athletic scholarship and played football at Butler for a year. The playbook looked like: 1) run to the left, 2) run to the right, 3) pass, 4) punt. This was unfulfilling, and part of the reason I played there for only a year.

12. While at Butler, I pledged a fraternity. I chafed at the BS and the abuse and my opinion that these were punks taking glee in momentary illusions of power. At the end of initiation week, for my lack of cooperation I received the lowest pledge rating of all new members.

13. After Butler, I joined the Marines and went to boot camp in San Diego. There, I graduated 1st out of 600 recruits. How do you like me now, frat boy? (Not you, Scott.)

14. I’ve always had good friends of long duration. Jim for 32 years. Jon for 25 years. Robert for 12 years. But Jim hasn’t known Robert. Robert hasn’t known Jon. Friends in silos. For the past 8 years, though, I’ve had this big group of friends. We call us the Brotherhood: Hatchet, Frail, Ziebart, The Big Norwegian, Cap’n, Femur, Tender, Moonshine, and BF Bob. Houseboats, ice-fishing, canoe trips, gun ranges, Band of Brothers military movie series, cigars, and burnt animal protein with these guys. For them, I am grateful.

15. I played in the Indiana North-South All-Star high school football game. Winning or losing in this particular game did not matter. Just being in it was enough.

16. I love coffee. My drink of choice is the “black-eye”: coffee with two shots of espresso. You can have your “venti half-soy nonfat no-foam half-caf sugar-free extra-hot double-whip mochaccino.”

17. Our daughters Audrey and Lauren enjoy each other’s company, both get great grades, and are on National Junior Honor Society and Student Council, respectively.

18. I volunteered at hospice. One of my guys was a 93-year-old Latvian man, Arnolds (yes, with an "s"). Every week I showed up on a Thursday to bathe and shave him. At the end of each visit, his wife Anna plied me with pierogis, root-beer floats, and stories of fleeing Riga in 1940 ahead of the advancing Russians, carrying nothing but her two children, a bar of soap, and a Bible.

19. My brother Steve and I meet at 4:45am twice a week to work out.

20. My favorite parts of “The Sopranos” were the malapropisms, like: "You know, Sung Tizzoo! The Chinese Prince Matchabelli!”

21. When Jill gets compliments on her engagement and wedding rings, I’m glad I didn’t cut corners.

22. I prefer not to wear socks if possible. Keens and Tevas are great for this. This preference may be a hereditary trait, also expressed by my cousin, Mike. He takes it to extremes, though. Hike up the cuffs of his Brooks Brothers, and you'll find a pair of Florsheims... and no socks.

23. One of my favorite movie scenes is near the end of “Out of Africa.” Karen’s loyal steward, Farah, had served her for nearly 20 years. When she had returned to Europe to be treated for syphilis, Farah maintained vigil for her on the farm, putting fresh flowers on her dressing table every day. Now Karen has gone bankrupt and is leaving Kenya forever. Farah has taken her to the train station. She’s about to board the train to leave. She turns to Farah, and says through the billowing steam, “I want to hear you say my name.” His jaw stiffens, both in recognition of her subtle gesture of affection, and in reaction to the impropriety of such familiarity. He says softly, “You are Karen… msabu.”

24. One of my power spots is the Socrates sculpture in Holcomb Gardens at Butler University. Around an octagon are eight quotes about truth, justice, or freedom by some of history’s great minds: eg, “The high minded man must care more for the truth than for what people think” – Aristotle; “No man loses his freedom except through his own weakness” – Gandhi; “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it” – Jefferson. Overlooking the octagon is a bas-relief sculpture of Socrates’ ugly, bulldog face, and his words: “Until philosophers are kings, or until the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy… then only will this our state have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.” I used to go there and smoke.

25. When we were kids, we were had a limit of three cartoons on Saturday morning. We made sure one of those was the “Bugs Bunny / Roadrunner Hour,” because it was an HOUR. Even at that young age, we were learning to work the system.


Hank Nuwer said...

Joe: very cool list. I’ll bite. Here is my 25.
This is a stream of 25 thoughts.

1) I love being a father and grandfather.
2) I studied to be a priest. I was expelled from the seminary.
3) I rode a bull in a rodeo. Briefly.
4) I played pro ball in the Montreal Expos organization for Felipe Alou and with Terry Francona on a magazine assignment.
5) To do research I picked up two suspects while accompanying bounty hunters. One came at me and I had no choice but to just hang on to him until help came.
6) I published my first story for money in the Buffalo [then Evening] News at 16.
7) I played one game at first base for the old barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns in Cedar Rapids against the Iowa All Stars. The opposing pitcher left his team to join the New York Yankees organization. We lost a heartbreaker 1-0. Scary moment when a submarine bullet from third baseman momentarily blended with fans in their white shirts behind third. I finally saw it and snagged it—right in front of my teeth. We’re talking maybe 90-92 mph.
8) I helped my grandfather put a ring in a bull’s nose when I was young.
9) My uncle got into BIG trouble with my Dad for giving me hard cider at age four. It was partially made with some kind of battery acid contraption.
10) I joined the Sons of the American Legion many years ago.
11) In the last year I benchpressed 300 pounds. Now just doing 10 reps and 3 sets with 220 at age 62.
12) I love teaching.
13) My dad was a tank driver in World War Two in the thick of things from North Africa to D Day to the Bulge to Sicily and then Austria/Germany.
14) I am a pretty good racquetball player but not so hot at basketball—more hustle than skill.
15) I have been to all 50 states, most of them on freelance writing assignments.
16) I have been to England, France, Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, Switzerland, Italy. Two dream places I have yet to visit are Poland and the Alsace area of France where my kin emigrated from.
17) I am learning to fly fish.
18) One day I hope to have a horse again. I green-broke my old filly. Her name was Surprise. It taught me patience and, as usual, humility. I miss her.
19) My black lab Casey is smart as hell. I love writing with him next to my chair.
20) I am jealous of your 249 skydives. I had my chance to jump and declined when my firstborn was one year old. Wish now I had done it.
21) I boxed a Golden Gloves boxer. I lost.
22) My fraternity brothers and the bounty hunter used to win money in my stronger younger days by challenging strangers and bikers to arm wrestling contests with me (“I’ll bet that geeky guy in the glasses and sweater can take you,” or some such they’d say). One “draw” went on forever with a monster nicknamed Lurch. They had taken a clothesline length and tied our arms together. His arm was long as a gorilla’s, way longer than mine. Later I heard he died young of some awful ailment. I lost to the bounty hunter, a biker who weighed 389 pounds but held him for a bit.
23) Yesterday I got permission to write a freelance column for Indianapolis Monthly magazine.
24) My passion is stopping kids from dying or being demeaned in hazing incidents. It’s also frustrating because the deaths and assaults continue.
25) Joe: I could fill this with 25 THOUSAND items. My favorite authors/poets are Steinbeck, Hemingway, CJ Box, Jack London, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Yeats, Robinson Jeffers, Emily Dickinson, Terry Tempest Williams, Oscar Wilde, Susan Orlean.

Joe said...


Appreciate learning even more about you. I've never seen such as short story that I KNEW had much more to it than: "I rode a bull in a rodeo. Briefly."


Joe said...

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Joe said...

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