Monday, December 14, 2009

When I grow up, I want to be a...

As Clark grows older, it's strange to think that some day this little nugget of a dude will grow up and have a job in some sort of field. As he grows older, he has even started to show signs of strengths and interests in things around the house. He loves watching lights, has tons of energy, and has even started bouncing to the beat when he listens to music. So I think to myself, maybe he'll be a musician, play sports or even become an electrician.

Then one day I noticed another habit that he had. He loves to play with the tags on toys. That's fine with me, except the fact that all of the tags happen to be on the rear ends of all of his stuffed animals. So the other day I was sitting with him, and as usual he began playing with the tag on one of his favorite stuffed animals. I couldn't help but think, as Clark looked up at me to take this picture, either he wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up...or a proctologist.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas Dumpster Diving

Now that it's legally Christmas time (December) and I can now listen to Christmas music and pull out the old decorations and decorate the tree, I have been thinking a lot about the things we all do for Christmas. It always seems every year is different. Last year was the first year Alli and I cut a live tree. This year, I portrayed Joseph in the children's Christmas play at our church. The list could go on and on, but the more I think of it, the more one memory always comes to mind. That memory is of the year my father and I dumpster dove on a cold Christmas Eve night.

We had already pulled all of the decorations out of the boxes that we hid every year in the garage and did as much as we could to turn our home in Visalia, California, into a winter wonderland. We put the wreath on the door, hung the countdown calendar on the fridge, and set up the nativity scene in the front room. It was all perfect all except for one thing. We didn't have a tree.

It was no secret that year. We didn't have a lot of money. Dad had told us money was a little tight and that we would get a tree....eventually. We just didn't know when "eventually" was. Did that mean in a few days, or did he mean in a couple of weeks? We waited all month for the moment dad would tell us that we were going to hop in the car and go to the Christmas tree lot to get a tree, but the days passed and we continued to wait. We waited all month. It wasn't until Christmas Eve night that dad told me that we were going to go and get a tree.

"You got some extra money?" I asked.

"Not quite," my father replied. "But we'll be able to get a tree."
How in the world were we going to get a tree without money? I wanted to ask my dad, but I knew he had a plan. He had never let me down before, so why should I think any less of him now? We were going to get a tree. I just didn't have a clue how we were going to do it.
After dinner, we jumped into the car, just he and I, and we started driving. The city was a ghost town. Everyone was inside, snuggling up under the covers, waiting for Christmas day to arrive.
"There's got to be one around here somewhere," my father said as he drove. "We just have to find one." He was a man on a mission, searching the parking lots we passed by like an eagle searches for it's prey. We kept on driving until he finally saw what he was looking for.
We pulled into the parking lot to one of our favorite places to eat. Mearl's Drive-In. The place was ancient. It had been around when my father was in high school and was still up an running, still making their artery clogging burgers, fries, and gigantic ice cream sundays. Although the diner was closed, the huge neon light still buzzed on through the night. "Eat at Mearl's," the sign flashed to me as I looked out the car window.
"This will work," my dad said as he stopped the car. "We can get our tree here."
"Here?" I asked. "There's nothing here. The Christmas tree lot that was here already closed down. How are we supposed to get a tree now?"
We walked all the way to the back of the parking lot and stopped next to the dumpster. He turned and motioned for me to come over to where he was.
My father finally stopped to clue me in on the plan.
"Every year, Christmas tree lots everywhere end up having extra trees that they can't sell. It's usually the scrawny ones or the ones with problems that they can't get rid of. So, they just throw them away on Christmas Eve when they close the lot for the season." He pointed to the dumpster. "Somewhere in this dumpster has got to be a tree that's good enough to put in our house...and you're going to find it."
I pointed to myself. "Me?"
"So you mean I'm going to jump out that dumpster and pick a Christmas tree?"
A smile spread across my face. It was like a game. Find the best Christmas tree in the dumpster.
Seconds later, I was in the dumpster. My dad climbed right in after me. The dumpster was full to the brim with all different sizes of trees. Tiny ones. Scrawny ones. Dead ones. And tons more. We began moving trees to see what we could find. We kept digging. It seemed like all the bad ones were on the top, but we were determined to find something special in that heap of unfortunate trees. Finally, as we neared the bottom of the dumpster, we found it.
We picked it up and threw it out of the dumpster. It was huge. And tall. It would have been a perfect specimen of a tree, had it not had a huge hole towards the base of it's body.
I stared at the hole in the side of the tree. "What are we going to do about that?" I asked, pointing to the hole.
"We'll hide it in the back. That way no one will see it." My dad smiled at me. "When we're done with it, you won't even know it's there.
And with that, we picked up the tree, tied it to our car, and took it home. A couple of hours later, the tree was decorated. We all stood and stared at the tree in satisfaction. It was big, beautiful, and best of all, it was free. You couldn't even tell that it had been pulled out of a dumpster.
To this day, I still sit and think about past Christmas trees. I try to remember some of the other trees that we decorated as a family. Which was the biggest? The best? I try to picture them in my head, but I can't remember any of them. The only tree that I can remember, and the best tree I ever had, was the tree my father and I rescued on Christmas Eve...the dumpster tree.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Not to brag, but...

When November came to an end, NaNoWriMo wrapped up last week as well. At the beginning of the month I had set a goal of writing 7,500 words over the entire month. That meant having to write at least 419 words a day for 18 days. It was difficult to push myself to write during class time with the students because you always have something that needs to be graded or done, but I buckled down and actually did it every day. Now that it's over, I'm actually amazed at how much I have written...which is over 8,000 words! Not only did the kids enjoy listening to my story as it grew day by day (which motivated them, too), but I also really had fun. Just taking 30 minutes a day to express myself creatively through writing was actually very therapeutic and rejuvenating. I highly recommend it. Who knows, maybe I'll write 10,000 words next year.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Alligator Wrestler: Part 6 - The End

Mrs. Anderson quickly disappeared into the house and then appeared with my towel in her hands. She motioned for me to meet her in the shallow end.

"Just act cool," I told myself and began to swim towards the shallow end.

One by one, the girls started glancing at me as I waded towards the steps. I had crossed the line into enemy territory and the enemy knew I was there. I quickly worked my way to the steps and sat down.

"I just need to rest for a little while," I said out loud for anyone who was in ear shot. The girls looked over at me for a second, but then went back to their chattering and giggling.

"Alright. Quickly. Let's go," Mrs. Anderson said, just loud enough for me to hear.

It was the moment of truth. Now or never. I quickly jumped up, one hand covering my front, the other covering my rear, and ran into the outstretched towel. Mrs. Anderson quickly wrapped me up tight, like a burrito.

I slowly turned to see if anyone had seen. To my surprise and great relief, no one had noticed. They all just continued to play, unaware that I had just experienced the most embarrassing moment in my life.

Mrs. Anderson led me to the hall bathroom. "I already put a pair of Billy's old swim trunks in there for you to change into," she said. "Just holler if you need anything else.

I walked into the bathroom, locked the door behind me and began to look for the pair of trunks. There, on the counter next to the sink, was the swimsuit.

"What are the chances?" I thought to myself.

There in front of me was Billy's old swimsuit. It was like a mirrored copy of the torn suit that was barely hanging onto my waist, only it was the color blue. They even had the same red stripe that went down the legs and around the bottom of the leg holes. I removed the tattered suit from my body and put on Billy's old suit. They were just as tight as my old pair.

"Here we go again," I said as I looked at myself in the mirror. I grabbed my towel and headed back outside to the pool. Maybe there was still time for me to get back into the game. But as I made my way outside, the scene I saw was completely different than when I left it.

There, in the middle of the pool, floating by himself on the alligator, was Billy. All the other boys were strewn about the pool. Some hung onto the side of the pool, while others lay on the walkway exhausted. It was like a battle field and only one final soldier was left floating atop the alligator.

Billy yelled triumphantly. "I'm the best Alligator Wrestler in the world!"

I stood there, now in Billy's old swim suit, debating whether I should go and challenge the now reigning king of the alligator.

Billy spotted me standing by the side of the pool. "You wanna take on the champ?" he yelled.

I still had the energy to do it. While I had been changing, he had been wasting all his energy becoming the top wrestler. I knew I could do it, but I also knew how flimsy old swim trunks held up against the most physical pool game I had ever played in my life.

"Nah," I replied. "I think I'll just swim instead of playing Alligator Wrestler."

Billy smiled. He was the champ…the king…the top Alligator Wrestler. "Woo hoo!" he cried. "I win!"

Even though I knew I could have probably beat him, I was still satisfied with the way things turned out. Billy, the birthday boy, had won. We were all having a great time. And no one, except Mrs. Anderson and myself, knew about my swimsuit being torn in two. Sure, I wasn't the winner of the game today, but that was the beauty of Alligator Wrestler. It never ended. It would continue to go on, and the next time the game continued, I would be right there in the middle of it all. And most importantly, I would be there, wrestling with all the other boys, playing in my new swimsuit.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Alligator Wrestler: Part 5

I looked to the steps in the shallow end, but there THEY were. The girls. What moments ago had looked like a small pack of minnows now looked like a teaming pack of piranhas, ready to gobble up anything they came in contact with.

There had to be a way out without completely embarrassing myself. If I went out of the shallow end, all the girls would see and then I wouldn't hear the end of it. I could here it now. The laughing. The ridicule. The nicknames. I wasn't going to get out of the shallow end and risk getting pegged for life with a nick-name like Bare Butt Ben.

The more I thought, the more I realized that someone was going to end up finding out because someone was going to have to help me cover up as I got out of the pool. I looked back to the boys. No. Then to the girls. No way! That left me with only one option…a parent. If my mother had been there, she would have helped out, but that was the problem. She wasn't here. She was off running errands.

My eyes scanned through the parents sitting poolside. They all seemed to be in deep conversations with each other. I continued to scan the crowd until I came across what I thought to be my one and only hope. Mrs. Anderson. She was watching all the kids play in the pool as she sat in her chair near the shallow end.

"Mrs. Anderson!"

She looked over to me as I waved for her to come over to the side of the pool where I was hanging onto the edge.

"Yes, Ben? Do you need something?" she said as she squatted down by the edge of the pool.

"I kind of have a problem," I replied.

"A problem? What problem? You look just fine to me," she said.

"It's my pants."

"Your pants?" she asked.

"My swim trunks." I took a deep breath. It was now or never if I was going to ask for help. "They, uh, kind of, uh, ripped."

"What, like, a small tear?" She put out her index finger and thumb and put them about an inch apart.

"No. Like a tear!" I put out both my hands about three feet apart to get my point across.

"Oh dear. That is a big tear," she said.

"It goes all the way from the front to the back! Please, you gotta help me," I pleaded.

She stopped talking and thought for a moment until she perked up. I could see the light bulb turn on in her head. "Alright, here's the plan. I'll go get your towel and meet you at the steps in the shallow end. You'll get out super fast and I'll wrap the towel around you so that no one will see. Then you can go inside, change into one of Billy's old swimsuits, and it will all be fine. OK?"

"OK…but," I began to say, but it was too late. She had already turned to go inside to get my towel. "But…but…The shallow end?

Not the shallow end! Anywhere but the shallow end. I'd almost risk getting out on the side of the pool and all the boys seeing my bare buns than go to the shallow end!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Alligator Wrestler: Part 4

The girls made their way back to the shallow end, where they once again began to chatter, giggle and point. The rest of the boys lined up behind me. The game was about to begin again and I was at the front of the line. The alligator floated in the center of the deep end.

"Alright, Ben," said Travis, who was standing behind me in line. "Let round two begin!"

"Yeah, go already!" yelled Billy, who was waiting at the end of the line.

Oh, I was going to go alright. I was going to leap…no…fly on top of that alligator and with one mighty squeeze of my legs, I was going to crush it to pieces in front of all the girls who stared at me from the shallow end.

"Go, Ben, Go!" their eyes screamed to me as I stepped out to the edge of the diving board, took a deep breath and jumped.

But this was no ordinary jump. This was a super jump. The jump of all jumps. The uber-jump. It was one of those jumps that takes you so high, when you hit the apex, time seems to slow to a crawl and stop. And in that frozen moment, I could do no wrong. Nothing mattered. Not my year old swim trunks, my ultra white thighs, or the fact that I was a puny ten year old boy. All that mattered was that I was about to make Alligator Wrestler history.

I landed with a thud. My eyes and ears became filled with all the sights and sounds of the moment. The girls squealed with delight. The boys yelled their manly battle cries. The parents cheered from the side of the pool. But in the mix of all these sights and sounds, I also heard another sound.


Now, you might be thinking to yourself, "No big deal. Threads pop and tear, but it couldn't be that bad, right?"


I quickly slipped off the alligator as Travis jumped on behind me and swam to the edge of the pool to assess the damage. My hand shot to my backside to feel the area and see if the tear was bad. I felt nothing. In some cases, feeling nothing would be wonderful, but in this case it meant I felt exactly that…nothing! Where I should have been feeling swimsuit, I felt nothing but the skin on my now exposed and bare butt! It was the mother of all tears.

I continued to feel about, but the more I felt, the more shocked I became. The hole, if you could even call it that, was not just in the back. The sheer force of my super, spectacular, uber-jump had torn my swimsuit in two. The only thing holding the two pieces together was the elastic waist band, which looked as if it too was about to pop.

"Great," I thought to myself. Not only was my butt hanging out the back, but mini-Ben and the boys were dangling out the front as well.

"You still playing?" Billy yelled from the alligator.

"Yeah," I quickly replied. "I'll be back in a second. I'm just taking a breather."

"But we just started back up! Just admit it," he said, "you're not man enough to continue."

Oh, I was man enough all right. If I got out of the pool right there he'd have been able to see how manly I was whether he wanted to or not.

"What am I going to do?" I thought as I continued to tread water by the side of the pool.