Dog Days

Jeezus it’s hot. Have I mentioned that I don’t like the heat? Yeah, I thought so. It’s a slow and easy start to the morning here on the front porch. The Peace Coffee is brewed, the Indomitable Moxie and Maggie the Wonderdog have secured the perimeter, and I am in the rocking chair soaking in the sights and sounds of morning at 20 Prospect. They don’t call these the dog days of summer for nothing.

Maggie the Wonderdog

Look! Over there! A sqwerl!

For a dog that was living in a swamp before we adopted her, you’d think Maggie would be used to other wildlife. Instead she can sit mesmerized for 20 minutes just watching a sqwerl climb the tree in the front yard. She doesn’t bark. She doesn’t chase. She’s just sits there transfixed, thinking “sqwerl, sqwerl, sqwerl, sqwerl, sqwerl, sqwerl…”

Huh? Did you say something boss?

Moxie on the other hand launches herself off the porch barking at the top of her lungs. “Insolent Rodent! Out of my yard!”. They make a very interesting pair.

Trouble Squared

Yes, I’ve become one of those bloggers that writes about and posts photos of their dogs. Gripping stuff. I’m sure you are on the edge of your seat.

Sorry about that. Back to the weather… did I mention it was windy?
Mary? Mary Poppins?
That is our umbrella from the back deck, twenty feet up in the neighbors cedar. Good thing I wasn’t holding onto it at the time.

OK, maybe the dogs were a little more interesting. To be honest, I’ve always been kind of partial to the blog posts about dogs. The Pioneer Woman’s posts on her Basset Hound Charlie are pure gold. And James Lileks has written about Jasper Dog for so many years I think I am going to shed a tear when the old boy passes on. So I consider myself to be in good company.

Sqwerl! Sqwerl! Sqwerl!

What is it about dogs that can make them seem more human than some of the people in our lives? Is it their innocence? Their sincerity? The way that they are always living in the moment?

All of the above. Sometimes I think they could teach us a lot.

Glory Days

A blistering hot weekend is coming to a close. We should be just about done with 90 degrees. Another weekend of Indian summer in September maybe, but it won’t be long before we’re breaking out the sweathshirts. Frankly, I’m ready for it. It’s been a long, hot, humid summer. Up until this week I was still mowing the lawn once, sometimes twice a week. But the sun has baked it to straw, and the hot dry winds blasting out of the south have sucked the life right out of it.

As the dark comes on, I am sitting in the cool of the living room, listening to the whir of the air conditioner, and nursing an ice cold Surly. Ahhh… refreshed at last. Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect’s sleepover was a success, and the girls managed to stay awake until 5 am on Saturday, so it’s been a lazy couple of days. A few bike rides through the convection oven outdoors, and a trip to the beach to jump in the lake has been about all the activity I could muster. Last night I dug into the shelves in the garage and brought out my cardboard boxes of nostalgia.

Now Mrs. 20 Prospect doesn’t have a nostalgic bone in her body. She saves very little, and does not cling to the past. I, however, squirrel memories away like nuts for the coming winter. This is what we call balance. This is also what we call conflict. So a truce has been reached whereby I am allowed a small allotment of space to save whatever flotsam and jetsam of my life that pleases me, so long as it fits in 5 cardboard boxes.

Now two of those boxes are devoted to books that I have been unable to sell, or give away because of my attachment to them. Books that for whatever reason, either what they say, or who I was when I read them, hold a special place in my heart. Another box contains shoeboxes full of every letter and greeting card I received from ages 13 to 26. I’m not kidding. They are all there. Even the little pink slips of paper that Marianne passed to me in 8th grade.

Each piece of paper bears the cursive script of the sender in blue or black ink. They may very well be my greatest treasures. Proof that people did indeed love me enough to take the time to sit, compose a thought, right it out longhand in cursive script, fold it into a matching envelope, place a 13 cent stamp on it, and walk to the mailbox. Can you imagine actually taking that amount of time and effort to send someone a note today? Knowing full well that it might be weeks before you received a reply, if they even sent one? Mind boggling I know, but such was the world in the days before email, text messaging and Facebook.

Most of these letters contain nothing but mundane details, but somehow, over time, it is these little details that can speak the loudest. They are a Rosetta stone that reveals the parts of my life that has long since been buried beneath desert sands. Read one, and the brain whirls and clicks like a one armed bandit, until it settles upon 3 cherries and the memories spill forth like a torrent of coins.

In the same box with my letters, is the stacks of journals that I kept for the 4 years that I traveled the country. I can’t even begin to bring myself to open them up. Nothing ages quicker than your own “deep thoughts”. Better to leave them in the box for my biographer to read someday.

Then there is a box containing trophies, and awards that I accumulated over the years. From Pop Warner Football (Sylvania Chargers – 1978 Batavia Pop Warner Champions!! Woot!!) to High School graduation. I worked so bleeping hard for those things that I have never been able to bring myself to throw them away. So there they sit for all eternity, gathering dust in the dark of a cardboard box, like some golden treasure in a Pharaoh’s tomb.

And finally, there’s the box that holds my Notre Dame High School Year books, and other assorted clippings, and mementos from my high school years. Pointless things like the Ferry Schedule to the ferry we rode from Rotterdam to England when I was 16. Matchbooks, and garter belts, graduation tassels, ticket stubs to the 1984 Christmas Dance, and other assorted trinkets from “special occasions”.

What brought me to dig into these time capsules? Well, Lil’ Miss 20 P has been begging me to get them out ever since she learned of their existence. God bless her but the girl has inherited my penchant for nostalgia, and not her Mother’s pragmatism. So we spent the evening sifting through the boxes, like prospectors panning for gold. Well, 20 Prospecters panning for gold I guess.

Nore Dame High School Class of 1986

Which is where I found this picture. This is the Notre Dame High School Senior Class of 1986, in all their pastel glory. I forgot I even had such a picture. It was taken the night of our senior prom, in the ballroom at the Treadway Inn. It was the 80’s man, we didn’t want no stinking gymnasium, we wanted tuxedo’s with tails, and limousines, and fancy mauve carpet! So we spent a good chunk of our class money to rent out the room, and go out in style.

Well, if you can call that style. It definitely is a kind of style. I would call it “redneck, Western New York, ethnicky melting pot style.” Looking at those faces, brought back memories of kids I haven’t thought about in over 20 years. Just about the entire Senior Class showed up at the prom, and I’d say, that only about 5-6 of them went with a classmates. I’m not sure what it says about us but almost all of our dates were from other schools. Oakfield, Pembroke, Pavillion, BHS, Byron-Bergen, Leroy, they are all represented. What did we have against each other that kept us all from dating?

Well, to be honest, we knew each other. That alone was reason not to date. I struggled with it at the time, and it took years, but I finally embraced my Damerhood. For most of High School I tried hard to be someone I wasn’t. I wanted out of Batavia in the worst way. I didn’t want to get “stuck” there. I had big plans to go to college, to travel, to live somewhere important.

Looking at the faces in that picture I see the same kind of big dreams. I also see fear, loneliness, hope, sadness, and loss. Mostly though I see something I never thought I would ever see for those 62 kids. I see love.

It only took 24 years, and a couple of months, but looking at that collection of Italian, Irish, Polish, German, and Sicilian (it’s distinct from Italian, trust me) kids, I see the stoners, the jocks, the brains, the wallflowers, the Cheerleaders, the clowns, the Joe Cools, and the hipsters, and I feel love for them. A more motley collection would be hard to find. And yet, this picture could be just about any Senior class from any rural school in Upstate New York. This is what we looked like. This is who we were. It wasn’t the cast from some damned John Hughes movie.

There was nothing wonderful about it. It hurt like hell to be a teenager, just as it hurts like hell to be a teen today. How we ever survived ourselves, each other, and the world around us is a mystery, but we did. Looking through those faces we have all been kicked hard in the groin by life at least once since those days. Some, more than once. We have lost parents, siblings, friends, and children. We have struggled with addictions, and depressions. We have lived through arrests, and divorces. These events have not been out of proportion to any statistical average for kids from W.N.Y. Hell, kids anywhere.

What matters isn’t the pain, but the fact that we have kept pulling ourselves back up off that floor for another kick. If there’s one lesson I learned in my 4 years at Notre Dame, I think it is this. Get up. Keep getting up. No matter how hard they kick you, don’t ever stay down.

How, when, and where we learned this lesson, I have no idea. Perhaps it was “the workshop way”. Looking at those faces tonight, I can see it in each and everyone. Tough little bastards we were then. Tough old bastards we are now. So Class of 1986, I raise this glass of Surly to you tonight. May we always keep pulling ourselves off the floor for another round.


The Moon has never looked brighter than it has the last few nights. Standing on the back porch at 6:00 am waiting for Moxie and Maggie to secure the perimeter and do their business, the stars were already beginning to fade in the light of the coming dawn. But the moon was still high in the western sky, and the planet Jupiter was blazing nearby. I don’t recall ever seeing a planet so clearly defined in the night sky, as Jupiter has been lately. It makes me wonder what kind of mysterious event it portends, for surely, astrologists have been mapping out the possibilities.

Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect is turning eleven in the next week. Tonight she will be having a birthday slumber party with six of her friends. There will be cake, and ice cream, and games and crafts. It promises to be a long night of giggling, and hushed whispering out in the living room. I will be surprised if they are asleep by 2 am, because the whole point of a slumber party is paradoxically staying awake. Not for Dad though. I am miserable if I don’t get a good nights sleep. I just hope that Mrs. 20 Prospect is willing to sit up with them while I retire to the bedroom with the pups.

Eleven is a big age, a turning point of sorts as she rounds the corner into the “middle school” years. I know for a lot of people these were the darkest days of their lives. For me though, they were some of the best. By age eleven I was finally breaking free of the kids down the street that used to torment and pick on me, and establishing friendships outside of school with classmates. My new 10 speed bike brought mobility and freedom, and released me beyond the borders of Prospect Avenue for the first time. Girls were suddenly becoming a curiosity, and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien were fueling a rich fantasy life in my imagination.

I wonder what flights of fancy her imagination will take, and which dreams will be born in the coming years. She’s a good kid, and she has chosen her friends well. I hope that she continues to enjoy school, and life as much as she does today. I know that the road ahead will only get rockier. Having a couple of teenagers in the house promises to be a whole new experience for us all. Buckle your seat belts kids, it promises to be quite a ride.

Still Kicking

I began coaching soccer this past week, for the 5th Grade Girls Soccer team at school. This is the first year that Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect has been old enough to play on the school team, and she has decided to take a few months off from swimming to play soccer with her classmates. This is not her first time playing, nor my first time coaching. Both her and 20 Prospect Jr. have played in the summer soccer leagues in year’s past, and I have had the honor of coaching them both. I have to say, coaching girls is infinitely easier than coaching boys, or coed teams. They actually seem to listen, and pay attention, and are not constantly touching each other the way that boys do.

My own experiences in soccer began back in 6th grade, during the inaugural season of the Genesee Amateur Soccer Association. As I’ve said before, my Little League baseball career was short lived. After 2 seasons with the Masonic Lodge Stars, I quit baseball in the interests of cranial health. I signed up for soccer on a whim, knowing all most nothing about the sport. In those first few years of youth soccer in Batavia, the parent coaches and kids all learned the sport together. In those days we didn’t yet have a travel team, and all of the teams were coed, which added a different dimension to things. In fact, my first real High School romance was with a girl who was on my soccer team the summer of my sophomore year in High School.

While my interest in soccer paled in comparison to my love of football, I did excel at it. I made the all star teams, and was always one of the better players on my team. Which probably had as much to do with the fact that most of my teammates were girls, or boys too uncoordinated to play baseball, but who am I to judge? The fact is, I liked it and did well at it. Playing it at the high school level was not an option though. Not that I would have ever turned down a chance to play football for Our Lady, for a chance to kick a round ball.

When I got to Clarkson I picked the sport up again for a few years, playing intramural soccer with the guys from my dorm. But the sport eventually faded from my consciousness, other than a quadrennial interest in watching the World Cup on TV. So when the kids started to play around age 5 & 6, I was surprised to find myself bitten with a desire to take up the sport again. I was in my late 30’s and already feeling the cool shadow of the Big-Four-Oh, looming in front of me. What better way to relive my youth, and deny my aging than taking up a sport I hadn’t played in 20 years?

I think that all men go through this phase. Some run marathons, some race bicycles, some play beer league hockey, or softball, and some have the good sense to limit their sporting endeavors to bowling and darts. Alas, I decided that playing soccer with 20 year old’s would be a good idea, so I signed up for a fall soccer league at the National Sports Center. When I had marked my registration form I had requested to be placed on a recreational team. So I was greatly surprised when I showed up for our first game, and all of my teammates were under 25 years of age. Not quite what I was expecting. It didn’t take long to figure out that they had placed me in the competitive league. By the second game of the season, I had managed to pull one of my quad muscles and could barely work the clutch in my Mazda.

A smarter man would have given up at that point, but I am not that kind of man. No, I was determined to stick it out so each weekend I would slather myself in Icy Hot, wrap my leg in an Ace bandage and hobble out onto the field hoping to get in the way of the other team long enough that a ball might bounce off of me. By week 4 of the season things were looking pretty bleak. We had yet to win a game, and our goalie had quit the team. So when the team was unable to find another goalie to join the team I gladly volunteered for the position. Having played some goalie as a kid, I at least felt a little more comfortable standing in front of the net than trying to keep up with guys almost half my age.

If we had lost that game 10-0 the great middle age soccer experiment would have ended there. But we didn’t. In fact we won the game 3-2 after I stopped a penalty kick in the final minute of the game. I’m not sure if my teammates or I were more surprised by that turn of events. I felt vindicated. I felt virile. I felt like crap the next day when the bruises on my arms, legs, and gluteus maximus turned purple. But half a bottle of Ibuprofen, and a few days later I was ready to do it again. When the season ended I was 1-1-1 and felt like I had proven to myself that I was capable to continue playing the sport. So I signed up for an indoor soccer league for men 38 & Over. This, I thought, would be a breeze.

The next lesson that I learned is that men who play sports into their 40’s usually do so because they are very athletic. My indoor soccer team was full of guys in their 40’s and 50’s that could run circles around me. Most had played the sport continuously for over 20 years. Over half of the teams were made up of immigrants from soccer playing countries. So I spent my winter running wind sprints to keep up with English, Aussie, Mexican, Guatemalan, Chinese, Korean, Nigerian and Liberian guys that had been born kicking a soccer ball. Who-wee was that an education! These guys could do things with a soccer ball that I didn’t know were even possible. I learned a lot about the sport during that winter. I learned, for instance, not to attempt a slide tackle on plastic carpet. I learned that all I needed to do was crash the net, and most of my teammates were capable of banking the ball into the goal off of one of my appendages. And I learned that I really did enjoy the sport after all. So when one of my teammates asked if I wanted to play again in the summer outdoor season I jumped at the chance.

My move to the Minnesota Recreational Soccer League made me feel 20 years younger. We had real uniforms, both home and away. We played our games at the local High School football stadium. Most of the guys on the team had either played in Division 3 colleges, or were currently doing so. It was a young team, with only 5 of us over the age of 30, but I managed to hang in there. We played a full season that summer, and the fact that I did not embarrass myself is probably one of my proudest accomplishments. Still, when fall rolled around, and 25% of the team had to leave to go back to college, I decided that my Cinderella season had come to an end. I had proven whatever the hell it was I was trying to prove, and now that I had proved it, it was time to move on. So I put away my shin guards, and my cleats and retired again in peace.

From here on out my soccer days will be limited to coaching, and running around on the field scrimmaging with 5th grade girls. Which to be quite honest is where my soccer career began in the first place. The irony is not lost on me, and I have to say, I kind of enjoy the symmetry of it. I’m not sure if living vicariously through the athletic feats of my children is any better, or worse, than trying to prove to myself that “I’ve still got it.” Even though I never had it to begin with. So I’ll just keep on kicking.

Minnesota… on a stick!

Tomorrow is the beginning of the annual “Great Minnesota Get Together”, also known as the State Fair. For folks that do not live here, it is hard to imagine the amount of annual interest this seemingly mundane event can draw. For the next two weeks, each and every local TV and Radio station will deem it necessary to broadcast live from the State Fair, as if it were the Superbowl & the Beatles had returned from the dead to play the halftime show.

For Minnesotan’s the State Fair is like the Hajj. All adults are obligated to make at least one pilgrimage to the fair every year to partake in greasy food, unearthly smells, and stare at pig testicles the size of basketballs. Not that they do any of this in Mecca, but perhaps they do. I’ve never been 😉

The first time I ever saw the fair I felt like an anthropologist that had stumbled upon an unknown culture deep in the Amazonian rain forest, that civilized man had never laid eyes on it. It was love at first sight. The pure tackiness of the fair goes well beyond kitsch, and approaches the sublime. I don’t go to the fair to mock it for what it is, I go to revel in it. This is middle America in all it’s Technicolor glory. I doubt there isn’t one aspect of our culture that isn’t hanging out there for all to see. Lord knows you wish some folks would tuck it back in, but there it is hanging out nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Mrs. 20 Prospect does not share my fascination with it. In fact, as much as I love the place, she despises it in equal measure. What can I say? I’m a State Fair rube. I often have people ask me what the point of the State Fair is. I mean, you go there every year, but for what purpose? I usually respond to this question with a tilt of the head, and a blank stare.

There is no point to the State Fair. It exists, and the mere fact that it does is enough to draw us in like moths to the flame.

It’s not the food, although we gorge ourselves on it.

It’s not the weather which will approach the temperature of the surface of the sun.

It’s not the musical acts, though we spend hours sitting on wooden park benches listening to them.

It’s not the rides, though we sometimes pay ridiculous sums of money to risk life and limb on them.

It’s not the animals, though we dutifully walk through each and every livestock barn and stare at the farm animals as if we were going to bid on them at auction.

It’s not the arts and crafts, though I make it a point each year to view the “seed art” in the 4H building, and take the pulse of rural Minnesota pop culture.

It’s not the 101 vendors selling everything from mops to John Deere tractors, although we bought our lawnmower there in 1995.

It’s not the people watching, although the freak show on the Midway pales in comparison to the folks watching it.

It’s not the parking, because the walk back to our car at the end of the day will be about as cheerful as the Bataan death march.

No, it’s not any of this stuff that brings me back. It’s all of it. It’s all of it in one place, mixed together in a blender, deep fried, rolled in sugar, and placed on a stick.

And really, what’s not to love about that?

Where is everybody?

Over the past few weeks the traffic to this blog has dropped in half. I am as puzzled by the decline, as I was puzzled by the increase last spring. Aside from the 5-6 loyal readers who come here out of obligation, I will never understand where this traffic comes from. Such are the mysteries of the internet.

Perhaps the creation of my “Corner Store” on Zazzle was a signal that I had “sold out” and gone commercial. Or maybe 20 Prospect jumped the shark?


Whatever the reason, I will not stand idly by while my ratings decline. That’s why starting next week, I’ll be welcoming a special guest poster to 20 Prospect. My cousin Oliver.

Special Guest Blogger Cousin Oliver arrives next week

Look forward to all new hi-jinks and adventure, as Oliver adjusts to life in the 20 Prospect household!

Rocket Science

Another slow start to the day here on the front porch. Mrs. 20 Prospect worked night shift last night, so I got a later start than usual, which allowed me time to sip a cup of coffee and watch the world wake up. The air outside has been like wet flannel, so I confess I spent my time on the comfy chair in the living room, instead of the rocker on the porch. Sorry, but my delicate constitution just can’t take the heat. Maggie the Wonderdog, and the Indomitable Moxie kept me company as they looked out the window waiting for Mrs. 20 P. to come home.

Is she home yet? Is she home yet? Is she home yet?

It was a long hot weekend, with not much to do. Probably the last of the lazy summer weekends before school is upon us. 20 Prospect Jr. and I spent the weekend building model rockets. On Sunday evening, we took them over to the ball fields and launched them into the air. I think me and Mrs. 20 Prospect enjoyed it as much as the kids. There’s just something thrilling about the sound they make as they FZZZTTTT!!!! off into the blue beyond.

20 P. Jr. readies the rocket for launch, while Lil' Miss 20 P. checks the horizon downrange for targets

The locusts are in full song, and at night the crickets drown out the noise of the highway. All signs point to the end of summer. On Friday night, the annual hatch of the Cul-de-sac flies took place. I have no idea what type of bugs they are, but every year at the very end of summer they hatch, crawl up out of the lawn in swarms, and take flight. The Cul-de-sac in front of the house looked like a snow globe, so thick were the bugs. By the next day they are gone. Disappeared for another year.

It’s a silly thing, but in some way the annual arrival of those bugs makes me feel tied to this place. 15 years now we have lived in this house, tended this yard, and carved out our little place in this world. As far as I know, I am the only person that has ever noticed these bugs and recognized their annual appearance. What purpose do they serve? Where do they fit into the grand ecosystem of life, and why do they only appear one day each year? Sleeping the whole year, waiting to crawl out from under the familiar green of our lawn, launch themselves skyward, then to fall back to earth. Another bright flash of life streaking across the fleeting sky. Some mornings I wonder if we are any different.