Sunday Services at Our Lady of the Five Minute Major

It’s a steamy 90 degrees outside in the swampy malarial heat of July in Minnesota, but here inside the vaulted interior of Our Lady of the Five Minute Major it’s a refreshingly cool 40 degrees. Yes, we have left behind the dusty buzz of the baseball diamond for the icy vaults of the hockey rink. Can autumn be far behind?

I know, it’s not even August yet. We still have a cicada filled month of days at the lake, and citronella infused nights on the porch before the State Fair arrives to herald the end of our summer. I won’t wish it away. After all I will have a full six months to spend with the hockey cult as 20 Prospect Jr pursues his love of the sport. It truly is a cult here in MN. Each rink we play at memorializes the players that have played there before and gone on to Olympic, Pro or college glory. There jersey’s are signed and framed on the walls like shrines to a Saint. (Today we are praying for the intercession of St. David Backes).

Out on the ice the kids skate from end to end chasing the puck and indulging their dreams of greater glory. It is such a competitive sport. I do my best to keep the fun in it for Jr knowing that he will never move beyond the youth level. Even High School hockey here is a long shot. Only the top 10 percent of the kids out there will ever make it to varsity. It makes me realize how blessed I was to go to a small High School in podunk NY in the 80’s when HS sports were still attainable for slow skinny kids like me.

Someday 20p Jr will have to hang up those skates and give up the dream. Probably at a much younger age than I had to surrender my dreams of college football. But until that day I will continue to sit here in the frozen pews and watch him dream.

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Math Class is Tough Barbie!

and so is writing a novel. Yes, I am still writing a book, and at this pace it might be ready for print in 2012, just in time for Armageddon, which will likely put a damper on sales.

So I have gotten off of my lazy butt, and decided to put on a big push for the next month to see how much I can get done before I start teaching again in the fall, and time becomes an even more precious commodity. The draft is now at 15,000 words. Only 40,000 more to go!

Maybe in my spare time I’ll compose an Opera, who knows.

Which is all just a fancy excuse to say I am phoning in today’s post. Please try to look disappointed. I like to think you can a difference when I really put an effort into these posts. Humor me.

In celebration of another hot sticky weekend, I give you some summer time music. I’ve been in a nostalgic mood for Drum Corps since I wrote Monday’s post, and nothing says heat and humidity like marching music. It reminds me of July days spent sitting on the curb watching the annual pageant of bands in the sweltering sunshine.

So pour yourself a tall glass of ice cold lemonade, pull up a rocking chair, and enjoy the music from the shade of my front porch.

PS – I refuse to pay $60 a year to WordPress, for the privilege of posting video content on the blog, so I am using a loophole and posting them in the comment section, which is apparently free.

Our Lady of Perpetual Hope

They have been there forever. Sometimes I wonder if they were there before the church was built. From my first day as an altar boy in the 4th grade, I can remember them, sitting out in the darkened pews before 7:00am mass, praying silently on their rosary beads as I went about my chores getting the altar ready. Setting out the water and the wine, lighting the candles, waiting for the nicotine smell of Father coming in from the rectory to turn on the lights. I could see them out there in the darkness, stiff as statues, silently rubbing their wrinkled hands over the time worn beads, their lips moving slightly to the imperceptible repetition of the prayers.

I always seemed to draw the 7 am mass, not because of an affinity for rising before dawn, but because Fr. Fred knew my Mom could be counted on to get me there. I hated being woken from the warmth of my bed before the sun had risen, and be driven to St. Joe’s to serve. Sleepily buttoning my black cassock, and pulling a white surplus over my head, I would go about my rounds fifteen minutes before Mass was due to start, but already they were there. They were always there.

I served for six years, until I was so tall the altar boys cassacks no longer fit. By the time I stopped, I had grown from a shy fourth grader into an awkward teenager. My schedule was taken up with practices, and high school sports, and I was embarrassed to be seen by girls at Sunday Mass. Quitting was a relief. Mass had become tedious to me. Something I did by rote. The mystery of the ritual, and the tradition had long since grown stale, and  become yet another thing I slept walked through, like preparing the altar in the pre-dawn dark. Surely those old woman sitting out there in the pews were sleep walking too. How else could they be there, day after day, repeating the prayers, and reliving the mysteries for literal decades.

As I grew older, I drifted further and further away from the faith, until a funny thing happened. As I turned thirty, and began a family of my own I started returning. Slowly at first, but eventually with deeper and deeper hunger to understand. Not just to sleep walk through the mysteries, but to understand them intellectually, and spiritually. Like a diver swimming at a great depth, I could sense a lightness above me, and I began to swim toward it.

Sometimes lethargy overcomes me, and I need to consciously shake myself from sleep to overcome it, but I have returned to the surface of the faith now, and I can’t see myself ever straying from it again. One day, entering the Chapel early for an Ash Wednesday service, I was startled to see them. There they were, as old as I remembered them. Kneeling and sitting quietly in the dark, counting the prayers as if they had never left.

In St. Joseph’s, St. Anthony’s, St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart, and in churches far beyond Batavia, they still kneel in the dark, praying. They are older now, which is hard to imagine, as they seemed ancient then. Stoop shouldered from years of carrying around the weight of their families on their backs, they have suffered long, and silently. They have watched their children fade, and disappear, from the pews beside them, like swimmers slipping beneath the waves. They have buried parents, husbands, children, and even grandchildren, but still they come each morning to kneel and pray. Sitting there quietly in the dark, their fingers work slowly on their rosaries. Knitting their prayers together, one bead at a time, until the mysteries reach like fishing lines, stretching back through the cold, dark years, their crosses like hooks glistening in the predawn candlelight, tethering us to a past we have long since forgotten, if we ever truly knew it.

 

(Originally posted – Nov 12, 2009)

Mighty St. Joe’s!

I saw my first drum corps competition when I was less than a month old. Well, technically I’m not sure if I saw it, but I’m pretty certain that I heard it. According to my Mom I was sound asleep in my buggy down on the field as the kettle drums rolled, and the horns blasted. Being the tag along in the family by 7 years I was carted everywhere my older siblings went, and summer time was parade and drum corps season. All three of my siblings were marching with the Little St. Joe’s feeder corps, and my folks were heavily involved in the kiddie corps, yet whenever the big corps was in town for a competition, we were always there.

Drum corps music was the soundtrack of my early life. Whether it was practices in the school cafeteria in the winter, or at William’s Park in the spring, we were always around it. Summer weekends were spent at parades as my siblings marched in stifling heat, and the summer nights watching the big corps compete as june bugs swarmed the stadium lights.

The fact that I can remember it at all is amazing. I was only four when the drum corps folded. Which means that my memories of watching Mighty St. Joe’s compete at Woodward field, against the Kilties, and Rochester Crusaders must date from when I was three years old. Yet I can remember that night clearly, as St. Joe’s took the field in their resplendent green, and black uniforms, with white sashes, and feathered plumes on their hats. They were an amazing sight for a three year old. They looked so military, and regimental, like toy soldiers come to life as they marched past, hats down low over their eyes, chinstraps tight against their chins, steely looks on the faces of the drum line as the snare drums rattled, and snapped, like gunfire. The stadium lights glinted off of the silver bell fronts of the horns, and the shining gold of the cymbals. Best of all were the copper gold kettle drums, carried by boys that seemed like giants, their drum sticks pounding off of the skins in a thunderous rumble and roar. The spectacle of it all was forever burned into my memory.

It was 80 years ago this year that  Father Kelly founded the St. Joseph’s Drum and Bugle Corps at our parish, as a way to engage the local youth and give them something constructive to do during the depression.The corps grew from a choir, to a fife and drum corps, to a parade corps, and finally reached it’s zenith as a nationally competitive field corps in the 1960’s. Two generations of Batavia kids grew up wearing the verdent green of Mighty St. Joe’s. My memories are from the very last days of their existence. The corp folded in 1971, unable to maintain the expense needed to compete in a changing landscape. The big national corps were forming Drum Corps International, transforming the classic rules into the broadway-esque show that it is today, and demanding appearance money. The days of American Legion, and Church Sponsored drum corps were over. Perhaps it was inevitable. America in the 1970’s was a far different place than the 1930’s, and youth had a lot more activities to choose from, both licit and illicit, than drum corps.

1968 Nationa Champion Drumline practing in SJS cafeteria. I remember those lights!

My big bruddah was just becoming old enough to join the big corps at the time. He would practice the snare drum on drum pads in our house, and would sometimes even let me pick up the drum sticks with the candy striped green and black eletrical tape wound around them, and give them a try. But he would never get the chance to play with the big corps, and spend the summer traveling the Northeast, and Midwest, competing in high school stadiums, and old minor league ball parks. Those days had come to an end and there would be no going back. When Monsignor built the gymnasium onto the grade school they knocked the back wall out of the instrument room, and turned it into a hallway. The old silver band bus sat idle behind the convent, parked beside the old Richmond Mansion garage that the parish rented for storage.

As the years passed, the relics of the drum corps became harder and harder to find. Buttons with the Corps logo, floating amongst the flotsam and jetsam of the junk drawer at 20 Prospect; a battered old silver horn in the basement, mildewed drum pads, and sticks that felt as brittle as old bones. When my folks would have their old drum corps friends over for coffee they would recount their stories, of a night chaperoning the kids in a motel in St. Chatherines, Ontario, of wrong turns, and bad directions, and kids passing out from the heat. I would sit on the floor in the kitchen as they ate Dunkin’ Donuts, and drank pots of coffee, listening, and imagining what it must have been like. Is it any wonder I grew up feeling like I lived among the ruins of Pompey?

These memories I carried with me, until it became hard to know which ones were my own, or which were their’s. They were collective memories I guess, like all families share. But among my peers no one had ever heard of the drum corps, or had siblings old enough to have been in it. It was as if Mighty St. Joe’s only existed to me and my family. On lazy afternoons I would sit on the floor in our front living room, in front of our console stereo, and play the drum corps records that my brother had once bought at the competitions. Then I would close my eyes, and imagine what ot must have been like to march out onto that field in those brilliant, satin uniforms, carrying a kettle drum, and sending out waves of sounds crashing over the audience.

In 1991 some alumni of the corps got together and started practicing. Calls went out, and friendships were renewed, and within a few years they were playing again. Older, grayer, and a little wider than they were back in their heyday, but they could still belt it out. The last visit I made to 20 Prospect before my Dad died, we walked up to Van Detta stadium on a Saturday morning to watch the alumni corps perform. Sitting in the stands with a handful of the old friends that they had served with, we watched the sun glint off of the silver horns, and listened to the music echoing across the field. When they started the intro into their signature “Big Spender” I felt chills down my back. I blinked my eyes, and looked around, trying to reconcile a dream from my youth, materializing right in front of my eyes in the bright morning sun.

I’m glad I got to see them play with Dad before he died. Living here in Minnesota, I haven’t seen them play since. One saturday morning about 4 years ago, I woke to the sound of horns carried in on the morning air. I sat up in bed. There was no mistaking it, this was not a marching band playing at the high school, it was a drum corps. Even after 30 years I could tell the difference in the horns. I looked around, and tried to figure out where it could be coming from. Getting dressed I rode my bike around the block to discover a drum corps set up in the parking lot of the high school practicing. Their equipment trucks, and buses confirmed my suspicion, this was a national corps. The Santa Clara Vanguard were almost in my very own backyard! I scoured the paper and discovered that they were competing in town that evening, along with 7 other corps. I tried to explain the significance to Mrs. 20 Prospect and the kids, but I must have sounded like a madman. I took them to the competition that night, but it meant nothing to them. Just a bunch of music and some kids marching on a field. We haven’t been to one since.

So Mighty St. Joe’s still lives in my mind, and while I never see them, I find comfort in knowing that the alumni back in Batavia are still keeping the dream alive. Maybe next year I will volunteer at the big DCI show at TCF Bank Stadium, just so I can spend the day in there reliving my childhood. And someday when I die, my dying wish will be to have them come and perform at my funeral. I can’t think of any better way to enter the pearly gates, than to the full brass sound of “Hey Big Spender”.

On the Col du Galibier

I’ve always been something of a contrarian. I’ve always shunned the easy comfort and conformity of the group, to try to choose a separate path. This is a common behavior among misfits. In some sense, it is a defensive behavior. By “choosing” to be different, we own our deformities. So when one of the wolves from the pack tries to single us out as being different we will not suffer humiliation.

 

In theory.

 

In reality, we always suffer the humiliation of being singled out as a freak, and our loner behavior becomes as much self loathing as it is hatred of the pack. This is the American paradox. We claim to love and adore the lone cowboy, yet it is the wagon train of pioneers that our country is built upon. Perhaps that’s the self loathing of the faceless pioneers manifesting itself as a love of the loner.

 

The reality is I have always walked with a foot in both worlds. I have chosen which groups to join, and which ones to stand apart from my whole life. We all do.

 

I thought of this again while watching yesterday’s stage of the tour de France. When I was a kid my “sport” was the most frat boy wolf pack sport of them all, football. I played it from 2nd grade until I graduated from High School. I never struggled to fit into any team I played for, regardless of the meat heads and jerks that were on the team with me. Even after 25 years I still feel kinship with that “Band of Brothers” I played with.

 

But in other sports I choose a different path. I sought out the solitude of the bicycle as soon as I was old enough to throw a leg over a ten speed. On July Saturday afternoons I would watch the 1 hour weekly recap of the tour de France on Network TV, then head out on my Huffy or Schwinn, into the countryside of Genesee County dreaming that I was climbing a mountain in the Alps and racing against European guys with cool names. My imagination has always been active, and I have never felt more secure and at peace as I have riding alone across the hills and fields, lost in my day dreams. July has always been the month of cycling.

The Col Du Galibier

When I hit my 20’s and my good friend Scott started racing in Connecticut, it wasn’t long before my day dreams returned. I bought a new bike, and started riding again. As Mrs. 20 Prospect can attest, when I take up an interest I tend to go overboard and immerse myself in it. Riding mountain bikes led to racing mountain bikes, which led to road biking, and subscriptions to CycleSport, and devouring books on the history of cycling. Finally, it led to trips to Europe to see races. It became an addiction.

 

I followed the sport religiously for almost 10 years, reading the online race reports, and watching every scrap of TV coverage I could find. But as the sport stumbled from one doping controversy to the next, I became frustrated with it. When Floyd Landis was caught cheating, after winning the Tour de France with an epic solo attack, it was the final straw. Since that day I have turned away from following the sport, especially the Tour.

 

With the unbearable heat wave this past weekend, I picked up the remote control and flipped on the TV. There on a Saturday morning was the Tour. It’s riders strung out in a long line, ascending a mountain in the Pyrenees. I was sucked in. No sport has better scenery and cinematography than cycling. It can be a breathtaking spectacle.

I filled my coffee cup and settled in to watch the fireworks. A mountain top finish on one of the legendary climbs, I was certain this would be a terrific stage. The leaders would attack each other until finally a champion emerged, and the pretenders cracked. This is cycling at it’s best. Only it never happened.

 

All the way up the slopes of the Plateau be Baille, the race favorites sat and watched each other. Only one of them even attempted an attack, and when he did it was quickly covered by the rest of them. Such negative, calculated racing is painfully boring to watch. This beautiful mountaintop finish couldn’t have been more anticlimatic. Disgusted I switched the TV off, and went out for a ride in the blistering heat. At least in my imagination the campiones could still soar like eagles.

Coppi & Bartali

To the French, winning is almost secondary to the way in which you win. Cold, calculated racing may bring victories, but it doesn’t make a champion. To be a true champion you must with with style. You must win with panache. Better to lose spectacularly, than to win without distinction. This is a very strange concept to the American mind, but in my contrarian world it is one that I have come to embrace. Perhaps it is my own lifetime of scratching on the eightball that makes me identify with it.

 

So yesterday I was thrilled to see that honor, and panache are not yet dead in professional cycling. With over 30 miles, and two tremendous mountains left to climb, Andy Schleck attacked the field, and soloed away. In the style of the greats of cycling, he climbed the Izoard, and the Galibier, and took the stage win as the other supposed leaders watched each other, too afraid of losing to even try to win.

 

This is cycling at it’s best. One man, alone against many, fighting himself and the mountain. When Schleck climbed those switchbacks on the Galibier, he may have looked alone, but he was riding on the wheel of the ghosts of history. Coppi, Bottechia, Bobet, Bartali were surely looking down and smiling. This is how it is done.

There are still 2 days left to race, and he may well falter, and fail to win the yellow jersey, but with this ride Andy Schleck has done more to honor the majesty of the sport than anyone else in this years race.

If it’s Wednesday you must be in…

Philadelphia!

I have been traveling all too much lately. Now I’m not normally one to complain (cough, cough) but this work travel krep is getting old. Seriously, I’m now on year 21 of traveling “for business”. You’d think I would either get used to it, or shut the hell up and find a different job already.

Sorry, but the pay is too good. What can I say? I’m a corporate concubine. I have long since become numb to whatever shame I once felt about selling my soul for a slice of the middle class existence. Someone has to oppress the working class, and crush the dreams of the proletariat, it may as well be me.

*shrugs*

It’s a living.

So I’m now on the right coast, for a few short days, soaking in the same blasted heat and humidity I left behind. It doesn’t fell any better here than it did back in Minnesota, in case you were wondering.

Maybe someday I will finally pull off a Shawshank Redemption like escape (minus the sewage pipe hopefully) and kiss corporate life good bye. But for the time being, this is what I do. I fly places, and talk with diverse and interesting people, then I move their jobs somewhere else. Sometimes when I’m feeling frisky I will even rip out their hearts and eat them while they are still beating. But I do that much less now that I’m watching my cholesterol. (The hearts of the working class are notoriously fatty).

So after 21 years in the industry of crushing hopes and dreams, and grinding them up in the gears of global capitalism, there are a few lessons that I have learned. Here’s some of them.

10.) In some cases the nearest exit may be behind you.

9.) Rocky Mountain oysters, aren’t oysters.

8.) You know you are traveling too much when the TSA stops buying you dinner before your anal probing.

7.) Eat yogurt with breakfast in foreign countries. Always.

6.) No matter what country you are traveling in, the salesmen always wear loafers and golf shirts.

5.) If you think that woman across the bar is staring at you, one of you has had too much to drink.

4.) Chicken’s Feet, are really chickens feet. (what the hell people?)

3.) Your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device.

2.) Alcohol will kill the taste of anything, but the sight of those swimming bugs will be seared into your memory.

1.) The mean distance between Dunkin’ Donuts’ in the State of Massachusetts is 0.62 miles.

Welcome to the Jungle

The earth has apparently fallen out of orbit, and is now hurtling toward the sun. How else can we explain the heat wave the whole country is suffering through. Here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we aren’t used to such malarial heat. This is Mississippi weather, high 90’s, and dewpoints approaching 80. When I got out of bed this morning it was already 80 degrees, and looking out the window I could see the humidity hanging in the air. I haven’t seen that since the summer I spent in the Kentucky and Alabama.

 

On Friday night, before the worst of the warm front hit, we had a monster thunderstorm drop 5 inches of rain. Now the lakes are filled to the brim, and every low lying area is under water. In this heat and unrelenting sun, the swamps are just fueling the humidity. The air is so thick right now you have to chew it to breath.

 

No thanks. I left Dixie behind, and ran as far north as I could get back in 1992, but after this week, I’m going to start looking at property in Thunder Bay. I hope my Canadian friends don’t mind a little company. I promise I’ll behave, and keep the yard clean of empties.

 

We managed to get outdoors on Saturday, the last day before the earth’s crust began to melt into gooey magma. It was only in the high 80’s, so we loaded the kayak on the car, and headed up to St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin to do some canoeing and kayaking. It was the perfect day to be out on the water. We beached the boats a few times on sand bars, and went for a swim. Even in the middle of July, the waters of the St. Croix were still bracing.

Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis...

This has become an annual summertime ritual for us. Paddling a 7 mile stretch of river on a sunny summer day. This year, we experiemented by putting the two kids in the 2-person kayak as a team building exercise. That lasted about 100 yards. Let’s just say that Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect and 20 Prospect Jr. tolerate each other as well as any10 & 11 year old siblings do, which is to say not at all. It was great entertainment for Mrs. 20 Prospect and I, and we half considered paddling downstream and leaving them there to figure it out. Maybe next year.

As much as I proclaim the beauty of places like Colorado, and California, I would struggle to leave the upper midwest. It really is gorgeous here, and the diversity of climates within an hours drive of our front door is amazing. Woods, Rivers, Prairies, Lakes, and deep green trackless Forests are there just waiting for us to set down our tools long enough to enjoy them. Someday. Hopefully, someday soon, we can let go of the suburban materialistic world we live in, and kiss corporate America good bye. In another 10 years the kids will both be in college, and we will just have each other, and a plethora of free time to spend outdoors. I hope our health holds out so that we can use those middle years as a time to bike, hike, ski, paddle our way around to our hearts content. The rocking chair on the front porch is always more comfy after a long day in the woods.