Family Life

Brush with Greatness

I’m reading The 50 Funniest American Writers. It’s an anthology by Andy Borowitz. Good stuff. When I finished the George Carlin section, I turned the page and, BAM! The next story caused a memory to come flooding back. A connection to a little story I tell. A brush with greatness.

I occasionally have these strange little star crossings. Meeting someone famous, usually while they’re in the middle of being a normal person. Odd and exciting for me. Annoying for my friends because the actual stories are usually pretty lame, but I still tell them over and over.

“Did I ever tell you guys about the time I played basketball with Emmit Smith? I did? Did I tell you about the time I ran teleprompter for Danny Glover? Really? I did? Well how about the time I bumped into Dave Grohl buying sunglasses?” Eyes roll. “Yes. Yes Brian, we’ve heard the story.” I need to find new friends or new stories. Anyway, this is kind of one of those.

The next story in the Borowitz book, the story that caused the BAM memory, is Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father. Seriously. That’s the title. My first exposure to Lamentations of the Father was in 1998 while driving home. It was read aloud on This American Life. I love This American Life. I love Ira Glass. I loved this story. But I missed the intro and that fact resulted in my next long distance brush with greatness.

I wanted to know who wrote the story and what it was called so I decided to look it up. But where? The internet of 1998 was not the internet of today. Today, This American Life episodes can be streamed or downloaded and episode summeries are available on the site. (After you finish this drivel, go there and listen to some truly outstanding storytelling.) But in 1998, I didn’t have the website option. So I called WUWF, my local public broadcasting station, and asked if they had the info. They did not. But they were kind enough to look up and give me the This American Life number in Chicago. So I called.

Ira Glass

Ira Glass

Maybe you’ve jumped ahead of me but that’s ok. I called expecting a secretary or intern to answer and I would ask my question and move on. But when I called, I heard these words; “This American Life, Ira speaking.” Or “This is Ira” or something like that. The exact words are a blur. But there’s no mistaking that voice. Ira Glass was on the other end on the line. I froze for a moment. (That, unfortunately,  is a common aspect of my star meeting stories.) I finally stammered through my question, describing the story and explaining that I missed part of it and wondered what it was called and who wrote it. He of course knew right away and gave me the info. (Ian Frazier wrote Lamentations of the Father. Still love it. I’ll post it below.) I thanked him. He said you’re welcome and that was the end of it. Lasted all of a couple of minutes. But I’ve lost count of how times I have said or written “Did I ever tell you about the time I talked to Ira Glass?”

For the first 10 years or so, it didn’t come up very often. There was the occasional opportunity at a party or at work where the show would be mentioned and I would pipe up. But it was rare. Then, Facebook happened. People “liked” things. And when any of my friends “liked” This American Life, I took advantage of the opening by commenting. “Yes I like that show too. Did I ever tell you about the time I talked to Ira Glass? No? Well, the year was 1998…”

I guess there are benefits to social media. Mainly being, now I don’t have to see the eye rolling or hear the sighs. :-)


(This is the version I heard on This American Life in 1998.)

Pensacola FL, Home of the Blue Angels
(image by Brian L Butler)

Men in Uniform

So here’s a thing that can turn your hair gray. Daughters hitting dating age. And here’s a thing that can make that gray hair fall out. Daughters hitting dating age in a Navy town. I knew this time was coming. I knew that one day I’d have to worry about the possibility of them falling in love and heading off to Guam or Okinawa or god knows where with some yahoo in a uniform.

(And I say that with all due respect to our fine men and women in the armed services. Love you and what you do. Dead serious. But these are my little girls and my irrational, overblown fears we’re talking about.)

The thing is, until this year, some yahoo in a uniform meant just one of the thousands of sailors on base or, what was more frightening, a fly-boy, Maverick wanna-be, getting his start in the “Cradle of Naval Aviation”. Some pilot with a need for speed putting my daughter on the back of his motorcycle and heading to the beach for a game of slow motion volleyball before either breaking her heart or capturing it and taking her with him, bouncing around the country and the world, putting me and Julie in a positon where we rarely see her or the grandki… OK. Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

But Pensacola girls flying off with Navy and Marine pilots is the stuff of legend around here. Sometimes it works out beautifully. Sometimes not so much. Just like all relationships. But there are special challenges to being a military spouse. That’s not the point here though.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos (image by Brian L Butler)

The point is this. Now there’s a new game in town. Some yahoo in a uniform has turned into some Wahoo in a uniform. The Cincinnati Reds have a Double A baseball team now. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos started playing this Spring. They’re a big hit with the fans and I think it’s pretty darn cool myself. I’ve been to a lot of games already. But…

All I keep hearing from my daughters and their friends is how cute these young, athletic guys are. Most of these girls don’t know the difference between a sac fly and a horse fly but they clamor to get autographs and photos with the guys and instantly post them to facebook or instagram and get “ooohs” and “ahhhs” and “oh my he’s cutes” from their friends. Add this to my Bull Durham visions of life in the minor leagues and well, there goes my hair again.

And there’s no Wahoo more sought after  than relief pitcher Donnie Joseph. Young, tall, fit, professional athlete with a big glowing smile. There’s a sigh in the voice and the eyelids flutter when they say his name.

From what I’ve gathered, he seems like a good guy. Very good pitcher, very religious, always smiling and spends time after every game signing autographs and taking pictures with his fans, like the one below with my daughter. Dare I say Tebowesque. What’s not to like. But again, these are my little girls and my irrational, overblown fears we’re talking about. Military spouse is hard. But I think pro athlete spouse would be even harder.

Donnie Joseph and My Daughter

I know I still have a few years before I really need to worry about these things and I know I shouldn’t even actually be worried. Julie and I should just do the best we can and stay rational and hope the girls make good decisions. The more I think about it, there are definitely worse choices out there than an athlete or a service member. God I hope they stay away from TV people.

And then there’s this. Literally as I’m writing this, I hear that Donnie Joseph has been called up to the Red’s Triple A team in Louisville. Somebody else’s dad will have to worry about that particular baseballer. :-)

Brian L Butler

Plan B

This morning’s adventure. Snake in the backyard. Somewhere between 2 and 10 feet long. I’m pretty sure it was a Black Mamba. Or maybe a Black Racer. I don’t know. It happened so fast.

I let the dog out this morning to do that thing she does. She’s in the middle of doing that thing she does when she sees the snake and suddenly bark/yelps and runs away. (That’s my dog.) I look up and see the slithering creature for a split second and then it takes off… into the shed! Great. Of all places. It’s full of stuff and more importantly, that’s where the weapons are.

When I was a kid, these situations were taken care of with a hoe. Big ugly snake comes around and someone shows up with a hoe to remove the business end of the snake from the rest of its body. End of threat. I need to get in there and get my hoe.

I poke my head in and look around. No visual on the serpent. So I ease into the shed and step over the lawnmower and beach gear and bikes, watching every foot placement as I creep to the back of the shed where hoe type things are kept. I make it safely. And then, it dawns on me… I don’t own a hoe. Don’t judge me.

But I’m already deep in the snake den so I pick up a plastic tube thingy that’s leaning in the corner and I start poking around. Julie is out in the yard at a safe distance but can see what I’m doing.

“What are you doing?” she asks. Less than lovingly than you would expect from a wife whose husband is taking charge of a dangerous situation.

“Trying to find it.” I say.

“Then what?” she says. Then (and I’m not making this up) she adds… “What’s the plan Phil?”

My wife is a funny lady. And she’s right. I need a plan. So I put down the plastic tube thingy and come inside to formulate a plan. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Step 1: Eat breakfast. I can’t think on an empty stomach.

Step 2: Rationalize. The snake is more than likely harmless. The little guy is probably taking care of bugs and mice for me, so just let him be. Do nothing. Not because I’m scared to death of snakes mind you. But because I believe all creatures are here for a reason and should be treated with dignity and respect. No seriously, that’s the reason.

Step 3: Drive to Home Depot and buy a hoe. Just in case I’m wrong about Step 2.

Brian L Butler

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