Monday, February 11, 2013

Diggin' It

When I was a child, I wanted to be a grave digger.  There.  You see your face?  You see your reaction?  I got that a lot when I would tell people that.  They would ask me the question:  "Danny?  What do you want to be when you grow up?"  And I would say, quite sincerely, "I want to be a grave digger."

You know, as I write the words down, I can see why people responded the way they did.  It's a pretty dark thing for a sweet little boy to say.  Kind of "Addams Family"-esque.  When most people think of grave diggers, they probably think of this guy:

"The Tall Man" from Phantasm, a movie that truly terrified my brother and me
So I can see why it may have creeped some of my parents' friends out when I shared my career aspirations with them.  But, by way of an explanation, I need to share what I was "into" at that time in my life.

I really dug digging.  I used to go out in my back yard and dig holes, just for the sake of digging them.  I wasn't looking for buried treasure.  (I did, however, find the occasional deer jaw, which was pretty cool.)  And I wasn't trying to get to China.  Archeology was a notion I enjoyed, but I wasn't that specific.  I simply liked the experience of making a hole in the ground where there had been no hole before.

I hadn't thought about my grave digger dreams at all, for maybe the last 40 years or more, until this past weekend, when I got out in the yard with my rake and my shovel in order to dig out an 8 x 8 foot patch of grass in preparation for our 4 x 4 raised bed garden we're constructing.  My yard, like many in this area, is populated by a strain of super grass called Bermuda grass.  It grows in a heavy, clay-like soil, and is not your run of the mill pretty sod grass.  You won't find Bermuda grass at any well-manicured baseball stadium or golf course, let me put it that way.  Digging in this stuff should be an Olympic sport.  Or, at the very least, an event in one of those "Tough Man" competitions -- the ones you see late at night on ESPN 2, with giant Lithuanian dudes going up against giant Swedish dudes, pulling trees out of the ground, or doing a 40-yard dash with a refrigerator over each shoulder.

This grass is No Joke.

As I dug out the plot for my vegetable bed, smelling the wormy soil, watching the grub worms roll into shrimp-like balls, and seeing spiders skittering for cover, that simple pleasure came rushing back to me, and I was in the back yard at 18 Hartford Lane once more.  I found myself smiling -- not so much at the nostalgic flashback, but at the simple joy of digging.  It still does it for me.  (The arthritic wrists and throbbing back are new, but hey, that's just part of the package.)

There is a derisive cliche in the world of education.  Some asshole, somewhere along the line, was quoted as saying, when faced with a student who just "didn't get it," "Hey, the world needs ditch diggers, too."  It's a quote I've always hated, but if and when they divide us up, one line for the intellectual phonies, and the other for the ditch diggers, you better believe I am going to reach for that shovel.

(Maybe I'd sneak a pencil into my pocket, too.  I might just want to write about those other assholes, after all....)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Driving from the Back Seat

I'm in the back seat of my father's station wagon, drowsy and comfortable, after some family outing that has made for a full, exhausting day.  Like my brother, I'm lying on the floor back there.  This is in the days before the invention of the child car seat, when seat belts went across your lap only and were considered more or less an optional nuisance.

I drift off, lulled by the repetitive thunking of the uneven asphalt beneath me.  My thoughts melt into each other and make less and less sense, like sentences tumbling off a page, letter by letter, splashing into an unseen pool of water somewhere far below.

Suddenly, I'm sitting upright in the back seat, alone.  I look around for my brother, who is no longer back there with me.  The tires on the asphalt still pound out a steady rhythm, as I look to the front seat and see that my parents, too, are gone.  I reach over the seat, barely able to get the tips of my fingers on the steering wheel.  It's too dark to see what's going on with the pedals, and I can't understand how it is that I'm still moving forward in the night.  But I am.

Thunk, thunk, thunk.

Minimally, I maintain control of the car, and my sense of the road is vague, at best.  Some rumbling suggests I may be veering off to the left.  I know I should pull the steering wheel hard right, but something happens, and I am frozen.  Immediate action is required, but I am paralyzed.

If this dream has any resolution, any finish, I don't know what it is.  I believe it ends in that moment of fear and realization that I can't move.  Usually, when people talk about their recurring dreams, like the one about the math assignment that's due, I forget I have a recurring dream at all.  This one comes up irregularly, from time to time, and feels the same each time.  According to a website called, there is a simple explanation to my dream.

This particular expert tells "Restless Erica," the reader who shares my dream, the following:

Your dream describes an issue in your life circumstances. It suggests you are not in control of your life, that you have "taken a back seat" and allowed the control to be in someone else's hand. Your attempts to gain control or direct your life may feel scary and cause you to "stay in the back seat and duck". Your lack of destination may be causing you to struggle to regain control. 

Well, duh.

I suppose there might be some truth to this, even if it does feel a bit "clap-trap."  Maybe it is time to come up with a new, original plan of action for my family that is uniquely mine.  Texas was my wife's idea, but I've embraced it.  I went to Spain and loved it...because my girlfriend suggested it.  Syracuse University was a great experience, one my father had before me.  A case could certainly be made that I'm a bit of a Restless Erica myself.

I'll give that one some thought, as life continues to move forward on the uneven asphalt of time.  Truth be told, I'm not that concerned about it, and am quite content to lie down, my ear to the floorboards.

Thunk, thunk, thunk.