Halloween

I have always like Halloween. Loved trick or treating. Did not really enjoy getting egged and candy-mugged on my last trick-or-treating foray, but in general I have good memories. As long as the weather is decent, I enjoy taking my kids out trick-or-treating, but I really enjoy passing out candy to kids. I love the smiles and sugar-induced excitement. However, I do have a few Halloween rituals that I always follow.

I enjoy passing out candy and seeing the costumes, but I am a school psychologist for the public schools. It greatly benefits me to not have kids knowing where I live. Let’s be honest, school psychologist do not spend a lot of time with Wally and Beaver Cleaver. Fortunately, kids have a very hard time recognizing staff anywhere outside of a school building. Most of them believe we rarely set foot off of school property but instead live in a little teacher commune grading papers and wearing cat-sweaters. All I really need to do is let my beard grow out, maybe shave it a little different, put on jeans and a hat and I might as well be invisible. Every year I will see tons of kids who I recognize from school come to my door. Most of them look right past me. Eyes on the candy, kids. A few will stare at me while trying to puzzle something out before I turn away but I usually only get one or two yelling, “Hey! It’s Mr. Lannister from school!” Then I simply lie, they believe it and move on to the next house. No time for truths when there is loot to be plundered.

Candy selection is huge. I spend time sorting it and apply very specific rules as to who gets what candy. Bowl #1 is the good stuff. Ninety percent of the kids who come to my house get candy from Bowl #1. If you have a costume that makes me laugh, you get two handfuls. Retro video game characters can get double-dipped as well. Someday, a kid will show up with his mom dressed in a Princess Lea Return of the Jedi costume and pull it off. When that happens, they get the whole bowl and I’m shutting it down for the night. Still waiting on that one.

Bowl #2 contains Banana Laffy Taffy, those unidentifiable candies that come in the orange and black wrappers, black licorice and other assorted pieces of crap. If you come to my house and say you need extra for your baby sister in the car, you get Bowl #2. If you are a parent toting his own candy bag, you better enjoy some really stale Hubba Bubba. Any candy bag attached to an infant that can not lift her own head gets Level 2 treats. The jerk in me also picks out one costume that will automatically hit the second bowl. In the past, Jar Jar Binks, sexy or shiny vampires and Teletubbies go straight to Bowl Two. This year, any kid that shows up in any type of Minecraft costume forfeits his right to the good stuff.

Bowl #3 is the trash compactor bowl. Any left-over Happy Meal Toys go in there. Those tiny, nasty, individually wrapped jaw-breakers are there and I make sure to load that bowl with Smarties. Not because they suck, but because they tend to be loosely wrapped. I may happen to loosen those wrappers a little more and I have been known to accidentally twist on them as I drop them in bags. Who deserves to go home to a plastic Frozen Spoon, plastic spider ring, or a treat bag covered in dislodged Smarties? High school kids who show up at my door wearing their basketball jersey or no costume at all. I am not dumb enough to stiff them. I mean, I love having non-vandalized property, but I can give them lousy treats. The extra little tug on the Smarties wrapper as it is dropped into the bag is reserved for the ones who do not even give me “Trick or Treat” and just stare at me.
“What candy you got man?”
“Not much, enjoy your Elsa whistle.”

For some people, Halloween is all about costumes, pumpkin carving and apple cider. I prefer to use my time passing out judgment in candy form. Maybe I am awful person. Whatever, I am going to go eat some Smarties.

On Soccer

I grew up playing soccer in the late 80’s and 90’s when it was only semi-cool. That was back when it was OK for the high school football coach to call you a communist and not-so-subtly question your sexual orientation for playing soccer. True story.

I was that kid who did nothing but soccer and took it way too seriously. I was a mean, viscous, hyper-competitive little prick who picked up yellow-cards at an embarrassing rate. I threw up before high school matches and would have referees warn me in warm-ups to keep my mouth shut. As a super-quiet, model student, teachers would occasionally come to our games and were shocked at what they saw. Inevitably, the next day at class they would be staring at me trying to figure out how that happened and I knew I was doomed to the “I didn’t know you had that side” conversation.

I am not proud of it. I have run into people who have tape of my games and have offered to give me copies to show my family. My children will never see those. I want them to see me play and to see how good I was, but I do not want them to see how competitive I was. When I had two boys I always told my wife that I hoped they would do anything but soccer because I did not want to risk turning them into me.

Of course they both played. I knew my oldest wouldn’t last. He’s not an athlete. My youngest, Ben, started playing U5 but refused to stay on the field when he had to wear the yellow jersey. No amount of arguing, threats or bribes could keep him out there. I would physically drag him back onto the field and he would simply back walk off. I did not think it would last. I gave him one more season and then I discovered something I did not like. Ben is pretty good at soccer.

Let’s be clear. Ben is not a special talent but he is a good player. I swore I would never coach him, but I could not handle seeing well-intentioned volunteers teaching him wrong skills and ended up coaching him most of the way through AYSO. When it became apparent that he needed another level, we got him on a travel team and I hoped that I could sit on the sidelines and cheer without becoming “that” dad. It is very hard for me not to be “that” dad.

Ben has a fantastic coach who has improved him far more than I could and despite my vow, I assistant coach the team. Ben has turned into a solid player, but this is what I am most proud of…

Ben has way more fun than I ever did. Ben never stops smiling and jabbering with his teammates. He works hard and is reasonably focused but the kid enjoys soccer. It is all he ever does but it does not consume him. In a close game, last week he tried to clear a ball that skipped off his head into his own net. If that had been me, even at ten-years-old, someone would have paid and I would have been toeing the line for the rest of the match. Ben was laughing about it before the ball was fished out of the net and was goofing on himself with a teammate before the next kick-off.

Ben is not as talented as I was at age ten. He has a different body type than I did. He plays a different position than I did. However, the biggest difference between us is that Ben knows how to have a lot of fun with soccer and understands that it is just a game. I doubt Ben will ever vomit before a match or embarrass me. My parents must have cringed when I played. When he started kicking a soccer ball around, I was hoping that he would choose something different because I did not want to risk my baggage bubbling up and molding him. I think I have done pretty decent with that.

The thing that I am most proud about Ben as a soccer player is that he is absolutely nothing like me. And that is a good thing.

A dude working in schools.

Working in elementary schools as a guy is weird. I routinely sit in meetings or conferences where the female-male ratio is 20-1. Often times, I am the only person in a building with a Y chromosome. This has taught me quite a few things over the years.

1. Bathrooms
I never, ever have to wait for a bathroom in the schools. I essentially have my own suite. Sometimes I want to change to get rid of the “Men” and “Women” signs and just change them to “Erik” and “Women.” It’s mine. The women’s line will be six deep and I move right on in. It’s like having a FastPass to relief.

Downside? Sometimes at educational conferences the ratio is so lopsided that they will temporarily convert a men’s room to women’s room and I have to go to a different floor. Other downside? Occasionally a school will simply have a unisex staff restroom. Anything ugly is assumed to be my fault. That’s all I’m saying. I see the dirty looks.

2. Power
People assume I have power. At least a couple times a year, a parent will storm into the main office, point at me and say, “You the principal? I’ve got a problem.” First off, it’s pretty much November and it’s kinda sad that you do not know your kid’s principal does not have a penis. Just saying. Second, the only reason I’m even in the office is that I forgot to sign in this morning and rumor has it that my supervisor is coming to the building. I’m simply trying to doctor the sign-in sheet to reflect the fact that I’ve been here a few hours. Please yell at someone who can actually address your concern.

I will stand at the bus line with three women who outrank me and who are quite frankly far more competent than I and the bus driver will pull up, open the door, point at me and say, “I want something done about this kid.” You. Bald man. Swing the Hammer of Justice. Please stop assuming that I have power just because I’m a guy. If you take a little time to get to know me, you will find that I am actually rather incompetent.

3a. Dudes are inconsiderate, selfish and dumb
Dirty little secret. Apparently women complain about their significant others as much, if not more, than we do! When I hear about some of the moronic stuff that guys say or do, I can only shake my head. A really cool friend of mine recently told me that on a first date she mentioned that she is a vegetarian. I would assume a natural response would be “How long have you been a vegetarian?” or “Tell me about your diet” or “How did you make that decision?” Nope. Rico Suave broke out, “Interesting. I’m a vagi-tarian.” First (and only) date.

Single guys or those of us who have wives who will inevitably wake up and realize they can do better..you do not have to try very hard. All you have to do is sit back and wait for the idiots to shoot themselves in the foot. It sounds like it’s not a matter of looking good. It’s a matter of waiting for everyone else to look bad. The stories I hear, and I hear a lot, about dates, boyfriends and husbands are absolutely mind-boggling. I can only conclude that there are a lot of inconsiderate, selfish, and dumb dudes out there.

3b. Women dig dudes who are inconsiderate, selfish and dumb
Sorry, but these guys sure seem to be getting a lot of dates. The vagi-tarians of the world don’t get past date one, but there are a lot of “This guy I’ve been dating a year is so selfish and he does X,Y,Z.” Maybe you should give up on Putty. I’m guessing 3b is not going to be popular. Just a trend I notice all too often with too many incredible women. Aim high my friends. Aim very high. You deserve it. I’m glad I don’t have a daughter. I would have set impossibly high standards for her.

4. Diet
I will never, ever get chocolate at an educational conference. They will sit out a dessert tray with a row of lemon bars, a row of chocolate brownies, and a row of sugar cookies and after the piranha-like frenzy is over, I’m left looking at a tray with a center row that looks like a tornado’s swath of destruction. I am not kidding. It looks like when you were a kid picking through the carton of Neapolitan ice cream and leaving the crappy strawberry row for your dad.

On the plus side, I am in no hurry to hit the beverage cooler. There will ALWAYS be plenty of non-diet sodas for me to choose from. The teachers who were slow walk away from the cooler with a bottle of water muttering “They never have enough diet” while I blissfully take my choice of the non-diet poison.

My job is OK. I really enjoy working with a staff that is predominantly women. I generally get along with women better than men anyway. I have a real hard time with inconsiderate, selfish and dumb and I generally find very little of those traits in the schools. Sometimes it can be a little weird being the only guy but the positives far outweigh the drawbacks and I have made some incredible friends who mean a great deal to me. Just occasionally leave a Twix for me. That’s all I ask.

Gene

I received a text today that my friend, Gene, had passed away. Gene was the minister at my church when a mullet-wearing, 14 year-old Erik walked through the doors with his mother and brother. Gene welcomed us, made us comfortable and is one of the reasons that my children are attending the same church 27 years later.

Gene moved away years ago. I only saw him every couple of years after that and that was only when I was able to get through the throng of people that surrounded him. Maybe three or four minutes at most, yet Gene always made me feel like those were his favorite three to four minutes of his day. I had nothing in common with Gene. He was much older than me, played a fiddle, farmed, loved baseball and tractors. I can think of fewer things that bore me more, yet I always knew he loved me. I know that Gene touched hundreds of lives in his time here and that I could easily have been another face, yet Gene had a way of making you feel like the most important person on Earth. I’m sure hundreds of people could say the same. My family and I had a weekend in Mt. Pleasant (see My Boy Chose Right) and ate at a Tim Horton’s. Gene and his wife happened to be at the table next to us. I had not seen him in years but you would have thought that seeing my family was the greatest thing that had happened to him in a decade. He was that kind of man.

I got the text while at work and had to take a couple minutes alone a few times today, but I have not cried. I want to cry. I feel like I should cry, but I can’t. Every time I think of the man and what he did for my family, I can’t cry because I end my smiling. All I can see is the infectious smile of one of the kindest and most pure men that I have ever known. If I touch a fraction of the lives that he touched, if I can make people feel half as special as he did, if I can show a sliver of the love that he radiated to everyone he know, then I will be a better man.

I want to say the world got a little darker last night but that would be a disservice to Gene. The fact is the world is a far better place because of the time he spent here.

A job well done, Gene. A job well done.