Tag Archives: humor

Thursday to Thursday

A week ago Thursday, I stood at the counter in the health department’s environmental protection division with ten minutes to spare before closing time.  I had the proof of workmen’s compensation in my folder of regulatory documentation, and my heart was racing at the prospect of finally being finished with the city’s hoops and ladders.  Ms. Owens flipped through my folder of goodies and said: “Now, I just need a copy of your lease.” I dropped my head so hard, I thought my chin would hit my chest.  I could see myself putting the lease down on my desk with one hand as I picked up the workmen’s compensation plan with the other.  I’d gone from having an incomplete folder to having … an incomplete folder.   She looked at my face and said: “We open tomorrow at 8:30a.”

I knew that, of course, but I also knew I had to be in D.C. the next day – and that I might hurt someone if I had to wait another day to be approved to open.  Apparently, it was written all over my face.  All I had to say in a practical whisper was: “I have to be in D.C. tomorrow.”  Ms. Owens then made me an offer I could’ve kissed her for, and after a comedy of technical errors and slow cell towers, Ms. Owens had in her inbox emailed photographs of each page of my lease (my better half is the woman to have in a pinch!), and I had the little yellow card that said I could sell food with the approval of the City of Baltimore!

Since then, days and times have completely run together, kinda like this:

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Alone on Sunday in the programming department on what was likely my last day of producing a live television program.  It was the longest job of my life, and at times, I was remarkably fulfilled in this building.  It remains nice work if you can get it; I’ve just gone as far with it as I’ll ever be allowed to go – and life’s too short to go through the motions.

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Monday brought the window vinyls and more elbow grease.  Tuesday brought an aborted store sign installation.   (I may never understand why it’s so hard to get a good sign in two weeks’ time).

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Wednesday brought a grease fire in an oven at the commercial kitchen where I cook that started  ten seconds after I turned it on to preheat.  By 3 p.m. I was scrambling to safely finish the goods for the opening I was determined wouldn’t wait another day.   Thursday morning, 3 a.m.: about twenty dozen cupcakes, pie cups and cookies later, I fell into bed.

IMG_20141209_110924And on the first snow day of 2014 in Charm City, the doors of Stupid Delicious! sputtered open for business at a pace designed to work out the kinks.

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The so called grand opening will be Saturday – the first time in years I’ll miss kung fu class without being at a tournament or on a business trip.  Then again, this is a business trip – all day every day, minus time out for the martial arts addiction that keeps me from flipping out.  The last seven days of blurred sunrises and sunsets have driven that message home, if nothing else.

Now time to catch up on sleep… while I can. 🙂

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Cosmic Caffeine Boost

I’ve gotten a total of nine hours sleep over the last two days – not counting the snippets of time spent inadvertently snoring or drooling on the commuter train.  Surprisingly, I awoke the last two mornings feeling more refreshed than I have on the rare occasions that my nightly sleep reaches or exceeds seven hours.  Anticipation is the reason.  I think it may be life’s cosmic caffeine boost.  There’s been no difference in my training regimen, eating habits, nightly routine.  Hope is the only reason I’m rested without rest.

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This storefront – five blocks down the street from my house, a block up the street from one of the city’s high foot traffic restaurant areas – may soon be mine.  They’ve had my financials for more than twenty-four hours; they told me it would take no more than forty-eight to know whether my person and my vision are things they want to gamble on by granting a commercial lease.

I’m one giant step closer to adding baker-by-day to my life of Sijeh-by-night!  It’s going to be a long weekend if I don’t hear anything today.  But I suspect it’ll be the most exciting sleepless weekend of my life… however the crumbs may fall.


Herding Cats

My class was a playground today.   That was not a good thing.

Joining the four regulars was a four-year-old whose mom has been trying to get her in the door since the middle of the first session, but time was never her friend.  She told me that her daughter has an above-average attention span, bolstered by her enthusiastic interest in kung fu; so I was more than willing to see if she could follow along well despite being under five.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a chance to see how well she can follow along, because in walked a world of distraction that made even my industrious five-year-old think about everything but kung fu.

My first-session kindergartener returned without warning.  That’s the one whose dad wanted him to be there far more than he wanted to be.  With him came the entire family: a two-year-old brother who kept running up to hug him; a mom who kept getting up from her seat in the back of the room to reposition her son’s feet, over my objections;  and a dad who kept popping into the corner of the room behind me to take pictures of his hugging boys.  To add fuel to the fire, my old kindergartener goes to school with the new four-year-old.  So, in between having mom, little brother and dad stealing his attention, his classmate – the newest and youngest member of the class – kept trying to “help” her friend correct his hands and feet, though she herself was having trouble getting into a fighting stance!

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On top of it all, the other little boy in the class, who’d previously been plugged into my every move and coming along nicely in his martial arts aptitude, went off the rails with the addition of two younger children to the class.  He also had a baby sister watching from the sidelines with mom and dad.  That seemed to turn on an ADD switch that I didn’t know this particular student had.

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Long story made short: there were more spectators today than students, and the students suffered for it.  The highlight, however, was that after I allowed the youngest and newest to bow out early, I watched the more proficient students do the first seven moves of the form with surprising dexterity (they’d been practicing while I worked with the younger kids), and I was more than happy to reward them by teaching the multi-step move number eight, the end of part one of the form.  If nothing else, the oldest members of the class earned their white sashes today in the middle of a circus… and I learned what it feels like to herd cats.


…No Pressure!

I’m behind in my posting, which irks me almost as much as being late with homework.  But it couldn’t be helped.  Sometimes taking care of things is more important than writing about what you’re taking care of, and my days seem to be filled with that circumstance with greater frequency.  How cool is that?  I think, once the impulse to scold myself passes.

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My food manager certification is in the mail, as I passed the exam with flying colors!  So I’ve now begun working on the first real business plan of my life, the construction of which is redefining the term time-consuming as I know it. Rent or purchase?  Mobile or stationary? Wholesale or retail?  These are the questions for the baker side of my life.  Then, there’s the Sijeh part.  (Greater explanation of these “parts” discussed here.)

I ordered sashes this week to tie around my students and hopefully inspire greater investment.  The key to the success of the kung fu side of my future lies in keeping the students I have, of course, and acquiring new beginners every session.  Flier construction has already begun for enticing the next crop in November.  The difference between the number who expressed interest and those who finally showed up was too large.  I’ve got five weeks to shrink it.  But, no pressure.

Meanwhile, it appears there’s a new form on my horizon.  On Saturday, I was assigned a move with the staff that involves shooting it off the left arm from behind the back and catching it with the opposite hand.  It’s a nifty little trick that requires moving the breakables out of the way and making sure the lower back muscles are sufficiently stretched.  I thought Sifu was a making a change in one of the final moves of White Eyebrow until Siheng Allen (pictured below, instructing the Monday night class) said: “Oh, that’s for the spear.”

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Spear??  There’s a spear in my future…  along with a whole lot else!  🙂


Skip to My Whaat!?

For me, it’s another form of walking.  It’s almost second nature.  For the layman, it requires thought, concentration and suppressing the urge to skip.  Moving forward in a fighting stance is simply a lot harder than it looks – a fact I’d forgotten until a trio of primary school students reminded me by making a mess of their leg movements.

The lone parent in the class was the only one who got it right on the first try.  The five, six and seven-year-olds, not long from having learned that the fastest form of human motion without aid of machine is to put one foot in front of the other, weren’t comfortable being asked to keep one foot permanently in the backfield.

All of a sudden, I had to hit the pause button on my recently crafted curriculum.  Forget about doing rows of double straight punches.  We needed more repetitions than I had time for of simply moving down the floor in a fighting stance.  Ultimately, I assigned it as homework, so we could move on to form practice.

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All four of today’s students are enthusiastic, follow along well and catch on quickly.  Still, in the second class of the session, I find that we’re running out of time to complete the day’s tasks.  What I hope to determine next time is if having the mother-daughter team practice what they know while I keep the two youngest from skipping will keep me from having to strip techniques from the session plan.

It’s a learning experience for me, too, as a teacher.  I love that!  I wish I could do it everyday…. 🙂


Before Pizza

It was one of those days.  My boss was in a foul mood from the moment he walked in the door.  That’s not compatible with hosting three hours of live TV.  My director couldn’t see or hear clearly for the first ten minutes of the show, which resulted in several on-air errors.  Those are uncorrectable when you’re live.

I was sitting in the control room on the opening Sunday of football season – a fact that’s been frustrating for the last six years of my life.  But to make matters worse, both teams that matter most to me didn’t just lose, they embarrassed themselves.

I took a cab ride home from the train station with a driver who kept swearing he knew where my street was but still asked me at every red light if he was going the right way.  By the time I started chopping an onion for dinner prep, I was glad the powers of the universe had saved the worst day of the working weekend for last.

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My working weekend actually began right after leaving the office on Friday.  The first of my long-scheduled demo classes was waiting for me at the gym.  In it were two children with moms along for the ride.  By the end of the hour, everyone was sweating, rubbing their legs… and smiling.

“This was fun,” the seven-year-old girl whispered to her mother.  Her mom looked like she didn’t agree with the word choice.

“This is a real workout,” the other parent said rubbing her legs.  “I didn’t expect that.”

“Yes, it is.” Playdate with punches this ain’t!  I thought.  The mother-and-six-year-old son duo said they’d be signing up; the mom and daughter left without sharing a decision.

Fast-forward to Saturday.  An hour after inhaling a plate of pancakes to quell the hunger caused by intensive classes at the guan, I was back at the gym for the second of the demo classes.  This one introduced me to a five-year-old who approaches martial arts the same way my daughter did when she started tae kwon do at four: with a non-stop smile.  (I’m not sure if there’s anything cuter than a kindergartener doing double-straight-punch-snap-kick combinations to the chin with an ear-to-ear grin on his face!)

At the end of the class, he was still smiling but not as broadly.  So I asked, “Are your legs hurting?  Was that too much for you?”

“No,” he said without pause, sounding slightly insulted.  When he turned to his dad, I could tell it was decided.

“So what do you think?  Should we put kung fu before pizza on Friday nights now?” his dad asked.

“Yes!” he shouted, showing almost all of the pearly whites.

It looks like I’ll have a class of at least four people this session who know what they’re getting into.  That knowledge and the joy of future students’ smiles enabled me to handle a difficult time on the day job today with a healthy measure of grace.


Dead White Guy Favorites

It used to be called the canon – the must-reads of Western literature that allegedly represent the best in creative writing and exploration of the human condition.  At the very least, they represent the books and plays most written about by those who study literature.  These books and their glaring absence from my children’s curriculums weighed heavily on my mind Thursday, after a fantastic kung fu workout in which I realized that I’m much more mentally aware of how to fix what I’m doing wrong in a form than I’m often conscious of.  This incredible “Aha!” moment was juxtaposed to the awakening just an hour earlier that, academically, my kids don’t know nearly as much as I did at each of their ages – at least as far as literature is concerned.

It all started at dinner out with my son earlier this week.  As we scarfed down Polish fare, he asked me to name great books for him.  He hadn’t read any that I mentioned; more disturbingly, he hadn’t heard of a number of them either.  I expressed my concern at the time, but concern turned to a mild form of ire yesterday when discovering that the syllabus for his senior year doesn’t include any canon books either.  Silly me, I thought his teachers would patch up the curriculum in the final year.

My son attends a Jesuit school that’s geared toward providing a better education to children of urban, working class families who can’t afford private school.  Now, I understand that there’s been a move in the last decade or so to get away from caring about the perspective of dead, white men and thereby make reading more appealing to the largely non-white student bodies of most of the public schools in America’s largest urban centers.  However well-intentioned, this move seems to have all but eradicated from those same schools any trace of what used to be required reading no matter where one lived and what one looked like.  If administrators remove from literature curriculums all but a few of the dead white guy favorites, we’re going to end up with a generation who, ten years from now, will immediately recognize and understand any reference to the “ice bucket challenge,” but who won’t have the slightest idea what grandma is talking about when she compares Johnny’s ill-advised pursuit of a person or thing to Ahab’s quest for the great white whale.

I remember as a kid watching a Bugs Bunny episode I’d seen dozens of times, listening to Bugs go into a riff about an apartment number that started with “2B or not 2B; that is the question” and understanding for the very first time that the Hamlet allusion is what made it funny.   Something about that realization felt good, especially since I could go on to finish most of the monologue, at the time.

Does it matter in the grand scheme of things if today’s youth understand literary references?  I can’t answer that.  What I know is this: my children have excellent grades.  But I’m not sure if their grades accurately reflect how much they know.

Not getting the joke may be no big deal.  But not knowing what their grade point averages suggest they should could be huge.

 


The Only Variable

I took a night off from kung fu last night, which always leaves me anxious to get back a little faster.  My mind’s already in the guan. But there’s a lot besides kung fu going on in my head today; so I’m going to let things tumble as they may.

A third member of the family has begun black sash testing.  Here’s Merle post sparring practice with me, sometime last week.

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Our girl has decided that she’s not thrilled about being the only member of the family who’s not yet eligible for testing.  All of a sudden, Ava’s stepping up her game and executing some of the better kicking combinations she’s ever put out.  Today will tell the tale on whether she’s really pushing for eligibility. Today, she has the sparring practice that she dreads, and I want her to do well.  I want her to be deemed eligible for testing if she wants to be.

In her favor is the absence of a brother who’s normally a thorn in her side whenever the sparring gear goes on.  Tonight, he’s going to work.

This fact was a bone of contention of sorts last night, as I always seem to be the last to know when his plans change.  Now that Merle is testing, that can be inconvenient, with one car in the family and three people who often have different places to be that are 10 to 40 miles apart or the same place to be at different times.  I’m apparently supposed to “just chill” when a conflict arises, even if it could easily have been avoided by a sharing of information – and even though I’ve requested info sharing ad nauseum.  Such is the plight of parenting a teenager who, by definition, thinks he should be in charge of all aspects of his life at all times, legal liability and severe financial restraints aside, among other things.

Every once and while I have to stop, take a breath and say aloud, “I’m sorry, Mom,” because what goes around truly does come back around.  My son has become just as good at telling me what he thinks is wrong with me as I was at telling my mother.  And that’s just the way it is.  It’s his turn.

Here’s what I know about parenthood, regardless of how my children assess me, each other, themselves: “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest kid.”

I can’t remember where I first heard that, but I remember feeling socked in the gut with its undeniable truth.  I was so moved by it when I first heard it a dozen years ago that I repeated it to half a dozen friends and co-workers, all of whom visibly had the same reaction that I’d felt.  This fact is the reason my son probably hasn’t heard the word “no” from me more than a half dozen times in his 17-plus years (and my daughter’s heard it a lot less than she should, given behavioral issues not entirely in her control).  It’s also the reason I make myself nuts getting them to where they want and/or need to be.

I am unhappy when they are.  Period.  The only variable is the extent.  I can chill all day long if all I have to care about is me, but I doubt there’s a good (custodial) parent on the planet who lives that way.

I have children living near downtown Baltimore, going to underfunded public and parochial schools, with peer influences that haven’t always been good.  But today, I’m not worried about drugs, sex, gangs or bullies – just whether my girl can get eligible for testing if she wants to and if my son can get into and afford the college of his choice.  I’m still moving slowly at becoming a duck (explained here), but I’m surely doing something right!


Bending Before the Break

Kung fu and cupcakes – that’s what I want.  I’m finding it harder and harder to get out of bed for the commuter train in the morning, which is why I’m becoming habitually late.  My boss is on vacation this week; so the guy with one-third of my experience in the industry is in charge in his absence.  I just love it when that’s the case.

Truth be told, I think the ability to bend my hours as sleep, child and kung fu needs dictate is a direct result of the under-experienced one being made second in command.  It’s been insinuated that my freedom of movement is the Bossman’s way of making that indignity up to me.  But it’s not enough anymore.

I leave Sunday’s class, miniscule though it is, satisfied, happy and wanting to do it all over again the next day.  My six-year-old’s mom joined us in class, and she was pretty good.  More to the point, her  presence made the first grader work harder.  I was able to get through half the Chu Chi Chuan form for the first time, having previously been forced to settle for having the students do repetitions of the first three horse stance punch moves.  I’ve spent so much time on double straight punches and walking snap kicks (coordination doesn’t come naturally to every recent kindergarten graduate) that the form has taken a bit of a back seat.  Additionally, both students have only attended a class a week.  (If I were the parent, I’d be getting my money’s worth!)

The benefit of halftime attendance is that they have to sign up for the second session to learn the rest of the form, and they’ve already told me they’re going to do just that.  My energies are now turned to drumming up more business, and I’m enjoying that, too.  I never thought marketing would give me a charge.

Could I make a living at this, supplemented by cupcake sales (I’ve signed up for the food manager certification to be licensed to cook in a commercial kitchen) and freelance journalism?  I believe I could.  And with each passing day the happiness attached to doing and teaching kung fu, and hearing the enthusiastic inquiry “Do you sell these somewhere??” from almost every person who’s recently tasted a baked good from my kitchen, has finally come to outweigh the fear of not making the bills.

In 2015, my son starts a new chapter of his life.  Barring the unforeseen, I think I might beat him to it!


Quiet in the Kung Fu House

I am alone in my own home.  The children are at their grandparents’ house, and my better half is out of town for a Monday funeral.  The last time I went to sleep and woke up at my address with no one else in the building, I didn’t have a daughter yet and my two-year-old son had a weekend’s head start on Christmas vacation with his dad and grandparents, while I was finishing up the work week.

The quiet in my house was disquieting once I wound down from a good class and training session.   Without a family meal to cook or laundry to fold, I noticed for the first time that there’s a kung fu item of some sort in pretty much every room of the house.  Not that I didn’t know they were there.  I just didn’t realize that my entire living space contains kung fu items, until there was nothing to distract me from the realization.

There’s the 100-pound bag in my bedroom, and the adjustable bag in the family room.

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There’s the inability to use the first-floor stairway or the kitchen without passing the collection of workout bags and gear in front of the basement door.

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There’s the virtual staff store we pass when leaving the house, and the sashes and medals hanging on walls, mirrors and doors.

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This is a martial arts house – period.  Even when I’m the only person home.

I have to smile at that fact…even while I’m shaking my head. 🙂


Britches and Cheeks

Watching from the car as my children and other students awaited the arrival of Siheng, I realized that a month had passed since last we had a Thursday with Pooh.  First he was on vacation; then, we were college hopping. It was good to see him again.

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But my children’s adopted local dad came back from vacation with a bee in his britches.  No more socializing, goofing off, complaining, he lectured. His is an advanced class; it’s time to stop acting like beginners, he told the class.  He took half of the blame for the relaxed atmosphere on his watch, but no more.   Pooh was decidedly out of honey, yet no one seemed to mind.

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It was a hard-working, focused session.  My son leaves town on a high note for vacation with the grandparents; my daughter leaves with the worrisome realization that even with Pooh, who’s awfully fond of her, she’s going to have to act like a red sash – finally.

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What’s the worst thing that could happen?  She might get tapped for black sash testing earlier than she thinks.

Meanwhile, downstairs, Merle practiced all of her under sash forms to prepare for her first of twelve black sash tests.  The kids are going to miss cheering her on for the first test but will have a front-row seat for number two.  If all goes well, my better half and I will share the same black sash award anniversary weekend every January.  That thought makes me grin until my cheeks hurt.

Speaking of hurt cheeks, there’s nothing like a form full of deep empty stances (at least four, by quick count) to make this woman more conscious of her ass than I ever wanted to be.  I’ve spent so much time this summer concentrating on swinging the staff, running with it, walking with it, turning, etc. that I was temporarily oblivious to the pain that can be generated just standing still with it, like below.  Of course the only reason they hurt so much is because this pose is much closer to the floor these days than it is here.

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Progress can be painful… especially when the goofing off is done.


The Uber Car & Watergate Workday

Monday was one of those adrenaline-draining workdays that almost left me too worn out for evening kung fu.  Almost.

My commuter train was forty-five minutes late on a jam-packed taping day; so I was tense before I could even make it to my desk.  Within five minutes of being in the building, I was informed that the car sent to pick up my first guest of the day was stuck behind an accident, 20 miles from the author’s house.  And his house was 80 miles from the studio.

There are no Uber cars in Maryland farm country!  And driving himself was problematic because he was heading to the airport after taping the show.  In other words, I had a royal mess on my hands before 10 a.m., and I could feel the gray hairs multiplying.

While I was trying to get my guest in and around two metropolitan beltways, my crew was trying to reconnect the power supply to lights and cameras in the studio.  Somehow the weekend cleaning crew left studios A and B completely unplugged – and no one had a reason to notice until it was time to set up for my shows.  Thank God they had the presence of mind not to tell me about reconnection problems until after they were solved – and my guest was flying down Interstate 95 in his own car, with a passenger willing to drive it back to his house.

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For the second show both guests were inconveniently early, arriving as we tried to inhale lunch in between the two tapings.  But after the morning’s insanity, I was just glad they arrived without incident.  That show’s controversy was entirely on set, as two Washington legends debated the facts and fiction behind a forty-year-old presidential resignation.

John Dean

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In short, I earned my check today… and was more than ready to lace up the gloves and hit the bags from the moment I heard, “That’s a wrap.”