When Cooler Heads Prevail

7 04 2008

Man, about an hour ago I was all set to burn bridges. I was about to write an entry that would make the Anger Blog look like a Jack Johnson song from the Curious George movie. But, thanks to my wife forcing me to adhere to one of my taoist principles (the cooling off period), I just have a story to tell that contains a lot of background info…

(Long story alert, but it will make me feel better.)

My mom is the greatest woman in the world. I’m not just saying that. And if I had plenty of money, there is no doubt that she would live like a queen (if she even wanted to, which is highly doubtful). I would buy her the finest things – whatever she wanted. However, knowing her, she would probably just request black oil sunflower seed to attract songbirds rather than the generic wild bird seed she usually buys for her feeders.

But, going back further…

As soon as I turned 16, I went to the local McDonald’s and got a job. Sixty days later, I was selected as Employee of the Month. A few months after that, I garnered the honor of Employee of the Year. I kept getting raises and promotions, which I took on with enthusiasm, because I helped my mom with the bills. Forty hour weeks were more than commonplace from my sophomore to senior years in high school. Most nights, I would not get off of work until 1am. Then I would wake up in the morning and go to school, all the while making great grades while taking “gifted and talented” classes. And that doesn’t even mention my place on the baseball team.

I held absolutely no grudge for all this. It helped make me who I am today, although it also may have something to do with my quasi mid-life crisis burnout. But I was happy to do it because I was damned good at what I did… and I knew that my mom was working two jobs to help make ends meet. As the youngest of five kids, I was one of two left at “home”. The other was going to night school and playing in a band, while also figuring out who he was. It all worked out for him: he eventually got his degree, got married to someone I respect immensely, and fathered a little boy who will more than likely change the world one day.

But, hey, isn’t this blog about me?

During my junior year of high school, I cut my hours at work to weekends only so that it would not interfere with my afternoon baseball practices. Then, on one fateful day, the coach announced an impromptu Saturday practice. Uh, oh. I told him that I had to work that morning and he told me that I needed to make a decision: work or baseball.

And, as much as I loved the great game, the decision was easy for me. My mom meant more. And that was the temporary end to my high school baseball career.

I worked like a dog during my junior year. I was so synonymous with the golden arches that everyone at my high school knew me as “McJohn”. While some people might consider that a little demeaning, I didn’t. I have always taken pride in my work – whether on the job or on the baseball field – and the moniker just solidified that for me.

During the last week of school that junior year, I was approached during lunch by the baseball coach. He asked if he could talk to me when I was done eating. I said ok and he took me into a nearby bookroom. And, although this all sounds seedy, he spent a good five minutes apologizing for the position he put me in regarding my job. I let him talk, and he ended by telling me that if I wanted to play during my senior year, he would be more that happy to work around my work schedule.

“I sure could have used you at second base this year.”

Then he said something that has stuck with me forever: He mentioned how proud of me he was for helping to take care of my mom. Then he said, “Just remember that Coach loves you.” He gave me a hug, and of course I played for him my senior year. I batted cleanup for the majority of the season, right behind a guy that was getting scouted like crazy. Sure, my baseball career ended in high school, but the lessons didn’t.

My dad came to one game during that senior year. In that game, against Dallas Bryan Adams (not to be confused with the Canadian songster), I went 3 for 4 with a double off the fence in far left-center. It was about 3 feet from being gone. My buddy Mark Jones (who went on to play college ball) told me that he thought it was gone when I hit it. I did, too, for that matter. And that was the last time I was cocky while knocking the crap out of the ball. From then on out, I ran out everything at full speed.

And my mom? She was at every game. During my senior year, she took on a third job so that I could work only on weekends. Though I still feel guilty about this, I know that she is such a sports fan (baseball especially) that it probably meant more to her watching me play than it did when I would make a diving catch in the outfield against a guy that would end up being drafted by the Texas Rangers after a time at UTA. (Lawrence Hanlon (sp?) from Grapevine, where art thou?)

Despite my crazy work hours and tough classes, I ended up graduating 9th out of almost 400 students. I had a full academic scholarship to a private university that I ended up throwing away for various reasons. I always tell people that I was young, stupid, and thought I was in love. But I think the truth is that I just went to the wrong school. My mom and I actually talked about this a few days ago. She was blaming herself for not making me go away to school, but I contended that college just wasn’t for me. I burned myself out in high school and could just never recapture the fervor required for someone with such “potential”.

If I had gone away to school, rather than choosing the local one that offered me the moon, things might have been different. But I could not bring myself to do it because, at that time, I was the only one looking out for mom. My four older siblings were all busy with life and all that that entails: kids, jobs, gigs at local bars, etc.

But, my, how times have changed.

All my elders are doing great while I struggle to get my business up and running. And I was actually called out today by one of them regarding some car repairs that my mom needs. One line from the email read “By the way, Mom needs $600 to get her car fix – too bad you can’t help”. (I could make some remark about ‘fix’ versus ‘fixed’, but I am better than that. I won’t mention the other grammatical errors in the message because it’s all about the paycheck, isn’t it? I wonder where this person was while I was working my ass off in high school, making kick ass grades, batting cleanup for the varsity baseball team, and taking her to baseball games at the old Arlington Stadium. The phrase “catch a buzz” rings a bell.)

In closing for this way-too-long narrative, let me just say that if I had the money, my mom would not want for anything. Hell, I used to make a 30 mile drive to get bird seed out of her trunk for her because no one else (within 5 miles) could find the time for her. And while it is true that one of her kids bought a house for her to rent, she was always made to feel like a burden, even if by accident.

But I can hold my head up high because I was always there for the little things – the things no one else (except for Bob) ever had time for. And I do not feel the need to apologize for moving to Austin or for the economy going into the shitter which led to a layoff. We can’t all maintain jobs we hate.

If that were the case, the golden arches would have my face on them.

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5 responses

8 04 2008
Cliff

Leemer, you bastard. I’ve already nominated you for Postoftheweek.com and now you go and write something better.

I’m going to look like an idiot now when I recommend this one as well. Brilliant post.

8 04 2008
Ed R

Wait- who got laid off?

8 04 2008
ali

you did good, john boy

9 04 2008
Guber

So does this story 20+ years ago really help you today. Or just make you fill better.

9 04 2008
MG

I just happened to go to your blog today to see if you had posted and WOW I am so happy to see you writing again!

When I turned 18 my parents informed me I was no longer their responsibility and that I had to start paying my own way in life. This came as a huge shock because I had expected them to continue to help me while I was in college. I got 2 jobs and went to school full time. Shortly after I graduated my parents divorced and my mother found herself on hard times. My sister and I did what we could to help her for many years but then I became resentful. She depended on us to pay her bills and give her money. I suggested she go back to school and better herself so she could be self sufficiant. My sister said I was ungrateful and it caused the family dynamic to change. So because this woman gave birth to me and cared for me for 18 years I am now indebted to her for the rest of her life? I do not agree with that at all! I love my mother but refuse to be indebted to her because of HER choices. She could have done things to make her situation better and chose not to. Do what you can to help and do not feel bad when you cant. That is my advice for you Leemer.

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