Taking His Best Shot

Lucas Hinch may have become a new international hero.

Granted, few of us have ever met the Colorado Springs man. But he managed to seize his 15 minutes of fame recently after his computer gave him one battle too many. Mr. Hinch, of course, dealt with his frustrations in a mature and responsible way.

Oh, who am I kidding? He took the computer into an alley, pulled a gun and put eight rounds into it.

I’ll wait a few moments for the cheering to die down.

Naturally, I’m not endorsing this as a method. Spontaneous gunfire is rarely a solution to anything, including the latest televised adventures of the Rockies’ bullpen. (Pillows are the traditional projectile for a television screen bearing bad sports news, at least in the case of my late grandfather-in-law.) But I think anyone who has ever spent more than five minutes staring at a Blue Screen of Death can sympathize entirely with Mr. Hinch.

For my wife Heather, it’s a no-brainer. More than once, she has intoned the magic words “Scotty, I’m throwing this thing out the window!” after our machine of the moment ate a college research paper due in an hour … or dropped a connection in the middle of an online game … or simply got its power button stuck, requiring fingernails worthy of Dolly Parton to pry back into operation.

She never did commit that act of electronic defenestration, by the way. But I think that had less to do with sweet reason, and more to do with chronic illness and the annoyance of putting up new storm windows.

How do so many of us reach that point?

That may seem as obvious as asking whether I-25 will be a pain in the neck tomorrow. But it’s a valid question. Certainly, computers have become vital to our day-to-day life. But not every critical aspect of our life tempts a 9mm sonata.

The answer, I think, comes down to communication.

The other day, I saw a bumper sticker in the grocery store parking lot: “If animals could speak, we would all be vegetarian.” Whether you agree or not, it underlines a larger philosophical point – it’s harder to hate something that has become real to you, that has a face and a voice and a genuine response. It’s why prejudices sometimes wither when an “other” is met personally, or why a famous personality may seem to be so much nicer when met face-to-face.

And, on the flip side, it’s why our blood pressure goes through the roof when communication is hopeless.

The best example may be road rage. If someone accidentally walks into your path on the sidewalk, the most likely response is a quick apology, maybe even an embarrassed laugh. Come just a little close while driving and the results are screams and angry horns. It’s not just the higher speeds and masses of metal, it’s the fact that we no longer have another person in our midst – just a metal box that’s impervious to our hard feelings.

I don’t know how to solve PC rage, short of giving the machine actual reasoning abilities – and that way lies Skynet, or at least a future where humanity never wins at Jeopardy! again. But it does suggest a way to lower the pressure in so many other areas of our lives. Talk. Listen. See the faces around you, not just their positions on the landscape.

We don’t have to agree. But if we can at least see each other as human beings worthy of attention, the rest can follow. Maybe we can even find some common interests to share.

And if those interests include a recalcitrant laptop and a pair of sledgehammers, I’ll be over in five minutes.

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April Love

As I write this, the Colorado Rockies are sitting on top of the National League West. King of the hill. Top of the heap. Masters of all they survey.

Or, more realistically, the lords of April.

I can see some of the longtime Rockheads nodding in agreement. For the newer fans, excited by the fast start of the boys in purple, let me give you some real-world comparisons for perspective:

“What a beautiful wedding! Oh, that marriage will surely last forever.”

“4-0 in the preseason! I’m telling you, the Broncos are going to crush the Super Bowl this year.”

“He won Iowa hands down. You know it’s just a matter of time before we all start calling him Mr. President.”

“Man, this Colorado spring is gorgeous. Aren’t you glad to finally say goodbye to ice and snow?”

You get the picture?

Yes, our hometown baseball crew is doing well in April. I’m pleased but not terribly shocked. The Rockies always do well in April. They last just long enough to get everyone excited and then a) the first three injuries happen, b) the wheels fall off our pitching rotation and/or c) Dinger the Dinosaur attracts the wrath of the baseball gods merely for existing.

How bad an indicator is it? In 2007, the year the Rockies actually made the World Series, they managed a 10-16 record in April. Mediocre with a side order of painful.

Until, suddenly, they weren’t.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I love the grand old game.

If ever there was a sport where the cream rises to the top, it’s baseball. Sure, there are bizarre flukes and bad calls, just like any other sport. But a 162-game regular season acts as one heck of a filter. When you hit a five-game winning streak in football, you’re playoff-bound for sure. When you hit a five-game winning streak in baseball, it’s … Wednesday.

Well, unless you’re the Marlins. Then it’s more of a miracle. But I digress.

I’ve had friends complain that baseball is too slow a game, that nothing seems to happen. They’re missing the point. Baseball, at its heart, is a game of patience.

There’s no clock. Any moment could be the one that wins or loses it all, however lopsided the score. (Especially with our bullpen.)

There’s a long season. You build the foundation of your season slowly and carefully, to where an unusual two weeks may mean nothing – or it may be the capstone of everything you’ve been working toward.

And there are players behind the players, always building to the promise of tomorrow. Baseball has perhaps the best-developed minor league system of any sport, a farm ground that allows you to watch not just today’s stars but the potential for years down the road. (Assuming they don’t get swiped by a richer club, of course, but that’s an argument for another day.)

It’s a life lesson turned into a sport, that you don’t have to win every at-bat, or even every game. But if you do the small things right enough, often enough, over time the small things become the big things.

It isn’t all staked on one April.

Sure, I’ll sit back and enjoy the Rockies’ wins. For today, they’re good. For tomorrow, there are no promises. Such is baseball. Such is life. A good beginning has to have follow-through if it’s to be more than a memory.

Maybe it’ll be there. Maybe not. We’ll see. Patience now, patience always.

Yes, the Rockies are truly towering. But only time can tell if they’ve peaked too soon.

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Cracking the Case

There’s something very soothing about being in an Agatha Christie play.

I admit that sounds a bit odd. After all, Dame Agatha delighted in mayhem. Over dozens of books, she never found a cause of death she didn’t like, from the prosaic knife or pistol to the ever-threatening digitalis in the teacup. And the danger could come from anywhere, including a previous victim, the detective, or even the narrator.

But at its heart, Agatha Christie’s world is a sensible place. Order is disturbed and then put right. No problem is impossible to solve. Consider the information at hand, discard preconceptions and the answer – never an answer, always the answer – can always be reached.

It’s a nice place to visit. And starting May 1 with the Longmont Theatre Company’s “Murder on the Nile,” I get to do just that.

I just wish I could live there.

Oh, we’ve got our own set of mysteries at Chez Rochat. Most of them, at any given time, tend to revolve around the health of my wife Heather. Heather is to chronic illness what Mozart was to composition: a natural talent, with new and surprising directions emerging at every turn.

She’s dealt with Crohn’s disease. With multiple rounds of endometriosis. With a condition I’ve mentioned here before called ankylosing spondylitis, a disorder as painful as its name is musical.

And now … now we’ve got a newcomer in the deck.

We’ve been trying to track the source of what Heather calls her “mystery pain” for a while. The clues haven’t been as prosaic as a pistol, a scarf and a three-day-old bottle of nail polish. Instead it’s keeping track of pain here, numbness there, fatigue lasting this long, and so on. What’s happening in the limbs? The face? The spine? What’s new and what’s overlapping with the old conditions?

It’s enough to make you wish that Hercule Poirot had a grandson in the medical field.

With patience, time and a recent ER visit, we’ve teased out one piece of the jigsaw: trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve pain that can be unexpectedly triggered by a simple touch to the face. Or not. Like every other villain in this detective series, it’s come-and-go, though over time, “come” can be more frequent.

Even if we have that to stand on, though, there’s still so much more puzzle to solve. The initial clue gives us some possibilities for the bigger picture – some of them quite disturbing – but until a doctor locks down an answer, we can’t be sure.

An answer. Not necessarily the answer.

And no guarantee that order can be restored.

I won’t lie. It’s hard. Sometimes we get long windows where things go well. Sometimes she can barely move from the bed without help. It’s a guessing game, one that even Miss Marple’s shrewd sense of the human condition couldn’t outfox.

It’s tiring. Painful. Frightening, even. And yet … and yet, that’s not the most important story.

Because through it all, and sometimes to her own disbelief, Heather has still held on to what’s important.

She still cares.

Sometimes that’s frustrating for her, especially when there are things she wants to do and can’t at the moment. But so many times, Heather’s found a way. She’s been a guardian and “mom” to her disabled aunt Missy, a comfort to the world’s craziest dogs, a tease to her sisters, a “weird aunty” to the family infants and toddlers. She’s been a loving – and loved – partner to me.

And in the midst of so much pain and uncertainty, that’s pretty near miraculous.

We don’t have all the information, or a flawless set of gray cells to solve it with. Some days, we barely seem to have sanity or patience or sleep. But we’ve got each other. And through the stress, that’s enough.

Some mysteries defy detectives. And the biggest ones are never quite finished.

But so long as the clues can carry us to tomorrow, that will do for now.

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The K Word

When I used to watch “Happy Days” as a kid (and boy, does that date me), it was always hilarious to watch the Fonz try to apologize. He’d take a running start at the key word, like a verbal Olympic track star, but never quite clear the barrier.

“I’m s-s-s-s ….” (Stop, grimace for laugh track.) “I mean, I’m real s-s-s-s- ….”

But that was a sitcom. I’m a grown adult in the real world. Which is why I will have no problem saying that my four-year-old niece has been declared ready for k ….

You know. For k-k-k-k …

This is ridiculous.

Kindergarten.

Wow. It’s even hard to look at that word on the page.

I’m proud of her, of course. And objectively, it should be no surprise at all. She’s the right age. She’s been doing very well at her pre-school. When she visits, the living room now has a more focused mess that receives at least a token effort of cleanup. And she’s very good at telling our behemoth of a dog “No, Blakie!” when he accidentally whaps his gigantic tail in her face.

So she’s ready. Beyond a doubt. And it’s a good thing.

So why does it feel like the world just caved in?

I know I’m not alone here. (If I were, “Sunrise, Sunset” would be a forgotten song.) And I know a lot of it is sheer human cussedness. We like to think that our world will go on the way it is forever, never changing in any significant way. And when reality intrudes – a shrinking hairline, a growing child, a friend or relative that moves away – it’s unsettling. Sometimes it even seems to give you eyes to the future, where you can suddenly envision the new kindergartner’s first date, her college graduation, her efforts to start a career … all this from the individual who once bound the first floor of your house in yarn because it was fun.

With me, the shock is a triple whammy. Some of you may remember that 2010 was the year I became Uncle Scott in spades, acquiring two nieces and one nephew in a six-month period. (That makes it sound like “The Price is Right,” doesn’t it?) Sometimes at close range and sometimes from over a thousand miles away, I’ve watched them discover finger paints, the Blue Angels, drums, the solar system, ballet and the non-negotiability of naptimes.

So when one of them is ready to cross the bright blue line of The Big K it means all of them are. That they’re growing up. Maybe even that they’re growing away a little, with a part of their lives happening at a distance.

Mind you, I know we want children to grow. I’d be even more disturbed, and for different reasons, if the Terrific Trio of 2010 was 35 years old and living in our basement with no immediate prospects for departure. No one wants to be the helicopter relative or to be dealing with a family full of Peter Pans.

But when so much of a life has been so close, it’s hard to let go. Even a little.

Their life has changed. Your life has changed. And it’s time for you to do a little more growing up, too.

I know this isn’t the end. There will be plenty of exciting adventures ahead. Probably more than a little exasperation, too. But Heather and I watched them transform from confused babies into enthusiastic toddlers and we’re ready – if a little sobered at times – to see what’s coming next.

So go ahead, word. Bring on the k-k-k-k …

The k-k-k-k…

Sigh.

Arthur Fonzarelli, where are you when I really need you?

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The Moment of Pain

Sometimes news is hell.

I don’t use the word lightly. Yes, at the best of times, the daily news can seem to hold enough misery, anger and grief for anyone. Major wars. Minor cruelties. Kardashian news. We know it, we brace for it, we sigh as it goes by.

But some weeks are worse. This one, for instance.

If you’re among my Longmont readers, you know what I mean. The murder-suicide, with a man suspected of killing one parent with a knife, nearly killing the other and then taking his own life. The stabbing attack on a seven-months pregnant woman, where the child-to-be was physically removed. Each hard on the heels of the other, gruesome and horrific.

If there’s anyone who simply turned their computer off on Wednesday and refused to read any more Internet news, I can’t say I blame them.

Some scenes hit you in the heart and rip your soul open to scream. They’re the calls that every cop and paramedic hates to get, that every reporter hates to write, that every reader hates to bear witness to. They’re the ones that your brain refuses to let go of, asking the heavens “How is something like this allowed to exist?”

It doesn’t matter if the audience is the world or the folks inside city limits. The audience is you. And it’s too much to hold.

I don’t have a magic word to make it go away. I’m not sure I could be trusted with one if I did. To feel another’s pain is to be human; if I banish that pain, am I sending my humanity away with it?

But oh, the temptation.

So what do we do?

If there’s any answer at all, I think it has to be “What we can.”

Grief like this doesn’t just shock, it isolates. It makes you feel alone and helpless in an overwhelming world. Other hurts seem minor compared to that big boulder that refuses to move.

That is when we most need each other.

This community has a powerful heart. It showed in full force during and after the 2013 flood, when no sort of help was off limits. People cleaned their neighbors’ homes, housed their neighbors’ families, sometimes saved their neighbors’ lives.

It’s harder with something like this. I know. There’s a less visible enemy to fight, a less obvious way to help. But the gist remains the same.

Be there.

Be there when someone in pain needs a kind heart and a listening ear.

Be there when they don’t dare talk but just need someone nearby.

Be there when you see a friend or a neighbor or a stranger who seems to need a hand.

Not as a snoop. Not as a looky-lou or an intrusive pest. But as the brother or sister we all need to be to each other.

Most of us may never know any of the people who were at the heart of this. (Those who do, bless and keep you all.) But we all know someone. It can start with something as simple as a word of kindness to a police officer or EMT, a reminder that they’re remembered and appreciated. It can grow as big as you want it to.

If we all care for one of us, we all care for all of us.

Good news happens, too. But it’s rarely as easy as looking. We have to find it, to make it, to create it ourselves. We have to be it. And that can be a frightening prospect.

But not half as frightening as having to stand alone.

News can be hell. Undeniable. True.

But together, maybe we can be heaven.

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A Word Out of Place

Who can forget the climax of “Gone With the Wind” when Rhett turned to Scarlett and shockingly, unforgettably told her “My dear, I don’t give a darn?”

Or the pages of Shelby Foote’s “The Civil War” where William T. Sherman warns that “War is heck?”

And of course, there’s that shocking background refrain in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” where one of the “Chronics” in the asylum can’t say anything but “Fff ….” Come to think of it, I guess he never gets to say much of anything.

At least, that may be the case with a new app called Clean Reader that’s advertised to remove all the profanity from an e-book. The app can be set to Clean, Cleaner, Squeaky Clean or Off, depending on how many swear words a reader feels like tolerating; censored words receive a blue dot and a suggested substitute for those that tap the deletion.

It’s not the first time that something like this has been tried, of course. Go back to the 19th century and you find Thomas Bowdler’s cleaned-up edition of Shakespeare, where Opehlia drowns accidentally and Lady Macbeth screams “Out, crimson spot!” (And yes, this is where the word bowdlerization comes from.) Film buffs can point instead at CleanFlicks, a company which re-edited movies to remove offensive content until a judge told them to stop.

The difference here, of course, is that there’s a certain amount of reader control. Instead of buying an adulterated copy, the customer buys the same book as everyone else and then chooses whether to filter it. That’s led some to defend the app: “It’s my book and my business, right?”

There’s some truth to that. But there’s also a catch. Two catches, really.

Yes, you can do with your book whatever you want. If you choose to right now, you can take any book you own and go through it with a black marker to remove anything. That’s not new, either. Thomas Jefferson once took that approach to his copy of the Gospels, literally trimming out any reference to miracles or the supernatural.

But that’s where you run into Catch No. 1: markers don’t work so well on the mind. Even when you let something line out the profanity for you, the word isn’t gone. Every time a reader hits the deleted or substituted word, the act simply calls attention to what used to be there, unless the reader is either innocent or quite young.

And then there’s Catch No. 2, brought up by a friend: if you don’t trust an author to use the right words, why are you reading him or her in the first place?

One of the glories – and yes, sometimes, one of the dangers – of the written word is that it’s a telepathic act. By staring at words on a page, you can know what a writer was thinking, no matter how much time has passed since the thought. At any time, a reader can dive into the ideas of Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger or Maya Angelou, touching them mind-to-mind until the book is closed.

But the words matter. Twain once said that the difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. They’re tools, chosen to evoke a desired effect.

Change the word, and you change the effect. You no longer have a clear window into the author’s mind, but only an approximation.

It’s true, not every author uses profanity, just like not every painter uses teal or violet. The ones that do have a reason. If the excuse seems weak, that’s a perfectly valid reason to read a different book or even a different author. Nobody reads everything, nobody has to read anything.

But what you do choose to read – don’t hold back. Read it. Without screens. Without modification. Find your way into that mind, even the uncomfortable parts, and see what you discover.

You may love it. You may hate it. But you’ll know because you’ve read the book, instead of almost the book.

And missing that opportunity would be a darned shame.

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A Long, Strange Trek

On the day he died, I heard NPR replay an interview with Leonard Nimoy about Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In it, he mentioned that he wanted to try something different for a science-fiction film: that he wanted to have a story with no real villain to defeat.

“We had done two pictures in a row with black-hat heavies and I didn’t want a bad guy anywhere,” he explained in an interview elsewhere for the magazine Monsterland. “Circumstances would cause the problem. Lack of awareness, lack of concern, ignorance…these would be the problems. Not a person.”

That clicked with me. And it may be the best epitaph for the man in the pointed ears that I’ve ever heard.

I came late to Star Trek. No real surprise there. I grew up a huge Star Wars fan at a time when the fan bases didn’t overlap much and were often perversely proud of it. One was a swashbuckling space opera that found instant mainstream success; the other, an odd mix of conflict and exploration that built its following over years.

Silly, of course. To anyone on the outside, after all, a geek was a geek. But to many, the lines mattered.

But even Star Wars kids thought Mr. Spock was cool.

How could he not be? He was the intelligent outsider, the alien among humans, cool and detached without being heartless. He had an answer for everything, often accompanied by a wry remark and an arched eyebrow. To him, the universe was “fascinating” but never totally inexplicable.

He was, in short, what every young geek and nerd like me wanted to be. Apart, but still a part. Not surrendering an identity to be part of the crew, but embracing it and being valued because of it – even if it still meant we were weird.

I was grown before I found out that Nimoy spent years resenting the character. Understandable, in retrospect. Few actors like to be typecast, to become so strongly identified with a role that they can never really be seen as anyone else. For someone as versatile as Mr. Nimoy – actor, poet, photographer and more – it must have been doubly frustrating.

But over time, he came to embrace Mr. Spock. The Vulcan came to be “one of my best friends,” as he told Starlog magazine.

“When I put on those ears, it’s not like just another day,” Nimoy said. “When I become Spock, that day becomes something special.”

It did for a lot of us, too.

Today, we live in a world where the geeks won. “Game of Thrones” and “Doctor Who” are hit TV shows. “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” commanded huge film audiences; superheroes by the dozen still do. Even roleplaying became mainstream somewhere along the way – with proponents such as Stephen Colbert and the late Robin Williams – and computer gaming is so common a hobby as to barely be worth mentioning.

But saying “the geeks won” doesn’t really capture it. It’s more like the lines got erased. Maybe not entirely (there’s still some discouraging tales about how “geek girls” get treated by a small but noxious crew of self-appointed critics) but enough that the distinction no longer has the same meaning. The geeks became the cool kids, and vice versa. It’s even OK to talk about Jedi and Vulcans in the same breath.

There really isn’t a bad guy anymore.

Leonard Nimoy was a big part of that. And while it might seem like an odd part of his legacy to emphasize– “he helped make it OK to be a nerd” – there are far worse ones to have. Anything that brings people together instead of setting them apart should be celebrated; anyone who builds bridges instead of walls should be cherished … even if the bridge is that of the starship Enterprise.

Thank you, sir. You lived long. You prospered. And you helped many of us do the same.

In an often-dark world, you truly lit a Spock.

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Shall We Dance?

Missy’s finger unerringly found Feb. 27 on the calendar. Then her hand went to her collar, tugging it up and out at an angle – her signal for getting dressed up.

“I want to go,” she said firmly.

This one didn’t require an expert in Missy Charades to figure out. Once again, we would be off to the prom.

The prom, in this case, is the “Shine” dance for the disabled, currently held every other year at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette. It’s a huge night in every sense, inviting hundreds of people to don their best clothes and then eat, play games and – of course – dance until the floor wears out.

For Missy, this is an experience just short of heaven. After all, it combines some of her favorite things in the world. It’s peoplewatching on a massive scale. It’s dressing up for your friends (and especially, in the case of Missy the Flirt, for the guys who can be greeted with a shy smile and a “Hi …”) It’s music cranked up past 11 and freedom to move with all the energy and enthusiasm you can muster.

And this year, it’s something else as well. By some odd coincidence of the calendar, Shine falls on my birthday this year.

That couldn’t be more appropriate. Because being with Missy these last four years and seeing the world through her eyes has been a gift beyond compare, for both me and my wife Heather.

Better still – to see how many people can truly see her.  That’s not always a given for the developmentally disabled.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: We have a gift of invisibility that would put J.R.R. Tolkien’s magic ring to shame. But it’s almost never used on ourselves. Instead, we grant the “gift” to anyone whose presence is too uncomfortable for us to bear.

That could be the disabled. It could be the homeless. It could be anyone we don’t know how to approach – or that we fear might approach us, as though misfortune were somehow contagious.

Maybe that’s part of it. Maybe it’s too strong a reminder that all our gifts are temporary, from the money in our banks to the thoughts in our heads. That at any moment, something could happen that resets our entire existence.

It’s a scary thought to look in the face. No one could deny that. But when it keeps us from looking others in the face as well, it’s gone too far.

Those others look back. They know. And they understand more than you would ever guess.

Certainly Missy does.

And thankfully, blessedly, she’s been lucky enough to be surrounded by people that understand her.  Friends and relatives and neighbors who know the balance needed, how to make accommodations without treating her like a pet or a doll. Because of that, she has a life – and a social calendar! – that still makes me blink.

Bowling. Softball. Swimming. Trips downtown. Always among friends, always with someone who gets a look of recognition and a brilliant smile in return.

I count myself lucky to get a lot of those looks.  And to truly see the spirited, mischievous person behind those dancing green eyes.

And when that means escorting her on her big night – well, strike up the band and never mind the crowds.

Our partner’s ready.

It’s time to dance.

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Inner Space

I’ll admit it. Cleaning our closets can be a bit of an adventure. It’s like an archaeological dig with clothing mixed in, where anything can pop up and often does. Forgotten games. Battered sneakers. Barely-legible notebooks that detail either the next great bestseller or last year’s Oscar winners.

I haven’t found any cameras from the moon landing, though. There, as in so many other ways, Neil Armstrong was in a class by himself.

In case you missed it – maybe your chores took a while, too – it seems that Armstrong’s widow Carol found an old bag while doing some closet-cleaning of her own. Inside were about 20 small pieces of gear that had gone to the moon with Armstrong. A mirror. Some tethers. An emergency wrench. And, yes, the camera used to record the Eagle’s final approach to the landing site.

Hey, some people take pens home from the office, right?

Now I know that to some folks, this probably sounds like an episode of Hoarders: The Final Frontier. But I can sympathize. It’s hard not to hang on to the small and not-so-small things that mark a memory.

In one of my own closets is an oversized map, one that would probably dominate any wall I tried to put it up on. The map depicts the after-effects of the 2013 flood, laying out the needed repairs in point-by-point detail. I used it for a story long ago, then put it away, planning to frame it someday.

These days, it’s become a frame, holding the larger pictures of my mind.

Other moments lie similarly “archived” from a lifetime of journalism and theatre. An aluminum can from an Emporia, Kan. factory that was never built. A spice jar of dry soil from a Garden City, Kan. “dirt collector” I interviewed. A sheaf of parodies, written for theatre cast parties so we could all laugh at our trials and triumphs.

Sure, it’s easy to accumulate stuff. I do it without even trying. (Just ask Heather.) But these are the things that go beyond mere stuff, the pieces that become memory in a tangible form. Where simply holding them and looking at them can bring back a moment, an event, a face.

You’ve got one somewhere. We all do. Maybe more than one.

And each one is the doorway to a journey of our own. Inward, not outward. Through time, not space.

But in that moment of rediscovery after a long absence, it can feel like the Eagle landing all over again.

It gives me a little comfort to know that Armstrong was the same way. Even in this cynical day and age, there’s still the temptation to lionize our heroes, to paper over the cracks and sand off the rough edges. It’s an unfortunate distancing, since it robs us of a certain kinship, a knowledge that, under different circumstances, it might have been any of us up there.

Well, probably not me. Not without some major improvements to my sense of direction. (“Houston, the Eagle has landed … somewhere.”) But you get the idea.

He was human. He gathered a few mementos in a bag, passed it off to NASA as “odds and ends” –you know, just keeping the clutter down – and took it home as a keepsake.

Which he then threw in the back of a closet and left for his wife to find. That, too, is very human.

Because of that, we’ve gained something neat. A few small artifacts. A chuckle at people being people. Maybe even a sense of wonder at how an ordinary moment can become unforgettable with just one forgotten bag.

And of course, the best closet-preservation excuse ever.

“I swear, honey, the Smithsonian’s going to want that bag someday. Look, I’ll take care of it later, all right?”

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Nonsense and Nonsense Ability

The weekly faceoff between me and my column had just begun. As usual, the battle was closely matched.

“So honey,” I called out to my wife Heather, “what should I write about this week?”

No hesitation.

“Turnips!” she called out.

I laughed, loud and long. After 16 years of marriage, I really should have known better.

The turnips are a running gag that began long before I met Heather. She started making that wisecrack in high school, though she’s no longer clear on why. It may have been due to a random episode of Blackadder or her love of medieval history, where turnips may appear on any random page. It may have even started with her love of  the “Little House on the Prairie” books, which include the deathless words “Carrie loved to eat a raw turnip.”

“I want that tattooed,” she joked. At least, I think she’s joking. With root vegetables, one can never be too sure.

Wherever it came from, it’s been here to stay. Turnips have sneaked onto grocery lists, into text messages and amidst quiet moments in otherwise ordinary conversations. One time, I even called her bluff and brought some home from the store after a grocery run. Heather was surprised, amused and a little perplexed.

In roughly 20 years of turnip jokes, you see, she had never actually used one in a meal.

“I should have had them laminated,” she said.

Weird? You haven’t known us long enough. While turnips may produce (har-har) our best punchlines, it’s far from our only bit of mild insanity. There’s the mandatory sound effect when someone says they’ll be “back like a flash” (psheewwww!), or the back-and-forth razzing about the romantic qualities of Bob Dylan, or singing the names of Heather’s medical conditions. (Yes, if you ever want to enliven the Mozart Requiem, just start singing along with “AN-ky-LOS-ing … SPON-dy-LIT-is!”)

It’s ridiculous. Even silly. And I think it’s why we’ve survived as long as we have.

A lot of things get promised when you enter a marriage: for better or worse, for richer or poorer, for Buffs or Rams, and so on. But I really think that somewhere in the wedding vows needs to be a promise to love each other “in sense and in nonsense.”

Yes, you want to take each other seriously. This is your partner, your love and your best friend, after all. But marriage throws a lot at you, from the life-and-death to the utterly mundane. It’s easy to drown and simply react to the next thing until you’re not one couple, you’re two people with Important Things that all need to be done Right Now.

Silliness is a way of taking the moment back.

It means stepping back and turning life cockeyed for a second, for no other purpose than a moment’s amusement.

It means calling on old memories of odd moments, because the best gags have deep roots.

And it means showing your partner that you still care. That you can reach outside yourself and spend an instant to make them smile, speaking in a language that only the two of you share.

The words may be ridiculous. But getting silly is serious business. “A laugh can be a very powerful thing,” Roger Rabbit once said – and really, if you can’t trust a cartoon rabbit, who can you trust?

OK, maybe that was a bit much even for me. Time to ground myself. To focus. To concentrate on weighty matters and serious things.

Things like … turnips.

Thanks, honey. That’s another one I owe you.

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