CRACKERJAX

Some of you wanted to read the rest of my daughter’s essay, so here it is. A glimpse into my world, but as a parent, this is a glimpse into your world too. This is the universal language of love of parents and children. Although it’s long, I promise this will bring about the Christmas spirit.

A warm breeze ripples over my shoulder as I make my way out of my dad’s prized white pick-up truck and through the parking lot. If there had been a crowd I would have done anything to shove, claw, push my way through, and I know he would have done the same. I finally break free from the cracked asphalt of the parking lot that emits heat from the ground, echoing the heat of the scorching Scottsdale day, to the sandy white cement of the sidewalk. Grass pokes up from along the cracks, a welcoming sight as if they are beckoning one closer as they sway together with the summer heat pushing around them.

I grab my dad’s hand tightly as we reach the doors, red pillars swirling up on either side, a bold “CRACKERJAX” painted above the door in bright gold and red letters big enough to read from a mile away. The paint is new, fresh, crisp. The letters are carefully aligned, a perfect computer font of a script. The sun leans down on us as we walk through the entrance. It’ll be lower when we come out, the mark of hours spent inside, transported into a memory. My dad pushes the door open for me, and I am engulfed in the cool air conditioning washing over us, wrapping me in a familiar hug as I transition from the bright light of a hot Arizona summer to the cool, dim indoors of the arcade lit by colorful flashing lights from each game.

Nestled between upscale Scottsdale shopping districts, the average run-of-the- mill arcade is a hotspot for families as well as a breeding ground for bored teenagers, and my dad and I somehow find ourselves continually drawn back to it. “CrackerGurm’s” as he calls it, pinning the affectionate nickname he gave me since birth on to the end as if symbolizing that it was for me. I am young, too young to even remember when we start coming to Crackerjax, and this is the place where I form my relationship with my dad. I am young, growing up in the illuminated glow of the air hockey table, the vibrant tracks of putt-putt golf. This is an easy, effortless place where I have no second guesses or doubts that follow me throughout my childhood.

Bright lights, brilliant blues and reds and every color in between shine down at us from their respective spots on arcade games, greeting us with a wink as we walk further inside. The air whooshes around us as the air conditioner constantly pours out new air, creating goosebumps on my skin, partly from excitement, partly from the cold. Children’s voices flutter around like bird songs, distinct squeals, and hoots of excitement, the sound of basketballs bouncing off the backboard of a free throw game, the hard sound of a skeeball sliding at top speed into openings, resonating with a loud thud mingle in the air. Animated voices mix with the sound of zombies being shot and cartoon Doings! and Whams! being brought to life brought to you by your favorite video game character.

CRACKERJAXOur first stop is the coin dispenser, my dad slipping in bills like it is the only thing he’s ever saved up for. The amount of money he has forked over for an endless number of tokens has most likely funded the Crackerjack’s stock, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is their most prized customer. Shiny coins tumble into my eagerly outstretched hands, soon to be stuffed into pockets of my dad’s oversized parachute pants. Every so often I’ll still come across a few of them when cleaning my room, memories beckoning me back.

Gliding down the sloping ramp into the belly of the arcade always held the best feeling when I was a kid. Becoming enveloped in the chaotic awe – the wonder one feels as a child when memories seem the ripest, almost larger than life. Walking down the ramp into a wonderland of shimmering lights and entrancing music dancing in between the different games
forms an atmosphere solely created for moments like this. The lights bouncing around seemingly shine from the reflection of my own happiness. It was a walk I never took alone, always accompanied by my best pal.

The air hockey table, given its own space, as if reserved solely for its two most important clients, is adjacent to the ramp on the left side of the arcade. The average run of the mill air hockey table, adorned with blue and black paint worshipping its pristine deck, was our equivalent to some sort of holy shrine, always visited. Four coins promised the game of a lifetime, soon adding up to 8, 12, 16, 20 before the afternoon was done.
“Ready to lose?” Ever the competitive one, my dad never backed down.

After a few rounds of letting me beat him, we would play all or nothing, no holding back. The slick sound of the thin yellow puck sliding across the table faster than expected bounced back and forth, providing its own commentary. Focus was intense. Stakes were high. Dad versus his youngest daughter. I’d like to think that the more I played the better I got, but recent visits have informed me that my rusty skills are no match for my dad’s jaguar like speed.

Although he normally won, I won’t forget the look he had that was reserved for when I snuck in an extra goal awarding me a win, shock slapping him in the face as he gave a wide-eyed look followed by a surprised grin, his stunned expression always followed by a laugh, commending me for my game. The pride that accompanied his praise always rose up in my belly like a fire finding its way out, a warm and cliché fuzzy feeling exclusively given to me by my dad. A pride that I would do anything for, always striving to earn a laugh and a praise from him.

A man of tall stature, ponytail and scruffy beard, my dad always stood out of a crowd. He wore baggy Gold Gym’s brand sweatshirts of assorted vibrant primary colors along with what strongly resembled parachute pants or baggy shorts with a hat on backward over remarkably long hair. My dad’s appearance spoke for him, displaying his character. A man who chose comfort over looks, who didn’t want to show off with materialism. Who grew his hair out to donate to Locks of Love, always tied back into a long ponytail.

Humble from his roots, my dad grew up in a family of self-proclaimed “red-necks” from Arkansas. The youngest of two brothers and one sister, my dad learned his place by roughhousing of malicious intent and hard teachings from a hard father. Moving to California, then Arizona as a boy, my dad finished high school and worked as a framer, working on houses throughout the valley instead of attending college.

Starting work from a young age of 13, my dad was instilled with a hard work ethic, rising up in the company he worked at to eventually making his own and being the boss. He passed up on his dream of being a writer and settled for something learned from a young age, but later poured his experiences into writing; his hardships something I still cannot bring myself to read.

With skin splotchy red in most places from sun exposure and scruff that scratched my face whenever he would kiss my cheek or forehead at bedtime, always vigilant to tuck me in. Worn callouses on his hands demonstrated years of hard work and his green eyes always held a glowing warmth, twinkling with wit, constantly looking for his next joke. My biggest fan of all my work, my dad is always the first to tell me how proud of me he is.

A father of two step-daughters and one biological daughter, he was never one to treat any one of us unequally. He embraced my half-sisters as his own children, marrying my mom before I was born. He loved fairly and deeply, more than he had ever bargained for, pouring his heart out into relationships he never expected.

Revisiting my house a few weeks ago in Scottsdale, he opened up to me with a sense of vulnerability that had not been present when I was living at home, one that only opened up once the realization of distance had hit. He told me that before he met my mom, he had sworn to not date women with children. But as he fell in love with my mom, he fell in love with her daughters.
“How could I not?”, he had added. A glimpse into the softness underneath his tough exterior not often shown was revealed to me in that small, warm moment as we sat in the kitchen long after my mom had fallen asleep on the couch in the family room, listening to music that he always insisted on playing for me on YouTube.

He had never expected having a child of his own. Admittedly too preoccupied with work, he had believed that that part of his life had passed.
“But everything changed when I had you. I knew you were the greatest gift God gave me.” Our eyes mirrored each others, both welling up with the feeling of tears that threatened to spill over, tracing down our cheeks as we exchanged matching sniffs in the emotional moment, love bubbling up inside my chest; the returning fuzzy feeling claiming its place.

As we aged so did the building of the arcade, paint beginning to chip from the elaborate entrance, the greens of the putt-putt course turning to a muddy beige. Machines started to become replaced by their new and improved counterparts, entering a more modern age as the old ones lost their beloved gleam, instead only reflecting one’s appearance in the dark nothingness of a blank screen. The pinball machines my dad obsessed over started to dwindle in their number, but the main attractions like air hockey and skeeball remained the same. My dad’s trusty pick-up truck changed to a Hummer. Photo booth stubs show his hair becoming shorter, now resting on his shoulders. Lines began to creep across his forehead and around his eyes, but that twinkle never disappeared from them. Regardless of the changes going on around us, with our age, our enthusiasm only grew. Time after time, without fail, our tradition stood the test of time.

Over the years, however, things began to get busier. Between school and typical teenage moodiness, trips grew less frequent, but somehow more cherished. Or maybe even sad, in a sense.

“Wanna go to Crackerjax this weekend?” he would ask with a bright grin on his face, it slowly diminishing as he heard my response.
“No, dad! Geez, quit asking! I have way too much work.” It would be followed by a curt smirk and an eye roll, one that all thirteen-year-olds seem to have mastered. As I saw the resulting disappointment and quietness grow from him, clearly portrayed on his face whether he was aware of it or not, I’d feel an unfamiliar pang, a torrent of guilt spewing up inside as I began to regret my answer, but controlled by some sort of pride, I couldn’t take that answer back.

“But maybe next weekend…?” I’d try to come up any kind of response that could fix the situation as soon as I felt that pit in my stomach, feeling that in some small way, I let him down. He’d nod and return to his usual self, the window of vulnerability closed off, at least to me. Times like that I’d instantly feel torn between my typical teenage attitude and the feeling that I made my dad upset. I remember almost crying at times, swearing that it wasn’t because I didn’t want to spend time with him and he’d laugh as he gave me an understand hug, assuring me that it was alright.

It’s funny to think how you never know when the last time you do something will be. It’s something I often think about, often accompanied by a sting of missing my childhood and a panicked need to call my dad. You don’t know you’re in the “good old days” until you’ve left them. I didn’t know the last time my dad would tuck me into bed, take me trick-or-treating, or going with him to Crackerjax as a kid until after it happened.

Revisiting now shows an absence of the games we played faithfully and instead, they are replaced by a laser tag arena taking up most the space in the arcade. More modern games have replaced their classic arcade ancestors, the digital presence of the 21st century creeping in little by little. The once-pristine paint that faded to a familiar chip is now restored but is almost foreign.

“Our” Crackerjax is stored away in my memories, safe from the infiltration of change. A change that has invaded our lives in every way imaginable as we grow older, especially present in the transition of my moving to college. Although I’m now only 30 minutes away from my home, it can feel like worlds away.

“Lunch this weekend?” I’m now the one to instigate things, calling my dad whenever something reminds me of him, making plans that I pray he won’t reject like I did as a teenager. It’s different now, our ever evolving relationship. Distance has changed things, made small things like the time we spend more important, more cherished.
“Yeah, that sounds great!”, my dad responds. And when we meet up on a Saturday afternoon to get lunch, he tells me he’s been looking forward to it all week.

BLAZING A NEW TRAIL

There are different ways to get places, but when I was a kid, it was predominantly the shoe leather express, minus the leather. It was rubber and canvas tennis shoes in those days.

Even with only legs and feet to carry us, we still had different routes to choose to get to school. We never took the long way, the civilized routes cluttered with sidewalks and crosswalks.

We took short cuts. Even if it meant having to go by ol’ man Hatchet’s house. Word was, he hacked up kids with his Hatchet… but he’d have to catch us first.

The well-worn path through thickets, bamboo, gnarly trees, and golden weeds eventually dumped us out close to the elementary school.

The problem with trails is that they’re not always the most direct route. Plus, if they’re there it means they were blazed by someone else.

Davy and I used our tennis shoes like road graders; shuffling, kicking, filling our socks with stickers. It took time, kicking up dust every day, arriving at school just in time and filthy, but eventually we had our own trail, dangerously close to ol’ man Hatchet’s, but trailblazers can’t be faint of heart… or have clean shoes and socks.

Sometimes in life, we don’t set out to blaze trails. The stars align or Divine intervention arranges our meeting with destiny. Sometimes it’s a wooded field, sometimes it’s a business, a mission field, or even a blank piece of paper.

Blazing a new trail has a couple of benefits; one is the gratification that comes from the grueling process. The other is the advantage it brings to others, folks that gain from our endeavor.

I guess it was my mom that passed on her love of books to me. Maybe part of it was all the reading they made me do when I was a kid trying to help me overcome my speech impediment. Either way, I didn’t come to the place where a new path begins by myself.

Long before she could talk, my youngest sat on my lap as I read her books, pointing at pictures and words. She’d look up at me, wide-eyed in wonder, smitten with the magic of words.

Her second assignment in her college writing class was to write about a place. She picked an arcade, but not just any arcade, she wrote about “our” arcade. The place she and I spent countless hours, tokens, and laughs.

My daughter poured out her heart and soul, using the assignment as partial therapy to cope with being away from home… and a dad she sorely missed, but maybe not as much as he does her. She wrote it for me too.

My daughter’s writing, even being objective, is beyond her years.

I’m blazing a new trail, learning the business of writing from the dark side that not many people see. Whether I end up being published traditionally or not, I’ve been gratified by the hard work.

I know now the trail isn’t for me… it’s for the more talented one that shares some of my passion for writing… and blood.
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I CUSSED

I cussed last week. Which made me even more frustrated at the failing of my frail flesh. It wasn’t out loud, but it was cussing that I kept inside my mind, letting the poison do its work.

I don’t lose the battle with my flesh near as much as I used to, but I got my clock cleaned last week.

I realize that it gets easier to live above the flesh as we get older. One of the biggest factors is age itself.

Another reason to leave the jumping to conclusions and flying off the handle to the younger generations is that we’ve figured out how much energy it takes… not to mention the fact that we’re already plum tuckered.

One of the other reasons that it gets easier to live above the failing flesh is the many gifts we tend to overlook.

I enjoy using my hands. I’ve used them to build a lot of things, but with the decades and evolution of business much has changed. The tools I used to use are different than the ones I use now. These days a computer and cell phone have replaced hammers and saws.

We all get to deal with frustrations, but physical ones seem to have a more immediate effect… which is why I cussed last week before I even knew it was on the tip of my mind.

Maybe it’s more instinct based on the bygone days when cussing and chewing tobacco were just part of the day… along with frustrations.

The crew wasn’t my regular one, good guys, just lacking experience. Especially for “seeing” my vision that the blueprints, for some things, exist only in my mind.

I cussed

The stringer is the center support piece.

The beam saw I used to cut the single glue laminated beam stringer that weighed around five hundred pounds is obsolete. They don’t make them anymore. Those saws lopped off too many fingers, hands, and arms. Yeah, the massive and jagged blade is bigger than a commercial table saw… set in a handheld gigantic cartoon sized handsaw.

After a couple of days of holding the gargantuan saw, focusing on not letting it cut any of my body parts off, my energy and patience were gone like the good ol’ days.

Splinters in the hands, sawdust in the eyes, and ears, blisters, and sweat rolling into my eyes. Back aching from bending over with the widow maker in my hands, I was a man on the edge.

It must have been the thousandth trip over a block of wood that broke the camel’s back. #&*%@!!!, I yelled to myself in my mind, spittin’ sawdust out of my mouth to no avail, giving in and just swallowing it.

We get into our comfortable worlds that are really the gifts from God and we forget the difficulties that others live with daily.

I need to count my gifts and be more understanding when I judge or give advice because I’m no better than anyone else. Just forgiven… even though I cussed last week.

THE INVISIBLE MAN

The invisible man died… and I didn’t even know his name. A couple of smart bottoms I told about the invisible man’s passing didn’t quite get it.

They wore the expressions of sarcasm and asked me how I would even know if the invisible man died for sure. I, in turn, flashed them my unamused expression and explained that he wasn’t really invisible – the title was just a nickname for a guy that touched so many people’s lives. I’ll bet including yours, and yet nobody knew him and his sightings were almost as rare as Big Foot’s.

His name was Rod Temperton and it’s likely that his music has crossed the path of your ears more than once in your lifetime.

the invisible man

(Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
from boom box.com

I don’t think I ever attended a wedding during the 80’s and 90’s and didn’t’ hear, “Always and Forever”, written and composed by the invisible man when he was part of the group Heatwave.

The same could be said of his next song, except that this one is still being played at weddings pushing forty years later. I’d never have admitted to liking the song back when I was in high school. That’s the sorta thing that could’ve got a kid beat up in my blue collar hood, but I tapped my toes to it.

That song was Boogie Nights and it laid the foundation that the invisible man would use to become one of the most dominant songwriters of all time.

I guess if you are famous, or even an invisible member of the music industry this year; “The Year the Musicians Died”, your spine should be tingling with the presence of the grim reaper creeping up behind.

Rod Temperton was only sixty-six years old, but the cancer took him quickly. His estimated 125 million net worth couldn’t give him even one more precious day.

It didn’t matter that he was obviously a shy or humble man. He wrote a lot of songs for a lot of people. He had a God-given gift… and yet I have no idea if he knew that or God above.

The invisible man wrote “Master Jam” when Chaka Khan was singing lead, “Baby Come To Me” sung by Patti Austin and James Ingram, “Give Me the Night”, by George Benson, “Sweet Freedom” by Michael McDonald, and “Off the Wall, “Rock With You”, and “Thriller”, by Michael Jackson… and those are just the highlights.

The invisible man had an impressive resume… if he was applying to write songs and music, but resumes are for humans – other folks created like all of us and are passing – one day closer to our last with each one.

I have no idea of where the invisible man will spend eternity, but he’s living out his nickname now… along with a lot of other great musicians and songwriters that aren’t coming back in their flesh.

I love music and I admire talent, but the passing of the invisible man reminds me that how we’re measured by this world means zero.

SEVEN DAYS OF SOUL CARE

Seven days of soul care

Dolly’s new book!

Sometimes the days in the valley’s of our lives can turn out to be the best things for us… in the long run. All of us have had trials, difficult times, places along the path of life where we reached the pit mentally and physically then reached out to God for help.

None of us are too anxious to go back and relive the dark days of our lives. A lot of us don’t even want to think too long and hard on them due to the pain it reminds us of.

Then there are those that have lived through the tribulations and are willing to share what they’ve learned with others. Dolly M. Lee is one of those people.

In her new book, “Seven Days of Soul Care”, Dolly shares stories from her own life and her personal struggles with anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and how God’s grace and love transformed her… and still is.

I’ve read this book personally and I believe there’s something in it for everyone. Dolly’s genuine heart and caring nature come through in her honest writing.

One of Dolly’s goal is to raise enough money from the proceeds of this book to support and donate to the charity that she’s passionate about. The name of the charity is International Justice Mission, or IJM. Their mission is to stamp out the horrific business of human trafficking. I’d say that’s a worthy charity to support.

You can click the link here to support Dolly and her efforts to help all people really, especially the children. You can also click this one to catch up with Dolly at Soul Stops .com where she shares her heart and wisdom regularly.

Excellent work, sister.