Gofer-Vision, or the Search for the Quintessential Tool

Yesterday I was completing a couple home projects in our basement and reminiscing with our teenage son, Trevor, as I worked. In the course of the conversation, a shared memory surfaced: Once when I was working on a different project (the kids’ treehouse, I think), I sent Trevor to the garage to get the orange carpenter’s square.

“Big, flat piece of steel, like two rulers at a right angle to each other. It should be hanging on the peg board over the work bench. Bright orange—can’t miss it.”

He was gone a long time.

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When I was old enough to read the fractions etched into the sides of sockets and wrenches, I became my Dad’s “gofer” (as in, “Go fer this; go get that.”)—and I had an uncanny ability to look squarely at the tool my father asked for and not see it. I could not see something for several minutes straight; we never tested the upper limits of this knack of mine, primarily because the sought item would snap into focus the moment Dad disentangled himself from the drivetrain of the pickup, rolled out from beneath it on the creeper, stood, sauntered over to the bench, and pointed at it, right where he said it would be.

“Oh,” I would say sheepishly, handing it to him. “I didn’t see that there.”

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Sure Signs of Spring…

March is my least favorite month of the year. Winter is winding down, but rarely leaves quietly. It’s often cold, but also wet and windy—the worst weather conditions—and even as it warms, the white snow turns dingy gray and black, uncovering a winter’s worth of dirt and debris:

Fat Tuesday
Why should the robin be the harbinger of Spring?
Why watch for flowers?
The tulip and the thrush borrow beauty from the sun;
tug their strength up from the dark earth.
Stronger still, and darker, is the crow.
Songbirds ride the North Wind south;
flowers hang their heads and retreat beneath the snow.
The crow remains.
Feathers ruffed, dark eye glaring sidelong, he stoops;
picks bits of hide and hair from the cold pavement.
A lean meal this Christmas, but Easter comes,
and Nature’s bounty blooming black from the snow.
A stiffened ear; the rack and ripe entrails—
the crow consumes all, makes ready the house for the Master’s arrival.

He waits, black as the cloth, preaching his monosyllable, fasting.

Poem, a Day Late (February 7, 2008)

As a general rule, I don’t shovel after March 1.* Invariably we get snow in March (and even April), which means that while our neighbors’ driveways still have nice straight edges and clear entry points, ours is a lumpy and treacherous mix of snow, slush, and refreeze.

When the blustery weather finally breaks (temporarily, of course), we see our first serious warm-up and venture out for a walk around the neighborhood. The curbs and gutters run with miniature rivers and rapids; last autumn’s soggy leaves and twigs form dams creating shallow pools for passing cars to splash through, and the storm sewers roar and rumble. The plowed snow along the road melts from the bottom up, creating shelves of ice that crunch and give way beneath our boots. With no talls weeds to hide it, litter appears — the soggy remains of last fall’s lunch someone tossed out the car window before the first snow. And then, after a couple days and maybe a good, hard rain, the mud forms.

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Learning to Live with Myself

In July of 2019, our family caravanned with friends from Michigan out to Glacier National Park to camp and hike and see the sites. It was a wonderful trip, and for the first time, Brendan’s fiancée (now wife) Becky joined us as well.

One of the characteristics of our family that Becky had to adjust to is the constant crackle of wordplay, sarcasm, and verbal violence dealt out among our members. I remember distinctly the first shot I fired across her bow at the dinner table during one of our first few visits with her. She took it well, with a wry smile and a very deliberate “Wow.”—as in, “Okay, so it’s like that now.”

This is not about that, however. This is about the first real shot she fired back.

We were standing around the firepit at the campground at Glacier, and Brendan was complimenting something he had eaten with Becky’s family: venison meat sticks, I think. I was standing just behind Becky, and as Brendan gushed, I stooped to rest my chin on Becky’s shoulder and gave her my best sideways puppy-dog eyes to indicate how much her future father-in-law would appreciate such delicacies.

She took evasive action, as one might in such a circumstance, and with the same wry smile, said, “You know, you’re basically Bruno in human form.”

I opened my mouth to reply, then closed it again.

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Laughs and Life Lessons at Moonshine Abbey

In case you missed the news, we’ve a playwright in the priesthood: Fr. Kyle Kowalczyk, pastor of the Church of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Delano, has also written, directed, produced, and acted in theatrical productions since high school. This week and next, his Catholic community theater company, Missed the Boat Theatre, is performing Moonshine Abbey, an original musical by Fr. Kyle and composer Sam Backman. It tells the story of a community of monks trying to preserve its rule, identity, and livelihood of brewing beer and distilling spirits during Prohibition.

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Last Call: A Christmas Dialogue

This year’s Christmas poem is a conversation and a modest attempt at Shakespearean style. The inspiration popped into my head several weeks ago: an imagined meeting of the World, the Flesh and the Devil, who are sharing a pint of “Christmas cheer” at the end of a seemingly successful year of sowing strife and division. The line that came first to mind was from the Flesh: “The spirit is weak, and the flesh is always willing.”—which survives in a modified form.

For whatever reason, I remain taken with the idea of Satan struggling to accept that he has been defeated by an Infant and His Mother. A few sparks from literature and pop culture also came to mind, for example, C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” Scrooge’s promise at the end of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to discuss Bob Cratchit’s situation “over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop,” and the exchange between Captain Jack Sparrow and Gibbs in the Tortuga tavern in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

It may be easier to print and read in this format. Apologies to the Bard—I hope a few of you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

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Scene: A dark corner of a noisy tavern, lit by melted candle stubs and a large, crackling fire. A table with three chairs and three tankards. Two figures are seated: the World, slight, anxious and in constant motion; the Flesh, immense and languid, with eyes that rove around the room. A third figure, the Devil, well-dressed with a commanding bearing, approaches, and the first two rise.

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