The Tooth be Told

The truth is I didn’t like the guy.

He was a bully with a big mouth. The kind of guy that hung out with the jocks and the cool kids—wanting to be one, but wasn’t. Looking back, I can see that he was insecure and like everyone else in junior high, trying to find a way to fit in. His way to was to put down those he perceived as lesser than himself. His name was Miller, I don’t recall his first name. In junior high everyone was called by their last name.

I was Neighbors, and for some I was also called “Farmer.” It wasn’t a compliment. I acquired the name because of my shoes. My parents didn’t care about fashion or the latest styles in 1968. My clothes were practical, not stylish and were bought at K-mart. We lived on a farm and the shoes they bought me also doubled as work boots. Perfect for the farm, not so perfect for school. One day one of the cool kids noticed my shoes and called me Farmer. It stuck.

I was quiet, definitely not a jock, didn’t have many friends—I was not one of the “cool kids.” If Miller was looking for a way to prove himself a tough guy, then I was perfect prey.

The lunch routine in junior high was to gather in the gym and then, at regular intervals, we would line up single file to go to the cafeteria when it was our turn to eat. I took my place in line on this day, as I had on so many other days. Miller would often “take cuts” as we called it—jumping into line in front of others to go first and/or to be near the other “cool kids.” He had taken cuts in front of me before and it angered me, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I knew that simply tattling would not accomplish anything and only make things worse.

I hated being bullied. I played by the rules. Growing up with two older brothers, I quickly learned my place when it came to getting along with others. I was not the assertive one. We were taught that fighting was wrong. My brothers would tell you that I was quick to yell for mom and dad to come to my rescue when we had scraps at home. But I also recall some fatherly advice my dad had given me about fighting. “Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. If people know you you’ll stand up for yourself, they won’t bother you anymore.” My dad was a short man, and somehow I got the feeling he had personally applied that wisdom somewhere in his history.

So Miller cut in front of me. I don’t know what made this day different from all the other times he had taken cuts, but I snapped. I wasn’t having it today. I yelled “No cuts!” and shoved him hard out of line. Miller was momentarily stunned; he wasn’t expecting this. He spun around and  charged at me.

Now, one thing you need to understand is that while I was not a jock, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t have physical ability. I had never had a real fight before. But I had had countless “fights” in my make believe world. I was a fan of old action movies. I had pretend fights galore, emulating fights I had seen in countless movies. And I don’t know where they came from, but we had old boxing gloves in our house. While I had never taken a lesson, I had watched Mohammad Ali on TV.  I had had numerous boxing matches with my brothers and cousins in the basement of our house (we almost always pulled our punches—almost always). I had the physique of a toothpick, which meant I was not very strong, but I could move pretty fast and was a small target.

When Miller charged me I immediately adopted a boxer stance and began to dance around just like the boxers I had seen on TV. All of the sudden I was Muhammad Ali. I was “floating like a butterfly.” I quickly dodged his charge and then went on the attack, jabbing with my fists. The word “fight” was chanted from my fellow students as they backed up forming a ring and giving us space. I recall a few snickers at my fighting style. This was not what was typical of a school fight, which usually resembled more a wrestling match than a boxing match.

I peppered Miller with several blows. Mostly to the head. I was pumped on pure adrenaline. He was hardly fighting back and mostly trying to cover his head to protect himself. Then from out of nowhere he mustered a wild punch. It connected. Right square in my mouth. Okay a point for Miller. I backed away stunned for a moment and then started another advance.

“He’s bleeding!” “Look at his tooth!” “Hey Neighbors, you lost your tooth!”

What? I hadn’t realized it.

One of my front teeth was knocked clean out of my mouth and was lying on the floor at my feet.

Suddenly the fight stopped.  A missing tooth and the blood dripping from my mouth brought everything to a momentary halt. Then adults were on the scene. Somebody picked up my tooth off the floor and Miller and I were being whisked down to the principal’s office.

As we walked down the hall Miller was in a panic and said to me. “I can’t be in trouble for a fight. I’m already in enough trouble. I’ll get kicked out of school. Tell them you accidentally tripped and fell into the bleachers, okay?”

I tried to respond, “I uhhh woon oooh ahh”

I couldn’t talk, I had a hanky in my mouth and I was bleeding profusely.

When we got to the office. Miller told his side of the story, while I sucked on a handkerchief and waited for my dad to come and pick me up. Miller’s story was the official story of the incident. I tripped and fell into the bleachers and knocked out a tooth.

I was taken immediately to the dentist, whole tooth in hand. They attempted to implant the tooth back into my mouth. I took a few weeks before we realized the tooth didn’t survive. I would live most of the rest of my life with a “flipper,” a false tooth on a partial denture in the roof of my mouth. A false tooth as a permanent reminder of this infamous day.

I’d like to say that I won the fight. I hit Miller numerous times and gave him a slight black eye. He only hit me once…but what a hit. Miller and I would see each other again from time to time, but we kept our distance from each other. He did the most damage in the fight. I’m sure he thinks he won.

My Dad was right, however. Throughout the rest of my junior high and high school years the bullies never bothered me again.

Miller’s lie stuck. If there is one thing that bothers me most about this story, it is that I never corrected the lie. Oh, the students that witnessed the fight know what really happened. But for some reason I kept my mouth shut. I had to when the lie was being told. I couldn’t talk and was just a little in shock. By the time I could tell my version of the story, my parents and the principal had all accepted the other version. I tripped, fell into the bleachers and knocked out my tooth. I perpetrated the lie to those who knew my parents because it was easier than telling the truth, or so I thought. My parents went to their graves not knowing the truth of what happened, and I regret that.

And the ironic thing is that I actually prefer the true version of the story. Me standing up for myself. And I did offer up a great defense…except for that one lucky punch. I think my dad would have been proud.

A little late perhaps, but the truth must be told, and I feel better for telling, even if a bit late!

Distracted

This summer I have intentionally slowed down my touring schedule. One reason is I wanted to devote more time to writing.

[phone rings]

Wait, I need to take this call.

“Hello? No, I don’t need your credit card service. I have asked you about 100 times to take my number off your call list. Please don’t call again.”

Grrr…there ought to be a law! So, where was I?…ah, writing…

The Oregon weather is finally wonderful. So I am sitting out on my patio, looking up at the sky…oh, you have got to be kidding me. I just swept the cobwebs off the eaves yesterday and now they are back! Ugh… where is that broom?

[long pause, we hear some grumbling about spiders]

Okay, I’m back…

Now for some inspiration. Maybe I’ll address the writing process for the creative. Controlling your environment is very important-

“What? Yes, Lorie I know I said I would unload the dishwasher and – Now? But I was gonna… okay…now.”

[another long pause, with dishes clanking in the background]

All right, uh, controlling environment…

I have discovered that I do my best writing when I can find a space to work that is devoid of distractions-

[phone chime alert]

Oh, wow! This is great! A booking just came in. I need to respond to this right away. Let me look at the calendar…

[clacking of keyboard on the computer]

So…yeah…devoid of distractions. In fact I think my best writing was-

[Lawn maintenance guy rounds the corner of the house with a leaf blower. A few wood chips fly up onto the keyboard]

My best writing…my best writing was NOT done at home.

As strange is it may sound, I think I have more control over my environment at almost any place but home…

[long pause in the writing process]

I’m writing this last part at a coffee shop. Not too far from my home. Now I can write without distractions.

[Inner thoughts]

“Whoa…is that guy gonna drink all that by himself? That’s one huge drink. I wonder if it comes with a catheter?”

To be continued… or maybe not.

[Note: I really did set out to write about the importance of controlling your environment when writing. Most of the distractions that I mention, really did happen during the writing of this article]

This Old Hat

This old hat sits in display on a bookshelf in my office. What comes to mind when you look at it? It is pretty beaten up and worn. If a hat could talk I am thinking this hat might have a terrific story to tell. Which is one reason I chose it. I was looking for a hat with a story to tell.

At one time it was actually a pretty good hat. The label on the inside says it’s a Dobbs hat. Dobbs hats date back to the 1930s and the company is still in business today. I was actually looking for something that went back even farther—the 1910s would have been ideal. But for the story, this one would work fine. I found it at a thrift store in the 1980s. When I found it, it was a little too nice. I needed it to look like a hat that had been to there and back. A hat that had experienced all kinds of weather. A hat that had slept in the streets and maybe been kicked and punched a few times.

So I worked it over a bit. I wadded it up and stomped it in the dirt until it had the look I needed—a hat that had once been distinguished, now beaten, faded and tired. A hat with a story.

At that time, in the 1980s, it didn’t have any holes in it. Those came later. The holes appeared after telling the story hundreds of times. I would tell the story while holding the hat in my hands and fidgeting with it. That, combined with being thrown in a suitcase until the next time I told the story, eventually wore holes in the hat. Small at first, but becoming more pronounced over time.

Soon it reached a point where it was too worn and too fragile to withstand the rigors of the storyteller. I feared it might disintegrate in my hands if I were to keep demanding it to perform. I needed to replace it, to recast the role of the hat with a different old hat.

So I did. I went to another thrift store and found another old hat. This one was a different style but still appropriate to the time for the story. It would work, and has been my companion for telling the story for many years. But it is not the same.

I miss this old hat.

We shared so much time together. This old hat became not only part of the story I told, but part of my story too. This old hat is linked to a lot of memories. Cherished memories that I don’t want to forget.

So I keep it around, letting it occupy a place of prominence on my bookshelf, where I can see it often. It still serves a purpose. It reminds me of the journey we have had together. Of the stories we have told. It has become a part of me.

I’m just not ready to give up this old hat.

Living the Actor’s Dream…or Nightmare

Ah, yes the actor’s dream. “The smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd.” I’m sure every actor has that dream. Standing ovations, the crowds going wild, and great reviews (although I must admit, I really don’t care much for the smell of greasepaint).

But engage an actor in conversation about their real dreams—the kind they have when their head hits the pillow at night—and it’s more likely they will tell you about their nightmares. Common ones include forgetting lines, missing an entrance, or the most common of terrors—finding yourself on stage in a production you know nothing about and trying to bluff your way through the show. I have had those nightmares, and had a few of them actually come true.

Last weekend I had another of my nightmares come true. I have literally had dreams about traveling to a performance to discover, at the last minute, that I left all my costumes and props at home. Well, it happened for real last weekend. I think I am so accustomed to flying to performances that I become a little too relaxed in preparation for travel when I have to drive to show. This time I was so relaxed about my travel that I completely forgot to pack my suitcase that has all my performance stuff in it—all my props, costume pieces, display items, and media for sound cues—packed and ready to go, sitting in my office at home. I was about 3 hours into my 5-hour drive to Marysville, WA when I realized my blunder.

(While I say I simply forgot these things…my wife had a different take on it. She called it a “senior moment.”  I have no clue what she means by this…I haven’t been called a senior since I graduated High School.)

What to do! I did have the time to turn around and go back to Salem and pick up the suitcase…the time, but I wasn’t sure I had the energy. I pulled over at the next exit on I-5 and got out of my car to go double check the trunk—yep, no suitcase. Breathe, Chuck, breathe!

I started making a list of the essential things I needed for this performance. Fortunately, I am doing one of my personal storytelling pieces, Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story. After taking a moment to think through the show, I realized that most of the props, while great to have, were not essential. I could do this without the props, if necessary. At least I knew my lines.

At least I knew my lines.

The text. That’s what was essential! The actor, the director, the speaker all know your job is to serve the text. You know exactly what I am talking about if you have ever watched what is supposed to be a blockbuster movie and are totally underwelmed by a weak storyline and poor writing or conversely if you have ever watched a low budget film and been blow away by the great story that was told.

I would focus on the text! I ran them during the drive—alas no “senior moments!” All the lines were there!

Modern technology can be a wonderful thing. Some of the missing items from my suitcase could simply be printed at the local Kinkos. A quick call to my wife and the wonder of “the cloud,” and those things are easily duplicated. A stop at a local store and a call to the pastor to see if they can locate a couple of items for me to use, and by showtime on Sunday morning I had almost everything replaced. Nightmare averted.

I recalled the text of the motto from my days as a Boy Scout: “Be Prepared.”

Senior moments… pftttt!

How to Sleep in a Bed

…and other things we take for granted

In the previous blog I talked about our new venture as hosts for an AirBnB apartment in our home. Although I am a well traveled person, I have rarely been the host to other travelers and am learning a few things as we go. I’m learning that things I take for granted are not neccesarily true for the people we are hosting…especially when it comes to people from other lands and cultures. 

We recently hosted some guests from another country and upon cleaning up after their week long stay we made some interesting observations. Wet towels were neatly folded and left on a chair in the bedroom, the trash cans were empty as they took their garbage with them.  None of the food items we left for them were touched, including fresh baked muffins. A spare toothbrush we left in a drawer was used and then put back in the package for the next guest, I presume. But the most interesting observation to us was that they apparently slept on top of the blanket instead of between the sheets, and used the duvet for their cover. 

Ah, the things we take for granted. Doesn’t everybody sleep in a bed the same way I do? Between the sheets not on top of them, right?

I often stop and think about the things we take for granted in other aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to how we do church. I’m a “guest” in a different church almost every week, and often in churches with many differing styles of worship. I like to ponder what is going on in the minds of people who might be visiting and are unaccustomed to attending church. We in the church, I think, take so many things for granted. Consider these as if you had never visited a church before:

  • The worship leader starts a song, and without being prompted, people stand with arms raised and sing along. 
  • The offering is received with little or no explanation.
  • People come to the altar to pray during a worship song.
  • The “turn and greet the people next to you” moment.
  • The spontaneous “Amen” or “Hallelujah” from members of the congregation.
  • Communion is received—in so many different ways. Passed in the pew or walking down the aisle and kneeling at the altar. Again, often without explanation.
  • Announcements about activities that carry the assumption that people will know what it is with no explanation (Shepherding Group, Celebrate Recovery, MOPs, etc). 

You get the idea. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of those things. But I do think there is a lot taken for granted in the average church service. For a time the church was extra sensitive to this with the introduction of the “seeker sensitive” worship service. While criticized by many, I do think it is worth applying that filter to the everyday life of the average church, especially when it comes to worship and the inculusion of guests. 

A few years ago I created a video series called “There Goes Bob.” The series was inspired by the thought that more people would attend church if invited by a friend. In the 4th and final episode the invitee shares some of his observations about the church service he attends. I think it applies to this topic. Watch and see: 


Check out the entire There Goes Bob Series in our store.

I changed a few things in my checkin procedure for our next AirBnB guests, also from another country. While showing them how to operate the control for a Sleep Number Bed, I casually mention “Oh, and in our western culture we sleep between the sheets” as I show them where the covers get pulled back.

I don’t want to take anything for granted. 

If you are traveling to Salem, we would be delighted to have you consider our Sunnyslope Retreat apartment! Check it out!
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