Archive for the ‘fatherhood’ Category

Announcing a New Member of the Family: Reg


Reginald, or "Reg," our groundhog.

Reginald, or “Reg,” our groundhog.

by Keith Yancy

Meet Reg.

“Reg” is a groundhog.  Not “just” a groundhog, or any random groundhog.  Reg is the adopted, “Yancy family” groundhog.

“Reg” has been living with us longer than he’s had his name, actually.  For whatever reason, it took my wife, kids and I collectively a year or so to realize that Reg has been living quite contentedly under our backyard deck.  One day I noticed a fat, jiggling rat-like creature running through our yard and making straight for our house.  He ran without breaking stride right under the deck, and after watching our frustrated dog bark at him helplessly for a while, I realized that all the clues of Reg’s living arrangements were right in front of me the whole time.

For instance:

  1. Our dog would constantly check the basement window wells next to our deck, looking for something (I knew not what at the time).  She never, ever let the chance go by without checking these openings, and in retrospect, I now know that Reg uses them as both escape hatches and doors from his house under the deck into our (his) yard.
  2. Once when I was working in the basement, I heard a strange scratching sound over my head.  I looked up and out the window, only to find Reg plastered against the window, right where the deck meets the window well.  Reg’s two large front teeth were in full view, and we peered at each other for a surprisingly long time until Reg ambled off to do whatever it is groundhogs do under people’s decks.  I have to admit, I think Reg looked utterly ridiculous plastered against the glass, and I somehow suspect Reg felt ridiculous too.
  3. My daughter talked once about her “fat squirrel” in the backyard.  We all thought she was talking about an actual squirrel until one day, a fuzzy head peeked above the steps on the deck, and we decided that an animal with a head that large was too big to be a squirrel.  The big fuzzy head looked around, noticed the dog going nuts behind the glass doorwall (he was not scared and definitely not impressed), and eventually disappeared.
Reg likes to poke about in the yard, which he thinks is HIS yard.

Reg likes to poke about in the yard, which he thinks is HIS yard.

It was only after we pieced together all these events and started seeing this groundhog more often that we decided to give him a name.  It didn’t take us long.  I asked my daughters what we should name it, and after a couple of suggestions (I vetoed “Bubbles,” for the record) we decided on Reginald.  Reginald was soon downgraded to “Reggie” and, not long afterward, just “Reg.”  Reg has been making fairly regular appearances around our home ever since. 

Even though I killed thousands of bees, I can’t find it in my heart to try to get rid of Reg.  For one thing, Reg isn’t living IN my house.  For another, he’s never stung me, or chased me around the yard, or shown up in my basement, or master bedroom, or any of the other places that the bees would make their appearance.  I’ve never tried (or had the inclination to try) to vacuum Reg with my Shop-Vac, like I did with the bees.  Reg seems quite content to live under the deck outside, and while I suspect he thinks it’s HIS deck and HIS house, we manage to co-exist pretty nicely together.

Reg, walking around on the deck like he owns the place.

Reg, walking around on the deck like he owns the place.

As a neighbor, I have to confess that I find Reg somehow comforting.  Reg never demands anything from me.  He’s not looking for the next innovative strategy, or reminding me of a deadline, or presenting me with a bill to pay; Reg barely makes any noise or fuss at all.  He wanders about the yard virtually every day, doing his groundhog thing.  Occasionally, he’ll walk around ON my deck, but he’s quiet, and doesn’t do any damage. 

My daughter took this photo of Reg staring at me through my dining room window.

My daughter took this photo of Reg staring at me through my dining room window.

One Saturday a few weeks ago, as I was painting my dining room (part of yet another “never-ending project”), I got a strange feeling and looked out the window.  There was Reg… staring blankly up at me from the deck.  Once again, I found myself face-to-face with this groundhog, with only a single pane of glass and about four feet between us.  And once again, we made eye contact and stared at each other for a surprisingly long time.  This time, Reg had much more dignity than when he was pressed up against my basement window.  It may sound crazy, but this time, Reg seemed almost thoughtful.  We watched each other for several moments, while I whispered to my daughter to get me my phone, trying not to move or otherwise scare Reg away.  It didn’t work.  Reg is notoriously “camera shy,” and by the time my phone (and the camera inside it) got to me, he had dashed off.  I still think we shared a brief moment, though.

Not a great shot, but this is Reg standing on his hind legs.  He looks pretty silly, but appearances matter little to Reg.

Not a great shot, but this is Reg standing on his hind legs. He looks pretty silly, but appearances matter little to Reg.

Anyhow, I find myself looking for Reg, and finding him in the yard is now a source of entertainment for our family.  Reg seems very busy.  He’s always rooting around for food, I suppose, or looking around for predators.  There doesn’t seem to be any real predators anywhere (my dog is the closest thing Reg has to an “enemy,” and she can’t catch him).  Reg has taught my family a lot about groundhogs, as we Google up groundhog facts quite often when we see him.  The literature on groundhogs is not terribly interesting or exhaustive, and we learn a lot more just seeing Reg in action.  Though he looks fat, he moves astonishingly fast, and can get out of Dodge in a big, big hurry when properly motivated.  He’s got some courage, too, as I’ve seen him crossing our street more than once.  Reg will occasionally stand up on his hind legs when the mood strikes him, and while he gives up that “dignified look” I mentioned earlier, stands over a foot tall when he’s on his hind legs, which I find pretty impressive.

So, once again, I find myself living in close proximity to wildlife.  And, as long as Reg stays OUTSIDE my house, I’m waving the flag of truce.  Reg is a rather comforting tenant to have around, and if he eats a flower or two, I’ll overlook it.  I just hope he stays single, and doesn’t start a family… my dog will never be able to relax, and I’ll waste too much time trying to take photos of all the groundhogs.

Until next time… 🙂

Advertisements

My IKEA Complaint Letter


TO: IKEA Complaint Department

FROM: Mr. Keith Yancy

RE: Product Issue Causing Gradual Insanity

Dear IKEA:

My name is Keith Yancy, and I am a customer at your Michigan (Canton) IKEA store.  I have a complaint.

Along with my wife and three daughters, I am a loyal customer.  I have purchased furniture, pictures, lights, light bulbs, rugs, drapes, plates, and a host of other products.  I like them all, even though they have unusual names like “Besta Vassbo,” “Vejbon” and “Hemnes” that I suspect I mispronounce.  I even like the food, from the meatballs to the 50-cent hot dogs, and I’m particularly fond of the cinnamon rolls.  I’m not ashamed to say I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years at your store, and was generally happy to do so.

Until now.  And it’s all because of this:

photo 21_Cropped

Yes, this is a cup.  A cup YOU sell, in packs of 8, I believe.  Various colors, of which I own all.  To fully understand my problem, allow me to explain how these cups have begun to chip away at my sanity.

__________________________________________

It began with a trip to your store, obviously, with my wife and kids.  Because you design your store to channel hapless patrons like myself through all the merchandise, I unwittingly passed a display of these cups, and (unbeknownst to me) my youngest daughter put two packs of plastic cups in our basket.  My wife and I only discovered these cups as we were checking out, and began to debate our kids about why we didn’t need them.  But, with other customers waiting behind us and our daughters’ obnoxious ability to argue endlessly about anything for hours and hours, we gave up and just added them to our bill.

And that’s when it all started.

You see, these cups are left everywhere in my home.  EVERYWHERE.  Some empty, some half-full of water or milk, many COMPLETELY full of water or milk, all of which are left just waiting to be discovered by my wife or me.  This process can take days in some cases (as they are sometimes placed in very strange places), and only the smell of curdling milk makes their location — eventually — known.  My favorite ones are the ones with a spoon in them, fused to the bottom of these evil little colored cups by a layer of what was once hot chocolate (I hope); all attempts at getting a kid to wash them have, to date, resulted in dismal failure.

No matter what day of the week, time of day, or season of the year, these cups are everywhere.  They can be found left on the table,

D

on a countertop,

A

scattered around the house in places they shouldn’t be,

C

or even inside a candy dish, for reasons unknown:

B

This has been going on for months.  Little plastic IKEA cup-bombs, forever lurking within my home, their multi-colored silence mocking me from room to room.  I’ve tripped over them, found them in the yard, in the bathroom, in my cars, and because they are seemingly made of indestructible, perpetually cheery colored plastic, they never break, and therefore never grow fewer in number.  Even the colors contribute to my descent into madness: I find my OCD in full bloom when, as I load the dishwasher, I become agitated because I can’t find the OTHER orange cup, or wonder why the blue cups always wind up in the kitchen while the green ones disappear for weeks at a time, or why I secretly like the yellow ones the best.

I’M LOSING MY MIND.

Now you may protest that this is MY problem, as MY children are the ones leaving them everywhere, but I believe you are partially to blame.  Sure, all our parental attempts at getting the kids to clean up after themselves are generally failing, but it was YOU that designed your store to put them in our path.  YOU offer these cups in bright colors that kids like enough (apparently) to put them in our shopping cart without permission.  In other words, you set a trap for us (me), and I’m suffering as a result.

In case you wish to know how bad this situation has become, I’ve begun to suspect that these cups will eventually wind up everywhere — like a virus that takes over the entire planet.  I’ve begun to have visions of them cropping up around the world, like this:

verlander

patagonia

obama

korea

Given what I’ve observed at my home, I even think these cups could escape the bonds of earth.  I really do.

space

In fact, I’m convinced that these cups are so pervasive, there is absolutely nowhere they can’t turn up.  I’m willing to bet that if someone actually DOES find Bigfoot out in the forest somewhere, he’ll be walking around holding one of our little plastic IKEA cups, like this:  

bigfoot

In short, I don’t think I can escape these cups.  Ever.  Even when it’s my time to go, I suspect they’ll be waiting for my arrival:

heaven

Or, in the event that my behavior here on Earth isn’t as good as I think it is, I could EASILY picture these cups waiting for me elsewhere, poised to ensure my journey to insanity is both complete and eternal:

hell

______________________

So, IKEA, since you were in part responsible for my deteriorating condition, I propose compensation.  Clearly, you’re cheerful little plastic cups have negatively affected my mind, and I think a free package of cinnamon rolls is a fair exchange for my mental health.  If you are particularly moved by my suffering, some meatballs would be nice too.   I may eventually go completely insane, but it would be nice to do so after sampling your cinnamon rolls, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be a more docile and satisfied insane person on a full stomach.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I feel compelled to observe that, even if you choose not to offer compensation, my wife and kids enjoy your store too much for me to effectively boycott your products.  So while this may appear to be an empty threat, I can only trust that your conscience as a marketer and as a parent (if you have children) will nag at you, knowing you have driven a cynical suburban father of three out of his mind.

Yours,

Keith D. Yancy

Donuts With Dad… How I Threw Up at my Daughter’s Grade School


by Keith Yancy

I thought my days of throwing up in a grade school restroom were 35 years in the past.  I thought wrong.

It all started with an event at my kid’s grade school: “Donuts with Dad.”  The flyer came home with my 10-year-old daughter, a purple slip of paper with a 1950’s style neon sign typeface, and lay in plain sight on the kitchen counter.  The flyer described a morning “Dad/kid” extravaganza, complete with donuts, coffee, and a short “discussion” afterwards about how to be a better Christian father.  And my 10-year-old daughter was pretty excited about it.  Only one conversation with her made it clear: she was really, REALLY looking forward to going to Donuts with Dad WITH her dad, and not going wasn’t going to be tolerated.

So, after a moment of reflection on how “good dads” do this sort of thing, I agreed to take a day off work and go.  Not that this would take all day; but something inside me warned me that this degree of social awkwardness might take some post-donut recovery time.  I’m not outgoing at these types of events, and sitting around with a bunch of other fathers isn’t something I typically like to do.  But I also know that doing stuff you don’t normally like doing is part of life, so with a sigh and a smile, I told my daughter we’d be there.

The day arrived, and I felt fine.  No issues.  I decided that, since I had the day off anyway, I’d go casual and try to look like one of the “cool dads.”  That meant, for me, jeans, a button down shirt (not tucked in, which, to me, says “I’m young and trying to be cool”), and a black leather jacket.  In retrospect, the entire ensemble was completely negated by the uncomfortable look on my face, but at the time, I thought I’d look okay.  My daughter was grinning ear-t0-ear, wearing her backpack and school clothes, excited about both dad going to school and the chance to eat a donut (probably not in that order).

We walked in, were greeted by some very, very friendly school employees, and walked into the Donuts with Dad area, which consisted of several long tables with coffee, donuts, bagels and spreads, all arranged carefully and garnished with harvest themed gourds and leaves.  It was obvious that women were arranging and running the event, which was good; guys would have just stacked a bunch of donut boxes on top of each other and let the chips fall where they may. 

The room was loud.  There were young kids darting everywhere, grabbing donuts and juice, with many of them sporting powdered sugar on their lips and cheeks.  Half-empty paper cups of juice were on virtually every horizontal surface.  Most of the dads in attendance were either sitting with their kids, making some forced small talk with the nearest “other” dad, or simply sitting silent while drinking coffee.  There were few open seats. 

At this point, I have two confessions to make: First, I don’t do well at these sorts of parties.  Even when I tried to dress cool, I knew I wasn’t, and would have probably paid cash money for the gift of invisibility.  As a result, I did the next best thing: I immediately tried to “blend in” by getting a cup of coffee and grabbing a donut.  This leads me to my other confession: when under such “social duress,” I sometimes make inexplicable choices.  And this time was one of them.

I decided, in one baffling moment, that I would eat healthy (!) and choose a bagel rather than a donut.  Looking back, this was the beginning of my downfall.  I chose what I THOUGHT was a plain bagel, and because putting cream cheese on it would seem awkward, decided to eat my plain bagel bone-dry.  My daughter, who doesn’t suffer from such social confusion, grabbed a donut and juice, and we retreated to a bench near the back corner of the room. 

My daughter was genuinely excited.  She talked and grinned the entire time (which made this entire story/experience worthwhile, I might add) and discussed what she would be doing in school that day.  She pointed out friends in the room, but either out of excitement or loyalty, refused to leave my side.  I began to eat my bone-dry plain bagel, only to realize that what I thought was a plain bagel wasn’t.  It was a pumpkin bagel.  I sighed.  I don’t like pumpkin-flavored anything, and here I was, holding a pumpkin bagel and a cup of luke-warm coffee, and feeling awkward and uncool. 

And then, another bad decision: I decided to eat my pumpkin bagel.  I thought it would look ungrateful and rude to not eat it, so I ate it, despite the fact that a) I hate pumpkin bagels, b) nobody cared, and c) no one would have noticed anyhow.  There we were, my daughter drinking her juice and talking non-stop while I looked vaguely bewildered in the corner of the room, force-feeding myself a dry pumpkin bagel.  I ate the entire thing.  No way was I going to look rude.

After a while, the kids were called to class, and for the first time in my life, I felt role reversal with my kid: I didn’t want her to go and leave ME there by myself, facing the uncertain-but-likely-oogly “Dad’s discussion session.”  I steeled myself for what was to come, gave her a hug, and watched her go, slowly shuffling toward the church entrance with the other shuffling, uncomfortable dads to start our “discussion.”  I started feeling queasy, but chalked it up to nerves.  I went in, and like all the other dads, sat apart from everyone else.  Every dad had at least four feet of personal space from every other dad.  A few of us made slight small talk, with hastily whispered introductions and a benign remark about how Donuts with Dad was a nice idea.

A pastor came in and led the discussion, which was really a lecture.  No dad spoke.  The lecture was pleasant enough, though it became clear that the sub-text to the lecture was the importance of financial support for the school.  This was not unexpected.  What WAS unexpected, unfortunately, was the growing realization that I was feeling more and more ill as time went on.

My physical state went through several phases of decline during the 30-minute discussion:

  1. I don’t think that pumpkin bagel agreed with me.”
  2. “I could actually throw up.”
  3. “I could really, really, truly throw up.”
  4. “I wonder how embarrassing it would be if I threw up here?”
  5. “I might just throw up here.”
  6. “If I leave now, could I make it home before I throw up?”
  7. “I’m NOT going to throw up.  Be strong.”
  8. “To hell with strong, be discreet.  I should go to the bathroom to throw up.”
  9. “Will I make it to the bathroom before I throw up?”
  10. “If I throw up in church, will other dads be offended?”
  11. “I’m going to look disrespectful if I leave before the prayer.”
  12. “I’m outta here.”

In the end, I fled just before the prayer, taking great pains to walk rather than run.  By this point, I no longer cared HOW I looked, just that I didn’t throw up pumpkin bagel all over the church in front of 60 other dads (and a pastor).  I made it to the restroom in time, which — thankfully — was empty, and promptly did what I should have done 30 minutes earlier: disposed of my pumpkin bagel.  The entire time, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that I threw up for the first time in 35 years in a grade school bathroom.

I cleaned myself up, and decided to leave.  I gave a polite smile and greeting to the women cleaning up the donuts and bagels, and walked carefully out to my car, taking care to leave before the other dads made their own personal mad-dash to their cars.  As I left the parking lot, I felt a mixture of satisfaction for going to Donuts with Dad with my daughter (who didn’t know my sad story at this point), embarrassment, lingering queasiness of my ill-fated pumpkin bagel, and relief that I had the rest of the day to recover.  

Donuts with Dad.  Next year, I’m sticking with donuts.

Until next time… 🙂

boneyards


Kinyon Cemetery, Canton, Michigan.

by Keith Yancy

Like so many people nowadays, I’ve been working a lot lately.  Meetings.  Deadlines.  Schedules.  The pace seems breakneck, the list of things to do endless.  And when the demands seem overwhelming, I find myself thinking about “the larger things” — those elements of our existence that transcend the day-to-day routine.  Focusing on the enduring aspects of life, rather than the endless minor issues of our daily lives that always threaten to wash over us.

Last Sunday, while attending our family church service, the congregation said a prayer asking that, one day, we would rejoin in heaven those who had departed in death before us.  I found myself thinking about this prayer long after the service, and it brought back to my mind a wonderful book I had purchased early last year — Boneyards, by Richard Bak.

Boneyards, by Richard Bak.

Boneyards, at first glance, looks like both a coffee-table picture book and a collection of the macabre; picture after picture of funerals, cemeteries, and headstones.  The title even suggests a bit of tongue-in-cheek approach to the contents.  But the reason I recalled this book wasn’t for the pictures or the mischievous title — it was for the wonderful, tragic, and certainly memorable stories that the author tells about those who have, indeed, departed in death before us. 

Among the most memorable pictures and stories, for me, include:

  • Children sledding down a hill in Elmwood Cemetery in 1885.  A grainy black-and-white photo shows young kids sledding among the headstones of the deceased.  I know it’s completely inconsistent with my belief that cemeteries should be places of quiet and respect, but I can’t help secretly thinking that, if it were my headstone and grave, I’d enjoy knowing that kids were sledding nearby. 
  • A voodoo cult leader who, along with his family, was murdered in 1929.  Even the Catholic priest who presided over his funeral doubted that the man truly believed in the bizarre cult he tried to create, and was convinced that he did it solely to make money.
  • A 62-year-old farmer who, in 1892, killed his wife in a grisly murder-suicide after a domestic dispute.  Even in his suicide note, he was so angry with his wife that he asked that she not be buried on his land. 
  • Pictures of headstones showing people of all faiths, ethnic backgrounds, and races, equals in death if not treated as equals in life.
  • Soldiers who served and, in many cases, died for our country.  The years between birth and death far too close together, these graves show that many were still teenagers when they died, child-soldiers in some of mankind’s most horrific wars.  My own child is only two years younger than some of these boys (yes, boys), and I can’t imagine her facing the hell on earth these kids were asked to face.
  • Graves — and entire cemeteries — that not only rarely if ever get a visitor, but in many instances are almost entirely inaccessible.  Monuments that were once erected to proudly mark important people and families, now partially submerged in water and surrounded by abandoned factories, urban decay and a neighborhood oblivious to who they once were. 
  • Grave sites and pictures of famous people, along with weathered gravestones where the name is lost to time.  Wealthy people with their name carved on a mausoleum, and paupers marked only with a number on a stone.  Leaders and ordinary citizens.  Mothers, fathers, infants.  All with a story to tell, even if it’s simply, “I lived.” 
  • And, the most piercing memory of all, two small pictures of a 7-year-old girl and her headstone.  This girl didn’t die of illness, she was murdered on her way to school, her body dumped in a blanket far from her home.  The murder was never solved, though the detective who handled the case still remembers it vividly.  The image of that little girl, her life taken away so young, is one that may never leave my memory.  Perhaps it’s because I see her as a father would, and can glimpse — if only for a moment, in a small, fleeting way — the never-ending agony a parent must feel to lose a child.  She was murdered in 1955. 

How do such stories — from a book that illustrates Detroit-area cemeteries — relate to a weary, rumpled, working father like myself?  Most of these stories seem so sad, so marked by tragedy.  Yet the stories in Boneyards remind me not of death, but rather of the wonderful tapestry of lives lived, of people who faced many of the same dangers and problems we face today, of people loved and lost. 

But, perhaps more importantly, it reminds me that one of our most common cultural myths — that today’s society is getting steadily worse, and that people are somehow more evil and brutal than those in the past — is just not true.  Murder, heartbreak, sickness — these have been with us throughout time, in every land and town, everywhere.  The photographs in Boneyards and the silent gravestones in cemeteries in our neighborhoods provide testimony to that fact.   

Our culture is one marked by the bizarre duality of instant connectivity and cultural isolation, in which we too often sit alone with our computers and televisions as we’re inundated with “news” that’s too often a collection of our sins, mistakes and failures.  I believe it’s easy to fall prey to the idea that all the negative attributes of humanity have somehow become worse in our time.  But I believe that we are getting better, we are getting wiser, that with the advances of education, travel, modern medicine and science, we are improving the human condition and the dignity of mankind. 

Perhaps we’re not moving as fast as we would like.  Perhaps its hard to see the progress when we only see the setbacks.  But I believe that, one day, we’ll look back on these times and realize that we have made progress, that the majority of people want peace, freedom and prosperity, and that our society is capable of growth and improvement. 

So when my life gets too stressful, I think of those who have gone before us.  As my daughters know well, I do stop occasionally to take in the silence of such local cemeteries as Shearer Cemetery in Plymouth or Kinyon Cemetery in Canton.  Not to reflect on death… but to reflect on life, my gratitude for the life I have and those around me, and my recognition that these times — for all their challenges — are still “the best of times.”

Until next time… 🙂

What I Learned About “Common Sense” at the Local School Board Meeting


by Keith Yancy

NOTE: I’ve had a surprising number of people ask me for an update on the book ban efforts in my daughter’s local high school.  One book (Beloved) has been re-instated, the other (Waterland) is “in review.”  In the interim, there have been a lot of school board meetings, editorials, radio interviews, etc.  Here’s my most recent observations.

After spending the first 44 years of my life having never attended a local school board meeting, I’ve now attended two.  And let me tell you something – they’re more interesting than you might expect.  At least, they are in my town.

Why?

Well, if you’ve read any of my blogs lately, you know about the whole “book ban issue” (as some call it) vs. the “process and parental rights issue” (as others call it).  I’ve learned quite a bit at these two meetings, especially the last one, which was held solely to hear citizen complaints about the whole affair.  After I attended this latest meeting, I intentionally didn’t want to write about it until I had let a day or two pass, to make sure I was writing with reason and logic, rather than emotion and anger.

Well, that time is up.  Over the past few days, a few observations gradually came into focus.

  • I was generally impressed with the civility and behavior of everyone in attendance.  The air was definitely charged, as people with very, very different (and strong) opinions were together in a very small room.  But, other than one man acting like a seventh-grader whispering and snickering nearby, people generally behaved themselves.  That was good to see.
  • Both sides had some very good speakers, and both sides argued persuasively.  There was a balance between the “pro-book” and “anti-book” people, and typically, the order of those who spoke alternated between the two points of view.  And – lest you mistake me for an ideologue – I was impressed with several speakers from each side.  Consider:
    1. An elderly gentleman (and a veteran) who was articulate and concerned about the decline in morality found in today’s schools, and his belief that these books play a role in that decline. 
    2. Numerous students and former students, who argued with intelligence and eloquence about the positive impact these literary works had in their lives and education.
    3. A pastor of a local church, who expressed his concern about the books’ content in the hands of 16-17 year olds.
    4. A former head of the English department at the high school, who confirmed not only that there WAS a process in place for vetting these books, but that the teachers were highly qualified to teach them.
    5. The son of a local political “insider,” who – after his mother made a complete fool of herself reading “naughty passages” from the books in a previous board meeting – spoke with civility, and offered an appeal for everyone to find common ground.  Ironically, the son seemed far more mature and authentic than his mother, and showed some courage addressing the audience.
    6. Finally, and – in my opinion, the most powerful speaker of all – a young African-American woman, who explained just how powerful and important Beloved was to her and her understanding of slavery.  Everyone, on both sides, was absolutely silent as she spoke, and she showed as much grace, conviction, and quiet strength as I have ever personally witnessed.  I am not easily moved… but I was after she spoke.
  • Most disturbingly, what I learned is that I’ve apparently never understood what “common sense” meant.  The phrase was used by the same parent who began this entire affair, whom I won’t name here, as he addressed the board.  It struck me that he so consciously said it, with emphasis, to describe his actions.  His obvious and repeated use of this phrase stuck in my mind, and I found myself reflecting on what “common sense” means to him. 
    So, I decided to review the organization and web site he’s affiliated with, www.pccscommonsense.com, to better understand “common sense.”  Below is an “infographic” I created, using this website’s EXACT words as they were presented on 1/31/2012, as well as a few corrections:

  • After hearing this person use the term “common sense” at the meeting, and reviewing the web site he claims to be affiliated with, I can only conclude that I’ve misunderstood what the term means.  Apparently, according to this web site and the “group” responsible for it, “common sense” means the following:
    1. That, rather than being accountable for your decisions, it’s okay to make a choice, provide consent, then change your mind — and then demand that everyone else do the same. 
    2. That providing notice of “mature content,” in writing, well in advance of the class starting, isn’t really “full disclosure.” 
    3. That it’s okay to claim that there are no “options,” when there were alternative texts provided and alternative classes available. 
    4. That, by reading only a few sexually oriented lines from 250+ page book, you can accurately judge the entire book’s literary value… and take it away from 94 other students without their input or consent.
    5. That it’s perfectly acceptable to replace one banned book with another book that’s been on many “book ban” lists for years.
    6. That you can try to convince people that using Lexile scores to judge literary works is somehow more logical than judging great architecture by the weight of the building.  
    7. That, when your Lexile scoring argument fails, you can simply “bully your way to success” by rallying a local political party to try to convince others when your “arguments” failed to do so.
    8. That you can break school policy and rules by distributing propaganda on school property while, at the same time, demanding that everyone “follow the rules.”
    9. That reading an entire work of literature, in a college-prep classroom environment, with a professional educator, is no different from shouting a few “dirty” sentences, out of context, from that same book, on television — where any young child could hear it.  AND justifying doing so by claiming that it’s all due to your “concern for children.”
    10. That it’s perfectly fine to circumvent “process” and ignore the rights of other parents all while re-naming your attempt to ban books as a “process and parents’ rights issue.”
    11. That it’s okay to make vague, unsubstantiated claims of “dirty dancing” and “sex in the bathrooms” without having to prove of any of them.
    12. That, despite any causal evidence, it’s okay to link literary works with “dirty dancing.”
    13. That, when people don’t agree with your point of view, it’s alright to assume they just “aren’t aware.”
    14. That disrupting a class for AP Literature students is somehow “protecting” them, despite doing so without the permission or approval of other parents involved.
    15. That it’s more dangerous to read two paragraphs about sexual exploration than it is to watch the graphic violence and hear the profanity in a movie like Saving Private Ryan (which is shown in another high school class).
    16. That there’s no inconsistency in demanding an open, public process while privately submitting a — yes, here it is — “common sense solution” to the school board. 
    17. That the desire to remove books from the curriculum will begin and end with just two books, or just sexually oriented material, or just a literature class.
    18. And, the most disturbing definition of all… that it’s entirely acceptable to define and decide for other people in this country what their moral standards should be. 

I could go on, but I’m exhausted just thinking about all the new local meanings of “common sense” floating around town these days.  What’s clear, throughout this whole silly affair, is that the real values of this “Common Sense” organization can be summarized very simply: Feel completely comfortable defining and determining “morality” for other people, whether they ask you to do so or not.  Call in local political groups when you can’t produce a compelling or lucid argument.  And use a meaningless, feel-good term such as “common sense” as a repetitive, empty slogan to mask a larger agenda.

______________________

At home, after the school board meeting concluded, my high-school daughter brought me a permission slip from her school to sign.  I looked it over, reviewed the contents, asked a few questions (it was for an economics class), and prepared to sign my name.  At that exact moment, it struck me… would my signature – my consent – be respected in this class?  Or would my daughter’s education be again disrupted by local political forces that use our school system as a platform for public exposure?  Would my rights, and the rights of my daughter, be equal to others this time?  Or would they be tossed aside like last semester, held hostage by people who feel qualified to tell me what’s “acceptable” for my own child?

I would write the school board again, but since they never bothered to even acknowledge my previous letter, I’ve become skeptical that anyone’s really listening.  I hope that, if these political games actually succeed, the school board — and everyone else at the schools — like and accept all the “common sense” choices and selections that will be made for them in the future.  Because if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s this: they won’t stop with just two books.

Until next time… 😐

Notes From the High School Underground


by Keith Yancy

Ah, September.  Labor Day, cooler weather, and the fascination of Parent Orientation Night at my daughter’s high school.

It sure feels strange to be the parent in this situation, to be honest.  Somewhere in my brain, I’m still not quite resigned to the fact that the tables have turned, and I’m no longer the student.  Here’s a few observations from my recent “parent” experience…

  • That high school is HUGE.  Actually, it’s three high schools, located on a single campus… which makes it feel larger than the university I attended.  Just getting to Parent Orientation was like coming late to a rock concert — I had to park on the dirt surrounding the soccer field, at perhaps the farthest possible point away from the building.  Cars parked EVERYWHERE.  Guess that’s the price you pay for getting there late.
  • I passed a note to my wife at high school!  For the first time, I could actually send my wife a note (okay, text) telling her what classroom at which we could meet.  (We did not attend the same high school.)  Seemed kind of neat, though I don’t think she ever got the message.  Felt for a brief second like a high school date.
  • I felt really, really out of place.  Those other parents (and there were a lot of parents there) all seemed much older than us.  Really.  I felt younger than everybody else.  Unfortunately, this feeling steadily faded as I realized that I didn’t look any younger than most of those other parents.  Coming straight from work (and wearing a suit and tie) didn’t help, either. 
  • I want to take my daughter’s English class.  The classroom was nice.  Teacher was enthusiastic, articulate and engaging.  Course requirements (it’s an AP English class) were challenging but interesting.  THIS is the kind of class that was not appreciated by 16-year old Keith, but 44-year-old Keith is now absolutely rarin’ to go!  Even the assignments and term papers sound cool.  It’s hard to believe people feel obligated to take this class. 
  • Some parents can’t seem to see the forest for the trees.  Call me elitist, but I felt a vague sense of depression when, after discussing the value of analytical thinking, consideration of deeper philosophical questions and the power of literature as a window to one’s self-knowledge, the only question asked of the English teacher was “How long do the kids have to complete the term paper?”.  Sigh.  Kind of like getting handed a diamond ring and asking, “is this box water-resistant?”.
  • I want to take Graphic Arts class too.  Seriously.  This class isn’t even a class — it’s fun.  Working with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign… I would love this class.  In fairness, my daughter is pretty excited about this class too.  They’re even going to upgrade to CS5.5… which leads me to my next point.
  • Bigger may not be better, but it sure seems to imply “better equipped.”  I now have the fulfillment of knowing where some of my tax dollars are going — this place is like a palace.  40+ Macintosh computers in Graphic Arts class.  Couches in the classrooms (for humanities classes, at least).  A campus larger than some colleges.  Pools… three gymnasiums… a radio station (?!?!)… a cafeteria that has more choices than a shopping mall food court… this place seems to have everything.  I loved my high school, but I have to admit, I might have loved it even more if we had some of this stuff.
  • I will privately admit that my daughter has it sort of hard.  One of her classes (Graphic Arts, in fact) seems to be about 4 miles and two buildings away from her other classes, and takes a LONG walk (at a pretty fast pace) to get there and back.  Challenging on September 8… an epic journey on December 8.  Even worse on January 8.  Guess I better cut her a bit of slack on the “be tough” speech.
  • I’m still intimidated by foreign language class.  In this case, my daughter’s “Spanish II” class.  Nice teacher — very nice, in fact — but sitting through her orientation session brought back all the old memories of my two-year (failed) attempt to learn French.  And that was after two years of failing to learn Latin, which should have helped in French class but didn’t.  That’s four collective years, my friends, of sitting in a class with only a very, very vague idea of what the hell was going on.  (Hmm… wonder if some of our elected officials in Congress feel the same way….)  My attempt to learn a foreign language ended exactly one day after the announcement that French class would in fact be taught in French instead of English.  But that’s another blog post for another time.
  • All things considered, I think my daughter’s pretty lucky.  She has some really good classes, and she’ll have access to facilities, equipment and software that a lot of kids don’t get.  And the teachers, at least the ones I had a chance to meet, seemed genuinely committed to — and enthusiastic about — helping their students to learn and grow.  (Incidentally, I also think that anyone who believes that teaching is somehow “easy” should actually spend some time with a real professional teacher before they complain about how “easy” they have it.  Again, another blog post for another time.)
  • Getting in was tough… getting out was way, way worse.  Remember the comment about parking in Ohio to get to this thing?  Well, when you let approx. 9,000 people out of Parent Orientation Night at precisely the same time, better be prepared to wait awhile.  For those of you who think the 9,000 number is an exaggeration, I beg to differ — there is approx. 7,000 students, and a lot of parents showed up… many as couples.  And when everyone is trying to leave at once, it’s like LEAVING a rock concert, complete with people getting cut off, not letting each other in, cars mysteriously facing the wrong way, people stuck in the grass, etc., etc.  It took me 45 minutes to travel the 1.2 miles from my daughter’s high school home.  43 of those minutes were spent in the parking lot, and for about 39 of those minutes, my car never moved. 
  • BUT… there’s always a silver lining.  The only saving grace for the long wait to leave was getting angry (but very funny)texts from my brother, who was having a historically awful night of bowling.  Somehow, the sting of sitting motionless in traffic for 40 or so minutes was greatly reduced by the knowledge that, not far away, my brother was bowling a 357 series. 

Ah, September.  You always seem to arrive too soon, but you’re always interesting.

Until next time… 🙂

If you like this blog, please take a moment to vote for Counterpoint in the CBS Most Valuable Blogger contest at the following now-WORKING link: http://detroit.blogger.cbslocal.com/most-valuable-blogger/vote/misc/

Thanks! 

The Family Trip to Florida


by Keith Yancy

Almost every year, like so many other Michiganders, my wife, kids and I pack the car full of stuff — some of which we actually need — and head down to Florida to visit our relatives.

Now I could write all day long about how great it is to see our family, but that doesn’t make for all that interesting a story; we of course saw our loved ones, had great times together, visited (and stayed in) several of their homes, and shared a lot of talk and laughter.  And while seeing our family is by far the most important part of our vacation, it’s the silly, completely unimportant part of the trip I’m writing about here.

You see, it’s the trip itself — the ride down I-75 for exactly 1,020 miles from my house to my mother-in-law’s house — that can evoke such a wide variety of feelings.  Complete, eyelid-closing exhaustion.  Mind-numbing boredom.  The fun of being together with family, and the frustration of hearing an argument between three sisters sustained across half of a nation.  The monotony of driving the same 1,020 miles — twice — every year for approximately 15 years.  The excitement of driving the first few miles, then making fun of Ohio for the next five hours.  Dreading the most dull stretch of freeway humankind has ever created, the 300 or so miles between Atlanta and the Florida state line… where the only things that seem to exist are empty fields and about 3,000 Georgia State Police cars. 

But through all the miles of driving, it’s the little things that can be interesting.  This trip, we saw a burning farmhouse completely engulfed in flames, the billowing smoke climbing into the sky and visible for miles.  My youngest daughter discovered that her Nintendo DS can take pictures, and she was taking all sorts of pictures of the seatback, the car window, the car seat, etc, etc, etc.

So, rather than showing you all sorts of pictures of family smiling into the camera, I’m showing the “other pictures” — the photos of stupid stuff that makes a vacation in the United States a truly American experience.

My daughter, taking a picture with her DS. Kind of like taking a picture... with a filing cabinet.

 
 

Mmm. Only thing better than three-day-old gas station pizza... is gas station pizza which has been obviously re-arranged by a previous customer. Yum.

Still kickin’ myself for not picking up a bag of “Jimbo’s Jumbo” Peanuts for the guys at work…
Ouch. Only thing worse than seeing this screen is seeing it about 10 times during the trip. Ugh.
I took a few pictures of this guy’s car until he noticed and left. What… you were trying to keep a low profile? Really?
Ah… the traditional rest stop cup of coffee (?), served in a “poker hand” paper cup. Bitter, bad, but keeps you buzzin’.
Noticed someone had left their coffee behind on the top of the machine (big surprise). Whoever left it behind probably left for better coffee, and still beat me at poker. Damn!
Hey… thanks for backing traffic up for miles on a holiday weekend, guys! Two cheers for you!
Sometimes, breaking out the beer and umbrellas just won’t wait. These guys were drinking beer at a rest stop. No cop would ever show up at a rest stop…
A different rest stop (yeah, we see a lot of ’em). What other country in the world besides America would you find a sports car filled with… fruit?
Nothing says “bad ass” quite like a fake, plastic shark fin on top of your car. Nothing.
This poor guy was working at Disney. It’s hard to look cerebral when wearing that ultra-dorky spacesuit, standing next to a miniature version of Jupiter. Keep trying for that transfer to downtown Disney, buddy.

Despite seeing some strange stuff on the way, we had a great time on this trip.  Hope you enjoyed the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them. 

 
Until next time… 🙂

If you like this blog, please take a moment to vote for Counterpoint in the CBS Most Valuable Blogger contest at the following now-WORKING link: http://detroit.blogger.cbslocal.com/most-valuable-blogger/vote/misc/

Thanks! 

The Shopping Trip


by Keith Yancy

A while ago, I took my youngest daughter to a store called “GameStop.”  As is usually the case, I agreed to do this without knowing what I was getting myself into, though I could see the proverbial storm clouds on the horizon; with a name like “GameStop,” it’s pretty clear that their target market isn’t tired and grouchy fathers.  I remember thinking at the time how it would probably be a store filled with shouting kids running everywhere, and that I’d be able to go in, grab the item my daughter wanted, pay and, as they say, get the heck out of Dodge.

Naturally, it didn’t turn out that way.

The trip materialized, like most of these trips do, as the culmination of several hundred requests from my then 8-year-old daughter.  Her persistence was, over time, observed, criticized, imitated, lampooned and analyzed by the rest of our household… but her determination never wavered.  When her resolve seemed to escalate to near-fanaticism, my wife and I began to cave in with the tell-tale discussion about when and who would take her.

My first mistake was the caving-in part where we began to seriously consider taking her there… but the second mistake was bigger.  I offered to take her myself.  I remembered thinking that my wife almost always gets stuck going on such trips, and feeling both guilty about that and guilty about not doing more with my daughters.  So, I offered.  Looking back, the fact that my wife readily accepted this proposal should have been a parachute-sized red flag, but I missed it.  My daughter pounced immediately, and in a matter of minutes, she and I were in the car, heading to GameStop.

On the way, I found myself driving 5-10 miles per hour slower than the speed limit, which almost never happens, and was another giant-sized red flag.  Driving slow is, for me, EXTREMELY rare.  Maybe my subconscious was trying to warn me about what was coming.  Or maybe it was because I’m not a video game player, and I was just the chauffeur in this adventure.  Anyhow, my daughter never really noticed, and despite my “Driving Miss Daisy” pace, we eventually arrived at GameStop.

GameStop was different from I had expected, and at first, this was good.  No one was running.  No one was shouting.  In fact, the whole place seemed weirdly “serious” — there were a lot of shoppers, but it felt like everyone was really intense about selecting their games, waiting in line, everything.  I remember thinking that this might not be so bad.

The place was busy.  Everyone in the place — except for me and my daughter, actually — seemed to have at least one article of clothing that was a day-glo color — neon pink Crocs, lime green coats, etc.  Everybody was younger than I was, even the other parents.  I decided I didn’t care, and told my daughter to get what she needed so we could pay for it.

My daughter immediately planted herself at the end of the line of customers.  No shopping, no choosing a game off the shelf, nothing.  It was then that I discovered I didn’t “get” GameStop.  I asked her why she didn’t choose anything, and she promptly told me — again, with a surprising seriousness — “I know what I’m doing.”  I began to recognize that she, not me, knew what was going on, and decided to reflect on this role reversal in silence.

Then, things took a turn for the worse.  Someone in line had a toxic, horrible, nose-hair-burning, epic flatulence problem.  Impressively, everyone kept a straight face and remained silent in line, but whoever the Vesuvius was, he or she was slowly strangling the entire line of customers.  18 or so people, large and small, eyes watering, all trying to breathe through their mouths and staring straight ahead at the counter.  Even my daughter endured it without comment.  The effects of the “mystery passer” hung in the air for what seemed like an hour, and I found myself staring out at the parking lot, longing for the smell of car exhaust.

Eventually, we staggered up to the counter for our turn.  I was still curious as to what we were actually waiting for, as we had nothing in hand to actually purchase, but assumed that whatever it was must have been behind the counter.  We were greeted by a friendly kid, a guy who was at least 6′ 3″ and wearing the requisite black t-shirt all gamer dudes seem to wear.  

This was when things got weird.  My daughter immediately engaged in conversation with this guy like they were in a business negotiation, complete with terms I didn’t know, all delivered with a surprising degree of earnestness.  I was completely clueless (and useless) almost immediately after this negotiation began.

I had no idea what was going on.  They talked of cards, trade-ins, purchases, downloads, accounts, etc… taking no notice of me at all.  It was friendly, and pretty comic, really — my 3-foot 6-inch daughter having a terribly serious (but pleasant) business discussion with a guy almost twice her height, both saying things like “Pikachu does pretty good at that level, as long as you remember to unlock the door with the hidden key” without laughing (or even grinning).  I remember distinctly having to remind myself to have a pleasant look on my face, because I realized I was probably getting that “I don’t believe what I’m looking at” facial expression that seems to make other people uncomfortable.  Eventually, the large kid behind the counter pronounced that whatever my kid was downloading would cost 20 dollars, after which my daughter very carefully handed him (one at a time) 18 one-dollar bills.  My daughter handed the guy her DS, he did some weird thing to it, and handed it back. 

At last, I had a role in the transaction.  I paid the difference, still wondering what the heck we just paid for, and herded my daughter (clutching her DS to her chest) out the door and into the parking lot.  I took a long, deep breath of air, thought about my new appreciation for the smell of car exhaust, and took my daughter back to the car for the trip home. 

Looking back, I’m still not really sure what the hell actually happened or what we paid for, but everyone seems content, and it only cost me about four bucks.  Clearly, I need to get smarter about electronic gaming.  I have to hand it to GameStop, too — they had very good service, treated my daughter with respect, and (apparently) gave her the game she wanted. 

And they even could talk Pokemon to an 8-year-old with a straight face.

Until next time… 🙂

Memo to My Daughters: Immediate Action Required


by Keith Yancy

DATE: 2/19/2011 (but really every day)

TO: A. Yancy, C. Yancy (you know who you are)

CC: M. Yancy

FROM: Your Dad

SUBJECT: Why Do I Keep Stepping On Stupid Plastic Dinosaurs?

Dear Girls:

Congratulations!  This is, I believe, the very first “memo” any of you have ever been given.  It won’t be the last, but that’s a discussion for another time.  THIS memo is being sent to you because of the following reasons:

  1. Calm, reasonable verbal requests were ignored
  2. Well-argued and passionately delivered lectures left you in a stupefied, semi-catatonic condition
  3. Stern orders and commands were met with accusations, counter-accusations, and brief, frenetic activity (without results)
  4. Occasional exclamations of pain or extreme annoyance resulted in your immediate retreat to your bedrooms (complete with the requisite door slamming)

Clearly, the above methods of communicating with you have proven ineffective.  As such, I have resorted to writing this memo.  I will clarify the situation (known to you best as “Dad’s problem”), followed by a recommended solution and long-term plan.

SITUATION

At some point in the past (date unknown), one of you were given a collection of small, plastic toys.  Small, HARD plastic toys.  These toys were initially thought to be lizards, but after some analysis, I decided they might be dinosaurs.  (Truth be told, I’m not really sure.  Since dinosaurs seem to me to be more fun to play with than lizards, I’ll stick with dinosaurs.)  Regrettably, despite repeated requests for the owner of these “dinosaurs” to come forward, their true owner remains shrouded in mystery.  (NOTE TO OTHER FATHERS: I’m not some rookie.  I once threatened to throw them out, but they all then CLAIMED ownership of these things.  Didn’t work.)

Anyhow, these HARD plastic toys quickly seemed to spread out around the house, invariably finding their way to the floor… where I invariably find them by stepping on them with my bare feet.  This has resulted in shock, surprise, and pain.  For the sake of clarity, I will review three such incidents below:

Exhibit "A."

A.  Spotted dinosaur/lizard.  Discovery method: stepped on by Dad.  Location: Various, but remembered most for being perpetually placed on the staircase (see exhibit “A”).  This guy, despite his high-visibility color, never seems to really go very far before winding up back on the stairs.  On the plus side, he doesn’t have skinny little arms that are extra-pointy and sharp when stepped on by old feet.

Exhibit "B."

B.  Black Tyrannosaurus Rex (?) with skinny little arms that are extra-pointy and sharp.  Discovery method: see previous example.  Location: mud room area where Dad and everyone else keeps their shoes (see exhibit “B”).  This little bundle of joy, despite his black-skin-with-green-vertical-stripes complexion, was virtually invisible in the near-dark conditions in which I “found” him.  Furthermore, he seemed to have found himself a cloak made of dust which made him even harder to see. 

Exhibit "C."

C.  Another black-colored lizard thing.  Discovery method: not quite “stepped on” per se, because he was found inside my shoe, which means I sort of smashed my toes into him.  Location (yes, it bears repeating): INSIDE MY SHOE (see exhibit “C”).  I realize that my feet are quite handsome and smell like lavender, but regardless, I can’t think of many reasons why someone would want to play with a plastic dinosaur inside the size 11 man’s dress shoe.

Once I determined that we had, in fact, an infestation of small plastic dinosaurs, I gathered them together and limped to the kitchen, where I placed them on the counter like this:

They stayed there for several days, moving around the countertop in a small herd from point to point, but staying in the kitchen rather than going somewhere more logical (like your rooms, perhaps?).  I then attempted to heighten the visibility of this infestation/problem by bringing the sharp, pointy Tyrannosaurus Rex to the dinner table and having him sit next to me during dinner, like this:

This was quickly noticed (which I had expected), was met with great enthusiasm and approval by the three of you (which I did not quite expect), and was viewed with a disapproving look from your mother (which I definitely expected).  You then proceeded to think it a good idea to give him a name, suggested tabletop placement, and generally ignored the root cause of the problem (see above), resulting in — again — no real improvement.

RECOMMENDED SOLUTIONS

This part of the memo is very simple.  Choose the preferred solution to this problem below:

  1. Put the small, HARD, plastic dinosaur lizards in your room, where they belong.
  2. Give them to me (your Dad) for immediate insertion in the garbage.
  3. Ask Dad to wear his shoes all the time (NOT recommended).

Please be advised that your choice must be made today, February 19, 2011.  Failure to choose will be interpreted by me (your Dad) to be a declaration your desire for choice #2 above, with execution of solution so chosen to commence immediately on the morning of February 20, 2011.

LONG TERM PLAN

I never expected that, as the father of three girls, small plastic lizard/dinosaurs would be in my future, but then again, I guess girls like to play with dinosaurs as much as boys do.  Regardless, whether they’re lizards, dinosaurs, or whatever, the small, HARD, plastic toys have to get picked up and put away.  (Yes, this includes LEGO pieces, too.)  I have often warned you of my intent to use my Shop-Vac to clean up these messes, but you all pretty much know I don’t have enough cold-blooded-ness to actually follow through.  Furthermore, I use my Shop-Vac for bee collection, so that threat is pretty hollow.  So, since I don’t seem to have any realistic solution to this problem, my long-term plan is to continue to complain about it, tease you about it, and occasionally write about it and possibly embarrass you.  Some people call this “revenge.”  Fathers, as you’re about to learn, call this “justice.”

Sincerely,

Your Dad

Until next time… 🙂

UPDATE: Keith vs. Bees Pictorial


 
 
 
 

A glimpse of my bee problem... yeah, it's a BIG problem.

 

by Keith Yancy

Sometimes, the idea you think is the dumbest one turns out to be the one that works.

By now, most of you know of my ongoing saga with the large hive of honeybees taking up residence in the walls of my house.  I can’t say that I’ve done very much to get rid of them, mostly because my natural instinct to be cheap is much stronger than my need to be free of bees.  In other words, I don’t want to pay money to get them professionally exterminated. 

I’ve been content to co-exist with them for the past 18 months or so, but over time, like many forced relationships, familiarity breeds contempt; I’ve grown dangerously brave where bee confrontations are concerned.  I’ve stomped them, sprayed them, captured them in jars, smashed them with magazines and newspapers… all the while knowing that I wasn’t making much of a dent in the population.  (Tip: Do not capture bees in jars, then leave them on the kitchen counter for your wife to find.  Ooooo… that was not a good idea.)

Until now.  I’ve finally found a way to fight back in a large-scale way.

You see, my brother — the mechanical genius of the family — has been persistently suggesting (read: bugging) me to try HIS idea: vacuum the bees up with my shop-vac.  For months, he planned out how I could do it, how I could plug up the hose when I was done to make sure none flew back out, how I could vacuum them without being stung, etc.  And for just as many months, I demurred… figuring that some way, somehow, I’d figure out a better plan. 

I didn’t.

Ultimately, I was left to select from the following choices:

a) Act responsibly and pay a professional exterminator to remove my bees
b) Continue to ignore them, as they pose little harm to me or my family
c) Use approved chemicals to eradicate the bees in a proven, time-tested fashion, or
d) Attempt to vacuum LIVE BEES into a vacuum cleaner in the hopes that every one of them (including the queen bee) had a simultaneous suicide wish.

Ultimately, inevitably… I chose D.  Otherwise known as the choice of an IDIOT.

In my defense, it did take me quite a while to warm up to it.  I had a variety of other ideas for getting rid of them, including poisoning, or building a “bee box” and coaxing them into it, but none really seemed like a good idea; poison dust gets everywhere, and is dangerous to people and pets.  And building the bees a new hive just seemed like too much work.  Gradually, the silly idea of vacuuming bees began to look more and more do-able, much like how morons convince themselves that if they fell into the Grand Canyon, they’d somehow survive.

A few days ago, I was out raking leaves, occasionally looking over to see the hundreds of bees flying in and out of the wall of my house like clockwork.  As always, they were completely unconcerned with me, and were steadily going about their business.  Suddenly, I remembered my brother’s “shop-vac idea,” as I’d come to think of it.  Like the slow-witted, suburbanite, middle-aged man I’ve become, I stood there staring at the bees as it dawned on me that:

1.  The shop-vac was nearby in the garage;
2.  It was chilly, so the bees wouldn’t be as aggressive;
3.  Nobody was around to tell me I was an idiot; and
4.  I could run (jog) away if it didn’t work (or went bad).

This opportunity proved to be irresistable.  In just a few minutes, I had everything I needed to try my brother’s idea.  And, since nobody was around, I put my plan in action.  I got my shop-vac set up, rigged it to be aimed right outside the entrance to their hive, and even had a plan for the dreaded “what to do when I turn the dumb thing off” moment.  I set it all up, took a deep breath, turned on the vacuum, and high-tailed it out of there.

And, much to my astonishment, it WORKED.

I rigged my shop vac to suck up bees right outside their hive entrance. The neighbors thought I was nuts. Probably still do.

A closer look... the vacuum stayed on for about two hours.

The bees were able to avoid the vacuum when they left the hive… but when they returned, me and my Death Sucker 9000 were waiting.  (NOTE: The “Death Sucker 9000” is my new name for the shop-vac.  And no, the “9000” doesn’t mean anything.  It just has a nice ring to it.)  The bees made an audible “click” sound when they got sucked into the plastic vacuum tube, which I found very satisfying.  I stared spell-bound at the entire situation for over an hour, an out of shape, middle-aged guy standing on his front lawn completely transfixed by a loud, shaking shop-vac hanging on the wall of his own home.  In fact, once the Death Sucker proved to be effective, I immediately began to take pictures of the action and send them to my brother, who was as elated as I was (and somewhat jealous that he wasn’t there to see it).  His passion for this experiment was so great that, when I expressed concern about leaving my shop-vac running for hours at a time, he offered to buy me a new replacement if it died (it didn’t).

In fact, I was such a dork that I timed how many bees the Death Sucker 9000 was consuming.  The highest rate was 22 bees per minute.  This gave my effort the warm glow of science as well as made me feel like I was accomplishing something.  This also took my mind off of the fact that my neighbors probably all thought (and still think) that I am not only a complete nut, but an incredibly cheap nut to boot.

The Death Sucker 9000. Looks like an ordinary shop-vac, but has a much more sinister purpose...

After it looked like the bee consumption had tapered off, I put my master plan into effect — I took the still-running vacuum hose down from the hive entrance and immediately sucked up some powder that was deadly to bees.  I was very proud of this idea, envisioning a spinning vortex of powdery bee-death in my shop-vac, then put another part of my brother’s plan into action, taping a clear pop bottle to the vacuum entrance to make sure no bees escaped (none did). 

I did not get stung even one time. 

Later, I opened up the vacuum to check my deadly harvest.  By my count, the score is now Keith 1,300 (est.), Bees 0.  Yes, I know… it’s probably cruel.  And yes, it won’t really solve my problem.  BUT… I didn’t invite them to live in my home, and if it thins the herd, so to speak, that has to be a good thing.  And, to be fair, let me say here that my brother’s idea actually WORKED.  Bill, I admit it… you were right.  It worked… at least for now. 

This is what about 1,200 vacuumed bees looks like. Despite the poison, I waited until it was about 45 degrees.

Then I put all the bees into a plastic container and brought them in the house when my wife wasn't around...

and was about to put the bees into the garbage in the garage, when I noticed some of them still moving.

So I put them in a warm place, under a hot lamp, and waited. Soon, about 50 or so bees were very angry and gave the entire bin a creeping, moving appearance. My daughters were creeped out, so I put it in the garage.

But they still find their way into my basement.  In other words, the fight goes on: Cheap Guy vs. The Bees.  At least I’m now in the game.

Until next time… 🙂

P.S.  For those of you who think I’m cruel and should call a beekeeper, I’ve tried.  I’ve called several, none of which were willing to help me due to time, distance, and lack of interest in the honey.  It may seem like I’m cruel, but I do not wish to have bees living in my home, and would gladly have a beekeeper take the bees alive if any would do so.  To date, none will.  For those who STILL think I’m cruel, look again at the first picture, and ask yourselves if you would like having that in the same area YOUR 8- and 11-year old kids play.  I bet not.

K.