Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Part 8

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)


As I look back over the last two weeks of ArtPrize (I’m not as motivated to write everyday as I was the first couple of weeks), I will admit that nothing happened to top my “conversation” with the lady who claims to have seen aliens outside her apartment. But I’ve met a lot of other interesting people.

Let’s start with the most recent, then work our way back to the beginning.

On my final day of volunteering as a Wayfinder — a term I think would better describe our job is FindWayer — I was standing on the street corner just outside the HopCat bar. As her boyfriend/husband/partner went inside to check on possible reservations, young woman (mid-20s, maybe?) approached me to ask a couple of questions: that’s why we wear the “Ask Me” bibs, duh. She had with her a smallish dog on a leash, a cute little thing with light brown features on the face and head that blended into off white back toward the body. I asked her what type of dog he was and she told me he was a Rat Terrier, Shih Tzu mix named Ozzie. I mentioned how I thought that was an interesting mix and she pointed to her partner and told me that “he likes to call him a Rat Shit.” That was sort of like the joke when a bulldog mated with a Shih Tzu and the resulting mixed breed was called BullShit. He laughed; she looked confused. He explained. She laughed.

The day before I was asked to monitor the site where the eventual winner, a piece called “Whisper” was on display. Essentially, the art was a group of dinner tables placed end-to-end with many place settings occupying spaces on the tables. There were wires attached to the undersides of the tables and hooked up to a single microphone in the middle of the room. The object was to whisper into the microphone, which in turn would cause the tables to vibrate. But if you talked loudly or shouted, nothing would happen. The artist explained that even by whispering, our words had power and that power could be generated into sound waves which, in turn, would cause the tables to vibrate and shake the plates and glasses to the floor.

Viewers quickly learned that making the “P” sound into the microphone would be the best way to set the art work into motion and after a while, all the vibrations and subsequent crashes got really noisy. About an hour into my shift, I moved up to the third floor and asked a girl if she would like to change places; she said “sure.” So we did.

The third floor was quieter, what with all the pieces up there consisting mostly of twine, string and/or macramé and needlepoint. One piece I really liked contained 50 small — about 6 inches by 6 inches — needlepoint drawings titled “50 People I Love But Don’t Know.” They included Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, comic strip character Little Lulu, “an anonymous 3rd century musician, Hank Williams and Mr. Toad.

To generate some thought and conversation, I asked visitors:” “If you made this piece, give me at least five names or people you would include in your’s.” One gal’s choices really stood out; she picked President Lincoln, President Reagan, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Ghandi. Off the top of my head I came up with: my grandfather, who died four years before I was born on his birthday, Freddie Mercury (late lead singer for Queen) and Larry from the Three Stooges. Oh, and James Earl Jones and baseball player Ty Cobb. Is it odd that four of my five choices are dead?

I did one day at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum where six of the Top 20 public-voting finalists were located. One of them was NOT a large sculpture called “The Desecration of Christ.” It was interesting (again, look it up on the ArtPrize web page at .org), but I’m wondering if some of the people were turned off by the artist himself. He was from Iowa, which had nothing to do with it, but at one point he came over by me and another volunteer and complained that not a single person had voted for him in the last 30 minutes, “but they’re all taking my cards.” I tried to tell him that taking a card does not equal a vote and that he should be encouraged by the fact that so many people were stopping. I don’t think he was.

If I recall, I only voted for one piece and that was at the Catholic Diocese located at the corner of Wealthy Street and Division Avenue. Illy (my wife) and I spent a couple of hours “doing” ArtPrize on a Saturday afternoon and I think I voted for it more because it had colors that would match up with our living room décor more than the fact I liked the piece as an ArtPrize entry. We did meet one artist we liked who used pieces of rice paper to design little stick figures showing different fashions from different countries. She didn’t have anything representing Cuba, my wife’s birthplace, but she did point to a very dark stick figure from Columbia, suggesting “that’s pretty close, no?” Um, no.

So, ArtPrize is over, except for the shouting and I’m seriously considering entering again next year. A chat with an artist the other day who thanked moe for volunteering made me realize how much fun I had the two years I was in it. I believe if you go to the ArtPrize web page and do a search for my name, I’m still in the system. I didn’t enter to win, but I like to try to show off my creativity and my photography. I’ve got a couple of ideas. I might share them later. One of them involves tape-recording my farts and re-recording them on a continuous loop for continuous playback at the push of a button. Illy totally rejected that idea. We’ll see.

Hasta luego.


Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Part 5

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)

When last I left you, I told you it was the weekend and you should expect nothing profound. I didn’t give you anything profound because I was tired from a very busy Thursday, which I never even mentioned.

I’ll skip all the acronyms and the names that go with them except for one. I boarded a bus with my wife and some other support staff and a whole bunch of disabled men and women for a trip from Grand Rapids to Lansing to gather at the Capitol building to celebrate 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA [see, an acronym]) and remind the Senate and the House members that funding must continue for this great program.

Oddly, the Capitol building is being renovated and a couple of the previous handicapped entrances were closed, forcing us to walk in through what could best be described as “basement” doors, which necessitate riding an elevator up to the second floor(s) to see the Senate chambers and the House chambers. I was along to be a P.A. (Personal Assistant) for a guy (not) named “Bill,” who, in the course of our conversations, informed me that he was 53 years old and very up-to-date on the current state of the Detroit Tigers. Don has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair; my task, other than to make sure he got from Point A to Point B, was to help him when he needed the bathroom. Unlike my guy “Sam,” who doesn’t have an issue when I hold the urinal cup for him to pee in, “Bill” had me lift him from his chair, help him drop trou and put him on the toilet. As I waited the first time for him to go, he looked up and said, “Could I have a little privacy?”

Of course, I gave it to him, so I stood outside the stall until I heard “OK, I’m done.” I didn’t make that same mistake the next two times. In face, because he’s about 100 pounds lighter than “Sam,” on our third trip to the john, I simply pushed his foot rests out of the way, wrapped my arms around his chest and lifted and moved him to the toilet.

Life continues to be a learning experience.


On Monday and Wednesday I was back to work with “Sam,” but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. He missed last week Wednesday with what he said was a cold, but he was still not his normal cheerful self this week Monday and Wednesday. About an hour before his class was scheduled to end, in fact, he tried calling his mom because of what he called “gastric issues.” Thank goodness he didn’t have to go No. 2 like he did at an earlier class. I don’t wanna do that again.


ArtPrize, an open competition for artists worldwide, began this week Wednesday in Grand Rapids. I entered the competition twice in the past five years mostly for fun, but now, especially since I’ve got more time, I’ve signed up to volunteer a number of times as a “Wayfinder,” one of those folks who wears an “ASK ME” bib. A couple of other times, I’m going to work in “The Hub,” a site whose title is self-explanatory, greeting people who walk in the door. It’s great fun for a people watcher like me. Plus, the other volunteers are quite awesome. Yes, it’s crowded in downtown Grand Rapids, but it’s a good thing.

This is year seven of ArtPrize and I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun.

The Lee Chronicles: Logging my first year of retirement

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which where I live began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is Part 1 of what I hope to be a continuing series of “Life After Work(ing).”)

For a reason I will not divulge right here, right now, I have not worked at my job as an educator since the middle of November, 2014, so getting ready for retirement was more of an easing-into for me rather than a leap of faith. I was not forced into retiring; as a matter of fact, I had planned to make this move before the 2014-15 school year, but my wife talked me out of it. She said if I could handle four more years, I would be able to collect my full Social Security benefit.
But things happened and, I repeat, even though I was not forced to retire, the time was right to walk away from teaching.
As I have not been in the classroom since the previous November, I did not approach Opening Day, 2015, with any sort of anticipation or trepidation. I worked the past 15-plus years in Special Education, a program whose summer “Extended School Year” was eliminated in Michigan as of last year, so this summer was no different than last summer. I didn’t have to go to the classroom, but because my pay was pro-rated over 12 months instead of nine months, I still got paid every two weeks.
My Opening Day was different than past openers, but no different than any weekday of the past three months. But instead of sitting home and going over my “honey do” list, I drove my son to Lansing. He quit his job in favor of something less stressful, so he had to go clean out his office, then go to the county clerk’s office to file some personal papers. Then we headed home.
Well, we headed TOWARD home. On westbound I-96 just a few miles from where we entered at I-496, traffic was at a standstill. I mean, it was a three-lane parking lot. I remember seeing construction on that side as we headed into Lansing, but I’m thinking there must have been some sort of accident to stop traffic dead.
So we turned around through the “Emergency Vehicles Only” escape route, and found ourselves on Grand River Avenue, heading west to connect with M-100, which reconnected with I-96.
But wait! There’s a McDonald’s, let’s eat.
We got back on the freeway, but had to stop at the Lowell exit for gas as the “Low Fuel” light and the accompanying bing-bing-bing” alerted us that we might not make it home without stopping.
The rest of the ride home was uneventful. Later that night it turned eventful as my son drove the car back to Lansing to grab a couple of things he forgot, then returned home again Wednesday morning, only to inform me that we were low on gas again, but he could not get his ATM card to work and the Low Fuel light was already on before he got to our driveway. (Sigh.)
And that was it. The evening was routine as my wife and I watched the second semi-final of “America’s Got Talent” and I voted for two of the singers, “The Professional Regurgitator” and the ventriloquist. (No names here because I’m too lazy to look them up.)
My wife went to bed and I stayed up past 12:30 to watch (my) Detroit Tigers pull out an 8-7 win over Tampa in the 13th inning. That’s something I could not or would not do if I had to work in the morning. Ahhhhhhhhh.
I think I might like this new lifestyle.

Signs, signs, signs … sigh

You’ve heard the song “Signs, signs, every where there’s signs ….”

Well, if you haven’t, go to youtube.com and look it up. I remember it by the 5 Man Electrical Band, but a popular remake a few years back by Tesla gave the song renewed interest.

When you think about it, those dang signs are EVERYWHERE. How many times do you pass a Speed Limit sign without paying attention. You know it’s there, but you also know what it says, so you never look at it again. On a street near my home I never paid attention to the “Speed Limit 45” sign until my son mentioned that, to get to his mother-in-law’s house, you had to “turn left on the first street past the Speed Limit sign.” Now, I can’t go down that road without passing the sign and saying, usually to no one, “that’s where Cindy lives.”

As a sportswriter who covers a lot of sporting events, especially on the high-school level, I’m constantly looking at/am bothered by signs in the stands. The same thing happened today (Saturday, May 10) when I got to cover a road race, the Fifth Third River Bank Run, a 25K race in and around Grand Rapids, Michigan. Even before the race — which was preceded by 5K and 10K runs — people were readying signs with messages such as “(Fill in the blanks) You Can Do It!” or “(Fill in the blanks) You Rock!” I took a picture of a young girl, maybe 6 or 7 years old, holding a preprinted sign that read “KICK SOME ASPHALT.” Funny.

Once the race began, I was riding on the pace vehicle with TV and other newspaper guys. Hanging from one bridge on the race route was a sign that read: “Athletes Run: Others Just Play Games.” Others were on site to promote various volunteer groups that passed out water and protein snacks.

The hand-made, hand-held ones got better as we got further into the race.

For example:

• Run Fast. Zombies Are Behind You.

• Pain Now. Beer Later.

And my favorite, about two miles from the end of the 15-mile race: WTF — Where’s The Finish?

That made me laugh out loud, along with others on the truck with me.

That also made me think of the time my son, Geoff, and I were driving through downtown Minneapolis/St. Paul and I saw a sign (a billboard, actually) that said something about “St. John’s Hospital: Caring for the Sick Since 1945.” Without thinking, I blurted out, “that’s nice, but before then they didn’t give a shit about anyone.” Geoff and I both had a good laugh. Now it’s a running joke that whenever either of us sees a sign like that, a phone call is imminent.

“Do this, don’t do that. Can’t you read the signs?”

Yes, we can. And we usually enjoy what they have to say.

Can you hear the sounds of silence?

The next time you lie down in bed to go to sleep, try not to go to sleep for a few minutes. It’s kind of an out-of-body biofeedback kind of thing, but just lie there with your head on your pillow – preferably while lying on your back – and just listen. Listen to everything that’s going on around you.

That light clunking, whirring sound coming from above? Oh, yeah, it’s the ceiling fan. I forgot my wife turned it on to keep the air circulating in the bedroom.

What’s that humming sound coming from the other room? Um, right, it’s the refrigerator. We were given a new one recently by our son and daughter-in-law for a Mother’s Day present and we’re still not quite used to the sound it makes when the compressor kicks on. My wife also told me that when I open the refrigerator door while she is still awake, she can hear a little clunk where it twists on its hinges.

I hear a train whistle in the distance. Ahhh, what a lovely sound coming from the tracks a few hundred yards from our house. It reminds me of my childhood when the house I grew up in was located just across a two-lane dirt road. We would hear not only the train whistle, but feel the rumbling of the engine and the cars as the train powered up for a trek south to places like Saugatuck and Fennville and Kalamazoo or even farther, maybe to Chicago or somewhere out west.

We have family staying in our basement. Sometimes I can hear the water running when one of them gets up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or to get a drink. Our basement steps creak, so I can hear my son in the morning when he comes up for breakfast. I can click off in my mind what he’s doing just by the sounds. He’s pouring water into the coffeemaker, now he’s adding the grounds and … click, it’s on! There’s a ching, pop as he pushed the toaster handle down and the bread comes up. A cupboard door opens and closes as he retrieves a jar of peanut butter. Oops, coffee’s ready, time to pour the stuff into his travel mug and snap on the lid.

Well, you get the drill.

Recently, however, we spent a couple of nights without any of those sounds. My wife and I drove about 90 minutes down to Union City, Michigan where we stayed two nights in the Victorian Villa Inn, a Bed & Breakfast that was running a special weeknight deal of $90 per night, Monday through Thursday. It was a beautiful place, three stories of restored magnificence with gorgeous oak wood throughout and a Sherlock Holmes-themed interior. Union City is a small town, so it didn’t take us long to walk through downtown and visit the cute little shops. The Daily Grind is a coffee shop owned by the B&B people, so we had two breakfasts there. Free. The morning of the full day we stayed there, I drove to nearby Burlington to play golf at the Turtle Creek Golf Course. Nice. It was just down the road from the Turtle Creek Naturist Resort, but we chose not to visit the nudists. I even fished a couple of times on the St. Joseph River, just downstream from the dam. There was a full moon, but no fish. Still, it was beautiful. And relaxing.

What will remain etched in my mind for some time, though, but perhaps not in my ears, is what I experienced each of the two nights we stayed in what once was the carriage house behind the Bed and Breakfast. We left the door and one window open and even turned the ceiling fan on low.

As I was lying in bed Tuesday evening, in the room that was nearly dark (the shade trees prevented the moonlight from getting through), I nudged my wife with my elbow and whispered: “Do you hear that?”

“No,” she replied. “What?”

“Exactly,” I said. “Absolutely nothing.”

It was the best night of sleep we had in a long time.