Twelve Teachers

Twelve Teachers

Top Row (L to R): My mom, my older brothers Bob and John Second Row: My sister Betsy, Bill Anderson, Steve Fisher Third Row: Dale Willman, Mark Gravel, Tim Fletcher Bottom Row: My elder daughter Rachel, my younger daughter Emily, and my wife and soulmate, Michele

Top Row (L to R): My mom, my older brothers Bob and John; Second Row: My sister Betsy, Bill Anderson, Steve Fisher; Third Row: Dale Willman, Mark Gravel, Tim Fletcher
Bottom Row: My elder daughter Rachel, my younger daughter Emily, and my wife and soulmate, Michele

Growing up, I had many dedicated teachers. A decades-belated thank you to Mrs. Perkins (4th grade), Mr. Nash (English), and General Verbeck (biology), and Mr. Vandenberg (Latin I, 2 and, thanks to my friend Steve Fisher, who knows what he did, Latin 3). My learning, however, did not end with my formal education. I have been blessed to have had many capable managers and mentors throughout my career. Thank you, Alan Horton, Jerry Parichy, Valerie Sanford, Chris Noble, and Cynthia Clay, to name a few.

As I look back over the past 65 years, I realize that some of the most impactful educators I’ve had have been family members and friends. There are twelve individuals who stand out as the most influential teachers in my life. This week’s column is about them.

My mom, Betty Clark (she remarried). At one month shy of turning 100 years old, she is, amazingly, still with us. A WW II veteran and mother of five, she endured a difficult marriage to a husband who suffered from serious, untreated mental illness and chronic anger management issues. She had the courage to leave this situation in an era when women did not seek divorce. Having not worked outside the home in 28 years, she set out to get a job and became a dietician at the VA. She reclaimed life by traveling to many countries, her favorite being Israel. Now in a nursing home, she rallies on, showing all around her that she still has a wit. She is always game for a good laugh – just check out her photo above, taken at age 97. People ask me, “Tim, why is it that you smile so much?” That’s simple. Thanks, mom.

Bob Jones. Our nine year age gap kept me from getting to know my oldest brother when I was young. But as I entered my career, we became re-acquainted by discussing career and life challenges. Bob became a “big brother” mentor to me and taught me the importance of understanding myself and my impact on others. From Bob, I learned to look for the positive in situations and people. As a result, throughout my career, I posted on my wall these words: “Catch them doing something right.”

John Jones. My second oldest brother, five years my senior, John was the All-American boy. Growing up, he was my role model. I wanted to be just like him. I still do. He is modest to a fault and has always been the rock of our family. When there was a crisis, John was the steady hand willing to intervene to calm the waters. Over time, I have come to appreciate how kind and caring a person John is – and funny. And he taught me to love sports and playing board games – I can’t forget about that!

Betsy Jones. I could write a book about my younger sister. She has been the editor of my blog these past 11 years. (I’ll be curious to see how she edits this description of her.) When we were little, because we were the two youngest, we became very close. She is the historian of my childhood, with a memory of details I had long forgotten. Nobody I know has endured more hardship and heartbreak than my sister. But every time she has been knocked down, she gets back up. Betsy is the most resilient person I have ever known – and one of funniest. She has an expanding universe of friends because like me, they see in her one of the most giving, selfless people you will ever find. [No edits. Thanks – Your editor] 

Bill Anderson. If you want to know why I sometimes (okay, usually) act like an 11-year-old, blame Bill. Bill is my oldest friend. We met in 4th grade because our dads were best friends. For the past five decades, Bill has reminded me of the importance of staying young at heart and not taking life too seriously. When we get together, we revert to high schoolers. Bill is a person of deep faith, and one of the most high-integrity people I have ever known. He has taught me, better than just about anyone else, the importance of working to maintain a close friendship, despite the physical distance between us most of our lives.

Steve Fisher. Some may ask where I developed my warped sense of humor. Look no further. Steve is the funniest person I have ever met. I launched this humor blog, in part, to honor him for teaching me how to make others laugh. We met in 7th grade and he has kept me howling with laughter ever since. Steve also taught me the meaning of courage. Ten years ago, he almost died from a devastating illness that left him with life-altering physical injuries. But through it all, he has demonstrated enormous courage and self-deprecating humor. Steve is my hero.

Dale Willman. Dale and I met early in our modeling careers. Yes, we were models, for a one-off fashion shoot, hired by a  mutual friend, for reasons neither of us will ever understand. Shortly after we met, my father died quite unexpectedly. Dale responded in a way that sealed our lifelong friendship: he came to the funeral. He turned out to be an unexpected source of strength that I leaned on in my time of grief. A journalist, Dale has worked and taught all over the world, and instilled in me the value of broadening my worldview. Like me, Dale has a small teddy bear called Grumpy that he takes to exotic places, although only my Grumpy has been to the North Pole (get over it, Dale).

Mark Gravel. I worked in the newspaper industry for 9 years and there is only one person I keep in touch with from that era: Mark. In addition to possessing a wickedly sharp sense of humor (he has co-written several of my humor articles), Mark loves doing surprises and practical jokes. But even more importantly, Mark exudes a genuineness, a kindness, and a deep desire to put the needs of others before himself. In the dictionary under the word “Gentleman” there should be a picture of Mark, for he truly is just that – even if he is Canadian, like my wife.

Tim Fletcher. I have always admired Tim’s first name. But beyond that, my soft-spoken friend is a remarkable dad. We became friends while working at an internet startup, When I was struggling with trying to unlock the mysteries of parenting my then teenage daughters, Tim repeatedly provided an understanding ear and wise counsel to help me become a better dad. For several years, Tim has grappled with a serious illness. But through it all, he has accepted his physical limitations with positivity, grace, and a stubborn refusal to be blocked from pursuing a full life.

Rachel Jones. From a young age, my elder daughter has demonstrated a strong independent streak. I will always remember when at four years of age, as I tried to help her, she insisted, “I do it myself, Daddy.” She became extremely self-reliant and responsible far beyond her age. Her sense of determination and her work ethic astound me, be it on the soccer field or pursuing her passion of becoming a nurse. Now 26 and a cardiology nurse, Rachel has matured into a confident, hardworking adult. Most inspiring is her deeply caring heart, for her patients, her family, and her cats (not sure in which order). She teaches me all the time what it means to put the needs of others before one’s own.

Emily Jones. When she was a teenager, she and her sister taught me the importance of patience in parenting. At 4’11” tall, Em has always been the shortest person in any group photo. But she’s never let that stop her from pursuing the highest of goals in life, and with a passion. She is fearless and doesn’t let obstacles deter her from her dreams. Extremely smart and resourceful, in college she once asked me, “Dad, do you know anybody at Space X?” Of course, I didn’t. Two days later, using just LinkedIn, she corralled an interview. A week later, Space X hired her in their elite intern program. Over the years, she has amazed me with her giving heart, often surprising my wife and me with the most extraordinary gifts out of the blue (including my very cool Space X shirt.)

Michele Rushworth. When we said our wedding vows, I told her, “I want to grow old with you.” Those words ring just as true 33 years later. I am proud of everything she has achieved with her art. She has helped to push me outside my comfort zone to try new things (even fish). A voracious reader, she has educated me about other cultures, history, and science. It was Michele who suggested we pursue international adoption. She had the idea for us to move to an island I had never heard of. And whatever I learned about being a caring, patient parent, I learned in great part from my best friend’s example. Our daughters could not have asked for a better mom. It has been a privilege and a joy to be growing old – that is, older – with my wife, Michele.

I have had many truly wonderful friends throughout my life, including many people who space constraints simply don’t permit me to mention. As I get older, I’ve learned that true wealth is measured not by the size of one’s bank account but by the number of meaningful friendships we have in life. On this scale, I’m rich beyond my wildest dreams. I owe a debt of gratitude I’ll never be able to repay to these twelve funny, kind, extraordinary teachers, and to others not mentioned (due to witness protection constraints). Thank you all.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020. Edited by Betsy Jones

My Awesomest Extreme Prank

My Awesomest Extreme Prank

Sometimes people worry that there are no depths to which I will not sink to pull off a practical joke. They’re probably right to be concerned. This is the true story of the best practical joke I ever pulled – which almost got me arrested.

Sometimes people worry that there are no depths to which I will not sink to pull off a practical joke. They’re probably right to be concerned. This is the true story of the best practical joke I ever pulled – which almost got me arrested.

I love to play practical jokes. Hard to believe, I know, being as shy as I am. Sometimes I pull off an Oscar-deserving gag – like the time I ambushed my oldest friend at the Columbus airport in disguise (see photo at right). Due to the resulting lawsuit for mental anguish, I cannot use my friend, Bill Anderson’s, real name here.

Though we both grew up in Albany, NY, I had migrated to Seattle and Bill to Baltimore. One day, Bill’s wife Johanna phoned to invite me to visit. “I know Bill would love to see you.” I replied, “I wish I could, but I used all my frequent-flyer miles for an upcoming family reunion in Columbus.” Johanna became really excited and asked, “Columbus, OHIO? Really? When are you going?”

It turned out that Johanna and Bill were going to be in Columbus the exact same weekend as my daughter and I (to attend a wedding). They were arriving one day after us, which got me thinking… and plotting….

Bill and I are life members of Pranksters Anonymous, always one-upping each other. This was a golden opportunity to pull a huge one over on my old buddy.

The stage for my plot was set: the Columbus Airport’s baggage claim area. I scrounged up some fake rotted out teeth (think Deliverance), donned dark sunglasses, a baseball cap, and a whistle. For extra measure, I stuffed a pillow under my shirt, making me appear 60 pounds heavier. Even to my daughter, I was unrecognizable.

As Bill, Johanna and their kids descended the escalator, I launched my sneak attack. Waving a pair of tickets, I started shouting, “Get y’ar tickets hee-are fer duh Columbus Crew sockuh game.”  Imagine a melding of hillbilly drawl and chain-smoker’s growl.

Cornering an unsuspecting traveler, I bellowed, “Howdy, mistuh. Y’awll look lahk a good sport. I got deez two tickets faw tanight’s soccuh game. Wanna buy ‘em? – half price. I need thuh money for alimony. Mah Ex is bleedin’ me dry. Help me, please.” I made sure I was loud enough for Bill to hear the entire play-by-play. The poor chap bolted into the crowd.

My next mark was within three feet of Bill. I hit my stride with an even trashier story:

“Exkyoose mee, sirrr. I’z awuhndrin ifn you’d lahk ta buy deez here tickets. Great price. I cain’t use ‘em cuz thuh wife dunn grounded me onaccounta me gitten drunk and sleepin wid her sister Shirley. Again. Wudduya say, buddy? Help a poor felluh out.” With utter revulsion, he scrambled away, mumbling “Hell no.”

I was confident my ultimate target had heard both pestering conversations. Time to go in for the kill.

I invaded Bill’s personal space with the same sandpapery, hillbilly, slow-talkin’ sales pitch: “Whutta purty family you got der sir. I bet duh kiddies would love to see a perfessional soccuh game. An’ I just happen to have some tickets. Best price in town.”  Bill was surprisingly gracious, replying, “Thank you for the offer, but we have other plans.” He hustled his family away like a papa bear protecting his cubs from some predator.

I surreptitiously followed them to the luggage carousel, It was clear Bill had no idea who I was. As  he reached for his bag, I came out of nowhere and grabbed it. “I got it, sir. Hey there! Fancy bumpin’ into you again! This sure is yer lucky day!” Bill was taken aback and momentarily flustered. My chance to close this deal.“Now, ya’ seem lahk a man who knows a good investment when it’s staring him in the eyes,” I proclaimed, as I shoved the tickets in his face. “Chance of a lifetime.”  

 “Um, no thank you,” Bill  anxiously muttered, as he futilely tried to wriggle out of this awkward situation without it turning ugly.

I looked to Johanna and remarked, “Wooo-eee! Is this lovely lady your wahfe?”

Full frontal attack with a party horn, soccer tickets and a little too much personal touching by an absolute stranger.

Full frontal attack with a party horn, soccer tickets and a little too much personal touching by an absolute stranger.

“Um, uh, yes,” Bill stuttered, inching in front of Johanna as if to shield her from an encroaching snake.

I was a dog on a bone. “Heck, mister. I can tell yer a upstandin’ Christian, and duh Good Book says to help out dose dat’r down on their luck…Please. Jus’ $50 – a steal.” 

Now, the art of practical jokes is to push the target almost to the brink of losing it, and then make the big reveal. We were almost there.

I cajoled, “You look lahk awfully nice people. I’m willin’ to just give ya’ duh dang tickets – No charge. Deal?” 

Bill sheepishly caved, no doubt just to get rid of me. To his horror, I started cheering, “Yeehaw! You are one lucky man!” I pulled out a party horn and blew loudly, announcing to the gathering onlookers, “Folks! This here gentleman is going to the Co-lum-buss Crew soccuh game! Woo-hoo!”  I presented Bill with the prize tickets like he had won the lottery, patting him on the back and making a raucous scene.

Bill desperately wanted to escape this close encounter of the uncomfortable kind, so I decided it was time for the Final Act.

I started to turn away, paused, looked back, and asked, “Hey buddy, don’t I know you from somewhere?”

“I’m quite certain you do not,” Bill rebuffed, suddenly becoming assertive.

“Are you absolutely certain?”

“Positive!,” Bill said even more forcefully.

Here I am with Bill after my big reveal. If I tried this stunt nowadays, sadly, I might not need the “fat” pillow. Sigh.

Here I am with Bill after my big reveal. If I tried this stunt nowadays, sadly, I might not need the “fat” pillow. Sigh.

Cuz you sure look an awful lot like this fellow I once knew named … [long dramatic pause]… BILL ANDERSON.”

“How do you know my name?” Bill was completely flummoxed – how could this annoying vagrant ever have been an acquaintance?

Well, I gotta say, it’s kinda disappointin’, Bill. To think you don’t recognize me,” I continued with my thick-as-molasses gravelly drawl. “Cuz I sure as shootin’ remember you. You really don’t remember…. (slowly removing my teeth, sunglasses, and pillow, and then in my normal voice) … “your oldest buddy in the world, Tim Jones?”

Bill’s jaw hit the floor two levels below. Speechless, he stood there in shock and disbelief for almost a minute. Then he burst out laughing. “That was awesome!!” he exclaimed with a glint in his eyes – a rather mischievous glint. And I knew right then there will come a day – I don’t know when and I don’t know where – when Bill will undoubtedly even the score. I can’t wait. Your turn, Bill.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base. 

[Postscript: As I was writing this column, my daughter Rachel informed me that as I was playing my little charade, unbeknownst to me, airport security personnel were watching and moving to intervene. Rachel was able, somehow, to keep them at bay by explaining that I was harmless, I was her dad and that it was just a lighthearted practical joke I was playing on an old friend. So they backed off. I had never known this part of the story until just now.]

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Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020