Monthly Archives: April 2014

Embracing the Chaos

embracing the chaos


I stick my head inside my son’s room.

Has a bomb gone off?

Hot Wheels,

scraps of paper,

shoes, trading cards.

Action figures stare up at me.

Has he even been working on this?


Above the clutter,

He’s on the bed,

reading comics.


“Dude, get to work!  Done in twenty minutes or no swimming!”


Eight years earlier this boy on the bed is

strapped to my stomach, wide eyed, taking in the chaos,

wonder of a third-world airport.

Ukrainian guards in high hats – “He needs his visa.”

Questions at the gate – “I thought we had everything.”

Confusion – “He says we don’t.”

Nervous glances between his mother and I.


From the hallway I step into his mess.

“Come on.  I’ll give you a hand.”

He smiles,

hops off the bed,

gathers up an armful of super heroes

and drops them into the toy box.

This Bud’s for You


I think it was my first senior trip as a senior sponsor. The trip was to St. Louis, and one of our stops was the brewery tour. Maybe that doesn’t seem that appropriate for a high school trip, but it’s pretty educational, and it’s free. After the tour everyone is treated to drinks in the hospitality room. I declined beer, I was partially in charge of some high school kids after all, and opted for an orange energy drink which the guy served up in a half pint beer glass. Back at a table full of kids, a boy asked me what I got. “I don’t know,” I said, “something orange.” I slid it across the table to him. “Want to try it?” I could immediately read the faces of the kids at my table and the nearby tables. They thought I’d returned with a beer and offered it to a student. Apparently the kids weren’t the only ones that thought I was enjoying a refreshing orange colored beer. The other sponsors did too. . .


Christ in front of me

This is from July of 2011. I changed the name of the foster kid.


Let me start off by saying I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.  This is a discussion we can have another time if you want, but I don’t believe, for example, that God causes an airline delay making hundreds of people miss important connections with their families or work, costing people time, money, and aggravation, so that someone can have a meaningful conversation with a stranger in the airport that they wouldn’t otherwise have had.

However, I do believe that we are given more opportunities than we realize, more opportunities than we ever notice, than we would know what to do with, in both good times and bad, in making our flights or missing them, to do God’s work here on earth.

The other night I was reading to Will, and the boy in the book is taking care of four bum lambs.  That’s lambs whose mothers have died, and probably won’t make it through the Montana winter without a lot of special attention.  The boy decides it’s worth a shot to sprinkle a bit of holy water on the sick one and say Saint Patrick’s blessing.  It goes like this.

Christ in front of me.  Christ behind me.

Christ on my right side and Christ on my left.

Christ when I go to sleep at night.

Christ wake me up again.

Christ in every eye that sees me.

Christ in every ear that hears me.

Then the boy made the sign of the cross on the lamb’s forehead.

I was thinking about this on Friday when I was at the Clinton square to twist balloons and make a little spending money.  I say I was there to do that, but it was so hot that almost no one was out for Old Glory Days that afternoon.  No one but those kids.  Those kids who roam around unattended.  The kids I’m happy to make a balloon, or two, for, knowing that it won’t mean a tip, but it’s a balloon for a kid for heaven’s sake.  The kids that keep coming back, and then begin to get annoying, and on my nerves, and asking for more and more, and who don’t seem to appreciate what I’ve given them, and as I watch them messing around the square, I think to myself, why don’t they just go home.  And on a good day I realize that if they had a home worth going to, they probably would go home, and if they had someone at home who cared how they acted in public, they’d do a better job of behaving themselves.  And then, on a good day, I get off my high horse, and I realize that I do have Christ in front of me, getting on my nevres.  And I have Christ on my right and my left, wearing me out.  And I wish that I could take my latex stained hands and make the sign of the cross on these bum lambs’ foreheads.  Actually, if I had done that they probably would have left me alone for the rest of the day.

So as we remember now what Christ has done for us.  I want to again encourage us to see the Christ all around us.  In, for example, our old friends Tom and Brenda who I got to talk with during that hot Friday in Clinton.  Or in the boy who spent much of the day talking to me about nothing in particular and waiting for his mother to arrive from work, and him greeting her with a big balloon flower he had commissioned just for her.  Or in Joe who had been a foster kid in Adrian and gave me a message to deliver to his old foster parents that he was doing fine, a message I was able do deliver yesterday during the parade, clearly making those foster parents’ day.

Christ is in the bread and the juice, his body and blood.  He is in us, his hands and feet on earth.  And he is all around us, in his lost lambs that we have been charged to tend.

Christ in every eye that sees me.

Christ in every ear that hears me.


Sickness and Disease


The words “sickness” and “disease” came up in class.  I think I used one of them, and a student thought I should have used the other.  She came up with these two examples of the difference in connotation of these words.  I believe the sickness and disease are doing the speaking in each example.

Stamp out report cards


I remember loving the Mad Magazine sensibilities of this one back in the day. And I loved Mad Magazine. I loved the special issues with the sheets of stickers, too precious to use.  I would share the jokes and cartoons with friends; most didn’t get them or weren’t interested.  Anyway, In the 70s everyone had a cause, and stamping out report cards was mine. I remember wearing it to grade school at least once. I’m sure my teacher patted me on the head and rolled her eyes. And now decades later, as a teacher figuring grades at the end of the semester, I can hear the button calling my name again.

Band Candy

I think this is a fun story.  It’s very biographical, except for the school carnival part.  When I looked into publishing it, I couldn’t find a kid’s magazine that it quite fit the submission guidelines for.  But it’s just the kind of story that we’re looking for here on The Real Matt Show.

Band Candy

It seems like there’s never enough time to get everything done; my room is never clean, chores are never done, and don’t even ask me about my homework.  I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff though.  I’ve got ideas.  Just the other day I was lying on my bed working out a sweet costume for Halloween.  The idea was a guy who had an alien popping out of his stomach, but whoever’s wearing the costume is not the guy, but is the alien all covered with slime and blood and stuff.  Beautiful.  It’s then that my mom walks by my room, sees that it’s trashed, and sees that I’m just lying on my bed.   What she can’t see is that I’m coming up with a great idea.  I stand quickly, as if I was just about to start on my room.  She’s not fooled.

“Buster, you’d better get off your butt and get this pig sty cleaned up.”  I try hard not to roll my eyes, focusing intently on her face.  Then I realize she’s waiting for a response.  “Got me?”

“Yes,”  I say, and she stomps down the stairs.


The next day at school I snap the neck of my sax into place as I try to get to my seat, 3rd chair alto sax.  I catch someone’s foot and nearly go down, but I grab the back of Jill’s chair to stop my fall.  The momentum swings the sax, strapped to my neck, into a nearby music stand, knocking it into the lap of Tom, his music cascading around his feet.

“Smooth one,” he says.

I get to my seat in one piece.

“Alright, the fall carnival is coming up at the end of the month.”  It’s Mr. Hartman, our fearless leader.  He’s reading from an office memo.  “The band class is responsible for one of the booths.  If anyone has any ideas, let me know.”  He looks at us over the tops of his glasses.  No one says anything.  Hartman puts down the piece of paper.  “Okay then.”  He picks up his baton and leads the band in the school fight song and a few other pieces that we’ll probably play at the next pep assembly.


After school I stop by Hartman’s office.  His door is open.  His desk is covered with sheet music, and he has the school secretary, Mrs. Scott, on speaker phone, something about inventory and budget and the spring concert.

“Mr. Hartman?”

“Alex.  What do you need?”  He pushes some of the papers aside, and a stapler hits the floor.

“I had some ideas for the carnival?”

“Mrs. Scott, can I call you right back?”  He hits a button on the phone before she has a chance to answer.  “Alex, you’re a smart kid.  I like your initiative.  I appreciate you stopping by.  To be honest, I don’t really have time to deal with the carnival right now.  Tell you what.  Why don’t you take your idea and run with it.  Let me know if you need any help.  But basically, you’re in charge.  Ok, champ?”

“Uh, ok,” I barely manage to get out.

“Great.  I gotta get this mess sorted out.”  Hartman gestures to his desk.  “Shut the door on your way out, would you.”


Three weeks pass by pretty uneventfully.  I’m walking home with Mike.  Mike is in band too, third chair just like me.  He plays trumpet.  We’ve been kicking a rock along the street in front of us.  “I can’t wait for the carnival Friday,” he says.  “How’s your thing with the band coming?”

“Huh?” I lose the rock under a car.

“Didn’t you tell Hartman that you were going to handle the band’s booth at the carnival?”

“Oh crap.”  My heart starts to pound.  “I haven’t even thought about it.”

“Dude, there’s posters all over the school.  How do you not think about it?”

“Oh man.”  I start to get a little sick to my stomach.

“Dude, you’re screwed.”  Mike starts to laugh.

“I gotta get home.  I gotta get this figured out.”  I start to jog toward my house.

“Let me know if you need any help,” Mike yells after me.

I wave a thanks and head home.


That Friday evening I’m in the gym early, trying to set up the band’s booth.  I’m trying to hang up a paper banner that says, “Support the Band – Name that Tune!”  I did it by hand with a half-dry magic marker, and frankly it looks like a spastic 3rd grader did it.  I don’t really have anything to hang it on.  I thought there would be an actual booth here, but there’s just a space for a booth.  The football team and the chess club on either side of me both have sort of tent things set up, so I’m trying to tape my sign to them, but my sign’s not quite big enough to reach from the football tent to the chess club tent.  Plus this stupid masking tape won’t stick to anything.  A couple of the football players are watching me and laughing.  This sucks.  When the banner falls for the millionth time, I just set the sign on the ground and sort of prop it up with the roll of tape.

It seems like it must be close to 5:00, time for the carnival to start.  I don’t wear a watch, so I’m not sure.  Finally Mike and Tom show up.  Mike has his trumpet with him, and Tom has his tuba.  Tuba’s not the best instrument for Name that Tune, but it was the best I could do on short notice.  “It’s about time.  Where’s Jill?” I ask.  Jill plays clarinet.

“She couldn’t make it,” Tom says.

“Why not?”

“Said she had things to do,” Tom says.

“Like what?”

“Go to the carnival I think.” Mike grins.

“Great.  Ok, then it’s just us three.  That’s ok.” I try to stay calm.  “Ok.  Here’s what we’re going to do.  People will put a ticket in the can, and then one of us will play a song.  If they can name the song, they get a prize.”  It’s lame, I know.  I’d spent three days trying to come up with a better idea, but nothing was coming.  It’s weird how my ideas come when I don’t really need them, but when I do really need them, nothing.

“What do you have for prizes?” Tom asks.

“Candy.” I show him a box of last year’s holiday band candy.

“Last year’s Christmas candy?  What the crap?  That stuff’s been sitting in Hartman’s office for months.”

“I know.  It’s all I could get.  Hartman said I didn’t give him enough time to get anything better.”  I pick one of the candy bars up and tear off a Christmas bow.  “If you find any with bows, take them off.”

Mike blows some spit out his spit valve while I set the ticket can on the floor at the front of our “booth.”  I hadn’t thought to bring a table or anything.

“So what music did you bring for us?” Tom asks.

“Huh?” I’m trying to get our stupid sign to stand up, sort of leaning against the chess club.

“Music.  Where’s our music?  How can we play Name that Tune without any tune?”

“Oh, it’s in the band room.  I’ll grab some when I go get my horn.  I’d better do that now.”  I give up on the sign and head toward the band room.

“Dude.”  It was Mike.  “You can’t get into the band room.”

“Why not?  Where’s Hartman?  He’ll let me in.”

“Hartman’s not here.  He plays at the mall on the weekends.”

“What!  It’s Friday.  This isn’t the weekend!  Where’s Hartman!”

“He’s gone, man.  And after what happened at last year’s carnival, there’s no way anybody’s getting into any part of the school but the gym.  This place is locked up tight.”  Last year an elaborate series of stink bombs was set during the school carnival.  As teachers opened their doors Monday morning, little glass vials fell to the floor, broke open, and stunk up the place bad.  A couple teachers got sick and school was closed for the day while they cleaned up the mess.

“This is just freaking great!”  I kick the sign I had just gotten to stand up, and get dirty looks from the chess club, and more laughs from the football players.

I notice the carnival is open now as people start to wander around the gym.  “Well, I can’t get my stupid locked-up horn!”  I try to kick the sign again and miss it.  “Or the music!”  I try again, but this time hit the ticket bucket, sending it flying across the gym floor.  I have to admit, that felt good.  “So I guess it’s up to you two.  What songs do you know?”

They both blink a couple times.  “I know the school fight song, and some of the national anthem,” Tom says.  Those will be two real hard ones for people to guess.

“I’ve been working on ‘Free Bird,'” Mike say.  “I’ve almost got it.  Oh, and ‘Taps.'”  He puts the trumpet to his lips and prepares to blow.  I put my hand on the bell of his horn and push it down away from his mouth.

From behind me: “I found this.  I think it’s yours.”  It’s a seventh grade girl.  She’s chomping her gum, and already has her cheek painted with a big pink butterfly.  She holds out our ticket can.

“Thanks,” I say.

“So what’s this booth?” she asks.

I walk across the floor to the gym doors.  I’d listened to Mike explain my lame idea to the girl, while her confused expression shifts from Mike, to the old Christmas candy, to Tom’s tuba, and back to Mike.  As I push on the gym door and walk out into the night, I hear the sad strain of “Taps” behind me.


The Thursday after the carnival, everyone has finished with their math test, so Mr. Gantenbien tells us we can do whatever we want for the last few minutes of class.  I pull out my notebook and start to write down a couple ideas.  Mike, who sits in front of me, turns around.  “Whatcha doin’?”

“The band is sponsoring a dance in the spring.  Hartman wants to raise some money for uniforms or something.”

Mike looks at me blankly.  “So?”

“So I’m writing down some ideas.  Hartman wants me to help organize it.”

“The dance?”

“Yeah.”  I keep my eyes on the notebook.

“After you bailed on the carnival?”

“What bailed?  I set it up and then left you and Tom in charge of it.”  I sneak a look at Mike, hoping he will buy my version of last week’s events.

He doesn’t.  “Dude.”

“Look.  I talked to Hartman.  The band made a few bucks from the Name that Tune thing, we got rid of most of the old Christmas candy, and Hartman didn’t have to spend any time on the carnival at all.”

Mike raises an eyebrow.  “And,” I add, “your version of ‘Free Bird’ went over pretty well.”

Mike smiles.  “I knew it.”  He looks again at my notebook.  “Isn’t a spring dance, like, months away?”

“Yeah,” I say, turning my attention back to my notes, “I didn’t think it would hurt to get started on this a little early.”

Mike rolls his eyes and turns around, giving my math book a shove in the process.  It shoots off my desk.  Without thinking I grab for it, actually catch it, and drop it in my book bag.  Smooth.  “Nice try,” I whisper to Mike.

Reagan Bush ’84


Many of these buttons won’t have stories. In fact most of them won’t. This one doesn’t have much of one. Except this. I was raised by a couple yellow dog republicans. (This won’t be the last republican button you see). I would have voted for Reagan both times if I’d been old enough. He was good enough for my folks and Alex P. Keaton. By the time I could vote I’d been at k-state a few years and so went Dukakis. Later I made my way to the Libertarian party which is still where I pretty much am, although I’ve lost faith in the invisible hand of the market. In fact I’ve pretty much lost faith in our political system as it stands now to do much good at all.