Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.
I hear a lot of silly variations on shotgun rules among your friends. Usually it’s them trying to weasel their way into an illegal shotgun call, but sometimes they just have bad parents who don’t teach them the right rules. I always put the hammer down, but as part of the Donna G Project, I will lay out the official rules with no uncertain terms. These rules are non-negotiable and not up for debate.
Here they are.
- First one the call “shotgun” sits shotgun.
- You must be outside to call shotgun.
- If you have called shotgun, but go back inside (no matter the reason), you have forfeit your right to shotgun. Shotgun is up for grabs the instant you go inside.
- Being inside means your head breaks the plane of a doorway. If you can keep your head outside, you still have shotgun.
- If a girl is driving and your buddy likes that girl, consider letting him have shotgun. That is not mandatory, but it is highly recommended
Rules for professionals:
- The primary job of the person sitting shotgun is to support the driver. A professional shotgun will manage maps, phones, beverages, food, music, etc., and do so in way that places the driver’s needs first. For example:
- Following a drive-thru purchase, a professional shotgun will always make sure the driver is 100% situated before opening their own meal.
- A professional shotgun will never hand a driver a cheeseburger that is still wrapped. A professional shotgun will unwrap that sandwich exactly the way the driver wants it, so the driver can focus on driving. You are the driver’s hands.
- A profession shotgun never falls asleep. They are there to make sure the driver is awake, alert, and supported.
- A professional shotgun takes the role of Iroquois Runner.
- Iroquois Runner will run any and all quick errands that are required (put a package in the mail, pick up a pizza, etc.)
- Iroquois Runner’s shotgun status is protected while running an errand, even if the errand takes them indoors.
- Following an errand, Iroquois Runner is to get back into the car:
- Through the open window (opening the door is not allowed)
- While the car is driving away
These are important rules. Learn them.
Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.
In the spirit of the Donna G Project, I wanted to impart wise words to you boys about the road and about driving. People have fantasies about what it’ll be like to be a dad. In most cases, guys picture themselves throwing a ball in the yard with their son. Me, I always imagined myself teaching a son how to drive. (I am an excellent driver.) Then from there, I’d teach them the true beauty of the road. (I am a once-in-a-generation road tripper.) This post will be about those two things.
So here’s what I have to say about driving:
This one is simple. My list of demands has only 2 items.
When you drive, you are in control of a 1.5-ton hunk of metal that is moving at 60 mph. With the movement of mere inches with your hand you can instantly kill others or yourself. Never – not for one second – take this for granted.
If I strapped a bomb to your chest, gave you a trigger to detonate it, and then asked you to walk around a mall, you would be filled with terror, right? Well, a car has the equivalent potential for destruction.
By no means do I want you to drive with fear; I want you to drive with joy and wonder. But at all times, respect what driving is and let that respect influence every decision you make.
Understand the principle of having multiple goddam lanes and STAY THE HELL OUT OF THE PASSING LANE UNLESS YOU’RE PASSING.
If you are in the left lane and not actively passing another vehicle you are an asshole. I’m sorry to use that term with a 9- and 11-year-old, but no other word is up to the task. You are dragging down the GDP, you are compounding your contribution to global warming, AND YOU ARE AN ASSHOLE! The highways are filled with drivers who fail to realize this principle. Do not be among this group. DO NOT BE AN ASSHOLE.
Whew…OK…Ok, that really covers driving. Get those two and we’re good…Deep breath…Let’s move on to a trickier subject.
Here’s what I have to say about the road:
I’ve been mulling this over for weeks, trying to figure out what message to give you. I’ve been trying to list out the principles to guide you to know what the road means to me. But in all actuality…I think you already know it. Sure, I could prattle and preach, but it’s already in both of your guts. Both of you can shrug off 6 hours without a second thought. You’re there. It’s there.
In 2009 we took our first serious family road trip. On Day 3 your mother took this photo and posted it on Facebook saying: “Who knew? My boys are Road Warriors!”
God, what fun we had!
We stopped at those weird corn statues and played tag for an hour. We stopped for ice cream at least once a day and I’m pretty sure that was our dinner a few times.
At your mother’s high school reunion she went out with friends and I was alone with you guys in the hotel room. Alex, you fell asleep, but Jack didn’t. We lay there in the dark and talked until midnight. My brother had just returned from Afghanistan, and in that sweet, tiny 6-year-old voice you asked me all about it. I could sense your little brain sorting through it all in the dark next to me. Such a big, crazy, conflicted world and how the hell was I supposed to explain it all to you when I don’t understand it myself? I must have said “I don’t know” at least 100 times.
We camped in Shenandoah National Park and your mother and I shared a bottle of white wine by the fire after you guys were asleep. I still have the label from the bottle.
Alex said “dood” instead of “good” and soon we were all saying it.
And I know you guys won’t ever forget when Jack spotted the bear as we were driving out of the park. You’d have thought we won the lottery.
That road trip was a milestone in my life as a parent. That was when the world opened up. Suddenly we were free – I wasn’t stuck on kid duty anymore. You guys weren’t baggage – you were companions. All the amazing stuff out there was available again. You weren’t holding me back anymore – you were coming along. In my head, that road trip was the debut of who we are as a family. It was just the 4 of us, as a unit, on the road, responsible to no one but ourselves. No one was waiting for us; no one was scheduling around us. Everything we had to consider was right there in that car.
Road Warriors. My job here is done.
I don’t have a list of demands for road trips, but I do have some rules that I follow. I don’t care if you follow these or not; you’ll develop your own stuff.
- I never let the tank get below 1/3 full.
I was once driving in Wyoming and I just wanted to go go go and I kept passing gas stations until I was nearly empty and by that time it was midnight and the next few stations were closed. I had to pull over for the night and it killed me. So I’ve never made that mistake again.
- When I have to pee, I pee.
Look, some guys hold it like crazy. It’s a point of pride to make as few stops as possible and make good time. Me – I pee. Granted, I’ll literally pee almost anywhere too, so it never slows me down too much. But I pee when I have to pee.
- I honk when I see a dog pooping.
Whenever I see someone standing there uncomfortably while their dog is taking a poop, I honk and I wave. And then I laugh my head off.
There you have it. I’ve got no real advice to end this one with – you guys don’t need any. I’ve attached my resume.
And here are a few more photos from the 2009 Road Trip.
Sooo…Jack sent the following email to all the MLB teams who have spring training in Florida.
Hello. My name is Jack Nuckols. I live in NJ. I am 11 years old and really into sports and sports writing. Two years ago I went around to different minor league stadiums and interviewed players. Then I wrote an article on it. Last March it was published in the local newspaper. Then that spring I went to the Mets stadium and interviewed a reliever named Scott Rice. I also got the chance to see a press conference and have backstage passes. I am planning on getting another team to help me finish this article. So this spring training I was wondering if I could go to get another interview of a relief pitcher and other players.
The Blue Jays have already responded and put us in touch with their media folks. BOOM! If the point of being a dad is to exploit your kids to get exposure to cool stuff — this could be remarkable. Jack’s grandfather is also planning to join the exploitation. Stay tuned!
If you’re new to NuckolBall, here’s a link to the article Jack got published last year. If you really want to read about the whole experience, click “Minor League Project” in the Categories over on the right side of this page. We had some amazing experiences with that article.
Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.
I will begin with the flaws, because they are glorious.
- My mother’s defining characteristic was her smoking. My mother was the best smoker in the world. Credible estimates have her between 4 and 5 packs a day. She was so nicotine-addicted that she couldn’t sleep more than 2 hours before her body would wake her up to smoke 2 quick cigarettes before she could go back to sleep. After we moved out of the house I grew up in, when we pulled away her chair there was a huge brown stain that ran up the wall and out over the ceiling. She literally left a smoking shadow after she was gone.
- She had a bizarre skin condition that made her prone to rashes. She refused to see a doctor (because a doctor would tell her to quit smoking), so she tried to medicate the rash through a series of diet changes that friends and strangers told her about, but nothing really worked. It condemned her to a wardrobe of loose-fitting mu-mus that minimized any chafing.
- She’d broken her shoulder when I was in 7th grade when she slipped on the ice. She refused to go to the doctor (because a doctor would tell her to quit smoking), so it had healed in a way that left her slightly askew. She walked with a slight hunch and she couldn’t raise her right arm above her head.
- She had exceptional trouble with word recall.
“Go downstairs and get the…thing!” she would demand.
“The THING! The…the…THING!”
“Thing” could mean anything from a can of beans to a folding table. I can remember countless times I had to bumble around the basement searching for the “thing” that was right next to the “other thing”. Then I’d be sent back down until I finally managed to retrieve what she needed.
However, her word recall did work to your favor sometimes when she couldn’t come up with your name. If a crappy job was headed your way, you could sometimes make your escape if you were quick enough.
“Someone needs to paint the porch. Harry….no, Chr…no…”
“I gotta go, Mom! Bye!”
“God damn it! Get back here…YOU!”
- She had insane theories about how the world worked that were based on nothing even resembling fact. The barometric pressure affected mood. The key to being organized was to buy dozens of multi-colored pens. The skunks were eating all the dandelions!
So with all of this, it should be no surprise that she had a heart attack when she was 55 – and that she didn’t go to the ER for nearly 48 hours. I was living in NYC at the time. When I got the message from my father, I called her hospital room.
“The doctor said I have to quit smoking,” she told me.
“Are you going to?”
“Yes!” she barked at me. “I don’t want to die!”
But she did die. She died that night. The phone rang at 3AM; it was my dad. He told me what had happened, but I knew the instant the phone had woken me up. I don’t remember the conversation clearly. I know I called my brother right after, but I don’t know what we said to each other. I remember Shani staring right into my face and saying, “You don’t even get it, man!” I think we went through my address book together to pick out all the people she would call and tell the next day. What I do know is that the whole world became a vacuum the instant I heard that phone ring. Gravity disappeared. I was somehow floating and so was everything around me.
I was really close to her and I liked her a hell of a lot. I looked up to her. She was a damn good mom – first ballot Hall of Famer. And I could physically feel her love like a heat lamp blasting on me – and not just when I was with her. It was love I felt 24/7 and love I felt a thousand miles away.
But the heat lamp had been unplugged. I guess that was where that vacuum feeling came from.
(For the record, I’m writing this on a plane and the woman next to me is trying to pretend not to notice that I’m crying. It’s messed up, boys. I still miss the crap out of her.)
OK, so this is going to sound nuts – but the days immediately following her death were fun. They were.
I took the bus to Binghamton. My brother flew in. My uncle Coddy came. Uncle Bob. My Aunt Joan came back into our lives (thank God). Marie, of course.
My friends appeared like genies – POOF – they were there. From all over the country they came to make me laugh, to talk it out with me, to cry with me. I can remember being on the phone with Chief when he called from LA.
“I’ll be there tomorrow around noon.”
“Wait,” I started. “You don’t have to…”
He bulldozed right over me. “I’m coming. I just got off the phone with Discover to raise my credit limit. I’ll be there tomorrow.”
People brought heaps of food. They hugged the hell out of me. Neighbors came by. My mom’s huge array of friends sat and told me stories about her. I got drunk with my father and brother. Your uncle Chris and I went for a walk at midnight and didn’t get back home until dawn. About a million people came to the funeral and every last one of them told me just how much they loved my mother.
And it was fun. It was filled with love and authenticity and support and laughing. It was fun.
What was not fun was pretty much every day for the next 9 months. Because the truth is, it sucks when your mom dies and you feel like shit for a good long time after it happens. I barely did any writing for the entire summer. I got an awful review at work that September. I kept feeling cranky or unmotivated or just sad. Time and again Shani, bless her heart, would say to me: “Is this because of your mother?” And AHA! The light would go off and I’d realize that had been it all along. Until I’d forget it again a week later.
In fact, I will share with you my death advice. Here are 3 things that were really helpful:
- My Uncle Bob told me that the average grieving time is 13 months. He warned me that you would feel it for that long – and you would notice when it starts to pass. And knowing that was helpful.
- My high school English teacher came by and shared her husband’s story. He had nearly died of a heart attack earlier that year. He described it as floating up through layers and layers of light, and each layer was more wonderful than the next. Knowing that helped too – especially when I imagined her that night when the second heart attack took her. She’d told me just hours before that she didn’t want to die – but I hope at the end there were layers of light and wonderfulness.
- My friend Bruce told me this: He said that he was sorry I was in pain. But the pain was there because of love. And while he wished he could take away my pain, he would never want to take away the love I’d had. That really helped. That was some genuine wisdom that I clung to many-a-time.
But back to my mom – because now I want to tell you about the positive traits.
The best way to describe her is to say that she was a force of nature. And a force for good. She was one of the most active forces of good I’ve ever personally known.
She was the president of the school board and a deeply involved one at that. She knew everyone in the district and they all went to her with concerns. Bus drivers, administrators, teachers, students – everyone knew Mary. And she seemed to know whatever tough thing that was going on in their life.
At least once a month a parent would show up at our door. Usually it was a father, and usually he would be near tears. The doorbell would ring and a giant, strong man would be at the door asking for the help of my bent and nicotine-addled little mother.
And my mother would go to bat for every single one of them. She’d set up meetings with principals. She’d intervene with the police. She’d arrange for tutors. She’d talk to truant officers. Once a teacher had put his hand down a female student’s shirt – and believe you me, Mary Nuckols took that one on full force.
And the school board was just the beginning.
She was an Accord Mediator. Rather than go to court, people would first try Accord mediations, which basically meant my mother tried to help families work through really bad situations before going to court. You can bet she needed a few extra cigarettes after those meetings.
She was on the local board of Voices for Children, which is a group that advocates for kids in foster care. This meant that kids who didn’t have their own parents to stand up for them had my mother. Who was a pretty damn good advocate.
She was on all kinds of state committees on education and frequently went to Albany for meetings.
Then beyond the formal, organized ways she helped people out, there were dozens of more personal examples.
For example…A young girl down the street was in an abusive relationship. My mother brought her into the house, showed her an envelope with $500 cash in it, taped the envelope behind a picture in our living room and said to the girl: “If you ever need to get out right away – that money is there. The front door is never locked and this money is yours.”
For example…One night over winter break when I was in college, I came home to find a woman and her teenage daughter in our guest room. They lived at the end of the block and their house had burned down. And sure they were much closer to other neighbors on our street, and yes they had literally never met my mother – but guess who took them in? Guess who negotiated with insurance companies for them? Guess who took them out to buy clothes and toiletries? My mother just couldn’t help herself.
Which brings me to my main point – and why I started with the flaws. Here is what I learned from my mother:
You always have an excuse. Everyone does. You always will have plenty of reasons why you’re too busy, too distracted, too whatever to help people. You’re too busy to volunteer. Your life is too hectic to pitch in. You’ve got too much going on to help out.
My mother is evidence that those excuses are a load of crap. My mother had every excuse – from poor health to too much going on already – and still she always jumped right in at every turn. I try to live up to that. It makes me SO damn proud that your mother has been the president of your PTA, runs the local book fair, volunteers for her college. And there’s something poetic about the fact that your mother and I met volunteering.
My mother was a good person. I believe she is in heaven (smoking). I desperately wish she could have met you boys — I think about that during talent shows and diving meets. She would have delighted in the two of you and would have annoyed the crap out of me with advice on how to raise you. That would have been fun. We missed out on that from her dying.
And the takeaway? I have three takeaways to share with you:
- Please don’t smoke. Not a single puff. Not ever. It would hurt me deeply to see you do that. I would see it as a major failure in my job as your parent.
- Please be good people. And to be good, you have to do good. Goodness is active; you can list it like bullets on your resume. That’s what being good is.
- Finally…please accept the full-blast heat lamp of my love for the two of you. It is mighty and it shines with terrifying intensity. And know this – if the pain of loss is equal to the strength of love that existed, it is my intention to make my death as painful for the two of you as I possibly can. I apologize for this in advance.
Based on the last post, the social scientists at NuckolBall.com have created this handy guide.
Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.
When I met your mother, I was fresh off the road. I had literally lived in my car for the past year. I hiked National Parks, stayed on friends’ couches, got thrown out of bars. Then at the end, I landed in New York City.
When it came to women, I figured the only way I would get into a real relationship was to find a girl who could keep up with me – and that seemed impossible. In my head I pictured Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark. In her first scene of the film, we find her in Nepal winning a drinking contest against some giant man. THAT was the girl I wanted. I had to have a madwoman. A lunatic. A bar-room brawling, hard-drinking, Nepal-visiting gal. Other than that? Forget it.
I met your mother doing volunteer work. We both signed up to work on a year-long project where we helped a group of junior high students in East Harlem create and publish a magazine. Your mother was leading the project. I noticed her likeable, jittery way of running the team meeting. And of course I noticed that hair. I thought she was really pretty and exotic-looking.
She called me the next day. I had offered to do some task and she was calling to confirm. We ended up talking about all sorts of stuff and staying on the phone for half an hour. When we finally hung up, I found myself staring down at the phone. “That was a good conversation,” I thought. Then I snatched up my safety goggles, picked up the phone, and dialed her number right back.
“Hello?” she answered. We hadn’t hung up more than a minute earlier.
“Hey, would you want to grab a drink or go do something?”
“Tonight. We can go tonight.”
I can distinctly remember her voice when she answered. I can remember it like it was yesterday. She said: “I have plans tonight, so I can’t. But I’d totally like to another time.” I could tell she was smiling and I could tell she was flustered. I could also tell that she was full of shit. She didn’t have plans – she was playing some girl game.
We arranged to grab a drink after our next volunteer meeting the following week. That one was quick, but then we decided to go out that next Saturday. We were scheduled to work with the kids on the project until noon. So we’d grab lunch and see a movie after working with the kids.
That day is in the top 10 of all time for me.
It was magical; I remember it in flashes. I remember eating Peruvian chicken, which was so succulent and salty and you gobbled it right off the bone. I remember gasping that the movie ticket cost $10 and your mother saying: “Welcome to New York!” I remember sitting on benches in Washington Square Park and getting into a long conversation about religion. I remember your mother wore thin, purple socks and finding her ankles attractive. And at the same time I remember thinking how weird it was that I was noticing her ankles. I remember drinking Red Stripes in a dive bar and picking out songs together on the beat-up old jukebox.
We hadn’t set an end to the date and we both kept finding excuses to keep going. We spent all day and most of the night together. It wasn’t until 2 AM that we finally ran out of reasons to keep going. Your mother grabbed a taxi and we said good night. It had been a 14-hour date.
Now she went home. I didn’t. Not by a long shot. In most cities you wouldn’t have a choice, but this was New York. I high-tailed it to South Street Seaport where my friend, Paul, was getting off work soon. I waited for him at the bar with that incredible glow that can only come from meeting a girl. I was walking on air.
Over the next month or so, Shani and I saw each other a lot. I took her to see my neighbor’s god-awful speed metal band and we were in hysterics afterwards as we compared it to the sound of power tools. She had me over and made me Pasta Putanesca. She spent the night at my place in Brooklyn where she stepped on a roach while she was brushing her teeth. We were seeing each other two, sometimes three, times a week and we were talking on the phone every day. It was going so fast.
See, it wasn’t right. She wasn’t right. This wasn’t the girl I pictured. Sure she was fun and smart and beautiful, but she was also modest and quiet. She was a rule-follower. She cared about her clothes and read Glamour magazine. She watched The Today Show every morning and she hated roller coasters. She couldn’t drink for shit.
But then I had my “moment.”
The night before my moment we had a disasterous phone conversation. The subject of our relationship came up and I expressed my position that we were not exclusive. I told her I wanted to be completely up front and clear with her. Shani said she appreciated me being up front, but what did that mean? She didn’t say so, but she was certainly upset. We hung up without resolution and agreed we’d talk more that weekend when we planned to get together.
I barely slept that night and was a zombie the next day. I was tutoring writing at a learning center in Brooklyn that night, but I couldn’t focus on my lesson. A swirl of Shani and exhaustion fogged up my brain. After the lesson I went out and walked the streets aimlessly. Soon I found myself sitting on a stoop in Park Slope, confused and physically dizzy. That was when my moment came. And when I say my “moment”, what I mean is “the moment I pulled my head out of my ass.” It’s the moment I saw my bullshit for the bullshit it was. Because this girl was fantastic – and that wasn’t bullshit at all. I found the nearest pay phone and dialed Shani’s number.
“I’m coming over,” I told her, and hung up.
My legs wouldn’t stop bouncing on the subway to the Upper East Side. I practically ran to her building, flew up the stairs and into her apartment. I told her there hadn’t been any other girls and more importantly, I didn’t want there to be other girls. I told her I was being stupid. I wanted to be “exclusive.” I told her I thought she was terrific and gorgeous and that she was one of the most fun people I’d ever met.
And really, from that moment on, I knew I was going to marry her.
We moved in together. We met each other’s parents. We got to know each other’s friends. We spent holidays together. We took all those steps that couples take. But my head was out of my ass and not going back in. I proposed on the floodwall near the house where I grew up. We got married in Kansas and had a glorious, epic party. We bought a house. We had you two.
Like most people, I’ve made a bunch of life decisions. And like most people, I’ve hit some and missed some. But when it came to the biggest decision of my life, when it came to picking a partner, I came up to the plate and NAILED that f@%#er. I Mickey Mantled that pitch and I got your mother.
And everything…career, house, kids, life…everything has stemmed from that. Everything from there has been built on a foundation of joy and love and honesty and respect. It’s part bedrock, part sunshine, part music. In truth, it’s made everything else bliss. It is on this foundation that the two of you are built. It is the center of our home and the core of what we are as a family.
So with all that, my advice to you boys is this: if you decide to get married, pick someone who is fun. That’s basically the key. There are a million things I like about your mother. I love her stack of 25 books by her bed. I love when she puts on 80s music and starts dancing around the kitchen. I love what an adventurous eater she is. I love her hair. I love how she nurtures you two chuckleheads. But mostly I love how much fun we have together. I think that’s our secret. I think that may be the secret.
I will end by telling you that 6 months after we got married, your quiet, rule-follower mother and I quit our jobs to spend a year travelling the world. We visited Fiji, New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, Greece, Turkey, and…NEPAL. We spent 3 weeks in Kathmandu and did a 14-day trek in the Annapurnas.
On Christmas morning, at 5:30 AM, we climbed to the top of Poon Hill (9600 feet) to watch the sun rise. It had a 360-degree view where you could see 9 different mountains. We watched the sun strike the peaks and light them up, blazing gold and red, then slowly creep down them. It was 15 minutes between when the sun hit the first peak and when it hit us. It was our first Christmas married.
So while there may have been no drinking contests with giant Nepalese men, I’ll take drinking hot chocolate out of aluminum mugs and watching the sunrise on those peaks with your mother any day of the week.
My wife’s friend (Donna G) was diagnosed with breast cancer this past year. She had a mastectomy, treatment, all that – and at this point all results point to a complete recovery.
This summer, at the pool, I got into a conversation with her, and it was one of the best conversations I’ve had in years. We talked all about the experience. She had an invulnerability about her that was tangible. I asked her question after question. She told me about breaking the news to her daughters. She told me about the procedure. I found myself soaking in every word. One thing she said stood out above all.
“When you get that diagnosis, when that earth shifts, suddenly everything is different.”
“Has it shifted back?” I asked.
“I hope it never does.”
I got thinking about that conversation and about that earth shift in particular. And to be honest, I’m jealous. Not of the cancer, of course, but of the perspective. I’m jealous of the forced prioritization. Of the clarity. Of the stillness that Donna possessed as she sat there speaking with me.
Donna G gave me a gift that day. She had gone through physical and emotional devastation and earned wisdom and strength in return for her suffering. And although I had gone through none of the pain, Donna gave me some of her hard-won treasure. She gave it without a second’s hesitation. It was one of the highlights of 2014 for me.
So here is the Donna G project. It is an initiative to fill the off-season that will be a gift to my boys next Christmas. Between now and Opening Day (April 6!), I’m going to write to my boys on the following subjects:
- About your mother
- About my mother
- Biggest moment of my life
- Recipe for Spiedies
- Recipe for “Mike Nuckols Yummy Wing Sauce”
- Recipe for the “Perfect Home Fries”
- On God and goodness
- On popularity
- On streaking
- The official rules for calling shotgun
- On fatherhood
- On baseball
As a final note, because these posts are so intensely self-indulgent and non-baseball related, I’m only going to leave them up for a few days. The audience is really my boys, anyhow. You readers are just getting caught in the crossfire.