22. Compassionately

It means “to suffer with someone else”.  Billie Holiday knew it, and folks who listen to her [suffer, long for, regret, and smolder] know something about passion and, therefore, compassion. The Blues are all about suffering out loud. And when you listen to B.B. King, or Muddy Waters, or any of the thousands of Blues men and women, you are suffering with them. One of the first records I bought was a double album collection of Billie Holiday songs. I still have it, but do I ever dust off the turntable and play them?  No, but today I am putting this on my do  list. #245– dust off turntable. #246– Find the Billie Holiday double album. # 247– Listen to all four sides #248– think compassionate thoughts #249– suffer with her gin-soaked vocal cords and heroin-flushed brain bursts….

I have never consumed gin or heroin, just for the record. Still, at 17 I absorbed her palpable anguish and auditory smoke rings that she blew through my new speakers. Pow! right into my neural network.  I recall my mother telling me how forlorn Billie Holiday’s songs were, as if I hadn’t noticed. “Kev, they’re so sad.”  I was drawn to the genuine, honest pain in her vocalizations; my mom was threatened by the same feelings. I bought headphones and more sad music– Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Dylan, John Prine. Hours and hours of floating in their vocal landscapes…heroin for my ears, I guess.

Compassion is not a “one and done” proposition. You expand your capacity for compassion, but like psychological manna of some sort, it cannot be stored up. I remember in the old days that you could put a sticker on your front door if you had contributed to the United Way. This was a talisman that told other solicitors to back off cuz “We paid at the Office.” And the proof was this sticker in the bottom left pane of glass of your castle’s front door. Nowadays you don’t get so many door to door solicitations because no one is ever home. Which brings us back to the Blues.

While I am out on this limb, scittering about like a three footed squirrel, the opposite end of compassion is when you try to manipulate it from others. My favorite ploy is the sticker or medallion near your car’s license plate that boasts membership in The Fraternal Order of Police. You place it there so the officer who pulled you over for speeding will see it and feel a geyser of compassion well up in him/her while he calls in your tag number. If you are a Mason, you can wow him with the “G” thing, knowing that a fellow traveler brother won’t ticket another brother traveler. In fact, he might even go back to the cruiser and order a pizza and a six pack as his brain peaks on compassion waves crashing into the pier of his pledge to uphold the law equally and without prejudice. (Watch it shake and roll. Bumper sticker justice, I mean, collusion.) You could wind up in a Bud Light commercial if you play it just right.

Con men play on the presence of compassion in their marks. One of my favorite con men ran scams throughout Pennsylvania before he went to prison for running a cocaine smuggling operation, before he was released early for being a model prisoner, before he got his seventh girlfriend pregnant with his seventh child out of wedlock, before he went to rehab to avoid going to jail again for his third DUI. Yes, a real man. He told me that he liked to trade in his women before they got too many miles on them. “You know, it’s that new car smell. I love a new car and a new woman.” I reframed his comparison. “It sounds to me like you stand in the baby pool of relationships, and when they get deep, you know, require work, you get out of the pool.”  He didn’t like reframes; he liked suckers.

His favorite scam took place in some godforsaken small town in the mountains of PA.  He and two of his con buddies drove into town and rented an abandoned restaurant for two weeks. They put up signs advertising a new, high end restaurant. “Now Hiring for all positions”. He laughed like Satan as he told about hiring everyone who came to their door. They filled out an application and were measured for uniforms. See, it was gonna be a formal joint. He hated to ask these naive bumpkins for a $35.00 deposit while he ordered their tailor made uniforms. At the end of two weeks, after hiring every person who had $35.00, they put up signs saying, “Bank loan denied. Going out of Business.” The locals came and offered condolences. They asked if there was anything they could do to help.  They were so looking forward to an upscale restaurant in their rundown town. Some cried. The con men laughed all the way to their next scam. They would send a check for each deposit, so they promised.

Cops and con men do not suffer with you. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two career fields. They suffer at you. And here is where I must leave this too large topic. “Some other spring… ” I’ll finish this omelette.

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21. Silently

Telling your life story is a way to embrace and validate yourself.Putting your life on a page, word by word, deed by deed, is a huge task unless you are six years old or younger. Just going through the motions of self disclosure suggests that your life has value, enough to bother someone else’s eyes and brain for a while. I don’t believe that it’s narcissistic either. It’s not like your self disclosure means that other lives are less important or valuable. Nope, not at all. Actually, self disclosure allows for more connection with another person.  Being known implies being vulnerable, however, and hurt folks don’t want to be hurt again, so they choose not to be known.

When I was a kid, my buddies and I hunted for snakes, lizards, birds, turtles, frogs, and anything we could catch in the woods beyond our cookie cutter neighborhood. “Turtle hunting” would be a misrepresentation of an oxymoron; it’s more like “turtle shopping”. You see one, you pick it up. Once I would pick up a box turtle, it would close up with a sighing noise, as if it were exhaling in order to get its pulply bulk into the protective custody of its shell. I’d take these turtles home and put them in a laundry basket or a cardboard box and wait for them to open. Rarely did they ever comply. I’d go in the house to get a drink or go to the bathroom, and what do you know? the turtle would have vamoosed somehow.  Houdinis every one. They didn’t want to be known, cooked, or eaten, I suppose. They could not know in their little reptilian brains that I was not a predator

I never expected these turtles to talk to me. Rather, I wanted to see their eyes and watch them eat and blink, okay, maybe say a few words. Little kids believe in the souls of other creatures. My oldest daughter used to play with worms of all things when she was little.  She’d talk with invisible friends too. I guess that’s what you get forced into when you are an only child with no close playmates or cousins. My middle daughter told all of her secrets to a guinea pig named Oreo. It must be a genetic gift. Further along the road of life, however, it’s important to be known, to attach to other humans. Turtles, worms, guinea pigs, and most humans do not get this being known thing.

My buddy Clark spent a year of Fridays telling me his life story. It is a wild ride and too big for today’s post.  So let me go back to the  typical client. “My story is boring or pathetic or goofy or something negative.”  Rarely does anyone think their story is worthy, maybe because they struggle with self worth. Hmmmmm, that must be it. “My story is whining and in my family whining or even self examination was not permitted.” “You want to cry? I’ll give you something to cry about.”  We’ve heard some of these lines in t.v. shows. Some of us have heard them in person during preschool years. Yeah, the silence usually starts there. Silence reduces the contact points where pain pulses.

“My story is not important enough to tell.” or “It’s too terrible; no one would believe it anyway.” No, every story has its unique parts and twists, just like each tree in the woods has its own grain, knots, injuries, rot patterns and variations. This is something that my buddy Clark has taught me. See, he works with all sorts of wood and makes tables and plates and vases and bowls out of the weirdest wood you can imagine. Because of his gnarled past, I think, he looks for the story in each piece of wood that he works. Silently in his workshop he pulls the story out of each piece of wood with his chisels, sandpaper, waxes, and patience. In essence, he validates and honors the hunks of wood, revealing their beauty. It’s remarkable.

Telling your story requires vulnerability and trust and transparency and courage. It’s not for whimps or shrimps. And you, Blogee? Have you told your story yet?

20. Rhythmically

Does the music you listen to affect the stuff you write? I don’t know, but today I am listening to Leo Kottke radio on Pandora, so I’m getting a lot of guitar vibes, some bluegrass picking, and a nice warm melodious feeling all over. A single guitar piece can be an intimate experience, especially after listening to an anxious client who should have been a prosecutor for methamphetamine addicts. All the air in my office was used up. I felt like somehow my office had rocketed up to 16,000 feet above sea level. The air was so thin that we all had to breathe harder. That is one of the many gifts of anxiety. Not only can it produce high blood pressure for everyone in its presence, but it has the ability to travel across time and analyze problems that may never come to pass. Anxiety is like a bad idle in your carburetor: it causes a lot of wasted energy, sudden stops and starts, post ignition temper tantrums, and negative gas mileage.  If you are anxious, you are most likely attempting to be in two places at once. The destination of choice for anxiety addicts is the future, where they play the game of “What IF?”  It’s a fun game that can be played alone or in groups. It can last for hours, days, years even. Some folks have been known to play the game of “What IF?” over an entire lifetime. These are professional worrier warriors. (That’s fun to say.) You can tell them apart from normal human beings because they can’t sleep; they are always fatigued and on edge; they talk fast and don’t breathe deeply. Often they have a chewing problem– nails, hair, cheeks, lips. They sweat cold fear droplets that have a metallic smell like mildew that has corroded a copper pipe in a damp basement. Yeah, that’s it, with just a hint of cat pee. Anxious people stop and start abruptly. They walk fast. You would too if you were injected with adrenaline. And they What IF? like there is no tomorrow and their coupons for speculation will expire at midnight. What if I have cancer? What if it’s inoperable? What if it is operable but bankrupts me so that I have to live in my parents’ basement with three kids  and a dog?  What if the operating surgeon is kind and falls in love with me? What if he leaves his wife and she puts out a contract on his life? What if he comes to my parents’ basement to profess his love for me and the hitman is right on his heels, he misfires and kills me? What if I wake up dead? (Notice that the last “what if?” is illogical unless Jesus is in the house and what a tangled mess that would be to explain to the cops.)

Ohhhhh, let me stop and breathe. WHEWWWWW.

Just trying to capture anxiety on the monitor screen in words makes me tense. So now I am back to the rhythm of guitar music. Let me turn off these flourescent lights. Now that’s better. Ooooh… soothing even. Darker, cooler, slower, unpressured. That is where I like to live, where you can hear the crickets stir, or where swallows dip their wings in the still surface of a lake at dawn. Nature is decaffeinated, unjacked, just right if you will surrender to it. Like this mellow guitar performance floating out of my speakers, I can surrender to it and leave the artificial tension behind.  Or I can switch to Led Zepellin radio. I have that power in my mighty right-handed mouse click. So do you.

If you overinflate a tire, it will lose traction as its shape distorts. On the other hand an overinflated tire can carry a heavier load, because that load presses the hardened tire back into full traction with the road beneath it. Do you know folks who are like this? So pressured and overweighted that they virtually chirp like a pet shop bird in an overcrowded cage. “Cheep, chirp, buy me. Get me the hell out of here. Just open the cage and I’ll do a Maya Angelou recital for you. If not, how about an ibuprofen?” They have sick parents, a wild child, a bad marriage, a job they hate, and runaway credit card debt. Oh that’s you? Sorry. Go back to paragraph two and take a deep breath, a bunch of them, two Advil, and then skip this paragraph. Zap it out of your poor, overtired mind.

My prescription for the worrier warriors who play “What IF?” is to try a game that one can win. It’s called “What IS?” It can only be played in the here and now, also known as the present. Being present is critical to operating in the present time/space. “What IS?” is played with facts rather than fear. Compared to “What IF?” it’s so much easier to play. Facts and logical deductions can lead the gamer in a forward, upward direction whereas the worrier warrior cycles over and over on the ratwheel of obsessiveness, vainly grasping for control. And guess what? Control smells like fear. It produces psychological body odor. This is why normals don’t like to be around controllers, even if the controller is your mother. There is that metallic/cat pee smell that permeates the anxious air around the controller. [This is the real reason why air traffic controllers work short shifts. Their supervisors need time to switch out the cat litter in the tower. After a couple of hours everyone’s eyes are burning with ammonia gas and no one can see the blips on their radar screens. I’m sorry if you fly frequently, but someone had to tell the truth.]

I should close with hope and a dash of wisdom or dashed hope and some moodswings. Flip the coin please. It’s heads– hope and a dash of wisdom. Dang it! It’s harder to be positive. Okay, breathe deeply. Listen to the crickets or the softest sound you can find in your space. Loosen the belt around your brain. Be. That’s correct. Just be, stop doing for a while. I know, I know. It’s all so critically important, but you have time to waste reading this blog, so you’re busted, Mr. Important. Sink into your shoes and stop at your toenails. Those poor guys labor in the coal mines of your socks and shoes. And you don’t hear them complain, do you? Stay in the toenail mode for ten deep breaths, immobile, immemphis, imnashville, imknoxville, impigeonhollow. Now let your liquified self rise back into the body it calls home. You’re being now. Just being. Allow yourself to vibrate like a final resonating guitar chord in an empty auditorium. There you go…rhythmically realigned.

19. Jammingly

Waiting this morning in my car while cold rain fell. I listened to the radio and talked on the phone with my buddy Clark, who deserves a thousand posts. His grandson is getting better every year and what a gift it is to Granpa Clark. Things did not start as nicely as they are now. It was a question of discipline and the almost too late wrestling match of authority. Clark was ready, “Just give me a week with him and I will straighten him out.” That would have been a week with a grizzly bear, okay. Anyone will behave when a madman breaks out the firearms and begins ranting and raging. Not that Clark would have started with firearms, but they would have been an option at some juncture. In any event # 1 grandson grew and adapted in socially acceptable ways. Hallelujah! Another miracle in my agnostic friend’s life. He’s had many miracles rain down on him in the last third of his life; however, the horrors of the first two thirds of his life have nearly obliterated these sacred late life gifts. They are like drops of deeply hued pigment poured into ten gallons of white paint. They are making a difference but there is an ocean sized desert to redeem, reclaim, and colorize.

We talked for 20 minutes or so, mostly him talking and me listening, which is how it usually goes, but I’m not complaining. He is a whirlwind of thoughts and feelings and insights. I did not realize that I had left my running lights on; nor did I realize that my battery is as old as my car– 12 years. As the cold increased, I decided to run the engine and blow some heat into my little CRV cabin. “Wah,wah, whoa, uh,uh, uh.” Oh, no. It’s cold and rainy. I’m waiting for my college daughter to finish an interview at a school that’s 5 miles from my house and 8 miles from my trusty mechanic. I shut down my lights, the radio, and hoped that my battery would make one last start for me. I shared none of this with Clark, who lives 20 plus miles away. He would have offered to jump start me, but that would have taken two hours out of his day.

Image result for worried faces picturesI got out of my car after I said good bye. I popped the hood and found my battery. I’d never noticed it before. Hondas are just so reliable and I don’t do any mechanical work beyond checking my oil. I not only found the battery, but I could see corrosion all around the positive pole and cable. I shook the cable and blew off some of the cakelike corrosion. I had a moment of prayer, and what do you know? My car started. What a relief. I still called my mechanic to have my battery replaced. He confirmed that it was the original battery, “I just replaced a 13 year old battery. That’s the record for me.” Suddenly I felt like I was in the Honda battery hall of fame, albeit in second place. I’m used to three year batteries, I guess. Somehow my little inconvenience turned into a good thing. Gratitude came over me slowly. It’s a good thing, a very good thing to shift your perspective and be grateful that you have a car, enough money for a new battery, a trusted mechanic, a friend over the mountain, a hard working daughter who rarely complains, a job that you love doing. And a blog, of course, where I can spew all of this mundanity.

I was not jammed up after all. Everything worked through as it should. The little wisp of anxiety that started to rise up, evaporated in an instant. I find this to be the case much more often in my older days. How is it with you, Blogee? Are things working through in your life? If so, why? If not, what do you think is jamming you? Do you have a dead battery issue or a long term relational issue like my buddy Clark? I  put problems in two camps– solvable and unsolvable. Most problems are solvable. The relational issues are harder to get hold of, like a slippery eel. A lot lighter touch and flex are needed to hold a relational issue. People cannot be switched out like batteries, even if they are crazy brothers with no place to go.

18. Mistily

Cold and drizzly here in central PA.  “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there…” that’s a Bob Dylan lyric. Makes you think about death. I can make out the farmhouse and outbuildings across the field behind my house and the line of trees that top the rise.  Two rooted green strips and two brown strips of upturned soil run horizontally beyond my many windows facing south. This strip plowing configuration helps with the erosion, I guess, to cut in the same direction year after year, like sanding wood with the grain. It’s also pleasantly grounding to look at the same pattern year after year. We’ve lived here for over 25 years now. It was our starter house as I recall. It looks like it’s going to be our finisher house also. No problem. It has served us well.  And now it’s all dark, outside anyway.

One nice thing that comes from contemplating death is an urgency about life. When you consider that your days are truly numbered and that number is getting smaller each year, well, it makes you more acutely conscious of what’s going on right now.  How sweet and delicious was the cherry cobbler Sara made last night from cherries I picked with my buddy Clark last summer. How deeply satisfying it is to sleep in our queensized bed. How delightful it is to rub my wife’s tired feet. How pleasant it is to have quiet company on a Sunday. No, death does not have to obliterate joy. Instead, it adds flavor to life and accents our plain chicken and rice days.

I slept like royalty last night. Today is the result of great deep sleep, a nervous system that’s as firmly happy as tapioca pudding. Amazing. No big drama on the horizon. A wedding. A vacation. A garden. A trip out west maybe later. It’s all more than enough tonight as the wood pellet stove purrs along for maybe the last time till late fall. I can go to sleep smiling tonight knowing enough of everything, just enough. I am content with my life. Can you say the same?

17. since

Several days have gone by busily but bloglessly. Life has to be attended to unless you are some madman who writes first and lives later, if at all. I’m not that passionate or committed. I have many minor commitments that I fulfill as they come up on the calendar. My last commitment was teaching a workshop on communication. It’s a lot trickier than most folks think it is. The communication model I presented  was speaking live and in person, the fullest kind of communication. It’s complicated even at its simplest. I gave a rough treatment that included about fifty steps for one successful message transfer. The result is “unication” where both parties, the sender and receiver, are unified in what the message sent actually meant. It only took me an hour to skate over the model. In the process I had to  unify with the 35 people in front of me, mostly older females…yes, church ladies!!! since the setting was my church conference for lay ministers, folks who help out but are not ordained. It was a play within a play, if you will.

The message was communication’s complexity. I had to use the very thing I was describing to deliver the message. I communicated about communication. In the process I was  involved in another communication loop. And I am still amazed that anything more complicated than simple facts can be successfully transferred from one human being to another. There are dozens of intersections where the message can be lost or hijacked or murdered. Okay, I’m being dramatic.

Meanwhile I was aware of a guy who had just picked his psychotic brother up from prison after serving nine years in the state pen rather than comply with the judge’s order to take his anti-psychotic meds. He and a friend went cautiously to the prison, and they kept me apprised of what was going on via phone. Once they met up with the crazy brother, they knew they were in way over their heads in the shark tank at Sea World. The crazy bro began a rant about “the spell,” a worldwide conspiracy that resulted in  him being imprisoned and forced to take meds. But he outfoxed all the players in this cosmic battle by refusing to  take his meds. These good samaritans had a madman in the car with no destination. He was full of rage and looking for a place to explode.

He wanted to go home. Home did not want him. They tried the ER, but crazy bro would have to voluntarily admit himself. No deal. They tried a cop friend, but crazy bro would not overtly threaten or assault anyone in front of the peace officer. They tried the homeless shelter, but they said crazy bro was too crazy for them. When I talked to the exhausted friend after I finished my workshop, I asked him how it was going. He said, “Ever have a 2×4 shoved up your rectum?” I thought about it for a second and said, “No”. The friend filled me in on the crazy train journey where time seemed to disappear as the crazy bro fought hard to impose an insane imaginary world onto the previously sane reality that had existed until crazy bro got in the car. I was a mile away and thankfull that I was not on scene with crazy bro.  The good sams were stuck on a treadmill on the back of an elephant that had escaped from a circus after nine years of harsh treatment. It was not going to end well.

This second scenario is one of miscommunication. The receiver of the message realizes that the message and messenger are insane. The meta-message then becomes DANGER: OUT OF CONTROL MADMAN!!!! On the crazy bro side of the equation he is perceiving that these good samaritans are sheep in wolves’ clothing, as Josh once misspoke in Sunday school. (Josh is deserving of his own post one day. For now, he’s a good hearted, retired bull rider, retired German Baptist in search of a good woman.) Come to think of it, Josh probably could have come out of retirement and ridden the crazy eyed, crazy bro into a proper placement.

I’ve gotta look into this further.

On the other side of this action I went to a men’s retreat at a mountain camp about an hour north of my home. It was time well spent Friday night. We ate together, talked, sang, learned, even did a dance with men from Malawi, which is in Africa.  I played chess with a couple of guys. It was all good until bedtime in the cabin. 11 guys in bunk beds with 1″ foam mattresses cannot end well. I forgot my pillow and brought a blanket rather than a sleeping bag. That was not the problem. Getting on the top bunk at 1:00 a.m. was not the problem. The problem was 7 or 8 guys snoring, farting, shifting, shuffling, going to the bathroom…and then it was dawn. I did not sleep. I couldn’t. It was a cross between a pond full of bullfrogs on a summer night and a chainsaw sales demonstration with various sized chainsaws. Saturday was long and slow and painful. My context had changed so much that the messages I sent and received began to hobble and stumble and slush. My head hurt. Hell, my entire nervous system seemed to atrophy.

And I wondered about crazy bro…can you imagine being in a psychological/spiritual prison inside a physical/legal prison for a decade? You would need an intergalactic conspiracy theory to mediate the pain and horror of it all. To be totally alone in the midst of your biological family in your hometown, and the only hope of returning to earth is a handful of pharmaceuticals…the devil’s breath mints. And then….

16. Oklahomely

Back to my own on the road story, I was headed due west across Oklahoma, trying to stay on Route 40. It must have been daylight but my memory maintains that it was dark when a heavy set guy in a low slung Cadillac slowed down for me. He was bearded and rough looking. Told me he was heading to Chicago, just got out of prison, so he said. I believed him and wondered what might happen to me and my little backpack. He was a jailhouse philosopher, though. Just a big guy with big appetites. I think he talked about Neitzche and drugs. He had been in a Texas prison for something drug related. Might have been New Orleans, though.  He could not drive fast enough to leave prison in the dust behind us. But I wondered as we sped along just what he might be inclined to do if a cop tried to stop him. Oooh. Not a good combination. And where do you get a Cadillac right out of jail? I needed to stop asking myself these questions. I was moving on toward my goal– Long Beach, California and my lovely, lithe tanned girlfriend. Yes, forget the Chicago mafia and a Godfather-type shoot out at a toll booth. These would lead to anxiety, anxiety would shrink my bladder, necessitating a bathroom stop and an opportunity to shoot me.

We drove on for a few hours without incident. The guy was actually very considerate and made sure I knew where I was pointed when he dropped me off at his turning point north.  This is why my memory splits. The next ride, as I recall, was a young guy in a souped up Camaro. He and I drove west toward Oklahoma City as the sun was setting. It was a Sunday night, I’m sure. The kid was whacked out, but the road was wide open for the first hour of our drive. He bragged about his car and his police encounters. Told me he was going into the Army soon so he didn’t have to go to jail. “The only thing faster than my car is radar”, he bragged as we barreled along at 100 mph. I thought is was great to go that speed until we started to have some traffic on the road. He never slowed down. He just swerved and ran out on the shoulder lane to pass trucks pulling boats and campers coming back from a weekend at the lake. He turned to me and said, “Now it’s time for mah devil drivin'”. He stayed in the shoulder lane and terrorized law abiding drivers as he passed them on the right. My stomach grew knotted. I was sure that this ride would not end well. He told me that he wasn’t going to jail and would run if a cop showed up. At that point I thanked him very much for the ride and begged him to let me out on the shoulder. He complied and roared away. Jacked up and crazier than hell on wheels. My faith in God was briefly buttressed by the nut speeding west toward sure destruction. Crazies like that help affirm less crazy people’s faith in God.

It took a long while before someone saw me and slowed down. I was east of Oklahoma City but alive, so I didn’t complain. It was dark by now and I began to think of where I’d sleep or if I’d go all night like I had in North Carolina. I walked to a gas station/restaurant and called home. My mom told me that the new Pope of just a few days had died. Wow, that’s what you get for electing octogenerians to run a worldwide church.  Finally a guy in his 40’s pulled over in a GM four door. Very forgettable car. This guy was from Ohio, Dayton, I think. Worked for Firestone Tires, so he told me, and when the business slowed down he jumped at a chance to go on paid leave for a year. He was on the leave and heading west for I don’t know what. Vegas maybe. He was a Catholic, as I was at the time. Somewhere along our ride I said, “Hey, did you hear that the Pope died?” He said, “Is that some kind of joke? He died a week ago.” I tried to tell him that the new Pope had just died that day. He had a hard time believing me till he turned on his radio and confirmed it.  It’s never a good idea to be one up on your host driver, so I tried to talk about the process of Pope making and how they elect one. The papal schism of the Middle Ages. Words that rhyme with Pope– soap, rope, dope. It was awkward and I prayed to God that this brooding dude was not a psychopathic killer or even an even-tempered killer. I hadn’t killed the Pope, but I had brought him the bad news.

We drove into the night and the Texas panhandle. Very, very late we decided to split a cheap hotel room in Amarillo. Awkward again. One bed. I slept on the floor, which I think bothered the guy. “Hey, you paid for this bed as much as I did”, he said. I didn’t want to tell him about my homosexual magnetism history or find him canoodling me in the morning. I got my tiny pocket knife out and tried to sleep with one eye open. My right eye slept for a few hours, but the rest of me just lay there bathed in adrenaline.

There were no incidents, just more quiet weirdness of the unspoken. He dropped me off on a sizzling highway a couple hours west of Amarillo. There was nothing out there but huge sky expanse over flat land that ran out to the horizon. I began to feel very small, like a grain of cooked rice at the foot of Mt. Everest. The air was hot and dry. I had no sunscreen. I don’t think it had been invented yet. But I had a construction worker’s tan. Next stop, Albuquerque, if I could only spell it. Here it was Monday morning and I was in West Texas after leaving the D.C. suburbs on the other side of the weekend. I felt pretty good about my progress.

 15. Never

 Never let the lack of a title stop  you from blathering on about something. This is how extraverts operate. They start talking to see what they are thinking or feeling. It works for them as they do psychic laundry shamelessly in public. They feel energized by their social interactions. And why not?  Others find them charming or genuine, maybe both. Meanwhile introverts craft their thoughts internally and hatch out what they are going to say, if they say anything. The introvert can be content, fully content, sitting by himself for hours, polishing his thoughts like rare coins. This really pisses off the extraverts, and I think introverts know and enjoy this knowledge. It’s like the old sado-masochist joke. The masochist says, “Hit me”. The sadist says, “No”.

I’ll bet that you can read ten blogs and get right at which author is introverted and which is extraverted. Stop reading right now and do the research. I’ll pause here till you get back. Pause…. pause…………………………………………………………………………………………

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Okay, what did you find?  What do you mean, “I couldn’t tell”? It should be as plain as the nose on their faces…oh,yeah. No faces on the internet. It’s just writing not social interaction. Dang! I thought I had something. I am big enough to admit my errors, which are legion. Those stupid introverts won’t admit to anything. They just quietly polish their words like cows chewing cuds. That’s fine for cows, but people, come on, spit it out!

I will find something worth saying here eventually.

I shaved my gray and white goatee on Sunday. Several people looked at me and squinted. “You look different”, they said. “Yep”, was all I’d say. I was not going to pop the intergalactic tension as the other person ran their computer facial recognition system against the face before them. “You cut your hair, right?” “Yep.”  (See, I could do the introvert thing too. I just kept my truth to myself for a while, which was difficult for a verbal vomiter like me.)

My daughter Grace is an extravert and a people pleaser, and I love her dearly. She is my only faithful blog reader so I have to be careful here. When she was in high school, she was trying to make a point and win some privilege. Her rhetorical trump card went something like this. “I tell you guys way more than my friends ever tell their parents. And you don’t trust me enough to do x. Well…I just won’t tell you anything!”  Fortunately I did not have anything in my mouth. I laughed out loud and said, “You would burst wide open if you didn’t tell us what was on your mind.” By then she laughed at the glaringly obvious and ridiculous truth. She was like that and would have noticed my goateelessness except that we haven’t skyped in a while.  Never threaten something you cannot follow through with, kids.

My lovely and long suffering  wife did not notice the lack of facial hair, though she often complained of it being like rusted barbed wire when she kissed me. On occasions over the past 9 months of facial hair history she has put both hands on the whiskers and attempted to kiss me in the opening between her thumbs. It was very awkward and a buzz killer. Imagine cutting out a hole in your plastic coffee lid and placing your lips in there. Then go kiss someone with the lid in place. If you are not arrested, then you will be disappointed with the results.  Just between you and me, she is an introvert too. But I’m not gonna tell her that. She’s gonna have to read it here first. Never coming out of my lips stuck in a hole in a plastic coffee lid. Nope.

Jake at the coffee shop tells me that his wife loves facial hair, but he doesn’t. Once he had a moustache for two weeks and she was thrilled. She seemed to like the wires on her skin when she kissed him. (Back to the masokiss/sadist thing above.) The simple solution would be to trade wives, but that would be very complicated and likely end in two deaths, one for sure.  Hey, it’s never gonna happen. Let’s get that right on the record now.

Maybe a title would have been a good starting place.  I plan to wear out all the adverbs I can concoct and some that are unconcoctable and perhaps illegal. That’s the plan anyway. I know, I have to finish the hitchhiking story. I was in Oklahoma, I believe, when I left off. Yes, I will get to Long Beach, California eventually.

14. Tillingly

Yard slavery was not covered in the Emancipation Proclamation or in amendments to the Constitution, sadly. Free men, (at least we believe that we are free, but what is freedom? and where is an existential philosopher when you need one?  In a book in a coffee shop I bet.) labor over long weekends doing yard work for their masters, who in this case is a mistress but not that kind. And it’s not like that anyway. The mistress is the property that owns me, the half acre of grass and weeds that have the audacity to grow long and messy every week. Every seven days they conspire to overtake the castle (my raised rancher house with double deck off the back, four bedrooms, three baths, 2 car garage. Okay, a castlette). My weapons are the electric weedeater and the 6.5 horsepower push mower, a  heavy beast of burden that I push up and down slopes.

But grass cutting is a forever proposition that is seasonal. What caught my brain over the weekend was the four hours of garden tilling that I did. I feel the tillage debt in my hands and shoulders and lower back today. I don’t even know how to use the word tillage, but that won’t stop me. No, I plugged in that little four blade dirt-eating circular saw and tore into the sleepy earth. It was the equivalent of rock and roll versus the cultural silence of the 1950’s, and the silence didn’t have a chance. Purrrr,clack, rattle, purr,cha chink, clack, rattle, ping ping, purr,urrrrrrrr. That last sound is the potatoe-size rock stuck in between the tine wheels and the tiller housing.  Pause, hammer, shatter the sandstone or quartz rock and till on. Sounds easy enough. The tines dig in at ridiculous speeds and chew up solid dirt, turning it into fluffy soil that’s too soft to walk over, like moondust. Something like satisfaction begins to spread across the till master.  A metamorphosis begins.

After an hour or so your brain gets on the same electrical frequency as the tiller, allowing you to space out into other galaxies where free men are not tilling their gardens in hopes of fresh potatoes in the fall. Out, out into untilled space. Meanwhile you pick out all the rocks of any consequence and pitch them into the wagon parked next to the bare soil. These will go under the arbor vitae along the fence line, repurposed as decorative debris. And maybe a Jimi Hendrix song plays underneath the cognitions that cycle through the liberated mind of the 21st century tiller. Gouge, spin out, grind up. Maybe a Doors song would be more fitting. “Roll, baby, Roll!!” A rhythm evolves in the garden dirt. The tiller tickles rocks out of their nestled compactions, and you have to feel the vibrations and know when the rock is going to kick. This dance results in fewer stops and hammer blows to clear the tines.

And the fluffy dirt works better for producing desirable living things. Rocks are like problems that have to be solved then discarded. Dang, that’s a lot of problems in one vegetable garden. However, when you turn around and till the soil again, it’s like whipped butter. Makes me think of some of my counseling clients. It’s so hard to break out the problems in the first course of therapy. They resist the tilling questions and pauses that can be invasive and threatening. But in most cases their issues are fluffier as we go.  A lightness develops. The stuff of their lives is potentiated, aerated, and activated. No, it’s not that simple. There is no perfect analogy for such a complex experience. Tilling fits, though.

Yard slavery, I suppose, is a choice, which makes it not slavery. I choose to keep a yard so I choose to own and operate a bunch of machines that I can’t keep up with either– three chainsaws that don’t work; a snow blower that I could not get to start; two lawn mowers; a weedeater, a hedge trimmer, and various shovels, rakes, an electric leaf blower, a fertilizer spreader, hoses, etc. It’s a bit disturbing when I consider how much money it costs to be in the yard slavery game. When you add the house slavery to it, there is hardly time left for useless blogging about self-imposed slavery. I must choose. Do I continue to bang my head into solid immovable objects or not?  I have a hard head. I choose slavery.

13. doggonitedly

Johnnie is our mixed collie/border collie rescue dog. His nose is a full collie length, which means it comes into the room a couple of beats before the rest of his skull. Border collies need to be employed. They can’t sit around all day like a bassett hound can. Johnnie checks out every noise or wrinkle in the routine. He goes crazy when the phone rings, shoving his long snout into your butt crack as you try to walk gracefully to the phone. By the time you get to the phone you feel violated. Not enough to call 911, but enough so that you can’t focus on the phone call for one long irritable moment.  Meanwhile Johnnie feels that he has done his civic duty and is very excited about having snouted you.

When the doorbell rings, all hell breaks loose. Johnnie barks at full voice and begins running madly about the house. He gets psychotic about meeting whoever walks through the door. It’s an ordeal that lasts several minutes as he huffs and puffs and strains to meet and bond with the newcomer. We rescued him when he was 9 years old, so we take no responsibility for his weird behavior patterns. He was an “as is” deal, no warranty or pedigree. But he is a beautiful keeper, a gentleman. When he lies down, he crosses his front legs. He sighs as he drops his head down onto his black and white legs. He is always on duty, however. Always on the alert, canine homeland security.

When I let  him in the back door downstairs each morning, he walks by his water and food bowls. He walks across the room and up two steps into the next room where he stands until I pour his food in his dish. When I walk away, he approaches. We did not teach him this behavior; he taught us. He’s formal like that.

Johnnie appears to have obsessive-compulsive disorder. He counts heads and then checks and rechecks his math.  My daughter claims that he is making sure that all his sheep are in the pen. This includes the aloof cat Annie, who also lives with us. When she is outside, Johnnie will look at her through the sliding glass door and come get one of us to let her in. It makes you wonder.

We had another border collie, a purebred male named Nick. Got him as a puppy. He was bad and I have to accept responsibility for his badness since we got him as a puppy. Nick was mostly black. On moonless Monday nights he’d pretend that he had to pee. Once outside he’d slink away and melt into the darkness. He’d go through the neighbors’ trash until dawn, like that rat in Charlotte’s Web, when we’d find him under the pole light in our front yard. On many occasions I stalked him with a flashlight and a bad attitude. I couldn’t see him but I could hear his toenails clicking across the road or driveway. When I’d spotlight him, he’d give me the “Oh Crap!” look. Even then he wouldn’t come  automatically. He’d slink out of arm’s reach, knowing that I was gonna smack his furry butt.

We tried to contain him. I bought and installed an underground fence with shock collar. It worked until it didn’t work. Nick was too smart for containment. He walked around the yard listening to the intensity and frequency of the shock warning beeps. I watched him on a few occasions when he would sprint and leap across the wire at a weak signal spot. I’d make a point of dragging him back across the wire slowly so that he could appreciate the shock he had just subverted. It did no good. He was the Bobby Magee of the hound world.  He had to be free.

One year it snowed 30 inches, just enough for Nick to walk freely across the wire below. Who’d have thought about three feet of snow thwarting an electric shock when installing a wire on a hot summer day? Oh Nick! fourteen years of his escapades. He snarled at and bit a few folks, mostly those who had it coming. He was a rascal that we loved. He could have been the inspiration for the tee shirt that says on the front,”Jesus loves you…” and on the back, “but nobody else does.”

Once we had some pet finches that flew around our house.
They’d flit from one window to another with unbelievable acrobatic skill. You guessed it: Nick had to herd them. My daughters thought it was great entertainment watching him zoom at floor level as the birds flew back and forth from room to room. That is, until Nick launched himself with one giant leap across the couch and through one of a pair of matched lamps. It was so crazy that you just had to laugh.

Yeah, an expensive rascal who took us to court on my birthday, but that is another story about the Wicked Dog Warden of the West.