78. Hurlingly

I hoped to just finish the 5K Race Against Poverty in downtown Chambersburg, June 3, 2011. It was my wife’s birthday and she had asked folks to sign up to walk or run in lieu of a party or gifts. That is an awesome woman! I had run some in preparation for the race, but jogging alone on known turf is not the same as racing on unknown footing on Boro streets. On the way into town we stopped at Ruby Tuesday’s for an early dinner. I had the salad bar because I did not want a heavy load on my stomach as my metabolism came under attack from running like mad later.

After the late registration and 5K walk was done, a couple of hundred runners stretched and preened in the parking lot off W. King Street, just before the starting line at the bridge. I tried to stretch a bit, though I was more concerned with not wasting any energy. I knew I was overmatched. Real runners were doing exercises I had never witnessed before now. They had youthful toned bodies that had been carved by endless roadwork. I looked for older guys with loosely tied dirty sneakers who were pudgy. Those were my people. I sensed that I could probably do okay for the 50 plus category. I knew I could take the guy in the wheelchair and the one with the walker.

We bunched up to hear the starter blare out instructions via a bullhorn. A shot– BAM! and away the horde went like a swarm of ants around the first turn onto Main Street. As I came around the corner, I felt the relief of being able to spread out a bit. I could see the field straight ahead of me as we kicked it down Main Street. I noticed several folks I knew casually from town and began to move ahead in the column of runners. I knew that I could not keep the pace I was running, but it felt awesome to pass so many folks, especially younger guys. “Pace, Dude. You have to pace yourself or you’ll burn  out your lungs.”

I was not wearing a watch and had no idea what my pace was, so I looked ahead for a runner I could match up to and use as a pace bunny. Two or three hundred yards ahead I spotted young Pastor Kyle from our church. He’d run a marathon or two that year and was keeping a nice pace. I figured if I could keep up with him, I’d finish in decent time and company. Maybe even get into heaven.

The column thinned and turned right into a housing project on the south end of Main Street. I could not see Kyle. I was sure that I was keeping up with him, however. “Steady, steady. Pass on the decline. Conserve energy.”  People were coming back and crossing over the road. I realized that this was a cul-de-sac. Kyle was coming out and I had to try and measure 250 yards by sight around a circle. I thought I was keeping up with him, but it was hard to tell when I could not keep an eye on him.

I came zooming out of the housing project and onto the rail-to-trail paved pathway. It was six feet wide and further thinned the runners’ column to two abreast. Having once been a railroad bed, there was little incline to overcome. I was feeling strong and hardly believed that the race was nearly over. It wasn’t. We had not covered two miles yet, and I mistakenly believed that the finish line was ahead. Lots of folks crowded around the big digital clock and cheered. Some ran alongside runners to encourage them. Others handed out water bottles that had Bible verses on the labels. My bottle said, “though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death…”

Actually the finish line was right there; however, the runners needed to run one more mile in a circle and then scoot under that big digital clock. Dang it! I thought that I had an amazing time of 15 minutes and change. The real runners were legitimately crossing the finish line, so it was confusing. Heck, I was only a mile behind the winner of this race. I looked for Kyle and spotted his frame turning off the paved trail onto Commerce Street. I had to gain ground but felt like walking. My labored breathing could not defeat my foolish pride yet. I motored on, scanning for Kyle’s back.

Up the crumbling sidewalk on Commerce Street the runners scambled for two blocks. Then another right turn onto Main Street brought us a few blocks from where we had started about 18 minutes before. I saw Kyle far ahead of me as Main Street doglegged to the right. I knew that I would not catch my pace bunny, but that had not been the goal. The goal was simply finishing. The downhill slope helped my legs fall forward. A kid I had in school fifteen years ago ran past me; cheered for me; and told me her name without losing her rhythm or breath. It was nice to be noticed, but I just focused on breathing now.

The final right turn took me onto King Street and across the bridge where we had started the race. At the crown of the small bridge Pastor Kyle was stopped, bent over the side retching into the stream. He looked like he’d been hit by a mortar in the belly. I stopped to see if he was alright. He urged me not to, “Go, go ahead. I’ll be fine.” Bits of partially digested lasagna and gastric juices dribbled down his chin and neck.

I pulled out a blue hankerchief for him to wipe his face. This scene had a faint resemblance to the final battle in Saving Private Ryan, only now it was Saving Pastor Kyle. ” Go, don’t wait for me.”  It sounded pretty dramatic to me. I was about 300 yards from the finish line, and it really didn’t matter if I ran 26 something or 30 something. This was not the Olympics. Besides, I had finally caught my race bunny. I trotted to the finish line as Kyle cleaned himself off. “What was I thinking? Lasagna before a race?”

As I walked to cool down, the REM song “Losing my Religion” came to me, so I hummed along, changing the lyrics to fit the occasion….

“That’s me in the footrace,

that’s me in the big fast crowd,

and I don’t think that I can do it,

Oh no I ate too much,

I didn’t wait enough. I set it up.

That’s me on the bridge,

that’s me on the apex ..

losing my lasagna.”

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77. absentmindedly

It was bound to happen and it did. I wrote an entire blog post and failed to save it. Bloggets, the next post will be the failed #77, forever fated to be #78. Fortunately I can rewrite the entry based on my brain’s hard drive memory, the thing I worry about in head injuries. I’d hate to lose my memories due to some preventable cause. Sure, everyone has a memory or an entire phase of life that he/she would like to forget, but most won’t pay the price of losing all the surrounding and attached memories with it. But that’s how memories link one to another, all wrapped around each other like a city laundromat where everyone’s laundry goes into the same washer. Good luck pulling out just the socks and shirts that are yours. “Excuse me, Ma’am, is this your bra hooked onto my sock?”

Don’t take my word for it. Do a little experiment. If you have a treadmill, get on it at 3.0 miles per hour, a nice steady walking pace. Or go for a walk. Get your rhythm. Then imagine one thing, only one thing if you can. Let’s say Neil Young, because he is singing Tell Me Why on the I-Pod. Inevitably you find yourself feeling old strings in your soul vibrating along with the tune. And then you recall an existential teen sadness where you pondered the whys of life and your family and your future. Images of your friends come to the surface, some dead or just obliterated by change. These feeling-driven image/memory kernels float like insects across the still waters of your consciousness until a deep dwelling bass sucks them down in a gulp.

Wow! Where did that bass come from? Was it some psychological defense? Is there a protective vacuum cleaner function in the inner psyche that sends out a fat large mouth bass to capture vibrating cricket chirping thoughts? Maybe. One thing is for sure– I’m not  thinking about Neil Young any longer. I’m wondering why my brain tried to erase those tender thoughts from my teen years, my friends’ faces and the cars we drove and the concerts we attended. Somehow I recall my friend Bob Evans and the old car he obtained from his father’s early death at 42 years of age. Bob was 16 and devastated by that blow.  I cannot even begin to measure such a psychological crater made by a subterranean hydrogen bomb. How coincidental that one of my teen clients lost his dad and is processing the grief with me these days.

These Days was a song by Jackson Browne that Tom Rush covered. I loved it. “These days I sit on cornerstones and count the time in quarter tones till ten, my friend. Don’t confront me with my failures. I had not forgotten them.” And then there was the bloodless Child’s Song by Tom Rush and No Regrets. My heart would start swirling at the beginning and then be drained by the end of these songs. And yet I’d move the old needle on the record to feel the cut again. Damnit they were sad and I guess I was too. I meshed with the sadness and bled out emotionally. And despite the intervening 40 years, that sad cloudwave still arises chemically in my blood and hovers over me today.

Ah today, yes, I have things to do. Can’t go back into the cobwebs of a dank closet where I still dream of my baseball glove. It meant something to me. Like many other things and people in my past, I have a longing for them that cannot be satisfied in the material world. The best I can do is write about these things. What am I doing on the treadmill? Oh, yeah, one thing. Only one.

76. Photosynthetically

On the south wall of my raised rancher house I used to have a flower bed with mostly tulip bulbs planted there. The shade of other trees and bushes would not allow later blooming flowers to thrive there. Every fall the flat soil bed with a concrete block wall behind it was perfect for stacking firewood. You see in those days we had a nice woodstove in our finished basement. A sliding door was just a few convenient paces away. It was a tidy compact system that helped keep the dirt and bark and smell of musty firewood outside all winter. Then, come spring, the firewood was usually all used up and the bulbs would sprout again.

The spring of the mutant was no different despite global warming endtimers’ warnings. Red and yellow tulips had already broken the crust of the silent soil. Just a few pieces of firewood remained.

One early morning as I was pulling up the last of the firewood, I yanked on one piece that was still frosted to the ground. On my second effort the piece came up and I was shocked by what lay beneath it: a pale white thing that seemed to curl up on itself. I did a fast gasp (never heard of a slow one) and recoiled. It took my brain a couple of seconds to figure out that what I was looking at was a mutant albino tulip. It looked like a tulip that had been carved out of provolone cheese. A sense of disgust arose in me. I’ve had other instances when something in nature is sickening, like seeing maggots roiling through a fresh groundhog carcass. Some ancient function in my brain was telling me not to touch it or get within striking distance of it. I took the firewood inside and fed the stove. But the cheesy tulip image clung to my brain.

Apparently what I was exposed to was a tulip that came up in the warm cavity between soil and wood. It tried to find a crack and get to daylight, but it was trapped in this neither world.

On my way to my car and a full day of work, I walked past the mutant. I took one last look and told myself to remember to check in on this rare thing when I got home that day. And away I went, shifting mechanical gears and mental ones to deal with a day of teaching.

I did not think about the mutant albino till I returned to my driveway ten hours later. I walked slowly beside the flower bed. I remembered approximately where it had sprouted, but all I could see were green stemmed, normal yellows and reds and pinks and variegated tulips. No albino. Then I saw the imprint of the last piece of firewood, and in the center of its “footprint” stood one cute little pink tulip. In less than a day the “ink” of nature had colored inside all the lines. No more provolone. No more disgust.

It made a strong impression on me– the absence of sunlight had undone the dance that is photosynthesis. Chlorophyll had no energy to break apart and create O2, the magic that keeps us all alive. And it seemed quite symbolic to me. I shared this story with a counseling client later, how something outside the tulip’s control undid its growth. He focused on the repulsion of the mutant cheesy image. I focused on the redemption. “Yes, it struggled against an unfair burden, but that burden was just as random as its saving intervention. So which fate do you want to claim? Or shall we wait for a rodent to eat the bulb unfairly?”

The albino alien was restored, brought back from the abyss of darkness photosynthetically. That’s what I know, and I know that’s what counts.

75. Flamencoly

In 1982 I taught 10th grade remedial summer school English (if that isn’t redundant) at the local high school. There were maybe 18 kids, two of whom were Korean. It took me a while to get the story on the Korean boy. First of all I could not understand his name, “Jae Taik”. He must have said it ten times before I understood him. I think I had him write it for me. The funny thing was he had just finished 8th grade. I asked him why he was taking remedial 10th grade English. His response, “I want to learn.” I suspected a scam. I gave the class a grammar pretest. He aced it.

The next day I huddled with Jae Taik. “Why are you really here? No one takes summer school English for fun and profit. What’s up?” He paused and said, “I am here to help my sister pass. She failed English this year. I am good at it.”  I reassured Jae Taik that his sister would not fail. Then I asked him what he would really like to do. He told me that he wanted to study astronomy. Since I taught Greek mythology to seventh graders, I suggested that he read the myths and discuss them with me. He eagerly agreed.

We got to be close. I recall that we went to a high school football game together, and went to Harper’s Ferry once. He met my family several times and I met his awkward arrangement of family. He and his sister Min Jeong lived with their Korean aunt and her local husband. Their mother lived in Los Angeles. It was Jae Taik and Min Jeong’s responsibility to care for their nephew when they were not in school. There was no love lost in that apartment.

Jae Taik tried out for the football team the next year, his sophomore year I believe. He kicked field goals longer and better than the local anointed kid, but the coach, who was not sure if South Korea was a communist country or not, told Jae Taik, “I gotta go with the senior, Kid.” He was the outsider looking in. His only friend was a Vietnamese boy who lived in town. In the end it didn’t matter too much. His family moved to Los Angeles at the end of the school year.

I heard from Jae Taik at Christmas and New Year’s Eve. He got on well at L.A. High School, worked on the newspaper. Made friends. Applied to USC for film school. And he slipped into the foggy woods of daily life for me. He was there, but not visible.

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Dave Vega was my student teacher in 1993. He had married a local girl and moved from Southern California to Franklin County, PA. He experienced a lot of culture shock, being a tall (6’5″) Mexican gentleman with grace and compassion. He told me of his life growing up in L.A., how he quickly had to run home from school to avoid the violent gangs that ruled the streets. He had played basketball and guitar, not at the same time, of course. Somehow through sheer will and faith he made it through college with a degree in music. In the process he had developed carpal tunnel symptoms in his hands from too much guitar practice. Teaching English was his back up plan.

We got on well. And when he got a full time job an hour away, I was pleased for him. And like Jae Taik he faded into the foggy woods of daily life for me.

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One day I got a call from Jae Taik. He was moving to D. C. to do a master’s degree in international studies at George Washington University. Seems law school in San Francisco had turned him off. I drove down to the Metro station in Shady Grove to pick up my former student. It was wonderful to see him and listen to all  his experiences and wisdom. He had traveled extensively through Europe for a year, still the outsider but with an excuse. He was traveling through not settling. I had a flamenco disc playing on the cd player. He noticed and approved. Asked me if I knew the Gypsy Kings. Told me about his passion for flamenco guitar music.

For some reason I felt compelled to tell him about Dave, who had grown up in L.A. and played flamenco music. I told Jae Taik a bit about Dave. He responded, “Dave Vega?”

I said, “Yeah, but it can’t be the same guy you’re thinking of.”

“Six five with green eyes?”

“Yeah, but it’s impossible.”

“We were best friends at L.A. High School. I went to all his home games.”

I was blown away. I told Jae Taik about Dave’s experience with me teaching and where he lived now.

“Let’s get together!”

And we did. I called Dave and he came over the next night. It was a surreal experience for me. We walked together down my street, tall Mexican Dave on my left, shorter Korean Jae Taik on my right. I felt like I was walking in heaven. Definitely not in the foggy woods of daily life. Dave reminded me, “I told you my best friend was J.T.”

“I thought J.T. was a Black guy. You never said Jae Taik!”

“He was J.T. to me.”

And we grinned together like three gypsies who shared something special around a campfire. And that would be friendship.

74. Shadly

Steve Goll was a big kid in my neighborhood. He was tall and strong and claimed Cherokee blood or some other tribe. He was the kind of guy that shorter, weaker kids followed or huddled around in baseball or basketball or football, our big three sports back in the day. But I think Steve was happiest when he was fishing. He claimed to have supernatural Indian fishing spirits in his being. He could fish, that I can confirm.

When we were still riding bikes, we’d ride down to Hunting Creek to try and catch huge, whale-like carp that swam in the muddy water southwest of Alexandria. We tossed out carp dough and corn and power bait. I never recall catching one of those monsters. Wouldn’t have known what to do with one if we had. Sort of like catching a log.

Steve puffed on Swisher Sweet cigars to be cool and to keep the bugs off him. Naturally we wanted to imitate him, talk like him, arm punch like him, laugh like he did. When he started drinking beer in 8th grade, well, that meant it was time to acquire a beer taste. Man, that was a tough sell. The cigars you could sort of stand, but warm sour cheap beer sipped in a humid tent in the woods was a gag reflex check up.

I remember riding bikes all the way to the Potomac River south of Alexandria to fish for eels and perch and catfish. You never knew what you’d pull up from the polluted waters in 1969-71. Nasty stuff clogged the banks. Whatever you caught you threw back immediately. There was no  question about eating any of it. Rats roamed the banks and still do. These were summer day excursions, however. The keeper story comes from winter.

We were driving, I know that. Had to be 16 by then. Steve told us about the shad run, about streams chock full of flapping, slapping  fish that you could net or catch with an empty hook by ripping it across the stream. He called it “snagging”. It sounded pretty cool to me, the world’s worst fisherman. We piled into his dad’s car and took off for a stream near Lorton, Virginia in late February.

We knew something was going on because all these cars were parked awkwardly beside the road near the stream. Most had D.C. plates and were pretty beat up. As we got closer to the stream, rushing high due to the late winter/early spring melt, I could see many Black men in fishing get ups milling about both sides of the stream that was maybe 10 to 15 feet across and perhaps three feet deep. What was unforgettable was the turbulent pulse of thousands of shad swimming furiously against the current to get to the spot where they had been spawned years before. It looked like one long bundle of muscles contracting and twisting and releasing, meaty and full of blood. These fish were breeding and dying in the same gasping effort.

As all this activity exploded on both banks, at the overhangs and points where the stream turned, laughter and loud talk bounced over the water. Men were shouting to one another and Steve was snagging two and three shad per swipe. It was wild and grotesque as the fish were caught with hooks in their head, fins, and eyes. Not an elegant exercise at all. As the frenzy in the water and on the banks escalated, a loud splash echoed up the stream. One of the Black men had fallen off his perch and was yelling and thrashing in the frigid water. He pulled himself out of the water by a root and then peeled down to his bare buttocks, wringing out each article of clothes, from his socks to his briefs, tee shirt, shirt, sweater, etc. His friends laughed at him. We did too but not so that he could see or hear us.

Eventually the harvest was done. Steve had snagged about 300 shad. He gave them to the Black guys who had buckets overflowing with flapping fish. They were going to be dried and smoked for eating months later. Our experience was over but not forgotten. Shadly.

73. unerringly

Today my stats say that 900 hits have been recorded on my blog. Okay, let’s have a party! Who will come? Where should I hold this blog party? Well, right here on this page full of vowels and consonants, the punctuation kids, and clumps of syllables.  The phrases can sit next to one word expressions. I’ll seat the fully developed sentences properly at the table in manicured paragraphs like freshly mowed suburban lawns. And then what? I’ll set up the entire blog on power point and the guests can see themselves in action along with a sound track powered by Little Feat’s Greatest Hits. Awesome and pathetic at the same time. What’s going on here?

In a very tenuous manner this illusory party reminds me of a story from my teens. There was a notorious XXX drive-in theatre on Lee Highway, about 7 miles from my house. I think it was called The Palmer Drive In, no kidding. Anyway, a bunch of us teen boys were sitting around one summer night wondering what we could get into. One of the guys mentioned that his older brother and his gang used to climb on the roof of the furniture store that was in clear view of the huge screen. It took about ten seconds for us to nominate, second and approve this as an awesome idea. It had sex, illegality, and adventure all wrapped into one tight burrito. Off we flew in two or three cars.

We didn’t have a real plan, big surprise? No, typical. A plan would indicate that we were more mature than what we were up to. And that was not the case. When we got to the store, we shimmied up the support poles in front of the covered walkway. There was one tricky moment when we had to reach up and back to pull ourselves onto the roof. That was the critical moment when you’d expect a thought to arise like, ‘Is this really worth it?’ No such thoughts overrode the jet fuel mix of testoterone and peer pressure. Fortunately we were young, in shape, and stupid. Not once did any of us think about what misfortune might await us. Responsible thinking kills the buzz of anarchy every time.

Together on the roof we could see the huge porn images on the big screen minus sound. The big screen sex was not as thrilling as being on the roof running about like squirrels. The porn was two dimensional and not fully real. Tromping about and trespassing was very real, very 3D. My heart was thumping.

“This is so cool.”

We laughed out loud and felt we had accomplished something already.

“Look! Isn’t that Jody’s dad?”

“Oh my gosh, yeah. That’s his car alright.”

“What a perv!”

“Hey stupid. What are you doing?”

“Oh, yeah. But we’re not paying to get in…and we’re not dads, and we’re not 18 yet.”

“Brilliant, but we’re not  here to see Bambi either.”

“Shut up!”

Other profound dialogue ensued as we settled in to enjoy our illgotten advantage.

It did not take long for the cops to pull in, no sirens, just one car with two cops. Panic kicked in and everyone ran in a different direction. The cops went in search of a fire escape ladder or some easy way up onto the roof. I guess they figured we were trapped up there with no escape. As we watched them run to the back of the building, we ran down to where some evergreen trees grew up against the support poles. It was a tricky proposition:  jump into the cedar tree against the grain or wait to be arrested, booked, shamed, and mocked? I jumped and endured the sappy, sticky, itchy slide to freedom. We ran to the cars and took off in a cloud of dust, laughing once we were sure that we had ditched the cops.

I can’t say that I saw the cops on the roof watching us high tail it, but that is how my memory filmed it. A helicopter shot of two county cops shaking clenched fists at three cars full of teenaged boys  who laughed all the way back down Lee Highway to their boring suburban lives. “Man, that was fun!”  Everyone agreed it was a great moment, but what exactly happened was up for debate. Was it fun because we narrowly got away? Would it have been just as fun if the cops had not shown up? Probably not. And what if one of us had been arrested and ratted out the remainder of the gang? Probably not. Things are fun until they’re not fun any more. Sometimes that line is crossed quickly. That night it was not crossed, just danced around.

I recently read about the pleasure center of the brain being divided into two parts. One part is the excitatory/anticipatory component. It sends out messages of pleasure in anticipation of the food, winning, sex, drug, purchase, etc. A second part of the brain processes the actual physical pleasure that comes from the activity. This matters in addiction, as you can guess, when the anticipation is stronger than the reward. I’d like to suggest a third part wherein memory pulls up the file and massages it gently with nostalgic ointments forty years later, unerringly.

72. Eternity?

Eventually we all die and go see Johnny Cash for free, I think. (Somehow I suspect he’s in a good seat near God, singing Folsom Prison Blues.) There are a lot of other reasons to look forward to eternity, if you wind up in the positive place known as heaven. I don’t know anyone who says, “Boy, I can’t wait till I get to Hell, see my people, gaze upon Torment’s face forever, listen to Death Metal music by some Russian punk band.” I don’t doubt that such folks are out there. I just haven’t met them yet. I also don’t know any atheist who is excited to meet his death. It’s hard for a living thinking person to comprehend his/her end. What you believe in life will direct your choices and actions in life. However, what you believe about the end of life will move your beliefs and help shape the form of your life. Atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim– everyone dies. But is that the end or do you reincarnate repeatedly, or is there a heaven/hell dichotomy awaiting you? Or you science geeks, have you got a recipe to circumvent death?

If you are over 40  years of age, you know that your body is not built for eternity. It’s not gonna make 100 years in all likelihood. So what to do? You can work out harder, eat lean, take supplements, botox, plastic surgery, sleep in a hyperbaric chamber, look into cloning, and maybe vampirism. Good luck with all those options, except maybe the last one, okay the last two. It seems pretty obvious that our bodies pass a point of no return, a point of diminishing returns, a point of diminishing, period. Why invest in a crumbling structure, a skeleton that is collapsing slowly? Even if you don’t have a belief in an afterlife, how can a rational person continue to pour valuable resources into a deteriorating vessel? (Yes, by deluding himself, but then he would no longer be a rational person.) Someone else said, “It’s hard to be rational to the bitter end.” I don’t know about that yet. I don’t pretend to know it all, to know too much, really. I just wonder.

Okay, you can find a cause or build a library, an orphanage, get a street named after you. Save a whale, a buffalo, a rain forest. Save a buffalo in a rain forest. Write a book or a symphony or paint a masterpiece. Have a family. Propagate a lot. That has been done. Lincoln Center, Washington Street, Grant Park, Lee Highway, MLKing Boulevard, Kennedy Center, Reagan National Airport, etc. Their names linger after their bodies have turned to dust. However, they are still dead and have no say about how their names or images are used. They hit their earthly purposes. Game over. Silence. Wormfood. This end is easy to figure. It’s corporeal. Sensory. Scientific. Legal. Dead is dead. Eventually even their names pass away like Ozymandias in the sands of time. For you guys younger than 40, think Ozzie.

What to do? What to do? I’m not sure that the answer is about doing so much as it is about thinking. Thinking very practically about death, not magically or fearfully but practically.

A. “If death is all there is, then how should I form my life?”

B. “If death is only a portal into another life here on earth, then how should I form my life?”

C. “If death is followed by judgment and an eternal reward or punishment, then how should I form my life?”

D. “If time can be jumped across or frozen cryogenically, then how should I form my life?””

So what’s it gonna be?  If you said, “E”, I’m gonna smack you into eternity.

71. Glarifyingly

It  has come to my attention that I need to clarify some glarifying sins. Although most of what I write is grounded in reality, not all of it is autobiographical. Some entries like Poisonously and Diddly are not about me. They are compilations of others’ truths. So, you don’t need to comfort me as my buddy Clark did today in our latest phone call.

“Man, I’m sorry about what your uncle did to you.”

“Do you mean the blog entry?”

“Yeah. Pat read it too and just shook her head. She kept saying ‘The poor soul’. We didn’t know.”

“Dude, it’s not my story. I put together some thoughts about such things, what it does to someone’s head. Not my head.”

“Ohhh, good. Oh that’s good.”

I laughed. “This reminds me of the time my obitiuary appeared in the on-line version of our local newspaper. One of my clients called to see if it was true. A doctor  I work with called too. They were both relieved to hear me “live”. That’s what they said anyway. It was some sort of scam to get folks to search for archives of dead folks.”

“Oh good. I’m glad that wasn’t you. Yeah, I know what you mean. My union newsletter did the same thing with me. Instead of reporting my one year retirement anniversary, someone goofed and put me under the deceased column. I was pumping gas one day when Pinky Brown pulled in to the station. He worked with me at GM for years. He said, ‘Man, am I surprised to see you.’ Then he told me about the newsletter.

“I was a bit shocked and baffled.

” I thought about it for a minute. ‘Hey’, I said, ‘not one person called me!’

“He said, ‘Think about it genius, who calls a dead guy to see if he’s dead?'”

“I started laughing and said, ‘Okay, yeah, that’s why.'”

And then we dropped the quoted material and reviewed the sports highlights, Pitt’s troubles, PSU’s miseries, and the state of the world.

If you should come across unquoted stuff, it’s likely autobiographical. If I set it off in quotes, totally in quotes, it’s a compilation of others’ stuff, not mine. Writers are scavengers, afterall… ferrets who gather up what others leave about unattended.

70. Joggingly

I find a lot of odd things while jogging the three or five mile loop around the farms behind my house. I don’t go looking for stuff, mind you, I just look down or out  ahead of my feet and BAM! There’s a pink bowling ball!! What the heck? How does a bowling ball wind up in a ditch on a hillside? And yet, there it is. I took it to school when I was still teaching middle school drama. It was used in at least one play, a western. You didn’t see that coming, did you? The gunslingers weren’t allowed to have even fake guns in a post- Columbine world, so they bowled for domination of the saloon. It was cute in a twisted and bizarre fashion. Similar to the Michael Jackson parody (while he was fully alive, mind you again) where the seventh grade actor kept changing his clay nose and finally threw it away in disgust. Sorry, Michael. We didn’t know.

Some things make sense– car parts, hubcaps, cds of Cher’s greatest hits, or something that obviously fell off a car like cans of cheap beer. (No one ever throws away a full Heineken, notice?) But three men’s wallets? One was full of recent baby pictures, but there was no identification card. I analyzed the pictures and found the name of the baby on the back of one photo. So I called the hospital, and despite some resistance to overriding the rules of confidentiality, the small town woman in records told me the father’s phone number. (“I’m a mother and would want my baby’s pictures back no matter what.”) I returned the wallet to an ungrateful woman, who I assumed was wallet man’s mother.  No good deed goes unpunished, my bloguido. I could only imagine how the wallet got separated from the owner and wound up in a stubbled cornfield in November. I resolved not to do that again, but made an exception for a guy’s wallet that I found on top of a snow bank a few years later. He came to my house and was grateful for my efforts.

I’ve found coins occasionally and little shiny objects; they’re hard to miss. But one fine day I was jogging up the long, calf-killer hill and noticed a five dollar bill under my left foot. I stopped to pick it up. Nice! I looked around in case the five had family or friends waiting for him. I found two more fives and three ones in the alfalfa. I was pleased and confused. “Who throws money out of their car?” Needless to say I continued to expect to find money at that same spot. A day or two later I noticed a shiny silver object in the field. It looked like some kind of car gauge tool. When I got home and examined the bauble with my glasses on, I figured out that I had found a drug scale that weighed grams.  Then I knew who throws money out of their window– drug dealers with cops on their butts. I wondered what their story was and again could only imagine the scene.

I told you about the kitten that appeared from the corn and now sleeps next to me each night. No, not my wife. She was another jogging trophy, the cat, not my wife. Anyway, I also found a couple of turtles crossing the road. I brought them home and they crawled away from my yard.  I wish the cat could follow their example.

I once jogged across a pack of pornographic playing cards from RAM Ranch. I thought it was odd how they were sprinkled in front of the farmer’s lane around his mailbox. Made me wonder if the dealer of the porn cards wasn’t sending some message to the old Mennonite farmer. I picked them up because I didn’t want the lady of the farm to come out for mail and find way too much male and female. Disgusting.

Shotgun shells, empty and full. Tools. Dolls. Food. Deer carcasses. Playboys. Golfballs. And a stethoscope. Okay, who loses a stethoscope by the side of the road? Come on, man!

69. Candicely

It’s not hard to write about people you love and admire. Actually, it’s hard not to. They float across your mind so frequently that you find yourself blessing them or talking to your wife about them… In my case I introduced one such friend to my wife and they connected as I anticipated they would. Two sweet birds from different trees.

Candice Whitsel is a rare person who warms a room as she enters it. She is gifted with empathy and an innocence that life has not stolen from her yet. She’s the type of lady who will lean in to a total stranger and say, “Oh, I like that necklace!” Never intrusive though. Loud only when she laughs from the belly or erupts when I have teased her too much. Some women were born to sell real estate, others to run weddings. Still others to make folks miserable. Candi, it seems to me, was born to be with people in pain and confusion. She absorbs their shock waves and trauma, and reflects back compassion, the gift of suffering with others. Her presence reminds me of my old friend Mark Craver, whom I called the oak tree. She has the same remarkably comforting presence that he possessed.

We were eating lunch one day before Christmas and Candi wanted to tip our waitress well, not because of the waitress’ excellent service but because of Candi’s excellent nature. She didn’t look at her bills and put down what she thought was a five. We paid our checks and the waitress came out on the cold sidewalk to thank Candi profusely. “Oh, you’re welcome”, she said. As we walked back to the office Candi looked into her wallet and discovered that she still had the five but not the twenty dollar bill she was looking for. “Oh my goodness, no wonder the waitress was so tickled. I tipped her $20.00 for a seven dollar lunch! Oh, well, Merry Christmas.”

Candi is also a talented quilter. She takes scraps of material and connects them in lovely patterns, then sews them together. Later a gorgeous border is added and the entirety is skillfully brought together with thread and needle. And I think what she does with scraps of material is a lot like what she has done in her life as a counselor and educator. She takes what is there and finds function and beauty in it.  Her loving gnarled hands add value to discarded and discounted people and things. She rubs a griever’s back and puts her arm around their hurt. She does not run from disaster but to it. A couple of years ago she trained to be a Disaster Response counselor, an unpaid volunteer that goes to disasters and comforts the numb victims. That’s Candice, a quilt around a tornado survivor, pulling the scraps into purpose and service.

Last year she lost her beloved Landis after a long battle with cancer. Her light and strength waned like an oil lamp in a hurricane. Grief’s raw wind and rain slammed her relentlessly. Her flame seemed to flicker and go out. A whisp of smoke surrendered itself to the storm. And she appeared defeated, extinguished.

But down in her soul’s wick, a tiny soul coal burned on, living on the oxygen of those who loved her. The breath of God breathed on her also until recently her soul sparked a bit, sputtered, glimmered and broke into flame again. Her innocence was like pure oxygen. A lesser person would have folded up like a wet canvas tent. Candi breathed and glowed again.

She’s making yet another quilt today. And I wonder what it would look like if all the quilts she has made were lined up in an airport terminal along with all the people she has comforted in her years. It would take a really big airport, that’s for sure. And out on the runway in the plane of his dreams, smiling at her with adoring eyes, would be her hero, Landis, ready to fly her into the arms of God, candicely.