100. Divine Tragedy

Here we are at the century mark. I never imagined writing so many posts so quickly. Thanks, Jake and Erin for getting me started.  It’s been fun cleaning out the closet of my mind over the past eight months. Some things I have been pleased to come across and others just needed to be purged. Like the Divine Comedy of Dante, there seems to be a Heaven, Purgatory and Hell in my memory closet. I have no guide, however. So I rummage through randomly. Perhaps you’ve already noticed, Bloggians.

Out for a walk this afternoon in the local park I saw three boys taking control of a pile of large gravel chunks, maybe the size of turnips. They could throw rocks all day and never make a dent in the pile. It brought back memories of waiting at the end of King Street in Old Town Alexandria before it was gentrified. While my mother shopped, my three brothers and I and my dad would pass the time skipping rocks across the surface of the Potomac River. I recall huge piles of yellow sulfur stockpiled there. Don’t ask me why. It was a working dock back then not a tourist attraction. The water may have been grossly polluted, but it was still an impressive expanse of water to my small boy mind. It’s funny how a young imagination can sail across still water and into Neverland where it’s always good and the residents stand ready to grant your wishes. I think Michael Jackson knew this.

Things changed after the riots of 1968. Malls mushroomed outside of old familiar shopping zones. Lots of folks fled the previously comfortable urban life, flooding into the suburbs and the suburbs of suburbs. What had been distant outposts became bustling housing developments clogged with government employees and active military folks. The road construction system was always behind the housing construction trends, so traffic became nightmarish as roads were constantly widened and fitted with traffic lights. Here’s a for instance:  the baseball field where we used to practice had once been a private airstrip, Beacon Hill. By the time I was in high school that acreage had been covered with apartments and a housing development.  Open fields I used to roam across were buried under concrete and macadam. Strange how the mental map of childhood was erased and written over. My truth was still true but could no longer be proven. Over and over again in Fairfax County, Virginia that’s how it went down at warp 9 speed… deforest, level, build, occupy, choke, re-invent for the bigger and faster and always better use. If you couldn’t think of anything better, you could always build a mall.

Maybe that is why we boys spent so much time in the unwanted swampy land and flood plains. Those areas were cost prohibitive to develop and were left open until the very end of the building boom. The swamp at the end of Harrison Lane was awesome. The big creek behind Ben-Mae Manor flowed down to flat swampland that spread out for hundreds of acres. It was developed into a county park long after my days. Many days I spent wandering along that wonderful creek down to the flat ground with Chris Young or Richard Cooper. We were looking for turtles, water turtles, frogs and snakes. There were lots of them in the marshy side of Harrison Lane, now called Huntley Meadows Park. I see on Google maps that those wonderful woods have been developed into neighborhoods with lovely sounding street names. I can’t go back in person, not without a time machine. I do remember the scary house on the other side of Harrison Lane that sat above and behind a small swimming pool in heavy woods. We speculated all sorts of awful things that went on there. No one dared go investigate, which goes to show how scary it was. No one would take the dare. On the other side of Harrison Lane was a church that we boldly walked into and drank communion grape juice right from their refrigerator. That’s how scary the manor house was across the lane, scarier than sacrilege. And riding bikes down that hill was a death wish. I think I did it once with a new bike long, long ago. Of course you had to walk your bike back up the wicked half mile grade.

We had little boy-girl parties with record players and a handful of vinyl discs. Rubber Soul, The Magical Mystery Tour, The Monkees, the Stones. Pretty innocent stuff back then, some heated up kissing and a lot of imagination. Someone would hypnotize someone else or a seance would break out or truth or dare. No alcohol or drugs, not even cigarettes, despite the fact that the country was going through sex and drug catharsis and the Vietnam War escalated outside of the suburban basements where kids played Spin the Bottle. Having slathered yourself in English Leather or Jade East or Old Spice was the ticket to studliness and allergic reactions in confined spaces. There was always a candle and a lava lamp at these soirees. It’s a miracle that we never had a fire with all the cologne fumes and open flame.

And we danced a bit. I’m not sure how that worked out since no one knew how to dance. If you did the slow mojo junior high grope, you were officially a couple by midnight, well 9:30 p.m. Those touch fests did not lead to relationships in the cold light of dawn due to such complications as immaturity, stupidity, braces, bad breath, inability to behave or speak coherently, and various other afflictions. Sometimes the girl you liked broke out in zits and looked completely different than she had on the two day honeymoon. Such eruptions were like the local woods being transformed overnight into a housing community.  Come morning  it/they/she were unrecognizable. The resulting detachment was similar to gravity being temporarily turned off. An undesirable floating followed this power loss as The Queen of one dream became a zombie in a snap. Ahh, youth truly is wasted on the young as the young are wasted by the new. Remember this: there is a treasure buried beneath all the overkill construction, and the fashionable  make up, and the constant groping of the now.

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99. Where the Wild Things Were

Back in the day of my childhood there were woods that no one laid claim to, at least we kids did not know the owners. And our parents did not either. Across the street behind the Bashams’ house was an open field big enough for a mini-baseball diamond. I have a vague memory of a chain link backstop… long before people bothered to fence their yards. There’s priority for you. Then the land sloped down steeply into a little creekbed that was a flowing creek most months of the year. We mongrel kids lived there in that patch of woods, all of ten acres maybe. We claimed that patch like the stream that ran through it most of the year, because we were pirates we were. Aye, matie.

It was cool in the summer and a wonderful place for forts made of branches and leaves in the fall. In the winter we would track animals in the snow and break the ice on the creek’s surface with our black buckled overboots. It was just enough, I believe, to create a sense of wonder and wildness in the heart of suburbia in the 1960’s. We’d hunt for lizards and snakes and turtles. We caught birds and a possum once. In the creek we’d catch salamanders and crayfish and frogs. Without a bit of sense or caution, we had rock and stick fights, and in the winter snowball fights fit for a television documentary on disturbed youth. A lot of wild things happened in those empty unsupervised woods.

We played with matches, of course, and hid things there. Once we found a big stash of someone’s pornography buried in the leaves. I’ll never forget Varushka, the German Amazon woman in African furs strategically placed on her lithe body. That was visually intoxicating to a pre-adolescent boy. Nearly as impactful as the time Arthur Scholl’s little brother peed on a nest of yellow jackets and they attacked him, his bare hands, and his little boy toy. I forget how many stings were reported and which mothers helped pick off the stingers. Whew!  That could have been me. Invisible yellow jackets stung my brain and permanently imprinted lithe Varushka, however.

Of course we played army and cowboys and Indians. The federal government had not outlawed those activities yet. Unfortunately Barry Miller brought real arrows to the game once. He shot live metal tipped arrows over the Scholls’ rec room addition when it was under construction. Lee Gorman was on the other side looking up. One arrow landed in his left eye and nearly killed him. No one who was on our street that day will ever forget that incident, though it happened fifty years ago. Barry was forever traumatized as the villain and Lee as the victim. Neither deserved either fate, but both had to live on with their curse. That moment is frozen in time as the arrow arced over the peak of the unshingled roof. What were the odds of finding another boy’s muddy brown eye? What costs followed the release of that single arrow? You need a tragedy actuary to calculate such things.

Behind the Scholls’ house there was a wild cherry tree on the edge of the slope just before the field sloped off to the left. We climbed that tree and pulled off thick amber sap balls from the trunk. I have no idea what we did with these sap balls, but we had to have them to experiment on– did they bounce or burn? What did they taste like? Could you freeze them next to the ice cream? Below this tree was another tall oak that some older boy or foolish dad had tied a rope onto. This rope swing swung out over the creek bed exactly where it dropped down about three feet. The Swing was in constant use throughout summer, spring and fall. Not so much in winter, but some daredevil would swing occasionally across snow and ice, even daring to drop and land like 007 on the other bank.

A trail ran alongside the creek, just like in the early days of America. Only our trail carried kids and dogs and bikes exclusively. It was sort of a short cut if we missed the bus to school, I recall, as we preferred it to the paved road of Dorset Drive. The creek disappeared down a large storm drain behind Sue Carson’s house and ran under two roads and several houses before reappearing in a patch of woods behind Berkshire Drive. Other groups of kids had claimed those woods, though we often walked through them. On rare occasions we would even team up with kids from the other streets for winter sledding or snowball fights. Their turf was not as familiar or welcoming as ours. We did not know their trees and deep spots in the creek. Anyway, the creek flowed away from that neighborhood street as well, falling to Telegraph Road and a larger flow, eventually emptying into the Potomac River. With it flow melancholy memories into the wild blue beyond. Cue up Unchained Melody for me, won’t you?

Lonely rivers flow to the sea to the sea
To the open arms of the sea
Lonely rivers sigh wait for me wait for me
I’ll be coming home wait for me

And all the wild things eventually sink to the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay or even the graveyard of the Atlantic. Occasionally stirred up at chance meetings or high school reunions that don’t really happen anymore.

98. Gratis

Usually I write when there is something else pressing that I should be doing but I put the other thing off. It works for the blog. Not too sure how the other thing works out. But those things come and go, leaving nary a trace behind. Don’t get me wrong: I like my life, and I’m not trying to escape its work and responsibilities. It is because of the work and responsibilities that I experience a lot of purpose and meaning daily, not because I’m so cool, no, but because I am blessed beyond measure.

Gratis is an old Latin word that means “free, without cost” as well as “thanks”, like a party favor. And that word is hovering above me in a thought bubble at the moment… at no charge. This blog is gratis. It costs you nothing. It comes out of an abundance of time and unused brain cells at no charge. I spend about an hour or two on each post. Totalled, that adds up to a month’s vacation. Naturally the National Day of Thanksgiving is at hand, and my mood orbits the planet gratis tonight. “Thanks, I appreciate…, I feel so grateful…, I am gratified, so favored, blessed, gifted, etc.” I did nothing to deserve this gift anymore than you did a thing to receive it. It’s free, no obligation, without cost or expectations. I am reminded of one of my favorite Bible passages, Isaiah 55.

Invitation to the Thirsty (NIV)

55 “Come, all you who are thirsty,     come to the waters; and you who have no money,     come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk     without money and without cost.2 Why spend money on what is not bread,     and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,     and you will delight in the richest of fare.

It’s all free and deeply satisfying and incomprehensible. How can you buy and eat if you have no money? And since when are wine and milk and bread costless? Isaiah is wildly poetic as he mixes in the concrete things of this world with the abstract spiritual food of the other world. The food and drink he leads with turn into the words of God. He leaps from the material world to the barely describable divine.

12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

Just this morning as I drove to BWI at dawn to pick up my pregnant daughter and my son-in-law, the mountains and fields were choked with fog, making the familiar drive anything but familiar. Sun poured through fog banks sporadically and then these visual trumpet blasts would close up. Most of the time the sun was veiled by pale gray mist and hung like a pie pan on the other side of waxed paper. The trees took on anthropomorphic qualities in the dramatic light. Welling up in me was gratis, blessings, thanks, appreciation, favor. I reviewed those in my life who need prayer and blessing, starting with my grandbaby, my daughters, wife, son-in-law, brothers, extended family, friends, clients, students, etc. until my mind fogged over, leaving me feeling like a grain of sand next to the ocean.

Though the radio stations near Baltimore are far superior to what we have locally, I turned off their melodies to listen to the song of the hills and mountains and strained to hear the handclap of cedar trees. It’s poetry, folks, not psychosis.

I would not make a good monk. I’m too easily distracted and would miss my wife. She is not a nun, by the way. I’d miss the very dance lessons that I pretend to endure. And her quiet spirit and occasional frying pan pat on my head moments. Her mahogany eyes. The laugh at my insufferable jokes.

A grateful person can’t be arrogant, I think. If you are busy giving thanks to other persons and to God, you are acknowledging the source of the gifts in your life, right? The arrogant don’t do that unless there is some angle or it seems like the mannerly and socially acceptable thing to do. They are called ingrates or ungrateful. Failing to recognize or acknowledge one’s gifts and blessings is failure to recognize the gift giver, the blesser, the fountain where the water originates. I hope that this day finds you bathed in blessings and filled with a spirit of gratis. May your loved ones faces shine back at you in joy. And maybe, your shrubs and hedges applaud the wonder of your life.

97. Merry Corporatemas

Turkey Day approaches quietly and then it’s here, the busiest travel day in the year, sucking us into the vortex of the steroidal shopping season known as Christmas. This year I learned that Target stores will open late on Thursday so that Black Friday maniacs can claim yet another day– Charcoal Thursday. I have seen the corporate plan to take over Ebony Wednesday in 2016 and Midnight Tuesday in 2020. I am risking my life and yours by merely mentioning this next installment of Commercial Warming, or, as the international conglomerates of retailers (ICR) like to call it, Shopping Change. The DaVinci Code subterfuge is nothing compared to what the ICR folks can whip up in a can. And we wait like well fed but helpless lambs. “BAAhhhaaahaha” as the wanton wolves of Wall Street circle the herd. No one talks about Bloody Saturday and Traumatic Head Injury Sunday after Thanksgiving. Those are not appropriate talking points for the global gluttons to disclose.

How much stuff do you need? Do you have enough yet? I do. However, I am under pressure from my loving family, who are lost in the hallucinogenic fog of ICR marketing, to come up with stuff I want. My wife asked me the other night, “Do  you want a weekend getaway or a recliner?” Do I need either? No!!! I opted for the weekend getaway, by the way. I figured that the chair has a good shot at outliving me, but I can enjoy the experience of a weekend away with…well, come to think of IT, my wife never mentioned if she was coming along on the weekend. And where exactly is AWAY?  I hope the big empty box in the garage has nothing to do with my Gift. I know it’s illegal to transport live humans via Federal Express or UPS without a permit. Still, there was a certain twinkle in her eyes as she offered me the recliner, the most dreaded piece of furniture in the house because of its proximity to the television set and remote control. This could be very, very dark, Bloggettes. She has threatened to burn the recliner with me in it before, and now… it’s a gift option? HMMMMmmmm. “Do you want to go to the new James Bond movie or a nursing home?” Very dark. And she started watching “Dancing with the Stars”. I’m getting a very unholiday sinking feeling  now. She thinks Emmitt will win, which may mean that I go in a box to the Inner Harbor, duct taped to a Lazy Boy in reclined position, remote tuned forever to Sports Center, dropped into the drink on a moonless Christmas night. Now I’m scared I’ll have to watch her dance with Emmitt on Monday nights at 8:oo p.m. Will I get cable underwater?

I do need a real leather belt. I have four worn out synthetic leather, known as vinyl coated fabric, belts hanging in my closet. They don’t last through winter. I think I’d have more traction with a long piece of beef jerky threaded through my belt loops. The problem with that is dogs. My dog already goes crazy when folks visit or have food or just need to be violated in their nether regions. Add a strip of beef jerky to that mix and you have a domestic disaster waiting for a sponsor. [Think of a fast NASCAR vehicle in primer gray. Advertisers view it like a dog slavers over jerky. “Man, we could run a sticker over your hood and sell more chew.” Spuuut.] I’m going to have to rule out the jerky belt, though I think it has “survivalist” written all over it. Maybe suspenders made of fruit rollups would flex yet still bounce back enough to keep my modesty maintained. Clothing and accessories made of food stuffs need to be held on the back burner for further review. I’ll run this concept by the Coffee Summit Nation and get back to you soon, my bloggoids.

I know I am getting more Calvin Klein Eternity Aqua cologne from my youngest daughter. Do I need cologne? If I’m wearing the beef jerky belt with fruit roll up suspenders, I may need to mask their conflicting odors. Besides, it smells really good. So good that a young black woman at Walmart recently leaned my way in the check out line and uttered suggestively, “MMMM, you smell goooood.” I’ve never been told that before. I was told by an old drunk guy on a Trailways bus once that I stank. As I recall there was stink present all over him and he was definitely not Calvin Klein. Then again, what do you buy with cologne? Smells. And they evaporate after a while. You are left with an empty bottle with an atomizer nozzle. Something else to put before the consortium of the marginally employed. Should flavored air be valued at such levels?

My daughters are sneaky. They ask what I need or want months before Christmas and I forget totally that we ever had the conversation. I am going to test this theory out in 2013. If one of my daughters asks what I need or want, I ‘m going to say, ” A kangaroo”.  I won’t forget that. Then, months later, if a kangaroo is in my stocking, well, I’ll have me answer, won’t I? However, if I am at the bottom of Baltimore Harbor duct taped to a Lazy Boy, I won’t have the satisfaction that comes from knowing one’s intuition was right.

Anyway, Merry Corporatemas. Would you pass the cranberry sauce, please?

96. Lumber Jack Flash

I spent all day Saturday lumbering, literally lumbering, with my buddy Clark. He makes cool stuff out of wood, true. But did you know that he also cuts, hauls and mills that wood?  Now you do. At the far end of Southern Fulton County on a hilltop above Route 70 there are acres and acres of woods and pasture where the wild things grow. Lately it’s a black bear that has been added to the list of foxes, coyotes, beavers, turkeys, deer, rabbits, mink, skunks, etc. Friday night we rode about spotlighting for shiny deer eyes (@@) in the pastures. We saw a bunch though not as many as Clark would like. “Never thought I’d say this, but there are too many acorns this year. The deer stay in the woods all the time. It’s a helluva thing!”

However, hunting is later on, after Thanksgiving. This week was all about lumber. A guy named Bob brought his portable saw mill out to Clark’s and parked it next to the falling down barn. Don’t you even begin to picture a majestic Swiss bank barn. Think low budget, termite-ridden, miracle- it’s- still- standing barn. Actually where we worked was somewhat level because a hillbilly housetrailer had been on that spot until it was burned to the ground under not so mysterious circumstances. Ma and Pa Outlaw Squatter Hillbilly had no place to call home after that tragedy. Before leaving, they had threatened to burn the whole place down. They got some of their wish granted. Thousands of nails, screws, hinges, and other bits of metal remain in the charcoal dirt mix.

Bob and his son got to work leveling up the trailer saw mill, which is basically a horizontal band saw on a rail. What a contraption! Plus they had a 60 inch two man chain saw with a 96 cc engine, a small motorcycle engine, folks. These guys knew what they were doing, which made my incompetence all the more stark by contrast. Bob told me that I was “arms and legs” in the operation, meaning grunt worker. Okay, that’s what I signed up for. It was clear that he was the brain. He had a hard hat with a face screen and his name on the back, ear and eye protection as well. I had an old Boston Red Sox ball cap.

Clark’s 70+ year old neighbor Kenny ran a Bobcat with a claw front on it. He picked up the huge walnut trunks that were being slabbed off, three inches thick. Clark and I wrestled these dusty beasts off the sawmill and into a tractor bucket, to be stacked later. Two years, folks, for two years these things just dry out, losing maybe 40% of their weight. It was quite a production. Bob ran a metal detector across every trunk searching for wire or nails that would ruin his blades. Wouldn’t you know it, the very first log we cut into had been plugged with concrete decades before and the saw bit into a chunk of concrete about the size of a football. Inauspicious start, possibly nervewracking since Clark was on the hook for damages. However, there were no further damages if you don’t count the one slab that got away from us and hit my shin.

We worked like a small industry with the division of labor being perfectly clear despite the absence of any conversation about who would do what. Being the last to the party, I just followed orders from the Buckmaster, who began addressing me as Quasi Moto. It was already a long day before dawn when Clark began making noise and coffee at 5:00 a.m.  The sawmill dudes didn’t come till 8. I think it’s a control thing, but I had sworn a sacred oath of obedience as well as no overt insubordination or offering of improvements on his ideas. To bark with Clark would be like biting a dogwood. Or like trying to pee up a rope. There is a truth in there somewhere, Blog Blossoms. Still, in the first hour of the operation he lost a steel wedge and an 8 foot chain, a measuring tape, and other less important things that we have all forgotten. He claimed that his wife Pat is the one who remembers where he puts stuff, and since she wasn’t there, he was blameless and helpless. I can second the helpless. I did not promise him anonymity in the blogosphere.

The day began frigid, high 20’s but warmed up to the mid 50’s in the afternoon. It was calm and sunny once the sun climbed over the eastern mountain ridge. The smell of fresh cut sawdust permeated the site. Each of us turned to fully catch the sun’s rays against our shivering bodies. Moving was awkward at first but more choreographed as the routine became clear. Clark had a stuffed wild turkey breast simmering on the wood stove inside the cabin and I was glad that he did by the time we got to the lunch hour. (Still I pondered, ‘Why did he get up at 5:00 a.m.? Where are the ibuprofen?’ but I was bound by the lumberjack oath.) Being real men we returned for the afternoon session and hammered away until I left the operation at 4 p.m. as the chill of the western ridge shadows turned on us. Only once did we start laughing from exhaustion and nearly drop a 150 pound slab on our toes. Not too shabby for a guy who normally lifts no more than 20 sheets of paper at one time.

I felt like the unoiled Tin Man as I creaked and ached on my way home to my beautiful wife and an hour of dance lessons on a cold concrete floor covered in asphalt tile. Oddly enough and maybe because of the physical mangling of the day, I actually danced better than before. Perhaps because I could not think of anything to distract my left, right, step, close tango moves, I began to feel the music in my shredded muscles and contorted joints. Still, my wife was leading from the other side until I took charge. “Woman, I am Lumber Jack Flash. Back off!” And things went smoothly from there on.

95. (not) A Salacious Sex Scandal !!!

So coffee nation was sparsely attended this morning due to the dreaded plague of JOBS, a new syndrome that is breaking up all sorts of unproductive groupings of aimless men who cling like plaque onto the arteries of our post industrial society. Fortunately the few, the humble, and the marginally employed remain to push the tip of the spear back into the belly of the machine beast. It’s time to face facts: full employment threatens the very platform of the coffee nation. Full employment would take our Rockstar Wannabe off the corner chair and launch him on the road to fame and profit. And we would be left with an empty chair and a tube of sunblock, his old cabbie hat, and maybe some scratched up germy sunglasses, raptured by full employment. Just another statistic. Why?  Our loss can’t be weighed against the gain of countless nursing home residents who will rhythmlessly nod along to his alternative rock songs. His brand of sit-down comedy will be wasted on folks who retired from real work. They won’t get the nuances of his pauses and set ups like when he plays to a sophisticated audience of truly purposeless folks such as the Summit Nationhood. It’s a thing of tragic beauty when he reads the libretto to a song in search of a melody. The song runs about 2 minutes 33 seconds, but Mark’s intro to it can last 40 minutes. It’s genius, really. By the time he launches the song, the audience is so exasperated with the intro that any follow up tune must be mesmerizing. After each show when he says, “I killed them”, it will be a literal fact.

And the new guy, Gary. He’s just begun to taste the intoxicating liquor of pointless dialogue and the hypnotic hollowness of empty time spent trapped in a dimly lit but fully caffeinated back room. I worry that he is going to go out and find meaning and/or purpose and then we’ll never see him again. Like the Silver Back, Tim. Once he got back in the world of JOBS, he was lost to the Brotherhood of Navel Exploration and our important research. “How many coffee beans can you push into your navel without one popping back out? Can roasted coffee beans be used as deodorant and possibly for birth control?”  These are the critical questions that Coffee Nation is investigating with the speed of a bowling ball in mud and the laser focus of a snake shedding its skin. Is Gary going out next? I shudder to think of yet another empty speechless chair at the round table. He seems to have a grasp of the slippery concept that is the Nation. That awful decision is his alone to make. (Drum roll, please. Cue up The Who, “Who Are You?”)

If he has to go out, perhaps he can go with Mark (Don’t call me Jagger) and get the residents up on treadmills and step machines in sync with Mark’s thrashing surf rock licks. I believe there is precedent in the New Testament where Paul went out with a helper named Mark, Jon Mark, but that did not end well nor did it end in a nursing home. Anyway, Gary could be the Encourager and the Manager and bill Medicare for each “concert” of rejuvenation. In fact, the entire Nation could lead a revival or “rejuven” in the original Latin, which translates, “to act like a juvenile”. Perhaps in our unemployed enthusiasmastic rage against the machine we can make a few bucks and join the likes of Kosmo Kramer in the pantheon of the Magnificent Marginals.

But wait, with the Egginator coming on line with his occupational therapy stuff, he could also lead finger dip exercises (Work it, Louise) and bill Medicare Part B for ancilliary services. Plus, he has a youthful credibility that the rest of us lack. What I mean is that the rest of us look shady.  Steve can run billing and fabricate invoices. I can procure contracts and contract procurements under separate funding streams. DJ will cover security. Chuck can provide horse therapy services and pony rides for the grandkids.  We will be a wonderful symphony of industriousness! No, wait. What am I doing? I almost hopped on the rat wheel of do, do, more, more. Blog reader, why didn’t you stop me earlier as I reached for that third rail of employment? I narrowly averted a calamity of calamarious proportions.

94. Dancing Lessons

My goal for this year is to hit 100 posts. I believe I will make it, but not if I allow apathy to grow under my fingers. Gary at church said he posted five articles on his blog about medical issues in one week. Well Gary, uh, that’s awesome and all, but I can’t put out irrational stuff with no supporting research as fast as you can run a cardiac rehab lab over there. Okay? Being random and eccenctric takes time and inspiration and unusual weather patterns. Take tonight for instance. I am sitting down to blog after a day of church, exercise, cutting grass, cleaning the garage, and doing laundry. My hands still smell of bleach from washing two pairs of sports shoes. I mean, I’ve been on it today. And yet, there is that still small voice that calls me to blog on. I realize that the weight of Blog Nation is on my shoulders tonight, and so with heavy wrists and a penchant for exaggeration I blog forward.

Alright, my wife and I have been taking dance lessons again. This is the third set of classes, I believe. It began several years ago when she signed us up for ballroom dance lessons in a nearby town on Friday nights. We dutifully showed up to each class and tried to pay attention. We even practiced at home. However, we never went out and danced, put the rubber on the road, so to say. Learning without application does not last. If you only iceskate or ski once for an hour, do you really know how to skate or ski? Unlikely.

The next set of lessons had to do with swing dancing. That was just last year. Our local boy wonder offered classes on Thursday nights at the recreation center. We dutifully attended and tried to pay attention again. There were not enough guys to go around, so we shared guys. I had to dance with all the girls and women until I got my wife back. It’s awkward doing something incompetently with anyone. Plus, it is universally known that women learn dance steps faster than men for some reason…probably because they are women and must pretend to need men to follow when the whole time they are the ones who wanted to dance in the first place and know all the steps. So why do they pretend to follow?

Unfortunately, the boy wonder procured free passes to a swing dance place in nearby Carlisle, and I had to go. I could not excuse myself since I had just completed eight weeks of lessons. Drat! It was nerve wracking. Another lesson was given prior to the class. Again, not enough guys so we all shared and moved round the circle of partners.

Now these swing dancers are younger and more energized and talented, better looking and vibrant in general when compared to folks in my demographic. Once the real dancing started, I felt like I was under water watching the fast land creatures frolicking madly above me. I moved in quicksand that slowly turned to concrete. The small room heated up. I sat out as many dances as I could, hoping for time to fly ahead. No chance. I was called upon to dance repeatedly, as my hips fired up arthritically and my lower back cried out for relief. God heard my anguish and we left after an hour and a half of dancing, not including the one hour lesson.

My wife had so much fun that she has dragged me back there several times since. I get anxious just thinking about it. The place is called The Green Door. It’s torture, people. “Rock step triple step” goes on and on in my brain and then I know I must do some other move every so many rounds or else I’ll expose my flagrant incompetence. So I mix in some of my other moves and lose count or rhythm or both. I get jammed up and marvel at the youthful exuberance that surrounds me on all sides. Those kids can boogie and glide and pop and wiggle. Meanwhile, I am pounding mental nails in my brain, “Rock step triple step”, “Turn the girl”, “Belt loop”, “Cuddle”, and reverse each move. It’s overwhelming for a guy who can only juggle one apple at a time.

Now we are taking all sorts of dance lessons from Colonel Frank. He’s retired Army and barks out the steps like drill orders, which I appreciate. And now we are doing the tango, which I actually like and feel comfortable doing. I have not progressed to dancing with a flower in my mouth, but I can remember and do the simple steps involved. Hallelujah! We have revisited Swing, which is much simpler now, the Cha Cha, the Foxtrot, and waltz. Miracles are exploding around us each Saturday night. For whatever reason it’s sticking. My brain is processing music, movement, counting, and social cues all at the same time.

Perhaps it’s because Colonel Frank takes charge through orders and cajoling. “Why do we do the Tango in a counterclockwise rotation?” After several feeble answers he asserts, “No one knows.” Then “What happens if you miscount your steps in the cha-cha?”  Answer, “You’re screwed!”  “Why do you move your hips in the Latin dances, men?”  “Because it is sexy”, assures Col. Frank. “Sir, yes sir.” Finally, a teacher who gets it. He knows that men are simple and take more time to train.

93. Dastardly Disasters

We sit on the brink of disaster, according to the talking heads on t.v. news. What year is it?  Let’s see, uh November 22, 1963 and thereabouts. The world was ending with the death of Camelot. A young American president with two small kids and a beautiful wife had his head blown off by a mysterious gunman, later assasinated by a former cop dying of cancer. Then as the sixties unwound American society was dying of moral decay due to drug use and rock music. The riots of 1968 were pretty scary. I don’t remember seeing our cities in flames since then with the exception of NYC at 9/11/2001. The antiwar demonstrations back then were posited as the rabble rousing drunk-on-freedom hippies versus the silent hip replacement majority. Richard Nixon was going to save us with law and order and Spiro Agnew, both of whom had to leave office in disgrace. Seems that they both broke the law and order needed to enforce law and order. And then came Watergate, the end of our democracy, as Gerry Ford moved from the back seat to the driver’s seat, while our country hurtled toward the abyss usually reserved for dictators of banana republics, he pardoned Tricky Dick.  Gerry Ford could not shave without cutting himself and yet he led our country through some shaky times after Nixon left office. Yes, indeed. Thanks, Gerry. And we haven’t even gotten to the hostages in Iran (Thanks, Jimmy Carter) or the fall of the Berlin Wall (Thanks, Ron Reagan) or the Challenger disaster (Thanks, NASA). Yes, we have an endless supply of disasters to pick from.

Disasters, dastardly disasters come along regularly. Some are real natural disasters while most are manmade. The current threat is an alien made, perhaps God-ordained disaster, according to my sources close to the holy waters of prophecy near High Rock, Utah. UFOs have been seen again. Yup, they’re at it again. Right in the middle of a national election that is the most important election since the last most important one we had. Here they come to crash the political party. They have released lifelike clones of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama Ken dolls, dropping them all over the country in order to confuse the electorate at this critical time in history. Feel the drama as these collectible dolls march forward in blue suits and matching ties. Each doll comes with a detail of six Secret Servicemen in black suits with built in head sets that really work. Plus, you can order the deluxe bullet proof limo if you order the matching First Lady collection with three designer gowns by Vera Wang. You’ll have hours of fun dressing and undressing your Anne and Michelle First Lady dolls. And, if you use your Visa or Master Card now, you’ll get the cardboard cut out White House dollhouse absolutely FREE!!! You’re interested, admit it.

It’s coming to a television set near you. In thirty years your collectible VP Joe Biden doll will be worth much more than gold. The even rarer Paul Ryan doll may be worth more than that because no one remembers vice presidents unless their matching president is assasinated or resigns in disgrace. If either of these unfortunate outcomes should arise, collectors speculate that a Joe Biden doll could be worth more than a Honus Wagner baseball card, i.e., millions. And a Paul Ryan doll in the original box with his exercise equipment could fetch billions, maybe enough to pay for a year of college in 2042 or a month’s health insurance premium.

I hope that you see the real threat we have on our hands. No matter which candidate is eventually elected, and it could take a while with early voting, absentees, double voters, and provisional votes cast by illegals all needing to be counted, these extras could be stuck in go mode and continue campaigning like some renegade Confederate soldiers who fought in parts of Mississippi until last week. We need to get ahold of Harrison Ford and the guy on 24 to hunt these clones down and exterminate them without taking out the originals.  A flooded market is no good for consumers. You remember what happened with Beanie Babies and the common Barbies? Unspeakable!

Well, you have been warned, Blogwogs. People laughed at Edison and the Wright Brothers and Al Capone. And now look at them…well, they’re all dead. But if they were alive, by Golly, they’d have to be fed their own words of mockery for a few days before they were allowed to moulder in their graves. History validates prophets sometimes if they are right or lucky. Just ask Dan Quayle or the guy who ran with what’s his name? Do you know what a Mike Dukakis doll is going for on e-bay these days?

92. Whoosh

Twice a year we Americans, well most Americans, play with time. We lose an hour in the fall and find it again in the spring. And we even play with the weeks on which this bamboozlement takes place. It’s funny, as in something is likely illegal funny, that our unesteemed Congress can agree on messing with time but can’t agree on financing the government. Now Arizonans and Hawaiians do not fiddle with the clock, although the Navajo Nation in Arizona does. What’s up with that? And certain counties in Indiana also refuse to manipulate time. What do they know that the rest of us sheep do not? And how do you go from county to county without losing track of whose manipulation of time is whose? So many questions; so few answers. Which is why I am investigating this sensitive topic.

If I recall correctly, which is a big IF, the reason for extending daylight savings time an extra week in each direction was an economic one. Some study showed that extending the DST would help the GNP. I’m not sure how this study was received in Hawaii and Arizona, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S.Virgin Islands. Does their refusal to adopt DST muddy the math of the study? Notice that all but the independent Indianans are sunbelt folks who live closer to the equator. They don’t want or need any more daylight. Now Minnesotans and Montanans jumped up out of hibernation when this bill was introduced. “More daylight? Well heck yeah!” People in the UP of Michigan also signed on along with Maine, Wisconsin, Wyoming and New York. Part of their motivation, from what I have heard from an auditory hallucination, was a devious desire to irritate their Canadian neighbors when they asked, “What time is it?” It’s not enough provocation for a border war or an electrified fence with our well mannered northern neighbors, but it is just enough to let them know we are the big brother and we control time in this hemisphere, for the most part, except if you read the small print. 

There are advantages to manipulating time. College students have an hour longer to party without suffering the consequences of being late the next day. And folks who drink till closing time on Saturday nights have an hour of overtime or sudden death as they say in football. However, would a drunk know that the 24th hour of his/her day repeated, thus giving him/her 25 hours in that day to explore even deeper into oblivion?

The time switch occurs on Sunday morning. Imagine if it occurred on a Tues or Wed? Would all the savings claimed be effected? Ya think? As simple a task as it is to set your clock back or ahead twice a year, every year churches find themselves mysteriously over- and under-attended on those very Sundays, resulting in revenue losses totalling as much as you can imagine. Most of the work force is not on duty at 2:00 a.m. on Sundays…in America.

I wonder what Europeans think when Americans arbitrarily change time. Can you imagine booking a flight from Germany to New York on this weekend? You get on a plane in Frankfurt and fly ahead of time only to find that you are still an hour off. This would make an interesting question on the SAT’s.

A politically correct person gets on a plane in Frankfurt,Germany for a nonstop flight to New York at 8:00 p.m. (DST in New York) on Saturday Novemeber 3, 2012. This PC person flies for six hours at 600 mph. What time is it in New York when PC disembarks?

A. 2:00 a.m

B. 1:00 a.m.

C. Depends on whether he lives in Arizona

D. six hours later than it was in Frankfurt

E. Hell if I know….3600 miles later.

And what about the poor dude who works overnight and punches a clock? Does he get a seven hour shift one season and a nine hour shift the next? Did the study calculate the lost wages and taxes thereon when someone quits while owing the employer a missing hour? I don’t think so. Furthermore, if the said dude moves to Hawaii and dies, can the government sue his estate for the taxes due on that hour he did not work? Conversely, can the estate of a dead Arizonan sue the government for overpayment of taxes on hours that came out disproportionately and disenfranchisemently against the said Arizonan? You see what happens when you manipulate time? Sure, you get cool effects like messing with Canadians, but on the other border, illegals are all off by one hour on their scheduled pick ups and drop offs with gringo coyotes who are cranky from having to reset their watches. Not to mention OCD folks who stop and wonder, “Did I set it ahead or back?” over and over and over.

We have to stop this madness. So I am suggesting that we, blog nation, all three of us, bombard our federally elected officials, [except in Arizona, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and parts of Indiana] and demand a problem for their solution. If we don’t act soon, we will have global timing issues and many other inconvenient truths to wrestle down. It’s about time for Congress to get serious about time.