111. Happy OLD Year

Year End is a hard thing to get motivated for:  closing out your books, adding up expenses, entering revenue, figuring profit, mileage, making sure you paid your taxes, etc. I like being accountable but hate the accounting. Fortunately I have Bill the tax guy who is squeaky clean; he flosses between digits and knows the latest tax laws. God bless Bill. I’d just as soon sneak away quietly from the numbers in a pile on a messy desk, but the IRS takes a dim view of such sloppiness. So, I joylessly plod onward sorting out the figures of 2012.  Besides, not paying your taxes is like not changing your HVAC filters: in a word, unhealthy. In another word, expensiver. I was going to go with “more expensive” but that would be two words. Yes, Happy Old Year to you, bloglings.

It was a good year in my life. I figure that I’d better claim the good when it’s here since Fortune has a way of turning upside down in a heartbeat. Business has been strong and profitable. The blog continues billowing up like some warm yeasty batter that needs a beat down. Similarly the Coffee Nation continues into its fourth year. (A beat down is coming, fellas.)  I got a new computer and a new phone that I can’t figure out. Took that mission trip to Honduras in February. Saw my old friend Mark in Nashville.  Daughter  Gracie in Altlanta for Father’s Day. Went to the beach in Delaware for a few days. Tucson for a week in August. New York City for a weekend…I know, it’s starting to sound like those Christmas letters reviewing the year. But this is different because Christmas is over. If you are enjoying the travel and the standing still of your life, then things are pretty copacetic. I’ll take it, though it sounds like an off brand mouthwash. Not too bad, better than bad breath, I guess.

I’ve been accused of being tangential, and I plead guilty. I get bored going in predictable straight logical lines. That’s not fun, and I suppose fun is important to me. Mystery too. Why be obvious? Where would Bob Dylan be if he just said whatever he said prosaically? Nowhere. No, he’d be on the school board of Hibbing, MN where he started. I’m no Bob Dylan. Not even Billy Bob Dull One. But I’m not at a school board meeting in Minnesota  either. One more thing to be thankful for.

I set a record for Christmas shopping this year. I bought about a dozen presents for my wife and two daughters in 29 minutes. Magically 10 of the 12 items did not have to be returned. It was my Christmas miracle. Amazing when you consider that I bought my wife a pink felt hat in 1975 or so, before we were married. It was dashing and completely inappropriate, much like the yellow cowboy shirt I bought her for another Christmas. She knew what she was getting into years before we married. At least my daughters got some use out of the infamous pink hat in endless hours of dress up in the basement.

Another year gone and what have you done? Well, it’s not so much about doing anymore as it is about being. Being content for starters. I am way more content now than I have ever been. Why? Maybe because I’m on the back side of the mountain range of life, descending over time instead of always climbing. You burn a lot more energy climbing than walking down a mountain. And it seems that life comes to me these days; I don’t have to pursue it so much. My mortgage is paid off finally, along with the cars and college loans for my kids. Not that money makes you happy, but being freed from the pursuit of paying off bills does bring peace. Life is finite now. It has always been finite, it’s just that now I can count the likely years left in my life and even budget my resources for twenty or so years. There is  no sadness when I contemplate my end. At least not yet. I look at twenty years and wonder how I’ll meet their challenges. The granddaughter I’m expecting in a month will be twenty when I am at the back door of my life. Hopefully I will have invested much treasure into her life by then.

Yeah, it’s not about doing. So many doers never learn this simple lesson. They believe that the more you do, the better you are. The more you do, the more you are worth. That is a tragic myth to follow throughout one’s life. When they get to the end of their usefulness and their doing, they have to face the consequences of the myth and conclude that they have no more worth. Often the doing life is rooted in avoidance of intense feelings, so when the coping strategy of numb doing is gone, the intense feelings flood back like a tsunami wave that broke decades back but only now reaches the shoreline of consciousness. God help them.

Going out tonight with my lovely bride to celebrate being together. I don’t know what the year ahead holds for us, but I am truly blessed by what this past year unveiled. May your Old year be just as memorable and filled with joys, and may you be exquisitely sensitive to the moments you live in this New Year. After all, the now is all you have.

110. Blameocracy

I try to avoid politics like I try to avoid wrestling with pigs. However, sometimes the pigs get loose and there you are, standing between the pigs and your cold storage apples in your garage. Something has to give. Pigs do what they do naturally, eat the low hanging fruit. And politicians do the same. You can’t blame them; it’s in their blood. However, if you want to keep your apples, you have to get them out of your garage.

Our democracy is no longer what Lincoln once claimed it to be– a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Nosirreee, it’s devolved into a blameocracy. Like a bad marriage counseling session where the husband spends 30 minutes crucifying his wife only for the wife to spend the next 30 minutes crucifying him in return, the parties gouging each other with verbal double-edged razor blades, cutting themselves with each gash at the other.

Does this sound like our current government? Each noble sounding politician begins answering a news reporter’s question in a forward direction, like you would steer a schoolbus full of kids on an interstate, and then whips the answer into the left or right shoulder, depending on the party. These partyrats continue babbling on about how awful and morally bankrupt the other side are as they spin their wheels in their ditch with a nation full of helpless passengers held hostage. Holy Demonization! Though these elected officials are relatively immune from the effects of their own stupidity, they act otherwise, full of righteously rehearsed indignation. They feed at the tax trough while complaining for or against the fairness of taxes on the famed American middle class, none of whom live in Congress. I’m beginning to think that the middle class is going the way of the “family farm”, in whose name countless corporate farms and agribusiness received preferred tax conditions and subsidies for decades. Is there really a middle class left or is it merely another talking point for these silk suit rapists?

Here’s a little taste of the discrepancy between them and you…

How much are Senators and Representatives worth?

Average worth

Based on data for the years 2004 to 2010 from OpenSecrets.org – The Center for Responsive Politics

U.S. Congress

Year # of Reports Average Total Net Worth Average
2010 641 $4,680,278,853 $7,301,527
2009 652 $4,271,710,652 $6,551,703
2008 600 $3,834,468,090 $6,390,780
2007 603 $4,633,904,377 $7,684,750
2006 594 $3,979,189,252 $6,698,972
2005 542 $3,459,576,717 $6,382,983
2004 580 $3,533,674,470 $6,092,542

Some of you may have 641 Facebook friends. Think their net worth is $4.68 Billion?

I submit that politicians come in three varieties– liars, thieves, or whores. Often you get a crossover pol who is all three. But there I go, blaming others. I’m not talking here about blaming others. My net worth is too low for that luxury. Look, tax me, okay? I love my country and my freedom. I know these are not free. I am not looking for the guy behind the tree to pay my taxes. As part of the governance bargain (so the deal is taxation and not extortion) I merely suggest that elected officials be responsible with the commonwealth’s money. Do not pay for Generals to maintain mistresses. Do not pay for retirements for crooks to live like barons. Do not piss me off with frivolous expenses and programs that do not ever produce a thing. Live by the laws you make for us little people. Don’t look for my respect from the Tidal Basin where you wrecked your car, drunk with a stripper named Fanny. Yes, he (not Bill Clinton) ran for president in ’72. See Wilbur Mills.  Do something good for the country and not stop at party lines.

I own a gun and like to hunt, but take away semi-automatic weapons, please. Make it hard but not impossible to get a gun. Face the NRA and other paranoid nut groups that can’t wait for apocalypse and do something that should have been done when Reagan and Lennon were shot in the 1980’s. For God’s sake, you could not have two more different victims of gun violence than Ronnie and Johnnie. Hunters were not a part of this stupidity done by deranged shooters. Single shot rifles were not a part of it. No, but somehow in their name and on their behalf the NRA worked even harder to get more guns in more hands. It reminds me of the straw man arguments for the family farm and the suffering middle class, and Nixon’s great Silent Majority: underhanded crap was offered as justification for programs and actions on behalf of constituencies that didn’t really exist. It’s bait and switch at its finest. Sell more guns? No. Sell no guns? No. Meet at the middle minus all the drama and posturing. And if we’re going to have unregulated gun shows, let’s open up unregulated drug shows where we can swap and sell leftover narcotics without any paper trail, just a handshake.

The Blameocrats speak the same language but it means different things for them. Taxes are called revenue enhancements. “Meeting in the middle” means “You give me six of yours to one of mine, plus you admit to being evil and fall on your sword”. “We’re all in this together” means “We have a separate and superior retirement system that is well funded and separate from Social Security”.  “Entitlement programs” are for the poor elderly and disabled. “Patriotic pay programs” apply to the federal government and military pensions and protections. Aren’t they the same things for fellow Americans? Or is this language strangulation that protects the classes one from another like  the decks of the Titanic?  In any evaluation, though we may all hit the same iceberg or hurtle off the same cliff, some have reservations on their lifeboats, and some are locked down below. Which deck are you on, blog reader? Like any banana republic, the first order of business must be to make sure that the ruling class is well armed and in bed with the military.

When plutocrats risk their lives to defend the fabled middle class, pigs will fly and be welcome in my garage.

109. Christmas Eve

Snow is silently covering the grass, trees, shrubs and street. We’ll be going out to church in a few hours. Likely to be a slippery but lovely mess. We’ve had no snow to date, and what a nice touch to get an inch today. Snow has always brought peace in my life, I think. You cannot argue with it or get too annoyed like you can with wind and rain, hurricanes and tornados. Snow is just silent precipitation. A lot of folks will stay home tonight, rework their plans rather than drive through the white lardlike streets. But we’ll hop in the CRV and venture forth with all wheel drive. No problem. I actually enjoy driving in the snow, as long as everyone else stays home and off the roads.

No Santa, no donkeys, no wise men to compete with on the road tonight. But this works both ways. Our two dinner guests called off, presumably for weather related reasons. Okay, so we’re down to just immediate family, whom I love, but it’s always nice to have company. Sara outdid herself with a magnificent dinner. Awesome grilled beef tenderloin steaks, mashed potatoes, fancy green beans with viniagrette, and carrots with some tasty crust topping. Man, a glass of red wine before and a cup of coffee with a plum torte after, and I am ready for the Rapture, folks. Just kill me now cuz it can’t get any better than this. Oh, my, my plump tart, you are amazing. [ This last sentence is frivolous word play and may not be held against me in a court of law.] Awesome.

The baby Jesus, as the story goes, was born in a little barn structure in Bethlehem on a night like this, except it was Israel 2,012 or so years ago during the Roman Empire. He didn’t get an awesome dinner or a nice warm house to enjoy. No lights on a tree or presents beneath it. All that came much later, a display of materialism to celebrate the coming of the divine into our world. It’s an odd perversion to celebrate the eternal divine with the perishing material…if we do not love as God loved us. In the Gospel of John, perhaps the most famous scripture of all says,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus was a gift to humanity, the most precious, excruciatingly difficult, and most unearned gift (grace) to give. He is the proof of God’s compassionate love for human beings. In the story of Abraham and his son Isaac, God spared that human sacrifice after Abraham had determined to go through with it. He was ready to kill his son to obey God, but God held him back, not asking for the corporal completion once He saw the spiritual compliance of Abraham. And I suppose this is what the point of us recreating Jesus’ birthday with presents is all about: it comes down to being spiritually compliant with God.

What does spiritual compliance look like? Well, if we look at the Holy Family as our guide, we find humility. What humble folks moving about with few expectations and fewer possessions! Obedience is crystal clear. Mary and Joseph obeyed the earthly and heavenly authorities even in their discomfort. They did not whine or complain of their lot; they complied with God’s will as well as the will of Caesar, like Jesus would do later. He would complete the law not destroy it. Loyalty to one’s words and promises is brilliantly displayed. Joseph honored his word to marry his betrothed young virgin fiancée, and Mary held fast to God’s words and His promise. Yes, it sounded crazy and felt shameful, I’m sure, in that society.

Imagine a pregnant homeless girl and her boyfriend at the cold weather shelter claiming to be carrying God’s son. I’d think “delusional”, I’m certain. But if twelve years later their child was instructing the local pastors on God’s word at their monthly interdenominational breakfasts, I’d wonder. “Isn’t this the kid who was born at the shelter?” And 30 years later if I saw him being baptized in the Conococheague Creek by his cousin Wild Boy John, and a voice spoke from above the skies of Chambersburg, “This is my son, in whom I’m well pleased. Listen to him”, I might have chewed on it for a while longer, wondering and pondering, “Could it be?”

Then later on, if this grown man began speaking to crowds, causing traffic jams and annoying the pastors at the interdenominational breakfast league, I might also lean in to hear his words, the kid from the shelter, all grown up. And the miracles– out performing the Salvation Army and no annoying bells. What would you do?

There would be a big gap for my intellect to consider– if this is the son of God, what am I doing on this side of the stream? Why am I not on his side, at his feet? When he walks through the projects and the funky alleys in town, why am I uncomfortable following? Because I was born in an antiseptic hospital and l live in a clean, warm house with gifts and food and beautiful family. I am comfortable and content. Why would I want to follow a man/child born in squalor and shame? And yet, he is comfortable with the high and learned and his eyes and voice reveal deep authority without trying to impress… he impresses deep into my heart.

Will I have to sacrifice my family and comforts to comply with God’s will? I don’t think so. I will have to be humble, obedient, loyal, determined, and unshame-able in my faith. I will fail, which only proves that I need Jesus. I can’t do life on my own. If I could, there would be no need for a savior. Humans have this innate ability known as sin that causes them to play with matches and set their lives on fire. We all do it, and we all need a savior to put out the messes and help us rebuild our ruined lives. Jesus comes quietly tonight, just like the snow. He covers all our sins and put out the fires we have started. What a wonderful quiet peace follows Him!

108. Dubiosity 2, half lie

The boy with the hairball was caught up in a knot. His doctor identified the alien nest in his gut. That was the easy part. The  hard part was breaking through a warped psyche that treated hair as food. The hairball was a comfort for Eric, and though it blocked his intestines and threatened his life, he was not anxious to get rid of it. “It’s like the truth…like an alien baby that I need to carry and give birth to.” I nodded and wondered how psychotic a thought this was. He continued, “I know it seems bizarre, but every eyelash, each nose hair, and every delicious long head hair represents a truth I could not speak to my family; in essence, each is a swallowed truth. And if I disgorge this massive nest of truth, I just don’t know how I’ll live with the consequences. I’ll have to talk to Derek.”

“Who’s Derek?” I inquired tentatively, wondering if Eric had mentioned him previously.

“Um, uh, he’s my helper. I talk with him when I’m in tight spots.”

I could see Eric flush and avoid eye contact. I proceeded cautiously. “So, Derek is a friend, from school, yes. Where does he live?”

Big deep sigh. “No, not around here, not a friend from school. He’s a… well, he lives in my head. I guess you’d call him another personality I have.”

“Okay”, this was not my first rodeo with a personality alter. “So how long have you known about Derek?”

“Since grade school. He listened to my pain. When no one  else was around, he comforted me. I guess he’s like a really big invisible friend. Do you think I’m nutz now?”

“No. It’s not a word in my clinical vocabulary. What I think is that you developed a coping strategy to deal with overwhelming pain in the absence of supportive family. You did something to avoid going nutz. I actually think that dissociated personalities are very creative solutions. The biggest problem with alters, however, is closing them out, putting them in the unemployment line.”

Eric was in rapt attention. I could tell that he was not used to being transparent or being taken seriously. In his past he’d overblown his reality with school bullies who ground him up with his own words and gestures, mercilessly mocking him. Here he was desperately revealing an inner sanctuary to me, fearful of being betrayed but so hopeless that he’d try anything now, including suicide. “I, I, uh, I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, what I mean is that as you heal your old hurts by sharing with me, your buddy Derek will no longer have a job to do. You won’t need him, see? And eventually you’ll say goodbye to him. Some folks use pills or sex or alcohol to cope with their pain. Eventually, if they get the help they need, it’s goodbye to the substance or compulsive behavior. Does that make sense to you?”

“Yeah, and when you say it like that, I don’t feel so sick or crazy.”

“Eric, the funny thing with crazy, is that truly crazy people don’t ever wonder if they’re crazy. Because you do, I know you aren’t. Did you follow that?”

With a laugh, “yeah.” Another deep sigh and a knowing smile. “So you think I’ll be okay one day?”

“Absolutely. Other people in your life will continue to suck, but you don’t have to fix them, not your parents, your siblings, your classmates, the bullies on the bus, the liars at the NRA. You are not responsible for anyone but yourself. By staying in your head, you will be a lot more sane. You can’t fly two planes or two brains at one time, kid. Okay? That’s dubiosity.”

“Okay. Is that really a word?”

“It is now. If you continue to talk openly and fearlessly with me, you won’t have to scurry off to whisper with Derek any longer. That’s dubious, which leads to dubiosity. I just figured out where Derek lives.”

“Really? Is this a joke?”

“Well, a really bad pun.”

“Okay, I guess I can take it. Where does Derek live?”

“Dubai.”

“Ouch, is this some sort of pun therapy where you motivate your patients to get better by coming up with the most awful puns imaginable?”

“Yes, welcome to Pun Island. The Pun is about to begin.”

“Cough, cough, hack, hack.”

“Dude, are you okay?”

“Just coughing up a hairball, man.”

107. Dubiousity, half true.

Dubious, doubtful, double, indubitable, and other varieties of this word come from a root meaning two, and somehow fear was added to the meaning as the word went through French and into English. I find that fascinating. Actually, I find the word fascinating to be fascinating. I looked into its history once to see if it came from the root fasces, from which we get Fascism. It did not descend from that nasty double ax symbol, fasces. Instead, it originally came from fascinatus, meaning, “to bewitch or cast a spell on“. I told you it was fascinating. As a mental health guy, I work with a lot of doubters, folks who are filled with fear, anxiety, dread, horror, panic, and… you get the idea. Often their disorder is rooted in their origins, like the word origins I mentioned, only their origins tend to be mythical. Let me explain and fascinate you.

Many good persons beat themselves up over the choices that other persons in their lives make. One young man I  know decided as a kid that he had to balance out the drama in his family’s dynamics. He magically became the family thermostat and humidifier. He adjusted his words and actions to neutralize, modify, enhance, or dilute the aggression in the other family members. At first he just observed the raw chaos between his parents and older siblings. He had the catbird’s seat in his family, but he felt compelled to be the hero, savior, messiah  because he also had a great deal of compassion for his dysfunctioning loved ones. And here is where the doubt/myth began: he determined to change his reality rather than confront the ugly reality of his family. When he felt scared or isolated, bullied at school, ignored on the bus, etc. , he put on a blank face with a fake smile for his family’s benefit, knowing that they could not handle one more complaint. Somehow, he figured out that his feelings and attitudes, thoughts and worries, were just not as important as the older people in his family. Though he was the baby, he mythically figured out that he was going on a quest to save his  unaware family.

As you might imagine, he needed to split into two selves in order to attempt the above impossible quest. Part of him had to remain needlessly Stoic while the other part buzzed with mental activity, trying to outwit four older relatives who were often hostile to each other. This splitting, I submit, is the basis for certain types of anxiety. It is a futile attempt to be in two places at once. In this case it was two or more minds at once. More fuel is needed to do this sort of mind surveillance and heart mining. Enter ANXIETY, another cool word to ponder. Once Eric put his plan into effect, he found that he had a nervous tapping energy in his brain and body, something like a mild electric shock ran through him. He could operate faster because of this mild current, but he could not stop it when his interventions were done. Rather, he continued to buzz with mental and physical activity, as if a hive of microscopic bees had been transfused into his blood stream. Like any addictive substance or compulsion, this one would not let go.

“How was your day, Honey?” his mom would inquire.

“Fine. No problem”, he’d respond falsely, assuming that his fragile mother could not deal with the fact that he was mercilessly bullied again for being smart and bold in the upper middle class private school he attended. He had to keep the other world of victimization away from his family, and vice versa. Tornados erupt at the edge of cold fronts and hot, humid low pressure centers. Eric knew in his marrow that his mom could not endure one more tornado, not from him. His older siblings had delivered pain and disappointment in fractured freight loads. He could not follow in that trench of failure, so he moved methodically under this unseen pressure, like a deep sea diver at life crushing depths. There was no room for error or full disclosure of the truth, no margin for leaks or punctures.

It’s not a long walk from double reality to multiple realities and the loss of psychological traction. No matter how smart and adaptive a person is, he will falter at some point in the double spy business. His tension will seep out of the thickest suit of armor, and Eric’s did. It was an odd thing that he began plucking wild hairs out when he noticed one on his unshaven face. Some sort of charge would go off and he felt a momentary relief. A nose hair, an eyebrow hair, a hair in his ear– the search and destroy mission became ritualized. “Ahhh,ooooohhhh”. Some sort of bubble was popped with each hair eradication. He did not connect his hair removal with the anxiety that coursed through him. In fact, hair plucking seemed to provide a momentary antidote to the anxiety. However, when he ran out of wild hairs, he began to look at the neatly trimmed ones as negotiable. After all, his anxiety was not well coiffed; it was a field of thistle weeds that stretched to the horizon. He longed to pull up every one of those prickly weeds, but he knew he would wind up with bloody hands if he started. He could not expose himself yet.

By the time I met Eric he had no eyebrows left, and his hair was patchy. He had begun to harvest and eat his hairs one at a time. Trichotillamania is the proper term for such behavior. His stomach harbored a hairball that a cat would be proud of. Instead of external chaos like his older siblings produced, Eric had cultivated a prairie full of internal gopher issues that could not be seen or counted. They popped up at seemingly random times, out of control like wild hares.

106. Reactivity

A nerve is fired and a muscle twitches without the conscious consent of the mind. It’s automatic– tap my knee in the right spot and out pops my lower leg. My brain and yours run different programs, just like your computer is doing now as you read this blog post. There is the involuntary nervous system that is constantly on duty so I don’t have to remember to breathe or sweat or dilate my pupils. It’s all taken care of in a healthy person. And there is the unconscious mind that stores all sorts of history and feelings and danger signals if you have been traumatized. Amazingly, I don’t have to tell my fingers which keys to hit as I type this entry; they “know” somehow from repetitive firings of the same neural pathways. All of these adaptations free up my mind to think of new things or to reconstruct the old.

I’ve been relearning this business with dance lessons. It requires a lot of thinking to evolve to no thinking, or thinking that has become nearly automatic. I am looking forward to the day when dancing is like typing, and then I can concentrate on my beautiful wife’s eyes and smile as we glide along thoughtlessly. Well, this is an ideal state of affairs. I’ll be happy if we don’t step on one another’s feet or bump into innocent bystanders. I like this sort of evolution toward solution.

Coffee Nation this morning was raucous, almost revolutionary. The culprits were many. First off was Josh, former bull rider, concealed weapon carrier, life time cowboy, former Old Order German Baptist. He attempted to violate the first commandment of the Nation– no political crap. Well, Gary Contrary egged him on, thus threatening his own tenuous grasp on probation for permanent residency in the Nation.  I realized that I needed Big Steve to enforce order and decorum. After all, Steve coined the phrase “no thinking Thursday” as our official slogan. But Steve was under the spell of the evil empire of JOB, working for the GLOBAL MAN. Anyway, Josh hypothesized that the government could be behind gun massacres as a way to stir up anti-gun sentiments and thus speed the round-up of all weapons. Insulting nonsense unworthy of consideration by the Coffee Summit. This sort of thing is Glenn Beck’s domain. I said so, but Gary the weasel fed into the “novel idea”. I rebuked him verily. And he pled ignorance, since he is only a newcomer to the wise ways of the Summit. Ignorance may be a prerequisite for admission to the Summit, but you can’t wear it out, Gary! I duly threatened him with lock up in the ladies bathroom behind him. Still, he persisted in rebellious agitation.

Ron, senior Redneck and semi-professional hunting guide, also joined in the agitation, siding with Josh until I reminded him that he was going shopping at 10:00 a.m. with Jana, thus undoing his testosteronal testimony. (I later learned that he bought soft comfy pajamas for his wife.) Ron then went sideways, noting that Gary could pass for my brother. Now, I have three living brothers and am not looking for another, but I often get this line, you know, how many folks look like me. I must have a very common face. Gary claimed it was an honor to be referred to as my brother and addressed me as “Bro” thereafter. I corrected him again about the two Summit rules– no political crap and no religion, and be it duly noted that persistent rebellion will be exterminated. “Why no religion?” was uttered by a nonmember or two. “Because it brings out the stupid in folks. Please talk about your spirituality, talk about Jesus, but do not tell me how Methodists are better than Baptists, or vice versa. It is beneath the dignity of the Coffee Nation.” [Let it be written; let it be done.]

Gary then explained that in South Carolina proper baptism is argued nearly as passionately as the Civil War. He related a real discussion with his mother-in-law about Methodist sprinkling versus full Baptist immersion and the awfulastrophic aftermath. “That’s the crap I’m talking about, Man. What a bunch of nonsense.” Josh added that for OOGB’s unless you were dunked forward three times, you weren’t baptized. Again, rigid affiliation with the very Pharisees that Jesus himself railed against. Those types would correct John the Baptist. I have little tolerance for fools, old or new. Then Gary mentioned bringing his wife to next week’s Summit. “Oh no, you didn’t!!!”

And so it went around the circle. The young Turk Matt dropped in from graduate school where he’s learning how to be a fancy pants counselor. He made the unforgiveable mistake of fraternizing with Krista and the Fraulines at the other end of the room. They were running a low octane, watered down summit while multitasking on computers. Big show offs. I corrected Matt and brought him back into the manfold. I requested a screen of some sort be erected in the room to separate the genders. It has to be done to maintain the integrity of the Nation, just normal stinking boundaries, that’s all. Also, I don’t want to advertise by comparison just how unproductive and feral our group is. We have an honorable duty to uphold as is spelled out in our coffee summit constitution, which I forget where I put … we need to ratify that thing, though. It’s on a napkin, I remember that much. Women are not allowed in our group because they would force us out of the trees and make us walk upright instead of hunched over on our knuckles.

The Egginator brought a dozen eggs for Lance, the Barber of the Boro. I believe Egginator mentioned female boxers somewhere in the hubbub. (Not underwear but pugilists.) Gary chimed in that many women could beat him (himself) in a boxing ring. No debate was offered. The Eggman added that my daughter could whip him ( himself). Again, no debate was offered. After more Gary input, I finally told him that I would settle the baptism battle by saturating him in the commode of the ladies room– full immersion, sprinkle, three forward dunks, the works. Fear crossed his eyes as he faced the potential wrath of the Nation. He settled.

Even the presence of the Mighty Yeti Yoda Chuckles could not settle the natives. Anarchy ruled the day. Reactivity burst through each moment. We devolved into a cage of chimps hopped up on caffeine. It was a dark day in the annals of the Coffee Summit Nation. Being the only responsible member, I felt the crushing weight that comes with the silver back. I must restore order before this rebellion takes root, before we go coed, become enlightened, and even productive. I may have to sacrifice a few (to be exact, Gary, Josh and Ron) for the good of the herd. I felt like Washington on Christmas Eve at Valley Forge, not the mall, or Moses when the Israelites rebelled again. There was a river to be crossed in each story. Mine is the River of Responsibility. I’m afraid I may have to carry each chimp across on my back, though.

105. Probation

I was just released from probation, albeit a self-imposed probation. I have been on probation since seventh grade, when I was a bad kid. Really, at the start of the year I knocked books out of Lance Cossia’s arms. I didn’t know him, but I tried to intimidate him. Years later, I think, he was a decent enough kid that lived in the adjacent neighborhood. I was the jerk kid trying to carve out some personal reputation in a big new school. He was a target. We tussled a bit, as I recall, on the second floor of Mark Twain Intermediate School on Franconia Road. Some negative consequence was attached later, no big deal.  Why do I remember this incident? Perhaps because I knew even as I acted that I was acting out of malice, infused with hormones, covered in zits. For the same reason that I punched Steve Rice one Saturday morning. We fought until I broke my right thumb on his skull. I was the bad seedling then with a cast. Maybe that was a good thing, taking me out of the fight game for a while. The testosterone was overflowing and there was no counter balance of maturity to corral the chemical energy into something good.

It was a long year. I shared a locker with Dennis Johnson,  a local kid I went to Catholic School with. He was wildly out of control. He needed Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, Electroshock, Duct Tape, concrete boots, embalming fluid– something that could neutralize his buzzing quest for trouble. Honest to Kim Il Sung, he once lit and smoked a cigarette in our second floor classroom when Mr. White stepped out for a few minutes. He opened the window, took a few puffs, and then flicked the butt away. It was awesome and scary, on the level of Timmy O’Brian driving a car into the neighbor’s house at 2:00 a.m. Dennis was clobbered by Mr. White, yanked by the hair, whacked with a college ring turned stone down, and likely paddled at an undisclosed location later. He probably enjoyed it. A few days or weeks later he lit and tossed a few firecrackers out of the same classroom window. That was the end. He went to special school after that. Years later I think he got into pcp weed and had to get married around age 17, just before he joined the U.S. Army and shipped out. I’m not sure what the reasoning was back in those days to offer budding criminals jail or the Army… an Army full of criminals? I could understand if you offered them a shot in the French Foreign Legion. The trail goes cold there, however.

We had an odd school arrangement that year. Our new school was not ready for occupancy, so we doubled up with another school, attending for four hours a day. My school started at 12:30 p.m. and ran till 4:30. Yeah, what a deal. Every day zipped by in a flurry. We could play a lot of sports before ever thinking about getting on the school bus. And we could get in a lot of trouble with that sort of schedule. We did both. I recall one morning at the bus stop a group of us boys decided to go over the big hill and beat up Jody Riccio, a kid who never seemed to know when his bragging and smack talk had gone too far. We had time to run down the hill, bull rush him before he could run in his house, smack him around, and get on our bus with a calm heart rate and blood pressure on time. Bad seedlings we were, but he had it coming. He was the kind of kid that would mouth off from his front porch and then run inside rather than suffer the  just wrath of his peers.

I touched a few girls who wanted to be touched and a few who did not. Just plain bad willfulness that did not want to be good any longer. I wanted to break loose, not totally like Dennis Johnson or the wicked Jeff Hudson, but off the choke chain of elementary school.  Yeah, Jeff Hudson was a bragging fool from a military family in Ft. Belvoir. He told tough guy stories of playing in elevator shafts that worked, how he rode on the top of the cars in the shaft. Wow, how can you top such a story?  He always threatened to bring his motorcycle chain to school one day and whip up on anyone who dared cross him. He wore some sort of fake leather/vinyl cycle pants to school. One day they ripped and put a hole in his cool factor. I teased him about it, I’m sure.  See, I did not take his crap and inevitably we had a showdown. I knew he was bigger and tougher than I was, but I stopped to respond to his taunts one day in the hallway. When the nearest teachers reacted, he ran. He had a lot more to lose than I did at that time. He was on the last inch of his last chance. My buddies slapped me on the back, “He ran away, dude” as if I was the cause of his cowardice. I wasn’t. It was a rare stroke of luck, that’s all.

In gym class I bullied a few kids. One was Lloyd Bradford. I don’t know why I recall his name. I just remember practicing the Vulcan death grip on his trapezius muscle when he went stone cold out and collapsed on the tile floor of the locker room. When our teacher discovered the hit, he helped revive Lloyd and dismissed class, except for me. He paddled my butt so hard that I can still remember running to my next class as if it were on fire. I wanted to stop and sit in a sink of cool water, but I didn’t. I fully deserved the brutality I received. It was no more than I’d given.

Before this awful year was over, I got into still another fight with two or three other boys I picked on. I have forgotten the details except for the end result of being suspended for the last few days of school. Somehow my parents never found out that I had been suspended. It magically disappeared. I dodged the school bus for a few days and just laid low during the daytime, always expecting some evil letter from school to report my criminal activities. None came. Now you would think that justice delayed is justice denied, right? But in my case I actually think I matured a bit from all the aggression and the near tragic misses I weathered. I started to behave better. I think my brain grew and the beginning of empathy began to take root.

That year was 43 years ago, and I am signing off on my misdeeds today. The statute of limitations has run out six times since then, and I don’t need these ugly moments in my mind a minute longer. As governor of what I think and how I feel, I am commuting my life sentence to time served. Amen.

104. Bumperstickerjustice

It’s amazing how many messages come from bumper stickers. I suppose this is more an urban issue where traffic piles up and the opportunity to read your neighbor’s messages presents itself. Out on the interstates of the midwest I don’t think folks are reading one another’s bumpers at 75 mph. But back in the cities and towns of the East Coast, well, we do read exposed bumpers. It’s hard to look away, like plumbers’ butt cracks. You look and think it’s a LARGE rabbit peeking out of a pair of Levis with a tool belt above its head, and then, in a traumatizing instant, you realize you are looking into the abyss of aparajeanius crackus majorus. “OOOhhhh, noooooo.” A moment of paralysis freezes the nerves and muscles of your neck, and there you are– stuck in traffic reading weird stuff that you did not seek out. It’s pandemic, Blog Nation. Someone must tighten his toolbelt and stand up for Just Us or go to court for public lewdness.

Yesterday I was trying to be mindful and pure on my drive in to work. Route 30 was blanketed in fog. I could see maybe 300 yards ahead. All drivers had their lights on at 8:30 a.m. I thought everyone was being rather respectful and cautious. The calm was briefly refreshing and allowed my mind to wander onto other topics beyond mere survival. As I got to the edge of town, where two lanes merge into one, a young weasel boy in a silver VW Go whipped in front of me without a blinker or honk or wave. He had the sock hat and headphones on, radar detector mounted on his windshield, and the Great Lakes foghorn exhaust system.  I said aloud to myself, “You little punk!” So much for my mindfulness and purity. I was right behind him and considered ever so briefly ramming him into the McDonald’s on the right for a new Less-Than-Happy-Meal. It has no toy, no burger in the bun, no drink or fries. It’s basically just a pickle. His bumper sticker was actually on his rear windshield. It read, “How’s my driving? Call 1-800- Eat- Sh_ _.” How fitting. How’d  he like a pickle on  his  Sh_ _ sandwich? I followed the guy through town, and no kidding, in front of the courthouse where jurors lined up for the metal detector, weasel boy revved up the foghorn and blew it up for a cop to hear him. Smug. Cocky. Should have rammed him. I called the weasel’s sticker number, and guess what? No answer. It’s a scam. Well, ding dang dong!!! No justice.

This morning I was behind a Camry with two stickers. On the right was a shiny new one in full color. It said, “My son is a U.S. Marine.” It had a nice picture of the Marine insignia.  On the left was a matching female sticker with a medic symbol in the middle. It read, “My daughter saves lives. What does your daughter do?”  How nice. I wondered about the woman driving, presumbably the proud mother. “What does your daughter do?” Isn’t that a bit snarky? I sensed a self righteousness about her super meaningful children with the second part: “What does your daughter do?” Isn’t this code for ‘My daughter is more valuable than your daughter.’ I wonder if I could get a sticker made that said, “My daughter is a Marine surgeon who sewed up your son in Iraq. What does your daughter do again?” But what’s the point? I hope bumper stickers fade and fall off like temporary tattoos did, the ones that came in Cracker Jacks. I’m all for free speech, I just don’t like listening to morons. I know, not pure or mindful, Bloggestradas.  But what am I to do?

[Robert Audette drove a loud cut up green 1958 Volkswagen Bug with a bumper sticker that proclaimed, “There is no gravity. The world sucks.” That was awesome back in the day, comparable to the silver Go weasel. I guess Robert was a weasel too. He had loud pipes and was a public hazard. He was the first person I ever heard of who had ADD. He looked strangely like a young Mick Jagger. I once mistakenly flipped his mom the middle finger. Perhaps that was my own one finger salute to ADD. I have no idea. HMMM isn’t this the rat calling the weasel a rodent? I am full of contradictions in my quest for justice today.]

Lately I see everyone runs marathons and half marathons, designated by 26.2 and 13.1 stickers. ‘Nough said, don’t you think. Translation, “I am an Iron Man…and you are not.”  I’ve seen 50k and 100 but rarely. They are Iron Men. I wonder what reaction I’d get if I had a  .71k or 2.34 or 3.14 with a  black runner on a pink oval background. The oval bumper sticker seems to be in ascendancy nowadays. RB, OBX, OCMD, ATL, EI, MV, MT, MN, CM, TN, and on and on. It reminds me of airport abbreviations that are tagged to your luggage. I recall a similar phenomenon when snow skiers would wear their lift tags around to show everyone that they were skiiers or else very forgetful. While I’m on this tangent, when did we American consumers begin to advertise for places and radio stations and bands and clothes and motor cycles? I thought it was the manufacturer’s job to take care of advertising not the consumer’s. Shouldn’t we at least get a discount for branding ourselves? Here is a thought: real authority does not need to brag, boast, advertise, hawk, blare, bandstand, etc. I know Rolls Royce is a fine car and I’ve never seen an ad for one. I know Nelson Mandela is a fine man and I’ve never heard him pull a Donald Trump to promote his excellence. Real authority does not have to. Talking celebrity hairpieces do.

Now political and religious speech I can understand being on a bumper sticker. This way we don’t have to talk directly to one another about these incendiary topics, and thus we reduce violence through advertising. You can show me CoEXist on your bumper and not annoy me with some long winded doctrine. You can do the Darwin symbol or the Ichthys fish symbol and I get where you are on evolution or creationism. Not sure why you feel compelled to such a level of commitment that you want to flash your nifty symbol in my face. I suppose the drivers feel they are witnessing to the unbelieving audience behind them. Why not put these symbols on the side of your car where there is a sense of equality in two lanes of stuck traffic and real conversation can take place sideways? You know, like back in ’80 when Ted Kennedy ran against Carter in the primaries. Who could forget, “Ted Kennedy: A Blonde in Every Pond”.

But my favorites are the get out of a ticket affiliation stickers– the Mason regalia, the Fraternal Order of Police, Police Benevolent Society, Mafia Hit Man Inside, American Legion, Mothers of State Troopers Association, Grandmothers of State Troopers and Municipal Cops Society, etc. Now those actually have a real application if you happened to be pulled over for speeding. These are home cooked, fully waranteed justice flags that pay for themselves in six months.

“License and registration, Sir.  Nice bumper stickers you got there. Clocked you at 80. Radar sucks, man.”

“Officer Audette, is it? Anyone ever tell you that you bear a striking resemblance to Mick Jagger?”

103. Awesomenosity

It’s a dark and drizzly day in central PA. like rural England, as I recall. I traveled around there in the winter of 1973. I was 17 years old and hoping to magically regain my first girlfriend whose family had moved there six months earlier. Funny how one thing connects to another despite the time and multitude of differences in between them. It was a memorable experience in my life, maybe one of the top ten, like hitching across the U.S. I lost my high school ring there and a cool wool hat that my father had brought home from WWII. I also left a leather bomber jacket and a leather belt with my buddy Rob in London. My memories are foggy, though, and not entirely reliable as I spent a good bit of time in the pubs there….

Here, just being inside and dry and fed feels like an accomplishment today. A Sunday nap would be like whipped cream on a …well, a sundae. Quiet too, so quiet I could hear a mouse in the wall if we had mice, which we don’t. We used to have them at this time of year. When the outside temperatures dropped, the boogers would find cracks and crevices to squeeze through so that they could enjoy the warm, dry foodstuffs of my house. Over time I have plugged those holes and cracks near the plumbing pipes. Still, I remember the quick scratchy sound of their claws skittering across the drywall ceiling of our finished basement. It’s creepy to know rodents are a half inch beyond your reach and there’s little you can do about it at that moment.

Our church had its Christmas program yesterday. It was mostly lovely with a wide variety of musical styles including a jazz brass section. Nice, yes, but I am the type of guy who slowly warms up to Christmas. I’d prefer one week before and one week after as the entirety of the Christmas season. Really, if your birthday lasted a month or more, wouldn’t you tire of it? Now I am not suggesting that Jesus gets tired of His birthday celebration; however, like Scrooge learned in A Christmas Carol, it must be lived every day in one’s heart not on your sleeve for a month. And what would that look like?

Can you imagine getting up tomorrow with new eyes that look for the lost, the hungry, the destitute and a new heart that longs to meet the needs of these folks? It’s a bit daunting just to think of it. How would I treat my family differently? How would I drive? Once I arrived at work, how would I interact with the people in my daily life? How would I spend the money I earned? And what would be different when I arrived home each night…if I kept the Spirit of Christmas in my heart?

What exactly is the Spirit of Christmas? Well, it’s the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, birthed 50 days after His resurrection which occurred 3 days after His crucifixion. Wow! That’s a mouthful that is much harder to chew than a Victorian goose with plum pudding. Dickens focused on one man’s change of heart, an old miser who was bitter about the hurts in his life. His business partner Marley, chained to his misdeeds and a money box, haunted him to warn him about the visions to come, sort of like prophets in the Old Testament warned the Israelites about the doom that awaited them if they turned away from God. Scrooge blew it off as some sort of bad dream caused by indigestion. But the visions came as predicted. Ditto for the Israelites.

Christmas Past made a melancholy impression on Scrooge. He longed for his sister and his fiancée and his early workplace attachments. Life was good and vibrant then…and he began to chain himself to money. He grew proud and distant, insulated from want and need by money. His security blanket grew so large and heavy that he could barely move under its weight. Over time he had no relationships, no friends, and no compassion. Just a ball and chain of gold to soothe his lonely soul. Charity and friendship were extravagances that an industrious man like Scrooge would not indulge in. He felt his taxes should cover the cost of the poor and miserable and feeble and helpless. Sound familiar? He was a  one per center.

Christmas Present was a jolly soul full of food and light and glory. He was a traveling party master who showed Scrooge what he was missing in the moment. Scrooge cringed a bit at his nephew’s party where he was mocked and at Bob Cratchit’s where he was reviled…but not enough to move him away from his bitterness and the golden coffin he had built around himself. Before he left, however, Christmas Present showed Scrooge the orphans beneath his robe– Want and Ignorance. “Beware!” he said as he exited.

Again, Scrooge was unmoved. He patted himself down, reassured himself with familiar platitudes. Why, he was an engine of commerce. He provided jobs for others. He paid his taxes. Sound familiar? When we look at serving humanity in the least possible manner, we begin the body count of acceptable losses. Who needs to help sex offenders or drug addicts? Welfare moms and illegal immigrants? Aren’t they expendable or less than the hardworking, law abiding men and women of America who got here first and feathered their nests? Why help the next generation when you believe in the myth of your own self sufficiency? Now that the government has educated and protected and inspected me into a comfortable lifestyle, why should I care one whit about the next guy and his family? I got mine, man.

Christmas Future is a scary dude. His visions are grim, though they are the logical outcome of Scrooge’s trajectory at that point. He sees that no one will mourn him. His goods, which had become his God, will remain for others to use as they mock him. He leaves no heir, but his legacy will be bitter as wormwood. His own tombstone finally gets his attention. Really? Isn’t one’s mortality a daily reality? Not if you are detached, out of fellowship, contemplating only your self-centered desires. Contemplating the end of one’s existence is a tough abstraction that requires help from others who function as talking mirrors. But if you get rid of all the contradicting mirrors in your life, you can fool yourself into thinking you are immortal.

As you know, Ebenezer Scrooge’s heart was transformed that Christmas Eve. Love came into his desolate heart and the outcome was a stream of compassionate acts. Indeed, love and attachment and fellowship became the new normal for the old man. And that is what the Holy Spirit is all about– transforming bereft lives with love every day. No matter who you are, whatever per cent you are, the God of this universe is still looking for room in your heart. I pray that you will let Him in.

102. Empty Chamber 2

I try not to overrun 1000 words per post, so I cut this entry in two hunks. I once watched an owl try to pick up a dead rabbit off a snowy single lane road one winter night. It was too heavy for the big bird. I watched in amazement as the owl flew back to its prize (after I had driven by it) and cut it neatly in two. It efficiently flew up into a nearby hickory tree to devour half a rabbit. So, here, my patient bloggos, is the other half of the rabbit tale.

Back to the cabin for lunch and a nap. Walking around with a gun can wear you out pretty easily, especially if you take a shortcut down a ravine that is just short of the easy road your Camp Commander is standing on. Well, of course, I took the scenic route deep into the woods and the ravine just got deeper. When I decided to plow up the sheer west side of the ravine, it was maybe 80 or 90 feet up at a stiff incline. I was breathing heavily and feeling my calves give birth to snake babies of pain when I summitted. Who was standing twenty yards away in blaze orange? Clark, Sargeant Major Camp Commander Maharajah Singh. “It’s a good thing that I’m standing here or you’d of walked all the way into Warfordsburg. Why you buckin’ me all the time?”

“Sir, I was not buckin’ you. I made a premature turn into what seemed like familiar ground. And then it wasn’t familiar anymore so I pulled off. At no time, however, was I lost, Sir.” We walked together up the easy road back to the cabin. Clark muttered, “You’re always ‘buckin me’.”

Later in the afternoon I went down past my original morning post, down on a point above where two creeks commingle into one. A tall ravine wall rose across the stream to my right. Another point jutted out from my left, across the other creek. Clark’s son had shot a nice buck there just three days earlier. I hunkered down next to a tree. I sat still for two more hours until just before 4:30 p.m. The hollow area where I was began to darken into shadows. Then down in front of me some shadows moved. I raised my rifle to look through the scope. Ahhh, a lovely doe was eating something on the ground. Two more were behind her. I knew that a buck might come in behind them, so I waited for the big guy. I took the safety off and tapped my trigger finger on the outside stock so I didn’t accidentally twitch on the trigger. Lo and behold, a magnificent buck stepped up and in front of the does. I looked at his antlers, which were partly obscured by brush and trees. I could only see two dark horns, but his body was big and muscular. ‘I’ll count points later’, I thought. ‘He’s a prize.’ I leveled the gun and put the cross hairs on his shoulderblade. ‘This is gonna be easy’, I thought. A sharp metallic “CLICK” was all that sounded after I pulled the trigger…no, no, no bullet in the chamber. Oh, no. The deer heard the click and my fumbling with the bolt and the bullet clip. By the time I had a bullet in the chamber, they were gone over the hill, wagging their white tails in my face like fourlegged burlesque dancers exiting stage left. I was dazzled and yet bereft. And other words that connote great angst. I had to laugh at myself. I’ve been walking around all day with an empty chamber. C’mon man.

Of course the deer didn’t come back. I slowly and dejectedly walked back up the slope to the tractor road back to the cabin. Bummer! And yet I remained dazzled by Bambi’s father out there. We had looked at each other briefly and both lived another day.  I was more joyous than disappointed with the outcome. I had another day to hunt, though it proved totally unproductive. Still, I have a story to tell and not just a dead deer. My Redskins won their football game that night, another positive prediction by the Deerdribbler. So all things considered, it was a good time, even for the deer.