125. Hungry Heart

Back to earth, briskly windblown by dark and damp north winds sprinkling the east coast. Oh Baltimore! I’m reminded of Bruce Springsteen’s song,

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going

Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Lay down your money and you play your part
Everybody’s got a hungry heart

With  this kind of weather it’s plain to see why folks leave and don’t come back to Baltimore. I get it– more rain, more people, more traffic, more rules, just more of everything gets burdensome. Minimalists have the expression that “less is more”, and this must be what they are referring to. Everything is a trade off, I know, but when you move so fast by plane, there is nothing gradual about the transition, and the starkness of difference jumps out in your face. But now it’s back to business in Baltimore, find the car, pay for parking and get home as quickly as possible. Very prosaic, Bruce. Hardly worth writing a song about it…

Found my CRV in the parking lot

Paid my sixty one bucks and took off like a shot

Took 195 to the Patuxent River bend

Merged on 70 and drove into the wind

I’m really sorry about the butchery, Boss.

At Phoenix lift off, it was a lovely sight to see river canyons with copper green patina water snaking through them from 20,000 feet. The twisting brown flesh of the mountains rose up to 7 and 8,000 feet above sea level as we left Arizona and headed over the snow covered plains of Colorado, with its precise crop squares and circles etched into the billiard table expanses that crash into mountains at every horizon point. (There’s a run-on sentence for run-on geography, but that’s how it is.)

My brain was still sort of moving at jet speed and my body was a bit confused. It was dinner time and I had not had lunch yet, being two hours behind gastrointestinal time. No matter. Find a radio station that will last for a while– there we go. It’s NPR and some guy talking about air pollution in China. How refreshing. And then an interview with an old British guitar genius, the sort of music history that I enjoy. Okay, seat belt, granola bar, go, go, go. Perhaps by driving northwest for two hours I will turn time back around or at least settle the disconnect between brain and body. In any event I am not locked into a window seat in claustrophobialand. I can breathe or sing or wiggle. Not exactly the ShawShank Redemption guy in a convertible but it felt freeing.

Being in the space you are in is more than just getting your body from point A to point B. There is the mental weigh in and security check that takes a bit longer. Airport personnel should advise folks to take their shoes off as they arrive at their destinations to help them absorb the difference of it. It helps to calm oneself when all you want to do is be home and unpacked. Is it just me, or is the last hour of a trip the slowest and hardest to endure? Not sure why, but I’ve had this sort of experience over and over in my life. I feel like Popeye when he says, “I’ve had alls I can stand and I can’t stands no more!” He gulps down a can of spinach and makes bad things happen. I believe this is the original reference for the phrase “open a can of whoop ass” popularized by professional wrestlers. In any event, that’s how it feels to be close but not home yet. It’s not so much anxiety as it is impatient frustration, like being hungry. Well, there you go, Bruce, the hungry heart thing again.

Hmmmm, nothing notable happened beyond the fog and rain and the slow deterioration of my driver’s side windshield wiper. How annoying that this thin layer of rubber does not last longer when you only use it on rainy days. And then only for a few hours if that. I had to watch my speed. It’s 75 mph in Arizona, though everyone drives 82 and cops are scarcer than one armed Democrats. Here I was in Maryland flying along at similar speeds but the context was dramatically different. I had to scold my impatient self to back off. Also the flapping wiper blade was a divine limit, I think. A ticket would not only be expensive but would also delay me further, so pump your brakes, Fool.

Do you see what is already happening? I am already owning issues that I did not own while visiting the desert and the grandbaby. I’m getting jacked up as I attempt to be in two places at once through mental telepathy and future forecasting. I’m into tomorrow, I’m opening the mail, returning phone calls, finishing checklists of things that must be done this month….I am undoing what I spent a week doing, which was undoing what I am doing now.  Oh, Man. It’s like Springsteen’s narrator moving back to Baltimore. I need to focus on unfocusing. That’s it. Sink back into the peaceful mystical intimate primal place I left a mere seven hours ago.

Stand still, stand tall like a saguaro cactus. Blend in. Settle. Listen to the soft breeze on the warm air. Worry and tension–Evaporate. Yessss, the heart is open not hungry. I want for nothing. Life is not so hard as we make it. Keep it simple and close to your heart. Van Morrison did it this way,

Da, da, da, da, da,
Jackie wilson said
It was “reet-petite”
Kinda love you got
Knock me off my feet
Let it all hang out
Oh, let it all hang out.
And you know
I’m so wired-up
Don’t need no coffee in my cup
Let it all hang out
Let it all hang out.
Watch this:
I’m in heaven, i’m in heaven
I’m in heaven, when you smile
When you smile, when you smile
When you smile.

Good enough.

124. now you see it… and now you don’t

What the heck! It’s time to go back home and I would rather stay on. The weather is warming up again and I feel healthier and less burdened here. We had a freak snow storm on Wednesday that excited and confused the locals. Not a flake stuck. There was no chance; the ground was too warm. So what you had was a heavy rain storm that came in the form of fat snowflakes. Then the instant melt began to pool and flood low lying streets. This is a land of extremes. The Accenture PGA event at Dove Mountain was snowed out for a morning with an inch of snow on the fairways. It melted by noon, however. If you wanted a photo of the rare snow, you had to shoot fast. It was a case of now you see it, now you don’t.

The hard thing will be leaving my daughter, son-in-law, and the new love of my life– little Leah. She coos and nuzzles and makes little noises. She’s a little possum in my arms, my marsupial marshmallow.  I’m completely confident that they will be fine without me; it’s more about the comfortable feeling of being needed, of giving and receiving loving attachment. It’s time, though, for Stu’s mom to take the next shift. My daughter is back to normal, a new normal with her baby in her arms while watching Downton Abbey reruns she missed over the past few weeks. Ahh, peace and comfort, like a hot bath restores a tired soul.

A last walk with Kermit up to the Safeway was a familiar and easy mile. The Sombrero mountain peak on my left and the Catalina Mountain ridge far on the other side of Tucson dusted with powdered sugar snow. It seems too perfect a spot for a shopping center. The roads have lovely names– Silver Moon, Rising Moon, Copper Moon, Misty Moon, Silverbell, etc. Lovely just to say them and envision each word picture. Brilliant sunlight pierces the running cloud formations, as the temperature reacts quickly with this solar dance. I’ll miss this capricious weather when I get back to the all too predictable cold and damp of central Pennsylvania tomorrow. The little sunlit ruddiness on my face will be gone by Sunday. Again, now you see it, now you don’t.

Life moves pretty fast. Sometimes you have to stop to see how fast you were going. This week was one of those therapeutic stops, like taking your blood pressure at the pharmacy. Mine was 111/82 this morning. Okay with me. I imagine it will rise as I leave here. Maybe not. I’ve been the cook all week and we ate full blown meals each night with meat and salt and gluten. Lots of gluten. I’ll have to do some extra time on the treadmill when I get home.

So this has to be a short post due to the travel constraints of tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll have a better flight back than I did coming out. Several crying babies at 30,000 feet for five hours does not make for a good time. The flight back is an hour shorter because of flying with the prevailing winds. Amazing. I’ll look out the plane window as we lift off from Phoenix Airport and scope out the desert one last time, cuz now you see it, and now you don’t.

123. Appeal

Blogging with the television on is nearly impossible due to the bad news and worse commercials that roll on relentlessly. Jerry Sandusky is appealing his child sexual abuse conviction. Jody Arias is appealing for a jury to suspend disbelief, to ignore all her previous lies and poor behaviors, and to just believe her this one time. The Blade Runner dude is appealing for a self defense case after shooting his beautiful girlfriend four times in a bathroom. The E-Trade baby appeals to your sense of humor. And always there is sex appeal for every conceivable product or service– cars, beer, office equipment, weight loss, etc. I am appealing for time off for good behavior. Okay, maybe tolerable and legal behavior.

In any event another post has begun, but it can’t be in the same swirling vortex of the constant jabberwocky news/sales programs. Those voices swarm you like inmates sprinting out of a jail break from a maximum security prison, folks with nothing to lose who trample you on their way to freedom or death or infamy. Let me appeal to your higher values, blog wardens. You know that much of what gloms onto our ears and eyes is crap, the sort of garbage you get on the soles of your shoes after walking all day in Manhattan.  Detritus, waste, soiled sandwich bits, chewed gum, and funky gunk. You can clean your shoes, right? But you’d never walk barefoot through the gritty streets of New York. Yet, consider that the verbal and visual equivalents to street poison constantly pour out of your television into your unprotected ears and eyes. You can’t very well take them off and send them to the dry cleaners now can you?. The garbage gets into your head, your heart, and your soul. And rots.

Long ago John Prine sang,

She was a level-headed dancer on the road to alcohol
And I was just a soldier on my way to Montreal
Well she pressed her chest against me
About the time the juke box broke
Yeah, she gave me a peck on the back of the neck
And these are the words she spoke
Blow up your T.V. throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own
Well, I sat there at the table and I acted real naive
For I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve
Well, she danced around the bar room and she did the hoochy-coo
Yeah she sang her song all night long, tellin’ me what to do
Repeat chorus:
Well, I was young and hungry and about to leave that place
When just as I was leavin’, well she looked me in the face
I said “You must know the answer.” “She said, “No but I’ll give it a try.”
And to this very day we’ve been livin’ our way And here is the reason why
We blew up our T.V. threw away our paper
Went to the country, built us a home
Had a lot of children, fed ’em on peaches
They all found Jesus on their own

Now I don’t want to be junior Joe Biden and tell rabid NRA folks to buy a double barrel shotgun to protect their loved ones. Sheesh! Sometimes I think he uses his entire brain matter to grow hair. No, but getting away from your television set for a while could be a great investment in real life. If I had been cut off for years at a time as I was back in my college days, I wouldn’t know how dumb Joe Biden is or how rabid the NRA folks can be. See, the garbage got into my head.

Here is another example of why you shouldn’t watch t.v. Just this week in Arizona John McCain was appealing to a bunch of Tea Party fanatics about his change of heart toward immigration reform. No dice. A big ugly-hearted man shouted that McCain used to be for a border fence during his last Senate race, and now he’s for a path to citizenship for undocumented folks who have been here for years. The ultra-righteous Tea Party faithful guy claimed that McCain was therefore in favor of taking away tax moneys from the faithful, ultra-patriotic Tea Gang types and giving welfare and free housing, medical care and education to these criminals. And there was McCain trying to put out the fire he blew on several years ago, the flames of which were now tickling his butt.  It was too late to appeal to the Tea Bagger’s common decency for another human being because several years ago Johnny had appealed to the man’s basest fears of the alien. Well, what do you know? The chickens came home to roost.

It’s about cliches, I tell you. You can’t have it both ways. Never have, never will. Play with fire, you get burned. Don’t judge a man by his hat, especially if he keeps changing it in midstream. Don’t change horses in midstream unless it is a dry river bed. Then make sure they are facing the same way and carefully shift your weight off the one and onto the other. Once you are in the stirrups, giddyup. Ride it like you stole it, which in Congress means you did. Later on have a staffer deny that there was any change in policy; it was merely a reasonable evolution– inevitable, really.

So, all together now… I beseech you,

Blow up your t.v., throw away your paper

Move to the country, build you a home

Plant a little garden, eat a lot of  peaches

Try and find Jesus on your own.

122. Polar bears in a snowstorm

Image result for polar bear picturesThe blank page is like a white wall that must be adorned. Words and symbols and art need to fill the void, cutting a door or window through the opaque white fog of not quite consciousness.  Otherwise we’re all polar bears in a snowstorm, unconnected and hopelessly lost. The simple act of typing letters, then words, then sentences claims the void and brings purpose to the blank.  A horizon is seen and the brain can find itself in space. It seems to me that the empty page is comparable to a bare canvas for a painter or silence for a musician. It’s a space and time to be filled with expression.

I don’t begin with a destination or an agenda usually. It’s fairly apparent if you’ve read my blog for a while. I hop in, turn the ignition, and back out to the past or pull away into the present. Depends on the mood and circumstances of my life. Once I’ve gotten warmed up, I think of a destination. It works for me. I’m not an engineer of words or an architect. I just write like I think and speak; at least I think I do.

My day job, as you may have gleaned, is a counselor. I listen to folks for 8 to 10 hours a day. I enjoy it immensely because I genuinely like my clients. Very few of them have to be there in my office. They come of their own free wills and remain as free agents. They don’t have to put up with me. They choose to pay me for each expensive hour and believe that value is added to their lives by engaging in the counseling process. I find the whole deal to be very gratifying as well as highly accountable for me. If I don’t do my job well  (and this is completely subjective on my clients’ parts), I lose. No explanation is needed. The client just does not show up again. I don’t need a committee report or a state investigation to determine if I’ve done a good job. Clients return; it’s that simple.

Image result for high stakes pictures

I try not to think of the high stakes of my business. I’m not much of a business guy anyhow. I can’t afford to expend the energy necessary to worry about things outside of my control.  Instead, I try to focus fully on the person(s) in front of me at the moment. I block out the phone ringing in the next room, the mailman popping in and out, the townsfolk noisily shuffling by my first floor window. There is always someone suing someone else, but I can’t worry about that either. If I remain focused with my client, I’ll be okay legally, morally, ethically, and financially. Why? Because I believe I will be and my life’s experience confirms my belief. I have been blessed thus far in life that the risks I have taken have not blown up in my face.

Image result for landscape greeting cards pictures

Writing is an outlet for me, I suppose. Back when I was a teacher, I used greeting cards as a creative outlet. I’d spend an intensely absorbed two hours drawing and painting little greeting cards. It worked for me. However, I noticed that as soon as I left the stress of teaching behind, I had no desire to make my cards. In some weird way I suppose this blog has replaced the cardmaking for creative expression and resetting the psychic balance. Listening to others intently for 40 to 50 hours a week can turn your mind into a mushroom if you don’t push back with exercise, good diet and sleep, love and creativity. So this therapeutic alliance with words is at play behind the musings and wonderment of my posts. And sometimes it is just play, dodgeball with words and ideas, trying to hit some idea with the right set of words.

This week I’ve spent with my daughter and brand new granddaughter in Tucson, Arizona. Every day has started without any agenda. Newborns don’t permit agendas. They are for older, controllable folks. Newborns are iffy about sleep. Sure, they sleep more than cats do, but it can be two hours here and three there, and you don’t get to pick which hours. They eat and wet and cry and poop when they’re feeling it, not on your timetable. So it would be futile to maintain a timetable. Baby Leah took her first bottle last night, which was unexpected and somewhat magical for her dad. Her mother Grace took a picture and sighed a mom’s proud and sad sigh, “My baby is growing up!” Underneath that comment was perhaps the first sense of her separation from her baby. It’s an odd mixture of joy and loss, thrill and melancholy. A healthy person feels both; accepts both; and then focuses on the positive emotion.

All of us think about what is best for this eight pound glow worm. I guess that is the agenda after all. How rare it is to stay so focused on the needs of another for so long. But that other is nothing but needs wrapped in cute outfits. Something about her totally innocent clinging dependence reminds me of marsupial babies that live in pouches. But there is the glow worm body as well. Hmm… here is one of those dodgeball ideas. Imagine Lowly Worm in a pale green swaddling blanket tucked into the pouch of a soft bellied Velveteen Rabbit. Percolate for a moment. The little worm’s face glows, though it seems asleep or drunk on mother’s milk. Happy light shines out of slitted eyes. Put a wee little cap on her head– yellow and pink. Paint the whole picture with colors not in your paintbox– warm yawning lavender, snuggly nose pink dawn, dusty cheek rose. There you go. That’s better than a laundry line full of white sheets in a snowstorm.

Image result for toy glow worm pictures

I’ll close with lyrics from Johnny Mercer’s “Glow Worm”. You can follow up with a visit to YouTube to hear the melodious Mills Brothers sing it.

Shine little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer
Shine little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer
Lead us lest too far we wander
Love’s sweet voice is calling yonder
Shine little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer
Hey, there don’t get dimmer
Light the path below, above
And lead us on to love!
Image result for glow worm pictures

121. Solacity

Quiet, fabulously quiet on the outskirts of a city that claims a million residents. Just me and the dog, Sweet Kermit, walking to the dead end of Pima Farms Drive and then up to the trail head that leads into Saguaro National Forest. No traffic, there’s no place to go. Houses hunkered low to the ground blend into the dusty brown landscape. Each adobe finished house is a muted desert color:  cactus green, sand, putty patina, pale sage,  alabaster, salt, bleached bone, rusted iron, ocher, faded plum. Faint sounds only reinforce the ambient quiet. A dove coos on an overhead powerline. Anonymous birds flit fearlessly in thorny bushes. The crunch of gavel beneath my shoes. Kermit’s excited breathing. Tucson, you are as beautiful as a sleeping baby. Which is why I am here, to hold my sleeping granddaughter as she grows by the hour.

A huge hawk sails overhead soundlessly. Thousands of feet high in the blue sky a fighter jet might as well be a snowflake for all the rumble and shake it does not cause down here. The glorious February sun beats down on my dark tee shirt as an easy breeze blows west to east. I love this vast open saucer surrounded by stark mountains to the east and prickly cactus-covered spires behind me. I feel the urge to get higher, to breathe it all in, to gaze on the splendor that God has wraught here in the desert. There is a palpable spirit here, one that the Native people celebrate by burning sage in a fire at dawn to honor their ancestors. Unfortunately for them the European settlers did not embrace them or their quiet spirit, and moved them to less desirable, more arid lands. The new folks burned their ancestors and celebrated, i.e., expropriated, the sage and the mesquite, the land and the water.

Water is everything in the desert here just as it was in Jesus’ time and place. Just like Psalm 1 says,

1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—     whatever they do prospers.

Water is the universal symbol for life. Along with breath, you have half of what you need to sustain life. Earth and fire, I guess, are the remaining two. I recall a piece of survival literature that showed how long a human can live without oxygen, heat, water, and food. It’s about three– three minutes without oxygen; three hours without a regulated body heat; three days without water; and three weeks without food. Fascinating that survival requires the four prime elements–air, water, fire, and earth (from which we get food). In denying these elements to others, we condemn them to something less than life.

So I wonder about the Native people, when they first encountered the Christian explorers and then settlers… how did it go? Was there respect given and received? Did the first White men in Arizona seek wisdom from the folks who had inhabited this harsh climate for thousands of years? It does not look that way. And did these Christian settlers share Jesus with the Native folks or impose Him with guns, whiskey, and bullets? I’m no historian, but I think the Grand Canyon could not contain all the tears of the Native people of what we call the United States. How ironic that people groups who themselves had fled Europe’s corrupt aristocracies and state religions would deny Native people their culture, their faith, and their lands. And the descendants of these settlers repeat their forefathers’ sins by denying modern immigrants any shelter, food, water or air. Human nature has not changed much if at all since the time of the Old Testament prophets, so it seems to me. I’m pretty sure that if Jesus had been the first non-native person in the Southwest, there would be a lot more sage smoke at dawn and a lot more love among the cacti today.

Today as Tea Party Rightists rage on in paranoid frenzy and knee-jerky legislators push for guns in teachers’ hands, I wonder why we can’t just enjoy the silence together. There is beauty and truth in abundance outside this solar kissed city. Breathe it in, again and again.  May my children’s children and yours yield their fruits in season, never wither, and always prosper.

120. Hope

In the mental health business hope is an indicator of health, optimism, and faith. The opposite of hope, hopelessness, is an indicator of bad times and often correlates with suicide attempts. “I’ve lost all hope” is a pre-suicide cliche. So by extension hope correlates with life, and hopelessness with death. I’ve known a few unfortunate souls who suffered from intense chronic pain. Not surprisingly they thought of death as a reasonable pain killer. They did not want to die, just to end their suffering. They had lost hope of their pain ending; lost faith in their painkillers; and decided to kill the pain receptor, i.e., themselves.

It’s a hard sell to try and persuade someone back into their pain wracked body. It’s comparable to encouraging a battered spouse to go back into his/her marriage. I would never try to persuade a battered spouse to return to a battering partner. Yet, I would try to walk and talk a chronic sufferer back into their pain dump. Not because I am a cruel sadist and derive pleasure from another’s pain. No, my position is more rooted in the value of life and,of course, the hope of cure. I believe in better times and have walked through many dark valleys with folks who were ready to cash out their chips. So far, no suicides have occurred on my watch. None of the credit belongs to me; all of it belongs to the concept and practice of hoping for better days, and the strength of the hoper.

Years ago I recall a conversation with my one good buddy who was swatting at the flies of suicide in his mind. “Been this way for fifty years, Man. No chance. Gotta face it.” I argued a bit that the past is not the ruler of the future. He disagreed. “The past rules. No, once the bell is rung, you can’t unring it.”

“True, but you don’t have to march to the same cadence to the end of your life. What if Act Three of your life is all about redemption and joy? You’ll miss it because you bought the message of the first two acts of your life.” Fortunately for him, the love of his life was just around the corner. He is one of the happiest guys I know now, except when he bosses me around and I won’t cooperate.

Today I am back in Arizona with my daughter and brand new granddaughter, Leah Grace. It’s a surreal experience as I feel and hear my granddaughter’s little kitten breaths while she slumbers on my chest. She curls her little hands together and clings like a baby possum to its mother. The circle of life is complete, and something very satisfying is rising up in my core. I suppose it is joy. Eight pounds of gentle quiet joy. She resembles her mother whom I can barely remember cradling in my arms 26 years ago. The old photos show a svelt young me with full black hair and big 80’s glasses. Wow! A full generation has passed. Back then I am sure I hoped and prayed for a healthy and wonderful life for my baby at that time, Grace Marie. My wife and I were so grateful to God that we could have another child after losing one in 1984. We hoped all the more because of the deep pain we had suffered through with the loss of baby #2, Lisa Ellen. It’s funny: you don’t hope for what you have. Hope is the thing that keeps you going when you are at the bottom of an abandoned well, calling for help, hoping a Good Samaritan passes by. You don’t practice hope if you are securely standing beside the well. Still, I hope and pray for this precious child, that she will have a healthy and wonder-filled life. I can realistically hope to hold her child one day, God willinng. I can cast my hope out there another 26 years… I’ll be 82 and teetering on the Grand Canyon of life. What a blessing that would be!

For the moment I will content myself with hope for a good night’s sleep for her devoted mother and father.  Ever wonder what your life would be like if your kids were your parents? In some faint reflective way, they are. The DNA may commingle and dilute, but there are traits of my parents in my children. My wife is adopted, so the trail ends with her. My folks were odd people, let me tell you. They married late for their generation due to the Big War. My mother wrote to many GI’s during WWII because it was the patriotic thing to do. Plus, there weren’t many men available in Boston in the early 1940’s. My dad wrote back. He returned in person and hung out with my uncles. Amazingly none of my uncles was killed or injured in the War, though one was held for two years in a Nazi prison camp. Think he needed some hope?  And his family who faithfully sent him packages that he never received. Hope might have been an empty box, but it still contained a loving spirit if not cookies and bread and chocolate. However, what if he had received every package sent and never made it home? That would have been the empty box, the coffin. Instead he was liberated and made it back to Boston. Bob fathered nine kids, by the way. He lived a full life and was much loved when he died a  timely death a few years back.

The old saying goes, “Be careful what you hope for. You might just get it.” Well, thus far my life has exceeded my hopes and dreams, and there is more ahead. Amen.

119. Too Bad Aboutcha’

You know your biological clock is run down when you begin talking to your alarm clock as if it had a brain and a soul…”Just ten more minutes. Please! I beg you.” The cat is meowing and the dog is whimpering because they obey their biological clocks. ‘It’s time to eat and pee outside, the normal routine with or without a time keeping device.’ They don’t say this but I’m sure they think it in their puny mammalian brains. It is light outside uncurtained windows, but back in my bedroom, under layers of heat-keeping covers it is not yet 7 o’clock, and dark and warm, toasty, deliriously delicious….mmmmmmm.


“Hymmmm, hymmmm, hymmm.”

Drat their circadian rhythms anyway. I’ve made my bed, now I should be able to lie in it. Or is it “I’ve lain in my bed, now I should be able to make it”? Who says “lain” anyway? British guys on the telly who say “shall” and “shan’t”. Why do I think of stupid things like this when all I want to do is fall back asleep? Yes, Sleep, the opiated captain of my queen-sized submarine bed, the SS Ambien sinking through warm turquoise Carribean waters….  down into the darkening groggy aquamarine….mmmmmmmm.


“Hymmmm, hymmmmm, hymmmmm.”

Oh dog gone it. I might as well just get up. “Out with you, both of you. Roam the great 1/8th acre of  landscaped wilderness.”  Now as I climb the stairs to our kitchen for the coffee ritual, I know Johnnie the dog will bark twice to be let back in for his morning food ritual. If I don’t respond quickly, he will repeat the two bark drill. The cat will sneak in with him if she cares to. Why? Because he’s a good dog and it’s a misdemeanor to kill a domesticated cat. Plus, Johnnie is protective of the cat, Annie. He attributes super powers to her and she allows the myth to continue. Well, I’m not sure of this last bit, but it’s a theory I’m working on.

Okay, coffee in the basket; water; push the button. The day has begun with or without my permission. Gonna be 57 soon. My body reminds me of broken bones and ripped muscles earlier in life. They come along with you in the form of aches and pains when you have not slept well or maintained proper hydration. Check with PiperWellness.Com for more depressing news about being alive. Gary can’t eat nuts in his cream of wheat without worrying about excess calories, high blood sugar levels, cholesterol, weight gain, obesity, morbid obesity and then stroke or cardiac arrest followed by a most awful death. And yet he remains cheerful in his pursuit of healthy living. It’s annoying like a smiling funeral director who knows he’s gotcha.

Okay, direction and purpose for the blog post. I need to get into something meaningful, which means I’ll likely just run down a tangent until it collapses under the weight of global bombast. The grandchild is due tomorrow. Wow, life as we have known it is going to change again into something even richer. I remember getting married 33 years ago. Life switched powerfully in a new direction. Getting a dog was a small adjustment later on. But having our first child was like having an identity reassignment surgery. Boom, nothing was the same. And then again, complexity grew with each additional child.

Something is hugely different with this new step, though. I suppose that is because the work and responsibility do not fall on me and my wife. The expectations of love and joy, amazing amusement, and a fascinating adventure lie ahead of us. I can’t imagine the downside. Another season of life has come without trepidation. I actually feel ready, calm, and sure. I suppose most grandparents do. All my friends who are blessed with grandkids love it. I think I’ll be no exception. The little girl’s little name is Leah. I’ve been singing Roy Orbison’s song since getting the news. Mind you, I am not blessed with the vocal range or humility of Roy Orbison, so my version sounds like a cow being branded while tap dancing on thin ice above great arctic killer sharks. It brings terror to the trapped listeners. But it brings me some mild anticipatory pleasure, thinking of rocking her smiling face to sleep.

Maybe that’s the missing link with the animals in the morning– I am not their kin and I know it. When they whimper or meow, it does not resonate deeply in my limbic brain. (I am reading about this lately so I am both reinforcing new knowledge and showing off here.) In any event I suspect that I’ll be ready to leap up to the meow of my new grandchild and comfort her little whimpers when they come at any hour. There is no other option. I never knew my grandparents, and I want her to know me deeply and love me just as deeply as I love her. I can’t wait. Amen.

118. Aftermath

It’s an interesting word that comes from agricultural roots. A maeth was a mowing of a crop; so an after maeth was a second growth that required mowing. I guess a second harvest was noteworthy and very positive when food was so hard to produce in the late Middle Ages. Later on the word aftermath came to refer to results of some sort, simply the sequel to an earlier event. Later still, I suppose, it came to reference negative consequences. So nowadays when we speak of the aftermath of some event, it’s usually about a hurricane, a massacre, or some earthquake’s eruption, where things and people and institutions have been mowed down.

Out in the former fields surrounding our little town the chain stores and restaurants have taken up residency. First it was the big mall near Scotland in 1981. It never, I repeat never, reached full occupancy. Instead it has been the Killing Field of stores. Many have come and gone over the last 32 years. The place is a study in oddity. The larger anchor stores are at the opposite ends and in the middle. Then you have the gross movie theaters that needed a facelift twenty years ago. But wait, there are at least four jewelry stores in a mall that features discount shoes, bargain clothes, dollar store deals, and other low end businesses and empty storefronts. Why? At one time the mall was the equivalent of a covered downtown experience without the bad weather. However, this concept was lost along the way as malls actually decimated established downtowns across America. The Chambersburg Mall now resembles the downtown it helped to decimate, minus the charm. It has that dated ghetto look that screams of lost potential.

In the past twenty years or so we have witnessed the new phase of shopping malls that are not covered downtown experiences. Instead they bring the same package of stores and restaurants to open fields situated along high traffic interstates. You know the ones I’m talking about. There is an Old Navy or Kohl’s, a Pet Smart, a Staples, and the chain restaurants that share the same parking area– Panera, Fridays, Red Robin, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc. You know the drill. It’s convenient and uniform, and therefore familiar. The one I most dislike is Applebee’s. They glom onto a locality and decorate with local knick knacks and old photos to appear to be what they are not. Just to pick on them a little, here are some internet facts.

“The company, which recently finished selling most of its Applebee’s restaurants to independent operators, said third-quarter net income rose to $58.7 million, or $3.14 per share, from $15.5 million, or 85 cents per share, a year earlier. The latest quarter included a gain of $73.7 million from the asset sales, which was partially offset by higher income taxes and expenses, and the expected lower segment profit resulting from the restaurant sales.

Excluding items, the company earned $1.03 per share in the latest quarter. Analysts on average expected the company to earn 93 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Total revenue fell 18 percent to $216.3 million, but beat analysts’ expectations of $202.6 million.  DineEquity bought the Applebee’s bar-and-grill restaurant chain in a $2 billion leveraged buyout in 2007.”

“Eating good in the neighborhood” takes on a whole other meaning when you follow it with record profits and a 2 billion dollar leveraged buy out. The question becomes WHO is Eating What? These places that inhabit the crossroads of America are eating the downtowns of America wherever they pop up. It’s a sad tale really. You take a town that has struggled to build itself up over decades, even three centuries around here. Through the ups and downs of agriculture and industry, a community binds itself together with schools and churches and companies and housing developments. The local folks work together over decades to solve problems like pollution, traffic, parking, noise, crime, recreation, fire and flood. And however imperfect the product is, it is the result or the aftermath of local human struggle over time. The problems and successes belong to the folks who have their skin in the game.

Now behold the swooping opportunism of national and multinational corporations. They do a demographic study; buy up land near an interstate exit; rush through a wonderplan of development; demand substantial tax breaks; and then attach a money vacuum hose to the nearest town. These large chains cannot be intricately involved with the communities that they descend and feed upon. Their relationships are within their own corporate hierarchy not with the local neighbors. Unlike local businesses, mega-businesses move fast and replicate like a virus. They have a uniform plan that is cost effective. They are on television ads across the nation and can profit in ways that are not available to single entity businesses.

These interstate open-faced malls are the latest growth in the fields around our town. At first everyone is excited that there are so many more options for shopping and eating. Finally! A Red Lobster or a Ruby Tuesday or an Olive Garden. Now we are like every other town, which is both the up upside and downside of these interstate exit ticks. Every exit resembles the last one you passed as you drive across a homogenized America until it becomes the Uniform States of America. But what is worse than the aesthetic insult is the fact that local money is going upstream into corporate coffers where high end VP’s and CEO’s plot profits and live a life unimaginable to the local peasants who support them.

Aftermath, after our downtowns are mowed over and the only hardware store is Lowe’s or Home Depot out at the mall. After pharmacies become as quaint as phone booths. After local breakfast joints lose to Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel and coffee shops surrender to the Starbucks Evil Empire. What then? We will be poorer in our communities and in our connectivity to each other. Corporations have no soul, folks. No matter how many local photos they display, their profits are headed to Wall Street.

I suppose the next transformation may come when we leave automobiles behind and return to our downtowns to meet our needs. Then the open-faced malls will be left behind in the blighted aftermath that we call progress.