133. one year later

It’s uncanny how anniversaries seem to come forward from the foggy dark graveyard of memory and into the crisp light of consciousness. It dawned on me today that my bloggerversary was getting close. In fact, it’s March 29. How about that?  My internal alarm clock/calendar was starting to vibrate ever so slightly, like it must inside the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. So, I think it’s only right to stop on this solemn occasion and reckon, reckon, wreck-on. My statistics tell me that 1,802 hits have occurred over this time span, although I can’t really grasp that. I know folks tell me that they’ve read the blog, but the number count remains at zero some days. Also, I’ve had hits from foreign countries, like Croatia and Thailand. I assume that these were fishy get rich quick schemers who don’t even read English. I’m pretty sure that my tiny base of support is in the USA, mostly folks I know locally. With the average post being 1,000 words each, I have blogged over 131,000 words in this year. As I told my buddy Chuckles, “That’s a lot of flatulence.”  [Actually, now that I’m thinking of it, Chuckles, have you even hooked up the Paleolithic computer system I gave you?]

So what is the gain of a year’s worth of blogging?  About two pounds of paper now that it’s all printed out. You could start a nice fire with that much paper. At least 130  hours translated into sentences. That’s a long unpaid vacation, man. And what else? Well, in all those hours I was not doing anything else, better or worse; so depending on your valuation of the blog posts, you may look at this as a good use of time or a waste. I assume if you are reading post 133, though, that you don’t believe it’s a waste or else you enjoy wasting time. So which is it, Blog Wart? [Again, Chuckles, did you even plug it in yet?]

On the long cold winter days blogging has kept me warm and preoccupied. Another plus. And I have been able to wander through the airport terminal that is my mind. Lots of baggage and people and drama in there. Sometimes a gunfight breaks out as unruly sleep deprived passengers from Dayton fight with cheery, upright Minnesotans on their way to Disney World. In fact, I’ve written about so many things, I need an index to make sure I don’t repeat a previous post or a goofy allusion, such as the airport image above. Yeah, blogging has probably saved my life and many others. Maybe I should run for Congress. I have nearly perfected the fictionalized version of reality for public consumption routine. [Chuckles, write this down… Well who’s fault is that?]

“I was born naked and bald headed, illiterate and incapable. Speechless to boot. I was raised by wolves and an otter in the frozen tundra of Northern Saskatchewan, on the River of No Deposit No Return. Fortunately I was born in the summer so I did not freeze to death immediately. I did not even have a pair of bootstraps to pull myself up by until I wandered into a settlement of loggers and gold miners one day when I was 14. I was still naked but sort of furry by then. I’d taught myself to speak with an app on a cell phone that I found in the wilderness. Before the battery died, I had learned to say “Help Me Please” and “Coca Cola”.

“Lucky for me that there was a visiting film crew making a documentary about educationally stunted children in the outer districts of Canadian provinces. When they got a look at me, they knew they had an entire season of documentaries staring back at them through wild, canine wise eyes.

“Civilization problems soon erupted. I needed a birth certificate in order to be declared a citizen of Canada and qualify for free health care and a hair cut. One of the guys on the film crew was from Detroit. He said he had connections back home and getting a birth certificate was simple. He knew neighbors who had two and three of them and collected small fortunes from government handouts. He smuggled me across the border in a duffel bag with floatation foam in it to keep me afloat.  Before you know it, I was a clean shaven American citizen with a birth certificate. However, when we tried to re-cross the border legally, we were told that I was not permitted to work in Canada due to child labor laws that prevented abandoned Native people raised by wolves to be further exploited by folks in Ontario. I know, it’s hard to believe how silly some bureaucrats can be.

“So I grew up in Michigan and soon caught up with my grade level studies. Whenever I didn’t know something, I’d simply growl as my wolf parents had taught me and that seemed to work well. At other times my otter heritage helped me make friends and get free drinks at taverns as I barrel rolled among barstools. Too many free drinks, as it turned out. Still, I felt a higher calling for purpose in my life. I wanted to give back to the very people who had abandoned me along the banks of the No Deposit No Return River, now 32 years ago. ( Time flies in blog years.) One day at the local noon AA meeting, Ralph shared.

“I’m Ralph and I’m your congressman. I have been for forty years now, and yeah, not many of those were sober, but no one in Washington is sober, so sue me. Anyway, I’ve decided to retire from the graft and kickback circus, and I need an understudy so the show can keep going. You know, I want to groom someone like me, treat him like a son. I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life, but this is one good thing I want to do, y’know, for my legacy.

“In a rare moment of clarity I realized that greatness was about to be thrust upon me because there were only four of us at the noon meeting– Stan was older than Ralph and Louise is a 50 year old bartender at the Legion who has no teeth. So I figured Ralph had to be thinking about me.”

To be continued

132. weird stuff

So Leone from Haiti wandered by my office a couple of weeks ago. She spoke broken English mixed with Creole. He hair was wrapped up in some old cloth. Her teeth were rimmed with crudely set gold. I have no idea how old she is, but I am sure that she has been worn down by the burdens of life. First she asked if I had any cleaning jobs that needed to be done. I said, “No.”  Then she said to me, “Pastor, my babies got no food.”  I understood what that meant and reached in my pocket. I gave her $34.00, I think.  She was elated and thanked me and thanked Jesus. I wondered where this would wind up, weighing my soft lamb faith against my tough bullish cynicism.

I half expected to see her again, maybe with some goat meat or a small token of appreciation. Two weeks later she appeared at my office with a  letter of eviction from her land lord. It seems Leone had not paid rent fully in November and not at all in December. It was now March. She was asking me for money. What do you do? She can barely speak English and want is written in every furrow of her brow and each wrinkle around her eyes. “My boy was shot, 25 years.” I think she was referencing a drug related shooting a while back. That was her son, I guess.

Is this a scam?  If so, what’s next? I’m a pretty generous person, but I am also tired of being used by folks who play you in the moment of need and don’t need you when their needs are met. I wanted to pass her off to my church. Then I thought that on this level I am the church. I drove her to the bank and got $200.00 in cash. It would make a dent in her troubles and would not dent my balance. Sure, I could do other things with the money, but nothing came to mind on this gray snowy day. “No snow in Haiti”, she laughed as we drove over to the bank. “Why you not come to Haiti, Pastor?”

I told her again that I want to go to Italy and Ireland first. I’m not sure that she even knows that those are places.

God seems to like sending interesting people into my life. Maybe that is why my office is downtown where sometimes the riff raff blows by and sometimes good seeds tumble down the alleyway. She seems like good seed. Unlike Mr. Screamy of earlier posts, this lady had a certain dignity, so it seemed to me. In some weird way this reminds me of Michael in college. I digress.

I was walking home from my Friday evening shift at the Richmond Times Dispatch in downtown Richmond, Virginia. Out of nowhere came a young man around my age– 21, panting and begging me for help. “They’re gonna kill me. Please help me. Oh, please. They’re gonna kill me!!!”

I looked around on the deserted streets at 1:00 a.m. Nobody, nowhere. Nothing to justify the heavy breathing and nearly audible palpitations of Michael’s heart. He was sweating and his eyes were wild with fear. “They chased me from the bus station and took my money.” Now this was possible but unlikely, but I was young and stupid and had never encountered a paranoid schizophrenic before. My compassionate protector persona arose and went into action. “Okay, come with me. I live two blocks away.”

Michael blathered on and on that he had just gotten off the bus from Williamsburg earlier that day. Later on I figured out that he had been released from Eastern State Mental Hospital and given a one way ticket to Richmond, his home town. He had been given various antipsychotics and mood stabilizers and antianxiety medications which he had given away at the bus station like breath mints to strangers. I brought him in to the apartment that I shared with Sam and Mark. I had a nice big room and Michael paced, smoked and talked almost nonstop…all night. I think I fell asleep before dawn on Saturday.

Later that day I did not know what to do with him. By then I had figured out that he was mentally ill and off the hook of accountability. He called his family and got a busy signal. Then he called the operator and demanded that this was an emergency; she had to break into the phone call on his behalf. She did!  Before you know it, I’m on the phone with his parents who made it clear that Michael was crazy and they wanted no parts of him. “Oh Crap!!!” I realized too late that I was stuck with a highly emotional, very paranoid, sleep deprived maniac. I got a little freaked out and considered what I’d do if he attacked me. I did not know what to do. I should have walked him downtown to the university hospital ER and then run home. But my world was centered on the urban campus I attended. I thought of the campus mental health center. My Abnormal Psych. professor had mentioned it to the class. So I determined to take Michael there on Monday morning.

Michael did not bathe and smelled of his old nervous sweat. Somehow I got through Sunday night and was elated that Monday had arrived so that I could be done with Michael, who was more psychotic as the medications left his jangled nervous system. Walking up the street to the campus mental health center, we passed a construction site on our right. Michael called out to the Black bricklayers and tried to hug one, “Please don’t let me die, Joe Luis. Joe Luis, don’t let me die!!!”  An older Black man sized up the situation in a blink. “It’s all right, son. You be alright.” I deeply appreciated that man’s instant compassion and have never forgotten it. We trudged on.

I’ll never forget the reception at the mental health center. As we walked in, several of the staff called out, “Hello, Michael.” He was a familiar visitor, frequent consumer, and liability. My Abnormal Psych. prof was on duty. “You kept him for a weekend? Oh my God!! You deserve a medal. Yeah, go home and get some sleep.” When sane people try to make rational pies out of irrational berries, nothing good results. Headaches, paranoia, frustration, desperation, exasperation, and smears of wasted berry juice…  and then the sad echoing cry of a bird flying through an abandoned coal mine, unable to find rest or exit the darkness.

131. Justice Delayed

Mr. Hockenberry, aka Mr. Screamy from post # 128, did not show up for his hearing at 1:15 p.m. although I did; his public defender did; the judge did; and Officer Randy did. That’s a lot of did’s and one big didn’t. The judge waited the prescribed 10 minutes before declaring him in violation. A warrant was issued for his arrest. Keep in mind that he had been arrested three days after my altercation with him. His 24th drunk and disorderly charge on record. What a guy. Civilly Unfit.

What I did not understand was the judge said something about going to trial. I asked Officer Randy what this meant. He sighed and said, “The judge really blindsided me. It means we have to go to another trial later.” I was quietly disgusted. He turned to the very young public defender and said, “You know if he’ll just plead guilty we can avoid all this. Mr. Burrito here was being a good citizen and he’s been dragged to court twice now.”

The public defender smiled at me and said, “Mr. Burrito, I thought you looked familiar. I had you in seventh grade. I went to law school because of our debate!”

I smiled, got her name and caught up on her travels and travails. She was shiny as a brand new penny, and I was glad to see that one of my former students had done a lot with her life. I mentioned that my daughter was finishing law school soon, though I don’t wish public defending on her. Something nice had come out of the land of stupid.

As my mind tends to do, I wandered off into the neural woodlands of my memories, taking right hand turns back into my youth and justice, justice and youth. Lo’ and behold I found a pair of courtroom scenarios, one that was eerily similar to my drama. That will be served second.

I went to college in downtown Richmond, Virginia. My buddies and I rented subpar apartments near our campus. One slumlord stood out above the many– Mrs. Shockett. Her husband, as I recall, was a dentist. She extracted apartment rents; he extracted teeth. They lived in a mansion on Monument Avenue with a Claus Oldenberg clothespin sculpture in their front yard. Get the picture?  One unusually cold winter the pipes in my apartment froze. Her old handyman could not get to us for two weeks, during which time I had to find room to live with friends who had heat and water. At the end of that cold month, I deducted half the rent, seeing as I could not reside in the apartment. She at first claimed to understand the problem, but later on demanded the other half month’s rent. (We’re talking $65.00 in the late ’70’s.)  She decided to take me to court and I obliged. I went down to the imperial courtroom on Broad Street and waited for my case. Several other college kid renters were there as well. When my case came up, the judge noted that Mrs. Shockett had accepted half the rent and cashed the check. Case closed. I won. Cool, little david put a dent in Goliath’s chariot. It felt good to have a judge rule against the wealthier, local slumlord who could buy and sell us all. Exoneration felt like a drug that day.
Now my second brush with the justice system happened later that same year. I parked my 1968 Ford Falcon in front of our apartment on Pine Street, parking that was not metered. Folks understood that half the street was not metered so that the residents could park there for free. Well, one day I came home from work and some punk had parked in my space. I was indignant. The only space left was the meter. I pulled into the metered space in a huff. I thought, “That dude stole my parking space. I’m not paying a meter.” It was a dime, and I stood on the dime principle. I was not going to pay for what was an implied right of rental in a run down row house neighborhood.

The next thing I knew the space opened up later that day, after I had a $3.00 parking ticket on my windshield. I was incensed. My dime principle had escalated 30 times in just a few hours. I threw the ticket away, thinking that the city ticket police would find a way to fumble my case. They did not. Later I received a notice in the mail that my $3.00 ticket was overdue and now cost $15.00 to settle. I didn’t have a dime to begin with, and now I was looking at 150 times inflation. Ummm, my rebellion was getting expensive. It said on the ticket that I could appear in court to refute it, but if I lost there would be court costs totaling an additional $35.00. I went to court because I had the time and I did not have $15.00.   When my parking ticket review came up, the judge said, “Pay it and court costs. You have no case.” I don’t recall saying anything. I was in too deep. I couldn’t breathe. My dime challenge was not up to $50.00. Wounded pride and unchecked anger make a potent cocktail, Blogollas.

As I went through the payment processing office, I explained that I did not have the $50.00 and would not likely find it any time soon. The clerk said to me, “Well, you could appeal it.” I asked what that would cost. He said, “Nothing if you win. Court costs again if you lose, so you’re looking at over $100.00.” I gulped. “Let’s appeal it. I’m not going to jail today.”

A couple of weeks later my court date arrived. I was confused on the time it began, so as a result I was late by 20 minutes or so. I went into the assigned courtroom and found a rape trial in progress. I was more confused or confuseder. I sat for a while just engrossed in the proceedings, wondering why my parking ticket wound up here in serious criminal court. I quietly slipped out and went to the processing clerk. The guy explained to me that the presiding judge saw a parking  ticket was being appealed and threw it out. “What’s that mean?” I asked. “It means you’re done. The case is over. You don’t owe any money.”

I was elated. Unlike the frozen pipes case, I had some culpability in the dime caper. In a weird way I felt like I had earned $100.00 and began thinking about what I would buy with the money that I did not really have. I imagine Mr. Hockenberry is thinking the same things today. Where can he get some cheap wine and bellow? I guess we will find out soon. It is said that “justice delayed is justice denied”… but that recipe actually worked out pretty well for me.

130. Where ya been?

Appreciation is a funny concept. When you  buy a house, you hope it appreciates or increases in market value. The appreciation of material goods is measurable in dollars, right? Depreciation would be the loss of market value. So just plain ‘preciation is about value. I suppose precious comes from the same root word, and what do you know? Dictionary.com says it does. I really appreciate such a speedy and helpful tool.

Oh, but feeling appreciated is something a bit trickier, I think. In this feely meely bag of refined emotions, appreciated requires an appreciator whose appreciation matches that of the object of the appreciation. If my wife appreciates my paycheck, but I want her to appreciate my steadfast caring, then we have a problem. I feel unappreciated when it’s really a case of misappreciation. Can you appreciate the problem here? This is the problem with words– sometimes they glom together like legal terms in a law book, and they lose all their magical powers. We twist and torture language when we will it to do our coarse bidding, whatever that means.

A lady I know has been waiting to hear about a likely promotion at her workplace. Although she has done her incompetent superior’s job for several years, when her superior resigned, her agency advertised the job and interviewed a bunch of folks. What the heck? These folks were interviewed for the job she has been doing without any formal recognition. No thanks involved here, no sirreeebob. No appreciation of the high value this woman delivers crisply every day like the New York Times on your door step. Even more ghastly– she had to interview alongside these candidates for her own job. Can you imagine? In the middle of the group interview there is a problem that needs her attention. “‘Scuse me, Layla, it’s Bob the slender vendor. He needs that invoice for the insurance agreement.  He says it’s critical.”  So Layla excuses her self, puts out the fire (does her vacant superior’s job), and returns to the interview to swing at the job piñata that HR holds on an old mop handle. “Now Layla, what would you bring to the job?” says Bill the balding, near sighted director of HR. He must be near sighted because he cannot see this redwood among the ferns in front of him.

[Layla internal monologue, “You pus dot idiot! You spineless pimple of a man! Stupid is not stupid enough a word to stick on your forehead like a prophylactic band aid to warn off onlookers! Ignoramus of ignominy…. no, go robotic on him. He likes robots.”]

“Well, Bill, I have several ideas about how we can bring greater efficiency to the department. First….”

Appreciation in the above scenario is less likely than an asteroid hitting a migrating hummingbird at rest on the Brooklyn Bridge on the 4th of July. It is merely a theory of a theory of a vapor. And so Layla goes home feeling emptier than the wine bottles in her trash. How is it that so often those who have a gift to give are incapable of giving, and those who so desperately crave the gift cannot pry it loose from the unconscious giver. That was a long winded question, deserving of a question mark. (?) The result is something like burying grandma with all her jewelry on, sealed will in her folded hands. In short, a waste.

How difficult is it to say this, “Layla, I know you labored beneath the burdens of Cynthia’s incompetence, and yet you pushed on for the good of others. You did not sabotage or undermine her; rather, you covered her deficiencies and treated her better than she deserved. Therefore, since you have been doing her job surreptitiously for three years, it is now yours, effective yesterday. We don’t need to look beyond you. That would be insulting and dishonest.”

The other day I called one of my contract EAP companies. I have worked for them for nine years now at the same rate. Meanwhile, the price of everything has gone up. I decided to tell them I needed more money or else I had to terminate the relationship. The one provider relations lady told me that her company ran annual thorough market research and determined that “we are happy with where we are”. Not having much to lose, I agreed that they should be, but that is also the problem. “I’m not happy, and since this is still a relationship, would you like to meet my needs so I can be happy with where I am?”

(I embellish but don’t lie.) “Sir, we can’t do that. Although we value your contribution and really want to keep you in the network, we’d have to give all our providers an increase, and we can’t do that.”

“Okay, well it has been nice working with you. I have nothing but good things to say about your company. How about we break up on July 1?”

“We hate to lose you. If you reconsider… Medicare is paying less and Obamacare is a nightmare…you could wind up with less across the board… think of volume not per hour return… ” And I wondered if I could get another band aid with “Stupid” printed across the top side for this person’s forehead. Would she hold onto her position when another company offered her 25 to 50% more return on her time with all other factors remaining the same?

“Ma’am, I did all my considering before I made this phone call. Adios.”

I went to the next network and simply faxed a termination letter. I got an engaging e-mail response. “Can we negotiate a higher fee?”  I replied that I’d be interested in negotiating but I did not think they’d consider my figures. I gave them a number; they told me no. That was simple. “We really appreciate your service…”  The Doors song, Love Her Madly, rings in my ears… Don’t you love her as she’s walking out the door? It sure doesn’t feel like appreciation. “I so appreciate you now that I can’t use you to meet my needs.” That is like the criminal who claims to be sorry, so sorry that he was caught. Aha! I now know what I meant by “doing my coarse bidding” in paragraph two.

The next day I called the final EAP network to say that I was closing out the relationship. I spoke with Nancy, who asked why I was leaving. I explained the difference in pay scales and she assured me that she understood and asked if I’d consider a higher fee. I asked what the fee would be. She gave me a number that equaled a 17% increase over the old fee. “Fair enough! That will work for me.”

I went on to tell her how the two other networks reacted to my requests. She was not surprised. “Unlike our competitors, we actually like our providers.” I had to agree because her words were pre-confirmed by the action of my pay raise. It’s pretty simple. The concept is appreciation. After ten years I am worth more. HR Bill, are you listening? Never mind. Some folks never get it and so are left in a place of self imposed static mediocrity…”like you’ve done a thousand times before.”

129. Time Again

Turning the clocks ahead is a simple task, but getting your body to match up to the artificially manipulated time change is another thing. Sunday morning as I was passing under the wood faced clock in our kitchen, I decided to turn the minute hand ahead to 9:30 a.m. with my free hand. As I turned the little metal pointer, the clock fell off the wall, onto me and my full cup of coffee, and then onto the tile floor where it broke into two nearly even pieces covered in coffee. Fortunately the coffee spilled away from me and not onto the Brooks Brothers shirt and pants ensemble my wife had bought for me last fall and that I had just found in my closet that morning. People, don’t mess with time. The Stones sang, “Time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me.” Twenty years ago Rick Barry said the Stones looked like upright iguanas with all their wrinkles and divots from a life lived fast and hard. So they are living the loose-skinned lizard truth of their own luminous lyrics. (note the alliteration) And I am no better off having lived soft and slow. My own kitchen clock would not wait for me, for crying out loud!

Time… emit. mite. item. There are many other combinations of these letters, but they don’t make accepted words in the English language. Tmie. Tmei. Teim. Tiem. Temi. Imet.Itme.Iemt.Imte. Mtie.Miet.Mtei.Meit.Etmi.Emti.Eitm.Etim.  And what is the point? I’m not sure. I just find random noodling around to be interesting at times. Our brains focus on what is linear, correct or logical and dismisses the misses, (not the missus, mind you) the illogical, and the stuff that does not fit. Yet, that part is the bigger one. Hmmm. Is this like evolution? When a child is born, it has the capacity to learn any language it hears. However, after one language or several are selected for, the extra brain capacity is pared away. It’s an early life example of use or lose it. This blog is not in French or Russian because I never was exposed to those languages as a little kid. How many other combinations exist outside of logical use? In a way it’s like wasted pieces of tile that remain after a floor is completed, usually about 20% of the total. Must they be discarded or is it possible to use them on a smaller scale? As a coffee table top, a backsplash, a trivet, or just a piece of art.

It’s a process of exclusion. When you make one decision, you exclude all other options for the moment. Back in the 1970’s nuclear power was going to be the energy salvation for us, moving cleanly and purely beyond old fashioned oil and coal fired power plants. That changed in 1979 with Three Mile Island and then Chernobyl. Like the Titanic and the Hindenburg accidents, the fall out (no pun intended) was enormous. A viable path forward was abandoned at their gravesites. Yet, these discarded technologies may come around again, just as previously ignored oil sands and shale oil are now desirable second choices to once readily available crude oil.

Trains too are enjoying a resurgence these days. As the cost of trucking increases, the efficiency of freight trains grows more and more attractive. Great. What’s next? It’s a funny thing that airlines are folding and failing while the older technology is rolling profitably along. Will clipper ships make a comeback using wind power and little oil?  That would be a beautiful sight, wouldn’t it? A fleet of sleek clipper ships sailing up and down the coast with windmills spinning on spits of land. Maybe it’s their time again.

A certain romance surrounds older technologies. You can touch them and witness the mechanics involved. How different from the computer age with slick screens and programs that predict what you will say next when you type. No one saves old cell phones or computers. There is no value in doing so. Old trains, boats, cars and planes do hold some value as time moves away from them. And why is that? We seem to enjoy the nostalgia of a slower, bulkier way of moving back in the day. But what horrors if our computer is not cutting edge high speed internet worthy, smokin’ fast. There is no romance with these devices, no sentimental value. Who wants an old cell phone? They’re like cigarette butts, only the most desperate collect them and roll new cigarettes out of them or puff the last two infected drags out of them.

I saw an old Volkswagen bug at lunch today. It must have been a ’65 or ’66. No reverse lights, as I recall, was the signature of pre-1967 VW’s. Also they ran on a 6 volt battery. I felt a sense of wonder looking at this classic economy car. There was not a single creature comfort in this pale blue and white snail on wheels, but it exuded more character than any other car in the parking row. Behold! I remember I bought a 1959 VW bug for $300. Not a month or as a down payment; the entire cost was $300. The seller told me to add a quart of oil with each fill up. Of course, I did not follow his instructions and did the engine no good while driving off road in the local gravel pit. It was fun while it lasted. I sold it for $35.00 a year later. It flooded during Hurricane Agnes and that was that. 1972. That rust bucket was 13 years old and  ready for the junkyard. Funny, my Honda CRV is 13 years old and runs great. It’s a long way from any junkyard. Some things are better these days, I must conclude.

Oh well, it’s time again to consider that time is linear not cyclical. Entropy and gravity pull material things apart and down. Which is why I want to spend more of my remaining time with those things that are not subject to the laws of physics. My ’59 bug may be  a tuna fish can today, but my memory of the joy of buying my first car and the perils of owning it are not rusting or repurposed. The gold shag carpet I installed will live gloriously in my memory archives, not quite Austin Powers’ shaggin’ wagon but a sluggin’ bug fit for pimple faced teenagers. Yup, time and time again.

128. Frustration

It’s a good thing that my 11 o’clock appointment had to cancel. I can decompress a bit. You see it all started last week, I believe. I was working with a distressed client in my office. Just outside my office is a public walkway with three benches. On one of the benches a seemingly homeless guy was stretched out with his backpack and sleeping bag. I walked past him a time or two, no problem. But later in the day he erupted in shouts and screams. His voice was maybe twenty five feet from my window, and he was disrupting my counseling session. After a few more shouts I excused myself and walked out to speak to Mr. Screamy.

“Excuse me, sir. Your shouting is disrupting my business. Could you please stop screaming?”

“I’m not screaming.”

“Well, one of you is. Now, please stop it. I’m just asking for a little civility.”

“I’m being civil.”

“If you keep shouting, I’ll have to call the police. Okay?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever.”

“Thank you.”

I walked back into my office and resumed the counseling session. In a minute the shouting started back up. I excused myself again, dialed 911 and made the complaint. A polite officer took the call and said the Boro would send an officer. In a few minutes I was interrupted for the third time by the responding officer. He wanted to make sure that they had the correct guy, who they had determined was drunk. “He’s a frequent flyer with us. We’ll take care of it.”

I thanked him and returned to my client. I was a bit ticked that a rude imbecile had overridden the rights of two law abiding citizens trying to do therapy. Mr. Screamy had caused several officers to respond, take him to jail, bother a district justice, etc. etc. I have no idea how many people were inconvenienced by him, and then there would be a hearing, a free lawyer, jail time, etc. etc. Why? Because the moron could not simply shut up.

Yesterday I got a call from the arresting officer asking me to come in and testify against Mr. Screamy at 8:30 today at the District Justice’s office. I asked if this would take a lot of time. The officer said it would not–“In and out in just a few minutes.” I agreed.

This morning at 8:12 a.m. I arrived at the District Justice’s office. The guard at the metal detector told me they did not open till 8:30 and I’d have to wait outside. I drove over to the coffee shop and met with two of my guys till just before 8:30. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” I said as I exited. Back at the DJ’s office I waited a few minutes for Officer Randy. He told me that Mr. Screamy was contesting his charge and had a public defender, so it would take a few minutes. I waited and ruminated on the injustice of this fair system we have that bends over backwards for clowns like Mr. Screamy. He had disrupted me, caused me a slight reschedule to be here, and now he was wasting more of my time. I fumed. The clock did not seem to move at all.  I determined that I had a limit. Officer Randy was on the other side of two locked doors and the zombie ladies behind the glass wall were absorbed in their computer screens. “9:00 is it. I’m not in for any more time.”

9:00 a.m. arrived and I departed. I was steamed. I thought, ‘ Next time I’ll just take care of it myself, cowboy justice. I’ll squeeze his vocal chords down to whisper level.’ I shook my head but the anger hung on. Back at the coffee shop the guys had left. No good deed goes unpunished, eh? I tried to take care of my civil duty and was inconvenienced again. Fortunately the Egginator rolled in and we had time for a few games of chess. That really helped channel my aggression as my redeye coffee/expresso mix simultaneously jacked me up for battle.

Okay, I walked back to my office, and moved my car to avoid a parking ticket. That would have relit my fuse. As I jogged back to my office, Officer Randy pulled into the very parking spot I had just vacated. He got out with a paper in hand and threw his hands out at me with  the “what the heck?” expression. “Where did you go?”

I told him that I waited till 9:00 and left.

“Well, you could have at least told me. I went to get you and you were gone. He had a new public defender and it took longer. You made me look stupid.”

“Yeah, I know. You had told me it would be a matter of minutes. I could not spend the day waiting for the guy to get justice.”

“But you just left. You didn’t tell anyone.”

“No one was interested. I had wasted enough of my time. I was pissed, okay?”

“I don’t blame you. This guy has been arrested 23 times for public drunkenness and is facing 90 days of incarceration, but if you don’t testify, he goes free again.”

“Yeah, well that’s a shame, but I’ve been inconvenienced enough. The clown disrupted a session last week with a distressed county employee. And today he burned another half hour of mine. Enough. He’s not worth it. I’ll handle it myself next time.”

“Sir, I had to go for a continuance. This is a subpoena for you in two weeks at 1:15 p.m. I’m sorry, it’s a broken system but it’s all we have to hold this guy accountable.”

“Great! I am further victimized by this clown. I’ll have a lot to say to the justice in two weeks.”

“Okay, please do. See ya.”

“Yeah, adios.”

Fortunately I have blog therapy to ground my anger. I don’t get angry too often or stay angry for long. Maybe this is because I allow myself to feel the hot metal feel of it. Frustration.

127. Edgumakation

Sunday afternoon at the dining room table with my laptop. Billing for the week past and accounting for the year past. Not so bad– it’s a limited exercise. I don’t bring material work home very often ever since I retired from teaching. Back then, ten years ago, most Sunday afternoons were spent at this table with a mountain of papers that had to be graded and recorded. Five piles that kept me chained to the chair some nights till 11 p.m., when it was futile to continue. If I was not depressed when I began working after church, I was by the evening. It was endless and usually felt pointless. Each week a new pile of piles would grow like cow pies in my dining room.

Teaching is a hard gig. I enjoyed aspects of it and hated other aspects. The front end was energizing. Making up lessons and then presenting them to the kids was the good part. To me that is teaching. The second part was the bludgeoning the kids to do the work and then turn it in. The third part was evaluating the one hundred thirty five or so papers. It was about bean counting, and slippery beans like steamed edemame at that. Finally, you had to enter the grades in some form that approximated a fair system.  Of course, when the papers were returned there would always be some disgruntled consumers in the room. Ah, the joys of edjumacation.

The best moments I had were teaching drama, where the end result was a twenty-five minute play put on by twenty five kids who just happened to be traveling together. Oddly enough, these goofy presentations usually worked on some level… despite sets falling or props not being where they were supposed to be, or actors being absent, or fire drills or power outages. Yup, if you can imagine it going wrong, it went wrong. But then those patches were often better than what we rehearsed.

One of my favorite plays was a spoofy reduction of Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Somehow the kids figured out how to put on three scenes from this goofy movie. Of course, there was the black knight fight during which the black knight loses his arms and legs in swordplay. Our black knight ran offstage several times, each time returning with one less limb, finally appearing on a shimmy board as one stump of a man. It was absurdly precious. In the middle of the play the boys with wooden swords and shields attacked the Castle of the Babes, all the female actors behind the set. The girls pelted the attackers with marshmallows, which the boys ate as they delivered their spunky lines. You had to be there.

Another memorable performance was the Circus play, which another group of rambunctious kids wrote and delivered with zest. One of the skits involved the left over coffin from an earlier production of Dracula. Two tiny seventh graders cramped themselves into the coffin, which had been cut into two sections and covered by a drape. In the skit The Great Zorando sawed the box in two, including drawing the saw through some red tempera paint with his final pull. He smirked to the audience, “Oh, I must have hit an artery.” Circus assistants carried the two boxes to opposite sides of the stage as the head, Liz, shouted and demanded her feet back. Meanwhile the feet, Billy, wiggled on the other side of the stage. The unsophisticated audience gasped at the trick. It’s not hard to fool twelve year olds.

One year I began school with an Ace bandage on my right wrist because I had strained the tendons from swinging a machete while keeping up with the brush beyond my back yard. Being a creative storyteller, when the kids asked me what I’d done, I told them they would not believe me. Of course, they took the bait and demanded to know as they swore to suspend disbelief. That’s when I began the story of the severed hand.  I explained to them that I had been touring England over the summer and had rented a car. I overexplained how the Brits drive on the left side of the road and demonstrated shifting with the left hand while signaling with the right. When the kids were all nodding in rhythm, I brought in the fantastic elements.

“I was cruising outside of London trying to get used to the rental car when I put my right hand out of the window to signal my intentions. As I signaled, an ambulance was racing in the opposite direction, and my hand lined up precisely with the rear view mirror of the ambulance. I was going 38 kmph and the ambulance must have been doing 50, so that’s like 100 mph in America. Anyway, the outer edge of the mirror must have been sharp because it sheared off my right hand at the wrist joint. It happened so fast. I couldn’t feel it at first. Blood gushed out of my wrist socket and I knew I’d bleed out if I didn’t act fast.”

“Nooooo. What didya do?”

“Well, the only thing I could think to do was speed up to increase the windpressure against the blood flow. So I cranked it up to 60 kmph and turned my wrist into the wind. I tried to hold the speed at that level in order to hold the blood in my vessels, but I knew I had to find that ambulance with my hand on its rearview mirror. I drove in circles, hoping to run into the ambulance when suddenly I heard its sirens a block away. It was zooming into the Emergency entrance, so I slammed on my brakes and slid across the parking lot sideways. I screamed out to the nurses at the ambulance that I had severed my hand. They were freaked out as they saw my pulsing bloody stump.”

“Uh uh. No way. What happened next?”

“You won’t believe it. I had the wrong hospital and ambulance. The hospital staff looked over all the ambulances for my hand, but they couldn’t find it! Lost on the murky streets of London.”

“You’re lying! Your hand is right here.”

Deep sigh. “It’s a  transplant. Belonged to an accountant. Don’t you think they did a nice match with the size and skin tone? The only thing is that every once in a while the fingers just go off on their own like they’re adding up numbers on a calculator.” And of course, after a sufficient dramatic pause the fingers fired off a few rapid taps into the air, as if from beyond the grave a neural signal had passed into my fingertips from a deceased accountant named Lloyd.

“Gasp” and jump back. “You just did that. Take the bandage off. Let’s see.”

“The surgeons told me that I have to keep it on for another week. Then I’ll be glad to show you.”

“Okay, but I don’t believe it.”

A week later my wrist felt better and I was on my way to school without the bandage on. I paused and thought, ‘This is the unveiling day.’  I got out a black marker and drew a broken line around my wrist as if it had been stitched roughly. Then I bound it in the bandage.

At school the kids demanded to see the accountant’s hand, so I dramatically unveiled the marker line and did the digit dance one last time.

“You faker. I can’t believe you…but it was pretty funny. Do it again.”

126. Regular

Gotta get on the treadmill every day to start my motor. Just coffee and a bowl of oatmeal is not enough to fire up the furnace of body and mind. Maybe it never was, but then I used to exercise in the late afternoons after work, so perhaps it all came out in the wash to be about the same. Except I’m older now and discipline is not an enemy but a sacred thing for me these days. I need the stable thread of routine woven through my daily schedule or else I begin to feel loosely connected and then disconnected to others and to myself. Blogging is part of that discipline, so I am finding. It helps me collect and process my thoughts and then preserve them. Like fiber in my diet and vitamin B, blogging keeps me regular. That’s an odd thought but a true one.

Regular, not exceptional or deficient. Ruler comes from the same root word, you see. So to be regular is to be consistently the same. It wouldn’t do much good if, like Pinnochio’s nose, your ruler grew and shrank as you used it; nor does it do much good for your personality to shift and contradict itself as you go through your days. Blog Citizen, Be a regular guy.  Offload your burdens or joys some way or another. And be steadfast about how you do this. Just be true to who you are, like Johnny Cash was. He had a voice like a Belgium drafthorse, but his persona overrode that neighing. Certainly he had a huge soul that shone out for others to see and feel. Even in his final days as his life ebbed away, he sang soulfully. His version of “Hurt” is epic… how can a song about injecting heroin be so spellbinding, like a solo crucifixion? The piano pounds like a hammer on a railroad spike behind his fifty grit sandpapery voice… And then everything just stops. That was a man.

When I was in England in 1973, two American singers were on the juke boxes in the working class pubs– Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. How about that? Two voices that roared like fires in a coal mine. Both exceptional artists while remaining regular, personable voices, I think, as opposed to the glittery, over produced Elton John and David Bowie pop that played in the youth-oriented pubs. One old pubfly told me he liked American country music and western movies; the open, hopeful freedom in both seemed to promise more out of life. He was just a regular guy who went to the pub at the appointed hours, going home by foot at 10  p.m. each night. I stood out as the American kid away from home and probably looked skinny and skittish at 17. He and others were kind to me, gentle too. They gave advice and told me to visit in London. They wished me well in my grandiose journey. Was I irregular, then? And how about now?  And if so, was I exceptional or deficient?  For decades I had no conclusive answer as I floundered about in marriage, career, and family life.

Back in late adolescence if anyone asked what I wanted to do for a career, I’d answer without hesitation, “A writer. Yeah, I want to write.” I didn’t get past that vague statement and into what format of writing and what themes. Heck, who needs a plan when you’re on a roll and have two pints in your belly. Sappy love poems, sad letters, notable notes… nothing more than college essays and research papers. But along the way I’ve always heard, “You’re good with words. You have the gift of gab. You write well.”  But I had no idea, just a swirling energized cloud looking for a place to touch down.

Somehow it became a comfortable truth for me, no longer an adolescent boast. Still, no clear path was evident until I began working with my counseling clients. I fell in love with language again as I witnessed the healing power of metaphor and analogy, imagery and parable in sessions. Later, I began “downloading” their stories on my computer after tough or triumphant sessions. My mind would burn with a fever until I committed the essence of their stories to the electronic memory of my computer. These biographical narratives or veiled fictions were not for anyone else’s consumption. The stories were like archaelogical artifacts that had to be preserved, so I thought. Like running on the treadmill and paying attention to my health, I incorporated writing into my life’s rhythm in the hopes of reaching a balanced buoyancy. Internally defined terms like regularity, discipline, integration, balanced, tuned, harmonized, whole, focused, etc. became important to me, and desirable. I did not need sexy, popular, cool, amazing, successful, cutting edge, sophisticated, etc. Those concepts have to do with performing for others. I’m done with that.

As I turn 57 this week, I want for nothing. I need nothing. In fact, I want and need less in many ways. I think about trimming and pruning the unnecessary and unproductive from my life. Less looks good to me. How many pairs of shoes does a man need after all? (Not exactly Tolstoy, here.) None when you’re dead. The question assumes that you have two feet. Not everyone gets two or keeps two. I do want quality relationships and a deep spiritual connection with God. I want to spend time with stimulating minds and positive people. Which is why my television viewing must decrease. Cretins rule there. I’m more interested in where my feet go than I am in Gucci leather coverings. Will my feet walk me steadily into good places, remaining integrated with my mind and soul? That is my new regular. Like 87 octane gas is regular. Anything less makes your car ping and knock, running like an antique garbage truck. Not for me. I hope to only pump the good stuff into me for the remaining days I have to live. Amen.