145. Titans and Tyrants

In Greek myth the Titans were the family of gods who birthed Zeus and his siblings, the Olympians. The main king figure was Cronus, who had a nasty habit of eating  his immortal children so that they would stew in his gastric juices but not overthrow him. Typical tyrant stuff– destroy your competition, swallow your kids. Titanium and titanic come from the same word along with the meanings of strong and huge. We call big dudes in business “titans of industry”– like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, or Andrew Carnegie. Those boys ate up their competitors and government oversight. I think of big music artists as titans– Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Hendrix, Elvis, Clapton. You get the picture, especially if they are one word Titans. These were HUGE influences who actually ate up their ancestors and transformed them into something new when they musically spat them out. So I guess there are bad titans and good ones… depends on which generation they eat.

I’ve never liked tyrants, however. I don’t think you are supposed to like them unless you are also a tyrant. My deceased father-in-law was a tyrant. I think we managed to get along because I played chess with him and always lost after giving him a run for his chess cookies. He was a retired government worker who spoke five languages but could not talk about his work, if you know what I mean. Pretty sure he killed a few people along the way, and I did not want to be the next one. He was harsh on a good day. His idea of a good time for his granddaughters was sorting used nails from a bucket. He expected somehow that little girls who sorted Barbie clothes would just jump at the chance to sort out rusty ten penny nails from bent finish nails from crusty masonry nails.  Oh what Joy! Granpa. A former smoker, he got upset if someone flicked a cigarette butt on his well groomed lawn. Is there a 12 step recovery program for smokers? He needed one. I recall him saying once that “Smoking covers a multitude of sins.” So I guess not smoking reveals them.

He told stories of growing up in the Great Depression. Though he had no dog, he went to the butcher on Tuesdays and asked for a bone for his nonexistent dog. The butcher, knowing full well if this poor child of immigrants had a dog it would be on the menu, would leave a little extra meat on the invisible dog’s bone. Kid Granpa would take it home and the family would make soup out of it. Most likely he would have gnawed it like an all day sucker. On Thursdays he went to the Fishmonger’s for fish heads for his nonexistent cat. The fishmonger, knowing full well if this urchin had a cat it would be on the menu, left a little extra meat on the fish heads for the cat made of fog. Kid Granpa would take the fish heads home and make a chowder out of them. He laughed and marveled at the unspoken game that was played back then. I smiled and marveled at the unspoken grace extended from poor haves to the poorer have nots in the 1930’s.

His childhood food deprivation resulted in forced eating at adult Granpa’s dinner table. You had to clean your plate or there was condemnation and shame. Nothing like fear and tension hovering over some Pacific Rim chicken stew meal to entice little kids to eat heartily. Once my daughter Grace undid the tyrant by saying, “Granpa, I don’t like things that are yukky.” There was no possible come back to such an astutely closed  statement.

I recall one summer day we visited him with our Fresh Air girl from the Bronx, Joanna. She was visiting us for two weeks and Granpa for a day, and he determined to correct her grammar. Lovely thought. In the absence of fondness or relationship, why not just hammer a strange, vulnerable kid who is away from home? Why not teach an ethics course to a telephone sales person?  I mentioned his moral inconsistency to him once as we traipsed across his two hundred acre farm near Warrenton, Virginia. He was ranting on the immigration issue and how foreigners just pour into our country and drain us of our resources, forcing poor rich guys like him to pay more taxes. I seized on the opportunity to correct the tyrant or at least point out his inconsistency. “You know, if you applied the same reasoning to your people 80 years ago, you would not be here to complain about the most recent immigrants.”

His response? “And it would be a damn finer country without me!” I did not expect this, so I chuckled in agreement. “Yes, it would be.” See, tyrants can never be wrong, nor can they stand a challenge to their power. Which is why figuratively or literally they eat their young in soups and chowders with saltines if available.

Now I have been told not to speak ill of the dead, and I get that the dead have no rebuttal time left on the clock. On the other hand, if the dead in question had just lived a decent life, no one would have anything to worry about now would they. It’s sort of like living in a small town, blog citizens. If you keep your nose clean, pay your bills on time, and keep your dog on its leash, then you can face your neighbors with a clean conscience in the therapy waiting room, the liquor store, or the vasectomy out patient clinic. And don’t even try the “Me? I’m waiting for a friend of mine” line.

“Your friend could not make his vasectomy appointment and you didn’t want to waste it? uh huh.”

“Yes, so I stopped at the liquor store for some cooking sherry after my friend’s therapy appointment.”

“I see…” And then under their breath…”right through it, Bozo.”

There is something about a small town that fights both for and against the baser instincts of humans. Gossip grows fast and furiously in the over-fertilized souls of torpid little boros. But there is a familiar wall of accountability also. Like the weed killer Round Up, one squirt can kill the evil word weed at the root. Keep in mind that the likelihood of running into some unfriended former friend is exponentially increased in a small town. So, no matter what’s on your menu — fish heads, cow bones, kids, chicken, vengeance, mercy, justice, grace, titans or tyrants– be kind, blog nation, be kind. ‘Cuz once you’re dead, you can’t talk back.

144. Spectrums

I like thinking in continuums or spectrums. It helps me hold a lot of information in a relevant string. Maybe you do the same, Blogairs.  For instance, there is the political spectrum from the far left ultra liberals to center of the road moderates to far right wing conservatives. Way out on the edges are folks we call radicals or wing nuts. This sort of structure is like a shopping bag: it helps you carry a bunch of dissimilar things at once.

Now some people and things don’t play well together, like bleach and fresh meat. So the sharp cashier/bagger double bags those items and puts them in separate bags for hygiene and safety reasons. There are other considerations with groceries. You can’t put the eggs or potato chips on the bottom of a heavy bag without crushing them. The same approach is helpful with political extremists who cannot be in the same room at the same time without gunfire erupting or fists flying. The most fragile folks in our society need to be put on the top of the social priorities bag, even though they are not the economic engine that drives our society forward. Indeed, they are the least. Great human societies are not measured by how fast the fastest can run, but by how they care for the weakest and slowest in their land. The sane among us do not look at the Nazis’ achievements by their best and brightest members and stand in awe. Rather, we shudder at their efforts to exterminate the fragile, vulnerable, and different among them. Somehow our governing folks must find ways to unify the extremists with the moderates and the lefts and rights just long enough to get to the car trunk without splitting open. I’m not sure if this means we need bigger, heavier, doubled-up paper government or stronger, transparent plastic government. What do you think? Paper or plastic?

Another spectrum I like to consider is that of communication. At one end is abusive, derisive, condemning speech. Such speech divides rather than unifies two or more persons; it’s anti-communication. In the middle would be silence. And then (this is where I like to spend time with clients) there is a rising slope of positive communication that moves toward unity or oneness. My screen is not wide enough to show the slope, so let’s go vertically from least to greatest.

Non verbal nod, eye contact, smile, or wave. At least acknowledge the other.

“Yo” “Hi” “Hello” “Howdy” “Bueno” “Good””What’s up?” “How are you?”

If you happen to be waiting for the light to change or you find yourself waiting in line together, you might engage in the shallow end of the communication pool.  Let’s begin with the generic.

“Can you believe this weather? I am so sick of rain.”

“Yep, gotta cut the grass again today, if it ever dries out.”

Or if it’s two women…

“Oh, I like your shoes.”

“Oh, these? I got them at Kohl’s, 30 % off plus I got twenty dollars in coupons.”

“No way! Ohhhh. I gotta get me some of that!”

Now two guys.

“Dude, what happened to your head? Did you have brain surgery or what?

“No, it’s a faux hawk, man. My girlfriend says she likes it.”

“Whatever.”

Then, after shallow chat, folks may find a common interest in sports or church, movies, music or friends they have in common. This is better but still shallow. It’s potato chip chat versus baked potato conversations.

“How about the Orioles?  Think they’ll make it this year?”

“It’s all about pitching. Gotta have a bullpen in August.”

“Hey, you’re all tan. Did you just get off a cruise ship?”

“Oh jah, man. I been to the islands.”

“Roger, you live in Orrstown. Cut the Bob Marley act.”

Deeper stuff beckons us, however, past the chips and dip chats. Onward we swim toward the shrimp and crab legs. Kick, stroke, kick, stroke, work it.

To get more relational requires personal knowledge being shared. So talking about family and close friends draws us past the floaty dividers in the pool.

“How is your daughter Eve doing in college?”

“She’s decided on pre-med and that she is a lesbian.”

“Oh. So what’s that mean for you?”

“I’m not sure. It takes some getting used to different expectations.”

“And how about your son, Adam? Did he work through his situation with drugs?”

“Well, he’s clean but he’s in prison for three years in Camp Hill.”

“Oh. Well, let me buy you a beer, man. Life is hard.”

Obviously the blood pressure can rise when you or the other drops the social mask and reveal vulnerabilities. Trust is necessary at this depth. Confidentiality is implied. “I don’t tell everyone this stuff and neither should you” is understood.

Deeper and deeper we swim into the big uglies– fear, anger, sadness. Being able to listen to another’s uglies or  being comfortable expressing your own is remarkable communication. You’ll notice that the circle of folks in this water hole is smaller but the folks in it are bigger in character. They own their feelings but not yours. They respect boundaries. They are emotionally responsible, which is refreshing.

Way out there where the waves begin to break is so private. That’s where sexual communication takes place. Hopefully it’s a small number of folks you know out there and only one at a time. Yes? Sexual communication is dense and powerful. It goes beyond words into the body and heart. Even breathing can be sexually charged.

Finally, on the other side of sexual communion, I believe, is spiritual union. In the ecstatic moments where one leaves the body, what is operating? I suggest that it is the spirit, stripped free from the body ever so briefly. Folks soar or float in sexual bliss, and I submit that they are entering the spiritual realm during these experiences. By joining with another person’s mental, emotional and physical communications, you move beyond them and arrive at the unlimited, unbound spirit.

I just passed my thousand word guide, so I’ll leave this spectrum right here, in need of some gilding.

143. Kaleiding forces

Beautiful things are moving as you read these words, just as sure as Al Green can lay down a groove out of little more than heavy monosyllables and melt your futile belly fat resistance to big mojo. Don’t even get me started on Barry White. Irresistible. Ladies? can I get an amen?  “Ummm,hmmmm. Preach it, Reverend Special.”  It’s how most of us are wired. Drawn to the beauty in our environments. Don’t resist, Blogchicks. “MMMMM, MMMMM, MMMMMM, OOOH.” Something lights up in our minds when a sweet baritone croons, “Baaaabbbbyyy, Baaaaabbby, Baaaaaabbbby.” Now stop it!

Just outside the coffee shop today, as I huddled round the café table under the trees with Gene and Richard, a full sized fire truck pulled into the square. Oddly, it blocked four cars parked nose in. There was no fire hydrant to drain or alarm to check. Nor was there smoke or fire. Instead, three burly uniformed Boro Fire Department guys exited and pulled out a long handled net.  A net?!!?  Here’s the scoop: a baby duckling had fallen into the storm drain at the curb. The mother duck panted and softly quacked in anxiety as the three men came to her baby’s rescue. She waddled around the yew bush hedge to watch them as her other six yellow/brown duckies piled up under her butt. It was a beautiful sight as folks stopped to OOH an AHH and take pictures of the noble efforts expended on behalf of a three ounce baby duck. There is something clashingly tender about a two hundred pound man cradling a baby bird in his meaty palms. “There, there Momma Bird. Your baby’s okay now.” However, one question remains unanswered: Who called 911? Momma Duck?  Did she use an interpreter? And what was that conversation like?

“911. What’s your emergency? For English press one. For Spanish press two. For animal languages press three and select from the menu… A if you are an aardvark, B for beaver, C for domesticated chicken, D for duck, beep.”

“I have a baby duck stuck in a storm drain. Please send someone now!!!”

“Forreal? You got a duck in a storm drain?”

“Yes, down on the Square in front of Tito’s Tacos, Taxis and Tax Service. Now. It’s quacking like a baby duck in a storm drain.”

“Ma’am, it is a baby duck in a storm drain.”

“Okay, I get it…but are you gonna send help or what?”

“Calm down, Ma’am, and remain on the line. You’re in front of Tito’s Tacos, Taxis and Tax Service?”

“Yes.”

“When did they add the taxi service and taxes?”

“Over this past year when business got slow with the tacos.”

“Okay, we’re sending help now.”

This unexpected joyous moment interrupted our little chat. Richard was explaining that he was going to be in Texas in a month and would like to see the new W presidential library.

“Is that in Houston?”

“No, Dallas.”

Then Gene added, “Are you gonna gonna go to the Suppository in da, da, Dallas?”

“You mean the Dallas Book Depository?”

“Ya,ya, yeah. Wha, where Lee Oswalt was.”

“You mean Lee Harvey Oswald? He was the suppository in the depository.”

Yuk, yuk,yuk.

“Ya see there? That’s why I don’t like to talk.”

We carried on as best we could given the circumstances and limited impulse control.

Despite the odd theme of our discussion, the spring rite of saving innocent ducklings occurred just stage right of us. It was a case of kaleiding forces. “Kaleido” means “beautiful shapes” in ancient Greek, by the way. And if I ever open a restaurant, I’ll be sure to offer the Kaleido Gyro on my menu. Of course I’ll feature square and triangular gyros. Round and half rounds will be available. Doubles in each basic shape will be special orders. Human figure gyros will be special birthday orders and feed 36 like a giant Subway sub. On super special requests, like Bill Clinton, for instance, I’ll put out the state outline Gyro in the shape of Arkansas or the Lewinski PG 13 Version. And if Fidel Castro ever dies, I’ll be sure to produce a commemorative bearded High Fidelity Gyro with a complementary cigar and a camouflage fatigue napkin. The beard will be mostly shredded lettuce and peppers tastefully arranged beneath the pouty cigar chomping Pita bread mouth. I know the Kaleido Gyro will not be for everyone and is unlikely to franchise across the nation. But that’s what’s great about this country– a fake Greek Irish cowboy sandwich artisan can dream big.

So where was I?  Contrary forces kaleiding. Well, at the Coffee Summit this morning it was a meeting of the baboon club. Josh had his 19th century humor on display. Matt was explaining astrophysics and extraterrestrials who might think he was highly evolved if he was the first and only human they encountered in space. I suggested that they might eat him and decide to go to Earth for the rest of the potato chips. The Egginator doing his enigma impersonation. Steve, sergeant at arms and a possible stand in for me should I be assassinated, was speaking with a little too much authority about Summit business, inviting Josh’s potential future father-in-law to the Summit without following protocol. I sniffed a coup and spoke to it. Lance, the Riddler was in the house and in good spirits. And Gene, the Agitator Alligator, rounded out the house.

At one point our youngest associate pastor Kyle (who occasionally visits but is not fully vetted to be in the Summit Nation) pulled his earbuds out and walked over to our three tables. “Gentlemen, do I need to read you verses on holiness?” He lacked the necessary context of the exploding moment. You see, Steve (along with Lance’s interjections) was explaining to me what the premise was for the TV show Cash Cab. It got funnier as each scenario was added, not because of the actual show but because of Steve and Lance’s delivery of the cab schticks. So when they were riffing on the capital of Dubai being Djbuti or Ja Booty or Ja Mama’s Bootie, Kyle did not get the whole picture. We did offer him one of the group for human sacrifice to clear our debt, but Kyle made some obtuse Bible reference and gladly put his earbuds back in.

So much for kaleiding Kalashnikov days at the office. It’s funny how beautiful bits of colored glass can appear at the end of a tube and how beautiful life can be if you possess a loving, albeit eccentric and twisted, perspective.

142. The pollenaise of joy

It’s spring in the countryside and huge cherry blossoms, pear blossoms, peach and apple blossoms are EXPLODING all over the valley. (Even the shabby crabapples pretend to be fruit tree royalty in the spring bloom parade.) It’s as if silent paintball vandals drove through over night and blasted the rolling hills with wonderful pinks, dusty roses and virgin paper white splats! sploshes! and splittoofs! Followed by an army of teenaged girls who applied gallons of bright nail polish to the dogwoods, leaving clever pink and magenta stripes on each delicate petal.  Unimaginable embellishment!  You can’t look away, which makes driving a challenge. Try to focus on the drab black road with one yellow stripe, and automatically deep breaths rise in your chest; and there you are, unconsciously relaxing in the grip of JOY, sponsored by the return of spring. I drink it in, gulping the soft, warm, nectar tinged air. It’s not intoxicating. I can’t abide even looking at a form of toxic when I am surrounded by that much life force. No, it’s bioxic. I’m making up another word for the purpose of lyrical description. Yes, today is deeply bioxic. Life on a grandiose sensual level that makes life abundanzo, you know, like Italians do to food.

I don’t have allergies, thank God. Instead I find the microscopic bioxia to be calmly stimulating, drawing up the deepest water from my inner well of being. Sexy raspberry sherbert mountain laurel blooms lean out from their surroundings like chic super models in the streets of Manhattan. It’s not fair! I can’t keep my eyes off these beauties. Lilacs don’t fight fair either. In multiple colors, especially the deep passion French purple variety, they entrap you through your nostrils with a stunning timeless perfumed secret. A big sister to hyacinth’s hypnotic scent. Yes, Doctor Blog, I know that pollen is being released and bees will flit around collecting it, coincidentally pollenating the universe. I know it all works together scientifically, but it is STAGGERING me today in the brilliant sunlight, like I imagine strolling the beach in Rio de Janeiro might also stun me into non-verbal seizures. Something pre-science, pre-language and primal surges in my blood. It’s not in a book; it’s in the warm southern air flow and invisible touch that will be gone in a few days, when the business of the orchards resumes. But on this glorious spring day, the business is not business at all; it’s transformation, shedding the old, dead  winter skin and the smoky odors of cold weather endured inside. This, this is joy, the return of youth and passionate energies that lay dormant through the long cold tunnel we call winter. By God, somebody put on Beethoven’s 9th really loud and let’s dance. No? Too slow. Okay, how about Vivaldi’s Spring concerto from the Four Seasons? No?How about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons? “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Yeah, now we’re feeling IT. Maybe this is what snorting coke is like. I wouldn’t know.

It started a month ago, lower though, along the south side of barns and houses where daffodils were tickled awake by a loving Father Sun. Then the tulips followed. But their deal is different than the trees, these snailish bulbs retreat for another year. They don’t dance and sway in gentle breezes meters away from dirt and worms. They don’t become pregnant with pollen like my tree ladies do. They don’t conceive magical fruit that swells on their firm limbs late in summer or into fall. As lovely as the early flowers of spring are, they don’t compare to the slow salsa promenade of the arboreal fantasy on display today.

Joy, joy, joy. Bluebirds. A lamb. Ducklings in a line. Bees. Sun on bare skin. Frogs croaking. A kite aflutter. Dandelions. Cut grass. Warm rain. Joy, joy, joy. Buzz it, croak it, bleat it, quack it, tweet it, pop it tight as a kite string. Joy, shot like a shower of confetti from a silent cannon into the atmosphere. I photosynthesize something essential and urgent in my groggy marrow. It’s microscopia bioxia influxia. Roll over Beethoven and let the Grateful Dead play through.

So what is this? Along the black back road to work. Blinking flashers on a string of cars turning right at the stop sign. A funeral? Uh, not so fast joy. A slow moving line of shiny clean vehicles. Hmmm, I could roll right along with them. I did wash my car yesterday.  They get to run the lights through town… but that would be so creepy fake. A last minute mourner. “Excuse me sir? Do you even know the deceased?”

“Well, I might. It’s a small town, you know. I thought I recognized the lead car. Can you give me a few clues? For instance, age, gender and occupation. I mean I could know the deceased or someone who did know him or is it her?”

No, I did not stay with the procession, but I did note the juxtaposition of throbbing life all around this slithering metal snake headed toward its hole in the graveyard. He/she could be me, will be me some day, and I don’t get to pick which day. I, however, will go in a quart sized vase, I believe. I’ve read that a 40 regular reduces nicely into a quart, actually a liter in Europe, of cremains. It’s a shame that my dental work will melt with me. Each of three crowns cost $1200. Surely someone else could use them to chew on the indignities of life. And then will I need a funeral procession? I’d like one even though I’ll be sitting urnestly on the front seat with the funeral director, probably listening to some George Jones broken heart song so he can maintain a lugubrious demeanor. I don’t suspect that my cremains will have any aura or juju to communicate with the driver. Though, I can imagine telepathically communicating to him through the Tupperware lid…”Ed, there’s a guy in the procession who does not know the deceased. He’s high on spring pollen and giddy with dopamine. Slow down and signal the cop escort. Older white male. White CRV. Take him out… on three.”