154. Riverdancing

So it’s our 34th anniversary this month (July) and my wife has always wanted to do the Potomac River Dinner/Dance Cruise that leaves Alexandria at 6:30 and noodles around on flat water for a few hours of bipartisan mischief and then docks at 10:30 p.m. A full moon, an unseasonably cool night, and who knows what could erupt?  As cruises go industry wide, it has not been a good couple of years. Loss of power, fires, infectious outbreaks, capsizings, mutinies, whale spearings, and penguin hit and runs, just to name a few stories ripped from the headlines. In the previous years we just had the pedestrian mystery murders and rapes, with underage drinking on the high seas suspected as a contributing factor. Hmmm, do you think? If a ship consumes more alcohol than food and diesel fuel in a trip, it may be an alcoholic.

I think in the name of full disclosure we should know who is steering the boat and if he is a person of stainless steel integrity, unlike the weasel who abandoned the Costa Concordia when it was sinking and that one off the coast of South Africa where the entire crew abandoned ship. I am not xenophobic, but I’d like the crew to have some culpability in the eyes of the law. It’s just a river cruise with dinner and dance music; still, this boat had better not be registered in Liberia or Panama. If I have to swim through the detritus of our nation’s capital, I will sue. And failing that, I will drown my server or the pianist. Justice will be meted out.

Suspiciously easy drive to Alexandria, home of my birth. It was Friday and we were going against the exodus out of D.C. Fortunately the G.W. Parkway can’t change, so the way was as familiar as it was 34+ years ago, which is a good thing. I am pro-change but not when it is so great that I feel I’m in the Twilight Zone. Once, on a trip to visit my brother in Dale City, Davis Ford Road just did not go where it had the previous time we visited. I was buffaloed and felt like schizophrenics must often feel. I stopped at the gas station to inquire if the road had been moved. Sure enough, it had. Thank God! My family thought I was hallucinating and I was beginning to think they were hallucinating that I was hallucinating. “Somebody stole the road.” I got back in the car feeling smug in my sanity but still lost geographically. Such is life in the D.C. suburbs. “You can’t get there from here anymore”, said the guy at the Sunoco.

Okay, so we arrived and parked two hours early, intentionally mind you. My wife’s idea, you see, to wander about Old Town Alexandria and build our appetites while window shopping. Again I walked through cha-cha-cha-changes on the last few blocks of King Street. New shops in the old buildings, a well heeled and vibrantly diverse crowd thronged the brick sidewalks. I recalled a couple of bars we frequented when I was in college. They were still in business. Amazing, Bloggoidtzs!! But the anchor restaurant, The Seaport Inn, had been turned into a Starbucks and about ten other shops. Horrors!!! In the deepest recesses of my memory I could recall standing on the large rocks at water’s edge skippiing smooth stones across the surface of the stinky river while my mother shopped on a Saturday at the J.C.Penney store on Washington Street. My father smoked Camel cigarettes and watched his four sons climb and clamor and compete with rock skipping near huge piles of sulfur and gravel. Memories shifted like the breeze across the river’s surface, rippled, and then nothing.

My first job was working at various parking lots punching tickets for shoppers in Old Town back when I was 15. I remember walking to and from my job some days, something on the order of 7 miles each way. Those parking lots were all built upon as land values soared, which was what pushed the braless hippies and hopeless druggies out of the area. Not law and order or better economic opportunities. Just increased land values and opportunism. But I am digressing behind my story.

At 6:30 we boarded the flat bottomed boat. Not elegant but nice. My wife looked spectacular in her little black dress and the black hematite “pearls” I bought for her almost twenty years ago. We were seated next to a window on either the port or starboard side. Not a lot of passengers, I noticed. Mostly middle agers like us. We ordered a carafe of wine. Fruit and salad and bread arrived in that order and then the captain came on the loudspeaker with a bit of stress in his voice. “We are experiencing technical difficulties and will be delayed for a while. These things happen. We are waiting for the engineer to join us.” He sounded like he was talking to his ex-wife over late child support payments. The engines stopped. Well, what will happen next? We were still safely tethered to the dock so we took our wine glasses to the upper deck and admired the view paniclessly.

July 2013 006

About the  time we went for a refill of our glasses, the captain was back on the speaker with a different tone in this voice, jaunty this time. “Sorry for the delay. We will be launching momentarily and taking the engineer with us.” The engines hummed again. My bride smiled and all was right with the world, with the exception of the blind pianist who played the theme song to Titanic at that time. Mental note: stay away from the grand piano if we go down. Don’t shoot the piano player; drown him.

Away we went, backwards at first to clear the dock and low water, and then full power up the river. It was a bit odd at first. I don’t get motion sickness, but it took the first couple of moments for my seated brain to adjust to all the motion. Soon our entrees arrived and we were pleased with the quality despite the delayed launch. Mmmm, mmmy delicious and just the right portions. Cheers. We toasted a time or two and felt quite fortunate to be floating along while the bloody peach sun set through the trees and buildings on the Virginia shore. There were glimpses where it felt like we were starring in a movie full of dynamic camera play.

We walked up to the open top deck again, this time while the boat motored forward. We had just a moment of jelly feet with our first unaided steps on the upper deck. Marvelous, though… planes from Reagan National climbed above us just a minute apart. The river was alive with sailboats and yachts and lots of boats in between, and unlike highway traffic, these folks were all partying and relaxed, waving, smiling, and leaving their heavy lives on shore.

As we passed under bridges we could feel the heat of the day radiating down onto our bobbling heads. Pedestrians greeted us and waved. Again, it felt like we were minor celebrities from a canceled television show in the 70’s, just a thin thread of glamor remained in place. And then Maryland gave way to D.C. and the marvelous monuments came into view, the Jefferson’s Dome, the scaffolded Washington Monument, the incomparable Lincoln Memorial, then the Kennedy Center. All lit up for folks on land to admire, but we had the royal view with Rod Stewart crooning out the American songbook on our water stereo. Oh it was glorious to sit with the one I love and glide along as Washington transformed into Paris and every light doubled and drizzled onto the squiggly water of the river. Even lights that were burning out and turning dirty orange seemed put in place by an artist for the contrast. Yellow, green blue, red ribbons of light swayed for our pleasure like fireworks that would not burn out but lingered on.

The boat turned around just past the Key Bridge into Georgetown and sailed back for a second chance at photo opportunities. Nice, so nice when you get a chance to try again or just look at the same things from a different angle. And that maybe is how my soul sensed the cruise– seventeen years against the current and now seventeen with the flow. The air was actually too cool so we retired below for dessert and coffee. By that time the pianist had finished, so it was only recorded music. “Unchained Melody” came on and we danced slowly. Several other couples joined us on the dance floor. Finally we had been riverdancing on many rivers– the river of life, of memory, and of love.

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153. Porn and Rogaine

So it was another day in the classroom back in the day. The kids were working on preparing for the big debate. They were doing research on-line trying to find answers for their position or against the opponent’s position. Oh my word! It was exhausting to read and give feedback on point after point to seventh graders who were just learning how to think on a semi-adult level. Then Julie and Katrina came up for my check in on their progress. They had several pages of good material to support the question they were researching.

“Alright. This is good stuff. Hmmm, your printer prints both sides? Mine won’t do that.”

Katrina responded, “No, I printed on my mom’s recycled paper. She has tons of rough drafts pages stacked around her office.” Now it is critical to know that her mom is a romance writer. Actually a crotch novelist of local fame. Anyway, as I read the back side of these debate papers, I saw something like this…

“Raul touched her erogenously and repeatedly until pleasure roared through Charlotte like a steam engine through a Great Plains wild fire. Ecstasy welled up into her pulsing throat. Take me now, you wicked toreador! And Raoul maneuvered…”

I must have entered into panic mode because both girls said, “Mr. Burrito, you’re blushing! What’s wrong?”

I could only gasp, “Where are the rest of your notes? I need them all. All the double sided paper. Now.”

“Why? It’s just my mother’s…”

“Yeah, th- th- that’s it. I know.  I mean, I need to copy it, g-g-get it all one-sided.” My throat was dry and my heart beat hard. I’m holding a pile of soft porn in my hands and can’t figure out how to detox it without creating a circus attraction for two very innocent twelve year old girls.

“Mr. Burrito, you’re stuttering. Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’ll be right back.” I jogged down to the main office to the copier. I made a one-sided copy of all the papers while deep breathing and trying to figure out how to deal with this incident. I walked back to my classroom and gave the new one-sided copy to the girls, who greeted me suspiciously.

“Are we in trouble?”

“No, not at all. I, uh, I just need to check in with your mom.”

Katrina squirmed.

“It’s no big deal now. Don’t worry.”

Later that day I put all the passion pages into a fireproof manila envelope with a note that said something like “I appreciate your recycling efforts, but sometimes it’s better to save one’s dignity and use up another tree.”

A few days later I received a note and an autographed copy of the author’s latest thigh busting “novel”. Fortunately she found the humor in it all. I tried to read her romance. It was atrocious. For some reason the only song I can think of for a soundtrack to the movie version of the book would be Little Feat’s “Fat Man in the Bathtub”. Pornography is the absence of intimacy; it’s so plastic and counterfeit that the ink drips off the pages. Ick.

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Then there was Brad. I had him in homeroom, English, lunch, study hall, drama, and everywhere I turned. He was a nice kid in search of appropriate humor targets. Early on in that year he decided that telling me I needed Rogaine for my balding head was hilarious. Perhaps it was cute once. And I rolled with it for a while. After a few weeks, or was it months, I told him enough with the Rogaine. It just was annoying. He failed to comply.

One day I went to the assistant principal, Mr. Kirk, to discuss a scam involving Brad. I told him the back story and asked him if he’d go along with a punking the next morning. He agreed.

The next morning right on schedule Brad greeted me at 7:30 outside homeroom. He had no idea that he was about to release the furies of Hell and the Kracken of the deep.

“Rogaine, Mr. Burrito. Rogaine.”

I  sucked in a deep breath and put out my best acting job. I exploded, “Brad, that’s it with the Rogaine. I’ve told you again and again. This time is the last.”  I told him to come to the office with me.

He went from calm and cool to flushed and scared. “I’m sorry, Mr. Burrito. I won’t do it again. I swear I won’t. Please!. I was just kidding. Come on. No.” His cool façade was cracking.

I did not look at him for fear of breaking into uncontrolled laughter. I just walked faster into the assistant principal’s office. “Mr. Kirk, may I have a word with you?”

“Yes sir. What’s the matter?”

Brad was ready to confess to any unsolved crime and pee his pants. I shut the door and again had to bite my lip to keep from cracking up.

“This young man is Brad, the guy I told you about yesterday. He has a habit of telling me that I need Rogaine. I ‘ve repeatedly asked him to stop and he has not. I’d like you to take it from here.”

I sat back and let Kirk take it from there. He was not a large man, but he sucked all of his 5’ 6″ frame up in front of Brad.

“You think baldness is funny?”

“Oh no. I di-di-didn’t mean anything I said….”

“Do you think this man can help it if his hair falls out?”

“No, no, I, I, I. I won’t do it again. I’m sorry.”

Kirk picked up the phone. “Do you want me to call your parents?”

“No,no, please don’t. I’ll do whatever you want. Don’t do that. I swear…”

Brad was spent. I believe he was so stressed out that he was having an out of body experience. He had dissociated into an altered state of being.

Kirk rambled on about some other official sounding stuff and asked me if we’d gone far enough. I agreed that we had and left with Brad. We walked next to one another on the return trip. He was in a daze. I said to Brad, “You have been Rogained, my friend.”

He was still stunned and just said, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”

I tried to explain to him that he had just been scammed, but he was losing consciousness in the hallway and sort of mumbling and stumbling along like an over- medicated homeless guy. He kept muttering, “I’m so sorry. Man, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”

I almost felt some guilt. Nahh.

152. Sparrows, canaries and doves

I need a moment here for deep reflection. I had a dream last night wherein I was dropping my youngest daughter off at the college I attended, I think. It was so odd. She is not in college and is unlikely to go back after a stab at community college. In the dream I was standing next to her trying to show her where the entrance to the dining hall was, up a ramp and then across into the large building before us. I just saw large folks disappearing into the heartless factory, as if conveyed via a slow moving treadmill. I saw my beautiful daughter’s profile and her innocence. I couldn’t bear the pain I imagined she would endure there, lost and unappreciated. A massive sad clot woke me up. I was suffocating from sadness and had sit up to catch a breath. The feeling remained intense though I was now sort of conscious. It felt like a mild thunderstorm was rolling through my lungs and abdomen. Our dog, her precious buddy Johnny, was whimpering to go outside at 3:30 a.m. so I let him out. Still the sadness hung on without any antecedent. How can such a geyser of sorrow rise up, as Jackson Brown sang…”a fountain of sorrow”, without a preceding thought? Why was I drinking this absinthe?

Then I recalled that in high school she was attached to a circle of girls at the beginning of 10th grade. She was riding on the social coattails of our exchange student Kaisa and these girls accepted her as part of the package. But halfway through that school year she decided to move away from this circle of girls for some moral reason. Apparently they spoke offensively and Jess is very sensitive. The only place available to sit was an empty table, which is where she sat for the second half of a very long year. My heart broke. Her protector sister’s heart broke. Her mom’s heart broke. I could not think about it for very long without being overcome by a powerless aching. I remember the feeling of watching a pet rabbit die of heat stroke and nothing could be done for that innocent creature. This was like that. My precious sterling daughter was an outcast, a high school leper, and there was nothing I could do about it. The school did not allow visitors to lunch. No charity for the poor.

Jess sat and prayed for some resolution. She took books along to lunch. She cried at home in her loneliness. The phone never rang for her.  As far as I could tell, no one reached out to her in her isolation, no staff or teacher or other students. Kaisa stood up for her like a sister, but she ate at another lunch period. And then the school musical came along. It was “Annie” and Jess wanted to try out. You see, she has an angelic voice and spirit, both of which have been well trained. But it was the old boy network of high school loyalties where your last name is weighed alongside any talent during tryouts. We’d been down this path before with my eldest daughter and theater tryouts. Typecast as a dancer, thank you very much. The leads were born long ago in different favored families. But Jess can’t dance (I’ll take credit for that genetic marker), so I figured she’d be brushed aside and maybe wind up deep in the chorus where you can’t see anyone’s feet. I knew she’d accept a thin bone tossed her way and be grateful.

She tried out for the part of Grace Farrell, one of the three largest roles in the production. Wow! I was proud of her spunk but worried about her lack of political savvy. I didn’t think she had a chance as she prepared for her audition. But I was wrong. Somehow the old alignments weren’t working that year. The director turned out to be a former student teacher of mine from years back. She was not from the old boy network and did not know the power names or owe anyone a favor. She loved my daughter’s voice and spirit, both of which began to soar in the spring of that year as the rehearsals rolled on night after night. Jess memorized all her lines and managed to make it through costume changes. I held my breath as I often do when she sings a solo, hoping and praying for her true light to shine through.

Finally it was show time. She was amazing. Thoroughly amazing. Lots of folks came to cheer her on and praise her. She was celebrated by her cast mates. I exhaled in praise of God’s protection for this wonderful canary He blessed me with. Brilliant. Not a single sparrow falls that the Father does not know. And yet he cares for even the least of those. In my powerlessness His power shone forth. Jess radiated joy. It remains the highlight of her young life.

I  could not shake the melancholy spirit, heavy and soaked with salty vinegar. An underground spring of tears seemed to be running freely inside me. At breakfast I just sat next to her and felt awash in my joyous sorrow. She said, “Dad, aren’t you going to  watch the news?”  This only confirmed that I don’t take advantage of every opportunity God gives me to love her. “No, Honey. You are the news today. I’m just gonna watch you.” Thinking about her gently oozed the splinter out of my heart, taking most of the sorrow with it. She knows much  better than I do about suffering well, and I’ll never know the suffering I avoided because she has been my precious child.

151. Retrace your steps

“Retrace your steps,” my wife told me. See, I had lost the key ring that held my car key and the house key. It happened over the weekend. Sunday, I was sure. I’d been out for a bike ride with my biker pants on, the ones that have no pockets just spandex.  I was getting ready to work around the yard, when I remembered my teenaged daughter wanted to operate the riding lawnmower. It helps prepare her for driving a car and she enjoys it.

I yelled for Jess to come out and she joined me in the garage. I thought my car was parked outside that garage door, so I took my key to move it. When we opened the garage door, the exit was clear. Key not needed.

I tucked it in to the waist band of the spandex shorts and jumped on the mower to help launch her grass cutting journey. After a minute or so she was on her way, proudly cutting stripes across the backyard. I wandered around, keeping a paternal eye on her. I weeded here and there. Picked some tomatoes from our September garden. Basically I just puttered around for her benefit. I wound up in the fish pond, cleaning the pump intake to restore the water flow. After a while I went back inside and showered off the sweat and dust and fishpond gunk.  It did not dawn on me that my keys were not in the  waistline of my spandex biker shorts.

Not till the next day did it matter. I was leaving the house for work and checked my usual spots for key deposits. No luck. I was not concerned. Maybe my wife picked them up and put them in her bottomless purse. No worries. The house would be unlocked when I got home and I was going to drive the other car all week anyway. I would delay any further search till that night.

As it turned out, I wound up at home earlier than expected while my wife and daughter were delayed in town later than expected. No problem. I checked the doors and knew that one of my available cars had a garage door opener. Nope. Why, I wondered, did my wife have both garage door openers? Or was one sitting impotently inside awaiting a new battery?  I was not going to be bothered. I did need to use the bathroom, but I could get by till they came home.

I put the trash at the curb as usual and walked down our street and back. I avoided our moody cat who wanted some lap time as I settled into the Adironack chair on the back deck. The sun was setting sooner than it had all summer long.   I thought about getting another house key cut and hiding it under a brick. No, that’s where the toads and slugs sleep during the day. It could be really nasty if my hidden key were covered in slug slime or toad poop. No bother, really, I just needed to use the bathroom and it was too light out to pee in the field behind our house. You know, neighbors. Indecency laws.

I surprised my wife and daughter when I greeted them in work clothes.  I explained the deal and changed over into my usual garb.   I checked pants pockets and again went over my usual key depositories. No luck. I looked in the vehicles on the off chance that I had tossed the keys in one of them unconsciously. Nope, nope, nope.

Well, I could solve this with the garage door opener, but I forgot to do that till it was the next morning and my wife was gone again. I left the back door unlocked when I left.

It was Tuesday morning now. I had not seen my keys since Sunday afternoon.  Where could they be?  In the meantime I’m leaving my house unlocked. Something was not right about this deal.

Tuesday went as usual. I got home as the sun was setting and inquired if my wife was hoarding the keys in her bottomless purse. No. We went for a walk just as the sky grew dark in a lifeless lilac shade peculiar to early fall. A nice foggy full moon smiled down on us like a keyhole. Damn it! I needed to solve the key issue. I wound up having to explain my key saga to Sara. She is very commonsensical. She asked if I had looked in the yard. “I’m sure you’ll find them there,” she said, like she knew, like she had seen me drop them. I couldn’t imagine. I told her there was no way the spandex would release those keys and there was no way they would slip by the skin tight legbands at the bottom of the biker shorts. Yeah, I was sure of that. Biker shorts can actually hold up to a gallon of water before they burst.

I could almost imagine peeling off the biker shorts and setting the keys on the sink countertop next to our bathroom. The problem was that I knew I hadn’t done this.

Where were the dang keys?

Wednesday morning was bright and sunny. I took care of my normal routine duties, even fed the moody cat. As I left the house and felt the door lock behind me, I thought Sara had to be right. The keys never made it back to the house. I had been bent over for a while as I pulled weeds on Sunday. Why not retrace my steps? What would it hurt?

After all I had found her gold bracelet that she’d lost two summers back in among the daylilies. And last year I had found her father’s WWII dog tags in the burn pile long after we had burned some old boxes and paper.  And then our daughter Jessi had found a gold ring Sara had lost once. Why not my keys?

I began walking through the dew laden grass that had just been cut on Saturday. It was already over my shoes in two and a half days. My shoes were getting wet until I came into the sunny half of the yard. There is where our humble garden is situated, at the back of our half acre lot. I walked around the fenced off garden, looking for a flash of metal, one chrome and black key, one brass key on a silver ring. I thought of getting a big magnet to sweep over the ground, but I knew if the keys were there they would be easy to spot.

I walked over my weeding path twice. A groundhog silently scurried back into his hole just behind the garden. I thought briefly of my need for a .22 rifle to eliminate the varmint. I remembered also that Jesus loves animals. I shook off those conflicting thoughts. “I’m sure Jesus would shoot groundhogs,” I thought to myself, resolving any moral conflict I might have. No luck on the keys, though. I wonder if the groundhog picked them up and took them along into his burrow. No, that’s too much of a stretch.

But I know ferrets do that sort of thing with shiny objects. Arrrgggh.

I chuckled to myself and said a tiny prayer. “Lord, help me find these keys. I know it’s a miniscule thing, but I am asking you because I believe in you. I am trying to be obedient here and humble.”  No luck.  So I started back up the yard toward my car in the driveway.

Keys are so small, you know?, and yet they are powerful. I thought about the symbolism of keys in faith. Keys to the Kingdom. Keys of authority. Key to the Highway, one of my favorite Eric Clapton songs. (Okay, off topic.) My keys were not so grand, but dang it, I needed them to get into my house and to drive my car. They were getting more important in their absence than I ever gave them credit for in their presence.

I made a quick look around the deck and near the fishpond flower garden where I had pulled a lot of weeds. Nothing.  Then I had a goofy thought, like the groundhog thought:  I wondered if I could have dropped the keys while I stood in the fishpond. They would have made no sound, no clink of metal on ground. Just a ‘tooook’ dip into the murky water. I could get in the pond and search blindly by touch near where I had stood. But I was only in there for a few minutes. Surely, of all places my keys would not be in the fishpond or in the groundhog hole. Right?

I started to pick up my pace and there beneath me I saw my keys, wet with dew in the shady grass. I laughed out loud.  “Ha…Lord, you are good and funny. I needed to retrace my steps. Yes, indeed. When one is lost or has lost something, he needs to repent… to turn around and scour the trail. Go back to the record and start again where things made sense.”  I kept pondering this lesson as I drove to work in the beautiful autumn sun.

My little key journey made quite an impression on me. I told myself to write it down so I would not forget God’s message to me this dewy morning. He knows what I need. He has what I need, even if I have lost it. I need to ask humbly… still search, yes, and wait faithfully on the Lord.  And listen to my wife.

150. Zebras and tattoos

Image result for napping workers picturesI could use a nap right now. It’s mid-heat wave and my seared brain is listening to Mozart over crickets chirping in the next room on my sound disguise machine from China via Walmart for $19.99 plus tax. The crickets are winning. I’m ready to go into heat hibernation to maintain homeostasis, which is legal in all 50 states now. Whoops, just slid over to Chuck Berry on Pandora. “School Days”… maybe the nap will have to be postponed. “Hail, Hail rock and roll”. A sleep deprived heat stroke seizure may erupt if… no wait, it’s Pink Martini playing “Hang on Little Tomato”. Just in the nick of time. Deep breath and let the ibuprofen get jiggy with my nerve endings. Ahhh yess. Much better. Just go with the crickets, Buddy Holly, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Sure, there are a thousand other things to be doing right now. Billing is my bane. Filing my fatality. Organizing my opium. Hmmm, what can I do to noodle around for a while until the next train of motivation pulls into my empty psychic station? Call my loved ones’ voicemails, that’s it. They’re never available directly. I don’t worry about them screening my calls. Should I?  Hmmmm. Texting is too cumbersome for me. I have only recently become comfortable typing on my laptop. Ahh, too much effort.

Image result for football referee pictures

I started with an odd title with the thought of trying to write into it. A challenge of sorts. What do zebras have in common with tattoos? How can they be in the same narrative or story? Well, the easiest combo would be a referee (aka zebra) with a noticeable tattoo. I’d have to work that slowly into the narrative, subtly having the sports teams come to recognize that the ref had a gang tattoo that indicated he was unable to be neutral in their contest. Remember the Titans comes to mind, where the refs were colluding with the redneck league directors and against Denzel Washington and the integrated T.C. Williams High School football team. Too easy. It’s all been done before.

Then, out of twisted neural pathways and melted motherboards came a scene from a Marx Brothers’ movie set on an ocean liner in the 1930’s. Black and white film flickers on a real old timey movie screen with smoke and dust in the projector’s light beam. There is a curly headed femme fatale in a compromising position with a Nazi double agent. A  gunshot explodes and the double agent falls to the floor of the storage room but pulls the top of the gorgeous woman’s dress with him, revealing a dragon fly tattoo on her left breast. Inspector Groucho and his horn blowing assistant Harpo enter like Kramer into Jerry’s apartment, urgently and much too familiar.

“Ah, young lady, what can I can do for you? Better yet, what can you do for me?”

“Sir, that cad was attempting to steal my virtue and the gun went off.”

“I see. That would  explain why he is lying here expiring. Sir, what is your story and was it worth it? I want all the gratuitous details.”

“Zee microfilm, eh, eh, eh. She has zeet.”

“My good man, I agree she has zeet and lots of zeet!!! And she shot you when you tried to get zeet.”

[Meanwhile the femme fatale slips a small vial into her bra, but Harpo sees her and blows his horn riotously.]

[ To Harpo] “Excuse me, what is zeet? I mean it?”

“Honk, honk, honk!!! ” he blows while pointing to the femme fatale’s bust.

“Not you too!!! Have you never seen a woman in a dress in distress? Well, most of a dress.”

“Honk, honk, honk, honk” Foot stomp three times, points to bra, smiles, nods and mimes lifting something small upward.

“Don’t be an animal. I’d never think of such a thing.”

[Turns to the dying double agent.]  “Now you, my good man. Where is the microfilm? ”

“In zee bra, zee bra.”Image result for zebra pictures

“Why that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever hurd. A zebra? Or a herd of zebras?”

[To Harpo] “Did you hear that?”

“Honk, honk.”

The femme fatale inches toward the doorway with her pistol cocked.

Groucho, “Now don’t go off half-cocked in your zeebra, Lady. I can see you in pictures, Kid. Small films, like micro film?”

“Mr. Inspector, do not mock me! I have another round in my pistol. If I kill you, the fool will be the only witness, and who will believe a foolish goose who honks?”

“I would.”

“But you’ll be dead.”

Harpo honks alarmingly. The femme fatale fires furiously but fails to find her marx. Groucho responds, “Now, as you were saying….”

She switches approaches and attempts to seduce Inspector Groucho. “Oh, Sir, can’t we find some common ground to lie upon together?”

“Now you’re talking, Kid.”

As she loosens her garments further, the dragonfly shudders a bit and the microfilm drops into Harpo’s outstretched horn.

The screen closes into a tight circle and blacks out.

Groucho from the darkness, “Holy Mozart, an entire flock of dragon flies.”

“Honk, Honk.”Image result for groucho marx pictures

149. Humidity and hubris

The humidity was so high yesterday that it was hard to tell if it was raining or not. It was a continuous twenty four hour menopausal tropical rain forest sweat. A Bermuda high was stuck in a tropical ditch with its one good wheel spinning in air, going nowhere. I felt like a favored child duct taped between two equally possessive and obese grandmothers (who used to sing in the opera) melting pachyderm butter in a steam room as they hummed arias from Aida, the one with the elephants in Egypt. My mind became congealed as I’m sure yogurt does while it is slowly cooked. Dry air or possibly a breeze seemed like exotic luxuries beyond my sweaty grasp. I could not cut my grass with a clear conscience because of the heavy wetness all around. Somehow it would have been equivalent to running the mower in the fishpond. Three showers later I felt fresh enough to sit guiltlessly in air conditioning.

I recalled the old debate by winter lovers that they could always put on an extra sweater in the cold whereas summer lovers can only get to skin in tropical heat. “And you can’t take that off.” Well, that’s not an altogether fair argument. Try it again when it’s 100 degrees below zero. “Just put on an extra sweater, Sylvia.”  But she can’t because she is in suspended animation due to total brain freeze and near death frostbite. At that temperature you can drive on freshly chewed frozen bubble gum if you can get your car to start.

Anyhoo, we went to Pat’s birthday party last night, which was outside in Clark’s lovely, whimsical fairy garden yard on the other side of Gettysburg Battlefield. The Al Parson’s Band played the favorites from 6 till 9 p.m. I danced so that my butt didn’t mildew onto the chair. As much as I like to hold my wife close, I had to lay down “no touch” rules while slow dancing. We swayed like two upright goldfish to Willie Nelson knock offs at a Catholic school junior high dance in an aquarium. Just clapping in the swampy air was laborious and damp. How did folks survive in the pre- AC era? Not to mention AC/DC.

Here’s the thing– I am  blogging because of the oppressive weather. And I don’t live in the deep South. My house is cool and dark. Outside my sunroom the bright greenery, purple hosta flowers, and orange day lilies swarm together like a Monet painting. The center window frames the crystal clear waterfall. MMMMMMM. Nice from this environmentally controlled position since the hot breeze has every leaf swaying in the sunlight. Yet walking in that painting would be, well, like walking in vats of finger paint. So I sit and blog. I can see how writers in sweltering climes become alcoholics and drug addicts. Faulkner, Kerouac, and Burroughs come to mind. And Jimmy Buffett. Writing about life is a lot less challenging than doing life. “Bartender, another cold one for me and my friends, cuz it’s five o’clock somewhere.”

A couple of summers back we met my daughter in North Carolina for a short vacation at a lake house near Charlotte. Two memories remain. The first was the warm gelatinous green water. I thought it was cream of turtle soup at first taste. The humidity was so high and that water so warm that the only noticeable change upon “swimming” was a change in pressure on my skin that caused my reptile brain to think of suffocation. The actual lake water was heavier than the super-saturated Upper Dixie air but no wetter or cooler. The other memory came from a plantation visit that we made. A nice planter’s brick home sat above a river.  Behind it were the slave quarters… unbelievable. The guide said that as many as 40 slaves lived in these barren shacks. They were like chicken shacks without the chickens. Man, it was sweltering to begin with, but then the pressure of tragedy and exploitation and cruelty settled in too. Just standing there was oppressive. I could not imagine some boss ordering me to go work in the fields.

“Scuse me, Sir. I didn’t sleep real good last night bein’ as I’s stacked like cord wood in that chicken shack all night with the lock on the outside and twenty seven of us on the inside with no blanket just straw laid out like a barn floor. Plus I have not eaten real good or had any medical care my whole slavish life long. Plus my family has been cut up and sold off like pieces of a hog at the market. So, I’s thinking about cutting your throat, Mista Sir, and thowing  you into that green water for gator food, but you so mean they’d likely spit you out sooner than eat your sorry ass.”

Well, maybe that conversation was thought and not said aloud. Heavy, heavy tears of lead had to fall on many cheeks before that place could be detoxified. Many soldiers killed one another at Gettysburg on torrid July days in the mid 1860’s. The air there was heavy like I imagine Auschwitz air is, full of human fluids and byproducts and gunpowder and horror. How long would that slavery have sweltered onward if it were not for a fresh moral wind? Makes me wonder what hideous injustice may be hiding in plain sight right now, camouflaged by our moss covered morality. Which tribe is next for the scourging?

It’s funny how things, thoughts, feelings, experiences link up. I had no intention of getting deep and heady with this post. But one thing led to another as unmarked paths do… and I wound up with another type of stultifying humidity, where the brain no longer wants to ask hard questions or follow facts to inevitable conclusions. That sort of mental fog dweller wants to live in the past, a free man proudly drinking bourbon, while his slaves harvest the fields. Humility is what’s needed to counteract the hubris of that sort of torrential stupidity. If right and wrong feel about the same to you, stick your head in the closest freezer and put on another sweater, Sylvia.

148. It remains to be summerful

Things are quickly hurrying up but going nowhere this summer. Not sure why. Busy, busy but not still and quiet and summerful. Yes, summerful. What does that mean to me? I think back to being a crew cut kid in shorts and a short sleeved shirt, tanned and freckled, looking at planes flying high across the brilliant blue sky as I lay in sweet, cool grass listening to their faint droning miles above. The intoxicating perfume of honeysuckle vines floated across the heavy air into my nostrils and spoke of pleasure to my young brain. The honey bees knew this nectary secret as they buzzed about from blossom to blossom. Some days we’d pluck those honeyed flowers and taste the single drop of sweet nectar in each one. When bumble bees would crawl into a purple rose of Sharon flower, we would be quick to close the petals on them and pull the flower off the bush. Why? you ask. Well, we were bored boys and this action was tinged with excitement. We could walk around with an angry bumble bee inside a closed flower for ten or fifteen minutes like carnival actors. Eventually we would release the bee and feel like masters of the little universe we lived in, which was actually a string of connected, unfenced back yards that ran down a hill, long enough for our teen neighbor to hit golf balls from his house with a five iron. We younger boys would race after the balls like trained retriever dogs, that is until the golf boy shanked one into my right eyebrow. Six stitches later, after a trip to the old Alexandria Hospital, I came home with a war wound. It was great glory for about ten or fifteen minutes. I suppose this is how I learned empathy for the trapped bumble bees. The buzz goes away pretty quickly whether you are man or bee.

Our kingdom consisted of about two blocks in any direction. Beyond those boundaries you had to ask Mom for a visa.You needed to have a good reason to venture beyond that imaginary line of demon demarcation, where trouble lurked. She escorted us to the community pool, a mere four block walk. It would not be till we rode our own bikes around age 9 or 10 that we could explore those distant hinterlands, places our older brothers had visited and brought back stories to titillate our envious ears.

“Oh, sure, we went down to the stream along Telegraph Road. They have a rope swing that’s really cool and a deep swimming hole. Steve Smith has a skimmer board and he can surf along the surface of the stream. And Timmy O’Brien drinks beer that his brother put in the stream to keep cool.”

They? Apparently another tribe of boys inhabited the land down the Parkway hill. Now I knew that people lived there. Our school bus picked up kids from that end of The Parkway, but I never imagined what they did after they got off the St. Louis Catholic School bus. Plus, there were other kids down there who went to public school or maybe even got kicked out of school. Awesome!! The thrill of  danger hung over these reports of distant tribes that lived a half mile away. A few of them played on our little league baseball team, but again, who knew what they did after the games and practices, after the season of 18 games.

That was another center point in our summers, the ball field near Virginia Hills Elementary School, a block up and a block in off Dorset Drive. We played endless baseball games there in the mornings while the air was still cool. Down to the pool in the heat of the day. And back to the baseball field for practice or a game the same night. It was considered a safe place without the need for adult supervision. And I suppose it was until the day of the great break in. A bunch of boys were huddled around the concession stand one day and the steel door was open. Somehow, one of the older boys had found a way inside the two story cinderblock building that housed ice cold bottled drinks and gum and candy. And on that revolutionary day the Bastille was ransacked, liberated Coke flowed like rainwater, free bubble gum was chewed till jaws were sore, and unpaid for candy was stuffed to overflowing into pockets. I don’t think anyone was ever held responsible for the theft and ransacking. It was a mob action carried out by twenty boys under 15 years of age.  Eventually a sense of guilt came to rest where the glorious overthrow of capitalism had been for one day. The concession stand never reopened, however. Apparently adult supervision had been necessary after all.

In front of the elementary school was a traffic circle for convenient traffic flow. In the middle of the grass circle was a flagpole. I don’t know who figured out that the flagpole rope made for a darn good swing, but it seemed to be tribal knowledge handed down from older teenagers to younger kids. The problem was that you could not swing on it in daylight or the nosey neighbor who lived across the street would call you by name and threaten to tell your mother or the police. So we would sneak up to the flagpole in the evening hours when precise eyewitness was not possible. A bigger kid would unwrap the rope and get a smaller boy to sit in or hold on to the loop. And then, wow, something like a circus act would unwind in front of innocent eyes. The little kid would be zooming around at the end of that rope while a big kid or two supplied the motor power to keep the smaller boy airborne. We’d be hooting and hollering at the beauty of defying gravity and authority when Mary Burrington would come charging out of her front door to yell and take names. When that failed, she’d send her beefy husband Dick out with a mission to seek and destroy. That’s when our keen knowledge of the woods and our fence jumping abilities would come in handy to keep our tribe alive. We would all run in a thousand different directions, fleet of foot, leaving the meat manager of Safeway winded and cursing in the dark. Ah, better than holding a mad bumble bee harmlessly in your hand. Masters of the universe we were, sort of.

Now as summer races to completion, I can only dredge up slower days that did not seem to end, watching fire flies or searching for falling stars until our mothers called us in. Each mother had a distinctive way of calling her children home and we could tell by the way our names were called if there was pleasure or pain awaiting. Sometimes it was better to wait deafly in the dark. Maybe that is what constitutes the touchstone of real summer– the deep and primal connections to an earlier template of this most glorious season.