204. Local navel dancing, live, tonight 6-8 p.m.

It’s not what you’re thinking, trust me.  Saturday afternoon Suzanne called for my wife, who is out of town. It may have been guilt induced, but she invited me to go along with her and her husband, Jerry, to the local Indian restaurant that was having live belly dancers in the flesh that night; plus she had a coupon for 25% off the total bill. All the stars were aligned for a famous evening in Turtle Town. “Oh it’ll be fun!!”  Now, this may say something significant about me:  though I do not like Indian or Tibetan food, I agreed to go along for the company and entertainment value. Heck, the previous week we’d gone to a rockin’ concert that wildly exceeded my humble expectations and made breaking into my own house seem like fun. Maybe that was peat and this  would be a repeat. In any event I agreed to meet them at 6ish.

I bought a bottle of sweet moscato wine to help detox the curry and tofu and peppers I anticipated. That was a prescient move. When we arrived at the smallish restaurant, one of the dancers was undulating with a tray that held three battery operated candles on it. She was in a costume that covered most of her anatomy but featured a bare strip for her belly to flutter and jiggle as she shook her hips and rocked her pelvis. It was about as sexy as a wobbly wheeled shopping cart with a bag of bagels in the child seat or watching laundry spin in a front loading washer. Are you feeling me? Undulating cottage cheese.

We shimmied on over to a table and decided to get the buffet, which I have had before, too many times before. It does nothing for me despite the interest that fellow diners seem to have in the same dishes. To me it’s like cat vomit on rice. I don’t care what the cat may have been eating, it’s just nasty once it’s on a plate in front of you. I may have been too graphic in the previous sentence. If you feel offended, please refer back to the waiver of damages agreement you did not sign in the earlier post about Pushing Jello uphill.

Oh the music. Who knew that Jamaican reggae could incite midriff sizzle? Or Mexican mariachi. Or some country western based tunes. But there it was– four middle age white women jiggling to all sorts of music from around the globe. Global navel warming was upon us. I felt the world’s sea levels rising as distant icebergs melted from the radiant heat generated by these four bulging bellies.

But the bigger belly issue is my own. I did not dance, shudder to think of this, Blogbuttons. Jerry offered to pop quarters out of his navel cavity, and he did so (brag, that is, not navel launch) with a strange sense of authority, as if he’d done it before. “Put a quarter in my navel and I’ll make change,” he joked. I was already uncomfortable when the first belly dancer stopped by our table and schmuddled with Jerry. Suzanne took a couple of pictures, blurry thank God. Later on the plump dancer came on with a curved sword balanced perilously on her head. This was the same lady who had the candle display when we entered. I began to wonder if she was trying to move the audience’s attention up away from the Hoover (Ab)Dam (en). If  that thing burst, it could be a mini-Johnstown Flood in the little strip mall where we were dining. Pompeii, even.

[My mind wandered… if the dam burst, what would the first responders meet? A blanket of rice and tofu interrupted by nan bread, candles, wine bottles, and seat cushions, suffocating the paralyzed patrons below.]

“It was too late”, says one EMT to a firefighter. “If we’d inspected that Dam, we could have saved many lives here, Bob.”

“It’s not your fault, Larry. It was a moving target. No one could have guessed the carnage that would result.”

“Still, I feel so guilty. If only we had insisted on abdominal pressure detectors or airbags, or maybe those oxygen masks that fall down in airplanes.”

“No, Buddy, nothing could have saved them. It was the perfect storm: spicy food, belly dancers, and 25% off coupons. No one saw this train wreck coming till it was too late.”

“Got a cigarette?”

“You don’t smoke.”

“I know, it’s just that cat vomit stench is killing me.”

“Here’s a cigar, man.”

We paid the modest bill and headed home. However, Suzanne had documented our visit with two pictures of the other belly dancer with me and promptly forwarded them to my wife, like I was the Hugh Hefner of Turtle Town. No good deed goes unpunished, Blogiums.

I went home thinking unpleasant thoughts about my girth. Never get on the scales when you think you are overweight, my Blogatons. Your bad mental juju will shoot the scale at least ten pounds higher. And that’s exactly what happened. I gained ten pounds by proxy. Oh my, my, my. Whose navel is laughing now? I had run two miles on my treadmill that Saturday, but I knew that was not going to help with this new blob of useless tapioca calories that was overtaking me. I felt like a man stuck inside a car tire, rolling wobbily along, hands and feet helplessly waggling above the ground. I had to do something.

The next day I decided to eat vegetables for the rest of my life and to run five miles a day. Well, three and a half, if I could manage, on the nice weekends ahead. And at least I’d eat veggies for lunch. So I did. A bowl of carrots, celery and radishes does not satisfy the belly of an overweight man. I supplemented with an early dinner of roasted eggplant with black olives and cheese dusted with corn meal.  Not bad.  I put on Adele’s 21 CD and began gyrating in the living room and kitchen. “Rumor has it… Rumor has it…” I was shaking things up!!  Then it hit me. I could burn calories and tone up by belly dancing. I put a candle on my head and schwingled about. Not bad. I found my tarnished machete in the garage and… well, I cut my foot when it fell off my head the second time. That’s not gonna work. But if I cut my Jimi Hendrix tee shirt right at my sternum, well look at that!

Bellydancing on top of glacier in Alaska

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203. Reverse Engineering

I know nothing about the topic. Almost, I mean I can spell the term. I just like the sound of it, how it seems to suggest that I might be smart enough to follow it up with related meaty thoughts. I think the phrase means something like beginning with a finished  product and deconstructing it to figure out how it was made and then copying that product, often without permission. (Shhhh!!!  I believe the Chinese are skilled at this sort of thing, but I don’t want to be considered xenophobic, another favorite word of mine that I can’t often use in context. It’s just awkward for everyone when there’s a sneeze, and instead of “Gesundheit”, I say, “Xenophobia to you and your germs.”) I suppose the folks who do this are called reverse engineers. So the guys at the other end, the creators, should be known as forward engineers, I guess, but not in the social sense of “being forward” because we know engineers are mostly awkward, socially backward nerds. In fact, the only engineer joke I know was told to me by a backward, stuttering engineer.

The set up line went like this– “You know I-I-ifffff  engineers ra-ra-ran the wha-wha- world, ev-ev-rytha-tha-thing woo-w00-w0uld work and ruh-ruh-run on ta-ta-ta-ta-time.”

The punch line eventually followed– “Ba-ba-but nah-ha-no bah-bah-body woo-wooo-would have any fffffffun!”

I liked it with or without the stutter. Even if you stutter backwards.

This reverse engineering process has been very helpful for military purposes, I understand. For instance, if you find an unexploded Russian missile in your yard, and you successfully take it apart and duplicate each component, then put it back together, you wind up with two Russian missiles in your backyard. You can sell one or blow one up and keep the other for breeder stock.  Reverse engineering at last defeats the age old proposition that ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’. Well, yes you can if you are eating cell phones or computers or missiles. Hah! Take that you snarky old xenophobic naysayers.

Now I just need to find something to deconstruct, figure out, and then duplicate.  The only thing that comes to mind is a Marvin Gaye song, which may be because I heard it on the radio on my way in to work this morning.  HMMM, but as I ponder this process, I realize that Marvin already did this. He found the love missile in “What’s Goin’ On?” and duplicated it successfully in “Let’s Get It On” and then resurrected that song into “Keep On Getting It On”.  And we’re all better for it. Thanks, Marvin. Now let’s look carefully at the components he skillfully manipulated.

“What’s Going On”

Mother, mother There’s too many of you crying Brother, brother, brother There’s far too many of you dying You know we’ve got to find a way To bring some lovin’ here today – Ya
Father, father We don’t need to escalate You see, war is not the answer For only love can conquer hate You know we’ve got to find a way To bring some lovin’ here today
Picket lines and picket signs Don’t punish me with brutality Talk to me, so you can see Oh, what’s going on What’s going on Ya, what’s going on Ah, what’s going on
In the mean time Right on, baby Right on Right on
Father, father, everybody thinks we’re wrong Oh, but who are they to judge us Simply because our hair is long Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way To bring some understanding here today Oh
Picket lines and picket signs Don’t punish me with brutality Talk to me So you can see What’s going on Ya, what’s going on Tell me what’s going on I’ll tell you what’s going on – Uh Right on baby Right on baby
And now for the reverse engineering by Wikipedia.

What’s Going On” is a song by American recording artist Marvin Gaye, released in 1971 on the Motown subsidiary, Tamla. Originally inspired by a police brutality incident witnessed by Renaldo “Obie” Benson, the song was composed by Benson, Al Cleveland and Gaye and produced by Gaye himself. The song, which focused on major seventh and minor seventh chords, and was oriented in sounds by jazz, gospel and classical music orchestration, was mainly viewed as a meditation on the troubles and problems of the world, proving to be a timely and relatable release, and marked Gaye’s departure from the Motown Sound towards more personal material. Later topping the Hot Soul Singles chart for five weeks and crossing over to number-two on the Billboard Hot 100, it would sell over two million copies, becoming Gaye’s second most successful Motown song to date.

The song topped Detroit‘s Metro Times list of the 100 Greatest Detroit Songs of All Time, and in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it the fourth greatest song of all time, in its updated 2011 list, the song remained at that position. It is also included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame‘s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list, along with two other songs by the singer. It was also listed at number fourteen on VH-1‘s 100 Greatest Rock Songs.

So there you have it. Now, just go out and find a modern equivalent of police brutality and work it into a new sound that can appeal to all audiences. Have a silky voiced dude record it flawlessly but passionately. Release it during an unsettled period of history. Then wait for it to go platinum.  In the meantime bake two cakes and eat one.

202. Somewhere, somehow, someday or something like that

I enjoy a good challenge. So every once in a while I give myself a creative writing challenge. Of course, I reserve the right to cheat and edit later. I think that’s why I enjoyed teaching drama to seventh graders.  It was always a ridiculous challenge to pull off a twenty minute mini-play in a 24 x 30 foot classroom with 28 desks that was still being used everyday for teaching English. The drama kids were randomly grouped in units of 25 or so from all ability levels. And we had six school weeks to learn basics, pick a play, audition, build sets, gather props, rehearse and perform four shows. Now every once in a while my students wanted to write their own short plays, usually a micro version of a movie or well known story. I know what you are thinking: IMPOSSIBLE!!

And so it was that one of my most memorable groups rolled in at the end of a long school year with their plans. “We want to put on Monte Python’s Holy Grail.”

“Okay, make me a believer. How on earth are you going to pull this off?” Notice I took no ownership of their play. However, as I learned later, I did not need to own it. They’d been thinking about it all year long and were stoked. After some squirrelly discussion and voting, we selected three scenes connected by a narrator. (Always be suspicious of any movie or play that needs a narrator to hold it together, folks.)

The first scene was the famous Black Knight butchering deal. I was curious how the kids would work it out, but the Black Knight (Paul) was dressed in black hockey gear with a little sword and shield from the Renaissance Faire. As the goodly knights approached and he challenged them, they hacked off a piece of his anatomy while chasing him behind the set. When he reappeared, he would have one less appendage. It was just clever enough to work as stupid humor. On his last cycle he came out on a skate board that a stage hand pulled along. All of his limbs were neatly tucked in his hockey uniform. The impish knight continued to challenge his superior swordsmen as they rode on toward more fitting conquests.

As we moved into scene two, liberally adapted from the stupidest movie ever made, the clip-clopping horseless knights got lost and didn’t know what to do. One turned to the other and said, “What should we do, Sir Dim Wit?”  ” I don’t know, Sir Flat You Lance. Let’s call God”, which he promptly did on his cell phone. In two seconds God’s answering machine picked up. This was actually Corey on a ladder with his head up above the ceiling tiles. “Hello, you have reached Gawd. I am not here right now, so leave me a message and I’ll get right back atcha.” Not very Godlike but very Coreylike. Their little buddies were laughing hysterically at these boys living out a low budget fantasy on stick ponies in gaudy robes with wooden shields and aluminum foil swords.

One of the problems with the production was what roles were the 10 or 12 girls to play since all the other roles were male. They solved  that problem by reinventing the castle siege scene as occurring at the curiously titled, Castle of the Babes. The set had 10 or 12 windows cut into it for each girl to speak through. The horseless knights did verbally parry with the Babes ensconced in the castle wall. The drama built up, well, very dramatically. The girls refused to cooperate with these craven knights’ demands. I don’t remember what they were demanding, not that it made any sense anyway.  They probably asked for pizzas and dates. As the scene reached its climax, the horseless knights attacked but were repelled by unlit marshmallows pelting them all over. One of the knights cried out, “I’ve been hit!” Then he ate the marshmallow projectile and announced. “You know, that’s not bad.” Then he and the other knights began eating the marshmallows as the lights dimmed. You gotta love that… rolling with and then eating the punches.

The final scene was a confabulation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade meets Monte Python’s Holy Grail meets Austin Powers, BABY. The knights were gathered inside the inner sanctum of the holy castle along with the Bishop of Cranberry, who was dressed in a red robe and a ridiculously tall party cone hat. He spoke all Boris Karloffy style to the knights about no one being worthy of the grail. In the center of our stage was a table with various cups on it. Each knight said something ironic and then drank his not so lucky cup. Each one died a sudden and disturbing death. They looked like hockey players in a figure skating death spiral. Amidst the unsettling carnage the Bishop took off his cone hat, revealing the true grail from which he sipped. “Oh dear,” he muttered to himself, “I must have forgotten to put this one out.” At that cue the Babes came around and began an instant dance party with the only man alive, the rockin’ Bishop and his bubbly cranberry juice. The 20 minute mini-play that was antithetical to all things holy and of good breeding was finally over. The audience exploded in joy.

I still laugh out loud at how much fun we had doing such bad work. Our disclaimer at the end was this, “No animals were hurt during the production of this play; only humans were.” And  that was one of my favorite moments in public education.

201. Unsupervised

I should not be left unsupervised. It’s just not wise. And yet, that is where I find myself quite often. I work by myself nowadays, usually for 12 hour stretches. Now, I do have lots of face time with folks, so don’t go thinking that I am a recluse or even a recluse spider. Still, I think it’s safer all around if someone responsible watches me. My wife and daughter are out for the evening, leaving me alone with Johnny the dog on a silent Sunday night. I have not thought of anything controversial to do yet, but the night is young. If I were more ambitious, I’d think of something goofy to do in the name of creativity. Most of you know that there is a thin line between creative and insane. I walk that razor wire daily. Plus I have a  history.

As a kid in a cookie cutter neighborhood of the 1960’s, I was often unsupervised along with my three brothers and the kids next door and across the street and down the hill. Our exhausted mothers would say, “Go play!” and we’d be gone until darkness or hunger overtook us.  A favorite winter activity was tracking animals in the snow. My woodsy friend Chris Young would usually be with me. It was exciting to find deer tracks in the thin woods next to our housing development in Northern Virginia, minutes from the Beltway.  And raccoon tracks were big ticket items. Rabbits too. We dreamed of catching and domesticating these poor creatures. Post 31. Possumly is just one example of boys left unsupervised and the messes they make.

There was the time when I was preschool age. The tired mothers in our neighborhood bowled at Penn Daw Lanes bowling alley on the other side of Rte. 1. It was a familiar two miles or so from our house. I had a good visual memory and could tell you the names of most of the cross streets on Kings Highway that led to the intersection with Rte. 1.  Anyway, one Thursday morning I was plopped into the nursery room with about twenty five other grimy kids and my little brother Chris. If I was five, then he was three. After a short while of noise and chaos I took matters into my own unsupervised hands. I think I probably told the child care worker/head babysitter that I was taking my little brother to the bathroom cuz he’d pooped his pants or something. Once outside of that windowless, hot, overcrowded room, we made a break for it out of the glass doors downstairs. No one noticed us sneaking out behind the teams of desperately bored housewives bowling their unmet needs away in the fluorescent lit noise.

Once in the fresh air we stealthily crossed the parking lot. Chris followed without complaint, but my memory is pretty foggy. He could have screamed bloody murder and it would all come out the same in my personal history. The next challenge ahead of us was the four lane Rte. 1. Well, in those days, I’m talking 1961 Blogamicekins, traffic was not so heavy. We darted across the lanes, pausing at the concrete median strips and then the triangle wedge that fed Kings Highway into Rte. 1. After that it was just two miles uphill and one right turn. We’d be home then. It never occurred to me that I might need a key. Not sure we even locked the doors back then.

Kings Highway was a two lane road with ditches on each side. No sidewalk or shoulder to walk along. When a car came, we’d hop into the ditch as it passed close by us. We were at the bottom of the first big hill, where the stream ran under the road before it ran next to Mt. Comfort cemetery, when Mrs. Page stopped in a worried state. At great personal risk and possible peril she stopped, yelled at me and Chris, and forcefully parented us into her car. I think she took us back to the bowling alley and my panicked mother. My butt can tell the rest of the story. I just have a slight memory of my mother converting her panic into kinetic energy that resonated with my buttocks. She beat my unsupervised ass a good one. I guess I earned that one…but nobody died.

While I’m in the old neighborhood, I recall another unsupervised summer day walking home from the Giant grocery store at Rte. 1. Chris Young, my woodsy mate, and I were walking through Mt. Comfort cemetery. It was hot and we were bored 10  year olds maybe.  We had already stopped at the fountain at the entrance and drank some water out of the pool under it. We had stared long and hard at the face of Jesus in relief across the traffic circle from the fountain. Because it was cleverly carved in relief, the eyes followed you no matter where you stood. Chris stood on one side and I on the other. We each testified, “He’s looking at me.” Unfortunately, we were just unsupervised boys again. We wandered across the bone dry grass.

As we got farther from the maintenance shed and office, Chris began flicking matches onto this tinderbox grass. It would instantly burn and a circle of fire would zoom out from the match. Chris would swish his Converse sneakers over the rim of the fire circle and put it out. I was nervous about getting in trouble, but Chris was too stupid for fear. He flicked another match; made a bigger circle and then another. He wondered how a big a carbon foot print he could leave on the grass. Well, his last attempt was the winner. The circle grew exponentially fast and both of us dancing along the edge could not get ahead of the fire. It was out of control and headed toward occupied graves on the one side and crackly dry woods on the other. Chris ran away into the woods like an ostrich with burned feet, leaving me behind as the maniacal maintenance guy came tearing toward my shaking carcass in an old green Jeep. He circled the fire’s edge with his tires and quickly put out the inner circle flames with a fire extinguisher. He was not happy and wanted to kick butt and take names. I immediately ratted out Chris– address, phone number, which bedroom was his, and how his father liked coffee. I was scared and my feet smelled of fire. Which is why I should not be left unsupervised. Ever.

200. Breaking Bad (into my own house)

It was Valentine’s Day and we were going out to the theatre to see a live 1960’s rock and roll tribute show in Gettysburg. My wife and daughter and I had spent an hour getting hippiefied for the show. There was a $100 prize for best dressed hippie and we wanted to win, which is a very un-hippie attitude, Man. “Like, you should just love each other in peace, ya know? No competition just kissin.” Well Momma looked good and hip; daughter too; I was rocking it big time with my low rent Jagger swagger. Oh yeah.  The problem began before we left the driveway. My wife asked if my daughter had her house key. “No. I locked the door though.”

“Oh crap. I don’t have mine. Do you have yours?” she asked me.

“Uh, no…but not to worry, I have the garage door opener.”

“No you don’t. I never put it back in your car after I used it when your opener was broken.”

“No problem, we have the hidden key.”

“Yes, but that only works for the front door. If the storm door is locked, we’re screwed.”

“Let’s check this out before we leave. We can still see things in daylight now, and it’s supposed to be snowing when we get back.”

“You know, I think that hidden key works on the downstairs sliding door.”

We trod through ten inches of snow and secured the hidden key. We hid it last fall after my daughter locked herself out of the house and broke down the glass door to get back inside. It was an awkward conversation later that day.

I tried the key on the downstairs slider. No deal, no way. “Try the upstairs slider”, my wife offered.

I walked up two flights of snow and ice covered steps to the upper deck with trepidation. “There’s not even a keyhole here, Honey.”

“Okay, it’s all or nothing on the front storm door then.”

I walked up to the front door. The snow was just an inch or two higher than my motorcycle boots, allowing just a little snow to fall in and begin melting. Nice. I reached the locked storm door.  Ugh! Tight as a drum.  I knew what we had to do eventually: break into my own house dressed as wild-eyed hippies no less. Like Charles Manson and his bloody disciples for goodness sakes!!

Back in the car I asked my wife if anyone else had one of our house keys. “When does.” She walks our dog periodically when we cant’ make it home. It’s a Vietnamese name. Not Who but When. “But it’s the same thing– opens the front door behind the storm.”

“How about Chuckles?” He used to house sit for us.

“No, he has the key to the old door before Jess smashed it.”

“Oh. We are screwed.”

“Sonja (who cleans for us occasionally) has one too….to the front door.”

“Okay, that leaves the garage window Houdini entrance.”

“Yes, but let’s go and have a good time.  We’ll break in when we get back. You’ll be all sweaty then. Forget it till then.”

“Okay.”

I felt somewhat uneasy about this future mess, tromping through the deep snow. Forcing off the screen. Opening the window. Carefully removing all the junk on the shelf in front of the window. And finally sliding feet first on my belly backwards into the garage without knocking down jars of canned peaches on the next shelf onto my wife’s Honda Civic in the dark.  Just the number of prepositional phrases needed to describe the scene is daunting. Oh it would require Spiderman like grace and strength. And here I was dressed like a pot head from the ’60’s .  I put it out of mind as we drove to the theatre, 25 minutes away. In all the stupidity of the moment, I did feel more like a bona fide hippie, however. “Dude, I locked myself out of my pad and I don’t have my rolling papers. Such a Bummer!” Like Dumb and Dumber plus Dumbest.  You can put us in any order you wish, you Blogippies.

Well, off we went and miraculously the tension abated as we passed the adult bookstore /dance emporium on the other side of the mountain. It was closed due to the weather. Amazing, ten inches of snow stopped what common decency and good taste could not.

Parking was okay and before you know it, we walked into the theatre lobby where NO ONE was dressed like a hippie. In fact, the ushers were in black uniforms talking with folks in suits and dresses. Surely this could not be right. Quickly a lady with a camera approached us smiling and asked if we’d like to be in the photo competition. To our relief other oddly dressed folks were standing on the other side of the lobby. We were complimented on our outfits, but it was surreal. I felt a bit like an entertainer at a mental hospital who’d been confused with one of the patients.  “Oh, I love what you’ve done with your mania.” “Cute pathology.” “I miss those schizophrenic days, mmmhmmm.” Fortunately other buckskins and leather vests and tie dyed stuff floated in off the street. Oh, thank God. We were not the only nudists with funny clothes on.

The show was a blast. I enjoyed the anonymity of being in costume where no one knew me. I joked about this freedom to my wife, and wouldn’t you know it? At intermission I ran right into a lady I used to work with. She recognized me in a second and took pictures for her grown up daughter Fuchsia, who was my student in seventh grade, to gasp over. As Newman often said, “Oh, the humanity!!”

We had a decade of fun reliving Woodstock era musical memories. Eventually, however, all good things must end. We said goodbye to our friends and drove back over the mountain into the oncoming snow. I knew exactly what I had to do and got right to it. No one was out. Why would they be? It was like standing at the net of a frozen spitting contest.

I gained entry and flipped the garage door opener on. We swapped keys and garage door openers and made sacred oaths never to lock the storm door ever again. Somehow, I believe it was a musical miracle, California Dreamin’ had saved our lives. I could not have dealt with a cop pulling in as I was breaking into my own house. With my luck it would be Brad, from my post 153. Porn and Rogaine, coming by to exact justice for me pranking him twenty years ago. As it turned out we went to sleep at midnight with the soundtrack of our lives buzzing in our brains. Dance to the Music….

199. Soul-thritis

It’s six degrees Fahrenheit in my snowplowed town. My sinuses are cold holes just under the skin of my freezing face. I wrap my scarf around my mouth and nose to avoid the pit bull ferocious frostbite.  Fog covers my glasses in the next breath. I take them off with my gloved left hand that is now growing cold. It’s getting to feel like the ice polar opposite of Egypt in Mosaic times. As I walk along the alley beside the sacred fire hall temple, I wonder if there is an equivalent Pharaoh somewhere in town, and if I could find him and smack him, would God relent on these winter plagues of snow and ice? “Just let the Hebrews go get some coffee, Pharaoh Fool! I still have frogs in my underwear drawer from last week. Enough already!!”

In the fire hall parking lot is a homeless guy sleeping on the bench seat of an old Mazda pick up truck. I’ve seen him around. He parks in different lots to avoid tickets and cops. Seeing him huddled there, suddenly I’m not so cold or whiney. I can’t imagine the raw edges of his frozen life, the searing cold, and the constant possibility of not waking up. How is this possible in our country of abundance? I recall a kid back in La Ceiba who slept on cardboard each night downtown. How? Why?  Traffic and pedestrians carried on around him, but he remained oblivious and comatose in the busy morning rush. I suppose we all returned the favor, totally ignoring his plight. Hunger and drugs were likely wrestling inside his inert body. Honduras was warm in February, however. Here in Pa. you could easily freeze to death outside a warm but empty locked building. Way back in my memory I recall a local guy who used to break into buildings downtown to sleep in warmth. He’d leave $5.00 next to his desperately broken windows. He was not evil just hopeless; he died in his sleep. Guilt like a snowplow hits my hard heart. I need salt and sunlight to repair  it.

I remember John Donne’s convicting words…

No man is an island

Entire of itself

Each is a piece of the continent

A part of the main

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

These words seemed appropriate to my observations, but I didn’t do anything beyond thinking of the tragedies of wasted lives in my path. And that’s the problem, not with these objects of viral poverty but with myself, my lack of compassionate action in both cases. Who is the I in “I am involved in mankind”?  Is that God or is it me? I guess it’s both because I am supposed to represent Him to my fellow man just as Jesus represents me to the Father in heaven.  Wow!  I’m not doing a very good job at being an advocate for my fellow man.  Touching outcasts is sometimes a stinky, sticky, awkward thing to do. You might get stuck. I remember Michael the sweaty schizophrenic kid that I “helped” in Richmond years ago. I could not get rid of him. He was like a mental health tar baby who kept me from sleeping for two psychotic nights. He paced my apartment impatiently. My roommates did not appreciate my experiment with rescuing street people, which I tended to do on occasions. I was naively trusting or voraciously overconfident or just plain stupid.  When we finally got to the public clinic, everyone there called out a familiar, “Hi Michael”. I like to think I’ve grown in the past 35 years. Maybe I’ve just grown a shell over my heart.

Shells protect their wearers from hurt and death. The thicker the shell, the better, right?. That is, until the shell becomes so heavy that you cannot move. Imagine a one pound turtle with a fifty pound shell. Safe?  Sure…but dead unless some other creature brings him food and water. Like those 600 pound bedbound folks who make the news on occasion, the turtle would be totally insulated and isolated from external harm, and completely vulnerable to the enemy within. Sufficient safety is bypassed for super safety; self sufficiency is pursued to the point of total helpless dependence. And you wind up a shell of a man. The man in the pickup truck was no more protected than the exposed kid on the sidewalk; he just had a sheet metal shell whereas the kid in La Ceiba had been shucked of his most basic defenses. But it’s not just outcasts that have heavy shells. Perfectionists do too. In their “all or nothing” worlds they wind up with nothing because perfect is an illusion, a delusion, a utopia. They are just as toxic as the wasted unwashed on the streets; we are just better at our own self-righteousness. Misers gather and hoard, more and more until they cannot move and their hearts are stone dead. What shell have you grown, Bloglarvae? Is it thin and transparent or thick as reinforced concrete?

Something intuitively tells me that I am more Pharaoh, heard hearted and stubborn and proud, than an oppressed Hebrew slave.  At times I wonder if my soul has contracted arthritis, a chronic stiffness and inflammation from under use. Soul-thritis, if I may coin the term. It’s at the other end of the pool from compassion and humility, patience and soft heartedness. Every time I dismiss a fellow man, I become less. Am I safer? More secure? Maybe, but it’s the safety of money and power, guns and high fences. Less, I am less connected, loved, respected, included, etc. in mankind. If these street people are outcasts, then I am in incast, cast in stone, petrified. I know better and have known all my life that honeysuckle is sweet and tree sap is not. It’s that simple. And there goes the bell.

198. ‘SNowhere to go

It’s snowing joylessly again in central Pa. The little snowflakes are not dancing; they are sad  and lame and guilt ridden. They don’t want to be here either. You can see it on their little faces.  Yeah, like us they are held hostage by polar forces too strong to argue with. Slippery roads and a house fire or two. Shoveling and salting driveways. Cold, wet feet below, high utility bills above.  Let’s get right to it– this sucks. I’ve never been to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or Maine or Minnesota or Montana, but I get the sense that this vaguely grey, slushy, sunless snowscape is what they endure every winter without whining. Also, these states all start with “M”, which is the only non vowel a frozen mouth can make. (Take a minute and try this mouth experiment at home. I’ll wait.) I mean, I’m watching the Winter Olympics in Russia, RUSSIA!!!, with weather envy. I know, be strong like Lance Armstrong, but I’m not that strong. I’m whining without access to the illegal dope he took. God, forgive me, I’m sick of this snowy stuff and I’m turning to my blog nationals for help.

Friends of ours are traveling to Arizona and dutifully sending back pics on Facebook. I feel like a starving man standing outside a gourmet restaurant when I look at their snaps of New Mexico and Arizona. “Feed me! Give me some sunshine and warmth!! Take my down trodden and hopeless down jacket and make a soft downy pillow with it.” Nation, we need a Statue of Liberty in the Southwest that beckons old farts like me. Just set her up around San Antonio; super size her so people in Dallas can see her at night. Write the original sonnet on Miss Liberty’s shins big and bold.

New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,     With conquering limbs astride from land to land;   [No]

Here at our sea-washed shore, sunset gates shall stand     A mighty woman with a torch,  [Yea, Baby, Burn!!]

whose flame     Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name     Mother of Exiles.  [on Main Street]

From her beacon-hand     Glows world-wide welcome;       [like a Motel 6 sign that’s always on]

her mild eyes command     The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.     [Brooklyn counts, folks]

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she     With silent lips.          [how does that work? ventriloquism]

[here’s the money line]

“Give me your tired, your poor,     Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,   [your asthmatics in the attics]

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.                                                                       [i.e. shrimp shells and plastic bags]

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,                                                              [or a tossed salad with house dressing]

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  Emma Lazarus  [Go girl]                                 [would you like a window seat?]

Sounds very liberal and big government to me, but that was a long time ago, doncha’ know? We have tightened immigration reforms in the meantime. Oh no, I mean we were gonna do that, but six or eight administrations later we haven’t.

Well, that welcome poem was pretty dramatic. Not so sure we still embrace that attitude these days. However, I am not here today to speak to immigration but to simple migration. The birds do it annually and no one calls them weak willed weanies or jilted Jennies. It just makes sense to me to go where the warmth is. Birds do it; bees do it; even upscale fleas do it. In my case that warm world would be Tucson, Arizona. It’s where Jo Jo lived before he bought some California grass, and got back, got back, got back to where he once belonged with Lance Armstrong. Days are long and sunny, dry and livable there. Yes, I know the  summer sun will sauté my brains by 10 a.m., but I’m willing to trade my heavy down comforter for a piece of cool shade.

I’ll put on some Doug Sahm records and dance western swing with my ageless bride… in four years on a smoothly worn tile floor. Outside our humble adobe abode will be cacti and stone and metal arranged whimsically but artistically in our tidy yard.  Lizards will scamper about and birds I don’t know will perch on tenacious tree limbs. The tenacious aspericus is any dang tree that can grow in a desert. Like most desert plants they have spikes or razor wire adaptations to keep desperate animals from eating them in hopes of slaking their endless thirst. Yeah, that’s where I want to be. Also my granddaughter lives there. I could walk with her any winter day in a simple shirt, maybe a sweater in the mornings. She’ll be five by then.

My people emigrated from Ireland in two different waves. My father’s people came over early; my mom’s people came at the turn of the last century. The thing is this– someone from both families left an intolerable land behind and risked a great deal for a better life. Usually it’s a young studly guy who risks all to go for his fortune or fame across the seas. I don’t think that has changed much in the last few centuries. It’s not as common for an older couple to pull up stakes and relocate well into their sixties. But that’s what we’re fixin’ to do, pardners. Yup, mebbe join up with a cattle drive out of Pittsburgh once spring gets here. If they’re out of cows, I’ll herd goats or pigs or Shetland ponies, I don’t really care. Cross the mighty Mississippi where it’s shallow, and ride on into the wild west later, ahead of the bad weather. (We’ll take the bridge if I wind up with pigs.)

Of course, I need a few things before I migrate west with my little hunny bunny.  Boots, nice embroidered leather cowboy boots with silver spurs. And a horse. I’ve never ridden a real horse, so I’d better get some lessons while I’m at it. Rope for tying stuff down. And most importantly I’ll need a cool cowboy hat that’s broken in. I don’t want no western local to say I’m all hat and no cattle or pigs. I might have to plug him with my other essential, a big old .45 pistol. Oh, and sunscreen, and some sunglasses. Gum, I am not chewing tobacco– no where, no how. I’ll also need a map of all good coffee shops along the way and pet friendly motels. I am not sleeping on the ground.

 

197. “I love my wife”.org

So Gary from Sunday School has a bumper sticker on his truck that says, “I love my wife”. Harmless, right? I’ve seen them around. I often wonder why I need to know that other guys love their wives, but some folks find it warm and fuzzy and reassuring and desirable. Okay, women like these bumper stickers. Gary’s wife Suzanne noted that several women had pulled alongside Gary in traffic to say how much they appreciate the message on the bumper sticker. (I guess it’s a good pick up line, if you are lacking in scruples. Besides, have any of you Blogalitarians seen an “I love my hubby” sticker? For that matter have any of you had a member of the other gender say “I like  your bare bumper”? No! Of course not. It’s rude.) Anyhow, the other ladies at our table oohed and awed and made a big thing about the  bumper sticker and how all good married men need one. I knew where this was going…into the deep culvert of my deficiencies. The impulsive honey-marooned Erin got on Amazon Pronto.com and ordered a bumper sticker for her hubby Robert for Valentine’s Day. Right there in class!! And while shopping, got him a tee shirt and coffee mug to match, along with a subscription to the weekly magazine “What Women Want But Won’t Ever Tell You“. My wife noted that I did not sport any such messages on my tee shirts, mugs or bumpers, implying that I love her less than the other men at our table love their respective wives. I don’t like situations like this. Oxygen becomes unavailable to my nose and mouth. The room shrinks. Asphyxiation dulls my cerebral cortex and dims my eyesight. “MEDIC!” There is comparison, group think, guilt, and shopping all rolled into one volatile recipe. And trust me, these women know how to follow a recipe.  Thanks, Gary.

I do love my wife, but I don’t rent billboards to advertise it. Nor do I trust folks who feel compelled to do so. However, I recognize that feeling love is not enough. It must be communicated regularly and effectively. I fail to do this. Shame on me for not celebrating my beautiful and capable wife. On the other hand, if putting on a dollar bumper sticker gets me into the Husband Hall of Fame, then I don’t want to go. ( Where is the HHF anyway? Knoxville? Spokane? Sacramento?  Butte?) I actually bought my wife some flowers after church, not because of Gary but because I had meant to on the preceding Friday. However, I had a massive headache that lasted all afternoon and into the evening. Perhaps it was a guilt conversion reaction but I doubt it. I had been thinking of randomly buying her flowers for a while, as if a pollen-laden bee had been buzzing inside my old beehive brain. I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d brought her flowers. This is never good for a married man to be caught without a fast answer for the romance cops when they get you under the 600 watt halogen lamp…”when did you last purchase flowers for your wife?” “Uh, uh, I don’t know. I think it was last Valentine’s Day.” “We need receipts or video.” “But, but….” Sadly, some men never recover, they decompensate and wind up as grave keepers in medium to small cemeteries, condemned forever to remove dead flowers from headstones of the deceased. Hygiene wanes, dental hygiene especially, and each year a rotted tooth drops out of their hopeless mouths. It’s medieval, Blogfleas.

So men, if a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, not even Neil Young, did it make a sound?  let me translate: if you don’t tell your wife regularly and effectively that you love her, will she know?  The answer to both questions is ‘you are a dead tree’ and the world is deaf to your would’ves, should’ves, and could’ves. They are just so much sawdust. Amen! (Let’s take a collection while they are confused.)

Now on Saturday I spent hours cleaning out our nasty garage at my wife’s request. Then I washed and waxed her car as a bonus goody. Did I happen to see an “I love my hubby” sticker on her bumper? Well, you know the answer to that. I’m not running out to buy one for her either. Not sure I want guys pulling alongside her motioning for her to roll her window down…”hey, lady, nice bumper sticker. Wanna see mine?”. Come on, the sword of justice cuts both ways.

 Range Rover

On Sunday I got online and made reservations for a “Summer of Love” concert on Valentine’s Day. I don’t expect any kudos for this because it is conditional on health and weather and calamity avoidance. Men, I don’t care if you have raised Barry White and Marvin Gaye from the grave and have them waiting in a candlelit living room covered with rose petals and champagne bubbles, just waiting to croon over your lady, what’s gonna happen holds no weight compared to what you failed to do yesterday. Step up and tell you wife, “I wanna be your bumper sticker Daddy”. No, don’t say that. Try some Barry White song titles, ” Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe”, “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything”, “You’re Gonna Miss My Lovin'”. Now if that doesn’t  work, put on your Marvin Gaye collection, “Let’s Get It On”, “What’s Goin’ On?”, “Keep On Getting It On”.  After that, you are on your own, men.

My dear wife of almost 35 years, I love you. Now in deep Barry White bass,  “Ahhhhh Luhhhhhhve YOooooouuuuuu, Baaaaby doll.”

196. contractors and incompleteness

I know I’m not the only one out there who has trouble finding and nailing down handyman contractors. It’s been the same story as long as I can recall… contractors don’t communicate well if at all. They might come if the job is interesting, i.e., has potential for a big payday. But the truth is that I’m not gonna talk about contractors. I changed my bloggin’ mind at church today, well sort of. The issue of not getting a guy to call me back about a bathroom vanity switcheroo or a laundry room sink disaster is not such a big deal. Plus, the garage door opener chain broke while I’ve been waiting for two floor jobs to be addressed at my workplace. Okay, there is plenty to gripe about with construction incompleteness, some of which I can do myself. The problem is that I can earn more money per hour and be happy with my work than if I try to use my clumsy hands to lay a floor or edge carpet or replace a sink. These are sinkholes for me to fall into and I don’t need the stress of my construction failures laughing at me from my daughter’s bathroom mirror as I cut another hose or pipe or board too short. I have done a lot of the work that surrounds me here at my home computer. I see my construction flaws daily, and no, I am not a perfectionist. So, I’m willing to pay $40 and $50 an hour for a crafty guy to bring some of my mess back to functionality, cuz living with physical incompleteness gets annoying in the First World. You know, you just want the mess or inconvenience to go away.

But today as Pastor Kyle spoke on James 1: 1-4, he focused on the trials in our lives that produce perseverance. I happen to like perseverance, tenacity, even stubbornness. Today’s post is the result of me destroying a finished blog I had written on legacies, complete with three photos. Somehow I clicked the wrong tag and blew up my first post 195. I took that as a sign to go in a different direction. It was a bit pompous and presumptuous. I go there often, I’m afraid. Anyway, Kyle’s second example of a trial was that of losing a child, how that can destroy one’s faith in Christ and be a faith wedge. I was struck emotionally and spiritually because almost 30 years ago my wife and I lost our second daughter at birth.  Her name was Lisa Ellen. She would be 30 next month, but I guess that is a pleasant redundancy for an old father who never held her.

It was complicated. She had a diaphragmatic hernia, which means that her lungs had no space to develop in utero. Her abdominal wall was perforated and her viscera pushed her lungs into submission. That’s okay in the womb, but you need lungs once you are born. Literally her birth was her death. She could not get that first gasping breath when she was delivered. She didn’t cry; she couldn’t. As she struggled to live in a breathless world, the delivery room turned into an E.R. code blue. My wife and I turned numb… and stayed numb for a year, maybe two. Yeah, that was a rough time in the silent valley of the shadow of death. Even thirty years later we get a dark feeling whenever we drive by the old farmhouse we lived in at the time… the baby’s nursery was set up across the hall from our bedroom. The crib with a mobile on it sat empty. I remember waking up next to the crib one night, having dreamed that she had cried. We had to take it down and pack all that stuff away along with our hopes and dreams for that little girl. I was 28. My oldest, and only daughter at the time, Erin was 2.5 years old.  She gave me Michael Jackson’s album, “Friller”, a week before Lisa died. I was so devastated that I don’t think I ever processed her young grief. It was all a blur. I just recall an insensitive nurse asking how we wanted to dispose of the body. She was impatient to be efficient and could not give us any grace.

For two years we were unfulfilled. The holes in our hearts were the size of little feet and tiny hands we could not touch.  We languished in anguish. We cried a lot and fell into a dark blue funk. It was not just grief but hopelessness as the barren months went by. It had been way too easy to get pregnant when we weren’t trying; now it seemed tragically impossible. I felt sad for Erin as a lonely only child. However, in this bleak space we found a closer place with God. I am sure that if we had been in charge of the script of our lives we would not have lingered in pain and hurt for so long. But that’s how God scripted it. Finally in 1986 we did get pregnant. We were filled with joy and trepidation. We knew how great and how awful a delivery room could be.

There was no debate on the name once we knew that it was a girl. Grace, it had to be Grace, undeserved favor of the Lord. A gift. An unearned blessing or reward. In late December of that year our Gracer the Eraser showed up, healthy and spunky and funny. Her presence healed the deep wounds that we had suffered. It felt like we had been crawling across broken glass for two years, shredding ourselves as we attempted to solve the problem of infant absence. Suddenly all that disappeared. We were complete.

So, Lowe’s might call next week and we could have the vanity by Easter, maybe. My floor tiles remain stacked at my office waiting for someone who wants to deal them like a deck of cards. We lift the garage door for now. It’s all good cuz it’s all meaningless stuff  that doesn’t matter.  My completeness is not sold in any aisle anyway. Life is a gift, Blog friends.