227. Four leaf clovers

She said in her e-mail, “I asked God for a sign today, a simple four leaf clover would do, to show me that I am cared for. Then I reached down in the rich May grass and found one within my first glance and plucked it. That was an awesome little moment of reassurance which I will cherish because I realized that I am… well, cherished. I am known, noticed, heard, and loved. It feels so good to know the God of the universe knows one of his sparrows has fallen. I tend to forget this when I get off my knees and walk too proudly like a peacock. I go to jail tomorrow.”

In early Christian Ireland St. Patrick used the shamrock as a demonstration of the Holy Trinity, to show how three beings could coexist in one form… Father, Son, Holy Spirit… separate but united at the stem. What struck me about Shelly’s simple request was the extra symbolism. Who is represented by the fourth leaf? Immediately I surmised that she is the fourth leaf, connected at the stem by her faith in God. She was grafted into the Trinity long ago as a little girl, before her fears and addictions led her to rehab, psyche wards, and jail. This realization of connection and provision brought joy to her on her way to jail. It must have been odd for the county deputies to see a lovely, refined young woman smiling approvingly about her incarceration–so gracious, so polite. In an even odder way it was like A Tale of Two Shellys as the enlightened one sacrificially served time for the fallen one. However closely the jailers looked, only one young woman stood before them, yet she was two, no, four in one.

Shelly had been a light to others in her previous rehab stays and psyche ward commitments. She loves easily and deeply, recklessly it turns out sometimes; the same way she drinks. Always in her wreckage she finds her Bible and hits her calloused knees, toddling back to God. Her soft catlike persona charms tough tattooed girls into tender conversations they never intended to  have again. They open up to this quiet clover leaf fairy of a girl.  The staff also notice her special spirituality and engage her there. She is much loved in rehabs, which you can’t put on your resume.  Shelly has that effect on others. She’s a fallen angel who loves too much and guards too little; who listens much and wordlessly speaks volumes. The alcohol serves to moderate stress and pushes back against a feeling of being overwhelmed. Long ago she associated this warm relief with alcohol, her lucky potion.

 It was 2008, maybe. Shelly came to me with a former boyfriend, as if  she was on a skydiving date. After her boyfriend turned the spotlight focus on to her, I joked that he’d pushed her out of the plane at 22,000 feet and said, “You’ll get used to this. It’s easy.” on the way down. She laughed nervously without a parachute. He got better and moved on without her. She evaporated into unanswered questions in my mind. Five years later she contacted me. “Do you remember  me? Can we start again?”  On the phone later she said, “Well, I’m an alcoholic now. I guess that’s what’s new.” I was stunned. How does a beautiful, intelligent, talented, educated, artistic young woman become an alcoholic by age 27?  One drink at a time. Those attributes had only hastened her descent. She had not learned to fly but knew too well how to crash.

Blogginis, if you don’t process today’s pain and fear and trauma today, you begin to slip and lose traction in your life. Plus, if you are abandoned and neglected by those who are supposed to care for you, you become lost in your tractionless state… like a car on ice in a night blizzard. Accelerating just makes the vehicle spin wildly and the driver gets crazy dizzy without a horizontal line for reference. Vertigo sets in. It doesn’t matter what gear you are in or if your brakes work. You simply spin counterproductively. Dizzy, spinning, lost, drunken, fallen angel. Tragic beauty. It broke my heart to hear of her crashings, and made me wonder if she was pushed or fell into the abyss. Was she still falling?

Luck and faith have nothing to do with one another. Luck comes and goes; it just happens and cannot be pursued or preserved. Faith, on the other hand, is cultivated. It can be planted and harvested like strawberries. It does not  just happen like a scratch off lottery ticket. Instead it is built systematically from how one interprets experience and develops moral structures. Luck ties in to superstition. Rabbits feet, horseshoes, crystals, and charms are vain attempts at controlling or altering one’s destiny. Faith is more about accepting one’s destiny by understanding spiritually how the universe works. Faith involves some accountability but provides a map for doing life; there is no accounting and no map for luck.

Shelly has a deep faith like a fountain that does not run dry. Unfortunately she has another fountain that pumps out wine until blackout time. Guzzling like a camel at the wine fountain helps her escape the consequences of  her life, but blinds her to the causes of her  problems. She comes to, alone in the desert with a fevered cotton mouth and a migraine. Life just happens to her as it does to all addicts who have urgently surrendered their responsibility. Especially when young, a good thought doesn’t stand a chance against a good feeling, don’t you know? Far away from the wine splash zone there is hope, beyond the good feeling and past the nausea, the cravings, and the illusions lies her broken sobbing self looking for four leaf clovers.

 

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226. Phantasmagoria

I like cool words. This one should be the name of a rare and expensive  tropical fish or some exotic dessert at an upscale restaurant.  Perhaps it already is and I just don’t know yet. Apparently it is the name of a gothic androgynous Asian punk rock band whose images of cross-dressed Japanese men scare me. As well, it is the title of a poem by Lewis Carroll about ghosts. Freaky!! Honestly, I just like the beat. I had no notion what all the connotations were. ” A gathering of phantasms (random images) “. Trippy acid psychedelic melted crayon puddles on a drug laden coffee table, a lava lamp swampily percolating day glow colors upward in an unholy glass chimney.  Jimminy Cricket Hendrix cranking loose ear wax deposits of the devotees at the coffee table temple. Yeah, phantasmagoria, man. Bong talk. “Up, whoa, up. Hold it. Whew!!”

Rhythmic words with lots of visual meaning are even more attractive for me somehow. A tossed salad of rare images executed with polysyllabic vinegar dressing. So seductive, don’t you sink so? I remember a particular female teacher coworker who had kids spit their chewed gum out in a mason jar that she kept on her desk. It was oddly attractive in a kaleidoscopic spit-covered sort of way. There was color, form, texture, and patterns that attracted you while at the same time the knowledge of the germs, disease and slime repulsed you. Similar to a beautiful pit viper, a copperhead for instance– gorgeous and deadly wrapped into one meaty tube of snake sushi. I am drug free, Blogajuanitas. For the record. I suspect you were wondering… but used chewing gum croutons on that salad might just work visually.

grateful dead photo: Grateful Dead  rainbow  swirl ztripout.gif Way way back in the day day I went to see the Grateful Dead. I think I was a sophomore in college. It was quite the experience in 1976 or 77.  “Wave that flag, wave it high and wide”. Drugs were in such proliferation, I recall the crowd surfing camera focusing on a guy in the front row snorting a spoonful of powder cocaine and beaming it onto the jumbo screen above the 19,000 fans gathered below. They cheered. I had appeared low risk to the Maryland State Troopers, I suppose, so I was not searched as thoroughly as the unwashed Dead Heads entering the Capital Center.  A bottle of wine inside my jacket made it through the screening. Once seated the bottle became communal property and was passed to the right as a buffet of other things came along throughout the five hour musical orgy. Joints, balloons with dental gas, pipes with resin…. My children, this was all a long time ago when Jimmy Carter was president, or should I say, before Ronald Reagan was. Like our country politically, everything was moving to the right.

 Which leads to Led Zeppelin somehow by way of the English group Yes. Under certain circumstances their looping lyrics would transport the adolescent listener to other realms. Yes, that is. The opening to Roundabout was funky cool and spacey, lighting up visual neural tracers behind my eyelids, shot by a paintball artist.  I sat in my neighbor’s house in front of stacked speakers that were taller than I was and just absorbed the sounds ricocheting all over his family room. On more than one occasion the windows rattled and his nosey neighbor Ruby Rogers would call his dad at work to warn him of nefarious goings on at the Cooper’s house. “They’re having a pot party, Bob. My Forrest seen it and he’s such a good boy he told me rahght away.” It wasn’t exactly like that but close enough.
In any event I sketched black ink replicas of the Yes earth image on my geography binder with the lyrics circling the planet. Trippy cool.  That was the geography I was interested in, not the drivel we were getting from Mr. Dillard. He was a part time state delegate so we had many, many substitutes to cover for the guy when he was in session in Richmond. Why I remember this I can’t say. It’s just a memory that flows out from other memories, the Yes albums, the songs, the lostness of my teens. I remember a strong disconnect from the kids in that class who were mostly younger. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be in another dimension.
Zeppelin owned the 70’s, Blogkids. Their tunes dominated the FM radio stations, which probably doesn’t mean a thing to you youngsters since you can I-pod and I-tune and special order on Pandora any music you like. You would not have been able to handle the 70’s. Turntables and vinyl records in milk crates and fruit boxes.  Heavy, oh yeah. Something cosmic in Zeppelin songs would erupt to send teens soaring above their tedious reality. Like few other bands, they painted soundscapes that had big feelings brushed broadly on sky canvases, leaving just a taste of phantasmagoria on your music tongue like cilantro and garlic mixed with lime. Not exactly but close enough. Stairway to Heaven was their megahit that will probably be around for another century. But there were many other memorable songs. Communication Breakdown, Going to California,  Whole Lotta Love, Your Time is Gonna Come. Black Dog, All of My Love, and many more ear popping tunes that fought back against the sappy rising disco tide of the time. If disco was all about the external geography illuminated by the shimmering disco balls, then Zeppelin illuminated the lands inside that disco ball where imagination and adult emotions were bunkered.
In any event it all passed by. There is no holding back the moment. Even if it is gloriously phantasmagoric.

225. Five kilometers to go

Runners and walkers of all ages will enjoy the Footrace FrenzyI am going to run again in the annual 5K Race Against Poverty through our downtown streets on the first Friday in June. It’s a fundraiser for a community action program called Circles. My wife mentors a single woman in that program, helping her to see the way out of poverty by working and saving, and stewarding her earnings. It’s refreshing to see a program that actually works in the here and now without a government bureaucracy overseeing and wasting millions of dollars on another pipe dream that only works on graph paper. I have new sneakers and a bright orange t-shirt to impress the many fashionistas in our Wal Mart town. Looking good actually reduces your race time. It’s similar to golf; the best dressed golfer wins.

On this particular night our sleepy downtown will be teeming with people. Hundreds of folks come out to walk or run the course. Other stationary hundreds cheer on the racers as they go by. Even as we jog through the public housing section at the south end of town, folks clap and encourage us… though I never visit that section of town at any other time… they are kind. It’s nice all around. The very officious Fire Police direct traffic around the runners and walkers with great authority and vigor in their temporary power. Businesses are jacked up with customers. They are usually closed by 6 p.m. Cars and trucks are rerouted so pedestrians can lollygag in the streets for a couple of hours.

There is a different feeling, a more inviting one, when the traffic disappears. I’d like to keep it that way all year round. A simple rerouting could make our four prime blocks around the center square park-like and very calm while crushing the rest of our town with traffic. There’s the rub, dang it. Why couldn’t Turtle Town just have started out with a nice sheep meadow in the center and then built around that? Because of all the sheep poop, I guess. Why not a village green or a commons area?  We do have a trout stream that runs through the center of town which has not been poisoned yet. That’s a nice touch to any urban area.

So I’ve been jogging in preparation for the race. I of course will not race. My goal is to not stop and to feel good about merely completing the 3.1 miles. Last year the young gun Jana talked some pre-race smack to me about how she was going to dust me off like some old stuffed pheasant on a bookshelf in an English library on a cruise ship far away. Well, she is half my age and should dust me; however, she had not prepared for the run and was mostly full of young brash talk. As we ran off from the start line, she left me behind. No surprise. However, I caught up to her farther up the course, where legs and lungs began to ache. We chatted in little bursts of breath as we jogged next to one another. About a third of a mile from the end I said, “I guess this is where you dust me.” She laughed and started to run faster, leaving me behind… just as I had calculated. I watched as she slowed down after about fifty yards ahead of me. I started running on her outside shoulder so that she could not see me sneaking up on her. As we turned the final corner of the race, Jana looked behind over her right shoulder as I passed  her on her left side. She did not see me beat her to the finish line. But the computer chips on our shoes told the sad tale:  she was smoked by a 57 year old stuffed bird. I had no time to celebrate as my lungs burst and dissolved in the humid summer air. Whew! It took about an hour for my body to return to equilibrium. Which again is why I am jogging now in preparation for the race.

In an earlier post I told the tale of Pastor Kyle “Losing His Lasagna” in the same race three years ago. Unlike sneaking past Jana, there was no satisfaction in passing the hurling Pastor Kyle on King Street bridge, chumming for trout with his regurgitated lasagna dinner. “What was I thinking?” he cried out to me as I handed him my blue hanker chief to wipe the tomatoey vomitus off his chin. So it goes. One man’s personal sermon:  never eat and run, my sheep.

Today I was chatting with Corey, who is in my ballroom dance classes on Friday evenings. (With his wife. We are not a couple. You know what I mean!!!) He smokes in the alley outside my office building. A couple of weeks ago he told me that he was going to run in the Race Against Poverty. I asked if he was going to smoke and if he needed an ashtray for the race. He said no, he’d be  quitting soon and then training. Well, he was smoking a cigarette today. I told him I was worried about him dying on the course, which I don’t think is fair for all the nonsmokers who would have to hurdle his lifeless carcass. He assured me that he was quitting the nasty nicotine and would train soon. But we are running out of time here. The race is three weeks away. He told me that he used to run seven minute miles, and he has short legs, so that’s saying something for a guy who is built more for wrestling than running. He went on to reference a scene from the t.v. show Scrubs in which one of the characters remembers his glory race days during which he smoked and sprinted. Only on t.v. my blog puffs. I am not going to stop and defibrillate him as he reaches for another Marlboro.  It’s only five kilometers, man. Not kill-o-meters. Suck it up, man. Go.

 

224. My personal belated Anti-disco movement

Photo of Bee Gees 1977  Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Maurice Gibb and Andy Gibb ay Billboard Music Awards<br>

In the 1970’s disco music took over the airwaves and clubs, even though most folks knew it had no substance or meaning, no long term significance. Ephemeral fly poop, nothing more.  Disco had a danceable beat and that was what the majority culture craved– touch dancing at clubs. It was a vehicle for flea brained extroverts to flirt and seduce one another in their new overblown bell bottoms or high heels. It was exactly what I dreaded. I did not want to dance to begin with, but to do the Hustle or similarly choreographed dances seemed like devolution to me, a betrayal of the 1960’s ethos and a return to conformity. For me music had always been something to listen to in private or in a concert hall or club scene. Dancing? No. It was too commercial or shallow. Then again, I may have been depressed as I listened to my Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Clapton, Leonard Cohen, Tom Rush, Hendrix, the Dead, singer songwriter types with deep lyrics and moods that were not celebratory. But, on the other hand, they were not fluffy and sacharrin cotton candy odes to self indulgence. Just a disco beat like mindlessly chewing gum. Something about disco added up to corporate profits somewhere. It was synthetic, poly-ethical and thus poly-esterical, relying on studio overdubs and overproduction. Live disco did not make sense, so I believed. No more live shows, just dancing in shiny clothes and platform shoes to a d.j.’s canned musical taste. Gag.

I grew resentful and contemptuous of the ubiquitous disco sound. Saturday Night Fever’s soundtrack went viral before the term was conceptualized in the non-medical world. “Stayin’ Alive, ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ aliiiiiiiiiiiive.” I could not conceive of purchasing any of that crap, that crinkly wrapping paper music. It just seemed like music made for selling things, jingly and hollow, audio junk food scientifically altered to appeal to your ears and impulses. Mall music for a recessionary economy.

I researched a bit on Wikipedia for disco’s origins.

Origins of disco as a term and type of nightclub

By the early 1940s, the terms DJ and Disc Jockey were in use to describe radio presenters.[11] Because of restrictions, jazz dance halls in Occupied France played records instead of using live music. Eventually more than one of these venues had the proper name discothèque.[11] By 1959, the term was used in Paris to describe any of these type of nightclubs.[11] That year a young reporter Klaus Quirini spontaneously started to select and introduce records at the Scotch-Club in Aachen, West Germany.[11] By the following year the term was being used in the United States to describe that type of club, and a type of dancing in those clubs.[11] By 1964, discotheque and the shorthand disco were used to describe a type of sleeveless dress used when going out to nightclubs.[11] In September 1964, Playboy Magazine used the word disco as a shorthand for a discothèque-styled nightclub.[11]

So disco was born from a deficit of genuine live music during the Nazi occupation. Ahh, that seems so correct to me. It’s the d.j. when you can’t afford a full band at a wedding. So be it. The problem was that in the 1970’s this substitute became the preferred medium. Imagine if restaurants stopped serving real sugar and only provided sweetener substitutes. I suppose many folks would celebrate the artificial sweetener’s dominance. Not me, there is that chemical after taste which your brain detects as foreign and carcinogenic. Oh, but I may be getting carried away with hyperbole. Let’s cut right to the chase— ladies and gentlemen, Miss Donna Summer.

 Hot Stuff, Love to Love You Baby, Last Dance, and She Works Hard for the Money, are some of her hit songs. Danceable and forgettable, even though their hook lines would get in your brain and cycle like upbeat Abba injections of euphoria. And she was pretty. There you go– disco in a nutshell. Once you get started, Lord it’s hard to stop.
But all that was all so 40 years ago. Why bother with it now? Let sleeping Jack Russell Terriers lie, right? No. Like all fashion statements, this one will be back again, if it is not already woven into the media culture the same way that biologically altered food is in our food supply. Divas continue to pop up on the airwaves, crashing into whatever cultural barriers are left. And in this sense the term divas goes for men, women, and the undecided entertainers among us. Whether it’s sex or drugs or a combination of pleasure seeking hedonistic behaviors and attitudes, it’s here to stay. Disco dis and disco dat. Disco here and disco dere.
A movement must be for something and not just against something, however. In this light I suggest a pursuit of organic music, real stuff made by real people on real instruments for real audiences. Really. I don’t think warning labels for disco are necessary, though I am not totally against a helpful statement: “Warning: prolonged exposure to this synthetic cacophony has caused hysteria, lasciviousness and madness in lab rats and Bee Gees. Listen at your own risk.” Where is the FDA when you really need them?  At a convention in Vegas listening to disco under a strobed ball on the government’s dime.
Okay, I am sounding like Mr. Grumpypants, I know. I’m almost finished with this rant, so please humor me a bit longer. When your life is nearly over and you look back on what you did and didn’t do, will disco be one of those heartbeat moments that shine across the decades and generations? If your answer is yes, then I want you to listen to Love to Love You Baby alone on an elevator for 12 straight hours with only bathroom and water breaks until you say no.

 

 

 

 

223. The Most Popular Post Ever: Fuchsia

One time out I am going to go big, viral, exponentially crazy in the blogosphere, which, if you have noticed, is log jammed worse than L.A. traffic. Over 15 million bloggers on WordPress alone. It’s very easy to get on this highway, but the question is–how to break out in the EZ Pass lane?  My biggest post to date was called August Snow, that’s the one about my daughter trying to cut the grass with our snow blower. It was funny, but I think the hits number spike was due to her universe of friends not any celebrity writer breakthrough on my part. Writing can’t be driven by the blogarazzis, however; it has to come from the truth of the writer. So that’s what I’m attempting to put together, though I do imagine a familiar person or two reading my words over my shoulder. I like that imagined intimacy as I imagine entertaining a friend with something comical or sentimental or just stupid sputtering out behind my blinking cursor like diesel bus exhaust. Yeah, just be true to your self, Mr. B. Special, Esq. I’ll have a name tag made up with that on it, fuchsia background with white letters etched in the plastic rectangle plate.

When I was a middle school teacher, I often had little pet names for some of my students. Usually there was some tangential evidence supporting the name choice. One lovely girl, Meredith, was just so put together and perky. Her mom taught down the hall from me. Meredith was her only child. It’s usually safe to pick on teachers’ kids because they have lived a similar experience and trust is easily attained. Anyway, Meredith was just about perfect. Every day she was prepared, and well groomed and coiffed, lovely teeth, and designer clothes. She did not flaunt her many advantages; she just quietly enjoyed them. I began by calling her “Murdith”,  a combination of “murder” and “Judith”. She corrected me every time. “My name is Meredith.”

Stock Photography - Happy teen student girl. Fotosearch - Search Stock Photos, Pictures, Wall Murals, Images, and Photo Clipart

“Yes, thank you, Murdith.” We played this game for a while until she began wearing Aeropostle shirts every day. I could not pronounce the word, so I simply called her by the color.

“Good morning, Miss Teal.”

“Oh, no. I thought I was Murdith.”

The next day it was aquamarine. Then lemon. Lime.  Then peach. Finally she wore an intense fuchsia shirt and the name fit. “Good morning, Fuchsia.”

“What’s that, Mr. Burrito?”

“It’s the color of your shirt. It’s you.”

“Did you take your medication today?”

“Yes, I always comply with doctors orders. Fyoosh.”

It was hard to make Murdith smile, but this day she could not help but laugh and smile her beautiful toothy smile.

“Oh my word!”

It stuck about as well as those peel and stick metallic parking stickers. You need a razor blade to peel them off. Likewise I have to strain my memory bank to recall her actual birth name. Fuchsia  just seemed so right, and she answered to it.

Free Clock Tower Royalty Free Stock Photo - 911805

What possessed me to explain to Fyoosh the alternate story of her birth, I don’t know. I suppose it was simply that I had the opportunity and a few beta waves washed over  my cerebral cortex, if I have one. Anyway, it went something like this.

“Fuchsia, it’s time you learned the truth of your birth story.”

“Oh here we go!”

“You know I only tell the truth, Fyoosh.”

“Of course. What’s my REAL birth story?”

“Well a very long time ago, let’s see, how old are you?”

“Thirteen.”

“Yes, it was thirteen years ago that your parents were walking together through the alley behind the American Legion.”

“Uh huh. Sure they were.”

“They heard what they thought was a baby crying inside a green steel dumpster at the back of the restaurant.”

“Yeah, my parents did. They never walk anywhere. Sure.”

“Your mom told your dad to look inside. Maybe it was a cat, she thought. She held his foot and he stepped up and over the side of the dumpster, only to see a newborn baby with a banana peel on its adorably cute head.”

“And that was me, right?”

“Yes, so your dad wrapped you up in bubble wrap and newspaper to hold your warmth in. He gently handed you over to your new mom who instantly fell in love with this little alien baby.”

“So now I’m an alien?”

“Yes, after the formal adoption was done, they listed your birth parents as unknown aliens, possibly from another galaxy.”

“Oh my word! Where do you come up with this stuff?”

“It’s all true, Fyoosh. You can ask your parents.”

“Oh I will tell them about this alright. You’re crazy.”

“Yes, I’m sure this is hard for you, but one day you’ll thank me for this truth.”

The funny thing is that she did tell her parents every bit of the saga and any additional details that I added later. In fact, whenever I see her parents, which is a rare occurrence, they usually tell me how Fuchsia the dumpster baby is doing. “Not bad for an alien baby with a banana peel on her head”, says her mom with a smile and a sparkle in both eyes. Beautiful Fyoosh grew up to be a physician’s assistant. If I should ever need her services, I’ll be sure to address her formally as “Doctor Fuchsia”. It’s only proper. She earned that respect.

It is funny how little conversations and word play can become attached to an otherwise mundane existence. I like to think there is value added by jokes and stories and verbal silliness. It’s even ironic that 15 and 20 years later, this is what is easily recalled while the dull entrées of daily life are digested and long forgotten.

So there you go. Now blow up.

 

 

222. Impaled

Somewhere between the poison toothpick and the

Cold steel heart knife

You were impaled on the wooden spike

Of secret shame

 

It’s a shame you couldn’t wriggle off

Nor touch your feet to walk

Without the spike splitting you in two

 

To talk with someone

Would kill you suddenly

So you chose the quiet death of slowly choking

Slowly choking back the truth…

The names and horrors ached

Like a broken tooth

unmedicated

 

Unmedicated? Not true, alcohol soothed

The terrible nightmares and helped

To vaporize the horrible stares

The horrible stairs led in a spiral dread

Downward to destruction

as toxic termites

Quietly fed

on your soul’s timbers

 

Timber!   Down it all came one day

Lumberjack worms won

And you stood

in shock and dismay

 

[Before a worn out mirror– unable to look or look away]

In shock and dismay you began

Unable to see or hear

The horrible eyes and syllables

of those days

Those dazes of dissociation

When a tiny dancer had to hide

When werewolves razed her village

 

Her village where wolves today graze like sheep

Now perplexes wary witnesses

How could these sheepish wolves be predators?

 

Predators prey on those who pray in vain

Whose veins are broken by angry jaws

that gnaw their victims on wooden stakes

 

With wooden stakes the shepherds watch their flocks

Of wolfsheep in green pastures

“My sheep know me and I my sheep”

“And I know they will attack me

If I don’t play along”

Say the shepherds impaled on wooden stakes.

 

Somewhere between the poisoned toothpick

and the cold steel heart knife.