332. Warning: Wed Wed Wine Ahead

We were waiting at a Wuby Tuesdays wecentwee when my wife wheelwe wanted a gwass of wine. It had been a wery wong day and when the waitress asked what she wanted, she wepwied, “Wed Wine”.  We waughed and waughed at the wispy wesponse. We fought it would be wonderful fun to wite a wistful post inwolvwing onwee wetter substitutions that awe often found in speech pherwapy, shinsh it’s fun to pway withsh words. A shhsshpeechsh sharwapist oncsh towd me the worwasht shhshhpeechsh impairwament to wectify ish the shhshtupid shshound of the sshhtuck tongue that comes fwom making the “S” shshound wiff the tongue on the woof of your mouff. It musht be to jushtify shhusch a wicked weeaction. I can sschhee this post is going nowherwa fast. Sshcheee, I know these schlings are twue.

 It’shh even morwa amazshing when you shhink about Bugs Bunny and all the other voicshes that Mel Blanc pwoduced. No one found them insshulting or powiticawee incowwect. I’m not shchsuwa that we have cwossed that wine yet where cartoon chawacters awha held to wealwee high mowal wawlues. Has anyone cwaimed that the Woadwunnah bwowing up the Coyote wiff weapons from Acme Fiwahawms and Expwosives caused a school shooting? I need to wesearch that.  Can you even imagine witing those comic scwipts? Or was it all impwovised on the spot?  What a talent! West in peace, Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma Mel. Dats all.

 Much harder to see speech than to hear it.  So my written words will fail to spit and stutter, and lisp and curl the way misspoken words do. As Mr. Fudd would say, “It’s wery, wery difficult to werify. Warwer dan hen’s teeth.” Fortunatwee we have awwl sorts of tools today that Mel Bwanc da, da, de, da, di,di, did not have at his da- da- da- disposal, the internet ba- ba- being a bi- ba- ba- ba- bi- big one…

“I say, I say, I said Son, now put down that there mouse before, I said, before ya’ll get hurt.” Foghorn Leghorn

“Dis ain’t no mouse, Foghorn. Dis is a phone. Wing, wing. It’s for you. Boom! Whoops, did I say a phone?  I meant a bomb. I taught I heard a puddy phone.” Tweety Bird

“Of course, you know this means war.” Daffy

“That’sth justh desthpicable!!” Daffy

Image result for daffy duck pictures

And on an on they go. The king of all cartoon animals, though, is Bugs Bunny. He had it all, the savoir faire, the cheeky humor, the slippery escapes. Unflappable Bugs.

So, what does this all have to do with today? Wine, speech impairments, and beloved cartoon characters?  I don’t know, but I like a challenge.  How could they all come together in an almost believable though purposeless narrative? Let’s see…

Announcer voice: “It’s a lovely night at the Cartoon Academy Awards night gala, live from Ceasar’s Palace in Costa Rica. Your host for this gala is Elmerrrrrrrrrrrrr FUDD. Everyone, put your hands and paws together for Elmer.”

“Thank you wery, wery much. I want to furrrrst of all thank the academy furrr inviting me to speak to awl of you tonight, herwah. Oh my goodness. Dair are surre a wot of you out deir in the dawk, wabbits and wildmen, mice and ducks, and even my werwy good fwiend Woody Woodpecker.”

Applause.

“Thank you all. Now, pwesenting the awawd fower Best Wabbit in a Comedy, is my fwiend and coweague, uh,uh, Mista Powky Pig.”

Applause.

Porky Pig:  “Uh, wa-wa-wa-well, Thanks Elmer, tha-the-the-that was, was so uh, uh, special for me. Whew! Now, the uh, the uh, give me the envelope, uh, pa- pa-pa-  PLEASE!”

Offstage Bugs, “Gazuhnheit, Doc.”

“Thank you. Um the uh, nomina, nominats, nomen-i-i-inknees are– Bugs Bunny for a Rabid uh, a Rabid uh, a Rabbit’s Life. Brer Ra- ra- ra- ra- rabbit for Tales from Uncle Ra- re-ra remus, and Cindy the Playboy Ba- ba- bunny for, uh, um, ra- ra- ratings.”  Tearing, “And the, the , the winner is… Ba ba ba ba bugs Ba ba ba ba bunny.”

Image result for bugs bunny pictures

WILD Applause, Bugs enters drinking a glass of merlot. “Yeeahhh, Whatz up Porky?  Thank you, thank you, please continue. Thank you, thank you.” Sips wine. “There’s nuttin like a good bold merlot to go with a little gold statue.  Achoo!  Bless me. I am flabbergasted to be your choice for, uh, Best Wabbit in a Comedy. Yeeeeah, Humbled by the graciousness of your generosity as well as  up pawled by the fact the, uh, [stage whisper] doity little secret dat Brer Rabbit is in a Ramada Inn right now with Cindy the Playboy Bunny. Whatz up with that? Why couldn’t Brer Rabbit pick up this heyah metal and I get the Bunny Momma?”

Porky, “Eh, eh, Ba ba ba Bugs?  This is, uh, uh, live t.v. here Ba ba Buddy Boy. We ga ga got no time for uh, wa, wa wa dialogue muh mah muh malfunctions.”

Bugs, “Yeeeah, I know, Doc. Soitently. But it’s hard being a lonely hare. I don’t need another cold statue on my mantel. I got no bobbin’ tail to come home to. I need love too, Porkster. ”

Pepe le Pew, “Ah certainmah, mon ami. Oui Oui. Amore is the champagne of life, the effervescence of zee evanescence. Zee ennui of ratatouille. Zee arbonne of se se bonne.”

“Yeah, Doc. I don’t hear French real good or I’d have you arrested.”

Pepe, “Oh pardon, my bonhomie, I mean no such sing of infamy for you. May I ascyst you? On me vivre as a skunk, I pledge to you my undying aplomb.”

“Uh, yeeeeah. I’ll take a large Aplomb and, uh,  a salad with thousand island dressing and a Spwite. Pwease.”

“We are like bruzzers in arms, my little Brodent.”

“Ayyyyy, Doc, I gots a show to finish before we, uh, hug it out. So, Pepe, say it wiss me, ‘That’s All Folks’.”

Dim lights. Bugs exits with merlot…

“Ahhhhh. Full body, a dusky fruitiness mixed with old forest French oak.”

cue up theme song

“Red, red wine
Stay close to me
Don’t let me be alone
It’s tearing apart…my blue, blue heart.”

 

 

 

 

 

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331. Not Fade Away

“If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad…”  So sang Cheryl Crow. Oh, but it can be this way; it is true. So many folks I know cling to something that made them happy, but over time it no longer does. They ache and pine for a lost loved one or an unfaithful lover. Bittersweet is the taste and the feeling that courses through them as they ping pong between tender longing with a dry throat or vinegary tears dripping down contorted cheeks. What a strange combination and contradiction when couples dance at wedddings to songs of heartbreak and melancholy, feeling safe, even invulnerable in a satin white coccoon. “That won’t happen to us. We’re special, protected somehow, immune.” And they sway to the slow rhythm of a broken heart song, unaware that they will follow in its hollow footsteps…

Bittersweet memories
That is all I’m taking with me
So, goodbye
Please, don’t cry
We both know I’m not what you, you need
And iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiIIIIII will always love you
I will allllllllllllways love you  {goodbye Whitney}

Oh, why do fools fall in love? Because love makes fools of us all.

 [Frankie Lymon and the Teennagers.]

Long ago I heard a therapist say that couples divorce for the same reasons they marry. This seemed contradictory to me, so I inquired further. Say what? “Yes. If a couple marries for looks, when their looks fade, as they inevitably do, then they divorce. If a couple marries for status and money, when those fade, they divorce. If they marry for the fun they shared in activities, when the activities fade, they divorce. And so on, with sex, popularity, health, etc. Even couples who are passionately attached with a sparky connection divorce when inevitably that spark fades.”

“So Doc, what’s the answer to this riddle? I mean, why don’t we all just hang ourselves now?”

“The answer is to marry for reasons that don’t fade or change. Immutable reasons.”

“Like what? ‘Cause everything changes.”

“Actually an adult’s core values are relatively immune to change. An honest adult is likely to be honest all his life, whether he is bald or happens to sport a full head of Elvis hair. A faithful, upright woman will be faithful and upright as well. A compassionate adult will live a compassionate life. A faithful friend is likely to be faithful to the bitter end.”

“So you are talking about abstractions not material world stuff.”

“Yes. Your ripped and toned body is going to soften and weaken if you live long enough. Your incredible hand-eye coordination is likewise doomed to a similar fate, even with Lasik surgery and testosterone treatments.”

 “C’mon, Man. Look at these abs…And great sex falls into this sad basket also?”

“Yeah, stuff wears out– muscles, organs, bones, blood vessels, skin, nerves. All fail one day.”

“You are killing me, man. Have you ever considered un-motivational speaking for a career?”

“Actually I have, but the market isn’t there. I have been called an emotional exterminator. The Undertaker of Conviviality. For a while I was a bouncer at Polish weddings.”

“Uh huh, you can empty a room fast.”

“Well, it depends on the crowd. Some folks lap up what I’m putting out there. But they are a lot more mature than you.”

“You mean older, right?”

“No, I mean wiser. The maturity that comes from successful suffering.”

“Look, I’m not going to stand here and listen to your condescending lecture.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know, I was hoping you’d back off if I got all Neanderthal on you.”

“Which only further proves my maturity point.”

“OOOOOkay. I get it. I’m infantile Now tell me something I don’t already know.”

“Life expectancy gets in the way of enduring marriages.”

“Huh?”

“Average life expectancy in the U.S. during the years of 1850-1900 was 40 years. And during those years folks didn’t have movies or television, fast food or central air conditioning. They worked 10 and 12 hours a day just to survive. They were so busy with survival that this drivel we’ve been discussing would have made no sense to them. You following me?”

“Yes Sir! I can follow hard facts easier than prickly paradoxes and slippery conundrums. These folks lived brief, painful lives and died after they procreated but before they grew tired of one another.”

“Something like that.”

“So they could fall in love for silly and superficial reasons but die before they saw the varnish tarnish.”

“Is that some sort of stupid play on words?”

“Yeah, you know, it’s like a rhyme. A little word play to lighten it up, Doc. You know, you are deadly.”

“Well, remember my audience, doltish, and the task I have undertaken.”

“Yup, I’m with you. I still think you suck at motivating people though.”

“Yes, so with the extended life together, American married couples were not prepared for decades of shared life overlapping more and more free time. It was just too much. Drama and bickering and the endless struggle for control developed once the television came to dominate American living rooms. It is clearly illustrated in this unrelated chart. As you can see, new marriages peaked in 2006 and by 2014 over half a person was  missing due to recessionary pressures.”

“Doc, I get the big picture, even though your chart has nothing to do with your subject at hand.”

“I didn’t think you’d notice. ‘Touche for ooya.’ How do you like that word play?”

“Doc, let’s finish with an affirmation. I don’t want to leave this post angry. Okay?  Think of the little Blogglers out there who need a boost. I mean, they have read this far hoping for something resembling intelligent writing. Lie if you have to, but don’t let them go to bed hungry.”

“You are pitiful.”

“I don’t care what you think of me, Mister. Just give my people a crust of intellectual bread.”

“Okay, you’ve warn me down. My final point is that if you choose a partner for ephemeral reasons, you will indeed have an ephemeral mayfly marriage. Modern marriage is a covenant agreement that may last sixty or seventy years in our modern era. It’s longer and harder than ever to make marriage work. So, build on solid ground with proven materials– faith, integrity, truth, transparency. They don’t fade away.”

“I prefer Buddy Holly’s advice… amen.”

“Not Fade Away”

I’m a-gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
You’re gonna give your love to me
I wanna love you night and day
You know my love a-not fade away
A-well, you know my love a-not fade away
My love a-bigger than a cadillac
I try to show it and you drive a-me back
Your love for me a-got to be real
For you to know just how I feel
A love for real not fade away
I’m a-gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
You’re gonna give your love to me
A love to last a-more than one day
A love that’s love – not fade away
A well, a-love that’s love – not fade away

 

 

 

 

 

 

330. Tightly letting go

The ghost grip rises northward out of my upper spine and starches all those supple muscles in my neck that had found warm relaxation at the beach last week. It’s just a single stressful day of the routine, and already the coffee, tension, and focus are pulling together like rusty marionette strings to make my head nod, smile, turn, and tilt. EEk!! It’s a bad trade, but the ratio seems to be 1:8, one day of work cancels out 8 days of relaxation. I’m trading dollars for pesos. Why?  Why do we do this to ourselves? For achievement of one sort or another, so I am told. We build resumes of rigidity.  And when we’ve had enough, we brittley retire from the brutality. Once we are fully, hopelessly  wooden boys, we finally soften up in preparation for the end– the letting go of doing and the embracing of being.  My retirement song will be “I’ve got no strings to hold me down, to make me fret or make me frown. I had strings but now I’m free, there are no strings on me.”  Pinnochio, where are you, man? I went to school. I worked like a donkey. And I behaved badly here and there. Now I want to be a no strings, fleshy, real boy again. If you can’t make it, Pin, at least sent Jimney Cricket to talk me down. I don’t want to live in a whale’s belly any more.

My peer group met at my house this morning for French toast and bacon, grits and coffee. (Grits come with or without you asking. It’s passive-aggressive Southern Food Fascism, an informal way of taxing and testing your guests. How will they deal with the grits? Like John Wayne or Lil’ Wayne? It’s a Rohrschach Test with boiled ground corn.) Whipped cream and blackberry pie filling were available along with organic maple syrup. Our topic for discussion?  The end of life, the inevitable decline of aging. For a field trip Dave 2 suggested that we visit his retirement community, which he just loves. A breathless lack of enthusiasm met his suggestion. No one wants to plan his own slow, fragile demise. So we don’t. We read about it in our book– Atwul Gawande’s Being Mortal. Lots of good stuff in there for other people to use. But Lordy, not me. I just hope to die in my sleep… long before I lose control of my bodily functions and mental capacities. I want autonomy, firm flesh and freedom till the end. Problem is, we don’t get much of a choice in the matter.I think it was Woody Allen who said he wasn’t afraid of death, he just didn’t want to be there when it happened. Me too, Woody.

According to Gawande, your best insurance policy against winding up in a nursing home is having a daughter.  Fortunately I have three. I hope at least one of them will keep me out of the nightmare of institutional living if that’s where I appear to be headed. Like most American men, I don’t want to become dependent, or more dependent than I already am. It’s a strange dynamic, this aging process. In a way it’s like playing poker with Death. You win almost every hand when you are young and can’t even imagine losing one day. As you get past 50, though, you notice the face cards aren’t coming your way very often. Forget about aces. You’re pulling a lot of 5’s and 8’s. No straights or flushes either. You fold more often and win seldom. Some folks call for a new deck at midlife. They quit their job or marriage, their church or their kids. Wanting a new purpose, passion or cause, and facing a barren horizon that is too much to bear…  they demand, “Dealer, new cards!!” The Dealer chuckles at these naïve players, neck deep in mortality.

“SNot that easy, Boys. Mortal means ‘ssssubject to death’… not if but when. SSSSoo, how about another hand, eh?” Eventually everyone learns that the Dealer always wins. Since this is the inescapable end of the material world story, what are you doing with the time we think is still available? Are you making a tighter, tougher resume? Are you tightening your abs and working a veggie diet?  Lots of antioxidants?  Good, good. But are you adding value to the time you are reupholstering?

Back to Pinnochio. He lost his strings when he explored his freedom. He blew it. He skipped school and fell for Stromboli, the bad dude with the traveling carnival. Every time he lied, his nose grew, which is not a bad adaptation. [Imagine if our politicians had this adaptation. They would be upright swordfish. Reporters would be skewered nasally in press conferences. Congressmen would skewer one another at hearings as they lied back and forth. In presidential debates, the guy with the longest nose would be declared the winner. Chris Christie wouldn’t have to lie about Bridgegate any longer because New Jerseyites could just drive back and forth to Jersey City over his nose.]

Anyway, Pinnochio found his soft flesh after saving his woodcarver father Geppetto’s life. Just when you think old Pinoak had drowned after the awful whale Monstro chased him, he is transformed into a real boy by the blue fairy. Boom! Why? What’s the Pinnochio secret?  Sacrificial love, my little wood shavings. He gave his life for his father, his wooden life, that is. Old Pinoak stopped lying and started using his noggin to rescue Geppetto and the cat. Image result for pinocchio and geppetto in the whale pictures As a result the Blue Fairy returned to change his splintered wooden heart into one of flesh. It almost sounds like a religious parable, eh? Sacrificial love actually transforms the giver and receiver. Like Shakespeare said about Mercy…

“The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown”

Sacrificial love may be mightiest in the weakest and most vulnerable, folks who have nothing to spare but find this gift in the empty cupboards of their lives. So, I’ll play another hand with Death. He can have my sawdust. I’m taking my fleshy heart with me.

 

 

 

329. Relax, loosen again

The blue horizon just sits there, level. Dividing a pale blue sky from its dark ocean self. Is the sky half empty or half full, or half full of emptiness?  Sixteen floors above the beach that horizon is the halfway mark of the sliding glass balcony doors I am gazing through this late October afternoon. Little white caps appear like silverfish  and then are gone as the waves roll into Myrtle Beach. Our last day of deep relaxation and peace. No phones, no schedules, no pressure, no worries. My little brain is plumping up again — a reconstituted prune– due to the week’s luscious inactivity. I feel like I am finally recovering from screamotherapy, also known as office work. Blogging is the only thing approaching work that I have done since last Saturday. Ahhhhhh. I know from experience, though, that this blissful pause will not last beyond Tuesday coming. Like a massage. And maybe that’s how it should be. If only we could reload more frequently with such bliss instead of wandering like desert bound camels far away from living water. “Mike, Mike, Mike, what day is it?…. HUMP DAAAAAAY.” Only galley slaves celebrate Wednesdays, my Bloggumps.

Before leaving home, people asked what I planned to do at the beach. DO? Nothing. No plangenda. Eat, rest, breathe, laugh, drink beer for lunch, sing silly songs, nap, shop with my wife, go to a show, and sleep. “Don’t worry about me. I will survive without achieving a thing.” I don’t want to jet ski or golf, parasail or fish, drive go karts or buy a time share. Those things require thought and ambition, not to mention money. I just want to watch the tide go out and come back in, like Otis Redding sang. And I’ve been successful all this glorious week in walking slowly up the beach and back, picking up broken shells and parts of sand dollars, as if these broken things were gold nuggets and rough diamonds, marveling at the whimsical genius in each shard. I’ve thrilled at the creativity of it all, at God’s hand in the tiniest of places. Ghost crabs and herons, sharks and ospreys, conch and scallop shells, children and old folks. It’s all good if you just let it be.

“How silly!” you might be tempted to say. “I can buy perfect shells at the craft store.” And you certainly can. Please do so. But I suspect if you are reading my eccentric meanderings, then you are not a perfectionist, unless you are doing a research project on sociopathic media.  As for me, I like brokenness, imperfection, flaws, nicks, dings, and apparent defects. You see: you can’t break it if it’s already broken, right? So there goes all that perfect pressure if you start with dents and rust. I find this especially true in the folks I call friends. They are eccentric, naturally, if they can tolerate me. Heck, they have lowered their standards to hang out with me, so it’s the least I can do to likewise lower mine.

Being a word nerd I like etymology, word origins. Relax comes from re+laxare, which means “to loosen again”.  Which makes me wonder aloud, ‘When were we laxare to begin with?’ Another way to ask this is ‘When did we get so uptight and rigid, so constipated?’ I suspect it happened during the industrialized socialization process known as high school. Most of us were herded into large warehouses and homogenized into teams or levels or some such commodification. Suddenly everything mattered or else we would not graduate, and therefore be unemployable, and therefore be homeless and wind up dead in jail for vagrancy. All because we did not pass ninth grade geography that no longer resembles today’s maps. Okay? Where did Rhodesia go? And the Soviet Union? And when did you last use Algebra II/Trig?”I once made a wooden Christmas drum for my mother-in-law and needed to figure out pi r squared. But that’s about it for me and higher math. The drum looked nice.

In high school I was taught that the Great Lakes were biologically dead. The Cold War would never thaw out. The sun would never set on the British Empire. And I could not succeed if I did not go to a good college. Now, the Great Lakes look great. The Cold War is lukewarm history. And the British Empire has shrunken down like a wool sweater in the dryer. All this is forgivable because we can just shake it all off as a snake would shed its old skin. But the tense sphincter factor of getting uptight about succeeding in life is not. Just being a regular guy in a relaxed manner became tantamount to being a loser. You had to grab on tight and never let go of the success train to achievement. Get busy, get educated… advanced degree, get a job, get rich, get married, get pregnant, get ahead, get a good retirement, get cremated. I must admit, this never appealed to me very much.

Listening to music, hanging out with my friends, reading good books– all trumped being super focused on my GPA or my gross annual income. I found it exhausting to care about others’ opinions of me. I like to say to my clients, “It’s hard enough to fly your own helicopter; trying to fly your neighbor’s helicopter at the same time will kill both of you.” Translated this means, “Work on your own life. Don’t bother with others’ views of your life.” Relax. Breathe. Just be.

A lot of what was presented as indisputable facts in the early 1970s turned out to be wrong, mere opinion, or just partly true. And I’m fine with that. Hey, there were no personal computers around then, no Google, just for a starter point. They didn’t know any better. I never learned how to write a research paper or do a chemistry experiment or solve a quadratic equation. Still, I’ve had a nice life, a great wife, three great daughters, my own business, and yes, laxare. I’ve been told a thousand times about how life could, would and should collapse on my Chicken Little neck. To date it has not. Like my broken shells I have found beauty in the tiniest places… and breathe joy deeply and loosely. It feels good, my Blogstaceans. Real good.

Keep the party going.

 

 

328. Vacate the Premises

A few times per year I need to vacate the premises. It gets chilly, plus too much continuous time in Turtle Town, like secondhand smoke, may be hazardous to my health. I know this because short bursts of time in Turtle Town make me a danger to self and others, so it only makes logical sense that longer periods of time simply aggravate the aggravation, gravitating toward a grave situation.  My butt gets deflated and spreads out like peanut butter on a warm summer day. My hips cry out for support, but none comes, not even Tom Brady. My protruding pelvic bones imprint shuffleboard cue stick marks on my leather office chair, skeletal remains are all that remains… or maybe I’m just hallucinating again. If you listen to paranoid clients long enough, you need Haldol too.Image result for person melting in lava

Either way you just know when it’s time to leave town. It’s like knowing when you have to turn off the Neil Young song train before you hang yourself with the power cord next to your I pod dock. [CSI investigator Bob… “Looks like he was listening to Down By the River.”  Ed, “This much sadness it too much sorrow…” Bob, “Yeah, it’s impossible to make it today.” ]  This is just good self care, Blogobblers. So, off we went to the true South, where grits and alligators live in harmony, that is if no ducks connect them. Add one stinking duck, however, and the feathers fly. The duck eats the grits, the alligator eats the duck, and the grits eat… uh, let me get back to you on this one. (Think!! What do grits eat? Alligator poop, that’s gotta be it.)

Last year it was Savannah, Georgia we graced and were graced by. (We  also visited Jekyl Island and the beach nearby.  It was a-gracing maze where the wealthiest Americans once roosted in the winters… Roosevelts and Rockefellers and the Burritos.) Walking around the city of squares and live oaks covered by Spanish moss and sordid gossip, we gaped and gasped and gulped at the jaded beauty of it all… lovely and culturally osmotic how that Southernness crosses the air/skin barrier and gets into your very marrow. In mere moments you begin drawling, “Ya’ll good folk, bless your little Rebel hearts.  Come on and give yo’ Mama a big ole hug. Look at that po’ homeless panhandler, Junior . Izn’t he precious? Give’m a dollar, Sugar. Ya’ll got nuff tea to melt yo sugar? We can double fry that Oreo cookie for you.” After an hour you’re singing Dixie and talking NASCAR with religious fervor. “In Dixie Land make a left hand turn, Look away, away.”

This year our destination was Charleston, S.C.  Folks, I am blog-plugging this city, though they don’t need my plug. Our tour guide told us Charleston is the Number One tourist destination in the USA. I can’t argue with a man who drives two mules and a carriage through a three hundred year old city without hardly watching. (See that? I tossed in a smooth Southern double negative there.) It became clear that Savannah was the little brother, the distant cousin to the throne of this historic bling. Wow!! The old city of Charles Town grew by filling in marshlands that had functioned as the municipal dump. Land was scarce, so many of the Charleston buildings of a certain age are one room wide, three stories high, and go deep in their narrow lots.

 Now you’re with me, huh?  Notice the open porches, piazzas, Baby!  In subtropical temperatures and humidity levels this was a breezy form of free air conditioning. Still is. Charming. Naturally you’d have to get along with your next door neighbors when you hang out so closely without electricity or television.  No wonder Southerners are famous for their nice manners. Sardines are also known for their quiet compliance once laid in tins full of oil, which is what the humidity levels feel like in August in Charleston. I’ve never heard of a sardine bar fight. Have you?

The John C. Calhoun House was beyond words. The current owner has taken artsy hoarding to Olympic levels. Priceless, one of a kind, irreplaceable, bubble over your mind’s cognitive dam as your senses are totally bombarded by perceptions and information. I never took LSD but I imagine its effects would be like a tour of the Calhoun House– psychedelically endless and ultimately unknowable– Tiffany lamps, Russian Czar silver, Chinese incense burners big enough to cook a whole pig. “Yeah, I tripped out there once…like Vegas in a snow globe, Man, or Jimi Hendrix’s walk in closet. Totally trippy and synaptically  sizzling. Words fail, Man. Dig it?”

It wasn’t till the next day at Boone Hall Plantation that the economic engine for all this magnificent wealth stepped clearly out of the antebellum fog. 13 brick slave quarters line the driveway up to the mansion house.

Three hundred and fifty year old live oaks shade the sandy lane but cannot hide the stain of slavery. Hundreds of Africans were run through and run down on this soil, making attempts at  producing rice, cotton, indigo, bricks, pecans and a host of other crops. The extant mansion house was actually built in 1935, so it’s a bit of an anachronism. It’s an odd spirit that settles in after you visit a few of these vacated cabins. They were well built with bricks and ceramic roof tiles made on the plantation when a German family owned it all. It is a strange premise that work will set you free. Where have I heard that before? There is that neat, orderly German thing going on where precise engineering went into producing things while not a drop of humanity was spilled exploiting human beings. A darkness builds as you visit each cabin and realize that the imperial wealth of nearby Charleston was extracted from the sinews and marrow of slaves.

Old-slave-mart-facade-sc1.jpg  The shame is not simply a Southern burden, though, even if Neil Young says it was. “I saw cotton and I saw black, tall white mansions and little shacks…Southern man when will you pay them back?”  Well, just like the darn duck in the earlier allusion, somebody bought all that cheap cotton. And somebody sailed those slave ships. And somebody bought all the slave made products at rock bottom prices. The market place was not the South. It was the disapproving, highly moral, can’t resist a bargain world that kept the slaveholders in business. Hmmmm. How about that? Not sure much has changed since the official end of slavery. The world still chooses to look away, look away, look away from the misery beneath the bargains we capitalized consumers enjoy.

I know that free market folks like to speak of the freedom that capitalism has inspired, how it has modernized and improved living conditions for the masses. I’m just not sure how I’m going to be real with the enslaved workers who made my cheap cotton t-shirts and socks when I meet them in heaven. Someone may have to vacate the premises.

327. Dilemmas and the Dalai Lama

Dilemmas are difficult double bind situations in life. The classic line “Damned if I do but damned if I don’t” sums up the word.

noun: dilemma; plural noun: dilemmas
a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones. For example,
“the people often face the dilemma of feeding themselves or their cattle”.
The official word origin says dilemma comes from “Di (two) Lemma (premises)” but it could come from two lemurs, muttered by a drunken Austrian dude, “der lemurs”, as he exits a petting zoo in Munich.
 We all face them, dilemmas (not der lemurs) in life. I recall when I got a loan for the house we built in 1985. Interest rates were ridiculous at the time. Oh how the Reagan love slaves forget. It was not unusual to get a fixed rate of 15% on a twenty year loan. Great for the banks but untenable for regular slobs who bought their own lunches.  We took a gamble and risked a three year variable loan at 11.5%. It was dicey because we feared the rates would go up again like a drawbridge after three fixed years and we’d be stuck forever on the wrong side as the Trump Yacht sailed through the bridge’s gap. Fortunately the market corrected in that time and we refinanced at 9% and then a few years later at 7%.  Nice returns for the banks but a bloody mess for the average working family. Bankers butcher their customers and leave blood and oxtails on the floor when they are done “helping” their customers… in my overly dramatic slightly eccentric opinion.
 Image result for banker pictures
The dilemma part was that paying rent went nowhere while real estate prices were only going up and up. So if you rented cheap places you could live on the meager wages you earned but never acquire any long term assets. On the other hand, if you bit the bullet and bought overvalued real estate at historically inflated interest rates, you were skating on thin ice in April. No wonder that dilemmas are often compared to the horns of a bull. Either option will gore you to death.
 That’s got to hurt. Oddly, hard charging hot growth economies are called Bull Markets, butt as you can see, (or, as you can see the butt) timing is everything.  This matador should have cashed out five seconds earlier. He may be singing “Der Lemurs” with the drunk guy at the zoo in his newly acquired soprano register. Not Tony Soprano either. To the tune of Edelweiss,
“Der lemurs
Der lemurs
Every morning you greet me
Black and white, clean and bright
You look maniacally happy to greet me…”
Clink! goes the tequila bottle against the St. Pauli Girl growler as the new friends stroll along the wide streets of Montevideo.
“You are alright, Pedro, but why do you walk so funny?”
“My butt cheek got gored by an angry two thousand pound bull at 8 miles per hour, Claude.”
“You don’t say.”
“No, I just did say.”
“Did you know Al Gore invented climate change?”
“Claude, you’re drunk if you believe that.”
“But I’m drunk if I don’t….”
Sure, it’s all good and funny until some poor matador gets gored in his back door. I mean, how would the attending surgeon go about that procedure? Now I get the example given above, “do you feed the people or feed the cattle?” Neither the bull nor the matador is going to want to eat after this chance meeting. “Just ice water with lemon for me, thanks.”  Me, I’d slaughter the bull, cut the horn off, and send the matador to the ER on a cart with a hole in it for his shamed face to hide in while checking his Facebook page.
“Holy Guacamole!  I went viral for all the wrong reasons. My nameless faceless butt is famous. Oh the humanity!”
Now here is my dilemma:  at 500 plus words into a frothy no calorie word shake, I must develop the other horn, as promised by my title–> His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Other authors who possess self respect, common decency and solid boundaries would stop here and delete the previous 500 words. But not a man named for an oversized Mexican flour tortilla. Burrito, you will be amazed to learn, means “little donkey” in Spanish or Mexican, as you wish. Sometimes also affectionately called jackass. I am not avoiding the Dalai Lama discussion with my trail of embedded footnotes. No, I’m just a curious guy.
 I do wonder what happened to the previous 13 Dalai Lamas, however. So I went in search of the truth at Google. In moments I was surrounded by more Tibetan Buddhist words than Madonna has stiletto heels. I had a hunch there might me a llama loose in the woodpile, if you know what I mean. And if you do, please tell me because I don’t know what I mean. Like a goat I pick all low hanging humor fruit, rotted or otherwise.  It’s delicious.
So, the Dalai Lama is the counterpoint to my first point, which I can’t recall making. In a nutshell it was about the dangers of drunk guys going to bull fights and singing songs from The Sound of Music. There was also something about interest rates and bull markets and bull crap. Let me cut to the quick–  the  man we have come to know as the Dalai Lama was a burned out accountant from San Francisco who moved to Montana, determined to start over again. He traded in his suits and lap top for a flowing robe collection, mostly saffron and scarlet. He looked like a college dean from Holy Cross on graduation day as he wandered about the hills and dales of Montana, looking for new meaning and purpose in his life. He took on a cowboy name, Dale, and began to raise and shepherd homeless llamas.

After several years, locals called him Dale the Llama Guy. It stuck. His flocks grew and his wisdom found a big enough sky to flourish beneath. Old Dale just spread out like smiling wildflowers, possibly edelweiss, blown along the foothills. One day, however, two slightly drunk guys came by singing “Der Lemurs”, and Dale knew what he needed to do… get to Tibet as fast as he could go, to save humanity from itself. And that, my children, is the whole truth about dilemmas and the Dalai Lama. Maybe.

326. Falling

Fall’s muddy footprint is pressing into the wet, gray landscape of my soul, and I don’t like it one bit. I am one of the foolish melancholics who complains about the weather. It’s fruitless, blogglers, but I still do it. Unproductive is what I mean. After all, it’s not as if I can put the weather on a performance improvement plan. Just gotta suck it up, Buttercup. Ironically I have four different fruit trees in my back yard that produce no good fruit. Still I keep them for shade and the amusement of critters. Not a single peach on the peach tree. One apple, One! on the entire apple tree. The pear was branch-breaking pregnant with fruit that was insect ridden. The semisweet cherry actually did produce a nice crop this year, but we weren’t interested in picking much. Pie cherries wind up in the bottom of the freezer years later, mistaken as freezer burned hamburger. Most years the birds devour all the cherries anyway. So, overall, after adjusting for exaggeration, it was a nearly fruitless summer. Though you can influence fruit productivity, you can’t make trees produce. There are just too many variables– frost, drought, bees, wind, other bugs, blight, fungi– and I’m not an orchardist with a sprayer. I’m just a guy with a blow dryer and hair gel. No extension cord. You just wait and see what you get; that is also life’s prescription.

Perhaps this attitude speaks of luxury and ingratitude. I remember when my wife and I were new parents and collected fallen fruit off the ground on our walks around Scotland School, tucking pears and apples into the baby buggy next to our first born child thirty four years ago. We humbly ate those pears and apples all winter long, stretching food dollars as far as we could, never imagining the day when we’d have all our material needs met and paid for. Which is where we are today. Zucchinis, goose necked, butternut, and acorn squash are piled in a corner downstairs. No hurry to consume them. We give more away than we eat. Our grapes did well this year and the red raspberries are finally catching on. No waste there, but I suspect this had more to do with timing than good stewardship. Heck, I rototilled our strawberries plants just to clean them up. The fruitfulness of our garden is almost an after thought these days. Mice and insects eat more of our strawberries than we get to.

Those thin, meager days of the depressed 1980’s were pretty bleak. We were the mice then, scavenging for sustenance. Scraping by. No need to worry about exercising then. We had to walk up two flights of stairs to our two bedroom apartment above the stream with a baby and groceries, and then back down to do laundry in the basement. It was a pleasant place to start a family, though my heart weeps a bit when I think of how naïve we were, how isolated.   Our sheltie collie CoCo used to chase ducks and run  on his hind legs on our porch, tap dancing with excitement. One tragic day he tapped right off the deck and fell 22 feet onto the concrete pad below. Fortunately for him he only blew out his hip socket and lived a couple more years without any disability. We were bad dog parents, admittedly. We were slightly better with our human charges.

Our house was situated right at the dam. Its drone was a dull roar in the soundscape. Some nights in April we’d see fisherman along the banks of the stream with lanterns, determined to seduce those fresh trout into a frying pan. It was a rather odd experience to have your yard invaded overnight by strange men in hip waders exercising their waterway rights. “Hey, Buddy, that palomino trout has my name on him.” I suppose the original Indians felt the same way about Western territorialism, but they are all gone. Maybe, just maybe their spirits live on in those ghost fish. Those trout were generously stocked in our back yard stream by men in a big tanker truck filled with water and fish. I fished with corn and hope, never caught a thing. I once considered shocking the stream just to get my hands on one of those elusive trout, and I don’t even eat fish. So why fish anyway? Maybe it was about proving my manhood adequacy quotient. Probably the same reason I shoot groundhogs nowadays. Dunno, Mate. Seems so silly now, don’t it?

Something about damp chilly fall days that gets my melancholy going. It’s just the opposite when spring’s warm wet days arrive with a trillion promises. Fall feels final. The spigot of sunlit glory gets shut off,  not deadly but prophetic of the sunless cold to come. So Neil Young songs come to me unbidden..

“Birds”

Lover,
there will be another one
Who’ll hover
over you beneath the sun
Tomorrow
see the things
that never come
Today
When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over.
Nestled in your wings my little one
This special
morning brings another sun
Tomorrow
see the things
that never come
Today
When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over.”
You can always count on Neil Young to take you to a foggy Canadian wasteland and abandon you there as wolves and bears pick up your hopeless scent. Thanks, Neil. I think after my funeral I’ll just plug in Neil’s greatest hits for background music at the buffet reception. Even if the attendees don’t like me, they will be sad, melancholy or morose. If you are there, blogmourner, try to put fruitful in a reference to my life. I’d really appreciate that, Mate.