343. Immigration Quilt

Some folks call me liberal; others call me conservative. My twin brothers-in-law, for instance, call me lots of names while playing chess. I think I’m consliberal or conliberative, a mixture of many threads. Both individual and communal minded. I like free enterprise and capitalism, it’s just that human beings suck and lie, cheat, steal, defraud, plunder, rape, pillage… you get the point. Therefore, we need a government entity to protect the community from the uber wolves who have no conscience. We also need government because we suck at being good citizens. Left to my own devices, I would not drive the speed limit nor get my car inspected nor pay taxes in a timely manner. Nor would you, comrade. I might shoot the neighbor’s barking dog at three in the morning after listening to it all night. Fish and hunt when and where I felt like it. Make my own rules as I went along. Still, we need productive citizens who make money and pay taxes in order to have a government that in turn protects us from foreign and domestic threats. But this is not my point, it’s just intro blather.

Lately the political/news porn lens focus has been on migrants. It’s not a new fear about the foreigners, the different ones. Way back when, it was the Catholic and the Jew who were feared and despised. Then it was the Eastern Europeans and then Asians and then Central Americans… all coming to  destroy our perfect union, which has never been perfect. Somehow these unwashed savage despicables were going to take our jobs, our land, and our women, which never really worked out, and in any event our ancestors took all of that from the Native People just after they hit the shores.

Anyway, talking with Gary after Sunday School this morning, he mentioned having had new citizens to his lovely home over Thanksgiving. “It was neat. Here we were eating Thanksgiving dinner with immigrants.”

“Gary, unless you are Native American, you’re an immigrant too. You just had a head start.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I just don’t know about the immigrants who don’t want to assimilate to our culture, you know, and want to stay in their own closed off enclaves.”

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“You mean like the Amish, the fundamental Mormons, the Shakers, the Hassidic Jews in Brooklyn, the Klan, the Branch Davidians, or drag queens, or gypsies, or…”

“No, I was thinking about these Muslims. They don’t want to assimilate and I can’t see how they can want to be Americans and at the same time work against being an American. You know, try to bend our country into an Islamic state.”

“I hear you. Everyone seems to have an agenda, but what I like about our country is that it’s like this huge quilt that is made of loosely affiliated people groups who somehow find a way to coexist. Farmers from Vietnam, bankers from Canada, doctors from India, pilots from Norway, nurses from Belgium, etc. Like last week in New York City, we drove through China town and Little Italy. Didn’t make it up to  Harlem or Spanish Harlem, but these places are all heavily ethnic yet assimilated. Actually, I’m not sure what a fully assimilated American would look or sound like, George Clooney maybe?”

“But it seems like these Islamists are radical and want to make us like them instead of just joining in, finding a niche for their culture inside the existing one.”

“Yeah, the guns and bombs are hard to ignore. Hmmmm. If one percent of Russian immigrants are evil, and one percent of Africans, and one percent of Mexicans, Indians, Pakistanis, Bolivians, well… I don’t know how you keep that per cent out unless you keep them all out. And that does not seem very American. I’m sure there were unsavory Irish, German, Italian and French immigrants. You and I descended from such stock and we’re pretty despicable. Heck, Georgia was a penal colony, for goodness sakes! Let me Google something on this…

The British used colonial North America as a penal colony through a system of indentured servitude. Merchants would transport the convicts and auctioned them off to (for example) plantation owners upon arrival in the colonies. It is estimated that some 50,000 British convicts were sent to colonial America, representing perhaps one-quarter of all British emigrants during the 18th century. The State of Georgia for example was first founded by James Edward Oglethorpe by using penal prisoners taken largely from debtors’ prison, creating a “Debtor’s Colony”. However, even though this largely failed, the idea that the state began as a penal colony has stayed both in popular history, and local lore. The English also would often ship Irish and Scots to the Americas whenever rebellions took place in Ireland or Scotland, and they would be treated similar to the convicts, except that this also included women and children.

“Can you imagine this today? Importing a group of known criminals, 100% of them known convicts. And what about slavery?  The despicables there were doing the importing. It was all okay then when cheap labor was needed. Today we send good jobs overseas and import sex trafficking victims, but it’s the same old sad story of evil people taking advantage of others.”

“You really think we’re despicable, I mean, you and me. A lot of the stuff I say about you is just joking, you know that, right?”

“Gary, even despicables like us get a swatch of printed poplin in that grand old immigrant quilt I’m talking about. We’ll be in the armpit section, but we’ll still be part of something bigger, better than we are.”

“So you don’t think we need to buy a bunch of guns and ammo and start patrolling the mall with Josh?”

“Actually the mall is going to collapse under the weight of its uselessness coupled with its undesirability and history of bad management. Folks just stopped migrating there when competition showed up.”

“You think some other country will open its arms to these refugees, then?”

“Yes. A land with barren spaces and no ingrained culture to overthrow.”

“In this hemisphere?”

“Sort of…I was thinking of Antarctica. If you squint, it sort of looks like a bunch of Amish guys dancing with Hassidic Jews and some Shiite dudes.”

 “Thanks, man. You have a way of muddling difficult facts in such a way that I just feel better leaving you.”

“You are welcome, my fellow traveler brother.”

 

 

342. Googly Eyes

Years ago, I mean 26-27 years ago, my wife and I took our two daughters out near Pittsburgh to spend a weekend with a couple we’d met through church, our old Catholic church. I’m talking ages ago, since my third and youngest daughter was not even a glint in her parents’ eyes then, and we stopped going to the Catholic church 16 years ago. I can’t even recall the couple’s names today, (Jim and Maryanne?) but they were kind and vibrant people who wanted to share life and their love of family with us. Their children were older, naturally, since they were maybe twenty years older than we were at the time. Still, their house teemed with toys and games and coloring books and left over cool stuff for kids to do. I vividly recall looking out their kitchen window as my girls played on swings and a sliding board. Erin was 7 maybe, and Grace was 2 or 3 years old. Erin was properly modeling safe, older child behaviors while Grace was rushing toward risky excitement, just the way her daughter Leah does today. As Erin carefully climbed the stairs to the tall sliding board, Grace gamboled up the slide like a monkey, holding the rails with her hands. In this one mental snapshot their different personalities are engraved on my father’s heart.

Friends of our hosts came for dinner and a meeting of the Christian Family Movement, I think it was called. They had known each other since the 1960’s and it showed in how they interacted so lovingly with each other. They all had stories of putting faith into practical application. Jim talked about befriending a widow neighbor down the road who had resisted mightily at first. His kids delivered her newspaper and shoveled her driveway and met her needs. Finally the old suspicious widow consented to their invitations to join in life.

That story impressed me so much that I determined to do the same outreach to an elderly couple on our street, the Johnsons, not knowing that Ruth would soon be a widow. I tried to model loving neighborliness to Ruth and Buck while he was still living. I cut their grass, helped stack firewood, shoveled snow, etc. Over the years my girls got some extra grandmothering from Ruth. They would run to her house to show her their latest guinea pig or sing songs with her has she plinked out a tune on an untuned piano. We still have the mechanical angel that sat on her mantel at Christmas that Jessica so admired. Ruth gave it to her before she moved.

But the story is getting ahead of itself. Back to Greensburg, Pa and the good CFM folks. In our lesson one of the men told a story that used props, little fuzzy monsters with googly eyes. I don’t recall the point of it all, but I do know that all the fuzzy monsters with googly eyes were given to my daughters when the lesson concluded. They thought they were in Oz with all the attention and gifts. We drove home in the early November twilight, grateful for the connections made and the model of family love given to our girls.

Erin and Grace played with their new toys over the next few days and nights. Erin in safe, older child mode. Grace, uh, not so much. The googly eyes became separated from the fuzzy monsters rather quickly, but these were still fun to stick on the end of a finger and wiggle so the “pupil” rolled around the white area. It was all fun and games until, well you know, until someone loses an eye.

I think it was a Thursday night. My wife was at some work related meeting and I had put the girls to bed, Erin quietly and effortlessly; Grace with more maintenance and direction and a billion more words. I settled into the pink corduroy chair in the living room to read the thin local newspaper. I had not finished page one when Grace came down the hallway. She had a finger in her nose.

“Daddy, I have a googly in my nose.”

“Honey, that’s disgusting. Don’t pick your nose. Now let’s get back to bed. I told Mommy that I’d have you guys asleep by now.”

I walked her back to her bedroom and told her to stay in bed.

“But Daddy, googly eye. I have a  googly eye.”

“No buts, Gracer. You get to sleep.”

No sooner had I sat down again and picked up the paper than Grace toddled down the hall again, a little more animated. “Daddy, googly eye nose”, she said with her finger  two knuckles up her nostril as she wrinkled her nose and made a face of worry.

“Gracie, I told you not to pick your nose. Now you have to go to sleep. Now! No more…”

Then she emphatically shouted, “No, no, Dadddy. Googly eye nose”, and pointed up her left nostril.

Fear came over me as I drew her into the light of the reading lamp and tilted her little head back. Impossibly high up in her nasal cavity a googly eye stared back at me, mocking my parental ineptitude. More than any other consequence I dreaded my wife’s wrath… “You did what?” while imagining a scene from the emergency room with child services employees ready to take my three year old into protective custody.

“Oh, no. Gracie, blow.”

She sniffed.

“No, no, no. Like this.” I got a tissue out and demonstrated blowing into it.

What would happen if she sucked the googly eye into her brain? What horrible surgeries would she have to undergo because I had failed so miserably to protect her from fuzzy monster toys with googly eyes?

Finally after multiple blow demonstrations, Grace blew out the dreaded, almost fatal googly eye. It stared back at me in the wrinkly tissue like a dead fish eye.

I thanked God for this minor miracle and hugged her with relief. I would have to tell her mom about it eventually but not tonight. It was just too raw and mucousy for discussion. I put Grace to bed for the last time and gathered up all the fuzzy monsters with and without googly eyes and put them in the trash. Truly, no good deed goes unpunished. Nor do endearing memories ever fail to stab at my old heart.

 

 

 

 

341. Thanks

Gratitude is such a powerful antidote to complacency, that overly comfortable place where we take life or others for granted. “Thanks” is a simple acknowledgement of a gift and implies appreciation if spoken without sarcasm.

“Thank you so much. I’m speechless with joy!”

“Honey, I just poured half and half into your coffee. It was nothing, de nada as they say in Mexico.”

“I know. But I think it was AWESOME!! It’s the nicest thing anyone has done for me today.”

“Babydoll, it’s 6:20 a.m. Give the day some time. You know, maybe someone will call you and say sweet things about you. Maybe a package or a card will arrive in the mail. Let the dog snuzzle you.”

“Maybe, but for now this pure and simple act of kindness is enough. I am loved homogenously.”

“Honey, are you tripping?”

 “No!! I’m just grateful for life, breath, a hot shower, dental floss, coffee, our house, warmth, you…”

“I hate to sound cynical and jaded. Maybe I’m crusted over and don’t feel it like you do. I appreciate all those things too, but I suppose I wouldn’t even notice unless someone stole them from me.”

“That’s a tragedy, I think. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone… that’s an old Joni Mitchell song, right?”

“Yeah. Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Pave Paradise, put up a parking lot.”

“What was that song called?”

“Big Yellow Taxi.”

“Really?  What’s that got to do with anything?”

“It’s a line in the song… ‘A big yellow taxi took away my old man’….  uh, after she heard the screen door slam. You know, a broken relationship and Joni is missing her loverboy now that he is gone.”

“They took all the trees and put’m in a tree museum”

“I gotcha… Now they charge the people a dollar and half just to see’m”

Together,  “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…. pave Paradise put up a parking lot. Dooo Whop Whop Whop.”

“You know I could sit here with you and watch the sun rise every morning. Usually I ‘d be rushing around to get to school right now instead of sipping coffee next to you.”

“Now you’re talking. I’m feeling this way more than I ever could about the coffee, the shower, my hair gel. Being at peace with you as you settle next to me, the dog snuzzling my leg, the fireplace glowing… yeah, gratitude is sorta’ bubbling up in my aorta.”

“That rhymes.”

“I know. I am the wordsmith nightingale.”

“No, you’re the mockingbird.”

“Wait. You read one blog post and now you’re my home girl?”

“No, I’ve always been your home girl. Like for 42 years or so.”

“I am so grateful for that, my dear Owl.”

“Owl?”

“Wise, gives a hoot, hoot, a toot, toot.”

“I liked the aorta sorta line better than the bad bird reference.”

“Wren did your taste change, My Tweety Bird?”

“Oh no! Here we go. Are you doing birds or words for 300, Alex?”

“I’d like raptors for 200 please.”

“The answer is Your Favorite Raptor.”

“What is the red tailed hawk.”

“Ding, ding.”

“Quail yourself, my dear. Think of the children, Christmas, Tiny Tim.”

“Why it should be Christmas indeed for me to drink a toast to Mr. “Finch.”

“Don’t be such a sapsucker. Tern the other cheek.  Swiftly swallow your pride.”

“There are four species of birds in that last quote.”

“And what did I win? Say the Daily Double, please.”

“Sparrow me your pleas, you warbling vulture.”

“Yes, my raven haired pigeon.”

“Thank God no one else can hear this impoverished drivel.”

“I  love it when you talk to me multi-syllabically.”

“That’s a sentence that has promise, it’s musical and suggestive of more to come.”

“Of all the gin joints in the world, you had to walk into mine.”

“Casablanca, Bogey and Ingrid Bergman.”

“Yes, doll face, you know how to whistle. Just put your lips together and blow.”

“C’mon, it’s too early in the morning for my brain.”

“And I’m glad for that too. The world can wait for us today.”

“You’re not going all complacent on me, are you? Are you taking it all for granted again?”

“No, but I think I have found a sort of settled gratitude, full of awareness and bliss in peaceful coexistence. No one is paving this paradise, Tweety Bird.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

340. NYC

This past weekend was spent in Manhattan, New York, New York. “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere”, so the song goes. [“Unfortunately, if you can’t make there, you just go home and mope about what a sucking loser you are.” That line was mysteriously cut from the original version of New York, New York. Apparently it lacked musicality.] Our pilgrimage this year was the least stressful trip to, through, and out of Manhattan that we have ever experienced. We being my lovely wife, my operatic daughter, and I. Last Christmas was the last time we visited and whatta, whatta, whatta nightmare it wa- wa- wa- was!! The traffic was inhuman. Cruel even.  We spent two hours getting through the Holland Tunnel and then putzing through lower Manhattan over to Brooklyn, where we returned my eldest daughter to her micro apartment thimble-sized sparrow nest. (I am feeling re-traumatized now just typing about the memory. “I’ll have a Xanax martini, bartender. Make it fizz.”)  I got stuck in the crosswalk just a block away from the tunnel entrance on the Jersey side. A murderously angry driver in a Lincoln town car blew his horn and accelerated like a rabid bull toward my side of the car as we sat helplessly in the intersection, expecting to be gored on the doorstep of the Big Apple. Dude locked up his brakes and stopped inches from my door, like it was a mob hit, think of Sonny at the toll booth in The Godfather .  We all screamed in anticipation of the impact that did not come to my new car, but the horns just kept blaring at me, condemning my blatant tourist fox paws, that’s French for a social blunder.  The stress kept mounting until my skull cracked open and a tree grew up from the pavement of my corpus callosum as we entered Brooklyn. What kind of tree, you ask?  A coconut naturally. I had to tilt my head forward to avoid catching the fronds on the Williamsburg Bridge supports.

Image result for coconut tree growing out of someone's head pictureThat’s what it felt like anyway, a massive fuzzy spider web of stress that spread out from my brain stem across every millimeter of my crawling skin and then crystallized into veins of brittle glass. Simply breathing required focus due to the overwhelming video game exploding on the other side of my windshield, sucking my eyeballs out of their fragile sockets– trucks, taxis, buses, scooters, skate boarders, bicyclists going with and against traffic, and endless pedestrians on cell phones talking to their lawyers about potential traffic torts. [I need a breath here. Whew!! “Bartender, another zantini.”] All this stimulation palpitated at the bottom of incredibly interesting canyons of amazing architecture and iconic buildings, bridges, and statues everywhere. Wha- wha- wha- what the heck!!! You don’t realize that you have stopped blinking due to your very active fear of death. Naturally your eyes dry out and the sooty air begins to sand down your corneas. And yet, on this razor’s edge of existence you feel fully alive and a part of this liquid human magic act where thousands ebb and flow by one another crimelessly. It should never work, this human bee hive, but some primeval cooperative gene turns on and millions of humans glide by each other as if choreographed by a master dance genius.

Of course it helps if you come in to Midtown via the Lincoln Tunnel. No muss, no fuss, just 14 bucks. And then stay near the theatre district, which we did this time. Thankfully, our street, 37th, was actually closed due to some construction project at the end of our block. We parked, yes PARKED, across the street in a garage for less than $50 a day. Our tiny suite was quiet, QUIET. The only word we could not use, in fact, can never ever be used in NYC, was CHEAP. New York is a huge money meter monster that has to be fed richly every hour or it will grind you up and spit you out onto the grimy sidewalks where those same millions of minions will trundle by crimelessly self absorbed.

Where do they toilet and bathe, the homeless?  Forget laundry. They are like the pigeons, living on the crumbs and debris of the well heeled Gothamites. God knows when a sparrow falls. I guess He knows when all these human pigeons scuttle about, living like modern lepers. I ask myself ‘Why is it that some folks sell junk on the streets and others beg? They spend just as much time on the same street.’ The one standing offers you a hat, an umbrella, a t-shirt, tickets to a comedy club, or a photo of John Lennon hugging the Naked Cowboy when they were both toddlers. The slouching other asks for your pity and jiggles a cup with coins. They are both selling junk, but the one still standing does not believe he is the junk being sold.  Meanwhile I’m going to a two hour show and put my butt in a $75 seat. I’m eating dinner with $18 bottled water to wash it down. And I wonder how these guys even got into Manhattan at $14 a pop. Happily there is no charge to leave. But why does their image burn deeper and last longer than the sentimental musical I paid to see? I guess their performances are more meaningful in the grand scheme of things. Unforgettable even.

No matter the cost, I think of my New York trips as investments, not as frivolous and extravagant waste. It’s like Dorothy going to Oz. Visiting Gotham makes living in Kansas or Central PA more bearable.

Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leavin’ today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York
I want to wake up, in a city that doesn’t sleep
And find I’m king of the hill
Top of the heap
These little town blues
Are melting away
I’ll make a brand new start of it
In old New York
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York

 

339. Free Agency

The concept of free agency comes from the world of professional sports, as far as I know.

In professional sports, a free agent is a player who is eligible to sign with any club or franchise, i.e. not under contract to any specific team. The term is also used in reference to a player who is under contract at present, but who is allowed to solicit offers from other teams. In some circumstances, the free agent’s options are limited by league rules.Image result for Richmond Braves pictures

Before Curt Flood sued Major League Baseball for being a monopoly, pro teams simply drafted players and more or less owned that player exclusively. Players were traded with or without the players’ input. It was reminiscent of an enlightened plantation system. Players were paid but did not have any bargaining leverage.  Minor league teams are still called the farm system.plantation, cockspur island, georgia, slaves, slave life, black history

And what is farmed then harvested  there?  Pro players, human beings.  Sometime in the early 1970’s the Supreme Court agreed with Curt Flood and a system of free agency developed in baseball and then all pro sports. Salaries exploded and so did individual egos and prices for anything connected to the superheated frenzy of professional sports teams.

I often borrow the concept to instruct clients, who are sometimes players also, about transitioning from one relationship status to another. It’s not as simple as Facebook status changes where you merely click on a different label. For example, I often have angry seventeen year olds who are jacked up about getting out of their parents’ control and house. These kids think that on their 18th birthday some sort of mind meld magic will transform them into free agents. FREEDOM!!  Legally, yes, they are considered new adult citizens and they gain various rights like voting or signing contracts. They tend to overlook the responsibility load that is the counterweight to freedom. However, make no mistake about it:  they are not free agents in any other sense. Naturally the question is asked of me, “So what makes me a free agent and when?”

My answer is my own. It has not been researched or surveyed or subjected to statistical analyses. I say something like this… “When you have been paying your own bills without any help for five years. When your old bedroom is a den. When you are fully affiliated with a new team. When you make all of your own decisions and stick around for the consequences.”  All of these comments add up to this, “When you have grown out of financial, emotional, legal, and psychological dependence on your folks.” Breaking one link is just the beginning. It takes a long time and a powerful chisel to blast off the invisible handcuffs.

In broken romantic relationships this concept is painfully obvious to outsiders. The unhappy wife flirts with a paper hanger guy because her husband does not pay her any more attention than he does the furniture.  Shabang! Image result for wallpaper hanger guy pictures

Bob the wallpaper guy has all the time in the world for Sylvia as he teaches her how to soak the paper and book it over into a manageable size. It’s thrilling as he stands close behind her hardly whispering instructions to her on how to smooth out the bubbles and glide the wet paper into its proper alignment. Something tingles in Sylvia that has not tingled in years and she is smitten with his voice, his strong clever hands, his aftershave, even the Juicy Fruit gum he slowly chews as he squint winks at her from head to toe. “You are a mighty fine woman, Sylvia. I tell you what I’d like to do if you were mine…”

Of course, Bob leaves out the fact that he is between spouses himself. He fails to correct the small sample size that Sylvia is rushing to fall in love with. He owes back child support and his last divorce attorney a pile of money. And there is his current paramour Janet. But, hey, none of that is around right now.

Problem is that the ecstatic Sylvia is not a free agent, nor will she be for years. By then the wallpaper will have become so yesterday and very unsexy. No matter, she will have jumped ships, only to find out the rest of Bob’s story is so, so unsavory… A1 sauce on sunbaked road kill possum. 

No free lunch or free agents at that buffet. Oh, but the promises of Chateau Briand and Cabernet Sauvignon only make the available grub that much more nauseating.

No one wants to grieve or wait to love again. So men and women going through a divorce date others, who may be going through divorce themselves. No free agents here. Instead a compromise lives with or promises to marry another compromise, which makes for interesting introductions at gatherings.

“This is Sylvia, my, uh, friend, good friend. Buddy, partner, love of my life.”

“But Bob, you are still married to Stella, aren’t you?”

“Well, she just has to sign the papers and we’re done. I’ve moved on emotionally.”

“How convenient… you get to skip all the grief work and the transformation that suffering renders in a soul laid bare.”

“We are spiritual spouses,” adds Sylvia. “We are married in God’s eyes.”

“Did God tell you that?”

“No, but I’m sure He wants us to be happy. That’s what Jesus died for.”

“Um, not sure about that, Sylvia. I think he wanted us to be holy, honey.”

“Whatever!  When your husband quits desiring you, he’s basically breaking the contract, so you are free to go. That’s in the Bible, somewhere.”

“In the Book of Bob, I think. Look, you guys are driving a duct taped together rusted minivan  relationship off a cliff, and your kids and friends and other relatives are hanging on as you bounce into the spikey abyss.”

“Kind of exciting, isn’t it?”

“Kind of bigamy, isn’t it?”

“You are so old fashioned, Dude. Let’s go Bob. Gun the Harley and jump the canyon. If it makes me happy, it can’t be that baaaaad.”

 

 

338. Bloggerazis

The kid asked to be in my blog, like it’s Broadway for the weird. Actually, I have to ponder this analogy further. I do have a lot of weirdos, village idiots, wildmen, and perverts in my cyber pages. No one consciously auditions for my blog space, however. In fact, they often threaten me with civil suits, bow ties, and tweed jackets if I do not cease and desist my slanderous blathering. Okay, just Joel. Others simply do not know they have been featured. And how would they unless through the Ethernet of internet connectivity and global shrink?  [I don’t know what that last sentence means, but I like how it sounds informed and cutting edge intriguing.]

Unbeknownst to me, a friend from my old neighborhood days found my blog and faithfully read every post from the start right up to this point. For legal purposes we’ll just call him by his nickname, The Weasel. Weasel has been sporadically contacting me and bathing in the nostalgic bubble baths I have transcribed onto blank screens across the world and into the dimly lit living rooms of my three devoted followers on Haldol. I find some strange comforting validation in his faithful following. And an odd accountability since he knows many of the characters and landscapes I’ve written about. Oh the Humanity! Blogging is not as easy and simple minded as I make it appear, my people. Will you drink from my cup? I didn’t think so.

So here we are. Dorothy is the newbie barrista at the coffee shop and the daughter of fellow Sunday School members, Karlina and Eduardo. Mom is Austrian and Dad is Bolivian, if  you a’ bolievian me.  Dorothy was the lead in The Wizard of Oz  just recently in our local community theater. Besides being very talented and pretty and 18, she can realistically pass for 13 with braided pigtails and a plaid blouse. (Judy Garland pulled it off in the movie, but she was 16.) Now I had voiced my intention to see her perform. However, I failed to fulfill my intention due to other lame obligations. As I apologized for my absence yesterday, she said, “That’s okay. You can write about it in the blog.”  Redemption? Or redaction? Dunno yet, but I’ve written with less direction and less likelihood of success. I will boldly go where three blind mice fear to tread.  “Onward men, toward the Farmer’s Wife and her butcher knife.”

Wow!! I don’t know if she knows what she has asked. Like a toddler who wants a sip of Uncle Billy’s beer, the unacquired taste is immediately revolting so the toddler spits out the very thing she had just longed for. It looked pretty and seemed to be valued by valuable adults, so the child’s reasoning goes. Opening the hallucinogenic world of Burritospecial to someone who was a minor just last year… that’s dicey. I wrestled with the slippery, wormlike ethics for just a moment and then hung it on the hook for blog fishing. Ethics shmethics!! I’m not selling crack here, am I?

Well, Dorothy, in this adult world we struggle to make sense out of nonsense. We don’t always get our needs met in a timely manner. Folks fail and let us down, and sometimes we are the folks.  Let me  quote the philosopher Mick Jagger…

 

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

I saw her today at the reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she would meet her connection
At her feet was a footloose man
No, you can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you needAnd I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, “We’re gonna vent our frustration
If we don’t we’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse”
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need
 
I went down to the Chelsea drugstore
To get your prescription filled
I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy
And man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda
My favorite flavor, cherry red
I sung my song to Mr. Jimmy
Yeah, and he said one word to me, and that was “dead”
I said to him
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need
You get what you need–yeah, oh baby
 
I saw her today at the reception
In her glass was a bleeding man
She was practiced at the art of deception
Well I could tell by her blood-stained hands
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need
I don’t have much to add. Life is short and often full of peril. Suck the juice out of every minute just like you reportedly did on stage, Dearie. Be prepared and yet never get so rigid that you can’t flexibly come on back to Kansas.  “Oh no, Toto come back.” Truly, as weird as it may be, there is no place like home.

337. Holy Bird Poop!

A thousand topics flitter across my brain like bats and barn swallows at sunset. Zippity dooo daah day. That’s how it feels. One will eventually rest on a branch of my mammalian brain, causing a little bounce action I may attend to. Darn work and life get in the way, however, and off flies the batty swallow idea, never to be seen, heard or felt again. I am left with a tinge of frustration, like the early winter night an owl settled in the hickory tree at the end of our lot. I stood quietly on the upper deck, watching the branch bounce beneath his downy weight. I was breathlessly quiet, hoping to spend some time in communion with this creature when my youngest daughter screeched for me on the other side of the sliding door. Whooosh! Away Mr. Owl flew, a big fat missed opportunity. Dang it!!

Now I’m not claiming that some bird is more precious than my precious daughter. If the situation were reversed and I had an owl in my house and my daughter bouncing on a hickory branch, I’d be just as upset when he screeched and she flew. Fair is fair. What I am saying is that opportunities do knock, and sometimes no one is home. Sometimes, through no one’s fault, you just can’t respond, and something like a tragic spasm rips across your abdomen. Yeah, most of us walk around with invisible machete slashes near our navels. “Senor Zoro was here.” At some point we have all been emotionally eviscerated… and can never forget the cold  blade plunging through the rib cage.  You fill in the blank, my friend. Betrayal, grief, shock, horror, disgust, or Donald Trump.

 These things are inevitable if you live long enough. Disappointment and hurt, anger and bitterness can settle in our bones like arthritis, occasionally flaring bursts of pain into our calcified disjointed days… if we let them.

What is far more rare are the twin doves of mercy and grace. I was recently given a HUGE shipment of both from my long suffering wife. Let me just say here, I am not easy to live with. I am snippy and snooty and impatient and hemorrhoidal at times. And unlike the written word, you can’t edit out unartful snarkiness and selfish impatience. Once you ring that rusty iron bell of “me first justice”, you can’t unring it. There is no memory eraser thumb drive that sucks out the stupid, rude bloviations that come out of my mouth. I’d love to get one with a historical rewind feature, but they don’t exist. So we have the hardened crud of negative interactions dried onto the memory plate, burned on the sacred skillet of marriage. Can I get an amen? Or am I the only husband in America who frustrates the woman he loves to the point where she wants to kill him with a ball bat but pulls back due to the holidays and family feelings and the fact that she just bought me Christmas presents?  Maybe in the new year, once things are settled down, she can kill me without so many complications, while the local police are at domestic violence conventions in Florida.

You see, I am a part time (okay, full time) mockingbird. Annoying, and yet sometimes welcome. For instance…

… the title and central metaphor of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. In that novel, mockingbirds are portrayed as innocent and generous, and two of the major characters, Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie, say it is a sin to kill a mockingbird because “they don’t do one thing for us but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us”.

Well, they can still be quite annoying. Just ask a cat on a still summer day as a mockingbird swoops and squawks at it relentlessly.  I confess, I have swooped and squawked at many a cat, wife and kid around my house. It’s not right but it is true that we show our worst, our crowiest selfus

to those closest to us.

I don’t know what mockingbirds eat, but I do know what forgiveness tastes and feels like– it is the finest honey anyone ever poured out and the purest balm on an open wound.  Makes me feel like a hummingbird amid an oasis of divine nectar. Unearned joy erupts in my heart’s furious flutters– it’s a recovered onside kick with 18 seconds on the clock and victory is suddenly possible again after hope was dashed on cruel rocks. (Yes, the Packers game is on behind me; however, I am vigilantly on task against mixed metaphorical language.)

So let me go with the big message here. You can’t unring the rusty bell of justice, Blog sparrows, true. Our world is broken and sinful, and I am good at both brokenness and sin. Maybe you are too. That morbid iron bell rings out our trespasses and failures, calling us to the shackles of the past. The only antidote I know is the crystal bell of mercy that says it’s all behind us now. This bell calls us to a banquet of mercy and grace, milk and honey, love and faith. Long ago birds were seen as messengers between mortals and God, since they traversed the heavens but nested on earth.  Well, maybe they still are. Even mockingbirds.

 

 

336. Ululational Eulogies

I was about to exit The Coffee Nation Summit this morning and enter the cold drizzle outside when Joel walked in, dressed in his goose hunting hat and matching trench coat, as if he had just come from a goose blind or a secret agent convention. I squelched my urge to honk, thinking he would not get the connection so suddenly, or else he might just be packing a goose gun under the trench coat and fire, claiming later that it was all just a big honking misunderstanding. Being an attorney he could easily weasel his way out of all responsibility– legal, moral, intellectual and financial. All this in just a flash as the shabby green door closed behind him, trapping us in a verbal twilight zone.

I turned around, sat down, and began to psychologically fleece him once again. Big weekend coming up with the community tuba-thon on Saturday, he shared. Then he had a financial presentation to give somewhere else to tomorrow’s leaders.

“Oh, so you are over booked?”

“Not exactly. It’s just that I may be pressed for time between the two events since they are twenty miles apart.”

“Here’s where I can help you out. I could be your stunt double. At which event would you like me to fake being you?  The money talk to teens or the tuba-thon? Damages to the former will not show up for a decade, whereas my tuba playing will immediately insult the sensitivities of that audience.” Followed by an amazing full blown cheek tuba rendition of When the Saints Come Marching In.  Bump bump bump bump, (breath) bump bump bump bump, (breath) bump bump bump bump bump bump bump bump…  “I want to be in that number, when those saints come marchin’ in. Everybody, Oh when the Saints…”

“That’s the only song you know, isn’t it?  I think I’d better handle the sousaphone duties, thank you. You probably could confuse the teens for an hour. Isn’t that what therapy is after all– an hour of confusion that requires the patient to come back in a week to unravel the conundrum you raveled the week before?”

“That’s harsh. I would never say something like that about you, Joel.”

“How do you manage to keep a straight face when you lie like that?”

“It’s a skill you learn in the first year of law school.”

“Now, now. Let’s not start in against my people.”

“Okay, I think we should pursue a serious topic. Your funeral.”

“I’ve never given it a thought.”

“I knew it! You of all people, who plan estates and fleece wealthy donors out of money for the college, you have not made your own funeral arrangements?  I’m shocked, and I don’t shock easily. No, strike that last comment. I am tazed, not shocked, tazed, mind you, and roiling in the electric current of social trespass…”

“You know I do sometimes question your mental health.”

“And I you, Brutus.”

“No, not Shakespeare, et tu, Brutu. Please don’t ruin all cultural refuges for me.”

“Ruin?  I am merely carmelizing your experiences like fine chefs do at the shi-shi restaurants you frequent.”

“You mean your are carbonizing my neural filaments, burning up my mother board. Burning the petite filet.”

“Okay, seriously. I have been asked by a friend of mine to deliver his eulogy if he precedes me in death.”

“And you would do that for ME?”

“Certainly, Joel. For a fee.”

“Will you say nice things? I don’t want you to make a scene and upset people who may still believe in my dignity.”

“What do you care?  You’ll be dead and in… well, I don’t want to judge you. You’ll be wherever it is you deserve to be for all the underhanded and deceitful things you’ve done in this life and any positives you may have accidentally done along Life’s Highway.”

“But you don’t know me all that well. I mean, I’m afraid you have a small sample size.”

“Oh, Brutus, not you. I know that you have always had a thing for low hanging fruit.”

“That’s true.”

“And you gave up bowling after winning a trophy in sixth grade for high set score.”

“Yes, but I just told you that ten minutes ago. How will you make it sound sincere.”

“Joel, let me work the magic. I’ll just take out my friend Sam’s name and put yours in. No one will notice.”

“You don’t think so?”

“No. Uh, for example… Joel and I worked construction jobs together in the summers. He was twice the manly man that I was. He loved BB King and classic rock. We went to many a concert together and once got mooned by a carload of kids after an Emerson, Lake and Palmer concert on the Capital Beltway. Turns out that it was my little brother and his crew turning the wrong cheek just in time for a Maryland State Trooper to catch a glimpse.”

“No one will believe you. That is not my experience. I can’t condone such utter….”

“Don’t worry. I’ll mention what a horn toad you were at the gym, and ….”

“No, there will be an uprising to protect my good name. I would not be surprised if some of my church friends did not chase you out of the pulpit with rakes and  hoes and badminton racquets for the heretic you are.”

“That’s the beauty of the whole thing. I will be your ululating eulogist scape goat. Don’t you see? All those folks who simply came for the meal will be so uncomfortable with my indignities that they will rush the altar and chase me away, totally forgetting what a sleazebag you were. It’s brilliant. They will be half a mile down the road, out of breath, covered in sweat before they realize that I was only speaking the truth.”

“How much?”

“Ten percent or a $1,000, whichever is higher.”

“Done.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

335. Amore perfect day…

Image result for brilliant fall day picturesA more perfect day I can’t recall

as the lazy leaves litter emerald lawns-

no need to cut or weed again

till spring dawns.

The sky is a sapphire dome

with a glowing tungsten sun

massaging fifty five degree air

into ideal running weather.

As I run out and then home

A wisp of a breeze about.

No traffic, no body in the park

jogging along trying

to get out of myself and

breathe God’s glory in and out.

“Abba… I belong to You.”

Brennan Manning suggests this prayer

for 30 soothing

minutes a day, only this prayer

till transformation arrives.

Old Norman Rockwell would cry

’cause he couldn’t paint this blissful

riot of colors and shapes yanking at

my eyes for praise and wonder.

I just keep pounding away
savoring the dusty smell of dry oak leaves
Don’t think, draw no conclusions
Be a leaf tumbling down to the earth
Simply breathe, “Abba… (inhale)
I belong to you” (exhale)
 
Forget the connections and the constant
knitting of perceptions into some fruitless fabric
of meaning. No, unravel me, God.
Blow through me
shredding all my manmade knots;
pull me through the knothole
to Your side
where truth and love reside.
Here I’m too big in my pride
Too wide in my self love
Shrink me, God, with a syringe of humility
Draw me down gently like a sunset
“Abba… I belong to you”.
 =====================================================================
This was my internal monologue as I jogged my two miles today, waiting for my body to revolt, but it didn’t. The lungs and legs kept churning reliably. So nice since I hear of many folks with compromised health, and I, of course, naively hope to be the exception to disease and injury. Silly self delusions. No one gets out alive, though many get out unaware of eternity, never knowing why they lived or what it meant. No thanks. I’d rather have the truth in pain than ignorance in bliss.
 
I came up the rise to where Eric’s blue fountain sits, a little oasis for dogs and humans. 360 degrees of autumn glory sang out to my senses. I hugged the round fountain, warmed by the afternoon sun. “I miss you, Buddy. Your love, your joy, your purity. Go Steelers!! Yeah Buddy.” I thanked him for the short drink and started to wander off, wondering how Eric is doing in heaven. Joy, joy, unspeakable joy is all that came to my love kneaded mind. I thought about his funeral in February. We sang “Joy to the World” to him and for him. On this fall day I thought Beethoven’s 9th was in order. “Ode to Joy” is the English  translation. Everyone knows the melody. Just a couple of lyric lines will do…
All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
 Image result for orchestra director pictures
I imagined Eric leading a celestial orchestra the same way he used to lead bands at the winery when we all went to dance. Eric would dance and sway in his own zone of supreme happiness. Everyone knew he was special, beautifully special. My friend Clark said, “No one got more joy out of his time than Eric.” And I agree. Let that sink in as you drink in joy. What a wonderful way to honor Eric’s memory with a fountain to refresh you and your dog; a dogwood tree to impress you with its beauty; and a bench to rest upon. Eric was a famous rester and generous with his extravagant joy.
Months after Eric’s funeral his dad Dave kept praying for a word from God to know that Eric was alright. His father’s heart was gnawed at by the relentless rodents of not knowing. Then one afternoon his phone rang with an unfamiliar number. Music blared, the Vienna Boys Choir… and then an old voicemail from Eric burst across time, “Hey Dad. I’m fine. Love You. Bye.” Joy, unspeakable joy, swept over my friend like one of those street cleaner machines. Big brushes scrubbed away disbelief and grief for the moment. He ran to get Vickie and share the wonderful message from the maestro of joy. Listening to it eased the ache of the razor blade in his heart, as grateful tears rolled down his cheeks. “My Boy is all right. He’s alright. He managed to call me. Wow. Unbelievable.”
In the ICU Dave’s question had been “Why? Why?” as Eric lay like a pin cushion mannequin, tubes and monitors tethered all over him. Now his word was “Wow! Wow!” Faith blown away by answers.
Tears swell in the back of my throat just remembering this fantastic story. And I breathe again without running, “Abba… I belong to you.” Eric belongs to Dave. Dave belongs to God. We all belong.
 
It won’t be long till we are pulled through the knothole of time and space that separates us bodily from the Creator.  For now, only our souls can slip through the keyhole like smoke rings to the other side. Every now and then a smoke ring blows back through the keyhole, catches us by surprise on a perfectly glorious day… and unlocks the universe.

334. International Blogationalism– Greatest Hits

A really neat feature of  the WordPress blog tool bag is the tracking of hits by countries. At the end of  a day, week, quarter, year or all time, I can hit the country summary prompt and get a list of all the countries that have accessed my site. I am amazed, of course, since I find my writing hard to understand, and I am the author. I think I am. Pretty sure I am. At least it started out that way.  Anyway, I have had to go to the map three times for countries I did not know existed. In alphabetical order they are the Faroe Islands, Kyrgyzstan, and Reunion Island.  Now my little Blog globetrotters, can you guess where these places are located without Googling?  I didn’t think so.  Allow me to geo-educate you.

About the time I had my first hit from Reunion Island it happened to be on the news cycle as parts of Malaysian flight 370 washed up on its shores. The astute blog reader will recall that I wrote about this doomed plane way back in Post 210. Lost. Not my best work, but then, what is best when you are spreading psychic fertilizer as a hobby? Now, true, I had to look it up since I’d never heard of the tiny nation either. It’s in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Why oh why were they cruising my blog? Perhaps they were lost or hungry since my blog title is a popular food. Imagine their horror when they tapped into my site via dial up, after waiting 3o minutes for a new recipe, and finding my soporific prose served on a delightful platter of greens. A lot of hangry islanders who won’t be inviting me to their next Reunion…unless they are cannibals.

I wrote about genocide and mentioned Namibia in post, 209. False Springs and  Genocide. Dang if I didn’t get Namibian hits. Actually they were nibbles. Now I can sort of understand that connection because I mentioned them by name. And Namibians have so little food in general that they usually just nibble to make it last longer between famines. But Kyrgyzstan?  I had to look it up– landlocked and mountainous in Central Asia. Apparently they have wi-fi there, glued in among China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.  I’ve often wondered where the Stan came from.  My unvetted theory is that a guy named Stan the nomad traveled through that region selling early model vacuum cleaners and got jiki with various women– Kazakh, Uzbeki, and Tajiki. Not to mention their cousins Afghan, Paki, and Turkmeni. [I have ruled out Lichtenstein from this list. It’s seems improbable according to my in depth research. Plus, what an unfortunate name for a girl, Lichten. What were the parents thinking?] Now I am theorizing that I will get some blowback hits from these countries, perhaps offering to hack me to pieces for insulting them or questioning the virtue of their female ancestors. I plead ignorance in advance. Can I get an “Amen” on that, Blog Nation?  [A thunderous AMEN rumbles across the globe.]  Okay, okay, that’s enough. STOP ALREADY!!  I didn’t ask for a tsunami.

Let’s see, where was I?  Yes, I wrote about how to make vodka in post 91. Brains and Potatoes. I am not saying what I’m saying here, I’m just saying it– a bunch of Russians lit me up. That post was a call to use one’s brain for the good of mankind instead of pickling one’s brain with home made alcohol. I can’t say for sure, but I think most of the Ruskis checked in for the recipe I scarfed off an internet site. Please don’t cut me up and make Irish Whiskey from my old carcass, Komrades.

Perhaps the best example of bait and switch blog posts was post 204. Local Navel Dancing, live, Tonight 6-8 p.m. I still get hits on that from India and the Middle East, which is why I have the justified fear of being hacked to pieces, not for false religion but for false advertising plus bad manners.  I blame the whole incident on Suzanne and Gary who basically forced me to go to an Indian restaurant with them while belly dancing was erupting at waist level, i.e. my eye level. I’m still in therapy for the disturbing visuals.

Okay, the Faroe Islands are located between Scotland and Iceland. Sail to the Shetland Islands, pet the adorable ponies, and hang a left at the fork. If you run into Norway, you took the wrong left, so turn around and take the right one. (Yogi Berra paraphrase) Speaking of Norway, in an old and bizarrely prophetic post, 158. Totalitarian Penguins, I mentioned that the Norwegian slice of Antarctica will be the launching pad for penguin revolution and total world domination. “Whaaaack Whaaaack”. You can’t make this stuff up….well, I guess you can if you have a fevered imagination and no job and are devoid of a conscience. Fortunately I meet all the above criteria.

So, you may be wondering how the name came about for the Faroe Islands. Yup, you guessed it already. The Egyptian connection ties this little known nation to the Empire of Egypt. If you know your Bible well, you know that Moses was set adrift in a basket and found by the Pharaoh’s people, then raised as an Egyptian until a bunch of plagues broke out and Revelation Zombies overthrew the Death Star. Just trust me on this.  Unbelievably at the same time Moses was basket skiing on the Nile, another prince and future Pharaoh was set out on the same river, which is why no one noticed when the baby shuffle took place and the wrong Egyptian baby was brought into Pharaoh’s house. The real heir apparent, named Sam, sailed right out into the Mediterranean Sea, where his little basket continued to float with the currents and winds, past Cyprus, Gibraltar, Portugal and other countries that have hit my blog posts before the internet had even been imagined.

Sam eventually washed ashore on the rough rocky beaches of what we now know as the Faroe Islands. He was greeted by wild wooly people known as the Wooly Bullies. They took him in and sang around fires in the winter nights. Sam somehow recalled his pre-Pharaotic life in Egypt. The people were so amazed, but one called it all a sham. And you know that they all got together and cut a record in the early ’60’s called “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.

 So kids, it’s important to know your geography really well just in case your plane disappears or your baby floats away, you need to make vodka, dance navelly, survive famine or overthrow the world. If you can’t find a globe, you can just trust my blog posts.