366. Breathtaking

Walls of snow line the streets of Turtle Town. For some reason, lack of funds maybe, the Boro did not remove the snow as it usually does with an army of heavy equipment and dump trucks large enough to rival a Baltic nation’s. So it sits like instant mix mashed potatoes piled alongside the black macadam roads and alleys of our humble, shepherds pie kind of town. The rising temperatures help with the less than meager removal effort, which is actually counterproductive because this week is Ice Fest, a downtown merchants group idea featuring ice sculptures placed along two blocks of Main Street. Yep, frozen water sculptures in the middle of winter; and here the temps are warming up, threatening the entire enterprise. One year, oh fifteen years ago maybe, it rained the whole week of Ice Fest, which resulted in Slush Fest. The finely carved figures were turned into watery gargoyles and grotesques. Needless to say, it was not a breathtaking experience.

Which got me thinking:  what takes your or my breath away, Blog Breathers? Is it a tragic moment or a spectacular vista that pulls your breath out of you? Incredible beauty or incomprehensible grace? A letter from the IRS? Seeing your ex- with a new partner? Seeing yourself naked?

Breath is the essence of life. If a baby does not breathe at birth, no oxygen flows and brain damage begins. For adults it’s about three minutes, I believe, before brain damage commences. So whatever takes our breath away must connect deeply to our slice of humanity, for better or worse, way down in the brain stem where our automatic survival instincts and reflexes reside. Breath was tenuous 25 years ago for my then infant daughter. The die was cast. Which die? half a pair of dice or a metal form? Instead of the facts, your perspective will answer this question

Last night at the winery my lovely daughter was singing at her best. Lo and behold, her first grade teacher showed up, pushing her walker slowly across the floor as her husband steadied her gait. “I saw it on Facebook. I had to come,” she exclaimed. “I might have to leave before you are through because I’m older than dirt. Don’t let that distract you, Jessi. I just can’t stay out late any more. Do me a favor and let one rip full throttle, Angel, okay?”

Now I am used to my daughter performing at a high level, her lush voice paddling through rushing rapids and cute chutes of tricky syllables like a skillful kayaker in white water. I don’t get as anxious or rapturous at her gigs as I once did. The new and exciting have become the familiar and comfortable, a steady joyous cadence nontheless.

Lois sat next to me very comfortably like family should, oozing kindness, appreciation, and joy. Some disease was trying to take her breath away. She was having none of it. Instead she ordered red wine and sipped optimistically. She chatted up the connections, remembering twenty years ago when our precious daughter was the only girl in her first grade class. Having been an outcast at the parochial kindergarten the previous year, we had been anxious about how Jess would fare in a public school classroom. Lois was the Answer to our prayers. After a few weeks Jess came home with a big cardboard star covered with decorative stickers and positive adjectives. She was Star of the Week. That star hung in her bedroom for years, radiating love and acceptance over her as she slept, breathing quietly as a happy puppy curled against its mother.

I spent a morning in that classroom twenty years ago. It was so filled with love and acceptance. I recall that all ten kids played musical chairs at one point. Lois would hug the kid who wound up chairless. After a while I started to wonder if her hugs were more desirable to the kids than a silly chair without her in it. That day I saw more love and validation in an hour than I recall having seen in a lifetime around schools. I almost forgot to breathe because a big balloon of gratitude clogged my airway briefly.

At 9 pm Jess started singing. Lois lit up, put her hand to her mouth repeatedly as she gasped. “She’s beautiful!” “Oh dear God she is precious!!” “What a voice.!!!” Tears dribbled over her cheeks. She reached across me to grasp my wife’s hand. Deep down in her brain stem, I believe Lois wanted to jump and dance exuberantly as the musical kayak shot through her veins and all across the rivulets of her frame. “I love that song.” “I’m so proud of her.” Oxygen flowed; feet tapped; hands clapped; heads nodded; smiles spread; and warmth expanded solar plexuses. Another minor musical miracle occurred.

God is good.

Just like in the old musical chairs protocol, Lois had to hug Jess as she finished her set. She didn’t, no, couldn’t leave until Jess sang Carol King’s “I Feel the Earth Move”, full throated and beaming with joy. Music is her oxygen. Surely she would die without it.

Goodnights were shared and broad plans made for the next time. I felt the residual glow left behind from Lois and Don linger in the empty chairs beside me. I was sure now that those kids slipped out of musical chairs on purpose. Love and beauty are in the eyes of the beholder. And what power the beholder exercises over the loved one.

 

 

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365. Epoxy My Brain Shut

Quite unintentionally it’s been good to be me lately in my marriage. Naturally I think history simply caught up to me; the wave I’ve been ahead of has finally crashed behind me and my prophesies are seen as epochal truths. Of course, this is delusional thinking.  Put simply, my wife recently told me one Saturday morn, “I really like how you have been behaving lately. I wish you could always be like this.”

Such comments are simultaneously both a compliment and a complaint. They contain two parts. Part one is the limited compliment, specific praise for something recent. Part two is the ubiquitous complaint, the history lesson that says you usually, no make that almost always, suck. Days like these are comparable to balmy summer days in Antarctica, serving only to confuse the penguins, seals and walruses who live upside down on the underbelly of the planet. Those poor critters are so confused that they dare not venture north, where it’s warmer.

Well, like a penguin in Miami I did not know what to do with such a statement. I asked for some clarification, hoping I would not ruin this un-Cialis moment. Indisputable examples were given. I pondered further. Finally, since my brain chemistry was under discussion or debate, I leaned back against the stove and made a suggestion. “Honey, here’s what I’m gonna do. Since you like my present mood so much and we’re both pretty sure it will soon fall into a computer screen or television abyss, I am going to epoxy my brain chemistry in place right here in this sweet spot of marital bliss. I can put an epoxy-filled syringe in each ear and squeeze until my brain hardens in place. Then I will be your joy boy forevermore.”

Seasoning her egg sandwich, “Oh, I wish.”

“I’m sure. We’ve been married 36 years now, right?  known one another 41 years, or twice as long as we did not know one another. Which is hard to say. I would not want to translate that sentence into another language, say Moroccan. More coffee?”

“Yes. I don’t care about translations. I just want to understand the original so stop the obscure references. It’s nice to be close to you. I feel complete and secure.”

“Oh, I do too. So often we have stress for one reason or another that just derails us.”

“Usually, by which I mean always, it’s you. I am very stable.”

“Yes, but so is concrete.”

“Are you comparing me to a building product?”

“No! I’m, I’m just saying that you are so much more than stable, you know, sexy and smart and … like, uh, stable is just where you start, baby. Just the foundation of the Honey Pot Nation.”

“No! You’re going to ruin it again! You are so impatient!”

“I’ve never been in-patient.”

“And the puns. They are intolerable.”

“I know. I can’t help it. Aren’t you going to eat the yolk?”

“No, egg yolks are gross. Are you going to eat it?”

“Gulp. Mmmmm. That’s your problem, baby girl. You just don’t get my yolks.”

“Uhhhhhh. Must you?”

“Hey, I did not go bait and switch on you. I was like this when we met in 1974. In fact, I was wearing this same Grateful Dead tee shirt without the holes. Listen:  If I epoxy my brain shut now, are you prepared for bad yolks forevermore?”

“No. Let’s think this through. There has to be something else that preserves a mood.”

“Formaldehyde. Radon. Volcanic ash. Death…”

“NO! Stop. Whose death, yours or mine?”

“Does it matter?  It was yust a yolk, my yittle chickadee.”

“What is in your head that makes you so weird? Is it a fungal infection that got into your synapses?

“Possibly. I contracted athlete’s brain in junior high from the gym showers. Mushrooms grew in the dark stall farthest from the frosted windows. That’s where Jody Riccio…”

“Stop!!! You see? This is why I want to hire a hit man. You start with a loving statement from me and then you go down bunny trails that lead to squirrel tracks that lead to mole holes that lead to ant farms that lead to termite tunnels on other planets!!!”

“Honey, honey. Sweet honey bee. You are surely exaggerating my exaggerations exponentially, even intergalactically. I will not lean here and be compared to insect life on any planet. I have standards.”

“Really?”

“Sometimes you must admit I’ve had a standard, at least once. I have stood beneath a bell curve at least once.”

“Standard deviation.”

“Well, you have to have a standard to have a deviation, right? I am an outlier. You gotta sin to be saved. Sister, come forward and accept God’s Holy Spirit on your tortured soul!!!”

“You got the liar part right. Can we focus here?”

“Did you know that Focus means Botox in Japanese. And now I see why. If you get shot up with enough Botox, your face will stay focused for eternity, sort of like the Joker after his weird mouth mishap.”

“I could not endure your happy face forever. It gets scary after a couple of seconds. Stop it! I hate your Jack Nicholson impression. He is so ugly.”

“So the answer is not Botox. How about laser surgery?”

“For what?”

“I read an article in AARP that lasers can melt your wrinkles together and make you look twenty years younger.”

“I knew you twenty years ago. I don’t want that again.”

“I could get my lips done so they are in a forever super model pout. How about this?”

“Don’t make that face. Now you look like Jack Nicholson imitating Angelina Jolie. It’s too freakin’ freaky.”

“Well, in other news, are you going to yoga tonight?”

“Are you?”

“I’m a go.”

“What?”

“No, I changed my mind.”

“What?”

“Nah, I’m a stay.”

“I’m putting on these lime green ear muffs now. I can’t hear you.”

“What’dya say?”

“I said, ‘I can’t hear you.”

“Do you still want me to stay like this?

“What?” Reaching for the epoxy syringe.

“I said, ‘Do you still want me to stay this way?'”

“How about we epoxy your mouth shut?”

“mmmmhmmm aaahummm eeyyoooo”

“Yes, this is lovely. Now Immastay. No, Immago. Immatalk. Youashutup. Yeah, nice.”

“mmmmnnnnoooo  aaaahhhhmmmmm puuuhhhhmmmm arrrrgggg.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

364. Super Size Me, Dude

Rusty did not set out to work the drive thru window at the Happy Burger in town. He had bigger dreams. No one dreams of working fast food, do they? So it’s safe to say that the drive thru window was his second worst nightmare. Kids he had graduated with and other folks in town drove up, and he had to smile then happily hand them their Happy Burger meal, smiling insipidly above the deep dread he felt. He chose the third shift to reduce his exposure to such social shame. But the inner revulsion rose up anyway, against gravity like a wave of acid reflux, gagging him much too often. He had suggested to management that the staff wear happy clown masks, hoping to hide behind a company provided clown mask instead of his own recognizable face. “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became”, he muttered to himself like some ridiculous rap line.

He was smarter than this and smart enough to know that smarts don’t count as much as family connections and money and wisdom. Those college prep classes, the AP, the advanced track, he took many of them and held his own, never once imagining that one day he’d stare into the deep fryer watching frozen French fries boil up in super heated peanut oil. His dreams were likewise deep fried and floated up, golden brown– so many dead fish, chicken wings or fries. He remembered getting A’s in chemistry class and physics, pointless now… “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became.”

Rusty knew it was not grammatically correct, but he didn’t care any more about rules and order, manners or limits, even law. Chaos had blown his illusion of control to smithereens.  Bits of his expectations littered the break room like shrapnel. He’d once memorized the periodic table of elements in his junior year. The only element that held any interest for him nowadays was plutonium, named for the Roman god of death. He was past dying; he was dead, walking dead. Zombiefied. Embalmed with the toxic liquor of his misfortune, like drinking Captain Morgan out of a corpse’s boot. The oxy’s, he found, took the edge off of shame, reducing life to a mere sham.

He got her pregnant. It’s just that simple. One biological fact threw two, no three, okay, maybe twenty lives into the industrial strength blender on puree. Chaos turbocharged the two of them. They were both in college prep and had a lot going right in their lives. They were bright and optimistic, glowing with the beauty of late adolescence–Radiant hair, teeth and skin, firm muscular bodies. Irresistible, and they did not resist many impulses. Faster and faster the unsustainable Whirling Dervish ride went. Time and money they did not have were squandered. At least those were measurable. All the emotions that vaporized over that furious year could not be counted or contained. Boundaries were crossed, no, leaped across headlong like the obstacle course at Ft. Benning, after Rusty enlisted to get the security package available no where else. Private Steele, first class. It was something, some place to start.

“Beep, beep, beep” the fry timer screeches to his numb mind. Never mind, never mind. The baby accelerated adult life, couldn’t wait. He raced the baby to graduation, marrying Tiffany, and becoming a father all in the same month, June 1992. The year Hell opened up and demons darkened his skies. Totally black now.

An anesthesiologist, yep, that was the target. It was high status and medically necessary and very lucrative. Plus, it just sounded so cool to say at a cocktail party. “And what field are you in, Rusty?” “Oh me? I’m an anesthesiologist.” Seven silky syllables in one sexy word. “The last person you see before your surgery, you know? It’s dicey, though. They put their lives in my hands, but they don’t all make it back from dreamland, you know?” Dr. Kevorkian was all the talk back then. He wanted, even demanded, assisted suicide be granted a legal guarantee. Rusty had disagreed with Kevorkian back then; but these days he thought it was pretty darn appealing. Why not?  When the unenlightened townies drove up yelling, “Super Size Me, Dude!”, he wanted to scream back “Minimize Me, Dude”. ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. Hook me up with morphine and leave me in the walk in freezer’ he thought he thought.

Some days he’d stomp into the walk in and punch bags of frozen French fries, and pound his sweaty head onto rigid patties of beef. The revulsion gurgled at the back of his throat, threatening to spew out. He could feel the grease on the soles of his shoes begin to congeal in the subzero temperature of the freezer. No one could hear him scream, “Super Size Me, God!! I can’t take this existence any longer. Kill me!”

Things looked good for him in the Army. College was still possible and his superiors liked him, recognized his abilities. He was finding a path in all the deep weeds ahead of him. And then Tiffany grew distant. Sure, they were both immature but coping as new parents, along with lots of help from his mom and hers. And surprisingly his own father stepped up and made himself available to them, far more than he’d ever done so with Rusty. Despite all the help or perhaps because of it, Tiffany demanded time out and away, fun time for her. “Girls just wanna have fun” times, she’d say.  There was more to it. Rusty had little experience with girls in his young life, but he knew something odd was afoot. Someone else’s feet were walking across his fragile marriage and slipping shoes under his marriage bed. He just didn’t know whose feet yet.

The night of the atomic bomb blast was burned onto the back of his eyelids, inescapable and beyond comprehension. Tiffany, his own father, the silent lies that wove together under a disgusting quilt of putrid truth. Incest: the unthinkable had become the unbearable. By then he’d broken his foot and been discharged, rejected by his Uncle Sam as a hopeless cripple. So as he locked the freezer door behind him and lay down with a can of starter fluid, it all seemed so poetic. He recalled Prufrock’s Lovesong from AP English, “Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table…” He huffed the ether, knowing he’d lapse into unconsciousness immediately. He uttered his own pathetic poem to frozen chicken fingers, “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became.”

…. Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

363.Love’s Longing Lost

I promised to post about Joel and Sheila the mule, Blogoiters, and I keep my promises when I remember them, if I remember them, by which I mean– if I don’t forget them. Long time followers of the blog already know that Joel is the consigliere of Coffee Nation, a job he reluctantly accepted after much cajoeling. He of the round tortoise shell glasses and the tweed jackets is a bit of a throwback to an earlier age. He still uses a fountain pen, for goodness sakes! Imagine an older, unflappable Gregory Peck outside with an older, flappable Jimmy Stewart inside. Let those two images overflap and gel. There you go. It’s Joel.

Last year or the year before, it does not matter for our purposes here and now, Joel went to a lawyers’ conference in Phoenix, conveniently planned for the dead of winter. It’s all business expensed, so why not go and accessorize? Joel planned a mule pack trip into and out of the Grand Canyon. It was as close to his own City Slickers experience as he could muster. You see, that movie is close to his heart. And let’s face it, most kids of the nineteen forties and fifties did not long to be accountants and attorneys and insurance salesmen. No, they wanted to be the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers or some other cowboy. And Joel being no exception was unexceptional in the Manly Hall of Fame until now.

As you might have already imagined, Joel was very excited to be out in the elements, roughing it, drinking bourbon out of a shared pint around a mesquite fire down, down, down at the Phantom Ranch. Wiping his mouth with the back of a dusty leather glove. Spitting just because he could and no one would report him to the bar. To Hell with the law and all its pretense!  He was breaking bad. Heck, even the mule ride advertising was tough, no nonsense stuff telling people how tall they had to be; how much they could weigh; couldn’t be afraid of heights or large animals; had to be fluent in English; whining or pouting would be met with hot lead. Unapologetic, politically incorrect, man talk. Why just reading it privately on his tablet at the coffee shop made itchy chest hair follicles erupt on his sternum. Testosterone molecules began to bark in packs like coyotes in his bloodstream. The wild called and he, Joel the mild mannered estate attorney, would answer it in a fully outfitted, hormonally charged echo. “Howwuuuulllll”

Off he went on his trek. I urged him to be safe on the mule and not to take any guff from anyone– man, woman, both, neither, undecided, polymorphic or otherwise. “The thing with mules,” I told Joel to reassure him before he left, “is they have to know you mean business, yet that you are compassionate and willing to bond with them. If a mule knows you love her, she will give her sure-footed life for you.” He was impressed with my animal husbandry background, which I had completely fabricated on the spot.

**********************************************************************

(Asterisks suggest time passing.)

Two weeks later I saw him again, refreshed and enlightened in ways that only a handful of Tibetan monks come to be. He was writing down his observations in his spirit journal with that fountain pen and eyes aglow. He gushed with the wonders of it all and told me that he owed his new ecstatic life to Sheila, his designated mule.  “We grew close. Just as you had suggested, I showed her a firm business hand on the one hand but a compassionate loving hand at the reigns on the other hand, and she responded like a crossbred dream.”

“That’s four hands in the sentence, Joel. You only have two, and Sheila has hooves, right? Count them with me.”

“Eh! You know what I mean! Don’t start playing with words.”

“That’s what I do. Remember?”

“You wouldn’t make it at Phantom Ranch with all your tomfoolery. Only real men go there.”

“I believe you, man. I sense it like steam pouring out of your new found confidence and mulishness. You have a flinty glint about you now, a rough edge. You could start a fire just by blinking fast.”

“Oh, that reminds me. Some colleagues followed my lead into the Grand Canyon.  We actually traded out our mules with them when we came back up to the rim. I introduced them to Sheila and shared with them your instructions on mule handling. They were very appreciative. In fact, later on as I was connecting flights in Charlotte, they sent me this picture of Sheila with the text, ‘I miss you’.” He showed me a sad looking mule on his phone. “Something tells me that I’ll be seeing this again at a bar meeting in the future.”

“Lovely story, Joel. I’m glad you had such a good time.”

*************************** (Not as much time has passed this time.)

Two days later I was waiting in line for my morning coffee when Joel came into the shop. I greeted him as usual, then added, “Hey, I got a call from Sheila yesterday.”

“Oh, did you?” he uttered with false sincerity at the back of his Jimmy Stewart throat.

“Oh yeah. She’s not doing so well.” I shook my head and looked down.

“What are her complaints?”

“Well, she told me that she’d been ridden hard and put away wet. She misses you, man. All that machismo you put down, she picked it all up. She thought you were the one who would both tame her and free her. Gave me an earful, lemme tell you.”

“Oh, REALLY? So what is your treatment plan?”

“It’s a tough case, Joel. It was a phone consult with a sexless pack animal tethered to a monotonous future without any hope.”

“I see. Very tough. So what did you tell her?”

“Well, in short I told her to follow another horse’s ass.”

“I giftwrapped that for you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you baited the hook, teed up the golf ball, and shook up the Dr. Pepper.”

“Whatever.” guffaw, guffaw.

“Are you laughing, Joel?”

“I am not laughing at this because I don’t want to encourage you. (Pause.) You are going to put this in the blog, aren’t you?”

“It’s too late, Buddy. From your spilled mule milk I will make a rare rich cheese for posterity to enjoy at black tie charity fundraisers.”

With hands raised heavenward like a frustrated Atticus Finch, “Oh, Sheila! Forgive me!”

 

 

 

 

362. Connectivity

The first text on my smart phone was from my downstairs tenant who scarfs my wifi at work… “Heads up:  Your wifi is down.” Wow, the first message of my day tells me that I have been disconnected from the world of Facebook and email and… oh no, my blog. I can’t be cut off from my psychic crutch!! What will my three secret followers held in a North Korean gulag do? I’ll have to call Dennis Rodman and Tom Cruise later to reset the linkage. International back channel diplomacy/espionage is not for the weak willed or timid tummied. It’s time to Growaset!

Well, it was coffee nation morning so I had to be off to the monkey cage. No time for silly things like cyber-connectivity. I was on my way to the beaten up couch and chairs where six of us would huddle and talk a bit too loud to be considered mannerly. Joel the rabble rouser was not in residence. He’s traveling in warm places this week and next. It’s a rendezvous with Sheila the mule in the Grand Canyon, which I will share in another post, after the preliminary hearing and terms of bail are set. Last week he tried hard to start an insurrection, suggesting that if he won the lottery he’d buy us all coffee for life, thus unseating and usurping my imperial rule. I had to beat back their fantasies of democracy. What if mules got the vote?  Do you think they would keep hauling fat tourists in and out of the Grand Canyon?  NO!!  I will never be usurped while I am busy surping my Sumatran blend. No coffee nation, no banana republic, no fundamentalist theocracy is or ever will be a democracy. But tyrants are people too. We serve a useful purpose among herd animals. Joel came to his senses and repentantly bought my coffee last Friday. A small but sincere gesture of rapprochement, which is French for detente.

Rob the young blood was already in coffee mode when I arrived. He apologized for asking me a serious question on No Thinking Thursday, but I allowed it due to the fact that we were technically ten minutes early. After all, I am a benevolent dictator. Steve rolled in wearing jeans and sneakers. Another paid day off for him. Sort of. He volunteers his accounting skills to the high school band, which he plugs shamelessly. “Hey, we’re having another spaghetti dinner next Friday. We raised all kinds of money for the marching band competition, which we hosted and won last year. FAMBU accredited. So we are.”

“And what does FAMBU stand for?”

“Oh, the Federation of American Marching Bands Unlimited. Don’t make the mistake that the last treasurer made and call them BAMBU, which is the Brotherhood of American Marching Bands Unlimited. They are posers to the throne of Martial Music. He was escorted off school grounds and roughly de-badged, that guy. Whew! We had to start with all new passwords. Lemme tell you, it was a hot mess.”

Mercifully Doug rolled in and shook hands around. I quickly diverted the band conversation to Rob and the Steelers. “So, Rob, the Steelers are done now, eh?”

“Yeah. I guess I’ll be pulling for the NFC team in the Super Bowl. I can’t get behind New England or the Broncos.”

Steve, “New England cheats all the time, right?”

All, “Yep. Steve, you go to one Ravens game and now you are a sports guru.”

Steve, “I don’t think Brady should even be allowed to play after deflate gate.”

Rob, “Yeah, the MVP of last year’s Super Bowl and he was almost suspended four games. You know the Seahawks lost that game because they were trying to make Russell Wilson the hero and not Marshawn Lynch. Wilson is nice and Lynch is not, i.e., marketable. And it backfired. So the cheater got the MVP.”

Lance, arriving fashionably late. “Let me strut my swagger, gentlemen.” Handshakes around.

Rob, “The Seahawks have never won a Super Bowl.”

BS,” Correction: they won the year before, remember? They crushed Peyton and the Broncos.”

Rob,”Oh, right.”

BS,”Doug, here is a trivia question for you. Name the only Doug who was the Super Bowl MVP.”

Lance-a-blurt, ” Doug Williams, Redskins.”

BS,” Thanks for your blurtation, Lance. You didn’t even raise your hand!”

Lance, with both hands in the air now, doing some full body butter churn torso wobble. “And, that was the strike shortened year… late 80’s, Super Bowl 22…”

BS, “Just shut up now! We were doing fine with our low football IQ until you came in showing off.”

Steve, “Deflate yourself, Lance.”

Lance, “I think not. My tee shirt says, Grown a set.”

Steve, “Don’t get me started…”

BS,”Uh oh, looks who’s riding into town. Cowboy Chuck!”

Chuck canters through the chairs with horse swagger, handshakes around.

“The girl asked me if I was in Coffee Nation. How’d she know?”

“Lucky guess or you look like the other five circus clowns in the back room.”

Chuck, “So have we solved the world’s problems yet? Cuz ya’ll was loitering like this the last time I was here…”

BS,” Which was two years ago.”

Chuck, “I can’t remember if it’s the second or third Thursday of the month…”

BS, “Shut up! Look, this is why you are a bench warmer and not a starter like Steve. He leaves one of the largest multinational corporations in the lurch almost every Thursday at 8:30 so he can run on our squirrel wheel. No excuses from Steve O. He leaves it all on the field, Chuckie. He’s a team player not some lone wolf who rolls along like a tumbleweed…”

Chuck, “I’m sorry, man.”

BS,”It’s alright, man. We just need to hug our way through it. We’re all glad that you’re here.”

Chuck, “Yeah, I need me some connectivity.”

All, “That’s right, right on. Come on down.”

BS, “As the late great Marvin Gaye said…

What’s goin on? Tell me what’s goin on. You know we’ve got to find a way, to bring some love in here today….what’s goin on?”

 

 

361. Onward, Mr. NOodle!

Yes, yes, onward, blogobstacles!! Let no man grow weary of slacking and surfing the net. We are the thin plutonium powder line between reality as we know it and impending chaotic doom of galactic marginalization and lardification.

“In a world where aliens and interstellar thugs reign havoc on the innocent, one man will rise to lead the broken nerd herd to conquerdom. A quiet hero called to duty by Elmo….”  Blast, boom, explode, sound effects. Bright lights. Hopeful music. And one chiseled face rises up on the screen… “His name? Mr. Noodle.”

How his name became a group’s battle cry is a long story without a beginning, middle, or end. Dave and Vicki and my wife and I and Dave’s two sisters were at Hauser’s Winery on the mountain top overlooking Gettysburg in late summer, early fall. There was a band around the corner but no seats for us, so we huddled against the warm stone wall at a metal table with eight chairs and drank wine, laughed, ate, and noodled around as we are prone to do. This was not our first rodeo, no sir. We would entertain and supervise ourselves, by golly.  Stories were told and an occasional dance occurred to warm up buns and feet in the evening chill. Not for Dave, though; he has the most unnatural covering of body hair known to homo sapiens and that insulates him year round. Vicki actually has to groom him twice a year with an electric razor that they also shave the dogs with. He was wearing shorts, of course. We wore sweaters and jackets.

As we carried on and played with words and songs, Deedee made the first reference to our hero. “Who is the guy who Elmo talks to? You know, he never talks.” Well, Sesame Street was two decades away in my memory vault. I could not even guess, but I can do an Elmo voice, which I proceeded to do. You see, when my oldest daughter was an only child, for almost five years, she loved to play dramas like The Wizard of Oz. She would be Dorothy and I was then compelled to be all the other characters, constantly changing voices and body language to entertain her and meet her approval. She was a tough audience. Still is. Anyway, I have a little bit of a mimic skill in me and can often imitate characters. For some reason I can do Marlon Brando’s Godfather voice by pretending to have a sinus infection while holding a dry prune in the back of my throat and gutturally groaning past it.

“You come to me , (inhale slowly) on the day of my daughter’s wedding,(exhale slowly) to ask me this favor? (Pause with a quavering lower lip) And yet, (inhale) I asked you to be my friend years ago, (exhale quickly) but you did not want my friendship.” It’s close enough to bring smiles.

But Elmo’s voice is all high pitched with simple vocabulary. No tone like Bert or Ernie or Grover, Super Grover!!

“Hey, hey Bert. Would you like to see my new ball?”

“No, Ernie. I am organizing my paperclips right now. It’s not a good time for me.”

“But Bert, I uh, I can bounce my ball and it comes right back to me. See? Can your paperclips do that? Huh, Bert? Can they? Huh?”

“Oh, Ernie, that’s silly. No one bounces paperclips. Why don’t you go on and roll your ball somewhere else, okay?  I’m just about finished here. Just straighten this last row out.  There.”

“But Bert, don’t you want to bounce my ball? Go ahead. It’s fun. You’ll love it, old buddy.”

“Well, okay, if you’ll leave me alone.”

Bert bounces the ball and it explodes onto his paperclip collection sending it all into a flittery fish scale mess.

Ernie. You ruined my work!! Now take your stupid ball and get away from me.”

“I’m sorry, Bert, old Buddy. Heeheeheee. That’s how the old ball bounces, hee hee.”

And Grover was the world’s best restaurant customer. In our basement my two younger daughters set up the Angel Café around a plastic kitchen set. They would make menus and set up a table with plates and a tea pot. Eventually I would be called to be their customer, at which time I’d channel my Grover.

“Here is your menu, sir. We have a spaghetti special today with salad and a roll and tea.”

(Sotto voce) “Order that, Dad.”

In falsetto Grover voice, “Uhhum! Waiter, I would like a bowl of bean and onion soup, please.”

“Sir, we don’t have soup. We have spaghetti.”

“I’m not interested in spaghetti. I had that for breakfast.”

“No you didn’t! Sir! You have to order from the menu.”

Grover, “I don’t care for your menu. I’ll have the soup.”

“Hmmmph. You are not playing right, Dad.”

Grover, “Who is this Dad you are referring to?”

“Nevermind! ”

Jessica, returning with a bowl and slaps it on the table. “Here’s your soup.”

Grover, “How rude! No wonder there is no one in your Café.”

Jessica walks away to gather her six year old wits.

Grover, “Ahhh! Waiter, there is a fly in my soup.”

Jessica snaps. “No there isn’t. We’re just pretending and you aren’t playing right.”

Grover, “I want to speak with your manager.”

Ten year old Grace arrives. “Sir, you are creating a disturbance and must leave.”

Grover, “Not until the fly is removed from my soup.”

Grace places the bowl on my Grover head. “There you go.”

Those were fun times for me and gave the girls a lot of material for later therapy sessions.

But, back to the winery and finally someone came up with Mr. Noodle. I don’t know if it was the wine or all the intellectual foreplay, but once his name was uttered, we all burst out laughing. For the next hour Mr. Noodle was worked into various comic contexts. We were helpless in our infantile humor.

 

“That’s what Mr. Noodle said.”

 

360. 1461 [Days]

In case you were wondering, the title is not a phone number I found; it’s 4 years of days plus one day for leap year. That’s how long I’ve been at this blog business. Averaging 90 posts per year or one every 4 days. Whoa! If this wound up on paper, I could be sued for wasting trees and contributing to global warming. I could also be charged for corrupting miners, except I have never written for or about miners– coal, gold, salt, silver, copper, nada. Internet loitering is not a crime yet. But I plead guilty, my honorable blognoids. I have loitered in cyberland and wasted over a thousand hours in the passionate pursuit of purposelessness.  Yet, never has posting felt like forced duty at the gym or reluctant treadmill time. No, I find it therapeutic to blather into the blogisphere as my life sputters by.

It feels like I’ve been at this a lot longer, but my trusty WordPress stats confirm it– four years. Over 300,000 words easily since most of my posts come in around 1,000 words, my self imposed limit. Along  the way I learned how to import pictures that I scammed off the internet. What a difference that made. I’m a fairly visual guy and love finding images that seem to connect with my eccentric words. Some folks go about with metal detectors and find metallic treasures in fields and stream beds. I go about with my image detectors, my eyes, in search of connective visual tissue. But for me a tiny 8 watt bulb lights up when I find a picture that adds energy to my impoverished, eccentric words, caged in horizontal lines.

Centric means to be in the center or central. Ec & centric means to be off center or outside the circle of centeredness, often taken to mean ‘unconventional and slightly strange’. Outside the box, over the top, in one’s own orbit, marching to the beat of a different drum, etc. Yeah, no argument from me. Looking at my body of work, or is it play?, I’d have to conclude that it constitutes a strange stream of consciousness that sometimes flows uphill, backwards, nowhere, and everywhere; spiraling inward and outward across the limits of time and space. I have written about penguins, vodka, birds, flowers, dogs, gila monsters, coyotes, hitchhiking, God, prison, health, age, youth, music, art, innocence and experience, coffee nation, immigration, politics, love, faith, forgiveness, death, plumbing and the list goes on and on. Why?  Many reasons. I like language. I enjoy writing. I like to entertain, maybe even educate, folks

When I worked as a construction laborer in the early 70’s, I felt there was more to life than shoveling dirt and gravel all day long. I remember reading The Brothers Karamazov that dark winter and feeling deep intellectual and spiritual pings on my soul’s sonar. The messages were not acutely articulated. It was more like whales barking across the ocean. That was the same year I took my trip to England and Scotland, ’73-74, without a plan. I simply followed magnetic fields that drew me elsewhere. At the time I attributed my spontaneity to freedom and nonconformity. Looking back I give God credit for protecting me from my own arrogant stupidity.

Later on I went to college because my closest friends were going. I fell in love with learning and with my future wife, who had odd concepts like goals and structure and discipline. Whew!! I am still amazed and grateful that we continue to travel life’s path together. And still those sonar pings keep hitting my soul, telling me to be elsewhere, beyond this moment that I usually enjoy. Not alone necessarily but elsewhere. I guess it’s the same old wanderlust that led me away from safety and routine in the first place, deep into wooded acres and far across forbidden perimeter roads. Hearing my mother say, “Don’t….” often led to a desire to inhabit the prohibition, unsupervised by adults.

The Gravel Pit was fenced off from our ball field and elementary school yard. Of course older boys had created openings for us to pass through. When The Pit was operating, we’d sit on the surrounding banks and watch the big machines load dump trucks with orange sand and bank run gravel. Duly impressed by the diesel smoke, the loud thuds of a load, and the rumble in the earth as overloaded trucks ground gears across dusty roads. We’d ride out bikes across hillocks of hard clay and jump gullies eroded by years of heavy rains. Days had no numbers then, no end was imaginable beyond one setting sun. Watches and calendars were for adults to worry with. We pursued lizards and turtles and snakes, squirrels and possums, along with the secrets of becoming a young man. After the last employee left the Gravel Pit, we’d inch down like forest creatures and explore their vehicles and sit in backhoes and bull dozers. We were  in awe of the raw power they possessed. Yes, we trespassed but did not vandalize. It was more like going to a museum or an amusement park. We displayed boyish reverence for these enormous clanking monsters.

 They were huge and powerful, and we weren’t… yet.

Richard Cooper had a Suzuki 90 cc motorcycle that he’d ride like a bat out of hell up Dorset Drive and across the school grounds, down into the Gravel  Pit. No helmet. No license. No tags. It was the 60’s, man. I was often on the back of the overloaded machine, hanging on for dear life or any life at all. I have a vivid memory of chasing down a ground hog that was too far from its hole. I caught it under a basket and had no idea what to do next, so I let it go. The outcome did not matter so much. The wild chase, the breathless hunt, the exultant thrill were all that counted. We weren’t huge and powerful, yet.

At nearly 60 years of age I can roughly calculate how many more days I am likely to experience in this life. 7305 if I live to see 80. I’ve never calculated my expiration date before, but I can’t say that any more. So, happy anniversary to me, Burrito Man. Live big but practice humility. It’s easier to carry than shame.

 

359. where are you from?

Simple question.  Where do you come from? Everyone has a different answer.  You come from your Momma’s belly, and she… may not be available or even known. Orphans don’t know where they came from, which can cause some primal insecurity. On the other hand, there are folks who are equally insecure because they know exactly where they came from and are ashamed of it. “That drunk woman on the floor of Aisle 9, that’s my mother. She’s pretending to have a seizure now to get the pharmacist to fill her fake OxyContin script.” Or maybe something less dramatic– “That’s my father. He never learned English and just wanders the town all day, lost and dizzy, hopelessly alone, searching for his village in India.” Where we come from is not necessarily where we are going to, though.

Image result for brooklyn movie still picturesMost folks came from a family unit, no matter how dysfunctional or reconstituted.  And that family unit came from somewhere, some place that is tattooed on the family’s consciousness somehow. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches of home are wrapped around our brain stems.  This past Saturday a bunch of us went to see the film Brooklyn,  about a young female Irish immigrant named Eilis . Lovely film, never in a rush to tell its story. Superb acting. Every character comes alive and imprints on your heart for better or worse. The original home place is Wexford County, Ireland. Simple and plain and the Dead End of a vibrant life. The destination place is Brooklyn, N.Y.

Our friends met  us in Gettysburg for the evening. They come from New York, Ohio, Charleston, and nearby Newville. “We’re all immigrants”, Sue said later at the Irish pub where we had dinner and a pint. True. Some of us are orphans as well. None of us is from Gettysburg. Now Gary almost went to college there  but was put off by fraternity life. What an odd advertisement for the Greek system… “We make you uncomfortable in our debauched  brotherhood neighborhood…until you conform to OMEGA DELTA OMEGA.” One decision alters everything, you see, because Gary eventually met his lovely bride Suzanne in Charleston. Heck, it’s a love story inside a pinball machine inside a cosmic drama. Then again, so is your life, my Lucky Blog Mates. We all have a home, a story, and a destination.

Place is more than geography, so it is. What we call home is a feeling more than a blue gps pinpoint that blinks on your I-phone map. The main character, Eilis, is sent by her loving older sister to America for a chance to make a life. Why? because her hometown has no prospects of any sort for her.  Big sister Rose sacrifices to make a way for Eilis, who soon replicates home in Brooklyn by living and worshiping with all Irish folks. Funny, quirky Irish women. Though she struggles with homesickness for weeks, she flourishes after falling for Tony, the Italian guy who adores her. And no wonder, she is angelic with her auburn hair, pale blue eyes, and unfreckled milky complexion.  Home is truly where the heart resides, and her heart is given to Tony, the Italian plumber. Until…

Eilis must go home due to a family tragedy, and this is where the weird juju starts to flow. Her historic home has unspoken power over her. Folks start telling her what to do, how to behave, and whom to love. It’s all so familiar and nearly unconscious. The locals possessively nudge her toward a destiny that they have created. Brooklyn, freedom, individuation are all put on pause as guilt-inducing prospects are opened up for her.  Eilis is almost swept away by it all, except that IT is petty, jealous, gossipy, predictable, nosey, and suffocating. She suddenly  remembers why she left the first time and who she is. Eilis sails for Brooklyn again, a much wiser woman. Free from the constraints of small town Irish life.

Image result for compass picturesWhere are you from? The answer changes for lots of us. My folks would answer, “Boston. Cambridge actually. Fenoe Street and Mass. Ave.” I would answer “Virginia Hills, Alexandria, Virginia. Dorset Drive and The Parkway.” But that was over forty years ago. I am still from there, yet I say, “South Central PA, not far from Gettysburg.” And this may change again before I cease to be from anywhere. I’m hoping to say, “I live in Tucson” in the near future. Like Eilis I left a place behind. Must be some wandering Irish gypsy gene. My children too live far away, or should I say too far away? Ironically my oldest lives in Brooklyn, though she is not from there yet.

So, full disclosure, I am 100% Irish, but I am not from Ireland because I have never been there. It is a destination I’d like to visit along with Italy, where my wife’s DNA arose. But for now we are from here, trying not to be self centered and blind to the bigger world around us. And yet, there are deep unconscious tugs on our souls to be somewhere else. This is not our home yet.

Interviewing a candidate for associate pastor of our church years ago, I was the only non-local on the conference call. The senior pastor directed the candidate’s question about the town’s ethos to me. “Tell him, Burrito. You moved here back in 1980, right?”

“Well, buddy, it’s like this. If your grandfather is not buried in a local church graveyard, then you are not from here yet. And you can’t bring your grandfather’s coffin with you and rebury him here. That won’t count.” After a chuckle, our pastor concurred. “That’s about right.”

Where are you from, mate? What’s your story?  Where are you headed?

358. Oh, No, Toto,Come Back!

Way, way back in my memory bank vault, third shelf on left side, halfway down, is a story that still stings to recall, though I have no real guilt about it at all. It fits under the damp tent of family shame, I guess. Kind of has that putrid mildewed odor in my memory nose.  You be the judge.

My dad’s sister, her husband and their brood of six kids lived in Hawaii for many years during the late 60’s, I think. They had previously lived just ten miles away from us in the burbs of Northern Virginia when I was young, and our families interacted regularly. (I liked my Uncle Jim.  He worked with the Corps of Engineers. He was a kind man who smoked a pipe and laughed genuinely.) My father’s irascible mother would visit both homes the way a ping pong ball visits both sides of a net when she came down from Boston occasionally. “Kitty” was her name and she was the original pretentious piece of work, creating drama where none had existed prior. An emotional pyromaniac, if memory serves me accurately.

Aunt Jean was the hard pear that did not fall far from her mother’s tree, but she strained to be as far away as possible. Intellectualism was her passport. Conflict her train. Acceptance her destination:  To be approved of  by those whom you approve on the spiral staircase to the ivory tower’s penthouse. How very prepositional. Impulsive and free flowing in a pre-hippie era. She longed to talk about books and ideas with my dad while putting up with my unintellectual mother.  Jean had green hair in the freakin’ 60’s.  Granted, it was a hair dye chemistry error, but she wore it like a proud leprechaun until it grew out.

Anyway, the family was coming back to NOVA by way of a cross country drive in a big van, starting in California and ending on our doorstep. They asked my father to pick up their little dog Toto at National (Reagan now) Airport and convey the neurotic little terrier to a kennel. Simple, right?  However, you have to get some background description of my father to understand what follows. He was not an engineer nor was he a great problem solver. He served in the Army at the end of WWII in England and then Germany. He told a story of catching a mouse in his barracks and telling others not to kill it. “Then the damn thing bit me.” In a mouse’s thimble, that was my father.

One time we borrowed a neighbor’s truck and drove into D.C. to pick up a dining room table and chairs that my mom bought from a coworker who lived in a swanky apartment overlooking the Potomac near the Watergate. My dad did not tie anything down in the bed of the truck though we had rope, and as we bounced across the Memorial Bridge in pale orange mercury vapor light, the extension leaf bounced up and out of the truck, landing flat on the bridge where the next fifty cars ran over it and pulverized the damn thing. I ran back and picked up the gravel encrusted table leaf. When we got home, my mother cried in absolute frustration and disappointment. We did not have a lot of nice things, and she put so much psychic energy into the few high profile things we did own. See, if  you have a nice carpet in your living room, you rock. My mom liked images and mirages.

 

 

 

So now you are ready for the main point. My sappy sentimental dad could not find it in his milksop heart to take Toto to the kennel. The dog was in absolute panic mode after flying from Hawaii to L.A. to D.C. in the belly of a huge noisy plane without Xanax. He brought the dog home in its cage and tried to comfort the poor thing in our living room. No good. No sir. We had a wide eyed, panic stricken terrier on the loose in a totally foreign environment.

Just then one of my brothers walked through the front door and Toto hit that hole faster than any NFL running back in modern history. He shot across our yard, through the intersection, and zipped out of sight in the woods beyond the Parkway as the summer sun set. At least he was heading west, I thought. Hawaii is west of here.

There were no words. That dog probably ran until it had a heart attack or seizure. In any event Toto was a total goner, and sentimental JJ was left with an empty cage full of dog guilt. It was bizarrely funny and painfully tragic at the same time. The awful wait began. Dread built. Excuses were rehearsed.

A couple of weeks later, lo and behold, the van with our cousins rolled up to our house. Nervous greetings were exchanged. They may have sensed that we were not so glad to see them. “Come in. Come on in.” And as they gathered in the living room, Jean said, “The kids can’t wait to see Toto.”

That’s when I left out the front door… a little slower than Toto had rocketed away. But I knew I could not endure the shock and horror, the guilt and shame of dogicide. Toto’s blood was not on my hands. Still I imagined the interaction that went down as everyone gathered around the damaged dining table.

“Toto ran away.”

“From the kennel? How?”

“No, from here. You see, I brought him here because he was so upset…”

“You? What? The dog is gone?”

Six kids start crying as voices turned metallic with anger. I don’t like the squeak of fingernails on a chalkboard, so I could not have handled the symphony of discord that must have erupted.

“Oh, no. Toto, come back!”

357. Unexploded Ordnance

That’s an odd title, dontcha think? What exactly is ordnance, you ask? Military weapons and ammunition. Why explode it anyway?  Well, a few miles from my office is an Army depot where occasionally, on perfectly still days, engineers blow up old ammunition that dates back to World War II and the Korean War. Apparently old bombs or missiles become unstable and need to be properly disposed of like excess picnic food. And that’s what these explosionists do– blow up piles of ordnance on beautiful summer and fall days while eating chicken salad sandwiches. Thunderclap sonic booms roar across the valley and resonate off the opposite foothills range. Boom, boom, boom. Pretty simple. No one gets hurt.

However, I’m thinking of invisible unexploded psychic ordnance– old hurts and pains, guilts and shames, bones of contention, griefs, losses, heartaches, and traumas. Stuff you swallowed because you had to, long ago. Not that you drool over it like a dog over his morning puppy chow. Not like that at all. No, you’d much rather not consider any of these things. Instead you cover them with work and life’s many intense experiences. You steer inflated conversations away from these razor wire coral reefs that may shred the fragile underbelly of your soul. Yeah, and all the while these patinated brass canisters are corroding, leaking acid like old forgotten batteries inside your chrome Boy Scout flashlight.

Down under your defense mechanisms the equivalent of land mines wait for your foot’s pressure to trigger a demolition. You buried them like corpses, deep and still but still alive. Perhaps you find yourself sucked into a conversation that seemingly takes on a life of its own. Strange energies arise. Big feelings too. Verbiage flows like dammed water down a spillway. The back pressure is so great and this gushing release feels right, but it’s wrong. Kaboom, boom, boom. Your mouth outruns your cricket conscience, and you make an ass out of yourself. Your foot flies by your face and you see gum stuck to the patterned sole of your nice suede shoes. “I liked those shoes. Didn’t notice the gum.” And you walk on, limping actually, on your ragged new stump.

Since it’s all metaphorical, you feel no physical pain. Still, your guts twist like sheets in a tropical storm. How can you empty yourself of this old debris? Surely there is a psychic trash hauler who can pick up the toxic tonnage for a fee. A landfill in the next county that safely disposes of the waste. A site supervisor there who monitors the wicked gases of devolution. It would be clean, convenient, and so evolved if we had such advanced soul carpet cleaning enterprises. In lieu of such mechanisms we have the same old system of honest repentance where you lay yourself naked and humble before God and your garbage… and seek the precious balm of forgiveness. You must regurgitate the hurts and guilts and shames and claim them in your self disgust, like so many muddy catfish sliming out of your gullet. Amazed, you gag at the sinful catch in front of you.

“I did that!” you gasp. Words aren’t heavy enough, foul enough to describe your vomitus. You writhe on jelly legs. No rest, no rest comes to your hurricane beaten conscience. Flakes and splintery surfaces blow off your crusted soul. Ship wrecked, wave tossed, you just hang on. It’s a long nightmare you float through under a placid face. When will my undeserved  sunshine of forgiveness break through these awful torrents? My mind goes decades deep in memories to Pinnochio on the big silver screen. He was so cute and innocent and foolish. He wound up in Monstro’s belly. Pinnochio was not a monster, but his continuous lies and bad choices led him there. Exactly where he needed to be, turns out.

In the belly of the whale he faced his father Geppetto  and the cat Figaro he’d abandoned. They were swallowed while searching for Pinnochio. The puppet boy finally comes to the end of his foolishness and begins to take responsibility for others. He builds a fire that causes Monstro to sneeze and exhale their little raft. Pinnochio redeems himself, saves Geppetto, but appears to drown in the process. If the movie stopped there, every child would be in grief therapy on Disney’s nickel. But it continues. Geppetto takes Pinoak home and sadly lays him out. He grieves again for the boy he loved.  That night the Blue Fairy returns and transforms the water logged wooden puppet into a real, fleshy boy. He is finally worthy.

That’s where repentance ends: when we shuck off the crud of sin and humbly accept our God given worth. Narcissists over value themselves. Low self esteemers under value themselves. Most folks just ignore the question. Too deep. But that’s where the healing happens, down deep in the black crevices of our souls. Covering, endlessly covering the ordnance does not detoxify or empty it. So, Blogagogers, cough it up with me. Come clean. Let’s blow up the sunken city of  port-a-potties so that no one gets hurt. Pry open the pearl of great price and behold! As surely as sin turns you into a braying donkey, the grace of redemption returns you to the image and likeness of God.