399. Lost Identity

Okay, I was tired after the drive down from Sedona to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Ninety miles an hour feels slow on Highway 17 when you realize that you are just barely keeping up with traffic. 60 mph is creeping along, or so it feels by comparison. After returning the overpriced rental car and shuttling through security,  I pulled my last two twenty dollar bills out to pay for lunch at the Le Grande Orange in Gate D of Southwest’s hub. That’s the last time I recall being connected to my wallet, which included my VISA card, my driver’s license, my ATM card, my Mensa membership card, my brain donor card, my AARP card, and all the receipts for the last two weeks of my life. I had planned to put those receipts on my receipt pile at home with the vague intention of one day balancing my checkbooks. Shocker alert:  I haven’t balanced my checkbooks in a long time, but please don’t rat me out to my wife. What she already knows about me is burden enough. It would be totally cruel if you added one more straw to her over-packed marital saddle bags. Like a swelling suitcase bulging at the zipper, she could just explode one day at BWI and all the jettisoned dirty laundry would shut down international air traffic for weeks. Think of others for a change, dear blog creeper.

So, it was not till we were home the next day when she asked me to pick up some groceries after church that I realized I had no wallet and no means of buying anything. No cash, and my unbalanced checkbook was at home, balancing on a can of Barbasol shaving cream. I lacked proof of identity, and technically I should not have been driving without a valid license. I shouldn’t have even been shaving without a license. I was in an identity pickle, so to speak.

“In a pickle” is an odd expression, don’t you think?  I ponder things like this. After 11 minutes of ponderance plus the preceding 4 minutes of preponderance, I determined that the reference is to the old pickle jar that used to be part of  every general store counter. Outside of such briny waters you can strut around as free as a fresh cucumber just slipped from the vine. However, once you are cooked, salted and vinegared, you are in a pickle (jar), floating  helplessly,  nakedly exposed to strangers with grimy quarters waiting to devour you. The only difference between you and a carnival goldfish in a glass bowl is the color.

Where was I? Lost, unidentifiable. If I had wrecked my car and died, I would have to be i.d.’d by my unsigned vehicle registration card, which is at the bottom of my receipt pile on the dresser where I empty my pockets religiously. My anonymous body could lie unclaimed in the morgue for days. (Then again, who would claim my identified body after my bodacious slanders and procrastinations?)Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina believes that the ends justify the means with regards posting photos of the dead online

[Coroner, “Ma’am, we know it’s your husband. The dental records prove it.”

Mrs. B.S., “I’ve never seen this body before. My husband is dead to me. You should see the pile of receipts he left behind, his checkbook covered in shaving cream.  And worstest of all:  he lost his flippin’ wallet in Phoenix. I will not claim him, dead or alive!!”

Coroner, “C’mon, Lady, this is not like the pound. You have to take him.

Mrs. B.S., Don’t the unclaimed ones go to medical schools for study?

Coroner, “Yes, but… you wouldn’t… I’m aghast!!]

No, no. It’s too terrible to imagine. I will repent. No more puns or procrastination. I will help Tiny Tim walk. I will celebrate Christmas like none before me.

Somehow I felt I’d been sucked into an alternative universe, as if Tommy Chong had been sucking on his weed bong when suddenly reverse vapor lock sucked him into the funky bong water, trapping him in eternal impishness. What a scary place to be, unable to cross over or evaporate into the mystic. Entombed in a resin stained yellow submarine where only Pink Floyd tunes played, a fleshy filter between toxins and tripping out. This is how Joel must have felt on his pirated musical cruise. This is probably how Tommy Chong actually does feel these days. Anyone seen Tommy lately?

chongbongs Whats A Chong Bong? Tommy Chong And His Collectible Bong

Focus, focus. The wallet. I’ve called both banks, VISA, Southwest, Sky Harbor security, the TSA, and the DMV in my journey out of the bong tank and back to functioning reality. I’m hoping to receive a package soon from a good citizen who took the cash left in my wallet for an envelope and postage to reunite me with my wallet. Do good citizens like that still exist?  I have found wallets and cell phones in my wanderings and adventures and I’ve gone out of my way to return them to their ungrateful owners. Once, all I had to go on were recent baby pictures in a man’s wallet. I called the hospital and persuaded the record keeper to give me contact information that correlated with the baby info I had. I contacted the baby’s suspicious grandmother, who treated me like a cop from Law and Order, SVU. No good deed goes unpunished, my friends.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport - PHX - Phoenix, AZ, United States. Going upI want my readers in Phoenix to know that I will be very grateful if they have my wallet or any component of it. Cuz that’s who I am. Which means ironically that I still have my identity, doesn’t it? I still am connected to my who. My wallet has mosaic pieces of what I am, how much money is in my accounts, my credit limit, my eye color. As much as I’d like to have them back in my pocket, I’m glad to have my intrinsic who firing through my remaining neural pathways.

[As I was writing the above rambling bit of psychoprose, Southwest Airlines contacted my wife with news of my wallet being found. She arranged Fed Ex delivery. I am saved. I don’t have to be a medical cadaver after all. God bless the luck of the Irish!!]

398. Sanguine in Sedona

Nothing surprises me anymore. Here I am checking my blog traffic in the lobby of  the hotel in Sedona and “Play that Funky Music Whiteboy” is on the muzak soundtrack. I suppose it all has to do with the cosmic confluence of energies and vortexes that New Age folks in this town blather about. If you want your soul’s aura mapped, hey, no problem. Consider it done. Need your energy balanced?  Boom, level as a bevel. Raki and yoga are also available across a vast spectrum so that you can get your inner chakras aligned with the great Giver Bear’s liver.  Crystals and readings are omnipresent for whatever ails a weary spirit. You can get a quinoa enema with jasmine highlights at bedtime or snort gluten free steel cut oatmeal for breakfast. Okay, I am making some of this up, but it’s like the Grateful Dead’s tour bus blew a tire here and never left. Hipsters, dipsters, whipsters, and post-menopausal slipsters all chug about in their karmic glory.At any moment Vishnu could sit next to you at the organic deli.

“Is anyone sitting here?” says Vish.
“Dude, you should know that one.”
“Sir, I do indeed know all, but I do not vish to be so conceited as you.”
“Okay, sorry. What are you ordering?”
“I love the hot bean curd.”
At the next table…

“So, like, I was in Glastonbury, you know, and it was, like, such energy, you know, and I was buzzing with it in my lower spine. Don’t know what that means, but it was sooo coooool. Better than an iced colonic.  My aura was pulsing. I could feel it moving… you know?”

“Totally. Glastonbury vibes with Stonehenge and other alien sites where crop circles just erupt from the earth mother like pimples on a teenager’s face cuz the earth is going through adolescence. Sedona is so like that, man. All these canyons vibrate with past and future spirits that course through them with the monsoon rains. And it all comes to oneness in the vast random non-uniformity of nature. The Flow is where the power rolls, the current, the frequency, the quirky quarkiness of it all.” Blather, blather said the big guy who needed deodorant a year ago last winter. Arrogantly grandiose, he carried on without taking a breath while his two disciples breathed in every stinky molecule of his wizzdum. I’ve run into folks like this on a few occasions in my life, but they were on their way to psych wards.

The waitress takes their orders. “We’ll share an unsweetened iced colonic with spearmint and lemon in a recyclable paper cup that was not used in experiments on animals.”

“Great choice. We are the world. What’s inside is out, and what’s outside is in.”

Seriously? Even Jerry would hurl at such b.s.


I’m thinking we should never have come to this vegan garden of vectors and vicissitudes, but my wife and daughter were salivating over the menu of organic, gluten free, flavor free offerings from the Vedic beyond, imagining all their special dietary needs would be soothingly and enthusiastically  accommodated. So I drove over there in a psychological headlock, feeling like a virgin on prom night in a frat house. Nothing good was going to come of this adventure. My pessimism was not disappointed. (Is that a triple negative? What ever happened to Heidi the goat herding virgin? She got sick in the low valley as I recall.)

I was also thinking that a cheeseburger would be good, but we were immersed in a meat free/ preservative free/ hormone free / neo- Fascist food zone. I feared that the truly unwashed crowd might turn on me if I dared to suggest anything carnivorous. I ordered the Sedona Burrito. It seemed the least offensive thing on the limited menu. Beans, sprouts, quinoa, kale, and various other death defying ingredients. I washed it down  with a vodka/Pepto Bismal shake. Very proactive but to no avail. Nasty is what nasty does. It was nasty, lemme tell ya.

It was the worst meal I’ve ever paid for, even surpassing old Leroy’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken that I had on a local adventure years before. It’s hard to ruin barbequed chicken, but Leroy met that challenge before he died. And until this excursion to vegan land I thought I’d come to the end of Gastronomical Nightmare Lane. But I was wrong. This vegan burrito tasted like a dirty sock taken off a death row prison inmate and then dragged cell by cell through prison soup de jour until it dripped no more. Laid out on an unadorned white plate, even the flies would not land on this thing. In perfect hindsight I should have just eaten the plate.

My wife and daughter choked down salad somethings. I wondered if this was really a training camp for sadistic chefs and masochistic diners. No one could serve this sort of slop daily and stay in business, unless, unless every other customer were stoned out of his/her brain. Hmmmm, then even dirt would be palatable and full of cosmic vibes. It was my fault for coming here sober with taste buds that were not hobbled by psychedelics. If only I’d known and smoked up a bunch of Hawaiian herbs, I could have been in the vortex with the others instead of standing outside the party separated by plate glass. A stranger in the great ape house.

The next day we were all suffering buyers’ remorse. Immodium was coveted by all. I’ll skip the sensory details.

“Wow, I feel so freed up, unbound from intestinal fortitude but chained to the porcelain bowl.”

“We are never eating crap like that again. And don’t even say ‘I told  you so'”.

“How about ‘So, I told you’?”

“Don’t make it worse with your verbal incontinence.”

“Okay. But you know what I’d like right now?”

“Surprise me.”

“That milky chalk solution you have to drink before an MRI. It gags you and you think you’ll explode if you have one more sip, on top of Johnnie’s new dog food…”

“Shut up!”

Thank God it’s so beautiful.


397. Painting the Void

[I can’t write about Joel again until the judge clears me and drops the restraining order. Alas, you don’t know a person until you know him. It required three Boro cops, a canine unit, and a helicopter to get him off me at the Coffee River Junction.]

In other news…

For many years I worked all my summers painting houses and barns and various other structures– garages, sheds, fences, offices, apartments. Anything that stood still. It was a nice counterbalance to teaching the rest of the year, painting prosocial propaganda on the foreheads of tomorrow’s electorate. Once my partner and I painted a flagpole at a cemetery and the gatehouse at the cemetery entrance.  Not sure why a cemetery needed a spruced up look. No one ever visited the old graves except for morose birds and squirrels, or maybe some drunk Satanic Goths at night.

Many painting moments are unforgettable, though I rarely recall them. My memories are compartmentalized, I suppose. So naturally this past weekend as I painted a house to help out a family with a disabled daughter, I must have reopened that old paint story can compartment. The house I was painting is on Riddle Road and faces a large custom built brick house on the circle Riddle Road intersects, maybe three hundred yards away. My former partner and I painted that house decades ago. The owners we worked for are likely dead now. I strained my brain to recall the details, their two German shepherds that snapped at us like we were sweaty burglars made of beef jerky. Still, it’s a nice feeling when you finish sprucing up a finely built home.

The older couple had watched us paint their neighbor’s house that was further along the same circle. They noticed how methodically we burned off old paint; then primed; then carefully applied the final coat. We spent weeks on that glorious old limestone house and its two story garage. All covered in red and green slates from New England. What a fine structure it still is, surrounded by huge white oaks. The owner of the limestone house had seen us painting his neighbor’s house, down  toward Philadelphia Avenue.

So it all started twenty plus years ago, burning paint off Tom B’s stately old house on the corner of Homewood and Philadelphia. He owned rentals all over the county that we had painted cheaply and quickly. Now we were to take our time and prime the wood around his house. Finally we could do a full job that would last and be appreciated. Painting Tom’s rentals felt sort of sleazy since we never cleaned first or sanded or primed. Nope, just slapped on a new coat of paint. Not a good advertisement for one’s ability painting new battleship gray over old battleship gray or covering a barn roof with silver fiber-packed sludge. Big gaps would get filled in with newspaper and steel wool, covered with glazing, and away we painted.

I vividly recall painting around a Victorian farmhouse chimney that held a honeybee hive. Thousands of bees swarmed in and out of a chink hole between bricks. They weren’t stinging me, but I was not comfortable being in their cloud. So I crammed a ball of glazing into their passageway to trap the inside bees inside and then sprayed the outside bees with hornet spray. It was a fire fight, but I eventually gained the upper hand. After the blasting was over, I went back to painting next to the glaze ball that entombed the million bee army. I could hear their buzzing through the wall of glaze. It couldn’t have been more than thirty minutes until they breeched the glaze barrier. Each bee had taken a small bite of the glaze and then stepped away for the next bee to bite. Eventually this army defeated the glaze plug. Let me tell you, they were not happy buzzers when they exited with mouths full of Dap 33. I scrambled off the ladder and applied more wasp spray, then moved my ladder stand to the other side of the house. I imagined gallons of old honey in that chimney that would age for another hundred years, perhaps turning into a potent mead one day.

Painted a couple of houses for blind women. The one would wander outside on her porch and declare, “Looks nice, boys.” Makes you wonder if a tree falls in the woods on two deaf guys who didn’t hear it coming, did it make a sound? And the two dead deaf guys– did they make a sound if no one was around to hear their final squashing screams?  I’m thinking yes to both. Philosophers should get real jobs and stop pondering the imponderable. Maybe paint their houses and not just do graffiti with spray paint, “Why?” and “What is the purpose of life?” on their garage walls.

I think what I enjoy most in the painting business is restoring an old shutter or door to its original lines and look. As you burn off layers upon layers of paint, you find the different colors beneath until you hit the original wood, oozing a little bubbly sap and the piney pitch odor. Time’s grimy grasp is reversed and the process of preservation begins again, prime and paint and caulk. Good as new after 4 or 5 hours of labor.

That’s my life story, I think. I’ve spent a lot of time in my counseling office peeling back layers of hurt and fear and anger that clients come caked inside of. Almost all of them say this, “I want to change.” Not all of them see it through when the heat gets  hot and the scraping begins. Those who do often find a deep beauty in their bones beyond the grasp of their imaginations. Something epiphanous happens when a brave soul realizes he/she is not what has been painted all over them years before. It is both terrifying and liberating to be stripped bare just before starting all over. Finally, though, it is edifying. Go restore something and see for yourself.