403. the perfect adjective

So many folks are out there pursuing something perfect, the perfect mate, job, house, car, vacation, etc. (You know who you are.) Exhausting, isn’t it? Know why? Cuz it’s a false construct, blog swallows.  Perfect does not exist and cannot. No matter how precisely you want to cut the diamond or vacuum your living room carpet, under microscopic inspection– flaws, dust and blemishes appear. If you put the microscopic imperfections under a higher powered microscope, you’ll see even more flaws, dust and blemishes. Perfect is an airbrushed, photo-shopped illusion then. We have made the word concept into something it cannot be. Here is the word origin or etymology if you want to flaunt your vocabulary muscles:

1250-1300; < Latin perfectus, past participle of perficere to finish, bring to completion ( per- per- + -fec-, combining form of facere to do1+ -tus past participle suffix); replacing Middle English parfit < Old French < Latin.

Simply put, perfect means finished or completed.  The thing being described needs nothing further. Somehow over the centuries this low bar was raised unattainably high to mean flawless and unblemished. This is an interesting turn away from what something is, toward what it is not. And it is a trap easily wandered in to.

Anorexia nervosa, I think, is the deadly pursuit of an imaginary and perfect body image… “just another five pounds and I’ll stop…” The winner of this competition dies a perfect skeleton. How quaint. They are finished alright.

OCD folks are often perfectionists, chasing the impossible, fully throttled by anxiety. Steps are counted, objects balanced symmetrically, clothes matched, Christmas lights strung exactly and high, i.e., high strung like the stringer of the lights is. Banging away on a mental drum, inner insecurity pulses. Organizing and arranging the outer world somehow calms the OCD sufferer temporarily.

Chasing perfection is a bad dream, though, where you are pole vaulting ever higher and the bar keeps rising, even beyond Olympic levels. No matter how good the vaulter, his record reflects the last height before he failed. Every time achievement is reached, the bar is moved higher, the goal posts farther back, until a new inadequacy is birthed. Winning now is only losing later. In many ways it’s like an addiction wherein the dosage needs to keep increasing to chase the original ephemeral high.

My little ditty for clients goes like this:  Perfection is a living room you can’t live in. A car you can’t drive. It’s a coin you can’t spend and a stamp you won’t send. These things are perfect and precious. They must be kept in a museum. Untouched and uncirculated no seeums. Tragic, really. The precious thing can never be enjoyed by anyone except in some abstract glory. It is preserved under glass like the Constitution or a butterfly. Safe but very dead.

Once upon a time there was a guy who collected coins, or should I say hoarded them. He and his wife lived in an old ranch house that needed painting and new carpeting, and a bunch of other improvements. He told his wife to pick out paint, then they’d get on to the other issues. She came home with five sample cards featuring white and off white shades.   He didn’t care for any of them.  So the wife went to another paint store and came home with five new cards featuring white and off white shades. He methodically vetoed each choice.

Meanwhile Harry the hoarder had a security system installed to protect his million dollar coin collection. Each door and window was wired to an alarm that would sound whenever it was opened. The new unilateral policy became “No open windows”. At some pinpoint of squinty reasoning it sort of made sense because he had a fortune in coins in a big vault somewhere in this weathered ranch house. But how would they paint the living room if the windows couldn’t ever be opened? Ahhh, it was a logical and  passive-aggressive trap: you can paint the living room once I agree to the right shade of white and only if we never open the windows. What contingencies!

Meanwhile the wife grew sad and felt trapped in a dingy house with drab paint and worn out carpeting, and no hope of change because her husband’s coins mattered more than anything she could conceive of. He never said this overtly, but the message was spray painted on the brick wall of his actions.Harry’s perfect world became his own perfect prison. Everyone was a suspect, a potential thief who would rob him of his holy treasure. He lived in fear like Midas, surrounded by cold, unloving coins. His paranoia ran so deep that he shred any paperwork and used municipal dumpsters for his household trash. He knew that some evil geniuses could reconstruct what was in his house by reverse engineering what was in his trash. And he just could not be too careful with all that money sitting in a hidden vault. He wanted to be a good steward.So he said.

Harry had layers of protection for his treasure. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Mt. 6:21. The problem was not with his treasure, however. His unguarded heart grew layer upon layer of cholesterol and plaque– atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. His heart literally grew hard as a stone.

Ezekiel 36:26 goes like this, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Harry, on the other hand, wanted a heart of gold where no messy blood flowed through.

One day Harry died in the living room no one ever lived in. The coins no one ever spent paid for his funeral expenses. A funeral no one attended.

Joy finally got to paint her living room, got new beige carpet, and opened the windows. It would have been perfect if Harry hadn’t died prematurely. On the sunlit wall she put a picture of Jesus crucified. The caption read, “It is finished not perfect.”

 

 

 

 

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402. Jogging Cadaver

It’s swelteringly hot and humid today due to some meteorological phenomenon that produces stuck heat domes which oppress those folks stuck inside them. (Yes, I believe in Global Warming, so I wear a hat.) Not exactly a day that calls for sane people to go out and exercise; however, by now you know conclusively that I am not running for election to The Sanity Hall of Fame in Toledo but the other way. So, after taking care of grocery shopping and an air conditioned trip to the bank, I thought I’d go for a sweaty walk in the sauna outside, just around the block to start. But once I began to stride into the wet wammy wall of warmth, I felt motivated to go harder, walk all the way into, through, and out of the local park, a total of two miles. Not too long ago I used to run that circle without any trouble. Today it’s different. I’m out of shape and a little worried about hurting myself if I go too hard. My parts are getting stiff and sore at age 60, probably from underactivity. I’ve been thinking of a line of sports clothing with U transposed over A, like Under Armor only my sports line will be weak and wimpy, Under Active, like a slow thyroid. Maybe that can be my logo, a sleeping thyroid gland on a waterbed.Illustration of Hashimoto's disease shows white blood cells attacking the thyroid gland.Kinda scary looking.

Anyway, I went out with my hat and sunglasses, t shirt and shorts, socks and sneakers. No phone or i.d., no money or thread back home. Of course no note telling my napping daughter or soon to arrive home wife where I was. I began to think of my trek four years ago with my Arizona daughter’s dog Kermit in the July heat of the Sonoran Desert. That was intensely stupid, as I recall, not because I was at risk but the dog was exposed to heat stroke. Dogs just know when it’s too hot or dry or windy to go outside. I lack that gene. (We were saved by a midget football team’s car wash behind the Valero gas station. Little boys who asked me, “Hey Mister, can we wash your dog?” Not real midgets or little people or dwarves, just little boys.)

On I went, sweat starting to rise up. “Ahh, feels good.” The merciless sun beat down. I went on bare chested, even better, get some color. I jogged a bit, testing the right knee, gauging my breathing. Like I said before, I don’t want to push too far too fast and wind up in the hospital again. A year and a half ago I ripped my back up shoveling snow. This past winter I did it again. I was not up for a third time of being disabled. Hospitals are worse than funeral homes for me. At least in the funeral home you know what’s wrong; you have an answer.

I knew my wife would be coming home soon, and if she saw me alive she’d stop and lecture me about heat stroke and dehydration and death and being donated again to medical science cadaver service. But I did not see her red car as I left the neighborhood. If I timed it right  ( but without a watch or phone I was in my familiar commonwealth of ignorance), I hoped to arrive at home as she did. I suspected that if she did not see me within  a few minutes of her arrival, she’d start to search for my lifeless body along the likely walking routes and in the ditches. It’s what you do. Otherwise without a body it’s hard to collect the life insurance.

I pushed forward like a camel, stopping for one drink of water at Eric’s Fountain. No one else was present in the baking parkland. No surprise. They had the dog gene of self preservation.

I knew what meatloaf felt like when left to broil into shoe leather. My skin oozed sweat and liquefied body fat as buzzards circled above me. I also knew my pace was not fast enough to meet my wife at home, so I began to jog a bit while aimlessly looking around at the landscape I used to run through. The corn is high. The barn is empty. More cows are roaming and look at this, they are coming to  check me out at the fence line where it’s shady. My mind could only observe and stop there.

“Well, hello girls. 4649, you are looking good today, girlfriend. Losing weight? 4039 stop humping your herd buddy. That’s nasty. Are you watching porn in the barn?”

I turned toward home, anticipating the many ways in which I could just miss my wife in her little red car. I pushed on. As I came down my street, I saw her and my daughter in the front seat of the red Honda Civic pulling into the driveway. I waved, shirtless and drenched in sweat. I knew what they knew: I was not dead just brain dead. The moment became tense.“We’ve been driving around looking for you!!  Are you crazy?  Who goes jogging on a day when the heat index is 200 degrees? Oh, you do, the jogging dead.”

“Put the shovel down, dear. I’m sorry to disappoint you by showing up alive. I can lie down and stroke out if it makes you feel better. Reports of my death were greatly exaggerated. I just wandered off….”

No, they just wanted to see me alive and behaving admirably which is a rarity on a good day. It seems to be a self evident truth that I was not beaten enough as a child, or so I am told with regularity. Secretly, I think they wanted to rescue me from myself and I stole their moment of glory by not collapsing in a cornfield or falling unconscious on the broiling macadam like a truck struck raccoon with a sympathy helium balloon.

 

Funny Raccoon Road Kill Picture

Maybe because it was so hot or so familiar, but the interrogation and guilt roasting stopped there. I almost lost my balance, not because of dehydration or vertigo or heat stroke, but at the lack of push back. Mercy is a powerful force.

401.Heavy is the Crown of Blogs

“I don’t read the blog if I’m not in it,” said Rob again at the outdoor table of Coffee Nation while pippy birds flew overhead and confused drivers drove the wrong way up Main Street.

“Whoa!  Look: two lost motorists driving upstream like confused salmon against the current, rushing to their ancestral spawning grounds and imminent deaths. I should have worn my salmon polo. Though I’m more of a lake guy, you know?  I’d like a boat, but I can’t get past the concept of a money pit in the water. I don’t mind going out on someone else’s boat, mind you. It’s their money pit, and that’s okay, no judgment from me…  On the lake I can get outside my own head, whereas at the beach I’m overloaded with stimulation, and….”

“Wow, Rob! What are you drinking this morning?  Is it an absinthe red bull or the mescaline macchiato?”

“Neither, I mean we always talk about nothing, especially unconnected bits and pieces of nothing, so I’m just sweeping up the crumbs of our conversation and repurposing them. Like scrapple after butchering a hog, you sweep up the eyelids and knuckle gum, grind it up with pepper and hog gelatin, add some secret spices and a dash of dry white wine and then, Voila!  Scrapple.”

“That’s beautiful, man. You are the good news steward of our verbal landscape, turning barristas into barristos. Kitty corners into catty corners. Cacophonies into cacka phoneys. Where would we be without you, Roberto? The Scrapple Maker of impoverished punditry. The Clemente Clamato of calamity. The Utter Otter of Disorderliness.   Thank you from the bottom of my shallow heart.”

“How shallow is your heart?”

“Well, if a worm crawled across my ventricles, he wouldn’t get his belly wet.”

“Wow. You are shallow.”

“The yard sprinkler of kiddie pools on a New Mexican highway in July.”

“In other words, dry.”

“Yep. But you are not shallow, Robbie Boy?”

“Me? No, I have a moral compass and compassion.”

“You know they are not the same word, right? Like the male and female genders of coffee bartender.”

“Yeah, of course I know lots of big words.”

“But you won’t read the blog unless it’s about you? Isn’t that shallow? Petty and self interested navel gazing?”

“I can’t see my navel.”

“In a mirror. I’m sure you’ve glanced on the way into the shower.”

“Okay, who hasn’t?”

“Sh, shhh, shallow. Wasn’t that a Stones’ song? Shadoobie, shallow, shallow, umph, shadoobie, shallow, shallow.”

“I think you know the song is Shattered.”

“Oh, yes, my error.”

“No, this is what you do– you drive people crazy and then they make an appointment with you to get uncrazed. It’s like when Wall Street collapsed and we bailed them out. Who did we give the money to?  The very same people who created the derivative alternate universe to begin with.”

“Rob, that’s harsh.”

“But true.”

“Which just makes it truly harsh.”

“Ugggh! I wish Joel were here instead of cruising the country on his Spyder cycle. I need legal counsel.”

“You are in luck. I have impersonated attorneys many times. Plus I will be delivering Joel’s eulogy, which I wrote for someone else, but no matter. Ask me a litigious question. Perhaps I can eulogize you too.”

“That’s just it:  you are the party I wish to sue for damages.”

“Do tell.”

“You are making me crazy with your double talk. I can handle bait and switch and various games of bunny trail, but you have corkscrewed my mind into broken knots of useless, unknowing nerve bundles. All I can do is scream!!”

“Go ahead, Rob. After all, it’s your blog party and you can cry if you want to. Cry if you want to. I would cry too if it happened to me.”

“No, no more. I can’t take another garbled song lyric delivered by a madman.”

“Hey, you wanted to be in the blog kitchen, partner. Now the heat is too hot for you? You can’t handle the blog truth. It’s a dry heat, or is it dry heave?”

“Yes, please release me from my crazy request. I will never plead for blog space again. Sensei, you are the master. I am the grasshopper. Please rescind all my previous demands and requests.”

“You mean r e s c i n d  or  r e s e n d?”

“Oh Merciful God in Heaven, not the latter. The former, please, I beg of you. I have a young child who needs a sane father.”

“I trust that you have learned your lesson, Young Crocus.”

“I have, sir, but why do you call me Crocus?”

“Because it rhymes with focus, and you need to focus, Crocus.”

“Hurry, Joel.”

 

 

 

 

 

400. Gripping Grief

I got a call early today marked “URGENT”.  Could I do an intervention in the next town over? An employee had died. Did I have two hours in my schedule? Sure. I have done these things before– Critical Incident Stress Debriefing or CISD in short. We negotiated a price and I moved my schedule around to accommodate them.

My first CISD followed a bank robbery 12 years ago. I had no idea what to expect, but it didn’t matter much. Six female bank tellers and other employees who had been present that day were given 2 hours in a conference room with me to digest what had happened a couple of weeks earlier. Each woman told her story, and in doing so showed what she held dearest.

“I thought of my kids. How would they survive without me? When it was over I somehow thought the robber would find my house and kill us all.”

“Me too!  I’m not far from retirement and I saw all my dreams of traveling with my husband go up in gun smoke.”

“Did the perp fire his gun?”

“No. He jumped over the counter and yelled at us… it was awful. Even now I’m shaking just thinking about him– all dressed in black with a Yankees ball cap on. I hate the Yankees.”

“I do too, but I’ve never been robbed by one of their fans. They are pinstriped rich crybabies.”

Nervous laughter.

Each woman spoke of her fear and her nightmares, all of their hypervigilance to protect against another robbery, no matter how irrational it might seem.

“I didn’t wan to come to work again– ever! I felt sick like I was going to the firing squad.”

“It’s good you did come in again to prove to yourself that it was safe.”

“Yeah, but it was tough. I came for these ladies.”

“Amen! I wanted to quit too. No job is worth losing your life.”

Finally we came to the last teller, Sherry. She seemed unfazed by it all, even partly amused by the debriefing. “It was nothing”, she declared.

“What?” all reacted as one.

“Yeah. I run with MEDIC I. I see blood and guts every day. It was just another day at the office.”

“Oh Sherry, just wait till you’re married and have kids. You’ll feel different.”

“I doubt it. You know my luck with men. They’re all thugs to some degree. Players and takers, just like the punk who robbed us. I wish I was allowed to carry my Glock at work, you know, cuz we don’t have a guard. I’d have ended that robbery as soon as he came through the doors. I had cover and a good angle. He was a joke, holding his weapon sideways like he was in some gangster movie.”

“Sherry, for someone who was  not affected, you sure have a lot to say.”

“Me? I’m fine. I’ve seen a lot worse.”

As I wrapped up the meeting, the only concern I had was regarding Sherry. She had been traumatized just as much as the other five women who were all married and moms. Yet she denied being victimized or feeling out of control. It was clear that she needed to feel very much in control, at all times,  everywhere. Talking of fear or vulnerability requires loosening one’s grip on control. She couldn’t do that.

Ironic, isn’t it, that meeting force and coercion with more force and coercion does  not produce a lasting peace. Force and coercion only produce gun smoke and blood.

Another time I had a single robbery victim crisis. She had been robbed by two men with black guns during the overnight shift at her convenience store. She shook as she told me her story in bits and fits and flashes.  I said next  to nothing. After an hour I asked if she’d like to talk again. “Sure, how about tomorrow? I won’t have a job to worry about anymore since I’m quitting. No job is worth a life.”

Next day: same time, same chairs, only this time Wendy spoke with more coherence and control. She didn’t realize it yet, but security was returning. Again I said next to nothing. I wanted her to empty out all her nervous vomit. She readily complied. In this second recitation she began to feel and express anger at the robbers and moved toward a desire for justice. She focused on apprehending the criminals. She even mentioned driving around looking for their black Camaro. “I thought they were gonna shoot me in the back room. I stared down one of their gun barrels waiting for a bullet in my face. I’ll never forget that. I want them to feel what I felt. We gotta catch’em.”

We met again the next day for session 3:  same time, same chairs. Sherry told her story in half the time, minus all the sobs and shakes that had been part of session 1.  I reflected her changes to her and she agreed. Power was returning to her mind and body.

I met Wendy for the last time officially the following Monday, same time, same chairs. She was restored, looking forward to going back to work that night. “And I  told them I don’t need a babysitter. I can handle it. Been doing it for fourteen years. Golly! I’m not giving up my job for two losers. Plus, I can keep looking out for them. If I see their car again, I’m calling the cops right away. I’m not losing my house, my job, my sobriety cuz of two clowns with guns. I have a lot more to do in my life.”

Many years later  I ran into Wendy at one of the same convenience stores. I waited for her to recognize me, and she did. “I’m doing good. Thanks.”

“Wendy, if you recall, I said next to nothing.”

“Yeah, maybe, but you listened real well. Thanks. I needed to tell my story.”

So, if you can’t stop to  grieve, what is lost? If you don’t grieve, then you can carry your carnage with you, slowly killing off the life you could have had.

I imagine Sherry walking in to Wendy’s store to by a pack of cigarettes and a Diet Dr. Pepper.

Wendy, “Honey, that’s an expensive way to kill yourself. I know. I used to smoke and drink.”

Sherry, “What? This? This nothing. I’ve seen a lot worse, lemme tell you.”