430. Monday Morning Bluessssky

Let me get this elephant off my chest, figuratively speaking. You know how Mondays are? You want to start slowly, if at all. Your circumstances collude with your mood to trample over you like a herd of African bull elephants. It’s hard to breathe let alone think. “Go away Reality. I’ll get back to you when I solidify into a person; right now I am just a cast off gas like frozen carbon dioxide fog hovering across low terrain. Do not lean on me or you will fall through into the grave hole I am filling.”

It’s Monday at 7:00 a.m. and my granddaughter is jumping next to my bed, “Granpa, Granpa, wake up! Wake Up!”  She crawled across the chest at the foot of my bed and jumped next to me, “Granpa, Granpa, wake up! Wake up!” Well, what do you say to that?

“I am awake, Leah Bediah. See?  My eyes are open and I am talking.”

“No, you need to get up and play with me. C’mon.”

“Leah, waking up and playing are two different things. Let me persuade my left hip to move and I’ll get dressed. You go ahead and start playing with the doll house, okay?”

“You be the wicked witch, Granpa.”

“You can’t handle the wicked witch, remember? You got scared and ran off screaming the last time we played wicked witch yesterday.”

“I’m braver now, Granpa. You be the witch an I’ll be the little girl.”

“Okay…. Let me see your finger, child, to see if you are fat enough to eat yet.”

Cautiously she surrendered her trembling hand for my inspection.

“Oh no, too bony. I need meat on the bone. Where is that fat little brother of yours?  He’d make a nice pot roast. Mmmmm, tasty.”

“Ahhhhh, no, you can’t eat my little brudder.”  And with that she ran screaming upstairs and proceeded to lock the door against me. I didn’t even  recall that the door had a lock until I was on the receiving end of being excluded from the first floor of my own house. I knocked politely. Fortunately, a non actor in this play unlocked the door for me. “Stop antagonizing your granddaughter,” my wife urged. “But, uh, I was hungry and Max would make a good sausage dish with sauerkraut and apples….”, which was followed by a banshee scream from Leah, hiding behind her mommy’s back, while Mommy changed Max’s diaper. “Don’t eat my brudder, wicked witch!!”

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Off to the Snuggle Zoo. It is open from 8 am to 8 pm including weekends and national holidays. Located in front of the suede sectional couch in the living room, it features many throw pillows and several furry blankets that are good for snuggling and hiding under. After settling in to a spot on the thick beige carpet in front of the couch, I announced that the Snuggle Zoo was open to guests shorter than three feet tall. Leah hopped over to the Zoo with her toy figures. She brought along a plastic emperor penguin, a black dog called Ivy, a stuffed elephant named Celeste, and several other critters for the zoo.

Somehow it’s a secret world when we throw a blanket over the zoo and play with the animals in the warm quiet air. Leah whispers then, and it is the sweetest whispery voice ever. “Granpa, tell me a story.” I tell her stories about her mommy or Aunt Jess or Aunt Erin and she takes each one and buries it deep in the memory box. Long after hearing a story, she will ask about it again, which means you really need to censor yourself around her. Love is a great censor.

Yesterday as we sat at lunch or brunch, I rested my left foot on her dining chair. At first she objected. “Granpa, it’s not nice to put your feet on somebody else’s chair!” she said with all the authority of a TSA agent in a movie theater.  “That’s not my foot, Leah. That is a worm named Carl.”

“Oh. Hi Carl.”

I wiggled my foot as I threw a high pitched Elmo voice at her. “Hello. What’s your name?”

“Leah. Wanna play with me, Carl?”

“I am playing with you. This is how worms snuggle with their bestest friends.” I moved my foot up  her side, tapping playfully as I went.

“Carl, that tickles. Carl, this is my brudder,Max.”

“Hi, Max.” I waggled my foot  toward Max. “Would you like to meet my brother?”

“Yes. Where is he?”

“Right here,” I said, as I put my right foot up next to Carl, I mean my other foot.

“This is Paul.  We’re fraternal twins. He’s right footed and I am left footed. Our parents were ambidextrousauruses.”

“Granpa, that’s not a nice word.”

“No, Honey Pickle, it’s a made up word not a bad word. Like Honey Pickle. It’s not a mean word at all.”

” Okay. Well, let’s play, guys. Over on the carpet in front of the Snuggle Zoo.”

Off we went, which meant I had to maintain the worm dance and sort of wiggle/walk after my darling Leah.  She was thrilled to have a pair of socks as her new best friends “chasing” her. However, wiggle/walking quickly at an inch per stride is comparable to a giant pedaling a tiny unicycle he can’t even see. Exhausting! as are many of the games she loves to play.

“Granpa, chase me.”

“Granpa, let’s play hide and seek.”

“Granpa, let’s play warm or cold.”

“Granpa, let’s do the necklace dance.”

“Daddy, I mean Granpa, I miss my Daddy.”

“Granpa, let’s play the doll house.”

“Granpa, let’ play Barbies.”

Still, I can think of no greater joy than the brief moments when we touch noses and look deeply into each other’s eyes. I hope she sees the wide blue ocean of love I have for her. I see endless promise in her pools of hazel green. A beautiful bride one day, perhaps, and a leader of her own Snuggle Zoo perhaps. For now, just her giggles will do.

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429. Fartichoke Soup

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It wasn’t last Christmas, so maybe two Christmases ago my New York City sophisticate daughter Erin was home for the holidays and was sharing some of her nifty NYC recipes. The first one was awesome. I believe it consisted of pan fried kale with sliced radishes and pumpkin seeds drizzled in lemon juice.  Perhaps I’m skipping bacon or some other delicious element. Anyway, it was delightfully tasty. For that matter so was the second dish she made for us.

It was Christmas Eve, as I recall. She was cooking down fresh artichokes, something my family never ate unless you count pickled artichoke hearts on a salad. There’s some yum yum eating. I don’t recall the other components, just that the end product resembled salsa verde or a thin split pea soup. Oh, it was tasty alright. As we sipped and sampled the soup, Erin offered this caveat:  “Some folks have gas reactions to this soup.”  We reassured her that we’d be fine. We were going to Christmas Eve worship service after this early supper. Certainly we would not fart in the house of God. As the old Chinese fortune cookie joke goes, “Man who fart in church sit in own pew.”

“Oh that is so good. I’ll have another bowl.” All of us approved highly of this high octane flatulence rocket fuel and, tragically as we were to learn later on, ate it up with smiles on our faces and soup spoons in our mouths. Not much time went by  before the artichoke soup began doing its malevolent magic.

Toot.”

Ripppppp.”

Snort.

Kaflump!

Purrrrkup.

Flubbbbbbbrrrrrrr.

Strangely, the entire Old Mcdonald’s Farm cast showed up in full throat– “Here a pig, there a goat in a cart; here a cow, there a horse. Fart, fart fart.” The resonance was amazingly melodious and slightly psychedelic, as if we had all taken LSD for dinner or hit the bong hard. Each toot was funnier than the last. We all regressed to being children on some level, fascinated with flatulent bubbles in the bathtub, laughing like stoned orangutans high on fermented mangoes. It was a bizarre predicament, a pickle barrel moment, as we considered, “Toot, toot, toot,” that we had to go to an hour’s service at church. How was that going to work?

Fortunately, fartichokes are all bark and no bite, so there was no scent trail, just burps of varying length, strength, timber, and melody. Perhaps fartichokes could have been the earliest form of cave man music. I imagined happy cave dweller families lounging around after a bowl or two, humming and then singing something like Sam Cooke’s “Working on the Chain Gang

428. Charming Global Warming

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Nice day, President’s Day, here in central PA. The keystone state is bathed in unusually warm temps [the 60’s for the sake of Fahrenheit!] for February. (Note to self:  shoot the groundhog. He’s a fraud. Fake news! ) I forgot my office keys even though my wife reminded me that they were prominently displayed on the round table by the door I would pass to get in my car.  “Okay, thanks, Honey. Have a good day.”  I hit the treadmill after stretching in front of the television as I learned of another non existent terrorist attack, this time in Sweden not Kentucky. Oh, well. He can make it up by rigging the next Miss Universe pageant, making sure that Miss Sweden wins the highly coveted chrome plated crown. The Prima Donald is good at making stuff up. But you can’t make up the stuff he makes up. Cuz then it’s fake. He’s as unpredictable as a three legged blind rabbit in heat on a carnival ride. The Walt Disney maestro of cartoon politics.

Anyway, I drove to work without my keys, my morning vitamins, supplements and psychotropic drugs, and my lunch. I don’t usually take a lunch, but I was thinking a reheated venison burger with a dill pickle would shame my hunger mightily, thus chasing it away till after 7 pm. Being inattentive to minor details was not entirely my fault,though. I tried without success to lure Kermit the dog back into the house. She was intently staring down the ground hog hole in my back yard and refused my entreaties. I also heard the trash truck coming down my street. I wanted to wheel our empty refuse container back into place. My wife always says I fail to put things back where they belong, like the vacuum cleaner. Now this is true but annoying nonetheless. “Would you prefer a man who fails to start the vacuum cleaner or one who fails to put it back?” I asked her point blank. “I want your type of failure”, she replied. Okay, that was not really reassuring.

I closed and locked the door behind me firmly without my office keys in my pocket, and went up to greet the flourescently garbed garbage technician. I thanked him for relieving my overburdened container of its contents while thinking to myself , ‘such a thankless job’. As I wheeled that green garbage gulper back into place, I wondered if the garbage technician felt briefly validated by my attention. Perhaps he drove on an inch taller in the cab without doors.  Who am I kidding?  Finally I checked out the immediate driveway area, and off I drove to work in a sunny mood, a pink champagne sort of mood. Everything sparkled in this surprising sunlight. Even the garbage truck glinted gleefully.

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When I got to my usual parking space seven miles from my home, it hit me that I did not have a key to open my office.’Hmmmm. Gotta get a key cut to hide under a brick.’ I turned around without too much self recrimination. What the heck? Just drive another 14 miles on a gorgeous gift of a day. (I was an hour early already.) So I did. It was painless both ways without school buses or mail trucks to contend with, or all the folks who work at the multitude of banks along the way. All closed, mercifully. Back and forth in 28 minutes.

The weather man on the classical music station spoke so smoothly and knowingly about the week ahead’s weather. “Sixties today and tomorrow. Aaaahhh chance of rain on Wednesday. And then near 70 on Thursday and Friday. And now some Chopin to celebrate this delightful weather.” Those facts soothed me as much as any harp or organ solo could. My body relaxed despite the goofy experience of driving through the 15 mph school zone twice when school is clearly not in session. I think everyone knows this, but we all wonder if a cop would still ticket drivers who violated a fake speed limit. Again, fake news. The light does not blink on weekends, but I suppose it is too much trouble to disable it on holidays and snow days, or those tricky in-service days when only teachers are at school. Nothing, however, rose to a level of annoyance. Not with golden sunlight bathing the awakening landscape in February.

Which indirectly brings me to global warming. Sure, I’ve experienced the odd day or week in past winters when the mercury hit 70. We didn’t know about global warming back then. Now I feel conflicted: should I indulge my senses and enjoy these freakishly warm days, knowing that soon the port cities of our planet will be under several feet of water, forcing millions of folks inland to high ground; or should I turn on my air conditioning and fight back, you know, cool down my immediate area? Maybe surround my house with bags of ice; do my part.

The preppers are ready, though. They have reasoned that the dark and diverse urban dwellers of the low lying cities will head west when the waters rise. Order will break down, the electrical grid will blow. Food shortages and riots will break out as if a Russian hockey team ran into an English soccer team’s hooligans without any beer. Bad stuff, I mean really bad hombres stuff, would follow. The mobs would inevitably roll west into our neck of the woods to steal our food, rape our women, and live in our fully stocked homes. The very same deplorables who are villified as criminally fat,  welfare abusers, who refuse to get educated or work, will suddenly transform into a crack militia, roving at will over the hills and forests of strange counties far away. Somehow these marauders will learn to hunt and live off the spoils of the rural landscape.  That’s why we true nationalists need to stand and fight alongside our NRA bumperstickers on our trucks, circled up in a grand defensive strategy. And unleash the arsenal we have stockpiled for this very moment.

Except, uh, I forgot to stockpile all my bullets and I didn’t get my AR on sale when they were gonna be outlawed by our first Muslim president. Shoot!! I mean, “Don’t Shoot!” Can’t we just agree to disagree? I guess not.

 

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427. “And what is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

  

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Emerson wrote that a long time ago. Back when you could be original, before all the cool things were said and written. Nowadays it’s a lot harder to come up with more such diamonds of speech, or pearls of wisdom, even rubies of reasoning, or sapphires of sophistication. Opals of … opprobrium. Whoops. I got carried away with all the color and sophistry. Let’s look at some weeds and see how they have either come into their own over time or lost their popularity.

Cannabis sativa comes to mind instantly. It has a long history and a dynamic present. Likely has a rocket’s trajectory for a future as well. According to my five second Google search, cannabis has been cultivated since 8,000 B.C., first for rope and later for its seeds and oil as food products. Around 2,000 B.C. it was used medicinally in ancient China. It was used recreationally and ritually in a wide swath of the Middle East, including Persia and Scythia, while still being used for paper and rope. Perhaps this is where Muhammad Ali came up with his “rope a dope” boxing strategy, sparring with half baked pugilistic partners.

In the early A.D. years it was used as an intoxicant and an anesthetic. Even the famous Greek physician Galen prescribed medical marijuana. The Smithsonian has one of his original pharmacy scripts in storage since the ancient Greek scribbling is not as popular as it once was. Its derivative hashish was known as an inebriant and an aphrodisiac in Egypt. As travel increased, cannabis moved to Europe and Africa. And laws regulating its consumption began to appear. Hemp was legally cultivated all over the southeast United States in the 1800’s. What?

1850-1915 Marijuana was widely used throughout United States as a medicinal drug and could easily be purchased in pharmacies and general stores. And then?  The war on drugs began in 1915. By the 1930’s and 40’s fliers like the one below warned of the poisonous effects of marihuana…. in which lurks Murder! Insanity! Death!

The debate rages on today, even as medical folks use cannabinol oil to reduce seizures in epileptic children,  as well as to alleviate symptoms of trauma and depression in veterans of war’s wanton demons. Oh, it’s been decriminalized and legalized in several states, for sure. But is it still a weed? Let’s go to the dictionary definition…

426. A case of beer

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Long ago in the far off land of Late Adolescence, south of Alexandria, my next door neighbor Richard and I set off to Meade’s Liquor Store in Southeast D.C. to buy a case of cheap beer for our boring summer night’s entertainment. It would have been the early 1970’s since we were both 16. Richard had acquired his uncle’s mint condition 1967 royal blue VW bug with separate reverse lights on the back bumper, and a pure white interior. Within two years he would total it on Kings Highway or Telegraph Road. He survived. I don’t recall the details, but I believe all the witnesses were compromised by hallucinogenic substances. I swear I was not there. Even if I were, I would have been unreliably messed up and my testimony would not be admissible in any court, except maybe the one in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Perhaps you wonder how two sixteen year old punks could legally purchase a case of beer in D. C. where the legal age to purchase alcohol was then 18. The short answer is “They coulddn’t/can’t; shouldn’t/shant!!” One trick I had learned to circumvent the law was to borrow my older brother’s driver’s license. We looked enough alike to pass cursory muster by the fish-eyed counter men at Meade’s; plus I knew Steve’s birthday. On other occasions we’d pull into the seedy parking lot behind Meade’s and ask a local drunk to purchase our alcohol, promising to share a beer or two with him upon completion of this episode of Mission Possible. Usually it was not hard to find a desperate drunk to collude with our illegal actions. I heard that once a local not so drunk stiffed some naive boys from our neighborhood; he walked out the front door with their alcohol and a big grin on his lucky face as they waited helplessly out back. Hey, he was the legal beer owner at that point. What were the underage boys going to do?  Have him arrested for illegally purchasing their alcohol? My friends, there is no honor among thieves or addicts, I guess.

However we came by our ill gotten case of beer, we were drinking and putting along the neighborhood roads and avenues off of lower Telegraph Road. I recall Richard making a left turn up the hill toward Jefferson Manor when the cop behind us lit up his double cherry top rack. This was going to be bad. I just knew it. Richard tried to charm the cop with his cherubic smile and sweet Baby Jesus angel face. Heck, it worked lots of other times and places to prevent the harsh hand of justice from slamming his head into the pavement. It was worth another try. No luck. Aaaaggghhh!!

“You boys follow me to the substation up on Kings Highway. Got it?”

“Yes, sir!” we blurted out in stereo.

We couldn’t throw the beer out. That would just garner a littering charge on top of whatever we were facing. Plus, tampering with evidence. Plus, wasting beer that we had just paid good money for. That’s a crime too. Looking back, I wonder why there was no confiscation of the beer, no sobriety field test, no formal protocol at all.

Once we were settled in the substation, a call was placed to my parents. My father drove the two miles downhill to pick us up. (Ironically, as I recall this story, I remember the great escape I made with my 3 year old brother Chris from Penn Daw Bowling Alley when I was five, [maybe 1961] just a few hundred yards across Route 1. We bolted from the child care room out the back door and had walked most of the way home when our caring neighbor Connie Page picked us up from the ditch side of Kings Highway. That ended badly also for me. Hmmmm, is there a pattern here? Sociopathic tendencies?)

My father made a tough guy appearance for the officer, implying that a terrible fate awaited Richard and me. And that maybe it would be better for us to remain in police custody. The cop thanked my father for gathering us up and released us into his puffed up custody performance, perhaps even telling my dad not to be too rough on us.

I didn’t know what to expect when we turned off the silver ignition key. Silence and then crickets… and then more silence. My dad went in the house. We got out of the car and carried the illegal beer with us up my sidewalk. We waited a bit longer, and then set up the folding lawn chairs under the starlit night sky. Still, no father of fury showed up. No General Patton appeared.  I looked inside our cookie cutter house. Atilla the Honey Bun Hun had gone to bed.

I closed the door and cracked open a beer. “We need to get rid of the evidence, Richard. Bottoms up.” We sat in my front yard under the old sappy elm tree chuckling and slurping beers. I didn’t get it. This teenaged movie seemed to have lost a segment where the boys are rebuked and punished. A strong lesson is learned. Good citizens walk away shriven by the calloused hands of blind justice.  But instead, Nothing. Just crickets, an occasional cicada, and silence. A burp, a slurp. More crickets.

Maybe what Clark tells me all the time is true: “You were not beaten enough as a kid.”

All in all, it was a very  pleasant evening, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. What it lacked was a moral takeaway. I still wonder how no barbed hook was involved in this arrest that never happened. It was a case of catch and release. I mean there was no lecture, no fine, no record. Young trout swam away unharmed. The next day was simply the next day. Forty four years later I marvel at the void.

 

425. Just a disturbing thought…

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As the current political atmosphere gets more and more toxic, and the barometric pressure jacks up ever higher, I’ve been wondering what would happen if the media just did not cover the White House for 24 hours, and then 48 hours. Rather than feed the bonfire of vanities on all sides, what if the oxygen (endless attention and ratings) needed to keep it burning were cut off? Back in middle school science class you probably had to place a candle into an inverted test tube to prove that fire uses up available oxygen. Then, when there is no more oxygen, the fire is no more. Remember how the flame suddenly extinguished and then smoke took up residence in the tube? Yeah, I do too.

424. Have I got a deal for you

 

So the new manager of my coffee shop has been making changes rapidly since he showed up less than a year ago to replace the lovely and inimitable Andrea, who moved on to work against sex trafficking. Andrea replaced Krista, who works with kids and got married. After Mitch left to lead worship services at my church. After Jake, Shelly, Jana, Sam and Emily and hundreds more barristas served their time in the coffee trenches. They come and go like Haitian presidents. Unlike Haitian presidents, however, they usually leave public service alive.

Which brings me to Nokay the newby and his almost able assistant Ong. They are housemates and friends on top of being employer/employee, which needs to be investigated soon by a federal agency before the Orange Emperor eliminates all such agencies. The boys are young and vital. Nokay the unmanager has been making executive orders as if he were a diabetic checking his blood sugar three times daily, then writing orders in a single drop of blood. Every day brings another change into the monkey cage of Coffee Nation. There is the soda case, the new table arrangements, menu changes, oaky decor overhaul, and more. But he has gone too far with his latest gimmickry.

On the wall behind the bulging soda/salad/parfait case Nokay had erected an exclusive coffee club cubby station rack of time shares for elite, by invitation only members.  I noticed it going up and slowly filling with black and blue logoed coffee mugs advertising the shop. At first I thought it was an attractive display of overpriced coffee mugs made in China. More wall art with a sales angle. Then neatly typed names began to appear below these mugs. Other mugs appeared to break up the black and blue monotony. “How nice”, I naively thought to myself, “a personal holding rack for regulars. How considerate. I may have misjudged Nokay.”

Then it got real yesterday around noon. Nokay approached me with the deal of the year as I waited for Ong to bring me a cup of delicious Tuscan Tortellini soup.

“Burrito, would you like to join the exclusive, elite, for members only coffee cubby?”

“Well, that depends on the deal.”

“Okay, let’s talk turkey.”

“As my ghost writer said in The Fart of the Deal, ‘Always negotiate from strength’.”

“Um, the terms are simple:  for $75 you can join and then drink all the coffee you want for a year at only $1.00 per cup. You get your own black and blue mug and a name tag.”

At this point his other bean lackey Grace offered to type up the paperwork and print the neat label on the cubby of my choice.

“Slow your roll, Marla Marbles. I’m working a deal here. It’s gonna be huge. I’ve talked with a lot of generals and the border patrol and they all agree with me.” Turning back to Nokay, “My price point is $50. You keep the mug.”

“I can’t do that. The mugs are worth $10 each.”

“Stop! You sell them for ten bucks, but you buy them for less than two bucks from China. The mug is off the table. I’ll provide my own Bob Dylan mug.”

Ong arrives. “How about a hug from me to sweeten the deal?”

“No hugs, no mugs, no drugs. Shut up, Ong. I’m working a deal here. It’s gonna be huge. Look at these hands. Call the generals. People love me.”

Nokay, “Here’s what I can do… $65.00 without a mug, plus your pick of old tee shirts which sell for $12.00 to folks who don’t know any better. And a free sample bag of stale coffee.”

“Again, I have several of those tee shirts. I wear them when I want to appear anonymous. They work like bug spray to repel sighted humans. Plus, I have my own custom made coffee shop tee shirt with my title and logo on it. And, under the belly line, printed upside down, is this bold statement: ‘You need to Growaset’.”

“No, sir. You go too far.”

“It’s true. I’ll wear it this Thursday.”

Ong, “How about that hug? It’s cooled off a bit to normal body temperature.”

“Ong, hug off!! Stay behind the bar or I swear I’ll hit you with this pint of Pepsi.”

Nokay, “What are your conditions?”

“I want Bob Dylan facing right on the top shelf with lightning bolts blazing out from his face.”

“Done. Grace, get on that.”

“I want an upstream payment of $1.00 from each of the previous suckers who bought into this square ponzi scheme whose cups are ranked below mine.”

“Not done. I’m not paying you to drink coffee here for free. I’m selling you an opportunity to save hundreds of dollars in your coffee budget.”

“Your ‘savings’ require me to spend money, Nokay. If you really want to save me money instead of persuading me to part with slabs of my money, you’d meet my terms and Grace could print out those lightning bolts. Why are you being so obstructionistic? I am trying to get this economy moving toward greatness again.”

“But you’re impossible. You act like you are negotiating, but all you are doing is taking. You aren’t giving anything. Can’t we meet in the middle?”

“Son, the middle is where you stick the knife, just above the navel. Read my book.”

“Just cut to the chase.”

“I have trained your barristas in how to deal with difficult customers, true?”

Reluctantly, “Yesssss.”

“At no charge, just a gentlemen’s agreement.”

“Okay.”

“Nokay, I have blogged about your enterprise bringing in untold business to you without increasing your advertising budget.”

“But we never…”

“Silence!! I’m not finished. I have invested thousands of dollars in this business over years of faithful customerization. I haven’t tried to weaponize or monetize my loyalty… and here we are arguing over a lousy fifteen bucks. Aren’t you ashamed?”

“uhhhh, I don’t know. I’m really confused right now.”

“Okay, here’s how we will settle this:  I’m folding this five dollar bill vertically. If you can pinch it as I drop it, you win. If you can’t, I win. We’ll do this three times or until the fifteen dollars is taken care of. Deal?”

“Sure. No, it’s a trick. I’ll lose… just, okay. I’ll pay you to drink coffee for a year, plus free muffins, just stop!! My sanity is at stake here.”

“You gotta deal, son.”

“And those other fools will pay for my wall.”

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423. False Guilt

 

Real guilt is an awful feeling one gets after a moral failure. Unless you are perfect or a perfect sociopath, you’ve experienced it too.Either the feeler did something knowingly and willingly wrong, or he knowingly and willingly failed to do something right. In either case an internal conviction rises up like a physical nausea or a psychological gag of self disgust. The self loathing builds until something is done to correct or numb the guilt. Assuage (lessen) or expiate (atone), there’s a pair of words that get after guilt. Addicts favor assuaging guilt with a substance, but that’s a different post for another time. Atonement is the ticket for undoing the guilt inducing act. Here’s the problem, though, folks: false guilt feels the same as real guilt. It masquerades as real, but false guilt is built on false assumptions and incorrect beliefs. As long as the false beliefs persist, so does the false guilt. Truth cuts down that weed, however. No, let’s say eradicates the weed of false guilt. Let me give a personal example.

Decades ago I lived around a bendy hill from a pig farm in the sleepy hamlet of Five Forks. My wife and I owned Coco the sheltie collie. Coco ran loose most of the time. We didn’t tie him up nor did we have a fence. It was a long way between neighbors, so it wasn’t usually a problem, unless you were the guy in the black Fiat who ran over Coco and rolled him up like a prison cigarette one summer day. Oh,  but when the weather turns, there is opportunity for foul play of all sorts. One Sunday afternoon during a February blizzard, I opened the back door of our farmhouse to let Coco in from the blowing snow. In his mouth was a frozen dead piglet.

“Oh, no!! Coco has killed a piglet”, I exclaimed.

My wife asked me, “What are you going to do?”

I picked up my parka and gloves, my scarf and my checkbook. “I’m going to see what a baby pig goes for these days”, and off I trudged toward Farmer Hade’s pig farm. Though his acreage lay directly off our back porch, a stream and a wire fence prevented me from easily crossing over onto his property. I had to walk about a third of a mile by the road to get to his place. I imagined his two boys answering the door. I had them in school back then. Awkward. I wondered how dad would handle the demise of one of his many porkers. Should I pay per pound or a full $200 for a completely grown pig? Many uncomfortable thoughts blew across my brain like the cruel snowflakes that stung my cheeks.

I got to his driveway across from the barn where the 600 pigs were kept. It did not cross my mind how my dog had wedged his way into that wooden fortress. I had the proof: the frozen dead piglet in his choppers. I did not need an eye witness or video evidence. I walked up a few concrete steps and rang the door bell. Mr. Hade answered it promptly.

“What in the world are you doing out in this weather?” he shouted.

“I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. My dog killed on of your pigs.”

He laughed at my dire statement. I wondered if it was the laugh of a crazy man who was on the edge of bankruptcy, one piglet away from disaster.

“Your dog didn’t kill any pig of mine”, he added. “Couldn’t. The barn is locked up tight and I got electric fencing at all the openings. They can’t get out and no critters can get in.”

“But my dog came home with a frozen piglet in his mouth”, I protested, wondering if I could get out for $50.

“He probably got one off the pile.”

“The P-P-P-PILE?” I stammered in the blizzard air.

“Yeah, when the sows roll over, they often crush one of their babies. We throw’m on the pile out back. That’s where he got it most likely.”

“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Hade.  I’ll see the boys when school gets back to normal. Bye.”

I trudged home feeling a mixture of relief and stupidity. “The PILE??!! Unbelievable.” Still, the evidence was compelling. My dog did shoplift a dead piglet without permission after all. But the more I tried to convict myself of crimes against neighbor, property, and humanity, the less I could find to stick to me.

Stinking false guilt! It’s like tar on your skin waiting for the feathers of shame to stick to it, but the turpentine of truth can dissolve it in a few dabs. Sometimes just a few truth filled breaths will wipe away the stain of false guilt. For instance, the woman across from me spoke of her crippling guilt…

“I should have been there for my mom. She slipped off her diet again and wound up in the hospital with her diabetes.”

“And you drove eight hours one way to be with her, so I  don’t get the guilt part.”

“See, I left my home town for college and then my master’s degree. There weren’t many opportunities back home. My family feels like I abandoned them.”

“Okay, but why the guilt instead of pride in your success?”

“My sister has always been jealous, but she would never work to change her circumstances.  Lazy,really, like my dad. She lives around the corner from my folks now. They pay her bills to this day.”

“And why didn’t she take care of your mom’s health concerns?”

“She’s just the same. My dad too. They all eat what they want, as much as they want, whenever they want.”

“So theirs are self-inflicted wounds, yes?”

“I guess, but I’ve always felt it was my fault that they floundered. I should be there to rescue them somehow. I’m the only healthy one.”

“And your dad?”

“He sits and watches t.v. all day, every day.”

“So let me see if I have this correctly. Your family under-functions, ignores common health practices, and then calls you when one of them needs medical attention. Is that about right?”

“Well, yessss.”

“How’s the guilt?”

“Quickly turning in to anger actually.”

“Well how about that?”

 

422. The Manulet

Image result for high school wrestlers in singlets pictures

This post needs some back story. Sir Gary of the Round Table of Coffee Nation has boundary issues. He mostly, but not fully, grew up around a farm in Cumberland County. He wrestled in high school and proudly wore the singlet for Big Spring High School back in the day. A gritty grappler, so he was. “Pound for pound,” his former high school coach was fond of saying, “he was better carved than a honey baked ham.” He also volunteered, “Gary was a half nelson ahead of mediocrity.”

Post secondary school he wrestled for a state college program that was later shut down for NCAA violations that cannot be detailed in this venue without exposing myself to legal liabilities. Anyway and furthermore, Gary has photos of himself in the college singlet when he was cut and muscley, arms spread out like a bear about to maul the viewer.  It’s weird, okay?

Image result for fancy dinner party pictures

At this year’s Christmas party over at Gary and Suzanne’s house, we had a wonderful meal from appetizers to coffee and dessert. We discussed the critical work of Coffee Nation and the current topics of discussion. Gary repeated the story of the death of the Human Fly in Turtle Town back in the 1920’s.

Image result for human fly climbing a building pictures 1920's

“The guy was climbing freestyle up the bank building. His assistant was supposed to hoist him up and into a fifth floor window with a rubber bicycle inner tube. Well, he was tired and the tube was old. It broke and he fell four stories to his death. It was a big deal.” I confirmed the story’s veracity since I was present when Joel pulled up the old story on his I-Pad and recited it to us in his authoritative, slightly sonorous lawyer voice. The rest of the dinner party guests tried to contain their outsider jealousy, unqualified as they were to join Coffee Nation since they were all gainfully employed.

Image result for framed picture christmas ornaments pictures

Over dessert Gary gave me, only me, a poorly wrapped gift about the size of half a Hershey bar. I knew it was gonnna be bad, like last year’s animal balloon kit and hand pump. I went along with the fun mood and opened the “gift”. An icky, prickly feeling rose up all over as if my last sip of coffee had actually been ipecac syrup or strychnine. In my hand was a Christmas ornament picture frame with, you guessed it, Gary in his college wrestling singlet.

“I thought you’d want to hang that on your tree”, he said. “I know you like guys in thongs.”

I was speechless. The rest of the eleven party goers laughed at my discomfort and muted reaction.

“I was going through a box from college and I ran across a bunch of singlet pictures. I figured you’d want one. You know? Show the kids. Put it at eye level on your tree. Show off your good taste.”

“I, uh, uh, aren’t you gonna give all the guys one?”

“No. You’re the Supreme Commander Potentate of the Coffee Nation. I felt you deserved one. I have more. Would you like another?”

“NO!!  I don’t want this one. What if I get in a car wreck and this is in my car? What will the medics think?”

“I think they’ll say, ‘Man that wrestler was a beast!’ They might even steal it for their tree. Want me to autograph it?”

“But, but, it’s not a St. Christopher’s medal. There is no protection implied or granted. It’s gross!! I’m afraid of what it might bring me.”

“Like what?”

“Uh, coupons to a gay strip club.”

“Aaaahhhhhh, c’mon man.” 

wrestling 5

I went along with the laughter and left the man amulet on the table. Gary made sure to slip it into my coat pocket as we said good night. When I got home and emptied my pockets, I felt the grossness of the manulet staring at me. I turned it over. My wife asked me what I intended to do with it. I pondered my options.

“I know. I’ll take it to Coffee Nation and give it to one of the guys. I’ll double talk them into it like Gary did to me.”

That was the plan. Next Coffee Nation Summit I put the manulet on the table for inspection and inspiration for the others. No one showed any interest in taking the bait. Gary told the story of his wrestling glory days. Finally my chess partner Eric showed up. Then it hit me. ‘ I can put this up for the “prize” in our next chess game, which was in thirty minutes. Loser wins. Oooh, that’s genius.’

I showed Eric the man amulet and explained the rules of the game by way of a college bar fight story. “Two of my buddies and I were drinking long neck Buds at the Village Bar and Grille in Richmond. A few booths away two bikers sat with a drop dead gorgeous platinum blonde transvestite all made up like Marilyn Monroe. The bikers were getting drunk and loud. When I went to the bathroom, Marilyn was coming out of the men’s room, hiking up her candy holster. I was stunned. A few minutes later the bikers started a broken beer bottle fight over the Blondestite.”

Marilyn Monroe in her signature strapless dress, gloves, fur and diamonds

Eric seemed confused. “Okay, but what does that story have to do with the manulet?”

“Pretty obvious, don’t you think? The winner now is the loser later. You take the manulet home if you lose this chess game. So play as if your life depends on it.”

We threw down. After each move, one of us would nudge the manulet closer to the other. Thank the Lord in Heaven that I won the game. That was a month ago. Eric has had legal custody of the manulet since then.

The problem is this: Eric leaves for Florida on Friday. Tomorrow we play our last chess game. The manulet’s resting place will be determined for a long time to come. I have to win. I am not going home with that singlet drag queen again. “Oh the humanity!”

Update: I lost the first of three matches. Won the second. Yielded a draw while up a queen on the third due to time constraints. I took the manulet with me. It is burning a shameful hole in my back pocket as I type.

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421. Insecurity

 

Where does it come from, this thing called insecurity? Emotionally speaking, it comes from real and perceived attacks on one’s safety and then the aftermath of threatened safety, i.e., bad memories, high blood pressure, adrenaline dumps, rapid heart beat, rapid breathing. The short term answer is xanax or adavan after the crisis passes. Still the mirror of reality remains cracked long after the screams and sobs cease. Insecurity is that glass on glass sensation that sends unannounced shudders through your body like high lead crystal fingernails scraping a chalkboard.

Secure, on the other hand, means free from care, without anxiety.  Like the above photo of a sailboat ready for a hurricane demonstrates, lots of lines hold the vessel in place during a storm.  That boat is secured, safely attached to stable others. What gets us to security psychologically?  Well, let’s go to Uncle Abraham Maslow. In his hierarchy of needs, level 2. b. , security is just below love and connection on level 3. I like to tweak that term out into its many component parts with my insecure clients. Allow me to share.

In answer to the question, What makes us secure?, I propose the following in-exhaustive list:

  1. structure
  2. schedules and routines
  3. patterns of behavior
  4. consistency
  5. rules
  6. order
  7. clear limits and boundaries
  8. time management
  9. reliability
  10. control
  11. predictability
  12. familiarity
  13. confidence
  14. trust
  15. realized expectations.

 

Such a list seems pretty boring and mundane, and it is, just like a brick wall. However, the lack of these safeguards results in random chaos and uncontrollable madness. Something like trauma, wherein the sufferer believes he/she is about to die or witness someone else’s death or mutilation. Total structural collapse follows the sense of doom and dread and the hollow kneed feeling of being overwhelmed. A soundless tornado shreds your inner sanctuary; a muddy flood rushes through your soul’s first floor ripping up tiles and tearing at the plaster walls, rolling up carpeting.

 

There are many differences in these two brick pictures. Both have lots of solid, useful bricks. Pile B., however, lacks order, structure, rules, limits, patterns, consistency, predictability, etc. I think insecure folks can relate to the random chaos of Pile B. The hand of the bricklayer remains in the finger jointed mortar of Pile A. Pile B. has no author, no firm hand steadying it. It is a crazy mound containing the ingredients of a potential wall, whereas Pile A. is actualized, unified, launched, and completed.

So, what to do after the xanax and adavan have worn off?  Build a wall, or a patio, or a sidewalk, or a set of stairs. Pick up one brick and place it in a pattern you will follow. Commit to the project, one brick after another. Keep your eyes focused on what you have made not what others have constructed or how big the chaos pile remains. Make order, my friends. The human mind is an order making machine. We humans seek out problems to solve and then go about solving them. Security comes with the knowledge that we solved problems, made order, and subdued chaos.

Somewhere in my psyche I sense a connection with this Irving Layton poem, one of my favorites, and the horrid experience of self doubting insecurity.

There Were No Signs

By walking I found out
Where I was going.

By intensely hating, how to love.
By loving, whom and what to love.

By grieving, how to laugh from the belly.

Out of infirmity, I have built strength.
Out of untruth, truth.

From hypocrisy, I wove directness.

Almost now I know who I am.
Almost I have the boldness to be that man.

Another step
And I shall be where I started from.

Obviously this walk is an interior circuit he took through the closet of doubt, and worry, and pain. Yet at the end of this journey the walker knows who he is. He could have paced a jail cell, or a padded holding cell in a psych ward; traversed a battlefield; crawled away from a volatile marriage; slinked across a graveyard; tip toed through a courtroom; slogged across an addiction or two; trudged around a friend’s betrayal. The point is redemption from the negative to the positive. And there were no signs as he turned at each unmarked intersection.

I get this visceral unease when I am driving without crystal clear directions. I can be literally doors away from my destination, but without the final recognition, I might just as well be 100 miles away. You can be lost in your own house for that matter.
I had an enlightening dream last night. So vivid that I can recall it 18 hours later. Seems I was in a small rental house down south, maybe Georgia or South Carolina. The house had historic value and was known as a regional artist’s home, and was one block away from a river, sitting down from an earthen levee and subject to floods. The problem was, as I explained to my wife in the dream house living room, this lovely cottage flooded all the time. In fact little canals were built right in to the first floor. Unfortunately the drains were clogged with leaves and so these canals overflowed into the living room, which was partially underwater. I tried to persuade my wife that we should buy the place because of its charm. (We were renting it in the dream.)
 Image result for antebellum southern river cottages pictures
Meanwhile an angry neighbor walked right through our yard. He was in a uniform, Fish and Game Commission, with a holstered pistol on his hip. I confronted him about tromping right through our yard. He wheeled around on me and told me to shut up. He lived next door and felt like this artist house was some sort of left over hippie drug center. “For God’s sake, they painted “Animal House” on the steps out front. You people are a waste of oxygen.” He stomped away. I turned to see hippies playing music on the steps out front. No signs of graffiti, though, just pleasant acoustic music and artifacts on display
I set about cleaning the drains, and lo and behold, the water rolled magically back into its canals. I began raking up the nasty rotting leaves, feeling very satisfied that this crazy cottage was just the perfect fit for us. In this improbable unconscious world I felt secure, not because of my surrounding and the Spanish moss hanging from the old oak trees. No, my security gurgled up in the living water that flowed right through this quaint fantasy. My unconscious mind had built order out of chaos and given me a delightful little image of contentment. Amen.Image result for basement waterway pictures

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