643. Dreams

Image result for psy chedelic dream imagesWe’ve all had wild dreams. I have them with regularity. Often they take me back in time to childhood or early adult life. I don’t know why and doubt that anyone else does. I don’t believe in those dream decoder books you can buy at the bookstore. You know, the ones that claim if you are flying on a familiar Persian carpet that you want to have sex with your grandmother. Or that root vegetables symbolically mean you are keeping secrets below the surface. I’m not a “one size fits all” kind of guy. What’s that? You already knew that little tidbit about me? Yes, “eccentric” is the right word, though some prefer “weird”. I prefer the term “form fitting” where form means adaptability and fitting means appropriate. “Now that’s just right… like expandex.”

Image result for crazy school bus images

I can still recall a few snippets of a wild dream from a couple of nights ago. Somehow I was on a school bus that was being driven backwards by a high profile childhood neighbor who had in real life committed suicide many years ago. A Star athlete who didn’t do so well off the court. Sadly, he was not the only outstanding athlete I knew named Mike who killed himself. In this dream, however, he was steering an otherwise empty school bus backwards on a local bike trail against oncoming traffic. I was alarmed and yelling “Look out!” at the increasing number of clustered bike riders as we approached some sort of covered bridge structure. Image result for crowded bike trail picturesI clearly remember the crunching after running over someone or some bike, as Mike ran out of the bus and shot through the covered bridge, swarming with dismounted cyclists. I followed his lead, but he disappeared ahead of me as I crawled across old greasy gears along the inside of the structure’s right wall. The out of control bus had somehow become dangerous machine gears that threatened to grind my hands and feet into mere nubbins. Naturally an army of hobbit sized people below me wandered beneath this bridge which began to feel like a border check point between a free and a slave state, a toll booth for trolls. My dream face was stuck looking backwards, always backwards. Where did Mike go?Image result for trolls under a covered bridge

What did that mean? Where did it come from? Well, from the past and the unconscious caverns of my psyche. This young man briefly attended my college 41 years ago on a basketball scholarship. That was the last time I saw him. He was a freshman, I think, when I was a junior. He was dissatisfied with his non starting status on the team. It must be deflating to one’s self esteem to move from the summit to the nadir of the nether lands in one fell swoop. I would not know since the only summit I have inhabited is my coffee circle of distinguished mediocrity on Thursday mornings. Still, even falling off a curb into traffic can be a deadly exercise.Image result for pedestrians trying to cross a busy street photos

Something must have clicked, though, as invisible hands knitted memory fragments to another one. There was Mike playing short stop, long and lean, number 7. Younger but better than most boys my age, two years his senior. A natural athlete, he played in our recreational basketball league too, the purple shirted Vikings at Mark Twain Intermediate School’s gym. I recall that our baseball coach was also our basketball coach, a single, heavy set guy named Jim who drove a green Chevy Impala. The difference between the two teams was the availability of playing time. The same five stars on our baseball team starred on the basketball team, no surprise. The humbling part of that news was that there were not four other spots to hide less able boys like me and my b.f.f. Richard. There is no right field in basketball. No catcher spot for the fat kid. Only the bench.Related image

Lee, Steve, Mike, Butch, and someone else whose name escapes me were our proud starters. How can I be sure? Memory can be fooled, but I’m pretty sure of those four guys. Heck, I watched them with envy for 18 games. I think I wanted so much to be in the glory zone at age 11 or 12, where a man-child can prove his manliness to other man-children. Those images burned into my memory like a laser powered tattoo.Image result for tattoo pictures

And then other dreams of confused bus rides and endless walks from home to school or back again drift by. Many was the time I missed my school bus ride and stood at the intersection of The Parkway and South Kings Highway hitchhiking toward my high school, four miles away. Sometimes my school counselor would pick me up. Sometimes a soldier on his way to Fort Belvoir. What percolates into my sleep mind is the waiting, the uncertainty of getting to my destination. Insecurity swirls in such dreams, even when a sultry girl touches my lips with her moistly kissed finger. “Shhhhhhhh.” She says so much without a word while listening to her cell phone. ‘I just came in to use your bathroom’, I pantomime. Oh baby, this could be… an everlasting love; this could be, just what I’m thinking of. This could be… time to pee. Wake up.Image result for photo of woman touching a man's lips with finger

Wandering back to my warm bed, I hope to hit play again and pick right up where I left off, but it’s a long time just trying to get my unbroken dream horses back into their corrals. I count backwards from 99, hoping to fade out into dreamland by 44. Not so. Start again. 99, 98, 97…. Hours go by and still no admission to dream land, just stuck at the border crossing without papers, watching the trolls march by.

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642. Parking Spaces and Pain

Image result for snow pile in parking lot picturesOutside my window four parking spaces are filled by a pile of dirty snow that stands six feet tall at its apex. Math geeks can get their slide rules out and calculate the total volume of the snow pile, 14′ x 16′ x 6′. Does anyone even have a slide rule any longer? I had one once. Never figured out what to do with it besides pretend it was a slide trombone on which I pretended to play “When the Saints Come Marching In”. Hey, it passed the time in math class. However, I don’t need a slide rule to conclude that the pile is depressing to observe in a delta system of merging streams of rain water beneath a low gray sky. That’s the killer aspect: the dropping skyline which seems to invite the old buildings to move closer into a tightly packed claustrophobic courtyard, shrinking even further into an over-sized wintry phone booth.

Image result for snow pile in parking lot picturesAll the charm of a bone pile. How many dry bones would it take to build a mass grave that large? I never want to do that sort of math, counting the residue of human lives like so much rubbish bulldozed into an unholy pyramid. It’s one of those days, though, when winter’s prelude brings death to the forefront. Not any one death in particular, but the entire multifaceted concept of death. Not one candle blown into smoke and orange cinder, but billions of snowflakes disappearing in the 40 degree air. Death can only be considered from this side of the door, the living side. We may speculate about what is on the other side, but the door comes with a panic bar so you fall out of life headfirst. Though dragged back inside for viewing and burial… dead men tell no tales.Image result for man sleeping against a door pictures

One thing is clear for the next five weeks: Rod MMC will not be writing parking tickets in downtown. The merchants have lobbied for and received a reprieve from his parking  ticket blizzard during the Christmas shopping season. His orange envelopes will not be missed by anyone except him. Local urban myth has it that he goes off the metered streets during the holidays and writes parking tickets for folks in the residential neighborhoods regarding distance from the curbs or fire hydrants. These are not high priorities during the other 11 months of the year. Such seasonal law enforcement bothers the good taxpayers who complain to the Boro who complain to Rod who waits and stealthily slips orange Christmas cards under windshield wipers with the zest that only passive aggressives can imagine. “Feel the sting of my whip, you bourgeois  whiners!”Image result for orange parking tickets on windshields pictures

I guess it’s hard for a man to transition from being the omnipotent power broker, the Boro parking dealer/ pit boss tossing out $5.00 markers, to simply collecting pounds of quarters for the bank to deposit. Once you’ve had that taste of power, well, even a great man may fall under its spell. It’s a far fall from calling the shots to being a punk coin runner. Image result for meter reader emptying coins from parking meter photos

But, but, what do I see in the early morning light of my LED garage bulb? a slice of neon orange tucked under my passenger side windshield wiper, only the width of a piece of chewing gum. Ah! He got me!!  In this joyful season of grace and forgiveness and the baby Jesus!!! Rod marked me for tardiness and inattention to the meter. My five month long no ticket streak has come to an end. I played my cards and bet against the dealer one time too many. Eventually the dealer wins in black jack because the odds favor the dealer. He wins any ties. In the parking lot wars he just wins no matter what. Image result for orange parking tickets on windshields pictures

I need a new strategy so it seems. Rod is on the hunt for the pucker of power, I suppose. Perhaps his idled hands shake with desire to ticket hapless parkers like me. Hmmm.  Perhaps I can tunnel in to the snow covered spaces outside my office and hide my car in the snow pile until the spring melt comes. You know, a rough edged igloo garage could work for me. Or I could build a box of mirrors that reflect the cars next to me and thus hide in plain sight. Or I could continue parking at the free lot two blocks away. Image result for cars as chess pieces pictures

I know what you are thinking: Why not just pay for a monthly parking space nearby? They are only $30 per month. It would simply be another business deduction and not a spy versus spy game with Rod MMC ( Meanest Man in C’burg). And that makes perfect accounting sense, the kind of sense practiced by hopeless men in ill fitting white shirts with pocket protectors in back rooms at accounting firms. They sit all day and drink weak tea from twice used budget tea bags, afraid to go home to overbearing wives, they shiver all day.  I’m not that guy. I live by my wits on the gritty streets of C’burg, playing cat and mouse with grizzled parking Nazis.  (I might be exaggerating a little here, which I am prone to do for dramatic flair.)  Anyway, $30 is six parking tickets in a month. I’ve never gotten more than two in the same month. So stick that in your spread sheet and smoke it, Dilbert! Plus, there is this mano y mano jungle struggle between two very different male silverback gorillas for dominance of the range. It’s a fluid chess match with cars and men on a three city block board. Or maybe two stallions fighting for the herd.Image result for parking lot gif

Yes, I am pathetic to even entertain such silly thoughts, some of which are actually true. However, like the slide rule diversion in math class decades ago, channeling my inner  Walter Mitty helps me pass the time without breaking any laws.

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641. Anger and Tears

Image result for furious fire breathing face imagesAn angry throat tightens

the neck walls

In preparation for battle

Hard boiled syllables

explode

Across bared teeth and lips

drawn tightImage result for angry man's face

Nostrils flare arrow tips

of disgust

between two steely eyes

losing all control

Squinting to deflect

pain and blows

Pupils like bullet points

fire at their target

And the whole pallet of the

face glows crimson

above a jaw set to scorch

the object of displeasure

with verbal microwavesImage result for ray gun destroying objects pictures

 

Sure, a wrong was done

or thought to be so

As the angry one reacts

defensively

feeling justified

without investigative vigor

if it feels true

then it must be

easy to pull the trigger

 

Image result for crying face photosTears puddle then spill

down the other’s cheeks

it’s clear from drying rills

many came before now

red rims and wet lashes

flicker to wick away

the sorrow fluid splashes

fluttery breaths

random

tics and twitches

stuttering sounds drool down

scrambled words hit

the cast iron skillet

glowing red

their slipperiness enrages

the hot oneImage result for scrambled eggs burning in cast iron skillet photo

[Scrutination is the non word he uses

feels like the bullying

from years ago, he swears

when dad was nowhere

never hurrying

Isolation, he says, leaves fewer bruises]Related image

“I love you son, that’s why I hurt

When you leave me deserted

My father was a horrible man of misdeeds

Never should have been allowed

near a kid

I swore to be better, to gladly meet your needs

And I did

So I want your love in return”Related image

“Your truth is yours, Dad

Mine is mine, that’s it

We each want what’s in short supply

The world is shit

So I sit and shiver

in front of a screen

where evil is delivered”Image result for angry kid at computer screen

“I saw this day coming years before

No one listened

I, I feel like a failure

You needed a father

I regret

surrendering

you

to the  internet”Related image

“Too late. It’s all gone wrong

My wiring’s been shorted out

for so long

So long, Dad

So long.”Related image

 

 

 

 

640. Blown Away

Image result for jfk in motorcade photosFifty five years ago yesterday I had my first death experience in my short life. I was 7 years old and in second grade at St. Louis Catholic School south of Alexandria, Virginia. My teacher, as I recall, was Mrs. Ready, a young wife of a Secret Service agent who happened to be traveling in the protective entourage with President John Kennedy in Dallas, Texas that morning. Kennedy was the first U. S. Catholic president; plus he was Irish and from Boston, my parents’ home town. Yeah, he was a big deal in St. Louis School and in my home. He was also the same age as my father and a war hero, author, and orator, while being married to the most iconic woman in the world. A really big deal. Idealized in the media with his two children, the Kennedys exuded vitality and a new era… the space program, economic turnaround, the Peace Corps, expanding civil rights, and youthful hope. Camelot reborn.Image result for jfk in motorcade photos

Records tell me November 22, 1963 was a Friday. Memory tells me it was a bleak day. It would have been 1:30 p. m.  or later when the news came. Everything moved more slowly then, even horrific news across land lines and transistor radios. The President had been shot in his Dallas motorcade and no one knew why. School was shut down. We all went home on silent buses to reel in the shock, to worry and to mourn. Camelot was over before it really got rolling. Handsome and courtly King Arthur was dead.

Photographer Carl Mydans of LIFE magazine snapped this photo of commuters on a train reading about the news of Kennedy’s assassination

We did not have a functioning television in our home that day. Waiting for The Washington Star was not going to do. My dad went out and bought a new black and white television that night, at a brick and mortar store that likely no longer exists– Montgomery Wards or Sears. My parents had no discretionary money, so this impulse buy was a big deal. We sat glued to the screen as sorrow poured out; then rage at Oswald; then incredulity with Jack Ruby killing the killer. It was all too much of a high speed circus on Bendzedrine. Chaos was consistent, though.Image result for ruby shooting oswald photosToo much. Too, too much.

My parents wept openly. They had lived through the Great Depression and World War II. The Cuban Missile Crisis just the year before had caused them to store water and food in a closet that would not withstand a good hurricane let alone Russian nukes. But I didn’t recall seeing them cry with this intensity and duration. Sure, there was the time my mother dropped the unopened and rarely seen port wine just before Easter one year. The deep red liquid on the linoleum kitchen floor painted an abstract water color of her desperation and joyless frustrations. “I can’t even get a glass of wine on Easter!” Those other tears were different; these kept leaking out in dribs and drabs of incomprehensible shock, hopelessness, and grief. Security had bullet holes in its roof, and these tears were the proof.Related image

The country mourned in front of millions of televisions as the flag draped casket rolled along Pennsylvania Avenue to lie in state at the Capitol. Silence reigned in the empty saddle of the riderless horse accompanying the president’s caisson. Watching two precious children in pale blue coats beside a black veiled Jackie was crushing. A father, a friend, a cultured leader, a new hope, and a great man had all died together.

I don’t recall how many days of school we missed. I don’t recall either seeing Mrs. Ready ever again. A substitute awaited us in the post Camelot era. No explanation was recorded by my seven year old brain… just a long blur over Thanksgiving, six days after the murder, and Christmas that year. Lanky Lyndon Johnson took over and history turned again, with increased commitments in Vietnam and the Great Society programs at home. He was no John Kennedy, though. He was comparable to a substitute teacher who limped through his term, injured from the start.Image result for lbj photos 1968 “Mah fellow Ahmurricans…” Nope, not the inspiring man needed in turbulent times.

Civil rights marches and racial violence broke out all over the country. Pop culture sided against the status quo of war and racial discrimination. Movies and music reinforced the widening generation gap. LBJ famously could not comprehend the movie, The Graduate. No matter what he did for the good, the war in Vietnam was his millstone. He could not shake it, so he refused to run for a second election in 1968, the year when all Hell broke loose. Only five years later and the anti war movement was in full swing because the U.S. presence in Vietnam was over a half million soldiers by then. Daily body counts came along with weather and traffic updates.Image result for vietnam images on black and white television

In the spring of 1968 I was in sixth grade, delivering The Washington Star newspaper in April when Martin Luther King was murdered. D.C. and many U.S. cities were looted and burned. The country shook in reverberation of another dream deferred.Then in June my dad woke me up to say there was big news on the television. Robert Kennedy had been murdered, and I cried. My sixth grade class was following the primaries and I went to bed late the night before hoping Bobby had won the California primary. He had and then he walked into his assassin’s bullets. It was all too much. Another hope, another mythical enterprise blown away.

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639. A Psychotic Thanksgiving Prayer from Maralago to You and Yours

Trumpster Fire, The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue  Washington, D.C.

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All veterans, thank you for protecting our great land that I made great again if you voted for me, and won the popular vote if you look at the inauguration photos and squint, you’ll see that illegal aliens voted two and three times each with different clothes and hats. Not to mention that I have found the Obama birth certificate, which proves once and for all that he was born in a gypsy Kenyan caravan to a white woman and a black man. Her daddy would have killed him if he’d known what he’d done.

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You veterans are my highest priority, which is why I’ve sent you to the southern border to use lethal force to shut it down and lock her up on this grateful day of Native people graciously sharing their bounty with our White Pilgrim ancestors from Norway. Thank you Norway for showing us how to fight forest fires and be white. You are always welcome here.

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And please, Righteous Right Turkey Wing God of the Trumpublican Party, smite all the evils at the gates of my Dictatorship—smite the free press who don’t like me; smite those who will not do my will with a smile; smite the federal court system; smite my haters; smite flippers like Manafort and Cohen; and smite the Law that trivializes my grandiosity. And Mueller, and Comey, and the Clintons, and Rosie O’Donnell, and Nancy Pelosi, and Schumer, and Alec Baldwin, NBC, the failed New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN. May they all roast in Hell without a timer.

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Thank you for all my money and good looks and wit and charm and lovability. Maybe I can teach you a few things, God. I was first in my class at U Penn after all and I’m a genius. Just ask Mike Pence. Thank you for my next wife and for blessing all my sins, which really aren’t sins when you think about it. Thank you for all my mistresses and one nighters. Thank you for my hidden tax returns and the army of accountants and lawyers who have kept me out of jail. Thank you for the veil of stupor upon my zombie nation worshippers who think they have something in common with my majesty. Coal miners and Trump Tower? Yeah, they really go together. Farmers and my Resorts? Not!!!  Ha ha ha.

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Thank you for my friends Vladimir, Kim Young Fool, the Saudis, and all the strong men I like to hang out with in photo ops. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t kill people, who knows? And please hang those who have betrayed my loyalty, Xi Jinping, Emmanuael Macron, Justin Trudeau, the mayor of London, the entire island of Puerto Rico, all Democrats and Independents, the guy who made my baby blimp, all late night comedians, the half of my staff whom I fired or who got caught, Hollywood elites, Jim Acosta, Robert DeNiro, Black athletes and Black female reporters. I’ll never call on any of them again.

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Thank you for misogyny and the Miss Universe pageant. Now they do go together when I’m in the house. Thank you for loopholes and bone spurs, deferments and deflections. Thank you for White Privilege and Hair Club for Men.

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Okay, that’s enough. Now, what do you thank me for, God?

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638. Electric World

Image result for guy on bed with ipad picturesI phone, I pad, bed, heating pad, and I … all together on my adjustable super bed so I can read a book on Kindle. So streamlined and efficient, clean, modern…until the Wifi locks up and my I pad turns into a useless playing card, the jack of spades laughing at my frustration. “Hah, fool. No paper pages to turn or feel. You bought the illusion of a book under glass; now here is your reward. Glide your finger across my insolent image till it blisters!!”Image result for jack of spades photos

Being a techno idiot, I pushed the home button and shook the I pad, hoping that it would reset or change its mind, or that the jack of spades would realize I was not powerless. Then he’d come back on line with a new found combination of fear and respect for the holder of the machine. Nothing!!! Minutes ticked by but my book remained frozen. At the bottom margin it told me I had 8 hours and 17 minutes left of reading, and that I had read 6% of the text. Insult on top of injury reminded me that technology, like a friend in the Mafia, will betray you one day.

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The Comcast guy had just been by a few minutes earlier to swap out the overly expensive magic box that provided services I did not even know how to use. He bemoaned his choice to work for them 18 years ago. “Greedy bastards. I hate to pay my own Comcast bill each month. It stings me to pay my jailer every month. See, it was free for employees back when they needed us. Just like your package– all these extras were free when you signed up; now they’re activated and your bill climbs toward $300 a month. Sneaky, greedy bastards. But they’ve got me by the balls till I retire.”

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“Everyone watches about 10 channels; that’s it. But Comcast has to pay for all their channels, what? Like two hundred. But no matter who it is, they only watch around 10 channels. So everyone has to pay for all that crap, HSN, the Gospel Hour, cooking shows in dumpsters. If you ordered a la cart, Comcast couldn’t make its trillions. Greedy bastards.”

Image result for xfinity technician guy photos

After that reassuring pep talk from someone on the inside, I felt like a fellow corporate prisoner. Your phone is not really yours until it is outdated and useless at the end of the two year contract. There is always some fabulous contract that holds you to Verizon like a bad marriage where the thrills and the kids are long gone. Then the true cost of your dinged up phone becomes painfully apparent. The big carriers try to lure you into more and more data usage and wonderful apps that benefit them far more than you.

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The I pad is cool, sure. It’s a portable computer, but I’m the guy who still keeps his laptop tethered to the desk like a desktop model. Rarely do I even move the laptop for fear that I won’t plug the wires back in correctly or I’ll forget the charger and wind up powerless again on vacation, unable to blog about my frustrations. So pathetic!!

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Lying on my adjustable bed that vibrates; elevates head and foot or both simultaneously; has a light under it; gets Sirius XM radio if I activate the contract; makes coffee if I connect to a water line; and has at least six other functions I haven’t figured out yet… where was I? Yes, lying on this marvel of modernity trying to align the electric heating pad to my aching spine, I realized how screwed I would be if and when the electricity shut down. With all the marvelous convenience and luxury provided by technology comes a pernicious dependency on electricity. I don’t like that feeling, no, the absolute certainty that when a utility stops for any reason, I am truly powerless to heat my home, read a book, sleep in my expensive bed, heat my water, cook my food, do laundry or dishes, run on my treadmill, listen to Alexa, or recharge my battery operated devices. Please, End Time prepper survivalists, don’t tell me to get a generator. A better idea would be for you to find another blog to follow; I’m not your guy.

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Subtly over many decades our increased dependence on labor saving devices and endless entertainment media has made us fatted golden calves reposing in luxury. The old saying goes that a steer has a pretty good life till its last ten minutes… all his needs met easily as he bulks up. Life is unnaturally rich as the rancher feeds and protects his prize bulls, pampers them… until the bloody slaughter time.

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So Comcast man had also told me that 5G is coming. I don’t know what 1G is, but I kept steady eye contact and nodded along as if I had just read the latest issue of Scientific American on this very topic. “Yeah, it’s all going wireless in the next few years. No more need for technicians. Like the trains, it will all be run by super computers. But 5G may cook us. It’s in the high end of the microwave spectrum, you know? Cancer rates will jump. But what are you gonna do? Either way they fry you. Greedy bastards.”

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I noted a dour attitude in Marco, an acquired bitterness like absinthe. I wanted to ask him if he drank floor cleaning products or absinthe maybe, or both mixed with an olive, like a dirty martini. Of course I did not as he scrolled through the blizzard of set up options on my flat screen television which intimidates me the way jet engines intimidate me.Image result for jet engines photos

It did not help that the night before the wife and I watched a PBS documentary on Alfred Loomis and his radar work, the trials of which included killing small animals at a distance with focused microwaves. Radar won World War II and the war for fast chicken fingers, so I guess we’ll just have to roll with technology until it kills us.Image result for old black and white ray gun photos

Oh, look, the Wifi thawed out.

637. Snow Blower Election Blues

Image result for suburban snowscapes photographyWith the freakish arrival of 5 inches of snow and ice yesterday, I knew I’d have to share a few words with the Troy Bilt Squall 210 snow blower in my garage. Most likely curse words shouted into the cold air after fifteen or twenty fruitless pulls on the starter cord. To be blunt: the damn thing never starts when I need it! It sits around all shiny and newish looking 360 days a year, undisturbed, falsely reassuring like your insurance company, you know? A small town mechanical super model. When finally you need it on rough weather days, you get denied. Oh there’s something about a fuel line or a clogged carburetor, a fouled spark plug, bad gas, a deductible, an uncovered service that can be appealed within 90 days. You’ve been there too, I bet.

Troy-Bilt Squall 21 in. 123 cc Single-Stage Gas Snow Blower with Recoil Start and E-Z Chute ControlIn years past I’ve had the squalid Squall 210 serviced by a local fix-it guy who comes to the house and tells me that engines made in China can’t take the ethanol added to American gasoline.  He tinkers and talks to himself for an hour and charges me $150. Mind you, the snow blower originally cost just over $300 a few years ago at Lowe’s. Fix it guy has serviced my snow blower at least twice, so I guess it’s worth over $600 now.

CatrinaOh, and it purred like a fat cougar when I first used it. So nice, neat, effective, sexy in a weird nordic way. Yeah, the days of back breaking, hip ripping, snow shoveling were finally over! Or so I thought. I could putt over to my neighbors and clear away their snowbound driveways. Why, I could do the work of ten men!! Until the next winter when I could not cajole the blower to cough or spit one bit of gassy combustion. And so back to the shovels I went until Clayton undid the evils of ethanol pollution.  I swore a sacred oath that I would abide by his directions and use Sea Foam to combat bad gas joo joo. I’d run it dry and store it that way in the garage till next winter.Related image

Now you must understand that I am the least mechanically inclined man God ever made. Well, perhaps my earthly father had something to do with this deficit too. You see he had zero mechanical skills and zero tools. I believe we had one bent standard screwdriver in our house in the kitchen junk drawer. No tool box. No power tools. Not even an extension cord. In the rare event that we needed a tool, one of my parents would instruct me to go next door or across the street to friendly neighbors who practiced that black magic art known as mechanics. My standard line today when my wife asks me to repair something with an engine, plumbing, or electrical wiring is this– “Do you really want me to A. do it wrong three times and then call the expert after I’ve ruined whatever it is; or do you want B. to save the intermediate steps and just call someone now, thus saving time, emotional energy, and cost?” Her acquired answer is “Yes. B, please.”Image result for exasperated homeowner fixing plumbing pictures

In the old days before we had discretionary income, calling someone was not an option. This led to many painful humiliations when my mechanical ineptitude was on full display. God bless her sweet little heart! She would buy tools for me and encourage me to use them. One year it was wood chisels. “Make me a spice rack”, she said. And I did. It was the wonkiest, ugliest misuse of good cherry wood ever seen since the Stone Age. Over decades I managed to bring her expectations down to the sorry reality of my inherited ineptitude, which consists of opening a tight pickle jar.Related image

Back to the snow blower. It has one job to do. It has to run efficiently for about three hours in a bad winter with lots of snow. That’s it! The rest of the time it can just rest in heavenly peace on a beach. But no, my stinkin’ machine can’t even do that. In the off season it finds ways to eat itself up with some sort of interior corrosion. I’ve run it dry before storing it as per the experts’ recommendations the past two springs. No difference come show time, however. The curtain would not open… again!!!Image result for broken snowblower pictures

Pause with me here to consider the voting machines in Florida. They only have to work once every even year. Many well paid officials have 729 days to get them to hum like well fed, fat swamp panthers, so that one day every other year they work adequately. We’re not talking like a NASA moon craft; they just have to pass minimal muster and do the single job they were built to do– count the ballots correctly. Are you feeling me yet?Image result for florida voting machine photos

Now my snowblower was not around in 2000 when Bush/Gore literally hung on a chad on a butterfly ballot. In that pivotal year of national power change it was not someone’s driveway that needed to be plowed. It was the driveway of our nation’s identity; the driveway to the White House was impassable for five weeks as our ridiculous political parties sparred back and forth. The outcome was finally decided by the Supreme Court denying a recount in Florida, thus swinging the electoral college margin of victory to George W. Bush. He actually lost by a half million popular votes, but the margin of 575 Florida votes gave him the presidency.  He in turn gave away one of the largest tax cuts in history; followed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; followed by the meltdown of Wall Street after the collapse of crazy home loan policies; followed by the worst recession since the Great Depression that started in 1929. Go W!!Image result for george w bush pictures goofy

Yep, it’s amazing what happens and does not happen due to the simplest events. Ironically it’s known as “The Butterfly Effect”…

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In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic non linear  system can result in large differences in a later state.

The theory goes that a butterfly’s beating wings can influence the path and power of a later tornado, a thousand miles away. Feelin’ me now?Image result for tornado images

Any way, I don’t think Western Civilization hinges on my driveway’s condition. I’m not that ego maniacal yet. I eventually got the blower to blow after an hour or so. I was profoundly shocked when it sputtered to life. I still cursed Chinese engineering as I had to dissemble the entire housing in order to change the spark plug, which required about six different wrenches and eighteen yoga poses. But by golly, Houston, we have ignition.

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636. Into The Woods

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White and red oaks, wild cherry, ash, black gum, dogwoods, poplars, mulberries, maples, elms, beeches, a black walnut or two, a few locusts, and some hickory trees, populated the woods around my childhood neighborhood in Northern Virginia. Down by the creek bed could be found a mighty sycamore, a willow, and trashy softwood trees that sucked up a lot of the flowing water. We boys would dig up sassafras tree roots to try and make root beer or just to smell that wonderful scent mixed with spongy leaf bog soil. It seemed a shame to kill a young sapling just for the smell buried below, but I guess we weren’t tree huggers. More like tree muggers. Around the holidays we’d trim off holly tree branches for our stay-at-home moms, and even consider cutting down red cedars for a Christmas tree, which never quite worked out with all the dragging uphill to get one home.

Image result for boys in the woods picturesIn the woods, on either side of South Kings Highway, we boys spent innumerable hours climbing, cutting, digging, piling, burning, and sawing away at trees of all sorts. When the abundant acorns fell, we’d gather them up in piles and have acorn battles. Nothing like a big white oak acorn fastball to leave a welt on your back or arm or a knot on your head. No virtual reality then, my friends. Just real hard core hurt you’all reality.

Related imageAbove and below ground we built forts of branches and leaves in the dry days of Indian Summer, before the forest floor became too cold and wet to enjoy. During the winter days that followed we built snow forts and played a game of tracking one another through the snow, across little ice covered streams, and into hidey holes like semi-wild wolf pups learning to survive. Better by far than watching one of three channels at home on a black and white television with unreliable rabbit ears antenna.Related image

No one wore a watch or had a walkie talkie back then. Cell phones were a long way from being invented. And yet, we roamed those woods all day and into the twilight with no adult supervision or concern about accidents or abductions or death. Today’s helicopter parents would consider this supreme neglect. Maybe because they have neglected to have a pile of kids, they believe the one or two they do have are royals. However, in the late days of the Baby Boom Era we knew we were as replaceable as lab rats. Sixty kids might try out for a little league baseball team with only 18 ill-fitting uniforms available. Yes, 42 boys got cut. Today that would result in a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit, I know. Back then, not so much.Image result for 1960's little league boys baseball photos

The woods were democratic, though. No uniform or entry fees needed, no age requirement. All that was needed was curiosity, and then the stamina to follow a stream bed to where ever it led. Streams and rivers were the first trails of the Native Americans after all. Life meandered out from streams in colonial days, and we meandered into them in the ’60’s, in search of crayfish, salamanders, creek chubs, turtles, frogs, snakes, snails, minnows… anything that moved actually. Image result for boys in a stream photos

As time moved on, the woods became a place to smoke a stolen cigarette and the stream became a cooler for high school boys’ beer. More than merely exploring the woods, we came to dominate them with our own campfires or trails or makeshift shanty shelters. Instead of being a natural refuge where we wondered at the nearly wild expanse, these woods became places to hide out and hang out as we turned our focus to human nature, especially toward girls.Image result for boys eyeing girls pictures

I recall wandering along an old rutted dirt road that ran off the big dips at the end of South Kings Highway. Perhaps an old logging road, it had been abandoned years ago. A pack of us boys came upon an old green car with the passenger’s door open midday. A man in a suit was face down on the bench seat, motionless. We gasped at the sight and thought he’d been murdered. This was going to be a pivotal moment in our wolf pups’ lives.As we inspected this unlikely scene closer, one of us noticed a woman’s hand was curled around this guy’s waist. Her red nail polish glinted in the sunlight. Then we saw movement and heard groaning. In a split second we all knew what we had not known a moment ago. In a flash we ran for the hills in a scatter pattern perfected during our Christmas light thievery drills.Image result for abandoned old car on dirt road pictures

Eventually land prices demanded the leveling of our semi-sacred woods. You see, the highest value of land is determined by the price tag available at the time of the appraisal. Housing developments stand where monumental white oaks used to faithfully drop tons of acorns for little boys to throw. And it seems today’s children have little regard for raw nature as they shop on line and plop in front of slick technology. That’s all fine and good, but in their magical pixels they will never know the real thing, the smell of a bare sassafras root or the thrill of finding a friend hidden in a snow covered brush pile.Image result for snowy woods pictures

I guess this process is inevitable. One day my grandkids may bemoan the advent of some slick new technology and long for their days of Daniel Tiger and Pooh and walks in the woods.

635. Back to Basics

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Size matters. As you can see from the chart of square footage of average new American houses, the figure has more than doubled in the past fifty plus years. Today, (2010 figures) that figure is nearly 2500 square feet. As home sizes ballooned over that time, family size shrank. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 1950, an average American family consisted of 3.8 people; today’s average family contains 2.6 people. Let me just add anecdotal eyewitness history: I grew up with 6.0 people in my house, which was built in the 1950’s.  Many other families in our neighborhood had more than 3.8 members as well. Naturally, carports were converted to living rooms and bedrooms over time. No second story, no basement. One bathroom. A galley kitchen. Yeah, bursting at the bladder seams. One rotary dial phone on a party line. Awkward gymnastics-like choreography in the kitchen at meal time. Oh, and one car per family. But who knew any better? Jello is creme brulee until you know the difference.

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Today it seems improbable, unlikely, and unlikable to house Americans in that manner. Privacy and personal space have expanded, but I’m afraid there have been many casualties along with that expansion. Entitlement, for instance, has become spotlit like an arabesque posed prima donna in spotless white tights, encouraged to spin endlessly by slick advertising for more and more exclusivity. It’s hard to stay up on point single footed, while the audience stares longingly at your perfection.Image result for swan lake solo ballerina photos

Compassion and empathy for the less privileged, well, they seem out of vogue these days. The sense of the larger community juxtaposed outside one’s tiny house has become nearly nonexistent. Local schools had to get bigger for some reason; an acquired taste, I suppose, thus requiring buses to move kids to the box store education centers we call modern schools. So long to the cozy and familiar neighborhood school and the many other purposes it served at the center of many a neighborhood. The communities are tiny now as the mcmansions grow larger… and we all grow disconnected.Image result for mcmansion neighborhood photos

Back in the days of the 1960’s and early 70’s, a pair of Chuck Taylor canvas sneakers and a pair of Levi’s jeans were the basic uniform for most boys my age, topped with a collared shirt if you were going to school. Public school, that is. Private schools were and probably still are into khakis and a polo shirt with leather shoes. Some still want the white shirt and plaid ties that match the girls’ plaid skirts. Shoe stores back then were not the labyrinths they have become with every conceivable material and fashion statement available. What am I saying?  It’s all on-line nowadays anyway. No need to leave the large, empty houses of 2018. Just click on Amazon prime. I suppose the advent of brand name clothes was already in full swing by the 60’s, but to my recollection it seemed to come later on with Izod shirts, Calvin Klein and Jordache jeans. There were many other “exclusive” brands, weaponized to keep the social rungs straight. You never want the poseurs to move past you on that ladder because they got Guess jeans or a Members Only jackets before you did.Related imageEven outlaw bikers have their brand names to show social rank. Go all Harley or go home in outlaw fashion shame.

It’s funny. I went to a 1950’s dance the other night. Many of the old women wore poodle skirts and saddle shoes. Some wrinkly old men wore their white tees and blue jeans, with white socks and black loafers. Those were the uniforms of that time when teenagers were seen as a monolithic demographic and ever present in the national baby boom wave, bursting to get out of their tiny houses. No initials, brands, labels, logos, etc. White tees were just that. Blue jeans were blue jeans, likely bought at Sears or Penney’s. Grease was grease. Badges of privilege began to burst out of the common uniformity, I suppose, as the hyper individualism syrup of the ’60’s was poured over the plain vanilla society of the Eisenhower years. Good bye bowling shirts. Hello Pierre Cardin and Yves St. Laurent.Image result for 1950's poodle skirt dance pics

Flash, bang, Designer this and designer that made distinguished statements of rank. They still do today with  Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers and Polo and … It’s all so much buzz in the beehive these days as isolated shoppers long for their own unique uniform that will inspire envy in others. “My goodness, I’m so unique that thousands will copy me.” Image result for beatlemania fashions 1960's photos

I can recall taking the 11-C bus into Old Towne Alexandria, Virginia to shop at J.C.Penney and the Steven Windsor men’s store, near the intersection of King and Washington Streets, long ago closed. Fortunately, historical buildings and the Potomac River help me keep my bearings in Old Towne, if ever I visit. Old Christ Church holds one half of a block along Washington Street and the old Lyceum building holds down another a few blocks south. They don’t change hands the way that commercial properties do, which is oddly comforting. Unlike fashion, tastes in architecture shift more slowly.

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So it seems that the less we share, the less we share. It might not have been super hygienic, but I can recall swapping baseball gloves with the opposing team when it was time for us to bat. Football helmets too if you were waiting on the sidelines as I often was. I know, it’s incomprehensible today. Lawsuits and rights and privileges are growth industries if not constitutional guarantees yet. So, I wax nostalgic about the basics, simpler times, and straighter lines to follow… before I learned that we are all in the same parade through time. All uniquely the same.

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634. A Perfect Day

Image result for autumn light photosThe crisp November light awakens my inner Van Gogh eyes, and everything I see becomes a brilliant, vibrant painting by a brilliant Artist. Brick walkways and buildings take on such a powerful presence, casting precisely postured shadows, sentries tethered to their posts.  Countless leaves gather in splashes of ochre, amber and copper underfoot, each a finely drawn map of a brief, fragile life. I could spend all day reveling at one weary butter-colored birch leaf stuck to the bottom of my shoe. The golden sunlight had left a trail of gold leaves littered about in extravagance.
It’s all about the light. The light. I recall from my art history classes that many master painters followed the light in France and Spain by seasons to illuminate their creations. It had to be just so. In the days of no electricity, you traveled for better light. Not a bad idea.
I start humming Lou Reed’s song “A Perfect Day”…
Just a perfect day
Drink Sangria in the park
And then later
When it gets dark, we go home
Just a perfect day
Feed animals in the zoo
Then later
A movie, too, and then home
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I know it’s not Central Park or Brooklyn, but there is an intense beauty pulsing in the fading trees as they say good bye to summer by undressing themselves gloriously. The smoldering smell of leaf mold comes later in autumn on cold days after a hard, killing frost, but not today. Today children just roll in their wondrous dry crunchiness. Little Van Goghs will gather up a few of these precious leaf jewels and secrete them away in heavy books at home. Come a winter day these budding artists will study their awesome leaves, smell them, trace them, and wonder, wonder, wonder back to their perfect day.
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Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on
Well, you know how Lou was, or maybe you don’t…dysthymic on a good day. He has to turn the artist’s scalpel edge onto himself to set up a counterpoint to the perfect day, that it’s a mirage and he is a poseur. This is where the bloody purple hues flow. How is it that someone who can write of beauty in the world and in others can’t seem to find it in himself? Why must the wintry winds ravage the nearly naked oaks in just a week?
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Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It’s such fun
Just a perfect day
You made me forget myself
I thought I was
Someone else, someone good
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All I know of Lou Reed is his edgy lyrics and novel life. A very special leaf in the billions of billions out there. I suppose his voice was one prized leaf I brought home. Actually it was my oldest daughter who exposed me to the rest of Lou, the part beyond his commercial successes. I still thrill to the powerful intro to Sweet Jane, and everyone knows Walk on the Wild Side. But there’s so much more beyond the popular stuff. The Velvet Underground, so I’ve heard, sold only a few thousand copies of their first album, but everyone who bought a copy started their own band… so the story goes. Pretty potent influence. Granted, some Lou is hard to listen to, though worth it. He busted through a lot of taboos, God rest his soul, as he found beauty and truth in the grimy gutters of New York City life.
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Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on
I have no certain interpretation of what he means with “You just keep me hanging on”.
Is it a fickle lover’s complaint or a compliment to a friend who helps him stay alive? Good lyrics do this, I think: allow for various pathways for the listener to take. Let the tone or today’s context fill in the meaning.
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You’re going to reap just what you sow
You’re going to reap just what you sow
You’re going to reap just what you sow
You’re going to reap just what you sow
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And there he ends with a Biblical truth. Is it for the other person in the song? If so, is it a warning or a condemnation? Is it for himself, that he is in fact reaping what he sowed throughout this life? These lyrics are remarkably simple unless you weigh them on the scale of your artist’s soul. Then they become sweet potatoes filled with lead.
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