727. she’s some kind of vegetable

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Seven a.m. and my wife is zipping around the kitchen like a beautiful dragon fly dutifully on point, thinking through her workday and the evening activities. “Let’s see… We can finish the pork barbecue and rice for tonight, uh, maybe the mashed potatoes, um, no, you’re taking those for lunch, right?”Image result for dragonfly gif

“Yep.”

“I’ll be at yoga, so I’ll make rice in the steamer pot. That’s always good. And then we’ll need some kind of vegetable.”

Me with a banana microphone,Image result for banana microphone images

“Some kind of vegetable, talkin’ bout my baby. She’s some kind of vegetable. Yes she is. When I hold her in my arms
You know, she sets my soul on fire
Ooh, when my baby kisses me
My heart becomes filled with desire
When she wraps her lovin’ arms around me
It ’bout drives me out of my mind…”

Completely unperturbed and unimpressed at the banana mic serenade, my wife says, “I’ll see you tonight. Don’t forget your lunch”.  She was never a Grand Funk Railroad fan. Neither was I, but I heard the lines so many times, they are scorched onto the hard drive of my feeble memory. I’m expecting slightly charred brussel sprouts for dinner at this rate, but what’s a man fan to do? Hallmark does not make cards for such awkwardly intimate moments like this.Image result for charred brussel sprouts pictures

She actually is some kind of wonderful. While I am noodling around in my humor archives, she knits gloves and hats and sweaters and scarves to give away. So clever and practical. On her “vacation days” she packs a suitcase full of odds and ends and gifts for the grandkids in Arizona. Then she starts prepping the guest bedroom for a makeover. Oh yes, and hangs the folding blinds on the sun room windows for extra insulation. The last time our guest room was painted, she did it. Teal blue and brown? It was a thing then.

Now don’t assume that I sit on the couch and watch CNN. I mean, I do, but I also burn stuff out back in the fire circle I made when our daughter Grace was dating boyfriend # 3, I think. He was visiting when I laid out the circle of stones and mortared them together. He and Grace were a thing then. About a year later I burned the elaborate jewelry box he made for her. “Don’t you want to give it to Goodwill or some thrift store?”

“No. The evidence must be burned.” So I complied. Image result for fire gif

He was some kind of other root vegetable, I think, like a turnip or parsnip…not worth harvesting.

Parts of that memory are accurate, I’m pretty sure. But you know how memories shift and settle like an old house? What was once level and square becomes wonky and cattywampus. The new and cool wallpaper border becomes hopelessly dated. Oh, and what is that weird word?Image result for cattails pictures

“Cattywampus” (1834) has held a variety of meanings and spellings, including as an adverb (catawampusly) meaning “completely/utterly/avidly,” a name for a fantastical imp-like creature or a mountain lion, and an adjective meaning “askew,” from obsolete “cater,” from the Greek prefix kata- (downward, toward), and perhaps from the old Scottish slang wampish (to wriggle or twist about.)

Aren’t you glad that you didn’t ask? I did the asking catawampusly and without permission. This is something I’ve noticed about elderly folks, of which I am one: they share their opinions and farts more freely as they fall into the comforting socialist arms of Medicare and Social Security. This is why socialist countries have a sulfurous odor to them.  Google that correlation. “Siri: Why do socialist countries produce more methane?”Image result for map of scandinavia in viking times

I’ve done a lot of climate change research, and I believe this is the culprit right here, folks. Flatulent commies.

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Over the weekend I had a rip roaring fire of old 2×6’s from the garden burning in a 20 mph wind blowing west. Yes, it was in that very same fire ring that I dug and lined with rocks 14 years ago.  The gusts were great for moving the heat away from the nearby pear tree.  With the old dried wood and wind, there was virtually no smoke, just fat orange flames. As the fire grew larger and louder, I thought I’d better get a rake from the shed. I approached with my grandson next to me. (He’s actually 2200 miles away, but I need him as an innocent foil in the following punch line.) He opened the shed door only to have a long handled implement crash down between him and me. I said, “Max, that’s no way to treat a lady!” To which he replied, “That’s not a lady, grandpa, that’s a hoe.”

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Now creative storytelling is not lying; though it is admittedly fiction. Even though some super rigid holy rollers think it is of the devil himself. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no. But most importantly, let none among ye have any fun!” I believe a mute Scotch engineer said that to Helen Keller a century ago. Image result for man speaking to helen keller pictures

However, closer to home, twenty years ago the home school mom across the street warned us about Harry Potter books being ungodly and a doorway to witchcraft. I wish she had given her full testimony at the time. You see, Church Lady was having an extramarital affair as she was delivering her dire warning. I think it would have made it all the more relevant if she had only shared, “I should know about these things. My youngest is by another guy at church. You know, God wants us to be happy, and I am so happy.” But she didn’t include that lovely garnishment in her poignantly pious moment. Oh well, she was some kind of fruit, I guess, not worthy of a banana karaoke smoothie.

So there you have it. The term vegetable is not an insult if you go back far enough in time.

The origin of the word “vegetable” is the Latin word vegetabilis, which means “to give energy to” or “enliven.”

And that is the animated lady in my kitchen. Some kind of vegetabilis, and I am the happy recipient of it.

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726. Foggy Musings

Image result for black trees against a grey sky picturesIt’s back– the dull grey sky behind layers of barren black ink branches…. Chilly fog micro-droplets settle on my down jacket. I feel like a deer quietly stepping along the forest floor, but it’s concrete and asphalt I tread upon. Hushed in an envelope of mist. Hundreds of grey shades compete for my focus. No relief comes from a dot of red or yellow, like a merciful Corot landscape. Instead the ashen mood holds in static smoke. Transparent walls of cold present without wind. I walk to the coffee shop silently, imagining English fog at Portsmouth in 1944 before D Day, hiding ominous muffled power.

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And why do I need to memorialize my perceptions? Document the dread? Why try to capture what has captured me? No one asks a photographer this question. It’s self evident; the photo speaks for itself. A certain something special arises from the composition, the light, the tension of the content. No essay is needed to explain the patterns held within.Image result for foggy photos

But I am left with a thousand words to articulate the ebony silkscreen on pewter paper. How to snatch you bald headed, my reader, and pull you into my self-absorbed consciousness? “Isn’t this narcissism at its finest?” you may ask. No more than the arrogance (or is it confidence?) of the photographer who believes in his/her composition. ‘This image may be worth pausing to consider’, she muses.Image result for foggy photos

I suppose it’s the mood that is manipulated by the grey scales, like certain minor chords move you to melancholy.

The best way I’ve found to create melancholy is to sprinkle in suspended chords or chords with slight tension. Minor 7th chords or add 9 chords work well because they aren’t overtly dark, but instead create a subtle sadness that can’t be accomplished with a major chord. [soundfly]

So it’s okay for painters, photographers and musicians to move their audiences toward the fog. Good enough for me too. Image result for foggy photos

The fog makes one slow down, to strain ears and eyes in the moist sensory deprivation blanket. Our outward strivings have to pause, draw backward to the center. Like the minor chords subtly shift one toward melancholy, so too the fog forces us to introversion. These are not wild West vistas that expand our horizons and imaginations, giving eagle’s wings to our perspective. No, it’s duck soup served beneath an arched bridge by the lumens of a broken wrist watch.Image result for a wrist watch in the night photo

If one can see his feet below him, then there’s five feet of visibility. The hands, maybe three. Heavy fog or blizzard snow can bring the terror of life’s end, for sure. It’s a foretaste of the end, when only those within arm’s reach will be with us in the dimming light. Image result for light at the end of the tunnel photos

Meanwhile, the air is warming and absorbing all the vapor. Clarity returns for now. Life grows large again. The fog lifts like a dream of an old friend, long dead, who gives you the keys to  his car, knowing you will not be back to pick him up from this shift of work at the eternal fast food joint. “You’ll be asleep when I get off, man. Just keep the car.” He leaves me a bag of something on the driver’s seat, something with adhesive backing. “You need these?” Image result for mark craver photos

Before I can answer I realize he’s not asking but telling me. As I get in the driver’s seat, I notice it is drawn up tight. Mark is a big man. How can this be? “I’m going back on Sunday. I’d really like to see you before then, but maybe next time, eh?”

“I’ll be working as usual. Don’t worry about it.”

I drive back into the fog of sleep, cherishing the familiar presence of my old friend.

725. Funereal Humor

Image result for funeral home picturesIt’s a thing, like a cottage industry side hustle gig. My buddy Dan tells me so anyway. “I kill at funerals. It’s my thing. I don’t know why, I just start riffing about the person and pretty soon the church is laughing and crying, waiting for me to shave them like an old timey barber with hot lather and a straight razor. It’s a weird sort of stand up routine for niche audiences, but you don’t get any repeat business, Holmes. Really boutique crowds with a high tolerance for irreverence. But that’s irrelevant.

Image result for pictures of barbara bush funeralLike, I don’t think I’d go over real good at a state funeral for a senator or first lady, you know cuz I’d drop the F bomb liberally even if they was all conservatives. Maybe say, ‘Come on man– ya’ll know she had a great butt.’ Or ‘Bitch McConnell drove so slow that he never passed a single bill. Not even a Pinto bean bail out.’ And Secret Service be cutting my mic and tazing my ass on out the cathedral. Then I’d have to go on Conan and Jimmy Fallon to explain it was all a big misunderstanding, you know, like my Hollywood Access tape? ‘Y’all know I never said that, but if I did say it, I didn’t mean it like you heard it. You got some filthy ears. That aint me; it’s the filthy democrats and shit messing with a deep fake of my voice. It aint me, babe. Nah, nah, nah. It aint me you be lookin for.”Image result for trump on fallon show pictures

“No, it’s got to be the right audience,for sure, you know, people that eat chili jelly with brie cheese and anchovies on toasted pita bread. That’s my demographic’s sweet spot. Consumers with discerning taste. They can appreciate whack flavors that fight for control of their palate’s pilot like terrorists on a plane. Only the death struggle is in your freakin’ mouth. That’s some serious shit right there, man. Write that down.”

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“You know, people be so uptight about death that it creates tension when you start down that path. Like ‘Oh No! He’s going into the graveyard! He’s gonna talk about Uncle Jimmy being gay.’ Same with racism, sex, religion, or politics. You can see folks getting all coiled up like a pile of trapped snakes in The Temple of Doom. Just wind them up a few more notches; that’s when you hit’em with the punch line, and all that tension floods out in laughter and relief and snake spit. Especially if it’s way the hell out of left field. But you can’t do humor for idiots. Dumb asses don’t know when to laugh. And that’s 80% of the world. They’re asleep at the wheel of life, man. A nation of Forrest Gumps burned out on the diesel fumes of just getting by. So at comedy gigs there’s always plenty alcohol. Not for the comics but the audience, you know to loosen them up. Comic got to be in control of his mind at all times, yo.”Image result for forrest gump movie stills pictures

“Your antenna gots to be alive to catch the room and read it fast so you can work in a sneeze or something awkward at a table, a loud fart on a first date. ‘Sir, I noticed your candle is extinguished. Does that signify that the date is over? Will we be splitting the check then?’ At a funeral, though, it’s tougher cuz folks be all crying and wailing or sniffling. You gotta go slow. ‘Whatchoo crying for, Richie? Did he owe you some money or weed. Which one? Boff? Dude, I be cryin’ too. Sombitch Jimmy had the best weed.'”Image result for shocked faces at a funeral

“And what’s with the pallbearer thing?  I mean, what’s a pall, right? I Googled it, don’t y’all worry bout a thing. Ole Dan gotcha covered. ‘A cloth covering of the casket.’ Why don’t they call it the casket bearers then? All the weight is in the coffin not the cloth wrapper. Like at a wedding the groom be a bridegroom; he don’t even get his own name. It’s all about that bitch in white. He aint nothing but the purse to her dress.”Image result for brides walking down aisle alone pictures

“Anymore people being cremated left and right. So all you got is a cup or urn full of ashes of the deceased…if they didn’t switch the babies in the nursery, so to speak. So that throws a big ass wrench in the pallbearers’ union. Puts five guys out of work with one fell swoop.  ‘Sorry, Eddie, we downsizing since this cremation mafia shit moved in on us.’ How’s a pallbearer supposta make a living with one little wee cup that your grandma could carry if she wasn’t in it?”

“It’s sad to see big men in suits cryin all the time cuz they can’t feed they families.”Image result for men crying at funeral pictures

“Now if I ran the PU, Pallbearers Union for you all been drinkin for a while, I’d get ole Bitch McConnell to pass a law that if a dude gets cremated, he needs six urns for his ashes no matter. And they got to wear tuxes with purple sashes. And then we’d have to get them cross trained between casket or urn duties. A man got to urn his keep. Otherwise you wind up with two separate departments, like two gangs– the Urns and the Caskets, fighting a turf war in the church parking lot. You know, like ‘Don’t pull that blade, Jonquil, unless you gonna use it, Dude. Is it gonna be a urn or a casket deal?'”Image result for jets and sharks fight scene pictures

“Pall bearers be dancing and smoking cigarettes, ‘When you’re an Urn, you’re an Urn all the way, from your first cigarette till your last dyin’ day.’ Every body, sing along to the lyrics on the wall… ‘Then you are set with a capital U, which you’ll never forget, till they cart away you, when you’re an Urn, you’re an Urn all the way.’  Work wiff me, folks. It’s a little ahead of today, but I’m proud of what I gots. I know, you might still be uncomfortable with it. But when the Caskets show up, all hell breaks loose, and I got you backs. I’ll get you the cloth on top for free.”Related image

“Thank you. You’ve been a beautiful niche audience. Enjoy your chili jelly. Good night.”

 

724. The Cognitive/ Behavioral Snowman

Portrait smiling barista in coffee shop Royalty-free stock photoChatting with the latest in a long line of barrista girls at the coffee shop. Harlee is her name. She’s a quiet one and it took a while to get her to open her turtle shell. In a world of creeps and pervs I can’t say that I blame her prudent caution. Carefree turtles end up in soup or on a salad. Some wind up on an episode of Dateline with Keith Morrison’s haunting Canadian voice trailing off before the commercial break. “She closed the shop as she had dozens of times before that night… and was never seen again.”Image result for tortoise photos

So she’s in graduate school for, tada!, counseling, my gig.  How delightful. At least I thought so. And she’s taking Theories of Counseling. Okay, the door opens upon a vast living room of shared interests.

“And which one…sssszzzz do you favor?”

“I like psychoanalytic theory but it’s not something you can practice… so I guess reality therapy is my next choice… or CBT.”Image result for freud images

“Yes, psychoanalytic seems to stop at the diagnosis, you know, ‘There you have your problem without any fix’. Imagine a plumber showing up and simply saying, ‘It’s the hot water heater. See  ya.'”

Explaining counter-transference over a coffee shop counter further complicates a complicated concept… “So if you are the therapist and I’m your client, and I put my mother issues on you, that’s transference. Admittedly it’s across a counter but that’s neither here nor there. Now if you as the therapist, put your daddy issues on me, that’s counter-transference. See?”

“You lost me on the counter.”Image result for coffee shop baristas photos

“NO?  Well don’t be alarmed. It will come in time. Like one of your fru fru lattes. Tricky at first sight.”

“Yeah, I just like plain black drip coffee. It’s easy.”

“I suppose you are familiar with the Cognitive/Behavioral Snowman, yes?”

“No, I’ve never heard of it. Are you serious?”

“Absolutely. I do this all day long, my dear. Here– do you have a piece of paper and pen?  Thank you. Okay three circles overlapping just a bit. Like so, and we have the cognitive/behavioral snowman. The top snowball is for cognitions such as beliefs, opinions, suspicions. Okay? They do not have to be true facts by the way.”Related image

“Then the middle is for the emotions engendered by the beliefs in circle one. Let’s say you believe Joel over there is a registered sex offender. Your emotional response will likely be negative. Even if he is not, and I can assure you that he is not, you can hold a distorted belief about him. He has many other flaws but the philias are not in that basket. You see what I did there?  I circled back to correct your distorted belief about Joel and hopefully also edited the nasty negative emotional response you had to start. See?”Image result for beating heart gif

“I think so.”

“Okay, the last circle is for outcome behaviors, consequences, actions, reactions, etc. Sometimes the outcome is simply to do nothing.”

“So if I thought Joel was a perv and my gut feelings were fear and disgust, then my outcome behavior would be rude conduct to back him off or call the police? Am I getting warm?”

“Exactly! You are catching on. Then, if you see that he backs off from your rudeness, your new belief can become even stouter:  Joel is a perv and afraid of my rude conduct. This could lead you to feel powerful and strong, able to abuse him like I do.”

“You are mean to him.”

“He likes it. He had no brothers and grew up into a fragile, reclusive sousaphonist. I have been teaching him assertiveness training for the last ten years for his very survival. His life depends on my instruction. He would have died years ago if I had handled him nicely. I will not indulge his indulgences. He still has a squeezy coin purse. ”

“Oh, I didn’t know that. I thought you were just rude.”

“There you go, Harlee. Another belief and feeling and action cycle, only this time I’m in the cognitive cross hairs. And I can assure you that your belief about me is highly distorted.”Image result for cross hair photo of a deer

“No, I’m not getting that. You seem, uhh…”

“Philanthropic?”

“No, narcissistic.”

“Oh, puulllleeeezzze!! Not to go full drama on you, but that diagnosis is way too easy and tossed about like straw wrappers at McDonalds parking lots. ”

“That was a test. I was just playing with you.”

“And now who is rude?”Image result for rude faces

“Back to my prof. She’s a family systems girl. She claims that every diagnosis can be read as a family systems issue.”

“Really? So if someone has autism or just wants to quit smoking, that’s a family systems issue? Yes?  I don’t get it.”

“She claims that by the end of the semester she’ll prove that even personality disorders are family systems based disorders.”

“Do you know the old saying that if you only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail?”Image result for hammer and nail images

“No. I’m too young for sayings like that. I’m a Generation Z girl. Okay Boomer.”

“I’m so sorry. I forgot that your generation lives in the post tool era. All your tools are included in your Swiss Army I-phones.”

“Well, it’s true. Like I can Google what that saying means. I can GPS the closest hardware store. I can get Amazon to deliver it to my doorstep tomorrow. And I can research the Swiss Army.”

“Shut up! Is that how you’re going to deal with your future clients? ‘Hold it, amigo, let me Google that’? C’mon man!! What about being present in the Carl Rogers moment?”

“Wasn’t he in Blazing Saddles? Or was he married to Ginger Rogers?”

“Dear God, take me home now!”

“I do like the snowman diagram, though. Can I keep it?”

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“Yes, it will make a nice bookmark in the, oh never mind. You Kindle read, right? I’m just going back to the nursing home before my pre-chewed lunch gets cold. Bye Harlee.”

“Bye Boomer.”

 

 

 

723. A Hard Rain between Goodsons and Baddads

Image result for flooded streets picturesOh a hard rain fell all right. It roared, and it pummeled the ground last night as the temperature dropped along with torrents of cold water. Tonight comes our first frost, so says the weather guy. With winds rushing by like a Russian freight train into the eastern night, shaking the lilac bush against my house’s siding till dawn, I almost believed in weather guy’s other prediction– a tornado.  Foot deep pools formed on the roads and in low lying areas. The occasional magic canal has returned to the shorn farm field behind my house. The mystery canal is a silver brush stroke across a muddy field under this morning’s smoky light.Image result for a stream in a field at dawn pictures

It had to come. The warmth and humidity were approaching 100 proof strength, like whiskey that makes you sweat as you drink it down. Then the slow burn follows. Chemical warmth spreads into a budding perspiration. The smoldering late summer fever had to break the stultifying atmosphere. And so it did.Image result for fire eaters pictures

Many times life brings us moments like this, maybe in a job or a family. A sudden transition must rush through to change unnatural dynamics. Oh man, something’s gotta give. Yeah, the pressure builds from tropical depression, to storm, to hurricane strength; and then, look out, Brohinga. The palm trees and motel signs are coming down.Image result for hurricane winds knocking down palm trees gif

I’ve known several boys who knew a day of reckoning was coming with their overly critical dads. Even as young as 8 years of age a boy can tell if his dad is meeting or ignoring his needs. He can see injustice, favoritism or perfectionism in play. No one boy’s pain in particular comes to mind. They all seem to gather in similar fashion like so many rivulets that gather into a sad salty stream of neglect.Image result for boy with tears on face pictures

“Ever since my parents divorced, my dad has trash talked my mom. If I argue with him, he tells me I’m disrespectful. Well, he’s being disrespectful of mom. I’d do the same thing if she trash talked him, but she doesn’t do it. It’s not fair.”Image result for boy screaming at mean dad photos

“I miss my dad. I want to spend time with him, sure. He doesn’t seem to want to spend time with me or my step brother Colton. Instead he seems to want to control us, you know, make us do chores and then restrict us to our rooms so we can’t bother him and Haley; that’s Colton’s mom. She controls Dad and he controls us. We can’t have friends over or spend the night at other places cuz he says it’s too much running around. Like driving five miles is a big deal. He thinks nothing of driving to Baltimore or Myrtle Beach when it suits him. It’s not fair.”Related image

“Yeah, it’s been a long time since I had any alone time with my Dad. He says we need family time. It doesn’t feel like a family at his house. I feel like a servant. Colton too. He’s three years older than I am and he still can’t go out on weekend nights. No sports either. Too much running around, Dad says. If you ask me, my Dad and Haley are just lazy and selfish. They have to have new vehicles and the perfect yard. Looking good from the street. You know what he tells me?  If he didn’t have to pay child support, we could all go to Disney World this year, every year. Greedy, add that to their list. I’d rather live in a trailer with my mom than go to Disney with him. “Image result for fake disney world photos

“The day is coming when I will tell him off. He’s a bully, though, with everyone but Haley. I think he’s scared of her, but I’m still scared of him. She bosses him around and he doesn’t usually argue back. Now if Colton or I try to argue with either of them and their stupid rules, look out. He rages. He did the same with my mom, but she didn’t approve of it like Queen Haley seems to. It’s a big soap opera they put on for each other. We’re just props.”Image result for chess pieces being moved by hand gif

“So, yeah. I turned 18 and just cleaned out my room. No good byes. I’d been packing and sneaking my stuff out all summer long, but he didn’t notice. That’s my dad: if you don’t bother him, he doesn’t notice you. He likes low maintenance kids who don’t cramp his style, his drinking, or his narcissistic puppet show. He’ll miss the child support more than he misses me. Watch: he’ll insist that I come for holiday photo shoots. Screw him! He can photo shop my face into his happy family scenes and kiss my ass good bye.”Image result for puppet show gif

These hard rains fall predictably as a boy gains confidence and muscle. Sometimes a younger sibling’s welfare will delay the day of reckoning, or there may be other strings that constrain the inevitable emotional gully washer… graduation, a dying grandparent, a sibling’s wedding. Eventually the raging lava flows, devouring false fronts and fakery, incinerating everything in its downhill path.Image result for lava flows gif

Bad dads reap what they sow. Guilt and blame and shame, harshness, unforgiveness, perfectionism, criticism, arrogance, double standards, lies, etc. seep into a sensitive boy and ferment over time; not into wine but simmering hostility, that distills into anger, and finally vaporizes in rage. When the personal Vesuvius erupts, the rain is hard, full of resentment and bitterness, indigestible injustice cinders, and merciless 50 grit sandpaper. Syllables, words, gestures, screams, and violence blow up until gravity pulls it all back down in a horribly heavy hard rain.Image result for hard rain gif

I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

You can’t go this far without a little Bob Dylan.