410. Stadium Seat Cushion

“I’m a people pleaser, you know. I hate confrontations and avoid conflicts. Like, if I get charged the wrong price at Walmart, I won’t confront the cashier. I just suck it up and get mad at myself instead of the wrong price or the cashier. What’s wrong with me?  I can’t handle hurting others’ feelings, but I can crush my own.”

“You are a stadium seat cushion.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Well, stadium seating is cheap and durable but not comfortable. So there is an after market for cushions to make the stadium experience less painful, you know, like a pillow on a park bench?”

“Yes! I get the concept. What does it have to do with me?”

“Oh, you see others in distress or discomfort and you throw yourself between their butts and their pain, like a stadium seat cushion, I mean a high quality memory foam covered dense Styrofoam cushion. Top quality with a nice logo like Penn State or the Steelers. Please allow 4 to 6 weeks for delivery.”

“So I’m a butt buffer for others am I?”

“Yep. And a very good one, consensus Hall of Famer first ballot.”

“You have a way of pissing me off and making me laugh at the same time, damn it!”

“It’s a gift.”

“Seriously, I do throw myself in between people and their pain. All the out reach programs I am involved with… somehow I want to alleviate others’ suffering. But why? I’ll make myself miserable to make others happy.”

“Well, let’s see. Did anyone do this for you when you were struggling?”

“No, not really. I felt abandoned and neglected, which are awful feelings. I wondered why no one would come to my rescue, not even God. I figured I was too damaged, not worth their efforts. Shame silenced me. I  did not want to ask anyone else for help so that I did not attract more attention to my  pitiful state. Eventually I learned to do things by myself, with a vengeance. Don’t ever tell me I can’t do something. You’ll regret it. I’ll prove you wrong.”

“Sounds like you do good things for not so good reasons.”

“What?  I help single moms put clothes on their babies. I help hungry people find affordable food. I…”

“I know what you do. That’s the front end of the statement. The back end is the kicker, though. Why do you do these things? ”

“I told you: to alleviate the suffering of innocent, helpless people.”

“And yet it seems like you are trying to alleviate your own childhood and adolescent suffering, as if your good deeds today could somehow cross over time and assuage the aching heart of your eight year old self.”

[TEARS and HUFFING] “No, you are wrong. I can’t stand by and let others suffer or charge them a fee to alleviate their pain like you do.”

“Ouch! So now I’m the psychic predator who preys on helpless folks with insurance.”

“I didn’t mean that. It’s just that I can’t walk away from needy folks who need so much….”

“Because there is some boundary issue?”

“Well, they get under my skin and in my head. I can barely sleep when I do help out.”

“So you will work harder to solve others’ problems than the actual owners of the problems work?”

“Sometimes, maybe, okay. I have once or a dozen times. What’s wrong with caring excessively?”

“The excess part. When caring turns into indulging the other, you are not helping. Cradle to grave welfare becomes slavery not help.”

“So your answer is to dispose of the people, just let them go cold or hungry…”

“Please, just a moment without nuclear defenses. You know the old saying ‘Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime’?”

Image result for man and boy with a fish picture

“Yes, it’s lame. Not everyone eats fish.”

“I don’t. Allergic reaction to fish oil. Ever hear  this one, ‘But man does not live on bread alone.’ ?”

“Oh, no, you’re gonna go all religious on me now.”

“No, in completely secular terms, if you feed and clothe and house everyone you meet on the street, many of them will be back in days if not hours, because they need more than bread, clothes, or shelter. They need hope, meaning and purpose.”Image result for homeless folks picture

“Now you’re gonna play the God card.”

“No, I’m playing the human nature card. We can leave the Divine out of this discussion for the moment. Humans struggle to maintain their environment, even if that is a lean to under a bridge. Swooping in to put that homeless guy in a shelter may not work. Bringing canned meat and vegetables to a chronic alcoholic will likely be met with contempt.  Do some of your kids clothes shoppers complain about colors or styles?”

“Yeah, and that really pisses me off.”

“Why? Humans want what they want; not necessarily what you are graciously offering them.”

“Ingrates are thankless selfish takers.”

“Yep, they don’t see the big picture as they move from cradle to grave on someone else’s nickel.”

“Sometimes I just want to kick them in the ass and tell them to get out… but I do it for the kids. They appreciate the clothes or toys or food even if their stupid parents don’t.”

“Gratitude is powerful stuff.”Image result for gratitude images

“What do you mean?”

“I mean if you focus on what you have and savor it, treasure it even, then you won’t be envying what others have that is newer or shinier or costlier.”

“Okaaaay. Is there some cosmic lesson in this? I feel like you are trying to give me an epiphany or something Greek.”

“Epiphanies are kinder than enemas, Grasshoppa. What I’m so subtly suggesting is that if you seize upon your current blessings and just bathe in them here and now, you will not feel so compelled to fix others. Your, ready for this one?, existential constipation will diminish, and you will laugh, smile and joke more.”

“That’s it? No secret word?”

“Well, I do have one secret word.”

“And that would be….?”

“PRAY.”

“I knew it!!! Back to God!!!”

“Sort of hard to keep Him hidden, dontcha think?”

“Duh!”

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

323. Remitch

[I’ve been all serious for the last three posts. Whew! Enough already. I need some big fat whimsy steak with a sweet mustard sauce of glibness. A side of steaming tomfoolery. And for my appetizer I’d like a half dozen giggles on the half shell. A raw guffaw salad and some buttery belly rolls of laughter. Yeah, and let’s see, I’ll wash it down with a quart of bubbling uproar. I cannot live on a daily diet of grim gruel, bloggourmets. Spasms of humor spew out of my mind/throat connection from time to time. I must chuckle up.]

I ran into  Mitch at the coffee shop today. He’s getting big, buff and beardy. We chatted briefly about his new girl friend, number 9 someone suggested. I had met him and her off the leash at a local  winery about five weeks ago. It was a lovely summer night and the C- band played Jimmy Buffet style Island Music Mahn as the sun set in their glazed eyes. The band’s eyes, that is. We danced the conga line and did the limbo, among other island standards.

That night I validated Mitch’s choice of girlfriend, which surprised him. He told me I’d always been cautious about his previous selections. I told him I had to approve of this one. “Why is that?” he asked innocently enough.  “Because my shoulders are covered in your tears, mucus, snot and drool, Bro. I can’t carry you through another relationship. This one has to work.”

“Wow, that’s a pretty powerful endorsement, Dude.”

“You bet your skinny jeans it is.”

Well, I inquired about the aforementioned g.f., and he told me things were moving along nicely.  One glitch arose, however. When he went to show her one of my old Mitch blog posts, he got stuck in the archives. I suggested that he simply Google, Mitchlessly. Burritospecial.Wordpress.Com. Or he could sample South Central Brovania at the same address. He felt that was too much to remember and suggested that I simply copy it forward, (something I abhor) or else write a new post about him. Okay, I can do that.

I pondered my material and decided to do a Re mix called Remitch. I’d just let my mind wander and associate all my Mitch points of contact. The funny thing is that I actually met his grandfather Ed Latch decades back, maybe even before Mitch was born. I coached basketball one year and Ed was the Godfather of Catholic Youth League basketball in our area back then. I don’t recall much about that season except we once  played a game with only four players and nearly won. The rule stated that you needed five players at the tipoff of a game. Well, our fifth player was very sick but agreed to stand there at the tip off. Then he sat for the remainder of the game.

Naturally one of my players fouled out, but the opposing coach decided to let the kid stay in the game despite the foul maximum. Eventually one of  his starters fouled out, and I had to return the favor. We lost, sort of, by the score. It would have been a better story if we’d won.

I first saw Mitch when he was in high school, rocking the electric guitar at a music program. He played some licks from the back corner of the high school auditorium. I have no idea what the selection was, maybe Deep Purple. We were there to listen to our exchange student Kaisa’s boyfriend Tyler “the Wedgie Boy” play drums. I named him “the Wedgie Boy” because he had perfected the skinny jeans look back in 2006, so much so that he appeared to be suffering from a permanent case of the walking, talking  wedgie. I didn’t trust him either. When a boy spends more time on his hair, clothes and make up than your daughter, albeit a foreign exchange daughter, beware.

I realize these are very thin tangents that almost connect to Mitch. Eventually he came out front as a very good guitarist in our church’s praise band while at the same time whipping up coffees and lattes at the bean shop on the square. That’s where we connected as he moaned and groaned through his first relationship with the music pastor’s daughter. Like every first love there is blindness, myopia, nearsightedness, ocular distortion, retarded perception, and various other ailments. It was a wide but shallow emotional swamp Mitch had to cross back then. Sad songs were written as a consequence. Very sad,

“I got the preacher daughter blues, it’s a game that you just can’t lose

Preacher daughter blues, from my head down to my shoes

If it weren’t for that preacher’s daughter, I think I could let myself get loose.

Instead I got to choose: be who I am or one of her fools.”

Day after gray day we huddled and shared the wisdom gleaned from failed relationships, the fallen kernels of truth winnowed after struggling harvests from burned fields. Think of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”.

“Now I don’t mind choppin’ wood

And I don’t care if the money’s no good

Just take what you need and leave the rest,

But they should never have taken the very best.”

That lyric refers to Robert E. Lee, hero of a lost cause. Somehow Mitch fits in by association. He has a wonderful heart and a deep spirit. He just needed to grow his mind to match them. Pain has a way of growing those pathways by pruning away the ones we would naively prefer to follow. Yeah, I like that.

So here is to Mitch and his g.f. # 9. On SportsCenter they always say, “She’s a beauty that number 9”. Well, in this case it’s true.

 

319. Parking Tickets and Murder

So back on Pine Street I had on-street parking in front of my run down building, and I parked the old Ford Falcon there 95% of the time. However, one morning as I was coming home from work, some punk college commuter had wedged his/her little weasel vehicle into my semi-designated parking space, forcing me to park down the block  on a meter near Bruce’s up and coming restaurant. I was torqued off as a ghetto dweller could be. When you don’t have much and someone takes the little crumbs you do have, well, dang it, you need to hit something. I hit that meter with my empty hand as I pulled it out of my empty pocket. Not even a slim dime for the meter could I find. I stomped off indignantly and humiliated that I didn’t even have a dime. It’s much cooler to act angrily undignified, however, than to fall to your knees in front of a blank faced parking meter, crying “Why? Why?”

The next time I looked at my car, there was a $3.00 parking ticket under the wiper. Ahhhhh!!! Now I was bolt bustin’ mad!  I tore up the ticket and said to no one, “I’ll never pay this stupid ticket. I’m the victim here. The punk stole my spot and I get the ticket?  Ahhhhh!!! This is America. I am going full Liam Neeson, and I will find you and keel you, punk!!” It was a very dramatic though pathetic solo performance on the uneven brick sidewalk with crabgrass growing out of the joints. (I was nominated later for Best Public Jerk Wad Tornado Hissy Fit by a male at the prison talent show.)

Some time elapsed as I pouted in my wet emotional diaper, chafing at the cruelty and injustice of this world. A formal letter came from the City of Richmond, telling me that my $0.10 meter fee which had turned into a $3.00 ticket was now being billed at $25.00 plus court costs. I could appear in court at such and such a time on such and such a date if I wished to contest it, or I could simply concede and pay the $25.00.  I was rebar bending, steel girder grinding mad. I was going bankrupt over a stupid parking violation. I didn’t have $25.00 to pay the incentivized ticket, so I resolved to go to court and contest the whole thing.

About a week later I showed up in District Court and tried to educate the cranky old judge before me. He simply said, “Pay the ticket. There is nothing else to do. Add the court costs. Next.” I was numb and in shock. I was up to $77.50 in unpayable fines. If this had been a stock instead of a debt, I’d be rolling in the dough. I’d have run around town collecting these magic tickets to wealth. But it wasn’t and I wasn’t, because ‘FuzzyWuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he?’ I hung my head down and shuffled to the cashier’s window. I told the guy there that I didn’t have any money and was unsure of what else I could do.

He told me, “Well, you can appeal it, basically roll the dice. If you win, no cost. If you lose, it’s double.”

“Heck, I can’t pay what I owe to begin with, so let’s go with double or nothing. So if I lose and can’t pay….?”

“Jail.”

“Lovely.”

The clerk filled out a form and I signed it, affirming I’d appear in a week to appeal my conviction to another judge.

A week later I realized while I was reading a textbook on Renaissance Art or Greek Philosophy that I was late for my appeal. I quickly tried to make myself look respectable. An impossible task on any day. I knew at least I should dress for jail. I chose tight and durable material that would send the right signals to hardened criminals when they asked me why I was in the slammer.

Image result for prison bully pictures

[“Yo, kid. How long? What for?”

“Sixty days. Parking violation.”

“That’s funny. You ought to try for the annual talent show. That’s some prime material there.”

I imagined my prison street cred would be solid from that point forward.]

I hopped on my bike and coasted to the court, unable to afford another parking violation, I was being ultra-cautious. I walked around naively hoping my legal fairy godmother would show up and cut me loose. I went from one official court person to another trying to find which courtroom my fate had been decided in. I also wondered about my bike being locked up to a utility pole for two months. Not likely to be there when I got out of the Big House.

Finally I was directed to Courtroom 3 where a trial was in process for a rape/attempted murder case. I was blown away that I was even allowed to spectate. It was pretty tough stuff going down in there. I knew something was off, but I was not going to get right back up and risk alienating, i.e., pissing off another judge. So I sat respectfully till there was a lull in the action. I quietly tip toed out of the courtroom and sought clarification from another clerk.

“Oh, yeah. The judge already dealt with your case first thing.”

“I was late due to a near death experience…”

“He threw it out.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, expecting that it meant I was going to be thrown out to the human wolves in the penitentiary.

“It means it’s legally done, over, cancelled, kapoot, nada, gone, dead, etc.”

“What about court costs, community service, probation, parole, restitution?”

“Kid, it’s done. You lucked out. How your parking ticket crap ended up on appeal ahead of a major felony is like fairy godmother stuff. Now get out of here, you lucky bastard!”

I was stunned by this mis-miscarriage of justice. I was released into society almost unscarred and maybe unrehabilitated. Suddenly my clothes felt too tight as I remembered I could breathe freely again. I wanted to break out in a victory dance right there, but I reconsidered I could be arrested for lewd and lascivious booty dancing in a government building. I wanted to be humbled by this stroke of luck, but I also wanted to get that parking spot punk thief and jack him up like Liam would…. “Don’t ever believe that this is over, Bucko.”

 Then again, maybe I should just swallow the humble pill. They only cost a dime.

 

 

 

177. Pay it Forward, no, wait…uh, okay

So this morning was Coffee Nation. Gene was already there when I arrived early at 8 a.m. Pastor Kyle was in his corner whispering in tongues about the Detroit Lions. The new barrista Jim was on duty, solo for the first time without supervision. He’s a literalist, I think. Jim not Kyle. He combined an earth science undergraduate degree with a master’s in divinity so that he can do disaster relief work, i.e., a cross between an evangelist and a weatherman, or a preacher in a tornado… whereas Kyle is a water spout wrapped in a preacher’s skin, kinda like a wet burrito. In any event he did not know about the Coffee Nation and I did not take the time to educate him, again, Jim not Kyle. I simply said, “Jim, can you run a tab for me and my crew? We get together on Thursday mornings and I put it on my tab.” He assured me that he could do this as I handed him a twenty dollar bill.

Image result for pay it forward pictures“Oh sure.” I pointed to Gene and said hello to the guy behind me, a peripheral personality whose name I have forgotten. I got my coffee and sat across from Gene. We started chatting. About five minutes later the familiar dude whose name I’ve forgotten called my name, “Hey, thanks.” I looked at him and noted Jim’s smile and nod at me. In a millisecond I figured it out– Jim thought that No Name was with my crew. “Oh you’re welcome.” I smiled to myself. ‘I’m an accidental nice guy this morning… funny thing.’

For the next hour I chatted with Gene about this and that. I stood up to settle my bill with Jim. A nice lady was waiting for Jim to finish making her several fru-fru coffees. When she moved to pay him, he said “Ma’am, I have four dollars here to go toward your coffees…thanks to this nice gentleman.” I was stuck in a cognitive revolving door. I smiled my stupid guy smile again. She thanked me as Jim explained that I had started a pay-it-forward chain, and that over the past hour many customers had continued to pay for the next customer’s coffee. I was speechless and penniless. Again, I smiled like a monkey that had missed a vine and fallen 100 feet face first onto the jungle floor.

“So, Jim. We’re good?”

“Oh yeah, I just love it when folks do that. It’s inspiring.”

“Okay, well two thumbs up then. Pay it forward, Man.” I walked out into the cold rainy morning. In four years of Coffee Nation that had never happened, which has saved me a lot of money, come to think of it. I had to laugh at the untold story. Correcting the mistake would have taken longer than it was worth. It’s only four parking tickets, I thought. I can afford it.

Cryptically, as I sauntered over to my office, I remembered the story of David Brinkley, the old co-anchor of the Huntley-Brinkley News Report from the old, old days of black and white television. He was rushing through an airport when a fan stopped him. “Oh, you’re Chet Huntley”, the fan insisted. As Brinkley told the story, he had in that moment to decide between journalistic integrity or personal expediency. He chose the latter, realizing if he took the time to correct this fan, he’d miss his plane. So he agreed with her mistake for personal expediency.

“Yes, Ma’am, I’m Chet Huntley, and I’ve got to catch my plane.”

She replied, “Oh, good. I can’t stand that David Brinkley fellow.”

Oh Blogwads, we rip what we sew…and reap what we have sown.

Oh, Irony, why dost thou plague me? No one ever said this, but I wanted a dramatic segue to a third vignette. The problem is that I don’t have a nifty third vignette that somehow loosely connects to the previous two, no matter how tenuous the thread of connection. Dang it! I’ve written myself into a corner… which demands extreme creativity to make it appear that this was my destination all along. Plus I can edit to make it seem that way.

In a dark corner near the bathrooms I heard strange syllables being uttered by a man in a caffeinated stupor. “Our year…it’s our year.”
“Verlander. Cabrera. Prince. No, no.” It was Pastor Kyle in a brief psychotic episode driven by sports grief. His Tigers had gone down in flames to Big Papi and the Red Sox during the ACLS playoffs. He had the all too familiar 1,000 yard stare of a multi-tour war veteran. He held his head up with both hands at his throbbing temporal lobes. Foam was forming at the corners of his mouth. I could not tell if this was residual macchiato foam or if he was self frothing. The situation was dire. I sprang into action.

“We’ve got a man down here! I need some help.” I threw Kyle down and loosened the top button of his shirt. I splashed cold water on his delirious face as he continued stammering, “It’s going, going, gone. Big Papi has cleared the bases with one swing.”

Jim noticed the commotion and recognized the unrelieved disaster. He jumped over the bar with one leap and sprinted the 30 feet back to where Kyle lay. All of his training kicked in. He was seeing things in slow motion. He pushed me out of the way and announced, “I’m a professional. Stand back.” I complied gladly. Not knowing where this might end and whose liability it was anyway.

Jim expertly cleared Kyle’s airway and began CPR. Three compressions, one breath. Kyle came back quickly. “Ewww. Why are slobbering on me? What happened? What’s going on?”

I stepped in to try to explain. “Kyle, this is Jim. He is a weatherman preacher. His hands are registered with the Red Cross. He noticed your sports disaster and jumped in to help resuscitate you. He may have saved your fantasy football season. You were choking and gasping. We had to do something.”

Still confused and dysphoric, Kyle said, “Why? Why did you save my sports life if all I’ve got to look forward to is more suffering and loss? I’m a Detroit fan.”

Calmly I put my hand on his trembling shoulder. “Kyle, I needed a third vignette to close my blog, man. You’re paying it forward. It’s all good.”