421. Insecurity

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

There Were No Signs

By walking I found out
Where I was going.

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

By grieving, how to laugh from the belly.

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

From hypocrisy, I wove directness.

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

Another step
And I shall be where I started from.

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

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

***Please take a moment to rate this post. Thanks for reading.

Advertisements

382. Play That Funky Music, Whiteboy

It all began innocently and by accident, I believe. New Year’s Eve 2014 at a dinner dance in
Gettysburg. Formal attire, my black suit, nice food and plenty of drink. And we danced when we heard a song that was close to a ballroom dance beat. There were none from the live band, so when the d.j. took over on the live band’s break, the dance floor filled up. Nice. My wife was gorgeous, slinking in a black dress with sequins and shimmer. No worries about driving anywhere since we bought the package with a room and breakfast as well. Everything was tight and right as James Brown’s suspenders.

The evening flowed with conversation and drinks and laughs. Our dance group sat with us and filled up another table. Chumminess hung around us like sweet cigar smoke. I used up our allotted drink coupons, which means that a slight buzz was humming behind my smiling face. I felt lighter, freer. I got up to dance to another song, thinking that my lovely wife had followed me out to the center of the dance floor. Wrong, she and a couple of other jokers smirked at me, all alone as “Play That Funky Music, Whiteboy” started. Wow. I was at a dramatic fork in the road: should I admit defeat and slink back to the table of mockers? Or should I gather my inner showmen and dance like I had never, or just rarely, danced before?  I had a lot of room to decide… the latter.

“And I decided quickly, yes I did,

To disco down and check out the show

Yeah, they was dancin’ and singin’ and groovin’

And just when it hit me somebody turned around

and shouted Play that funky music whiteboy

Play that funky music right

Play that funky music whiteboy

Lay down that boogie and play that funky music

till you die”

I will grant you that the lyrics and overall tone of this caricature of a pop song are cretinous, but the big, funky beat is very danceable. And so I let the sonic energy pulse through my marrow until I was under the spell of Wild Cherry’s only hit song.

I felt like Iago when he says, “Some men are born great; others achieve greatness; and still others have greatness thrust upon them.” I got it in a flash. I am a “still others” kind of guy. Everything converged for this one pure moment of dance orgy synergy. I began to heel kick and shimmy. I hit an invisible bass drum with flagrant hip action. I strutted with deep shoulder dips while balancing a transparent hat on my turreting head. It was on, Mamma. The wife and fellow mockers began to laugh and clap and encourage my Dionysian moment. I complied willingly.

The thing with being alone on a dance floor with no rehearsed dance is this: it intimidates lesser men, but invigorates dance genies. I dug down with my felt bottomed dance shoes and wiggled on one foot, then the other. My arms were flailing in a rhythmic seizure that was driven by this ridiculous song that I would never listen to on the radio… but the moment had chosen me; I had not chosen the moment.

A little Michael Jackson stepping out flowed into James Brown shebang, then Jackie Wilson frenzy, some Mick Jagger swagger, alongside  Elvis windmills. I mimed a big rope and pulled myself across the dance floor somehow with sliding feet and yanking arms. At 58 years of age I did not dare to drop into James Brown splits nor attempt any flips or extreme gymnastics moves. I did spin, flagellate, whirl and dervish as that song kept going on and on. Three minutes and twelve seconds does not seem like a big deal, but if you are in Uncle Bill and Aunt Mal seizure mode, trust me, it’s a long time. My heart was racing; breath was ragged; shirt soaked in sweat. The mockers were shocked into belief and wonderment. As I threw myself down onto my chair, high fives, back pats, and verbal praises showered on me. I drank two glasses of water and tried to get my heart to slow down. Whew! that was just one song. The master singer dancers did that for two hours while singing!!

Fortunately or not, no one had filmed the arrhythmic writhing. Still, it became legend in our circle of dance friends. And you know how that goes… “When are you gonna do the funky whiteboy dance again?” Fortunately or not, New Year’s Eve 2015 came around. Same deal, different hotel and band. One of our dance gang managed to get to the new danceable music band and arranged a “Funky Music Whiteboy” rendition. Although  I was sick with a sinus infection, I dug down into the funky whiteboy dance reserves where I had carefully stored dance steps like savings bonds since the age of 10. For three plus minutes I gave the gathered throng all the funky whiteboy I could muster, plus a flying twist, double axle, chasse nudge along. These are technical terms that I will not define here. I sat down and drank a pitcher of ice water, waiting for the coroner to pronounce me dead.  Again, effusive backslapping congratulations were spread on me like mustard on a summer grilled hot dog, which I pretended not to relish. “Just doing my choreographic best, representing for the hood.” Like the year before, strangers gave me that look later on, as if I had been the streaker at a ball game earlier, and they knew it even if I had my clothes on now. Smirks come with the territory of mating behavior displays.Creepy voyeurs!

And then there was last night at the breast cancer auction/dinner/dance. Unlike my two previous performances, I knew this one was coming, expected even. Michelle, the host of the event, had been one of my witnesses just two and half months ago. She told my wife that she was gonna call me out for the funky whiteboy dance.  The pressure was enormous. Keep in mind that I am not a trained dancer but a rogue entertainer. I drank several Yuenglings to fully hydrate and lubricate myself predance. Yet, when they announced that I was gonna do it, I was in the bar around the corner ordering white wine. I came back to the ballroom to empty tables and chairs. Everyone was up dancing the wobble, led by the sweatmaster Kirk. Well, no sooner had I set my glass down than Michelle cued up Play That Funky Music, Whiteboy and the crowd parted for me to gesticulate and watubiate like I do.

I was maybe a minute into the scene when a tall woman in a silky blouse and tight black pants and black high heels made my one man show a duo. I was confused and a bit scared of her unguarded willingness. She shimmied and mirrored the parts of my routine that are not copyrighted. She was way more into this kinetic chemistry experiment than I was, so I made runs like a bull or bull fighter to avoid appearing like a couple. Undeterred she approached suggestively close. I told her, “I went to Catholic School for five years”, hoping she’d laugh and lose my scent.

Finally it was all over. Frank, our dance instructor, told me later on that dancing makes you a chic magnet. Frankly, that scares me.

 

367. Toro Trouble

Wow, let’s start big, a snorting bull coming out of the chute, 2,000 pounds of kicking and bellowing beef pumped full of adrenaline and outrage. Boom! I am given to exaggeration, as you know already. I like words and their drama just a little too much, until I am thrown off my beautiful verbal bull and hit the hard prosaic clay of real life language.

“You need to take the trash up to the street. It’s trash night.”

Try as I might to make that green trash dumpster into a toro verde, I can’t pull it off. If I had a matador suit on with an Elvis cape, perhaps; instead I have only navy sweat pants and a fleece over flip flops. If my raven-haired wife held a crimson rose in her brilliantly enameled smile… as the crowd roared for Felipe the Matador trash man…”Keel the bull, Felipe”… I would baffle that green-eyed dumpster with cape play never seen before, leaving him exhausted by the side of the road, tamed and ready for the landfill.

In my blog world I can fling words around like celebrities toss hundred dollar bills in posh night clubs. But real life will not abide such foolishness. “That’s $2.42. You can’t use a credit card for purchases of less than ten dollars, Sir.” That’s so pedestrian, bordering on disrespectful. “Hey, kid. Do you know who you are dealing with here? These facial tissues will wipe away tears of princesses and duchesses, drag queens and drama kings. So suck it up, Buttercup, and run my card. Blog stars like me don’t carry cash. Too bulky in our skin tight yoga jeans.”

“Security. Check out line 6. Fazers on stun.”

As I go limp from the sudden blast of 50,000 volts of authorized Tazer Power, I pull the magazine rack down on top of my body, protecting my flanks with gossip mags full of rumor and vile lies about the Kardashians and Taylor Swift. The rent a cop smirks at the register jockey. “Sweet! I love that singed neck hair smell as they fall like cigarette butts into the ashtray of law enforcement.”

“You guys get to have all the fun, Sweeney. I’m applying to the rentacop academy this spring if I can pass the physical.”

“You need a 25 BMI or less, Winkie. You look like a 32 to me, if I was to guess.”

“You’re a meathead, Sweeney. I’m at 23.8, a semi-ripped BMI for males my age. Uh, isn’t that your car being towed away?”

Like a hysterical Ukrainian grandmother, Security Officer Sweeney polka waddled quickly out the automatic doors, shouting, “Stop. I’m the law here. Uncrank that lift. Release my vehicle. Do it now!! Stop resisting.” He waved the spent Tazer menacingly at the tow truck driver who responded by raising his hands in submission to the forcefully delivered yet empty threat.

Meanwhile I regained consciousness just beneath the commotion radar, so to speak. Crawling like Private Ryan across commercial grade asphalt tiles, I made my way to the impulse buy cooler and pulled down a twelve ounce can of Red Bull. In one long swig I emptied the pale red liquor and felt revived, untazed even. (Perhaps Tazers simply decaffeinate their victims.) My heart started pumping like, well, like a bull in a soccer stadium. My adrenaline surged. Heck, I was pissed off. I began to snort and paw at the slippery tile as I drew myself up on all fours. I was angrier than Al Gore in Florida, circa 2000. I just came here to buy a box of tissues, and I was assaulted by a mindless cop, faker than that whipped cheese wiz in a can. The pressure built into rage, then outrage. I could only see red, nothing above knee level. It was not so much tunnel vision as stuck garage door vision.

Across the open grand aisle a woman in a long red skirt sashayed by nonchalantly. I couldn’t explain the surge that rushed through my tense muscles. I had to charge the red blur or die trying. Mariachi bands roared in my ears calling me into the ring. An old dented trumpet warbled above the rising din.  “Hmph! Bellow!” My destiny awaited in the produce section. I charged wildly into the red.

Suddenly Winkie was back on the public address system, “Attention shoppers. We have a mad man acting like a bull in the grand concourse. Please do not attempt to subdue him. He seems to be in need of medication. Security to Produce please. All Officers. Code Mauve.”

I knew my time was short, but I could not resist the inner toro torque that welled up in me. My chest expanded and I felt a little tail pushing up and out at my rear, trying to erupt. I trotted forward, then burst into a full, vicious gallop. I had to pin that red blob against the fruit endcap that displayed ripe plums and nectarines as surely as a magnet must cling to a proud grandmother’s refrigerator door.

Just as I took my last gallop stride, the lady in the red skirt skipped backwards, leaving me to collide with the green sheet metal of the display case. A thunderous crash resonated throughout the Super Wal Mart. Witnesses later said it reminded them of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain only with fruit in a Wal Mart and a bewildered woman in a red skirt and fashionable black heels.

As I turned to face the terrified crowd of midday shoppers behind their stainless steel carts, I realized that a piece of copper plumbing from the guts of the fruit display was jammed onto my head like a pair of metal horns. My moment of truth had arrived. Sweeney and his underlings encircled me with loaded tazers aimed directly at my flanks. I smelled their sweaty garlic fear above the pungent odors of cabbage and broccoli.

Sweeney, “On my command, men. One, two, three!!!”

Six rentacops unloaded their 50,000 volt tasers simultaneously at my head. Something miraculous happened at that moment. Aaaahhhhh!!!!!  The spirit of a thousand dead toreadors sang out. 300,000 volts of deadly electricity arced across my copper horn set and returned to their origin points. In a flash six rentacops were knocked backward three feet into a state of temporary syncope. It was done.

I stood, brushed myself off, and spoke into Winkie’s walkie talkie, “Wal Mart shoppers, Ask not for whom the Bull toils, he toils for thee. Have a nice day.”

 

 

 

 

310. Tragic Muscle Head Cars

My blog post numbers are getting up near the high horsepower engine range. It is just a natural association for me to recall that 327 CID was a Chevy engine, though I am no motor head.  There was a Ford 302. Chevy also had a 350, 396, and 427.  I just know that they were powerful and fast, too fast for the teenagers who tried to drive them. Which is perhaps symbolic of how woefully unprepared some adolescent males are to maneuver through the twisting course of adult life.

Where to begin?  Charlie Young drove a Camaro Z28 when we were all teenagers. I have no idea where he got the money to even buy the gas, though it was cheap in the early 1970’s. It was a sweet car to be sure, green base with wide white racing stripes. A shrine to the young male ego, sporting  slotted mags, a Hurst shifter, slick spoiler on the back, and fat tires. Yeah. Charlie posed in it like Clint Eastwood on a racehorse. Cool squint and a John Travolta smile.

There was talk of races behind the high school and big talk about how fast this car was or how fast that guy shifted gears. I don’t recall how Charlie fared in these much heralded races. I just recall that the Z28 went away one day, and not into a museum. He got married early and moved into a travel trailer parked in his parents’ side yard. The last I heard about Charlie was that he was working for the sheriff’s department back home transporting prisoners. Someone told me that one of the prisoners persuaded Charlie to stop at a liquor store during the trip to jail for one last good time. Good Time Charlie obliged and got drunk too; the prisoner escaped; Charlie was fired. The funny part is that there is no surprise here. It just got away from him like the Z28 did years before.

Let’s go up a few cubic inches. I believe Glenn Barret’s Nova SS had a 307 or a 350. I used to know these things like baseball players’ batting averages. Glenn’s car was red and black, manual transmission. He was constantly cleaning or waxing it, posing with the door open. He had this cool rolling start he liked to pull where he’d start the car just by popping the clutch. Cool cubed, man. He’d silently cruise into a parking space with the engine off or drift down a grade noiselessly and then pop that clutch. VRRRoooom!!

One day he was parked on the incline in front of Bobby Doering’s house, door open, coolness spilling out of his car like chilled air conditioning. He was all set to do the silent back out, but this time he forgot to close his door. As he glided back down the hill, his driver side door caught the fire hydrant he had neglected to account for. The interaction ripped his door out away from the frame of the car like an airplane wing.  Now this would upset any driver of any car, but factor back in that Glenn worshipped this Nova SS. It was his first love, his status symbol, his everything. Like Barry White sang,

“I know there’s only, only one like you
There’s no way they could have made two
Girl, you’re my reality, but I’m lost in a dream
You’re the first, you’re the last, my everything ”

He married young and took up golf. Not sure how either of those endeavors turned out.

Then there is the king of foolishness, the late Bobby Doering. He moved from Oklahoma in his junior year of high school. He could talk and bluster and brag with a western cockiness that was infectious and charming. He was famous for sayings like, “That sounds like a cow pissing on a flat rock.”

Bobby had a couple of cute sisters, plus his dad had a Porsche that we drove around when we cut school. What more could a 17 year old need? He also played ice hockey when that was unheard of in our experience. What more? How about a  forest green Chevelle SS 396 with boss wheels and dual exhaust? One of the coolest cars ever.

 Bobby lacked common sense and a healthy fear of death or injury. He’d smoke the tires with no provocation whatsoever. I imagine there is great pressure to blow out the four barrel carburetor when you have one, just like the pressure to drive your dad’s Porsche 135 miles an hour on the Beltway while skipping school and listening to the Stones “Under My Thumb”.

Bobby was keen on my girlfriend’s girlfriend Lisa, who was 15 then, I think. Lisa’s parents weren’t too keen on Bobby being around Lisa, for obvious reasons.  However, on Halloween of that year Bobby was driving both girls around the neighborhood  in the SS 396 when he decided to gun the engine and smoke tires. He did and lost control of the green monster, dumping it into a deep ravine to his left. He and both girls fell forward as the Chevelle went 90 degrees into the concrete culvert. I forget the physical damage done. Everyone received injuries as no one wore their seatbelt. Bobby was bankrupted. The car was totaled but the loan against it was not. He had to get a job and work off the debts he’d accumulated while  worshipping at the shrine of the 396.

I don’t know when, but through the grapevine I learned that he died a couple of years later, maybe while playing hockey. Cardiac arrest. Rest in peace, bro, like Dick Clark– forever a teenager.

I don’t recall the CID of Mike Dean’s Charger or Challenger. It’s too far back there. It was a big muscle car, I do know. He hung out in the same neighborhood of Wilton Woods, where there were plenty of cute girls. Mike’s car was not the problem, though. The story is murky, but as I heard it he blew his brains out with a gun after this girlfriend dumped him. Too much power in the hands of boys wanting to be great.

Tragedies are poignant because they did not have to happen. Some character flaw or bizarre circumstance destroys a good manboy. Yeah, well let me finish by directing you to Tom Waits’ “Big Joe and Phantom 309”, a lovely old ballad with a tragic seed.

 

262. Coffee, Constitution and commandments

Despite the utopian nature of the Coffee Summit and the wonderful cacophonous harmony of disunity that has persisted for the past five years, it is time for some tweaking of the original charter. The genuine Magna Carta napkin has been misplaced, possibly in a washing machine. I thought it was in my old wallet, but when I switched to a new wallet at Christmas, aghast! The most important napkin in Christendom was gone!! It was an agreement among unemployed giants of our time inked out during one of the bleakest periods in our collective history. Like Washington at Trenton or Meade at Gettysburg, the future of the nation was at stake as Tim the Silver Back and Chuckles and I stood in a wooden canoe crossing the Conococheague. (It was shallow there and narrow. Okay, we just walked across on a June morning, but it was powerfully symbolic.) And rather than wave a blank napkin of surrender, we (really I) wrote down on one powerful 3″ x  3″ square eternal truths to live by. And I-uh-I seem to have lost it.

I must, however, persevere and recall as much as I can of the Constitution of Coffee Nation before it deteriorates in the landfill of wasted time and wasted minds. First of all, it was decided by voice vote that we would meet Thursdays at 8:30 a.m. unless otherwise directed by the Supreme Imperial Leader, which I decided was me. For an entire college semester, however, we met on Fridays at 8:30 due to a teaching commitment I had made. It was Abnormal Psychology. Shocker. I drew heavily on my interactions with the primates at Coffee Nation for the class I taught. (Sotto voce) “Here are lowland gorilla men grazing at a coffee shop. The one on the bottom is thought to be a direct link to the Himalayan Yeti. Note his ululating calls… ‘Ugggguggggllll. Uggggugggglll’. We call him Chuckles. The one on the top is from Allentown.  His call resembles human speech… approximating the expression of pleasant surprise…’That’s so coooool’. ” He’s Timmy.

It was simple then… Two articles: No politics. No religion. Bodily noises were permissible and continue to be.  Mild violence is encouraged but not required. No outside food or drink is permitted, however. It is not forbidden so much as ridiculed. Brother Lance brought a purple lady’s coffee travel mug once. ONCE. It was a long day for him. But I am getting far ahead of the Nation’s coffee creamer thimble of tears.

We grew one unemployed and undeserving man at a time. Matt the creeper tried to deny his predilections while only reinforcing our beliefs. He ranted on about astral physics while staring at women’s physiques. He was sanctioned. Low octane Walt rolled along for a while. He didn’t even drink coffee. However, we puttered along through his successful chemo treatments. Truly, there are far more departed Nation brothers than active ones. Rob the candy and ice cruncher moved on. Josh the armed American bull rider came faithfully but got a job and married into the System. He was always good for NRA propaganda and outrageous right wing conspiracies from Fox News Nation. “Did you know more people were killed by water heaters last year than by guns?” Many times he was sanctioned for offending Our second amendment– no politics– and for being downright naïve.

The artist formerly known as Egginator was a faithful attendee and chess opponent, but the coffee was too strong for him and he fled back to his Motherland. Ron 1 used to keep the bar up with his aging frame, while chatting amiably to the pretty young barrista-ettes. We talked for  a while about him putting me into his will, but he was hung up on the fact that I was older than he was. “You could die first, Ron. You need to be prepared.” He could not see the logic in my argument despite his End Timer tendencies.

Chuck the Cowboy came for a few visits. He was too busy, though, and could not take the constant demand for sluggishness by the group. He had to rope a calf or canter about. This is the existential problem when it comes to do’ers versus be’ers. Coffee Nation is all about being and is on record against doing. Anything! Once Lance suggested a purpose for our aimless crew. He was severely sanctioned. “Ignore that voice of doooty. We are here merely to be or not to be. Doing is not in our Declaration of Indolence. Heel!”  Dave dropped in for chess a few times and disappeared into that blind alley of upper mobility like a character from a Springsteen song.  We of coffee nation curse the cruel JOBS that have decimated our ranks. As the chart below illustrates, happiness comes from set points, which means inertia. Studies in the UK have determined that working toward specific goals actually hampers perceived levels of happiness in mental patients and sluggards. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Rob 2 affiliated with us for a few weeks. He was between financial gigs but graced us with his starched white shirt appearance for a while. Gigilo Gene took some offense to Rob’s eccentric white collar mojo.  D.J. helped mediate that fraternal fracas before fists flew. His MP background has come in handy a time or two in disciplining Big Steve, perhaps the most faithful National among us. Though fully employed by an international corporation, Steve routinely goes in late on Thursdays. When he dies we will bury him with full Nation honors as outlined in a previous post. (240. Time is Short)

And then there was Gary aka Jerry who tried after a brief internship to organize a coup d’état. What saved the Imperial Leader for Life’s life was the fact that no one speaks French, and therefore they thought Jerry was coughing while sneezing. “Make up your mind, Dude. Either cough or sneeze.” He was sentenced to a North Korean firing squad in Hagerstown. Actually we tapped Josh and his personal arsenal to shoot a precise outline of .17 caliber bullets around Jerry to warn him against insurrection. He was sentenced instead to a lifetime of servitude under a different dictator.

Oh the humanity!

250. “Heck yes, I would!”

I don’t even know the precedent to this title, but I figured that I could comb through my thinning synapse farms and glean a memory or two where that line would fit as a response to a distant call. [In case you are wondering what a synapse farm looks like, it’s sort of like a catfish farm where fish swim through chutes and ladders and finally are selected for market by a dimwitted minimum wager with a net when they are plump and delicious, and exhibit just a tinge of orange around their gills.] Sort of like the Amazing Carnack routine of Johnny Carson, where he gave an answer to a sealed question and then opened the envelope and read it aloud for the punch line.  It’s harder than you might think to challenge yourself with such an open-ended gauntlet toss. You can wind up smacking yourself with the glove of challenge. You’ve heard of Russian roulette, yes? But have you heard of Russian bocce? Since it snows so much in Russia, they throw the polina ball straight up and pray it does not hit any of the players assembled below. And then they roll their balls at it as if playing horseshoes with bowling balls.

The line reminds somehow me of the terrible old joke from childhood that was told to me about the dance where the boy with a wooden eye worked up the nerve to ask the girl with the harelip to dance. When she responded excitedly, “Would I? Would I?” He could not help himself and yelled back, “Harelip! Harelip!” Why anyone would tell a kid this joke is beyond me, but somehow these cruel jokes filtered down to junior high kids who told them to elementary age kids, who lost some of their innocence in the process. Would you repeat such an awful joke? In a male-dominated neighborhood in the 1960’s, the answer “Heck yea, I would!” was a fairly common response to any challenge.

Across the Parkway lived Pat and Dougie Fontaine. Mean boys in a lower middle class community. Pat was older and in high school as I recall. He built himself a little putting green in his side yard, the Dorset Drive side. That was quite an accomplishment now that I think of it, and smelled of social climbing. Well, one day the prison road crew were working on the street just beyond the intersection of the Parkway and Dorset Drive. The prisoners watched Pat putt very self righteously while they sweated away picking at asphalt on a humid Virginia summer day. We younger boys were enthralled with these convicts and the one guard with a shotgun.

“Mister, is that loaded?”

“Wouldn’t be much good if it weren’t, kid. Wanna hold it?”

“Heck yes, I would!”  That did not happen. Laughter erupted in the gap between innocence and corruption.

One of the prisoners drew a bottle of chewing tobacco spit from the tailgate of the truck. He said to me, “Hey kid, you want to pour this prison juice into Arnold Palmer’s golf hole over there?”

“Heck yes, I would!”

I did and later on Pat beat my butt. Hey, I deserved it.  The prisoners got a kick out of the whole scene. I guess I got a literal kick out of it. I was destined for smart assery, I suppose.

We Hillians used to roam the woods near our neighborhood back in old Virginia Hills, which was situated between Kings Highway and Telegraph Road in Fairfax County, Virginia. 300 cookie cutter houses laid out on identical quarter acre lots. Those woods have all been plowed under and built upon, but back in the 1960’s they were wild and wooly. The eager young boys in my circle of friends just about lived in those woods, which may have preserved the little bit of sanity left to our stay at home mothers. “Go play”, they’d tell us, without any concern that we might wander literally miles in any direction. And we did wander with regularity. We caught lizards and turtles and snakes and toads and frogs and salamanders and crayfish and baby squirrels and birds and anything slower than we were. It was great suburban adventure to climb trees or have a little campfire wherever we chose.

Across from the Methodist church on Kings Highway was a dirt lane that ended at an old run down farm house from the 1930’s covered in clapboard that needed paint twenty years ago.  It could have been a set  piece for “To Kill A Mockingbird”. I don’t know the occupant’s name, but we had some tall tales about him being a drunk and a crazy man. It was quite a challenge to go down near his house where he had apple trees growing on either side of the lane. Now this may not seem too exciting to kids who play Call of Duty on X Box today, but back in the world of three dimensions this old cuss had a real shotgun with rock salt instead of lead, so the legend went. We knew about the dangers as we quietly snuck down the lane toward his apples, hearts pumping and adrenaline pulsing through our bored little suburban brains.

Now it wasn’t enough to simply slide in through the brush and the tall grass at dusk to snitch some apples in early fall or late summer. Someone always had to push the envelope and throw down a dare. I don’t know which kids dared which other kid. I just know that I was neither. I was along for the adventure not the record book. Anyway, let’s say Michael dared Steve to run up to the old man’s porch and knock while we ran to a safer distance to duly verify the completion of the dare. Steve ran like a bat out of Hell across the crumbling wooden porch and knocked rapidly on the old guy’s door as he also turned to run for his life. It was all in one fluid motion as my memory recorded it. Anyway, as we all held our collective breath, the old man came to his door, flung it open and began shooting some sort of gun at Steve as he scampered away like a zig-zagging jack rabbit through a briar patch. It’s amazing what adrenaline can do to ten year olds’ nervous systems.  When we finally got to a safe place on the other side of Kings Highway and lay on our bellies in the leafy carpet of the woods, we laughed and caught our breath again.

“Want to do it again?” (Not knowing life would wind up far less exciting.)

“Heck yes, I would.!”

 

244. Breathe

 

In– two, three, four.

When others get tight and breathe like rabbits–fast and short, I have an automatic response that I learned about twenty years ago. I breathe deeply, slowly, and methodically for my benefit and sympathetically for the other person. Maybe I always did it and just came to awareness then. Can’t be absolutely sure. I just know that deep breaths help me reset the tension needle lower on my side of any interpersonal equation. It’s a natural reaction to breathe deeply after one gets out of a messy situation by dodging real or imagined bullets.  “Whew!  The guy with the gun is  your husband? He missed me.” A deep breath reassures one’s body that you are alive and not leaking blood or air or other substances. It’s a systems check.

“The Enterprise is travel worthy. Warp nine, Scotty.”

“Aye, aye. Cap’n. Uh, Cap’n. I think Sulu is gay.”

“Scotty, everyone knows that. Get over it.”

“But I’m a Scotsman, Cap’n. I’ll need a wee bit of Scotch to wet me whistle.”

“Just breathe, Scotty.  And remember, Spock is asexual. And I have an abnormal attraction to Klingons, not the psychobilly  group from the 80’s either.”

Others might not like seeing you breathe this way, especially if they just shot some lead or fazers at you. It may appear to be dismissive or judgmental of the other, as if you are blowing them off, as if they are too high maintenance. Like they are Romulans even. And maybe that’s the fully oxygenated truth. However, what deep breathing actually does on the physiological level is to calm your fight or flight reaction, slow down breathing and pulse, open blood vessels, increase oxygen to your muscles and organs, and reduce sweating and adrenaline production. It’s one conscious act that impacts many unconscious or autonomic reactions.

When I was a teacher, the speech unit was always a challenge for my students. It was not unusual for kids to try to avoid their speech date by being absent. On more than one occasion I had a kid faint in mid speech because he or she  “forgot” to breathe. Actually their fear overrode their ability to think and remain upright. Adrenaline overrode balance, and vertigo kicked in to reset the system.

Episodes of vasovagal response are typically recurrent, and usually occur when the predisposed person is exposed to a specific trigger. Prior to losing consciousness, the individual frequently experiences early signs or symptoms such as lightheadedness, nausea, the feeling of being extremely hot or cold (accompanied by sweating), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), an uncomfortable feeling in the heart, fuzzy thoughts, confusion, a slight inability to speak/form words (sometimes combined with mild stuttering), weakness and visual disturbances such as lights seeming too bright, fuzzy or tunnel vision, black cloud-like spots in vision, and a feeling of nervousness can occur as well. The symptoms last for a few seconds before the loss of consciousness (if it is lost), which typically happens when the person is sitting up or standing. When sufferers pass out, they fall down (unless this is impeded) and, when in this position, effective blood flow to the brain is immediately restored, allowing the person to regain consciousness; if the person does not fall into a fully flat, supine position, and the head remains elevated above the trunk, a seizure may result from the blood’s inability to return quickly to the brain. Fainting occurs with the loss of oxygen to the brain.[4] (Wikipedia)

I wish I’d known all that back then. It could have been an object lesson on the value of oxygen for your brain and balance.

So, breathing deeply is a good insurance policy. It’s a strange thing that in our busy, stressful lives we sometimes “forget” to breathe or we get out of sync with our body’s natural needs. We are complicated creatures indeed. Folks who have panic attacks believe incorrectly that they cannot draw a full, deep breath. They convince themselves that they are having some sort of cardiac episode and head to the local Emergency Room for reassurance. It’s not unusual for the panicked heart to settle down in the hospital parking lot. “Oh thank God, we’re here.” And the symptoms recede.

During a panic attack you tend to over-breathe (hyperventilate). If you over-breathe you blow out too much carbon dioxide which changes the acidity in the blood. This can then cause more symptoms such as confusion and cramps, and make palpitations, dizziness, and pins and needles worse. This can make the attack seem even more frightening, and make you over-breathe even more, and so on. It can sometimes result in a faint. A panic attack usually lasts 5-10 minutes, but sometimes they come in waves for up to two hours. (Patient website.)

Occasionally when I am hunting I’ll hold my breath in order to heighten my hearing. Sitting completely still in a tree stand, I ‘ll hold my breath and strain my eyes and ears for any clue of an approaching deer. That’s a special occasion in a still December morning. Finally the exhale comes in steam. It takes a few more breaths to get the rhythm back to autopilot. It’s truly amazing when you consider how much work your brain does. Like right now it’s tracking an itch in the little toe of your right foot while simultaneously processing the music on your laptop as you read this post. Some actions can be postponed or ignored, but not breathing. It’s non negotiable.

So here are the take away bullet points. 1. Breathe or die. 2. Others may think you are a rude alien when you deep breathe in front of their frothing anxiety. 3. If you forget to breathe, you’ll likely faint and wind up on someone’s Facebook page with a snarky comment under your prostrate body, which could keep you from getting your first job after college. 4. Breathing is better than panic…but so is root canal surgery. 5. Deep breathing is free and easy to do. It’s the first and last thing you do in life.

12. timelessly

Days like these are harried– run, run, run so that you can sprint later on. Faster and faster we hurtle forward into the faster and faster life of breaking bonds– speed, gravity, religion, family, friendships. All my life, records have been broken… man in space, man on the moon, man with a heart transplant, faster internet speeds, faster computers, faster news reporting, faster wealth, faster wars. And where is the counterbalance? Has anything become slower or calmer? Nope.

I can recall being a kid and lying on my back watching clouds go by. Occasionally a prop plane would drone overhead. I’d walk between cool sheets drying on a laundry line on a hot summer’s day and think ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to go fast?’ Things going fast were desirable then. No one could have imagined the frenzied pace of life fifty years later. Well, maybe New Yorkers could have, but freckled suburban kids digging in the dirt with their mothers’ sterling silver spoons did not. They (I actually) just marveled at the black oxidization on the shiny spoon as I dug in the orange clay.

In the early 60’s Television had three or four channels; black and white! horrors!!!  and then really blurry color came later. No remote controllers either.And it was free, no monthy cable or dish payments. Baseball was the nation’s past time. It moved slowly and went into extra innings often enough. There was no sudden death rule, but games were often carried over to the next day when a double header would be necessary to finish the previous day’s game.  (Life was leaner and simpler like Johnny Cash songs. He was the white man who called himself “the man in black”, just like black and white t.v. Like a modern John the Baptist.) People were not so rushed. Sleek airports and superhighways were being built to hurtle us along, but they were novel then. Now they are expected to be all that and the awe has been replaced with impatience. We have become a nation of speed junkies.

Back in the day stores gave stamps as rewards for doing business with them. Housewives (they went extinct in the late 60’s) would collect these and turn in completely filled up books for electric toasters or can openers. Do you know how long it would take the average housewife to gather 800 yellow or green stamps when groceries cost a fraction of what they do today? A year maybe. And all throughout that year she’d look longingly at the many other things she could redeem with her stamps. Oh delayed gratification!

Image result for s and h green stamps pictures

And there were other slow payback deals in grocery stores. You could collect the greatest classical music ever recorded for $.99 per lp if you bought your groceries at certain stores. (LP stood for long playing record album, by the way.) There were other methodical programs where you could buy encyclopedias each week or collect plates or glasses. All these programs were tedious exercises in delayed gratification from this modern perspective, but they were awesome marketing tricks then.

If you try to pour a 2 liter bottle of soda into a shot glass, you will spill all but 2 ounces. Maybe that’s cool to do once for giggles, but it is an insane proposition– pouring too much into too little, and yet this is what we do daily. Plug 26 hours into 24. Shave sleep. “Hey, sleep when you’re dead.” Multitask. Smoke, talk on the phone, do your make up, drive. I saw a bread delivery truck driver this morning eating a bowl of cereal as he drove through town. He balanced the bowl with the spoon in it in his left hand as he drove the big truck over a hump with his right hand and knees. He did it with such skill that it was clear to me that this was not his maiden milk management voyage.Image result for overflowing shot glass pictures

Like entitlement programs, fossil fuels, carbon emissions, and bad marriages, speedy lifestyles become unsustainable. And not just for old geezers like me, but for the young and spry among the population. Mindlessly run, run, run into timelessness. Don’t mind if I do.Image result for grave pictures