436. The Cruise To Hell

 

It was years ago in late fall that we arrived at the dock in Baltimore to board the massive cruise ship Discordia (POA Lines) to the Bahamas. All expenses paid, all food, all drink, all entertainment, all rights and responsibilities, prepaid by someone else on a credit card with unbelievable rates forever. Who? We’ll get to that. Needless to say, it was a feast, a feastival, Thanksgiving on the high seas. What could be better? But whom does one thank for such luxury?

Ten stories or more soared up above the harbor waters. We took the gangplank up and then a glass elevator above the glittering lobby to our floor, seventh or eighth. We had a little window balcony and two beds. A bathroom slightly larger than an old fashioned phone booth. Unnecessary really, since the party was 24/7. Once we’d put our baggage away, we began to explore the narrow hallways, the grand staircases, the endless murals of Renaissance nudes merrily debauching their fantasy lives away.

The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus by Peter Paul Rubens

 

Hmmm, that’s subliminally norming lewd and lascivious behaviors. Sort of classical pornography, if that is not too much of a stretch. The pantomimed message, “Drink, lust, seize, surrender your soul, revel in the flesh.” But it’s just wallpaper, right? Not hypnosis.

The crew were quietly efficient with shiny skin and flaming eyes. They were present to meet every earthly need we might conjure up. We could not guess that behind lustrous ivory teeth their tongues had been removed. Even the band on the lido deck played songs appropriate for surrendering the flesh… “Hotel California”, “I Shot the Sheriff”, “Positive Vibration”, “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” in a loop. As the huge ship plowed out of the Chesapeake Bay, under the double span of the Bay Bridge, the guests’ vibe changed like a new set of clothes, from almost winter to almost nothing. We slipped collectively into a new groove, into babbling citizens of a shining suburb of Babylon, Babble On, Babble On… Onward toward the dark islands where black slaves had produced bleached white sugar for lily white Europeans not so long ago.

Once out of the Bay, countless stars glittered in the black skies above and reflected in the choppy black waters below. The power of this craft was unimaginable, able to hurtle three city blocks of human cargo forward at twenty knots per hour, cutting the horizon into two silver plumes. Our destination did not matter. The speed and power, the rhythmic momentum were all as if in a dream. Certainly, it was dreamlike. The monstrous engines below reverberated imperceptibly until sleep, when our dreams were massaged by their humming undertow. Gray noise.  Narcotically even. Such sleep! Such pleasures of the nether world suffused our naked minds and bodies.

By day two or three I began to sense something was not quite right. Everyone had every carnal need met almost before awareness of the need arose. Passengers used words like “nirvana” and “heaven” to describe their experience thus far. So saturated with luxury, they began to explore beyond usual prescribed boundaries. Couples began schmoozing with other couples and rubbing their legs shamelessly at the pool or in the hot tubs, toes touching erotic landing zones were met with excited giggles. No one seemed to object or even notice. It was all one good, fun, party. Since we were in international waters, no specific country’s law applied; and so the law of the jungle came to rule across the ship’s many splendid decks. Every one did what was good in his own eyes.

In the fine dining rooms guests ate with their hands while sitting in damp bathing suits. The staff smiled witlessly, encouraging beastly behaviors. They seemed to enjoy the mess. No worries.

Casino Table Games

Down in the casino everyone was a winner. No one lost. The signs at the slot machines and black jack tables said, “All winnings paid out at d’hotel Fornicatio, Nassau, in U.S. dollars tax free.” Unbelievable. The euphoria built up like a summer thunderstorm. Free money. Free booze. Free sex!!! The whole scene was like the hippie movement of the late 1960’s– no consequences. Free love. Guiltlessness gurgled gleefully.

Casino Slot Machines

And yet, yet, the fear of anarchy rose up with the ceaseless champagne bubbles hissing above every fluted glass. It’s not a party after five days of orgiastic efforts. It’s work to equal or exceed yesterday’s exploded boundaries. Mondays are for mojitos; Tuesdays are for tequila; Wednesdays are Wallbangers…. Thursdays are thoroughly debauched. Fridays are try it days. Saturdays, get saturated. Sunday… Anything goes. If you were conscious in the ’60’s, the reckoning was rough. After Woodstock a colossal mess was left behind on many levels.

Where is the port? We’ve been at sea for days now, I think. All the gluttonous activity topped off with lust and greed for more…. causes a loss of memory in the participants. Who knew Sloth was addictive?  It’s so easy to be less and less, to care less, and think less, and shame less. What land dwellers call morals are such a drag on the POA Lines.”Man, morals are like shells. If you don’t have any enemies, you don’t need any shells. Right?” The thing about Prince of the Air Lines is that they get it. Their motto:  You are free to be fully who you want to be, full throttle, full luxury, full time.

Finally our port is in sight, so says the Captain. But there has been a mistake. We veer away from Nassau and head toward another abandoned island to the west.

 

 

417. Communication Breakdown

Image result for phone imagesIt’s a healthier option to write about one’s anger than to blow it all over the deserving others, especially when they are on the other end of a Verizon or Century Link phone. This is a modern saga of catastrophic communication. It has a back story that goes back a month or more. “Please hold. For English, press one. For Spanish, press dos.” Cheesy background music for free.

Image result for phone imagesMy wife wanted new cell phones. Not certain why, but we had outlived our previous service contract and so the deal of the day seemed pretty decent. If we bought new phones, somehow or other the monthly bill would be lowered by $20. Why it was not already lowered was a rude question that I did not ask. I know that in our capitalist economy the goal is to shake as much money as you can from the captive audience. And I realize that the competition is not really so robust as to present a truly free market.  What you say?  Consider this factoid: in Honduras every teenager I came in contact with had a cell phone, a modern one. This poor country had cell towers all around, even in the mountainous areas. Their service was fine. Here’s the rat in the apple bin:  they are unbelievably poor people, second only to Haiti. So how do they afford this modern luxury?  Simple answer is that they pay according to their meager economy’s standards not according to what we have been led to believe is the cost of doing business. Let’s see, Google tells me that the minimum wage in Honduras runs between $175-350 per month. Yet unemployed and partially employed teens have phones. How’s that work? My bill with Verizon is $126 per month for two lines. In Honduras this sort of charge is not possible to sustain. Oh, taxes and higher wages and uh, utility surcharges and 911 upcharges and the greed charge have to be added in the U.S., I guess.

Image result for router box imagesBack home I got my shiny new phone from the nerdy sales guy at Verizon and away we went, sort of. The nightmare nuclear winter of communication began that same day as Dirk the sales guy got my wife’s attention about how to save even more. (Funny thing is we were spending and spending and spending. These savings were promissory syllables on the way to technology hell.) Dirk explained incompletely that these black wonder boxes could circumvent my land lines at home and in my office, thus reducing my overall phone costs. “It’s quite simple (wrong!!!). You simply plug in the box next to your phone and dial 77. We port the phone over and there you go.” We left the Verizon affiliate store with two wonder boxes and a vague idea of what to do.

Image result for no dial tone picturesThe phones were cool, no doubt. However, we noticed in a day or two that our home internet was no longer working. Then our home landline went dead. The wonder box was not working as promised. Naturally we called Verizon and walked through the directions again. Same result. I got a bit panicked thinking that my office line and internet were next. I called Verizon to cut the order on the business line. I was assured by my new buddy Matt at Century Link that we had averted the danger and avoided disaster, however there would be a $59 charge to undo the portage that never happened. “Well,” I said, “that’s on Verizon.”

Image result for tech nerd picturesI called Alex at the Verizon store. He talked abbreviated nerdspeak and assured me that he would get CenturyLink to void the charge. “No worries.” I had lost faith in Alex by now. He had not authority, nor did his manager. Someone else in the cyber army officer corps ported the magic numbers over ether net. These guys only sold phones and broken dreams. That’s it.

“Seven to ten days,” we were told, “that’s how long it takes to port over a number, sir.” The internet-less days ground on slowly, drip, drip, drip at glacier speed.Image result for glacier speed images

 

‘Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?’ Joni Mitchell sang long ago. Her new verse should go, ‘Port out your number, get yourself a dead dial tone.’ That was a month ago. Over that time I thought my phone was not ringing so much, but it was the holiday season and I didn’t mind really. I knew my office internet was running, therefore the phone line was working, right?

In this case I was mistaken. Though I called my voice mail to check for messages remotely, I never thought to call my actual phone number. If I had, I would have heard, “We’re sorry, but the person at this number has not set up a voice mail account yet. Goodbye.” I cannot calculate how many phone calls I did not receive nor the many voice mails that could not be left for me. I just get angry thinking about it.

Image result for blame pictures finger pointingOnce I heard this useless message, I called Century Link to see what was up with my voice mail. I spoke to a low level customer service person who assured me that my unclear issue would be resolved by close of business that day. I called my office the next morning. Same message. It was Saturday, Christmas Eve.  On Monday the 26th I called again; explained my problem to another customer service rep and received another less vigorous reassurance that it should be good to go by the next day. Okay. Tuesday I was in my office.  I received an authoritative call from Mike at Century Link assuring me that my vague problem would be completely solved by the next morning. This morning as it turns out. I called again and heard the same message. Now I was thoroughly angry.

I called Century Link and spoke to another person. I insisted on speaking to a supervisor. I was transferred to the finance department. “Would I like to make a payment on my bill?”  “Actually, no. I’d like to bill your company for wasting my time.” Finance lady put me back in the cue. By the time Dave or Corey or Danielle or Michelle or Josiah or Truly answered, I was breathing deeply and trying to find a balance between my rage and my salvation.  I told myself not to curse them or to use heavy sarcasm. I waited and listened to the bad piano riff loop over and over again. My morning phone call to Century Link lasted 30 minutes. But wait! There’s more.  I was told that I’d be getting a call back as soon as they had news for me. By 2:30 p.m. I called back and raised some heck. “Stop the nicey nice talk. Give me a supervisor now.” Hold, ten minutes.

Image result for smart woman pictures“This is Truly, blah blah blah.”

I recounted my tale of woe for the sixth time. Being a supervisor, she had a brain instead of a script to read to me. She reassured me that the problem was on Verizon’s side. My business phone number belonged to them and needed to be ported over to CenturyLink.  [Meanwhile I’d called Comcast to port my CenturyLink number over as soon as it was returned from Verizon. Phone and internet package for less for the moment, according to Alan at Comcast.]  She encouraged me to call Verizon and have them release my number. Then she’d personally call me back in an hour.

Image result for man drowning imagesI called Verizon and spent 25 minutes on hold while Ivy or Vicki or Jeanette worked on my issue.  I insisted on a supervisor to start. After a very long hold time my Verizon lady informed me that CenturyLink had to request the number back from Verizon.  She had a brain also and managed to tell me back my tale of woe convincingly. Finally, around 4 pm I got a call from Ryan who assured me he had been working on this problem nonstop since Monday, but Verizon would not answer their port department phones. (Really Ryan?) He promised to call me back in five minutes with the way forward. It took all I had not to scream “FIX IT!!!”

Mercifully, around 4:30 I got a three way call between Ryan at CL and Mo at Verizon. We had a brief chat; those two talked nerdspeak briefly; Mo hung up; and Ryan told me it was over. I’d been on the phone over 90 minutes on my day off, trying to undo the fix that I never wanted that I had cut off a month ago, not knowing I’d been cutting off the wrong Hydra head each time. I called my office on my cell and got my own voice mail prompt at long last. Hallelujah, hallelujah. I felt like a beached whale no longer.

Image result for pinocchio washed up on beach picturesMy take away lesson for future reference is to know what you cannot know before the guy who knows nothing at all tells you all he knows and you are paralyzed in not knowingness. And then call a supervisor.

 

388.Bait and Switch

Johnny is our dog, a black and white border collie/collie mix we rescued six years ago. He is technically my daughter Jess’s dog. His license says she is his owner. They are more like soul mates, if you ask me, but there was no such box on the license application to check. He is sweet natured and rarely barks; usually just one bark to get us to let him in. ( Jess does not bark at all, fortunately. That would be awkward in the ladies room or at hospital visits.) He’s getting old and often slides back down the stairs instead of bolting up them as he once did. Oh, Gravity, thy cruel force sucketh!! Now in his dotage, he skitters about on the hard wood floors like a pair of drunken elderly tap dancers with hip replacements– “tick, tick, tack, tick, tack, ticky, ticky, tack, tack…” throughout the night, all freekin’ night,  if we don’t gate him in the carpeted hallway. Sometimes his hips just give out and he falls down. Still, he’s a great dog and our world is a better place because his tuxedoed hair balled self is in it at knee level. This morning he just posted himself between my legs and stopped. I could not easily turn left or right. I’d have to step forward or back up to go to work. I swear he was a ninja instructor in an earlier lifetime, but he’s not talking. Ninja national security. He knows too much secret stuff… like how to eat my wife’s chicken chili lunch out of her lunch bag without a noise.

She had the audacity to yell at him for pilfering her lunch bag after she’d left it on the floor. That’s entrapment if you ask me. I promised to get him a good dog lawyer and maybe he’d get off for good behavior and time served.

Over the past two years he has had some sort of skin allergies that caused him to scratch endlessly, leaving his skin raw and oozing. Our vet determined that Johnny was allergic to his food. Now keep in mind that Johnny supplements his diet with used facial tissues that he pulls out of the trash and anything else his big snout sniffs out. He would scale Mt. Everest for a piece of bacon, I think. Anyway, the vet suggested that we serve Johnny the special dog food that is only for sale at the vet’s. Wow, how convenient is that? I mean the food is right there at the cash register.  And it only costs $100 per big bag. Okay, Johnny is worth it, no doubt, but come on, man!! What a squeeze play.

Oyster Crackers.jpgSo the new food looks like oyster crackers that you put on soup. Flavorless puffs of hypoallergenic nothingness that crunch and fool your taste buds that something good is happening between chews. Johnny did not approve. He sniffed at it with contempt and looked deep into our souls with his wise brown eyes…”how could you do this to me?” he seemed to ask. My clever wife squirted gluten free beef broth on top of the oyster crackers to bait and switch Johnny into eating. “You just need to fool him to get started and then he keeps going.” Her Cleverness seemed to be working until the day we found out the rest of the story.

Johnny has never been the neatest eater, so when some of his hypoallergenic oyster crackers began to appear in the toilet downstairs, I thought little of it. “Oh, he must have spilled some and Her Cleverness swept it up and emptied it into the toilet.” It did seem odd but hardly memorable, so I flushed the evidence of a brilliant passive-aggressive plot. Later I would learn of the intrigue and skill behind this pale flotsam.

One morning while getting dressed, my wife exclaimed, “What’s this?” as she scooped stale morsels of hypoallergenic dog oyster crackers out of her sock drawer. She emptied all the contents on the floor. Maybe a cup’s worth of crunchy tastelessness spilled out from the socks. “Don’t look at me! You’re the one who feeds him that cardboard crap diet. He’s mad at you.”Image result for crumbs on floor

“No. How could he open my drawers and dump food in?”

“I don’t know, but there is no dog food in my sock drawer, which is at the same level as yours.?”

Opening her underwear drawer, “Oh, Johhny!!” Again, about a cup of oyster crackers had been methodically dropped among her underthings. It was hysterical, although I’m not sure my wife fully believed that I was not a co-conspirator. Honestly, I wish I’d thought of it to begin with, but I didn’t, so there it ends… I hope.

About a week after  Her Cleverness cleaned out the sock drawer again; it was filled with another cup of crunchy nothings, more silent ninja passive-aggression whispers from Johnny. “Leave the gun; take the cannoli”, I pictured Johnny alone all day muttering lines from gangster movies as he implemented his dastardly dried goods export plan. He is good. First pulling the drawer out. How?  Then going to his dish to get a mouthful of dried mucus pellets. Next, carefully carrying the despised cargo to its rightful place, in a sock or underwear drawer, snickering at his dark deeds. Finally, using his unnaturally long snout to close the drawer. Brilliant. I wondered if he sat back and savored the cold bacon taste of canine revenge served deliciously late.

After careful analysis I figured that the spilled oyster crackers came from sloppy transportation from bowl to drawer. How many oyster crackers fit in a dog’s mouth at one time? I can only guess. How many trips did it take? We’ll never know. He’s keeping the code of silence, omerta in Sicily. Johnny is not Pavlov’s dog, nosirree. He gets bait and switch tactics, my bloguertos. I just hope my wife learns soon before I wake up to a severed horse’s head or a package of fish in newspaper. “Her Cleverness sleeps with the fishes.”

Oh Johnny!

 

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.

 

373. Love is a many Splintered thing

So Pat and Clark are in Florida on the Good Ship Lollipop, soaking in hot tubs and heated swimming pools at night, watching pelicans flail the air inches above Tampa Bay during the day. Sun, warmth, and elderly folks everywhere. But when you are 60 plus, you are in that demographic. The concept of OLD shrinks every year like grapes turning to raisins, you notice, as there are fewer and fewer people left on the vine who are older than you. Places come up for purchase at rock bottom prices. $59,000 will buy a nice home on a rental lot next to the river.  And you learn why such a deal exists:  the previous owner no longer exists. She went Home. Died. Crossed the River Styx.  Still, it’s tempting to settle into the last chapter of one’s life. Twenty pages left and then the hard cover of a carved coffin closes the story.

“We’re not ready to commit to living here six months a year. Not yet. It’s a different world here, though, nice and  friendly. Everyone is so helpful. They have nothing else to do. You know, it’s like a staging ground for launching into heaven… or somewhere.”

Clark pretends to complain about Pat when he calls me. “She’s getting violent, beating me about the head and neck for no reason.” In the background I hear Pat  say, “Oh, I am not!”

“She needs anger management, I’m telling you. It’s her Irish. You know, whiskey and anger. Anger and whiskey. The Irish drink cuz they’re mad, and they’re mad cuz they drink.”

Pat far away, “Heeeeeyyyy”.

“I suggest that Pat get a solid weapon such as a ball bat so she does not hurt her hand while whacking you, Tonto, who undoubtedly need correction. ”

“She’s worse than the nuns who used to beat me in elementary school.”

“Good. You are bigger now and need a stronger hand.”

“Hey, I’m the victim here.”

“Clark, remember one thing:  Everyone loves Pat. Nobody loves you.”

“That’s two things.”

“So it is.”

“But this is abuse.”

“Well, sometimes love has to be cruel to be kind. That’s how much she loves you, Dude.”

“With a ball bat?”

“Is it wooden or aluminum?”

“Wooden.”

“Yeah, that’s love.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You will break before the aluminum. With the wood, there’s a chance the bat will splinter in half with a good blow to your granite head.”

“And that’s okay with you?”

“Sure. Not just me, Clark. Poets sing of such love.”

“This cell phone is messing up your words. Sounds like you said something about poets love abuse.”

“Seriously, ‘Love is a many splintered thing’. Haven’t you heard that song lyric?”

“I remember Frank Sinatra singing ‘Love is a many splendored thing’….”

“No, man, they changed the lyrics for the movie version. The original, uh just wait a sec…. I’ll Google it to you… Yeah, it was a war movie, Losing Private Lyons. Dean Martin is sent to find Private Lyons, even though they love the same woman back in Toledo. Once Dean finds Private Lyons, played by Sinatra, he’s blown into bits by a land mine, and his head just lies there on the cold French landscape, looking at Dean with his eyes open; then he just starts singing as Dean Martin cradles him like a basketball…

Love
Is a many splintered thing
It’s the April rose
That only grows
In the early spring
Love
Is nature’s way of giving
A reason to be living
The golden crown
That makes a man a king

“And then the head just stops speaking as Deano blows up a Nazi machine gun nest.  See that?  Her beating you on your crown is a royal blessing on your noggin. Don’t you see?”

“I think you are messing with the words, El Capitan. Plus, I don’t believe that movie exists. I never seen it.”

“No, Bro Diddly, them’s the words. You just have to live in the world you’re in.”

“So, basically, you’re on Pat’s side again, is that it? And you’re gonna make up a bunch of lies to protect her?”

“Yep. Your side is the abyss. And you started the lying, Stubby. Look at the second verse, Broheme. It’s where Deano sings back to Frank’s head after he cleans out the nest of Nazi shooters.”

Once on a high
And windy hill
In the morning mist
Two lovers kissed
And the world stood still
Then your fingers touched
My silent heart
And taught it how to sing
Yes, true love’s
A many splintered thing

“Then he buried Frank’s head under a flat rock. It was a movie ending no one saw coming, I tell you. Do you see how the longing and the splinters are interwoven?”

“Not really. Now, I was never very good in English class, but I know when someone is pumping canal water up my ass.”

“You know, I’ve never understood that colloquialism.”

“It means you’re full of crap and you’re giving me a verbal enema.”

“Clark, that may be true, but love and splinters, that’s truth hard as a tooth. Ya know?”

“You’re not budging are you?”

“Let me just put it this way:  if Pat broke the bat over your head and you were  bleeding with half of the bat stuck in your cranium, meanwhile you have the entire assault recorded on your smart phone’s camera, the police would arrest you for bothering Pat.”

Cop 1, “He had it coming, Murphy.”

Cop 2, “Yep, surely he did, O’Malley. Let’s have a Guiness. I’ll buy.”

Cop 1, “No indeed. You bought this morning. This round is on me.”

Cop 2, “So be it. We’ll hoist a pint of Guiness for the love of Patty Girl. Aye.”

“You Irish always stick together, don’t you?”

“We have to. The world’s leaders know that if we are ever set free from Guiness and whiskey, we will rule the world. So they try and try to splinter us.”

“Uh huh. So is this going in your blog?”

“You know it is.”

“What are you gonna call it?”

“I’ve narrowed it down to Sinatra’s severed singing head or Love is a many splintered thing.”

“Yeah, I’d go with the second one.”

“Gotcha.”

363.Love’s Longing Lost

I promised to post about Joel and Sheila the mule, Blogoiters, and I keep my promises when I remember them, if I remember them, by which I mean– if I don’t forget them. Long time followers of the blog already know that Joel is the consigliere of Coffee Nation, a job he reluctantly accepted after much cajoeling. He of the round tortoise shell glasses and the tweed jackets is a bit of a throwback to an earlier age. He still uses a fountain pen, for goodness sakes! Imagine an older, unflappable Gregory Peck outside with an older, flappable Jimmy Stewart inside. Let those two images overflap and gel. There you go. It’s Joel.

Last year or the year before, it does not matter for our purposes here and now, Joel went to a lawyers’ conference in Phoenix, conveniently planned for the dead of winter. It’s all business expensed, so why not go and accessorize? Joel planned a mule pack trip into and out of the Grand Canyon. It was as close to his own City Slickers experience as he could muster. You see, that movie is close to his heart. And let’s face it, most kids of the nineteen forties and fifties did not long to be accountants and attorneys and insurance salesmen. No, they wanted to be the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers or some other cowboy. And Joel being no exception was unexceptional in the Manly Hall of Fame until now.

As you might have already imagined, Joel was very excited to be out in the elements, roughing it, drinking bourbon out of a shared pint around a mesquite fire down, down, down at the Phantom Ranch. Wiping his mouth with the back of a dusty leather glove. Spitting just because he could and no one would report him to the bar. To Hell with the law and all its pretense!  He was breaking bad. Heck, even the mule ride advertising was tough, no nonsense stuff telling people how tall they had to be; how much they could weigh; couldn’t be afraid of heights or large animals; had to be fluent in English; whining or pouting would be met with hot lead. Unapologetic, politically incorrect, man talk. Why just reading it privately on his tablet at the coffee shop made itchy chest hair follicles erupt on his sternum. Testosterone molecules began to bark in packs like coyotes in his bloodstream. The wild called and he, Joel the mild mannered estate attorney, would answer it in a fully outfitted, hormonally charged echo. “Howwuuuulllll”

Off he went on his trek. I urged him to be safe on the mule and not to take any guff from anyone– man, woman, both, neither, undecided, polymorphic or otherwise. “The thing with mules,” I told Joel to reassure him before he left, “is they have to know you mean business, yet that you are compassionate and willing to bond with them. If a mule knows you love her, she will give her sure-footed life for you.” He was impressed with my animal husbandry background, which I had completely fabricated on the spot.

**********************************************************************

(Asterisks suggest time passing.)

Two weeks later I saw him again, refreshed and enlightened in ways that only a handful of Tibetan monks come to be. He was writing down his observations in his spirit journal with that fountain pen and eyes aglow. He gushed with the wonders of it all and told me that he owed his new ecstatic life to Sheila, his designated mule.  “We grew close. Just as you had suggested, I showed her a firm business hand on the one hand but a compassionate loving hand at the reigns on the other hand, and she responded like a crossbred dream.”

“That’s four hands in the sentence, Joel. You only have two, and Sheila has hooves, right? Count them with me.”

“Eh! You know what I mean! Don’t start playing with words.”

“That’s what I do. Remember?”

“You wouldn’t make it at Phantom Ranch with all your tomfoolery. Only real men go there.”

“I believe you, man. I sense it like steam pouring out of your new found confidence and mulishness. You have a flinty glint about you now, a rough edge. You could start a fire just by blinking fast.”

“Oh, that reminds me. Some colleagues followed my lead into the Grand Canyon.  We actually traded out our mules with them when we came back up to the rim. I introduced them to Sheila and shared with them your instructions on mule handling. They were very appreciative. In fact, later on as I was connecting flights in Charlotte, they sent me this picture of Sheila with the text, ‘I miss you’.” He showed me a sad looking mule on his phone. “Something tells me that I’ll be seeing this again at a bar meeting in the future.”

“Lovely story, Joel. I’m glad you had such a good time.”

*************************** (Not as much time has passed this time.)

Two days later I was waiting in line for my morning coffee when Joel came into the shop. I greeted him as usual, then added, “Hey, I got a call from Sheila yesterday.”

“Oh, did you?” he uttered with false sincerity at the back of his Jimmy Stewart throat.

“Oh yeah. She’s not doing so well.” I shook my head and looked down.

“What are her complaints?”

“Well, she told me that she’d been ridden hard and put away wet. She misses you, man. All that machismo you put down, she picked it all up. She thought you were the one who would both tame her and free her. Gave me an earful, lemme tell you.”

“Oh, REALLY? So what is your treatment plan?”

“It’s a tough case, Joel. It was a phone consult with a sexless pack animal tethered to a monotonous future without any hope.”

“I see. Very tough. So what did you tell her?”

“Well, in short I told her to follow another horse’s ass.”

“I giftwrapped that for you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you baited the hook, teed up the golf ball, and shook up the Dr. Pepper.”

“Whatever.” guffaw, guffaw.

“Are you laughing, Joel?”

“I am not laughing at this because I don’t want to encourage you. (Pause.) You are going to put this in the blog, aren’t you?”

“It’s too late, Buddy. From your spilled mule milk I will make a rare rich cheese for posterity to enjoy at black tie charity fundraisers.”

With hands raised heavenward like a frustrated Atticus Finch, “Oh, Sheila! Forgive me!”

 

 

 

 

345. Robbing Reality

Rawcuss Thursday to you, Blogwallowers. As you know by heart, Thursdays begin with Coffee Nation Summit, and today was no exception, nor was it particularly exceptional.  Joel was busily typing a business e-mail as the scavenging coffee crows began to roost around him like fresh roadkill. Me first. Some discussion ensued about his eulogy, which I told him earlier I had cut and pasted to personalize it for his funeral.

Groggily, “I thought you said obituary.”

“Certainly not, my august friend. Well, December friend now. I don’t pretend to know the cause or time of death. That work belongs to the crooning coroner around the corner. The newspaper will publish your obit at no charge under a picture your family will provide. They have little choice. However, I prudently wrote your eulogy before it was needed. (silky soft salesman voice) Think of it as a reverse mortgage plan that frees you to enjoy life now on your terms, knowing that an essential final need has been taken care of, so that your loved ones don’t have to face that awkward question: ‘Whazzznext?”

“Do I have to pay you now?” he inquired with hesitance in his voice.

“Of course. I don’t want to trouble your bereaved survivors with pecuniary matters when you can relieve them of that burden by paying me now.”

“Hmmmph.” Joel knew this game of verbal dodge ball was over. There was only one of him and twenty six of me, and my team had the balls.

“Well I suppose, um, I could, uh… well, look who’s here!”

Rob joined us in his sleepwalking fugue state of new fatherhood, a defenseless uncaffeinated putty puppy. He vainly attempted to make sanity chicken salad out of insane chicken poop. We weren’t havin’ none of it, nosirree!!

Steve needed to do real business with Joel and proceeded to spell his name, “Steve with a V dot com.”

Rob, “Why do some folks spell Steven with ph? What’s with that?”

“At one thyme that was how Jewish Stevens distinguished themselves from Christian Stephens. They made a Vulcan V like Spock did. It was sign language for ‘I’m Jewish Steve.'”

“Really? I never knew that.”

“You still don’t. I am encouraging you to google it and find out for yourself, Rob. Man up.”

“Oh man, why not just trust you? Wait, that’s stupid, but I don’t have time to research it. You make things hard on no thinking Thursdays.”

“It’s tough love, Rob. You’ll need to tone up as your baby boy grows. Consider this DAD CAMP for wusses.”

Next Doug shared family drama with the group as well as several well timed puns. “Joel, estate planning is a dying business.”

Steve gave us a glimpse at managing elderly parents and his obsession with Christmas lights. He’s the kind of guy who will find the bad bulb and replace it, no matter the time or cost. He and Doug shared esoteric bits of insider information on Christmas light repair [and changing diapers. “You never fan the naked baby or it will pee on you.”]

“They’re $3.98 for 150 feet at Lowe’s, for God’s sake. Just buy a new string.”

Doug continued the Christmas light repair lecture as sleep deprived Rob fought for consciousness. “You’re killin’ me. Just go to Lowe’s and get a set!!”

“See when the bulb filament burns out, there’s this connecting wire that burns out with it and then runs the current around the burned out bulb, so that the other bulbs glow just a little brighter since 110 watts are being divided by fewer bulbs. And this will go on until a tipping point where nothing will light up no matter what.”

“Christmas light Armageddon.”

“Go to Lowe’s and get two sets!! I’ll buy them. For the love of the Baby Jesus in the Manger, Stop with the lights stories!!”

“Look, Rob. You don’t have to be cranky with us. We didn’t get jiggy with your wife forty one weeks ago. That was you, Buddy. Look at me and mind meld along!”

I placed two empty 12 ounce coffee cups with white lids over my eyes like Mr. Magoo spectacles. “Listen, Blister Butt. And repeat after me,

For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
Candles in the window
Carols at the spinet…. Everybody sing it…”

“That’s not doing it for me, Supreme Commander. I need real eye contact.”

I moved the cups down to bouncing breast level and gave him the next verse,

” Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
It hasn’t snowed a single flurry
But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry”

“That is truly disturbing. Why not put that in the blog?”

“Okay.”

“I never read it. Why don’t you put me in it and then I’ll read that post, but you have to tell the truth.”

“Done.”

“I used to read it and then I’d feel like I wasted good productive time, so I’d rush off to do something I could feel good about, something with purpose to assuage my guilt.”

“Hey, I take that as high praise. You see, I am providing a much needed service that propels others to lead more upright, productive lives. After wandering in the black hole of Burritospecial, sojourners rush headlong toward sanity and meaning. They go out and lead lives of consequence. It’s just reverse psychology, Rob. The more unglued I am, the more you want to get your poop in a pile and glue yourself into top shape. You feel angrily invigorated to conquer your deficiencies.”

“That is truly brilliant.”

“Yup, like Christmas lights at Steve’s with a V. Or Doug with a potent pun.”

“No, no, no. I need a latte to go for my wife. I’ll see you next week, fully slept up and caffeinated.”

“Good, one day, my son, you will be a real man. And always remember,

  1. don’t fan the baby.”
  2. V is for Jewish Steve.
  3. We all need a little Christmas.”

“Got it.”

 

 

336. Ululational Eulogies

I was about to exit The Coffee Nation Summit this morning and enter the cold drizzle outside when Joel walked in, dressed in his goose hunting hat and matching trench coat, as if he had just come from a goose blind or a secret agent convention. I squelched my urge to honk, thinking he would not get the connection so suddenly, or else he might just be packing a goose gun under the trench coat and fire, claiming later that it was all just a big honking misunderstanding. Being an attorney he could easily weasel his way out of all responsibility– legal, moral, intellectual and financial. All this in just a flash as the shabby green door closed behind him, trapping us in a verbal twilight zone.

I turned around, sat down, and began to psychologically fleece him once again. Big weekend coming up with the community tuba-thon on Saturday, he shared. Then he had a financial presentation to give somewhere else to tomorrow’s leaders.

“Oh, so you are over booked?”

“Not exactly. It’s just that I may be pressed for time between the two events since they are twenty miles apart.”

“Here’s where I can help you out. I could be your stunt double. At which event would you like me to fake being you?  The money talk to teens or the tuba-thon? Damages to the former will not show up for a decade, whereas my tuba playing will immediately insult the sensitivities of that audience.” Followed by an amazing full blown cheek tuba rendition of When the Saints Come Marching In.  Bump bump bump bump, (breath) bump bump bump bump, (breath) bump bump bump bump bump bump bump bump…  “I want to be in that number, when those saints come marchin’ in. Everybody, Oh when the Saints…”

“That’s the only song you know, isn’t it?  I think I’d better handle the sousaphone duties, thank you. You probably could confuse the teens for an hour. Isn’t that what therapy is after all– an hour of confusion that requires the patient to come back in a week to unravel the conundrum you raveled the week before?”

“That’s harsh. I would never say something like that about you, Joel.”

“How do you manage to keep a straight face when you lie like that?”

“It’s a skill you learn in the first year of law school.”

“Now, now. Let’s not start in against my people.”

“Okay, I think we should pursue a serious topic. Your funeral.”

“I’ve never given it a thought.”

“I knew it! You of all people, who plan estates and fleece wealthy donors out of money for the college, you have not made your own funeral arrangements?  I’m shocked, and I don’t shock easily. No, strike that last comment. I am tazed, not shocked, tazed, mind you, and roiling in the electric current of social trespass…”

“You know I do sometimes question your mental health.”

“And I you, Brutus.”

“No, not Shakespeare, et tu, Brutu. Please don’t ruin all cultural refuges for me.”

“Ruin?  I am merely carmelizing your experiences like fine chefs do at the shi-shi restaurants you frequent.”

“You mean your are carbonizing my neural filaments, burning up my mother board. Burning the petite filet.”

“Okay, seriously. I have been asked by a friend of mine to deliver his eulogy if he precedes me in death.”

“And you would do that for ME?”

“Certainly, Joel. For a fee.”

“Will you say nice things? I don’t want you to make a scene and upset people who may still believe in my dignity.”

“What do you care?  You’ll be dead and in… well, I don’t want to judge you. You’ll be wherever it is you deserve to be for all the underhanded and deceitful things you’ve done in this life and any positives you may have accidentally done along Life’s Highway.”

“But you don’t know me all that well. I mean, I’m afraid you have a small sample size.”

“Oh, Brutus, not you. I know that you have always had a thing for low hanging fruit.”

“That’s true.”

“And you gave up bowling after winning a trophy in sixth grade for high set score.”

“Yes, but I just told you that ten minutes ago. How will you make it sound sincere.”

“Joel, let me work the magic. I’ll just take out my friend Sam’s name and put yours in. No one will notice.”

“You don’t think so?”

“No. Uh, for example… Joel and I worked construction jobs together in the summers. He was twice the manly man that I was. He loved BB King and classic rock. We went to many a concert together and once got mooned by a carload of kids after an Emerson, Lake and Palmer concert on the Capital Beltway. Turns out that it was my little brother and his crew turning the wrong cheek just in time for a Maryland State Trooper to catch a glimpse.”

“No one will believe you. That is not my experience. I can’t condone such utter….”

“Don’t worry. I’ll mention what a horn toad you were at the gym, and ….”

“No, there will be an uprising to protect my good name. I would not be surprised if some of my church friends did not chase you out of the pulpit with rakes and  hoes and badminton racquets for the heretic you are.”

“That’s the beauty of the whole thing. I will be your ululating eulogist scape goat. Don’t you see? All those folks who simply came for the meal will be so uncomfortable with my indignities that they will rush the altar and chase me away, totally forgetting what a sleazebag you were. It’s brilliant. They will be half a mile down the road, out of breath, covered in sweat before they realize that I was only speaking the truth.”

“How much?”

“Ten percent or a $1,000, whichever is higher.”

“Done.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

334. International Blogationalism– Greatest Hits

A really neat feature of  the WordPress blog tool bag is the tracking of hits by countries. At the end of  a day, week, quarter, year or all time, I can hit the country summary prompt and get a list of all the countries that have accessed my site. I am amazed, of course, since I find my writing hard to understand, and I am the author. I think I am. Pretty sure I am. At least it started out that way.  Anyway, I have had to go to the map three times for countries I did not know existed. In alphabetical order they are the Faroe Islands, Kyrgyzstan, and Reunion Island.  Now my little Blog globetrotters, can you guess where these places are located without Googling?  I didn’t think so.  Allow me to geo-educate you.

About the time I had my first hit from Reunion Island it happened to be on the news cycle as parts of Malaysian flight 370 washed up on its shores. The astute blog reader will recall that I wrote about this doomed plane way back in Post 210. Lost. Not my best work, but then, what is best when you are spreading psychic fertilizer as a hobby? Now, true, I had to look it up since I’d never heard of the tiny nation either. It’s in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Why oh why were they cruising my blog? Perhaps they were lost or hungry since my blog title is a popular food. Imagine their horror when they tapped into my site via dial up, after waiting 3o minutes for a new recipe, and finding my soporific prose served on a delightful platter of greens. A lot of hangry islanders who won’t be inviting me to their next Reunion…unless they are cannibals.

I wrote about genocide and mentioned Namibia in post, 209. False Springs and  Genocide. Dang if I didn’t get Namibian hits. Actually they were nibbles. Now I can sort of understand that connection because I mentioned them by name. And Namibians have so little food in general that they usually just nibble to make it last longer between famines. But Kyrgyzstan?  I had to look it up– landlocked and mountainous in Central Asia. Apparently they have wi-fi there, glued in among China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.  I’ve often wondered where the Stan came from.  My unvetted theory is that a guy named Stan the nomad traveled through that region selling early model vacuum cleaners and got jiki with various women– Kazakh, Uzbeki, and Tajiki. Not to mention their cousins Afghan, Paki, and Turkmeni. [I have ruled out Lichtenstein from this list. It’s seems improbable according to my in depth research. Plus, what an unfortunate name for a girl, Lichten. What were the parents thinking?] Now I am theorizing that I will get some blowback hits from these countries, perhaps offering to hack me to pieces for insulting them or questioning the virtue of their female ancestors. I plead ignorance in advance. Can I get an “Amen” on that, Blog Nation?  [A thunderous AMEN rumbles across the globe.]  Okay, okay, that’s enough. STOP ALREADY!!  I didn’t ask for a tsunami.

Let’s see, where was I?  Yes, I wrote about how to make vodka in post 91. Brains and Potatoes. I am not saying what I’m saying here, I’m just saying it– a bunch of Russians lit me up. That post was a call to use one’s brain for the good of mankind instead of pickling one’s brain with home made alcohol. I can’t say for sure, but I think most of the Ruskis checked in for the recipe I scarfed off an internet site. Please don’t cut me up and make Irish Whiskey from my old carcass, Komrades.

Perhaps the best example of bait and switch blog posts was post 204. Local Navel Dancing, live, Tonight 6-8 p.m. I still get hits on that from India and the Middle East, which is why I have the justified fear of being hacked to pieces, not for false religion but for false advertising plus bad manners.  I blame the whole incident on Suzanne and Gary who basically forced me to go to an Indian restaurant with them while belly dancing was erupting at waist level, i.e. my eye level. I’m still in therapy for the disturbing visuals.

Okay, the Faroe Islands are located between Scotland and Iceland. Sail to the Shetland Islands, pet the adorable ponies, and hang a left at the fork. If you run into Norway, you took the wrong left, so turn around and take the right one. (Yogi Berra paraphrase) Speaking of Norway, in an old and bizarrely prophetic post, 158. Totalitarian Penguins, I mentioned that the Norwegian slice of Antarctica will be the launching pad for penguin revolution and total world domination. “Whaaaack Whaaaack”. You can’t make this stuff up….well, I guess you can if you have a fevered imagination and no job and are devoid of a conscience. Fortunately I meet all the above criteria.

So, you may be wondering how the name came about for the Faroe Islands. Yup, you guessed it already. The Egyptian connection ties this little known nation to the Empire of Egypt. If you know your Bible well, you know that Moses was set adrift in a basket and found by the Pharaoh’s people, then raised as an Egyptian until a bunch of plagues broke out and Revelation Zombies overthrew the Death Star. Just trust me on this.  Unbelievably at the same time Moses was basket skiing on the Nile, another prince and future Pharaoh was set out on the same river, which is why no one noticed when the baby shuffle took place and the wrong Egyptian baby was brought into Pharaoh’s house. The real heir apparent, named Sam, sailed right out into the Mediterranean Sea, where his little basket continued to float with the currents and winds, past Cyprus, Gibraltar, Portugal and other countries that have hit my blog posts before the internet had even been imagined.

Sam eventually washed ashore on the rough rocky beaches of what we now know as the Faroe Islands. He was greeted by wild wooly people known as the Wooly Bullies. They took him in and sang around fires in the winter nights. Sam somehow recalled his pre-Pharaotic life in Egypt. The people were so amazed, but one called it all a sham. And you know that they all got together and cut a record in the early ’60’s called “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.

 So kids, it’s important to know your geography really well just in case your plane disappears or your baby floats away, you need to make vodka, dance navelly, survive famine or overthrow the world. If you can’t find a globe, you can just trust my blog posts.

 

 

 

306. Burning the Dead

When I was a kid living in the cookie cutter housing tract known as Virginia Hills, summers were hot and humid and forever. As a little kid I have vivid memories of white and yellow honey suckle vines and pink feathery mimosa blossoms beyond my barren back yard. (With four boys in one quarter acre lot, ours was the designated turfless baseball or football field.)  Lying on the ground between damp sheets under the laundry line was an early form of air conditioning.  And digging in the clay with my mother’s treasured sterling silver soup spoons was an early science camp. They turned black and blue magically when you dug into that moist orange Virginia clay. Later on we had skate boards, the home made type– a board screwed onto roller skates. And then two wheeler bikes when we were big boys.

Along the way we also did a lot of walking. The closest stores were roughly one mile away in any direction. Without a lot of other competition we’d sometimes decide to walk up to the Super Giant on Route 1 to buy a pack of gum or a five cent store brand soda. I know it’s inconceivable of a modern kid walking two miles for anything, but we did without a second thought. Many times we began the store pilgrimage penniless but relied on faith that we’d find returnable bottles along the road sides as we slogged across shaded streets. Usually our faith was rewarded by others’ litter.

My partner in lizard catching, bird boxing, turtle hunting, crawfish nabbing, snake grabbing, and any other wild life adventure was Chris Young. He had three brothers also and lived around the corner on The Parkway. Like me he was third in the male birth order, which is not such a bad slot for wanderers to inhabit. Parents don’t miss the third child as readily as the first or the baby. And this opens up unearned opportunities for adventure and risk taking… and crime.

One late summer day Chris and I decided to take the not so short shortcut across Mt. Comfort Cemetery on our way up to the Giant store. I did not like hopping strangers’ fences and cutting through their yards, but Chris reassured me it was all good, which is an incomplete translation of … “until you get caught”.  Anyhow, we experienced no troubles on the way up as we came out of the wooded back yards of a contiguous neighborhood and into the almost golf course feel of the cemetery where no vertical monuments are allowed. My Catholic faith told me to respect the dead and not walk over their graves but around them. Chris never saw the inside of a church and walked in various states of ignorance. We cut across the bone dry grass past the Last Supper Monument toward the fountain of the All Seeing Jesus for a drink of water.

 The deal with that carving was that no matter where you stood, the eyes followed you. It was both freaky and guilt inducing if you had an IQ plus a conscience. I did not suspect then that Chris lacked one or both. However, in the intervening years it has been confirmed. We took a long drink of water that was likely not too pure and walked the last half mile to the store with Jesus staring at our blissfully ignorant backsides. “Oh pride goes before a fall.”

We chilled out in the air conditioned grocery store for as long as we could without attracting too much attention. Chris also liked to shoplift on occasion. My parochial school training (i.e. institutional shame) offset my desire for immediate impulse gratification. On the way past the cigarette vending machine Chris picked up two packets of matches that customers had left behind. It seemed pretty innocent.

On our return trip across the cemetery we stopped for a second drink from the fountain of the All Seeing Jesus and then trekked slowly toward the white oak trees that curved along the perimeter of the graveyard. Chris took out a pack of matches and flicked a lit one into the dry white grass. It immediately caught fire and began to spread. He swooped his Chuck Taylor sneakers across the flames and immediately the fire was over, leaving only a small black stain in the acres of gnarly white carpet.

“That was cool. Let’s see how big we can make the fire.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Image result for fire in a field pictures

But no sooner were my words out of my mouth than the next match was igniting more dead grass at our feet. The flames spread exponentially it seemed. Every second the fire was double. This time I ran around the edge and smothered the leading edge with my Converse sneakers while Chris stomped out his side.

“That was close, man. Don’t do it again.”

“Oh come on, one more time and then we’ll get out of here.”

And again he carelessly tossed another lit match onto the pale thatch that had been green grass months ago. This time the flames must have had a little breeze aiding them. No matter how we ran and stomped, the ring of fire was faster than our tap dancing feet. Chris began to yell something incomprehensible and then he bolted for the tree line, leaving me alone with the spreading fire among the deceased safely six feet under the flames. Out of nowhere I saw a man in a Jeep come flying at the fire circle. He drove around the perimeter in a heartbeat and then jumped out with a fire extinguisher to finish off the inside flames. Amazingly the fire was out in a minute.

I was sooty, scared and shaking as the man yelled at me. I immediately ratted out Chris as I awaited a lifetime in prison for arson. For some reason the guy let me go, perhaps because I was peeing my pants with fear. I don’t know if Chris ever faced the music for his pyromania. I know that I learned un-incinerated boredom is not so bad after all.

Somehow I knew Jesus had seen it all even though He was facing the other way.