406. Funhogs

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[Disclaimer:  the following did not happen outside my twisted mind. No animals were killed in the filming of this blog entry. By reading further you agree not to file a lawsuit against the author. Furthermore, you agree and assent that reality is a matter of personal perspective and thus cannot be proscribed or prescribed by one party to another.]

She said meaningful intimate things to me, as we walked to our car after a tango lesson at the hillside winery, beneath a full moon.

I had to agree and ignore all the prepositional phrases that would usually constitute a run on sentence, but after decades of teaching and marriage, who cares? Run on like a broken spigot of chianti, I say. To life, to life, la chaim. Run on like a grand symphony or a chocolate fountain.

“What’s not to like? I have a beautiful wife who wants to see me most nights. We’re healthy. Our kids turned out well. We have two awesome grandkids. Many friends. Abundant blessings all around, I’d say.”

“Yes. Knowing how uncertain life is makes it all the more poignant.”

“Are you poignant at me?”

“Yes I am, and your deadly puns.”

“The best puns like scorpions kill, honey…. You know that guy in Lowe’s who told you how beautiful you are on Saturday?”

“Of course. That was different, like weird different. Did it make you jealous?”

“No. I just agree with him. You stagger me worse than a bad pun.”

“You mean like when we are dancing and I try to lead?”

“Sure, there’s that torn rotator cuff, but what a lucky guy I am to be your partner in dance and in life. Not to mention that I’m covered under your Major Medical Blue Cross insurance.”

“I feel the same way.”

“That deserves a kiss as punctuation.”

Schmackk!! Nibble. Cuddle. “Stop! Why must men always grope?”

“I’m not groping; I’m grasping. Besides, one of my favorite heart memories is not grasping at anything, it is watching you dry your hair with the hairdryer while playing fetch with Johnnie and his tennis ball. That’s truly a beautiful image for me.”

“Why on earth do you say that?”

“Well, for the longest time when I’d run the hair dryer, he’d come to me with the tennis ball in his mouth, all excited, you know. He’d drop it and expect me to kick it like you did. But my hair is so not there that I’d be done before he got started.”Image result for bald man with hair dryer pictures

“Really? He’s so smart.”

“Yeah, it took me a while to figure out that you had trained him and the hair dryer was his cue to fun.”

Image result for older couple sitting together at night pictures“What is your cue to come around?”

“Well, let’s see. After you blow the breaker with your hair dryer on maximum, I come to see if it’s working. And to see your beaming face.”

” Not funny that first part. Still, this is the fun part of life. And we are Funhogs.”

“Agreed. It all seems simpler now. You know, the mortgage is paid. Our retirement is fixed. No worries there.”

“It’s more than that, though. We’re over the half way point in our lives now, and the days are richer, I think. Here we are on a Wednesday night, for Goodness sake, dancing and having a glass of wine while the world twinkles off in the distance.”

“Yes. I’d love to freeze this moment, but I’ve said that many times in the past, you know, and here we are thinking this is the most delicious moment of our lives. So maybe we shouldn’t freeze this one; just enjoy it while it’s fresh on our tongues.”

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“Sign me up for that. Maybe we could share a blueberry. Maybe you could peel me a grape.”

………….. After a make over in the living room………

Image result for pretty living room pictures

“I know we aren’t really smarter these days, but we’re wiser, I think. Did you ever think our house could be this pretty?”

“Yes, I did. I never believed it would cost this much, but that’s something else. In the end we don’t remember what something cost; we remember what it’s worth. Yup, yup. That’s what I thahnk, Jenn nay. Worth every Penn nay. That’s what Momma always sayed.”

“So, Mr.Forrest Gump Clairvoyant, how did you know it would end up so lovely?”

Birth of Venus by Botticelli“Simple: you are beautiful, and where you tread needs to show that. Remember Venus on the Half Shell by Botticelli? Wherever she stepped, in mythology anyway, spring broke out beneath her feet. So, it’s like that, my goddess. Beauty erupts at your toenails’ approach.”

” It’s The Birth of Venus. She’s not an oyster, you know. You are so full of Irish baloney.”

“True, and it’s a fine buttery blend of blushing beasts, so it is. Made from ground squirrels, ground hogs, ground possums, and a young pheasant for texture.”

“What am I going to do with you?”

“Hug me, squeeze me, tease me… just for a start.”

“You didn’t get enough attention when you were a kid, did you?”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. As Shakespeare said, “Some men are born great; some achieve greatness; and others have greatness thrust upon them.”

“You must be a ‘thrust upon guy’ cuz you sure weren’t born great and you haven’t achieved much.”

“True. Indisputably true. The thimple truth isth thometimes I’m just thilly with these thingsth. Thay! Isth that a new hairsthyle you’re sthportin?”Image result for daffy duck images

“So you devolve into Daffy Duck when things get therious? Theriously?”

“Yesth. It’sth a coping sthrategy I useth in sthticky thituationsth.”

“Sthtop or I’ll thscream.”

“Okay, enough of that routine. We need one more vignette for this blog post, my Dearie. What is your fondest, not fondlest, memory of me?”

“That’s hard.”

“Because there are so many to choose from?”

“No, that’s not it. Let’s see, um… it’s a repetitive memory of a repetitive experience. When we dance, you know, and you are supposed to lead, and I lean back waiting to be swept off my feet, and then I look in your eyes and realize that behind your blue eyes is an ocean of Play Doh, and then I lead and tell you what to do next, which is why I tore your rotator cuff last spring…”

“Uh hum, that is a run on sentence, Sweets.”

“And you will drink it down like free chianti.”

“As your champion, I will gladly wear the wounds of love’s many battles, my Lady. Mostht thertainly.”

Image result for kneeling knight in front of h is ladyThis never happened. As the three long time readers of this blog can attest, rarely is reality accurately depicted here. It’s mostly verbal Jello that fails to set up due to a lack of integral pectinosity. Do not eat this. Do not step off the top paragraph. Do not print this on a plastic bag and wrap it around your head as it could cause asphyxiation and/or death. Do not take seriously or brain damage may result.

 

 

 

 

 

380. A Leonard Cohen kind of day

If you get bummed out listening to Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, or Neil Young, or relentless icy rain on the roof for that matter, and think you can’t get any lower, there is always Leonard Cohen, the Canadian opiate poet songwrier. He’s deadly beauty in commotion that flows out of a bottomless, abandoned coal mine throat. Ghosts and steam rise out of echoing shafts leading from his tortured, half-buried, dying heart. He reminds me of steam grates on a New York City winter day that fumigate passersby in mysterious vapor, where homeless folks try to sleep under funky layers of old newspapers fished out of trash cans… and Leonard is the heat source way down below, brewing bitter beer in Hell. I’d recognize his voice anywhere, “Hello again, Leonard. I thought that was you, man. Come on in.”

I used to listen to Leonard back in college, the early 70’s. If you were feeling edgy or sad, making a noose maybe, he could fix that by totally obliterating any residual hope or joy in just one song. He could kick the chair out from under your dead weight and leave you literally hanging. His song “Suzanne” used to slither through my consciousness and bump into dirty laundry piles of longing and melancholy.  I smoked filterless cigarettes then, having little concern about my health or future or anyone else’s. Leonard Cohen’s songs hung in the air like blue tobacco smoke in a sealed coffin room, permeating the clothes and furniture fabric there. They moved me off any easy rock and roll street I might have been dancing across, away from sensitive singer songwriters who offered love and hope and happiness. Instead, raw, slow Leonard lightning would hit my solar plexus and bring me just short of my knees, dry heaving at his truths… dark truths that would conjure tears I had no idea existed in me. Hauntingly sad, brutal beauty stirred in my guts, deep calling out to deep. It must be the foolish, self defeating Irish in me that sags and lingers over the Pieta or a lonely Corot landscape. I remain enthralled and fascinated by tragedy.

All those guys  come from up north, come to think of it. Leonard & Neil–Canada, Dylan–Minnesota, Lou Reed–New York. Hmmm, Joni Mitchell is Canadian also, and she could toss your soul into a deep well in two stanzas, ropeless and hopeless. I know depression rates rise at you move away from the equator, so consider this observation one more proof of the intersection of psychological pathology and geography. North of  42* N equals longitudinal attitudinal dysregulation. Jimmy Buffet comes from the Gulf Coast. And lots of other rockers came out of L.A., Southern California. I think you see the sunshine pattern, right?

Wet, gray, cold, low pressure days simply elapse like trash fires that smolder all day. Not enough oxygen or fuel to thrive. It’s hard to tell what time of day it is. 10 a.m. looks the same as 4 p.m. so your sense of time is skewed further, even though we turned the clocks ahead Sunday morning. My watch and car clock are still an hour behind. I’ll change them when I’m good and ready, okay? Maybe by default in the fall. I love the old cynical observation that even a broken clock is right twice a day. So even the clown who refuses to set his clocks ahead is correct twice a day? No, I guess he just remains behind. He’s not broken just stupid.

What is time anyway other than man’s feeble attempt to measure and then control nature? I’m sure Leonard Cohen has something to say about time. His song “Closing Time”, as a matter of opinion, feels like battery acid on the tongue and a fork in the eye. The video version is shot in black and white because the lyrics and mood are so not colorful. People and clothes and chairs float across the screen as he moans the fallen angel lyrics. Yeah, there is beauty in brokenness, but you need an unbroken background to appreciate the ruins. If all the world looked like Detroit or Syria, photographers would find other subjects for their lenses. These desolate places can strike visceral chords in us because we have seen pristine beauty, ordered and glorious. A little Detroit or Aleppo goes a long way, thank you.clostimevid

This is true of Leonard Cohen as well. Ruins and ghettos, devastation and devolution have no future. Cold, wet late winter days must yield to pure spring bursting forth Life’s force. It must and shall overcome the doom and gloom of desperation. It’s not any more naïve to believe in redemption than it is to believe in eternal damnation. The bitter existentialist says, “This is it. There is no more. Suck on it.” I prefer to wait and see for myself for what lies beyond. I expect one day Chernobyl will be the name of a nice medium sweet red wine and not a nuclear disaster story.

Then again there is Leonard’s “Hallelujah”, written way back in 1984. It winds through the historically religious use of hallelujah while also moving beyond exclusively religious context. This holy word is given common purpose, affirming the Life force beyond (or is it beneath?) King David, more like his adulterous passion. Leonard mingles the profane with the holy as he moves between choruses of Hallelujahs, claiming there are two versions of Hallelujah, a holy and a broken one. In his last verse Leonard seems to give a proclamation: despite or because of all his shortcomings, he will praise the Lord of Song with his broken hallelujah.

Yeah, and as usual he cuts your heart in two– one auricle for you, one for me. One ventricle for you, the other for me. Wine pumps through one side, formaldehyde cures the other. Leonard, you kill me… but please, will you sing this at my funeral?

353. Christmas in Prison

John Prine is an old favorite of mine. I bought his albums as a teenager and saw him once or twice in concert back in the day. “Angel from Montgomery”, “Illegal Smile”, and “Hello in There” are songs that have held up well over the decades. But “Christmas in Prison” has always held an ironic  place in my memory banks, especially the first four lines. What an unlikely pairing:  the season of redemption, grace and joy with the place of justice, punishment and separation.

It was Christmas in prison
And the food was real good
We had turkey and pistols
Carved out of wood

And I dream of her always
Even when I don’t dream
Her name’s on my tongue
And her blood’s in my stream.

Our singer persona is lying in his rack dreaming about the love of his life. I imagine it is a sweet torture for him to digest his Christmas meal while longing for his fair lady with unquenchable desire. Inmates still care and long for love too. Though he never tells his crime, it’s certainly a serious felony to be in a prison that features a searchlight and gun in the big yard. The reference to eternity suggests that he’s a lifer. Perhaps he’s a killer.

Wait awhile eternity
Old mother nature’s got nothing on me
Come to me
Run to me
Come to me, now
We’re rolling
My sweetheart
We’re flowing
By God!

His paean to desire begins with hope, I like to think so anyway. As he  works the figurative language, we get a strange description of a smart woman who is super sweet, maybe too sweet to digest. I’ve never done a picnic in the rain after a prairie fire, but I imagine the opposing energies could be interesting if not unforgettable.

She reminds me of a chess game
With someone I admire

Or a picnic in the rain
After a prairie fire

Her heart is as big
As this whole goddamn jail

And she’s sweeter than saccharine
At a drug store sale.

Okay, not a great poet but he’s a convict, found guilty of doing something very bad. His words are consistent with his setting and character.  His sweet torture, like an addict shooting up again, hoping for the original dragon ride that hooked him, leaves only a drop of blood and an empty syringe, full of disappointment. The chorus loses hope the second time around as he calls without an echoing response from his love.

Wait awhile eternity
Old mother nature’s got nothing on me
Come to me
Run to me
Come to me, now
We’re rolling
My sweetheart
We’re flowing
By God!

Actually, he’s not rolling or flowing anywhere. He’s doing hard time. I remember doing prison ministry twenty five years ago. Two or three of us would go to the county jail once a month and spend 90 minutes with a dozen or so men in orange jumpsuits. All of them had release dates that were measured in weeks and months. Still, Christmas in county jail is no picnic. About half of the population is on psychotropic medications that are dispensed from a cart, like the cookie cart at nursing homes. They are anxious, depressed, and sometimes psychotic. Who wouldn’t be while in jail for the holidays?

The search light in the big yard
Swings round with the gun
And spotlights the snowflakes
Like the dust in the sun
It’s Christmas in prison
There’ll be music tonight
I’ll probably get homesick
I love you. Goodnight.

I recall one fellow I met with individually. He had a six month sentence for trying to buy cocaine from an undercover stinger. Jake was losing his mind as Christmas came before his release date. “I can’t do it, man. I’m paranoid that the guards will set me up or one of the other inmates will plant contraband in my bunk. They don’t want me to get out. I’m freakin’ out.”

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The next visit I had with Jake I took 180 pennies and made a pile on the steel  table between us. “What’s that for?” he asked. “Well, it’s your sentence, 180 days. What I want you to do is count out the days you have already served.”

He complied, and as he did so a smile broke out on his somber pale face. “Man, I only have twenty six days to go. No problem. I got it.”

I was amazed at how such a simple visual could connect with someone’s hopeless restlessness. Jake actually got out a week early for good behavior merits, but the jailers didn’t let him know till the day of release.

Wait awhile eternity
Old mother nature’s got nothing on me
Come to me
Run to me
Come to me, now
We’re rolling
My sweetheart
We’re flowing
By God!

He was a messed up kid from a messed up family. At least he got out by New Year’s Eve. I saw him off in his civilian clothes. He seemed just as anxious about his freedom as he had been about his incarceration.

Which brings me to the birth of Jesus, the redeeming savior of mankind, who cancelled our human nature debt and set the captives free from Hell’s grip. We cannot forget that crucial fact or take it for granted unless we want to be singing the blues in a jail of our own making. Not all prisons are bricks, bar, and mortar structures. Some are edifices of anger with spires of  pride. Some are sad swamps of grief and regret. “I coulda’ been a contender”, said Brando’s  boxer character in On the Waterfront. No matter. You have been set free by grace. Enjoy the reprieve. We’re flowing by God.

 

 

352. The Most Wonderful Time

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, goes the song, etching an idealistic Currier and Ives lithograph over a Norman Rockwell world inside a Martha Stewart silver picture frame. For many folks, however, it is anything but the most wonderful time. It’s the undiagnosable health disorder, or a loved one’s dementia, or a marriage that is out of gas, or a parent who won’t show up yet again. It’s the first Christmas without the child who died. It’s unemployment again. Loss. Fear. Angst. Unfathomable darkness that holds no sleep… only terror.

Andy Williams sang it…

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
It’s the hap -happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap – happiest season of all
 
Well, even Andy Williams had some heart aches, as I recall. As popular and successful as he was, his ex-wife accidentally murdered her then boyfriend, and Andy showed up to defend her and pay her legal fees in 1976. I don’t think that was the hap-happiest season of all. More likely it was the awk-awkwardest season of all. She got 30 days in jail, which she served on weekends that she was not vacationing with her defense lawyer, whom she later married. Hey, this is starting to sound like a Kardashian movie where crème cheese cocaine cupcakes are served to celebrity guests on gold plated china at a brothel and no one ever goes to jail or work. They just go shopping. But with all those gay happy meetings and holiday greetings, who has time for consequences? Party on!! Consume, consume, consume.
All of that reality t.v. noise holds a certain appeal for the masses– curb appeal, sex appeal, surfacey marketability appeal, buzz and sizzle. But it holds onto nothing when the winds of purpose blow. It’s a silky tumbleweed somersaulting across a desert, dribbling seed pods of emptiness.  All the glitz and good cheer are no more anchored than champagne bubbles in a flute. Ever wonder why the bubble streams originate at certain points?
It happens when microscopic fibers ­– left by a kitchen towel or often just an airborne particle –  stick to the side of the glass, allowing molecules of dissolved carbon dioxide to coalesce and form bubbles.
In short, imperfect surfaces and dirt particles are the source of the fizzle. At a certain level we know this intuitively, but we lust for that fizz anyway. I suppose it’s always been like this because human nature is the same today as ever it has been.
In the pre-Christian era when Abraham parted ways with his nephew Lot, we know how that turned out because the word sodomy is still with us unfortunately, to remind us of the perverse depravity that was on the loose in the cities of Abraham’s time. Lot seemed to be thrilled with the glitz of the material world and was drawn to the fizz of city life. He chose the well watered plain of Jordan for his flocks.  On the other hand, Abraham was holy and stayed in the still wilderness near the trees of Mamre, near God. As you likely recall, he pestered God to intervene and save Lot and his daughters from a horrible encounter in Sodom. God complied. He blinded the Sodomites, allowing Lot, his wife, and kids an escape as he fireballed that perverse city.
Something like this theme appears in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart. The sappy sentimentality of this movie gags me as an adult, but it does demonstrate the difference a good man can make. The saccharin gag response comes from the ridiculously shallow spirituality of a Hollywood angel of God earning his wings. George Bailey is saved from suicide by clumsy Clarence, who shows him how life would look without his presence. What brings up my bile is the false focus on a man’s goodness, i.e., giving the credit to the messenger that belongs to the author of the message. George did not redeem himself. Clarence did not redeem him. Nor did the people of Bedford Falls redeem him. The savior of mankind redeemed him, but that does not work well on film. Instead we get a curly haired little girl,
spouting the predictable warm and fuzzy platitudes. Thus, sugar poisoning. Lot did not reform Sodom and restart the savings and loan. He barely escaped the depravity.
God is unpredictable, folks. You can’t get ahead of Him, so you might as well get behind Him. Problem is in our materialistic culture, when things are good, we think we are awesome, smart, sexy, precious, etc. The more stuff we give or get, the better we are. Ga-ga-gag. Time to reframe. Strip away the tarnished gilt and see your putrid guilt. Test your futile strength by feeling your awesome weakness. Reject your dying flesh and accept your God-given beauty. Blessings come in all shapes and sizes, even in silences and absence. God often works paradoxically, by pruning us of material things so that we can flourish in our faith. A pruned down grape vine is about as ugly as a wildebeest, but Jesus used it as a metaphor of Himself and His followers. Humble, thoroughly humble. Not sexy, popular, glitzy, stunning, or provocative.
Loss can sand down what is left behind, enabling us to accentuate and celebrate life’s broken beauties. We can still love what’s left after the stroke, the accident, the divorce, or the relapse. Even after life knocks the wind out of us, God can breathe for us and through us; that’s what spirit means, after all, breath. It’s more than bubbles of carbon dioxide. If we are God breathers, well, what a wonderful malady that would be, spiritual tuberculosis. .. to be infected and consumed by the breath of God.
So my jingle belled javelinas, it comes down to this:  consume more inflated emptiness or be consumed and saturated by your Creator.

340. NYC

This past weekend was spent in Manhattan, New York, New York. “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere”, so the song goes. [“Unfortunately, if you can’t make there, you just go home and mope about what a sucking loser you are.” That line was mysteriously cut from the original version of New York, New York. Apparently it lacked musicality.] Our pilgrimage this year was the least stressful trip to, through, and out of Manhattan that we have ever experienced. We being my lovely wife, my operatic daughter, and I. Last Christmas was the last time we visited and whatta, whatta, whatta nightmare it wa- wa- wa- was!! The traffic was inhuman. Cruel even.  We spent two hours getting through the Holland Tunnel and then putzing through lower Manhattan over to Brooklyn, where we returned my eldest daughter to her micro apartment thimble-sized sparrow nest. (I am feeling re-traumatized now just typing about the memory. “I’ll have a Xanax martini, bartender. Make it fizz.”)  I got stuck in the crosswalk just a block away from the tunnel entrance on the Jersey side. A murderously angry driver in a Lincoln town car blew his horn and accelerated like a rabid bull toward my side of the car as we sat helplessly in the intersection, expecting to be gored on the doorstep of the Big Apple. Dude locked up his brakes and stopped inches from my door, like it was a mob hit, think of Sonny at the toll booth in The Godfather .  We all screamed in anticipation of the impact that did not come to my new car, but the horns just kept blaring at me, condemning my blatant tourist fox paws, that’s French for a social blunder.  The stress kept mounting until my skull cracked open and a tree grew up from the pavement of my corpus callosum as we entered Brooklyn. What kind of tree, you ask?  A coconut naturally. I had to tilt my head forward to avoid catching the fronds on the Williamsburg Bridge supports.

Image result for coconut tree growing out of someone's head pictureThat’s what it felt like anyway, a massive fuzzy spider web of stress that spread out from my brain stem across every millimeter of my crawling skin and then crystallized into veins of brittle glass. Simply breathing required focus due to the overwhelming video game exploding on the other side of my windshield, sucking my eyeballs out of their fragile sockets– trucks, taxis, buses, scooters, skate boarders, bicyclists going with and against traffic, and endless pedestrians on cell phones talking to their lawyers about potential traffic torts. [I need a breath here. Whew!! “Bartender, another zantini.”] All this stimulation palpitated at the bottom of incredibly interesting canyons of amazing architecture and iconic buildings, bridges, and statues everywhere. Wha- wha- wha- what the heck!!! You don’t realize that you have stopped blinking due to your very active fear of death. Naturally your eyes dry out and the sooty air begins to sand down your corneas. And yet, on this razor’s edge of existence you feel fully alive and a part of this liquid human magic act where thousands ebb and flow by one another crimelessly. It should never work, this human bee hive, but some primeval cooperative gene turns on and millions of humans glide by each other as if choreographed by a master dance genius.

Of course it helps if you come in to Midtown via the Lincoln Tunnel. No muss, no fuss, just 14 bucks. And then stay near the theatre district, which we did this time. Thankfully, our street, 37th, was actually closed due to some construction project at the end of our block. We parked, yes PARKED, across the street in a garage for less than $50 a day. Our tiny suite was quiet, QUIET. The only word we could not use, in fact, can never ever be used in NYC, was CHEAP. New York is a huge money meter monster that has to be fed richly every hour or it will grind you up and spit you out onto the grimy sidewalks where those same millions of minions will trundle by crimelessly self absorbed.

Where do they toilet and bathe, the homeless?  Forget laundry. They are like the pigeons, living on the crumbs and debris of the well heeled Gothamites. God knows when a sparrow falls. I guess He knows when all these human pigeons scuttle about, living like modern lepers. I ask myself ‘Why is it that some folks sell junk on the streets and others beg? They spend just as much time on the same street.’ The one standing offers you a hat, an umbrella, a t-shirt, tickets to a comedy club, or a photo of John Lennon hugging the Naked Cowboy when they were both toddlers. The slouching other asks for your pity and jiggles a cup with coins. They are both selling junk, but the one still standing does not believe he is the junk being sold.  Meanwhile I’m going to a two hour show and put my butt in a $75 seat. I’m eating dinner with $18 bottled water to wash it down. And I wonder how these guys even got into Manhattan at $14 a pop. Happily there is no charge to leave. But why does their image burn deeper and last longer than the sentimental musical I paid to see? I guess their performances are more meaningful in the grand scheme of things. Unforgettable even.

No matter the cost, I think of my New York trips as investments, not as frivolous and extravagant waste. It’s like Dorothy going to Oz. Visiting Gotham makes living in Kansas or Central PA more bearable.

Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leavin’ today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York
I want to wake up, in a city that doesn’t sleep
And find I’m king of the hill
Top of the heap
These little town blues
Are melting away
I’ll make a brand new start of it
In old New York
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York

 

335. Amore perfect day…

Image result for brilliant fall day picturesA more perfect day I can’t recall

as the lazy leaves litter emerald lawns-

no need to cut or weed again

till spring dawns.

The sky is a sapphire dome

with a glowing tungsten sun

massaging fifty five degree air

into ideal running weather.

As I run out and then home

A wisp of a breeze about.

No traffic, no body in the park

jogging along trying

to get out of myself and

breathe God’s glory in and out.

“Abba… I belong to You.”

Brennan Manning suggests this prayer

for 30 soothing

minutes a day, only this prayer

till transformation arrives.

Old Norman Rockwell would cry

’cause he couldn’t paint this blissful

riot of colors and shapes yanking at

my eyes for praise and wonder.

I just keep pounding away
savoring the dusty smell of dry oak leaves
Don’t think, draw no conclusions
Be a leaf tumbling down to the earth
Simply breathe, “Abba… (inhale)
I belong to you” (exhale)
 
Forget the connections and the constant
knitting of perceptions into some fruitless fabric
of meaning. No, unravel me, God.
Blow through me
shredding all my manmade knots;
pull me through the knothole
to Your side
where truth and love reside.
Here I’m too big in my pride
Too wide in my self love
Shrink me, God, with a syringe of humility
Draw me down gently like a sunset
“Abba… I belong to you”.
 =====================================================================
This was my internal monologue as I jogged my two miles today, waiting for my body to revolt, but it didn’t. The lungs and legs kept churning reliably. So nice since I hear of many folks with compromised health, and I, of course, naively hope to be the exception to disease and injury. Silly self delusions. No one gets out alive, though many get out unaware of eternity, never knowing why they lived or what it meant. No thanks. I’d rather have the truth in pain than ignorance in bliss.
 
I came up the rise to where Eric’s blue fountain sits, a little oasis for dogs and humans. 360 degrees of autumn glory sang out to my senses. I hugged the round fountain, warmed by the afternoon sun. “I miss you, Buddy. Your love, your joy, your purity. Go Steelers!! Yeah Buddy.” I thanked him for the short drink and started to wander off, wondering how Eric is doing in heaven. Joy, joy, unspeakable joy is all that came to my love kneaded mind. I thought about his funeral in February. We sang “Joy to the World” to him and for him. On this fall day I thought Beethoven’s 9th was in order. “Ode to Joy” is the English  translation. Everyone knows the melody. Just a couple of lyric lines will do…
All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
 Image result for orchestra director pictures
I imagined Eric leading a celestial orchestra the same way he used to lead bands at the winery when we all went to dance. Eric would dance and sway in his own zone of supreme happiness. Everyone knew he was special, beautifully special. My friend Clark said, “No one got more joy out of his time than Eric.” And I agree. Let that sink in as you drink in joy. What a wonderful way to honor Eric’s memory with a fountain to refresh you and your dog; a dogwood tree to impress you with its beauty; and a bench to rest upon. Eric was a famous rester and generous with his extravagant joy.
Months after Eric’s funeral his dad Dave kept praying for a word from God to know that Eric was alright. His father’s heart was gnawed at by the relentless rodents of not knowing. Then one afternoon his phone rang with an unfamiliar number. Music blared, the Vienna Boys Choir… and then an old voicemail from Eric burst across time, “Hey Dad. I’m fine. Love You. Bye.” Joy, unspeakable joy, swept over my friend like one of those street cleaner machines. Big brushes scrubbed away disbelief and grief for the moment. He ran to get Vickie and share the wonderful message from the maestro of joy. Listening to it eased the ache of the razor blade in his heart, as grateful tears rolled down his cheeks. “My Boy is all right. He’s alright. He managed to call me. Wow. Unbelievable.”
In the ICU Dave’s question had been “Why? Why?” as Eric lay like a pin cushion mannequin, tubes and monitors tethered all over him. Now his word was “Wow! Wow!” Faith blown away by answers.
Tears swell in the back of my throat just remembering this fantastic story. And I breathe again without running, “Abba… I belong to you.” Eric belongs to Dave. Dave belongs to God. We all belong.
 
It won’t be long till we are pulled through the knothole of time and space that separates us bodily from the Creator.  For now, only our souls can slip through the keyhole like smoke rings to the other side. Every now and then a smoke ring blows back through the keyhole, catches us by surprise on a perfectly glorious day… and unlocks the universe.

329. Relax, loosen again

The blue horizon just sits there, level. Dividing a pale blue sky from its dark ocean self. Is the sky half empty or half full, or half full of emptiness?  Sixteen floors above the beach that horizon is the halfway mark of the sliding glass balcony doors I am gazing through this late October afternoon. Little white caps appear like silverfish  and then are gone as the waves roll into Myrtle Beach. Our last day of deep relaxation and peace. No phones, no schedules, no pressure, no worries. My little brain is plumping up again — a reconstituted prune– due to the week’s luscious inactivity. I feel like I am finally recovering from screamotherapy, also known as office work. Blogging is the only thing approaching work that I have done since last Saturday. Ahhhhhh. I know from experience, though, that this blissful pause will not last beyond Tuesday coming. Like a massage. And maybe that’s how it should be. If only we could reload more frequently with such bliss instead of wandering like desert bound camels far away from living water. “Mike, Mike, Mike, what day is it?…. HUMP DAAAAAAY.” Only galley slaves celebrate Wednesdays, my Bloggumps.

Before leaving home, people asked what I planned to do at the beach. DO? Nothing. No plangenda. Eat, rest, breathe, laugh, drink beer for lunch, sing silly songs, nap, shop with my wife, go to a show, and sleep. “Don’t worry about me. I will survive without achieving a thing.” I don’t want to jet ski or golf, parasail or fish, drive go karts or buy a time share. Those things require thought and ambition, not to mention money. I just want to watch the tide go out and come back in, like Otis Redding sang. And I’ve been successful all this glorious week in walking slowly up the beach and back, picking up broken shells and parts of sand dollars, as if these broken things were gold nuggets and rough diamonds, marveling at the whimsical genius in each shard. I’ve thrilled at the creativity of it all, at God’s hand in the tiniest of places. Ghost crabs and herons, sharks and ospreys, conch and scallop shells, children and old folks. It’s all good if you just let it be.

“How silly!” you might be tempted to say. “I can buy perfect shells at the craft store.” And you certainly can. Please do so. But I suspect if you are reading my eccentric meanderings, then you are not a perfectionist, unless you are doing a research project on sociopathic media.  As for me, I like brokenness, imperfection, flaws, nicks, dings, and apparent defects. You see: you can’t break it if it’s already broken, right? So there goes all that perfect pressure if you start with dents and rust. I find this especially true in the folks I call friends. They are eccentric, naturally, if they can tolerate me. Heck, they have lowered their standards to hang out with me, so it’s the least I can do to likewise lower mine.

Being a word nerd I like etymology, word origins. Relax comes from re+laxare, which means “to loosen again”.  Which makes me wonder aloud, ‘When were we laxare to begin with?’ Another way to ask this is ‘When did we get so uptight and rigid, so constipated?’ I suspect it happened during the industrialized socialization process known as high school. Most of us were herded into large warehouses and homogenized into teams or levels or some such commodification. Suddenly everything mattered or else we would not graduate, and therefore be unemployable, and therefore be homeless and wind up dead in jail for vagrancy. All because we did not pass ninth grade geography that no longer resembles today’s maps. Okay? Where did Rhodesia go? And the Soviet Union? And when did you last use Algebra II/Trig?”I once made a wooden Christmas drum for my mother-in-law and needed to figure out pi r squared. But that’s about it for me and higher math. The drum looked nice.

In high school I was taught that the Great Lakes were biologically dead. The Cold War would never thaw out. The sun would never set on the British Empire. And I could not succeed if I did not go to a good college. Now, the Great Lakes look great. The Cold War is lukewarm history. And the British Empire has shrunken down like a wool sweater in the dryer. All this is forgivable because we can just shake it all off as a snake would shed its old skin. But the tense sphincter factor of getting uptight about succeeding in life is not. Just being a regular guy in a relaxed manner became tantamount to being a loser. You had to grab on tight and never let go of the success train to achievement. Get busy, get educated… advanced degree, get a job, get rich, get married, get pregnant, get ahead, get a good retirement, get cremated. I must admit, this never appealed to me very much.

Listening to music, hanging out with my friends, reading good books– all trumped being super focused on my GPA or my gross annual income. I found it exhausting to care about others’ opinions of me. I like to say to my clients, “It’s hard enough to fly your own helicopter; trying to fly your neighbor’s helicopter at the same time will kill both of you.” Translated this means, “Work on your own life. Don’t bother with others’ views of your life.” Relax. Breathe. Just be.

A lot of what was presented as indisputable facts in the early 1970s turned out to be wrong, mere opinion, or just partly true. And I’m fine with that. Hey, there were no personal computers around then, no Google, just for a starter point. They didn’t know any better. I never learned how to write a research paper or do a chemistry experiment or solve a quadratic equation. Still, I’ve had a nice life, a great wife, three great daughters, my own business, and yes, laxare. I’ve been told a thousand times about how life could, would and should collapse on my Chicken Little neck. To date it has not. Like my broken shells I have found beauty in the tiniest places… and breathe joy deeply and loosely. It feels good, my Blogstaceans. Real good.

Keep the party going.

 

 

324. Stains, Repairs and Marriage.

So the decks off the back of my house needed to be repaired and stained yet again. They are twenty years old, maybe 22.  It doesn’t matter. They have been exposed to the blistering southern sun and cold western winds that sometimes whip against my house all these years. Rain is never far off for long in South Central PA, so the old pressure treated wood rarely gets to dry out. Then the filthy maple tree drops leaves and helicopters and bird poop steadily from April to October. All this exposure encourages warping, splintering and cracking. You don’t think on the last day of construction that you are obligating yourself to ongoing maintenance, not when everything is new and clean, straight and plumb, square and true. The piney smell of fresh sawdust sprinkles the air above the decks on the day you walk across their near perfection. Like a brand new marriage on your wedding day, you can’t see the splintering flaws hidden in your future. They are unimaginable. What could possibly go wrong?

My friend Jeff built these decks and the staircase that connects them way back when. He did a great job at cost, leaving me to finish the pickets and the braces, as well as finishing the installation of lag bolts here and there. I know I got the pickets installed, forgot the braces and might have installed the lag bolts incorrectly. It didn’t seem to matter because the decks looked so good. I put the tools away and just enjoyed what was there. From the start of it all, you see, I slacked.

Just for the sake of comparison, I got married 36 years ago. Yup. Been many a storm and drought in those years. Lots of bird poop and dead leaves have fallen on us, but so has new growth and some amazing blessings.  Three wonderful daughters any parent would be proud of. A great son in law. An adorable granddaughter. Like our old double decks, our marriage looked good from a distance. If you walked around my marriage often enough, however, you’d notice the sway and unevenness here and there. The corners were pulling out of square. The steps wiggled a bit. A couple of short cuts were visible. Things didn’t line up exactly and gaps appeared. Oh well, that’s okay. Good enough. It would not collapse outright, but it might be unsafe without routine inspection and maintenance… because I slacked at times. Nails instead of screws, screws instead of bolts. A good deck needs nothing but use, right?

So this past weekend I power-washed both decks and the staircase in the middle of a rainstorm. I blasted old stains, mildew, dirt and gunk for three plus hours. This rain soaked duty is something I would never have willingly done if it weren’t for the acute urgency I felt to make changes now. I’d been a poor and lazy steward of these decks. The steps had not been stained last time around I noticed. Likely because I’d said to myself, “I’ll get back to that” and never did. Many thoughts passed through my mind on that rainy day. Remorse and hope arm wrestled one another like I wrestled the power washer wand. “Why did it have to come to this point? Clearly it did not. Neglect, whether of a person or a thing, leads to decay.”

Nails had worked themselves up and out of their holds mysteriously. It was a simple matter to pound them back in or replace them with galvanized deck screws. I felt a measure of self contempt and self satisfaction as I repaired the results of my neglect. I looked at my physical efforts as half a metaphor for my marriage relationship: can I do the same things with my good, solid wife? Can I draw the corners of our relationship back into square and make our rails plumb? And what did I contribute to their warping? My harsh judgments had been blisteringly unforgiving, simmering under the painted surfaces, cooking the sap of her timbers. My icy words and frosty silences froze her heartwood, cracking and swelling each carefully laid board. I did not cherish or respect her enough to do the needed maintenance cheerfully. Only when life was power washing me did I do the right stuff.

I bit my lip harder as I self confessed my arrogant stupidity. Twenty years ago I used to paint others’ houses with great care and precision, taking great pains to make them look good. Many a fellow painter said to me, “Just make it look good from the street.” That rubbed me the wrong way.  Yet, in retrospect, I see that I did to my house what I did to my marriage and family: I often gave my best overs to others and my left overs to my loved ones. Who does this? Who is more present, respectful, patient, etc.  for strangers than for their own family?

The answer is a moron, i.e., me.

I remembered the old joke about the painter who thinned the paint he used for painting the church’s steeple. He thought no one would notice and he’d pocket the difference. As he was finishing the scam, the voice of God shook his scaffolding.

“Clarence, you have cheated the church and me. You did not cheapen the paint but you did cheapen yourself. You have seriously sinned here, Bro.”

Clarence, “Lord, Lord, I am sorry. What should I do?”

The Lord, “Repaint, repaint and thin no more.”

As I reclined with a sore back that night, I thought about those braces. I had bought some 2×4’s along with extra stain. Before the sun went down, I went back out and  cut and screwed three of them on the diagonal into the staircase supports. Amazingly the wobble was gone. The shaky shake stairs were suddenly rock solid. I was thrilled with the difference. I could not wait for my wife to walk down them like a new bride– safely, steadily and securely on a fresh new promise.

“Repent, repent and sin no more.” I can do the first and struggle hard against the second… but only through the power of my gracious God can I succeed. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

314. the silent man

He doesn’t say much, so it’s hard to tell if he’s thinking or what he’s feeling. His is not so much a poker face as it is a deflated basketball face. It seems that he used to have more substance on the inside that pushed his chin out and cocked his mouth into a confident smile. More bounce. Back then his warm eyes promised more to come. Now he spends an inordinate amount of time staring into his phone, barely tethered to family and friends, like an absent minded astronaut doing a space walk in the zero oxygen environment of black space.

“I’m going to eat in the bedroom tonight.”

“I’m going to bed now.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow night.” And he disappears into that black void beyond gravity’s pull. It’s a weightless but joyless place he goes, and it chips my heart every time he does.”

She is left with behaviors as the evidence of what lies within her almost champion’s heart and head.

“He’s kind and caring… my anchor, but I need him to be the captain of the ship. It’s easy to take an anchor for granted, you know. It’s out of sight and just barely attached. You don’t realize it’s even there when it does its job. In a crisis you pray that it will hold firm… but it’s hard to love an anchor.”

“He’s in chronic pain, tired, and deflated. Yeah, there’s that deflated idea again, where you have to slam the ball down to get it to come back up half as high. Underinflated, hmmmm, like depressed. But let’s not fix anything, no.  I don’t want to be a nag, but I won’t be a doormat either. I’ve done both before and neither worked out. I love who he is; I just don’t get to see much of his who. All the whats bog us down.”

“I’m all over the place with emotions and words and actions. I’m the pilot, the cook, the look out, the medic, the mechanic, fire police, security, accountant, and I swab the ship’s deck. I need him to step into the captaincy, you know, assert some authority.

“Sometimes it’s like playing with my old Mr. Potato Head. I start with a blank slate and give him arms to hold me, cuz I need hugs and touch. I’m a feely kind of girl, you know. Hugs are my drugs.

“Then I’d snap in those smoky eyes I long to fall into. It used to be automatic that I’d see his soul jumping like a pair of dolphins in those deep waters. I can’t find that accessory today, only sad or tired or glazed over eyes in today’s toy box. Mr. Potato Head, I need your soft hands to hold me. I need your strong arms to draw me into that cove where dolphins leap in tandem.

“You’re gonna need more tissues. Honk!!! Sniff. Sigh. I have a buy one get one free coupon for tissues.”

“No thanks. I get a perverse pleasure out of paying full price for things.”

“I’ll give it to your wife. I’m sure she loves a bargain.”

“Oh Yeah.”

“I have three fathers. You know my birth dad left when I was two. He went back to his native country and the familiar world where he was someone of notice. For over forty years I had nothing but radio silence, not even a pop or static on the line, as his blood flowed through my veins. However, my adopted dad showed up big in my life, and I couldn’t have asked for more. I think about that often. When I felt the empty space pull on my soul, I leaned into my Father God. He never left. He’s always held me together when I felt my seams breaking. He sent my adopted father to stand in the huge scarring gap my birth dad left behind.

“Funny thing is I’ve had three husbands also. My adolescent husband abandoned me along with the truth, dignity and the American Way. He chose the past also, where he was someone special. He burned the truth as a sacrifice on the altar of his self-indulgence. He grew like a pimple on my butt. So incredibly annoying and demanding.  Just like with my dad dilemma, I fell into God’s loving arms, exhausted and shattered. Again, My God Jesus walked as a husband with me, filling in the abyss until Chuck and I started the sequels to our first marriages.

“Chuck is the good sheriff who shows up and brings order in the bad cowboy town. I was so hopeful that he’d keep growing, sharing in my life, and not just settle for safe streets. That old song plays in my head about standing by me. I need that so much.

“Stand by Me” by Ben E. King
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
Oh darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah
Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me, oh now now stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
And that’s where I am today, with that old song playing in my exhausted heart. I know God held me in His hands till my True Dad showed up and made it all work. In faith I have to believe He is doing the same with my True Love.

296. Eric’s Fountain

Image result for forrest gump picturesAs I was getting ready to take a late Saturday afternoon shower, I decided to jog. Actually I’d just stepped on the scale and saw I was still fat. Maybe a jog on a hot day would melt some of my doughboy belly. “Chasing the fat man” is my line when someone asks where I’m going with my running shoes on or why. Away I went, feeling too heavy for my feet, like I’d been in a holding cell for months.The rhythm came back, plodding on. The breathing came too fast and sweat began at my thin hairline.

Through the familiar neighborhood streets and down toward Norland Park. Not too many folks out today, which was fine with me. I could hear  the far off cheers of a girls softball game. Meanwhile I was listening to my body. Would my knee loosen up? Would my back seize up as it has from my unfortunate heel striker stride? Would my minor arthritis flare? Everything felt fine as I ran by the old train cars thinking about water at 1 mile. Image result for train caboose pictures

When I was younger I’d cruise through this circuit with no water and keep on going for several miles. Not today. I just wanted to do two miles without injury.

I started up the mild rise to the high point of the park. I’d heard that Eric’s family intended to erect a water fountain in his name. As I came around the turn I saw the blue and silver cylinder. Awesome! I had to stop and read the sign and just  pause to reflect on one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever known. There are three spigots– one for humans, one for dogs, and one for bottle refills. I bent down for a drink. There was a pause and then the cool water came out.

Nearby was a bench facing east. Altogether a nice spot to pause and drink in nature as well as water. I thought of Eric and his gappy smile, his bird swoop, his funny voice that always seemed to have a laugh coming up. His belt buckle and boots, his hat, cowboy shirts, and a big sigh when he’d sit down like he’d just  plowed the back 40. “Yeah, Buddy.” He loved dogs and they returned the favor. Dogs know who loves them and who just says they do.

I pictured the Sexy Cowboy sitting on his bench approving of the site. I thanked him for the drink and plodded on, downhill now. Off to the right was that girls softball game in progress. Neon yellow shirts in the field while redshirts batted. After a single to right there were runners on first and third. The next batter laid down a great bunt, scoring the run and moving the girl on first to second. Everyone was safe. It looked like the neon yellows were defeated and just hoping to get it over with. At least that is what I imagined. Winners and losers, that’s life.Image result for girls softball pictures

I jogged down and out of the park. It struck me that in Eric’s world there were no losers. He was just a happy and giving guy. Even in death he gives strangers drinks of water.  Winner, winner. I thought of Jesus’ words…

New International Version
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

And Eric will do God’s will in perpetuity. Simple but profound. I jogged on through the old farm on the hill and around the sharp turn toward the small shaded woods. I inhaled the incomparable scent of honeysuckle blooms. Lovely. Still thinking about Eric and simple gifts of nature. Red raspberries are almost ready to eat, and mulberries are littering the edge of the road. Pure and simple and good. And Eric could easily fit right in among these gifts of God.Image result for honeysuckle pictures

Up, up over the big hill behind my house. I’ve found many odd things along the side of this road –deer carcasses, ATM machines, clothes, beer, porn magazines, a bowling ball– so nothing surprises me. Any litter bothers me, but some is so ridiculous. As I hit the final hill I noticed a hypodermic needle on the side of the road. Not the first I’ve seen, but I got the instant belief that this was a heroin needle. I’ve known a couple of IV users and thought this hypo could very well have been used by one of them. What a contrast to the good of Eric’s life. Here we have folks killing themselves a few milligrams at a time. Their lives are no fountains of goodness. Instead they impatiently jam a needle in their veins in the vain attempt to catch a dragon they once rode long ago and can never catch again. Loser, loser.Image result for hypodermic needle pictures

Further on I came across the splayed open carcass of an opossum, its guts spread out around it in a deathly halo. I couldn’t help associating this scar of death with the needle twenty yards away. Shooting up is like a possum running across the road at night. Most nights it makes it but when it doesn’t, well, it’s a spot on the road, a crow’s banquet or a happy meal for the coyotes. IV addicts live highly complicated and unhappy lives as they withdraw, crave, make the run to Baltimore, cut the deal with a some shady guy, tie off, shoot up, and wait for the high that does not come again. Such a waste. Heroin takes and takes until the user’s last breath fails. All meaning dissolves in the flame of false promises.

So far from the life of Eric. His life mattered and still does. He simply loved and gave from that place. His living water still flows on hot days. God bless you, Buddy.