425. Just a disturbing thought…

Image result for candle in a test tube picture

As the current political atmosphere gets more and more toxic, and the barometric pressure jacks up ever higher, I’ve been wondering what would happen if the media just did not cover the White House for 24 hours, and then 48 hours. Rather than feed the bonfire of vanities on all sides, what if the oxygen (endless attention and ratings) needed to keep it burning were cut off? Back in middle school science class you probably had to place a candle into an inverted test tube to prove that fire uses up available oxygen. Then, when there is no more oxygen, the fire is no more. Remember how the flame suddenly extinguished and then smoke took up residence in the tube? Yeah, I do too.

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.

 

411. It’s over… right?

 

The oligarchic Olympiad of the most un-presidential presidential election ever conducted on this planet is now over, isn’t it?  Please, God. Make it stop!  Two years and at least five billion dollars have produced…. what?  The Despicable with fewer votes loses. The Despicable with the larger number of votes gets to pull taffy with congress and the media for a while, until a hearing, special prosecutor, impeachment, or some other pair of concrete boots get shackled in place. But no, that does not even add up. The Despicable with the most popular votes lost, thanks to the electoral college system.  It’s hard to say which ruthless political hyena is the bigger loser. Oh yeah, but the biggest loser is our country, unfiltered and driven by idish fears where neither issues nor facts mattered in the end. Only the twin towers of fear and hate stood. Just take the gloves off and get violent. Take the mufflers off and get hostile. Turn the conscience off and spit all over the Other. Let there be no talk of reconciliation. No. No matter who won, it is a matter of Reload not Respect or Rapprochement. Fact deniers become verdict deniers and then history deniers. If you start with a pair of liars, you end with a frothing ocean of lies, breaking on our shores in wave after sickening wave of verbal garbage.

“But he lies more.”

“But her lies are worser.”

“No, he’s the worserest.”

“I know what you are, but what am I?”

And the wounded nation groans for the next generation.

I don’t ever recall the pure hatred of the other side as opposed to the firm declaration of difference in directions being outlined. My first election pitted Jimmy Carter against the un-elected, suddenly promoted in scandal, Gerald Ford. Good trivia question there:  which U.S. president was never elected president?  Oh, political science majors are drooling while googling. John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, Millard Fillmore, and Chester Arthur are the others who moved from vice to full president after calamity. Death opened the door for these guys, whereas Watergate opened the door for poor old clumsy Gerry Ford, who was not even elected Vice President, to stumble through. Spiro Agnew was elected twice. Remember him? However, these stories pale by comparison to the political pornography we have been subjected to for the past two years. Death would have been more noble for the office of the President than drowning in this moral sinkhole of 2016.

The media have functioned as porn film makers. They are just giving the people what they want, so they say, while raking in record ratings and earnings. Pollsters, pundits, professional blatherers have all gotten on the porn wagon. It is its own parasitic industry, ticks feeding on the blood of a bleeding nation. Fear and hate keep audiences glued to their favorite news outlets, drinking their favorite flavor of hallucinogenic Kool Aid. The political porn stars, Don and Hill, are hideous caricatures of character, so flawed on so many levels.

And we are the insatiable audience for this reality television, twitter feed, Facebook war on civility. Peephole creepers. Is it over yet?  No. The new stink is just beginning.  That skunk odor will help sell air fresheners and cigars, and trips to mythical places that have never existed. The campaign culture bar was lowered below ground level so that future political limbo dancers will have to knee walk through Hell, heads bent backwards, sucking the dirt from the soles of the same old special interests, shamelessly squirming to dodge custom made land mines. Hey, it’s what ya gotta do.

“The name of the new boss is the same as the old boss.”  Oh, that won’t do. Let’s go full credit to the Who…

THE WHO     “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the songI’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that’s all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain’t changed
‘Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
No, no!

I’ll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I’ll get all my papers and smile at the sky
Though I know that the hypnotized never lie
Do ya?

There’s nothing in the streets
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Are now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again
No, no!

Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

Sure, it will be different. Sure. The triumph of fear and hate sandblasted the electorate’s moral compasses, leaving nuclear ghosts where soulful people used to reside. Ever seen a nuclear ghost?  They are the shadows of folks whose bodies were annihilated by atomic bombs in Japan.
Onward, patriots. It had to be done, this scorched earth political assault. Once we stopped seeing the Others as  human beings and demonized them, the bombs had to drop, right?
But it’s over now, right? Wrong.
Revisit Dover Beach sometime, it ends this way…
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

 

392. Baltimore Up

Gravel roads led to a rutted dirt cart path. The taxi bounced. I could see the headlights of a tow truck coming at us out of the low sulfurous landscape. ‘Maybe this guy does know something after all.’

“Sunzofbitches goin to make another $200. Someone ought to stop this.” He pulled slightly out of the truck’s path but with palpable reluctance mowing over the hip high river grass. We bounced. The gun bounced. Nevermind. My sense of reality had long ago dribbled out of bounds while jogging earlier in a sketchy neighborhood. Here we were in a modern day “gunslinger versus cattle rustler” story where the cows and horses had been swapped out for cars and vans. A showdown at the AAA corral lay just ahead. Someone’s gonna die tonight in Baltimore, I just know it.

In the headlights’ beams I saw an outpost, a double wide trailer surrounded by a fence that seemed to be 14 feet tall. Unscaleable. On the other side of this monstrosity I saw my van, an innocent victim in a concentration camp. An old Asian man squatted in front of the gates, a mysterious gatekeeper who could have been in Vietnam or Cambodia guarding POW’s. Deniro again came to mind, The Deer Hunter. We were going back to Saigon to rescue our Pennsylvania village buddy from a final game of Russian roulette.

“That’s my van,” I uttered, hardly believing that this whole taxi experience was real.

“Want me to ram it?” my diligent but deranged driver asked. I was sure he’d do it.

“No, I want to do this legally, ya know. The cops are not on my side already.”

“Suit yourself, man.”

I got out and walked up a half flight of stairs to the skanky trailer. Cheap paneled walls on three sides of a small room forced you into the fourth wall, two inch thick bullet proof glass with a silver speak hole. Many signs  were pasted there. The only one that mattered read, “CASH ONLY”. A large woman in a sparkly black cocktail dress came to the other side. Her hair was too black, jewelry too big, and she had only a few of her own teeth.

I tried to contain my rage. “You stole my van and I want it back.”

“Thir, there’sth no need for hosthtility. I justht need two hundred dollarsth cash and you can have it. Thimple.”

“This is piracy. You are thieves preying on baseball fans…”

“It’s $200 tonight. If we sthore it for a day, it’sth thhhhreee fifty.”

My head was exploding with rage. I thought I’d maxed out but apparently my earlier rage had carved out new caverns for extra rage capacity. “Aaaghggrafrickinshashkamuffinboogerschnatzelcrimeneay!!::”

“You won’t take a VISA?”

“Nope. Cash only.”

“It’s after midnite and I’m paying a cabbie to hunt for my car that you stole…”

She gave me absolutely dead eyes heavily caked in mascara and blue eye shadow. Even in my rage I knew this woman was a permanent resident in this hell. I was merely visiting.

“I’ll be back. Don’t sell it while I’m gone cuz I’m sure that’s totally legal too.”

“No need for tharcasm, thir.”

I got back in the cab. Marty was incensed and feeding off my bad energy. “I can shoot that lock off the gate. Nobody’s gotta know. I got nothing to lose.”

“No. Let’s go back into the city and find an ATM.”

“Okay, man. But I could…”

“Do it!”

We bounced back out of the swamplands and back toward the orange mercury vapor lights of Baltimore.

“Shit like this is why I’m going to Denver. It’s getting harder and harder not to kill someone. I think there’s an ATM on the other side of these warehouses if I remember correctly. I’m turning the meter off by the way. The rest of the ride is on me.”

“Thanks, Marty.” Suddenly that woman’s speech impediment was stuck in my head and I wondered if I should have said, “Sanks”. My joints were coming unglued. I wondered if I could even remember my security code, 3791, the four corners of the pin pad. Okay, I can do this.

Mercifully we found an ATM that only charged $2.50 per transaction. I withdrew 100 times that to cover the pirate extortion, Marty’s incredible ride, and expenses along the way home. Actually, after I got back in the cab, I realized that I’d have no cash left, but it was going to finally end.

We drove back to the swamp land auto concentration camp. I tried to not speak to the cocktail ostrich woman behind the bullet proof glass. I can understand why they need it now. It had crossed my mind to borrow Marty’s .45 and drop some lead, but I reeled my rage back in.

“Show this receipt to Kwang Lei. He’ll unlock the gate for you.”

Utter contempt beamed back and forth between us to no avail.

I started my van and slowly drove out of the compound as Kwang Lei locked it behind me. Marty wished me well and led me back to Pratt Street, then he honked his horn and was gone. I was exhausted as I  pulled into the hotel at 2:10 a.m. My wife was awake. We scooped up our three sleeping girls and settled them in for the two hour silent ride home.

I composed an incendiary editorial in my head on the way home. Eventually I did type and mail it. I retold the sad tale of modern thievery and concluded almost Biblically, “I tried to find even fifty good men in Baltimore, but I could not. So I’m gathering Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, and Boog Powell. We won’t look back as God sodomly nukes Baltigomorra to nothingness.” I don’t think they published it.

The sun was coming up as we pulled into our driveway. I looked behind the yew bushes for No Parking signs and went to bed. The waking nightmare was over.

 

 

 

 

361. Onward, Mr. NOodle!

Yes, yes, onward, blogobstacles!! Let no man grow weary of slacking and surfing the net. We are the thin plutonium powder line between reality as we know it and impending chaotic doom of galactic marginalization and lardification.

“In a world where aliens and interstellar thugs reign havoc on the innocent, one man will rise to lead the broken nerd herd to conquerdom. A quiet hero called to duty by Elmo….”  Blast, boom, explode, sound effects. Bright lights. Hopeful music. And one chiseled face rises up on the screen… “His name? Mr. Noodle.”

How his name became a group’s battle cry is a long story without a beginning, middle, or end. Dave and Vicki and my wife and I and Dave’s two sisters were at Hauser’s Winery on the mountain top overlooking Gettysburg in late summer, early fall. There was a band around the corner but no seats for us, so we huddled against the warm stone wall at a metal table with eight chairs and drank wine, laughed, ate, and noodled around as we are prone to do. This was not our first rodeo, no sir. We would entertain and supervise ourselves, by golly.  Stories were told and an occasional dance occurred to warm up buns and feet in the evening chill. Not for Dave, though; he has the most unnatural covering of body hair known to homo sapiens and that insulates him year round. Vicki actually has to groom him twice a year with an electric razor that they also shave the dogs with. He was wearing shorts, of course. We wore sweaters and jackets.

As we carried on and played with words and songs, Deedee made the first reference to our hero. “Who is the guy who Elmo talks to? You know, he never talks.” Well, Sesame Street was two decades away in my memory vault. I could not even guess, but I can do an Elmo voice, which I proceeded to do. You see, when my oldest daughter was an only child, for almost five years, she loved to play dramas like The Wizard of Oz. She would be Dorothy and I was then compelled to be all the other characters, constantly changing voices and body language to entertain her and meet her approval. She was a tough audience. Still is. Anyway, I have a little bit of a mimic skill in me and can often imitate characters. For some reason I can do Marlon Brando’s Godfather voice by pretending to have a sinus infection while holding a dry prune in the back of my throat and gutturally groaning past it.

“You come to me , (inhale slowly) on the day of my daughter’s wedding,(exhale slowly) to ask me this favor? (Pause with a quavering lower lip) And yet, (inhale) I asked you to be my friend years ago, (exhale quickly) but you did not want my friendship.” It’s close enough to bring smiles.

But Elmo’s voice is all high pitched with simple vocabulary. No tone like Bert or Ernie or Grover, Super Grover!!

“Hey, hey Bert. Would you like to see my new ball?”

“No, Ernie. I am organizing my paperclips right now. It’s not a good time for me.”

“But Bert, I uh, I can bounce my ball and it comes right back to me. See? Can your paperclips do that? Huh, Bert? Can they? Huh?”

“Oh, Ernie, that’s silly. No one bounces paperclips. Why don’t you go on and roll your ball somewhere else, okay?  I’m just about finished here. Just straighten this last row out.  There.”

“But Bert, don’t you want to bounce my ball? Go ahead. It’s fun. You’ll love it, old buddy.”

“Well, okay, if you’ll leave me alone.”

Bert bounces the ball and it explodes onto his paperclip collection sending it all into a flittery fish scale mess.

Ernie. You ruined my work!! Now take your stupid ball and get away from me.”

“I’m sorry, Bert, old Buddy. Heeheeheee. That’s how the old ball bounces, hee hee.”

And Grover was the world’s best restaurant customer. In our basement my two younger daughters set up the Angel Café around a plastic kitchen set. They would make menus and set up a table with plates and a tea pot. Eventually I would be called to be their customer, at which time I’d channel my Grover.

“Here is your menu, sir. We have a spaghetti special today with salad and a roll and tea.”

(Sotto voce) “Order that, Dad.”

In falsetto Grover voice, “Uhhum! Waiter, I would like a bowl of bean and onion soup, please.”

“Sir, we don’t have soup. We have spaghetti.”

“I’m not interested in spaghetti. I had that for breakfast.”

“No you didn’t! Sir! You have to order from the menu.”

Grover, “I don’t care for your menu. I’ll have the soup.”

“Hmmmph. You are not playing right, Dad.”

Grover, “Who is this Dad you are referring to?”

“Nevermind! ”

Jessica, returning with a bowl and slaps it on the table. “Here’s your soup.”

Grover, “How rude! No wonder there is no one in your Café.”

Jessica walks away to gather her six year old wits.

Grover, “Ahhh! Waiter, there is a fly in my soup.”

Jessica snaps. “No there isn’t. We’re just pretending and you aren’t playing right.”

Grover, “I want to speak with your manager.”

Ten year old Grace arrives. “Sir, you are creating a disturbance and must leave.”

Grover, “Not until the fly is removed from my soup.”

Grace places the bowl on my Grover head. “There you go.”

Those were fun times for me and gave the girls a lot of material for later therapy sessions.

But, back to the winery and finally someone came up with Mr. Noodle. I don’t know if it was the wine or all the intellectual foreplay, but once his name was uttered, we all burst out laughing. For the next hour Mr. Noodle was worked into various comic contexts. We were helpless in our infantile humor.

 

“That’s what Mr. Noodle said.”

 

354. Mad Elf

       I avoid product and political endorsements. I don’t like advertising for clothing brands either by wearing logoized clothes. I abhor bumper stickers too.  On the other hand, if something or someone really sucks, I will comment appropriately. See post #305. Narcissus Maximus Trumpus or #258. Kim Young Fool, or my rant against big chain strip malls for deeper details, #194 Empty Space? This post, however, is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation. Rather, it is a first hand experience with an alcoholic beverage brewed in Hershey, Pennsylvania by Troeg’s Brewing Company. As the label proclaims it’s 11% alcohol, which is roughly double the average for beer.

We met innocently enough one night in the lounge at The Orchards restaurant. We sat at one of those high boy tables– me, my wife, and youngest daughter. Jess was chatting with the manager about a singing gig, so we were just checking out the atmosphere. A nice young waiter told me what beers were on tap. He pushed Mad Elf, “We’re selling it at two dollars a pint, just trying to get rid of it. It didn’t go over too well at $8 a glass.” Okay, I don’t mind helping a guy drink discounted beer.

I tried to follow the waiter’s words but kept getting hung up on Mad Elf. I thought he was saying My Delf,  May Shelf, or Maid Elf. Finally he just brought me one. I tasted this intriguing brew unlike any beer I’d ever sampled. Supposedly it’s made with honey and cherries, but so are cough drops. At first blush all I could think of was lower octane Robitussin, but as I ate some snacks and sipped at this brew, I fell under its spell. Whew! I’m not much of a drinker, so about 2/3’s of the way through my Mad Elf I began to feel like I was way up in the air on my bar stool and magically in charge of the universe. How would I get down? Being a responsible driver and citizen, I handed the car keys to my lovely, doe eyed wife.     “Don’t let me order another one of these, honey cheeks.” I don’t think she needed any more motivation than those words and the slack lipped mouth from which they emanated.

I remembered one of my young male clients referring to someone as a “Two Beer Queer” and wondered if I qualified as a one beer queer, and many other very forgettable thoughts. And what does that even mean?  The Mad Elf was on the loose in my brain like a rat in a dark kitchen’s dishwasher, chewing up hoses and making a mess. I felt many urges bubbling up in my amygdala.

 My inner James Brown was wrestling my inner Barry White for control of the wheel of my brain’s car or my car’s brain. Or somsing like that.  Whew, it was warm in that lounge. I looked around at the other odd groups. A couple behind my lovely bride seemed to be celebrating a big event, maybe an anniversary as they schmoozed all over each other. “Hey, get a room!” I didn’t yell, but I thought I did. I knew that I was not schmoozing; I was merely the photographer of this candid world. My camera was the now empty 20 ounce glass that once held my Mad Elf. At the bar were three folks who seemed unusually intimate with each other– two guys and one girl in the middle. They merrily drank more than they ate and seemed to be very familiar with one another and this dark lounge. I didn’t want to speculate on anything. Who am I to judge? Merely an elf gone mad. Here I sat between two beautiful ladies myself. Oh, take the speck from thine own eye…
Our waiter came by. “Another?” In stereo my wife and I nearly yelled, “No”. I ordered a Bud Light as a chaser. Whew. It was high and warm in there. I recalled times in college when I felt this way on purpose, walking along the main street in Blacksburg, Virginia wrapped in toilet paper like the Mummy after getting separated from my friend who was hosting me and my buddy Sammy. Wild Turkey was in that scenario as I recall. Sam found our way back to the dorm apartment where we crashed.
Cherry brandy was a hit in high school, I think. The cherry flavor was sailing along liquid memory highways in my brain’s closet or my closet’s brain. It was winter then, I was sixteen, as the liquid fire plunged down my throat and into oblivion we sailed. Somewhere it was clear and bright and good. Truly, youth is wasted on the young.  Dang!
Thank God for that anemic Bud Light. It seemed to suck the alcohol out of my brain like naloxone does with heroin. Who knew? Cheap weak beer can rescue you from tough thug beer that’s kicking you around like a new inmate in the Big House.
Oh yeah, there was that party we crashed with Jack and Alan and some tough guy punched me out to impress his girlfriend. That was fun. I didn’t feel much pain despite his best efforts to knock me out. I was under the influence of something stronger than insecure teen age jealous anger. I asked him if he was finished when he stepped back to see if I’d retaliate. I was smarter than that, even drunk. It was his scene and his boys were all around. I rode in on my buddies’ coattails…and rode out.
In the background Zepellin cranked,
Walkin’ in the park just the other day, Baby,
What do you, what do you think I saw?
Crowds of people sittin’ on the grass with flowers in their hair said,
“Hey, Boy, do you wanna score?”
And you know how it is;
I really don’t know what time it was, woh, oh,
So I asked them if I could stay awhile.
I didn’t notice but it had got very dark and I was really,
Really out of my mind.
Just then a policeman stepped up to me and asked us said,
“Please, hey, would we care to all get in line,
Get in line.”
Well you know, They asked us to stay for tea and have some fun,
Oh, oh, he said that his friends would all drop by, ooh.
We left in one piece and chuckled at how stupid the bully was. These things happen when elves are loosed on the unsuspecting public. Cheers, my blog mates.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

322. The Battleship and the Daisy

[Once, a half dialogue dribbled down like this, like a watercolor monologue or a torpedo’s jet stream.]

“It’s like this”, she said. “You are a battle ship, armored and loaded for warfare. No soft spot on your hull. A floating uncrackable Brazil nut. You can muster your energies for sure destruction, mutually assured destruction, to be sure. Your relational invincibility makes you vulnerable, though. Because I can’t get to your steel-plated heart to change your course. 007 couldn’t complete this mission. So, ‘Boom’, our world ends. Dr. No wins.”

“On the other hand, I am a daisy whose soft petals sometimes fall. I am fragile sometimes and need to be held gently. You know, as a girl I counted ‘he loves me; he loves me not’, always frightened of ending on ‘not’. I can’t end on ‘not’. I refuse to grant you ‘not’ status. We are rooted in each other.”

“Still, you just go ‘Boom’ when things don’t go your way. You attack before you are attacked. No warning, maybe one demand for ransomed love, usually not. Only shattered windows and smoke follow your shoreline shellings. I know every hero needs a good villain, but that’s the movies, Mr. Bond. Listen to me:  this is real life!”

“I, huh, I need your protection and comfort, not your aggression, criticism, and condemnation. Circle that battleship around and protect me, please. Open a door, a port hole to your soft soul. I am not your Savior but I know Him. He loves you too, not your armor. Don’t you know that by now? Doesn’t that lonely ache scream out, ‘Abba’?”

“How? I just don’t know how we are going to make it work. All these years we have adjusted course and reformed a bit, amended, edited, throttled back. But we have not transformed to where we have any chance to succeed.”

“And survival is all we have to show for the years together, like some teetering rock in Utah that has survived centuries of erosion. Desperate Desert Dalis, we balance so precariously on toothpicks. A word, a look, a small failure and the whole thing collapses. Erosion will win if we don’t. Ours is a surreal relationship that won’t pass scrupulous scrutiny. Just look. Things are not what they appear to be.”

“If we don’t die first or find a way that is bigger than both of us–The Way of mutual surrender– then we’re just dead dust. I don’t trust you or myself to find that way through without surrendering to God. We suck by our odd, selfish, impatient, shellfish, greedy, lazy, miserable selves. Dessicated crustaceans in an Asian food market.”

“And that’s just what we are– not special or noble or exceptional. That’s all so much false advertising on t.v. Left to our own vices and devices we deserve nothing but trouble on our own. We are bloated ticks on an old sick hound dog. We need God, who is good and seeks us. Who knows why? The answer is not on our side of the equation, where we stack all our good works and all our failures on one side of a scale and God’s grace on the other. His grace will always weigh more, way way more. Our deeds are hollow as pigeon bones.”

“I can’t explain it. I take it on faith. That’s all. We are always a toothpick away from destruction.”

“Which is why we need to stay on our knees, face to the ground. We cannot fall from this humble mound. It’s when we are tall and haughty that we trip over pebbly sin.”

“Are you listening? How can a daisy pry open a battle ship?  Dear God! There must be a vent, some opening you breathe through. And I will pour my petals into that vent until your pistons pause, your gears gum up, and your engines stutter. I will smear my pollen all over your radar screen and uncorrupt your warped messages with powdery triple negatives. I’ll wrap my supple green leaves around your evil sensing antenna. Send an army of devoted honey bees into your cruel captain’s cabin. I’ll float my fragrant allergens into your nostrils, causing fits of blind sneezes. In any way I can, I will disarm you, my pirate love. We are not at war.”

So Isaiah wrote, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

This cold war operation has run out of time and fuel.”

“Can we live in peace and gently garden? ”

“We will plant hectare upon hectare of pure daisies, my love.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

315. Waiting for Mohammed

It may seem strange to have a chess partner who is a young Libyan man in Turtle Town, but that’s what the deal is.  Mohammed hangs out at the coffee shop most afternoons. His mother functions as a cross between a social worker and pied piper for the lost ones who congregate around the town square. She is passionately kind to the disenfranchised and very sweet to her son, Mohammed.  I have no idea what their back story is, how they came from London to the U.S. No idea. I do know tenderness when I see it, though.

Anyway, I often wait for Mohammed to show up so that we can get in as many games as possible. We don’t talk that much, though he told me he is a poet. We thank each other at the end of every game– win, lose, or stalemate. Smiles and a handshake. “Good game.” “That was fun.” I tend to mutter Marvin Gaye lyrics while I play… “only three things for sure– taxes, death and Trouble.  Trouble man.”

He says some odd things at times.  A while ago he asked for free advice. (He knows I provide therapy.)  “My advice to you is not to ask for free advice.”

“Oh.”

Lately he said, “I am wondering if God exists. Check.”

I said, “Good, keep wondering. It’s a critical question to answer. Uncheck, you booger.”

“Why do you say that? Do you believe in God?”

“Yes, I do, but whether you do or do not believe, your answer will form a core belief and inform you about your purpose and meaning in life. Check.”

“What does that mean? Not the check, I follow that.”

“Well, have you ever seen a house being built from start to finish?”

“Sure.”

“So one day there is an empty plot of ground and someone starts dreaming and designing a lovely structure that will fit superbly on this spot. A surveyor stakes out the foundation one day and sets the corners. A while later a backhoe operator digs the footers for concrete. Eventually you get a detailed structure. Check.”

“I don’t get it. What does a house have to do with God’s existence? Uncheck.”

“Well, it’s an analogy to building a faith system. Once you break ground, (in your case it’s deciding if God exists) you begin building a structure of beliefs that connect to one another.”

“And what if I decide God does not exist? Check.”

“You still build a structure, a belief system around that core belief.”

“Oh, I thought belief systems were religions.”

“Religions are belief systems, but so are paths in science and political systems. Communism and socialism and fascism are all political belief systems that are not religions. In fact, they often outlaw religion or restrict it severely. Uncheck.”

“Hmmm. Gaddafi was religious, but he was also a total dictator.”

“Yeah, he was sort of a mutant combination of being the tribal chief, president for life, thug godfather, and well, let’s see what Hollowverse says….

“Gaddafi was quite taken with the principle of democracy. To him, multi-party, representational democracy was not truly democratic–nor was a dictatorship, though he was widely considered a dictator. And perhaps he was, but regardless, only three years after Gaddafi orchestrated a bloodless coup in Libya, he stepped down as Premier of the Libyan government, re-titling himself “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” and instituting a complex series of self-governing citizen bodies with titles like “The People’s Committees” and the “General People’s Congress.”

“Yeah, that’s a delusional belief system. ”

“He was a very bad man for a very long time. Check.”

“Yep. I wonder if he believed in God? or if he thought he was God?”

“The thing about God that stops me from believing is the evil in the world. All these innocent people who are abused and killed. Where is God for them?”

“That’s an old complaint lodged against the idea of a good, loving, all powerful God. Why would He allow evil to flourish? Uncheck.”

“So evil makes me not want to believe in God.”

“Uh huh. That’s evil’s job, though, to eliminate hope and belief in a better world. Evil destroys and pollutes and desecrates. Like Gaddafi. Because he caused so much evil, does that mean that good does not exist? God, on the other hand, if you believe in Him, originates, creates, purifies, redeems, saves. He heals what evil perpetrates. Mate.”

“I don’t think I believe that. Not the checkmate. I get that.”

“So how do you explain beauty and the order of nature? Do you think it’s all the random outcome of a bunch of random stuff? And when you see extraordinary kindness like your mother shows, how do you explain that? Did compassion for one’s fellow man just evolve out of a mud puddle like pollywogs?”

“I don’t know what are pollywogs?”

“They are evolving frogs, uh, tadpoles. It’s a stage between the frog egg and the mature frog. Actually… like you, Mohammed. You are evolving into your final adult form. Seeking the answer to whether God exists or not is part of your spiritual/intellectual growth.”

“You think so?”

“Sure. I remember reading that every thinking person must answer three questions. 1. Where did I come from?  2. Where do I go after I die?  3. What should I do between those two points?”

“I can’t answer those questions yet.”

“That’s okay, Tadpole. Did anyone every tell you that you look like Chico Marx?”

“No, who was that?”

“Groucho Marx’s older brother. Have you ever seen a Marx Brothers movie?”

“No.”

“You’re probably better off without the Marx Brothers experience.  Let’s just say they were some crazy comic brothers back in the day.”

“Do you think they believed in God?”

“Yeah, I do… at least they had to believe in miracles because their movies were incredibly stupid, and yet they made a good living from being silly.”

“Maybe I could do that too.”

“Mohammed, stand up comedy and you… I’m not seeing it.”

“No, here is a keeler joke:  How many Tunisians does it take to change light bulb?”

“You got me. How many?”

“Whole country.”

“Where’s the punch line, Mohammed?”

“Don’t you remember Arab Spring?  The Tunisians changed leaders like old light bulb.”

“Oh, yeah. Keeler, man. Let’s stick with theology.”

“But why?”

“Cuz you’re killin’ me.”

 

 

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.