391. Baltimore Down

Had to be twenty years ago because we drove to Baltimore in the old red and white Ram van without air conditioning to an Orioles game during the summer. My wife and three young kids looking for a parking space while the clock ticked on a Friday evening. Seven o’clock and the lots near the stadium were full. I started to pull into a parking deck, but the clearance limit dissuaded me from trying to peel the skylight off the roof. So, we drove on with the crowd toward parking that was farther and farther from the stadium. We passed parked cars with smashed out windows that had obviously been robbed. Maybe I should have pulled into that parking deck. The herd turned right ahead near some warehouses within sight of Camden Yards. 7:15. First pitch is 7:35.  No attendant or gate, just an open lot that quickly filled with baseball fans’ vehicles. I’m certain that my wife said something about the safety of parking there.  Out of an ocean of ignorance I reassured her. “They can’t tow us all away.”

We followed the crowd into the stadium and had a fun time cheering and doing the Macarena to loud music. I don’t know if the O’s won. What mattered is that we had an all American experience on a lovely summer night in Baltimore. Around 11:00 p.m. we retraced our steps back to that mystery lot only to find the first toenail of our nightmare torn off and bleeding. A tow truck was hooked up to the last car on the lot while the car owner screamed at the driver and tried to convince him to release his car. Meanwhile a Baltimore policeman stood by explaining that this was a private lot and a little sign behind a sumac tree said so. It seemed clear immediately and thoroughly that the cop was part of the scam, pretending to be authoritative. He explained that we were trespassing. “Okay, but where is my van?”

“Likely on the impoundment lot  in Linthicum. They open back up on Monday morning.”

“Now, no, wait. You can’t do that.”

“Sir, it’s done. You should not have parked here. This tow truck was called by the lot owner. He’s just doing his job.”

I didn’t think I’d get anywhere with the cop or the tow truck driver. I turned to face the firing squad of my family, “What are we going to do now?” they all asked at once. The cheers and Macarena were gone, forgotten. The fun, the peace, the simple pleasure… all towed away to an impoundment lot in hell.

“Ah, let me ask this other rent a cop.” I approached the crossing guard cop at the intersection as we wandered back toward the lit up stadium. “Excuse me. Our van was towed away and we were told it’s outside the city in an impoundment lot.”

“Ah, no. We don’t take’m there. They tow’m over to the other side of the Inner Harbor and drop’m off on side streets over there.”

“In the neighborhood behind the Science Center?”

“Yeah, down Charles Street where it ends. Your car is down there.”

I  turned back to my wide eyed family. “What are we gonna do?”

“Let’s walk over to the Sheraton and see if we can wait there; and if I can’t find the van tonight, we’ll just get a room.” Minor sighs of relief came to know we had a plan and possible destination in the dark sultry air. The desk staff at the Sheraton could not have been nicer; however, there were no rooms at the Inn that night. “There’s a huge softball tournament in town this weekend. Every hotel room is full.”

Unbelievable. We explained our predicament and the nice lady at the desk told us we could stretch out on the couches in their lobby for a while until we reached resolution. I decided to jog over to Federal Hill, a two mile jog from the  Sheraton, but I  was in good shape back then at age 40.  Not fast but steady. Off I jogged, telling myself I’d find my van and drive it back victoriously to the Sheraton, and boy oh boy, wouldn’t the kids be excited to see that. It got eerily quiet as I jogged across and away from the waterfront and into a shabby, unfamiliar neighborhood. No one was on the street or sidewalks. Up ahead a bunch of young men were playing basketball under bright lights at a school yard. I didn’t see my  van, which would have stuck out like a chicken in a guinea pig farm. I looked and pondered the darkness and my empty options, and kept on jogging as if I knew where I was going.

Sadly I gave up the search and jogged back to the hotel lobby. The kids were drowsily curled up together alongside my wife. I felt defeated but I was not going to show defeat. “What are we going to do now?” my wife inquired.

“I’m going to get a cab and drive around some more. Maybe a local cabbie will have some ideas.” Surprisingly my wife accepted this stupid idea of mine as having a chance, a better chance than me jogging all night.

No sooner had the desk clerk put the phone down after calling a cab than one showed up at the  front door. It was too fast. But the grizzled driver assured me he’d been just around the corner when the call came. I could not believe him and the laws of science at the same time. I got in and explained my situation.

“I know where  your van is, man.”

“That’s impossible. The cops told me it’s on Federal Hill or in Linthicum till Monday, and you’re telling me you know exactly where it is.”

“Yep. you can waste your money looking around Charles Street, but it’s not there. These slimy bastards tow them across to a lot under the 295 bridge along Gwynn Falls. It’s a racket. The cops are in on it.”

“Let’s go to Federal Hill first, okay?”

“Sure. It’s your money, man.”

As he started the meter my eye followed his hand down to the bench seat where I saw a .45 loaded and unholstered. “What’s with the gun?”

“It’s Baltimore. Gotta show folks you’re serious. I’m moving to Denver next week. I’ve had enough of this place.  Wouldn’t mind shooting a few locals before I go.”

‘Oh great,’ I thought. I have a psychopath Taxi driver zooming me around Baltimore with a death wish. Steven Seagall and Robert Deniro floated across my memory banks. ‘Someone is gonna die tonight.’ I realized I was more afraid of my taxi driver than I was of the local hoodlums.

But Marty was correct. No van, nowhere. “You ready to find your van now?”

I reluctantly agreed and he sped off across the 95/295 elevated highways. I had no idea where we were going, but I knew it was not a good place. He drove around a deserted industrial area and I began to wonder if he might want to shoot me just for kicks and dump my body down by the creek. Heck, he was going to Denver next week and there was no way to  track me.

292. Give Me A Hand

Years ago, I think it was 2003, I worked all summer with a machete that I’d brought back from Honduras. I whacked brush and small trees with the machete. Even tried to kill a ground hog with it, but the critter was too fast for me. I swung it over and over with my right hand, so much so that I over extended the tendon on the outside of my right wrist. It still bulges a bit from the abuse to this day. Anyway I wrapped it in an Ace bandage and tried to draw it back in where God intended that tendon to be. Then I went back to my classroom for the twenty second year of teaching seventh grade English. With an average of 135 students each year that adds up to nearly three thousand 12 and 13 year olds. Let that stat sink in for a long moment before you judge me and my tenuous grip on sanity.

So the first day and week of school began much like every other year– homeroom, lockers, schedules, rules, etc. All the kids try to be good and engaging in the first week until they run out of steam. Then there is real homework to do and the old excuses bubble up… “The Police had to come arrest my dad for drinking and my mom for hitting him with a skillet.”

“Billy, I know that’s not true.”

“How?”

“Because your dad is the principal and your mom works with my wife. Didn’t they tell you?”

“Entrapment! I move to have the proceedings sealed and thrown out.”

It wasn’t long till one of the inquisitive kids asked about my wrist bandage. I gave the bait answer, “Oh, it’s a long story and unbelievable, so why bother telling you. No one would believe it.”  There was a nearly audible “THunk” as the asker and those in earshot heard my baited answer. “Oh, no, tell us. We’ll believe it.”

“It’s too fantastic. I can hardly believe it myself.”

“Come on! We promise.”

“Well, okay, but don’t tell the kids in third period. I can tell they are not believers. They aren’t as mature as you guys.”

“Okay, okay. What happened?”

“Well I was in England this summer, and you know how they drive on the wrong side of the road and all?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“So I rented this MiniCooper at the airport and I was driving around London just trying to get used to the gears and being on the right side while shifting with my left, and I came up to a turn. I needed to make a right hand turn but I couldn’t find the signal bar for the blinkers, you know?”

“Uh huh. Whatdyado?”

“I foolishly stuck my right arm out the window to signal, but since I was driving on the left side of the road and traffic was coming at me on the right my hand was  ripped off quite violently by a passing car’s rear view mirror. It literally cut my hand off, leaving me with a bleeding stump.”

“No way!!”

“Yes. I told you it was an incredible story. Do you want to hear the rest of it?”

“Yes, but no lying.”

“On my honor…. So I was in a pickle with only my left hand working and a fountain of blood gushing at oncoming traffic.”

“Whatdyado?”

“Well, did you see that movie Speed, where Sandra Bullock has to drive the bus over 6o miles an hour or the bomb will explode?”

“Yeah, that was a cool movie, but you didn’t have a bomb.”

“I know, but I thought that if I could drive at a fast enough speed, the air pressure would push back the blood gush from my stump.”

“No way. That’s impossible.”

“Well, luckily for me I was not a negative thinker, so I accelerated to 8o kilometers per hour. That’s metric.”

“How fast was it?”

“I think it equals 66 miles an hour in American speed, but anyway once I achieved this speed it was like I had a tourniquet on my forearm. The blood stopped spurting and I could drive around looking for my hand.”

“You mean it was still stuck on the other car’s mirror?”

“That was my only clue. I recalled it was a red late model Jaguar, so I drove about London at high speed looking for the car with the bloody hand on it.”

“Where did you find it?”

“Unfortunately, I did not.”

“But what about your hand?  It’s right there. How did you get your hand back on the bleeding stump?”

“Because I had driven an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War I knew that transplanted limbs have a brief window for attachment. So after 25 minutes of high speed hand chasing about London, I rushed in to The Royal Oaks Hospital in Chelsea by Earl’s Court. It’s an older hospital but well known for its transplant successes.”

“You mean that is not your hand? No way. It looks just like the left one.”

“I agree. The surgeons did a great job matching skin tones I thought. This hand actually came from an accountant who was killed in a tragic auto accident in Surrey. He was completely crushed by a cement lorry, all except his right hand. Fortunately for me had signed the British donor card just days before. How ironic is that?”

“I don’t know what ironic is, but I think you’re lying. How can we tell it’s the accountant’s hand?”

“I don’t question you. It’s pretty fantastic, I know. But here’s the test:  when the hand gets near a calculator, it’s like he can’t help himself. He starts trying to add figures. Watch. Bring that calculator near the hand slowly. I tell you it’s like phantom pain only it’s not.”

“I don’t believe you, but here’s the calculator.”

Suddenly the bandaged hand starts to twitch and type out wildly on the calculator. The kids jumped back.

“See, I told you. It’s like he’s still adding from the grave. They say he was very dedicated.”

“No, that’s you doing it. You’re lying. Take the bandage off.”

“The surgeons said I had to wait six weeks.”

“When is that up?”

“Next Monday, as a matter of fact.”

“Okay, we’ll see who’s lying then.”

The weekend came and went. As I was preparing to go to school that Monday, I remembered the deadline. Hmmm. I found a black Sharpie pen and made a dotted line around my wrist and then wrapped it with the bandage, knowing I’d be called out soon. As soon as I got to homeroom the kids swarmed my desk.

“You said it was today. Let’s see the scar.”

I slowly unwrapped the bandage until the bare wrist was visible with the stitched Sharpie line.

There was much howling and gnashing of teeth. “That’s fake. You drew that. Those aren’t real stitches.” But by then it didn’t matter. The legend of The Hand had been birthed.

 

284. Selfishness and False guilt

Oh the joys of practicing counseling!! I’ve learned a lot about a lot in the twenty or so years of doing this exotic psychological cooking show known in America as counseling. The trick is to continue on, round after round without getting chopped!! Unlike the famous cooking show, my clients come to me with baskets full of unlikely ingredients– abuse, addiction,  anger, nightmares, mistaken beliefs, sexual problems, anxiety, trauma, depressed mood, sleep disorder, attention deficit, family dysfunction, divorces or custody battles, etc. and I am supposed to help them cook a decent meal, i.e., fix it; make life palatable for them so that they don’t kill themselves or others.

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Well, if I thought about the great expectations and responsibilities of my job for very long, I’d need to see my own shrink to cope. And if you know any psychiatrists, God help you and them. Run for your life!!  Fortunately I have a leathery heart and a well guarded mind that combine to protect me from the active pollenization of personal pain particles that are released in my dusty office daily, no, hourly. The buzz of humanity’s failures and cruelties is non-stop in my comfy, earth toned surrounds of beige and brown and greenish-gold. Just a honeysuckle bush of a joint to visit.

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“You won’t believe this…” is a common opening. Others presume, “You’re gonna love this…” Truth be told, I do love being involved in others’ lives in a constructive manner. It pays well and sometimes not at all, but no matter. I enjoy the practice of being present for folks in distress. I’m Irish; I enjoy tragedy and have low expectations of humanity.

Let me get to the point before I pass your limits, blognoids– a few concepts have been thrust into my little honeysuckle office so many times that I had to come up with a reasonable defense. Let’s start with the concept of selfishness. My overly responsible, high functioning neurotics often impose the label of “selfish” upon themselves.  To which I respond, “Which selfish?” as opposed to “Which shellfish?”, which is another topic completely.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean we all practice selfish tasks daily that are perfectly necessary and helpful– showering, brushing teeth, using deodorant, getting dressed. These things only benefit us, you know?”

“Yeah, okay. What’s your point.”

“I call this “lower case selfishness” versus UPPER CASE SELFISHNESS or NARCISSISM.  I think you are confusing healthy selfishness with arrogant or haughty behaviors. Flossing your teeth is not an affront to any other human being. Flogging your neighbor is an active extension of a belief that your are better than your neighbor. Flossing is a humble act; flogging is a cruel and prideful one. Are you tracking me?”

“I guess. But in my Christian faith pride is to be avoided. ‘Pride goes before a fall’, ya know?”

“But like selfishness there is a healthy pride and an unhealthy one. Pride and humility are not totally mutually exclusive. What if someone compliments you on your humility, says that you are like Jesus in your humble approach to life. Wouldn’t you be proud of this?”

“I guess so. This is all a bit hard to get my mollusky brain around, though.”

“Fair enough.”

“I also have a lot of guilt. Is that wrong too?”

“Depends on which kind.”

“Oh no, there are varieties of guilt now?”

“Yes, three that I am aware of.”

“And they would be…?”

“True guilt, false guilt, and imposed guilt, which is also false.”

“I need more, Sensei.”

“Okay, guilt is that lousy dirty sticky feeling of conviction that comes from doing something wrong, knowingly and willingly, or from failing to do something right when you had the chance to do so. Let’s say you see someone’s wallet sitting out and you decide to help yourself to the cash bulging out of it. Hey, you think this guy is stupid and I’ll just teach him a lesson. You consciously steal the cash. Later on you wonder if that guy may have been on his way to buy birthday presents for his kids or pay his rent with that money. Your action starts to eat at your conscience if you have one.”

“I would never steal someone else’s wallet, Doc. I’m not like that. My grandma would rise out of her grave and beat me with her old leather purse if I did. She was the model for the Terminator movie.”

“Right, I think you have an overdeveloped or over-responsible sense of guilt. Let’s look at the other side… you could have stepped in and stopped an unattended baby stroller from rolling into busy traffic, but you don’t. You think the distracted mother should pay for her inattention, and, kaboom, a truck crushes the stroller in the middle of the intersection where you are arrogantly sipping your latte.”

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“Oh, man, that’s not me. I’d throw myself in front of that stroller to save the baby.”

“I didn’t say anything about a baby.”

“Yeah, but it’s a BABY stroller, Doc. It only makes sense that a baby would be in it.”

“No, my guilt ridden friend. The baby is safely back on Mom’s lap.”

“I can’t take much more of this analysis. (Deep breath) So that’s real guilt– choosing not to do something that I could have easily done to help my fellow man?”

“Yep.”

“So what’s false guilt? Not that I really want to know any more today. This sucks. You are a psychic tick, a talking tapeworm, you know.”

“Yes, however, I feel no guilt because I am helping you see your dysfunction. (Deeper breath) False guilt feels exactly the same as real guilt; it’s just based on false information.”

“For instance?”

Image result for dog with a pig in its mouth picture

“Okay, decades ago I lived next to a pig farm. One blizzardy day my mongrel sheltie came home with a frozen baby piglet in his mouth. I thought, incorrectly, my dog had killed the farmer neighbor’s piglet. I got my checkbook and put on my winter coat. I trudged through the snowy wind and rang his doorbell. I explained the situation and he began to laugh at my story. ‘No, your dog didn’t kill it. He must’ve gotten one off the pile.’ Sure enough, there was a pile of dozens of dead piglets outside the pig barn, which was protected by shock fencing. My awful intestinal twisting was all for naught. I had experienced false guilt.”

“Well, you didn’t know any better.”

“Exactly, but my guts twisted just the same, whether my perceptions turned out to be true or not.”

“Hey, I bet I know what imposed guilt is.”

“I’ll bet you do.”

“It’s when someone else tells you that you ought to feel guilty. They impose the reasoning on you and try to activate your guilt, whether their view is correct or not.”

“Excellent, Grasshopper. Now let us rest and eat oysters.”

“That would be shellfish, Sensei.”

“I am humbly proud of you, Grasshopper.”