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.

377. Playing Horseshoes in the Dark

“I haven’t been myself lately. You know, communicating fairly. I’ve just been stuck on the recliner while my incisions heal. The less I can do, the more I want to control my husband and kids, who are doing the best they can to step up for me. It’s not right, I know. I just can’t help myself. I’m hypercritical when I should be hyper grateful,” moaned Sheila with mild anger and smoldering self disgust.

Eddie, her husband responded, “She’s been meaner than a badger. I went into overdrive because I know how she likes to keep the house. I gave 150% until yesterday when she nitpicked me about something stupid. I lost it. I thought, ‘You gotta be kidding me!’ So I just quit. Shut down totally. It’s hard enough to do double time with appreciation and support. It’s impossible without it.”

“Yeah, I hear you. So Sheila, Eddie stepped up and gave it his all to carry your weight? Is that right?”

“Yes, he did a great job.”

“Did you tell him?”

“No, uh…uh…I…uh… just get so cranky and unfair…the words stick in my throat. I should be doing it.”

“Telling him or doing the work yourself?”

“Doing the housework. It’s my job and I want it done my way.”

“Look, I don’t know any other guy who would do the stuff I do. I’m not bragging; just telling the truth. I’m not your typical husband.”

“I know.”

“Why don’t you tell Eddie he is exceptional.”

“I want to… I just have this Miss INDEPENDENCE streak in me that is so angry. I should be doing all the stuff he’s been doing. It’s my responsibility and I’m disgusted with myself.”

“And you are taking out your anger on me and the kids!!”

“But you can’t do the work, Shelia. That’s your doctor’s order. Right?”

“Yes, but it makes me feel so out of control.”

“Sheila, Eddie needs to hear how he’s doing. Otherwise it’s like playing horseshoes in the dark.”

“I’m not following you.”

“Imagine Eddie is throwing horseshoes in the pitch dark. He thinks he knows where the target is and how far away the stake is. He’s throwing blindly, hoping to hear metal hit metal, like a bat operating on sonar. You need to tell him if he’s hit the target or not. Is he close?  Your words are like light for him. The more  you tell him, the higher the wattage bulb for the horseshoe metaphor.”

“Where do you come up with this stuff? Do you play horseshoes?”

“No, I’ve just been married for a long time. So, can you tell him he is exceptional and that you appreciate his efforts?”

Deep breath, “Honey, you are exceptional. And, and, uh, I don’t know any other man who would do what you do willingly. You know my expectations and jump to meet them. Thank you. I do appreciate you. Will you forgive me for being such a bitch? I’m just so disgusted with my uselessness.”

Eddie, “Absolutely. Thanks. I forgive you. I love you, not what you do.”

Sheila smiling, ” Whew! That was pretty simple. Hard but simple.”

“Like killing someone, huh? It’s not complicated, but it is hard.”

Eddie, “The horseshoe image clicks with me. If you don’t tell me what’s up, Babe, then I am in the dark, just guessing at what you need. Keeping me in the dark handicaps, no, dooms me to fail. I can’t fix what you don’t tell me. If you do share your thoughts and feelings…well, it’s like everything lights up, even the horseshoes. That would be awesome to have neon lit stakes and shoes.”

Sheila, “Oh, how cute, Eddie. That would be fun!”

Eddie, reaching for Sheila’s open hand, “Yeah, that’s my girl.”

“You two are too young to be Led Zepellin fans, I guess. But they had a hit song called “Communication Breakdown” in the ’70’s. Let’s see, click on lyrics…. there.”Image result for led zeppelin album covers

Hey girl stop what you’re doin’!
Hey girl you’ll drive me to ruin.
I don’t know what it is that I like about you
But I like it a lot.
Won’t you let me hold you
Let me feel your lovin’ charms.
Communication breakdown
It’s always the same
I’m having a nervous breakdown
Drive me insane!
“What I like is how the song bursts out impatiently in the guitar licks to reinforce the content of the lyrics. It just wouldn’t work as a slow number. Likewise, when we talk to one another under stress, we need to slow down and be totally clear.”
Eddie, “We’re more into classic Country music, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Loretta.”
“Yeah, sure. Stand By Your Man. One of my favorites. Let’s get that up here…”
Stand By Your Man

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man
You’ll have bad times, and he’ll have good times
Doin’ things that you don’t understand
But if you love him, you’ll forgive him
Even though he’s hard to understand
And if you love him, oh be proud of him
‘Cause after all he’s just a man.
Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to
And something warm to come to
When nights are cold and lonely.
Stand by your man, and show the world you love him
Keep giving all the love you can.
Stand by your man.
Stand by your man, and show the world you love him
Keep giving all the love you can.
Stand by your man.

 

Eddie, “That’s a real woman.

Sheila, “Bullseye, Buddy. That’s how I want to be for you.”

Eddie, “Deal! Man, I love counseling!”

Sheila, tugging on Eddie’s wrist,  “Is it just me or did it get a lot hotter suddenly?”

Eddie, “Definitely you got hotter. Let’s go home, Sweetie. Doc, can you give us a few seconds alone? I think I have a double ringer twirling on the flagpole of love. How about that? Poe tree.”

Sheila, “I like it, you big farrier.”

“I’ll be in the front room listening to Barry White songs if you need me.”

 

 

 

216. unduly noted

Tim, my silverback friend, was on his way to jury duty selection this morning and wanted to catch up on the injustices of the modern world over coffee before sitting in legal judgment of his fellow man.  He works for the government now. That’s like a plumber w0rking next to a dripping faucet…drip, drip, drip. Eventually it wears a man down, when he does his job but those who won’t do theirs complain that he is showing them up by working too much. It would not surprise me if he gets transferred or fired to save the resident sloth population at his federal office. Accepting this reality is like drinking battery acid instead of coffee. I don’t like our bloated bureaucracy any more than the next guy. Still, I don’t believe I can change the course of a river; so, without liking it I tolerate it and put my energies where they may have a slight impact. I add the sugar of humor to balance out the battery acid aftertaste of modern life.

Control is rarer than virgins in Vegas, and yet everyone seems to think it is possible in this crazy world to maintain control of larger groups of people or institutions. In a large church, school  or organization, let’s say larger than 200 persons, forget it. “But we should be able to do this” cry the frustrated. Sure, we should but we don’t, and that’s life. Heck, try controlling someone in your own family for starters. Just start with your dog. I’m not sure it’s even our place to control others once they are over twelve. Influence? Sure, but the idea of control, I believe, is an outgrowth of fear. If you slap a man with a frozen fish, you’ll stop him from fishing for an hour. But if you break his fishing pole, you’ll stop him for most of a day. That’s control; all the work/coerci0n is on your side of the equation. You jack up the consequences to make the other person conform to your will… life as it should be. And the best controllers we call totalitarian dictators. We never seem to run out of these characters– Kim Young Fool in Korea or the Taliban at their latest post office box, Putin, China, Iran…. the ink smudges on the pages of history.

Courts try to exercise control also. It’s the end game of behavior modification. I sat on a jury once. It was a drunk driving, eluding the police case. Seems two local brothers left the West End bar at 2:00 a.m. and drove dangerously toward the west, where they lived in a little rental cottage. Well, Officer Doright noticed their erratic driving and pursued. That’s when Dumb and Dumber went into speed up and evade mode. With a bit of a lead on the cop, they whipped into their trailer park/cottage enclave, slammed it into park and ran. The officer collared them and arrested the driver for DUI and evading police, maybe resisting arrest as well.

Dumb’s defense was that he was not the driver; his brother was. The cop testified that Dumb, not Dumber, was the driver and pointed out the physiological differences between the two. Dumb was heavier and had little hair, whereas Dumber was thin and had a dirty mullet haircut. He had watched as they ran out of the car and noted who was behind the wheel of their uninspected vehicle with outdated registration. The officer showed the judge and jury photos of the chase path and the place of arrest. Dumb tried to say that the cop lost visual contact as they drove behind the dumpster across from their cottage, and therefore could not accurately identify the correct brother/driver. It was very lame courtroom drama. Dumb was not a very good criminal or a liar.

His lawyer introduced Dumber as his client’s only witness. Skinny and hairy, Dumber shuffled in shackled and wearing  an orange prison jumpsuit, looking a lot like Justin Bieber. He was sworn in and promptly and boldly lied, “I was driving.” No one believed him for a second. The district attorney asked him if he had a license. He replied, “No, lost it a few years ago.” Next question, “How did you lose your license?”  ” A DUI”, he whispered. In fact, neither brother had a valid license due to previous DUI’s and both failed their sobriety tests. So, it really didn’t matter much to me– whoever was driving was drunk and guilty. There was no innocent man before the court. Slam dunk! Justice or Justin, as you will, is blind and deaf and dumb.

In fact, there was no innocent man anywhere that day or any day. All of us are guilty of some crime or sin. Yep, I said that.

I have to constantly remind my arrogant self that I am not a whit better than the rough edged folks who wander the streets of Turtle Town impaired. Because of my birthplace I am not an immigrant. Because of my education I am not ignorant. Because of a variety of factors I am not unemployed or living at the edge of poverty. Certainly there is personal responsibility involved, but how much free will does a lost hungry child have? We have all been hungry lost children at some point in our lives. .

 

 We are left with that  annoying drip, drip, drip of humanity. And we are mightily limited by our human nature. We can’t fix each other any more than my dog can do surgery on another dog. It is not in his nature. This is why perfect attempts at fixes are collectively called utopias, naïve attempts by golden retrievers to give pit bull terriers heart transplants. Caring about the hungry, thirsty, naked and imprisoned was a big deal for Jesus. He cautioned his followers to do just that, for among the poor and disadvantaged lives God the Father. Through his example, we can have our own spiritual hearts transformed– not by men or dogs or jails, but by God himself.