364. Super Size Me, Dude

Rusty did not set out to work the drive thru window at the Happy Burger in town. He had bigger dreams. No one dreams of working fast food, do they? So it’s safe to say that the drive thru window was his second worst nightmare. Kids he had graduated with and other folks in town drove up, and he had to smile then happily hand them their Happy Burger meal, smiling insipidly above the deep dread he felt. He chose the third shift to reduce his exposure to such social shame. But the inner revulsion rose up anyway, against gravity like a wave of acid reflux, gagging him much too often. He had suggested to management that the staff wear happy clown masks, hoping to hide behind a company provided clown mask instead of his own recognizable face. “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became”, he muttered to himself like some ridiculous rap line.

He was smarter than this and smart enough to know that smarts don’t count as much as family connections and money and wisdom. Those college prep classes, the AP, the advanced track, he took many of them and held his own, never once imagining that one day he’d stare into the deep fryer watching frozen French fries boil up in super heated peanut oil. His dreams were likewise deep fried and floated up, golden brown– so many dead fish, chicken wings or fries. He remembered getting A’s in chemistry class and physics, pointless now… “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became.”

Rusty knew it was not grammatically correct, but he didn’t care any more about rules and order, manners or limits, even law. Chaos had blown his illusion of control to smithereens.  Bits of his expectations littered the break room like shrapnel. He’d once memorized the periodic table of elements in his junior year. The only element that held any interest for him nowadays was plutonium, named for the Roman god of death. He was past dying; he was dead, walking dead. Zombiefied. Embalmed with the toxic liquor of his misfortune, like drinking Captain Morgan out of a corpse’s boot. The oxy’s, he found, took the edge off of shame, reducing life to a mere sham.

He got her pregnant. It’s just that simple. One biological fact threw two, no three, okay, maybe twenty lives into the industrial strength blender on puree. Chaos turbocharged the two of them. They were both in college prep and had a lot going right in their lives. They were bright and optimistic, glowing with the beauty of late adolescence–Radiant hair, teeth and skin, firm muscular bodies. Irresistible, and they did not resist many impulses. Faster and faster the unsustainable Whirling Dervish ride went. Time and money they did not have were squandered. At least those were measurable. All the emotions that vaporized over that furious year could not be counted or contained. Boundaries were crossed, no, leaped across headlong like the obstacle course at Ft. Benning, after Rusty enlisted to get the security package available no where else. Private Steele, first class. It was something, some place to start.

“Beep, beep, beep” the fry timer screeches to his numb mind. Never mind, never mind. The baby accelerated adult life, couldn’t wait. He raced the baby to graduation, marrying Tiffany, and becoming a father all in the same month, June 1992. The year Hell opened up and demons darkened his skies. Totally black now.

An anesthesiologist, yep, that was the target. It was high status and medically necessary and very lucrative. Plus, it just sounded so cool to say at a cocktail party. “And what field are you in, Rusty?” “Oh me? I’m an anesthesiologist.” Seven silky syllables in one sexy word. “The last person you see before your surgery, you know? It’s dicey, though. They put their lives in my hands, but they don’t all make it back from dreamland, you know?” Dr. Kevorkian was all the talk back then. He wanted, even demanded, assisted suicide be granted a legal guarantee. Rusty had disagreed with Kevorkian back then; but these days he thought it was pretty darn appealing. Why not?  When the unenlightened townies drove up yelling, “Super Size Me, Dude!”, he wanted to scream back “Minimize Me, Dude”. ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. Hook me up with morphine and leave me in the walk in freezer’ he thought he thought.

Some days he’d stomp into the walk in and punch bags of frozen French fries, and pound his sweaty head onto rigid patties of beef. The revulsion gurgled at the back of his throat, threatening to spew out. He could feel the grease on the soles of his shoes begin to congeal in the subzero temperature of the freezer. No one could hear him scream, “Super Size Me, God!! I can’t take this existence any longer. Kill me!”

Things looked good for him in the Army. College was still possible and his superiors liked him, recognized his abilities. He was finding a path in all the deep weeds ahead of him. And then Tiffany grew distant. Sure, they were both immature but coping as new parents, along with lots of help from his mom and hers. And surprisingly his own father stepped up and made himself available to them, far more than he’d ever done so with Rusty. Despite all the help or perhaps because of it, Tiffany demanded time out and away, fun time for her. “Girls just wanna have fun” times, she’d say.  There was more to it. Rusty had little experience with girls in his young life, but he knew something odd was afoot. Someone else’s feet were walking across his fragile marriage and slipping shoes under his marriage bed. He just didn’t know whose feet yet.

The night of the atomic bomb blast was burned onto the back of his eyelids, inescapable and beyond comprehension. Tiffany, his own father, the silent lies that wove together under a disgusting quilt of putrid truth. Incest: the unthinkable had become the unbearable. By then he’d broken his foot and been discharged, rejected by his Uncle Sam as a hopeless cripple. So as he locked the freezer door behind him and lay down with a can of starter fluid, it all seemed so poetic. He recalled Prufrock’s Lovesong from AP English, “Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table…” He huffed the ether, knowing he’d lapse into unconsciousness immediately. He uttered his own pathetic poem to frozen chicken fingers, “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became.”

…. Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

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358. Oh, No, Toto,Come Back!

Way, way back in my memory bank vault, third shelf on left side, halfway down, is a story that still stings to recall, though I have no real guilt about it at all. It fits under the damp tent of family shame, I guess. Kind of has that putrid mildewed odor in my memory nose.  You be the judge.

My dad’s sister, her husband and their brood of six kids lived in Hawaii for many years during the late 60’s, I think. They had previously lived just ten miles away from us in the burbs of Northern Virginia when I was young, and our families interacted regularly. (I liked my Uncle Jim.  He worked with the Corps of Engineers. He was a kind man who smoked a pipe and laughed genuinely.) My father’s irascible mother would visit both homes the way a ping pong ball visits both sides of a net when she came down from Boston occasionally. “Kitty” was her name and she was the original pretentious piece of work, creating drama where none had existed prior. An emotional pyromaniac, if memory serves me accurately.

Aunt Jean was the hard pear that did not fall far from her mother’s tree, but she strained to be as far away as possible. Intellectualism was her passport. Conflict her train. Acceptance her destination:  To be approved of  by those whom you approve on the spiral staircase to the ivory tower’s penthouse. How very prepositional. Impulsive and free flowing in a pre-hippie era. She longed to talk about books and ideas with my dad while putting up with my unintellectual mother.  Jean had green hair in the freakin’ 60’s.  Granted, it was a hair dye chemistry error, but she wore it like a proud leprechaun until it grew out.

Anyway, the family was coming back to NOVA by way of a cross country drive in a big van, starting in California and ending on our doorstep. They asked my father to pick up their little dog Toto at National (Reagan now) Airport and convey the neurotic little terrier to a kennel. Simple, right?  However, you have to get some background description of my father to understand what follows. He was not an engineer nor was he a great problem solver. He served in the Army at the end of WWII in England and then Germany. He told a story of catching a mouse in his barracks and telling others not to kill it. “Then the damn thing bit me.” In a mouse’s thimble, that was my father.

One time we borrowed a neighbor’s truck and drove into D.C. to pick up a dining room table and chairs that my mom bought from a coworker who lived in a swanky apartment overlooking the Potomac near the Watergate. My dad did not tie anything down in the bed of the truck though we had rope, and as we bounced across the Memorial Bridge in pale orange mercury vapor light, the extension leaf bounced up and out of the truck, landing flat on the bridge where the next fifty cars ran over it and pulverized the damn thing. I ran back and picked up the gravel encrusted table leaf. When we got home, my mother cried in absolute frustration and disappointment. We did not have a lot of nice things, and she put so much psychic energy into the few high profile things we did own. See, if  you have a nice carpet in your living room, you rock. My mom liked images and mirages.

 

 

 

So now you are ready for the main point. My sappy sentimental dad could not find it in his milksop heart to take Toto to the kennel. The dog was in absolute panic mode after flying from Hawaii to L.A. to D.C. in the belly of a huge noisy plane without Xanax. He brought the dog home in its cage and tried to comfort the poor thing in our living room. No good. No sir. We had a wide eyed, panic stricken terrier on the loose in a totally foreign environment.

Just then one of my brothers walked through the front door and Toto hit that hole faster than any NFL running back in modern history. He shot across our yard, through the intersection, and zipped out of sight in the woods beyond the Parkway as the summer sun set. At least he was heading west, I thought. Hawaii is west of here.

There were no words. That dog probably ran until it had a heart attack or seizure. In any event Toto was a total goner, and sentimental JJ was left with an empty cage full of dog guilt. It was bizarrely funny and painfully tragic at the same time. The awful wait began. Dread built. Excuses were rehearsed.

A couple of weeks later, lo and behold, the van with our cousins rolled up to our house. Nervous greetings were exchanged. They may have sensed that we were not so glad to see them. “Come in. Come on in.” And as they gathered in the living room, Jean said, “The kids can’t wait to see Toto.”

That’s when I left out the front door… a little slower than Toto had rocketed away. But I knew I could not endure the shock and horror, the guilt and shame of dogicide. Toto’s blood was not on my hands. Still I imagined the interaction that went down as everyone gathered around the damaged dining table.

“Toto ran away.”

“From the kennel? How?”

“No, from here. You see, I brought him here because he was so upset…”

“You? What? The dog is gone?”

Six kids start crying as voices turned metallic with anger. I don’t like the squeak of fingernails on a chalkboard, so I could not have handled the symphony of discord that must have erupted.

“Oh, no. Toto, come back!”

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.”

Image result for pennies in prison pictures

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.

 

 

349. Legalism

I don’t have time for all this, I guess, but I make time for what I enjoy… coffee shop chatter, chess, blogging. I realize it’s low hanging fruit, but I enjoy these apples.  I don’t need an island in the Caribbean, unless you happen to have one you want to get rid of. I mean, I’ll take it off your hands if you’re sick of the steel drums and rum. I’ll take my turn. However, I’d just move my mindlessness to a new scene and start training those East Indians in Western Mindlessness Seminars. I’d open a coffee nation noodling institute and seek funding from the U.N. My theme song would be sung daily by my 2 year old granddaughter, “Let There be Peace on Earth”… and let it begin with me. Her sweet whispery little baby bird voice kills me. I suspect all grandfathers feel this way about their grandkids. Hope so anyway.Amazing.: Grandkids are the ultimate proof of God’s grace. We don’t deserve them and can’t earn them.

I guess what I’m saying is that I am content. Full. Satisfied. Sure, I want to keep on living, but if God unplugs my USB cord today, I have no regrets that won’t be addressed in heaven. I’m sure there is a customer service desk in the lobby area.

“Welcome to heaven. I’m Peter. How may I help you?”

“I want to see a manager.”

“Mr. Burrito, it’s heaven. There are no managers. There are only angels and the Lord in the center of a cosmic Rose Petal Auditorium filled with incense burning, praise and worshipping throngs of billions of saved souls. Would you like to make an appointment with Him?”

“Yes, but I thought the spiritual world was all post time and space continuums, you know, no lines. This sounds like a Grateful Dead concert. How long must I wait?”

“Well, here in heaven a thousand years are like a moment, and a moment can be a thousand years.”

“So, next Tuesday at 11 a.m.? How’s that?”

“When the spirit moves across the still waters of your soul’s ocean, you will have your heart’s desires in little ripples upon the distant shore of peace.”

“Pete, do you offer interpreters?  I am just not getting this spiritual talk. Maybe my fleshy head is still stuck on my spirit body. Does that ever happen?”

“Yes, more often than one might think. Remarkably often, pastors have this issue where they keep worrying about their congregational needs back on earth. It takes a really long time for them to turn off their obligatum.”

“Uh, okay that makes sense except for the obligatum thing. What is that?”

“Oh, sorry, it’s Latin for holy guilt.”

“No kidding. I guess I had mine taken out with my adenoids.”

“Likely, yes, um, if you had one to begin with. Not all humans have an obligatum. Antisocials seem not to. Were you by any chance a Catholic child?”

“Yes, right up till I wasn’t.”

“Precisely. You could have burned up your obligatum through overuse. Very common with our Catholic brothers. Like an overactive thyroid. If you don’t treat it, you lose it. Poof!”

“So you are telling me that many pastors can’t get out of their own guilt even when they are walking or skipping about in Paradise?”

“Or zooming. A lot of pastors had to drive Dodge Darts and Priuses on earth, so they like zooming with the top down in heaven. It’s a big adjustment for them, bless their hearts.”

“Wait. That’s code in the south for ‘this guy is the village idiot’. You know, ‘Look at Mervin, he’s feeding the dead pigeon his bologna sandwich, bless his heart.”

“I assure you, Mr. Burrito, there is no double standard or code here in heaven. God loves us all the same.”

“Even lawyers?”

“Even, uh, have you seen the botanical gardens yet? They are a sight to behold!”

“No, I want a lawyer. I demand to see my lawyer, Joel. Where is he?”

“He is… uh… indisposed at this moment.”

“He’s in the bathroom? I thought that was all done with once you got the spiritual rigging in place.”

“I don’t wish to be indelicate, Mr. Burrito.”

“Okay, Pete, but you need to butterfly this spiritual shrimp for me. I’m getting suspicious. I mean, all my life I’ve looked forward to heaven and bliss and eternal grooving, and I’ve only been here five minutes or five thousand years and I’m getting nothing but double talk from you. I could get this treatment on earth for free.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. B. If you’d like to fill out a complaint form, I’m obligated to provide you with one within ten business days. Would you like to continue?”

“No.  When folks are not honest with me they start to look like Hillary Clinton, Pete. I want my lawyer and I want him now. I know my rights. I get a free phone call too. And no pants suits.”

“Sir, you have not been charged with any crime. Please, control yourself. You are in heaven for goodness sakes! You don’t need that kind of sassy attitude here.”

Snatching Pete up by his collar, “I want to know what you did with Joel.”

The Angels Gabriel, Michael, and Ludicrous swoop down.

“Burrito, we have you surrounded. Here’s what you’re gonna do. Put Peter down. Eat a Snickers. Then we’ll talk. You seem to be having a hangry attack. Most souls don’t experience hunger or anger in heaven, but you are anomalous.”

“Fellas, I simply asked Pete here where the lawyers are. And he has been reluctant to tell me. Offered me a complaint form instead of prompt service. You people need to get your act together.”

Gabriel, “Burrito, Joel didn’t make it.”

“What?!! I gave his eulogy just last year. I took a whack in the head with an aluminum badminton racket for him, and now you’re saying he’s not here?”

Michael, “Burrito, there are no lawyers in heaven.”

“But, but, I don’t understand. Joel was a nice guy. He dressed well in tweed and the occasional snappy tie. He was well groomed. Liked cats. Was a bowling champion in sixth grade. Played the tuba. What do you people want?!!”

Ludicrous, “The Lord requires obedience not sacrifice. No man is saved by the Law.”

“Well, okay. That’s all I needed to hear. I need a minute to grieve, though.”

Peter, “Mr. B, Joel is not down there, if that is what has you worried.”

“Well if not Here and not there, then where oh where can my attorney be?”

Gabriel, “He’s in Legal Limbo. It’s not quite as nice as heaven. They live in condos and share a pool. It’s a cash bar and no free lunches there.”

All, “God is merciful.”

Amen.

 

 

 

 

321. Grief, Loss and Elvis

Grief… breathing feels like air slowly passing through holes in the lungs and entering the stomach, causing a loss of sensation throughout the gastro intestinal tract. Bloated emptiness feels nothing. Digestion stops flat. What is food to a dead man but mockery?

Hunger becomes only a hazy memory from another vague time period when food connected to flavorful living. The last taste of vinegar lingers on the back of my tongue… or is that formaldehyde? Fumes hover across the exhalations. Surely these expirations would ignite with a flame.

Each breath is like a ragged flagged mourner’s car in a funeral parade that gets waved through intersections while other bodily functions wait out of respect. The race is over. Only jerks cut into funeral processions because their lives are so much more important than the one whose memorial they are interrupting. Ironically, Death often gets priority when and where life is not respected. Still, everyone is merely passing through this life’s lens at different rates. Movie extras disappear unnoticed. Life is lived in the foreground, right? Front and center, here and now. All the leads are the loved ones in our lives. The anonymous dead fall breathlessly and remain inert behind the breathing.

The heart slows. It seems only an echo of a heartbeat, mere white noise, though that sounds too clinical and optimistic. This drum beat comes from an abandoned well at the bottom of which an abandoned child slaps an empty water bucket weakly, hopelessly waiting for no one to come. “Bump a bump… bump. Ba bump.” Mud oozes up between his toes.

My brain like plump ice cream scoops melts and drips off the cone until it all collapses on the baking sidewalk, leaving an empty cone for flies to devour. Butter brickle Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Dogs lap up his liquified face. He was a good egg.

“He just died, that’s all. All the cardio problems finally won. His torso was a sharpening stone for scalpels. Scars every which way. He showed them to me once with an odd angry pride. ‘I’ve been carved more than a Christmas turkey’, he said.”

“I can handle death. It’s just that eternity is so long”, he told me later, quietly. I think he knew his time was near.

My body feels weighed down by concrete blocks under leagues of dark water. My executioner knows where.  Elvis resonates through the thick water in my ears…

“Are you lonesome tonight,
Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day
When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?
Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?
Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?”

“…Now the stage is bare and I’m standing there
With emptiness all around
And if you won’t come back to me
Then make them bring the curtain down.

Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?”

So many questions, Elvis. No answers needed. He is lonesome. All those questions can be turned into statements, you know. ‘ I am lonesome tonight. I miss you. I am sorry we drifted apart.’ A plaintive man taking accountability for his failures again just doesn’t sell so well, however. Elvis is hoping that his ex-chicky lover is grieving, hoping to hear her say “Yes, yes, yes” to all these speculative questions. But wait!

Elvis: “Shall I come back again?”

Chicky: “No. Finish the ending. Bury the corpse of our love.”

Elvis: “But, but, but Baby!! I’m feeling a B side in this love of ours.”

Chicky: “Before its un-embalmed putrefaction gags us all.”

Elvis: “But Baby, all my horses and all my men can put the King’s pieces back together again. Jest, uh, trust me.”

Chicky: “No they can’t, Elvis. The pieces are not all here, and some are too tiny. Pulverized to dust.”

Elvis: “But, but, but Baby!! Baby! You aint seen nothing yet.”

Chicky: “Actually all I have seen is nothing.”

And it fades to a looping nightmare where you go searching for a bathroom that works in a world of broken plumbing. Long corridors of faceless folks who cannot tell you where the water lines are.  From leagues above your nightmare ears comes a bubbling Elvis through a wall of green Jell-O,  “But, but, but Baby.”

He’s got to stop doing that or my bla-bla-bladder will bu-bu-bu- burst. Self serving promises are embedded in his strumming questions.

“Am I lonesome tonight?” Less so without you. I can handle Death it’s just that Eternity is such a long time.

 

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.

175. Missed Appointments

There is an expectation when two parties make an appointment that it will be kept. When the appointment fails due to one party not following through, there is disappointment. Perhaps both parties feel disappointment, but definitely the one left holding the bag is disappointed. I’m in the appointment business. I meet around 30 clients a week and juggle 15 to 30 phone calls per week, plus an assortment of e-mails. I make mistakes. I hate it, but I do. It’s never a fun moment when two different clients are in the waiting room expecting the same appointment time. Oh no. It’s worse than mistakenly walking into the women’s bathroom, which I did in the Frist Museum in Nashville two years ago. I kept hearing this woman’s voice in there while I was in a stall. I thought, ‘Boy is she ever gonna be embarrassed when she realizes she’s in the men’s room.’ I was shocked when I heard a second and then a third woman’s voice echo in the suddenly huge vault. I knew then that my village was missing its idiot. I ducked my head and walked directly out the door and into the men’s restroom to wash my trembling hands. It’s also bad when no one is in the waiting room, which is a more common experience.

Let me think of famous missed appointments. They are hard to find because they’re not memories we want to recall. Guilt and shame cover these hurts. When I was preschool age, I believe, I have a vivid memory of waiting for hours on a Sunday afternoon on 14th Street near the Washington Monument for a bus that did not run on Sundays. My mother and little brother were with me. My mother kept looking for “11C”, the local bus that stopped in front of our suburban house. I don’t know why we were there to begin with, but eventually my father drove up in an old Buick and picked us up. It’s a strange and silent memory that holds much more, I suspect. I was too young to question my mother’s sanity at that point. Later that would come in bizarre conversations about things that, like her fantasy bus, would not ever arrive.

When I was in 3rd grade, I was supposed to be an altar boy at St. Louis Catholic Church and School. I went to the school with boys whose brothers were already altar boys. They knew the ropes, or should I say robes? Anyway, practice was after school and I managed to miss those by riding my school bus home to familiar turf. I could tell you who got on at what stop because of the twice daily repetition over several years. Bus F, Mrs. Reed was our driver for a year or two. Never an issue that I can recall. Peace rolled down Kings Highway, past Berkshire Drive, along the Parkway, past Virginia Hills Avenue. If we missed the bus, which we did on occasions, we walked the two miles to school. Like Jerry Seinfeld’ famous whine, “But I don’t want to be a pirate!” I didn’t really want to be an altar boy.

church ship priest

Missing… somehow I was supposed to be a priest. Someone thought that was a good idea for me, the third of four sons. I think it’s a leftover medieval concept. The oldest son was to inherit the estate; the second son was supposed to be a soldier; the next son went to the clergy; and I guess they ate the fourth or fifth sons during long winters. Missing out on altar boy life ruined my chances for the priesthood, thank God. I can’t imagine a more gloomy life than being a priest. I was more outgoing and spiritual than my three brothers, so I can sort of see the reasoning behind lobbying me, but that’s an awful thing to do to a young man. While the country was breaking out of its conservative 1950’s cocoon, I was supposed to be spinning a new cocoon of celibacy and self annihilation? Nahhh. I feel sorry for the guys who bought that package. It’s like buying your father’s burned out Oldsmobile from him and thinking that you now rock. Sad.

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Fourth missed appointment: I was supposed to maintain my birthright appointment and anointment of Catholicism. I let that go about 15 years ago. I describe myself as spiritually anorexic back in those days: I was starving for spiritual food, but all I got was ritual and hocus pocus, a promise of later fulfillment. I gave it forty plus years and did not see desirable fruit. Instead I felt like I had to apologize for the anemic modern ways of the Catholic Church and its horrid past theo-political exploits. The turning point came when I went on a mission trip with my oldest daughter to Mexico, which I had always believed was a Catholic country. What I found out was many Mexicans had the Virgin of Guadalupe in their front yard and had no idea about Jesus. It was superstitious hocus pocus that finally severed my spiritual umbilical cord with Catholicism. In a way it felt like a junior high romance that just didn’t offer a realistic future relationship. You can’t live in the past.

Truth be told, we don’t really know how many missed appointments we have missed in life. Unless someone tells you that you missed the love of your life or the ideal job or the perfect house, how would you know? I prefer to focus on the positive side of perception– kept appointments. In this blogging business I expect to meet my self imposed limit of 1,000 words per post. Somehow I figured that was my frame to fill. In counseling sessions my frame is an hour. (Writing 1,000 words takes much longer than an hour, folks.) I am currently engaged in multiple appointments that resonate with truth for me. My job, my family, my faith, my social life all seem to vibrate in pleasant, complementary frequencies. I am a contented man.

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