436. The Cruise To Hell

 

It was years ago in late fall that we arrived at the dock in Baltimore to board the massive cruise ship Discordia (POA Lines) to the Bahamas. All expenses paid, all food, all drink, all entertainment, all rights and responsibilities, prepaid by someone else on a credit card with unbelievable rates forever. Who? We’ll get to that. Needless to say, it was a feast, a feastival, Thanksgiving on the high seas. What could be better? But whom does one thank for such luxury?

Ten stories or more soared up above the harbor waters. We took the gangplank up and then a glass elevator above the glittering lobby to our floor, seventh or eighth. We had a little window balcony and two beds. A bathroom slightly larger than an old fashioned phone booth. Unnecessary really, since the party was 24/7. Once we’d put our baggage away, we began to explore the narrow hallways, the grand staircases, the endless murals of Renaissance nudes merrily debauching their fantasy lives away.

The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus by Peter Paul Rubens

 

Hmmm, that’s subliminally norming lewd and lascivious behaviors. Sort of classical pornography, if that is not too much of a stretch. The pantomimed message, “Drink, lust, seize, surrender your soul, revel in the flesh.” But it’s just wallpaper, right? Not hypnosis.

The crew were quietly efficient with shiny skin and flaming eyes. They were present to meet every earthly need we might conjure up. We could not guess that behind lustrous ivory teeth their tongues had been removed. Even the band on the lido deck played songs appropriate for surrendering the flesh… “Hotel California”, “I Shot the Sheriff”, “Positive Vibration”, “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” in a loop. As the huge ship plowed out of the Chesapeake Bay, under the double span of the Bay Bridge, the guests’ vibe changed like a new set of clothes, from almost winter to almost nothing. We slipped collectively into a new groove, into babbling citizens of a shining suburb of Babylon, Babble On, Babble On… Onward toward the dark islands where black slaves had produced bleached white sugar for lily white Europeans not so long ago.

Once out of the Bay, countless stars glittered in the black skies above and reflected in the choppy black waters below. The power of this craft was unimaginable, able to hurtle three city blocks of human cargo forward at twenty knots per hour, cutting the horizon into two silver plumes. Our destination did not matter. The speed and power, the rhythmic momentum were all as if in a dream. Certainly, it was dreamlike. The monstrous engines below reverberated imperceptibly until sleep, when our dreams were massaged by their humming undertow. Gray noise.  Narcotically even. Such sleep! Such pleasures of the nether world suffused our naked minds and bodies.

By day two or three I began to sense something was not quite right. Everyone had every carnal need met almost before awareness of the need arose. Passengers used words like “nirvana” and “heaven” to describe their experience thus far. So saturated with luxury, they began to explore beyond usual prescribed boundaries. Couples began schmoozing with other couples and rubbing their legs shamelessly at the pool or in the hot tubs, toes touching erotic landing zones were met with excited giggles. No one seemed to object or even notice. It was all one good, fun, party. Since we were in international waters, no specific country’s law applied; and so the law of the jungle came to rule across the ship’s many splendid decks. Every one did what was good in his own eyes.

In the fine dining rooms guests ate with their hands while sitting in damp bathing suits. The staff smiled witlessly, encouraging beastly behaviors. They seemed to enjoy the mess. No worries.

Casino Table Games

Down in the casino everyone was a winner. No one lost. The signs at the slot machines and black jack tables said, “All winnings paid out at d’hotel Fornicatio, Nassau, in U.S. dollars tax free.” Unbelievable. The euphoria built up like a summer thunderstorm. Free money. Free booze. Free sex!!! The whole scene was like the hippie movement of the late 1960’s– no consequences. Free love. Guiltlessness gurgled gleefully.

Casino Slot Machines

And yet, yet, the fear of anarchy rose up with the ceaseless champagne bubbles hissing above every fluted glass. It’s not a party after five days of orgiastic efforts. It’s work to equal or exceed yesterday’s exploded boundaries. Mondays are for mojitos; Tuesdays are for tequila; Wednesdays are Wallbangers…. Thursdays are thoroughly debauched. Fridays are try it days. Saturdays, get saturated. Sunday… Anything goes. If you were conscious in the ’60’s, the reckoning was rough. After Woodstock a colossal mess was left behind on many levels.

Where is the port? We’ve been at sea for days now, I think. All the gluttonous activity topped off with lust and greed for more…. causes a loss of memory in the participants. Who knew Sloth was addictive?  It’s so easy to be less and less, to care less, and think less, and shame less. What land dwellers call morals are such a drag on the POA Lines.”Man, morals are like shells. If you don’t have any enemies, you don’t need any shells. Right?” The thing about Prince of the Air Lines is that they get it. Their motto:  You are free to be fully who you want to be, full throttle, full luxury, full time.

Finally our port is in sight, so says the Captain. But there has been a mistake. We veer away from Nassau and head toward another abandoned island to the west.

 

 

427. “And what is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

  

pictures of weeds

Emerson wrote that a long time ago. Back when you could be original, before all the cool things were said and written. Nowadays it’s a lot harder to come up with more such diamonds of speech, or pearls of wisdom, even rubies of reasoning, or sapphires of sophistication. Opals of … opprobrium. Whoops. I got carried away with all the color and sophistry. Let’s look at some weeds and see how they have either come into their own over time or lost their popularity.

Cannabis sativa comes to mind instantly. It has a long history and a dynamic present. Likely has a rocket’s trajectory for a future as well. According to my five second Google search, cannabis has been cultivated since 8,000 B.C., first for rope and later for its seeds and oil as food products. Around 2,000 B.C. it was used medicinally in ancient China. It was used recreationally and ritually in a wide swath of the Middle East, including Persia and Scythia, while still being used for paper and rope. Perhaps this is where Muhammad Ali came up with his “rope a dope” boxing strategy, sparring with half baked pugilistic partners.

In the early A.D. years it was used as an intoxicant and an anesthetic. Even the famous Greek physician Galen prescribed medical marijuana. The Smithsonian has one of his original pharmacy scripts in storage since the ancient Greek scribbling is not as popular as it once was. Its derivative hashish was known as an inebriant and an aphrodisiac in Egypt. As travel increased, cannabis moved to Europe and Africa. And laws regulating its consumption began to appear. Hemp was legally cultivated all over the southeast United States in the 1800’s. What?

1850-1915 Marijuana was widely used throughout United States as a medicinal drug and could easily be purchased in pharmacies and general stores. And then?  The war on drugs began in 1915. By the 1930’s and 40’s fliers like the one below warned of the poisonous effects of marihuana…. in which lurks Murder! Insanity! Death!

The debate rages on today, even as medical folks use cannabinol oil to reduce seizures in epileptic children,  as well as to alleviate symptoms of trauma and depression in veterans of war’s wanton demons. Oh, it’s been decriminalized and legalized in several states, for sure. But is it still a weed? Let’s go to the dictionary definition…

413. Whitetitlement Disorder, Z63.55

 

For years I didn’t even know I had this disorder. It’s a silent form of corrosion that grows in your gut darkly, similar to prostate cancer. Its scientific name is amygdalar sclerosis, which means “hardening of the amygdala”.  Sure, with an enlarged prostate you have to pee more often, but that’s a function of age, right?  And age alone is not a disorder. But amygdalar sclerosis is tricky, sneaky, internal subterfuge.Other white men may have it and not know so if they are surrounded by other white men who drink coffee or beer, or if they don’t spend time among the diverse people types who inhabit this changing country of ours. The symptoms may include but are not limited to the following:

  • intolerance of change that does not directly benefit them
  • a cloying fear of minorities as a group but not necessarily as individuals
  • disturbing nightmares wherein younger minority males hijack the white man’s car
  • self aggrandizement that seems justified by conveniently arranged facts or myths
  • feelings of superiority wrapped in flags of state or religion or economic theory
  • excessive fear of becoming a minority
  • an “us vs. them” mentality, black or white, all or nothing thinking frameworks
  • a longing for an imaginary idyllic past where law and order always worked while June Cleaver did not.

 

410. Stadium Seat Cushion

“I’m a people pleaser, you know. I hate confrontations and avoid conflicts. Like, if I get charged the wrong price at Walmart, I won’t confront the cashier. I just suck it up and get mad at myself instead of the wrong price or the cashier. What’s wrong with me?  I can’t handle hurting others’ feelings, but I can crush my own.”

“You are a stadium seat cushion.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Well, stadium seating is cheap and durable but not comfortable. So there is an after market for cushions to make the stadium experience less painful, you know, like a pillow on a park bench?”

“Yes! I get the concept. What does it have to do with me?”

“Oh, you see others in distress or discomfort and you throw yourself between their butts and their pain, like a stadium seat cushion, I mean a high quality memory foam covered dense Styrofoam cushion. Top quality with a nice logo like Penn State or the Steelers. Please allow 4 to 6 weeks for delivery.”

“So I’m a butt buffer for others am I?”

“Yep. And a very good one, consensus Hall of Famer first ballot.”

“You have a way of pissing me off and making me laugh at the same time, damn it!”

“It’s a gift.”

“Seriously, I do throw myself in between people and their pain. All the out reach programs I am involved with… somehow I want to alleviate others’ suffering. But why? I’ll make myself miserable to make others happy.”

“Well, let’s see. Did anyone do this for you when you were struggling?”

“No, not really. I felt abandoned and neglected, which are awful feelings. I wondered why no one would come to my rescue, not even God. I figured I was too damaged, not worth their efforts. Shame silenced me. I  did not want to ask anyone else for help so that I did not attract more attention to my  pitiful state. Eventually I learned to do things by myself, with a vengeance. Don’t ever tell me I can’t do something. You’ll regret it. I’ll prove you wrong.”

“Sounds like you do good things for not so good reasons.”

“What?  I help single moms put clothes on their babies. I help hungry people find affordable food. I…”

“I know what you do. That’s the front end of the statement. The back end is the kicker, though. Why do you do these things? ”

“I told you: to alleviate the suffering of innocent, helpless people.”

“And yet it seems like you are trying to alleviate your own childhood and adolescent suffering, as if your good deeds today could somehow cross over time and assuage the aching heart of your eight year old self.”

[TEARS and HUFFING] “No, you are wrong. I can’t stand by and let others suffer or charge them a fee to alleviate their pain like you do.”

“Ouch! So now I’m the psychic predator who preys on helpless folks with insurance.”

“I didn’t mean that. It’s just that I can’t walk away from needy folks who need so much….”

“Because there is some boundary issue?”

“Well, they get under my skin and in my head. I can barely sleep when I do help out.”

“So you will work harder to solve others’ problems than the actual owners of the problems work?”

“Sometimes, maybe, okay. I have once or a dozen times. What’s wrong with caring excessively?”

“The excess part. When caring turns into indulging the other, you are not helping. Cradle to grave welfare becomes slavery not help.”

“So your answer is to dispose of the people, just let them go cold or hungry…”

“Please, just a moment without nuclear defenses. You know the old saying ‘Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime’?”

Image result for man and boy with a fish picture

“Yes, it’s lame. Not everyone eats fish.”

“I don’t. Allergic reaction to fish oil. Ever hear  this one, ‘But man does not live on bread alone.’ ?”

“Oh, no, you’re gonna go all religious on me now.”

“No, in completely secular terms, if you feed and clothe and house everyone you meet on the street, many of them will be back in days if not hours, because they need more than bread, clothes, or shelter. They need hope, meaning and purpose.”Image result for homeless folks picture

“Now you’re gonna play the God card.”

“No, I’m playing the human nature card. We can leave the Divine out of this discussion for the moment. Humans struggle to maintain their environment, even if that is a lean to under a bridge. Swooping in to put that homeless guy in a shelter may not work. Bringing canned meat and vegetables to a chronic alcoholic will likely be met with contempt.  Do some of your kids clothes shoppers complain about colors or styles?”

“Yeah, and that really pisses me off.”

“Why? Humans want what they want; not necessarily what you are graciously offering them.”

“Ingrates are thankless selfish takers.”

“Yep, they don’t see the big picture as they move from cradle to grave on someone else’s nickel.”

“Sometimes I just want to kick them in the ass and tell them to get out… but I do it for the kids. They appreciate the clothes or toys or food even if their stupid parents don’t.”

“Gratitude is powerful stuff.”Image result for gratitude images

“What do you mean?”

“I mean if you focus on what you have and savor it, treasure it even, then you won’t be envying what others have that is newer or shinier or costlier.”

“Okaaaay. Is there some cosmic lesson in this? I feel like you are trying to give me an epiphany or something Greek.”

“Epiphanies are kinder than enemas, Grasshoppa. What I’m so subtly suggesting is that if you seize upon your current blessings and just bathe in them here and now, you will not feel so compelled to fix others. Your, ready for this one?, existential constipation will diminish, and you will laugh, smile and joke more.”

“That’s it? No secret word?”

“Well, I do have one secret word.”

“And that would be….?”

“PRAY.”

“I knew it!!! Back to God!!!”

“Sort of hard to keep Him hidden, dontcha think?”

“Duh!”

 

 

 

 

388.Bait and Switch

Johnny is our dog, a black and white border collie/collie mix we rescued six years ago. He is technically my daughter Jess’s dog. His license says she is his owner. They are more like soul mates, if you ask me, but there was no such box on the license application to check. He is sweet natured and rarely barks; usually just one bark to get us to let him in. ( Jess does not bark at all, fortunately. That would be awkward in the ladies room or at hospital visits.) He’s getting old and often slides back down the stairs instead of bolting up them as he once did. Oh, Gravity, thy cruel force sucketh!! Now in his dotage, he skitters about on the hard wood floors like a pair of drunken elderly tap dancers with hip replacements– “tick, tick, tack, tick, tack, ticky, ticky, tack, tack…” throughout the night, all freekin’ night,  if we don’t gate him in the carpeted hallway. Sometimes his hips just give out and he falls down. Still, he’s a great dog and our world is a better place because his tuxedoed hair balled self is in it at knee level. This morning he just posted himself between my legs and stopped. I could not easily turn left or right. I’d have to step forward or back up to go to work. I swear he was a ninja instructor in an earlier lifetime, but he’s not talking. Ninja national security. He knows too much secret stuff… like how to eat my wife’s chicken chili lunch out of her lunch bag without a noise.

She had the audacity to yell at him for pilfering her lunch bag after she’d left it on the floor. That’s entrapment if you ask me. I promised to get him a good dog lawyer and maybe he’d get off for good behavior and time served.

Over the past two years he has had some sort of skin allergies that caused him to scratch endlessly, leaving his skin raw and oozing. Our vet determined that Johnny was allergic to his food. Now keep in mind that Johnny supplements his diet with used facial tissues that he pulls out of the trash and anything else his big snout sniffs out. He would scale Mt. Everest for a piece of bacon, I think. Anyway, the vet suggested that we serve Johnny the special dog food that is only for sale at the vet’s. Wow, how convenient is that? I mean the food is right there at the cash register.  And it only costs $100 per big bag. Okay, Johnny is worth it, no doubt, but come on, man!! What a squeeze play.

Oyster Crackers.jpgSo the new food looks like oyster crackers that you put on soup. Flavorless puffs of hypoallergenic nothingness that crunch and fool your taste buds that something good is happening between chews. Johnny did not approve. He sniffed at it with contempt and looked deep into our souls with his wise brown eyes…”how could you do this to me?” he seemed to ask. My clever wife squirted gluten free beef broth on top of the oyster crackers to bait and switch Johnny into eating. “You just need to fool him to get started and then he keeps going.” Her Cleverness seemed to be working until the day we found out the rest of the story.

Johnny has never been the neatest eater, so when some of his hypoallergenic oyster crackers began to appear in the toilet downstairs, I thought little of it. “Oh, he must have spilled some and Her Cleverness swept it up and emptied it into the toilet.” It did seem odd but hardly memorable, so I flushed the evidence of a brilliant passive-aggressive plot. Later I would learn of the intrigue and skill behind this pale flotsam.

One morning while getting dressed, my wife exclaimed, “What’s this?” as she scooped stale morsels of hypoallergenic dog oyster crackers out of her sock drawer. She emptied all the contents on the floor. Maybe a cup’s worth of crunchy tastelessness spilled out from the socks. “Don’t look at me! You’re the one who feeds him that cardboard crap diet. He’s mad at you.”Image result for crumbs on floor

“No. How could he open my drawers and dump food in?”

“I don’t know, but there is no dog food in my sock drawer, which is at the same level as yours.?”

Opening her underwear drawer, “Oh, Johhny!!” Again, about a cup of oyster crackers had been methodically dropped among her underthings. It was hysterical, although I’m not sure my wife fully believed that I was not a co-conspirator. Honestly, I wish I’d thought of it to begin with, but I didn’t, so there it ends… I hope.

About a week after  Her Cleverness cleaned out the sock drawer again; it was filled with another cup of crunchy nothings, more silent ninja passive-aggression whispers from Johnny. “Leave the gun; take the cannoli”, I pictured Johnny alone all day muttering lines from gangster movies as he implemented his dastardly dried goods export plan. He is good. First pulling the drawer out. How?  Then going to his dish to get a mouthful of dried mucus pellets. Next, carefully carrying the despised cargo to its rightful place, in a sock or underwear drawer, snickering at his dark deeds. Finally, using his unnaturally long snout to close the drawer. Brilliant. I wondered if he sat back and savored the cold bacon taste of canine revenge served deliciously late.

After careful analysis I figured that the spilled oyster crackers came from sloppy transportation from bowl to drawer. How many oyster crackers fit in a dog’s mouth at one time? I can only guess. How many trips did it take? We’ll never know. He’s keeping the code of silence, omerta in Sicily. Johnny is not Pavlov’s dog, nosirree. He gets bait and switch tactics, my bloguertos. I just hope my wife learns soon before I wake up to a severed horse’s head or a package of fish in newspaper. “Her Cleverness sleeps with the fishes.”

Oh Johnny!

 

383. Counterintuitive

Here’s a disturbing question for you:  When do folks suicide most often– summer, winter, spring or fall? Most folks think winter and the holiday season is ripe for suicides. That may be, but it’s spring that consistently hosts the most suicides in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. (You know they are opposite, right?)According to the CDC April and May show a marked increase in suicides in the U.S. and other northern countries, and that suicides actually decline in the bleak winter months. One study I saw clearly demonstrated Monday as the favored day for suicides to occur. Maybe those folks just didn’t want to go to jobs they really hated. Hmmm, you’d think quitting or calling off might have been more effective.

Not to make light of suicide. I feel deeply for folks who are in such a pain filled state that they can only think of destroying the pain container instead of destroying or managing the pain. It’s the all-or-nothing approach to problem solving, similar to burning down your house to make sure you eliminate the pesky mice that run around your kitchen at night. Undeniably, it works; but this solution obliterates the plaintiff, bailiff, courtroom, reporters, judge and jury. It’s an odd sort of justice that obscures the original injustice.

I recall a local anesthesiologist who offed himself on an examining table at the hospital to protest real or perceived maltreatment. The thing is, we’ll never know what the rest of the truth  was because he executed himself as he executed his strange justice. I do not recall if it was a Monday in spring or not. Doesn’t matter. His job was to anesthetize patients in surgery and to revive them afterwards. It’s supposed to be a round trip ticket not a one way. Which is why single passengers who buy one way airline tickets with cash attract so much attention from the TSA. The guys I know who do this are not terrorists; instead, they are repossessing cars or delivering machinery. In any event, they are coming back… unlike Dr. Doom, who fully anesthetized himself forever.

Sad and disturbing. No one can grasp the unbearable weight that moves a finger to pull a trigger of the cocked pistol at one’s temple. Follow the triggered nerve back to the tortured brain that has been rehearsing this exit strategy. Almost all suicides are completed alone, which reduces the risk of revival or interference. Still, what an airless bedroom closet or bathroom it must be as the suicider sits and builds up the critical and final momentum for the ultimate terminus. Like waiting to vomit and then ride the terminal wave out of consciousness, where the constant is becomes the eternal is not. The pain and hopelessness must feel like giant aliens that must be destroyed.                                                                                 Image result for giant alien pictures

The demoniac self named “Legion” in the Gospel of Mark 5, had so many unclean spirits driving him that he smashed rocks against himself and ran around tombs naked and screaming near the pig herds of the Gerasenes.  His repetitive insanity was ended by Jesus with a command, “Come out of him, you unclean spirit.” The legion of unclean spirits came out and complied. They asked Jesus not to torment them and begged to be cast into the nearby herd of pigs. He complied and they possessed the pigs, leading 2,000 to hurl themselves into the Sea of Galilee and drown. That’s a lot of bacon, folks.

One life was saved, one mind restored. And you’d think that the folks around the Gerasenes would be pleased, but they weren’t. They begged Jesus to get back in his boat and leave. No thank you or praise or worship, nope. Just fear simmered in the melted grease of confusion. It’s been said that miracles don’t produce faith; rather, faith produces miracles. I agree. Despite witnessing the overcoming of supernatural forces, the locals wanted no part of this Savior. Counter intuitive again. If you don’t want the problem nor the solution, then really, what do you want? More confusion, I suppose.

 I recall a story of a young man’s suicide with a pistol. The parents were devastated, yet they gave the gun to the victim’s younger brother.  I’m not a gun hater, but if your older son overdoses on oxycontins do you give the rest of the prescription to his little brother? Or if the one hangs himself, do you give the remaining noose to his kid brother? Seems counterintuitive again. The math of suicide is not that hard to do, if you simply possess the courage to do it.
 semi-colon
Despite the common terminology, no two suicides are identical. Some are grandiose exits with letters full of anger and bitterness. Some are murder/ suicides involving children or partners, parents or pets. Somewhere in the convoluted thinking the perpetrator believes the survivors can’t make it without him/her, or he/she can’t make it without them… and it’s better to make it a package deal. Some are desperate hangings while the family is away. Even when clear reasons are attached to suicides, survivors ponder the WHY? I suppose this question comes from the valuing of life on the one hand, and the incomprehensibility of destroying oneself on the other hand, which is literally no longer there.
Guilt and shame follow suicides as surely as the million WHYS. Yet, if survivors look hard at the evidence, it is usually not their fault. The fault is most often in the suicider’s brain, where he/she solves a temporary  problem with a permanent solution. Overkill is a fair comment, I believe.  Intuitively healthy minds seek survival and generativity. Counterintuitively, unhealthy minds seek death and the cut off of their loved ones. A life well lived is a beautiful thing. A suicide is, no matter how meaningful or dramatic, is a disaster.

347. DARKLY

 

We tied fishing rigs for the morning, sure to hit the bluefish that feed voraciously in the Cheasepeake Bay.  Point Lookout, Maryland had been used as a prison camp for the Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.  Hard to imagine now.  It was just a narrow spit of land that jutted into the dark bay water. No signs of tortured troops and squalid conditions from the old days. A lot of men died here from neglect and exposure to the elements.  Nowadays there is no evidence that anything unpleasant ever occurred on these shores.

“That’s Virginia on the other side,” said Cork with as much authority as he could muster.  The fishing trip was his idea.  It was his boat, his truck, his tent, and so forth.  I had never been out on the water, so I accepted the invitation and everything else at face value.  Foolishly, as I would later discover.  But on that warm Friday night in August, the upcoming fishing trip seemed like a sharp memory in the making.   We had worked together painting houses and barns all summer.  This was a reward and a chance to build another area of friendship. Cork and his son Biff had been here many times before, and they enjoyed putting into practice the rules and tips of their recently completed boating safety course.  So I thought.

Around 10 p.m. we decided it would be exciting to go for a short ride on the bay.  There was no moon. The bay was calm and smooth.  We shoved off under the orange glow of the mercury vapor light at the end of our dock.  It felt a bit eerie to me, casting off into the black sky on the black water, sort of what I imagined crossing the River Styx might be like in Greek myths.  Quiet, to be sure, but not safe.  I felt as if there were fish beneath us that could be as large as our little 18 foot Bayliner.  Maybe a sea monster or two.  The fact that we had no lights on the little boat did not seem to be an issue as we put out into deep water.  Captain Cork was in command.

We cruised the bay for an hour or two.  It was fabulous.  I lay down on my back to watch the stars glide overhead.  Every once in a while we checked our poles, but not a single bite.  I lost track of the time and our location.  I never doubted the seaworthy skipper who, by the way, had grown up next to a cornfield in a landlocked county in Pennsylvania.  Not a problem when you are as smart as our skipper.  The intellect is a fine thing when it is not caught in a net of pride and self deceit. It must have been midnight or near 1:00 a.m. when we decided to head back to our familiar dock with the orange mercury vapor light. No problem.  “We’ll just head back in now, fellas,” said Cork matter-of-factly.

That’s when the fabulous dream turned into a harrowing nightmare.  It started slowly and innocently enough.  “Is this Virginia…” asked Captain Cork hesitantly, and then pointing across the miles of dark bay waters, “or is that?”

“Which direction are we headed in?”  I asked.  “If we’re going south, then Virginia will be on our left, the other side of the bay.”

“Hell, if I knew which direction we were headed in, I wouldn’t have to ask you!” declared Cork with a bit of tension and disgust rising in his voice.

“Don’t you have a map or compass?”  I asked.

“Yeah, but they’re back in the truck.  I forgot to put them in the boat.”

Biff calmly pointed to the orange glow emanating from what I was coming to believe was north.  “Isn’t that the dock light up there on the left?  I remember we pulled out from there and circled the bay a few times, but that’s it.”

“Can’t be.  This is Virginia we’re looking at.”  Then he spied a faint dot of orange on the other shoreline, miles away.  “I’m afraid that is our dock light over there.”

I asked, “Well, what are we going to do?  Can we call the Coast Guard on the radio?  Maybe they’ll be in the area and set us straight.”

“No.  I’ll get written up for no lights and no maps,” responded Cork.  “Son of a bitch!”

Now Cork’s anger had kicked in.  It was quite familiar to Biff and me.  On land it was manageable; you  could walk away and generally not have to deal with it.  It was different here.  Here in the dark Cork was at the helm, in control of the boat though not of his own emotions.  A stream of angry epithets preceded him gunning the throttle as we roared toward what he believed was Maryland in the distance. 

I was terrified.  We were literally racing in the dark.  I took our camp flashlight and moved to the front of the boat.  I could see pelicans coming at us like spooks from Hell.  Somewhere I knew there were old target practice ships that the Navy airplanes shot at.  And I recalled seeing the occasional netting strung around telephone poles as some kind of breeding area or hatchery.  Any one of these things could destroy our little boat that was speeding along under the angry blindness of Captain Ahab. Image result for dark water at night pictures

As we raced across the bay, the little orange dot became fainter instead of stronger.  Soon it was gone from sight. “Damn it!”  And various other expletives were hurled at no one in particular, the gods, I supposed.  Cork was often adamant in his agnosticism.  Others’ sins kept him out of church the past twenty five years.  “Goddamn hypocrites!”

I was becoming a believer, a scared believer as we raced back to the previous shoreline.  Maybe we could figure out where we were by a boat registration or a sign on a dock.  Maybe we could even meet someone on the shore and ask for directions.  Maybe one of us could get off the boat and knock on someone’s door at 2:00 a.m.  “Excuse me, is this Maryland or Virginia?  You see we’re lost and really stupid.”

After perhaps an hour and a half of frustration and terror, Cork finally quit.  He angrily surrendered the helm to Biff.  “If you think you’re so goddamn smart, go ahead!”  Biff quietly motored the boat toward the original marker.  Sure enough it was our dock.  The same dock Biff had identified two hours earlier, before the mad scramble in the darkness had begun.  I was relieved that reason had prevailed over anger.  I had already resigned myself to staying out on the water till daybreak.  At least we would not get hurt this way.   Image result for dock light at night pictures

I guess this is just one more example of anger limiting one’s intelligence.  When we get angry we get stupid, stubborn and stuck.  I have had several clients who seem to be driving an unworthy craft through the dark of night, directionless, angry and very, very lost.  Instead of seeking the light and the right direction, they seem to angrily toy with the unforgiving dark.

 But not us, Bogmateys. We are scrupulously careful navigators of life. Dark pride never crosses our stride, right?

 

331. Not Fade Away

“If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad…”  So sang Cheryl Crow. Oh, but it can be this way; it is true. So many folks I know cling to something that made them happy, but over time it no longer does. They ache and pine for a lost loved one or an unfaithful lover. Bittersweet is the taste and the feeling that courses through them as they ping pong between tender longing with a dry throat or vinegary tears dripping down contorted cheeks. What a strange combination and contradiction when couples dance at wedddings to songs of heartbreak and melancholy, feeling safe, even invulnerable in a satin white coccoon. “That won’t happen to us. We’re special, protected somehow, immune.” And they sway to the slow rhythm of a broken heart song, unaware that they will follow in its hollow footsteps…

Bittersweet memories
That is all I’m taking with me
So, goodbye
Please, don’t cry
We both know I’m not what you, you need
And iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiIIIIII will always love you
I will allllllllllllways love you  {goodbye Whitney}

Oh, why do fools fall in love? Because love makes fools of us all.

 [Frankie Lymon and the Teennagers.]

Long ago I heard a therapist say that couples divorce for the same reasons they marry. This seemed contradictory to me, so I inquired further. Say what? “Yes. If a couple marries for looks, when their looks fade, as they inevitably do, then they divorce. If a couple marries for status and money, when those fade, they divorce. If they marry for the fun they shared in activities, when the activities fade, they divorce. And so on, with sex, popularity, health, etc. Even couples who are passionately attached with a sparky connection divorce when inevitably that spark fades.”

“So Doc, what’s the answer to this riddle? I mean, why don’t we all just hang ourselves now?”

“The answer is to marry for reasons that don’t fade or change. Immutable reasons.”

“Like what? ‘Cause everything changes.”

“Actually an adult’s core values are relatively immune to change. An honest adult is likely to be honest all his life, whether he is bald or happens to sport a full head of Elvis hair. A faithful, upright woman will be faithful and upright as well. A compassionate adult will live a compassionate life. A faithful friend is likely to be faithful to the bitter end.”

“So you are talking about abstractions not material world stuff.”

“Yes. Your ripped and toned body is going to soften and weaken if you live long enough. Your incredible hand-eye coordination is likewise doomed to a similar fate, even with Lasik surgery and testosterone treatments.”

 “C’mon, Man. Look at these abs…And great sex falls into this sad basket also?”

“Yeah, stuff wears out– muscles, organs, bones, blood vessels, skin, nerves. All fail one day.”

“You are killing me, man. Have you ever considered un-motivational speaking for a career?”

“Actually I have, but the market isn’t there. I have been called an emotional exterminator. The Undertaker of Conviviality. For a while I was a bouncer at Polish weddings.”

“Uh huh, you can empty a room fast.”

“Well, it depends on the crowd. Some folks lap up what I’m putting out there. But they are a lot more mature than you.”

“You mean older, right?”

“No, I mean wiser. The maturity that comes from successful suffering.”

“Look, I’m not going to stand here and listen to your condescending lecture.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know, I was hoping you’d back off if I got all Neanderthal on you.”

“Which only further proves my maturity point.”

“OOOOOkay. I get it. I’m infantile Now tell me something I don’t already know.”

“Life expectancy gets in the way of enduring marriages.”

“Huh?”

“Average life expectancy in the U.S. during the years of 1850-1900 was 40 years. And during those years folks didn’t have movies or television, fast food or central air conditioning. They worked 10 and 12 hours a day just to survive. They were so busy with survival that this drivel we’ve been discussing would have made no sense to them. You following me?”

“Yes Sir! I can follow hard facts easier than prickly paradoxes and slippery conundrums. These folks lived brief, painful lives and died after they procreated but before they grew tired of one another.”

“Something like that.”

“So they could fall in love for silly and superficial reasons but die before they saw the varnish tarnish.”

“Is that some sort of stupid play on words?”

“Yeah, you know, it’s like a rhyme. A little word play to lighten it up, Doc. You know, you are deadly.”

“Well, remember my audience, doltish, and the task I have undertaken.”

“Yup, I’m with you. I still think you suck at motivating people though.”

“Yes, so with the extended life together, American married couples were not prepared for decades of shared life overlapping more and more free time. It was just too much. Drama and bickering and the endless struggle for control developed once the television came to dominate American living rooms. It is clearly illustrated in this unrelated chart. As you can see, new marriages peaked in 2006 and by 2014 over half a person was  missing due to recessionary pressures.”

“Doc, I get the big picture, even though your chart has nothing to do with your subject at hand.”

“I didn’t think you’d notice. ‘Touche for ooya.’ How do you like that word play?”

“Doc, let’s finish with an affirmation. I don’t want to leave this post angry. Okay?  Think of the little Blogglers out there who need a boost. I mean, they have read this far hoping for something resembling intelligent writing. Lie if you have to, but don’t let them go to bed hungry.”

“You are pitiful.”

“I don’t care what you think of me, Mister. Just give my people a crust of intellectual bread.”

“Okay, you’ve warn me down. My final point is that if you choose a partner for ephemeral reasons, you will indeed have an ephemeral mayfly marriage. Modern marriage is a covenant agreement that may last sixty or seventy years in our modern era. It’s longer and harder than ever to make marriage work. So, build on solid ground with proven materials– faith, integrity, truth, transparency. They don’t fade away.”

“I prefer Buddy Holly’s advice… amen.”

“Not Fade Away”

I’m a-gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
You’re gonna give your love to me
I wanna love you night and day
You know my love a-not fade away
A-well, you know my love a-not fade away
My love a-bigger than a cadillac
I try to show it and you drive a-me back
Your love for me a-got to be real
For you to know just how I feel
A love for real not fade away
I’m a-gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
You’re gonna give your love to me
A love to last a-more than one day
A love that’s love – not fade away
A well, a-love that’s love – not fade away

 

 

 

 

 

 

158. Totalitarian penguins

With a title like that what would anyone expect?  I have no idea either, I just like the odd juxtaposition. I also like the word juxtaposition. It makes the user of it seem smart, whether he is or not. Juxta means beside. I’m going to try “rapper styling” this line with my wife, “I just wanna get juxta you, Baby .” I wonder how far I’ll be slapped. Across the room? Across the street? Into next week?  But penguins? They are universally loved and esteemed. Why, there was a lovely movie made about them years back, The March of the Penguins. I saw it and oohed and awwwed at those big birds and how they huddle together sacrificially to survive in the brutal Antarctic climate. They are just wholesome and good and clean and well dressed in their perma-tuxes. Who does not love penguins? Let’s see, their predators. South Polar bears and kangaroos, separated by continental drift in the Second Ice Age, but in their collective unconscious kangaroos and the beige South Pole bears slaver over mythical penguin jerky strips that were once regular menu items in Old Australia. Please fact check me on these assertions. I could be wrong. I might be confusing history with an episode of the cooking show Chopped.

Image result for rebel emperor penguin pictures

But just for a moment, imagine if a single (or married) penguin began to talk or squawk smack about their awful conditions and how the seals and sharks had forced them to live on ice and krill. And this Alpha penguin developed great oratory skill over time, always focusing on the pain at hand… or at wing, or flapper, you know what I mean. If this Emperor of Emperor penguins stood on a little squinty-eyed sycophant (another smart sounding word) and railed against the cultural oppression and poor financial situation the flock faced, well, stuff could happen. Then if he, let’s call him Flappin, focused the hate on walruses, how they had so much blubber and were responsible for global warming and overfishing, you see where this would naturally go. Since penguins are the bird equivalent of sheep, they would get in line behind “Slappin’ Flappin” and elect him Emperor of the Third Ice Age. Zeig Heil!!!

Flappin’s press agent would arrange to have him arrested for inciting chaos (actually, cross dressing will do it) and crowd surfing (felonies in penguin colonies), and then publish his autobiography, Mine Cough, in which he would continue his conspiracy theories and megalomaniacal (There is a whopping smart word, folks.) schemes as well as offering home remedies for respiratory ailments.  Then, when Flappin was released from his brief stint in the walrus jail to the strains of I Am the Walrus, he would be welcomed as a hero, the return of the phoenix, and other such mythological drivel. He would go around Antarctica, wearing John Lennon granny glasses, speaking at penguin beer halls and stadiums, building even bigger audiences that would pitch their feathered heads back and cluck straight up, “Flappin, Flappin, Flappin” until they were hoarse and needed one of his home remedies for irritated avian throats.

Over time Flappin would organize a new Penguin Nationalist Party and get elected to the Parliament, or Diet as it is called in the Southern Hemisphere. He would have such a strong majority that his squawk would be law. Loan sharks and Navy seals, gay polar bears, and especially intellectual walruses would be rounded up and tortured, their food and property expropriated for the Nationalist Party. They would be thrown together in igloo gulags (which I challenge you to say three times fast) surrounded by razor-edged barbed wire, forced to wear Mickey Mouse ears. Abject humiliation has never been known at such levels. Meanwhile the rest of the civilized world would cry out, “What has happened to the penguins? They were so calm and cute. Guess that movie went to their heads.”

Flappin would delve deep into the penguin psyche, maybe five millimeters, and play on old symbols, associating kangaroos with giant squid, in order to justify the necessary conquest of Australia. Crack teams of penguins would work undercover at zoos around the world and send coded messages back to Villa Las Estrellas and Flappin via carrier penguins on refrigerated UPS next day delivery with zip drives built into their frosty beaks. Meanwhile, back at base camp, Flappin would appoint evil henchmen to run his air force and secret police– Hurtmann and Blud. The PP, penguin patrol, would teach all penguins to goose step and flap salute the Emperor in parades, as the low rumble of war built up in the sunless Antarctic winter. (Wow, I like that last sentence. Re-read it in movie trailer voice.) And there is nothing more sinister than a sunless secret. Just ask Kim Young Fool of North Korea or Robert Dumbass Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

The attack would begin in late August, the end of winter in the upside down Antarctic monosphere. The Norwegian slice of Antarctica would be the first target. First of all and primarily, what is Norway doing there? Did they get into the colonization business after the bubble burst? It’s as absurd as the British owning the Falkland Islands, don’t you think? Did they not have enough snow and ice and bleakness at home? Holy Flippin’ Fjords! So you see, Flappin would fire up his big birds with a visceral hatred of all things Norwegian– mostly dried fish products and cheese– and then attack in darkness. By the Antarctic spring (also known as November) they would have overrun the Norwegian wedge and the four drunken security guards left to defend it. Then the rest of the civilized world, not wanting to start up the engines of war again, would concede that slice of ice to the Emperor Flappin.

Sadly, the rest of the March of the Penguins would look like a slow motion domino nation domination. They would swarm across the Australian slice of Antarctica on their bellies while wearing white ski jackets, virtually invisible to the naked Aussie eyes, or the eyes of naked Aussies. They would form flying belly wedges and break through unsuspecting Australian defenses. From there it would be a short hop, skip, and a jump to the tip of Chile and Argentina, up the Amazon tributaries to the banks of Bermuda, and world conquest. And, most tragically of all tragedies, this strange totalitarian penguin juxtaposition could have been avoided if the world had only listened to an old white guy with an obscure blog whose wife makes him shave. Sadly, those who learn to fail from history (and good hygiene tips) are doomed to repeat it.

121. Solacity

Quiet, fabulously quiet on the outskirts of a city that claims a million residents. Just me and the dog, Sweet Kermit, walking to the dead end of Pima Farms Drive and then up to the trail head that leads into Saguaro National Forest. No traffic, there’s no place to go. Houses hunkered low to the ground blend into the dusty brown landscape. Each adobe finished house is a muted desert color:  cactus green, sand, putty patina, pale sage,  alabaster, salt, bleached bone, rusted iron, ocher, faded plum. Faint sounds only reinforce the ambient quiet. A dove coos on an overhead powerline. Anonymous birds flit fearlessly in thorny bushes. The crunch of gavel beneath my shoes. Kermit’s excited breathing. Tucson, you are as beautiful as a sleeping baby. Which is why I am here, to hold my sleeping granddaughter as she grows by the hour.

A huge hawk sails overhead soundlessly. Thousands of feet high in the blue sky a fighter jet might as well be a snowflake for all the rumble and shake it does not cause down here. The glorious February sun beats down on my dark tee shirt as an easy breeze blows west to east. I love this vast open saucer surrounded by stark mountains to the east and prickly cactus-covered spires behind me. I feel the urge to get higher, to breathe it all in, to gaze on the splendor that God has wraught here in the desert. There is a palpable spirit here, one that the Native people celebrate by burning sage in a fire at dawn to honor their ancestors. Unfortunately for them the European settlers did not embrace them or their quiet spirit, and moved them to less desirable, more arid lands. The new folks burned their ancestors and celebrated, i.e., expropriated, the sage and the mesquite, the land and the water.

Water is everything in the desert here just as it was in Jesus’ time and place. Just like Psalm 1 says,

1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—     whatever they do prospers.

Water is the universal symbol for life. Along with breath, you have half of what you need to sustain life. Earth and fire, I guess, are the remaining two. I recall a piece of survival literature that showed how long a human can live without oxygen, heat, water, and food. It’s about three– three minutes without oxygen; three hours without a regulated body heat; three days without water; and three weeks without food. Fascinating that survival requires the four prime elements–air, water, fire, and earth (from which we get food). In denying these elements to others, we condemn them to something less than life.

So I wonder about the Native people, when they first encountered the Christian explorers and then settlers… how did it go? Was there respect given and received? Did the first White men in Arizona seek wisdom from the folks who had inhabited this harsh climate for thousands of years? It does not look that way. And did these Christian settlers share Jesus with the Native folks or impose Him with guns, whiskey, and bullets? I’m no historian, but I think the Grand Canyon could not contain all the tears of the Native people of what we call the United States. How ironic that people groups who themselves had fled Europe’s corrupt aristocracies and state religions would deny Native people their culture, their faith, and their lands. And the descendants of these settlers repeat their forefathers’ sins by denying modern immigrants any shelter, food, water or air. Human nature has not changed much if at all since the time of the Old Testament prophets, so it seems to me. I’m pretty sure that if Jesus had been the first non-native person in the Southwest, there would be a lot more sage smoke at dawn and a lot more love among the cacti today.

Today as Tea Party Rightists rage on in paranoid frenzy and knee-jerky legislators push for guns in teachers’ hands, I wonder why we can’t just enjoy the silence together. There is beauty and truth in abundance outside this solar kissed city. Breathe it in, again and again.  May my children’s children and yours yield their fruits in season, never wither, and always prosper.