425. Just a disturbing thought…

Image result for candle in a test tube picture

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

362. Connectivity

The first text on my smart phone was from my downstairs tenant who scarfs my wifi at work… “Heads up:  Your wifi is down.” Wow, the first message of my day tells me that I have been disconnected from the world of Facebook and email and… oh no, my blog. I can’t be cut off from my psychic crutch!! What will my three secret followers held in a North Korean gulag do? I’ll have to call Dennis Rodman and Tom Cruise later to reset the linkage. International back channel diplomacy/espionage is not for the weak willed or timid tummied. It’s time to Growaset!

Well, it was coffee nation morning so I had to be off to the monkey cage. No time for silly things like cyber-connectivity. I was on my way to the beaten up couch and chairs where six of us would huddle and talk a bit too loud to be considered mannerly. Joel the rabble rouser was not in residence. He’s traveling in warm places this week and next. It’s a rendezvous with Sheila the mule in the Grand Canyon, which I will share in another post, after the preliminary hearing and terms of bail are set. Last week he tried hard to start an insurrection, suggesting that if he won the lottery he’d buy us all coffee for life, thus unseating and usurping my imperial rule. I had to beat back their fantasies of democracy. What if mules got the vote?  Do you think they would keep hauling fat tourists in and out of the Grand Canyon?  NO!!  I will never be usurped while I am busy surping my Sumatran blend. No coffee nation, no banana republic, no fundamentalist theocracy is or ever will be a democracy. But tyrants are people too. We serve a useful purpose among herd animals. Joel came to his senses and repentantly bought my coffee last Friday. A small but sincere gesture of rapprochement, which is French for detente.

Rob the young blood was already in coffee mode when I arrived. He apologized for asking me a serious question on No Thinking Thursday, but I allowed it due to the fact that we were technically ten minutes early. After all, I am a benevolent dictator. Steve rolled in wearing jeans and sneakers. Another paid day off for him. Sort of. He volunteers his accounting skills to the high school band, which he plugs shamelessly. “Hey, we’re having another spaghetti dinner next Friday. We raised all kinds of money for the marching band competition, which we hosted and won last year. FAMBU accredited. So we are.”

“And what does FAMBU stand for?”

“Oh, the Federation of American Marching Bands Unlimited. Don’t make the mistake that the last treasurer made and call them BAMBU, which is the Brotherhood of American Marching Bands Unlimited. They are posers to the throne of Martial Music. He was escorted off school grounds and roughly de-badged, that guy. Whew! We had to start with all new passwords. Lemme tell you, it was a hot mess.”

Mercifully Doug rolled in and shook hands around. I quickly diverted the band conversation to Rob and the Steelers. “So, Rob, the Steelers are done now, eh?”

“Yeah. I guess I’ll be pulling for the NFC team in the Super Bowl. I can’t get behind New England or the Broncos.”

Steve, “New England cheats all the time, right?”

All, “Yep. Steve, you go to one Ravens game and now you are a sports guru.”

Steve, “I don’t think Brady should even be allowed to play after deflate gate.”

Rob, “Yeah, the MVP of last year’s Super Bowl and he was almost suspended four games. You know the Seahawks lost that game because they were trying to make Russell Wilson the hero and not Marshawn Lynch. Wilson is nice and Lynch is not, i.e., marketable. And it backfired. So the cheater got the MVP.”

Lance, arriving fashionably late. “Let me strut my swagger, gentlemen.” Handshakes around.

Rob, “The Seahawks have never won a Super Bowl.”

BS,” Correction: they won the year before, remember? They crushed Peyton and the Broncos.”

Rob,”Oh, right.”

BS,”Doug, here is a trivia question for you. Name the only Doug who was the Super Bowl MVP.”

Lance-a-blurt, ” Doug Williams, Redskins.”

BS,” Thanks for your blurtation, Lance. You didn’t even raise your hand!”

Lance, with both hands in the air now, doing some full body butter churn torso wobble. “And, that was the strike shortened year… late 80’s, Super Bowl 22…”

BS, “Just shut up now! We were doing fine with our low football IQ until you came in showing off.”

Steve, “Deflate yourself, Lance.”

Lance, “I think not. My tee shirt says, Grown a set.”

Steve, “Don’t get me started…”

BS,”Uh oh, looks who’s riding into town. Cowboy Chuck!”

Chuck canters through the chairs with horse swagger, handshakes around.

“The girl asked me if I was in Coffee Nation. How’d she know?”

“Lucky guess or you look like the other five circus clowns in the back room.”

Chuck, “So have we solved the world’s problems yet? Cuz ya’ll was loitering like this the last time I was here…”

BS,” Which was two years ago.”

Chuck, “I can’t remember if it’s the second or third Thursday of the month…”

BS, “Shut up! Look, this is why you are a bench warmer and not a starter like Steve. He leaves one of the largest multinational corporations in the lurch almost every Thursday at 8:30 so he can run on our squirrel wheel. No excuses from Steve O. He leaves it all on the field, Chuckie. He’s a team player not some lone wolf who rolls along like a tumbleweed…”

Chuck, “I’m sorry, man.”

BS,”It’s alright, man. We just need to hug our way through it. We’re all glad that you’re here.”

Chuck, “Yeah, I need me some connectivity.”

All, “That’s right, right on. Come on down.”

BS, “As the late great Marvin Gaye said…

What’s goin on? Tell me what’s goin on. You know we’ve got to find a way, to bring some love in here today….what’s goin on?”



7. thirdly

I’m freshly 56 years old and I figure I have lived 2/3’s of my life, leaving me 1/3 to go, and it’s not the best third. At the end of the first third you have midlife looking at you, though you still have lots of youth left in the tank. At the end of the second third you have no youth left in the tank and the grim reaper waits like a tiny sailboat dot on the far horizon. If you haven’t come to grips with your purpose and meaning by this age, then you’re done. You will need an addiction or some pathology to compensate for the vast emptiness that swells in your guts like the cold North Atlantic Ocean…while that sailboat with the funny dark guy gets closer, and No, that is not a paddle in his hand.

I stumbled into meaning and purpose many years ago. After graduating college with a degree in English Literature, I worked a few wrong jobs that led nowhere. Meanwhile my new bride was working with singular focus on the career that she still practices thirty three years later, which is also how long we have been married. She is a straight line person and I am wiggly. Why does this not surprise you? God, nature, and movie scripts always put opposites together for better or worse. Her stability, however, has grounded me throughout my life. And I hope that my wiggles have kept her from being too rigid and lightened her heart a bit.

One day long ago while I was working as a proofreader in a Big 8 accounting firm on K Street in Washington, D.C., alongside a guy with his Ph.D from Rutgers and another guy who graduated from Princeton,(which sounds impressive but is sadder and hollower than an empty subway tunnel since we read accounting proposals for sewage treatment plants and car dealer conglomerates. Not sad enough for you? Read all day about ‘fecal coliform floatables’ and get back to me ). My wife told me that I was not a paper person but a people person. Okay, I thought, so what? She told me that I needed to be with people to enjoy my work. She then said I should be a teacher. Alright. I quit at lunch time and took the subway/bus combo home for the last time. I left a brief resignation note. “How do you get a one armed proofreader out of a tree?  Wave at him. Goodbye.” My friend Mark lived with us at that time and he reinforced my wife’s idea. That was enough for me.

After a move to Pennsylvania’s hinterlands I started the path to be certified to teach English, and then I labored in that mine for 23 years. Yes, I am a people person, but there’s more to teaching than being with people. “What was it like teaching middle school?” is a question that I get often enough. My response varies between “Like herding cats” and “Like being a crash test dummy”. Still, I enjoyed most of my time in that strange mine of humanity. That formal experience accounts for nearly one third of my life, so I can’t flush it away like the proofreader gig. My resignation letter was longer and more dignified. When I retired early, I actually had somewhere else to go. Which I’ll cover in another post.

I taught, or was in the same room where education was taking place, over 3,000 students. All of them had families that live in the area with parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. So, though I am not from this area I have become an identifiable person. I routinely run into past students or folks who know former students of mine. It’s an odd experience for a fairly anonymous guy from the D.C. suburbs, where no one was a native and families came and went with the military or government every three years. I am not from here, but my children were born and raised here. As far as I know, this origin point has not hurt my three girls yet.

Here is an unbelievable example of the universality of random connections. I was recently in Honduras on a mission trip. At one compound where our team stayed, another mission team from the USA was just finishing their work. We all had a big dinner together. You guessed already, didn’t you? A young man across the table was a former student of mine. “Jim, right?”  “Yeah, I thought that was you.” No big surprise for either of us.   But this is not the biggest mind melting experience with former students. I’ll save that one for a later post. And it is not the former student/now surgical assistant at my vasectomy either.  That was a shrinking experience for me that a less stable man could not have endured. At least this is what I tell myself as I try to dissociate from that memory. The smile on her face was haunting.

I’ll stop here before I give you my social security number and passwords to all my accounts. I know that I need to close out the cross country hitchhike and report on the progress of the Coffe Summit, and I will fulfill my blogger duties. “On this you can depend and never worry”, sang Diana Ross.