373. Love is a many Splintered thing

So Pat and Clark are in Florida on the Good Ship Lollipop, soaking in hot tubs and heated swimming pools at night, watching pelicans flail the air inches above Tampa Bay during the day. Sun, warmth, and elderly folks everywhere. But when you are 60 plus, you are in that demographic. The concept of OLD shrinks every year like grapes turning to raisins, you notice, as there are fewer and fewer people left on the vine who are older than you. Places come up for purchase at rock bottom prices. $59,000 will buy a nice home on a rental lot next to the river.  And you learn why such a deal exists:  the previous owner no longer exists. She went Home. Died. Crossed the River Styx.  Still, it’s tempting to settle into the last chapter of one’s life. Twenty pages left and then the hard cover of a carved coffin closes the story.

“We’re not ready to commit to living here six months a year. Not yet. It’s a different world here, though, nice and  friendly. Everyone is so helpful. They have nothing else to do. You know, it’s like a staging ground for launching into heaven… or somewhere.”

Clark pretends to complain about Pat when he calls me. “She’s getting violent, beating me about the head and neck for no reason.” In the background I hear Pat  say, “Oh, I am not!”

“She needs anger management, I’m telling you. It’s her Irish. You know, whiskey and anger. Anger and whiskey. The Irish drink cuz they’re mad, and they’re mad cuz they drink.”

Pat far away, “Heeeeeyyyy”.

“I suggest that Pat get a solid weapon such as a ball bat so she does not hurt her hand while whacking you, Tonto, who undoubtedly need correction. ”

“She’s worse than the nuns who used to beat me in elementary school.”

“Good. You are bigger now and need a stronger hand.”

“Hey, I’m the victim here.”

“Clark, remember one thing:  Everyone loves Pat. Nobody loves you.”

“That’s two things.”

“So it is.”

“But this is abuse.”

“Well, sometimes love has to be cruel to be kind. That’s how much she loves you, Dude.”

“With a ball bat?”

“Is it wooden or aluminum?”

“Wooden.”

“Yeah, that’s love.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You will break before the aluminum. With the wood, there’s a chance the bat will splinter in half with a good blow to your granite head.”

“And that’s okay with you?”

“Sure. Not just me, Clark. Poets sing of such love.”

“This cell phone is messing up your words. Sounds like you said something about poets love abuse.”

“Seriously, ‘Love is a many splintered thing’. Haven’t you heard that song lyric?”

“I remember Frank Sinatra singing ‘Love is a many splendored thing’….”

“No, man, they changed the lyrics for the movie version. The original, uh just wait a sec…. I’ll Google it to you… Yeah, it was a war movie, Losing Private Lyons. Dean Martin is sent to find Private Lyons, even though they love the same woman back in Toledo. Once Dean finds Private Lyons, played by Sinatra, he’s blown into bits by a land mine, and his head just lies there on the cold French landscape, looking at Dean with his eyes open; then he just starts singing as Dean Martin cradles him like a basketball…

Love
Is a many splintered thing
It’s the April rose
That only grows
In the early spring
Love
Is nature’s way of giving
A reason to be living
The golden crown
That makes a man a king

“And then the head just stops speaking as Deano blows up a Nazi machine gun nest.  See that?  Her beating you on your crown is a royal blessing on your noggin. Don’t you see?”

“I think you are messing with the words, El Capitan. Plus, I don’t believe that movie exists. I never seen it.”

“No, Bro Diddly, them’s the words. You just have to live in the world you’re in.”

“So, basically, you’re on Pat’s side again, is that it? And you’re gonna make up a bunch of lies to protect her?”

“Yep. Your side is the abyss. And you started the lying, Stubby. Look at the second verse, Broheme. It’s where Deano sings back to Frank’s head after he cleans out the nest of Nazi shooters.”

Once on a high
And windy hill
In the morning mist
Two lovers kissed
And the world stood still
Then your fingers touched
My silent heart
And taught it how to sing
Yes, true love’s
A many splintered thing

“Then he buried Frank’s head under a flat rock. It was a movie ending no one saw coming, I tell you. Do you see how the longing and the splinters are interwoven?”

“Not really. Now, I was never very good in English class, but I know when someone is pumping canal water up my ass.”

“You know, I’ve never understood that colloquialism.”

“It means you’re full of crap and you’re giving me a verbal enema.”

“Clark, that may be true, but love and splinters, that’s truth hard as a tooth. Ya know?”

“You’re not budging are you?”

“Let me just put it this way:  if Pat broke the bat over your head and you were  bleeding with half of the bat stuck in your cranium, meanwhile you have the entire assault recorded on your smart phone’s camera, the police would arrest you for bothering Pat.”

Cop 1, “He had it coming, Murphy.”

Cop 2, “Yep, surely he did, O’Malley. Let’s have a Guiness. I’ll buy.”

Cop 1, “No indeed. You bought this morning. This round is on me.”

Cop 2, “So be it. We’ll hoist a pint of Guiness for the love of Patty Girl. Aye.”

“You Irish always stick together, don’t you?”

“We have to. The world’s leaders know that if we are ever set free from Guiness and whiskey, we will rule the world. So they try and try to splinter us.”

“Uh huh. So is this going in your blog?”

“You know it is.”

“What are you gonna call it?”

“I’ve narrowed it down to Sinatra’s severed singing head or Love is a many splintered thing.”

“Yeah, I’d go with the second one.”

“Gotcha.”

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371. Change the Filter

I have a reminder note above my computer screen; it tells me when to change the air filter in my office building. Every three months is the target. I suppose I could switch it out more often if I were a worrier, but I’m not. The first year or two I didn’t know about the filter, which is located in a large vent in the attic above my desk. Getting to it requires a ladder and the removal of a ceiling tile and a 6 inch layer of fiberglass insulation. It’s not a hard task, but it is dirty and itchy.

Once you breech the attic, you have to pull yourself up next to the vent and pull out the old filter. It’s covered in gray dust like dryer lint. You slide the fresh new filter into the slot and voila!  Clean air for a while… unlike the first couple of years when I did not know about the filter. I learned on a steamy hot summer day that the filter must be changed or else it turns to a solid concrete barrier that shuts down air flow. When the compressor feels the pressure building up, it automatically shuts down. That’s when I called the HVAC guys.

Friendly Mike’s HVAC tech came out and immediately assessed the situation. My heat pump on the roof was fine, but he needed to use the $200/hour  boom truck to get there. The compressor was just locked up due to a pressure switch glitch. Before you knew it, Larry was climbing into my attic and swapping out filters. He showed me the year old filter that should have been changed out four times by then. It resembled a thin  concrete sheet cake ready for icing and candles. If I took it to the bakery for decorating, the attendant would ask, “And what would like to say on the cake, sir?”dirty air filter photo: dirty cabin filter filter2.jpg

“Eejit… that’s all.”

I think Larry got some satisfaction out of my disgusted reaction. “Wow, Larry, that’s a lot of dust, man.”

“Yup, four hundred dollars worth… yuk, yuk.”

I vowed then and there to never let this happen again in my living lifetime.

Larry offered to come back every three months to do this again. And why not? It was nearly free money for him. Foolishly I agreed to the deal. I say foolishly because the next time he came he put in a filter that he charged $12.00 for, plus his service call fee. I watched him do his routine and was amazed at how simple it was. ‘I can do that’, I thought, without Larry’s service call and overpriced filters. I stocked up on filters of the same type, getting 4 of them for $12.00. Then I couldn’t wait for the system to get dirty.

Mummy Mummies preserved bodiesNinety days later I opened the dark dusty attic tomb to look for the mummified air filter. In my one hand was a flashlight, an air filter in the other. I plucked the old dirty filter out of its slide and inserted the fresh clean one. Simple and satisfying. Yeah! Such a mundane action gave me a boost of manly competence. I felt like doing an Old Spice deodorant commercial then and there. “I am the Dust King! Bow to me, Ye Evil Dust Motes.” I replaced the insulation and ceiling tile without too much mess. Put away the flashlight and ladder. Went back to my routines… thinking about that filter. I had saved the lungs of countless hundreds. Though they would never know, dust free air was thanks enough.

Okay, I associate this and that and the other thing as you already know if you’ve read any of my previous posts. I can’t help it anymore than your kidneys can stop purifying your waste water or your liver purifying your blood. It’s in me, man.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a mental filter you could change periodically, one that would catch all the crap of life and keep it from recycling through your brain? How often do you make a mistake and feel stupid for a really long time afterwards as you perseverate on the error? I’m not talking about murder or Wall Street Ponzi schemes here. I mean something as simple as missing your trash pick up on Monday morning. You just forgot it Sunday night. Oh, and it was also recycling pick up day, so you missed that too. You feel stupid and even less than competent because you failed to do something so simple. For the next week you walk by the trash containers and feel stabs of guilt and embarrassment. “I’m a moron. A loser.” The overflowing receptacles seem to mock you as you try to ignore their smell, height and girth.

“This will never happen again,” you vow to the squirrel on your deck.

And we have other mental filters that get dirty, filters of guilt and shame, even pride and self interest. A wise young woman named Angela once told me that she had to choose between her divorced parents, who had been at war with each other for her entire life. Freedom and low maintenance were available at Mom’s home. At Dad’s there was contention and constricting rules that suffocated her. He would not listen to her reasonable and logical requests. “My house, my rules. My way or the highway. Do or die.” He was a binary thinker; black and white were the only colors he acknowledged. She wanted to escape Dad’s control, knowing full well that Mom would switch the script once young Angela moved in with her.Image result for black or white pictures

On the other hand she worried about her younger siblings left behind at Dad’s. He hadn’t been the tenderest or most patient father to them when she was present. What would happen to them in her absence? His new wife would be unavailable for months, she knew. Everyone else in her family seemed to be entitled to go on pursuing their lives and livelihoods, but Angela was constrained to stay behind and pick up their messes. She loved each of her family members but not their messes, the blaming, the tough love, the high drama, the double standards. She just wanted to filter it all out somehow without hurting any of them. Every so often she would get so full of pain and anger she felt she would explode and vaporize. She needed a filter change.

Drugs and alcohol were out. Sex too for now. Just too complicated and hard to control. She settled on cutting herself in a neat 3x 4 inch rectangle across her abdomen with a new razor blade. She then cut vertical lines across the short side and horizontal lines across the long side until she had her bloody drama filter. Finally it felt good to breathe again.

“This will never happen again,” she swore to the empty room.

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.

141. Dancing at the winery

While listening to the Al Parson’s Band at the local winery on a hilltop overlooking Gettysburg, Pat said something about blogging this. Okay, I can do that. It’s a nice place to chill out after a hard week. The crowd is not too boisterous and only rarely do folks get noticeably drunk or obnoxious. So the winery is pretty smooth, easy to take.

We usually meet our friends Pat and Clark and share a couple of hours of their company. My wife gets a glint in her eyes and says, “Let’s dance.”  And then stands over me awkwardly, a dance bully who won’t take no for an answer. This after a day of yard work, yanking weeds and grass, weed whacking, push mowing, and groundhog hunting. Slavery and dance bullying were supposed to have been outlawed by the 13th amendment.

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Well, I have to hobble to my feet and justify the hours of dance lessons we have endured over the past three years. I’d be completely content with the Grope and Shuffle while Al sings, “You were always on my mahnd”, more Willie than Elvis, but my wife wants more. Swing, swing, swing. I think it’s because the woman is the elegant one in these dances; she twirls and sizzles while the hapless post up guy who has to actually think through each carefully choreographed turn and catch is tired from yanking and lugging weeds and groundhog carcasses. It’s not fair that the dance gene is so randomly and rarely distributed. I don’t know one straight man who possesses it.

Okay, so here’s something you don’t see everyday. In preparation for this night out my wife was searching frantically for her black knit tights that she wears under a cute dress she would not wear without leggings. I’ve told her she looks good in this outfit, and I’m sure that she can figure out that if I’m getting her vibes, so are other guys in my demographic and perhaps younger dudes, but definitely older letches if they still have their blood pressure and eyesight. Anyway, she could not find the black leggings, which I called Spanx. Now I know they are not Spanx, and she knows I know this, but I told her I’d look for her Spanx. I did for about 2 seconds and then gave her unhelpful suggestions. “Did you look in the laundry room?”  “Maybe Jess put them in with her laundry.”  “Do you think the guy who is staking out our house at night stole them while we slept, you know, for a creeper trophy?” No good. She did not like my  counter productive hints. Finally in a fit of madness or perhaps a fashion-driven or possibly rabid seizure, she turned on a neatly stacked pile of clothes and began digging through them like a terrier after a gopher. T-shirts, blouses, pajamas, shorts, underwear went flying up behind her as she scoured through the pile until there was nothing but bare floor in front of her flushed panting face. “Aaaghhhh. I’m mad! I wore them in Tucson. They’ve got to be here.”

I began laughing out loud, realizing that such behavior had a 50/50 chance of ending in bodily harm for me. Fortunately, she began to laugh at her furious canine activity. I began to scream in my Black woman falsetto voice, “I’m sooooo mad. I’m a get me my black Spanx. This aint right! I’m maaaad. Oh I’m so maaaaad.” And so it went. We never found her black tights. We left the bedroom in total chaos with a solemn promise to downsize, recycle, reduce, and refuse to shop ever again.

On the way up to the winery, which is a mere 15 minute drive, my wife will sometimes engage me in a deadly debate that she presents as an innocent “conversation”. For example, not long ago we were three minutes into our drive and she asked me if I’d thought about end of life nursing home care! I foolishly said, “No” without thinking that this was not what I thought it was. It was an ambush.

“Well, I have. And if I’m in a horribly critical accident, I want to come home. I want you to make the therapists rehabilitate me so I can come home.”

“Okay, sure.” Again, stupid move. Not enough compassion and reassurance. I did not get on the cruise ship Empathy with her request. I stayed in my little dingy of disinterest.

“I’m serious. So many rehabilitation hospitals hit a certain plateau and then they give up on you. I want to pull out all the stops so I can live a full life. Promise me.”

The red light seemed stuck at 997 and Route 30. Time slowed down as my blood pressure began to rise. My survival instinct was activated. “Well, you can leave me in the nursing home. Pull my plug. I’m okay with that. I don’t need any heroic efforts to bring me back into full turnip capacity.”  Again, stupid move. Now I did not value her since I was devaluing my own potential  incapacitation.

“Well with that attitude I will leave you in the nursing home.”

I broke into laughter. I could not take another dramatic moment engaged in a passionate debate about something that was unlikely to happen ever, but the more we talked about it, the less likely it seemed we’d arrive alive at the winery. “Honey, it’s five thirty on Friday night. We’ve both worked a long week and we’re going to relax for two hours on the mountainside. Why are we debating end of life issues now?”

“You don’t care.”

“I do care about my sanity, and this conversation is pushing me off the cliff.”

“Fine! I’ll leave you in the nursing home, and I’ll go out dancing with some younger man.”

“Hey, that’s okay. Just don’t forget where you put your Spanx.”

12. timelessly

Days like these are harried– run, run, run so that you can sprint later on. Faster and faster we hurtle forward into the faster and faster life of breaking bonds– speed, gravity, religion, family, friendships. All my life, records have been broken… man in space, man on the moon, man with a heart transplant, faster internet speeds, faster computers, faster news reporting, faster wealth, faster wars. And where is the counterbalance? Has anything become slower or calmer? Nope.

I can recall being a kid and lying on my back watching clouds go by. Occasionally a prop plane would drone overhead. I’d walk between cool sheets drying on a laundry line on a hot summer’s day and think ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to go fast?’ Things going fast were desirable then. No one could have imagined the frenzied pace of life fifty years later. Well, maybe New Yorkers could have, but freckled suburban kids digging in the dirt with their mothers’ sterling silver spoons did not. They (I actually) just marveled at the black oxidization on the shiny spoon as I dug in the orange clay.

In the early 60’s Television had three or four channels; black and white! horrors!!!  and then really blurry color came later. No remote controllers either.And it was free, no monthy cable or dish payments. Baseball was the nation’s past time. It moved slowly and went into extra innings often enough. There was no sudden death rule, but games were often carried over to the next day when a double header would be necessary to finish the previous day’s game.  (Life was leaner and simpler like Johnny Cash songs. He was the white man who called himself “the man in black”, just like black and white t.v. Like a modern John the Baptist.) People were not so rushed. Sleek airports and superhighways were being built to hurtle us along, but they were novel then. Now they are expected to be all that and the awe has been replaced with impatience. We have become a nation of speed junkies.

Back in the day stores gave stamps as rewards for doing business with them. Housewives (they went extinct in the late 60’s) would collect these and turn in completely filled up books for electric toasters or can openers. Do you know how long it would take the average housewife to gather 800 yellow or green stamps when groceries cost a fraction of what they do today? A year maybe. And all throughout that year she’d look longingly at the many other things she could redeem with her stamps. Oh delayed gratification!

Image result for s and h green stamps pictures

And there were other slow payback deals in grocery stores. You could collect the greatest classical music ever recorded for $.99 per lp if you bought your groceries at certain stores. (LP stood for long playing record album, by the way.) There were other methodical programs where you could buy encyclopedias each week or collect plates or glasses. All these programs were tedious exercises in delayed gratification from this modern perspective, but they were awesome marketing tricks then.

If you try to pour a 2 liter bottle of soda into a shot glass, you will spill all but 2 ounces. Maybe that’s cool to do once for giggles, but it is an insane proposition– pouring too much into too little, and yet this is what we do daily. Plug 26 hours into 24. Shave sleep. “Hey, sleep when you’re dead.” Multitask. Smoke, talk on the phone, do your make up, drive. I saw a bread delivery truck driver this morning eating a bowl of cereal as he drove through town. He balanced the bowl with the spoon in it in his left hand as he drove the big truck over a hump with his right hand and knees. He did it with such skill that it was clear to me that this was not his maiden milk management voyage.Image result for overflowing shot glass pictures

Like entitlement programs, fossil fuels, carbon emissions, and bad marriages, speedy lifestyles become unsustainable. And not just for old geezers like me, but for the young and spry among the population. Mindlessly run, run, run into timelessness. Don’t mind if I do.Image result for grave pictures