408. Delta/Change

Image result for pictures of waves

I’m in the change business, I say, because folks come to see me to change something– their anger, their grief, their loneliness, their self esteem, their fears, their obsessions, their addictions. They come like big waves every hour.  Truly, if you think of the cumulative effect of such a torrent of dysfunctional waves capped with needy foam splashing through your door five days a week, well, it’s overwhelming. It is. Let me pause  with a redundant comment and take a breath. Whew!! Many of my clients are so consumed in emotional deserts or feeling furnaces that they forget to breathe, so I feel compelled to take deep breaths for them. Inhale– one, two, three, four. Hold– two, three, four. Exhale–two, three, four. Nothing–two, three, four.  Ahhh!! A furious funnel of suction pulls like a rip current as one client is sucked away by life out yonder while another crashes onto my couch. How is it that I don’t also get sucked out into that ocean of pathology?

This is not a deep philosophical question. Rather, it’s about strategies or habits that allow a mental health provider not to become exhausted by the constant pounding of issue after issue, rolling above pain, fear, sadness, guilt, shame, abandonment, self loathing, and much more. No matter how much you sympathize with the client, you cannot jump in their quicksand or dive into their rip tide. You will no longer be of any help to him/her, nor will you be any help to yourself. Jackknifing into their frozen waters or their boiling cauldrons just creates a bigger mess for someone else to respond to later. First responders know this. Don’t become another victim in the rescue.

How does this process of counseling work? I don’t know; I just know that it works more often than it doesn’t. Researchers like to isolate factors that contribute to a good counseling outcome– relationship, empathy, firm boundaries, validation, guiding treatment plans, probing questions, etc. etc. I agree that there are many components, but the whole of counseling is not equal to the sum of its parts. No, something very special happens when two folks share in episodes of vulnerability, peeling back layers of social wallpaper to expose the cracked plaster underneath.  No one needs another layer of wallpaper, as fashionable as it may be. Get to the source, the cause of their sagging, crumbled soul, and the wall paper illusion will curl away. But how does the counselor not also come unglued?

I like to think I am grounded, deeply anchored below the beach sand, safely outside the quicksand, above the wallpaper. Not to sound arrogant or superior, no. Rather, I feel comfortable with others’ big emotions. Some folks have endless patience with jet engine noise or crying babies. That’s not me. However, I can sit with a person in deep pain and not feel an urgency to stop their flow or correct or educate them. Instead I act as the talking mirror and inform them of what I see or feel, trying to accurately reflect them to themselves. At other times I’m the cognitive crane operator lifting heavy loads out of their psyche that they have identified. I hoist up ugly beliefs and past episodes, and  then roll them out for inspection and processing. It’s the client’s call whether to lift or drop it or put it back in the dark waters of their psyche.Image result for building crane pictures

Nevertheless, the arrow of change goes both ways. You cannot be profoundly present with another human being for hours without changing in some way. You can’t be surrounded by the shifting sands of change without changing yourself. Water, wind and sand over time will smooth your rough edges, while invading fissures and crevices. By constantly dealing with disparate selves, your own self awareness mushrooms. If you played golf 8 hours a day, you’d get better, right? If you played chess for 7 hours a day, you’d see things the occasional player never experiences. The same learning and skill development takes place when you provide therapy 8 hours a day.

Image result for man in leather chair pictureThe therapist can give away skills and empathy and knowledge, but he cannot give himself away. The next hour’s client needs something entirely different, and so you must adjust accordingly.  This one needs hope, that one needs firm authority. The angry teenager needs to complain about his parents’ ineptitude. The perfectionist needs to learn that perfect does not exist. Grievers need comfort and faith in the future. The divorcing partner needs validation and objectivity and the name of a good hitman. And sure, they all need God.  Some go there; others don’t. I have to start with God or I’ll be swept away in meaningless pain.

I love this word origin for delta, a letter used as a symbol of change.Image result for images of letter delta

c.1200, Greek letter shaped like a triangle, equivalent to our “D,” the name from Phoenician daleth “tent door.” Herodotus used it of the mouth of the Nile, and it was so used in English from 1550s; applied to other river mouths from 1790.

An open tent door. How cool! Somehow in my associative mind, I think that going into the open tent is like going to counseling. It takes courage to enter this private space. There is an acknowledged boundary, i.e., the tent walls. The chief or leader or shaman operates in that space. Ideally one leaves something negative on the tent floor and takes something positive away in the exchange process, in and out of the delta, tent door. Image result for nomad tent door pictures

Insurance companies will never get this concept. Rarely do they ask the consumer if he/she benefitted from the counseling experience. That would be too obvious a question. Instead they have scales and expected time frames for disorders. If the client improves rapidly, that’s okay. Metroplaco United saves money. However, if anther client has complex issues or isn’t moving the measurement numbers, well, it must be time to discharge. I don’t worry too much what the bean counters want, though. I do my thing the way I believe it should be done. The human heart changes if and when its owner decides to change. You can take that truth to the bank, my blog dogs.

 

Advertisements

387. Little ChrisT.

Woke up to a stunning Facebook message this morning. I saw the death notice of a man I so admired and respected, and whose occasional company I enjoyed greatly. His crisp, clarion voice of true authority; and sharp, sincere gunshot laughs; his strong smile; eyes that led like a long dock out into deep waters…gone? Dead? Impossible!!  He’s ten years younger than I am and in better shape. Let me reread this. I rubbed my eyes and wiped sleep off my face, but the words on the page remained unchanged. “We are devastated by his loss”, Keri wrote. I am in that gutshot we. Something like an earthquake rattled the shelves in my mind. Containers of fond familiarity and jars of pickled reassurance smashed on the rocks of reality below. Waves of shock and confusion hit. Sorrow for his wonderful wife, his kids, his son’s upcoming wedding… all swirled together into a melted mental muddle. As I stared at my monitor, it kept ringing with replies to Keri’s post from friends and loved ones. “Boink, boink, boink”, sounds of life echoing back from a well of sorrow to news of his death. What? How? Why? Too much to process. 51. Spring Gardening. ER??

No, no. Restart, reboot. It can’t be true. Surely this is one of those elaborate Eastern European scams from Slovenia you hear about on the news. I had a false obituary posted on line a few years ago that led to Ancestry . com or something.  That’s it. Just restart your computer and update your malware, that’ll do it. Good as new….

No matter, Chris is, was, and will forever be a man of God. The only question is this: Is the rest of Chris T. Little in heaven now? A big chunk was already there. “He is surely with Jesus now… cuz he always was”, a soundless voice fluttered across my mind, like a dusty butterfly… “he always was”. As I stared at his name, Little Christ kept imprinting on my brain. Pastor Chris T. Little was a Little Christ in our community. Like Jesus he was deeply loved by many but also deeply depreciated by folks who should have known better. And there are always the folks with one footprint in each camp, watching which way the winds of popularity blow. No matter. Chris loved you all because he forgave you all and trusted Jesus to do the math. He did not waste time on bitterness, jealousy, or pretense. His words “I don’t have  time for that”, echo in my memory. That’s one thing I loved about him:  he spoke the unvarnished truth. Unfortunately, many folks like their truth the same as their hot dogs–slathered in sweet relish. Chris, however, spoke the mustard seed truth. That’s what mattered to him.

When I first met Chris, I noticed our extreme differences. I never imagined that we would call one another friend one day. He was a Navy engineer and a United Brethren pastor. Those of you who know me know that I am not an institution, authority-loving sort of guy. I am a former English teacher and a current professional counselor. Okay, and I’m a rebel. I backed into God while covered in the excrement of my own sin not out of my own proactive glorious righteousness. But Chris never asked me to give a faith doctrine defense in order to stand next to him. No time for such nonsense– like Jesus.

Chris and I consulted on some shared cases. Ours was a two pronged approach– his side was spirit led; my prong was more secular, mental health led. Still, we respected one another and were good teammates, serving God in different and unequal ways. He was the quarterback. I blocked.

One epic case we shared over nearly three long, tough years. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the details, so I’ll keep them confidential as they should remain so. However, Chris stood tall and immovable against Satan’s powers and principalities. His voice thundered with the Holy Spirit as he claimed the truth of the Scriptures and refuted the lies and deceptions of Lucifer’s minions. In the process a soul was rescued from the bloody battleground between heaven and hell. As each brain curdling encounter ended victoriously, he’d smile and laugh at the incredible happenings we had witnessed. “Well that was fun, huh?”

We talked a lot back then. I never would have managed to come through that extraordinary experience without him. Like any friend I’ve lost in my life, I wish I’d talked more often, but there was no urgency, or so I believed. But there is urgency if you do not take your next breath or day of life for granted, or believe it’s an automatic that you will awake in the morning. Once he said out loud what we both were thinking, “You think God is gonna ask us to do this again now that we’re trained?” My answer?  “I sure hope not.” And yet, compared to being comfortably alone versus uncomfortably present with my departed friend,  I would gladly take the discomfort option all day long.

I pray that his mission, though cut short, was still complete. Chris T. Little was a good and great man. Yet he was a humble servant of Jesus Christ.  A Little Christ who led and fed many souls at the altar of God, one mustard seed at a time. Mother Teresa was a Little Christ.  St. Paul. Martin Luther King too. They revealed the majesty of our Supreme Savior in how they lived their humble lives amid a forest of mustard trees.

Dying in one’s own garden seems poetic as well. Planting requires effort up front and patient faith in the future crop. Although Chris is no longer with us, his crop will be a hundred hundred fold.  John 12: 24 tells us, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Until we meet again, my Little Christ friend, in a forest of mustard trees. Be with God.

385. finer details

I’m getting obsessed with my wall mural, folks. I may need a paint night intervention with a fire hose to separate me from my paint brushes.  The big forms are taking shape with large dollops of desert colors. And there is sort of a pattern coming into view, a 360 degree panorama of the Catalina Mountains plus some poetic licensed violations of nature. My sun actually sets on the west wall just like at my  daughter’s back deck in north Tucson, but in my office it’s behind the seat where most of my clients choose to sit. Having defined the parallel universe thusly, I dare not introduce another sun… unless I want to go full Dali. I am tempted to paint numbers on my white sun as if it were a clock face, no hands though. Why paint yourself into a time corner when you live in a circular world? Time is not flat or square, right? Columbus proved that, I think. I think a bird’s wings would be sufficient to suggest the clock hands and “time flies” theme on my bone white sun’s face. It’s not photography or realism that I’m going for. It is a dreamscape instead with a condor of consciousness swooping across.

On the east wall is open desert with some stone towers and burnt orange foothills to frame the emptiness, borrowed from a DeGrazia painting I saw. I placed a small rising moon opposite my enormous setting sun. Not sure where it’s going to end, but the process of working on such a  huge scale is very freeing, exhilarating even. However, I have to calm my exploding creative flatulence as clients arrive, expecting my full focus. So far, one took a picture to show her husband, and one gave me constructive artistic criticism. “You might want to go impressionistic and just suggest mountains, you know? soften the lines.” No, I’m going for surrealism, mate, but thanks anyway. None of this stuff actually exists except on my walls. In a way it’s like walking into my 12′ by 12’mind matrix. Terrifying. Strange. Beautiful.

Most folks hardly even notice the grandiose overhaul, which is pretty amazing to me. In my old office bathroom I smeared dark maroon paint on three walls of the claustrophobia inducing room. My billing lady said it looked like someone had been hacked to death in there. Not a word from anyone else for six years. Maybe they thought I was a mafia “cleaner” and they were too scared to raise my suspicions. Perhaps I should have littered a plastic finger or two in the corners, you know? Maybe a bloodied watch or a shoe for the full noir effect. Wait, it’s supposed to be warm and fuzzy and safe in therapy bathrooms, no masks, clowns or tool company pinups. Drat! boundaries kill all the funny folks who will kill you without boundaries.

So now come the long hours of detailing the big shapes, adding dimension, shadows, textures, suggestions, contrasts, etc. In some ways, I suppose, it’s like language in that I have the nouns, verbs and tone of voice, mood, vocabulary, theme, and some sense of symbolic narration on my walls. Does that make sense to you? The main nuts and bolts are in place, but now I’m tweaking the subtleties, adding nuances and hints. Adding adjectives and adverbs, prepositional phrases, clauses, only with paint instead of consonants and vowels. I think you are following me, right? Nod here. Thanks. So I add a stoic cactus, or a hundred cacti, an abandoned adobe house, some sage and agave, and parched washes crying out for a single drop of rain.

Or take a song, you musical peepers. You lay down a rhythm, develop a few choruses, a bridge, then write some snappy lyrics that capture the feel you were after… and eventually you play it over and over, adding the bass, the drums, a keyboard, maybe guitar, a sax or harmonica solo along the way. You jack up the vocals, perhaps add harmony, steadily moving toward a sound you know you’ll recognize though you’ve never heard it before. A vague, shadowy template floats in your head like a goddess until one day you meet her in the flesh. How does that work?

What is that? Creative spirit echoing back from the hidden caverns of the cosmos. Inexplicable to scientists who insist on repeatable proof in line with the holy grail of the scientific method. What sad boys and girls they are. How do scientists explain falling in love with one special soulmate? It’s not reproducible; instead, falling in love is anecdotal and eccentric as all heck. Probably irrational at many points, but ultimately it keeps the species viable enough to produce other little scientists who don’t believe in what they cannot prove repeatedly. Mystery, my friends, mystery defies scientific investigation. The revelation of creation is still a mystery.

Details, all details, follow the big picture, my blogadillos. They hang on the larger slabs of reality. You get your dirty car detailed; you seek details to understand and sometimes to believe or remember; you ask for details when you smell a rat. Details trap the rat on little slivers of truth.  Smaller strokes made by tiny brushes move like little creatures underfoot. In this case they are under my grip. Baddabing:  a cinnamon line appears to define a random ridge from a purple mountain against a sulfur yellow sky. Intuition rules this palette of endless color selections. The paints talk to me, persuading me not to wash them away but rather shift the hues I had in mind. I comply because there is no right answer, and wrong answers scream immediately. “You can’t have pink cactuses… or can you?”  I need to explore that further.And when I figure out how to transfer my photos of the mural project onto my computer and then upload those to the blog, I’ll share the inner workings of my brain with you, my fine, fine seekers of truth.  Aloha for now.

 

352. The Most Wonderful Time

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, goes the song, etching an idealistic Currier and Ives lithograph over a Norman Rockwell world inside a Martha Stewart silver picture frame. For many folks, however, it is anything but the most wonderful time. It’s the undiagnosable health disorder, or a loved one’s dementia, or a marriage that is out of gas, or a parent who won’t show up yet again. It’s the first Christmas without the child who died. It’s unemployment again. Loss. Fear. Angst. Unfathomable darkness that holds no sleep… only terror.

Andy Williams sang it…

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
It’s the hap -happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap – happiest season of all
 
Well, even Andy Williams had some heart aches, as I recall. As popular and successful as he was, his ex-wife accidentally murdered her then boyfriend, and Andy showed up to defend her and pay her legal fees in 1976. I don’t think that was the hap-happiest season of all. More likely it was the awk-awkwardest season of all. She got 30 days in jail, which she served on weekends that she was not vacationing with her defense lawyer, whom she later married. Hey, this is starting to sound like a Kardashian movie where crème cheese cocaine cupcakes are served to celebrity guests on gold plated china at a brothel and no one ever goes to jail or work. They just go shopping. But with all those gay happy meetings and holiday greetings, who has time for consequences? Party on!! Consume, consume, consume.
All of that reality t.v. noise holds a certain appeal for the masses– curb appeal, sex appeal, surfacey marketability appeal, buzz and sizzle. But it holds onto nothing when the winds of purpose blow. It’s a silky tumbleweed somersaulting across a desert, dribbling seed pods of emptiness.  All the glitz and good cheer are no more anchored than champagne bubbles in a flute. Ever wonder why the bubble streams originate at certain points?
It happens when microscopic fibers ­– left by a kitchen towel or often just an airborne particle –  stick to the side of the glass, allowing molecules of dissolved carbon dioxide to coalesce and form bubbles.
In short, imperfect surfaces and dirt particles are the source of the fizzle. At a certain level we know this intuitively, but we lust for that fizz anyway. I suppose it’s always been like this because human nature is the same today as ever it has been.
In the pre-Christian era when Abraham parted ways with his nephew Lot, we know how that turned out because the word sodomy is still with us unfortunately, to remind us of the perverse depravity that was on the loose in the cities of Abraham’s time. Lot seemed to be thrilled with the glitz of the material world and was drawn to the fizz of city life. He chose the well watered plain of Jordan for his flocks.  On the other hand, Abraham was holy and stayed in the still wilderness near the trees of Mamre, near God. As you likely recall, he pestered God to intervene and save Lot and his daughters from a horrible encounter in Sodom. God complied. He blinded the Sodomites, allowing Lot, his wife, and kids an escape as he fireballed that perverse city.
Something like this theme appears in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart. The sappy sentimentality of this movie gags me as an adult, but it does demonstrate the difference a good man can make. The saccharin gag response comes from the ridiculously shallow spirituality of a Hollywood angel of God earning his wings. George Bailey is saved from suicide by clumsy Clarence, who shows him how life would look without his presence. What brings up my bile is the false focus on a man’s goodness, i.e., giving the credit to the messenger that belongs to the author of the message. George did not redeem himself. Clarence did not redeem him. Nor did the people of Bedford Falls redeem him. The savior of mankind redeemed him, but that does not work well on film. Instead we get a curly haired little girl,
spouting the predictable warm and fuzzy platitudes. Thus, sugar poisoning. Lot did not reform Sodom and restart the savings and loan. He barely escaped the depravity.
God is unpredictable, folks. You can’t get ahead of Him, so you might as well get behind Him. Problem is in our materialistic culture, when things are good, we think we are awesome, smart, sexy, precious, etc. The more stuff we give or get, the better we are. Ga-ga-gag. Time to reframe. Strip away the tarnished gilt and see your putrid guilt. Test your futile strength by feeling your awesome weakness. Reject your dying flesh and accept your God-given beauty. Blessings come in all shapes and sizes, even in silences and absence. God often works paradoxically, by pruning us of material things so that we can flourish in our faith. A pruned down grape vine is about as ugly as a wildebeest, but Jesus used it as a metaphor of Himself and His followers. Humble, thoroughly humble. Not sexy, popular, glitzy, stunning, or provocative.
Loss can sand down what is left behind, enabling us to accentuate and celebrate life’s broken beauties. We can still love what’s left after the stroke, the accident, the divorce, or the relapse. Even after life knocks the wind out of us, God can breathe for us and through us; that’s what spirit means, after all, breath. It’s more than bubbles of carbon dioxide. If we are God breathers, well, what a wonderful malady that would be, spiritual tuberculosis. .. to be infected and consumed by the breath of God.
So my jingle belled javelinas, it comes down to this:  consume more inflated emptiness or be consumed and saturated by your Creator.

296. Eric’s Fountain

Image result for forrest gump picturesAs I was getting ready to take a late Saturday afternoon shower, I decided to jog. Actually I’d just stepped on the scale and saw I was still fat. Maybe a jog on a hot day would melt some of my doughboy belly. “Chasing the fat man” is my line when someone asks where I’m going with my running shoes on or why. Away I went, feeling too heavy for my feet, like I’d been in a holding cell for months.The rhythm came back, plodding on. The breathing came too fast and sweat began at my thin hairline.

Through the familiar neighborhood streets and down toward Norland Park. Not too many folks out today, which was fine with me. I could hear  the far off cheers of a girls softball game. Meanwhile I was listening to my body. Would my knee loosen up? Would my back seize up as it has from my unfortunate heel striker stride? Would my minor arthritis flare? Everything felt fine as I ran by the old train cars thinking about water at 1 mile. Image result for train caboose pictures

When I was younger I’d cruise through this circuit with no water and keep on going for several miles. Not today. I just wanted to do two miles without injury.

I started up the mild rise to the high point of the park. I’d heard that Eric’s family intended to erect a water fountain in his name. As I came around the turn I saw the blue and silver cylinder. Awesome! I had to stop and read the sign and just  pause to reflect on one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever known. There are three spigots– one for humans, one for dogs, and one for bottle refills. I bent down for a drink. There was a pause and then the cool water came out.

Nearby was a bench facing east. Altogether a nice spot to pause and drink in nature as well as water. I thought of Eric and his gappy smile, his bird swoop, his funny voice that always seemed to have a laugh coming up. His belt buckle and boots, his hat, cowboy shirts, and a big sigh when he’d sit down like he’d just  plowed the back 40. “Yeah, Buddy.” He loved dogs and they returned the favor. Dogs know who loves them and who just says they do.

I pictured the Sexy Cowboy sitting on his bench approving of the site. I thanked him for the drink and plodded on, downhill now. Off to the right was that girls softball game in progress. Neon yellow shirts in the field while redshirts batted. After a single to right there were runners on first and third. The next batter laid down a great bunt, scoring the run and moving the girl on first to second. Everyone was safe. It looked like the neon yellows were defeated and just hoping to get it over with. At least that is what I imagined. Winners and losers, that’s life.Image result for girls softball pictures

I jogged down and out of the park. It struck me that in Eric’s world there were no losers. He was just a happy and giving guy. Even in death he gives strangers drinks of water.  Winner, winner. I thought of Jesus’ words…

New International Version
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

And Eric will do God’s will in perpetuity. Simple but profound. I jogged on through the old farm on the hill and around the sharp turn toward the small shaded woods. I inhaled the incomparable scent of honeysuckle blooms. Lovely. Still thinking about Eric and simple gifts of nature. Red raspberries are almost ready to eat, and mulberries are littering the edge of the road. Pure and simple and good. And Eric could easily fit right in among these gifts of God.Image result for honeysuckle pictures

Up, up over the big hill behind my house. I’ve found many odd things along the side of this road –deer carcasses, ATM machines, clothes, beer, porn magazines, a bowling ball– so nothing surprises me. Any litter bothers me, but some is so ridiculous. As I hit the final hill I noticed a hypodermic needle on the side of the road. Not the first I’ve seen, but I got the instant belief that this was a heroin needle. I’ve known a couple of IV users and thought this hypo could very well have been used by one of them. What a contrast to the good of Eric’s life. Here we have folks killing themselves a few milligrams at a time. Their lives are no fountains of goodness. Instead they impatiently jam a needle in their veins in the vain attempt to catch a dragon they once rode long ago and can never catch again. Loser, loser.Image result for hypodermic needle pictures

Further on I came across the splayed open carcass of an opossum, its guts spread out around it in a deathly halo. I couldn’t help associating this scar of death with the needle twenty yards away. Shooting up is like a possum running across the road at night. Most nights it makes it but when it doesn’t, well, it’s a spot on the road, a crow’s banquet or a happy meal for the coyotes. IV addicts live highly complicated and unhappy lives as they withdraw, crave, make the run to Baltimore, cut the deal with a some shady guy, tie off, shoot up, and wait for the high that does not come again. Such a waste. Heroin takes and takes until the user’s last breath fails. All meaning dissolves in the flame of false promises.

So far from the life of Eric. His life mattered and still does. He simply loved and gave from that place. His living water still flows on hot days. God bless you, Buddy.

 

 

 

257. The Lone Ranger

Well, we could all use a little cheering up, I suppose. It’s the tail end of the year, and like the last hour of a party, there’s litter on the tables and smoke in the air. Some tidying up will be needed in the morning of the new year. The floors are tacky with spills, and the 90 minute soundtrack of 2014 has repeated for the third time. Cheetos and pistachio shells are scattered about. Time for cheer, oh yeah. 2104, you were something.

So let me tell a positive story that inspires you, blognados. Perhaps you will draw a deep breath and relax, even move boldly through the unknown of 2015. Back  in time, back before all the electronic stuff came to market, there were simple toys for simple children. Balls, dolls, train sets, bicycles, sling shots, and board games. It was basic stuff that came from catalogue stores or was placed on something called “lay away” by parents who paid weekly on their Christmas gifts. Credit cards had not come to dominate and seduce the multitudes yet. The J.C.Penney and Sears Roebuck catalogue came to everyone’s house through the mail back then in late summer. And housebound mothers and kids would flip through the pages anxiously, hoping for the magical goodies on the glossy pages. These catalogues were not ever considered junk mail, no. They were encyclopedias of materialism, promising transformation of dull lives into something else, something more, nearly divine, museums of grandeur. Who could argue with avocado and teal blue combos?

Living Room (1962)

One Christmas I ordered a Lone Ranger makeover kit that would transform me from a suburban proletarian’s third son into a masked hero who sought no fame for his sacrifices. It was more than I could have realistically expected, a double holster with two plastic cap gun six shooters, a hat, and the black cloth mask. All worn over a pair of jeans and a western shirt. Man, look out bad guys, cattle rustlers, whiskey sellers, bank robbers, and claim jumpers! Justice was about to be unleashed!! The entire transformation package may have cost up to seven dollars in real 1960’s money, which is the equivalent of  about $500 in today’s money, I think. I hoped for and imagined all my heroic adventures would play out in the narrow woods that were left undeveloped by the first wave of urban sprawl builders. We had forts made of sticks and leaves and sometimes a sheet of plywood over a hole. A kid with a mask and two  plastic pistols would rule that no man’s land. I touched the page of the catalogue and wrote down the order number code, offering hopeless prayers heavenward, “Oh God, please let me be a Lone Ranger hero. Amen. I promise to behave and only to kill bad guys who deserve it.”

Weeks went by. The weather got colder. Anticipatory anxiety grew. As the Christmas decorations were brought out again, I could taste the courage rising in my belly like acid reflux. I licked my wind blown, chapped cowboy lips as I practiced my Lone Ranger lines, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”  “I was just doing the right thing, Ma’am. No need for any compensation… but shucks, if you want to kiss the Ole Lone Ranger here on the lips, that’d be okay with Tonto, I suppose.”

I had no horse named Silver. He would only have gotten caught up in the briars of our narrow woods and there would have been zoning problems with a horse in fenced suburban yards. I never reached for that impossibility. Where would I park him at night? What would I feed him?

There was also that kid four houses down on Virginia Hills Avenue who dressed up as Zorro and just schwashbuckled his way into our violent war games. I would have to shoot him with the cap gun to teach him not to bring a mere sword to the field of battle. No one knew his name, though I think it was Wayne Newton and he eventually moved to Las Vegas. See the resemblance? Zorro unmasked.

Christmas decorations were up in folks houses, the old fashioned basic bulbs that were hot and big and bulky, which we would unscrew and throw into the street to hear them pop as they exploded on the asphalt. Whoops! That is outlaw behavior. I’d have to shoot myself with my longed for Lone Ranger pistols. I vowed to change and leave the dark side once I got the Lone Ranger kit for Christmas.

Until then I figured I had to get all my antisocial activities out of my system. Since it snowed that year early we boys naturally made snowballs and hurled them at cars from hiding places where no one could possibly identify or catch us. It was so much fun to bombard a car or truck as it pulled down the street. If you had enough arc on the snowball, you could plop it down almost vertically on the target vehicle. Then the driver would be clueless where the snowball had originated. Rookies simply hit the vehicles broadside and were easily apprehended by angry drivers. It’s hard to run in the snow.

One time I recall bombing a station wagon at night. I stood behind this enormous oak tree and tossed my slush sphere as the car drove along Kings Highway at a good clip. Boom!! It was a great strike and I felt so safe and invulnerable in my bad spot. Why even the Lone Ranger wouldn’t be able to find me…but the man in the station wagon pulled around and came up behind me as I was ready to throw another snowball. He had on a dark ski mask and scared the moisture out of my throat. He put me in his car next to his kids in the back seat. I was a criminal. He yelled at me. I was dead road kill. He asked me where I lived and I told him.

I was ready for the gallows when he told me to get out. Maybe the Lone Ranger would swoop in at the last second and shoot the rope I was to be hung by. Suddenly the station wagon pulled away in an aggressive act of grace. I deserved a bad consequence, but that dad let me go. Maybe he had been a car bomber in his childhood. All I know is that I didn’t need the Lone Ranger kit any longer. I had met and been delivered by some masked man already.