434. Indefatigable Joy

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Some days, hombres, are rough around the edges and wrinkled in the middle.  Today is such a day.  Alas, a big snow storm is brewing and the snowblower won’t start; nothing new there. Still, I yanked and yanked the pull cord and sprayed and sprayed starter fluid (ether) around the carburetor intake to try and overwhelm it with fumes to ignite the fuel or the operator. The thing looks  brand new, and it should since it just sits in the garage like a super model all year until we get a whopper snow storm, which is due tomorrow. Now you might say that I have had all year to fix the thing since it performed so poorly last winter in the historic 33 inch blizzard. But to know me is to hate me when it comes to being proactive. I am actually tempted to just lie down and breathe the ether for a while, perhaps even pretend I had a quiet stroke to distract my wife from guilting me for my incompetent indolence. And who could blame her? I don’t enjoy being helpless, but I can’t get all bent out of shape about life’s little irritants. I never wanted to be a twisted pretzel.

I had two computer cords to return to our former internet service provider and forgot both of them on my way to work this morning.  No big deal yet. They are fining us $150 for early termination, despite ten years of being a faithful customer. Shake it off, I say. Then as I unlocked my office door, my key snapped in half. The business end looked back at me like a silver snake in a hole hissing, “Have a niccccccce day.” I had to laugh out loud. At least it locked in the open position. ‘Could be worse’, as my buddy Steve says. I called Nancy’s Lock and Key and told them my plight. “We’ll get to you by the end of the day.” Reassured, I nearly skipped over to the corner coffee shop for a blueberry muffin and medium coffee, but the barrista was sluggishly slow to wait on me. He had a kidney stone to birth and looked like a man menstruating for the first time: pale and weak.  I felt very fortunate not to be him.Image result for pale pained faces male

I got back to my office just in time to open my lap top but not check my phone messages. My first appointment guy walked through my door; only he was the wrong guy. I was expecting Bill and here was Jim. Uh oh, another snafu for me. I began to stutter my explanation to Bill and to figure out when to reschedule and when to feel stupider and incompetenter, when I thought, ‘Hey, I have one voice mail to check. What if that is Jim cancelling? What are the odds? 90 to 1 maybe.”  I checked my voice mail. It was Jim cancelling. Pow!! Due to the expected blizzard tomorrow, his company had moved all meetings up to today. Victory was mine!! It was a perfect triple win-win-win. Except I still had no snowblower that worked. Sure, it was shiny and good looking in a eunuchy sort of way, but completely  impotent.Image result for broken snowblower pictures

I sat down with Bill and then the next three clients. Zoom, zoom. The day was flying past as the wicked nor’easter approached from wherever nor’easters approach. I felt like I was in a poorly written novel that was limping toward some sort of denouement. Things were getting resolved too easily, and oddly enough their tension seemed to give me empathy and focus for my anxious clients. For some inexplicable reason, I felt no worries or dread at all. I did feel some pressure on my bladder, though. As Archie Bunker didn’t say, “You don’t buy coffee, you rent it.” How Great Thou Art played on AccuJazz, Will Bernard at the guitar. Man! Everything fit so nicely. Even if I had no faith, I’d have to by two o’clock on this day or be a complete heretic. “Hallelujah to ya!!” I felt like yelling to somebody, anybody. If you can’t be smart, be Irish.Image result for st patrick's day celebrants pictures

I realized that I was choosing joy as I dodged metaphorical bullets. Then I wondered if I were experiencing the placebo effect of belief in good outcomes, thereby ensuring good outcomes. Was I placeboing my  self?  (Don’t you hate when someone turns a weird noun into a verb like that? Like Tebowing or tuxedoing. It’s downright smarmy.) No, I was actually just accepting the brokenness around me with a light heart, a bouncy helium heart without mania rocket fuel involved. My back and leg still hurt as usual and my taxes are not quite ready for my accountant, but I am choosing joy over pain or guilt and embarrassment.Image result for joyful faces

Maybe yesterday’s mini lesson on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit actually produced some fruit in me.

The Fruit of the Holy Spirit is a biblical term that sums up nine attributes of a Christian life according to Paul the Apostle in his Letter to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”Image result for peace images and picture

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319. Parking Tickets and Murder

So back on Pine Street I had on-street parking in front of my run down building, and I parked the old Ford Falcon there 95% of the time. However, one morning as I was coming home from work, some punk college commuter had wedged his/her little weasel vehicle into my semi-designated parking space, forcing me to park down the block  on a meter near Bruce’s up and coming restaurant. I was torqued off as a ghetto dweller could be. When you don’t have much and someone takes the little crumbs you do have, well, dang it, you need to hit something. I hit that meter with my empty hand as I pulled it out of my empty pocket. Not even a slim dime for the meter could I find. I stomped off indignantly and humiliated that I didn’t even have a dime. It’s much cooler to act angrily undignified, however, than to fall to your knees in front of a blank faced parking meter, crying “Why? Why?”

The next time I looked at my car, there was a $3.00 parking ticket under the wiper. Ahhhhh!!! Now I was bolt bustin’ mad!  I tore up the ticket and said to no one, “I’ll never pay this stupid ticket. I’m the victim here. The punk stole my spot and I get the ticket?  Ahhhhh!!! This is America. I am going full Liam Neeson, and I will find you and keel you, punk!!” It was a very dramatic though pathetic solo performance on the uneven brick sidewalk with crabgrass growing out of the joints. (I was nominated later for Best Public Jerk Wad Tornado Hissy Fit by a male at the prison talent show.)

Some time elapsed as I pouted in my wet emotional diaper, chafing at the cruelty and injustice of this world. A formal letter came from the City of Richmond, telling me that my $0.10 meter fee which had turned into a $3.00 ticket was now being billed at $25.00 plus court costs. I could appear in court at such and such a time on such and such a date if I wished to contest it, or I could simply concede and pay the $25.00.  I was rebar bending, steel girder grinding mad. I was going bankrupt over a stupid parking violation. I didn’t have $25.00 to pay the incentivized ticket, so I resolved to go to court and contest the whole thing.

About a week later I showed up in District Court and tried to educate the cranky old judge before me. He simply said, “Pay the ticket. There is nothing else to do. Add the court costs. Next.” I was numb and in shock. I was up to $77.50 in unpayable fines. If this had been a stock instead of a debt, I’d be rolling in the dough. I’d have run around town collecting these magic tickets to wealth. But it wasn’t and I wasn’t, because ‘FuzzyWuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he?’ I hung my head down and shuffled to the cashier’s window. I told the guy there that I didn’t have any money and was unsure of what else I could do.

He told me, “Well, you can appeal it, basically roll the dice. If you win, no cost. If you lose, it’s double.”

“Heck, I can’t pay what I owe to begin with, so let’s go with double or nothing. So if I lose and can’t pay….?”

“Jail.”

“Lovely.”

The clerk filled out a form and I signed it, affirming I’d appear in a week to appeal my conviction to another judge.

A week later I realized while I was reading a textbook on Renaissance Art or Greek Philosophy that I was late for my appeal. I quickly tried to make myself look respectable. An impossible task on any day. I knew at least I should dress for jail. I chose tight and durable material that would send the right signals to hardened criminals when they asked me why I was in the slammer.

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[“Yo, kid. How long? What for?”

“Sixty days. Parking violation.”

“That’s funny. You ought to try for the annual talent show. That’s some prime material there.”

I imagined my prison street cred would be solid from that point forward.]

I hopped on my bike and coasted to the court, unable to afford another parking violation, I was being ultra-cautious. I walked around naively hoping my legal fairy godmother would show up and cut me loose. I went from one official court person to another trying to find which courtroom my fate had been decided in. I also wondered about my bike being locked up to a utility pole for two months. Not likely to be there when I got out of the Big House.

Finally I was directed to Courtroom 3 where a trial was in process for a rape/attempted murder case. I was blown away that I was even allowed to spectate. It was pretty tough stuff going down in there. I knew something was off, but I was not going to get right back up and risk alienating, i.e., pissing off another judge. So I sat respectfully till there was a lull in the action. I quietly tip toed out of the courtroom and sought clarification from another clerk.

“Oh, yeah. The judge already dealt with your case first thing.”

“I was late due to a near death experience…”

“He threw it out.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, expecting that it meant I was going to be thrown out to the human wolves in the penitentiary.

“It means it’s legally done, over, cancelled, kapoot, nada, gone, dead, etc.”

“What about court costs, community service, probation, parole, restitution?”

“Kid, it’s done. You lucked out. How your parking ticket crap ended up on appeal ahead of a major felony is like fairy godmother stuff. Now get out of here, you lucky bastard!”

I was stunned by this mis-miscarriage of justice. I was released into society almost unscarred and maybe unrehabilitated. Suddenly my clothes felt too tight as I remembered I could breathe freely again. I wanted to break out in a victory dance right there, but I reconsidered I could be arrested for lewd and lascivious booty dancing in a government building. I wanted to be humbled by this stroke of luck, but I also wanted to get that parking spot punk thief and jack him up like Liam would…. “Don’t ever believe that this is over, Bucko.”

 Then again, maybe I should just swallow the humble pill. They only cost a dime.

 

 

 

260. Paint by numbers: Good intentions, old regrets and the unpolluted future

“Cliches, Anyone? Two for a dollar. Get you some red hot clichés. Right here. Buy one for your girlfriend, Buddy.” I have many well worn phrases and stories that I’ve passed out in therapy sessions like old buttons that fell off some threadbare pants or an ancient stringy sweater. Some are my own fabrications in the truest sense. I made them up, I think. In an old post, 205, I mentioned the turtles, coke machines and ducks analogies/parables that have come to me in sessions, figuratively speaking, I mean. Animals don’t make therapy appointments. People do. All sorts of people, and I have to try and figure out how to connect to their pain using only words.

One time I recall a guy telling me that he felt like a man with a knife in his heart. “I’m a dead man walking. See, if I leave it in, I die. If I pull it out, I just die faster.” He was an overly dramatic convicted drug dealer in the county jail waiting to go up state.   I processed his powerful image and thought there ought to be an answer in metaphor land that could solve this bloody morbid riddle. Hmmm. It dawned on me that if one pulled the knife out ever so slowly, allowing the wound to  heal every millimeter or so, that in metaphorical theory physics, one could pull a knife out of a human heart without death resulting. I offered him this solution. Fortunately for both of us he accepted it in theory. In practical terms, however, it would be difficult to get dressed daily with a knife handle sticking out of your chest. Then there’s the dry cleaning bills. And the jokes…”Ed, you look stuck.” “Yep, I just can’t get a handle on this thing.”

Other clients explain dysfunction in their lives with vaguely broad statements like “I’m a people pleaser. I’m a peacemaker. I avoid confrontation.”  Word play helps here, so I’ve found. Not to be cruel, but I point out honestly, “You know I’ve noticed that people pleasers are never pleased. Why is that?” “Cuz we’re too damn busy keeping everyone else happy.”  In a similar manner I’ve been known to say, “Peace makers are never at peace, you know?  They’re always shuttling about making everyone else comfortable, carrying the mail back and forth between two or more pissed off parties.” Well, you’d think that I shot the Pope. “So you don’t like peace, is that it?”  “No, I believe in peace based on truth and transparency not a peace that is based on not hurting anyone’s feelings.”  Ohh!!!   And to the avoiders of confrontation, I share, “If you avoid anything long enough, do you know what you get?”  “What?”  “A _______Void.”  “Truth, Brother. Hard as a kidney stone. Amen.”

Time and water and mood states work well on a spectrum.  Huh?  Time exists in three general concepts– past, present, future. Water exists in  three states– ice, liquid, and steam. Moods exist in shrinking depression, flexible adaptation in the moment, and in expansive anxiety. Interestingly enough, depressed folks tend to move slowly and perseverate on their frozen pasts. Healthy people move appropriately in the flowing liquid now, where healthy life is lived. Anxious folks live in the what if future as they come unglued and scream out gaseously like superheated teakettles. They bang against the windowpane of tomorrow trying to avoid their present emotions; while their depressed first cousins soak in ancient ice baths. It’s only the present folks who can breath freely and move and feel genuinely.

I remember a woman who tried to stop time. Her husband died suddenly at 42, leaving her a widow mother of five children. Shock and grief overrode her reality. Understandable, right? I mean after an emotional tsunami, what else do you expect? She developed a coping strategy based on fantasy, magical thinking really. If she did not change anything in her house, if she hoarded everything, then maybe her husband would come back from the grave one day and just resume life as it was in 1972. Believing this myth was less awful than believing the waterboarded truth that she was a widow with five young kids depending on her to meet their endless needs. No furniture could be moved, no walls painted, no appliance changed out. Obviously this myth was unsustainable, but like any good cultic belief it could be edited as needed,  and  it was. The organic parts of her life continued to grow and decay despite her fervent worship of the myth. Kids grew up. She ticked on like a broken clock whose hands could only stutter in place. She stored her wedding ring in a soup can that innocent cleaners took to the dump.

Irvin Yalom wrote a book called Love’s Executioner. He suggested that it is the role of a therapist at times to execute love. Now there are two or more meanings for the verb execute but not for executioner, the noun, i.e., the killer. Who wants to tell a nice widow mother of five that her husband is never coming back and she needs to find another way to do life? Like the drug dealer above, this honesty would be a chef’s knife through her weakly beating heart. Sometimes the disorder is kinder than the cure, though both are deadly.

I knew another woman who was so bitter about men who had hurt her throughout her life. Her solution was bitter isolation in a bunker lifestyle. A vicious guard dog named Sarcasm patrolled her property day and night. “Bitter Acres. Go Away!” her sign announced to visitors who never came. Listening to her strategy of eking out a miserable life till she died a miserable death, it occurred to me that bitterness is like a barbed wire bra worn to defend against potential perpetrators…but the only one to be hurt for sure is the wearer of the contraption. “That’s easy for you to say. You were never raped by a relative, were you? And you don’t have to sit across the holiday table from him every Christmas and try not to vomit while he spouts his Christian platitudes and conservative right wing politics.”

No, thank God, all I have to do is try to meet the survivors at the bonfire where pain and grief and worry are incinerated. When the dead are too many or too big to be buried, a fire of bones is in order.

 

 

 

 

220. Speeding tickets

We’ve all had them, right?  Some of us more than others. Now I’ve driven over a half million miles in my 42 years of legal driving. I believe I have a total of four in my collection. The first two were twenty years apart, but the last two were only five years apart. That’s not a good omen. I deserved every one of them, no argument from me. It’s just an odd experience to have a cop light you up, pull you over, and do the whole official rigamarole while your daughter sits next to you. Which is what happened last night two streets over from my house. I mean really, how fast could I have been going on Route 3o while listening to Jerry Lee Lewis sing, “Oooh baby, that’s what I like. A wiggle in your walk, a giggle in your talk, makes the world go round, there ain’t nothing in the world like a big eyed girl, make me act so funny…”?  Well, fast enough I guess. I got a long necked goose stoppo  and no big eyed girl glaring at me while the lights popped and flashed all around. I felt like Justin Bieber in a stolen car without his lawyer.

“I’m a criminal”, I whispered after providing license, registration, and proof of insurance. “Here, call your mom. Tell her I’m going to jail; then after she calms down, tell her we’ll be a few minutes late.”  Fortunately for me I had just cleaned out my glove box a couple of days prior; otherwise I never would have been able to produce the latter two items. It would have been tedious for me and Officer Hockenberry of the Pennsylvania State Police.

“Uh, here’s a receipt for the muffler fix… one for inspection. That’s valid, Officer.”

“Sir, I’ve already noted that your vehicle is in good standing. I pulled you over for going 61 in a 45 zone.”

“Oh yes, um, let’s see, that’s expired… and this isn’t even my deposit slip. I don’t use that bank. That’s some stale gum.”

“Sir, Pennsylvania law requires you to have your vehicle registration in the vehicle at all times of operation.”

“I’m sure it’s here, Officer, it’s just in the clutter. Here’s a nice little tool my sister-in-law gave me, sort of a cheap Swiss Army knife. Nice, huh?”

“Registration, sir. That’s all I need tonight and then we can both be on our way. What’s that?”

“Uh, uh, it’s a  maxipad, you know. Better safe than sorry.”

“Sure.  Whatever.”

“Okay, here’s a duplicate, no it’s an outdated proof of insurance. Dang! Oh, oh, here it is. Whew.”

“Sir, you need to sign your registration card. It’s not signed.”

“Oh, may I use your pen, Officer?”

“Humph! Here… and put your seatbelt on while I write you up. That’s another fine that I don’t want to ticket you for tonight.”

“Thanks, Officer.”  Click.

“Have you been drinking tonight, sir?”

“No, sir. I am naturally this stupid.”

“Okay, I’m gonna take your word for that one. We’ll skip the field sobriety tests.”

“Thanks. A friend of mine can recite the alphabet backwards precisely, but I could not get the hang of it.”

“That’s great, but it won’t be necessary, sir. I’m taking your word for the stupidity thing.”

“Oh, thanks”, I would reply, not getting the reverse compliment humor.

Yeah, that could have been embarrassing. I had also tightened up the lock mechanism on the glove box while I was at it in pre- ticket experience. Before that the door would fall open; I’d slam it; it would shut without locking, then fall down in another second. It was like a cartoon skit. I’m thinking that sort of action might have popped someone’s cork during the pull over event. But something had possessed me to clean up the paper land fill that had been in my front seat and glove box. Sadly, I did not receive a similar intuitive heads up about slowing down while driving home.

A few minutes later Officer Hockenberry returned to my window. He returned my license, registration and proof of insurance. Then he handed me the fax copy of my citation. The bottom line was $147.50. Not bad. I was expecting $200 and a free lecture. He let me go with a “Good night and drive safely”.  All in all it was a good traffic stop.

Way back in my Virginia driving experience I have a vague traffic stop/ticket experience that was not a speeding violation but was  a moving violation. I was headed down Rte. 95 and turned off at Quantico Marine Base south of D.C.  It was the middle of a spring day, as I recall. Apparently I did not come to a complete stop at the stop sign on the exit ramp.  Maybe I just did a promise brake. In any event an MP pulled me over and wrote me a ticket. However, since this was federal land, my  ticket did not go to Richmond. Instead this MP directed me to pay it to an address in Washington, D.C. and he assured me that I would never hear anything more about it. Sure enough, I complied and heard not a word more about my traffic violation. But all these years later I wonder if that MP was part of a scam with a buddy on the receiving end of those ghost tickets. Who knows? It’s a hunch. I was just a dumb teenager before I became a dumb adult.

My favorite traffic stop, though, was on my way home from work, maybe 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. I was passing in the right lane, which was about to end.  I guess I juiced it enough to attract a policeman’s attention. The cop walked up to my window and asked what I was doing. I told him I was on my way home from work. He looked at my tie and my briefcase on the passenger’s seat. “Okay”, he said. And then he startled me as I prepared for my ticket. “We’re looking for speeding teenagers. Have a good night, sir.” And he let me go. No license, no registration. Nothing. I suppose that was my mulligan/do over/ moment of grace. I wanted to ask him if he’d ever been an MP at Quantico… but I bit my tongue.