390. Almost Breaking Amish

Rainy AfternoonIt’s time for the next installment of The Silly Id and The Oddity, by  Homer Simpson. “Gather, my wet duckies, around the flaming hearth and hear, the stories of wet woods and rained on deer.” My buddy Clark just informed me that we have had twelve days of rain and two with sun here in depressed central Pennsylvania, home of mildewed burghers. This was not news. Some part of the mammalian brain keeps track of these dismal facts without any outside instruments. I don’t need a rain gauge to know it has rained a lot. The ground is near saturation. I don’t need a light meter to know it’s cloudy again or night for that matter. (I know you sharpies out there are going to play the eclipse card here. Go ahead. I can take it.) My pupils are dilated in the low light while my sunglasses are getting dusty from lack of use. So gloomy I can’t see them anyway.The weather, as it does so often in these damp parts, just sucks. The only consolation comes from relocated residents of Erie, who tell us they’d still be shoveling snow off their roofs in May. “May is when we dig out our cars”, they say as if talking about gardening tips, ya know? Like “Late May is when we pull up our first radishes.”

All the while I know that out west the sun is glowing clearly and cleanly, radiating and mesmerizing the sparsely populated landscape into a holy lethargy like a warm glazed donut. (In Tucson you can order glazed lethargy donut holes with a large coffee at Starbucks for under 5 bucks. Sometimes Shirley, the barrista with the face tattoo of Ghandi, gets it and slips me three metaphysical scones in waxed paper with a glazed wink. “Go forth in restful peace,” she whispers in yogic syllables.) The air is dry and fresh.  Cactuses are blooming and hummingbirds are buzzing. Feathered lizards run on grains of hot sand, leaving hardly a trace of their travels behind. Whoosh. Legal psychadelia.

The pull of what I want and the ballast of what I must do rock me like a cop car in a Baltimoron riot. I might be pushed over if lawlessness overrides the laws of gravity. (Or is it freedom fighters and tyranny?) Stay the course and get to the finish line with dignity… sure, as contemporaries die or become disabled by the myriad ailments and diseases available. Hmmmm,  this might explain why we have so many obese residents in Central Pa:  we eat chips and brownies rather than jumping in front of trucks hauling chickens to the slaughter house. Slow or fast? How do you like your death? “Neither,” you say, “I’m chicken.” Deep fried chicken.

I read a story about an Ohio State study claiming the Amish are very physically healthy, maybe the top 1% of Americans in that medical arena. The possible explanations for this statistical fact included their lack of smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol; the ever-presence of fresh foods full of vitamins and minerals without pesticides and herbicides; lack of sluggishness inside fluorescent lit environments;  and the biggest contributing factor of all seems to be hard outdoor physical labor. Well, what do you know? All this industrialization and technological advancement that the Amish refuse to participate in turns out is killing those of us who do partake. Shukkamukka!! Instead of getting out in nature and doing something vigorous, we watch Survivor and vicariously survive via the boob tube with our Diet Pepsi in one fist and ranch flavored nachos in the other. One thing is certain: we will not perish from starvation. Brain atrophy or death by a million potato chips, yes.

“Amen!! Preach it!! And, while  you’re up, pass me that onion dip, willya?”

I don’t want to make you feel bad. I’m just muttering and stuttering aloud on an ashen gray day that can’t help but disappoint you. I mean it’s the final shot at Special Olympics for the special needs kids, and it’s raining again!!  I know, God, it’s all good somehow, but if I were throwing the slippery shot put in this chilly weather, I’d break someone’s toe for sure.  Then that someone would limp through life with a hammer toe, having to tell curious podiatrists about a rainy Tuesday in their adolescence at the Special Olympics when the shot put went kaput. My empathy stops me from such violence. Not to mention the toenail would be all gray, grisly and mangled, and hard to pedicure.No visible incision scar on the top of the foot

All of the above feels like being stuck in an elevator in a Russian submarine with the Doors playing “L.A. Woman” over and over, as Russian sailors bang the doors outside the shaft, “Komrade, be cool. Ve vill get beeg rench and free you, good American proletariat man. Leesin to de Doors.” Kind of cool the first time through, and then you want to dig up and re-kill Jim Morrison, “Mr. Mojo Risin”. You know he rearranged the letters in his name to come up with that refrain, right? Not Amish.  Anyway, when the Ruskies finally ruskue you (I know, it’s not an accidental misspelling), you are so oxygen deprived that they put you in a stale donut hole of a windowless nursing home in Odessa run by expatriate Amish widows. I bet you didn’t see that coming, didya? And it rains every day, dark greasy rain that makes Odessa feel like the far side of the River Styx. Oh blighted fate!!

And sort of like that movie The English Patient, one day you awake from the haze of your oxygenless existence in Odessa. Slowly a face comes into focus as old words flow gondola like through your filthy Venetian ear canal. Familiar somehow. “Go forth in restful peace,” saturates the dry sponge of your abandoned soul. Shirley, surely it’s Shirley. But how?

As she helps you sip cold water, the mystery unfolds at last. “Those scones were laced with lysergic acid, Dude. I’m sorry. I thought you knew. You’ve been trippin’ for three weeks now, singin’ L.A.Woman like with a Russian/ Amish accent. Too weird, man. ”

“Shirley, it wasn’t the scones. No, it was that damn rain.”Image result for psychedelic rain pictures

340. NYC

This past weekend was spent in Manhattan, New York, New York. “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere”, so the song goes. [“Unfortunately, if you can’t make there, you just go home and mope about what a sucking loser you are.” That line was mysteriously cut from the original version of New York, New York. Apparently it lacked musicality.] Our pilgrimage this year was the least stressful trip to, through, and out of Manhattan that we have ever experienced. We being my lovely wife, my operatic daughter, and I. Last Christmas was the last time we visited and whatta, whatta, whatta nightmare it wa- wa- wa- was!! The traffic was inhuman. Cruel even.  We spent two hours getting through the Holland Tunnel and then putzing through lower Manhattan over to Brooklyn, where we returned my eldest daughter to her micro apartment thimble-sized sparrow nest. (I am feeling re-traumatized now just typing about the memory. “I’ll have a Xanax martini, bartender. Make it fizz.”)  I got stuck in the crosswalk just a block away from the tunnel entrance on the Jersey side. A murderously angry driver in a Lincoln town car blew his horn and accelerated like a rabid bull toward my side of the car as we sat helplessly in the intersection, expecting to be gored on the doorstep of the Big Apple. Dude locked up his brakes and stopped inches from my door, like it was a mob hit, think of Sonny at the toll booth in The Godfather .  We all screamed in anticipation of the impact that did not come to my new car, but the horns just kept blaring at me, condemning my blatant tourist fox paws, that’s French for a social blunder.  The stress kept mounting until my skull cracked open and a tree grew up from the pavement of my corpus callosum as we entered Brooklyn. What kind of tree, you ask?  A coconut naturally. I had to tilt my head forward to avoid catching the fronds on the Williamsburg Bridge supports.

Image result for coconut tree growing out of someone's head pictureThat’s what it felt like anyway, a massive fuzzy spider web of stress that spread out from my brain stem across every millimeter of my crawling skin and then crystallized into veins of brittle glass. Simply breathing required focus due to the overwhelming video game exploding on the other side of my windshield, sucking my eyeballs out of their fragile sockets– trucks, taxis, buses, scooters, skate boarders, bicyclists going with and against traffic, and endless pedestrians on cell phones talking to their lawyers about potential traffic torts. [I need a breath here. Whew!! “Bartender, another zantini.”] All this stimulation palpitated at the bottom of incredibly interesting canyons of amazing architecture and iconic buildings, bridges, and statues everywhere. Wha- wha- wha- what the heck!!! You don’t realize that you have stopped blinking due to your very active fear of death. Naturally your eyes dry out and the sooty air begins to sand down your corneas. And yet, on this razor’s edge of existence you feel fully alive and a part of this liquid human magic act where thousands ebb and flow by one another crimelessly. It should never work, this human bee hive, but some primeval cooperative gene turns on and millions of humans glide by each other as if choreographed by a master dance genius.

Of course it helps if you come in to Midtown via the Lincoln Tunnel. No muss, no fuss, just 14 bucks. And then stay near the theatre district, which we did this time. Thankfully, our street, 37th, was actually closed due to some construction project at the end of our block. We parked, yes PARKED, across the street in a garage for less than $50 a day. Our tiny suite was quiet, QUIET. The only word we could not use, in fact, can never ever be used in NYC, was CHEAP. New York is a huge money meter monster that has to be fed richly every hour or it will grind you up and spit you out onto the grimy sidewalks where those same millions of minions will trundle by crimelessly self absorbed.

Where do they toilet and bathe, the homeless?  Forget laundry. They are like the pigeons, living on the crumbs and debris of the well heeled Gothamites. God knows when a sparrow falls. I guess He knows when all these human pigeons scuttle about, living like modern lepers. I ask myself ‘Why is it that some folks sell junk on the streets and others beg? They spend just as much time on the same street.’ The one standing offers you a hat, an umbrella, a t-shirt, tickets to a comedy club, or a photo of John Lennon hugging the Naked Cowboy when they were both toddlers. The slouching other asks for your pity and jiggles a cup with coins. They are both selling junk, but the one still standing does not believe he is the junk being sold.  Meanwhile I’m going to a two hour show and put my butt in a $75 seat. I’m eating dinner with $18 bottled water to wash it down. And I wonder how these guys even got into Manhattan at $14 a pop. Happily there is no charge to leave. But why does their image burn deeper and last longer than the sentimental musical I paid to see? I guess their performances are more meaningful in the grand scheme of things. Unforgettable even.

No matter the cost, I think of my New York trips as investments, not as frivolous and extravagant waste. It’s like Dorothy going to Oz. Visiting Gotham makes living in Kansas or Central PA more bearable.

Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leavin’ today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York
I want to wake up, in a city that doesn’t sleep
And find I’m king of the hill
Top of the heap
These little town blues
Are melting away
I’ll make a brand new start of it
In old New York
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York