363.Love’s Longing Lost

I promised to post about Joel and Sheila the mule, Blogoiters, and I keep my promises when I remember them, if I remember them, by which I mean– if I don’t forget them. Long time followers of the blog already know that Joel is the consigliere of Coffee Nation, a job he reluctantly accepted after much cajoeling. He of the round tortoise shell glasses and the tweed jackets is a bit of a throwback to an earlier age. He still uses a fountain pen, for goodness sakes! Imagine an older, unflappable Gregory Peck outside with an older, flappable Jimmy Stewart inside. Let those two images overflap and gel. There you go. It’s Joel.

Last year or the year before, it does not matter for our purposes here and now, Joel went to a lawyers’ conference in Phoenix, conveniently planned for the dead of winter. It’s all business expensed, so why not go and accessorize? Joel planned a mule pack trip into and out of the Grand Canyon. It was as close to his own City Slickers experience as he could muster. You see, that movie is close to his heart. And let’s face it, most kids of the nineteen forties and fifties did not long to be accountants and attorneys and insurance salesmen. No, they wanted to be the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers or some other cowboy. And Joel being no exception was unexceptional in the Manly Hall of Fame until now.

As you might have already imagined, Joel was very excited to be out in the elements, roughing it, drinking bourbon out of a shared pint around a mesquite fire down, down, down at the Phantom Ranch. Wiping his mouth with the back of a dusty leather glove. Spitting just because he could and no one would report him to the bar. To Hell with the law and all its pretense!  He was breaking bad. Heck, even the mule ride advertising was tough, no nonsense stuff telling people how tall they had to be; how much they could weigh; couldn’t be afraid of heights or large animals; had to be fluent in English; whining or pouting would be met with hot lead. Unapologetic, politically incorrect, man talk. Why just reading it privately on his tablet at the coffee shop made itchy chest hair follicles erupt on his sternum. Testosterone molecules began to bark in packs like coyotes in his bloodstream. The wild called and he, Joel the mild mannered estate attorney, would answer it in a fully outfitted, hormonally charged echo. “Howwuuuulllll”

Off he went on his trek. I urged him to be safe on the mule and not to take any guff from anyone– man, woman, both, neither, undecided, polymorphic or otherwise. “The thing with mules,” I told Joel to reassure him before he left, “is they have to know you mean business, yet that you are compassionate and willing to bond with them. If a mule knows you love her, she will give her sure-footed life for you.” He was impressed with my animal husbandry background, which I had completely fabricated on the spot.


(Asterisks suggest time passing.)

Two weeks later I saw him again, refreshed and enlightened in ways that only a handful of Tibetan monks come to be. He was writing down his observations in his spirit journal with that fountain pen and eyes aglow. He gushed with the wonders of it all and told me that he owed his new ecstatic life to Sheila, his designated mule.  “We grew close. Just as you had suggested, I showed her a firm business hand on the one hand but a compassionate loving hand at the reigns on the other hand, and she responded like a crossbred dream.”

“That’s four hands in the sentence, Joel. You only have two, and Sheila has hooves, right? Count them with me.”

“Eh! You know what I mean! Don’t start playing with words.”

“That’s what I do. Remember?”

“You wouldn’t make it at Phantom Ranch with all your tomfoolery. Only real men go there.”

“I believe you, man. I sense it like steam pouring out of your new found confidence and mulishness. You have a flinty glint about you now, a rough edge. You could start a fire just by blinking fast.”

“Oh, that reminds me. Some colleagues followed my lead into the Grand Canyon.  We actually traded out our mules with them when we came back up to the rim. I introduced them to Sheila and shared with them your instructions on mule handling. They were very appreciative. In fact, later on as I was connecting flights in Charlotte, they sent me this picture of Sheila with the text, ‘I miss you’.” He showed me a sad looking mule on his phone. “Something tells me that I’ll be seeing this again at a bar meeting in the future.”

“Lovely story, Joel. I’m glad you had such a good time.”

*************************** (Not as much time has passed this time.)

Two days later I was waiting in line for my morning coffee when Joel came into the shop. I greeted him as usual, then added, “Hey, I got a call from Sheila yesterday.”

“Oh, did you?” he uttered with false sincerity at the back of his Jimmy Stewart throat.

“Oh yeah. She’s not doing so well.” I shook my head and looked down.

“What are her complaints?”

“Well, she told me that she’d been ridden hard and put away wet. She misses you, man. All that machismo you put down, she picked it all up. She thought you were the one who would both tame her and free her. Gave me an earful, lemme tell you.”

“Oh, REALLY? So what is your treatment plan?”

“It’s a tough case, Joel. It was a phone consult with a sexless pack animal tethered to a monotonous future without any hope.”

“I see. Very tough. So what did you tell her?”

“Well, in short I told her to follow another horse’s ass.”

“I giftwrapped that for you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you baited the hook, teed up the golf ball, and shook up the Dr. Pepper.”

“Whatever.” guffaw, guffaw.

“Are you laughing, Joel?”

“I am not laughing at this because I don’t want to encourage you. (Pause.) You are going to put this in the blog, aren’t you?”

“It’s too late, Buddy. From your spilled mule milk I will make a rare rich cheese for posterity to enjoy at black tie charity fundraisers.”

With hands raised heavenward like a frustrated Atticus Finch, “Oh, Sheila! Forgive me!”





292. Give Me A Hand

Years ago, I think it was 2003, I worked all summer with a machete that I’d brought back from Honduras. I whacked brush and small trees with the machete. Even tried to kill a ground hog with it, but the critter was too fast for me. I swung it over and over with my right hand, so much so that I over extended the tendon on the outside of my right wrist. It still bulges a bit from the abuse to this day. Anyway I wrapped it in an Ace bandage and tried to draw it back in where God intended that tendon to be. Then I went back to my classroom for the twenty second year of teaching seventh grade English. With an average of 135 students each year that adds up to nearly three thousand 12 and 13 year olds. Let that stat sink in for a long moment before you judge me and my tenuous grip on sanity.

So the first day and week of school began much like every other year– homeroom, lockers, schedules, rules, etc. All the kids try to be good and engaging in the first week until they run out of steam. Then there is real homework to do and the old excuses bubble up… “The Police had to come arrest my dad for drinking and my mom for hitting him with a skillet.”

“Billy, I know that’s not true.”


“Because your dad is the principal and your mom works with my wife. Didn’t they tell you?”

“Entrapment! I move to have the proceedings sealed and thrown out.”

It wasn’t long till one of the inquisitive kids asked about my wrist bandage. I gave the bait answer, “Oh, it’s a long story and unbelievable, so why bother telling you. No one would believe it.”  There was a nearly audible “THunk” as the asker and those in earshot heard my baited answer. “Oh, no, tell us. We’ll believe it.”

“It’s too fantastic. I can hardly believe it myself.”

“Come on! We promise.”

“Well, okay, but don’t tell the kids in third period. I can tell they are not believers. They aren’t as mature as you guys.”

“Okay, okay. What happened?”

“Well I was in England this summer, and you know how they drive on the wrong side of the road and all?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“So I rented this MiniCooper at the airport and I was driving around London just trying to get used to the gears and being on the right side while shifting with my left, and I came up to a turn. I needed to make a right hand turn but I couldn’t find the signal bar for the blinkers, you know?”

“Uh huh. Whatdyado?”

“I foolishly stuck my right arm out the window to signal, but since I was driving on the left side of the road and traffic was coming at me on the right my hand was  ripped off quite violently by a passing car’s rear view mirror. It literally cut my hand off, leaving me with a bleeding stump.”

“No way!!”

“Yes. I told you it was an incredible story. Do you want to hear the rest of it?”

“Yes, but no lying.”

“On my honor…. So I was in a pickle with only my left hand working and a fountain of blood gushing at oncoming traffic.”


“Well, did you see that movie Speed, where Sandra Bullock has to drive the bus over 6o miles an hour or the bomb will explode?”

“Yeah, that was a cool movie, but you didn’t have a bomb.”

“I know, but I thought that if I could drive at a fast enough speed, the air pressure would push back the blood gush from my stump.”

“No way. That’s impossible.”

“Well, luckily for me I was not a negative thinker, so I accelerated to 8o kilometers per hour. That’s metric.”

“How fast was it?”

“I think it equals 66 miles an hour in American speed, but anyway once I achieved this speed it was like I had a tourniquet on my forearm. The blood stopped spurting and I could drive around looking for my hand.”

“You mean it was still stuck on the other car’s mirror?”

“That was my only clue. I recalled it was a red late model Jaguar, so I drove about London at high speed looking for the car with the bloody hand on it.”

“Where did you find it?”

“Unfortunately, I did not.”

“But what about your hand?  It’s right there. How did you get your hand back on the bleeding stump?”

“Because I had driven an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War I knew that transplanted limbs have a brief window for attachment. So after 25 minutes of high speed hand chasing about London, I rushed in to The Royal Oaks Hospital in Chelsea by Earl’s Court. It’s an older hospital but well known for its transplant successes.”

“You mean that is not your hand? No way. It looks just like the left one.”

“I agree. The surgeons did a great job matching skin tones I thought. This hand actually came from an accountant who was killed in a tragic auto accident in Surrey. He was completely crushed by a cement lorry, all except his right hand. Fortunately for me had signed the British donor card just days before. How ironic is that?”

“I don’t know what ironic is, but I think you’re lying. How can we tell it’s the accountant’s hand?”

“I don’t question you. It’s pretty fantastic, I know. But here’s the test:  when the hand gets near a calculator, it’s like he can’t help himself. He starts trying to add figures. Watch. Bring that calculator near the hand slowly. I tell you it’s like phantom pain only it’s not.”

“I don’t believe you, but here’s the calculator.”

Suddenly the bandaged hand starts to twitch and type out wildly on the calculator. The kids jumped back.

“See, I told you. It’s like he’s still adding from the grave. They say he was very dedicated.”

“No, that’s you doing it. You’re lying. Take the bandage off.”

“The surgeons said I had to wait six weeks.”

“When is that up?”

“Next Monday, as a matter of fact.”

“Okay, we’ll see who’s lying then.”

The weekend came and went. As I was preparing to go to school that Monday, I remembered the deadline. Hmmm. I found a black Sharpie pen and made a dotted line around my wrist and then wrapped it with the bandage, knowing I’d be called out soon. As soon as I got to homeroom the kids swarmed my desk.

“You said it was today. Let’s see the scar.”

I slowly unwrapped the bandage until the bare wrist was visible with the stitched Sharpie line.

There was much howling and gnashing of teeth. “That’s fake. You drew that. Those aren’t real stitches.” But by then it didn’t matter. The legend of The Hand had been birthed.


285. The Lyin’ King

“Shall we speak of your past, Andrea?” I began with only  two other bean patrons in the quiet shop of coffee.

“If the Lion King taught me anything it’s that you can’t change the past,” said Andrea from the other side of  the counter as she counted out my ten used cup sleeves that entitled me to a free cup today.

“So harsh. You are referring to the Disney cartoon movie here?” I asked

“Is there any other?” she followed.

“Well, of course, my child. Of course there is and of course you can change the past. It’s simple. The past is actually quite malleable.”

She chuckled and lightly snorted into her shirt collar. “Oh here we go.”

“Did you know that there used to be public bathrooms under the street by the courthouse? Visitors from the big city thought we had a subway in Turtle Town.”

“No, not sure I can believe you. I’m from Needmore, remember?”

“Yes, I am so sorry. But after the Berlin Wall came down and détente began, your people were rejoined with the rest of the free world, yes?”

“Yes, we have a small stone wall in Needmore that commemorates the liberation.”

“Good to know, and the wall keeps the cows off of Route 522, I imagine. Yes, practical bunch out there. But there really were subterranean bathrooms with decorative green metal stairways descending to them. Do you have a small piece of paper?”

“Here you go.”

She produced a small block of white paper with a logo for cleaning supplies in navy blue ink. I miss nothing. No detail is too superfluous to record. I wrote in block letters, ‘The Lion King”… be true to yourself.’ Beneath it I wrote, ‘The Lyin’ King…of course you can change the past.’ Then I proceeded to share with her how I had led the Redskins to Super Bowl 17 victory in 1983, the strike shortened season as the quarterback.

“I didn’t know that.”

“A lot of folks don’t. Here’s a favorite  picture of me throwing the winning touchdown.”

Image result for super bowl 17 pictures

“And so you are free to spin your yarns, and these stories are just far enough away that they are hard to prove at any given moment.”

“Exactly. You sprinkle just enough facts and details into a story to give it verisimilitude, or the appearance of truth. You see, I respect the truth greatly, so much so that I imitate it freely at any given moment.”

“I know, and you confuse the crapola out of me.”

“Andrea! There is no need for such Mufasa here! Think of the little lions. Where is thy pride, girl? Think of poor Nala. You need to romp on back to Needmore and reclaim your glory.”

I was met with the stern schoolmarm look over her octagonal glasses with a wisp of her tucked maple pony tail bobbing behind her head like a ticked off pigeon.

“I think you’re losing focus here, creeping into that three per cent of fantasy that you are known to indulge on occasion.”

“I prefer to call it the Airless Summit of Mount Truth. Most folks operate near sea level or up to 9,000 feet above it, where oxygen is plentiful. Some brave souls venture higher, into the next 9,000 feet, where the air is quite thin and life is tenuous. Sherpas, mountain sheep and condors are the only forms of life at that altitude. And then there are the rare ones like me who start their journey at 18,000 feet and trek fearlessly upward through the unsustainable atmosphere known as the Death Zone.”

“You are so dramatic. I can’t believe anything you say.”

“Here come the bankers. I suppose they speak the truth relentlessly.”

“Well, they’re a bit more predictable than you.”

Teresa, “Are we interrupting something important?”

Andre, ” No, it’s more like rescuing me from a bad movie.”

Me, “Uhum. I was just sharing the daily wisdom with Andrea regarding the Lyin’ King.”

Teresa, “The Disney movie?”

Me, “The sequel, actually.” L-Y-I-N apostrophe KING. Not that bankers ever lie.”

Teresa, “Oh, every day. We’d be out of business if we told the truth.”

Cody, “Are we gonna get some coffee?”

Andrea, “Sure, what would you like?”

Cody, “Medium regular.”

Teresa, “Small. Guess I missed the hazelnut on Monday, huh?”

Andrea, “Yeah, sorry. You didn’t come in.”

Teresa, “I was stuck in a conference all day long. What a waste!!” Then turning to me, “Are you going to the ‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’ parade this Friday, Burrito?”

Me, “Uh, my chiropractor won’t allow it. Too hard on my glutes.”

Cody, “I’m walking in heels, got fishnet stockings to go with them.”

Me, “I would only do that if I were in prison and Bubba told me to walk this way. I mean, it seems either prison creepy or like a Lou Reed song.”

Teresa, “Who’s Lou Reed?”

Me, “He played third base for the Yankees in the 1960’s. Switch hitter. Utility infielder mostly. Later on  he wrote songs of desperation, drugs and alternative lifestyles.”

Cody, “Didn’t he write ‘Walk on the Wild Side’?”

Me, “Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner. The man in the red high heels and black fishnet stockings and Brooks Brothers navy blue blazer ensemble.”

Cody, “Whatever Bubba wants, Bubba gets.”

Teresa, “Wasn’t that in Damn Yankees, only it was Lola?”

Me, “That’s a Kinks song you’re referencing now, but it’s in the same transvestic neighborhood.”

Andrea, “Oh, Lord help me. Though I work in the shadow of the espresso machine, I will fear no evil customer. ”

Me, “Here, let me get the door for you.”

Cody/Teresa, “Thanks, Bubba.”

Me, “It’s Simba to you.”

Andrea, “Noooooooooooo!!!!”

They hung a sign up in our town
“if you live it up, you won’t
live it down”
So, she left Monte Rio, son
Just like a bullet leaves a gun
With charcoal eyes and Monroe hips
She went and took that California trip
Well, the moon was gold, her
Hair like wind
She said don’t look back just
Come on Jim
Oh you got to
Hold on, Hold on
You got to hold on
Take my hand, I’m standing right here
You gotta hold on

Well, he gave her a dimestore watch
And a ring made from a spoon
Everyone is looking for someone to blame
But you share my bed, you share my name
Well, go ahead and call the cops
You don’t meet nice girls in coffee shops
She said baby, I still love you
Sometimes there’s nothin left to do

Oh you got to
Hold on, hold on
You got to hold on
Take my hand, I’m standing right here, you got to
Just hold on.

Well, God bless your crooked little heart St. Louis got the best of me
I miss your broken-china voice
How I wish you were still here with me

Well, you build it up, you wreck it down
You burn your mansion to the ground
When there’s nothing left to keep you here, when
You’re falling behind in this
Big blue world

Oh you go to
Hold on, hold on
You got to hold on
Take my hand, I’m standing right here
You got to hold on

Down by the Riverside motel,
It’s 10 below and falling
By a 99 cent store she closed her eyes
And started swaying
But it’s so hard to dance that way
When it’s cold and there’s no music
Well your old hometown is so far away
But, inside your head there’s a record
That’s playing, a song called

Hold on, hold on
You really got to hold on
Take my hand, I’m standing right here
And just hold on.                                           Tom Waits, “Hold On”


And so, You Honorable Blogitnesses, I  submit that verisimilitude is art by another name.