392. Baltimore Up

Gravel roads led to a rutted dirt cart path. The taxi bounced. I could see the headlights of a tow truck coming at us out of the low sulfurous landscape. ‘Maybe this guy does know something after all.’

“Sunzofbitches goin to make another $200. Someone ought to stop this.” He pulled slightly out of the truck’s path but with palpable reluctance mowing over the hip high river grass. We bounced. The gun bounced. Nevermind. My sense of reality had long ago dribbled out of bounds while jogging earlier in a sketchy neighborhood. Here we were in a modern day “gunslinger versus cattle rustler” story where the cows and horses had been swapped out for cars and vans. A showdown at the AAA corral lay just ahead. Someone’s gonna die tonight in Baltimore, I just know it.

In the headlights’ beams I saw an outpost, a double wide trailer surrounded by a fence that seemed to be 14 feet tall. Unscaleable. On the other side of this monstrosity I saw my van, an innocent victim in a concentration camp. An old Asian man squatted in front of the gates, a mysterious gatekeeper who could have been in Vietnam or Cambodia guarding POW’s. Deniro again came to mind, The Deer Hunter. We were going back to Saigon to rescue our Pennsylvania village buddy from a final game of Russian roulette.

“That’s my van,” I uttered, hardly believing that this whole taxi experience was real.

“Want me to ram it?” my diligent but deranged driver asked. I was sure he’d do it.

“No, I want to do this legally, ya know. The cops are not on my side already.”

“Suit yourself, man.”

I got out and walked up a half flight of stairs to the skanky trailer. Cheap paneled walls on three sides of a small room forced you into the fourth wall, two inch thick bullet proof glass with a silver speak hole. Many signs  were pasted there. The only one that mattered read, “CASH ONLY”. A large woman in a sparkly black cocktail dress came to the other side. Her hair was too black, jewelry too big, and she had only a few of her own teeth.

I tried to contain my rage. “You stole my van and I want it back.”

“Thir, there’sth no need for hosthtility. I justht need two hundred dollarsth cash and you can have it. Thimple.”

“This is piracy. You are thieves preying on baseball fans…”

“It’s $200 tonight. If we sthore it for a day, it’sth thhhhreee fifty.”

My head was exploding with rage. I thought I’d maxed out but apparently my earlier rage had carved out new caverns for extra rage capacity. “Aaaghggrafrickinshashkamuffinboogerschnatzelcrimeneay!!::”

“You won’t take a VISA?”

“Nope. Cash only.”

“It’s after midnite and I’m paying a cabbie to hunt for my car that you stole…”

She gave me absolutely dead eyes heavily caked in mascara and blue eye shadow. Even in my rage I knew this woman was a permanent resident in this hell. I was merely visiting.

“I’ll be back. Don’t sell it while I’m gone cuz I’m sure that’s totally legal too.”

“No need for tharcasm, thir.”

I got back in the cab. Marty was incensed and feeding off my bad energy. “I can shoot that lock off the gate. Nobody’s gotta know. I got nothing to lose.”

“No. Let’s go back into the city and find an ATM.”

“Okay, man. But I could…”

“Do it!”

We bounced back out of the swamplands and back toward the orange mercury vapor lights of Baltimore.

“Shit like this is why I’m going to Denver. It’s getting harder and harder not to kill someone. I think there’s an ATM on the other side of these warehouses if I remember correctly. I’m turning the meter off by the way. The rest of the ride is on me.”

“Thanks, Marty.” Suddenly that woman’s speech impediment was stuck in my head and I wondered if I should have said, “Sanks”. My joints were coming unglued. I wondered if I could even remember my security code, 3791, the four corners of the pin pad. Okay, I can do this.

Mercifully we found an ATM that only charged $2.50 per transaction. I withdrew 100 times that to cover the pirate extortion, Marty’s incredible ride, and expenses along the way home. Actually, after I got back in the cab, I realized that I’d have no cash left, but it was going to finally end.

We drove back to the swamp land auto concentration camp. I tried to not speak to the cocktail ostrich woman behind the bullet proof glass. I can understand why they need it now. It had crossed my mind to borrow Marty’s .45 and drop some lead, but I reeled my rage back in.

“Show this receipt to Kwang Lei. He’ll unlock the gate for you.”

Utter contempt beamed back and forth between us to no avail.

I started my van and slowly drove out of the compound as Kwang Lei locked it behind me. Marty wished me well and led me back to Pratt Street, then he honked his horn and was gone. I was exhausted as I  pulled into the hotel at 2:10 a.m. My wife was awake. We scooped up our three sleeping girls and settled them in for the two hour silent ride home.

I composed an incendiary editorial in my head on the way home. Eventually I did type and mail it. I retold the sad tale of modern thievery and concluded almost Biblically, “I tried to find even fifty good men in Baltimore, but I could not. So I’m gathering Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, and Boog Powell. We won’t look back as God sodomly nukes Baltigomorra to nothingness.” I don’t think they published it.

The sun was coming up as we pulled into our driveway. I looked behind the yew bushes for No Parking signs and went to bed. The waking nightmare was over.

 

 

 

 

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381.Decaf, Please

I shuffled in to the coffee shop this morning as usual, hoping to get a muffin and medium coffee for the breakfast I skipped as I did yoga moves in front of CNN’s coverage of the Bloviator Trump’s vast empire of victories. “He’s only saying what all of us think. He’s not into any punkass thuggery political correctness. Nosirree.” Wow!! That (sorta) said by a former vice presidential candidate, who, God forbid, would have been one heartbeat away from leading the Free World. [Is it too late to charge John McCain with treason for selecting her for vp?]  Sarah Palin speaks in word salads, uttering tortured words and phrases in ways no one else can master or understand, nor should they. Except maybe lunatics from another dimension.

Whew!  Pink Floyd sings “the lunatic is in the hall, the lunatics are in the hall” in “Brain Damage” on Dark Side of the Moon. Never a truer word, but nowadays the lunatics are in the Convention Hall counting delegates. “The paper holds their  folded faces to the floor, and every day the paper boy brings more.” Whatever that means, I affirm, is just as valid as the trifling tripe that spews out of Palin’s pouty lips. She’s mad, I tell you, Mad. And still the crowds erupt in applause. Doesn’t matter if she’s speaking in Norwegian to Eskimos at the Equator. I guess they applaud because the demonic seizure is over. Commence the snake handling. That’s when the other theys bring out Hillary dolls and set them on fire while punching professional wrestlers hired to be beaten with wooden gavels. “Punch him in the face and I’ll pay your legal fees.” …. “We all love one another,” says the Strong Man. “It’s a veritable love fest. Woodstock for bigots. Who doesn’t love a pin the tail on the donkey game with hunting knives, or a beat the snot out of a Hillary piñata?”

So I opened the green door to the coffee shop and walked across the dull white asphalt tiles. A whacked-out unmedicated crone leaped out of her seat and screamed at my beige suede slip on shoes. Her eyes were wild. So was her hair and the clothes she swam in. I was surprised, as if a strange dog had come nipping at my heels. She spoke in mixed green salad talk– some iceberg, some kale, some spinach, some dandelions. Radishing, so it was.  I’m not sure that any of the patrons who witnessed this verbal affront could recall the blather verbatim. It was hysterical and guttural, full of anger but no thought. She might as well have accosted me in Mandarin Chinese. I know all of the invertebrate patrons went quiet and made shocked faces at the crone’s shoe mating display. Her tail feathers were spread out to make her look bigger and more intimidating. Everyone shrank back from the crazy.

I figured out in a half second that she was psychotic and was not taking the 15 medications she had just recently flushed down her toilet. I replied, “Yes, Ma’am” to her mad, Palinesque verbal pecking.  She came at me again like a goat at a matador  training camp, more comic than threatening. More gobbledeegook gushed out of her pie hole. She turned; gathered her purse and whatnot; and stomped out the door. Whew!! Crank up the Pink Floyd…

“And if the dam breaks open many years too soon

And if there is no room upon the hill

And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too

I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.”

I  scurried off to my office and worked the other side of the psychological street, non psychotic folks who managed to regulate their feelings, make appointments, and verbalize their issues. No word salads. No Chinese. No Norwegian. No Eskimos.

I  went back through the green door for lunch, thinking it was safe to get back in the water,  so to speak. I was mistaken. While waiting in line behind a collared priest, a usually shy woman named Who came up to me with a smile and a half hug, something I had never witnessed from her before. “How are you, Who?”

“Great. I’m on Abilify now”, she offered loudly and fast.

“That’s terrific.” I wanted to ask her if she’d slept in the last three days and if she was hallucinating at the moment, but she had that tequila smile and a lusty look going on in her eyes.

She asked about my wife and daughter and then volunteered that she needs to take my daughter to  New York to make a record with her brother who works in a recording studio. Whoa! It was on now, buddy.

Mercifully, young S’mantha waited on me promptly and I sat down to eat. Who continued talking non stop and loudly to the next woman in line behind us. “You need to leave that man. He’s abusing you”, she nearly shouted. “Call Women in Need. Get a PFA. That’s what I did.” Who was becoming aggressive verbally as she invaded personal space and ignored social grace.

Then she swung around to sit opposite me. My lucky day. Two nutty nuts on the same day. I didn’t even have to go to them; they came to me both times. Who continued talking in the textbook manic manner. I asked her if she had slept recently.

“They made me sleep for 7 and a half hours last night.”

“Who did, Who?”

“The doctor.”

“Which one?”

“The best one in town.”

“Who is that?”

“I’m not saying.”

Just then a behavioral health professional walked by in a white lab coat. Who said hello and obviously recognized her. “I saw you last night. Where are you working now? I need a therapist.”

Lab Coat smiled and said while nodding at me, “You have a therapist.”

Panic shot across my medulla oblongata. I held my breath so I would not vomit.

“He’s not my therapist. He’s my friend.”

Relief and concern arm wrestled armlessly.

Fortunately Who had to get to an appointment or go swimming. She couldn’t decide.

“Well, it’s a bit chilly for swimming today.”

Guffaw. “I swim at the Y. That’s where the police found me last time. I just kept swimming for hours.”

As she left, Andrea asked if I noticed a change in personality with Who.

“Just a bit, like 359 degrees. You know, you ought to apply to United Way for funding a drop in center for the demented. Just video record a typical day here and they will write you a check. A big one. Boom!”

I scanned my way to the door and asked S’mantha, “You blogging this one or am I?”

“It’s yours.”

“Awesome.”

376. Precision Dawdling

The Nation met this morning and inspired me as usual to chronicle this meaningless meeting of human mediocrity. Let me first say that tomorrow is my 60th birthday and the fellas knew it. Steve and Doug were waiting with a chocolate chip muffin on a napkin. Adorning the muffin were two wiggle candles, one yellow and the other green, that resembled DNA strands without the connecting rungs… or bug antenna set on fire. Pick the one you feel is more appropriate. A plastic conifer tree stood at attention in the center, guarded by a plastic clown head that somehow resembled Donald Trump. I was touched as I snuffed out the two snakey candles and peeled the wax paper cup liner off the base of the muffin. MMMMm, not a bad way to start Coffee Nation.

No sooner had I begun eating my muffin than Joel arrived in a spiffy gray pinstriped suit with a black bow tie. Sharp as a diamond studded platinum tack in Al Sharpton’s silky lapel. Steve compared him to Harrison Ford in his fashionable tableau. I just called him Hair Ass, Son, with an Asian accent, and left it at that. Joel noted that his deceased father-in-law celebrated the same birthday as I. “He lived to be 99… and was a miserably smart, horse’s ass who disdained me from the get go.” Harsh words from the usually mild mannered Joel, but I was beginning to see things that only a father-in-law can perceive. Well, that eruption struck me as a methane burp from old decomposing feelings.  Therefore, I decided to share my evaporating weird dream from last night so as to steer a new course for Joel’s psychic dingy, away from the wicked shoals of cranky coral.

I was getting dressed , somewhere in my dream, for the birthday dinner party my wife had set up at the Gourmet Goat in Hagerstown. She had invited 15 folks to join us. We were waiting in a familiar glass house having a glass of wine with vague anticipation, or was it dread? Oddly, Donald Trump was a guest and behaving unpredictably civil. I asked him, “Donald, would you like a drink?” He declined without a bit of attitude, insisting that he did not drink alcohol and loved Mormons, Muslims, Morons, Mandalas, Mandelas, Mandolins, and that was just the M’s. Though it did look like he was passing a kidney stone.

The house began to fill with cousins whose names I did not even know.  They looked familiar and were dressed up for the dinner party.  I counted heads like my border collie does with folks in my house. He likes to keep inventory. He was abandoned by an accountant who moved to Oklahoma with the petrochemical surge in 2010. Fracking idiot!  I was keenly aware that we had way too many Indians for our reservation. As I looked around in my dreamscape I saw my sister-in-law and her kids; my wife’s cousins and their kids; and a deceased aunt who told me, ” I knew you wouldn’t invite me so I invited myself.” She looked good for a dead woman; wore a nice white satin dress; hair perfectly coiffed. Things were getting weird, though, and as  usual my bladder nerve was the director of this movie, so visuals started pulsing faster and faster. My dream self searched frantically for a bathroom or a bush.

That’s when Steve from Coffee Nation pulled into the driveway in a red car. He was early as usual, but had to go buy a helium party balloon at the grocery store. He was in a hurry and no one was in the empty Giant store. Creepy. Being an engineering genius, he went to the helium tank and inhaled two lungs full of the gas… and began to float like a Macy’s Thanksgiving blimp. He grabbed onto a shopping cart for ballast and sort of bounced out of the store, hovering six feet above the ground, resembling a gymnast on a runaway jet ski, only it was all in whoa slowa motion.

Meanwhile back at the house everyone else took off in various vehicles for the restaurant, leaving me behind to select a sports coat. As I exited the newly acquired second story, I realized that I was in Mexico, far south of the restaurant. Just then a Jeep with four Mexican soldiers showed up and arrested me in Spanish. I tried to explain to them that I had reservations for 15 at a restaurant north of the border, but they just looked at me like I was speaking English. I made a run for it up a flight of stairs that simply ended above a walled garden. Two little girls ran around me, teasing me with toilet paper and the key to the locked bathroom door that stood across the courtyard.  I heard the heavy footsteps of the Mexican gendarmes pounding up the stairs behind me. I closed my eyes and took a leap of faith.

I braced myself for a hard landing, but when I opened my eyes I found I was standing on Steve’s back, just like I was surfing without water beneath me. Wordlessly I communicated to him that he needed to vent some gas so that we could get moving laterally as the gendarmes lowered their rifles and aimed at me/us. He complied and we took off in a zip. In dream time it was a matter of seconds before we arrived above the restaurant 2,000 miles away. I know because Steve was singing Margaritaville and only had time for two lines…

“I stepped on a pop tart,

let out a big fart…”

The next thing I knew I was droning above the multitude as one of my cousins ordered a shark steak off the menu. Suddenly a 14 foot bull shark crashed onto the table and devoured him. The rest of the party looked away and ordered the chicken in unison.

The fellas interrupted my mad tale so that Doug could present me with a brown tee shirt he had made up for me. It had a nice coffee logo with Coffee Nation written boldly in a circle. On the front chest where pockets usually go was a smaller version with Supreme Leader underneath. I was touched, but wait, there’s more. Doug folded the front of the shirt up like a belly reveal shirt and upside down in white letters it read, “You need to GROWASET”. It was utterly perfect precision dawdling.

 

321. Grief, Loss and Elvis

Grief… breathing feels like air slowly passing through holes in the lungs and entering the stomach, causing a loss of sensation throughout the gastro intestinal tract. Bloated emptiness feels nothing. Digestion stops flat. What is food to a dead man but mockery?

Hunger becomes only a hazy memory from another vague time period when food connected to flavorful living. The last taste of vinegar lingers on the back of my tongue… or is that formaldehyde? Fumes hover across the exhalations. Surely these expirations would ignite with a flame.

Each breath is like a ragged flagged mourner’s car in a funeral parade that gets waved through intersections while other bodily functions wait out of respect. The race is over. Only jerks cut into funeral processions because their lives are so much more important than the one whose memorial they are interrupting. Ironically, Death often gets priority when and where life is not respected. Still, everyone is merely passing through this life’s lens at different rates. Movie extras disappear unnoticed. Life is lived in the foreground, right? Front and center, here and now. All the leads are the loved ones in our lives. The anonymous dead fall breathlessly and remain inert behind the breathing.

The heart slows. It seems only an echo of a heartbeat, mere white noise, though that sounds too clinical and optimistic. This drum beat comes from an abandoned well at the bottom of which an abandoned child slaps an empty water bucket weakly, hopelessly waiting for no one to come. “Bump a bump… bump. Ba bump.” Mud oozes up between his toes.

My brain like plump ice cream scoops melts and drips off the cone until it all collapses on the baking sidewalk, leaving an empty cone for flies to devour. Butter brickle Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Dogs lap up his liquified face. He was a good egg.

“He just died, that’s all. All the cardio problems finally won. His torso was a sharpening stone for scalpels. Scars every which way. He showed them to me once with an odd angry pride. ‘I’ve been carved more than a Christmas turkey’, he said.”

“I can handle death. It’s just that eternity is so long”, he told me later, quietly. I think he knew his time was near.

My body feels weighed down by concrete blocks under leagues of dark water. My executioner knows where.  Elvis resonates through the thick water in my ears…

“Are you lonesome tonight,
Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day
When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?
Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?
Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?”

“…Now the stage is bare and I’m standing there
With emptiness all around
And if you won’t come back to me
Then make them bring the curtain down.

Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?”

So many questions, Elvis. No answers needed. He is lonesome. All those questions can be turned into statements, you know. ‘ I am lonesome tonight. I miss you. I am sorry we drifted apart.’ A plaintive man taking accountability for his failures again just doesn’t sell so well, however. Elvis is hoping that his ex-chicky lover is grieving, hoping to hear her say “Yes, yes, yes” to all these speculative questions. But wait!

Elvis: “Shall I come back again?”

Chicky: “No. Finish the ending. Bury the corpse of our love.”

Elvis: “But, but, but Baby!! I’m feeling a B side in this love of ours.”

Chicky: “Before its un-embalmed putrefaction gags us all.”

Elvis: “But Baby, all my horses and all my men can put the King’s pieces back together again. Jest, uh, trust me.”

Chicky: “No they can’t, Elvis. The pieces are not all here, and some are too tiny. Pulverized to dust.”

Elvis: “But, but, but Baby!! Baby! You aint seen nothing yet.”

Chicky: “Actually all I have seen is nothing.”

And it fades to a looping nightmare where you go searching for a bathroom that works in a world of broken plumbing. Long corridors of faceless folks who cannot tell you where the water lines are.  From leagues above your nightmare ears comes a bubbling Elvis through a wall of green Jell-O,  “But, but, but Baby.”

He’s got to stop doing that or my bla-bla-bladder will bu-bu-bu- burst. Self serving promises are embedded in his strumming questions.

“Am I lonesome tonight?” Less so without you. I can handle Death it’s just that Eternity is such a long time.

 

262. Coffee, Constitution and commandments

Despite the utopian nature of the Coffee Summit and the wonderful cacophonous harmony of disunity that has persisted for the past five years, it is time for some tweaking of the original charter. The genuine Magna Carta napkin has been misplaced, possibly in a washing machine. I thought it was in my old wallet, but when I switched to a new wallet at Christmas, aghast! The most important napkin in Christendom was gone!! It was an agreement among unemployed giants of our time inked out during one of the bleakest periods in our collective history. Like Washington at Trenton or Meade at Gettysburg, the future of the nation was at stake as Tim the Silver Back and Chuckles and I stood in a wooden canoe crossing the Conococheague. (It was shallow there and narrow. Okay, we just walked across on a June morning, but it was powerfully symbolic.) And rather than wave a blank napkin of surrender, we (really I) wrote down on one powerful 3″ x  3″ square eternal truths to live by. And I-uh-I seem to have lost it.

I must, however, persevere and recall as much as I can of the Constitution of Coffee Nation before it deteriorates in the landfill of wasted time and wasted minds. First of all, it was decided by voice vote that we would meet Thursdays at 8:30 a.m. unless otherwise directed by the Supreme Imperial Leader, which I decided was me. For an entire college semester, however, we met on Fridays at 8:30 due to a teaching commitment I had made. It was Abnormal Psychology. Shocker. I drew heavily on my interactions with the primates at Coffee Nation for the class I taught. (Sotto voce) “Here are lowland gorilla men grazing at a coffee shop. The one on the bottom is thought to be a direct link to the Himalayan Yeti. Note his ululating calls… ‘Ugggguggggllll. Uggggugggglll’. We call him Chuckles. The one on the top is from Allentown.  His call resembles human speech… approximating the expression of pleasant surprise…’That’s so coooool’. ” He’s Timmy.

It was simple then… Two articles: No politics. No religion. Bodily noises were permissible and continue to be.  Mild violence is encouraged but not required. No outside food or drink is permitted, however. It is not forbidden so much as ridiculed. Brother Lance brought a purple lady’s coffee travel mug once. ONCE. It was a long day for him. But I am getting far ahead of the Nation’s coffee creamer thimble of tears.

We grew one unemployed and undeserving man at a time. Matt the creeper tried to deny his predilections while only reinforcing our beliefs. He ranted on about astral physics while staring at women’s physiques. He was sanctioned. Low octane Walt rolled along for a while. He didn’t even drink coffee. However, we puttered along through his successful chemo treatments. Truly, there are far more departed Nation brothers than active ones. Rob the candy and ice cruncher moved on. Josh the armed American bull rider came faithfully but got a job and married into the System. He was always good for NRA propaganda and outrageous right wing conspiracies from Fox News Nation. “Did you know more people were killed by water heaters last year than by guns?” Many times he was sanctioned for offending Our second amendment– no politics– and for being downright naïve.

The artist formerly known as Egginator was a faithful attendee and chess opponent, but the coffee was too strong for him and he fled back to his Motherland. Ron 1 used to keep the bar up with his aging frame, while chatting amiably to the pretty young barrista-ettes. We talked for  a while about him putting me into his will, but he was hung up on the fact that I was older than he was. “You could die first, Ron. You need to be prepared.” He could not see the logic in my argument despite his End Timer tendencies.

Chuck the Cowboy came for a few visits. He was too busy, though, and could not take the constant demand for sluggishness by the group. He had to rope a calf or canter about. This is the existential problem when it comes to do’ers versus be’ers. Coffee Nation is all about being and is on record against doing. Anything! Once Lance suggested a purpose for our aimless crew. He was severely sanctioned. “Ignore that voice of doooty. We are here merely to be or not to be. Doing is not in our Declaration of Indolence. Heel!”  Dave dropped in for chess a few times and disappeared into that blind alley of upper mobility like a character from a Springsteen song.  We of coffee nation curse the cruel JOBS that have decimated our ranks. As the chart below illustrates, happiness comes from set points, which means inertia. Studies in the UK have determined that working toward specific goals actually hampers perceived levels of happiness in mental patients and sluggards. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Rob 2 affiliated with us for a few weeks. He was between financial gigs but graced us with his starched white shirt appearance for a while. Gigilo Gene took some offense to Rob’s eccentric white collar mojo.  D.J. helped mediate that fraternal fracas before fists flew. His MP background has come in handy a time or two in disciplining Big Steve, perhaps the most faithful National among us. Though fully employed by an international corporation, Steve routinely goes in late on Thursdays. When he dies we will bury him with full Nation honors as outlined in a previous post. (240. Time is Short)

And then there was Gary aka Jerry who tried after a brief internship to organize a coup d’état. What saved the Imperial Leader for Life’s life was the fact that no one speaks French, and therefore they thought Jerry was coughing while sneezing. “Make up your mind, Dude. Either cough or sneeze.” He was sentenced to a North Korean firing squad in Hagerstown. Actually we tapped Josh and his personal arsenal to shoot a precise outline of .17 caliber bullets around Jerry to warn him against insurrection. He was sentenced instead to a lifetime of servitude under a different dictator.

Oh the humanity!

205. Something about turtles, soda machines and ducks

Unless it’s a snapping turtle, they aren’t intimidating. They are slow and almost helplessly defensive; they retreat into their shells when danger approaches. They close up like an elevator door with a low whoosh as they exhale. In come the legs and tail. Nothing hangs out for a predator to nibble on. They are reptiles, as I’m sure you know. So there is no mammalian warmth possible from even the cutest of turtles. Nor can  you get milk from a healthy pregnant female. I like most turtles, especially the small ones that you can pick up and investigate closely. Big tortoises are cool, as are mature sea turtles, but you can’t easily get next to these creatures. Something about turtles is prehistoric, dinosauric if I may say so.Juvenile Blanding's turtle

No matter, you can’t get milk from a turtle. I tell some of my stuck clients this odd advice. It’s up there with “You are not a duck”. Quite often I have clients who want what they cannot get from another person– spouse, parent, child, friend, boss, employee, etc. They try and try to get what it is they want or believe they need– a compliment, deep intimacy, respect, a promotion, work ethic, or something else that is not present… but should be. These folks get so hung up on what should be, i.e., their expectations of the other person, that they can’t see the forest for the trees. They lose perspective. To grab their attention and burn an image into their brains, I ask, “When are you gonna stop trying to get milk from a turtle?”

“What do you mean?” is the usual response. So I explain.

“Turtles don’t give milk, no matter how hard you try.”

“I know that.”

“Okay, but if your partner were a turtle, you’d send him cards or feed him grass or play nice music or clean his cage… all in the hope of getting him to give you milk.  You can moo and graze and watch videos about cows, but that turtle is never gonna give you milk, even if you strap on a set of artificial udders.”

“Uh, but he should meet my honorable, reasonable requests. It’s just common sense and common decency here.”

“Right, and he’s had six years or is it sixteen to figure out how to give milk. How much milk have you gained?”

“None. He’s a reptile. I just don’t  want to admit it.”

“You just did.”

“I know and I  hate you for making me see this truth.”

“Oh well, Irvin Yalom called therapy ‘Love’s Executioner’. I like that title. Attachment assassin.”

“Thanks for peeing in my corn flakes, doc.”

“No additional charge, my friend. It’s just what I do.”

And so it goes time and again. Insight comes from sharp pain. Wisdom comes from cords of splinters under your skin.

When soda machines and public phone booths were common sights, I used to allude to the guy in the alley at the Coke machine. I approached him one night as he kicked and punched the soda machine while cursing it and calling it everything but a Coke machine. I said, “Whoa, Buddy, what’s going on here?”

He replied, “Dang stupid possum scum took my dollar and didn’t give me a Coke.”

I inquired further, “When did this happen?”

He said, “About six months ago.”

At which point I noticed the machine was not even plugged in.

Naturally my clients ask, “Did that really happen?” My conscience compels me to be honest. “No, but you get the point, right? If you’re still kicking the Coke machine, after a while the problem is not the machine’s.”

“Okay, doc. I don’t want to be that stupid guy. You know, for a minute, you had me going.”

Then there are my feathered friends. Once I had a lovely young lady client who was so confounded and disillusioned that she made bad choices that brought her into my office. She seemed determined in her belief that she was unlovable, doomed, and irredeemable. Despite some impressive achievements in academics and sports, she felt no real value for herself. It was a hard sell for me to reflect her beauty, truth, and worth back to her. I suspect she feared a landslide or an avalanche of crushing consequences if she accepted the first grain of my truth.

We got along quite well. I sensed she needed more fathering and endorsement in her young life. One day I told her, “You know what your problem is?”

“No. What?”

“You are not a duck.”

“Say what?”

“Nope, not a duck.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Well, do you know the story of the Ugly Duckling?”  Shockingly she did not. “Oh my gosh. Uh, this bird is picked at, ridiculed even, and develops low duck esteem because it is not as pretty and developed as the ducks around it, you see. It is cast off and has to eat alone, full of little bird angst and pain. Until one day it sees these glorious big birds gracefully glide onto the pond’s surface. These regal birds come to the Ugly Duckling and recognize it as one of their own. Turns out that this bird was not a duck but a baby swan. A cygnet. And that is your problem: you are a swan who is trying to be a duck.”

A funny half smile/ half sob developed on her lovely young face. Tears mixed with honey and vinegar welled in her rims. Something in that childhood story touched the child in her. “I’m a swan,” she whispered to herself.

“Yup. In so many ways. Stop trying to be a duck.”

“I will try.”

“Good. Now get out of here.”

Over the next few months we had a few emails back and forth. I knew she was healed when she signed off, “The Swan”.swan couple portrait in the marsh at sunset -