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

 

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314. the silent man

He doesn’t say much, so it’s hard to tell if he’s thinking or what he’s feeling. His is not so much a poker face as it is a deflated basketball face. It seems that he used to have more substance on the inside that pushed his chin out and cocked his mouth into a confident smile. More bounce. Back then his warm eyes promised more to come. Now he spends an inordinate amount of time staring into his phone, barely tethered to family and friends, like an absent minded astronaut doing a space walk in the zero oxygen environment of black space.

“I’m going to eat in the bedroom tonight.”

“I’m going to bed now.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow night.” And he disappears into that black void beyond gravity’s pull. It’s a weightless but joyless place he goes, and it chips my heart every time he does.”

She is left with behaviors as the evidence of what lies within her almost champion’s heart and head.

“He’s kind and caring… my anchor, but I need him to be the captain of the ship. It’s easy to take an anchor for granted, you know. It’s out of sight and just barely attached. You don’t realize it’s even there when it does its job. In a crisis you pray that it will hold firm… but it’s hard to love an anchor.”

“He’s in chronic pain, tired, and deflated. Yeah, there’s that deflated idea again, where you have to slam the ball down to get it to come back up half as high. Underinflated, hmmmm, like depressed. But let’s not fix anything, no.  I don’t want to be a nag, but I won’t be a doormat either. I’ve done both before and neither worked out. I love who he is; I just don’t get to see much of his who. All the whats bog us down.”

“I’m all over the place with emotions and words and actions. I’m the pilot, the cook, the look out, the medic, the mechanic, fire police, security, accountant, and I swab the ship’s deck. I need him to step into the captaincy, you know, assert some authority.

“Sometimes it’s like playing with my old Mr. Potato Head. I start with a blank slate and give him arms to hold me, cuz I need hugs and touch. I’m a feely kind of girl, you know. Hugs are my drugs.

“Then I’d snap in those smoky eyes I long to fall into. It used to be automatic that I’d see his soul jumping like a pair of dolphins in those deep waters. I can’t find that accessory today, only sad or tired or glazed over eyes in today’s toy box. Mr. Potato Head, I need your soft hands to hold me. I need your strong arms to draw me into that cove where dolphins leap in tandem.

“You’re gonna need more tissues. Honk!!! Sniff. Sigh. I have a buy one get one free coupon for tissues.”

“No thanks. I get a perverse pleasure out of paying full price for things.”

“I’ll give it to your wife. I’m sure she loves a bargain.”

“Oh Yeah.”

“I have three fathers. You know my birth dad left when I was two. He went back to his native country and the familiar world where he was someone of notice. For over forty years I had nothing but radio silence, not even a pop or static on the line, as his blood flowed through my veins. However, my adopted dad showed up big in my life, and I couldn’t have asked for more. I think about that often. When I felt the empty space pull on my soul, I leaned into my Father God. He never left. He’s always held me together when I felt my seams breaking. He sent my adopted father to stand in the huge scarring gap my birth dad left behind.

“Funny thing is I’ve had three husbands also. My adolescent husband abandoned me along with the truth, dignity and the American Way. He chose the past also, where he was someone special. He burned the truth as a sacrifice on the altar of his self-indulgence. He grew like a pimple on my butt. So incredibly annoying and demanding.  Just like with my dad dilemma, I fell into God’s loving arms, exhausted and shattered. Again, My God Jesus walked as a husband with me, filling in the abyss until Chuck and I started the sequels to our first marriages.

“Chuck is the good sheriff who shows up and brings order in the bad cowboy town. I was so hopeful that he’d keep growing, sharing in my life, and not just settle for safe streets. That old song plays in my head about standing by me. I need that so much.

“Stand by Me” by Ben E. King
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
Oh darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah
Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me, oh now now stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
And that’s where I am today, with that old song playing in my exhausted heart. I know God held me in His hands till my True Dad showed up and made it all work. In faith I have to believe He is doing the same with my True Love.

290. The Messiness of History

Image result for st patrick's cathedral ny picturesReligion      and     Politics need to be very far removed from each other.  We need both to balance each other, but that never seems to happen. When one gets the upper hand, look out people!  Bad juju follows every time. Even in little Dorothy’s world of Depression Era Kansas, there had to be violence and death to reset the scales of justice.

Here is the five second outline of religion.

Impotent and scared, self -centered humans needed an explanation for the forces of nature.

They created unseen gods to explain what couldn’t other wise be explained.

(Motley Crue, 1982)

Eventually a priest came forward to run the show at a price that escalated over time.

“Trust me, people, I got this. The answer to our problems are the people next door. Seize their land, grain, cattle and women.”

Image result for images of moses in the desert(Charlton Heston before he joined the NRA.)

At first it was really cool to have priests running the show. It was new and sexy and liberating to rampage with the moral upper hand.

A new coercive order came out of the earlier chaos.

But the priest’s family inherited the job’s benefits and a priestly aristocratic class developed.

The priests concocted really cool ceremonies and rituals with costumes and props that amazed and scared and entertained the common folk, the 99.9% who labored on behalf of the cool priesthood, their shrines and temples.

Image result for aztec ceremonial pictures'(Where the Wild things Are.)

The 99.9%, ironically, felt more secure while being controlled because they knew the gods were on their side. Yippee! Because the priests told them so and executed anyone who disagreed.

Unfortunately, being essentially selfish human beings, priests built up riches at the expense of the rest of their people by taxing them somehow or enslaving them. Nice work if you can get it.

However, by that time they had become the lawmakers for all because they stood between the gods and the rest of mankind. Whoopy ding ding. They called the shots  and reminded everyone that they called the shots.

(Hammurabi talks with a chumpy subject. “Get my dry cleaning.”)

The priests interpreted what the gods did or didn’t do in such a way that it kept the priests in power. “Oh that?  That’s a holy enigma chupa cabra enchilada.”

“Holy Moly! Posiedon is really ticked off! We need sacrifices right now… but not from my family. Slaughter a 99.9% er.”

They usually had to kill somebody for some orthodox reason, but really they were just keeping their own power.

Image result for aztec ceremonial pictures' (Aztec holy heart extrication. Hmmm, looks like a 40 regular.)

Pretty soon the priests needed body guards since violence became necessary with the control of others.

( Singh warrior with sword. A really big sword.)

 

Inevitably the whole thing collapsed because of drought or natural disaster or the invasion by another bunch of lunatics with a different cast of gods. Or even better, when one of the priests accused the others of lying to the 99.9%.

So a new god would be born from the disaster, who must be appeased by the next selfish group of priests who arose from the ashes like an old burnt chicken.

Repeat. “It’s all good. Trust me. I got this.”

Politics is very similar to religion.

Secular government, religion in a different uniform, comes in between the people and some material enemy.

Image result for george washington victory pictures(Washington crosses the Delaware before the Coast Guard issued him a citation for overcrowding and standing up in a moving non-motorized craft.)

At first the secular governors are good revolutionaries and well armed… and then they get greedy and better armed.

Secular government attaches to myths of strength and greatness of the subject people.

 (George Washington shirtless, godlike. Putinesque.)

Secular government develops symbols and raises an army to defend itself. Funny how only a few years ago it had to raise a rag tag army to fight the evil empire of tyranny and injustice which inevitably it has become.

Image result for u.s. revolutionary army pictures

Secular government develops a nifty tax code to pay their own salary.  The new priests tax the 99.9% sufficiently to finance the expansion of the new empire. It sounds different, but it’s not. Some unfortunate soul is gonna have his heart ripped out to preserve the state.

Secular government’s primary job is to make it absolutely necessary that everyone submit to secular government, i.e., maintain its preeminence in perpetuity.

(A retired secretary of state looks at his legacy sinking.)

Secular government does not like or allow competition as it develops an aristocratic ruling class that mutates into lobbyists, which are congressmen without constraints.

(Napoleon stuffing money in his jacket.)

Secular government will eventually butt heads with religion, trying to suck out the vital marrow of religious truths and values while breaking the bones of any real religious power that might challenge the secular center’s grip on temporal power.

Secular government eventually overrules all competition until the government becomes bloated and unsustainable, and yet demands to be worshiped and respected.

Secular government eventually collapses under its own weight… a fatted pig that cannot walk, and so dies from morbid obesity a few feet away from the public tax trough.

Image result for extremely fat pig pictures (A former congressman turned lobbyist in Arlington, Va.)

Mixing religion with politics is toxic and brings out the worst in both. When the religious right got in bed with right leaning politicians, things got very hostile and stupid. Somehow God was sort of on the ballot. I’m sure there is a matching leftist rendezvous somewhere also, where secular leftists plot the neutering of religious institutions, opening a perfect secular world for loony leftists. I suppose the secular media and progressive politicians go to the same parties in Washington and make fun of religious folks, who are at barbeques with preachers and politicians doing the same thing only using different buzz words. That’s an opposite and equal mistake. Again, we need both but not together and not with one subordinate to the other. There needs to be a strong tension between religious folks and secular government, power balancing power, with guaranteed destruction of civilization hanging in the balance.

 Oh, my. Lions and tigers and bears are everywhere on the Road to OZ, which never did exist. But it’s good to know in our binary world that God is on our side and, therefore, not on anyone else’s.

 

 

 

 

 

199. Soul-thritis

It’s six degrees Fahrenheit in my snowplowed town. My sinuses are cold holes just under the skin of my freezing face. I wrap my scarf around my mouth and nose to avoid the pit bull ferocious frostbite.  Fog covers my glasses in the next breath. I take them off with my gloved left hand that is now growing cold. It’s getting to feel like the ice polar opposite of Egypt in Mosaic times. As I walk along the alley beside the sacred fire hall temple, I wonder if there is an equivalent Pharaoh somewhere in town, and if I could find him and smack him, would God relent on these winter plagues of snow and ice? “Just let the Hebrews go get some coffee, Pharaoh Fool! I still have frogs in my underwear drawer from last week. Enough already!!”

In the fire hall parking lot is a homeless guy sleeping on the bench seat of an old Mazda pick up truck. I’ve seen him around. He parks in different lots to avoid tickets and cops. Seeing him huddled there, suddenly I’m not so cold or whiney. I can’t imagine the raw edges of his frozen life, the searing cold, and the constant possibility of not waking up. How is this possible in our country of abundance? I recall a kid back in La Ceiba who slept on cardboard each night downtown. How? Why?  Traffic and pedestrians carried on around him, but he remained oblivious and comatose in the busy morning rush. I suppose we all returned the favor, totally ignoring his plight. Hunger and drugs were likely wrestling inside his inert body. Honduras was warm in February, however. Here in Pa. you could easily freeze to death outside a warm but empty locked building. Way back in my memory I recall a local guy who used to break into buildings downtown to sleep in warmth. He’d leave $5.00 next to his desperately broken windows. He was not evil just hopeless; he died in his sleep. Guilt like a snowplow hits my hard heart. I need salt and sunlight to repair  it.

I remember John Donne’s convicting words…

No man is an island

Entire of itself

Each is a piece of the continent

A part of the main

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

These words seemed appropriate to my observations, but I didn’t do anything beyond thinking of the tragedies of wasted lives in my path. And that’s the problem, not with these objects of viral poverty but with myself, my lack of compassionate action in both cases. Who is the I in “I am involved in mankind”?  Is that God or is it me? I guess it’s both because I am supposed to represent Him to my fellow man just as Jesus represents me to the Father in heaven.  Wow!  I’m not doing a very good job at being an advocate for my fellow man.  Touching outcasts is sometimes a stinky, sticky, awkward thing to do. You might get stuck. I remember Michael the sweaty schizophrenic kid that I “helped” in Richmond years ago. I could not get rid of him. He was like a mental health tar baby who kept me from sleeping for two psychotic nights. He paced my apartment impatiently. My roommates did not appreciate my experiment with rescuing street people, which I tended to do on occasions. I was naively trusting or voraciously overconfident or just plain stupid.  When we finally got to the public clinic, everyone there called out a familiar, “Hi Michael”. I like to think I’ve grown in the past 35 years. Maybe I’ve just grown a shell over my heart.

Shells protect their wearers from hurt and death. The thicker the shell, the better, right?. That is, until the shell becomes so heavy that you cannot move. Imagine a one pound turtle with a fifty pound shell. Safe?  Sure…but dead unless some other creature brings him food and water. Like those 600 pound bedbound folks who make the news on occasion, the turtle would be totally insulated and isolated from external harm, and completely vulnerable to the enemy within. Sufficient safety is bypassed for super safety; self sufficiency is pursued to the point of total helpless dependence. And you wind up a shell of a man. The man in the pickup truck was no more protected than the exposed kid on the sidewalk; he just had a sheet metal shell whereas the kid in La Ceiba had been shucked of his most basic defenses. But it’s not just outcasts that have heavy shells. Perfectionists do too. In their “all or nothing” worlds they wind up with nothing because perfect is an illusion, a delusion, a utopia. They are just as toxic as the wasted unwashed on the streets; we are just better at our own self-righteousness. Misers gather and hoard, more and more until they cannot move and their hearts are stone dead. What shell have you grown, Bloglarvae? Is it thin and transparent or thick as reinforced concrete?

Something intuitively tells me that I am more Pharaoh, heard hearted and stubborn and proud, than an oppressed Hebrew slave.  At times I wonder if my soul has contracted arthritis, a chronic stiffness and inflammation from under use. Soul-thritis, if I may coin the term. It’s at the other end of the pool from compassion and humility, patience and soft heartedness. Every time I dismiss a fellow man, I become less. Am I safer? More secure? Maybe, but it’s the safety of money and power, guns and high fences. Less, I am less connected, loved, respected, included, etc. in mankind. If these street people are outcasts, then I am in incast, cast in stone, petrified. I know better and have known all my life that honeysuckle is sweet and tree sap is not. It’s that simple. And there goes the bell.

11. Empathically

Today my wife needed to swap cars, which is no big deal. She wanted to go to Lowe’s for some hardware needs and my 2000 Honda CRV is more suitable for messy loads than is her 2010 Honda Civic. I didn’t think a thing of it until I was driving into town, leaning down to see out of her mirrors. I thought about adjusting them, but why? She would need them reset by the end of the day, 10 miles later in my commute. The same thought skated across my frozen pond mind regarding her seat. I could stretch out a bit, but why?  Her legs are not that much longer, and, as I zoned along Route 30, I fell into a brief reverie…they were part of the initial attraction I had for her. I like long legs, which means I like tall women by default. Truly, though, it was her gorgeous smile and chocolate mahogany eyes that sizzled my soul like fajita meat. And they still light me up 38 years later, though I don’t think she would believe me on this point. Maybe my soul is refried beans now, reheated in a microwave, or just a warm flour tortilla.

 yeah, maybe just Velveeta with taquitos.

I started thinking about her car being her space and wondering how she interpreted my vehicle. Ooooh. My car is not clean and neat. It has stuff that resides in it– a glove, a five month old magazine, an order for bloodwork that I never had done, and a layer of dust particles. My car is a noisy five speed that requires more work than her quiet automatic. But there it is– because my car is dirty and nearing its blue book value death, it ironically has more value today!  I like pulling a positive out of a negative! My cd player skips a bit, which is fine since I rarely use it. I listen to crappy local radio stations if I listen to anything. My steering wheel has an old leather cover that is sort of sticky with age and the sweat of twelve years in it. Yeah, and the front left disc brake makes a chirping noise lately, so I must get it into Danny’s Garage.  Oh, and when the weather is nasty, it’s my expendable car that gets used in snow and ice and heavy rain. All wheel drive, baby. One more keeper quality.

Now Sara’s car is definitely cleaner.  Not only does her cd player not skip, but it plays on beautifully. And this morning it played a Christian praise disc that made me think further about her heart for God. She often listens to inspirational music or radio stations. And she grows spiritually. Each song I listened to made me think and feel as I imagined she did… in a sort of strange melding that is empathy. I was in her car and slipping slightly into her skin, so to speak. In doing so, I realized that my skin is pretty thick and coarse, like pigskin. And hers is soft and supple like a calf’s. And I think that’s okay when each is in its proper context. Still, there was a little thought bubble growing above me in her Civic that led to minor guilt twinges. Would she be as charmed in my old vehicle and even consider what it’s like to have thick rough skin that feels like boiled beef tongue? Probably not. A rubbery hard heart is not such a spiritual thing. It’s just a hardened muscle that keeps you alive, whereas a soft heart can give life to others in compassion. A soft heart can bend and blend; a hard heart is just a rough ride.

I could use a lot more time in my wife’s car, not just because it gets better gas mileage. Looking through her eyes and feeling her feelings might just reset my psychological odometer and stretch out my skin, allowing me to be exquisitely sensitive at times.

“The transformation from neurosis to personality health is indeed a wonderful process” says John Sanford.  I’m thinking he’s right when he adds, “Love comes into the man’s life to vanquish his loneliness.”  Almost 40 years ago she came into my life and loneliness left for extended periods of time. Not sure it has been vanquished. As I drive her car today, I know he is not around in this car and hope he’s not in the old dusty one either.