412. Unfriended Progenously


You have likely been unfriended before in the FB world, right?  It happens. You get busy with your own self absorption and fail to pour into one of your face book friends’ self absorption.  Maybe you don’t even realize that your 608 FB friend count is now 607. However, when it’s your own flesh and blood daughter, well, it’s pretty noticeable, and devastating. Yes, bloglings, my daughter unfriended me, and if you hang around I will tell you how in excruciating and humiliating detail.

By post 412 you must know that I am a joker, gadfly, comic, teaser, bear poker, a smoker, and a midnight toker. Okay, I’m getting carried away with Steve Miller’s song cycling in my hamster wheel of memorized songs. Wherever that hamster wheel stops, there’s a song to be sung. OOh, oooh, Sunshine Daydream by the Dead comes up on my shuffle. I’ll be right back. You don’t buy coffee; you merely rent it.

Anyway about a year ago, yes almost exactly at this time of pre-holidays, my lovely lawyer daughter sent out a FB post about employers being liable for their party goer guests if they served alcohol and their guests got in some smash up later. Liability is a big scary word to legalists. Now it was very well written and professional as a gold plated fountain pen. However, I failed to distinguish her professional FB account from her personal account when I  responded foolishly, thinking “She’ll get a laugh out of this response.”

I replied to her warning. It was a Friday as I recall… the last Friday for my already blemished dignity.

“Dear Ms. MCHammer,

I read your article with much interest. Now, I am self employed and work on the second floor of my building, up a flight of 15 steps. My legal question for you is this:  If I have a holiday party and get myself drunk, and then if I should fall down my stairs and injure myself, can I then sue myself? Can I be both plaintiff and respondent? How would that work? ”

My real name was attached.

Never hit send, bloggidos, unless you have thoroughly checked out your global liability. Of course, I hit send and chuckled about the anticipated funny response. My daughter is a funny girl, by the way. Oh, but it was not a funny reply I got.

Monday morning she was called in to her boss’s office. The company CEO was on the phone. They asked what the FB message was all about…. “And who, pray tell, is this guy?”

Horrified, she read the message for the first time under their glare, imagining the end of her brief career in law. “Uh, he’s my dad.” Gulp. Shamefully she looked down at her cute suede mauve shoes. They were comfortable and would be kind to her feet as security escorted her off the campus, she thought. Later on, these shoes would give her steps bouncy energy as she walked from interview to interview, hopelessly trying to escape this professional disaster.

Stunned, the two bosses waited for the other one to say something. Finally the big boss said, “It must have been hard for you in high school.”

She laughed out all the nervous energy that had been building up in her organs like steam.

“You have nooooo idea!”

It is a little known scientific fact that many people laugh spontaneously prior to their own executions. Apparently it helps them relax and die peacefully. It’s an autonomic reaction just before one voids his or her bowels.

“Jack, what do you want to do with the message?”

“I don’t know, Jim.” Pause. Smirk. ” Just leave it up. Hell, it is pretty funny. It’ll show we have a sense of humor here at Litigation Nation.”

My daughter sighed a deep sigh of relief. “Oh, thank you. I’m sorry. It will not happen again. I promise….”

“We know because you are going to unfriend him. Block him from any attachment to this company. Disenfranchise this clown. Cut him off….”

“Yes, sir. I will. I was adopted, by the way. We are nothing alike. I’ll bring in my birth certificate and take a DNA swab if you like.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

Later that day I got the upset word from my daughter. Man oh man!!  Have you ever felt like your body is melting away? My feet melted, then my legs, as my stomach dropped to a pig farm in China where, coincidentally, pig stomachs were being harvested on that very day.  Shame, like ice cold formaldehyde pumped through my vascular system, embalming me in that moment, naked in my sin, on display for all to mock in the Norwegian wedge of Antarctica. I felt like I’d killed her dog, which is the best dog ever. It hurt in a hollowed out way, not sharp local pain but all consuming galactic pain that burst out into deep space. I hate to hurt others, but hurting my daughter felt like instant lung cancer. Breathing suddenly hurt, as if shards of glass were in every breath.

Image result for arabian desert pictures

I was exiled. Sent into the desert of social media to wander aimlessly till the end of my useless, shame filled life. Only ghosts and specters, slivers of shattered humanity inhabit that wasteland. Unplugged and unfriended, they hide by day and watch distant fires by night, knowing they may never approach. Modern day millennial lepers. I’m the guy on the left in the picture below.

Never lose hope, my one-humped blog camels. Forgiveness may show up one day like rain in that arid wasteland you are wandering through. It did for me. As I painted my daughter’s house this past month, she asked me how she could ever thank me. I saw an opening and took a shot. “Refriend me on Facebook. That’s all I want. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“That’s all? You know I’m resigning from Litigation Nation in two days, right?”

“Yes, I know. Please reinstate me. I will not be improper ever again.”

“Deal, Daddio.”

Suddenly my leper chrysalis fell away and a forgiven butterfly slipped out to float away on a breeze of mercy, never to fart in the wind again.



324. Stains, Repairs and Marriage.

So the decks off the back of my house needed to be repaired and stained yet again. They are twenty years old, maybe 22.  It doesn’t matter. They have been exposed to the blistering southern sun and cold western winds that sometimes whip against my house all these years. Rain is never far off for long in South Central PA, so the old pressure treated wood rarely gets to dry out. Then the filthy maple tree drops leaves and helicopters and bird poop steadily from April to October. All this exposure encourages warping, splintering and cracking. You don’t think on the last day of construction that you are obligating yourself to ongoing maintenance, not when everything is new and clean, straight and plumb, square and true. The piney smell of fresh sawdust sprinkles the air above the decks on the day you walk across their near perfection. Like a brand new marriage on your wedding day, you can’t see the splintering flaws hidden in your future. They are unimaginable. What could possibly go wrong?

My friend Jeff built these decks and the staircase that connects them way back when. He did a great job at cost, leaving me to finish the pickets and the braces, as well as finishing the installation of lag bolts here and there. I know I got the pickets installed, forgot the braces and might have installed the lag bolts incorrectly. It didn’t seem to matter because the decks looked so good. I put the tools away and just enjoyed what was there. From the start of it all, you see, I slacked.

Just for the sake of comparison, I got married 36 years ago. Yup. Been many a storm and drought in those years. Lots of bird poop and dead leaves have fallen on us, but so has new growth and some amazing blessings.  Three wonderful daughters any parent would be proud of. A great son in law. An adorable granddaughter. Like our old double decks, our marriage looked good from a distance. If you walked around my marriage often enough, however, you’d notice the sway and unevenness here and there. The corners were pulling out of square. The steps wiggled a bit. A couple of short cuts were visible. Things didn’t line up exactly and gaps appeared. Oh well, that’s okay. Good enough. It would not collapse outright, but it might be unsafe without routine inspection and maintenance… because I slacked at times. Nails instead of screws, screws instead of bolts. A good deck needs nothing but use, right?

So this past weekend I power-washed both decks and the staircase in the middle of a rainstorm. I blasted old stains, mildew, dirt and gunk for three plus hours. This rain soaked duty is something I would never have willingly done if it weren’t for the acute urgency I felt to make changes now. I’d been a poor and lazy steward of these decks. The steps had not been stained last time around I noticed. Likely because I’d said to myself, “I’ll get back to that” and never did. Many thoughts passed through my mind on that rainy day. Remorse and hope arm wrestled one another like I wrestled the power washer wand. “Why did it have to come to this point? Clearly it did not. Neglect, whether of a person or a thing, leads to decay.”

Nails had worked themselves up and out of their holds mysteriously. It was a simple matter to pound them back in or replace them with galvanized deck screws. I felt a measure of self contempt and self satisfaction as I repaired the results of my neglect. I looked at my physical efforts as half a metaphor for my marriage relationship: can I do the same things with my good, solid wife? Can I draw the corners of our relationship back into square and make our rails plumb? And what did I contribute to their warping? My harsh judgments had been blisteringly unforgiving, simmering under the painted surfaces, cooking the sap of her timbers. My icy words and frosty silences froze her heartwood, cracking and swelling each carefully laid board. I did not cherish or respect her enough to do the needed maintenance cheerfully. Only when life was power washing me did I do the right stuff.

I bit my lip harder as I self confessed my arrogant stupidity. Twenty years ago I used to paint others’ houses with great care and precision, taking great pains to make them look good. Many a fellow painter said to me, “Just make it look good from the street.” That rubbed me the wrong way.  Yet, in retrospect, I see that I did to my house what I did to my marriage and family: I often gave my best overs to others and my left overs to my loved ones. Who does this? Who is more present, respectful, patient, etc.  for strangers than for their own family?

The answer is a moron, i.e., me.

I remembered the old joke about the painter who thinned the paint he used for painting the church’s steeple. He thought no one would notice and he’d pocket the difference. As he was finishing the scam, the voice of God shook his scaffolding.

“Clarence, you have cheated the church and me. You did not cheapen the paint but you did cheapen yourself. You have seriously sinned here, Bro.”

Clarence, “Lord, Lord, I am sorry. What should I do?”

The Lord, “Repaint, repaint and thin no more.”

As I reclined with a sore back that night, I thought about those braces. I had bought some 2×4’s along with extra stain. Before the sun went down, I went back out and  cut and screwed three of them on the diagonal into the staircase supports. Amazingly the wobble was gone. The shaky shake stairs were suddenly rock solid. I was thrilled with the difference. I could not wait for my wife to walk down them like a new bride– safely, steadily and securely on a fresh new promise.

“Repent, repent and sin no more.” I can do the first and struggle hard against the second… but only through the power of my gracious God can I succeed. Amen.






248. Unrequited Political Ear Sex

I know. I know. It’s not what you’re thinking. Elections are next week and the awful, biased, insulting political ads are going full bore on television and radio. It’s all slick talk like a slimy pick up artist at a slimy bar hitting on easy but slimy marks somewhere between happy hour and closing time. All the voters get prettier at closing time, dontcha know?  Heavy humid words are being delivered with great passion to waxed and unwaxed ears alike throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Even tired nail technicians watching “Keeping up with the Kardashians” are being selectively hit on….

Click. Channel 08.

Slimy Slim, in a low sultry voice: “Hi there, Gorgeous. You don’t know me or who paid for this commercial, but Tom Wolf wants to take your guns away and raise your  taxes, Honey Bun.”

Bimbo: “Who’s Tom Wolf?”

Slimy Slim: “He’s the Democratic candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, you sexy thing. You’re like a voluptuous hoot owl when you say Who.”

Bimbo: “I don’t know what that V word means, but do we got a Governor?”

Slimy Slim: “Oh yeah. He’s my best friend and boss, Tom Corbett. You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania with Tom Corbett. You bet, Corbett.  Like a Corvette. He’s our man. If Tom Corbett can’t do it, no one can do it, you better believe it. He’s like a Chevy truck in a Viagra commercial… unstoppable old horsepower with a hemi.”

Bimbo: “That’s so cute how you turned around like a cheerleader. Ya know, I was a cheerleader back in the day in middle school. I never made it through high school, though. That New Math did me in.”

Slimy Slim: “That’s what I’m talking about, Pretty Eyes. Tom Wolf wants to bring in educational strategies that were used in Godless communist countries like New Math for a New World Order. In his geography book Iran and North Korea are tinted blue, like a subliminal message that they are trust worthy, ya know, like true blue? It’s nothing less than a left wing liberal conspiracy for one world Democrat demagogue domination.”

Bimbo: “Uh huh… I could eat some wings about now. Maybe I’ll get some subliminal cheese sauce with my regular ranch dip. Is it kinda tangy like a lime?”

Slimy Slim:  ” No, Bims. But Tom Corbett has a plan. He’s gonna remove all bad countries from his geography book and shrink the world back to pre World War II borders, return us to the gold standard, leave the U.N., and repeal all unnecessary taxes while eliminating the government deficit of 19  trillion dollars.”

Bimbo: “Oh, wow!! That’s like a lot of money. I wish I had some money. Wanna buy me a drink, Handsome?”

Slimy Slim: “Sure. Bartender!  Two margaritas, separate bills. Thanks.”

Bimbo: “Uh, that’s no way to treat a lady, Slim! You were supposta pay for mine too. Don’t you know nuthin’?”

Slimy Slim: “But Bims, it’s a cruel world and everyone must pull her own weight. Now I’m not saying I need to know how much you weigh, but Tom Corbett will cut corporate taxes and regulations that keep us all overly safe. He thinks all Pennsylvanians need to buck up and eat venison, support Penn State, marry only humans, put prayer back in school, and arm our underfunded school students with NRA approved high capacity handguns.”

Bimbo: ” I had a couple of kids once. The county took’m from me for barhopping too much while they were supposta be sleeping. I’ll never understand that. Ya think Tom can get me my kids back? The one was a girl named Kitty. The other one was a boy named Tiger. Oh we had us some good times, we did.”

Slimy Slim: “Well, Sure, Bims. With your dedicated vote, just mark the straight Republican line, I can guarantee Tom will apply the full force of the state government to your case like a hurricane whoopin’ Jim Cantore’s butt. He won’t rest until your kittens are returned to the mother cat and their litter box. No more welfare or useless things like social services and needless over-education of the electorate will stand in his way. ”

Bimbo: “Oh that’s so sweet, Slim. Um, how do you vote?”

Slimy Slim:”What do you mean? You, you just go to the designated polling place and sign the book and then mark a ballot.”

Bimbo: “Well, sure. You make it sound all easy and everythin’, but I aint never done it. Plus I lost my license for my fifth DUI, for which I still owe a pile of fines and lawyers fees. So I’ll need a ride. Do I got to bring my own pencil?”

Slimy Slim: “You mean you’re not registered?”

Bimbo: “That’s right. I’m whatcha call a political virgin, Slim. Zat make your motor rev up,huh?”

Slimy Slim: “No, this can’t be. I-I-I can’t believe I spent the last five minutes with a nonvoter cretin who can’t even bother to register. It’s too late to register because we wanted to weed out your kind from voting at the last minute. Oh the Horror!”

Bimbo: “Oh, so you’re not really interested in me as a person, huh? You just want a uptown voter chick for a girlfriend. I see. Any old slutty cretin voter will do for you. Zat it? I thought we had something goin’ on here, Mr. Cheapskate political windbag. Ya’ll ought to be votin’ for wind power farms cuz you got one right here when you open your pie hole.”

Slimy Slim: “Oh sure, talk your trailer park trash talk, Bims. You know what you are?  A loser. We don’t need stupid dyed blonde bimbos like you in Harrisburg.”

Bimbo:”Cuz ya’ll got that market covered, right?” Click.

Channel 27.

Bozo Bob: “Hi Beautiful. Heaven must be missin’ an angel… Tom Wolf wants you to have free cable t.v. and green energy made from kale grown in Pennsylvania’s abandoned coal mines,  but Tom Corbett won’t poop or get off the pot.”

Bimbo: “No, not another slime ball!!”

Bozo Bob: “Wait, don’t make me pay for another man’s sins. I’ll buy you a drink. This could be love. I’m for gay marriage, medical marijuana, and the Equal Rights Amend… ”












232. My Personal Paint-by-Number Vietnam

So my daughter reminded me of a dark episode in my life when I was stuck with the endless paint job from hell. It was 1993, I think. Back in those days I painted houses over the summers when I was “off” from my teaching job. I had a full schedule that summer, but I received a desperate phone call from a woman I used to work with who was moving back to Turtle Town after years in Florida. You see, I had painted her last house in this area and it met with her expectations, so naturally I had to paint the local home she had just purchased. I made minor excuses on the phone why I could not possibly take on her job… the summer was nearly over, I did not have the man power, I was already tired, etc. She  pleaded. I relented. I took ownership of her imaginary problem. Never, bloggy wogs, never take ownership of others’ problems. Why? Because their problem becomes your problem times ten, and you wind up like the U.S. did in Vietnam, fighting someone else’s unwinnable battle with no dignified way out. Oh, and covered in pigeon crap from head to toe.

I believe the draft call came in August. Ellen charmed as much as she could. Could I at least come and give an estimate? My paint partner knew intuitively that nothing good could possibly come from this. He warned me. I ignored him. God bless him, he came along on the estimate to try and keep me from disaster, though he clearly stated he was opposed to the idea. Here’s the thing: the house was just fine. It was in move in shape, but the homeowners did not want the country style paint and wallpaper choices. They wanted a stark white on white theme throughout the large cape cod. The antique white paint could not remain, nor could the perfectly matched wall paper. Instead she needed a CoCo Chanel look throughout, and I was too stupid to pump my brakes, downshift and park. However, to justify myself a bit, I had only experienced success within my ten years or so of contract painting. I generally enjoyed the process and could not foresee this thing happening to me…ala the Stones “Paint it Black” song. Only my ode would be “Paint it White”. “I see an oak door and I want to paint it white. No colors anymore, I want them to turn white.”

Okay, after a  safe bid of $2500 to do the inside walls and trim, I called on two other paint crews. I had 10 experienced guys on site for most of a week. We never even got upstairs. The paint we bought at Duron just would not cover anything. Barry came to me with his concern. “Just double coat the wall”, I said. “I did already. It’s not covering.” Gulp. “Okay, give it a third coat.” I knew that the labor was far more expensive than the paint, but the homeowners had picked the brand and the anemic bright white. I was floundering. Little did I know that the flat wall paint was the least of my worries. The next day Roger came to me and said, “The trim paint is not drying.” “Say What?” He demonstrated what he meant. “Look. I painted this trim three days ago.” He ran his finger across the windowsill and the shiny paint rolled up into a ball. “Oh no!!” I’d never seen such a thing. I felt panic surge in my stomach. “Wha, wha, wha…” I could not make complete words. My neocortex was shutting down.

I was out of money budgeted to pay my crew. I thanked them and paid them for time in. My partner and I were staring at half a job ahead of us and a completely unfinished story behind us. I was angry at the paint store. I knew something serious was wrong with their paint and I went in on Monday a.m. to make my demands and threats. The regular paint store guys admitted that something was wrong with their paint. It should have covered and hardened but obviously did not. They asked me what I needed. I told them $1500 for the wasted labor, and replacement paint. They nodded and seemed  to agree with my demands. Unfortunately the next day the owner of the store dismissed all my concerns, claiming that the problem was on my side. He made the preposterous charge that I had failed to prep the surfaces and some mystery oil was preventing his paint from adhering to my walls.  Wow, I knew I was completely screwed. I had already paid out more than half of the bid for maybe a quarter of the work done. I had  a lying paint company owner in front of me and angry homeowners behind me. Plus my prophetic and pissed off paint partner was beside me. What a quagmire, a tropical swamp, a… Vietnam of painting.

Well, there it was. I had no way out but to work my way out. My partner stayed as long as he could stomach the drama as Ellen moaned and her husband kvetched. The paint store folks suggested that I use a paint hardener to firm up the bubble gum paint that lacked hardener to begin with. They could not see the irony in their retrofit. I fumed and so did the highly volatile solution. Then I had to use oil based paint on top of the hardener to guarantee results. Had we simply used the right paint to begin with, I would not have this heart ache to report to you now. Meanwhile the cranky homeowner complained of the fumes from the oil based paint while he watched the Dow Jones rise and fall daily, coughing himself into fits of asphyxiation. Ellen tried to appease him and seemed to get a measure of reassurance from my endless presence. I worked evenings, weekends and holidays well into the late fall of that year to expiate myself from my Vietnama drama. In the end I had a personal testimony of pain and suffering that rivaled Mick Jagger’s.  “I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes, I turn my head away until my darkness goes.” I wanna see it painted, painted, painted white. Oh the horror!

220. Speeding tickets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure.  Whatever.”

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

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

“Oh, may I use your pen, Officer?”

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

“Thanks, Officer.”  Click.

“Have you been drinking tonight, sir?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





8. however explosively

On The Road by Jack Kerouac is a novel that inspired me at 17 years of age. Somehow it made sense to my late adolescent herbally influenced mind. Several guys racing back and forth across 1940’s America, outrunning consequences. Living large without any money to speak of. Drinking, smoking pot, talking philosophically, having freewheeling sex, and always leaving somewhere for somewhere else before dawn…it all seemed so real and true and magnetic. If I had been a steel bb I’d have rolled right into that fictional magnet. Well, I guess that I did.

I read it again recently. Actually I finished it while I treaded on the treadmill this morning. What a bunch of crap! I kept reading through the poorly written feverish prose looking for the meaning and power that I believed was held in that novel. It wasn’t there. It was like hearing the jokes and conversations that brought you laughing to your knees in high school and realizing that is was just self indulgent dew that evaporated long ago. It had no substance, no lasting power. Wow, what a disappointment.

I suppose that I wanted to fit that wild life of drinking and smoking and sexing and talking and experiencing life at full bore minus any negative consequences. In other words, I was a charged up, impulsive adolescent enamored of older, fictional adolescents who, I believed, were inspired adults. They were on to a sort of wisdom that existed beyond rules and convention, traditions and culture, so I thought at 18. Now I see the main character Dean Moriarity as a bipolar maniac who bullshat his way past some easily impressed guys who were desperate to be misled. It’s embarrassing for my adult self to read the words that I thought meant something deep, and come to the conclusion that at their deepest simply dig a shallow, sophomoric grave.

I wanted to be older when I was younger. I missed the hippie era by a few years. I felt slighted to be in between generations. I thought I would have enjoyed Woodstock live rather than the movie and album. I went to anti-war rallies in D.C. but as a curious spectator not as a participant. I guess that I have been a curious spectator most of my life. Reading about others and watching movies, these are spectator activities. I recall my buddy Mark was always at the movies or reading and writing. Well, he was a writer. And that’s what writers do– espionage reports to the larger world. I always wanted to be a doer, however. Writing was the fall back position.

The older I get the more I see the wisdom in age requirements for government service. Young folks don’t yet know what they don’t know. They can’t, anymore than I could explain why we were “studying” the rock opera Tommy in my high school English class.  The sexy young student teacher blathered about Marshall McCluhan and “the medium is the message” to high school boys who just liked to watch her jiggle. We understood that she was the medium and the message all at once. She could have been speaking Mandarin Chinese, but we got the message… “I desperately want to share my Jiggles with you.” Well, that’s what we each came away with. She desired us. This is why we could not even drive a school bus, let alone command others to do difficult tasks.

This is also why you don’t cook on freshly ignited charcoals. They are flaming and full of toxins that have to burn off before they are safe to cook meat. But adolescent boys would cook with Bic lighters or propane torches if you let them.  This is probably where I should tell  the gas explosion story.

I was 19, I think. I moved into a huge flat with three friends. We stayed up late talking, smoking and drinking beer. In the morning only one roommate was around when I got up to make breakfast. Paul sat across from the kitchen nook in a stuffed chair. I started mixing up pancake batter. “Hey,man, want some pancakes?”  He was very interested in anything that did not come from a can. “I’ve been eatin’ canned food for months, Man. Yessss, I’d love some pancakes.”  I got busy and turned the gas on in the oven. I carelessly put a cookiesheet in the oven.

What I failed to do was check to see if this new gas stove had a pilot light like the old gas stove in my parents’ house. It didn’t, which meant that I had released several cubic feet of natural gas into an airtight space. It was all good until I turned on the front burner. As the burner jet puffed into flame, there was a microsecond delay and then an explosion that I will never forget. The oven bounced and expanded in air. The oven door slammed open and the cookie sheet shot out across the room at Paul, who must have thought a poultergeist had flooded the place. “Aaaaahhhhhh!!!”

In one very long second that lasted for ten minutes, simultaneously the glass panes in the old double hung window beside the stove blew out onto the sidewalk and the steps below on Grace Street. The apartment door blew violently open into the hallway. The hair on my arm singed and smelled that nasty stink like burning nylon. The old plaster ceilings reverberated and little trails of plaster dust fell down like fine snow all around the huge room where the bomb went off.

I didn’t know what to do first. Paul stood up shakily. Okay. I went to the window to see if folks were impaled by falling glass shards. Okay. All clear.  I began to laugh nervously when I realized that no one was injured or dead. I shut the apartment door and noticed that the frame seemed to have grown a fraction of an inch. Not so bad as it could have been.  I knew what I’d be doing for the rest of the day. I had to find a hardware store in Richmond and buy glass, a couple of tools, and some glazing. Before dark I had repaired the blown out windows. The stove remained swollen but empty like a woman who had recently and violently given birth.

We laughed a lot about the explosion, but not nearly as much as when a couple of days later my other roommate Bruce was taking a shower in the small bathroom adjacent to the kitchen. It had been in the blast area.  While he was lathered up and shampooed fully, the horsehair plaster ceiling collapsed on him, sticking to him so that when he came screaming and coughing out of the bathroom, he looked like a mummy in mid processing. Oh, my, did we laugh till tears came. We had Old Mr. Rhone the fix it man for the landlord come repair it. He knew we were up to no good, but he didn’t say anything and we didn’t offer any explanations.

Mummies - monsters Photo

So, this is why teenagers don’t run the Senate or the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA or much of anything.