329. Relax, loosen again

The blue horizon just sits there, level. Dividing a pale blue sky from its dark ocean self. Is the sky half empty or half full, or half full of emptiness?  Sixteen floors above the beach that horizon is the halfway mark of the sliding glass balcony doors I am gazing through this late October afternoon. Little white caps appear like silverfish  and then are gone as the waves roll into Myrtle Beach. Our last day of deep relaxation and peace. No phones, no schedules, no pressure, no worries. My little brain is plumping up again — a reconstituted prune– due to the week’s luscious inactivity. I feel like I am finally recovering from screamotherapy, also known as office work. Blogging is the only thing approaching work that I have done since last Saturday. Ahhhhhh. I know from experience, though, that this blissful pause will not last beyond Tuesday coming. Like a massage. And maybe that’s how it should be. If only we could reload more frequently with such bliss instead of wandering like desert bound camels far away from living water. “Mike, Mike, Mike, what day is it?…. HUMP DAAAAAAY.” Only galley slaves celebrate Wednesdays, my Bloggumps.

Before leaving home, people asked what I planned to do at the beach. DO? Nothing. No plangenda. Eat, rest, breathe, laugh, drink beer for lunch, sing silly songs, nap, shop with my wife, go to a show, and sleep. “Don’t worry about me. I will survive without achieving a thing.” I don’t want to jet ski or golf, parasail or fish, drive go karts or buy a time share. Those things require thought and ambition, not to mention money. I just want to watch the tide go out and come back in, like Otis Redding sang. And I’ve been successful all this glorious week in walking slowly up the beach and back, picking up broken shells and parts of sand dollars, as if these broken things were gold nuggets and rough diamonds, marveling at the whimsical genius in each shard. I’ve thrilled at the creativity of it all, at God’s hand in the tiniest of places. Ghost crabs and herons, sharks and ospreys, conch and scallop shells, children and old folks. It’s all good if you just let it be.

“How silly!” you might be tempted to say. “I can buy perfect shells at the craft store.” And you certainly can. Please do so. But I suspect if you are reading my eccentric meanderings, then you are not a perfectionist, unless you are doing a research project on sociopathic media.  As for me, I like brokenness, imperfection, flaws, nicks, dings, and apparent defects. You see: you can’t break it if it’s already broken, right? So there goes all that perfect pressure if you start with dents and rust. I find this especially true in the folks I call friends. They are eccentric, naturally, if they can tolerate me. Heck, they have lowered their standards to hang out with me, so it’s the least I can do to likewise lower mine.

Being a word nerd I like etymology, word origins. Relax comes from re+laxare, which means “to loosen again”.  Which makes me wonder aloud, ‘When were we laxare to begin with?’ Another way to ask this is ‘When did we get so uptight and rigid, so constipated?’ I suspect it happened during the industrialized socialization process known as high school. Most of us were herded into large warehouses and homogenized into teams or levels or some such commodification. Suddenly everything mattered or else we would not graduate, and therefore be unemployable, and therefore be homeless and wind up dead in jail for vagrancy. All because we did not pass ninth grade geography that no longer resembles today’s maps. Okay? Where did Rhodesia go? And the Soviet Union? And when did you last use Algebra II/Trig?”I once made a wooden Christmas drum for my mother-in-law and needed to figure out pi r squared. But that’s about it for me and higher math. The drum looked nice.

In high school I was taught that the Great Lakes were biologically dead. The Cold War would never thaw out. The sun would never set on the British Empire. And I could not succeed if I did not go to a good college. Now, the Great Lakes look great. The Cold War is lukewarm history. And the British Empire has shrunken down like a wool sweater in the dryer. All this is forgivable because we can just shake it all off as a snake would shed its old skin. But the tense sphincter factor of getting uptight about succeeding in life is not. Just being a regular guy in a relaxed manner became tantamount to being a loser. You had to grab on tight and never let go of the success train to achievement. Get busy, get educated… advanced degree, get a job, get rich, get married, get pregnant, get ahead, get a good retirement, get cremated. I must admit, this never appealed to me very much.

Listening to music, hanging out with my friends, reading good books– all trumped being super focused on my GPA or my gross annual income. I found it exhausting to care about others’ opinions of me. I like to say to my clients, “It’s hard enough to fly your own helicopter; trying to fly your neighbor’s helicopter at the same time will kill both of you.” Translated this means, “Work on your own life. Don’t bother with others’ views of your life.” Relax. Breathe. Just be.

A lot of what was presented as indisputable facts in the early 1970s turned out to be wrong, mere opinion, or just partly true. And I’m fine with that. Hey, there were no personal computers around then, no Google, just for a starter point. They didn’t know any better. I never learned how to write a research paper or do a chemistry experiment or solve a quadratic equation. Still, I’ve had a nice life, a great wife, three great daughters, my own business, and yes, laxare. I’ve been told a thousand times about how life could, would and should collapse on my Chicken Little neck. To date it has not. Like my broken shells I have found beauty in the tiniest places… and breathe joy deeply and loosely. It feels good, my Blogstaceans. Real good.

Keep the party going.



328. Vacate the Premises

A few times per year I need to vacate the premises. It gets chilly, plus too much continuous time in Turtle Town, like secondhand smoke, may be hazardous to my health. I know this because short bursts of time in Turtle Town make me a danger to self and others, so it only makes logical sense that longer periods of time simply aggravate the aggravation, gravitating toward a grave situation.  My butt gets deflated and spreads out like peanut butter on a warm summer day. My hips cry out for support, but none comes, not even Tom Brady. My protruding pelvic bones imprint shuffleboard cue stick marks on my leather office chair, skeletal remains are all that remains… or maybe I’m just hallucinating again. If you listen to paranoid clients long enough, you need Haldol too.Image result for person melting in lava

Either way you just know when it’s time to leave town. It’s like knowing when you have to turn off the Neil Young song train before you hang yourself with the power cord next to your I pod dock. [CSI investigator Bob… “Looks like he was listening to Down By the River.”  Ed, “This much sadness it too much sorrow…” Bob, “Yeah, it’s impossible to make it today.” ]  This is just good self care, Blogobblers. So, off we went to the true South, where grits and alligators live in harmony, that is if no ducks connect them. Add one stinking duck, however, and the feathers fly. The duck eats the grits, the alligator eats the duck, and the grits eat… uh, let me get back to you on this one. (Think!! What do grits eat? Alligator poop, that’s gotta be it.)

Last year it was Savannah, Georgia we graced and were graced by. (We  also visited Jekyl Island and the beach nearby.  It was a-gracing maze where the wealthiest Americans once roosted in the winters… Roosevelts and Rockefellers and the Burritos.) Walking around the city of squares and live oaks covered by Spanish moss and sordid gossip, we gaped and gasped and gulped at the jaded beauty of it all… lovely and culturally osmotic how that Southernness crosses the air/skin barrier and gets into your very marrow. In mere moments you begin drawling, “Ya’ll good folk, bless your little Rebel hearts.  Come on and give yo’ Mama a big ole hug. Look at that po’ homeless panhandler, Junior . Izn’t he precious? Give’m a dollar, Sugar. Ya’ll got nuff tea to melt yo sugar? We can double fry that Oreo cookie for you.” After an hour you’re singing Dixie and talking NASCAR with religious fervor. “In Dixie Land make a left hand turn, Look away, away.”

This year our destination was Charleston, S.C.  Folks, I am blog-plugging this city, though they don’t need my plug. Our tour guide told us Charleston is the Number One tourist destination in the USA. I can’t argue with a man who drives two mules and a carriage through a three hundred year old city without hardly watching. (See that? I tossed in a smooth Southern double negative there.) It became clear that Savannah was the little brother, the distant cousin to the throne of this historic bling. Wow!! The old city of Charles Town grew by filling in marshlands that had functioned as the municipal dump. Land was scarce, so many of the Charleston buildings of a certain age are one room wide, three stories high, and go deep in their narrow lots.

 Now you’re with me, huh?  Notice the open porches, piazzas, Baby!  In subtropical temperatures and humidity levels this was a breezy form of free air conditioning. Still is. Charming. Naturally you’d have to get along with your next door neighbors when you hang out so closely without electricity or television.  No wonder Southerners are famous for their nice manners. Sardines are also known for their quiet compliance once laid in tins full of oil, which is what the humidity levels feel like in August in Charleston. I’ve never heard of a sardine bar fight. Have you?

The John C. Calhoun House was beyond words. The current owner has taken artsy hoarding to Olympic levels. Priceless, one of a kind, irreplaceable, bubble over your mind’s cognitive dam as your senses are totally bombarded by perceptions and information. I never took LSD but I imagine its effects would be like a tour of the Calhoun House– psychedelically endless and ultimately unknowable– Tiffany lamps, Russian Czar silver, Chinese incense burners big enough to cook a whole pig. “Yeah, I tripped out there once…like Vegas in a snow globe, Man, or Jimi Hendrix’s walk in closet. Totally trippy and synaptically  sizzling. Words fail, Man. Dig it?”

It wasn’t till the next day at Boone Hall Plantation that the economic engine for all this magnificent wealth stepped clearly out of the antebellum fog. 13 brick slave quarters line the driveway up to the mansion house.

Three hundred and fifty year old live oaks shade the sandy lane but cannot hide the stain of slavery. Hundreds of Africans were run through and run down on this soil, making attempts at  producing rice, cotton, indigo, bricks, pecans and a host of other crops. The extant mansion house was actually built in 1935, so it’s a bit of an anachronism. It’s an odd spirit that settles in after you visit a few of these vacated cabins. They were well built with bricks and ceramic roof tiles made on the plantation when a German family owned it all. It is a strange premise that work will set you free. Where have I heard that before? There is that neat, orderly German thing going on where precise engineering went into producing things while not a drop of humanity was spilled exploiting human beings. A darkness builds as you visit each cabin and realize that the imperial wealth of nearby Charleston was extracted from the sinews and marrow of slaves.

Old-slave-mart-facade-sc1.jpg  The shame is not simply a Southern burden, though, even if Neil Young says it was. “I saw cotton and I saw black, tall white mansions and little shacks…Southern man when will you pay them back?”  Well, just like the darn duck in the earlier allusion, somebody bought all that cheap cotton. And somebody sailed those slave ships. And somebody bought all the slave made products at rock bottom prices. The market place was not the South. It was the disapproving, highly moral, can’t resist a bargain world that kept the slaveholders in business. Hmmmm. How about that? Not sure much has changed since the official end of slavery. The world still chooses to look away, look away, look away from the misery beneath the bargains we capitalized consumers enjoy.

I know that free market folks like to speak of the freedom that capitalism has inspired, how it has modernized and improved living conditions for the masses. I’m just not sure how I’m going to be real with the enslaved workers who made my cheap cotton t-shirts and socks when I meet them in heaven. Someone may have to vacate the premises.

233. On Vacation

So we were vacationing on the Florida panhandle last week. It’s funny how time seems to change when you move down a few latitudes and across a few longitude lines. You lose or pick up an hour, depends on how you look at it, when you cross an invisible line near western Georgia, I think. And then as you relax in the pool or on the beach, your internal clock goes silent because your ear drums relax and your vocal chords go slack. The tree frogs croak when it’s dark and mockingbirds chirp when it’s dawn. That’s all you need to know. Slow down, blog clowns.

The Deep South is just about tropical. There are a whole lot of water bodies down there– swamps, creeks, streams, puddles, rivers, ponds, lakes, lagoons, and the huge Gulf of Mexico. Naturally there’s a commensurate level of humidity, about a billion gallons per cubic mile, which makes moving in and out of air conditioning an acute experience either way. One morning I stepped out onto our third floor balcony at 7 a.m. I was engulfed in a heavy soup of moisture in that small space. Imagine if Queen Latifah had twin sisters who all mashed you into a family reunion group hug after exiting a sauna. Now take that image and cover it in melting marshmallow crème head to toe. Roll it all in a tortilla and toast it. Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.

Kids were everywhere at the gated and very safe resort. No kidnappings were reported during our stay. I did have two interesting experiences at the pools, however. One direct and one indirect, okay I eavesdropped. While in the hot tub a father/son combo came by. The boy was talking about all drugs being bad. His father corrected him. “Son, the ones a doctor gives you are good for you.” To which his son rejoined, “Justin Bieber uses drugs, Dad, and he’s bad.” His dad chuckled and went to check on a younger child, leaving his innocent son jabbering to me in a lilting southern accent.

“Justin Bieber wears girls shoes and make up. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“He takes drugs to schools too.”

“I didn’t know that either.”

“He’s bad. He acts like a girl, a bad girl.”

“Well I don’t know the Beebs very well.”

“Do you like baseball?” and off he went on another tangent.

The second conversation was between a very aggressive and articulate youngish mother and her sullen preteen daughter. The tone and intensity were something you might hear in a courtroom. Mom did all the talking. Seems that the daughter had been on her phone/computer all week long, ignoring the other sullen preteen girl who was presumably a cousin or friend.

“You’ve been in front of a screen the entire time, Honey, and it’s disturbing. You don’t know how to interact without that technology. I want you to just be human, talk, ride bikes, swim. But you treat your phone like it’s your very heart. Now I know Daddy and Uncle Jim are techno nerds, and they spend all their time in front of a screen. They think it’s normal to live like this, but it’s not. They’re IT engineers, Honey.  It’s slowly destroying their social skills, and I don’t want that for you. Promise me you’ll stay off the phone or I’ll take it and keep it for the rest of the week. Promise me you’ll talk with Megan. Okay? I’m so worried about you turning into a robot like your father.”

“Okay, Mom!!”  And they both sulked away, back to their dysfunctionality.

Now karaoke is an okay thing to do. We decided on our last evening at the resort to attend Friday karaoke at the little bar/restaurant around the corner. It was okay, I guess. But I noticed that families with small children were eating and drinking there. It seemed weird to me that little kids shuffled about while grown up strangers drank hard liquor at the bar. At around 7 pm the dysfunctional d.j. got his gear going and began calling for the folks who had signed up to sing. It was an eclectic bunch. There was an older woman at the table next to the stage. She sang a country tune, maybe “All My Exes Live in Texas”. Then her young adult daughters eventually followed her lead. One sang Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” while trying to look sexy. The other daughter actually did a nice job with a deeper sort of song I have forgotten. Along the way kids under ten years of age sang “Let it Go” from the Disney movie Frozen and “Happy” from Pharrell the Dude.  Awkward and yet cute collided, and I kept wondering “Aren’t there laws against having little kids in active bars?” Apparently not in Florida. Anyway, my daughter sang two Adele songs and did her usual nice work, but wouldn’t you know it? One of the little tykes sang a second “Rollin’ in the Deep” after Jess. Eight year olds should not be permitted to sing Adele songs. It’s creepy not cute.

I drank two Blue Moon beers. My limit. Naturally I had to use the bathroom and I asked the waitress where the facilities were. “Go out to the lobby and take the elevator to the second floor. They are down the hall to your left.” I was a bit surprised. I’ve used upstairs bathrooms before, but I thought sending tipsy people on an elevator to go potty was a bad idea. What if they get sick along the way?  Anyway I did as she said. I took the elevator up to the second floor and got off. It was weird. Apparently there had been a sports bar up there at one time. It was roped off and taped off now like a CSI crime scene. Plus the a/c was not working on that floor, so as you exited the elevator you were hit with a twenty degree increase in temperature and a 200 % increase in humidity. The dark wood and dirty red carpet were depressing, as if they held murder clues mixed with old beer and dried blood smells. I turned left since the other directions were cordoned off. I went into the men’s bathroom reluctantly, feeling as if some presence were lurking about this place. It was so quiet and stagnant at the same time. I half expected to find a dead body slumped over the toilet. No such luck, but the creep factor was strong. Then back to the elevator to travel ten feet down into a family friendly bar. At least it was cool downstairs.

Of course there were good moments, but I tend to recall the bizarre ones. They are more interesting, dontcha think?