404. Born to be Mild

Joel has been on the lam for the past three weeks or so. Could be a month. It’s been a social and intellectual drought in his absence. However, time is sketchy. At our age time is measured in sinus infections and colonoscopies. The sky won’t rain; the chickens won’t lay; and the cows will not come home. I don’t really want the cows to come home, mind you, but that leads right into one of Joel’s favorite movies, City Slickers.Image result for city slickers 1 pictures

If you recall, several rather impotent midlife crisis New York men go out west to a real working ranch to find and flex their manhood. Despite many challenges and setbacks, Billy Crystal transforms from some sort of fragile wimpy dud Dad insurance salesman into a true cowboy hero. He brings in the herd after the real cowboy leader (Jack Palance) dies. Crystal observes, “What did you expect?  He ate bacon three meals a day.” Let this be a warning to you lard inhaling bacon lovers. Do you want this epithet on your tombstone? “Killed by nitrates seared in salty pork fat.”Image result for city slickers 1 pictures

Similarly noted in Coffee Nation, “Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” That virile (or is it viral?) spirit led our mild mannered Joel out of Turtle Town onto a world class motorcycle trip into the Ozarks with several other biker dudes from around the world. You see, he recently purchased a three wheeled Spyder motorcycle, which is worthy of much envy. But our local roads could not contain nor constrain his Steppenwolf heart that beats beneath a sharp new leather vest, bursting with high test testosterone.Image result for steppenwolf band pictures

“Get your motor runnin’, head out on the highway

Lookin for adventure and whatever comes our way

Yeah Darlin’, go make it happen Take the world in a love embrace

Fire all of your guns at once and explode into space.

I like smoke and lightning  heavy metal thunder

Racin’ with the wind and this feelin’ that I’m under

Yeah Darlin’, go make it happen  Take the world in a love embrace

Fire all of your guns at once and explode into space.

Like a true nature’s child  we were born, born to be mild

We can climb so high  never want to die.

Born to be mild.”

Before he left for his journey, I managed to wheedle him into a napkin will, where it was clearly stated in his inky hand, that in the event of his untimely death on the Tail of the Dragon trail, I would receive the Spyder, if it survived unscathed. I had the napkin notarized by Shirley, who calls me various men’s names and occasionally gets the right one. I was torn, however, between wanting to hear Joel’s road warrior tales and driving my new Spyder cycle. Come on, you would too.Image result for spyder motorcycles images

So, Joel has returned intact with a certain swagger that comes from deep immersion in the hot springs of masculinity. His jaw seems more square and his posture post modern, beyond framing. He announced in  his purple checked shirt that he had to leave for a meeting in Shippensburg, and thus he could not attend Coffee Nation. Wow! Just Wow! We moved out to the noisy sidewalk to do our suddenly less important business, but Peter Fonda’s stunt double remained inside, finishing something epic on his Ipad.  Eventually he emerged and put on that leather vest, a funky helmet and away he road on that Spyder, like Harry Potter… into a world we mortals could only imagine.Image result for pictures of faces of abandonment

I was left without any tales of Brave Joelysses or my much coveted Spyder cycle. I felt robbed twice, as if someone stole my wallet from the guy who stole my wallet. It hurt in an abstract sort of way if you thought about it long enough. Somewhere Shakespeare’s lines on mercy seemed reversed–

“Envy is twice cursed. Like gasoline stinks on the pumper and the pumped.

It curses he who covets and he who is immersed.

Leaving both as empty as a wheel barrow dumped.”Image result for gas pump picturesUnlike Billy Crystal Joel did not return with a calf named Norman. That would have been special, by Golly. Norman on the back seat roaring through Turtle Town.Image result for cow on a motorcycle picturesBut he did return with a huge mildewed heart. Being mild is okay, my blog warts. It allows for a comfortable move forward, while remaining grounded, safe, and homogenous. The highest state of mild is “to become the dew of mildness, also known as mildew.” Wild is for crazy risk takers who don’t wear helmets. In salsa sales mild is by far the leader, not medium or hot. Know why? You can always increase the kick of mild, but you cannot unwild the hot stuff. A jalapeno without a fever is a fake pepper and will never become a gastronomical dictator.

And that is Joel. For sixty some years he has been building up to this zippiness. Aging well like old amontillado wine. He is enjoying life uncorked now since accepting Social Security and AARP benefits. Rockin it, too.Image result for amontilladoAnd I am trying really hard not to be envious, but I am failing miserably. He has taken on mythic stature in his semi-demi-god retirement. Image result for zeus on a harley davidson images Could it be that the Sermon on the Mount passed over the mild because their inheritance was too materialistic?  “Blessed are the mild, for they shall inherit the cool cycle, hang with Motor head dudes, tame the Dragon Trail in the Ozarks, and walk as giants among measly mortals.”

Image result for walter mitty imagesTom Petty told us “If you never slow down, you never grow old”, which is a nice lyric but a very hard trick to pull off into your seventies and eighties.

In any event… I guess it’s okay to have Joel back on his Spyder. He’s the man, the myth, a giant among dwarves. All the men of Coffee Nation stood a little taller that day as he gunned the Spyder and whirled away dervishly.

“You’re a savage gift on a wayward bus,

But you stepped down and you sang to us.”

So Joan Baez glorified Bob Dylan, and so we salute you, Joel. Born to be mild.

Image result for mild mannered man pictures

 

 

 

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234. Wanderlust

“Wanderlust may be driven by the desire to escape and leave behind depressive feelings of guilt, and has been linked to bipolar disorder in the periodicity of the attacks. Or it may reflect an intense urge for self-development by experiencing the unknown, confronting unforeseen challenges, getting to know unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and behaviours.

In adolescence, dissatisfaction with the restrictions of home and locality may also fuel the desire to travel.” That’s Wikipedia’s quick and dirty definition.

I had a good dose of wanderlust as a young guy. I grew up in the same sameness of a cookie cutter neighborhood in the 1960’s while the world raged around me and I could not engage it. My parents’ frame of reference was pre-World War II and later on the marvelous uniformity of the 1950’s. Life seemed pretty well scripted for them– go to church, go to school, go to work. Asking why or what else there could be never seemed to occur to them. Or for their entire generation for that matter. And it makes sense when you consider that they were born during World War I, into pre electrification and pre automobile America. They came of age in the Great Depression and the rise of global Fascism. Wanting a predictable script is understandable when the world you live in has unleashed fear, loathing and insecurity again and again. Having safety, food, a job, a home, and predictable routines trumps having an adventure. I always say, “We want what we do not have, e.g., If you have a double cheeseburger, then you don’t want one.”

So when my turn came to bat, I had all of the things my parents often lacked. Consequently, I wanted what I did not have– travel, adventure, novelty, diversity, art, music, romance, etc. I did not want the cookie cutter house, the government job, the Catholic faith, the same old same old. I began exploring as a kid, often wandering off to see what was on the other side of the road, the neighborhood, the highway, the world. In an odd way childhood wanderlust confirms the security or desperation at the heart of the matter. This sort of thing was not encouraged, by the way.

One of my first wanderings was away from the childcare room at my mother’s bowling league on Thursday mornings. I was five, I think. I took my little brother Chris along with me and started walking home, about two miles. No one noticed. I knew the way and we crossed a four lane highway and walked along a two lane country road before our neighbor lady, Connie Page, stopped and picked us up. I got my butt whipped for that adventure; to no avail. I liked the taste of risk. No one died, and besides, you ought to pay more attention to sneaky kids, dontcha think?

When I was older, I’d ride my bike farther than permitted, out into the hinterlands of the unknown. Maybe a half mile away. Maybe five. It was never hard to find another boy in my neighborhood with absent-minded parents and an itch to go. Sometimes we’d ride in little gangs of four or five, jabbering as we pedaled without helmets or pads, often without working brakes, “Look, No hands!” up to the Giant store on Route 1 or down to the 7-11 on Kings Highway or over to Rose Hill shopping center. At other times we’d simply follow woods or streams as far as we had daylight and then come home again. Often enough we’d collect returnable bottles to fund our soda or pack of gum at the destination, at two cents per discarded bottle.

By age 12 my world expanded with junior high school and lots of new folks from other neighborhoods. The local Metro bus stopped at my street corner and continued all the way to the Mall in D.C. For thirty five cents you could cross state lines and arrive in another world full of diverse tourists or civil protesters. I did that at 12 years of age, just out of curiosity. I wanted to see what an anti-war protest looked like up close in 1968, I believe it was. Thousands and thousands of hippies were camped all around the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, smoking pot and burning flags. They were bathing buck naked in the reflecting pool and in a fountain near the Smithsonian. Thus my wandering was lustfully rewarded with large doses of nakedness. Yes, my grandchildren, it’s hard to believe now, but it’s true: The Nation’s capital was briefly a strip club before the D.C. police started firing tear gas all over the place. Then it was just naked brutality.

Hitchhiking was a common practice back then. I used to hitchhike back and forth to high school without too much effort or worry. Later on I hitched back and forth to college. And ultimately across the country in 1978. That was some awesome wanderlust that I posted about early on in this blog.[ I even hitched a few rides in England when I was there in 1973 trying to impress my lost high school girlfriend with my wanderlust. To no lustful avail, my blogguppies.] In those days I knew where I was, and I didn’t want to be there. My blinking GPS pin was always somewhere else. I wonder if an Irish gypsy slept with one of my ancestors.  Eventually life became too harsh for hitchhiking, maybe in the go go 1980’s when the gap between rich and poor skyrocketed; when free agency came into mainstream American life; and greedy individualism swelled up with 401k’s and property values. But I believe those days are gone… replaced by bunkerlust, a longing to burrow into one’s own luxuriously appointed gated community.

What was is no more and yet there is nothing new under the sun, except for the folks who have not learned this lesson. Wander on, young ones. Someone will pay more attention to you after you’ve gone.

 

 

201. Unsupervised

I should not be left unsupervised. It’s just not wise. And yet, that is where I find myself quite often. I work by myself nowadays, usually for 12 hour stretches. Now, I do have lots of face time with folks, so don’t go thinking that I am a recluse or even a recluse spider. Still, I think it’s safer all around if someone responsible watches me. My wife and daughter are out for the evening, leaving me alone with Johnny the dog on a silent Sunday night. I have not thought of anything controversial to do yet, but the night is young. If I were more ambitious, I’d think of something goofy to do in the name of creativity. Most of you know that there is a thin line between creative and insane. I walk that razor wire daily. Plus I have a  history.

As a kid in a cookie cutter neighborhood of the 1960’s, I was often unsupervised along with my three brothers and the kids next door and across the street and down the hill. Our exhausted mothers would say, “Go play!” and we’d be gone until darkness or hunger overtook us.  A favorite winter activity was tracking animals in the snow. My woodsy friend Chris Young would usually be with me. It was exciting to find deer tracks in the thin woods next to our housing development in Northern Virginia, minutes from the Beltway.  And raccoon tracks were big ticket items. Rabbits too. We dreamed of catching and domesticating these poor creatures. Post 31. Possumly is just one example of boys left unsupervised and the messes they make.

There was the time when I was preschool age. The tired mothers in our neighborhood bowled at Penn Daw Lanes bowling alley on the other side of Rte. 1. It was a familiar two miles or so from our house. I had a good visual memory and could tell you the names of most of the cross streets on Kings Highway that led to the intersection with Rte. 1.  Anyway, one Thursday morning I was plopped into the nursery room with about twenty five other grimy kids and my little brother Chris. If I was five, then he was three. After a short while of noise and chaos I took matters into my own unsupervised hands. I think I probably told the child care worker/head babysitter that I was taking my little brother to the bathroom cuz he’d pooped his pants or something. Once outside of that windowless, hot, overcrowded room, we made a break for it out of the glass doors downstairs. No one noticed us sneaking out behind the teams of desperately bored housewives bowling their unmet needs away in the fluorescent lit noise.

Once in the fresh air we stealthily crossed the parking lot. Chris followed without complaint, but my memory is pretty foggy. He could have screamed bloody murder and it would all come out the same in my personal history. The next challenge ahead of us was the four lane Rte. 1. Well, in those days, I’m talking 1961 Blogamicekins, traffic was not so heavy. We darted across the lanes, pausing at the concrete median strips and then the triangle wedge that fed Kings Highway into Rte. 1. After that it was just two miles uphill and one right turn. We’d be home then. It never occurred to me that I might need a key. Not sure we even locked the doors back then.

Kings Highway was a two lane road with ditches on each side. No sidewalk or shoulder to walk along. When a car came, we’d hop into the ditch as it passed close by us. We were at the bottom of the first big hill, where the stream ran under the road before it ran next to Mt. Comfort cemetery, when Mrs. Page stopped in a worried state. At great personal risk and possible peril she stopped, yelled at me and Chris, and forcefully parented us into her car. I think she took us back to the bowling alley and my panicked mother. My butt can tell the rest of the story. I just have a slight memory of my mother converting her panic into kinetic energy that resonated with my buttocks. She beat my unsupervised ass a good one. I guess I earned that one…but nobody died.

While I’m in the old neighborhood, I recall another unsupervised summer day walking home from the Giant grocery store at Rte. 1. Chris Young, my woodsy mate, and I were walking through Mt. Comfort cemetery. It was hot and we were bored 10  year olds maybe.  We had already stopped at the fountain at the entrance and drank some water out of the pool under it. We had stared long and hard at the face of Jesus in relief across the traffic circle from the fountain. Because it was cleverly carved in relief, the eyes followed you no matter where you stood. Chris stood on one side and I on the other. We each testified, “He’s looking at me.” Unfortunately, we were just unsupervised boys again. We wandered across the bone dry grass.

As we got farther from the maintenance shed and office, Chris began flicking matches onto this tinderbox grass. It would instantly burn and a circle of fire would zoom out from the match. Chris would swish his Converse sneakers over the rim of the fire circle and put it out. I was nervous about getting in trouble, but Chris was too stupid for fear. He flicked another match; made a bigger circle and then another. He wondered how a big a carbon foot print he could leave on the grass. Well, his last attempt was the winner. The circle grew exponentially fast and both of us dancing along the edge could not get ahead of the fire. It was out of control and headed toward occupied graves on the one side and crackly dry woods on the other. Chris ran away into the woods like an ostrich with burned feet, leaving me behind as the maniacal maintenance guy came tearing toward my shaking carcass in an old green Jeep. He circled the fire’s edge with his tires and quickly put out the inner circle flames with a fire extinguisher. He was not happy and wanted to kick butt and take names. I immediately ratted out Chris– address, phone number, which bedroom was his, and how his father liked coffee. I was scared and my feet smelled of fire. Which is why I should not be left unsupervised. Ever.

4. next

Two themes have emerged thus far– the coffee summit and the cross country hitchhike. Which way to go? Both, neither, either. The coffee shop has its daily visitors and the daily babble. I have to be careful about revealing Joel the lawyer, whom I recently consulted on the inheritability of coffee reward points. I have been after the barristas to transfer (other customers’) unused coffee reward points to my account. Some folks  have accumulated 600 plus, which means that they have spent $600 without cashing out from the rough and tumble game of caffeine consumption. I use my points as I rack them up because I would not want to be hit by a truck and leave them behind, unknown and unused. Seems logical to me. Joel informed me the other day that coffee reward points are “intangible personal property that can be valued at current market value and indeed left in one’s estate, thereby also being taxable under the Pennsylvania inheritance tax laws” (since the coffee shop is located in Pennsylvania).  Which sure takes the fun out of it all. However, if one simply transfers these points while one is living, no taxes need to be paid. They are like coupons or discounted prices. It’s comforting to know useless information sometimes. You feel less guilty after forgetting it, unlike forgetting how to figure the area of right triangles or the other one that starts with iso–. I’m not going to look up the spelling at this moment. See how the fickle stream of thought meanders around, following the path of least resistance?

Returning to the summit would require examination and concentration; the shoulds and shouldn’ts would kick in. Getting back into the flow of the hitchhiking story would put me in Nashville after two days of standing around major highways and riding in a lot of Volkswagen Beetles. But I wound up in Nashville, 1978 and was exhausted. It was not the first night I’d pushed through without sleep, but it was the first one spent standing in the rain and dark along a highway. I found the Sam Davis hotel somehow. It was large and couldn’t have  been very expensive. I slept the night…it would have been Saturday, and got back on the road on Sunday morning.

Of course another gay fellow picked me up. He was 18 I think. I was 21. No, we didn’t get jiggified. He was leaving his boyfriend’s place and driving home to Arkansas, which is across the Mississippi River if you are geographically challenged. I can’t recall his name, but he was dejected to be leaving his guy behind and wanted to chat with me, I guess. He could talk and I could listen, so off we went. He rewound his entire  high school experience for me, including being outed just before his performance as leading guy in the high school spring drama production. The most beautiful and popular girl in the school, and his close friend, of course, played his leading lady.  They had to kiss in one scene and it was more than many in the community could endure. Somehow they adjusted the scene to spare the sensibilities of the Arkansas audience. His other stories have faded over time, but he was a nice guy. Before he drove north and I continued west, we stopped at a restaurant and, no kidding, he got his high school yearbook out of his trunk and we sat on his bumper thumbing through his recent glory days. No shock, no surprise this time. Just a lit up Southern young man who was excited to be alive.  Amen.

I think the next ride I got was with an oilman in his Lincoln Mark IV. He’d had so many heart attacks, he told me, that he could not fly in an airplane. As a result he drove hundreds of thousands of miles in luxury cars. “No one would believe the kind of miles I put on my vehicles, and I don’t tell them at trade in time either.” 600 miles we covered. He bought me lunch and just wanted to talk to someone. Told me all about his family. How he’d sold the family home after his wife died. His kids got so mad at him that he had to buy it back. He was ready to move on but they weren’t.  He told me some dark stories about the bottom of life also. I’ll spare you those.

Somewhere in Oklahoma, I believe, he let me off. I hated to get out of an airconditioned luxury car only to stand still and sweat by the side of the highway. But it had to be done.

One of my next drivers was a drunk man who stopped and asked me if I had a valid driver’s license. When I showed him my then valid Virginia license, he said, “Drive” and got in the back seat with his whiskey. I felt oddly proprietary and careful of the vehicle. I drove for two or three hours until our ways split. He told me to pick up an honest looking hitcher to replace myself. I did. After a brief interview, my replacement drove this pathetic man away into his blackout.

Two paths diverged in the yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by.