02 September 2015

Two Cocktail Glasses - or - Pawns in the Sad Withering Days of Sad Space in Time

Yesterday I wrote about waiting for a to go order of clam chowder at a restaurant bar. There’s more to that visit.

Two cocktails sitting on the bar ready to be picked up by a waiter and taken to customers. Lovely glasses filled with matching concoctions. Amber colored with a judicious amount of ice. I looked at them for two, three seconds tops. It was forever. So many sad stories in those two glasses.

What did they cost? Maybe four or five dollars, not sure what cocktails go for these days, but about that I should think. The contents of each glass probably were actually worth maybe one dollar, probably less. You know how mark ups go on food and beverage. And how much booze was in those two glasses? Not a lot. Didn’t need to be. Just a taste is enough for regular folks. That’s all they want. If the patron’s stomach is empty they may manage a bit of a buzz from the one drink. A second would  surely do it. That’s all a lot of people want. Even if there’s a little wine with dinner. Want a glow to go along with a few courses of food. Might even go with an after dinner drink. Probably that’s it. I understand that a little liquor can aid digestion although I think that really just applies to wine. Moderate amounts of the demon rum do the average bloke no harm. So they say.

There those fucking glasses were. Maybe gateways. They could have been the opening salvo in a bender. It always starts with the first one and who knows how many more. People like me never understand how some of you can go out “for a drink” and leave it at that. Have a beer or two or a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and then just stop. That’s madness. I can’t even believe it — still — when I see people get up and leave with half a beer still in their glass. I can’t fathom people nursing a drink. It even drives me potty when I’m watching a movie. Look at those idiots with their drinks not drinking them, I mean come on. What’s it there for?

But hey, that’s me.

I work around people who drink and always have and unless I take a job with a mormon school probably always will (incidentally, there’s no fucking way I work for a mormon school). I hear co workers talk about booze. It doesn’t bother me a wit. It’s not like they’re trying to pry my mouth open and pour whiskey down my throat. Some on some occasions I’ve been pretty sure if not totally convinced are alcoholics. Not my business though. If one were to ask me about my sobriety and what it's about I’d talk, its happened, but it’s not in the 12 step playbook to go soliciting members.

I’m not envious when I hear people talk about drinking. Been there done that. Cheers to you.

So I was writing about those two glasses. They were some sort of touchstone. A talisman. Icons. Symbols. They were cold and wet and lethal and they made me sad somehow. Not about my own story but about…well, shit I’m not sure, a lot of things, I guess. Our culture. All those cocktails going out to people with disposable bucks. The waste. The emptiness of a cocktail. Of just one and of 12. I don’t begrudge anyone a drink or as many as they want. But sitting there, they’re glossy sad fuckers. Portraits of decadence. Banal and yet ostentatious. Not the gargantuan symbols of cultural decay that cruise ships are, just pawns in the sad withering days of a sad space in time.

I wanted to knock them off the bar with one fell swoop. I wanted to curse them I wanted to cry I wanted to laugh and stomp my feet and dance to the reaper’s song of endings. I wanted.

But. So. There you go.

01 September 2015

Smile -- This Starts Out Waiting for Chowder But Ends Up a Look Back at my Family and Photos and a Different Era

Family photo. I'm the little tyke.

Last Friday I decided to get a bowl of clam chowder for lunch. Because we had a meeting at work during the lunch hour I would have to get it to go. I went to a restaurant in Fisherman's Wharf, placed my order and was directed to sit at the bar while my order was prepared. I have many years previous experience sitting at bars but have mostly stayed away from them for last couple of decades in order to maintain my sobriety. I looked up at the TV set but it wasn't showing anything of interest (how often does it actually happen that a TV shows anything of interest? For me its a rare occurrence.) So I looked at the pictures on the wall. It was one of those family owned restaurants that had been a successful going concern for several generations. These types of restaurants tend to be pretty good. The family that owned the place was of Italian ancestry and kept up with the lingo as I could tell by from the banter of the staff. The photos had recurring characters at different ages. Some of the pictures were from fishing trips with beaming men holding up their catch. In many cases the angler was carefully displaying a recently captured crab. There were pictures at the wharf and on the boats and there were pictures of family gatherings and parties. There were day-in-the-life photos. All featured people grinning broadly for the camera. Happy. Most of the photos were in glorious black and white and all were framed. I liked looking at them.

I'm quite familiar with these types of photos. I've spent a lifetime looking at pictures like this of my family, some of which include yours truly. I've seen countless pictures of my dad on hunting or fishing trips, or at construction sites (he was the world's greatest carpenter) or at picnics, barbecues, birthday parties, Christmas Eve celebrations, weddings, funerals, sports events, large Finnish gatherings or just sitting in the damn backyard drinking a beer. In most of those pictures -- including all that were not candid -- my father, and everyone else for that matter, is smiling. All the smiles seem genuine. Not the phony baloney type of smiles my late great brother and I used to conjure up when ever a camera was pointed in our direction (to this day I still give with the put on smiles, I just don't know how to do it naturally).

In some of the pictures at the restaurant, and in many of our family photos, people are horsing around -- good naturedly of course. These are often party pictures. When I was a kid my family, my extended family and all the various Finns they hung out with, were grand masters at having a good time. Here I am a brooding, melancholy figure who sits quiet and taciturn at most parties while my forbearers were all having great yuks at parties.

Last Sunday was my youngest grandnephews' birthday. His first as a matter of fact. There was a large gathering to celebrate this momentous occasion. This was quite unlike similar bashes of my youth. Even though my nephew married a Finnish woman, the vast majority of attendees this Sunday were not from the fatherland. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) I hardly heard any of the mother tongue being spoken. (It's a "father" land but the language is the "mother" tongue. Don't ask me why.) There were also a fair number of people of color in attendance. I found this a welcome change. In my youth it would be all or almost all Finns with perhaps a few spouses either from other European countries or from the USA. We treated them just the same although there were a few Finnish women who would just speak their native tongue thus rudely excluding non Finns from their conversations. My father had a very low opinion of these women. Anyway the times they have a changed. My brother married a Finn but I didn't. My two nieces married an American and an Italian and my daughters and youngest nephew are still in the market.

Some of the Finns I was surrounded by as a child were racist though they were a minority. Finns then were no more bigoted and probably less so than counterpart immigrant groups or indeed US born and bred citizens. It was not a topic that was made much of. This was at a time when referring to an African American as a negro or colored was not at all pejorative. Asians were lumped together as Orientals and nothing negative was meant by it. A man of Chinese ancestry or from China was a Chinamen. I remember hearing my dad and uncle reference a "jew lawyer" but it seemed a way of identifying him rather than an anti-semitic remark and I even got the sense it was supposed to signify that he was a good lawyer. There was nothing negative said about people from Mexico or other Central or South American countries. Of course gay people did not exist in my childhood so weren't spoken of at all. I was practically a teenager before I knew that there was such a thing as same sex couples. When it finally became a topic because a cousin came out it was just seen as an oddity and no one really gave a damn. If you're family it's all good and as for anyone else liking to have sex with their own gender, well that was their business.

Most Finns that I knew didn't get the Civil Rights Movement. They just didn't understand the problem. Everything seemed fantastic to them in their new country so why would anyone rock the boat? I had one uncle who was a virulent racist and when he popped off no one shut him up or argued with him. Then again no one much agreed with him either. Finns at that time in this place were not interested in arguing with each other. Actually I knew of one true oddball, another uncle who was an actual republican. The only Finn who was. My dad thought he was an idiot. Most Finns were part of the labor force and were Democrats. If you ever asked my dad what famous Americans he most admired he'd rattle of the names of recent Democratic presidents.

I loved growing up within an ethnic group and able to speak another language. It gave me a strong sense of identity. And not incidentally I was quite proud to be of Finnish heritage (and still am). I have detailed on this blog my mother's insanity which made for what was, in many ways, a pretty fucked up childhood, but I did benefit from being cocooned within a huge Finnish community. Even people I wasn't related to were relatives. We all drew security from the group and yet felt part of the country as a whole. No wonder everyone smiled in those pictures.

24 August 2015

In Lieu of Another 'Apology Tour' Other Countries Offer Thanks to the US -- You're Welcome Representative King

“Americans are tired of apologizing,” King continued. “We’re a proud people. We’re the vigor of the planet and there’s nothing for us to apologize for until they come and thank us for the things we’ve done.”

The Village idiot, aka Representative Steven King of Iowa, is right. Americans have nothing to apologize UNTIL such time as the country is thanked — presumably by foreigners — for all “the things we’ve done.” King was speaking on a Minnesota talk show where he said he wanted a president who wasn't troubled by the legacy of slavery. You know, an moron who doesn't know his history or has no moral compass. He also brought up the "apology tour" that Obama has supposedly taken. (I don't know, an apology tour sounds kind of boring to me, I'd much rather tour the Caribbean.)

But King's point remains that before the U.S. doles out any apologies a whole slew of thank yous need to come our way. With that in mind I’ve arranged for representatives of other countries to thank us. Take it away.

“I am from Vietnam and I would like to thank American for all the napalm and the carpet bombing in the ‘70s. 'Preciate it.”

“Hi. I come from Hiroshima in Japan. On behalf of my city and my friends in Nagasaki, a big thank you for the atomic bombs. Also a cousin of mine from Tokyo says thanks for the fire bombings there.”

“Hello. On behalf of all Filipinos I wanted to give a big thanks for the atrocities and war crimes you committed in repressing our people in the aftermath of the Spanish-American war as we were trying to assert our independence. Oh and thanks for the looting and the killing of prisoners too."

“Yeah, hi I’m an Iraqi and I wanted to express my gratitude for your invasion of our sovereign nation on false pretenses and the over ten years of death and instability you’ve brought, not just to us, but to the whole region. Special thanks for all the pseudo Islamic radical groups that have sprung up, they’ve been a great add to our area.”

“Howdy. As a Yemeni I wanted to thank you one and all for the drone strikes particularly the one that killed 12 innocent people on their way to a wedding. You guys rock.”

“Just a quick thanks from us in Pakistan basically for the same thing the Yemeni guy was talking about. Drone strikes have taken out a few of our civilians too.”

“Actually I’m from this country in a much more real way then you are. I come here representing not a country so much as the Native nations and tribes that were indigenous to what is now the continental United States. We all wanted to let you know just how pleased we are with your wiping out some of our tribes in toto, moving others off their land and destroying, to as great a degree as possible, our unique cultures. This diaspora couldn't have happened without you.”

“He can I chime on that? I’m also from here although originally from Africa. I know we were originally brought over by the British but you folks were kind enough or continue to provide free rides for us even for a bit after you became a country. We also owe you big time for the slavery that kept us in chains and whipped and raped and sold like cattle and also for the subsequent years of Jim Crow and the lynchings that became so common. How can we ever express our gratitude?”

Hola. I’m from Mexico and want to offer a big gracias for that whole land grab called the Mexican war. Thanks for taking all that land off our hands and we also are grateful that many of you continue to demonize us. Nice touch.”

There you go Representative King. Thanks from all over the planet. And I’m sure there are others who would like say thank you. That being done maybe Obama can go on an actual apology tour. Or better still maybe you could do it, knothead. 

23 August 2015

Skivvy - The Football Hero

“Did he say he had a tremor or a tumor?”

“Umm, I’m not sure.”

“There’s a helluva difference, ya know.”

“But neither one is good.”

“No, neither one is good but it would be nice to know which one he’s got.”

“Ya know it’s more logical that he’s got a tumor because you usually have tremors plural and not just one.”

“If he said he had a tumor wouldn’t he have mentioned what kind? Like maybe’s got a benign tumor and so there’s nothing to worry about.”

“You worrying?”

“Of course I’m worrying, he’s our father for crissakes.”

“We could just call him and ask.”

“No doubt.”

Skivvy didn’t even know how he got his nickname let alone what it meant. He was born Lucius Cosgrove but everyone had called him Skivvy for as long as he could remember and he didn’t even have an origin story for his moniker. His big brother would know, but Lester…well, Lester was no longer among the living as mom would say wistfully. Dad would maybe know too but he was long gone. Took off right after Skivvy’s sister Lila was born when Skivvy was just three. Mom claimed not to know where the nickname came from which was maybe true but just as likely a result of her scattershot brain that might remember the smallest detail from 30 years ago but forget a big event from yesterday. Mom’s name was Lori and dad’s was Larry. Them being both L’s they decided to give their children names beginning with L. There was also a Lloyd that died stillborn a year or so before Skivvy (nee Lucius) was born. So mom had had one child dead at birth and another hit by a train likely on account of being drunk as a skunk, oh and one husband who run off who knows where. Mom was a tough old bird even if she couldn’t remember half the stuff that should be in her brain. She’d worked right along at the department store after dad left supporting Skivvy and Lila with a little help from Lester. And when Lester got whacked practically across the state line by that train, well sir she didn’t stop for a second then either. Not her style.

Skivvy was 17 and it was his senior year of high school and here he was the star of the Brookfield Cougars who were figuring on being challengers for league this year. Skivvy was, in the words of Coach Crocker, “one skinny sunvabitch,” but he was as elusive as hell and fast as all get out — again as expressed by Coach Crocker. Skivvy ran back punts and kick offs and played halfback and even slotted out as a wide receiver at times. He was also a decent defensive back but had a tendency to always go for interceptions instead of playing it safe. Everyone on the team loved Skivvy because he was the most joyful person you ever met with an infectious enthusiasm that made Cougar practices more fun than your typical football training session. Skivvy had a high pitched voice with which he hollered encouragement non stop. “Dad gum it,” Coach Crocker would say, “don’t that voice of yours ever wear out?”  Skivvy would always reply: “not so far coach, when it does I’ll give ya a holler.” That made everyone laugh. Academically Skivvy was a solid B student. Girls liked Skivvy. He was funny, kinda cute and best of all a football star. But Skivvy was dreadfully shy around girls, always blushing bright red when they flirted.

“Dad this is Randy. How are you?”

“I’m doin’ good, boy. How’s about you?”

“Well Lester said you had either a tremor or tumor but wasn’t sure which, so I was curious to know just exactly what the story is.”

“Oh I see. Uh huh. Well it is a tumor.”

“Where!?”

“Kind of in my abdomen. The doctor figures on taking a look and probably removing it later in the week.”

“Can they wait that long?”

“Its just  a few days. I’m in no immediate danger.”

“Well..what..what do they think —“

“They’re not sure. It may not even be a tumor. There’s a lump for sure. No use worrying about it. Worrying won’t do any good.”

“Well you seem pretty calm about the whole thing.’

“No sense in being otherwise son. No sense at all.”

The first day of school was always a pain to Skivvy. There was finding your classrooms and hearing new teachers give their opening day spiels or old teachers give new spiels. There was sizing up classmates seeing if anyone was new in school and how other students had grown in different ways or looked the same. Skivvy may have been shy with girls but that didn’t keep him from eyeballing them to see whose tits had grown and whose legs had tanned and whose acne had cleared and who was new to the school. It was a lot to take in plus there were all the new books and class papers and general confusion especially among the freshmen running around acting like idiots.

Course Skivvy had been around school for a week already for football practice, the season would start in a few weeks. Skivvy was determined to buckle down from the get go so that he didn’t fall behind and have to scramble to make grades at the end of the first marking period. This was always easier said then done because football took up a lot of time and mental energy and he still needed to help mom around the house and try to keep Lila squared away. Mom was always saying that “Lila can be a handful at times.” Now she was one of those annoying freshman so it would be easier for Skivvy to look after her although more of a pain what with her infringing on his territory.

The first few weeks of school and football practices flew by and Skivvy was feeling good about everything. He’d even broken the ice with a girl. Gina Voletti was his lab partner in science and one of the cutest girls in the school and always been friendly to Skivvy and was smart and nice and had no other boyfriend. Skivvy managed to talk to her about other stuff besides chemistry and she even walked with him to their next class which they had together which was history although they didn’t sit near each other because Mr. Blackster the teacher had them sit alphabetically and she was a V and Skivvy was a C, damn it. But they eventually exchanged phone numbers and went on a date to a movie although it was a double date with Windy Glenn and Mattie Merson. Mattie was the fullback on the team and one of Skivvy’s best friends.

“I’m afraid the tumor is a cancerous and you should know up front that its probably at a fairly advanced stage.’

“That’s odd because I don’t feel so bad at all. A little more tired than usual and there’s some pain there but not like I’m dying.’

“Well now you’re not dying. Let’s just get you in the operating room as soon as possible and make sure we don’t face that type of situation anytime soon. Although I have to add that there’s no guarantee that the operation will stem the spread of cancer. But we’re going to do our best. I’ve scheduled Dr. Larkin to do your operation and he’s the best.”

“When will it be?”

“Tomorrow afternoon. So what I’m going to need you to do is go home for a bit, take care of whatever you have to do and then be back here as soon as you can. Certainly by 7:00 tonight.”

“Wow. Tonight, eh. Well you're the doctor. I’m going to have to prepare my wife and sons for this. I should call my sister too. But I’ll sure be here by 7:00 tonight.”

“If, as you suggest, you’re going to tell family about this I urge you not to alarm them but also prepare them for the fact that we’re dealing with cancer here.”

“It’ll be kind of tricky not to alarm folks at the same time I’m telling them that I’m going in for a cancer operation.”

“Yes, its not an easy thing to do. I should also add that the operation itself is, well its routine in some respects but there are inherit risks involved and there’s no guarantee of surviving it.”

“What chance do I have of surviving it?”

“Oh in your condition, good as it is, I’d say better than 60%.”

It was mid October and Skivvy finally had a minute to himself. He was home from practice, he was caught up with school work — finally — and there was nothing to do before bedtime which was two hours off. Skivvy couldn’t remember the last time he had a free minute let alone 120 of them. He stretched out on top of his bed and thought about how fast the school year was flying by. Two months gone already. Half the football team’s game had been played and they were undefeated. It was the first time Brookfield had been unbeaten this late in a season. Ever. Plus he’d gone from longing for Gina from afar to talking with her to dating to going steady. His grades were nothing to brag about but they weren’t bad either. Skivvy thought that he was on top of the world and it made him a little bit nervous. In fact, the more he thought about his good fortune the more anxious and uncomfortable he got. Skivvy had never felt this way before. He was unsteady, his hands were trembling, his heart was beating too fast and beads of sweat were forming on his forehead. Skivvy was downright scared. Like he was panicking. Everything became super fast especially his heart which was pound pound pounding. Skivvy jumped from the bed ran downstairs, he found mom in the kitchen washing dishes. She looked up startled and could immediately tell something wrong.

“I’m scared, Mom.”

“What’s the matter?’

“I don’t know. Everything was great and then all of sudden for no reason I was just completely scared and my heart raced and…”

Skivvy’s mom gave her son a hug and held on to him. He started to cry. Skivvy continued to sob for a few minutes and when he finally stopped was overcome by a sense of calm and well-being. He had a few more panic attacks over the next month. Always when alone and they would continue until he found either his mom or Gina or was able to get in a crowded area. Once at home his mom was out shopping so he went into his sister’s room and talked to her until it stopped. Skivvy saw the family doctor who told him not to worry and gave him some pills to take if an attack got really bad.

The end of the football season was in late November. Skivvy had spent more and more time with Gina. With the rather significant exception of the panic attacks, everything in his life was just great.  And even the attacks had died down being less frequent and less severe.

The final game of the season couldn’t have been set up more perfectly. They were playing their arch rivals, The Canterbury High School Eagles, who they hadn’t beaten in four years. No current Brookfield student had experienced a victory in the rivalry that dated back to the beginning of the century, almost 50 years. On top of that this year’s game would determine the conference championship. Brookfield was still unbeaten and Canterbury was 8-1 having only lost a non conference game to an out-of-state powerhouse.

Brookfield was to host the game. The school was festooned with ribbons, posters, streamers and signs all displaying the school colors and mascot and slogans. All anyone seemed to talk about was the game. The local community was always excited about Brookfield games but nothing compared to the pomp and pageantry for the Canterbury game and nothing before compared to the special excitement for this season’s title deciding tilt.

“The operation is scheduled for 8:00 am."

"We'll be praying for you dad."

"You go ahead if you want but you know I don't think it does any good."

"Lucius, don't start that now, the boys are worried sick and if Lester wants to pray, don't discourage him. I'm sure Randy will pray for you too."

"Mom, I'm with dad on this but I'll be sending good thoughts."

"Son, I don't even know what that means. How do you send a thought?"

"Lucius honey just stop, let the boys try and do you some good the only way they know how."

"I'm sorry Gina, sorry boys. You send your thoughts and do your prayers, I appreciate it."

"So how you feeling?"

"Not bad really. No worse than when I had that bad flu two years ago. Be glad when this is over and get back home. Sure don't want to kick the bucket just as football season is starting."

"That's not funny, Lucius."

Skivvy thought it was perfect football weather. The temperature was in the upper 40s, there was a slight breeze and a few clouds in the sky but no threat of rain. He rode to the school with Mattie who'd just gotten his driver's license last month. Owing to their nerves neither of the boys talked a lot but both were clearly excited. Even though it was two hours before kick off some people were already walking to the game. Skivvy and Mattie felt mighty important seeing how all these people were coming to see them play. The Canterbury game was always on the last Saturday in November, unlike all the other games which were after school on Fridays.

As the team warmed up the stands slowly began to fill. The local paper had estimated that over 3,000 people would be at the game, the most anyone could remember at a Brookfield sports event. Skivvy's mom and Lila and Gina were already perched in the top row of the 50 yard line giving them a good view of the whole field and putting them in one of the few areas where there was a back rest.

Canterbury was a bigger team. They were notorious for a strong defense, having shutout four opponents and keeping all but one under ten points. It would be a big challenge for the Cougar offense in general and Skivvy in particular.

The stands were packed by the time of the noon kick off. Skivvy had never heard such loud cheers. They grew louder when Canterbury kicked off and louder yet when Skivvy fielded the kick off at his own goal line and dashed through the first group of defenders and zig and zagged by the rest on his way to a 100 yard touchdown. Brookfield made the extra point amid the pandemonium in the crowd and led 7-0 after only 12 seconds. Skivvy had never felt such a surge of excitement as did when he raced past midfield and realized there was no one between him and the goal line. Maybe this wouldn't be the close game everyone anticipated and the Cougars would win in a rout, he thought.

But such dreams were not to be. Canterbury's defense held for the rest of the half and just before half time they managed to drive to within the Cougar ten yard line before settling for a field goal that made the score 7-3. Both teams had short drives in the third quarter but neither got within scoring range. Finally in the middle of the 4th quarter Canterbury mounted another successful march and seemed poised for a touchdown when they had a first down on the Brookfield 11 yard line with just minutes to play. But on first down they tried to pass for a touchdown and Skivvy intercepted in the end zone. It seemed sure he would be the hero. Skivvy danced off the field jubilant feeling sure that the game was all but over.

Two plays later Skivvy was back on offense and ran a sweep around end. He dove for the first down but an Eagle defender stripped the ball. It was Skivvy's first fumble of the season and Canterbury  recovered just inside the Cougar 30. With the momentum having shifted again, Canterbury quickly drove for a touchdown and with less than a minute left in the season they had a 10-7 lead. Brookfield hadn't scored since the opening kick off and the chances of driving the length of the field against a defense they hadn't scored on all day seemed remote.

The crowd, excepting the contingent from Canterbury, was disconsolate and deathly quiet. The team itself dragged back onto the field and after an incompletion and two sacks of the quarterback, all seemed lost. There was only time for one more play and the Cougars were 87 yards away from the goal line. Quarterback Zeke Liddle dropped back to pass and was immediately pursued by Eagle linemen. About to be tackled again he flung the ball blindly downfield. Zeke's arm was hit as he threw and the ball wobbled in the air, floating towards the ground just past the line of scrimmage. Skivvy caught the ball just inches off the turf and turned up field. A few Eagle defenders had stopped thinking the ball had hit the ground. This gave Skivvy a chance to zip past them. He ran toward the right sideline and picked up a few blockers. Still he was about to be forced out of bounds when he whirled back and headed in the opposite direction. Again some Eagle defenders had stopped this time thinking that Skivvy had gone out of bounds. The momentary delay was all he needed. Skivvy raced up the middle where only one defender awaited him. Skivvy faked left then right  leaving the last defender grasping for air. Skivvy ran and ran and ran with the entire Canterbury defense in pursuit and the awakened crowd roaring him on. No one was going to catch Skivvy. Realizing a miracle victory was about to be won he veritably flew toward the goal line. Touchdown. Canterbury's four year dominance over the Cougars was over and Brookfield was league champions for the first time ever. Skivvy kneeled in the end zone with the sound of happy bedlam all around him and teammates rushing to hoist him on their shoulders. He knew this was the happiest moment of his life and likely would be his greatest memory.

"Dad had a good life, I just can't believe it's over."

"Would have been 70 next month. I always thought he'd live forever."

"We're going to have to look after mom, ya now."

"I'm heading over there tonight."

"She's doing okay, all things considered."

"Geez, they'd been together since high school. She'll really need our love and support."

"Dad would have wanted us to be there for her."

"He was a great guy."




17 August 2015

I Had a Dream (Actually I Have Lots of Them) -or- Bags of Wet Rolls of Masking Tape

A former co-worker of mine left teaching a few years back and is making a living as a full time musician. He’s a good one and his success is well deserved. Anyway last night I had a dream in which I volunteered to become his manager. He accepted and gave me some advice. The one piece of advice I remember from the dream was to always bring something when negotiating club dates. What did he suggest I bring? A plastic bag full of wet rolls of masking tape. And indeed I did show up to negotiate a gig with a bag full of masking tape rolls (but I'd neglected to water them).

This is an example of the wild and wacky events that have highlighted my sleep for as long as I can remember. Mostly I've kept my slumber time adventures to myself. They are often too bizarre to try to explain. I’ve met a lot of people who claim to never remember their dreams. I feel sorry for them.

Mind you I don’t spend hours and hours or even minutes and minutes interpreting my dreams. Some are pretty obvious and some I’ll ponder a bit and some seem to be for amusement purposes only. I once read that dreams are a way for your subconscious to work things out. To my mind this means I don’t need to sweat the meanings.

When I was teaching middle school I had a lot of firs- day-of-school dreams and last-day-of-school dreams. I had many of both variety around the first day of school and the last day and some in the great middle of the school year. First-day-of-school dreams that occurred toward the end of the year were never pleasant. Some bordered on nightmares. Of course I’m still teaching so I have a lot of dreams about showing up to teach totally unprepared or of having a difficult time getting to my class on time. I’ve also had dreams in which my class was impossibly large with dozens upon dozens of students.

Another frequent dream concerns peeing in public. I don’t know how many times I’ve dreamt about peeing on a carpet and mid stream realizing this is wholly inappropriate. I’m guessing that a lot of those dreams precede actual middle of the night trips to the loo. Then again maybe not. I'm too sleepy at the time to take note.

I’ve also had a lot of dreams about fighting in wars. Now that I think about I’ve had one helluva lot of those dream. Often I’m specifically in World War II (a war I’ve studied a great deal) and I also am frequently in the Vietnam War, a conflict that raged during my teen years and one that -- had it lasted just a year longer -- might have required me becoming a draft dodger. In some of these dreams I get shot but don’t die. In most I shoot someone and in most I’m fearful but not a coward.

There was a very disturbing dream I used to have. Actually I just remember the tail end of it. I would find myself standing in a very crowded rail car just as it would pull to a stop. It was night. The doors would open and I would realize that this was Auschwitz. Nazi guards directed me out of the train. Needless to say these dreams were most unpleasant. Someone might suggest from this dream that in a past life I was a Jew who was taken that most notorious of concentration camps. I wouldn’t say it though because I don’t believe in past lives. As to what it meant, again I can’t say.

The worst dreams — besides going to a death camp — are the ones in which a loved one dies. They are incredibly sad and I don’t like to think about them let alone recount them here. I suppose I could say that on the flip side I have a lot of dreams where the dead are living again. I think we all do, whether we remember them or not. My dad, my brother, other relatives and good friends are alive again in these dreams. Sometimes it is the most natural thing in the world that they are walking among us again and at other times I am baffled but accepting of the fact they are back. I don’t mind these dreams in the slightest as they are a way of interacting again with those who I cannot interact with anymore in a conscious state.

Another frequent participant in my dreams is old friends. These are often people who I’ve not been in contact for awhile. Sometimes I’ll awake from these dreams wondering whatever happened to the person or why I lost touch. Sometimes ex girl friends show up too.

Sex is another feature of my dream life. I don't suppose this would surprise anyone. But I'll refrain from commenting further as I aim to make this a PG rated blog post (hey, there's a first time for everything.)

Of course in many of dreams different people will play the same character and settings will change and events will alter like switching channels on TV. It seems that this should be a clue to the dreamer that he or she in in a dream. Not me. I accept the reality of my dreams. You don't watch a Superman man movie and say: no one can do that!

Speaking of superman one staple of my dreams is the ability to fly or flying an airplane. I do a lot of flying in dreams and these are always fun, liberating dream experiences in which I feel totally free and powerful. I like these. In many of the dreams in which I fly under my own power its just a matter of running enough to build up a head of steam and flapping my arms until I'm airborne. Maybe I'll try this sometime. I'll let you know if it works.

I’ve read that we only remember a fraction of our dreams, those that occur just before waking up. I wish I had access to more of them. (Maybe they’re on tape somewhere. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to watch your dreams after you wake up? I can imagine that technology becoming available in a few hundred years.) So much from early sleep lost. I also wake up remembering shapes of dreams but no details. Its like I have a feeling for the dream but nothing I can visualize or the picture is too hazy.

I’ve never kept a dream journal nor considered it. Maybe I should. I do think that a lot of my writing and general imaginings are inspired by dreams that lurk in my subconscious or in some cases right up there in my conscious state.

Oh yes, I have a half baked theory that I hardly believe myself: perhaps when we experience deja vu it is because the event and setting we are in is something we once dreamed. Just a thought I’ve had. In any case dreams are thought to symbolize one thing or another and you can even look that up on line.

But a bag full of wet rolls of masking tape, I just don't get that.




15 August 2015

Is That a Banana on the Counter or are You Just Writing on Various Topics? Banana Purchase, Walking on Egg Shells and Something Serious About Politics

Buying bananas at Walgreens. Who knew it would be such a rich trove? I've written before about this phenomenon and it is here linked. I there covered in detail the questions, the so very many questions that one must satisfactorily answer before walking away with a banana or two or three. Such as whether a bag or a receipt will be needed. And if one pays with "a card" there are electronic questions about cash back and if the amount is acceptable.

Yesterday I placed my bananas on the counter and dug into my wallet for the necessary two dollars. The question from the clerk was short and simple. "Bananas?"

The response I wanted to give was: "FUCK! GODDAMN IT! What gave me away? I was desperately trying to hide from you the nature of my transaction. I wanted to make a game of it and have you guess. So tell me, what exactly gave me away? Was it that I placed three bananas here in front of you? Was that it? Maybe if I'd hidden the bananas and put a cassava melon on the counter I could have fooled you. But the long and short of it is, yes, I am buying bananas. The very ones before you right now."

My actual response was,"yes."

And now this....

Due to Vern’s fragile emotional state his co-workers were walking on egg shells. This resulted in a crunching sound that many people found annoying. Furthermore people wondered why there egg shells scattered on office floors. This was, after all, a serious place of business.

As Vern’s fragile emotional state was the cause of the egg shells, it was decided that the task of cleaning them up should fall to him. Vern initially raised objections pointing out that it was not his choice that other’s should be walking on egg shells. Lauren politely pointed out that they had no choice but to walk on egg shells owing to the fragility of Vern’s emotional state.

This issue brought Vern and Lauren to a Mexican standoff. Neither was particularly keen on hashing out issues at the site of stand off between people from Mexico. The standoff was abandoned and instead Vern and Lauren were at loggerheads. This was no more satisfactory to either, while both parties had the utmost respect for the work of loggers and the great risks inherit in their line of work, it was most awkward indeed to be positioned at the heads of these lumberjacks.

Finally Vern told Lauren that if she expected him to give in she was barking up the wrong tree. This upset Lauren who had spent considerable time and energy selecting a particularly tall redwood for purposes of barking. Evidently it should have been a pine tree, after all, and so she left the office in search of one.

Vern told one and all that he was sure the boss would support him on the egg shell issue and that he was expecting a raise in the bargain. Millicent told Vern not to count his chickens before they hatched. Vern suggested the impossibility of this as all the eggs had been broken to be spread on the floor and there would be no chickens hatching and thus none to count. Millicent allowed that she had not considered this when making her remark.

And now this...

You have to pass an exam if you want to deliver the mail. You have to pass an exam and do a variety of trainings to be a teacher. Indeed there are various degrees, tests and necessary qualifications for all manner of jobs. But not if you want to be leader of the free world (see Trump, Donald). As has been proven, any idiot can get the job (see Bush, George W). This applies for other elected national offices and of course state and local ones as well. Recently there was a former senator (Santorum, Rick) lectured about the constitution by a TV news show host (Maddow, Rachael). We had one moron running for vice president (Palin, Sarah) who clearly did not understand the duties of the office. I realize that many people would say that empirical demonstration of ability flies in the face of what democracy is all about, but can we please insist that anyone seeking to attain public office must first pass a simple (better yet a complicated) civics test? This would narrow the field of candidates for offices to those who actually might have a basic understand of what said office entails.

Speaking of running for office....Another problem with our political system is that it is not designed so that people select the person best qualified for office or the one with whom the voters are most ideologically compatible. Instead it greatly skews toward those who run the best political campaign. Style over substance every time. Occasionally the best person for the job is elected but all too often we get some Slick Rick who has big bucks behind him and a savvy, sleazy campaign manager. Slick Rick appears likable and hits the right chords with voters. This master of the sound byte gets himself elected and proves an ineffectual or perhaps incompetent or even corrupt politician who does more harm than good.

I have a few ideas with respect to our political system. The first is to reverse the Citizens United ruling that treats corporations as people (and thus makes it harder for people to be treated as people) and allows obscene amounts of cash from the super rich into politics. Elected officials, with very few exceptions, are beholden to those individuals and corporations that pay for their campaigns. Money needs to be gotten the hell out of politics. Our elected officials first and only obligation should be to serve the needs of their constituents and not the various mega millionaires who footed the bill for their campaign ads.

Also we could do with severe restrictions on the length of campaigns. Long drawn out political campaigns do nothing positive and a lot negative to the electorate including driving people out of said electorate and fostering cynicism. Here we are 15 months from the presidential election and we are already being subjected to round the clock campaign news featuring all manner of petty detail, innuendo, character assassination and manufactured news. News outlets are forced to cover well over a year's worth of campaigning, diverting their time from more important news. Individuals who could be serving the people who elected them are far too busy hustling for votes and money. Obscene amounts of money are spent on this process, money that could be doing some good for communities instead of subjecting them to more and more of wannabe presidents who spout vapid, meaningless slogans or ad hominem attacks or make ridiculous unsubstantiated claims. Let's move to the British model where campaigning  begin a few months or less before the election and the amount of money spent on said campaigns is limited and a mere pittance of what is spent here. It's called civilization.

I will now descend from my soapbox.

11 August 2015

The Day of Alleyway Nelson

Alleyway Nelson. That was it that was the nick he’d go by. Enough of this Art Olvinen stuff. It was all going to be different.

The sun was just coming up. Another day. There would be The Man with Pipe here soon enough. Small fellow, no more than five feet tall. Only Art — Alleyway — ever saw him. No less real for it. The Old Man with the Pipe would be here sure as satan. Alleyway got out of bed. Opened the drapes to his window. Standing there in his pjs visible to the world. He didn’t care. Proud of his blue pjs with the rocket ships on them. Noticed frost on the ground, it'd been a cold night and snow would be coming soon, sure as satan.

Alleyway shuffled over to the kitchen and poured himself a bowl of Kellog's Corn Flakes. Big bowl, lots of milk. Alleyway hated the feel of dry flakes more than he did the feel of the soggy ones. Had to pour plenty of milk and wolf it down fast. Hungry hungry hippo. He looked at the stupid box. He always looked at the box while he ate. Maybe pasting a comic book on the box would make it more interesting. Alleyway wished there were a comic with that rabbit he saw in the cartoon at the movies last week. Name was buggy or bugs or somethin'.

It was easy to imagine talking to someone like that rabbit. Alleyway liked the idea of talking to cartoon characters. He liked a lot of ideas that he knew were out there, kind of crazy. But he knew the difference between real and imaginary. But The Man with the Pipe was real so far as Alleyway Nelson was concerned. Sure as satan.

The cereal finished, Alleyway put the bowl in the sink. He knew not to leave a mess. Even poured the extra milk — and there was always plenty — down the drain. Time now to get dressed. First off, clean underwear. That was a must for Alleyway. The very idea of dirty underwear grossed him out. Always only clean for him. Clean socks were preferable but not a must and as for the rest of his attire, what he wore yesterday was just fine. It was all topped off, literally and figuratively with his cap. It was his Minneapolis Millers baseball cap. Alleyway wouldn’t trade it for anything. He’d been to a Millers game once and saw them win 7-0 and it was just about the greatest day of his life. His Pop bought him the cap just before the game started and he’d worn it as often as possible ever since. Never would forget that day. It was a perfect Summer day in mid June, just after school had let out. The sun was shiny but not too hot and there was a gentle breeze. Pop had got 'em seats close enough to the field that he could smell the grass and it was the greatest smell in the whole wide world. He had the biggest and best hot dog ever with plenty of mustard on it and a tall icy orange soda and later a chocolate malt. The Millers hit three homers and the center fielder made the greatest catch he’d ever seen and there was an incredible double play and the Millers pitcher struck out 11 guys. Alleyway knew for sure 'cause his pop had kept score.  So the cap reminded him of every second of that day and how much he loved baseball and the Millers and of course Pop. Boy did he miss Pop. Alleyway thought about Pop for a few seconds as he looked out the window, but he didn't cry. Nope never did. No sir, crying was for babies. When he felt really low Alleyway would talk to The Man with the Pipe who would nod his head and say reassuring things although Alleyway couldn’t never make out the exact words. But…say there he was now. Standing in front of him as plain as day puffin’ on his pipe. He had a fluffy beard that was white as snow and wore a kinna funny red hat and suspenders and big black boots and by golly it sure made Alleyway Nelson feel real good all over to see him.

“I knew you’d come, sure as satan,” Alleyway said.

The old fella  just kind of nodded like usual and then started talking in his real slow voice that Alleyway could never make out. Maybe the man had an accent. Alleyway wasn’t sure. He supposed that everybody had an accent whether they were from another country or just another part of the USA or even if they lived right here in Grand Forks, Minnesota. Alleyway knew that some of his relatives from Finland had accents and so did a lot of the people in town who were from Sweden or other such places but he could understand everyone just fine. It was only The Man with the Pipe who he couldn’t make it out. But it was that very same pipe toting fella that was his greatest comfort in life. And he had been ever since Pop….But that was NOT what he was going to think about now. Nope. No sirree he was just going to focus on talking to The Man with the Pipe.

They chatted for the longest time until Alleyway's mom got out of bed and was suddenly standing there in her night gown staring at her only child.

“Arturi! Who you talkin’ to? Vhy alla time you talk to nobody?” Mom seemed both a little angry and a lot frustrated.

“Aww Mom, I was just talking to a friend of mine. You know the — “

Lopeta jo!” Mom said, which was Finnish for “stop already.” Mom would do that, switch from English to Finnish and back, even in the middle of a long conversation she’d just go back and forth. Mom was from Finland, born and raised in a town called Kemi. She’d come out to the States when she was just 20 and had met and fell in love with Pop who she married just a year later. Pop wasn’t from Finland but his folks were so they were able to speak the language together. Pop had been born right here in Grand Forks. Mom finally stopped giving the evil eye and went to the bathroom. It kind of bothered Alleyway that his mother would sometimes go pee and leave the door open, especially since she did it once when he had his friend Karl over. Karl didn’t see nothin’ but he could of, which was the point. Mom had been sloppy in certain ways like that ever since Pop….

Alleyway was thinking of going over to Karl’s house to play. It was Saturday so Karl would likely be at home watching his dad and big brother do something like fixing up a truck or cutting wood or some other kind of chore that grown ups were forever doing. Sure as satan. Alleyway could not figure out how Karl could get any pleasure out of watching adults doing boring stuff. But Karl was small for his age and not too strong and not even all that bright so that might have had something to do with it. Alleyway was Karl's only friend.

"Mom, I'm going to Karl's house to play!" Alleyway suddenly announced with a shout.

"Yust a minute, Arturi," his mom said emerging from the bathroom. She always called him by the Finnish version of Art. Pop used to tell him that they'd purposefully given him a name that had a direction counterpart in English and Finnish. Alleyway's father had always told him stuff like that and about his own childhood and his parents' stories about coming over from Finland. Mom didn't nearly talk so much about her own life. She was nice enough all right and he guessed she was a good mother but she'd always been kind of quiet, even when Pop was still around. Pop would tease Alleyway and tell him jokes but Mom was pretty serious and would fuss over him all the time but was pretty quiet about herself and her family back home.

"You want some eks?" There were a lot of English words like "eggs" that Toini Olvinen (nee Siipola) had particular trouble pronouncing. "I make some bacon vit it."

"No thanks, Mom, I wanna go." And with that Alleyway headed for the door.

"You take a yacket, it's getting colder now." Alleyway dutifully pulled his jacket off the peg by the door and bounced down the stairs.

It was a ten minute walk to Karl's who lived at the edge of town by the creek. From Karl's house it was no time at all to go into the woods where it was fun to play imaginary games. Sometimes Alleyway would walk purposefully to Karl's but other times, like today he would take a longer more meandering route and let his mind wander. He reflected some more about the trip to the baseball game with his father. He remembered the long drive with Pop telling him stories and explaining the finer points of baseball. He also recounted the time he saw the great Babe Ruth play in an exhibition game a year before Art was born. "He hit the longest home run any of us had ever seen." Alleyway's dad had said for the umpteenth time. Alleyway remembered how grand it felt to sit there in the ballpark watching the Millers play with his Pop right beside him. It might have been the most excited and most comfortable he'd ever felt and it was at the same time!

Alleyway also decided that he'd propose a nickname to Karl. He'd thought one up: Jalopy Joe. That way they'd be Alleyway Nelson and Jalopy Joe. He was positive Karl would go for it. Sure as satan. Karl was usually amiable to anything suggested to him, especially by his one and only friend.

Sure enough when he got there Karl was watching his father and big brother working away. Looked like they were doing some repairs on their toolshed.

"Hey ya, Karl!" Alleyway shouted with a wave. Karl was sitting on his knees in the dirt, as usual.

Karl turned his attention away from the hammering his dad and big brother were doing and broke into a big smile. "Hiya Art!" Then he sprang up and ran to his friend. Alleyway would have to set Karl straight that he was no longer Art Olvinen and was instead Alleyway Nelson. He'd also have to propose that Karl stop being Karl Jorgenson and become Jalopy Joe. Maybe he'd want a last name to go with it. Alleyway immediately decided on Jalopy Joe Jones. Sure as satan.

As it turned out Karl was more than happy to take on a new moniker and the idea of being Jalopy Joe was swell with him. After all he greatly admired his big brother's car which everyone else referred to as "that beat up old jalopy." Karl wanted to have a jalopy one day himself.

So Jalopy Joe and Alleyway Nelson, complete with new names, headed for the woods to play some imaginary games. First they were pirates who were in the forest looking for a treasure some rival pirates had buried. Then they were soldiers from back in the old days looking for Indian warriors. Finally they were explorers discovering a new country for an imaginary kingdom that was an amalgamation of Finland and Sweden (the latter being the home of Jalopy Joe's ancestors).

After a few hours the boys were hungry and headed to Jalopy Joe's house to see if his mom could make them some sandwiches. Mrs. Jorgenson was a pretty soft touch for making lunch. It seemed she was always in the kitchen anyway, often with Jalopy Joe's big sister, Kate. They were always baking bread or making a pie or cookies or sweet rolls. Not to mention breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Mrs. Jorgenson was -- as usual -- happy to make sandwiches and included a bowl of soup in the meal. The boys hungrily ate and slurped everything in front of them and each downed two glasses of milk.

After lunch the boys stayed inside to play. Jalopy Joe's room was full of toys and books, so they were easily and happily occupied. Around 4:00 Alleyway got the feeling in his bones that it was time to go home. He knew his mother wasn't crazy about being home alone for too long and worried like crazy about him. This was especially true since....Also the days were getting shorter and colder, it was the first weekend of November and once the sun went down just wearing a jacket wouldn't keep out the cold.

Alleyway was sure to thank Mrs. Jorgenson again for lunch, he'd had good manners drilled into by his folks and The Man with the Pipe was forever reminding him too. The Man with the Pipe was really good with advice and reminders and suggestions, even if Alleyway couldn't understand what he was saying, he always got the gist of it. Sure as satan. So Alleyway headed home. He had that mixed feeling of happiness at it being Saturday night and sadness that it was almost Sunday which meant Sunday School and a boring late afternoon dinner at his grandparents' or aunt and uncle's house. And of course there was school the day after that. Alleyway really didn't mind school so much. After all he was a good student and had friends to play with, but he preferred his freedom. School meant limited choices with adults constantly telling you what to do and not to do. Never mind that they had your best interest at heart.

Unlike the walk to Jalopy Joe's house, the walk from would be straight forward, no meandering. Even though it was a half hour before sunset, Alleyway knew darkness was coming soon and dreaded the idea of being alone outside when the sun was down. For comfort he summoned The Man with the Pipe who naturally showed up on cue. They walked side by side chattering away although whatever The Man with the Pipe was saying was indecipherable to Alleyway, although he thought it had something to do with being a good citizen. He was just a couple of blocks from home when someone shouted: "Art! Hey Artie!" It was an older kid standing on the other side of the street with some other guys that Alleyway didn't know. He couldn't think of the older kid's name but nonetheless offered a tentative wave and, "hi."

"Who were you talking to, Art?" the older kid asked the question with a kind of mean sneer in his voice. The other guys with him, who were even older, like high school age maybe, grinned in what Alleyway also thought was a mean way.

Alleyway figured he'd been talking out loud to The Man with the Pipe which he knew he shouldn't do on account of being the only one who ever saw the little old fella. "No one. I was just trying to memorize some stuff for school." It was all he could think of at the spur of the moment, meanwhile he quickened his pace, determined to get away from this conversation and to his house.

One of the other older kids then said, "were you talking to your dead old man?" Alleyway felt like he'd been slapped in the face. He immediately wanted to cry but was determined not to. He hadn't cried once, not since...

"His old man is dead?" One of the older kids asked the one who'd made the rude comment. "Yeah he --"

"Shuddup! Shuddup! Shuddup!" Alleyway shouted at the top of his lungs and then he broke into a run, the fastest run of his life. He heard the bigger boys talking to each other but it grew fainter and none of them were saying anything to him. Alleyway might have been the fastest runner in school and he was proving it now. But just as he got within a few yards of his house, Art Olvinen, aka Alleyway Nelson, stopped dead in his tracks. In the approaching dusk looming over him he saw an image of his father, just as he had discovered him. Because it was Bert Olvinen's only child, his son Art,  who had been the first to see him hanging there with a noose around his neck. A suicide that no one could ever have anticipated. No one, not a sole knew that Bert Olvinen suffered from horrible depression, not even his beautiful Finnish born wife, Toini. Certainly not their boy who was then only eight years old.

That Art found him was pure chance too. Anyone could have stumbled upon Bert Olvinen. He'd hung himself behind the town hardware store, from a pipe that connected to the grocery store. In an alleyway.

Little Art had just been in the grocery store buying a candy. His mother worked there as a checker. His dad was an accountant for the mill and his office was next to the grocery store. When Art saw his dad hanging there he began to scream and scream. But he didn't shed a tear. Not then, not at the funeral, not at all in the two years since.

But now he did. He saw his father hanging there in midair with the rope around his neck and he filled up the sky. Art sobbed and sobbed. He was still sobbing when his mother happened to see him and led him home.

After a long quiet bath, Art joined his mother for a delicious dinner that she had made. They ate in silence. After, when she served him pie with ice cream they began to talk. They talked about all sorts of topics and finally even talked about Bert, sharing memories of him. They hadn't talked about him since the suicide. It felt good. They both cried. They hugged. They even laughed. This was like no other night they'd spent together.

Toini tucked her son in that night and gave him a kiss on the forehead, which she hadn't done since he was three years old. Art didn't fall asleep immediately. Instead he thought about things. He thought that Alleyway Nelson was a stupid nick. He'd go instead with Dynamite Jim Douglas. Sure as satan. He also thought that it was time to stop talking to The Man with the Pipe. At least out loud. Dynamite was a pretty smart kid -- all his teachers had always said so -- and he knew that The Man with the Pipe was not going to be coming around for too much longer. But when he did Dynamite would just communicate in his head. That'd be just fine.

A lot would be just fine now. Sure as satan.

05 August 2015

No, No Neptune or How I Wondered Through Broken Years of Youthful Despair

I sometimes think that my writing is barely better than that of mediocre high school student who has been forced to write an essay…..

At other times I think that my writing is about to earn a Pulitzer Prize in literature….

I rarely think that my writing is anywhere in between.

I do not generally deal

in happy mediums.

I

am all about reaching the Olympic highs and

plunging to the

shadowy depths.

Hello there middle ground and what have you to offer? Are you really a happy medium? Or are you a sad, perhaps even melancholy medium? Do I want to trod down the middle road of emotions and opinions and thoughts and life and love? Scaling and falling is more exhilarating. There is true insanity in total self assuredness. The one person I knew well who lived without doubt was my mom. And she was

Crazy.

Not: oh, you’re so craaazy! but certifiable. Insane. She though she was fine, that everything was peachy and the rest of us were maybe a bit off.

(Which do you prefer: abuse survival, drug/alcohol addiction recovery, acute panic disorder or depression? I’ll try all four if I get to mix in great soaring leaping dancing joy and triumph and ecstasy. Called living with your choices, my man.)

So I roam my mind and find wide open spaces full of doubt to crawl around in and explore. I search high and low and feel high and low and I am the self I seek. The ever present vanishing mystery of blue crimson awareness. Color blind and radiant and intensely weird. But I do love donuts. Run. Run. Run.

I walk awake in my contradictions ever mindful now of who I am. Which gets me to the point of it all — those many younger years of cluelessness. I was like a pinball, bouncing around all over the damn place. Oww it hurt sometimes but I didn’t know the cause of the pain. Here now, there later, back here and then off again and forth and fro and hither and yon and flotsam and jetsam.

A soccer player. A hot shot journalist. A development director. Making sandwiches. Selling furniture. Bank clerk. Proofreader/copy editor. Student. Teacher. Chico, Sacramento, Boston, San Francisco the fucking moon. No no Neptune. I was a man of many identities and many locations and many ideas and no ambition and varied goals. I supped at love and romance and didn't so much fall as was catapulted into love. A love that encompassed and erased all I knew and wanted out of romance. I was so

lucky

because

I found my one true love and still

today

am with her.

If not for that miracle and a patient and loving father I'd be in another place perhaps very dark and lonely and devoid of mirth. There would be crawling worms in my brain and I'd be exchanging needles not ideas and oh golly Miss Molly....

Young man.

I was

So the key point from above was that this fellow here had no ambition and no plan for tomorrow and verily at times no common sense. Just did. Self aware in superficial ways. I was -- at one magnificent point -- well on my way to success in a career in which I lived quite happily. But then I chucked it into the dustbin and wondered and wandered mindlessly aimlessly lessly. I did.

Only by love and luck did life yield a second career and later an offshoot of that. From there family and stability and grace. But still I find in myself no solid ground. I am greatness personified and I suck big time and I am whatever I feel at the moment and my feelings are like the tide. At midnight. In a turbulent storm of purple raging clouds of destiny. How I love being a life in this world. How I have misunderstood for so long. Wayward youth indeed. Not quite purposeless. But did I learn from it? Eventually a resounding yes! I say. (Exclamation point quite appropriate, mind you.)

And that's the story of, that's the glory of love.

Joi de vivre. 

03 August 2015

Tommy's Terrible Horrible Hangover



Tommy Moloch knew it spelled trouble when he woke up in a strange room in a strange house in a strange town and without his wallet or keys or money or cell phone or oddly enough socks. His first thoughts were a mixture of where am I, what happened and what the hell do I do now. There were no immediate answers to any of his questions.

Every part of Tommy ached. His condition was aggravated by the fact that he’d evidently slept on the floor because that’s where he was when consciousness arrived.

Tommy stood. This hurt. He looked out the large picture window and saw tract houses across the street and beyond them mountains. This did not seem to be a very populous area. The area looked totally unfamiliar. Judging from the sun it was mid morning. It was hazy and looked hot. Tommy walked over to a sliding door that led to a side entrance. There was no house next door. On this side there was just endless fields of brown grass and ugly weeds. Tommy thought it as depressing a sight as he’d ever seen.

The house felt and sounded empty. There was a TV and a stereo, furnishings but no personal effects. Tommy went into a pristine bathroom and peed. There was a bar of soap by the sink and another in the shower. There was shampoo there and towels stacked by the door. The cabinets were empty. No prescription bottles, no toothpaste, no deodorant.

Tommy walked over to the kitchen. There were no dirty dishes. The cabinets were stocked with pots, pans, plates, glasses and a drawer was filled with silverware. But there was no food. In the fridge there was a six pack of bud and pitcher of water and not a damn thing else. Except in the salad crisper where he found his wallet and keys. All his cash was gone, though.

“What the fuck were my wallet and keys doing in the salad crisper?” Tommy wondered. “And where’s my goddamned cell phone?”

Tommy tentatively opened what he thought was the door to a bedroom. He was right that it was a bedroom but he had also assumed someone would be sleeping in the bed. There wasn’t. The bedroom didn’t look like anyone had used it recently. There were not only no personal effects but no clothes. The closet was empty except for a few hangers.

There was another bedroom that was smaller but in every other way was identical to the bigger one, including the bed being made and just a few hangers in the closet. He found a basement but the only things in it were a bicycle, a dog leash, and a box full of old Playboy magazines.

The backyard was all brown grass and weeds just like the adjoining fields. With each passing minute Tommy grew more depressed and more frightened and more worried. “Where the fuck am I?” he said aloud a few times.

Back in the house he looked for a telephone. There wasn't one. Tommy became more determined to find his cell phone. It seemed his only means of discovering a way out of this mess. Eventually Tommy found his socks and cell phone behind the sofa cushions but the battery to his phone had run out so it was of no immediate use to him. Tommy doubted he could find a charger. A thorough search of the house did not yield one. Tommy could envision no solution to his dilemma save finding a downtown area or mall. He’d have to head off on foot. By this time, despite the ravages of an awful hangover, Tommy was hungry. When he found a store he could buy something to eat with his credit card.

He’d just stepped outside when he remembered the bike in the basement. Maybe taking it was theft but given his circumstances Tommy was perfectly willing to take that chance.

Tommy hadn’t been on a bike in years and coupled with his hangover this made his initial efforts to ride awkward. Indeed he took one solid fall before feeling comfortable. Tommy noted the address of the house he’d woken up in just in case it somehow later became important. It was 246 something. Tommy rode to the end of the block before seeing that this was Pine Street. “Great name for a street around here, there’s probably not a pine tree for a hundred miles,” Tommy said aloud.

Tommy rode straight ahead down Pine. On the one hand he was scared out of his wits and on the other he had a strong feeling that everything would work out soon enough. It always did.

The last thing Tommy remembered before waking up was talking to some chick in a bar. He couldn’t remember who she was or what bar but he had a clear image of a blonde about 21 with a beautiful blue eyes. She was wearing next to nothing and Tommy remembered thinking he had a chance with her. But who was she was and what happened with her was as much a mystery as Tommy's current location. Prior to talking to the blonde girl he could remember being with some friends at a party and drinking shots of tequila and smoking some seriously powerful weed. Tommy could also remember someone saying something about acid but couldn't remember whether he'd dropped any.

This was not by any stretch of the imagination Tommy's first hangover but it was far and away the worst. At 23 Tommy had been getting high fairly regularly for six years. There was no drug or kind of booze he'd shied away from save heroin and he didn't doubt that he'd someday give that a try. But despite his extensive experience with morning afters, Tommy was in new territory. Here he was god knows where having gotten here god knows how.

Tommy continued riding down Pine Street looking ahead and to the left and right at every cross street searching unsuccessfully for signs of a downtown area or for that matter anything besides tract houses.

It was after about ten minutes of this that the ground seemed to start melting. This freaked Tommy out. He was even more disturbed when overcome with the sensation that he was now bicycling in mid air and that he was simultaneously looking down on himself riding there on melting pavement. Then it got weirder.

He wasn't peddling but moving just the same, the sun was changing shape and direction and color and parked cars and houses had trails of light emerging from them. Tommy realized that he was tripping off some sort of heavy acid. But that was impossible because he had slept. "Or did I? Maybe I just came out of a black out and haven't slept at all."

Panic.

Bobby stopped the bike, got on the sidewalk and closed his eyes. Terror gripped Tommy raising from the bottom of his spine all the way to his brain. Now it was a physical force surging through his loins. It emphasized the hunger pains in his stomach, it highlighted a recent bruise on his left knee, the acne on his chin pulsated, the exhaustion that was everywhere felt overpowering. Tommy wanted to die right then and there, he couldn't imagine living another second. It was all just too awful and he still had no fucking idea where he was or if he'd ever get out of his suburban hell or eat or see a familiar face. Ever. He was sweating and wanted to cry.

"You okay, there son?" It was an older man's voice. Tommy opened his eyes and looked at an old bald pot bellied man of about 75. He was wearing a white tee shirt and Adidas sweatpants. To Tommy the man looked like every grandfather he'd ever met. Maybe this was his salvation.

"I'm...I'm feeling sick and I'm very lost and I...don't know where my friends are. I just want to go home." Tommy's voice was choking. He sounded like a frightened little boy. He felt like one too.

"Well, son you're in Payton and you're about a mile from the shopping center. I'm sorry you're not feeling so good. You want to use my telephone? To call someone?" The old man seemed concerned and quite willing to help. But Tommy could only wonder where the hell was Payton, he'd never heard of it.

"Payton. I'm so confused. What's the next big city or town. I mean the nearest."

"Gracious son, you really are lost. We're...oh I'd say about 15 miles south of Bakersfield."

"Bakersfield! Bakersfield, California?" Tommy was in total shock. He lived in Portland, Oregon. And that's the last place he remembered being. His mind reeled and now the only colors he saw were dark ones.

"Oh my son, of course we're in California. What did you think?"

"This is Saturday, right?" It occurred to Tommy that if he wasn't in a different state he might have lost a day. He knew for a fact that it was Friday night when he was talking to the cute blonde.

"Lord no. Young man this is Tuesday. You can't possibly mean you thought this was a Saturday."

The urge to sob was almost uncontrollable but Tommy vowed not to so much as shed a tear. He had lost three days and was in another state and he was still very very high. In fact the old man was changing forms right before Tommy's eyes. He was impossibly large, the quite small and then far away and then looming above Tommy and his skin was changing colors.

"Come on in and you can use my phone and I'll give you a glass of water." The man offered. "My name is Rayford Pillick but you can call me Ray. Everybody does."

"Thank you, Ray." Tommy said to the ever changing shape that was the old man.

Ray led him into his home. There was an old woman sitting in front of a TV set watching a game show. Ray introduced his wife, Flora. "This poor young man is lost and I've offered to let him use our phone."

"You don't look very well, young man," Flora said.  Flora looked even older than Ray and just as much the quintessential grandparent. She began to shrink before Tommy's eyes and then expand.

"He doesn't feel at all well, poor fella. I'm gonna get him a glass of cold water," Ray told her.

"Oh that won't do, I'll make him a sandwich. Would you like that young man?"

"Yes, thank you," Tommy said. It was weird that he could be so polite and seemingly normal when he was tripping, but the old couple gave him a sense of comfort in what otherwise seemed a totally insane world in an absolutely terrifying time.

"The phone is in the den, just here," Ray said to Tommy indicating the first door down a narrow hallway. "It's okay if you need to call long distance," he added with a reassuring nod and smile.

Tommy entered the den and closed the door behind him. He could hear the old couple busy in the kitchen, talking to one another. It seemed they were glad for something to do and the opportunity to help someone. Tommy flicked on a light and saw the telephone on a small table. He was surprised  that it was an old dial tone phone. Tommy had only ever seen them in movies or TV shows or in used junk stores.

Tommy decided to call his best friend, Kyle. It seemed so laborious to use a dial phone. Instead of Kyle he got a recording saying the number he dialed did not exist or was no longer in service. "The dumb fuck probably forgot to pay his phone bill," Tommy thought. Next he tried his older brother Dan. It again took forever to make a call using this old fashioned dialing. This time there was ringing and someone answered. Tommy didn't recognize the voice and whoever it was told Tommy he had the wrong number. Tommy didn't doubt he had dialed wrong given his condition. He felt bad about making more than one long distance call, what with the old couple paying for it. Now Tommy thought it best to give in to pride and call his mother. He'd have to confess everything to her. She'd be pissed but could at least transfer enough money to his credit card and so he could get the hell out of here fast.

As Tommy dialed his mom's house he glanced up at the wall and saw a calendar. It was one of those funky ones that banks give you for free. It was weird because they had the right month, April, but it was a 1978 calendar. They'd kept that same calendar for 37 years. Tommy shook his head in disbelief that anyone, even an old people, would have a super old calendar still hanging. Tommy was very careful in dialing his mom. He didn't want another wrong number. The phone rang and rang and rang. Weird it didn't go to voice mail, Tommy thought. He let it rang 20 times. Tommy next decided to try his dad who would be at his office. His parents had been divorced for ten years and since high school Tommy rarely saw his dad though he called him often just to chat. His dad was partner in a law firm but Tommy didn't remember the number. He called directory assistance for Portland.

"I need the number for Jackson, Mavis and Moloch on Drake Boulevard, please."

"I'm not seeing a listing for anything by that name on Drake or anywhere else in Portland."

Tommy carefully repeated the name and that this listing was for Portland but the woman on the other end insisted there was no such name. The terror seized Tommy again, this time he felt it traveling from his toes into his hair. "What's today date?" he asked

"Why it's the 18th," the woman said.

"Of April, right?"

"Yes" the woman said drawing the word out as if confused by the question.

"The day of the week?"

"You're asking? Why, it's Tuesday."

"Okay, I know this is a really weird question, but what year is it. I'm serious." For a moment Tommy felt perfectly normal. As if he wasn't the least bit high.

"1978."

Tommy dropped the phone. He fell too his knees. Either this was a dream or Tommy Moloch had traveled back in time. "How, how, how," he whispered repeatedly.

There was a slight tap on the door. "You okay in there, son?" It was Ray. No he was not. He was 37 years into the past and that was way way way too much to handle.

Tommy stood. He hung up the phone. He opened the door. He looked past the old man and said excuse me as he brushed against Ray while walking to the front door. Ray found the bike. He got on and pedaled. Straight down Pine Street. He finally noticed that all the cars were older models. When he eventually got to downtown it further confirmed that Tommy was indeed in the past, and he didn't doubt that it was April, 1978. He could tell by the stores and the way people were dressed. Tommy rode through downtown and just kept going. His mind was a total blank. No thoughts at all. He didn't feel high. That was all gone. He didn't feel anything at all. He had no purpose whatsoever. Tommy rode all the way out of Payton onto a highway. After riding for a few miles he saw a deep ravine. At the bottom were jagged rocks and a small brook. It was about a 50 yard drop. It would do. Tommy backed up from the edge of the ravine about 100 yards. He built up a head of steam and rode into the emptiness above the ravine. As he fell Tommy wondered one last time how it happened, but he didn't really care. He needed this to be over.