Monday, December 21, 2015

A Christmas Parable

The cadenced crunch of a hunter’s boots breaking the icy crust of the sequined snow breached Nature’s silence in the muted forest.  A young man fought the tumult in the back of his mind, it was Christmas Day and with that came the feelings of hopeless loss.  Gone were the idealistic childhood fantasies, and in its place the mandated orgy of a commercial x-mas.  So gun in hand, he hid in the only safe place he knew, his beloved woods.  Sure the idea of killing on Christmas, even for food, seemed an affront to his waning Faith, but having checked the compendium of laws and finding no prohibition; the alternative was manifest of far worse transgressions.

The din of chaos back in town reverberated in his head.  The partisan cheers and expletive laden rants that his beer-lubricated uncles and cousins hurled at the televised games that they could never have excelled in, entwined with the soprano chortles of his gossiping mother and the female relatives as they busied themselves in preparing a gluttonous feast.  The shreds of the decorative paper that had once secreted the obligatory tithes to the doctrine of the all-American, conspicuous consumerism were quickly devoured by flames, spewing their chemical laden smoke up the chimney egress of the mythical Santa.  Even last evening’s church service had an air of a compulsory social appearance rather than any resemblance of reverent observance of the Christ’s birth.  What of this is supposed to be the Christmas Spirit?

The pristine trail had led most of a mile from his rusty truck and the unintentionally forgotten Thermos of coffee.  Leaning against a tree, the lone sojourner tapped a cigarette from its pack and inhaled the soothing wisps of tobacco.  He thought about his long absent father and what he would have thought about the evolution of this holiday; for that matter, what he would have thought about his son slowly injuring himself with the tars that carried the addictive nicotine deep into his lungs.  The conflicts of life were mental enigma that defied resolution; there arose a discomforting understanding of why so many veered to less pious paths.  There is the inevitability that every man is a sinner.

The cigarette dropped into a snowy boot track as muscle memory and woodsman instinct brought the shotgun to its ready.  A young tom stepped from the briars and announced his presence with a loud gobble.  Without thought or hesitation, the safety was off, the trigger pulled, and the turkey lain quivering; its blood staining the virgin blanket of white.

The disquieting ruminations abandoned, the huntsman set about field dressing the bird to preserve the meat from the effects of gastric fluids and bile.  It was a small male, less than half the size of the domesticated fowl his mother was basting in her oven.  But this was a gift of nourishment, not a product of the purposeless life of inhumane farming; this bird grew in the freedom of Nature and fed on the bounty of the forest, not caged in the confines of fecal laden barns, feeding on antibiotics and growth hormones.  His head bowed, the hunter said a prayer of gratitude, and then stood in the realization that life’s meaning often transcends reason.

Retracing his steps back to the familiar trail, an unexpected aroma of wood smoke piqued the interest of the seeker.  In the snow, less than thirty yards from the tree from where he had shot the turkey, there were unmistakable tracks of someone who had come from deeper in the forest and then retreated along the same course.

The path led to a ramshackle campsite.  A young husband and wife with their infant child, too young to be exposed to the winter air, sat huddled near a fire pit.  The camp consisted of a modest sized tent which housed sleeping bags and disorganized piles of clothing, there was an axe left idle near a sizable wood pile of deadfall, some rudimentary cooking implements, an oaken bucket used to fetch water from the nearby stream, and a rusty but workable bicycle. 

Their story was not unheard of in these difficult times.  Eking out a modest two-earner living, an unplanned pregnancy, an employer’s failed business, and the inefficient snail’s pace of a secular welfare system left the couple with few viable options.   

The turkey was retrieved from the game pouch and presented as a Christmas gift to the wayward couple.  With patient instruction, water was heated and the fowl cleaned of its feathers, a spit was built of green wood and the meat set to roast.  The hunter then gave his cherished Remington to the husband so that his family might never go hungry.  He emptied his wallet and pockets of all of his cash and change, giving it to the wife so that baby might have its necessities.  And finally taking the family by their hands and kneeling beside the fire, the young man bowed to the child and recited what he could remember of the Gospel’s account of that first Christmas more than two millennia ago. 

The shadows had grown long as the shortened day began to wane.  Wary of the unarmed return trek in darkness, the hunter bid the pilgrims farewell and left into the deepening nightfall.

Now the quintessence of any Christmas story is some defining, feel-good miracle, but the true Christmas Miracle happened more than two thousand years ago and still reverberates through the world today.  Who doesn’t feel the Miracle whenever someone leaves a gold coin or diamond ring in one of those “red kettles,” or the news hits of a stranger paying off someone else’s layaway bill, or a soup kitchen feeding the needy, or a motorcycle club gathering toys…  The list goes on and on, not only during this season of realization, generosity and charity, but throughout the year.  The thing is, is that the “feel-good” Christmas Miracle only becomes miraculous when it touches you and causes you to touch someone else. 

This is not one of my autobiographical memoires that happens to fit the time and message, but I will admit that its impetus was a “favor” I did for someone I barely know, and the worry and insecurity I had over potentially being scammed.  In the end, my deed did some good, and although it did not permanently solve the other person’s dilemma, it did allay a portion of the emergent crisis.

I would like to invite each of you to get involved in Christmas, not only this week, but every week.  There is not one of us who alone, can save the world, but even the tiniest pebble makes a ripple.  Do something you can be proud of, even if it feels a little scary or uncomfortable.  Make a little ripple in the continuum of humanity, and maybe together we can join to form a tsunami of good.  Together, just maybe, we can save at least a part of the world.  Go make someone’s day, and have a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Autumn: Mother Nature's Menopause

     The view from my front deck is awe inspiring.  Although much of my beloved forest canopy is still clothed in the couverture verte of late summer, balloons of vibrant hues bespeckle the vista near and far.  Mother Nature has come to the end of her reproductive season and has begun her annual change of life.  Yes, the dear Mother of our Northern Hemisphere has entered her yearly menopause

     Autumn is such a visually beautiful time of year in the Great Smoky Mountains as the foliage dons its brilliant fall Joseph’s Coat of reds, purples, amber and orange.  But the seasonal change in the Womb of the World has its more fickle side.  Recently, we mere mortals that live in the majestic Southeast were tormented with Mother’s emotional mood swings that started with several days of gentle weeping and built itself up into a torrent of bawling that left many towns awash in a flood of tears.  Some lost their lives and many others lost their homes; there are many whose lives are still disrupted, floundering in need of assistance.  To them, I send my heartfelt prayers.

     I am fortunate to live far enough north and west of her most recent wrath, only to have mildly suffered through a week and a half of wet, gray, cold days, with mornings of blinding fog and evenings trying to appease my suffering dogs that were equally tortured by bloated bladders and their disdain for rain soaked feet.

     With the new season, the dawn breaks a little later each day and the evenings seem impatient to arrive compelling the need for cold artificial lighting that lacks the life-energizing radiance of the sun-god who is chased from his sky-throne ever earlier each afternoon.  Life slows as Mother enters her change.

      Each morning I awake to her cold shoulder and quickly wrap myself in my favorite cowl-neck sweater for the warmth and comfort I used to glean from Ms. Nature.  (Sweater? I hate that word; can’t we come up with something for those warm over-wraps that doesn’t involve perspiration?)  By the afternoon, her inevitable hot flashes will have me shedding layers of clothing, opening windows and turning on ceiling fans.  I tolerate her climatic fluctuations without complaint.  In her current state of emotional turmoil, it is not advisable to rile the Mother’s angst; it was only last year when she cast an angry blanket of snow across the region to spoil the Halloween of our youngest mountain dwellers.

     Yet as the emerald days of summer slip past the fleeting
kaleidoscope of autumn colors and into the barren browns of her winter’s sleep, we reverently rejoice in all that the Mother provides.  The farmer’s markets are still laden with the late harvest, and like the squirrels and chipmunks gathering their cache of walnuts, acorns and chestnuts, kitchens everywhere are busy canning and freezing the tastes and nourishment of her bounty to tide us over until she once again warms the sky and the Earth to begin the new growth of next year’s spring.  It is a glorious day, and I am grateful to be here to enjoy it.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Was the Lion King really a Chipmunk?

Was the Lion King really a Chipmunk?

Yesterday afternoon I witnessed something that you would ordinarily only see on a National Geographic nature special.  Well, except on National Geographic it would have ended with the requisite circle of life meal.

It started with my dogs barking on the front deck.  I could tell by their voices that it wasn’t a visiting dog or anyone else, besides my driveway alarm had not sounded to alert me of an approaching entity.  After a few minutes with my boys not calming down, I ventured outside to see what had captured their attention.

They were both sitting close up against the gate that keeps them confined to the second story porch, but they were looking down along the front of the garage doors.  I walked over to follow their gaze, and there about 30 feet away, sitting on a short rock wall in the garden alongside the driveway was a sizable black snake.  Now my snake expertise is limited to, “Ahhh!  Snake!  Run!”  I do know that we do not have any venomous black snakes in North Carolina.  Still, all in all, a four-foot long snake sunning on the rocks less than ten feet from my garage door was not making me happy.

I watched with curiosity as the serpent lifted one of the rocks with its head and slithered down into what is obviously a known crevice deep within the stones.  I kind of smiled that the last four inches of his tail did not follow him inside.  As I considered whether I should ( eew, eew, eew) intervene with its chosen lair, I noticed higher up on the wall there was a very pissed off chipmunk.

The chipmunk, with his tail slapping his back in rhythmic warnings, climbed down the wall and stealthily crept in a wide circle up to the legless one’s hiding place.  He positioned himself atop a rounded stone, a mere three inches from the serpent tail and looked like he was going to pounce upon the obviously more abled foe.

I really wanted to run and grab a camera, but I was sure that the absurd confrontation would not last long enough for me to fetch my zoom lens.  I was seriously concerned that the snake’s head may have been curled around toward the opening and my furry rodent neighbor might end up as an Alvin Tartar entrée.
The bizarre, death defying dance of the chipmunk continued for more than ten minutes as he neared and then backed off from his death-wish.  Eventually I guess he decided that the snake was not going to join in his suicidal game and he climbed back up the mountainside, stopping every few feet to see if his friend was following him.

This morning there was no sign of the snake, Alvin or any echoes of Rafiki’s lyrics (as written by Elton John), but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sometimes my mind wanders

If you see my mind run by, please try and stop it.  I think Adrianna’s brain wandered off, too.

This morning following a promotional piece about Highland Brewing hosting Banjopalooza this weekend (yeah, I’d have to be drunk too), there was a tragic story on the news about a police involved shooting here in my quiet hamlet (you’ll get the pun later) of Waynesville, North Carolina.  Apparently police were called to a scene of shots fired.  They discovered a lone gunman hiding in a church; gunfire was exchanged.  The news reported that there was no word on the condition of the gunman who was shot by the police.  This was being said while in the background a video showed the coroner carrying a body bag out of the church.  I guess they didn’t want to jump to conclusions, I mean maybe the gunman was shy and hid in the body bag to avoid having his face on TV.

This, of course, spawned a conversation between Adrianna and I about reusable body bags and whose unfortunate job it is to wash them out, which obviously led to a discussion on the growing popularity of rental caskets, the age-old conundrum of cremation versus burial, and finally to the Danish practice of temporary interment.  Apparently in Denmark, unless you pay an annual fee, you only get to use your grave for ten years, after that they dig up what’s left and evict you.  (That gives a whole new meaning to, “Your time is up.”)  Come to think of it, that is probably why Hamlet delivered his soliloquy while holding Yorick’s skull.  The poor court jester had to give up his grave to the next corpse.

Adrianna was at a loss to explain to me what the Danes do with the disinterred remains.  We joked about grieving families finding an unexpected package at their front door or the possibility of a truly gruesome corner of the local dump, but we decided that the remains were probably cremated.  Which, of course, is ironic, since the family had incurred the expense of a traditional burial only to have their loved one cremated later.

This led two writers’ minds to ponder what happens if those underpaid grave-digger-uppers unearth a zombie or vampire.  But then we remembered the Midsummer Danish Holiday, Sankt Hans Aften (or Saint John’s Eve) where those wily Danes build bonfires and roast witches on stakes (I’d rather roast steaks and s’mores).  Perhaps this celebration, often blamed on those scapegoats of Western Civilization, the Pagans, is really a masquerade to dispose of the annual cache of the undead Danish.

Anyway, I realize it is spurious speculation, but I think the gunman is dead.  I doubt that Brevard resident, Steve Martin, is going to make an appearance at Banjopalooza.  And I would rather be cremated than dumped in a hole.  

Did you ever wonder what editors do with their time?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Is Sponge Bob Square Pants edible?

Is Sponge Bob Square Pants edible?

Yesterday, I was exhausted from too many 12 hour days of editing, so I scratched out a short shopping list, gathered up some recyclable cardboard and took it downstairs to the basement.  When I switched on the light I realized that my less-obedient dog had decided that the morning rains had left the yard too wet for his delicate feet and peed on the side door instead of walking through the opening and doing his business outside.

I was pissed (forgive the pun).  I washed down the puddle and disinfected the concrete floor before stomping upstairs to let Cory know just how upset I was.  Both dogs were bouncing around in joyous anticipation of a ride in the truck, but my mood soon turned their puppy-upper into a doggy-downer.  They knew there was not going to be an open-window, tongue-flapping delightful trip down the mountain that day.

I grabbed my hat and keys, locked the boys in the house and started down the steep grade of my driveway.  I made it to the gate before I realized I had left the list on the kitchen counter; I swore at myself, but was still so mad at my canine son, I decided to press on relying solely on my memory.  I reached the mailbox at the foot of the mountain and retrieved a couple of checks.  It was there that I discovered that I had also forgotten my glasses.  I wasn’t going back.

I managed my shopping successfully, although I did not buy any meat because I couldn’t make out the pricing.  However I could see well enough that while picking up some cheap macaroni and cheese, I could make out that the brand name was on a Buy-One-Get-One special making it cheaper than the store brand.

Upon arriving back at the house and reminding Cory that I had not forgotten his so-called accident, I began preparing my supper and the mac-n-cheese from which I use a few morsels to convince the dogs that they’re eating people food.  When the water began to boil, I opened the box and to my surprise, out came Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Just below the “Don’t go grocery shopping when hungry” line on my list things to remember, I added, “Don’t go shopping without your glasses or you may end up with a trouser wearing Porifera for dinner.”

And by the way, do Canadian football players have bad breath?  As evening settled across the mountains, I retired to my bedroom, switched on the TV and found an in-progress game from the CFL.  I figured what the heck; it’ll do until the real football starts in another month or two.  I noticed that the offensive and defensive lines, position themselves TWO FULL YARDS (or is it meters?) apart from one another.  How are you supposed to insult the parental lineage of the other players or threaten bodily harm to the other team’s quarterback if you’re not allowed to get any closer than six feet?  Is it really football without the trash talk?  I say we take up a collection for some toothpaste and mouthwash, and teach the Canadians how the game is supposed to be played.  Maybe we should gather up our national stockpiles of Kraft’s Sponge Bob Square Pants and Cheese and ship that up north while we’re at it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Let's Make a Deal

As you may or may not know, when I sit down to write some of these posts, I think back over my week and try and come up with some small kernel of humor or irony from which I can expound.  Today I got to thinking about Monty Hall and the old Let’s Make a Deal TV show. 

This week something happened to me from which I am still suffering a hangover of consequences.  Although there is more than one of you who know what I am talking about, the specifics are somewhat personal, include another individual and are not entirely germane to the point of this little muse.

However, to lay some small foundation, I was ensnared to help with a problem by someone who by mutual consent, I have no contact with.  I was faced with the quandary of my instinctive desire to help anyone in need, juxtaposed to my concern over a prolonged unhealthy communication and potential confrontation. 

Monty kept asking me if I wanted Door #1, Door #2 or Door #3, so I weighed my options.

Door #1:  I could surrender to my innate ire at the unexpected incursion into my peaceful existence.  I knew there was no chance at reciprocity; this was not a favor between friends, but an exploitive one-way street paved with the remnants of a distant troubled history.  Inside my anger grew, but I was in no mood for an altercation.  I passed on Door #1.

Door #2:  I could swallow my pride with hope that it might digest my anger.  If I could solve the problem, the irritant factor might retreat back into the desolation of ignored existence and my life could maintain its status quo.

Door #3:  Or I could bow out politely leaving a defined implication that I was not interested in being listed as one of her problem solving resources.  This of course could result in a retaliatory response not unknown to this person.

I chose Door #2 because I thought I had conceived a simple fix to the request for help.  Unfortunately, a few hours passed and I was called again and informed of the failure of my solution, that the problem was now augmented by additional difficulties and a re-plead urgent appeal for my assistance.  The new wrinkles in the dilemma immediately suggested an alternate plan of action that contained a small, finite number of variable postulates guaranteeing its success.  Confident that I had solved not only the distant issue but my own interpersonal predicament, I retired to my bedroom for some late TV and much needed rest.

After a few hours, my phone lit up with a text explaining the incomprehensible failure of my new plan, the suggestion that I should accept the transfer of the problem to my own computer, that I should solve the scenario without the participation of the other person and the announcement of an impending face-to-face visitation.  I, rightly or wrongly, perceived this as a bridge-building ploy; a tactic not unknown to the arsenal of my adversary, and one that I have fallen prey to on more than one occasion.  I closed Door #2.

The next day, I composed a brief text that explained that I had no additional time to devote to the problem at hand, and that due to the years of our estrangement I could foresee no benefit in meeting again face to face.  My reply was met with angered declarations that every transgression ever committed against mankind, including those she committed, were the result of my personal actions and all the sins of the world were, of course, my fault.

I allowed those words to piece my skin like the venomous fangs of a snake and spent two days in the torture of self-doubt and insecurity.  As is my habit, I sought cathartic relief in my writing, starting and stopping a half dozen formats whereon I thought I could bleed a little for the mutual benefit of my readers and my health.  Each attempt was met with insurmountable obstacles of wordless feelings and incompetent construction.  I could not find my safety valve to release the pressure building inside me.

Fearing yet another failure, I persevered on this piece, discovering only as I started this final paragraph, that my quest for resolution lies not within me, but within my antagonist.  For if I was as vile and unworthy as her words suggest then why her persistent need to reconnect.  I am far from perfect and perhaps my faults do merit occasional derision, but I am unashamedly me.

All these things are who I am,
I am me,
It’s who I am.

I stand here now
both humble and proud,
for I have sinned
and I have failed,
I’ve known Grace
and tasted victory,
I have disappointed
and been let down,
I’ve learned knowledge
and shown great ignorance,
I have loved
and been loved,
In some eyes
I shine bright,
in others,
I am but a tarnished relic.

All these things are who I am,
I am me,

It’s who I am.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Excuse me, I found a nickel.

This morning, while proofreading a particularly boring transcript of a municipal hearing on the suspension and termination of one of the village's high-ranking employees, I was surprised by my mind’s instinctive fight-or-flight response.  From the dark recesses of useless memory came a flash of my kindergarten days in the Gertrude C. Folwell School in good old Mt. Holly, New Jersey.

During a recess I had fortuitously found a nickel on the path that led from the back fence up into the school yard.  There was not a moment’s hesitation in my intentions; I took the five-cent piece to the Principal’s Office and turned it in.

The grey-haired smiling faces behind the impossibly tall counter filled out a 3x5 index card with my name, date, value of the treasure and my teacher’s name, and informed me that if no one claimed the fortune in the next two weeks, I could reclaim it and keep it all to myself.

Now before you judge my naiveté, please keep in mind that growing up in a family of five children being supported by an enlisted Air Force NCO’s salary, I was likely pulling down a hard 25 cents per week in allowance.  This windfall I had discovered amounted to about 1/5 of my weekly income.  If you were to find someone’s misplaced money that equated to 20% of your weekly income and not consider attempting to find the rightful owner, well, I think that would say more about you and how you might feel if it was your money that was accidentally lost.

Anyway, I had a hardy laugh at myself as I remembered my youthful angst waiting for the two weeks to elapse so that I could retrieve my fortune and head over to the Little Green Mount Store and buy some Red Hots or Good-n-Plenty.  But as the innocent pleasures of childhood raced through the empty environs of my cranial cavity, I couldn't help but wonder if one of those kindly old schoolmarms wasn't secretly wishing the tiny towheaded boy would forget the nickel amid the vast distractions of primary education/playtime and she might slip the riches into her pocket and abscond with my much-deserved wealth. 

Wow, what a half-century of life can do to an innocent mind! 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Don't you love new technology? Maybe too much?

Are we too much in love with technology?  There seems to be not only unintended consequences affecting human life with our beloved technological advances, but an inane futility in our never ending pursuit of the next great invention.

The impetus of this post was my recent trip to the newly renovated Wendy’s in town.  There I encountered Coca Cola’s Freestyle,
The Fountain of the Future, soft drink dispenser.  The monstrosity is controlled by a giant smartphone-like touchscreen that enables the indoctrinated user to navigate through the not-so-user-friendly menus that feature every flavor variation in Coke’s repertoire.  

The incredible unsanitary premise of a machine that has every patron in the busy restaurant smearing their fingers across a communal surface-capacitance control device without regard to when or if anyone has washed their hands, prompted enough concern that I wrote Coca Cola, Wendy’s, the machine’s manufacturer, our local TV news and posted on multiple social media sites.  These dispensers have the very real potential to be ground zero in the next pandemic of infectious disease. 

My concern was met with everything from, “Leave your food and go wash your hands before eating” (yeah, right!), to a suggestion that I carry disinfectant clothes to wipe the screen first, to “I love those things, they are great!” to “Ask the cashier to get your soda from the drive-thru.”  There was a unanimous tacit agreement that eating a hamburger and fries with your bare hands after swapping sweat with the general unwashed public is not a good idea, but no one was ready to admit that the cool new technology might not be a good idea.

The unintended consequences of adaptive technology are changing the face of civilization.  How often do you see (perhaps even at home) a family dinner
eaten in silence as people stare into the screens of their smartphones?  This week there was a medical report released emphasizing the sedentary effects on health and antisocial behavior by the users of computers, tablets, phones and video games.  All of these essential gadgets are celebrated technological achievements, but unfortunately they are proving, in part, detrimental to their users.

Google Glasses and the Apple Watch are leading the way in wearable technology, perhaps usurping the potential worthiness of pierced eyeglasses and the subdural watch (I mean really,
who wouldn't want their glasses screwed permanently to their nose or their watch surgically implanted in their arm?)

Kraft foods and Intel have
collaborated in a kiosk technology that uses facial recognition and an interactive video interface to tell passers-by what they should be eating for dinner.  I doubt it will ever get as popular as the vending
machine that dispenses Korean Kimchi.  Of course after a meal of fermented and
highly spiced cabbage, you might also need the patented Gas Grabber to avoid the potential of social olfactory offenses.

Sometimes the next great thing is
not necessarily great.  Sure you can eat dinner in the sky, but before you get hoisted, you had better use the restroom.  There is no plumbing up there. 

You can download the latest iPhone app that will cross reference Facebook “check-ins” and Yelp posts to point you in the
direction of the nearest female (I must be really old fashioned; I use my eyes), but be careful if Elbo Room points you towards the men’s lavatory, there’s new
technology now that allows women to pee standing up.  (What do they do with the funnel when they're done?  I hope they already got their soda.)

Yes, technology is fun, but beware of the eventuality of its benefits.  Have you ever had your computer crash, television quit or your automobile break down?  Technology is not exactly reliable.  It makes me laugh when I hear friends and relatives speak of their paranoia of flying in an aircraft (and in the shadow of recent events, riding in a train) because they feel like they are not in control.  As an example, last night I was watching a movie with a lady-friend; there was the requisite car chase wherein the good guy had a partner riding with him as he crashed through the streets of Moscow. 
My friend remarked, “Oh my God, I could never ride shotgun during something like that.”  So what is technology’s answer: Google’s driverless cars?  Yup, I see nothing wrong with that, I mean the circuitry would never fail leaving the passengers helpless and without control.

All in all, I love technology as much as the next person; I just view it with enough skepticism that I am not blind to its pitfalls.  I would be the one looking behind the curtain when I had an audience with the Great and Powerful Oz,
and I am also the one who looks at the hands of the kid in front of me dispensing his cup of Cherry Coke, and wonder what he’s been doing since the last time his hands saw soap and water.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Lonely Man

    It was not his intention to go adventuring there.  He had confidants and advisors beckoning him to get out and socialize.  The solitude of his circumstances could only be cured by the company of people not yet met.  So reluctantly, he went.

    The familiar streets were crowded with unfamiliar faces, all looking past him as if he were invisible.  The passersby attentions all trained on their companions; there was no room for the lowly stranger in their midst.  

    The town was alive with revelry; noise came from all directions.  The din was both unbearably loud and totally indecipherable.  Laughter, shrieks, distant calls combined with the music of a dozen venues and a thousand muttered conversations to become a mélange of nerve challenging dissonance.

    His deliberate smiles and tacit hellos met empty eyes and averted glances; he ruminated that had he had ventured out completely nude, he was certain that his presence would have gone just as unnoticed.  He found no friends. 

    Transecting the calamity of tourists and locals, the need for a strong drink entered his mind.  Loitering with the unwitting expectation that a rescue squad of forgotten and neglected acquaintances from his previous life might somehow salvage the night, the possibility of an empty discourse with a professional conversationalist drove him to the nearest watering hole.  The unseeing crowd gave no yield to his incursion, and when by a series of widening detours, the lone man gained proximity to the bar, there were no voids for which he could fill.  Standing three back from his intended goal and gesturing in direct line-of-sight, his discomfort grew as the mute bartender proved as blind as the pedestrians on the street to his presence. 

    Backtracking through the inattentive throngs, he found the sidewalk equally as stifling as the dram shop.  Evasively wandering amid the swirling currents of street musicians, young lovers, generational families and cliques of back-slapping comrades enrapt in their secret mottled words and gestures, the lone man opened every unlocked door only to find over and over again, the same disconcerting crowd, each time wearing different faces.
     Nary a single smile could he garner, and the scant few moments of eye contact were colored with undertones of pity and misunderstanding.  He was alone not by choice, but yes, he was alone.

     At last the Heavens granted him some respite; the skies opened above the quaint town and dowsed it with a cleansing rain.  He now had unquestionable reason to slink back to the comfort of his lonely hovel, justified with his earnest attempt to appease the admonitions of those who bade him to go.   

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Toast to Tomorrow

            The weight of the morning sat heavy on his chest.  He had carried the bags of a dozen months of cohabitation down to her car, and then watched as she drove off.  It is not often that one gets to watch their memories leave in such a physical manner.  There were so many memories; much more history than the past year might suggest.  The two had been co-workers, friends, co-conspirators, mutual consolers during each one’s breakup, but more than anything, they were the anchor that held the other from drifting into turbulent waters.
            There had been plenty of good times, a few not-so-good, but nothing really bad, at least not that he could think of, but then good, bad and indifferent are always a matter of personal perspective.  Whatever they had had in the past was moot; she took her things under the guise that their two lives could no longer be blended, and that both of them carried too much destructive baggage.
            The house felt abandoned while a satellite radio station spewed a steady stream of music from the 70s; he had hoped that old memories might quell the pain of the newer ones, but Hall and Oates, Jimmy Buffett and Rod Steward kept lamenting about broken hearts and lost loves.  The music didn’t do justice to the ebbing weekend.  The past few days had been spent smiling and laughing, drinking libations alfresco with quiet conversations and intimate dinners.  There had been no unreasonable expectations; they both knew the visit was to retrieve the balance of her belongings and to close the doors left ajar when she suddenly disappeared so many months ago.  It was intended as a happy ending, and in spite of the weight, it had been.
            The weekend’s evenings, mottled by wine and the fatigue of unpracticed activities, ended in bed together as always, and as always, without the intimacy they both needed and were both too afraid to let happen. 

            Their time together was over; she was gone and he set about straightening the house to fill the void.  It was an easy decision to leave the sheets until tomorrow; another night with her scent to stir his dreams would be good.  But he closed the bathroom door in a vain effort to ignore the barren vanity bereft of its collection of creams and lotions.
            Washing her favorite coffee cup and placing it back in the cupboard, the mental echo of her parting promise to visit again brought a smile to the corner of his lips.  It was, as he knew, an empty promise; one meant to assuage the sadness of their goodbye and not something to dwell on with anticipation.  Yes, there would be phone calls, texts and emails, but like the oil and vinegar that tastes so good together on tossed greens, in stillness, they can’t remain together.  Their days were over, and like the waning light of a sunset, their conversations would soon fade into the stillness of night.  She had been right; he could no more live her life than she could his.

            Rikki, don’t lose that number, sang in the background as he pulled a pizza from the freezer.  Life again would return to wordless nights of sophomoric television, meals eaten over the sink and a lonely, cold bed.  If blame needs to be laid, the target was not obvious.  Pouring a first glass of wine, he stepped onto the deck to watch the sun creep toward the horizon of experiences not yet lived; he wondered where she was, and if in her heart, she felt deflated or relieved.  With the revelation that she was no longer his worry, some of the heaviness lifted.  He raised a glass to the distant vista, “To the good times past, and to lives not yet lived.”

Rikki, don't lose that number,
You don't wanna call nobody else;
Send it off in a letter to yourself.
Rikki, don't lose that number,
It's the only one you own.
You might use it if you feel better
When you get home.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Star Wars Day, Cinco de Mayo and canine organized sports

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  Yeah, I know, sort of anticlimactic after yesterday’s Star Wars festivities (May the Fourth be with you!)

But I celebrated a little differently.  Have you ever stood on a cliff face and wondered what it would be like to step over the edge?  Okay, I know that sounds a little too morbid, especially coming from somebody who is chronically depressed, but in a way, that's what I did yesterday.

I was on the way to town; I had to drop off a bank deposit and pick up a couple of essentials from the grocery store.  It was a beautiful warm day; I had both dogs with me and I thought why not (eerie music plays: bum bum bummmm), let's stop at the dog park.

OMG!  Trying to get two leashed dogs from the appropriately named parking lot into the park was like trying to unbraid a Rastafarian's hair.  The tethers were going in every direction at once, and of course, every blade of grass, tuft of shrubbery, tree trunk and fence post had to be individually sniffed and then peed on.

When I at last got them both going in the same direction and we crossed the bridge that separates the skateboard park from the dog park, I was pleasantly surprised that there were only two dogs in the huge enclosure.  This was Cory’s first outing, and I had some mental reservations about how he would socialize with other dogs.  I had little to worry about; after the requisite butt checks, the four little guys set about frolicking. 

I was conversing with two mommies about breeds, adoption and personalities when another mommy came with her two dogs.  Then another arrived, and then two more, and two more, and then three parents simultaneously, each with two of their own.  Soon there were in excess 30 canines running about the park.

The dogs eventually broke out in four or five packs, each with a self-elected alpha quarterbacking the activities.  There were the occasional skirmishes within the squads; sometimes a parent would have to intervene as a referee, but most of the time it was settled by a negotiated trade with one of the other teams.

The fun came as each new arrival would enter through the double gated sally port.  All the teams would rush the new recruit and vie to draft him or her onto their team.  This frequently ended in loud arguments between multiple alphas, and often involved a parent or two venturing into the swirling tempest of snarling muzzles in order to separate the running backs from the defensive linemen.

One of the more entertaining sights was when my Sebastian would be taunting a big dog (he loves to play with dogs at least four times as large as he), and he would get in the big guy’s face (literally, he stands on his back feet and puts his front paws on the other dog’s face), sometimes the bigger dog would react with an end around blitz that would knock poor Sebastian to the ground.  It would not deter my little guy; he is confident that his 20 pounds of spry, cunning offense is no match for any 100 pound defensive linebacker.  But every time Sebastian was knocked over, Cory would sprint from whatever third string practice squad he was assigned to, and pounce on the big dog to defend his brother.  I would have to jump in and tell Cory it was okay, that Sebastian and his friend were only playing and that he’d better get back to his own team or he would get cut (again) and have to sit on the bench during the games.

Eventually the length of their tongues dangling from their mouths told me it was time to get the leashes reattached and head back to truck where I had a cold bottle of water waiting to quench their well-earned thirst.

It was good for all of us to get out, and I think I enjoyed it almost as much as they did.  There is little doubt that we will be visiting the park again soon.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jedidiah the Mountain Man, part two

The footpath up the mountain was well worn, but appeared to end abruptly at the high rock outcropping from which Jedidiah first emerged.  What was unseen from my vantage below was the narrow space between the limestone boulders.  This shadowy crevice wove back through the rock face with a serpentine series of switchbacks, rising in crests and dropping into troughs.  The canyon path was deprived of direct sunlight by the towering walls of stone.  The hike, climbing up and down through blind twists and turns, soon bewildered both my sense of direction and perception of elevation.  At the crest of a steep climb, the path appeared to split in two directions.  Jed turned with a sly smirk and said, “You’en dun neber go dat way; not lest you gots a parachute.”  A glance to my left revealed wide open space and a bright sunlit trail.  Curiosity got the better of me and I ventured a few steps in the direction of his warning.  The trail ran alongside a cliff, it was graveled, but looked entirely navigable.  As I scanned the terrain in search of the forewarned peril, a rock, several inches in diameter, flew past my head landing 15 or 20 feet ahead of me on the path.  Its concussion started a sizable avalanche of gravel cascading down the mountain and over the cliff.  Jed’s voice filled with laughter, “Dats why.”  
The old mountain man led me back into the dark maze of crevices emerging eventually onto a forested slope that led down to a primitive hand-hewn log cabin.  The ancient shelter appeared no larger than 20 foot long and its greyed timbers were chinked in red clay so that from a distance it took on the resemblance of a weathered flag.  There were two small out buildings, one chinked and one open, as well as what looked to my unindoctrinated eyes to be a bricked barbeque pit emitting a wisp of bluish smoke from a short chimney.  I could hear but not see a stream running nearby, but the sound blended with the view of his shaded homestead giving the entire scene the air of a nineteenth century John Muir narrative.
I was winded from the trek and had trouble keeping pace with my strange and aged guide.  My legs and buttocks burned with fatigue and I was looking forward to a much needed respite.  Making our way into the campsite, I dropped the weight of the stowage I carried from the 4-wheeler and began to notice the pioneering craftsmanship of the homestead.  The bricks on the chimney were kiln dried clay and straw; there were numerous seats and tables made of poplar wood shaped by a skilled hand and adze; there were cords upon cords of ax-split firewood; a rocking chair of tied bent birch sat on the covered porch; and the barbeque revealed itself, even to my novice eyes, as a mash pot cooling after last evening’s run.
Jedidiah lives his life in near seclusion with no neighbors, no electricity, no running water (except for his icy stream), no sanitary sewer, cell phone or Internet.  The prospect of living wholly connected to the Earth and isolated from everything else seemed frightening to me to say the least, but then as Jed began to teach me his ways, I came to understand that it is our on-the-grid society that is lacking.  The gadgetry and innovation of connectivity has left our civilization exiled from the true essence and spirit of life.  We have gorged ourselves on the fruits of the tree of knowledge for so long that we now suffer from a collective forgetfulness.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jedidiah the Mountain Man, part one

     Meeting Jed

     I considered turning back more than once; the torrent of well-meaning ridicule never weakened my resolve until I was miles from any known trail, deep in the virgin forest and growing wary of the less docile denizens of these steep mountains.  The planning process was full of chest-puffed bravado and childishly imagined death-defying adventures, now I had to face my unexpected trepidation at being alone and isolated from any modicum of aid and assistance.  To protect the privacy of this Holy Grail of folktale writing, I had not disclosed to anyone my exact destination or the timing of my sojourn; I was totally alone without any hope of rescue should it be needed, and that thought began to bother me. 
     I idled my four-wheeler for a sip of not-so-cool water and yet another check of my sidearm; I said a secular prayer that my pawnshop purchase would indeed fire if called upon.  I had foolishly never test fired the old Smith and Wesson.  My friends and family were unanimous in their declaration that my quest was pure folly, but Butch, who supplied me with my annual plastic jug of Mountain Water, swore he knew the old man.  A chance to meet and interview a genuine “wild man” was too…  Ha, I don’t have a good word for it, but everything I have and everything I am made it worth the chance.  And that’s what I did; I bet everything on an undiscovered artifact of old Appalachia.
     All I left the house with was a light-weight tent, a sleeping bag, two changes of clothing, a couple cans of stew (and yes, I did remember a can opener), some store-bought jerky, two gallons of water, a five-gallon can of gas, my used ATV, and a gun.  I did carry my cell phone and two of those “emergency” charge packs, but honestly, I knew they wouldn’t be worth a shit for communication; I needed the phone strictly for its GPS function.  My biggest realized dilemma was that the coordinates that Butch gave me put the old man’s cabin in a deep swale surrounded on all sides by craggy ridges, and I had no idea from which direction to attempt the approach.
      There were no trails to follow; I never even identified what some more “woodsy” kind of person might call a game trail.  I had little doubt that the contraband liquor that I have come to love had its genesis in these remote hills; it would take one bold son-of-a-bitch lawman to hunt a still site this deep in the woods.  After five hours of working around deadfall, fording spring-fed streams, blazing new switchbacks in order to climb the steep grades, all the while constantly shifting my weight to prevent what would likely be a fatal rollover, I had come to hate the staccato popping of the Honda engine between my legs.  If I were a younger man (and maybe in a whole lot better shape), I think I would have been tempted to leave the bike and work my way in on foot.  The sound from the muffler was the only unnatural sound under the arboreal canopy; it was an affront to thousands upon thousands of years of nature.  I felt like an unforgivable sinner despoiling Paradise.  And then he appeared.
      The initial movement I more sensed as an uneasy feeling rather than something in a direct line of sight.  I knew I was not alone in the forest, my incursion had scattered a myriad of game and in all but two fortuitous happenstances, the animals’ retreats were heard rather than observed.  I had spotted two whitetail does’ flags arc over an ancient fallen hemlock with a coincidental glance, and I had also seen something large and dark between the pillars of flora that I had hoped against hope was not aggressive enough to challenge my marksmanship or the stopping power of a short-barreled .380.  But this was different; high above me there had been movement and it seemed to be shadowing my progress along the hillside.  I eased the slide back on the pistol and felt for the safety cursing myself for accepting the assurances of the tattooed pawnbroker.  In the comfort of retrospection, the investment was unnecessary and to this day, the pistol remains untested, locked in a box in my closet.  The first glimpse of Jedidiah was not what I expected; he stepped from an outcrop of boulders and waved at me.  What appeared before me was a broad grin on a grizzled face of indeterminable age, atop a slim, muscled body clad from his leggings to his head cover in varying hues of rough stitched animal pelts.  I had assumed he’d be a cautious recluse who would need much cajoling to permit a visit and an interview by some no-name starving writer; I was wrong.
     Jedidiah climbed effortlessly down the grade and greeted me with a hearty laugh and an accent of long-drawn vowels and shorted consonant sounds.  His first words were, “Cay mi Jed; whad dey cay yuz.”  After being congratulated on a fine ole timey Bible name, he told me to leave the four-wheeler (daggum noisy ‘trapson) and proceeded to help me offload and tote my provisions (grubz an tuff) up over the top of the ridge.  He said, “Yuz want be needin’ ‘em, bot id keps da baaars frum ‘aving a goo ole time. Dems rascals when id cooms to fooodz.”

     The next three days would change my life in more ways than I have words to explain.  He endowed me with unimagined riches when all I wanted was a story…

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

There will be no Super Bowl XLIX

     I am sure there will be a game played, but it won’t be watched by me and it won’t be a “Super Bowl.”  The Deflate-gate of the New England Patriots has sullied the glamour of this year’s big game, and it is an insult to every football fan in the country. 
     What should be the punishment for a team cheating to win their way into the Super Bowl?  Well, it should be disqualification, but we can expect that from a league that turns a blind eye to head coaches paying bounties to players who purposefully injure opposing players, or players who engage in domestic violence, or fight their pet dogs to death, or defensive linemen who (after seven previous dirty hits) intentionally step on the injured calf of a downed quarterback; no, to this league, the game (translation: money) is far more important than fair sportsmanship, on or off the field.
     I know I am generating hate mail as I write this, but ask yourselves, in the words of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, does this, “Teach Your Children Well”?  Think about the money that changed hands last Sunday in both legal and illicit gambling.  Think about the Fantasy Football games won and lost on fictitious statistics.  And for those who say, “You can’t take the W off the board,” or “What’s the difference,” or “At Least the Pats are in,” I say if you condone this, then you forfeit your right to cry, “No Fair!” next time some misfortune befalls your life.
     I hear the whisperings of those who say, “You can’t fault the whole team for what some equipment handler did” (I am sure the Patriots are at this moment lining up a patsy to take the blame), but the whole issue was brought to life when D’Qwell Jackson intercepted Tom Brady’s pass and instantly knew the ball was under inflated.  Now he handled the ball one time, so you think the center, Ryan Wendell, the quarterback Tom Brady, all of the running backs and all of the receivers didn’t know?  And what about the one ball kept at full pressure so the kickers had a hard ball to kick?  This is a team conspiracy, plain and simple.
     There is hardly a sportswriter that does not tout the greatness of Tom Brady and the stellar career he has had leading the Patriots, but I say this tarnishes his greatness forever.  In an era where Pete Rose is banned from his much deserved place in Baseball’s Hall of Fame, where Barry Bond’s records now have to be discounted due to his illegal doping, where Lance Armstrong had to cede his Tour de France championships, what do we do with Belichick and Brady?  This Win-no-matter-what-the-cost ideology that permeates the American culture needs to be stopped.  If Commissioner Goodell allows the Patriots to play (and you know he will), what does that say about us as a society, and as a civilization?
      No, there will be no Super Bowl XLIX on February 1st, at best, the game played will become the first Asterisk Bowl.  I feel sorry to the ancillary people hurt by this, the concessionaires, the innkeepers, the advertisers, the sportswriters and broadcasters, and all of the other people who depend on the money transacted as part of the biggest sports event in the United States, but the New England Patriots organization is at fault and need to be punished.  No, I won’t watch, and I extend my apology to the restaurateur and bar-keeper where I had intended to go, and the waitress who won’t get my tip. 
This is an affront to every one of us who watch and enjoy football.  Something needs to be done.        

     There is no “good” solution or punishment.  Maybe the league should access an Unsportsman-like Penalty against every rostered player on the Patriots: 15 yards times 46 dressed players = the Patriots have to gain 690 yards before they can score their first touchdown.  And as an extra layer of punishment, suspend Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for the game and all of next season. 

     This ruined this year’s Super Bowl for me, and it should (if you were honest) ruin it for you too.  I ask, no I dare you to pass this along to every football fan you know and ask them to pass it along to everyone they know.  Maybe if we, the fans, stood together and made enough noise, the Patriots and teams everywhere will know we have seen enough cheating and want to see honest sports for a change.

     And to Commissioner Roger Goodell, think very carefully about what you need to do, the right to call the NFL “a professional sports entity” as well as your legacy as commissioner, hangs in the balance.