To Where?

Courtesy J. Koss

I don’t take pictures like this. There are friends in my life who do, however, and I welcome these on the doorstep of my life. Knocking at my everyday Facebook door are pictures of trees, dogs, landscapes, family members, and … train tracks – to name a few pop-up fantastics in my life. I answer willingly. I need to because life, on occasion, is too mundane with day-to-day push-throughs. Inviting pictures into my virtual home refocuses this over-active, buzz-brain of mine on the happy, peaceful track to somewhere. … To where? Just not sure.

I don’t need to know the destination and this is what makes these pictures delightful. Around the bend ahead is of no concern. Most are a snapshot of the “now” – a moment in time to be experienced … lived “through the lens” as one of my friends so aptly pens in a Facebook page. Another friend, Joel, is the photographer of record here. He aptly engineered a “now” moment for all of us to enjoy by tying in a few fall colors against the backdrop of rolling hills absorbing the rails … leaving us to wonder what’s left for anyone willing to take a mid-spring balanced walk into the future.

The time to come is not to be considered when in the here and now, though. Daylight gives us reflections on the top of rails worn down by decades of metronomically clanking metal wheels rumbling over rocks and ties. Spikes vibrated across active tracks as goods and people-folk travelled back and forth not thinking about what they rode upon. Joel stopped all this. The moment became stationary as time pulled in and blew a respite whistle. Rest.

Courtesy A. Sipes

Evening came. Aptly titled, “Heading down to the end of the day” – here is a doubly nice sunset over another disappearing “To where?” on my Facebook doorstep. Lush greens with pointed golden rails piercing into far mountain range … possibly the preservation of Joel’s single thought in this second picture by my other photographically gifted friend? I don’t know. In my limited circle, there’s doubt as to these two knowing one another. Whatever the case, within days, both posted glorious, inviting pictures extending a hand across to me. Being the slightly unbalanced one on one rail, I reach to grasp their pictures’ extended hand being offered to me. It’s nice to simply stand on the rail … get back on track with life. Being balanced and not worry about the “To where?” – if just for a Facebook moment – is nice.

These two pictures made me pause – if just for a short time. My future, and those who I love and care about, is never guaranteed. Around the bend for all of us is the great unknown, right? Tough decisions await some really close, heart-felt individuals in my life who, on balance, have invited astounding choices into their pasts. Decisions I don’t think I could have made, btw. Their life was derailed by unforeseen circumstances, but they continue onward … with vigor, determination, and love.

With the future not a certainty, we live our day-to-days trying to stay balanced. Between work and family obligations, staying on track is really difficult. On top of the normal “stuff”, there’s the larger issues of medical emergencies, financial problems, unexpected family issues, house repairs, etc … we never see coming. If I gave you a few minutes to make a list, I’m sure you’d come up with at least ten more of your own .. if not more. Life is just life and we do it until we can’t.

Sometimes I can’t, so I open my door to music, wonderful pictures, or anything willing to bring a little balance into my life. My over-active brain welcomes the visit for a short time as long as there’s room. I get all fulled-up with stress and consternation at times shoveling too much coal into the worry engine I’ve trained my life to be at times. I suspect this isn’t a problem uniquely mine. Be that as it may, I’m so glad I have at least two great friends who have an eye for photography …

… and a vision for the “now”.

The path forward is unknown. “To where?” … I certainly don’t know. Time has a way of sorting all this out. Pedantically, “Plan the work and work the plan”, I guess. Philosophically, one of the best quotes I ever read was the following:

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”—Eleanor Roosevelt

This is where we are. All of us. Now is the space. We have no choice but to hug it and make it ours. Whatever it looks like to you, embrace the moment. My two friends choose to see it through their cameras. I invite you to meet your “nows” on the doorsteps of life when you hear that gentle knock. The “To where?” will take care of itself in due time as you take that balanced walk into the future.

I Don’t Know Joe

I don’t know Joe, but I know Dave. He is on the right … next to a glad to be there friend of his. Most likely he is smiling not only because it was a 60th birthday celebration, but also the colon cancer so prevalent in his life seems to have taken a break. I love this guy. A customer … and a good friend.

As I took inventory of my life and watched invisible minutes swoosh by over Canoe Creek, the opportunity to take another picture of this state park arose.

I wasn’t as much on edge emotionally as I was physically – sitting on yet another worn picnic table. These sit-upons have been there for decades, so it was a challenge finding a comfortable splinter-less, middle-of-the-plank location on which to rest my aging butt. The early May wet weather didn’t help, either. Damp spots sprinkled areas on the dark green outer seats making choices less available. Finally giving in to a forgiving, yet small, dry area slightly under the pavilion’s protective overhang, I sat with a festive piece of birthday cake in hand.

Dave’s day. A surprise planned by his son, Matt. I was one of a few non-family members who came by to wish another year of happiness. Atop the little hill. A Canoe Creek pavilion where my family reunions and church picnics were religiously held. Memories filling those invisible minutes. My great-grandparents sat there, breathing in the same lake experience I was having many decades later during a cold Saturday birthday visit. Seemed like a short Friday before when church prayers and cookouts happened only yards away from where I sat. It wasn’t, of course. Memories appear like yesterdays, but aren’t, right?

What was in my brain? A lot of great memories at that time, for sure. Thinking about my mom the day before I wouldn’t be able to celebrate another “winning the cancer battle” Mother’s Day Sunday with her, my mind was on other things when pulling into the park earlier. The particular pavilion hosting a friend’s party was not in any memory of mine, … short or long term. I knew it. Matt told me weeks ago. I, simply, forgot.

I don’t know Joe. He graduated this year. Congratulations, Joe. The blue balloons attached to the pole outside pavilion number one attest to his achievement. I boldly walked past them on my way to the enclosed tent where festivities and merriment were clearly underway. Any person wanting to be involved in a birthday celebration would’ve walked up to three men and asked the same question. “Hi. Where’s Dave? Nice to see such a turn-out for his birthday.”

“Uhm, hey Doug! (I was wearing a company jacket).. How’s the hot dawg business?”

“Great. Sales are sales, I guess. I don’t see Matt. He said sometime around 1:00 would be a good time?”

“Kinda would be … except this is Joe’s graduation party.”

“Oh? Joe?. So I probably have the wrong pavilion?

“Suspect so. You’re welcome to stay, though. We have hotdogs!” (yuk yuk … always the joke when I’m at a picnic)

“Sorry to interrupt, geesh. I bet they’re at another pavilion!”

“Uhm, yeah. Not here, for sure. I think there’s another party closer to the park entrance” …

…. And then, ONLY then, did I remember Matt’s instructions were to drive past the parking lots up to the little hill. With extended apologies I didn’t need to say, off I went to arrive moments later … without ever meeting Joe.

Up a small grade and over past the buffet table full with pork, potatoes, and coleslaw, Dave welcomed my visit with a warm smile and handshake. Matt followed with his wife and relatives. Turn-out was small due to the weather. I suspect nobody would have been turned away, friend or stranger, had an adult mistaken their pavilion for another. This is a nice, kind family who embrace the minutes just as I did on the edge of a rickety bench.

On Sunday, Dave and Matt came by my cart. I was open for business outside the local Sam’s Club selling on behalf of the appendix cancer research foundation. This is me doing my thing:

There’s a special person about town, Greta, who is seeing her way through appendix cancer. She spent a few minutes talking with Dave across the serving area of my cart as she was helping me serve. They had a colon/appendix cancer conversation connection I simply watched unfold.

This is what’s special about my life and business. Two strangers, bound by a common challenge, connecting … talking things through – figuring life out as best they can.. I’m glad to be a part of that connection.

Neither one is depressed. They’re moving ahead with life as it is. Making the moments count.

As for Joe, I wish him well. Life will be his plan … whatever road he chooses to take. I just hope he listens to directions and doesn’t turn off too soon into a gravel lot expecting to see Dave. It can be a bit embarrassing.

Happy 60th Birthday, Dave!! Many more …

Change is Hard

“Hello?”

This phone has its share of problems. I think of them often as my early morning weekday and Sunday evening body walks by this corner. On a not-so nuanced angle where a pizza shop meets a cigar emporium, I consider the hang-ups I have and unanswered calls for possible solutions to challenges lingering about this brain of mine. Most have connected to the same fate as this coin eating relic: a dead dial tone of silence.

This is ok. My receiver is busted, too, and it takes more than five or ten cents to make me work these days. To coin a phrase, those little dimes and quarters are made of metal because … change is hard. It really is. Most likely explains why this Allegheny street artifact is still bolted to the wall after years of neglect and abuse. Our borough doesn’t move quickly on matters such as this. I don’t blame them. After all, had this worn and whacked push-button recluse been systematically pile-heaped, I’d have no friend to write about today.

It is a friend. Yes, a beaten down, torn up, knocked around friend. One I pass a lot while headed to see my human friends who have their share of problems. A Sunday night dad in a pizza shop, or a group of air-breathers sitting patiently inside The Capitol Hotel. All of them burdened with their own basket of problems. Oh, and I have mine as well. All of us do, right?

We don’t want change, but it happens. Just like my broken friend, change is inevitable. Small bits forced into the slots demanding calls we didn’t want to make. We hope upon hope what we are urged into doing IS the right move – the right call for that moment in time. Is it worth the heightened pulse in our chest and sweat in our brow? Will there be an answer at the other end of the experience? Are the words we speak being received … across a possible, impossible emotional divide? Is the connection even there, anymore?

I think it is. At least for 3,000 of us Americans. According to Google, there are 100,000 operational phone booths in the USA with 1/5 of those in NYC. That means roughly 3,000 folks can pick up a street receiver and number poke a friend. The odds are pretty good no creature under, say, 35 will be doing such dinosaur digit-driving due to their lack of experience in the matter, but those of us who frantically dug into our pockets for dimes and quarters can certainly relate. The connection is there. It may be lint, gum wrappers, or twist ties, but it’s there …

Even though this one friend is broken beyond repair, all is not lost. Connections are never lost forever. Temporarily down, perhaps … but not gone. Change, however hard as it may be, is still in the belly of the beast … just like it is if someone mistakenly slips a few coins into this busted machine. Adjustments and evolutions of self take place over time. Time is what we have until it is no more. Time has been graciously given to my friend – patiently feeling its tone year after year .. and I’m glad the borough decided to give it extended existence.

I’ll pass it again this morning and again Sunday. Nothing will change. Today as has been, the receiver sits half-broken, number buttons have been without finger prints for years, and the “o” remains partially covered with a wonky, pinkish “ok” sign. Those are the only guarantees, I suspect. Everything else swirling about in my world – and the world of my friends and family – will be different. Transitions in small ways will occur and calls to make big changes must be answered. This is life. This is all of us every day.

We have our share of problems. I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Challenges make all of us unique. Isolated unto our own individualism, yet together in our ability to help one another through. Friends through and through.

This phone is my friend. It may be broken, but so are my friends … and so am I. Once we realize nothing is in perfect working order and change is hard, life becomes easier.

On an modest corner where many have passed, I think about my life. Yes, only for a minute or two. Nevertheless, these are the moments I can ask the universe, “Hello? Anyone there?”, and feel someone is actually listening…

… and to know a few steps later there will be … inside a very familiar, comfortable hotel cafe or pizza shop. That’s what friends are for.

A Reflection on Parking

“Yeah well, I’m going to. If not an old Honda, at least my body.” So said a very satisfied brain … as an equally happy, jovial attitude stopped me for a mid-morning respite and a reflection on parking.

It is a Sunday in Hollidaysburg. A very beautiful Sunday, may I add. The day after I travelled 33 miles north to Patton, Pa., with the intention of playing two selections for a matrimonial celebration – one in, one out. An easy “gig” by any measure. Route 36, a pleasant 2-lane I’ve up-and-downed many times before, didn’t disappoint with its resplendent view. Large, electric generating wind turbines more than dot the landscape, but those don’t take away from the lush early-spring greenery and expansive farmland seen along the way. Saturday rushed go-abouts passed me as I took my time … ahead of schedule. Rare was that feeling in my psyche as I am not used to built-in spare time parked into my body.

The 33 minutes rushed by, however. A few wrong turns didn’t distract much once the arrival of never pushing the start icon on google maps occurred to me. The deeply disappointed virtual voice directed my calm self out from the 10 minutes incorrect destination into a more pleasing, correct direction arriving, finally, at my destination: La Ferme Rouge. The Red Farm … to a bride, a groom, a mom who hired me sight unseen, and the best use of spare time I’ve ever had.

A nice, relaxed exhale from a Honda and a pianist – as both parked calmly in the lower lot below a quaint (uhm) red farm building – was experienced by all gathered around that particular lot. Yes, I was early, but moms, dads, and groomsmen alike were pleased to see the pianist arrive. White chairs around in a semi-circle, wonderful trees ahead with a single swag strewn among their glistening, mid-afternoon branches and a small altar sat on top of a finely cut lawn. No bride or bridesmaids swooshed among us. I’m sure there was to be a few as I didn’t attend the rehearsal and was unsure the exact number … only one bride, for sure.

I was aware of Stephanie, the mom. For two reasons, I needed to be in touch with her. Payment for my services and logistics. Money, in this case, was easy. One envelope. Logistics? Simple. Where to set up my piano and that funky little problem of an electric source. All went surprisingly well during the set-up. For those of you who’ve experienced weddings as musicians, I hope you appreciate the ease and comfort in my soul as each step along the way was met with cordialness, sincerity, and kindness. I parked my easiness for a second …

…And then I had a moment to really appreciate this:

It’s a piano I noticed immediately before even turning off the engine. Actually, when turning into the lot moments before, my breath stopped and the eyes responsible for minding the 33 miles blinked and immediately wiped away the earlier missed turn. I notice pianos. Old and new. This one is special.

It’s parked in a forever home, never to make a sound other than wind turning through rotted slots and slits in the case. In the solitude of night, a whispy zephyr must sit and play this live painting while sitting on a treasured tractor seat elegantly placed perfectly behind its beautifully battered keys . If not, what a solitude for nature inside? Plants and small creatures finding sounds of the past inside to be a parking space of safety and calm for their weary selves.

I ushered bridesmaids and a bride on my arm of music as they walked escorted by young men. Beside and between two pianos they stepped. The old and new … silent and audible music pushing forward a husband and wife once again. Two people the old piano has most certainly done before and will do again. Parked in that same spot only a few yards down from a Red Farm.

Today, I remember that piano more than the wedding itself. A few tunes before, none during, and “Marry You” as the recessional. Nothing spectacular. Setting up and tearing down combined with travel time added up to six times the total ceremony minutes. “Do you?”. “I Do!” … Kind of wedding. Tears, clapping, Yeah, us … and Let’s eat! No complaints here. I left with an envelope and really cool memories of a special piano. The family was wonderful. The bridesmaids jumped the gun a bit behind the faux barn doors which made the processional a bit wonky … good thing the bride’s mom had a good laugh with me afterwards. “Dad” even commented, “Hey, welcome to my world!”.

All in all, I could not have asked for May to park a better first day to start the month. This second day, an even better day as the sun peeks through the trees on Allegheny street. I enjoyed a delicious eggs benedict breakfast a few moments ago and bask in the expectation that this month will be just fine … just fine.

Eventually, we’ll be pianos parked on our forever lawn. Silent and worn, but a joy to someone who happens by. Live for that moment.

“Go. Be You”

“Are you Doug?”… A question I am asked more often here than anywhere else.

This is Saint Francis University’s JFK Student Center. Well, the front entrance, anyway and my smaller cart nestled in behind a peek-a-boo light pole. Yes, a weekend night appearance, again, for Doug’s Dawgs. Sometimes Friday … an occasional Saturday … always a most pleasant experience. The students and faculty could not be friendlier, the facilities are welcoming, and the drive from my hometown is beautiful regardless of the season.

I’ve handed out food through snow, rain, wind, and bright, sunny wonderfulness. Although the latter is hardly a normal pattern for Loretto, Pa. when there, I still enjoy the drizzly dialogue between the students and I when they walk up to be served. So polite, they are … Every. Single. Time.

“Thank you, Sir.”, “May I have one of each, please?”, “You are so kind for coming up …”.

These complimentary phrases haven’t stopped over the years. Sometimes I think visits are so eagerly penned into my datebook because I need affirmation, not an income. Granted, the swipe of a credit card after hours of sandwich making is nice, but my real reward is when a student mentions how he anticipated Doug’s Dawgs arrival that week. That hope. That small reward at the end of a difficult, perhaps celebratory, study week is something special. I’m so glad to be a small part of it.

The most recent numbers put the enrollment at 1,600-ish. I’m not sure how accurate that is and can assure you I don’t slab that many burgers and dawgs. They come cubed, three-by-three, most times and few order only one sandwich. The process is quick and efficient as no money exchanges and my no-bean latherful chili, drippy nacho cheese, and cooked down sauerkraut is always at the ready. Boom-boom meat in the bun and off they go …

… With smiles and happy shuffles – off to other activities planned by coordinators very proficient at their jobs.

And then it happens, almost like clockwork, every time I’m there … Three/four times per appearances.

“Are you Doug?”… “Yes, I am!”… The comeback reply is equally predicable: “Oh, wow! We get to meet the real Doug!”

Look, I’m no Brad Pitt here. Superstar stickiness to my chest should never be assumed. I’m just a piano-playing hotdawg salesman who writes a blog once in a while. Gotta say, though, when that last sentence blows across my ego, it feels really nice. Really nice.

For a moment, I have an extra spring in my tongs. Burgers on the grill nudge a bit closer to their dawg friends. Everything about the cart lightens up as concerns lift off my smoldering shoulders when unassuming “real” Doug words prop up and affirm what I am doing.

It is an identity confirmation. The students are making a passive comment. Sure, they don’t mean anything other than “It’s nice to hook the cartoon character on the decal with the live, breathing humanoid who happens to have the same name”… I get that. They know little of the struggles or successes in my life, but I do and I’m making the leap from their words to my brain.

We are “real” individuals. The real you is always here. We forget who we are and what we’ve accomplished in life sometimes because living, itself, gets in the way.

I have a lot going on now. Personal and professional stuffiness jam my schedule. Covid is popping up and forcing my eraser to work overtime … still. Just yesterday I had an event cancel due to three positive cases. Nothing … nothing can be assumed or taken for granted anymore. Money and relationships can be lost and gained in a heartbeat. Health-related issues will peek around a tree whenever you least expect them. Friends and family will bless and disappoint you on a regular basis.

Even with all that, happy phrases can make a small difference if you’re available and open to hear them. They don’t have to be nine words long from really nice college students. You know how a kind word or two from a stranger in a grocery store line can turn around your lousy day, right? Say a kind word to someone, too. Tell them they’re the real deal, wearing a nice shirt, or drive a nice color car.

It’s a small University tucked away in a really tiny town. I love going there. They help me to be more of me than they know. I’m Doug and I own Doug’s Dawgs. “Yes, it’s me. Yes, I am.”

Go. Be you.

Snowy Diamond

“Can you believe this?”, pronounced one of the provocateurs at our breakfast table. He incited misplaced seasonal phrases none of us wanted to say like, “There’s crappy white stuff out there.” & “What the hell is this?”. As the three of us looked through our favorite cafe window, the snow blew expectations of a sunny, warm April day out that same clear glass and we certainly felt the pain. If only momentarily, the winter angst revisited us like Grinch looking over Whoville … ready to steal any positive, happy packaged belief we had about a snug, comfortable Thursday.

Yes, the snow blew. We felt it in our souls. Diamonds in the rough we pretend to be every day as time passes over easy eggs, rye toast, and occasional slabs of scrapple dripping with maple syrup – depending upon our mood. These are the Hollidaysburg days uptown or downtown depending upon one’s idea of direction around here. Pennsylvania times few of us – a scant half dozen, or so – get to experience sitting in a booth by a window.

Tracks in the snow during an April blizzard were left by anxious feet and rubbery tires as they made haste coming up the street toward “the diamond” – an intersection where The Capitol Hotel has been taking up residence for decades. Trolley cars, horses and buggies both have passed leaving their historical marks in the snow for us to remember in pictures hanging elegantly on the walls inside. Portraits from the past showing those who’ve previously passed our time and left marks on our hearts. I’ve seen their faces and places they’ve lived and loved. The intersected ground on which I stood moments earlier experienced their lives … in person. Where Allegheny and Montgomery streets cross? Today, a snowy diamond.

So we sat for a few moments watching this event … a mini late-April blizzard. The urge to put my amateur film-making skills into place overtook hunger, so outside I went. The 15-seconds above are meant to highlight the wind current event, certainly not my Spielbergian sense of cinematography. It wasn’t cold, but a bit breezy. The window creaked as I rose from the booth – as if to say, “Where you goin’, son? … Breakfast hasn’t been served and your friends aren’t done talking.” To be fair, they never stop talking, anyway, so there would not have been a quiet time for me to politely excuse myself. Impulse overtook my instinct to feed the grumbling belly inside. The doors welcomed my exit. Strangely enough, so did my ever-so compassionate friends.

Strangely quiet it was. Save the bundled gentleman who appears in the final second, nobody was astir. Whoville-Hollidaysburg contained a presence unopened at 8:25 a.m. during what should’ve been sunny, early spring awakening. Snow capped cars sat unattended as their otherwise occupied owners were busy going about their business. At that hour, I suspect most were either at The Capitol having the same conversation as my friends, banking nearby, or preparing to shop at one of a few delightful shops about ready to open. Retail isn’t a huge walk-around here, but happening-Hollidaysburg always has dreams afoot and folks will enter into those ambitions as the fates allow.

Fifteen seconds was enough to capture my thoughts. Oh, and I was able to avoid getting wet by standing under a magnificent human porte cochere Brian had installed a few years ago. As I stood there with memories forty years removed from high-school band appearances and only a few feet from where my grandmother had her gift shop, flurries of white stuff continued to cascade down and sideways. I saw winter remembrances coming back as cinematic flashes while looking down over the hill toward what used to be the movie theater. Across the street, the old five-and-dime – G.C. Murphy building – was a row a retail/office buildings being caressed with soon-to-be melting snow. The large, multi-floored furniture store across the way has been converted into smaller stores where imaginations have gone to flourish and generations have lived … and passed. It’s a hometown for most of us. Just like thousand of others, except this day a snowy diamond in the rough had us somewhat perplexed.

Bemused only to a point, though. After the questions were asked and I re-entered my safe space, the friends so eager to welcome my exit graciously embraced the return of their favorite amateur cinematographer. No answers necessary. All of us knew this off-season adventure into blah-blanche wasn’t going to last long. Conversations shifted into politics, personal profundity, and sarcastic wit. You know, the usual morning banter before all of us departed into our normal activities.

The Grinch does apologize for his shenanigans. I’m waiting for Mother Nature’s sorry butt to ring me an, “I’m sorry!” for her apparent dust upon our little ‘burg. In the mean time, I will believe what happened … because it did. THIS should answer the question first posed by one of my friends. As to the “crappy white stuff”? It wasn’t. I saw it as an opportunity to breathe in the remaining fresh, cold air of memories before a hot, humid summer of challenges visits me.

I guess it’s all about living in the moment. Even if we say to ourselves, “What the hell is this?”, it’s still a life to live … and that’s ok. One snowy or brilliant, wonderful day at a time. Inside or outside a favorite cafe, we’re all diamonds in the rough.

Bubbles near the Heart

Picture courtesy of TommiAnn Tromme

Some pictures are. Just are.

If there is one to capture our escaping from the past twelve months, this is it. Cheery canines, or that magnificent young girl? … Be that. To be one of those reflecting floating fantastics, in between the smiles and joy, would be heaven on earth as well. Bubbles near the heart of that child. Yes, some pictures are. Just are.

It doesn’t have to be just our release from pandemic restrictions, either. To be fair, we’re not as far removed from those woods as she is … running across a green field with passion I wish some adults would have toward popping the covid bubble. She has fight and energy. Joy and love. There’s a direction in her expression I rarely see in worn, half-tired adult faces who’ve lost perspective on bubbles in their lives.

Myself included.

Bubbles in the work we do to support ourselves and those we love.

Bubbles in what we believe about our self-worth.

Bubbles in our relationships with friends and relatives.

These, and many others, have been forgotten. I’m sure you can think of more. We forget these don’t last long – only a short lifetime. Cherishing them must be a priority while we enjoy the oxygen we’re so fortunate to have.

They aren’t perfect. We expect them to be most times, though. This young angel isn’t concerned about perfection. She’s pushing forward into an unknown future. With bubbles as helpful sidekicks, this pink-booted explorer finds her way across imperfect, rolling blades of grass to discover new ideas, colors, smells, or reflections from the beautiful sunlit day. She simply lives the imperfect life of innocence – apart from our complicated adult life of bubble-popping.

It’s just what we’re conditioned to do. And, it’s ok.

Sure, we’ve lost our child-like perspective. This world needs adults to, well, be adults.

Every once in a while, though, maybe you could step away from all of it and blow a few bubbles while standing in a field. Probably, if a few non-pernicious pups are willing to participate, they could join in. An afternoon away from the smudgeness of a workday, or a weekend when the sun is friendly and skies are open to it? Yes, find the time and an inexpensive dollar-store bottle of soapy liquid with a cheap, plastic ring inside. Field your dreams – if only for a few minutes.

This won’t pay the cell phone bill or ward off this crazy covid thing going on, but maybe – just maybe – it’ll help you escape from what ails your adulting bones that can’t seem to move the first ten minutes of every day.

Bones I wish I still had to keep up with the energy this young girl seems to have. I need fresh grass under my feet and a warm, quick breeze across my face … and a few sticky bubbles.

She has what it takes. I don’t know her. Permission was so graciously granted to use the photograph. Having an inkling what this picture represents to her family, I can share a portion of the reply I received after asking: “…I just love sharing her sunshine with the world.”

… And I can add one more bubble to my universe. A bubble I won’t be quick to forget.

Life is difficult. We know this. Look over your bubbles you may have forgotten and see if there’s time to play with them … if only for a few minutes with the passion and energy of a child.

You are you always. You just are – and that’s ok, too. Just like this picture.

He Didn’t Know

That’s for sure. “He didn’t know …”

However, for a waterless non-human, this Ethel Merman-esque high flying bird knew how to catch the camera eye of my friend. My ever vigilant nature-seeking looker happened upon these flights of fancy a few days ago, clicked a few soaring portraits , and passed them on to us via Facebook. Starting off with the words, “Not sure who this is..”, she notes the innocence trailing behind the pack. Some replies follow as closely as he does the white speckles ahead against the clear blue sky. “Blue heron?”. “I’m thinking cormorant?”.

Neither she nor I know. I suspect my knowledge of music and food keep me at greater lengths than her from the truth. If she doesn’t know, then I’m absolutely sure I haven’t a clue. That single spec with wings could be a mini-Batman as far as I’m aware … and that, my friends, is my best guess. I can name birds that meander about for a short time – like chickens, turkeys, and ducks. When one starts naming birdies that flit and soar about against the heavens, heavy gloss starts to overtake my mind. Yes, shiny and new information, but a little too bright and sunny for my bird-brain that isn’t much interested in what kind of bird he is.

What really fascinates me is what he represents … and this gets to the possible point of her post’s comment: ” … but he didn’t know he wasn’t a swan.”

It may not have been her intent. The objective may have been, “Name that bird”. I don’t know. It’s not clear to me. My takeaway, as with most all wonderful whatsits before me, is to think, #1.) Did I take all my meds today?, #2) If I did, are my glasses on my face?, and #3) If both are answered in the affirmative, is what I am seeing just that, or is there another there … there?

Digging down (or, up in this case), we have a “there”. Look! Up in the sky … It’s …

Wanting to belong, to be accepted. Attaching this very basic human need to the personality of a yet-to-be-identified bird. He didn’t know for sure, yet there his wings were – drafted into the same pattern set ahead by welcoming, perhaps even unsuspecting, friends ahead. Still pictures don’t give us the same perspective my friend had as these twenty-something (plus one) in numbers danced their way into her camera lens. She had a first-view account as she immediately accepted them as her friends … an acceptance of them into a world of photographic pleasure she enjoys as one belonging to nature itself.

That’s possibly the “there” here. We belong to nature and are accepted by her. She cradles us if we allow her to do so. The bare grass under our naked feet on a warm, sunny day. A deep, consoling breath of fresh mountain air after a long week of ugh-ness. The crackling and pitter-patter of a stream full of the occasional passerby fish a foot or two below, or maybe just a short nap while sitting on the front porch of your choice … All of these are our swans of smoothness ahead showing the way. We don’t identify as grass, air, streams, or porches, but we can certainly enjoy the benefits of the path they provide for us.

Black swans once were thought to be imaginary. Dutch explorers discovered them in Western Australia around the mid-to-late 17th century blowing that theory out of the water, but not the swans … so relax. That I knew. What I didn’t know was this thing called the Black Swan Theory. To be simple here, it is a metaphor that describes a rare event (or events) that are beyond the realm of normal expectations. It has other hang-along requirements. For purposes here, I’m sticking with that easy, kite-flying definition.

Pretty sure my clicker confidante didn’t arise that morning expecting to find a flock of fancy afoot overhead that day – especially one with a tricky flapper trailing behind. It was a rare event beyond her province of normalcy. What is normal, anyway … right? She looks for certain surprising, remarkable whatsits underfoot and overhead then attaches it to 21st century technology, … and with that, we can live new experiences though her lens allowing us to be slightly different believing anything we want.

… Like acceptance even if we don’t know who we are 100%, or where we belong.

Maybe if we look up once in a while like she did that delightful day, the wait for another picture won’t be so long until she graces us with another.

Here’s to all the black swans who believe there’s a sky for them filled with friends who will show them a way.

Puppies and Rainbows

You have to know Brian. He’s a man of slender build with years of height near mine, definitely more scalp than hair, a hurried gate accompanied by slightly longer arms than the average human, and – without giving him too much credit – near perfect execution of the “puppies and rainbows” gesture. A gesture, mind you, having its genesis in the midst of what I believed to be a fine proprietor/customer relationship.

See, Brian owns The Capitol Hotel. If you are a frequent reader, you’ll recognize this place. It’s a gateway to my morning silly-zone where I can be a sitter out of sorts with a crew of ne’er-do-wells I call my friends. There’s an old retired guy, another retired guy, a slightly older lady, sometimes a guy my age, an artistan I write about on occasion, … Oh, and a waitress. At times, slithering by I see peripheral pals and palettes passing by as well. I have examined, appraised, and evaluated all … concluding if a week went by without them in front of my bad jokes and goofy morning temperment, life wouldn’t be the same – for any of us.

This past January wasn’t much different. The first week of the new year began as any other. I walked in through the first set of glass doors taking a few steps before knobbing my way past the creaky old door into the main counter area. With huge glass/brass mirrors and dark, beet red booths always there to greet hungry patrons like me, this hotel in the ‘burg is like no other even in 2021. Covid seating restrictions forced my eyes downward to the empty seat poles strewn intermittently across the counter floor. Some booth seats then, and to this day, are tilted up to prevent seating on one side. Masked matrons scurried about taking orders as I strode my way over to the far corner booth to take my place among the sort-of welcoming warmth I saw on the faces of my friends.

Something was different that day, however. Quiet isn’t the norm … and then I figured it out.

They were waiting to see my reaction regarding a story broadcast the previous night. Our local news station ran a small story about something I did New Year’s Eve with my business. What I did isn’t relevant here, however, what I said during the interview is…

Prior to the interview, I agreed to talk with the understanding I could promote this blog site. She agreed. Cameras rolling, we discussed my event New Year’s Eve, then it happened. Now, I don’t really recall saying the words, but upon review later, I did.

She asked me, “Could you tell me about your blog, Doug Hugs?.” “Sure, I write about happy things. You know. Like puppies and rainbows.”, came the reply out of my unprepared, stunningly oblivious orifice.

I got it. If I had a friend entering the hallowed breakfast nook after seeing his blogous facial faux pas the night before, I’d remain silent until he spoke. After all, maybe the word circus had more crazy out-of-context clowns in his tiny mind’s blather bus.

Turns out, I didn’t. That circus left town. It was in-tents for a few seconds, though. Once all the laughter settled and good-natured ribbing calmed into friendly conversation about the entire interview, the morning unscrambled and life went about its normal routine until … until Brian – yes, that same Brian who finds his way into my wallet almost every day – decided to animate the very three words I’ve come to regret ever saying: Puppies and Rainbows.

“Hey, Doug! …”

With two hands dangling in front as puppy paws then extending upward and outward (gracefully, I may say) in a rainbow arc, he changed, forever, my idea of a Richard Simmons/Mikhail Baryshnikov collaboration with Bob Fosse for an adaptation of “Three Words of Regret.”

Why today, over three months later? This gesture migrated beyond The Capitol. Today. In a friendly local bread aisle where others were rising with the sun’s expectations, Brian and I had a moment at his insistence. A puppy and rainbow moment, mind you.

What was once a simple recognition of my slippery mouth muscle inside an isolated hotel, has now become a greeting – in Brian’s brain – outside the hotel café when he sees me. Oh, boy.😏. A reflex of two hands inside another building when he saw me later this morning. A Hollidaysburg happening hopefully no one saw occurring between two fifty-year-olds picking up a few items to sooth an already busy day for both.

This isn’t a secret handshake to enter a treehouse, or a password to get into some secret society. Apparently, now, it’s a dude-thing and I don’t know how to respond except to say, “Whelp, thanks Brian. At least your kind, err, gesture today took my mind off an extremely busy day and gave me some pleasant, kind thoughts as I ran my butt off for twelve hours.”

Next time an interviewer asks me about Doug Hugs, I may just say, “Kangaroos, and yoyos”. Let’s see Brian pull that off!

The Juice Ain’t Worth the Squeeze

Maybe once – and this is a stretch – I saw camels up close. Even-toed ungulates aren’t animals I remember crossing my path. When I was young, there could have been a time in a zoo when they sauntered up to my thick patterned orange and brown knitted shirt, brown polyester pants, and crooked bowl hair cut … then walked away. Just don’t know. As an adult, certainly any travel overseas can eliminate the possibility of having a dromedary encounter. I’ve never happily humped my way to the Gobi Desert in China, Mongolia, North Africa, the Middle East, or Australia. Speaking plainly here, flying overseas isn’t my thing – not for a camel sighting … not for a whole lot of reasons.

Yesterday, someone I know pulled out a rubber, bendy straw during breakfast. This thingmajig magically appeared out of nowhere in the hands of a young lady finishing off the final 25% of our booth capacity. She’s not one who joins us regularly at our table, but one who is certainly welcome any time. This sucking device is a reusable mouth gizmo designed to avoid using a plastic straw. She had it, I get it. I get the plan, however, didn’t see it implemented. Hot coffee through a rubber straw isn’t the best idea … even among a table of misfits who could ooze their way out of a clown car and nobody would think twice.

As fascinating as that straw was to all of us for the few seconds it bent its way into our conversation, I’m pretty sure it’s not the one that broke the camel’s back. That said, it can still suck just as much as one single, atomically teeny, Whovillian dustball that collapses a stressed-out emotional steampile.

According to Wikipedia, the straw that broke the camel’s back is from an Arabic proverb about “how a camel is loaded beyond its capacity to move or stand”. It is a “reference to any process by which cataclysmic failure (a broken back) is achieved by a seemingly inconsequential addition, a single straw…

We’re all familiar with this idiom … aren’t we? I’ve had a few back-breakers lately. Two minutes yesterday in the car, actually. No need to explain. Suffice to say the phrase, “What the f– is wrong with people?”, should be enough to give you an idea of my mind set. I’m nowhere near perfect and don’t expect others to reach ideal conditions in their mindset when working with me. I can be difficult, but am always … always respectful and kind when expecting certain results from others. “Here’s the plan … do the plan.”

Two weeks ago, I had expectations and communicated them. He understood, or so I thought. Uhm … ‘nuf said. We had a come to Jesus. Today I’m calmer, but am behind schedule. To quote one of my favorite Seinfeld lines, “Serenity now!”…

Here’s the thing. I had a moment to listen to one of my favorite podcasts yesterday to calm me down. Two twisted idioms from callers perked me up: “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”, and “..Playin’ some (emotional} Jenga there.”. In context of the podcast, the caller used a religious reference in the second quote, but I imagine any problem poke in your life would work.

Taking the second one first, my last Jenga piece pulled caused the whole tower to collapse. We do this, don’t we? We build these towers of expectations then, little by little, disappointments and failures in others cause us to pull away. Time allows second chances so we once again place hope on the tower again. We fail, or others fail us … again. The camel can’t hold the last straw, right? At this point we look over all the pieces strewn about and say to ourselves, “Why do I even try? …”

This is why the first phrase is so wonderful. “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”. I love this. It forces us to look at outcomes, not the process. Putting the straw on the camel in the first place could be the problem. Heaping a pile of expectations on top of an already large clump of calamity, sometimes, may not be the best way to ride through life in a barren desert where answers appear as a mirage more than a reality. Maybe, just maybe, some problems aren’t worth the stress we put on ourselves.

I will find a way to get caught up with what could have been done the past two weeks – and wasn’t. We’re always catching up or keeping up, I guess.

As of 4 a.m., my back is still what it is for an older guy who gets up and types away. Yes, there are two disks not working properly sending signals to my brain and legs – like every five minutes – that trigger a pain response. Regular activity isn’t the same as it was. I’d gladly trade this for polyester pants and a bad haircut. Why didn’t we appreciate youth when it was coursing through our low cholesterol veins? Back in the day, as they say …

Back when Forest Zoo in Gallitzen, Pa still had crowds leaning up against posts and ropes looking at animals … smiling, enjoying the summer days. I do remember going there. No camels were smiling back at me as I walked about with my family and friends. Although, I can’t be 100% confident. Just don’t know..