… Since Then

It’s been almost two weeks – if not more – since I’ve managed to find the time. Life has been very busy lately. If you only knew how difficult the hidden the moments have been to find. Those wonderful, cherished times to sit down and simply use the muscles in my mind and not the ones tired from over use – with little rest from bending, arching, twisting, and turning. Yes, life is a strange experiment.

A good and great experiment. Don’t mistake my weariness for complaining. My previous two weeks have been filled with excitement as a new chapter opened up. The long awaited bigger, better concession trailer has officially started its journey down the Doug’s Dawgs path after a two year’s argh-full process of torchery. Well, that word may be a bit harsh. Let’s just say if a hurdle needed placing, in my way seemed to be the location. After tripping over the last of these, I pushed my way toward that wonderful tape last week and 85% finished the race … at the very least sputtered to a soft opening with 15% more improvements to go. Today is for reflection and rest. And writing.

Glad to be back.

Also, happy to see not much has changed in the world. With all the goings on in my life, I haven’t seen much around in yours … and by extension, our country. So this morning I felt the need to get caught up on Facebook. Why not, right? If there’s a place where all opinions live and breathe, there it is! Certainly I haven’t the time (or, energy) to click around the tv channels gathering sputtering blather from biased newscasts, so settling into my most comfortable worn leather office chair is preferred. While doing so, this beautiful letter popped up. I’ve seen if before. Somehow, today, it means so much more than ever before to me. To all of us, perhaps.

Maybe I’m just tired from all the extended, tired major muscle groups still clinging to my clothes, or my overly-red eyes are too swollen? … I don’t know; however, when I started to whisper these words to myself during this morning in September, the mist over my eyes began to match the fog beginning to lift off the early lawn outside my office. I am a pianist, musician, sentimental type – excuses meant, of course, but there’s something sweet in George Bush’s words to Bill Clinton. An urging of civility and kindness missing today from the most respected office in America.

This isn’t a post taking sides. I don’t care about politics anymore, really. I care about people. When a human being says, “I wish you well … I wish your family well…”, it means as much to the giver as the receiver. One heart to another. One American to another. One of us passing on politeness and good manners on to another of us. Respect.

Since then, right? 2021 will be twenty-eight years. George Bush died in November of 2018 and shadows of Presidential courtesy still proudly blanket his grave at College Station, Texas. Bill Clinton lives on with a legacy – agree or disagree with any of his attached problems or successes. In regard to the current occupant, he’ll either leave a note to himself on January 20th, 2021 if re-elected, or a newly elected president will most likely find a very stark, empty unwelcoming, no note oval office upon entering. Provided, of course, the Supreme court upholds .. the … oh, wait, I promised no politics.

In ending, I do wish you well. When I walked into MY office this morning, I also felt a sense of wonder and excitement because – after two weeks – I saw an empty white screen once again in front of me. Granted, I’m not the President of the United States. Whew! on that note, and I know you feel that, too! … Go do your thing today and be brave. Accept the words George H.W. gave us and don’t be afraid to be a giver.

If it was good enough for him, it should be for us as well.

Kalmia latifolia

The kalmia latifolia is, appropriately, our state flower of Pennsylvania.

Stepping off the path where this fact lives, according to vacationideas.com, it makes sense that hills, valleys, ups, and downs would be associated with our great commonwealth:

While the mountains do not reach the highs of their bigger cousins in the West, Pennsylvania is home to the Appalachian Mountains, which cut right through the state, with the Pocono and Allegheny Mountains as the most important sub-ranges.”

Further down the road, we have an area identified as the Laurel Highlands. The Laurel Highlands is a region in southwestern Pennsylvania made up of Fayette County, Somerset County and Westmoreland County.

S’merge all these ideas together – mountains and laurels – to get one rooted flower: the mountain laurel. A stately bloom captured on the other side of a lens settled gently in the hands of one with an eye for such beauty. I’ve shared her seizing symmetry before. Pictures are frozen in two dimensions, yet move emotions as if she is asking us to touch the scent … feeling its life.

The featured image for this post is from her archive. Once again, words are necessary.

Every state has a flower, a tree, a motto, a bird. Eastern hemlocks stand proudly as our tree, shouting, “Virtue, Liberty, Independence” from its branches and fine, dark-green needles. Secretive ruffed grouse may be seen by walking through the very forests where my keenly observant friend finds objects – shall I say, finely tuned, natural pleasures – to arrest our attention. These mentioned are Pennsylvania’s designated treasures sometimes surprisingly seen when least expected. Encouragement is urged for you to find your state’s magnificence as my sightly-gifted, grass-rooted earth swoosher asks all of her friends to do.

I’m asking you to find three dimensional allurement in your stately space. As a non-woodsy, never burly guy, my main path does not often go through lush thicket. On the rare occasion it does, either my eyes are too swollen to appreciate the moments, or closely held anxieties I cling to for comfort prevent any relaxed recreation. It is, therefore, your job to log in some forest time on behalf of all peculiar path-adverse people, like me, who only want to sit in comfortable chairs and glance upon very beautiful pictures.

Her pictures draw me in, so why would I subject myself to bugs, bothers, and blisters? I can live, momentarily, in a fantastical world of flowers, nights, trees, birds, and skys without leaving the safety of my insecurities. This is what great art does for those open to the possibilities. A Warholian jaunt, or Leibovitz-like skip from our trouble into whatever we imagine life needs to be to get us through that moment.

A calming moment, perhaps. Maybe kalmia? Softly spoken, with an Italian accent, “Come here..”. “…You’re welcome to join me as my friend. Sit with me and we will rest.”

Great images never have one view, of course. How many times do great paintings draw different opinions from the palettes of discerning wine and cheese guests? Her kalmia latifolia is white on green. A pre-holiday gift to help me keep hoping the present time is not so bad as it seems. They’re very open, as if to want to hold my hand – if only for a moment – and then retreat. Little umbrellas to hide the rain. All of this in a picture.

It’s ok to be open to these possibilities – even if only in two dimensions. I know the creator of the image is alive and well … in three dimensions. She’ll keep clicking away. It’s in her nature to do so and nature gladly accepts her good will. Maybe she’ll catch that wobbly ruffed grouse in her frame sometime for all of us to see.

I sure hope so ’cause there’s not much chance of one crossing my path anytime soon. This chair is just way too comfortable.

Thank a lot

The title is as hard to process in your brain as it was for me to type. “Thank” needs an S happily attached to its back end, right? I knew this when deciding to write, but did it anyway because sometimes our gray matter needs a jolt away from normal. Happy to oblige.

Now that I have your undivided, the lot across the street from my everyday lunch spot has my attention. For some reason today, I’m fascinated by normal and nothing. Four days after a labor’s rest, I’m not ready to work – haven’t been for the past four days. Sitting on a worn metal chair, waiting for any customer to arrive, listening to the sizzle on a grill I’ve heard many times, and experiencing a soft September breeze over my well-rested shoulders make me appreciate nothingness more than ever – at least compared to life last week.

See, last week was normal. My day-in, day-out life stuffed into the 24/7 all of us get. No more, no less. Life was all about running around gathering supplies for my business and scratching out personal checks for closely due bills I knew were itching to be paid. Events to work, prep and clean-up, follow-up phone calls, … oh, an occasional shower to ward off the hygiene police … all in a normal week’s step-through.

All of us sled through our normals. We have to, right? The only other choice is not to … and I probably don’t know what that means. Living abnormally, I can only guess, is inside an avalanche of weird events – day after day – riding on a not-so flexible flyer of ideas. Well, by that definition, then, I DO know. It’s 2020 … 50-ish days before a Presidential election. “Probably” – the assigned adverb four crazy sentences ago – surprisingly just morphed into the phrase, “absolutely aware”. Imagine that?

Every month, since this pandemic arrived, we’ve been hit with some other weird, goofy, sideline snowballs. Let me summarize:

Murder hornets, Australian bushfires, Harry and Meghan quitting the Royals, a Presidential impeachment, China seeds, a Ukrainian flight crashing in Tehran, Iran, killing all 176 passengers on board, Kobe and Gigi Bryant losing their lives with 7 other precious souls in a helicopter crash, one week toilet paper panic buying, UK exiting from the EU, a massive solar flare, locusts in Africa, Weinstein, W.H.O., what’s, and where’s … the complete cancellation of April. aaaand this:

A warlock in a wheelchair riding by between the lot and I. Normal, right? Yes, for him.

He waved a very casual “hi” with his non-staff holding hand as a trusty metal steed carried him by my lazy, but well rested, observing self. There’s a goal in the mind of a man who wears a pointed black hat and – from what I could see – sports a twisted, shiny, lacy white beard. The cloak of visible mystery rivaling Harry Potter’s and a Marlin-esque ponytail dripping out from the back rim both speak of a story I have not lived, most assuredly. It is his story to tell … if only in his mind. It is his normal for this day and, quite possibly, every day he gently places himself into that saddle of satisfaction.

So, normal. Nothing is normal anymore. Or, maybe nothing in our lives’ was ever normal to begin with? What is normal to us isn’t considered normal to another person? It’s a lot to think about. Thinking about a lot – as I am doing right now. All of life’s stuff piled on our once empty fields where fertile ideas grew, dirt was free to get wet with the spring rains, and wild flowers took root here and there as they wished.

We forgot how to tend to our fields. This is the “larger than life lesson” I’ve noticed as an observer of life in others (and myself) during the 2020 year best described as what-the-hell-is-happening?.

When the all-things-normal door slammed shut this past March 13th, none of us knew what to expect going forward. Guidelines were sketchy at best and the near future at the time had a thick haze of uncertainty on the horizon. Normal was no more for 320 million Americans who didn’t know what an unattended field of ideas looked liked back then. Nothing, as a reality, seemed more real than a virus we knew little about except it came from a province in China.

Journeying forward, we’ve become accustomed to a new normal. “New normal” – a phrase my mom often said when torturing through chemo every day. As an expression of sufferance rather than satisfaction in the moment, these two words give some meaning to the material over our mouths and depth to the distancing. Some do not, some do. The most normal phenomenon throughout this whole pandemic, however, has been the predictable percentage of our population who, rightfully or wrongfully, head in the other direction.

It is not my position to judge. I simply stare across the street and think the bare spot looks a lot like Snoopy. That’s not normal. To me, though, a few minutes to sit here and watch a warlock, think about murder hornets, remember a few whacky-weird things, and write about life is something. Mostly, I have a lot to be thankful for. So do you. Find one somewhere, grab an uncomfortable metal chair, and take a seat. Nothing awaits you.

But, then again, we have 111 days left in 2020.

Simply, Roberto Clemente

He would have been 86 years old this past August 18th had a plane crash not taken his life. Simply one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game. Period.

I’m a little too young to have ever seen him play in person. There aren’t enough film clips from the era to satisfy my curiosity about how his grace looked on the field. My dad, and older friends, who did see him play at Forbes Field in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, recall an athlete of refined talent, strength, and finesse.

I can’t conceptualize a man of such natural aptitude in this day of superficial sports strength. As well, I can’t imagine a more genuine human sports figure than this man who died in a DC-7 crash while being a true humanitarian – leaving Puerto Rico on a chartered flight after supervising aid delivered to earthquake victims near Managua. He previously chartered, and paid for, three planes to deliver much needed cargo to the area and felt a fourth was required – with his personality aboard – to oversee the operations due to possible seizing and profiteering by the local military. He lost his life on December 31st, 1972 one mile off the coast of Nicaragua … and the world lost a true humanitarian.

All this after collecting his 3,000th hit on September 30th, 1972 … his final at bat.

The baseball card above is my all-time favorite of his. It’s as beautiful outside as he must have been inside. The 1972 Topps baseball set ranks high among the enduring memories I have of my childhood. When I think of class and charm in the baseball card collecting world, these early 70’s little pieces of cardboard always hit a homerun with me. Yes, that is such a hobbling analogical word to use … and I apologize for the lame insertion, but baseball cards back then represented really cool bubble gum, easy to open wax packs, and trips to the local store up the street to buy some candy and, of course, cards. Simple.

Harry. He was a taller, stout man. Then again, for a little guy like me, everyone was. My sister and I walked along a dangerous two-lane road – not knowing it was, of course. Cars whizzed by at higher rates of speed than we knew was allowed by law as we entered his store, laughingly dusting off our white socks. Harry’s display case on the right always had the candy and the boxes with unopened packs of those great smelling cards inside. To the left sat soda bottles, bread, and newspapers we had no interest in reading. The object was to quickly throw our change on the counter so he would know how many packs of cards we could buy. He was gentle with us, but stern with math. Not a quarter more, or less, garnered us favor no matter how many times we visited his little store a quarter mile up such a treacherous road we had no business walking along.

Once back home, the little brown bag opened dreams. My sister and I quickly ran our little fingers down through the wax seal to open the packs that, seconds earlier, gently fell out of the bag. We knew, even then, to be extra careful at the start. Now, I would jam those same cards into my bike tires within the hour and she, being my older, wiser, thinking-ahead sibling, carefully placed sharp four cornered gems into a box for safekeeping well into her fifth decade of life. Today, I live in regret (happily throwing away my youthful gem-mint perfect rookies of hall-of-fame players / retirement money into ten-speeds and concrete walls, while she, never mind …). Regret can be a strong word. I absolutely loved my childhood, baseball card days … and I adored the 1972 cards. They were the charm during some of my rough years in life.

… and I harbor no regret. That was a tinge of sarcasm above. Today, my collecting is active and engaging. The hobby has changed. Kids don’t walk beside dangerous roads with excitement – hoping to see the next, new design on the cards.

I waited with enthusiasm every spring. Colors, lines, team logos, spacing, borders … all artistically flavored in a card dessert for the eyes. In 1971, Topps baseball cards, however, were a delicacy disaster. Here’s the 1971 Clemente (bottom) compared to the 1972 design (top)

Isn’t this the most depressing card design ever? Ugh. That was the Edsel of the card collecting years. I figure the guy sitting around Topps just gave up. Saying, “Hey, I know what! … I’ll go all black on the border, with block letters for all the writing, and go get a beer.”, the head designer was probably one paycheck away from retirement and didn’t see the bad decision rounding third base. Ironically, the cards from this amass of mundaneness – if found in pristine condition – are the rarest due to the black borders. It is the most condition sensitive of all Topps sets and is huge – coming in at 752 total cards. A mint-9 Clemente, for reference, recently sold for $14,500. Still, I hate the design. And yes, no apologies for using hate.

Enter 1972. Low expectations when I opened the first pack. I imagine, now, the 1971 head designer was sitting on the beach sipping a less-than-well deserved cocktail as a newly appointed, forward thinking, awesomely creative, artistically pen-wielding sports lover took the helm. Imagined beauty. Essence at my fingertips back then. Out of the blackness into the light.

Comparisons of life to sports in words have made many writers millionaires. In reverse, many sports figures, who are already millionaires, have written words about life – as it relates to sports. The connection, in my world, has been – and is – at the end of my fingertips when I hold a single 2.5 x 3.5 inch piece of thin cardboard. My age doesn’t matter. My memories do and when I see something as beautiful as a 1972 baseball card, or the recalled vision in my brain of a much younger self sitting on a front porch with a small paper bag, I feel better about the present moment. A peace.

Probably the same feeling Clemente had boarding the plane knowing he did something nice, once again, for his people in Nicaragua. He was a hero. A true sports-man of his generation who knew his beauty. Someone whose legacy and honor has lasted well beyond that fateful last day of 1972. A year when artistry bloomed out of darkness in the card collecting world, but we lost a gentleman, a father, an athlete of refined talent who I never saw play.

This is ok in my world. I have card #309 to remember his strength and humanity – two qualities in life for all of us to remember when opening packs of kindness in our hearts.

It Was Nuts

Flam, paradiddle, and ratamacue. Give any high school snare line sticks, drums, and each player the promise of a Big Mac upon completion of the exercise, and they’ll crack off those rudiments faster than you can say, “Two All-Beef patties, please.”

I sell all-beef hotdogs at my concession trailer – almost as long as those high school basin-bangers above have been alive. I’m also quite familiar with the standard set of rudiments percussionists must know, being a certified K-12 music educator. Yes, I’m a piano-playing, full-time food concessionaire, blogger-slash-whatever it takes to get through lifer. It’s crazy. The turns and twists along life’s less than concrete pathways are unpredictable for most of us. Solid plans laid out early on do work out, for some, as they unfold in a perfect unity with the universe. Arguably, for most of us, we have to adapt to ever changing circumstances. Ever hear of that thing called, “2020”? It’s nuts!

Oh, and speaking of nuts…

Yesterday, I pulled my trailer into a rather tight space for an event, up on a knoll, overlooking a beautiful late summer afternoon. The gathering was a semi-large smooshing of humans celebrating the freedoms in America. I try to stay independent in my views when vending-attending these because I’m there for only one reason: to make as much money as I am able. Yes, “greedy capitalism” is in my blood because I can’t pay my bills with good intentions. That sentence is overstated sarcasm, of course, however some assume businesses exist for the sole intention of customer appeasement. Yes, this is important … but we need to be making money. Kinda the point of this event yesterday … I think; Although, I was too busy to pay any attention to the speakers many yards away under the pavilion so finely decorated with American flags, red-white-and-blue banners, and stars.

It ended up being a nice, profitable day. Unexpected. In one word, “nuts” – as we like to say when business is significantly better than what was planned. Extra trips to get more product, more dips into the bank bag for change, ice runs to keep up with soda, and the second row of burners on my grill fired up 75% of the time … all good indicators of a great sales day.

All during the early hours between negotiating my cart/trailer/van up the knoll in and around other tents and vendors, I was very aware of a wonderful tree smack dab in the middle of my specified spot. At no point in my fifteen years career have I ever had to work out a deal with an immovable, unemotional, vertical owner of a specific plot of land. No amount of words spoken convinced this new friend to move. I had to find a way around, about, above, across, against … Creativity in my soul, I cranked and creased my way into the spot. Van, cart, … and tree all together in one harmonious vendor space. That was 1/2 the problem solved.

Then came an uprising. Oh, not a bad thing, just rising up a 10×10 canopy over my cart. I’ve done this tent task so many times it’s a sleeper. One click here, one pull there. Repeat 4x. Done. However, on a gorgeous Saturday late morning in September, under a tree, not so much an easy thing to do as it was a stumper. The click-ups didn’t work so well. Apparently, my new friend had low hanging arms preventing my canopy from going up all the way. Yes, twig-twisting, cart adjusting, and more head-scratching for ten minutes until that problem was solved. Whew, right?

Once all was in place, coolers filled and grease-laden surfer dudes rode the breezy waves off my grill, the event was kicking off. “Freedom” was in full swing as my cash drawer was counted anticipating an average day that didn’t turn out to be such a day. And then it started.

Tap. Tap tap. Flam. Paradiddle. Ratamacue. Were my musical ears – so focused on the griddle – deceiving me? Was I too tired from the negotiating session earlier that I was hallucinating? Tapped out from overwork?

This went on for hours – semi-rhythmic light pitter-patter upon my ears. The non-melodic tones stopped occassionally only to restart at odd intervals, but I had no time to investigate as sausages and cheese-steaks kept slithering off my grill at an alarming pace. Ketchup, mustard, and onions distracting my every attempt to start looking around for clues to this dastardly deception.

Finally, after four hours, I exhaustively melted into a welcoming chair to enjoy a taco salad from a foodie friend food truck who was there. Head bowed down in submission to the moment, I saw – and realized – the culprits. These little buggers were all over the ground. Well, all around the ground perimeter of a 10×10 white canopy. Gee, I wonder how they got there? Bouncing off said canopy, perhaps?

I’ll give the tree some credit here for being capable of spite. Kudos. I know I interfered in its planned Saturday activities, but it wasn’t my fault, really. Was nut-bombing me for hours really necessary? Granted, I should have figured it out sooner. Also, the natural shade received was nice and I’m not compensating the tree for that. Money is too hard to earn these days. It doesn’t grow on … , like every grandfather says, … or, maybe it was upset about that, so throwing acorns was passive-aggressive behavior.

The day was nuts all around for sure. To say I was tired after all of it would be understating the facts.

Freedom can be celebrated. I am glad to be a part of any celebration – regardless of political affiliation or belief. Yes, I need to make money first and foremost. Yes, good intentions are important as well. I intend to keep doing what I’m doing as long as I can. I hope you do as well … whatever path you’re on, as twisted or unpredictable as it may be.

Just be careful of trees with nuts. They have a tendency to be a bit irritated if you happen to show up on an absolutely stunning, sunny day in September.

Elsa and ‘Bones

Frozen in time are memories of Mr. McGee lumbering into the bandroom with that predictable scowl on his face. I don’t blame him, knowing what I know being, now, the age he was back then. Having to listen and direct a hoodlum bunch of blowing junior high quasi-instrumentalists – day after bad note day – had to get on his nerves. A collective group of teenaged tooters divided into the usual sections: woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

Sitting on the row in the top tier of the room, immediately inside the door from which he entered, we were the trombone section. Two Daves, a Jim, and I with a smattering of underclassmen. Four ninth-graders resting at the top of the middle school world who first spied Mr. McGee on any given day. Dave, the principle trombonist on the end, had the best seat, I was second, Jim … then Dave #2. One music stand per two slidey bones, four players, …. and one really good time. We were friends.

Dave to my left was always the better negotiator of chair order to that point, although I knew soon I was going to swing around him – which I did the following year. Music was too much in my bones (yes, pun intended) and he didn’t have the passion I did. Mr. McGee recognized this early on, but didn’t do much the change the status quo, so I went along with the plan. Why not, right? Too many other bothersome things in junior high to stumble over than fight about being 1st or 2nd in a band instrument section.

Roughly 10 years later, Mr. McGee fell ill and reached out to me. He was unable to return to that same outdated bandroom for an extended time and wondered if I’d be available to step in as a long-term substitute. After all, as a graduate and qualified K-12 music educator, it seemed the perfect opportunity. Politely declining, I stepped aside due to other career obligations and thanked him for the chance to walk through that same door he did years prior. He died shortly thereafter. The teacher who did accept the substitute position was eventually hired full-time and had a wonderful career.

Life is wonderful. Opportunities not taken are still excellent … just sometimes for others. I went on to do other things I am so wonderfully glad I was able to do – and continue to do.

This is about Dave #1 … and frozen moments. Mr. McGee walking sternly, yet exhaustively, into that bandroom is a still moment I can see today in my left peripheral vision. In that view is Dave sitting beside me. He will always be there.

Imagine my surprise when, with both eyes, I saw his profile picture a few years ago on Facebook when he accepted my 40-years later formal friend request. Those are definitely frozen moments. The, “Oh, man is this really him/her after all these years?” times that repeat over and over following reunion inspired requests. Yes, this was Dave’s overly dark beard, bushy eye brows, deep brown, tan skin and at- peace personality shining through his small smile.

With all those nice qualities, it’s not surprising his new puppy, frozen in time above, is in his care … or, that her name is ELSA. She is second in charge in his home behind an older canine sibling. I’m taking an immediate liking to Elsa and her apparent position seeing as how she’s “second chair” in the ‘bone section. The family is out of state, so I won’t have any opportunity to commiserate with my young puppy pal-ette of similar emotional coloring, but I can sympathize with her plight from afar.

Being 2nd isn’t a bad position. I’m behind my sister, yet ahead of my brother. Seconding, one could argue, is just as important as proposing a motion. Going for seconds is a compliment to the chef and minutes don’t exist without sixty little divisions within them. Great symphonies need relaxing, beautiful 2nd movements and what historical significance would there be between Washington and Jefferson if Adams was out picking apples instead of presiding as President?

Certainly Elsa didn’t choose to harm Anna in the movie. Kristoff steps in to help Anna find Elsa, eventually breaking the spell cast upon Arendelle. Elsa #2, becomes #1 with the help of an unlikely cast of melty characters.

Our Elsa above simply melts our hearts. No movie necessary. Look at that face.

It’s our cast of characters – unlikely or not – who get us through life … our Mr. McGees long since passed, or Daves popping up with cute puppies on social media. These folks melt away the frost on our frozen memories we may have forgotten.

It’s been some time since I’ve reminisced about those junior high, wool uniform band days. For all of Mr. McGee’s faults, he did a pretty good job of corralling a goofy bunch of late 70’s kids into a semi-large, old, non-acoustic beat up old band room from the 40’s.

As for Dave, I think he’s retired military who enjoys his cars. I doubt he plays his trombone much – if at all. Since I’ve been active in music my whole life, it’s probably about time to challenge him to a friendly head-to-head audition. Not that I’m holding a grudge or anything … we should just put to rest who was the better of the two back when Mr. McGee walked into our lives every other day.

Turns out, I kinda miss Mr. McGee’s attitude. It was real, … authentic. Qualities not seen too much these days. Almost frozen in the past.

Unless you’re the puppy, Elsa. Then you have genuine in spades.

Incredible Feat

6 feet. We’ve all known the rule for at least that many months as well. Completely unrelated, seventy-two inches just happens to be my exact height. One being a guideline for the pandemic of the century, and the other an out of control genetic mutation caused by parent’s wine-and-dine how-do-you-do nine months prior to my birth. Six feet, in both cases, not a bad thing. The former, presumably preventative, and the latter helpful when standing in the back of a crowded elevator wondering who just passed gas – by being able to recognized the face of the guilty party – is certainly socially advantageous.

There is something much better, however: a pair of feet. Especially, a pair of ankle-socked stompers wearing inexpensive Avias purchased in haste from Walmart … inexplicably, the most comfortable, casual shoes I’ve worn in a long time. Light, airy, invisible to the feet, basically no support except to my emotional well-being … this pedestrian pleasure pair is making strides in what I now know as a tootsie utopia.

Life never used to be this way at times. Pinches, heaviness, stiffness. All of us know the uncomfortable qualities we can assign to shoes not fitting correctly, right? Shoe horned into our lives were cheap leathers, knocked-off racks we knew existed for the benefit of parents discounting pennies at the end of a hard earned paychecks. Mom and dad had to do … what they had to do.

Those days long gone, but memories stay. Everytime a shoe turns against me, or a sock knot twinges in the toes, I’m reminded how difficult it must have been for my parents make the laces of life meet in the middle. Our Christmas bills lasted until the following April – just in time for the taxes to be due. Vacations the first week in June burdened my dad’s remaining summer days with work to pay off those sandy beach times.

Fall ushered in a schedule replete with the requisite pre-first day of school shopping outing for … school shoes. That 70’s, badly coordinated, brown polyester, bowl haircut era when my mom piled us into our paneled station wagon with the guarantee of a cheap McDonald’s lunch if we behaved. Every year, one after another, pair after pair, my siblings and I clanked into our homerooms satiated to the gills with 25-cent hamburgers and the finest, unfittest shoes a school teacher’s credit budget could afford.

More pairs I’ve owned as an adult than ever as a child, of course. Sneakers, loafers, slip-ons, slippers, flip-flops, casuals, tuxedo blacks, – all of them purchased without urging from my mom who isn’t around to share a McDonald’s meal with me anymore. Dad’s comfortably able to buy expensive shoes – or take any vacation he wants, with time and money no longer obstacles, but age and willingness is waning.

What steps are we taking in life with what we’re given? It isn’t just our feet, of course. So much we had isn’t here anymore. My mom. My dad. What I had. What they needed to do.

My inexpensive Avias are surprising. They are really comfortable. A big box store should not, by all intents and purposes, be providing me this level of ease for such a small price. I was not raised to believe low price equals comfort; Nor should I expect to receive this heavenly blisterless bliss in the future. I will take off these one-offs as long as I can count my blessings each time.

And I guess that’s what it’s all about. As Neil Armstrong so famously said, “That’s one small step for (a man / man), one giant leap for mankind”, each small metaphorical step we take forward in our lives is one giant step helping everyone else. Our life is a contribution to everyone else’s experience. The oft used “butterfly effect”.

Remember that the next time you find yourself looking down. I bet you’ve taken a lot of remarkable steps thus far to be where you are right now. Some not as comfortable as others, but you’re here and that is what’s important.

… and if I must say so, that’s some incredible feat, or two.

“Table for One”

Title in quotes because I didn’t name this beautiful picture; nor did I possibly leave boot prints in muddy puddles, or quiet sandal steps along stone pathways, to sneak up on this flower and its momentary inhabitant. That glorious moment belonged to my wonderful friend. A dear person. The kind of behind the lens, shy, keenly aware human being all of us should have in our emotional back pocket.

She has a name – one I didn’t ask permission to use. In addition, I will not splay words of adulation upon this page – although they would be appropriate. To simply mention her support and encouragement will suffice.

What cannot be unnoticed, and necessarily witnessed by simply being next to the pictures like what’s above, is her eye for nature’s beauty. I’ve seen the sun splendidly spectacular, trees triumph, and water massage thousand years old rocks – through her lens. The lens of a camera phone btw.

In the course of a work day, perhaps, or a leisurely walk, she finds moments to see what few of us see. Hundreds upon hundreds – possibly over a thousand – captured frames we’d never know if she didn’t stop to let us in. Allowing us the opportunity to bee, yes “bee one with nature” …

… and then it’s no longer a “Table for One”, is it?

We’re at the table together. A not so subtle reminder as August of 2020 winds down into the early fall months. Exactly two-thirds of an extraordinarily un-bee-lievable year melted into our memories with so many unknown experiences yet ahead.

Everything seems so un-natural. Words, tossed about from people we’re finding difficult to trust, are not the same anymore. Cloth that was beautifully sewn into dresses and ties is now muffling “I love you’s” being spoken by those making that masking decision – which is another American divide. Science is at odds with opinion, and numbers are no longer stern – they are malleable and flexible to the moment.

Yes, it seems un-natural. Through our human lens, anyway. What appears to bee isn’t always that way. If we step back, as my picture-esque friend does “quite finely”, nature gives us time to see what she sees: a bee on a flower. Simple.

Bees collect pollen, a source of protein they feed to their offspring. Also, I believe the hair on their bodies collects the pollen as well which, in turn, helps pollinate the earth. (I may know more music than biology, Mozart than mud, but I think I have that right?). See, our wonderful world has a plan for everything.

We’re just the goofballs messing it all up. The party crashers at the table, as it were. It’s estimated 50% of all the wildlife is extinct now … and we are in the 6th Extinction event as I type. Who knew? I certainly didn’t until I became a bit more educated and less dependent on single-use plastic bags. Half to eighty-five percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from phytoplankton in the ocean and it’s in trouble. Over-population is destroying natural habitats. We eat way too much food to sustain the land necessary for cultivation … on and on it goes. This is from a guy who … well …

I’m not a nature walker. Far from it. My best day would be to sit at my desk with one hand knuckles deep in a bowl of dry cereal with the other controlling a mouse. I do appreciate nice things in front of my peepers when I go outside, however, and I want them to stay that way. I want a blue sky, lush green grass, and clean, healthy air.

My life is like 2020. Roughly two-thirds over – if actuarial tables are correct and no speeding bus is headed my way soon. Comparatively speaking, both have had ups and downs. Maybe you’re right there with me in age? Perhaps not.

Whatever the case, you’re doing all the right things and I’m glad to introduce you to my friend’s world of pictorial pleasures. She’s pretty shy, so I don’t know if I’ll have the delight in sharing more of her colorful imagery with all of you in the future.

Knowing her as I do – and since we’re all in this together – she’ll graciously welcome us at her table if I ask. That’s how she rolls.

For now, on this very early Sunday morning in August, I’ll be content knowing another day is ahead for us to look through our lenses to see what my fabulous friend sees. When a flower appears, stop … if only for a second. You may witness a small miracle nature has been creating every day for 4.5 billion years. Bee-lieve me, we don’t want to lose sight of it.

My dear friend is making sure we don’t.

Ten and Two

I rolled over on the sofa the other morning because my back hurt. Something creative came out of that spinal soreness – at least from my point of view. This:

Now, you may not agree with my creative assessment, however, you’d be going against a few Facebook friends who found that post to be somewhat entertaining. Since I count myself among my friends, … happily hoping you are to you as well during this year of unpredictable, unprecedented, incredible instances in our lives, I offer the following:

Humor and originality, to get through the sludgery of this year, especially, have been my go-to. Those two streets have always been under my wheels, but never so road-ready as they’ve been in 2020 – paved with intentionality. They are mental representations of what I’ve always needed my life to be: Laughs, Escapes, Acceptances, Re-dos, and Normals. All of these, in both tough and easy times, help me L-E-A-R-N.

Within all five are my keys to lower blood pressure, easier breathing, and a general sense of better control over my life. If only people ahead of me in line at the local convenience store would quit insisting on rattling off every … single … lottery number to the clerk they scratched on their Denny’s napkin, I’d be close to perfectly calm … for a few seconds anyway.

Here’s the problem with my plan: I’m always having to get back into my emotional car, filling the tank with new material over and over, never quite getting out of town.

Why? I’m a difficult L-E-A-R-Ner. How about you? I can laugh, escape, accept, re-do and be normal, … but it’s a tough road figuring out a new path forward knowing something new.

… and that’s the problem we face in America today. Especially in 2020.

One of the expressions I hear a lot is, “I don’t know what I don’t know”, as it relates to this awful virus, masking, etc … So honest, yet so deceivingly scary, right? This opens us up to speculation, opinion, Facebook rants, politically driven drivel, bent blather from the media, on and on. We can’t shut our lives down, or off. We need contact with sources for good information … we need to learn our way through this with all the solid, trusted, data – both hands on the wheel. Ten and two.

The other 2020 problem, November’s election, I fear too many don’t want to learn about the other side. There’s hate, malaise, discontent, fear, blindness – all not-so disguised as roadblocks inside the minds of some who blindly drive only on one way streets. What if Hate Avenue is a dead end? Anger Alley could have a really delinquent mob hanging about near the back gate. It is all an unknown.

Some claim to know absolute truth. There seems to be more Facebook absolutes than molecules in Newton’s apple. For every left, a right …. every right a wrong, every Zuckerberg a Spielberg, ad infinitum mucho latte and a cherry.

I know very little except the first eight months of 2020 have been a freakin’ nightmare. Lives have been upended, suspended – or, sadly ended – because of a virus. In addition, an election coming up is so ridiculously overblown with hot, bloviated air to the point of being one pin prick away from political pop-in-stance. Lastly, I saw this in the news:

Deborah Rose, 64, of Thorold, Ontario, won a lottery jackpot of more than $750,000 using a set of lucky numbers that came to her in a dream. Photo courtesy of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.
(Awkward blank space here … sorry. I didn’t know how to fix it. So, I’ll just place a few random thoughts here to fill in the white block to make it pretty. We had rain today. Not much. Ate a veggie burger for supper with some Kraft mac and cheese. OK. Geesh there’s a lot of space to fill here. Oh well. Again, my apologies … The caption accompanying this picture is a few miles down.)
Aug. 26 (UPI) — An Ontario woman who scored a lottery jackpot worth more than $750,000 told officials her winning numbers came to her in a dream.

I sure hope the poor guy standing behind her in line at the local convenience store didn’t have to stand there for hours as she painstakingly pattered off her numbers. I must admit, though, Mrs. Deborah does have stunningly beautiful eyes. The pinky extensions make me think she’s a bit apprehensive holding a large moola check, so may I kindly suggest she send me some of that jack to lighten the load of my car a bit? I’ve a long road ahead – as all of us do.

I accept what is. Don’t really like a lot of it right now … don’t have to – and you don’t either. Take some time to laugh, be creative, be whatever normal looks like to you. America needs it now more than ever.

I should settle in for the night. Perchance to dream, I guess. Hey maybe a few lucky lottery numbers will slosh around in my head? One thing I do know for sure: my back will be sore in the morning – it always is. It’ll never learn, virus or not, but I’ll think of something creative to get myself going.

You do the same. ok? America needs to find its backbone again, too.

Where’s Chloe?

She didn’t intend to be Waldo. I have my doubts she even knows who Waldo is. I’m positive Martin Handford and Chloe never met, so, in my asking, “Where’s Chloe?”, there’s no chance Mr. Handford will answer, “There. Right there … snuggling in her pink doggie bed!”. His character Waldo (better known as Wally in North America) is a literary, spectacled success. I applaud the many hours, days, and perhaps years Mr. Handford invested developing his craft. Aspiring authors, painters, musicians, athletes, sculptors, designers, chefs, and inventors all … my best wishes for your success.

Chloe’s success is measured in smaller increments: pulling at socks while they’re only half way up my feet, eating ends off of papers in the trash, barking into closed doors … all the while refusing to pass through open ones, sneaking away with any shoe available, and crotch rocketing into my unsuspecting, shall I say, nameless part gentile. All of these a tiring day’s endeavors for a puppy of five months. Also, very exhausting for a neighbor willing to dog sit such an excitable little puggle. A neighbor who doesn’t have a cute little pink snuggle bed to rest away the stressors of the day.

Ah, but Chloe does … and isn’t that just perfect! (sarcasm). Good sarcasm … if that’s a thing.

Where’s Chloe? I’m constantly asking that question every day. There are moments it’s too quiet. You know what I mean. For a rug rattle consistent with puppy play to then disappear into silence means some paw-hankery is afoot. One certain Chloe is not considering her blessings, or reflecting upon the return of her owners. She’s usually up to something.

Today, the issue was a simple math problem. How to not keep jamming a simple blue racquetball into the corner seam of a sectional sofa … over and over again. Here’s the equation:

BALL + SEAM / SOFA = Doug’s Time × 4

I’m a busy guy these days, but my Waldo story is pretty easy. Facebook updates keep my datebook oars in the water with a pretty steady headwind. With that, my mornings stay predictable … unless there’s a little puggle under foot. Don’t mind the company. The occasional yip or brush against my leg is no more a distraction than the random thoughts bouncing around in my noggin.

When the blue ball comes kitchen knockin, however, it can’t be ignored. There’s traction in Chloe’s puppy play world and that ball will bounce an infinite number of times until it’s thrown back into another room. So again today, I obliged. I had to. This week, the lesser of the options between a set of big, brown eyes staring at me, and the paw-patter of feet across the wooden floor into our living room … until silence.

The deafening quiet when I knew she pushed the ball, somehow, up into the most remote corner of the sectional sofa. A crevasse so deep that her head – in combination with her extra long tongue – could not, under any law of physics, remove the deeply embedded ball. Silence.

I knew the dilemma. Fuzzy donuts, monkeys, head socks, bones, … none of these readily available toys within snouts distance were a sufficient replacement for the simple, old blue ball … in her mind. In my mind, why not, right? Any puppy mouth occupier that can keep me from interrupting my routine is gold. Not to be. Silence is too loud for my liking, so off I go to unjam the ball.

Oh, but this starts the game all over again. Cheery Chloe, with ball slightly larger than the very mouth it occupies, enters the kitchen once more – bringing with her a small shadow from the morning sun that beams through the window over the sink. It’s where I find myself looking down, again, at eyes I can’t resist. Three more times. Each time digging the same ball … out of the same seam … of the same sofa … for the same dog-ette.

… And then, later, she rests. After hours of other activities and fun frolicking – most of which I’m not aware. The working thing gets in the way of my Chloe time as she occupies her time with other humans. My time with her – as dog sitter – is limited to seven days now and will end in a few. Back to her true owners she’ll go and I’m sure she’ll be very, very happy to return.

I’ll be glad to hand her back, too. Not that I haven’t enjoyed her visit, mind you. Kinda like Grandparents “graciously”, and lovingly, handing over their grandkids back to the parents. Her owners are wonderful people, great neighbors, and terrific people-parents for Chloe.

For the next few days, I’ll suffer gladly through the minutes. Hopefully I won’t hear that silence too many more times. If I do, I’d like it to be less about a ball and more of her snuggled in a pink, warm bed.

At least then I would know the answer to “Where’s Chloe?”