There’s No Room

There’s no room.

During these times of Social Distancing – defined as staying away from our former biologically acceptable human comrades – we are told to be leery of an inside hulahoop diameter meet-up. The six-foot rule. If you’ve forgotten this companion to the Masking Mandates, please visit any store, doctor’s office, bus stop, or internet page any second of any day for a refresher.

Notice I didn’t assume you’ve never heard of it. That would be nearly impossible.

Since day one of the pandemic, S.D. and M.M. have become as everyday in America as apple pie and baseball. The latter, of course on hold for now. Variations in stickers on floors in retail shops show shoe prints 6-feet apart to prevent “us” from nudging our apparent virus-laden bodies up against each other, or creating a cloud of droplets and vapors for others to walk through. All if this an ounce of prevention, right?

I’m not arguing for, or against, the science. As much as I hate the saying, “It is what it is…”, I need to insert it. I’ll glue my 10 1/2’s on the circles and stand behind the line like a dutiful citizen. Sometimes if I had a good breakfast that day, I’ll feel good about it. I’ll give up the space for a greater good. A not-so-good day? Be a bit cautious. I’ve been known to verbally crack-jack grocery store robots for their masking hubris.

There still isn’t enough room – and here’s why:

More and more people always have to be right during these days of pandemic-pandemonium. There’s no room for a different opinion or point of view. All the great, healthy conversational air has been sucked out of a – used to be – wonderful walk-a-bout where conversations occurred over different bean coffees.

Standing firm on the President’s words? check. Pushing back against everything breath the President takes? check. Pro-go outs? Stay-ins? Bad man Fauci all the time? Fauci is awesome-sauce? Left vs Right vs Wrong. No middle.

Over and over, Facebook and 3D intersections find people toe-to-toe, exchanging information over mistakes in reading the signals. Auto-matic reactions are piling up. Nobody wants to take the cautionary lights of research and discipline. Moreover, they’re attempting to barrel through the proven science of red lights … not looking both ways before crossing.

When the pandemic mess is cleaned up, and the room empties of all physical evidence, nothing will change. A group of “someones” will be right in what they believe now.

…and it will be a mess once again. Intolerable, I would argue now ahead of then.

The “See, I told you so’s! …” – inside that pandemic-end-but-emotional-costs-still-linger room – are going to be shouted down to us for years. The echos will bounce around and any escape near impossible.

Don’t doubt me on this. I KNOW I’m right. Sarcasm? Absolutely. I want to be educated on all things and be open to change my mind. Most times a very difficult place to exist because I’m told I have to “take a stand”. This – shouted from those standing beside wrecked attitudes as I speak-cycle by on my bye-bye, bicycle with a wheel outlook on life. On balance, I’d rather wobble and weave than be stationary in my beliefs.

We’re running out of room for sure. Maybe if more people check their attitudes at the door, drive with a bit more caution on the internet highway, or simply yield and look both ways before crossing off others’ opinions … we’d all begin to breathe easier.

It’s a smaller space than we knew months ago. Let’s respect it and give each other room to live and enjoy what we have. Together.

Fauci Facts Food and Fatigue

Fauci Facts and Food Fatigue

For the most part, interchangeable are the four nouns in the title. Now, Fauci food isn’t really a thing unless he has a burrito line of which I’m not aware. Other than that strange combo, two-word pairs match up nicely. Why these four words today? Easily asked … easily answered.

They make up the finely tuned quartet singing the song, “My Wild I-Wish Rhodes” inside my head. It’s an oh-so convenient pun play on the traditional “Wild Irish Rose” barbershop foursome warble tune and my forever tattooed last name of Rhodes. Oh, I wildly wish things were different for all of us right now. They aren’t.

There’s a 5th F☆ing word I’d like to include which finds its way into my lexicon of colorful spittage … it is reserved for long, chatty teller, drive-thru bank lines, unmasked humanoids who violate my 6-feet circle space, and my overly gray, “what-the …” going on down the back of my head and over these ears of mine. Damn clipper-snippers need to get open – and soon.

Back to my what-fours: Fauci, facts, food, and fatigue. Separated in this paragraph for the purpose of celebrating faux independent daze from reality, these four “nouns of the shutdowns” sit as moored ships with my rough waters of unfamiliar feelings slapping against their sides. This fog of an eerily morning asks me to throw my common sense into the harbor of socially accepted bad ideas. An independence I didn’t ask to be involved in … a patriotic duty I am not suited up for and don’t have the proper ammunition to fight.

Though I will fight through the mist to understand the four foes I desperately want to understand:

Dr. Fauci:
Analysis: This guy of infinitly higher brain chemistry, and synapse-shooting gapestry than I, tells me to do things. He’s of lesser stature, older in age, and seems to be wiser when speaking of covid-related practices. I feel like having him over for dinner around Thanksgiving provided he’s properly masked and at least six feet away from my gravy-laden turkey and taters. Overall, a properly nice fellow under undue stress from an apparent underlying “assumed” feud with his boss.

Problem: I see him more on talk blogs and online discussion split-panel dias-bias broadcasts promoting his idea of what is normal rather than giving us new information. What is old promoted as new, to put a spin on it. He’s not arrogant … I’m not saying that.

Perhaps a better frame on the picture would be to homage Mel Blanc by saying: “What’s up, Doc?” …It bugs me when he appears so often saying the same things. Yes, maybe we need to hear them. Yes, we are not – possibly – doing what we need to do, scientifically speaking.

He’s a scientist, not a social engineer. Give me the science. He’s been wrong on the models. He can’t possibly know what’s going to happen in the fall with Universities. Does he know my nose runs constantly when I wear my mask for more than 5 minutes when I can’t find the relish aisle in the grocery store?

Anthony, my Anthony. Walk away from De’Nile and accept your role as supporter of science while others take the lead on social matters.

You and your colleagues, stay in your lane. Please.

Analysis: Funny, unvascillating little nuggets of truth. Undeniable, observable, unquestionable, touchable, no doubtable passable in the smell testable-univerable, global acceptable world we live in are our friends … truth as facts. Red is red and I need a haircut, badly.

Problem: To steal – outright – an overused phrase being tossed around, “People are not entitled to their own set of facts these days.”

Let’s stick to numbers. They’re less oily and unwilling to vacillate under the whims of fancy … unless one needs them for political gain or social advantage. Primary and secondary level facts for cause to throw more tea into the harbor. Specifically, COVID-19 case and death numbers per state.

As of this post, America has roughly over 88,000 deaths with 1.47 million cases. In Pennsylvania, we have 4,300 deaths with 60,000 cases. These are surface facts … ones so easily barnicled on the side of our companion-ship expectations. Under the surface, however, are other facts seemingly ignored for purposes of political and social convenience.

Nearly 70% of all deaths by COVID-19 in PA have occurred in nursing homes and personal care facilities. These buildings, combined with our most vulnerable with compromised immune systems, are petri dishes for viruses searching for welcoming homes. One-hundred percent of the populous living in the commonwealth has been subject to the seventy percent King’s edict.

As I’ve said numerous times, never a denier that this ‘rona is a “thing” , but state-wide decisions and panic-policy embroidered on a white flag of first level facts – without considering other numbers – is going to eventually sink the trust we have in those at the helm. Captains, at the ready, to steer our ship out of the not-so-safe harbor we’re in at present, anyway.

Analysis: Pizza, hamburgers, tacos, chocolate milk? … Great and awesome. Nuts, beans, whole grains, fruits, seeds, vegetables, keto diet, blended shakes, kale, yogurt, and tofu … probably ok in moderation for others. I’m a mid-50’s guy – with slightly high blood pressure – around average BMI for my height and wear glasses to read the mite-sized label-lettering on the supplements I take. Yes, I can be accused of living to eat, not eating to live … and enjoy every bite of a Taco Bell steak quesarito dripping with melty cheese.

Problem: Panic buying in the midst of a mist of mis-information. Empty shelves where there should be none. Fulfilled expectations, unfortunately, because I knew once suggestions of a possible shortage hit the air, all would be possible. The shelf-ishness would begin.

Granola and Chex-Mix were grabbed up … when, before, these colonoscopy helpers were as useful and important as someone’s hundred-fifty years old grandma. Beef ground to a halt – meating our greatest fear of a non-juicy burger world. Processing reality was too much, so off to counter that we went – led to slaughter the uncomfortableness and load freezers with 8 months of high steaks peace.

Making sure we got ours – all shapes and sizes of all things dry and juicy. Milk, bread, paper, meat, sanitizer, bleach, … pickles (I like them, so they’re on the list just because) … but not tofu, keto-stuffs, or cauliflower florets. Why some and not others? I have my ideas. Stores had three boxes sold out of granola when I needed one. Understandable. No media bias-panic, pre-gotta get, apocalyptic airwave pushing there. Other crushable consumables? Yep. It’s all about the push. The gotta-haves. The better-gets before the run-outs.

We live in a country where we can live on – and with a lot less – than what we think. A lot of the “we” word in that last sentence on purpose. The America I know is a “we” country … not so much an “I” country. Something to remember the next time you look over a shelf with only a few “needed” items begging your purchase. Must haves with companions already in your cargo holds and galleys, but not in others’.

Anaysis: Tired of all this? Welcome to the whatever club you want to call us. I’m open to suggestions. Exhaustion, weariness, donkey work, drowsiness, chores, drum-drudgery. Plain old … ugh.

Problem: Makes me talk like a pirate with a strange accent. Both very difficult to translate via black and white text in a web-log portmanteau blog. And, like a pirate, I feel dirty, greedy, and in search of a treasure I may never find. Unlike a buccaneer of past however, my treasure is ultimate peace, a clean soul, and generosity.

Ay Mate. Me thinks I’m goin’ a bit ‘azy here. See me problem.

In my head, I can keep going through the necessities of daily doings. All of us find a way, right? We’re keeping our ships afloat. Bills, mates, kids, jobs, pets, food, homes, cars, … all the four and five letter things we need to think about 24/7 keeping the synapses firing even when we don’t want them to. It is all so tiring, unequivocally exhausting as each day opens up to another – especially these days.

Masking, social distancing, and all the “opening up” requirements thrust on top of our own opinions about this whole coronavirus pandemic are burdens. Where to file all the information has blurred our 2020 vision. There has been no clear link-slash-chain of leadership from the national-to-state-to-local governments. It’s been a free-for-all bucket of pride, malaise, avarice, and acquisitiveness. Where is true humility and leadership anymore? Where are the men and women who want all – I mean ALL – of us to be on one ship, together.

They are not on board with those of us being asked to hold their hands – while we are walking the planks, dangling precariously close to the edge of financial collapse and an emotional plunge into the cold waters of an unsafe harbor.

Combine all these four ships: Fauci, Facts, Food, and Fatigue in my “Harbor of How things are Happening” and you get an insight into what I believe is afloat. Agree or disagree, I’m fine with it.

We can talk over tea sometime. I’ll tea-se you with one final thought: Don’t go overboard with any of your opinions. Research all your ideas, live boldly your life within the rules, but go beyond the expectations of your mind.

Find your 4 F’s … and sometimes the fifth F will come into play. Let it fly because it’s the most freeing feeling in the world to say, “F*it! … I’m the C’tain of this ship and y’all can find your own ship.”

Station Wagon Ideas

Panelled station wagons guzzled their way down many highways in the 70’s. Convenient? Yes. Stylish? Debatable, as were shaggy mutton-chop sideburns and highrise hairdos. Those of us who were kids didn’t know style. We slogged our way through in polyester brown pants and orange striped cotton shirts. The only joy we had, sometimes, was riding backwards – free from restraint – in those matching brown and orange metal boxes. Making faces through the glass at clearly unhappy, suspecting drivers to the rear, we knew of no internet, cable, or cell phones. A snack, or two, held our attention … and, of course, the adult at the wheel in the car behind who was the audience of our pre-teen antics.

This was our station in life. None of us knew anything different at the time. Grocery store, scouts, school, … a trip to Grandma’s house a few blocks away, whatever the reason, to ride in reverse was a treat. A middle seat plunker was doom and meant something happened – something serious in the familial universe. The overstepping of a boundary (admittedly, a line I was quite capable finding – frequently) or, simply, space were two reasons back bench bliss wasn’t available to three knee scrubbers growing up in a lower-middle income household.

My dad taught school and mom hung around home raising three kiddos. An easy decision for her. She was built to be a mom. Take a bucket full of qualities that make up a great mom and you could paint the most beautiful of mansions. Colors vibrant with care, love, compassion, music, food, touch, humor, faith, and … well, mom… made up a palate of wonderfulness.

Dad painted houses in the summer to earn extra money for a yearly trip to Ocean City. This was his release from occupation hell – as he would define his life. Love for family, as most likely defined by his generational genes, was an unwavering commitment to the job(s) he had to do. Man’s work was love for family. The yearly 7 hours jaunt to the same beach … same hotel … same efficiency room … gave him a much needed break from himself and his routine. If you caught the irony, it was intended. And if you can see where I got some of my OCD issues, kudos as well.

These trips were packed with dogs and suitcases, so riding in the back bench seat was impossible. Yes, this was a space problem. Three kids in the middle due to non-discplinary concerns, for once. A sort-of long trip from 4 a.m. to noon traveling down interstates to a very familiar beach town where people of different colors, shapes, and sizes could be seen slathering themselves with smelly oils and eating their Fisher’s boardwalk fries.

With very little to do in that confined paneled prison, I discovered a love of puzzle books. Specifically, “Variety” books. If I found moments of peace among my younger brother flicking boogers or Cheetos at me, these gems of pencil-pickers captivated my hours between eating P&J’s and the occasional window stares. These graphite grapplers kept the boredom at bay as the ba-dum of each tire over the concrete of the interstate could’ve driven the strongest willed off into the emotional median abyss.

The bridge between youth and adulthood is narrowed and shortened during a crisis. It is for me, anyway. I look back at my childhood – an obvious reverse of time – to hold my present hand. In front of me is a very puzzle book I used to unfold many years ago. Acrostics, Crosswords, SumTotals, …. all my old friends. And, of course, word searches. To this very day, I do not do them. Ironic.

As I sat down, this morning, I couldn’t find the words to write. Sentences? All the more difficult when words themselves don’t easily appear in my brain. It truly is the station wagon of the times. An ugly reality that is here and we must face – in reverse while others stare back in disbelief, anger, or malaise.

The words we choose are seen and heard by everyone … especially if we throw them “out there” for consideration on the public freeway of informational bias. They’ll get run over, skidded on, tramped, judged, weathered, and remembered.

Yesterday, I posted a simple poll result. It was reported 72% of PA residents approve of our Governor’s job performance. I took an independent position on the matter, assuming an information-only, non-pot-stirring stance. The number seemed a bit high based upon my recent FB wall post in the midst of this pandemic “thing”.

The comments and responses would not surprise you. Left, right, conspiracy, bias, fake news, polls and wrong, … all manners and forms of opinions. Words.
The Washington Post, from which the MSNBC broadcast I pulled the poll, was challenged as biased. The ugly station wagon stuffed full of opinion.

Opinions are good. I’m not challenging the basic tenent here. Problem is: nobody is going to change theirs. The station wagon is still going to the same hotel … the same beach … the same …

I just wonder. What are we trying to do? All I hear are people searching for the right words to say – everyone wants to hear – but nobody is willing to listen. It’s the greatest word search puzzle of all-time and we’re all stuck facing backwards in an ugly station wagon.

Hope the people in the car behind us know what’s going on. Let’s all make a silly face so we can get a reaction. Maybe it’ll lighten the mood a bit and they’ll have a word, or two, for us in return. When looking in the rear-view mirror once we find ourselves in the driver’s seat again, hopefully we’ll see what was left behind from lives, choices, and words we clung to. What’s ahead is an open road of ideas and opportunities for all of us to take that may … just may … help form sentences all of us can agree on.

Mom – Of and After All

Monday is the day of … and the day after.

This is the eighth anniversary year of mom’s passing – and the Monday after the weekend when celebration, remembrance and dinner pictures find their way on Facebook walls.

Today isn’t the end of a mid-late winter weekend when my mom died. I held her hand during an earlier, colder, hospice-sterile, emotionally filled room almost ten years ago.  It wasn’t Mother’s Day weekend, but it was a day with my mother.  My last day with her.

During the final moments, she turned to me and said, “Don’t watch me die.” … I know why.  Her care and concern for my future emotional well-being was above her own cares and needs.  She didn’t want me to carry upon my shoulders the vision of losing my best connection to silly, wonderful, and hope. Her last testament breath, although faint and whispy, filled the room with love only a mom could provide.

That was her final moment of being my mom.  Then … she was gone.  I was to have no more Mother’s Days with her.  No more pinochle games, Trivial Pursuit conflicts, or conversations about nothings.  

A simple day it was when sadness flowed as tears.  I held no judgment toward anyone or any God as my mom’s stillness was unlike anything I’d witnessed before.  

It was a sadness I never forgot. Every Mother’s Day, she is remembered as if I am still in the elevator after that moment frozen in time.  Leaving mom – alone – in her 14th floor palliative care room.  Descending into an unknown future was a vacuous ugliness without one of my greatest supporters in life … my “go to” when life sucked, or my Doug hug at an absolute needed moment.  The no-mom abyss we – who embrace our moms – are stuck in when they die.

From that moment forward, my hours have been different. My one-parent reality is incompatible with what I knew during the first five decades of my life. Dad is great, mind you. I’m not complaining about the growth we’ve experienced together as father-son. A relationship both of us needed to work on, badly, and have done a yeoman’s work to get where we are today. Against that background, one could make the case mom’s passing had an impact greater than what I saw at the time.

Whatever gains are made in my life, I cannot – nor do I want to – ever forget her. After all, she’s my mom.

The best I can do is offer these words I wrote last Mother’s Day weekend.  They are for her … and, most likely, serve a greater cause: for me.  I need to hear them again.

“Obvious limits can’t make me a mom. Apart from gender parts and pieces, there’s a higher level of understanding required I don’t have. Notably, nine months of discomfort, hours (possibly days) of labor, and childbirth.

Those are reserved for the strongest among us – mothers. 

I had one of them. She’s not here anymore.

This is a weekend to honor her strength. Time set aside to sit beside a piano to relive seeing her play with that Mozart-ian crooked, genius smile. Remembering moments of pinochle when we laughed more at ourselves than the game. Hours to recall her struggle…her strength.

Years gone by with her lasting impressions on my heart – without a hint of ever thinking she’s actually by my side…as I was with her drawing the final breath.

I don’t know where her spirit is now. Recent reality teaches me she’s gone. For good.

I exited the hospital as she exited our lives over seven years ago.

Of all those impacted by her passing, my life has changed in the most meaningful ways. No sibling, or my dad, has changed. Not to say one better, one worse….just is.

This change is to her credit.

I switch out the fruit – frequently as it seems – in life’s basket she handed over to me. The apple of faith has been eaten to the core. Sweet smiles from orange peels are a distant memory. Bananas are only moments away from becoming bread and the strawberries for pie are past their usefulness.

I can’t handle the fruit. She wanted me to continue forward tasting the good fruit in life …. and that’s ok. I can’t. Not right now.

What I CAN do is empty the basket of fruit, fill it with the earth, and plant seeds for the future. Flower seeds.

Rich, colorful hues of roses, peace lilies, sunflowers, and violets. Through these, my eyes can taste the beauty of my mom. My hands can water and till the soil – doing the dirty work – to make my mom alive again.

She was the strongest among us. She’s not here anymore.

I miss her.

I miss her strength.

I miss, most of all, telling her I am strong as well…and seeing her nod in approval of me.

She, alone, was capable of that once-in-a-lifetime connection with her “Stanley” which has never, ever forgotten his “Ollie”.

Yep, that’s her….and this is her weekend. 

My basket of memories is full. The other basket is sown with seeds of hope, joy, peace, contentment, health, and happiness.

As those flowers bloom, I will see her again.

I had one of those moms. The best for me. 

I shall hold a small flower as if I am hugging her once more. The flower will nod in approval testifying to the strength I cannot possess, …. and to the love she gives me.

A love only a mom like her can give.

Pushing me to be the best version of her I can be.

….and that’s perfectly amazing.”

Today is the day of … and the day after.  I wouldn’t have it any other way, except to have mom by my side once again.

You Guys Were All Wright, Brothers

This is undoubtedly one of the top ten iconic images of the last century. December 17, 1903, 4 mi (6 km) south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Wilbur flew their plane for 59 seconds, at 852 feet, an extraordinary achievement for the era. John Thomas Daniels, the photographer, froze the moments in time for us. Orville, although not with his brother in the plane, had to feel the same rush of wind as the flight took off that December day. Aviation changed … forever. Time stood on solid ground no more. Two bicycle guys changing the world.

Pilot ourselves one-hundred seventeen years into the future, we’re at another desolate Kill Devil Hills – the actual location where things were made Wright. This time, however, the whole world is watching through a lens of millions – not just one.

Instant access and immediate feedback are the black and white images of the day set in blips and dots. We are not celebrating – with hats in hands – while our brothers and sisters take flight in a plane truth. Our stand-by reality is very stark, unreal, … quite plain … as different versions of what is true perform acrobatic aerials in the sky above us. Exhausting messages of false hope or inexact models, these sky-floaters bounce on clouds of 24/7 news cycles two bicycle guys never saw a century ago. Ironically, only a few short years before the last pandemic sat on droplets of the very air lifting their plane off the ground that wonderful, hazy, tearful, most likely heart-happy day.

What was Wright is now all eerily similar. “In this time of COVID-19, it feels like we are building a plane while we are flying it”, as so eloquently penned by our local Lutheran Bishop in the most recent newsletter. I find Bishop Rhyne’s words walking upon the wings of a timely narrative. Although his frame is clearly around a god narrative, not a double-layer fabric with twin pusher propellers and a sticks, the message is a kindred spirit: Hope.

Hope that, somehow, what is invisible can be conquered through means we have yet to understand.

Hope that someone will emerge with leadership we can, collectively, trust to lift our eyes off the horizon.

Hope that somewhere a small workshop of ideas is churning out medical, economical, and biological solutions to a pandemic.

This is certainly not an inclusive list. Walk into any community or home and this list could be multiplied by tens or hundreds. Those of us who isolate and mask know of uncertainty and reach out beyond ourselves … looking for our plateau upon which to set our plane free. We want to navigate a destiny and chart a path forward, but need guidance through the fog of information pushing down on the field we find ourselves standing 6-feet apart from one another. And, we wait …

Orville and Wilbur aren’t around to save us this time. It’s up to us to revolutionize, innovate, and find a way through … together. I’m not so sure we can do this, but I’m not giving up hope.

I have no assurances national umbrellas are the dry-land lighthouse in the midst of this storm. The pilots of the Washington pandemic-plane can’t make up their minds to save their own sneezes and erratic paths through Nimbostrati on a daily – if not hourly – basis are laughable anymore. News media can’t cover their owns a**es half the time, let alone the real numbers of corona deaths vs “assumed”, vs what they “need” to report. FOX news and MSNBC could look at me and one say, “Man”, the other, “pencil”. Yes, a slight exaggeration, but the fact I’m a resident of Pencil-vania doesn’t make this too far an overstatement.

I’ve often said, “I don’t know if this is a thing“. It’s one of my favorite expressions of the day. I’ll stand by its side with you as we watch everything unfold before us. We can hope together, right? We can decide what to do … one small decision at a time. Together.

I’m pretty sure two bicycle builders did the same thing a long time ago. No mass media telling them what to do – how to think. No politicians around demanding a piece of glory. They did what they knew, what their gut told them to do: Their idea took flight … and changed the world forever!

Hats off, again, to Orville and Wilbur. We are forever in debt to your genius. To your hope in us.

Who Said The Sky Is Falling?

It wasn’t quite my plan. Last night, raindrops spattered on my windshield as I pulled into the local Sam’s club. For the first time in a few days, there was no need to stand six-feet apart from other smooshers waiting to get in this, now, limited-capacity box store of limited-items. The time was later and I was in need of a few items. Just a small amount of things. Mask in hand, briefly, then over my tired face as I entered to be counted among the non-masses for this hazy, misting, overcast Tuesday late afternoon. I was lazily clicked in as #28 on the little black box by a very courteous member service representative who, by all accounts, was eager to be done with her shift. She and I nodded silently in agreement … a very obvious simpatico co-survivor of whatever this is.

Carts are funny things. They yearn to be. Reach-outs I cannot ignore even when only requiring a few items of hand-full ease. I found myself winding through empty aisles – darting around space, not elbows and kids – for the rarest of experiences. Just the two of us attached by a sole metal, sanitized bar wiggling our way toward the back freezer where I knew a small number of goodies had to be waiting for my perusal. It was on that path toward sure success where I noticed the stakes had been raised higher than they were days before … even hours before.

Shall I dare say, the steaks were …

… The only packages left in the case – and the high pricey ones at that.

Meat me half-way here. Again, as I wrote a few days ago, it is the fact-feeling paradigm / media driven emptiness of shelves we face head-on every time. Can we say together, “How now, ground cow?”

Here’s how: Henny Penny never said the sky’s the limit, did she? But, there’s now a limit on beef – after the cooler’s been emptied of 75/25, 80/20, 90/10, and 92/8. Ground to a halt is the U.S. supply of beef, apparently, because slaughter houses, large packaging facilities and suppliers are covid-19 depleted of workers. One-fifth of Wendy’s restaurants, according to recent reports, are now out of meat – thus fulfilling the “Where’s the BEEF!” prophesy waiting years in the hopper. McDonald’s should be ok because, well … never mind.

Local butchers are ok from what I gather. Smaller stores are carrying some limited supplies of beef, I guess. Haven’t been out much since last night to investigate. Not surprised to see the bigger, “mass gathering chambers exempt while mom-and-pops had to close” stores have empty, bare shelves of the items being hyped as the next-best, eer worst thing to hit the endangered list. T.P, water, clorox wipes, uhm … paper towels, milk, eggs, gas, whatever. Now, meat. Masses hear, follow, gather, buy … feel good.

I’m not claiming this virus isn’t a thing. Never have. My travels though the store last night took me past the vitamin/health care aisles where I spied powdery goodness I haven’t seen in a while. Caution is still a thing. Masking is still important. Social distancing should always be the responsible 6-step in the right direction. Immune add-ons I like to use every day that have been hard to find jumped into my sight. Amazon lists these little packs “iffy” in stock, so when I plucked three boxes out of six off the shelf, my inner self-congratulatory dial went a-spinning. With those and my freezer pals I found with ease moments before, heading to the self-checkout was seconds away.

Easy, right? Customer #28 was I. Well, for a moment or two. I was soon to be inmate #28.

My complaint may, or may not, be warrant-ed. We’ll ask the judge at my arraignment provided I can get a good attorney during this quarantine. Limits on ground beef. Sure, I get that. Glad to see y’all got yours. There was a clear and present sign over the empty 38 1/2-degree cooler 50 paces to my right at the time. Limits on the Immune packets? Uhm, .. well … I didn’t see a sign. Do I understand the need for a limit on the powder? Yeppers! … Powder-purchase-prevention-precautions are quite necessary during these scary times. After all, some may quadruple the price and sell them on the black market, or actually want to keep their family of eight healthy for a month. Yeah, a bit sarcastic there, but I was greedy-giddy last night and wanted mine!! ALL MINE … (I did leave three back for others. That counts for something, right?)

After bells, whistles, error messages, virtual register hand-cuffs, and some very nice assistance from masked associates, the matter was resolved with my surrendering of two boxes. Tears flowed from my eyes. It was a scene from my hands version of Grippley’s believe it, … or not. My feisty fingers not wanting to release the two golden boxes, I finally surrendered to reason. My reason? It was getting late, the rain was most likely still plopping down, and I was anxious to get home.

Hysteria held my heart for a few brief moments. I understand that space and the dichotomy of a brain wanting more, but needing less. In fifteen minutes’ time, I met Mr. Hypocrisy head-on. Hugging more than my fair share of one thing while shaking hands with unjustified righteousness. Strangely throwing the meat-hoarders under an oncoming media-driven bus to – only minutes later – taking my seat, asking for immunity … rather, counting my immunity packets.

Examination of self far exceeded expectations I had going into the evening. All I wanted to do was pick up a few items. Glad I had the time to see myself in an empty cooler and meat myself half-way.

Still think the news drives this packed bus too much toward a cliff we see coming – but choose to ignore. Sensible, clear-thinking, reasonable adulting needs to rule the day. I also can consider we live in a country where 330+ million ideas, values, and beliefs roam free in the lives of pretty awesome folks who are doing the best they can when the stakes are high and the price we pay for steaks will keep rising as well.

I was customer #28 and I’m darn proud to be with you as a fellow American – and world earth-breather – doing my thing. Good or bad, we’re all here. That counts for something. If all of us raise our hands together to be counted, we can keep the sky from falling down on us. Sounds like a plan to me.

Light-Hearted Reading

We need to reconsider the phrase, “light-hearted” once more .  Seriously. Reintroduce this twelve letter duo again in our meditations over bowls of fresh fruit and granola instead of grinding into the daily news so much. This would ease our societal anxieties a bit, I feel.  

It is only a feeling, however, and I am a bit hesitant injecting feelings into the current body-politic these days.  Nerves are shot. 

Six weeks ago it began. Everyone listened.  Nobody knew. The time was … still.

Today, feelings are different. Long arms of state government, to some, have over-reached.  Loudly stomping feet with mandates are exhaustingly quiet. They came … a-marching into homes and businesses with proclamatory trumpets blaring, “We must … for all” and are now a fading echo.  That parade is now going down the street of soon-to-be reopened businesses who’s proprietors are tired of the noise. They are worn down, near bankruptcy, and too many times have shuffled through the emotional deck of cards handed to them by over-promising, stimulus carrot, stick hangers.

Yes, the body-politic is wearing out.  We are as well. Our body is designed to take only so much.  After 76 ½ years or so, it’s bye-bye for most of us, right? Not to be gloomy here, but isn’t that what we’re told over and over? Average life spans: actuary tables predicting our years here on this spinney rock until the eternal sucking sound calls us away.  

Now we’re on this merry-go-round – daily horsey, “possibly catch the COVID-19 ring” carnival ride.  Are we, or aren’t we, a-symptomatic carriers ..? Is there a premature end to our trip around the sun in our near future?  What are the real numbers and data? Who is telling the truth and why is Bill Gates so important, anyway?

Just asking the questions here.  Which is why “light-hearted” must be seriously considered.  We cannot live like this. We won’t survive it. Heck, if the past 45 days is any guide, we’re alone in the jungle of ideas. Mumbo-Java Jim scooted off the path days ago, leaving us to navigate our way around these muddy footprints left by those ahead who left mere bread crumbs of misinformation and ever-changing ugly models we can’t stand to look at, anyway.

Time to put our fist down and declare today as “No Heavy Heart Day!” … We have this fist-sized little 10-12 ounce muscle pumping 3 billion times in an average lifetime to keep us moving.  For the average American, that’s about one-third % of his/her weight. We have 1.5 gallons of blood circulating through this precious muscle as well … that’s roughly 12 lbs., or 7% of our average weight.  Weight!,..There’s more!!… Not really. I just like the pun.

We have a light heart, so why not be light-hearted? It’s so important to our life – having this little less-than-a-pound, really important partner inside working 60-80 times every minute, every day … so we can pound away at our supposed important tasks. 

Political, social, environmental, economical, health, familial, religious, medial causes … are all salient in our minds – and should be.  Never should we dismiss or set aside what call us to action. It is important to be a warrior for the injustices we recognize.

Times are-a changing so I propose – over my now soggy bowl of cheerios – to recommit a few daily, masked, anxiety-laden “What if I am a carrier?”, or, “These mandates are driving me nuts!” to … “light-hearted”, “I’m ok” moments. Every moment of every awake day can’t be under stress during this ever-changing, less-than informational, 24 hours bombardment of news we really don’t need. All of us are ridiculously burdened with our own over-saturated lives. Our hearts are full. Our little pumpers are doing the best they can.

Laugh at the goofy squirrel in the yard.  Go chase a bunny. I don’t know. Whatever seems silly to you. I have a Ty bird called KuKu I talk to.  Don’t judge me. Just because he talks to me doesn’t mean I’m crazy … if it continues long-term, I’ll consider professional help.  For now, though, he keeps me light-hearted a few minutes each morning. I’ll take it.  

I Feel Ya, That’s A Fact

My seasonal business pushes this lazy guy’s butt out of hibernation around mid-March. When the last of the “yeah, right” wintry mixes blows through these parts, I tentatively tow my shy weenie wagon up the road to an Irish Festival swarming with bendy little hat people and crafty good booth vendors.

I say tentatively because – after 15 years – I’m never quite ready for it, emotionally. It’s the beginning of a nine month spectacular slinging slog of magnificence ending with another Mid-November wintry mix. In that span of 270 days, my stainless friend and I get rained on, have spectacular sale days, see all our fantastic customers, burn food, give Doug hugs, have disagreements, pay a lot more bills, receive sunburns, lose tongs, and cook up dump loads of chili sauce. You know … normal.

This year wasn’t any different. For the first day open or so, anyway. Normal was … well, normal on that green, four-leaf clover “luck-o-the-Irish” day. After that 24 hours, my tow-a-long friend and I parted ways – involuntarily mind you – as I reluctantly backed her into storage. She remained in isolation for 45 days until this past Thursday when I, as squeaky-toned as her well appreciated wheels, hooked her back up to be operational once again.

Under duress of my over-compressed brain, I felt it necessary to serve the public. May 1st, 2020. Friday. The day to be back dipping into melty cheese, planking up Doug’s Dawgs two-by-two in a manner Noah himself would be proud. Time served of 45 days in isolation when, under the terms of take-out and drive-thru, I could have opened. I opted to close down because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. There was – and still is – an abundance of caution that needs to be respected. I feel that is required. Here and now is all of our space.

Here and now is six weeks later. The past two days customers came as I set up in the ArtsAltoona lot located at 6th avenue and 23rd Street in Altoona, PA. Fifteen years in the business with little advertising … I knew they would. Was it throngs of folk? No. A spattering of hungry, regulars came by, ordered and conversed, then left satisfied they received high quality, service, and cleanliness they’ve always expected.

For me, I was so glad to be behind my friend again. Supporting her as she always does for me. Yes, my stainless 10×5 is a “she”. Don’t argue with me. I have my problems in life. Please don’t make this another one. Y’all don’t pick on boat-toting, glee-floaters who have she-sheds with oars, so ….

Anyway, all of the activity those wonderful two days as I was open gave me concern. They felt normal. Even with masking and social distancing, I felt almost normal again. The facts: … Doug’s Dawgs was open for lunch and I felt normal.

FACTS and FEELINGS. Two sides of a very uncomfortable coin right now. A coin we can’t frivolously toss into the Trevi fountain hoping upon hope for overwhelming public consensus and healing of a very public open wound. The facts vs feeling debate rages on faster than the virus itself – to a greater end – and will outlast any supposed vaccine or herd immunity.

The umbrella shading all this is the increased feeling of “normal”. It continues to drive emotions. Protesters in Michigan who storm state office buildings, Governors issuing open-orders trying to get back some sense of “what should be but isn’t”, and grocery store patrons refusing to mask despite concern for their neighbors.

Then we have numbers. Data. Cases and death. Red and yellow counties in Pennsylvania, “facts” and on the ground, basic grind-away, undisputed (possibly, not) figures, Viet-nam comparable death counts. Virologist, immunologist, statisticians, ER doctors, … all the professionals this hotdawg seller/pianist respects … injecting their well-informed opinions into our semi-accepting, varicose-very-close, uber-sensitive veins.

Everyone is scampering about … starting to feel normal. And this could be not so good in the near future.

Feelings are not going away. Neither are the facts. The weather is getting warmer around these parts and I will remain open with all the restrictions in place. I “feel” this is the right thing to do. One “fact” too, … I have bills to pay and the season is upon me.

So many are stuck. Small businesses have to make similar decisions. None of us have easy times right now. These everyday normals suck. This fall, depending upon how the virus spreads, or doesn’t, could be a disaster … or not. Facts and feelings will determine a lot of our fates. The equation of the times, right? Facts and Feelings add up to our Fate in the Fall. Four F’s we never saw barreling toward a devil’s crossroad in NormalTown, USA.

Such a paradox with no real answer. We want to feel normal … but acting normal could get all of us in real trouble down the road … if the facts hold true. Ugh.

I feel ya, brothers and sisters. I feel ya. Hang tight. Rough roads we travel … hang on to your dawgs.

Space in the Spice Aisle

“The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”

JOHN F. KENNEDY, speech at Rice University, September 12, 1962

It’s time to give our 35th President some skin … a high five, if you will. On this first Saturday in May, fifty-eight years after those famous words were spoken, he deserves prophetic props for rolling a crystal ball down bowling alleys of special-spacial circumstances. The exploration of space he saw coming – and for that, Mr. President, I salute you.

It has become a race for space. Specifically, a tiny little hometown market space by that same name in my quaint growing-up ‘burg. This county seat of approximately 5,700 shuffling day-to-day, non-city folk who weave in and about a few remaining retail stores, pharmacies, and restaurants. A nice area where a future spring found its way into our Slinky hearts in 1943 and America’s oldest foundry is still operating. A nestled in-between community I find myself revisiting frequently as a customer during this shutdown time of social distancing.

Roughly twice a week, I get the call. “Need some stuff”, is the usual request from my father who jovingly asks for my assistance, which I am more than happy to give. He is, thankfully, not entertaining the idea of crunching his way around the cereal aisle looking for granola, or considering squeezing melons near grandmas in fear of the ‘rona. I admire his willingness to go beyond the stubbornness I know he owns. So, the call comes ding-a-linginging across to my already busy Samsung … and I answer. Every time. Glad to.

It’s almost always the same dozen or so dairy, snacky, and bready things I need to buy for him from the “Hometown Market”. Yes, that’s the name. A quaint name in the quaint town called Hollidaysburg. This small brick grocery sits one block off a two lane by-pass in a small neighborhood space where most have walk-to-or-by access. The parking lot is on a slant, so the carts have an attitude. In and out, empty and full, these wirey, meshy ne’er-do-wells are in constant cage-match mode … knowing gravity pulls favor to their corner at every turn – provided, of course, all the wheels rotate in sinc and don’t klunk and wobble.

Inside is a wonderful elbowy space. Aisle (pardon the pun, couldn’t resist) need to admit the jamminess is more than your typical box store. It is, of course, SmallTown, USA, for a reason. My fellow air-breathers walk about, on any unrestricted day, laughing and touching … smiling and feeling … piling high their hungry carts with goodies from the shortened, narrow spaces inside this small mart. Products lining the shelves insist on having personal, intimate interactions as walker-bys don’t initate contact. Advil wants to know where you went drinking last night, the bananas are fruitlessly a-peeling for compassion, and soup can d-rivel on and on … it is a small, therapy-inducing echo chamber at times.

These are restricted times, however. Special-spacial circumstances. One particular day, for dad, I found myself firmly planted, masked, in the “mist” of it all. Fogged up and as confused as the nice gentleman I found myself next to. Two dudes, two brains, two registers open, and two carts with no concept of time, distance, reality, … or space.

NASA, we had a problem.

Both he and I felt confident we navigated our way through the store quite well. It was an unspoken, eye-nod only guys have at the end of a successful wife or dad mandated grocery list errand run. We knew it. The tape 6-feet on the floor, however, gave us immediate pause and dampened any celebratory, non-verbal bro-mancing. See, there’s only about a cart length plus a body between the end of the register line to the end of the product aisle. Not enough space for two “just met masked dudes” unless one of us jumped on the other’s Oreos. Furthermore, neither of us knew for sure which of the two registers was open, or, what tape on the floor was applicable to which one of us. The ugliness of the moment was upon us. Two stars circling the grocery store black hole of social distancing with absolutely no idea how to proceed. The idea of “what to do” was clear – to management. For us, not so much. So we did the only thing we knew. Shrugged our burdened shoulders …. and laughed.

We didn’t see our smiles. Didn’t have to. We knew the moment required calm because what else was there? Stuckiness of the moment required our inner silence to maintain the frustration while our outer voices expressed our joy of the moment. I’d love to quote the conversation, but it happened a week or so ago and “I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday and I eat the same thing every morning”, so …. (that’s my dad’s favorite saying, btw…). Really, though, the words aren’t as important as the message, right?

Space is important right now. It IS one of the great adventures of all time. JFK didn’t know how right he was almost 60 years ago. The quote starting my sunny Saturday morning blog said a lot. Re-read it. There’s so much more to unpack about leadership, vision, national pride, and adventure. It would do us all a great service to heed #35’s words and start paying attention to our individual and collective spaces again. Small, quaint hovels or large cities, we are a “pale, blue dot” in the biggest space of all, according to Carl Sagan.

The next time you find yourself masking your smile heading to a small space, remember there’s bound to be another doing exactly the same thing. You will meet. You will bump carts and be awkward together. Take that moment to laugh. It’s all we have in the space we share. Together.

Simple Spoon

There were times when my mom stood over me tapping that over-used wooden spoon in her open palm. Rare, but rhythmic happening moments all of us experienced at least a few times in our dinner-lives, right? Those, “Eat your peas, or else moments!” … I had tapioca pudding, meat pie, and stuffed pepper or else wooden spoon moments with mom. I’m convinced a sense of internal pulses came out of these dinner rituals, if nothing else, and to this day want those precious shadowing, metronomic motherly-love heartbeats back.

You’ve had those comfortable, nice, hard to forget, precious memories. I know it. Plates smooshed with undesirable adult food before and after all the yummy good kid food was happily jammed down our throats. Popsicles, cookies, candy, Spaghetti-O’s, Kraft Mac-N-Cheese, hotdogs, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, any pre-sweetened cereal … the pre-teen, can’t get enough, gullet-slider gas fueling rebellion to normal food met all our dietary needs.

And guess what? We survived, didn’t we? Goes to show those adults in the kitchen at that time who was right, darn-it! No canned peas for me, mom. Definitely had the, “I’ll sit here until this ugh-bread pudding dies a slow, painful, dehydrated death by stare-down” routine down. I was a rebellious child who didn’t like depression-era grub. I loved the challenge, though. Probably set a few world records. Sitting on old vinyl worn metal chairs with little hind-end padding, my nerves on edge, there’s was no giving in to the pressure. The unknown, unrecorded tales in the annals of time will tell of my conquest.

For now, I’ll settle for awesome memories of mom … and her tapping of a long wooden spoon waiting for my resignation .. my defeat. The ultimate spoon into dreaded abyss of lumpy, texture-terrible terrain in a bowl.

Unfinished as those dinners were so many years ago, was a movie I began last night. It was forgettable. Twenty minutes into this masterpiece, by my best guess, I fell asleep. Laziness prevents me from going back to find the Netflix title … that’s how important I feel it is to the overall point here. I’d rather eat a bowl of over-cooked, dry bread pudding than relive those twenty minutes. Typing in that last sentence was cinematically more creative than the opening credits of said box office blunder.

Save all that, the opening eight words caught my attention – which is why I decided to, possibly, spend a few blinky eye-isolation moments watching this movie. The hook got me and kept me in the stream for twenty minutes before this fish wiggled free from bad acted lines, baited scenes, and a cast that was in need of a re-do…badly.

Those eight words were simply: Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.

As I reviewed that quote in my notes, my thoughts this morning went immediately back to childhood. That’s where all our simplicities live. Present tense used on purpose because we never outlive our youth. It’s colorful and rainbow-y, sometimes dreary, too – but always hanging around in our “backyard” brain. The places and people who shaped and helped us sway on emotional swings, slide down and get back up, run through dirt, and hang on to monkey bars forever. Simple.

This quarantine is simple. Or, at the least, should be. It has become anything but easy, simple, piece of cake, undemanding, … whatever term you’d like. Politics, individual beliefs about liberty and freedom, media biases, and religious tenets have hijacked the tranquility these times demand. Childhood, from any era, asks something different.

“Receive with simplicity all that is given to you”

This is not to say we are to accept and not question. I don’t like canned peas. To this day, I will find ways, in my mid-fifties, to straw-shoot them across the room to see if they’ll stick on the fridge. Don’t set a bowl of meat pie in front of me or I will stir it around with a spoon like a spoiled little man singing, “Go little meat pie all to h*ck, hope you find your place in …” ..well you get my drift. I can revisit my childhood so quickly when oofy-food I don’t like, still, is slam-plated down in front if me. Rare, but it happens. We laugh when it does. Sort-of.

This virus was given to us. By who? We don’t know. For what reason? Geesh … that’s for those with significantly higher spiritual connections than I to answer. When will it end? Probably not soon enough for anyone’s satisfaction.

These are complicated questions with no easy answers. Rashi, the 11th century French thinker, rabbi, and grammarian to whom the above quote is attributed, probably couldn’t figure it out either. He lived one-thousand years before meat pie and canned peas were invented, so other than his beautiful quote, all other stuff he deeply opined about can be, respectfully, dismissed at this time.

Whatever today brings, accept its simplicity. Whatever, or whoever is charged with the delivery, it comes wrapped in a purpose. I don’t know the reason and you don’t need to know either. Accept the gift. It may just be the gift of time.

Time I wish I had back with my mom … and the rhythm of her wooden spoon. Maybe, just maybe, I’d learn to like bread pudding and be a tad less stubborn in my ways. My mom would probably be a handful during these isolation moments. As one who did like that pudding-plah, she’d find comfort in offering to lovingly drop some off, I’m sure just as a way to give me some razz. I’d find assurance sitting in my own home – with my own wooden spoon – calling her back in our heartbeat-connected way.

No words. Just a few simple taps of my wooden spoon in the phone back to her. Simple. She’d know I love her.

And miss her.