Mother, Daughter, Connections to Us

When a picture speaks, limited words on a page suffice. Mother and daughter. Friends of mine. Mother, a student in my music-life circle a long time, and her young daughter.

Out of my geography for a few years, but never out of my heart. Her family is my family. This happens when music ties once unknowns together through teacher-student connections. I love this family. Mother, her sister and brother … parents. All of them. They are musical, kind, generous, warm, productive, open, and giving.

Daughter, sweet and dancy – with a “d”. Fancy, with an “f”, places her in a box of stuffiness … among elites and noseys. She does not belong in there. She dances between daisies, bounces on sunbeams, and feeds on happiness.

Picture her eyes above. Few words necessary from me. This connection – from her to us – pushes through the internal biases and filters in your head as you consider her life. She is pure and innocent and her eyes are exposing our different messages being sent to her generation.

She is not unaware of the world around her. Look at her eyes. Look away.

Then look again.

She’s not going away. We are accountable … not to our ourselves, but to her and her friends.

Her words are few, as are mine today. My eyes aren’t as fresh or aware anymore because my mountains have been climbed and my biases possibly tainted. Glasses I wear are bifocals and my crow’s feet are starting to show.

Fresh and alive are her eyes. Bright and beautiful is her future.

Pay attention to her message. It’s in her eyes.

Yacht To Sea This

Just a few minutes ago, our Governor Wolf announced a return to six on my non-normal grading system … in a weird way. Normal around these parts hasn’t been seen since early March, so I measure typical on a non-normal scale. One being slightly above McDonald’s not having BBQ sauce for our McNuggets, or a freakishly fabulous forty-four degree day for our fourth of July picnics. An abduction by absolutely adorable, astute, astronomically ambidextrous aliens ranking an extreme ten on the other side of my normalcy division. Everything imaginable in between – our banged up toes on strange concrete pylons appearing out of nowhere, politicians with actual good ideas, tv shows about a family losing millions but starting over in an obscure Ontario town, long lines at bank drive-ups, meteors burning up in the atmosphere, global-warming, successful rube goldberg machines, Rose Apothecary purchases, on … and … on. My non-normal grading system application, when properly applied, could rival even the most strident of systems.

Take Politfact for example, since I mentioned Governor Wolf. Well, let’s backtrack for a minute. Today, he announced a return to a 25% capacity on restaurants (from 50%), closing of bars, and stricter business limitations – all in response to our state populous (as a whole) not doing a good job of masking and distancing. Without assuming my political or socio-economic position, just go with me here. This is moving from one non-normal number on my scale to another. We were at a marginal four-ish, now back to a solid six. Sliding away from Honey-Mustard and closer to Mars.

Back to the “Gov.”. According to, “First, some quick notes on how PolitFact works and a few words of warning. PolitiFact reporters, researchers and editors grade each statement as true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false or “pants on fire”. This is a six-point system I’d gladly stand against on my scale – it’d be worth the weight. They are on a slippery-scale of opinion, whereas, I am fundamentally sound on solid ground of normal thought. Who’s to say what is a “half-truth, or mostly false”? “Half” and “mostly”, applied to abstracts like truth and false, are subject to interpretation. I’m half crazy, right? Define that in terms of my mostly sane existence … see what I mean?

Nobody – alas NOBODY – thinks where we are right now is anywhere close to normal! I’m simply applying a numerical value to the non-normal space of this time. We understand numbers so much more than words when grasping scalability. Mt Everest is 29, 029 feet high. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. There are over 7 trillion nerves in the human body … any one capable of being the last one some unfortunate schlep will step on within my existence by week’s end. THAT’S normal!

What wasn’t normal – and has a rather large million dollar number assigned to it – is this yacht – auto social-distancing its way through my hometown. Ten miles per hour, being sluggishly towed along by one very large semi, escorted to the future prom by plenty of local law enforcement officers eager to make sure there was no inappropriate touching, this handsome tug-hug was on its way to Lake Erie via Altoona, Pa. Pennsylvania Electric (Penelec) was in bucket form to raise all necessary lights/wires because Ms. Million-dollar stood tall atop her multi-wheel hull-carrier. She was the Queen of the moment. A traffic stopper – out of necessity and wonder.

Where we stood was normal to our everyday space. What was IN our space was anything but. How often does one see a multi-million dollar gargatron lumber through an intersection, hundreds of miles from any body of water necessary to float a yummy-yielding yacht of this stature? My guess? “Never”, and I yield the floor to PolitFact to grade this answer as “True” (even though “not normal” still applies).

We stand a firm six now. Ugh. I had a nice “at a marginal four-ish” Lemonade and Life lunch today before coming home to see the news about Governor Wolf’s decision. My customers were beautiful today. A very nice couple started a business lately and were excited to tell me about it. Another charming lady experienced loss a few years ago, but came back strong and I suspect great things in the future … for her and her boys. My space wasn’t normal as usual … a great non-normal for me, though.

For all of us, however, the non-normals in our collective space with all this aren’t peachy-keen as we’d like them to be, right? My scale of 1-10 is the social, all-of-us scale I apply to the situation. It is the big picture frame I use to help me understand my place as the extremely small pixel located in that small dot of color down by the lower left corner.

It’s not the non-normals for us – as individuals – that are driving us crazy. We can deals with hangnails, kids and kool aid spills, dog poop, and overcooked macaroni. The non-normals imposed upon our collective space are causing us to take notice of our place and our stance. “Yacht to pay attention to this virus in this way (pick any variation of masking, distancing, droplets, ICU beds, Fauci, Birx, … true, mostly true, half true, etc…)” … is the message slowly crossing through our intersections of reason and emotion every … single … day. It’s no wonder we have no sense of normal anymore… Our wires are being crossed and there’s no help ahead to make sure damage is mitigated. We’re headed to an Erie place.

…And, it’s why Governor Wolf probably reinstated the restrictions today. He’s going to get grief, I can guarantee it just as easy as I can assure you my chocolate milk is waiting in the ‘fridge for my enjoyment in about fifteen minutes.

Not all bad, folks. Pay attention to your color. Your place in the whole picture. You have color. You have life. You have a non-normal that contributes mightily to your experience and your space. This isn’t selfish or self-serving to pay heed to your space and your time. Yeah, we haven’t seen normal since mid-March …but, then again, we never saw a million-dollar yacht dry-surfing through multi-lanes of traffic on its way to a lake.

If I ever come across Martians eating McNuggets at the Rose Apothecary however, something is very wrong with the Universe. Unless, of course, David and Patrick rented Mariah Carey’s yacht for all the fans of Schitt’s Creek … then, maybe, non-normal could be put on hold for a few days.

About “A Galaxy Close, Close By”

Take all the words you’ve forgotten specific to car parts and pieces, engineer them in such a way that they fit into a large bin labeled “Words Doug always knew about cars” … and there’s your answer! Your answer to a question you didn’t know you had, right?

Ask yourself this question: “What does a pianist – who sells Dawgs and writes a blog – know about cars?”

Nothing. Nada. Ziltch.

So, imagine my frustration each time a customer wants details about this automobile parked a few paces to my left. I know very little.

The owner pokeyed his young body by seven weeks ago to tell me the ’68 Galaxy was for sale, but neglected to give me any contact relevancy: his name, address, or additional information helpful to his cause. I’m floating here, and not just in a few parking spaces with my she-cart (yes, my metal business partner has a pronoun). I’m lofting, freely, in a huge, uninformed, vacuous mental space most times when the other metal heap arrives in conversation.

My customers who ask DO know some details. They tell me this-and-that’s about its engine size (if there is one in there … hood is locked), the interior originality, tire size, make and model details pegging the year of manufacture, “possible” asking price(s) due to current condition and restoration estimations, and the legality of parking on the street currently (local police have confirmed it is legal). I’ve come to surely know the body of said owner IS significantly younger than the body of this car … that is a fact. Other than this, I’m as lost as light in any black hole spinning ferociously in our universe …. eer … our Galaxy, shall I say.

Of course, one significant detail is missing: Price. There’s a price to pay and nobody knows. Well, not “nobody”.

The dude who is so eagerly motivated to sell the Galaxy knows. Or, does he? Furthermore, is “eager” allowed to be entered into the conversation? Eager, in my shifty little gear grinding mind, means telling me, the 4-days a week occupado-dude, – at the very least – a name and phone number IF he wants the secrets of this Galaxy to be revealed; Otherwise, why bother bothering a body busily bunning beef burgers and deliciously dripping dawgs in the first place? I’m the person most likely able to facilitate a sale faster than this hot rod could travel on its best day, so, why didn’t he share a financial flicker of hope my way the first – and only time – we met?

He told me the automobile was for sale. At what price? We may never know. The unknown about the Galaxy continues. What we have here is Sagan-esque dialogue combined with Lucas-style directing for the ultimate in Western PA’s version of, “A Galaxy Close, Close By” …

For sixteen hours a week, it’s been closer to me than any Carpenter’s lyric could ever long to be. And, for today, I had to imagine a larger, deeper meaning to derive any satisfaction from gazing upon it one more minute of one more day … the Galaxy close by delivered.

And here it is: There is no answer right now.

Everyone wants one, but it’s quite elusive and the dark matter of our current time. Great minds, fraught with distress, study the larger galaxy of societal equality with little results as deaf ears to opposing viewpoints reign. To some, politics trump science as the reverse spins true as well. Covid-19 is a seasonal flu strain vs. an all-out pandemic. Black is white anymore.

Maybe, the better way to phrase it is, “There’s no easy answer, anymore.” The Galaxy handed us a ridiculous 2020. Two issues, Covid-19 and the race debate/George Floyd concerns have us in a major tither where questions spew out faster than Fugaku can compute the infinite digits of pi. Pick any question related to either Covid or Race, and the answer isn’t as easy as you may expect … not because of an affirmation or refutation in return. WHO you ask is the “no easy answer”…

Opinions are so diverse across this country. Facts are even different from one news station to the other. The same medical question can be asked to one doctor on CNN or MSNBC which elicits a completely different response from a different doctor on FOX. Apparently, in regard to the Constitution, scholars can disagree on the basic ideas and rights set forth by our founding fathers. What IS the right answer to any question being asked these days? Heck if I know. Certainly, asking a civil rights activist a question – about race relations in America – would be a different from asking someone not affiliated, or actively involved, with the movement.

I’m just a simple guy staring into oppressive heat-laden mist these days. It’s a sure bet a 1968 half-to-more-than-a-third beat up Galaxy will be sitting curbside when I sputter up beside it again. This is a small universe of food and fun I’ve become accustomed to over the years and have aligned my easy answers with the questions I’ve had. Condiments, propane, weather, utensils, steam tables, grills, paper goods, etc… these are all small issues and small problems to solve.

The Galaxy, I must admit, is a small problem. I wish it would sell … or, be somehow moved to another location. The questions, although intriguing, are becoming somewhat of an insolvable pain in the ass as long as there’s no contact available.

Until then, I must suffer gladly through my recalcitrant automotive attitude concerning the constant remembrances, recollections, and inquiries. I’ll stand my ground and attempt to appease the unanswerable Galaxy’s questions being hurled at me through the resistance-less, sound-less space. I am, after-all, the foremost expert of all things automotive, right? As a final reminder, there is no monetary value placed upon this four-wheeled gem …

… But there is a price being paid … and I am paying it.

Sure hope Mr. “Ain’t been around” offers a nice commission for my efforts.

Sir Covid and Chocolate Milk

Needing to revisit this again, I say. Promised myself I wouldn’t, but the past 24 hours requires it due to the confusing rhetoric bouncing around in my brain like a bin full of hard rubber balls.

I fault only myself. The blame is here. I listened with rapt attention as my post-betrothed dutifully described – or, attempted to – the logic of this viral spread among people. She went into moderate detail about how all of us, at some point, will come in contact with Sir Covid and, depending upon our ability to fight his ferocity against us, will need to decide how to move forward as a society. Individually, our decisions will affect the community as a whole. Geesh, I hope I’m summarizing this fairly. If not, it’s been a good life … That’s it in a nut shell. Kinda.

Oh, and he may circle around the town only to revisit us in the future. We may, or may not, have an immunity against this future assault … if it happens. One does not know. At that time, I’ll still be pondering such in my brainiacal bin of balls, perhaps, wondering why I ever considered all of this a possibility in the first place.

Well, I am now … because she mentioned it last night and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s not quite 4 a.m.. I’m up processing possibilities over and over due to that damn conversation we had over delicious salmon, mac and cheese, a vegetable mix, and quite refreshing chocolate milk. Credit given where due, it was a home cooked meal my wife prepared after I worked an exhausting three days in the blasted heat. We didn’t scurry over to our usual Sunday evening restaurant fare. Instead, it was a quiet evening at home.

We can have back-and-forths, ups and downs, in betweens, and scurfluffles just like any normal couple. Our political, social, religious, economic, and familial views are – for the most part – on the same game board … although we have distinctly different game pieces. Every once in a while, she feels the need to arm-sweep all the game pieces off the board and change the rules. I, admittedly, give her good cause to do so. She sits with reason and logic, I bring chance, mystery, spontaneity, and risk-taking. I’m almost always right … she’s generally not so … (those last words inserted just for fun because I know she reads these …)

The “It” I referred to above was a casual conversation floating between our two personalities. This particular word exchanged centered around the following blip that appeared on her visual reader-radar and she wanted me to be aware of her opinion on the matter. I listened dutifully. It wasn’t a heated dialogue between us. Any normal folk ’round these parts darn near know there’s enough heat these days to choke a duck. We remained calm for a few minutes, ate our overly seasoned (but yummy) fish slab, and continued …

This is the video posted online by ZDoggMD. I checked it out earlier this morning. By “earlier”, I mean 1:30 a.m. while casually munching on a chocolate Cliff Bar … watching the screen saver slowly move right to left on our t.v.. Here’s the link: (Spoiler alert … I recap the video below)

Please don’t assume my position on the matter. I’m still processing my possible position posed by this professional physician who posted the promo.

If you did, or didn’t watch, he prefaces by saying: “Don’t watch the news”, then continues with four things we can do to mitigate the spread of the virus: #1) Avoid tight, crowded spaces unless you wear some kind of face covering, #2) Practice social distancing (get into the “vibe” of doing this), #3) Wash your hands frequently, and #4) Stay away from others if you feel ill with a cough, fever, chills etc … see a doctor. These are very practical things to do, according to this gentleman doctor. Pretty hard to disagree with any of this, right?

My disagreement isn’t with my wife, necessarily, the doctor, or the colorful balls NOT social distancing around inside my head STILL. A contention convention is being held at this moment within my brain … attended by synapses firing viral inquiries faster than I have answers.

I have more than one question, but one primary query remains at the top: When does this virus end … and what does the end look like? THIS was the paramount “It” last night between my wife and I. THIS is why I am revisiting an area of my overly tired brain once again at an early hour – not wanting to, apparently, give it a break.

My response to her: “Well, I guess everyone either develops an immunity to it, or dies”.

That’s all I had to say. Now, the inflection of “That’s all I had to say.” is really important here. “That’s all I HAD to say.” is significantly different from, “That’s all I had TO say”. The first implying “Them’s fighting words!” … the second, “I’m saying this as my opinion,” The latter being my intent. My wife, being the calm, astute, non-confrontational type, continued on with her platter of food in front of her, mildly silent … carefully choosing her words. “Well, we certainly don’t want anyone we love to die, would we? I think we should all do the best we can.”

I don’t know if I won or lost the game I wasn’t sure I was even playing … or, didn’t want to play in the first place. Regardless, It is still a question that goes on unanswered. There is no end to this – and that fact, to me, is meekly depressing. This virus is our century’s / generation’s Vietnam, in a way. A seemingly unbeatable, ongoing enemy that hides everywhere. We have abortive weapons, unproductive goals, and divisive leadership … all the failings proven ineffective over fifty years ago.

I’m not a fatalist. Just a guy who is lacking sleep, fixated on colorful balls, and working too much in the heat – which may, or may not, be affecting the way my perceptions seep into my words.

Sir Covid be damned. He’s around and to be dealt with, I guess. Can’t take him lightly according to Dr. ZDogg and plenty of other folks sporting more letters after their names than I. Just that one dang question, among others, dangling around my gray matter not going away any time soon, evidently causing me to lose even more sleep. Hey, don’t feel sorry for me at all. The mere fact I probably lost a small debate over dinner last night is a small consolation.

I have the pleasure of expressing myself here which makes all of “IT” ok. I feel better – two hours later. Not much of the big picture was solved and I still have questions, however, some of the rubber balls bounced out while I typed. There’s now room for air and a little less confusing rhetoric occupies the space.

I think there may some left-overs in the ‘fridge … maybe some chocolate milk, too.

Chloe and Friends

This is Chloe. Ah Chloe, a little four-pawed, eight pound pug-beagle mix puppy and Dolly, an eleven month pure breed German shepherd live in my neighborhood. Dolly, of course, having slightly larger furry footies than Chloe … and the classic sloped back you’d expect to see coming down off her sleek brown and black back fur. Chloe is just a tiny little ball of energy, teeth, and grr-ness. Just enough to make anyone holding her jealous for more time – once returning her to the ever vigilant rightful owners across the way.

Two canine cuties finding their way around the neighborhood these days – such a welcome relief from the dreary life of literal lassitude we’ve been forced into lately. In a phrase, “puppies make personal spaces better”.

These two happy-enticing hounds have no real sense of their intrinsic value to us. Frolicking about, sniffing and barking, is of no consequence to them. In the moment they live – not worrying about tomorrow’s meal or playtime adventures to come. We are the ones who assign value to them.

There is no higher proof than hearing chit-chatter lexicon with a dog. I’ve witnessed so much effort in sentence structure and subject/verb agreement from sputtering dog non-whisperers to their canine consorts. Deep breaths are sucked in before lengthy, adjective-laden heaps of praise are thrust upon unsuspecting flappy ears having no concept of a dangling modifiers, clitics, or malaphors. We speak words to them they cannot understand because of the expectations we have for them.

I could be accused of such. Mind you, not to any large degree, but on the dial. So goes most of our relationships with nice, little to mid-sized puppies and dogs. Perhaps, if I can be so bold, older fur ball friends as well. For purposes of today, I’m interested only in dogs. No offense to cats, turtles, snakes, fish, gerbils, ferrets, rabbits, iguanas, birds, horses, goats, chickens, pigs, and swans. Pets are pets … I get that.

Their value is what we want them to be. We have expectations they’ll fill our happiness bucket – and they do.

For a seven-times expectation of years, these lap blankets and/or breathing floor rugs are expected to fetch not only the animate, overpriced toys, but also our priceless loneliness and need for companionship.

We need them now more than ever. Human shuffle-alongs are not – for the most part – stepping up and are waaaaay too judgmental these days. Any time spent on Facebook proves my point – perusing posts where spitting social diatribes from friends assault my daily wiener-grilling weary eyes. Three-dimensional conversations are better, but not much so. Letters to the editors, television commentaries, news briefs, on and on …. human to human contacts are becoming increasingly combative and expectantly virally centered. Not all, mind you; However, enough to warrant mention now more than before.

Meanwhile, Chloe chews on a stick. This is expected contentment, happiness, and companionship for some of us when we need it the most.

The “We’re in this together” mantra spreading faster than the virus has, by all ironic accounts, pulled us into our own isolation. Opinions about masking, especially, are driving deep divides into once common waters. “What is a mandate, and what isn’t?” followed by, “Who has the right to enforce it?”, both create waves of opposition as hammers wielded by holier-than-thou opinion whackers pound their theories into social seas of their expected injustices.

It seems there’s no filling a bucket with societal agreement … Even beyond that, I fear we have no clear idea what American ideals, equality, standards, morals, values, and ethics are anymore. Contentment, happiness, and companionship are foreigners … drifting in rough waters off the coast … waiting, once again, for entry into the forgotten Ellis Island of our once accepting land.

We need to stamp their ticket – and soon. Chloe, and her friends, would … without judgement or question. Without anger or retribution on Facebook.

She may even offer them a game of tug-of-war with her favorite stick while waiting in line. I’ve played this fun-frolic fantastic tug-a-long with her little self. After about 5 minutes, she’s done … and moves on to snarling a bit with the grass, or wriggling about around my legs. It’s happiness and companionship overload without any stress.

I walk across the street expecting no less. I may – just may – talk to her using goober words laced with high frequency baby inflections, but will never admit to such.

She has so much value to offer … as do all pets. In these ridiculously riled up times of high anxiety, a portable, possibly petable pet provides plenty of pleasure.

As for Chloe, in about an hour she’ll be out again to smell the newness of the day. Everything, to her, will be fresh, invigorating, and alive. I like that perspective and want some small piece of her life. So, saunter off I’ll go to brush my hands over her puppy fur once more to start my day – that is, if she’ll allow me the pleasure.

She will. Though, she does have a say in the matter. Hopefully I can meet her expectations as well. If her expectant tail wag is seen as I lazily scoot across our soon to be traveled, pre-work day neighborhood road, I’m sure I’ll be welcomed into her grr-ness once more.

Mark (not) My Words

“Ok free advice take it for what it is worth:
There are many people on my friends list that have good points and views that I agree with. What I have a problem with is how you express them sometimes. We have to be careful that in a passionate desire to be heard we don’t build a wall the stifles our voice. Remember this my friends:

How they HEAR what you SAY, is determined by how you SAY what they HEAR.”
If you only want to be heard by those that agree with you then it doesn’t matter. But what good is preaching to the choir. If you want to reach others and truly make a difference. Then you have to cut out the hate rhetoric, you will never open ears, eyes and hearts by attacking
others beliefs, they won’t even listen if you start out by putting people on the defense. Instead put forward the virtues of your views, with your own words not some else’s memes that are usually biased, (any error in your message discredits the whole of your message.) If your good point is hidden among hate, profanity, and half truths people may not get to it. There is good food in the trash but many people aren’t willing to go through the trash to get to it. You must be willing to research and plays devil’s advocate on your own post. What is your goal? Just to get a bunch of likes or open other’s minds? Then put your message out in a way that will best get it received and educate another on your views.” Mark B. , Facebook Friend

Now that I have your attention.

The above few paragraphs are so well written, I had to share them with you. Sometimes in the process of churning over ideas in the “what-catches-my-fancy” mind machine, surprises lurch out from behind unexpected places.

The first “was to be” paragraph was already written inside this over-heated, somewhat delectably complacent body of mine when I sat down a few minutes ago. It takes that certain mood to begin writing. Inspiration and a semi-to-full belly helps the process along … as well as a relaxed, silent to the outside – garrulous on the inside – mind. A nice slab of lightly dusted haddock, mac-and-cheese, mashed potatoes, and corn with a side of fresh (ahem), cool air conditioning inside Cracker Barrel an hour ago activated the creative juices after a long three days in the hot sun. Work is work. After a pleasant meal, it was time to write. “Two short miles from a plate of fish to home.”, rattled around in my head. The rhythm of these words spoke to me as equally relieved tires kerplunked over each cement seam in the road.

A few small errands – weekend desk “jobs” – I quickly tossed aside. Not so sure they were done accurately (as I would like), but, this is why Monday days-off exist … in my mind, anyway. “Fix on Monday what was messed up on Sunday”, is my motto. Only one – ONE – item to-do remained: check my Facebook messages and follow-up with the “necessaries”. Don’t want to leave hanging half-dones in the hopper, right?

Well, I can’t say “wrong” … at least for the purposes of this blog. My original theme, completely off subject from what is to follow, can wait.

It’s just I had a “was to be” great idea … and then Mark came up with those wonderful words above that are even greater! – and I couldn’t let them pass by without giving him credit and a nod here. He wrote what I’ve been trying to say for months … and, ironically, this is the same idea spoken back and forth today between a stranger and I. He and I, by the way, are no longer strangers.

He wasn’t Mark. Mark and I go back in time a few years on Facebook. This young man – to whom I refer – I just met today.

It is about messaging. The young man wouldn’t mind my labeling him an activist – that’s what he is by his own admission. He organized a small, educational event – locally – to bring together opposing views on racism, discrimination, protests, violence, and police actions in America. My informal conversation with him enlightened my views on all the listed subjects (as a 50-ish white male) because he was respectful, did not talk down or up to me, listened and talked equally. Neither he nor I deserved disrespect, anger, or abusive language toward one another. Granted, we were in a semi-professional environment, but still …

Andrae’s cause is quite interesting. A Western-PA insertion into my life I did not expect, and refreshing as the iced tea I casually sipped while he spoke. My words would not do him justice, so I’ll allow a simple “cut and paste” from his Facebook page to speak for me (pay heed to the final sentence … does it not resonate loudly with Mark’s remarks above?):

Progress for People of Color- PPC is a human race vs racism organization. We are not a black vs white, republican vs democrat, or capitalist vs communist organization. We are NONPARTISAN, accepting of ALL ethnicities/races, open to ALL religious groups, and willing to talk with ALL professions. We are NOT here to burn down bodies of authority, but to reform them. We are not a platform to publicize extremist or anarchist views, but respect your right to have your own opinions on your own behalf. If you’d like to do so, please look into establishing your own nonprofit organization. We will not perpetuate divisive rhetoric, unless it comes to separating racists from the rest of society.” (for more information)

He has a background I would not have guessed. He has a political leaning I would not have guessed. I have biases, still, even though I am working diligently to overcome them. I am digging through “trash” to find my own really good food within. This is a process I’ve always done – pre Covid and racial tension – so for me, this is nothing new. Inner reflection and self-improvement is as easy as breathing and, daily, I trip over cracks in my soul searching sidewalk along the path of personal perception. This is the good.

The bad? I’m still working through an experience with a person who is obstinate, defiant, stubborn, inflexible, recalcitrant, and whose opinions are unmanageable in the “truly make a difference” world Mark wants to see. Correction: In MY world, anyway.

One caveat here. This humanoid is family. Emotions, as you probably are aware and have experienced, get pushed off the swing at the height of the arc and are painful when family members are on the not-so-playful playground of politics. I will not gleefully play, or join in merriment anytime soon, with this person because I cannot HEAR what she SAYS. Recently, she put me on the defensive as is her tactic – I reacted with three/four texts – and I’m done. My response, now, is silence. There will be no more dialogue … and that’s unfortunate. There is a limit. Assaulting my beliefs with uninformed spears, prejudiced and intolerantly poisoned at the tips, penetrating what is an assumed position of mine, is no way to begin a rational discussion.

I am not shallow. I am an open book for learning. If you want to know me, just ask.

I am most people … I hope I am, anyway.

We are (almost) all open to change some of our opinions about (some) things. Mark is spot on about messaging. The old wive’s proverb, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” means that it is much easier to get what you want by being polite rather than by being rude and insolent, is so true. They knew – pre-internet keyboard warriors – it was a kind word and a gentle handshake to soften an edgy personality. They knew a warm piece of apple pie and fresh brewed iced tea on a sunny, summer day was the ticket to enter someone’s cold heart.

My original idea for today can wait. It has to. The shelf of my ideas has room for one more. What can’t wait one more day is your willingness to look inside yourself and find one small nugget of reason and appreciation. Move it aside. If there is another goody-nugget behind, keep going … until you find room for understanding. Reach out to someone different and ask, “I don’t agree with you, but I want to understand why you believe what you do. May we talk?”

It’s magic. I’ve done it. Listen to them. Allow them the pleasure of listening to you.

The Cracker Barrel road, fortunately for me over the years, has been a two-way street. I have the pleasure of leaving and going there frequently. They are in that strange space defined by capacity limitations, condiment funny-isms, and weird menu choices – all due to this “where-are-we” virus world. Tonight, I cannot avoid the obvious, over-used cliche “two-way street” to say:

Feed your soul. Have that one great conversation with someone different. Adjust your mind about one small, little life-item you thought would never change. Read an article on a subject opposite from your normal political position. Ride a swing next to someone willing to be on the swing next to you, even though you are uncomfortable with them for some reason.

I think the over-arching theme is: Understand your message, speak well of others, and … as Mark said, “put your message out in a way that will best get it received and educate another on your views.

My original message was probably good. Mark’s, however, was great.

Another day for mine, my friend. Thanks for the inspiration.

Chalk One Up To A Win

It was a Wednesday and the weather cooperated. Strange to have the sun, wind, and rain decide to favor my friends with a day of mild, partly-cloudy, almost-perfect atmospheric blessings. The weather has been anything but cooperative lately and my friends being the Arts Altoona board members and organization at large. As described on their site : “(An organization) that works work with community leaders to serve and inspire a more creative region. Culture and creativity are built into everything (they) do, from the way (they) envision new opportunities and evaluate outcomes to the way (they) collaborate across programs and cultivate deep partnerships.”

So it was. A very nice day. I snuggled into my business of selling comfort food designed to satisfy lunch appetites – as I’ve done, gladly, over the past fifteen years – when my eyes glanced over to notice the beginning of an event.

My food cart this year is located, over the expected lunch hours, in the very lot where this happening was occurring. Daily, I rush about … slathering original recipe chili sauce and cheese on hot dawgs (yes, this is my spelling), piling wonderfully odorous grilled peppers and onions on cheese-steaks for those so inclined (nod to D.G.), or serving up a side of my famous Chili-Mac and Cheese. Other menu choices keep my feet and hands busy, of course, as happy customers fill my mid-day with smiles and my cash box with essential future bill-paying currency.

Wednesday, the lot had a few extras. Kids and chalk. Arts Altoona hosted a “Chalk in the Lot”, “POP UP Chalk event”, or”Chalk Talk” event. I’m not quite sure what the actual name of the event was. After a few consults with friends in charge, it was still a bit unclear to me. Whatever the advertised splash any of us decided to wet our whistles with, it really didn’t matter. There were kiddos on their knees with chalk, dusting up plumes of joys, drawing stick figures of pets, parents, and planets, … caring the least about covid, conflicts, or conspiracies.

This was not only a small happening in the lot, it was also a huge step for the Arts Organization. That stride being Number One. A hesitant – but necessary – step in the gradual shuffle of finding a way forward this summer after a state-wide shut down. I’ve been fortunate, as a food vendor, to be open for business at this location since May 1st. Their building – a recently acquired church that has been repurposed and generously donated (for lack of a better descriptor … ) for their use sits conveniently beside the very lot I scoot in and out of four days a week. This paved space, once full of church goer’s cars in years past, has been ghostly empty recently. An understandable, but unfortunate, outcome of so many spiritual gathering places.

As the time folded in and out between busy and idle Wednesday, I Spielberg-ed my way around the crowd – as I like to do – with my camera/phone. Reasons being: #1) Facebook Live is a great opportunity to promote events, #2) I am a fan of spontaneity, and #3) I find most folks enjoy talking about themselves and their lives / businesses.

While sauntering through the lot, I caught the above image on camera. It was designed by Anthony Pater, a guest artist invited to the event. With my sincere apologies to him, I do not remember most of his inspiration behind the design as I type, however, it was recorded that day on my FB Live feed. I can recall a reflection of suicide awareness and an unending circle of thought … suffice to say, I was impressed by his two hour dedication to the finishing of his design amidst the scampering of little feet, stick figures, and parental “don’t do thats” …

Today is Friday by my calendar and I’ll go back to an empty lot. “Empty” by comparison to last Wednesday. Yes, I’ll most assuredly have customers lined up waiting for sausage off the grill and ice cold bottles of Pepsi. The weather will be – according to the always 40% accurate forecast – partly sunny with a chance of wind and rain, so up will go my canopy and display flags welcoming in my regulars. The flames under my steam table are bound to keep sauerkraut, pork bbq, and chicken warm for those wishing such fine lunch fare instead of my beef dawgs. Life, you see, goes on as normal.

Normal in one sense. In another, I’ll be able to glance over, about 15 adult paces should I choose to walk, and see Anthony’s artwork. It is still attached to the pavement two days later. The kiddos are gone. Laughter, smiles, chalk dust headed over Ohio by now, and parents probably finding other ways to entertain their little ones … but the etched chalk circle remains still.

Isn’t this the real value of Art? Experience it once, but have it last beyond the first encounter? Have it live in you over and over again?

Maybe this viewpoint is too simplistic … I don’t know. I’m a pianist / musician at heart. Listening to Chopin over and over gives me chills. But, then again, so do the words, “Hey, pick up your laundry, goofball!” from my wife … so, I’m at a loss sometimes.

Whatever the reasons, life is wonderful. If you’re around Blair County, PA … specifically 6th Avenue and 23rd Street Altoona, stop by the lot. See me for some lunch “eats” and check out the chalk art before it is gone. There will be more events in the lot this year I’m sure. How, where, and when are to be determined as all of us try to navigate our way through the rough, bumpy road of a virus-slathered future.

All said and accounted for, I’d say we can “Chalk One Up To A Win” this past Wednesday. Congrats to Arts Altoona for getting one in – finally – and giving the community an opportunity to see the arts in motion.

Now, I must find a way to convince “some” that grilled peppers and onions DO belong on sandwiches.

Father’s Day After

It is 12:01 a.m., June 22nd. If I planned my life as well as I – apparently – worked out the timing of this writing, I’d be sipping non-alcoholic iced teas, sitting on a very comfortable beach chair, while basking under a western Bahama sun. Counting my untold riches would be the least of my worries and the glistening reflection coming off the blue waters would be bouncing off my toes onto my Dita Epiluxury Palladium Aviator sunglasses.

Alas, this is not the case. I have Western-PA T-shirt tan/burn lines around my neck and upper arms from sloshing sausage, burgers, cheese-steaks, and hot dawgs (yes, this is how I spell them) around on my business grill all weekend. Melted cheese and the area’s best chili sauce is happily dripped all over my 10′ cart which has yet to be cleaned. Dishes remain cleaned out – but not washed, rinsed, or sanitized – in the ever present commercial kitchen as yesterday’s close of business left me without energy to go any further. This happens. I’m getting older all the time, so liveliness and vigor is a commodity not so easily accessible as ketchup and mustard. A long, three day eventful weekend clogged up my life’s bottle of yellow and red tastiness rendering me speechless … and seemingly beach-less as well.

With your permission … almost speechless. Those fortunate enough to be around my humility (sarcasm) are aware I have no problem engaging in conversation. Serious or silly soliloquies, banal or bright banters are never far from my reach when others pull their conversational wagons around for protection from the outside world. I could argue, earnestly, it is for this reason I am happy to inhale and exhale, minute by minute .. oh, and to stay alive as well. Existing is a good reason to breathe. (Didn’t mean to minimize the importance of the oxygen and carbon dioxide gas exchange in the lungs).

While sympathetically breathing, it is great for me to engage with my fellow and fellow-ettes stomping around on this 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilogram rock bouncing through the silence of a dark matter, dark energy, neutrino filled, infinite space …

A space which knows no boundaries, Covid-19, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, masking, hot dawgs, Bennett Cerf (I’ve been watching a lot of “What’s My Line?” re-runs lately), racism, football, bond valuations, or why muskrats even exist. My space, though, the used-to-be within 6-feet distance where words could be safely exchanged, is well defined: beautiful. If for no one else, for me.

… And this is why “Father’s Day After” is so well timed.

To write about my dad on the day for fathers would be untimely. I called him yesterday – during a break at my business – to wish him the usual as I always do. He’s a shorter man than I with a receding hair line I like to define as “completely bald”. Marks scar his head – from years of sun beating down – as his work ethic drove him to stand on ladders, painting houses and windows, during the summer months between the academic Septembers through Mays. Those 33 years spent teaching English in a classroom full of (later) appreciative teenagers who didn’t fully appreciate the value of his teaching at the time.

We lost mom eight years ago. She died with a full heart and a body full of cancer. It was an inevitable end of a five year journey. Dad’s relationship with her to this very day is a mystery. He speaks of her in muted tones, with quiet words, in almost silent idleness. I will not, in respect, challenge his memory of her. There are some frequent conversations with my siblings about our parents’ relationship, but we cannot draw an outline clear enough to even start coloring in the lines with vibrancy, life, and fullness. Suffice to say, we had food, shelter, and clothing … and love as our parents were able to provide.

The response to my call was predictable. “Where are you set up today?”. This would be my dad. This had to be my dad. I know as sure as I am a partially tanned, overly talkative male that he didn’t hear my “Happy Father’s Day, Dad” coming through the phone … And, I know why. Every day, for as long as I’ve been tonging and dipping my way around town, hearing my voice on the phone – to him – meant I was calling to check in and was selling somewhere. Yesterday was no different. He heard my voice, but didn’t listen to my words.

Since mom died, we’ve worked at developing a closer relationship. Mom and I were inseparable. Music, humor, silliness, etc … pumped through our bodies – saddled on every drop of blood circulating around and about the very tip of our toes and fingers. Dad? Serious, methodical, organized, and prognosticatingly predictable. The chasm between dad and I, emotionally and structurally, could not have been wider the day we – along with my siblings – rode down the elevator in the hospital minutes after mom died.

In as much as I dislike the phrase, “That was then, this is now”, there is none more appropriate. He and I are older now. Dad isn’t the same. I am not, either. Our relationship isn’t defined by what it once was. We had a horrible time when I was young. There’s no language I can use other than those words. There’s no fault to attach. He made decisions based upon what he knew to do at the time. I grew up and learned to manage my life the best way I knew how. Then mom died.

We struggle through conversations now … not because there is miscommunication. I am tasked with the responsibility to laugh with him – all the while wondering if he’s able to focus properly and stay with a line of thought. Probably the usual concerns a son has for his aging father, I guess. We hug more than ever before, jiggle a few jokes around the table, and argue a small stew pot’s amount of political positions. The quarantine he weathered well … considering all of his social stilts were kicked out from under him. I gladly searched for low-sodium canned soups and granola at the local market while he dutifully remained indoors – fearful of an airborne virus. That’s dad. The overachiever.

We did finally re-connect last night after I got back. I tried again.

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad!”.
“Are you still set up? I was going to get a hot (dawg) …even though I just ate”.
“No, I’m done for the day. Wanted to call you to see how things were.”
“Oh, well … Did you have a good day?”
“Yea, I guess. It was a long weekend. I’m tired”
“Glad you had some sales. I’ll let you go.”
“Ok, Dad. Talk to you tomorrow. I have the day off, so I’ll stop in.”

I’ll stop in today for sure. Father’s Day after. Another day. Not a day I will find myself on a sandy white beach, under a big colorful umbrella, stretching out my muscle-less middle-aged arms over an over-sized beach chair. There are no piles of money to worry about at this time … and probably not in the near future as I continue forward in life – as most of us do. One step, one breath, one heartbeat at a time. And, yes … one word at a time as well.

Words I like to use – sometimes not grammatically correct, or in proper syntax, but meaningful to me. Dad will most assuredly never see these words as he does not read this blog. Well, let me assert I do not know for sure he doesn’t, however, I can reasonably assume the English teacher in him would be hard pressed to not correct my error(s) if he, indeed, did.

That’s my dad. He’s my one parent left here to still love me as his son … and I’m here, as a son of his, to love him as my dad. There will come a day when this isn’t a part of my existence on this heavy rock. For now, the day after, I’ll accept the blessing.

Happy Father’s Day, after, to all.

Dear Me

Dear Me,

Today, I heard you were showing white privilege, white indignation, and white intolerance. Under the most unfortunate of circumstances, these qualities were thrust upon your character by a close relative who, by all measures, exhibits signs of intolerance herself. Not “white” intolerance, mind you … just intolerance toward anyone with an opposing point of view. For this, I am sorry.

This came out of the blue. Well, not really out of nowhere. You did proffer a logical, thought-out opinion about the most recent rioting, looting, and burning in Atlanta. Perhaps, in hindsight, Facebook wasn’t the best social format to do so, my friend. After all, you tried twice before and the words you crafted weren’t met with smooth dialogue either. Your decision to delete all three posts this evening, in my opinion, was the best solution for now.

I saw the whole string of texts sent to you from your relative and may I, again, offer up my apologies. I will give her some credit for privately calling you out and not publicly spewing the hot ashes of her vitriol. As an aside, at least she didn’t call you a “racist” like the other “friend” on Facebook felt the need to do.

So, here’s where I’m at right now – and why I felt the need to write you a letter. You’re my closest and dearest friend. I’ve the fondest regard for your character and know you to be the most sincere, compassionate, loving person toward all regardless of race, sex, income, lifestyle choice, or any qualifier one would choose to apply. The anger and misunderstanding directed toward you is misappropriated. Period.

Here’s what they don’t know: You are starting to understand “White Privilege”. Indignation and Intolerance stand outside your fence – this I know. She is way off base on those two. I won’t even begin to justify those with a response.

You’ve set aside this day to think on that phrase. Since the accusation was hurled at you this morning, you caught the ball, tucked it under your arm and wrestled with it. That’s what you do. You ALWAYS do. You study and meditate. Think and mull over words and propositions … especially if it is deeply concerning to your character.

I heard your voice as you spoke out loud. The revelation hit you around 7:30 this evening, didn’t it?

You said, “It’s the way the movement is worded. ‘White Privilege’ is divisive. This has been the anchor around my attitude. This is why the bitterness in my words comes through. I’ve not a privileged bone in my hard-working skeleton. Privilege sounds Ivy league, haughty, lofty, and aloof to me. The usage is comparative to my experience – which is all I have to go on. So, when I am labeled, “White Privilege”, that is where my mind goes…

…Now, after thinking it through a bit, if the phrase, ‘Being white has its advantages’ was used instead, I could embrace this much better. Seems a small difference, but I understand the issue so much better this way. I now see myself as a white male with less fear for my safety in certain neighborhoods compared to my black friends. I understand my relationships with (some police) as different and job, insurance, voting, and social experiences in America as not the same.”

When you said those words, I knew you’ve been educated. That’s you, Doug. You are someone who knows how to grow … and learn. You know the value in change. You know the humility in recognizing your faults in actions and thinking – and the necessary remedies without sacrificing your values along the path of understanding.

Too bad those who fault you – and label you – will never know your true self because they don’t read this blog.

I am truly honored – and privileged – to be by your side every living moment. Stay strong and don’t ever quit being you. One heartbeat at a time, my friend.



I’m Assuming You Don’t Know

When walking into Cracker Barrel last night for dinner, I assumed my favorite lemon-pepper trout dinner would be waiting for me on the menu. This delicious two piece fish entree with sides of macaroni and cheese, corn, and a salad has been a Sunday night regular for my tired, worn, weekend grill-sloshed body’s hungry belly. Sam the Man, our favorite waiter, is usually there to smilingly serve my iced tea with an extra glass of ice and knows enough to not even ask for my order. He knows what I want … on any normal night.

Sunday, June 14th … last night. No assumptions could be made. Texas Roadhouse, on a whim and suggestion from a good friend, was well into a line upon arrival and I was too hungry to wait. Next door, Chili’s parking lot looked the same as if there was a sudden run to the border. Why did my wife and I not first head to Cracker Barrel? I assumed a 7 pm dinner time on a Sunday would be less likely loaded than any other time of the week – especially during this covid-19 social tightness noosed around restaurants these fine days .

If not for the urging from a good foodie-vendor friend all weekend, and the seasoned, drippy pork chop painted picture he drew, I wouldn’t have steered my beat up Honda into Texas Roadhouse’s socially distanced, beef-ribbed parking lot. Hooking the trout first inside Cracker Barrel with Sam and a cold iced tea … sitting down after 6 long days of work … and I would’ve avoided any extra miles on my already worn nerves.

We finally entered that most familiar store after passing the rocking chairs and extra large checker boards. Signs and notices suggest mask wearing, however, some do not oblige. Workers? Yes. Guests who scrum about the gifts shop? Some – who most likely assume they are virus free, do not wear them. A muted, vocal tone from a very nice familiar host immediately directs us to a table triangulated and distanced 6-feet from any other in the large echoed room. Scratchy wooden chairs across a tiled floor accompany, now, condiment-less blank tables with no golf-tee games happily waiting twenty minute pastimes between ordering and meal arrivals.

The old pictures on the wall remain still, but have an eerie new meaning. Folks in hazy black and white pose staring across our table last night gave me the same pause they, themselves, have stood in two-dimensional time. They knew nothing of the cell phone I tapped text messages into while I stared disappointingly at a limited menu, but seemed to see into the starkness of a barely full dining room. Technology escaped their purview. Life did not.

They must have noticed my disbelief in realizing trout, apparently, jumped off the menu. An apparent covid-casualty of the worst, unimaginable kind. I assumed, after driving happily away from Texas Roadhouse, Cracker Barrel would save my stomach soul. Sam tried to calm my weary worries … and he did … sort of. I settled in on the haddock after dismissing the catfish, chicken, meatloaf, roast beef, sampler, and various other quite limited choices.

As a non-menu grabber for years, it was odd scanning over other choices. I never do. Always the same Sunday fare. Yes, a tad OCD … welcome to that world, but after working in the sun all weekend, a Sunday night with Sam, trout, iced tea (and an extra glass of ice) is an assumed treat.

Assumed until it can’t be anymore. I had to pause. My normal wasn’t acceptable, except I can accept assumptions … sometimes. Let me explain:

This is where we are in America. A few mornings ago, a Wendy’s burned because, once again, a young man was tragically killed unnecessarily. The night before, I was watching coverage of that police shooting in Atlanta – as it happened only hours before – and, sadly, I had to assume “something” of a violent or destructive nature would happen in reaction … and it did. An innocent building was torched in protest.

I am not condoning the reaction. It wasn’t a response, but a visceral, gut-punch reaction from a community who assumes the gunning down of a 27 year old man who, yes, physically struggled with the police, was so every-day anymore. You know what? …the assumption isn’t wrong. This young man was fleeing and shot in the back – twice. It’s a story that cannot be ignored anymore by saying, “Assuming makes an ASS-out of U and ME’. That American story is gone. It makes an ass out of the police who shot the man. Period.

Yes, an argument can be made for the gang minority violence in Chicago … along with the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m zeroing in on the violence against black men perpetrated by some law enforcement who seem to have no problem squeezing their trigger brain and, yes, murdering with no just cause … apparently … allegedly, may I say before being accused of “guilty before innocence”. Notice the word “some” used above – recognizing the honest, moral among them as well.

The list is filling up and is too full, now, for me to ignore. I can’t assume the American system of law enforcement is right, just, and equal anymore in the disbursement of justice at the point of contact in a park, drive-thru, street sidewalk, or city corner. I can fairly assume it is for me as it applies, however, to me a white male living in a fairly conservative north-eastern state surrounded by mostly Republican, Christian people. Experiences for others in more diverse, highly concentrated bigger cities would be significantly different.

I always assumed it was the same across the country. OUR country. I was wrong. My life was isolated from the reality of racism. It isn’t any more complicated than that. Not just racism. Bigotry against those who choose same sex relationships, trans lifestyles and similar alternative choices, atheist or non-traditional worship meditations, are on my awareness spectrum. James Baldwin makes sense more to me than ever, shades of black experience are being lifted – shining light into my previously shaded white world.

Assumptions of what was can be no more. Generations of thinking need to be changed. I, myself, can’t lift mountains of new information to new heights, nor can I speak those who can’t hear. What I can do is change my assumptions, little by little, and take a stand on new ground – while talking to those who will listen.

Trout at Cracker Barrel is one small sacrifice. I assumed it was to be … until it wasn’t. I’ll live without it for now. There are men and women not alive today because bad, horrible, possibly – and assumed – racists police decided to use excessive force and exterminate others’ lives … over and over again. Yes, there I WILL use “assumed” … because the shoe fits. A shoe that does not deserve to stand on ground I stand.

Today, I am responding to all this. Tomorrow, and in days to come, there will be more. Reform, change, and reactions in time to avoid another tragedy? Doubtful. But then, I’m assuming the outcome.

Let’s hope I’m wrong.