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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 welcome.

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.

Chairs With No Seats

Perchance you follow, with some regularity, my musings about a special local eatery. A quaint little hotel restaurant it is, comfortably situated at street level – but not the bottom level – of a building around for over a century. Around the corner on the downgrade is a small basement bar entrance ushering any weary patron into a welcoming cold brew of hometown hugs. It has been, by any normal morning measure, a standard in my life.

This morning, after two months of leery lock downs and patient toe-tapping anticipation, I entered this very familiar place expecting some sense of normal to return. Our color is green in western PA – which comes with a permission slip attached to every eateries’ sign. Flipped to “open” if so desired by the owner, these special signs now have added responsibilities behind them including proper distancing, masking, capacity restrictions, and server requirements. All part of a un-normal world I expected to see as I slowly turned the century old knob on the creaky door I’ve done hundreds of times.

Four folks sat, shall I uneasily say, “comfortably” on seats un-randomly distanced in the front room. Two sat on chair-stools permanently attached to the floor on support posts and the others in booths more than the required 6-feet apart. Of the old wooden seats at the counter upon which my grandparents most likely sat, two of every three were removed and the post tops covered with upside-down cups.

To recap, only four of the twelve normal seat spaces are currently usable, while eight remain cunningly-cupable and advisably unusable unless one needs an unplanned, sudden post-ectomy.

The spirit floating around the front four was understandably cautious. Not one, unfortunately, exhibited signs of a regular crazy person known as a close friend of mine. As normal mornings go, this was not to be. My close friends were nowhere to be seen, heard, or laughed at…

For purposes of being real, I will use initials, not aliases. M.J. won’t be back for a while due to some ongoing health issues requiring heightened caution – and he’s nuts. S.R. was absent for a bit even before the pandemic happened, so she was unexpected this morning – she’s a bit crazy, too. J.F. is always there and leaves precisely at 8:23 when his wife texts. I was there after that smoochy-text-time probably arrived if he indeed was there, so no chance of seeing him – he’s goofy as well. Me, being the only normal one of the group, suffered through this other group of four not-so-unknown group of strangers as I knew them all my name. These level 2 friends engaged my time at precisely 8:55 as a masked server and I waited for my to-go egg, ham, and cheese sandwich from the kitchen.

Staying power lasted through over two months of quarantine, but not through ten minutes at one of my favorite hotel restaurants. Go figure. Dale, Marcie, Barb, and Lance held my attention for scant minutes as I perused the same four walls I’ve seen for years. The pale egg-white painted walls upon which hung two large mirrors held my attention for mere seconds. Aged stainless reach-in coolers behind the counter supported reflections of the decades worn, story filled stuccoed ceiling. Random brochures scattered about, new Covid-19 customer guidelines taped strategically here and necessarily there, … space where space wasn’t before – all keeping my day-off eyes busy for the time.

The vacuous rear banquet room, now, social distanced inside with tables fearing to be close to one another as only one was occupied by four older gentlemen I’ve known for years. Normal they were. Generationally stubborn and unfazed by any and all hysteria as they dipped into breakfast fare as if the trolley and town crier were both still on schedule. Unmasked, fearing only the possibility of being overcharged, once again, for the two cups of coffee and toast ordered every day since retiring years ago … they soldiered on.

Ten in total by my math. A nice binary math number to round out my morning coming out of isolation/quarantine into green. Four front, four back, my server, and I. A nice normal number … so far from normal, otherwise.

This is to be expected, or so I’m told. This past weekend, I drove by many restaurants – big and small, mom and pop, corporate and franchise, drive up, seating in & out – that are open for business … under “green” restrictions, of course. Happy to be so, I’m sure. Customers and owners alike have been waiting what seems a big-bang’s length of time to fire up grills full-flame and, again, turn up the charm-a-plenty. Humans on both sides of serve-and-be-served are emotionally hungry for all of it …

I know some of this because I’m a foodie-vendor myself. Fifteen years this year I’ve been tonging my way around – towing a 10-foot food cart. It’s been an incredibly saucy, drippy, unpredictable past few months in the event-dependable, need-to-have-people-jammed-together, vendor space world that doesn’t exist right now. I’m finding my way around parking lots and corners trying my level best … and, speaking for myself, still loving the ride. Can’t pretend to ventriloquistically vociferate on behalf of my food friends elsewhere. They can write their own words during their own day off. It’s an absolutely beautiful Monday in June and I’m as close to normal as I can be right now.

Today’s weather feels normal. It is, by any normal June morning measure, a perfect day. I have been sitting on this porch writing as a few birds go about their business gathering food. Friends living in the house next door are swimming, and on the other side, different neighbors are sputtering along – attempting to befriend an old riding mower that doesn’t seem to be cooperating. Shade on my weary legs is perfect as it extends out just past the edge of my porch where the sunlight takes over.

This can be normal for me the rest of the summer. This can be my “green”. For purposes of an early breakfast at my favorite restaurant? I can’t yet answer, “my ‘once’ favorite morning restaurant.” Yes, close friends will not be there for some time. Yes, I may not return again until there is some feel of normal again … whenever that is. There are no answers right now.

Just sunshine, birds, and another day to appreciate.

Maybe this has to be all of our new normals for a while. Just be careful of the chairs with no seats.

Y’all Need To Have A Sit

Two chairs facing. Have a seat.

All I see is people saying…. If you believe this, delete me or block me, if you feel this way, delete me or block me, if you support that, delete me or block me, if you don’t think like me delete me or block me…..Do you see the problem yet???? Your making further division, what about hey we don’t agree but let’s be friends and talk about it, or we don’t agree but I love you anyway. ALL of you saying delete / block me if, YOUR part of the problem!!!!!! We’re never all going to agree, we can try to understand and come together NOT delete / block me if. How is that helping to bring anyone together? Seriously y’all need to have a sit and THINK about it. But hey keep falling into exactly what they want us to do, divide. I love yin’s all but those of you saying this crap, take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself are you really doing anything to help our communities come together? Or are you adding to the division by the “if you don’t agree delete / block me”.. my early morning thoughts anyway.” – R. E., Facebook 5/4/2020

These words found their way on my Facebook feed early yesterday morning. I found myself stopping my usual quick scan of the silent, predictable political divisiveness … disguised as sharing, caring thoughts … when suddenly coming across the paragraph posted above. My comment to R.E was a simple, “I love this …” followed by a private message asking permission to use it. She obliged with very kind allowances in the course of a pleasant early morning private message lasting a few minutes.

You see, we communicated as adults in a virtual room – learning about one another. Two strangers with, unknown to us, commonalities heretofore undiscovered. We have a common friend. We share a common interest in a musical instrument. I must say, without knowing her beyond the few minutes of black letters in a tiny little white dialogue box, both of us displayed above average intelligence and social skills, are/were in the food business (I think), and have a unique ability to adapt and change if necessary. Oh, and we’re probably crazy humble and proud of it as well … but, I digress.

So, two unfamiliars … now, familiars. Since this is now the case, I can call her Rachel. Rachel is her name. Nice to meet you, Rachel. I love your words.

A few years ago, I sat in a local Taco Bell sharing stories with a friend. A black friend who I never see as black. It is so uncomfortable for me to even type that word, “black”, because I never, ever see him as such. For the purposes of this post, I must use the qualifier, however. He is a very successful friend who is wedded to a white (geesh, do I really have to keep using these words) woman. They are such a nice couple. He’s seen true tragedy. His bullied junior high-aged son committed suicide four years ago and my conversation touched a bit on that sad occurrence.

Mainly, our talk had to do with my concern surrounding a relative who pointed a bony finger at my supposed “white-privilege”. An upper-level advantage I was unaware I had until it was thrown on my pile of things about which to worry – I guess. Never considered the notion until then.

I asked J.P. for a meet-up (agreeing to buy a burrito in exchange for his time) to discuss if he ever saw the “white” thing in my life … and to discuss his perspective on being a black man in America.

I’m so glad I did. We cleared up my non-discriminatory thinking in a two-taco minute. I knew we would. Loving all races, creeds, colors, beliefs, life-styles, and genders is my motto and never would I ever find it in my heart to be mean to anyone. What followed, however, was one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve ever had.

He spoke of being asked to empty clean laundry on the sidewalk while walking home from the cleaners – for no reason other than being different. All this having to obey authority because the alternative was worse.

He spoke of having caution while in position of authority in administrative healthcare due to the fear of mistakes. One little slip-up could have jeopardized the future of another minority coming up through who sought after the same position.

We talked through experiences. I learned through listening. He is a highly educated man who experienced life on a completely different path than I. I suspect had we been born twins – imagine with me, of course – and pursued exactly the same career paths, his life and mine would have been very different based solely on the colors of our skin. That’s such a sad reality of the American experience.

Lest we judge, things are SO much better than they were. Even 20 years later, when J.P. was sauntering along the sidewalk, we still have pockets of problems, but I believe America is waking up.

Back to my good friend Rachel. Are you kinda seeing why I loved her post earlier? She’s right, ya’ know? If I would have blocked J.P. out of my life, so much conversational richness and vitality would have been gone … forever. I reached out and he willingly answered. We talked for over three hours.

Two guys – one black, one white – sharing a bunch of Mexican food … talking about life. We “had a sit” and filled each other’s life baskets with memorable words. Words that inspire me years later in our coronavirus, George Floyd obsessed, media-driven craziness known as America 2020.

Rachel is my new mini-hero this morning. She re-ignited my memories of J.P. and the importance of an adulting-dialogue between parties wanting to understand each other – and my overarching message to you: Don’t impulsively block/delete people … especially those you call friends … on Facebook or other social media sites. If you find their words irritating, reach out. Ask them what they mean. Maybe they just ate a bad burrito and have gas! You don’t know the movie they’re living. Don’t be so bold to assume you know their true, core issues until you talk with them. If you find them offensive, intolerable, and too quirky for your taste after reaching out, dump ’em. Until then …. be real.

To additionally qualify my admonition, a string of comments on Facebook does NOT qualify as a conversation. Most do this for shock value and reactionary-response, so to assume you are conversing with said friend is folly in its highest form.

Now, y’all need to have a sit … Mask up, go to an acceptable location if possible, or find a quiet little dialogue box like Rachel and I did yesterday morning. TALK and LISTEN to one another. Find common ground. Look for the 10% similarities to bridge the 90% variations in thinking. You’re not going to agree on everything, of course. If you do, RUN AWAY … FAST !! There’s no such reality as total agreement on the whole kit-and-ka-boodle.

In conclusion, be a Rachel … “take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself are you really doing anything to help our communities come together? Or are you adding to the division

No truer words were typed on Facebook during recent days, in my crazy humble opinion. Oh, and I’m sure my new friend Rachel would so kindly agree.

No More Words, For The Now

When there’s nothing to say.

Man, these are some weird times. Almost everything in our bucket of two months’ information has been poured all over the floor. We’ve sloshed through it – repeatedly splashing dirty water all over those wallowing with us, and managed to upset the supposed clear-thinking other half along the way. This truly does have the feel of “nothing to say, anymore”. What can be said that hasn’t already be said?

It’s been over a week since I’ve written anything here. There have been sketched moments on my new Samsung phone when words flowed into meaning, but nothing meaningful. This isn’t concerning to anyone but me, of course … and a few followers. Distractions within hours turn into days of activities as our state starts to “Open Up” and my business, once again, gargles to life.

So, both the constriction of time and lack of words come together this morning to provide a paralysis paradox.

What IS there to say that hasn’t already been said? President Trump continues to amaze. Good, or bad … take your pick. The death of George Floyd sparked racial-division outrage across the country we’ve seen before – and will certainly see again. Confusingly, Covid-19 isn’t sickly-serious as it was last week as hospital ICU bed and ventilator shortages have been demoted to second-class citizenry … for now. Most are mildly-masking while seemingly so-so social distancing and nobody really cares if our county is green, yellow, or any other color. Folks are out. Out of their homes. Moreover, out of patience.

None of this is surprising. I’ve lived 50+ years and could write the script of a movie chronicling how this was going to play out. Look, I’m no great Nostradamus combing through my eight inch beard. You could accomplished the same.

All of us reach this point when words are no longer necessary. We, as simple humans, grab on to it so instinctively. A simple eye-nod is all it takes. A casual, unspoken, “yep” as we pass each other on the sidewalk communicates a commonality among us. Separately, we read or saw the same headline only hours before as strangers …. but, in that passing second, we knew of our shared agreement. Our understanding.

No words necessary.

George Floyd’s murder was horrendous. The protests are legitimate. The riots and looting are criminal. Today, the recognition of racial inequality is much, much better than it was and most Americans are working on making things better. Some of our citizens are a**holes. My sincere apologies for their behaviors. It’s truly abhorrent how some are treated … black, white, and in between. We can’t fix stupid. Words, alone, can’t undo the injustice in the world. Hopefully, enough positive action and change will bring about lasting reform so there will be no need for any more protests and riots again.

As to the pandemic, I’ve no more words. It’s certainly an enigma. Some say hoax, some say the real deal. I’m likely to error on the cautious side with my family situation … but that’s me.

Me. A blogger with fewer words these days than normal. That’s o.k. When there’s not much to say, it means I’m out doing something – like hugging a puppy across the street or waiting 45 minutes in a bank’s drive-thru line. These are real life experiences at different ends of my peaceful/angry continuum I’d be glad to share with you another time.

For now, no more words.



They mean so much more to us now. Even if not surrounding some physically, these charming little – or, perhaps larger – neighborhood pieces of our lives still hold on to our memories. They must. This is their purpose.

It has been roughly a week since writing an entry on DougHugs. I’ve spent that time scooting about in my hometown … and nearby communities … practicing some necessary life skills for the uber-thousandth time: shopping, driving, paying bills, working, eating food handed to me from over-worked drive-thru food joints, and thinking. Lots of thinking.

Considering my way through the muck of this new reality has been a stuckiness problem. Maybe not for you lately, but for me. I suspect placing the word, “maybe” to be presumptive. There can’t be a human alive right now who doesn’t feel stuck in a goofy world of newness – and not a fresh, new born baby excitement kind of fresh. Each day is becoming that scratchy, skippy, record over and over where even the needle is being felt as a voodoo-ish reminder of yesterday’s sameness each time it jumps off the monotones.

We’re all here. It’s the emotional neighborhood in which we have been forced to isolate and distance from our instincts to gather together.

I didn’t realize this newness until hearing words from a social disease “expert” yesterday. With exception to most of her usual panic-laden blather, I did find one perspective rather interesting. She made an overall comparison of this pandemic to 9-11, Ebola, and Aids with regard to scope, effect, and response. I perked up and listened with both years while setting my popcorn aside.

… And I paraphrase: “This pandemic, unlike all others mentioned, has affected every single person on the planet. Every. Single. One.”

She’s right, y’know? The physical damage inflicted on 9-11 was rebuildable – which has been concretely proven. Three-thousand souls lost is a horrible tragedy for our country and was shared, briefly, by others around the world. Within a few short months, life continued on … for most. The stock market began to roar, folks walked about with less flag waving and patriotic duty, … normal returned as normal did as months rolled into years. The world didn’t stop much. Ebola and Aids were even less a hiccup on our path of normalcy. Yes, to some a major health crisis, a marginal social cry for justice to others.

This pandemic is a very different world experience-experiment. It is one big-old, “What in the hell is going on?” … and the reason our neighborhoods are so important to us right here … right now. The goofy-ness goo that surrounds our sneakers causing our stuck-stuckiness is WHY these little – or big – parts of our lives mean so much to us now. I say “our” due to you feeling it as well. I know you do.

This is Hollidaysburg, PA. My hometown. The overlook picture is Chimney Rocks. I snapped this picture during a quick walking pass-by on Memorial Day after a pleasant little picnic outing. The turkey sub I ate was, eh, so-so. The usual most-excellent places were closed and lack of proper planning landed my unprepared self at the local grocery store for a pre-wrapped hoagie. Meh.

Food aside, the day wasn’t about jamming high sodium lunch meat into my always moving mouth, anyway. Glad I had the hour to stop – in my hometown – to breath. Something this pandemic, ironically enough, doesn’t give us time to do.

This has become a respiratory, infectious virus that has not only taken over the lungs of, sadly, now 100,000 American lives and many others around the world, but also has conquered the consciousness of every single human being on the planet. To the “expert’s” point … she was dead center on target.

My hometown was a welcome relief this past Monday. I’ve seen her hundreds – if not thousands – of times from the inside out. That vista from Chimney Rocks is a popular look-out I used to scurry about as a youngster many, many years ago. It wasn’t developed as a park and slightly more dangerous to navigate in polyester pants and reeboks. But, hey, I survived it. No Samsung cell phone, bills, working, driving, or shopping, … or Covid-19. Just me, my friends, and my hometown.

If you’re not close to your hometown, go to a local park to sit and remember something about where you were growing up … something positive about life. Something fun. A vista or overlook that takes your mind off this stupid virus for a minute or two. Actually living in your hometown? Go somewhere you love … and do the same thing. A bench. A tree. A porch. A park. Somewhere you can be you for a few minutes.

This will always be their purpose. Places to revisit when the world is upside down with issues, pandemics, and “unfamiliars” we simply don’t understand. They have familiarity no other place can offer weary souls and tired eyes.

I speak for me when I say, “This is Hollidaysburg’s purpose in my life. She has problems, but when we are quiet and respect each other …there’s a way through any of life’s challenges.”

Find your hometown again.