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The Lava Has Cooled

Brothers. Brian and Lance.

I’m not sure how it came to pass. They, separately, own two restaurants in town. The Capitol Hotel and Old Canal Inn eateries are located within a mile or two of each other. Most of us around these parts have parked our Blair County butts in chairs and booths surrounding tables – munching down fine breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare.

I enjoy early morning frivolities inside the Capitol with my friends. Yes, “friends” for those reading this who may consider my life as one without such surrounded happiness. See, as my day goes occasionally, some cross my path who, sarcastically, speak briefly on this matter. I do have friends – many in that circle as a fact. Those who suggest otherwise just don’t get it. I know of their mindset, however … and, I know mine.

Companion walk-alongs are really nice. I believe it. If this wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have them around in my life. Every once in a while, though, a disagreement – perhaps a subject heavier than a lighthearted dissent – turns into a lava pour that takes a turn into the calm, peaceful friendship community two friends enjoy.

This happened. But, not inside the Capitol or Old Canal … and did not ensnare a friend who usually meets me there. The unease, however, did keep me away from the Capitol for two days. Strange. But, not really.

Took us a few days to work it out. Religion is probably NOT the best thread to use when weaving together a nice conversational sweater even IF you’ve been friends with someone for a long time. I never fully appreciated the depth of his uninformed views (insert sarcasm emoji here), nor have I ever taken the time to entirely take in my complete and utter genius in regard to my own views on matters spiritual (of course, insert humility emoji here).

We spated our way through a barrage of texts and one very interesting phone call. He said, I said … During one text string after an hour of words after words, I wrote, “Pretty much comes down to this: You think you’re right and I think I’m right. Now, how do we determine who is? There’s really no way to get there, is there? (especially with bible ‘stuff’)… So, we need to stop the discussion.” His reply was fascinating to me: “No, the discussion is good. It’s fun to learn why people think the way they do.”…

He’s a poker. Half the time he pokes to poke. I wasn’t sure if this was a cry wolf scenario, or he was really trying to keep me from a falling heavenly sky. When he replied as he did, I fell back in my already broken-in Honda – no longer feeling I was in the driver’s seat of the conversation. Did he REALLY want to understand my position on a God belief, or was he looking to bolster his stance through my words? Was he hearing, or just listening? When faith and belief systems are challenged – even within the community of two – a volcano of emotions spew forth from miles away and, within minutes, begin to burn the companionship structures.

We fire hosed the situation yesterday. I had him call me and we worked it out – as friends do. He now understands my superior thinking, and I get his illogical reasoning. He owes me a lunch and I will graciously accept.

Most likely, we will go to the Old Canal Inn.

Yesterday, I was there for lunch to meet my dad and his friend, Charlie. As an aside here, the off-hour presented a rather vacant room with just the three of us … and an almost five-year old. Sophie was off pre-school, “helping” her waitress mom serve us. As I enjoyed my juicy “Canal” swiss-mushroom burger along side dad’s haddock dinner, Sophie shuffled over to our table frequently to ask difficult, identifying questions such as: “What color is this crayon?”, and, “How old am I?”.. Our responses? Why, “blurple, breen, and sred, of course … Her giggles at our apparent unawareness of basic color recognition made her afternoon minutes pass quicker than expected, hopefully.

We need the challenging mental moments … and the “What color is my crayon?” times, too. Balance. In less than 48 hours, my life went from unanswerable, deeply held convictions to red, innocent crayons held by little orange-colored cheeto hands asking, “Do you know where I go to school?”…

If Brian and Lance ever fought as brothers, I’ll never know. They come from a large family, so I bet they did … sometimes. I do see them together frequently, though, and there’s a lot of respect and admiration between them. The same holds true betwixt Doug (yes, Doug) and I. We share the same wonderful name. I am Doug #1, he is Doug #2 – as it should be.

We’ll continue forward believing what we do …and, why we do. The lava has cooled and the landscape around looks a bit different. Change is good. Like I said in one of my last texts to him, “We’re good for one another, regardless.” …

Appreciate the Wonder You Have

Yesterday was a really nice day. The end.

Preferably, the sunny hours could have stayed … forever. A story never ending, really. These months of cold weather since last November have been sitting on our collective last nerves. Look, it’s not like ice, snow, and freezing temperatures aren’t familiar around here. Western PA thermometer mercury dips replace delicious chocolate and vanilla outside concession scoopy ice cream dips for five months during this span between November and March. Local mom and pop dipperies close down their shops as “hunkerin’ down” becomes a way of life. Wind chills replace the goosepimples of a warm summer’s day rare bird sighting while the sight of exhales overcomes our patience. We see our breath, reminding us not only of our aliveness, but also our early spring reality in PA : still cold.

Yes, still glacially glib. Showing little regard and interest in our overall well-being it is … this pre-spring coldness we seasonally experience. Which makes the very short story of yesterday a breathtaking tale. This being one story you could Chekhov the list of famous short stories written by me – a so-much-less famous author of short story fame.

We are, as of today, ten days away from the official start of spring. March 20th is the spring equinox. Here in PA (the Northern Hemisphere, of course), the sun will begin to hit us kinda’ better increasing daylight and increasing temperatures. Key words: increasing temperatures!! … Two very nice, considerate words crossing the equator approximately 240 hours from now. We anticipate them the same as a triple melty cone of teaberry from the Meadows Original Frozen Custard stand in the middle of July. I, as well, look ahead to increased lines of wondrousness as my customers free themselves from cars and stand, comfortably, outside my trailer.

Fifty-five degrees is barely past one-eighth of a circle, but it came full-circle for us yesterday. Not quite enough to be light jacket free, the sun on weary bodies was a delight, however. Attitudes were bright. Outlooks unclouded. Words spoken expressed joy in the now … not thrown about, carelessly addressing a future unknown to anyone. “Isn’t this a lovely day!?”. “Wow, I’m enjoying this!”. “Can’t believe we have this sun in the sky now … what a treat!”. “How about this?” I spent my three hours open simply enjoying words spoken from the sun – through people – to me – … and now to you. This could be the end of my very short story today.

But, it can’t be.

As I waited for my dad and his friend for a late lunch yesterday at a local restaurant, a very touching text from a lovely high school friend came through on my phone. I was alone – sitting by a window where the sunshine’s warmth came rushing in – when a ping from my phone bounced off the iced tea glass just placed in front of me by a favorite waitress of mine. As clear as the sun’s reflection in that glass, I lived the memories she wrote:

“I wish I could make this shorter but gotta tell u something on my mind – especially after the post about a “Sisters Bday”. When I was a kid coming to your house for piano lessons (don’t know exact age) but I was there. I was always early or very punctual. Your Mom (gracious as always) had me sit in this chair inside the door to the left as I remember and behind the piano. Said she would be with me shortly. So I was the outsider looking in. Was nervous bcuz didn’t want to think I was watching but I observed. So whoever was there, went about their business. Never made me feel unwelcome or like an intruder . Then I would hear sounds of family like kitchen cabinets or plates or oven or just kitchen sounds. If anyone passes by… briefly… no big deal.. a nod or of course I was looking down.. but never ever felt uncomfortable. The point is I was lucky enough to be the outside looking in to a wonderful mother taking care of her family. Yet…. when it was time for me. Her focus was on me- just me and my music and my playing and what I could practice on. She was wonderful. So I was an outsider looking in until it was my turn. I had her full attention with no distractions. In a world today with cell phones, zoom, internet, Alexa… I appreciate the wonder that I had. Just wanted u to know.”

This was her story of my mom. My friend wanted her text to be shorter, but it was the perfect length. Perfect words for me to hear. A small chapter in the story of my mom that truly never ends for me.

I love that second to last sentence she wrote. Love it! “I appreciate the wonder that I had.”. My only regret is I didn’t come up with such a resplendent seven-word phrase to describe the day yesterday. It was a beautiful day … a span of time during which we had warmer hearts to share with each other and kinder words to say. It was, indeed, a welcome sight: that big yellow ball with its glow of snugness shining down on soon to be filled cones of peopleness.

Take today – whatever it brings for you – to appreciate the wonder you have. Ten days, here, will go by quickly and spring days are bound to unleash sensational scoops of fantastical flavors we can finally enjoy after five months of … well, let’s say waiting. Marking time as only western-Pennsylvanians can do.

One breath at a time.

Birthday for a Sister

Ordering online should not be so funny. But it is. Not to me, necessarily. There’s my high school friend, “Scott”, across from me chanelling movie actor accents and lines, his mother encouraging the shenanigans, and my dear friend sitting three cushions away to my right. She is ordering our dinners as I type. Commentary from the living room gallery continues to be, well, funny.

I do find this to be entertaining. “Not to me, necessarily.”, wasn’t meant to be dismissive. Chicken parmesan with a side of asparagus, some kind of soup I would never order, and a discussed cold steak salad on the very talkative menu this evening. The banter between two very close siblings I find exhaustingly affable and engaging. These two are really special. Both laughing their way through this snapshot in time. Mom of the two sitting not so quietly off to the side, picking her spots to correct my occasional grammar mistakes when I find the moments to speak. Yes, it has been the slip of, “Can I…?”, instead of, “May I…?” out of my non-thinking ahead mouth here.

Across, in my view is a stunning, large portrait I have yet to ask about … as the dialogue continues back and forth concerning tabs, menus, and “longhorn” alliterations. My ears and eyes collect data so much more than any other senses here … now. Jim Gaffigan and obscure movie lines tickle about and I sit here enjoying all the love between a brother and sister … and mother. Not mine, but theirs. I’m an outsider visiting on a birthday weekend. Sitting on an unfamiliar couch with settings strange to my want-to-engage personality. The impenetrable bond between a sister and brother is uniquely theirs. I’m laughing inside, all the while so much admiring the unspoken giggling youth they are re-living every second. Mom reclines back, She is taking it all in. Her son and daughter. So infrequently together, yet here they are, chuckling and hand-holding their words through an app. designed to frustrate even the most tolerant of hungry siblings.

I see myself twitching about here … possibly unable to continue writing as the ordering saga may be coming to a close. As time and opportunity present themselves, I will proceed here… Demands are high. “Scott” has been designated the task of driving 15 minutes for pick-up and he’s escorting the grammar-corrector which, fortunately, affords me the opportunity to freely speak my mind. The birthday girl has requested an audience to reminiscently roam about her childhood home, so I will abandon this post for now. More to come …

Morning after. No time to continue last night as the festive atmosphere hung around without the chance for my tapping into this phone.

Our meals arrived, but not without incident. The horrors of no bread and fries, as ordered, mandated another trip back to Longhorn for the already distressed “Scott”. (As an aside here, I refer to my friend in quotes because it is his real name, however, he is identified by a nickname … very much a literary license being used here).

This starchy mis-step required two additional phone usages from two separate cell devices. One, a vocal urge from a mother. The other an attempted text. I casually sat back, enjoying the one-sided conversation heard an earshot away. I assumed the offering of a free desert on the next visit wasn’t an acceptable replacement as mom’s voice raised to a higher level previously unknown to me. A brotherly text came in, “I’m in the lot. Now what?”. “Mom talked to them. Go inside.”, my friend replied back. Fixed upon his return. Ah, the perils of a large, multi-state restaurant worker looking at a sticker that says, “fries”, and thinking, “I’ll put asparagus inside. They’ll never notice.” Ugh.

It was a delightful meal, nonetheless. A bit of music trivia played along the way as I, the master of who-holds-the-cards-with-the-answers controls the game, dutifully discharged my OCD – not without some criticism from inpatient players to my right and left, I must add … A sounding board of critically friendly, yet somewhat understandable, banter ensued from those hungry for the correct answers who didn’t balance up to an acceptable level of who’s who in musical trivia. I say, in retrospect, “He who controls the cards, controls the flow and rules of the game … regardless of whose birthday it is. Period.”… Also, I am grateful my meal was paid for prior to assuming the role of trivia dictator-in-chief, otherwise, my financial situation would be $15 dollars less at this time.

We escorted our full selves to the living room. A room quieted with shelves full of pictures and books built into a wall broken only by a stone fireplace irreplaceable in the heart of my friend. She lives in memories pasted gently behind many clear pages in tens of binders carefully labeled by event and year. Volumes of books stand in back of framed photographs. Brother and sister, side by side, always … even in many captured moments. This is an evening for them. A visiting brother, home.

Back home to see his sister. A room for living. A birthday. A mom off to the side, again, resting her eyes on her two children. Seeing a daughter connect with her brother during a time when they needed to be together – laughing, giggling, attaching their youthful spirits to their current adulting world – she had joy. I noticed a slow camera phone picture taken as Scott played his guitar for his sister. Mom is still a bit tech-savy. She needed that moment captured. It will remain in her soul more than in the digital world.

I sat beside, yet removed from time. Presents were opened. Songs sung between a brother and sister crossed my air as I sat on a sofa between them. An accomplished guitarist and song writer, Scott played for hours as his sister sunk into his every note. Invisible was I. Truly ok because I closed my eyes and entered into their world of music as it should be. An added connection on top of a love deeper than I knew upon entering this unknown home hours earlier.

It is no longer unknown. I know that love because I have a sister of my own. She is special to me. We cry together. We’ve experienced a life together. She’s musical. I’m musical. Our mom is no longer here to deliciously serve a no-bake cheesecake like my dear friend’s mom did close to 10:30 that evening (with fresh strawberries and blueberries, I may add). The family of three I spent time with, as a distant fourth, has a special bond … and a trio of special people. It was a birthday for a sister with limited time, but a timeless experience for me.

They hugged each other, as siblings do, when the evening ended hours later. I watched and admired. No more words are necessary.

Life has returned to whatever normal is for all of us. A brother is back to his life out-of-state. A sister continues her maze through a rare, known cancer path that will, ultimately, silence the music in her life. A mom lives – simply. Know a lot, she does. Mostly, that her two children love each other so much.

Me? Well, I did finally ask about that stunningly large portrait on the wall. It was designed and done by, yes, my dear friend. A gifted artist is she. A thumb and fingerprints self-portrait done in ink, from what I recall. Not surprising myself here, I found it to be engaging and worth my attention. To be proud, she mentioned it won first prize – winning that award over a local artist who then recognized her talent.

Art, music, and a birthday. Life is just nice sometimes. We should have birthdays for sisters all the time.

Pipe Down There, Sailor

Clearly, or maybe not so understandably, all of us have better things to do than take an hour out of our beautiful in-tune lives to view – over and over – a two-minute video of an atonal, should-not-have-happened rendition of our national anthem. Orchestrated from time taken out of a wonderful Saturday evening with friends, this is exactly what I did last night. Cellos, BB Shop Quartets, Guitars, Banjos, Pianos, … all instrumental in making my twilight musically marvelous. Kinda.

Sailor Sabol. CPAC 2021.

I wasn’t aware of this video until a high school friend mentioned a casual viewing after a meal from the local Chinese restaurant. I, along with his sister and mother, sat around a small, intimate living room laughing our collective, musically educated asses off as every quasi-crochet not so shyly dropped from the audio air waves. Hitting all of us with rocks – larger than the sofas we barely sat on from laughing so hard – would have been less painful. By some estimations, any school janitor’s dangling jingles hanging from a loosely belted pair of pants would hold less keys than Sailor went through while singing. With one exception from a vocal coach on YouTube who went on a mi-fi-la apologetics tour, all other videos were brilliantly accompanying her … and we watched a boat load of them.

As we wept our way through happy, un-regrettable tears, my individual mind wandered a bit. For a minute or two, I looked over at a friend I had not seen in years. A guy not much in my life as a teenager, but in a class of hundreds who – like all of us – graduated and went on to live life. We talked briefly before diving into the eye-rolling, ear-wrenching oh-say can you ever unhear version thrust upon us. His family, … his experiences, and everything he brought to the shrimp, noodles, and chicken resting momentarily on a table last night were so refreshing for a guy like me. I listened more than talked. Never have guitars, wars, bands, gyms, and family matters outside my own crazies been so interesting lately. Nice guy.

So nice to have the musical bond with him, too. It made watching Sailor’s shipwreck even more gratifying. To view a disaster like this with friends of equal caliber, respect, and admiration … one can relax and enjoy the waves of emotion without judgement. After years of not knowing I needed this hour, the friend-ship I was on cruised along quite pleasingly. Yes, ultimately at Sailor’s expense, but she capped the evening off and I’m ever so grateful.

Driving home, I took a few minutes to erase those awful notes. I tried to find the normal ones. The pitch-blackness outside retained more hope than what was inside my head. Ten minutes. With no expectation of national pride emoting vocally, I gave up. Finally, the phrase, “Pipe down there, Sailor” came rushing into port. PLEASE stop singing in my head! Ultimately, a request for silence. I needed to purge the two-minute video from my memory. Get that video below deck … retire for the night … dismiss the memory.

Until, of course, I walked into my home … and returned, once again, to view three more of the same.

Because I’m addicted to vocal disasters. Same old, Sabol. I’ll never change. Neither will you. It was so bad, you’ll need to see it. As a matter of fact, I’ll make it easy for you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vga0M4ia5Mc

Pick up a kazoo, theremin, or chapman stick and play along. You, too, can be a YouTube star by accompanying this wonderful version of pick-a-key and play along with Sailor.

I’m positive CPAC and all associated with the organization had no intention of this getting out of tune. That said, when a political operation doesn’t vet the, err, talent before shoving it on stage … that’s on them. She’s probably a nice girl. I imagine the fall-out from this hasn’t been kind. Someone, somewhere, told her she could do this … and encouraged it. A connection to the Republican, conservative group, perhaps?

Whatever the cause or reason, I’m glad it happened. So glad … because I laughed heartily. Overwhelming merriment. Joyous Joy with slappy tears.

Deeply felt chuckles. Understandably so, at this moment in my life.

Tile “M” for Worder

Tennis isn’t my game. Racquetball during my college years for sure. But, tennis? Nope.

Now, had I been born a few years earlier, courting Grace Kelly around town on my arm – even in a fantastical whimsy – would have been a possibility. She was a beautiful actress. As Margot Mary Wendice in the 1954 classic directed by Alfred Hitchcock, however, her graceful availability met its match. Tennis pro, Tony Wendice, finds out about his beaus off-court doubles action and can’t help but seek out the ultimate revenge … duh duh duuuuh!! … MURDER! Enter Charles Alexander Swann locker room left. Thus begins a tale of handbags, watches. keys, and … no perfect murder.

Alas, however, I did have the perfect word. SUMP. Tile “M”. This wasn’t a game played on a clay or grass court measuring 120×60 feet, or a mysterious game leading to an apartment full with intrigue and an executioner’s dalliance with a pretty lady. Nope. It happened in the virtual world of “Words with Friends -2” and, without dissembling a single emotion here, I was rather seven-letter overturned by the move. She stole my “M”. It was a letter already so courtly placed as the third in NEMO falling down from LANNER horizontally resting four rows from the bottom of the game board. So beautiful it was. There for the taking as I planned my move.

At once, she struck a blow. I felt trembling in my core. Unexpected, due to her prior text-babbling about “too many E’s … oh, toooo many E’s…”. In the shadow of my pride and delight, the whole virtual board seemed to be – in my mind, anyway – an open oasis for her to use. This little corner of my world – down where the “M” sat – was to be my multiple-point score … an ace she didn’t see coming. Ah, yes … the “S” to pluralize SQUAT draping down, “U”, then the magical “M”, … and “P” to finish off a 4-letter other-wordly experience she had no idea was festering in my mind.

Then. Then, “E-M-C-E-E” slapped me. She stole my “M”. Hijacked my happy little corner, she did. And I must say, …although I have no way to prove this, I believe there was a smirk about her face as she did it. Oh, for the record, I’m soooo glad she was able to use those E’s! (sarcasm, of course)

Currently, I’m losing 153-95 and not happy about it. I have 4 words against her 6 thus far with my turn in play at present. Due to my switching tiles and losing a turn, the turns are a wonky one-off at this point. There are 47 letters left in the game. Oh, boy. Fifty-eight points behind isn’t a satisfactory place to be against a player who plays well, steals my letters I don’t actually have until it’s my turn, and, admittedly, may be a slightly better tile-placer than I … “may be” until proven otherwise.

It’s just a game. I’m having fun. A moment of frustration shouldn’t ruin the fun. I am over it. I think, anyway. Looking at my current rack of letters, the next tile-ation will cause some consternation as I, now, find myself full with 5 vowels and little expectation. The 2 consonants facing back at me don’t offer much hand-holding hope, either. Seven letters of little longing at this point.

Racquetball was easier. Break a good sweat? Done. Those days are gone. Now it’s mind games more than physical exercise. Older knees know how to ruin quick, sharp turns and the high-energy, two-hour long little racquet, blue-ball chasing interludes of mine, perhaps, are over. I miss the echoes in a racquetball court. The squeak of rubber soles on the wooden floors and grunts that bounced around my youth are so missed.

Today, replaced by tiles, I guess. Oh, and other virtual games on my little hand held device. Once in a while, I pick up one of a few bowling balls in my closet and roll a few games to re-visit the 3-D world of gaming we used to live in back in the 20th century.

Games. We can’t forget how to play. Even the ones frustrating us at times, we can’t lose sight of the fun. I’m 95% sure the loss of the “M” yesterday is in my rearview mirror as I move forward with the current game. The remaining 5% is yet to be determined depending upon the remaining 47 letters in the queue. I will conquer the board, but may not win. The virtual quandary will be my inability to dump the board if – and when – I eventually lose.

No problem finishing a tennis match, however, because I won’t be playing one … virtual or otherwise. Wii won’t be doing it together, my virtual “Words with Friends-2” partner and I, since she can’t EMCEE the match and play at the same time. That in mind, I’ll sit with these ridiculous 7 letters in my rack trying to come up with my own version of, “Where on the board is SHE thinking of playing so I can hijack her ‘M’?”…

Grace? I have none at this point and most likely wouldn’t have her on my arm 67 years ago. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to plot my next move. Five vowels and two consonants … I believe I may be in trouble here. Calling the spirit of Mr. Hitchcock. I see another movie in the making …

Benedictine Deliciousness

Yesterday’s hours included a “haven’t had in a long time” morning fare. As the waitress approached my booth with plate in hand, I knew … just knew … the early rain outside wasn’t going to dampen my spirits. It’s been ages since eggs benedict sat wonderfully in front of me. Waiting.

Even though opening was a short three hours away, my prep work behind schedule, and a Sunday tired already setting in on my eyes, this breakfast was going to be enjoyed. I needed a break. A Sunday morning – away from it all – fresh break. A well done Hollandaise sauce calmly dripping over two finely done eggs on a plate was the perfect breakfast to see as a very nice waitress placed smiles in front of me.

Deep breath in, fork at the ready … Didn’t matter what other booths and tables were occupied at my local Eat N’Park. Restrictions prohibit the breakfast bar next to where I sat from being stuffed with fruit, eggs, toast, pudding, and all the other fixin’s we’ve enjoyed over the years. Paper menus have replaced vinyl fold-outs and condiments arrive in little nondescript tug boats instead of large ships of corporate pride. “Every other” are two-word common place signs featured on tables and booths. I get all this. I do.

As I sat marvelously enjoying my breakfast … casually chatting here and there with friends online, listening to Ed Sheeran, etc … I could see others becoming comfortable with all this. A new normal, kinda. Some things we’re getting used to everyday. No one there, shortly after 8:30 on a rainy, cloudy last day in February, seemed to mind distancing, masking, limited paper menus, or very tiny portion cups filled to the 1/2 inch brim with ketchup … anymore. No eyerolling at nice waitresses or complaining about … really … anything.

A quiet acceptance. Sounds of porcelain calm as utensils graced plates short distances away. Not too many folks were around yesterday morning. Even as I progressed into the second of two eggs and made significant effort in polishing off the pile of skillet potatoes, not a lot of fellow citizens came by to eat. Perhaps a couple, or two, and maybe a few families … that’s about all.

Heading out past the middle row of booths, I did happen by a retired reporter friend who is always very pleasant. Phil never had an unkind word working the local courthouse scene as I sidewalked my first hotdog cart for years. We met years ago and have continued a nice friendship since. So nice to swish by him during a morning when “haven’t had in a long time” was being revisited once again.

Life has those moments … and we need them. I wrote about them last time we met here.

I followed my own advice and sat down to enjoy those eggs, deep breaths, and observations. Fun. New? Yes, the Benedictine deliciousness certainly did make my morning stomach smile. I knew they would. Not too rich, they were. Well done. Side of potatoes and a glass of water? Perfect for the day’s beginning.

Something different to begin an otherwise normal day.

I hope you can find a booth to relax sometime. Order something different you haven’t had in a long time. Treat yourself. Life is a bit off for all of us now. We can be a little different once in a while, too.

Szechuan Time

It was delicious as always. Szechuan chicken from my favorite downtown Chinese restaurant is the best. Period. I ate all of it. The whole pint.

Not much of a surprise, as the day was a long one. Finally sitting down after eight hours on a mildly sore foot, I had the chance to eat. Given the choice between pancakes from the iron skillet at home, another take-out I can’t recall at the moment, or that wonderful spicy delicacy from my go-to, hometown marvelousness a few miles away, … it’s not surprising I had a happy fork last night.

The expected phone call from my dad was not taken on my home phone. Couldn’t. There are times when even a call from my dad couldn’t be answered. Nestled into a warm sofa, I wasn’t able to do much but move forkfuls of steaming baby corn cobs, green pepper slices, carrot wedges, peppercorns, chilies, brown rice, and really tender chicken a foot’s distance from the bowl to my mouth. He calls almost every night – wondering, in his way, how my day went. “Did you have a good day?”, are the six words usually starting the 3-minute conversation. That call is necessary and almost always on time. His time.

Retired time. A regimented, need-to be on schedule time. When the clock in his head dings, the call is made. So many times, I place my fork, soup spoon, or butter knife down beside a plate of anything to talk with him. He cares enough to call me, so I listen to his concerns about my life. I assume this sounds a bit callous of me to talk/write this way … and, honestly, writing those words is uncomfortable as well; however, talking and listening takes place so frequently – and the heart-to-heart parley is nearly the same every night – so I pass the time casually giving him half an ear. If the tone in his voice changes, I perk up a bit and attend to his words, otherwise, the three minutes passes without much adventure … to be repeated the next evening.

Last night I couldn’t – just was not capable of taking the call. Sometimes there is a follow-up re-ring on my cell when he can’t reach me. I almost expect a forest tone to puncture the near airwaves when he can’t reach me by old technology. Strangely, there was none. Maybe he knew I had a long day and a sore foot? Perhaps he smelled the deliciousness headed my way and knew – just knew – an unanswered first call meant a second call was unnecessary? Possibly a distraction came across his life’s pathway – and an unanswered, “good day?”, query remaining that way wasn’t a paternal problem anymore? Never mind how he got there in his mind. It didn’t happen. He never made the second call. I was not handling any phone instead of a fork … and all of the Szechuan chicken disappeared after 20 minutes of my uninterrupted blissful time.

Let me tell you of one joy in my life. Not dad calling every day … that would be too easy to write about, right? Although I will have time in the future to type those words if expectant tables are true, this is not one of those times. Today, you could assume Szechuan chicken is, but you’d be mistaken as well. Well, this isn’t exactly true. I have mastered spelling, “Szechuan”, by this sixth paragraph without opening the google spell-check window – so that’s something. Nope. Not dad. Not Szechuan.

Time. Time when I can relax. Time alone at my desk writing a blog. Time on the sofa eating one of my favorite take-out meals while watching one of many Johnny Carson re-runs I’ve seen before. Moments I’ll never see again, but clicks on a dial that mean something … not just rush-around, breathless, meaningless to-do’s that only fill in voids to get to the next “thing”. Silent, consequential instants – during which a mind can settle into funnies from the day, musical interludes, and friendships I care about – enter my purposeful time. Uninterrupted is nice.

Last night, and by extension the day, was about friends. I thought about them. Good and great ones. Long lasting, new and existing, old and young, happy and sad ones. I have a rainbow’s color full of friends. Not a day goes by when one does not cross my mind. One, specifically, lately. I would dream a better, hopeful pot of gold awaits her rainbow as she continues ahead in her destinal path forward. Cancer sucks. Specifically, this rare form she so optimistically faces during her time here.

Find your favorite meal, or favorite sofa. Don’t answer any calls unless you need to. Take time to cry, meditate, read, write, play, watch t.v., walk … whatever stops you from going. Be you for a few minutes. The dad in your life – whoever, or whatever that is – will call back. It, or they, still love and care about you … I promise.

My dad will call again tonight. We’ll arrange to meet for pizza because it is Sunday … and that’s what we do. He’s a man of routine. I’ll meet him at the local pizza shop just a few buildings up from the Chinese restaurant where Szechuan chicken made my life meaningful last night. No call necessary for his asking me, “Did you have a good day?”. I’ll answer, “Yep, dad, I did … and my week went well, too.”, because I know the follow-up he’ll ask. Five minutes later, the same question most likely will be asked again since he’s older and has some difficulty remembering these days.

The check will be paid forty minutes later and he’ll probably ask me how much to tip the waitress even though the bill is always the same amount. I’ll reply, “$3.50, dad … and let me since you are picking up the tab … ok?”. It is the conversation we have had every week for years. One day, I’ll miss it.

For now, it is a Sunday routine and last night night I missed his call, kinda. It’s ok. A conversation missed once in a while is ok as long as the time spent otherwise is well worth it. And it was.

I love Szechuan chicken. Period.

It Was Nice

It was a nice day.

Ok, so the weather wasn’t a perfect 72-degrees, sunny day here in central PA. We’ve been talking a lot about the snow, ice, and coldness around town lately. Roads and bridges resembled a Dickens tale up and until yesterday as most staggering about have had enough. I saw the melting frustration in my customer’s eyes, however, as some sparkling ones, inside happy heads, approached my concession window – on top of bounce-in the-step bodies.

It was nice to see.

A sunny, 45-degree day can do this to defeated outlooks. As in most loving communities, the past few months have taken their toll on everyone. Nagging our collective souls: lingering election fatigue, a continuing unmasking of new information about the virus, national and local business struggles on how to survive, heroes of ours dying unexpectedly, personal and spiritual tussles within ourselves … and, of course, the weather.

I don’t know what, from that list or any other challenge, was on the heart of any one of my walk-up, special, fellow walk-abouts yesterday. I do know my mind wasn’t quite on task upon opening as a dear friend was in a cold, sterile hospital room being consulted about her ongoing (possible) newer treatment for cancer. Possible, parenthetically, because her cancer is a rare, unwelcomed friend that’s been hanging around a bit too long and she’s kinda tired of it needing attention. “What to do going forward…?”, could have been one of the questions of the day swirling inside her always optimistic, outlooking window of a brain. “Is the treatment – and possible side-effects – worth it?… Do I want to go through all this, again, for a third time? … Just what, exactly, is my body doing with this cancer that I need to know?… “. Her thoughts were unknown to me. My thoughts about keeping sodas cold, or over-grilling a few burgers took a back-burner for a moment as the quiet of pre-opening a concession trailer during a rather nice February weather day took shape.

She was one. One person who wasn’t in-person, but on my mind as the protective, hinged roof rose to start my day. The sun did shine through my less-than clean windows – sliding their way across north and south. I did find my way through the emotional morning, though. Sales are like that. Turning a switch as my first customer sauntered his way up to my window … happily so. I like this moment. Happy is transferable. Smiles spread well. An insincere smile, they say, is better than a sincere frown.

He appeared happy. I knew it was going to be this way. After all, the weather brings out happy when – after weeks of rain, snow, and ice – slightly-warm sunshine breaks through malaise sitting on folk’s vitalities.

It was nice to see.

Content and untroubled words continued throughout the day … as did warmth. Now, warmth, in this context, was 45-degrees and a slight glare I could finally see reflecting off of the gray pavement a few feet below where I stood inside. Salt residue crunched under the feet of an increased number of folks who saw 8-foot banners my irresponsible self at last decided to hang back up. It was these wonderful right-of-spring, bright red “Hot Dog” flags waving in the mild breeze I loved to watch yesterday in between thinking about my friend and waiting on customers … wondering what they were thinking each time one would walk up to my window. Yes, It wasn’t spring. We’re 21 days away, but there was a definite spring in their step.

It was nice to see.

I need a day like that. A day to see other people. A day to be sad about what my friend is going through and a day to be extremely glad to enjoy the sun, the breeze, the opportunity to be in business … and share the happy in other people’s lives. One ordered just a plain dog and was simply joyous to do so. Another came by later – after passing by earlier in a hurry, unable to stop – and was plainly contented ordering five sandwiches … talking about life with me as I prepared his order. A long time casual friend, out and about, needing some time with me to chat up the weather in his life. A somewhat stormy, but familiar life. The sunset, to him, was so welcoming. I got it. I really did.

It was nice to … hear.

That was the day to me. Customers, friends online and off. I did hear from my dear friend as she returned home later in the day. A sunny, some-what warm day for everyone … including her. The sun knows no problems we face down here on this floating home of ours. It knows only what it can give to us – bright, warm faces and hope for a better tomorrow. I saw glimpses of that yesterday … in myself and in the eyes of so many others as they casually, yet intentionally, walked a few steps away from their cars to my slightly speckled windows I never did take time to clean. Windows I closed, seven hours after opening. With more optimism, I drove home on dusk-laden roads knowing happiness during those warmer hours meant something. A sunny, 45-degree day can do this.

It was just … nice.

Ugh, In A Good Way

It’s not unlike any other morning. How about you?

The living and dining rooms are bare, however. … that’s different. Painters are coming in soon to re-do all the walls and ceilings after decades of living created fades and fancies on their facades. Maintaining credibility has finally been too much. The ceiling, whimsically swirled in eggshell white, has been tarnished by water shenanigans lately and efforts to repair have been futile. I’m not the patch-and-persevere guy around here as most household fixes don’t last more than the time it takes me to find all the tools needed to do the job. Holes and cracks will, finally, meet their match. Professionals, within a few hours hence, will drop their wares.

The furnace still hums away as I sit only feet away from rooms so eagerly awaiting their refreshing, colorful rehabilitation. My office will not receive such treatment. As most go, paperwork, miscellaneous trinkets, and unknowns sit and pile around, preventing me from knowing whether or not this wonderful space needs a re-do or not. The ceiling drops down elegantly with forty-two, 2×2-foot squares that don’t require paint … just a quick trip to the local people-jammed box store to overpay for a replacement should one need replacing- (which explains why these above my head as I type are still the originals from two decades ago) …

Beside, to my left,…a reliable cup of tea. Generic green tea. The Clif bar already consumed, I sat down not knowing, really, anything. It was 3:30 in the morning – the usual time to roll out, wide awake, and begin to think about things.

I wound my way through misplaced furniture, packed boxes, and downed pictures – all repositioned in preparation for the non-Dougs to begin their work in a few hours. The walls have shadowed memories where the pictures hung. Curtains and drapes – so much a tapestry of life lived here – are not hanging in front of the big picture windows now. Little reminders on brads and nails no longer delicately dangle between sashes and sills. Quiet, in a very different way. I’m used to the furnace at 3:00 a.m. … not the starkness of change.

Ugh. In a good way, of course.

We need to change things up sometimes. A new, fresh coat of paint even when the furniture doesn’t want to move, or paintings in our life – so used to being on the wall – don’t want to come down. Material, window bandaged cloaks that have hidden our sunshine for so many years need to be removed to allow new experiences into our rooms. Every piece, every knickknack our hands must touch to move gives us opportunity to reevaluate its importance and look forward to having it by our side again .. or not. Affecting change, touching something other than the physical items before us … Ugh. In a good way, of course.

I’ve been working with someone. It has been a very different experience for me. The absoluteness of her ability to change my perspective on my musical life is a journey unlike any I’ve taken before. It hasn’t been about the lyrics, meters, and various other dots strewn about on lines and spaces. The depth of her passion for life and music in the midst of a life-threating illness brings me forward in my own life to a place where boxes in the middle of a living room are, well, kinda insignificant right now.

Yesterday we had our first rehearsal for a planned concert in the fall. I don’t think she’d mind me saying it’s “planned” with the caveat that all things “go as planned with her health”. So far, the new coats of paint in my musical life are: “Landslide”, “How High The Moon”, “I’ve Got The World On A String”, and “All or Nothing At All” with more cans to open. I sat, secondarily, behind the piano as she sang so gracefully in her uniquely qualified lower voice. We matched styles and colors as one painter would take to a canvas for the first time. I’m so honored to accompany her on this journey toward whatever the unknowns have in store.

All of our living rooms have these moments when the old ideas and “things” have to come down. Memories, of course, can stay, but the material stick-arounds need to go and be replaced with new, fresh things. Ideas on how to think, or what our lives mean, sometimes need re-evaluating, too.

My friend will continue to splash a new coat of paint on my thoughts as we rehearse, and when we talk to each other about … life. Her perspective being significantly different than mine – a 7 years older male. I don’t know what it’s like living in a room with a most likely time-certain terminal disease. I do know how to say, “F*ck Cancer!”, because my mom died from it, however, and every time I meet someone who is pushing their way through, I want to scream, “Ugh!!” … and not in a good way this time.

For now, the painters are only a few hours away and I must begin to think about the day ahead. The living and dining rooms will begin their transformation as boxes, painting, and trinkets remain dormant for the next week or so.

Please don’t continue to be stagnant in your life. Move some of life’s boxes and invite in some sunshine by taking down the shadow makers. Your living space is for just that … to LIVE. Give it a fresh, new coat of colors.

My tea mug is empty now. Thank you for being here. This morning turned out to be different after all.

Still Music to Me

There is a time in life when one needs to write about something very important in his life. Now is my time to write about music.

I certainly can’t know what is a “very important” in your life. Too many possibilities to venture a near guess. Faith, family, career, pet, health …? We’d need an afternoon over subtle mugs of warm tea and pleasant conversation for me to understand your life’s targeted importance. As individual as we are, so are our focused attentions and interests.

I love music. It is my connection to life. It is where deep connections are made with those I adore. The space around me when I sit at my piano is happily hallowed – where all of the surrounding mistakes of present day slings and arrows can’t reach me. While listening to music, an invisible cloak of safety surrounds my unsettled reasoning of the day … protecting all my insecurities. There is no equal to music’s magic.

I’m not the best at it. Humility comes with ten fingers that not only miss my mom, but also at least a small percentage of notes expected to be accurately executed one at a time always falling on the floor – unfulfilled. Chopin, Bach, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, … all of them most likely understanding my hearted attempts to carry forward their genius, but coming up a few strides short of the Sibelius Finnish line. They understand, I’m sure. Very few can achieve perfection. Those that do, do. Lang Lang, young Evren Ozel from Minnesota, and blind jazz pianist phenom Matthew Whitaker to name some amazing musicians surrounding our lives.

I mention my imperfections because we have them, right? I love music because it always reminds me I am not perfect. I am, humbly, better than the average pianist … and I know the limits within my skill set.

Within those limits are the connections I make to others as a musician. The over-arching category here for a musician is “artist” and what you see scrawled on walls about town is, for the most part, true: “Artists are kinda weird” … Especially those of us who think a bit outside the normal box of ideas. Our corners aren’t quite square, perhaps, and we don’t look at the world quite the same as most.

My mom was a weirdo, laughingly so. This is why I miss her – even as an older kinda-weird guy. She didn’t give me many sane, common sense ideas on how to be a normal, adjusted human. Her world was fun, frolic, and games. “Be nice and everything will always work out for you …”, she spoke repeatedly wondering if I had any pianistic, musical ideas floating around in my skull. As long as there existed Trivial Pursuit, a deck of Pinochle cards in the game cabinet, and an in-tune piano somewhere near, her brain was in Edenic paradise.

She’s not here anymore. I am … and I’m still a musician struggling with connections to other special musicians, sometimes – because they’re off-beat weird, too, having the same problems in life. I make mistakes in missing those communicative notes between us just like I can’t hit all the keys. Very few can, right? Communication is really, really, hard when the music isn’t there … when only words replace beautiful melodies and arching orchestral crescendos.

This is why music is so powerful … so special to me. Why that space is. Just is.

There is no equal to an eyes closed listening of Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, Tim Minchin’s “Carry You”, or Cold Play’s “Fix You” covered by Straight No Chaser – all of which I listened to, again, before writing this entry tonight. I needed a shield around my irrationality of the day. Another cold day in February when connections weren’t as hopeful as I had hoped for, and abnormal wasn’t as normal as I am accustomed to – even as a weird musician type.

You know your “very important” in life. I hope this not only includes a “thing” like, maybe, music, but also really cool people with whom you can make a connection. You’re not going to hit all the right note or keys. Do the best you can to make what you do your best effort, anyway. If you’re struggling with what to do, call me and we’ll meet up for tea and conversation.

That is, if you can put up with a little bit of kinda-weirdness for an hour or two.