Snow. Beautiful Snow.

As the plow pushes the last of it down our street, it’d be irresponsible of me to not write a few words concerning this first snow event of the season. Here they are: “Beautiful, … and I’m over it already.” Adult words from a guy living seven days away from Christmas. Yes, I’m conveying curmudgeonly displeasure with pride in view of the fact that I’m no longer able to sled without ending up in traction, bend over to strap on skates, or simply walk with confidence outside without the fear of landing on my ass. Just because I can’t see little ice pebbles underfoot due to bifocals sliding off my nose should be reason enough for me to put all this p’erty fluffy stuff to bed. Don’t judge me.

Kids sure need to enjoy these fun flakes. (I’ll stick to mine that wiggle in and around the grapes in my cereal bowl). After being locked up in virtual learning, these young full-of-energy and nimble children have to burn off the energy somehow. They’ll enjoy it by spreading out snow angels and diving into piles of already heaped banks put into place by adult in their lives. Adults who, mind you, most likely had the same attitude I have at this moment as they muttered under their breath, “Doug is so right!”

As adults, we’ve seen this so many times. Three, or more, days of “it’s coming…” from every news source followed up by the pre-event trucks roaming up and down main highways throwing down that de-icer salt mix (if you’re lucky). Warnings not to go out unless necessary … (soooo old news in 2020, right?), and, yes, the predictable toilet paper, milk, and bread grocery store wipe-out run. School cancellations are mute now as a consequence of the pandemical quagmire, so kids have been robbed of the wake-up knock from dad saying, “Sleep in, no school today!”. That’s been replaced with, “Hey get your butt out of bed. I need you to help me figure out this new math we’re suppose to work on today.”

With all that, I’m so over this. Three shovel events within the day – two involving digging out automobiles – is enough for me. Look, I know so many have it far worse than I. My perspective is skewed in my favor, undeniably. Yes, the events of the day I experienced.

This writer’s elderly dad was pushing a snow blower up a slanted driveway yesterday. Purposefully written in a way to convey how uncomfortable it was for me to see him steadily shuffle his way around puffs of snow coming from a machine twice his size. This, after I couldn’t reach him by phone. Evidently, he was outside doing the very guy thing he’s been doing his whole adult life. Son and dad finished up a few little corners with the two shovels on hand (I got the beat up, short handled old one of course), we chatted a few words, … I left knowing he was o.k. and he wouldn’t be available for a drive-thru distanced lunch – the primary reason for an unsuccessful earlier call. Empty snow-day box checked. (As an aside here, the driveway would have been cleared … ahem … by me had it not been done; However, there was not a snowball’s chance of that if you know any dad out there like my dad …)

Some folks around here summer-drive in the winter. Slush, black ice, wind, snow? … Not a problem. A slice of our population owning sleds with four tires that are connected to a gadget in their car labeled “4×4” feel they have permission to pass at, or above, the recommended speed limit of 20+ miles over the posted number. Apparently, they believe that little chapter in the driver’s exam book explaining safe driving in the winter applies only to Pintos, paneled station wagons, rusted out Hondas, and Prii capable of only going 35 m.p.h. at best even with a hefty tailwind. I spend road time yesterday brushing off equal amounts of bad attitude, cuss words, and snow off my windshield than I care to admit. Once in the drive-thru lane at Arby’s, without my dad, making me hungry enough to swerve out of that lane, drive a mile down the road to Burger King’s drive-thru for a delicious Whopper, fries, and Coke-Zero…

Only to arrive back home – and shovel again. The postman, who I admire, needed a proper clean sidewalk, after all, and the remaining part of the driveway I didn’t clear earlier had to be done. Once that was finished, and my Whopper gobbled up, off to my concession trailer to check on things. This was the first day in a while no smiling customers were available to see in front of my window. As I stood inside yesterday, it was pleasantly calm. Not having to rush around during a time when I’d usually be three-handing orders, grills, and prep tables was unsurprisingly peaceful. I knew it would be. The waterlines didn’t freeze and the electric still pushed it’s way through the lines. The snow, ah, snow. Yes, I’m so over it … My good friend and customer, Jim, bladed the lot wonderfully that night. With that written, our city came by and plowed the whole lot closed. We know how this goes, right? The end-of-the-driveway plow in! … x8! With kindness and grace, Jim came back through later last night and did a snowy-spectacular job opening up my lot again!

One final snow day job left. Everything to this point was Honda-driven. My taller-than-I van still sat idle in the driveway under all the fresh-fallen snow. Broom and ice-scraper in hand, with darkness upon me, I went at it. Snow fell from above … down into my open cuffs and across un-gloved hands, into a loose hoodie, on top of sneakers that are sooo comfortable. I banged and twisted the wipers until they capitulated. Door handles and windows had no choice but to consent. After all this, one more final step: the blow drive. With just a few inches of unreachable blocks of Frosty’s torso on the roof, I had a few items to get at the store anyway, so …

See, in as much as I am somewhat aware of my, err, intellect, I can be so stubborn and kinda impulsive. The whole day was getting to me and I wanted it over. Walking around the van to get in – anticipating my drive to the store, with the fine dusting of snow underfoot – I slipped and fell sideways into a big pile of the crap I spent all day shoveling. Flannel, hoodie, bare hands, face … all of it planted in the white lovely pile of *%$!!. I reacted the only way I knew how…

… I laughed it off like a child. Brushed off my sorry self, drove to the store, bought my macaroni, bacon bits, dehydrated onions, Pyrex plate, and rolls. Twenty minutes later, backed the van into a clean driveway, set the trash out, then settled in for the night.

Two cleaned off automobiles sit in a snow-free driveway at present. The sidewalks are free of snow and ten minutes ago the trashman beeped his way to and then fro. I’m dry and warm. Today is a new day, right? I’m unquestionably over yesterday. Have other days been worse? Yep! Others better? Absolutely.

It’s a week away from Christmas. Santa lives surrounded by this white stuff all year long. He can have it. I’ll sit in the back of the sleigh with Ebenezer and shout, “Bah Humbug!” all winter long simply because I have an adult-onset inclination to enjoy a few flakes in a bowl so much more than seeing a million frozen ice ones jammed in my dad’s snow blower or experience dirty, stone-filled ice balls thrown on my windshield by wanna-be summer drivers.

That written, I’ve been sitting too long. My back’s sore. Oh, look … snow possible again this coming Thursday – Christmas eve. Beautiful, just beautiful.

Lightening Up Christmas

I have no childish Christmas list. Santa knows I haven’t behaved myself, so what’s the use. My present needs rise above the material. I need answers. One specific, clear one under the tree – to be perfectly understood here.

There’s the always question of “Why? … with no answer … ” that drives me crazy when I see certain things I don’t get. Circumstances or states of affairs driving me so crazy I get stuck on a mental clover leaf with no logical exit ramp to Saneville. This is one of them:

Off the Frankstown Exit here in Altoona, Pa., is the “Lights on the Lake” exhibit. It is a ride through the local park where there are, well, lights. Oh, and the display is beside Lakmont Park. For one price, a car load of humans can 5-mile an hour through, gaze at all the holiday lights that have been displayed for years (unchanged) … then exit. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, families and friends have been doing this for years. We did it once. Once.

This picture is courtesy of a good friend of mine. Here’s the thing. She took that picture at 6:30 p.m. just off the Frankstown exit, sitting well back from the actual entrance to the parking lot – where the line starts to wind around JUST to begin the car line – well back from the actual start of the light show. Confused? Let me clear this up: When her car full of humans arrived at the start, it was 10:00 p.m. … Yes, 10:00 Post Meridiem. That’s two-hundred and ten minutes of car lights before doing anything productive … and I ask, WHY?

At the time of this writing, I haven’t seen Susan to ask that question. Knowing her, the answer will be full of excitement and thrills. She’s a sweet person. Every ten minute update she provided on her FB page gave us heightened anticipation. Every. One. Of the fifteen she posted. What was absent from them? An a accompanying narrative as follows: “This is so logical. Let me explain the sane, rational reason why our family is now sardined in between hundreds of other irrational other families in their cars.”…

I’m not dumping a load of fault on her at all. This is an exciting time of year around here when all the lights are turned on at the park. I can’t understand why everyone decides to line up all at once … like the park is giving away free kisses from Brad Pitt and Angelia Jolie … or, some crazy promo like that. Good for them, though (the park). On the day she was there (Friday), tickets per car were $20 each. I hesitate to write, “Lighten up on the prices, there!”, however, I’m going to do it anyway because I like to brighten everyone’s mood.

For all I know, there are good grounds for everyone waiting hours to get in to see these lights. When I was there years ago, the displays were … o.k.. I’ve seen more lit Santas on December 26th in the local bar than along the narrow paths in this park back then. Yes, it had all the yellow, red, and green bulbs on full display strung out like a tired Rudolph and advertising signs from businesses underwriting each display. Yes, it was Seinfeldian Festivus for the rest of us. Yes, I have no qualms about anyone wanting to see this local energy company and parent wallet drain every season … but for all that’s holiday-holy ….

… WHY car-tire yourself for hours upon hours to do it? This is MY holiday wish this year. I’m not asking for much here. I don’t want to know if the chicken or egg came first. I have no expectation of knowing the origin of our magnificent universe. Einstein’s Theory of Everything is still as elusive as it was when he was scratching it on a napkin and I find the need for concordances, study guides, pastors, and priests to explain the bible – a book written to give us simple folk guidance from a god – a being that should know we need clear, precise instruction – the most vexing of all puzzlers.

I just want to know: WHY? … and I’m inclined to believe the ramp off Frankstown Road will be packed again this weekend. A back-up full of cars loaded full of parents with wallets, hopefully, loaded full of 1’s … at least twenty of them … because it’s not cheap. Oh, and another hefty stack of 1’s to refill the gas tank, too, after leaving on fumes.

As others sit in that line this year and next … and next … and next, I’ll sit idly by a few miles away saving gas and time for more worthwhile endeavors. “Why?”, you ask. I believe I’ve answered that question quite well here.

An answer so simple, so easy. One unlike I’ll ever get from Sue, or any other wonderful patron of the lights. Most I’m sure to call my friends, yet, ones who drive me crazy as they sit hours upon hours waiting on the illogical exit ramp in my mind.

Who Ate My Brownies?

Yes, this is my adaptation of, “Who Moved My Cheese?” – the 1998 best seller written by Spencer Johnson. On this early morning of December 12th, 2020, who ate my brownies?

In my real life story, there is no Sniff and Scurry. Oh, and certainly no cheese; although, I’ve become fond of monterey jack on crackers lately. No Sniff and Scurry. Here in my tale there are only two humans. One who baked the delicious treats and one who thought the sweet, brown squares were, mostly, sitting around for his earlier birthday celebration. This was not as expected. Apparently.

As human #2 reads this, a majority of the brownies – that were in the container previously – may shift in her belly the same way my hopes did last night. Where there were many, few remained. This isn’t a serious indictment of her impulses. All of us have them with sweets, right? More to the crusty, delicious point: unspoken expectations.

Decades of birthday observances have been compressed into a head nod and slight grimace the morning of. That creaky walk into the kitchen when the first item on the agenda is no longer a bowl of Coco Puffs, but a few amber bottles accommodating little white pills and where-are-they bifocals located somewhere I can’t see. Nothing pleases me more than the sarcastic, self-generating, “Geez, it’s just a number” calculated response to my age being subtracted from the actuarial number I know waiting for me at the end of all this. Look, we know life has an end, right? I’m not a fatalist by any means. Life is wonderful. Every year we’re one year older, though, … someone ate those brownies.

Well, to be fair, not all of them. MOST of them. There were most a few days ago, then last night?… little. Expectations being what they are – unspoken, I should have known. Earlier, I did buy a few dozen cupcakes to hand out to my friends. (This is a tradition started many iced moons ago by my mom. She’s gone now, but I still try to keep it going). As compadres go, they scooped them up immediately, fist fulls at a time, as the hard plastic container in my hands wafted its sweet aroma into the world. For all intents, this was my birthday, candle-less, cake. I assumed as much that day until arriving home to see a pan of freshly baked, uncut, brownies on top of the stove. Oh, they (it) smelled so good. As an aside, one big whole pan like that is really NOT a bunch of brownies until cut into individual squares! It is, really, one big brownie birthday cake, uhm, ….

…Or, so I thought.

I can be pushy, assumptive, presumptive, stubborn, and/or obdurate (love that word). Human #1, obviously, knows this. Under those conditions, human #2 is placed in a rather strange shaped pan when baking some sort of life with me. Admittedly, it’s not my ingredients, but our recipe. She baked and filled the pan. I don’t know why and never asked. There’s cosmic stress these days in her job and I’m aware chocolate has a way of realigning her planetary system, albeit temporarily until the next covid meteor screams through her workplace universe. With that perspective, I’m telescopically aware she probably baked for her peace of mind without actual verbal confirmation.

And so we meet at last night’s problem. Someone ate what I assumed to be my birthday cake/brownies that were, alas, not. Days away from the actual celebratory day of my birth, my inquiry into the nearly empty pan was met with the snacky supercilious, “Hey, you snooze, you lose!”. Where there were many? … one. When I challenged the math, there appeared to be some high level backward, algebraic, formulaic back-stepping. I didn’t push to see the solution on paper because I want to see another birthday; however, after a challenging few days it would have been nice to, MAYBE, enjoy more than one brownie.

She said, I said. All about expectations and unspoken assumptions. Will I live not eating most of the brownies? Sure. She can have them … well, she did … not withstanding the wrangling we’re going to have once she reads this. Her numbers and mine will not agree, I’m sure of this. I’m also pretty confident I will walk away satisfied as the winner of a dispute I didn’t win.

It’s not about the brownies or my birthday, is it? Spencer Johnson was – and continues to be – right. Who moved the cheese? Goals, expectations, and assumptions. Today is 19 days away from 2020 being over. If anything, it has been a year of the unexpected popping up as every assumption and goal slowly drains down into the garbage disposal. Fatalism? Nah, just a crappy, stupid, disastrous, sad, scary, unpredictable year. A year when all our brownies – or cheese – haven’t lived up to our expectations.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of delivering a letter to a retired Home Economics teacher in our area. This note was sent to me from a former student of hers who wanted to express an appreciation for the kindness and love given to her years ago. Being in a better position to hand deliver the letter, I agreed. Unable to meet in person, I slid the note in the mail slot while talking to Mrs. C on the phone. I don’t know the contents of the letter, but can assume – based on my previous texts with my friend – it had something to do with recipes still being used from the late 70’s/ early 80’s, when classes such as these were still being taught.

Maybe, just maybe, there was a brownie recipe in that envelope and Mrs. C could mix up a batch on the sly for me. Nobody needs to know, right? Her family and mine have been friends for years. Human #2 doesn’t need to know. This way, all expectations are met, all assumptions graciously kissed, and goals achieved … conveniences 2020 doesn’t have in abundance.

I’ll gladly lick my fingers after each pleasant bite while sitting back watching everyone else chase their cheese. Expect me to share? Yeah, ok. I’ll think about it. Seeing as how I got less than my fair share of the last batch, odds are pretty good you don’t even have to snooze to lose.

My Lettuce is Bad

How about I just get this out of the way now: “Why did the iceberg lettuce rob a bank with a carton of two-week old milk as its accomplice? They turned bad.”

Yes, this is an elementary joke requiring a middle school sense of right vs wrong. You can bank on 99 out of every 100 adults – standing in line at AnyBankUSA – hearing that joke at some point during their lifetimes. Lesser know slang, perhaps, are the hair and money toss-ups into conversational salads. “My lettuce needs to be cut because I’m getting married tomorrow.”, or, “I’ll treat you to a nice dinner … the boss gave me a raise, so I can get some extra lettuce out of the ATM.” Lettuce consider the possibilities, right? … geesh, that is sooo lame and overused, … and stupid.

What is equally inane? My ability to over-buy sausage rolls, ice, … and lettuce for use at my business. No need to over-analyze this or insist that I spend insane amounts of lettuce on vitamin-B shots while sitting comfortably in front of Dr. Person, LFT-LMC-PhD. Granted, the couches are really comfortable and the mental inner-scents of peace sometimes calms my conscious in-hells, but none of this solves an overstuffed basket of carbs, frozen water, and green, empty, leafy vegetables. It’s what I do. Exhale. All is ok.

Extra brown lettuce pieces at the end of a few days could shred any ideas of my getting ahead in life. I buy bagged, easy to use stuff, not the round, have-to-chop-up and dice, cheaper lettuce. That is, if I ever did use the stuff. My food frenzy times don’t resemble a healthy fare market, save the occasional burger nestled on a bed of greens. So, why have it around for the 1 out of 100 who didn’t hear the lousy joke a few paragraphs ago … and want a burger sleeping on top of a green comforter? Why not take lettuce off the menu? Easy question … harder answer.

I can’t. I. Just. Can’t. Move over. I’ll sit next to you on the couch.

Sausages are easy. I go with my instinct – which is: I’ll probably not sell 50% more than I ever do, so buying an equal amount of rolls makes sense. Geesh. Ice? Soda bottles should disappear under an avalanche of frozen water as my profit margin melts over into an over-heated, macadam parking lot. This lettuce thing I have going on pushes my mental squeaky cart into another completely department where aisle spend shelf-ish time staring into fresh bags of pre-shredded lettuce knowing I can’t resist buying at least two bags … for, maybe, one burger. I know this. Even as my hand extends beyond the fine mist spray over the broccoli and weirdly shaped other veggies off to my left, … I know this weakness. So beautiful.

And now, it is sadly brown. Unopened, unappreciated, and never nestled under a burger, my lettuce is bad. So bad, I am forced to toss it in the can, of course. The end of so many bags of unfortunate choices of mine.

Sometimes we do those reaches knowing the outcomes. I know I have. Insert slang terms here … especially money. Investing money in known bad outcomes has been an experience of mine ( disclaimer: sometimes). Consider the phrase, “Stepping over $100’s to pick up $1’s” … None truer for me when testing the envelope of possibilities knowing it’s been sealed by fate.

Hey, I’m not complaining at all. Too many rolls, sodas, and veggies end up correct during my life, so for me to chow down on the three above means I’d choke on my own regret. Nah. No time for that. Do I want the money back I’ve wasted on bad choices? Damn straight!

Bad haircuts always repair themselves through regrowth. Bad life choices are fixed when we recognize them and find the humor inside the stress. I look for the little green sprightliness peeking around mostly brown lettuce in my life at times. Yes, the entire bag has to be tossed; however, experiencing the overwhelming joy when at first that freshness is overwhelming and the anticipation of good things around is emotionally churning? … Very much worth it knowing I’m buying more than I will ever need. I’ll make the investment of time and energy in someone even if I know there will be brown lettuce at the end. Why? Because there will still be some – perhaps a little – green lettuce in the bag at the end AND I’ll feel good reaching out, initially. It may be more than I’ll ever need (experience says it usually is) … so what, right?

Not a bad way to be. My lettuce isn’t that bad, afterall. Still wouldn’t want to see it comfortably placed below a juicy beef patty, though. Brown over brown doesn’t present itself very well. With that, I’m off to the store. Need a few onions and, yes, a bag of lettuce. Maybe two. Who am I kidding? Definitely two. I have enough lettuce to buy many as I want!!

A Bear, Tim, and Harry

As the joke goes: A bear walks into a bar, places his arms on the counter, and says, “I’d like to …….. order a beer.” The bartender asks, “Why the long paws?”

This is a pun-unpleasantry I’ve read over and over during my years delving into books and magazines attracting my fancy. I love word play.

Granted, there are jokes – like this one – so over-used and worn I’d rather they never be spoken out loud again. Alas, however, I will most likely see it reappear in printed form, or, orally – both irritatingly so. Human nature dictates it. Bad jokes don’t die.

I can explain why this joke has been unbearably attached to my brain lately. Writing has been on pause lately and it’s as irritating to me as hearing a grizzled mammal swing open a tavern door – not that I even know what that sounds like. I don’t drink or frequent watering holes let alone hang out with alcoholic bears that talk.

Life is busy. That’s my excuse and I don’t appreciate it sometimes. Gosh, that sounds so ungrateful, doesn’t it? I’m healthy – save a few mid-fifty issues – and shouldn’t be complaining. My business is hectic with go-here’s and do that’s at odd hours with expenses due a few days before incomes. My legs beg for reclination time above my torso instead of continuously supporting a creaky, cranky back. This is 19/7 with 5 hours melted in for sleep.

At this very moment, I’m sitting in my wind-sheltered van waiting for customers to visit a welcoming food cart. It’s 55-degrees outside. Inside, I’m drinking a peach iced tea … hoping to wash down the rather kind ham and cheese hoagie I hastily purchased from the grocery store earlier. That was my noon breakfast. Life in the food truck fast-lane.

Yesterday was 70-degrees and sunny. Up is down with the weather in late October here in western-Pa. The small crack I must leave open in the door allows a cool breeze to flow in while there’s no sun to be found. Such a contrast from yesterday and the day before when we had even better weather. Close to 80-degrees and incredible skies. The day started out with this:

A soupy mess. I took this picture that morning hoping to write of the fog settling in my brain. A mist of quasi-frustration continuing into today …. a day when I actually have the time to write.

Those of us who love to write, but get off schedule because of life’s more important have to’s, eventually find time to put words down. We have to. Silence can stay silent only so long.

During my few minutes here, I’ve waited on two customers. Folks I didn’t see out of my peripheral vision for a few seconds as a result of this very breaking of my silence. They were very understanding. I blamed my inattention on you, my readers. I had to. It’s because of you – and my days long absence from this wonderful space – awareness was not paid.

… and, of course, that is mild sarcasm topped with a spoonful of thankfulness. No matter the circumstances in life, I am grateful. Yes, busy-ness is so closely tied to business. Life is to be lived out and outlived. We need to get every drop of yum extracted from the years we have.

My 7th grade Geography teacher said it best: “More than the years of your life … is the life in your years”. I don’t know if he came up with that or not, but it stuck. Mr. Hooper … what a guy.

A bear walks into a bar with his friend Tim, the termite. Tim asks “Is the Bar Tender?”. Tim has a friend, Harry the horse. The bartender asks Harry, “Why the long face?” ….Want me to continue?

I can’t. I just can’t. Maybe next time. For now, we’ll hit the pause button. Until we meet again.

It Was Nuts

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

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

Oh, and speaking of nuts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lab, King

He’s a handful. A handsome one, according to my good friend, Joel. His outlook? I’m inclined to agree. A king in his lavish world. So much so, he’s named, “King”.

Not hard to imagine why his name is beautifully attached to royalty from any imagined canine country. Labrador-Latvia, Canine-Croatia, or Doggie-Denmark would each welcome his highness into their castle of splendor with one glance upon this magnificent pose. He’s begging the question … if he could ask with words, “If not me, then who?”

No doggy. Simply, no doggy I know at this time in my life. One paw down slightly compared to the other, a smokey white light glancing off his right snout, and that sneaky, ever-so-slender reflection coming at us from his right eye all give us a sense of puppy pompiness. The circumstance of this photo opportunity was, I’m sure, 50/50 impromptu/planned as Joel loves staged shots. I’m almost sure there are treats and teases behind the scene, but not 100% digesting the suggestion. Regardless of the motivation, King is the king of this moment.

Moments like this, right? Pets and their owners. Correction. Humans and their owners. Kings and subjects, queens and servants.

Variations of this frame, in all probability, have been clicked through many camera phones since I started tapping moments ago. Long haired hounds and short-tempered toy poodles wearing tiaras on their noggins. Setters sitting behinds against not-so worn carpet. Beagles – bellying up in front of windows without stained glass panels – posing proudly for their subjects. Sit-stay. Waaait. All verbal commands falling on the floppy ears of flighty, figity, yet finely furred monarchical masters of our happy expectations.

We truly are subject to their royalty. They own us…and I’m glad they do. We’d be lost within the kingdom of our minds if they weren’t ruling from their cozy corner beds and lazy, droopy eyes.

Not just dogs, of course. Queenly cats and joker gerbils qualify as well. Pets are princely no matter what form they take and we gladly let them assume the role.

I don’t see Joel much. A few times weekly as we meet for a breakfast chat with friends. King is never at his side during these morning moments. Frankly, even without Covid restrictions, there’d be no room for his beefy frame … King, that is.

Joel is lanky, has very large hands compared to his slim shoulders, and is an expert woodworker … not that this fact has anything to do with his cantankerous personality. The hair he sports appears unkempt as the middle part holds it all at bay. One glance, and you’d spot his uniqueness right away: a specific sway in his gate, articulate thoughts when he speaks to you, and an insistence you get to the point of your story.

His claim of not liking me very much is testament to the exact opposite. My words frustrate him, but he listens with attentive ears every time knowing the outcome. That end result being his complete understanding of “my” unique qualities opposite of his. I ramble on because I am me … I tell quality jokes because I am me … and I poke him with words, again, because I am me.

Enter King in Joel’s life. Joel’s respite from the likes of me. King sits and listens to his words without judgement. He accepts all while rejecting none. In doing so, being a king who pardons all the day’s troubles in a servant who is seen as an equal…

…Which puts the picture above in a whole new perspective. Joel admits King is handsome. I do wholeheartedly agree! This peppy puppy is, indeed, “The Lab, King” – a stately one; however, look again.

King is extending a hug – an invite to all of us, not just Joel. I want to curl up under his two paws and rest for a few minutes. A non-judgemental, kingly hug would be wonderful just about now for all of us.

All of our pets want to be here for us if we’d let them. I have a feeling we do, otherwise we wouldn’t have them. Today is simply a reminder, I guess.

So, they rule over our hearts and, at the same time, serve our emotional needs when we require that space be filled.

Hug a hamster, or search out solace from a salamander. Rest assured they won’t understand your words. Hey, Joel never understands mine, but he respects my friendship just the same. There’s hope and peace whether animal or human, so keep plowing ahead in your fields and knocking on the doors of the castle. The King is listening and will welcome you into his world someday for a hug.

What a wonderful day that will be.

Love Bok Choy, They Say

A short treatise on one major food group.

This winter, take your tomatoes tobogganing, or your carrots caroling. Lettuce likes to learn about life and squash scampers to sharpen its senses. Vegetables are simply the best ever, when considered among the food choices we have spattered on our plates day after day. So some say, I guess.

I have, within my inner circle of winner friends, a meatless consumer who swears by a diet of whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts, fruit, and … some veggies. Not quite sure, yet, what all she eats. Still working on figuring it out inside my McHead and flame-broiled britches. Nice, nice person, though, and a bit on the oddly-weird side, but so am I. That’s why we’re good nutty-buddy friends, I guess.

Writing “cow meat” will drive her hoofy-goofy, so I’ll alter it a bit. “Juicy steak meat”, dairy, bread, soda, cake, cookies, ice cream, and pizza are most excellent food groups as well. No denying that fact. However, veggies are the healthiest (they say), so a 2-3X daily intake of spinach, asparagus, or a slosh of canned peas and carrot mix should do the trick, right? Juuust a bit of sarcasm there … nix the canned smooshiness. No veggies in a can – evah!!

Ah, some freshly picked, slightly soiled, pre-washed greens would be just fine after rinsing and sauteing, perhaps. Maybe with a few spices, or rice? A tingling of turmeric, … a dash of dill seed? Whatever your pan desires is certainly fine by me. I have no preconceived ideas as to your nutritional notions when it comes to vegetables. Your onions, your choice.

Vegetable love can go a bit too far, though. The bag above hangs in our hallway. I’m not adverse to adoring inanimate objects at all. I have many a 2 1/2 × 3 1/2 pieces of cardboard with sports figures on them I’ve collected since my nose running, bike riding youth. These are collectibles, however, and – although not as valuable as once considered – still worth my time. This tote proclaims, “Love Your Vegetables!” not, “Eat Your Vegetables.”, “Try, Consider, or Ponder … Your Vegetables”. Love? … to what “end” … oh, that end. Never mind.

I do like broccoli and uncooked carrots. If you’re still with me, I thought I’d throw that little nugget in here to prove I’m not a complete anti-under soil fanatic. A nice leafy green salad with a few chunks of iceberg lettuce (yes, I said iceberg … dead ahead, I did) without a Titanic amount of dressing I can enjoy pre-meal, or as a dinner topped with chicken or steak bits. I’ll never Beatle it prior with the gotta have it words: “Love, Love, Love”, however.

Vegetables have their place. Among the annals of what has been written of love in the highest order? I think not. Amore, ascribed to a cucumber casually cuddled next to an agitated arugula isn’t my idea of romance. Cassava-Nova didn’t work as a leading man and Ginger left the island years ago.

Was this the message intended when an overly excited marketing executive decided to approve the imprint “Love Your Vegetables” on the side of this bag? Nope. I bet not. She/He probably wants customers to eat better … healthier. That was the depth of the mid-day convo over seltzer and danishes.

I know this. I want you to consume more veggies and less junk food, too. So should I as well. Just don’t love the idea of having to do it … and writing a somewhat sarcastic, short blog about an innocent little bag hanging in the hallway makes my small mind feel better.

… I’ll still never be seen toting around that bag unless I can stuff it with Oreos. Just sayin’.

Shades of Opinion

Yes, it’s a shameless plug for my business at the lower right edge, but I get to determine what goes and what doesn’t. This is my blog. My opinion, sarcastically written while a smirky, snarky corner smile reroutes sweat over my 95-degree, 85-percent humid, tired-pump heated face. Yes, my opinion is valuable … if only to me.

I sit on an uncomfortable metal chair waiting for customers to arrive. It’s another day of food sloshing. I don’t mind my customers at all, rather, they’re quite amusing. Attitudes can vary from an extreme euphoria on one end to a deep, cavernous malaise on the other … and all colors of “What the hell am I doing?” in between.

I’ve witnessed these various viewpoints as I stand in Doug puddles behind the grill. Varieties of opinions not only are expressed from my customers, but also live in my inward, laser-like unfocused, mind – where ideas disguised as shaded, nuanced ambiguities live. Back and forth we volley semi-words like “uhm” and “eh” in response to queries equally perplexing such as “wah?” and “meh?”. It’s a world I’m used to these days. The heat pounding off the earth is driving me insane. As well, forcing my body to stand erect hours on end – behind the ever-present bubbling steam table and grill contraption I designed for income-producing pleasure – is adding to my hotness (wow … did I just write that word as a descriptor for myself …?)

This moment of respite I shall take. A well deserved frozen moment in clock stoppage. No customers at the ready. Food in warmers. Sodas on ice. Flags waving a welcoming “hello” to passers-by. I am sincerely hoping – to the dismay of my accountant and checkbook – customers take their time considering whether or not to stop. I need this time to chill … literally.

This isn’t a normal time, to be sure. A one-hundred year pandemic is certainly bigger than my gripe about a few hours behind the meat monster grill cart. This isn’t my first hot summer and, hopefully, not my last stand under a catch-22, heat-holding, sun-blocking, sail-to-any-wind canopy. It requires four ratchet tie-downs as does my recent attitude … as if you couldn’t tell. I’m not at all angry. That’s not a word in my vocabulary. A jilted peddler, perhaps? Left behind at the peaceful alter of seller sanity? Who knows? I’m married to my profession – that’s a given – and I love what I do, so heat be damned! I sit here contemplating. Thinking. The metal chair is melting my attitude a bit … my thoughts go toward one word: SHADE.

S FOR SITS in life. The time to sit here and think. I am untroubled about the woes in our world. You shouldn’t be either. Be passionate about where you stand … absolutely. Live for what you believe. Breathe in the knowledge you have gained by being you. Give generously to others through what you have been given. All of these wonderfuls have enriched my life in the middle of being misunderstood, maligned, or mistreated. You have so much when it seems like you have so little.

H FOR HARMONY in life. Be happy. Nature wants us to be in harmony with her by being happy. So overused, but so true. I’ve heard it said it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. Whether this is correct, I’ve never confirmed … who cares, right? Twice last week, customers thanked me for the conversations at my cart. Not sure they could remember details if pressed, but I bet they remember being happy when they left. Emotions are strong motivators. This is why happy people perform better and are healthier. (I kinda want to debate this as I happily stuff my face, weekly, with pizza, sno-cones, burgers, and bacon). Force yourself to be happy those times when a tire is so inconveniently flat, a schedule is way out of whack, or your dog is up a tree. An insincere smile is always better than a sincere frown.

A FOR APPLES in life. Growing up, I never understood why eating a fresh, crisp apple after being outside playing always pulled me back from a fog. Fancy words didn’t suffice then, only, “I have to stop now …” echoing inside my head meant to head inside. The cold juice running down my chin signaled the beginning of a return to normalcy from what seemed to be a lull of neurological function. After a few minutes, the dizziness stopped, my mind cleared up, and life headed forward. Never knowing the cause other than a possible recurring drop in sugar, I went forward in life. We have these apples saving us every day. Small semi-lifeboats keeping us going. Kind words from friends, a special nod from a stranger, … finding a dollar or two in a pair of pants (preferably our own – don’t go random-reaching into other folk’s pockets) … these are small returns to normalcies we need to be on the lookout for daily. You have them. Keep looking.

D FOR DIGGING in life. Want to know more? Start digging into it. We have a local radio show featuring daily trivia questions. I love ’em! When I call in, I use the name my mom called me when we played trivia games together – as a way to remember our time pushing little game pieces around a board. Sports, Movies, Politics, etc … all subjects are covered while levels of difficulty vary as well. I won’t call in unless I’m Trebekian-sure of my answer for two reasons. #1) I am absolutely sure someone would recognize my voice ONLY if I got the answer wrong, and #2) I would feel guilty wasting the host’s time doing it any other way. Give or take a few condiment answers slipping off dawg questions, I’ve been pretty accurate. One step I always take is confirming my answer via research. I dig into the question … if time allows. If I can’t confirm my sneaking-suspicions, then it’s a no-go. Period. There’s the small treasure I’ve found. Whatever you want to know, or already know but want to know more about, find value in researching and confirming. Do the digging. It can be dirty work along the way and you may not get on the air, but the new information in your life is so worth it.

E FOR ENTERTAINMENT in life. My dad’s best expression, although he doesn’t know it, is “Here we go…”. The eye roll starts it. This is the best three-word phrase he could ever find in a vat of English words to say as a reaction to my reaction when something strikes my fancy in public. There’s no intention to embarrass my dad in public. He simply assumes the role of dad-as-chief-embarrassed when I openly, but respectfully, begin to speak my mind. Humorously, mind you, and always either self-reflecting or about the matters at hand. Never would I ever speak of others around or make light of the misfortunes of those less advantaged. My intent is to entertain those near and dear to me … including dad. He’s never entertained, though, and I don’t know why. One level, I suppose: serious. Or, he imagines my level of crazy and can’t relate. Whatever the case, I won’t stop because he needs conversational rabbits and magic hats in his life. Be open to entertainment or be that magician for someone. Amazing things can happen.

It looks like time has passed by … so much so I had to finish this comfortably sitting in my office chair at home. Problem being, I know in less than eight hours I must repeat the stainless-slamming once more in the heat.

It all sounds so depressing and I mean no disrespect to my business. Like I said, Doing the doing is hard in this environment. Heat, covid, masking issues, food, supply issues, rolls going bad, change shortages, on and on … all of the sludgery-buldudgery can get burdensome on this guy once in a while. The sit by the shade was a good thing today. Glad it happened due to it not happening very often. Darn customers making me get up all the time!

Go ahead … roll your eyes. Detect the sarcasm? Entertainment value only. I love my customers and will continue to be happy as each and every one of them lean on my cart for their food-stuffs. Sweating this out is a small price to pay for their happiness in a bun. Oh, and the conversations and attitudes will always be weird as nobody – including me – knows what the hell we are doing most of the time.

That’s ok. I think most everyone else doesn’t know either. In that light, we should all meet in the shade together and talk out our problems, … “eh?”

About “A Galaxy Close, Close By”

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

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

Nothing. Nada. Ziltch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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