A Brand New 52

2020, so far, has played us. Not like fools, mind you. We weren’t taken advantage of by a year so deeply sinister that it planned months of masking, delirious days of distancing, and financial fiascos years ahead of time. No, this year, itself, was bluffed into believing it had a hand in our positivity as the ball dropped on January 1st, precisely at 12:00 a.m. in New York city. Ah, yes. “2020 vision” … as I’m sure not to be the only one using this obvious phrase to describe what we should have seen coming …

… or, should we? In hindsight, there were no warnings. No tells, as they say in the poker world. No way of knowing, in 2019, the following year had wild cards to play from a deck of 54 – when we thought the year ahead had only 52. Fifty-two weeks of more freedom, joy, family, and good health. Two extra inserted jokers disguised as a virus and an unprepared nation … Yep, a stacked, heaping pile of numbers that kept rising, no ace in the hole, and no unifying face of the nation to win the day as 2020 began to deal cards … over and over … until we no longer had hands big enough to hold them.

No. We didn’t see this. No way did any of us expect 2020 to unfold into the disaster it has become. Maybe, just maybe, we believed the Presidential election was going to test our political patience, but that’s about all. We weren’t suited to handle the problems that came beyond that. What came across the felt, we felt, seemed to trump, yes Trump, the ideology of half our nation’s views. The other half spent minutes Biden their time (pun stolen from social media) until the final card was counted on some date on, or after, November 3rd.

Now, at least, I think we have some resolution on this. After all the post-election shuffling by one wheeler-dealer, we should be swearing in a new President on January 20th, 2021.

That’s seven weeks from now. As it stands and we sit at the table, this virus is still here – and it’s quite the pro at knowing what cards we have without even peeking over our shoulders. It knows our houses are not full – of people or hope like we had. It knows we’re not thinking straight, sometimes, because we worry about our finances, jobs, elderly relatives, schools, and communities. It knows some pairs are not together anymore because the emotional stress from the last nine months was just too much. It knows some faces are flushed and are no longer alive and aglow with vim and vigor for life. These once fresh, snappy smiles are now in the struggle of their lives … learning how to breathe all over again, or, perhaps holding the hand of someone they love.

This is what 2020 dealt us. All of us, whether you are sitting at the table or not, are playing to stay alive. This may not suit or be the most convenient, but we have no choice to play the game of pandemic poker right now.

However, we do have 19th century words of advice speaking to us from the well-worn sagely deck shown. If you listen, you will hear. They’ve survived two card wars before our time and solitary moments as one upon thousands sat in convalescent facilities hoping a grandchild would visit, or a lost spouse’s hand could hold their loved one’s heart one more time.

And it is these words:

Forty-eight weeks into a year of really trying to understand ourselves. Four weeks to go … four colors in a deck representing the four seasons we have experienced 75% of in limited glory. Spring, summer and fall – the magnificence of rain, sun, and leaves all tainted by a virus … with pure white snow to come, surely palen ahead of schedule. Thirteen, so unlucky, … hopefully the moon will cycle around our Aces through Kings, our 1s through 13s, to lower our numbers and help us become at least average again. I’ll take a push … a bet with my money back against the dealer. To hope for anything better – a winning hand right now – is a fool’s folly.

The virus is still here at the table and has the deck. For now. It’s 2020 and we’re here. The poker room is hugely huge and fully full with people of all nationalities, sizes, shapes, beliefs, and haircuts. This is such a unique game of poker, though. There’s only one freakin’ deck. The standard rules don’t apply and the dealer cheats.

Oh, although I’m a recreational player, can’t say I know how to win. Even if I had true 2020 vision, the chances of my figuring a way around the poker table here? Zilch. Nada. Zero. All I can offer up are my hopes and dreams of a better 2021. That’s it. A “Brand new 52” is dealt to us then – as this flippin’ year comes to a close December 31st at 11:59:59 when the ball drops, silently I’m sure, in New York city.

Oh, what a big deal next year will be!

One Day

The Ohio river flows 981 miles from the southern edge of lake Erie to its mouth on the great Mississippi river, passing through – and by – two hall-of-fame sports cities along the way: Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Combined, the two have 19 championships as follows: Steelers – 6, Penguins – 3, Pirates – 5, and Reds – 5. Unfortunately, the Bengals are one of a few NFL modern era teams yet to score a Lombardi, but hey, there’s time.

In 1975, nicknames were flowing for the Superbowl winning Steelers and World Series Champion Reds. For the Reds and Steelers, these nicknames were off the tongues and typewriters of sports writers … fluently-friendly they were – these words with the heft of a linebacker and the grace of a finely tuned, well-executed fast ball. The “Big Red Machine” including Bench, Rose, Morgan, Pérez, Concepción, Foster, Griffey, and Gerónimo took care of business pretty much the whole decade, not just that year. The “Steel Curtain” nickname came easy as well for the quartet of the Steeler’s defensive front four, L.C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White.

Yep, 1975 was a year to celebrate the Ohio river’s glory. “La Belle Riviere”, as this magnificent body is so aptly nicknamed, has outlasted – and will continue to – the hoorays and cheers of those years. Forty-five years and millions of heart-breaking moments later, we have memories and, maybe, a few autographs and game day programs. The players are retired, coaching, or, well, … dead. This applies to many of us, too – the fan base who held on to our dads’ hand while walking into a stadium for the first time as a deep, rich announcer’s voice echoed throughout.

1975. Ohio river and two teams. Also the year a sit-com taught us one really valuable lesson. Not through really bad acting (which there was), or quite mundane script writing (which there was) or, kinda bad wardrobe choices (which there was), or my complete disdain for Bonnie Franklin (which there was), or my wish that the writers would never develop a plot around Mackenzie Phillips (which they never honored), or my sincere love toward Valerie Bertinelli (which WAS honest and for true 😍)… It was the title: ONE DAY AT A TIME.

This is a saying I toss back and forth once in a while with a wonderful friend of mine. Certainly not an original phrase, it has been twisted, turned, modified, memed, run up and down the motivational speaker pole, and shouted from the pulpits of every denominational oratoty. I claim no originality in posting it here. “One day at a time” has no greater meaning than it does today, or any day for that matter … especially in 2020.

My friend, with whom I transfer this glorious pentaword phrase, sometimes approaches her days cautiously, but even then, undaunted with silent resolve is she. Under the black light of a pandemical petri dish as all of us are, she’s a survivor’s survivor.

When we were born, the maker of our forms placed a timer on our spans. The width between coming and going we don’t know. All we’re guaranteed is that it’s significantly shorter than 981 miles and less important, overall, than the Ohio river to our great American society. Yes, collectively, we add up to a great team if we played as one; However, if 2020 has taught us anything, we ‘ain’t all wearing the same jersey, are we? Each one if us, simply, were given one-day-at-a- timers and it’s up to us to use them.

Those timers are the other people in our circle who make a difference and can help us when we need help. Friends who we reach out to with a text saying, “I’m sad today and here’s why …”, or “My job is frustrating me. Can we talk for a few minutes?”. These co-breathers, especially now, are the real champions in our lives. They go to bat for us. They stay under center when we seem to be running all over the field.

We have no fancy nicknames for these heroes in our lives, nor are there hall-of-fame buildings erected in their honor. Timers must suffice for now. No sit-coms will ever come close to script the lines, fashionably drape a cast, or hire a lead actress that will ever gratify my need to priviledge the timers in my life. I’m so ok with that truth.

Heading down one of the greatest unknown rivers in the past 100 years, we need all our friends to help us stay afloat right now. Reach out to a champion. Our world is not a bell-bottomed, steel curtained, big red machine forty-five years later, for sure. We have each other, though, and also one day at a time.

Both, together, make any show worth watching and walking into a stadium with a dad, for any day’s game, a championship moment.

Psychic Flames

This is the back window view from my concession trailer, the wonky-winky sticker added virtually to protect the proprietor; although, she knew that was going to happen, I suspect, if she’s worth every ounce of crystal in the ball resting comfortably on her velvety red table. I see this sign every day when firing up my propane tank on that side of my business and always wonder: Is there an external, psychic force – unbenounced to any living concessionaire – applying positive or negative energy to me?

Usually unanswered, this query goes. Usually. Today, I felt the force. It came quickly in the form of a short, blue flash of light. A propane brightness followed by a stench of burnt hair. This is not uncommon to me. I should have seen it coming. Rather, SHE should have seen it and warned me … somehow, through a telepathic, psychic foodie, synaptic sensory system. Twice this has happened in the fifteen years I’ve been twisting tubers on a grill. “What?”, you ask. Step #1) Hook up propane tank and turn on the nozzle, Step #2) Walk into warm trailer, Step #3) Not remember that I didn’t turn off the griddle the previous evening, aaaand Step #4) stick a long handle ez-lighter in the hole while, subsequently, clicking on the flame … score: four-burner chamber 1, Doug 0.

At that point, it just was. No sense arguing the point with any universe willing to listen. I raised a few eyebrow hairs I had remaining and tilted my head. Fortunately, two days prior I shaved. Also, most head hair was covered with a ball cap and arm follicles, similarly, with my hoodie sleeves. Save a few back of the hand stragglers gone the way of hair-burn obscurity, all was well.

All was well … everything except the remaining smell of hair torched by irresponsibility. Boy, does that linger, or what? Not only the smell, but the fact I walked through steps #1 through #4 without thinking. Shhh (🤫) .. it happens, right? No getting around accidental mishaps and misdemeanor maladies. The bothersome bugger to me is the always lingering, “Why?”.

“Why” didn’t I turn off the burner last night? I always do. “Why” didn’t I check to make sure the burner was off before lighting?

The “Why didn’ts?” and “Why dids?” in life. No wonder Ms. Medium across the lot fascinates my opening minutes so much. Problem is, she predictably predicts – or portends to – know the future, but can’t explain the whys of our past. No finely swathed clairvoyant can. It’s up to us to put the pieces together. We have to look at the tarot cards of our own printing, the crystal ball polished by our attitudes, and the palms exposed in the hands we were dealt at birth.

Why did my mom die from cancer after five years of the best treatment this area could offer her? Why didn’t the Covid-19 virus remain dormant – somewhere deep – so it wouldn’t affect millions of people around our beautifully populated world? These are two unanswerable “whys” in my tank as I sit here after seeing a blue, red, and yellow flash of light … a light I’m glad I wasn’t walking heavenly toward eight hours ago. I can’t Uber you to a Psychic hoping she will look into your eyes and find whys, brilliant answers to your questions right now. Depending on what you believe, an afterlife may, or may not, be that eternal flame of forever findings – the place where mom, possibly, is finishing Schubert’s Symphony and understanding why ovarian cancer has a mind of its own.

So, today ends where it started. Is there an external, psychic force – unbenounced to any living concessionaire – applying positive or negative energy to me? … or, by extension to you?

If you believe there is … sure! If not, perfectly fine by me as well – not that my approval or disapproval makes any difference in your life.

We make our decisions and move forward. Chance happens. Luck pops up. Possibility, probability, … fluke, fortuity, friends, and foes all are constantly flowing through the gas lines of our lives.

Just be careful where you stick your flame.

Sticks and Stones May Break …

… but the names I called this limb probably hurt someone’s ears.

Just sayin’

To the unknown cart pushers who casually walked by with eggs, ramen noodles, and an over-supply of T.P., I sincerely offer my apologies. You didn’t need to hear my words. Yes, I valiantly tried to dislodge this protuberance a few times and it finally came undone, but not before looser language freely flowed, carte blanche, from my mouth.

Apparently, I traveled many a mile unaware of my wooden hitchhiker dragging its sorry stick-self along for the ride. Don’t know where I picked it up, or how it found its way in and around the fine Michelin tire. One of four taking me to breakfast, Sam’s Club, the bank, storage, Sunoco, home and Weis Market almost every day … including today.

Those poor Weis customers. I’m sure the language wasn’t unfamiliar. Any sailor in their family would say the same, I’m sure. Now, to be clear, I didn’t know the severity of limb vs. tire situation. Clearly, it wasn’t too bad, just a bit twisted …

The surprise in these moments is always the worst part. I had eight six-packs of soda in my unplanned trip to Weis cart. Running late, as usual, my mind was on the next hour … not on playing a round of log-in-wheel.

The previous time in my morning was filled with news I didn’t want to hear. Most of it, I didn’t hear – I saw on this little bearer of words known as a smart phone. Texts sent with sentences I was hoping not to see. No fault of the senders … much appreciation and care to them. Both of them know my thoughts.

If you’re guessing covid-related, you’d be correct.

In a few short paragraphs, I’m now a cart pusher of thoughts while my senders spent their morning twisting larger emotional and medical logs out of their tired, sore, drained selves. Moments of surprise to me. Not so much to them as they battle valiantly through their situations.

… Sticks and stones may break, but words can never hurt me…right?

We fought bullies and generational wars. The latter I never experienced first hand, but the former I’ve hand a hand in. None compare to this year’s Covid virus … all of it. The opinions, science, politicization, familial strains, financial stress, business shut-downs, … every last word spit out through masks of different ideologies.

I know we can’t live in a world where nobody gets hurt. There will always be branches stuck in someone’s tire. There will always be these surprises catching us, well … by surprise.

Just today, for some reason, the texts weren’t good surprises and the usual first log post of the day was jammed in the back wheel of my van – not happily typed here. This Covid is a bully. Period.

I’m confident everything will work out for those I was in touch with this morning. Secondarily, my van tire is fine and that stupid branch is now resting comfortably on the cart return rack at Weis for them to deal with later today.

We have a way to go. How far? I just don’t know. One day at a time. Bullies can’t handle that plan, so how about it? What’s the good word? I say: HOPE.

Hang in there. If I can get a stupid log out of my tire, there’s hope for all of us.

Not Just An Ordinary Joe

Today’s category for our local call-in radio show was “Famous Joes”. Intermixed among the possible nominees presented by callers were stumpers asked by the host, Dr. John. He puts a lid on political cantankerousness and pot-stirring to lighten the satirical stew on Thursdays. Stumpers are an every weekday event. Some easy, others classified as “Mona Lisa Stumpers”, intended to challenge the highly intelligent among us – myself not included; although, I do manage to answer most correctly given enough time to get my thoughts together.

This morning, I punched in the seven digit number with my nominees: Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, and Joey Bishop … bypassing the first stumper of the day. After a few minutes contemplation, I called back (asking permission to speak a second time not knowing if there is a rule prohibiting such). Dr. John, gracious host that he is, allowed the secondo with his premio.

I had to. This is in my nature. Unfinished mental issues are the hanging chads on the ballot that is my personality. As soon as the aggressive left thumb on my hand pushed that round button, … this happened:

Of course!! JOE camel … and he’s playing the piano – as I was in that picture, uhm, over 40 years ago. My submission was graciously listened to and formally rejected. In the time it took me to hang up the first time and redial, J.F. (a trivial rival) called in and nominated Sir. Camel during his first (and only, I might add) call of the day. I casually offered up a second nominee – a baby kangaroo, joey – as a runner-up. Lightly accepted and happily-hopped onto the list it was, so I felt better.

Ah, but the duet continued. Dr. John, seizing the moment, proffered a Mona Lisa stumper on the spot. I quickly answered Jackie Gleason only to realize, thirty seconds later, I left a massive hanging chad on another ballot with no third call available. Joseph Levitch was the answer. These moments bother me. It’s over two hours later, I’m in my concession trailer, should have my mind on delicious food, but nooooo.

“Famous Joes”, right? Ah, but the question was framed as a Mona Lisa Stumper which makes one think about the possibility of an overlap. One who should have been thinking – like me, perhaps – could have answered correctly. He asked the question quickly, in haste, hoping to catch me off guard … which he did quite nicely.

The call ended. My angst did not. I sit here with Jerry Lewis – the face behind both Ms. Lisa and Joe – casually by my side. He was the comedian Dr. John wanted as the answer … not Jackie Gleason. What was I thinking?

Of course!!, once again. It’s been a day of second guesses, I guess.

There’s some relief, however. When ballot ballyhoo and quick, unsure decision drops rain down from the why-sky, tinybuddha.com gives us some insight:

Like a friend of mine likes to say, “Life is a hard hat zone. We are always under construction.”

You are not who you were yesterday and you are not who you will be tomorrow. So, make peace with that. Life is full of second chances. We are always in a state of evolution.

In learning how to walk, you had to crawl first, and maybe you wobbled and skinned your knees a few times. But eventually, you found your bearings and trusted your stability. As tiny as you were, you were able to stand straight and put one foot in front of the other as you moved forward.

Not so far off from what it’s like as an adult.

Quite the words when I look at where I was years ago, staring into a keyboard with glasses and clothes fit for for the times.

I think it’s about second chances, not second guesses.

The overall Mona Lisa, or picture – as it is – in our lives, is not how many questions we answer correctly. It’s how many times we call in and try. We’re not going to ever answer all of life’s questions correctly or tear off all the chads cleanly, are we?

This isn’t an easy lesson for me to learn in my sixth decade of life. Just like those piano lesson early on, I will fight my stubbornness to the bitter end just as I, most assuredly, will enjoy the fruits of my hard work – pushing through the challenges of who I am.

… the person who will eventually forget the answer was Jerry Lewis, an extraordinary entertainer, philanthropist, and star.

We may not be all that but you and I are unique, special, and not the average Joe by any measure. If 2020 has a reason, it is to teach us life has other plans. Average, normal, and sameness aren’t hanging around much these days. I don’t need to repeat the big three, but I will. If Dr. John asked for them, you would be able to rattle off Masking, Distancing, and Hand-Washing, right? Through all of this, we’ve maintained our unique selves. Don’t think so? Just look at all the opinions scattered about on the windows of every computer screen.

2021 will be about chances … and I believe we may also be able to guess our decisions, too. Hopefully, the former overrides the latter. I purposely left out the obvious word because I want you to second the motion in your heart.

Remember, you’re not just an ordinary Joe, or Josephine, or JoEllen, or Jo. Be you – whoever you need to be.

For me, I’ll just be here honeymooning in my misery with Art, Audrey, and Joyce.

Yellow Lines

Truth outside my concession window right now: parallel yellow lines. A few less east/west than north/south. It’s raining, again. This is another fact easily seen from my vantage point. To cap off a very apparent trilogy, today is Sunday, I bought a dozen bourbon wings from the local grocery store on my way here, and our 8-0 Steelers play at 4:30 EST.

Most times, facts are facts. I didn’t do very well in science class where mixing certain chemicals, as instructed, led to predictable outcomes … every time. I did, however, succeed in knowing how dad would react to my behavioral misappropriation … every time. I stated my case, my claims, in support of said behavior – all for naught. Fact: rules were rules and I broke (some of) them.

He had his hands full, to use an overly used expression. I may add, parenthetically, that he was a great provider. We lacked nothing. Presents at the holidays, medical care, food, vacations, shelter, clothing, education access, … foundationally, a pretty good middle-class, single-income upbringing. Mom hung emotional necklaces around our every sad and happy moments while dad pushed us forward into economic opportunities that he felt we needed for our pre-income earning years – if that makes any sense.

Yep. Facts are facts. At least they are until one decides to post something on Facebook. During a pandemic. In 2020. While electing, deciding on, confirming, a SCOTUS nominee and President. East is no longer east and yellow may no longer be recognized as a basic color on any elementary art teacher’s wonderful wheel of fascination.

My parallel yellow opinion lines representing – under normal conditions – a fair middle-of-the-road opinion between extreme Covid responses elicited over the line swerves. Near misses of automatic triggers came in within hours and commentual arguments ensued. A one word reply, “bullshit”, came back to me – which has since been tamed (we worked it out).

Two friends argued over mask/oxygen saturation which I didn’t even know was a “thing”. Articles came in as tags supporting both sides. Sourcing debates. Who said what and experiences trump experts, I guess? Who are the experts and what makes them so …? Is Dr. Fauci more of an expert now that he is, possibly, out from under President Trump’s shadow? Where is Dr. Birx?

I did use the phrase, “ridiculously low” and shouldn’t have. It was an insensitive phrase in light of 245,000 deaths. The fact still remains. That number is .075% of our total population in America. ALSO, to be very, very clear … I care deeply about every one who has been – and continues to be affected by this horrible virus. This is why I mask and social distance everywhere I can inside and wherever possible.

The point of my post on Facebook yesterday was to say one person can be in the middle of the debate. He can say, “The fact is, a low % of Americans – compared to the overall population – have died, but there’s overwhelming evidence that we should be extremely careful going forward because we don’t know what we don’t know.”

Yes, the economic impact of this has been disastrous. In addition, and significantly more important, there are lingering consequences for families who’ve suffered loss of loved ones. Our healthcare workers are tired, sore, drained, overworked, stressed, and missing their families.

Our country is really, really, hurting. Some suggest taking a hard line east, west, north, or south is the answer. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think so.

We should all shut off our loud automobiles, meet in the middle of the road, and talk like adults. I’m standing here trying not to get run over. Two wrong turns don’t make anything right.

That’s a fact.


What is it? What’s the key that turns on the engine of self-determination?

I think it’s just craziness. Period. Out-of-the-box nuttiness – this self-motivation thing compared to simple urgings from a Rocky movie or one-time kiss. The get-up and go, every moment of every day pulsing in one’s veins to accomplish, perhaps, the impossible regardless of the odds, obstacles, or objections of others.

Self-drive in the business environment? Internal forces pushing tired legs out of bed at 3 a.m. – after three hours sleep – to work another day full of 18 hour’s worth of problems to solve and goals to reach. Shoving aside the already rocky societal and economic barriers, self-determiners barrel ahead over the Niagra-type falls hoping to survive another wave of unsure times as they cascade down into a foggy financial mist of loans, credit lines, and liabilities over assets. In short, we hope to survive.

Some make it, most don’t. Self-motivation, alone, isn’t enough. Luck has to be a part. So does discipline, respect, courtesy, fairness, life-work balance, health, etc …

I spent a decade in direct, full-commission sales. Loved it. One of the main connections to enjoying it was my time spent listening to motivational tapes in the car between sales calls. Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, Earl Nightingale, and my favorite, Jim Rohn, always found their way into my cassette player in the car. Never were there silent moments as I traveled down a highway … five minutes or five hours. Wind up a few sentences even now, twenty-two years later, and I could probably finish them from any cassette – any side, any speaker.

What those guys did for me was help me develop a self-confidence I didn’t have prior. The sales techniques, presentation knowledge, book-stuff was easy … however, knocking on a door, or sitting down with a corporate CEO was another novel idea all to it’s own. They helped me internalize my own self-worth. I started to get up every morning being self-motivated, believing I could. Zig Ziglar said, “Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right”. Now, whether he came up with that himself or was repeating it, I don’t know. From his mouth was the first time I heard it …

Seemed nutty to me at the time. And still does. When you grow up believing – and being told – a wildly weird idea that you’re not good enough, and then all of a sudden have these folks on the other side of a cassette player – who don’t know you – tell you that you are … that’s just messed up. That’s just messed up.

It was a wonderful career and had to end. The industry changed locally and I didn’t want to change with it. A great company with great, awesome people. Cassettes are passe as are packing arenas full with motivational speakers. Anthony Robbins isn’t my kind of guy and I don’t lean into any kind of religious urgings much as they relate to business. Cherishing my delicious decade with my guys is plenty nourishing to last a lifetime.

I’m a bit crazy. I outspend to indulge my business ideas … sometimes it works, sometimes not. I’m not a Gates, Jobs, or Iacoca. Who among us really are, right? Thank heavens I never decided to run for public office, be an astronaut (hate closed in spaces), or explore the poles (don’t like being alone). I’m just a self-motivated guy figuring my way through life.

… not to say I don’t buy a lottery ticket, uhm … every once in a while🤔. Well, maybe more frequent than that, because luck is a part of life, too.

Funny, though. Zig Ziglar never mentioned lottery tickets. Oh, well. Never said he was perfect.

Stay motivated wherever you can find the source. We have to keep going. All of us.

Oh, Wait!

You can’t tell from this picture. It’s an ugly day. I sit on my very familiar hard metal chair and look out the serving window at the driving rain. There are no customers to obstruct my view.

Cars slosh through Plank Road puddles 25 yards away while, behind me, I hear anxious autos screech to a stop on Rt. 36N not fully aware a red light – which has been there for years – just made it’s way from yellow. The hustle hasn’t stopped amid an early November rain storm. I may not see the hustle here at this very busy intersection today, however. So, I sit.

I sit and wait. It’s ok. Folks see my business differently in bad weather. They aren’t in a food-festive frenzy if the sun isn’t shining … especially when it comes to concession trailers, trucks, and carts. Seasonal is pretty much the best way to describe what we do … although, it’s somewhat limiting. We’re weatheral and crowdal more than seasonal. Give us foodies good weather and sizable crowds? … We’re stuffing our buns all the way to the bank.

That’s what makes today one of the “You’ll have days like this” days. “Suck it up, buttercup”, wet, damp, what-am-I-doing-here kind of slow tick-off the minutes slosh through days. Days when I can comfortably type off hundreds of words without looking up through a concession window – knowing I probably didn’t miss a hungry customer.

Enough about my waiting moments in the here and now. What I do now, and what I’ve done the past fifteen years, have always been for the future. Which makes me think about today … eight days after a very contested election. You remember … that whole Presidential thing we did last Tuesday?

We voted for the future we wanted. We wanted something to change OR for what we liked to stay the same. In either case, it was for the future of America. Nominees Biden and Harris were change and incumbents Trump and Pence were same. Pretty close to half our country voted one way, the other half voted opposite. Without getting into the weeds here, that was what the little bubbles on the ballot were for and, eight days later – for the most part – we have our answer.

… and that answer is:

We spent months, prior to November 3rd, looking out our political, ideological, philosophical, and spiritual trailers at some really nasty campaign weather … waiting for calm, sunny weather that we could take to the bank. Ideas that most of us – left and right, Democrat and Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Atheist and Christian – could deposit together on November 4th.

Instead, we have arguments about ballots, fraud, state tampering, Republicans squealing about election abuse that seemed to be o.k. four years ago, Democrats wanting unity after 4 years of nothing but the opposite, and a Congress, in general, that is as inept as my $0 balance in the register.

If you’re sensing my independent and stubborn streak here, welcome to the “Why is Doug looking at me that way?” club. I adore my friends and have a high level of respect for their opinions and beliefs. I’ll listen to other opinions and consider changing my mind. We have to co-exist. We need to get along. I’m a middle child as well with an older sibling who is a take-charge personality, and I have a younger sibling who is more stubborn than I. The appeasement gene is strong in my blood, too. I adapted early on.

All this to say, we’re going to be ok, but it’s not going to be easy for a bit here. For the next few months, all of us should be patient while we sit in an uncomfortable chair, looking out at some rather nasty political weather these early winter months. I thought, maybe, November 3rd the skies would clear, but they didn’t.

Here’s hoping January 20th will be sunny … and I’ll be looking out my concession window at a long line of hungry customers. Ain’t happening now.

Oh, wait!! … I see a customer!!

Lady, Luck and Me

This is a lady on Lady.

I had the pleasure of seeing them trot by at a local event last Saturday night. It was a late night corn maze and there wasn’t much business to be placed inside freshly purchased buns, unfortunately. Blame it on rescheduled trick-or-treat plans, cold weather, or Covid fatigue … any number of possibilities … it was simply a slow night. A really. Slow. Night.

Local isn’t really honest. Bedford county is 35 minutes due south from Blair, my home county, and more rural. I set up in a field of worn grass next to a wooded, rather scary, tree-bone graveyard off a well traveled route between two small towns. The folks were banjo friendly in a Nicholson kind of banjo-picking way. Nice, but looked at my hot dawg, northern self like I just stepped off a yankee canoe.

Charles, the folkman in charge of the entire event, was kindly nice and welcoming, however. His gentle demeanor didn’t represent a gruff, wheat stick between the teeth personality as he led my efforts to set up and prepare for the crowds anticipated arrival (not). In fairness – even with over 20 years’ experience running the corn maze and haunted woods – he couldn’t know the effect of Covid or rescheduled trick-or-treat night in the surrounding communities. With that, it was a grueling 4 hours in the cold with little to show except food waste, spent propane, mud in worn tires, and a late night of travel back to a more familiar Blair county.

There was a positive. Meeting the lady … and Lady. In my horse petting haste, I neglected to harness the rider’s name: the lady on Lady. The lady was a very nice person who filled my ears with wonderful information as I ran my cold hands over Lady’s still head a little above her nostrils. This looked to be the only place where she didn’t have a costume part draped over her. Bless her heart. She stood still in silence. Only the white, warm steam rose from the end of her exhales. There was no other movement except my hand – which she seemed to enjoy.

I was told she was a quarter horse. From what I can gather, American Quarter Horses get their name by being quick sprinters – in races of a quarter mile or less. It is one of the most popular breeds in the country and I can see why. I believe we had more of a connection between us than I had with some of the kind kin folk in those parts. Lady didn’t talk much. Heck, she didn’t talk at all. I asked her twice, “Are you a wonderful horse, Lady?”, and she nodded her head in agreement … twice – both times I asked. Don’t tell me we didn’t make a love connection, ’cause we did!

I’m not lonely. Don’t look at this the wrong way. Very seldom do I get to be around large animals, let alone really nice ones, OR ones I have time to pet while freezing my petunias off. Those of you around horses all day long won’t find this encounter of mine wonderful. I get it. For the same reason, I wouldn’t find your writing about an encounter with the most magnificent hot dawg exciting. It’s all what we’ve done, who is with us, perhaps, and possibly what large animal is involved that makes for an interesting life to one vs. another.

The lady’s outfit was interesting to me … especially the way she posed for my picture. It had a middle-eastern flare. Play around with this picture, adding the Abbasid Palace in the background, and it would make for a wonderful picture (although, with apologies to the culture, I’m not sure women are allowed to ride horses). The combination kept my eyes busy most of the evening because there wasn’t much else to do. Lady and the lady rode gently by every 20 minutes or so and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Lady belongs to Charles. He owns four horses. The lady is kind enough to saddle up and ride Lady during these corn maze and haunted woods events to entertain the crowds. Crowds, evidently, that show up only on the nights I’m not there.

That said, some really nice folks did arrive. I can’t say there weren’t. Those who did stop to buy a hamburger, or two, discussed pleasantries with me as I suffered my way around a steamy grill. Charles bought three – yes, three – sausage sandwiches that totaled up to most of my sales. Stuffed in among these slid a few dawg sales and maybe ten sodas. Not a very good night by any standard.

Doesn’t matter much because I try to always find a good nugget … something to stabilize the bad.

And, out of the stable came Lady. She was a few minutes within a few hours. This time became a sliver of my life. A cold guy petting a warm, friendly horse. Not much, by some standards, I humbly admit, but in the midst of a crazy later-mid life, I’ll take what I can get.

We should spend more time looking for these smaller moments that matter. The big ones just aren’t often enough and are fleeting, anyway. I believe “Lady luck” reigned me in Saturday night … if only for a little bit. Worth the drive down south over the county line. I’m not much for banjo playing, however, I may get a hankerin’ for some more soon. Lady may need some Doug affirmations again.

The Fall of (a) Man

It almost happened this morning. Dew not try this at home, I say. The hustle of time combined with an early morning mist – atop the carpet of leaves covering my porch steps – was a slippery soul waiting for my arrival. Fortunately, a past experience grabbed a hurried back collar by the neck of time. I was lucky.

A few years back, not so much. I’m still creaking along with a dislocated/injured disc from flapping down on these same steps. A sunny, less wet day … yet in the same uncontrolled, fast-paced, inattentive manner I approached the descent … and missed. Thinking all was fine (male trait), I went on my way. A bit sore, but hoping the pain would subside – which it sort-of did after a few days, I lived my life quite contently believing a quasi-sore back was just age. Male being male, right?

Uhm, not so much. After months + years of this, I had tests done … and … well, I have the bad news, bad back, issues to this day. Still living with it and that is what saved me from sure slippery this morning. Alarm bells rang, mindful memories magnified, and I stopped momentarily to think through the situation. “Wet leaves + Steps + Doug in a hurry = Hospital” … An equation nobody needs to figure out right now.

All this to say that picture above is the pile at the bottom of the stairs. A pile I most likely would have landed in had a tumble occurred only a few short hours ago. Certainly a Genesis-ical chapter to define rest of my life had it happened. The fall of this man in a season of unsure events and unpredictable happenings … for possibly all of us as well as I think through the past 10 months of 2020.

Welcome to the near end of 2020 – an end we are looking forward to as a group of 325 million loving, caring, crying, compassionate people. We’ve tripped over societal problems, stomped on issues long since ignored, slid on slippery slopes of ignorance and bigotry, stood on patriotism and pride, walked happily in the steps of heroes, and tred lightly through a pandemic’s science and political maze of unknowns … all the while, we survived and, sadly, at the time of this writing, 225,212 Americans have not.

I am not taking any sides here. I am, however, looking forward to the end of a political fall season guaranteed not to end on November 3rd. It’s been a side-stepping, two-step dance of ridiculousness the past few months. Our feet are calloused and legs pretty sore from carrying both liberal and conservative crosses across party plank floors … over and over on idealistic shoulders. The most decisive thing about November 4th? … it will be the day after November 3rd. The fall of 2020.

I didn’t go down this morning so, hopefully, the ten weeks remaining will be upbeat and pleasant. I’ll vote … and wait. I’ll keep masking, social distancing, and washing my hands all the time as recommended by the CDC. You dew what you dew, ok?

Take steps to be the best you you can be – and don’t take the steps ahead that are dangerous. I need you to be here for all of us. It’s a challenging time to be alive. One life, like yours, is too valuable to leave to chance, so watch your step.

I did. Leaves (0) + Doug (1) = One happy day. Now, that’s math I can live with.