Golly, Dolly

What a face! Dolly the Shepherd lookin’ at me with the same expression most folks find available when seeing me scamper about in my crazy shoes. She was pretty sure my zany ways – jamming buns, frozen raw meat, and coolers into a van across the street from her – matched what ideas she had about me in her astute, shepherd brain. The crooked smile. Those arched eye brows. I’ve seen it all before … many times from folks’ faces, too.

Not to say it’s a bad thing. I like to think, “wonderment”, or perhaps, “fascination”, just to keep my wits intact. Dolly, on the other paw, may have thought, “What the hell is he doing?… I’m across the street, looking all cute and adorable, yet, he’s unsuccessfully attempting to maniacally run around – doing that van-jam thing … Not really paying attention to me.”

True ‘dat. I was busy. Life in the prep-lane for a 530 student, out-of-town, (what turned out to be a literal stuck-in-the-mud) event took a lot of mental energy out of already stagnant, slow steps. Focus had to be forward, not so much sideways toward that leashed bundle of spunk across a happy path of asphalt.

All she had to do was sit there and make sense of it all. After looking at the picture hastily snapped, I started to understand why her particular expression easily appeared. Her life is simple: sit there and look delightful. My life is complicatingly unlovely at times. Our roads intersected at that moment.

“He’s not over here petting me! I am the giver of joyful moments … That silly seller of delicious delicacies is rushing around too much and needs to get over here – like now – and rub down some fur, itch a little ear fuzz, skritch some nozzle neck whiskers, and talk some lovin’ to me! .”

She’s not wrong. After getting home at 11:35 p.m. from a mud-soaked, less-then stellar event, I should have – hours earlier – drained more captivating canine time out of my reserves than frenetic beef frank foolishness. Golly, Dolly … I didn’t know. You were right.

A few minutes would not have changed a thing.

Isn’t this a lesson for all of us? “Too busy doing the big to appreciate the small.”

My “big” was stuffing a van full of product – something I can do backwards, blindfolded, and with a medium-size monkey tied to my back, playing Czardas on the harmonica. The “small” could have been taking a few moments to walk across the street and pet a kind, wonderfully propped up, goofy smiling, german shepherd …

Moments, right?

These may not be four paws in your life. For pause, look carefully. They may not be deliciously grinning dogs that cause you to stop what you’re doing and appreciate a “small”. Your “bigs” are really consuming. Mine are. I’m almost always ridiculously ahead of myself. Takes work to see these smalls AND act upon them.

Find some smalls. Appreciate them. The bigs will always be around for you to fret over, with, and among.

If peoplefolk I see continue to fuzzy eyeball me, chances are excellent that won’t be a small moment for me to scratch under their chin. Although that confused look is common, it is guaranteed to only work when dispatched from dogs.

Whatever you decide to do is your business for sure. I like dogs, words, music, and thingies crossing my path making life just a little bit more ease-able.

Dolly would be open to a pet, or two, if you’re free sometime. I doubt you’d get the look I got; however, you may be as crazy as I. In that case, she’ll be cuter than ever. Hope you can handle the overload of delightfulness.

Candle Wax in the Moonlight

Photo Courtesy of Pamela and Travis Etters

The Bellagio fountains this isn’t. Sure reminds me of the time I stood in front of those magnificent, rhythmic cascades, however. Difference being, I was a lot younger then and peered over a spray of hallucinating, musical vapors in person … unlike the experience of seeing this picture appear in my Facebook feed a few days ago.

Penn State, Altoona campus. A quiet reflection pond at moonlight time caught in perfect frame by my friend, Travis. No comparison to Bellagio’s 15 or 30 minute interval experience, depending upon when you would happen to scoot by their Las Vegas hook and play casino. High energy, impersonal lights and spray vs. this calm dark, contrasting reach into each of our lives. Inviting, isn’t it?

I don’t visit PSU often. That campus is so beautiful – with groves of trees allowing duck families good-time afternoons and students shady respites from their young, forward-looking studies. Snippets of sunshine I’ve seen on occasion while walking through during a food event, heading to the chapel to keyboard a nuptial hand-in-hand, or attending a function inside the Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts.

None of those wound me around the reflecting pond, let alone at night. What moon forces kept me away from such masterfully crafted, deep orange hues ricocheting off a glistening pond into my eyes? Oh, yeah. Me. I was too busy doing something else, … not probably. For sure.

That’s the way life is. We can’t see all the beautiful stuff that’s out there when it happens. Some get missed. Thankfully, there are folks, like Travis, who recognize subtle shimering upon still waters. He saw the light of the moon across the sky, and tapped into your individual imagination … whatever that is for you.

For me, I am a huge fan of black contrasting blue in photographs. The deep monarch orange slightly arching across finely separates the two. Blue is the future and black is now. I see lines of improvement asking me to look forward, through problems and challenges, to the end lights shining as flames tipping wax off candles. Tapered fire to the moon. A blue future burning off any clouds of doubt …

… from a picture of a reflecting pond. Any imaginations are acceptable. Yours, mine, theirs.

This captured image is, to you, whatever you need it to be. Unlimited. It has been left up to you when tapped on a phone … and posted on Facebook. The moon will stay tucked away in the sky. Campus lights flicker every night as the sun goes to sleep. Millions of years don’t change cellestial habits or movements set in place.

I was moved, however. Yeah, this guy – who really hasn’t taken a stroll down through the Penn State, Altoona campus lately – was taken aback by the poetic, artistic photograph my fine friend took the other night.

In a word, stunning. I tip a candle to Travis’ reflecting eye for beauty. May we see in ourselves a future so much more than what 15 minutes of cascading, bedazzling pizzazz would do for us in front of the Bellagio.

Lovely “Creature”

We left Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh not aware we’d be returning only a few days later. The original procedure didn’t hold on to its promise. A Friday exit, then a Sunday return for another five days fix-up in a smaller, less accomodating room. The newer plastic mechanics seem to be working better, thankfully so. The fourteen days stretch, with that two day respite at home in between, was a long spread of time. Not too many opportunities to celebrate fun things.

Except one. Creature.

We sat patiently near a large revolving door in the Posner pavilion waiting for a chariot after visit #1 ended. Once the car arrived during a very pleasant Pittsburgh afternoon, a short wheelchair push through accomodating heavy glass doors gave us a chance for deep, fresh air in our lungs. So nice after five days. Even the bending sun coming under an overhang felt warmishly friendly on our faces.

Out of eyesight until my ears caught her saying, “Look, a puppy!”,… a sweet soul leashed onto Greta’s ever canine-attentive heart. She gently pointed her one free hand off to the right, but was unable to get the attention of the gentleman carrying the angel puppy. The one fun, furry, happy experience – given to her after five days of blah, colorless beeping and proding – looked like it was about to whisk by.

… and it did.

Others behind awaited their chariots as well. My sole beat-up Honda sat alone in the 5th level parking garage spot where I left it days prior. With Greta comfortable in the back seat of her transport and many thoughts of my own packed away in my brain, off I went back through the impersonal revolving doors … alone this time with any empty wheelchair.

Fate finally did allow an arched rainbow of color moments after I began my trek back through Posner. Fortunately, the shortest distance back to the parking garage was returning through the hospital, oh, and I suppose pushing an empty wheelchair up Centre Avenue wouldn’t have been the smartest thing to do, either.

Only a few feet back from the information desk, there they stood. A young man and his puppy. The same young man and puppy eluding Greta’s pleas moments before. The urge to stop was overcome by my sheer joy in seeing them. What an opportunity it was to at least get a picture to send to Greta! It wouldn’t be the same as a puppy-lover’s dream hug in person, but a picture could be worth a thousand barks in this case?

His name is, “Creature”, and the story was more than I expected.

The young man, perhaps in his 40’s, stood inches away. In a blue, apparently comfortable, t-shirt and wearing the all-too familiar paper hospital ID bracelet, his stature was taller than his smaller frame would suggest. His story began as I kindly asked for a picture and the puppy’s name to send to Greta…

A brain injury set his life back unexpectedly. As he said, “No one expects to lose their speech suddenly, without warning. One day you’re talking. The next? You can’t…I had a long road back.”

His recovery – in and out of the same hospital I would, unknowingly, find myself back in a few days hence – was long and tedious. Literally, one word at a time. “One word, one heartbeat at a time”, rang sympathetic in my brain as this is the purpose of DougHugs – the main reason I began this amateur quest after my seizure over three years ago.

Enter, “Creature” into his, then, confused world. By suggestion, he went to a humane society shelter. Thinking a puppy partner would help him through the maze of words, glancing into a litter of fur babies changed his life. Most scampering paws within the pen hustled toward the front anticipating a head scratch or nuzzle pat. Off in the corner sat a rather shy one. “Who is that little creature over there?”, gently spoke my friend in a fractured, soft manner. Slowly, the little one made his way forward – as the story was told to me. And so, the name stuck. So did the everlasting, deep love and friendship … and remarkable healing a year later.

As time was clicking forward, I did need to get a move on toward the parking garage. Picture in tow – as it were – and the empty wheelchair safely back ready for a quick cleaning spritz and reuse, I said a quick, gracious thanks and headed down a long hallway. I was not so quick to forget about Creature cradled in nurturing arms, but anxious to send Greta a picture. She needed a loving doggie. If not in person during a quick exit out, at least over a FB message as a reminder that she wasn’t alone during a long ride home.

A home where she could only stay a few short days until a return visit back to Shadyside had to happen.

I don’t know the rest of Creature’s story. In the bustle of that day, I neglected to catch the young man’s name. That little bit of information got by me. Hospital stays – with the admittances and discharges bookending such pleasures – are exhausting. The fact I even remembered my chariot was on level 5 surprises me to this day. I didn’t remember what I ate for breakfast that morning and I pushed down the same cafeteria fare every morning.

Well, however the story unfolds for Creature in his lifetime with his owner, he gave Greta a remarkable rehab on her way home … if only in a picture. We should all be so lucky to have a picture of healing like Creature in our phones like I do.

Maybe reaching out and saying, “Look, a puppy!”, could work for you sometime. You never know who may be around to snap a picture. Oh, and there might just be a story of healing and love behind it as well.

A picture is worth a thousand barks after all.

I Saw the Light

If one truth exists all of us can agree on, it’s this: There is happiness in finding nuggets of knowledge, perhaps slices of pleasure in the world, that aren’t ingredients in our sweet life’s pie. Sure, we live quite nicely without the understanding or delight. Our work and play times never miss these extra little treasures because we are not aware they happen about in our world. But when they occur, something marvelous can shine forth.

These occur as a different way of thinking, of course. I do need to rejigger my way of thinking … sometimes … because information I believe to be valid in my noggin ‘haint so. Sure, as difficult as this is to type, I make mistakes in assuming I am right – justifiably correct – some of the time and need to step back my conclusions when new information comes to light. Pretty sure this isn’t unique to me, however. All of us push toward justifying our own opinions, I bet. My stubborn streak just may be a bit stronger than most.

Enter the idiom, “see the light”.  To suddenly gain an understanding of something previously not understood in my brainial universe is a difficult piece of pie for me to digest. The word, “suddenly”, drips off the fork like a bitter dutch apple pie chunk left in the hot sun during a humid family picnic. I can’t swallow it. Any sweetness of comprehension is temporarily overcome by a nose-pinching, head turning, … well … , flat out inflexibility.

I need process time. Time for ingredients to bake into my pie. Once done, all good. This isn’t to say immediate decisions can’t be made if necessary, however. Moving sideways to accommodate an urgent situation is fine. I’m not THAT inflexible, btw.

Now, missing an exit off of PA43 was a sideways/immediate decision on Sunday night I needed to make that didn’t happen. Rt 119 went by as I, unfortunately, realized the next exit was eight miles away. A 16 miles, round trip mistake I suddenly understood as a nugget of knowledge in my tired, late driving pie – was on my plate. What to do? Not much except to suck it up and accept this “treasure” so delightfully placed inside my already jammed up noodle block.

Arriving 20 minutes late to my destination wasn’t so bad. Exiting off a highway one beyond because mistakes happen? Eh, life, right? The new information gleaned from that experience is: I need to take better care of myself by not driving when I am flat-out exhausted. Period. And, this, my friends, is a very hard lesson to learn. I’m stubborn and have my way about me. We all do.

Not just driving – there is a larger truth here.

We can’t allow ourselves to work so hard, be so committed to a cause or belief, that it runs us down to the point of complete exhaustion. At that point, we are no good to anybody, or any conviction.

This is new, rather sudden information to me. Maybe not to you, but to me.

Where I stayed Sunday night, the gentleman of the house makes these light people. Some small, some large. The arms move as desired by anyone willing to move them and shades can be replaced with any assorted varieties on the market. Shown above is what I would call a “jr” version. Don’t imagine walk-abouts are possible … meaning if the legs move or not … although I didn’t ask. My visit was brief and little time was spent discussing these wonderful wooden electric fancies.

I left Monday thinking over the light people. Once in the city, another 5 hours of round trip home-and-back driving was ahead before returning back. It’s all for a cause I lovingly believe in and a person who deserves the effort,… and more. She’s endured more than any of us could ever imagine.

It’s, simply, about seeing the light. New ways of understanding ourselves and the world. Suddenly, new bits of information come at us and we need to change how we “do us”. Hard lessons. Necessary square pegs we need to jam into our round brain holes.

Wherever you are, please take care of yourself. Get enough rest, food, water, and hugs. There are folks relying on you to stay healthy and happy. Be the best “you” you can be, please.

Look for special light in your life, too. You may be surprised. That light just may be a living, breathing person. In a pinch, a little wooden treasure south of Pittsburgh may suffice if needed. It certainly helped me understand a slice of my dutch apple pie a smidge better.

I saw the light. Go find yours.

70 Degrees and Flourescent

Really cool conversations can happen when we least expect them, right? Unforced words between strangers standing across from one another in an elevator hallway, for example, are times of unexplained awe-ness. I find these moments refreshing – which is why I take every opportunity to turn those awkward silences on their head. Any opening, any nugget or trait visible on which to latch, is a chance to learn about someone else’s day … life … struggle … happy dance they are living.

Can I do this all the time? No, of course. I do have situational awareness. Bad hair days and other leave-me-alone times are easily recognizable. Additionally, cell phone usage is close to 100% which makes the art of, say, elevator elocution nearly impossible. Nearly is not completely, however, and there are times when someone’s down can be reversed – albeit momentarily – inside a sterile, vertical, metal clangy people transport box.

I met a man. A pharmacist. Not so easily recognized as such because of all the files tucked under his arm covering a medical ID badge. The paperwork was thick. Responsibility as stocky as the inches of paper coming out of manila folders. He and I, both weary from a different set of burdens upon our shoulders inside a very busy hospital, stood waiting for the elevator to arrive.

This stand by, as I necessarily had to understand during the previous week, just is … There are three elevators in use for that particular wing, but only two are available for visitors, doctors, etc … The third is reserved for construction and maintenance folk.

At present, as was then, possessed elevator #2 sometimes feels going down takes higher priority, thus bypasses all going up button orders. Additionally, to the hospital’s credit, there is a standing rule everyone must exit the elevator if a patient – in whatever condition or transport – needs use of the elevator. All of this was going on as a slightly taller, same-aged man with a lot in his mind and I began a pleasant conversation while standing in a sterile, busy hospital hallway … waiting.

I began, “It looks like you may need to step outside for a few minutes. It’s a beautiful day. I think you have time … These elevators aren’t our friends again today.”

“I’d love to, but this is what I do …” as he used his head to direct my attention to the large stack of folders under his arms. “…All the time. Up and down. Trying to keep up with the demands of everyone.”

“I assume you are a doctor?… I have to apologize, but I am a piano-playing hot dawg salesman, so every white lab coat wearer I kinda start off with the doctor-thing…”

With a bit of a chuckle, he replied, “Well, I’m a pharmacist. These are all the orders I need to verify and check, … Always running floor to floor.”

“Wow. That’s a lot of work … especially with these wonky elevators.”

“Yeah”

“Gotta say, though, I’ve been over here four days now and am so impressed with all the work everyone has done with the reason I am here. Everyone doing the work most of us aren’t either willing, or capable, of doing. Thanks for what you do…”

“It takes a team working together … Not just one.”

“So, don’t you ever get a chance to step outside … enjoy even a few seconds of a nice August day like today?”

“Not really. So many floors are understaffed lately and I need to stay alert and inside. Besides, in here it’s always 70-degrees and flourescent.”

As he finished up that phrase, elevator #1 arrived. He and I tried to continue our conversation during a very brief ride to the third floor where he made a quick exit. I remember few words spoken while we rode rapidly from one to three. A few seconds inside a temperamental elevator didn’t allow for an overflow of information. We ended a very brief acquaintance as it began – surrounded by busyness and shuffles of dozens of white coats and scrubs.

This is the work life of one person … one pharmacist who can’t carve two minutes out of his day to enjoy a beautiful, sunny, warm August day. He’s a wonderful guy. I believe this. A few minutes and a few words … I know this to be the case. Health care, especially now, demands extra special people doing extra special things. He is one of them. He is, admittedly, one in a team.

Steady, consistent, … 70-degrees and flourescent, right? This is his environment. This is how he weathers through.

As I finished up yesterday – leaving the hospital after nearly a week of stress, exhaustion, driving, …. and all the tag-alongs that go along with caring for someone in the hospital, his settled phrase calmed my nerves. The empty wheelchair back in its place, my final steps back to the parking garage for a 2 hour trip home were slow and metronomic. I breathed in the 70-degree air one last time as I left the East Wing. Flourescent lights of UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, in my body’s rearview one last time and a welcoming, very familiar, Honda only two floors up awaited my key.

I understand. Not everything is easy. This past week was extremely difficult. Decisions had to be made that were hard on everyone.

This is why I smoosh in friendly conversations everywhere I can. Invigorating talk-abouts with strangers – when appropriate – enliven my spirit. We have to talk to each other in order to keep ourselves alive. Words must flow back and forth – not solely over texts and voicemails.

I understood what helps my pharmacist friend get through his days. I know what helps me. 70-degree and flourescent isn’t my thing. Music, your interesting life in digestible pieces, sunny days in August, … and loving, caring people in my life all make my 24-7’s worth the wait.

… and holding back time in front of moody elevators a few days ago deserved my attention. He never knew my name. “Doug” was never mentioned and a distant memory that never was in his busy, overworked medicinal mind. As we spoke, he never moved the files from in front of his badge. I will never know his name, either. What a wonderful conversation, nonetheless.

Find a stranger today and say, “Hi!”, if you are comfortable doing so. I have some practice and very little shame 🤔 … Seriously, though, … If you can ask about their day, you’ll be surprised what most folks will tell you. Think about what you’d say if asked(?).. Look in the mirror and practice.

I have fun engaging with folks. It’s not always the way to enlightenment, but sure beats the downs in life, I say. Ride as many elevators you can with as many folks as possible for an uplifting experience. If you are adverse to that idea, but need a positive boost in life, look for the usual elevator alternative …

It’s not a moody elevator, but a step in the right direction, anyway.

7 Floors Down

Directly below where I now sit is a cafeteria. Beside that eatery is a small, intimate little sitting area with one bench. I sat on that bench – seven floors down – recording a 4:06 video. This happened nearly two hours ago here, at Shadyside hospital in Pittsburgh, during a time when I should have been somewhere else …

Life isn’t all smiles. Greta and I should have been rehearsing final notes for our, “Smile: A musical journey through life and rare terminal cancer” concert. Instead, we are quietly singing our way around nurses, beeping IV pole stand monitors, and shuffling feet noises outside a very accomodating western PA hospital facility. It’s been a difficult past few days. Six months of planning. We fell a mere few days short.

There is no quit here. The concert has been postponed. For those among my readers who are unaware, here is the poster:

I sit here at 9:11 wondering, “why?”. It’s hard not to ask that question. Why so close, yet so unreachable? During a small window of opportunity this afternoon, we had a moment when Greta’s vocal, quiet beauty met my pianist eyes. That one word fell into our near conversational silence. We knew it. It remained unanswered as time drifted into a lull. Seventy-two hours is all. After six months of planning and rehearsing, life came down to seventy-two hours.

I sat on a small bench recording a video, not another smaller bench playing, “Silver Lining”, or “Rainbow Connection”. There will be no beauty in song tomorrow. No daisies on stage or train whistle to begin the concert with Doris Day’s rendition of, “Sentimental Journey” ending with Greta’s A-major 7th she loves so much. “Chase” – with her brother, Bump – and Donnie & Marie’s closing theme will both have to wait until we decide to reschedule. There is no quit. No give-up. Twenty-three songs and pieces Greta and I have accepted as part of our souls are, now, archived in our library of memories … for now.

Seven floors up from where I was, I now sit. Sad, but so glad Greta is receiving the care she needs.

“Why?” still remains unanswered and will be so. I don’t want an answer. One week earlier this concert had a chance. Even this past Wednesday, she had the spunk and energy to do a full hour interview at our local radio station. We had a window. Small as it was …

Life with appendix cancer isn’t what anyone expects or plans for at any time … anywhere. As I finish up this short post, I am so grateful for the opportunity to share a smile journey. It’s, simply, not the way Greta and I hoped to dance happy memories past your ears tomorrow.

Below is a replacement video for the livestream we planned for 2:00 tomorrow. May you find peace and wonderment in all your smiles – and please listen to your favorite music not only tomorrow afternoon, but always. “Smile, though your heart is breaking …”

https://www.dropbox.com/s/4bzudec914h2ils/0821211840.mp4?dl=0

The Eighth Note That Was

There aren’t many impromptu, rhythmic happenings in my life that aren’t unrehearsed these days. With a special vocal/piano concert less than two weeks away, every push of a key in “I’ll Be Seeing You’, vocalese in “How High The Moon”, and every solitary note in twenty-one other songs – for a program to benefit the Appendix Cancer Research Foundation – has been rehearsed. Yes, Ms. Greta and I have planned and charted a course … headed toward that “x” destination of August 22nd, 2021.

On a rough ocean of unpredictable high-c’s, on a rehearsal piano that won’t be used in the performance, we’ve managed to steer a wondrously magical musical ship through busy schedules, personal conflicts, and medical challenges. I can’t write, “all of that aside, however”, because as of this moment, we are still facing waves of complications. Business schedules don’t subside. Personalities continue as they have for decades … and cancer sucks.

I sat facing forward for a few minutes outside Sam’s Club yesterday. Sitting. A break from behind the grill as one young man, Tristan, welcomed the opportunity to work my business by himself. A short video call to Ms. Greta was in order as she was unable to be with me. This was our 6th fund-raiser outside Sam’s where Doug’s Dawgs has the opportunity to split profits 50/50 with ACPMP. I welcomed the break.

Indeed a short call as Tristan quickly drew a crowd – not of his own doing, of course. It was Sunday, and Sam’s Club. To date, we’ve raised over $1,600 dollars for ACPMP (with generous tips included) and my business is honored to be a part of such a rare, strange cancer … in a rare, strange way.

I’d rather not be raising money behind a hot dawg cart at all, to be frank … and, yes, pun intended. I’d much prefer to be planning and rehearsing a concert with a healthy, vibrant Ms. Greta. My choice would be to have appendix cancer not exist in the first place. As an extension of that thought, I’d like to have my mom in attendance on the 22nd instead of buried in a local hill under a heavy stone due to cancer.

Writing about this at 2:20 a.m., of course, is my choice … but, rehearsing a verse of “Silver Lining” right now would make these typing fingers a lot happier.

Not to be at the moment. I need to be satisfied with silence.

A few moments of quiet didn’t happen yesterday. Those don’t exist while working – even when a reliable, motivated young man takes the helm. I had two, maybe three, minutes of restful look ahead time to eat a slice of rubbery pizza and slosh down a swig of diet Pepsi. I did glance down for a second as a frequent customer sat his dawgs gently on the table to my right. That look down, actionable second – combined with the reflection from the sun’s angle – gave me an astonishing inhale … a note.

An eighth note. A simple quaver.

Prior to my being there, did a minor, invisible, cafĂ© table spirit being decide it was my turn to receive a message from the great beyond? During my earlier bathroom break, did Nicholas Sparks secretly walk over to goo-up a blue metal table top for another “The Notebook” sequel? The note smudge was kinda cool. Under the circumstance of a concert that’s very close and becoming unpredictably familiar, I needed a reminder that life without musical notes helping to steer a ship in turbulent waters isn’t much of a life at all.

… At least for Ms. Greta and me, this is so true. We’ve rehearsed the notes. Many eighth notes were here for us, and will be again on the 22nd. Hopefully. They’ve been our delight (and struggle at times), but when all the engines are firing together, there’s no ship on the sea that compares. None.

The eighth note that was, truly. A simple, effortless reminder by innocent customers who had no idea a quaver was left behind in their wake. A note head, stem, and flag. Not sure this could have been planned – or rehearsed – any better.

Sometimes the most magical, short lyrical stories in your life can be the impromptu moments while sitting at a café table for two minutes. Keep your eyes open for the effortless note that may appear when you least expect it.

Don’t worry about the ocean, btw. As unpredictable as it is, we’re all riding in the ship together doing the best we can, right?

And cancer still sucks.

Simply, A Cookie and Me

From five feet, this miracle happened. I have no explanation other than a Chips Ahoy supernatural phenomenon. After over fifty years of jamming these cookies into my mouth – without dropping a single one on any floor, it finally happened. Outside … over a newly painted brown patio, one slipped through my piano fingers.

… And landed on its side. Straight up, perpendicular to the the floor, six inches from my sandaled feet. I looked down in amazement. One cookie. One mistake in over five decades of chocolate yumminess and I’m rewarded with a miracle. Yes, a mystery that can’t be explained by a previously waiting-for-a-cookie crack in the concrete, or softness of said cookie that’s advertised as crunchy.

Quickly, I summoned my phone, then my appetite. A five second rule be damned. Even in the midst of a once-in-a 2/3 lifetime event, snack time needed to be obeyed after finishing a few chores. Sure, this wasn’t a mega-million dollar lottery ticket or a $3.7 million Honus Wagner T206 baseball card find during a beautiful Saturday mid-afternoon, last day in July. It was, simply, a cookie on its edge.

If I had the time and tried 256,000 times, the cookie wouldn’t have landed that way. This, today, was purely a chance event. Ok, “miracle” may have been uber-dramatic, but maybe there was some kind of supernatural force at play? Perhaps the physics god stepped in to give me some levity today?

Whatever the reason, having a delicious event happen at my feet was satisfying … necessary, and ironic.

I took today off from my business. Strange to do so considering I was scheduled to be at an event. This was only the second time in sixteen years I’ve skipped out on a cart commitment. When staring at that cookie, I was subtly reminded why.

It was on edge – as I have been recently. Thus, the mental health day. A once-in-almost-never occurrence for a cookie … and me. I believe it was a nod from the universe confirming my decision to reign in a current swirling mental state. By saying, “no”, to agitated brain waves in constant future mode, I’m finding today to be an unfamiliar calm.

A day with nothing except breathing and eating is noticeably different. I’m writing under no duress, but comfortably under a nice summer sun while thinking only about the next few words and sentences.

Tomorrow, thankfully, is more of the same. A two-day weekend including … no business. It’s been forever since I’ve had one and don’t anticipate another one for a while. Thank you, July 31st and August 1st.

Please take care of yourself. Don’t let life get so busy you need to see the miracle of a cookie on its side to remind you being on edge isn’t healthy. Finishing a whole package of Chips Ahoy isn’t healthy, either, which is what I’ll probably do by tomorrow evening.

That’s just what I do. If any fall between my fingers tomorrow, guaranteed they’ll land top down, bottom down, or crack into pieces. As long as these marvelous snacks are the ones cracking up and not me, I’ll consider my decision to not be on edge one of the best choices I’ve made in a long time.

…. And a miracle.

A Not So Lonely, Beautiful Tree

An oak tree. A big, majestic … friend.

I spent hours looking at the mighty oak. Across a dull, paved lot, my eyes hovered beyond my concession trailer for two days. This lonely tree became my friend from yards away. Too busy to closely introduce myself, the only way to communicate was through imaginary vibes … those thoughts a busy man and a tree – both firmly planted in their spots – can have.

I know, maybe this friend didn’t know I was a short leaf dance away. Then again, perhaps he did. Nice enough for me to know he wasn’t lonely during this past Friday & Saturday event visits.

Imagining he was extraordinarily lonely occupied my time. Over multiple decades, tens of thousands kinfolk must have walked by his thick, aged truck. Entering the stately halls of our Jaffa Shrine in Altoona – paying no attention to his wonderful symmetrically round presentation seconds before – they quickly forgot what wasn’t seen. A friend welcoming them.

For two days, in between flipping burgers and cheese-steaks, I noticed. What struck me was how much attention has been paid to the Jaffa building itself … with the circuses, concerts, and events over the past 90 years since the first brick was laid in 1928. The land on which it stands was originally purposed for farming and, by all accounts, my friend stood as a witness to the construction begun on the purchased property. Oh, the history behind his bark and the sights and sounds hidden in rings of mystery.

So loyal he’s been. Granted, what choice was there? Never uprooted physically, but perhaps a bit miffed at folks so drastically changing a landscape, was he. Since years when depression-era backhoes and shovels ravaged a calm, singing meadow, he’s seen busy Broad Avenue paved and re-paved many times over, 23rd and 22nd streets uncobbled, and his own luscious green wide-open, turn-of-the-century meadow partner flattened by impersonal parking lot tonnage. The manicured lawn above his underground historical account could be considered a small token of respect given by the current occupants, I suppose.

So little attention paid. This is a broad assumption on my part. How would I ever know if another friend held out an imaginary or actual cordial hand? No dedicated visitor tree log is happily kept inside the large glass doors under those big red J-A-F-F-A letters arched over a symbolic masonic sabre with a half-moon dangling underneath. Few entered with second thoughts about what they passed. A friend … still standing.

Yeah, I did think these thoughts. There were a few moments, at the end of my Saturday event, to walk over and ask to pull a leaf for clarification. A welcoming, low branch gave me the opportunity to eventually narrow my friend’s name down to, “Mr. White Oak”, thanks to a personal contact and a leaf/tree identification app..

Sometimes, life gives us really cool, new friends. We need to look across weird, dull, bland spaces to see them. They’re only yards away and need our company – if only in that imaginary, vibrant world available in two-day stretches during an otherwise everyday food cart existence.

Yours isn’t a behind-the-grill life I’m assuming, but look up and across from your eyes-down tasks and chat, silently, with a tree.

He, or she if you prefer, will be that friend who will listen without judgement. Theirs is a world of steadiness and majesty, beauty and kindness.

It truly was hours … off and on as sandwiches and drinks were steadily shifting from my hands into the hands of customers. By the end, I was tired. Exhausted from the heat, lack of sitting, and, … yes, nearly six decades of life. Oh, to stand still and just … relax.

Driving off the lot, one last glance back reminded life can be steady, calm, and still … Then it dawned on me: Maybe we can be that tree for someone who needs to see across their empty, dull space? There’s certainly no log book for majesty and beauty, but momentary imaginary friendship when needed the most could be a welcome change.

I’m happy to have a new friend. A big, majestic friend. Perhaps Mr. White Oak in front of the Jaffa Mosque on Broad Avenue in Altoona, Pa, isn’t aware of me. That’s o.k.. In my imaginary world, thoughts and conversations between a busy man and his wiser, bark-laden friend are permissible.

After all, I was always told to listen to my elders.

Slow Down and Feel Groovy

As a worn sidewalk caressed the bottom of my hurrying soles this morning, Simon & Garfunkel rested notes on my soul. I couldn’t get rid of them. You know what I mean. Every so often, darn lyrics songfully plant themselves in our brains and we can’t stop silently singing them over and over.

I was rushing around with too many errands draping off my to-do list. Clamors from passing cars and screaming kids were more annoying than I’m used to which indicated a higher level of stress coursing through my veins. I was searching for sounds of silence when another Artful Paul tune entered my space singing, ” Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last …”

… Not bad advice. Not bad at all.

Steps forward were slower, measured, and calm once those lyrics began to digest into my morning breaths. The previous two hours didn’t matter as much anymore. All the earlier run-arounds, bad news, and mail grabbing sat alone … beside me they were abandoned as I reclined against a kind tree for a spell. It’s not that I didn’t care about a good friend suddenly in the hospital, or a credit card bill, … I had to stop and “let the morning time drop all its petals on me”. Simple.

And so, I sung “Feelin’ Groovy” in my head for a bit while passers-by wondered why the right fingers and left hip – of a slightly off-centered, closed-eye guy in his 50’s – were happily grooving and snapping to inaudible sounds. Hard to pull off in public, I know, but completely necessary when life is a bit too much to handle. Yes, steps forward from those tree-leaning moments were un-hurried and peaceful.

Ten minutes back to a car two blocks away. Best guess, that distance took less than two minutes in my scurryful state earlier in the morning. “Just kickin’ down the cobblestones”, but not appreciating any of them, happened to be a state of mind I didn’t appreciate when jumping in and out of three businesses, two banks, a post office, a church, one cafĂ©, and gas station. Filling time, I guess … “Gettin’ er done”, as some friends would say. In the groove of busyness, however, not really enjoying any of it.

Mundane, everyday, with tints of exhaustion and over-expectations of what I can actually handle was this morning. As one very respectful business owner once advised, “You can do anything you put your mind to, just not everything“.

Yep. Isn’t that most of us, though? We try to do so much … and in the midst of it all, we forget to feel groovy and enjoy ourselves. Trying to do everything all the time isn’t helping the situation we’re in – whatever life bubble that happens to be.

My plate is full. Simon & Garfunkel don’t know how full it is. To say, “I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep”, would be one heck of a whopper to tell at this point in my life … and one lyric line from “Feelin’ Groovy” that doesn’t jive up with my life. As the song Pete & repeated, that lyric laughed heartily. I get it.

You know what? Don’t care.

I had to make the morning last … and last it did. Once my steps strode easily, a pulse eased. The drive back from town? So much less, since frenetically jammed tension built up by sad news and work expectations were left in the soil by a tree. Since then, work-stuff with phone calls and expectations are still present. Those are being handled at a slower metronomic pace.

… Kinda like a sweet strumming guitar on stage.

Remember to slow down, please. There’s no better control over anything going on than your willingness to stop for a few minutes and feel groovy. Sounds silly, I know.

For me today, there wasn’t a lamppost to ask, “What’cha knowing?”. Perhaps for you, someday there will be. Ask away and get some answers if needed. I don’t have the answers to anything. All I know is slowing down was the best thing I could have done at 10:35 this morning on the corner of Allegheny and Union. Moving too fast over feet isn’t a good plan, overall.

You gotta make the morning last … and make it count for all the right reasons. Be that reason. Look for fun, feel groovy if at all possible, and keep those songs repeating in your head.