Mark (not) My Words

“Ok free advice take it for what it is worth:
There are many people on my friends list that have good points and views that I agree with. What I have a problem with is how you express them sometimes. We have to be careful that in a passionate desire to be heard we don’t build a wall the stifles our voice. Remember this my friends:

How they HEAR what you SAY, is determined by how you SAY what they HEAR.”
If you only want to be heard by those that agree with you then it doesn’t matter. But what good is preaching to the choir. If you want to reach others and truly make a difference. Then you have to cut out the hate rhetoric, you will never open ears, eyes and hearts by attacking
others beliefs, they won’t even listen if you start out by putting people on the defense. Instead put forward the virtues of your views, with your own words not some else’s memes that are usually biased, (any error in your message discredits the whole of your message.) If your good point is hidden among hate, profanity, and half truths people may not get to it. There is good food in the trash but many people aren’t willing to go through the trash to get to it. You must be willing to research and plays devil’s advocate on your own post. What is your goal? Just to get a bunch of likes or open other’s minds? Then put your message out in a way that will best get it received and educate another on your views.” Mark B. , Facebook Friend

Now that I have your attention.

The above few paragraphs are so well written, I had to share them with you. Sometimes in the process of churning over ideas in the “what-catches-my-fancy” mind machine, surprises lurch out from behind unexpected places.

The first “was to be” paragraph was already written inside this over-heated, somewhat delectably complacent body of mine when I sat down a few minutes ago. It takes that certain mood to begin writing. Inspiration and a semi-to-full belly helps the process along … as well as a relaxed, silent to the outside – garrulous on the inside – mind. A nice slab of lightly dusted haddock, mac-and-cheese, mashed potatoes, and corn with a side of fresh (ahem), cool air conditioning inside Cracker Barrel an hour ago activated the creative juices after a long three days in the hot sun. Work is work. After a pleasant meal, it was time to write. “Two short miles from a plate of fish to home.”, rattled around in my head. The rhythm of these words spoke to me as equally relieved tires kerplunked over each cement seam in the road.

A few small errands – weekend desk “jobs” – I quickly tossed aside. Not so sure they were done accurately (as I would like), but, this is why Monday days-off exist … in my mind, anyway. “Fix on Monday what was messed up on Sunday”, is my motto. Only one – ONE – item to-do remained: check my Facebook messages and follow-up with the “necessaries”. Don’t want to leave hanging half-dones in the hopper, right?

Well, I can’t say “wrong” … at least for the purposes of this blog. My original theme, completely off subject from what is to follow, can wait.

It’s just I had a “was to be” great idea … and then Mark came up with those wonderful words above that are even greater! – and I couldn’t let them pass by without giving him credit and a nod here. He wrote what I’ve been trying to say for months … and, ironically, this is the same idea spoken back and forth today between a stranger and I. He and I, by the way, are no longer strangers.

He wasn’t Mark. Mark and I go back in time a few years on Facebook. This young man – to whom I refer – I just met today.

It is about messaging. The young man wouldn’t mind my labeling him an activist – that’s what he is by his own admission. He organized a small, educational event – locally – to bring together opposing views on racism, discrimination, protests, violence, and police actions in America. My informal conversation with him enlightened my views on all the listed subjects (as a 50-ish white male) because he was respectful, did not talk down or up to me, listened and talked equally. Neither he nor I deserved disrespect, anger, or abusive language toward one another. Granted, we were in a semi-professional environment, but still …

Andrae’s cause is quite interesting. A Western-PA insertion into my life I did not expect, and refreshing as the iced tea I casually sipped while he spoke. My words would not do him justice, so I’ll allow a simple “cut and paste” from his Facebook page to speak for me (pay heed to the final sentence … does it not resonate loudly with Mark’s remarks above?):

Progress for People of Color- PPC is a human race vs racism organization. We are not a black vs white, republican vs democrat, or capitalist vs communist organization. We are NONPARTISAN, accepting of ALL ethnicities/races, open to ALL religious groups, and willing to talk with ALL professions. We are NOT here to burn down bodies of authority, but to reform them. We are not a platform to publicize extremist or anarchist views, but respect your right to have your own opinions on your own behalf. If you’d like to do so, please look into establishing your own nonprofit organization. We will not perpetuate divisive rhetoric, unless it comes to separating racists from the rest of society.” (for more information)

He has a background I would not have guessed. He has a political leaning I would not have guessed. I have biases, still, even though I am working diligently to overcome them. I am digging through “trash” to find my own really good food within. This is a process I’ve always done – pre Covid and racial tension – so for me, this is nothing new. Inner reflection and self-improvement is as easy as breathing and, daily, I trip over cracks in my soul searching sidewalk along the path of personal perception. This is the good.

The bad? I’m still working through an experience with a person who is obstinate, defiant, stubborn, inflexible, recalcitrant, and whose opinions are unmanageable in the “truly make a difference” world Mark wants to see. Correction: In MY world, anyway.

One caveat here. This humanoid is family. Emotions, as you probably are aware and have experienced, get pushed off the swing at the height of the arc and are painful when family members are on the not-so-playful playground of politics. I will not gleefully play, or join in merriment anytime soon, with this person because I cannot HEAR what she SAYS. Recently, she put me on the defensive as is her tactic – I reacted with three/four texts – and I’m done. My response, now, is silence. There will be no more dialogue … and that’s unfortunate. There is a limit. Assaulting my beliefs with uninformed spears, prejudiced and intolerantly poisoned at the tips, penetrating what is an assumed position of mine, is no way to begin a rational discussion.

I am not shallow. I am an open book for learning. If you want to know me, just ask.

I am most people … I hope I am, anyway.

We are (almost) all open to change some of our opinions about (some) things. Mark is spot on about messaging. The old wive’s proverb, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” means that it is much easier to get what you want by being polite rather than by being rude and insolent, is so true. They knew – pre-internet keyboard warriors – it was a kind word and a gentle handshake to soften an edgy personality. They knew a warm piece of apple pie and fresh brewed iced tea on a sunny, summer day was the ticket to enter someone’s cold heart.

My original idea for today can wait. It has to. The shelf of my ideas has room for one more. What can’t wait one more day is your willingness to look inside yourself and find one small nugget of reason and appreciation. Move it aside. If there is another goody-nugget behind, keep going … until you find room for understanding. Reach out to someone different and ask, “I don’t agree with you, but I want to understand why you believe what you do. May we talk?”

It’s magic. I’ve done it. Listen to them. Allow them the pleasure of listening to you.

The Cracker Barrel road, fortunately for me over the years, has been a two-way street. I have the pleasure of leaving and going there frequently. They are in that strange space defined by capacity limitations, condiment funny-isms, and weird menu choices – all due to this “where-are-we” virus world. Tonight, I cannot avoid the obvious, over-used cliche “two-way street” to say:

Feed your soul. Have that one great conversation with someone different. Adjust your mind about one small, little life-item you thought would never change. Read an article on a subject opposite from your normal political position. Ride a swing next to someone willing to be on the swing next to you, even though you are uncomfortable with them for some reason.

I think the over-arching theme is: Understand your message, speak well of others, and … as Mark said, “put your message out in a way that will best get it received and educate another on your views.

My original message was probably good. Mark’s, however, was great.

Another day for mine, my friend. Thanks for the inspiration.

Chairs With No Seats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sunshine, birds, and another day to appreciate.

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

No More Words, For The Now

When there’s nothing to say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No words necessary.

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

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

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

For now, no more words.

I Feel Ya, That’s A Fact

My seasonal business pushes this lazy guy’s butt out of hibernation around mid-March. When the last of the “yeah, right” wintry mixes blows through these parts, I tentatively tow my shy weenie wagon up the road to an Irish Festival swarming with bendy little hat people and crafty good booth vendors.

I say tentatively because – after 15 years – I’m never quite ready for it, emotionally. It’s the beginning of a nine month spectacular slinging slog of magnificence ending with another Mid-November wintry mix. In that span of 270 days, my stainless friend and I get rained on, have spectacular sale days, see all our fantastic customers, burn food, give Doug hugs, have disagreements, pay a lot more bills, receive sunburns, lose tongs, and cook up dump loads of chili sauce. You know … normal.

This year wasn’t any different. For the first day open or so, anyway. Normal was … well, normal on that green, four-leaf clover “luck-o-the-Irish” day. After that 24 hours, my tow-a-long friend and I parted ways – involuntarily mind you – as I reluctantly backed her into storage. She remained in isolation for 45 days until this past Thursday when I, as squeaky-toned as her well appreciated wheels, hooked her back up to be operational once again.

Under duress of my over-compressed brain, I felt it necessary to serve the public. May 1st, 2020. Friday. The day to be back dipping into melty cheese, planking up Doug’s Dawgs two-by-two in a manner Noah himself would be proud. Time served of 45 days in isolation when, under the terms of take-out and drive-thru, I could have opened. I opted to close down because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. There was – and still is – an abundance of caution that needs to be respected. I feel that is required. Here and now is all of our space.

Here and now is six weeks later. The past two days customers came as I set up in the ArtsAltoona lot located at 6th avenue and 23rd Street in Altoona, PA. Fifteen years in the business with little advertising … I knew they would. Was it throngs of folk? No. A spattering of hungry, regulars came by, ordered and conversed, then left satisfied they received high quality, service, and cleanliness they’ve always expected.

For me, I was so glad to be behind my friend again. Supporting her as she always does for me. Yes, my stainless 10×5 is a “she”. Don’t argue with me. I have my problems in life. Please don’t make this another one. Y’all don’t pick on boat-toting, glee-floaters who have she-sheds with oars, so ….

Anyway, all of the activity those wonderful two days as I was open gave me concern. They felt normal. Even with masking and social distancing, I felt almost normal again. The facts: … Doug’s Dawgs was open for lunch and I felt normal.

FACTS and FEELINGS. Two sides of a very uncomfortable coin right now. A coin we can’t frivolously toss into the Trevi fountain hoping upon hope for overwhelming public consensus and healing of a very public open wound. The facts vs feeling debate rages on faster than the virus itself – to a greater end – and will outlast any supposed vaccine or herd immunity.

The umbrella shading all this is the increased feeling of “normal”. It continues to drive emotions. Protesters in Michigan who storm state office buildings, Governors issuing open-orders trying to get back some sense of “what should be but isn’t”, and grocery store patrons refusing to mask despite concern for their neighbors.

Then we have numbers. Data. Cases and death. Red and yellow counties in Pennsylvania, “facts” and on the ground, basic grind-away, undisputed (possibly, not) figures, Viet-nam comparable death counts. Virologist, immunologist, statisticians, ER doctors, … all the professionals this hotdawg seller/pianist respects … injecting their well-informed opinions into our semi-accepting, varicose-very-close, uber-sensitive veins.

Everyone is scampering about … starting to feel normal. And this could be not so good in the near future.

Feelings are not going away. Neither are the facts. The weather is getting warmer around these parts and I will remain open with all the restrictions in place. I “feel” this is the right thing to do. One “fact” too, … I have bills to pay and the season is upon me.

So many are stuck. Small businesses have to make similar decisions. None of us have easy times right now. These everyday normals suck. This fall, depending upon how the virus spreads, or doesn’t, could be a disaster … or not. Facts and feelings will determine a lot of our fates. The equation of the times, right? Facts and Feelings add up to our Fate in the Fall. Four F’s we never saw barreling toward a devil’s crossroad in NormalTown, USA.

Such a paradox with no real answer. We want to feel normal … but acting normal could get all of us in real trouble down the road … if the facts hold true. Ugh.

I feel ya, brothers and sisters. I feel ya. Hang tight. Rough roads we travel … hang on to your dawgs.

Simple Spoon

There were times when my mom stood over me tapping that over-used wooden spoon in her open palm. Rare, but rhythmic happening moments all of us experienced at least a few times in our dinner-lives, right? Those, “Eat your peas, or else moments!” … I had tapioca pudding, meat pie, and stuffed pepper or else wooden spoon moments with mom. I’m convinced a sense of internal pulses came out of these dinner rituals, if nothing else, and to this day want those precious shadowing, metronomic motherly-love heartbeats back.

You’ve had those comfortable, nice, hard to forget, precious memories. I know it. Plates smooshed with undesirable adult food before and after all the yummy good kid food was happily jammed down our throats. Popsicles, cookies, candy, Spaghetti-O’s, Kraft Mac-N-Cheese, hotdogs, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, any pre-sweetened cereal … the pre-teen, can’t get enough, gullet-slider gas fueling rebellion to normal food met all our dietary needs.

And guess what? We survived, didn’t we? Goes to show those adults in the kitchen at that time who was right, darn-it! No canned peas for me, mom. Definitely had the, “I’ll sit here until this ugh-bread pudding dies a slow, painful, dehydrated death by stare-down” routine down. I was a rebellious child who didn’t like depression-era grub. I loved the challenge, though. Probably set a few world records. Sitting on old vinyl worn metal chairs with little hind-end padding, my nerves on edge, there’s was no giving in to the pressure. The unknown, unrecorded tales in the annals of time will tell of my conquest.

For now, I’ll settle for awesome memories of mom … and her tapping of a long wooden spoon waiting for my resignation .. my defeat. The ultimate spoon into dreaded abyss of lumpy, texture-terrible terrain in a bowl.

Unfinished as those dinners were so many years ago, was a movie I began last night. It was forgettable. Twenty minutes into this masterpiece, by my best guess, I fell asleep. Laziness prevents me from going back to find the Netflix title … that’s how important I feel it is to the overall point here. I’d rather eat a bowl of over-cooked, dry bread pudding than relive those twenty minutes. Typing in that last sentence was cinematically more creative than the opening credits of said box office blunder.

Save all that, the opening eight words caught my attention – which is why I decided to, possibly, spend a few blinky eye-isolation moments watching this movie. The hook got me and kept me in the stream for twenty minutes before this fish wiggled free from bad acted lines, baited scenes, and a cast that was in need of a re-do…badly.

Those eight words were simply: Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.

As I reviewed that quote in my notes, my thoughts this morning went immediately back to childhood. That’s where all our simplicities live. Present tense used on purpose because we never outlive our youth. It’s colorful and rainbow-y, sometimes dreary, too – but always hanging around in our “backyard” brain. The places and people who shaped and helped us sway on emotional swings, slide down and get back up, run through dirt, and hang on to monkey bars forever. Simple.

This quarantine is simple. Or, at the least, should be. It has become anything but easy, simple, piece of cake, undemanding, … whatever term you’d like. Politics, individual beliefs about liberty and freedom, media biases, and religious tenets have hijacked the tranquility these times demand. Childhood, from any era, asks something different.

“Receive with simplicity all that is given to you”

This is not to say we are to accept and not question. I don’t like canned peas. To this day, I will find ways, in my mid-fifties, to straw-shoot them across the room to see if they’ll stick on the fridge. Don’t set a bowl of meat pie in front of me or I will stir it around with a spoon like a spoiled little man singing, “Go little meat pie all to h*ck, hope you find your place in …” ..well you get my drift. I can revisit my childhood so quickly when oofy-food I don’t like, still, is slam-plated down in front if me. Rare, but it happens. We laugh when it does. Sort-of.

This virus was given to us. By who? We don’t know. For what reason? Geesh … that’s for those with significantly higher spiritual connections than I to answer. When will it end? Probably not soon enough for anyone’s satisfaction.

These are complicated questions with no easy answers. Rashi, the 11th century French thinker, rabbi, and grammarian to whom the above quote is attributed, probably couldn’t figure it out either. He lived one-thousand years before meat pie and canned peas were invented, so other than his beautiful quote, all other stuff he deeply opined about can be, respectfully, dismissed at this time.

Whatever today brings, accept its simplicity. Whatever, or whoever is charged with the delivery, it comes wrapped in a purpose. I don’t know the reason and you don’t need to know either. Accept the gift. It may just be the gift of time.

Time I wish I had back with my mom … and the rhythm of her wooden spoon. Maybe, just maybe, I’d learn to like bread pudding and be a tad less stubborn in my ways. My mom would probably be a handful during these isolation moments. As one who did like that pudding-plah, she’d find comfort in offering to lovingly drop some off, I’m sure just as a way to give me some razz. I’d find assurance sitting in my own home – with my own wooden spoon – calling her back in our heartbeat-connected way.

No words. Just a few simple taps of my wooden spoon in the phone back to her. Simple. She’d know I love her.

And miss her.

Sorry, Bach.

It was a warm fall afternoon when I sauntered my way into a small basement studio, knowing nothing about what was to unfold. Inside approached a man, mid- to-late forties, slightly graying slicked back hair, small build with a striking jaw line framing a pleasant smile. He introduced his Eastman Doctoral self to my freshman-neophytic, pianistic-know-it-all, somewhat taller by 3-inches young, almost 18-year-old boy. Thus began our journey into the wonderful world of music exploration and partnership.

Through years of painful re-examination, it took more than eighty-eight keys to unlock doors slammed shut from pride, unsubstantiated self-awareness, and talent with less-than adequate preparation. This basement dweller of higher knowledge and advanced degrees of insight knew this, instinctively, once I began my introductory, “I’ll show you my genius!” … striking the first notes of Chopin’s G-Minor Ballade (of which I felt was so exquisitely played similar to the likes of Horowitz himself, btw). Jim, as I eventually was allowed to call him, stopped me soon after I began, placed his left hand on my shoulder, gently, and calmly said, “We’ll get back to this masterpiece in a bit .. for now, how about we look at Bach?” ….. Noooooooo!!!!

Not Bach!! I spent years avoiding this dry, powder wig, boring dude. There’s no sexiness in Bach!. Bach has no chick-magnet appeal like Chopin, Liszt, or Rachmaninoff. Jim HAD to be kidding me!! C’mon, man! Ok, so Bach had, like 19 kids and I’ve mega-props for his resilience in that department, but his music takes discipline, practice, and eff..eff… ef…fort oh, I started to see the problem. Damn.

Ding ding!! Light bulb moment in my mind, but I wasn’t about to let him know that. Why would I? Stubborn is a trait I am proud of to this day.

To go through the minutiae of my stuffy, eyeball-watering, note-by-night college lesson years with Jim isn’t the point of this post. I’d love to share all the moments. The struggles. Midnight hours alone with Chopin Etudes wearing my fingers to the bone, Czerny exercises sitting on my every nerve, Schumann lyrical lines I just couldn’t shape correctly, and Strauss waltzes accented so improperly I wanted to throw scores of blood curdling screams across the already small studio room … these are some of a thousand rough experiences nestled in among the few perfectly played moments in front of audiences comfortably settled in their plush, velvety seats in the campus recital hall.

I entered college as a music education major specializing in trombone studies. That was the path, anyway. I knew my passion was the way of pianistic endeavors, but earning a living as a pianist was not encouraged. It took a year of studying to convince myself that path, ultimately, wasn’t the way after all … after one phone call and a little paperwork, I adjusted my thinking and set a new way forward.

All this to say I did end up two college degrees. Yeah me, right? Now, I sell hot “dawgs” for a living and am quite proud of my life … and significantly less full of ego than my earlier, late-teen self.

All of this funneling down to my main point. The past month or so, I’ve posted daily piano pieces on Facebook. These exist as video evidence of my love for the instrument and an extension of wonderful music to the surrounding community as well. If you’d like to listen, they are posted under, “Doug Rhodes Piano”. These would not be possible without that first step into that musty, welcoming studio many years ago.

The selections vary from Jazz to Classical, Rock & Sacred to Motown. I believe there are about 40 total. Now, I don’t claim to have the market cornered on what helps any of us during these trying days, but I can at least give you some – if only a few – moments away to think about happier things. Maybe Chopin, Peter Nero, Barry Manilow, Josef Zawinul, Floyd Kramer, Beethoven, the Beatles, or Les Mis can pull you through … hold your hand – with the help of my two hands. I don’t know. It’s my offering to you.

Oh, and there’s no Bach … still. Years later and I’m as stubborn as I always was. Some things don’t change. Sorry, Jim.

My Pajamas

It’s 4:27 a.m. on a Saturday morning. If you follow these early morning purges at all lately, a quirky – but socially acceptable – pattern of non-sleeping is evident. Tolerated these days due to our governmental, virus-laden, punch-in-the-face complete stop of productivity and industry. I’m caught in it, as all of us are, and my self-employment mind cannot shut off as easily as the illustrious Governor of our Commonwealth thinks it can. “Put up with” because most of the obedient mask-covered constituents of our keystone state are trying our ever-loving best to push through a very difficult time. Agreed to since there seems to be no other choice; Have to, as I so patiently wait for four, yes FOUR, incomplete boxes in my financial life to be checked that should be checked by now.

You want to know my position right now? I’m pissed. Never mind who dropped the challenge in my lap, or under what circumstance it was placed. I’m not happy. The dishes were done by hand 45 minutes ago … that didn’t calm my nerves, so here I am. This, my friends, IS a socially acceptable position to take. And here’s why:

I don’t know who to believe anymore. It’s really that simple.

This shouldn’t surprise even the most astute among us, right? Politicians have been lying since the first T-Rex gnoshed on his first DoDo bird and the media flies around as if it has the virgin wings of Ouranos. Drop in a healthy, pardon me, unhealthy international dose of covid-19 in the middle of a dead bat-infested meat market in China and we have the beginnings of an “UN-believable” pandemic.

It’s to the point in my, now, sheltered life that if I not-so gracefully slide my left leg into the left pant of my pajamas … I’m not trusting it will reappear out the bottom. Yes, it’s that bad right now. My pajamas could be in a conspiratorial mode against me – plotting its next move should I decide to mistakenly forget to wash them, again, this week. #IsolationIssues. Assuming left is successful, right must then attempt insertion and then both must work together in order for me to have some kind of productive day. In my day pajamas. Doing basically nothing. Since none of my four boxes are checked.

This is a simple, but oh, so accurate analogy, of why I can’t sleep .. or believe anything anymore. Should I say, “anything”? Nah, that’s not fair to me. Let’s replace it with the phrase, “All the Windbag Words that Waste my time”, for the sake of this diary entry today. Yes. That’s perfect.

“I can’t believe all the windbag words that waste my time.”

This is phrased carefully, and purposefully. I did not say everything I hear is useless. The gift of discernment has to exercised, and it’s exhausting to say the least. Filtering out the bad information from the good is truly difficult. Just isn’t the same as pulling a pair of fresh, warm pajamas out of the dryer, holding them up close, and sucking in the sweet heavenly air through a cold nose.

Good Covid numbers vs bad.

Are the hospitals really full, or are we being dupped?
Are people actually dying from the virus as the primary cause, or are there serious underlying issues, but C-19 listed on the death certificate?
Is there a ventilator shortage, or not?
Why do the models keep changing so drastically and the experts get to skate when they, themselves, are the experts upon whom we rely?
Is the President really in charge, or not?
If this is such a pandemic, why are the seasonal flu yearly mortality numbers so much larger in year’s past?
Why do the numbers surrounding the success of Hydroxychloroquine stay basically hidden from coverage?
We have a really low number of cases in our county with, thankfully, no deaths. Why are our numbers so low?
Why no actual cases in North Korea or Yemen, as of April 7th? (ok, so this one, although true, is for some levity)

Facebook isn’t a good filter. I say that because it is from where the original proposition came. With over 1,500 friends, a survey would split them 30% reasonable all-in conservative, probably 40%-ish moderate, and the rest reasonable liberal to the edge… should a survey be done. I’ll never so it, obviously. Don’t want to. Love them all and really don’t care to know their political positions as I would hope mine isn’t of much importance to them, save one, the “proposer” . A few I’ve shared via private messenger or in a string of comments below a post. For the most part, however, kinda silent on the matter.

My theory about what the media and politicians say to us is pretty simple. They hear the same words coming out of their mouths time after time, so they believe what they hear … and expect us to as well. We have to discern and filter out the good from the bad, anymore. “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Among psychologists something like this known as the “illusion of truth” effect is so important to remember. I don’t know what the truth is about Covid-19. Hell, I can’t even decide what kind of mask to wear.

So, here’s what I want. First, I’m still pissed. Let’s not lose sight of that fact. When I click “Publish”, the couch awaits my tired soul for some hopeful rest.

Second, and more important, the media and politicians need to start putting their informational pajamas on together. First right, then left. Both sides need to work together – getting their stories straight. I kinda wish they’d quit trying to play the gotch-a game with us, stand up like real Americans, pull up their big-boy superhero pajamas and start walking forward for the benefit of all of us … not them.

My position will remain unchanged until they change, but my position in this chair must change because I’m weary from a lack of quality sleep. I have personal boxes to check with no hope of doing so this weekend. Oh, my pajamas are really comfortable and I probably won’t be taking them off at all today. Yeah, coronavirus! The whole thing right now is really unbelievable in so many ways. That you can take to the bank…

…Hey, when you’re there, could you ask about the status of my paperwork? That’s one of my unchecked boxes and I’m pretty sure they don’t want me to call again.


The Hearts of Friends

The title above has been used before, I’m sure of it. Can’t say where or when. Not laying claim on originality because in the history of words, those four – in that specific order – must have been printed on the cover of a book, in a movie script, or tearfully penned in the diary of a princess. With this legal disclaimer out of the way, I can proceed with my 1:43 a.m. thoughts on the subject.

I’m up. Again. Having finished off another bowl of chicken tetrazzini and nursing a can of plain seltzer as I write, the time slowly pushes forward into deep night … and I’m awake. Nothing new, since this isolation, stay-at-home mandate, time warp continuum is sucking the daylight out of my life. The sleep/wake cycle I used to ride is tire-lessly lumping along a pedestrian free street to nowhere these days. I see no one as I push my bike up emotional hills day after day.

All of us are adjusting right now, though … Please remind me our collective Tour De’Humane Race is happening and I just can’t see it. The race toward normalcy and community-immunity, right? Heading toward a shared finish line where there is a ribbon of vaccines, reopened businesses, and significantly less political rift.

Well, for now anyway, we’re not there. We’re on our late night / early morning couches bitching about not sleeping enough. I am, for sure. Seems the only cure is to remind myself I have the most awesome friends in the world … and I miss seeing them.

To list all of them wouldn’t be fair to those I’d most assuredly forget to mention. Not bragging here, but I have a lot. They wouldn’t agree on the number, however, because … as I say so often … they are stupid and ugly 🤣. In their minds, I am overbearing, pretentious, full of stupid humor, sarcastic, well-intentioned but ill-informed, stylish with no sense of fashion, and best understood when quiet … Oh, and these are my traits as described by my bestest of friends – the loyal four: Mike, Joel, Jim, and possibly another Jim.

I have so many friends in my inner circle other than the four goofballs mentioned. Friends I can text anytime during the day or night who would show up right now with a warm cup of hot chocolate and listen to my story. Nice, cool, reachable friends who are less stupid and ugly. No offense to my loyal four, btw … wink wink.

Extending outward, the descriptors are less unkind – thankfully. We know, don’t we, that friendships change in quality as distances and times change. They are folks – occasionals – who are so gracefully in and out of our lives when we need them to be. The glances up from avacado strawberry salads … and there they are with a smile and a kind hello. Our days filled with such niceness because they close our circles. They fill our empty hearts with good things when we need it.

Mary is such a friend. She has a wonderful heart. Yes, being up in the middle of the night is not good and I’m not pleased about the habitual sock shuffling foot fetish I’ve developed. The path from this couch to the kitchen is worn enough with sock lint. Tonight, however, the trip was well worth the effort.

Mary dropped off a large pan of chicken tetrazzini the other day and tonight I just about finished off the last of it. It is so freakin’ delicious. Late, late night snack o’extra-ordinaire if I must say so. Better still is her genuine care and love to bake a casserole, drop it off, and do it without expecting anything in return.

We are co-workers at a local private school and great friends. Outside of school, though, we don’t see each other much save the occasional staff party or run-in at the local convenience store. Especially now, since the COVID-19 “yeah” stuff goings-on, there’s no opportunity to connect. She’s busy with two grand-young-n’s at home and trying to prepare on-line video lessons for school. In the midst of all this, I get a fantastic chicken tetrazzini casserole delivered. Did I say it’s freakin’ delicious!! Because if I didn’t …

The hearts of friends beat wonderful pulse-nalities. I love them all. Whether they want me to stop telling stories that are, in my mind anyway, folded into magical mysteries, or they drop off yummy goodnesses, ….. I Iove them all.

Too many to mention. Even more memories and joys from them to say or write about so I’ll close with the same four unoriginal words: The Hearts Of Friends.

Know yours. Remember them at 1:43 in the morning when you need to be reminded that your finish line may seem far away and your bike burdensome; However, lonely is never far away when friends are helping you push.

Be rest the best way you can.


Why All The Plastic Bags?

I ask because it is obvious. On the wall of our kitchen hangs an unused cell phone. From the base of that very phone extends a rubber antenna – approximately 6″ in length – holding, by my guess, 1,455 plastic bags. Tan ones, white & gray ones, foreign & domestic, alien, …shall I go on, or is my sarcasm obvious? These very flexible pains in my a** multiply at a rate faster than bunnies on steroids. And, for clarity, I am responsible. Three more were added today to this ever increasing, bulging clump of pliable sacks.

At some unfortunate point in the future, there will be no more. Oh, just no more room on the the antenna, not plastic bags (they’ll keep coming). I figure there is about one-half inch left – at best – at the top before an end will be reached. Then what? Find another out-of-date phone to hang on the wall and start a sequel? Try, maybe “try”, to smoosh down the already tired bags to make room at the top. Me don’t think so, because I’ve finger-trash compacted the bags so much they’ve begged for pardons numerous times already. The antenna inmates have suffered enough.

My only solution is a bigger plastic bag. A step-up. A dorm room to an efficiency, as it were. Better yet, an individual cell to a common area, since I’m on that string of thought. The better move here is letting all these bags off the hook by dumping them, gently, into another, … err, larger plastic bag. Jeez. Where does it end? I then have a 5-gallon capacity plastic trash bag partially full with 1,455 smaller plastic bags … Good news, I guess for the 2,344 MORE bags I undoubtedly will be toting through the front door in weeks to come. At least the unused phone on the wall can take a breather …

Why all the plastic bags? Again, I ask because it is obvious. Let’s go back to plastic in general with the help of

The “years of plastic” began officially the 11th March 1954, when Giulio Natta, future Nobel Prize for Chemistry (in 1963), wrote in his diary: «Made the polypropylene». The new product, later called “Moplen”, was used for producing everything: from dishes to car components to bowls and toys.

Now, to our little baggie friends:

Plastic bags were invented as an alternative to paper grocery bags in the late 1970s to protect trees and prevent clear-cutting of our forests. Plastic bags are a by-product of natural gas extraction and provide an environmental solution to the burn off of this gas during the refining process.

Easy, simple summaries because I’m not currently in a Doctoral research program at Harvard and have a ridiculously fantastic Chicken Tetrazzini dinner to consume before it gets cold. I’ve accumulated (all sarcasm aside) probably 25 bags in a week … low estimate. Fifty since the stay-at-home mandate started two weeks ago. Let’s go with a 25/week average for this household x 50 weeks – with two off for no reason = 1,250 bags / year.

This is one household with minimal needs. For argument’s sake, I’ll up the numbers to better represent what I feel America is doing. I’m going to do this first without googling the actual numbers. After thumb-crunching my way through, I will exit out, go to google, and then re-visit this entry.

So here’s my baseline: Average household consumes 50 plastic bags a week between groceries, household needs, and entertainment. Out of the 325 million people, an average household of 3.5 people means there are roughly 90 million households +/-. 50 bags per week is an annual household usage of 2,500 bags. Again, 2 weeks off for no reason.

90,000,000 Households x 2,500 bags = 225,000,000,000 bags per year. That’s 225 Trillion plastic bags PER YEAR.

Give me a few seconds to check out Google. Be right back.

In The United States

  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.
  • According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion).
  • Four out of five grocery bags in the U.S. are now plastic.
  • The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store.

160,000 plastic bags a second (

This year 5 trillion plastic bags will be consumed. That’s 160,000 a second! Put one after another they would go around the world 7 times every hour and cover an area twice the size of France.

OK. So, I was way off. Glad to know my estimates were laughingly off-the charts. Possibly the number of households? … bags per household? Again, not doing Nobel-winning research here. For our sake, thankfully, my numbers are high. Too bad the real numbers are high as well, though.

Back to my kitchen…and the clod. Its gotta go somewhere. I have little patience anymore for the little tip of rubber exposed at the end. WHY all the plastic bags? I am at fault. We have reusable totes that could be reused. Thus, the moniker so forcefully emblazoned on the side! Jimminy Be-Jeepers it isn’t that complicated! Laziness begets more plastic. Ugh.

This is why all the plastic bags. I’m lazy.

Not too lazy, mind you, to spend an hour writing about it. Just too slothful to take a few seconds, when heading out the door for snacks and essentials, and grab a reusable, green tote.

Life is complicated in other areas. This shouldn’t be one of them. I hear my phone – should answer it. Not the one on the wall, though. It is otherwise occupied.

Always the Tease

It’s 3:45 in the morning and I’m up as usual. My sleep-wake cycle is all weirded out much like half the country’s attitude right now. Social screens blowing up with contrarian viewpoints, arching flame-filled volleyballs across spiked nets … works of biased broadcasting to be sure. I’m certainly not one to kick sand in anyone’s face here. Or, am I. Atlas shrugged his shoulders at the man and then became a body of reckoning by facing down his bullies. Ayn Rand served up potential of the human mind and the consequences of our good intentions in “Atlas Shrugged”. Both are digging their heels, deeply, into the dark wet sand of our emotional ripples. We sit watching them play as the volley never ends.

Above looks like an itchy, painful, sand-in-the eyes mash of mix metaphors and cross-pollinating literary plaah. I grant you that. Again, it’s early (now, 4:32 a.m.), I’ve run low of hot tea, am checking in on Facebook as I type, and hear funny voices in my head. The latter not uncommon, by the way. Oh, and we are still Social Distancing … not from anything inanimate, mind you – just from anything breathing, moving, or otherwise capable of interacting on any level keeping me from losing my ever-loving mind.

So, let’s tie all this together .. the little bit I’ve here so far. Charles Atlas Shrugged (not shagged .. be careful – now, now) Ayn Rand at the beach playing volleyball. We’re watching them early in the morning on March 29th, 2020, during a mandated mindful-ish, societal time-out. I am sipping once again after filling my monopoly-themed mug once more with Garden Andes organic tea. Facebook became boring so I clicked out and the voices still remain but are less funny …

All this to say, you have my almost complete attention. For now. To the subject at hand: The word BUT. Not, BUTT, but BUT … only one “T”. Being ever so careful, I am clarifying for clarity, exacting for exactness. In the case of this word specifically, it’s … Always The T’s, … always. T’easing and pleasing, in the most joyous of ways, during these confusing, hard days.

This word has been peeking around the dunes lately, wanting to play with the big boys and girls on the beach. I am as guilty as the next bikini-clad, batman-boxer bathing suit, speedo sporting, sand surfing writer. We invite it on our literary towels, where tanner more sporty looking words lay, without considering its ability to shun onlookers. Once a but is seen, an interested glance accompanied by a wink and a nod turns away. Exposed to the sun’s light, a but cracks open a spasm doubt previously unkown to snufflers walking by. It negates any sweet smelling idea proposed by the sentence structurer. Therein lies the rub.

I’m not completely adverse to the idea of using the but word, however, it is used way too often. It’s crammed into sentences so often I don’t think even the most exquisite among literary laxatives would ease the log jam. So apparent in columns of online social and professional colonoscopical bloviating, I find its usage exhausting. No wonder we’ve seen a run on toilet paper. It’s not just due to the Covid-19 outbreak and panic buying ad nauseam. Some fault to all the professional editors who are scurrying about, raiding the big box stores, maxing out their corporate credit cards, driving up the stock prices of Charmin, Cottonelle and Angel Soft. They are trying to clean up the crap-storm, but messes of contradictory information floating around in every crevasse of porcelain popular opinions.

So, here we are … buckets upon buckets of wet sand starting to build castles on a beach that will, eventually, be washed out … BUT for now, we have to deal with what is. A world of he-said-they-said-she-said information where everyone is entitled to their opinion preceded by the word “but”. I see it everywhere, especially in the Facebook universe where a man-boy founder’s vision of a better, less ugly world is certainly not that right now. I would argue today is more in line with Zuck’s original intent, anyway. Lining up faces in a juvenile dorm room to poll away the pretty from the ugly … just now we are substituting opinions for faces.

We are caught, non-professionals and professionals alike, in this goofy paradigm. Our line in the sand is the constantly moving narrative of what is true and what isn’t. Every day the stories change. President Trump vacillates more than a well-oiled, grease pole of slimy day old engine oil and Congress couldn’t agree on where to take a sh*, well … I’ll keep it clean because they did, sorta, manage to pass a massive relief. err… bill, BUT

We will pay for it … eventually. There’s the rub, again.

Opinions are like ***s … as the saying goes, so I will get back to my original premise. But is a problem, Give me any proposition, follow it with “but”, and you’ve just negated your original position.

“I think you are gorgeous, but…”
“Wow, you certainly look nice tonight honey, but…”
“Thanks for your order, but…”
“I hate being Socially Distant from you, but …”
“Spiders can go suck on poison, but …”

See the problem? Now, to be clear, as a reply to another’s opinion, I could be persuaded. For example:

“I’ve been up four hours now and I think the two mugs of tea I’ve consumed so far are making me delusional.”
“Yes, but think of all the fun you are having click-clacking away knowing you have all day to do absolutely nothing … abso-freaking-nothing!”

Aside from me asking why you are sitting next to me and I can’t see you, get my point? As a reply, it is ok. After your own idea, though, I’d avoid it like the Covid-19 virus…especially on social media. You’ll confuse an already stressed, red-eye-ball popping public whose tolerance for anything less than a two-seconds meme is already stretched thinner than the skin of a …. _______ (fill in your own descriptor here). The above examples are fine for humor’s sake, BUT when politics get involved, nasty-nasties comes out to play. I’ve seen it. To my shame and pity, I’ve engaged in such malfeasance to such a degree … forcing my play shovel into the sand … causing me to say…

… Here I sit. Watching Atlas and Ayn lob and volley. There are consequences of good intentions. One of them being my ability to not sleep during the night. Another, a willingness to share deep, profound knowledge with you, my loyal reader. So, here it is:

“This whole Covid-19 virus could be a once in every 100 year plague, or a simple over-hyped common flu bug, but maybe neither one. Could be somewhere in between the two. What do I know?”

Let’s hold hands in agreement as we sun bathe together here on my Superman towel. Oh, by the way, could you put some SPF 50 on my back? I’m starting to burn here.