Kalmia latifolia

The kalmia latifolia is, appropriately, our state flower of Pennsylvania.

Stepping off the path where this fact lives, according to vacationideas.com, it makes sense that hills, valleys, ups, and downs would be associated with our great commonwealth:

While the mountains do not reach the highs of their bigger cousins in the West, Pennsylvania is home to the Appalachian Mountains, which cut right through the state, with the Pocono and Allegheny Mountains as the most important sub-ranges.”

Further down the road, we have an area identified as the Laurel Highlands. The Laurel Highlands is a region in southwestern Pennsylvania made up of Fayette County, Somerset County and Westmoreland County.

S’merge all these ideas together – mountains and laurels – to get one rooted flower: the mountain laurel. A stately bloom captured on the other side of a lens settled gently in the hands of one with an eye for such beauty. I’ve shared her seizing symmetry before. Pictures are frozen in two dimensions, yet move emotions as if she is asking us to touch the scent … feeling its life.

The featured image for this post is from her archive. Once again, words are necessary.

Every state has a flower, a tree, a motto, a bird. Eastern hemlocks stand proudly as our tree, shouting, “Virtue, Liberty, Independence” from its branches and fine, dark-green needles. Secretive ruffed grouse may be seen by walking through the very forests where my keenly observant friend finds objects – shall I say, finely tuned, natural pleasures – to arrest our attention. These mentioned are Pennsylvania’s designated treasures sometimes surprisingly seen when least expected. Encouragement is urged for you to find your state’s magnificence as my sightly-gifted, grass-rooted earth swoosher asks all of her friends to do.

I’m asking you to find three dimensional allurement in your stately space. As a non-woodsy, never burly guy, my main path does not often go through lush thicket. On the rare occasion it does, either my eyes are too swollen to appreciate the moments, or closely held anxieties I cling to for comfort prevent any relaxed recreation. It is, therefore, your job to log in some forest time on behalf of all peculiar path-adverse people, like me, who only want to sit in comfortable chairs and glance upon very beautiful pictures.

Her pictures draw me in, so why would I subject myself to bugs, bothers, and blisters? I can live, momentarily, in a fantastical world of flowers, nights, trees, birds, and skys without leaving the safety of my insecurities. This is what great art does for those open to the possibilities. A Warholian jaunt, or Leibovitz-like skip from our trouble into whatever we imagine life needs to be to get us through that moment.

A calming moment, perhaps. Maybe kalmia? Softly spoken, with an Italian accent, “Come here..”. “…You’re welcome to join me as my friend. Sit with me and we will rest.”

Great images never have one view, of course. How many times do great paintings draw different opinions from the palettes of discerning wine and cheese guests? Her kalmia latifolia is white on green. A pre-holiday gift to help me keep hoping the present time is not so bad as it seems. They’re very open, as if to want to hold my hand – if only for a moment – and then retreat. Little umbrellas to hide the rain. All of this in a picture.

It’s ok to be open to these possibilities – even if only in two dimensions. I know the creator of the image is alive and well … in three dimensions. She’ll keep clicking away. It’s in her nature to do so and nature gladly accepts her good will. Maybe she’ll catch that wobbly ruffed grouse in her frame sometime for all of us to see.

I sure hope so ’cause there’s not much chance of one crossing my path anytime soon. This chair is just way too comfortable.

Thank a lot

The title is as hard to process in your brain as it was for me to type. “Thank” needs an S happily attached to its back end, right? I knew this when deciding to write, but did it anyway because sometimes our gray matter needs a jolt away from normal. Happy to oblige.

Now that I have your undivided, the lot across the street from my everyday lunch spot has my attention. For some reason today, I’m fascinated by normal and nothing. Four days after a labor’s rest, I’m not ready to work – haven’t been for the past four days. Sitting on a worn metal chair, waiting for any customer to arrive, listening to the sizzle on a grill I’ve heard many times, and experiencing a soft September breeze over my well-rested shoulders make me appreciate nothingness more than ever – at least compared to life last week.

See, last week was normal. My day-in, day-out life stuffed into the 24/7 all of us get. No more, no less. Life was all about running around gathering supplies for my business and scratching out personal checks for closely due bills I knew were itching to be paid. Events to work, prep and clean-up, follow-up phone calls, … oh, an occasional shower to ward off the hygiene police … all in a normal week’s step-through.

All of us sled through our normals. We have to, right? The only other choice is not to … and I probably don’t know what that means. Living abnormally, I can only guess, is inside an avalanche of weird events – day after day – riding on a not-so flexible flyer of ideas. Well, by that definition, then, I DO know. It’s 2020 … 50-ish days before a Presidential election. “Probably” – the assigned adverb four crazy sentences ago – surprisingly just morphed into the phrase, “absolutely aware”. Imagine that?

Every month, since this pandemic arrived, we’ve been hit with some other weird, goofy, sideline snowballs. Let me summarize:

Murder hornets, Australian bushfires, Harry and Meghan quitting the Royals, a Presidential impeachment, China seeds, a Ukrainian flight crashing in Tehran, Iran, killing all 176 passengers on board, Kobe and Gigi Bryant losing their lives with 7 other precious souls in a helicopter crash, one week toilet paper panic buying, UK exiting from the EU, a massive solar flare, locusts in Africa, Weinstein, W.H.O., what’s, and where’s … the complete cancellation of April. aaaand this:

A warlock in a wheelchair riding by between the lot and I. Normal, right? Yes, for him.

He waved a very casual “hi” with his non-staff holding hand as a trusty metal steed carried him by my lazy, but well rested, observing self. There’s a goal in the mind of a man who wears a pointed black hat and – from what I could see – sports a twisted, shiny, lacy white beard. The cloak of visible mystery rivaling Harry Potter’s and a Marlin-esque ponytail dripping out from the back rim both speak of a story I have not lived, most assuredly. It is his story to tell … if only in his mind. It is his normal for this day and, quite possibly, every day he gently places himself into that saddle of satisfaction.

So, normal. Nothing is normal anymore. Or, maybe nothing in our lives’ was ever normal to begin with? What is normal to us isn’t considered normal to another person? It’s a lot to think about. Thinking about a lot – as I am doing right now. All of life’s stuff piled on our once empty fields where fertile ideas grew, dirt was free to get wet with the spring rains, and wild flowers took root here and there as they wished.

We forgot how to tend to our fields. This is the “larger than life lesson” I’ve noticed as an observer of life in others (and myself) during the 2020 year best described as what-the-hell-is-happening?.

When the all-things-normal door slammed shut this past March 13th, none of us knew what to expect going forward. Guidelines were sketchy at best and the near future at the time had a thick haze of uncertainty on the horizon. Normal was no more for 320 million Americans who didn’t know what an unattended field of ideas looked liked back then. Nothing, as a reality, seemed more real than a virus we knew little about except it came from a province in China.

Journeying forward, we’ve become accustomed to a new normal. “New normal” – a phrase my mom often said when torturing through chemo every day. As an expression of sufferance rather than satisfaction in the moment, these two words give some meaning to the material over our mouths and depth to the distancing. Some do not, some do. The most normal phenomenon throughout this whole pandemic, however, has been the predictable percentage of our population who, rightfully or wrongfully, head in the other direction.

It is not my position to judge. I simply stare across the street and think the bare spot looks a lot like Snoopy. That’s not normal. To me, though, a few minutes to sit here and watch a warlock, think about murder hornets, remember a few whacky-weird things, and write about life is something. Mostly, I have a lot to be thankful for. So do you. Find one somewhere, grab an uncomfortable metal chair, and take a seat. Nothing awaits you.

But, then again, we have 111 days left in 2020.

Elsa and ‘Bones

Frozen in time are memories of Mr. McGee lumbering into the bandroom with that predictable scowl on his face. I don’t blame him, knowing what I know being, now, the age he was back then. Having to listen and direct a hoodlum bunch of blowing junior high quasi-instrumentalists – day after bad note day – had to get on his nerves. A collective group of teenaged tooters divided into the usual sections: woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

Sitting on the row in the top tier of the room, immediately inside the door from which he entered, we were the trombone section. Two Daves, a Jim, and I with a smattering of underclassmen. Four ninth-graders resting at the top of the middle school world who first spied Mr. McGee on any given day. Dave, the principle trombonist on the end, had the best seat, I was second, Jim … then Dave #2. One music stand per two slidey bones, four players, …. and one really good time. We were friends.

Dave to my left was always the better negotiator of chair order to that point, although I knew soon I was going to swing around him – which I did the following year. Music was too much in my bones (yes, pun intended) and he didn’t have the passion I did. Mr. McGee recognized this early on, but didn’t do much the change the status quo, so I went along with the plan. Why not, right? Too many other bothersome things in junior high to stumble over than fight about being 1st or 2nd in a band instrument section.

Roughly 10 years later, Mr. McGee fell ill and reached out to me. He was unable to return to that same outdated bandroom for an extended time and wondered if I’d be available to step in as a long-term substitute. After all, as a graduate and qualified K-12 music educator, it seemed the perfect opportunity. Politely declining, I stepped aside due to other career obligations and thanked him for the chance to walk through that same door he did years prior. He died shortly thereafter. The teacher who did accept the substitute position was eventually hired full-time and had a wonderful career.

Life is wonderful. Opportunities not taken are still excellent … just sometimes for others. I went on to do other things I am so wonderfully glad I was able to do – and continue to do.

This is about Dave #1 … and frozen moments. Mr. McGee walking sternly, yet exhaustively, into that bandroom is a still moment I can see today in my left peripheral vision. In that view is Dave sitting beside me. He will always be there.

Imagine my surprise when, with both eyes, I saw his profile picture a few years ago on Facebook when he accepted my 40-years later formal friend request. Those are definitely frozen moments. The, “Oh, man is this really him/her after all these years?” times that repeat over and over following reunion inspired requests. Yes, this was Dave’s overly dark beard, bushy eye brows, deep brown, tan skin and at- peace personality shining through his small smile.

With all those nice qualities, it’s not surprising his new puppy, frozen in time above, is in his care … or, that her name is ELSA. She is second in charge in his home behind an older canine sibling. I’m taking an immediate liking to Elsa and her apparent position seeing as how she’s “second chair” in the ‘bone section. The family is out of state, so I won’t have any opportunity to commiserate with my young puppy pal-ette of similar emotional coloring, but I can sympathize with her plight from afar.

Being 2nd isn’t a bad position. I’m behind my sister, yet ahead of my brother. Seconding, one could argue, is just as important as proposing a motion. Going for seconds is a compliment to the chef and minutes don’t exist without sixty little divisions within them. Great symphonies need relaxing, beautiful 2nd movements and what historical significance would there be between Washington and Jefferson if Adams was out picking apples instead of presiding as President?

Certainly Elsa didn’t choose to harm Anna in the movie. Kristoff steps in to help Anna find Elsa, eventually breaking the spell cast upon Arendelle. Elsa #2, becomes #1 with the help of an unlikely cast of melty characters.

Our Elsa above simply melts our hearts. No movie necessary. Look at that face.

It’s our cast of characters – unlikely or not – who get us through life … our Mr. McGees long since passed, or Daves popping up with cute puppies on social media. These folks melt away the frost on our frozen memories we may have forgotten.

It’s been some time since I’ve reminisced about those junior high, wool uniform band days. For all of Mr. McGee’s faults, he did a pretty good job of corralling a goofy bunch of late 70’s kids into a semi-large, old, non-acoustic beat up old band room from the 40’s.

As for Dave, I think he’s retired military who enjoys his cars. I doubt he plays his trombone much – if at all. Since I’ve been active in music my whole life, it’s probably about time to challenge him to a friendly head-to-head audition. Not that I’m holding a grudge or anything … we should just put to rest who was the better of the two back when Mr. McGee walked into our lives every other day.

Turns out, I kinda miss Mr. McGee’s attitude. It was real, … authentic. Qualities not seen too much these days. Almost frozen in the past.

Unless you’re the puppy, Elsa. Then you have genuine in spades.

Ten and Two

I rolled over on the sofa the other morning because my back hurt. Something creative came out of that spinal soreness – at least from my point of view. This:

Now, you may not agree with my creative assessment, however, you’d be going against a few Facebook friends who found that post to be somewhat entertaining. Since I count myself among my friends, … happily hoping you are to you as well during this year of unpredictable, unprecedented, incredible instances in our lives, I offer the following:

Humor and originality, to get through the sludgery of this year, especially, have been my go-to. Those two streets have always been under my wheels, but never so road-ready as they’ve been in 2020 – paved with intentionality. They are mental representations of what I’ve always needed my life to be: Laughs, Escapes, Acceptances, Re-dos, and Normals. All of these, in both tough and easy times, help me L-E-A-R-N.

Within all five are my keys to lower blood pressure, easier breathing, and a general sense of better control over my life. If only people ahead of me in line at the local convenience store would quit insisting on rattling off every … single … lottery number to the clerk they scratched on their Denny’s napkin, I’d be close to perfectly calm … for a few seconds anyway.

Here’s the problem with my plan: I’m always having to get back into my emotional car, filling the tank with new material over and over, never quite getting out of town.

Why? I’m a difficult L-E-A-R-Ner. How about you? I can laugh, escape, accept, re-do and be normal, … but it’s a tough road figuring out a new path forward knowing something new.

… and that’s the problem we face in America today. Especially in 2020.

One of the expressions I hear a lot is, “I don’t know what I don’t know”, as it relates to this awful virus, masking, etc … So honest, yet so deceivingly scary, right? This opens us up to speculation, opinion, Facebook rants, politically driven drivel, bent blather from the media, on and on. We can’t shut our lives down, or off. We need contact with sources for good information … we need to learn our way through this with all the solid, trusted, data – both hands on the wheel. Ten and two.

The other 2020 problem, November’s election, I fear too many don’t want to learn about the other side. There’s hate, malaise, discontent, fear, blindness – all not-so disguised as roadblocks inside the minds of some who blindly drive only on one way streets. What if Hate Avenue is a dead end? Anger Alley could have a really delinquent mob hanging about near the back gate. It is all an unknown.

Some claim to know absolute truth. There seems to be more Facebook absolutes than molecules in Newton’s apple. For every left, a right …. every right a wrong, every Zuckerberg a Spielberg, ad infinitum mucho latte and a cherry.

I know very little except the first eight months of 2020 have been a freakin’ nightmare. Lives have been upended, suspended – or, sadly ended – because of a virus. In addition, an election coming up is so ridiculously overblown with hot, bloviated air to the point of being one pin prick away from political pop-in-stance. Lastly, I saw this in the news:

Deborah Rose, 64, of Thorold, Ontario, won a lottery jackpot of more than $750,000 using a set of lucky numbers that came to her in a dream. Photo courtesy of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.
(Awkward blank space here … sorry. I didn’t know how to fix it. So, I’ll just place a few random thoughts here to fill in the white block to make it pretty. We had rain today. Not much. Ate a veggie burger for supper with some Kraft mac and cheese. OK. Geesh there’s a lot of space to fill here. Oh well. Again, my apologies … The caption accompanying this picture is a few miles down.)
Aug. 26 (UPI) — An Ontario woman who scored a lottery jackpot worth more than $750,000 told officials her winning numbers came to her in a dream.

I sure hope the poor guy standing behind her in line at the local convenience store didn’t have to stand there for hours as she painstakingly pattered off her numbers. I must admit, though, Mrs. Deborah does have stunningly beautiful eyes. The pinky extensions make me think she’s a bit apprehensive holding a large moola check, so may I kindly suggest she send me some of that jack to lighten the load of my car a bit? I’ve a long road ahead – as all of us do.

I accept what is. Don’t really like a lot of it right now … don’t have to – and you don’t either. Take some time to laugh, be creative, be whatever normal looks like to you. America needs it now more than ever.

I should settle in for the night. Perchance to dream, I guess. Hey maybe a few lucky lottery numbers will slosh around in my head? One thing I do know for sure: my back will be sore in the morning – it always is. It’ll never learn, virus or not, but I’ll think of something creative to get myself going.

You do the same. ok? America needs to find its backbone again, too.

S’pots and S’pans

I love how light bounces off these four lids. Yes, the kahlua bottle proudly standing in the background reflects an inner beauty as well, but I’m referring to “being lit” in a less colloquial sense. Literally, I love the way four identical scenes glide from one to the other on sleds of light … as the pan toppers gradually increase in size. Remarkable.

Reflecting back on my life, it has been a remarkable journey – as I’m sure yours has been as well. All of our forward steps stack up against each other’s timelines quite impressively … with none being better, or worse, than another. We are equal. The air we breath has no discrimination attached. The ground upon which we walk knows no color, race, or gender.

S’pots dot our past, as individuals – of course they do. We’ve made mistakes along the way. Our S’pan of time on this big, blue marble, thus far, has shown us when and where we could have done better. Hopefully we didn’t repeat those mistakes, but, if your experience(s) was/were like mine, I bet you did. It’s being human.

Life’s a big ‘ole pain in the butt most times – doing the same crazy little s’pots over and over again. The trick is not smooshing our thoughts around them so much as it is focusing on all the wonderful things we did right along the way.

First of all, you were born. If you weren’t, I find it highly unlikely you’d be reading these words. Birth is a remarkable process. This was something that went right in your life. Granted, YOU had nothing to do with the process and, perhaps, there was a bottle of kahlua emptied nine months prior. Regardless, the universe decided it was time to introduce you to grass stains on your knees, toes on table legs in the dark, and income taxes. Your S’pan began.

Friendships started to develop. Some of these you did inspire and have lasted breathful years so far. Maybe they started spontaneously over pre-school bright, colorful Crayola crayons sprayed over a large white swath of paper. You, as well as I, drew sticks with heads, trees with odd shaped leaves, and tilted roof houses while laughing crazily with other little gigglers, soon to be classmates twelve years hence.

Playground plays, elementary experimental years s’potted us a few scrapes and bruises to our Easy Reader brains. T’was all good. Friends stood by our side. Even Captain Kangaroo kept his promises while Sesame seeds sprouted good feelings along a very familiar Street where a happy grouch lived and a big yellow bird taught us to love one another.

Middle school push throughs prompted awkward s’pans. Friendships strained a bit. Parental controls turned up the heat under the s’pots previously resting comfortably on warm, gentle simmers. We s’lid into teenage years unaware of the hazards facing the young, specifically, as facial recognition software would have been so, so helpful to the cause. Yes, zit would have!!

Counting down to marvelous matriculation meant meandering through hallways with books under arms … passing by the very friends, met years ago, occupied by their own intelligences. Wasn’t ever anything to put a lid on, or hide under solitary expectations. Just pre-mature adulthood s’pots we worked through. Crayola crayons were replaced with more permanent markers for our lives as the normal for four years. The Freshness melted slowly into Soph-ness… Juniority would eagerly jump into Senior status. Then life changed.

Adulthood at the stoop of a door into college, trade school, the military, or directly into the work-a-day world. Finding a husband, or a wife … or a baby on the way.

Then we began the cycle for the next generation of crayon crunchers. All good for whatever filled the time routine offered us up until the “now”. All during our individual s’pans of time on this big blue marble, right? All of these things are good, right? Remarkable reflections when we take time to think about them and not the s’pots that dot our past.

Our lives glide from one experience to another … seamlessly, yet we remain the same. Just like the reflections on the lids – each experience different in size, one on top of another, day after day.

These lids do serve to cover up s’pots at times that happen in our s’pans – and that’s o.k.. We’re given the wonderful opportunity to be human; thus, the magic of a full kahlua bottle, available vessel, and soft music at times, I guess.

In the end, it is only four beautifully round, very functional pieces of stainless steel teaching one simple lesson to us all: We’re doing the best we can. Period.

Reflect upon that next time you see a lid with your beautifulness staring back at you. It’s quite remarkable.


During these early morning hours, when I’m awake and find my words a little more accessible than later in the day, strange – but comforting – things usually happen. Strange defined as “unexpected, unpredictable phenomena appearing before my eyes”, and “comforting” meaning, “I don’t jump out of my semi-wrinkled, now-blemished skin” when they happen.

These happenstances are really quite the cool factor in my life. Perhaps you have them in your life as well? Petite surprises jump-starting your day. I love them. My eyes – and by extension, my crazy brain juices – seem to thrive on finding miniature nuggets of fascinating frolics when opening for the first time in the morning.

This second day of August, 2020 is no exception … a pleasant, cool morning in the 8th month of what is turning out to be a ridiculously fascinating year. A year when everything seems to be going south. Now, seeds from China. Geesh.

Well, I saw a number on my clock and it was wonderful: 619

Why? Three digital digits on a clock face shouldn’t be that exciting. Am I plainly weird? Is my sanity compass pointing to a different magnetic pole? Are the rumors of my particular peculiarities among the populous really accurate? No. And, yes.

I must admit, as any person in his sound mind would, none of the above assertions are kinda true. Yes, I do have oddities, but that makes me, me. You are you as well … and we make the world go ’round which is why 619 is so wonderfully wacky. Take it for what it’s worth. I worked a long day yesterday, didn’t eat much until a Taco Bell Quesarito went marching down my gullet late last night, and I slept quasi-ok under a fuzzy blanket on the sofa. So, three numbers on a tv clock ARE going to be captivating. Glad to be participating in life as another fine dawn appears over the window air conditioner to my left. Aah, 21st century wonders.

619. Less absorbing are the three syllables used up saying it. Six-one-nine. Ten letters … s.i.x.o.n.e.n.i.n.e.? Not very interesting either, right? Additionally, adding them up gets us to a sweet 16 birthday party I’m not so sure any teenager even celebrates anymore, so we can cross that off the strange, but comfortable list I proposed at the beginning.

Let’s do a 180-degrees turn together and you’ll see why I find this number so appreciatively appropriate for us as we begin our trip into the last five months of 2020.

It is still 619.

So many people are throwing 619’s at us. Wanting us to change who we are … What we believe, … What we are to do with our lives, …Who we trust, … When we go where and do what.

They are asking us to do a “180”, in essence, without realizing when we do, we are simply returning back to what we already are. Nothing much will have changed except our disdain and resentment toward them for asking us to do something we didn’t want to do in the first place.

However, if on your own accord, you decide to rotate your 619 because you feel the process is for your benefit, by all means … go for it. THAT process can be life changing. You’ll still rotate back to the same position, but feel and act differently.

Point being, “You can’t push a rope” – one of my favorite expressions. This masking, Covid-19, mandated culture we are experiencing now is a brutal, opinionated, Fauci-fact-quasi, who knows world right now. For every yes there is a no, … every right a wrong, every wall an opening. We’re being pushed to rotate our 619 lives without the nudgers realizing we’re only going to end up back where we started.

“A person convinced against his will … is of the same opinion still” – accredited to Mary Wollstonecraft, but original source unknown

And, there’s the rub. Few, if any, are changing their minds about any of this. Politics, religion, now Covid …. the three no-gos in discussions around dinner tables that aren’t even happening anymore, anyway. It’s all arguing about numbers and stats, data points, and charts. A big rotating rotisserie of roasting grumpiness where opinions spatter outward toward patrons with upright forks in hand … waiting to chomp on the fat of misinformation and slanted media bias.

But, back to my early morning fare. The sun is higher in the sky now. I must begin my day. I’m not angry or beset by what’s going on in the world. Quite the opposite. My 619s are pretty good these days. Yours are as well, I’m sure.

Lollipops, unicorns, and pots of gold. Maybe tomorrow morning will present one of these instead of three innocent little numbers. Who knows. For sure, I’ll roll out from under a blanket, open my eyes, and begin a new day with whatever comforting and strange nicely nuggets appear before me.

Hopefully it isn’t a compass pointing due south. Now that would be just plain strange.

…and quite uncomfortable.

Log On It!

It was to be a nice late evening meal for a few smaller than small critters. A family of about seventy or so, by my imagination. What kind of critters? Who knows. For sure, they were tiny and resting up from a busy day of dirt-dalying among the various clumps and mini crags in the front yard. Mom, dad, Uncle Frater, the ten kids and various cousins … all around for dinner …

Then … WHAM!

Not to be a Dougie-downer, but critter catastrophes happen. These events are common because ants walk on a busy human byways and flies are swatted during lazy summer evenings. Just so happens, on this past Saturday’s eve, an odd, innocent insecta-sidal incident occurred which, unfortunately, caused the envisioned demise of seventy little non-human dinner guests. An aged tree branch fell on all of them. Unexpected. Sudden. I’m sure there was no pain.

Now I’m left to figure out what to do with all this.

Oh, not the family of imagined critters. They’re imaginary. I think I’m simply a guy awake enough to write a little, but just on the edge of goofy-groggy to dial up a “we had a massive log drop on us this past March”. Now what! Unexpected, sudden. Log on it, anyway!!

As for the log in my yard, I propped it up against the tree from whence it came. This feat of festive propping took me two days to accomplish after looking at it a few dozen times. You wooden šŸ˜ think so, but I’m a guy and this is how we roll. Now I have a tree triangle the neighbors will have to enjoy all winter … and possibly impress my Junior High math teacher during a drive-by – provided he is still aware enough to pound an extra long chalkboard eraser or finger-flex a ten pound pocket calculator. At present, the hypotenuse being the log, earth as one leg, and the host tree the other: an example of triangulation configuration at its finest. At least I think so…

We couldn’t prop the Covid against a tree and then go about our lives, could we? When it landed on us, the virus crushed a lot of our ambitions for 2020. There we were … simply eating dinner one evening with friends and family then …. WHAM!!

Life hasn’t returned to normal. I know this. You know this. After over four months of living behind the new air we’ve been breathing, I fear we are having a difficult time remembering what normal used to be. As the grass under this immovable log continues to be denied the sunshine of a new day, we are losing the ability to know what fresh air and new ideas taste like.

The air is becoming old and stale with devisive, bitter arguments about masking and mold is growing around each crevasse of political divide. We are communicating, but in a strange way. There seems to be a quietness afoot. “Suspicious” is probably a better word … perhaps even “cautious”. Nobody knows what to say anymore … moreover, to whom, or when to say it. So, I fear we are becoming a collection of “what-to-do-or-say” people scurrying about under our huge log.

There are those outspoken among us, to be sure. Their voices ring and bounce between the bark. We hear them loudly proclaim their truth as they see themselves portrayed in the sliver of light peeking through the perceived darkness they see in others. It is an overly-opinion filled new normal nudge all of us are engaged in at an accelerated pace due to this Covid log we are under.

We don’t need to be all this and a heaping pile of mulch, though.

As much as this looks dire and can be sour to the sights, let it not bug you. There is a definite, determined upside to all the doom-inisticism I offered above. There is light at the end of my word-spitter, now heard, critter fancy.

…and that light is YOU. You, me, and everyone else.

The Covid log fell on all our dinners this past March. Those eating McDonald’s and friends snacking on caviar did not escape the wrath of wham from distances we’ve yet to determine. With all respect to our loved ones lost, most have survived thus far and we are pushing forward, right? Numbers, percentages, cases, etc ….all of these keep going regardless how we feel, individually, about all of it. We just keeping going forward doing what we believe is correct.

Here’s what we need to do. Together, we need to lift this log off of us. It’ll take a Herculean effort, I know, but we can do it. It means agreeing on a half-way point about masking, perhaps … or, not being so stubborn about our views on this doctor or that politician. We can’t all be right about everything we believe all the time. There needs to be some give and take here.

We need to stop being so judgemental towards others. Our four months social media immunology education isn’t enough to warrant an opinion about why Mary Doe isn’t wearing a mask, or why she is. Cloth, surgical, mosquitos through a chain link fence, droplets, drywall dust, N95, – all the masking arguments I’ve heard are getting pedantic and old. This sounds harsh … and it is directed as much towards me as anyone. I think and reflect upon what I see on Facebook. What is mandated? What isn’t? A law? Not a law? Again, it isn’t all that clear, but we can talk talk it out and try to find a middle ground here.

The gray areas are brutal now. Not just masking, but business requirements to remain open in PA are as clear as muck … oh, and testing for Covid. Geesh. False positives, delays, changing stats, ups/downs, percentages, comparative analysis … on and on.

Comfort groups on social media with fringe followers calling out marginal issues. Again, there needs to be a compromise somewhere. Hardliners taking a stand on masking and gloving where science and common sense have stalemated.

If we rely on the politicians, media, or any social construct to solve this for us, that’s not going to happen. They don’t have a crane large enough to lift this burden off of us and, ironically, they’re sitting on the log anyway, adding to weight we must lift.

So it’s up to us if we want to enjoy a normal, fun dinner in the future without the worry of another unpredictable log falling from the sky. We need to shed this current worrisome woodiness from our lives. When all has settled, we can then watch another family of Uncle Fraters enjoy their summer meal without worry themselves.

How nice it will be to talk among ourselves. Talk about what once was the Covid. All the battle-barking going on right now will be the old normal we will not miss. The log on it we will finally lift off ourselves together – unified as one voice.

No Bucket List

Seems like when I sit somewhere lately, my wondering eyes catch a glimpse of something extraordinarily normal. This object must be an everyday noun nature places within the very scope she gave me to notice, register in my brain, and process over … and over … until I decide I’ve enough information to share.

So, I sat for a few moments while considering one specific thing. Never mind where I sat, or, why it was necessary for me to be where I was at the time (instincts provide me with enough information to know the specific details are completely unnecessary and unbefitting a gentleman). The hour came. The moments arrived.

It was, by all measures, an early moment – 12:36 a.m. to be precise – and my overly tired, Coca-Cola dilated eyes weren’t available for proper sleep. Slurping that bubbly drink to take my twice-daily pills ten minutes before retiring the night before wasn’t my best decision of the day. They recommended plenty of water. I chose Coca-Cola. It isn’t an often choice, but after working close to twelve hours and eating a tuna salad sandwich, I took the advice of my counsel … it was soooo good. Still, not my best ruling from the bench.

No amount of rubbing, tweaking, pinky finger-flicking, or body bending at that hour can make even the moments themselves bestir. One sits and muses over the most mundane of whatsits sitting around because there’s nothing else to do. Magazines could not be read yet again through eyes unfocused, tired, and honestly unwilling to re-read the same Reader’s Digest jokes over again, anyway.

Once my eyes began to sharpen, the object same into focus: A bucket. A double-bucket to be correct. The kind of double-pail with a spinner in one side. To be even more unambiguous, the bucket I’ve never used. It wasn’t so much the blue bucket that caught my drained out attention span as it was the orange handle hugging the sides and extending across the middle. Twenty-two wee little slats molded into the handle’s center section spanning across an open, deep double-bucket. Most likely it would be half an oblong shape if continued to its complete form around, by my best guess. Lil’ Bo Pip would be proud of her two little pips on either end who hold the whole operation together.

Coca-cola decision aside, better to focus on the handle.

Why the handle and not the bucket? “Certainly the bucket’s use without a handle is a finer philosophical foray than the handle’s use with out a bucket?”, you may ask. To which I answer, “Yes, toting a handle alone about town would seem quite odd and useless; whereas, a bucket alone without its handle is still useful for many a tasks. For purposes of deeper meaning in life, and satisfying this writer’s need for tying the extraordinarily normal to same, a double-bucket handle is more important. Besides, lack of sleep, combined with 39g of sugar in a can of Coca-Cola and over four months of Covid Crazy all call for extraordinary efforts to remain calm through words.”

…And the words I choose to use today are simple. We all find ways to handle what we need to deal with during our day-to-days. I pick out things, ideas, people and think about them … a lot. These are very broad categories. I recognize this fact and also deal with too many zings and zips in my brain because of it. Focusing on considerable amounts of those above while accomplishing many things has been … and continues to be … my life’s motto to some finish line as of yet determined. Type A? Probably. I handle it in ways I need to by writing, working, and wresting my way through problems.

What do you do? How do you handle your day-to-days?

The sight and sound experiences in a public food space every day give me some idea. I see scrap haulers, trash folks, tire sellers, educators, retirees, politicians, garage mechanics, retailers of all products, dentists, martial artists, security workers, police, doctors, hospital maintenance workers, RNs, etc … who shuffle up to my street cart. They have buckets full of issues, I’m sure, but are handling their lives quite well. Sure, I bet their issues are equal to any others and not one is better or worse than another. Every so often, my cart is a bartender’s elbow rest … and I don’t mind if I’m not busy. I’m Doug, … and I’m listening.

We’re handling all this pretty darn good. The news may suggest otherwise … however, I believe that’s the bigger bucket of worms we can’t do much about. Right now is the right now. Here is our space. How we handle where we are – even if we sit and ponder the moment – can change who we are if what we are is in need of change. For now though, I think we’re all doing quitely fantastical.

This bucket, however, isn’t in its right mind and is in need of change. This I’ve determined. Double-buckets, especially, are a nuisance, … a persistent pestilence upon Doug-drowsy peepers.

Ironically, I’ve a problem. Without the bucket, I have no handle. With no handle, no subject about which to write. Well, that’s not entirely true. I could start a bucket list. Hey … a Double-Bucket List!! Nah. I’d never get around to doing anything on it. Too busy sitting around looking at extraordinarily normal things all the time – especially during these early morning hours when I should be sleeping. Too much Coca-Cola. I knew better but gulped it down anyway. Geesh.

Shades of Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yacht To Sea This

Just a few minutes ago, our Governor Wolf announced a return to six on my non-normal grading system … in a weird way. Normal around these parts hasn’t been seen since early March, so I measure typical on a non-normal scale. One being slightly above McDonald’s not having BBQ sauce for our McNuggets, or a freakishly fabulous forty-four degree day for our fourth of July picnics. An abduction by absolutely adorable, astute, astronomically ambidextrous aliens ranking an extreme ten on the other side of my normalcy division. Everything imaginable in between – our banged up toes on strange concrete pylons appearing out of nowhere, politicians with actual good ideas, tv shows about a family losing millions but starting over in an obscure Ontario town, long lines at bank drive-ups, meteors burning up in the atmosphere, global-warming, successful rube goldberg machines, Rose Apothecary purchases, on … and … on. My non-normal grading system application, when properly applied, could rival even the most strident of systems.

Take Politfact for example, since I mentioned Governor Wolf. Well, let’s backtrack for a minute. Today, he announced a return to a 25% capacity on restaurants (from 50%), closing of bars, and stricter business limitations – all in response to our state populous (as a whole) not doing a good job of masking and distancing. Without assuming my political or socio-economic position, just go with me here. This is moving from one non-normal number on my scale to another. We were at a marginal four-ish, now back to a solid six. Sliding away from Honey-Mustard and closer to Mars.

Back to the “Gov.”. According to http://www.fivethirtyeight.com, “First, some quick notes on how PolitFact works and a few words of warning. PolitiFactĀ reporters, researchers and editorsĀ grade each statement as true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false or ā€œpants on fireā€. This is a six-point system I’d gladly stand against on my scale – it’d be worth the weight. They are on a slippery-scale of opinion, whereas, I am fundamentally sound on solid ground of normal thought. Who’s to say what is a “half-truth, or mostly false”? “Half” and “mostly”, applied to abstracts like truth and false, are subject to interpretation. I’m half crazy, right? Define that in terms of my mostly sane existence … see what I mean?

Nobody – alas NOBODY – thinks where we are right now is anywhere close to normal! I’m simply applying a numerical value to the non-normal space of this time. We understand numbers so much more than words when grasping scalability. Mt Everest is 29, 029 feet high. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. There are over 7 trillion nerves in the human body … any one capable of being the last one some unfortunate schlep will step on within my existence by week’s end. THAT’S normal!

What wasn’t normal – and has a rather large million dollar number assigned to it – is this yacht – auto social-distancing its way through my hometown. Ten miles per hour, being sluggishly towed along by one very large semi, escorted to the future prom by plenty of local law enforcement officers eager to make sure there was no inappropriate touching, this handsome tug-hug was on its way to Lake Erie via Altoona, Pa. Pennsylvania Electric (Penelec) was in bucket form to raise all necessary lights/wires because Ms. Million-dollar stood tall atop her multi-wheel hull-carrier. She was the Queen of the moment. A traffic stopper – out of necessity and wonder.

Where we stood was normal to our everyday space. What was IN our space was anything but. How often does one see a multi-million dollar gargatron lumber through an intersection, hundreds of miles from any body of water necessary to float a yummy-yielding yacht of this stature? My guess? “Never”, and I yield the floor to PolitFact to grade this answer as “True” (even though “not normal” still applies).

We stand a firm six now. Ugh. I had a nice “at a marginal four-ish” Lemonade and Life lunch today before coming home to see the news about Governor Wolf’s decision. My customers were beautiful today. A very nice couple started a business lately and were excited to tell me about it. Another charming lady experienced loss a few years ago, but came back strong and I suspect great things in the future … for her and her boys. My space wasn’t normal as usual … a great non-normal for me, though.

For all of us, however, the non-normals in our collective space with all this aren’t peachy-keen as we’d like them to be, right? My scale of 1-10 is the social, all-of-us scale I apply to the situation. It is the big picture frame I use to help me understand my place as the extremely small pixel located in that small dot of color down by the lower left corner.

It’s not the non-normals for us – as individuals – that are driving us crazy. We can deals with hangnails, kids and kool aid spills, dog poop, and overcooked macaroni. The non-normals imposed upon our collective space are causing us to take notice of our place and our stance. “Yacht to pay attention to this virus in this way (pick any variation of masking, distancing, droplets, ICU beds, Fauci, Birx, … true, mostly true, half true, etc…)” … is the message slowly crossing through our intersections of reason and emotion every … single … day. It’s no wonder we have no sense of normal anymore… Our wires are being crossed and there’s no help ahead to make sure damage is mitigated. We’re headed to an Erie place.

…And, it’s why Governor Wolf probably reinstated the restrictions today. He’s going to get grief, I can guarantee it just as easy as I can assure you my chocolate milk is waiting in the ‘fridge for my enjoyment in about fifteen minutes.

Not all bad, folks. Pay attention to your color. Your place in the whole picture. You have color. You have life. You have a non-normal that contributes mightily to your experience and your space. This isn’t selfish or self-serving to pay heed to your space and your time. Yeah, we haven’t seen normal since mid-March …but, then again, we never saw a million-dollar yacht dry-surfing through multi-lanes of traffic on its way to a lake.

If I ever come across Martians eating McNuggets at the Rose Apothecary however, something is very wrong with the Universe. Unless, of course, David and Patrick rented Mariah Carey’s yacht for all the fans of Schitt’s Creek … then, maybe, non-normal could be put on hold for a few days.