Simply, Roberto Clemente

He would have been 86 years old this past August 18th had a plane crash not taken his life. Simply one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game. Period.

I’m a little too young to have ever seen him play in person. There aren’t enough film clips from the era to satisfy my curiosity about how his grace looked on the field. My dad, and older friends, who did see him play at Forbes Field in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, recall an athlete of refined talent, strength, and finesse.

I can’t conceptualize a man of such natural aptitude in this day of superficial sports strength. As well, I can’t imagine a more genuine human sports figure than this man who died in a DC-7 crash while being a true humanitarian – leaving Puerto Rico on a chartered flight after supervising aid delivered to earthquake victims near Managua. He previously chartered, and paid for, three planes to deliver much needed cargo to the area and felt a fourth was required – with his personality aboard – to oversee the operations due to possible seizing and profiteering by the local military. He lost his life on December 31st, 1972 one mile off the coast of Nicaragua … and the world lost a true humanitarian.

All this after collecting his 3,000th hit on September 30th, 1972 … his final at bat.

The baseball card above is my all-time favorite of his. It’s as beautiful outside as he must have been inside. The 1972 Topps baseball set ranks high among the enduring memories I have of my childhood. When I think of class and charm in the baseball card collecting world, these early 70’s little pieces of cardboard always hit a homerun with me. Yes, that is such a hobbling analogical word to use … and I apologize for the lame insertion, but baseball cards back then represented really cool bubble gum, easy to open wax packs, and trips to the local store up the street to buy some candy and, of course, cards. Simple.

Harry. He was a taller, stout man. Then again, for a little guy like me, everyone was. My sister and I walked along a dangerous two-lane road – not knowing it was, of course. Cars whizzed by at higher rates of speed than we knew was allowed by law as we entered his store, laughingly dusting off our white socks. Harry’s display case on the right always had the candy and the boxes with unopened packs of those great smelling cards inside. To the left sat soda bottles, bread, and newspapers we had no interest in reading. The object was to quickly throw our change on the counter so he would know how many packs of cards we could buy. He was gentle with us, but stern with math. Not a quarter more, or less, garnered us favor no matter how many times we visited his little store a quarter mile up such a treacherous road we had no business walking along.

Once back home, the little brown bag opened dreams. My sister and I quickly ran our little fingers down through the wax seal to open the packs that, seconds earlier, gently fell out of the bag. We knew, even then, to be extra careful at the start. Now, I would jam those same cards into my bike tires within the hour and she, being my older, wiser, thinking-ahead sibling, carefully placed sharp four cornered gems into a box for safekeeping well into her fifth decade of life. Today, I live in regret (happily throwing away my youthful gem-mint perfect rookies of hall-of-fame players / retirement money into ten-speeds and concrete walls, while she, never mind …). Regret can be a strong word. I absolutely loved my childhood, baseball card days … and I adored the 1972 cards. They were the charm during some of my rough years in life.

… and I harbor no regret. That was a tinge of sarcasm above. Today, my collecting is active and engaging. The hobby has changed. Kids don’t walk beside dangerous roads with excitement – hoping to see the next, new design on the cards.

I waited with enthusiasm every spring. Colors, lines, team logos, spacing, borders … all artistically flavored in a card dessert for the eyes. In 1971, Topps baseball cards, however, were a delicacy disaster. Here’s the 1971 Clemente (bottom) compared to the 1972 design (top)

Isn’t this the most depressing card design ever? Ugh. That was the Edsel of the card collecting years. I figure the guy sitting around Topps just gave up. Saying, “Hey, I know what! … I’ll go all black on the border, with block letters for all the writing, and go get a beer.”, the head designer was probably one paycheck away from retirement and didn’t see the bad decision rounding third base. Ironically, the cards from this amass of mundaneness – if found in pristine condition – are the rarest due to the black borders. It is the most condition sensitive of all Topps sets and is huge – coming in at 752 total cards. A mint-9 Clemente, for reference, recently sold for $14,500. Still, I hate the design. And yes, no apologies for using hate.

Enter 1972. Low expectations when I opened the first pack. I imagine, now, the 1971 head designer was sitting on the beach sipping a less-than-well deserved cocktail as a newly appointed, forward thinking, awesomely creative, artistically pen-wielding sports lover took the helm. Imagined beauty. Essence at my fingertips back then. Out of the blackness into the light.

Comparisons of life to sports in words have made many writers millionaires. In reverse, many sports figures, who are already millionaires, have written words about life – as it relates to sports. The connection, in my world, has been – and is – at the end of my fingertips when I hold a single 2.5 x 3.5 inch piece of thin cardboard. My age doesn’t matter. My memories do and when I see something as beautiful as a 1972 baseball card, or the recalled vision in my brain of a much younger self sitting on a front porch with a small paper bag, I feel better about the present moment. A peace.

Probably the same feeling Clemente had boarding the plane knowing he did something nice, once again, for his people in Nicaragua. He was a hero. A true sports-man of his generation who knew his beauty. Someone whose legacy and honor has lasted well beyond that fateful last day of 1972. A year when artistry bloomed out of darkness in the card collecting world, but we lost a gentleman, a father, an athlete of refined talent who I never saw play.

This is ok in my world. I have card #309 to remember his strength and humanity – two qualities in life for all of us to remember when opening packs of kindness in our hearts.

Incredible Feat

6 feet. We’ve all known the rule for at least that many months as well. Completely unrelated, seventy-two inches just happens to be my exact height. One being a guideline for the pandemic of the century, and the other an out of control genetic mutation caused by parent’s wine-and-dine how-do-you-do nine months prior to my birth. Six feet, in both cases, not a bad thing. The former, presumably preventative, and the latter helpful when standing in the back of a crowded elevator wondering who just passed gas – by being able to recognized the face of the guilty party – is certainly socially advantageous.

There is something much better, however: a pair of feet. Especially, a pair of ankle-socked stompers wearing inexpensive Avias purchased in haste from Walmart … inexplicably, the most comfortable, casual shoes I’ve worn in a long time. Light, airy, invisible to the feet, basically no support except to my emotional well-being … this pedestrian pleasure pair is making strides in what I now know as a tootsie utopia.

Life never used to be this way at times. Pinches, heaviness, stiffness. All of us know the uncomfortable qualities we can assign to shoes not fitting correctly, right? Shoe horned into our lives were cheap leathers, knocked-off racks we knew existed for the benefit of parents discounting pennies at the end of a hard earned paychecks. Mom and dad had to do … what they had to do.

Those days long gone, but memories stay. Everytime a shoe turns against me, or a sock knot twinges in the toes, I’m reminded how difficult it must have been for my parents make the laces of life meet in the middle. Our Christmas bills lasted until the following April – just in time for the taxes to be due. Vacations the first week in June burdened my dad’s remaining summer days with work to pay off those sandy beach times.

Fall ushered in a schedule replete with the requisite pre-first day of school shopping outing for … school shoes. That 70’s, badly coordinated, brown polyester, bowl haircut era when my mom piled us into our paneled station wagon with the guarantee of a cheap McDonald’s lunch if we behaved. Every year, one after another, pair after pair, my siblings and I clanked into our homerooms satiated to the gills with 25-cent hamburgers and the finest, unfittest shoes a school teacher’s credit budget could afford.

More pairs I’ve owned as an adult than ever as a child, of course. Sneakers, loafers, slip-ons, slippers, flip-flops, casuals, tuxedo blacks, – all of them purchased without urging from my mom who isn’t around to share a McDonald’s meal with me anymore. Dad’s comfortably able to buy expensive shoes – or take any vacation he wants, with time and money no longer obstacles, but age and willingness is waning.

What steps are we taking in life with what we’re given? It isn’t just our feet, of course. So much we had isn’t here anymore. My mom. My dad. What I had. What they needed to do.

My inexpensive Avias are surprising. They are really comfortable. A big box store should not, by all intents and purposes, be providing me this level of ease for such a small price. I was not raised to believe low price equals comfort; Nor should I expect to receive this heavenly blisterless bliss in the future. I will take off these one-offs as long as I can count my blessings each time.

And I guess that’s what it’s all about. As Neil Armstrong so famously said, “That’s one small step for (a man / man), one giant leap for mankind”, each small metaphorical step we take forward in our lives is one giant step helping everyone else. Our life is a contribution to everyone else’s experience. The oft used “butterfly effect”.

Remember that the next time you find yourself looking down. I bet you’ve taken a lot of remarkable steps thus far to be where you are right now. Some not as comfortable as others, but you’re here and that is what’s important.

… and if I must say so, that’s some incredible feat, or two.

Where’s Chloe?

She didn’t intend to be Waldo. I have my doubts she even knows who Waldo is. I’m positive Martin Handford and Chloe never met, so, in my asking, “Where’s Chloe?”, there’s no chance Mr. Handford will answer, “There. Right there … snuggling in her pink doggie bed!”. His character Waldo (better known as Wally in North America) is a literary, spectacled success. I applaud the many hours, days, and perhaps years Mr. Handford invested developing his craft. Aspiring authors, painters, musicians, athletes, sculptors, designers, chefs, and inventors all … my best wishes for your success.

Chloe’s success is measured in smaller increments: pulling at socks while they’re only half way up my feet, eating ends off of papers in the trash, barking into closed doors … all the while refusing to pass through open ones, sneaking away with any shoe available, and crotch rocketing into my unsuspecting, shall I say, nameless part gentile. All of these a tiring day’s endeavors for a puppy of five months. Also, very exhausting for a neighbor willing to dog sit such an excitable little puggle. A neighbor who doesn’t have a cute little pink snuggle bed to rest away the stressors of the day.

Ah, but Chloe does … and isn’t that just perfect! (sarcasm). Good sarcasm … if that’s a thing.

Where’s Chloe? I’m constantly asking that question every day. There are moments it’s too quiet. You know what I mean. For a rug rattle consistent with puppy play to then disappear into silence means some paw-hankery is afoot. One certain Chloe is not considering her blessings, or reflecting upon the return of her owners. She’s usually up to something.

Today, the issue was a simple math problem. How to not keep jamming a simple blue racquetball into the corner seam of a sectional sofa … over and over again. Here’s the equation:

BALL + SEAM / SOFA = Doug’s Time × 4

I’m a busy guy these days, but my Waldo story is pretty easy. Facebook updates keep my datebook oars in the water with a pretty steady headwind. With that, my mornings stay predictable … unless there’s a little puggle under foot. Don’t mind the company. The occasional yip or brush against my leg is no more a distraction than the random thoughts bouncing around in my noggin.

When the blue ball comes kitchen knockin, however, it can’t be ignored. There’s traction in Chloe’s puppy play world and that ball will bounce an infinite number of times until it’s thrown back into another room. So again today, I obliged. I had to. This week, the lesser of the options between a set of big, brown eyes staring at me, and the paw-patter of feet across the wooden floor into our living room … until silence.

The deafening quiet when I knew she pushed the ball, somehow, up into the most remote corner of the sectional sofa. A crevasse so deep that her head – in combination with her extra long tongue – could not, under any law of physics, remove the deeply embedded ball. Silence.

I knew the dilemma. Fuzzy donuts, monkeys, head socks, bones, … none of these readily available toys within snouts distance were a sufficient replacement for the simple, old blue ball … in her mind. In my mind, why not, right? Any puppy mouth occupier that can keep me from interrupting my routine is gold. Not to be. Silence is too loud for my liking, so off I go to unjam the ball.

Oh, but this starts the game all over again. Cheery Chloe, with ball slightly larger than the very mouth it occupies, enters the kitchen once more – bringing with her a small shadow from the morning sun that beams through the window over the sink. It’s where I find myself looking down, again, at eyes I can’t resist. Three more times. Each time digging the same ball … out of the same seam … of the same sofa … for the same dog-ette.

… And then, later, she rests. After hours of other activities and fun frolicking – most of which I’m not aware. The working thing gets in the way of my Chloe time as she occupies her time with other humans. My time with her – as dog sitter – is limited to seven days now and will end in a few. Back to her true owners she’ll go and I’m sure she’ll be very, very happy to return.

I’ll be glad to hand her back, too. Not that I haven’t enjoyed her visit, mind you. Kinda like Grandparents “graciously”, and lovingly, handing over their grandkids back to the parents. Her owners are wonderful people, great neighbors, and terrific people-parents for Chloe.

For the next few days, I’ll suffer gladly through the minutes. Hopefully I won’t hear that silence too many more times. If I do, I’d like it to be less about a ball and more of her snuggled in a pink, warm bed.

At least then I would know the answer to “Where’s Chloe?”

Show Me Chloe

Ok. Since you asked. Here she is once again.

This past July 3rd, I introduced you to Chloe, the puppy. She’s still scampering about in our neighbor’s yard, tethered to – in her happy, anxious mind – a rather annoyingly short lead. If not, every whim and whisper nature provides would have her half way to China by now. This is her world. Her “I see Doug and want to give him something to think about now” universe.

“U” see, I am not one of those whims and whispers, supposedly. Considering I’m only that one letter off of being a dog myself, you’d think Chloe and I should be can-do, man-dog sypaticos. I think we are. She … well, … may think so. At this point, I’m not so sure. The occasional side belly rub gives me some puppy-cred and the special ball toy we play with at times sheds wonderful light into our friendship, however, one rather annoying habit of hers strikes a sour note across my heartstrings.

Being my canine neighbor across our not so well traveled avenue, she stares uninterrupted at me with her sad, wanting eyes. Beautifully calm, still, unwavering, she sits a few blades of grass from the edge of a driveway no more than 40 or so paces from my five trips back and forth on my property – loading the van for a day ahead. I always see her out of the cautious corner of either eye, depending upon which way I walk … careful to not make direct contact with the beast-ette. It is a dangerous game we play, for I would be tempted to smile uncontrollably at her insistence that I immediately approach – abandoning all my business needs at the moment.

One of any intelligence should assume, when finishing the task of loading said van with time to spare, this barely-out-of-puppydom would then welcome the very person to whom such pleas were advanced, right?

Uhm, wrong. That sounded too abrasive, so let me phrase it another way: Chloe wants me to come across and play a few minutes with her, then doesn’t, then does, then doesn’t, then …. you get my point.

If she wasn’t so damn cute and petable, I wouldn’t play this dog and mouse, “who wants to be a schmoozer the least” game at 7:30 in the misty morning. She sits there with her little butt barely on the grass, leash extended to its full length, … and brown marble eyes staring across like arrows lasered on my heart knowing full well I have a blue racquetball somewhere. Ah, the little, round rubber morning ball. It isn’t me she wants at all …

So, I walk “casually” over, pacing my step as if approaching a sleeping bear. Chloe’s tail wags a bit left and right and her, now, slightly larger than puppy body still does not move. Then, I’m only five steps away, a few seconds later, when she abruptly jumps a high-dee-ho, her leash gives a sigh, and back to the porch she runs … taking a path of zig-zags and look backs as if to say, “Ha! … gotcha again! .. Ya big sucker!”

There is no licky-lapy, jump into my arms, nice to see you moment. No Lassie found me alive in a well revelation. She runs from me the very moment I reach down – extending my arms to caress the very compassion and love she so wonderfully extended to me only seconds earlier. I, somehow, got a version of the smelly anti-dog plague in the four-point-six seconds it took to cross the street; OR, perhaps Chloe is playing a game, as usual.

It IS a game. A big freakin’ game I get sucked into almost every morning. Why? Because I’m me … and you’re you … and you’d do exactly the same thing, so don’t judge me.🤣

The lure of cuteness overload is exhausting sometimes. Chloe is sweet. I’ll continue to dance the dance. After a few minutes of rah-rah back and forth, she will settle and we’ll have some quality time as I sit on the stoop on her front porch. Ball-bouncy and side-scratchy morning time, as afforded by my nice neighbors, are important to Chloe, I guess. After all, she’s only a dog and I can only pretend to know what goes on inside her fuzzy little noggin’.

As for my brain, well, it’ll never change much. In about 45 minutes, the pleasure sensors will trigger puppy chemicals once again as I carry heavy coolers out from my commercial kitchen to the van. She’ll be sitting there … staring at me. Geesh.

I’ll not resist. Can’t. Show me Chloe and I’m done with all self-control. The best way to start any morning … on her terms, of course.

The dance begins …

Life is Grand in Small Pieces

It’s most likely the pianist in me. Eighty-eight keys arranged by white and black pieces, 52 + 36 = 88. Simple math. Ten little fingers gracefully stroking the correct ones – at precisely the correct moment – to create music directly from the Masters’ hearts is so special. A purely divine plan easily devised, but difficult to execute well.

Few rise to the level of international fame. More fall into mediocrity and just as many, if not more, succumb to scales and chords of lesser quality. As with any discipline, refined excellence of prodigious talent is really, really rare. Horowitz, Lang-Lang, and Rubenstein are perfect pianist pearls in an otherwise ordinary oyster world.

I fall into one of those categories. Into which one I descend is up to you to decide without hearing me stroke a single key. My dear mother had an opinion when she so diligently listened to my young digits squeak and squirm their way around the keys. Young as I was years ago, I did have an early affinity toward the mathematical 88. The piano/music connection always made sense to me. Middle C was to my brain as breathing was to my lungs, so mom decided early on THIS was to be the grand plan …

… Did you ever get the feeling someone else knew something you didn’t? Just asking. I should’ve finger-figured something was afoot.

Bless her heart, she tried. I didn’t. Call me stubborn … most do – even to this day many decades later. She recognized a gift I refused to open. I knew what I had in my hands was a unique quality … a special talent to play this wonderful, orchestral instrument capable of rich low and sweet high tones. One single vibration, or many clusters of dissonant sounds together at my sole discretion … all available with one twitch of a wrist. Yet, with that knowledge, I fought the less-than-valiant fight against the natural forces given to me at birth.

“Cantankerousistic tendencies” and the drive to be my own stubborn self. Period. End of self-analysis. I’ll send myself a bill.

Mom died eight years ago knowing all this; However, she did see me perform many times on stage both as a soloist, accompanist, and music director, etc… Music became a major part of my life and, aside from being a street vendor selling munchables, still is. I eventually decided to get serious about it after high school and have remained active in the arts community ever since. Mom saw that development in my adult years … yes, I did, kinda, grow up.

She’s so easy to write about and spatter great and wonderful words all over conversation. Her influence on me is immeasurable – in small parts.

Which makes my life so grand.

She saw the big picture for my life, but never pushed it on me. I was left to be me. Now, had I decided to be less of a pain in the ass and practiced more, she would have most likely influenced the “plan”. I didn’t. She didn’t. Instead, we laughed, played games together, colored, told jokes, went to stores and ate fast food, spent time with my brother and sister, ate meals together as a family with dad after he came home from work ….

All the small stuff in life she never ignored.

Wow. What a life lesson for all of us, right?

Big pictures and goals are great to have and to hold. No argument from me about life’s “go afters” that keep the wheels from coming off. None of us need to sit around drinking sodas, eating bbq chips, and watching cable news all day long. That’s definitely NOT worth the weight, correct?

Point being, relax and notice the small things that make you … you. Perhaps the stubbornness? (Ahem) … or the gift you have yet to develop. Maybe the gift in someone else who needs you to recognize and inspire? Could be a joke or game to share with a friend. Who knows?

My mom hasn’t been here for eight years. I’ll never see her again, nor will she hear me play one more time. It’s really ok. She’d always come up after any performance, give me a big hug and say, “How’d you do that? … it was wonderful!”. Now, I know in her heart she meant a heart-squeeze, but I also am aware I missed a c-sharp in the development of the second movement of the Beethoven Sonata and she knew this as well … “

I miss her on a grand scale. My heart heals every day in small pieces.

It’s all good. My ten fingers grace the keys today with almost as much grace as she blessed my life. It never mattered to her into which category I fell … and that, my friends, is a perfectly executed, divine plan.

Fork In My Drawer

I sometimes live in a category titled, “Things I should think about before doing them”. In my mind, this could be akin to realizing I’m trying to eat tomato soup with a shiny fork …thinking this would be a good objective. Makes no sense at the moment of slurp, but would if the synapses were firing the ridiculously genius idea minutes earlier. Oh, what an imaginary delightful experience that would be … if ever true.

If verifiable by a witness, I’d need some counseling to be sure. Thankfully, I’m not there. Some may argue that point, but I’m quite sure the utensil drawer is safe from Campbell’s soup excursions into the drippy arena of runny-red tomato soup, fork encounters. For now.

However true, I am concerned about my lack of foresight when opportunities arise as one did the other day. This is a web-log and I am a blogger who wishes to log a Doug-does-a-didn’t-think-ahead moment on the web. So, here we go.

Enter two policemen, one rather inebriated young man, a car, one delightful afternoon at my cart, and me … an overly generous most of the time, kind person.

I didn’t hear any sirens. It was a quiet pull-over as the two police cars nestled the tan four-door vehicle over against the curb back to my left. A young man, approximately in his late-twenties, wearing a backwards white ball cap, nicely worn jeans and white shirt, slowly exited out of the car.

First glance at him, all seemed ok. A customer and I – curious spy seekers – kept a steady twenty paces away as to not arouse any suspicion. Two officers went through their usual routine checking registration and insurance, from what our innocent eyes could see. All was going well until the walk that should have been a straight line … that wasn’t … began.

“Oops, uhm, eeh, oooh”, we uttered intermittently as this young man made every valiant effort available to him. Upright he remained, his pride somewhat intact, but his shoes to the ground not so much. If “S” could qualify as a straight line, he passed.

Kudos to the officers, btw. Patience and calm were the qualities of the day. They moved to phase two, if this is a handbook guideline. Customer and I, again, waited patiently as I noticed no other customers waiting for my service. “Stand still, lift one leg and stay balanced.” We lip-read from the distance. As this was confirmed, you guessed it …. we tried it ourselves behind my van to avoid being seen. Just. In. Case.

We passed.

Well, the young man … didn’t. He was driving under the influence of something. It wasn’t under our jurisdiction to go over and ask, of course. That would be ridiculous. We did feel part of the whole process, though, like we were actually arresting the unfortunate young man ourselves. Sherriff Doug and his deputy Ken. Has a certain special sauce to it, huh?

Ken left soon after the Mr. Newly Arrested was placed in one of the shiny washed patrol cars. (Man, they are always clean.) I was alone. No customers. Only my thoughts as I looked over at two officers. One on his cell phone calling in for a tow to handle the, now, abandoned car on the street by my cart, and the other finishing up some odds and ends with paperwork. A fine job being done by our city’s finest.

My fork in the soup brain kicked in. They “must” be hungry. Never mind they’re in the middle of arresting an inebriated driver as I was under the influence of my over-active synapses. It’s an (air quotes) lunchtime arrest, afterall. Why not go over and offer them a free meal? Seems logical, right? They had nothing else going on at that moment.

Uhm, yes they did.

I sauntered over – proudly I may add.

“You guys hungry? May I (not “can I”. Always use proper grammar when speaking to an officer) offer you lunch? On me! … How about your partner? Looks like you’ve had your hands full here”

Ok. Once I spoke those words, a fog came over me. A dizziness-like amazement/what the f*ck did I just do moment. Why do I say that? Because the officer’s non-verbal response was a blank stare for a few seconds. An awkward silence. I had to say something KNOWING from my sales experience whoever speaks first loses. “I’m Doug. The dawg guy over there. Just thought maybe you guys could be hungry and would want something. A drink?”

Nothing. Then he said, “I’ll check with my partner.” He was kind, but otherwise distracted.

Meanwhile, officer #1 is still on his cell phone. Pacing still because, apparently, there is no contact with a tow company.

I remained calm and continued forward. It was close to the time to begin my closing procedure, so I headed past them to retrieve my street sign down a few yards from where they were. On the way back, of course I had to, once again ask, “You sure?”

After a deep breath in, he replied “Yes, I’m sure. If there’s time, we’ll stop back around.”

Now, I know this fine officer was being very generous with his treatment of me. They had no intentions to come back – unless to unstick me from my brain problem of wanting to help them. Why I had to go over and interfere with what was clearly two officers doing their job is a mystery to me.

Thinking ahead would have helped. I ended up with a fork in my soup and didn’t feel good about any of it. Only when I was driving home did I realize how unintended the outcome was.

More situation awareness? Maybe. I believe I simply like to help people where and when I can. Nothing more complicated than that. If I see a lonely fork in a drawer, the future soup is irrelevant at that moment. I want the fork to feel important. Cared for.

When I get to the soup, I like to be challenged. With the fork by my side, I’ll pick up the bowl and drink the soup. Everyone wins!

As for my police pals, I’ll eventually find a way to feed them for free. They did a wonderful and respectful job the other day. I think that’s all I wanted them to know by extending a meal to them. My way of telling them that was a bit unorthodox because I didn’t think ahead.

I’ll be ok. Like I wrote, some may be concerned about my mental facilities; however, where there’s a bowl of opportunity, there’s a way to be nice as long as there’s a fork in my drawer.




Father’s Day After

It is 12:01 a.m., June 22nd. If I planned my life as well as I – apparently – worked out the timing of this writing, I’d be sipping non-alcoholic iced teas, sitting on a very comfortable beach chair, while basking under a western Bahama sun. Counting my untold riches would be the least of my worries and the glistening reflection coming off the blue waters would be bouncing off my toes onto my Dita Epiluxury Palladium Aviator sunglasses.

Alas, this is not the case. I have Western-PA T-shirt tan/burn lines around my neck and upper arms from sloshing sausage, burgers, cheese-steaks, and hot dawgs (yes, this is how I spell them) around on my business grill all weekend. Melted cheese and the area’s best chili sauce is happily dripped all over my 10′ cart which has yet to be cleaned. Dishes remain cleaned out – but not washed, rinsed, or sanitized – in the ever present commercial kitchen as yesterday’s close of business left me without energy to go any further. This happens. I’m getting older all the time, so liveliness and vigor is a commodity not so easily accessible as ketchup and mustard. A long, three day eventful weekend clogged up my life’s bottle of yellow and red tastiness rendering me speechless … and seemingly beach-less as well.

With your permission … almost speechless. Those fortunate enough to be around my humility (sarcasm) are aware I have no problem engaging in conversation. Serious or silly soliloquies, banal or bright banters are never far from my reach when others pull their conversational wagons around for protection from the outside world. I could argue, earnestly, it is for this reason I am happy to inhale and exhale, minute by minute .. oh, and to stay alive as well. Existing is a good reason to breathe. (Didn’t mean to minimize the importance of the oxygen and carbon dioxide gas exchange in the lungs).

While sympathetically breathing, it is great for me to engage with my fellow and fellow-ettes stomping around on this 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilogram rock bouncing through the silence of a dark matter, dark energy, neutrino filled, infinite space …

A space which knows no boundaries, Covid-19, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, masking, hot dawgs, Bennett Cerf (I’ve been watching a lot of “What’s My Line?” re-runs lately), racism, football, bond valuations, or why muskrats even exist. My space, though, the used-to-be within 6-feet distance where words could be safely exchanged, is well defined: beautiful. If for no one else, for me.

… And this is why “Father’s Day After” is so well timed.

To write about my dad on the day for fathers would be untimely. I called him yesterday – during a break at my business – to wish him the usual as I always do. He’s a shorter man than I with a receding hair line I like to define as “completely bald”. Marks scar his head – from years of sun beating down – as his work ethic drove him to stand on ladders, painting houses and windows, during the summer months between the academic Septembers through Mays. Those 33 years spent teaching English in a classroom full of (later) appreciative teenagers who didn’t fully appreciate the value of his teaching at the time.

We lost mom eight years ago. She died with a full heart and a body full of cancer. It was an inevitable end of a five year journey. Dad’s relationship with her to this very day is a mystery. He speaks of her in muted tones, with quiet words, in almost silent idleness. I will not, in respect, challenge his memory of her. There are some frequent conversations with my siblings about our parents’ relationship, but we cannot draw an outline clear enough to even start coloring in the lines with vibrancy, life, and fullness. Suffice to say, we had food, shelter, and clothing … and love as our parents were able to provide.

The response to my call was predictable. “Where are you set up today?”. This would be my dad. This had to be my dad. I know as sure as I am a partially tanned, overly talkative male that he didn’t hear my “Happy Father’s Day, Dad” coming through the phone … And, I know why. Every day, for as long as I’ve been tonging and dipping my way around town, hearing my voice on the phone – to him – meant I was calling to check in and was selling somewhere. Yesterday was no different. He heard my voice, but didn’t listen to my words.

Since mom died, we’ve worked at developing a closer relationship. Mom and I were inseparable. Music, humor, silliness, etc … pumped through our bodies – saddled on every drop of blood circulating around and about the very tip of our toes and fingers. Dad? Serious, methodical, organized, and prognosticatingly predictable. The chasm between dad and I, emotionally and structurally, could not have been wider the day we – along with my siblings – rode down the elevator in the hospital minutes after mom died.

In as much as I dislike the phrase, “That was then, this is now”, there is none more appropriate. He and I are older now. Dad isn’t the same. I am not, either. Our relationship isn’t defined by what it once was. We had a horrible time when I was young. There’s no language I can use other than those words. There’s no fault to attach. He made decisions based upon what he knew to do at the time. I grew up and learned to manage my life the best way I knew how. Then mom died.

We struggle through conversations now … not because there is miscommunication. I am tasked with the responsibility to laugh with him – all the while wondering if he’s able to focus properly and stay with a line of thought. Probably the usual concerns a son has for his aging father, I guess. We hug more than ever before, jiggle a few jokes around the table, and argue a small stew pot’s amount of political positions. The quarantine he weathered well … considering all of his social stilts were kicked out from under him. I gladly searched for low-sodium canned soups and granola at the local market while he dutifully remained indoors – fearful of an airborne virus. That’s dad. The overachiever.

We did finally re-connect last night after I got back. I tried again.

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad!”.
“Are you still set up? I was going to get a hot (dawg) …even though I just ate”.
“No, I’m done for the day. Wanted to call you to see how things were.”
“Oh, well … Did you have a good day?”
“Yea, I guess. It was a long weekend. I’m tired”
“Glad you had some sales. I’ll let you go.”
“Ok, Dad. Talk to you tomorrow. I have the day off, so I’ll stop in.”
“Bye.”
“Bye.”

I’ll stop in today for sure. Father’s Day after. Another day. Not a day I will find myself on a sandy white beach, under a big colorful umbrella, stretching out my muscle-less middle-aged arms over an over-sized beach chair. There are no piles of money to worry about at this time … and probably not in the near future as I continue forward in life – as most of us do. One step, one breath, one heartbeat at a time. And, yes … one word at a time as well.

Words I like to use – sometimes not grammatically correct, or in proper syntax, but meaningful to me. Dad will most assuredly never see these words as he does not read this blog. Well, let me assert I do not know for sure he doesn’t, however, I can reasonably assume the English teacher in him would be hard pressed to not correct my error(s) if he, indeed, did.

That’s my dad. He’s my one parent left here to still love me as his son … and I’m here, as a son of his, to love him as my dad. There will come a day when this isn’t a part of my existence on this heavy rock. For now, the day after, I’ll accept the blessing.

Happy Father’s Day, after, to all.

Station Wagon Ideas

Panelled station wagons guzzled their way down many highways in the 70’s. Convenient? Yes. Stylish? Debatable, as were shaggy mutton-chop sideburns and highrise hairdos. Those of us who were kids didn’t know style. We slogged our way through in polyester brown pants and orange striped cotton shirts. The only joy we had, sometimes, was riding backwards – free from restraint – in those matching brown and orange metal boxes. Making faces through the glass at clearly unhappy, suspecting drivers to the rear, we knew of no internet, cable, or cell phones. A snack, or two, held our attention … and, of course, the adult at the wheel in the car behind who was the audience of our pre-teen antics.

This was our station in life. None of us knew anything different at the time. Grocery store, scouts, school, … a trip to Grandma’s house a few blocks away, whatever the reason, to ride in reverse was a treat. A middle seat plunker was doom and meant something happened – something serious in the familial universe. The overstepping of a boundary (admittedly, a line I was quite capable finding – frequently) or, simply, space were two reasons back bench bliss wasn’t available to three knee scrubbers growing up in a lower-middle income household.

My dad taught school and mom hung around home raising three kiddos. An easy decision for her. She was built to be a mom. Take a bucket full of qualities that make up a great mom and you could paint the most beautiful of mansions. Colors vibrant with care, love, compassion, music, food, touch, humor, faith, and … well, mom… made up a palate of wonderfulness.

Dad painted houses in the summer to earn extra money for a yearly trip to Ocean City. This was his release from occupation hell – as he would define his life. Love for family, as most likely defined by his generational genes, was an unwavering commitment to the job(s) he had to do. Man’s work was love for family. The yearly 7 hours jaunt to the same beach … same hotel … same efficiency room … gave him a much needed break from himself and his routine. If you caught the irony, it was intended. And if you can see where I got some of my OCD issues, kudos as well.

These trips were packed with dogs and suitcases, so riding in the back bench seat was impossible. Yes, this was a space problem. Three kids in the middle due to non-discplinary concerns, for once. A sort-of long trip from 4 a.m. to noon traveling down interstates to a very familiar beach town where people of different colors, shapes, and sizes could be seen slathering themselves with smelly oils and eating their Fisher’s boardwalk fries.

With very little to do in that confined paneled prison, I discovered a love of puzzle books. Specifically, “Variety” books. If I found moments of peace among my younger brother flicking boogers or Cheetos at me, these gems of pencil-pickers captivated my hours between eating P&J’s and the occasional window stares. These graphite grapplers kept the boredom at bay as the ba-dum of each tire over the concrete of the interstate could’ve driven the strongest willed off into the emotional median abyss.

The bridge between youth and adulthood is narrowed and shortened during a crisis. It is for me, anyway. I look back at my childhood – an obvious reverse of time – to hold my present hand. In front of me is a very puzzle book I used to unfold many years ago. Acrostics, Crosswords, SumTotals, …. all my old friends. And, of course, word searches. To this very day, I do not do them. Ironic.

As I sat down, this morning, I couldn’t find the words to write. Sentences? All the more difficult when words themselves don’t easily appear in my brain. It truly is the station wagon of the times. An ugly reality that is here and we must face – in reverse while others stare back in disbelief, anger, or malaise.

The words we choose are seen and heard by everyone … especially if we throw them “out there” for consideration on the public freeway of informational bias. They’ll get run over, skidded on, tramped, judged, weathered, and remembered.

Yesterday, I posted a simple poll result. It was reported 72% of PA residents approve of our Governor’s job performance. I took an independent position on the matter, assuming an information-only, non-pot-stirring stance. The number seemed a bit high based upon my recent FB wall post in the midst of this pandemic “thing”.

The comments and responses would not surprise you. Left, right, conspiracy, bias, fake news, polls and wrong, … all manners and forms of opinions. Words.
The Washington Post, from which the MSNBC broadcast I pulled the poll, was challenged as biased. The ugly station wagon stuffed full of opinion.

Opinions are good. I’m not challenging the basic tenent here. Problem is: nobody is going to change theirs. The station wagon is still going to the same hotel … the same beach … the same …

I just wonder. What are we trying to do? All I hear are people searching for the right words to say – everyone wants to hear – but nobody is willing to listen. It’s the greatest word search puzzle of all-time and we’re all stuck facing backwards in an ugly station wagon.

Hope the people in the car behind us know what’s going on. Let’s all make a silly face so we can get a reaction. Maybe it’ll lighten the mood a bit and they’ll have a word, or two, for us in return. When looking in the rear-view mirror once we find ourselves in the driver’s seat again, hopefully we’ll see what was left behind from lives, choices, and words we clung to. What’s ahead is an open road of ideas and opportunities for all of us to take that may … just may … help form sentences all of us can agree on.


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.

This is who I am

This day requires a response and I didn’t know what to say. Until now.

An Easter miracle has been hoped for by my Christian friends for weeks. I’m not seeing the magic. Coronavirus numbers are climbing. Deaths are still happening. People are getting cancer. Someone is dying of congestive heart failure and, tonight, a wife will be telling her husband she doesn’t love him anymore.

Again, I’m not seeing the magic. My Christian friends will certainly respond one of two main ways. Either I am not looking in the right places, or I am, but not seeing with the right “heart”. This isn’t a sleight on their sincerity or wanting of my happiness. It is an indictment of a religious belief that all will work out in the eyes of a God, regardless of what happens. I knew, heading into today, there was to be the story of a resurrected Jesus – as there has been throughout the ages. Especially today, in the midst of a massive pandemic shutting down the world.

I also knew none of this was going to be the fault of a God, Jesus’ presumed father, who is in control of all this. Or, is He? Those so willing to turn over their hopes and dreams of a miraculous end to a virus never give him an atta-boy for allowing it in the first place. Either this God’s fault, or it isn’t.

Within the circles of skeptics, it’s called “counting the hits and not the misses”

I was blind to this for 36 years of my life. There was never a time for doubt or questioning from 1982 through 2018. During those years, any thoughts of walking away from a comfortable belief in a magical Christian ideology was scary, uneasy, and unfamiliar. I would never know the terms Agnostic, Atheist, or Skeptic. Even questioning the most obvious contradiction in the bible was emotionally upsetting. Throw in a dose of after-life eternal bliss, forgiveness of sins at birth, a born-again experience at 19, and I was golden. The luck of the draw placed me in a conservative, western-central PA ‘burg where Christian parents raised three kids to cite the Lord’s prayer, be confirmed, and sing in the children’s choir without questioning,”why”.

Until my seizure the evening of June 30th, 2018. The moment of a re-set in my brain when all electronic-impulses went haywire, for no apparent reason, and the label, “epileptic”, was scarlet-lettered on my soul. A one-time lapse into a brain malfunction black hole spun my person-planet into a brand new orbit. With no more seizures since, I’ve been circling a previously unknown sun ever since.

Worlds collided and I began a journey into a universe of self-exploration. A rich, new, singularity of ideas and words I never knew. Previously hidden from me – but always there – were books, websites, TedTalks, relatives, friends, podcasts, and other resources apart from centuries old, dust laden, tested and certainly unproven ideas written in a book so unclear it took gaggles of scholars to interpret.

There is no proof of a God. I reached that conclusion. Until there is, I am an atheist. I have been since the fall of 2018. This is my day to come out and say it to the world. Well, at least to those who care.

To clear this up, an atheist is one who will believe in the existence of a God once adequate proof is presented. To say there is a God is a magnificent claim requiring magnificent proof. That’s all. You ask, what does that proof look like? I respond honesty, “I don’t know”. If there is a God, it/he/she knows what proof is required to warrant my attention. I asked, earnestly, for over 35 years. In the deepest, and saddest point of my life, this God was silent … completely silent.

Now, please don’t respond with, “His answers are either yes, no, or maybe”, “All in God’s plan”, “Footprints”, “You didn’t pray right.”, or any other special pleading. I know them all. I really do.

Save one very special friend who stayed in touch via text and my family, nothing. There was never a feeling of a God by my side, a “voice”, or a “presence” … any of the things I expected after years of dedication to the “holy one in the word”. I survived with will-power, knowledge, and the science of medicine and doctors … and yes my close friend and family – all of whom I adore. THEY are the ones who sat with me and helped me through. They were my “hits”. Oh, and to say, “God sent them” … please, don’t.

Look, if you detect bitterness, it isn’t intended. I’m not, truly. The Easter miracle today and in the recent past, ironically, is this God opened my eyes to what was possible … almost two years ago.

I am still so full of piano-love … a genuine, spirited, hopeful, graceful, caring human being. Nothing about who I am has changed at all. A Doug hug from me now means the same as ever … well … at least when the stupid shut-down is over, anyway. Can’t really reach you from here.

I’ve been over counting the hits and not the misses for almost two years. “He’s” missed so many times. I promise you, whenever this whole Covid-19 ends, praise will be given to no end with absolutely no mention of fault. Just not from me, obviously. Tell that to the thousands of families who’ve lost family members. Oh, but I guess God had to do that as part of a bigger plan. But, why? I thought he had nothing to do with it in the first place?

Yes, the last paragraph is part sarcasm, however, it highlights the problem with ideas wrapped in traditional Christian thinking. Ideas I gave my life to for 36 years. Ideas that, ultimately, didn’t serve me at all when I absolutely needed them to.

…And isn’t that the whole point of Jesus’ resurrection being “celebrated” today? He died for our sins, I guess. Just not when I need(ed) him the most. What a great plan.