Mark (not) My Words

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

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

Now that I have your attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.facebook.com/PPCPennsylvania/ (for more information)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chalk One Up To A Win

It was a Wednesday and the weather cooperated. Strange to have the sun, wind, and rain decide to favor my friends with a day of mild, partly-cloudy, almost-perfect atmospheric blessings. The weather has been anything but cooperative lately and my friends being the Arts Altoona board members and organization at large. As described on their site http://www.ArtsAltoona.org : “(An organization) that works work with community leaders to serve and inspire a more creative region. Culture and creativity are built into everything (they) do, from the way (they) envision new opportunities and evaluate outcomes to the way (they) collaborate across programs and cultivate deep partnerships.”

So it was. A very nice day. I snuggled into my business of selling comfort food designed to satisfy lunch appetites – as I’ve done, gladly, over the past fifteen years – when my eyes glanced over to notice the beginning of an event.

My food cart this year is located, over the expected lunch hours, in the very lot where this happening was occurring. Daily, I rush about … slathering original recipe chili sauce and cheese on hot dawgs (yes, this is my spelling), piling wonderfully odorous grilled peppers and onions on cheese-steaks for those so inclined (nod to D.G.), or serving up a side of my famous Chili-Mac and Cheese. Other menu choices keep my feet and hands busy, of course, as happy customers fill my mid-day with smiles and my cash box with essential future bill-paying currency.

Wednesday, the lot had a few extras. Kids and chalk. Arts Altoona hosted a “Chalk in the Lot”, “POP UP Chalk event”, or”Chalk Talk” event. I’m not quite sure what the actual name of the event was. After a few consults with friends in charge, it was still a bit unclear to me. Whatever the advertised splash any of us decided to wet our whistles with, it really didn’t matter. There were kiddos on their knees with chalk, dusting up plumes of joys, drawing stick figures of pets, parents, and planets, … caring the least about covid, conflicts, or conspiracies.

This was not only a small happening in the lot, it was also a huge step for the Arts Organization. That stride being Number One. A hesitant – but necessary – step in the gradual shuffle of finding a way forward this summer after a state-wide shut down. I’ve been fortunate, as a food vendor, to be open for business at this location since May 1st. Their building – a recently acquired church that has been repurposed and generously donated (for lack of a better descriptor … ) for their use sits conveniently beside the very lot I scoot in and out of four days a week. This paved space, once full of church goer’s cars in years past, has been ghostly empty recently. An understandable, but unfortunate, outcome of so many spiritual gathering places.

As the time folded in and out between busy and idle Wednesday, I Spielberg-ed my way around the crowd – as I like to do – with my camera/phone. Reasons being: #1) Facebook Live is a great opportunity to promote events, #2) I am a fan of spontaneity, and #3) I find most folks enjoy talking about themselves and their lives / businesses.

While sauntering through the lot, I caught the above image on camera. It was designed by Anthony Pater, a guest artist invited to the event. With my sincere apologies to him, I do not remember most of his inspiration behind the design as I type, however, it was recorded that day on my FB Live feed. I can recall a reflection of suicide awareness and an unending circle of thought … suffice to say, I was impressed by his two hour dedication to the finishing of his design amidst the scampering of little feet, stick figures, and parental “don’t do thats” …

Today is Friday by my calendar and I’ll go back to an empty lot. “Empty” by comparison to last Wednesday. Yes, I’ll most assuredly have customers lined up waiting for sausage off the grill and ice cold bottles of Pepsi. The weather will be – according to the always 40% accurate forecast – partly sunny with a chance of wind and rain, so up will go my canopy and display flags welcoming in my regulars. The flames under my steam table are bound to keep sauerkraut, pork bbq, and chicken warm for those wishing such fine lunch fare instead of my beef dawgs. Life, you see, goes on as normal.

Normal in one sense. In another, I’ll be able to glance over, about 15 adult paces should I choose to walk, and see Anthony’s artwork. It is still attached to the pavement two days later. The kiddos are gone. Laughter, smiles, chalk dust headed over Ohio by now, and parents probably finding other ways to entertain their little ones … but the etched chalk circle remains still.

Isn’t this the real value of Art? Experience it once, but have it last beyond the first encounter? Have it live in you over and over again?

Maybe this viewpoint is too simplistic … I don’t know. I’m a pianist / musician at heart. Listening to Chopin over and over gives me chills. But, then again, so do the words, “Hey, pick up your laundry, goofball!” from my wife … so, I’m at a loss sometimes.

Whatever the reasons, life is wonderful. If you’re around Blair County, PA … specifically 6th Avenue and 23rd Street Altoona, stop by the lot. See me for some lunch “eats” and check out the chalk art before it is gone. There will be more events in the lot this year I’m sure. How, where, and when are to be determined as all of us try to navigate our way through the rough, bumpy road of a virus-slathered future.

All said and accounted for, I’d say we can “Chalk One Up To A Win” this past Wednesday. Congrats to Arts Altoona for getting one in – finally – and giving the community an opportunity to see the arts in motion.

Now, I must find a way to convince “some” that grilled peppers and onions DO belong on sandwiches.

The Hearts of Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be rest the best way you can.

DOUG

The Trophy

I’m due a trophy. Or, at the very least, a sincere apology. Sounds rather harsh in my head as I type those very words, but hey, truth is truth.

Well, maybe a nice dinner with a great friend … on him, anyway.

I’m either bitter about it , or pointy-toed, Ektelon dragons of imagination were visiting unnecessary memories upon my soul. Of a racquetball tournament gone horribly wrong is that which I opine. Swearing and sweating all these sleepless nights wondering why … why…WHY? Shelves full of trophies … bowling, business, … accomplishments abound my blessed life as I have slovenly slaved my last breath many times through that final push. Failure? Yes. But bootstraps always at the ready. Expected friend-fairness in the midst of life’s whacks? Yes. Willing to cede a well-done, “supposed”, equal tournament? Yes. Adult enough to stand second, even third, on a podium … supporting a great friend in his moment of,… err uhm…, victory? Sure, why the hell not. Able to drive home in a great mood wondering what the F**K just happened? Absolutely!!

I want my damn trophy! Ok. I’m bitter. 🤣🙄

You need a back story. There kinda isn’t one, but I’ll give you an edited version: I was systematically, methodically, underhandedly, schneidedly, gooberlistically, maleficently, mathematically robbed of my moment … by my best friend. He’ll claim the math gods did it. I don’t believe him. Why? Because he is still in possession of what is rightfully mine. The damn trophy.

We met in college. Both sons of wrestling coaches, our stories came together as easy as two grapplers meeting on the mat. I didn’t follow through with my less-than stellar wrestling high school career because counting ceiling tiles didn’t seem a good income source. My friend, however, was less likely to have a choice. His dad coached the college team and was – shall we say – ‘influential” in choosing his son’s extra-curricular, sweat-singlet activities.

In between my music rehearsals and non-studying times … and my friend’s what-ever he dids, we whacked a lot of racquetballs. A lot. Morning, noon, night … weekends, whenever. Didn’t matter. We were entranced by the echoes in a chamber made between three solid walls and a plexiglass ping-panel across the back.

This room with a wooden floor that squeaked and spoke, walls having the scars of racquets and balls, and stale, heavy air that carried laughter over and over again for us remains, for me, one of the best memories of my college years. With my friend.

Our other-than-raquetball friendship grew into pizza eats, living together, talking out life’s inevitable in-our-20’s problems, standing in each other’s weddings, pets, careers, parent deaths, kids, ….

So, that’s the Hallmark version. Boy meet boy. Friends for life. Yadda yadda. Why now? Why bring up the bitterness ESPECIALLY after JUST yesterday so craftily writing about NOT being bitter? 🤔 I have my reasons. After a rather lengthy respite, my dear friend and I talked on the phone yesterday … and he upset my emotional racquetball cart. Reminding myself, as I am so apt to do, that I am still a-kilter over the slight I was awarded … not the trophy. Quick to point this out, I promised my great and “victorious” friend a blog expressing my woe. As an aside, I believe my grief therapist would approve as well🤣.

Here’s my beef, if it pleases the sweaty court:

Tournament, due to weather or some such event, had three entrants; A B and C. Now, don’t judge me here. It was STILL a legit competition!! For the sake of ease, I’m A, my “most excellent” friend is B, and goober no-name guy is C (doesn’t really matter)… There may have been a D … not sure.

A(me), handily I might add here, beats B(mpfh), B goes off slightly upset because he recognized superior play of A. A plays C – tight match, ends up split, or edge to C. B plays C. B wins – or so claims …. never saw score. Sketchy to this day. Final result? “B” got a applause and accolades from four people in the lobby drunk on Gatorade….oh, and a trophy. I got nothin’. Somehow, after all the dust and sweat settled, I came in last place. Mr. B, whose points I was still tallying up against on infinity’s hands, was awarded 1st place as I, the victor in my match again him, was stuck with nothin’…

Well … not nothin’. The right to have my dragons haunt me year after year is what I got. Year after bruised ego year.

I’m ok with the way things are though. I R-rre-ally am. No stuttering or bb-itternes left over at all. Writing about it today is helping me deal with the pain because I know my dear friend is reading this, counting his pennies, looking forward to buying me that nice juicy steak once this virus stuff goes away. I deserve it from him.

So comforting it will be … seeing him walk into the restaurant carrying what’s rightfully mine, setting it on the table beside a bottle of the finest wine (he’s also paying for) and saying, “Doug, my dearest of friends, I know you’ve been bitter about this a long time. I want you to accept this trophy. I’m so sorry. You’re the best, man.”

To which I’ll reply, “Nah, you keep it. I’m good.”

That’s how most excellent friends roll.

Sing Sing a Song

We eventually reach the end – or, near the end … close to it, perhaps within sight of it. The age-enlightening, gosh already, step over moment our grandparents told us would eventually come. That wrinkle line. The age we reach when people we love start passing away. When mentors, friends, relatives – huggables who influenced our lives in many ways – step smoothly over into forever and leave us with only pictures and memories. Good and great, they were.

Death happens. We know its unavoidability as our lives go about, worrying and praising the goods and bads happening around us. The unknown, post-life extravaganza wished for is gladly preached among many different variations of god-beliefs while some choose a once here-and-done mindset. Whatever the walkabout, life does end for a huggable – eventually – and those of us left must experience the loss. We have to. To grieve is a private peace and public proclamation of love for the life once lived.

Monday, I lost one of them. Our community lost one of them. A huggable. A music teacher unique among the many I had the pleasure of tooting and singing my way around. Mr. Foor had an excitement that blew through the trombone he gleefully gloshed while we sang Carpenter songs. In the days before SoundCloud, Twitter, and YouTube, he carted cassettes, records, and 8-track tapes on a rickety old cart room to room. Gladly and willingly, we put down our over-large pencils and wide-ruled paper to sing our hearts to the moon – forgetting the problems of eight-year old loves and forgotten homework.

He gave us our kid time. Our music time. Time to sing. Time to enjoy ourselves not knowing the genius, until later, of Karen Carpenter’s voice, or the absolute inanity of Neil Diamond (sorry folks, can’t stand the guy) …. 🤦🏻‍♂️. The joy of music he knew as time pushed forward and his career path weaved in and around the same school district. From elementary to high school, he continued to laugh his way into the souls of young musicians and shape the futures of us all.

I saw Mr. Foor frequently around town over the years as we bumped elbows sharing a common love of instant lottery tickets. To see him in line at a local convenience store wouldn’t be a surprise. We’d look at each other …. and laugh knowing the insanity of our minds. But, hey, we also knew, as fellow trombonists, our minds didn’t work normally. He was, simply, in my life a long time. And wonderfully so.

The end of this short post today is near. Just a reminder to live today as one of them. Live as one of those who others can smile about on that day when the wrinkles come slinking across the line. It’ll be here before you know it… just like grandma said. In the mean time, do me a favor: Sing a Carpenter’s song. Any one you choose. Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Mr. Foor loves you, anyway. RIP.

Sing.
Sing a song.
Sing out loud, sing out strong.
Sing of good things, not bad.
Sing of happy, not sad.
Sing.
Sing a song.
Make it simple to last your whole life long.
Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear.
Just sing.
Sing a song.
La La La La La La
La La La La La La
La La La La La La
Sing. Sing a song.
Let the world.
Sing out loud.
Sing of love there, could be.
Sing…

That Went Well

Find me a corner booth somewhere. I don’t care where. Soon, please. Preferably in a greasy spoon diner where I can order two plates of gravy fries, three bacon cheeseburgers, a dozen deep fried wings, onion rings, unlimited sodas, and a whole dutch apple pie with slop-loads of whipped cream slathered on top. Don’t really care if napkins are available. Appearances at that point in my life will be secondary to the joy received from drowning my sorrows in cholesterol.

Oh, and one other request: find the person responsible for the phrase, “Well, that went well…”. I’d like to have a gentle discussion with said person – as I most likely will mouth-bulldoze (it’s a thing) through mounds of stress meats, drippy fats, and empty carbs. Yesterday will be talked about, sarcastically, as a “that went well..” day and I’ll want a full explanation.

It DIDN’T begin well once I realized the words, “Oh, you’re here celebrating your mom’s birthday!” ejected out of my mouth before my eyes and brain had a say in the matter. Clearly in front of me stood a man I’ve known for years. Roughly two years older than I, he is a good friend who married (emphasis on married) a lovely woman a few years older than us. I know this. I KNEW this when we crossed an unfortunate path yesterday in the cafe when I made the extra effort to approach him … in the semi-crowded room … where his lovely wife sat … at a table with birthday balloons at the ready … (getting the picture here?).

As he brisked by me to meet his wife on her special day, I spoke those seven hapless words to him – to my utmost horror – immediately wanting to cower under my small table as the air raid sirens of inappropriateness bellowed for all to hear. As my feet were immediately entrenched firmly in my gaping mouth, I was unable to follow him over to the table to extend my apologies for the gaffe. A cowering butt-scoot, however, under the circumstances probably would have been the right move.

What wasn’t the right move, in retrospect (after I wrenched my feet out of my piehole), was to go over to the table two minutes later and try to apologize. I ordered an omelet at what seemed like hours prior at that point. Had it arrived earlier, the eggy deliciousness would have been in my mouth – preventing this whole saga. It was not in front of me inviting a release from the torture, so the “go over” move was in play. Already knowing my brain-mouth relationship was tenuous, I adulted my way over hoping I could smooth this over. MmmHmm.

Act two. Adding the element of surprise: the arm around. Physical touch always adds a personal touch. Taking into account, as I mentioned, my history with these two fine individuals … I found myself beside the husband once again. This time, repeating the same phrase, “Oh, you’re here celebrating your mom’s birthday!”, but with two special add-ons … up-sizes – just like McDonald’s! #1. My left arm around the waist of said husband for comfort as I spoke, and #2. The phrase, “I’m so sorry I said ….” prior to saying “Oh, you’re here …”. Problem? You wouldn’t think so, right? Husband heard. Wife didn’t. Correction. Wife heard only second phrase. Not, “I’m sorry..”

If you are keeping score of the “Who heard what?” game: Husband 2, Wife 1, Doug wants to crawl in hole and die a slow death. Did I mention I knew they were married? Oh, I did?

There was no recovery. A few floor tiles away sat a nice older couple I’ve seen about town. At the very table where I sat a week ago pondering my good deed, they sat mouths agape. My voice, apparently, carries words of wisdom and woe. One more attempt to apologize fell flat. Details unnecessary as they wouldn’t surprise even the awarest of the aware. I slunked and slithered back to my table as my wonderful, now pale, wife/friend was left to think of ways to silently silence forever her current former friend. A moment of reflection as my omelet finally arrived. “Well, that went well.”

I didn’t look back. Their table five paces over my left shoulder. I could hear muted birthday celebratory words as another couple joined their table of four. Most likely friends of theirs NOT arriving to find merriment in a Mother’s Day fest. My table mates deriving deliciousness, not only from the end of their brunch fare forks but also from the irony at my expense. And shall I say, deservedly so.

To add a rather pleasant chapter to this continuing story, we did connect later on social media and exchanged messages. For clarity, mine began, “I am so sorry …. “, and she replied, “Thanks, Doug. Don’t worry about it …”. Her husband, the quiet type anyway, has not responded. I’m ok with that. He’s a super human, too.

Now to the matter of my unknown person. The inventor of, “Well, that went well …”

When we meet, this will be my tale spoken across the cracked black and white checkered, coffee stained table. To my friend who sits and listens to my insistent query, “Why the need for, ‘ Well, that went well?’ …”. I may refer him/her to this tome for perspective. Bitterness and regret will be interrupting the conversation disguised as heaping, caloric-laden fingerfulls of satisfaction. Loathing and lethargy may soon take over as well once the second and third helpings settle. Additionally, my body could begin to sink into the cheap ribbed vinyl, off-red, sunken booth seat I found myself glued into.

Near food coma. Good news, however. I probably won’t know anyone in that diner. Even if I do, there will be little brain activity at the moment. My friend, the inventor of the phrase, long gone. Read the summary above, figured I was ultimately responsible for my own inanity, and left. Alone, looking over sloshed gravy plates, empty crumply onion ring baskets, and a few slumpy fries, my glossy eyes will see the error of my ways.

Think before you act. The empty plates a testament to quick decisions having slow, festering consequences. Greasy, awesome food the quick tongue of the non-thinking world, and empty plates the lingering regret.

My jeans will make that awkward squeak as I scoot out of the booth. Doris, the only waitress on staff late at night, steadily wipes the counter near the register as she politely tells me, “Your friend picked up the tab. A bit pricey with all you ate, but he didn’t think you’d survive all the cholesterol and wanted to be sure I got paid.”. Pretty sure I’d see the irony, and possible truth, in this scene if it were to play out.

Heading out through two glass doors into the refreshing cold air, my still bloated, lesson learned, belly full of not-so-healthy imaginary goodness ushers this guy into the parking lot. He stops, turns to look over his left shoulder thinking he saw his two wonderful friends enter the diner, and says:

“Well, that went well ” … and, it kinda did.

Fair Game

Life lesson #1 If STAYING AHEAD OF THE GAME is the object, you need to first ask yourself: “What game will I be playing?”. When headed to the park expecting to play checkers, it’s really cool being prepared with two different colored circle pieces and an 8×8 board. It isn’t cool finding out you actually needed hip streamers, an oblong inflated ball, an old college Greek t-shirt, and smelly sneakers to play flag football in the park. When you show up with a little bag of checker chips, SPF-100, an inflatable bench seat, and picnic basket, you’ll soon be bored. Sitting beside a checkered board on the sidelines, your mildly irritated friends consider the formerly innocent moves of “king me” and “double jump” as a possible forms of punishment. You begin to see the memo you missed – clearly written in the dust left behind from the wind storm of your regret.

Life lesson #2 If KEEPING YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME is the object, you need to first ask yourself: “Am I paying attention to the players around me?” Let’s assume you are forgiven and invited to participate. Big assumption, but we’ll go with it. The very friends you had fruity cocktails and vodka shots with the night before, now take every opportunity to surround your hesitant soul with with one goal in mind: Embarass the over-lathered lotioned checker chip bagger. Some friends call this forgiveness at all costs and you wear a multi-colored target on your back as the chosen one. Chosen to participate in a game not of your choosing.

Life lesson #3 If IT’S ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEONE GETS HURT, you need to first ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” Is the grass crunching under everyone’s feet and stale air whistling past your ears worth the jeers, fears, tears, and time with your peers? Certainly must be because you are still in the game, right?. Play’ahs smile and wink ever so slightly when they whisk by you … still consumed by your checkered past. The same counter belly-rubbers who bent over a smokey bar table the prior evening and said, “Let’s meet tomorrow and play a game!”. They who should have wiped the glasses of conversation a bit clearer when describing the game. A game they, themselves, are certain to be flagged – more than you – for their pregame ambiguity and in-game dust ups. On the field of play, hurts happens – it is an until, not an if. So you’re really in a defensive position at the mercy of well-mean(ing) compatriots who knew better, but chose to play by a different cruel book. Sometimes it’s not the game, it’s the players.

Life lesson #4 If AT THIS STAGE OF THE GAME, you need to first ask yourself, “Is this where I want to be right now?”, either the game or the players need a second look – possibly a third. Running through the options in your head is the best option coming out of the huddle-puddle these mud ruckers put you in. What looks like an innocent game of flag pulling has become the biggest contest of run-around with you at the center of it all. As the non- ball bearing appeaser – an uncompensated, unrecruited position to boot – you will spend valuable time defending the indefensible friends living on their narrow field who will never see your extraordinary field of vision.

Life lesson #5 If AT THE END OF THE GAME, you need to first ask yourself, “Was it worth it?”, and the answer is “no”, return to the sidelines. Pick up your wonderful bag of checker-chips, head back to the bar from where it all began, and sit beside players of life who recognize your vision of an inflatable bench seat for two or more … where real friends sit together…

…. on the sidelines watching the game of life play out while engaging each other in a fair, respectable game of checkers. One expecting and knowing the game of the other. All conscious of one another. No one getting hurt.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

Flag football people, life lessons #1-4 … the unfortunate expectations we place on friends who aren’t genuine friends; Co-workers who aren’t real co-workers. Family members who aren’t honest family members. They are, but aren’t in the truest sense. In their minds, it is Fair Game to play with us … our minds and emotions. We allow the game assuming our best interests are in play, but they aren’t. This is why we show up on the sidelines unprepared, … and play anyway. Trust.

There is hope as mentioned. Belly up to a latte, deal yourself in a card game, spin a stick in almost dry dirt …. whatever. Someone will nudge up beside you with an open arm and become a teammate for life. Find them. You need them to help carry your extra large bag of checker chips when a crowd of extra-special friends meet at the park to celebrate your extraordinary field of vision.

Cafe Conversations

Three of us sat idle in our familiar booth this morning. The conversation, however, was anything but lethargic. It moved about, weaving among pillars of ideas embossed with individual views of politics, relationships, entertainment personalities, friends, and food choices. The variety of topics inside this imaginary, echoed vestibule – where my chummy pack of commoners meet almost every morning – are always subject to debate and, as well, never fully caught in grasps of resolution. Therefore, tomorrow meetings are always an understood must in order to continue weaving among the pillars.

We are three of a larger group that would require a bigger booth if all arrived on any given morning. My best guess is around fifteen, counting spouses who would be brave enough to actually show up and admit owning the deed to the one claiming such. Any concoction of us would blend in among a crowd of bald, short, tall, well-dressed, old, rich, poor, colorful, mouthy, meek, humorous, smart, and/or non compos mentis plebeians in any cafe, Anywhere, USA. Fortunately for them, I am a blogger. I glean interesting insights into the differences between us, as a group, and other batches of bloviating booth mates. Unfortunately for my great goons, I HAVE to write about them once in a while because they are weird … each one of them individually, and wholly as a tribe. I define this small mass of humanity as my loving and caring goofball chat mates who sit idle almost every morning with me, but can’t shut up long enough to understand the wisdom churning in my ever spinning brain.

Today, two of them sat with me and I with them.

The challenge lies in not naming them by name on the outside chance they read this. No specific descriptors are permissible by my own standards because of the risk inherent. I shall, therefore, call out Thor, the first of the two gods of the obvious. In using gods of Greek mythology, I avoid any conflict therein and also bring into question my own beguiling sense of irony. For in doing so, I am challenging myself to square-peg-round-hole my words through the side pains of high intensity laughter.

Thor asked, “What is a blog?”. A fair question asked fifteen minutes into the morning. Strange to never have been asked previously as we almost always talk about my writing while munching over unbuttered toast, eggs, scrapple, medium bacon, fried potatoes, or pancakes. This subject came up after discussing Vanna White’s net worth and my recent indiscretion involving a certain dog at a local salon. Well, it wasn’t really the dog’s fault as much as was mine, to be honest, …

Anyway, my response was the usual, “Oh, a blog is, ….” …” and, “the blogosphere is where..” .. ” Oh, and if you go to my site, like I’ve suggested you do, it’s a portal to possibilities where you can experience all my blogs by dropping down the menus ….” See where I’m going with this? … and where Thor didn’t go?

He sat there patiently caressing his hammer, most likely wanting to smack me across my thunder mouth. A simple question with a four letter word: B-L-O-G. I rearranged his world by resorting to a retort of glob – a mashup of words resembling what could best be described as mumblefarts. I not-so-quickly recognized my error, reset my tongue, and began again:

“As a blogger, I own a planet-blog where I live by myself … writing every day or so. My planet-blog, named Doughugs, floats around with many, many other planet-blogs occupied and owned by other writers. The space in which we float around together is a universe. This very large universe is the blogosphere. Readers get on spaceships and visit as many planets as they want and don’t have to live on any planets. Subscribers can get an alert on their spaceship when a planeteer writes a new story, so the pilot can head over there if they want to. There are 600 million planets with at least 31 million actively writing one post each month, so our space friends could be very, very busy traveling if they so desire.”

Thor understood from that point forward, although I knew the chances were slim-to-none he would ever get his generational-gap ship off the internet launch pad. That’s ok. I’m glad he asked. Usually I pepper him with the occasional tart-teaser from one of my recent blogs, wetting his appetite for a snarky, sarcastic volley in return from his bag of comments. Replies, for the record, he’s very adept at – usually sizzling them across the bacon awaiting its own tongue lashing on my plate.

Sitting to my right was Alectrona, goddess of the morning. She is just as much a regular as Thor … and I guarantee the word “regular” based on the amount of black poison she drinks before 9 a.m. . I’m entitled to the phrase, “black poison”, by shear logic. I am alive due to having never, ever allowed one drop of the stuff to approach, touch, or breach my labium superius oris. If then, so. Si igitur ita.

Alectrona contributes well, post-topically, to our morning word commute. Once an idea is proposed for discussion, she delightfully interjects a this-and-that with a nudge of interplay to keep the wheels of words turning. All the while strongly suggesting a refill from any waitress, customer, biologist, taxi driver, astronaut, Nascar driver, or Yeti who may or may not be passing by holding a carafe of caffeinated, highly toxic liquid. As I type and ponder, she may be the only female regular of the group. Two words I never realized and can type only in that order because “regular female” doesn’t apply.

No normal, sane girl-type would spend time with us guys. Why, then does she do it? My immediate answer is, “Why, because there are fourteen guys … of course!”… but, I’ve known Alectrona a long time and that’s just not the case. She had some bad luck in her life. More than most. I think, kinda know, she could use some good news every day. If that means hanging out with some crazy guys a few minutes in the morning talking about silly, inane letter turners who make millions, or dog problems in hair salons, well, that’s more than o.k. .. that’s fantastic.

We were anything but the Bermuda triangle of words this morning. Thor, Alectrona, and I. Three idyllic, idle sitters in a booth – weaving conversation around pillars of ideas. Many more schemes and proposals than outlined above, to be sure, as well as mugs of coffee poured (in front of others … still uck for me) found their way to innumerable joy-filled worlds. It was a scene sure to be repeated many times over in the future with other gods to be named because tomorrow meetings are always an understood must. For today, just two friends and I engaged in cafe conversations. It was nice. As always.

1 DAY 8 HOURS

To be more precise, two-thousand one-hundred forty-two miles is the distance from here to there. Day and hours is only a driving estimate because I could board a plane and be there in about two – maybe three – hours. Shorter yet, I can, and usually do, nervously tap a few clicks on my antiquated Dell keyboard and be connected right quick on Facebook. Whatever means to the end, I could guarantee – experiencing only the latter of the three – an ensuing conversation with my friend, Daniella*, would always be in the queue of my little lightening bubble.

Of course, I can’t reveal the exact location or name of said she-person … that would be unethical until such time permission is granted to edit this post. I also know she reads my blog entries and I could be in a world of jujitsu hurt if I ever DID show up in person at her house, so …

Some really boring back-story details: On January 27th, 2017, we had a re-connection when I sent her a picture (on FB) of a guitar I purchased and she replied back, “That is gorgeous”. This was more of a comment & message to an earlier post I generated on my personal page. PS Thanks for yawning your way through that!!

… Over thirty years since high school. Way before Facebook. A time when Daniella and I had our faces in real books as classmates in high school. Can’t say we knew each other well enough to hang out in the local mall together and share walk-man headphones listening to Run D.M.C., The Police, or Billy Joel. Could have been, though, because we were music minors loving the sounds of life.

Memory has a goofy way of checking out the roses while the thorns poke you in the butt. That said, I am not going to spend much time in the reminiscence garden for that very reason. What I know – with absolute certainty – is everything from January 27th, 2017 forward IS known. The lightening bolt sphere I always referred to, casually, as my personal “bubble of knowledge” had been thunderously awakened. Accepting most information at face value in general comments, the depth of understanding I missed through this acceptance was Mariana Trench huge. To Yoda-size, “Leap of faith I made”…

To my credit or fault, I sent Daniella a PM in September of that year:

“Had my mind altered a bit after watching Trevor Noah….Something I am guilty of and didn’t know it. Every time there’s a protest – especially by minorities – my response is to say, “you can protest, but just in another way (ie NFL kneel)”. Trevor made a fantastic point…and it made me think. If that line of thinking holds, just WHEN and WHERE can a protest be made? If that’s the excuse I’ve used every time, as Trevor said, apparently I don’t believe they can protest. He pointed out 5 instances in the past when someone like me used the “you can, but not here” excuse. Seems like I gots some more of that learnin’ to do….

I made a promise not to write any specific words from Daniella out of respect for her privacy. It is from my value system I have veiled trust. Her response began a dialogue we’ve continued to this day. It would be a wonderful exercise in humanity (and an absolute violation in trust *see jujitsu comment above*) to copy and paste our entire PMs here. I’d love for you, my readers, to see the transformative power of open and honest words between friends.

To say, “Daniella and I touched the tip of the political spear” … would be to say “Star Wars was a two-bit, no good, overacted, piece of cinematic clammy Wookiee poop.” We plunged that spear into the belly of the beast many times over, slaying a never dead subject as it’s head continually rose with every headline and tweet.

She, the passionate, eerr…. uhm, ardent, intense, most likely left side of the aisle believer in all things that way. I, the independent, but right leaning sort-of persuadable, open minded, passionate believer in all things that way.

Not everything is, or was, politics. Bell curve it … and, yes politics would be the meat. We’ve been back and forth about faith now and then as well. Lighter stuff, mostly, save the occasional WTF was that! She’s a fan of this blog which gives my fingers tingles and I am keenly aware of her appreciation for my “minor” influences prevalent among pianist endeavors on my recent CD.

The ups and downs of a bell curve, however, are minimal compared to the successes and failures in life we live. It was so hard to see thirty years into the future living out of acid-wash denims, Members Only jackets, and bright neon shirts. Big calculators didn’t have capacity for spheres of knowledge. Quite honestly, it was a good thing because two teenagers didn’t have the maturity for it either.

The purpose today isn’t to laud and honor Daniella’s political position … of which I am sure some may disagree. I have come to highly respect, through listening and research, her point of view because that’s what evolving adults do. She has helped me understand “the other side”. I am taking her cart of knowledge into my garden, planting some of her seeds, and seeing what grows.

Our last GIF a few days ago quotes Dr. Evil, “Come Join Us”. The context between Daniella and I doesn’t really matter much. If you join us in the community of understanding each other through listening and reaching out, we can begin to solve some smaller problems together. As I wrote above, “seems like I gots some more of that learnin’ to do….“, Daniella, I believe, knows that.

The climate here is much different over two-thousand miles away so I don’t know what my garden will bear. It takes time for these things to grow … maybe another thirty years, perhaps? … and that’s perfectly fine.

The Conversation

Gus:  “If I don’t drink coffee in the morning first thing, I get a headache within two hours”

Me:  “After two hours of not seeing you, my headache begins to disappear”

So goes the daily conversation between Gus* and I (… don’t need to explain why the “*” is beside his name, right?).  We meet almost every morning in a sometimes busy, sometimes not, restaurant located inside a three story hotel at the end of town.  “End of town” is “up town”, or “downtown” depending upon who you are, of course. It sits beside what we affectionately call the “diamond” because the configuration of the curbs and streets form .. you guessed it … a diamond (assuming you have a little imagination).  Trolley tracks, long since replaced by layers of brick, concrete, and asphalt – would run down over the hill should you turn left out of the restaurant. Across the way is an antique consignment shop, quick copy and print business, family foundation supporting pancreatic research, and an up-start fundraising endeavor.  On a given day, you can smell fresh pizza baking through the vents in the roof next door as the cheesy-goodness scent passes by on its way to your likely purchase of same.  

It is a hotel that hasn’t changed much over the decades.  This writer remembers a time when his grandmother owned a shop next door – between the, now, pizza shop and this very hotel.  Her gift shop long since gone the way of trolley tracks and mom-n’-pop businesses. Fortunately, conversations among friends in these days of smartphones and short attention spans, aren’t the hourglasses, iceboxes, telegraphs, or slide rules of our time … yet.  We still have words back and forth. And old hotel restaurants ….

This local Hotel is an old establishment. Don’t know how old, however. There are plenty of brochures and smells of age-old memories lying around. Black and white pictures on the walls as you’d expect and well worn carpet stains with stories to tell if only possible. The egg shell paint definitely is in need of a cleaning, but the forty-foot mirror running the length of the wall – as one walks past a dozen or so stools – more than makes up for it. No more than two waitresses (“G” and “G”) scurry successfully between the lunch counter and the mirror filling orders amidst the banter from wannabe humorists and political pundits of all ages. A mixture of a few tables, two booths near the center of this narrow entry room, and two of the same up front under a few drafty windows overlooking the main square complete the interior charming front room.

To live during the high times of this hotel is to not have broad shoulders. The back dining room is a “must see” for first time visitors, but ladies with big, hoopy dresses or stout men sporting manly shoulders need not attempt. The two entryways are …well…narrower than expected by today’s standard measures. Narrow. Not impossibly impassable. It is through one of these doorways, directly to my right, where I saw my friend, Earl* 

Earl is usually quiet. His table is, by default, my second choice. I almost always choose one of the drafty tables in the front. Today, however, I had in tow a leftover Chinese food container with three cookies inside destined for Earl and his friends. It was my wish that he and his soon to be arriving adult playmates enjoy a little more Christmas joy. His challenge was three cookies and four friends. Knowing Earl, it was going to be easy. Probably one for each, himself excluded.

The conversation began easily. Just the two of us because of the apparent late arrivals of any other “Earl friends”. I wasn’t in a hurry. I know his friends well … as they are acquaintances of mine.

Earl is an easy talker. I know this. His delivery has always been open and honest with me. With head tilted slightly to the left and back, eyes never shifting, and reticent, somewhat crooked smile, he talks with me .. not to me. Never has there been a time when Earl considered me an inferior. He is twenty years my senior and certainly more experienced in life. Guidance and direction given to me on occasion, when asked for, was direct and compassionate, … and always spoken gently over well placed crossed arms which seems to be his trademark pose – as it was during the telling of his personal conversation with me.

“How was your Christmas?”, I asked, handing Earl his three cookie Chinese container. We exchanged usual holiday banter before words turned in the most unusual direction. Maybe it was a “family” word? Perhaps prompting in a phrase? I’ve churned this over in my brain a few times to no satisfactory end….and it doesn’t really matter. I suddenly found myself being engaged in the most wonderful listening experience of the holiday.

From beginning to end, a story of searching and finding, loss and gain, successes and failures captured my moments and left me almost speechless. The details so far apart from any business or financial endeavors, but infinitely close to family and relationships. Details private enough I can’t share without permission. So easily said today. I don’t believe easily lived by relatives not so long ago. Substantial respect for a man today who can share a step along life’s journey with me. Twenty minutes of time when I didn’t need to talk .. just listen. A GOOD twenty minutes.

Back to Gus.  It was fortunate for him my blessed presence sat beside his smaller, older, less handsome body in one of the drafty front booths today – a day after my meet-up with Earl.  He wouldn’t use the word “fortunate”, however. “Unlucky”, “miserably cursed”, or perhaps “poorly untimed”, penned in blood on cloth napkins, would be his rapier in the ongoing duel of locution.  Heightened recently with his utmost disregard for my aloud readings of “blog-stuff” as he so articulately defines my art form.  

But, I, as the superior mature male in this exchange, will not proceed in the dialogue previously written in regard to this matter….

…Because he recently lost a dear friend and the funeral is today.  I feel a deep sense of loss for Gus. A conversation today in a hotel front room, a drafty booth, and two friends – sarcastic as both may be – talking over one cup of coffee, one glass of iced tea, and one person I did not know, but he did … very well.

Gus and Carl had a friendship for years.  Small town friendship. Smaller town than the the town we sat in today.  The tie-in connections between the two are many and I don’t pretend to pass on details still unclear to me.  What I do know is the final chapter of a very long book.  

Gus is not a man who speaks as Pericles.  He is “The Old Man and The Sea” without being the great Hemmingway.  Dave Barry is certainly not surging through his veins. Point being, he isn’t – as none of us are – a great orator, writer, or humorist. He’s not on that scale.  Some of us, though, can attempt to put a big toe on that scale, with some confidence, hoping that our one ounce little piggy will register with the heavy weight of the aforementioned legacies.  Gus is in the other room eating bananas while reading jokes from the enlarged print version of Readers’ Digest.

Today was a sincere conversation between good friends.  He would understand my sarcasm should he be in an awakened coma unaware of what he was doing.  Even reading my blog today would cause medical exigencies of such catastrophic dimension in his life I would have a difficult time understanding the proper course of treatment forward.  Probably read more of my insights, out loud, slowly to him as he drifts in and out of consciousness?  

That said, Gus isn’t going to the funeral.  He didn’t go to the viewing yesterday. Not sure why…did not ask.  It was best to allow Gus the pleasure of his telling his stories. His conversation with me.  I know he spent time visiting two weeks ago as Carl rapidly declined in health. I am aware there were bedside conversations – sincere humor and reflection between two good friends.  As I suspect there was for years. One day Carl was there. The next. Gone.

Gus probably misses Carl.  I’ll never know. It’s hard to tell due to his ever present sarcasm and attempt at hiding his really remarkable, understanding friendship he has with me.  

I’ve known Gus a while.  In as much as I’d like to know who he really is and why he uses the veil of sarcasm, I understood our conversation today … as I do everyday.  I have to believe Carl did as well … for a much longer time than I.  

Carl took his seat at the eternal drafty window booth to wait for Gus’ arrival someday.  I’m positive there’s a conversation waiting to be continued….