70 Degrees and Flourescent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eighth Note That Was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An eighth note. A simple quaver.

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

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

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

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

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

And cancer still sucks.

Somehow, I Made It

Nothing to write about with everything to say.

Finding time to sit down and type in a few words has been difficult since my last post. What I am not is an internationally well-established author with impeccable writing skills and multiple book tours in my past. With that in mind, missing six days wasn’t going to set off a major crisis in the literary, online, blogging world.

Taking time aside to care for loved ones, run a business, nap, and munch on a few snacks in between time crunch duties was important enough to step back from the interweb typing thing. Glad I, necessarily, did. Loving life, while extremely busy, is rewarding apart from online duties when serious concerns feel heavy on my heart.

There’s no picture. A tag-along above to assist is not here. Any photo or image to accompany today’s thought wouldn’t work.

Today is Friday. Finally, a day off from meats in buns smothered with gooey sauces and chosen veggies. No “famous” chili-mac-n-cheese servings or shouts of “everything” burgers with Doug’s Dawgs stickers being delicately handed out. No customers today … I’m ok with this.

Seven events. Four in 48 then three in 36 these past six days. Just enough hours to do all the normal prep and clean up required taking into consideration all the business shopping and bill paying necessary to keep that part of life up-to-date.

The other part? Personal concerns. There didn’t seem to be hours, let alone minutes, to use … However, I made it. Somehow, I’m here. It’s Friday.

Didn’t plan on the pieces of the other part separating at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning – a reverse puzzler, as it turned out. A nice picture minutes before fell apart before my eyes lasting into the late evening Thursday. Days and nights with little sleep – while maintaining a busy schedule – weren’t helpful.

I wasn’t in crisis, but someone else was. Nurses, an occasional doctor, emergency and hospital rooms, medicine, pain, tears, texts, calls, needles, beeps, beds, consults, fears, and anxieties … a not-so inclusive list of every hour mindful minefields of groping gadgets I wanted to share with the soul in crisis. With those came an exhaustive search for extra time and energy that never came. Somehow, I’m here. It’s Friday.

Yea, looking back I feel something was accomplished. In the middle of it all? Not so much. Getting the necessary things done didn’t allow for the successes I wasn’t sure to look for, anyway. It was, and is, a complicated thing … this cancer issue. “Helping” is not just a physical do-this I’ve come to understand … it’s a much bigger crisis to manage.

I feel rewarded by a simple, “thank-you”, graced upon me, but not by those two words. It was an eight-word phrase she may, or may not, remember saying. The words don’t matter to anyone else except me. I’m glad to have them in my memory as a reminder of why it was so important to act upon a 5 a.m. reverse puzzler expecting nothing in return.

The reason I didn’t include a picture is because there’s no image of pain close to what I saw. That’s just me, of course.

Until life decides to spread out the crisis/business/personal jam ups in a more tolerable manner, I suspect there will be indigestible, short, three day stretches again. Every time will be epic battles of wit vs. will and willingness vs. availability. Somehow, I’ll be there, too.

… And I’m glad I had some time to type today. With nothing epic to write about and everything to say, this much-less-than famous author is glad to simply have a day off to enjoy himself.

Somehow, I made it. TGIF.

Uptown and All That Jazz

Kander & Ebb. Roxie & Velma. CHICAGO, June 3rd, 1975.

“Come on babe, why don’t we paint the town?
And all that jazz
I’m gonna rouge my knees and roll my stockings down
And all that jazz
Start the car, I know a whoopee spot
Where the gin is cold but the piano’s hot
It’s just a noisy hall, where there’s a nightly brawl
And all that jazz”

I remember the stage. No, it wasn’t Broadway or 1975. In 2011, a piano and I wonderfully joined a talented cast and pit orchestra on June 22nd in front of a packed house for the first of four shows. The Mishler Theater stage in Altoona, Pa, was underfoot at precisely 7:30 … and magic began when the ages old red and gold curtain rose. We were together. An entire cast – with a supporting pit on stage right and an excited pianist behind a concert grand stage left – ready to paint the town.

All that jazz – witnessing the rehearsal stresses, music changes, conflicts between people who do show-things differently in their brains – didn’t matter to me once I looked over to my pit director. Downbeats of an Overture on opening night melted away misfit memories from two previous months of stops and starts.

Left-right-left-right/Bass-treble-tonic-dominant alternating action between two very experienced hands ushered in “All that Jazz” as the Overture danced marvelously into an opening act. I loved every note of every song and the hotness of the piano under sensational spots. Four nights. Hours of absolute treasureness behind the keys.

There’s never been a final curtain from that show for me. After the Sunday matinee, my mom approached the stage as I stepped off the front riser. She, surprisingly, bought a ticket to attend the show a second time after seeing it on opening night. Exhausively and four-show drained, I gave her a big hug to accept a congratulations realizing this was to be the last time a son’s show performance would be in front of a mom’s tired eyes. A final curtain came the following March. Cancer, at that point, had been her noisy hall and brawl. Her first and second acts were produced & directed the best they could. It was time to enjoy what time could offer … and enjoy she did – watching the Cell Block tango girls, Roxie, Velma, and the entire cast of “Chicago” jazz up the stage. I won’t forget. No final curtain on the memories a decade ago.

All that Jazz then, and “Uptown Jazz” last night. A connection, of sorts, to the past. Kinda.

Below is a musically talented friend and all-around good guy, Dave, at the keyboard, on a smaller stage in a cast of four. He’s sitting on a stage where there were no big production dances, stockings down, sexy outfits, murder, or plot twists. Just a pianist, vocalist, set player, and bassist/guitar player. Oh, a dinner buffet, alcohol, and a relaxed piano player in the audience not concerned about vocal cues or four-show happy stresses.

He’s 25% of “Uptown Jazz” and a very versitile keyboard player. To type his contribution as “one-quarter” is understating his talent. Singer, songwriter, “jazzer”, educater, recording engineer, sound technician, … our community is blessed to have a musician of his skill perform within many combinations of pluckers, strummers, paradiddlers, and vocaleers.

I sat in a dimly lit room, back from some semi-alcohol saturated beings, as one of three sitting close together at a round table normally set for ten. The people situation was more crowded up front. To be expected, since acoustically, “microphone speak” was less like Charlie Brown’s teacher closer to the stage than where we where. “Mmpf … Err , ddrph la ruch” is pretty close to all we could understand between set songs – which makes the notes Dave was stroking on the keys extra special.

Notes from his piano floated uninterrupted as he played a few instrumental pieces in a trio/combo. Jazz. Granted, “Uptown Jazz” performed most numbers as an impressive four, but I enjoyed the deep jazz trio work the best. New York, small, smokey, underground jazz club tug-and-pull, complex chord structure … All that Jazz work impressed my classical piano soul a lot.

It was a nice evening. Even though driving, from my direction, was kinda downtown to the UVA Club … heading “uptown” to hear Dave play again was worth the small cover charge and four-times that for the land-and-sea buffet. Now, to be honest, there was no Roxie to crawl across the table in sexy lingerie last night like she did on my piano ten years ago. Dave’s best playing wouldn’t erase that moment in my memory, but his musical dexterity and kindness certainly made the evening more enjoyable than most.

Hours earlier, I started the car to head into a spot – not a whoopee spot, though. I drove into an Altoona location where jazz would, once again – at least in part – be heard … a few blocks away from where my mom last sat listening to hear a son perform, “Nowadays”, the closing number from “Chicago”.

Nowadays, we can relive some memories. Some magical remembrances while sitting in large, dimly lit halls listening to good friends do what we do … in part, of course. I’m a classical guy, Dave’s a jazz player. A piano is a piano, I guess, and music in all its forms is a transporter back to mom and son special moments.

Thanks to Dave, “Uptown Jazz”, and all the local musicians who build the bridges back to kind, wholesome times. Mom can’t thank you enough.

She’s waiting at the edge of the stage to give all of you a great big hug.

Beneath an Orange Sky

Photo Courtesy of Kim C.

It wasn’t mine, although I’d like to stand on a wooden fence and dream that dream beneath an orange sky. Opportunities to do this are not in my life as they are for Abby, the reflective little bit of dressed evening sunshine standing on the bottom rail. Her mom, a piano student of mine, started gracing the keys at an age not much older than Abby. I do remember those early lessons … years ago. Dreams were probably different back then – for both teacher and student.

I suspect 88 black and white keys, Mozart, or major scales were not in Abby’s mind as she looked past the nearest post to her right. Appropriately, everything was impeccably right in her childlike world at that moment. I do believe children see good in all things down the road, undoubtedly similar to this inquisitive fence rail-stander who saw imagination driving by.

Adult hopes don’t rest on curvey, worn wooden thick planks stretching between posts solidly pounded into the ground. Our dreams wiz quickly past the opportunities to stop and admire the sunsets and sunrises. We swiftly move from task to completion, from goal to success. The Abbys beside the road on which we travel see us, but fade away as blurs in our accelerating rear view mirrors. It is the way we adult under an unrecognized, unseen orange sky.

Adult hopes always appear to be around the next corner. The next chapter. The next person. The next job. The now is never enough. The sunset right before our eyes – the fence upon which to stand – we never see as a child sees: an opportunity to dream. As Kim so aptly bookended her words, a chance to live the music in our lives as well.

Granted, kiddos don’t have the stress of bills, home repairs, and pet problems (to list three out of a possible thousand or more). Arm resting off the top rail during an amazing sunset is easier if all you need to think about is your next play date with other happy-go-lucky-ers. In Abby’s miniature state of affairs, she has, now, two younger siblings to love and care for, many dear friends, … and this family follower who, virtually, still has fantastic memories of her mom, uncle, aunt, grandma, and “Pop-pop”. Wonderful people all. Those nows in my life at that time will never be lost.

As for Abby above, that was a now moment. Everything must have been right for her. We will never know her thoughts or dreams as she barely balanced her little feet on the splintered rail. Snapshots in time like that are for her dreams, but we are able to find small, colorful hopes inside a child who took a few minutes to watch imagination drive by.

Maybe all we need to do is stop and exit our busy lives for a short while, join the Abbys of the innocent world who stand on fences, and look for amazing, orange sunsets. If enough of us do this, fences may not be adequate as dreams become too big to hold back. Those we will recognize. Unrestrained, creative ideas – free to expand without “never enough”, around the corner, expectations – are real adult dreams born from child-like imaginations.

As these words fall, Abby is on her way elsewhere. I believe mom and daughter are making costumes if FB is up-to-date. I’m so glad these still moments are available to me. If I am allowed to be my slightly sarcastic self for a second? Too bad Abby isn’t very photogenic, right? Oh, and mom is pretty shy about posting “a few” pics here and there …😉 Wonderful. So delightful it is for me to write about this young lady.

With that, find an Abby moment in your life somewhere … a fence, a now moment. Slow down. We’re all so freakin’ busy anymore. Down the road, around the corner, may not be so far away and time gets shorter with every second that’s wasted. Lean on a rail and watch for splinters.

I’m sure Abby would love the company.

Rick, Michelle, and Table 10

I hope my point of view will ease your daily grind. At the very least, if Chet Baker has any influence on what I write, you’ll remember somewhere the sun is shining whenever the skies are blue. I know, just know, as Chet so aptly sings, “A heart, full of joy and gladness,
will always banish sadness and strife” in your life. If not forever, maybe for a few minutes.

It did last Friday night for me. “Silver Linings” painted my heavens a spectacular shade of musical wonderment. This comfortable musical couplet sang their cover songs, shoes off, voices on key and guitars well above average. To be expected. I’ve known and heard Rick and Michelle before last Friday night. They’re spectacular.

Skies were overcast when the text came thundering across my phone hours earlier. It was to be another musical experience – another event to set up around a stage to sell food-stuffs to attendees coming to hear a cover band play … outside. Aaand … another rain-out to cap off a few weeks of miserableness in what’s known as concession craziness – i.e., planning and preparing – over and over – only to get the notice of a cancellation of postponement due to wetness dropping down from the unforgiving dark skies.

Should be comfortable with the news, but I never am. There’s always hope the traffic signal colors I see creeping across my weather radar screens will stop short and disappear before the first downbeat. Unfortunately, most organizers have to make the call hours earlier – before sound checks and food trucks fill the airwaves and concrete. So, this was my Friday, day. The text arrived around 2:00 pm. Concert at 6:00, postponed until September.

The silver lining? I finally got to enjoy my musical self!

Table 10 was a surprisingly comfortable round corner conversational buffet. The banquet room at the U.S. Hotel in Hollidaysburg is a large, acoustically challenging room where – on any other occasion – steady, mature adults would sit sipping wine, eating hor d’oeuvres, and flapping about the day’s news. With cans of craft beer of which I didn’t indulge, great food, and conversations concerning matters of an adult nature, our table was unsteadily hilarious, immaturedly necessary,… and just what was needed.

Words among friends. Ah, yes. Even those I met for the first time. Connections were different. I knew this person … Who knew this one … Who didn’t know him, but knew of that one because of her … kinda thing going on. It didn’t take long for us to become comfortable with one another. Music and theater have that adhesiveness. Once folks realize the connection, it’s magic.

Hours of chair-scooting between the table next to us, in order to chat with friends I don’t see regularly, was a necessary pleasant surprise. On occasion, an acquaintance would stop over to gain a quick, “Hey, what’s up?”, or “Nice to see you …”. A former piano student approached to say, “Hi!”, and get caught up with life as I sipped my innocent Pepsi. All the while, a great friend and I were getting caught up as she sat to my left upon arriving late. Losing a husband recently is tough, so I assume a night away – among her very busy social schedule – was a pleasant exhale for her. Her gray skies are gonna clear up.

As all the chit-chat and frivolity was happening, Rick and Michelle continued onward. Lyrics floated above all the tables … Folks went about their own week-ending, calming conversations. I suspect our table 10 subject matter uniquely surpassed any limitations unconsciously plated on any other table that evening. With two confirmed witches and a crystal/wellness store proprietor in tow, our table was a-rockin’ with distinctive dialogue. Throw in a few discussions about bisexuality, shoe and fashion choices, blueberries, and weed, … I would’ve challenged you to find another table that night with greater color and flavor in their words.

Yep, it was a silver lining for me. I did Kristopherson my way into the hearts of those around me as I Shallow-ly dueted the chorus over top of clanging dishes removed every now and then. S’ok. I don’t fancy myself a singer, so having forks and glasses as an accompaniment was a nice go-along considering most weren’t listening, anyway. Maybe if I had the Bradley Cooper looks, Star is Born thing going on and Lady Gaga talent? …

It’s enough to say I had a really good time. A “Silver Linings” good time. It would not have happened if Rick and Michelle weren’t scheduled to play that evening, so here’s to them … and all the local musicians everywhere who go out and perform. You bring joy and happiness into our worlds – and our table 10’s. Even if we’re not paying full attention, our hearts are in the music passing through our ears. We are with your every pulse, every lyric, every smile.

I don’t want a lot of cancellations. My bills don’t need them. Chet can sing of silver linings all he wants, but the bank wants loans paid, regardless. Too many rainy days and Mondays will always get me down, Ms Karen Carpenter. These are the facts and figures in what I do for a living. However, for a Friday evening in the middle of a rainy stretch, I’ll take table 10 for a few hours. The friends, music, and conversation were my silver lining in an otherwise cloudy day.

Let’s take our calming cue from my happy human friends, Rick and Michelle. Ease your daily grind by tossing off your shoes once in a while and singing the chorus from your favorite rainy day song. Remember, when music floats above, skies are always blue.

Chloe Chronicles

She was anxious to see me; However, it was almost like she knew I settled a few words about her on blog pages. The look of, “C’mon, Doug … really? Again?” gleaming across this face shouldn’t be confused with her knowing I wrote two short, doggone wonderful DougHug entries within the past year. She is, after all, a neighborhood friend. Chloe. A frequent interchange in my human-puppy road experience.

She’s a decorative stone chewer and lover of the barking craft. As well, a clever end-of-the-leash u-turner once I decide to walk across our less-traveled, two lane avenue to extend my hand in affection. A tease of the highest order she is, I must say. Pleas to pet from from afar are met with taut leash rejection once I enter her space … defined as that 1/4″ edge of concrete just off the public avenue blacktop. It is the clear, non-furry fringe of her Doug/dog comfort zone I’ve come to accept. At that step, her immediate turn toward porch happens. The leash slacks and I begin the invisible dance with her.

Darts and dashes. In between two porch chairs, around poles, parked cars perhaps, … maybe a bush or two – she weaves a tapestry of one-leash wonderment as I usually stand waiting for her approval. Never do I understand this dance. All I can do is, ah,Staire at her amazing energy and enthusiasm hoping to reclaim the original intent of her yippy query moments before.

Step by step I make my way to the small porch knowing soon – within five minutes – she will approach me. That is, as long as certain terms are met. 1) I am sitting on the one step, 2) I am not wearing part, or all, of my concession business uniform, 3) I don’t make any sudden movements, 4) She can sit on my lap when it is convenient for her, and, for my protection 5) I must be absolutely prepared for sudden tongue licks on my face. Other than those “must haves”, we’re good.

I don’t mind the essentials. Chloe time is worth it. “I mean, look at that face!”, is the loving phrase her human momma says all the time. Human dad, who is seen periodically doing the fatherly duties, doesn’t utter flowerly phrases while sitting idly by, but does reflect the same sentiments. Chloe is well kept … and loved, of course. She’s worth the effort.

There are few, if any, kiddos in the neighborhood. Dogs out number them. An adults and canines support group here in a one-way in, one-way out, three avenue, one street tuck-away. So close to activity we are, yet comfortably distant from a lot of the highway noise only blocks away. Such a small number of cars pass by I wonder if puppies – such a Chloe – are developing properly not having the opportunity to chase an adequate amount. Perhaps what she’s been lacking in auto-pursuing is being projected as Doug-poking?🤔…

Regardless, puppies around here are special. They give us adults some relief from all the “stuff” we have to deal with all the time. Frequently, Chloe time gets me away from my immediate self – the daily Doug. I can talk to the neighbors while patting down fur across her back a few seconds at a time. Satisfying, easy, rhythmic joy for me … to pet Chloe and talk away some humor or seriousness at the same time is valuable real estate in my emotional neighborhood.

… And I do believe Chloe may understand this – without giving her too much credit. Perhaps it just dumb luck? Maybe a bit of wonky star dust falling onto my path during certain walk-throughs? A specific, “trouble-in-the-air, Timmy?” that the little nose between those two sad eyes can detect? I don’t know the reason behind her insistence. The barking. The end of the leash, “Please come over and pet me!” pleas darting across the summer breezes once in a while I must entertain. The dance. All of it … I don’t know IF she knows, specifically. I do know, though, I must obey.

Not to wouldn’t be healthy.

Pushing through what we may not understand, watching the dance play out … to experience something so much better is life at its best.

If there’s one guarantee in my life with Chloe as a neighbor, it is this: walking back across that same avenue after fifteen minutes, my steps are lighter. Heavy are the burdens we unconsciously place on our shoulders. Puppies and/or pets aren’t the whole solution, obviously, but when one decides it’s time for some attention, … You should consider it if you need a “healthy”, emotional neighborhood in your life.

One may not be as ridiculously cute as Chloe – or KNOW it as she probably does. This one can bark all she wants and I will continue to dance the dance. Once a week or so, this warm weather exchange is bound to continue. It must. We need it. Intersecting lives unleash the happy in one human and one puppy one pet at a time.

As long as I follow the rules, of course.

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Bumble Be Big

“Bumble”. He’s 14 months young, … and huge.

Walking by his rather small car cradle the other day outside Sam’s Club, I was drawn to Bumble’s puppy face. You would’ve been, too, had the owner’s permission been granted in your favor as well. The kind gentleman loading boxes of goodies into the back of a non-descript SUV suggested kind words and gentle strokes are saintly acceptances for Bumble. From his response to my momentary attention, I believe this was the case.

Meaning “brave as a bear”, Bernard as a moniker attached to this sizeable, furry tot may be a bit premature. “Saint”, as well, could be up to those who decide such things. Now, to squitch the two together and imagine Bumble for work as a rescuer on the Great St Bernard Pass on the Italian-Swiss border? This I could see because he has such a sweet personality. The little experience we have as dog whisperers considered, sometimes we can just sense these things, right? … Or, think we can, anyway.

Dogs force us into a parallel universe of humanity. They make us talk funny, act weird, and spend a lot of money on upkeep, toys, and treats. I see it happen a lot and don’t even own a dog anymore. None of this is unfortunate for human or canine – it just, well, is.

I have friends who call their pets by nicknames that rhyme with the dogs actual names. Maisy the Daisy – although changed to protect the innocent – is one example. Names can also fluxuate depending upon the circumstance. During difficult, disciplinary times, names become “-natored” as in “Aargh! … Fido-nator! You pooped on the carpet, again!!” Sweet, affectionate moments are dessert-ed and verbs get awkward s’s attached to them. “Awe, my lovable little Fido-cakes! … I loves you so much!”…

I get it. Some have a dream to be smothered in puppies for hours. Admittedly, a few minutes under a bundle of Bumbles would be nice up to the point when oxygen intake becomes a problem. Thems are big pups to state the obvious here. Can’t imagine the food bill … or the, er, back end clean up ahead for the owners.

All I know for sure is it was a breath of fresh air seeing something different and magnificent the other day. A Saint Bernard puppy named Bumble didn’t know he brought a little joy into the worlds of folks going about their lives. A rather bland parking lot full of cars and people, well organized into a daily routine of go-here and go-there, was the place to pet a large, gentle creature and forget why the troubles of the day weighed so heavily on our shoulders.

He is, after all, bred to rescue. This is pumping through those large veins of his. Sure, it’s not a snowy mountain range where we struggle to survive. A sunny day outside Sam’s Club in Altoona, Pa is hardly roughing it by any standard. My new Sketchers wouldn’t handle any snow depth over 1/4″ and, most certainly, any hint of a degree less than 60 at this point would be wholely unacceptable.

He rescued us from our normal. Happy times, if only for a moment. Normal is good, too. Don’t mean to throw routine and everyday under the bus here. When special and unique crosses our path – like a 14 month old puppy like Bumble – we should stop to appreciate how wonderful a ” step aside” can be.

That day, when I happened to stumble upon Bumble, I walked away with a lighter bounce in my step. Can’t say he’s totally responsible, but I spent way more money than planned while inside Sam’s after the encounter. Darn Bumble-nator had me feeling good about myself … causing me to over stuff my cart!

I guess I’ll give him a pass this time. After all, he’ll be a big boy someday and I may need an actual rescue on the Italian-Swiss border. If that happens, I’ll forever be grateful to the Bumble-muffin who saved my life.

Toby Full of Heart

I like my personal, peaceful sits. Ya know, those times when breezes and people pass by without relinquishing their troubles … asking me to understand something I care not to appreciate at the moment. My sedentary self on a comfortable chair, outside any coffee shop or bistro, furnishes me breaths I cannot get inhaling busy air while going about daily congestions. Yesterday. Business passing by in which I didn’t need to be involved. Human interactions less interested in the iced green tea placed just within my reach than what was waiting inside. Nearly perfect as the early afternoon sun’s shade crept across a marginally wobbly iron table. A nice breathing space shared by all – a table, a deserving man, the slight early summer breeze, and Toby … a little guy who teaches all of us ToBe full of heart.

He was a little fretful an hour before this picture was taken. Can’t say I blame him. The “experienced” ladies in charge of his care appeared to be concerned about everything swirling around the outdoor patio. They were sweet … don’t misunderstand my words. Toby did the best he could to slowly find his way around the unfamiliar maze of sixteen metal legs and four familiar human legs. The older countesses of this blog did come across their happy breezes as well on the upper side of their table as Toby twirled beneath. I suspect this was the situation even before I walked by to enter Panera Bread. Loved for sure, he is. I’m sure.

Loved for years. Toby isn’t young. Cataracts kept him from moving too fast. Casual glances in his direction between my sips of tea didn’t appear to make him move much. Either his interest in my interaction was “meh”, or he couldn’t see me. I’m so inclined to believe the latter is true. I need to wonder this … Yes, unconnected “peaceful sit” time is valuable, but being tossed off by an aging canine can sting a bit.

In between Toby times, there were times ToBe absorbed in heartfelt thoughts. Just passing by, they were. Not completely soaking in all of my time, but here and there. Too many deep, pensive notions in a row – in combination with the near perfect weather – would have slunk my body into a three-hour Sunday trance the likes from which no “Flavorful & Craveable” smelling salt could bring me back. Maybe a flaky, chocolate croissant? … mmm, possible.

I considered how busy we can be. This isn’t new to any of us, is it? The cars pulled in and out … customers came and went carrying their orders. Smiles – I think were genuine, but I am not one to judge. Most, if not all, who sat as my concrete companions under the strip mall roof entertained their afternoons with phones in one hand. Expected busyness in 2021. Even I checked my friendly messages once in a while. It is what we do. We want to stay engaged in something – connected to busyness – even when really easy early summer breezes offer us time to get away from all of it.

I considered how difficult big changes can be. When casually over-the-shoulder spying on the gentlewomen of the Panera patio, I had to wonder how many changes have taken place during their, assumed, nine-ish decades of life. Clearly in their late 70’s, possibly 80’s, they laughed through conversations I couldn’t clearly make out (and, for the record, wasn’t trying). Were these the same friendly laughs carrying them through the deaths of spouses? Sisters loving each other once again as they did when loving parents passed into energy eternal? Are salads and sandwiches the daily connections they need to small-bite the large change pains that are still sitting in their lives?

I considered how wonderful friends can be. I’ve said this before and will continue to say it. Quite straightforward is this safety net of comfort, support, and advice. When we are too busy and going through a major change in our life, friends support us. They tell us what we need to hear – even if the advice is not exactly framed with words pleasing to our ears.

While all of this circled around the table and the inside of my cup became more melted ice than tea, Toby appeared from under his lunchtime abode. What emerged in plain view was the heart on his coat. I couldn’t resist the notion to believe his heart was more than black on white in front of my eyes.

Only after considering what’s truly important in life, does one’s heart appear. I didn’t see it as he slowly scurried about earlier. It was seen only when I was ready to see it. Toby’s heart is inside his aged little body, too. He can’t see very well. He can’t move fast. Chances are good – if I ask the nice ladies – there would be other ailments he has. In his frailty, however, he reminds us there’s goodness all of us can see in our change and busyness.

Life isn’t easy. I guess that’s the point here. It’s a lot nicer for me when I can have my personal, peaceful “sits”. When hearts are wonderfully placed in my life – unexpectedly – I must ask, “Toby, or not to be?”, …then take that comfortable path to a small hamlet where coffee shops and bistros exist as breezy escapes. To be full of heart is the only way forward – inside and out. It’s tough, but as long as friends have our back, we don’t have to see everything clearly.

If this is good enough for Toby, it’s good enough for me. Glad to have a new friend.

I Don’t Know Joe

I don’t know Joe, but I know Dave. He is on the right … next to a glad to be there friend of his. Most likely he is smiling not only because it was a 60th birthday celebration, but also the colon cancer so prevalent in his life seems to have taken a break. I love this guy. A customer … and a good friend.

As I took inventory of my life and watched invisible minutes swoosh by over Canoe Creek, the opportunity to take another picture of this state park arose.

I wasn’t as much on edge emotionally as I was physically – sitting on yet another worn picnic table. These sit-upons have been there for decades, so it was a challenge finding a comfortable splinter-less, middle-of-the-plank location on which to rest my aging butt. The early May wet weather didn’t help, either. Damp spots sprinkled areas on the dark green outer seats making choices less available. Finally giving in to a forgiving, yet small, dry area slightly under the pavilion’s protective overhang, I sat with a festive piece of birthday cake in hand.

Dave’s day. A surprise planned by his son, Matt. I was one of a few non-family members who came by to wish another year of happiness. Atop the little hill. A Canoe Creek pavilion where my family reunions and church picnics were religiously held. Memories filling those invisible minutes. My great-grandparents sat there, breathing in the same lake experience I was having many decades later during a cold Saturday birthday visit. Seemed like a short Friday before when church prayers and cookouts happened only yards away from where I sat. It wasn’t, of course. Memories appear like yesterdays, but aren’t, right?

What was in my brain? A lot of great memories at that time, for sure. Thinking about my mom the day before I wouldn’t be able to celebrate another “winning the cancer battle” Mother’s Day Sunday with her, my mind was on other things when pulling into the park earlier. The particular pavilion hosting a friend’s party was not in any memory of mine, … short or long term. I knew it. Matt told me weeks ago. I, simply, forgot.

I don’t know Joe. He graduated this year. Congratulations, Joe. The blue balloons attached to the pole outside pavilion number one attest to his achievement. I boldly walked past them on my way to the enclosed tent where festivities and merriment were clearly underway. Any person wanting to be involved in a birthday celebration would’ve walked up to three men and asked the same question. “Hi. Where’s Dave? Nice to see such a turn-out for his birthday.”

“Uhm, hey Doug! (I was wearing a company jacket).. How’s the hot dawg business?”

“Great. Sales are sales, I guess. I don’t see Matt. He said sometime around 1:00 would be a good time?”

“Kinda would be … except this is Joe’s graduation party.”

“Oh? Joe?. So I probably have the wrong pavilion?

“Suspect so. You’re welcome to stay, though. We have hotdogs!” (yuk yuk … always the joke when I’m at a picnic)

“Sorry to interrupt, geesh. I bet they’re at another pavilion!”

“Uhm, yeah. Not here, for sure. I think there’s another party closer to the park entrance” …

…. And then, ONLY then, did I remember Matt’s instructions were to drive past the parking lots up to the little hill. With extended apologies I didn’t need to say, off I went to arrive moments later … without ever meeting Joe.

Up a small grade and over past the buffet table full with pork, potatoes, and coleslaw, Dave welcomed my visit with a warm smile and handshake. Matt followed with his wife and relatives. Turn-out was small due to the weather. I suspect nobody would have been turned away, friend or stranger, had an adult mistaken their pavilion for another. This is a nice, kind family who embrace the minutes just as I did on the edge of a rickety bench.

On Sunday, Dave and Matt came by my cart. I was open for business outside the local Sam’s Club selling on behalf of the appendix cancer research foundation. This is me doing my thing:

There’s a special person about town, Greta, who is seeing her way through appendix cancer. She spent a few minutes talking with Dave across the serving area of my cart as she was helping me serve. They had a colon/appendix cancer conversation connection I simply watched unfold.

This is what’s special about my life and business. Two strangers, bound by a common challenge, connecting … talking things through – figuring life out as best they can.. I’m glad to be a part of that connection.

Neither one is depressed. They’re moving ahead with life as it is. Making the moments count.

As for Joe, I wish him well. Life will be his plan … whatever road he chooses to take. I just hope he listens to directions and doesn’t turn off too soon into a gravel lot expecting to see Dave. It can be a bit embarrassing.

Happy 60th Birthday, Dave!! Many more …