He Didn’t Know

That’s for sure. “He didn’t know …”

However, for a waterless non-human, this Ethel Merman-esque high flying bird knew how to catch the camera eye of my friend. My ever vigilant nature-seeking looker happened upon these flights of fancy a few days ago, clicked a few soaring portraits , and passed them on to us via Facebook. Starting off with the words, “Not sure who this is..”, she notes the innocence trailing behind the pack. Some replies follow as closely as he does the white speckles ahead against the clear blue sky. “Blue heron?”. “I’m thinking cormorant?”.

Neither she nor I know. I suspect my knowledge of music and food keep me at greater lengths than her from the truth. If she doesn’t know, then I’m absolutely sure I haven’t a clue. That single spec with wings could be a mini-Batman as far as I’m aware … and that, my friends, is my best guess. I can name birds that meander about for a short time – like chickens, turkeys, and ducks. When one starts naming birdies that flit and soar about against the heavens, heavy gloss starts to overtake my mind. Yes, shiny and new information, but a little too bright and sunny for my bird-brain that isn’t much interested in what kind of bird he is.

What really fascinates me is what he represents … and this gets to the possible point of her post’s comment: ” … but he didn’t know he wasn’t a swan.”

It may not have been her intent. The objective may have been, “Name that bird”. I don’t know. It’s not clear to me. My takeaway, as with most all wonderful whatsits before me, is to think, #1.) Did I take all my meds today?, #2) If I did, are my glasses on my face?, and #3) If both are answered in the affirmative, is what I am seeing just that, or is there another there … there?

Digging down (or, up in this case), we have a “there”. Look! Up in the sky … It’s …

Wanting to belong, to be accepted. Attaching this very basic human need to the personality of a yet-to-be-identified bird. He didn’t know for sure, yet there his wings were – drafted into the same pattern set ahead by welcoming, perhaps even unsuspecting, friends ahead. Still pictures don’t give us the same perspective my friend had as these twenty-something (plus one) in numbers danced their way into her camera lens. She had a first-view account as she immediately accepted them as her friends … an acceptance of them into a world of photographic pleasure she enjoys as one belonging to nature itself.

That’s possibly the “there” here. We belong to nature and are accepted by her. She cradles us if we allow her to do so. The bare grass under our naked feet on a warm, sunny day. A deep, consoling breath of fresh mountain air after a long week of ugh-ness. The crackling and pitter-patter of a stream full of the occasional passerby fish a foot or two below, or maybe just a short nap while sitting on the front porch of your choice … All of these are our swans of smoothness ahead showing the way. We don’t identify as grass, air, streams, or porches, but we can certainly enjoy the benefits of the path they provide for us.

Black swans once were thought to be imaginary. Dutch explorers discovered them in Western Australia around the mid-to-late 17th century blowing that theory out of the water, but not the swans … so relax. That I knew. What I didn’t know was this thing called the Black Swan Theory. To be simple here, it is a metaphor that describes a rare event (or events) that are beyond the realm of normal expectations. It has other hang-along requirements. For purposes here, I’m sticking with that easy, kite-flying definition.

Pretty sure my clicker confidante didn’t arise that morning expecting to find a flock of fancy afoot overhead that day – especially one with a tricky flapper trailing behind. It was a rare event beyond her province of normalcy. What is normal, anyway … right? She looks for certain surprising, remarkable whatsits underfoot and overhead then attaches it to 21st century technology, … and with that, we can live new experiences though her lens allowing us to be slightly different believing anything we want.

… Like acceptance even if we don’t know who we are 100%, or where we belong.

Maybe if we look up once in a while like she did that delightful day, the wait for another picture won’t be so long until she graces us with another.

Here’s to all the black swans who believe there’s a sky for them filled with friends who will show them a way.

Puppies and Rainbows

You have to know Brian. He’s a man of slender build with years of height near mine, definitely more scalp than hair, a hurried gate accompanied by slightly longer arms than the average human, and – without giving him too much credit – near perfect execution of the “puppies and rainbows” gesture. A gesture, mind you, having its genesis in the midst of what I believed to be a fine proprietor/customer relationship.

See, Brian owns The Capitol Hotel. If you are a frequent reader, you’ll recognize this place. It’s a gateway to my morning silly-zone where I can be a sitter out of sorts with a crew of ne’er-do-wells I call my friends. There’s an old retired guy, another retired guy, a slightly older lady, sometimes a guy my age, an artistan I write about on occasion, … Oh, and a waitress. At times, slithering by I see peripheral pals and palettes passing by as well. I have examined, appraised, and evaluated all … concluding if a week went by without them in front of my bad jokes and goofy morning temperment, life wouldn’t be the same – for any of us.

This past January wasn’t much different. The first week of the new year began as any other. I walked in through the first set of glass doors taking a few steps before knobbing my way past the creaky old door into the main counter area. With huge glass/brass mirrors and dark, beet red booths always there to greet hungry patrons like me, this hotel in the ‘burg is like no other even in 2021. Covid seating restrictions forced my eyes downward to the empty seat poles strewn intermittently across the counter floor. Some booth seats then, and to this day, are tilted up to prevent seating on one side. Masked matrons scurried about taking orders as I strode my way over to the far corner booth to take my place among the sort-of welcoming warmth I saw on the faces of my friends.

Something was different that day, however. Quiet isn’t the norm … and then I figured it out.

They were waiting to see my reaction regarding a story broadcast the previous night. Our local news station ran a small story about something I did New Year’s Eve with my business. What I did isn’t relevant here, however, what I said during the interview is…

Prior to the interview, I agreed to talk with the understanding I could promote this blog site. She agreed. Cameras rolling, we discussed my event New Year’s Eve, then it happened. Now, I don’t really recall saying the words, but upon review later, I did.

She asked me, “Could you tell me about your blog, Doug Hugs?.” “Sure, I write about happy things. You know. Like puppies and rainbows.”, came the reply out of my unprepared, stunningly oblivious orifice.

I got it. If I had a friend entering the hallowed breakfast nook after seeing his blogous facial faux pas the night before, I’d remain silent until he spoke. After all, maybe the word circus had more crazy out-of-context clowns in his tiny mind’s blather bus.

Turns out, I didn’t. That circus left town. It was in-tents for a few seconds, though. Once all the laughter settled and good-natured ribbing calmed into friendly conversation about the entire interview, the morning unscrambled and life went about its normal routine until … until Brian – yes, that same Brian who finds his way into my wallet almost every day – decided to animate the very three words I’ve come to regret ever saying: Puppies and Rainbows.

“Hey, Doug! …”

With two hands dangling in front as puppy paws then extending upward and outward (gracefully, I may say) in a rainbow arc, he changed, forever, my idea of a Richard Simmons/Mikhail Baryshnikov collaboration with Bob Fosse for an adaptation of “Three Words of Regret.”

Why today, over three months later? This gesture migrated beyond The Capitol. Today. In a friendly local bread aisle where others were rising with the sun’s expectations, Brian and I had a moment at his insistence. A puppy and rainbow moment, mind you.

What was once a simple recognition of my slippery mouth muscle inside an isolated hotel, has now become a greeting – in Brian’s brain – outside the hotel café when he sees me. Oh, boy.😏. A reflex of two hands inside another building when he saw me later this morning. A Hollidaysburg happening hopefully no one saw occurring between two fifty-year-olds picking up a few items to sooth an already busy day for both.

This isn’t a secret handshake to enter a treehouse, or a password to get into some secret society. Apparently, now, it’s a dude-thing and I don’t know how to respond except to say, “Whelp, thanks Brian. At least your kind, err, gesture today took my mind off an extremely busy day and gave me some pleasant, kind thoughts as I ran my butt off for twelve hours.”

Next time an interviewer asks me about Doug Hugs, I may just say, “Kangaroos, and yoyos”. Let’s see Brian pull that off!

This Happened Today

So, this happened today. Not to me, mind you, but to a friend of mine who was merrily on her way when a prehistoric encounter interrupted a rather boring drive. We should all be so lucky. A friendly looking Brontosaurus with, apparently, a frozen Big Foot in the cooler for her visual satisfaction – first hand – and ours through her phone camera.

Yes, I know “Yeti” is the brand of the cooler. Allow me a literary license here. Since we’re considering beasts living an average of 150 million years ago, I figured throwing in a fictitious, furry ice dripper for effect wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. According to legend, Alexander the Great demanded to see the Yeti when he conquered the Indus Valley in south Asia around 326 B.C. (livescience.com). I guess at that low altitude, the great creature couldn’t survive, so a Yeti could not be produced for the Great Alex. Bummer. Yeti continued to believe one existed.

I’m not buying it. S’pose it could be true, but until I have dinner with the 6-foot tall, red haired mountain dweller with extra-large tootsies, I h’aint believing it exists. A Brontosaurus existed, though. I know it! I’ll go one step beyond, too. Snorkasauruses walked this earth as well … Fred Flintstone had one – I saw Dino with my own eyes years ago … and I heard him talk. Nobody, not nobody, is going to convince me that pinkish-purple, ploding, pouncing, tongue flapping, happy family pet didn’t add everyday effervescence to childlike dreams.

So what’s with the smirk on this guy’s face, anyway? I know traffic can be a boresome four-laner – especially the highway on which he was traveling. I’d probably have the same look out my driver’s side window at a car whizzing passing me on the left … if that would be possible considering that lane would probably have construction cones, or massive craters – like the ones created by the meteors that interrupted his ancestor’s dinner millions of years ago. Our roads are, well, good for whack-a-mole with any tire of your choice this time of the year. Suspensions are on their last nerve, axles play chicken with every upcoming dippidy-do-dah in the road, and tires hold their breath when drivers speed up in an attempt to Evel Knievel their way over pot holes. As a result, that look above is appropriate for deserved car repair bills as well. So I kinda get it.

I want to know what this guy is made of and how much he weighs. Also, I am assuming “it” is a male and have no way to prove this, either. Just some random questions in my mind never to be answered. Disappointed my friend didn’t get out of her car on a very busy interstate to ask those questions, I am. I mean, after all, it isn’t every day one sees a dinosaur on a trailer being transported to places unknown. As I type, that smirkish look is on my face wondering why I have to spend the rest of my life without answers to those questions. Also, I am keenly aware she reads this blog and that look, quite possibly, will be dismissed off my face post haste – through a friendly gesture, of course.

I love pictures like this. Most are mine, though some come in from friends. Ordinary objects like this guy (or gal) help me exit the grind of drudgery. That’s overstating it a bit. Sorry. My life, like yours, isn’t really a grind. It is a normal sightseeing of sameness. Friends, family, coffee, places, traffic, and work all seem to weave a blanket of comfort around us – which is nice – but we get used to the usualness of it all. Right?

Look for the dinosaurs in your day if you can. If you find one, share it. If not a sniggering green Brontosaurus, look for a treasured trinket that falls across your field of vision that wasn’t there minutes prior. Appreciate the shape, color, and size of that funny little favor in your life, and then go about your day.

Sure, it’s probably not going to bring you wealth or help you realize lofty dreams from your childhood, but it could give you a few minutes of needed rest in the midst of a busy, normal day. I know that silly picture, at 12:58 p.m. today, gave me the chuckles for a minute when I was really too busy for my own good.

I hope this guy found his way home. Wherever home is, I’m sure he’ll be welcomed. He’ll never know what joy he gave to fellow travelers along the way as I’m sure my words are not the only ones written or spoken about his journey. This happened today. So glad it did.

Basically Frustumated

There were two. Mrs. Garver and Mr. Kachur. One, a Shippensburg University graduate who stood in front of us wearing large round lens glasses and always had a pleasant smile on her face. She squared up a classroom of rather anxious teens for being a smaller framed, but strong, astute lady. The other, a man of equally heavy lenses always tinted with a slight brown hue to match his thick quaff of dark hair parted sharply from the right. Of the two, I preferred the latter. His math class happened earlier in the day when I was happier and open more to the possibility of learning than nodding off later in the afternoon. Mrs. Garver’s class, a year earlier, was numerically exciting – as I’ve always been a math geek – but an eighth period drudgery always caught up with me.

Now, I use the term, “math”, to encompass all numbers, shapes, sizes, formulas, theorems, x’s, and y’s all of us experienced throughout our intersectional, awkward teenage years. Most express disengagement when spouting about math class experiences. I don’t. Never was there an axis I didn’t enjoy crossing, a train-word problem worth unsolving, or columns of numbers that didn’t excite me. Quadratic equations are still intoxicating. Amicable numbers hug my soul. Oh, and the Fibonacci Series, c’mon now … !

Imagine my frustration when the concrete object above caught my attention … and I couldn’t remember/figure out what that darn shape, form, and/or boxy, pointy, square-looking thingy is called !?! …

… So, I sent a text to the artist/sculptor who is marvelously working on this project at the outskirts of town. Oh, you know him. It’s my friend Joel. I’ve mentioned him before in my blogs recently. The picture above is the base intended to hold a large metal sculpture he’s building. I know no details other than that. What I know is what you see. A certain, specific amount of concrete “yards” have been formed into that shape and are currently enjoying time to cure.

Ah, yes … the shape. We “sort-of” figured a four-sided quadrilateral without giving it much thought. I wouldn’t hold him to much of the decision here because I was more concerned about it than he was. As an aside, these kinds of silly little brain sticky-things get lodged in my psyche until some kind of easiness comes to bear – not his.

I did my research, with another friend in tow, and we are confident in proclaiming to the world: IT IS A FRUSTUM !! … and to continue onward with a stupid pun, I’m happy to say there had to be a point – eventually.

…aaaand, here it is: In all my years, I can’t recall a frustum. Base 10 in our numbering system? Sure. Never reaching first base in little league because I couldn’t hit a ball thrown to me to save my life? Yep. Bases that react with acids to form water and salts? I guess, if chemistry is your thing. Bob Cranshaw, in the world of homophonic bass jazz pioneers, if you will. In this case, a frustum base caught me by surprise as I exited town the other day. What isn’t a surprise, however, is the care, artistry, and time Joel is putting into this piece. I am looking forward to the (possible) Arbor Day, April 30th unveiling of a work of art this town of Hollidaysburg should be proud to have on its soil.

It will be, equally, my pleasure to share his progress here on DougHugs as I see it happening. I may not know all the shapes or forms he uses – and that’ll be ok. Art is to be appreciated, not necessarily understood.

This kinda describes our friendship, in a way. Appreciated, not understood.

Take that as advice for your life however it applies. Appreciate something, or someone … or a relationship with something. Don’t try to understand it too much, or at all. In my recent experience, I’ve learned it may end up just frustumating you, anyway.

S’Mores Amore

It took me a few tries. Four to be exact. “Gerbil, hamster, rat, mouse?”, I commented frantically to my good friends who own this precious little being. Their Facebook comment header: “The terror in her eye is for the rapids ahead.” “Guinea pig!”, was the response with an expected exclamation mark as I should have remembered. As well, I needed to reconnect via text for her name. “That one is S’Mores. The yellow one is Nilla.” Ah, Nilla … the second of the two I also forgot they had. So, to summarize here: four attempts at the pet type? Failure. Remembering her name? Failure. Recalling they had not one but TWO? Failure. Oh, boy.

Acknowledging the cuteness of this guinea pig? Success.

I’m not a small pet kind of guy. Maybe you are. Any living creature worthy of one hand palm-holding while eating a ham sandwich out of the other isn’t really a pet in my mind. It’s just me. A book, pack of baseball cards, phone, remote, the inside of a half-eaten bag of caramel popcorn? … Anything keeping that other hand busy at the moment is more valuable to me than something small, inhaling, and furry. I wouldn’t do a thing to harm them, mind you, or be critical of anyone – like my friends – who love them. Just not my thing. I can, however, look at pictures like the one above and say to myself, “Geesh, that’s cute.”

We have to be willing to concede softness in our lives. Make room for pleasurable moments and at the same time accept they aren’t for us, but for others. A kind-of half way, emotional embracing when we can say to ourselves, “That’s really nice. Not for me, but I won’t judge. Just not my thing.”

The other afternoon, I sat alone in a restaurant and observed the most curious of events. An older man sat near the middle of the small room with whom I can assume was a friend. Next to them, nearby, sat two ladies – younger by a few years in their late 60’s early 70’s. Behind both tables in a booth, a dad and his daughter sat quietly. Neither said a word as each was intently staring at their phone except to occasionally request a refill or condiment. One other booth next to me was occupied by one laborer on a lunch break who decided a b.l.t. with a side of fries and coke satisfied his quick half hour lunch time.

I didn’t expect that small community of eight – including me with hungry eyes full of a juicy burger with dripping swiss cheese and mushrooms, a side of hot fresh-cut fries, and a large glass of cold diet Pepsi – to develop into a connection between that day and a guinea pig. Somehow, it did. The last day in March and the second day in April, 2021. Here we are.

A discussion began at the table where the two men sat. I believe it started over the concern about our area needing to change the way local calls are going to be dialed. There’s a change to a ten digit numbering system from the standard seven digit norm. Change is hard … especially for an older generation. I get that. The one gentleman became a bit agitated at having to remember the slightest change (remembering to dial those extra three same digits before every call). His demeanor and vocal rhythm changed with every attempt at understanding the new system. The ladies at the nearby table gently explained the timing of the phone company’s implementation and the reasoning behind it, but this didn’t matter. He wasn’t disrespectful or rude, just becoming less comfortable. I believe this was the catalyst for what followed.

His attention a bit distracted, he leaned over my way and commented about the dad and daughter sitting over in the booth. “See. That’s what’s wrong with society today. Nobody is talking to each other anymore. Those darn cell phones! Look at that!”, as he clearly, and loudly, directed those words toward them.

I nodded my head in the direction of the dad and daughter, silently eating their fried haddock and burger, as if to say, “It’s ok..”, and put my hand up in a conciliatory manner to avoid any confrontation. Fortunately, they understood the situation and continued on with their screen time. I quietly agreed with the gentleman because this was the best way to ease the tension at the moment.

I’ve been thinking about that exchange for a few days. Why didn’t he take a second, look over at the dad and daughter, and say to himself: “That’s really nice. Not for me, but I won’t judge. Just not my thing.”? Well, because he’s old and really set in his ways, probably.

I’m fortunate to have the mind, still, to look over there and think: Did they just lose a loved one and can’t talk to each other yet? Is she having a difficult time in school and doesn’t know how to ask her dad for help? Is he a single dad trying to raise his daughter? Did they just need some nice time together? … The possibilities are endless. Yes, these phones are a problem. I get that. I can say, though, looking at those two in the booth a few days ago, it was nice seeing a dad and daughter together. I won’t judge why they weren’t talking. It was fascinating to look over every few minutes, granted, but the why behind the silence is their business. Period.

I will concede that pleasurable time and quiet to them, however, it’s not for me. I like to talk to those in my company at the table. Yes, I DO occasionally text and check my phone when dining with friends and family. These darn cell-mates have become personal prisoners with whom we’ve become very friendly.

As to the cute guinea pig in the kayak? I have S’Mores amore until I forget her name again. She has some rough rapids ahead according to the comment. We do, too. Life isn’t easy.

We can make all this a bit simpler by backing off our pre-conceived ideas about right and wrong, good and bad. Look at others and appreciate their moments – accept their lives, their situations and nothing more. See that? “That’s really nice. Not for me, but I won’t judge. Just not my thing.”

Be silent. Talk up a storm. Own a guinea pig or a large giraffe. Whatever you do, I will acknowledge your cuteness in doing so. Don’t ask me to hold a ham and swiss on rye in my free hand while doing so, however.

Word Worms

John Branyan says we were created with a little bit of stupid in us. All of us. He’s a comedian I found on DryBar comedy. He comedically claims, “God put something stupid in every one of (us) … that the rest of the world is supposed to laugh at. So, when you cover something up that people are supposed to laugh at, you are covering up a blessing. Recognize your own stupidity then share it with the ones you love.” That is, laugh – according to John.

His follow-up example to illustrate the point is how we, as mature adults, always give the obligatory “honk your horn” arm pump to large, passing trucks on the highway. That, in itself, isn’t funny as I listened to his delivery. My mind didn’t jive with his thought; however, when he proposed the idea of the truck driver returning a gesture to “honk our little horns”, I understood why he is the comedian and I’m not. He continues, “We don’t pass a construction zone and (pretends to use a jack hammer) expecting them to say, ‘Hey, let’s do that for the passers-by’ (my edit here)” … “Comedy is built into the fabric of our society, DNA.”, as he says.

You can’t be serious all the time. Even a local grocery store, in their attempt to sell popcorn to the masses, finds a comedy error in a sign of the times:

I don’t need 8 ounces of sensual experiences at the local grocery store. If I did, not quite sure what $2.49 cents each would get me, anyway. At close to 2/3rds the way through my life if actuarial tables hold true, spending less IS very tempting because I’m not doing well in the retirement savings department. Where popcorn participation falls in the Redenbacher ridiculousness of this Weis wonderment, I’ll never know. Caramel sticks to my teeth and that’s more important to avoid than whatever two Washingtons and a few quarters would ever get me. With that, I’ll pass on carnal popcorn for now.

There’s my friend, Joel. Now, before you get ahead of me here, there’s no connection to the popcorn. None. There is a link to comedy and humor, though. He’ll not admit it, but there is. A chain of events always lead to his upsetting my affable apple cart. The absurdity of this relationship is the bait I always take … and laugh about later while driving away … alone … thinking through a series of sentences he artistically bobs in the water. I consider the things in his life I’m supposed to laugh at while noshing on a bagel, but end up digesting my own “crazies” a half-hour later.

To be serious for a moment, my jokes ARE funny, original, and clever. He can’t see his way through the normal in life to appreciate coffee-time flair. He responds, not reacts, which is very positive. Even in the daily, “You’re not funny … You think you are, but you’re not.” responses, he’s complimenting me. I see this no other way. “Shhh … Just be quiet.”, is another. Yeah, not going to work. I’m respectful, kind, and pleasant. But, hey, … if I hear an opening for word wizardry or playful bantering, I’ll jump in to keep the conversation between my friends lively and interesting. Mike, Sue, Jim, … Joel and others need this in the morning.

There is always one final barb from Joel that gets me, however. Hard to nail down the exact words. They are a blur in my memory. Might as well figure he knows what those few phrases are a few feet under the water where my sensitivities swim. He says something to upset me. Once I take the bait, his laugh is genuine as he reels in my insecurities and rage at, once again, being lured by the rod of ridiculousness. I do think he derives great merriment at this game – as I do moments later recognizing my stupidity once again.

We have these friends who do this to us, don’t we? As a matter of record, these very friends will also do anything we need at any time as well. He was the first to help me last Friday when the wind damaged my concession window. He’s been a continuing friend in matters personal when I stop by his workshop to talk or watch his mastery on the lathe or admire his woodworking artistry. We’ve argued over poker rules when he knows I’m right and upsets my chip stacks. In years past, there have been times I’ve needed help and he’s been there for me.

I know I’m not crazy or anywhere near it. I am a bit gullible, of course. I’m fortunate to have a friend who recognizes this and, despite accepting my higher level of humor and humility, still welcomes me at his breakfast table a few days a week inside a hotel cafe.

Appreciate the little bit of stupid in yourself and share it with the world. Find a few friends who see it in you and laugh with them. John kinda has it right. I believe most of the comedians see all the crazy in the world and make us laugh.

Joel sees my “non compos mentis” and responds accordingly – with respect and admiration. He’s clearly not a comedian. Artist, yes. Humorist to any degree, not really. DryBar comedy won’t be calling him anytime soon. For that matter, my phone won’t be buzzing, either. Neither Joel nor I expect fame or fortune from our words – comedic or otherwise. I’ll continue to pour out my soul and he’ll do what he does … put a few more tasty word worms on the hook.

…and I’ll bite once again.

Chloe’s Springtime Step

It didn’t take long for Chloe to recognize me after her long hibernation. After few months of cold weather, she was as anxious as any (dog) could be to get out of the house. She seemed happy and a little less puppy-ish since I saw her last. The only problem she has been experiencing, really, is … me. Recognizing my 6-foot frame slugging about from across the road isn’t the issue. Her eyesight is sharp. Catching a waft of the meaty concession trailer smell drifting off my work clothes upwind from her pug-beagle nose isn’t the issue, either. I make no sudden moves, speak no ill-timed or unkind words to her, or walk googly-crossed, human limpy as I approach. She’s decided – in her furry little canine cranium – I am nuts.

Such was the case yesterday. This was a similar reaction she, surprisingly, had going into last fall when I thought the two of us were doggo-Doug-o sympatico. Toward the end of the summer of 2020, this slightly lighter in heft puppy started to react differently to me. Less neighborly, shall I say. We were pals … then we weren’t. She switched a switch … pulled a puppy lever in her brain. The run to Doug with fevered enthusiasm knob fused out, I guess. Not only did it burn out, it also triggered a rash of opposing phrases including: “Run from man!” and “Shake in fear at end of leash!”…

I did something I can’t rectify. I’d like to have a heart to heart talk with this animal. If I possessed the powers of a Dolittle, perhaps a solution would be possible. As of this moment, there’s little I can do … but try.

So, try I did yesterday. Once again, walking across the street to a heavier, hibernated, happy-to see-everyone but me chompy little brown ball of energy known as Chloe. She likes her stick pieces, her two adult owners – neighbors across the way – and her friendly dog pals who walk by every so often. Yes, everyone. Every dog, tree, wind gust, blade of grass, person on the freakin’ planet, … shall I go on?

If I seem a bit bitter about all this … I may be, however, she’s kinda cute and I’ll put up with being ignored and misunderstood. There’s no need for my ego to be stroked by a little semi-puppy living a few yards away who happens to still be a favorite of mine … even though she’s upset with me for some irrational reason. I deal with illogical ideas and suggestions 24/7 and have conversations with invisible clones who constantly argue with me inside my head, so a four-legged fur-ball giving me a little grief for no reason isn’t too much for me to handle.

I’d like her to like me again, though. A few snap shots from feet away – then cropped for the purposes of a blog – aren’t enough. Kneeling down in front of that face in 3D, real time, would be kinda’ better. Granted, Chloe doesn’t owe me a darn thing. Her life isn’t revolving around a big Doug sun here. She’s not my dog, but she’s a neighbor … a friend I’d like to have around for a while.

I think we made some progress yesterday. Small, but forward.

It was a really nice day for a change. A small 24-hour walk into spring was a welcome relief for all of us regardless of my relationship snags with the little stinker. She did allow me a few moments close by … sitting on the front steps petting her head. Ever so cautious, she was. Chloe’s springtime step of 2021 in my direction, I suppose.

We will meet many times this fair weather season. My clothes and smells won’t change much. Chloe, most likely, is bound to take her place at the end of a pretty leash a few yards away – across a calm street where other dogs will be passing by. Dogs I don’t know as well, but canine-friendlies not as finicky as Ms. Pugslie-Beagilo … with her slightly contentious attitude toward me.

Even with that, I wouldn’t change a thing. Chloe is pretty cool. I like a bit of mystery. After all, she’s recognizing me with all my crazy, too. Maybe, just maybe, we’re just right for each other and she’s shy. Yeah, that’s it.

The Lava Has Cooled

Brothers. Brian and Lance.

I’m not sure how it came to pass. They, separately, own two restaurants in town. The Capitol Hotel and Old Canal Inn eateries are located within a mile or two of each other. Most of us around these parts have parked our Blair County butts in chairs and booths surrounding tables – munching down fine breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare.

I enjoy early morning frivolities inside the Capitol with my friends. Yes, “friends” for those reading this who may consider my life as one without such surrounded happiness. See, as my day goes occasionally, some cross my path who, sarcastically, speak briefly on this matter. I do have friends – many in that circle as a fact. Those who suggest otherwise just don’t get it. I know of their mindset, however … and, I know mine.

Companion walk-alongs are really nice. I believe it. If this wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have them around in my life. Every once in a while, though, a disagreement – perhaps a subject heavier than a lighthearted dissent – turns into a lava pour that takes a turn into the calm, peaceful friendship community two friends enjoy.

This happened. But, not inside the Capitol or Old Canal … and did not ensnare a friend who usually meets me there. The unease, however, did keep me away from the Capitol for two days. Strange. But, not really.

Took us a few days to work it out. Religion is probably NOT the best thread to use when weaving together a nice conversational sweater even IF you’ve been friends with someone for a long time. I never fully appreciated the depth of his uninformed views (insert sarcasm emoji here), nor have I ever taken the time to entirely take in my complete and utter genius in regard to my own views on matters spiritual (of course, insert humility emoji here).

We spated our way through a barrage of texts and one very interesting phone call. He said, I said … During one text string after an hour of words after words, I wrote, “Pretty much comes down to this: You think you’re right and I think I’m right. Now, how do we determine who is? There’s really no way to get there, is there? (especially with bible ‘stuff’)… So, we need to stop the discussion.” His reply was fascinating to me: “No, the discussion is good. It’s fun to learn why people think the way they do.”…

He’s a poker. Half the time he pokes to poke. I wasn’t sure if this was a cry wolf scenario, or he was really trying to keep me from a falling heavenly sky. When he replied as he did, I fell back in my already broken-in Honda – no longer feeling I was in the driver’s seat of the conversation. Did he REALLY want to understand my position on a God belief, or was he looking to bolster his stance through my words? Was he hearing, or just listening? When faith and belief systems are challenged – even within the community of two – a volcano of emotions spew forth from miles away and, within minutes, begin to burn the companionship structures.

We fire hosed the situation yesterday. I had him call me and we worked it out – as friends do. He now understands my superior thinking, and I get his illogical reasoning. He owes me a lunch and I will graciously accept.

Most likely, we will go to the Old Canal Inn.

Yesterday, I was there for lunch to meet my dad and his friend, Charlie. As an aside here, the off-hour presented a rather vacant room with just the three of us … and an almost five-year old. Sophie was off pre-school, “helping” her waitress mom serve us. As I enjoyed my juicy “Canal” swiss-mushroom burger along side dad’s haddock dinner, Sophie shuffled over to our table frequently to ask difficult, identifying questions such as: “What color is this crayon?”, and, “How old am I?”.. Our responses? Why, “blurple, breen, and sred, of course … Her giggles at our apparent unawareness of basic color recognition made her afternoon minutes pass quicker than expected, hopefully.

We need the challenging mental moments … and the “What color is my crayon?” times, too. Balance. In less than 48 hours, my life went from unanswerable, deeply held convictions to red, innocent crayons held by little orange-colored cheeto hands asking, “Do you know where I go to school?”…

If Brian and Lance ever fought as brothers, I’ll never know. They come from a large family, so I bet they did … sometimes. I do see them together frequently, though, and there’s a lot of respect and admiration between them. The same holds true betwixt Doug (yes, Doug) and I. We share the same wonderful name. I am Doug #1, he is Doug #2 – as it should be.

We’ll continue forward believing what we do …and, why we do. The lava has cooled and the landscape around looks a bit different. Change is good. Like I said in one of my last texts to him, “We’re good for one another, regardless.” …

Appreciate the Wonder You Have

Yesterday was a really nice day. The end.

Preferably, the sunny hours could have stayed … forever. A story never ending, really. These months of cold weather since last November have been sitting on our collective last nerves. Look, it’s not like ice, snow, and freezing temperatures aren’t familiar around here. Western PA thermometer mercury dips replace delicious chocolate and vanilla outside concession scoopy ice cream dips for five months during this span between November and March. Local mom and pop dipperies close down their shops as “hunkerin’ down” becomes a way of life. Wind chills replace the goosepimples of a warm summer’s day rare bird sighting while the sight of exhales overcomes our patience. We see our breath, reminding us not only of our aliveness, but also our early spring reality in PA : still cold.

Yes, still glacially glib. Showing little regard and interest in our overall well-being it is … this pre-spring coldness we seasonally experience. Which makes the very short story of yesterday a breathtaking tale. This being one story you could Chekhov the list of famous short stories written by me – a so-much-less famous author of short story fame.

We are, as of today, ten days away from the official start of spring. March 20th is the spring equinox. Here in PA (the Northern Hemisphere, of course), the sun will begin to hit us kinda’ better increasing daylight and increasing temperatures. Key words: increasing temperatures!! … Two very nice, considerate words crossing the equator approximately 240 hours from now. We anticipate them the same as a triple melty cone of teaberry from the Meadows Original Frozen Custard stand in the middle of July. I, as well, look ahead to increased lines of wondrousness as my customers free themselves from cars and stand, comfortably, outside my trailer.

Fifty-five degrees is barely past one-eighth of a circle, but it came full-circle for us yesterday. Not quite enough to be light jacket free, the sun on weary bodies was a delight, however. Attitudes were bright. Outlooks unclouded. Words spoken expressed joy in the now … not thrown about, carelessly addressing a future unknown to anyone. “Isn’t this a lovely day!?”. “Wow, I’m enjoying this!”. “Can’t believe we have this sun in the sky now … what a treat!”. “How about this?” I spent my three hours open simply enjoying words spoken from the sun – through people – to me – … and now to you. This could be the end of my very short story today.

But, it can’t be.

As I waited for my dad and his friend for a late lunch yesterday at a local restaurant, a very touching text from a lovely high school friend came through on my phone. I was alone – sitting by a window where the sunshine’s warmth came rushing in – when a ping from my phone bounced off the iced tea glass just placed in front of me by a favorite waitress of mine. As clear as the sun’s reflection in that glass, I lived the memories she wrote:

“I wish I could make this shorter but gotta tell u something on my mind – especially after the post about a “Sisters Bday”. When I was a kid coming to your house for piano lessons (don’t know exact age) but I was there. I was always early or very punctual. Your Mom (gracious as always) had me sit in this chair inside the door to the left as I remember and behind the piano. Said she would be with me shortly. So I was the outsider looking in. Was nervous bcuz didn’t want to think I was watching but I observed. So whoever was there, went about their business. Never made me feel unwelcome or like an intruder . Then I would hear sounds of family like kitchen cabinets or plates or oven or just kitchen sounds. If anyone passes by… briefly… no big deal.. a nod or of course I was looking down.. but never ever felt uncomfortable. The point is I was lucky enough to be the outside looking in to a wonderful mother taking care of her family. Yet…. when it was time for me. Her focus was on me- just me and my music and my playing and what I could practice on. She was wonderful. So I was an outsider looking in until it was my turn. I had her full attention with no distractions. In a world today with cell phones, zoom, internet, Alexa… I appreciate the wonder that I had. Just wanted u to know.”

This was her story of my mom. My friend wanted her text to be shorter, but it was the perfect length. Perfect words for me to hear. A small chapter in the story of my mom that truly never ends for me.

I love that second to last sentence she wrote. Love it! “I appreciate the wonder that I had.”. My only regret is I didn’t come up with such a resplendent seven-word phrase to describe the day yesterday. It was a beautiful day … a span of time during which we had warmer hearts to share with each other and kinder words to say. It was, indeed, a welcome sight: that big yellow ball with its glow of snugness shining down on soon to be filled cones of peopleness.

Take today – whatever it brings for you – to appreciate the wonder you have. Ten days, here, will go by quickly and spring days are bound to unleash sensational scoops of fantastical flavors we can finally enjoy after five months of … well, let’s say waiting. Marking time as only western-Pennsylvanians can do.

One breath at a time.

Birthday for a Sister

Ordering online should not be so funny. But it is. Not to me, necessarily. There’s my high school friend, “Scott”, across from me chanelling movie actor accents and lines, his mother encouraging the shenanigans, and my dear friend sitting three cushions away to my right. She is ordering our dinners as I type. Commentary from the living room gallery continues to be, well, funny.

I do find this to be entertaining. “Not to me, necessarily.”, wasn’t meant to be dismissive. Chicken parmesan with a side of asparagus, some kind of soup I would never order, and a discussed cold steak salad on the very talkative menu this evening. The banter between two very close siblings I find exhaustingly affable and engaging. These two are really special. Both laughing their way through this snapshot in time. Mom of the two sitting not so quietly off to the side, picking her spots to correct my occasional grammar mistakes when I find the moments to speak. Yes, it has been the slip of, “Can I…?”, instead of, “May I…?” out of my non-thinking ahead mouth here.

Across, in my view is a stunning, large portrait I have yet to ask about … as the dialogue continues back and forth concerning tabs, menus, and “longhorn” alliterations. My ears and eyes collect data so much more than any other senses here … now. Jim Gaffigan and obscure movie lines tickle about and I sit here enjoying all the love between a brother and sister … and mother. Not mine, but theirs. I’m an outsider visiting on a birthday weekend. Sitting on an unfamiliar couch with settings strange to my want-to-engage personality. The impenetrable bond between a sister and brother is uniquely theirs. I’m laughing inside, all the while so much admiring the unspoken giggling youth they are re-living every second. Mom reclines back, She is taking it all in. Her son and daughter. So infrequently together, yet here they are, chuckling and hand-holding their words through an app. designed to frustrate even the most tolerant of hungry siblings.

I see myself twitching about here … possibly unable to continue writing as the ordering saga may be coming to a close. As time and opportunity present themselves, I will proceed here… Demands are high. “Scott” has been designated the task of driving 15 minutes for pick-up and he’s escorting the grammar-corrector which, fortunately, affords me the opportunity to freely speak my mind. The birthday girl has requested an audience to reminiscently roam about her childhood home, so I will abandon this post for now. More to come …

Morning after. No time to continue last night as the festive atmosphere hung around without the chance for my tapping into this phone.

Our meals arrived, but not without incident. The horrors of no bread and fries, as ordered, mandated another trip back to Longhorn for the already distressed “Scott”. (As an aside here, I refer to my friend in quotes because it is his real name, however, he is identified by a nickname … very much a literary license being used here).

This starchy mis-step required two additional phone usages from two separate cell devices. One, a vocal urge from a mother. The other an attempted text. I casually sat back, enjoying the one-sided conversation heard an earshot away. I assumed the offering of a free desert on the next visit wasn’t an acceptable replacement as mom’s voice raised to a higher level previously unknown to me. A brotherly text came in, “I’m in the lot. Now what?”. “Mom talked to them. Go inside.”, my friend replied back. Fixed upon his return. Ah, the perils of a large, multi-state restaurant worker looking at a sticker that says, “fries”, and thinking, “I’ll put asparagus inside. They’ll never notice.” Ugh.

It was a delightful meal, nonetheless. A bit of music trivia played along the way as I, the master of who-holds-the-cards-with-the-answers controls the game, dutifully discharged my OCD – not without some criticism from inpatient players to my right and left, I must add … A sounding board of critically friendly, yet somewhat understandable, banter ensued from those hungry for the correct answers who didn’t balance up to an acceptable level of who’s who in musical trivia. I say, in retrospect, “He who controls the cards, controls the flow and rules of the game … regardless of whose birthday it is. Period.”… Also, I am grateful my meal was paid for prior to assuming the role of trivia dictator-in-chief, otherwise, my financial situation would be $15 dollars less at this time.

We escorted our full selves to the living room. A room quieted with shelves full of pictures and books built into a wall broken only by a stone fireplace irreplaceable in the heart of my friend. She lives in memories pasted gently behind many clear pages in tens of binders carefully labeled by event and year. Volumes of books stand in back of framed photographs. Brother and sister, side by side, always … even in many captured moments. This is an evening for them. A visiting brother, home.

Back home to see his sister. A room for living. A birthday. A mom off to the side, again, resting her eyes on her two children. Seeing a daughter connect with her brother during a time when they needed to be together – laughing, giggling, attaching their youthful spirits to their current adulting world – she had joy. I noticed a slow camera phone picture taken as Scott played his guitar for his sister. Mom is still a bit tech-savy. She needed that moment captured. It will remain in her soul more than in the digital world.

I sat beside, yet removed from time. Presents were opened. Songs sung between a brother and sister crossed my air as I sat on a sofa between them. An accomplished guitarist and song writer, Scott played for hours as his sister sunk into his every note. Invisible was I. Truly ok because I closed my eyes and entered into their world of music as it should be. An added connection on top of a love deeper than I knew upon entering this unknown home hours earlier.

It is no longer unknown. I know that love because I have a sister of my own. She is special to me. We cry together. We’ve experienced a life together. She’s musical. I’m musical. Our mom is no longer here to deliciously serve a no-bake cheesecake like my dear friend’s mom did close to 10:30 that evening (with fresh strawberries and blueberries, I may add). The family of three I spent time with, as a distant fourth, has a special bond … and a trio of special people. It was a birthday for a sister with limited time, but a timeless experience for me.

They hugged each other, as siblings do, when the evening ended hours later. I watched and admired. No more words are necessary.

Life has returned to whatever normal is for all of us. A brother is back to his life out-of-state. A sister continues her maze through a rare, known cancer path that will, ultimately, silence the music in her life. A mom lives – simply. Know a lot, she does. Mostly, that her two children love each other so much.

Me? Well, I did finally ask about that stunningly large portrait on the wall. It was designed and done by, yes, my dear friend. A gifted artist is she. A thumb and fingerprints self-portrait done in ink, from what I recall. Not surprising myself here, I found it to be engaging and worth my attention. To be proud, she mentioned it won first prize – winning that award over a local artist who then recognized her talent.

Art, music, and a birthday. Life is just nice sometimes. We should have birthdays for sisters all the time.