Elsa and ‘Bones

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

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

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

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 He was unable to return to that same outdated bandroom for an extended time and wondered if I’d be available to step in as a long-term substitute.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Table for One”

Title in quotes because I didn’t name this beautiful picture; nor did I possibly leave boot prints in muddy puddles, or quiet sandal steps along stone pathways, to sneak up on this flower and its momentary inhabitant. That glorious moment belonged to my wonderful friend. A dear person. The kind of behind the lens, shy, keenly aware human being all of us should have in our emotional back pocket.

She has a name – one I didn’t ask permission to use. In addition, I will not splay words of adulation upon this page – although they would be appropriate. To simply mention her support and encouragement will suffice.

What cannot be unnoticed, and necessarily witnessed by simply being next to the pictures like what’s above, is her eye for nature’s beauty. I’ve seen the sun splendidly spectacular, trees triumph, and water massage thousand years old rocks – through her lens. The lens of a camera phone btw.

In the course of a work day, perhaps, or a leisurely walk, she finds moments to see what few of us see. Hundreds upon hundreds – possibly over a thousand – captured frames we’d never know if she didn’t stop to let us in. Allowing us the opportunity to bee, yes “bee one with nature” …

… and then it’s no longer a “Table for One”, is it?

We’re at the table together. A not so subtle reminder as August of 2020 winds down into the early fall months. Exactly two-thirds of an extraordinarily un-bee-lievable year melted into our memories with so many unknown experiences yet ahead.

Everything seems so un-natural. Words, tossed about from people we’re finding difficult to trust, are not the same anymore. Cloth that was beautifully sewn into dresses and ties is now muffling “I love you’s” being spoken by those making that masking decision – which is another American divide. Science is at odds with opinion, and numbers are no longer stern – they are malleable and flexible to the moment.

Yes, it seems un-natural. Through our human lens, anyway. What appears to bee isn’t always that way. If we step back, as my picture-esque friend does “quite finely”, nature gives us time to see what she sees: a bee on a flower. Simple.

Bees collect pollen, a source of protein they feed to their offspring. Also, I believe the hair on their bodies collects the pollen as well which, in turn, helps pollinate the earth. (I may know more music than biology, Mozart than mud, but I think I have that right?). See, our wonderful world has a plan for everything.

We’re just the goofballs messing it all up. The party crashers at the table, as it were. It’s estimated 50% of all the wildlife is extinct now … and we are in the 6th Extinction event as I type. Who knew? I certainly didn’t until I became a bit more educated and less dependent on single-use plastic bags. Half to eighty-five percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from phytoplankton in the ocean and it’s in trouble. Over-population is destroying natural habitats. We eat way too much food to sustain the land necessary for cultivation … on and on it goes. This is from a guy who … well …

I’m not a nature walker. Far from it. My best day would be to sit at my desk with one hand knuckles deep in a bowl of dry cereal with the other controlling a mouse. I do appreciate nice things in front of my peepers when I go outside, however, and I want them to stay that way. I want a blue sky, lush green grass, and clean, healthy air.

My life is like 2020. Roughly two-thirds over – if actuarial tables are correct and no speeding bus is headed my way soon. Comparatively speaking, both have had ups and downs. Maybe you’re right there with me in age? Perhaps not.

Whatever the case, you’re doing all the right things and I’m glad to introduce you to my friend’s world of pictorial pleasures. She’s pretty shy, so I don’t know if I’ll have the delight in sharing more of her colorful imagery with all of you in the future.

Knowing her as I do – and since we’re all in this together – she’ll graciously welcome us at her table if I ask. That’s how she rolls.

For now, on this very early Sunday morning in August, I’ll be content knowing another day is ahead for us to look through our lenses to see what my fabulous friend sees. When a flower appears, stop … if only for a second. You may witness a small miracle nature has been creating every day for 4.5 billion years. Bee-lieve me, we don’t want to lose sight of it.

My dear friend is making sure we don’t.

Where’s Chloe?

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

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

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

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

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

BALL + SEAM / SOFA = Doug’s Time × 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lab, King

He’s a handful. A handsome one, according to my good friend, Joel. His outlook? I’m inclined to agree. A king in his lavish world. So much so, he’s named, “King”.

Not hard to imagine why his name is beautifully attached to royalty from any imagined canine country. Labrador-Latvia, Canine-Croatia, or Doggie-Denmark would each welcome his highness into their castle of splendor with one glance upon this magnificent pose. He’s begging the question … if he could ask with words, “If not me, then who?”

No doggy. Simply, no doggy I know at this time in my life. One paw down slightly compared to the other, a smokey white light glancing off his right snout, and that sneaky, ever-so-slender reflection coming at us from his right eye all give us a sense of puppy pompiness. The circumstance of this photo opportunity was, I’m sure, 50/50 impromptu/planned as Joel loves staged shots. I’m almost sure there are treats and teases behind the scene, but not 100% digesting the suggestion. Regardless of the motivation, King is the king of this moment.

Moments like this, right? Pets and their owners. Correction. Humans and their owners. Kings and subjects, queens and servants.

Variations of this frame, in all probability, have been clicked through many camera phones since I started tapping moments ago. Long haired hounds and short-tempered toy poodles wearing tiaras on their noggins. Setters sitting behinds against not-so worn carpet. Beagles – bellying up in front of windows without stained glass panels – posing proudly for their subjects. Sit-stay. Waaait. All verbal commands falling on the floppy ears of flighty, figity, yet finely furred monarchical masters of our happy expectations.

We truly are subject to their royalty. They own us…and I’m glad they do. We’d be lost within the kingdom of our minds if they weren’t ruling from their cozy corner beds and lazy, droopy eyes.

Not just dogs, of course. Queenly cats and joker gerbils qualify as well. Pets are princely no matter what form they take and we gladly let them assume the role.

I don’t see Joel much. A few times weekly as we meet for a breakfast chat with friends. King is never at his side during these morning moments. Frankly, even without Covid restrictions, there’d be no room for his beefy frame … King, that is.

Joel is lanky, has very large hands compared to his slim shoulders, and is an expert woodworker … not that this fact has anything to do with his cantankerous personality. The hair he sports appears unkempt as the middle part holds it all at bay. One glance, and you’d spot his uniqueness right away: a specific sway in his gate, articulate thoughts when he speaks to you, and an insistence you get to the point of your story.

His claim of not liking me very much is testament to the exact opposite. My words frustrate him, but he listens with attentive ears every time knowing the outcome. That end result being his complete understanding of “my” unique qualities opposite of his. I ramble on because I am me … I tell quality jokes because I am me … and I poke him with words, again, because I am me.

Enter King in Joel’s life. Joel’s respite from the likes of me. King sits and listens to his words without judgement. He accepts all while rejecting none. In doing so, being a king who pardons all the day’s troubles in a servant who is seen as an equal…

…Which puts the picture above in a whole new perspective. Joel admits King is handsome. I do wholeheartedly agree! This peppy puppy is, indeed, “The Lab, King” – a stately one; however, look again.

King is extending a hug – an invite to all of us, not just Joel. I want to curl up under his two paws and rest for a few minutes. A non-judgemental, kingly hug would be wonderful just about now for all of us.

All of our pets want to be here for us if we’d let them. I have a feeling we do, otherwise we wouldn’t have them. Today is simply a reminder, I guess.

So, they rule over our hearts and, at the same time, serve our emotional needs when we require that space be filled.

Hug a hamster, or search out solace from a salamander. Rest assured they won’t understand your words. Hey, Joel never understands mine, but he respects my friendship just the same. There’s hope and peace whether animal or human, so keep plowing ahead in your fields and knocking on the doors of the castle. The King is listening and will welcome you into his world someday for a hug.

What a wonderful day that will be.

Show Me Chloe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dance begins …

Fork In My Drawer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We passed.

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

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

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

Uhm, yes they did.

I sauntered over – proudly I may add.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of Both Wor(l)ds

He walked up to my food cart wearing the coolest sunglasses I’ve seen in a long time. The noontime glare reflected off dark blue shades encased in a yellow hue, plasticky, seemingly bendable looking frame. Patrick is a twice-a-monther. A local guy who stops less frequently than others and is always pleasant during his off-peak visits … usually after the lunch rush is over. I like that he does, when he does. This allows us time to talk as we are “similars” in life: both musicians, lovers of life, and active conversationalists.

He listens more than talks, though, because I, the blabber, apparently talk more than listen. Go figure. We’ve come to an unspoken agreement on this fact. Unsurprisingly, most in my life have come to understand this (unbeknownst to me until recently). Covid beliefs flitter about from my unfiltered face and I’m really trying to contain my enthusiasm for my own biased opinion on the current state of things.

So, we … err … I chatted as the sun came through the clouds, reflected off his spectacular specs, and warmed the already pleasant air surrounding us on a rather nice Tuesday in August.

Patrick did have a few ideas on the status of his life. I was eager to hear them because I knew the sound of my continuing voice echoing over steam tables and a grill had to be quickly evaporating any interest he had in what I was saying.

He’s a local band director currently trying to march his kiddos through a tough summer of camp to prepare for a football season that will be different from any other. Significantly less crowds, of course. Distancing and social interaction guidelines for the students will be – and are – in place. District mandates, I’m sure … although not mentioned in our conversation… are being followed. He maintains a set of expected behavioral standards for his students and, by all accounts, they are respecting them. In this copious basket of Covid conditions, he’s controlling his environment extraordinary well, I’d say. And, by extension, ours too.

If all of us do our part with what we have within our control, then the bigger issues, hopefully, will work out. This is the best of both worlds, right?

…Or, as Patrick so eloquently mis-spoke yesterday, “The best of both words.”

I sure hope he doesn’t mind my use of his name in this short reflection today. Without noting his specific height, weight, hair color, or employment location, I believe I’m immune from his wrath. Besides, doubt can be cast upon his ability to sling wrath upon me because he’s a really cool guy. He HAS to be. I don’t hang with anyone who isn’t chill.

So, it really has been the difference of one letter. Word compared to World. I often ask myself, “What in the L is going on, lately?” to no avail.

The answers don’t come easily in a black and white only two sides world. Certainly, the encyclopedia of Facebook knowledge isn’t helping. The two volumes labeled “I’m Right” and “You’re Wrong” don’t get us anywhere when read cover to cover – if you can get through their/there/they’re usage errors.

Most likely, if you’re looking to the two-headed monster of Fox News and MSNBC for information, it’ll bite your head off. That dichotomous beast will eat you up quicker than you can say, “I’m only trying to get the facts. Just … the ..f..a..”.

Washington D.C.? Yeah. Ok. Let’s entertain this system we invited into our homes 250 years ago. The invitees are drunk with power, toga two-partying their way into our lives after we asked them to leave once their time was up. Oh, wait. They can’t. There’s no limit on how long they can stay. ‘Our bad.

Patrick, in misspeaking, was exactly right.

It is the best of both words, not worlds.

He didn’t mean for me to spatula him into a political/covid blog post. I flipped the narrative briefly here from a pleasant conversation about trombones, football halftime shows, and kiddos to politics. Perhaps, in my defense, to make a larger point. Sandwich in a slight attitude with a side of logic, the irony of his statement is in the statement itself.

“It IS the best of both words”

Those two being: words and world

Oh, the division and hatred these hard days in the world because of words … if one decides to focus on them which I did above. So easy to do. Drs. Birx and Fauci, President Trump vs. Speaker Pelosi, Bill Gates and his vaccine, masks, etc… All of us can take a seat in any courtroom and give testimony on any of these. We have strong feelings and beliefs about all of it – and words to back us up.

May I suggest we try … really try … to use positive words to help heal, and nurture, our wonderful world?

This is a simple, small space request. We focus so much on what is being said by national figures. Leadership by Governors, the President, presumptive Presidential nominee Biden, commentators, columnists, personalities … all their words seem to make an impact on how we act and what we say to each other. May I suggest we pay less attention to their words and more attention to our own?

We are beautiful on our own. Our individual lives stand apart from Facebook memes and so-called friendly mandates from unfriended, friendly social media sites. Two-dimensional opinions are significantly less important than one-on-one, heartfelt discussions with someone who disagrees with you but is willing to blow the steam off your coffee from six feet away.

Utopic worlds are unattainable, I get that. Perfection is something we have to quit trying to achieve. Perfect words, as well, probably don’t exist either. Absolutes, as much as we’d like them to be real, aren’t a thing either.

So, we’re left with doing the best we can in this world … with the words we have.

You don’t need to interject “ethereal”, “opulent”, “sanguine”, “panacea”, or “dulcet” into a conversation to brighten someone’s day. A simple, “beautiful” or “wow” could suffice.

Patrick left with a bounce in his step. This had nothing to do with our chat through the late mid-day sun. He’s, simply, a happy guy. Oh, and he was soon to eat food clasped firmly in one hand which probably had more to do with his optimism than anything else at the time.

A few minutes later, I had to text him a note to ask what the actual sentence was he spoke. My brain sprung a leak while a subsequent customer approached and I simply forgot to write “It is the best of both words” down anywhere. Glad he quickly obliged. That’s what kind folks do.

Zig Ziglar once opined, don’t be a SNIOP, one who is Susceptible to the Negative Influence of Other People. Well, I’ve never claimed to be happy all the time, but my happiness, or anger, is because of me – nobody else. Doesn’t always work and I do complain about other’s actions. Don’t all of us at times? Especially now? I can find a few juicy choice words to say a few times each day as opportunities arise…

…however, the world doesn’t deserve my harmful words. Our world is a beautiful orb, despite what volcanic spew of hate anyone decides to post online.

And by “the world”, I mean US. People. All of us. Notably NOW in the midst of a two-sided viral debate of words.

Thanks for stuttering a bit, Patrick, and for your business. Fourteen days between visits is fine and I hope your students march into the season with vim and vigor representing the school with pride. They have a great leader in you. I may not know what the “L” is going on in the world, but I’m glad you are staying positive.

Words mean things. The world of ours is special. Be safe.

Mother, Daughter, Connections to Us

When a picture speaks, limited words on a page suffice. Mother and daughter. Friends of mine. Mother, a student in my music-life circle a long time, and her young daughter.

Out of my geography for a few years, but never out of my heart. Her family is my family. This happens when music ties once unknowns together through teacher-student connections. I love this family. Mother, her sister and brother … parents. All of them. They are musical, kind, generous, warm, productive, open, and giving.

Daughter, sweet and dancy – with a “d”. Fancy, with an “f”, places her in a box of stuffiness … among elites and noseys. She does not belong in there. She dances between daisies, bounces on sunbeams, and feeds on happiness.

Picture her eyes above. Few words necessary from me. This connection – from her to us – pushes through the internal biases and filters in your head as you consider her life. She is pure and innocent and her eyes are exposing our different messages being sent to her generation.

She is not unaware of the world around her. Look at her eyes. Look away.

Then look again.

She’s not going away. We are accountable … not to our ourselves, but to her and her friends.

Her words are few, as are mine today. My eyes aren’t as fresh or aware anymore because my mountains have been climbed and my biases possibly tainted. Glasses I wear are bifocals and my crow’s feet are starting to show.

Fresh and alive are her eyes. Bright and beautiful is her future.

Pay attention to her message. It’s in her eyes.

Mark (not) My Words

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

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

Now that I have your attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chalk One Up To A Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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