Chairs With No Seats

Perchance you follow, with some regularity, my musings about a special local eatery. A quaint little hotel restaurant it is, comfortably situated at street level – but not the bottom level – of a building around for over a century. Around the corner on the downgrade is a small basement bar entrance ushering any weary patron into a welcoming cold brew of hometown hugs. It has been, by any normal morning measure, a standard in my life.

This morning, after two months of leery lock downs and patient toe-tapping anticipation, I entered this very familiar place expecting some sense of normal to return. Our color is green in western PA – which comes with a permission slip attached to every eateries’ sign. Flipped to “open” if so desired by the owner, these special signs now have added responsibilities behind them including proper distancing, masking, capacity restrictions, and server requirements. All part of a un-normal world I expected to see as I slowly turned the century old knob on the creaky door I’ve done hundreds of times.

Four folks sat, shall I uneasily say, “comfortably” on seats un-randomly distanced in the front room. Two sat on chair-stools permanently attached to the floor on support posts and the others in booths more than the required 6-feet apart. Of the old wooden seats at the counter upon which my grandparents most likely sat, two of every three were removed and the post tops covered with upside-down cups.

To recap, only four of the twelve normal seat spaces are currently usable, while eight remain cunningly-cupable and advisably unusable unless one needs an unplanned, sudden post-ectomy.

The spirit floating around the front four was understandably cautious. Not one, unfortunately, exhibited signs of a regular crazy person known as a close friend of mine. As normal mornings go, this was not to be. My close friends were nowhere to be seen, heard, or laughed at…

For purposes of being real, I will use initials, not aliases. M.J. won’t be back for a while due to some ongoing health issues requiring heightened caution – and he’s nuts. S.R. was absent for a bit even before the pandemic happened, so she was unexpected this morning – she’s a bit crazy, too. J.F. is always there and leaves precisely at 8:23 when his wife texts. I was there after that smoochy-text-time probably arrived if he indeed was there, so no chance of seeing him – he’s goofy as well. Me, being the only normal one of the group, suffered through this other group of four not-so-unknown group of strangers as I knew them all my name. These level 2 friends engaged my time at precisely 8:55 as a masked server and I waited for my to-go egg, ham, and cheese sandwich from the kitchen.

Staying power lasted through over two months of quarantine, but not through ten minutes at one of my favorite hotel restaurants. Go figure. Dale, Marcie, Barb, and Lance held my attention for scant minutes as I perused the same four walls I’ve seen for years. The pale egg-white painted walls upon which hung two large mirrors held my attention for mere seconds. Aged stainless reach-in coolers behind the counter supported reflections of the decades worn, story filled stuccoed ceiling. Random brochures scattered about, new Covid-19 customer guidelines taped strategically here and necessarily there, … space where space wasn’t before – all keeping my day-off eyes busy for the time.

The vacuous rear banquet room, now, social distanced inside with tables fearing to be close to one another as only one was occupied by four older gentlemen I’ve known for years. Normal they were. Generationally stubborn and unfazed by any and all hysteria as they dipped into breakfast fare as if the trolley and town crier were both still on schedule. Unmasked, fearing only the possibility of being overcharged, once again, for the two cups of coffee and toast ordered every day since retiring years ago … they soldiered on.

Ten in total by my math. A nice binary math number to round out my morning coming out of isolation/quarantine into green. Four front, four back, my server, and I. A nice normal number … so far from normal, otherwise.

This is to be expected, or so I’m told. This past weekend, I drove by many restaurants – big and small, mom and pop, corporate and franchise, drive up, seating in & out – that are open for business … under “green” restrictions, of course. Happy to be so, I’m sure. Customers and owners alike have been waiting what seems a big-bang’s length of time to fire up grills full-flame and, again, turn up the charm-a-plenty. Humans on both sides of serve-and-be-served are emotionally hungry for all of it …

I know some of this because I’m a foodie-vendor myself. Fifteen years this year I’ve been tonging my way around – towing a 10-foot food cart. It’s been an incredibly saucy, drippy, unpredictable past few months in the event-dependable, need-to-have-people-jammed-together, vendor space world that doesn’t exist right now. I’m finding my way around parking lots and corners trying my level best … and, speaking for myself, still loving the ride. Can’t pretend to ventriloquistically vociferate on behalf of my food friends elsewhere. They can write their own words during their own day off. It’s an absolutely beautiful Monday in June and I’m as close to normal as I can be right now.

Today’s weather feels normal. It is, by any normal June morning measure, a perfect day. I have been sitting on this porch writing as a few birds go about their business gathering food. Friends living in the house next door are swimming, and on the other side, different neighbors are sputtering along – attempting to befriend an old riding mower that doesn’t seem to be cooperating. Shade on my weary legs is perfect as it extends out just past the edge of my porch where the sunlight takes over.

This can be normal for me the rest of the summer. This can be my “green”. For purposes of an early breakfast at my favorite restaurant? I can’t yet answer, “my ‘once’ favorite morning restaurant.” Yes, close friends will not be there for some time. Yes, I may not return again until there is some feel of normal again … whenever that is. There are no answers right now.

Just sunshine, birds, and another day to appreciate.

Maybe this has to be all of our new normals for a while. Just be careful of the chairs with no seats.








Hometowns

Hometowns.

They mean so much more to us now. Even if not surrounding some physically, these charming little – or, perhaps larger – neighborhood pieces of our lives still hold on to our memories. They must. This is their purpose.

It has been roughly a week since writing an entry on DougHugs. I’ve spent that time scooting about in my hometown … and nearby communities … practicing some necessary life skills for the uber-thousandth time: shopping, driving, paying bills, working, eating food handed to me from over-worked drive-thru food joints, and thinking. Lots of thinking.

Considering my way through the muck of this new reality has been a stuckiness problem. Maybe not for you lately, but for me. I suspect placing the word, “maybe” to be presumptive. There can’t be a human alive right now who doesn’t feel stuck in a goofy world of newness – and not a fresh, new born baby excitement kind of fresh. Each day is becoming that scratchy, skippy, record over and over where even the needle is being felt as a voodoo-ish reminder of yesterday’s sameness each time it jumps off the monotones.

We’re all here. It’s the emotional neighborhood in which we have been forced to isolate and distance from our instincts to gather together.

I didn’t realize this newness until hearing words from a social disease “expert” yesterday. With exception to most of her usual panic-laden blather, I did find one perspective rather interesting. She made an overall comparison of this pandemic to 9-11, Ebola, and Aids with regard to scope, effect, and response. I perked up and listened with both years while setting my popcorn aside.

… And I paraphrase: “This pandemic, unlike all others mentioned, has affected every single person on the planet. Every. Single. One.”

She’s right, y’know? The physical damage inflicted on 9-11 was rebuildable – which has been concretely proven. Three-thousand souls lost is a horrible tragedy for our country and was shared, briefly, by others around the world. Within a few short months, life continued on … for most. The stock market began to roar, folks walked about with less flag waving and patriotic duty, … normal returned as normal did as months rolled into years. The world didn’t stop much. Ebola and Aids were even less a hiccup on our path of normalcy. Yes, to some a major health crisis, a marginal social cry for justice to others.

This pandemic is a very different world experience-experiment. It is one big-old, “What in the hell is going on?” … and the reason our neighborhoods are so important to us right here … right now. The goofy-ness goo that surrounds our sneakers causing our stuck-stuckiness is WHY these little – or big – parts of our lives mean so much to us now. I say “our” due to you feeling it as well. I know you do.

This is Hollidaysburg, PA. My hometown. The overlook picture is Chimney Rocks. I snapped this picture during a quick walking pass-by on Memorial Day after a pleasant little picnic outing. The turkey sub I ate was, eh, so-so. The usual most-excellent places were closed and lack of proper planning landed my unprepared self at the local grocery store for a pre-wrapped hoagie. Meh.

Food aside, the day wasn’t about jamming high sodium lunch meat into my always moving mouth, anyway. Glad I had the hour to stop – in my hometown – to breath. Something this pandemic, ironically enough, doesn’t give us time to do.

This has become a respiratory, infectious virus that has not only taken over the lungs of, sadly, now 100,000 American lives and many others around the world, but also has conquered the consciousness of every single human being on the planet. To the “expert’s” point … she was dead center on target.

My hometown was a welcome relief this past Monday. I’ve seen her hundreds – if not thousands – of times from the inside out. That vista from Chimney Rocks is a popular look-out I used to scurry about as a youngster many, many years ago. It wasn’t developed as a park and slightly more dangerous to navigate in polyester pants and reeboks. But, hey, I survived it. No Samsung cell phone, bills, working, driving, or shopping, … or Covid-19. Just me, my friends, and my hometown.

If you’re not close to your hometown, go to a local park to sit and remember something about where you were growing up … something positive about life. Something fun. A vista or overlook that takes your mind off this stupid virus for a minute or two. Actually living in your hometown? Go somewhere you love … and do the same thing. A bench. A tree. A porch. A park. Somewhere you can be you for a few minutes.

This will always be their purpose. Places to revisit when the world is upside down with issues, pandemics, and “unfamiliars” we simply don’t understand. They have familiarity no other place can offer weary souls and tired eyes.

I speak for me when I say, “This is Hollidaysburg’s purpose in my life. She has problems, but when we are quiet and respect each other …there’s a way through any of life’s challenges.”

Find your hometown again.

Mom – Of and After All

Monday is the day of … and the day after.

This is the eighth anniversary year of mom’s passing – and the Monday after the weekend when celebration, remembrance and dinner pictures find their way on Facebook walls.

Today isn’t the end of a mid-late winter weekend when my mom died. I held her hand during an earlier, colder, hospice-sterile, emotionally filled room almost ten years ago.  It wasn’t Mother’s Day weekend, but it was a day with my mother.  My last day with her.

During the final moments, she turned to me and said, “Don’t watch me die.” … I know why.  Her care and concern for my future emotional well-being was above her own cares and needs.  She didn’t want me to carry upon my shoulders the vision of losing my best connection to silly, wonderful, and hope. Her last testament breath, although faint and whispy, filled the room with love only a mom could provide.

That was her final moment of being my mom.  Then … she was gone.  I was to have no more Mother’s Days with her.  No more pinochle games, Trivial Pursuit conflicts, or conversations about nothings.  

A simple day it was when sadness flowed as tears.  I held no judgment toward anyone or any God as my mom’s stillness was unlike anything I’d witnessed before.  

It was a sadness I never forgot. Every Mother’s Day, she is remembered as if I am still in the elevator after that moment frozen in time.  Leaving mom – alone – in her 14th floor palliative care room.  Descending into an unknown future was a vacuous ugliness without one of my greatest supporters in life … my “go to” when life sucked, or my Doug hug at an absolute needed moment.  The no-mom abyss we – who embrace our moms – are stuck in when they die.

From that moment forward, my hours have been different. My one-parent reality is incompatible with what I knew during the first five decades of my life. Dad is great, mind you. I’m not complaining about the growth we’ve experienced together as father-son. A relationship both of us needed to work on, badly, and have done a yeoman’s work to get where we are today. Against that background, one could make the case mom’s passing had an impact greater than what I saw at the time.

Whatever gains are made in my life, I cannot – nor do I want to – ever forget her. After all, she’s my mom.

The best I can do is offer these words I wrote last Mother’s Day weekend.  They are for her … and, most likely, serve a greater cause: for me.  I need to hear them again.

“Obvious limits can’t make me a mom. Apart from gender parts and pieces, there’s a higher level of understanding required I don’t have. Notably, nine months of discomfort, hours (possibly days) of labor, and childbirth.

Those are reserved for the strongest among us – mothers. 

I had one of them. She’s not here anymore.

This is a weekend to honor her strength. Time set aside to sit beside a piano to relive seeing her play with that Mozart-ian crooked, genius smile. Remembering moments of pinochle when we laughed more at ourselves than the game. Hours to recall her struggle…her strength.

Years gone by with her lasting impressions on my heart – without a hint of ever thinking she’s actually by my side…as I was with her drawing the final breath.

I don’t know where her spirit is now. Recent reality teaches me she’s gone. For good.

I exited the hospital as she exited our lives over seven years ago.

Of all those impacted by her passing, my life has changed in the most meaningful ways. No sibling, or my dad, has changed. Not to say one better, one worse….just is.

This change is to her credit.

I switch out the fruit – frequently as it seems – in life’s basket she handed over to me. The apple of faith has been eaten to the core. Sweet smiles from orange peels are a distant memory. Bananas are only moments away from becoming bread and the strawberries for pie are past their usefulness.

I can’t handle the fruit. She wanted me to continue forward tasting the good fruit in life …. and that’s ok. I can’t. Not right now.

What I CAN do is empty the basket of fruit, fill it with the earth, and plant seeds for the future. Flower seeds.

Rich, colorful hues of roses, peace lilies, sunflowers, and violets. Through these, my eyes can taste the beauty of my mom. My hands can water and till the soil – doing the dirty work – to make my mom alive again.

She was the strongest among us. She’s not here anymore.

I miss her.

I miss her strength.

I miss, most of all, telling her I am strong as well…and seeing her nod in approval of me.

She, alone, was capable of that once-in-a-lifetime connection with her “Stanley” which has never, ever forgotten his “Ollie”.

Yep, that’s her….and this is her weekend. 

My basket of memories is full. The other basket is sown with seeds of hope, joy, peace, contentment, health, and happiness.

As those flowers bloom, I will see her again.

I had one of those moms. The best for me. 

I shall hold a small flower as if I am hugging her once more. The flower will nod in approval testifying to the strength I cannot possess, …. and to the love she gives me.

A love only a mom like her can give.

Pushing me to be the best version of her I can be.

….and that’s perfectly amazing.”

Today is the day of … and the day after.  I wouldn’t have it any other way, except to have mom by my side once again.

You Guys Were All Wright, Brothers

This is undoubtedly one of the top ten iconic images of the last century. December 17, 1903, 4 mi (6 km) south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Wilbur flew their plane for 59 seconds, at 852 feet, an extraordinary achievement for the era. John Thomas Daniels, the photographer, froze the moments in time for us. Orville, although not with his brother in the plane, had to feel the same rush of wind as the flight took off that December day. Aviation changed … forever. Time stood on solid ground no more. Two bicycle guys changing the world.

Pilot ourselves one-hundred seventeen years into the future, we’re at another desolate Kill Devil Hills – the actual location where things were made Wright. This time, however, the whole world is watching through a lens of millions – not just one.

Instant access and immediate feedback are the black and white images of the day set in blips and dots. We are not celebrating – with hats in hands – while our brothers and sisters take flight in a plane truth. Our stand-by reality is very stark, unreal, … quite plain … as different versions of what is true perform acrobatic aerials in the sky above us. Exhausting messages of false hope or inexact models, these sky-floaters bounce on clouds of 24/7 news cycles two bicycle guys never saw a century ago. Ironically, only a few short years before the last pandemic sat on droplets of the very air lifting their plane off the ground that wonderful, hazy, tearful, most likely heart-happy day.

What was Wright is now all eerily similar. “In this time of COVID-19, it feels like we are building a plane while we are flying it”, as so eloquently penned by our local Lutheran Bishop in the most recent newsletter. I find Bishop Rhyne’s words walking upon the wings of a timely narrative. Although his frame is clearly around a god narrative, not a double-layer fabric with twin pusher propellers and a sticks, the message is a kindred spirit: Hope.

Hope that, somehow, what is invisible can be conquered through means we have yet to understand.

Hope that someone will emerge with leadership we can, collectively, trust to lift our eyes off the horizon.

Hope that somewhere a small workshop of ideas is churning out medical, economical, and biological solutions to a pandemic.

This is certainly not an inclusive list. Walk into any community or home and this list could be multiplied by tens or hundreds. Those of us who isolate and mask know of uncertainty and reach out beyond ourselves … looking for our plateau upon which to set our plane free. We want to navigate a destiny and chart a path forward, but need guidance through the fog of information pushing down on the field we find ourselves standing 6-feet apart from one another. And, we wait …

Orville and Wilbur aren’t around to save us this time. It’s up to us to revolutionize, innovate, and find a way through … together. I’m not so sure we can do this, but I’m not giving up hope.

I have no assurances national umbrellas are the dry-land lighthouse in the midst of this storm. The pilots of the Washington pandemic-plane can’t make up their minds to save their own sneezes and erratic paths through Nimbostrati on a daily – if not hourly – basis are laughable anymore. News media can’t cover their owns a**es half the time, let alone the real numbers of corona deaths vs “assumed”, vs what they “need” to report. FOX news and MSNBC could look at me and one say, “Man”, the other, “pencil”. Yes, a slight exaggeration, but the fact I’m a resident of Pencil-vania doesn’t make this too far an overstatement.

I’ve often said, “I don’t know if this is a thing“. It’s one of my favorite expressions of the day. I’ll stand by its side with you as we watch everything unfold before us. We can hope together, right? We can decide what to do … one small decision at a time. Together.

I’m pretty sure two bicycle builders did the same thing a long time ago. No mass media telling them what to do – how to think. No politicians around demanding a piece of glory. They did what they knew, what their gut told them to do: Their idea took flight … and changed the world forever!

Hats off, again, to Orville and Wilbur. We are forever in debt to your genius. To your hope in us.

Who Said The Sky Is Falling?

It wasn’t quite my plan. Last night, raindrops spattered on my windshield as I pulled into the local Sam’s club. For the first time in a few days, there was no need to stand six-feet apart from other smooshers waiting to get in this, now, limited-capacity box store of limited-items. The time was later and I was in need of a few items. Just a small amount of things. Mask in hand, briefly, then over my tired face as I entered to be counted among the non-masses for this hazy, misting, overcast Tuesday late afternoon. I was lazily clicked in as #28 on the little black box by a very courteous member service representative who, by all accounts, was eager to be done with her shift. She and I nodded silently in agreement … a very obvious simpatico co-survivor of whatever this is.

Carts are funny things. They yearn to be. Reach-outs I cannot ignore even when only requiring a few items of hand-full ease. I found myself winding through empty aisles – darting around space, not elbows and kids – for the rarest of experiences. Just the two of us attached by a sole metal, sanitized bar wiggling our way toward the back freezer where I knew a small number of goodies had to be waiting for my perusal. It was on that path toward sure success where I noticed the stakes had been raised higher than they were days before … even hours before.

Shall I dare say, the steaks were …

… The only packages left in the case – and the high pricey ones at that.

Meat me half-way here. Again, as I wrote a few days ago, it is the fact-feeling paradigm / media driven emptiness of shelves we face head-on every time. Can we say together, “How now, ground cow?”

Here’s how: Henny Penny never said the sky’s the limit, did she? But, there’s now a limit on beef – after the cooler’s been emptied of 75/25, 80/20, 90/10, and 92/8. Ground to a halt is the U.S. supply of beef, apparently, because slaughter houses, large packaging facilities and suppliers are covid-19 depleted of workers. One-fifth of Wendy’s restaurants, according to recent reports, are now out of meat – thus fulfilling the “Where’s the BEEF!” prophesy waiting years in the hopper. McDonald’s should be ok because, well … never mind.

Local butchers are ok from what I gather. Smaller stores are carrying some limited supplies of beef, I guess. Haven’t been out much since last night to investigate. Not surprised to see the bigger, “mass gathering chambers exempt while mom-and-pops had to close” stores have empty, bare shelves of the items being hyped as the next-best, eer worst thing to hit the endangered list. T.P, water, clorox wipes, uhm … paper towels, milk, eggs, gas, whatever. Now, meat. Masses hear, follow, gather, buy … feel good.

I’m not claiming this virus isn’t a thing. Never have. My travels though the store last night took me past the vitamin/health care aisles where I spied powdery goodness I haven’t seen in a while. Caution is still a thing. Masking is still important. Social distancing should always be the responsible 6-step in the right direction. Immune add-ons I like to use every day that have been hard to find jumped into my sight. Amazon lists these little packs “iffy” in stock, so when I plucked three boxes out of six off the shelf, my inner self-congratulatory dial went a-spinning. With those and my freezer pals I found with ease moments before, heading to the self-checkout was seconds away.

Easy, right? Customer #28 was I. Well, for a moment or two. I was soon to be inmate #28.

My complaint may, or may not, be warrant-ed. We’ll ask the judge at my arraignment provided I can get a good attorney during this quarantine. Limits on ground beef. Sure, I get that. Glad to see y’all got yours. There was a clear and present sign over the empty 38 1/2-degree cooler 50 paces to my right at the time. Limits on the Immune packets? Uhm, .. well … I didn’t see a sign. Do I understand the need for a limit on the powder? Yeppers! … Powder-purchase-prevention-precautions are quite necessary during these scary times. After all, some may quadruple the price and sell them on the black market, or actually want to keep their family of eight healthy for a month. Yeah, a bit sarcastic there, but I was greedy-giddy last night and wanted mine!! ALL MINE … (I did leave three back for others. That counts for something, right?)

After bells, whistles, error messages, virtual register hand-cuffs, and some very nice assistance from masked associates, the matter was resolved with my surrendering of two boxes. Tears flowed from my eyes. It was a scene from my hands version of Grippley’s believe it, … or not. My feisty fingers not wanting to release the two golden boxes, I finally surrendered to reason. My reason? It was getting late, the rain was most likely still plopping down, and I was anxious to get home.

Hysteria held my heart for a few brief moments. I understand that space and the dichotomy of a brain wanting more, but needing less. In fifteen minutes’ time, I met Mr. Hypocrisy head-on. Hugging more than my fair share of one thing while shaking hands with unjustified righteousness. Strangely throwing the meat-hoarders under an oncoming media-driven bus to – only minutes later – taking my seat, asking for immunity … rather, counting my immunity packets.

Examination of self far exceeded expectations I had going into the evening. All I wanted to do was pick up a few items. Glad I had the time to see myself in an empty cooler and meat myself half-way.

Still think the news drives this packed bus too much toward a cliff we see coming – but choose to ignore. Sensible, clear-thinking, reasonable adulting needs to rule the day. I also can consider we live in a country where 330+ million ideas, values, and beliefs roam free in the lives of pretty awesome folks who are doing the best they can when the stakes are high and the price we pay for steaks will keep rising as well.

I was customer #28 and I’m darn proud to be with you as a fellow American – and world earth-breather – doing my thing. Good or bad, we’re all here. That counts for something. If all of us raise our hands together to be counted, we can keep the sky from falling down on us. Sounds like a plan to me.

Light-Hearted Reading

We need to reconsider the phrase, “light-hearted” once more .  Seriously. Reintroduce this twelve letter duo again in our meditations over bowls of fresh fruit and granola instead of grinding into the daily news so much. This would ease our societal anxieties a bit, I feel.  

It is only a feeling, however, and I am a bit hesitant injecting feelings into the current body-politic these days.  Nerves are shot. 

Six weeks ago it began. Everyone listened.  Nobody knew. The time was … still.

Today, feelings are different. Long arms of state government, to some, have over-reached.  Loudly stomping feet with mandates are exhaustingly quiet. They came … a-marching into homes and businesses with proclamatory trumpets blaring, “We must … for all” and are now a fading echo.  That parade is now going down the street of soon-to-be reopened businesses who’s proprietors are tired of the noise. They are worn down, near bankruptcy, and too many times have shuffled through the emotional deck of cards handed to them by over-promising, stimulus carrot, stick hangers.

Yes, the body-politic is wearing out.  We are as well. Our body is designed to take only so much.  After 76 ½ years or so, it’s bye-bye for most of us, right? Not to be gloomy here, but isn’t that what we’re told over and over? Average life spans: actuary tables predicting our years here on this spinney rock until the eternal sucking sound calls us away.  

Now we’re on this merry-go-round – daily horsey, “possibly catch the COVID-19 ring” carnival ride.  Are we, or aren’t we, a-symptomatic carriers ..? Is there a premature end to our trip around the sun in our near future?  What are the real numbers and data? Who is telling the truth and why is Bill Gates so important, anyway?

Just asking the questions here.  Which is why “light-hearted” must be seriously considered.  We cannot live like this. We won’t survive it. Heck, if the past 45 days is any guide, we’re alone in the jungle of ideas. Mumbo-Java Jim scooted off the path days ago, leaving us to navigate our way around these muddy footprints left by those ahead who left mere bread crumbs of misinformation and ever-changing ugly models we can’t stand to look at, anyway.

Time to put our fist down and declare today as “No Heavy Heart Day!” … We have this fist-sized little 10-12 ounce muscle pumping 3 billion times in an average lifetime to keep us moving.  For the average American, that’s about one-third % of his/her weight. We have 1.5 gallons of blood circulating through this precious muscle as well … that’s roughly 12 lbs., or 7% of our average weight.  Weight!,..There’s more!!… Not really. I just like the pun.

We have a light heart, so why not be light-hearted? It’s so important to our life – having this little less-than-a-pound, really important partner inside working 60-80 times every minute, every day … so we can pound away at our supposed important tasks. 

Political, social, environmental, economical, health, familial, religious, medial causes … are all salient in our minds – and should be.  Never should we dismiss or set aside what call us to action. It is important to be a warrior for the injustices we recognize.

Times are-a changing so I propose – over my now soggy bowl of cheerios – to recommit a few daily, masked, anxiety-laden “What if I am a carrier?”, or, “These mandates are driving me nuts!” to … “light-hearted”, “I’m ok” moments. Every moment of every awake day can’t be under stress during this ever-changing, less-than informational, 24 hours bombardment of news we really don’t need. All of us are ridiculously burdened with our own over-saturated lives. Our hearts are full. Our little pumpers are doing the best they can.

Laugh at the goofy squirrel in the yard.  Go chase a bunny. I don’t know. Whatever seems silly to you. I have a Ty bird called KuKu I talk to.  Don’t judge me. Just because he talks to me doesn’t mean I’m crazy … if it continues long-term, I’ll consider professional help.  For now, though, he keeps me light-hearted a few minutes each morning. I’ll take it.  

I Feel Ya, That’s A Fact

My seasonal business pushes this lazy guy’s butt out of hibernation around mid-March. When the last of the “yeah, right” wintry mixes blows through these parts, I tentatively tow my shy weenie wagon up the road to an Irish Festival swarming with bendy little hat people and crafty good booth vendors.

I say tentatively because – after 15 years – I’m never quite ready for it, emotionally. It’s the beginning of a nine month spectacular slinging slog of magnificence ending with another Mid-November wintry mix. In that span of 270 days, my stainless friend and I get rained on, have spectacular sale days, see all our fantastic customers, burn food, give Doug hugs, have disagreements, pay a lot more bills, receive sunburns, lose tongs, and cook up dump loads of chili sauce. You know … normal.

This year wasn’t any different. For the first day open or so, anyway. Normal was … well, normal on that green, four-leaf clover “luck-o-the-Irish” day. After that 24 hours, my tow-a-long friend and I parted ways – involuntarily mind you – as I reluctantly backed her into storage. She remained in isolation for 45 days until this past Thursday when I, as squeaky-toned as her well appreciated wheels, hooked her back up to be operational once again.

Under duress of my over-compressed brain, I felt it necessary to serve the public. May 1st, 2020. Friday. The day to be back dipping into melty cheese, planking up Doug’s Dawgs two-by-two in a manner Noah himself would be proud. Time served of 45 days in isolation when, under the terms of take-out and drive-thru, I could have opened. I opted to close down because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. There was – and still is – an abundance of caution that needs to be respected. I feel that is required. Here and now is all of our space.

Here and now is six weeks later. The past two days customers came as I set up in the ArtsAltoona lot located at 6th avenue and 23rd Street in Altoona, PA. Fifteen years in the business with little advertising … I knew they would. Was it throngs of folk? No. A spattering of hungry, regulars came by, ordered and conversed, then left satisfied they received high quality, service, and cleanliness they’ve always expected.

For me, I was so glad to be behind my friend again. Supporting her as she always does for me. Yes, my stainless 10×5 is a “she”. Don’t argue with me. I have my problems in life. Please don’t make this another one. Y’all don’t pick on boat-toting, glee-floaters who have she-sheds with oars, so ….

Anyway, all of the activity those wonderful two days as I was open gave me concern. They felt normal. Even with masking and social distancing, I felt almost normal again. The facts: … Doug’s Dawgs was open for lunch and I felt normal.

FACTS and FEELINGS. Two sides of a very uncomfortable coin right now. A coin we can’t frivolously toss into the Trevi fountain hoping upon hope for overwhelming public consensus and healing of a very public open wound. The facts vs feeling debate rages on faster than the virus itself – to a greater end – and will outlast any supposed vaccine or herd immunity.

The umbrella shading all this is the increased feeling of “normal”. It continues to drive emotions. Protesters in Michigan who storm state office buildings, Governors issuing open-orders trying to get back some sense of “what should be but isn’t”, and grocery store patrons refusing to mask despite concern for their neighbors.

Then we have numbers. Data. Cases and death. Red and yellow counties in Pennsylvania, “facts” and on the ground, basic grind-away, undisputed (possibly, not) figures, Viet-nam comparable death counts. Virologist, immunologist, statisticians, ER doctors, … all the professionals this hotdawg seller/pianist respects … injecting their well-informed opinions into our semi-accepting, varicose-very-close, uber-sensitive veins.

Everyone is scampering about … starting to feel normal. And this could be not so good in the near future.

Feelings are not going away. Neither are the facts. The weather is getting warmer around these parts and I will remain open with all the restrictions in place. I “feel” this is the right thing to do. One “fact” too, … I have bills to pay and the season is upon me.

So many are stuck. Small businesses have to make similar decisions. None of us have easy times right now. These everyday normals suck. This fall, depending upon how the virus spreads, or doesn’t, could be a disaster … or not. Facts and feelings will determine a lot of our fates. The equation of the times, right? Facts and Feelings add up to our Fate in the Fall. Four F’s we never saw barreling toward a devil’s crossroad in NormalTown, USA.

Such a paradox with no real answer. We want to feel normal … but acting normal could get all of us in real trouble down the road … if the facts hold true. Ugh.

I feel ya, brothers and sisters. I feel ya. Hang tight. Rough roads we travel … hang on to your dawgs.

Simple Spoon

There were times when my mom stood over me tapping that over-used wooden spoon in her open palm. Rare, but rhythmic happening moments all of us experienced at least a few times in our dinner-lives, right? Those, “Eat your peas, or else moments!” … I had tapioca pudding, meat pie, and stuffed pepper or else wooden spoon moments with mom. I’m convinced a sense of internal pulses came out of these dinner rituals, if nothing else, and to this day want those precious shadowing, metronomic motherly-love heartbeats back.

You’ve had those comfortable, nice, hard to forget, precious memories. I know it. Plates smooshed with undesirable adult food before and after all the yummy good kid food was happily jammed down our throats. Popsicles, cookies, candy, Spaghetti-O’s, Kraft Mac-N-Cheese, hotdogs, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, any pre-sweetened cereal … the pre-teen, can’t get enough, gullet-slider gas fueling rebellion to normal food met all our dietary needs.

And guess what? We survived, didn’t we? Goes to show those adults in the kitchen at that time who was right, darn-it! No canned peas for me, mom. Definitely had the, “I’ll sit here until this ugh-bread pudding dies a slow, painful, dehydrated death by stare-down” routine down. I was a rebellious child who didn’t like depression-era grub. I loved the challenge, though. Probably set a few world records. Sitting on old vinyl worn metal chairs with little hind-end padding, my nerves on edge, there’s was no giving in to the pressure. The unknown, unrecorded tales in the annals of time will tell of my conquest.

For now, I’ll settle for awesome memories of mom … and her tapping of a long wooden spoon waiting for my resignation .. my defeat. The ultimate spoon into dreaded abyss of lumpy, texture-terrible terrain in a bowl.

Unfinished as those dinners were so many years ago, was a movie I began last night. It was forgettable. Twenty minutes into this masterpiece, by my best guess, I fell asleep. Laziness prevents me from going back to find the Netflix title … that’s how important I feel it is to the overall point here. I’d rather eat a bowl of over-cooked, dry bread pudding than relive those twenty minutes. Typing in that last sentence was cinematically more creative than the opening credits of said box office blunder.

Save all that, the opening eight words caught my attention – which is why I decided to, possibly, spend a few blinky eye-isolation moments watching this movie. The hook got me and kept me in the stream for twenty minutes before this fish wiggled free from bad acted lines, baited scenes, and a cast that was in need of a re-do…badly.

Those eight words were simply: Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.

As I reviewed that quote in my notes, my thoughts this morning went immediately back to childhood. That’s where all our simplicities live. Present tense used on purpose because we never outlive our youth. It’s colorful and rainbow-y, sometimes dreary, too – but always hanging around in our “backyard” brain. The places and people who shaped and helped us sway on emotional swings, slide down and get back up, run through dirt, and hang on to monkey bars forever. Simple.

This quarantine is simple. Or, at the least, should be. It has become anything but easy, simple, piece of cake, undemanding, … whatever term you’d like. Politics, individual beliefs about liberty and freedom, media biases, and religious tenets have hijacked the tranquility these times demand. Childhood, from any era, asks something different.

“Receive with simplicity all that is given to you”

This is not to say we are to accept and not question. I don’t like canned peas. To this day, I will find ways, in my mid-fifties, to straw-shoot them across the room to see if they’ll stick on the fridge. Don’t set a bowl of meat pie in front of me or I will stir it around with a spoon like a spoiled little man singing, “Go little meat pie all to h*ck, hope you find your place in …” ..well you get my drift. I can revisit my childhood so quickly when oofy-food I don’t like, still, is slam-plated down in front if me. Rare, but it happens. We laugh when it does. Sort-of.

This virus was given to us. By who? We don’t know. For what reason? Geesh … that’s for those with significantly higher spiritual connections than I to answer. When will it end? Probably not soon enough for anyone’s satisfaction.

These are complicated questions with no easy answers. Rashi, the 11th century French thinker, rabbi, and grammarian to whom the above quote is attributed, probably couldn’t figure it out either. He lived one-thousand years before meat pie and canned peas were invented, so other than his beautiful quote, all other stuff he deeply opined about can be, respectfully, dismissed at this time.

Whatever today brings, accept its simplicity. Whatever, or whoever is charged with the delivery, it comes wrapped in a purpose. I don’t know the reason and you don’t need to know either. Accept the gift. It may just be the gift of time.

Time I wish I had back with my mom … and the rhythm of her wooden spoon. Maybe, just maybe, I’d learn to like bread pudding and be a tad less stubborn in my ways. My mom would probably be a handful during these isolation moments. As one who did like that pudding-plah, she’d find comfort in offering to lovingly drop some off, I’m sure just as a way to give me some razz. I’d find assurance sitting in my own home – with my own wooden spoon – calling her back in our heartbeat-connected way.

No words. Just a few simple taps of my wooden spoon in the phone back to her. Simple. She’d know I love her.

And miss her.

Walking Words

Here we are. Whatever “this” is. Again.

I used to write everyday. It was easy to do. The words appeared as instant imaginary impulses- piled one on top of another – in my lively, colorful, experience-laden brain. I’d rush home, or sit in my favorite red vinyl booth, and gush about toys I saw in display windows, the statue at a local park, or a meditation garden. Breezes were easy to see. Lives scurried about … intermingling. I could see they were laughing. Unmasked.

And that’s the “thing”. They were laughing. I could see the smiles. So much of this experience is gone … for now. It’s hard to write every day.

Now, I see masks hiding the smiles of those few who are out and about. Hometowners going about their essential best … scurrying they are not. Shoulders telling the real story. They droop atop torsos that are, as well, plodding along … belted to waists barely able to withstand another day attached to legs so tired from the grind of restlessness.

Everyone is so “thing-ed” out. As am I. Experiences are hard to uncover … to see. To, well, experience right now.

The stuckiness of all this, as a writer of what I see, “all I see is bad news”. Even my “imagineer’s workshop”, upon which I so heavily rely, has been hijacked by social distancing, #IsolationIssues, fear, unease, politics, unemployment, PPP, EIDL, masks, google hangout video necessities, pharmacy changes, and daily mis-information from social media. The wheels of my sleep/wake cycle fell off weeks ago and I find concentrating on anything other than doing the dishes every freakin’ hour, recording a piano piece, and checking in on my dad to be about my limit.

This wasn’t the case such a short time ago. I can’t blame my age, although it would be a easy target. It’s, of course, the virus. The stupid virus. The uncaring, ridiculous coronavirus. The whatever “this” is.

It’s the one thing that took away experiences of daily living that feed my writer’s soul.

For now.

I need to believe in the hope of our human spirit. In the belief of a common goal. A desire to beat this pandemic with one big, shared, world-wide breath of compassion for the families of the lost, a push toward three C’s in our body politic (Civility, Compromise & Credibility), renewed zeal for mother earth and the incredible resources she provides, less concern for self and more for other’s needs, and a cure-certain for this horrible, “whatever” virus … and all the ugliness associated with it.

These breaks of days aren’t the end of life, for sure. Nothing has stopped. The legs that are weary will dance again. Shoulders will be proud and carry great burdens with honor in the near future as life returns to a new normal once we figure all this out. Together.

And, in the end – when there is an end – we will meet there together. Together is a place, regardless of where we are in our indifference now, where we will be … unmasked with visible smiles.

This is what I hope for and what I’d like to be writing about again. I want my words to have legs more times than ever before.



This is who I am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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