Kalmia latifolia

The kalmia latifolia is, appropriately, our state flower of Pennsylvania.

Stepping off the path where this fact lives, according to vacationideas.com, it makes sense that hills, valleys, ups, and downs would be associated with our great commonwealth:

While the mountains do not reach the highs of their bigger cousins in the West, Pennsylvania is home to the Appalachian Mountains, which cut right through the state, with the Pocono and Allegheny Mountains as the most important sub-ranges.”

Further down the road, we have an area identified as the Laurel Highlands. The Laurel Highlands is a region in southwestern Pennsylvania made up of Fayette County, Somerset County and Westmoreland County.

S’merge all these ideas together – mountains and laurels – to get one rooted flower: the mountain laurel. A stately bloom captured on the other side of a lens settled gently in the hands of one with an eye for such beauty. I’ve shared her seizing symmetry before. Pictures are frozen in two dimensions, yet move emotions as if she is asking us to touch the scent … feeling its life.

The featured image for this post is from her archive. Once again, words are necessary.

Every state has a flower, a tree, a motto, a bird. Eastern hemlocks stand proudly as our tree, shouting, “Virtue, Liberty, Independence” from its branches and fine, dark-green needles. Secretive ruffed grouse may be seen by walking through the very forests where my keenly observant friend finds objects – shall I say, finely tuned, natural pleasures – to arrest our attention. These mentioned are Pennsylvania’s designated treasures sometimes surprisingly seen when least expected. Encouragement is urged for you to find your state’s magnificence as my sightly-gifted, grass-rooted earth swoosher asks all of her friends to do.

I’m asking you to find three dimensional allurement in your stately space. As a non-woodsy, never burly guy, my main path does not often go through lush thicket. On the rare occasion it does, either my eyes are too swollen to appreciate the moments, or closely held anxieties I cling to for comfort prevent any relaxed recreation. It is, therefore, your job to log in some forest time on behalf of all peculiar path-adverse people, like me, who only want to sit in comfortable chairs and glance upon very beautiful pictures.

Her pictures draw me in, so why would I subject myself to bugs, bothers, and blisters? I can live, momentarily, in a fantastical world of flowers, nights, trees, birds, and skys without leaving the safety of my insecurities. This is what great art does for those open to the possibilities. A Warholian jaunt, or Leibovitz-like skip from our trouble into whatever we imagine life needs to be to get us through that moment.

A calming moment, perhaps. Maybe kalmia? Softly spoken, with an Italian accent, “Come here..”. “…You’re welcome to join me as my friend. Sit with me and we will rest.”

Great images never have one view, of course. How many times do great paintings draw different opinions from the palettes of discerning wine and cheese guests? Her kalmia latifolia is white on green. A pre-holiday gift to help me keep hoping the present time is not so bad as it seems. They’re very open, as if to want to hold my hand – if only for a moment – and then retreat. Little umbrellas to hide the rain. All of this in a picture.

It’s ok to be open to these possibilities – even if only in two dimensions. I know the creator of the image is alive and well … in three dimensions. She’ll keep clicking away. It’s in her nature to do so and nature gladly accepts her good will. Maybe she’ll catch that wobbly ruffed grouse in her frame sometime for all of us to see.

I sure hope so ’cause there’s not much chance of one crossing my path anytime soon. This chair is just way too comfortable.

Simply, Roberto Clemente

He would have been 86 years old this past August 18th had a plane crash not taken his life. Simply one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game. Period.

I’m a little too young to have ever seen him play in person. There aren’t enough film clips from the era to satisfy my curiosity about how his grace looked on the field. My dad, and older friends, who did see him play at Forbes Field in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, recall an athlete of refined talent, strength, and finesse.

I can’t conceptualize a man of such natural aptitude in this day of superficial sports strength. As well, I can’t imagine a more genuine human sports figure than this man who died in a DC-7 crash while being a true humanitarian – leaving Puerto Rico on a chartered flight after supervising aid delivered to earthquake victims near Managua. He previously chartered, and paid for, three planes to deliver much needed cargo to the area and felt a fourth was required – with his personality aboard – to oversee the operations due to possible seizing and profiteering by the local military. He lost his life on December 31st, 1972 one mile off the coast of Nicaragua … and the world lost a true humanitarian.

All this after collecting his 3,000th hit on September 30th, 1972 … his final at bat.

The baseball card above is my all-time favorite of his. It’s as beautiful outside as he must have been inside. The 1972 Topps baseball set ranks high among the enduring memories I have of my childhood. When I think of class and charm in the baseball card collecting world, these early 70’s little pieces of cardboard always hit a homerun with me. Yes, that is such a hobbling analogical word to use … and I apologize for the lame insertion, but baseball cards back then represented really cool bubble gum, easy to open wax packs, and trips to the local store up the street to buy some candy and, of course, cards. Simple.

Harry. He was a taller, stout man. Then again, for a little guy like me, everyone was. My sister and I walked along a dangerous two-lane road – not knowing it was, of course. Cars whizzed by at higher rates of speed than we knew was allowed by law as we entered his store, laughingly dusting off our white socks. Harry’s display case on the right always had the candy and the boxes with unopened packs of those great smelling cards inside. To the left sat soda bottles, bread, and newspapers we had no interest in reading. The object was to quickly throw our change on the counter so he would know how many packs of cards we could buy. He was gentle with us, but stern with math. Not a quarter more, or less, garnered us favor no matter how many times we visited his little store a quarter mile up such a treacherous road we had no business walking along.

Once back home, the little brown bag opened dreams. My sister and I quickly ran our little fingers down through the wax seal to open the packs that, seconds earlier, gently fell out of the bag. We knew, even then, to be extra careful at the start. Now, I would jam those same cards into my bike tires within the hour and she, being my older, wiser, thinking-ahead sibling, carefully placed sharp four cornered gems into a box for safekeeping well into her fifth decade of life. Today, I live in regret (happily throwing away my youthful gem-mint perfect rookies of hall-of-fame players / retirement money into ten-speeds and concrete walls, while she, never mind …). Regret can be a strong word. I absolutely loved my childhood, baseball card days … and I adored the 1972 cards. They were the charm during some of my rough years in life.

… and I harbor no regret. That was a tinge of sarcasm above. Today, my collecting is active and engaging. The hobby has changed. Kids don’t walk beside dangerous roads with excitement – hoping to see the next, new design on the cards.

I waited with enthusiasm every spring. Colors, lines, team logos, spacing, borders … all artistically flavored in a card dessert for the eyes. In 1971, Topps baseball cards, however, were a delicacy disaster. Here’s the 1971 Clemente (bottom) compared to the 1972 design (top)

Isn’t this the most depressing card design ever? Ugh. That was the Edsel of the card collecting years. I figure the guy sitting around Topps just gave up. Saying, “Hey, I know what! … I’ll go all black on the border, with block letters for all the writing, and go get a beer.”, the head designer was probably one paycheck away from retirement and didn’t see the bad decision rounding third base. Ironically, the cards from this amass of mundaneness – if found in pristine condition – are the rarest due to the black borders. It is the most condition sensitive of all Topps sets and is huge – coming in at 752 total cards. A mint-9 Clemente, for reference, recently sold for $14,500. Still, I hate the design. And yes, no apologies for using hate.

Enter 1972. Low expectations when I opened the first pack. I imagine, now, the 1971 head designer was sitting on the beach sipping a less-than-well deserved cocktail as a newly appointed, forward thinking, awesomely creative, artistically pen-wielding sports lover took the helm. Imagined beauty. Essence at my fingertips back then. Out of the blackness into the light.

Comparisons of life to sports in words have made many writers millionaires. In reverse, many sports figures, who are already millionaires, have written words about life – as it relates to sports. The connection, in my world, has been – and is – at the end of my fingertips when I hold a single 2.5 x 3.5 inch piece of thin cardboard. My age doesn’t matter. My memories do and when I see something as beautiful as a 1972 baseball card, or the recalled vision in my brain of a much younger self sitting on a front porch with a small paper bag, I feel better about the present moment. A peace.

Probably the same feeling Clemente had boarding the plane knowing he did something nice, once again, for his people in Nicaragua. He was a hero. A true sports-man of his generation who knew his beauty. Someone whose legacy and honor has lasted well beyond that fateful last day of 1972. A year when artistry bloomed out of darkness in the card collecting world, but we lost a gentleman, a father, an athlete of refined talent who I never saw play.

This is ok in my world. I have card #309 to remember his strength and humanity – two qualities in life for all of us to remember when opening packs of kindness in our hearts.

Incredible Feat

6 feet. We’ve all known the rule for at least that many months as well. Completely unrelated, seventy-two inches just happens to be my exact height. One being a guideline for the pandemic of the century, and the other an out of control genetic mutation caused by parent’s wine-and-dine how-do-you-do nine months prior to my birth. Six feet, in both cases, not a bad thing. The former, presumably preventative, and the latter helpful when standing in the back of a crowded elevator wondering who just passed gas – by being able to recognized the face of the guilty party – is certainly socially advantageous.

There is something much better, however: a pair of feet. Especially, a pair of ankle-socked stompers wearing inexpensive Avias purchased in haste from Walmart … inexplicably, the most comfortable, casual shoes I’ve worn in a long time. Light, airy, invisible to the feet, basically no support except to my emotional well-being … this pedestrian pleasure pair is making strides in what I now know as a tootsie utopia.

Life never used to be this way at times. Pinches, heaviness, stiffness. All of us know the uncomfortable qualities we can assign to shoes not fitting correctly, right? Shoe horned into our lives were cheap leathers, knocked-off racks we knew existed for the benefit of parents discounting pennies at the end of a hard earned paychecks. Mom and dad had to do … what they had to do.

Those days long gone, but memories stay. Everytime a shoe turns against me, or a sock knot twinges in the toes, I’m reminded how difficult it must have been for my parents make the laces of life meet in the middle. Our Christmas bills lasted until the following April – just in time for the taxes to be due. Vacations the first week in June burdened my dad’s remaining summer days with work to pay off those sandy beach times.

Fall ushered in a schedule replete with the requisite pre-first day of school shopping outing for … school shoes. That 70’s, badly coordinated, brown polyester, bowl haircut era when my mom piled us into our paneled station wagon with the guarantee of a cheap McDonald’s lunch if we behaved. Every year, one after another, pair after pair, my siblings and I clanked into our homerooms satiated to the gills with 25-cent hamburgers and the finest, unfittest shoes a school teacher’s credit budget could afford.

More pairs I’ve owned as an adult than ever as a child, of course. Sneakers, loafers, slip-ons, slippers, flip-flops, casuals, tuxedo blacks, – all of them purchased without urging from my mom who isn’t around to share a McDonald’s meal with me anymore. Dad’s comfortably able to buy expensive shoes – or take any vacation he wants, with time and money no longer obstacles, but age and willingness is waning.

What steps are we taking in life with what we’re given? It isn’t just our feet, of course. So much we had isn’t here anymore. My mom. My dad. What I had. What they needed to do.

My inexpensive Avias are surprising. They are really comfortable. A big box store should not, by all intents and purposes, be providing me this level of ease for such a small price. I was not raised to believe low price equals comfort; Nor should I expect to receive this heavenly blisterless bliss in the future. I will take off these one-offs as long as I can count my blessings each time.

And I guess that’s what it’s all about. As Neil Armstrong so famously said, “That’s one small step for (a man / man), one giant leap for mankind”, each small metaphorical step we take forward in our lives is one giant step helping everyone else. Our life is a contribution to everyone else’s experience. The oft used “butterfly effect”.

Remember that the next time you find yourself looking down. I bet you’ve taken a lot of remarkable steps thus far to be where you are right now. Some not as comfortable as others, but you’re here and that is what’s important.

… and if I must say so, that’s some incredible feat, or two.

“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.

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.

S’pots and S’pans

I love how light bounces off these four lids. Yes, the kahlua bottle proudly standing in the background reflects an inner beauty as well, but I’m referring to “being lit” in a less colloquial sense. Literally, I love the way four identical scenes glide from one to the other on sleds of light … as the pan toppers gradually increase in size. Remarkable.

Reflecting back on my life, it has been a remarkable journey – as I’m sure yours has been as well. All of our forward steps stack up against each other’s timelines quite impressively … with none being better, or worse, than another. We are equal. The air we breath has no discrimination attached. The ground upon which we walk knows no color, race, or gender.

S’pots dot our past, as individuals – of course they do. We’ve made mistakes along the way. Our S’pan of time on this big, blue marble, thus far, has shown us when and where we could have done better. Hopefully we didn’t repeat those mistakes, but, if your experience(s) was/were like mine, I bet you did. It’s being human.

Life’s a big ‘ole pain in the butt most times – doing the same crazy little s’pots over and over again. The trick is not smooshing our thoughts around them so much as it is focusing on all the wonderful things we did right along the way.

First of all, you were born. If you weren’t, I find it highly unlikely you’d be reading these words. Birth is a remarkable process. This was something that went right in your life. Granted, YOU had nothing to do with the process and, perhaps, there was a bottle of kahlua emptied nine months prior. Regardless, the universe decided it was time to introduce you to grass stains on your knees, toes on table legs in the dark, and income taxes. Your S’pan began.

Friendships started to develop. Some of these you did inspire and have lasted breathful years so far. Maybe they started spontaneously over pre-school bright, colorful Crayola crayons sprayed over a large white swath of paper. You, as well as I, drew sticks with heads, trees with odd shaped leaves, and tilted roof houses while laughing crazily with other little gigglers, soon to be classmates twelve years hence.

Playground plays, elementary experimental years s’potted us a few scrapes and bruises to our Easy Reader brains. T’was all good. Friends stood by our side. Even Captain Kangaroo kept his promises while Sesame seeds sprouted good feelings along a very familiar Street where a happy grouch lived and a big yellow bird taught us to love one another.

Middle school push throughs prompted awkward s’pans. Friendships strained a bit. Parental controls turned up the heat under the s’pots previously resting comfortably on warm, gentle simmers. We s’lid into teenage years unaware of the hazards facing the young, specifically, as facial recognition software would have been so, so helpful to the cause. Yes, zit would have!!

Counting down to marvelous matriculation meant meandering through hallways with books under arms … passing by the very friends, met years ago, occupied by their own intelligences. Wasn’t ever anything to put a lid on, or hide under solitary expectations. Just pre-mature adulthood s’pots we worked through. Crayola crayons were replaced with more permanent markers for our lives as the normal for four years. The Freshness melted slowly into Soph-ness… Juniority would eagerly jump into Senior status. Then life changed.

Adulthood at the stoop of a door into college, trade school, the military, or directly into the work-a-day world. Finding a husband, or a wife … or a baby on the way.

Then we began the cycle for the next generation of crayon crunchers. All good for whatever filled the time routine offered us up until the “now”. All during our individual s’pans of time on this big blue marble, right? All of these things are good, right? Remarkable reflections when we take time to think about them and not the s’pots that dot our past.

Our lives glide from one experience to another … seamlessly, yet we remain the same. Just like the reflections on the lids – each experience different in size, one on top of another, day after day.

These lids do serve to cover up s’pots at times that happen in our s’pans – and that’s o.k.. We’re given the wonderful opportunity to be human; thus, the magic of a full kahlua bottle, available vessel, and soft music at times, I guess.

In the end, it is only four beautifully round, very functional pieces of stainless steel teaching one simple lesson to us all: We’re doing the best we can. Period.

Reflect upon that next time you see a lid with your beautifulness staring back at you. It’s quite remarkable.

Forks In My Drawer 2: Be a Fred

Having never been to Kansas, knowing any real spinning Dorothy, or nick-namingly connecting Dots in my life, I can say mid-western wind is nothing I’m all too familiar. It’s as strange as trying to properly place the word “with” in that last sentence. I have, however, been close to a fictitional Dorothy in my life.

I directed a local production of “Oz” a few years ago in an historically beautiful theater … on the musical side of the house. The cast was spectacular, talented, and quite charming.

Scarecrow scampered about, dripping brainless wit and sardonic straw on the audience of dreams. Our heartless, lovable Tin Man clanked and clampered. We had a fuzzy Lion in wait, as he humbly and without pride sat fearing the next moment of unexpected surprises.

Professor Marveled the audience evenings on end and Glinda glittered her way into their hearts. Em’s not all the cast and crew, to be sure. Our production team – including the pit orchestra – was spectacular. On and on I could go like a word twister twisting his words.

Alas, admittedly, I could not place even a brick in the wonderfully written word road L. Frank Baum wrote eighty-one years ago eventually going to the big screen losing in the best picture category to Gone With The Wind. Not a bad way to lose. Buckets of expressions behind my curtains of cute constructions here pale in comparison to his eventual cinematic creation.

Who, including me, writes of “Oz” without mentioning Margaret Hamilton? Nobody, I say…nobody. Her evilistic sneer chasing down a gulping shot of little children dread … with the pointy hat, black-hearted, now special adulting appreciation laughter she had is one role for the ages.

As wicked as the witch was, she was predictable – as always. Since the film debuted in 1939, and every flying monkey year since, eyes have been Toto-ally expecting her to melt her way into our hearts.

Just like Fred. A stretch? Allow me to explain.

Fred wasn’t in that production. I doubt he was ever in a stage play, although I do know he played the piano and drums. This from our brief encounters next to each other – I, the hot dawg, sausage dude, and he, the flatbread, pizza guy. We’ve had some “get to know one another chats” lately due to just meeting two weeks ago. Nice dough smasher and sauce spreader, he is. Just didn’t know how nice until this morning.

The evening before, house spinning winds wound through the lot where Fred, I, and others set up shop to sell our food-stuffs. I’ve been at this over fifteen years. Snow, wind, rain, lightening, hail, excessive heat and cold, .. whatever, I’ve been through it all. That said, I AM exaggerating by writing, “house spinning”. A little puppy breeze came through…(don’t judge me. It was a long week up to that point and I’m entitled to some big bloviating)…

…and since I neglected to tie down my “less than cheap almost brand new” canopy, this Kansas wind lifted up said tarp, threw it up against Fred’s truck, and finally allowed its final resting place to be ten yards behind my van, upside down, with a broken side bracket.

There aren’t enough words in “Oz” to describe the words I wanted to say out loud, but did utter in my pretty little dog head. Two customers, Fred, and I were obviously too late in holding down the hot-air balloon canopy lifting off for home as it gleefully, seemingly, gave me the Emerald City middle finger while flying by.

Enter professor Marvel Fred. A simple wardrobe switch of a pair of ruby red shoes for a tap welder and grinder. He came in a little early to repair my brain and canopy. Didn’t have to, but did. Took him all of about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes out of his busy prep morning to help me. Time I’m sure he could have spent with his new puppy at home, three kids, or wife.

Courage to help a friend … a heart to reach out … and the brains to know how. THAT’S Fred, a new friend on my personal yellow brick road.

Yesterday was another fork in drawer moment as I forgot to tie down my new, rather expensive, canopy. The wind was just enough to aargh the canopy, but more than enough to uplift my hope and faith in all the great possibilities living within people.

This is a weird time. We certainly need more Freds circling around our little towns. When the big scary winds stop, we can open our eyes and say in our own way: “Oh, Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke … you were there! … I knew you’d be! You helped me find the way forward. I knew the problem, but not the solution at the moment. Thank you.”

There truly is no place like home when you find someone who is willing to go out of their way to help you.

I like Fred. Maybe I can be more like Fred. Be a Fred for someone. Be Oz-some today even if for a moment. You never know whose life will be different when the winds suddenly change.

Virtual Vibes Vibrate the Virus

Let’s consider the 22nd letter of our amazing alphabet … and sound, the incredible, instrumental item of bouncy benevolence. It’s one of many ways that allow us to enjoy each other’s ideas, music, and laughter. There’s another usage pushing itself to the fore these challenging belly months of 2020.

March through August, the six months between the bookends of each three fall and winter months here in Western-Central PA have been ugh-i-ness. I suspect the same for, well, the rest of America. Smooth sailing after the new year until Saint Patrick’s Day then …. whack!! The curve rounded up on charts, data sets, and every conceivable pie graphs known to man since cave people scratched skinny stick sketches on wet, Covid-free, drippy walls.

All indications are, I think … and it’s only a layman’s assumption … the medical experts, every day, are understanding more and more the virology tendencies of this slap-down disease we are dealing with behind our masks. Due to these come-to-whomever-you-worship (if anyone) moments, I’ll propose a slight downturn of the back-side belly line after six months.

Ideas, music, and laughter ride the waves quite well. We’ve relied on these three, and will continue to do so as waves of new information crash upon the beaches of our lives – as they will. We’re not on solid footing yet, that’s for darn sure! The sand underfoot is still moist with insecurity. As media ripples wash over, we are un-sucking our feet out of the constantly changing informational quicksand holes in which we find ourselves.

This is sound. And it’s good.

So is the alphabet we use to form words, to created sentences … to communicate effectively. Well, let’s say, to understand one another … somehow, right? I’ve witnessed grocery store line verbal connections between folks sometimes that challenge the notions of effective communication. (Maybe if I didn’t eavesdrop over my impulse reach for a pack of Orbit gum? … just a private moment here for self-evaluation)

Oh, and the 22nd letter in the series: “V” – which gets me to the title of my post today: “Virtual Vibes Vibrate the Virus”

Probably wasn’t necessary to copy and paste the title there. You folks are pretty smart. I had to, though, because I simply like the ring of it in my head. Also, “Vee” makes my lower lip rumble a bit against my upper chompers, too, giving this morning time an upper level excitment I need. One Clif-bar and a few meds don’t do much to jump start a day.

Sound and the four Vee words, together, can help my friends through this belly, and beyond. At least I hope so.

I like to give Doug hugs. Obviously, or the URL would be very different here. In the belly of the beast, these hugs are difficult to physically extend to friends and family. They are not around as much – fearing, rightfully so, the viral ramifications of close proximity. Now, humorously considering some of their positions on hugging, I could assume some of them are just staying away. That’ll be addressed during the post-apocolyptic, post-masking time.

My option at this time is to extend virtual vibes out into the world to, hopefully, not only have my friends and family feel the hugs but also take comfort that the virus may be vibrated away from them.

That’s all. Nothing to crack the theories of dark matter or change what anyone believes about alien life on Mars … or, if coconut should be banned as a candy choice (I vote yes, btw). My hope is our well-being can be shared. Sound good?

Just my idea on how to get through all this together. It’s why I write here. Not to be the next Rowlings, Patterson, King, or Steel. I’m merely one step above that cave man …

…. etching my story into a small piece of granite over here in a dimly lit corner in the vast cavern of public opinion. Sometimes the echoes are so loud, I can’t hear myself talk to myself. That’s ok. I can hug myself. It’s all good.

It’s all Vital in the Vastness of life. Be Valiant, my friends. I’m hugging for you.

It’s Quiet Now

So quiet. This porch.

Save the distant barking of a distressed dog and an occasional tweet of the natural kind – not electronic twitching of opinions, this time brings me such peace. After a long and confusing week, I find sitting here … now … nicely nice. There are a few visually annoying sight lines avoided by simply closing my eyes. Even the smell of grass – cut earlier by a fine crew of hard working young men – still has that fresh smell of greenness attached to the air casually blowing under my nose.

Yes, this is really nice now. Now is a nice place to be. How wonderful is at the moment?

Here, now, is all we have. It is said too often, but not appreciated enough, that we have only moments to live our lives. The hours and days only exist on the canvas because the minutes prop them up on the easel. One stroke at a time, using beautiful blues, reds, and yellows of curiosity and grace, we paint what others see in us. And it renews – over and over again – when we value now.

Simple traffic noise in the near, distant space is far enough away to filter through the few trees between us. It is a mere swaddled sound as it reaches my ears.

The distressed barking has stopped for the moment. Something, or someone has calmed the canine concern. Birds continue their songs in the trees, however, as I expect they should. Nested little ones need to eat, husbands and wives must communicate, and predator warnings are necessary. These are neighborhood nows that continue forward without the recognition of self-reflection …as I sit in a recliner on this shady, comfortable porch. They move their miracles forward, regardless. I am simply another brush of color on their palate of life.

So many shapes and sizes around. I can close my eyes and see a variety of not only physical beings, but also ideas as well. From big and tall notions changing the world – like vaccines for pandemic viruses – to small proposals such as smiles, hugs, and handshakes. Both are connections to the world outside ourselves and so important to the now we are experiencing together.

I have little to taste now except for the Arby’s roast beef sitting casually by my side. In all likelihood, it is less fresh than it was a few minutes ago when I first entertained the idea of sliding it over my lips. Fortunately, one was already consumed prior, so this second sandwich is not a tragedy. The diet Pepsi is flat, unfortunately, so I am slightly disappointed in my beverage choice. Humidity is less drippy compared to days past and I get the impression folks around these parts are settling into a late summer / early-August routine.

This is now. Now is Covid-19, masking, the last day in July of a ridiculously crazy, little over three months from an election, out of one’s mind, take a deep breath, … 2020.

We have to keep our senses about us, right? I have mine. Today is all about what I see, hear, smell, taste, and … can say to you.

Enjoy the now. You are special. The now is here for you to have, hold, and cherish. Pull up a chair next to me on my porch.

It’s quiet.

What In Carnation!

We ain’t in River City and I certainly ain’t Harold, but we got trouble … right here. With a capital “T”. Granted, I don’t own the rights to the song or the musical itself (disclaimer out of the way), however, permission to use every synonym associated with the 18th century word tarnation is hereby assigned. Trouble, as well sung in the musical as it is, isn’t close to filling the lead role, although it is in the supporting cast of synonymous players.

Shall I begin with censure, criticism, or denunciation? Perhaps castigation is best? Maybe bewilderment or anger best describes your mood when tarnating someone – if that’s even a thing. Two centuries ago, damnation – the origin of this word under examination – meant an eternity of fire and misery. Today? Just two weeks in isolation with someone who won’t shut up about their position opposite yours on masking, politics, or salt on fruit.

I settled on “Oh, pfft … what the … dagnabit … What in carnation!” when I spied what I spied.

Walking out of a big box store the other morning, what do I see? …

One solitary stem-a-sight-a-licious on the hot pavement. Who in tarnation leaves one beautiful red flower behind and drives off? “Who?” I write. WHO? What in carnation is this world coming to?

Certainly … hopefully … this act of abandoning wasn’t intentional (for to leave such a beauty behind on purpose would be upsetting to even the least of the forbearing, floral gods). Imagined said customer in all likelihood possessed a bouquet of bounteous beauties and was in too much of a hurry to arrive at his/her next port of call. Out of hands this one dropped gently to the ground.

Perhaps even more romantic is the notion of one noticing my slightly greasy, flavorful white Ford van with cart in tow exhaustively exhaling next to gravel-stricken yellow painted lines on over-heated pavement. I being not the only one exiting my vehicle overheated at the notion of masking once again to enter another store once again … this time to momentarily pass an underpaid nice young security lady at the door handing out single-use masks and sanitizer wipes to those so inclined to receive these gifts of Covid-19 invisibility. I declined with whispers behind my cute cloth Dalmatian mask. Back to my fantasy…

One saw this scent-of-a-van and, upon my absence, placed one fine flower next to it as one would gently settle a rose on the casket of a lost loved lover. Thinking, “Oh, I must meet this person to whom this vehicle belongs. I see a sign on the cart, ‘Doug’s Dawgs’ … He must, must be inside. I shall not wait because I am in a hurry. Maybe some day … someday…”, my imaginary friend walked away leaving only a lonely stemmed memory behind.

There was space in my life for a 10 inches long gift to present itself at my feet. Where it came from is known: a big box store full of masked, slightly confused, doing the best-we-can, cart pushing, life-getting through extended neighbors of mine. How it arrived? This is a mystery I am entirely comfortable not knowing. For someone like me who needs to ask why? and have an answer all the freakin’ time, this is off my-OCD game a bit … however, knowing I’ll never be close to the truth, I can let it go.

We still have trouble my friends. Right here in (any) city, don’t we! Ugh. That very day, I ambled out of the store with a cart full of goods not knowing – until hours later – that the very item I went in to buy was missing. I simply forgot to buy it … and needed it for my business. The day before some of my product spoiled without any chance of replacing … and had a large order including that product I couldn’t fulfill. I’ve dropped customers orders on the ground this week, handed out wrong change/under-charged folks, made wrong sandwiches with incorrect toppings, and … my back hurts more than normal. It’s been a week.

What in Carnation is happening! We’ve been asking this since Mid-March, right? All of us.

This flower is currently on the dashboard of my overcrowded van. It rests in an overworked, reliable, friendly automobile as a reminder to those – including me – who don’t take enough time to do the same during these troubling times. At some settled time, this flower will fade out and lose color, but not its significance. The consequence of seeing it lay at my feet that day does not dim with the passage of time, however, as each opportunity to be happy in the midst of trouble is a flower in and of itself.

We’re going to be at this virus-thing for a while, it seems. I’m no doctor, although I could be, in some imaginary t.v. afternoon soap opera universe, be ascribed the moniker “Dr. Doug” (but, I digress …), so, try to find a small flower at your feet that a stranger leaves for you. A smile. Spare change for a free cup of coffee. A $5 lottery ticket. Time away for a few minutes you wouldn’t normally get. I don’t know what it’ll be. Only the perky little parking lots in life will be able to provide the answers for you. There’s something out there that will make perfect scents for you, I’m sure.

I am willing to keep looking myself. On stage with Harold Hill I’m not. Just a simple guy with simple ideas tripping over little flowers left behind by who-knows bodies. I am aware that I must continue forward living life the best I know how in the midst of this goofy time – as all of us must. Covid be damned … err … Darnation, anyway!

Specifically, I am looking forward to change – especially the correct amount in return to my customers as I hand over the proper sandwiches with the exact toppings ordered, not dropped on the ground (which I wouldn’t serve anyway, just to clarify), and all without grimacing and moaning quietly behind my face covering due to my achy-breaky back. That is, if I remembered to pick up what I needed in the first place.

Back to the store again sometime soon. Say, “Hi!” if you see me there. I’ll be the one handing out invisible carnations disguised as a smile behind my mask. We’re all on stage together. It certainly isn’t River City, but it’s home.

Find your flowers.