Mother Hubbard is Crackers

This morning’s breakfast fare started with two Full Circle Market Organic Classic Round crackers … and, as of this point in time, ended there. I’m out of options with my favorite hotel cafe closed on Saturdays and Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboards open, but as the poem goes, “the poor Doug has none”.

Anticipating no baker, fruiterer, alehouse, or undertaker in my future … no tailer, cobbler, sempstress, or hosier, the remaining three hours of my day before opening my business look to be quite cravingly mad. Throw me a bone here, please. I’ll take anything.

Sarah Catherine Martin, to whom that poem is attributed, could walk through my office doors at this moment. Unless she’s carrying a tray full of bacon, rye toast, … a chocolate Clif bar, two over-easy eggs, and two glasses of iced tea, I’m not interested in what a two-hundred and fifty-two year old woman has to say. Granted, it’d be nothing short of a Guinness World Record miracle to have such a bicentennial-plus moment here in my humble hovel, however, I need food in my groveling belly.

I’ll survive. As they say, “such a first world problem”. A small trip down the road to one of many grocery stores – full to the ceiling with food – would work all this out. My beat up Honda doesn’t have to disengage as I have the option to casually drift through a drive-thru as well. Both of these choices, unfortunately, require I step out. Step out of very comfortable material surroundings such as the cotton garments keeping my apologetically happy appendages warm at the moment. Twenty-five degrees with a slight breeze outside. Yes, I’m not one to step out into that weather at the moment.

There was a time when cold and hunger didn’t matter. Youth and inexperience colored in the pictures – between the lines drawn by warmth and the need for nutrition. Days without a nugget or morsel tapping around in my belly were common. By choice, mind you, I pushed forward motivated by the words of Zig Ziglar and Earl Nightingale. These men didn’t advocate starvation as a means to an end, of course. I was busy making sales calls, talking to prospects, enjoying my work … that’s all. Youthful exuberance shuffling along with a fantastic company environment. Ah, the late-twenties and mid-thirties in our lives, right?

Enter Old Mother Hubbard in the winter of 2021. Bifocal nose-sliding syndrome is upon me as we speak, the back tweak has returned after a two day respite, my arms are sore after yesterday’s 7-hour work day, and quite honestly, I’ve had just about enough of this year already … with 357 days to go. I’ve gained three pounds since January 1st and since unfollowed a lot of folks on Facebook. Engaging, enlightening political conversations with friends and family aren’t happening anymore and eggshells are strewn everywhere I trod. Looking down at the slight pudge below, my core may be labeled certifiably, organically classic round … just like the box says. “Perfect for Entertaining”?, well … don’t know about that.

The local and national world I live in is crackers. I’m just one of many varieties. Organic classic round as it turn out to be. Tomorrow? Who knows. Would love to be Ritz. Hey!! Speaking of that, I bought a Mega-Millions ticket last night. Better go check the numbers. Odds are pretty good I didn’t win and will be sitting here tomorrow, again, in my cotton clothes wondering if Sarah Catherine Martin ever considered a career in food service. She’d make a great cracker salesperson.

It Can Be So Simple

It could have been so simple. A private message from this now-unfollowed, blocked non-human person on Facebook would have settled the matter. Instead, she decided a personal attack was the best route toward understanding … a destination where she had no intention of meeting me. Adult, mature conversations, apparently, aren’t part of her world.

I was wrong. Posting an opinion, I guess. Sure, it was opposite her view. Yes, the issue at hand was – and still is – a rather hot potato still rapidly transfering between millions of satirists and social media warriors. Today, as thousands protested in Washington, was not the day for me to postulate. ‘My bad.

Emotions are high. Reason and logic? Way down on the list of to-do’s for those not only in our nation’s capital, but also the keyboard strokers who are, themselves, marching ahead toward justice through their words. In my haste, I joined in ever so briefly. One comment.

A mistake in timing … and also in fact. I meant to type in one thing, however, another ended up so unfortunately being posted. By the time I realized my error, that comment above meteorically flamed in. Adulting as one would, I quickly replied back to her my intentions assuming I had time to, then, go back and correct the errors. Her second reply solidified my future unfollowing: “I stand by my opinion!” …

See, here’s where we are. An attack on one’s character is so easy anymore. To consider an opposing point of view and respond in a mature way is so 2019 (skipping over 2020 for obvious reasons). I’m not so sure we were too together back then, but certainly closer than we are now. In an effort to bridge the gap between my over-expectations now and the reality back then, I posted the following this evening:

“I postulated an opinion that – as it turns out – was in error. My facts were wrong. Before having a chance to correct myself, this (insert above) was immediately placed under my comment. I replied in an adult manner, still thinking I was correct, of course. This person, in reply, stood by her comment. I lost my cool and sent additional words I immediately regretted then deleted. Giving her a pass I shouldn’t do by deleting her name, I sure hope your disagreeing with an opinion doesn’t also turn into a direct insult on someone’s character. Yes. Today is a tough day. This still doesn’t warrant any personal attacks – especially on a social media forum. Call them in person or take a stand in front of them face to face. Have an adult conversation. “I was wrong.” are the greatest words in our language. These six words below (you are actually so freakin stupid) get us nowhere. I choose the three now and always because they are most honest at times. The latter? … I don’t own.”

Do I believe I’m stupid? Nope. Not at all. The adverb, “actually” when used can mean something written that is surprising. Yes, I was surprised by the quickness in her so obvious knee-jerk reaction and callous regard for introspection and foresight. She didn’t even have the bravery to type (with my apologies ahead here) fucking – resorting to “freakin”, a lady like choice of appellation … so sarcastically uncharacteristic of her true, obvious classy self. Polishing off the retort with stupid. Really? THAT’S the chosen word? Not slow-witted, foolish, or ignorant?

Why did she stomp on my 3rd to last left over 2020 nerve tonight? Because she doesn’t care to know my back story … my life. Nobody really knows anyone’s real story anymore. In fairness to her that she doesn’t deserve, I don’t know hers either. If she, in some repentant form, shows up at my doorstep some calm evening, I will talk with her side by side. I will neither give her permission to talk down to me, nor insult my intelligence with six additional words of attempted humiliation. It could be adulting 101 – something 2021 may have in the curriculum.

These pages are usually reserved for puppies and rainbows. For two minutes tonight, as I found myself tossed among the newsfeed and poked-political commentary concerning the Electoral College voting in the Senate, my pages on Facebook distracted me away from happy colors and purring pets. Sadly. Fingers typed anxious thoughts – in error – into a small cellular device causing my stomach to swirl just as it did decades ago. Words spoken in haste and error from someone who loved me, yet continually told me I was … “stupid”.

Those resurrected feelings are lifetime deal-withs. Tastes and smells a man never forgets. A man older, now, than the man who said that word back then. This man who has a wonderful relationship with his dad because forgiveness is a tremendous attribute. That forgiveness is real. He knows it. I know it.

Just so happens, the Forrest Gump syndrome runs up my emotional lane and “stupid is as stupid does” irrationality deposits itself on my heart. When mistakes happen, I can’t correct them in time, and then am insulted … the person who abuses me with words can be unfriended.

This simple click vanishes them from my virtual life, for sure. It’ll take a few days for the dust to settle otherwise because I am who I am. Understanding myself – even over a goofy post – is huge in living a balanced life.

Know your backstory well. Also, if available, get to know someone else’s story before deciding to make a judgement call on their character. Sure, disagree with them based on their opinions (maybe stay away from politics right now …) and talk recipes, restaurants, or kangaroos. Really, this is loving your neighbor – not shouting out to the social warriors you’re convinced they’re “actually so freakin stupid”.

None of us are “in this together” as claimed if all we do is make the divides already here larger. It can be so simple.

Don’t be Ruth-less

See, here’s the thing. I’m not the luckiest guy in the world. Wherever that gold mine is – with riches untold – a scratched instant game card, or row of six numbers leading me to the state lottery office for a multi-million dollar check … I’m not there. One could argue “yet”, and be correct, but after years of haphazardly wishing my way toward that big red X on the map, I’m not holding out much hope. This is o.k. because millions of other treasure seekers are happily leading their destiny donkeys across the barren gambling desert with me. I’m certainly not alone.

“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” – so penned the famous American essayist, Ralph Emerson, who lived a good hundred years before Martin Handford asked, “Where’s Waldo?”. This 20th century British illustrator, I’m quite confident, knew all along Waldo was the loosely held middle nomenclature of the aforementioned prolific philosopher. Knowing that, however, didn’t stop Mr. Handford from searching for Waldo, or depositing over $20 million bones to date into his bank account over the years from sales, licensing, and royalty contracts. More to the point, ” … rise early, work late, and strike oil.”, as J. Paul Getty once spewed from his mouth. Martin Handford certainly did that, right? The work he put into creating and developing the character, making the contacts necessary to publish his work, and the long hours – all to his credit. We can’t set aside many others who did – and continue to do – the same, if not more, and have little to no credit with no bones. Yes, the the backbone and drive to continue forward, but no cashola or contracts, licenses or royalties. Still searching for their Waldo.

Luck is such a weird concept. It appears randomly without cause and effect. Unpredictable which, I guess, is the very definition of it. “Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions”, is the pedantic, boring definition when googled. I’ve danced with her countless times and have so many bruised toes as slot machines, instant, and mega-millions tickets slammed down upon my already tired, wanting to be incredible, feet. It’s not wanting to be instantaneously rich that hugs me as we sway, more the process of satisfying my inner need to calm the waters at that moment. This is, as well, the excitement that drives those of us who get up every day to cut a rug with a new sales day – a time where we don’t really know who, or what, will take our hand. Who or what will try to take the lead. The dance, for sure.

If luck be the lady, Mr. Sinatra, I’ll dance. Oh, and I’d sure like to meet the lady who was lucky enough to find this gem in an attic a few months ago:

I’m a sports card collector. An amateur, but I know a bit more than the average Joe Jackson out there. Travel only a few short miles from my house and you’ll end up at the hospital where the woman works as a front line worker. She deserves every bone deposited because of the work done the past nine months. That card above came from Johnstown – a city about 40 minutes’ drive south of here. Rarity drove the price up from a starting bid of $25,000 to almost $350,000 in 16 days. According to the article, she kept 80% and the auction house retained 20%. Two-Hundred eighty thousand dollars for a little piece of cardboard attic find? Not a bad piece of luck … and slice of history either because a picture of the “Babe” – the Sultan of Swat – in a pitching stance is rare – rare, indeed.

She was lucky. Lucky her great-grandfather didn’t toss away that card (or some others in the box) when he could. Lucky they were stored away in a cold, dry place. Lucky that house didn’t burn down or be sold. Lucky, if sold, that the box wasn’t lost in a move. Lucky there wasn’t a water leak in the roof. But, not lucky that rarity drives prices up … and up … and up in the collectibles market. Luck, in the supply/demand curve here, does not have a dance card. Even in the midst of a pandemic, a miserable 2020 during which folks are scratching their collective heads, those who want, … want, and are willing to bone up close to 350G’s for a slab of cardboard with a guy’s picture on it.

Remarkable, but not surprising.

I wasn’t aware of this until it appeared in the local papers. Surprising since I, myself, appear frequently in the local card shop to converse with the locals. We know the vibe about town. There’s always scuttlebutt about the who’s and what’s when it comes down to these cardboard men and ladies in the sports world. To have a really rare, gradable, Ruth card like this around the area … in a collection with other cards from the same set … and none of us know? Hmmm. Or, perhaps, some did know and kept it pleasantly quiet which, by the way, I would have done as well. I certainly would have … most assuredly … without hesitation … wall-flowered the whole process!

This lady, again, was lucky. All of us are genuinely happy for her. To not be shows an out-of-touch reality and a, err … Ruth-less personality. How could anyone not marvel at the odds of someone shuffling through an old box in an attic only to find, months later, $280,000 in their bank account?

Lou Gehrig, a later contemporary of Babe, spoke these words in his “Farewell to Baseball” address: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”. Quoted often, most omit the first word, “Yet”. The sentence before, he says, “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got.” … Then continues, “Yet …”.

So often there is heartbreak before luck. Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. We know that, right? It is a disease that destroys the neurons that control voluntary muscles. Lou used “yet” as a conjunction between two worlds, saying, “I’ve been told I’m sick, yet life has been spectacular.” Bad luck, nah. No such thing. The “Iron Horse” died June 2nd, 1941, after 17 seasons with the New York Yankees.

Between 1925 and 1934, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were teammates with the Yankees and were next to each other in the batting order. I would think that’s the best luck in the world, but I’m a simple man. One who has been though his – and his grandfather’s grandfather’s – attics many, many times searching for something – anything – that would bring in skeleton’s bones fortune. Alas, it has not panned out. My grandfather was young when these cards were new, crisp, and white. Not this one in particular, but cards of the same class. Cards he often told me were so expensive, even by today’s prices, if he bought even one, there’d be hell to pay. Besides, most were sold as promotions with cigar, or cigarette packs, so they were off limits to him, anyway. I’d argue the point with him to no end. Oh, there actually was an end. He walked away. If you’re thinking of my dad’s cards from the 50’s – like the ’51 Bowman or ’52 Topps Mantles? Uhm, grandma threw them out. Yeah. Luck be a lady there, too.

So, I didn’t write a best seller or find any real valuable cards around. Most of us won’t. See, here’s the thing. I’m not the luckiest guy in the world and my name isn’t George. Oh, and I have a brother, but his name isn’t Harry, so he can’t claim the quote, “A toast to … The richest man in town.” … Yet.

One day, he may be able to make that toast, however, I’m not changing my name. It is a “Wonderful Life” and our lives are a process whether we have a Clarence, a Ruth, or a Gehrig to remind us of such a fact. It’s not whether we have a remarkable find in our attic. It’s all the little bells that give the angels their wings, I suppose.

I wrote “I’m not holding out much hope” earlier, and that’s true. Nonetheless, I have to be truthful, real, and in that tiny space where our tires are on the road. Luck is rare in the sense that it appears as instant wealth, three cherries, or six numbers and a mega-ball. Luck isn’t so bad in good friends, health, a really cool job, food, family, and a little hope going forward. All of this is unpredictable. Even the friends, health, and jobs as 2020 so frighteningly brought to the plate. We struck out so much this year. With the final innings … yet … to go, we must hope for a grand slam here. Let’s stay in the game, at least, and give our teammates a chance:

Up to the plate steps the Babe, with a bat in hand. Points to the outfield. Here’s the pitch – from Charlie Root, the Cubs pitcher who would give up a three-run homer to Babe Ruth in the first inning and a solo shot to Lou Gehrig in the third. The famous “Called Shot”. October 1, 1932.

The Yankees won the World Series 4-0 over the Cubs that year.

If it happened then, it can happen now. Even in empty stadiums, I can hear the cheers of many over the doubts of the few. No bones about it.

You Know What To Do

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost their first game of the year yesterday evening. To be honest, it wasn’t pretty from what I understand. I spent no time viewing the black-and-gold eleven run up and down their empty stadium field as there were higher priority items on my to-do list. Mainly, supper. An evening meal from Cracker Barrel followed by errands necessary to prop up the week ahead: an ordinary six days before my next day off. One-hundred, forty-four hours of believing I’m doing the best I can with what I have.

As all activities wound down and my friends – dishes, ladles, and lids – began to dry in preparation for their duties, social media started to ping away on my phone. One final check of the score, 23-17, confirmed my suspicions from what I saw all over Facebook friends’ pages. Our beloved Steelers lost. They are longer holding hands with the magical ’72 Dolphins undefeated season. Worse yet, a no-name, no longer Redskin, ‘Washington Football Team” is responsible for that solitary “1” standing alone across from two “1”s in their, now, 11-1 record. So many reasons for the loss spattered all over the comments. None change my life. In nine hours and thirty minutes, I’ll lift a concession window and open my business to start six days of sales. No time in my life to figure out the hows and whys the Steelers came up six points short last night. I have to assume they did the best they could with what they had.

All this because I saw a simple statement at the end of a friend’s post on FB … “We should try to do things the best way we can”.

No surprise to anyone it was framed around the masking, Covid debate. There are too many information discrepancies floating around on droplets either too heavy to inhale, or too irrelevant they evaporate immediately after facing some heat. Her point was simple: Do your life thing the best way for you based on the information you have …. how you understand it to be. Well, at least this is how I think the statement should be interpreted, anyway.

However pleasing that statement is on the sidelines, this is the line of scrimmage where our opposing opinions seem to clash. We have our team of aggreable members wearing the same home jersey in the huddle. Across from us, there is a defensive team consisting of an equal number of 11 players opposing our 1 unified position. They, as well, are sweating this out … hoping to steal back an ironic, elusive, yet fungible, pigskin emblazoned with the initials N.F.L: Nobody Finds Life to be an absolute, yet this is what the game looks like from any casual observer sitting apart from covid-affected, no beer lines, empty stadiums.

Coaches on the sidelines – not so disguised as politicians, social media pundits, and in-person/on-line friends and family members all calling in plays to those in the game – are hoping their team will win the day. Celebrations muted, of course. as there is always another game to play in a week or so. Another team, another day.

See here’s the playbook, though. Each team is looking at a book of X’s and O’s deciding on a strategy … how to play the game. How to win the ultimate prize: the games of all games: surviving day by day until this pandemic is over and we can get back to life as normal…

It may not not look like it – glancing through all the dripping sweat and sardonic tiptoeing on the sidelines – but everyone is doing the best they can. Between unforeseen emotional and medical injuries and referees calling separation penalties, each huddler is doing his and her job as assigned by his or her individual life coach. That coach being the drive to be a good person. An individual who wants what’s best for everyone else even if it means that player across from them has a helmet on of a different color, race, gender, nationality, … or, may not have a mask firmly attached.

Yeah, so cool a team with no name at present broke up the Steeler’s bid to become the first complete undefeated 16 game season team in 48 years. A team we should celebrate today. Not only because they made it difficult for me to structure that first sentence, but also because we need to start thinking of ourselves being on the same team. All of us. Without a name.

Sure, I can get upset and rant about the far right-wing’s ridiculous position as noted a few days ago. We can, honestly, take a position we find offensive and scream from the upper tier. This is still an America where opinions do matter.

Overall, however, to be so divided over this pandemic is hurting our chances to shake hands at the end of the game – to be good sports and show our kids how to play a game as adults. With respect and kindness. To have them toss that football with us in the backyard – and not feel penalized by a burden of woes and regrets – is a wonderous unmasking of possibilities for them.

The Steelers were defeated. We don’t have to be. They lasted as long as they could before, well, fate stepped in and stopped them short by six points. Sure. Mike Tomlin is disappointed. I’m not, really. It’s only a game and I’d rather have them lose one now than go undefeated, 16/0, then lose a game in the playoffs. Will they win the Superbowl? Geesh, I don’t know. This year, who know anything, really.

Let’s keep on keeping on doing the best we can. Opposite opinions we can’t avoid. Wear your home Jersey with pride and just be nice to one another. Shake hands after each game, even if it gets a bit ugly at the scrimmage line for sixty minutes, follow the rules the best way you know how.

Oh, and for goodness sake, please take a shower afterwards.

God’s Apolitical Mess

… and it’s not His fault. If you believe in a higher power or not, this political sh*t storm is not it’s problem or a mysterious blob’s doing. “God’s a political mess.” or, “This is God’s apolitical mess.” Oh, how I love that wee little space in between.

I just closed Seth Andrew’s YouTube video, “The Evangelical Election Meltdown”. He so amusingly compiles snippets of extreme right-wing believers calling down the ever-knowing E.T. Powers (my made-up name for the all-denominational, divine minister), in the name of Jesus, God, and the holy spirit. Why? Well, to squelch the evils of Democratic leaning, pre-election voters to influence the results in favor of …. Trump. Shocker there, right?

I would encourage you to find that video in between trying to survive this pandemic. Survival defined by them as praying, of course – oh, and donating money … although not mentioned, but surely expected. Clearly, in the minds of these lunatics in the videos Seth features, it is far better for you to spend time in a group of like-far-edge-of the sane universe minded folk than, say, help out at a food bank or donate time to your local church. Kenneth Copland’s spaceship has room for one more. Price of boarding? Your willingness to appease the insanity of the extreme right-wing ideology of total Trumpism and the insertion of God into every. Single. Sentence.

Like He, it, or the blob really cares. If so, God’s a political mess.

Please, have your faith. Have your God, church, bible, holy book and religion. This isn’t a slight against most of us … believers and non-believers. It is an absolute basket of rotten tomatoes being thrown at the minority of shouters in the pulpit who claim to know a God who says, “I love all Republican politicians because they stand vehemently against abortions and gay marriage.” Oh, ok. Thanks for that insight. Speak to me from the mountain tops, thy bloviating buffoons, as you very likely stand behind a wizard’s curtain of hypocrisy.

Go ahead, give a God the Scarlett R. If so, God’s a political mess and you own that position bestowed upon the blob’s coat of, oh no … apparently, one color: Blue.

UH,OH!! It, she, or (?) didn’t help you out. E.T. Powers – with all the infinite wisdom and divine intercession – decided to wield the magic iron rod in favor of … wait for it … a Democrat! The anti-Trump. The pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, decent family guy. Sure, he’s a normal guy with normal problems who’s been saddled with 47 years of governmental horse sh*t most of his adult life. Yes, he’s old. Yes, he was #2 for eight years. All that and then some. Oh, and he’s not a “smart, brilliant business man”, either. Maybe these are the reasons why E.T. Powers clicked heels in favor of him.

Or, maybe God just didn’t care and left all this up to us? Maybe all the wrangling about by those sermon-spitters didn’t make one bit of difference to an Apolitical being. A blob looking at us, thinking, “What a bunch of goofy, think-they-know-it-alls. Wow. I see these few manipulators controlling the vulnerable, taking … err … robbing them of their time and precious resources for what? A moment of glory for themselves? Self-righteous bastards, they are. To think their interpretation of my will is absolute truth molded into their desired outcome? To say it is blasphemous is even giving them too much credit.”

Boy, am I uncomfortable mixing politics and religion? Sure … especially in a blog where puppies, guppies, and rainbows are easier words to type.

Just today, I’ve reached that point where the hot air balloon of political insanity is leaving Oz and I want to wake up in a comfortable, sane White House again. A house where religious far-right fanaticism has melted away into the floor of acceptable behavior. There has to be a base of normalcy – a bottom line where the Republican party stands for something other than this extreme anti-everything-that-seems-to-not-be-supported-in-the-bible platform. Granted, Kenneth Copland and his ilk are good for a laugh, but he is not widely condemned, nor are his contemporaries mentioned in Seth Andrew’s video. Throw in a healthy dose of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News? … there’s plenty of God waving in the crowd.

Is Joe Biden the answer to our woes in the midst of a pandemic? I don’t know. Is the 25th amendment in play? Geesh, I hate that stupid, politically baited argument. Get over yourself, election deniers. There may have been tampering … oh, and what makes you think it didn’t happen on the R side of the ballots? We’re gonna be ok, folks.

All this written from the fingers of a registered Republican, church pianist, and marginal believer in the existence of an E.T. who controls the destiny of all time and space. It’s a weird time, for sure, and that little space between the A and P still fascinates me. God’s a political mess, or this is God’s apolitical mess? Damned if I know.

There’s a place to find the answer, however. Sure wish I lived closer to Kenneth Copland’s church. Oh, wait! I’ll text him. Nah, not good enough. I want an in person meeting. Darn tootin’ he could probably send up one of his private planes to pick me up! Oh, wait. Shoot. That won’t work. I never sent him any money last time he asked, so I’m screwed.

Welp. So be it. The blob will need to sort it all out. After January 20th, 2021, though.

Heeeere’s to Life!

How wonderfully nostalgic it’s been for me … finding a 24/7 Johnny Carson channel on Pluto T.V.. Shows from the mid-70’s through 1992 appearing before my so-much-after teenage year’s eyes. Those times – when I would come home after a late evening shift at McDonald’s – were so relaxing. A comedic and timely monologue followed by a possible skit, then three guests: one promoting an upcoming movie, another first time (or returning) comic, and an odd-ball act, or musician. Star after star, couch sitting their way through life with cigarette in hand, year after year in fabrics too large and too noisy even by today’s standards. Bob Newhart, Joan Rivers, younger versions of Jay Leno, Elizabeth Taylor, Anthony Hopkins, Tony Randall, Victoria Principal, … most of the stars who are now, well, dead graced the deep green shag carpeted dias back then, as the master of all talk shows reigned supreme. Speaking of … , I believe Diana Ross did make an appearance.

These days, we need nostalgia. Boy, do we need these look-back moments. At least I do. Life is hard. I need to sit back in my sectional sofa these days and be comforted by the bits and pieces of my past. The Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford cut monologues and Doc Severinsen outfits I saw last night pulled me into a wood paneled room and a polyester brown outfit with big yellow M’s on the sleeves.

I could wait only a few seconds to toss off that plastered on, odorous hamburger uniform so unpleasant even by that time-dated standard. My job wasn’t too demanding. Front-end sales – reserved for, possibly, the nimblest or those who were safest away from equipment 🙋🏻‍♂️ – found their way into my heart as I thoroughly enjoyed customer interactions and money transactions. With all that, I still needed to be done when arriving home at 11:15 on school nights – twenty minutes before “Heeeere’s Johnny” rumbled forth from Ed McMahon’s oversized pipes.

So relaxing it was. So fun to watch over incomplete math homework, likely never to be done History assignments, and English sentence deconstructions that likely, to this day, still lie un-erected on the thin, red basement carpet in my dad’s house. Pajama bottoms and t-shirts for an hour. A comforting, peaceful end to another day until that 6:33 alarm bell went off. Homeroom at 7:50, classes, then back to the Arches … only to return, five evenings a week, to an hour of a really cool friendship with someone who didn’t even know I existed. Someone who I cared about in a deeply comedic way … and who brought me to tears when he died on January 23, 2005.

Fifteen years. A lot since then. So much more from the years spent wondering why Burt Reynolds had long sideburns or Don Rickles found it so necessary to scorch everyone with his words. Many nights without any silly solace from a reportedly shy man who retired, gracefully, in 1992. Twenty-eight years without a show. Fifteen years without the always well-dressed host-pitable man who meant so much to my late adolescent years.

“That was then. This is now” as the lights go on in my mind. Heeeere’s Johnny!! I’m on air. Literally.

The challenges. Aches and pains are in different places. I study life, not History, English, or Math. My pajamas bottoms are not Batman and the paneled walls have been replaced by mortgaged, egg-shelled colored covered walls of my own. McDonald’s is a memory when I pass on the way to either the pharmacy or grocery store to buy apples, snacks, or Clif bars. I still need to answer to my dad, however, because he’s older and requires my attention … that hasn’t changed. He’s in my life just as he was many years ago.

And, so is Johnny Carson once again. I’m so happy – at least for a few, uhm, hours each night. Yes, the subjects in his monologues and most of the guests are gone now. Mickey Rooney, Charlton Heston, the gas shortage, Iran-Contra, Billy Carter, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, “It’s so hot … how hot is it?” audience relays, and Tommy Newsom’s dry comebacks … all pretty much gone in today’s three-dimensional realities, though I’m so glad they’re here, now, in my two-dimensional t.v. box 24/7 … any freakin’ time I want.

And, let me tell ya, those times are so, so often the past two weeks.

Thankfully, polyester is gone. Some material possessions I don’t want to revisit. Johnny? I do. As often as necessary during these last few weeks of a quite challenging year. He didn’t know me. Writing honestly, I’m not sure I knew myself as I immaturely sat on edge waiting for “Johnny’s Theme” – composed in 1962 by a, then, young Paul Anka – to begin. Daah-dam-dam-da-da … da-dum-da-de-dah! It’s not a blur. As clear as a trumpet’s bell these many years later. I hum it in my head every time – on key, being the musician I am – while Ed begins …

“And now, heeeeere’s….” And now is 2020. And now, here’s a year none of us expected, right? I’d love to sit back at 11:35 just one more time to hear Johnny tell us what to think about all this. One more time.

It can’t be. He didn’t know me, but he knew us. He knew what made us laugh. Boy, do we need that now.

I have a piece of that in my life every night, again. It’s not real time, but it’s real to me and that is what’s important at the end … when the final curtain comes down as it did on May 22, 1992. Over 6,000 shows, 29 seasons, and a final message:

“And so it has come to this: I, uh… am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the people who’ve shared this stage with me for thirty years. Mr. Ed McMahon, Mr. Doc Severinsen, and you people watching. I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope when I find something that I want to do and I think you would like and come back, that you’ll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.” May 22nd, 1992

Good night, Sir. I’ll see you in a few hours. Thank you so much. Heeeere’s to life!

A Brand New 52

2020, so far, has played us. Not like fools, mind you. We weren’t taken advantage of by a year so deeply sinister that it planned months of masking, delirious days of distancing, and financial fiascos years ahead of time. No, this year, itself, was bluffed into believing it had a hand in our positivity as the ball dropped on January 1st, precisely at 12:00 a.m. in New York city. Ah, yes. “2020 vision” … as I’m sure not to be the only one using this obvious phrase to describe what we should have seen coming …

… or, should we? In hindsight, there were no warnings. No tells, as they say in the poker world. No way of knowing, in 2019, the following year had wild cards to play from a deck of 54 – when we thought the year ahead had only 52. Fifty-two weeks of more freedom, joy, family, and good health. Two extra inserted jokers disguised as a virus and an unprepared nation … Yep, a stacked, heaping pile of numbers that kept rising, no ace in the hole, and no unifying face of the nation to win the day as 2020 began to deal cards … over and over … until we no longer had hands big enough to hold them.

No. We didn’t see this. No way did any of us expect 2020 to unfold into the disaster it has become. Maybe, just maybe, we believed the Presidential election was going to test our political patience, but that’s about all. We weren’t suited to handle the problems that came beyond that. What came across the felt, we felt, seemed to trump, yes Trump, the ideology of half our nation’s views. The other half spent minutes Biden their time (pun stolen from social media) until the final card was counted on some date on, or after, November 3rd.

Now, at least, I think we have some resolution on this. After all the post-election shuffling by one wheeler-dealer, we should be swearing in a new President on January 20th, 2021.

That’s seven weeks from now. As it stands and we sit at the table, this virus is still here – and it’s quite the pro at knowing what cards we have without even peeking over our shoulders. It knows our houses are not full – of people or hope like we had. It knows we’re not thinking straight, sometimes, because we worry about our finances, jobs, elderly relatives, schools, and communities. It knows some pairs are not together anymore because the emotional stress from the last nine months was just too much. It knows some faces are flushed and are no longer alive and aglow with vim and vigor for life. These once fresh, snappy smiles are now in the struggle of their lives … learning how to breathe all over again, or, perhaps holding the hand of someone they love.

This is what 2020 dealt us. All of us, whether you are sitting at the table or not, are playing to stay alive. This may not suit or be the most convenient, but we have no choice to play the game of pandemic poker right now.

However, we do have 19th century words of advice speaking to us from the well-worn sagely deck shown. If you listen, you will hear. They’ve survived two card wars before our time and solitary moments as one upon thousands sat in convalescent facilities hoping a grandchild would visit, or a lost spouse’s hand could hold their loved one’s heart one more time.

And it is these words:

Forty-eight weeks into a year of really trying to understand ourselves. Four weeks to go … four colors in a deck representing the four seasons we have experienced 75% of in limited glory. Spring, summer and fall – the magnificence of rain, sun, and leaves all tainted by a virus … with pure white snow to come, surely palen ahead of schedule. Thirteen, so unlucky, … hopefully the moon will cycle around our Aces through Kings, our 1s through 13s, to lower our numbers and help us become at least average again. I’ll take a push … a bet with my money back against the dealer. To hope for anything better – a winning hand right now – is a fool’s folly.

The virus is still here at the table and has the deck. For now. It’s 2020 and we’re here. The poker room is hugely huge and fully full with people of all nationalities, sizes, shapes, beliefs, and haircuts. This is such a unique game of poker, though. There’s only one freakin’ deck. The standard rules don’t apply and the dealer cheats.

Oh, although I’m a recreational player, can’t say I know how to win. Even if I had true 2020 vision, the chances of my figuring a way around the poker table here? Zilch. Nada. Zero. All I can offer up are my hopes and dreams of a better 2021. That’s it. A “Brand new 52” is dealt to us then – as this flippin’ year comes to a close December 31st at 11:59:59 when the ball drops, silently I’m sure, in New York city.

Oh, what a big deal next year will be!

This is some Life, huh?

Eighty-four years ago, Margaret Bourke-White peered through her camera lens to allow us the privilege. A benefit, through a periodical time machine, to see the endeavoring of the largest earth dam – Fort Peck – being built during the Great Depression via the Public Works Administration. This was the cover of Life Magazine’s first issue. Ten cents, by the way. $1.87 +/- in today’s dollars according to inflation calculators I rely on to show me how little money I actually have. Compared to how much financial value I thought I’d accumulate by this time in my life, it’s a dismal decimal’s sum. Some life, huh?

Actually, life is good. We can’t all be wealthy, tech-saavy, sports fleet-of-foot, Ryan Gosling talented, or Anne Hathaway ‘perty. Tall, short, bald, hairy, and broke, … we’re all doing o.k., right? “O.K.” defined as lovable, breathing, and suitable for something. Whatever that something is in your life, you’re doing it! Some life, huh!

Counting today, we have 38 days to go. Thirty-eight more sunrises and sunsets until us older folks can R.I.P the 2020 paper calendar off our semi-glossed painted walls and you whatever-exers can side-swipe it from your smart phones in front of your glossed-over eyes. This has been the year of all years. No arguments from anyone except those disagreeing with one another over everything imaginable. Pick a random opinion – and there’s the opposite side raining down, in a nano-second’s time, somewhere among the social media cloud. Some life, huh?

There were a lot of issues in life this year – not just a few like there were on November 23rd, 1938. Dam them for having what seemed to be a simpler life. Twenty years removed from their pandemic of 1918, but in the throws of a depression, they kinda did have a simpler life. Lounging around radios after a casserole dinner followed by a few sing-a-longs as an adult, behind the ivories, accompanied grateful voices, they lived a life. Patched-clothed kids sat on the floor giggling, playing board games or made-up card games. Everyone did what they had to do. Simple. Some life, huh.

Ten cents to $1.87. A 1,770% increase in the value of a dime since those rug-around days. That growth … simple, but not so simple. Costs of goods and services mature, too. We know that inflationary pain in the economic side of the American story. It doesn’t take much interest to get our attention … on either side of the ledger. The Public Works Administration, although shut down in 1944, was a response to the depressed economy that needed an infusion of cash into schools, dams, bridges, and other public works projects. Part of FDR’s New Deal, this agency (not to be confused with the WPA) created a sense of pride and interest in America’s industrial core. Skilled workers went back to work building warships and airports … and the Fort Peck dam in Montana that employed 10,500 workers. Some life for them, huh.

I’m no historian. Jon Meacham, presidential historian of significance, would have me out-educated before I showered in preparation to meet him for a discussion as to who was better, Taft or Harrison. He’s an expert. I’m not. Rarely do I exercise my right to argue on social media because, “What’s the point, anyway?”. Almost everyone there is an expert in their own eyes and I see no point in debating someone who can’t be convinced against their will. Again, too many issues ping-ponging across the inter-net for me to keep up with … chief among them: the Covid-19 attitudes. Some life, huh?

So, I finish today leafing through my thoughts about what must have been an exciting day for Henry Luce, the publisher of what became Time-Life Publications from 1936-1972. What a day for him … seeing Margaret Bourke-White’s photo so majestically framed on the cover of Life magazine four-score and four years ago. Most assuredly and proudly leaning back in his office chair, puffing on a half-lit White Owl cigar, taking in the moment was he. Some LIFE he had in his lap at that moment, huh?

… and only a dime, too. Made perfect cents back then – when life was just a bit less complicated. Simple when seen through the lens of a periodical time machine, huh?

Not Just An Ordinary Joe

Today’s category for our local call-in radio show was “Famous Joes”. Intermixed among the possible nominees presented by callers were stumpers asked by the host, Dr. John. He puts a lid on political cantankerousness and pot-stirring to lighten the satirical stew on Thursdays. Stumpers are an every weekday event. Some easy, others classified as “Mona Lisa Stumpers”, intended to challenge the highly intelligent among us – myself not included; although, I do manage to answer most correctly given enough time to get my thoughts together.

This morning, I punched in the seven digit number with my nominees: Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, and Joey Bishop … bypassing the first stumper of the day. After a few minutes contemplation, I called back (asking permission to speak a second time not knowing if there is a rule prohibiting such). Dr. John, gracious host that he is, allowed the secondo with his premio.

I had to. This is in my nature. Unfinished mental issues are the hanging chads on the ballot that is my personality. As soon as the aggressive left thumb on my hand pushed that round button, … this happened:

Of course!! JOE camel … and he’s playing the piano – as I was in that picture, uhm, over 40 years ago. My submission was graciously listened to and formally rejected. In the time it took me to hang up the first time and redial, J.F. (a trivial rival) called in and nominated Sir. Camel during his first (and only, I might add) call of the day. I casually offered up a second nominee – a baby kangaroo, joey – as a runner-up. Lightly accepted and happily-hopped onto the list it was, so I felt better.

Ah, but the duet continued. Dr. John, seizing the moment, proffered a Mona Lisa stumper on the spot. I quickly answered Jackie Gleason only to realize, thirty seconds later, I left a massive hanging chad on another ballot with no third call available. Joseph Levitch was the answer. These moments bother me. It’s over two hours later, I’m in my concession trailer, should have my mind on delicious food, but nooooo.

“Famous Joes”, right? Ah, but the question was framed as a Mona Lisa Stumper which makes one think about the possibility of an overlap. One who should have been thinking – like me, perhaps – could have answered correctly. He asked the question quickly, in haste, hoping to catch me off guard … which he did quite nicely.

The call ended. My angst did not. I sit here with Jerry Lewis – the face behind both Ms. Lisa and Joe – casually by my side. He was the comedian Dr. John wanted as the answer … not Jackie Gleason. What was I thinking?

Of course!!, once again. It’s been a day of second guesses, I guess.

There’s some relief, however. When ballot ballyhoo and quick, unsure decision drops rain down from the why-sky, tinybuddha.com gives us some insight:

Like a friend of mine likes to say, “Life is a hard hat zone. We are always under construction.”

You are not who you were yesterday and you are not who you will be tomorrow. So, make peace with that. Life is full of second chances. We are always in a state of evolution.

In learning how to walk, you had to crawl first, and maybe you wobbled and skinned your knees a few times. But eventually, you found your bearings and trusted your stability. As tiny as you were, you were able to stand straight and put one foot in front of the other as you moved forward.

Not so far off from what it’s like as an adult.

Quite the words when I look at where I was years ago, staring into a keyboard with glasses and clothes fit for for the times.

I think it’s about second chances, not second guesses.

The overall Mona Lisa, or picture – as it is – in our lives, is not how many questions we answer correctly. It’s how many times we call in and try. We’re not going to ever answer all of life’s questions correctly or tear off all the chads cleanly, are we?

This isn’t an easy lesson for me to learn in my sixth decade of life. Just like those piano lesson early on, I will fight my stubbornness to the bitter end just as I, most assuredly, will enjoy the fruits of my hard work – pushing through the challenges of who I am.

… the person who will eventually forget the answer was Jerry Lewis, an extraordinary entertainer, philanthropist, and star.

We may not be all that but you and I are unique, special, and not the average Joe by any measure. If 2020 has a reason, it is to teach us life has other plans. Average, normal, and sameness aren’t hanging around much these days. I don’t need to repeat the big three, but I will. If Dr. John asked for them, you would be able to rattle off Masking, Distancing, and Hand-Washing, right? Through all of this, we’ve maintained our unique selves. Don’t think so? Just look at all the opinions scattered about on the windows of every computer screen.

2021 will be about chances … and I believe we may also be able to guess our decisions, too. Hopefully, the former overrides the latter. I purposely left out the obvious word because I want you to second the motion in your heart.

Remember, you’re not just an ordinary Joe, or Josephine, or JoEllen, or Jo. Be you – whoever you need to be.

For me, I’ll just be here honeymooning in my misery with Art, Audrey, and Joyce.

May I Bend Your Ear?

My van’s last gasp – when sputtering – is satisfied very few places. F’uel pardon the sensitivity, I believe my tow vehicle has feelings. It creaks and moans when distressed and, other times, hums beautiful monotones as we travel together down a lonely highway … maintaining a safe, legal speed, of course.

I know where to go during the low gasp times. I’ll go out of my way to drift into Sunoco riding the fumes of prior days’ negligence. Not just any Sunoco, of course. If this was the case, there would be no reason to write a blog today, right? But, there IS a reason!

The Sunoco at the corner of Allegheny Street and Penn (Rt. 36) in Hollidaysburg, Pa. If you read my post yesterday, this friendly, convenient station is a chess knight’s move northeast from Best Way Pizza. Two by one blocks will get you and yours to Raj and Nick’s Sunoco sitting peacefully across from our local Post Office. If you’re mood is sputtering – not just your mode of transport, stop by.

Today’s reason isn’t just because their business is nice, or the gas is cleaner and better for my sit-in friend. The machines pump one full of information. As well, they transport needed gas to the soon to be full metal and plastic alloy friends driven into the station.

There’s a little screen on the pump, about eye level for a 6′ guy like me, that has a few ads – of course – then up pops a “word of the day”. It’s such a nice, educational easement sitting among the barricades of busyness standing in our way every day. Ten seconds to stop and pay attention … not only to the ticking of $2.49 a gallon flowing out of my wallet, but also to one word and its definition: “ductile” – able to be deformed without losing toughness; capable of being stretched out without breaking, as it were. The best example I was able to find was gold possibly being formed into wire.

I have few reasons to believe vapors from the nozzle were effecting my thoughts as I considered what that word meant – truly meant. “Bend, but not break”, rushed through my mind as I watched the rubber hose twist in the pre-winter, 35-degree wind. How appropriately stamped is that phrase in the letters U.S.A. sent to us through generations past? Wars, depressions, once in a hundred years plague a century ago, terrorism, etc … all bent our collective consciousnesses but didn’t break us.

Enter 2020 and two deformed, socially punches to our gut: A hotly contested Presidential election and, of course, COVID-19. Hand-in-hand, the overlapping viral ideas and opinions continue to stress the strongest bonds among families, friends, and workplace associates.

We saw the former coming. I assume we did, anyway. It was four years of a radical turn away from what we knew as normal White House policy and procedures marginally voted in by a distressed, disgruntled populous wanting change. As the newest red hat society, far from ladies in their 50’s and above looking for a recess from day-to-day stressors, this cap wearing MAGA community rode their hero into town and stayed dutifully on the horse. To this day, the reigns are still tight, held by the faithful few. White knuckled are they … hoping for a ride into the sunset of defeat or victory on a stubborn horse refusing to whoa-fully admit it may be the end of the ride.

COVID-19 came out of nowhere. Yeah, ok … Wuhan. Sure, let’s go with that. Back it up a bit from there. Out of “know where” is better. We didn’t know what to do. March 13th, friday, was the day everything stopped in Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf, for all intents and purposes, shut us down. This was during the wave of shutdowns coming across the country and we knew this was inevitable. Colors of green, yellow, and red splashed across Facebook pages as friends posted Pa. maps coded county by county. Store shelves, wiped clean of toilet paper, sanitizer, and canned goods, sat empty testifying loudly to the world that my fellow Blair Countians were afraid of the future. Nobody knew the road ahead. Masking, social distancing, Dr. Fauci, and any hint of a vaccine were concepts, people, and hopes unknown to any of us.

The following nine months were gestationally brutal. March through this past November 13th – nearly 270 days – saw us have the most incredibly difficult time as a nation. And, it’s not over, is it?

This pregnancy is going into overtime.

Which gets me back to why my van sputtered at the pump this morning. I was almost out of gas. Almost.

As Americans, it seems we are almost out of gas. The election and COVID-19 has kicked the living crap out of us this year. Hand-in-hand, these two events, by themselves, would have been enough. Together, they’ve been brutal. The economic, social, medical, and emotional strain pulling at both ends of our family and friends’ relationships is heartbreaking. Just the masking opinions alone drive a wedge between people these days, regardless of the science.

I stopped for ten seconds in the cold to fill my tank at Sunoco and saw a single, simple word: ductile. This gives me hope and I wanted to share it with you. We can believe things happen for a reason, or not. I’m just a guy who sees wonderful words, pictures, or people and wants to pass them on to you.

This word, ductile, in itself is seven letters. What it means, however, is so much more to us. We bend, but don’t break. No more complicated than that.

2020 will be not be remembered as our best year, for sure. President Biden, presumably at this time (I guess 🤦🏻‍♂️), President Trump’s lame duck time remaining, the Senate (or anything in Washington for that matter), COVID-19 vaccines, stats and charts, etc… will all be in front of us for the remainder and into 2021. We can’t escape into some Wonka world and eat candy until things get all right with the universe. There will be smudges on the glass and everlasting gobstoppers to deal with for some time.

Until then, remember we’re resilient, ductile people who know diversity. We see ugly and make it pretty. We see sad and do our best to make it happy. We work our butts off go help those who don’t help themselves.

In ten seconds, I was reminded of this. Thankfully, there’s a friendly gas station in town. A place where a distressed van sat for a few minutes guzzling a gallon or two of premium fuel. Beside it, a guy very grateful to live in a country that never gives up. Never breaks.

That’s what makes America great in the first place. No red hat needed.