Somehow, I Made It

Nothing to write about with everything to say.

Finding time to sit down and type in a few words has been difficult since my last post. What I am not is an internationally well-established author with impeccable writing skills and multiple book tours in my past. With that in mind, missing six days wasn’t going to set off a major crisis in the literary, online, blogging world.

Taking time aside to care for loved ones, run a business, nap, and munch on a few snacks in between time crunch duties was important enough to step back from the interweb typing thing. Glad I, necessarily, did. Loving life, while extremely busy, is rewarding apart from online duties when serious concerns feel heavy on my heart.

There’s no picture. A tag-along above to assist is not here. Any photo or image to accompany today’s thought wouldn’t work.

Today is Friday. Finally, a day off from meats in buns smothered with gooey sauces and chosen veggies. No “famous” chili-mac-n-cheese servings or shouts of “everything” burgers with Doug’s Dawgs stickers being delicately handed out. No customers today … I’m ok with this.

Seven events. Four in 48 then three in 36 these past six days. Just enough hours to do all the normal prep and clean up required taking into consideration all the business shopping and bill paying necessary to keep that part of life up-to-date.

The other part? Personal concerns. There didn’t seem to be hours, let alone minutes, to use … However, I made it. Somehow, I’m here. It’s Friday.

Didn’t plan on the pieces of the other part separating at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning – a reverse puzzler, as it turned out. A nice picture minutes before fell apart before my eyes lasting into the late evening Thursday. Days and nights with little sleep – while maintaining a busy schedule – weren’t helpful.

I wasn’t in crisis, but someone else was. Nurses, an occasional doctor, emergency and hospital rooms, medicine, pain, tears, texts, calls, needles, beeps, beds, consults, fears, and anxieties … a not-so inclusive list of every hour mindful minefields of groping gadgets I wanted to share with the soul in crisis. With those came an exhaustive search for extra time and energy that never came. Somehow, I’m here. It’s Friday.

Yea, looking back I feel something was accomplished. In the middle of it all? Not so much. Getting the necessary things done didn’t allow for the successes I wasn’t sure to look for, anyway. It was, and is, a complicated thing … this cancer issue. “Helping” is not just a physical do-this I’ve come to understand … it’s a much bigger crisis to manage.

I feel rewarded by a simple, “thank-you”, graced upon me, but not by those two words. It was an eight-word phrase she may, or may not, remember saying. The words don’t matter to anyone else except me. I’m glad to have them in my memory as a reminder of why it was so important to act upon a 5 a.m. reverse puzzler expecting nothing in return.

The reason I didn’t include a picture is because there’s no image of pain close to what I saw. That’s just me, of course.

Until life decides to spread out the crisis/business/personal jam ups in a more tolerable manner, I suspect there will be indigestible, short, three day stretches again. Every time will be epic battles of wit vs. will and willingness vs. availability. Somehow, I’ll be there, too.

… And I’m glad I had some time to type today. With nothing epic to write about and everything to say, this much-less-than famous author is glad to simply have a day off to enjoy himself.

Somehow, I made it. TGIF.

Uptown and All That Jazz

Kander & Ebb. Roxie & Velma. CHICAGO, June 3rd, 1975.

“Come on babe, why don’t we paint the town?
And all that jazz
I’m gonna rouge my knees and roll my stockings down
And all that jazz
Start the car, I know a whoopee spot
Where the gin is cold but the piano’s hot
It’s just a noisy hall, where there’s a nightly brawl
And all that jazz”

I remember the stage. No, it wasn’t Broadway or 1975. In 2011, a piano and I wonderfully joined a talented cast and pit orchestra on June 22nd in front of a packed house for the first of four shows. The Mishler Theater stage in Altoona, Pa, was underfoot at precisely 7:30 … and magic began when the ages old red and gold curtain rose. We were together. An entire cast – with a supporting pit on stage right and an excited pianist behind a concert grand stage left – ready to paint the town.

All that jazz – witnessing the rehearsal stresses, music changes, conflicts between people who do show-things differently in their brains – didn’t matter to me once I looked over to my pit director. Downbeats of an Overture on opening night melted away misfit memories from two previous months of stops and starts.

Left-right-left-right/Bass-treble-tonic-dominant alternating action between two very experienced hands ushered in “All that Jazz” as the Overture danced marvelously into an opening act. I loved every note of every song and the hotness of the piano under sensational spots. Four nights. Hours of absolute treasureness behind the keys.

There’s never been a final curtain from that show for me. After the Sunday matinee, my mom approached the stage as I stepped off the front riser. She, surprisingly, bought a ticket to attend the show a second time after seeing it on opening night. Exhausively and four-show drained, I gave her a big hug to accept a congratulations realizing this was to be the last time a son’s show performance would be in front of a mom’s tired eyes. A final curtain came the following March. Cancer, at that point, had been her noisy hall and brawl. Her first and second acts were produced & directed the best they could. It was time to enjoy what time could offer … and enjoy she did – watching the Cell Block tango girls, Roxie, Velma, and the entire cast of “Chicago” jazz up the stage. I won’t forget. No final curtain on the memories a decade ago.

All that Jazz then, and “Uptown Jazz” last night. A connection, of sorts, to the past. Kinda.

Below is a musically talented friend and all-around good guy, Dave, at the keyboard, on a smaller stage in a cast of four. He’s sitting on a stage where there were no big production dances, stockings down, sexy outfits, murder, or plot twists. Just a pianist, vocalist, set player, and bassist/guitar player. Oh, a dinner buffet, alcohol, and a relaxed piano player in the audience not concerned about vocal cues or four-show happy stresses.

He’s 25% of “Uptown Jazz” and a very versitile keyboard player. To type his contribution as “one-quarter” is understating his talent. Singer, songwriter, “jazzer”, educater, recording engineer, sound technician, … our community is blessed to have a musician of his skill perform within many combinations of pluckers, strummers, paradiddlers, and vocaleers.

I sat in a dimly lit room, back from some semi-alcohol saturated beings, as one of three sitting close together at a round table normally set for ten. The people situation was more crowded up front. To be expected, since acoustically, “microphone speak” was less like Charlie Brown’s teacher closer to the stage than where we where. “Mmpf … Err , ddrph la ruch” is pretty close to all we could understand between set songs – which makes the notes Dave was stroking on the keys extra special.

Notes from his piano floated uninterrupted as he played a few instrumental pieces in a trio/combo. Jazz. Granted, “Uptown Jazz” performed most numbers as an impressive four, but I enjoyed the deep jazz trio work the best. New York, small, smokey, underground jazz club tug-and-pull, complex chord structure … All that Jazz work impressed my classical piano soul a lot.

It was a nice evening. Even though driving, from my direction, was kinda downtown to the UVA Club … heading “uptown” to hear Dave play again was worth the small cover charge and four-times that for the land-and-sea buffet. Now, to be honest, there was no Roxie to crawl across the table in sexy lingerie last night like she did on my piano ten years ago. Dave’s best playing wouldn’t erase that moment in my memory, but his musical dexterity and kindness certainly made the evening more enjoyable than most.

Hours earlier, I started the car to head into a spot – not a whoopee spot, though. I drove into an Altoona location where jazz would, once again – at least in part – be heard … a few blocks away from where my mom last sat listening to hear a son perform, “Nowadays”, the closing number from “Chicago”.

Nowadays, we can relive some memories. Some magical remembrances while sitting in large, dimly lit halls listening to good friends do what we do … in part, of course. I’m a classical guy, Dave’s a jazz player. A piano is a piano, I guess, and music in all its forms is a transporter back to mom and son special moments.

Thanks to Dave, “Uptown Jazz”, and all the local musicians who build the bridges back to kind, wholesome times. Mom can’t thank you enough.

She’s waiting at the edge of the stage to give all of you a great big hug.

I Cuddled a Kitten

I cuddled a kitten today. “Dean”, named after my grandfather, is the new fuzzy feline child of my cousin. I didn’t expect this to happen soon after squelching my way into a tight parking space. Fourth avenue can be difficult, however, I was determined to return a vintage family pie basket to my cousin and visit for a spell – in the middle of a ridiculous heat wave.

My car tires melted their way into that space – an area just a few feet longer than my car. An area, mind you, I missed by one block for a good ten minutes thinking I needed to be on fifth avenue. My cousin’s new house is next door to my aunt’s house in which I’ve entertained thoughts and actions for years. Yes, years. Why the sudden lapse in memory? I don’t know. I do have a higher awareness of all the alleys and streets around that neighborhood than ever before … so, all isn’t lost here. Mental note: fourth ave., not fifth.

… And I’ve always been about dogs, not cats. Maybe it was the ninety-plus degree heat I’ve had to grill behind, or life stuffs being jammed into my already over-filled cranium can that exhausted my defenses? Perhaps shuffling into a welcoming kitchen after 600 seconds of alley Twister and re-routing replays, while sweat-swearing, changed my mind about small, cute cats. Whatever the cause, the end effect was my cuddling a kitten. Oh, and I liked it. A lot.

Dean purred quietly against my chest and closed his eyes for a minute or two. Resting, sleeping, relaxing … whatever his state of being for those few moments, it mattered not to me. There was trust in my stranger-ness and that’s what panged my soul. Total trust. Complete engagement in the time together. I never believed this to be a connection available between a humanoid and pesky feline. Dogs? All day long. Cats? Whelp…

Granted, Dean is very young. A kitten, by the very definition a sometimes sleeper, right? This could have been one of those times. I may be looking too deep into this from a kitten’s perspective here. That written, from my view, I know what my take-away was as he gently asked to move forward into another new, fresh experience. I obliged by handing him over to his mama.

During my decades of life, I haven’t held many kittens. Plenty of puppies along the way, but a scant number of young, fluffy soft young-uns. Yes, a barely adequate amount of cat-cuddling has embraced my petable world. I believe I need to Tom-tilt my thinking and consider sharing dog spaces in my life with cats. Not completely, of course, but a nudge here and there is certainly warranted.

I mean, look at that face! Really. What contentment and peace?

Oh, and then check out Dean’s!

One has been passively enjoying life – getting all the attention from two loving individuals while experiencing “new” things every day.

The other? Just thankful to finally remember the freakin’ address and be inside – away from the oppressive, heavy, blasting heat pounding down as if the sun god himself was hammering away on my every last fifth avenue nerve. Ok, so a bit dramatic, but you would’ve used the same language I used – now and at the time – being ever so close to a goal you could not achieve: a house and a pie basket in danger of never intersecting due to my brain’s unwillingness to connect with reality.

Unknown to me ahead was a cute kitten and cuddle time. Had I known, that space I eventually found after ten minutes of spin-and-say would have been less a disgruntled acceptor in my eyes and more a pleasurable place to park my worries.

Ahead may be a kitten for you. I sure hope so. I’m not jumping off the chair here to adopt one anytime soon, though. Within the space of my crowded life, I don’t have time, energy, or the lifestyle for one now. Knowing Dean is only a few minutes drive away, I can visit whenever convenient for my cousin … and this is perfect for what I need to bring the love of cats into my life.

That is, if I can still remember how to get there. Geesh

Morning Sun’s Facetime

In between the occasional seasonal sneezes, drilling sounds from a necessary garage door repair to my left, and anxious, happy doggie barks inside, this sun provides me much needed calm. Warm facetime across a right cheek as I sit comfortably on a rocking wicker chair – morning feel good massaging a pre-Friday, 7:45 a.m. sore body. Ninety-four million miles away, yet immediate relief after two days of uphill crazy-town, mental drive-throughs with peoplefolk.

It wasn’t their fault, I guess. Better to dismiss it away than to get in the weeds trying to figure out why conversations and activities go the way of ridiculous. Especially in business dealings, I find myself in the land of the lost when folks don’t consider time or effort valuable … especially when spent on their behalf. Nobody needs a bucket of praise here. Just a simple dribble from the faucet of respect would have been nice the past 48 hours.

And so I sit, quite peacefully, on a well-accepting agreeable chair while the sun’s 8 minutes of aged warmth reaches my face. It feels 100% amenable to what I need right now: Quiet in the midst of drilling, barking, and sneezing.

Connecting to what has been around for 4.6 billion years is better … for now. Sitting on a back patio wicker chair for a few precious moments, away from everyone except two guys repairing a garage door, is what repairs a soul. Breathing in the history and snugness this sun provides, while allowing the denim cushion on which I sit to ease in the day, fades away all the discoloration from days past.

These are the nice carve-outs we need.

I don’t expect life to be a perfect, tasty pie of sweetness all the time. It’s rough. Days are challenging – we know this. Gosh, the past year-and-a-half, right?. Life is difficult. My family will soon experience how so.

Monday, I expect life to change drastically for a loved one. That day’s decision will affect a lot in his life, although the sunshine rising early on the days remaining in his life will remain steady. Schedules, friends, hobbies, and other constants he has known are going to adjust because the independence he has known is being driven away. His license, most likely, will be, sadly, taken away. I hope this won’t be the case, but the glaring exit ramp ahead is too obvious to avoid. Mental traffic has been congested and we need to clear the roads ahead for him.

… And it’s up to the son, his loving siblings, and the sun, to find a way forward for a dad who has been challenging at times, a loving father as only he knew how to be, and companion to me across many a lunch and dinner tables.

This will be a few days from now. As it stands, Father’s Day is Sunday – the day before a doctor’s appointment happens soon after sunrise. I have a small gift wrapped for him. I wish I could wrap the sun for him and reverse time instead of the gift.

My past few day’s inconveniences are minimal compared to his potential life-changing few minutes. This carve-out helps me look at big picture things. It’s time to think. Ninety-four million miles away, yet so close is the sun and a son who is thinking about his father.

My hope is he will find his morning sun’s facetime soon after we leave the office.

Find your morning sun to set aside crazy-town peoplefolk and focus on others who have life struggles ahead. They’re under the same sun. Eight minutes of aged warmth will reach you … and touch the faces of those who reach an age when life just isn’t the same anymore – like dads who did the best they could.

To Where?

Courtesy J. Koss

I don’t take pictures like this. There are friends in my life who do, however, and I welcome these on the doorstep of my life. Knocking at my everyday Facebook door are pictures of trees, dogs, landscapes, family members, and … train tracks – to name a few pop-up fantastics in my life. I answer willingly. I need to because life, on occasion, is too mundane with day-to-day push-throughs. Inviting pictures into my virtual home refocuses this over-active, buzz-brain of mine on the happy, peaceful track to somewhere. … To where? Just not sure.

I don’t need to know the destination and this is what makes these pictures delightful. Around the bend ahead is of no concern. Most are a snapshot of the “now” – a moment in time to be experienced … lived “through the lens” as one of my friends so aptly pens in a Facebook page. Another friend, Joel, is the photographer of record here. He aptly engineered a “now” moment for all of us to enjoy by tying in a few fall colors against the backdrop of rolling hills absorbing the rails … leaving us to wonder what’s left for anyone willing to take a mid-spring balanced walk into the future.

The time to come is not to be considered when in the here and now, though. Daylight gives us reflections on the top of rails worn down by decades of metronomically clanking metal wheels rumbling over rocks and ties. Spikes vibrated across active tracks as goods and people-folk travelled back and forth not thinking about what they rode upon. Joel stopped all this. The moment became stationary as time pulled in and blew a respite whistle. Rest.

Courtesy A. Sipes

Evening came. Aptly titled, “Heading down to the end of the day” – here is a doubly nice sunset over another disappearing “To where?” on my Facebook doorstep. Lush greens with pointed golden rails piercing into far mountain range … possibly the preservation of Joel’s single thought in this second picture by my other photographically gifted friend? I don’t know. In my limited circle, there’s doubt as to these two knowing one another. Whatever the case, within days, both posted glorious, inviting pictures extending a hand across to me. Being the slightly unbalanced one on one rail, I reach to grasp their pictures’ extended hand being offered to me. It’s nice to simply stand on the rail … get back on track with life. Being balanced and not worry about the “To where?” – if just for a Facebook moment – is nice.

These two pictures made me pause – if just for a short time. My future, and those who I love and care about, is never guaranteed. Around the bend for all of us is the great unknown, right? Tough decisions await some really close, heart-felt individuals in my life who, on balance, have invited astounding choices into their pasts. Decisions I don’t think I could have made, btw. Their life was derailed by unforeseen circumstances, but they continue onward … with vigor, determination, and love.

With the future not a certainty, we live our day-to-days trying to stay balanced. Between work and family obligations, staying on track is really difficult. On top of the normal “stuff”, there’s the larger issues of medical emergencies, financial problems, unexpected family issues, house repairs, etc … we never see coming. If I gave you a few minutes to make a list, I’m sure you’d come up with at least ten more of your own .. if not more. Life is just life and we do it until we can’t.

Sometimes I can’t, so I open my door to music, wonderful pictures, or anything willing to bring a little balance into my life. My over-active brain welcomes the visit for a short time as long as there’s room. I get all fulled-up with stress and consternation at times shoveling too much coal into the worry engine I’ve trained my life to be at times. I suspect this isn’t a problem uniquely mine. Be that as it may, I’m so glad I have at least two great friends who have an eye for photography …

… and a vision for the “now”.

The path forward is unknown. “To where?” … I certainly don’t know. Time has a way of sorting all this out. Pedantically, “Plan the work and work the plan”, I guess. Philosophically, one of the best quotes I ever read was the following:

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”—Eleanor Roosevelt

This is where we are. All of us. Now is the space. We have no choice but to hug it and make it ours. Whatever it looks like to you, embrace the moment. My two friends choose to see it through their cameras. I invite you to meet your “nows” on the doorsteps of life when you hear that gentle knock. The “To where?” will take care of itself in due time as you take that balanced walk into the future.

Change is Hard

“Hello?”

This phone has its share of problems. I think of them often as my early morning weekday and Sunday evening body walks by this corner. On a not-so nuanced angle where a pizza shop meets a cigar emporium, I consider the hang-ups I have and unanswered calls for possible solutions to challenges lingering about this brain of mine. Most have connected to the same fate as this coin eating relic: a dead dial tone of silence.

This is ok. My receiver is busted, too, and it takes more than five or ten cents to make me work these days. To coin a phrase, those little dimes and quarters are made of metal because … change is hard. It really is. Most likely explains why this Allegheny street artifact is still bolted to the wall after years of neglect and abuse. Our borough doesn’t move quickly on matters such as this. I don’t blame them. After all, had this worn and whacked push-button recluse been systematically pile-heaped, I’d have no friend to write about today.

It is a friend. Yes, a beaten down, torn up, knocked around friend. One I pass a lot while headed to see my human friends who have their share of problems. A Sunday night dad in a pizza shop, or a group of air-breathers sitting patiently inside The Capitol Hotel. All of them burdened with their own basket of problems. Oh, and I have mine as well. All of us do, right?

We don’t want change, but it happens. Just like my broken friend, change is inevitable. Small bits forced into the slots demanding calls we didn’t want to make. We hope upon hope what we are urged into doing IS the right move – the right call for that moment in time. Is it worth the heightened pulse in our chest and sweat in our brow? Will there be an answer at the other end of the experience? Are the words we speak being received … across a possible, impossible emotional divide? Is the connection even there, anymore?

I think it is. At least for 3,000 of us Americans. According to Google, there are 100,000 operational phone booths in the USA with 1/5 of those in NYC. That means roughly 3,000 folks can pick up a street receiver and number poke a friend. The odds are pretty good no creature under, say, 35 will be doing such dinosaur digit-driving due to their lack of experience in the matter, but those of us who frantically dug into our pockets for dimes and quarters can certainly relate. The connection is there. It may be lint, gum wrappers, or twist ties, but it’s there …

Even though this one friend is broken beyond repair, all is not lost. Connections are never lost forever. Temporarily down, perhaps … but not gone. Change, however hard as it may be, is still in the belly of the beast … just like it is if someone mistakenly slips a few coins into this busted machine. Adjustments and evolutions of self take place over time. Time is what we have until it is no more. Time has been graciously given to my friend – patiently feeling its tone year after year .. and I’m glad the borough decided to give it extended existence.

I’ll pass it again this morning and again Sunday. Nothing will change. Today as has been, the receiver sits half-broken, number buttons have been without finger prints for years, and the “o” remains partially covered with a wonky, pinkish “ok” sign. Those are the only guarantees, I suspect. Everything else swirling about in my world – and the world of my friends and family – will be different. Transitions in small ways will occur and calls to make big changes must be answered. This is life. This is all of us every day.

We have our share of problems. I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Challenges make all of us unique. Isolated unto our own individualism, yet together in our ability to help one another through. Friends through and through.

This phone is my friend. It may be broken, but so are my friends … and so am I. Once we realize nothing is in perfect working order and change is hard, life becomes easier.

On an modest corner where many have passed, I think about my life. Yes, only for a minute or two. Nevertheless, these are the moments I can ask the universe, “Hello? Anyone there?”, and feel someone is actually listening…

… and to know a few steps later there will be … inside a very familiar, comfortable hotel cafe or pizza shop. That’s what friends are for.

Word Worms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and I’ll bite once again.

Chloe’s Springtime Step

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pipe Down There, Sailor

Clearly, or maybe not so understandably, all of us have better things to do than take an hour out of our beautiful in-tune lives to view – over and over – a two-minute video of an atonal, should-not-have-happened rendition of our national anthem. Orchestrated from time taken out of a wonderful Saturday evening with friends, this is exactly what I did last night. Cellos, BB Shop Quartets, Guitars, Banjos, Pianos, … all instrumental in making my twilight musically marvelous. Kinda.

Sailor Sabol. CPAC 2021.

I wasn’t aware of this video until a high school friend mentioned a casual viewing after a meal from the local Chinese restaurant. I, along with his sister and mother, sat around a small, intimate living room laughing our collective, musically educated asses off as every quasi-crochet not so shyly dropped from the audio air waves. Hitting all of us with rocks – larger than the sofas we barely sat on from laughing so hard – would have been less painful. By some estimations, any school janitor’s dangling jingles hanging from a loosely belted pair of pants would hold less keys than Sailor went through while singing. With one exception from a vocal coach on YouTube who went on a mi-fi-la apologetics tour, all other videos were brilliantly accompanying her … and we watched a boat load of them.

As we wept our way through happy, un-regrettable tears, my individual mind wandered a bit. For a minute or two, I looked over at a friend I had not seen in years. A guy not much in my life as a teenager, but in a class of hundreds who – like all of us – graduated and went on to live life. We talked briefly before diving into the eye-rolling, ear-wrenching oh-say can you ever unhear version thrust upon us. His family, … his experiences, and everything he brought to the shrimp, noodles, and chicken resting momentarily on a table last night were so refreshing for a guy like me. I listened more than talked. Never have guitars, wars, bands, gyms, and family matters outside my own crazies been so interesting lately. Nice guy.

So nice to have the musical bond with him, too. It made watching Sailor’s shipwreck even more gratifying. To view a disaster like this with friends of equal caliber, respect, and admiration … one can relax and enjoy the waves of emotion without judgement. After years of not knowing I needed this hour, the friend-ship I was on cruised along quite pleasingly. Yes, ultimately at Sailor’s expense, but she capped the evening off and I’m ever so grateful.

Driving home, I took a few minutes to erase those awful notes. I tried to find the normal ones. The pitch-blackness outside retained more hope than what was inside my head. Ten minutes. With no expectation of national pride emoting vocally, I gave up. Finally, the phrase, “Pipe down there, Sailor” came rushing into port. PLEASE stop singing in my head! Ultimately, a request for silence. I needed to purge the two-minute video from my memory. Get that video below deck … retire for the night … dismiss the memory.

Until, of course, I walked into my home … and returned, once again, to view three more of the same.

Because I’m addicted to vocal disasters. Same old, Sabol. I’ll never change. Neither will you. It was so bad, you’ll need to see it. As a matter of fact, I’ll make it easy for you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vga0M4ia5Mc

Pick up a kazoo, theremin, or chapman stick and play along. You, too, can be a YouTube star by accompanying this wonderful version of pick-a-key and play along with Sailor.

I’m positive CPAC and all associated with the organization had no intention of this getting out of tune. That said, when a political operation doesn’t vet the, err, talent before shoving it on stage … that’s on them. She’s probably a nice girl. I imagine the fall-out from this hasn’t been kind. Someone, somewhere, told her she could do this … and encouraged it. A connection to the Republican, conservative group, perhaps?

Whatever the cause or reason, I’m glad it happened. So glad … because I laughed heartily. Overwhelming merriment. Joyous Joy with slappy tears.

Deeply felt chuckles. Understandably so, at this moment in my life.

Szechuan Time

It was delicious as always. Szechuan chicken from my favorite downtown Chinese restaurant is the best. Period. I ate all of it. The whole pint.

Not much of a surprise, as the day was a long one. Finally sitting down after eight hours on a mildly sore foot, I had the chance to eat. Given the choice between pancakes from the iron skillet at home, another take-out I can’t recall at the moment, or that wonderful spicy delicacy from my go-to, hometown marvelousness a few miles away, … it’s not surprising I had a happy fork last night.

The expected phone call from my dad was not taken on my home phone. Couldn’t. There are times when even a call from my dad couldn’t be answered. Nestled into a warm sofa, I wasn’t able to do much but move forkfuls of steaming baby corn cobs, green pepper slices, carrot wedges, peppercorns, chilies, brown rice, and really tender chicken a foot’s distance from the bowl to my mouth. He calls almost every night – wondering, in his way, how my day went. “Did you have a good day?”, are the six words usually starting the 3-minute conversation. That call is necessary and almost always on time. His time.

Retired time. A regimented, need-to be on schedule time. When the clock in his head dings, the call is made. So many times, I place my fork, soup spoon, or butter knife down beside a plate of anything to talk with him. He cares enough to call me, so I listen to his concerns about my life. I assume this sounds a bit callous of me to talk/write this way … and, honestly, writing those words is uncomfortable as well; however, talking and listening takes place so frequently – and the heart-to-heart parley is nearly the same every night – so I pass the time casually giving him half an ear. If the tone in his voice changes, I perk up a bit and attend to his words, otherwise, the three minutes passes without much adventure … to be repeated the next evening.

Last night I couldn’t – just was not capable of taking the call. Sometimes there is a follow-up re-ring on my cell when he can’t reach me. I almost expect a forest tone to puncture the near airwaves when he can’t reach me by old technology. Strangely, there was none. Maybe he knew I had a long day and a sore foot? Perhaps he smelled the deliciousness headed my way and knew – just knew – an unanswered first call meant a second call was unnecessary? Possibly a distraction came across his life’s pathway – and an unanswered, “good day?”, query remaining that way wasn’t a paternal problem anymore? Never mind how he got there in his mind. It didn’t happen. He never made the second call. I was not handling any phone instead of a fork … and all of the Szechuan chicken disappeared after 20 minutes of my uninterrupted blissful time.

Let me tell you of one joy in my life. Not dad calling every day … that would be too easy to write about, right? Although I will have time in the future to type those words if expectant tables are true, this is not one of those times. Today, you could assume Szechuan chicken is, but you’d be mistaken as well. Well, this isn’t exactly true. I have mastered spelling, “Szechuan”, by this sixth paragraph without opening the google spell-check window – so that’s something. Nope. Not dad. Not Szechuan.

Time. Time when I can relax. Time alone at my desk writing a blog. Time on the sofa eating one of my favorite take-out meals while watching one of many Johnny Carson re-runs I’ve seen before. Moments I’ll never see again, but clicks on a dial that mean something … not just rush-around, breathless, meaningless to-do’s that only fill in voids to get to the next “thing”. Silent, consequential instants – during which a mind can settle into funnies from the day, musical interludes, and friendships I care about – enter my purposeful time. Uninterrupted is nice.

Last night, and by extension the day, was about friends. I thought about them. Good and great ones. Long lasting, new and existing, old and young, happy and sad ones. I have a rainbow’s color full of friends. Not a day goes by when one does not cross my mind. One, specifically, lately. I would dream a better, hopeful pot of gold awaits her rainbow as she continues ahead in her destinal path forward. Cancer sucks. Specifically, this rare form she so optimistically faces during her time here.

Find your favorite meal, or favorite sofa. Don’t answer any calls unless you need to. Take time to cry, meditate, read, write, play, watch t.v., walk … whatever stops you from going. Be you for a few minutes. The dad in your life – whoever, or whatever that is – will call back. It, or they, still love and care about you … I promise.

My dad will call again tonight. We’ll arrange to meet for pizza because it is Sunday … and that’s what we do. He’s a man of routine. I’ll meet him at the local pizza shop just a few buildings up from the Chinese restaurant where Szechuan chicken made my life meaningful last night. No call necessary for his asking me, “Did you have a good day?”. I’ll answer, “Yep, dad, I did … and my week went well, too.”, because I know the follow-up he’ll ask. Five minutes later, the same question most likely will be asked again since he’s older and has some difficulty remembering these days.

The check will be paid forty minutes later and he’ll probably ask me how much to tip the waitress even though the bill is always the same amount. I’ll reply, “$3.50, dad … and let me since you are picking up the tab … ok?”. It is the conversation we have had every week for years. One day, I’ll miss it.

For now, it is a Sunday routine and last night night I missed his call, kinda. It’s ok. A conversation missed once in a while is ok as long as the time spent otherwise is well worth it. And it was.

I love Szechuan chicken. Period.