I’m Assuming You Don’t Know

When walking into Cracker Barrel last night for dinner, I assumed my favorite lemon-pepper trout dinner would be waiting for me on the menu. This delicious two piece fish entree with sides of macaroni and cheese, corn, and a salad has been a Sunday night regular for my tired, worn, weekend grill-sloshed body’s hungry belly. Sam the Man, our favorite waiter, is usually there to smilingly serve my iced tea with an extra glass of ice and knows enough to not even ask for my order. He knows what I want … on any normal night.

Sunday, June 14th … last night. No assumptions could be made. Texas Roadhouse, on a whim and suggestion from a good friend, was well into a line upon arrival and I was too hungry to wait. Next door, Chili’s parking lot looked the same as if there was a sudden run to the border. Why did my wife and I not first head to Cracker Barrel? I assumed a 7 pm dinner time on a Sunday would be less likely loaded than any other time of the week – especially during this covid-19 social tightness noosed around restaurants these fine days .

If not for the urging from a good foodie-vendor friend all weekend, and the seasoned, drippy pork chop painted picture he drew, I wouldn’t have steered my beat up Honda into Texas Roadhouse’s socially distanced, beef-ribbed parking lot. Hooking the trout first inside Cracker Barrel with Sam and a cold iced tea … sitting down after 6 long days of work … and I would’ve avoided any extra miles on my already worn nerves.

We finally entered that most familiar store after passing the rocking chairs and extra large checker boards. Signs and notices suggest mask wearing, however, some do not oblige. Workers? Yes. Guests who scrum about the gifts shop? Some – who most likely assume they are virus free, do not wear them. A muted, vocal tone from a very nice familiar host immediately directs us to a table triangulated and distanced 6-feet from any other in the large echoed room. Scratchy wooden chairs across a tiled floor accompany, now, condiment-less blank tables with no golf-tee games happily waiting twenty minute pastimes between ordering and meal arrivals.

The old pictures on the wall remain still, but have an eerie new meaning. Folks in hazy black and white pose staring across our table last night gave me the same pause they, themselves, have stood in two-dimensional time. They knew nothing of the cell phone I tapped text messages into while I stared disappointingly at a limited menu, but seemed to see into the starkness of a barely full dining room. Technology escaped their purview. Life did not.

They must have noticed my disbelief in realizing trout, apparently, jumped off the menu. An apparent covid-casualty of the worst, unimaginable kind. I assumed, after driving happily away from Texas Roadhouse, Cracker Barrel would save my stomach soul. Sam tried to calm my weary worries … and he did … sort of. I settled in on the haddock after dismissing the catfish, chicken, meatloaf, roast beef, sampler, and various other quite limited choices.

As a non-menu grabber for years, it was odd scanning over other choices. I never do. Always the same Sunday fare. Yes, a tad OCD … welcome to that world, but after working in the sun all weekend, a Sunday night with Sam, trout, iced tea (and an extra glass of ice) is an assumed treat.

Assumed until it can’t be anymore. I had to pause. My normal wasn’t acceptable, except I can accept assumptions … sometimes. Let me explain:

This is where we are in America. A few mornings ago, a Wendy’s burned because, once again, a young man was tragically killed unnecessarily. The night before, I was watching coverage of that police shooting in Atlanta – as it happened only hours before – and, sadly, I had to assume “something” of a violent or destructive nature would happen in reaction … and it did. An innocent building was torched in protest.

I am not condoning the reaction. It wasn’t a response, but a visceral, gut-punch reaction from a community who assumes the gunning down of a 27 year old man who, yes, physically struggled with the police, was so every-day anymore. You know what? …the assumption isn’t wrong. This young man was fleeing and shot in the back – twice. It’s a story that cannot be ignored anymore by saying, “Assuming makes an ASS-out of U and ME’. That American story is gone. It makes an ass out of the police who shot the man. Period.

Yes, an argument can be made for the gang minority violence in Chicago … along with the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m zeroing in on the violence against black men perpetrated by some law enforcement who seem to have no problem squeezing their trigger brain and, yes, murdering with no just cause … apparently … allegedly, may I say before being accused of “guilty before innocence”. Notice the word “some” used above – recognizing the honest, moral among them as well.

The list is filling up and is too full, now, for me to ignore. I can’t assume the American system of law enforcement is right, just, and equal anymore in the disbursement of justice at the point of contact in a park, drive-thru, street sidewalk, or city corner. I can fairly assume it is for me as it applies, however, to me a white male living in a fairly conservative north-eastern state surrounded by mostly Republican, Christian people. Experiences for others in more diverse, highly concentrated bigger cities would be significantly different.

I always assumed it was the same across the country. OUR country. I was wrong. My life was isolated from the reality of racism. It isn’t any more complicated than that. Not just racism. Bigotry against those who choose same sex relationships, trans lifestyles and similar alternative choices, atheist or non-traditional worship meditations, are on my awareness spectrum. James Baldwin makes sense more to me than ever, shades of black experience are being lifted – shining light into my previously shaded white world.

Assumptions of what was can be no more. Generations of thinking need to be changed. I, myself, can’t lift mountains of new information to new heights, nor can I speak those who can’t hear. What I can do is change my assumptions, little by little, and take a stand on new ground – while talking to those who will listen.

Trout at Cracker Barrel is one small sacrifice. I assumed it was to be … until it wasn’t. I’ll live without it for now. There are men and women not alive today because bad, horrible, possibly – and assumed – racists police decided to use excessive force and exterminate others’ lives … over and over again. Yes, there I WILL use “assumed” … because the shoe fits. A shoe that does not deserve to stand on ground I stand.

Today, I am responding to all this. Tomorrow, and in days to come, there will be more. Reform, change, and reactions in time to avoid another tragedy? Doubtful. But then, I’m assuming the outcome.

Let’s hope I’m wrong.









Hometowns

Hometowns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find your hometown again.

The Hearts of Friends

The title above has been used before, I’m sure of it. Can’t say where or when. Not laying claim on originality because in the history of words, those four – in that specific order – must have been printed on the cover of a book, in a movie script, or tearfully penned in the diary of a princess. With this legal disclaimer out of the way, I can proceed with my 1:43 a.m. thoughts on the subject.

I’m up. Again. Having finished off another bowl of chicken tetrazzini and nursing a can of plain seltzer as I write, the time slowly pushes forward into deep night … and I’m awake. Nothing new, since this isolation, stay-at-home mandate, time warp continuum is sucking the daylight out of my life. The sleep/wake cycle I used to ride is tire-lessly lumping along a pedestrian free street to nowhere these days. I see no one as I push my bike up emotional hills day after day.

All of us are adjusting right now, though … Please remind me our collective Tour De’Humane Race is happening and I just can’t see it. The race toward normalcy and community-immunity, right? Heading toward a shared finish line where there is a ribbon of vaccines, reopened businesses, and significantly less political rift.

Well, for now anyway, we’re not there. We’re on our late night / early morning couches bitching about not sleeping enough. I am, for sure. Seems the only cure is to remind myself I have the most awesome friends in the world … and I miss seeing them.

To list all of them wouldn’t be fair to those I’d most assuredly forget to mention. Not bragging here, but I have a lot. They wouldn’t agree on the number, however, because … as I say so often … they are stupid and ugly 🤣. In their minds, I am overbearing, pretentious, full of stupid humor, sarcastic, well-intentioned but ill-informed, stylish with no sense of fashion, and best understood when quiet … Oh, and these are my traits as described by my bestest of friends – the loyal four: Mike, Joel, Jim, and possibly another Jim.

I have so many friends in my inner circle other than the four goofballs mentioned. Friends I can text anytime during the day or night who would show up right now with a warm cup of hot chocolate and listen to my story. Nice, cool, reachable friends who are less stupid and ugly. No offense to my loyal four, btw … wink wink.

Extending outward, the descriptors are less unkind – thankfully. We know, don’t we, that friendships change in quality as distances and times change. They are folks – occasionals – who are so gracefully in and out of our lives when we need them to be. The glances up from avacado strawberry salads … and there they are with a smile and a kind hello. Our days filled with such niceness because they close our circles. They fill our empty hearts with good things when we need it.

Mary is such a friend. She has a wonderful heart. Yes, being up in the middle of the night is not good and I’m not pleased about the habitual sock shuffling foot fetish I’ve developed. The path from this couch to the kitchen is worn enough with sock lint. Tonight, however, the trip was well worth the effort.

Mary dropped off a large pan of chicken tetrazzini the other day and tonight I just about finished off the last of it. It is so freakin’ delicious. Late, late night snack o’extra-ordinaire if I must say so. Better still is her genuine care and love to bake a casserole, drop it off, and do it without expecting anything in return.

We are co-workers at a local private school and great friends. Outside of school, though, we don’t see each other much save the occasional staff party or run-in at the local convenience store. Especially now, since the COVID-19 “yeah” stuff goings-on, there’s no opportunity to connect. She’s busy with two grand-young-n’s at home and trying to prepare on-line video lessons for school. In the midst of all this, I get a fantastic chicken tetrazzini casserole delivered. Did I say it’s freakin’ delicious!! Because if I didn’t …

The hearts of friends beat wonderful pulse-nalities. I love them all. Whether they want me to stop telling stories that are, in my mind anyway, folded into magical mysteries, or they drop off yummy goodnesses, ….. I Iove them all.

Too many to mention. Even more memories and joys from them to say or write about so I’ll close with the same four unoriginal words: The Hearts Of Friends.

Know yours. Remember them at 1:43 in the morning when you need to be reminded that your finish line may seem far away and your bike burdensome; However, lonely is never far away when friends are helping you push.

Be rest the best way you can.

DOUG

Stuffy Classrooms and Hope

It is no longer an uncomfortable desk chair – among many of similar style with ages of scratched pen marks and gum – sitting in a stuffy classroom in August. This furniture in which I sit is plushy-comfy and significantly more adept at helping me stay calm. You see, as I write, I’m having 2 a.m. school flashbacks of first day, “What did you do last summer?” composition book, tell me stories. Didn’t matter what grade, teacher, building, bus I rode, or clothes worn on that first day back … some variation of “I want to know everything about your life when you weren’t here” had to be known.

Why this sudden anxiety? After all, those experiences were, … uhm, … some time ago and didn’t require any extra trips to the guidance counselor’s office or force me into a transic state of obvious obscurity. I moved forward into days two, three, and four of each year with little concern about that particular task. Giving no more thought to the teacher exhaustively pouring over my words of, “THIS is what I did …”, my steps tried to avoid larger pits of bullying, adolescence, and the blah-ugh of life I felt every day.

The summer story was always the same, anyway. Work. Don’t want to complain. So many lives with dirtier, nastier, grittier experiences in comparison and I have no right to gripe. I have not a “In the mine a boy, out a man” story to tell as I less-than gleefully found my way into strawberry fields or paper routes for summer income. Later, as permits allowed, transitioning into fast food service was easy and the dangers of black lung, methane poisoning, or collapsing walls were distant, non-existant realities. Safety with no worries and little time to recreate, summer was the time jammed in between compulsory education.

Why the anxiety now … at 2 a.m. … 40 + years later? What do I look like? A Therapist?

GEESH.

Why yes, … yes I am. I’m called upon to be my own right now. This is probably why I’m a bit anxious and the gods of teachers past decided to poke my REM. They are asking me to resolve this before the sun rises on another day. So, me … the dutiful student of things, always do what I’m told when asked of me … will comply.

Teacher: “Welcome back kids. The classroom, you’ll notice, is a bit different than before. Everything you were used to has changed. Look around. Write about what you see … “

——————-

“I don’t feel comfortable. I know you wanted me to write about what I see, but what I see makes me feel bad. You used to have happy pictures showing people holding hands, smiling, laughing… Where are they?

I’m sad. My friends are sad. They are angry at each other because what used to be kind words turned into bad words. They are not listening. Some of them are doing this unfriending thing now. “BFsF forever” thrown away.

I’m sitting here writing this looking around. My classmates aren’t happy. Their heads are down and it doesn’t look like anyone wants to do this assignment. The air here is stale. In this written silence, I ask you to open a window knowing you will not hear me. I saw you lock the door … and am convinced few others did. For my security – or the insecurity of others – I’m not entirely sure.

The windows to the outside give little assurance. Trusting what is seen out there is hard to do right now. Once calming tree branches used to massaging with the wind are now resisting harsh, cold jabs of unpredictable bruising.

Corners of this very room are the starkest 90-degree angles math has ever seen. Black and white of no variation takes hostage all colors wishing to brighten our hopes as we put pencils to our paper. This is the hardest “What did you do last summer?” I’ve ever been assigned. It’s not summer. I’m not happy. I suspect there are millions of fellow classmates in school with me right now. We’re stuck here.

Want to know what I see? Confusion. Anger. Mis-information. Greed. Political stupidity. Sadness. Death. Hatred. Bigotry.

This isn’t the conclusion, though.

What isn’t seen, but is in us, is HOPE. Yes, there are pockets of doing-good we can see. Personal stories of humans stepping up. Certainly – MOST certainly – props to ALL the medical front lines heroes pushing forward all the miracle medicine and making the hard decisions. They are my hope that we can get through all this. I have little faith in a political solution. Windmills and wishing there.

Hope is my unseen hero. It is my one-letter anagram off chance of a p-r nightmare not happening in the weeks to come. Hoping some calm, rational, peaceful minds can stand before us and teach us what we need to know about living with this pandemic.

Certainly, as IT stands before us today, we are not being properly educated in the matters at hand. No offense to you, teacher, as you read my composition over your drippy coffee, but, kindly get a clue.”

—————–

This once/100 year problem is teaching us about ourselves and showing us the real others. I’m not opposed to learning about the machinery in other folks’ skulls; However, when social media likes and dislikes turn into hatred and lifelong friendship breakdowns, there is stinkiness afoot.

Not just social media, but our own biases as well. Inabilities to accept even the smallest changes in a normal behavior pattern – even for the benefit of society – can be hard. Social distancing, I’ve witnessed as recently as yesterday, is still on the sideline for some folks … laughing their way through the day. Hand washing, coughing into your elbow, staying indoors, the 6-feet rule, sanitizing everything, all of this is sooo uncomfortably annoying – out of the normal. It’s really difficult to grasp for folks holding on, dearly, to what they’ve always known.

Staying composed while composing. This is all I can do for now. No real answers for anyone, I guess.

I’m sufficiently tired now. Two hours later and the anxiety has abated somewhat. Thanks for listening. Kinda wish my old guidance counselor’s office was available, though … better yet, my counselor himself! Now, wouldn’t that be fun? Would like to take the ‘ole composition book into his office and insist he give it a read. He may tell me I have too much time on my hands and suggest I look for a job. Oh, that’s the moment I’d be hoping for…

… that moment when I can reply, “Do you want fries with that?” Experience, after all, is the best teacher.

A Please Read

It’s outside what is considered normal for me to write a blog such as what I am about to do. My fingers hurt as I type, but these words are necessary … and I am not viewed as normal, anyway.

This will be a very short announcement.

In light of the difficulty in communicating “Two-point-three-billon-plus-one … oh, and the two and three are actual numbers whereas all the others are words” when responding to, “What is your blog address?” … I’ve decided to re-domain this blog.

WordPress, my host, and I have been diligently chatting, via little-square-box, and all necessary other boxes are checked. Nothing will be changing except my domain address going forward. Email notices should still be arriving to all subscribers, but you will notice the new address, not “2.3 Billion Plus One”.

I am sad to let go of my baby. He’s just to big to hold … and a mouthful to say. I am still in ownership of same, just maintained as a secondary domain.

Once I receive word http://www.DougHugs.com is clear, it will be my new site address going forward. Quite possible this has happened already. Same content. Same goofy me. Much, much easier to say and pretty much within normal as I can be for now.