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.

Ugh, In A Good Way

It’s not unlike any other morning. How about you?

The living and dining rooms are bare, however. … that’s different. Painters are coming in soon to re-do all the walls and ceilings after decades of living created fades and fancies on their facades. Maintaining credibility has finally been too much. The ceiling, whimsically swirled in eggshell white, has been tarnished by water shenanigans lately and efforts to repair have been futile. I’m not the patch-and-persevere guy around here as most household fixes don’t last more than the time it takes me to find all the tools needed to do the job. Holes and cracks will, finally, meet their match. Professionals, within a few hours hence, will drop their wares.

The furnace still hums away as I sit only feet away from rooms so eagerly awaiting their refreshing, colorful rehabilitation. My office will not receive such treatment. As most go, paperwork, miscellaneous trinkets, and unknowns sit and pile around, preventing me from knowing whether or not this wonderful space needs a re-do or not. The ceiling drops down elegantly with forty-two, 2×2-foot squares that don’t require paint … just a quick trip to the local people-jammed box store to overpay for a replacement should one need replacing- (which explains why these above my head as I type are still the originals from two decades ago) …

Beside, to my left,…a reliable cup of tea. Generic green tea. The Clif bar already consumed, I sat down not knowing, really, anything. It was 3:30 in the morning – the usual time to roll out, wide awake, and begin to think about things.

I wound my way through misplaced furniture, packed boxes, and downed pictures – all repositioned in preparation for the non-Dougs to begin their work in a few hours. The walls have shadowed memories where the pictures hung. Curtains and drapes – so much a tapestry of life lived here – are not hanging in front of the big picture windows now. Little reminders on brads and nails no longer delicately dangle between sashes and sills. Quiet, in a very different way. I’m used to the furnace at 3:00 a.m. … not the starkness of change.

Ugh. In a good way, of course.

We need to change things up sometimes. A new, fresh coat of paint even when the furniture doesn’t want to move, or paintings in our life – so used to being on the wall – don’t want to come down. Material, window bandaged cloaks that have hidden our sunshine for so many years need to be removed to allow new experiences into our rooms. Every piece, every knickknack our hands must touch to move gives us opportunity to reevaluate its importance and look forward to having it by our side again .. or not. Affecting change, touching something other than the physical items before us … Ugh. In a good way, of course.

I’ve been working with someone. It has been a very different experience for me. The absoluteness of her ability to change my perspective on my musical life is a journey unlike any I’ve taken before. It hasn’t been about the lyrics, meters, and various other dots strewn about on lines and spaces. The depth of her passion for life and music in the midst of a life-threating illness brings me forward in my own life to a place where boxes in the middle of a living room are, well, kinda insignificant right now.

Yesterday we had our first rehearsal for a planned concert in the fall. I don’t think she’d mind me saying it’s “planned” with the caveat that all things “go as planned with her health”. So far, the new coats of paint in my musical life are: “Landslide”, “How High The Moon”, “I’ve Got The World On A String”, and “All or Nothing At All” with more cans to open. I sat, secondarily, behind the piano as she sang so gracefully in her uniquely qualified lower voice. We matched styles and colors as one painter would take to a canvas for the first time. I’m so honored to accompany her on this journey toward whatever the unknowns have in store.

All of our living rooms have these moments when the old ideas and “things” have to come down. Memories, of course, can stay, but the material stick-arounds need to go and be replaced with new, fresh things. Ideas on how to think, or what our lives mean, sometimes need re-evaluating, too.

My friend will continue to splash a new coat of paint on my thoughts as we rehearse, and when we talk to each other about … life. Her perspective being significantly different than mine – a 7 years older male. I don’t know what it’s like living in a room with a most likely time-certain terminal disease. I do know how to say, “F*ck Cancer!”, because my mom died from it, however, and every time I meet someone who is pushing their way through, I want to scream, “Ugh!!” … and not in a good way this time.

For now, the painters are only a few hours away and I must begin to think about the day ahead. The living and dining rooms will begin their transformation as boxes, painting, and trinkets remain dormant for the next week or so.

Please don’t continue to be stagnant in your life. Move some of life’s boxes and invite in some sunshine by taking down the shadow makers. Your living space is for just that … to LIVE. Give it a fresh, new coat of colors.

My tea mug is empty now. Thank you for being here. This morning turned out to be different after all.

Mirror Words

If walking in to my special cafe was only this: a casual sit down almost every morning after entering a little after 8 o’clock on weekdays has been my norm. They closed on Saturdays due to the pandemic changing walk-about folks in town … less of them strolling about in our little town.

Never just that. I always need something to capture my imagination or bring out the silly sense of bravery I need to sustain me during the coming hours of the day. My dear friend across from me shifted her stressful self slightly to the left. As I ashamedly slouched in the early morning deep red vinyl bench … this image Kilroy’d itself in the beautiful, beveled glass hanging gracefully – for nearly a century – on the wall. How many reflections? How many men, women, and children examined their lives during the early morning cold, snowy minutes in February … in Hollidaysburg, PA.

I did. Slightly scrutinizing the items on my daily agenda before snapping this picture above, that is. It didn’t take much time to deep dive into a twenty-minute self-discovery because the image in the mirror amused my egg-consuming self. As I began dipping the daily under or overly toasted rye toast into those fried eggs, the mirror resemblance above didn’t go away. I couldn’t allow it. Basic words attached themselves to the depiction staring back at me. Mirror words? Yes. But slightly more meaningful since it seemed I was silently talking to myself.

Maybe it was in my eyes? I don’t really know. I look tired. This isn’t about me, though.

You never know when life looks back at you … suddenly. Moments – like early morning look backs in a very familiar town’s cafe – jump back in your face suddenly when friends shift slightly. Movements by others across from you, during comfortable conversations, can turn in heartbeats. Familiar words and places abruptly change. We know. Boy, do we know, right?

I know. This week, friends of friends lost a loved one. I didn’t know the young man who passed away suddenly days ago. He lived out of state, but was closely connected to a local family and, by extension, to a close friend of mine. She was sitting with me when the news of his passing pinged on her phone a few days after I sat in the comfortable morning booth. She’s a different friend than the one across from me the other day. Different place, change of scenery and seating accommodations, but a life-sudden look back for her that sent an unexpected chill down her spine. There was no mirror. Just two friends eating turkey subs beside a surprisingly warm high-top table for two near a large window facing out into another cold, winter day.

She was momentarily dazed – as expected. I would have expected nothing less, not even knowing the man who passed away. The text came in instantly – as news does these days – through her texting service, I believe, so I respected the moment’s demands and sat silently for a few seconds – perhaps a minute or two – until she respectfully replied back. Mere words, yet meaningful to those receiving on the other end. Folks in shock – as she was making a connection.

My friend Rick W., a fellow musician, posted the following on Facebook:

“Yes, you have all heard this many times. But, sometimes repetition drives the thought home. Life is indeed fragile, and can be over as quickly as one turns a light off. Embrace, love, be thankful for your family and friends, and most importantly, give yourself a hug because you truly deserve it!”

The death of the young man inspired Rick to type those words due to his close association with the family. HIS look back. His mere words that are not just those meant for his reflecting back on us. Helping us to remember one who is suddenly no longer here. A Covid death among the many.

One man no longer here I never knew. One man – out of state – who is, now, joined to me because I have a habit of walking into a favorite, old cafe where so many have gone before me. Tired eyes looking back at me I’ve seen so many times before … and always with a message of hope in some weirdly shaped glass bottle washing up from the ocean of our experiences. Glass from a mirror with mere words meaning so much more as each day passes.

We have hope that these reflections keep the memories of those gone suddenly are still alive in our memories. They changed our lives while they were here. Yes, an overused clichĂ©. Yes, admittedly in my early morning brain, I could come up with better words perhaps, but there aren’t any. Life is precious.

I have a few in my life that make the moments very special. They are here. Now. No words are really necessary to express how special they are.

As I look back at myself – looking at myself looking at myself – it’s just a silly picture. A casual sit down almost every morning after entering a little after 8 o’clock on weekdays is my reality.

For years upon years, the morning ritual of a bathroom mirror reflection has been so commonplace for ALL of us. We forget how special our lookbacks can be. It takes that special little shift to the left of a friend for us to realize how special our lives are … not only to us, but also to those who call us friends.

But, these are just mirror words. Go live. Find your eyes and take a picture. Sit back and enjoy a few minutes of the joy that is your life. The now.

The Simple Act of Sitting

Rosa Parks. December 1st, 1955. James Blake. Browder vs. Gayle. Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “Stay put, young man …”

It would take a pretty large, generational twist-tie to bind all those together. Together they are, however, in my mind as I sit here in my concession trailer one day after the inauguration of the century … arguably. A swearing in of not only a new President, but a new way of thinking about how things are in America, makes one stop, sit, and wonder where we were and where we’re headed.

A close decade before I was born, Rosa Parks was asked to move from her seat. She refused. As we know, this led to the Montgomery bus boycott, then on to a landmark ruling 11 months later. Bus segregation was ruled unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause and life changed for her after that. Her act of defiance became a symbol of the racial segregation movement and the likes of Martin Luther King and his contemporaries stood by her efforts. She worked tirelessly for the cause and, upon her death in 2005, she was the first woman to lie in honor at the Capitol.

In 2005, I started my business. One of many endeavors in my life. An experience that will never, ever, change the face of America like Rosa Park’s stand … while sitting. Here I sit, today, making a difference to some, I hope.

Growing up a white, middle income family male child, I didn’t get pushed around by racial inequality, poverty, or discrimination. Closest I can recall was a six-inch taller bully on the 6th grade playground – minutes later sitting across from me in the principal’s office. We shared a swift dose of discipline at the end of a wooden plank, by no fault of my own, explained away with the words, “I need to make sure I punish the right boy, so both of you are going to get spanked!”. For the record, I defended myself minutes earlier and make no excuses for the attempt. He was a bully and I rewarded him for his efforts.

At home? Different story. One can’t retaliate quite as easily and spanking at the behest of, “Stay put, young man!” had a different tone. Discipline was tough. I sat when told. As long as orders were obeyed … even if beyond my understanding … life seemed to be o.k. .

Seemed to be, anyway. I didn’t know what was going on with life in my dad’s adult world at the time. Only later – as I pathed my way through difficulty when mom died – did I even begin to understand. Yes, over three decades into adulthood, I started to “get it”. Too many push-throughs stack on one’s shoulders and when the stress of one more thing – like the disobedience of a child-imp tiptoeing up to the line – piles on, a dad can lose his cool. My intentions aside, he had his reasons for discipline. I couldn’t question them at the time. Now, I can … and the answers are easy to accept as long as there are deep mugs of warm chamomile tea available at my beckoning call.

That’s where I was, in a proverbial nutshell – without taking up too much of your time. Again, an uneventful beginning decade-point-five of life compared to Ms. Parks. My birth was 10 years removed from her beautiful 1955 sit, stay, and take a stand. Mom – and the universe – decided to pop me out the year after Martin Luther King’s “Dream” speech … in the year of a Beatles arrival at JFK airport, LBJ presidency, and … the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools and public accommodations, and employment discrimination. A very large ink shadow of Rosa Park’s influence filled the pen of President Johnson on July 2nd when he signed it into law, I suspect. Months later, I was born.

Where we were back then, right? Where we are now, right? Where you are now compared to your early years? Where are we headed?

Certainly, if we compare ourselves to Rosa Parks, JFK, LBJ, or perhaps the Beatles, we’ll be disappointed. Can we change the world like they did? I doubt it. This isn’t to say we can’t try. Don’t give up on anything or anyone – especially yourself.

Yesterday, I noticed the picture of a young girl with the words, “There was a little girl in California who was bussed to school.”:

This is our Vice-President. You can argue about the process, but this is now. Kamala Harris is our black, female, 2nd in-charge behind the President of the United State of America. Tell me, 65 years later after Rosa Parks warmed that cold bus seat, this picture doesn’t send chills up your backbone. She stood on the steps of the Capitol and took the oath of office. I don’t agree with some of her policies – most assuredly don’t – but, I stand with the 200,000 flags firmly planted on the mall … supporting her and President Biden as an American.

She didn’t give up. Whatever the path was, she did it. Joe Biden, with faults galore, did it. They are really fault-filled humans, of course. They’re politicians to the core, admittedly. Oh, and Donald Trump was, too … I guess. He found a way to the presidency as well. Agree, disagree on policy – I understand.

We’ve a lot to do here in America. The Covid crisis isn’t going away. Economic recovery is months – if not a few years – away and the emotional strain on all of us has been draining. This is what has been on my mind as I sit here. Simply sitting here.

Rosa sat there. Her thoughts as a 40-year old woman being told to move? I want her resolve and determination to seep into all of our consciousnesses and help us to see this straightforward, uncomplicated act of sitting created a movement lasting well beyond her years. Change happened. She saw it coming through those glasses.

Activism is good and healthy .. in the right way. Storming the Capitol and/or burning down businesses isn’t the path forward and is why change happened January 20th, 2021. Election fraud, ballot discrepancy, 5 state voter mis-counting, … I don’t make any claims as to what was true or not because I don’t know what I don’t know. America was tired, worn out, and weary – tired of all the bickering and divisiveness over classless, leadership from both sides of the aisle. As usually happens from the swinging populous pendulum, we’re all-in Democratically led now. If it doesn’t work, in four years they’ll be voted out.

We have to trust ourselves. The system, well … continue to challenge it. But, do it responsibly. Park yourself on a bench and think things through before doing anything. Sometimes the simple act of sitting can change the world more than lighting a match under kindling soaked with fake tears.

Here I sit. Mildly uncomfortable. Inside this concession trailer is warm, however, compared to the 42-degree day outside. This metal chair under my posterior is getting aggravatingly annoying so I must conclude, hoping a customer saunters up to my window soon. One person trading money for my product and service at this point would make a difference.

I guess that’s the point of life. One person making a difference in the life of another. Just that some sit on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Inspired by Claudette Colvin who was arrested nine months prior for refusing to leave a bus under similar circumstances, Rosa Parks became one of many iconic images for change. Large, monumental change most of us will not facilitate by ourselves – one by one. We will make a difference in the lives of those we talk to about their kids, jobs, favorite sports teams, … and, of course, pets, food, & rainbows.

One at a time is wonderful. This is how we manage our way through the pile-ons. Like dad. Normal, day-at-a-time walkabouts we need to survive as Americans right now. We can do this. Rosa is right here with us, sitting by our side.

Sensational Swashbuckling, 2021

2020 was not, for sure. 1954 – the backdrop year of this surprisingly wonderful film – was for a few characters … especially Bengy Stone, who was assigned the unenviable task of looking after swashbuckling matinee idol Alan Swann. Thirty-six years removed from the previous pandemic (in movie time) and directed by Richard Benjamin thirty-nine years behind this current masking society (in real time), “My Favorite Year” is close to my favorite slice of time so far in 2021.

I first met Richard Benjamin during a Tonight Show re-run a few nights ago. He was, in a word, delightful. His appearance came a few months prior to the release of this film, of course … as all appearances by actors and directors dutifully promoting their wares – sitting to the right of the King of Late Night – did at the time. One mention of Peter O’Toole is all it took for me to begin Netflixing my way through movie queues soon thereafter. A few dollars later, there it was. A movie, previously unknown to me, now beginning as a young Mark Linn-Baker carries a cardboard cutout of Alan Swann through the heavy pedestrian traffic of NYC toward 30 Rockefeller Center. A New York City full of life, energy, and humor.

Bengy is who you would expect him to be – a young, energetic fellow who has quirky, humble comedic tilts in his personality. As a writer among others supporting a one hour t.v. Comedy Hour, he’s under pressure to be funny, yet sympathetic to the bigger egos in the room. None bigger than the soon to be inserted Mr. Swann who, we are quick to learn, has a leaning toward wine and women, – both of which cause highly predictable delays in morning arrivals. This being the case, Bengy volunteers to be a swashbuckler’s man-nanny for the week, guaranteeing safe travels within the city and promptness at all rehearsals.

As with all movies that keep our attention and are entertaining, there are sub-plots and curves here. A small romance, a mafia tie-in that culminates in a “hit” at the end, and charming individual character flaws all come together to make this movie really fun to watch.

Obviously, I’m not a professional movie reviewer. I wouldn’t even qualify to carry the briefcases of Siskel & Ebert from their limo to the Oscars if they were alive today. How to accurately convey the pleasure I got out of watching a thirty-nine year old movie without giving away most of the surprise? I don’t know. Peter O’Toole was wonderful. The story wasn’t campy or overplayed by anyone. The premise wasn’t too far reaching … it could actually be true and believable should an actor relay such a story in an autobiography.

What I kept thinking after the movie credits was: How ironic the title.

Nine days into 2021, and I’ll go back to my first line … 2020 was not, for sure. Maybe I simply needed a 1 1/2 hour hero to jump out of the screen and save me from the bad news of last year. A surprise visitor. Someone different with a message I hadn’t heard in a while – even if it was a fantasy. A swashbuckler slaying all the badness one by one.

I related so well to Bengy. Maybe that’s it. Trying to get through with a bit of quirkiness, dealing with egos much greater than I … making it work, somehow.

That’s what most of us are doing. We don’t have a say beyond our own words. Too many have platforms and audiences greater than ours … probably.

I can’t say 1954 was my favorite. Pre-birth years don’t qualify. Now, 1982 does have significance – it set me on my life’s journey after high school. Not my favorite, though. Up to now, I don’t have one, really. Should I?

Should you? When Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo wrote the story for My Favorite Year, I wonder if 1954 was theirs? Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio, the Oscar Mayer hotdog car was patented, and Rock Around the Clock was recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets that same year. If you were to write a movie, what year would you pick?

Tell you what year I wouldn’t pick. 2020. Unless the horror genre is your thing, I wouldn’t recommend it for you either. The only advice I will give you is: find a few moments aside to watch this movie. Yes, it’s 39 years old. Sure, there are better “made” movies that will sparkle your special-effects fantasies. However, for a refreshing start to your 2021, sit back and go back sixty-seven years to a NYC full of life, liberty, happiness, joy, …. and most of all – humanity.

As Siskel & Ebert would lovingly say, “See you at the movies!”

Lady, Luck and Me

This is a lady on Lady.

I had the pleasure of seeing them trot by at a local event last Saturday night. It was a late night corn maze and there wasn’t much business to be placed inside freshly purchased buns, unfortunately. Blame it on rescheduled trick-or-treat plans, cold weather, or Covid fatigue … any number of possibilities … it was simply a slow night. A really. Slow. Night.

Local isn’t really honest. Bedford county is 35 minutes due south from Blair, my home county, and more rural. I set up in a field of worn grass next to a wooded, rather scary, tree-bone graveyard off a well traveled route between two small towns. The folks were banjo friendly in a Nicholson kind of banjo-picking way. Nice, but looked at my hot dawg, northern self like I just stepped off a yankee canoe.

Charles, the folkman in charge of the entire event, was kindly nice and welcoming, however. His gentle demeanor didn’t represent a gruff, wheat stick between the teeth personality as he led my efforts to set up and prepare for the crowds anticipated arrival (not). In fairness – even with over 20 years’ experience running the corn maze and haunted woods – he couldn’t know the effect of Covid or rescheduled trick-or-treat night in the surrounding communities. With that, it was a grueling 4 hours in the cold with little to show except food waste, spent propane, mud in worn tires, and a late night of travel back to a more familiar Blair county.

There was a positive. Meeting the lady … and Lady. In my horse petting haste, I neglected to harness the rider’s name: the lady on Lady. The lady was a very nice person who filled my ears with wonderful information as I ran my cold hands over Lady’s still head a little above her nostrils. This looked to be the only place where she didn’t have a costume part draped over her. Bless her heart. She stood still in silence. Only the white, warm steam rose from the end of her exhales. There was no other movement except my hand – which she seemed to enjoy.

I was told she was a quarter horse. From what I can gather, American Quarter Horses get their name by being quick sprinters – in races of a quarter mile or less. It is one of the most popular breeds in the country and I can see why. I believe we had more of a connection between us than I had with some of the kind kin folk in those parts. Lady didn’t talk much. Heck, she didn’t talk at all. I asked her twice, “Are you a wonderful horse, Lady?”, and she nodded her head in agreement … twice – both times I asked. Don’t tell me we didn’t make a love connection, ’cause we did!

I’m not lonely. Don’t look at this the wrong way. Very seldom do I get to be around large animals, let alone really nice ones, OR ones I have time to pet while freezing my petunias off. Those of you around horses all day long won’t find this encounter of mine wonderful. I get it. For the same reason, I wouldn’t find your writing about an encounter with the most magnificent hot dawg exciting. It’s all what we’ve done, who is with us, perhaps, and possibly what large animal is involved that makes for an interesting life to one vs. another.

The lady’s outfit was interesting to me … especially the way she posed for my picture. It had a middle-eastern flare. Play around with this picture, adding the Abbasid Palace in the background, and it would make for a wonderful picture (although, with apologies to the culture, I’m not sure women are allowed to ride horses). The combination kept my eyes busy most of the evening because there wasn’t much else to do. Lady and the lady rode gently by every 20 minutes or so and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Lady belongs to Charles. He owns four horses. The lady is kind enough to saddle up and ride Lady during these corn maze and haunted woods events to entertain the crowds. Crowds, evidently, that show up only on the nights I’m not there.

That said, some really nice folks did arrive. I can’t say there weren’t. Those who did stop to buy a hamburger, or two, discussed pleasantries with me as I suffered my way around a steamy grill. Charles bought three – yes, three – sausage sandwiches that totaled up to most of my sales. Stuffed in among these slid a few dawg sales and maybe ten sodas. Not a very good night by any standard.

Doesn’t matter much because I try to always find a good nugget … something to stabilize the bad.

And, out of the stable came Lady. She was a few minutes within a few hours. This time became a sliver of my life. A cold guy petting a warm, friendly horse. Not much, by some standards, I humbly admit, but in the midst of a crazy later-mid life, I’ll take what I can get.

We should spend more time looking for these smaller moments that matter. The big ones just aren’t often enough and are fleeting, anyway. I believe “Lady luck” reigned me in Saturday night … if only for a little bit. Worth the drive down south over the county line. I’m not much for banjo playing, however, I may get a hankerin’ for some more soon. Lady may need some Doug affirmations again.

Vote or Veto

“VOTE on/by Tuesday. If not, you’ve switched your constitutionally guaranteed vows…to a VETO of everything fought and died for over time.”

Something as simple as voting. It’s no more complicated as taking the E and L out of vowel to make another word sounding almost the same.

The process, however, could be a bit more involved, according to what I see on the news. You know. I know.

When I write “vote”, it means to pull a lever, fill in a bubble, or turn a knobby-thingy. The getting there is not included in my letters or words, nor is distancing, masking, ballot mailing, USPS rules, chads (is this a thing anymore?), drop boxes, signature matching, etc … I’m simply picturing you standing or sitting at a booth exercising your constitutionally guaranteed right. Period.

As of this date, November 1st, record-breaking numbers of Americans have pre-voted. I’m waiting until Tuesday because I like to do it in person, alone, in a booth. The ladies who greet me are pleasant and know me by name. I get free stuff (pamphlets) distanced safely – even before Covid – handed to me prior to entering the polling door. I like that. Humans taking a pro-active stance in the process. Sometimes there are mints on a table. I get to sign in. Most times I’ll see a neighbor, or two … or three.

I will not – ever – veto my vote. Especially now, when the vows are so easily switched.

You shouldn’t either. Do the best you can to vote. Please.