Elsa and ‘Bones

Frozen in time are memories of Mr. McGee lumbering into the bandroom with that predictable scowl on his face. I don’t blame him, knowing what I know being, now, the age he was back then. Having to listen and direct a hoodlum bunch of blowing junior high quasi-instrumentalists – day after bad note day – had to get on his nerves. A collective group of teenaged tooters divided into the usual sections: woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

Sitting on the row in the top tier of the room, immediately inside the door from which he entered, we were the trombone section. Two Daves, a Jim, and I with a smattering of underclassmen. Four ninth-graders resting at the top of the middle school world who first spied Mr. McGee on any given day. Dave, the principle trombonist on the end, had the best seat, I was second, Jim … then Dave #2. One music stand per two slidey bones, four players, …. and one really good time. We were friends.

Dave to my left was always the better negotiator of chair order to that point, although I knew soon I was going to swing around him – which I did the following year. Music was too much in my bones (yes, pun intended) and he didn’t have the passion I did. Mr. McGee recognized this early on, but didn’t do much the change the status quo, so I went along with the plan. Why not, right? Too many other bothersome things in junior high to stumble over than fight about being 1st or 2nd in a band instrument section.

Roughly 10 years later, Mr. McGee fell ill and reached out to me. He was unable to return to that same outdated bandroom for an extended time and wondered if I’d be available to step in as a long-term substitute. After all, as a graduate and qualified K-12 music educator, it seemed the perfect opportunity. Politely declining, I stepped aside due to other career obligations and thanked him for the chance to walk through that same door he did years prior. He died shortly thereafter. The teacher who did accept the substitute position was eventually hired full-time and had a wonderful career.

Life is wonderful. Opportunities not taken are still excellent … just sometimes for others. I went on to do other things I am so wonderfully glad I was able to do – and continue to do.

This is about Dave #1 … and frozen moments. Mr. McGee walking sternly, yet exhaustively, into that bandroom is a still moment I can see today in my left peripheral vision. In that view is Dave sitting beside me. He will always be there.

Imagine my surprise when, with both eyes, I saw his profile picture a few years ago on Facebook when he accepted my 40-years later formal friend request. Those are definitely frozen moments. The, “Oh, man is this really him/her after all these years?” times that repeat over and over following reunion inspired requests. Yes, this was Dave’s overly dark beard, bushy eye brows, deep brown, tan skin and at- peace personality shining through his small smile.

With all those nice qualities, it’s not surprising his new puppy, frozen in time above, is in his care … or, that her name is ELSA. She is second in charge in his home behind an older canine sibling. I’m taking an immediate liking to Elsa and her apparent position seeing as how she’s “second chair” in the ‘bone section. The family is out of state, so I won’t have any opportunity to commiserate with my young puppy pal-ette of similar emotional coloring, but I can sympathize with her plight from afar.

Being 2nd isn’t a bad position. I’m behind my sister, yet ahead of my brother. Seconding, one could argue, is just as important as proposing a motion. Going for seconds is a compliment to the chef and minutes don’t exist without sixty little divisions within them. Great symphonies need relaxing, beautiful 2nd movements and what historical significance would there be between Washington and Jefferson if Adams was out picking apples instead of presiding as President?

Certainly Elsa didn’t choose to harm Anna in the movie. Kristoff steps in to help Anna find Elsa, eventually breaking the spell cast upon Arendelle. Elsa #2, becomes #1 with the help of an unlikely cast of melty characters.

Our Elsa above simply melts our hearts. No movie necessary. Look at that face.

It’s our cast of characters – unlikely or not – who get us through life … our Mr. McGees long since passed, or Daves popping up with cute puppies on social media. These folks melt away the frost on our frozen memories we may have forgotten.

It’s been some time since I’ve reminisced about those junior high, wool uniform band days. For all of Mr. McGee’s faults, he did a pretty good job of corralling a goofy bunch of late 70’s kids into a semi-large, old, non-acoustic beat up old band room from the 40’s.

As for Dave, I think he’s retired military who enjoys his cars. I doubt he plays his trombone much – if at all. Since I’ve been active in music my whole life, it’s probably about time to challenge him to a friendly head-to-head audition. Not that I’m holding a grudge or anything … we should just put to rest who was the better of the two back when Mr. McGee walked into our lives every other day.

Turns out, I kinda miss Mr. McGee’s attitude. It was real, … authentic. Qualities not seen too much these days. Almost frozen in the past.

Unless you’re the puppy, Elsa. Then you have genuine in spades.

Incredible Feat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s Chloe?

She didn’t intend to be Waldo. I have my doubts she even knows who Waldo is. I’m positive Martin Handford and Chloe never met, so, in my asking, “Where’s Chloe?”, there’s no chance Mr. Handford will answer, “There. Right there … snuggling in her pink doggie bed!”. His character Waldo (better known as Wally in North America) is a literary, spectacled success. I applaud the many hours, days, and perhaps years Mr. Handford invested developing his craft. Aspiring authors, painters, musicians, athletes, sculptors, designers, chefs, and inventors all … my best wishes for your success.

Chloe’s success is measured in smaller increments: pulling at socks while they’re only half way up my feet, eating ends off of papers in the trash, barking into closed doors … all the while refusing to pass through open ones, sneaking away with any shoe available, and crotch rocketing into my unsuspecting, shall I say, nameless part gentile. All of these a tiring day’s endeavors for a puppy of five months. Also, very exhausting for a neighbor willing to dog sit such an excitable little puggle. A neighbor who doesn’t have a cute little pink snuggle bed to rest away the stressors of the day.

Ah, but Chloe does … and isn’t that just perfect! (sarcasm). Good sarcasm … if that’s a thing.

Where’s Chloe? I’m constantly asking that question every day. There are moments it’s too quiet. You know what I mean. For a rug rattle consistent with puppy play to then disappear into silence means some paw-hankery is afoot. One certain Chloe is not considering her blessings, or reflecting upon the return of her owners. She’s usually up to something.

Today, the issue was a simple math problem. How to not keep jamming a simple blue racquetball into the corner seam of a sectional sofa … over and over again. Here’s the equation:

BALL + SEAM / SOFA = Doug’s Time √ó 4

I’m a busy guy these days, but my Waldo story is pretty easy. Facebook updates keep my datebook oars in the water with a pretty steady headwind. With that, my mornings stay predictable … unless there’s a little puggle under foot. Don’t mind the company. The occasional yip or brush against my leg is no more a distraction than the random thoughts bouncing around in my noggin.

When the blue ball comes kitchen knockin, however, it can’t be ignored. There’s traction in Chloe’s puppy play world and that ball will bounce an infinite number of times until it’s thrown back into another room. So again today, I obliged. I had to. This week, the lesser of the options between a set of big, brown eyes staring at me, and the paw-patter of feet across the wooden floor into our living room … until silence.

The deafening quiet when I knew she pushed the ball, somehow, up into the most remote corner of the sectional sofa. A crevasse so deep that her head – in combination with her extra long tongue – could not, under any law of physics, remove the deeply embedded ball. Silence.

I knew the dilemma. Fuzzy donuts, monkeys, head socks, bones, … none of these readily available toys within snouts distance were a sufficient replacement for the simple, old blue ball … in her mind. In my mind, why not, right? Any puppy mouth occupier that can keep me from interrupting my routine is gold. Not to be. Silence is too loud for my liking, so off I go to unjam the ball.

Oh, but this starts the game all over again. Cheery Chloe, with ball slightly larger than the very mouth it occupies, enters the kitchen once more – bringing with her a small shadow from the morning sun that beams through the window over the sink. It’s where I find myself looking down, again, at eyes I can’t resist. Three more times. Each time digging the same ball … out of the same seam … of the same sofa … for the same dog-ette.

… And then, later, she rests. After hours of other activities and fun frolicking – most of which I’m not aware. The working thing gets in the way of my Chloe time as she occupies her time with other humans. My time with her – as dog sitter – is limited to seven days now and will end in a few. Back to her true owners she’ll go and I’m sure she’ll be very, very happy to return.

I’ll be glad to hand her back, too. Not that I haven’t enjoyed her visit, mind you. Kinda like Grandparents “graciously”, and lovingly, handing over their grandkids back to the parents. Her owners are wonderful people, great neighbors, and terrific people-parents for Chloe.

For the next few days, I’ll suffer gladly through the minutes. Hopefully I won’t hear that silence too many more times. If I do, I’d like it to be less about a ball and more of her snuggled in a pink, warm bed.

At least then I would know the answer to “Where’s Chloe?”

Show Me Chloe

Ok. Since you asked. Here she is once again.

This past July 3rd, I introduced you to Chloe, the puppy. She’s still scampering about in our neighbor’s yard, tethered to – in her happy, anxious mind – a rather annoyingly short lead. If not, every whim and whisper nature provides would have her half way to China by now. This is her world. Her “I see Doug and want to give him something to think about now” universe.

“U” see, I am not one of those whims and whispers, supposedly. Considering I’m only that one letter off of being a dog myself, you’d think Chloe and I should be can-do, man-dog sypaticos. I think we are. She … well, … may think so. At this point, I’m not so sure. The occasional side belly rub gives me some puppy-cred and the special ball toy we play with at times sheds wonderful light into our friendship, however, one rather annoying habit of hers strikes a sour note across my heartstrings.

Being my canine neighbor across our not so well traveled avenue, she stares uninterrupted at me with her sad, wanting eyes. Beautifully calm, still, unwavering, she sits a few blades of grass from the edge of a driveway no more than 40 or so paces from my five trips back and forth on my property – loading the van for a day ahead. I always see her out of the cautious corner of either eye, depending upon which way I walk … careful to not make direct contact with the beast-ette. It is a dangerous game we play, for I would be tempted to smile uncontrollably at her insistence that I immediately approach – abandoning all my business needs at the moment.

One of any intelligence should assume, when finishing the task of loading said van with time to spare, this barely-out-of-puppydom would then welcome the very person to whom such pleas were advanced, right?

Uhm, wrong. That sounded too abrasive, so let me phrase it another way: Chloe wants me to come across and play a few minutes with her, then doesn’t, then does, then doesn’t, then …. you get my point.

If she wasn’t so damn cute and petable, I wouldn’t play this dog and mouse, “who wants to be a schmoozer the least” game at 7:30 in the misty morning. She sits there with her little butt barely on the grass, leash extended to its full length, … and brown marble eyes staring across like arrows lasered on my heart knowing full well I have a blue racquetball somewhere. Ah, the little, round rubber morning ball. It isn’t me she wants at all …

So, I walk “casually” over, pacing my step as if approaching a sleeping bear. Chloe’s tail wags a bit left and right and her, now, slightly larger than puppy body still does not move. Then, I’m only five steps away, a few seconds later, when she abruptly jumps a high-dee-ho, her leash gives a sigh, and back to the porch she runs … taking a path of zig-zags and look backs as if to say, “Ha! … gotcha again! .. Ya big sucker!”

There is no licky-lapy, jump into my arms, nice to see you moment. No Lassie found me alive in a well revelation. She runs from me the very moment I reach down – extending my arms to caress the very compassion and love she so wonderfully extended to me only seconds earlier. I, somehow, got a version of the smelly anti-dog plague in the four-point-six seconds it took to cross the street; OR, perhaps Chloe is playing a game, as usual.

It IS a game. A big freakin’ game I get sucked into almost every morning. Why? Because I’m me … and you’re you … and you’d do exactly the same thing, so don’t judge me.ūü§£

The lure of cuteness overload is exhausting sometimes. Chloe is sweet. I’ll continue to dance the dance. After a few minutes of rah-rah back and forth, she will settle and we’ll have some quality time as I sit on the stoop on her front porch. Ball-bouncy and side-scratchy morning time, as afforded by my nice neighbors, are important to Chloe, I guess. After all, she’s only a dog and I can only pretend to know what goes on inside her fuzzy little noggin’.

As for my brain, well, it’ll never change much. In about 45 minutes, the pleasure sensors will trigger puppy chemicals once again as I carry heavy coolers out from my commercial kitchen to the van. She’ll be sitting there … staring at me. Geesh.

I’ll not resist. Can’t. Show me Chloe and I’m done with all self-control. The best way to start any morning … on her terms, of course.

The dance begins …

Life is Grand in Small Pieces

It’s most likely the pianist in me. Eighty-eight keys arranged by white and black pieces, 52 + 36 = 88. Simple math. Ten little fingers gracefully stroking the correct ones – at precisely the correct moment – to create music directly from the Masters’ hearts is so special. A purely divine plan easily devised, but difficult to execute well.

Few rise to the level of international fame. More fall into mediocrity and just as many, if not more, succumb to scales and chords of lesser quality. As with any discipline, refined excellence of prodigious talent is really, really rare. Horowitz, Lang-Lang, and Rubenstein are perfect pianist pearls in an otherwise ordinary oyster world.

I fall into one of those categories. Into which one I descend is up to you to decide without hearing me stroke a single key. My dear mother had an opinion when she so diligently listened to my young digits squeak and squirm their way around the keys. Young as I was years ago, I did have an early affinity toward the mathematical 88. The piano/music connection always made sense to me. Middle C was to my brain as breathing was to my lungs, so mom decided early on THIS was to be the grand plan …

… Did you ever get the feeling someone else knew something you didn’t? Just asking. I should’ve finger-figured something was afoot.

Bless her heart, she tried. I didn’t. Call me stubborn … most do – even to this day many decades later. She recognized a gift I refused to open. I knew what I had in my hands was a unique quality … a special talent to play this wonderful, orchestral instrument capable of rich low and sweet high tones. One single vibration, or many clusters of dissonant sounds together at my sole discretion … all available with one twitch of a wrist. Yet, with that knowledge, I fought the less-than-valiant fight against the natural forces given to me at birth.

“Cantankerousistic tendencies” and the drive to be my own stubborn self. Period. End of self-analysis. I’ll send myself a bill.

Mom died eight years ago knowing all this; However, she did see me perform many times on stage both as a soloist, accompanist, and music director, etc… Music became a major part of my life and, aside from being a street vendor selling munchables, still is. I eventually decided to get serious about it after high school and have remained active in the arts community ever since. Mom saw that development in my adult years … yes, I did, kinda, grow up.

She’s so easy to write about and spatter great and wonderful words all over conversation. Her influence on me is immeasurable – in small parts.

Which makes my life so grand.

She saw the big picture for my life, but never pushed it on me. I was left to be me. Now, had I decided to be less of a pain in the ass and practiced more, she would have most likely influenced the “plan”. I didn’t. She didn’t. Instead, we laughed, played games together, colored, told jokes, went to stores and ate fast food, spent time with my brother and sister, ate meals together as a family with dad after he came home from work ….

All the small stuff in life she never ignored.

Wow. What a life lesson for all of us, right?

Big pictures and goals are great to have and to hold. No argument from me about life’s “go afters” that keep the wheels from coming off. None of us need to sit around drinking sodas, eating bbq chips, and watching cable news all day long. That’s definitely NOT worth the weight, correct?

Point being, relax and notice the small things that make you … you. Perhaps the stubbornness? (Ahem) … or the gift you have yet to develop. Maybe the gift in someone else who needs you to recognize and inspire? Could be a joke or game to share with a friend. Who knows?

My mom hasn’t been here for eight years. I’ll never see her again, nor will she hear me play one more time. It’s really ok. She’d always come up after any performance, give me a big hug and say, “How’d you do that? … it was wonderful!”. Now, I know in her heart she meant a heart-squeeze, but I also am aware I missed a c-sharp in the development of the second movement of the Beethoven Sonata and she knew this as well … “

I miss her on a grand scale. My heart heals every day in small pieces.

It’s all good. My ten fingers grace the keys today with almost as much grace as she blessed my life. It never mattered to her into which category I fell … and that, my friends, is a perfectly executed, divine plan.

Straight Turn from the Center Lane

This may be surprising to very few. I have friends on social media who complain. Politics, relationships, food, religion, … any and all subjects are spouted about sporadically – as the mood strikes – by ordinarily calm, peaceful folks in my life. My cell dings not-so-happy notices from the fingers of these upset pals and palettes who paint pictures of woe upon my wonderful wall. I don’t worry for, and about, them – knowing they’ll be ok, of course. Venting is healthy. So is chocolate, but that’s for another time.

Steve is my friend. I’ve known him for quite some time, however, not as long as some life-long friends. He’s more in the category of a customer/friend. One of those guys I see more often at my business than in other situational, about town run-ins or home visit type of things. He’s a lefty bowler – as am I – and, by my own admission, isn’t as accomplished at the finer art of that ten-pin, sixty feet skill. On the other hand, with no pun intended because both of us wouldn’t be right-handed, he’d be incredibly more accurate to point out his significantly higher skill level throwing darts. We are co-equals in life. Both rather sarcastic to/with one another. Respectful.

Why Steve? You’ll probably never meet this semi-balding, 5’10” guy who sports a sort-of beard most times and shuffles his approximate 180 pounds frame on two legs exhausted from a hard days work. Well, he threw up a complaint on my FB wonderwall yesterday.

The weather was humid. I was hot. Customers were, as always, very kind and plentiful … but after so many, they get to be too many. Not too many in numbers, just too many to wait on without a bit of a break. It’s my age, perhaps … or the virus, masking, grease all over my glasses, alignment of Venus, rattling of trucks idling nearby with three-thousand exhaust pipes popping out their roofs, or jerky little pom-pom cars with music so loud the windows rattled louder than a herd of rabid steer rambling over a field of broken dreams. Oh, and I was stinkin’ hot – in case I didn’t say that already – when I finally did get a moment to sit.

Diet Pepsi in hand, phone in the other, I opened the Facebook app … and there it was: Someone, sitting in the lane to his left, made a right turn from the left lane in front of Steve. Fortunately, there was no physical contact, meaning, no accident. He was, apparently, at a stop light and witnessed this violation. Illegal? Yes. I’ll advised? Absolutely! Complain-able? For sure!!

I give Steve full and complete permission to post-up words of frustration concerning this act of drivery-dissatisfaction. Complain he must! For to not do so does emotional harm only unto himself. Let it out, my man …. let it go!! We’re here for you.

This is social media this year – a vent stack for all that burns in the furnace of dissatisfaction.

Every Steve and Stephanie with a Covid complaint, especially, has this wonderful outlet to express his or her opinion on all virus related issues. Pick one among hundreds and go for it …

Educational articles have been tagged, shared, and discussed. Private and public groups are forming around specific interests. Humorous, viral-related memes are lightening the mood for some, and mask-making ideas glitter the sewing circles among seamstresses.

Life is about positive things in general. It’s never just about social media in the midst of a pandemic. We can take food to a neighbor, donate our time to a cause we believe in, simply be nice to someone who may be difficult to like …. all wonderful things.

For now, though, this virus is the lane we’re in … turning straight from the center lane is how we move forward. Any other option gets us off the road to recovery.

These are all what I call “turning straight from the center lane” things we can do:

-Don’t judge anyone. They are who they are because you are who you are.

-Try to understand. Be open to other possibilities. I’ve learned more about myself by understanding why other people believe what they do. Ask them – don’t assume anything.

-Work hard at your “now”. This pandemic requires us to be vigilant at all times. Believe, or not. Your choice, of course. Be mindful and work hard at staying true to you while respecting others.

-Listen to both sides of a broken record. An argument has two sides. Any cable news network has an equal and opposite network. Be balanced and fair to yourself when receiving news.

-Finally, please laugh… a lot!! I do – at myself constantly. I also yell, scream, bedangle, amazzel, frizzle, yellop, bloppel, and rackelpop myself twice a day as well.

All of these keep me centered as best I can be. The road forward is harder than the covid-concrete upon which we find ourselves these days, right? We’ve all kind o’ crazy drivers out there making illegal swings in front of us at every turn, so complain we must …

Steve had it right. No, wait, the other driver turned right. Whatever the case, he Facebook-filed a fabulously friendly complaint on my wall and I’m glad he did. It reinforced the “when properly used” puff-stack power of social media.

Y’all can blow off some steam once in a while. I’m at “Doug Rhodes Piano” on Facebook. Make sure to send your complaint at the height of a lunch rush, during a 95-degree plus, high humidity day. I’ll be sure to get right back with an appropriate reply. Don’t worry. Just remember, venting is healthy for me as well.

Now, go find some sweets. I hear dark chocolate is delicious when it’s melted.

S’pots and S’pans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother, Daughter, Connections to Us

When a picture speaks, limited words on a page suffice. Mother and daughter. Friends of mine. Mother, a student in my music-life circle a long time, and her young daughter.

Out of my geography for a few years, but never out of my heart. Her family is my family. This happens when music ties once unknowns together through teacher-student connections. I love this family. Mother, her sister and brother … parents. All of them. They are musical, kind, generous, warm, productive, open, and giving.

Daughter, sweet and dancy – with a “d”. Fancy, with an “f”, places her in a box of stuffiness … among elites and noseys. She does not belong in there. She dances between daisies, bounces on sunbeams, and feeds on happiness.

Picture her eyes above. Few words necessary from me. This connection – from her to us – pushes through the internal biases and filters in your head as you consider her life. She is pure and innocent and her eyes are exposing our different messages being sent to her generation.

She is not unaware of the world around her. Look at her eyes. Look away.

Then look again.

She’s not going away. We are accountable … not to our ourselves, but to her and her friends.

Her words are few, as are mine today. My eyes aren’t as fresh or aware anymore because my mountains have been climbed and my biases possibly tainted. Glasses I wear are bifocals and my crow’s feet are starting to show.

Fresh and alive are her eyes. Bright and beautiful is her future.

Pay attention to her message. It’s in her eyes.

Yacht To Sea This

Just a few minutes ago, our Governor Wolf announced a return to six on my non-normal grading system … in a weird way. Normal around these parts hasn’t been seen since early March, so I measure typical on a non-normal scale. One being slightly above McDonald’s not having BBQ sauce for our McNuggets, or a freakishly fabulous forty-four degree day for our fourth of July picnics. An abduction by absolutely adorable, astute, astronomically ambidextrous aliens ranking an extreme ten on the other side of my normalcy division. Everything imaginable in between – our banged up toes on strange concrete pylons appearing out of nowhere, politicians with actual good ideas, tv shows about a family losing millions but starting over in an obscure Ontario town, long lines at bank drive-ups, meteors burning up in the atmosphere, global-warming, successful rube goldberg machines, Rose Apothecary purchases, on … and … on. My non-normal grading system application, when properly applied, could rival even the most strident of systems.

Take Politfact for example, since I mentioned Governor Wolf. Well, let’s backtrack for a minute. Today, he announced a return to a 25% capacity on restaurants (from 50%), closing of bars, and stricter business limitations – all in response to our state populous (as a whole) not doing a good job of masking and distancing. Without assuming my political or socio-economic position, just go with me here. This is moving from one non-normal number on my scale to another. We were at a marginal four-ish, now back to a solid six. Sliding away from Honey-Mustard and closer to Mars.

Back to the “Gov.”. According to http://www.fivethirtyeight.com, “First, some quick notes on how PolitFact works and a few words of warning. PolitiFact¬†reporters, researchers and editors¬†grade each statement as true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false or ‚Äúpants on fire‚ÄĚ. This is a six-point system I’d gladly stand against on my scale – it’d be worth the weight. They are on a slippery-scale of opinion, whereas, I am fundamentally sound on solid ground of normal thought. Who’s to say what is a “half-truth, or mostly false”? “Half” and “mostly”, applied to abstracts like truth and false, are subject to interpretation. I’m half crazy, right? Define that in terms of my mostly sane existence … see what I mean?

Nobody – alas NOBODY – thinks where we are right now is anywhere close to normal! I’m simply applying a numerical value to the non-normal space of this time. We understand numbers so much more than words when grasping scalability. Mt Everest is 29, 029 feet high. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. There are over 7 trillion nerves in the human body … any one capable of being the last one some unfortunate schlep will step on within my existence by week’s end. THAT’S normal!

What wasn’t normal – and has a rather large million dollar number assigned to it – is this yacht – auto social-distancing its way through my hometown. Ten miles per hour, being sluggishly towed along by one very large semi, escorted to the future prom by plenty of local law enforcement officers eager to make sure there was no inappropriate touching, this handsome tug-hug was on its way to Lake Erie via Altoona, Pa. Pennsylvania Electric (Penelec) was in bucket form to raise all necessary lights/wires because Ms. Million-dollar stood tall atop her multi-wheel hull-carrier. She was the Queen of the moment. A traffic stopper – out of necessity and wonder.

Where we stood was normal to our everyday space. What was IN our space was anything but. How often does one see a multi-million dollar gargatron lumber through an intersection, hundreds of miles from any body of water necessary to float a yummy-yielding yacht of this stature? My guess? “Never”, and I yield the floor to PolitFact to grade this answer as “True” (even though “not normal” still applies).

We stand a firm six now. Ugh. I had a nice “at a marginal four-ish” Lemonade and Life lunch today before coming home to see the news about Governor Wolf’s decision. My customers were beautiful today. A very nice couple started a business lately and were excited to tell me about it. Another charming lady experienced loss a few years ago, but came back strong and I suspect great things in the future … for her and her boys. My space wasn’t normal as usual … a great non-normal for me, though.

For all of us, however, the non-normals in our collective space with all this aren’t peachy-keen as we’d like them to be, right? My scale of 1-10 is the social, all-of-us scale I apply to the situation. It is the big picture frame I use to help me understand my place as the extremely small pixel located in that small dot of color down by the lower left corner.

It’s not the non-normals for us – as individuals – that are driving us crazy. We can deals with hangnails, kids and kool aid spills, dog poop, and overcooked macaroni. The non-normals imposed upon our collective space are causing us to take notice of our place and our stance. “Yacht to pay attention to this virus in this way (pick any variation of masking, distancing, droplets, ICU beds, Fauci, Birx, … true, mostly true, half true, etc…)” … is the message slowly crossing through our intersections of reason and emotion every … single … day. It’s no wonder we have no sense of normal anymore… Our wires are being crossed and there’s no help ahead to make sure damage is mitigated. We’re headed to an Erie place.

…And, it’s why Governor Wolf probably reinstated the restrictions today. He’s going to get grief, I can guarantee it just as easy as I can assure you my chocolate milk is waiting in the ‘fridge for my enjoyment in about fifteen minutes.

Not all bad, folks. Pay attention to your color. Your place in the whole picture. You have color. You have life. You have a non-normal that contributes mightily to your experience and your space. This isn’t selfish or self-serving to pay heed to your space and your time. Yeah, we haven’t seen normal since mid-March …but, then again, we never saw a million-dollar yacht dry-surfing through multi-lanes of traffic on its way to a lake.

If I ever come across Martians eating McNuggets at the Rose Apothecary however, something is very wrong with the Universe. Unless, of course, David and Patrick rented Mariah Carey’s yacht for all the fans of Schitt’s Creek … then, maybe, non-normal could be put on hold for a few days.

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.