Toby Full of Heart

I like my personal, peaceful sits. Ya know, those times when breezes and people pass by without relinquishing their troubles … asking me to understand something I care not to appreciate at the moment. My sedentary self on a comfortable chair, outside any coffee shop or bistro, furnishes me breaths I cannot get inhaling busy air while going about daily congestions. Yesterday. Business passing by in which I didn’t need to be involved. Human interactions less interested in the iced green tea placed just within my reach than what was waiting inside. Nearly perfect as the early afternoon sun’s shade crept across a marginally wobbly iron table. A nice breathing space shared by all – a table, a deserving man, the slight early summer breeze, and Toby … a little guy who teaches all of us ToBe full of heart.

He was a little fretful an hour before this picture was taken. Can’t say I blame him. The “experienced” ladies in charge of his care appeared to be concerned about everything swirling around the outdoor patio. They were sweet … don’t misunderstand my words. Toby did the best he could to slowly find his way around the unfamiliar maze of sixteen metal legs and four familiar human legs. The older countesses of this blog did come across their happy breezes as well on the upper side of their table as Toby twirled beneath. I suspect this was the situation even before I walked by to enter Panera Bread. Loved for sure, he is. I’m sure.

Loved for years. Toby isn’t young. Cataracts kept him from moving too fast. Casual glances in his direction between my sips of tea didn’t appear to make him move much. Either his interest in my interaction was “meh”, or he couldn’t see me. I’m so inclined to believe the latter is true. I need to wonder this … Yes, unconnected “peaceful sit” time is valuable, but being tossed off by an aging canine can sting a bit.

In between Toby times, there were times ToBe absorbed in heartfelt thoughts. Just passing by, they were. Not completely soaking in all of my time, but here and there. Too many deep, pensive notions in a row – in combination with the near perfect weather – would have slunk my body into a three-hour Sunday trance the likes from which no “Flavorful & Craveable” smelling salt could bring me back. Maybe a flaky, chocolate croissant? … mmm, possible.

I considered how busy we can be. This isn’t new to any of us, is it? The cars pulled in and out … customers came and went carrying their orders. Smiles – I think were genuine, but I am not one to judge. Most, if not all, who sat as my concrete companions under the strip mall roof entertained their afternoons with phones in one hand. Expected busyness in 2021. Even I checked my friendly messages once in a while. It is what we do. We want to stay engaged in something – connected to busyness – even when really easy early summer breezes offer us time to get away from all of it.

I considered how difficult big changes can be. When casually over-the-shoulder spying on the gentlewomen of the Panera patio, I had to wonder how many changes have taken place during their, assumed, nine-ish decades of life. Clearly in their late 70’s, possibly 80’s, they laughed through conversations I couldn’t clearly make out (and, for the record, wasn’t trying). Were these the same friendly laughs carrying them through the deaths of spouses? Sisters loving each other once again as they did when loving parents passed into energy eternal? Are salads and sandwiches the daily connections they need to small-bite the large change pains that are still sitting in their lives?

I considered how wonderful friends can be. I’ve said this before and will continue to say it. Quite straightforward is this safety net of comfort, support, and advice. When we are too busy and going through a major change in our life, friends support us. They tell us what we need to hear – even if the advice is not exactly framed with words pleasing to our ears.

While all of this circled around the table and the inside of my cup became more melted ice than tea, Toby appeared from under his lunchtime abode. What emerged in plain view was the heart on his coat. I couldn’t resist the notion to believe his heart was more than black on white in front of my eyes.

Only after considering what’s truly important in life, does one’s heart appear. I didn’t see it as he slowly scurried about earlier. It was seen only when I was ready to see it. Toby’s heart is inside his aged little body, too. He can’t see very well. He can’t move fast. Chances are good – if I ask the nice ladies – there would be other ailments he has. In his frailty, however, he reminds us there’s goodness all of us can see in our change and busyness.

Life isn’t easy. I guess that’s the point here. It’s a lot nicer for me when I can have my personal, peaceful “sits”. When hearts are wonderfully placed in my life – unexpectedly – I must ask, “Toby, or not to be?”, …then take that comfortable path to a small hamlet where coffee shops and bistros exist as breezy escapes. To be full of heart is the only way forward – inside and out. It’s tough, but as long as friends have our back, we don’t have to see everything clearly.

If this is good enough for Toby, it’s good enough for me. Glad to have a new friend.

Snowy Diamond

“Can you believe this?”, pronounced one of the provocateurs at our breakfast table. He incited misplaced seasonal phrases none of us wanted to say like, “There’s crappy white stuff out there.” & “What the hell is this?”. As the three of us looked through our favorite cafe window, the snow blew expectations of a sunny, warm April day out that same clear glass and we certainly felt the pain. If only momentarily, the winter angst revisited us like Grinch looking over Whoville … ready to steal any positive, happy packaged belief we had about a snug, comfortable Thursday.

Yes, the snow blew. We felt it in our souls. Diamonds in the rough we pretend to be every day as time passes over easy eggs, rye toast, and occasional slabs of scrapple dripping with maple syrup – depending upon our mood. These are the Hollidaysburg days uptown or downtown depending upon one’s idea of direction around here. Pennsylvania times few of us – a scant half dozen, or so – get to experience sitting in a booth by a window.

Tracks in the snow during an April blizzard were left by anxious feet and rubbery tires as they made haste coming up the street toward “the diamond” – an intersection where The Capitol Hotel has been taking up residence for decades. Trolley cars, horses and buggies both have passed leaving their historical marks in the snow for us to remember in pictures hanging elegantly on the walls inside. Portraits from the past showing those who’ve previously passed our time and left marks on our hearts. I’ve seen their faces and places they’ve lived and loved. The intersected ground on which I stood moments earlier experienced their lives … in person. Where Allegheny and Montgomery streets cross? Today, a snowy diamond.

So we sat for a few moments watching this event … a mini late-April blizzard. The urge to put my amateur film-making skills into place overtook hunger, so outside I went. The 15-seconds above are meant to highlight the wind current event, certainly not my Spielbergian sense of cinematography. It wasn’t cold, but a bit breezy. The window creaked as I rose from the booth – as if to say, “Where you goin’, son? … Breakfast hasn’t been served and your friends aren’t done talking.” To be fair, they never stop talking, anyway, so there would not have been a quiet time for me to politely excuse myself. Impulse overtook my instinct to feed the grumbling belly inside. The doors welcomed my exit. Strangely enough, so did my ever-so compassionate friends.

Strangely quiet it was. Save the bundled gentleman who appears in the final second, nobody was astir. Whoville-Hollidaysburg contained a presence unopened at 8:25 a.m. during what should’ve been sunny, early spring awakening. Snow capped cars sat unattended as their otherwise occupied owners were busy going about their business. At that hour, I suspect most were either at The Capitol having the same conversation as my friends, banking nearby, or preparing to shop at one of a few delightful shops about ready to open. Retail isn’t a huge walk-around here, but happening-Hollidaysburg always has dreams afoot and folks will enter into those ambitions as the fates allow.

Fifteen seconds was enough to capture my thoughts. Oh, and I was able to avoid getting wet by standing under a magnificent human porte cochere Brian had installed a few years ago. As I stood there with memories forty years removed from high-school band appearances and only a few feet from where my grandmother had her gift shop, flurries of white stuff continued to cascade down and sideways. I saw winter remembrances coming back as cinematic flashes while looking down over the hill toward what used to be the movie theater. Across the street, the old five-and-dime – G.C. Murphy building – was a row a retail/office buildings being caressed with soon-to-be melting snow. The large, multi-floored furniture store across the way has been converted into smaller stores where imaginations have gone to flourish and generations have lived … and passed. It’s a hometown for most of us. Just like thousand of others, except this day a snowy diamond in the rough had us somewhat perplexed.

Bemused only to a point, though. After the questions were asked and I re-entered my safe space, the friends so eager to welcome my exit graciously embraced the return of their favorite amateur cinematographer. No answers necessary. All of us knew this off-season adventure into blah-blanche wasn’t going to last long. Conversations shifted into politics, personal profundity, and sarcastic wit. You know, the usual morning banter before all of us departed into our normal activities.

The Grinch does apologize for his shenanigans. I’m waiting for Mother Nature’s sorry butt to ring me an, “I’m sorry!” for her apparent dust upon our little ‘burg. In the mean time, I will believe what happened … because it did. THIS should answer the question first posed by one of my friends. As to the “crappy white stuff”? It wasn’t. I saw it as an opportunity to breathe in the remaining fresh, cold air of memories before a hot, humid summer of challenges visits me.

I guess it’s all about living in the moment. Even if we say to ourselves, “What the hell is this?”, it’s still a life to live … and that’s ok. One snowy or brilliant, wonderful day at a time. Inside or outside a favorite cafe, we’re all diamonds in the rough.

Puppies and Rainbows

You have to know Brian. He’s a man of slender build with years of height near mine, definitely more scalp than hair, a hurried gate accompanied by slightly longer arms than the average human, and – without giving him too much credit – near perfect execution of the “puppies and rainbows” gesture. A gesture, mind you, having its genesis in the midst of what I believed to be a fine proprietor/customer relationship.

See, Brian owns The Capitol Hotel. If you are a frequent reader, you’ll recognize this place. It’s a gateway to my morning silly-zone where I can be a sitter out of sorts with a crew of ne’er-do-wells I call my friends. There’s an old retired guy, another retired guy, a slightly older lady, sometimes a guy my age, an artistan I write about on occasion, … Oh, and a waitress. At times, slithering by I see peripheral pals and palettes passing by as well. I have examined, appraised, and evaluated all … concluding if a week went by without them in front of my bad jokes and goofy morning temperment, life wouldn’t be the same – for any of us.

This past January wasn’t much different. The first week of the new year began as any other. I walked in through the first set of glass doors taking a few steps before knobbing my way past the creaky old door into the main counter area. With huge glass/brass mirrors and dark, beet red booths always there to greet hungry patrons like me, this hotel in the ‘burg is like no other even in 2021. Covid seating restrictions forced my eyes downward to the empty seat poles strewn intermittently across the counter floor. Some booth seats then, and to this day, are tilted up to prevent seating on one side. Masked matrons scurried about taking orders as I strode my way over to the far corner booth to take my place among the sort-of welcoming warmth I saw on the faces of my friends.

Something was different that day, however. Quiet isn’t the norm … and then I figured it out.

They were waiting to see my reaction regarding a story broadcast the previous night. Our local news station ran a small story about something I did New Year’s Eve with my business. What I did isn’t relevant here, however, what I said during the interview is…

Prior to the interview, I agreed to talk with the understanding I could promote this blog site. She agreed. Cameras rolling, we discussed my event New Year’s Eve, then it happened. Now, I don’t really recall saying the words, but upon review later, I did.

She asked me, “Could you tell me about your blog, Doug Hugs?.” “Sure, I write about happy things. You know. Like puppies and rainbows.”, came the reply out of my unprepared, stunningly oblivious orifice.

I got it. If I had a friend entering the hallowed breakfast nook after seeing his blogous facial faux pas the night before, I’d remain silent until he spoke. After all, maybe the word circus had more crazy out-of-context clowns in his tiny mind’s blather bus.

Turns out, I didn’t. That circus left town. It was in-tents for a few seconds, though. Once all the laughter settled and good-natured ribbing calmed into friendly conversation about the entire interview, the morning unscrambled and life went about its normal routine until … until Brian – yes, that same Brian who finds his way into my wallet almost every day – decided to animate the very three words I’ve come to regret ever saying: Puppies and Rainbows.

“Hey, Doug! …”

With two hands dangling in front as puppy paws then extending upward and outward (gracefully, I may say) in a rainbow arc, he changed, forever, my idea of a Richard Simmons/Mikhail Baryshnikov collaboration with Bob Fosse for an adaptation of “Three Words of Regret.”

Why today, over three months later? This gesture migrated beyond The Capitol. Today. In a friendly local bread aisle where others were rising with the sun’s expectations, Brian and I had a moment at his insistence. A puppy and rainbow moment, mind you.

What was once a simple recognition of my slippery mouth muscle inside an isolated hotel, has now become a greeting – in Brian’s brain – outside the hotel café when he sees me. Oh, boy.😏. A reflex of two hands inside another building when he saw me later this morning. A Hollidaysburg happening hopefully no one saw occurring between two fifty-year-olds picking up a few items to sooth an already busy day for both.

This isn’t a secret handshake to enter a treehouse, or a password to get into some secret society. Apparently, now, it’s a dude-thing and I don’t know how to respond except to say, “Whelp, thanks Brian. At least your kind, err, gesture today took my mind off an extremely busy day and gave me some pleasant, kind thoughts as I ran my butt off for twelve hours.”

Next time an interviewer asks me about Doug Hugs, I may just say, “Kangaroos, and yoyos”. Let’s see Brian pull that off!