Old Friends

UCSB boys 2Left to right: Steve Van Beek, Kevin Farenkopf, Paul Escoll, Dr. David Gyepes, Your’s Truly, Andy Logan, & Daryl Landy.  (c.2001)

These days most things can be had with the well-ordered strike of a few keystrokes.  They usually arrive within seconds digitally or a few days by truck, perhaps a week if there are shipping complications.  Jobs can be found, romance born, business relationships forged in the ether of our modern internet biome.  All these ‘friends,’ ‘likes,’ ‘followers’ add up to…Something I suppose.  However, no thing or connection that can be had so immediately compares with the feeling of finding oneself in the company of old friends.

Enduring relationships are created and perpetuated via the practices of patience, commitment, forgiveness, and a healthy dose of introspection.  Old friends know us, often better than we know ourselves.  They watch us break, and aid us when they are able in the process of picking up the pieces.  They share our triumphs and offer a shoulder when we need a place to lean.  

If you have old friends, you are blessed.  If you have lost touch with someone you once held dear our modern world offers ample opportunity to reconnect.  Few things on the average to do list can provide such reward.  Some say that real connection is a dying art.  Fortunately other say that history is cyclical.  Wherever you find yourself on this wheel of life I wish you peace, love, and enduring friendships.  In the words of Clarence the Angel, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Broken Things

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Broken things, some we are quick to cast aside, some are not so easily released.  A Van Gogh, a toy doll, a locket, a person; all come into existence with the sheen of shiny fresh brand new ‘here I am.”  Over time that bit fades, ultimately replaced by the thing that most often happens to things that persist in the act of existence, some sort of brokenness.  A locket or pocket watch have sentiment on their side. If these become broken a fix of some sort is possible if the owner is sufficiently motivated by emotional attachment.  What of broken people?  As I glance to my left wrist, I see my great grandfather’s watch.   He, a broken thing that ultimately could not be “fixed’ left this working timepiece as a memory.

Hearts are regularly broken; so are bonds of friendship, vows, and refrigerators.  The casting aside and replacing of broken things happens when we lose faith, often rightly so, in the possibility of repair.  Other times we simply must do the work of restoration or so parish, as with our hearts.  I have a sentimental streak that has caused a light hoarding behavior at times.  I hold onto my collection of five old runner sleds even as the warming of the earth no longer offers winter in my part of the world.  The sleds aren’t broken.  However, their usefulness is but a memory.  Still, like a locket bearing the picture of a loved one, in my case winter, they hold value, hope, promise, or nostalgia, that I am reluctant to release.

I’ve walked some of my days with a broken heart, many adult humans do.  Fill in the blank as to the details with your own experiences, and we will likely be in understanding of one another.  It is a scar, or a badge, or a shitty outcome that clings to the soul like a limpet to the hull of a sailing vessel.  It by itself will not plot the course of a journey though it may slow the runnings.  So it goes with we who have minds made of chains that rattle and dance each morning when we decide to once again rise and face the day. 

I learned yesterday that my best friend of thirty-eight years, Dr. David, (mentioned in a previous Random Fiction blog post “Free Fall,” irony included) has acute leukemia. He has passed, at least temporarily from the realm of shiny new things into that of the broken.  He wore a brave face Thursday as he entered a month of hospitalized solitude to face down his indiscriminate adversary in a firestorm of chemotherapy.  

Interestingly, several months ago, before this category 5 shit-storm reared its ugly head, Dave and I spent a weekend visiting the college town where he and I met. Our in the moment state of unbrokenness found us commenting that we both felt as though we were still the same boys that had made acquaintance there those many years ago.  Alas, as some friend of Anne Lamott’s said, “we are all born astride the grave.”  Acknowledging that fact is ultimately both a curse and a relief… at least for me.  That said, I will give any and all of my time, money, and bone marrow to fix this particular broken thing.  Love to you my dearest friend.  My heart is with you all the way.

My Last Dime

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Let’s say I’m down to my last dime?  Let’s also say that I have to make that dime go as far as I can seeing as it represents the totality of my remaining financial resources.  What would I buy?  Not much probably, seeing as a dime doesn’t go as far as it used to.  I’m not even sure I could buy a gumball with a dime today.  So here I am down to my last dime.  Let’s also say that you too are down to your last dime.  Are you anxious? Scared?  Or are you exhilarated, confident, sure that you can turn that dime into a fortune?  If you’re the latter, I’ll be wanting some of the magic dust you’ve been huffing.  I’d also be curious to know how, with such confidence and aplomb, you came to have a total net worth of ten cents.  But I digress.  

Back to our predicament, or at least to me, it would undoubtedly feel predicament-ish.  Do you have a safety net…family with means, friends, standing by to catch you if you fall, people who care?  If so perhaps being down to your last dime is difficult for your pride or ego, but not a threat to your health or safety.  If that is the case then ‘lucky you.’  Let’s say for the sake of argument that I have a safety net too, puts us on an even footing as we walk this road of destitution.  But if we both have a safety net, I submit that we’re not truly down to our last dime.  We have the social circumstance of connectedness which we may very likely take for granted day to day.   However, that to which we may give little thought, that which seems ‘normal’ to us… is not normal for everyone.  If you don’t believe me spend a few minutes researching “poverty” on the internet…wow!

How does one determine the value of a safety net?  Unless one actually ‘falls’ the net may as well not exist.  Without a slip, a stumble, mistake, calamity, wrong turn, poor choice, bad luck… you get the picture, a safety net is conceptual,. It’s an idea.  Does having it help you sleep better at night?  I never thought about mine until now…now that I’m down to my last dime… suddenly it’s all I can think about.  How grateful I am that people care enough about me to reach out to catch me should I fall.  

Back to the notion of “normal.”  What if our ‘normal’ was “safety-net-free”?  What if this was indeed the last dime.  What if by some twist of fate we were falling through the cracks, and no one noticed?  How would that last dime feel between your fingers?  How would the world around you look as you held it?  How would you spend that last dime?  Would you find yourself entering a shop meekly asking the clerk to change your dime for ten pennies?  Would you find a wishing well?  Would you stand there and earnestly make ten consecutive wishes that somehow you would be saved from this fate before you walked away to sleep under a bridge that night?  I might!

The Subtext Of A Sigh

The Subtext Of A Sigh

Walking through the woods the other day I found myself thinking.  Thinking it turns out is an activity which, meditation practice notwithstanding, I’m incapable of not doing.  Perhaps that’s why my novice monk robes have been held up in Nepalese customs for these many years.  As I made my way toward the top of the ridge thoughts wandered and morphed spinning my brain into a somnambulistic drift.  

A deep sigh brought me out of my reverie.  “Was that me?” I wondered.  The complete lack of anything but trees and a whitetail deer lead me to believe that it was in fact, me, releasing the somewhat dramatic, perhaps even melodramatic sigh.  A sigh of release I thought, as all sighs are, a near verbalization of the letting go, or forcible jettisoning of something the mind or body no longer wished to hold.

Hmm, the sigh had caught me off guard.  “What had I been carrying?” I wondered.  “What had I released?”  As lives go mine has been a walk in the park, current circumstances made that expression a pun of course, but whatever.  I crested the ridge taking in the endless canopy of brilliant green late summer majesty and paused.  Then it dawned on me.  It was a simple thing really; nothing more than a deep sigh releasing a lifetime of making things harder than they had to be.

Sailing Upwind

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Tacking hard back and forth across the teeth of the wind.  Spray filling my eyes as the bow plunges into wave after indifferent wave.  The imprint of rope on my clenched fingers may by now be permanent.  The going is slow and my destination still so far off that I’ve almost forgotten its original allure.  All I know is that the safe harbor I’ve been seeking seems to lie at the birthplace of the relentless headwind.  “Perhaps it is time to choose a new course,” I think as another wash of spray wipes my brow.  “Perhaps.”

The stories any of us can recall about sailing downwind are few for their lack of incident, even scarcer if one has never actually sailed, but let’s say its national metaphor day and roll with it.  For most of us, our many days are marked in turn by periods of smooth runnings, threatening waters, and periods of the listless, anxiety-provoking doldrums.  Each it seems has their time and place on the nautical map of our journey, and I imagine a reason they’ve found us, or we’ve found them.  Few milestones rise up in monolithic fashion while we are enjoying the momentary gift of easy passage through this life.  It may be that the cursed wind, or lack of it, thwarting our efforts at any given moment is also the very gift that aids us in the writing of a story finally worth telling.  

Night Light

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Absolute darkness is hard to come by in this modern world.  Light leaks through nighttime windows from streetlights, headlights, searchlights, the moon, lightning storms and even fireworks on the occasional holiday.  Electric clocks, power strips, TV and stereo power lamps come to life in a ghostly glow once the sun has gone down.  For some such lights are a nuisance, for others these dim reminders of day are insufficient.  There are those who are uncomfortable in the dark and those for whom the realm of sleep cannot be deep black enough.  Which are you?

I believe, and say “believe” because I cannot remember for sure, that as a boy I favored the company of a night light.  Things that go bump in the dark might have been, at that time in my life more manageable when seen rather than merely heard.  Now I find that the best sort of night is one in which I can find nothing; no shapes, no glimmer, no semblance of the living world.  Perhaps the days are now so full of goings on that the only way to achieve true respite is in the nothingness of absolute black.  Odd because nothingness is a constant topic of internal dialogue that I bandy about in the face of the ceaseless onslaught of is-ness that has become the definition of this modern life.  

Fear of heights, fear of snakes, fear of the dark, fear of anything, all, in my opinion, are the children of the fear of death; fear of that which we cannot avoid no matter how we twist and turn.  I like the dark, I actually like snakes, but I have a dizzying visceral breakdown when faced with heights.  That last issue must be the reason I learned to skydive.  Interestingly when one falls from umpteen thousand feet the prep time between plane and landing allows for some free will and planning.  As I write this I’m happy to say, though clearly it needn’t be said since here I am, that the process has been survivable.  Its been amazing actually.  I like-ish facing fears; it’s fascinating, life-affirming and potentially boundary, if not leg breaking.  But what if I were afraid of something as unavoidable as the dark.  

A power outage leads the prepared household to a closet stocked with flashlights and candles, perhaps even a battery powered radio.  For the well-to-do who’ve prepared for The Purge, it may even lead to a generator or a full-on panic room.  I like a good power outage, except for the havoc it may wreak on whatever frozen food I’m hoarding at the time in my ancient fridge.  I even have a few decent flashlights and a couple candles hidden away just in case.  I still have kids at the house, so I have to be ready to turn whatever happens into an adventure that isn’t entirely lived out in abject what-the-fuck blackness.  

But back to night lights for a sec.  They do serve a purpose, for some, for a time.  They may alleviate fear; affording calm to those needing a tinge of day in their night.  The also can make it possible for a nearly comatose person to reach the fridge for that super unnecessary midnight snack, without breaking a toe.  Not my thing, but to each his or her own.  Have your night lights if you will, and may they bring peace and restful sleep. I’ll be the one dancing with my vertigo, dizzy and sweating on the ladder in broad daylight cleaning a gutter, hoping I’m able to make it back to earth alive.

Dog People and Cat People

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Democrat, Republican. Morning person, night person. Dog person, cat person. Stereotypes exist some say because of at least a shred of truth at their core. I don’t want to make this a political rant so let’s go with doors two and three.

I’m a morning chap. Give me daybreak and a pot of coffee and all is right with the world. Walking across the dew-laden lawn with steaming coffee cup in hand I take my place in the garden side Adirondack chair. From there I watch the butterflies and hummingbirds do their important work on the blossoms while I formulate my strategy for the adventures of the day. So yeah, morning person, not that I can’t be enticed to stay up until 3AM bing watching Netflix or drinking tequila with the right person, but generally speaking I am AM.

As for the dog and cat bit, I am fond of both species. Of course, some folks swing both ways on this issue, live and let live, say I.  However, with regard to cohabitation, I’m a feline guy. Cats have a natural self-satisfaction that works wonderfully with my busy, dare I say hectic, and admittedly low-maintenance loving lifestyle. What does that say about me, cat loving that is? I suppose it highlights my appreciation of self-directed partners in crime, which is probably why I’m single, ha.

My last girlfriend was a dog person. In that relationship, I found that no matter how much effort I put forth I was incapable of directing an adequate amount of attention her way.  Could this have been in some way related to the fact that I’m a cat person? Perhaps?  Looking back on the experience it’s become clear to me that we had different ideas of what a companion “should” provide. As it happens, I’m comfortable meeting the needs of the average cat; perhaps that is because they reflect my own, very few. Hmmm.

Parents

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Parents!  If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent!   If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking.  If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.  

For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity.  Humanity, consisting primarily of me.  Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about.  Ugh, so embarrassing!  Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.  

We all do our best right?  No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time.  However, if we do our best, well done us!  That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece.  To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable.  Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole?  You decide.

These days I am a parent.  Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons.  I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.”  Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself.  Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.”  I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add.  Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered.  Attitude is everything!

Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor.  Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities.  I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times.  Ego talk? Probably.   Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true.  Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best.  As for my misread on the choice of life partners?  Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.

I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct.  All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family.  What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance?  Could we have done better?  Certainly.  The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again.  No blaming or finger pointing here.

Back to my parents.  They worked hard, or at least my pops did.  On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included.  Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect.  To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics.  Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps.  My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life.  The intensity must have been nearly unbearable.  Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure.  No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.  

My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs.  We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood.  It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled.  In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt.  We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together.  So it goes.

In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown.  I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family.  With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live.  “Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked.  My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance.  Phew!  

By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance.  Distance allows perspective.  Perspective provides the chance for healing.  Healing allows courage to blossom.  Courage creates the possibility of change.  Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a universal gift.  

Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze.  It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled.  Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.  

I love you, mom and dad!  I now see clearly that you did the very best you could.  Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful. 

The Raindrop Theory

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Distant lightning flashed. White light careened through the skylights momentarily illuminating the dark bedroom. The air bristled with discomfort, disquiet coursing through my mind, through every cell in my body. Thunder rolled across the night, and the wind rose to a harsh whistle at the windows. The unease that filled the night was not however born on the wings of the coming storm. It was of my own making; a rising tide the origin of which was a mystery, unknowable and ominous.

As the first huge drops of rain began to hammer the skylights, I huddled in the darkness wrestling with the sense that everything in my world seemed beyond control, beyond the possibility of repair, beyond hope. The spread of this darkness began to envelop my mind, strangling my thoughts, paralyzing any ability I once would have used to still the maelstrom of doubts. For reasons the genesis of which escape me, there are times in life when the smallest thing, the largest thing, everything seems overwhelming.

As the storm overtook the house in its full force, I lay still in the darkness. Fear of living is not something I choose to dance with, but there are times when the music comes up, and that fear reaches for my hand and pulls me out onto the floor despite my resistance. This was such a night, such a dance, spinning around the room I moved to the tune of unfounded fear.

The sound of the hammering rain drew my eyes in the direction of the skylight. As I stared wide-eyed into the blackness a lightning bolt struck, once again blasting the world with white light. At that moment I saw the myriad raindrops exploding against the glass. That’s when it dawned on me.

The raindrops are a metaphor for life. Moments before they had not been raindrops. From an ineffable particle field of clouds miles above they had formed, born into the shape of a water droplet; a singular entity created from the ether. They live in individual form hurtling through space and time; their unique existence real and measurable, for a moment. Upon striking the skylight, the rooftop, or the ground they were transformed; no longer individual drops, returned to the shapelessness of rushing water, washing away to be absorbed by the earth. There they are assimilated and redistributed as means for growth and current for streams and rivers. After a few hot days, any evidence of their unique existence is diminished and finally vanishes.

So it is with life. A beginning from nothing followed by a meteoric plunge through the universe of existence; and finally a return to the fathomless whole of all things. Everything that has a beginning has an end.  Once placed in this perspective no journey is without hope, without relief, or without its own particular brilliance. The storm of disquiet within dissipated, understanding washing over me in a gentle wave of acceptance and appreciation.  I pulled the covers over my slowly relaxing body, rolled to my side and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Lester McClain and the Bear – III

Land Cruiser Engine

“No fucking way!” Les blurted, staring through the passenger window at the sitting Grizzly.  During his time in the mountains, he had only had two encounters with bears, in as many days, yesterday and today.  A wave of uneasiness swept over him with the intensity of a mountain storm, swift and ominous.  Deciding that McGee Creek would not be his fishing destination de jour Les turned the key to fire up the Cruiser.  The always reliable starter whined, but the engine did not catch.  

“Shit!” he exclaimed, “Not Good!”  Les released his twisting pressure on the key momentarily then tried again glaring imploringly at the ignition.  The starter whinnied on for seconds like an anguished electric horse, but the familiar roar of the engine did not come.  

“Slam” something hit the driver side window with such force that Les closed his eyes, certain that he would be covered with broken glass.  His right hand shot to the passenger seat wrapping his hand around the grip of his pistol.  As he took up the .45, he saw through the passenger window that the bear was no longer on the river bank.  He whipped around to face the driver side window weapon raised.  A surprised Shash took a step back, showing a mix of amusement and concern in his dark eyes.

“Jesus!” Came Lester’s muffled voice through the closed window, “You scared the shit out of me!”

“My apologies,” offered Shash, taking another step away from the Cruiser to allow room for his enormous frame to execute the slightest of bows.  “Sounds like you’re having engine troubles.  I knocked to offer my assistance.”

“Knocked?” Lester thought, “The blow Shash had landed could have crushed a lesser car!” Les’ mind was swimming.  “Bears, giants, dead engines, what the fuck?  Did someone drug my Bourbon last night?  And what the hell happened to my truck?”  

He laid the Browning back on the passenger seat and unbuckled his seatbelt.  He reached for the door handle then hesitated.  What the hell was this Shash doing here and where the shit-hell had he come from?  Les hadn’t seen anyone, other than the Grizzly when he’d pulled to a stop here in the middle of nowhere, and there were no other cars at the turnout.  

“Pop the hood,” Shash commanded in his deep rumble of a voice, “I’ll have a look.”  

After a pregnant moment of consideration, Les smiled weakly and complied.  As the giant made his way to the front of the Cruiser Les noticed that he appeared to be wearing the same oversized mad-max, bounty hunter regalia that he’d worn last night at the Sierra Springs.  Les glanced at the Browning resting on the seat beside him, considering the bizarre, disconcerting nature of his current situation, then decided to leave where it lay.  He took a deep breath, wiped the sweat from his brow, opened his door and stepped out onto the dusty gravel ground of the turnout.

Shash had opened the hood and reached into the engine compartment with a mechanic’s confidence.  “Try it now” he bellowed not realizing that Lester had left the cab and was now standing two feet from him.  Les jumped, “Jesus!” He exclaimed.  

“How much coffee have you had this morning friend?  You seem a bit edgy.”  Shash grinned.

Lester looked up at him with a mixture of indignation, awe and thinly veiled alarm.  Without saying a word he turned and marched back to the cab.  

“I’m definitely taking a nap today” he muttered to himself.

Les swung into the driver’s seat and turned the key.  Sweet internal combustion music sprang from the now purring engine.  Shash closed the hood.   “Loose spark plug connections.  All good for now, but you may wanna look at replacing them before winter.”  Les, sitting in the driver seat with a bit of a glazed look on his face nodded slowly. “Safe travels Lester” Shash said.  Then he turned and strode across the road.   

“Thank you,” Les yelled at the closed window, his words bouncing loudly throughout the cab.  He fumbled for the window switch, but by the time the window was opening Shash had crossed the road and was heading for the woods.  Les watched mutely as the giant made his way into the beginnings of a cedar grove and vanished.

Lester McClain sat motionless gripping the steering wheel; feeling the gentle vibration born of the purring engine on his damp palms.  Eventually coming out of his stupor he turned his gaze to McGee Creek.  No sign of the bear.  Releasing the wheel, he ran his hands through his hair leaning back with a long exhale.  “Jesus!” He exclaimed for the third time that morning.  He put the cruiser in gear.  Fishing was no longer on the agenda.  No, if fact Les was suddenly and overwhelmingly motivated to pursue indoor activities for the rest of the day. With a spray of gravel, he wheeled out onto the road, made a hurried U-turn and headed back down the mountain.

To Be Continued

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