Clear, simple, concise…I like it!
Clear, simple, concise…I like it!
January 9th. The Christmas tree, or should I say fire hazard now long in the tooth droops in the corner of the living room. Brittle needles find their way to the hardwood floor, forming a circular colony of tinder. Surprisingly, the scent of pine has been growing stronger, filling the front rooms of our small cape cod style home. Holiday postpartum has descended upon this place. Andy Williams is not singing of the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Festive open houses are closed. The last of the baked goods have fossilized and so been shown out to the frozen garden plot for the birds to beak. The heat runs near constantly as the days of subfreezing temperatures depress the mercury in this part of the world.
I miss the holidays, the anticipation, the many opportunities to raise a glass with old friends and make new ones. Over the years Christmas time has always managed to deliver joy, optimism, and magic. I found myself this season thinking for the first time about the fact that I have only so many Holiday celebrations left. It may sound morose, indeed but this recognition of reality is also a useful reminder. Living fully, openly, and with the intent to make the most of each moment is a choice…just that, a choice. We only have so long to become our best, then we rest. Have you made strides in this quest over this last year?
When the twinkling lights go dark, and the long nights unrelentingly hold the world, we may turn inward, we may be saddened, or we may take no notice. To each his own. I for one find myself a bit saddened, a bit grateful, and a bit nostalgic. Every day is not Christmas, though as Charles Dickens suggested we might do our best to keep it in our hearts throughout the year.
Barring an untimely demise, I will find myself eleven months from now decking the halls, raising a glass, wrapping treasures for those I love, and feeling that twinge of the childlike excitement that the holidays bring. I know not all share my opinion of the magic of Christmas time, and to those who struggle during the season, I wish you strength and love. May your days be merry and bright, long after the twinkle lights have faded.
Can we change or can’t we? Sometimes I believe I’ve changed for the better, my usual goal. It’s just then that I catch a glimpse of my old self and I feel the specter of immutability giggling at me through the looking glass. I like to think change is possible. For some people, metamorphosis may be the only path to freedom; freedom from an existing legacy, they are reluctant to leave behind. I count myself among those who feel life has its length for the purpose of growth. I want to be a bit better at the end than I am today. Better at what? All of it!
Each year I engage in the hopeful ritual of making new year’s resolutions. They symbolize the hope of change. Against all odds and history, I write down a few bits that I’d like to bring to fruition in the coming year, fold them up and seal them in an envelope bearing the calendar year scrawled in ink on the front.
I recently opened my “2018” envelope and found that my resolution success rate for the past year was a meager twenty percent. A failing grade to say the least, though I suppose twenty is better than zero. Perhaps I set my sights too high. Or it could be that I’d merely forgotten my goals, as some of those I’d written came as a bit of a surprise when revisited. At first, I thought I’d failed. Indeed by some standards, I have failed miserably.
However, if I were to achieve a twenty percent annual increase in an investment opportunity, I’d call that same percentage a smashing success. Its all relative I suppose. Getting somewhere is better than getting nowhere, if one is in the mood to get going at all, and I am. So for the sake of momentum, I’ll choose to view the outcome of my 2018 resolutions from an investor’s point of view.
This year I will again take out the paper and pen, pour a cup of coffee and sit by the desperately dry and brittle Christmas tree. The cold winter light will spill in across the weathered wooden sashes of the living room windows and cross my page. Then and there I will again challenge the concept of immutability. Goals will be set that may not if history is any indication, be reached. I will laugh in the face of past failure on the eve of a new year. Once again, without any reason for confidence in the matter, I will choose to find resolve.
I spent 3-4 hours last weekend refurbishing runner sleds. I have a bit of a fascination with these playthings. Over the years I’ve accumulated five of them. The first one I received for my fifth birthday, a 1966 Flexible Flyer. Another belonged to my maternal grandpa, dated 1906. The third I found in the shed of the house my sons and I moved into once we were finally able to move out of our one bedroom apartment. I stumbled upon the last two in a pawn shop on Nolensville Road here in Nashville, Tennessee. If You aren’t familiar with Nolensville Road, it is rife with pawn shops, paycheck advance loan joints, and killer Mexican restaurants. In addition to the family of runner sleds, I am in possession of one ridiculously long wooden toboggan, the sled, not the hat…and when the hell did we give birth to that term for a ski cap? But I digress. Why this winter snow and sled proclivity? I’m guessing it is a subconcious reaction to growing up in alway sunny southern California.
Yes, I now live in Nashville, Tennessee. No, we don’t get a lot of snow these days, though we used to. In the early nineteen something-or-others we had such a winter here in middle Tennessee that the Cumberland River froze over. The mighty waterway that splits our fair city turned solid to the point where one could drive a car across it. Global warming…politics/science aside, I refurbish the sleds in the hope that we will have at least a day or two this winter to run them.
Peter Pan would have liked sledding. Not the pop psychology Peter Pan, the immature fuck-up that many equate with the “not willing to work” type. From what I read the real Pete fought valiantly for what he valued. He worked to be free and shared the fruits of his indefatigable labors with the lost boys. Courage, rather than immaturity may be a fine way to define Mr. Pan. Do what we have to do to protect what we love, right?
As it relates to surviving the aging process in modern times, what about blinders? Some of those who are not familiar with the term “horseless carriage” may also be confused by the term “blinders.” Blinders where created to be worn by horses as they pulled carriages through the busy streets, often more like mud troughs, of bustling turn of the century cities. They were designed to protect the beasts from overstimulation. Blinders, therefore, aren’t intended to create a state of blindness, rather they are intended to facilitate focus. I think we can all give a nod to the value of focus. Focus is the rail on which we are able to forge momentum. It is the way we get from standing still to full speed. Growing up is one thing, acting the role of a “grown-up” is another. Focus is most likely about creating a life that matters, whether it fits a societally accepted norm or not.
Some people loved sledding when they were children. Some people did not. Some who did appreciate the sport lost that love as the grew up. Others did not; (Sidebar, I realize my fixation with riding sleds is absurd). Deconstructed, the act of sliding down a hill on a fast moving vehicle has no scientifically significant value. You can’t necessarily become spiritually whole, the richest man in the world, or the president of the United States by sledding down an icy hill…or can you? Olympic bobsledders may win gold medals then return to their day jobs at HomeDepot. Are they the better for it? Probably. Have they become the Dalai Lama? Ehh!
Sleds aside, what do we gain from our adult choices; from putting aside childish things? Do we gain Money? Security? Power? Freedom…Whatever the fuck that means? Most likely yes. What do we lose in exchange? The process of maturing is exciting, confusing, intoxicating most often inevitable. It can bring great things, but at what cost? Do we have to surrender our child-like wonder in order to survive as adults? If we do in fact, have to sacrifice our childhood consciousness to become grown-ups what language will we use to communicate with children? If not their’s then who’s?
Peter Pan was written by James Matthew Barrie in 1904. He saw struggling children in need of relief, and so created a fantasy world based on his hopes for their emotional survival, or so I surmise. He crafted a surreal safe harbor for humans faced with the reality of aging. It was to be his most celebrated work. It overshadowed all others in his career. Curios that a story so well received at the time of its creation has been reduced to a term used to define those who refuse to conform to rather rigidly defined acceptable forms of “adulthood” in modern times.
Back to sled riding for a sec, and for those without snow in there lives please substitute an appropriate metaphor. If at times we feel stuck, sad, discontented, hopeless or just bored, perhaps a swift ride on a polished set of steel runners could be the perfect emotional reset. If everything is just fine, all is right with the world, would it not be still be a hoot to make time to feel the rush of plummeting down a snowy hill, just to see where it takes us; feeling the wind blow through our hair as we descend a slope of memories long left behind. Why the hell not?
Freedom, heaven, hell, sorrow, joy, regret, redemption; they live within all of us. On good days we get to choose which of them we will invite for a play date. I find that when the long nights of winter begin to weigh on me the ensueing darkness can be parted by pushing off hard and diving onto my ’66 Flyer for an icy glide. Sometimes its the simple things, often even “childish things” that make the world brighter, better, and for at least a rare moment, timeless.
If I wake at all there is time enough in the day for gratitude.
For more on that which lead to this, see Lester McClain and the Bear I, II, & III.
On Saturday, October 5th Lester awoke to the golden shimmer of autumn sunlight sparkling on the turning Aspen leaves. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he focused on a scene that secured in his still foggy mind the notion that he was indeed still asleep. Dillon, the barkeep, stood just outside the picture window smoking a morning cigarette. Shash stood towering over the kitchen counter pouring himself a cup of steaming hot coffee, and the enormous Grizzly bear sat in the corner of the kitchen. The bear appeared to be deep in thought.
“Coffee bear?” Shash asked, lifting his cup to pantomime the offer. The bear blinked then nodded his head to the affirmative. Lester watched still uncertain of the whole situation as Shash carefully held out the cup. The sweet scent of Dillon’s cigarette made it’s way through the slightly open kitchen door, sharpening Lester’s foggy morning senses. The bear, not having opposable thumbs reached for the steaming cup with both paws. As the mug hit his pads, he growled disapprovingly. Shash held up a finger, “try this,” he pulled a short stool close and set the mug on it. “Give it a minute to cool down; it’s hot!” The bear leaned in and assessed the steam rising from the mug. Shash raised his hand, “hold on.” He crossed the kitchen, floorboard creaking desperately under his weight. He opened the ancient Frigidaire and removed two glistening ice cubes. He returned to bear who sat transfixed, mesmerized by the swirling mist emanating from the coffee. “Let this sit for a second,” he said gently releasing the cubes into the cup. The bear watched as the cubes slowly disintegrated in the black liquid. Once Shash gave him the nod he lapped at the coffee. Lester was sure that he saw the bear’s eyes widen followed by what appeared to be a rarely seen Ursa grin.
Dillon entered from the deck in a hallow of smoke just in time to hear Lester’s first words of the day which were, “What the fuck is going on? How’d you get in here?” And finally with to tone of near hysterical exasperation, “Is that a real bear?”
“Hey Les,” said Dillon, “top o’ the morning!”
“Yes,” said Shash, apparently taking the questions in reverse order. “He is a real bear. As to how we got in, I used the key you keep under the fake rock by the garage. As to what’s going on…let’s say that we are friends here to lend a hand.”
“Is there any more coffee?” Dillon asked.
“Plenty,” Shash offered. “Grab a mug.”
As Dillon made his way across the worn pine board floor to the cupboard, Lester sat upright on his couch-bed-thing and once again rubbed his eyes to ensure that they were not playing tricks on him.
“Lend a hand?” Lester grunted, his tone both indignant and curious.
The bear eyed him for a moment the lapped at his coffee.
“Yes Lester, we are here to lend a hand. Coffee?” Shash motioned to the pot.
“Please,” said Les slowly swinging his legs to the floor and making to stand. The bear watched him closely and again appeared to be smiling, which was an odd, almost disconcerting look for a bear.
“We’ve been paying attention to your situation,” said Shash. “Dillon brought you up to me back in the Spring after seeing you at the bar every night. He mentioned that…”
“Dillon seemed terrified of you that night!” Lester interrupted. “Now you’re in cahoots?”
Shash and the bear growled in unison. “Dillon seamed ‘terrified’ because he had taken something of mine without asking and was concerned that I would grape-squash his head over it. Needless to say, we settled that matter with his melon intact. He is my nephew after all, and blood is thicker than…stuff.”
“Oh,” Les wrapped his index and middle finger around the handle of a chipped white porcelain mug in the cupboard and turned to the coffee pot. “And the bear? Is he your kin too?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Shash said raising his cup and taking a long pull. He looked over at the bear who was wrestling his mug with both paws licking the last drops of coffee with his long bear tongue.
“And what manner of speaking would that be?” Lester barked.
“He’s my brother.” Shash offered matter of factly.
“From another mother?” Les chuckled, clearly proud of himself for knowing something the kids might-maybe say when presented with a similar situation.
“Same mother,” Dillon offered, “Do you have any breakfast food? Bread, eggs, bacon perhaps?
Les was not feeling okay about this situation. Unlike in the movies where weird shit happens, and the protagonist somehow assimilates it and takes it in stride, he was clear on the fact that this, the bear, in particular, was not normal.
“Ah, yes.” He groaned. Rubbed his throbbing forehead, he stammered, “Bread is in the cupboard to the right of the sink. Bacon and eggs in the left bottom drawer in the Fridge.”
“Lester,” Shash began, “It’s time we had a chat.”
The bear looked up from his coffee, locked eyes with Les and nodded in agreement.
To be continued
Vintage random thought
I have nothing to say… Oh wait, that can’t be right. The voice in my head never stops yammering, so perhaps I should just share a bit of that monkey din. Let’s see, I was super uptight with my kids this morning in response to their less than “militarily precise” approach to preparing for the first day of school. My fluster-faced antics were unnecessary and as it turns out, super unproductive. They watched me rant with bemused looks of teenage indifference. Suddenly it dawned on me that I was “choosing” to be an ass. “Thank god,” I thought, and just like that, I chose to change my choice. I decided that I no longer wished to be a “that dad,” so I stopped my foolishness, and apologized to my sons. Breakfast and the ride to school were lighthearted and fun. So that’s all I have to say…
Wait, I do want to mention that while I was acting like a child, they were keeping their distance, staying emotionally clear of the bad mojo vortex. They had decided it seems, to give me the space to work through whatever ass clown hair shirt I was knitting without engaging. Well done boys.
I have nothing to say, that needs to be said, at the moment. That said or said thrice perhaps, I like saying stuff. When I was a young boy I had, as some parents might say “a lot of energy.” My father was a man of few words. Of those few words, the ones I often heard were “stop babbling.” What? Not enrich the world with my eight-year-old prattle? You can’t be serious? Poor guy’s ears must have been near bleeding!
I have a couple talkers in my house. The suspects are male, ages 13 and 16. While they both can go on serious verbal tears, the 13-year-old is exceptionally gifted. He can speak incessantly for such extended periods that we’ve actually coined terms to describe his gift. When he’s been thinking out loud at the speed of sound for some interminable period, we call it ‘streaming’…he calls it “broadcast mode.” I used to talk, or “babble” like that when I was a boy, ha! It doesn’t hurt anyone, so I just let him blow that horn.
Some folks don’t talk much. Some folks do. Some are great listeners while others don’t seem to have the ability to give two stray shits about what anyone says, even as they pretend to listen. What? Ha, just kidding.
So it seems I have nothing important to say, but I’m damn happy to be here, to have another day on this planet with opportunities in front of me and most of the “learning the hard way” behind me. Babblers, quite folk, grumpsters, and joy monkeys, may you find wildflowers and spring water along your path as you walk to the beat of your own personal expression drums.
“Freestyle,” now there’s a vocab jack in the box bursting with “what the hell!” The term Freestyle can be ascribed to a variant version of almost anything we humans do. Let’s say for the purposes of this rant that “freestyle” means “acting in the absence of rules or generally accepted protocol.” Now that’s a relief unless one happens to be a rule hugger, in which case it would, of course, be disconcerting.
In a valiant effort to save my marriage, I agreed to sign up for ballroom dance lessons. For context, up to that point in my life dancing had not been numbered among my strong suits. Relying on a glaring weakness to change the course of a dissolving marriage may not have been putting my best foot forward, ha, but I donned those creepy felt soled dance slipper shoe things and gave it my best.
Ballroom dance presented me with a calculus problem that, as it turns out I was ill-suited to solve, graphing calculator, youtube videos and hours of practice notwithstanding. I guess I’m a freestyle guy. I put in the effort though. I really did. However, the combination of regimented movement and rules left me shaking my head. Apparently, the head is not the right part of the body to be shaking in the genre. All that effort and money bore a shallow harvest, and that’s putting it politely.
Freestyle dancing is a natural gift that all humans, and many pets (see youtube) have at their disposal for the purpose of celebration. Freestyle skiing emerged when lovers of the sport found that the sanctioned practices of those “judging” the events did not fit their natural outpouring of self-expression while rocketing downhill on two snow supported slabs of glass/metal composite. Freestyle poetry, and then rap found the stage when traditional structure could not contain the expression of writers who needed undefined space to share their ideas. So it is that many of the constructs we as a culture use to define excellence have been bent or broken by a new wave of creators who have stretched a newly expanding canvas for the work of self-expression.
Let’s break it down.
Not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.
A manner of doing something.
According to the combined definition: Freestyling is basically the outcome of deciding to do one’s own thing, regardless of the established norm. Freestyle expression in the aforementioned genres has survived and thrived long enough that they are now considered “established.” Once accepted, they too are subject to judgment. People enter “freestyle competitions!” Oxymoron?
I can distinctly remember “freestyle dancing” in the basement of St. Paul’s Catholic Church at an 8th-grade dance. I was dressed like an ass thanks to my complete lack of fashion sense. I was all in, having a blast. It wasn’t until the girl I was dancing with; I had used all my human courage credits to ask her, commented that I had a very “unique” style that I realized I was a pioneer. This 14-year-old Betty was making fun of me. She danced away to the next song with a football player, and that was that. Oh, judgment! For years I thought about it every time I danced sober, but unlike the dances that came soon after that incident, now I smile.
These days I freestyle in my living room, first thing in the morning. The scent of brewing coffee wafting through the house, glass of salt water and lemon in hand, tribal drums blasting over the Spotify airwaves, I dance, white boy freestyle. Sure, Beyonce won’t be tapping me for her next tour, but fuck it, why not let my awkward dance flag fly? I’m free!
Left 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, 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.