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

#fiction

Lester McClain and the Bear – II

Creek

Days can lose their given names when one has no particular thing that must be done or no particular place to be.  Every day can be a Saturday or any day for that matter.  Lester McClain had managed to put himself in a position where the names of days had little relevance.  He had been unlucky in love, a story for a later time, but lucky in the realm of finance and so he had opted for an early escape from the American grind.  

Overlooking his remaining days from a fiscally secure vantage point, Les had decided to liquidate most of his holdings and deposited the substantial proceeds into a low-risk mutual fund.  He then sold most of his possessions, keeping only what he could fit in his silver 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser and moved from San Francisco to Lee Vining California to take up a quiet life in the mountains.  The ghosts and demons that followed him were unwelcome, so as most of us do he relegated them to the dungeon of his mind and went about his life as though they had never existed.

For several years now his routine had been simple, probably deathly dull to most, but mostly satisfying to him.  Hike, fish, read, avoid dealing with any personal issues, hike some more, have a drink or three in the evening, sleep, repeat.  That much time alone will make a man his own best friend, trusted confidant, or his own worst enemy.  And so it was the case that Lester McClain had the habit of talking to himself out loud on a regular basis.  

Les sat up blurry eyed on the old brown leather sofa opposite the kitchenette in his tiny cabin.  The summer sun had demanded his attention at 5:30am.  At that unreasonably early hour, his reluctant body rose to the ritual calling of his morning routine.  

“I need some fucking curtains!” he muttered to himself.

Cold, fucking cold, water splashed on his face, mostly to force the eyes into focus.  That focus revealed bloodshot blue eyes with a faint ring or yellow around the iris, greying, unkempt blond hair falling in tangles to his collar and a three-day beard.    Having finished the unpleasantry of cold water coupled with a mirror prior to 6am Lester commenced a staggerer’s walk toward the kitchen to start the coffee.  As he sat on the sofa waiting for the percolation to complete, he found himself regretting that last glass of bourbon, five drinks were not his custom.  

“Nice to see you?” he remembered.  “Who was that…guy?”  Les had, by his own choice embraced a life a relative solitude.  He had not, to his recollection, ever met this Shash who joined him last night at the bar, yet the giant had seemed to know him.  “Ugh,” he thought, “I need coffee.”  He made his way back across the spartan cabin floor, smooth worn pine boards seamed loosely to allow for the breathing of the seasons, to the kitchen counter and poured a tall cup of deep black waking.  His hand rested on the chipped white tile countertop as he took a deep, tongue scalding gulp.  “Ahh!”

The Land Cruiser engine roared, 6:15am time to be somewhere that was not here.  “What day is it?” He thought.  “Ah, does it matter? Nope.”  He said to the steering wheel.  He guided the shift lever into reverse and backed down the driveway.  The sound of off-road tires on the gravel had become music to Les; the soundtrack to his comings and goings.  

As he drove toward the Narrow Canyon, he remembered the bear.  It had appeared way up river as he hooked the last of his three trout the day before.  As he worked the line, he had seen out of the corner of his eye the massive shape of an upright full-grown Grizzly bear.  He reeled the large rainbow hard but not so hard as to break the line then let it run a bit under the deep bend of the graphite rod, keeping an eye on the fish, using his peripheral vision to monitor on the bear.  Les had seen bears before on the river and did not take such encounters lightly.  As the fish fought for its freedom, the bear seemed only to watch.  Les’ mind wandered to the holstered Browning .45 on his right hip.  So fixated did his thoughts become on the gun and bear that he almost lost the fish.  

When the fish finally surrendered, he looked directly at the bear.  The bear too seemed finished and stepped away from the river, vanishing behind a stand of pines.  Les netted the fish and turned downstream.  He creek hopped thirty yards or so in the direction of the Land Cruiser then turned to scan for his possible pursuer.  Nothing but water, stone, forest, and sky.  He took the fish from the net and quickly ran his knife through to end it’s suffering.  

“I’m sorry I made you wait” he whispered to the now at peace fish.  “Thank you for the gift of your sustenance.”  

Les checked again for the bear, no trace.  He placed the third rainbow in his creel, secured his fly to the rod anchor and made for the safety of his truck.

Les, not being a superstitious man had not attributed anything to the incident with the bear other than a man and a bear happening by chance to be at the same place at the same time.  Following that logic he decided while driving to change course, abandoning Narrow Canyon for a morning at McGee Creek.  “No need to go where the bear is fishing,” he said to the dashboard, averting his eyes from the blazing morning sun that careened down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  The Cruiser slowed to a stop at a small parking turnout adjacent to McGee.  Les turned the key and was about to pull it from the ignition when he saw it,  the bear.  A huge Grizzly bear was sitting by the river, pensively watching the water play across the rocks.  As he watched, stunned, the bear looked up.  Les thought he saw the faintest hint of a smile on its face.

 

Continued in Lester McClain and the Bear – III

#fiction

 

 

Lester McClain and the Bear

Blurry bar

Lester McClain sat at the bar, gazing over his glass of single barrel Four Roses bourbon at the glittering array of bottles along the mirrored wall.  His hands rested on the worn oak bar top, its lacquer nearly nonresistant in places where for decades patrons had leaned their elbows, set their belongings or held on for dear life as the countless drinks had taken hold.  The bartender passed back and forth, no more than an blur; a ghost drifting this way then that serving the spirit needs of the living. 

Les had been fly fishing the Narrow Canyon Creek that day.  It had been a good day for such adventure.  Not too hot, the water was crystal clear as it hadn’t rained in a week, and the trout had been in the mood to be deceived.  He had cleaned and packed the catch of three rainbows on ice before walking the pine-lined lane from his cabin to the Sierra Springs Tavern for his nightly cocktail.  It was a relatively normal day, except for the bear.

The faintest scent of tobacco wafted in with the opening of the door.  Les loved the aroma of tobacco, cigarettes, cigars or pipes; which was odd because he couldn’t stand the taste of any of them and so did not partake.

“Mind if I sit,” rasped a deep voice from behind and to his left.  

Lester turned to see a man of substantial presence, heavy brown beard, bushy eyebrows, long wild hair and usually large deep brown eyes.  So dark was the brown of the man’s eye color that it was hard to tell where his irises ended and the pupils began.  

“Be my guest,” Les offered, sliding to his right to make room for the unusually large man.  

The old stool groaned as the stranger sat and the bar flinched to a near buckle under the weight of his massive forearms.   He seemed familiar, in an odd, not particularly comfortable way, as though Les had met him in a dream but never in waking life.  He thought it curious that this fellow had chosen the neighboring seat at the long spacious bar.  Perhaps he was in need of companionship.  From the wild look of him, Les surmised that he might have gone quite some time without conversation or at least a conversation with someone who wasn’t concerned for their personal safety.

The phantom barkeep materialized in front of the two men but took a half step back when he focused on the newcomer.  

“Shash,” he blurted, “long time no see.” His tone teetered between conversational and disconcerted.  “What can I get you?” 

“Old Rip Van Winkle 25, double.” 

“Ice?”

“No.”  As an afterthought, Shash added, “thank you, no thank you on the ice.”

The barkeep vanished.  Les turned to his new companion, who seemed suddenly lost in thought, “Name’s Lester, Lester McClain.”

“Yes,” agreed the stranger.  Silence.  Perhaps he wasn’t interested in conversation after all.  The keep set the glass of Rip down on the bar; it seemed to emit the faintest glow.  

“I’ve never heard of Old Rip Van Winkle” Les offered. “I’m a Four Roses man myself.”

“It’s not sold here, Old Rip Van Winkle,” said Shash.  “Junior keeps it in a hidden cabinet at the end of the bar.”

“Junior?” Les thought, the guy’s name is Dillon.  Though he surmised, compared to this substantial gentleman, everyone was a ‘Junior’ of sorts.

“How was the fishing today?” The giant asked.

“Ah, good.  How did you know I was fishing.”

“I can smell it.”  Shash offered.

Lester raised his glass as if to take a sip, which he did.  More of a gulp really, but it was the sniffing of his hand, which he had thoroughly washed that was his true intention.  He smelled only soap and bourbon. 

The brown-eyed man raised his glass, swallowed the double in one gulp, set the glass down gently on the bar.  

“Nice to see you, Lester.  Be well.”  With that he rose, his stool exhaling a sigh of relief.  He adjusted his enormous brown leather coat, turned and walked out of the bar.

“Nice to see you, Lester?”  Les thought, did I get too much sun today? 

Dillon returned.  “Everything okay?” He asked, a bead of sweat escaping his hairline.

“Yeah, ah, yeah, fine.  Can I have another Four Roses please?”

“On the house.”  Dillon offered, pouring quickly then darting off.  

“On the house? That’s a first!” Les thought, swirling his bourbon in the glass. He watched the amber liquid cling to the walls of the cylindrical vessel then slowly fall in viscous waves under gravity’s pull.  Dillon scurried outside for a smoke break.  Les sipped his bourbon, considering the odd moments that had just passed, trying to conjure any waking memory of his curious new acquaintance.  The sweet smell of Dillon’s cigarette wafted through the open front door of the Sierra Springs Tavern.  Les inhaled deeply, raised his glass and took a long pull.

 

Continued in Lester McClain and the Bear – II

#fiction

The Sleeping Ninja

King Size Bed copy

Vintage random thought.

“There’s a kid in my bed,” I thought to myself.  Out of context, that phrase could raise a red flag or two, no?  The kid in my bed, however, was my youngest who had asked me several hours earlier, “Daddy, can I sleep in your bed?”  To which I replied “No.”  

Hmm, perhaps he is a budding somnambulist, or maybe he’s just confident enough in his ninja abilities to believe that he could enter my room, and then my bed without being detected.  Either way there he was sound asleep, peaceful, wonderful.  

Acceptance is not always synonymous with surrender, or in this case defeat.  Acceptance, in my opinion, is one of the pillars of ‘Minimal Damage Parenting.’  Minimal Damage Parenting I believe is the best we raisers of offspring can hope to achieve.  It’s a foregone conclusion that when it comes to parental duties, we will at some point fuck up royally leaving emotional scars at various depths which will ensure the lucrative futures of those in the fields of psychology or psychiatry for generations to come.  So I accepted the fact that I had a sleeping boy inhabiting the easternmost part of my king sized bed, rolled over, smiling about the amazing good fortune of playing father to two truly lovely young men, snuggled my face into my pillow and clocked out.

“Dude…you peed the bed!”  

As the words left my lips, I put a last moment spin on my inflection in an effort to remove any note of anger or shaming.  

“Sorry, Daddy.”  

“It’s okay buddy, but please let’s strip the bed and throw everything in the washing machine.”  This was not the first time my son had had an ‘accident’…in fact, he was a chronic “sleep pisser.”  Some parents get bent about this kinda shit, but I’ve decided that, other than doing more laundry than the average bear family, it’s no big deal.  I’m quite confident that it’s not his idea of a good time and that he will eventually grow out of it.  

Acceptance, not of bad behavior, sloth, disrespect, cruelty, etc., but of things which ‘just happen’ and will eventually stop happening can only be positive.  I believe this is what healthy parenting is all about.  Shame is a toxin.  As an adult, we may choose to partake in the use of toxins for the purpose of overcoming our inadequate coping abilities, the quelling or social anxiety, or whatever.  Children, however, don’t have the same “recreational” luxury.  However, they are vulnerable to psychological toxins and are unlikely to choose exposure to them of their own free will.  Were you ever shamed by your caregivers?  If so, pretty awesome right?  

Shame is a prime mover in our society.  It’s an under lurker that bears no face on the surface but wears a monster’s mask under the bed.  If you feel that you bear no shame you are either lying, unusually lucky or a psychopath.  

DEFINITION

Shame:  /SHām/ Noun:

A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

So says the dictionary.  Interesting interpretation.  I find it curious that this definition of shame put all onus on the one bearing shame and none on any outside influence that may be assigning it.  Is all shame real, or is some shame framed for us by those who simply want us to feel bad about circumstances that displease them?  Have you ever had a bad day?  Have you ever taken that bad day out on someone who had nothing to do with it?  I have…ugh!  Just writing it here makes my stomach turn.  Yes, I’ve been that entitled asshole.  And I’ve seen them, at gas stations, in restaurants, in the workplace, and of course, at Walmart.

So back to parenting for a sec.  Kids are easy prey.  They are vulnerable.  They are trusting.  They don’t know how to discern the difference between reasonable accountability, and unreasonable judgment.  How many apologies for shaming do we get before we’ve cried wolf one too many times?  If we are able to ask forgiveness at all?  I ask this not in an accusing tone.  Rather in the spirit of circumspection.  I didn’t have the misfortune of pissing the bed, but holy shit do I have my share of issues.  My sons don’t deserve my shame.  They don’t deserve any shame at all.  Did I mention that shame, in my opinion, is a toxin?  

Being a parent is many things.  Hopefully first and foremost being a parent is perpetrating the act of helping your children find a path to grow into the best possible versions of themselves.  Shame has no part in that journey.  If you disagree, well, as they say, shame on you.

The Crushing

The Crush rev2

Sometimes things feel so spot on, so figured out.  Other times things feel so fucked!  Honesty is both beautiful and ugly, so here we go.  Glass half full, glass half empty, glass whatever until shit hits the fan.  You’ve had a bad day right?  You’ve had some good ones too?  I’ve had both and can unequivocally offer my opinion of the difference between them; I don’t dig the darkness.  It’s easy for me to be up when I’m fortunate enough to awaken on the right side of the bed, if something truly wonderful has happened in my life, or if I have an audience to entertain.  It’s also easy for me to find the shadows when the hall is empty, or the vicissitudes of fate choose a game of random misery.

Spirit, soul, perspective, blow with the wind when no one is looking.  We’ve all likely found darkness shrouding our path at some point.  We’ve also probably been fortunate enough to know lightness.  I experience both in a relatively favorable measure, but today it is the darkness that accompanies me as I make my way.  Odd that a life I feel to be so fortunate should seem so dismal at this moment.  History tells me it will pass.  And thank god!  A funny expression emanating my lips “Thank god,” as I do not currently ascribe to conventional western religious doctrine.  Still, I feel it, the meaning of “Thank god,” balls to bones because I have faith.  Faith not in books, nor figureheads, but in “It!”  The “It” that binds us all together in this life.

How are your dark days?  Mine are daunting.  Sometimes I feel fearful in my solitude.  Afraid that I will fail those I love.  Worried that I will fail me!  Ha, shouldn’t I have included myself in the numbers of the former?  How will I fail?  By not showing up, not delivering the promise of optimism and perseverance to which I have committed?

Depression is the antichrist to hopeful endeavor, and some days when I feel it’s weight bearing down on me I find no solace, no sense of possibility for escape.  For context, I do not suffer from the type of debilitating depression that some struggle with.  Fortune smiles on my brain chemistry in that regard.  I am talking about run of the mill, “get over yourself” feelings of depression.  The emotional state one simply has to face, and vanquish.

It is to a great extent the way in our culture to have ears only for, “Fine” or “Great thanks,” in response to the question, “How are you?”  Who has time for the real answer right?  To avoid pariah status, when I find my soul cloaked in crushing darkness I lie, “Doing well, thanks.  You?”  Perhaps being born in the United States where the concept of “Rugged Individualism” is a historical cornerstone, this automatic response is coded into my DNA.  Though from what I’ve read, Rugged Individualism is a walk in the park relative to the DNA encoding that the English have saddled themselves with!  Interestingly, my genealogy leads in no small way to that tight-lipped isle of rain-soaked woe.  Not super surprising that an occasional down day should find me.

Today I listened to a Tim Ferris Show podcast featuring the renowned psychologist Jack Kornfield.  Jack’s career began in the jungles of Thailand where in his twenties while serving with the peace corp he decided to become a Buddhist monk.  As he explained, it was a painful but enlightening (pun intended) journey that lead him to new perspectives on self, self-hatred, and self-love, compassion, and empathy.  I bring this up because his words struck me hard.  Hard as in repeated blows of a mighty love hammer.  Multiple times while listening I spontaneously began to weep.  Something in his message hit trigger points over and over again.  This experience crescendoed during his closing comments which left me clutching my heart, crying full voice on the futon in the family room.  Futon?  What am I, a college student?  Whatever!

Jack’s wisdom and his message of loving-kindness (insert “snowflake quip here) touched me deeply.  It afforded me a window through which I saw metaphorical rays of sunlight.  The darkness that had enveloped me for the last few days seemed to cower and then diminish.  Tim’s conversation with Jack somehow pierced the black veil of my personal manifestation of Rugged Individualism.  It reminded me that we are not, or do not have to choose to remain alone in our struggles.  Jack’s words reasserted the possibility of choosing to breach the norm of, “I’m fine.”  The chance to reach for connection, and more importantly offer connection, with compassion to those we find wrapped in the solitary binds of darkness.

If you struggle alone with your demons, you can share that burden.  You have options.  Check out Jack’s thoughts on the subject via the link provided below.  Write a comment.  Please share your story.  Together we are strong enough to shed light on the darkness.  Together we can create brilliance!

Tim Ferriss Show: Jack Kornfield episode:

 

 

 

The​ Patience Cat

The Patience Cat

The patience cat came to stay on an unusually warm Saturday in late July. She was accompanied by two siblings who clearly regarded her as the least significant of their clan. The serial cat rescuers we acquired these new family members from defined her as the runt of the litter. Funny word for living things, “litter!” Kittens come into the world in one, cats relieve themselves in it, and humans prone to indiscretion cast it from the windows of speeding cars along the highways of America as a malevolent gift to society at large. Anyway, the three kittens, two silver tabby girls and one-half tabby, half polished polar bear boy crawled tentatively over the edge of their cardboard limo to explore the new world. “Ugh, linoleum,” thought the patience cat at first touch, what have we gotten ourselves into?

Interestingly that was also one of my first thoughts when I bought the place. That said, Linoleum is an amazing substance, tackiness notwithstanding. No offense meant to lovers of the flooring option. It (linoleum) is an amazingly forgiving, and down-the-road money-saving choice. For instance, when the 1970’s fridge that came with this fossilized house offers up a couple of quarts of “where the hell did that water come from” around its base, or one of the cats yacks their morning kibble and half the lawn on it, its cool. Linoleum saves the day via its impermeable countenance. A few rags or paper towels solve the problem, and no one has to lose sleep over absorbency.  Excellent! The fact that someone actually gets paid to create the god-awful designs featured on most plastic flooring products must rank high among god’s jokes, but I digress?

As human children grow up their personalities being to emerge, or if their ways of being have been made clear early on, they magnify. The Patience Cat was no exception. Being a firstborn myself, by many years actually, (only child until I was six), I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the weakest among seven born within twenty minutes. In the litter arena, I imagine getting food, let alone parental nurturing has a gladiatorial survival essence about it. So yes, she was slight of build, to put it mildly.  In fact, she looked like a bobblehead. That said, unlike many of her kind, she survived. In her little cat way, she found footing in a loving home and made a place for herself, possibly due to the three, well-distanced food bowl placement strategy employed at our place.

So it was that the Patience Cat became a teenager. The intersection of safety with dependable continuity from day to day allows one to spread their wings. The Patience Cat found this to be true for her. The unruliness and demands of a teenager manifested in her every action. The quirks this girl displays make for regular conversation fodder around the house. Which for context I must say is a house inhabited by three men two teenagers and yours truly.

This kitty girl, with all her issues, is a gift to us. For one thing she is a lovely little soul. On top of that, her style of interaction provides a constant reminder that patience is a choice. Patience was in short supply in the halls where I dwelled during my early years. So it is I imagine in most households featuring young, busy parents and challenging offspring.  Though I was first born, and therefore not classified as a runt by traditional definition, I was not remotely familiar with golden child status, nor accustomed to patience as a guiding hand during my assent to adulthood, (an assent which I’m not sure I’ve completed). The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree, unless a benevolent tornado has been involved in logistical reassignment proceedings. As a result, the expression “patience is a virtue” comes to mind in no small way on a daily basis for me. The Patience Cat then has become something of a guide, a guardian angel if you will, to remind me of my choice to be accepting of others. In particular, she has reminded me to make space for those who, by no fault, or choosing of their own, do shit that makes me want to go volcanic!

Do you remember that kid in school who tried way too hard to get attention? Everybody shunned that poor desperate bastard or bastardette right? That’s the Patience Cat! Working at the laptop, perched on the couch with a cocktail, I’ll be intensely focused on a project. Then here she comes, sliding her dripping, enthusiastic nose across my arm, ensuring a typo as she works her way toward obscuring my view of the screen. Even now as I am typing this piece, she has been nudging and nuzzling my arm with that running nose to the damp tune of a multitude of “red underlined” typos. Ugh! But wait, she just wants connection. That’s not a crime. So I have to take a breath and chill, in lieu of my automatic response which would be to escort her from the couch physically, possibly to a neighboring county. Yes, I can be an insensitive ass. The boys, who have had similar experiences, find her to be equally intrusive and disruptive. We discuss it, regularly. Good for her though, we ultimately decide, grudgingly. She goes for what she wants. Plenty of humans never find the courage to quest for the fulfillment of their needs. Again, the Patience Cat is a guide, a role model even.

Though she can be trying on multiple levels, she is family. The name Patience Cat, which I might add, is her most flattering nickname to date, arose from her curious behavior at the threshold of our patio door. It was late December, the temperature hovering at 7º. She wanted to go outside, sort of. She meowed at the door; I opened it wide offering unobstructed passage. She backed up, timid, uncertain. Confused, I closed the door. She again meowed and approached the door. Once more I pulled the door open allowing the winter chill to wither the already wilting kitchen. Again she backed up and declined the offer. This time I Thought, “well what the fuck cat?” Then it dawned on me; she has an issue with crossing the threshold. Perhaps she’d been hit in the ass by that door at some point on her proverbial “way out.” Not on my watch, but we have had cat sitters while on vacation. Hmmm? I mustered a patience flame from deep within. Standing there freezing my ass off, while hundreds of dollars of central heat poured into the leafless, frigid backyard I waited.

I spoke gently to her, assuring her that she could exit safely, and would be let back in should she change her mind. She looked at me as if to say, “I don’t speak English, you silly fuck!” I stood still, recognizing at that moment the opportunity to undo a lifetime of patience-less perspective. Slowly she moved, one tiny, cautious step at a time across that insanely hideous greenish plaid-ish linoleum toward the doorway. Minutes passed, hours, days, lifetimes. Suddenly she rushed the door. As she approached the threshold, she leaped several feet in the air kicking her hide quarters to the side like a freestyle motocross rider and flew out into the winter night.

Stunned, I watched her dash across the frozen grass, then realizing my shiver along with the icicles forming on my eyelashes, closed the door. Click went the latch. There in that dark, cold, horribly neglected 1950’s kitchen I stood stone still. Moments passed. A smile slowly crossed my lips; then laughter burst from me. The Patience Cat, the smallest and least likely to survive had delivered a late Christmas present. Patience grew where once there was none. It is a choice that can manifest, a gift, a survivable option for one to whom it had formerly been no more than a myth. Who knew?

 

PostScript:

If you’re still stuck on the 7º bit, fear not.  I did a lap or two around the house turning off lights and saying good nights, returned to the kitchen, and called the little girl in.

Epitaph

Head stone Color V2

“Here lies a salty bastard.”

“Here lies a saint.”

“Here lies a damn liar!”  Fitting!

How would you like to be remembered?  What would you like those who have a say in the matter to inscribe of your tombstone?  Not to say that you’re plans aren’t to be cremated and strewn about the globe, headstone free, but please, go with me on this slightly morbid journey if you will.

This world is rich with people who naturally behave in a thoughtful, loving way toward others. This same world is also replete with people who if called out might have a hard time justifying some or much of their behavior to a jury.  Sadly, I fall in with the latter category.  I’m no Joseph Stalin, but I have my bad days.

I’ve often thought about a scenario wherein our lives are constantly recorded on video and available for public review and judgment.  Oh, how our behavior might change if every action was up for scrutiny, evaluation, and infinite replay?  I started pondering this circumstance long before the advent of social media mind you.  The difference being that we wouldn’t have the option of posting only content featuring our “best selves.”

We’ve all seen the gal showing off what she’s got on Instagram.  Bless her by the way. We’ve seen the cat-poster post posters and have also had to endure the politics-troll assholes.  They all have their platform for self-expression and/or self-aggrandizement, which is fine I suppose.  However, not one of them, or more accurately, not one of us, have to expose any truth deemed unflattering because we, of course, are our own censors.  This arrangement is great for the “self-image,” but is it good for the “self?”  Accountability, thanks to the one-way mirror of social media, seems to be on the ropes in these modern times.  For most of us, the whole truth isn’t usually “runway ready” so we omit the bits that don’t flatter us.  Me too, guilty!  The first seven drafts of this post were a shit show.  I was not about to unveil that incomprehensible crap to the world!  Frankly, the jury is still out about this version but my self-imposed deadline wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

The words used for an epitaph, if true and heartfelt, bear witness to the whole, uncensored life-print left by the dearly departed.  What is our legacy?  How do we touch the world?  Now, answer that question again discounting any “touch” involving social media.  Interesting, no?

I’m not fond of the idea of being caught in the act of being me twenty-four-seven.  Do I want the world watching me while I lose my temper, ghost some woman I’ve met on tinder, or expel the results of a stomach bug in my not so recently cleaned bathroom?  Not at fucking all!  Do I think we should submit to the control of a “watcher regime” that exposes our every act to society for judgment?  In no way, shape or form.  Do I believe the world would be a better place if we all imagined ourselves being observed, and therefore felt compelled to take just a tiny moment to consider the outcome of our behavior before we let loose?  Hell yeah I do!

Our every earthly action leads logically to our last, after which we are but a memory.  Some believe in a judgment day.  Some believe it is their job to judge others.  Perhaps if we focus appropriate, (read: “a lot of”) attention on accessing and adjusting our own actions before they are unleashed, we could spare both the almighty and the armchair critics a load of work.

Though I wouldn’t complain about, “Here lies a salty bastard” as an epitaph, in fact, I would get a good posthumous kick out of it.  I would hope that those words might be followed by something to the effect of, “who did his best to love well, to make the world a tiny bit less hateful and who will be missed.”  How would you like your epitaph to read?

 

If I Had It To Do All Over Again

Hourglass

A salesman came to the door yesterday.  I was drinking black coffee in the living room when I heard the knock.   We don’t get many uninvited callers on our long dead-end street, which works out well for me.  I slowly set down my old white porcelain mug and rose from my writing perch on the dark brown leather sofa.  Click went the lock. We have no peephole so the next bit would have to be a surprise.  There he stood, in a smart black suit, attaché case in his left hand, right hand cupped to his mouth.  Think he was checking the state of his breath.  

“Hello,” I said.

“Good afternoon,” he replied, quickly lowering his hand.

“My name is Xavier Mulligan, may I please have a moment of your time to present a most irresistible opportunity?”

“How irresistible?” I asked, wreaking of doubt.

“Exceedingly irresistible sir, I assure you.  Give me but two minutes to introduce the offer and if by that time you are not interested I will vacate directly,”  he said with unwavering confidence.

“Ah, okay.” I reluctantly mumbled.

“May I come in?”  

“I suppose,” I said.  My hesitation painting my face into a near grimace.  Though truth be told, I was a tad intrigued.

“Thank you kindly,” he said accepting the opening door with a quick step forward and then there we were in my living room.  My cooling coffee cup reminding me of traditional hosting duties. 

“And how would you like to be called?”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Your name?” He nodded.

“Oh, Landon, Landon Cooper,” I said.  Then with the slightest of disarmed stutters, “Would you like a cup of coffee Mr…?”

“Please, call me Xavier,” he offered politely.

I almost laughed thinking that calling him “Xavier” seemed a thousand times more formal than using any surname I’d ever heard. 

“Alright, coffee then Xavier?”

“No thank you, but I would love a spot of tea if you happen to have the leaf in-house.”

“I do,” I said fighting the involuntary raise of my eyebrow.  “Will Earl Grey do?”

“Oh yes, that would be splendid,” he said, running his free hand through his silvering dark hair.

I realized that by asking for tea, he had cleverly extended the original terms of his ‘two-minute pitch cap.’  What had I gotten myself into?

As I microwaved the water for his “spot of Tea” I found myself thinking, “spot of tea?”  “Did this guy come to the neighborhood in a Tardis?”  My next thought was, “This fucker may be completely psycho and looking to eat my liver with those beans and a fine Chianti.”

I mentally checked in with the baseball bat in the hall closet, then the shotgun in the laundry room; took a breath, set the Earl Grey tea bag in the steaming mug and returned to the living room in the full bloom of questioning my sanity for letting this tea drinking stranger into my home.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, taking the mug and bouncing the bag to encourage the darkening of its brew.

“Again I don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll get right to it.” He said, adopting a serious tone and looking me straight in the eye.

“I’m in the business of unique opportunity.”  He began, “extremely rare opportunity actually.”  He paused, sipping his tea, eyeing me with a calm, confident smile.

“I see,” I said.  “And what sort of opportunity are we talking about?” I asked with a hint of polite aggression.

“I’m in the business of second chances,” he offered, taking another sip of tea.

I stared at him.  No words formed.

“Yes, it is an unusual product, to be certain.”  He offered,  “In short supply and little known on the open market.”

My blank stare slowly transformed into an open-mouthed “huh?”

“Mr. Cooper, if you had it to do all over again would you?”  He asked.

“Do what all over again?”  I’m sure my tone of voice unveiled the blend of curiosity, incredulity, and consternation coursing through my mind.  A mind that had minutes before been at relative peace.  Which for me is saying something.

“It, all of it, your life!” He stated matter of factly.

“Okay, what the hell,” Was all I could come up with.

He stared into my eyes, took a long sip from his mug then spoke.  “I’m am authorized to offer you a do-over; a second go at this very life you are living right now.  

“How…what the…how the hell would that work?” I sputtered.

“Very simply actually.  You sign a few documents acknowledging your desire to indeed “Do it all over again” then poof, off you go to take a second run at this one life.”

I gaped at him in total disbelief, absent-mindedly spilling a bit of black coffee into my lap.

“Poof!” I stammered.  “What exactly do you mean by poof?”

“I mean you would be born again into this world to have another go.  Don’t you think it would be amazing to have a second chance at a lifetime here on earth?  Think of all the things you could do, create, accomplish with a second chance!”  He settled back on the sofa opposite me and waited, unblinking.

“What about this life?” I thought to myself.  “I love this life.”  I took a gulp of lukewarm coffee which suddenly seem not nearly strong enough.

“Forgive the language Xavier, but what the fuck are you talking about?  How the hell would that work and why should it?  More importantly, why have I of all people been selected for this, and I quote ‘unique opportunity’?” My voice rising to a crescendo of insolence by the end of the sentence.

“You’ve earned it,” he offered politely.  “I understand that this is, well, odd at the very least but I assure you this opportunity is most legitimate.  Please take a moment to sit with it.  May I refill my tea?  The kitchen is just through there yes?”

I nodded.  Xavier rose and headed toward the kitchen; the clip-clop of his dress shoes on the hardwoods gradually fading.  I fidgeted on the couch, uneasy, certain that I was either dreaming, crazy, or had accidentally made myself an unbelievably strong midday Irish coffee.  Not my habit.  

“As a rule, there are knives in a kitchen,” I thought.  But if he came here for that purpose, he’d most likely have everything he needed for the job in that attaché case of his.  I accepted the likelihood that he was not going to the kitchen for a knife and turned my thoughts the far more ridiculous reason for his visit, offering me a do-over!  

Was he offering me a second chance at life because I’d fumbled this one?  Was the offer a reward, an act of charity, or on a more sinister note, was it a punishment?  Was it a test?  I took quick synaptic inventory of my many years and saw ample flashes of regret.  Yes, I found things I would have done differently if I had them to do over again.  I also found moments, hours, years that I would not trade for all the Earl Grey in China or anywhere else.  I sipped the now cold coffee.  

There are a million ways to do life; to lose and to win, to surrender and just let it happen. There are moments of triumph and moments of regret.  There are memories to wish away, others to celebrate.  Perhaps, most importantly all those instances are available to make peace with.  Though I’m sure these thoughts have lived in my subconscious every day, I realized in that instant that I’m not proud of everything I’ve done, neither am I ashamed of the life I’ve chosen.  Are we here to be perfect, or to learn, and grow?  And there was the answer.  Crashing out of my flashback trance, I released a deep sigh.  Mr. Xavier Mulligan returned with his tea, smiling.

“So,” he said, “What’s the verdict?”

“Hmm, Mr. Mulligan?”

“Please, call me Xavier.” He corrected

“Oh right, Xavier, I’m, ah, I’m going to have to say no to your kind offer,”  I said with a new found smile.

“Really,” he said taking a sip of what seemed from the copious amount of steam to be scalding hot tea, without wincing.

“Yes,” I said.  “I’m grateful for the gesture, and I do believe this is a most rare opportunity indeed.  That said, I also realize that the very trip I’m engaged in at this moment is also a rare opportunity.  An opportunity to experience my ‘one’ life, complete with all its gifts, and its share of misfortune; experiences which I’m not likely to recapture should I abandon it now.”  I said raising my mug to swill the last bit of room temperature clarity.

“I see,” he said.  “Understood, understood.  Well then, I suppose it is time for me to take my leave as we have no further business here.  Before I go, are you absolutely sure of your choice?”  He asked.

“Yes, I am,” I said.  Then in what appeared to be a choreographed moment we rose simultaneously, his steaming cup still holding court on its coaster.  He lifted his attaché, gave a slight bow, and strode toward the front door.  I followed and reached to open it as he buttoned his coat.  

“Thank you for your time Mr. Cooper, I’m sorry to have wasted it,” He said.

“Not at all Mr. Mulligan, if fact it seems you’ve given me a gift.”  I offered.

“Have I?” He smiled.  “Excellent!”  He said crossing the threshold and making his way down the front steps into the brilliant sunlight of the late spring day.

#fiction

Apologies

Im sorry

Apologies. I’m guessing I haven’t offered enough of them in my lifetime.  Neither I’m sure, have I received some that might have been deserved, but that bit is beyond my control.  “Deserve’s got nothing to do with,”  or so I’ve heard Clint Eastwood say, and so I’ll leave that be for now.  Apologizing is the most potent acts of healing in the human relational inventory.  A heartfelt apology can repair seemingly permanent damage.  The act can even spark the rebuilding of ostensibly terminal relationships.  Apologizing is a two-way wonder drug.  So why is it that when it’s needed most this seemingly simple choice can appear so utterly unavailable to us?

Hello Ego!  The pride-o-meter sits pinned at eleven.  “Sorry?” I spit.  “Ha, I’m not sorry, I’m fucking pissed!”  Sound familiar?  “It’s they, not I who should be asking for forgiveness.”  Here I am once again, facing a barricade I’ve built obstructing the pathway to reconciliation and so created the need for the other person’s permission to move forward.  Waiting for an apology is just that, waiting.  Waiting in lieu of acting, of taking the chance, of creating an opportunity for resolution.  

Pride is a fickle mistress.  It can afford us the intense bravado needed to inflate our personal myth of invincibility, which in a fight or flight situation can be useful.  However, when the peak intensity of such an engagement subsides, we are left with the stance we took based on pride, not on love.  “Love,” where did that come from?  Hmmm, from the idea that if we truly want peace, we have to choose it.  Peace is my favorite, but clearly not a universal choice for ‘state of being.’  Have you ever apologized to someone only to find that the words had no effect on them?  Come to understand that your act of contrition bore no fruit in your effort to create healing?  Me too!  Some people thrive on conflict, and that is either a nature, nurture or both thing, over which we have no power other than a heartfelt, “ugh!”

Sometimes offering an apology is not a practical option.  In such downward spiraling relationships, we may find the right answer to be ‘cut and run.’  Sometimes we have to let things go.  The real challenge lies in determining, and owning the difference between circumstances beyond our control, i.e., dealing with an ‘unreasonable’ person, and situations in which we have been party to the wrongs that might well be righted by a diminishment of our own ego posturing.  Difficult yes, but not insurmountable.  It is painful to think about lost friendships or loves that might have been saved by an apology.  Could they still be?

These days I find myself apologizing rather frequently; though I’m sure I still miss some prime opportunities to take responsibility.  I say “I’m sorry” to my sons when I’ve wrapped up a solid performance of being less than the father I’d like to be.  I can see in their eyes that it lands, and moves them.  Perhaps, more importantly, it may someday help them with the task of owing their own spells of less than stellar behavior.  Hopefully, it will instill in them the notion that choosing to initiate the making of amends is not an act of weakness.  Rather, it is an act of strength, or so I believe, survivable and often enriching.

Heartfelt apologies spring from a bottomless well within us.  They are an infinitely renewable resource.  The courage to make the first move of reparations may be buried deep.  At times it may seem utterly impossible to grasp.  Even so, I believe it is always worth the reach.