Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cold Moon

Here we are, at the end of the year and the project. It's been a tumultuous year, though when I look back on it, I'm not sure what happened. I do know that having this project was a common thread that seemed to hold much of the rest together. Of course, there was the month or two when I wondered if I'd ever finish the essay. I suspect Diana had much the same feelings, if at, perhaps, different times.

Like Jimmy Buffett sings, I took off for a weekend last month just to try and recall the whole year. Okay, it was this month and last weekend, but the idea was the same. I went to New Orleans for a tromp through the French Quarter. It's one of my favorite places, and I've long held that every municipality would benefit from an area similar to the French Quarter. I'm without doubt that if Raleigh's Warehouse District was configured with more sensible liquor laws, the world would be a far happier place. At least, my corner of it would be.

Now, with all this talk, you're probably bringing up scenes of Rue Bourbon and Mardi Gras. Let me tell you now: There is a whole lot more to the French Quarter than the first few blocks of Bourbon Street, and if you don't cast your vision wide, and follow with your feet, you're going to miss most of the important stuff. However, I was here to unwind from a long year, so let's see where all this led. Don't worry. I know you're not old enough for all the details, but I'll fabricate a day that's close enough.

Breakfast is a treat. Upon check-in the evening before, I noticed that the peeps across the hall had discarded a large tray of mixed nuts, M&Ms, and some kind of party mix. I brought that in, knowing I'd be hungry the next morning, and I was. Yes, you may be impressed by such prescience, not to mention serendipity.

Sure as shooting, I awoke hungry the next day, fired up the in-room coffee to heat water for the sticks of decaf I carry, and started snarfing down the nuts, M&Ms, and whatever the other thing was. After all that exertion, it was time for a morning nap, a substantial morning nap, followed by a shower, and then a launch into the late morning for a walkabout.

Yeah, I needed ice cream, and a cup of PinkBerry's original with sliced almonds was just the thing. Some thirty minutes later, it was time for the second course, that means a Lucky Dog with mustard and onions. No, cole slaw was not available, and that probably explains the lack of bodies stacked along the street. I do love me some street dogs. They're right up there with the gas station roller dogs as fine cuisine. Just ask my brother who gets to eat all he wants at the end of his shift when he has to toss the unsold dogs into the trash.

And yes, Grandpa needed a tall taste of Abita Amber to chase that dog. Abita is a local brewery, and they make the Amber just for me. It's my special beer, but they make far more than I can drink, and while I know that is difficult to believe, it's true, and I leave orders for the brewery to release the extra to the public. Yes, it helps with expenses.

After that, it's time for a massage, a foot massage to be precise. An accupressure foot massage in the shop on Canal a few blocks down from Bourbon. Of course, the practitioners in the shop spent all their time in China learning accupressure, not English, and we communicate with points and grunts. That means I pointed at the sign describing what I wanted, turned, smiled, and said okay? They waved me back to the chair with glee where a gentleman about my age proceeded to induce some of the best pain I ever paid for. Afterward, I was barely able to sign the credit card slip, and totally unable to roll down the cuffs of my jeans, much less remember my hat, though it was there later when I finally returned after noticing my head was chilling faster than the rest of me.

It'll take a little time to return to earth, and the walk over to Margaritaville seems about right for this purpose, and off I go. People actually live in the Quarter, and the gardens are spectacular, if they are hard to see. You have to squint down a long, usually dull, alley between the close houses. That alley ends in an explosion of color over a verdant base. This would be a good place to sit and reflect except that I'd need four jobs to pay the rent.

Approaching Margaritaville with a little help from Google maps, I'm thinking a piece of beef cooked exceptionally rare would be a good place to start, but the line snakes out the door. There's not even a seat by the bar. Oh, poo! Okay, I didn't really say that. Didn't think it either. It wouldn't do to write what I really thought and said. Yes, I tend to emote aloud at times. However, the Fates are about to smile on me: There's a walk-up bar. Yes, Good People, the Quarter has walk-up bars. I won't be ordering a half-side of beef, but I will indulge in a 16 ounce Incommunicado. You can find the recipe for this magical drink online with a quick Google search, but in this incarnation, it packs the punch of four regular drinks. Perhaps more if the bartender's happy.

At this point, I feel compelled to explain how your liver works. The average peep can process one ounce of alcohol in an hour. This means you can have two ounces in the first hour, and then a follow up shot every hour thereafter to keep your buzz, and mischief, managed. Break that rule, and you'll be yet one more reason they need to hose down the streets at 4 in the morning.

However, there's a gotcha in that shot per hour thing. Add sugar to the drinks, and now you have trouble because your bod is going to work harder to get rid of the sugar than the alcohol, leaving the alcohol to oxidize without permission in your bloodstream. In time, we have carboxylic acid coursing though your innards, and you have a hangover because your blood pH is shot to hell. Well, that's close, but we don't have a few months to build up the organic chemistry, and you'll just have to nod in agreement. This is why I do not drink the sugary drinks. They are deadly, or more likely, you'll just wish they would kill you.

So I have a big exception in my hand regarding abstinence of sugary drinks. To manage this, I take the long way back to the hotel. I'll need about 90 minutes to sip, and I do mean sip, this thing, which'll take some discipline because it's delicious and inviting and seductive and deadly. Much like some women. Not to mention the go-go boys. We'll walk about three slow miles, admire the December flowers, the silver jewelry, and ponder just which lottery would make it possible to live here part time. At 125 calories for each mile, we're burning off the sugar faster than sitting at the bar would permit, and by the time I'm back at the hotel, there's a delicious afternoon nap in my immediate future.

After the extended precision nap, a little dinner seems appropriate, and I set my sights on Geisha at the corner of Canal and Tchoupitoulas. (Good luck with the pronunciation unless you already know. I learned it from a cabbie years ago.) I've been to Geisha often before, and it's never a disappointment. However, I left the sushi alone this time to focus on some sort of beef soup. Yes, it was chilly outside, and I needed the additional warmth of what was, for the most, part Asian beef stew.

With a full and warm tummy, I returned to the hotel to powder my nose. You know how the glare of street lights can inflate the stature of my little pug nose.

And now the ribaldry begins. Rue Bourbon. Saturday night. A very few $20s in my pocket.

A few steps down the street, past the man playing Home Depot buckets and sounding better than any percussion I've ever heard before, I paused for a tall Abita Amber. I'm sure the fellow heard I was coming and had it iced just for me. He even agreed to that statement when I asked.

I walk farther down the middle of the street. Hucksters from the sidewalks bid me to step into some of the establishments. They assure me it's like nothing I've ever seen before. The bored gal teetering on her stilettos in the red lace brassier and matching boy shorts reminds me that it's also something I never want to see again.

And then it happens. A very well dressed couple of 20-somethings step from the crowd and bid me hello. The gal is uneasy, but the fellow carries himself with that air of false confidence, pretension, and self assurance that I've come to associate with damned fools. After a few syllables of nonsense, I've determined that neither is in obvious distress, and I encourage him in about as many words to cut to the chase and tell me what he wants.

He wants to speak with me about Jeebus. In the middle of Bourbon Street. On a Saturday night. Me freshly supped, napped, and massaged. With a perfect sample of amber in my hand. With me generally still stone cold sober. On my one weekend to not suffer fools, not that I have any talent with that latter part, and my psychological profile makes that perfectly clear, which was one of the warnings a clinical psych gave me regarding success in the business world. It didn't take, obviously.

He steps back after my first verbal outpouring, but then returns for the next volley. His over-dressed girl friend who reminds me of the chicks in Sunday school in the short, tight polyester dresses that made sure you could assess everything that you were never going to touch did not step back in. She stepped farther away. Her eyes were wider.

He assures me with the lie that he's not here to judge. Of course, that judgment is what brought him to this place and this night. Otherwise, he would be somewhere else irritating someone else. He reminded me much of the damned fool Jeebus Freak friend of my damned fool Jeebus Freak roommate in Morrison dormitory (UNC-Chapel Hill) during the fall of 1971. The pudgy boy assured me that he could jump from the balcony, and angels would lift him up and settle him back down safely to earth. Despite that professed belief, nay, it was knowledge, he said, he let forth with a mighty scream when his keys fell to the ground as I dangled his sorry bohuncus over the rail. The RA precluded the finish to my experiment, suggesting that I return back to his room for a lecture. And a beer.

I suspect such a moment would lead to unpleasant follow-up discussion on a college campus now.

Standing in the street, my progress yet again blocked by this man eager to introduce me to Jeebus, I inhaled to speak one last time. I also wished mightily that he would just reach out and touch my shoulder so I could introduce him to a much closer view of the pavement beneath our feet lest his shoulder twist from it's socket while his elbow threatened to crack from a seriously abnormal hyper-extension, but he didn't touch. He didn't even reach. He just stepped forward, smiled again, and spoke, after which I said, “You need to get away from me right now.” Oddly, his girl friend understood that sentence far better than he did because she had to pull him away.

With the poor fellow shouting that Jeebus was coming and that he loved me, and no, I did not take the fellow up on that profession of love, I walked on down the street, somewhat miffed, and somewhat deep in thought. A few years back, I did meet a fellow here named Jesus, and he also professed a certain fondness, but I think his passion was motivated by my passport and his lack of a green card. Of course, I could be making that up. In a few more steps, I had to dodge a whole flock of Jeebus Freaks standing about a cross wrapped in aluminum foil, probably generic. They also had a sign of things they would discuss if I wanted. I didn't. I really didn't. Discussion is never their intent.

Finally, I reached my destination unscathed. Cafe Lafite in Exile. This is my favorite bar in New Orleans. I made my way to the second floor, picked up a rum and Diet, and settled down on the chilly balcony with its view of the full length of Rue Boubon. There, I communed with the shade of Hemingway for a few hours and several refills. My new friends up the street didn't follow, though a piece of me was wishing they would because there on the balcony, with a communal drink or two, we might be able to have a reasoned discussion without the need to proselytize. Yeah, I'm dreaming. I'd've been dangling that one over the balcony too, and no jury of my peers would do more than applaud.

Bear in mind that I have no problem with people following their religions. I find it, at times, quaint, and it's important, if for nothing more than the enrichment, that we tolerate these personal differences. I just see nothing to be gained from it, and people telling me what I should believe with no more compelling reason than they believe it also just drives me to distraction, as you can likely tell by now. However, I do believe that some form of moral underpinning is important, especially as we rear children, but I'm pretty sure there's very little in the Old Testament that's worth a flying flip for this purpose, and it's only been in the past year or so that I understood why my grandmother chose to give me only a copy of the New Testament, the one with all the red letters.

She knew.

The thing is that there are many religions out there. Truth be told, and it so seldom is, there were perfectly good religions on this continent long before the Christians arrived and started the wholesale slaughter of anyone who wouldn't convert. Of course, that idiocy didn't start here, and it won't end here. At least, I fear it won't. I'm just glad the extraordinary assemblage of intelligence that framed the constitution of this nation understood the abject danger of religion, especially Christianity when it becomes involved in the governing process. We still receive daily reminders of this in our evening news of the Illiteratti who toil daily in their Holy Labors to promote the superiority of the one over the other.

And so with that, I'll hush. We'll let someone else stand on that stump a while. The rest of my long weekend in New Orleans was uneventful, just as it usually is. No hangover. No police interrogations. No antibiotics. Just a lot of people-watching and time to reflect. Okay, there was this flock of Santas and Santa's Helpers, the latter in nets and heels, and the one substantially upset with her otherwise disinterested Santa, but they seemed harmless enough and probably disinclined to engage the introspection of just where and when Santa originally came from.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Beaver moon

If you were under a rock, you might have missed last week's news flash of the Texas family court judge beating his daughter with a folded belt for some reason. In an interview, the judge indicated that although the video did look bad, there was nothing wrong in what he did. In related news, we've all agreed that the man is a damned fool.

I've never held myself out as more than, possibly, an average dad, and while I'm quite certain that I've never flogged a child with a folded belt, I suspect my stepping out of the closet and the requisite moving away when the children were entering adolescence left a far greater mark than any belt might have. There is no apology that can heal such a wound, and like most parents, I cast my hopes on the resiliency of children for any salvation I might have coming. However, these things are slow in coming, and often those involved are not even aware, but perhaps one day, if we all live so long, we can call all that a memory made.

Seeing the judge on TV forced a long repressed memory to the surface, that being watching an in-law flog his male child in much the same way. At the time, though disturbing, the other adults seemed to accept the act as a necessary part of parenting. I considered it barbaric, and I still do, but I lacked the courage to do anything then, not that there was anything, much, one could do but make matters far worse, especially for the boy who was on the receiving end of his father's anger, pure and simple.

Growing up, my parents also used corporal punishment. My mother used a fly swatter, or sometimes a switch from the baby's breath bush by the backdoor steps. My daddy used his hand. Looking back, the punishment's did not achieve what either parent intended. Yes, the offending activity stopped, at least for the moment, but what I learned was which button could be pushed just how far before there was trouble, and I learned to manage that manipulation very well.

Here's a particular event that didn't turn out as they expected.

In 1958, I was five years old, playing in the yard one warm August Saturday afternoon. Sitting barefooted by my sandbox filled with yellow sand gathered from the low spot in the road below the house where the creek threaded through a cracked culvert, rusting store-bought toy earth moving-equipment from assorted Christmases, and old discarded farm tools from another generation, I filled my world with the usual play of a young boy.

For some time, I had felt the pangs that spoke of the need to visit the bathroom indoors (the outhouse had been retired by perhaps a year then), but as many boys, I ignored the call and the cramp passed, leaving me to think I’d have a little more time to play before needing to stop and step into the house. Finally, the urge was too great, and I stood.

Five steps towards the door, a terrible thing, far beyond a boy’s control, happened, and I filled my shorts. This is a bad moment for any boy at any time, and it was not the first time I had waited too long, but it would be my last.

As I entered the house, my father recognized my condition, and he was not amused. He stopped me in the doorway, and told me to step back and strip on the porch, which I did. He spread old newspapers in the middle of the living room floor, and told me to stand on them, which I did. He said that if I was going to act like a dog, then he was going to treat me like one.

There I stood, shifting on my feet on the inky papers, hands hanging pointless to my side, naked to the world, while he read his paper and listened to the baseball game on the black-and-white Sylvania TV in the corner of the room. The smoke from his ever-present Winston curled above his hand, rose over his head, drifted through the screen of the front door, and dissipated into the yard where I had just moments before found escape in childhood innocence.

A very few minutes into this scene, the gravel and sand crunched in the driveway telling of arriving company. My father commanded me to remain where I was, and his aunt and uncle, Addie and Tink, both as old as the dirt on which we lived and both the very definition of the over-educated fool, walked into the house.

Daddy explained what he was doing, and the both of them nodded in knowing, inhuman agreement as they sat on the couch, taking up a conversation regarding the farm and this year’s crop as though the now motionless spectacle before them was as common as a mockingbird singing at sundown.

It was at that moment that I learned to become invisible, to stand alone, to stand naked, humiliated, uncaring, a beaten dog with untrusting yellow eyes, and to disconnect myself from the tortuous reality of a falsely caring world and its unthinking people. It was a simple matter of ragged survival.

I do not know how long I stood there. I do not know how long Tink and Addie visited. I remember nothing more of that day beyond the sounds of my mother working alone in the kitchen. My memory of the hours beyond that point forms a blackened chasm, a pit with no bottom, no light, from which not an echo arises.

Twenty years later in our last conversation before our estrangement, my father, sitting with me at the kitchen table, recalled the event with regret, asking if I remembered, looking away from my darkening countenance as the tormenting memory clouded my mind, saying how he felt that one moment represented a defining change in me, placing a distance between us that we would never bridge.

He was correct. I never cared to win his pleasure again after that Saturday afternoon. I learned to abrade him obliquely, taking my pleasure in watching his anger rise, knowing that in time he would break, grab me by one arm with his left hand, and beat my ass with his farm-calloused right hand while he and I danced in an ever-growing circle of pain, anger, humiliation, and planned retribution.

A half-century beyond that sunny afternoon, I have made a certain peace with my father, or at least his memory, as I find him lurking within me more with every passing day, especially in the recognized seeds of self-destruction I carry, sow, nourish, embrace, and slowly exorcise. I wonder which of those demons I have passed to the next generation, and do I really see the latent seeds in those two children, or do I only see that which causes me fear, regardless of the reality?

Yet even with the cold peace we’ve made in the certitude of death, yet even with the blessed absence of the nightly dreams in which I hold him by his gnarled and aching feet while flailing him to a bloody pulp on the trees and rocks of our shared hell, yet even with his ashes buried in the sand behind Providence Presbyterian Church where his father once preached, and yet even with the mentholated cigarettes I’ve buried by his granite marker, I can’t help but think this now ancient scar still pains me as a broken bone, healed, only to ache anew on a cold morning, precluding a step forward to face unblinking the beckoning sun that warms our seed and withers our hope.

By the way, he hated mentholated cigarettes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hunter moon

Moon #10

The month since the last moon has been turbulent, at least for me. I sit down to write about one thing only to have another hundred topics start screaming for attention. I've started uncounted times, deleting the text each time because I'd start drifting over to something else, which left me thinking that maybe what I ought to do is just write that stream of consciousness, but I'm not going to do that to you, even if the editor will blanch over this somewhat long sentence that I've used to tell you about my pathetic trials and tribulations, none of which interest anyone and all of which put me in this spot.

So to break me loose, the news is droning about the current crop of presidential candidates. Laundry is in the washer that will need to get to the dryer long before I finish here. Recycling is ready to go. The trash is stinking, and also needs to go out. Dishes are stacked in the sink, soaking in hot water. Potato soup simmers on the stove. That should be enough ammunition to kill off each encroaching distraction. If not, you'll be in trouble in a page or two.

Let's jump in.

Some 15 years ago, Danger needed his vaccinations, three or four, I don't recall. You need to know I'm firm in my conviction regarding the importance of vaccinations. These are not negotiable. Suppose there is a small likelihood of some problem following a vaccination. Now, contrast that problem with whooping cough or polio. I see no reasoning that would cause me to withhold the vaccinations.

The spousal unit had taken the children for most, if not all, of the previous vaccinations, and it was with Danger that she decided I needed to experience this event myself. Such the blessing.

Danger and I rode in my little Ranger truck to the county clinic for the shots. We had an appointment for about 10 A.M. On the drive over, I reminded him that after we finished in the clinic, we would go to the grocery store where he could select whatever he wanted for a snack, and I assured him that I did mean whatever he wanted, at least to the limit of my ability to pay. He nodded that he understood this with a matter-of-fact look on his face.

I parked at the far end of the parking lot. That's a habit from years ago. It's not to promote additional walking, though it does. The idea is to have an easier time parking. We walked over to the covered sidewalk and into the building. I was wearing worn nylon running shorts, rundown ASICS with rolled athletic socks, a raggedy t-shirt, and a faded bandana. Danger was dressed for safari. Creased shorts with many pockets, webbed belt with a shining brass buckle, contrasting knit shirt tucked in at the waist, hiking boots with wool socks, and a fedora.

Yep. One old hippie. One young flyboy.

We waited on a couch until we were called. I completed the paperwork, and the nurse signed her part. The maternal unit had told me all the formalities would be completed before the shots were given. Danger stood quietly by my side while this happened. With the last of the papers in the folder, the nurse pointed to the side of the table, to a straight-back chair with vinyl covering on cold steel tubing.

Danger sat on my lap, turned to the side, his legs perpendicular to mine, his back to the table. Behind him, the nurse lined up the shots. I curled my left arm up his back, putting my hand around his shoulder and upper arm, pulling him lightly to encourage his head to move to my left shoulder. His head resisted a little because he was curious, but he didn't object. He didn't fight. My right arm dropped low to cover his legs below his knees, which were bent over my right thigh. I held his left leg in my right hand.

I didn't squeeze. I just held tight. I'm not sure if that was for me or for him. The nurse popped him in the thighs with those shots in seconds. I do not know how she did it. The Kmart PharmD who gave me a flu shot last year could use some of that technique, not that she will ever have the opportunity to give me another.

In the time it took to administer the shots, Danger inhaled most of the room's air, and let forth with a wail that likely broke every heart within the ten-mile radius it covered. The nurse nodded the finish, and I broke for the door, Danger in my arms, his head three feet deep into my shoulder sobbing as though all he knew to be right and holy had been revealed as lies and deception.

He wasn't the only one in this dyad sobbing, and the procession of moms arriving with more children scurried past us lest they catch it too.

We had walked back and forth. No one paid any attention to us. They knew without asking. In some 15 minutes, we were calm again, and finally, we were back in the truck. We put on some Jimmy Buffett. We cranked up the volume and rolled down the windows. Vaccinations be damned; we had candy to find.

We stopped at the Harris Teeter that was about halfway home. He did not answer my questions regarding what he might want. I was thinking I could get us in and out of the store a little quicker, but he was intent on exploring. I started on the candy aisle. We walked down it, and then back up. He didn't see what he wanted, but at the top of the aisle, he took another direction, and I followed. We wound up in baking. Icing, I thought. Nope, not icing. He stopped at the sugar section, pointed, and I subsequently paid for a box of generic Harris Teeter brand sugar cubes.

He worked on that box for well over a week. The maternal unit didn't say a word, but I'm pretty sure she thought one or two.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Harvest Moon

Disclaimer: I'm being a bad boy this time. I'm posting this one without editorial review. We've been busy, again, at work, and I expect I'll (1) have my hand slapped Monday, and (2) have edits directly after that. Nonetheless...

I knew this moon was going to be a rough one, and if I go into the details of those problems, I'll only serve to bore you and anger me. Again.

That morning, after coffee, I sought to center myself by tweeting the framework of a story, a true story, though I doubt anyone recalls it but me now. Yes, I'm that old. What else would account for the general state of my grumpiness? Just hush.

I was thinking to reframe it as more complete prose, but now, I guess I'm just too lazy. Here you go.

1969 was a tumultuous year. Even if you didn't live through it, you probably heard the stories. Looking back, I wonder how we survived.

I was half way through my 16th year that summer, Bro was three months into his 10th, and we had sweet potatoes to chop.

You're probably wondering if we'd forgotten everything Tink ever taught us, what with chopping potatoes. Yes, we were really chopping weeds.

Specifically, we were chopping the weeds out of the potatoes. We just needed an economy of language so as to not use up all the words.

Remember, this was 1969, and we didn't have as many words back then as we do now. We had to use what we had sparingly lest we run out.

There was little worse then than being found guilty of wanton waste of vocabulary. Well, except sex out of wedlock. And salt on watermelon.

The field with the weeds threatening to overtake the potatoes was the five acre field over by Pollyanna's house. You probably remember it.

You probably remember it because of the rented tobacco barn that burned by the edge of the field over to the side with Pollyanna's house.

It was a two-alarm fire that was allowed to finish burning so the cleanup would be easier. The heat destroyed a semi-circle in the field.

Of course, there were few, if any, weeds in the field. Only the occasional piece of Lamb's Quarter that we could have eaten if we had known.

But it wouldn't be fitting to eat a weed, even if it was a green. A proper green must be planted and cultivated, not found somewhere.

Besides, if Bro and I weren't out chopping those weeds, we'd be left idle, and that would surely come to no good. We might go fishing.

And so it was that we were in the 1959 pink Rambler with pushbutton drive headed to the five-acre field at 7 A.M., two hoes in the backseat.

At that point, a hoe was something you worked with in the field, and we didn't think twice about saying we had two in the car's backseat.

Up and down the rows we went, stopping for a sip of water at the end of each round. The water was in a quart jar with a few cubes of ice.

Towards the middle of the morning, Mama delivered a snack. Probably pie or cake. Maybe a candy bar. Surely a Coke. Nothing was diet then.

We ate. We chatted with Mama. She left. We went back to our silent labor. There's nothing a 16 year old needs to say to a 10 year old.

I was some 20 yards ahead of Bro when he called me. He was holding up a purple flower. Morning glory, I said, telling him to pull the vine.

He could not find the vine. I screamed at him to keep looking. He kept looking. I returned on the other row, and he was still looking.

I screamed further. The decibels didn't seem to help him much, but he did keep looking. I did another round. Two rows. He was still looking.

This is the boy who had let a dog fly, deer fly to you perhaps, ride his back and suck his blood for an hour one afternoon.

My motivational screaming was having no positive effect regarding finding the morning glory. I started another row, shaking my head.

A few feet into my row, I saw a glimmer of blue. Looking closer, I saw it was a flower. Another morning glory. Looking closer, I paused.

The blue flower was attached to a potato vine. It was a potato flower, the first in my life. We planted from cuttings. We never had seed.

Bro had spent the last hour searching for a morning glory vine that did not exist because I had never seen a sweet potato flower before.

I had been screaming at the top of my lungs for most of that hour for him to find that morning glory and pull it up.

All we had to show for his time and sweat was a bedraggled area of potatoes where he had methodically sought a nonexistent morning glory.

I told him to let it go and get back to the row. I never did tell him about the blossom I found. He never mentioned finding another one.

We pulled weeds from the field through the rest of the morning, working in silence, until the rural fire station sounded the noon siren.

I can report that tweeting this story only served to center my thinking and emotions by a small amount. Towards the last quarter, the idiots in the legislature won their campaign to create second class citizens, and I held and, sometimes, expressed, a fair amount of anger those two days. You can check my Twitter feed for details if you really want to go there. I encourage you, however, to let it go. It's all on the wheel, and those elected buffoons have their day coming.

In the meantime, more than one now travels with armed escort owing to threats communicated by phone and email. No, I didn't do any of that. I do not condone violence, and much less the threat of it. That's no way to function in a civilized society. However, I can report that I did smile upon the receipt of the news. OK, I laughed out loud. I just hope we have more, and better, to smile about come the day after the May elections.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lily Moon

Moon #8

Lily's birthday, a new moon, and the Perseid meteor shower. Not a bad way to greet the middle of a month, a very busy month with reports to write, spreadsheets to crank, tables to make pretty, people to placate, and about enough to keep three busy, but that's a good problem to have. Maybe.

Her's is certainly a different world from mine. I suppose there's a natural progression to be expected over four decades between us. Do you suppose in another span of time that she will look back and wonder how she got there? Why she's there? Will she finally tweet about it?

It was an after-school afternoon, a Wednesday towards the middle of September. I was 15, sitting in a sweet potato field with my father.

We worked in silence, pulling the orange tubers from the sandy ground, placing them carefully in the wooden bushel crates.

It wouldn't do to scuff a potato. People cared more then, though not enough to dig by hand as in the previous generation.

Daddy opened the row with a deep-set plow, and he grieved over the potatoes he cut and split. Left to ruin. Never to sell.

But the plow was faster, more efficient. The loss was acceptable, just as it was OK for the rabbits to eat the first row.

Besides, Grandmother would cook the damaged potatoes. The waste would be minor. Later, she would cook the rabbits too.

Aside from the sounds of birds and bugs and distant dogs, the only sound was the periodic flexing of the wooden crates as we moved them.

Daddy stopped to check my box. I was prone to not mind the sizing well, and he was careful to only sell the size called Number Ones.

He also was careful with filling the box level to the top. Any higher, and the boxes wouldn't stack on the flatbed truck.

Any lower, and he was shorting a customer who probably wouldn't know, but Daddy would know, and that wouldn't be right.

I rarely could get the sizing right. There were too many ambiguities in the decision. Filling the box was easier, I thought.

He cleared his throat to speak: Mommy and I are joining the church next Sunday. You can, too, if you want.

I nodded assent, and the customary sounds of the field and the work returned.

A few days later in uncomfortable Sunday clothes, I walked with the family to answer the altar call. “Just as I am without one plea.”

The following Sunday afternoon, we gathered at Red Lowery's Pond. He had moved the cattle to an adjacent field.

The weather was threatening rain, and my repetition of Mother's poor joke about getting sprinkled provoked The Look from Daddy.

Yes, I was a smart ass even then. He saw it as a lack of respect. My bosses through the years would concur.

We waded into the pond with Preacher Howard, a man given to many words. He held my nose and dipped me back in the green water.

I was washed in the Blood. “Shall we gather at the river?” Grandmother had assured me that a pond was as good as the river for baptizing.

People weren't so literal then. Now, I worry that vampires have taken the church, and that Jesus is a zombie.

Fast-forward. A lot. A whole lot. I married a Catholic. Yes, I had to produce my baptism certificate for that to happen.

And yes, I did indicate that I was the only soul in that room who had been properly baptized and washed in the Blood. The priest smiled.

Now, it was time to baptize Lily, not in the church, but in the back yard, as an infant, lest she fall and be denied at the pearly gates.

Lily is named after my grandmother, and I do not believe St. Michael could stand before my grandmother and deny entry to an innocent.

Suggesting that St. Michael would yield to the simple command of my grandmother did not hold much sway with the Catholics.

It just got me The Look. Again. Yes, I get The Look a lot.

The Sunday before the event, I drove the 100 miles back home to fetch water from Red Lowery's pond in a quart mason jar.

The water was green and cloudy. A sediment would later form. I paused to remember. Baptisms. Swimming. Drownings.

Once, I refused to swim there because a group of black teens had been swimming earlier. Never mind the cows.

I hope I'm not so ignorant now as I was then, but I suspect tendrils of that nonsense touch us all.

Lily's baptism was a big affair. They called it a celebration. It seemed more like a party. Thinking about the prep still makes me tired.

I had poured the quart of water from Red's pond into a large white bowl used for making bread, sediment and all.

The priest appeared with his vial of water from the Jordan River. He added those few drops to my quart of pond water. It didn't explode.

There was a brief murmur regarding living water, but I'm sure it was not in the usual Biblical sense this time.

No one saw the translucent nymph in the bowl but me, and I remained silent. Mayflies are God's creatures too.

A short time later, Father Jack intoned, dipped his fingers, and touched them to Lily's forehead.

A shaft of September sun split a cloud, and St. Michael breathed a sigh of relief as my grandmother smiled.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Isadora's Moon

Moon #7

Isadora's Moon

Yes, Isadora's moon. We're changing up a little here because the world has another innocent this month. Isadora, first child, first daughter of the artist in this collaboration and her husband. Now, before the litany of questions regarding all those physical specifics that are sure to come, let me redirect you over to The Artist and The Mommy where more and better details are available.

Meanwhile, I wanted to bring back a story from another time, a story first told on 31 December 1995 as a bedtime story. The dudes required fresh stories most every night; repetitions were seldom allowed, and if they were, rest assured the children were prepared to correct me on the details I might forget or somehow embellish. This story was told once more on 21 March 1996 at the first chapel service of spring held by Greensboro College. In hindsight, I'm not sure this one was appropriate for the Chapel, but there were children present, and as our instructions include, “Suffer the little children,” I suffered the little children. In doing so, I believe a good many adults, including one dean and my boss, suffered as well. He didn't fire me, and I don't know why not.

Here we go. Well, first, a note: Thbpt is that rude noise we refer to as a “raspberry.” I put countless raspberries on the children's tums, especially when changing diapers, and for a while, they would come to me when I motioned, saying that I needed to check something. However, those toddlers learned fast that Dad often had ulterior motives.

It was a warm mid-morning in early summer toward 1961, and Grandmother, already dusted in White Lily self-rising flour, was busy in her kitchen preparing lunch, what she would call dinner. The entire family was coming today for some reason I don’t remember, probably because I was too little then to remember details outside my own world of precious stones and toads.

The nine-pane window over the double sink was open, and the morning breeze fluttered the yellowed curtain, tugging lightly at the sash where Grandmother had tied it earlier that morning while the first streaks of dawn painted the sky.

She hummed to herself, sometimes in tune with the birds in the pecan grove by the house, sometimes with last Sunday’s choir, but never in tune with the strange and unfortunately familiar thbpting sound that drifted through the window, a sound laced with the other, sweeter, sounds of summer’s morning.

Had she not been so busy with the big lunch for her family, she might have taken time to investigate that thbpt further, and if she had, she would have found, yet again, that it was Tootles, the blue and green Muscovy duck, chasing a grasshopper through the garden. Seeing Tootles taken with honest labor would have warmed Grandmother’s heart toward the old duck, and Tootles needed all the human sympathy she could get, especially some sympathy from Grandmother, but she didn’t investigate the sound, she didn’t see Tootles hard at work debugging the garden, and Tootles missed, for no fault of her own, a golden opportunity to win a kindly thought and perhaps a morsel of table scrap.

This morning, Tootles was ready for a snack. No, she needed a snack! She’d had a big breakfast of corn sprouts that morning, and Grandmother had not yet noticed the missing sprouts even if they were in the first row of the garden. The bean sprouts planned for lunch were waiting in the next row. Tootles needed her mid-morning snack, just like everyone else on the farm, and she had her eye on a grasshopper, one just the right size for a hungry and hard-working Scoby duck.

The problem was that the grasshopper had his eye on Tootles. He also had a rascally bent about him, something not uncommon in a grasshopper, and he was not inclined, not in the least, to be a duck’s snack, but he was inclined to tease this hungry Scoby duck, and that was just what he was doing this morning.

Tootles was hunkered between the beans, stalking, as best a duck can stalk, this green and brown grasshopper, one she knew would make a crunchy tasty morsel before her mid-morning nap in the garden. Her big feathery wings stuck straight out, her large webbed feet stepping through the sand and dust in slow motion. You could hardly see her breathe. She was a Ninja Duck.

The Grasshopper was not unaware of Tootles’ shenanigans this morning. Au contraire, he was in complete control, and poor Tootles didn’t know it. How could she? She was a hungry duck. Just before Tootles was close enough to nab her crunchy snack, the hopper would twitch his fuzzy bottom. (No, science doesn’t not yet know why hoppers have fuzzy bottoms. It’s still a mystery.)

Well, that was just too much for this easily excited and very hungry duck, making her lunge and thbpt just a step too far away, giving the ornery hopper all the time he needed to jump off the bean, spread his hoppery wings, fly away on a looping arc, and buzz down on another bean on another row where he munched on his own snack while waiting for Tootles to find him again. Boy hoppers can be rascally that way.

Jump. Thbpt. Buzz. Jump. Thbpt. Buzz. Jump. Thbpt. Buzz. What a concert it was! A drama extraordinaire, it was, all morning long.

In the house, we had all finally gathered to eat lunch, though it was more a feast. If you can imagine it, if it were food, if you could find it in or near the garden, Grandmother had cooked it. Collards, turnips, corn, snap beans, butterbeans, and garden peas. Biscuits, cornbread, and hush puppies. Chicken, ham, and turkey. (But alas and alack, no duck.)

In the middle of that table, surrounded by all that food and a gaggle of hungry people, were two beautiful, white coconut cakes for our desert. We ate with a vengeance, like soldiers on a mission, and the object of our culinary battle was those two cakes, placed before us all, unattainable until we had cleaned our plates, twice. (I should remind you that Grandmother always said that it was a pleasure to watch a hungry child eat, and no one here intended to challenge what she said.)

Out in the beans, Tootles was at her limit, her ducky patience about gone. She had caught onto the hopper’s evil plan, and now she had one of her own, a design surely to get that crunchy bug in her beak, to end the rumbly in her tumbly. She took bigger steps. She lifted her head less. When the hopper wiggled his fuzzy bottom, she waited to lunge, just a tiny bit, and then she did it.

She lunged and thbpted like no other Scoby duck in all the history of Muscovy had ever jumped or thbpted before, but this time, with Tootles’ beak so close, the hopper suffered a shock; the kind of shock from which a hopper dates! A close brush with mortality can do that for a bug, even a rascally grasshopper, and he spread his brittle, hoppery wings and flew like the wind, or as best like the wind a locust can fly. Just behind his fuzzy and twitching, now flying, bottom was Tootles, first running, then jumping and flapping, finally just flapping, thbpting on every stroke of leg or wing. She wanted that bug!

The two made a fine summer symphony of buzz and thbpt, and they were headed straight for the open kitchen window.

We had finished with lunch, and were admiring the cakes. Grandmother was standing to the side of the table preparing to slice the first one, smiling at the empty bowls and scrapped-clean plates spread before her. We had done our job well, declaring that we just didn’t know where we’d find room for the cake, knowing full well we’d eat a slice, maybe two, even at the risk of exploding.

So taken were we with the moment that no one noticed the little hopper sail through the window, but we all noticed Tootles as she spread her wide Scoby wings, put on her feathery brakes, let out one last giant thbpt, and then land perfectly on the table, one foot in each cake.

Grandmother was not amused.

We all sat at the table, frozen in surprise. Tootles was stepping in the cakes, puzzled by the sticky frosting clinging to her feet, legs, belly, and wings. She was nibbling a few stray beans off my plate when Grandmother attacked her with the broom, a handmade broom of straw gathered by my grandfather from the field across from the house. She swept that duck across the kitchen, over the refrigerator, under the counter, knocking dishes from the drainer to the sink, touching every base, and making a tremendous mess in the process.

Finally, the pair, sweeping, thbpting, flapping, thbpting, and molting were at the top of the backdoor stairs. Grandmother pulled back the broom in a form from which Arnold Palmer could have learned, and she swatted Tootles square in her feathered bottom, launching the poor, still hungry, duck through the gap in the pecan trees, high above the garden, and down to the round pond towards the end of the field.

Tootles barely missed the pigs rooting in the mud at the edge of the pond as she plomped down without ceremony into the shallow water, telling the pigs that she meant to do that. It took a while to wash the icing from her head, wings, and tummy. Her feet took longer. The pigs, being just a notch above Scoby ducks on the evolutionary ladder, were much amused by the incident. The fish in the pond enjoyed the special icing treat.

As for the grasshopper, he flew back out the window to the beans in the garden, enjoyed his lunch, and settled down for a long siesta under a shady leaf.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Strawberry moon

Moon #6

Strawberry moon
15 June 2011

Last weekend, I gave serious consideration to cheating and writing this essay early. It's not like anyone would ever know but me, and more to the point, do you suppose anyone would care? However, I remained a good boy, mostly because I just knew that if I wrote early, then my partner would go into labor, and I'd have to discard what I had and replace it with something more appropriate. Yeah, I'm so sensitive that way.

So here it is, after work, time to write, and I'm gaunt. Oh, what to do? Eat something. But not something in the house. The Rocket is cooking! So it's downtown for some dinner. Just a little dinner, not enough to threaten my girlish figure. That should be churlish figure, more likely. A pint of PBR at $2. Half-priced appetizers? I'll take two. And another pint. Dessert? I wish, but the banana pudding is not on the list, and they say there won't be any more before the weekend? Is there a grief counselor in the house?

Let's pay the tab, tip well, and go back home. There are tweets to check and post. Don't forget the web site from the ladies downtown. That needs to go on Facebook. The straight boys need the reality therapy. Yeah, they watch too many movies. So what was it that had me all deep in thought and preoccupied? Oh yes, nail polish.

I had gone to the gas station for non-lunch. Think roller dogs, except also think about getting distracted. This was my second time to that gas station in ten minutes. First time, I filled up the tank. On the opposite side of the pump was a sweet young thing in flip flops, extremely short shorts with perfectly random stitching that only a machine could have done, a very lacy tank top, and a man's suit jacket to top it all off. Yes, with exaggerated shoulder pads. One peep suggested the jacket made the outfit appropriate for work. I suppose that's about right, especially if the work involved holding up a street lamp.

I don't generally react (much) to what people wear, and that's because so few people wear anything outside a quarter standard deviation of whatever Kmart defines as the local norm. I include Toronto and New York City in that statement, though in those places, as well as several others that might consider themselves stylishly different than the rest of us, there still exists, despite whatever they might think, very few substantive deviations, though you'll likely find a long, black leather coat or something else climatically appropriate. All that said, I really don't care how folks dress, and I've long held that comfort reigns without challenge. Of course, I generally stand alone. I got used to that long ago.

I returned to the gas station after bouncing off the food court at the small mall where long lines awaited. Perhaps they were giving something away. I was not really in the mood for roller dogs, and the packaged ham sandwiches nailed my attention about three steps into the door. As did a PowerBar and a fountain Diet Coke. The challenge was to pay the bill. You see, someone was not paying for gas while she couldn't make up her mind as to how to spend $20 on scratch-off lottery tickets. I usually wish such people luck in the hopes that some of that wished-for luck will rub off on me, but I made an exception for this child and quietly wished for an alligator to eat her. Right there. Right then. Yes, with a smile.

Back to the office with my odd non-lunch with follow-ups to my tweets from the gas station about the gal in the jacket. Coming through the door and down the first hall, I was distracted by a commotion in a peep's office. It appeared that Peep 2 was opening a shipment of cosmetics while chatting with Peep 1. I stopped to ogle the cosmetics. Bear in mind that the makeup has yet to be invented that would make me pretty, aside from a large block of cement and a deep pool of water. Along with the cosmetics came a free gift, a small bottle of red nail polish named “Between the Sheets,” and Peep 2 handed it to me.

There was a double story here to tell, and Peeps 1 and 2 indulged my telling. They always do, though I'm not sure why, but I'm glad they do, what with me being an old fart and all.

My mother entered the orphanage when she was three years old. A family that owns most of the sand in the county can't afford to have a dead sister's children running about eating costly food, wearing costly sackcloth, and expecting to go to school, especially when some of the children were difficult. Mother was never one to accept external rules all that much, something that made her take on Christianity a puzzlement for me, and at some point, her young girl self turned to self-adornment. She wanted to wear nail polish. Well, as you surely know, girls who wear nail polish will go to hell, straight to hell, and this orphanage of the Baptist church was not going to have any of its charges showing up in hell, not as long as there was corrective pain to administer to the children. To handle this conflict, Mama wore socks, and under those socks, her toes were a brilliant red, as red as could possibly be manufactured and smuggled onto the campus.

There was not a time growing up when her nails, toes and fingers, were not red. Now, I haven't seen the woman's toes in years, but I am without doubt that this woman who can not remember her husband has bright red paint on those piggies, and I know as sure as the sun rises in the east that there is not enough willpower resident on this earth to put another color on those nails.

Fast-forward from the early 1900s in that orphanage to not so many years ago in Jamestown just before she and Buck stopped traveling. We were sitting in the living room, and the subject of church attendance came up, which made me moan out loud. Even then, I had little use for church. There were, and there still are, many reasons for that, all of which will go unmentioned here. Mama leaned over to me holding up a magazine so she could whisper in my ear without the children hearing, as though toddlers would pay any attention to anything, and there she told me “I hated church too, especially before air conditioning, and I always sang those songs and repeated those prayers with an extra little bit added in the pauses.”

I looked at her without understanding. She smiled, leaned closer, and sang very quietly: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound...between the sheets...that saved a wretch like me...between the sheets...” She stopped and looked at me with a knowing smile. I realized at that moment that I had no idea who this woman was sitting to my side pretending to be my mother.

I still haven't opened that small bottle of paint. Maybe this weekend, even if it does defy the narrow definitions of acceptable gender expression that so many people would foist upon us, regardless of their own proclivities. I'm thinking Mama and the Honey Badger, and yes, even me, really don't give a shit what they think.

Editorial Note: For those of you unaware of the reference to the Honey Badger, go to and search for “Randall Honey Badger.” The video you want will have some 10 million hits. Study it carefully.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Flower moon

0200. Up with a vivid dream, one that twists and morphs from one bit of nonsense to another, the former returning to replace the latter with every toss and turn in the sheets now damp with sweat. Josh's new car overheated on his drive up here. Lily was driving a transfer truck, and having some trouble negotiating the turns in the parking lot, which was somewhere downtown. Relocate to the couch with some droning TV. Fog in and out of sleep, mostly out. The angle of my head on the pillow at the end of the couch is less than pleasing. Far less than pleasing. Some rum in the house would be good about now, but I'll settle for some generic, fat free, artificially sweetened yogurt. I doubt the effect will be as good, and I hate being right on mess like this. Yes, rum would have been better, or so my addled brain tells me. Experience suggests otherwise.

0300. Up to stay, at least until a nap calls, and that'll be sometime later this morning when I need to pay attention to something else. Gather a load of whites. Strip the sheets off the bed. Can't sleep on them; might as well wash them. Start coffee. Move the detergent and bleach to the clothes bound for the laundry. Notice the top of the refrigerator is dirty. Fill the sink with hot water and Dawn. Wash the few dishes from last night. Clean off the top of the fridge. Dump out the cereal from December that I planned to eat, but never did. It was on sale, but I suspect the rats at the dump will not mind, aside from it being generic bran flakes. And I'm hungry for something, not the cereal, something that'll need cooking. Maybe more yogurt will buy a little time.

0400. My private hallway held the faint strains of the local news coming from a neighbor's TV. I hope he's sleeping on the couch, neck crick be damned, instead of rising early to greet the dawn he would not otherwise see as I will. The private hallway led to my private elevator, which quickly arrived to take me nine floors down. Yes, I should use the stairs, and I sometimes do, but not with a load of clothes under one arm and a mug of precious coffee in the other. You might think that at this hour, my laundry would be private also, but oh no, one of the blind residents is up and at it with me this morning. She asked me to check the balance on her laundry card, and being the ever helpful peep, I obliged while telling her that I rarely see people doing laundry at this time of the morning. I wish I could own up to writing a poor joke in that last sentence, but it's really what I said and the word I chose, not that she responded in any manner. She might have had a dollar on the card.

A wave of nausea born of sleep denied and coffee too early washes over me, and a hastily peeled banana saves the day, if this can be called a day.

I learned last night that Josh is coming for a visit later this morning. He wants to show me his car, new to him, and quite shiny in the Facebook picture. He will be traveling alone. I had already arranged to not be at work today so that I could participate in a gathering at the NC General Assembly, and Josh adjusted his schedule so that he could get here early enough for that. We'll see. Josh often moves in his own time, having inherited that trait, and then there's the morning traffic to consider. I'll struggle to not think of how fast he might be driving during the trip, though I suspect he has a heavy foot.

That he's coming surprised me. Delighted me too. Apparently, I did not live up to expectations during Lily's graduation activities of a couple, almost three, weeks ago, and they had both gone silent. Lily remains so. Of course, they're both grown with lives and schedules of their own, and I work to accept my role now in the margin of their lives, but I can tell you now that I'm hardly one to tolerate marginalization, at least without a tear. Patience might be a virtue, but I grow tired of exercising it, and this leaves me to wonder if there might be another phase to the midlife crisis I thought I'd left in the shadows, not that I think I need a trophy wife or such. More likely, I need a cat.

0500. Back in the laundry room to move the clothes to the dryer. The blind resident and I are on about the same schedule, as she was attending to a dryer this time, and she asked me to check her card again. Either it was a different card, or she had been to the machine to put more money in her account, as she had some over eight bucks this time.

Meanwhile, Adult Swim is not really anything you'd ever want to watch, and even though it's switched to King of the Hill, I'm not sure it's going to hold my attention. Perhaps it's time for a nap, at least until the dryer is done.

0600. So that nap was nowhere what it needed to be, but someone needs to scoot down and fetch back those white shirts before they need the ironing they are not going to get.

0700. Clothes all put away. Bed made up. Further nap denied. There is very little about a five-hour jump start on the day that contributes to additional productivity. More likely, less gets done. I think it's time for a walk. Nope, no walk. That was wishful thinking. There seems to be a lot of that going around these days.

And Josh is on the road, GPS tracking every inch. I need to hit the shower and get myself ready.

0800. Shower. Mirrors cleaned. I do not know what got into me. It's not like he'd ever notice such a thing. Or care. All dressed. Directions for downtown checked. Stuff in my pockets. I go outside at about 8:45 and wait. And wait. Tweet about being bad at waiting. Wait some more.

0900. A car that looks a lot like his new one pulls in the drive, but stops short. Josh would have come all the way. I abort my wave lest I spook some stranger, and a pang wells that I didn't expect. It's been three weeks since I last saw him, and only a day since I texted with him. Compared to when he's at school, that's not much more than five minutes ago, or so you might think. After you've had your turn, we'll compare notes, and I'm thinking you'll know that pang well. This is why we keep tissues at the ready.

What turn, you might ask? Keep in mind that I came out when he was on the cusp of teens, and the ensuing years did not permit all that much contact, just enough to know who was who, but not enough as those years require. It was a rough ride, one that I'm not yet over, but one that I can't do much about beyond grin-and-bear-it, which is what I do, mostly. He's done about the same, and seems to have come into his own in a way that makes this daddy proud. It could have been a lot worse.

A few minutes later, he's here, changing cars, hugs, and we're underway. He's still agreeable to visiting the General Assembly for a press conference by a group of people of faith who are opposed to the defense of marriage bill that will be introduced into the session today. In addition, there are busloads of haters coming from all over the state from churches much like the one in which I was baptized. There's even a man from a documented hate group here to tell the haters how righteous concern is not really hate. I suppose there will be flying pigs, in addition to all the walking two-legged pigs.

We reached the GA early, found our room, and then toured the rest of the building. He had visited years ago as part of a school outing. I had visited a few times since way back in the seventh grade when the glass doors did not have emblems on them to make them more visible. Doing something to make the doors visible so people would stop running into them and breaking their faces even made the state newspaper back then.

1000. There was probably more press at our press conference than all the rest together. There was also more good sense, which left me to wonder if the religious upbringing I received might have survived if it had been positioned with more tolerance and less hate, and yes, there was plenty of hate to go around outside. Pentecostal this. Free Will Baptist that. I'm surprised they didn't burn a few crosses while they were at it. To my knowledge, they did not bring any snakes.

1100. We left the GA in search of food, and finally found some at Porter's City Bistro near NCSU. Porter's is one of my favorite places to eat, and it's been months since I was there last. We would have eaten downtown, but the places I prefer away from the haters were still closed then. We might have been the first people in the restaurant today. It was a good lunch not only because the food was its usually excellent repast but also because we were starving. Josh had skipped breakfast to get to Raleigh early. My 2 a.m. wake-up had left whatever I had for breakfast long since forgotten.

1200. We're still eating, talking, and going on about one thing and another. It's a simple delight to have an adult conversation with your child, and I savor that time while I can. I notice that my language is substantially coarser than his, and I wonder how he really speaks among his friends. I know his sister has a salty tongue as I've heard it, and I suspect he is no different, just more judicious around me and perhaps others, at least so far. Or possibly, he's worried about how he might appear, and he moderates his expression naturally.

We finished lunch, moved the car about a half-mile, and took a walk through the Rose Garden, which is a calm and peaceful place. I pointed out the picnic table where I ate lunch back in the early 80s during summer school. Actually, I just assigned that history to an unsuspecting table, and I figure Josh will forgive me if he ever figures that out, which probably happened about 30 seconds after I told him, and he kept quiet about it.

1300. We're back at the apartment for a pit stop and a little couch time. Grandpa ain't what he used to be and although I'd be alarmed if Josh could not outpace me now, I do not like knowing that I'm the one slowing down our progression. Both Lily and Josh have come so very far from the young things I used to chase in the yard after dinner while playing our own made-up version of ball tag. So have I, just not in the same direction.

Shortly, we're back at it again. Gas for the car. A fountain Diet Coke for me. A long walk through the J. C. Raulston Arboretum where our ostensible purpose is to check on the bees, which we did. Immediately following the bee check, Josh spots the other hives that I thought went AWOL last winter. Silly me. No apiary collapse on this shift. Nope. Just some bee keeper doing his job without telling me. Imagine that.

1400. Time for ice cream. Ben and Jerry are always up to the task. We ate and chatted in the shade while Josh downloaded FourSquare. He was intrigued by my recurring check-ins. However, having him remember to do a check-in might take some doing, and I do not anticipate he will be a supermayor any time soon. If you disagree, check his Twitter feed, and then change your mind.

1500. Back home, and time for him to leave. He needs to avoid our delightful RTP traffic. He also needs to get his summer school stuff online and inline. A hug good-bye. And another. GPS set and books to order, he drives away. I stood in the empty space under the oak where I park and watched his car fade from view.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pink moon

Moon #4

Finally, a moon for me, I was thinking, as we cruised into the final days before the full moon arrived. It was coming on a Monday, and I was seriously thinking about cheating and writing over the weekend. I can be a rascal like that, you might know. Or not. It's been calm for the last while. Japan's nuclear crisis is old news, and for that reason, generally absent from the American news. Charlie Sheen is doing whatever he does. Besides, the weather over the weekend is threatening to be wet and cloudy, if not cool, and there'll be no lake time at all most likely, which is about the norm this season, what with the good weather coming during the week when I'm working or on the weekend when I'm working out of town. I liked it a lot better during the drought of a very few years ago when it was in the 70s in February, and every weekend was dry. I can be selfish that way.

So Friday evening after checking the weather, I moved the car to the middle of the parking lot. The storms to the far west were headed our way, though probably to be less severe here, but I'm in no mood to pull a tree off my car, and I'm certainly in no financial shape to replace it, and it seemed prudent to let someone else tempt the Fates. Besides, I tempt them enough anyway to the point that we're old and fast friends, but I usually have planned outcomes already in place then. More to the point, the state has suspended the sale of retired police cruisers, and I'd have to spend what little money I have on a civilian something, which would only hurt. I like my scalding fast old fart of a car.

I noodled along through the Saturday morning, moving slowly. Grandpa needs his space and time, you might know. Toward mid-day, I hoofed over to the gym, a Planet Fitness about a mile away, where I spend a few moments tightening up the color and pushing back the psoriasis. Initially, I started there for the treadmills, but the best laid plans of mice and men fall all to hell as often as not, and the looking up to watch the TVs was wrecking havoc with my ancient neck, leading me to stay off the machines. As it's about a mile, the result is about the same, though the walk leaves me with the temptation to stop by the Goat Bar and have a beer with the local riffraff, which would then defeat the purpose of walking in the first place, and also, likely, land me in jail when someone figured something out about the time I needed to leave.

It was a very blustery walk, and I did my usual pausing to check-in on Foursquare as I passed a few places. I also took some photos that would become fodder for my personal blogging. On the way to the gym, I took a picture of a jasmine vine by a church where, yes, I'm the mayor on Foursquare. Until this moment, I was the only person who knew that. I wanted the picture to go with an earlier shot of the vine in full bloom. Now, most of the blooms were on the ground, and I knew the coming rain would likely remove the few blooms left. On the way back from the gym, I paused at the church to sit on the bench by the jasmine and write my brief paragraph or two about the end of the jasmine blooms for this year.

As I sat on the little bench writing my short paragraph on my odd little cell phone, this fellow comes up mowing the grass. He stops the mower, and engages me in conversation. Why me? It's always me who draws the chatty ones. It becomes apparent to me that he's the pastor of the church, and for as interesting as he has been during our brief encounter, I knew where the conversation was likely to head, and I saw no reason to even go there as I have no intentions of attending this or any other church. Finally, I asked him if he was the pastor, and he said yes, asking how I knew. I told him he talked like a minister, and I suspect he did not take that remark all too well. However, he masked his underlying response, mostly, and we continued our chat, one that I really wanted to cut short because I needed to finish my paragraph while it was in my head, and then get on back home before the rain started. A few drops were already making it to the ground, though the virga was holding back much higher in the sky.

He departed around the building, I suppose to continue with his gardening and yard work. I quickly entered the last few sentences of my paragraph that was all but evaporated from my head. When the Muse visits, she does not hang around for me to catch up. She's fickle that way, which is why we love her all the more. I stood to walk up the little hill to the sidewalk, tapping out the final words, when the pastor returned with a fertilizer spreader. He asked if it scared me, leaving me perplexed as to his real question, and I said, honestly, no, but that I never really saw the use for the things when I could use my hands and a bucket equally well. He switched to a bucket, slinging the fertilizer and weed killer about as efficiently as the spreader might have. He was also slinging at me. We will never know if that was to chase me away, something I doubt, or to get the chemical on the grass before the rain. Regardless, I left while the leaving was good.

About three blocks down the street with sporadic rain drops still making it to the ground and wind whipping all around in no consistent direction, I saw a turtle in my left peripheral vision. Three steps later, I stopped, threat of rain be damned, and backed up to investigate the turtle. It was a snapping turtle, and I do mean snapping, some one foot in diameter, very large for the limited habitat available, and I wondered how he had managed to survive so long in an urban environment, deciding soon that he was just too ill-tempered to die. I say “he” because of that attitude. Of course, given my history with women, perhaps another pronoun would be better, for or at least more meaningful to, the turtle. Yes, I do know how to determine the gender of a turtle, but I valued my fingers far more than my need to know.

I poked it with a stick, and it promptly snapped the stick in half. I thought about fetching the minister to help relocate the turtle, actually a terrapin, but I just didn't know enough about the man to return with such a request. Besides, he appeared to be in somewhat of a hurry when I left. With some poking with additional sticks, the terrapin finally headed back into the copse by the street, and promptly buried itself in the mulch. Within fifteen seconds, you would not have known it was there until it removed your toe after the misplaced step. A gust of cooler wind said outflow to me, and I returned to my walk home, leaving the turtle to his own designs, figuring I'd see him squashed in the street very soon, food for crows, but the ensuing days turned up nothing. Let’s hope he's back in his little creek.

Returning home, it remains dry outside, and I check the local weather only to learn that we might have another hour before the storms arrive. They were already leaving Greensboro, my Lily reported and the radar confirmed, and the lights were out there. I scooted down the stairs to run to the grocery store for get some fixings for Marshmallow treats. However, as I walked across the parking lot, I had the feeling that I'd be spending a long time in the car waiting for the rain to subside if I went to the Food Lion, and that left me walking down the street to the Kmart about three blocks away. I fetched the stuff I needed, well, that I wanted, and returned home just as the sky darkened and the rain began. No, I did not buy the umbrella I looked at, but in hindsight, I need to go back. Of course, we both know that umbrellas evaporate, at least on my watch, probably because I tend to call them bumbershoots instead of the regular American name.

Melting a stick of butter doesn't take all that long, not in the microwave, but melting a bag of marshmallows, which my papa called “mushmellons,” takes about forever, especially if you don't burn them, and yes, I made a video to post on YouTube. I keep making and posting videos because I'm not satisfied with my speech patterns, and listening to myself is the only way I know to determine the changes I need to make, short of going to an expensive speech class, and I'm way too grumpy for that. However, most of that minor project is on hold right now as I work on other writing projects, such as this one, which bring greater satisfaction. Besides, I can read the text silently and hear Walter Cronkite but with a more Southern accent. I'm just not ready to sound like Faulkner, though the common renditions of Twain could work for me in another 20 years.

Meanwhile, the TV drones in the background. When we have interesting weather, the 24/7 local news switches to continual weather updates. Of course, it's rare for us to have weather that is so interesting, but it's even more rare for us to have that much regular news, and this means that Aunt Minnie's chickens getting out can see prime time coverage, especially if Earl gets pecked a few times and winds up shooting one and calling it Sunday dinner, which in turn means that Minnie is seen on TV chasing Earl across the field with her broom in one hand, swatting it at Earl, while she slings the chicken in the other. As you might expect, this all pales in comparison to Lester's black bull, Dozer, getting loose. Yes, Lester has a black bull called Dozer, and for Lester, this is not a point of humor, seeing how Lester will tell you that the bull told him his name was Dozer, which probably accounts for all the time the bull actually sleeps.

It's raining like a tropical storm, just off at an angle, not sideways, when the weather man mentions seeing a debris cloud rising just off Sanford, and that goes with the tornado he saw on radar just moments before. I stir the melting marshmallows, and turn my attention more to the TV. The good fellow from Dunn, down toward where Aunt Mary lived with her Model T, the one with fewer than 10,000 miles on it, the one where the owner of the Cadillac dealership offered her any car on his lot in exchange, and she always declined, even unto her delayed and much anticipated demise, that weather man who is probably a relative though he won't admit it when I ask, drew the cone around the expected path of the tornado, and I saw in a flash that I was looking down the barrel of a swirly.

I live on the top floor of an eleven story high rise, which is quite high for these parts, though I recognize it's quite short for the larger metropolitan areas. A tornado hitting the building would be something I would date from, especially if I were in the building at the time. I patted myself on the back for parking away from trees, and I stepped to the bedroom to put on some pants. I wasn't planning to evacuate because I didn't quite know where to go that's much safer, but I figured I'd need to avoid the charges of indecent exposure while I was there. More to the point, if I wound up in Oz, I'd likely need pants. With pants firmly cinched about my waist, I closed the doors to the bedrooms to reduce the likelihood that a pressure shift might be enough to pop open a window and suck out everything, and then returned to my melting marshmallows, which were about ready.

As you know, I'm making marshmallow treats, but what you don't know is that I'm going to use Fiber One cereal, the stuff that looks like dried worms, but that is also, they say, so danged healthy for us. I dumped in the worms along with some walnuts, stirred the concoction, dumped it all in an iron frying pan, smooshed it around, and left it to cool and harden, wondering if it would be a threat to my teeth the way Mama's Treats always were, hoping it would not be so hard, because I need to establish a relationship with a dentist before I pop out any molars.

Grabbing another beer from the fridge, I stepped to the window to see what's happening because you really can't hear all that much from eleven stories up, and I see that it's raining sideways, literally, and the wind is making the windows chirp. I cannot see the ground. My possibly related weatherman is saying something about a tornado on the ground, and I had to concur. The problem is that our tornadoes are often rain wrapped. We do not get the distant views of the thing. When we know it's there, it's too late to do much more than make sure you're good with your maker.

With a little more information from my relative the weatherman, and juxtaposing that with what I'm seeing out my window, I decide that I'm looking at inflow that is approaching hurricane speeds if it's not there already. I also realize that I'm within about a mile of the tornado, which has already covered some 40 miles. If it jogs west by a touch, I'm toast. Usually, I'd be reaching for the afghan at about this point, but this time, I just stand there watching the rain and wind pass by as the world fades to horizontal shades of gray.

What you probably don't know about me is that I'm often susceptible to the influence of free-floating and nonspecific angst. Usually, I don't know the source until after the fact, and more often than not, I spend the time leading to the discovery personalizing the unknown problem, making it mine, wondering what I've done. This time, the source was clear. Lives were changing as my reality faded in and out of the horizontal rain just inches from my face, and those failing lives were not so far away that I couldn't walk there most days. Although it was unlikely that the tornado was an EF-5, also known as the Finger of God, I knew it didn't take all that much wind to make a terrible mess for a lot of people. This instance was no exception, and I stood there, empty can in hand, watching the wind and rain subside as my relative the weatherman described the unfolding and unseen story.

The storm passed. The rain ended. The wind calmed. The sky cleared. Quiet ensued, and then the sirens went off. They continued for a long time. Some two dozen people were killed in the outbreak, including a group of children huddled in a closet when a tree fell on them. All told, the state experienced two and a half years worth of tornadoes during one afternoon. This would go down with Fran as a natural disaster, just different in form, response, and recovery.

It is not reasonable to rank disasters, natural or otherwise, but we do, and just a month earlier, Japan was experiencing a disaster the likes of which few cultures ever see. They still are, and they shall continue for a long time, though its saturation of American news has ended. Here a month later, we're knee deep in our own disaster, though we count our dead in tens, not tens of thousands. The loss of infrastructure here is nothing in comparison to Japan, and we certainly don't have to be concerned with nuclear radiation leaking on South Saunders Street or in Sanford or in Bath. Nonetheless, tragedy is tragedy, especially when it's up close and personal. Just ask the woman who put those children in the inner closet to keep them safe. However, heartbreak is not to be ranked, only endured, leaving me to wonder, if not fear, what the next month will hold. Well, more likely I'll just hold my breath as by then we should have seen the Rapture as predicted by Harold Camping for the 21st of May. Oh thrill.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Super Crow Moon

I approached this writing as a man walking alone to the gallows. What was I thinking last fall? The better question might be about what I was smoking, but to my knowledge, I was perfectly sober when I posed the question that started this project. Can you tell I have another mood going? Oh and of course, I promised myself that I would not reach back into the archives for this one, that whatever I wrote would be fresh. New. Perhaps even interesting.

As you might have noticed, there has been a paucity of news, local, national, and international. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan just wasn't enough, and we had endless hype regarding the super moon. Super moon? Yep, super moon. Every eighteen years or so, the moon is at its closest point to the Earth and also full, and that brings the news fabricators out of the woodwork. Doom and despair abound, as do the predictions of all sorts of galactic-sized calamities. You'd think the mothership was launching from the moon.

So it's Saturday morning. Let the countdown begin. Countdown to what? Lunch with Mama at Toot's. My brother is coming, as is my step-dad. Bro and I swap texts at one-hour intervals. I leave the house at 11 so there'll be time to stop and buy some flowers. Food Lion has a dozen roses for about as many dollars, and I select the yellow with a touch of red along the tips of the petals. I try not to think of the environmental and social damage done by commercial flower production in Central America. Will Mama remember that yellow roses are her favorite?

Mama and Buck are waiting in the parking lot when I reached Toots. Mama pays no attention to my arrival because she doesn't recognize my car. When I get out and walk around, Buck points to me and tells Mama I'm there, which makes her look and smile. She opens her door, and I step up with the flowers. She says they're her favorite, and she wants me to take them into the house where they won't wilt in the heat. I put them in the floor on the back seat, and we go into the restaurant.

We're lucky that the usual table is open. Getting Mama to sit at a different table can be a chore. Tim, the bro, is a little late arriving, and his chair sits open. Mama keeps asking who's sitting there. When she hears, she then asks where's Timmy. This cycle continues until Tim arrives, and we fetch some food.

I tend to eat off the salad side of the bar at Toots, though I do like the fatback, and I have a very few pieces. As is usual, we have most of the meal in silence. For as chatty as my folks can be, they do not speak while eating unless I start the conversation somehow. Where this silence comes from, I do not know, because it is not how we grew up. Some conversation does arise towards the end of the meal, and then Bro needs to leave for work. This gets Mama all hot and bothered to leave so the waitress can clear the table. This is the first time she has ever voiced such concern for the waitresses. Usually, she's running on about how short their shorts are.

We step out of the restaurant, and Mama gets lost in the parking lot, and later again when she's between our cars. When I get her buckled in, I reach into the backseat to fetch the roses. She sees them again for the first time and remarks how they're her favorite. We say our goodbyes for the umpteenth time, and they leave. Before me. That has never happened before. Usually, Buck waits and leaves last in case someone else needs some help with a stalled car or something. It is quite apparent that the burden of caring for Mama is getting to him, and doing so in ways that he cannot yet see. However, Bro and I both know that he will never agree to professional care for Mama. He will do it for as long as he, or she, lives. I doubt he could afford it anyway.

Driving home, I enter my rituals for recovery. Not so long ago, recovery involved a lot of rum, and the world might be happier if I returned to that bottle, it certainly acted happier with me then, but now I stop for coffee at the gas station. Sometimes it's Diet Coke, but today I go for something warm. In addition, recovery now includes a long walk. In this case, it's a walk to the gym about a mile away where there's a tanning booth that'll make me not itch for a while.

Towards four that afternoon, I buff up to attend a fund raiser for a woman who needs a new kidney. She has health insurance, but she needs an additional $10,000 to pay for deductibles and such. For all our vaunted advances in medicine, we certainly do make it hard for someone to receive health care. I sent a check earlier, and I'm thinking that a little social intercourse would be good change for me and my introversion. Shower. White shirt. Red kilt. Yes, red kilt. I do not recall the tartan. Decent shoes, and I'm off. I could walk to the fund raiser, but I decide to drive after I see the neighborhood it's in.

I arrive about thirty minutes after the start, and I see that the church does not have a recreation hall. The event is being held in the sanctuary, and my alarms start going off. I burned out on church ages ago, and I have little or no patience for the mess now. Church represents one of the lies I was taught as truth when growing up, and now I classify such services as simple scare tactics designed to keep people subservient and submissive while generating tax-free cash.

Entering the church, I mention to the dressed-for-Sunday woman in the vestibule that the event is not quite what I was expecting and that I might not be properly dressed. If that was the case, she could tell me to go away, and I would. Yes, fingers crossed. She does not tell me to go away. She tells me that everyone is welcome there. I smile and walk in knowing full-well just how clueless she likely is about me even if she is nice enough about it. I told you I had a mood going.

So what was I expecting? I've tried to figure that. In hindsight, there was no indication in any of the emails or other posts of any type of activity. Just a fund raiser. I suppose I was anticipating some sort of floating shower with little sweet nibbles and odd homespun entertainment. Apparently, I fabricated all that from the ambiguity of the posts. It's something I do naturally from my preferences when I process information. I fill in the blanks and gaps. It's also something that often gets me into trouble sometimes because I'll have an entire history created in my head long before an event even begins to unfold. We probably should not count the number of people I've dismissed after already experiencing the divorce. Is it any wonder I live alone?

Arriving late, I wait for a prayer to end. The sanctuary is dark because the power in the neighborhood is out, not that I knew; I just thought it was a candlelight service or something. Standing in the doorway with my head not bowed, I realize the woman from the vestibule is behind me. Suddenly, I'm fearing that she's going to pop my head for not showing the proper respect. No, she's just going to help me find a seat.

After the prayer and before the lights come on, I step into the sanctuary hoping to nab a seat in the back. That's the residual Baptist in me, wanting to sit in the back. I want to nab a chair from the stack in the corner to start a new back row, but as I step forward, a friendly woman in the back row, turns to see me. She becomes animated, waving me over, and I wiggle past the people to sit beside her, figuring she is someone I know but don't recognize. Wrong. She's smitten with the kilt.

The service was the service, eclectic and long. Three hours. Three long hours. Some of the music was good. My e-bud sang a spiritual a capella, doing so in a manner quite beyond any surface feature you would have noticed. She was dressed in a white shirt and khaki pants, which I supposed balanced my white shirt and red kilt. In the middle of the service, the minister encouraged people to get out their cell phones to send texts and emails to more people and solicit more money. My friends were safe because I had no cell service in the church, and they had the WiFi turned off, probably because of the fluctuating power.

That a minister would embrace technology during a service struck me as interesting, and I found myself thinking that I might just like this man, despite his calling. He even mentioned as a preamble that we worship in manners unchanged in 2,000 years, and he thought that needed to change. His parishioners chanted their Amen, Lords. I tend to agree even if I do not intend to revisit the scene any time soon. Sister Act alone makes clear the chasm separating the Church from the People. Here's a man far ahead of his peers using technology to accomplish a purpose while his business analogs still cower and tremble in fear that someone might be offended by a tweet or a text.

The service ends with an ancient blind man singing in a manner that would do Stevie Wonder proud. He is accompanied by an electric organ and drums, both in church. Yes, drums. In church. Oh, boy. You see my grandfather was a Primitive Baptist minister. If you've scanned the AM radio stations while driving through the Appalachians, you've heard that manner of ministry. Although the delivery is essentially unchanged from my grandfather's day, the people have. They are a whole lot meaner now than they were.

My problem is drums in church, and it really is my problem. Primitive Baptists are somewhat like the Amish in that there is very little technology in the church. In fact, the Primitive Baptist church near where I grew up only recently added running water in the bathrooms, which are located way off in the woods where the outhouses once stood. They are not near the church.

However, I was only lightly associated with Primitive Baptists back in the day. I was reared in the Free Will Baptist tradition where a single upright piano was acceptable in church. For those of you not steeped in the varieties of Baptists, you may just think a minor variation on that usual hateful and narrow-minded theme. You won't be far off, and it's not like it matters anyway. This choice in churches arose from my mother who grew up in the Free Will Baptist Children's Home in Middlesex, North Carolina. As an orphanage, it no longer exists. People and times changed, and it evolved into a home for troubled girls.

This change alarmed my mother for a time, at least until we were visiting to help outfit a new house that was to be home to a half-dozen girls in high school. My brother and I were able to pay for a couple or three rooms, and the Home considered that contribution substantial enough from the children of an alumna to offer a tour of the old place. We were walking through the building that used to be the dining hall. Along the walls were pictures of the children from decades before. Mama found and recognized her first kiss. She told us that with a twinkle in her eye as Buck blushed.

We continued the walk around the room. The faces and styles become modern. And darker too. Mama's mood was beginning to darken along with the skin tones in the pictures. Standing at the end of the pictures, the silence around us roared. The administrator leading the tour was beginning to fidget, probably worried that he might lose some money. Mama then turned and said to no one in particular, “I suppose they get tired and scared and hungry too.” Buck asked the vice-president just how much more money he needed to finish the house, and then wrote the check accordingly on the man's shoulder.

I won't be writing the check for the additional $5,000 the woman needs for her kidney transplant as it's beyond my means, but here's to hoping that someone somewhere remembers what it's like to be tired and scared and hungry too.