Delaying the Inevitable

This morning, I woke later than normal—almost 6:30—slipped on a pair of shorts, a shirt, and flip-flops, and headed to the only nearby grocery store open at that hour, Walmart. There, I bought Jimmie Dean hot pork breakfast sausage, blackberries, and a bag of trimmed radishes. This was a spontaneous excursion, not the sort of thing I’m wont to do with any frequency. But the fact that we’ve been out of Canadian bacon and Kroger’s bagged radishes for days made the foray imperative. I couldn’t face the day without radishes. Actually, I think it was the desire for sausage that drove me to the store, though I justified the trip by claiming it was the radishes. The blackberries were an afterthought of sorts. I often want just a touch of fruit with breakfast; that desire triggered the purchase when I passed by the display. It was either that or blueberries, which were far more expensive. Strawberries would have been an option, except for horrible experiences of late in Australia, in which people have found needles in the strawberries they bought. I think I recall reading that there have been more than a hundred cases of this insane criminal behavior. It’s not just the U.S. that’s gone mad.

It’s now almost 8:00 and I’m finally sipping my first cup of coffee of the day. Well, an occasional sip between paragraphs. The coffee needs something. Either to be reheated because it’s cooled too much or to be poured into a glass with ice because it’s not nearly cold enough as is. Choices can be debilitating. I sometimes have a hard time deciding whether my desire to drive to New Mexico is greater than my desire to drive to Ohio. When I can’t reach a decision, I stay home. I heard something on the radio yesterday about product choices facing us in grocery stores. The speaker said he remembers a time not long ago when he had to choose between two brands of pasta sauce in jars in the grocery store; now, there are dozens. Perhaps we have too many choices? Not just in food, but in the way we live our lives. Those choices seem to be driven in large part by access to money and the ways in which society teaches us that more is better, luxury is better, “stuff” is an antidote to solitude, etc.

If I were to engage in a conversation with someone who speaks the way I write, I think I’d have to disengage and run. Who thinks like this? On the other hand, perhaps someone who thinks the way I write would offer an intriguing look into my own psyche, a detached, distant way of examining the thought processes that ricochet off ideas like bullets off hard surfaces. I just realized I used the word “ricochet” just a few days ago. That made me wonder whether I have an unusual affinity for the word, so I searched my blog for past usage. Today’s post marks the seventh time I’ve used the word since I started this blog in August 2012. That averages to just a shade over once a year. I think I’m entitled to that much usage. That frequency does not paint me in an unfavorable light. At least not in my mind. Although, with this post, four of those uses occurred in 2018. So, perhaps it’s something that needs to be examined in the soothing confines of a psychiatrist’s lair.

If I’m going to get anything done on the deck today, I’d better get into my work clothes, which I last wore day before yesterday. I left them hanging for the sweat to dry and they’ve been hanging ever since. I suspect both the shirt and the shorts, with the crotch ripped open from stem to stern, will be crisp with dried sweat and sawdust and dust from the electric sander. Oh, the socks, too, will be a delight to put on. Well, all I’m doing by writing about my distaste for the clothes is delaying the inevitable. So, I’m off to tackle the job that will be complete no later than my eightieth birthday.

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Inexplicable Thoughtskipping

Today sprinted through the calendar like a gazelle accelerating across the savanna, attempting to outrun hungry cheetahs. The day was a blur, though in occasional stop-action or slow motion. My intent (always good) was to spend the morning on the deck, scraping and sanding and shaping boards in preparation for what will one day be a painted beauty. Instead, I sensed from early on that my wife was in no mood to drive, alone, to Little Rock for an appointment to have periodic maintenance done on the Subaru. So, I offered to go along with her. I really would have preferred to work, but now that the day is almost over, I’m glad I spent it with her, instead. It sometimes works out that way.

After our brief car maintenance appointment, we visited an Asian market on University Avenue, where we bought miso paste and a monstrous piece of ginger root. And more, I suspect, but can’t recall. Then, we went to lunch at Kimchi Restaurant, a tiny and remarkably hidden Korean restaurant whose outward appearance suggested, in capital letters, DIVE. And it was, I suppose. But we liked it. My wife had bulgogi, which was excellent. I had what the place called Kimchi Stewpot, which was an interesting assortment of veggies, meats, and literally boiling liquid presented in a bowl. The bowl, which I think was ceramic only recently removed from a 500-degree oven, sat atop a molded stand. It bubbled and bubbled and bubbled for a good five minutes before it settled down. Our meals were delivered with what I thought were side dishes for my meal; a later review online suggested they were meant to accompany my wife’s bulgogi. No matter. I loved every one of the side dishes; my wife tolerated all of them, but liked none of them. And she wasn’t fond of the flavor of my stewpot. But I was. Thus both of us were happy with our meals. Our waiter, who we figured was the son of owners, was extremely polite and competent. We were happy with that.

From there, we visited Colonial Liquors. Again. We bought wine, including a couple of bottles of red wine our neighbors like and which, based on a friend’s comments about wine, we think she might like. But we bought other wine, too. A cabernet sauvignon and, perhaps, a sauvignon blanc. Did we buy the latter? I don’t know. Within the morass of mass and data that forms our universe, it doesn’t matter. But we did buy some Scotch. I haven’t bought Scotch since I was younger by at least a year, perhaps three. Tonight, I have a couple of sniggles of Scotch. If you don’t know sniggle, it’s about as much as I drank tonight, divided by two.

Before drinking tonight, though, and after we returned home from Little Rock, I went to the post office and the Suddenlink office. You see, when we got home, our phones, internet, and “cable” television were on the fritz. The visit to Suddenlink yielded a promise that we would be visited by a repair person on Monday afternoon. So, when I returned home, we sat and watched the final episodes of The Americans. But during the finale of the final season, a truck zipped into the driveway and the doorbell rang. It was a Suddenlink contractor, here to fix our broken conduit to evening entertainment. After considerable time and testing, the guy got our internet to work and our phone is, off and on, functioning. But still no “cable.” He says the “tap” is broken and he cannot fix it, so someone else will visit us soon, within a day or two, he thinks. I was happy with that.

We finished watching The Americans. I would have given it an Emmy, had I the power. Alas, I have no power in such circles.  Since then, I’ve been Scotching and watching of The Mayans, a follow-on to Sons of Anarchy. Though I’ve watched three episodes of The Mayans, I’m not sure whether I’ll continue. It’s not horrible entertainment, but I keep comparing it to SOA. Not even close. It got to the point this evening that I almost switched to recorded episodes of HGTV real estate shows. But I have never recorded them, so that wasn’t an option.

It occurred to me today, while we were enjoying Korean food and after we had visited an Asian market, that one of the privileges we Americans have is to be given the opportunity to experience other cultures in the comfort of our own. We don’t have to abandon ours in order to experience another culture; they come to us. And do we truly not understand why? Do we not realize we are the culture that others came to see? And we are the culture that came to be when other cultures became too hard to bear. I’m not talking about today; I’m talking about how we became who we are. Our ancestors left other countries behind to pursue possibilities here. A little like today’s immigrants come to our shores.

I am so fortunate that I can experience not only other cultures but their foods and their way of experiencing ours simply by allowing myself to watch, listen, and be compassionate. I am embarrassed when this country shames immigrants, shouting that they are not coming here “the right way.” As if we did? Let’s kill a few aboriginal natives and call it a homeland, shall we?

I hate being so frustrated and angry and utterly despondent at who we are and, at the same time, feeling privileged and happy at my good fortunate. There’s some serious dissonance in that sensation. I hate myself for being as happy as I am at the misfortune of others. I realize it’s not their misfortune that makes me happy, but it contributes to it. So I cannot, should not, feel happiness at my good fortune, knowing that it comes at a steep price someone else pays.

Some days, and today is one, I wonder if my mood swings even within a single post might be symptomatic of madness. I don’t know. Just a thought. How can I be so deliriously happy in one moment, able to rationalize all the good things that have fallen into place for me, and be utterly demoralized the next, knowing my good fortune was bought with human life and suffering? I know, it’s absurdist bullshit. But it’s my absurdist bullshit, the absurdist bullshit that occupies my brain.

And then I find myself beating myself up for allowing myself an hour or two or three in which I can forget my brother’s hospitalization and its impact on his life. It’s not unreasonable to want to forget for just a while. But when I do I feel guilty and utterly inadequate as a brother. But then I realize such a sense is absurdist bullshit and I’m fine. At least for a while.  After over-thinking this stuff for long enough, I don’t fault myself for drinking my pain away sometimes. Too much? Too often? Who knows. I just know I like Scotch. And wine. And beer. And hugs. Hugs are better than beer any time. But being alone is sometime the very best medicine. Now it is, anyway. It’s the only medicine.

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Deckish

My brother was transferred to another hospital yesterday, a facility that specializes in, among other things, wound care. No one with professional medical knowledge seems willing to offer a firm estimate of the length of time he will be there, but he seems to think it may be a month or more. That suggestion of some certainty (at lease from him) gives me at least a small window in which I can commit to start projects that, heretofore, I was unwilling to start for fear of abandoning them in mid-stream so I could return to Houston on his release from the hospital.

So, onward. Back outside to recommence my efforts to strip, repair, and refinish the deck. I expect to complete the project before my eightieth birthday.

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Cleaning the Pipes

“He awoke to the sound of a flood of tears washing away the banks of the river on which he’d drifted aimlessly for a lifetime.”

Salt water produces a loud chorus as it carves new channels in solid ground, unlike the gentle lullaby sung by fresh water. Now that’s a distinction he had never considered before: salt water versus fresh water. Why “fresh?” Why not “unsalted?” If unsalted water is fresh, is salt water stale? But I’ve allowed the thoughts ricocheting around my empty head to take me off track, haven’t I? My intent was to describe the dissolution of the banks of the river…no, it wasn’t. My intent is impossible to discern. The impetus for the words I interrupted so early on cannot be described in words. Only emotions can describe what we call emotional experience, but our only descriptive currency is language, so the effort to put into words an experience that is beyond words is fruitless. Yet tunes, songs, tones, noises, sounds…those things convey emotions as if they were water and strong feelings (my poor descriptor for that state of mind that we call emotion) were almost weightless mental rubble, the detritus of a shipwreck that wouldn’t exist without the fury of the waves.

The sound of salt water might be compared to a gasoline-powered chain saw, while I equate fresh water with the almost silent work of a finely-sharpened steel gouge in the hands of a skilled woodworker.  Again, though, I wonder, why “fresh?” That question will derail my attempts to explore and explain his awakening to the sound of tears eroding the banks of his life. When will I be able to set aside this invasive question long enough to address the water? Madness! That’s what it is. Madness robs us of the ability to differentiate salty tears from the distillate of life’s experiences. A poet with whom I’ve been modestly familiar for almost my entire life once wrote:

Before the beginning of years
There came to the making of man
Time, with a gift of tears;
Grief, with a glass that ran;
Pleasure, with pain for leaven;
Summer, with flowers that fell;
Remembrance fallen from heaven,
And madness risen from hell;
Strength without hands to smite;
Love that endures for a breath;
Night, the shadow of light,
And life, the shadow of death.

Madness risen from hell. And so answers to unanswerable questions begin to form in the mind. Salt water swallows the banks of the river that once contained it in the same way tears over-top the emotional dams we construct to keep them at bay. There’s another opportunity to pursue a rabbit down a hole: why “keep them at bay” and not “keep them at inlet?” We chip away at dams until they collapse in a violent shudder, turning emotional rivers into oceans.

Some mornings cry out to be renamed mournings. I remember, when I first heard a teacher (or it may have been my mother) speak of O’Neill’s play, Mourning Becomes Electra. It seemed like nonsense to me; I heard “morning” and assumed “morning” turns into Electra. It’s odd that I remember that confusion and, for some reason, anger at the name of the play and I remember little else about it. I know I read it and I may have seen it on stage, though I doubt I saw the entire play on stage. I doubt I would have had the patience to endure it. I tried to plumb my memories of the play just now but failed, so I resorted to Google. I may have seen the film based on the play, but I doubt I saw the original film. I learned from Wikipedia that the original film ran more than three hours. So, it wasn’t any surprise to learn that it did poorly at the box office. It was a surprise, though, to learn that the filmakers edited the three-hour film down to 105 minutes. How could it have made any sense with so much of it torn from the original? I vaguely recalled that the play was a retelling of a Greek tragedy, but nothing beyond that vagueness. Only through this morning’s online education did I come to the recollection or new collection of knowledge that it was based on The Oresteia, by Aeschylus. I can say with definitive certainty (as opposed to doubtful certainty?) that I never read The Oresteia. Perhaps I should, though. Perhaps a reading of Greek tragedies would offer explanations unavailable in my limited experience. And here’s where the renaming comes in: some mornings reveal to me that I’ve lived my entire life without reading things readily available to me but which I judge as requiring more effort than they are worth. I mourn the fact that I did not come to the understanding early in life that humankind’s history offers lessons we would be well-advised to learn and to which we would be well-advised to pay heed.

Anyone who might read this incoherent screed will know that I’m in “random array mode,” that is to say I’m writing for the sake of transferring words from my brain to the screen. My fingers are merely tools controlled by a twelve-cylinder engine that’s running on two and a half cylinders. The excess fuel pumped into my internal combustion engine does not combust. Instead, it simply coats the valves and cylinders and such with oily residue. The residue stains my fingers and dulls my mind even more, resulting in a diatribe that merits only a half-sneer and a glance in the telephone directory at listings for “mental health professionals.”

I believe my pipes needed cleaning this morning, hence this unintelligible mist of frightful madness. Believe it or not, there is a method to my madness. Today’s randomness is not really random. It’s actually not even slightly random. But that is not to say it is cohesive, nor is it coherent to the casual observer. Thankfully, I am no casual observer. On the other hand, would that I were. One day, I may return to this apparent waste of words and spent energy and mine the bits of costume jewelry from the waste bins.

For now, though, it’s almost 7:30 a.m. and I am ready to enjoy eating what could have become baby chickens but didn’t and won’t.

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Still No Answers

Still, nothing definitive from the doctors and hospital in Houston. While it’s frustrating to me, it must be absolutely maddening to my brother. Today marks day number 17 or 18, I think, since his last admission into the hospital. His original hospital admission for this series of unpleasant experiences was July 24. That was admission number one, for surgery for abdominal aortic aneurysm. Number two was for dehydration and malnutrition, coupled with surgical wound infection, followed by a blood clots that led to thrombectomies. The last admission was for wound infection. That has morphed into a long stay for malnutrition, wound infection, and general failure to thrive. So my frustration about not know a schedule around which I can plan my life is an embarrassment. How utterly unimportant is my schedule, when compared to my brother’s ongoing experience in the hospital. But, still. We all need to be able to plan, with some degree of certainty, our lives. No, we don’t need that. We want it. Want suggests desire. Need suggests urgency.

Yet I still want to have some control over my schedule. My sixty-fifth birthday is approaching, thus the requirement that I make decisions regarding my supplemental Medicare insurance.  My drivers’ license is up for renewal, along with options for upgrading it to make it useful as a “formal” form of governmental ID useful for boarding aircraft. I ought to do something about that. So I do, arguably, need to take care of my own business. But “need” is a weak word in this context. So I shouldn’t use it. I do wish I could snap my fingers and ensure that my brother’s health issues were resolved. But I can’t. So, I need to be prepared to travel back to Houston to help him deal with whatever life throws at him. But, again, I can’t ignore my wife’s expectations, can I? No, nor should I. Life is a viscious bitch. Sometimes I wish I could snuff it out and be done with it. But that would do not one, not the least me, any good. Irrationality is the mistress of madness. Either someone said that and deserves to be quoted or I feel it and deserve to be incarcerated.

Today, in church, the minister’s message hit home for me. He argued, among other things, that the social message to men that they ought never to cry, was an abomination. And then, after the service, we watched a PBS program in which an aging teacher, in her early nineties, sat with former students who essentially worshiped her and talked about life lessons. I couldn’t control my tears. I think I was the only one who couldn’t. I felt like an idiot as my eyes flooded and spilled onto my shirt. I tried to hide my tears, but they were seen. And others were as embarrassed for me as I was embarrassed for myself. Even after we heard a message suggesting that male emotion was “okay,” we realized it’s really not. No, it’s not. At least not to the extent that my emotions overtake me. And I get that. People who cry at the drop of a hat are bothersome. I am bothersome. Why the hell can’t  I control my emotions better? Why do things move me so damn easily? Why can’t I control my tears? I don’t know. I don’t know that I’ll ever know. Maybe one day I’ll tolerate myself more readily than I do today, but probably not. Because sometimes, and today was such a day, I am intolerable. I think back to who I am and things I’ve done and pains I’ve caused and I know I am intolerable and don’t deserve tolerance. But I do wish there were something I could do to earn it back. I just don’t think there is. Not a damn thing.

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Have You Ever?

I think I’ve written everything I’ve needed to write. There’s nothing new in my brain. Everything I write now (here, I’m referring not to fiction but to “what’s in my head”) is simply a rehash of something I’ve written before, perhaps something about which I’ve written repeatedly.  I’ve known this for some time. But in spite of this knowledge, I continued trying to express my thoughts and emotions in ways that more clearly articulate the way I experience the world. I think it’s a pointless endeavor. I can tolerate only a limited amount of repetitive over thinking before I go stark-raving mad. Which I have done. And that leads me to another subject entirely.

***

I am hungry this morning for three things: breakfast sausage, coffee ice cream, and raisin bread toast, none of which we have in the house. Hunger for those three things, simultaneously, is a symptom of madness. But the real madness arises when I recognize that I simply cannot have those things this morning. Instead, I’ll have the same old same old: Canadian bacon, an egg, and tomato juice. I can’t even have my usual one and a half halves of radishes, inasmuch as we finished them off yesterday and the Kroger we visited yesterday in Benton had no more in stock. This is an outrage, a sin against humankind and nature. It’s the sort of thing that, when coupled with the annoyance of dealing with unruly eyebrow hairs, can cause dislocations in the social order.

***

Have you ever tripped over an especially long, uncooperative strand of hair protruding from the otherwise relatively well-behaved cluster of hair on your brows? Well, I have. It’s an annoying and potentially dangerous experience, especially when it happens during a morning walk on a precarious ridge on a mountaintop during a snowstorm. I don’t expect snowstorms in the coming month, but I didn’t expect to trip over an errant strand of eyebrow hair, either, so perhaps I should buy snow tires now, before there’s a run on them at the snow tire store.

***

Having lived in a cold climate (Chicago) for only four winters, I never got around to buying snow tires for our car. We kept it in the garage most of the time during winter while we lived there and rarely took it out when the streets seemed unwelcoming to year-round tires. Our tires had spent most of their lives in and around the Houston metropolitan area and, therefore, weren’t comfortable in snow. We accommodated them to the extent we could.

***

The thing is, the tires on our current cars are perfectly comfortable rolling on the roads in our area, so I could, if only I knew what time my wife might wake up, drive on said tires before she awakens and visit a store where I could buy breakfast sausage, coffee ice cream, and raisin bread. But my hankering for raisin toast has diminished considerably since I first thought of it. My interest now is in warm flour tortillas awash in refried black beans, jalapeños, and a combination of extra sharp cheddar and blue cheeses. But, I don’t know when my wife will awaken. If I were to sneak in the bedroom to retrieve my “street clothes,” I might awaken her, which could cause crankiness. Or, I might successfully retrieve the clothes and drive away, only to return to a cranky wife who’s wondering why I left without telling her and why I bought things she would rather we not have in the house. What other options do I have? I’m a prisoner in my own home. I can’t even get dressed without concern’s of waking my wife pressing hard on my mind. How do things press hard on one’s mind?

***

I remember a rock, thrown by a boy quite some distance away, pressing hard against my friend Steve’s head, the appendage that carried his mind. It pressed so hard that it drew considerable blood and a combination of cries and whimpers and curses from Steve’s mouth. With that memory of what can happen when something presses hard on one’s mind, I attempt to calm myself. Her crankiness would be elevated to other emotions were my wife to awaken to see me in the kitchen, bleeding profusely from a wound caused by something pressing hard on my mind, especially if I were crying and whimpering and cursing. It is for that reason that I am practicing meditation techniques.

***

I can say without doubt that my attempts to practice meditation has not been perfected. Not even remotely. The realization that practicing meditation has had absolutely no effect on my state of mind causes me to wonder about the wisdom of going to the doctor with a physical ailment. The doctor is practicing medicine, of course, but how do we know that he or she has had only as much success in that endeavor as I have had in practicing meditation? That thought simply exacerbates the problem of something pressing hard on my mind and I’m afraid I will start bleeding profusely at any moment.

***

Physics defines pressure as “force per unit area.” Compare that to one of the definitions of stress: “the action on a body of any system of balanced forces whereby strain or deformation results.” So, my concern is naturally that the force per unit area will cause an action on my body of the system of balanced forces inside and outside my head that will cause strain or deformation. You can see why I am afraid of the prospect of profuse bleeding.

***

Blood is the fluid that circulates in the principal vascular system of human beings consisting of plasma in which the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are suspended. When the force per unit area on a system of balanced forces of the body causes excessive strain or deformation, the result can be the spillage of plasma containing red and white blood cells and platelets. This spillage, bright red and slippery on smooth-surface floors, is an unholy mess. Have you ever cleaned up massive amounts of your own blood, constituting all but an ounce or two remaining in your heart, from the kitchen floor? Well I have. No, that’s not true. I haven’t cleaned up massive amounts of your blood; I don’t even know who you are, so I can’t say I’ve cleaned up your blood. I’m referring to my blood. I just did it in a way that was so utterly confusing that you might have thought I had just attacked you with a meat cleaver and, therefore, were frantically checking yourself for evidence of blood loss and vital signs. That wasn’t it at all. My apologies for the gruesome confusion.

***

Long, bizarre questions beginning with descriptions of a series of strange activities, beginning with “have you ever” and ending with the statement, “Well I have,” tend to be funny. To me, anyway. My wife and I listened to a snippet from a radio program last week that included such stuff. We thought it was funny. So I thought I’d try it here. It works better as original material, I tell you.  My fingers and my mind have grown tired of my ongoing frivolity and mindless blather. So I’ll stop. Now.

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Thoughts When I’m Alone

I woke up a few minutes before five this morning, alone. The light from the kitchen, under the bedroom door, suggested my wife was already up. I got up and wobbled across the house to her study, where I found her engrossed in a book. Like so many other times, my appearance seemed to be the trigger that sent her back to bed. “I think I’ll try to go back to sleep now.” And off she went. So, here I am, fifteen minutes after toasting and greedily devouring an English muffin, alone with my thoughts in an almost empty house. I’m used to being alone in an empty house. I sometimes crave being alone in an empty house. Despite the loneliness, being alone is a gift that gives me time to listen to myself think. Thought can be generative or chaotic. Most of the time, my thought is chaotic. I scramble from one incomplete idea to the next, struggling to make sense out of ideas that come from nowhere and lead down dead-end paths. But the times when generative thoughts fill my head can be therapeutic. I may be using “generative” incorrectly. Perhaps I mean restorative. Or maybe another word would better fit the state of mind in which I find myself. I’m not in the mood to be corrected by the Thesaurus, so I’ll accept that I may be the illiterate fool for a while.

Now that I’ve given myself a little more time to think about it, this time is not restorative nor generative nor anything remotely like that. No, it’s reflective. Instead of edging along the surface of ideas like a stone skipping on calm water, my thoughts in this state plumb the depths. I explore why I am who I am. And, as is so often the case, I wonder who I am, really, beneath the veneer that time and experience has layered upon the person I am at my core. That eternal question, that sense that I’m not sure who resides within me, has been with me for as long as I can remember. It’s not something that bobs to the surface of my conscious thought on rare occasion; it’s always there, always asking me to think of how the “real me” would react or behave in the circumstances in which I find myself.

I daydream from time to time about being truly alone. Not just in the wee hours of the night or early morning, but always. As it is, I’m usually alone. I spend time alone in my study while my wife spends time alone in hers. I interact with people at church or in groups to which I  belong but those interactions are superficial at best. My connections to any of them are like that stone skipping across the water. Touch and go. Touch and go. And then the stone is gone. Disappeared. Those brief intersections when the two touch change neither the stone nor the water. I wonder whether my daydreams about being alone are just wishes, wishes that my existence did not matter to anyone. It would be easier to just pick up and leave the space I occupy in such a case. As things stand, I occupy space in a few other lives to the extent that I can’t just disappear without my disappearance doing damage. But perhaps the damage would be readily repaired, so not catastrophic. I’m a moderate risk taker, but risking such damage in the hope it won’t last is not a risk I’m willing to take. And so I accept the risk of stagnation. That’s probably just as bad, but it’s slower and not so noticeable until one compares then to now, only to discover that now is a grotesquely disfigured then, missing important pieces and  layered with barnacles and moss.

Every day is like yesterday, only worse, because it’s a repetition of something that could have been better but, instead, it’s older and there’s more evidence of decay. That perspective is not generative or restorative. It’s downright dismal and depressing. The right way to look at every day is that it’s new and untested and has the potential of being the best day yet. “Right” may not be the proper word here, either. “Optimistic” might fit better here. Trying to capture optimism after a bout with depressive self-assessment is an endeavor bound to challenge even the most serious player. But it beats the hell out of torturous reflection. Instead of seeing circumstances as spiraling toward inevitable bleakness, attempting to climb out of the cave into the light offers promise.

It’s almost six o’clock and I’m still nursing the remains of a cold cup of coffee. I think I’ll try again to turn the day into a stepping stone into a bright future instead of a stairway to a dungeon flooded with sewage and rabid alligators. I’m on the cusp of a mood during which I might write something worth reading, but not quite there. Perhaps when I’m older.

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For future use

This just fell from my fingers a while ago. I felt I had to capture it for future use and this is the only place I can reliably find stuff. So…

He lured her in with food. It started with smoked brisket he took to the office for a picnic. Next, he made Korean-inspired deviled eggs for the office Christmas party. Beef jerky was next. Not the leathery stuff that looked and felt like petrified cow hide, but tender pieces of prime meat smoked and dried until they were just south of moist and full of flavor. When he showed up with hand-made sausage and home-brewed IPA, the affair was almost a given. She would go anywhere, do anything he wanted. Katrina was addicted to food and men who take food seriously and Desmond was such a man. The fact they both were married to other people hardly entered into the equation. They simply had to engage with one another intellectually, spiritually, and physically. It was a given, one of the universal laws that simply cannot be broken, lest the space-time continuum be irreparably damaged, leading to the instantaneous collapse of the big bang. No one wanted that, so people at the office ignored their increasingly obvious affair.

Until they broke the one corporate rule whose infraction could not be overlooked.

They were in the midst of becoming carnally knowledgeable while astride the CEO’s desk when he returned to his office with representatives of six of the company’s largest clients. Absent the presence of clients, the CEO might simply have turned and walked out the door when he saw them on his desk. But this infraction of the overriding corporate rule—engaging in sex in the presence of major clients—could not be tolerated. They were unemployed before they achieved orgasm.

Katrina’s features were as Korean as her ancestry. She was born in a village outside Seoul and was adopted by a couple from Kansas City when she was three weeks old. She spent all of her twenty-two years, save the three weeks in Korea, in Kansas City. Desmond, only an inch taller than Katrina at five feet three inches, was wide and featureless. He was not fat, but neither was he average. He was thick. His skin was like a lemon peel, but without the yellow. He had no distinguishable eyebrows and his nose seemed to protrude from his face in a barely noticeable bump. His lips were visible only when he opened his mouth. Otherwise, they blended in with the rest of his face. Except when he was visibly emotional in some way could his face be distinguished from an albino lemon. But, my God, could he cook!

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Days of Terror

Today marks the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. As awful as that day was, I will reflect also on another awful anniversary the world…at least some of the world…remembers today. That is, the September 11, 1973 coup d’état staged against Salvador Allende, Chile’s first democratically-elected president, with the backing of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Allende, a leftist and the first Marxist ever to be elected president of a democracy, refused to leave the presidential palace in the midst of bombing by General Augusto Pinchoet’s forces. He gave a live farewell radio address and then reportedly shot himself as Pinochet’s troops approached. I find it odd that Pinochet’s dictatorship lasted seventeen years. As I reflect on the horrors that have taken place on September 11, I realize that seventeen years have elapsed since the horror and chaos of the attacks on the U.S. In a sense, our country has since that time been living in an environment in which, like Chile, our freedoms were greatly reduced in the name of “protecting” us from those who would do us harm. It’s not just long lines and baggage searches that remind us of what September 11, 2001 did to our lives, it’s the growing fear among many that we must keep everyone not like “us” out of our country, as if “us” can be defined in any rational way.

According to Chilean government accounts, almost 3,200 people died or disappeared in political violence and about 28,000 others were tortured between 1973 and 1990, during Pinochet’s dictatorship. And almost 3,000 people died on September 11, 2001 as a result of the planes crashing into the twin towers, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field. Both events led to long periods of chaos and confusion. I suppose one can legitimately argue that, in both cases, the chaos and confusion continues.

Significant aspects of the 2001 terror attacks were broadcast, live, on television. As such, there’s more “footage” and more sensational graphics available for remembrances than the event in Chile. The September 1973 coup, which occurred less than three months after an attempted coup in late June, was supported by the U.S., so perhaps a more vocal and visual expression of regret in this country about the Chilean event would be inappropriate; one doesn’t express regret at the death of those one helps willfully murder, does one?

Today, as the madman in the White House goes about his chaotic self-aggrandizement ceremonies, I have to wonder whether he deserves at least acknowledgement for his honesty (in spite of his voluminous spray of lies) about his motives? Past administrations have lied about both motives and actions while steadfastly maintaining decorum that befits civilized society. Where is this leading? Nowhere. I’m just expressing remorse that we live in a world in which decency in public life and among public persons is so rare.

It would behoove us to remember September 11, 1973 even as we mourn our own losses on September 11, 2001. We ought to remind ourselves that we have much to mourn, both lost lives and lost innocence.

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Actual Monday Thoughts

I updated the GPS software in the Subaru, thanks to a friend who had received an email from Subaru with a link to a software updater. I’m not sure why Subaru opted not to send me a link, but that’s no longer an issue. The software is updated. I learned about SD adapters and microSD cards in the process, though admittedly I did not learn much. Mostly, I learned that they exist and that they were required to copy and install the software update. Actually, the microSD card that came with my adapter wasn’t used at all. I used only the adapter and the MicroSD card from the Subaru. Downloading and installing the software took a good hour or so. Fortunately, my presence was not required during that part of the operation.

After I installed the new software, I decided to see what it would tell me about places nearby where I might eat or find nightlife (I’d never used those “search” parameters before). When I searched for nightlife, the venue at the top of the resulting list was Diamond D’s, a place inside Hot Springs Village that has been closed for two years or so. So much for up-to-date information. I wonder whether the new software will recognize Interstate 49 around Texarkana. I guess I’ll find out on my next trip to Houston.

***

My handwriting is getting progressively worse. I no longer use cursive because my cursive is utterly illegible. My printing is not much better. It’s too bad I can’t jot notes on a full-sized keyboard, on-the-fly. My typing is not half bad; in fact, I’m probably as fast and as accurate now as I was in my prime. Speaking of prime, when was that? Well, it depends. Medical research suggests a man reaches his sexual prime at about age 18, his physical endurance peaks around age 22, his muscle strength at age 30, and his memory reaches its peak at age 28. His brain cells begin to degrade at around age 45. Most measures say a man reaches his prime by age 30 and begins a slow (or stunningly rapid) decline around age 45. By any measure, I am at least 20 years past the outer limits of prime and close to 45 year past its zenith. Until recently, I thought I’d be willing to have my brain transplanted into the body of a healthy, physically fit, 25 year old man. But now I’m beginning to think I’d want a newer brain, too. Yet that newer brain would be missing some very important attributes, that is, my identity. For that reason, I’m considering the possibility of installing a microSD card in my brain to record all the stuff I want to keep and then, once completely recorded, copying it all to the young, fit brain that will occupy the head on that 25-year old body. With the wisdom gained from experience. I would treat that 25 year of body far differently than the one it’s replacing. By the time it reaches 65 years of age (when sea levels have risen enough that the Santa Fe, New Mexico seawall is in danger of being over-topped during hurricanes), it will be in better condition than the one it replaced. Now, where was I going with respect to my handwriting?  Hmm. I think that part of my brain lost its cells at age 45.

***

Early this morning, I vaguely recalled the tail end of a newscast from a few days ago dealing with a squirrel festival, in which squirrel-based foods play an important part. So, I decided to look for information about this event. Sure enough, it’s coming up. September 18 in Bentonville. The intent of the festival, which also addresses quail, is to emphasize the value of squirrel in one’s diet. I think. There will be a squirrel chili cook off and a quail chili cook off and many other such wonders. It occurs to me that I might be able to enter the squirrel cook off, but I learned just now that today is the deadline for entries into the competition and I haven’t even begun to kill squirrels to put in my recipe. So, that’s out for this year. But it occurs to me that there are enough squirrels outside my window to enable me to make at least a fifty-gallon pot of squirrel chili. I’ve never had squirrel. I’m willing to try, though.

***

Today is actually Monday. Earlier, I would have sworn it was Sunday, but that would have made yesterday’s visit to church an aberration for which there can be no reasonable explanation. See, there’s another example of the post-45 mental decline. Another? Was there a first one? I need to go finish writing a story to read at today’s read-around. Otherwise, I’ll have to read the telephone book.

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Collected Thought Fragments

I stayed in bed far too long last night. I was in bed around 8:30 and got up this morning around 5:30, nine hours. That’s too long for me. Six or seven hours usually does it. But I wasn’t feeling at all well last night, so I decided to indulge myself (even after a short nap yesterday afternoon) and go to be early. It didn’t “take” completely, as I was up for a bit sometime before eleven. But I was back to sleep shortly thereafter. But it was a fitful sleep. And, of course, there was a dream.

My wife and I were in a small aircraft, maybe forty seats. Among the passengers were perhaps a dozen young men wearing black cowboy hats. Other passengers included a woman who had just begun a job selling some sort of product that held absolutely no interest to my wife and me. The woman chattered incessantly. I wished someone would choke her.

During the flight, I got up and walked to the back of the plane, where there was a large picture window on the right side of the craft. I was surprised to look out and see how near the ground we were. I strained to look in front of the plane but could not tell whether we were nearing the airport until the pilot announced “brace for landing.” I was standing up in the back of the plane when she made the announcement. I had no time to make my way back to my seat. So I just leaned against the rear of the plane as it bounced alone the runway.

But it wasn’t a runway. When the plane stopped, the pilot opened a front door that turned into a stairway to the ground. As some of  us got to the bottom of the stairs, the pilot called out, “Be careful crossing. There’s traffic.” The stairs led to a grassy patch that looked like it hadn’t been mowed in weeks. The plane’s front landing gear was just barely on pavement that apparently was a street. Not a runway, a street. We had to let a couple of cars go by before we crossed the street and entered a covered walkway that, we somehow knew, would take us to luggage carousels. My wife and I exchanged harsh words as we walked, but I don’t know what had us upset.

I think this next part is somehow connected to the first dream, the remainder of which seems to have dissolved in my memory. But maybe not.

At the end of a long walkway, a small group of us (I have no idea who the others were) arrived at what appeared to be a restaurant, about half of its tables which were empty. I somehow knew I was supposed to change from wearing a pair of shorts to wearing some sort of sports wraps when we got there, so I proceeded to do so. I was embarrassed to be changing in a public place, but I hoped no one would notice. I felt only a few stares drill through me.

From that point on, the dream is hazy and incoherent. It involved a leaking toilet in a women’s restroom and my futile attempt to keep the water from flowing into the hallway by placing toilet paper in the gap at the bottom of the door.

I think I interrupted the dream several times by me awaking just enough to roll over or otherwise change positions. Then, when I drift back to sleep, the dream continued. But it was as if it had continued even while I was busy waking, because it was as if I’d missed pieces of it when I drifted off to sleep again. I equate the sensation to watching a television show and leaving it to get a glass of water and returning. Something happened in my absence that would have explained the new set of circumstances to which I returned, but I don’t know what.

Back to the blog from a brief coughing binge. My body aches from too much time in bed. While sleep is a good thing, too much inactivity breeds arthritis pain. That’s my opinion, anyway, based on sufficient experience to form an inexpert opinion.

I plan to attend today’s insight service at church. My concern is that I might go into a coughing fit in the middle of the service, but sometimes I can go for literally hours without coughing, so I think I’ll risk it. I don’t think I pose a risk to others (if I do, I’ve been posing the risk for three months or more, it’s just more persistent and more visible lately). Today’s topic, “Beyond the Echo Chamber: A Look at the Threat of American Tribalism,” is of significant interest to me. I’ve missed the last several Sundays, though I’ve tried to watch the videos (the people at Geek Squad suggested, but could not confirm, that my computer’s sudden death was related in some fashion to watching those videos). I dare not watch them on my computer, just in case there’s something to their suspicions; I’ll have to go to the library, I guess.

I want to clear both my schedule and my lungs so our friends from Fort Smith can come to visit. It has been far too long since we’ve seen them. It’s their turn to come our way, which they’re ready to do if I’d just stay home for a while so opening in our collective schedules coincide. There’s something especially rewarding when friends stay in our home; it’s a little like having a family, I guess. When there are more than two of us in the house, it feels different somehow. Even so, I don’t want children. Unless, of course, they are self-sufficient adults whose generosity is exceeded only by their wealth and who desire to lavish their parents with gifts of cash and exotic vacations. Those are our kids. We forgot we had them. We must have left them in a gas station many years ago. We’re so fortunate that they do not hold that against us and try, instead, to cement our love with their enormous wealth. I think I’ve drifted off into dreamland again.

Today, I shall write something for tomorrow’s read-around, which I have committed to attend (along with a very small group of others). I do not know whether it will be something typical of my writing, dark and troubling, or a piece that’s funny and bright. Of course, it could be utterly different. I guess I’ll find out soon enough. I have to have it finished and printed by 12:25 p.m. tomorrow in time to read it. I just wish I could kick myself in the rear with enough force to keep my writing going. I really do need to spend time locked in a room with a computer and keyboard until I finish a book or a story or a something.

At least I’ve written something that will be published. It’s only a short poem, but I’m glad that I’ll see it in print in the not-too-distant future in Do South Magazine. The editor told me it will appear in the October issue and she will send me a copy. I read the poem to my niece, then had her read it from my computer screen. She did not understand it. It was, to her, a scramble of words that did not belong together. I’ll be interested to receive feedback—if I get feedback—when it’s published.

I feel better today than I did last night. That is a very good thing, for if I felt the same or worse I’d feel like drowning myself in a bucket of hot tar. I’ve never actually wanted to drown myself in a bucket of hot tar. Or any other liquid. The idea is patently offensive. I can think of others I’d gladly drown in that bucket, though. But I shouldn’t let my mind go there today. Instead, I should think of fields of spring wildflowers, stunning mountain vistas, and long stretches of waterfront tidal pools along the Pacific coast. I’m not sure what thinking of those places will do for me, other than make me want to travel (if I see fields of spring wildflowers, I’d have to travel both in space and time), but I’ll give it a shot.

I’ll be eligible for Medicare next month. I’ve stalled in my exploration of insurance options, but I will return to the process of collecting and analyzing data so I can make the best decisions about the best routes to take for me. It seems unreasonable that some of the early decisions are essentially irrevocable (unless one wants to be subject to the whims of insurance actuaries paid to limit their employers’ financial risks). But that’s the way it is. So, I will do my due diligence and make the best choices I can.

It’s already 7:00! Time to face the day.

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Struggling to Feel Better

After a good time in town today—where I had a nice lunch of Philly Cheese Steak at Core Brewing, followed by grocery shopping at Kroger and Sam’s Club—we came home and suddenly my energy just collapsed. I could barely get my clothes off and climb into bed before I fell asleep. But I didn’t stay asleep. Odd dreams, half awake and half asleep, coupled with weather radio warnings of impending cataclysmic atmospheric events, kept me from restful sleep. Even after my “nap” that lasted to few moments, I felt worn, beat, unable to cope with the world. But I finally got up. I prepped the pork ribs for tonight’s dinner, made barbeque sauce, and otherwise readied myself for making dinner. But I remained tired and weak. After a time, my wife emerged from watching recorded television programs and suggested we might want to wait for the pork ribs. Cheese and crackers and a  bit of hummus would suffice for the night, she suggested. And she was right.

Still, I’m beat. More so than the last few nights, when I’ve felt tired in the extreme. My doctor’s suggestion, via online reporting on my x-ray results, that I might have pneumonia, did nothing to boost my mood. In fact, perhaps I’m reacting to the idea rather than the reality of how I’m feeling. That would be a real pisser, wouldn’t it? Psychosomatic pneumonia. What an embarrassment. But my chest continues to feel out of sorts, my cough worsens (and then disappears for hours on end), and I feel like I am entering the early stages of a bad cold or the late stages of a terminal lung disease. I’m not in a mood I’d recommend to others.

I’m relatively sure I’ll be in bed tonight before 8:30 or, at the outside, by 9:00. That feels odd and otherworldly, too. Were I to speak in terms familiar to me in my youth, I would say I feel like shit. Though for the life of me, I cannot articulate just how shit feels. I know I would welcome a 48-hour stretch of restful sleep. Maybe that’s how shit does not feel. That is, sleeping without interruption for long periods. And waking to sensations of comfort.  I remember such sensations, though I was much younger then. Which reminds me: I fucking HATE arthritis and its attendant ills. Some days, I think downing dozens of fatal pills is preferable to coping with the nagging pain of arthritis. The pain isn’t awful at the moment, but I feel its capacity for agony just round the corner. Euthanasia should be legal. It should not only be legal but encouraged. People should not suffer through their final weeks or months on this planet. They should be allowed to exit gracefully and without pain. That’s my take on it. I feel pretty damn moral in my assessment, by the way.

Maybe I’m recovering from my doldrums and my physical maladies. Probably not, though.  I still feel a bit wrecked. Like I was in an auto accident that destroyed the car in which I was a passenger. And my medical records burned in the vehicle’s fire. So, my medical history doesn’t exist. My medical treatment relies entirely on my almost non-existent recollection of a life for which I have virtually no memory. This is depressing. What if they don’t find out, early enough, that I am diabetic? What if they don’t know, until after I’ve died, that my heart valves require regular electrical stimulation? What if? Nothing. Death isn’t an unusual outcome in intensive-care hospitals.

I’m done. I have much more to say, but my words would become repetitious and upsetting to anyone who were to keep reading.  Still, I’m sitting here wondering whether anything matters at this cusp of change in the universe. I guess I’ll know, or not, soon enough.

I’m trying to feel better, but so far the efforts have not paid off. That stinks, especially since I don’t feel bad. Or didn’t. My coughing these last few days has worsened, but I haven’t felt bad. Until today. Crap. I’d rather feel good and without a desire for locally-brewed beers than crappy and wishing for a nice, cold IPA. It’s after 8. Maybe I can try to sleep again. If no, maybe I can daydream.

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Elevator Eyes

Loudly speak the word “transubstantiation,” enunciating clearly, in a crowded elevator and observe the reactions of the people around you. There may be one or two who, not quite sure what was just announced, will say, “Excuse me?” Another couple will look away in awkward silence, pretending they did not hear anything. At least one will glare in angry disbelief as if an avowed enemy had just urinated on his leg. There may be one who nods and asks, “Are you Catholic?” And, on rare occasion, one might hear a small voice from the back of the elevator say, “That word is meaningless without giving us the context.”

I have never spoken the word in a crowded elevator, nor have I heard it spoken in such a place, so my suggestions about what one might hear were one to speak it are purely conjecture. So, why am I writing about this fictitious occurrence as if it had happened?

Simply to prod my brain into action, forcing it to build a scenario in which the nameless, faceless people in the elevator will come to life.

As I contemplate their responses, I will picture the way their facial expressions will change ever so slightly when I speak the word. I will attempt to understand what thoughts must be going through their minds as they attempt to make sense of an utterly foreign situation, a circumstance in which they have never before found themselves. Tiny changes in their expressions…the way they hold their mouths, how their eyes narrow by just a hair into what could be a squint were the movement accentuated a thousand times…reveal so much about these elevator people. Just by observing them, I can tell who among them are Catholics, which ones are atheists, who has children, and who is married but opted not to procreate. The flutter of an eyelash can reveal to me who has lived a long, anguished life subjected to emotional abuse. I can tell by the set of his jaw and suspicion in his eyes the man who votes Republican and scoffs at the trials and tribulations of a homeless mother and her baby daughter as he passes them in the street. By looking into the pleading eyes of the young man pressed against the elevator door I can tell he has the makings of a minister or a Peace Corps volunteer; he is the one who would have comforted the homeless woman and given her his last twenty dollars. The monstrous diamond-crusted metal cross dangling from the neck of the middle-aged woman standing at the center, coupled with the steely certainty in her eyes, suggests she preaches and flaunts the prosperity gospel. Even in her street clothes, it’s obvious to me that the petite woman in the back corner is a nun, having joined her order twenty years earlier. I can tell that by looking at her gentle grey eyes and watching the way the corners of her mouth edge up at the sound of the word. The short, nondescript man at the very back of the elevator mouths the word “Darwin” in response to my trigger word; he is the confirmed atheist in the group, a label that threatens the stability of his three-year-old marriage to a Southern Baptist woman from Alabama.

The enormous size of this elevator is just becoming apparent to me. It was designed to accommodate enormous couches and refrigerators and pallets stacked to the ceiling with sacks of rice and flour. Instead, it is crowded with an odd assortment of people unused to loud pronouncements of words ill-suited to elevator dialogue. There’s something else about this elevator that is, initially, strange and then becomes frightening as I think about it: there are no buttons to select floors. I realize we’ve all been herded into this large room whose vertical destination is being chosen not by us but for us. None of us knows what we will see when the doors open. We are afraid to say anything more. We know almost nothing about our fellow elevator riders (though I know far more than the rest of them). Every one of them could have been planted, with the sole intent of evaluating the other riders and determining their fates once the doors open. As I consider what I have done by speaking the word, sweat forms on my forehead. Suddenly, elevator car jolts to a stop and the doors slide to the sides. After a collective sigh of relief, we begin to stream out of the elevator car, forgetting those twenty seconds of terror.

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Dating Maggie and a Hospitalization Update

I knew her as Margaret. It was many years later that I learned she goes by Maggie. Maybe she did at the time and I didn’t know it. I just knew her name was Margaret and I found her quite attractive. We were both in seventh grade. I invited her to see a movie. It was the first time I ever invited a girl out. And it was one of the last. I was too shy and self-conscious and generally intimidated by girls to ask them on dates until…hmm, maybe “is” fits better here. Though I’m not planning on asking anyone out on a date, just to clarify. At any rate, the movie was Fantastic Voyage, in which a submarine and its crew were shrunken to microscopic size and injected into a human body. I don’t recall much more than that. In fact, I did not recall the name of the film until I looked up, on Google, “movie in which people are shrunk down and go inside a human body.” The top link took me directly to the IMDb site which described the movie. I didn’t read it. I didn’t need to know more than the name of the film. I didn’t actually need to know it. I just wanted to.

So, the reason Maggie, AKA Margaret, is on my mind is that I spoke to my wife about her this morning for reasons that largely escape me but may relate to last night’s dream. I told my wife about the odd dream in which I was floating in space, chasing after treatment capsules. My wife said, “You have such a vivid imagination,” and I told her it wasn’t my imagination, it was my reality, my reality in dreamland. I said I felt like I actually experienced floating in space, just like the shrunken people in “that movies in which people are shrunk down and go inside a human body.” THAT’s the connection, then, isn’t it?!

At any rate, I mentioned that I took Maggie on one date. Though I didn’t continue with my thoughts in the conversation, I remembered that I wanted to see her more, but I didn’t have the courage to ask her out again. Perhaps I sensed that she wasn’t impressed with me in the way I was impressed with her. For whatever reason, we never dated again and I think she went off to Catholic high school a few years later. I encountered her during my senior year in high school when a friend, who taught English at Del Mar Junior College, invited me to join him and one of his fellow teachers (I’ll call her Susan, though that’s not her name) for a beer at her house. None of us seemed to be concerned that these two people, he a good five years older than I and she a good thirty years older, were corrupting a young man too young to buy beer. It didn’t bother me. Susan, it turns out, was Maggie’s mother. And Maggie (or Margaret, as I called her) came home with her boyfriend during my visit. He was an attorney, I think, or was studying law. At least that’s the way I remember it. She seemed very mature and intelligent. I don’t know whether she remembered me as the seventh grade boy who took her to see Fantastic Voyage five years earlier.

And that was the last time I saw Maggie. But I somehow managed to catch up with her many years later, thanks to Facebook. She’s since stopped posting because her job asked her to stay off social media. She’s an Assistant U.S. Attorney. She has a chronic gastrointestinal illness/condition, the same one I have, but I gather it’s much worse than mine every was. And she’s divorced from an abusive husband and has a college-aged daughter. And I learned she’s a Republican. But, from what I gather, she’s not a nut-case, far-right-wing Republican and, based on some communications from her, she may be considering a switch.

From what I’ve written about her, you might think I know her well and stay in touch. Don’t think that, because it’s not the case. I haven’t had more than a handful of communications with her over the past six or seven years and, for at least the past four years I’ve only communicated with her once or twice a year, when I send her a birthday greeting via email or when something triggers a thought I decide to share with her.

All the preceding lengthy spillage from my brain notwithstanding, I had only one thing I wanted to document with this post, and that’s a silly little thing I said to my wife during our conversation this morning.

“I took her out on a date once. She’s a Republican. I can’t even believe I dated a Republican! I’m so deeply ashamed of myself! How could I have done it?! I pride myself on being open-minded and inclusive, but that was just beyond the pale!”

Of course, my comments were facetious and mildly ironic, but they were nonetheless inappropriately crude and uncalled for. You know, typical me.

This post was interrupted by a brief phone call from my brother, who told me various doctors and other hospital staff are trying to decide whether his wound infection should be debrided as originally determined by the ER docs and cardiovascular surgeons more than a week ago or whether the intravenous antibiotic treatment continued. It seems they are leaning toward continued antibiotic treatment, but not in Methodist Hospital. They seem to be leaning toward moving him to Kindred Hospital, where he would stay for two or three weeks while his wound continues to be monitored and treated and where he would continue physical therapy, etc. He thinks he’ll know more by next Tuesday or Wednesday. I suspect they will decide sooner, but we shall see. And that’s all I have to say this morning. So far.

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One Day I’ll Read What I’ve Written

I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. I could have waited until my annual physical, scheduled for later this month with the same doctor, but the persistent cough that seems to have worsened over the past three months argued otherwise. So on Tuesday, I called for an appointment. His scheduler slipped me in this afternoon. Besides, I suspect I wont’ be in town later this month when the physical is on the calendar, so I thought it best to deal with the cough now.

The reasons the cough is on my mind this morning are two-fold: first, I’m coughing at least two or three times a minute and, second, I dreamed last night that my doctor’s prescribed treatment for the cough involved launching me into space, where floating “treatment capsules” could be found. The dream was even more bizarre than my often-bizarre dreams. I remember only that I was floating, weightless, in space. Earth was a tiny sphere I could barely recognize among many other celestial objects. I think I must have been able to breathe in space; I occasionally coughed, but it was not for want of oxygen. I was in the midst of a cloud of thousands of fingernail-sized oblong disks, fluorescent brown in the middle, encircled with a lime green band.  The disks were thin, perhaps an eighth of an inch thick. They were, I somehow knew, the “treatment capsules” I was supposed to swallow. But despite being in the middle of a cloud of the objects, I could not seem to reach even one. Just as I thought I could grasp one,  my cough caused it to float out of reach.

I have no idea how long the dream lasted, but it seemed to go on and on and on. The last aspect of the dream I remember was that the cloud of “treatment capsules” had thinned considerably so that only a handful were visible to me and they were far away from me. I sensed that I would never be able to reach them. I somehow knew that the result of failing to grasp one would be that I would remain floating in space for all time. That bothered me. Of course it bothered me. But it wasn’t panic I felt. It was more like disappointment, like I had failed to perform a simple task that had grave consequences. And there, in its superficiality, is my dream.

As for the cough, it bothers me because my fertile imagination tells me it could be symptomatic of all sorts of underlying ailments like heart disease, lung cancer, COPD, etc., etc. The likelihood that my doctor can quickly determine the cause of the cough is slim. Such symptoms probably require a host of assessments to begin narrowing the potential diagnoses to manageable numbers. I suspect he’ll want me to have blood tests, X-rays, CT scans, etc., etc. that require more time than I can devote at the moment. So, I’ll probably have to be satisfied with starting the diagnosis process that will play out over the course of months, rather than days or weeks. In the meantime, I’ll just have to deal with coughing more and more frequently and feeling an odd sense of tightness—fullness may be a better descriptor—in my chest. It’s not a painful cough, just annoying in its persistence. It seems unrelated to my chronically stuffy nose. At least that’s my professional assessment as a doctor-of-all-things-physical.

Lately, since I returned from Houston, I’ve had the extremely uncommon (for me) habit of napping for a while every afternoon (except yesterday, when I remained vertical all day). Even on days when I have absolutely no plans to be productive in any way, shape, manner, or form and have no interest in expanding my knowledge or skills, I loathe the concept of napping. Let me explain. I feel that naps rob me of conscious experience (that may or may not have any measurable value) that counts toward my lifetime of awareness.  That may seem odd to some people or most people or all people besides myself. I understand I may be unique in thinking naps take away valuable “awake and aware” time on the planet. But that’s just how I see them. That perspective notwithstanding, my recent habit of afternoon naps has brought glorious comfort to me the moment I lay my head down on the pillow (whether on the bed or on the couch).

That word, “couch,” is so close to that other word on my mind of late, “cough.” Do you see it? Just one letter differentiates the two words. My silly side might have prefaced that sentence with “Gee,” and then continued with “Do you cee it?” Had I done that, I would have beat myself senseless with a thick strip of leather soaked overnight in an alcohol wash. But that would be cruel, so I won’t engage in the behavior that might have given rise to such cruelty, so I’ll just pretend none of that happened. Disregard this entire paragraph so your life, and mine, will be just a little brighter and the world will be a better place.

I’ve noticed that, lately, whenever my mind wanders into personally dark territory, I steer my writing toward silliness. My thoughts don’t follow my writing, unfortunately, but at least I might lighten up the screen and, ultimately, the page by refusing to allow the darkness to escape through my fingers. That’s a rather new practice and one I find a little strange. It’s not like me. It’s like someone else is writing my words and censoring me in the process. It’s as if I can’t write what’s really on my mind for fear of revealing either vulnerabilities or pathologies. I’ve never worried about that before. Why now, I wonder?

The sun has long since brightened the sky, so it’s time for me to stop this drivel and make another cup of coffee and face the world outside my window.

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Chicken Stories

I met another writer, a much more prolific writer than I, over coffee yesterday morning. She asked whether I would attend the upcoming read-around next Monday. I said I would if I did not have to go back to Houston before then to tend to my brother, who might be released from the hospital in the coming days. She asked whether I had written something that I might read. No, I have not, I said.

The conversation then turned to her conversation with the minister of the Unitarian Universalist church. She liked the man, she said, and were she not such a dedicated lifelong Lutheran, she would join our church. She likes its liberal bent. But, she suggested, she is addicted to the ceremony and traditions and routines of her church; it would be hard for her to leave such a powerful draw. She asked whether I grew up with any such routines and traditions and ceremonies. I said I did. I lied. And then I described my childhood Sunday morning traditions.

We’d wake up early on Sunday mornings and Pappa sent me out to get a chicken from the coop. He’d always tell me, “Get a big’un, boy! We gotta have lots of feathers and plenty of fat!” Well, I’d obey him and get the biggest rooster I could find. When I’d grab it by its feet and yank it off the ground it squawked like crazy, like it knew something awful was about to happen. And it was.

I’d bring that big chicken over to Pappa and he’d tie it with wire by its feet to a long metal pole. He’s set that pole in a metal pipe in the ground and bang on the pole. That chicken was way up high in the air, squawking and making one hell of a racket. Then, Pappa built a big old bonfire out of scrub cedar logs and pieces of pine he’d used to build sheds and such for neighbors. When that fire reached its peak, he’d call out to Mama, ‘Sugar, come on out here, we’re about to do the Sunday service!’ And Mamma would run out the door, all smiles and fancy duds, and stand next to Pappa and me. Pappa would grab that long pole with the chicken tied to the top and start singing.

“Hallelujah, big man in the sky, hallelujah!
We got a chicken here just for you and it’s gonna die, hallelujah,
This birds’ feathers gonna burn and stink, we’ll
throw its guts in the kitchen sink,
oh big man in the sky we’ve got a bird for you, we do!”

After Pappa sang that verse, the rest of us sang it again while Pappa poked that pole in the air so that chicken was right in the hottest part of the bonfire flames. Its feather commenced to burn and that chicken made one hell of a racket as it burned to death up there on that pole. Mamma clapped and stomped her feet as that bird died a fiery death. Looking back, it seems horribly cruel to have done such a thing, but back then it seemed just as natural as can be. We didn’t know any better ’cause that’s what we was taught. I say “we” ’cause there was three of us. I was the oldest by four years, and then there was my little brother, Gomer, and my baby sister, Gladys. As far as we was concerned, setting chicken alight on a Sunday morning was as natural as waking up and going out in the underbrush for a pee. It’s just the way things were.

Once that chicken’s feathers were totally burned off and its skin was crispy and black, Pappa would take that pole and put the chicken down on a big slab of slate off near the barn. When it was cool enough, he’d uncoil the wire that tied its feet to the pole and then he’d tear off its skin, gut the bird, and put its innards in a bowl. Mama took the bowl of innards and threw them in the kitchen sink, which was already filled with water. While the innards soaked, she and Pappa would tear the meat off the chicken’s bones and put it in a stew pot that Mama had already filled with potatoes and carrots and mustard greens and cabbage. In less than an hour, Mama called us to the table. When we were all sitting, Pappa commenced singing again.

“Hallelujah, big man in the sky, hallelujah!
Like I told you that chicken did die, hallelujah,
We gonna eat this bird in your name, and we thank you just the same,
oh big man in the sky this bird’s for you, hallelujah!”

All that singing about a big man in the sky seemed natural back then. It’s just the way things were. It weren’t no different than getting up and putting on your clothes. It was what you’d been taught to do and you never thought no different. You never questioned why you had to wear clothes, you just did it. Same thing with setting the chicken afire and singing to a big man in the sky. It was what you did in my house.

I was eleven years old when I saw my first bible.  Baker Street, a boy my age who lived about a mile up the road, showed it to me. He said his folks went to a church and read out of that book. He said they sang in church and danced and made quite a thing of praying to Jesus. Seemed to me that his Jesus was like my big man in the sky. You sang and prayed and made a fuss over him because that’s just what you did. That’s what you were taught by your parents. And that’s what they were taught by theirs.

When I told Baker Street about our tradition with the chicken, he got pale and looked like he was gonna be sick. I asked if they had any traditions like ours. He thought a little bit about it and said, “Well, we take babies and hold them under water and then, when they come up out of the water, we celebrate their baptism, that’s what we call it. It’s like they have just been born and now they’re part of the church.” It sounded to me like they were trying to drown babies. If they survived the drowning, they got to be part of the larger church family. It wasn’t really all that different from our chicken burning. Our chickens got to be part of our Sunday meal celebration. I figured the birds were in pain for a minute, but then they weren’t. Same with the babies. They probably panicked when they shoved them in the water, but it didn’t last and everything was fine.

Well, this unfinished story will remain unfinished for the time being. I spoke to my niece last night and she said it’s possible my brother will be released from the hospital much sooner than I think is appropriate. So, I may be on my way to Houston much sooner than I anticipated.

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Thinking Beyond the Stars

I sat on the deck for at least three hours last evening, watching dull daylight wash into a dim darkness interrupted ever-so-slightly by a few bright stars, the red planet, and the blinking lights of airplanes. The planet I assumed was Mars was directly in front of my field of vision at the beginning, about mid-way between the distant hills of the horizon and the zenith of the sky directly above me. My assumption about the bright celestial body was correct. The Sky Map app confirmed it an hour or so into my reverie, when I took a short break to retrieve my smart phone. As the sky grew darker, the points of light in the sky multiplied a thousand fold, maybe more. Most of the stars were barely visible, their light so faint that I sometimes questioned whether I saw stars or, instead, just imagined their light. But I knew better. They were there, just so far away that the light I viewed was so old and distant that it had begun its journey toward my eyes before the Earth cooled into a habitable place. I wonder, though, whether they remain where they appear, to my eyes, to be. Might they have dissolved into hollow hulks of spent fuel a thousand Earth-years ago? Might they have exploded in a monstrous release of energy that consumed nearby stars? We don’t know yet because the light from that celestial spectacle might not reach us for millenia.

Those were my thoughts last night as I watched the night sky unfold. I sat in a comfortable metal deck chair, my glass of Merlot on the mesh top of the metal table in front of me, and pondered our place in the universe. All the life forms, collectively, on our planet are so small and insignificant compared to the vastness of the sky and beyond the sky. Vast. That word, even in its suggestion of almost limitless size, is incapable of defining the boundaries of space beyond our atmosphere. We need a word whose utterance conjures a universe of such enormous proportions that it takes our breath away. “Vast” is comparable to our Earth as a speck of dust in our galaxy. We need a word that compares the size of that galaxy to something whose volume is one hundred trillion the one hundred trillionth power larger than that. Perhaps multiplied by an exponent of that number a million times over. These are, to me, incomprehensible numbers. Just as the size of the universe is incomprehensible.

Actually, as I watched the sky last night, it occurred to me (as it has many times before) that the universe is not measurable. Though my mind cannot quite wrap itself around the concept, I think the universe has no limits. It goes on and on and on. It is a never-ending concept. Not an entity, a concept. We understand it only to the extent that we can apply an earthly understanding to an unearthly experience. Maybe it’s an experience of which we are simply a part. Not a concept, but an experience. A transcendent experience of which the planets and stars and the empty space between them are simply physical manifestations.

On the one hand, contemplating the universe and its limits, or the absence thereof, is a fascinating way to spent one’s time, but on the other it emphasizes how utterly unimportant I am. Unlike chaos theory’s butterfly’s effect, my greatest efforts at altering even a microscopic piece of a tiny section of the universe are wasted and impotent. My existence and all it entails will never disrupt the flow of energy in a galaxy a million light years from Earth. I think it’s important for people to understand that, ultimately, they don’t matter. Sure, in a minuscule pocket in a tiny bubble in an infinitesimal spot on the outer fringes of an impossibly small patch of celestial real estate, we matter. But we ought not invest ourselves in thinking we matter beyond that insignificant, microscopic speck of dust.

All that is to say I thought about the universe and me, together, last night. And this morning, as if it mattered, I put my thoughts down. Why do we keep doing this? When we know we’re nothing in an incomprehensively monstrous space, why do we keep trying to pretend we matter? Because we must, I suppose.

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Pleasure Deferred

We had dinner with friends last night and learned more about their upcoming trips. As they described their plans, I felt pangs of jealousy. I want to go on road trips and visit friends and family. I want to drive the back roads from Arkansas to California. I want to make my way from Arkansas through Texas to New Mexico and then loop north through Colorado and Nebraska into Iowa and Illinois and Indiana, aiming toward Ohio. I want to meander along the full length of the Natchez Trace Parkway. I want to wander through the Pacific Northwest and Canada and the southeastern U.S. I want to see this country in which I live.

It occurred to me after dinner—when my wife mentioned that our dinner friends had signed up for our church’s “dinners for six” and that they would be traveling during the months those events would take place—that my wife is coordinating those church dinners and, therefore, we have obligations that preclude my wished-for road trips. We’ve lived in Hot Springs Village for four and a half years and have taken but a very few road trips. We spoke of taking many, many of them once we’d settled into our new home. I guess obligations get in the way. But obligations shouldn’t rob one of one’s dreams. But that’s what they’re doing. I’m so damn tempted to abandon the commitments we’ve made and just go.

I can’t even think of doing that, though, until my brother is back on his feet and no longer needs my help. And, of course, winter isn’t the time to travel outside the south. So the possibility will have to wait until spring, when other obligations will preclude us from doing what I’ve wanted to do for so long. I’m angry at myself for failing to insist that we—or at least I—just commit to doing what we’ve talked about for so long, obligations be damned. But I won’t. I never do. The reasons to delay or defer or demur or whatever prevents us from doing what I want to do will always be sufficiently greater than the reasons for going. The price of the freedom to roam apparently is too great an expense to incur.

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Laboring in Thought

Since my last post, things have changed. My computer remains in the hands of the Geek Squad, but not for long. Though they cannot figure out why the thing dies and cannot be resurrected for days on end, they say they will return it to me. They claim they will send it to me by UPS, though they stress its handling by the boys in brown could irrevocably damage the already unreliable beast. Ah, I forgot to mention. They’re shipping it to me in Hot Springs Village, for that’s where I am for the moment.

Last week, I decided I wanted to make a trip home for a few days, so after consultation with my niece, we decided I would teach her how to pack my brother’s (her father’s) surgical wound and I would head home for a couple of days, just enough to reintroduce myself to my wife and vice versa, so we would not forget one another’s faces. But the plan was thrown into the ditch when, on Friday afternoon, one of the home health nurses thought the bloody discharges from the wound were too great. She consulted his surgeon’s nurse, who suggested he return to the Emergency Room. So, the plan was dashed. I took him to the ER, where the doctors decided right away that the infection of his wound was not getting better and that he needed to be admitted to the hospital. He would be there at least for the weekend, they said. So, I resurrected the plan. I would drive home, spend a day with my wife, then drive back on Monday so that my niece could return to work on Tuesday and I could look after my brother on his release, whether on Monday or Tuesday or whenever. But on Saturday, after I was well on my way to Hot Springs Village, the doctors finally decided what his daughter and I knew all along; he was getting badly malnourished because he was not eating sufficient amounts of food. He would need to stay in the hospital for at least the remainder of the week and possibly longer. And they decided to insert a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line, which they will use to supply nutrients he needs. According to the attending physician, he could not recover to the extent he needs to even if he ate a diet containing 5,000 calories, so a total parenteral nutrition (TPN) solution is necessary. I am assuming some things here, based on research; no one mentioned TPN, but my research suggests that’s what it is. Though he is also supposed to inject foods regularly to the extent he can, so it’s different from what I’ve read about. The issue arose, though, because he has been unable to eat much since his surgery. That issue must be resolved, long-term, before he can return to his normal self and be self-sufficient. At any rate, the docs say he will be in the hospital for at least a week, maybe considerably longer. I suppose we will just wait and see. I will pack a suitcase and assorted other “stuff” and keep it at the ready so I can head to Houston at a moment’s notice. In the meantime, I’m getting reacquainted with the joys of home ownership, such as fixing toilets that keep running after being flushed, leaky faucets, and a wood deck that remains unstripped and unfinished, despite my month-long disappearance; it refused to care for itself in my absence.

But back to the computer. It was not repaired. The Geeks cannot figure out why it suddenly shuts off and cannot be started again until they intervene in some fashion. And I paid for that service, which got me essentially nothing. Perhaps I need to replace the little monster with something four years newer and let the little notebook serve someone else, if it chooses. So I may look for another notebook computer over the next few days. And, while I’m looking, I may sneak in an annual subscription to Amazon Prime so I can order online and get it the next day. And, as an added bonus, I can get access to Amazon Prime Video, which is home to a series I began watching while at my niece’s house (though I could not watch much due to distractions that drove me approximately crazy from time to time). The series, The Man in the High Castle, is predicated on a different outcome of World War II; that is, that the Axis powers won the war. The U.S. was invaded, with the Nazis taking over the eastern two-thirds of the country and the Japanese controlling most of the western third, with a strip of “neutral territory” between them. The series, set in the early 1960s, seems to be focused on (thus far, at least) resistance fighters working to overthrown the invaders. A man in the mountains of Colorado (the man in the high castle) is somehow responsible for creating and/or collecting a series of films that show that the outcome is not as everyone thinks; that the Allies actually won but somehow convinced people otherwise. That part is very difficult to comprehend at this early stage; I’ve only watched one a half episodes. The series has three seasons (so far, at least) which should be quite entertaining. It’s based on a book (of course) that merits reading, I think.

I remain a non-writer for the moment. I just can’t stay focused long enough to write anything of any consequence. It doesn’t help that I have to borrow computers just to do   things like compose this blog post. But I may have a cure for that in a day or two. A cure for borrowing a computer, not for the paucity of focus on writing. I really do think I may need an extended time off, alone, working on nothing but emptying my head of useless thoughts and replacing them with something of substance. Maybe that will help. But the bottom line is that I feel like I’m unable to focus for more than twenty minutes at a time. And even twenty minutes is a stretch. I’m bouncing off the walls. If I could sequester my creative energy in some way and release it on command for extended periods of time, I might actually write something of which I can be proud. Or maybe not.

On an utterly unrelated subject, an hour after I got back to Hot Springs Village on Saturday, my wife and I went to an “ice cream social” at church. It felt more than a little odd for some reason. Many people didn’t mention that I hadn’t been around for the past month. Others knew, vaguely, that I had mentioned my brother’s health issues, but not much else. Generally, I got the sense that any interest in talking to me was based on my role with the newsletter. I may have misinterpreted, but I sensed that I was outside a sphere, looking in. And the occasional “sincere” expression of concern seemed contrived. Maybe I’m just cynical. Maybe I can’t really see through charades.  We opted not to go to church the following day, deciding instead to go out for breakfast, where we ran into some neighbors and had a nice time chatting with them about everything from films they recommend to the unfortunate reality that men do not, in general, allow themselves to build bonds with small groups of other men in the way women bond with other women. Interesting stuff. And, then, later in the day, we had dinner with other neighbors of whom we have grown quite fond. I found it interesting that I feel much more at ease and comfortable with the neighbors than with the church folks. I don’t dislike the church folks, but the relationship with them seems utterly superficial. I had the sense, early on, that we were developing deeper relationships with the church people, but that sense is quickly disappearing. I sense, instead, that church relationships are based on one’s value to the church, as  opposed to one’s value to the individuals who belong to the church. I’m thinking with my fingers, here, so I may have a different perspective tomorrow. But at the moment, I’m not so enchanted with the church vibe as I was a few months ago. I guess the fact that responsibility for “care and concern” is an assignment in the church as opposed to a genuine and organic expression of empathy got me thinking along these lines. And it’s not that I don’t think people in the church don’t have genuine feelings of concern for others; it’s just that those feelings are not particularly strong outside their small circle of close church friends.  Perhaps these feelings an observations all spring from the fact that I am and always have been and felt like an outsider. I’ve never felt truly a part of a group, even a group of writers. I’m much closer to some than to others, of course, but I’ve never felt part of the fabric of “writers” in my sphere. As I read what I’ve written and contemplate what I’ve thought, it occurs to me that my distance from others may be self-imposed. Looking back, it’s extremely rare that I have been very close to anyone. Letting down one’s guard is an invitation to suffering wounds that may never heal. On the one hand, that perspective is sad and isolating. On the other, it’s a modestly protective isolation, albeit an artificial one that doesn’t really block the missiles and arrows and rocks thrown in one’s direction.

It’s after 7:00 am my coffee is now quite cold. I’ll post this, heat my coffee, and contemplate what one does to appropriately celebrate Labor Day.

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Clairvoyant

One week to the day after my computer died, only to be resurrected a few days later, it died again. My experience with Geek Squad the second time around was frustrating in the extreme. The entanglement with Best Buy’s technology gurus is too long and boring to go into here; I’ll just leave it at this: while waiting on hold for someone to answer the phone, I spent five minutes listening to dead silence, interrupted only by the occasional “we’re still trying to find him” and then spent fifteen minutes driving to the store before the call was answered. I remain without my computer, but the tech whiz kids did back up my hard drive to a new $54 external hard drive, so I’m able to access my data, thanks to my niece’s generosity in letting me use her computer.

There is no end in sight to my time spent in Houston. I must repack my brother’s once-infected and now-healing surgical wound four out of seven days a week; a home health nurse is scheduled to come around three days a week and a physical therapist is scheduled to come the other two days. Both nurses will probably spend an hour or less with each visit. A follow-up visit to the surgeon is scheduled for September 17, almost three weeks hence. I’m still trying to get an appointment with the cardiologist who saw him in the hospital. Doctors’ offices either are overwhelmed with work to the extent that staff cannot possibly keep up or they are staffed by incompetent people or people lacking decency and a customer service attitude. That’s a generalization, but it’s a just one.

My attitude is under attack by my impatience. That’s not a good place to be, so I must work on developing greater patience. The attitude will improve thereafter, I assume. And that come too soon. I want an attitude adjustment and I want it right away. I feel utterly void of any creativity. As much as I’d like to write something worth writing, nothing comes out of my fingers. Even if I could capture my thoughts without the energy required of typing, they would convey nothing resourceful, imaginative, or inspirational. Instead, they would be best described as dull, lifeless, and feeble. I feel angry and embarrassed that I feel that way. I could scream, but I don’t have the energy. Ach! I think I’d like nothing more right now that to be alone in an empty but full-stocked bar; it would have one large-screen television equipped with Netflix and Amazon Prime. In front of the TV would be a large, comfortable recliner with tables on both sides. On those tables, huge plates with an assortment of tapas would be waiting for me.

What a strange desire: watching television, eating tapas, and drinking alone in an empty bar. I think I’ve lost my mind. At least I wouldn’t watch reruns of old, insipid game shows. That’s the sort of thing that can drive a person into the street, swinging a machete over his head with his left hand and spraying bullets from a machine gun in his right hand. Game show reruns probably cause more mass shootings than poor customer service from the medical profession. I have no empirical evidence to back the theory, but it just seems right to me. To say it’s “right,” though, is wrong. And I can’t help but agree with that.

Juan Gabriel. The name is on my mind because, as I type this, the television in the room where I sit is on, though it is muted and tuned to a Spanish language television station. Across the screen I see the name Juan Gabriel and I see images of the man. And I read the captions below images of a man, who I presume to be a reporter, speaking of Juan Gabriel. I can translate only enough to know that San Diego is the city in which Juan Gabriel died. Other images, of a younger and then aging Juan Gabriel, flash across the screen. I see people being interviewed about Juan Gabriel. Some of the captions suggest these people were his fans, some for many years. I saw another name, though I don’t recall what it was, and an indication that this person was Juan Gabriel’s manager for forty years. It’s surprising to me how much I can deduce from understanding of only a few words in connection with various images. After writing this much, I looked up Juan Gabriel and learned that he was an actor and singer and songwriter and his real name was Alberto Aguilera Valadez.

The reason the television was tuned to a Spanish-language station is that my brother was channel surfing and stopped on that channel. He muted the television when his phone rang and left it that way when he went to take a nap. I’m delighted that there’s no noise emanating from the beast. I think a Spanish telenovela is playing now. It’s easy to tell telenovelas from real life by the earnest expressions on actors’ faces. In those faces, deep, abiding love looks different, but only slightly so, from deep, abiding hatred. I can read the thoughts of the handsome actor, sporting five or six days growth of beard (but neck nicely trimmed). He is thinking, “By modeling my earnest expression, my incredible handsomeness will be indelibly etched into the psyche of hundreds of thousands of young, attractive, rich women. These women want to give me their money and, since they’re near, their bodies.” Yes, this is what the handsome actor is thinking. But he is thinking these things in Spanish, so I am unable to write his thoughts precisely as he has them. But I have an uncanny ability to translate them into English, without actually thinking them or listening to them in their native tongue. I must be clairvoyant. Yes, I know what you’re thinking and I am offended by it!

I’ve driveled on for too long. Time for a rest and a retreat into the recesses of my mind. I wonder where I’ve been this last little while?

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Reckoning

It doesn’t take much ingratitude to change one’s perspective on humanity. Total commitment can descend into disregard in a flash. Compassion can blossom into anger in the time it takes for a hummingbird’s heart to skip a beat.

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Frustrations and Food and Philosophy

I spent a good part of yesterday chasing down a commitment for home health care assistance for my brother on a temporary basis. After assurances by the hospital social services manager that the services were “all set,” I discovered the insurance company needed a doctor’s authorization. In spite of making many, many calls to doctors’ officers, I got no return calls. When my brother’s phone received an automated call from the hospital’s follow-up line (“how was your discharge? do you have any problems?”), I said “yes, there are problems.” No long thereafter, a nurse named Heather called. I explained the issues to her. She said she would explore it and call back. She did. She actually did! And apparently she got some action. Not long thereafter, the insurance company called back to say they had received the authorization they needed. Then, after dinner last night, a nurse called to schedule a visit today between 12:30 and 1:30. Hallelujah! Though I changed the wound packing yesterday myself, a nurse demonstrating how it should be done in a home setting will be great. And if she can bathe my brother (I haven’t a clue how one should use wipes to “bathe” a person with an as-yet unhealed incision and other assorted slices in his skin), all the better. I hope they will agree to come a few times a week. We shall see.

In spite of my experiences with home health care of late, I am not prepared to make a new career out of it. And I hope I do not find myself in a situation like my brother is in, needed to depend on family for home health care for an extended period. It’s no fun for him and it’s no fun for the rest of us. All in all, it’s an uncomfortable, stressful, and decidedly unhappy state of affairs. Healthier choices early in life tend to make such circumstances less likely, but these things could happen to any of us. I hope my brother finds himself energetic and able to get along at home by himself in a month or two. I can’t imagine a long-term experience in which I would be forced to depend on others for my day-to-day needs. I have known people who were in such circumstances. Both the person relying on others and the person providing the care lived in a state of ongoing stress and unhappiness, though neither would have abandoned it.

Achh! Such solemn and stressful thoughts can’t be good on an ongoing basis, so I will turn to something more uplifting. My experience thus far has taught me things I did not know. Including, of all things, how to cook an enormously oversized “arm roast,” a beef cut utterly unknown to me (my guess is that it’s a shoulder roast, although bigger than any I had seen before). My niece’s husband received the monstrous cut from a friend, a podiatrist, who had been given the meat in lieu of cash for podiatric services rendered. Apparently, the foot dude had received far more beef than his freezer could accommodate, so Ignacio received the arm roast as a gift. It was labeled “not for sale” and “Liberty, Texas.” At any rate, I thawed the beast and cooked it yesterday, beginning at 2:00 p.m. I cooked a bunch of veggies in oil, took them out of the gigantic Dutch oven, browned the roast (which I had cut into about 5 pieces so it would fit in the kettle), then returned the veggies and deglazed the pan with a very generous splash (probably half a cup or more) of red wine. After dumping a can of stewed tomatoes and a can of Rotel tomatoes in the pot, I put the covered Dutch oven in the oven (at 300 degrees) and left it until about 6:30 last night. The resulting meal was tender, moist, and tasty. I used only salt, pepper, rosemary, and massive amounts of garlic (whole cloves that I pushed into deep wounds I made in the meat by stabbing it…quite the stress reliever) to season the meat. So, my very first roast. My wife is the roast roaster in our house; I’ve helped (by cutting veggies), but she’s done the heavy lifting. This was my first solo engagement. We microwaved some potatoes to go alongside the meat and enjoyed a very fine meal, if I say so myself.

All of this teaches me something broad and grandiose, though I can’t quite put my finger on it yet. There’s a philosophical lesson buried in the minutia of: rage in the face of inept bureaucracy; contemplation about lifestyle choices and their impact on health; and risking food failure by diving it to cook something large and unknown. I don’t know just what the lesson is, but I’m relatively sure it resides just beneath the surface of the membrane that shields me from knowing what is going on around me. That membrane…that damn membrane…the one that makes me feel slightly like I’m in a fog, but close enough to truth to question that feeling.

Enough said. Off to fight the battles of the day in search of winning the war of time!

 

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Domestic Chores

Just as I was about to leave the house to go buy sterile long cotton swabs, ham, cheese, tomatoes, light wheat bread, and jalapeños, it occurred to me that I had put clothes in the dryer a while ago. I checked and they are twelve minutes from being completely dry, or so says the magical, all-knowing electronically-controlled dryer. So I opted to wait and, while waiting, write.

The cotton swabs, by the way, are one component of a lengthy assortment of medical materials necessary for removing wound “stuffing” and then replacing it. It’s a trick I learned (I hope adequately) yesterday. The wound is the site of an infection near the bottom of a thirteen-inch incision that was closed with enormous metal clips until a week or so ago. The infection is troubling, but not overly-so, to the docs and they want to ensure the dressing is changed daily. The dressing is not just a “cover” for the wound; it involves removing a string of stuffing and replacing it with another one that’s been doused with sterile water. All manner of fun, this is, I tell you.

As for the ham, cheese, tomatoes, light wheat bread, and jalapeños, they will constitute the ingredients of today’s lunch sandwiches. I’m not sure my brother will munch on the jalapeños, but they will be a little delight in my mouth. Tonight’s dinner will be an “arm roast,” that I will braise, then cook slowly with a bunch of veggies and a few spices, for dinner cooking time should run about five hours, so if I start at 2:00, we should be able to eat dinner around 7:00.

I guess the clothes are probably dry about now, so I’m off to do more domestic chores before leaving the house for yet more domestic chores.

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The Drum Beat of Technology

A couple of days without a full-fledged computer is troublesome, a fact that in and of itself is troublesome. Two days without a computer and my anxiety grows like kudzu! I think a break is in order, a meditative intervention that would sever the ties to electronic devices. Perhaps a cold-turkey withdrawal from telecommunications gadgetry might sooth my restive spirit and connect me with humanity in a way that’s impossible while staring at soulless screens and punching messages into integrated keyboards. This is all a fantasy, of course. I’m too deeply invested in knowing things I do not need to know and keeping tracks of activities that have no bearing on my day-to-day life except robbing me of time to contemplate and think and mull things over.  Bah!

I’m grateful to have my computer back. Having a working device in front of me allows me to complete newsletters and send blast emails about meetings I cannot attend because I’m more than six hundred miles away from the meeting spots. So, I’m living vicariously through a device that connects me only to the extent that it enables me to do jobs for which I’m not paid and which I’m doing only because no one else would. Something is wrong with this. Not that I don’t like playing with the computer, but playing because no one else will seems forced. I like tomatoes, too, but would be quite unhappy if I were forced to grow them to feed people who enjoy them but dislike gardening. Am I stream-of-consciousness-spinning-out? I guess so. Tomatoes are so very, very good, though. I might be willing to work as a migrant tomato picker if I were allowed to keep sixty percent of my haul. Probably not for long, though.  I suspect I’d plan a breakout. And thanks to my big mouth and trusting the wrong people, my escape plan would be found out and I’d be put in the “hole” for a week or more with nothing but bread and watercress.

They tell me I should sit down and write, regardless of what I write. Just write, “they” say. They are imaginary beings. They don’t care whether I write or not. They exist only in the minds of wannabe writers who lack discipline, knowledge, language skills, and ideas. “They” are not to be trusted. In fact, they should be captured and shackled to the deck of sinking ship. I once wrote a story that included a scene in which a young man shackled his mother to the deck of a barge that is then set loose on the open sea. That’s not the kind of son a mother wants to have. Nor is he the sort of son a father dreams of, I think. I can’t be sure, though, having never been a father. But I’ve been an uncle. And I can say with certainty it’s nothing an uncle like me wants relatives who would do such horrendous things.

I shall return to the hospital this afternoon for a brief visit with my brother. I still have no sense of when he will be released and where he will go upon his release. I’m still beating the drum for residential rehab, but my drum beat isn’t being heard, I’m afraid.

Enough for now. Maybe more later. Maybe not.

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Puzzling Me

I woke this morning around 3:00 a.m., much earlier than usual. When I’m in my own house, I have no constraints on my movements when I get up so early because I know how to minimize the noise I make around the house. But when I’m a guest I feel compelled to tiptoe with care. I feel a bit like an intruder as I wander around in the dark. Even after I turn on a light, I feel ill at ease, as if I might be “discovered” in places I don’t belong in the wee hours of the morning. Strange that I feel such apprehensions in a house in which I feel so welcome. But that’s just me, an inexplicable oddity who feels out of place even in my own skin at times. It always comes down to the questions for which there are no satisfactory answers: “Who am I, beneath the layers of skin trained to respond ‘just so’ to external stimuli? Absent this lifetime of coaching to which I have been subjected,  who would reside in my head?”

Today, at some point, I’ll go visit my brother in the hospital. If I have unusually good luck, I will talk to the doctor who will decide whether my brother should, when he’s sufficiently healed, go to a residential rehab center or be released to go home. I would argue for the former, inasmuch as his too-early release from his original hospitalization might have been responsible for his malnutrition and dehydration. We shall see.

Aside from the hospital visit, I’m not sure what I’ll do. The iPad on which I’m typing this post is not suited to writing (at least not stream of finger fiction). Perhaps I could go find a neighborhood bar where strangers are viewed with a mixture of distrust and dislike; I could engage the regulars in a spirited discussion about parochial paranoia, leading to fisticuffs. Given my inexperience in hand-to-hand combat, I would end up beaten and bloodied, a bad way to be on a Tuesday. That likelihood, alone, is enough to dissuade me from seeking out a neighborhood bar. I could drive to Katy to take a look at the first house I ever bought, but that would remind me that I lost upward of $17,000 when we sold it…well, that ugly memory has surfaced without a visual reminder, so there’s no value in fighting the traffic to see a tract home built in 1980. Another option might be to search for the Astrodome. I wonder if it’s still standing. As I think about that building, it occurs to me that I don’t care enough to wade through the traffic on the loop, so I shall not do it. If I could take a train, that be another story, but another story would require me to tell it on my blog, where I’m learning to loathe one-finger typing.

My solution: chill. Sit here and meditate or, worst case, sit here and vegetate. I shall consider myself an artichoke and will peel back each of my unappetizing fronds until, finally, I reach what I hope is a delectable heart, flush with emotional nutrients that can fill a thousand pages with hope and life.

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