Miasma

We’re entering a tumultuous season, that time of year in which graphs of daily temperature  variations look like jagged evidence of the stock market reacting to chaotic economic news. It’s hard to dress appropriately when temperatures zig-zag between 38 and 78 degrees. Yes, I know: dress in layers. Sure. Wear your coat into a bank when the air temperature flirts with 80 degrees and you can expect to be wounded by an overly-ambitious security guard. But I’m not here to write about the dangers of Spring season banking. That having been said, I’m not quite sure what I am here to write about. But we’ll soon find out, won’t we? Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. The suspense is what makes writing this so interesting. For me, anyway. For the reader, if there is one, perhaps not.

Back to the weather, an appropriate topic given the onset of “in like a lion” time: it’s dicey of late. One day the chilly morning morphs into an afternoon sauna, accompanied by clear skies and only a hint of a breeze. The next day, angry, roiling clouds spit out brilliant blue bolts of lightning and shake the earth with claps of thunder so powerful that I fear massive oak trees will buckle from the sound waves. Somewhere between the calm and the fierce, sheets of rain wash the yellow pollen—that covers every surface—into streams. But a day later, the pollen has once again hidden cars and outdoor furniture and rock outcroppings. Despite the vacillations in temperature and atmospheric behavior, memory tells me that Spring in Arkansas lasts only as long as it takes for Zeus and Zephryus to toss a celestial coin to see who gets to flip the switch between winter and summer. Spring is short. Summer is long. This year, though, Winter was short, almost non-existent. Except for a week or so when the temperatures dived into the low double digits (maybe the high single digits once or twice), we had no Winter. It was like late Fall, without the leaves. A dull intemperate autumn. I am asking myself why I am capitalizing Fall but not autumn. I have no answer, though I’m sure I could find one if I were sufficiently motivated to find out, which I’m not.

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Several years ago, I managed to seek out and find a childhood friend. He and I had been good friends from second grade until high school, when he moved away. We stayed in touch for awhile, but ultimately we went our own ways. He was more outgoing than I and more inclined to go with the crowd. I found him by searching for his name online. It took longer than I expected it would, given how easy I found it to find others, but I finally found him and managed to get an email address. I sent him a message and said I’d like to call and catch up. He responded a day or two later with his phone number. I called. It was an awkward conversation. I hadn’t seen or talked to him in forty years. I learned that he had gotten married, twice, and that his daughter was attending Baylor. He had moved to the Boston area many years earlier, though I don’t know why he chose Boston. While there, he went to a vocational school of some sort, but didn’t finish. He spent several years working for Circuit City until it closed. He had moved back to Texas several years earlier; when we spoke, he lived in or around Kemah. He was working as an installer of speaker systems and electronics for Best Buy. He told me all of this, but I got the distinct impression he didn’t much want to talk to me. He didn’t ask me many questions. I told him I’d recently retired and was in the process of taking care of post shut-down activities. I don’t think he asked what business I was shutting down. I suggested to him at some point in the conversation that maybe I’d get down to the coast and we could get together to talk about old times. He said he was still working, but if I happened to be down there on an off day, he’d be willing to see if he could fit something into his calendar. It wasn’t really quite like that, but it felt like the message he was sending.  I’ve never bothered to call him back. That was probably five or six years ago.

I suppose I was expecting, or hoping, to rekindle a friendship that, as a kid, seemed strong. But as I reflect back on it, we weren’t really friends. We were “buddies.” We hung around with one another. We didn’t really share much with one another. And the more I thought back about the guy, the more I wondered what possessed me to call him in the first place. We didn’t really drift apart. We split apart. I remember what changed the comfortable relationship between us. I was at my friend’s house with several guys from his sphere of friends, taking advantage of the fact that his parents were out of town. We got our hands on a bunch of beer and drank it. A lot of it. I either passed out or decided I’d had enough and went to sleep in one of the bedrooms. I awoke to my friend and one of his other friends trying to take money out of my wallet. That’s what caused us to “drift” apart.

Forty years later, that incident tucked away just beneath my conscious memory, I called him. Maybe his distance was because he remembered the incident that I’d almost forgotten. Or maybe it was something else. At this stage, it doesn’t matter.  Yet here I am, writing about it. I wonder why?

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My wife and I have been planning to visit some friends who moved away from Hot Springs Village not long ago. They now live more than seven hours away. Our intent is to make it a short visit but we’d like to take advantage of the opportunity to see parts of the country we’ve not seen before—Mississippi, in particular. We’ve been to Mississippi, but only for a single night in Jackson on the way to visit friends in Florida. We’ve not seen Tupelo and Oxford, two cities along the route we’ve decided to take on the way to visit our friends.  In trying to make our plans, we discovered (though we knew already, really) that our calendar is absolutely jam-packed with commitments: dental appointments, committee meetings, church meetings, newsletter deadlines, social events, HVAC service, propane service—it seems endless.  Yet I’m talking about (and planning) to start a business of some kind. Am I out of my mind? We’re retired, yet our calendar seems far more packed that it ever was when we worked. Well, maybe that’s not true. We had a jammed calendar, but none of the social events and committee and church stuff. We could choose to clear the calendar. But that would result in social isolation.  You know, the way we used to live our lives.  I’m stunned, though, that we’re finding it so damn hard to find time to get away for a few days. We’ll find a way to fit it all in, though I wonder whether I have filled my time with too many commitments. When we first moved here, people said to us, “You’re going to have to learn to say ‘no’ to people who want you to volunteer.” I thought that was a bit dramatic. But it’s true. I’ll learn.

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The only store at a the only marina on the largest lake in Hot Springs Village burned to the ground night before last. I have no idea what caused the fire, but it’s evidence the place is a complete loss. A couple bought the marina and store several months ago and, as I understand it, have invested quite a bit of time, energy, and money in renovating the place. Someone—a friend, I assume—started a gofundme campaign to raise $10,000 for the couple. The campaign creator said the couple is insured, but insurance would not cover all the losses.  Someone posted a link to the campaign on a public message board on Facebook. Immediately, two responses were posted, suggesting the couple were either: 1) inept because they did not have sufficient insurance or 2) were trying to profit from the loss, because insurance would cover their losses, including loss of income…and that if they didn’t have that kind of insurance coverage, perhaps they were incompetent and basically deserved to lose their business. I can barely control my anger at the utter lack of empathy and compassion demonstrated by the posters. I know absolutely NOTHING about the couple’s financial situation, how much or how little insurance they might have, or what they may be facing as they deal with the shock of the fire and their loss. But I surely can appreciate that, in the short term, help in the form of cash from a few hundred people who benefit from the marina’s existence  would be appreciated and appropriate. Sometimes I feel that large swaths of the population have been taught that empathy and compassion are signs of weakness and that people who need help are losers and moochers. And my blood boils and all my attempts to internalize the belief in “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” vaporize into clouds of unbridled rage and passionate hatred. I suspect that’s not particularly good for my already high blood pressure.  Chill. Chill, John, chill.

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I’ve written far too much for far too long this morning. My writing seems to be in lieu of understanding. That’s precisely what I did NOT want to accomplish this morning. Off to conquer the remains of the day.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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