Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Looking For The Wall

I was captured by this photo of a young man working with his family on facial improvements to their abode so I had to seek it out. The young man is the son of a former work associate who posted the projected on social media and with such interest, I decided to explore the construction site.

Not knowing the address but noticing the familiarity of the neighborhood, I wandered around the Museum district after my morning ride. Checking the side streets and avoiding the morning traffic, I ventured into neighborhoods not associated in my childhood due to being across the tracks, but in later years became aware that many girls lived in the area. A mix of single family housing and duplexes and apartment complexes line the street with small front yards and mixture of brick, wood, and shingles. Transients mixed with families some new and some established make up the neighborhood.

While I searched the placed I thought would produce the quest, I failed. Perhaps the photos posted online were at a different place unfamiliar to me, so I went back to the electronic posting to check landmarks. There had to be something that would show me the location.

There was a blue house. I had not seen a blue house so perhaps I had journeyed to a different place at a different time. I noted the sidewalks and post on the porches and then....there it was. An address was there above the dirt and shovels and canopy.

So, like a detective mystery, I knew an address but not a street.

The weather report called for rain, so I wondered about taking another venture, yet the mystery drew me in. A chill in the air but no water dropping from the sky did not hold me back. A few miles to get into gear and onto the exploration.

So up and down the back streets again I traveled seeking the golden quest of the wall built by a family preserving their property and making a creative statement in the surrounding grounds and staking a claim to the identity of their living area.

With an address in mind, I eliminated much of my previous path to investigate unknown sites and sounds. Remembering the site had heavy machinery around, I turned to a street I had bypassed before.

There it was! Behind plastic detour signs and heavy machinery and men standing in reflective yellow vest and hard hats, was the WALL.

Due to passing traffic limited to one land and huge men sitting on it, I could immediately appreciate the craftsmanship, but I had found it.

There was the WALL.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Smoking With The Chicken

There she was, walking across the immense room in her fluffy white dress all gleaming in make up and scents from foreign lands. My palms were damp with anticipation. I stammered as she smiled then turned to her parents sitting at the bar beaming over their cocktails.

Was I doing the right thing? This is what everyone else in the room was doing. This is why I was brought to the country club. I was to learn to practice the mannerisms of a class I didn’t know.

After much practice, I learned it was easy to play the part, but it didn’t feel comfortable. The words flowed but the inner tension warned me this was not meant to be.

The privilege ones, those who have the money and positions to inspire others to follow, with famous names and fancy houses and tainted culture with designer labeled clothing stress more about the red carpet walk than anyone will ever recognize. For they will always have to live up to the next demand or spirit or calling while constantly smiling showing all is under control.

Today, we call these “celebs” for they are the ones who create trends the masses follow and if enough of the masses follow, then it changes the culture. The privileged ones will strain to lead but only want to conform.

And if the masses majority believes or desires or follows the whims of the celebs then they will change human events. The majority always rules.

Why not? The majority makes the laws the rest of us abide by, they manufacture the trends we all consume, and like lemmings, we follow whatever everyone else does.

Only if there is a more charismatic privileged member of the society to distract the attention or a more powerful group that can change by force, the majority will continue to work, sleep, buy, eat, and believe whatever is presented to them.

But there are a few, who will not listen to the words or understand there is little they can do revolt against the tide of sameness or perhaps are not or don’t care to be affected by the chatter. It is said this minority follows a different drummer. Some say there is an unknown mental disorder causing them not to join. Some believe they see the daily drudgery as an adventure rather than toil.

Watching from the sidelines, I become amused by all of this for I’m just smoking with the chicken.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Uncle Billy

Did he go fishing barefoot? Did he play football or was just a water boy or maybe was a star pitcher with a super fastball? Did he excel in school? Was he a bully? Was he a momma’s boy? Did he beat up his brother or did he mentor him? Was he interested in music? Did he meet that sweet girl down the street and have indecent liberties with her in the backseat of his roadster? Did he ask her father for her hand? Did he follow his father’s instructions or was he a rebel? Could he cook? Could he write? Was he successful in business or just a wanderer? Did he get married? Did he have children who would be or would have been my cousins? Did he shave with a straight razor or an electric? Did he use the same aftershave as his brother? When did he leave home? Why did he leave home? Did he ever return? What did his father tell his brother about him? What did he present to or take away from the family dynamic? Did he ever go to jail? Was he healthy or sick? Did he work with wood crafting? Did he repair his car? What size shoe did he wear? Did he ever buy a house? Was he ever in Europe? Was he overwhelmed by his brother’s semi-fame? Did he die young or was he just forgotten by his brother? Were there troubles between brothers? Did he owe money? Did he slam the door to the family name? Did he embarrass himself? Did he work in a small grocery store? Did he fit shoes? Did he drink? Did he smoke? Did he have an affair? Could he swim? Did he find love?

We all have an Uncle Billy; that guy in a photo that is described by a name written by someone’s hand on the back of a photo but without a familiar face.

I never knew my Uncle Billy.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Gathering

People gather for many reasons. Gatherings of family or friends, gathering for business networking, gatherings for people of like-minded faith or interest, even gatherings of strangers to partake in performances all happen every day. There is an entire industry formed around coordinating gatherings.

Yesterday one of those gatherings took place on a boulevard that this sleepy town wants to revitalize. Near the railroad tracks and the baseball stands sits a converted building with frosted glass windows and a large red art nouveau mural. The two-year old restaurant invited the patrons to a large well-lit room with wooden booths lining one wall, black sofas next to the windows and a small bar. A few scattered tables had been arranged for our gathering.

Already seated were a few of the people I had worked with, some for years, some less. After a welcoming greeting and settling in, others joined us at the tables.

The faces were the same as I remembered, but the body language said volumes. These people I knew by way of sales. They sold messages, hopes, dreams and I manufactured.

Curious as always to listen to the conversations of people who have not been present in your life for over two years, the time was spent on “catching up”.

“What are you doing now?” “How are the kids?” “Have you seen..?” were most of the topics as we awkwardly fumbled with our menus. The pierced waitress who left her personality at home hovered trying to get our attention and take our orders as if her time was in demand by the emptiness that surrounded us.
One of the colleagues who I had not seen for over a decade regaled tales of his first boss still fuming over times long since gone.

After fulfilling the waitresses’ constant request, we all shared pleasantries and dined on adequate cuisine.
Without a master of ceremonies to organize our conversations, the main topic quickly became remembrances of working together. Some were funny and some sad, but everyone was smiling, at least now. Perhaps that was an indication of the present being better than the pass?

An interesting dynamic did take place, which I note now. The “girls” gathered at one end of the tables while the “boys” gathered at the other end. True, this gathering was not arranged to network or speed date, but I was amused by the customary separation. It reminded me of junior high school when dances were held in basketball courts and boys hugged on wall while across the wood floors girls hugged the far sidewall. It is a tendency seen too often and shows how far we have come.

As the clock ticked on, one-by-one each participant in this event gave hugs and “Good byes” to wander back to their cubicles and electronic communications. No massive revelations or bar room brawls, just pleasant small talk with old compatriots.

A few stayed who were not on-the-clock for another round and more enticing stories, yet even that ended.

As I sat alone in this empty room, finishing up my refreshment and preparing for my journey home I contemplated what had just occurred. We had gathered by notification of social networking for a meal and lights stories. We didn’t change world events or discover medical miracles or even conglomerate ideas for the next great American novel. We gathered just to enjoy each others company, even if so briefly. No one forced us to gather, but we volunteered some time out of our day to just be together.

“Thank you” I said to the owner and waitress sitting silently in the empty room. I will probably never come here again.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Putting God on the speed dial

It is a remarkable place we live on.

I'm not a member of any faith based organization or club. I don't have anything against those who want to gather to study and discuss their personal feelings, I just have a different sence of what fulfills me.

While I wander the same paths everyday, I see in amazement everyday something new is happening.

No more so than Spring.

Shaking off the cold and damp feeling of winter with it's dark clouds and sheltered feeling, the sun appears and warms the air. The stark silhouettes of bare branches soften with a fuzz.

The ground breaks the ice and steely gray with stalks of green. They just appear. No one dug then and place them there, they just start like an alarm has gone off.

Then with a pallet no artist could imagine, the landscape is full of color swaying in warm breezes. Those breezes that you want to hold inside as long as possible.

And the air is filled with music. Happy sounds of the creatures who have been asleep or away for such a time reappearing to welcome the season.

And walking is more than taking a hike. The paths seems soft after a spring rain like a foretelling of the cushion of green about to carpet our way.

Watching a kitten jump and run after the first insect in pure innocence then wondering if the bug is a fearful prey or just flying about knowing it is out of reach and much to fast.

So say goodbye to the cold and dark of winter and step out into the sunshine.

That's putting God on your speed dial.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Way I See It

Retirement is meant to be the time to relax and reflect, as free as a child, without a care in the world. At least that is the ideal.
So if you were smart and started saving at say the age of two, or created Office software, or married a sheik from an oil rich nation; you might be able to do all that stuff that was in Life Training 101. You know, all that stuff about when you retire you will travel abroad, dine at fine restaurants, go to Broadway shows, constantly buy stuff for your grand kids, and watch the sun set in bathtubs.
How did that entire notion start anyway? It seems like when we old folks got to a certain age, we couldn’t work in the fields, so we sat on the porch and watched the young men go off to raise the crops and tend the soil or go to the factories to manufacture shiny appliances that everyone had to have. Us old folk just sat back in our rocking chairs and were taken care of by the women folk until we became too ill and bedridden then croaked.
It wasn’t that bad to be retired. We could tell stories to the young ones, got to sit at the head of the table and got the respect in accordance of our age.
And the ideal for retirement changed. The brochure showed s in warm climates, wearing outlandish 20 year od out of fashion clothing, playing golf and shuffleboard all day, dancing into the evening hours, laughing over remembrances with umbrella drinks, and overall having a great time.
Of course we all saved up enough to live this life style.
But what happens if there is a recession? What happens when the 401k turns into a 201k? Do we continue to work until the stress of trying to keep up without the respect of years of experience ruin our health? What good is that?
Staycation is what retirement is all about. After the travel and adventures and family gatherings, you come home and spend 24/7 with yourself (and your significant other, if that happens) and the days are spent grocery shopping and checking out the prices of a can of beans and toilet paper. Entertainment becomes the talking heads in the morning and the silliness of babe judges, big haired cooks, or show biz doctors giving out advice interrupted by lawyers trying to save your suffering. After several drinks and way too much junk food, retirement sinks away into boring reality television interspaced with cops and lawyers and explosions and then the eleven o’clock news wrap up.
Don’t worry your family has plans for you. When you fall and can’t get up or forget the water is boiling, they will put you in a wonderful environment with a room with a bed and dresser with perhaps a few combs and cups and napkins and a picture of a long ago time. Your day will be regimented by constant meals provided by an uncaring staff to break the boredom of watching television then scuffling back to your cell.
The way I see it, there are 24 hours in a day. No matter if you are rich or poor that is all the time there is. How we use it is the key.
When work becomes more than a monetary issue and starts to affect your well being, then it is time to retire. Sometimes an organization can assist you in this endeavor, but work should not last until you drop.
Retirement should be more than a pat on the back and a gold watch. You’ve spent years working long hours missing children’s parties and late night suppers for someone else for whatever coins they will allow you to earn.
Remember the time before you had to work? That was the care free time of your youth; when the 24 hours were yours to explore at your own pace. This is what retirement should be.
Put away the responsibilities of the daily grind and have fun. Do something special for yourself, because this journey is not endless and the chapters are closing.
You can start something new. Pick up a wish you have left so long ago, and refresh it. Learn a new language or study the arts or practice music. If you really want to be creative, leave the comfort of your reserve and move to another country. Then you will be overwhelmed with new cultures, food, traditions and keeping life exciting.
It doesn’t have to be that drastic. For with the 24 hours which are all yours now, you can take the time to appreciate your surroundings. Instead of the drudgery of cutting the grass like everyone else, you can plant a flower garden and watch nature interact. It is wonderful entertainment and it is FREE!
You now have time to write the Greatest American Novel that no one else will read. You can paint a masterpiece or score a musical for your own gratification.
If you relish this concept, you will learn to enjoy the little girl in her pink hooded parka and rubber boots wading in a spring puddle with her father. You can embrace the sunshine. A smile by a passing jogger will warm your spirit and the laughter of children will make you smile. A new appreciation of the seasonal changes will amaze you.
And the best part is? All those electronic gadgets which monitor our every moment and demand our constant attention can be turned off.
Of course tomorrow the earth could open up and swallow you or a meteor could crash down on your house or small green vipers could crawl up into your bed while you sleep….. but if you think of these thing you will toss and turn all night.
Sweet dreams.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

When Time Changes

The morning woke to the annoying sound of power tools all dusty and rusty yet needed to be turned on to trim the few sprigs of green. Unwrapping the scattered sheets, pillows, and blankets, I rise to view the light. Can not tell what time it is and it doesn’t matter because time changed early this morning. In the dark time, it was if the earth stopped and moved backward for an hour.
Making a rousing cup of coffee, pouring unmeasured amounts of powered fake sweetener, and powered white stuff supposedly made from some kind of dairy product, with the dark granules that would color the hot water and create the bitter taste similar to brewed without stirring, I stared at the Atomic clocks. Several are scattered around the house and the time is different on each. So what time is it? I turn on the television which schedule matches one of the clocks, but it doesn’t matter.
Looking around at the overturned cups, ragged up paper napkins and spots of unknown liquid puddles on the floor, it must have been quite a party I thought. Even with age and the lesson taught, the stamina could not keep up with the ones who are young and rebellious and now feeling the results of too much for so long I was somewhat foggy.
Deciding the time was right, I strapped on my ratty jeans and dirty boots without waking anyone. Checking the rooms to make sure no electrical appliances were left on I put on my blue nylon jacket and tied my hair up in a daily ritual all too common.
Into the air, taking a deep breathe of what would become spring, I paused for a moment to enjoy the buds on the thin branches while listening to the neighbors talk about their dogs and yard work plans to spend the time in the sunshine. Walking down the uneven walkway bidding a morning welcome to my yard bunny, arranging the order of transportation on a rug of brown pine needles, I pause again to take in the coming growth burst that will provide shade and shelter during the heat of summer.
A quick walk to the pavement enjoying the wispy clouds like no painter could copy knowing they will soon be blown away, I started by journey on familiar trails yet this time it was different.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Listen to Your Parents

Sure, I know, that is the oldest statement in the world, and we never did.

I mean “Why”?

These old folks don’t get it.

Sure, they fed us (the worse stuff like vegetables and meatloaf) and put cloths on our backs (though they usually are horrid and don’t fit) and put a roof over our heads (or at least a room) but they also make us go to school and church and family gatherings with a bunch of strangers.

These old folks don’t understand our music or our need to stay out all night or ramble about instead of doing homework or taking out the trash. I mean what do mom and day know. They were from like forever ago back before there were 50 states or color television.

But thinking about it, maybe they knew more than we gave them credit for?

Look there was always heat and clean covers on the bed. By some miracle the dirty cloths were taken out of the closet and made clean and pressed. There was always money in the wallet to be swiped and never punished. They even took a positive spin on teacher conferences when the grades were failing but they took away that you had potential.

So maybe, they did teach you some values and moral fortitude to make your life better than theirs was. But, you didn’t know anything about their lives. It was never brought up and when it was you didn’t want to listen. You didn’t want to know anything about the old times.

And now….. The old times are yours.

Sure this is sort of reminiscing, but the point is to pay attention. When your parents stopped being children and created you, they settled down and got jobs and a mortgage and debt and new cars and cut the grass and join the church and got haircuts and new shoes every year and decorated for Christmas and made a fuss over birthdays with photos in the Sunday best squinting against the sun and joined the club and impressed everyone with all the silver while remembering better times given up for you.

And then what?

How do we repay them for all their sacrifices?

Well, you have moved out and maybe far away, so the day-to-day chatter is gone. You have a busy life with your own family and mortgage and debt and new cars and cutting the grass and getting fashionable hair dos and fancy shoes and celebrating Christmas with friends and raising the cheer during the game with members of your club and impressing clients and friends with your latest purchase without a thought about your parents.

Oh, I know what you are saying; you are being to hard on how we live our lives. For our parents did the same thing, right? They moved away from home and left their parents behind.

As families form from children growing up, the parents must accept separation and that is all part of the plan.

But when mom and dad get old, are you listening.

What do they want? Sure they want good health and enough money to live on and communication with close friends, but are we listening?

My mother used to carry around pieces of tissues in her apron. I never understood what was so important about saving these scraps of paper, but there were drawers full of tissues, some holding treasures, some just balled up and stuff in a spot for later reference. Perhaps, as my brother reminded me, a leftover from the depression where any possession was cherished. I just thought it was an annoying hording trait that I found far to familiar.

So I found a place for her where the grass would be cut and the shoes would be replaced and the food put on the table and the heat came on in the winter and the lights worked and there was enough space for the television and coffee cups and combs and drawers that could be stuffed with tissues then went on with my life.

So as we reflect back on our own lives, we realize all our parents wanted was dignity of life, the respect of others, and just like the rest of us, to have a good time.
Are you listening?

The comfort of familiarity in their surroundings can be changed in an instant. What our parents strive to achieve for so many years can be taken away and never replaced, even though the action seems like the right thing to do.

Like deciding to throw away old family photos of people who never existed in your mind may be easy but our children will delete the ones we post on our websites.

And is it a reason to live as long as possible in a chair in front of a television watching an endless line of commentaries on what you should drive, eat, or wear when you have no interest while awaiting the next meal?

Is this the quality of life?

And at the end of the journey called “life”, do we really want to give all our money and worldly possessions to some corporation that fills us with chemistry and punctures us with fluids and straps us down with tubes as the visual media becomes our baby sitter losing all control over our daily decisions and poop in our pants?

Got to get these torn paper towels out of my pocket.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What were we talking about?

Oh yeah, I remember.


That’s what we were talking about. Why would we talk about anything else?

“ME” am what I bring to a conversation. It’s the only subject I know because “ME” is all I know.

Sure, projections and perceptions may present the appearance of someone, but there is only one of ME.

If we start the conversation off with “How are you?” or “How have you been?” to are asking ME to answer the question.

YOU may not like or understand or even care about an answer, but it is an easy come-on to start a conversation.

Then when the conversation gets a little more personable about “How is the family?” or “How is work?” or “How is your love life?” the question comes to “How much do you really want (or need) to know?” or “Do I tell YOU about ME?

Then again, when the subject shifts to YOU and your health, wealth, and life experiences YOU wish to share, all I can reply is what has happened that was similar to ME.

This is what I think about that” or “This is what happened to me in a similar situation” or “I think…..” is all I’ve got. ME don’t know anything else.

If I respond, “Yeah” or “Sure” or just grunt, then we are married.

Sometimes the conversation is asking for advice due to the other persons experiences or qualities of expertise.

Sometimes the conversation is merely mining for information that will be dissected at a later time with another.

So I ask “ME” the ultimate question: “What do I say?

Do I tell what I really think or feel?

Do I tell the other person what they expect or want to hear?

Do I tell the truth? Really??

Can the other person comprehend the truth without the experience to apply the theory of dynamic reasoning to the abstract knowledge laid out on the table before them?

So the next time you ask me, “What do you think?beware!

I might answer.