Monday, October 31, 2011

Under Two Flags

In the Capitol of the Confederacy, I was part of an outdoor activity celebrating the Civil War centennial. The play called “Richmond Under Two Flags” was presented at an outdoor arena sculptured into the ground in semi-round layers using a clamshell background to reflect the sound. There were no tickets or seats, so city residents sat on the grassy plans spreading blankets or lawn chairs.

I forgot how I got conned into participating, since I had not been trained as a thespian but remember hours spent at Pine Camp (a recreational facility on north side behind John Marshall High School) listening to scripts read over and over again. Night after night the cast with speaking rolls would go over their lines until they were memorized including all those in the room.

The casting call seemed to have parts for all the adults who wanted to perform to an audience of their neighbors and families while the others of us filled voids. My role was to be a “Young Man of Richmond”. That meant I was to run around on stage in one scene as a confederate soldier then change into fake blood splattered rags to return as a wounded warrior only to change again to a collarless shirt and wool coat to portray the evacuation of the city as it burnt.

After weeks of listening to the same lines every night, we were moved to the site for dry run rehearsals. Lighting and sound and our entire running around were directed and redirected until each step became routine.

Finally it was dress rehearsal time. Behind the clamshell were two rooms (one for men and one for women) to prepare their costumes and make up if needed. We ran through our paces in the mosquito filled summer air blinded by spotlights with no music or sound except the small group at the front of the stage prompting the moves of the sweating mass. In the mist on the rustic stage it seemed like utter confusion but I guess it looked different in the audience.

Being a teenage boy, I found a couple of girls about my age and began to flirt. The girls were typical of their age whispering to each other and giggling while fluttering their doe eyes. This was an excellent way to pass the time between scenes. I would take my guitar to rehearsals and play folk songs to impress the girls. To keep with the theme of the night I even played spirituals.

After the last performance, the lights were dimmed, the stage crew took down the settings, and the cast hung up their costumes and gathered one last time for the curtain call.

This presentation was the last event of fours years celebrating my hometown being the Capitol of states who tried and failed to separate from the rest of the republic for a variety of reasons. There were stars and bars Confederate flags flying all over town, parades with the last of the gray soldiers being driven around in convertibles, and marching bands playing “Dixie”. Even a dome building was constructed for displays and exhibits showing how it was really a lost cause.

I never figured out why we celebrated losing a war, but was told it was just the time of un-pleasantries and the South would rise again.

But that was 50 years ago.

I don’t remember the girls’ names. I remember they were going to go to a different high school so we lost track of each other quickly.

Without a monetary gain or fame, the experience is favorability etched in my mind.

History of Halloween

Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (pronounced "sah-win"). 
The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. Samhain was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter.

The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.

The festival would frequently involve bonfires. It is believed that the fires attracted insects to the area, which attracted bats to the area.

Masks and consumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them.

In Ohio, Iowa, and Massachusetts, the night designated for Trick-or-treating is often referred to as Beggars Night.

Trick or Treat

The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages, and includes Christmas wassailing.

Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of "souling," when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2).

It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering, whining], like a beggar at Hallowmas."

The earliest known reference to ritual begging on Halloween in English speaking North America occurs in 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario, reported that it was normal for the smaller children to go street guising (see below) on Halloween between 6 and 7 p.m., visiting shops and neighbors to be rewarded with nuts and candies for their rhymes and songs.

Early national attention to trick-or-treating was given in October 1947 issues of the children's magazines “Jack and Jill” and “Children's Activities”, and by Halloween episodes of the network radio programs “The Baby Snooks Show” in 1946 and “The Jack Benny Show” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” in 1948. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon “Trick or Treat” and UNICEF first conducted a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating.


It must have been a fairly poor year in our household for this fall celebration. A ripped shirt, pants that were too short, a plastic mask and a straw hat my parents had brought back from a convention they attended down in Florida.

If I had answered the door and seen this, I would be fearful too. I’d give any amount of candy to rid myself of this creature on my porch.
My mother used to say I like the season of Halloween more than any other holiday, but I don’t remember it that way.

What I do remember is in high school and even in college; I turned the table around on the holiday in a rebellious activity called “Treat-or-Trick”.

Gather a group of people, fill grocery bags with candy, go to a neighbor’s house, ring the bell, and when they open the door, announce yourself by a cry of “Treat-or-Trick” and hand the surprised occupant candy from your bag. Offer a quick smile and brief happy song then walk away with a wave.

While this seems a silly action on a night for children, it does give a new meaning to the holiday tradition and a variance to the ritual of handing out candy to obese greedy rug-rats.

*Note: The only problem with this “Treat-to-Trick” process is that the homeowners expecting small children coming to their door in an innocent family tradition only to find adults handing out questionable treats usually call the police, so the activity will only last for a few houses.

What is the next holiday I can dress up?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Beach Bum

Had to put on some Beach Boys to get in the mood for this, so if I start singing “In My Room” forgive me.
With all the talk recently about the 1% of the rich against the 99% of the have-nots with protest and debates and blogs and comments in social network, I look at the financial rewards I have made through the years and wonder.

So there are a few rich people who have made a lot of money in whatever endeavor they pursued after school years. Some worked hard and climbed the ladder obeying the corporate laws and using their innovative skills to use the ins and outs of the business world to make a fortune. Others use their youth to grab the gold ring with sport skills until injury shortens a flash of fame. Some create their own celebrity in order to proclaim their importance. Fame is thrust upon some for their ability to create writings, paintings, entertainment shows and less so, intellectual findings.

Look around your surroundings and contemplate the wealth of your life on this planet. All the riches that give vindication of life shown to others with envy reflect on our self worth.

And yet we look at the great wealth of someone else and think they are getting away with something and should be punished for flaunting the opulent excess.

Indulging into purchasing items no one else could ever purchase, the 1% is also attacked by the paparazzi who want to capture their every move, hounded by every foundation and charity that pleads for assistance, and overwhelmed by entrepreneurs who show their wears and good hoping to get a marketing deal.

Do we really need the golden beds and marbled floors and multiple homes and fish eggs to be happy?

So I get to what I really wanted to discuss: being a Beach Bum!

If you look back at your youth, with little change in your pocket and few worldly possessions, life was simple and wonderful. The most important factor of your life was being around friends, sharing ideas, music and laughter. Discussions and debates of world events shaped the being without costing a penny.

In the recesses of the mind are thoughts of living on the beach, surfing or water skiing or sailing with buddies at the break of dawn then stacking shelves at the local drug store or sweeping barroom floors to get enough change to buy some cheap beer, bread and cheese to share around a fire and playing music until exhaustion took over.
So many names are gone, but at the time nothing else mattered.

Only later did we all get sucked into the consumption spiral of having more money that we needed for essentials only to squander it on material goods that television, radio, newspaper, billboards, and movies told use we must purchase and acquire to become popular.

The gold watch, the fast car, the big house, the fancy suit are bought only to find a new fashion hit the market ten minutes later.
What creates our desire to be the 1%?
The beach bum doesn’t care.

The pants might has a hole in the leg, or the shirt is a little dirty with yesterday’s lunch, the dust bunny running across the floor is caught in spider webs, and for dinner a cold can of beans is fine.

So maybe if we didn’t worry about envy and only care about what makes us happy, we can find peace in our lives.

I know, so many are saying we must survive, but at what level. Will the gold facets on the bathtub make us any cleaner? Will having a private jet exclude us from the adventure of traveling with others? Will having a yacht with all it’s maintenance and upkeep make it worth a few parties to impress others that don’t care who you are but just want to mooch your money.

I can’t decide for you, but I’ve found the beach bum was right for me.

Gotta go, surfs up!


Last week a strange thing happened.

Sitting with a few friends in a booth at one of the local watering holes, a young blond in a blue dress walked up and said she had been watching us and wished she could join us because she thought we were having fun.

Now get this in perspective.

This woman looked young enough to be a daughter or even a grand daughter but she was smiling and laughing with us ole guys so we appreciated the attention.

Our reactions were interesting if not telling of our personalities at meeting a beautiful stranger.

One went into suave quiet mode like a James Bond character all subtle and demure with his statements while another one went into an open freewheeling mode inviting the attention with smiles and welcoming statements and gestures, both forgetting for the moment they were married.

Me? Well I did what I normally do.

I became obnoxious.

Not harmful or hateful or even loathsome obnoxious, just silly obnoxious.

A slap-stick Jerry Lewis obnoxious, drop a French fry in a beer glass (which she quickly retrieved) obnoxious, a laughing silliness kind of obnoxious

At the brief moment in time, I did not think anything about it as she parted and we continued our conversations and adult beverage drinking.

Only later did I ponder our reactions and realize I’ve been obnoxious for years.

A lack of confidence and self-esteem seems to have formed this behavior over the years. Reviewing my past, I realize this has been my presentation to the world, especially when the unknown is there.

When approached by the informal, we put up a facade to protect our inner self.

It takes us off our usual path and reactions to a scary surprise of our deepest emotions.

These are not ingrained traits born with us, but a survival reaction learned through our childhood. With continuous education and exposure to the world around us, we fall back into a safe mode maybe even a fetal position to cope with change.

So we create methods to cope with the barrage of information and emotions invading our security.

Some have the perfect hair-do while others have a shiny car or a new suit or perhaps the wisdom of studying in class or a famous family name or the possibility of attending a country club dance or massive amounts of money to attract the opposite gender.

For the rest of us, we struggle to get some attention from the fairer sex with whatever means are available.

So if we don’t have the perfect hair or shiny car or family lineage or massive wealth, we make up for our lack with whatever we can concoct to attract attention.

For me it was being obnoxious.

It worked for the Beatles and the Monkees who made a short career of being wild and crazy characters that if you saw them on the street, you would walk away trying to avoid their obvious obnoxious behavior.
But that is what attracted the young girls of the time.

Some called it charm or charisma, but they were just being obnoxious.

So I learned this trait, throwing away years of polite style and grace and indicate and proper training.

And does it do me any good?

Well, I seem to gravitate toward those who make a fuss, the movers and shakers and innovators who don’t seem to be restricted by societies restrictions.

So if you see someone in the room, loud and obnoxious, just smile and respect their effort for seeking contact with the outside world.

PS: Is that Sir Paul?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Wanna Be Free


We all proclaim to want to be free, but do we really.

We all come into this world free, but not for long.

Immediately we are forced to feed at a certain time and wrapped in a cloth that will collect our poop that may at some point be replaced.

As we grow up through life we take orders, work schedules, wake up and go to sleep at specific times, buy items we really don’t want only to look like we are associated with the surroundings, attend ceremonies binding us to others, procreate in our early lives to match our neighbors, complain about the restrictions of our companions, then get old losing our ability to enjoy our freedom.

Maybe we don’t really want to be free?

Otherwise, we would all run around like children in a park, without a care, full of laughter and joy.

Don’t let the butterfly get away.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Walking With Strangers

Interesting day yesterday as a gathering of old college buddies got together at a local watering hole.

Coming from far away places, they took some of their time to travel just for the reason of each others company.

Reconnected by e-mail after years of marriages, children, careers, and the usual life adversities and rewards, we met in the wooden booths to hugs and smiles accustomed to old friends.

Yet, we are all strangers to each other.

There has been a few emails discussing past shared experiences and links to current artwork, but now we were face-to-face.

Exchanging pleasantries, we settled in for discovering who we were 40 years ago and present to one another, what we think we are now.

Laughter and smiles, breakfast and lunch, quick rotation of tales were shared in a noisy room.

The plan was to wander back through time and visit the school that brought us together so long ago.

Instead of a packed auto, we decided to walk the perfect sunny fall day. The houses we passed have new families, redesigned interiors, and a few paint jobs, but they were the same as we passed back then.

Then we were there. The cameras came out and building that replaced old sites that were digitally captured. Standing in front of doorways where old brownstones were used for sheltering us during our growing up period. “My roommate from 928” became a motto during our wandering.

Three country boys sharing tales of high school and coming to the big city, the city I grew up in.

By now a familiar ease had overcome us. A passing group was asked to take one of the cameras to capture this motley crew, then the other. Joking and kidding like a group of schoolboys in the sunshine, we talked to students passing by without any consequences to grades or disciplinary action.

The stories turned to trying to remember names and showing places where we did what was the most important part of our life education, finding girls.

A quick pit stop in a side coffee shop converted from a bookstore or head shop or perhaps a carriage house introduced some of the gang to a booth full of young ladies. Surprisingly we seem to be attracting some attention from the young.

Pointing out some of the locations and their newly adapted conversions, I become a tour guide. A demonstration is going on in Monroe Park, a parent’s day is in progress, and the school and the city combine in its usual rhythm.

The view of our old school constant construction and expanding is interrupted by predetermined requirements, so the journey turns back to our predestined meeting point. All along the return trip new wonders and old memories flooded every sense along with continued conversation and revelations.

A few more hand shakes and hugs, two final goodbyes, then to kill some more time before the last Amigo had to make his second engagement, we returned for some more libations and tales. Enjoying the eye candy, my booth mate seemed to know every woman in my town from passing waitress to other diners. He reveled in his accomplishments during our youth, probably not knowing we all wandered down that path due to the atmosphere of the time, but stopping to talk to some young ladies before reaching the door, he did seem to have an attraction that most of us do not utilize.

A quick trip to Puppywoods to prepared for his social commitment; the last stranger is introduced to the inner sanctuary and music trends that may entice him to partner some ideas. The seed is planted.

Bid adieu to last visitor and return to the new/old world. A fun reminder of the past time when we were young and were thrown into an institution to combine ideas with strangers and become educated with strangers was over.

It will be back to sending links and photos and emails to stay in contact with these few that I remember from college. Enjoying the time and conversation and fellowship with my fellow mate, they are still strangers to me.

So ends the day of walking with strangers, yet very few know us, including our spouses. Even the ones we share our identities with, know so little about us.

The only one who really knows me… is...?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Going to the Grocery Store

It is a daily occurrence for me to strap up the bags and pedal to the grocery store. It is only a mile and a half, one-way, and mostly downhill. I’ve found a weaving path through the neighborhood and though I do not speak to the households I pass, they call out sometimes to the “Coors Man” or the “Silver Bullet” so I’m sure they recognize me by my prize.
Once at the building that was once a JC Penney offering clothing like my last suit or lawnmower that I tried to latch on the back of the bike, but it was too heavy, so I hid it in the trees and went home and got a cart and walked back to drag it home an hour later, I lock up and observe the other participants in this adventure as I strip away my gloves and brain bucket before pulling out my recycle bag to get 5¢ discount for just bringing it.
The carts have gotten smaller and easier to handle, but I do not wipe them down with the available alcohol wipes for if I am going to die, it will probably be from one of the group who shop for food and stuffy here. Although I’ve been un-ill for several years by avoiding the general public (especially the little germ factories) I feel my immune system has learned to cope with the sneezing and coughing and other methods of spreading their plague.
So I pass the opening doors to the produce section, usually crowded with elderly women who barely made it passed the door to talk to each other as if they had not seen one-another from the parking lot or the adjacent condo building a few yards away.
Even thought people in blue shirts pushing carts over-stacked with boxes of fruit and veggies, constantly stacking and restocking carrots and tomatoes and celery and lots of other green things, I wonder of the freshness. The mist sprinklers do not reassure me that if I touch a green pepper, that I am guaranteed it is as good meaning tasty without poisoning me as I can get.
I may pick up some carrots or broccoli or cauliflower and dip, a few tomatoes and some leafy stuff in a bag, but I quickly move past the produce, only to stop to pick up a bag of unsalted peanuts for the critter crewe.
Passing by the bakery that does not interest me except for multi-grain slices used for sandwich, I move to the “deli” section.
Here people in hairnets offer sushi, sandwiches, crappy chicken but none of it is appealing. The latest box lunch section only offers badly cooked chicken, collard greens, and mac and cheese most unappetizing. Sneezing blue shirts in their preparation area and the elderly partaking of the sample bins for their lunch chases me away.
Weaving between the red headed flower witch and the mothers looking at the bloody animals, I roll down to the canned products.
There is a expiration date to each prepared and processed foods in cans, but I never check. As long as the can is not bent, I pick up the first line and thrown it in the cart. Red beans, black beans, chic peas all make the cart. I know they are full of sodium but I also never look at the nutrition breakdown. I know enough about ingredients that if I examined, I would never eat.
Next stop the fruit aisle. Another row of cans marked with produce I had already passed in the “fresh” section, but these are fruit prepared in some kind of sweet water or sauce and sealed. There must be some long gone theory in my brain that they will still be eatable. Perhaps it was all the can goods we stored in our utility room growing up. Perhaps it is the fact that buying fresh produce for one will mean that much of it will go bad before being thrown away.
Fruit is now used as dessert, since there is no sweet tooth for cookies or cakes or pies, though I splurge on my birthday for a cupcake and ice cream and during the winter will get some peanut butter cookies or an apple pie, but then the taste for that is gone and the desires ends.
The long row of cereals offering sugar and cartoon characters in half filled boxes also requires buying milk which is just too much trouble and space in the little refrigerator. Dried oatmeal will last through the winter and fade in the heat of the summer.
Coffee, creamer, green tea, and fake sugar are staples but few spices make the cart. The blue shirt stacker wearing a huge cross and saying “Bless You” between singing hymns continues to smile.
Noodles, potatoes, and other starches are of little interest until it is cold outside and a bowl of stew or chili will end the winter chill, but in the summer the act of cooking does little to interest the effort.
Pass the chips aisle and the cookie aisle and the personal hygiene aisle (I’m still trying to get rid of animal shampoo from two years ago) has no interest to me. Besides I don’t need diapers yet.
Eggs will probably be on the menu soon, but that requires I buy butter and break out the skillet.
I look at the aisle of frozen pizza in amazement that there is that many varieties. I did burn a lot of these during the summer due to the ease of baking them, but with little taste or satisfaction. The white hair blue shirt wearing winter clothes sings along with the 60’s music coming from the ceiling while opening the frosted doors and restocking the TV dinners.
Weaving through the rows of shelves with products trying to entice the shopper to place it in their cart by their placement and fancy packaging, I wander aimlessly trying to find something that will spark my taste buds. I look at boxes and bags while applying the aroma and flavor on my tongue trying to awake an interest.
The act of preparing food has been learned through many different techniques and appliances, but it is “the taste” that makes the effort worthwhile.
And as the palate becomes bland having experienced grand efforts by chefs of many destinations, a sandwich with processed meat slathered in mustard, pepper and hot sauce, perhaps a slice of Swiss cheese and an occasional tomato fills the daily meal requirement.
Exotic dishes with techniques and special tools have been used and appreciated in the past, but in the end, the basics of meat, fruit, vegetables, and bread are the ingredients of the mixtures.
So through the maze of products waiting for something to stand out, excite, grab hold of the daily meal; yet it all looks the same and unexciting with very little interest to pick up and carry home.
Some people plan a weekly family menu and shop for the ingredients to prepare and present to their loved ones, but when you are the only participant in the eating process, the adventure is less fulfilling.
As I load up my bags and strap on my gear, I seem to attract the weird Wild Eyed Willie, Crazy Eddie, or Leroy the bagger who is the best slacker I’ve ever seen.
Of course, I could go to a building that prepares food in Styrofoam containers or wrapped in plastic by young dull people wearing paper hats, but I also find that unsatisfying.
Today’s venture brought home crappy over-fried dried chicken prepared in the suspiciously hygiene deli area that I could drown in hot sauce and pepper washing it down with frothing beers. They were placed in the recycle 5¢ bag with a brief conversation with the blue shirt checker about the weather, or smiles or nothing at all due to lack of personality. For dinner, only because it was time and not hunger, a sandwich and a half of micro waved reheated BBQ out of a plastic container with little flavor even under a blanket of sauce followed by a tomato on a pile of Cole slaw.
The shelf that holds all the food available in the kitchen has one can of dark red kidney beans, an almost finished jar of peanut butter, two slices of bread and enough instant coffee and powered creamer to get me thought the week. The little refrigerator is empty.

Tomorrow’s big decision will be: “What Will I Prepare and Consume To Stay Alive?”

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Chewing Air

It is a strange phenomenon to find out certain aspects of yourself that you don’t realize.

The other day while riding I found myself chewing air.
Now I concentrate on my breathing, which is one of the reasons for the daily exercise, but this was different.

Not the long inhales through the nose and exhales through the mouth to get the brain active. Not the panting up the hill trying to catch another heart beat.

This was different.

I was riding along with a care and I was chewing air.

Finding this strange action puzzling, I began to wonder why I was doing this.

I wasn’t tired so that didn’t cause this action.

I wasn’t blowing out words even to an invisible conversation.

I wasn’t grinding my teeth nervously.

I was chewing.

Chewing without gum.

Just a chewing movement of my jar to no particular pace.

After several days of noticing this action, I started to become aware of other eccentricities that I seem to have.

When walking through the grocery aisles, I sing a song to myself. Lately or at least I’ve just noticed it, I’m halfway singing out loud. Perhaps it keeps the other shoppers entertained. Perhaps it gets them to move out of my way.

I take it as a sign that I’m content, even happy.

I recall singing to myself years ago but I either stopped or hadn’t noticed myself doing it.

Sometimes being by yourself, you get to find out the little things that make you unique.

Wonder what else I’ll find?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Breaking the Fall

But before I forget, the graphic named “On The Edge” is not mine. A local artist, Diane Clement, created it. I swiped it because I thought it might fit my thought process. So sorry for not getting your permission but here is her website. or you can buy her artwork here

The leaves are changing and the air is getting colder. Time to turn the calendar preparing for a new season.

Get out of bed and look in the mirror at the Albert Einstein hairdo.

Open the blinds to welcome the day.

Heat up the water and pour the ingredients without measurement for a warm breakfast.

Listen to classical music while watching the messages of strangers about their kids, activities and political views.

Walk out in the woods and adjust for the sun and the next hour.

The wind blows through my sweatshirt but the warmth increases as I move along.

Spooks decorate the trees already. A life-size black silhouette of a witch catches my eye as cutouts I did in elementary school with rounded scissors.

Two bikers ride by with head bob acknowledgment to each other, and then move on.

The leaves are starting to fall but I have not caught one yet.

Without a daily song in my head I had already reached one third of my travels without realizing it.

Beginning of another season.

I place the bike back on the porch and go inside to cool down and peel the spandex loaded diaper off.

Again checking messages of the world, another bottle of water and a cool down.

Looking around I see the projects marked on the to-do list with the header JUNE.

The news has become boring. Television has become boring. Only classical music, though are the only sounds I tolerate for very long. Then the radio is turned off.

In the quiet the realization of one of my greatest fears takes over my thoughts.


I ride a bicycle everywhere, everyday, in traffic, on quiet roads, avoiding children, and animals on two-thin wheels.

The idea of a bicycle is motion and balance. Motion has become easy within a gear structure I’ve found works for me. Normally balance is routine and like breathing, goes unnoticed.

But, sometimes, due to lack of sleep or unfamiliar surrounds, my reactions seem to falter and my balance becomes unsure.

Today I slowed to a stop going down a hill to let a car pass. Facing the steepness of the path ahead it seemed impossible to start pedaling. I sat there for a couple of minutes milling over my next action, I climbed off the bike and walked it down the hill.

It wasn’t total panic but an unsure fear of falling.

At the bottom of the hill, I climbed back on and continued my ride, which included other hills that I had no problem with.

Remembering when I first learn to ride a bicycle, with training wheels on, around the block over and over again, without fear knowing something or someone would catch me or keep me upright.

Then the training wheels came off and it was all up to me.

Riding a bike was probably my first confidence builder, but I wondered was it failing.

Tomorrow the hill will still be there and this realization of frailties could change my daily path, but I will continue to face my demons.

When we are pushed to the edge, only then can we decide how to break our fall.