Friday, May 31, 2013

Split-Second Timing

Portland cement is made when you combine heated limestone mixed with clay, ground up and mixed with gypsum. They sell the stuff in bags at Home Depot where you can buy it, mix it up with sand and water to make all kinds of wonderful things. Add some stone and other aggregates and you have sidewalks, concrete pads for houses and bridge supports.

I once worked for McClanahan Construction where Brock, me and Mike would go around building things like houses and commercial buildings. Working for Brock you had to know how to do everything, from pouring the concrete pad, framing the building, setting trusses, roofing, drywall, siding, painting, trimming and cleaning up after you're all done.

One cold September day we poured four concrete pads in anticipation of building four duplex houses. We had worked like dogs all day, though most dogs I've met don't know the meaning of the word, and night had come. My job was to continue using a power trowel, a gas-powered machine with slowly rotating blades you run on top of the setting concrete to smooth and finish it while it dries.

I had to work by the light of a floodlight and street lamps. The temperature was getting down right chilly. Fall was setting in and we were under pressure to get the homes framed and closed in before winter set in. I was wishing I had brought a jacket, and thought briefly how nice a little heat would feel. My hands were getting numb, but when you worked for Brock you didn't whine. You just got the job done.

Halfway through my project I saw the darkness was flickering around me. Mystified, I turned around to face the lumber company behind me to see the thing was up in flames.

Moments later the local Fire Department arrived to rescue the place. Lumber companies are dry as tinder and can turn into a raging fireball without timely rescue. Turns out one of the trucks parked inside the place shorted ignition that caused the blaze to start.

But the timing of me wanting heat and the consequent fire was unnerving.

Timing is everything in life. Music cannot survive one beat without it. Meeting that fated person at the deli counter over pastrami wouldn't have gone on to a life-long love affair were timing absent from the Universe. The timing of sperm meeting egg, the rotation of the solar system, the firing of all six cylinders at precisely the right second under the car hood, the landing of a loaded passenger plane at the precise point on earth is was meant to land, along with quadrillions of interactions throughout any given day rely on precise timing.

I often inwardly groan when I approach an intersection just as the light turns red, which seems to happen all the time for me. Or when I pull onto a highway just as a lumbering truck does and am forced to travel his weary path until I can break free to pass safely. It's uncanny sometimes how my life is forced into abeyance by the timing of other people.

I have to remind myself that control over our lives is only an illusion. When you think about it, there is very little in life we actually DO control. You can't dictate where your next freckle appears, never mind  the millions of other events that will affect you today.

Comes right down to it, the only real thing we CAN control is our reaction.

When you can react with equanimity to all things...when you can allow all things to pass through you as if you are'll have found peace.

I'm working on it, believe me. I'll have a gastric ulcer and bald from having ripped out all my hair in frustration if I don't.

It's about time.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


The kid was lying in wait behind the sofa at the top of the stairs. It was late afternoon, and between battling scattered showers, wind, crabby customers and a heavy tool bag, I was pretty well spent for the day. I had a dishwasher to fix before I could call it quits. I hoped the repair was fast and easy.

The Universe had other plans.

The kid jumped out at me in greeting as I wearily climbed the stairs. "MY NAME IS MAX!" he exclaimed loudly. "AND I'M FOUR! WHAT'S YOUR NAME?"

"George." I replied tersely.


"Washington," I said heading for the kitchen. The boy's mother, a blond like her son, probably mid-thirties, smiled apologetically.

"Max loves to have visitors. Especially workmen carrying tool bags..."

I had a sinking feeling right then and there. Some folks I meet think their dogs are the cat's PJ's and insist I fawn all over them so they leave me alone to do my job. Others have kids. Some have both, but frankly the dog owners are the worse. At least a kid can hold up the end of a conversation when not buried in a smart phone.

The sinking feeling was early warning radar I was about to be targeted for a full-fledged assault by little more than a toddler whose mother didn't have a clue how to handle a workman in her home. Sure enough she headed for the back room, leaving me to the designs of the Four Year Old.

As I anticipated Max headed right for the tool bag and started pawing through it.

"Max, you can't mess with my tools," I said, taking a screw driver and pliers from his fists. "They're dangerous. You might hurt yourself."

Max scowled. "My Daddy has tools," he announced, sullenly.

"That's great. Is he a carpenter?"

"NO!" Max returned, disgusted. Everyone knew his Daddy wasn't a carpenter. Silly question.

As if to emphasize the fact that because his father had tools, the kid dived into my tool bag once again. I retrieved the volt meter and hoisted the whole bag on to the counter top out of temptation's way. Max sat against the sink sullenly.

I used the battery-powered screw gun to take apart the dishwasher door in order to replace a broken door latch. This was no small feat. The genius engineers at Maytag had figured out a way to make servicing the machine as difficult as humanly possible. My theory was they wanted folks to just give up and buy a new machine. I was close to ripping out my hair assembling the latch on this one.

"How old are you, George?" Max asked. He had been sitting quietly playing with the old latch I had handed him.


"My Daddy was thirty five," he replied quietly.

I caught my breath. It was the "was" that grabbed my attention. For the first time I looked at the little boy sitting there. Really looked. Instead of a demon intent on making an already tough day even worse, I saw a needy little kid. Someone missing his Daddy.

"Hey Max," I answered. "Wanna' help me put this thing back together?" The boy brightened, a huge smile lit his face. I handed him the screw gun and showed him how to drive in the twelve screws that held the door together. He was an expert at the job and didn't need much coaching.

"Great job, Max!" I enthused, packing up my stuff to go. "If you ever need a job, we're hiring."

"Thank you," mouthed his mother silently, seeing me to the door. I could see the weariness beneath her eyes. She had needed a few moments alone. I nodded.

"Is your last name really Washington?" she asked. I shrugged, smiling and stepped into the raw winter's air. The sun broke through the clouds, finally. I relished the warmth. The golden rays lit up the picture window of the house.

Max was there smiling, bathed in sunlight, waving good-bye.

(Originally published 10 yrs. ago, this is a condensed version. Max would be a teenager now.)

Sunday, May 26, 2013


I was haunted my Marjorie's eyes. The 83 year old was staring down the barrel at her approaching death, and she knew it.

Her eyes reminded me of animals I've seen who died. Pigs, mainly, but a cow once also, wide-eyed in terror as she smelled her death arrive. The cow's eyes said so many things: I want to live. I am filled with terror. I am resigned to my fate.

Marjorie's eyes, large and blue behind her bifocals told me everything I ever wanted to know about her.  

I saw a kindhearted soul, one given to a lifetime of sacrifice to her family. I saw a woman filled with devotion and love. I saw tenderness and the wisdom that comes with having lived through hard times and heartaches, including the death of a son.

I saw fear as she, too, realized her time left on earth is as fragile as the silken thread of a spider's web strung in the wet dew of a forest glade. I saw hope that I could give her something, some words perhaps, some magic mantra to steal the cancer from her body and banish it to hell where it belonged. I saw the wide-eyed terror.

"The hardest part is dragging myself every other morning to the clinic for chemotherapy," she said.

I imagined her laying awake most nights wondering if she had the strength to get dressed, climb into her Buick and navigate across town to lay on a stretcher with in IV plugged into her veins. I pictured her as the first signs of dawn began to steal into her bedroom arguing with herself whether or not it would just be better to simply quit going back. To raise the white flag and throw in the remaining cards in her hand.

"I am astonished you are in your eighties," I said. "You don't look a day over 70..." She didn't, either. I wasn't lying.

"Even with all my hair falling out?" she replied, her eyes filling and spilling over.

"Even with that, Marjorie."

She smiled through her tears, her beautiful eyes sparkling joy. For just a few moments as she sat on her couch and I said goodbye, maybe for the last time, they weren't so haunted.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


I've handled a lot of nasty things in my life.

One of my very favorite jobs I had just out of High School was working as a hospital orderly for twenty hours a week. I was privileged to work in all departments of the place from the ER where I did CPR on incoming emergency transports to the pathology lab where I assisted with autopsies. I carried babies to X-ray. I worked with Alzheimer patients, the terminally ill, those with unhealing wounds, surgery prep and transport. I cleaned up bedpans, vomit and bloody gauze bandages. I'd still be there, but I was starving to death on the wages, and life moved on.

I also drove a garbage truck in Detroit. I ran a septic-tank cleaning business in Indiana for a local business man, once covering myself in the contents of the tank when I opened a valve inadvertently. I've raised hogs for six years.

Nothing fazes me. Except my current job.

It's not all the rotting food left in a dead refrigerator for days. That's bad enough with a powerful stink like a morgue that clings to your skin and clothes the entire day. Or the foul water left in a dishwasher after it quits working that can give you the dry heaves.

It's having to hand my pen and laptop over to my customer to use to sign company-required documents after every job is done.

It's having strangers handle my writing utensils.

I was in a home yesterday with a very gassy old woman. At one point I went to the truck for a part for her refrigerator and when I came back she was in the bathroom. I noticed after she flushed, she didn't wash her hands. I notice things like this because I once worked in a hospital setting and a couple restaurants where hand washing was a job requirement.

I then had to hand her my laptop to take a survey and my pen to sign the sales receipt. Needless to say I was silently freaking.

According to the World Health organization the leading cause of child death is diarrheal diseases caused by germs transmitted by hands. Human feces is the main cause.

One gram of human waste contains 10 million viruses and 1 million bacteria. Feces are the sources for shingellosis, typhoid, cholera, E-coli and other gastro-enteric infections and some respiratory infections.

A 2003 study by Curtis and Cairncross suggests that these infections can be reduced world-wide by 47% with the simple use of soap and water after defecation. Any soap.

Yet countries like India, where disease is high, only 34% of the population wash their hands. In Ghana only 3%, Brazil 16%, Northern England 47%, Kyrgyzstan 0%.

From what I observe, the United States is probably on par with the English.

I once stopped at a sub shop where the kid behind the counter was in the toilet. I heard him flush, the door swung open, and he put on his apron and asked for my order. There was no hand washing from what I could tell. I walked out and went hungry.

The CDC estimates that each year about 1 in 6 Americans get sick and 3,000 dies of food-borne diseases. We contaminate one another with shopping cart handles, door handles and gas pump handles.

When the server behind the counter takes your money then pours coffee, jamming on the lid with unwashed hands. Or makes a sandwich, sticks it on the pan to heat, then grabs the greasy handle to transfer your meal back to the unwashed counter top to wrap the thing.

Or someones uses your ink pen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Senator, This is Not Kansas...

Yesterday I heard a sitting United States Senator refer to the Oklahoma tornado as " act of God".

I was appalled. Apparently one of our Nation's leaders in whose hands the fate of the rest of us is largely held holds to the ancient, flat-earth notion that God is out and about creating wanton destruction by means of naturally occurring weather phenomena.

God gets blamed for a lot of things, most of them bad.

The company I work for offers service contracts to homeowners to cover repairs of all their major appliances. The contract covers parts and labor for repairs with a few exceptions: "...rust, animal infestation and acts of God." If a tornado mows down your house, your appliance repair is on you.

I once saw a movie about a tornado that plowed through a Kansas farm community, upending everything and causing injury to a young girl who, in a fevered recovery from her injuries, hallucinated she was transported to a magical land populated with witches on broomsticks and flying monkeys.

While there, she learned that the All Powerful Wizard that ran the place and kept everyone in superstitious awe was no more than a man behind a curtain pulling a few switches and levers.

When the girl discovered the myth, she rapidly began her road to recovery and was soon awakened to reality and back in her right senses.

Grown men who attempt to lead our Country through the perils of the 21st Century should re-examine their world views. Instead of blaming God for disasters like this one, they should take a course in Earth sciences. (The link offers 6th grade textbooks available for sale).

After all, this is not Kansas anymore.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mad Men

I met a mad man today.

When I first called him to tell him I was on the way to work on his refrigerator he informed me in no uncertain terms I was ahead of schedule. That he had an agreement with my office for a certain time frame, and that I was not to show up until then. The phone was slammed at the hang up.

I'm used to dealing with angry people. It's part of my job description to be a sounding board for the feeling ripped off among us. Yet even after dealing with angry people all my life, starting with my very own father who seemed angry all the time, impatient, demeaning, irritated and rude, I still get a knot in the pit of my stomach when I have to face hostility. When I have to deal with men who remind me of my Dad.

I've learned over time most people are not angry at me. Some people have been in the course of my life; in fact quite a few, in retrospect. But the average person I deal with as part of my job serving the general public just need someone to vomit their irritation upon.

A guy who goes around seething like a boiling cauldron beneath the surface is a ticking time bomb. The slightest thing will set him off into explosion. He wears his anger like a giant chip on his shoulder. You see him at the coffee shop fuming because the line is moving too slowly, then berates the cashier for slow service. He's in the fast lane weaving in and out of other drivers in a Type A-driven adrenaline rage to get ahead of everyone else.

And he's the quiet, plastic-smiled nice guy with the digging quip that feels like a put-down and probably is. The soft-spoken, dignified dude with an acid-laced tongue.

Eckhart Tolle teaches that anger and irritation in life are signposts that you are fighting the present moment. You are not accepting what is, but rather wishing things were different than what they are.

Your anger symptoms are not caused by the situation, or by other people. They arise from within you because your mind has judged that the present moment is unacceptable. That things should be different.

But there is no should be. There is only Now.

To deny what is happening in the moment with the longing that things should be different is only to create suffering for yourself. Things are not different. They are what they are. And when you suffer, you give expression to that suffering in the form of anger, irritation, depression, despair.

The mad man I met today, though well into mid-life, has not yet learned to live in the moment. He is missing out on whole chunks of his life because he is going around should-ing on everyone and everything.

But he taught me a valuable lesson. He taught me that I am learning to face such people, knot and all, with the inner peace that this is my reality this very moment. He is exactly who he is: wishing his personality were different would only create suffering for myself.

He's exactly what I need this point in time.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Breaking Rules Badly

Massachusetts is posting along her highways on portable electronic billboards a little known traffic rule long since forgotten by the driving public. Usually the portable billboards say something innocuous.

Until recently, they've been flashing "Drive with Caution". I've never been able to quite understand what the author means by that statement. The cautious drivers I see are hell-bent on driving in the middle lane at 55 m.p.h. in a posted sixty-five.

The latest command says "Left Lane Travel Permitted Only When Passing".

This is an example of one of the many unenforceable laws the Commonwealth has on the books. Similar laws are "Yield Right of Way" "No Texting While Driving" and "Illegal to Brake With Left Foot".

I confess right here I am guilty of breaking almost all the rules, and probably hundreds more besides. I have traveled in the left lane just for the sheer joy of passing all those slow pokes going to weddings and hair appointments. I no longer text while driving, but I see countless folks still doing it, including real police officers. I always yield right of way, except in New Bedford, where drivers don't understand the concept and literally make you take left turns in front of oncoming traffic.

But I always brake with my left foot, and will until I'm dead.

I'm bothered, though, about those among us who break the rules and seem to be clueless about it. Like folks that will pass a line of traffic at an exit then cut into the line at the last possible moment to cut in front on everyone else. I get angry at such behavior because the guy/girl didn't wait in line and pay his/her dues like the rest of us. They cheated to get ahead of everyone else.

I wrestle with these kinds of rule-breakers, because they flaunt their rule breaking badly. Uncaringly. In your face-stick-it-where-the-sun-don't-shine-get-ahead-of-everyone-else kind of selfish actions that breach the social contract we once had with each other as a Country.

Now it's every man for himself. Or so it seems.

According to a recent article in Science Daily, breaking rules gives the rule-breaker an illusion of power. The theory is that the powerful people in the world have fewer rules to live by than the rest of us, so breaking rules makes us feel more powerful.

In the August 2012 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science researchers wrote of studies done with toddlers uncover the fact that as early as two and three years old kids understand the nature of the social glue that holds us all together. They know what is fair and unfair behavior. They know when rules are broken and are able to express outrage because the social construct, the agreement humans have with one another, has been violated.

This is why crimes like flying fully loaded aircraft into office towers and placing pressure-cooker bombs at the feet of unsuspecting children enrage us all. Such actions flaunt the unspoken social rule that innocent people not engaged in warfare are to be spared violent, unprovoked death.

It's also the very same motivation taken to a horrific degree that is the seeds of texting while driving. Or line jumping.

Or even braking with your left foot.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Concerning French Presses and Diamonds

I'm told on great authority the French Press is the absolute best way to make a cup of coffee. If you're a coffee connoisesseur, that is, which I consider myself, although I end up buying a bucket of Colombian at Market Basket for $6.99 because I can't pass up the cheap price. Some coffee's are undrinkable, (Dunkin' Donuts and rival Honey Dew for example), and even the introduction of the French Press into the brewing process wouldn't help matters. You need a good, rich, well roasted bean, like Starbucks, before even trying your hand at the Press.

The woman who told me about the marvels of this fantastic invention was a true coffee aficionado. Almost to the point of snobbery, I thought fleetingly as she walked me through the intricate process of brewing the perfect cup. She also gave me a couple paddle plant cuttings to start in water for my very own, which have grown roots and since been potted and are doing great. So I guess she knows her way around coffee.

The basic procedure is this: you boil water in a kettle. You put the grounds in the Press filter. Pour in the water. Push down with great pressure steadily on the plunger handle which forces the water through the grounds, thus chemically altering the water into pure coffee bliss by the physics of alchemy.

The French Press was invented in 1929 by Attilio Calimani of Milan. Faliero Calimani redesigned and patented the thing in 1958 and started manufacturing them for the masses in the Martin clarinet factory.

Coffee has never been the same since.

The secret to good coffee is starting out with good beans. Then the water has to be tastefully sweet and boiling hot. Most stores sell coffee makers that use gravity to drip brew the grounds. The French Press stands alone as the premier brewing method because it subjects the boiling water to pressure, which cascades through the grounds in violent intercourse to squeeze the very essence of flavor from them and wring them dry.

Pressure builds diamonds, too. Ordinary carbon-based material, like coal, for example, are subjected to extremely high temperature and pressure 87-120 miles beneath the Earth's crust. Over the course of one to three billion years, this pressured carbon changes molecular shape to become one of the most prized gems among humans. These diamonds are forced up through the earth's mantle to the surface by violent volcanic eruptions, where they lay waiting for folks to come along and start making jewelry with them.

Pressure, apparently, can make things tasteful and beautiful. Pressure is something to embrace.  It could wring from life something magnificent, like a good cup of coffee or gorgeous gem. Or it could be resented.

By resenting pressure we give it power over us. We increase our suffering because we give it energy.

We magnify the pain it causes us by noticing it and judging it as a bad thing. We forget all the beauty pressure can create if it is only allowed to work its creative work. Nature designed pressure to build her most precious gems. There is no way around that process. No short cuts.

The coal notices the pressure, but rather than resenting it, judging it as bad, rather welcomes it. The coal knows given enough time it will become transformed into an object of beauty and admiration.

So too the coffee, trapped in boiling water, under extreme pressure by a bleary-eyed, disheveled French Press owner.

Friday, May 17, 2013

When Life Hands You Lemons...

Shirley met me at the door of her two-story condominium. "I can't hear all that well," she said as we entered her kitchen. "I'm ninety-eight, and I have to wear these darn hearing aids."

I was incredulous. She didn't look a day over seventy. I told her so, but she acted as if people were telling her that since she was seventy-one. She told me she has macular degeneration beginning to rob her eyesight so had to quit driving last year.

"I spoke to a class last year at Boston University Medical School," she said. "I was a guest lecturer. When it came time for questions, all the students, every one of them, thanked me for coming down there to speak. And they all wanted to know the secret of my longevity. Whether is was genetic or not."

"I told them it wasn't. My father died in his fifties, and my mother a few years later. My brother died young, too. I told them the secret to a long life is to be active. And have a positive attitude. I always see the glass half-full, instead of half-empty."

I thought about Shirley often. Is it possible to extend one's life on this planet simply by getting off our butts and smiling a lot?

According to a recent study on longevity called the Longevity Project, researchers Friedman and Martin discovered there are multiple reasons why some people live longer than others. And it is not about genetics. Factors such as personality, ways of approaching and dealing with life, and how physically active a person is all contribute to living longer. My friend Shirley had nailed it, and she was living proof.

What Shirley taught me, and what science is finding out, when life hands you lemons you can either get all sour about it, or you can get to work making a fabulous lemon-meringue pie.

You can peel them open, harvest the seeds and start planting a whole field of lemon trees to sell to Bird's Eye, or walk around with a puckered face.

You can throw a few slices in your iced tea, or leave them in the fridge to wither and rot.

Thing is, life isn't always going to be handing you fruit. Next time it could be something brown and smelly in a paper bag. Better make lemonade while you can.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What Kindle Fire Taught Me

indexWhen I bought my wife a Kindle Fire last year I didn't know it would change my life.

If you're not familiar with the device, think of it as the world's largest library with movie-watching, web-surfing capability squeezed into a sleek, lightweight design larger than a smartphone, but smaller than an I Pad. You can down load and read whole books on the device at a fraction of the cost of buying the book in hardcover or paperback. The Kindle is back lit, so you can easily read in bed in the dark if your partner is snoring so loud you can't possibly sleep.

The book she had downloaded was "Salt, Sugar, Fat...How the Food Giants Have Hooked Us" by Michael Moss.  Never before have I had such a clear understanding as to how processed food have impacted American's health and wellness than after reading this book.

We have tried to eat well. Several years ago we made the decision, based on Dawn's extensive research, to begin weaning ourselves off red meat and dairy products. Over time we have evolved to a nutritarian diet. I enjoy an occasional burger, but by and large try to limit animal protein as much as possible.

The latest science is fast zeroing in on our Nation's health crisis as the result of our consuming lots of highly processed foods. Food loaded with salt, sugar and fat. I knew this from everything my bride shared with me, and especially after getting hooked on reading about nutrition myself. I became a fan of John McDougall and his starch-based approach to diet in the Starch Solution.

What I learned from Dawn's Kindle was about the concerted effort food manufacturers have made since the 1960's to chemically mess with our food supply, creating whole new products and redesigning products we already consumed. With few rare exceptions, these Conglomerates had little regard for the consequences of eating the stuff they produce. The Kindle opened my eyes to how far reaching and insidious the entire food manufacturing industry has become, and how their lab creations are killing us.

I fell in love with the Kindle for how versatile it is. How handy a tool to have in my possession. I bought my own device, a Kindle Fire 7” HD model and can watch "Fringe" in full high definition audio and sparkling clarity without bothering another living soul. Besides anyone looking over my shoulder at the series without a strong stomach would be freaked, anyway.

Frankly, I've never felt this way toward a piece of hardware before. It's scary how much I enjoy using the thing.

I hope I don't need therapy...

On Going Blindly Through Life

When I was in fourth grade I was diagnosed with nearsightedness.

 I remember in grade school I was unable to see the chalkboard from the back row. One of my compassionate teachers, I can't recall who, had me move to the front row where, to my wonder and relief a whole new world opened up. I felt exposed and embarrassed sitting up front, and I knew my large ears were often self-consciously red. Being in the front row also made me an easy target for the teacher to call on, and for spit balls, but I was glad to be able to see the cool roll down maps that hung up front like giant colorful window shades.

My father brought me to the optician where I was fitted with heavy rimmed glasses, and a whole new world opened up. I could see trees in the distance for the first time. I saw stars pasted against the night sky. I could finally see when a ball was thrown my way instead of waiting until it hit me in the head.Image
Nearsightedness is an affliction you wouldn't wish on your best enemy. For one thing you couldn't very well play basket ball with glasses on. The way guys throw elbows around in a game the glasses ended up on the court floor all bent and damaged. And there's no way to play without them. Besides I wasn't any good at the game to start with, probably because I never had a chance to learn. Seeing I wore glasses and all.

Girls secretly recoil at guys wearing glasses. At least most girls do, repelled by a glass-wearing-guy as if the specs were a sign of a secret disorder. Glasses, especially those designed in the 1950's and '60's were definitely uncool, clunky looking and sometimes downright ugly. My parents always chose all three criteria when buying glasses for me. In later years I tried contact lenses for a while and noticed a different reaction from women when I would meet them compared to when I wore spectacles. I'm just grateful my wife thinks I look better with them than without.

Being nearsighted physically evolved for much of my life into a kind of nearsightedness existentially. I often felt like a chubby, bleached, big-breasted, tatted white chick with a dog named Rocco, even though I was skinny and decidedly male. I also didn't have a tattoo.  I could only see what was right in front of me, the thing that demanded my energies RIGHT NOW!, unable, or unwilling, perhaps, to see the future. It was enough at times just to get through a day. To find enough to eat. To pay whatever bills needed paying. To find work.

Where most guys find a career out of High School, go to college, build the American Dream, my nearsighted life meandered blindly through over thirty different jobs until I finally settled on one I can do reasonably well that pays decent but is hollow for life satisfaction. I blame my nearsightedness on not letting me be what I really wanted to be: an Air Force pilot. Or an astronaut.

I often wondered why God, if there is at least one, would afflict His kids with such things as cancer and mental retardation and nearsightedness. Why He would set them at the starting line so far back in the pack. Now I've come to terms with my blindness's. Glasses are a crutch to get through life with some kind of clarity. So is having lived.


Frank met me at the door with his yelping Pomeranian. The dog, high strung and asthmatic, leaped on the back of my legs, her sharp claws feeling like they were shredding my calves.
"Down!" I shouted at her. "No jumping!" It's not my style to be shouting in my customer's homes, unless they're shouting at me, in which case I've been known to dish it back after my breaking point has been reached. The breaking point just got a little closer with the Pomeranian.

Frank was a rail thin senior, sporting a Boston Red Sox ball cap. He wore a thin jacket in the house over wrinkled clothes. With red-rimmed eyes and wispy grey hair poking out beneath the hat, he was an older version of my brother-in-law Lee. Spitting image, aged twenty years. I marveled again to myself how there seems to be a Divine set of molds we are  all made from, with archetypical patterns for each brand of human. Frank was in the Lee mold and wore the very same worried expression I've seen on Lee's face.

"I'm losing all my food," he explained. "The fridge stopped working a day ago. It's just been sitting there. I only go shopping every three weeks since they took away my driver's license."

Refrigerators are one of those modern conveniences you cannot live without. You can get by if your dishwasher fails, or the washing machine. But not the fridge. A warm fridge is a breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria. A home-bound senior whose nearest relative is a daughter in Maine surrounded by uncaring neighbors who loses a fridge is in a crisis. I was hoping I had the part on my truck and could get it back up and running for the guy.

"I lost my wife last year," Frank said, seating himself stiffly at the kitchen table. I noticed old pill bottles, faded prescriptions and yellowed newspaper clippings strewn on the table top. "Breast cancer. We had been married close to sixty-five years." At the mention of his wife, his red-rimmed eyes began to fill. I thought they would soon spill over and trickle down his face, but he had been grieving a whole year now and was nearly cried out. You don't live that long with someone and not feel pain when they leave you.

My folks were married half a century. After my Dad's passing, Mom would speak of him rarely. He was verbally abusive, and I think his being gone gave her some relief. Only once did I see her stifle tears at his memory, but that was after he had long been dead and the memory of his verbal put-downs were softened. Frank was a tender man, not giving to verbal assaults as far as I could see. There was a deep kindness about him. I would have enjoyed his company more were it not for the asthmatic Pomeranian frantically pacing the kitchen now demanding my attention.

"She thinks she the boss," Frank explained. "She's a rescue. I got her after my wife died. It's just me and the dog."

I was able to get the fridge up and running. It was a bad cold control and I luckily had the part on my truck. We spent some time sorting through his frozen foods to see what was safe to keep.

"My daughter said Stop & Shop has a food delivery service," he said as I was packing up my tools to leave.
"It's called Pea Pod," I said, nodding.
"Helluva' name," he said.

What To Do if You've Wrecked Your Life

sorrowProbably the biggest thing you'll ever face if you've wrecked your life is regret. Regret is the stinging acid that sends its corrosive poisons all through who you are. Regret eats you from the inside out, until you're little more than an empty shell of a person going through the motions of existence. But your soul is gone. Your light has been put out. 

Sometimes you feel shattered. Like something crashed inside, something tender and precious and fragile. You lay in broken shards, bleeding, wounded without so much as a bandage to staunch the bleeding. You bleed and bleed and bleed. This is regret. This is what it does to you. You lay awake asking ad infinitum why you did what you did. You plumb the depths of your mind for the answers  that never come.

If you've wrecked your life, there comes a time where you have to sit down and grieve. Just grieve. You have to let down the blinders that keep you from seeing all the damage you caused, and look at the horror full in the face. You have to accept total responsibility for what you did. You have to come to terms with the fact that yes, you are that kind of person that did that thing. That is exactly who you are. It wasn't a fluke. It wasn't an accident. It was you, doing what you wanted to do in the moment you did it.
So you grieve the fact you are capable of such destruction, of authoring such misery and pain. You grieve the brokenness you caused. You grieve the suffering you initiated. You grieve the reality of the fact that you cannot undo what you did. That you cannot take back time for a second chance at not doing it.

Then you must forgive yourself. Grieve first, forgive next. There is nothing to forgive if  you first don't come to terms with how you have wrecked things. Once you have, you can then forgive yourself. Forgiveness means you'll no longer hold what you did against yourself and punish yourself to the grave.

You can grieve your failure, forgive your behavior, but you must also seek  forgiveness from those you betrayed with your actions. You must sit down with them, look them in the eyes and plead for mercy. You must do everything in your power to demonstrate genuine remorse and seek to make restitution.

Then, perhaps, if you're fortunate, you can begin to rise from the wreckage. Fortunate if you don't have to go it alone. There has to be someone who loves you enough to believe in you enough to give you the gift of another chance.  There must be another soul, perhaps broken, too, who sees what you cannot possibly see in yourself for all your sorrow: a human life worth saving. Only then can you can rise and begin to hope again.
Find that one soul. If you can't, I'm broken, too. I'm here for you...

Son's Thoughts on Mother's Day

mom3If you've seen the little known, but hilarious movie "Popeye" starring Robin Williams and Shelly Duvall, you may have missed a line Popeye mutters in reference to the fact he has a little kid, Sweetpea. "I'm a mudder meself," he says, proudly. Being a mother is so highly prized even a rough, tough old salt of a vegetarian like Popeye vied to be one. Mother's Day was invented as a way to tell the women that bore us just how prized they are.

Some women cannot quite grasp what all the festivities are about, unless they are mothers themselves, in which case they may feel only half the story if they had a troubled relationship with their own mother. I once knew a woman whose mother had little good to say to her, was abusive of her and at one point left her in the care of others before reclaiming her some time later to live with a jerk of a stepfather. To women like her, Mother's Day may come with painful feelings; reminders of what could have been but wasn't. To such women, the Day couldn't be over fast enough.

I think the Universe honors these women sometimes by making of them mothers themselves, and so becoming the object of a child's love and affection. What she didn't get from her own mother, she can get some recompense with children of her own, becoming to them what she never had herself. Though this doesn't fill up the hole left in her soul by her non-bonding mother, she has love that surrounds her in relation to the whole role of motherhood. In spite of this, these women may find it very difficult to accept their role as mother, unconsciously associating that role with the piss-poor job her own mother did with her, and thinking secretly that she, too, is a piss-poor mother. That she is loved and cherished for exactly who she is is difficult for her to fathom.mom5

My own mother, Barbara, was actually close to sainthood, although she wasn't Roman Catholic, in which case no one could get away with nominating her for the post. She martyred herself at the altar of my father and the eight children she bore him. She was in the league of women who wiped countless noses and bottoms, cleaned up multiple sickness, washed the bedsheets of five teenage boys in puberty, cooked thousands of meals, scrubbed floors, washed windows, planted flowers, bought groceries, wrote letters, read stories, came to school band concerts and plays, and took pictures of us she later captioned with the name of each kid in case she forgot who they were.
She also secretly smoked cigarettes, her one vice and stress-buster, which eventually killed her. Here we are shortly before she died. I miss her and honor her memory today...

How Jack Kennedy Changed Everything

The one thing I find common in all the people I meet is fear. Fear of hunger, so their fridges and freezers are packed with food that literally falls out when you open the doors. I met a woman who lives alone but has two fridges and a chest freezer packed for fear she'll run out of food. Fear of driving so there's lots of warnings when a loved one goes out the door. A lady I met yesterday who's in her late forties has never driven a car. She said she's too afraid.

 Fear of trying something new. Fear of the stranger on the street. Fear of people of color or different customs and dialects. Fear of having too much work. Or not enough. Fear, fear, fear. Listen to people talk and soon you'll discover what they're afraid of.

I was watching some old news footage of a speech President Kennedy gave at Rice University on September 12, 1962 in which he outlined his plans to commit the Nation to the Moon. Behind him was a diverse audience, but mostly men sweltering in the mid-day heat. It was so hot a good portion of the crowd were fanning themselves. One guy kept wiping his face with his handkerchief. Some of the men had hats on; some were smoking cigars or cigarettes.

The Vice President, LBJ, a Texan and used to hot weather, sat placidly in the front row and listened without much show of emotion.  The President sensed the crowd was hot and restless, and at one point joked they should be patient a little longer, as he was the one "doing all the work".JFKRiceUniversity

"We choose to go to the moon," the President said. "We choose to go to the moon... (interrupted by applause) we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

As he said this, a man seated directly behind the President shook his head violently in disagreement. I didn't recognize the guy, but I recognized the display of emotion. It was fear.

Kennedy's race for the Moon changed everything. He set in motion a chain of events that revolutionized technology, chemistry, medicine, electronics, and countless other scientific breakthroughs and discoveries. He scoffed at fear, and at those that would keep our Nation earth-bound for fear of the difficulty and hazard of space exploration.

We choose things by natural instinct that are easy. We choose easy because we are afraid of pain. Kennedy showed us a different way to choose. Choose in spite of the pain. You could change everything.

What You Should Know About Biking to Work

May 13-17 is "National Ride Your Bike to Work Week", sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists. Riding your bike to work assumes you have a job to start with. Like millions of other Americans, this guy no longer has a job to bike to.  Many folks no longer have a job, either, but had to sell their bike on Craigslist to buy food when their unemployment benefits ran out. So even if they found a job, they'd have to go out and buy a bike to go with it.
935742_10151349331167371_2058775360_nThe Organizers of this week, should have thought of that before going around declaring one whole week of Lance Armstrong commuting, sans the steroids. They also assume you live close enough to work you can bike there. Few, if any, Americans have that luxury. Most of us live a good distance from our jobs, unless you're a stay-at-home parent, in which case you could just leave the thing propped against the house for the neighbors to see.
If you live close enough to work to bike there, you might as well just skip the bike and take a bus. Assuming your community has public transportation with user-friendly hours, which is a Big Assumption in modern America.

The whole idea of riding your bike to work would definitely work in places like France, where they ride them around anyway. Besides the cars are smaller and the roads accommodate bikes. French motorists have a disadvantage behind the wheel over Americans because they can't text message so easily. In France you need both hands to text  to get all the accents right on the vowels. The chance of becoming road-kill in France is much lower than here at home. If you really want to bike to work everyday, you should move to France.

America was built around the automobile, so she boasts few bike-friendly cities. Henry Ford himself  believed in a limited kind of equality: an equality based on the motor car; if you didn't have one, you didn't count.  He worked to destroy alternate forms of transportation, which is rather hypocritical seeing his first motorcar was little more than a powered bicycle on four wheels.

American's need to take themselves less seriously. A few thousand folks biking to work will not save the planet. It will, however, cause aggravation on the roads as the rest of us try to get around your lumbering butt. Then we have to put up with your sweaty-smelling, helmet-haired, superior attitude the rest of the day. It will not be a pretty sight. Trust me on this.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Luckiest People

chromosomesDo you remember Junior High School? Who doesn't. It's the one time in our personal history when a titanic alignment of influences create seismic events. Puberty. Peer pressure. Parents. Pimples. How desperately we wanted to fit in in the face of how everything conspired against us to keep it from happening. Sometimes you felt like the red-headed step-child nobody wanted.
The old song from the musical "Funny Girl", sung by Barbra Streisand said it well:

People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world
We're children needing other children
And yet letting our grown-up pride
Hide all the need inside
Acting more like children than children...

We do really need each other. Desperately. It's tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing that remind us how much we are all in this together. How much we depend on one another. We see the better angels of our nature in times like this and it reminds us of our common humanity, linked by twenty three chromosomes and five quarts of blood.

It's easy to judge one another. Like falling off a log easy. Maybe it's an on board software construct in our internal navigational computers. In a microsecond we size one another up and decide everything we ever want to know about that person.

To love is to recognize yourself in another,” Eckhart Tolle said. He wasn't talking about eye color or the shape of someone's smile. He was talking about the very essence, down past all the flesh and blood and personality to the very Core of a person's Being. Down at that level, behind the chromosomes, at the level of consciousness, we are brothers and sisters. At the quantum level we are energy together.

This is hard for me to handle sometimes, especially when someone is acting in a way it makes me want to rip my hair out. Cutting me off in traffic, for example. My natural instinct is to label the guy "a jerk". It happens in a microsecond. Yet if I knew that guy was racing desperately to the hospital because his little kid is clinging to life, my attitude would change in a heart beat.

You and I, we need one another. Life can be cruelly unfair. Buildings collapse on women while sitting quietly sewing clothes, trying to make the thirty-seven dollars a month it takes to feed her family. Kids are gunned down in elementary schools and street corners with horrifying frequency. Old men are left to rot on street corners and filthy, icy tenements or lonely nursing homes.

If you need other people, you are lucky. If they need you, so are they.Image