Life At An Amusement Park

It’s been going on for five days now, minute by minute mood swings making me feel like a shooting gallery duck; dense anxiety like heavy fog, and a degree of indecision that stops my movement like a pause button.

indecisiveFor instance, this morning I couldn’t decide between chocolate milk or hot chocolate, behaving like the child at the soda fountain musing over nuts or no nuts. Ten minutes of my partner hustling through the house when at last he stopped, uttered some variation on a familiar expletive, poured a tall glass of cool milk, dumped the equivalent of a chocolate cake into the milk, dropped in a spoon, spun it about without dissolving anything causing it to resemble a freshly unplugged toilet, then brusquely presented it as though I was a fussy child, followed by that variant expletive and walked into the backyard.

I ask, is this the behavior of a fifty-five year old man, highly educated, and graced with an innate aptitude for johnny-on-the-spot decisions?

hammerToday was the first day of my 96 hour ride on the infamous carnival ride, The Hammer, in which you swing forward and back forward and back, etc.  Today was also the first time of my 96 hour disturbing mental yo-yo that the Midway seemed like an appropriate place to live. I’d fit in quite nicely with the Fun House, the Freak Show, ping-pong ball goldfish toss, and the notorious ring the Coke bottle.

But there’s been nothing amusing about my minute-to-minute change in behavior, the confusion which renders me speechless, the marathon of apologies, emptiness to the depth of a wino’s bottle, and then a creeping attack of self-doubt, self-worth, even writing was tortuous (when I suppose its most honest.  Did you ever have those days when you wished they speed past like flashcards?  It’s only until that damned disappointing sun, weak incapable of tossing out a solar flare and incinerating the cloud cover that I felt calm. No more staring into a day of gray disappointment.grayday

Night time is the best time for me. Inside the house is quiet and familiar like an old dog and outside is awash in black and could be anywhere in the world.


When Intrinsic Value Is Devalued


She was a Beaut!  

It was one month past the age of nineteen when I first spotted her dowdy aunt (an Edwardian relic steeped in the ritual doctrines of affected,aragtop-3 isolated, and bête noir) leisurely roll to a stop at a red light.  Her continental bearing and hardly-subtle style seduced me at once; her polish was ablaze and yet I was smitten and took a step toward her admitting my daily longing and nightly lust for one just like her. As I daydreamed the light changed and off she went like horses out of the gate; I dashed after her but my pursuit was fruitless when she suddenly growled and hesitated, and then she divinely disappeared as capriciously as a shooting star.

I stood there addled and breathless and cognizant that her type was bridled for the Favored, for the Eccentric, for the Careless.  She was beyond agawdyhousemy reach; she’d look silly in my hometown, not gorgeous, not dazzling, not alluring. My hometown was suspicious of flash or flair or fins!  If I dared to bring her home, the circle of neighbors in our cul-de-sac would gather like bits of dinner in the strainer, then march like a flock of flamingoes en masse, arriving at our doorstep and determinedly ring our bell and demand her removal (like last year), as though she emulated (like last year) Dad’s proudly draped home of  109,621 (+/-) twinkling holiday lights!

For three months shy of 35 I remained abstinent; I knew that only one would provide any sense of pleasure.  The others?  Others, really?  Monotone, pedestrian, uninspired.  So I behaved, in every respect like the rest of my pals: humbly thanked  aacorvair1comb-overed, remote, and little known of uncles looking to dump their  waning, wooded, wagons onto culturally clueless yet utterly anxious sons of far-flung and holiday-sighted siblings or sibling-in-laws to make room in their attached garage for every middle-aged man’s nocturnal emission: the rear-engined, rear-wheeled, aluminum air-cooled 164 cu in 1960 Motor Trend Car of the Year: the Corvair!  All I remember as he handed me the keys was a brief exchange between he and his wife:  Him: “I’m going to get a real boss car with a floor box,” to which she replied coolly, “Great! A middle-aged candy-ass who’s all show and no go!”  

From there I picked up whatever ride I could afford and stashed a handful of dollars into “My Beauty” account.  And finally, amini-1finally after almost forty years of waiting I walked straight into the dealers showroom, pointed at the loaded burnt orange rag top, whipped out thirty-three, one thousand dollar bills said, “Give her a nice wash will ya’?  I don’t want to bring home a dirty girl!”

The first two years were idyllic: It was the third when things began to change, slowly, like late fall maple leaves. We tried, we gave it a go, we even put-off annual holidays to Northern Italy, but to no avail.  It was simple economics: I couldn’t afford to keep her.  The stratospheric maintenance was, once again, a wicked reminder that I wasn’t one of the favored or careless!  I would always be a part of the prudent.  But time after time after time her visits to the shop cost thousands!  Not hundreds, but thousands of dollars!  We kept her insured three more years, but even that couldn’t . . . couldn’t promise a pardon from age . . . it simply put a pause on life’s timeline.

Intrinsic Value never seems to be a placeholder on any balance sheet I’ve read. “And Intrinsic Value” , I’m told by my accountant, “is not an asset; the item(s) might be.  But this intrinsic value you keep bringing up. . .its value is to you, not to the IRS, or car salesmen, or insurance agents.  Intrinsic Value is always devalued by everyone except you.”


Heartache . . .

aheartache7Heartache . . .

That mysteriously deep thawing of hope; that dank, on-going, torrential rain; that ache which hasn’t surfaced in almost 40 years; that ache of loneliness, of silence, of early dusks and late dawns; that aching pain of your soul being wrung like a dishrag; bookends of despair and pain on either side of sleep; the torture of sobbing in a diner.

Heartache . . .

That frightening moment which descends like a parachute upon throwing the deadbolt; ascending the stairs and sensing a household hollowness; this isn’t my home yet I’m its caretaker; he isn’t a parent, he’s my brother.  But my role has changed dramatically: his transference of authority known as power of attorney (durable and healthcare) has eliminated any aheartache2mourning I may have expressed.  I’m his representative and to an ignorant outside world he hasn’t really disappeared behind the safety of managed care, but has grown taller by five inches.

Heartache . . .

This designation has robbed me of mourning.  Instead I’ve got to be as sharp as a tack, thoroughly abreast of medical and financial details, composed at all hours in anticipation of that dreadfully somber tone of the caller. I’ve got to nurture relationships at the bank, his current residential facility, his physicians, his pharmacists, his auto mechanic.  My sleepless burden, borrowing a term from football, a handoff. He’s handed me his life like a principal to a ripe substitute teacher mumbling, “Good luck being Mrs. Brown: they loved her and will see you as an interloper.”  Imagine being someone else, especially someone that enjoyed a circle of friends, someone that will be surely missed.  Imagine filling those shoes.

Heartache . . .

This was my description of Rick’s working life to a social agency: “As a route/sales driver he was on the road early enough to arrive at his first customer by 7:00 AM.  Most customers were dry cleaners and upon arrival he singlehandedly unloaded an unpredictable variety of items: aheartachecarpets and rugs averaging 100 pounds apiece; fur and leather coats (five in each hand).  All items shifted while en route so he had to crawl inside a sweltering cargo bay.  Several customers were located upstairs or downstairs, so he would carry these awkward and cumbersome loads up and down stairs. Rick made as many as 100 stops in a single day in all types of weather. Carpets were by far the heaviest single item of significant proportion. Hauling carpets required him to stoop, hoist the carpet onto his shoulder and carry it into the customers store.  Most items for pick up were thrown haphazardly on the floor.Rick was required to crouch down, grab heavy carpets or garments, and under their added weight stand, and “sling”them onto his shoulder. He carried them to his van good-naturedly through deep snow or light snow concealing ice; against heavy traffic in urban areas, and in the dark during the short days of winter.”

Heartache . . .aheartache6

My admiration for Rick has never diminished; for seventeen years he worked a “hard labor job” which often kept him on the road for eighteen hours. He performed his job with integrity, commitment, and an unwavering pride. He did something I could never do: for seventeen years, day in and day out, in blizzards, hailstorms, and black ice; in unrelenting heat, cloud bursts, and flooding; and one wild turkey flapping its way into Rick’s van, he never quit. Ever. That’s called honor.

Rick’s been transferred to a sub-acute rehab facility.  Here’s where you can send him your “Get Well” card:

Mr. Richard Didrickson
Mitchell Manor West Allis
Senior Living Community
5301 W. Lincoln Avenue
West Allis WI  53219
(414) 615-7200


Life By Living


Life, as we know much too well, is plump with memories; old jokes but new laughter.


An eternity of firsts: love, kiss, bike, pirouette, strike out, airline, stitches, lipstick, heartbreak, failure, beer, hangover,
diamond ring, varsity letter, loss, win, marriage, house, flat tirehook line and sinker, kids, grand kids.


And yet, it is precisely these moments that quietly fashioned us like a sculptor casts his marble.
These serendipitous moments pop up like toast and reminds us that

life is really what we’ve learned by living.

Humphrey Tales: All Manor of Cat at Downy Birch (the Foreword)

The stories you’re about to read took place in a town very much like your own.  And the streets, and the gardens, and the two-footed, unusually tall, disturbingly loud, rambunctious then ravenous, warm-lapped for napping human‘s (as I’ve heard them called) are all, coincidently, similar to your’s in your town.  With one very distinct difference:  In Cricklade, a marvelous miracle occurred.  Humphrey was born.

Humphrey has an unusual talent, even beyond the mystical reputation of Jellicoe Cats (tuxedo or black-on-white Cats).  Humphrey has the blessing of serendipity, cousin to the enormously influential Providence, under whose influence Humphrey was born at the musty corner of a dank basement.

Borne into the Royal Order of One, Humphrey’s FemmeFeline (that is, his birth feline), was an orphan herself.  She’d been abandoned in a bus line repair shop, so that the nameless mother might survive that bitterly brutal winter.  Humphrey’s mother, just another anonymous female, it is rumored, had the kind of litter which occurs only once in every 62,835 litters brought into this village every decade: The litter came to be known simply as The One Litter.

This fortuity often delivered hope to all cats;  The One Litter brought one Tom Cat predestined to a higher standard, and the true spirit of feline friendship, duty, and allegiance to whomever discovers Tom Cat, The Litter of One.

The talent Humphrey possesses is the ability to communicate with whomever rescues him from oblivion after being orphaned by his nameless mother.  This human will give Tom Cat his true Jellicoe Name (as communicated to him by the kitten he just found).  And everyone that meets Humphrey will think it is the perfect name (which it is).

These are the adventures of Humphrey, the cat of Downy Birch Manor and his Great Purpose?  To dethrone the Mongrel Canine and the moniker “Man’s Best Friend,” thus returning to all felines the righteous mantel and distinctive title designated by a human clan: He’s-Part-of-The-Family and with that moniker comes the Fireside-Favorite-of-the-Four-Footed-Feline, in the case of Downy Birch, an age old Hearth Braided Rug.