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.

alife1

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.

alife5

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.

 

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 7,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 12 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Finally Understanding Life As Mani A.

manny-young

I first met Mani A. a few months after my father died when I was fifteen.  He appeared from around a blind corner where Wong-Su restaurant and Teddy’s Tavern meet like a knife’s edge.  He was a restless, sinewy, no-nonsense blond wearing his older-brother’s-hand-me-downs.  I apologized and excused myself immediately, but he roared to life like a freshly started chainsaw and lunged at me with a ferocious diatribe about a blokes right-of-way and his unalienable rights, to which I chimed in, “But you are an alien!”  He paused, his idling mind wafting the blue smoke of burning oil, when suddenly he hit the throttle baring his teeth and chortled that he wasn’t a bloody martian, see, so piss off with the alien bullocks; crikey, he has the right to use public property as a thoroughfare without being gobsmacked by some daft wanker! until, I think, he heard himself running-on about some kind of whack job hyper-speech at which time he slowed, eventually landing softly on a patch of green peckhamengland-1grass.  I sat next to Mani A. who opened up like a teenagers compact, and divulged his personal life in Peckham, England (just outside of London), which, by the way he described it, was a tortuous place; a hometown without a home, a chilling place that nobody admitted coming from, everybody just shows up one day, street-smart and dodgy, showed up-growed up because nobody ever had a childhood.  You were either born a teen-ager or plain old smeg.  Nobody was ever just a kid; and nobody ever saw a kid.  We were around the same age and dreamt of similar things, but whereas I knew mine were silly fantasies, Mani A. was certain that whatever he wanted he could have.  No kidding.  Without the slightest doubt or reservation, whatever Mani A. wanted, Mani A. could get.  Period.  Mani A. had balls.  Whether Peckham beat them into him or he developed that confidence on his own, the strength of his conviction, no matter the degree of unlikelihood, you had to think, hey, it just might happen.  I’ve never met anyone in my entire life that expressed the depth of fortitude that Mani A. did.  I said my life must seem like a cartoon compared to yours: I was two-steps west of being white trash, and while our home lives seemed oddly similar, I never learned how to survive; I just wait.  For what, he asked leaning his elbow onto the grass.  For anything.  Anything besides this shit hole I can’t get myself out from.  At which Mani A. leapt to his feet, extended his hand and said, come on mate, I’ll show you the dog’s dinner that’ll make your life now look like a wee bit of the hard lines.  Your going to get a crash course in Peckham Survival Know-How.  First, you learn about being borne:  In Peckham you didn’t cut your teeth; you growled and snapped!  We learn to bite before there’s anything to bite.  Being ahead, that’s tickety-boo; getting ahead never happens, especially in Peckham.  And so started six months of juvenile delinquency including assault (knife-school-teacher), battery (brother), truancy, and one stern lecture from a juvenile judge away from living in a home for dangerous boys.

It wasn’t until Mani A. left town did I get my head screwed back on tight.  I toed the line, straightened out school, became popular, played sports each season, acted, sang, even led student government.  Counselor’s referred to me as the idyllic example of reform.  But in the back of my head I could still hear Mani and all the things he said and showed and prompted me to do.  Being “ways” by choice, not by reaction.  Mani didn’t show me how to live,chubbyseniorportrait Mani showed me how to survive.  Mani and I have maintained our friendship for over forty years.  One of the things I admired about Mani was his bond of friendship.  Or should I say degree of bond of friendship.  Whenever he helped take care of something cagey, I’d ask him why he’d get involved?  His answer has always been the same: friendship.  He said all other relationships have their own bloody baggage and demands and expectations, and ways to screw you in the end.  But friends are simply friends.  Easy, like looking in the mirror.  I see a wee bit of my bloody self in you.

Mani continued to visit at irregular intervals, all of which were concurrent with troubling, impossible, or unavoidable circumstances.  For example, he swung into town when my junior year in high school devolved into adolescent chaos: ducking senior hazing, sidestepping discussions highlighting my grim blue-collared, unionized, married and fatherly fate; derailing any parochial collision between varsity lettermen and my shadowy shine for Mitchell, an underclassman; and my obesity targeted by jeering and loathsome bullies.  He arrived shortly after Stokowski and I went to Union Drop Forge hoping to snag summer work which leads to full time after graduation.  Our bus drove through the “Blue Mile,” a one mile corridor of heavy, eye-reddening, cough-inducing, toxin-saturated manufacturing exhaust.  We nicknamed that part of oldermani2town the “Blue Mile” because of that solar eclipsing blue haze belched from fifty-foot smoke stacks every minute of every day.  I took my application home where it still remains blank.  I wanted my future to be unexpected.  To be a lifetime removed from the cadence of the dead-end-man: a union job, a wife, a stuffy upper flat, kids we can’t afford, dependence on two incomes, kids dumped with objecting in-laws, hate and regret pitched at the other, and some place my hope tumbled out of my greasy coveralls pocket while reaching for my lighter which I never missed until I reached for it, right after she left with the kids flanked by her objectionable parents.  That tableau was the only life option offered to kids like me.  It was expected, and you were expected to follow the guy ahead of you.  But I dreamt of the unexpected, the unpredictable chaos of life beyond the “Blue Mile.”  College required good grades, but demanded money.  The costs were way beyond my family’s reach; so far afield that going to college became a family gag.  And then, when my avenues and alleyways around the tuition hurdle went bust Mani stopped by on his way back to Peckham.  His first words were, You look like a sorry sod, chum!  causing me to expunge my year of hopelessness and depression.  He waited until I stopped crying before he said, Sometimes you’ve got to be bonkers, your mates marching to a paycheck will call you a mug, but remember life is horses for courses!  And you’ve got to be bold!  You’ve got to be; because being bold and senseless and relentless are the only way out.  Back in Peckham if you’re pegged a nesh or are sussed acting naff the rest of life in Peckham is going to be piss poor.  You and your chums go about blagging tough, and sometimes it goes fist-to-cuffs.  In Peckham it ain’t about violence because violence there is like your factory here.  In Peckham it’s about surviving life, about tomorrow.

In 2008 Mani broke all the rules.  Rather than subtle clues that he’s a stones throw away, he decided that my end game was near, so he ruptured my barrier of sanity, perforated my character, elbowed out reality, and declared chubyoldermaniautonomy.  Mani was finally emancipated; freed from the crushing compliance of decency and propriety, he ignored laws, took chilling risks, discovered a steady stream of opiates which he washed down with lethal liters of alcohol, ignored vows, ruined friendships, tossed out of jobs, denied benefits, and finally barricaded himself in the office of a psychiatrist who eventually evicted him, and reinstated my authority over the dominion of my life.

I’ve never faulted Mani for his insurgency.  He was simply providing the bravado to traverse the craggy cliffs of life, and of which I was ill-prepared to navigate.  But as Mani A. learned, freedom from consequence isn’t freedom at all.  It’s destruction, it’s disregard, it’s vengeful and dangerous and hateful and lethal   But Mani did have a knack for getting the job done which he introduced, tutored, and polished in me, providing the backbone for a career.  I think that’s how he survived: Mani and I got hired by gentlemen to take care of things quietly and cleanly.  Not that we ever broke the law, but we definitely broke the rules.  Mani recited many adages over the years, but the single-most poignant he shared with me was:  You can’t quit; every bloody cry-baby “says” they want “it,” but quit the second they’ve got to act like a chancer.  There are just two times you can quit: when you take the biscuit or hop the twig. 

 

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