In The Flow


(This piece is intended to be read while listening to the attached song “Lessons in Love” by Level 42)

The doctor traipses through the door wearing a somber expression.  It’s the face he saves for moments such as these. He looks to be in his late sixties with gray thinning hair, wearing a white lab jacket over a dress shirt and blue Dockers. A pair of silver rimmed bifocals are resting towards the end of his nose. He thumbs through my medical report and shakes his head in confirmation of what he’s reading. Without looking up from the final page he sighs “I’m truly sorry, but, well—-there nothing more we can do—-”.  He’s a picture of detached professionalism, he might as well be telling me that my car transmission is shot.  I squirm on the crinkly sounding paper that covers the exam table “What do you mean, there’s nothing more you can do?” He puts his hand on my shoulder and wistfully responds “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid it’s terminal.”

A fight or flight response kicks in and I feel a jolt of adrenaline shoot through my veins. I instinctively jump to my feet escaping the examining table with its protective paper that clings to my sweat glazed skin.  “You’ve gotta be kidding me.  There’s gotta be other alternatives, other options—-experimental treatments—-.”  He offers me a weary nod that expresses a sense of futility.  “I’ll change my diet, join a gym—-become a vegan?    I’ll quit the beer.  I’ll fast.  I’ll drink vitamin shakes!”  I’m not schooled in all the stages of death and dying, but I was obviously in the bargaining phase.  “I’m still young, I feel better than ever.”  The Doc rubs his wrinkled forehead and then removes his glasses “This is very common, one day you’re running a marathon and making future plans and the next, well—-” his voice trails off as he grimly shrugs his rounded shoulders.

Feeling emotionally and physically exposed, I self-consciously fuss with my hospital gown in an attempt to better cover my backside. I mumble under my breath, “You’d think with all the advances in modern medicine they’d come up with a better way to cover your ass than one of these flimsy butt curtains.  I swear, you’ll see more ass in a hospital corridor than a strip-club.”

With all the melodrama carved from a climatic scene of a soap opera (sweeping organ arpeggio not included) I blurt out “How much time do I have left?”  The old Doc straightens his starched lab coat and takes a deep breath “When it comes to these sorts of things, well—it’s hard to say.  It could be today, or you might have another fifty years.”   “What?”  I stare at the report in his hand, “Well, what does that fucking report say?”  He nods with a sheepish smirk “Oh this, it says you’re perfectly fine.  I’m sorry if I’ve confused you, or frightened you.”  Folding my arms over my chest I respond “As a matter of fact I am confused, and more pissed than frightened. What the hell are you trying to tell me?  Am I well, or am I dying?  What the—-”  In a gesture of sympathy or perhaps pity, he puts his left arm around my shoulder. “There’s a little secret us doctors keep from our patience.”  My voice is becoming louder and more frustrated “Secret, what little secret?”  “Son, we’re all terminal.  We don’t like to spread this kind of medical diagnoses around.”  He squints his eyes displaying a painful grimace,  “It’s rather—how should I say—–well it’s—–it’s bad for our professional image—–and it’s really not good for business.”

My sense of anxiety is replaced with a feeling of shock “So I have a reprieve, I’m gonna live?”  He slips his hands in the pockets of his spotless lab coat “Why no silly, like I said, you might stroll out of here today and be hit by a Mac-Truck or have a massive aneurism.  Or, you could carry on healthy and strong for another fifty years. But make no mistake about it, you are terminal and your days are numbered.  And when that day does come, there’s no magic pill or fanciful medical treatment that will extend your life another year, another day or another second.”

He glances down at his watch “Times a wastin, I gotta get down to the commissary, the Women’s’ Auxiliary is having their annual cheese ball sale—Oh my God, they are to die for—-Oops, sorry for the poor choice of words.” He gives me a hand shake and a wink.  And with that, he turns and walks out whistling a lose arrangement of “American Pie” by Don McLean.

Later that night I fall asleep and have pastel colored surreal dreams.  I’m in a strange cosmic flow between reality and fantasy. I surrender—-I no longer fight against anything—-I desire nothing.  I feel no need to assert my will, The “I” in “I am” is gone.  There’s a sudden sharpness to the existence of nonexistence, awareness of unawareness, the un-conciseness of conciseness—-I’m at a place where all things intersect—-there’s a nothingness to all that is, and an everything-ness to all that it isn’t. That gibberish is hippy-talk for saying—I feel good,—all is as it should be,—–I’m in the flow—-

I wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and born again—-I finally understand that esoteric term “born again”.  I pick up the phone and call my office.  The operator connects me to my boss “Hey John, yeah its me, I’m not gonna be able to make it in today.  No—I’m fine, in-fact I’m feeling great.  I just feel too damn good to spoil it by coming to work.”  I snicker to myself  “I guess I’m calling in well.”

There’s a long pause “Did you win the lottery or are you drunk?”  I laugh “Yeah, I feel like I’ve won the lottery and I feel drunk too, drunk on life—baby.”  John’s voice becomes more curt “Now listen here, those quarterly reports are due next week and all those spreadsheets of yours need to be updated and posted.  Cut the crap and get your ass down here—-now!”  “No I’m sorry John, but like I said, I’m calling in well.  I just feel too damn alive to be holed up in a stuffy cubicle all day staring at a computer screen—-it would bum my stone man.”

There’s another long pause.  I hear a deep sigh come over the receiver “So, you’re calling in well. Now isn’t that some crazy shit—–.   Okay, I’ve gotta hand it to you—-you’ve got balls.  And I hate to say this, but at some crazy-ass, luny level, I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt. Why? I don’t know. But I’ll take your lame honesty any day over someone’s phony ass hoarse voice, whimpering to me that they’re sick.  I guess ya got to do what ya gotta do.”  I think to myself, damn—this honesty is some powerful shit!

I’m not sure if I want to take a shot of Jager or a shot of wheatgrass.  I put on my baggy shorts, tank top, flip flops and head off downtown.  I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the plate-glass store  window and damn, I look pretty freakin good. I’ve got my tunes blasting from the speakers in my backpack.  I’m diggin on the song “Lessons of Love” by Level 42—I never even use to like that song, damn—where the fuck did the 80’s go?  I’m walkin in rhythm, I’m shakin it down like Ellen Degeneres (now, that’s kinda creepy too)—-but who cares, cause baby I’m movin and groovin—I start clapping my hands and laughin out loud like some sort of crazed madman.

I taste the diesel in the air and I suck it in with a smile. I cruz past kids walking home from school and they fall in behind me smiling and dancing,.  Birds chirp, horns honk, an alley cat creeps by.  A stray dog sniffs the air and then prances in rhythm behind the kids.  I drop a dollar in a homeless guys cup—he falls under our spell and joins in, dancing and snapping his fingers at the end of our urban conga-line—.  As we pass a Starbucks, a throng of patrons empty out of the patio and find their place at the tail-end of our looney parade.  Out of the corner of my eye I see John my boss staring down from his corner office window, he shakes his head and gives me a half hearted thumbs up sign——-all of life is sweet and beautiful—-I’m in it—-we’re all in the flow.

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
Jack Kerouac

“Happiness only real when shared.” Christopher McCandless Into the Wild


Long May You Run


(This piece is intended to be read while listening to the attached song “Long May You Run).

All those late nights driving in my truck, driving to your place and feeling everything—-, never questioning what the journey might bring, or for that matter, where it may lead.  Strange but true, being young allowed me to make mistakes, cause there was plenty of time to make things right again. These days, I choose my mistakes more carefully. That old song kept playing on the tape deck, “I Believe In You”—Or maybe it was “Out On the Weekend” or “Long May You Run” I kinda forget, but it was something by Neil Young.   I can still hear that sad harmonica of his wobbling in and out of tune.  It rained that whole month of January, a cold dampness permeated my clothes, the cab of my truck and it eventually soaked the roof of my soul, causing it to cave in from the weight of it all.  I needed a friend, but I hadn’t yet learned the subtleties of making a friend.   I was awkward, odd and shy, skulking about my hometown—aimlessly—-in a state of waiting, not knowing what to make of this life I’d unexplainably been pushed into.

A world of strangers meandered by me, through me—and then back out the other-side—they kept moving somewhere beyond me—without me.

The pretty girls we’re a strange and confusing breed for me to grasp. I stood on the corner leering at them, fascinated yet unsure of what to do—or how to get with one of them?  They drew me in with their sweet scent—-my eyes trailed after them as their bodies gracefully and rhythmically moved through space.  They nonchalantly carried away little pieces of me—

Before this, my dog was my only friend.  He took me just the way I was—like only homeless mongrels and fellow outcast can do—it’s an off-handed world when you’re walking through it alone.

I hurried through the school quad trying to keep a safe distance from the jocks, preppies, motor-heads and the brainy-acts.  With my head held down, I glanced over to the senior walk and there you were stretched out on the lawn, tan Dickies, white T shirt with one pocket and your hair pulled pack in a pony tail.  You were just sitting there with your head tilted back soaking up the sun on your face.  You we’re totally out of place, a fucking dandelion on the fifty yard line at a Home Coming football game—-I somehow knew we were destined to be the best of friends.

I was drawn to your indifference to all the bullshit that coats high school with pretension and posturing.  It was totally out of my character but I walked up to you and mumbled, “Hey”. You squinted and tilted your head in the other direction and nodded at me.  I’d noticed that your pants had dirt or mud all over them.  “How come you’ve got mud all over your pants?”  “I’m a potter.”  “Ya mean a stoner?”  You shook your head and gave me a grin “No, I do ceramic’s, I make pots—-And well—-yeah, I get stoned too.”  I grinned back at ya—, the Gods had sent me a friend.

We’d cruise the avenues, boulevards and backroads of our hometown in his 1962 Ford Falcon wagon.  It was a faded olive green color with peeling paint that revealed an oxidized rusty orange color beneath—she was weathered and worn—she had character and suited us well.  We drank beer in dark deserted parks, made campfires down at the river-bottoms and practiced the art of hanging-out.  We carried on long involved conversations about Kerouac, Jesus and Star Trek—Oscar Peterson, Poe and Zap Comic’s—Chinese Food, Luis and Clark, and the yet uncharted territories of love.  We were committed to our dreams—carrying on our discussions until late in the night, planning extravagant adventures to foreign lands—-the mountains we’d ski, the rivers we’d raft and the challenges we’d conquer.  We we’re on fire for everything and for everybody, talking a million miles a minute—speaking with confidence as we bolstered one another’s courage, or maybe it was just youthful bravado —-no topics were off limits—-honesty and authenticity were the dues paid for membership in our exclusive club.  Our talks always led back-around to that same enigmatic topic—Girls, those illusive creatures that mesmerized, mystified and mortified us—-some things never change.

We fancied ourselves Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty from “On The Road” but by the reactions of the girls we tried to impress, we were perceived more as Beavis and Butt Head—-, to be mocked as Thelma and Louise would have been an improvement.

We had our deep philosophical talks but it was our humor that sustained us, we laughed at ourselves and the state of the world, we were immortal, all things were fixable—-time was on our side (A Rolling Stones reference)…

Some things change and some things stay the same.  In many ways I am still that awkward, odd and shy dude from years past—-a pariah to the mainstream. But these days I’m comfortable in my own skin,—beneath my chipped paint and fading color beats a youthful heart–an idealist to some, a fool to most—-but I like it that way—Juck-em—if they can’t take a foke—hahaha!

How are you my old friend, my potter and fellow romantic?  I remember it all fondly, as if it were just yesterday—and for a moment I’m ridding shotgun as you drive us down some dirt-road out in the boondocks, we’ve got a six pack of beer and much to discuss—-Neil’s voice sings his high pitched lonesome song in the background—-and once again, you bring a grin to my face.

Dedicated to my life long brother, Norman.