Why Old Dogs Learn New Tricks

 

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Soundtrack by Paul McCrane from the movie Fame.

In my humblest attempts to write something that sounds Twain-ish, I came up with the following.

“If you wanna know a man, meet his dog first.”  You can unpack that quote several ways, but I’ll leave it up to you to deconstruct as you see fit.

 

For Chasey——-my Pal….

I don’t walk my dog, he walks with me. We go to fun places together, not stores, restaurants and malls, I think that’s stupid and weird.  That’s as absurd as taking a cat to church.  Cats don’t believe in god, they think they are god.

We prefer walks around our neighborhood or hikes in the woods.  Being a Lab, he loves his swims down by the lake.  He tips the scale at over a hundred pounds.  That’s twenty pounds of sweetness, thirty pounds of slobber and fur and fifty pound of love.  He shakes his wet coat all over me, drools water across my freshly shined hardwood floors and steps on my bare feet with his heavy sharp paws—–Ouch!!!—–If he wasn’t so damn cute he’d get a lot more scoldings.

There’s a quiet calm about him.  He’s at peace with himself and the world, minus the mailman, garbageman and the neighbor’s cat.  The cat sits smugly behind her window as Chase is pulled back to his yard by his collar. I’ve never been at peace with myself, the world, or anybody or anything. I’m more the restless type who’s easily tangled up in my own expectations.  I anxiously cling to desired outcomes that are out of my control. He stares up at me with his eyes that seem to say “Don’t worry bro, it’s all good man, everything is as it should be”.  Chase is Zen; he’s simple, honest, loyal, kind and empathetic——-he expects nothing. He lives in the moment, joyfully running in circles, never mired in selfish conclustions. He doesn’t even care when he misplaces his favorite tennis ball.  He naps when he’s tired, eats when he’s hungry and walks around with a big contented Zen smile on his doggie face.  In his serene mind he wags his tail in time to “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley.

He doesn’t much care for fighting, but if provoked he can be vicious——-he has a highly developed “bullshit detector”. Lying and cheating must give off a subtle scent, because his keen sense of smell can detect those qualities from miles away. His intense listening skills alert him when someones words don’t match their voice inflection. He’ll piss on the lawns of those who are deserving of his mark….

People fall out of love.  They change, they lose touch, they move on,  They’ll selfishly take more than they give, until one day they wake up and  find themselves friendless and loveless. Little by little they wear out others with their chafing annoyances. I think you know what I mean, like the petty cruelty of repeatedly leaving the cap off the proverbial tube of toothpaste. It becomes a process of slowly wringing out their partners patience like a stiff old dish rag until they’ve squeezed out every last drop of civility. All that remains is bitterness and lawyer fee’s.

Dogs don’t know how to keep score. They only have two emotions, love and forgiveness. Unlike humans, dogs make great listeners.  Most folks don’t listen, they just yammer on with all the eloquence and articulation of a squawking Stellar Jay…….Chase cocks his head sideways, props up his floppy ears and offers up a sigh of acknowledgment.

There’s a fine line between love and hate. Most people don’t know when they’ve crossed that line until it’s to late.  They refuse to learn or change, they prefer casting blame rather than trying to become a better person. It’s hard to teach old humans new tricks.  They always want to know, “What’s in it for me?”

Old dogs don’t learn new tricks just for a treat, they learn new tricks to please you. Some folks will say “I love you” every chance they get, but they never take the time to show it through their actions.

My dog is ten years old. They say a dog ages seven dog years for every human year. My dog at ten knows more about life and love than I ever will—–and I’m middle aged—– I’m being conservative in regards to defining my age.

Chase and I are growing old together.  He’s slowed down a bit, but he still has the heart of a pup.  He barks a jet airplanes, gets excited when I put on my shoes for a walk and would follow me to hell and back agin.  I  wish my dog would never grow old, because when he’s gone I’ll be lonely here without him……..

Trump-ing The Truth

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As the old adage states, “Be careful what you wish for, because you just may just get it”. And in a word the republican party has what they’ve been wishing for “Trump”. He has picked up a mirror and placed it up to the face of the RNC. And, if the eyes are the mirror of the soul, then his beady little eyes reflect a narcasitic abyss.

Sitting at the head of the RNC table is Trump. And, those not offered a seat at this table include, Women, Immigrants, Mexicans, The Disabled, Muslims, LGBT, Veterans, Unions, Planned Parenthood and pretty much anyone who doesn’t hold the values of old white males still living in the “bad old days”. His tools of the trade include hate, fear and divisionism. As any totalitarian leader knows, employing these measures is the easiest way to inflame and manipulate the masses. It’s an “us against them” mentality. It thrives on a shallow myopic view of the world. It’s a philosophy that seeks to pit us against one another rather than unite us. It encourages walls rather than bridges. It feeds on intolerance and inflexibility. It allows no room for compromise and if you look at the disfunction and polarization of our legislators, then you will understand what I’m talking about.

A strange paradox has arisen in regards to those who say they will vote for Trump but don’t support his ideals. That’s like saying “I don’t support mass killings where AR-15 weapons are used, but I won’t vote to outlaw the sale of these weapons”. This is CRAZY THINKING.

Thinking before you speak is a sign of maturity and wisdom. Trump brags about not needing a TelePrompTer and prefers to blurt out whatever he is thinking or feeling at that particualr moment.  His unscripted speeches and tweets reveal someone who is insecure, manipulative and belligerent. Separately his rants may appear inconsequential and entertaining, but collectively they add up to someone who is flipant about their biases and prejudices. The sum of his rants are as great as his ego……And as he would put it “That’s HUUUGGGE”!

He dismisses the need for“politically correctness”. He seems to think that opposing “politically correctness” allows him to say anything he wants regardless of how mean, rude and immature it may be. He calls women pigs and objectfies females based on their body image. In his words “A woman who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.”   He has made disparaging remarks during a debate concerning presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.  When describing her appearance he stated “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” He posted a picture of a challengers wife (Ms.Ted Cruz) intended to demean and disrespect her. His immature actions include callously mocking a disabled news reporter by sarcastically mimicking him in a cruel and unflattering manner (that type or behavior isn’t tolerated on a school yard).

Does dismissing political correctness allow Donald the right to revoke a news agencies press pass because they challenge his stance on specific issues? (that sounds more like a fascist  way of silencing ones critics).  He has called into question a federal judges integrity because of his Mexican heritage (Speaker of the House Paul Ryan stated “That’s textbook racism”). He discriminates against the entire Mexican race by insinuating that they are rapists, drug dealers and criminals.  His simplistic answer for stoping immigrants from entering the United States is to “Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it”.  With a similiar cavalier swagger he speaks about creating an enforcement agency to round up and deport millions of Mexicans.

His prejudice knows no limits. He spews hate and casts suspicion against all who are followers of one of the worlds oldest and largest religions.  His agenda demands that all Muslims be denied entrance into the United States.  What’s next?  Do we demand DNA samples from all who want to enter the United States?  Do we imprison and banish those that don’t meet Donald’s definition of Aryan?

He denies science by failing to accept that climate change is a major threat to our planets future.  This is sure to please the oil and coal industries. His allegiance to the NRA will make it virtually impossible to outlaw automatic weapons. And he’s the one who’s claimed that he would not be influenced by special interest groups—Yeah, right!

His mean spirited attacks go completely against what America stands for. In reality his racist strategies are no different than what ISIS propaganda attempts to do, which is to demonize anyone who doesn’t conform to their religious and political ideals. Inclusiveness unites us and makes us stronger, exclusiveness only breeds contempt and violence against those who hold differing religious, political and philosophical views.

Donald believes that if you say something long enough and loud enough it will “Trump” the truth (no pun intended). The news outlets that continue to allow him a free forum for spewing his divisive tirades are only playing into his propaganda machine. He is of the rich, for the rich and by the rich. He preys upon our insecurities and fears.  “They” hate Americans.  “They’re” taking our jobs.” “They” aren’t like us.  “I will make America great again.”

America doesn’t need to be made great again.  America has been great sense its inception. What makes America great is the Bill Of Rights and our Constitution.  Trump overrides the promises of freedom and liberty that is promised in these documents when he redefines who  is eligible for these protections.

He is a master at manipulating the system for his own personal gain. His tax returns will reveal a man who is more interested in amassing a financial empire rather than paying his fair share in taxes. His Trump University and business dealings reveal a man devoid of integrity. His flawed character is displayed in his inflammatory tweets and hate laden rants. He has incited his followers to be violent towards those who protest at his rallies. He once stated “I want to punch him in the face.” Is that presidential or diplomatic? Is that the kind of behavior we expect from the leader of the free world? Once again, THAT’S CRAZY TALK!

Language is sacred. It’s the tool of poets, politicians, teachers and preachers. What we say and how we say it defines us. Listen closely to what Donald says, his choice of words and his voice inflection. Don’t defuse the things he has said by giving him a free pass or writing it off by saying “He didn’t really mean it, he was just being funny”. Such comments may seem funny and “entertaining” until you are on the receiving end of such hate and disrespect.

Those that support Trump may believe that after all is said and done they will be able to wash off his fifthly rhetoric with a sponge bath. I don’t think so. You can’t wash off a tattoo nor can you redeem your integrity by claiming ignorance or naïvety.  Those in the Republican Party that fail to denounce Trump and his ideology are complicit by their silence.  By choosing not to say or do anything is making a choice.

Politics is seldom taken personally until it hits home. It’s easy to say “That’s not my problem, it doesn’t affect me”. But in fact, when the validity and freedom of one person is jeopardized, it weakens freedom for all of us. It starts when we allow politicians and ideologies to single out and dehumanize those that are cast as“different”. This group becomes a scapegoat for all the current political and economic ills. Then comes the laws and justifications to marginalize that targeted group.

We must be our brother and sisters keeper and stand up for them when their rights and freedoms are called into question. This reminds me of a piece written by Pastor Martin Niemöller regarding the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Don’t allow Trump and his divisive rhetoric go unchecked. Now is the time to put him and his manipulative and mean spirited tactics to shame. In solidarity there is strength—with compassion comes understanding and in the long run a whispered truth has more power than a screamed lie.

 

Feeding The Lion

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For Haley and Taylor.

Soundtrack “It’s For You” by Pat Matheny

So ya wanna be a writer. Writing takes enormous courage, at least for those who dare to stand in the center-ring and call themselves the master of ceremonies. When I say master of ceremonies, I mean standing in the center-ring with a chair in one hand and a whip in the other—–cracking that whip as you attempt to tame language, coaxing those unruly words to jump through rings of fire. It’s being honest and pure——it’s as insufferable as siphoning ink from an anemic soul. To go to such places you must first face down who you are or who you thought you were–you must be prepared to shine a light on your blind spots and shake hands with your darkest shadows. What’s in there? What’s way deep down inside me, that thing I’ve carried with me from the womb, that shameless thing that’s a part of me like a birth mark in the shape of original sin. If you can go that far down then you’ve earned the privilege to call yourself the zoo keeper of words. You have fed the lion, but you have not tamed him. Beauty, danger and fear are the bars that cage our confessions. A long lost friend once told me “Where the beauty of the soul is, there’s always danger.”

The next step is to put your head in that lions mouth. Choose honesty over insecurity. Allow space for venerability, don’t be anonymous——be outrageous, be original not a trend chaser, be forthright rather than pious and vain——take no-ones word other than your own, search everywhere for yourself and then let it all go, unleash your restrained emotions and when all the stiff mannequins misunderstand you, tell them to fuck off———it’ll be scary, but it’ll make you feel awake and alive—–trust that it will be worth it. Your words are your weapons, surrender is your shield. Make shit happen, even if you have to make shit up as you go along, walk the high-wire, be a fire eater, play the clown, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, it’s how you’ll learn to orchestrate your circus. Be persistent, have tenacity, be a seeker. Be good to yourself, be kind to others, smile, even when you don’t feel like it—-take the body and the mind will follow. .

Life is a beautiful thing——-people like you make this so.

 

What You Deserve

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This tune was written in homage to John Prine, my favorite folk artist.  He could write a lyric that straddles that fine line between silly and sad.  He can take the ordinary and make it seem extraordinary.

 

Drip, Drip, Drip

I danced with the devil
I stepped on his tail
Got drunk in a tavern
Found Jesus in jail

Drank enough beer
To piss me an ocean
It’s hard to get lost
When ya don’t care where you’re going

I bummed me a smoke
fired up a light
Now I’m stuck in this tree
Like a tattered old kite

Chased a few rainbows
Searching for a pot of gold
When I was young
Never thought I’d grow old

Times a wad of gum
stuck on your shoe
you can try and out run it
but it’ll catch up with you

Fates a leaky faucet
That drip, drip, drips
What you deserves
Is usually what you get

One night stands
Well, I had me a few
When it comes to loving
Bit off more than I could chew.

Made some mistakes
Yeah, I paid my dues
Smashed my TV
Tired of, the same ole bad news

You might say I’m crazy
Nutty as a fruit cake
If the fish ain’t bitting
It’s time to change your bait.

Chased a few rainbows
Searching for a pot of gold
When I was young
Never thought I’d grow old

Fates a wad of gum
stuck on your shoe
you can try to out run it
but it’ll catch up with you

Time’s a leaky faucet
That goes drip, drip, drips
The good times I’ll remember
The bad ones I’ll forget

I’m In A Walmart State Of Mind–Doors

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Soundtrack by Pat Metheny “Last Train Home”.

I’m in a Walmart state of mind. The fluorescent lighting gives the vast yet cluttered place a harsh two dimensional appearance. It’s a landscape crowded with cartoonish characters wearing thousand yard stares.   I’m staggering my way through this cathedral of capitalism, a place where everything has its price, but negligible value. It required the consumption of two tall boys and a shot of Jameson in order for me to enter these doors——I’ve come here to hopefully find an old friend of mine.

I do my best daydreaming while wandering through these isles of meaningless shit. There’s something about the endless isles of blurred colors and the monochromatic shopping muzak that puts me in a walking meditation. I peruse my way through the shameless drooping bra display, past the old ladies laid out in the pedicure highchairs, the in-house McDonalds with ketchup smeared tables, the strange optometrist alcove next to the restrooms and then past the immaculately arranged shiny fruit and vegetables, through the wall of HD TV’s, housewares, hardware, sporting goods and the disheveled toy department. I feel myself being swept away into a Fellini plot with its array of bizarre looking zombies.  It’s a nightmarish funhouse of warped mirrors, insane laughing clowns and Andy Warhol’s stacks of Campbell soup cans. The deeper I’m pulled into the bowels of the store, the more surreal my thoughts become——— Maybe I’ll find her in the shoe department.——

Why is there no three quarter life crises? It’s a misunderstood age ignored by a world consumed by youth culture and the next “big thing”. At this stage of my life, it’s no longer what I’m becoming, or who “I’m supposed to be” I know these things. Today, it’s more about “What have I done”. Or, “What haven’t I done?”  If you’ve aged well, you no longer give a damn what other people think, you are——–(good, bad or indifferent) uncompromisingly “you”.  Time strips away vanities, insecurities and pretentiousness. There’s comes a forced introspection knowing there are more days behind me than in front of me——-

The mirror has become a contemptuous tool of fucking deceit. My internal mirror has me forever young.  When I smile at pretty young girls they offer up blank stares,—–Just for kicks, I give a sly wink====”Better to be the one who smiled than the one who didn’t smile back.” Adam Smith

From the corner of my eye I catch the blur of something flittering amongst the exposed heating ducts, light fixtures and skylights. I scan the upper regions of the massive ceiling. I hear a sound reminiscent of a bird chirping. I follow the sound into the infant department. Could she be here?

My children are now grown and on their own. I carry their old memories frozen in time, but as I’ve grown older they’ve begun to thaw and slowly drip into my consciousness. Out of nowhere an old memory will surface and I will suddenly be consumed by a sense of nostalgia—- I’m taken back in time to cartoon gibberish, ski trips on snowy days, nervously letting go of the handlebars as she wobbles off without me, contentious teenage arguments with my son, teaching them how to swim, drawing the line “because I said so”, sleepless nights listening for the sound of the car returning in the driveway, holidays, family get togethers, loud parties——-tears and laughter——-I wonder, did I do it right? Did I do the right things for the right reasons? Did I tell them how much I love them? Did I say it enough? Did I show it enough? The past is malleable, I wonder about the memories they now carry of me???? Those were the best of times…….irreplaceable, irretrievable, irreparable, pressed like rose pedals within the pages of my heart——-

Perhaps she is by the water fountain near the layaway counter. Haughty shoppers offer up smirks as they jockey past me. They’re in a hurry to fill a hole left on their shopping list. The hunter gatherer gene lingering in their DNA causes them to stalk the shelves with a competitive killer instinct. For some, enough is never enough——hoarders of
“things” forget that everything they purchase comes with an expiration date…….

Have I failed god? Is he mute or am I deaf? Why are we born, why does everyone we love have to die? When I was young I was reckless, such things didn’t matter, back then I was unbreakable, irreverent—— There was always more time, time to say the things I needed to say, time to make up for the things I did wrong, time to apologize to those I’d wronged. I never looked at my watch or a calendar as a fuel gauge, or as an alarm to go off as time grows shorter.

I use to think I had control over my destiny, but not so much anymore. My grand designs flip flopped so many times that I’ve forgotten where my ego ends and my destiny begins.  Life is full of twists and turns, ups and downs, two way mirrors, dead ends, trap doors and enigmatic mysteries. I use to take credit for my successes and make excuses for my failures, but time has humbled me. Someone must have been looking out for me, a higher power, God, grace———Thank goodness that the divine takes pity on little children and fools….

Such a beautiful disaster, filled with prophetic accidents and comical mistakes, the art of life, falling apart and coming back together, riding the wave of brief eternal moments……recollecting all the people I’ve found and lost along the way. There’s always been more room for love. I should’ve hugged more, forgave quicker and been slower to anger——-

I follow the sound through the doors leading to the Yard and Garden Center. I know that she likes it out here where there is sun and fresh air. It’s an atrium of sorts, here I’m surrounded by chain linked fencing and a netted ceiling. I whistle hoping to coax a response from my shy friend.

Did I make them proud. After all their sacrifices and compromises had I come up short? Did I become a better part of their dream. It makes me wonder how others perceive me and what are the blind spots I fail to perceive in myself. Unconditional love, like the air I breathe, has always been there, taken for granted, worse yet——-expected.

Youthful enthusiasm kept me running in scribbled circles, impatient, forgetful———memories of sitting on my folks couch, with the evening news in the background, they leaned into me, listening as I explained my scrambled schemes and how I was going to have things my way.  It must have taken monumental patience on their part to allow me my fanciful indulgences.  In spite of all my false starts and wrong turns, they were behind me, no matter how cocksure I must have appeared. I hadn’t counted on all the fractured relationship, career stumbles, strange lonely towns, sucker punched failures, bad days, night terrors, faltering steps and stumbles——-but I always carried with me the knowledge that there was a place I could still call home, someone who would answer their phone no matter what hour of the day or night, they’d see me through—what a beautiful complete love——

In the corner of the atrium there’s a nest behind a flood light fixture. And there she is, sitting above the rows of patio chairs, barbecues and artificial plants. Her nest is constructed of candy wrappers, recipes and colorful strings gathered from the clothing departments. I’m reminded that to adapt doesn’t always mean to evolve……

I’d first noticed her several months ago perched upon an exposed vent. She must have accidentally flown in the store when the electric doors were open. I’ve continued to make occasional visits to see if she was still making this place home.  I’m not sure if she is trapped, or if she has found this way of life to be more predictable then what lies beyond these walls—-Life without surprises leads to complacency, and complacency compromises ones soul.

She must subside on the fruits and vegetables and other tidbits tossed into the trash cans.  The water dispenser has become her birdbath and drinking fountain.

This Walmart will be her chicks only world, all that they will ever know. It seems cruel and unfair that this sterile box-store will be the extent of their universe. But, if this is all they’ll ever know, then I suppose it makes no difference.  They don’t know—-that they don’t know——-that they’re captive birds.

To know that you don’t know, is where wonder collides with wisdom. I reach in my pocket and pull out a handful of birdseed and place it in the plastic rubber plant.

Leaving the store I’m filled with a sense of freedom. I inhale a deep breath and look up at the sky above me and wonder what doors may be hidden up there. I suppose we are all captive in one way or another ——-insnared by gravity, stiched to space and time, enslaved by our beliefs, stalked by our memories—-and ultimately, entrapped by the limited time we are here and alive………..

5150

Soundtrack “Wish You Were Here” Pink Floyd.

“Hey man, are you okay?” His voice draws me back to the surface where imagination and reality collide. “No man, I’m not okay, not at all.” He’s dressed in a blue sales associates vest with a name tag bearing the name Cameron. I think to myself, what a distinguished name for a punk kid with unkempt hair, nose piercing and tattoo sleeved arms. It’s Saturday evening and the huge box store is still a thrashed mess from the ravages of yesterdays “Black Friday Sale”. The wall of big screen televisions with their pristine HD pictures compete for my attention. I feel myself slipping back into their hypnotic grasp. “Hey man, do you need something?” I turn to him and speak “To love life, to love others, is how we show our love to god.” Cameron stares at me as if I’m speaking a foreign language: and I suppose I am. He laughs “Brah, your watch must be set to 420. Are ya sure everything’s cool by ya?  Ya need me to call someone?” “No, I’m just changing buses at your station.

“Sometimes at moments like this, I think in poetry and talk in prose. Everything hits me all at once, and things become clearer and more confusing all at the same time.” He takes a couple of steps backwards, “Tell ya what mister, let me go change the channel on those TVs. They’ve got ya all messed up.” He disappears into the maze of florissant lite isles while speaking into his radio piece.  I can hear him whispering the word “security”. I turn back towards the halo like glare of the T.V.s and lose myself in haiku thoughts.

Standing there at Walmart, in the electronic’s section, I feel myself being absorbed into the wall of flat screen TV’s. The sheer spectacle of all the pictures repetitively tuned to the nightly news is mind sucking. The female newscaster’s voice has the rehearsed sex-appeal and charm of a beauty queen. There’s not a hair out of place, her blouse is low cut, you might even say a bit provocative.  Her eyes conceal any sign of distress or outrage as she glibly reports the days menagerie of mayhem and tragety.  There are film clips of dead bodies in the streets. Another mass shooting at a school, a church, a mall. There’s a drive by shooting that’s killed an innocent three year old caught in the crossfire, a suicide bomber has murders 26 people in a marketplace, a minor traffic altercation leads to a road rage incident, a cop shoots an unarmed kid, there’s another hate crime— someone shoots somebody because they’re a different color, religion or sexual orientation, terrorist chop the head off of someone who worships a different god, disease and famine take the lives of thousands in a third world country, the bell rings ushering in another profitable day on Wall Street, gun control is defeated in the house of representatives——My bus pulls in and I climb aboard.

There’s no map, no compass, no destination, just me thinking in circles—-a meditation of sorts. My mental landscape begins to change.  I’m listening to voices as the birds eat my bread crumbs——there’s no backtracking, no going back.  I hear the bus’s air breaks release and I’m on my way.  God only knows where my thoughts are leading me—-

We tuck our guns away in our bedside drawers with a bottle of Viagra, cocked and loaded, god lays sleeping under the pillow, we shoot blank prayers into oblivion, bowing our heads to phones and tablets with the reverence once afforded holy books—-QVC is now the temple of worship, all our sins exposed on Facebook, true love is calculated with algorithms designed by a technician at E-harmony, although the earth is dying we remain distracted by soap operas, porn and gameshows, we drive SUV’s with bumper stickers damning climate change, politicians and lobbyist share sly winks, credit cards and umbrella drinks—–I find no rest, I can hardly breathe. Infomercials and pharmaceutical ads blanket the space between the nightly news stories.  Disasters, wars and mass shootings are reported alongside weather forecasts.   There’s an acceptance and tolerance to it all, as if we have no control over any of these events.  

So much hate, so much unbridled violence. I wish guns shot Hershey kisses, and religions taught grace (loving others, even when they don’t deserve it) I wish they’d turn all the mega churches into waterslide parks, and that all soldiers were ordered to wear lederhosen (its hard to kill a man wearing shorts with suspenders) and political speeches were judged by how well they expressed humor and espoused love, and that the Pope would turn the Vatican into a homeless shelter, and he’d trade his big pope hat for a chef’s hat as he cooked free spaghetti suppers for the hungry, and Joel Osteen installed dancing poles for his audience, and at the end of each sermon he’d make it rain dollars from the ceiling (now that’s prosperity preaching), teachers would be paid like pro athletes and pro athletes were paid like teachers,  and Muslims stopped falling to their knees five times a day to pray, but instead opened their arms to hug five strangers a day, and the leaders of countries resolved disputes by mud wrestling one another, and cannons shot confetti and AK 47’s sprayed gumdrops——and of course, our national bird would be a unicorn, our flag emblem a rainbow and “Imagine”would be our national anthem——

Is this the season of celestial checks and balances—of universal reciprocity? Has the Law of Attraction delivered what we’ve choose to manifested? Are we reaping what we’ve sowed. All the money wasted on wars could have sent tens of thousands of kids to college for free, could have created education and training programs for the poor and those incarcerated. We could have built hundreds of hospitals, built community centers, senior centers, child care centers. We could have fed the starving and provided free medical care to the sick.  I feel the door to my bus opening at a strange destination.

A security guard approaches me with his “I’m a badass” swagger. I noticed that the leather holster holding his pepper spray is unsnapped and his hand is resting on his belt next to the canister.

“Boy, ya been drinkin, maybe takin some medications?” His fingers idly strumming on his service belt. As he moves from foot to foot there is the sound of leather stretching and squeaking. “No, I haven’t been drinking, but I could use a pull off something strong right about now.”

“I hear ya all been makin some crazy talk, bout god and love and what not. Sounds like ya feelin a tad bit out of sorts. Now, they’ve got folks down at the County booby hatch that’ll give ya a lil sompin to calm ya all down.” I couldn’t tell if this was his attempt at being empathetic or if he’s trying to intimidate me. “Ya got some I.D. boy? And what ya all got in that there nap sack?”

I turn to make my exit but realize there’s a second security guard who’s snuck up behind me and is now blocking my way out. “Son, let’s go on back to my office so we can figure out what’s going on here. We gonna see that ya get proper help and such.”

The security guard leans back in his office chair as he speaks into the phone. He talks about me as if I were a child or as if I wasn’t even there. He keeps using the term “5150”. “I think he might be a good candidate for a 5150. Oh yeah, he could be of danger to himself and others, definably 5150.”

A sheriff shows up and he drives me down to the County facility. I’m ushered into a room where I’m introduced to a guy who identify’s himself as a psychologist. He asks me questions and prods me about my thoughts and beliefs. He wants me to explained my earlier comments regarding loving life, loving others and how this is a way to show god ones love. I tell him that I ‘m a storyteller and that I’m a voice for sad people. He looks up from he notes he’s been taking and asks “Why do you want to be a voice for sad people?”, I said “Well sir, cause the happy people don’t need a voice.”

He says that it would be best for me to remain at the faculty for a couple of days so that we can get to know each other better. I reply “It takes a long time to get to know someone, and even longer to say that you understand them—–And, cause everybody is always changing, we must be vigilant in our quest to earn someones trust and understanding. Some people think that if they get naked with someone, that they know them. Or, that if they make love to someone, it means they understand them. Some folks believe that because they live with someone or get married, that this means they belong to one another.  But that’s not the case.  Love isn’t belonging, love is letting go.

If ya want to know someone, ask them what breaks their heart, what makes them laugh, what was their childhood like, who they admire, what songs, books and movies touched them. Watch how they treat animals, strangers and children. These little things matter. You can’t say ya read a book until you’ve been through every chapter, every page, paragraph, every sentence and word. Like I said, it takes time, patience and communication to understand someone.——— People don’t read books anymore, they speak in acronyms, send out tweets, write 26 character text’s, they post selfies and collect friends on Facebook.

Ya see, I want to feel another’s thoughts, I want to think another’s feelings—-I know that doesn’t make much sense to most, maybe it’s even a bit crazy. I don’t know, but I”m reaching out to you, to life, to god—–with all my might.  I reach out to hug the therapist and he freezes up.  His eyes reveal a sense of fear or panic as he gently pushes me away. “That’ll be enough for today.”  He presses a button under hidden under his desk and a large orderly dressed in white appears.  He looks more like a bodyguard rather than a nurse.

The orderly leads me to my room and gives some Ambien to swallow. He leaves, I spit it out. I lay awake for a long time. I wonder when my next bus will arrive……..

 

tRuE lOvE oR dEaD FloWeRs

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Soundtrack “Finish What You Started” Van Halen

I hate it when someone says “I love you”. It’s like repeating a sentence over and over again until it becomes indecipherable. The words resonate with all the conviction of “Have a nice day”.  It’s the default we fall back on when signing everything from a birthday card to a “To do list”. It’s as overused as the adjectives “awesome” and “amazing”. Now, sex can be “awesome” or “amazing” but pizza, not so much.  Its like saying “I’m sorry” with the frequency of commenting on the weather—–after a certain point it loses its sense of contrition. They don’t want to be forgiven, they want to be excused.  Some folks don’t really mean “I love you” nor do they really intend to “Bless you” after a sneeze.

Love isn’t sending dead flowers to the funeral tomorrow, it’s hand delivering hot gooey cinabuns today. Love is sharing a couple of beers on a bench while staring out at the ocean and talking about life, the good parts, the bad parts and still finding reasons to smile—-even though the sea air is damp and salty, their words help lift the fog. Love isn’t loyalty, it’s not cooking a good meal, it’s not being a good provider or a great housekeeper. Love is being understood. That’s it—–period. Love is grace, it’s given to you, even when you don’t deserve it.

Love isn’t a word. A word is an approximation. A word is a metaphor, it’s saying something is kind of like this other thing. Love is like nothing you’ve ever known, seen or felt. And once you try and make it happen, or try to make it stay, it suddenly vanishes. Love doesn’t “try” love “is”—-because—–“it is”.  Love is counting the freckles on her back, sprawled out on tangled cool sheets, strolls on damp rainy days, morning coffee flavored kisses, getting lost on drives to nowhere—it’s comprised of corny love poems and sappy love songs—–and its got you singing along to the car radio with unrestrained gusto…….

Don’t let them tell you that love takes work. Cause that’s bullshit. Once it becomes a chore like making your bed or brushing your teeth—–then you might has well be whistling while trudging along on a treadmill, so much sweat and effort for so little distance traveled.

The opposite of love isn’t hate. The opposite of love is indifference. It’s the difference between living your life in black and white or seeing it in 3D, HD—-in living color baby. Real love is like cake batter that you lick off the beaters until you tongue is sore from straining to get each and every hard to reach dollop.

I know most will say I’m an hopeless romantic. Well you’re right about that. I still believe in true love. One day of a true love is better than a million years of a love that’s full of fillers and mystery meat. Real love is rare, it’s the exception, not the rule. Ya see, I don’t want five okay steaks, I want one beautifully marbled, aged, charbroiled steak. I don’t want five cheap stogies, I want one hand rolled cuban cigar. I don’t want five cheap ass beers, I want one ice cold top shelf bottle. I don’t want five fair weather friends, I want one trusted best friend. I don’t want a butt load of half assed sex.  I want some “amazing”, “awesome sex”——and then maybe some “swell” pizza. Compromise is the road to mediocrity.

Hate is in some ways more accessible than love. Hate has legs, it will shake your ass up. Hate will get up off the page it’s written on and slap you across your appalled face. Hate is like stepping in dog shit when you’re wearing a pair waffle stompers. Once it makes its way into your treaded soul, it becomes tougher than hell to get off you. Sometimes ya just have to wait until it drys and then scrape it off with an old rusty nail. Even after you’ve meticulously cleaned all the shit off your soul, it will still take time for the smell of hate to fad away——hate isn’t worth it.

Love is worth it. If you can believe in democracy, and in politicians, and god, and truth and justice and science, art, and karma and some version of reality—–then surely, there must still be room left in your toy box for the idea of true love.

Repeat until it makes ya smile “ice, bank, mice, elf”.

The Titanic Swim Team

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Soundtrack “Cascada” by Jesse Cook

This life, man how it pisses me off, locked in, locked out——-passing me by, I don’t know——— I walk around with this old skeleton key, and every lock I slip it into refuses to give way. Lovers, friends, careers, hopes and dreams—even god, they all seem dead-bolted and out of reach. I wanted it all so bad, I wanted everything, I wanted to know something or someone in a better way, a closer way, cause I’m afraid that someday it’ll be to late——-I can’t find my way in——or is it my way out that leaves me feeling orphaned. Another rainy hungover Sunday, cold black coffee, black and blue marks, questions marks, exclamation marks—-moving on, moving out, falling down, falling apart—-how many overs make an end?

I admire but a few professions. The boxer, the standup comedian and the poet. They perform naked, no props, no cue cards, turning the disconnected nothingness of life into form and art. They allow us to take mundane moments and eye them up close as we tumble them over in our hands, like “curiosities” or “what nots” at a rummage sale——It’s a fine line between junk and treasure, truth and consequence, fate and happenstance, synchronicity and chaos———— the “you’s and me’s” and “what use to be’s”——-I wish you could see yourself through my eyes, because beauty is not so much what’s reflected in a mirror—–it’s what lies behind the reflection.

And baby, how I wish I could call you up and ask you to come over, but that number you once pressed into the palm of my heart at 2:00 am under a flickering failing streetlamp is now disconnected, no forwarding address, you’ve gone underground, unlisted, unavailable, I’m just another one of your gypsy memories——- I wish I were more like you, an emotional hitchhiker, leap frogging my way from here to there at another’s expense.

A prize fighter knows the score. He’ll take the hardest punch you can muster and then throw one back at you just as hard, until someone is so busted up that they can’t answer the bell. His only way out of this is through you. You think you’re tough, then bring it on brah! Sweat, spit, tears, Vaseline and the taste of blood fill his split lipped mouth. Rights, lefts, upper cuts, jabs, body shots——with back against the ropes, the jeers of the crowd fade until all he hears is the sound of his own labored breath——-  and from deep down there comes the throb of blood surging through his veins. Don’t get pissed or take it personally if he fucks you up, cause mister, he comes from a neighborhood where there’s only one bone for every five dogs——-

Oh my god, listen to how that comedian weaves rhythm and tempo into a syncopated groove like a jazz tenor player creating tension and release as he steers his ship between awkward truth and twisted absurdity. His riffs cut through tendons and bones with the deftness of a surgeon wielding a chainsaw——-daring those out there in the safe darkness of audience to laugh till it hurts, until tears stream down their cheeks. Killing them softly as he makes them contort and grimace with the intensity of an epileptic orgasm——cause the better part of foreplay is always laughter, and right beneath that G spot lies her funny bone. And I never doubted that Charlie Chaplin had more groupies than Gene Simmons and Elvis combined. If you can get her to laugh, the world is your oyster. Or, if you can get her to laugh, her oyster is your world——-“Drummer!——Rim shot please!”

Then there’s the melancholy poet bending words like forged metal into swords that cut to the marrow as he dissects cumbersome words such as love, and truth, and beauty, doing his best to make you cry until you laugh, cause even the saddest of life conditions eventually reaches a point of hilarity——life——- at its best is a tragic comedy, at its worst, an epitaph marred by graffiti and eraser marks——-

I’ll add one more profession to my list. Magician. He suspends reality as he toys with your sense of certainty. How did that rabbit get into that top-hat? How did his beautiful assistant disappear into thin air? He snaps his finger and a white dove appears, the ace of hearts appears at the top of the deck at his command——his cane becomes a bouquet of flowers. We’re becoming children again, believing in the Easter Bunny, Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Life is magic, like the color blue, like the sky blue, like love at first sight, like the purity of children, like ocean sunsets and mountain thunderstorms————like free candy on Halloween….

But adults lose their sense of wonder. Hope and dreams are the currency of youth. Age causes the investment to become devalued by routine and complacency——somehow discounting the small miracles that appear daily——Why? I don’t know, but it scares me when I see those my age stiffen with rust like the Tin Man——If they only had a heart rather than a brain stuffed with straw. Maybe under it all, they’re concealing a cowardly lion. Fear is the lock we must all learn to pick. It takes a titanic amount of courage to swim through this life, cause an ocean of frozen tears can sink the mightiest of ships.

I argue with god, but I’m not sure if it’s him that I‘m taking to task or just one of the cast of voices that loiter in my head. They mumble to me like homeless bums hiding in the shadows of a urine stenched alley. The chorus of voices implore me to watch my cities burn, to stop rattling the chains across my doors——to give up on you, to give up on me——-to severe all connections with an innocence lost.

I”m looking for love by brail, cause love can’t be seen, it’s only felt—-like music. Every word you speak has the power of a million waves, wearing away my walls and causing my granite facade to cave-in like castles made of sand. And did I tell you that I still love you, it’s not a choice, it’s an addiction, stronger than herion, more like oxogen than a drug, something that comes to me in gasps, and at night I suffocate in my bed. And if your phone rings at 3:00 am, it could be me, just wanting to hear the sound of your voice one more time. The right key turning the right lock is a once in a life time chance, like Sir Lancelot pulling a sword from a stone to become king—-but you cut my hair and broke my crown—–

Make no mistake, this is a world where the keys you’ve been given seldom match the locks that you find yourself stranded behind. It’s a place of paddle locks, deadbolts and door chains with squinty eyed peepholes. If ya want in, if what ya need is behind that door, if that’s where your dream lies, where you passion leads you, then you’re gonna have to kick that fucker in, your gonna have to bust it down, you’re gonna have to throw yourself against it, again and again, with all you might——until you get in, or get out, or get through————until you are allowed passage to that place where you know that you were meant to be, that place where you belong.

Smoke Screen

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Soundtrack “A Light On A Hill” by Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s.

Photo by Victor Uriz

The drone of the air conditioning system is what keeps me in a state of blah. The drivel coming from the facilitators voice would anger me if I let his words through and into my psyche. Occasionally, his cliche’s would seep in causing me to cringe. “When do you really start living? Yes, when we confront death.” The air conditioning thermostat had clicked off leaving an empty space for his words to slip into my stupefied ears. “Life; you have to want it, more than you fear it.” His voice had the melodic vibe of a preacher with the pensive drawl of a professor. The participants sat stoic as he gestured with his hands and paced back and forth.

The class is an odd mixture of middle aged folks and weathered senior citizens. A third of the individuals are hooked up to oxygen tanks with hoses plugged into their nostrils. There’s the incessant sound of wheezing, hacking and whistling bronchial sighs. The grim reaper is peering through the window blinds. This is the eight week class for those suffering from emphysema, COPD and respiratory related diseases. The topics to be covered included everything from smoking cessation to what the brochure defined as “wellness”. I suppose we are all somewhere on that bell shaped curve between sick and well. This class was skewed to the right side of that curve, we all knew it, and it bonded us. We all knew the score, we had our backs against the wall——mortality is the great equalizer——-living gasp to gasp…….

The class is taught in the basement of the old county hospital. The place reeks of Pinesole, cafeteria food and musty mold. The linage of life traverses within these walls, from pediatrics to geriatric’s, from mothers pushing life out, to the assisted living ward where others were being pulled out. There is a quiet seriousness that permeates the halls, examining rooms and the patients semi-private quarters. Visitors walk softly, talk in hushed voices and all emotion is stifled. I hated the place, as well as my instructor and my fellow classmates. I showed up every Tuesday and Thursday because the program is mandated by my insurance carrier. Without insurance coverage, my inhaler would be three-hundred dollars a month, now that’s enough to take my breath away.

They say that the first thing you forget about someone after they’ve passed away is the sound of their voice. But for me, it’s the life in their eyes. Age, illness and death carry pieces of us away, but the memory of the life in someones eyes is the first thing to flicker and then forever be extinguished. It can’t be captured in a photograph, or seen once the soul has vacated, perhaps this is why morticians close the eyes of those who have departed.

“Inhale slowly as you count to three, and then slowly exhale as you count to three.” There’s the sound of air being forced through a narrowed space, followed by a chorus of wet hacks. “Great job. Please do your reading and vision exercises before our next class. If you are feeling weak or a need to smoke, please call our 24 hour crisis line at “no smoke” 667-6653.”

I knew that the line to scale the staircase out of the basement would be slow, so I hustled to get to the stairs before the O2 tankers or the gaspers attempted their Everest push to the top. The August heat is stifling as I make my way to my car. As I open the car door the stale odor of tobacco fills my nose. The ashtray overflows with old butts, I inhale a deep breath of the hot air with its dank taste of ancient nicotine. I pick up an old butt and suck on the yellowed filter. Everywhere I go I seem to be drawn to old cigarette butts snubbed out on the ground, or stray singles in my junk drawer or in the pockets of my cowboy shirts. At night in my dreams, I smoke.

Buried in our basement we begin to resurrect our stories. Our tales like shadow puppets, a strange amalgamation of surreal dreams and vague snapshots shrouded by time. Confessions can be cathartic, but I trust few with my secrets—-I trust few with anything of mine. Our instructor repeatedly tells us that our blindspots are what keep us from evolving or——-transforming. For me, there is no making peace with myself, self loathing is my only friend.

The chairs are arranged in a circle with the facilitator sitting cross legged, legal pad and pen in his lap. I’ve attended a myriad of support groups, NA, AA, GA, anger management, bipolar, religious groups, pow wow’s, wounded child and such. God, were a sad, shameless bunch of unraveling fucked up losers. We cling to our prescriptions, lucky charms and technological gizmos, but we’re still unsatisfied, unfulfilled, lifeless, loveless, tripping over our own egos; frozen between a fight or flight response to our fears.

“The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom…for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.” I wonder if William Blake was an addict. Poe was, and his words ring true in my mind, “I become insane with long intervals of horrible sanity”. All of this thinking is making me crazy. I catch a glimpse of my troubled eyes in my rearview mirror. I drive in a daze, the city is a blur, I’m outside myself. It’s 9:00 am and the day is already to long.

Is this what it feels like to not be alive? Something is missing or broken. But what? I don’t know, but something isn’t right. I spend to much time outside myself, to much time with small talking strangers. I’ve been wasting my days chasing my cravings. I’ve allowed the small things to eluded me. I go to bed wondering about this——and that—- and everything at once.

Life—-It fills me, I fill it, it leaves me, then I’m emptied, in a flash everything connects……What a strange feeling——

Fresh bedsheets, laying next to someone in the stillness of a dark night, cool air being drawn into my lungs, breezes from an open window, scent of pines, hoot owls calling, moon shadows on the wall———-letting everything go——no longer outside myself, no seeking, no finding……..just being, being alive, on this first day of September. I feel summer losing it’s warm grip. Life is suddenly easier in the small things. And it doesn’t even matter if the sun packs up and leaves in search of a better sky.

Hitler’s Jews are now Trump’s Mexicans

The script is old, but the strategy remains the same. Hitler manipulated the masses by making Jews the scapegoat for the woes of Germany. He created mass hysteria by blaming the Jews for destroying the German economy. Hate and vengeance were powerful elixirs used to unite the masses against a “fabricated common enemy”. It’s a technique the 1% have historically employed to take the focus off their hold on power as they covertly manipulate the system for their gain.

And today, we have Trump pulling a page from the same playbook but using undocumented immigrants as the targeted enemy. He claims that undocumented immigrants are stealing our jobs, robbing, killing, raping and destroying our economy (sound familiar). The technique remains the same, just the names of the “designate enemy” have changed.

At one time it was communism threatening our way of life. We were told that we needed to stop “them” in Korea before they arrived at our doorstep. Next came the cold war with Russia and then Vietnam and the domino theory. And who can forget the ruse regarding “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. The title of “designated enemy” has been penned on Blacks, Russians, Gays, Welfare recipients and Muslims The boogieman comes in all shapes and sizes. Hate mongering is the easiest and most sinister way to achieve power.

Trumps solution for dealing with Iraq is to bomb their oil fields and then invite Mobil and Shell to take over the operation. He stated that he’d use US troops to encircle and protect the oil companies interests. This sounds like a page torn from Hitlers book on diplomacy. He arrogantly disregarded the non aggression treaty and invaded Poland. He dehumanized the enemy to justify his unbridled aggression.

This “us against them” mentality allows the controlling minority to splinter the majority into squabbling factions. They manipulate the masses by creating friction between nationalities, races, creeds, religions and the social/monetary classes.

In the name of capitalism and short term profits the 1% shamelessly pillage and plunder the earths natural resources. Even though 97% of the science community agree that Climate Change is real, the carbon based industries continue to ignore their responsibility in this man made disaster. In the name of greed children die of starvation and disease even though there is available food and medicine. But there is no financial incentive for companies to distribute food and medicine to those in need. Pharmaceutical drugs are sold at inflated prices and remain out of the reach of sick patience while insurance companies record record profits.

There was a time in America when it was touted that if you worked hard and applied your gifts, talents and skills you would be able to earn a living wage. And, if you followed the rules and made sacrifices, you could own your own home, you could have access to health care, you could afford to send your children to college. Over the last thirty years the middle class has dramatically shrunk, and with it, the American Dream. The wealthy continue to get richer while the middle class evaporates. Who is going to stand up and fight for those who do not have a voice in our current system? “Spoiler alert”, this rhetorical question is to be addressed at the end of the article—-!!!

We are all a lot more alike than different. We all want the same things; a job that pays a living wage, a place to rest ones head and to call home, access to medical care, affordable education and training, a clean environment and a shot for the next generation to have a better life then we’ve had.

In its early implementation capitalism rewarded competition and innovation, but now that the money and power is only in a few hands, it has breed corruption and abuse of the system. Those who have money and power control the political agenda. The special interest groups and the privileged have the collateral to manipulate the system for their gain. Influence is for sell to highest bidder. And, no one knows this better than Trump and his cronies.

Trump and Hitler oversimplified the issues by blaming one segment of the population for all of our troubles. But we can no longer invade, occupy, bomb, kill, incarcerate and marginalize our problems out of existence. To solve our issues today there is a need for all of the stakeholders to have a voice in the process. This is a fundamental right that the Constitution and Bill of Rights intended to protect. But the balance of power has been compromised away from the majority and tipped in the direction of the controlling minority. Our hard won democracy has become a oligarchy. Our forefathers would shake their heads in disgust if they knew what had become of their noble experiment.

We need to move towards a system that rewards cooperation and collaboration. A system that requires those who have more to contribute more by paying their fair share of taxes. Tax loopholes for the rich and cooperate welfare needs to be exposed and eliminated. Campaign contributions need to be limited so that special interest groups and those with money and privilege are prevented from manipulating the system.

I am imploring you to stay involved in the political process and vote for those who give a voice to the working people and the middle classes. Don’t allow hate, fear and indifference to prevent you from demanding that the system serve all of its constituents.

I encourage you to take a look at Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as representatives who champion the needs and rights of the working and the middle class.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
― Elie Wiesel