The Protectorate

30 Dec

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The Protectorate was written in December 2015, and is particularly appropriate for Super Bowl Sunday. If you would like to read it and comment, please go to About Me and find my email address, then email me so. I’ll send you a PDF file of the story.

BTW: I don’t care who wins today’s Super Bowl as long as it’s not New England.

AC and the Fall of Western Civilization

23 Jul

AC and the Fall of Western Civilization

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Today the weather is challenging to my comfort zone. It is hot, and has been for the last several days. It is also very humid, and to add more hardship, there is little or no breeze. By way of explanation, I live in the mountains, where temperatures are normally dozens of degrees cooler than that of my friends, who do not live in the mountains. We are experiencing an extended heat wave throughout North Carolina.

Another hope for your sympathy is my home is not air conditioned. I rely on open windows, ceiling and various portable fans to move air and keep the condo cool.

My father used to tell me how in the winter men would cut ice blocks from the Rock River that meandered close to Luverne where he grew up in Minnesota. As in Disney’s Frozen, these ice blocks were essential during the short, but hot Minnesota summers, and were stored in sawdust to keep them from melting. People used them in their ice boxes, the forerunner of the refrigerator. Horse-drawn ice trucks cobbled down the dusty streets, stopping at each house to parcel out the ice, followed by swarms of young boys and girls who hoped to snatch a fallen piece of frozen river water to suck on.

What we now take for granted was more than appreciated in that day. Now, our “ice boxes” not only make ice, but tell us via cellphone what to buy at the grocery store.

Technology is great, and I love how it has advanced everyday life beyond that of basic struggles for survival. With every advance, however, we lose a part of another essential ingredient to life: appreciation.

It may not surprise you to know that names like Benjamin Franklin, Michael Faraday and others worked on evaporation and cooling. James Harrison, an Australian, developed an ice-making machine in the mid 1800s, and at the turn of the 19th century, Willis Carrier (that name sound familiar?), invented the first electric air conditioning unit in Buffalo, NY. His goal was not to cool, but to dehumidify the air to aid in the printing process.

In the middle of the 20th century, Packard offered the first factory-installed air conditioning in a car.

There it is.

Today we go from air conditioned homes and apartments and drive in air conditioned cars to our air conditioned places of work.

It’s not just AC that has cast a pall on who we have become. I chose that as an overall metaphor for technological advances. Again, I pretty much like and use them, and am guilty of the same ignorance regarding how each works. I have become dependent on all these advances. Heck, I’m typing on an iPad Pro ordered online and delivered in two days! Think of all of the advances that had to be made to enable that! And I don’t know much about any of it.

In Jurassic Park (the first movie of the series), Dr. Ian Malcolm complains of the laziness involved in the genetic engineering of the park:

Dr. Ian Malcolm: If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox …

I remember struggling in high school, and later in college, to solve a math problem using a slide rule (and slide rule doesn’t mean a baseball regulation for those who don’t know).

I remember sitting for hours on a chair in the kitchen, my ear glued to the telephone, having dialed the four- or five-digit phone number of my current girlfriend using a rotary dial.

I remember watching black-and-white television, and opting from three local stations for my viewing pleasure.

Today? I have a calculator on my iPad which I downloaded from the internet.

I have a smartphone that makes me accessible 24/7, regardless where I am located.

I have a smart screen that is connected to the internet via wifi, which gives me access to more channels and entertainment than I could ever hope to use.

You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it.

Again, there it is.

I’m not advocating getting rid of all technology – far from it. I’m warning that as we continue to forge ahead with our technology and as it takes us and our civilization to places we’ve only imagined (remember the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip?), we need to take responsibility for it.

Air conditioning, for example, drains the power grid when the weather turns hot. Use of social media on the internet provides the user with relative anonymity, meaning the temptation to do or say things we might ordinarily not do or say becomes compelling.

Perhaps the onus for this abdication of responsibility goes back much further. The invention/discovery of fire? The wheel? The printing press? The bow and arrow? Gunpowder?

Are we flying too close to the sun, as with Icarus and Daedalus? I wonder. Where will it all take us?

Good Intentions

22 Jul

Good Intentions

by L. Stewart Marsden

 

He bought a used acoustic
And a Washburn mandolin
With thoughts of playing sixties tunes
On sidewalks of a mountain town
Where snow geese flocked from all around
To shop the shops for pottery
And other artsy craft;

But alas, his will to see it through
Was like all his previous grandiose plans
And he hung his instruments on the wall
To either side of the pendulum clock
Which had tocked its last years before
And though the clockman swore by his skills
The pendulum remained quite still
As did the used acoustic
And the Washburn mandolin.

 

The Perfect President

12 Jul

The Perfect President

By L. Stewart Marsden

I was thinking today – an achievement in and of itself lately – of the presidents of our nation during my lifetime.

Ike Eisenhower served during my early childhood years, and I remember little about him. He seemed grandfatherly, and my parents liked the heck out of him. I think both parties went after him to run on their tickets. Imagine that!

Then the Kennedy-Nixon race. In the debates, Nixon wouldn’t wear makeup, and his shadowy beard should have given all pause as a sort of foreshadowing (no pun intended). But Kennedy was a CATHOLIC! Forget the Southern vote. AND he talked funny! But he was handsome, and then there was Jackie. But he was a war hero (if PT 109 is factual … have to check Snopes on that one). With him, we went through the Cuber crisis, and the challenge to reach the moon. He reduced taxes (WHAT!?), and put civil rights on the back burner. And, of course, Dallas. So he is seared into history as the hero of Camelot, despite some seamy stuff with Marilyn and Bobby. Great men do have to have their pressure outlets apparently.

Then Johnson. Long ears. Belly scars. Back-room deals to accomplish surprisingly much in the areas of civil rights. But that damn Vietnam! Everyone in the family with the same initials. How he had wanted the presidency! How he suffered its curse.

Back from the politically-dead Nixon. Vees raised above his head with both arms and hands. Tapes. Missing tapes. Agnew. Phew! Bombing of Saigon – Merry Christmas! Paranoid surveillance of threatening people, like John Lennon. And, to his everlasting fame, Watergate. China legacy.

Gerald Ford. First error Nixon pardon? Sliding into the Oval Office through the back doors. Betty, tippling in the background. Stability?

Jim-mah Carter. Rosalynn and Miss Lillian – his stalwart women. Billy, his Hee-Haw brother. Ayatollah Khomeini, his nemesis. “Argo,” his movie detraction. Soaring gas prices and lines to the pump. His infamous “we are sinners” address to the nation. The outsider. The one-termer. The most misunderstood president ever?

Slow pan of a great western expanse – buttes in the background, massive white clouds in the sky – up big music. A rider approaches from the distance. He is dressed in white. His horse is white. He is white. Actor-turned-politician, ready to take one for the Gipper. Ronald and Nancy to the rescue. An insurmountable political tsunami where the Jerry Falwell’s and Newt the Grinch’s and Wheaties and Ovaltine take the day. “Tear down that wall!” Poland. Star Wars. John Hinckley. Dementia? Nancy in charge?

The “read my lips” president, George H.W. Bush, who defeated Michael “The Tank” Dukakis. NAFTA. Taxes? Desert Storm. Berlin Wall. USSR emplodes. Dan Quayle and Mr. Potatoe Head. Second one-and-done president since Eisenhower. First Republican president my dad had serious qualms about.

Billy “The Kid” Clinton (and wife). First bonus presidency, two-for-the-price-of-one. Kennedy-esque. National healthcare reform fiasco. Monica. Intrigue. Parsing is the new standard. Depends on what you mean by the word, “it.” Stand By My Man. Vitriol seeps from the political cracks in the DC sidewalks.  The white black man. Amazingly, second termer. Far-right radio commentators – Rush on the Rise. Gotta love those Arkansas Impeachments. Most popular president since WWII at his exit. Sax and violins.

Mr. Strategery, George W. Bush. 9-11. Iraq. Find those WMD’s please. Thank you, Florida and Jeb. Best First Lady since? Exploding deficits/national debt. Housing bubble pops. Banks too big to fail. Black October. Rev up the Nucular War Machine.

First Black President, Barak Obama. Birth Certificate? Muslim? Christian? Home church pastor rails. Osama Bin Ladin falls. Michelle shines. Ratings soar. Cooperation with Congress slumps. Hillary. Benghazi. Obamacare. Racist vitriol. Popularity polls dip. The great House and Senate divide. Barak ages in front of our eyes.

And then … Donald, a.k.a, #twitterprez. You fill in the blanks, ’cause he certainly won’t.

The perfect President is nonexistent. This need for perfection hies back to the Old Testament when the Nation of Israel wanted a King in order to be like all them other guys. They got Saul. Tall, handsome, wack-o. Then David. Statuesque model. Roving eyes. Murderer.

Hasn’t really changed much. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Not that any of our presidents had or have absolute power. That’s the genius of the Founding Fathers – who, I suspect, had their wives and girlfriends, sometimes at the same time, whispering in their ears, “And don’t forget about this ….!” Lucky for us they listened.

And lucky for us that none of our past Chief Executives was perfect. George had wooden teeth. Thomas was likely more agnostic than anything, withholding his stamp on the divinity of Jesus, and advising relatives to question boldly the existence of a god (my rewording of an article found on The Jefferson Foundation, Inc. on his religions beliefs1). Andrew Jackson did atrocious things to Native Americans. Lincoln was born before the NBA came to exist, and my relative, Ulysses S. Grant, was a renown tippler. Even FDR couldn’t stay true to Eleanor.

So what’s my point?

Quit looking for the Lone Ranger to come riding up with his VP, Tonto, to save us! The obvious lacks of our previous presidents protects us! These are men (and will eventually be women) who have feet of clay, to use a Biblical metaphor for those so inclined.

To not work on that premise is the surest way to usher in whatever cataclysmic Armageddon is ducking behind the horizon line of our future!

Are things good? Are we happy with Washington? Do we want to “Trow da bums out?” Yes, of course we do! But don’t be fooled into thinking that whoever we replace this gunk of goo with is going to be ANY better! It won’t happen! Ain’t in the cards! In the words of George W. H., “Wouldn’t be prudent!”

The people we elect have a job to run the country. For some reason they actually want the work (maybe because they get rich). I certainly don’t want to do it. Ain’t enough tea in China. You wouldn’t want me to, and I suspect you have no aspirations to that end either.

OUR job is to keep an eye on the foxes we put in charge of this very large, very complicated hen house.

That’s one responsibility none of us can afford to abdicate. It’s tiresome. It’s thankless. It’s frustrating. But you cannot complain (well, I guess you really could – but to no end) if you don’t pay attention. If you don’t register (you have time now, by the way, if you haven’t). If you don’t form your own ideas of how you’d like to see America survive. If you don’t vote this coming November.

Don’t tell me it’s useless or that it won’t make a difference. Hanging chads and margins of votes make a difference – first locally, then statewide, then nationally.

If you’re so inclined, let your representatives in DC or in your state capitol know your opinion. Smarter people than me long ago made up the phrase, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

And this: United doesn’t mean we agree on everything OR anything! Again, to use a Biblical metaphor, the eye is not more important than the foot, and neither operates the same way in contributing to the body and its functionality.

As topsy-turvy as things seem right now, our system of government is working. Needs a little oil here and there from time to time. But it works.

Remember, the potential perfect president, who resides at 666 Main Street, Anytown, USA, is hoping you will quit and say “The hell with it.” And guess what? If you look for him, you will find him.

Please don’t.

 

1 https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-religious-beliefs

Charley’s Angles

27 Jun

Charley’s Angles

By L. Stewart Marsden

Part 1

Charley and me were twins. Not identical twins. Fraternal. But you would never know that in a million years. He and me was different in every way. I got the looks and the athletic body and all. What’d he get?

The brains.

Charley was smart as a whip. Beat you in chess blindfolded. Tell you the capital of every country in Indo – Indo – well, everywhere. Could talk his way in and out of trouble without you ever knowing what was going on.

Dad said we was so different he wondered did he need to check the woodpile. I never knew what he meant by that, but Mom would look at him with the awfullest sneer whenever he said it. And he said it a lot.

“It’s possible to have the children of two different fathers conceived at two different times and they be born at the same time,” Charley said once at breakfast over a bowl of Cheerios and bananas.

“I don’t see how,” said Mom, that look on her face again.

Charley looked at her and grinned back innocently, “Everyone doesn’t understand electricity, yet that doesn’t keep us from using it.”

Even I knew what he was doing, and had to bury my face in my napkin.

Once Charley said something like that when Mom had a pan of biscuits fresh from the oven. He learned never to tease her again when she was armed. The pan missed his head by inches.

But Charley was ugly. It was bad enough to be smart, but to have ugly piled on top of that was just about the cruelest thing God could have done him.

His face was skinny and his hair moppy. His ears looked like radar dishes stuck on. He was missing two teeth that never developed – from Mom’s side of the family (or the woodpile, Dad would say).

He was also sickly all the time. Allergic to just about everything, and caught anything that came along at school. Flu? He caught it every time. Measles? Mumps? Chicken Pox? Them, too. Even had rare diseases, like scarlet fever. He was a mess.

He was older than me by six minutes. That was one thing he had on me other than smarts. He was my older brother.

“Good thing we don’t practice primogeniture or you’d be stuck with nothing when Mom and Dad die.”

Well, first, I didn’t know what primo – primo – whatever – meant. And second, I thought it was terrible to think that Mom and Dad would ever die – much less talk about it.

In spite of everything we didn’t have in common, we loved the hell out of each other.

All through school Charley was the butt of bullying and teasing. He got tripped going up stairwells, and had his face pushed in more than one bowl of apple sauce at lunch. So I became his protector.

He only made things worse whenever he tried to use his smarts to keep him from getting beat up. Nobody understood half of what he said, and he said a lot. Big words. Words with more than two syllables.

“I suppose because of your inferior intellect you feel overwhelmed by mine, and must compensate by resorting to your instinctual and Neanderthal brutishness.”

WHAM!

And he was flat on the ground with several guys diving on top, swinging their fists.

I would come running up and clear the bodies off him, threatening sure death to the rats as they scrambled away in fear.

He would smile up at me, him flat on his back. “Thanks, Brother!” I’d pull him up and we’d go on our way, arms draped over each other’s shoulder, and I would give him my advice.

“You gotta quit talking like that, Charley!”

As we grew older, Charley played Ying to my Yang. I was a star running back on the football team. He was the team manager. I was the hot power forward on the basketball team, and he was the team statistician. I was the slugger who batted cleanup on the baseball team, and he was the bat boy and kept the inning by inning score chart.

If it hadn’t been for Charley, though, I’d never have made it through high school. He kept me eligible for sports by doing most of my homework. That kept my grade average up in spite of my test scores, which he couldn’t take, of course. He always said it was too bad we weren’t identical twins.

“I could take your tests, too, if teachers couldn’t tell us apart!”

I knew there would be advantages for Charley if we were identical; those he could only fantasize about: girls.

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 2

 

“So what’s it like?” he asked me one night when I came back from a date.

“What’s what like?”

“You know. Being with a girl?”

“I don’t know! Like being with anybody, I guess. I never thought of it.”

“From what I hear, thinking has little to nothing to do with being with a girl.”

“Oh! You mean what’s sex like?”

“Yes!”

He sat up on his bed. He was all ears – which he was anyways. We shared a bedroom on the top floor. Our beds were separated by a table with a small lamp and wind-up clock on it.

I unbuttoned my shirt and threw it on the floor for Mom. Then turned my back to him and slipped my pants off and hopped quickly into my bed.

“You want to know what sex is like?”

“I do.”

“Well, one day you will know.”

“No I won’t. And you know that.”

“Yes you will! What? You gonna get some strange disease and die before you make it with a girl?”

I remember he sat there with the strangest look on his face. A sad smile and big eyes. Like our Golden Lab, Delbert. Like he knew something I didn’t – which was always the case.

“Sex. What’s it like?” And he waited, his head cocked to one side like Delbert when we were eating at the table and he begged for a taste. I could never resist feeding Delbert from the table either.

So I told him. I told him about Betty Sue – who was my first. How I slipped my hand under her blouse at the Center Theatre and she didn’t stop me. How she responded by putting her hand in my lap.

No!” Charley said in amazement, sitting up straighter.

How we awkwardly left the theater before the end of the movie and hurried up the dark aisle, all my buddies giving me the thumbs up and their dates grinning over big cups of Coca-Cola and boxes of popcorn. How we drove out to the lake. How I pulled a blanket from the back seat and kept the car radio on.

How Gary Puckett sang “Young Girl” just as Betty Sue slipped out of her blouse and unhooked her bra, displaying all her glory by the light of the waxing moon.

“Time for bed, Charley. Sweet dreams.”

Wow!” was all Charley could whisper.

I turned the light off.

The rustle of his bed sheets for several minutes told me Charley would indeed have sweet dreams – and more.

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 3

 

“Say that again, Charley – slowly.”

I was distracted when he first said it, trying to reach a lone fry at the bottom of my bag of food from McDonald’s. Charley said it so casually just before he clamped down on his Big Mac as he sat in the passenger seat of my car.

“Leukemia,” he repeated, picking sesame seeds from between his teeth.

“What the hell is leukemia?”

“It’s a disease of the blood. The bone marrow, actually.”

“The what!?”

“It’s inside your bones. It’s where new blood cells are made.”

Rain splattered against the windshield of the car where we had parked. A sudden storm came out of nowhere with driving wind that shook trees and bushes around us. Customers made mad dashes out of McDonald’s to their cars, holding their shirts and jackets pulled over their heads in vain to keep dry.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“I didn’t know for sure. And Mom made me promise not to.”

“Why the hell would she do that?”

“Well, finals. She said it would devastate you to the point you would blow it. If you don’t graduate, the football scholarship isn’t worth anything.”

“God!”

“No – it’s okay! Really! I completely agree with her. Look, it’s not her fault. No one’s fault. These things happen.”

“But why you? Why not me?”

“Why not me? Look, please don’t tell Mom I told you!?”

“Jeesh, Charley! I’m the only one in the family who doesn’t know this? Because of a lousy scholarship? How – did you catch this from somebody? Who else knows?”

“I didn’t catch it. And nobody else knows. Even Dad.”

“What!? Dad doesn’t know?”

“His heart. You can’t tell him either.”

“Yeah. Yeah that makes sense. So what happens?”

“I have some time. There are treatments we’re going to try. Doctor Slate told us to go to Duke. They’re on the cutting edge of most medical conditions.”

“How long have you known?”

“Two days.”

“That’s where you and mom were, when you went to Duke?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought that was to interview to go there. This is so – so crappy!”

“I know.”

“Are you gonna die?”

“Everyone’s going to die …”

“–You know what I mean!”

“Don’t know.”

I pounded the steering wheel in anger, and the tears came – suddenly, like the rain.

“Oh, Charley!”

“I know.”

“I wish I could do something! I mean, it should be me, not you! I’d do anything to help – you know that.”

“I know.”

The rain and wind continued to beat down around us. Curtains of water swept across the parking lot and the streets. The car began to shake with the storm.

“There is something you could do for me. But, nah – I shouldn’t ask –”

“No–no–no! There’s nothing you can never not ask me! I’ll do anything to help! Honest to God, I will!”

A flash of lightning startled us both, and thunder rolled off into the distance. Charley was reluctant, and had trouble telling me what was on his mind.

“Honest, Charley! Anything!”

Another distant rumble.

“Remember when you told me about you and Betty Sue at the lake?”

It was the furthest thing from my mind, but not hard to remember.

“Yeah?”

“And remember how you said one day I would know what sex was like and I told you I wouldn’t?”

“Uh, yeah.”

His look came back to my mind. That strange look on his face. The sad smile and big eyes. Like Delbert at the dinner table.

“I was right. I won’t ever know what sex is like.”

“You knew about this back then?”

“I didn’t know – I had a hunch. An instinct. I had been feeling exhausted lately.”

“You’re always exhausted …”

“Worse than usual. And I was bruising in strange places on my body, and didn’t remember being hit or bumping into anything. No bullies lately, thanks to you.”

“That’s leukemia?”

“That’s the lack of platelets.”

“What?”

“Simply, you bruise easily. And I was. So I looked up the symptoms in the school library, and I matched up with most of them. I told Mom, and that’s when we went to see Dr. Slate. A few tests, and …”

“So it’s for certain?”

“I can’t tell you that. Duke ran different tests to find out conclusively. But it doesn’t look good. I have to decide what to do. Do I go to Duke for treatment? Mom mentioned St. Judes. But, like I said – looks like I won’t ever know what sex is like.”

“That’s sad, Charley. Very sad. God, I hurt for you.”

“But, that’s where you could help me out.”

“Whaddaya mean by that?”

“Betty Sue.”

“What!?”

“So I don’t die without that experience! Like you said, very sad! And, like you also said, you would do anything for me, right?”

And it dawned on me what Charley wanted. I was so confused by the news of his disease! And it truly was sad that he could die without experiencing sex. And even if he didn’t die from it, who knows how it would effect his ability to – well – perform? And I could probably at least do something about that for him – if nothing else. It was a brother’s obligation, after all.

As if a sign of confirmation, the rain stopped as suddenly as it started. A shaft of sunlight pierced through the dark clouds and illumined the steeple on the First Main Street Baptist Church across the street.

It was the closest I ever came to having a real spiritual event, and was as if God himself had said through that shaft of light, “Go thou, and fetch Betty Sue for thy brother’s sake.”

“I’ll call her tonight,” I told Charley.

A big missing-tooth smile broke out over his thin face, and his large ears even seemed to wiggle in appreciation. I thought he was going to join me in a flood of tears.

“God bless you, Brother!” Charley said to me, gripping my shoulder with his trembling hand.

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 4

Betty Sue was talented – in many ways. She played a mean trumpet in the band, and boy could she blow (if you know what I mean)! Not so bad in the classroom, either. She wasn’t exactly the girl you bring home to mother, but she was the experienced woman in our class.

She could drink any guy under the table, take the pot at poker every time, and smoke a cigarette and chew tobacco at the same time without turning green and puking.

I thought she looked like those posters of Rosey the Riveter from World War II.

I didn’t know what she would say when I called her about Charley, but I knew she had a big heart. She was a sucker for sappy stories, Golden Retriever, and little kids.

She didn’t disappoint me.

“Oh! God! Of course I will! When do you want me to come over? Tonight?”

That surprised me. It was ten o’clock when I called her. Of course, time was of the essence for Charley, and he nodded his head insistently when I replied, “Tonight? I don’t know …”

His ears, now burning red, flopped back and forth, his eyes wide open.

“Yeah, sure! Tonight’s fine. Say, midnight? That way Mom and Dad will be asleep. Can you climb trees? We’re on the second floor and there’s a big water oak beside the window. Not afraid, are you?”

“I’m not afraid of much. What’s your address?”

I gave it to her, and she made a kiss sound over the phone before she hung up.

Charley was beside himself with excitement and anticipation.

“Should I take a bath? Yes! I should take a bath!” And he stripped off his clothes on the way to the bathroom down the hallway. I walked in a few minutes later and lavender bubbles were creeping over the side of the tub as he completely sudsed himself. I laughed.

With a mound of bubbles peaked on top of his head, Charley stopped and nodded at me.

“I owe you big time. Thank you for doing this!”

“That’s what little brothers are for.” And we both laughed.

“I figure you don’t have protection,” I said as I squeezed my hand into my jeans and pulled a plastic packet from my front pocket. TROJAN was printed on the packet. I tossed it to him and he missed it, scrambling with his hands through the suds to pull it out of the water and look at it.

“Doesn’t using one of these take the sensation out of it?” he asked.

“Peggy Sue requires it. She doesn’t want little Charley’s running around pulling at her apron, right?”

“Remember when we were young and I found one of these in the woods behind Grampa’s house?”

I did remember. Neither of us knew what it was, but Charley opened it.

“Eeeyew! It’s all slimey!” he said at the time, holding the wound rubber up with two fingers. “It’s a balloon!”

We took the “balloon” to the city pool, and Charley unrolled it, and blew. He blew and he blew and he blew. It was off-white in color, and grew to an incredible size.

“Hey, Charlie! Where’d you get that?” asked one of the older kids, laughing.

“I found it at my Grampa’s.”

Everyone laughed.

Charley dried off as the tub drained, and combed his hair back. He brushed his teeth twice and rinsed with Listerine. Then he coated his underarms with Ban deodorant. He carefully popped the most obvious zits on his face, and squeezed out a few blackheads. He literally showered himself in Canoe, all the while staring at himself in the bathroom mirror, posing to the side and trying to look sexy. I could hardly keep from laughing.

“I suppose I’ll turn out the lights when Peggy Sue and I – you know.”

“Might be wise,” I grinned.

“Should I wear pajamas?”

“No. Underwear and a T-shirt.”

“Could I borrow a pair of your boxers?” He only wore tidy-whities.

“Long as you wash them.”

Back in our room Charley began to straighten up. He even made my bed, which I normally did myself at least once a month. He took down the Miss May fold out and stashed it in the bed table drawer.

“I don’t think Peggy Sue would mind the picture.”

“I mind. I don’t want her to think I’m that kind of guy.”

“What kind of guy?”

“You know –” and pumped his fist a couple of times. “You didn’t tell her I’m a virgin, did you?”

“Charley!? That’s the whole point of her agreeing to come over tonight!”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s okay.”

He was really nervous, and kept picking up the windup clock to check the time.

“You know what they say about a watched clock.”

“You’re right. Can I play your stereo? When she gets here? I’d like to play either your Johnny Mathis album or Dionne Warwick. Which do you think? Which will be best for the mood?”

I began to have second thoughts about this. I mean, Charley was a bit – I don’t know – over the top?

“Charley, relax! It isn’t like this is anything special for Peggy Sue! She’s not going to wear your ring or anything like that afterwards. It’s a one-time thing. You don’t have to impress her, or worry about what you look like, or how you smell, or your breath or anything! She’s coming here to bang you, man! That’s it. Nothing special for her.”

Charley slumped on his bed. I regretted the words almost as soon as I said them.

“Look – I didn’t mean it isn’t special. It is. For you, I know. And for Peggy Sue.”

“Right,” he said without feeling.

“Look, don’t play Mathis or Warwick.” I got up from my bed and went to my stack of albums and rifled through them quickly, pulling one out, which I handed to Charley.

“Your Led Zeppelin? For mood music?”

“Stairway to Heaven,” I replied. “Mood beyond mood.”

He looked at the label, flipped the album over and looked again for the song.

“It’s only eight minutes long!”

“Kiddo – that will be plenty of time, believe me.”

A tap on the window interrupted us. It was Peggy Sue, straddling the thick branch of the water oak that was closest to the window.

It was midnight.

 

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 5

Peggy Sue had gone all-out for Charley, and I was so proud of her and glad for him. She wore a halter top tied in the front, and form-fitting satin pants. It was obvious she wore no bra, and I wondered if she had no panties as well.

Her long blonde hair was wavy – like she had rolled it. Later she told me she had. Plus she had taken a bath and powdered her body with Baby Powder, painted her nails and toenails. She smelled delicious, and I was a bit envious of the experience my brother was about to have.

Peggy Sue pecked me on the cheek with her deep red lips, and smiled. “You staying?”

“Oh, no! No, I’m leaving,” and she ushered me out of the room. Just before she closed the door I caught my final image of Charley as a virgin, sitting on the edge of his bed dressed in a white Hanes vee-neck T, and a pair of polkadot boxers that were way too big for him. The look on his face was priceless.

Peggy Sue closed the door quietly, so as not to wake my parents, who were long asleep in their room at the end of the hallway.

I turned and sauntered to the stairway, stopping halfway and pausing until I saw the bedroom light go out from under my bedroom door, and then heard “Stairway to Heaven.”

I was incredibly proud of myself, and grabbed a blanket and pillow from the downstairs closet, and curled up on the livingroom sofa for the night. Periodically I could hear footsteps crossing the floor upstairs, and “Stairway to Heaven” begin again.

Damn! I thought.

Six times the song played.

And on the seventh, all hell broke loose.

 

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 6

Know how there are those times when you are listening to good music and you become “one” with it? How things around you kind of disappear, and how you swirl with the beat and the tune and you have no consciousness of anything around you? How, for example, the loudness of the music doesn’t register with you? Or you aren’t bothered by repeating that tune over and over and over again?

That’s what happened to Charley and Peggy Sue. Every time he got up to reset the stereo stylus to “Stairway to Heaven,” he also bumped up the volume a bit, and on the seventh time he played the song, the volume was full blast.

Neither one of them heard Mom complaining from her and Dad’s bedroom, “Turn the music down, please!”

Then, “TURN the music DOWN, please!”

“TURN THE MUSIC DOWN, PLEASE!!!”

“TURN THE GODDAM MUSIC DOWN – AND DO IT NOW!!!”

The couple, leg-locked and totally naked in Charley’s bed, were also totally lost in each other and the music. They never heard Mom’s vocal complaints. They didn’t hear Mom jump up out of her bed and stomp heavily down the hallway toward our bedroom. They were completely oblivious of anything else but the music and the moment.

Until Mom swung open the door, turned on the ceiling light and screamed at the top of her lungs,

“CHARLES FISHBURNE MILLER!? WHAT IN GAWD’S NAME IS GOING ON IN HERE?”

That scream awoke me from a very sensual dream that happened to star Peggy Sue, and it took me a few seconds to realize what was going on. Then I heard Peggy Sue and Charlie screaming, and Mom screaming, and Dad come out of his bedroom to join in the screaming.

Not exactly sure what to do, run or rescue, I chose to rescue, and bounded up the stairs to my bedroom.

Mom was in the middle of the bedroom flailing her arms at Charley and Peggy Sue, who were cowering behind the top bedsheet on his bed, and Dad was behind Mom, not sure where to look.

I walked in and Mom turned to me, possessed by a demon.

“WHAT IS YOUR PART IN THIS, YOUNG MAN?”

Not good. Her saying “YOUNG MAN” was not only high drama, but meant I was in deep doo-doo. But once again, as when Charley was being crushed and pummeled under a stack of bullies, I stepped in. Captain Rescue.

“It’s my fault, Mom. I set this up for Charley because of – well, (I looked quickly at Dad) – you know …”

“NO! I do NOT know! Because of what?”

I kept nodding my head toward Dad, not wanting to stress him with the revelation.

“You got a tick, Boy?” Dad said, his eyebrows arching close to his widow’s peak hairline.

“BECAUSE OF WHAT?” Mom demanded.

I looked over at Charley, who had closed his eyes and was slowly shaking his head.

“BECAUSE OF THE LEUKEMIA!” I exploded, tears bursting from my eyes. Peggy Sue also began to cry while Charley slowly crawled under the sheet.

“LEUKEMIA? WHAT LEUKEMIA?” Mom and Dad shouted in unison.

Then there was the pregnant pause.

My parents looked at me, and I and Peggy Sue looked at Charley, who was now bent over on his knees on the bed, covered by the sheet – except for his white behind, which was partially uncovered. That struck me hilarious in the moment, and while the seventh repetition of “Stairway to Heaven” ended and the scratch, scratch, scratch of the needle on blank vinyl began to repeat in the background, I started to laugh.

“Your ass is showing, Charley,” I said, a fit of laughter overwhelming me, so contagious eventually everyone in the room was bent over.

Somehow over the next few hours, after Charley and Peggy Sue had dressed themselves (she in the bathroom, and he under the covers), the truth unravelled. Only Mom and Dad were innocent. And, thank God, Dad didn’t keel over with a heart attack when he heard the word leukemia.

 

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

Epilogue

All of us survived the experience, although Dad did finally drop dead on his desk at work a few years later. Mom remarried when she was older. A nice guy. A vegan.

Peggy Sue graduated high school, worked her way through a local college, and ended up running an auto tire place and making very good money. She married and had six children – all girls. I wonder if they were anything like she was. One can only hope.

Me? I fractured my hip during my sophomore year of college in a game against State, and paid the rest of my way through college making pizzas at Dominos. I ended up selling insurance, and doing pretty good. I’ve got a daughter and two sons, and do the “dad thing” – ball games and proms and – well, you know.

Charley? Charley was like the ugly duckling who transformed into quite a handsome guy in his 30s. He went to Duke on scholarship, and ended up on Wall Street, where he cleaned up, financially-speaking. He lives on the Upper East Side with his wife and one son. I think his skill at coming up with angles benefitted him and kept him in such good stead that he came to the attention of one of the biggest money moguls in Manhattan: a guy named Bernie Madoff. He has done incredibly well, and keeps begging me to come to New York and work with him.

As yet, I haven’t done so. I don’t know, maybe I’m not smart enough – and maybe it’s dumb not to take him up on it. But after that experience with him and Peggy Sue? I’ll stay here and be content with what I got. Besides, a Southern Boy in New York City? Nah. I’ll leave that to Charley and his angles. He’s more suited to the big city.

By the way, have you looked at whether or not you have enough insurance, lately?

 

The End.

The Drink

23 May

The Drink

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

He dipped deeply into her fantasy
Drawing the ladle of golden liquid to his lips
His nostrils flared, awakened by its effervescence
And drank as she watched
Smiling at him
Tenuously patience till the draught was finally drained
Yet remained cool with expectation
Even haughty in her look
“Cheers!” said he
“Cheers!” said she

New Instruments — Part II

23 May

New Instruments — Part II

The piano. The trombone. The harmonica.

The Piano

Well before, and sandwiched in between my learning to play the baritone ukulele or classical guitar, were the good intentioned desires of my mother that I learn to play the piano.

I was probably somewhere between five and seven years old.

Dad had bought a mid-sized Mason & Hamlin grand piano from a friend who needed the money. It sat in the livingroom and occupied a corner. Whenever my sisters and I played tag or hide-and-seek, it was a favorite place to hide, sitting on the thin carpeted floor underneath. Many times I dashed around the corner and banged my head on the underside of that piano.

For a short while I would walk a couple of blocks to the home of a piano teacher, who, in vain, tried to give me the fundamentals of piano. I’m convinced had ADD been a diagnosis at the time, I would have had it. I had no patience, and my lessons were short-lived. I rue that to this day.

Instead, I would spend hours seated on the piano bench, tapping out my own music creations, and playing with the foot pedals for effect.

Dad also had a Hammond electric organ, which he would play infrequently. He only knew a few songs, and those were mostly from “South Pacific,” his favorite musical. Of course. It was about the war, which had impacted him so very much.

Through the years the piano went through some transformation. At one point my parents had the black glossy finished removed for a softer, chestnut-colored stain. For the majority of its life, it remained unused and out of tune.

My sister took the piano and used it primarily for a lamp stand. She said she intended her children to learn to play, but that never happened.

Years later I bought it from her, and commissioned a person to refinish the instrument. She was glad to have the piano stay in the family, but more happy with money to use to go on a trip.

Of the family, only my first daughter flourished as a pianist. To this day she plays fluently, and teaches chorus in public school. She has a white enameled piano in her house.

When I separated and divorced from my Ender Wife (I had two: a Starter Wife and an Ender Wife), she got custody of the piano. To my knowledge, it is still in pieces from her move to another city, stacked among other furniture that awaits final resolution and use. She does play the piano, and had an old church upright for a time when I first met her.

Like any instrument, I believe, pianos are only happy when they are played.

The Trombone

In high school and college, my dad played the trombone. He had a silver-finished simple slide trombone that sported a small bell. I saw an ad featuring a trombone brand — King, I think — endorsed by the great Tommy Dorsey.

The summer between elementary school and junior high school, I decided to learn the trombone, and to play in the junior high band. Dad proudly presented me his to use. By that time, what might have once been a shiny silver lacquer finish, was now more like a dull gray pewter.

I sat in a row with other trombonist would-bees, with their very shiny Conn trombones sporting HUGE bells, and the fuse of my continuing sense of inadequacies was lit. Their slides slipped effortlessly along the double-tubed track. Mine? It slid like a rusty screen sliding door — jerky and unpredictable. I hated my trombone?

“What’s wrong with it?” my Dad asked. In his day it was probably the finest instrument money could buy. To me it was like comparing a Model-T to a Corvette Stingray. He made it more difficult to explain when he told me that Dorsey had come to his fraternity once at the U of Minnesota and actually played the thing. I thought of the sappy story about an old violin being auctioned off. Do you know that one?

  • “Let’s start the bidding for this violin at $10,000.” No bids.
    He dropped it by half to $5,000. Still no bids.
    Once again, he dropped it to $2,500, and then to $1,000, and then $500 — until in exasperation he had reached $10 for the violin.
    “Wait!” shouted someone in the back of the grouped bidders. An old bent man shuffled forward and took the violin in his hands, tucked it under his chin, and drew the bow across its strings.
    The result mesmerized the room. It was beautiful, and the violin sang like a Stradivarius. He handed the old violin back to the auctioneer and disappeared among the amazed bidders.
    “Who will offer $50,000 for this violin?” said the auctioneer.
  • Yeah, well I was no expert, and still wanted a bright, shiny brass like-silk sliding trombone.

The trombone is a dirty instrument, in my opinion. To get a sound, you have to basically spit through pursed lips into the mouthpiece. After a time, enough saliva collects in the slide tubing that the “voice” of the trombone gets very gurgly-sounding. At the end of the slide is a spring valve that the player opens and blows hard — which forces the liquid yuck out. Next time you see an orchestra, watch the trombone players. They will quickly lean forward to empty the slide of spit onto the floor area next to their feet.

As with nearly every instrument, learning a brass instrument comes with a painful learning curve — painful to listeners as well as the player — who wants to sound just like Dorsey, or any well-known instrumentalist. Tone and pitch are nonexistent in the learning months. And practice? Well, my ADD tendencies didn’t allow for much of it. I did find that the acoustic reverberation effects of the bathroom made whatever I played sound much better, though. And louder. You were out of luck if you needed to go and I was playing my trombone.

To complicate matters, I wore braces. Pressing my lips to the mouthpiece to get a sound ravaged the insides of them. And so my career was short-lived. Plus I played football (better suited to an ADD kid), and so couldn’t march in the band.

My band teacher was great, though, and all the band members were fun. We were herded into the same homeroom so that we could be in band class. Teddy Harris, a tall, skinny guy, played a mean drum, and in home room, all of us pounded our desks to the beat of a favorite rhythm. Our homeroom teacher was a saint. Or should have been.

And who doesn’t like a man in uniform? Blue and white swirling down sleeves and pant legs. Stove-like hats with a plume shooting up at the front, and a shining black visor. Brass buttons. And you got to march down Main Street in the Christmas Parade! Although we were always positioned just behind a group of gaily-dressed cowboys and cowgirls riding Palominos who definitely had digestive problems.

While my skill levels and interest in continuing trombone definitely plateaued in junior high, the experience was great. AND, the strangest thing happened forty years later.

I was working at a hospital in Western North Carolina in public relations and marketing. One morning I received an email from a guy who had also played in the band back in junior high school. Back then he called himself Steven, and was kind of a squirrelly kid with big eyes and curly hair. He played trumpet. We will call him Steven C. Now, he addressed himself as Steve C., and he attached a photography of himself with his family.

Steven had grown up. He looked like a male model. His family looked like a perfect group. And Steve’s wife? Her name was Lisa, and she had played the part of Blair in a TV sitcom called “The Facts of Life.” He was now the music minister of a mega-church in California.

Imagine that?!

Within the year the couple were in the news — news like ET and such — as things unravelled for them. All the time I watched thinking, “Gosh, this will really help when I play Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon next time!”

The Harmonica

There was a time, when as a student in college who was majoring in fraternity, I came to my senses. It was such an about-face for me that I literally turned from everything I had known to that point.

I had grown reasonably adept at my guitar (Part III), and had begun to write songs. Lots of songs. Christian-oriented songs. Thank You, My Lord, For the Day came into my head while driving to my college apartment. You’ve never heard it, unless you knew me back then.

I even rewrote the lyrics to Killing Me Softly:

We met beside the water,
My life was ebbing low,
And I could go no farther
Till He began to show,
A way of quenching dryness,
The cup of Life
And he was … (Wait for it)
Filling me softly with His love,
Filling my life from above
Filling me softly with his love
Forever giving me new life
Now I am living his new life
Filling me softly
With his love.

The Jesus Movement. But not a lot of Christian groups at the time. Then came the 2nd Chapter of Acts and others.

So I had written all these songs. My father, always the fan but never the critic, encouraged me and another song-writer, Ken, to record an album he and another of his friends would finance.

Ken WAS a musician. Up through the southern beach music tradition, he too had turned from all he knew. And he too had written a lot of music, and had formed a Christian band.

So we recorded an album in a local studio. Jubilant Feet. You’ve never heard of it, unless you know either me or Ken.

The very first track of the album was a harmonica solo. You were waiting for me to get to this, right? A guy from California named Steve Humphries played it. Foot-stomping and lively. His rif bent notes and wailed as he literally provided drums with his feet. Hence the title of this song and the album.

He would sing between playing.

Well I ain’t been to heaven but I been told
Streets up there is lined with gold,
See me walkin’ down them golden streets
An’ dancin’ to da Lord with the jubilant feet!

The harmonica craze hit our little Christian hippie group like a hail storm, and everyBODY went out and bought a Hohner Blues Harp in the key of C and began huffing and puffing, trying to coax music out of that small reed instrument.

Kind of like the baritone ukulele craze.

Yeah, I got one too.

But one of the guys, who played drums on the album, and had come to Jesus from a time of drugs and hard living, did something with his. Not at first. At first, everyone begged Terry to quit the harmonica and stick to the sticks.

Terry traipsed off to Nashville, still blowing that harp of his the wrong way (he held it backwards from the way you are ‘sposed to play it). He ended up being — I think — discovered at an open mic at Roger Miller’s restaurant, and became one of the most sought-after harp players in the town. He rode with Jerry Reed and played on Ronnie Milsaps albums, and others, like JC (do I have to tell you?).

My harmonica sat in a drawer. Then, maybe twenty or thirty years later while checking out of Cracker Barrel after a meal with my family, I spied the familiar Hohner blue boxed harmonicas they had for sale, and bought another one.

I have played mine at a few places. But I have never bought a harp holder and played my guitar like Dylan did. I prefer the single-note tunes, like Moon River, and such, where I can create dreamy vibrato.

I think of Terry whenever I pick my harp up. Even wrote a story about a kid and his harp, based ever-so-loosely on Damn Yankees. You’d have to read it to understand.

Terry’s no longer here, but his music is.

Perhaps this love of new instruments and music is because of Terry’s legacy: music lives on. It’s eternal.

 

Part III: The Martin. The Acoustic. The Mandolin.

New Intruments, Part I

10 May

New Instruments – Part One

Anticipation. Disappointment. Delight. Devastation.

In my early teenhood, a fad swept our little southern town: the baritone ukulele. The baritone is a size larger than the small Hawaiian instrument known then for playing those island tunes, and little else.

Kids around the town were popping up as groups — some rather large — to play the popular songs of the day, which happened to be folk tunes. Peter, Paul, and Mary; Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; New Christy Minstrels. Songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Five Hundred Miles,” “Black, Black, Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” “Green, Green,” and so forth and so on.

I wanted a baritone ukulele. Badly. It’s the one on the far right of the picture showing ukulele sizes.

So, Christmas Day found me — like Ralphie — shoving my younger brother aside under the tree among stacks of painfully-wrapped presents for that instrument.

It was not to be. Oh, there was an instrument, alright. A ukulele. A little small Hawaiian piece made from blondish woods with four plastic strings. The one on the far left of the picture showing ukulele sizes. Little more in my estimation than those plastic guitar-shaped toys with the crank jutting out of the end of the sound box.

Disappointment didn’t begin to describe my reaction. Mom and Dad couldn’t imagine why I was not overjoyed.

After the holidays, my dad righted the error and took me with him to the music shop, where I picked out a real baritone.

If you are a golfer, you know the sign of someone who is more than a duffer is when you shake hands, and you feel the rough callouses gloving their hand. They are players!

So it is with anyone that plays a stringed instrument and has to practice and practice and practice. The tips of their fingers blister to the point of agony if they are as avid as I was. From the time I got home from school to deep into the night I was strumming and fingering cords and learning songs. My sister, whose bedroom was adjacent mine, would pound on the wall and tell me, “SHUT UP!!!” repeatedly to no avail. My finger tips were toughening.

I took my baritone everywhere. I even made a protective case for it using thick mil plastic and sheets I cut up, which I sewed together. Strap, too.

Every song I heard was a project to master. Over time, my ear for chords and progressions developed, and I could hear a song and KNOW what the chords were. It really didn’t matter that most popular songs were little more than three standard chords. All rock and roll songs basically use the same chords.

After a while, I grew weary of the baritone with its tinny sound, and began to eye the next step up: a full guitar.

This time Dad knew well enough to take me with him when he shopped for the instrument.

It was a beauty! A Terraga classical guitar! Six strings a bit more difficult than the four-stringed baritone, but, once again, I was determined. Nearly all of the popular songs on the radio were folkish in nature, AND, they had song books with the chords and everything!

I went away to school in the tenth grade. My guitar was my solace for what I thought was punishment for some of my, shall we say, less-than-perfect behavior. Only knew one guy at the school who was also from my small southern town. Walter. Glasses. Skinny. Yep, I was one of those who shunned the early nerds before they became kings of the hill.

I and my guitar gently wept that first semester of school. I was homesick and hated being at the school. The seniors on my dorm were Dylan fanatics, and played their albums non-stop. I began to hate Dylan with his nasal talk-singing style. Never mind he was the guy who wrote nearly all the songs I loved that were recorded by other artists who could sing and play their instruments correctly. Who would have thought Dylan would one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature? Not me.

It happened just before Christmas holidays. A guy who lived down the hall came running into my room laughing and giggling about something. Time slowed to a frame-by-frame recording. John Rust (not his fake name) was a portly lad with curly blonde hair and was always red-faced. Anyway, he ran into my room with a bound, and leapt onto my bed. On the bed was my Terraga classical guitar. As his arch peaked, I could see his expression of hilarity turn into horror. His landing was pin-point.

The destruction of the Tarrega classical guitar was complete.

“Oops!” said John’s body language.

He managed to get out of my room before I killed him.

Barely.

 

 

Part II: All is not lost and it is well with my soul

Opposite Poles

8 May

Opposite Poles

 

I had two related but poles-apart experiences today.

Experience One:

I read a post on Facebook that featured a picture of a rather large person tending one of those huge wood grill thingies where it looked like dozens of chickens were barbecuing. The gist was this is representative of Western North Carolina people.

The comments were varied to the extent those with something to say said the same thing from a different perspective. Red-neck came up often, along with colorful castigations of who the photo was being used to represent.

The Basket of Deplorables, no doubt. Those ignorant, overfed, racist North Carolinians. You know, the Andy Griffith type. Farmers. Factory workers. Hard-working people with bad teeth who like country music, apple pie and fly the American flag year-round, and not just on the 4th of July.

Why that grieved me so I’m not certain. I only have a college education — a bachelor’s degree. Plus I attended a summer class in screenwriting at NYU in NYC. And got my lateral entry teaching certification at Lenoir-Rhyne. You know … one of the ig’nant North Carolinians. Don’t have a Masters Degree. Don’t have a PhD.

Their bumper stickers read “My red-neck son can beat the hell out of your Honor Student.” Confederate flag covers the back cab window of their big-wheeled Hemi Dodge truck — a gun rack perhaps suction-cupped to the glass.

It grieved me. But no one else on that post, apparently. It was gang-tackle, pink-belly time. Dare I say it? Kind of a mob mentality.

Better than. Smarter than. More deserving than. Glad we’re not them.

Experience Two:

I went in for a weekly booster to help with my low iron counts. A very remote internist’s office in the North Carolina mountains where the physician (from Tennessee) and his PA take time with their patients, and know them by their first names. I sat across from a lady who preceded to hold church.

“I’m so glad I’m saved!” And went into great detail about her experience, down to the place (Pentecostal church), month, day, and nearly the time when she “died and came alive again! I ain’t been the same since!”

I had no reason to doubt her.

She flashed an eye my way and said, “God knows how many He is going to save before the end time.”

I’m thinking, but not saying, “144,000?”

“I’m so GLAD I’m SAVED and am NOT going to HELL, Amen?”

The others in the waiting room echoed, “Amen!”

She sounded like a familiar character out of a Stephen King novel. There’s one in each of his stories, if you hadn’t noticed.

Mercifully my name was called and I went into the back where I rolled up my sleeve for the stick.

“We were having church in the lobby!” I grinned.

The nursing assistant, pinched my upper arm skin and preparing to stab me with the needle, said, “That’s Mrs. Praise the Lord!” And she laughed. We all laughed and winked, then hushed ourselves so as not to be heard from the waiting room.

I did not fully recognize I was doing pretty much the same thing that was accomplished by the earlier post I had read on Facebook.

Better than. Smarter than. More deserving than. Glad we’re not them.

On the way home, it gradually dawned on me. And I grieved again — for different reasons.

BREAKING NEWS … !

20 Apr

BREAKING NEWS: Animal Federation employs MOAB* to send message to imminent domain residents.

SUGAR MTN, NC — The Western North Carolina Chapter of the Wild Animal Federation sent a definite message to residents of Chestnut Ridge in Sugar Mountain last night.

The message? GET OUT!

“We were here first,” said chapter spokes-“person” Pogo, an opossum elected by the Wild Animal Federation to represent their complaints.

“These interlopers, not to be confused with cantalopers or antelopers, forced their way onto our reservation without so much as a how-do-you-do. It’s gone on way too long. We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to put up with it any longer!”

Bud, the bad-ass black bear who is the Enforcer of the group, volunteered to do the deed, which was under the cover of night.

“Sure, come sneaking up in the dark. Pretty cowardly if you ask me,” said one of two year-round residents.

“Fine with me,” said the other year-round resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “I got my 30-ought-6 loaded and at the window if they want to test me!”

“It’s not only the bears,” said the first residents. “Deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and crazy-ass Robins have colluded to make this serene and picturesque area a place of potential carnage! What we NEED is a wall to keep these critters OUT!”

Both sides have been reluctant to come to the bargaining table.

“Just look at me!” complained Bud, the alleged perpetrator of last night’s melee. “I’ve put on 183 pounds this month due to all of the sugar and fat these humans have tossed! It’s not only unHEALTHY for ME, it’s a cruel kind of baiting I think has got to stop. Look at all the damn bird feeders, for crissakes! There’s not a wren or a titmouse for miles around able to fend for themself anymore. They’ve all become dependant. It’s like — here’s some free and easy bird seed — come and get it! Then, in the winter, these snowbirds fly south and take their birdfeeders with them! That’s as bad as giving away a free hit of heroine, if you ask me!”

The decades-old battle between squatters (how the animals refer to the humans) and animals is not likely to find resolution any time soon.

“They are just not like us,” murmured Bud under his garbage breath.

“Animals is what they are!” replied one of the year-round residents.

*Mother of all Bears

 

Garbage carnage as a result of MOAB attack during last night’s raid

 

Little Foxes

12 Apr

Hubba, hubba! Who dat bathing over there?

Little Foxes

By L. Stewart Marsden

Solomon 2:15 (KJV)
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.

I’ve both thought for others and said of my own situations when tragedy strikes, “Well, that puts things into perspective.”

Things like the death of a loved one. Sudden illness. An unexpected downturn, like loss of job or worse.

As a result, for a while — longer or shorter as the case may be — I’m back in the doldrums of daily existence. I should know better.

Solomon, to give you unchurched a little background (how haughty was that comment?), was the first legitimate offspring of King David and Bathsheba. If you have heard Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (and if you haven’t, you need to get out more), they are the subject of at least one of his lines in the song*:

Your faith was strong, but you needed proof,
You saw her bathing on the roof (BATH-she-ba … get it? Moses definitively had a sense of humor/irony).
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya …

I digress.

Anyway, David and Bathsheba hook up, and, because they didn’t have a local Family Planning Clinic in Jerusalem at the time and sheep intestines were not yet being used for protection, she got pregnant. The seed of David was strong.

“King David …I have good news and I have bad news.”

“I’ll take Good News for $200, Alex.”

“I’m preggers.”

“Great! Wait! What?” (David was also smart, but Michelangelo couldn’t quite convey that in the statue).

Soooo, because David had not heeded the long-time tradition of going off to war in the spring, and all of that moonlight and beauty stuff had knocked him slightly askew (excuses, excuses), he set to figuring out a remedy for this wonderful, yet not-so-wonderful situation. Again, had Family Planning been around, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Now Uriah was Bathsheba’s husband, and he was out standing in the field of battle (literally), fighting David’s war. Must have been a pretty high-ranking officer, as his house was within spyglass distance of the palace. David had him brought home for some R&R, thinking that Uriah and Bathsheba would get it on, and, voilà! No more problem! Sure, Bathsheba would have to lie about the paternity of the baby, but in the long run, David’s position involved in far more important stuff to worry about, what did he care about that? (I think this story is dog-ear marked in Willie C’s Bible — but don’t quote me, please).

Uriah comes home and David invites him to eat and drink (from the private wine collection) until he’s pretty sure Uriah doesn’t know which end is up.

“Go home and make puppies with Bathsheba,” he commands.

BUT, (perhaps this is a small fox?), Uriah goes to his house and sleeps outside the gate (a gated community) instead of insulting his men who were sleeping on the ground at the battle site and going in for a luxurious night’s — well.

So Bathsheba texted David: “LOL! Uriah slept outside the gate last night! We are in deep doo-doo!”

Once again David wines and dines Uriah, and urges him to “Go home, Bro’! Have a roll in the hay with your wife!”

Once again Uriah staggers home and makes a rock on the ground his pillow for the night.

Frustrated, (those damn foxes), David sends Uriah back to the battlefield with written orders to have him placed at the front of the lines, charge the enemy, and then suddenly retreat, leaving the hapless Uriah standing by himself when the enemy swarms.

See, now I might have taken a peek at those written orders. Not Uriah. Stalwart to the last. “Here you go, Colonel! The King’s orders!”

NOW David has TWO little foxes to deal with: Bathsheba, who is preggers with royal semen (no, not the Navy); and now an indirect murder.

Probable cause.

Nathan the prophet has a direct line to God, who leaks the information to him about what’s going on with David. And just like a CBS reporter, he storms the royal press conference and asks the question, “Is it true you’ve quit banging Bathsheba after Uriah took a hit on the battlefield?”

No good answer in hand, David is more than ferkempht.

Karma prevailed, and the bastard son died. Didn’t need Family Planning after all. Which David was glad about because that would have been one more fox in the vineyard to take care of.

Nathan tells David: “Remember that temple you wanted to build? Ain’t gonna happen. Wouldn’t be prudent. You will have another son by Bathsheba. He will build it, and they will come.” Or something like that. I’m not a Presbyterian in my Biblical interpretation. More of a combination Methodist/Unitarian.

Solomon.

So another window of opportunity was open, albeit not quite what David was expecting.

Pretty heady stuff.

But, I digress again.

For me little foxes are the things that irk me. And I know I should be able to get over them. But as I improve with age like a fine wine, those little buggers take up a lot of my mental/emotional space.

Like, people who get the usage of there, their and they’re mixed up on Facebook. Or, to, too and two. Or when news reporters (local AND especially national) say, “The victim is in stable condition.” (Search my website for that blog. I won’t repeat it here — suffice it to say stable is not a medical condition according to HIPAA).

Like, people (and you KNOW who you are!) who pour a glass of filtered water from the Brita water jug, and don’t refill it.

Like people (and you KNOW who you are!) who order a nice steak well done, and then cover it with A-1!

I could go on ad nausea.

These are minutia, and should easily roll off my backside, especially with my perspective of very serious stuff (I’m old enough to have a list of those that have happened).

It’s not really OCD. It’s the little foxes, nibbling constantly on the vines of my life.

The metaphor is actually the reverse of how I’m using it here. It really means take care of the little things in life so you don’t end up with a field of withered grape vines. But I’m the author, and I’ll decide how to use it. If I took that stance, I’d be Biblically correct. But because I know too many who are “Biblically correct,” and how that plays out, then I’m satisfied to be incorrect.

Gnashing of teeth. I hear gnashing of teeth.

 

 

*I first heard the tune in Disney’s Shrek, and then was under the impression Jeff Buckley was its composer. Wish I had known about Cohen years ago — but I didn’t. Oh, Cohen mixed his metaphors (that’s what metas are for) with Sampson and Delilah (She tied you to her kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair). I’m pretty sure God is okay with that. AND, Hallelujah is NOT a Christian song! Kind of like George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord is not a Christian song, or Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog is not in the United Methodist Hymnal. But, these, too, are little foxes.