Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mutual of Omaha: FINAL NOTIFICATION


Sigh. Here's a piece of junk mail I got that I thought would be fit for display. It's from the Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company. The key thing about this one is the bold "FINAL NOTIFICATION" shouting itself out. If I never see another envelope them forever, I can always look back and remember, Yes, I was warned.

But warned? ... or promised? Let's just say -- sure, it's one in a million -- that maybe I don't especially appreciate getting junk mail. I walk to the mailbox, and there it is, something like this. An insurance company wants to sell me a policy. My old university -- which had no qualms about putting me on academic probation when I was there -- now considers me a great alum, who needs to have their credit card, etc., and give money. Cards from tree removal services. Pizza coupons (actually useful.) Surveys from Congress, like they really care what I think.

They seriously think we're idiots, or so extremely lonely that we're just dying for a piece of mail, when of course we aren't. The best ones are the (rare) ones that come with a free stamp or even a free nickel. I believe I got a nickel some time in the last couple years. Seems like it was stuck right in the window, a little bit of sticky stuff holding it up, so you could see, indeed, it was an actual nickel! Those are nice. You're suddenly five cents richer, for what that's worth ... about five cents. If I could hear from them a thousand times a day, with the nickels lumped together as an actual $50 check, that'd be better.

Speaking of checks, I used to get those in the mail. But they were the kind of checks that if you cashed them, according to the fine print, they were actually loans. I can't remember who they were from. Seems like they were from my credit card company, or maybe just a loan company, acting on P.T. Barnum's old saying of a fool born everyday. At some point, I guess they just stopped coming. I don't believe I got a "FINAL NOTIFICATION" on those, or I would've probably written this blog then.

Anyway, to the Mutual of Omaha company: I'm old and have all the insurance I'm ever likely to buy. If this is my "FINAL NOTIFICATION" for mail I didn't ask for in the first place, and don't actually appreciate getting, then fine, thank you. Please show your integrity as a great company by keeping your word.

Hey, whatever happened to the "Wild Kingdom" show, sponsored by Mutual of Omaha? Did they just yank it off the air way back when? Did we get a "FINAL NOTIFICATION" that it was leaving us. I can picture Marlon Perkins, surely dead by now, or 150 years old, his final years screwed up without constant safaris. Maybe they sent his last check in on the tip of a poison dart and hit him. Or paid him off in nickels, sent one at a time. He was a great guy -- I guess, he seemed nice -- but who knows. He was responsible for an awful lot of animal pain.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In My Depression, I Bought Old Utility Bills



I was really feeling terrible, down, irritated, and depressed, a little over a week ago. I don't know what hit me, except my biorhythms have been completely out of whack. I hate to admit it, but this one guy told me it helps to "get it out," his exact words.

Well, you probably don't have to be a therapist -- and he's only an armchair therapist, a Monday morning counselor -- to know what people do when they get depressed. There's several things, ranging from severe acting out against yourself, which I don't do, to going crazy shopping. I'm more apt to do that, even though I rationally know I have everything I need, and seriously need to get rid of some stuff. I just keep putting it off till tomorrow.

In this case I was too depressed to go shopping downtown. Afraid the guys downtown would razz me for my ratty bathrobe, I guess ... again, "getting it out." So I turned to the next best thing ... no, not Amazon.com. Not this time! I checked in with eBay. Particularly looking for something that would make me think of the old days. I think that's what I had in mind. I like to see old movies, of the world gone by, no internet, cell phones, back when people lived in black and white and smoked like crazy.

This time, though, I didn't get movies. I found some guy's very unusual listing for some old electric, natural gas, and water bills from the early '50s from some town (little? big?) in Ohio, Lancaster. I thought, There's something you don't see everyday! Someone's old bills! The folks' water bill postmarked Sept. 29, 1950, was only $2.00, with sewage billed at 60 cents. Very cheap! Their two month electric bill (July 6-Sept 6) was the minimum charge of $1.00. Natural gas from the same period was $1.60 gross and $1.45 net. It goes on like that for the whole stack of bills I got!

When I bought these, my biggest high was the bidding war with three other people. But when my life and mental well-being's on the line, I cannot be denied. I kept topping the other guys, finally plugging in $200 with about 3 minutes to go. They were feverishly adding to their bids, but naturally no one thinks you're going to have that high of a maximum bid. So I got them for a little under $60, a real coup! Or so I thought at the time. By the time they got here my depression was gone, and now I don't know what to do with them.

The big plan was to categorize them, chart them out, etc., but the charges are so steady across the line that to chart them doesn't prove very much, if anything. Plus, even if it did prove something, it wouldn't prove very much, nothing worth knowing, in all probability. Still, they're kind of cool, in a way. They're actually someone's bills (receipts for bills) from the early 1950s, but what good they really are, I'm starting to think they're not that great.

What I might try to do -- wish me luck! -- is call the Lancaster utilities and dispute one of the bills. I could say we were overcharged in October-November 1951, since we were away on vacation then, and we had called in to turn off the service. But we paid the bill just by habit, and now I realize they had made a mistake. It's likely the utilities threw away their copies, so they'll have to take my word for it. They'll see the total's under $5.00. Little do they realize, though, I'm compounding interest on what's due, meaning they owe me $58,978!

When I get my $58,978, then I won't be depressed! I'll be buying all kinds of crap!

People in Chains


At the risk of inflaming an already troubled world, I have a few comments to make. Further, I know I am putting this blog and my reputation at risk as well. For I have very sensitive readers, most of whom have told me time and time again that anything that rocks the boat doesn't sit well with them. In other words, they've threatened to "hit the doors" if I ever say anything evenly the slightest bit controversial, in anger and rage abandoning me out of revenge.

But I shall be bold. I've weighed all the different factors -- and others I'm too afraid to list -- and have decided, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." If my readers, precious in my sight though they be, are so super sensitive, so supercilious, to anything that even might rock their world, and however slightly at that, are they really worth having? In that case I'm as much in chains as the poor folks seen in my illustration.

Anyway, being bold, here's my sincere contention, Everyone's got something going on, some problem, let's say, something that's holding them down. It may be a complex, a behavior, a predisposition, a habit, or longings, not yet acted on but enslaving them every bit as much. I will simply lay it on the line: I feel sympathy for them and want their lives to be better, to enhance them as much as I can, if I can.

I will make a few comments on each one, expressing myself in sympathy and grace, thankful that it's not me, for There but for the grace of God go I.

Let's go left to right. The older lady's chain is LUST. I've known several people on the chain of lust, true story. They're always on the make, sniffing the air for whatever opportunities there might be to get their jollies. As I'm given to understand, lust is a terrible taskmaster, capturing first your attention, then keeping you firmly on the hook until you've gone the full mile demanded. For the lady here, as sad as it is to say, there's no turning back. She will either grab the guy next to her, RUDE as he is, or the PRIGGISH guy. Who, being PRIGGISH, might put up quite a fight.

Then there is RUDE. I really hate it when people are RUDE. Their biggest thing is they've given up on human sympathy. See the connection? If you have sympathy for other folks, you will bend over backwards to understand them and to accommodate them. But being RUDE is to show a lack of sympathy, showing itself by acting mean. Have I ever been RUDE to someone? This is something that, yes, I have done. But my sympathy is such that it's never gone on for long. I get over it very fast.

PRIGGISH.  I've actually been accused before of being PRIGGISH ... because I believe in clean living and I don't allow blue material on my blog. Me PRIGGISH? Ha! Let me say I'm a little turned on by the lady in the pink dress. The little BORED kid looks like she could almost be my daughter -- if Pink and me got married, then did it, 40 years ago when I was young. I see she's MOODY, which can be good, if she's clawing cat MOODY.

HELLION - All boys are potentially little HELLIONS. I used to be a boy, and still use the HELLION attitude as a boy does. But it's never misbehavior, or used in being RUDE. I'm not a vandal or anything like that. I use the HELLION nature if I need the confidence to do something, like jump over a creek, climb over rocks and boulders, something hard. I think "I'm a boy!" and dive right in, fighting and going at it like a tornado.

MOODY - As said above, I like a certain amount of moodiness. It gets old, though, if it's constant. Variety is the spice of life. Mix your sullenness with good cheer, grumpiness with bubblyness. Keep me guessing, but not so much that I'm perplexed.

BORED - Little girl, why would you be bored? You have your whole life ahead of you. You know next to nothing about anything. Everyday should be a day of excited discovery for you. I want to see you bouncing around, going from one project to the next. Let's set you up with finger painting activities, kite flying, origami, reading cool books at the library, and going to various fun outings -- touring museums, theme parks, and going on trail rides. As for theme parks, though, I'm BORED by them, so I'd skip that. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

She's Cute ... He's Handsome ... Stop! Don't Do It!


This is just the kind of argument you want to get into ...

You caught her fair and square, bald-faced, lying, red-handed, in the act, in flagrante delicto, as it were. You had her right where you wanted, names, dates, suspicious comings and goings. This would be your big chance to be rid of her, no questions asked. No one could blame you.

Then -- you should have known -- as sure as the sun doth rise, she has the names and dates, and suspicious comings and goings of you as well. A little tit for tat, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, or vice versa. You tried to avoid that infernal lipstick! Proving to yourself once and for all, there's no fool like an old fool!

It's the same old story, times two. You're out and about, you catch an eye, an eye catches you, then there's a smile and an exciting closeness. It's a crowded room, pretty dark, you can duck through this curtain and out this door, the back door, and find a booth somewhere. No one's looking, you think. In this whole big world, surely you can duck scrutiny for a paltry hour; you've been around, you see people, they're out of sight in a flash.

But there's always some little thing. Someone crossing the street the opposite way, catching a glance, noticing something out of place, a slightly different person on your arm. But they don't say anything, don't greet you, and maybe turn their head to look the other way. Saving their kind attentions for later, the gossip mill.

She, however, was very discrete, coming up with one excuse after another for her absences. Doctor appointments, visiting a sick friend, Christmas shopping in July, having her dress mended. But you started thinking, Something's going on. And decided to call in a private detective for answers.

He tailed her, but good. She wasn't so secure she didn't look behind her and around. But she kept right on going, not noticing him. Then the assignation, a dark stairwell, a key to the door. Their meeting went well, such as it was. The detective was back with the details within the hour. Now to confront her! And be done with it!

She was ready, though, the evidence she has against you bringing out an added brazenness. This is why she had no shame!

Fortunately, friends, the above scenario is fictional. The very sad people in the illustration, just actors, helped me make a point. The point being, if you haven't yet crossed that line -- and there has to be a few of you who've thus far held back -- there's still hope for your relationship. You may seriously think you've lost the fire as a couple, but it's very likely that's just a deception. Because whatever it was a long time ago, the mutual attraction that brought you together, isn't dead. Much more likely, you've simply set it aside, by neglect, or from a lack of imagination. The old fire's still there, present somewhere, just waiting to be rekindled.

I've had friends who've crossed that line, and I've kept their confidence, only because they're my friends. But I know they're miserable. Had they only come to me before it happened -- this goes for male and female -- I would've told them, "Don't do it!" In my favor I would've brought out the old truth, "The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence." I would've then lead them through a few questions -- delving into their thinking -- before emptying a pitcher of iced water in their lap. They'd have come up cussing me, obviously, but when they got hold of themselves, they'd have thanked me.

It's too late for them now, many of them, but that doesn't mean it's too late for you. Let's say you're getting ready to go right now. But somehow (Who knows how it happens, but thank God it does!) you found your way to this blog -- a very popular blog, yes, but still obscure enough that you basically need divine guidance to find it -- and you're reading this post, and it's hitting you like a ton of bricks. You're saying to yourself: "Yes, yes ... just the word I needed, as within the hour -- or maybe even sooner -- I was planning to throw it all away with some hot little floozy [or tall, dark, handsome paramour with a pencil-thin mustache, smoking a Swisher's Sweet, very sexy.]"

It's fantastic news to me to know now that I had some little part in changing your plans. And that you've decided to take another look at your mate, your partner over all these years. She ain't so bad, is she? He's still pretty cool, isn't he? You look up, you look at each other, there's a meaningful look, a glance, and a sly smile.

Forget everything else! Take your pill and fill the tubs in the backyard! Maybe you can make it before sundown!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The First Day of School for Me ... Again


It's the first day of school for me, again. School opened today, meaning I made my annual trek back to see about starting again. Two things went against me: 1) Every year it's getting harder and harder to pass as a kid; 2) They never think I'm serious. We argue the point, I cuss them out, and end up sitting in the corner till the police arrive.

It's embarrassing, of course, to be led from the classroom in handcuffs. But I look on the bright side; it gives the kids something interesting to remember. I can see them now at their 40th reunion -- "Do you remember that old man they arrested on our first day? Wonder whatever happened to him?" -- "I hear he had a facelift, came back five years later, and ended up graduating at the top of his class, graduating early, right out of fourth grade!"

That's how I plan to do it. In four years, just like the kid remembers it. I'll test out of Kindergarten and start with First Grade. Then it's 1-2-3-4 and out. If you can go through college in four years -- I've always said this -- the lesser grades shouldn't take any longer. (That doesn't mean I might not go back and do fifth and sixth grades, the elementary equivalent of grad school. I wouldn't mind doing a dissertation on girls, how yucky they are.)

The only reason I put myself through this year after year is because of something my dad said. That he wished he could go back to school and do it right. He said it, I bet a dozen times, and it always stuck with me. For some reason, though, which I've forgotten, he could never do it, or maybe he just thought he couldn't. Times were different back then. He had to work hard to feed a bunch of hungry mouths. But I've only got me to worry about. And I just ate.

The biggest problem -- and here's where I'm going to confess a few fears -- is that I'm honestly afraid that, as much experience and knowledge as I think I have, I might still flunk out. And they're not fast to flunk kids these days! Not like when I was in school the first time. They graded on the curve then, so a full 18% of everyone failed automatically. Now it's all individualized, giving every kid an honest to God shot at success. Of course the downside for society is that it has to function without a vibrant Shudra caste, drones, worker bees. But with outsourcing so prevalent, and the increased use of robotics in manufacturing, the loss hasn't been that terrible. These days, now, if I fail it really means something!

Think then, too, what it would mean for my self-image if I can't keep up. Because, remember, most of these little honyock mama's boys have had preschool. I never had that luxury. I'm starting in the hole the first day. But I might have the edge after all, since I've been balancing a checkbook for years (math), writing this blog since 2008 (English), and heating up TV dinners since Grandma died (home ec). Plus, a lot of the stuff should just come to me, if somehow I can find a reservoir of common sense within; I believe it's there, but where?  

The kids I'm really afraid of are the ones who've been trained in music, playing the piano. Because I've heard that their little brains are wired differently from the average kid, meaning they might be smarter than me on the first day. Even if they're not -- they'll probably be close -- and by the time I graduate, after fourth grade, the little musicians will be so advanced, I might be way down in the percentile somewhere. It'll kill me.

But if it doesn't kill me -- ho ho ho, I'm devious -- who says I can't start again ... and again ... and again ... till I finally -- till death doth me part -- get it right.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dad Wanted to Die Alone


Note: I'm sorry this post is long, but I can't cut short the story of a guy's death. My recommendation is that you read it over a period of three days. That way you can pace yourself, not tire your eyes and mind, and be better able to consider the issues of life, family, mortality, and passing. There's two great truths about Death: It plays no favorites and it plays for keeps. Reflecting on Death, as I often do, I am set a'trembling, and yet I wouldn't have it any other way.

The stories of how people die -- how we die -- are among the weirdest. We aren't sure if it's supposed to be a social process or simply a solitary act. Dogs crawl off to die alone, but we, perhaps because we have more feeling for appearances, make a production of it. Still, the dog isn't too far off the beam; there are times when dying alone is preferable.

Moss Stipple wanted it both ways, at least he alternated between them, in a strait betwixt two. We shall call him by the term of affection that his family knew him by, Dad. (He wasn't my father, by the way.)

Dad was in the hospital. All hope was gone, according to those in the medical field. He was dying and, if the process went on as everyone expected, he would be dead soon, very soon. As the time seemed to loom very near, those on the scene carried on their conversations in hushed tones. Nurses and doctors conferred as much in sign language and with well understood nods as anything else.

Dad rouses and demands, "What's going on?", then drops back to silence. "Nothing, Dad, just get some rest." The nurses stand still a moment, then return to their business, in motions designating lieutenants among the family. As if to say, "You're on cotton swab, you're on soothing music, you're on bedpan, ring if you need anything." The doctors, recently on the scene in conference, don't do any of this; they simply vanish down the nearest doctor hole.

After a bit, Dad rouses again, and holds up his finger, and whispers, "I want to die alone." To me this is more heroic than to face the namby pamby look of one son on cotton swab, another on music, etc. With resolve, he sends everyone away. Good for him! Because all the chatter, their hushed tones, and the various distractions take away Dad's dignity as a man.

Alone then, he's contemplating, trying to keep fear away, trying to stave off the sense of abandonment, which rises quickly. He sends for his family, who return, some still, some preoccupied with whatever. One son has the undesirable task of arranging a birthday party for his twins. They're talking together: "Has the doctor been in?" "I haven't seen him." "No, he was in for just a moment. Don't know what he said." "Dad, what'd the doctor say?" Dad says with difficulty, "What?" They busy themselves with the swab, the music, and ready nitrile gloves in case the bedpan should come into play.

The nurses return to the scene, needing to shift Dad. There's always some danger of bedsores if he's left in one spot for more than an hour. "On 2, 1-2." They shift him; now he's on his side, his bottom out for a moment, with all demurely turning away.

The son's phone rings. "No, I don't need two cakes, just two places at the head table for the twins. That's right, one cake, two places." With this commotion, everything from the swabs to the birthday arrangements, Dad comes-to strongly enough to send them all out. He again wants to die alone, in peace. They think, 'Who are we to argue against this good man?' and leave.

Back at his dying, Dad busies himself with his final thoughts, the thoughts of Everyman: "I had a pretty good life. I loved my wife. I'll see her again very soon. I and my family, the whole Stipple clan, many generations of us, have our names written in the Book of Life. Life is good." He pauses for a moment, about to cry, and thinks, 'My dad wasn't like this. I was at his bedside.' Wanting to be the dad his dad was, then, Dad sends for his family.

The whole crew's back. They've been involved in some debate going on between themselves and three competing doctors. One doc wants more tests, but, the family says, "Dad's side is like a pin cushion." "No, we've been using the port." One wants to try a complete Ensure regimen. One wants a morphine drip timed for every hour. Some agree, some disagree.

The nurses are back from their break, smelling of smoke. It's time for the family to man the patient, so things get hectic again. Dad can see this busyness in all quarters, all except for a long haired grandson in the corner preoccupied with a video game, otherwise sullen.

An hour or so later, the sons and daughter are tapping their toes, impatient. "Why don't they tell us anything?" "Maybe they don't know anything." "Then tell us that!" An uncle -- Dad's healthy brother -- comes in, offering to spring for a cafeteria run, ice cream for the kids, saying, "We don't know how long we might be waiting." The others shush him, but Dad's conscious and can hear their tiptoeing. His brother comes to the bedside and says loudly and distinctly, "How ya doin', Moss?" Dad gives him a hand squeeze as his answer before the brother takes the four grandchildren out for treats.

This leaves Dad's kids bickering over the various slights they've felt in his treatment at this hospital. One complains the hospital is nothing but a corporation, and that's the way they make you feel. "Nothin' but the bottom line!" Of course Dad hears all this and rallies once again to send them all away. The nurse hears his whisper and tells the family, "He wants to die alone." "We'll let you know ... one way or another." In the excitement, Dad's senses are sharpened, and he looks around the room. Though it's a little blurry, he makes out a lot of metallic technology. The buzzing and beeping of IV bags, with the intercom in the hall, adds to the feeling of malaise.

Nurses return to shift him. Dad whispers, "I'm dying, what's one more bedsore?" But rules and regulations being what they are...

All alone now, Dad decides, "No, I don't wanna die alone." He tries in vain to get the call light. He's thrashing as much as he can, but it's fallen halfway to the floor, dangling past the bottom of the bed. He tries to call out, but his voice is unheard, very raspy and weak. He rattles the bed. He wants everyone there for one last final goodbye. But instead he dies, his eyes rolling back in his head.

At the nurses' station a hush falls over one particular monitor. Part of the family's there nearby. They see the nurses rushing off. They trail quickly, sending the 14-year-old to find the others in the cafeteria. Everything's just rumor at this point. "What are they saying?" "They haven't said anything yet." "This could be it!"

Entering the room, they find Dad totally still. Others arrive, saying "Is he---?" The nods of silence and downcast eyes tell the story. The daughter offers up praying hands, a signal to the others that they go to silence. Especially appropos when the kids show up with the last bits of their cones. Nurses are quietly disconnecting spiggots. The uncle with the other sons come in. One son says, in a very solemn, dignified way, "He said he wanted to die alone. Now he's with Mom."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Teacher Who Meant to Say


The whole class took the test and it was a total wipe out. Everyone failed, because each problem was different than what the teacher meant to put. For example, on the test he had "20 + 10," but he meant to put 20 + 20." So none of the tests matched up with his answer key.

After a while, as you might guess, almost nobody wanted to be in that class. To them, being absent-minded (or devious) is apparently the unforgivable sin. But a few hardy souls were man enough to take it, which included my dad, some other guys, and also some girls.

So they went from something like 40 kids a semester down to less than 10. That made for a good problem. "We used to have 43 kids a semester in this class, and now we have 8 ... How many did we lose?" That's a tougher question, of course, since you don't have 10s, 20s, and 30s to work with. I think it'd go 43 - 8 = 35 kids lost. That's what you'd think, but the teacher meant to say they started with 35 kids, purposely low balling it to minimize his failure. So the answer should've been 35 - 8 = 27.

One generation passed on and another came, all the while the numbers going up and down. The lore of this teacher was passed from father to son, mother to daughter, with him keeping things confused enough that the school didn't dare fire him. The pattern of it went on. Which, if you think of it, it's a good way to learn math. Because your first answer is never right you learn twice as much.

There was a kid, though, who sometimes got it wrong on purpose because he was trying to get it right by guessing. By the way, that kid was me. I worked with some of the info my dad gave me, and I swore the teacher would not be a match for me. I was able to keep my vow only somewhat, because, obviously, he could always claim that he meant a different number.

Here's an example of me guessing. He says the problem is 20 + 30. Everyone else assumes the answer would have to be 50, but I thought of the stories, so I figure he meant to say 20 + 20, so my answer of 40 is right. He's amazed when one kid gets it. Now, though, he has my number and wants to make life tough for me. So he says the problem is 30 x 2. I can go one of several ways, I can increase or decrease each number, significantly changing the answer. But if say the answer is 90, assuming he meant 30 x 3, there's nothing to prevent him from saying he meant 30 x 4.

The way I eventually turned it around on him was to claim that I also meant something different than what I said. So if I said 90 and he said he meant 30 x 4, I said I meant 120. Like that. Or when I figured  he was getting totally wise to this, I prepared cards with all the various numbers, giving me the ability to pull out whatever card matching up with whatever he eventually meant.

We went at it like that for a couple semesters. Him riding my ass like a rodeo cowboy and me thwarting his every move like a rodeo clown. One last thing, it was getting extremely dicey for me -- with him ultimately holding most of the leverage -- leading me to petition the school to force him to teach like this: 1) Students' choice of problems; and, 2) Printed flashcards. That effectively defanged him until the semester ran out and I ended up with a B.

In later years, though, I heard that the school board rescinded their revisions in the curriculum, letting the teacher return to his old tricks. He had complained to them that 99% of his students were failing, so of course they immediately voted to rescind the rule. When in truth he meant to say 99% were passing.

Eating Steak, The Energy I Get


I strained to keep my eyes open. I was seriously so tired and weak I could've just dropped right there. This is horrible, I told myself, fighting to keep my vigor, alertness, and faculties. All because I was eating a cold salad ... waiting, waiting, wasting precious minutes till my steak would finally be done...

This is my oldest problem, becoming extremely lethargic while eating, unless it's steak. Then I feel the energy of Life Itself race through my being, giving me potency like a new man. I believe it's somehow related to the original energy of the original bull, the father of cattle.

Then at last it came, a big old perfectly cooked Kansas City Strip. I looked at it hungrily, feeling my potency remount as on angel wings, my hand quivering as I reached for the A1 and slathered that beautiful piece of meat with the sauce. The good stuff.

I dug in, tentatively, eating the first bite, and that was good enough by itself to be a prisoner's last meal. Speaking of angels, they rejoiced over the reddish middle. I was able to successfully add a couple of great stanzas to Handel's Messiah that they'll be singing at community sings this Christmas. Though an old man, I felt my oats again like a spry 14-year-old.

I seriously looked at the waitress, and she at me. I felt my cheeks flush, both from the perfect steak and the closeness we shared, and it was a contest to see which of us would ultimately have the willpower to pull away first. Which got much harder the closer we came to totally losing it, inch by inch. I could feel her hot breath, and surely she could feel mine; at that moment, when it was virtually too late, I pulled back and asked for another Coke.

I love a steak like this, although they make me go wild. If you ever want to take advantage of me, steak's the way to do it. Perfectly formed, perfectly cooked, nicely colored, a certain thickness, gnarly looking but still neat, just like the one she gave me.  The appearance alone would've technically been enough for me to lose it. I forget myself fast. Day to day I have terrific willpower, but with steak something triggers in my brain, and I'm in my danger zone. The steak's on the plate, the plate's in her hand, and what a beautiful hand, etc.

It's just the opposite with salad. I'm not a salad guy. A salad's cold and leaves me cold and lethargic. When it comes to salad I want it small, if at all, and the one I had was big. That meant I'd never be able to eat it. Salad's boring. And yet I hate to see anything go to waste, so it about wore me out. She asked me how the salad was and I said, "Boring," which made her perk up. "Good God, what am I dealing with?" I imagined her asking. Is this Undercover Boss? She didn't know if she was in for a scholarship or the chewing out of her life.

After a while, then, it became obvious I wasn't Undercover Boss, because I returned to the steak with my eyes rolled back in my head. I'm only halfway through and about to have kittens. I want it to go on and on. So I'm taking smaller bites and savoring them more and more. With the savoring, it's triggering key enzymes in my brain and my many glands. My full strength returns. My eyes are getting that Valentino look. In my mind's eye, she and I are working on it from opposite ends, with Valentino and Valentinette about to meet in the middle. It's so totally hot.

She's off, though, quickly, helping other customers. I'm only encouraged because she's checking on me multiple times, and the others at my table, who know we're clicking and yet how impossible it'll be for us to get together. She tells me she lives in the country, and I start thinking two things: 1) Country, such a vast term; and, 2) Animals live in the country. Crazy, natural animals going at it half the night, then curled up on a lazy morning by the stream.

I'm looking at the remains of my salad and the weakness returns; I'm about to doze off. I'm wishing I could crash. Forget the meal, let me sleep, perchance to dream and drift into fantasy land. The Coke's a Coke to die for, but I'm dying. And I have access to all the hot buns I might want, but I'm exhausted. Everything's a waste, except for the remainder of the steak, that beautiful steak! My strength returns.

This late in the meal, is it still as good as it was? Yes, the last bit is as good as the first. You'd think the spell would wear off, but I'm loving it. Just to key me up more, I put salt and pepper on the last bit. Then I slice it in thirds and dip it straight in the A1. It's dripping wet, the A1 soon rolling down my chin.

She comes around to get my debit card and sees me looking up at her, the A1 glistening, adding to the sensuous ambiance already in the allure of my burning eyes. With the very last piece of steak, I can easily picture us mouth-clamped to each of its little ends. "I'm working my way back to you, babe, with a burning love inside!" But she suddenly moves back, as if torn. A bus has arrived, she says, and they're bringing in 48 senior citizens, most of whom won't be able to stand in the lobby and wait. Meaning the rest of us have to clear out and let the bastards in.

But oh baby. That was a steak! The steak that brought us ... so very close, that close to losing it.   

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Last Brush with Savages


Being a lowly blogger in a world wholly immersed in information, I cannot be sure that my words here will be much noticed or long remembered. And it's frankly doubtful that I will be able to match the historical significance of the Last Night of Porky's. But sometimes, in the course of human events, it simply becomes necessary to do the right thing as you the individual are so moved. With no hope of reward.

That moment has now come for me. Whether I've been internally provoked by the controversy over the Washington Redskins name, Abraham Lincoln's alleged racism, or a visceral disgust at what comes out of Republicans' mouths daily, I've decided to live and let live. No more mental and verbal dissing of the so-called "savages" of the world. That's all behind me now.

Like everyone else my age, I grew up with a pretty huge disgust for what we called at the time savagery. (I just changed in the last couple days, so I hope I don't have any relapses in the course of this post.) The savagery of the world, particularly in the vile acts of cannibalism, the disgusting shrinking of heads, and the perverse roasting of missionaries, was driven home to me, touching me deep in my soul. Just saying it now, I still recoil at the idea that these people -- perhaps for good reasons only they knew (at this point I won't quibble) -- would think any of that was good.

There are, however, customs and cultural differences, which even if they don't make sense to me are probably to be respected. I'm not the judge and jury. There's another they'll have to answer to, and perhaps they'll be commended for following His light, or perhaps not. That's not for me to know. Let's take cannibalism as a cultural difference. Of course it's not my cup of tea. But if you think about it, what's the difference? The guy's dead ... why let him go to waste? Let's say a tiger eats him; it's the same difference. It's not that savage of an act.

The other two -- the shrinking of heads and the roasting of missionaries -- could also be justified. If you're hoarding heads for some reason, to possess the power of their souls (or whatever), if you shrink them they take less room. And they'd make nice toys for the kids, just like we in "civilization" played with gourds. Both heads and gourds are part of nature and make good gifts. The brain inside dries up, and when shook makes a fun noisemaker. As for the roasting of missionaries, my church used to send missionaries overseas. The missionaries then would come home every couple years on furlough, always claiming it'd cost $10,000 more to send them back. Now I realize why: they didn't want to go back. They didn't think we could raise the money. Haven't heard from them now in years...

The basic thing about this switch in vocabulary is as simple as this, the world's changed. We now respect other cultures. And something else has changed. We've been able to look at ourselves more closely, whereas before we only looked out. In those years, we made ourselves the standard of good and right. We were quite definitely blinded to the ways of others, and even to the humanity of others. You'd see it when native peoples were naked, smeared with paint, bones in their noses, etc., and whooping and hollering while dancing around a fire. It never occurred to us that these were rituals of power, pride, oneness with nature and world, and a good way to recycle bones.

Being blinded, then, we didn't see that many of our own rituals were just that, rituals. With the big difference between us and the "savages" being that we had emptied our rituals of power and made them secondary to our "real life," the daily grind. We traded our oneness with nature and world for a few disposable trinkets -- crass materialism and man-eat-man capitalism (cannibalism?) -- and all this time, in our terrible emptiness, we set up ourselves as the standard of excellence! While destroying our environment. Makes me feel bad, a little. I don't know if I can go on...

OK, scratch all that. We're not so bad. If we keep going like we're going, we surely have a good 50-100 years of civilization left, OK? ... It's not that dire. Surely we can steward our water and other resources for another 100 years before they're gone. Ouch, I just had a thought, a terrible thought. That when we're gone, when we've gone the way of the dinosaurs, some of those tribes in Africa, the ones you read about in National Geographic, "untouched" by civilization, will still be going strong. Maybe the "savages" are on to something!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mt. Olympus and the Pits of El Cid

"If anything was ever said wrong in this lifetime, that was surely it. And now, with my boldness, with my mistake, I have been hurled from the heights of Mount Olympus, all the way to the gloomy depths of El Cid." -- From my morning meditation, thinking of a recent (massive) failure in speech.
Here's a teaching I've kept in reserve, hoping that one day my readers would show them worthy of receiving it. My hopes have long been disappointed, as I suspected would happen, but I have a terrific sense that the time has come anyway. It currently applies to me.

I want to teach a little bit about the difference between Mount Olympus (good) and El Cid (bad), as these opposite concepts/locales relate to the things we say, our speech. Olympus being good, of course that's what we strive for. El Cid being evil, that's what we so often settle for, a big mistake.

But, you say, historically El Cid is supposed to be a beautiful place, a place of goodness. Not the way I see it, Cid being related to sin or, more immediately, Tom Sawyer's brother Syd, a true snake in Eden.

Was it something I cid? Said or did? Certainly. I've cid plenty, and you can't take back what you cid. The tongue is a world of fire, of evil. Rooting itself as it does in the rottenest part of your soul. What makes a soul -- the highest expression of the person -- crash and burn faster and meaner than that? As long as I'm secure in one place, not stirring, uttering not a peep, I'm OK. But where there's movement there's trouble. And with movement comes expression, verbal blather, verbal garbage, the whole dump truck of written or spoken vileness.

The only antidote -- or solution -- is to remain in one place, be physically still, and keep your fool mouth shut. Am I right? That's what they say in meditation: You want to sit still and focus on one thing, that hopefully becomes no thing, so that you're again in the non-dual realm of Mount Olympus, i.e., the highest place, heaven.

For many of us this is hard to maintain. It's certainly been tough for me. Whereas I might sit there silently -- I'm thinking of myself in a group now -- at the last minute I open my mouth and all is lost. The Olympus investment I made is suddenly sunk by the junk bonds of El Cid. It's happened so many times it's not funny.

And I know where it's rooted, those stinking college courses where part of your grade is dependent on participation. You sit there silently all semester, then realize you're going to flunk if you don't speak up by the last session. By now -- and this is straight out of our group dynamics experience -- the groove of the group is deeply chiseled, the pecking order of talkers being long established. The fact that you're suddenly blurting something out, and clearly to meet the participation requirement even if it's by the skin of your teeth, makes you a shame in their eyes. They are in Olympus, but you are hopelessly mired in El Cid. Same old story.

I hasten to clarify, however, that Mount Olympus, despite what I just said, is a thoroughly positive thing, the very opposite of El Cid. On Olympus the gods are assembled in one place, the correlate of being alone with your thoughts. In the wastleland known as El Cid, knowing that you've broken the silence, and the filth hole on your face has spewed forth its muck and mire, that which is most despicable in the depths, you're in the depths.

You can tell -- I hope you grasp this -- that to be an extrovert is to constantly fail, to sink as it were in the quicksand of El Cid. No one wants to be around you. Everyone wishes you'd shut up. But to be an introvert -- like cleanliness -- is next to godliness. Clearly the reason is that with silence you're on Olympus (or closer), although, as is well known, you can still spoil it and once again fall to El Cid.

With my mind, then, I honor Mount Olympus, but with my mouth El Cid. How may I be delivered from such a fate? Thanks to the gods of Mount Olympus, my natural homeland is not El Cid! My daily prayer -- join me in this prayer now -- is for Olympus to keep me far from El Cid, in my spirit and daily life. May it be true for all of us! Although I know it won't be.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Cancer -- Everything's Gotta Eat


I've been accused of being heartless and cruel, and even rooting for people's suffering and evil, simply because of my realistic recognition that everything's gotta eat. This isn't something I came up with myself, but it's a teaching passed on to me by my dad, who got it from his dad, etc., probably. I haven't actually traced it back multiple generations. But it has nothing to do with rooting for suffering...

My dad, every time we had a complaint about something -- mice droppings in the cupboard, coons at the campsite -- would say, "Everything's gotta eat." Which, he pointed out, was something we depended on when we needed it, and therefore should appreciate. Which is true. If we want to catch a mouse in a trap we take advantage of the fact that it has to eat. And the same for coons. And fish. Imagine going to fish and not wanting fish to eat! You'd have to catch them in a net. And they'd be bone skinny, since they didn't eat.

Like I said, this is truth and it's realistic. If people suffer because something's eating them, they (we, I) need to be more accepting of how things are. If we can eat the source of the problem, or find something else to eat it, that's the same thing, but in a curative way. So we have medicine/radiation to eat it, in a sense. For some things you can get leeches, to get in there and go to town.

I've also been called fatalistic when it comes to this teaching about eating, but really I'm not. Again, it's realism, not that you have to accept it. Just like in another saying, "Eat or be eaten." If you're being eaten by something, in my opinion -- and I'm not expecting contradiction on this -- you have the prerogative and instinct to eat it back. May he with the best appetite and chompers win!

We as men have it in our arsenal to co-opt the eating talents of other agents. Like I said above, medicine, leeches. Or doctors. Doctors are just as good as leeches, if not better. Both bring their natural talents to the task, but doctors, because of their human minds and in-depth training, have additional talents. If it's a job for a leech, I'll go with a leech. If it's a job for a doctor -- and sometimes the doctor has to make this judgment for me -- I'll go with the doctor. In my experience, thinking back, I haven't used leeches as much as I might have.

OK, friends, before you criticize me for my stance on cancer, just remember, I too have suffered this scourge. Yes, I call it a scourge, since it killed my father, my mother, and other relatives, no doubt, many whom I haven't even known. It will probably get me, eventually. But if it does, I will maintain the same truth that I live by today: Everything's gotta eat. If the thing exists and perpetuates itself by eating, then to hope (or deny it) is folly.

The big difference, in our sentiments, is we don't mind doing the eating, but we don't want to be the eaten. Reminding me of the old illustration of the little fish being eaten by a bigger fish that's being eaten by yet a bigger fish being eaten, and on and on. If you're anywhere on that chain, you might not want to be eaten, but you can't deny the guy behind you his prerogative, unless you get out of the way.

When it comes to cancer, there are certain proactive things we can do, at least for a while, to keep ourselves from being eaten. Like don't smoke, don't chew, and don't go with girls who do. That might work. Everyday there's something else being brought forth as another cause of cancer. The best thing you can do, one imagines, is lock yourself in a room and do nothing. Except letting yourself out at certain times of the day to exercise and eat good meals and drink water.

Please, then, the next time you see cancer eating you or someone you know and love, remember, that's the way it is. Everything's gotta eat. If you can eat it back, by all means go for it; you have my blessing. If not, let this philosophical truth be your guiding light and, I might say, your comfort.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I'm More Than My Squarish Body


Jane is often invited to visit groups and give talks at meetings. Most people are interested in her squarish body and features. That's all understandable enough, of course, since who isn't curious about anyone with something immediately different about them? But she also wants all of us to realize that she's more than her squarish body. She is not a zoological specimen, pinned to a black mat under glass, only to be labeled, "Squarish."

In regard to the differences people have -- when I heard her talk before a church group -- she said she'd recently had the opportunity to meet a guy with three ears. His two ears are naturally in the ordinary places, but, due to a developmental issue, he has a third ear in the middle of his forehead. Not as great as eyes on the back of your head, but still distinctive. She says he gave a talk on himself and took questions, and was able to hear even the most soft-spoken folks in the back of the room.

"He saw me sitting there," she said, "with my squarish body, and it seemed like he was wondering about me. But probably because of his third ear, his own difference, he wasn't fast to blurt it out. I would say I was probably the most accepting person there of him and his third ear."

In the course of her talk, Jane said that way back in the old days, kids in school were merciless. But now with everyone grown up, she gets a more sympathetic reception. I nodded, because I had issues as a kid, too, like lots of kids, but now I'm Sympathy Personified. I wanted to give her an "Attagirl," but those kinds of extraneous comments are frowned upon by the group, which has to hear my comments every week but only has this one shot to hear a woman with a squarish body.

Anyway, she said she's given this same talk numerous times, in schools, for civic organizations, and even for coffee clubs and in prisons. She varies it -- which is all very understandable -- for the group hosting her. "School children do a lot of staring, but of all the people, they're the closest to true understanding. One little roundish boy told me, 'You were born squarish, I was born roundish!' I needed kids like that when I was a kid!"

When it came time for questions, I thought, Should I ask her something about her experience with a squarish body, or something more process-oriented? I actually know better, I swear, but I went with the process question and amazingly got a squarish body answer: "Do you like giving these talks?" I believe she picked up on what I was getting at: Why subject yourself to this kind of carnival, the whole thing highlighting, really, what is extraneous to your basic humanity, your shape?

She gave me the usual rigamarole mumbo-jumbo answer you might expect. She knows people are curious, etc., and she has nothing to be ashamed of... I'm looking like, "Yeah, but..." Then she got down to brass tacks, and I believe I perceived an underlying hatred of the whole process, when she said, "My biggest problem with it is I think of myself as normal, just another person. And since I'm more than a person with a squarish body, sometimes I wonder why I'm dwelling on that one thing. Does that make sense?" I nodded, and she declared, "I'm much more than my squarish body. Just like the other guy is more than his third ear."

I felt pretty good with her answer. Although I got a dirty look from our group's leader. Since I'd very clearly subverted the whole session, bringing forth from her a proud proclamation that she's more than her squarish body, the very reason we were sitting there listening to her. We dismissed in shame and rolled our roundish bodies home.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

She Said She Was Down to Her Last $3


There's been a rash of homicides in my town lately. I live in a quaint little burg, not exactly the murder capital of the world. The place is so small, when someone gets murdered it's still front page news. Then over the next few weeks, we're treated to every lurid detail, over and over, along with the official police statement of "No comment."

The last two or three have had a common theme. Not drugs, not a break-in, not a crime of passion. The victim had taken it upon themselves to invite the (alleged) perpetrator into their home to stay. The person was at their wit's end, it seems, casting about for somewhere to stay, for some blessed soul to say "Yes." And this very helpful person was the one.

I know something about this in my own life, even though it's very limited. Once over 40 years ago I let some guys I met hitchhiking stay overnight at my place. I even slept on the couch and gave them my bed. I slept well and didn't worry about a thing. Morning came, they got up, and left. Now, today, the same scenario would've ended with me in a pool of blood, a knife through my heart, and "PIGS" scrawled on the wall in blood, in a very gnarly font.

I believe it's still good to be helpful. If someone comes to you -- usually wild-eyed, super creepy, talking crazily, although they could be just normal-eyed, not creepy, and talking pleasantly -- wanting a place to stay, the best response is some version of "No." Along with general directions to the nearest shelter, bridge, campground, or city limits. Whatever they say about staying with you, put them off till they finally get the message. These killers are brutal.

If you invite them in, I can see how things would build over a week or so. You'd probably be quite safe the first night. They're just grateful for a place, and you're feeling pleasant. But by the end of the first week, they're busy thinking, "Why isn't this my place? I deserve more." And you're putting off a less pleasant vibe too, still being helpful but with a passive-aggressive "Why don't you leave?" tone in your voice.

He or she (and the suspects in the last two cases I know of have been women) already thinks the whole world's against them, and now they're not so happy with you. So they test you one last time. "I'm down to my last three bucks, three measly dollars!" she complains, moving the apricots sullenly in her dish before putting one in her mouth, then looking up. You don't know what to say, as you move your own apricots, having lost what little appetite you thought you had. "Well, I'm sure things will pick up," you finally say, trailing off.

OK, the whole subject is dropped. Until you have to go to the bathroom and you pointedly take your purse with you. And perhaps roll the safe out as well. I hate to say what happens next, except to say this is where you become the victim of blessed memory.

I too have the natural instinct to want to help. But these are crazy days. Without getting into a whole sociological rundown of society today -- video games, the lust for possessions, and general orneriness that demands to be sated -- I'd rather take my chance with a rabid dog, a hungry lion, or King Kong himself than one of my fellow human beings. Of course I'm personally a nice guy. If I were to stay at your house, I know you'd be safe from me. But I might not feel safe from you. I know if you said something about being down to your last three bucks I'd be gone.

Anyway, the killer strikes, then disappears, hits the road, goes somewhere else. Then it comes out in the paper. Complete with a picture of the outside of your house. Everyone's imagination is free to wonder what was going on in those four walls. Both the victim and the alleged killer walked through that very door... What else happened, we don't know. But whatever it was, it obviously wasn't very good.

The bottom line is, If you wanna help, don't! Run, don't walk! Get the hell out of there! 

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Reincarnation of Edgar Allan Poe


I took a Facebook personality quiz the other day and found out something interesting: I was Edgar Allan Poe in a previous lifetime! My biggest quandary at this point is I've seen several of my friends who were also Poe. I say it's a quandary, but it's probably just a glitch, because it's more likely I'm Poe than any of them. The other choices were Mozart, Darwin, Lincoln, and Jimmy Durante.

According to the quiz, I'm Poe because I tend to be moody, solitary, inner-directed, and decisive. It definitely puts a good spin on my personality; I haven't been much at parties, but now I'll be able to say I'm a famous dead author, a great icebreaker.

One big problem for me in judging all this is I don't know that much about Poe. I do have "my" complete works on the shelf, so that's a start. I've looked through them a few times, then wonder why; they don't look that interesting. Now I know why, because I wrote it all! However, of all the stories in the world "The Tell-Tale Heart" was my favorite story as a kid. I read it in school maybe five, six times. The other stuff, not so much.

I remember one Halloween, they gave us a great treat. We went to a dark room at school and watched "The Raven" from a 16mm projector. That was great fun. The color was really good, and you get a good vibe when you actually hear the projector clacking away. Whatever scary parts there were, kids were making scary noises and laughing, all great fun.

I never actually read "The Raven," though, till I was an adult. So I wasn't familiar with one of my greatest poems till way past childhood. Depriving myself, obviously, since it truly is very creepy. And because they mention it on Jeopardy about 10 times a month, always on the Teen Tournament.

A couple years ago I read a book that tied me in somehow with a murder in New York. My memory never being that good, I can't remember what it was all about. A young woman had gone to an abortion provider, who was another woman in a house, then crossed over the river, and was found dead in New Jersey. Somehow I, Edgar Allan Poe, was connected with that. I wrote a story based on it, changing the names. It's in my Collected Works.

One of the things I'm very proud of is that the Beatles mentioned me in one of their songs, "I Am the Walrus," and that I'm pictured on the Sgt. Pepper album, my big blockhead and huge forehead making me stand out in quite a stark, wonderful way.

Now that I'm back -- or now that I realize I'm me -- it might be worth a little effort to see if I can get some back royalties. I know what everyone's objection will be, the supposed fact that since I'm dead all these years the works have passed into the public domain. Except -- my retort is obvious -- how does that apply if I'm manifestly not dead? Gotcha there. The quiz doesn't lie, and now that I think of it I'm getting back some of memories. A couple biographies from the library and I'll be my old self again.

I'll start with Wikipedia. I was born about a month before Abraham Lincoln, coincidentally one of my current Facebook friends who took the quiz. I died at the ancient age of 40. I'm best known for my tales of mystery and the macabre. I had a financially difficult life and career.

I attended the University of Virginia for one semester, failing all my classes except Creative Writing, in which I excelled. In 1835, I married my 13-year-old cousin. Our first son is presently reincarnated as Jerry Lee Lewis. I died in Baltimore, the cause of my death being variously attributed to alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, tuberculosis, and other agents. Obviously I had a hard time avoiding trouble, including the difficulty of getting life insurance.

Please, everyone, help make my life and career better in this present incarnation. Read the Grandma Slump blog faithfully -- I haven't lost my great talent. Send money. And any advice you may have on how to stay well. For any illness or condition, since I've had them all. Whatever goes around, I catch, so I need your help. Just pray it's not Ebola.