Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Big City -- Cats and Sirens

By now you know I'm living in the Big City. I was in a medium-sized town, and if they ever get my house fixed I'll go back. But the place became a nasty shambles, thanks to something, I don't know what all, unless it was simple neglect on my part. OK, I'll cop to a little bit of the blame, but the place wasn't that great ever. It was there before I was born, and who knows what all happened to it! I know a tree fell on it sometime in the '40s. So that's not a good start for me; they shouldn't have built it so close to where trees would grow.

Other than that damage, there's these little critters called vermin, that come in assorted sizes and descriptions, all of them bad. They range from microbes, the hardest things in the world to see, to out and out rats. You see one rat, you never want to see another. They're terrible -- believe me -- when they disappear under something and you don't know where they went. They're under there looking at you. Little red eyes. And to think I used to shoot them with bow and arrow at the city dump. That was fun. I didn't realize they were nasty as they wanna be.

Anyway, the town's trying to garnish my Social Security on some of the forced improvements on the house, even though I'm perfectly happy to let them do the work and bill it to taxpayers. I'm sure most of my readers can appreciate that. It's not that I'm irresponsible, it's just I have the good sense not to let responsibility go to my head. They can pay the bill and write it off, easy. Say they don't make improvements on the city park for a couple years. Right there you're looking at a couple thousand bucks.

So, the actual fact of the matter is, I got the hell out of there. I'm trusting you guys not to turn me in. And I went where no one can find me. I don't care if they search a thousand years. Notice I'm not saying which Big City I'm in. There's so many places to hide here, sometimes even I'm lost. But, and this is brilliant, I'm constantly going around in plain sight, and no one notices. You vanish in plain sight in a place this big! Ha ha, I laugh about it day and night, and just to rub it in, I finger in the general direction of my old town. Take that, you clueless morons!

There is one little problem. I want to hide whenever I hear a siren, but in the Big City there's so many sirens -- it's nearly a constant cacophony. Different from home, where the noon and 5:00 whistle's about it. In the Big City, I'm very tuned in to the sirens. They have the WAH WAH, WHOOP WHOOP, WEEEEE, and several others I'm trying to forget. The nearest thing we have to it back home are the howling cats. Remember, I said there's rats. Well, where there's rats, there's cats. Sitting on the fence, profiled in the moonlight, howling all night, signalling one another where the nearest rat was spotted.

I miss all that, compared to the constant sirens.

I picture these Barney Fife PO-lice learning their siren technique in training school. Itching to get out there and make their mark in the world. (Let's say they're library police, like where I am right now typing this. They'd love to get out there and hit the siren!) Anyway, the old PO-lice professor at the training center is a big man in their estimation. “You men — and I see we also have some women cadets in this modern age — have a grave responsibility to carry out. Not only to learn the siren, but to be the siren. The siren's message is our message to the community. You’re telling them there’s trouble, get the heck out of the way. And if you’re sleeping, wake up, look out the window, we’re about to come speeding by. We’ll never tell you what we're doing, or whether it was accomplished, but you can rest assured (in the minutes between now and the next siren) that it was something important. When you push that button, or twist that gadget, men, and you ladies, that’s your own wake up call to every neighborhood between here and the outskirts of the city -- 35 miles away -- telling one and all, 'I will get my man.'"

The whole crime-fighting business has that as its biggest goal, to make society safe enough, that — if the Almighty allows, and He hasn’t so far — we can get a night of sound sleep without the sirens howling, blaring, and otherwise announcing their noxious presence with predictable regularity. Could it be that day is in sight, perhaps just over the next hill, or yonder mountain and horizon, person, place, or thing? Maybe yes, maybe no. Certainly it won’t be today, so let the sirens blow!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Veronica's Magical World

I used to have an old friend, Veronica, who would take (partial) credit for it being a sunny day. “See what my prayers did?” she'd say, pointing happily around. The weather wasn’t her only spiritual talent; she saw herself as key to a lot of positive aspects of life. I thought, maybe yes, probably no. But what can you say, “Hey, great job!” I always wondered how she could think that way, but it was OK.

My problem, if you'd call it a problem, is I’m more "realistic," but it's my own realism; her outlook to her was also realistic. I never gave her much credit, but I could be wrong; everything I think isn't a fact. Maybe she was right. Because there’s all kinds of scientific ways to demonstrate that the world isn’t what it seems to be. Just get a microscope and look. I wouldn't mind thinking how Veronica thought, if people around me could stand it.

We got the first snow of the season. Minor, so far, and it’s still coming down. And I had to remark, “See what my prayers didn't do,” since I didn’t want it to snow. But maybe Veronica, now passed on, wherever she is — heaven — thought I wanted or needed snow. It’s interesting she didn’t think that in August when it was so hot, but instead waited till November when it’s not so rare.

Still, even if there’s nothing to it, that seems like a good way to think, if you can manage it. It's hyper-optimistic. If I could just think that every little thing is happening just for me, that’d be a happy world. I wouldn’t have to tell everyone, of course, like going around taking credit for it. Say a family was in a 10-car pileup on the interstate because of the snow, I’d hate to have them show up at my door with legal claims. So I’d try not to take all the credit. 

OK, let’s say I indeed have Veronica in heaven, still doing the same things she did in daily life, praying for sunny days and favors, then joyfully claiming the results as her own. I could let this blog be a plea to my other friends and loved ones who have passed to also pitch in. I could get up and think what I want, knowing they heard my thoughts. But if there is a one-to-one ratio on wanting and getting, I could just leave out the dead middleman and pray it myself.

What would be even better than passed-on advocates in heaven would be their actual presence along side me. Then every little thing I saw, I could credit one or another of them. I see a candle flicker, that’s Mom passing by. "Hi, Mom, how ya doin'?" Or I’m taking a bath and think, “No reason to waste water,” that has to be my Dad. I had a best friend who died around a year ago. I’d actually love him doing a few funny things in my life. Like giving me better blog ideas. In my opinion he was a genius.

Hmm, for some reason the sun just went down, sunk in a second! ... and it’s only 2:00 in the afternoon. It’s pitch dark and it was bright as noon five minutes ago. Never mind wondering what’s going on, excited scientists. It’s just Veronica telling me, I need more rest. Good night, one and all!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Re-Elect Gus Grissle Dog Catcher

In these troubled times, with the Republican party the scum of the earth, it's hard to keep a civil society. Life is hard enough, as everyone knows, but these rabid fiends -- no friend of man or beast -- add to the general sense of misery. There's no easy solution, short of 40 million moonshots, which would take a lot of work. So we're stuck simply trying to get along.

Of course I personally never vote for Republicans, ever, with one lone exception, and that's Gus Grissle for Dog Catcher.

Gus is an old neighbor of mine, and, by god, I know he's more or less good with dogs. As I've heard at the coffee shop a million times, Gus keeps the loose feral population down within manageable limits. According to the Daily News, attacks by loose rabid dogs on children as well as adults are down to a respectable average of only 160 a year. A stat to be celebrated in a small town. I was personally attacked twice, but if you attend to it right away -- skip the hospital, there's cheaper antibiotics on the black market -- you'll usually recover sufficiently to limp along and recognize family members, although it’s often intermittent.

Naturally, the best remedy is prevention. An ounce of prevention definitely feels better than a ton of painful injections. And that's why we need Gus Grissle. He's our man! Because it's important to have a guy who's not afraid to get his butt out there, patrol, and bring these monsters in. As to the few healthy dogs that are loose, he's also the man to get them back to their families. Although I wish we didn't have to waste time and resources doing so much of that, because it's eradicating the attack dogs that has to be number one.

Obviously, we need a good man for dog catcher, a man sensitive to the needs of dogs as well as dog-owners/parents. As a dog parent myself, I want a dog catcher who won’t necessarily take my dog right to the pound, let alone shoot her without at least the courtesy of a phone call. Dogs are funny though. They don't know Gus is only helping them. My dog's been nabbed a few times, so now if I want her to behave, I just have to say, "I'm gonna call Gus Grissle, and he's gonna come get you," or just the word "Grissle." She growls, then goes to her crate and cowers. I coax her out with a doggy treat and we're back on good terms.

Gus knows a thing or two about dogs. But it’s not just his knowledge of dogs that makes him the best candidate. The best thing about Gus is that he actually wants to do it and does it. He's diligent. And think of it, it's a dirty job, thankless, most of the dogs you snag hate you, and you stand a good chance of getting bitten every single day. This isn't a cushy office job; these aren't office dogs, they're mean street dogs. The kind that talk back and take no crap.

This year, friends, I had to vote absentee for Gus Grissle. Because I’m presently in the Big City while they work on Grandma’s house. And the house is basically open, with protective tarps. A big concern is that anyone could get in if they wanted. Say a bunch of tramps were living there with their tramp dogs, it’s to my benefit to have Gus just up the street, looking out for me. And to send those tramp dogs packing.
Older post: Gus Grissle for Dogcatcher, 2015 election

Saturday, November 3, 2018

While My Catarrh Gently Seeps

I believe it was the Buddha, as well as my Grandma, who said, “All life is suffering.” Whatever it is, whatever happens, you’re up, you’re down, you’re flat on your back in the hospital. There’s a major inflammation in your lower tract. It can’t be traced. Even surgery gives no relief; you’re worse off than when you first began.

The “wheel of life” is a concept from one of the major faiths. On this wheel of life, once you’ve spun it, you see what you get. All the usual aches, pains, diseases, and, last but not least, inflammations. Cuts, sores, piles, wounds, chafing, burns, sunburn, and catarrh. Proving the old adage beyond dispute, If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. With no end in sight, no good end anyway. Death, the grave, decomposition, and so forth till you’re lost and completely forgotten.

I see ambulances racing down the street all the time. Your life is precious. The sirens are wailing, they go through stop lights, because you can’t wait, the time is now, your need is urgent, every second counts in this drama of life and death. Minutes later you’re at the hospital, where they spend the next two hours getting your personal information, insurance, height and weight. Then it’s three hours later until a doctor's available. You could be dead by now, you know, but at least you saved 8 seconds at that last red light.

I probably should look up Buddha before I say definite things about him. But I’m winging it. From the little I know, nearly everything about Buddha is up for grabs anyway, depending on what country you’re from and what line of Buddhism you follow. So whatever I say is true somewhere in the world. The story may be familiar to you: Buddha’s dad kept him in the palace, not wanting him to see the outside world. Because Buddha Sr. knew the outside world was full of suffering. Then Buddha Jr. went into the outside world and discovered it was full of suffering.

Which I also discovered. You pick up on it right away, the first day of kindergarten. A kid on the playground breaks his arm, you kiss a girl on the jungle gym and she ends up with someone else, the teacher counts you tardy if you’re not in class when the bell goes off. Then there’s the rest of existence out of the sight of your protective parents. Now, too, once you’ve seen the suffering in the world — duplicity, backstabbing, lying, and sin — you even notice it in your parents, how unfair they are, even unjust. The foods they want you to eat, vegetables, are terrible and provide no nutritional value that you can’t get with straight sugar.

I also think cable TV is terrible suffering, except Monday Night Football and the Sunday games. You want it, you get it, it doesn’t make you happy; pillow commercials day and night. That’s the meaning of suffering.

Sex is suffering. The words “Regrets, I’ve had a few...” surely were written about sex. But what can you do? It’s the highest aspiration and at the same time the lowest. Great in concept, devastating in practice, unless you’re about to have a baby, then that’s a good payoff, but of course he or she will suffer, disappoint, die, etc. Abstaining is also suffering. But if you want to suffer and yet have more interesting payoff than dying rugrats, keep it zipped, wear coarse underwear, lock your hands behind your back, sleep and never wake up. Say you do wake up, keep the underwear on; it’s not painful enough to hurt you, it just keeps you on your toes when you walk or shift.

A couple of the diseases I should look up: Catarrh and Piles.

Catarrh? I got a catarrh once for Christmas and mom and dad even threw in catarrh lessons. A guy taught me several chords and I strummed myself silly, like other strumpets. Catarrh is also an old fashioned word for a dreaded condition, having to do with something like bad breath, a queasy tummy, or possibly worse. You’d think catarrh music is beautiful to listen to — say, Segovia — but still there’s also this damned curse of catarrh. When the catarrh’s out of tune, or the strings have lost their twang. On my catarrh, I used to take a file to the strings just to clean them of the filth on my fingers, like if I’d just dug potatoes. But a little dirt is good on catarrh strings, like the grunge music of the 90s.

I used to know a girl who played catarrh. She pulled off the G string and got the party started. Making beautiful music together. Which reminded me, oh yeah, I forgot the coarse underwear, which (as a reminder) keeps you on your toes when you walk or shift.

What about Piles? I should look this one up, too, but I think my sweet imagination is better than the medical encyclopedia. We know what it is when the dog leaves piles behind. They start at the behind, and that’s where they’re left. Some excrescences. Some are blatantly dropped, that’s the majority, the heart of the matter. Other piles cling, causing discomfort to the animal, no doubt, then their scooting across the floor messes up the carpet. Here in the Big City, the place I’m staying has hardwood floors, which the dog finds both comfortable and uncomfortable, depending on the effort she goes through to relieve herself.

The word piles is a good term, definitely evocative. Like if you had piles of money, like the Disney character who kept his money in a vault and was diving in it day and night. Piles and piles of piles can be a deadly thing, though.

Cuts, sores, wounds. That's all self explanatory. You get enough cuts, sores, and wounds, you’ll look back and discover you wound up in the hospital. I never cut myself. I’ve heard of people doing that, crazy, terrible fetish. The most pain I cause myself is biting my lip. But it’s not so bad, because I catch myself before there’s any pain. You have to think it through consciously. “I cannot eat myself. What value would that be? Eating is meant to nourish the system, not take the system away." You might remember the story in the Bible where the poor man Lazarus had dogs licking his sores. He was so despondent he took some comfort there. Dogs will lick you if you give them a leg up. Or worse. But that’s not what you should aspire to.

Buddha, he knew what to do about suffering. See through it. Transcend it with insight, realization. The exact science of which you can find in various Buddhist treatises. And from any guru you happen to meet, who finds you worthy to learn the secrets. (Everyone’s worthy, it just takes a while standing in line to make it happen.) Which is itself suffering, to a good purpose, to teach you patience till you learn the rest.

In the meantime, you can observe life itself and get enough teachings and eventually leave the line. Dogs walking by teach you a lot, as sketched out above. Or pick up your own catarrh. Pound out a tune and you’ll find the truth. A man, a woman, they’re very good, but suffering hopelessly if you dive deeply enough. When you find that place, the time for gurus and pills is ended.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The True Warrior Doesn't Say

What we’ve always heard and experienced, guys come back from war and they don’t want to talk about it. You have an uncle, or three or four like me, and they’re tight as clams about the war.

Maybe that’s why I don’t say much about my lack of war experience. I will say this much, I could’ve gone to war. Uncle Sam judged me a prime 18-year-old specimen, good enough to be called at any second. But it didn't happen; I was glad. But after years had gone by, I actually wished I had gone. You get to retire after a measly 20 years. And of course the parades where everyone’s singing your praises, that's a great perk. I could’ve stood there in a crowd of people at one of these ceremonies, solemnly waving, then kept my lip zipped, because the warriors I've known rarely spoke.

As it is, we all have our experiences — happy, fun, sad, traumatic — and we don’t always talk about them. One, no one really wants to hear. I’m with people all the time, and you’d think the conversation would be, “Hey, you, you’re clammed up good and tight, not contributing even a peep to the conversation, stoved up tighter than a drum.” “Oh, I don’t know about that,” I might protest, hoping they don’t delve any deeper than they already have. You need to find a way to distract them, “Hey, look! is that an exploding Hindenburg?!” As everyone checks out the ball of fire, they’ve forgotten us warriors.

I still haven’t heard what the war was like. Which is another reason I should have gone. Then I could be the one sitting there inscrutable, savoring the terrible memories that must be the source of why I’m so clammed up. Any old war would do. The big one was WWII. I used to know some guys, and true to the whole thing, they clammed up. They were likely thinking, “This guy’s not saying a thing about the war because he knows I wouldn’t answer him anyway.” So we kept very quiet about it. Same reason we don't ask a brother about his honeymoon; there's surely details he wouldn't want me to know.

That’s the best way, just be cagey about it. And if you are unconsciously cagey, 100% resolved to the fact that warriors don’t speak, you never can tell, he might break down and spill his guts. Of course you can’t be too interested or he’s back to silence. I had a guy one time tell me about being on a ship going to Europe that was jam packed with guys, they were on top of tables, under tables, under chairs, maybe stacked on top of each other at times, such as when the ship made a sharp turn. The way I pictured it, it was wall to wall men, bumped, jostled, and crowded for a month (or whatever it took to make that terrible trip.) Hearing even that much was a rarity.

And I didn’t wheedle him for information, just let the details come in, giving me an appreciation for that aspect of his life. And I was glad I didn’t experience that fiasco myself. Two’s company, three’s a crowd. A whole ship full of guys packed in there, rolling over and crunching one another for a long time -- since I’m an introvert and part-time germaphobe -- would be a living hell. The biggest thing I never heard from that guy, or anyone else, was what the war was actually like, whether you killed anyone, etc.

A couple of my uncles were in Vietnam, early on and as an extended career thing. In planes, at least one of them in the refueling business. We always looked at their formal fuzzy color portraits on the wall and imagined what they might be up to. Then they’d be home, one at a time once in a blue moon, and we kept right on imagining what they might’ve been doing, because they certainly didn’t say. It was either too terrible to mention, or so innocent and benign it’d ruin the mystery.

I do some of that myself. There’s plenty I don’t talk about. Wherever I am, I just sit there in stony silence, offering nods to whatever (Are you OK?) and maintaining my man of mystery status. “Why don’t you say anything?” “Ain’t got nothing to say?” “Nothing?” “Nope, I mean, Yep.” “Yes, I have no nothing, I have no nothing to say.” Or plenty of nothing, however you choose to quantify a plenty that still comes out zero.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

My Friend D— Died in a Terrible Accident

In my usual way of thinking I try to keep mortality out of my mind. I’m so used to living — it’s become a habit — I’m not thinking of dying. That said, the opposite is also true. I’m a walking precaution against dying. Like the nervous bird forever bobbing its head, watching for danger. The habit of survival. I swerve to miss a three-car pileup or sidestep a hole to not trip.

This is actually something you don’t want to think about a lot. Even if it’s not far from your mind. Because the more conscious you are of the process, the less reliably your defenses work in the background. It’s true. The more you consciously think of anything, the more you are consciously responsible. And background processes are very reliable. If we could go through life entirely unconscious and yet happy, we’d avoid the whole mess.

OK, since most of it’s delegated to unconscious processes, that leaves me consciously able to watch out for others’ safety. So I’m a warning-a-minute: “Watch out for that hole, someone’s following us, have you got your keys?," etc.

But I suddenly failed! Coming out of store with friend, D----, I turned my head for three seconds to check out the sale on bottled water, which I don't even drink, and even though I'd very recently warned her to look both ways, I let down my guard for three seconds, leading to a terrible end... When...

It wasn’t the driver’s fault. Unless the fact that he was going 45 mph in a dangerous parking lot is set at his bumper. No, despite my prior warning — was it a case of her being pigheaded? — she walked right into the truck’s path. But it couldn’t have been intentional, not the way she was protecting her sack of groceries. Clearly she meant to live at least long enough to eat a four-pack of yogurt; she didn’t mean to die before that.

Still, I can’t see any value in restricting cause and effect to the physical. There’s also the mental. She had bad habits, one of which was depending too much on me. Because I usually do give constant warnings. But you still gotta look at for yourself, Doris! What if you’d lived and I’d died? You would’ve died anyway if you couldn't wise up to danger. Did she deserve to get run over? She probably didn’t technically deserve it, but the jury’s still out on whether there was a moral verdict waiting for her to receive sooner or later. Still, who am I to dump on her? People make mistakes, they pay the piper.

It took me a couple days beating myself up to finally reconcile things; this wasn’t my fault. Get on with your life. Easy come, easy go. Another day, another dollar. Plus, I have to save my energy for the guy’s trial.

I hate to face the guy again, as much ragging on him I did. It wasn't a good picture of me, cussing him up one side and down the other. Blaming his passenger for distracting him, without evidence. And I even blamed his truck, an old fashioned model that you usually only see at garden centers, with the hood up and a bunch of flowers where the motor used to be. “What are you driving that rickety old piece of shit through the parking lot at 45 mph anyway, Stupid?!”

It took the police to calm me down. I was in a rage, lunging at the guy. And his stupid antique truck. What kind of tires are those? Model T’s?! The police calmed me down fast, Officer Rix pulling a gun and threatening to blow my brains out. He calmly explained, “Your friend was a complete klutz to get herself run over so stupidly.” Which of course I had to accept as true.

My own purchase that day was Neapolitan ice cream. Three flavors for the price of one. I meant for me and Doris to enjoy a bowl each, had only she lived. As it turned out, though, tragically, that meant two bowls for me. It’s a good way to drown your sorrows; eat more ice cream.

So ... one friend down, several friends left. Who really should listen to me more. Permit me, this is rough. ... Doris will never get another chance to do the right thing. She had to let her mind drift off who-knows-where, thinking, “I’m 100% safe, nothing can ever happen to me, my fate’s a long ways away, I’m young-ish, invulnerable-ish, I’ve got lots of plans for tomorrow,” etc. People like her are always making plans for tomorrow, completely unaware that the clutching hand of fate is already clamped tight around their neck.

But I definitely saw it. In the seconds after exiting the store and the screech of the tires and her scream, the sky was cloudy, ponderous, foreboding. But was it already too late for Doris? That’s for philosophers wiser than I to debate. She was definitely run over and by the time I got home my ice cream was softer than I like.

It made me think, God took my friend’s life to teach me an important lesson, which was probably “Look Out for Trucks,” which I already knew.