Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Carpe Diem; Seize the Day


Today is October 30th, the 303rd day of the year.  It holds no special meaning except that it is your first chance of the day to brush a loved one's cheek with the softness of your lips, to whisper in their ear "I love you".  

You may have said "I love you" a thousand times, but it is always the last one you utter that means the most.  Let no time pass before you've expressed your love to a dear one for it may be the last time you'll ever have time to say it.  

I just read a heart breaking story about a mother's loss of her son.  She worked nights, and upon returning home, she found her son waiting in his car for her to return so that he might take her out for a late night breakfast.  Mom was thrilled at the sweet and spontaneous gesture coming from her teenage son.  The two drove down to the diner and ate pancakes and eggs and first of the morning coffee.  

The diner was quiet at that hour and they sat across from each other in the booth, their reflections dancing in the night darkened window, as they spoke of the doings of their day, of their plans for tomorrow, spoke of memories, often repeated but no less valued for their repetition.  Sleepy-eyed at last they drove home, hugged and kissed goodnight, then retreated to their own rooms.  It would be their last night together for the next morning the son was killed in an accident on his way to work.

Few of us will ever be as fortunate as that mother and son.  To have experienced the mutual joy of a spontaneous act of love and kindness, to have had one last chance to ruminate about a treasured past and to express dreams that will never be.  

When my own son died all I had was a Saturday morning phone call, loving and caring, but mundane in matter; how the new job was going, asking about his new apartment, the weather up there..with a sweetening at the end of the call with his recently inevitable reminder of how much he loved I reciprocated in kind.

When my sister died I had just returned from Saudi Arabia and had driven down to my little hometown for reunion with my family.  We had just arrived at my mother's house when sis' husband, ashen faced, walked through the door and told us that sis was just taken by ambulance to the hospital and things didn't look good.  We arrived at the hospital within minutes but she was already gone..a victim of a violent heart attack in the car en route to us.  We missed the last kiss and hug from her by no more than a minute or two..

When my dear uncle Floyd died, a man more a father than uncle, I could not be with him either.  But the pain of losing him was eased by the memories of the last magical night we were together.  On that last night we had sat up until late in the night, talking softly of the things and people who mattered to us, of our joys and our sorrows.  We mourned those who had passed on and we rejoiced in our love for both the living and the dead.  And we openly spoke of our love and respect for each other...then retreated to our beds, our feelings spent, our sleep no doubt blessed with soft dreams.

When my mother died we were all blessed in knowing her time was near.  We had, if not all the time we wanted, at least the time we needed to express our love and what she meant to our lives.  We were with her when she took her last breath and we graciously let her go...let her begin her new journey, free of worry and pain, no longer fatigued by old age and the ravages of disease.  

But, fortune rarely smiles on us, in the manner we wish to say goodbye to those we love.  We are rarely given that one last chance to say "I love you", to embrace for one last time.  

So, dear readers, carpe diem, seize this day, to get on your knees, put your arms around that beautiful child, draw them to you, feel the delicacy of their tiny delicate and fragile as the promise of life itself, and whisper in their ear that you love them above all things.  Spend an hour with them as they take every single toy from their toy box, be kind enough to marvel at every wondrous plaything...and if you're lucky enough there will be a tomorrow for you to do it again.

And to those who are lucky enough to still have a mother or father with you, get on your knees beside their chair, massage and oil their feet, hold their hand, and when bed time comes, feel the coolness of their lips as you kiss them them as if it will be the last time you see them...

Seize the day....every day that is given you...and when it is "your" time, you can close your eyes and go in peace, knowing you have given all the love you could give.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Maddening Crowd


Behaviorists have studied rats for years.  They put the creatures through various environments to study the effects of environment on both the mental and physical.  One of the more solid and oft repeated experiments has been studying rat behavior under normal conditions, then how they behave under overcrowded conditions.  

It seems the rats get along just fine when they have a little privacy, can move around freely, and where adequate food supplies are available.  However, crowd them and they grow longer fangs, become very aggressive, will savage each other and behave erratically.  Researchers have extended the theory of rat behavior to man and find similar results.

One researcher proposes that Americans were more "civilized" fifty years ago because fully half of Americans were still farmers which precluded the crowded urban conditions which exist today.  Without getting into a social sciences study, on why urban population exploded, I just want to say that I agree with those lab rat guys.  Having grown up in a small town in California that had nearly any crime, I can now see the ugly results of a quintupling of the population of my hometown.  

I now live in Phoenix and am frankly fascinated by the truly weird behavior of many who live here now.  I hear tales from the old hands who say Phoenix was a wonderful place to live in a few decades ago.  Of course, like everywhere else, Phoenix has grown exponentially and suffers from that kind of rapid growth.

Just this week our morning papers brought us stories of a long back up on I-17 because some wacko was hanging from a highway overpass and threatening to jump.  Now, while bizarre, this act has been repeated over and over for years much so that many of us would prefer the jumper just go ahead and jump, become a bump in the road for the next car, and spare us the long traffic delays.

Also this week, we had a mom over on the east side who grounded her sixteen year old son for some manner of infraction.  This didn't sit well with the kid so he buddied up with his teen friend, came home and beat momma to death with a hammer and frying pan.  Again, in these days of bath salts and crystal meth, killing your parents is no longer a novel way to protest parental correction.

We also had a little brougha erupt over a barking dog.  It seems one family had a dog that had, more or less, been barking incessantly for about four years.  Apparently this dog barking got on the nerves of an otherwise law abiding fellow who snapped, grabbed his Glock 21, went out into the backyard and confronted the neighbors about the dogs.  I guess the "over the fence" confrontation wasn't satisfactory, causing the fellow to hop the fence, shoot two in the offending family on the backyard, spun and shot the two dogs, then entered the home and killed two more.  The frustrated shooter then went back to his own apartment, plopped down into his recliner, took a deep breath, all the suppressed anger now released, then killed himself.

Lest you think Phoenix is any different that any other major city, let me offer that we have all the other typical crime; rape, robbery, murder, Circle K beer holdups, etc.  We do, sadly, experience more than our fair share of home invasions, as Mexican drug cartel thugs average at least once a night invading a home and settling the score with some poor soul who didn't pay for his drugs in a timely manner.

I have lived here nearly a decade now and have been fascinated by drive by shootings of horses, cows, dogs, sheep and other farm animals.  Speaking of farm animals, we have had several individuals caught fornicating with a farmers cow or horse, and of course we have our fair share of Craig's Listers posting the need for a good ole human/dog lovemaking session.

I gotta say, the rats are outta control here, folks...long fangs and really wack behavior.  Whew!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Front Porch Bliss

I just read a wonderful article in the paper this morning.  It seems there is an older community in Phoenix (and I'm sorry I don't recall which one) that is blessed with homes that all have front porches. So the folks that live in those houses are planning to "time travel" back when front porches were the center of neighborhood socializing.  The residents here are turning off their televisions and setting aside a night to just set outside and get to know their neighbors!  

Alternately, some neighbors will "host"...pass out the tea, or coffee, or lemonade and sit back in lawn chairs and chew the fat a bit.  Others will "cruise" the neighborhood, making brief stops at each porch to break the ice, say hello, have a cup of joe before moving on to the next house.

I think that's just wonderful.  While we don't have formal front porches in Sun City, when I first moved here I did join two of my neighbors in sitting out on the front stoops, quaffing an evening beer and telling old war stories.  I enjoyed it very much.

In the 50's and 60's it was quite normal to sit out on the front porch in the evening and say hello to your neighbors, out for an evening walk.  Back then you would have been considered a weird shut-in if you didn't at least know everyone on both sides of the street of your home block.  That was back when everyone kept an eye on the kids, when they didn't talk back to any adult, and when any known adult felt it in his right to threaten to whip a kid's ass if he didn't act right.  Frankly, Hillary Clinton and her "it take a village" liberal approach to child-raising is for the birds, there was nothing like a good kick in ass, or at minimum a harsh warning from a neighborhood adult to set you right.

But I digress.  Porch sitting was a regular and pleasant thing to enjoy back when we had porches.  I've read often that it's coming back.  There are whole new housing projects being built that are being deemed "pedestrian friendly"..featuring wide pedestrian sidewalks, neighborhood parks and green belts designed in, with the garages placed in the back and bringing the front porch back into vogue.

I do know that when builders stopped making front porches an awful lot of folks missed them greatly.  They began trying to re-capture that sense of "neighborhood" by throwing block parties where they would barricade each end of the street and roll out gas and barbecue grills and set up picnic tables right in the middle of the street.  I would guess that ended when some sourpuss complained about community access...or that someone was having more fun than them.

Anyway, I envy those folks down there in front porch land....I can still remember those old Andy Griffith shows where he, guitar in hand, and Aunt Bee, and Opie, and Barney, having polished off a pork chop dinner, loosened their belt a notch, have all gathered on the porch watching fireflies and listening to crickets.  Then Andy begins to quietly strum his guitar for a rousing rendition of "shoo fly pie"....front porch bliss.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Lingering Afternoon Dream


I ran around doing errands this morning.  When I got home I had a bite of lunch, checked my email and read the news of the day.  Phoenix today is again giving us one of those beautiful fall days, temps in low 70's and enough breeze to send the scent of Asian Jasmine wafting through my bedroom window.

Like the sirens who enticed ancient sailors, the beauty of the afternoon enticed me to my bed and I laid down for an afternoon nap.  And happily, it was one of those rare naps that transport me back decades, to childhood when the skies were never so blue and sun was never so warm on my back.  

I was back in my childhood hometown and was running down the football field at the old Garfield Elementary School.  I was twisting and turning, always moving the waist adorn flag away from my pursuers.  I was running on ten year old legs, no longer hampered by sixty-five year old cottage cheese thighs, my breathing strong and deep, my lungs no longer cancer ridden, no longer abused by pollutants spewing from ten thousand cars.  It was fall because I could smell the wood smoke from nearby fireplaces and the leaves were a golden hue, raining down with just the hint of a breeze, then scooting across the grassy field to be tromped on by ancient Keds and blanketing our fall when we tumbled somewhere down the field.  

As I rose to see the triumphant grab of a yellow football flag, I could still see Jimmy and Junior and my kid brother, still wearing summer shorts, skinny legs akimbo and hair too short to grab onto in sibling rivalry or in play.  As I waited for then next play I turned to look across McCall Avenue and see the church that housed our school curriculum blessed religion classes.  It was also where we went for ballroom dance, a silly thing indeed for a fifth grader.  Just past the church the funeral home was quiet, no death to mar an otherwise perfect fall day.  

My attention is drawn back to the game as I see, too late, my skinny little bare-footed brother scooting past me...and I know he'll carry it all the way as he's too fleet footed for the rest of us.  He runs like a little Indian boy...luckily for him..and me..that he's not a "hollerer, a boaster" of small triumphs...he'll simply cross over the end zone and bring the ball back, a little shit-eaten grin on his face.

We'll run up and down that field for hours on that sweet Saturday morning, grabbing ass or flag, whichever was easier..and we'll feel the pure joy of just being alive.  Soon the drive-in, fully two blocks south of us, will have fired up the grill and sending the aroma of hamburger and fries down our way...reminding us of our own hungers.  So we gather up the ball and the flags and head home.  

The Nelson home, estate of the town's "hardware king" is across the street just north of the field.  As we head home we hear someone fire up the lawn mower and the smell of freshly cut grass fills the air.  
We wipe our sweaty brows on the sleeve of a t-shirt and head home, naively believing that these joyful days of youth will never end.

I am proof of the ephemeral delicacy of those boyhood days as I wake from my afternoon nap, refreshed from the rest, but saddened that the dream didn't last a few moments longer, that I couldn't rise on ten year old legs and breathe through ten year old lungs...and sense the joy of anticipation of all the years to come.  Of taking for granted the simple joy of playing on green fields forever.

I suppose I should thank my creator that he has stored reel after reel of life once lived way back there in my head...and that I still own the clarity to pull them out, to be aired again in an afternoon nap.  Life is sweet and my creator is good to me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

One-Man Memorial Militia


His name is Chris Cox.  You won't find a thing about him in Wikipedia.  He's a unknown American that had heard a million vets were on their way to Washington for the Million Vet March.   And he knew the National Park Service was taking some time off....with pay.  But Chris has a lot of respect for our nation's vets and he wanted their memorials to look nice for them when they got here.

So he rolled in from the suburbs, his Briggs and Stratton home lawnmower in hand, rake and garbage bags, leaf blower handy, and began pushing that fool mower up and down that mammoth lawn that fronts the Lincoln Memorial.   On another night Chris was spotted cleaning up the World War II Memorial.


  It didn't take long for someone to notice the lone guy, a single concerned soul who set about to clean up the entire National Mall all by himself.  A local radio stationed dispatched a reporter to interview him.  He stopped the mower long enough to say:

“These are our memorials. Do they think that we’re just going to let them go to hell? No,” Cox said to the radio station. “If they shut down our memorials, we’re still going to take the trash out, we’re going to clean the windows, we’re going to cut the grass, we’re going to pull the weeds, we’re going to do the tree work.”
Chris says there's no politics involved in this at all.  He did say that the politicians, when this is over, will all be patting themselves on the back for opening up the memorials....he says their mistaken because Americans are never going to be turned away from what they choose to honor.

Chris said he'd surely welcome the help if anyone else wants to come out and help with the cleanup.

Then, as expected, police from the National Park Service detained Chris and evicted him from the premises.  It seems that, while Obama and company are desperately trying to inflict public pain, Chris was bringing only tears of pride and joy.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Vietnam "Wailing" Wall


I was just reading that Obama's federal stormtroopers deployed to the Vietnam War Memorial to oust visiting Vietnam Vets from the open air wall memorial.  Unlike those 90 year old World War II vets, these Vietnam Vets were deemed young enough to be physically ousted from their memorial.  I guess Obama gambled that publicity to beat up 60 somethings would be better than beating up the 90 year olds.

As a Vietnam Vet myself I can see that those Vietnam vets probably needed to visit their memorial even more than the World War II vets.  World War II was a victory.  American troops came home to bask in the glory and admiration if American citizens.  Vietnam was a failure and we all know "victory has many fathers...and failure is an orphan".   At the Vietnam Wall there are no flag poles being raised in triumph.  Lyndon Johnson is long dead and all his underlings lay low, fearful to come forward and admit the mistakes in their war strategy.

So, just as it was in Vietnam, it is the American soldier left to face the slings and arrows of an angry citizenry.  Unlike the folks today who worship our military, as we came home from Vietnam we were shouted at, called baby killers and spit at since we were the most readily available object to receive the scorn.

As soon as the Vietnam War ended politicians were quick to forget it, to hush it up.  No one wants to wear their failures and politicians are particularly in favor of burying their mistakes as deeply as they could.  And with those political burials, they buried the vets who returned from that war.  When confronted with the very real problem of tens of thousands of vets with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, they turned their heads in denial.  When tens of thousands of Vietnam Vets began turning up at VA Hospitals with Agent Orange connected cancers the VA denied any connection between the two...and again, the politicians looked the other way.  

And America herself took great care to bury Vietnam.  They refused to see the thousands of homeless Vietnam Vets living in the streets or under freeway overpasses.  Failure is an orphan indeed.

So when a decade later enough consciences were bothered, it was decided to build a Vietnam War Memorial.  A national design competition was held and a young 21 year old Maya Lin, an Asian student of architecture at Yale University won the competition.  

Ms Lin's design was simply a wall that would list all 58,000 plus names of those who had given their life for this war...for their country.  The design was so modest, so simple in design, that the politicians hated it.  One Congressman on the Department of the Interior committee refused to allocate federal land space for it.  There were no victory pools, no dramatic lighting, no flags and no battle glorified.

But Ms. Lin's original design won over all the opposition, and I believe rightly so.  I believe Ms. Lin designed this memorial to glorify only those who offered the ultimate sacrifice, thus the simplicity of displaying the names.  When all is said and done, when all the histories are written, when all the politicians who waged the war from a desk in Congress, or from the Oval Office are dead and buried, when all the mistakes are buried as deeply as possible, we should remember only one thing; the names of the young men and women who paid the ultimate price.

Unlike today's volunteer force, those young men and women were drafted by their government, forced into service a war, whether they agreed to it or not.  Some burned their draft cards, some fled to Canada....but there were enough of those young men and women who loved America greatly, who were willing to fight for her when America demanded it.  And so they went to war.  A quarter million of them would come home without arms or legs, or both.  Tens of thousands more would die of cancer in their 40s, having been drenched with Agent Orange showers in Asian rice paddies.

And more than 58,000 gave all.  They were placed in body bags, put in a metal coffin, and brought into Dover Air Force base in the dead of night, to be processed, cleaned up as much as possible, then sent home to ten thousand American towns and hamlets, to their final rest.

The Vietnam Wall assures them that their story will not be forgotten.  It says, when everyone else ran away from war, when the politicians buried it, that wall stands tall in all eternity and reminds us of the real costs of war.

And God forgive Obama for not understanding any of that as he turned those warriors away yesterday.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"Old Grudges"


When my two dear aunts were alive, they lived, as widows, close to one another.  So close in fact that they shared something of a silly living arrangement.  Aunt Mandy lived on the left side of a duplex, while my Aunt Icie lived on the right side.  However, my Aunt Mandy spent most of her day and evening with my Aunt Icie in her duplex, thus making the need to pay rent on two duplexes absolutely silly.  I guess, in looking back, each of them was trying to maintain something of their independence, by holding a space where the mementos of half a century of life, and marriage could be housed and held and fondly remembered.

But the two sweet ladies were simply two peas in a pod.  When my family and I would come to visit the two old ladies were inevitably watching soap operas.  They lived for Edge of Night and As The World Turns, and General Hospital and so many others.  At their advanced age, and possessing rather old fashioned morals, I would guess the racy adultery portrayed on that 20 inch TV screen was their generation's equivalent of pornography.  

When we arrived at their front door, and inevitably interrupted their soaps, I always felt like we were intruding.  But the two lovelies always greeted us with smiles of love and warmth and kisses and offerings of my Aunt Icie's wonderful pies.  We would sit there eating pie and conversing, mostly during the soap commercials until a programming gap afforded us full eye contact and serious conversation.  It was always at that point when one or another of the aunts would begin telling a story, only to have the other one interrupt to correct some inconsistency.  This was always the beginning of a mutual see-sawing where one would talk over the other, issue sighs of mild disgust, or a rolling of the eyes to demonstrate just how wrong the other one was.  The lobbying back and forth was never hate-filled; it was simply a public airing of those little things that surely bugged each other, airings and differences that were most likely never discussed in the privacy of their two hearts-two heads little world.  

Now I am approaching their ages but I live alone.  But not entirely alone.  I have two chi's, one of whom has now reached the golden dog age of 100.  Ginger, particularly in the last year, has proven to be somewhat of a pain in the butt for me.  I am constantly torn by the urge to swat her ass with a fly swatter or hug her to me in appreciation that she's still here.

Ginger has gone through two cancer surgeries, the loss of her husband, now suffers a bit from old age dimming of her faculties, diminished hearing and eyesight and sometime suffers from tremors.  A fawn reindeer Chihuahua, she has always had remarkable leaping ability.  Sadly, her leaping ability has severely diminished so that when she leaps into a chair, she makes it half way, only to fall back to the floor, at which time she looks over at me sheepishly, much embarrassed.  She is other wise well and gets around quite nicely.  There is the occasional scary moment when she tries to rise from her bed and falls to the floor, all four legs splayed out like limp noodles.  It would be funny to any casual observer who holds no love for her; for me it is a reminder that she'll not be with me much longer.  

Ginger also scares me with her coma like sleep sessions.  Sometimes, upon arriving home, and pulling into the garage, I will hear a hail of barking from my younger Chi...the traditional greeting and admonition for having left home at all.  However, upon entering the home I will find Ginger splayed out on the tile floor in deep sleep, the commotion not waking her at all.  These days I will hurry to her and pet her and give her a peremptory nudge to wake her and assure me that she's still with us.

However, as much as I love her, the last year has seen a torrent of irritants issuing from my old girl.  She is always ravenous and I have to continually monitoring her diet.  She gets half a cup of low carb/high fiber dog food in the morning and another half a cup in the evening.  She gobbles her food and it is gone in half a minute, at which time she tries to steal the other dog's rations.  Sometimes Ginger chooses to fill her day doing the opposite of everything I expect her to do, whether it is vacating a room so that I can clean it...or going to bed when I tell her too.  

I first threatened her with fly swatter but she held no fear of it.  Then I started applying mild thumps to her haunches; it is at that time that she will begin screaming like a banshee and then rolling into a ball and pretending that I'm beating her to death.  She will then look at me with a look so pitiful that I feel like the worst of ogres.  She will then pout for hours, ignoring my affections and turning her back to me when we are in the same room.  

So, like my two dear Aunts, Ginger and I nurse old, sometimes deeply buried grudges.  We both have our own distinct views of the world and sometimes these views clash at just the wrong moment.  But there are times, when she's laying in my lap in early evening, and I'm stroking her head and rubbing her ears, that we both fondly remember the long morning walks, the chase of rabbits and birds, and the unending ball toss sessions many years ago when she saved me from a debilitating depression.

So, I guess we'll continue to co-habitate and cooperate as much as our ego's will allow.  The mutual love and respect we have built for nearly sixteen years has been a good salve to heal old grudges.