31 December 2008

Last Page of The Book


'Twas a Bitter Glass, but Good
Cool fingers, redolent of peat fires and
Salmon, brushing my face
I gasp to be so far from home.

Smoky mirror distorted through the glass
as I raise my arm, a toast
to the briefly brilliant stars.

I cough, throat tight with their memories,
This amber courage watered with tears
as I, frantic, beseeched Him to grant this:

You have taken out their fire,
Please leave me their warmth.



I wrote this in honor of my first two children, their memories residing in my heart. But really, it could be for anyone we wish was with us but is not. Raise a glass to them tonight. May the coming year be kind to you all! Slainte!

30 December 2008

Sunday Contest: Caption That Stupid Picture, Second Edition - Golden Wiener Award

WHOOOOOOAAAHHHH!

Well, well, WELL, what have we here? Yessiree, can it be? Is it? It has to be!

Ladies and gentlemen and those in between, the Second Edition of the Irish Gumbo “Caption That Stupid Picture” contest has a winner! Or is that winners?

But before I get to that, I’d like to take a moment to bring your attention to the beverage service here on Air Gumbo. It’s right there on the left side of the page. Feel free to indulge, but be warned, Air Gumbo flight attendants don’t take no mess when it comes to inebriated oafish behavior. So please, drink responsibly. They are armed and can be dangerous.

On to the official announcement! Note: Links are in blue.


There was a really good turnout this time! Quite a few laugh-out-louders this go round. Wee Lass kept asking me what was so funny. I kept directing her attention to the panda video on the
Henry the Dog Diaries. Quite funny and a splendid diversion. With all the quality, it was a tad difficult to pick a clear favorite. However, in a flash of Guinness-inspired genius, things came together! The winning quotes (and I do mean quotes) make a pretty bit of giggleicious (non)sense when combined:

"I don't want,
Anybody else,
When I think about you I....
Uh…oh holy crap…uh…you’re, uh, home early….”


HA! Boy, we all know what that feels like don’t we? HaHaHa, ha….(crickets)

Not that I do. People talk you hear things. It made me laugh a lot when I strung them together. It made me think of something like that ‘
Dancing Dad’ Armstrong flooring commercial that came out earlier this year. Funny stuff!

The first part of that is from
Michelle at Michelle’s Blog, and the second part is from Braja at Lost and Found In India. So let’s have a big round of applause and a couple of ‘whut-whuts’ for the joint winners of the Golden Wiener award! (Winners, look below the free beer for your award.) Please visit them and petition them for some attention, now that they are like rock stars and all.

Special note to Braja: Irish Gumbo humbly apologizes for the tardiness in posting the winners. He knows better than to keep a lady waiting! (his mom raised him so).

And a special thanks to all who played in this edition of Stupid Photo Contest. Let’s all spread the joy to:

Captain Dumbass at Us and Them
Jen at Sprite’s Keeper
Sweet Cheeks at Sweet Cheeks has an idea…
Henry at Henry the Dog Diaries (good dog!)
Christina at Text Imps
Mama Dawg at Two Dogs Running (like the stoner concept!)
IB at Idiot’s Stew
Sarah at Sarah’s Blogtastic Adventures
Krystal at Mommy’s Escape 6.0
Ashley at Hunt and Beck
Charmaine at Middle Aged Dating (wish her luck with Bachelor #1)
Comedy Goddess at You Have to be a Comedy Goddess to Endure
Jan at Jan’s Sushi Bar (yumm…)
SSP at Smarty Pants Rants
Rawan at It’s All Good (give that lady a napkin!)
Miz blo at I Went Looking For Trouble

And a special shout out to
Rebekah at Waffles Waffles All Day Long. Her ship has hit a patch of rough seas as of late, so if you haven’t already done so, drop by and drop some luv. Good vibes for you Rebekah – If I haven’t said it already, thank you for your help on the resume!
Last call, folks! Drink up!

29 December 2008

Road Food, Part 3: A side of bittersweet

Arrived home in mid-afternoon, after a 5 1/2 hour drive back from visiting the ancestral homestead in southeastern Virginia. The Spouse, Wee Lass and I went down to visit with the Parents of Gumbo, get some face time with my Big Bro and his lovely better half, and celebrate a slightly delayed Christmas. A pleasant visit overall, especially if one is a certain granddaughter who receives her yearly toy allotment (i.e. a shitload) in one fell swoop. More princesses for the Princess, with not one but TWO 'Belle' dolls. Wee Lass likes herself some Disney. Oh, and there was food. A lot of food.

The drive can be made in about 4 hours, but we stopped to eat in a little town called Tappahannock, in eastern Virginia. It sits near to the Rappahannock River, which in turn is nearby to the Chesapeake Bay. Good fish and oyster country, that. The place we went to eat is an old seafood restaurant right there on the main drag through town, by name of Lowery's:


It's a funny thing that I had never eaten there until relatively recently, on another holiday visit. Way back when I was still "a-courtin'" The Spouse (at that point The Girlfriend), who lived in Maryland at the time, I would pass Lowery's every trip. I was in too much of a hurry, and too busy stuffing my face with nasty-ass Hardee's steak biscuits while driving, to give this unassuming restaurant a try. Pity for me, as I discovered later.

We finally stopped there to eat on a holiday visit years ago, Wee Lass was now our permanent passenger, and we had begun to think of McDonBurgTacoAldsKingBell's as food of last resort. So we were less inclined to choke down fast food and more in the mood for some real food. Fortunately, Lowery's is good, as we discovered, so we stopped in today for lunch. Not what you'd call fancy-schmancy, more low-key and definitely old country decor. They also have a talking mynah bird, named Jay-Boy, in what amounts to a gift shop area in the back. They also have, for the young'ns, a little wishing well with toy fish in it. The kids get a little fishing pole with a magnet and hook, and they 'fish' in the well. You snag a fish, take it to the counter, and then pick out a free toy. On this visit, Wee Lass decided to go with the purple plastic beads. She was quite delighted with her new jewelry.

Oh, yes, the food. They specialize in seafood, fried, broiled, baked. They do a good broiled fish, a tasty crab cake (sandwich or platter), shrimp and hushpuppies. Surprisingly, the best bread pudding I have ever had was at Lowery's. I was licking the bowl! But my favorite is the fried oyster sandwich. Yum, yum, YUM! They have access to some mighty fine oysters out of the nearby waters. This being a good time of year for oysters, the sandwich was what I got:

Just look at all that goodness! Damn, too bad for you guys that there is no Smell-O-Vision available for the Internet! A simple, humble thing, but when it is done right, there isn't much to beat the taste and crunch of a fresh fried oyster sandwich. This one was done right!

Truth be told, this sandwich (as good as it was), was not the best thing I had to eat on this trip. No, the top honor for that would have to be the grilled peanut butter sandwich I had for breakfast this morning before we left to go home. I wasn't thinking ahead, plus I was really hungry, so I didn't think to take a picture of it. In hindsight, I wish I had. It was very attractive. It was crispy on the outside and gooey-soft on the inside. Biting into it was like biting into some of the best memories I have from my time as a little Gumbo. This is a sandwich I would drive a long, long way to have, it's that good.

Who could create such a wonder? What chef could turn a humble grilled peanut butter sandwich into a delicious mouthful of memories? Why, that would be my Moms. She did me a favor, made breakfast this morning, and gave me a grilled peanut butter sandwich like only she can make: a simple thing, done right, made with love. It doesn't get any better than that.

Thank you, Mom.

ROAD TRIP: SCENES FROM HIGHWAY 17

video

28 December 2008

SUNDAY CONTEST: CAPTION THAT STUPID PICTURE, SECOND EDITION

Okay, okay, time to lighten things up a bit. Plus, I need a break! My keyboard has been on fire lately, thought I’d slow it down some.

Tonight, it’s time for another “Irish Gumbo Stupid Picture” contest. This one promises to be even better than the first one. This pic is kind of enigmatic. Behold:



Discuss, people! Make it good, make it interesting, make me (and everyone else) laugh! Contest starts now, I’ll probably let it run to Wednesday or longer, depending on input.

GO!

POSTSCRIPT:
I have to take a moment here to thank Captain Dumbass at Us and Them for some HIGH PRAISE indeed, regarding my endeavors on this big pot o' gumbo. I have to say, it put a lump in my throat, and left me speechless. And that is very hard to do! For a knucklehead like me who fancies himself a wordsmith, his post was the equivalent of an Olympic gold medal. I am grateful and humbled. Please go check him out! You'll not be disappointed!
Testimony such his deserves a response, not to mention I think I am congenitally incapable of saying something about this. I am travelling, visiting with family, and on a borrowed computer with a dial-up connection, so my time is limited now. I'll have more to say a bit later.
Right now, the short answer is: Thank you, Captain, and thank you all for visiting with me! Slainte!

27 December 2008

Nice Rack!

Oh, baby. Mmm-Mmm-Mmm, would you look at that! What a mighty fine set of curves you got there, if I may be so bold. Thrusting yourself out like that, laid out in all your glory in the pages of that magazine. I believe I actually drew in a sharp breath when I flipped the page to find your picture staring back at me. Sleek, smooth, shining out: my first thought was, Oh Lawd would I like to get my hands on THAT! Somehow I managed to avoid drooling on the page. That would have been plain bad manners.

Still, you got me. I knew it right away. I had that shiver that ran down my spine and landed on that spot that makes me…well…you know what it makes. I love it, but it makes me a little embarrassed at the same time, you know? My ears turn red or something and my heart starts to race. I get that weak-in-the-knees feeling. People can tell. They can look at me and just know. ‘Something goin’ on in that boy’s head, and other places besides!’ they say, smirking as they stifle a laugh. Shame on me. I try and hide it, but sometimes its just no use.

Darling, why do ya do this to me? Why do ya get me all lathered up with no place to hang?

Whew. Had to stop and fan myself. It was getting a little warm in here. I know, it seemed like it could be nothing but a dream. I was falling in lust with a photograph, for cripes’ sake! Plus, being married and all, carrying on with you was going to be a serious problem. I couldn’t think of a way to explain the sudden trips out, the smudges on my shirt, the mysterious phone calls to arrange for our trysts. And the money! No way to hide it, not in a joint account. Not to mention trying to bring you into the house!

What was I going to do? Damnit, why did it have to be that way? The magazine lay open before me, soft focus photo in a sunny yellow room. You on a backdrop of white fabric (?), up against a wall (?), I couldn’t tell. The stirrings inside could not be ignored; I felt the fluttering in my belly, the blood rushing through my veins and pounding in my ears. Oh, my dear, there was so much we could do together, so much I wanted to share with you! I wanted you all for myself. We could spend so much time with each other, I could buy you shiny trinkets and drape them from your sweet-oh-so-sweet curves! In fact, I already had some things for you, waiting for you in that special room at home. The one in which I spent so much time, in a daze, dreaming of you and hoping we could be together. Forever.

I could take it no longer. I was determined to make you mine. And so it was resolved. With trembling hands, pounding heart, and dry mouth I made the call that would change our lives forever. The voice on the other end of the phone was pleasant and sweet, but she said you weren’t there right now, but she could take a message, let my darling know I was interested. She would let me know when you arrived. I said yes, please, curves like that I can wait for.

Hours passed. The phone stayed silent. It became days, still nothing. I was panicking. What was happening? Where were you? Finally, the phone rang, catching me in the middle of a daydream of you. I leapt out of the chair. The voice said you had shown up, and would I like to pick you up? Of course I did, I had coat on and keys in hand before I hung up. I drove as fast as the law would allow to get you, my lady.

I walked through the door. Your attendants were smiling, greeted me warmly, brought you out to me. You were silent, as was I. Your beauty was overwhelming, and those curves! Hah! My heart was in my throat as I spirited you back to my car. It was just you and me, now, and I couldn’t wait to get home. The drive was a blur, I don’t remember it very well. Our special room was waiting, new curtains waving in the breeze with sunlight streaming through the windows illuminating your new place.

We both seemed to shaking as I hurriedly stripped off your garments, ripping some in my haste. Neither of us spoke. Finally, you were naked in my hands, curves all soft and smooth against my palms. I smiled in ecstasy as I held you up against the wall. The sun warmed you as I slowly fixed you in place. I pushed gently, making sure you were okay. It was done. I brought out those trinkets I promised you. On you, they looked so good, I took a picture, so I could always enjoy a little “sump’n-sump’n” anytime I wanted. I just couldn’t keep you to myself:


You gorgeous thing. You had me at Williams-Sonoma.

26 December 2008

Merry 'Effin Christmas To You Too, and a Scoop!

Gumbo News Network (Semi-) Exclusive - For some reason, the local newspaper has been really interesting as of late:

Item #1 – AHMADINEJAD: FARSI FOR ‘ANNOYING RECTAL ITCH’
Our buddy Mahmoud (henceforth known as ARI) is at it again. Leave it to him to suck the life out of what is ostensibly a time of reflection, peace and goodwill to all:

I know, he is the leader of a nation that is ostensibly majority Islamic, so Christmas shouldn’t be an issue. But, dude (doud?), can’t you just give it a rest, at least for one day? Yeah, yeah, we are infidel dogs, bootlicks of Satan, blah, blah, blah. And to be truly fair, it isn’t just Islamic demagogues that cynically use religion when it suits their purposes; our own current lame duck (for example) isn’t free of the taint on that score. The “Jesus were alive" comment is especially interesting. Not to lob a theological grenade, but what a secular Muslim (or many so-called Christians) such as ARI really know about the mind of Jesus? Too bad ARI didn’t include “belligerent, fascistic theocracies bent on conversion by sword” in the groups Jesus would oppose. And he didn’t finish that sentence with “And then we would kill him as an infidel.” It also seems obvious to me that when ARI refers to leaders who have turned away from religion, what he really means is “that have turned away from MY religion”. Again, not a sentiment exclusive to Islamic leaders, but annoying enough in this context. And the Christmas day timeslot? ARI, if your intent was to diss Christians by spewing this nonsense on Christmas Day, news for you, bro: the Christmas season has already been corrupted by consumerist, corporate culture, unfortunately. You cannot insult Christmas more than it already has been.

Don’t fret, dear readers! I am still optimistic about this matter! I believe that most folks all around the world would like a little peace and goodwill, no matter which version of God/Yhwh/Allah (ad nauseum) they choose to carry in their hearts, and no matter how hard cynical politicians seek to exploit belief for their own grabs at power.

Item #2 – THE GUMBO NEWS NETWORK HAS A SCOOP
To those of you who laid some eyes on my post of December 24th (link), you already know how I feel about the prevailing pressure to consider accruing/spending to equate with joy/happiness. So it was with some satisfaction that I came upon this little tidbit in the Christmas edition of our local cage liner, written by one of their regular columnists:


Did you see that? “…more spending equals more merriment.”
CAN I GET A WHUT, WHUT!? I was most gratified to see that SOMEONE in the local press was at least thinking about this subject. The article was much longer than that, and was fleshing out the same theme. She took it a little farther than I did, with some good points about how this current economic situation was maybe an indicator that we should all do some soul searching about how much stuff we have, how much stuff we buy, and whether we do all that because as a culture we have lost sight of the things that truly matter. Testimony out there, brothers and sisters!

I was right there with her, but I confess a smidge of jealousy: she gets paid to write about that stuff! Maybe someday, I will, too. For now, though, this feels good.

24 December 2008

Not Numbers, But Brown and Wrinkly

Some items of note from the morning edition of our local fish wrapper, that I felt deserved some discussion:

Item #1 – IT’S THE WORST CHRISTMAS EVER!
This is a direct quote from a news article regarding the retail business: “The holiday season is shaping up to be the worst in years”. This is not a particularly original statement about the state of things these days, just a variant of what we have been hearing for weeks if not months now. On the surface, there is nothing that seems unusual about it, either. But by the time I read to the end of the article, I was astonished and saddened by the very banality of that statement. To be able to make such a statement, to have it make sense to the reader, implies an existing set of conditions that the readership at large takes for granted. The basic implication is: the value of the holiday season is gauged by the transfer of money for possessions, fewer transactions equals less fulfillment.

I know the focus of the article is on the retail environment, not the holidays in general. But it was troubling to me because the tone of the article was that numbers equals joy. This seems to be pervasive within our culture, to a disturbing degree. Around here, we often hear the same dire predictions every summer regarding the effects of bad weather on the “success” of the vacation season at Ocean City. Everything always gets tied back to “business”. If “business” isn’t fulfilled, then we aren’t fulfilled.

With all due respect to business owners at all levels, I am tired of hearing it. I am weary of the culture of money telling me I won’t be happy unless I spend, fed up with it being implied that I have to consume or there will be no joy. I guess I am plain wore out being told I have to gauge my happiness by the amount of money I am spending and that others are making. Maybe it is exhaustion brought on by a culture that allows and expects APPETITES to drive everything. I like to eat, but at some point you have to push yourself away from the trough.

Item #2 – IT’S NOT A FORTY, IT’S THE BABY JESUS!
The headline reads “Shopping-bag Nativity scene”, and with a hook like that, I couldn’t resist a read. I was expecting something tacky, like an “I saw the face of Jesus on my grilled cheese!” type story. But it was better than that, in its own low-key and heartfelt fashion.

A local church has a yearly tradition of constructing a Nativity scene out of brown paper shopping bags. That’s right: brown paper shopping bags. Every year, a local grocery store and others donate the bags, and volunteer parishioners (one of whom was born near Bethlehem) cut and shape the bags into a cave-like grotto. They crinkle them up and paint them to look like rocks and moss, even make the walls look like they are sooty from campfires. The grotto is about 15’ feet high and 20’ feet wide; they set it that way because there is some evidence to suggest that Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the animals more likely would have been sheltered by a cave; something to do with available building technologies, I think. Anyway, the church uses statues to represent all the people and animals involved, and it gets blessed on Christmas Eve. One of the parishioners is quoted as saying “It is to remind people of the simplicity and poverty of the birth of Christ”; another says the crèche is “a labor of love that we all enjoy doing”.

I can’t claim to be a devout Christian. Hell, these days I am still trying to figure out if I even believe in God (a post, perhaps, for another time), but, still: a labor of love that we all enjoy doing. What an amazing, beautiful summation. Maybe this is why we should be doing anything, especially at this time of the year, when we are encouraged to love one another and find peace with each other.

I do know this: the red and the black in ledgers I do not keep will not be the arbiter of my happiness. Success cannot be defined by the bills in my wallet. This year, and for all to come, my labor (if you can call it labor) will be to love and be loved. Merry Christmas, and peace to all!

23 December 2008

Ancient Chinese Gumbo Secret Box

I have in my possession a small wooden box that I bought at a specialty gift store many, many moons ago. Originally it was for The Spouse, to hold some small jewelry. Later, she received a much larger jewelry box, and she gave this back to me. At the time I didn't know what to do with it. I am not an 'accessory' kinda guy (besides, the ladies get to wear all the cool sparkly stuff) but I didn't want to put it on a shelf and forget about it. The wood is nice and I liked it:

One night I came home from eating dinner, Chinese food, and I had some of the fortune cookie fortunes in my pocket. I put them in the box, intending to start an art project. Over the years I kept more and more of the fortunes. I jammed packed the box. I never really did start the project, but today I was bored and decided to dump out the fortunes:


There were a lot, as you can see. Some of them are funny, some nonsensical, some are statements yes, but fortunes? I'm not so sure. So here are a few selected fortunes for you


What's Chinese for 'Iditarod'?


Insert, er, put your own naughty punch line here


With all the comment luv I've received lately, it IS like an unusual party. Smooches for all!



I'm free! I'm free!


I must be the most 'next to innocent' person in the Universe!


Oh, man, I hope so. More than anything.


Hard to remember, sometimes, but true.

Merry ChrisHanKwanNukahZaaMas, everyone!

22 December 2008

My Big, Ugly Mug

The objects that matter to us as people, do we find them or do they find us? How do we end up with all the bits and pieces, odds and ends that seem to multiply when we have to gather them up and move them?

My Big Bro piqued my curiosity a few weeks back, when were jawing about music. I had just sent him some requests to burn digital versions of some songs to disk; I had this cockeyed idea for a compilation that had been swirling around in my head. Not having access to iTunes at the time, Big Bro was my main source for said digital delights. (No, he wasn’t pirating anything. Arrr!). After having burned the disk, he asked me, “Where do find this stuff?” – I think the song in question was “In The Pines” by Leadbelly – “How do you know where to get it?”

My response was on the order of something like “I don’t for sure. I think that like seeks out like, and over time, if you know what you like, you develop a sense of how to find it. Plus, you’ll be more likely to have a receptive mind when you come across something new, you’ll be more willing to listen”. At least, I think that is what I said.

Over the years, I have accrued a number of objects that seem to have just shown up, and have followed me across nearly nineteen years of my erstwhile architectural career. I know this because I had to clear out my desk when I was laid off about two weeks ago. When you have to move a lot of crap, is when you notice you have a lot of crap. Herewith is a sampling of the flotsam and jetsam I have inventoried:

-Small collection of plastic triangles, for pencil drafting (Ha! Computers, man, the latest rage!)
-Bizarro templates for drawing toilets and sinks and other doohickeys
-Really weird plaster sculpture of what looks to be a mutant trying to gouge his own eyes out
-Hand-blown glass bottle I recovered from a renovation project site in Washington, D.C.
-Tiny brass desk gong complete with a little brass rod for striking the gong
-Ceramic sake carafe, grey, with painted blue bamboo stalks and leaves
-Tiny clay brick, promotional trinket I got at a trade show years ago
-Notepad holder made out of a giant steel hinge, the word INTEGRITY stamped on one leaf
-Notepad holder made out of recycled corrugated galvanized metal roof panels
-Clipboard made out of little chunks of cedar glued together, sanded, sealed and polished
-“Sculping”, a chunk of slate the size of a large brick, really HEAVY and pretty
-Textbooks leftover from my college days (Uh, time to ditch ‘em, yeah?)
-The letter “K”, 2” tall by 1” deep made out of anodized aluminum
- Small pennant with a picture of that Taco Bell dog on it, says “Viva Gorditas!” on it

That last one is one of the weirdest things I still have that I cannot seem to just get rid of. Some items that have gone AWOL are an 8” square glass brick (3” thick and solid) and a coffee mug with the logo of the former KGB silkscreened on it. Oh, wait, the KGB mug bit the dust about ten years ago when I dragged it off my desk top with a phone cord.

The last one I had to pick up today, from my (former) office, because I had forgotten to pack it up when I left. It is a giant mug, ceramic, brownish, kinda homely. This mug probably holds 3 regular cups of coffee. I have been brewing tea in it for years, so it has acquired a ‘patina’ on the inside that defied washing away. Probably made the tea taste better anyway. What amazed me was just how…naked(?)…I felt without that mug in my hand in the morning for that first cup of tea. I was antsy without it. I had a ritual associated with this mug when I came into work in the mornings. And when I picked it up this afternoon, I realized that it wasn’t just the mug or the ritual I was missing. It was the people that were usually present when I was drinking my tea. The people who always teased me about the humungo size of the mug:

“Where’s the tanker?”
“Got enough to drink there?
“Is that a soup bowl, or a helmet?”

And my favorite:
“That thing is the size of your face!”

So when I picked up my mug, and I saw some of the people I am beginning to miss, I think I understood something of what these objects mean. The things we acquire, the trinkets and curios of the lives we live, stick with us for a reason. They mean something to us beyond the mere fact of their existence. They gain power through their constant presence and use. They carry with them, in subtle and critical ways, the memory of the people and places and circumstances that make us the human beings we become.

I like my big, ugly mug. It carries tea, and my life.

21 December 2008

Cats In A Bag - A Play In One Act

Characters
Mr. HEAD – Heavyset, nervous looking chap
Mr. HEART – Thin, haggard, spiky hair

Setting
A small room, grey-black walls. There is a metal door in one wall. The paint is flaking off the door. In the door is a small rectangular window. Faint silvery light shines through the window. On the wall opposite the door is a black slate chalkboard, covered in writing. The writing appears to be an itemized list, bulleted. The writing is tight, sharp, as if were done at high speed but with great care. In the middle of the room is a heavy wooden table with two folding metal chairs. Over the table is a light dangling from a fraying cord. The shade is green metal, dented and warped. On the table sits three old books, open. There is a pack of cigarettes, matches and a whisky bottle, half full. There are two glasses on the table. One glass is empty; the other has two fingers of whisky in it. HEAD is in front of the chalkboard, a stub of yellowish chalk in one hand. He is wearing a button down shirt, white, with charcoal colored trousers, neatly pressed. On his feet are black shoes, comfortable looking and safe. HEART sits in one of the chairs, elbows on the table with face supported by hands which stretch his cheeks up into big bags under his red, swollen looking eyes. His shirt is cream colored, wrinkled with the collar open. His pants are linen and sorely in need of a dry cleaning. There is a wrinkled sport coat hanging on the back of the chair. His shoes are brown leather with scuffed toes. The empty glass is in front of him. His eyes swivel back and forth as he watches HEAD pacing rapidly back and forth. HEAD is talking at a high speed, pitch varying little from a strained squeaking. He looks at HEART:

HEAD: We have to do something. We have to do something NOW. This is a disaster! I can’t believe this shit, I hadn’t counted on this. You have any ideas? (Looks at HEART)

HEART: (silence, except for a slight cough. Stares at HEAD. The light shining through the window is slowly getting brighter)

HEAD: (resumes pacing): Figures. I’ve had to carry you for too long. BOTH of us for too long. Why is it I always have to figure shit out? Always making sure we had money coming in, paying the bills, all that. (Looks at HEART expectantly).

HEART: (sits very still, breathing shallowly, eyeing HEAD with slow-blinking look of a lizard. He does not say anything.)

HEAD: Guess it’s all up to me again. Look, we’ll start cranking out the resumes, making phone calls. We have to find something FAST. This is not good, and I---

(HEART interrupts, not loudly, but with a voice like the edge of a guillotine): Shut up.

HEAD: What? What d-did you s-

HEART: I. Said. SHUT. UP. Are you fuckin’ deaf?

HEAD: Wha--? NO, I’m not deaf. What the hell--?

HEART (shouting, slams his palms down on the table, the books and glasses jumping from the impact): I have had it with you and the security and the nuts and bolts and always with “Well, it isn’t the greatest but it’ll do”, that shit is choking the life out of me! (He stands up slowly, hands still on the table) Would you just stop? Please? I’m sick of it!

(HEART is shaking. His fingers flex, nails leaving shallow gouges on the table. The light from the window is considerably brighter. HEART sucks in a deep lungful of air, points a shaking finger at HEAD):

Because of you I have been dying, dying, for YEARS. Look at me, I look like a goddamn scarecrow! I have been asking for more for years, and I’m still starving! All because I listened to you too much. I was always too scared, too worried about paychecks and taking shit work because we could. I trusted you, and I’m starvin’ to death!

(HEART hurriedly puts on the jacket, starts toward the door. The silvery light is very bright and outlines his head as he turns to look back at HEAD)

HEAD (eyes bulging, jaw working): But, I thought…I mean, that’s what I thought we needed…

HEART: You weren’t entirely wrong. Those things are important, but LIVING means more than just covering the mortgage. Maybe you were okay with doing what other people always wanted you to do, but I’m not. Not anymore. I don’t want to die. (His hand is on the door lever, begins to unlatch the door). I don’t want to starve anymore.

HEAD: What do you mean, starve? You always had enough to keep going, just like me! (He slowly walks to the table, sits down staring blankly at the books)

HEART: Enough? (Bitter laugh) Enough? Are you really that fucking blind? (He opens the door, steps out into the light. He looks sadly back at HEAD) You can always eat when you’re miserable, but you won’t enjoy the food.

(He leaves, the door slamming shut behind)

HEAD drops the chalk on the floor and slowly lays his head on the table, crying softly into the pages of a book he forgot to read. The light fades.

End

20 December 2008

Psecret Psanta: So That's How They Fly!

That Santa, he’s a little naughtier than I thought, but quite a groovy dude for all that. I always suspected that something was up with him, staying up all night and flying around the world. How could he DO that? The only people I ever knew who could do anything like that were probably on drugs! Ha, ha, isn’t that funny, Santa Claus and his reindeer on drugs, hoo boy is that a hoot or what? Don’t be silly, that can--, wait a second. What is this I see? Can it be true? No way! And it’s right there in an Advent Calendar, of all places! How can this be? Santa, I hardly knew ye!

Perhaps I should explain. The other day, The Spouse brought home an Advent calendar for the Wee Lass. She bought it from the local outpost of a national specialty grocery store. It is a special calendar that has a festive cartoon Christmas scene on the front, Santa waving cheerily with a bag of toys in one hand with a tree and fireplace and toys on the floor behind him. The calendar contains little numbered compartments that contain a small chocolate treat. The compartments are accessed through little cutout hatches cut into the cardboard. The numbers are on the front, and you open the appropriate compartment on the day with the corresponding number as you count down to Christmas. Wee Lass has been really excited each morning when she comes downstairs, because she gets to call out the number AND get a little chocolate treat.

Each of the chocolates is embossed with a mold of something, intended to be an item or animal or whatever, that one would assume is typically associated with the Christmas season. Stuff like reindeer, candy canes, toys, etc. So each day we have seen something new, including this nice little holiday wreath:



Isn’t that nice? And then there is this cute little fellow:


Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer, indeed! But then there was this:


Huh? St. Patrimas Day? Merry Chrisrick? Was it Santa that drove the snakes out of Ireland? Well, okay, I can work with that, that’s cool. And then there was this curious little treat:


….Really? ‘Shrooms? OHHH, now I get it! So that’s how they “fly”. Very clever! Fortunately, Wee Lass exhibited no untoward effects from the chocolate, aside from the normal loopiness one would expect from a four-year old on refined sugar.

I’m a little concerned, though. What’s next? Cane toads?

19 December 2008

In The Event of My Humility

humility (hyū-mĭl'ĭ-tē) n (14c): the quality or state of being humble

My father often told me that I must have one hardest damned heads on the face of the Earth. As big and lumpy as the Gumbo cranium is (as my blessed mother can attest), you would think it was made out of solid bone or wood. Density is a drawback when one is expected to absorb “life lessons”, or even just common sense lessons. Like not driving a motorcycle into a woodpile or trying to cover up beer breath with a heapin’ helping of mustard straight up (both true). As George Carlin summed it up, “Don’t get run over by a bus! Some people need practical advice.”

Up to about five years ago, I strongly believed in two major fallacies: that I was in control of my reality, and that trusting humanity was a zero-sum game because people always let you down. “People make you mean” I once heard someone say, and I certainly felt that way. All I had to do was turn on the news to be supported in my smugness. However, even the most bloody-minded, stubborn smart aleck EVENTUALLY learns something in the course of a lifetime. Sometimes it just takes an awful long time for those lessons to sink in, to become internalized. In my case, the internalization often manifests itself in the form of a revelation. The flash goes off, the bell goes DING! that cosmic finger plucks me on the back of the head bone. No wonder my head feels so lumpy!

The cosmic finger plucked me hard in the aftermath of the premature birth and deaths of my first two kids back in 2003. The amazing amount of support and empathy and sheer kindnesses done for my wife and I in the NICU, at home, and at work, truly staggered me. People were just so nice and caring and they really kept me going when I thought I was going to collapse under the weight of stress and grief. I had to revise my jaundiced opinion of humanity in general. This series of events nearly destroyed the shell I had built around my heart.

The cosmic finger also works in less dramatic ways. Less dramatic, no less important. Call it a ‘brush of the fingertip’, an elbow tap to the ribcage, a reminder to open up and let good people in. I received such a brush after yesterday’s post. The comments I received were truly amazing and heartwarming. A cynic like me didn’t stand a chance. What few shards left around my heart were effectively swept away. Good vibes like that deserve to be shared, so if you haven’t already visited with these fine folks, drop some comment luv on them:


Mama Dawg at
Two Dogs Running
Rebekah at Waffles, Waffles All Day Long
Krystal at Mommy’s Escape 6.0
Heather Kathleen at a mouthy irish woman? ridiculous!
Goodfather at GoodFatherBlog.com
ChurchPunkMom at Embellished Truth and Polite Fiction
Comedy Goddess at You have to be a Comedy Goddess to endure
IB at Idiot’s Stew
Charmaine at Middle Aged Dating
Vodka Mom at I Need A Martini Mom
Ryan at Pacing The Panic Room
Captain Dumbass at Us and Them
Henry the Dog at Henry The Dog Diaries
cIII at The Goat and Tater
Jen at Sprite’s Keeper
Rick at Organized Doodles
SSP at Smarty Pants Rants
Ashley at Beck and Hunt
Shonda at The Cowboy Chronicles

There are none so blind as them that would not see. Thank you, thank you, for helping me see.

18 December 2008

Sing Sweet Music To Rock My Soul

“Daddy, did you forget your briefcase?” A four-year old using the word briefcase like SHE carries one. It always makes me smile. Except this morning, it made me catch my breath. I wasn’t sure how to answer, so I played along.

“Yeah, sweetie, I forgot it.” The lie stuck to my teeth like bitter toffee. Wee Lass noticed no difference in my voice, no change of inflection. I put the car in reverse. Hopefully she would not mention it again before our arrival at daycare.

“Daddy, you forgot your music thing.”
“What? My music thing?”
“Your music thing, for the ray-dio.” The way she says it sounds like a word for beams of light. Damn, she is right. I do not have the “music thing”; the faceplate for my car stereo is in my briefcase, which is sitting on the floor in the dining room. Without it, no music.

“Yeah, well, its in the house. I’m not going back to get it.”
“Please, Daddy? Please?”
“I’m sorry, sweet pea, we don’t have time.”

I pull the car out onto the street running past our court. Gaggles of schoolkids huddle at the corners waiting for the bus. The usual suspects are out today, the morning shift of dog walkers and early joggers. Wee Lass and I make it a game to count the dogs we see every morning. Bonus points to the eagle eye that spots a dog wearing a hat or sweater. Fluffy Tail and Mistress Jogger are heading up the sidewalk on their vigorous morning walk-run. I don’t know how they do it. Wee Lass pipes up from the back seat.

“Daddy, I wanna hear some music.”
“I’m really sorry, honey, I just forgot the radio.”
“Hmmpphh.” She pouts, an unbearably cute scrunchie face she makes when she half-serious in her irritation.

“But, Dah-deee, I wanna hear Brass Monkey.” I grin. I should have known that was coming.
“Daddy’s really sorry, maybe next time.”
“Hmmpphh. It’s no fun without music!” Say what? Did my daughter just say that? I laugh.

“I know it isn’t, dearie, but we’ll have some later.” Silence. I glance in the rear view mirror. Wee Lass has her bottom lip pooched out as she stares out the window. Little wisps of ash blonde hair frame her impossibly beautiful face. My heart contracts as I feel like the Queen’s Guard who just failed in his mission. I return my attention to the road.

“I know, Daddy, I’ll sing us some music!” Wee Lass calls out. The car fills with the strains of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, sung in that quavery little girl voice that might as well be the stylings of an angel. Wee Lass gets through a round of that, a big smile on her face.

“That was beautiful, sweetie” I tell her but she isn’t quite listening. She has already launched into her version of “Baa, Baa Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool?” For the first time ever, Wee Lass does not shush me as I join in on the chorus. We look at each other across a few feet of mirror, her blue eyes shining in the early morning light. We have made the turn onto the road leading past the day care center. We grin like possums. I am looking for the turn into the access road and Wee Lass bursts into “Ants Go Marching One By One”. At this point I am on the verge of tears. Wee Lass has no idea of the effect on me. I pull into the parking space.

As she exits the car, she says cheerfully “Go get your briefcase, Daddy, so you can take it to work.” Thud. My lip is swelling I am biting it so hard. “Okay, baby, I’ll get it.”

And Daddy will struggle to get you settled in, get your things put in your cubby, lunch in the fridge, and that big bear hug before you shut the door to you classroom. Daddy will make it to the car before the first tears trickle down his cheeks, trying to back the car out of the space before anyone sees him. Daddy won’t tell you how he ran from the car and into the house gulping air and trying not to break down. Daddy won’t tell you how he sat on the sofa, sobbing into his hands, bathed in the weak sunlight filtering through the window overlooking the deck. Daddy won’t tell you any of this because he hasn’t figured out how to explain the forgotten briefcase, the missing radio. You are too young for this sort of despair.

All Daddy wants right now is for his beautiful little girl to keep singing, in the voice of that amazing angel fallen to earth just for him.

17 December 2008

Goddess Belly: On Your Knees, Boy!

“I don’t write songs about girls anymore,
I have to write songs about women”

-“I’m An Adult Now” by The Pursuit of Happiness

It is fair to say that I have always been flummoxed by women, ever since I was a little gumbo many years ago. More precisely, flummoxed by females, since some of the people layin’ the flummox on me were girls. I am reasonably certain that this sort of flummoxing has been happening to other males ever since, well, since there have been ‘pointers and setters’. I got to ruminating (oh, no, not again..) on this the other day as I contemplated the ‘Venus of Willendorf(henceforth known as VOW) in the middle of a daydream about a girlfriend from long ago. She looks like this (VOW, not the girlfriend):



Please, take a moment to ponder. (hums ‘Baby Got Back’…) Weird and cool, no? There are a lot of theories about what the statue represents, like fertility goddess, a toy or even prehistoric pornography! The one thread that really caught my attention is the notion that it represents a goddess, worshipped by males; something to do with the ‘mystery’ embodied by the female, in the mind of the prehistoric male. Although some would say “Is there really a difference in the modern man?”

No argument from me on that one! The ladies have always been mysterious to me, have always had a sway over me that I couldn’t explain. At first I wasn’t aware I was being ‘hyp-no-tised!’, I just knew that in the presence of females in general and some females in particular that I wanted to be around them. As a kid, there were three cousins in particular that could get me all flustered. I’ll call them MJ/S/D for short. They were all older than me, and at family get-togethers I remember thinking they were the prettiest ladies I had ever seen. And to me they still are, although MJ sadly enough, passed away a few years back. (I really miss her big laugh). Plus, this was roughly the same time that Charlie’s Angels was on the tube, and I had some serious crushes on Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith (oddly, Farrah Fawcett?...meh):



My cousins had a bit of the Kate/Jaclyn vibe going on. That sort of thing, at the time, had the power to make me get real confused and quiet. And I had no clue back then just how dumbstruck I really was. When it came to the ridiculous, Neanderthal antics many of my male teenage peers engaged in to attract the ladies, I was outclassed. I could barely compete. I liked the females too much as people, was too shy, couldn’t bring myself to do it. As my general lack of steady girlfriends would confirm. It occurred to me much later that a lot of those guys were acting like typical alpha-male knuckleheads because they were probably either 1) not very self-aware or 2) were even more frightened than I was at the power girls held over us lads.

“She’ll pull it out on the river – she’s gussied up like sin,
You got jack all squat – you you’re a violin
And you’re gonna get played…”

-“The Fix Is On” by Peter Mulvey


So you probably see where this was going to go. This problem, if I could call it that, persists until this very day. From the females who knew me as a kid, to my first girlfriend G. in junior high and my last girlfriend S. before I went to college, to the short flings in college before I met the woman who went from girlfriend to fiancé to The Spouse, and even now with my beautiful Wee Lass: I am a violin, I have been played. Truth be known, now it doesn’t bother me as much. I slowly became aware of this tendency in college and I learned how to work around it. I figured out something, I guess. I managed to get married and eventually fathered three kids!

But I never really figured out how to defuse the reflex. It gets me every now and then. Case in point, the video for
Mysterious Ways by U2: it has a belly dancer. A really, really nice belly dancer. When the video first came out, I would see it and DING! Stop, drop and slack-jawed. Every single damn time. I hadn’t seen it in years until just the other day as I was goofing around on YouTube, I stumbled across it: deer meets headlights, around minutes 2 and 3:



As Bono explains:

“…Let her talk about the things you can't explain.
To touch is to heal, to hurt is to steal.
If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel
On your knees, boy!”


Goddess, I already am.

16 December 2008

Return To The Panic Hole

The Panic Hole. I have mentioned it before on this blog. And today I took a trip back there, unintended and involuntarily and completely necessary. Because if I hadn’t I think I may have started screaming and dived out my dining room window.

My dining room window is about ten to twelve feet off the ground. It would have hurt. Instead I got up and ran.

It happened about 10:30 this morning, as I sat at my computer making a heroic and painful effort to revise my resume. I had been at it for about two hours, and the going was tough. I didn’t expect it to be so difficult. How hard can it be to update what is basically a laundry list of where, what and when? Admittedly I haven’t seriously reworked my resume in almost (OH MY GOD) ten years; the last time in 2005 doesn’t count because I was going to work for a company for which I had previously worked. That was more like adding some notes in the margins.

The whole idea of reworking the resume had me antsy from the start. I was resisting, the hothead grouch in the back of my head kept screaming ‘I shouldn’t have to do this! Where the fuck did my job go?’ Shouting back wasn’t helping. I was cursing at some stubborn formatting issues that I could not resolve when my vision started to get a little wonky, like one of those dream sequence fade-ins on ‘The Brady Bunch’ or ‘Gilligan’s Island’. My heart started to race and I felt queasy-weak. The muscles in my arms and legs felt twitchy and leaden at the same time. Panic was setting in, so I got up and ran. I grabbed my iPod (I should just surgically attach it, it goes everywhere with me now. Except the toilet, and that may change.) put on my coat, scarf and hat and hotfooted it out of the house before I threw up or fainted. I jumped in my car and drove over to my nearest panic hole, a lake and park not too far from my house. It was reflex, pure and simple.

A cold day, pewter sky sprinkling a fine spray of sleet as I got out of the car and set out on a fast walk on the path around the lake. For some reason, I decided to not put on the headphones this time. It was quiet, well, PEOPLE quiet, and I wanted to minimize the man-made noises. What I needed was calm. My heart was still racing and my head was pounding. The air was chilly damp, but it didn’t seem to faze the birds and waterfowl. They were out in force. I rounded the second curve down by the lake and a bright scarlet cardinal flitted across the path right in front of me. The color was amazing against the backdrop of gray tree trunks and brown leaves. There was a flotilla of Canadian geese out on the water. They were honking softly, gliding over water like rippled glass. Something inside me began to unwind, a clock spring ticking over. I crossed the bridge at the west end of the lake. To my left, out on the water, I saw a cluster of smaller ducks. Diver ducks, maybe eiders or buffleheads. They resembled a school of fish in the way they were skittering around on the lake. I drew my first deep breath of the day. The cold air felt good way down in the bottom of my lungs. I felt another unloosening in my gut and the beginnings of a smile.

Climbing a small hill I make my way along the north shore of the lake. A steep embankment is to the left, lake to the right, the path at the bottom of a slope thick with trees. Bird chirps fill the air and form a nice counterpoint to the faint roar of a jet plane flying somewhere overhead. I startle a squirrel, which spasmodically scales a tree with a loud chittering noise. He rotates on the side of the tree and gives me the stinkeye. He swishes his tail in a gesture I think was meant to be menacing. I chuckle and apologize, assuring him I mean no harm. With a few wrinkles of his snout he scurries up the tree and out of sight.

Legs and arms are feeling loose, now that I have warmed up a bit. My breathing has stabilized. Air rushes in and out of my lungs, tasting faintly of snow and iron. Sleet is falling gently with a wonderful sizzling sound as it hits the leaves blanketing the ground. It reminds me of frying bacon, an impression strengthened by an unexpected faint whiff of wood smoke. I have fallen into a pleasant rhythm of swinging limbs and deep breaths. Sakes alive, it feels good to breathe so deep I can feel the tension drain away from my belly! Just like I was taught in my yoga classes from a few years ago. I can hear the voice of the instructor: ‘Remember to breathe, let it go, and breathe’. It is amazing that a simple thing like a loose diaphragm (no, not that kind!) can have such an incredible effect on feeling better.

Walkbreathewalkbreathewalkbreathe. I cross another bridge and enter the “Arboretum”, one of my favorite parts of the trail. The path wends its way on a gentle curve through a grove of tall, straight trees. No leaves at this time of the year. The trunks remind me of masts and the wood beams of the Lutheran church I attended as a child. Peace has worked its way through my skin and is working on the bones. The clock spring in my belly unwinds a bit more as I exit the cathedral and make my way towards the massive berm that forms the east end of the lake. The wind picks up because there are no trees to block it as it blows down the open water. A few bedraggled seagulls float in the water near the spillway. A few diver ducks are swimming in circles. Finally, I smile wide and laugh out loud on a deep lungful of wintery air. The gulls eye me with mild interest and then return to sulking in the wind.

My companions for the rest of this interlude in the panic hole are geese, two crows, and a lone canvasback duck. The duck was a surprise, I haven’t seen one at the lake until now. I raise my hand in greeting and the canvasback continues his slow glide over quicksilver wavelets. Time has slowed and whatever had me in its grip has let go. I am back to feeling human. My friend the blue heron is nowhere in sight, but that is okay. Maybe he, like me, took off for his panic hole. Heron, breathe with me.

15 December 2008

How Many Shoes Is That In Dog Terms?

From the Unintentionally Funny Files, we have another good 'un! I read about this in this morning's paper, and after I wiped up the bits of scone I sprayed over the page I reckoned that this was definitely mock-worthy:



We certainly have not seen anything approaching the antics in the smackdown that is the Taiwanese legislature:



About the closest we ever seem to get here (beyond the occasional pie throwing incident) is some offhanded cussing:



The shoe throwing incident just about ices the cake. I am not condoning any kind of violence against individuals, but while I was watching the various videos of the event, I couldn't help but feel a little...sympathetic?... towards the reporter who threw the shoes. I guess that is because of the unbearable frustration he was feeling, that many of us are all feeling here and around the world with the Current Occupant. Even now, in the waning days of an administration that has given new depth to the word 'clueless' there are still declarations that that things are just great, and we are winning, that victory is in sight (please, sir, define 'victory' when we still don't really have a good explanation for 'starting this mess') and it just comes across as violently galling.

What a fine example of the amazing cultural differences that exist around the world. The fact that the reporter threw his shoes at POTUS (POTUS sounds like a good hillbilly name: 'Potus, git yer ass out of that trash can!) speaks volumes about how many Iraqis probably feel. I'm sure that many Iraqis were glad to see Saddam Hussein gone, but look at the collateral damage! And then the person chiefly responsible for setting in motion the events that led to the horrible violence, misery and near destruction of their country shows up saying something like 'Great, we're doin' great, y'all!' Well, how would you expect them to feel? Throwing shoes is a sign of contempt in that part of the world ("A farewell kiss to a dog", is that what he said?), and probably one of the most effective methods of expressing displeasure that most likely would not result in personal injury.

Who knows, maybe the guy was intoxicated. Maybe he is secretly affiliated with an insurgent group. Maybe he is just a nutcase with an axe to grind. Or maybe he was just a fairly ordinary citizen who has seen his country torn apart, and was just fed up with it all. I'm glad nobody was hurt, but you have to admire the chutzpah. And in all fairness, W deserves some props: he ducked those shoes like a pro. But then, he's had a lot of practice.

14 December 2008

Monkey Wrenched While Searching All My Life

“One last thing before I quit
I never wanted any more than
I could fit into my head I still remember
Every single word you said and all the
Shit that somehow came along with it
Still there's one thing that comforts me
Since I was always caged and now I'm free “

-From “Monkey Wrench” by Foo Fighters

I admit I am jealous. I wish I could sing that passage at full volume in one breath like Dave Grohl (at least, it sounds like he does it one breath) but I cannot. I always have to take at least two, sometimes three intermediate breaths, especially in order to carry out that last screaming sentence. This sounds great in my car. I hope I haven’t disturbed any of my fellow commuters with my cathartic performances.

The song itself took on new meaning for me since I looked up the lyrics a few months ago, on THIS LINK from the Foo Fighters website. I thought I knew most of the words, and I did, but what really got my attention was the little explanation from Dave Grohl, up near the masthead. When you listen to “Monkey Wrench”, it soon becomes apparent what is meant. He doesn’t want to be a problem for someone else. When I read the explanation, though, it presented a nuance I had not previously picked up: to cease to be a problem means to end that relationship in which one is the source of the problem. The song is about relationship between individuals, but could easily be applied to groups, or even a relationship with oneself.

Twisted, no? It came to mind this past week as I was ruminating (cursing and screaming) on having been laid off from my job. Why is that? Because whenever something has gone wrong in my working life, especially this extreme, I never really stopped to consider the consequences of my own behaviors. In the past, my own ego was getting in the way, obscuring the real events before my eyes and the feelings in my own heart. My first bout of unemployment years ago was triggered by similar events as the current crisis. But at the time I gave no mind to own behaviors prior to the layoff. It was not until years later that it hit me that maybe I had been too cavalier in my approach to building a career. I suppose there were things I could have done, hours I could have spent, that would have made me less of a target come layoff time. This was my Ego blinding me; I thought I was gold-plated and bulletproof. When I got laid off, it was THEIR problem, a mistake that THEY would realize after I was gone, suckas!

In short, I was a foolish young man. It continued, for years and years. I made three job changes voluntarily in the span of about sixteen years, each time after slowly increasing unhappiness that I believed to be the result of circumstances entirely external to myself. Ha. What a fool I was. Tricked by my own ego.

So it was with my last (lost) job. This time it was different, and I knew it. Since the death of my first two children in 2003, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in my own head, trying to figure out what really makes me tick. In that time I slowly came to understand the reasons behind my unhappiness: I kept taking jobs that repeated the mistakes I was making. This time, I knew in my heart that what I was doing (project manager) was not what I was suited to do. But I did it anyway, for the money, for the security, for the sake of justifying my degree.

Too bad I wasn’t doing something that also made me happy. I had the epiphany earlier this year that I was indeed very unhappy, and it showed. It affected my performance, in ways subtle and far-reaching, and not nearly as invisible as I convinced myself they were. The people around me knew it as well. Most of them were too nice (or maybe too polite) to confront me directly, and thick-headed as I was (my nickname as a baby was ‘The Bull’) I knew but didn’t acknowledge the fallout. There were times where I was probably not as discreet as I should have been, and I am not so naïve as to think that had nothing to do with me getting the pink slip. Was it the primary or sole reason? No. The economics of the situation say otherwise. I’ll take some cold comfort there.

But I do know this: I was becoming, perhaps had always been, my own personal monkey wrench. My heart and my subconscious were acting out, because my conscious mind was blinded by ego and an inability to admit that mistakes had been made. Thus, this layoff I take to be a sign. It is time to start making the tool work for me, instead of being worked by the tool.

“Don't want to be your monkey wrench
One more indecent accident
I'd rather leave than suffer this
I'll never be your monkey wrench”

Well said, Dave Grohl. Ha! The Foo Fighters helped me see the light!

13 December 2008

An Intriguing Series Of Random Encounters

A little ‘amuse cerveau’ on this brisk fall Saturday…

RANDOM ENCOUNTER NUMBER 1:
A few days ago, I was over at Waffles Waffles All Day Long, where the lovely Rebekah had an amusing post about Cowboy Kittens. Funny and perhaps a little disturbing (the subject, not the author. I mean, the author is funny, the subject maybe disturbing. Or something like that. Oh, never mind.) This story came to mind while I was in a local outpost of a major bookstore chain, looking for the elusive ‘Page-A-Day Cat Calendar’. The real McCoy, mind you, that says ‘365 Cats’. No wannabe knockoff gifts for my moms, that’s for sure! While I was looking for it, I came across the ‘Bad Cats’ page-a-day calendar. This is the ‘naughty’ cousin of the one I was looking for, with ‘amusing’ and ‘hilarious’ pictures of ‘bad cats’ in action. It comes complete with silly captions. What really made me laugh was the blurb on the back. I had my camera with me so I snapped a quick picture. If it looks blurry it’s because I was giggling and trying to do it quickly so the store staff would not come after ‘the weirdo taking pictures over in Calendars!’:


Cats on toilets. Who knew this was a money-making opportunity?

RANDOM ENCOUNTER NUMBER 2:
This one was a bit nervous making. This afternoon, I had the unenviable task of travelling to my (former) office to gather my remaining personal effects. I was eager to get there and get it over with as quickly as possible. As a consequence I was not minding my speed on I-95 as closely as prudence would dictate. Near my usual exit, there is another ramp discharging cars from the right onto the highway. This afternoon, traffic there was heavy and a line of slow moving cars all bunched together was merging in front of the car that was in front of me. The car ahead of me was slowing down and trying to get over to the left. Impatient as I was, I did not decelerate as I should have when the car in front finally moved over. The next car up had its blinkers on, travelling really slow. I failed to register JUST HOW SLOW IT WAS GOING, and I nearly jammed my foot through the floor stomping on the brakes. For a heart-stopping second I thought I was going to ram right into the car in front of me. Fortunately, just before our bumpers would have collided, they sped up slightly and I slowed down just enough. I also managed to avoid being clobbered by the car behind me. Sucking in a sharp breath, it was then I noticed the sign in the back window if the car I had nearly rear-ended:

FUNERAL

On my way to clear out my former desk, and I nearly crash headlong into a funeral procession. Karma sure has a sick sense of humor.

RANDOM ENCOUNTER NUMBER 3:
It is my custom on Fridays to take my Wee Lass to a local bagel store, for breakfast before I would drop her off at day care, and I would then head off to work. We followed the routine yesterday, even though the day before had been my last at work due to layoff (see posts of 12/10 and 12/12 for illumination). This bagel store has a storefront that faces the parking lot of the shopping center in which it is located. Along the storefront is a high counter with stools, and this has become Wee Lass’ favorite perch while we eat. (For those of you keeping score, Wee Lass was eating a chocolate chip muffin; I had my twofer of a toasted sesame bagel with hummus/toasted salt bagel with lox spread. Mmmm..). Right out in front on the sidewalk is a wrought iron trash can container. Wee Lass was chewing contentedly on the muffin and staring thoughtfully at the trash can. She suddenly cocked an eyebrow, turned to me and said in a serious voice:

“Daddy, trash cans don’t have feet.”

I didn’t quite snort tea out of my nose. I had to agree with her. The trash can did not have feet. Statements like that, though, make me wish I could channel her train of thought.

12 December 2008

I Am (Not) a Rock, I Am (Not) an Island

Setting: Office cubicle, somewhere in Baltimore, Maryland. It is late morning on a cold, rainy day. Sitting in his office chair, a middle-aged architect stares out the window at the grey, wet street and contemplates a future without his current job. He rubs his temples and coughs, thinking this is what it feels to be a dead man walkin’…

If my last day at work had been a movie, it would have bordered on cliché. All the requisite somber faces, the packing up of personal effects, a cubicle with bare walls and dust bunnies on the countertops. Even the weather was playing it up: cold, grey and raining. All day I had that weird feeling of being an outsider, a fifth wheel, a good friend with a contagious disease. Thinking about that this morning when I woke up, I started to laugh. I couldn’t have written a better script without it being totally ridiculous.

Yesterday I received a grand total of two phone calls. No regrets there, I was never keen on working the phones anyway. But it was weird to overhear a page or a call that ordinarily would have come to me ending up with someone else. Conversations like that make me feel like I was overhearing secrets through a closed door, discussions about me in the third person. Remember when you were little, and you parents would talk about you to others, in your presence, as if you weren’t there? Yeah, it was like that.

I was struggling to put my feelings into words, as if naming them would make them less noticeable. Was it regret I was feeling? Was it sadness? Relief? I finally decided it was a mix of the three. A gumbo of emotions, one might say. Hah. Regret that this had happened, sadness that I was leaving against my will, relief that it was over.

The wonderful people I worked with, my colleagues, asked me if I wanted to go out for lunch. Of course I did; no way was I working through lunch THIS time! I did not realize at the time just how many were coming. When we got to the restaurant, there were nine other people at the table! Counting me, over half the office was there. I was touched and honored. The curmudgeon in me was feeling small and fading fast.

Cut to close-up: “Dead man walkin’!” the warden shouts. The condemned musters all the dignity he can, making his way through the office for a last round of handshakes, hugs and goodbyes. The quiver in his voice doesn’t quite disappear. Mercifully his eyes stay dry, no easy task as his officemates offer thanks and regrets, sympathy and warmth. One last hug and a final walk to the dim, cold garage where his car awaits. The steel door shuts behind him, a dull boom that seems unusually loud. He starts the car, opens the garage door, and drives slowly out into the cold rain falling from a sky the color of beaten lead.

So the cameras continued to roll as I drove away from my career perch for the last three years. I did look back once, but not for long. The road leading over to I-95 is a busy one, and I didn’t want to compound the misery by rear-ending another car. It is about a mile to the underpass where I always turned right to get to the interstate ramp.

It is dark under the highway. I consider it a record of sorts that I did not burst into tears until I had made that right turn and was heading up the ramp up onto I-95. And do you know how hard it is to drive at highway speeds, when it is raining, getting dark and your eyes are filling up with tears? VERY hard. I do not recommend it. I felt really stupid at first. Why was I crying? Because I was forced out of a position that, in reality, wasn’t optimized for my happiness? Because the Universe is a harsh, uncaring place and life isn’t fair? Maybe yes on both counts, but only a little bit. There will be other jobs and the universe has always been that way.

The real reason, the main reason, was because I had to leave behind some relationships that were teaching me to truly be human. Three years is not that long in the lifespan of career, but it was long enough. In spite of my animal nature, I was (and hopefully still am) on the way to opening up as human being. I know that this isn’t the end of everything, but I couldn’t help the sadness. The universe may be an uncaring place, but the people in it do not have to be. This is why I broke down; I may never be able to repay the kindnesses I received, the lessons I learned. All I can offer is my gratitude and my thanks.

A job is a job but it is people that matter. I’m thankful I learned that before it was too late.