30 November 2010

Scent of Our Archaeology

Sighing deep, the aromas inhaled
curl around a memory trigger
firing bullets of the past

Heart folds around the impact as
radiators emit the smell of toast
and us, back when the world was young

Aroma of adulthood rising from the glass,
and desperate swallows drown the sting,
to disinfect the past, or bring it back

29 November 2010

The Tree at the Center of the World

The countryside is a particular shade of gray-brown outside of the towns, everything the luster of a dirty hen's egg laid bare in the wan November sunlight.  It is a color that has no name, I think, or at least not one you would care to remember.  Because who would want to remember something that reminds them of ghosts and distant love?

The trees all start to look the same, except the pines (of which there are more than a few) and the occasional leafy holdout showing off in a  last gasp of red or gold glory.  Even those few specimens look downcast, like a king who just lost the war, taking off his crown to hand over to the victor.  The only thing missing is a cast of crows alighting in the barren fields.  The few birds to be seen usually manifested as seagulls and waterfowl down by the many rivers crossed on this journey.  Every rule has an exception it seems, and this day was no different.  Somewhere close to the halfway point a quartet of turkey vultures was observed sitting on the ridge line of a small outbuilding on a farm that was passed.  Fitting for the time and mood, they had their backs to the sun and wings outspread, like exotic flowers soaking up the heat on a cold fall day, their feathers the petals.

The radio kept to a murmur, because the flower of my heart was napping in the backseat.  There are only so many farms she can see, barns and twisted oaks before the novelty (for her) wears off.  I didn't mind so much.  She needed the rest and I needed the quiet.  This drive through the eastern Virginia tidewater flatlands, from my boyhood home back to the place where my adult self keeps a bed, it lends itself to reflection and rumination.  There is a general lack of elevation, a scattering of 'artifacts' of civilization (silos, houses, tractors, signs) in combination with a sparseness of actual humans in the landscape.  I am attracted to this terrain, yet unsettled by it.  I want to live in this place, but fear I'd be more alone than I feel now.

So how far away is far enough?  How close is close enough?  These thoughts loop over and over as cruise control takes me closer to where I'll sleep tonight.  Almost all of the family that gave me life is slipping further and further behind.  I am a lighthouse keeper on a far, frozen rock and I'm watching the supply ship sail away into the mist.  I wave until my arms ache, the ship dissolving into the gray rim of the horizon, and I can only hope things will last, that the ship will come back.

It is no ship I'm on, only the 12-year old fading gray seat from which I captain the nondescript vehicle that is my car.  The wheel is worn under my hands, as is the shift lever, but they feel good.  Solid, in their own way.  The analogy I can think of is like well-made tools used for decades by the same craftsman, or perhaps a well-worn saddle perfectly broken in.  I do not kid myself that this car is a miracle of modern engineering, like some Swiss watch on wheels.  It does make me a tad melancholy to think that soon I may have to replace it.  It has indeed served me well, but the pasture beckons, as it were.

If only I had the stable in which to keep it.

Lunchtime approaches, as does the small town which is home to where I will eat, as is my new tradition.  The daughter isn't so thrilled, claiming she doesn't like their food, but my craving for a fried oyster sandwich will not be denied.  We always stop here on our way back.  The restaurant proclaims it is a family "tradition since 1938" and that simple phrase sends a pang through my heart, as we sit and scan the menu.  I look around at the old wood paneling, the heavy brown wood tables, the lines on the faces of some of the patrons.  A few look as if they have been coming here since 1938, but today I don't see that as the punchline to a joke.  I see it as a lifeline.  A thread.  A root connecting people to their past, through the soil of the present.  I am envious.

There is no drama to our order, the fried oysters a fait accompli for me, and Her Majesty confessed that she might eat a turkey sandwich, should one be brought before her.  And so it was.  I devoured mine with gusto, she had to be alternately plied with humor and threatened with loss of wishing well privileges in order to secure passage of a few nubbins of turkey down her gullet.

The wishing well is in the back, a treat for the kids, where they use a small "fishing pole" to snag any one of a number of plastic fish from the bottom.  They can then redeem the "catch" at the register for a trinket selected from a case at the front.  Her choice today was a plastic link bracelet, multi-hued and adorned with a green frog motif cast into the surface of each link.  Quite fetching, she thought, and just the sort of thing that her mommy would like. I smiled as she tried it on, and we turned to go.

It was then the insight flashed on me.  Watching my daughter skip-hop-march to the car,  I felt my earlier envy fade.  I have my lifeline, my thread: she is right there in front of me.  As she laughs in the November sunlight, I feel my roots spread out a little further, a little deeper.  Home may not be so far away as I think.

28 November 2010

Double Star

Looking out the back window
on leaves dusted with the silver
November moon like a polished dime

They skitter and frolic in the wind
while the heart spins with them
and the eyes track the sky

Taurus, the Seven Sisters and Orion
his belt a beacon, and a question,
begged by a soul beset with doubts

Is it true? Is it real, a twin system
of incandescences can survive together
even in hard vacuum all around?

Because this system is twinned no longer,
second light spun into interstellar black,
The first now dimmer, poorer, colder.

27 November 2010

Leaving House, Looking for Home

Jack Marlowe left it all behind, in his forty-ninth year.  It was a train that did it.  Jack was sitting at the dining table, staring down at the solitary plate, when he heard the train horn blow from across the river valley.  That wasn't the sound he wanted to hear on the 26th of November. 

A tear tracked down his right cheek as he picked up the lone wine glass and hurled it straight into the antique mirror on the wall across from his seat.  The resulting crash of shattering glass affected him not at all.  He calmly brushed a few errant crumbs of glass off of his sleeves, careful not to drag any into the skin of his fingers.

The cat sat mute, wide-eyed, scrunched under the couch.  Its eyes darted back and forth while a terrified mewl escaped from its mouth.  Jack acted as if he had not heard.

He stood, flipped the table over on its side, and marched upstairs.  The cat took off for the safety of the kitchen, a fuzzy streak of light beelining for the pet door into the mudroom.  There was a loud series of slams and thuds upstairs and then an abrupt quiet.  Softly, almost delicately, Jack padded down the stairs.  In his hand was a small suitcase, battered black plastic, and crammed with as many clothes as Jack could grab in five minutes.  He set the case down.

Walking into the kitchen, he grabbed two bottles of water from the refrigerator, leaving the door open.  He reached over to the stove and slammed open the door.  He rapidly turned on all the burners, skipping past the tickticktick of the automatic igniters.  The scent of rotten eggs suffused the room.  Jack spun around on his heels,  raced back to the living room and picked up the case.  He ran out the front door, not bothering to see if the door shut.

Lights flickered, the alarm yelped.  Jack slid into his car to push the key into the ignition before he had the door closed.  He saw himself in the mirror, briefly, and found to his surprise he didn't look panicked or upset.  Mostly tired.  The eyes of resignation and resolve.  The eyes of change long overdue, wide with recognition.  Starting the car, he raced the engine and took off leaving only a screech of tires in front of the house.

Three miles and five minutes later, Jack heard a distant thud almost like thunder.  He thought he felt a wave of pressure through his chest.  Looking in the rear view he could spy short black cloud forming, somewhere back there in the vicinity of his former home.  Flicking his eyes downward to check his speed, Jack decided he wasn't moving fast enough.  He pushed the accelerator down hard.

Behind him, sirens began to wail, but he knew they weren't coming for him.  He sped off into the evening.  Up ahead, the train was coming to the intersection, horn blaring.  Jack ignored the sound, foot on the pedal and dreaming his dreams of home.

26 November 2010

Cellar of the Devil

In the aqueous humor of bar light, the wine in Jason's glass was looking like blood, and this disturbed him to the point that he hesitated to bring the glass to his lips again.  The bottle was near two-thirds gone.  Jason's stomach trembled a little.  His arm relaxed as he gingerly set the glass down on the worn zinc of the bar top.  A ragged sigh escaped his lips and he wiped at tired eyes gone dry.  He was tired, and slightly drunk.  Contemplating the implications of wine and blood was nothing he cared to do even when sober.

Jason leaned back in his bar stool and gazed owlishly at himself distorted through the bottles on the back bar, arrayed in front of the mirror.  He was shocked at how tired he looked, and rumpled.  He straightened up, embarrassed.  This was no way to end a shitty Wednesday, no sir, he told himself.

It was a semi-quiet night at the Mort Subite, Jason's watering hole of choice when his hankering for a good Belgian brew outweighed his normal fondness for stout.  Looking about, he could see the regulars in their usual spots.  The Lawyer and the Countess sharing breath at the far end of the bar.  Vincent the Broker and his cronies staking out the middle ground, laughing a bit too loud at their own jokes.  Moody Jim, or Eeyore as Jason called him, spinning another downer story to Angelique and Jock, the native Belgians who owned the place.  Angelique usually took pity on Jim, but Jock just rolled his eyes and looked to serving the customers as an escape route.  Tonight was no different.

No different, Jason thought, except I'm drinking wine instead of lambic and I've no idea why.

He took a deep breath while refocusing his eyes.  On the bar top, the cork from the bottle lay next to his glass.  He could just barely make out some writing on the side, it was too dim to read at arm's length.  Jason realized he had forgotten what he had ordered.  He reached out and picked up the cork, squinting at the blurry ink.  It read "Casillero del Diablo".  Jason chuckled grimly, his rusty college Spanish rendering it as "Cellar of the Devil".  Looking up and around the dimly lit bar, he thought it a fitting moniker.  He brought the cork to his nose, to inhale...

...and tumbled into a pool of memories, soundtracked by a laugh, a voice that could stop time and mend broken bones.  Hair that felt like straw and silk, skin like cream in your coffee with a taste of salt and sunlight.  She was sitting across the table, the patio door open and copper-salt smell of the ocean breeze surrounding them.  Wineglasses sparkling like huge rubies on the glass table top.  Hands together, eyes locked on his and that smile, oh, that smile.  That last weekend getaway of theirs played out in his head.  Jason swayed in his seat, feeling that whirlpool opening beneath his feet.  He grabbed the edge of the bar, desperate to stop the spin before he fell, like he had the day she left...

"Jason, are you okay?"  Jock's voice shattered the bubble Jason had felt forming around him.  He opened his eyes, blinking and breathless.  Embarrassed, he shook his head to clear it.

"Yeah, Jock, I'm okay," he said with a weak grin, "That's what I get for..." he trailed off, not wanting to say That's what I get for drinking wine that tastes like a lover long gone, on top of a heart too full to swallow anymore bitter.  He cleared his throat and started over.

"That's what I get for having one glass too many, my friend."  He stood to leave, taking his wallet from his jacket pocket and tossing some bills on the bar.  "It's good, but I believe I'm done with that bottle."

Jock shrugged, offered a noncommittal smile while scooping up the money, saying "Good night, my friend."

Jason thanked him and made his way on wobbly legs towards the door.  Just before he got there, he remembered the cork in his hand.  He stopped, swaying and confused.  turning around, he made his way back to the bar and dropped the cork in front of Jock, who raised an eyebrow to Jason.  Jason smiled.

"Some things, " Jason said, "are best left in the cellar.  Goodnight, again."  Jock just shrugged. Jason turned back, navigating his way to the door like a tanker in shallow water, and surfaced in a cool November of forgetting.

25 November 2010


Often the simplest, humblest things make the best gifts.  The challenge for us, as humans with filters, preconceptions and biases, is to recognize the simple, humble thing as being a gift.  No easy task these days, when Thanksgiving is often over-commercialized as a day to "spend time with family and share good times and a meal", when what they really mean is a time for eating too much, watching football and then prepping for the Black Friday sales.  Because nothing says "I'm thankful" like a shopping spree one can't afford, to buy things you want for people you may not like.  And keep doing that all the way through the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Ah, I digress.  This was not meant as a Scroogey screed against one of the biggest holidays in America.

In the spirit of simple is better, I'll keep this short.  The best gift one can receive, in my opinion anyway, is one that often isn't dressed up in shiny finery.  It doesn't necessarily advertise itself, or stand out from the noise and clatter of everyday life.  It may even sidle up to you quietly, waiting patiently for you to notice...and when you do, you'll be forever grateful.

When others open up their lives to you, invite you in, break bread with you, no matter how humble or grand...this truly is worth the price of admission to be a human being.  Excess and consumerism pale in comparison, when you have the honor of sharing space, time and nourishment (for the body and the soul) with those who offer these things out of love.  Remember that, this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving, to my fellow humans.  May we share bread and salt.

Special thanks, and love, to The Missus and The Mister for the inspiration.

24 November 2010

Lament of the Silverback

On a quiet Saturday night
the primate stares into the mirror
seeing pewter amongst the chestnut

it wonders then, if its lineage is true
does that make it king of the forest?
Or a silverback beset by the young?

23 November 2010

Travelogue of the Seeker

I wonder if I could live my life as a traveler, if a living could be made from roving from place to place and writing whatever came into my head.  Picture that: a life illuminated by random throws of darts at a map, to go where the sharp end takes me.

That sounds vaguely like the life of a travel writer, doesn't it?  I'm not so sure I could do it.  Still, the idea of it appeals to me.  More so because the chance to get away, than for the opportunity to write a "review".  Wait, reviews would mean 'travel guide' writer, not so much just travel writer.  Maybe that's what I mean.  I could be a travel writer, if that entailed me traveling, then writing about the aspects that interest me, not critiquing things or experiences for others.

There are days where I want to do it.  Sell all my stuff, by an RV and drive around observing, watching, listening.  I'd want to know more about how life is conducted in places outside my own.  How people earn their daily bread (or how they make their daily bread), the terrain of their surroundings (urban, rural or in between), and what they like to eat (and where they get it).  The flesh and bones of this world enchant me.

Then, I could retreat to my room in a local bed & breakfast, or hotel, and calmly, deliberately, parse out the evidence of my senses on the page or the monitor.  Would that not be grand, to lay eyes on a different body of water, fill the lungs with different air, anoint the ears with the sound of a different voice?  Then, have the luxury of writing it out?  Yes, yes it would.  To travel far, and see the moon from a different angle, and shape it with words: that would be contentment.

The waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Nantucket Sound are a shared ocean, but the waves in each are separate voices.  I want to listen to them all, write their biographies.  That way, when I return home, as I always do, I'll have some company at the fireside.  We'll raise a toast, and dream of our next adventure.

Where do you want to wake up next, what voices do you want to hear?

22 November 2010

Lake Effect

Seen but not seen
murmuring waters whisper
over the wind

Over the horizon
waves caress the beach
pas de deux, sand and water

Head lifts, eyes emerge
nose up into the breeze
sensing a heartbeat

Grayish pearl of the sun
breaks through the clouds
hands pressing chest

Drumbeats pounding inside
a cage of flesh and bone,
calling love home

21 November 2010

Sound of Semi-Silence

Another quiet night here at the homestead, finally, after more time running myself into the ground, full up on activities and work and stuff.  The radio is off, had to give my ears a break.  I was listening to the iPod all day, then put a CD in the player while driving hither and yon.  Slow traffic makes for interesting listening sometimes, and in this case I was diggin' the grooves laid down by Cut Chemist and Shortkut, two California-based DJ's who reminded me that turntable scratch, in the right hands, is just good stuff.  A colleague of mine loaned me a CD of a collaborative project they did back in 1997, and it is earworthy, no doubt.

So, as I was saying, a quiet night.  The noises are refrigerator hum, an airplane and faint wind plus traffic.  Soothing in their own way.  Funny, on nights like this, I don't often think of the click of the keyboard as 'noise'.  It most certainly is, though.  I wonder why.  Maybe its like fish think of water: it's there, all around them, they are fully immersed in the stuff...so it ceases to register.

Writing is like that for me.  No, its more accurate to say typing, but typing as a function of writing.  When I write for myself, which is a lot, I tend not to notice the clicks.  When I'm typing at work?  Then the clicking really starts to grate.  Fortunately, I am home, and writing.

And listening.

To the cars outside.  The sound of my breath.  The hum of the appliances.  In this house, when the radio is off, the sounds tend to fall off faster than I had come to expect, from living in newer apartments and houses prior to this one.  Maybe its the plaster interior walls, or the mass of the brick and stone.  Whatever the reason, I like it.  This place is, on average, a lot quieter than my previous house and certainly over the apartment I lived in last year.  It makes me feel calm.

Which I need.  Calm, that is.

The calm makes me introspective in a way different than being wired or anxious.  It's slower, more contemplative.  Earlier I looked at myself in the mirror while trimming my beard, and in the snicksnick of the scissors I flashed on the notion that my life is not really under my control, nor is it completely out of my control, and that I really don't know where I am regarding just who I think I am, what I want, and how to figure it out.  To wit, in the past five days, I felt like running away to Rio, becoming a potter, learning how to weld stuff, staying home and doing nothing but cook good food and taking up the art of DJ'ing.  Go figure.

At that realization, I looked at myself again in the mirror, just stared.  I had the feeling that I didn't really know that person staring back at me...but I felt like I really wanted to know him.  To make that happen, I suppose I'll have to sit down with him and listen, really, truly, listen.

There's something going on in there, behind those blue-gray eyes...and I want to know what it is.

20 November 2010

WOFF: The New Music Alternative

Another night, just another night and the goddamn radio or mp3 player or streaming audio or whatever the device du jour,  it is possessed by demons.  Sonsabitches get inside the head and play whatever they want to play, DJ's from the hell, for sure.

Because every song you hear is a song that drives another needle into the heart, and you curse the bastards and tell them not to stop.  Think to throw the diabolical device out the window, and you know you won't be able to.  Because then you won't be able to hear every song as a love song, a heartbreak song, a love gone wrong song, another blow to the heart song...a love gone away song.

When did this happen? How did it happen? Even the goddamn shuffle is the enemy, because no matter what comes up, it brings memories with it.  Some good, some bad, many just too much to bear for one reason or another, and some days it seems overwhelming.  Elevator music for 100 floors of melancholy.  Too planned.  As if directed by intelligence, or malice.  Thousands of songs, days worth of music...and the ones that get played are the ones that play you.

So, for it...the only thing to do, as you often do, is hit 'Skip'...

...or find a quiet spot where no one can see, and listen to the memories...and learn to embrace them all.

19 November 2010

Farging Bastiches Friday: The Curmudgeon Files

Apologies, dear readers, as I must indulge myself a rant, in bullet point form:

  •  Being possessed of a pulse, a uniform and a job does not make one a hero.  Being 'heroic' (i.e. showing great courage, exhibiting noble qualities, and great achievements) makes one a hero.  Calling someone a hero because they got out of bed and put on their pants only cheapens the ideal, and means that if everyone is a "hero", no one is a hero.  You want to be a hero? Then do something truly heroic.
  • Being possessed of great religious conviction does not equate with being possessed of superior morals or ideas.  If you ask a stranger what faith they profess, ostensibly to have a polite discussion about belief, only to quickly turn it into a thinly veiled lecture on why their relationship with God isn't the "right" relationship, and that yours is, then you have disqualified yourself from being a truly humble practitioner of faith.  No one can truly know the mind of God, so don't even try, you hypocrites.  Corollary:  When the party you have just insulted and patronized by denying the legitimacy of their belief system reacts by disagreeing with you, said disagreement does not constitute persecution of you as a believer of a different faith, nor does it constitute an insult to your faith.  The person simply does not believe what you believe.  Different belief is just that; different, not wrong.  So get over yourselves, you tinpot martyrs.  Cry your crocodile tears somewhere else.
  • Being a newly elected Republicanfacisticteabaggernutjob U.S. Representative or Senator does NOT mean you are possessed of a God-given, "will-o-the-people" mandate to enact every ill-thought out piece of legislation in your Big Box of Crazy Ideas.  You won that seat because people wanted to change things, and because this supposed democracy is heavily weighted to the two-party system, the people who wanted to change things voted for you because YOU WEREN'T THE GUY/GAL ALREADY IN OFFICE, not because your stupid ideas and close-minded thinking were so attractive.  There were no real, viable third-party alternatives.  So get your heads out of your own asses, and stop looking in the mirror so damn much.
  • Being excited about getting up at 3:00 a.m. on Black Friday does not make you the envy of the neighborhood, or an example to be imitated.  It does not make you worthy of respect, and it does not make you nearly as cool and fascinating as you think you are.  What it does do is make you a tool.  A Pavlovian, programmed consumerist tool, beholden to whatever megacorporations have hoodwinked you into believing that the latest/greatest app/gadget/machine/toy is the only way to show how much you care for the people you want to give gifts to.  Good thing the product life cycles are so short, that way you can do it all again next year!  Seriously, though?  Do you really want to be at the end of your days, thinking "Wow, it was so cool that I was the first one with an xBox 3000, way back in '10!"  Hate to break it to you, Sparky: NO ONE CARES.
  • F-book (or any other Internet-intensive New Economy company) announcing it will be "making a play" for the market by offering services that other companies already offer...is not news.  So, all you local news anchors hawking thinly veiled ads for said companies under the aegis of "Consumer Watch" human interest stories? Shut up.  Just shut up.  I. Don't. Care.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
  • Putting any humble food (like french fries) on a pretty plate, and taking a glossy picture of it, and adding the word "GOURMET" to the description, does not make automatically that food "gourmet".  If you want to make french fries "gourmet",  let's see them fresh-cut to order, twice-fried, properly drained and served with side of say, chipotle aioli or homemade mushroom ketchup.  Plus, a waiter should bring them to the table.  DO NOT let some bored high school kid dump a block of batter-coated frozen fries into stale grease, oversalt them and dump them (undrained) into what will become a grease-soaked recycled paper boat, accompanied by a fistful of 'ketchup' packets.  Really, if you want to impress people, just make them hot, crispy and with the right amount of salt.  If you can do that simple thing well, you will go far in life.
Here endeth the rant.

All of then above items I have recently heard or seen in person or through various forms of media, and the irritation factor reached critical mass, hence this post.  It may be a long winter, folks...maybe I'll just put my fingers in my ears and shout "La, la, la..."

18 November 2010

Blessings of the Rain

Sitting at the table, reading something, can't remember what, but does it matter?  No, what matters is the sound of the rain, that soft sizzle of drops on pavement interrupted by the slow sound of torn wrapping paper as a car drives down the street.  Funny how a sound, a moment can be a life saver, give you focus pull you out of the grips of whatever it was what had its claws wrapped around your ankles and dragging down into the deep.

Thank God or Allah or Yahweh or Krishna or Buddha (in no particular order) for that, for the simple gift of rain on a lonely midweek night.  Another one in a long string of lonely ones.  But hey, stop that, cut it out right now, yeah?  Weren't thanks just offered for the rain?  Yes, they were, of course, because the rain is beautiful when it falls like that: just enough to give life without washing everything out in a flood.

Looking out the window into the diamond-studded dark on the streets, the glints and twinkles of sodium glare and headlights coruscating down the street.  The headlights bring hope, but the taillights, well, the taillights always seem kind of sad.  Something getting away, leaving, moving on.  And there has been too much of that.

But the rain sound, it grounds the soul, and maybe the rain puts a damper on things...but the soul sometimes seems born of the rain of love.  The soul knows this, it responds to love like a desert wildflower in a gullywasher.  Bloom, baby, bloom, soak in that life-giving water and bloom while you can.  Sink the roots, grow the leaves and flower as you will.

Whether that be for a night, a month or once in a lifetime...bloom.

The walls of the house filter out a lot of the noise, mute the sounds, soften them like Miles Davis on "Kind of Blue".  Music and rain, the good metaphors for the feelings, the awakening that once lived here.  The awakening like God coming back to a long-abandoned chapel set alone in a far-away field.  God in the chapel,  and in the heart of the lucky passing herdsman who took refuge in the dust and decay to get out of the raging storm.

This was love.  This is what the heart knew, blazing brilliant, turning the rain to steam as it fell.  Now, the sound of the rain is the memory of love gone on walkabout.  The sound of the rain on the pavement brings a weary sigh and a knowing smile, small on a mouth still aching under phantom kisses that once were real.

The mouth smiles, and for once the lips don't tremble, fighting back tears.  It smiles, and whispers a small prayer of thanks to the rain, for allowing remembrance of past fortune...and hope for future joy.

The rain, it is a blessing.

17 November 2010

Beautiful Surrender

Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm
"Come in" she said "I'll give you shelter from the storm".

Imagination overfull of places in the heart
That once were safe, and always warm

Sundown and the early dark, chill seeping
the bones ache and rattle like leaves in the yard
music leaking from a radio, dripping down the shelves,
flowing across the floor to wrap around cold legs

that push against an unforgiving floor, trembling weary
body melting into cushions like granite floss
the grit scratching and abrasions forming, it won't stop,
because the pain seems more real than real, right now

fingers fluttering, fists clenching, heel of the hand swiping
at Prince Rupert's tears exploding from eyes gone wide
and molten to hear the words, know that vanished love
was nothing less than a beautiful surrender

Passages in bold quoted from "Shelter From the Storm" by Bob Dylan.

16 November 2010

The Sauce of Contentment

The scent of the weekend's batch of pasta sauce still lingers, tucked away in the nooks and crannies of my house.  This kind of scent has existed, in one form or another, in every place I have ever lived.  It is the scent of warmth and comfort, and of that place where they will always take you in, no matter what.

It is the scent of home.

This edition of sauce was something I did a little different than in recent weeks.  I didn't grate a carrot into my pureed tomatoes, as had been my habit for a long time. So a little of the orange-tinged sweetness wasn't there, and that was okay.  I didn't mince the garlic down into a near-paste, as usual.  This time, I sliced the cloves as thin as I could get them, across the grain, in the hopes that they would break down and melt into the sauce.  I didn't grate the onion this time, either, I simply diced it.

The onions started out in cold oil in the pan, rather than the old 'dump-and-sizzle' of a hot shimmer.  I let them sweat and stew.  I had no fresh herbs, so dried it was, along with a bay leaf, some salt, ground black pepper and a small amount of mildly hot red pepper flakes.  I bloomed them in the hot oil before I poured in the tomatoes.

I know what you are thinking: its the end times, he's getting it all backwards!  For a brief instance, I questioned my choices as I watched the herb flecks darken up in the pan.  I had a brief shiver when I thought that this wasn't going to turn out well, and I would end up eating another mistake.  I put those thoughts out of my head and let the sauce simmer.  It would be what it was meant to be, no more, no less.  What it was meant to be, was a measure of home.  In that, it succeeded.

Later, with a full belly, it seemed to me that I had finally trusted my instincts, and it paid off.  I made it home.

15 November 2010

Blacksmith and Carpenter: Meditation

It is only in a technical sense that it can be said that I work with my hands.  My hands, after all, are responsible for translating my thoughts into writing, drawing and photographing.  What they do not often do is create artifacts, although that too can be true in a technical sense.

I cannot point to an inventory of the physical, is what I suppose I mean.  Not a large one, at any rate.  I have my journals, I have some small stock of matted photographs, I even have drawings and sketches I did stretching back over 20 years.

Much of the time I can't quite convince myself that the output is all real, that I was responsible for it.  This body of work seems to lack the gravitas of a wrought iron gate or walnut writing desk, a point that was driven home for me during a visit to an antiques dealer this past weekend.  I saw a number of artifacts, old ones, that made me simultaneously envious and respectful.  The writer in me was deeply impressed by the craftsmanship and elegance exhibited by even some humble oak file cabinets that must have been at least 60 years old.  Glass fronted bookcases with solid brass knobs, leather topped writing desks, a set of solid wood flat files that had been converted into a coffee table.  I swooned at the touch of thick metal pulls and knurled brass knobs...and wished it had been me that had created those objects.

I have a working fireplace in my humble home, with a modern glass and polished metal screen on it.  I like it, but I can't look at it without imagining an elegant wrought iron version, maybe with a fantastic creature scrolled across the front, or the outline of books and letters.  I wish I could make something like that, with my own two hands.

I look on the works of artists and craftspeople, of mechanics and framing carpenters, even the really talented sheetrock guys I have observed on construction sites, and I am inspired and humbled.  I want to be able to do what they do, even if only to satisfy myself that I know for a fact it was a job well done.

My mind works pretty hard, I think a lot, I observe a lot.  What unsettles me is that it often seems hard to tell just what my mind has been doing.  I get immense satisfaction out of writing a story or essay, the whole ritual of typing and editing, or scratching pen across paper.  Someday, I hope I can look on such things as a means of support for my life.

But making gates and cabinets, that would be something wonderful, too.

14 November 2010

American Diwali: Requiem

Blood of our veins
was not turmeric and vermilion,
ours the waters of a different ocean
all flowing into singularity

They light the lamps
dress the courtyards
while I light candles
in the closets of my mind

Buttery glow as they chant
I whisper prayers to you
mineral tang of salt and sea
the currents that carried you away

This Festival of Lights, good over evil,
I wonder, will you return? Somewhere
along the Gulf Stream in my heart,
or melding with the Ganges of my mind?

They light their lamps
I light mine (and yours), to see
your ashes a rangoli on the current
Lit brilliant by the diya of my heart


The Gulf Stream and the Ganges River are thousands of miles apart, but it pleases me to think they intersect in the form of souls.


In memory of Big Bro, out fishing the cosmic sea.

13 November 2010

Jaguar, Collapsar, Tango: Vignettes

Godl awoke from dreams of the chase, and the hot rush of blood over the tongue.  The big cat twitched awake and sprang to his feet.  It wasn't easily startled, but something had disturbed its sleep.

Godl could smell it.  Close, hot and alive.

The stocky jaguar sat back on his haunches and sniffed at the air again.  Its mouth gaped and nostrils flared to draw the scent deep into its lungs.  The scent of meat on the bone made Godl salivate.  Its ears twitched at the sound of movement not far away.  Godl stood silently, gauging distance and wind with that particular trigonometry known to predators the world over.  The jaguar blinked its green-gold eyes, and padded softly into the undergrowth.

Godl was hungry.  Hunting had not gone well as of late and the consequences had made themselves known in slack muscles and a sunken belly.  It was time.  Survival would not be denied, and Godl sensed the end of an empty belly out there in the emerald abyss.  Its claws flexed and softly, softly, a thrumming growl seeped from the throat of the jaguar.

A throat that would know the crimson heat of life-giving blood, before the next sunrise.

 The Captain sat back in his chair, in a rare moment of leisure.  He sipped slowly from the squat tumbler in his hands, an heirloom from a grandfather thrice removed.  The tumbler was heavy crystal, not refined but elegant in the manner of a finely crafted knife or workingman's boot.  He took another sip, savoring the smoky warmth as it flared its way into his belly, all the while staring at the monster on his computer screen.

The tumbler served its purpose quite well, which in this case was the transference, from bottle to gullet, of the single-malt scotch the Captain preferred.  While the Captain was never truly off duty,  the research cycles were at a low-activity point in the expedition timeline.  Even hard-core astronomers and physicists in the Fleet needed some down time, and the Captain had decreed that some rest was in order, for the crew.

Which did not mean they couldn't do research in their leisure time, on their own ticket.  The Captain told himself it wasn't official research, it was simply observing the enemy to know more of it.  He reconsidered:  the enormous collapsar, around which the tiny ship orbited, was not so much an enemy as a force to be respected.  Even if that respect was based on fear.

The Captain was afraid, though he would never admit to that anywhere within earshot of his shipmates.  Black holes did that to him.  Even with all the training and experience under his belt, he still could not quite wrap his head around the notion that there existed a...thing...from which nothing could escape.  Not matter, not light, nothing.  That there were places in the universe where all became one, in singularity...symmetrical, to be sure, the Captain mused, but not exactly comforting.  They had been in orbit for weeks, yet knew little more than when they started.  It occurred to the Captain that perhaps the only way to really find out anything truly worth knowing would be to enter the black hole.

He froze, the glass halfway to his lips.  Enter the black hole, merge with the singularity...he gulped.  Raising the glass, he toasted the seething mass on the screen, and drained it.  He set the glass down heavily, and thumbed his comm module, calling for the Navigator.

"Course change", he barked in response to the Navigator's puzzled query, "We're going to see the other side..."

"It is a serious business, this wanting the love of a woman, no?"

Padraig O'Higgins paused briefly, then swallowed his small mouthful of wine and turned to look at the stranger. A stranger who had interrupted a rather involved meditation on the legs of the lady on the dance floor.  He did not recognize the man, but something about him seemed familiar.  Maybe he was one of the regulars here, and Padraig thought he just had taken no notice of him in his many visits.  He had the look and the clothes of a successful cattle broker, or perhaps a banker.  One with cousins out on the pampas.

"Love, señor?"  Padraig asked in return.  "Were we speaking of love?"  He tried to sound as neutral as possible.  Some of the porteños could be very touchy if they thought one to be undiplomatic.

The stranger smiled, and laughed.  His face was tanned, seamed as if made of the fine leather to be had in country.  His fingers were thick and clutched a heavy glass filled with what seemed to be the same red wine that Padraig was drinking.  Heavy silver rings adorned his thumbs.  Padraig found himself resisting the urge to look at the strangers' legs, to see if he could detect the outline of a boot knife in the fine pair in which he was shod.

"No, señor, you and I were not speaking to each other.  But you, you were speaking nonetheless."  He cocked his head in the direction of the tango dancer.  "You find her beautiful, do you not?"

The question caught Padraig off guard.  Had it been that obvious?  Given what he knew of honor and bravery in this, his adopted country, Padraig decided honesty would serve best.  That, and the wine was working its magic on his mind.

"Yes, I do".  He involuntarily turned his gaze back to the dancer.  Her partner had just taken her into his arms, and her magnificent right leg was in his left hand, raised above his shoulder.  Her head was thrown back, eyes closed, ruby lips glinting in the low bar light. Padraig stifled a gasp and repeated "I do."

"I know. I can tell.  And if I can tell, so can a lot of other people."  The tone in the stranger's voice caught Padraig's attention.  It wasn't hostile, exactly, but it did carry a hint of concern bordering on warning.  The stranger said "I've seen this before, among your countrymen," an obvious reference to Padraig's fair skin and red hair, "and I would tell you the same thing I have told others: be careful, friend.  You know, I am sure, how many gentlemen compete for the attention of the few señoritas here."  He paused, looking expectantly at Padraig, who nodded without taking his eyes off the object of his ardor.  The stranger sighed.

"This need for love can be dangerous.  Tread lightly, my friend, be careful to avoid the pains of a broken heart."

The way he said it made Padraig very aware that he wasn't talking about the heart being the only thing that would hurt.  The Irishman turned back to the stranger, fixing him with a needle-like stare.  The music swelled mournfully, beautifully, and Padraig wanted to weep and rush onto the dance floor to carry away the brunette vision that had overtaken his passion.  He spoke, almost too soft for the stranger to hear.

"I will, señor...but some things," he paused and turned his gaze back to the dancer, "are worth the risk."

The stranger swung his incredulous gaze from the Irishman's face to the dancer and back again.  He shook his head and shrugged.  The dancer turned, the music stopped, and she looked up, straight into Padraig's eyes.

She smiled, and the wave broke over him.

A little lagniappe, for you dear readers, on the occasion of my 500th post.  I hope you enjoyed it.

12 November 2010

Leaves and Rust

Face reflects mirror,
Salt, pepper, copper:
Aching for her hands.

11 November 2010

Life Cycle: Meditations

Fall is here, this time with more than a hint of Winter in its recent weather.  No snow or ice, not here, not yet...but I heard whispers on the wind.  Not the whispers of demons crouched in the shadows and filling ones head with fear and blasphemy; rather, the whispers of the earth and sky, trees and water.  Ancient spirits that truly understand the cycle of seasons, and the ebb and flow of life.

That sort of wisdom I crave to possess.  I would like to know in my bones, muscle and heart the true definition of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.  I fear I would have to live to be a thousand before I could know such a thing.  Sadly for all us mortals, a thousand years is just not possible.

I'd like to know the turning of the seasons deeply and as part of an integrated existence in the universe.  All too often, in the noise of modern life, the seasons are too quickly defined by the inconveniences they bring: storms, heat, cold, snow.  They are too often portrayed as phenomena to be tolerated or overcome.  I believe this is no surprise, really, when viewed in the light of a Modern Man that sees the natural world as a resource to be exploited and a nuisance to be avoided.

This disconnect I do not know how to overcome.  I pondered this question last Sunday, on a two-hour hike through the woods, along a stream.  My trip began and ended at a parking area between the river and the woods, and its halfway point was a trail head alongside a road that forms a boundary to the park.  In between I walked through thousands of leaves, many patches of sunlight and crossed the stream numerous times.  There were moss covered stones and worn wooden footbridges, illuminated by silvery gold November sunlight.  I heard the call of birds and the conversations of squirrels.  Crows and hawks were seen.

I heard the wind in the leaves, and fancied it was the forest gods speaking to me.

I passed quite a few hikers, joggers and mountain bikers.  I chatted with some, curious about the pictures I was taking.  For the first time, I didn't feel foolish trying to explain why I was so fascinated with tree fungi laying in pools of sunlight spilling through the leaves.

I take pictures of them because they are beautiful, and serene.

Somewhere, maybe in the middle of my hike, I stopped.  I thought I heard something, or sensed something.  I strained to hear, and to see...so close, I thought, to that wisdom I was seeking.  The wind shifted, a branch fell, and I heard a biker coming down the path.  The spell broke.  I still didn't have my answer.

But I am close.  Someday, I hope I'll know.  Until then I'll keep walking, listening...and learning from the seasons passing.

10 November 2010

So That Explains the Noise


You.  Yeah, you...

Know what today is?  Besides Wednesday?  Besides the tenth day of November, 2010?

It's a birthday.  Gumbo hits the mid-forties mark today.

He isn't, I mean, I am not sure how I feel about that.  Better than the alternative, I know.  I am happy to have made it this far without maiming myself or others, and to have started growing into the person I think I was always was (whoever that is), but didn't know how to be.

It's Wednesday.  I'll get up, go to work, do my thing, then go to class.  Afterward, once I'm home,  I think I'll put my feet up and treat myself to a wee dram of Scotland's finest.  Simple may be best.

Will you join me?  It's better for the sharing.  Slainte, my friends!

09 November 2010

Root Cellar

Is it okay now to unplug
disconnect, shut down the grid,
turn it off?

Will the last person
please turn out the lights
and shut the door?

Yes, turn out the lights
even if the party isn't over
(it needs a breather)

Okay, now? That you are gone?
Because this feeling isn't good,
isn't horrible, isn't death

That's the problem:
this feeling isn't anything
and that may be worse

Winter's coming, smell the ice,
root cellar is nearing empty
while the door bangs in the wind

Cold earth sucks up the warmth
There in the damp, while in the twilight,
a hungry heart gnaws itself to sleep.

08 November 2010

Catching Cold

Oh god, woodsmoke tang
ankle deep in gold red surf
dry waves skitter along the walk

Mornings are slow and mineral
Scraping rime from the windows
Through a haze of breath

In the evening sun of liquid gold
the car pulls to the curb, door opens
memories spill into the blue

Fissured heart wraps around phantoms
squeezing blood and warmth to arms
sore from flailing, catching cold

but not you.

07 November 2010


"Captain" the First Lieutenant said, "We are on station".  His voice rang out in the hushed confines of the bridge.  The Captain gave no sign he had heard beyond a languid wave of the fingertips from his left hand, which propped up his chin.  The ship, small as it was like all of the Fleet's Special Ops research vessels, depended surprisingly little on electronic communications.

And with a crew of four, rare was the need for an intercom, mused the Captain.  Four? he thought.  Check that, make it three.  He was reasonably certain that no longer being alive was a disqualification from being a crew member.  The Commander's body currently lay in the cargo hold, quietly and without protest relieved of command.

The Captain rubbed his temples with his right hand, leaning forward to stare at the anomaly on the bulkhead-cum-monitor that loomed over the command space.  A star field, diamonds on black velvet scintillating through the visible spectrum, marred by a smudge of nothingness at the center.

Nothingness, he noted, not unlike my heart.  He coughed and spoke.

"Lieutenant, secure the orbit.  Prepare the Commander for terminal descent, on my mark."

"Aye, aye, sir" replied the Lieutenant, bending over his command station.  He leaned to his right to confer with the Flight Engineer, a pale thin man who seldom spoke, but knew when to make it count.  Their hushed murmurings barely registered on the Captain's ears, as he stood and stared at the thing on the screen.

A black hole, he thought, a supermassive black hole. Jesus, those things scare me.  Light, gravity, nothing would escape this monster...yet it quite possibly was the only hope for the Commander.  The Captain had seen many a strange and terrible thing in his years of travel, but black holes had always held a special fascination, and terror, for him.

And today the Captain was going to ask a black hole for a favor: either take the Commander forever and erase his memory or give him life.  I must be nuts, muttered the Captain. The Psych boys back in Command Central would probably be all over him when they returned.  If they returned.  The Captain wasn't so sure he wanted to go back.  Not after all this.  He sighed and shook his head. There was no avoiding it now, they had come so far, and the black hole was right there.  He forced himself to focus.

"Lieutenant, set course as we discussed. Prepare the Commander for ejection, set on my mark."

"Aye, sir."  The Lieutenant and the Engineer exchanged furtive, knowing glances, then shrugged.  A low thrum sounded through the ship as the engines fired.  The black nothing on the screen expanded slightly, slowly as the ship accelerated.  The Captain sat down heavily in his chair, face in hands.  He said nothing for a long time.  A chime sounded at their approach to the critical point where they would have to jettison their cargo, and use the gravity well to hopefully slingshot them back out into open space.  The Commander's body, secured in an escape module, would continue on, into the heart of the black hole, drawn in by the insatiable pull of gravity.

"On my mark," said the Captain in a voice roughened by a sudden tightness in the throat that the other crew members pretended not to hear, "...3...2...1...Mark!"  The Lieutenant hit the manual eject button.  Dull clanks sounded from below, then the ship jerked a little as the module broke free.  The three crewmen sat silently, eyes on the screen to watch the module heading for its target.  They grunted softly as the artificial gravity cycled to keep them stable as the ship changed course.  The external cameras flicked from front to bottom view, tracking the Commander on his last flight.  It was a faint blur against a color darker than black, winking out in a final burst of visual light as it crossed the event horizon.  The Captain closed his eyes.

Goodbye, brother...may you be reborn somewhere in this universe, son of the white hole on the other side of time. Goodbye.

The Lieutenant waited as long as he could, not wanting to disturb the Captain in his meditations.  Finally, he said "Captain?  Set course for home?". 

At first, the Captain said nothing.  He was silent so long the Lieutenant thought he might be sleeping.  Just as the Lieutenant was about to ask again, the Captain abruptly opened his eyes, looked up at the now blank screen, and said "Yes, for home...wherever that may be."

Happy Birthday, Big Bro, wherever on the Universe ocean you may be.  Your crewmates miss you.

06 November 2010


I stand alone and watch the clock
I only wait for it to stop

One of those days where
the mind wishes it would stop
its going so slow it might as well

and in the room locked up inside me

be stopped, time isn't passing anyway
Yes, it is, I know that because the
little clock on my computer

the cutout magazines remind me
I sit and wait alone in my room

reminds me whether or not
I really want to know, and I,
resent that fiercely

I could not look, that is my right
but I never not look.
Anger at me, myself and I

Song from another life, long ago
reminding me of all the photographs
I took before I had a camera

I stand and watch the clock

I only wait for it to stop

now the negatives are piling up
against the doors in my head
crowding the hallways, blocking swing

the doors are shut and all the windows lock

of the panels and light and air.
Unable to process, not enough chemicals

the only sound is from the clock

trays, fixer, no, not enough fixer
or light, not enough light and its

getting hard to breathe

I sit and wait alone in my room

here in my room, my darkroom,
but I can't stop unloading the film
from so many canisters, they are all around me

in my room

Note: Italicized words above are lyrics without permission, from "In My Room" by Yaz.  I know you were murmuring fragments of the Lord's Prayer when you read it...

05 November 2010

The Usefulness of the Void

Little green bowl
unassuming plastic, and cheap
yet what treasure it holds

It holds? No, no, not quite.
What holds it, is the treasure
of her small, perfect hands

At breakfast she laughs
that little girl laugh
while I gasp for breath

Those perfect hands on the bowl
scooping cheerios, applesauce,
and holding my heart, still.

04 November 2010


Surfeit of color and noise
and that was just the crap
in the mailbox, every day
Forests bled to extinction

More shiny noises from the box
Bright hues and gaudy wraps
So many promises! like God and
Marilyn Monroe delivered to your door

The palate dulls, hearing fades
eyesight dims under sensory fatigue
No, under siege! Because you cannot escape
bleat, blather and bother, beyond the end

Necessary evil, this binge and purge
of the body politic, they tell us to care,
we must care, but too many broken promises,
shattered hopes, have eaten our trust.

03 November 2010

Event Horizon

Heart falling into redshift
time doesn't seem to pass
outside eyes trace the blur
and wonder where it went

Inside eyes stare in disbelief
racing to a point down below
the infinite fall into a void
white-hot with radiation

The Watcher sees it fall
The Heart feels its slipping
Each reach out to the other
Yet nothing is to be done

Love, the collapsar, has burst
and one heart split into two,
yin and yang, singing, keening,
from opposite ends of the universe

02 November 2010

It's Not Just Fresh, Its 'Butt' Fresh

Yet another thing I'm surprised consumer products companies haven't made us worry about...

Earlier in the day, the Wee Lass and I watched an episode of 'Brain Surge' on Nickleodeon.  The Lass, she likes the burping noises and the references to flatulence.  I go along because it is a silly game show, and you actually do have to concentrate and pay attention to detail in order to advance.

Any one who loses a round has to leave the set via a twisty slide called the 'Brain Drain'.  It's not just a slide, it's a slide that has been partially filled with some sort of goop.  Of course, the poor sap who loses has to slide through the mess du jour, getting covered with shaving cream or Crisco or aerated dish soap, whatever it is the minds behind the show deem fit to use.

Wee Lass, of course, finds it hilarious.

Which brings us to the fast slide at a local amusement parlor for the kiddies.  We went to a birthday party there, the same day of Brain Surge.  It is one of those places that has all sorts of inflatable bouncy things akin to moon bounces, inflatable slides and obstacle courses, and they rent them out for parties and junior executive team building exercises*.  Run around like a maniac for an hour, bouncing (literally) off the walls and each other, then on to pizza or cake and ice cream.  It's quite cool, although a bit exhausting to watch.  Them tykes have some serious energy reserves.

So there is this slide there, a green plastic half-pipe attached to a small tree fort like structure.  At the bottom on the floor is a padded gym mat.  This gym mat is a good thing, because that slide was fast like so roads are fast: the kids were hurtling down that thing like they had been strapped to rockets.  Kids were crashing into the floor, each other, doing face plants and butt plants, and laughing like bastards the entire time.  Wee Lass was having a ball.

Later, she said to me, "Daddy, wouldn't it be funny if they filled the slide up with soap?"

I responded that, yep, I reckon that would have been pretty funny.  Then she got this gleam in her eye.

"Daddy, daddy! It would be better if they filled it with toothpaste!"

"Toothpaste?" I asked, puzzled.  She was giggling hard, and said "Yeah, 'cause then our butts would smell minty fresh!" and she dissolved in a fit of laughter.

I'm still chuckling over that one myself.

*Just kidding.  Although it could happen...

01 November 2010

Stone Free - Medical Adventures, Part the Third

A very interesting day here in the people's Republic of Gumbolia.  It's not often one gets serenaded by Jimi Hendrix while urinating.

What's that, you say?  Some explanation is needed?  Of course, allow me.

So last week I chronicled my unfortunate encounter with a kidney stone.  I am happy to report that most of the week was relatively pain-free.  I say relatively because now my Pain-o-Meter has been recalibrated thanks to the aforementioned kidney stone.  I followed the doctor's instructions to drink lots (LOTS) of fluids, and stick to the medicine, and wait for things to...pass.  They advised me to monitor my 'output' even if that meant filtering said 'output' through a strainer to better catch anything (this becomes critical, later, you'll see).  They can be sent for testing, to better determine how to prevent recurrence. 

Well, the only strainer I have in the house is my trusty little tea strainer...and there is no way I was going to whiz through that, even if I sterilized it in boiling water.  Just couldn't do it.

I didn't have time to go strainer shopping, so I decide to take my chances and bide my time, trusting that the stone would be evicted by the natural flow of things, and that I would know when it did.  It's a jagged little stone, right, traveling through rather constricted spaces, right?  Some rather sensitive constricted spaces, I must add.

All the past week, I anxiously awaited results.  And every day since last Monday, nothing.  Nothing, that is, until Sunday morning.

Things...shifted.  I noticed a little disturbance going on in Brother John early, and hoped that this might be the end of it.  First trip to the loo...a little scratchy, but no stone.  Second trip, mid-morning: did the pee-pee dance, still scratchy.  Still, no stone.  Third trip, just past noon:  They told me that sometimes an 'escapee' can be heard hitting the, um...bowl of whatever miracle of modern sanitation one happens to be, um...using.  And so it was. Clink.

Amen and hallelujah, I thought, looking down, and there it was, big as day.  Well, it felt bigger than day but was really only about the size of a grain of rice.  Sitting there, all ready for retrieval...except there was a catch.  I wasn't using a strainer.  I wasn't even at home. 

I was at a urinal in the public restroom at a local park.  An automatic flush urinal, right next to the door.

I slowly zipped up, trying not to move too far.  Also, I didn't have any tissues or gloves with me, and I couldn't walk away to get some tissue or a towel for fear of setting off the auto flush and thereby washing away the "fruits of my labor", as it were.  So it was me, stock still, contemplating reaching into a public urinal(!) barehanded to pick up(!) a kidney stone.  And what if someone walked in just as I lifting the "prize" out of the urinal?  How to explain that?

Eventually, intellectual curiosity won out over revulsion...I took a deep breath, prayed that no one would come in, and make a lightning grab for the stone.  I was like a peregrine falcon on a pigeon, I was moving so fast.  Amazingly, I snagged the stone in one try.

I immediately hot-footed it over to the sink before any one else ventured in.  I hurriedly washed the thing off (and with a thorough washing of my hands!) and wrapped it in some tissue paper for safekeeping.  Hopefully, some good will come of this rather distasteful brush with the public sewer system.

The soundtrack to this farce?  "Stone Free" by Jimi Hendrix was playing in my head the whole time. 

"...Stone free do what I please
Stone free to ride the breeze
Stone free I can't stay
Got to got to got to get away..."

Lyrics from "Stone Free" by Jimi Hendrix.  This song may end up in a Flomax commercial...