About Caleb

I run a Childcare with my wife on a small farm in New Hampshire. Click "About" if interested in my life story.

LOCAL VIEW: The Real Thing

As a poet, I have air-headed tendencies, which I have to rein in, in order to function in a responsible manner. I have to be down to earth, though earth can be a dreary place, and even be ungodly, when people assume being down-to-earth is all there is. It isn’t, which is why there is a need for poetry.

Dreary, down-to-earth, pragmatic people need to be reminded from time to time that there are such things as angels.  We get plenty of reminders that we need to be more pragmatic. Life is good at that. Sometimes our less good attributes rise up as an evil so frightening we must descend to the crudity of war, where living is reduced to such a life-and-death level that lofty thoughts seem pointless, but even amidst crude violence people need to be reminded to think of God and his servants. (In fact, when it is least practical to muse of otherworldly things, people may be especially prone to do so.)

Evil people tend to curse the otherworldly, perhaps feeling it has failed them and therefore doesn’t exist, and that high thoughts are mere mush and slop, as childish as believing in Santa Claus, so they discount angels.  Angels don’t vote, so politicians can ignore them, up and until it occurs to politicians that angels, even as a fairy tale, have power. Angels possess the power of poetry. While the word “poetry” is of little interest to perverted, power-mad money-grubbers, (beyond doggerel that might sell some cereal to rot children’s teeth with), the word “power” brings their Cadillac’s screeching to a stop. “What’s that? What’s that you say? Did you say ‘power’”? All of a sudden, politicians want to know about a world they basically believe is make-believe. However, because they don’t believe, they get it all wrong. They are like transvestites; no matter how perfectly they put on the make-up and pad their bodies and act the act, it is an act. It is make-believe and not the real thing. 

What, then, it the real thing? Perhaps I should capitalize it: “the Real Thing.” Basically, it is what we are born for. However, when we come down to earth, something about being down-to-earth turns into thinking that being down-to-earth is the Real Thing. It isn’t.

I think everyone knows this on some level, but some are corrupted to a degree where, even when they believe in things beyond the down-to-earth, they somehow manage to corrupt the out-of-this-world with their perverted, power-mad money-grubbing. They don’t seek caring witch doctors who heal with kindly herbs, but prefer quacks given to hallucinogenic mushrooms and sexual stimulants; even back two-and-three-quarters millenniums ago the paranoid, power-mad King Saul sought out the Witch of Endor.

There is something creepy about the other-worldly souls one contacts via OUIGA boards, and people who get hooked by such seeking tend to become creeps. However it seems to be a phase some of us must pass through: Speaking only for myself, before I could believe in God I needed to first believe in ghosts; it was helpful to be persuaded such weirdness might exist, but also a big mistake. You shouldn’t believe in ghosts because ghosts lie. God, on the other hand, is Truth at Its purest and most beautiful.

Over the decades I’ve learned that in order to function in a responsible manner I need to make money, and I currently do so by running a Childcare. The youngest children are two or three years old, and give me ample opportunity to study the process of souls coming down to earth. The children really make me think. For example, if they are not fully down to earth yet, where are they?

To a certain degree they are still in heaven. This is especially true of children from happy homes, but even the unfortunate, traumatized children of drug-addicted parents are otherworldly. They are pleasantly mad, and optimistic, because they haven’t forgotten what we are born for. The Real Thing is still very real to them. Even if they have never heard the Lord’s Prayer, they seem to intuitively grasp the part about makings things “on earth, as they are in heaven.” This goal isn’t easy to achieve, which is why small children cry so much, but they haven’t forgotten the basic reason for being alive.

There are some who dislike the idea of anything so impractical as heaven invading our world. Many of these people do not see themselves as being the slightest bit ungodly. They see themselves as pragmatic. They believe they have common sense. And they furthermore believe children need to be whipped into shape. Children require some sort of indoctrination, some sort of brainwashing, to make them contribute to society in an acceptable manner, as cogs that fit “the machine”.

As a poet, I distain the entire concept of society as a machine, and people as cogs. In my view it is a disgusting idea from all angles, whether you are right wing or left wing. It degrades the value of individuals, who are beautiful in God’s eyes irrespective of what they “contribute”. One biblical hero was a thief being crucified on the cross next to Jesus. He contributed zilch to society, and in fact he stole. That was why society felt it was pragmatic to be rid of him. But was he banned from heaven? Apparently not, (but the fat bureaucrat who had the thief crucified may not have been so lucky).

In like manner a very small child contributes zilch to society, in the eyes of morons who can’t see how beautiful they are. They are small and cute thieves. They steal your heart. They make no sense economically until around age five, when they can be whipped into shape and do simple chores. Up until that point they are welfare recipients with an attitude of entitlement, or perhaps candidates for eugenics, or examples of overpopulation, or any number of other degrading ways of seeing small fellow men and women. I beg to differ. I hold a different view. A poetic view.

Not that I find it easy to live up to my own standards. This world has a pernicious way of forcing even idealists to be down-to-earth and pragmatic. I own a certain element of shame for even operating a Childcare. Sixty years ago, when I was young, a woman would have felt ashamed to have to work rather than to rule her household, whether she was wealthy and ruled a staff of servents, or poor and ruled a saucepan. For a mother to hand a child younger than six to another, for anything other than a brief period of baby-sitting, would have been a cause for deep, painful chagrin. So I am, in effect, profiteering off modern mother’s misfortune, a vulture on the carcass of happy homes. But I spread my palms. What can I do? It is the way things are.

(My wife and I have had talks with young mothers, distraught about leaving their wailing child in our care, where we have pointed out the young mother’s wages didn’t cover the cost of the Childcare, the car, the gasoline, the car insurance, and the spiffy clothing necessary for the job. We actually try to talk young mothers out of using our services. But the prospect of social isolation, home alone, is too daunting. The mother needs the job’s society more than she needs the paycheck.)

This world drags me down to such a degree that poetry feels impossible. I am like a little child, being whipped into shape. Left to my own devises, I slump into pragmatic functionality, and my heart feels squeezed. I need help from On High. It is time to pray fervently, or to do some zealous yoga.

Prayer and yoga is hard to do once pragmatism has a hold of you. Personally, I have never been very good at it. It never seems to make sense to get down on your knees and do nothing, or sit cross-legged and do nothing, when you should get off your butt and bust your butt. However, despair drives you to odd behavior. I confess I sometimes do confess my incapacity to God, and plead for help. Sometimes nothing seems to come of it. I then get up and hurry off to be pragmatic, but I always wonder if I should have persisted, and done nothing longer. And I must confess that, perhaps twice or thrice in my long life, my despair was so great I did persist, and then did seem to get visible help from On High.

But more often I persist in a different way, and the help from On High seems to be accidental. In such cases I persist at some physical activity past the norm. Perhaps this is why people climb Mount Everest. In pushing themselves past a certain limit they are like a person sitting cross legged doing Yoga past a certain limit. Walls in our minds, often walls we ourselves built with our own pragmatism, are peeked past, are peered over-the-tops-of, (even if they don’t actually fall down). And then we see as we usually don’t, (which we tend to call “a vision”.)

One such situation arose because as a teenager I was “the crew” of a 28-foot sailboat which had an engine that didn’t work and a self-sailor which sailed the boat in circles, and this required someone to sit and steer the tiller at all times. As the captain was busy elsewhere, holding the tiller was up to the “crew”, which was me.

To sit and hold a tiller may sound like a romantic and wonderful job, but we were on a haul around Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout and Cape Fear, and it took three days with the winds the way they were. The captain did give me some breaks, but most of the time I just sat and held a tiller. It got old. It got old halfway through the first day. The second day I was wracked by desires to go to MacDonald’s for a hamburger, to zone out watching a TV, to look at the weather maps in a New York Times, to do anything but hold the damn tiller of a damn boat. But that was my Yoga, and there was no escape (besides screaming and jumping overboard.) And under that duress I started to see angels in the clouds.

Most everyone at some point has seen a cloud that resembled something or another. On this occasion the clouds started out that way, but the faces and people became more and more numerous and commonplace and vivid, until the entire sky was full of portraits. By the third day it was ridiculous. The sky was one big mural. I’d look away, and then glance upward, and it took no imagination to see the masterpieces. They were the hues of Rembrandt’s work, by the late afternoon, and as gorgeous as his paintings. One I remember in particular, (as I was very hungry at the time), was a fat woman bringing a roast turkey to a table, a big smile on her face, and something beatific about her posture.

Now I look up, and the clouds are just clouds. I have to work to see a cloud come close to looking like a face. When no one is around, I ask the sky, “Couldn’t you do it again, just a little, just once?” But I guess you have to hold a tiller three days, to see such majesty. If you don’t do the yoga, don’t expect the samadhi.

Actually, one good thing about my current life is that I usually manage to avoid such situations. Pragmatism has paid off, and I seldom have to round Cape Hatteras the lone crew at the tiller of a malfunctioning boat with a malfunctioning captain. (Although being a citizen under the rule of Fraudulent Biden does give me a sense of Deja Vu).  However, pragmatism has its penalty, in that the skies are not so amazing.

Yet this spring I have managed to bite off more than I can chew, as I always seem to do as days lengthen, in at least one area of my life. Usually it involves my vegetable garden. It is too big for an old geezer like me, but I have refused to age gracefully. I should turn 90% of the garden into a lawn, and have a little sissy garden, but some stubborn side of me has me out pottering away under the hot sun, hour after hour. It has been somewhat humiliating, as it takes so much longer to do simple jobs, but I have pushed myself and, hoping I might be a tortoise who beats the hare, I’ve kept working. And as I worked, and worked, and worked, I noticed, to my delight, the clouds were starting to change. The tedium of toil was becoming a sort of yoga, and I was being uplifted into a sort of heaven on earth.

Mind you, I didn’t sit and do nothing. Nor did I sit and do nothing, all those years ago, as I held the tiller of a sailboat during a long haul. You have to pay attention on a boat, or the sails start to flap, if you man a tiller, and in like manner you have to keep doing your pottering in a garden, or the weeds will win. But if you persist and do your job all of a sudden the world may become enchanted, even as you’re down-to-earth.

I was so struck by the enchantment that appeared as I pottered that I, being a writer, immediately pondered how I might share it to you, the reader. Sadly, it can’t be described to those who haven’t experienced it. It is like describing color to the color blind. The best I can do is compare it to some similar experience you might have experienced,  perhaps assuming you have resorted to some socially inappropriate behavior in the mists of your past.

For example, one time as a teenager I purchased some pills in London with a pal and retreated to a nice country flower garden and ate them, and then we sat back expecting our minds to produce an animated Disney cartoon of some sort. The pills had tasted a lot like malted milk tablets, and around an hour later we decided they actually were malted milk tablets, and the salesman had made a fine profit by selling single malted milk tablets for six silver shillings apiece. Being young, we got a good laugh out of being such chumps and suckers, rather than becoming bitter and vengeful, and we then employed some whisky we liberated surreptitiously from my stepfather’s cupboard to produce more modest cartoons in our minds. But the point of my story is that we were able to identify the pills as fake by the enchantment which did not occur.

The negative aspect of enchantment caused by drugs is that it is not earned, and rather is brutally induced by a sort of maiming of the brain. Therefore it has a harsh quality more natural prayer and yoga does not have. Because it is unnaturally induced it has unnatural consequences which reverberate in life after the “trip”, but I don’t want to talk about that. I only bring up drugs because many of my generation were foolish when young. Despite the amnesia drugs induce, many have a vague recollection of how things went from normal to “high”. Natural enchantment occurs in much the same manner, but, because it is natural, it is possessed of a wholesomeness utterly unlike drugs, and also unlike the creepy quality of QUIGI boards.  One suddenly becomes aware of what a gift life is. Like a little child, one sees the Real Thing.

The sense of beauty the Real Thing imparts is overpowering, which is likely why powerful people covet It, though they cannot grasp It. The sense of beauty involves a peculiar confidence and assuredness. It sounds silly to say, “Everything is going to be all right” when the world seems determined to go to hell in a hack, but when you see the Real Thing, worry limps away defeated.

 As I pottered about, at around at a quarter mile an hour, pausing to lean on my shovel and huff and puff, I wondered if I might be killing myself with my foolish garden, and might be suffering delusions at death’s door. I’ve always said I wanted to die with my boots on; perhaps I was succeeding at that. Perhaps I was hallucinating, and about to collapse. However, I felt too healthy; too restored. In fact, I hadn’t felt so wholesome and healed in months. Apparently, heaven would have to wait a while longer for this old codger.

After a while my mind drifted to working on a sonnet, as well as the soil, because I wanted to share with you how wonderful we should feel, if we could remove the scales from our eyes. I looked around for details in the enchanted landscape I could use. What made everything so different; so ecstatic?

One thing I noticed was a big old crow, who lurks around the farm. There are several species in my area, and crows all look pretty much the same to me, but particular bird is so big that I suspect it is a raven. He or she is always alone, so I think it lost its mate. In any case, as I pottered, I noticed the raven kept bopping by, sometimes flying high overhead, sometimes hopping on a stone wall to the north, or pacing about at the far edge of a pasture to the south, or on a dead limb of an oak to the west, or on an electric line by the road to the east. Unlike smaller crows, he was silent, and often seemed to be watching me, leaning forward with his hands behind his back. I imagined he was muttering, “You still here? Don’t you think you should go indoors and write a poem?” But I kept up with my pottering, until the raven seemed to become disgusted and impatient, and simply flew down to the far end of the garden to strut around doing whatever it is ravens do, before I have planted my corn. The big black bird gave me the sense I was accepted, as part of the scenery, the same way my goats are accepted by that same crow. Then, as I glanced around, I saw other creatures were accepting me as part of the scenery. A brash chickadee pecked at a fencepost barely ten feet away. A chipmunk on a rock was far more interested in alerting the world to the fact a fox was trotting along the shaded far edge of the pasture, than in warning the world an old man feebly hoed close by. And the fox was more interested in fomenting a surprise attack on rats in the barn than in me. I was part of the landscape. And I really liked the sensation. It was very different from how I usually feel, which is to feel like every creature in creation is out to get my garden, and that a farmer is making a desperate last stand like Davey Crockett at the Alamo. Instead, I felt like a character in the old Uncle Remus tales I read to children at my Childcare. Along with Brer Fox and Brer Bear and Brer Rabbit, there was me, Brer Farmer. In the landscape of enchantment, we are not against each other, but with each other, (even when we eat each other).

Sorry, but that’s the best I can do, at this point, and surely my description fails to adequately describe the overpowering enchantment of the Real Thing to the uninitiated. But I will say this: There are powers about, which politicians woefully underestimate.

In “Lord of The Rings”, the wizard Saruman underestimated a tree’s ability to fight back, as he clear-cut beautiful groves to fuel the engines of his war of domination. Saruman’s plotting forgot to enter Ents into his calculations. He thought he had everything covered, but neglected to consider the Ents.

Ents may be fiction, but are perhaps Tolkien’s most brilliant creation, for those walking-trees are a perfect symbol of what the pragmatic lose sight of, when they become too down-to-earth. In like manner the perverted, power-mad money-grubbers in Washington D.C. forget they are stewards of a land like farmers are stewards of a land, and instead underestimate the land’s ability to fight back with powers given by enchantment. Most especially, they have forgotten the Real Thing, and that there are such things as angels.

I don't have a garden gate. Instead
I have a time warp. You will walk into
A different dimension. I've not the head
For the math, but I know this much is true: 
If you're led down my garden path you'll see
Things that don't add up, and yet they all seem
Strangely true: The way you thought when three
When life was a wonder and you waltzed a dream.
Angels walked with you. Zephyrs and Dryads
Aren't allowed in science books. Their vote
Is not courted by politician's ads.
But they are there, not at all remote.
If you come work in my garden with me
You'll learn o a power the devils can't see.

STAY INFORMED; NOT ENFLAMED

A young man pointed out something to me I felt I should share.

He had become aware that certain “platforms” seemed to want to keep people divided and angry, rather than seeking to be peacemakers.

I’m uncertain of which platform it was; perhaps Instagram. They provided him with certain news items. At the time of the death of George Floyd they provided him with such a stream of ugly examples of police over-reaction, if not brutality, that he found himself outraged and on the verge of joining Black Lives Matter. However he also felt it was not spiritual to walk about so enraged, and, to allow himself time for calm and peaceful prayer, he decided to not read the news items the “platform” provided. He could tell the news items were anti-police by the headlines, but the platform allowed him to click some sort of “No Thank You” tab, and avoid the post or video. He had done this roughly fifteen times when he noticed something odd. Some algorithm governing the platform seemingly assumed he was clicking the “No Thank You” tab because he wasn’t anti-police, and began to send him pro-police news items. Curious, he checked them out. He found they made him just as angry, but now it was about how officers who risk their lives are disrespected by selfish, nasty, heartless, and sometimes insane people. His conclusion was that the platform had no interest in moderating the two sides of the issue, and rather preferred to keep people angry and enflamed. His response was to become a sort of drop-out, and avoid the news media altogether.

I congratulated him on his insight, but also stated we are suppose to be bigger than an easily-manipulated people who must take sides. Many of us have seen parents divorce, and know that taking sides in such a quarrel is unwise and brings about no lasting peace, or any deeper understanding. Two views are better than one. The first amendment of the constitution of the United States guarantees us Freedom of Speech, and does so for a profound reason. Simply stated, having a single view is unnatural. It is a monster called a “Cyclops.” We have not one, but two eyes, because two eyes gives us what neither eye has: Depth perception. The child of a divorce, loving both parents, may possess what neither parent had: A depth which, if they had allowed it, might have prevented their divorce. In like manner, the two-party-system prevents unhappiness which a one-party-system embraces.

Communism is a Cyclops. It is a one-party-system. It sees no value in opposing views. First, it wants to “win” an election, even if it violates the rules of a fair election, for it sees all in terms of “revolution”, and overthrowing “authority”. Then, once it has “won”, it must destroy a so-called “evil” called the “counterrevolution”. This involves the “purge”. The other party must be destroyed, either sent to a Gulag to be “reeducated”, or tortured to “confess.” Only a single authority can exist, a single monster Cyclops with a big, bulging, bloodshot eye.

Therefore Donald Trump cannot be allowed to step aside when he “lost” an election he actually won. He must be destroyed utterly. There are currently attempts to prosecute Trump, and even attempts to figure out how to extradite him from whatever state he might be living in, if he refuses to be arrested by people who, basically, do not believe the United States should be governed in the way our constitution proscribes.

These people have no real love for anything but power, seeing “power” as the ability to be deaf to others and blind to other’s views. Such people desire to be deaf and blind, and have no awareness of the beauty of others, the beauty of love, a beauty they disdain. Blind people can see beauty they can’t see, and deaf people (especially Beethoven) can hear beauty they are deaf to. However, due to their single-minded focus on power, power, and power alone, they have amassed crumpled dollars to a degree where they control the media, and attempt to crank out one view, a Cyclops propaganda, and to ban and censor all other views. They seek what communists call a “purge”.

They can have no idea how horrible it would be to win the victory they desire. If one could really “purge” all “counterrevolutionary” views, it would be tantamount to being utterly alone. It would be like Mao was, in his drooling old age, when no one dared oppose him, and, even as famine occurred, he was brought to make-believe villages where everyone was well-fed and fat, and told how “successful” his “revolution” was, by flattering sycophants who only agreed with Mao because they knew to disagree would make them “counterrevolutionary.”

Communism is not merely the denial of differences, it is a denial of the right the different have to stand up and fight for their difference. The first amendment protects our right to speak and be different, and the second amendment allows us guns to shoot those who attempt to rob of of our right to be different. The “right to bear arms” was never intended to apply only to hunting deer. It also applies to Nancy Pelosi.

Communists cannot speak their ideas with the confidence of a lover speaking their opinion to another lover; that is why the current unelected government put razor wire around the Capital, and why Nancy Pelosi now speaks of purges.

I do not write to enflame. I write to inform. Simply look at the news objectively.

I loathe war and violence, but if someone declares war on me and what I believe in, it seems a bit silly to pretend it isn’t happening.

It is a sad reality to recognize. It need not be. I pray constantly that God spare us from having to descend to the level of such deviants, who prefer being blind to seeing, and prefer being deaf to hearing.

Beyond doubt it is a depressing reality to face. It is an unreal reality, enormously inferior to love, but when the purging starts we had best not ignore the reality. But love is far better.

I wish that my mood had half as much heart
As that small bird perching on daybreak's twig.
How can a creature so very small start
Night's silence with a song so loud and so big
That it's as if tweets pull up dawn's sweet light,
Rather than song be caused by dawn's first glow.
Long before velvet dusk becomes bright,
Before my town's waking sounds start to grow,
That little bird, smaller than my own flesh heart,
Pours out a rapture, while my heart's a cage;
A cage under wraps. Let the curtains part
And the song in my heart announce a new age
Is upon us. Care not for survival,
But, like a bird, rejoice at revival.

Lord, I ache to see Your sweet righteousness
As clearly as dawn breaking in the east.
All I see are witches brewing distress
And the spread of the dead ways of the Beast.
Give us Your slightest glow, dawn's first blue dusk,
And like a small bird I'll burst out loud song.
In the dark I dare peep, "In God I trust",
Though all I can see is utterly wrong. 
Don't try me and test me. You know I'm weak.
Like a little child I cling to your leg
As you wade through the mobs. Lord, please speak
To the frightened. Can't you hear how they beg?
Don't allow goodness to suffer and die
As the evil ones gloat as the meek ones cry.

LOCAL VIEW –One Last Garden–

It can’t be healthy. Every night I wake at 2:00 AM and remember all the irregularities of the last election, and am outraged all over again. I’ve learned to get up and write, for if I remain in bed I start thrashing and kicking, and disturb my wife.

In some ways I remind myself of an old, punch-drunk boxer, going on and on about how he should have been champ. In other ways I remind myself of a grieving widower, mourning the death of God’s lovely angel, Liberty. At times I think I feel how Peter must have felt after the arrest of Jesus, first rebuked for fighting, yet then shamed for running scared. At my worst and my most frustrated I grumble like one of David’s most faithful “six hundred soldiers”, when everything that could go wrong had gone wrong, and they wanted David stoned to death.

Perhaps it is good to recall David’s bleakest time. David and his men had fled the Israelites, because the paranoid King Saul wanted him dead, and he found work as a mercenary for King Achish of the Philistines, living in Ziklag and fighting three Negev tribes towards Egypt. But when the Philistines prepared to fight King Saul they did not trust David, feeling he would switch sides and support his own people in the heat of battle, so when David arrived to support King Achish, King Achish sent him back to Ziklag. In essence he had been rejected by both sides in the coming battle. But when he returned to Ziklag he found smoldering ruins, and his wives and children gone, as one of the Negev tribes, the Amalekites, had raided while he was gone. His six hundred men, grieving the loss of their own wives and children, murmured David was such a complete failure he should be stoned. You can’t get much more rock bottom than that. (To avoid leaving you in suspense: David pursued the Amalekites, caught up to them as they drunkenly celebrated their victory, and crushed them, rescuing all the women and children. [1 Samuel  30]  Meanwhile Saul died fighting the Philistines to the north, so David went on to be king). Good thing David didn’t lose faith when at rock bottom.

I try to tell myself it is good to have faith tested. Faith is like a muscle that grows stronger with exercise. But exercise must be balanced with rest, and when I keep awaking at 2:00 AM I’m deficient on the rest side of the balance.

I have decided that at 2:00 AM we are at our most vulnerable. All the pep talks and prattle we utilize to keep ourselves going are asleep. But brutal reality is wide awake. And the brutal reality is: Trump won the election. Nor was it a neck-and-neck finish. He won big time, by many millions of votes. The “irregularities” were not the corrupt foibles of a few inner-city precincts, where we perhaps always expect some fraud. The “irregularities” were gigantic, and so damn obvious it physically hurts.

I think I feel most hurt by the idea so many fellow Americans don’t love their beautiful democracy. Some did not merely overlook gross distain of the law, but actually participated in the rape of decency. How could they? How could they!?

I am no King David. I am more like his troops, who were contemplating stoning their fearless leader. I thrash and kick and feel terribly unrested. I have faith goodness will triumph in the end, but less faith in my own ability to endure the wait. I am several mental states past impatience. It can’t be good for me. It can’t be healthy.

Therefore it seems wisest to drown myself in my heroin, which is work.  I am thinking of plunging my tired old body into the exertion of starting a big vegetable garden. One last garden.

Even as a disgustingly strong young man of twenty-one, I’d ache when starting a garden. But back then aching was so different from aching at sixty-eight that I’m embarrassed to read whining I wrote at twenty-one, in diaries so old the pages have yellowed. When you are young the ache is all the next day. When you are old the ache is there at the start. When you are young the burn is all in muscles. When you are old arthritis stabs joints from the start, and if the joints are vertebra the pain shoots down arms and legs. Also stiffness doesn’t wait for the next day to set in; if you sit down for lunch you grunt getting up. I think it would be a very good thing for the young to be transported into an old body for a short period of time, just so they could fully appreciate how blessed they are to be young. But George Bernard Shaw stated, “Youth is wasted on the young” while I, as a youth, wrote, “Wisdom’s wasted on the old.”

Perhaps, if I want to drown myself in work, it would be wiser to face my physical limitations, and turn my garden into a lawn, and instead to focus on writing. Offer my wisdom to the young. I should spend my time working on my latest novel, “Phatty Burgers”.

The problem with that is that, in my case,  “gardening”, in a literary sense, has never produced a crop I can eat. Poetry’s crop is hunger. And now, with the absurdity of cancel-culture censoring people who dare speak Truth, writing seems even less likely to produce anything but the stuff that agitates me at 2:00 AM.

I want a good night’s sleep, and therefore one last garden appeals to me.

I wish I had some servant I could delegate the work to, (a “Man Friday”, to be politically incorrect,) but I lack those gifts, (both the perfect farm-hand, and the ability to instruct and oversee). My recent attempts to delegate the gardening to others have been a yearly disaster. The garden starts out fine, but succumbs to neglect as temperatures peak, and the crop is mostly towering weeds. My best garden in the past decade was due to my being distrustful and selfish and simply saying (to myself), “Screw everyone! I’m NOT asking for help. I’m not blaming anyone but MYSELF.” Then I just got to work.

I want to do that again, one last time. If there are weeds, I get the blame. If I actually live to see a tomato get red, I’ll look to the sky and thank God.

There is something glorious about getting sweaty and dirty. Others may like bright outfits in the latest fashion, (and I too like to dress up on a Sunday), but they don’t know what they are missing when they avoid filth, and sweat, and wearing dirty jeans, and having aching muscles and joints, and holding a perfect cucumber which you yourself grew, and sweating in a sweltering kitchen to produce canning jars of excellent sauce, and going to bed exhausted, and sleeping the whole, beautifully-blessed night through.

Of course, with society so nuts, a big garden might turn out to be a life-saver next fall, and having a hundred pounds of potatoes to eat, when supermarket shelves are naked, might save my grandchildren’s lives. But that is not my real reason for one last garden.

My real reason is I want a good night’s sleep. And also, perhaps, I want a garden because I want a conscience that is cleansed, for there is something about a garden which whispers morality.

Lord, help me to ignore conspiracy.
I want to go out and garden all day.
Let me sweat. Let me get, all over me,
Dirt, and manure, and sand's grit, and clay,
And to put in some seeds, and, as they grow,
To fight weeds, and fat bugs and green worms.
Give me amnesia. I don't want to know
What the liars are lying. The returns
Of elections I cannot control,
But a small plot of earth my poor heart yearns
To govern wisely. Soothe my saddened soul,
Allowing what a liar seldom learns:
A cabbage has no brains, yet it awes
For, unlike kings, it obeys God's laws.

HOW TO HANDLE A KAREN

“Mark me well”, said the wise old man…

With apologies to all named “Karen”, Karen has become the slang word, in New England, to describe the annoying sort of person who has no qualms about lecturing others in public places for failing to virtue signal in the politically correct manner. Currently Karens tend to nag if you don’t wear a coronavirus mask, if not two masks. Years ago they used to be famous for saying, “Could you please not smoke?” even if you were outdoors and downwind. The self-appointed police of cancel-culture, often they speak in a nasal voice that could break glass, and need no bullhorn. Ones immediate reaction must be repressed, for what one instinctively wants to do is give them a smack right across the kisser.

I’ve had years of practice dealing with Karens, for I have never been politically correct, and used to smoke fifty cigarettes a day. Usually I simply give them a silent, dead-fish look, but afterwards I always think, “What I should have said is…”

On the web Karens exist as “Trolls”, and one actually has the time to sit back and think before politely responding. One thing which I’ve more often than not seen is: They are incapable of articulate debate. They may use a phase such as “science states”, but when you actually bring up the science they tend to vamoose. Once in a while you may find a Troll who actually likes to experience the joy of healthy debate, in which case they are not truly a Troll.

In public places one has less time to think, but if you bring up a question such as, “Do you know the actual science, regarding the effectiveness of masks, as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine?” or “Did you know the Army conducted a study where 500 soldiers wore masks and 500 soldiers went without masks? Would you like to hear the results?” a Karen seldom will answer the polite question. They tend to either appeal to a differing authority, becoming more shrill, or they wheel and march away, often to the manager of the store, who they berate, demanding you be thrown out. Sometimes they call the police.

The best response is to understand a Karen is not a happy person. They likely are not receiving understanding or love, and therefore their power-mad behavior is a way of gaining attention. They enjoy the fact they can’t be ignored (which is why a dead-fish response is so effective). Some attention, even repugnance, is better than no attention at all.

Therefore the best response is to pity them. I learned this response from a preacher who was very good at it, for his pity was genuine. If someone was nasty and crabby he would respond with amazing love. He would dare say something like, “I’m so sorry you aren’t feeling well. Would you like me to pray for you?”

Oddly the Karen, taken aback and standing open-mouthed, would often nod, almost against their will. Likely they assumed the prayer would occur later, somewhere else, but as soon as they nodded they preacher would start to quite loudly pray.

“Oh father, you are the preserver and protector of all, and love us with infinite love. I pray that this person experiences that love, and feels its healing power. I pray you end fear and create a blessed assurance that all will end well. I pray loneliness vanishes like a shadow in the face of warm light, and confusion melts into certainty. Even it is only for an hour, may this person be blessed in such a way that the memory will be a candle ever after, no matter how deep the darkness.” Then he would smile, nod, and continue on with his business.

I myself have never had the guts to actually attempt using this approach, but I am seriously considering it.

AFFLUENZA

I think one thing the so-called “Elite” don’t like about the middle class, and especially the lower middle class, is that they are happier than the Elite are. The Elite don’t like being reminded that money can’t buy happiness, although the tale of King Midas facing starvation because everything he touched turned to gold, and his grief when he even turned his daughter to gold, goes back to ancient Greece. Also Jesus stated “Blessed are the Poor” and “It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.” Yet people never seem to learn.

Recently a certain branch of the Elite have taken their dislike of the middle class to a degree where they seem to be using the coronavirus as a screen for an effort to eradicate the middle class, by closing small businesses and banning public gatherings. However a group of old geezers I am part of simply met anyway. If churches are closed we simply joined “small groups” and “Bible studies”, and if taverns were shut we had coffee in private. And I enjoyed it and was happy, which likely would make the Elite madder, if they saw it. But I figured that, as an ex-smoker, I was one of the old fossils they are attempting to guilt everyone else into wearing masks to protect, and therefore I must be the most important person, (not a VIP but the MIP), and concluded anyone worth ruining the economy of the entire nation for should be allowed to have coffee with other MIPs.

I would call us a group of grumpy old men, only we laugh too much.

This morning we found ourselves discussing the current panic about shortages of gasoline, comparing it to the shortages of toilet paper which occurred a few months back. The consumption of gasoline is up 36%, though people are not driving 36% farther. We compared this to the huge increase in purchases of toilet paper, though people were not pooping all that much more.

To some degree such hoarding behavior is like the wise ant preparing for the shortages of winter, as opposed to the lazy grasshopper just fiddling, but on the other hand it seemed to be a display of worry.

Worry is based on fear and lack of faith, and these are not among the higher human attributes. Also worry is tainted with greed. I mused that such worry may even be what causes the Elite to become what they are. They want to be “safe”, and amass more and more and more stuff, even if it causes shortages and causes others to go without. The result, to their bafflement, is that they are miserable, while those who are going without are mysteriously happy.

Looking back over the years, I have never qualified as rich, ever since I left the privileged suburb I grew up in, and often have been penniless, yet have been happier, I think, than many of the Elite. I raised five children who are not on drugs, and have seven grandchildren, with three more on the way. I still am living hand-to-mouth, yet feel blessed. What do I have the Elite lack? It must be faith. Faith is the cure to worry.

Too often people feel they would be happy if only they had more money, or gasoline, or toilet paper, and this leads them to misbehaving, like people sometimes do at a Sale in a store when items are in short supply. In some Sales people get in fights over rediculous things like undergarments, having tug-of-wars that tear the garment and render it useless to either person. In fact a sales technique is to stir up such greed and panic with phases such as “supply limited” and “Sale ends at midnight.” The best salesman can convince people they desperately need what they don’t.

Then you watch people who succeed in getting what they so deeply desired, and it is amazing how unhappy they become, though there may be an initial time of elation. The successful artist lolls in the limelight of riches and fame, and then later you see them arrested and disgraced. (Randy Travis springs to mind.) Then one sometimes sees them rescued from ruin by a spiritual awakening. (Johnny Cash springs to mind.) Or one sees a person win a million in the lottery, and their life be utterly ruined by the money.

As I sat with my group of old men I spoke of what I have learned as I moved from privileged unhappiness to blessed poverty. (They have to put up with me going on about a novel I’m happily scribbling called, “Phatty Buggers”, which describes this education). I said we need a word for the spiritual poverty of spirit the Elite unwittingly embrace, and the needless pain they suffer. I tried out a few words like “Eliteobia” and Wealthitis,” when a friend suggested, “Affluenza.”

“That’s It!” I bellowed, and was vigorously pumping his hand for coining such an excellent word when he said he hadn’t coined it.

The earliest use we could find, as we consulted various search engines, was from a PBS show in 1997.

Of course, this being PBS, they took the socialist tack. They tend to suggest we should feel guilty for success and prosperity. It almost is as if a farmer should feel guilty for growing a good crop, as if hard work was an example of greed. In actual fact they are two quite different things.

Money is not the problem, but love of money is. Love of money involves the worry I was talking about earlier, and drives people to sacrifice good elements of life for mere “stuff”. People prioritize the wrong things, making life unlivable in the name of “safety”.

For example, part of my childhood involved having scabs on my knees. Likely there were more days I had scabs on my knees than days I didn’t. However some are so over-protective of children, and worry so much, that they want to bubble-wrap childhood, inadvertently depriving their children of much of the fresh air and exercise they need. At the same time, wishing to “educate”, they make children feel environmentalism means nature is so fragile one should never walk in the woods for fear of harming moss by treading a path, which denies children the wonders of communing with nature, and even to feeling they are enemies of nature, and nature hates them. I was so appalled by such childrearing that I started my Childcare on a farm, to oppose such worry.

Of course I faced some opposition. How dare I say scabs were a good thing to have on knees!? What sort of cruel monster was I !? All I could do at first was say they could go to another Childcare, if they wanted their kid to grow up to be a…..(At this point my wife would usually intervene, asking me to go fix a fence on the far side of the farm. She was far more skilled at diplomacy.)

So was Kim John Payne. He tended traumatized children in refugee camps until he himself was traumatized, and sought escape by tending privileged children in wealthy neighborhoods, and to his astonishment and dismay became aware privileged children were suffering the same ailments as refugees. In 2010, about two years after we began our Childcare, he published his scientific conclusions:

In essence Kim John Payne’s book states less is more. How many times do we need to rediscover this? Is it not what Jesus stated when he said, “Blessed are the poor?”

In conclusion, we need to stand up to Affluenza. Do not allow the media to push your buttons and trigger panic. Not that you shouldn’t top off your gas tank, but you shouldn’t do so in a tizzy. Have faith. In God We Trust. And fight off the tendency to worry, (though, as Robin Williams discovered, it can be the most difficult thing).

ARCTIC SEA-ICE –Volcano Under The Ice?–

One thing I’ve learned, as I have attempted to fact-check Alarmist’s sensationalist claims over the past decade, is that sea-ice exists in a sort of teetering balance between a single power that chills, and a multitude of powers that warm.

The single cooling power is the loss of heat to outer space, which continues at a quite regular rate 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Although clouds, and sea-ice itself, form insulation slowing the escape of heat at the surface and from waters beneath the ice, the hungry maw of outer space is constant in its demands. It is the loss of heat to outer space that creates the sea-ice.

Countering this chilling are warm forces constantly attempting to melt the sea-ice. These forces include many that operate even in the dead of winter, including warm air masses, warm currents, the temperature of the Arctic Sea itself, and rising warm plumes of water over undersea volcanoes. But the force that gathers the most attention is sunshine, which only operates six months a year.

The theory called the “Death Spiral” worries that, once the sea-ice is melted, the darker water will be able to absorb more sunlight than the white sea-ice, due to “albedo”, and this will cause the water to warm, and warm water will melt more sea-ice, and this will become a vicious cycle until there is no sea-ice at all, which will cause dramatic, disastrous warming over the rest of the planet.

This worry is needless for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most obvious is that the Arctic Sea has been ice-free in the past, perhaps as recently as the Medieval Warm Period, (and perhaps, on the Atlantic side, as recently as 1817), and there was no vicious cycle seen. If it didn’t happen then why should it happen now? Other reasons the worry is needless are less obvious, but have been fascinating to study.

The first is that when the sun first rises at the Pole the snow is at its most pristine and Albedo is at its highest. Also the ice is chilled to as much as forty below, at the surface, and even when the surface is warmed the chill lingers down deeper in the ice. The sea-ice is so cold salt can’t melt it, and a surprising amount of salt-dust is mixed in with the snow in places. Then, as the sea-ice is warmed from both above and below, the salt starts to melt the sea-ice, which actually is a process which uses up available heat. (Think of an old fashioned crank-operated ice-cream-maker.) All in all there is so much resisting the warming that it often isn’t until the days are already starting to grow shorter that slush starts to form on the surface, and melt-water pools appear

Melt ponds in the Beaufort 14 July 2016 NASA sm

Because these pools are darker, at first they indeed have a lower albedo and absorb more sunlight, however as August proceeds they start to skim over with ice, because the sun is dipping towards the horizon, and, once the angle of the sun gets low, water (especially when it is glassy) reflects sunlight (think of the late-day glare which requires sunglasses). Water then has an albedo as high as sea-ice, especially dirty sea-ice. Therefore the sea-ice melt seen in September is largely caused by the warmer water under the sea-ice, and not the sunshine above. Lastly, because the open water largely appears when the sun has ceased to penetrate the water, the sunshine cannot be heating the water and cannot contribute to a “Death Spiral”.

A second fascinating thing to study is the drift of the sea-ice. It turns out the amount of sea-ice at the Pole can be decreased not by heat, but by simply exporting large amounts to warmer waters (which happened to such an sensational degree in the spring of 1817 that there was open water north of Svalbard and Greenland, yet icebergs grounding on the coast of Ireland.)

A third study is the wandering currents which feed warmer water into the arctic. These currents apparently vary in their temperature, depth and location, having something to do with a cycle of roughly sixty years called the AMO. (Atlantic Multidecadal Cycle). In the past fishermen have noted some dramatic shifts in the location of fishing grounds, and there are incidental reports in historical records of notable changes in water temperatures, and how much ice is along coastlines, and how far glaciers extend into the sea. While these historical reports are dismissed by some scientists as anecdotal and too scattered to be useful, scientists themselves only have scattered data back sixty years ago, when the AMO was last doing what it now (perhaps) is going to do again. But a “Cycle” is very different from a “Death Spiral”, and currently there is more evidence the arctic follows cycles than evidence it is headed down a one-way street to disaster.

A fourth effect has been studied even less than the AMO, and is the occurrence of under-sea volcanos. This has grabbed my attention now due to the appearance of a mysterious hole in the sea-ice, seen in the NRL maps starting roughly at the end of March, but only sizable and clear over the past thirty days. It is located roughly at 85 degrees north and 110 degrees east.

I have only seen this sort of event once before, roughly seven years ago, at roughly the same location. Back then a reader asked me what it was, and I had no answer. They suggested it might be caused by a plume of warm water rising from a volcano, but that particular event was so brief I could only shrug it off and say “perhaps”, but confess I had never read of such a thing. But this one has been longer lasting. It appeared to be associated with no above-freezing temperatures nor with a lead or pressure ridge in the sea-ice, and also to move in a very odd manner. For example, when the sea-ice drifted to the right it would drift more slowly and even seem to stand still, and when the sea-ice swung around and drifted the opposite way it would remain in the same place. Lastly it has persisted despite constantly sub-freezing temperatures, and even to be enlarging. To me this seems consistent with a plume of milder water rising and persistently melting the sea-ice from the bottom.

Now seems a good time for the Navy to plan some sort of long distance training flight, and also to drop some sort of buoy or sensor into that water. If I was a sea-ice scientist I’d be hectoring and wheedling for such an expenditure. I imagine such events (if it is truly such an event) are not that common.

It is also interesting to think about the effects of such an upwelling. Likely it would derange the system of currents at that location, at various depths beneath the sea-ice, and trouble the stratification of water with upwelling turbulence. This in turn would have an effect “downstream” in the temperature and even location of the currents involved, which in turn could effect other currents.

We have heard much talk about “tipping points”, and how bovine flatulence and curly lightbulbs are things the fate of our planet hinges upon. However here we may be seeing a far more meaningful event, which could have repercussions like dominoes, and lead to interesting changes. Likely it has happened before, but by studying what happens this time we may be able to to look backwards and say, “Ah ha! So that is why that happened!”

In any case, it gave me something to get excited about during a basically dull time at the Pole. There has been a “Ralph” sitting over the Pole, but it was weak and the air has basically stagnated up there, without any roaring gales. There has been a slow but steady flow of sea-ice south through Fram Strait, but the current sluggishness of systems has revealed something that isn’t always apparent: Despite 24-hour sunshine, the arctic is still losing heat to outer space, and still creating cold air. Otherwise the DMI temperatures-north-of-80-degrees-lattitude graph could never show a downturn like this:

This downturn demonstrates that the Pole’s temperature is an equation, basically a fixed amount of heat being lost, and a varying amount of heat being added. To be a bit overly simplistic, in the dead of winter 100 units are lost and 70 added, which gives you a temperature of 30 below. Now, with more sunshine and warmer landscapes to the south, 100 units are lost and 90 are added, which gives you a temperature of 10 below. It is a bit of a misnomer to state the arctic is warming, for in fact it is still losing. It just isn’t losing as much.

In fact sea ice is still forming at the Pole. The “extent” graph only starts its yearly crash because large areas of sea-ice in more southerly climes, such as the Sea of Okhotsk, melt away. This year we are a hair behind last year’s rate of decrease (not that it means much this early):

Despite the loss of all the ice to the south, the “volume” graph shows the loss is countered by an increase in sea-ice to the north, and the total volume never starts to drop until around about this time every May.

This graph demonstrates that, despite a possible volcano melting the underside of the sea-ice at one locale, we have more ice up there than last year.

I hope to post again soon, with some maps of the weather events up there, now that my taxes are done. (The dull period may be ending, as a bit of a Barents Sea Blaster may be brewing). But I figured I’d whip off this post to alert people to the possibility of an undersea volcano up there.

Stay tuned.

PHATTY BURGERS –Part 4– Little Christmas Eve

It did occur to me, as I sat in my car outside of Raydoe’s trailer at the campground on Thanksgiving Eve, that I should pause to thank God. I had been working so hard I hadn’t had time to think of Him much; maybe a brief, “Help me, God”, heading into work, and another before I fell asleep, but little beyond that. I certainly hadn’t taken the prescribed one-day-off-in-seven to devote to worship. That alone earned me some hellfire, or so some would suggest.

 I would counter such holy critics, if they were present, (and they were present, as echoes in my mind,) by arguing that a poet worships seven days a week by admiring God’s reflections in creation. Maybe I forgot to worship the Father with all my heart and all my soul, but, when I admired the way the Sun lit clouds, I was indirectly worshiping the Source. Even though I had endured a grind of 21 days of ten-hour-shifts, working so late I missed the sunsets and so tired I slept through the sunrises, I did admire the late morning sky and the silver sagebrush as I drove into work, and the brilliantly starry desert sky as I staggered to the trailer to sleep after midnight.

I also admired the people. People are like clouds; in that they reflect God’s light. If you have a poetic streak you see it is true that “There is a little bit of God in everyone.” Beauty is even in the ugly.

My mind drifted. I reached into the back seat for the battered notebook that served as my diary. For 21 days I’d written little; mostly strange stray thoughts and incidental observations, with some tiny numbers indicating precise penny-pinching;  but now I felt the urge to perhaps write a poem, or at least wonder aloud about an odd feeling I had that I could hardly remember: I felt happy!

I flipped open the notebook, looked down into the passenger seat footwell, rooted about through the rustling drift of empty hamburger boxes to locate a ballpoint pen, and then nibbled the pen thoughtfully, gazing out the window at the way the low afternoon sun enflamed the red sandstone. Life was beautiful.

My mind drifted. I’d studied Shakespeare and had been amazed by the wonderful way he could make even a dope be a beautiful dope. Even a complete scoundrel like Falstaff was made laughable and lovable, and even epitomes of evil, like Iago or Macbeth, were made worthy of pity.

In a strange way such poetry obeyed the second half of the “Greatest Commandment”, and I attempted to emulate Shakespeare. Maybe I failed to worship God with all my heart and soul, but I got straight “A’s” on loving my neighbor as myself. I even loved my enemies, which made no sense to businessmen like Ike Weed and Quincy Phabbutt, who seemed to make both customers and employees into enemies. In a sense this made them my enemies, but I found them fascinating, which means I was forgiving and loving of even those who abused me.

To me it seemed businessmen put profits before people, and poets put people before profits, and prophets put God before people. In my not-so-humble opinion there could be but one conclusion: Poets were superior to both businessmen and prophets, as poets alone cared for people.

I may be able to articulate such wit now, but back then I am not certain I even knew what the “Greatest Commandment” was or where it was written. In some ways I was blind and groping my way through ink.

For example, I loved the Phatty Burger employees, but this put me on thin ice when my employees were beautiful women like Splendor and Toonya. As I explained earlier, I understood the distinction between lust and love, and between infatuation and active appreciation, but understanding doesn’t mean as much as it should when you are still young enough to have hormones rampaging in your veins. Maybe hormones were not running riot as much as they did when I was sixteen, but at sixteen I had no clue what I was doing; I had innocence on my side; at age thirty-one I did have a clue, and that isn’t always an advantage.

It may be spiritual for a poet to see the beauty in women but is not so spiritual to utilize a poet’s imagination to immediately create a sexual fantasy. I can now forgive myself, for I was very lonely and deeply craved a soulmate and wife, but back then the way my mind wandered just seemed wrong. It was as if I wanted as many wives as Solomon.

In any case I banned Toonya and Splendor’s memory from entering my car as I sat in the campground outside Raydoe’s trailer, and instead invited the memory of recent hardship in, even as I ruffled a (to me) huge wad of cash in my hands. On Thanksgiving Eve the contrast between poverty and wealth indeed seemed a reason to be thankful.

On my way home from work I’d bought a carton of 200 cigarettes for my ex, hoping they might bribe her to become my exex, but even this huge expense, (an entire nine dollars in 1984), barely dented my wad of cash, nearly five hundred dollars. I didn’t fail to note the irony of the situation. That morning, before cashing my paycheck, I couldn’t afford a single cigarette, and had been reduced to rerolling the rank tobacco from butts in my car’s ashtray. What a difference a day makes. What a difference a paycheck makes.

Yet, as I sat in my car, I knew that love of money is a sin. I didn’t know it because I had studied scripture, (which states not money, but love of money, is a sin). Instead, I knew it because I’d grown up in a rich town and had seen money poison people, firsthand.

In any case, as I sat in my car and ruffled money I found myself having a chat with God for the first time in many days. I was very thankful I was not poor anymore, but in a way suspicious. I was saying, “What are you up to, God?” I distrusted the way money made me happy because I knew money cannot buy happiness. But there could be no denying it, I was happy to have my wad, and, it being Thanksgiving Eve, I thanked God for my happiness, if not my money. It seemed to have been a long, lonely time since I’d felt any genuine happiness.

My wad had been especially huge because when Ike Weed cashed my paycheck he used the Phatty Burger deposit, and people at a fast food joint seldom pay with big bills. My wad was big but cumbersome. I reduced its size by turning fifty ones and ten fives to a single hundred, because, when I bought the carton of cigarettes for my ex, I noticed a scrawled sign by the register stated “Need Ones and fives”. They got sixty bills and I got a single hundred, which I slipped into a side pocket of my wallet as a sort of hedge-fund against the future.

Even as I did this, doing so seemed a little unthankful towards God. It seemed to express a distrust, and that I fully expected to be flat broke in the future. As a general rule, it seemed to me God spent more time keeping poets flat broke than making them rich. Poverty seemed an important part of poetry, a price poets paid. The price had to be paid because, “Ya gotta pay the dues if you wanna to sing the blues.” In fact there seemed something downright weird and unnatural about being as rich as I now felt I was.

Besides slipping a hundred into one pocket of my wallet to hedge against the future, I slipped a fifty into another pocket to repay Ike Weed for the advance he had given me, yet despite the subtraction of these two large bills my wad was still over three hundred. Considering I couldn’t even afford cigarettes that morning, I felt fabulously wealthy.

Yet my thanksgiving was not for my current wealth, but rather for what God had seen me through before I was wealthy. Looking back, it occurred to me that, even when I couldn’t afford cigarettes, I never needed to quit my addiction, for God supplied me with rank tobacco to reroll. I also never went hungry, which was a good thing, for I had a metabolism in overdrive. I never in my life needed to diet, and tended to be so lean that fasting was dangerous. But it seemed God never asked me to fast. Perhaps I ate from dumpsters on a couple of occasions, but I never once went hungry. And, as I sat in my car, that was what I was thankful for. I felt like a sailor on a ship that has come through a 21-day storm. I wasn’t as thankful for the sturdy ship or for the safe anchorage as I was to simply be a survivor, and to be alive.

Looking back, I think anything beyond survival made me nervous. I felt God would provide what I needed and not what I wanted. I’d get water and not lemonade. Therefore any excess made me feel it must exist for some future shortcoming. It must be like the bounty of harvest, just before an especially severe winter.

In some ways this didn’t seem quite right. It didn’t seem like thanksgiving. To see bounty as a promise of future hardship Is like seeing a sunrise as a promise of night. But as I sat in my car in a campground, it was hard to be an optimist. God had recently seemed like a drill sergeant, and my life like a boot camp.

Boot camps whip you into shape, and that was what I tried to be thankful for. Discipline had seemed to pay off, as I now could ruffle a wad of cash, but I wasn’t altogether sure bootcamp was over. As I had my talk with God I questioned “what he was up to”. Hopefully this amused God. It must be fun for God to hear mere mortals attempt to figure Infinity out.

One thing I thought I was figuring out was that God was teaching me the difference between love and lust. In terms of women, God seemed to shatter my resolutions to ignore all females by placing glaringly beautiful ladies right in front of me, dead center in my life, but as soon as I reached out to grab that female He would snatch her away. Splendor was a perfect example of this: A militant feminist, she seemed a female I would abhor, but instead I started to fall in love with her, so God (and Quincy) had her immediately quit Phatty Burgers, and therefore she couldn’t progress to becoming an object of my lustful sexual fantasies. As a result, I experienced the love but not the lust.

“I see what you’re doing” I said to God. “You are keeping me from having 400 wives and 600 concubines like Solomon. But couldn’t you at least allow me have one?”

The same thing seemed to happen, in a far less romantic way, in terms of jobs. As soon as I started to commit my life to some occupation other than poetry, something would occur that would make me quit or else get me fired. Therefore it was very surprising, in some cynical way, that I actually passed the Phatty Burgers “appraisal”. I was steeling myself for yet another firing. My expectation had been that God would allow me to commit just long enough to get a fat paycheck, and then have me fired, and send me on my way to the next stage of his tough-love boot camp.

The simple fact I passed the “appraisal” awoke hope in me. It seemed boot camp might at long last finally be finished, and I could just progress onwards to being an ordinary soldier.

In romantic terms, I hoped this meant I could quit the business of being so damn chaste all the time, and could progress to the romantic ideal of being a good man who loved a good woman. This involved the next day, when I’d go see my ex. Hope had me thinking I might persuade her to be my exex. Rather than breaking up we might be making up.

As I sat in my car, thankfulness gave way to thoughts about why I saw monogamous marriage as a good thing, which involved thinking about things it was difficult to be thankful for. My diary shows I often drifted into morbidity.

Now I can be thankful I was gifted with the parents I had, but they were unfaithful to each other, sixty years ago, and, thirty-six years ago, I was still bitter about the fiasco they made of their marriage. I couldn’t understand why such lovely people couldn’t be loving. But, gifted with IQs over 130, they chose the Sophist path, which made them seem like they had IQs of 60.

As a child, I felt they were the world’s best parents, and it was agony to watch them make fools of themselves. They cheated. They justified betraying Love and marriage vows with eloquent sophistication. Ruin resulted. It was agony to witness and hell to endure, yet was understandable, given their circumstances. It took time to understand their circumstances. Now I forgive them. But thirty-six years ago I was still going through the painful process of understanding, which is so much a part of shaking-off bitterness and being healed by the antidote of forgiveness.

The one thing I had firmly decided back then was that my parent’s horrible divorce was not a proof that marriage was a bad thing, but rather that sophistication was a bad thing. It was better to be unsophisticated, and to be a bumpkin loyal to your spouse.

I explained this to my ex, before we became lovers: Commitment had to be 100%.  Marriage was not like wading into water at a beach, where you can get up to your knees and decide the water was too cold and turn back. It was taking a plunge. There was no such thing as a “trial marriage.” It was either 100% or it was not truly marriage.

My ex had smiled and vigorously nodded she agreed, but 60 days later told me “I don’t feel 100% committed any more.” She went on to inform me that she felt the sole reason for our relationship was that some sort of higher power felt her job was to “get you out of California”. Because she had completed her task, she felt her job was done, and the relationship was over. She was therefore and henceforth unequivocally my ex. My reaction to this logic was not well thought out. I slapped her. I was immediately ashamed, but her immediate reaction was odd.  She smiled. I assume she smiled because my slap provided her with a convenient reaffirmation of her status as an “ex”.

In my eyes “100% commitment” involved accepting the world of another and dedicating your life to entering and serving-in that other person’s world. Marriage, in my eyes, involved becoming twice as big. Loving enlarged you by adding another world to your own, and people who snubbed marriage preferred to be shrunken. In my eyes my ex was preferring to be small, and I wanted her bigger than that. I could be 100% committed even if she wasn’t. I could rescue her, by getting her to recommit, to forgiving my slap, and to becoming my exex.

All this stuff was passing through my brain, in a far less digested form, as I sat in my car attempting to be thankful just before Thanksgiving. And hope was telling me I might be successful. After all, I had succeeded at Phatty Burgers, and had a wad of cash in my hands. I had staggered to my feet in one way, so why not stagger to my feet in another?

Hope is a dangerous thing, for hope can be dashed. Yet hope is a thing poets are all about. Poets want to take two sad words, “if only”, and make such hope become more real. And, when you think about it, why not? Why put on a depressed face and say, “if only bosses could be nicer to employees” or “If only employees could be nicer to bosses” or “If only exes could be nicer to their ex” or “if only an ex could be nicer to their exes.” Why not skip the bother of such weeping and wailing, and shoulder the burden of making hope be real? Why grouse that hoping seems preposterous? It is better to be attempting to make beauty apparent, than to side with dashed hope. If you concede defeat before you begin, because you are so sure hope will be dashed, then you won’t begin. And if you don’t begin, hope is just a dream that can’t come true.

Not that I had much hope, as I hoped. After all, I did slap my ex across the kisser, and once a man has resorted to such illogic, he can have little hope of forgiveness, even if the female seemingly deserved it. However, as I chatted with God, it just seemed I should act as if I had hope, even if the cause seemed lost.

There was a slight chance (only 6%, according to the pregnancy test) my ex’s crabby moods might be due to our pre-break-up behavior, so I figured I should be responsible and a good provider, as if we were still together and my money was still her money and my work still aimed at her happiness. Not that she ever responded to my letters, but hope can be a cactus that requires no watering.

I’d checked out places we might reside, besides a tent or trailer in a campground, and the best place in Gallup was the El Rancho Hotel. That was where Hollywood movie stars had stayed when they filmed near Gallup. Rates at the El Rancho were reduced due to the depressed local economy, and I abruptly could afford such a place, though it cost four times as much as a campground. I thanked God I could be a good provider and tempt my ex with such a refuge. It seemed hope might be something other than insanity, as I sat in my car.

I tried to bolster my hope by envisioning happy endings, like one reads in romantic novels, as I sat in my car. I even hummed the old song, “I wish instead of breaking up that you and I were making up.” However a disconcerting reality intruded. When you are in love, your beloved’s face floats in front of you even when you are trying to do some mundane job such as work at a lathe. Yet now, when I sat in a campground and attempted to hope, I couldn’t even picture my ex’s face. Not a good sign.

My stomach started to grumble, and I left my prayers and Toyota to deal with more immediate concerns.  I needed to eat. No mother would feed me, and no wife would feed me, and no sister would feed me, and no daughter would feed me, nor would any other charity. It can be rough being a poet. You care for everyone, but nobody cares for you. Yet, before I tune up any violins of self-pity, I’ll mention such a predicament has its good side: No one tells you to sit up straight or to hold your fork correctly.

I did have a Thanksgiving meal, a “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast”, but had no microwave to heat it in, and I didn’t want to cook hunched over at the minuscule electric stove burner in Raydoe’s tiny trailer. Such cramped conditions just didn’t seem conducive to the hope I was attempting to muster. I wanted to use my battered and blackened stewpot over a campfire. But campfires don’t turn on with a switch. I needed to gather some fuel.

There is something wonderfully down-to-earth about gathering fuel. My wad of cash meant nothing. (In fact I’d once read of bank robbers who successfully eluded the police by fleeing into wilderness, but were reduced to burning stolen dollars to start a fire, because all the kindling was wet.)

It is a pity so few in modern society know the pleasure of gathering the wood for the fire that cooks the meal. Many don’t even know the pleasure of preparing the meal. They pop a “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast” into a microwave, and then wonder why dinner seems so empty.

In 1984 I escaped such progress and wandered about a campground devoid of tourists attempting to scrounge fuel. Because the tourists were gone, a prime source of fuel, the leftovers from their campfires, was also gone. I’d checked every campsite for weeks and had used up all the half-burned logs available. I’d also used up all easily gathered fallen wood. All that was left was  breaking dead branches from living sage brush and scrub cedar, and, unlike low, dead branches of hemlock and pine back in New England, such branches do not snap easily  from the trunk and need to be twisted and wrenched. My knicked knuckles bled before I had a decent armload to bring to my campsite, to start my fire with.

Something about starting the fire was another thing to be thankful for. Yes, it was much more work than turning on the electric stove in Raydoe’s trailer, but sage and cedar smell better than an electric burner. And gathering wood under desert sky midst red sandstone cliffs beats the hell out of clicking a switch. And lastly, you pay no utility bill for the heat you make; you owe nobody for the heat that cooks your food; you are a free man, self-reliant. In some ways a homeless bachelor in a campground is last man you should pity. Instead pity rich men who must pay for electric stoves, and for trophy wives who demand they hire cooks or else take them out to eat at fancy restaurants.

I dumped the contents of my free “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast” into my stewpot, from its microwave-safe plastic containers, not forgetting to thank turkey farmers for the turkey, pea farmers for the peas, and potato farmers for the mashed potatoes. I opened the gravy containers and dumped gravy on the mashed potatoes, wondering who farmed the gravy, and who I should thank. I confess I forgot to thank the folk who made plastic containers, and the oil riggers who make all plastic possible. But I thanked many, though the meal was free, for I knew there is no such thing as a free lunch. For every scrap of sustenance we get, some farmer has sweated and slaved, somewhere. But I still had something else to add to my pot which I was especially thankful for.

When Raydoe vanished, he had scooped up nearly every crumb of food in the trailer as he left, but missed the best item of all. On a shelf, hidden by cleaning supplies, was a canning jar of homemade hot sauce.  I think some relative had given it to Raydoe, perhaps his grandmother. It was amazing stuff, very unlike commercial hot sauce, for it didn’t overpower with the burning sensation of chilies, yet doubled the flavors of chilies, and there were also intangible flavors due to some secret mix of vegetables and spices which grandmothers never reveal. Lastly, it had the touch of love in it. Some relative was very fond of Raydoe, and I always felt a little wicked to be stealing his sauce. That scrumptious sauce was more than a fair trade for the dried rice and beans and cans of sardines and jars of  peanut butter I had bought, that Raydoe scooped-up as he left.

It was amazing what a dash of that sauce could do to a “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast”. I tried to eat slowly, but felt the urge to devour like a wolf. I used a tortilla to blot the stew pot as clean as a dog would have licked it, and then sat back and patted my happy stomach while watching the sky.

I have always been thankful for the sky. Often it is the best show in town, and it doesn’t cost a cent. Even a man in a jail cell, looking at a patch of sky between bars, can be liberated and free as a bird. Or that is how I felt during math classes, as a boy. The sky is a reason to thank God. It deserves more than a single syllable, and far more than three letters.

On this particular Thanksgiving eve, the sky put on an amazing show. Sunset didn’t just happen in the west, but also overhead and into the east.

Not that the sunset was particularly baroque; there were only a few curls of high clouds. It wasn’t foreground clouds, but background sky, that got to be center stage. The sky faded from blue to the yellow of a manila envelope, and then got yellower and yellower, until it began to be orange, and then as orange as a pumpkin, but not just in a stripe above the western horizon, but from horizon to horizon, all the way to the east. I felt like I was under the water of an orange sea.

My curiosity awoke, and I wondered what caused the sky to behave in such an unusual way. Some sort of dust must be up high in the atmosphere, to make the sky be so orange. I’d read of huge volcanoes like Krakatoa hurling ash so high that sunsets all around the world became amazing, but that phenomenon persisted day after day. This seemed more brief, a one-evening-event, so my mind mused about what sort of dust could be causing the phenomenon.

I smiled when my thought recalled reading about dust storms in the Sahara. I’d read that the Sahara’s dust often retards the development of hurricanes east of the Caribbean, and can even be found in ocean-bottom-core-samples near the Bahamas and even in the Gulf of Mexico. And if such dust can drift as far as the Gulf of Mexico, why not up the Rio Grande Valley and then, taking a sharp left turn, up the Rio Puerco to Gallup New Mexico? It was sheer hypothesis, but such wonders are possible.

Right at this point a nag voiced in my memory, with a wonder that stated, “Why can’t you just enjoy the view? Why do you have to spoil it with your stupid science?”

It was the voice of my ex, come to haunt me like a ghost.

My ex claimed she had renounced religion, but in some ways was orthodox to the core. She told me science was bullshit, there was no such thing as evolution, no such thing as dinosaurs, and even no such thing as geology. She stated this after I was admiring a canyon wall where a layer of red sandstone was topped by silver limestone, and I stated this indicated an arid landscape had been covered by a rising sea, millions of years in the past.

At the time I had to admit she had made a good point. Landscapes are beautiful in and of themselves. You don’t need to explain them or know how they came to be. You can love without explanations.

In this manner the love which God had woken in my heart opened a new world to me, a world unlike my own, my ex’s world, where one simply appreciated beauty without wanting to dig at it. However, I am what I am, and as soon as I appreciate something I want to dig at it. I want to know more.

Some people do not appreciate it when you want to know them better. They feel picked at, probed, pecked-at by snitching tweezers, and request you just leave them alone. It is like the quote Greta Garbo never spoke, “I vant to be alone.” Sometimes people just need some space.

Yet love is a two-way street. If I allow others to be as they are, they should allow me to be as I am. And God made me full of curiosity. I can’t help myself. I must spoil things with my stupid science, because the Creator is so amazing that I want to know how He did creation, and to love Him more the more I learn, with ever-increasing admiration. For that is what science is, as I see it: Ever-increasing admiration.

My ex and I had arrived at a sort of impasse which seemed impossible to resolve, but I had hope. God created every note in his orchestra, and knows how to resolve every discord into harmony. He often does so with humor that makes you laugh.

For example, one discord that led to my parent’s divorce involved my father’s tendency to work harder, where my mother sought relaxation and peace. If you had a problem my father’s solution was to get up early and run five miles, while my mother’s solution was to sleep late and recuperate. This becomes humorous if you are a little boy attempting to please both parents. One tells you get up and the other tells you to lay down, and the result is you become a yoyo. Then the two scratch their heads and wonder, “Why is our son such a yoyo?” (If they have divorced, they scratch their heads in different houses, but one incongruous thing I noticed about my divorced and supposedly irreconcilable different parents was how they said the same thing, even using the same phrases, (“it is all water under the bridge”), even when miles apart.)

It is easy for God to resolve such discord, for God sees both exercise and rest are part of His creation, and how to harmonize the two opposites in a way that is healthy and healing and creates huge happiness.

That was the healing I hoped for, tomorrow. What some might call a miracle could possibly occur, but, if it occurred, it would just be God pointing out a harmony we two lovers should have seen all along. Often such a “pointing-out” is as simple as seeing two cannot walk through the same door or sit on the same toilet at the same time, but it takes God to point out how idiotic we mortals are behaving. Marriage cannot work unless it involves three.

A sense of euphoria swept over me. The sky moved past orange and became ruby. From west to east the sky was bright ruby, and all the world beneath was ruby, a brief ruddy sight I’d never seen before and would never see again. I felt sorry for people indoors, who missed it.

I was thankful. My life was a wonderful life, full of wonderful gifts. I saw beautiful things others never saw. I apologized to God for ever complaining. I wanted to yell to the whole world that their lives were equally beautiful. I did not know why we all became so blind and were sullen so much, but the fact was everyone was, everyone is, and everyone ever more shall be, beautiful.

As I enjoyed this unexpected bliss I knew it was not a vision that would last. I’d awake the next morning grouchy, and wonder what the hell had gotten into me. I’d wonder how I could get so high without drugs, or even beer. I’d attempt to dismiss the bliss as a manic mania, but I also knew that, while the bliss might not be lasting, what I glimpsed was far more lasting than any of my worldly woes. This world is perishable, as fleeting as a sunset, but heaven is everlasting.

Even as the amazing sky started to fade and grow dusky, and even as I started to grow sleepy and think I should hit the hay early to prepare for a long day tomorrow, the bliss persisted. No woe had power. Things that ordinarily could cause me to cry seemed mere jolly mishaps.

One thing I recall chuckling about as I fell asleep was that I became aware I felt liberated. I felt allowed to wonder. I could wonder if the ruby sky might be due to God whisking dust from the Sahara to the skies of New Mexico, without being told I was an unholy blasphemer to bring science into a sunset. It was a relief, to sit in a sunset free of my ex, but I still was determined to keep our vows, and to make her an exex tomorrow.

WARNING ABOUT MISUSE OF THE WORD “SYSTEMIC”

I am not able to post as much as I like beause I face tax deadlines, but something woke me at 1:30 AM this morning, to share some thoughts.

The word “systemic” is currently being bandied about as a sort of scary boogey man, and people flinch from it without pausing to think what it means. Basically it means “all through a system” as opposed to “localized” which means “only in part of a system”. For example, an infected toenail is localized, whereas measles is systemic (you don’t get measles only in your big toe.)

Currently the United States is under attack by people who do not like the beautiful and spiritual principles upon which it was founded. One method of attack is to suggest the “system” is rotten to the core, rotten through and through. Therefore racism is not discussed in a rational manner, but rather as an inherent evil in the very foundation of the United States. This is absolutely and unequivocally not the case. The United States is founded on principles which are a standing challenge to racism. You cannot believe, “all men are created equal”, and be a racist. You cannot believe in “liberty and justice for all” and be a racist.

This is not to say the United States is perfect. No mere mortals are perfect, until they can sit beside God in heaven. Such a presumption is not made by the United States, and in fact the United States owns a system of government which assumes there must be checks and balances, due to the fact leaders have imperfections.

When you think about it, it is not the United States who claims it is without flaw. It is communist China. If you even dare suggest the government is flawed in China, they bring down the hammer. It is a flaw in the system called “communism”. If there is anyone who has a deep and ingrained “systemic” flaw, it is communists. Over and over they have seen their system bring nations crashing down in ruin, yet they never admit their mistakes.

This can also be seen in the history of ancient times, in the cases of kings who demanded others worship them as God. Christians were thrown to the lions for telling Nero they wouldn’t worship him, just as Danial was thrown to the lions for refusing to worship the Babylonian king. The arrogance and vanity of leaders is nothing new, and is the very reason the government of the United States has checks and balances.

Racism is deeply rooted in human nature, because it is based on a fear of those you don’t know; a fear of strangers. It has its sensible side: We tell our children not to get in the car of a person they don’t know, who offers them candy. Is it racist to tell our children to be wary? Not at all. Children need a “safe space” which involves boundaries, and boundaries create small and (hopefully) safe social-units called families and neighborhoods. These units are not racist just because the inhabitants tend to all be of one ethnicity. They only become racist when they go out of their way to hurt others of a different ethnicity. It is quite all right to be fiercely loyal to your school’s football team as they compete against a nearby town, but genocide is not football. Racism only occurs when our natural self-protectiveness goes on the offence, and steps over a sometimes-hard-to-see line between protecting our own children and harming other people’s children.

Any society which seeks to improve the human condition must begin with the premise we are not born perfect. We all own flaws, and all need to be uplifted; children are “raised”. We need to learn to recognize our more beastly impulses and redirect that energy into higher behavior; for example, greed tends to cause trouble which generosity does not. Hate causes trouble which love does not.

Fear causes trouble when it takes the simple fact we are wary of strangers and turns us into people who attack people we don’t know. If a stranger comes walking into your house it is acceptable to draw a gun, but before you shoot them dead you should first ask, “What are you doing in my house?” You should make the effort to know strangers. It may turn out they simply got the address wrong. Or they may be a mass murderer. We need to make the effort to differentiate.

If you judge another by the color of their skin and not the quality of their character you are skipping the process of getting to know them better. It is all right to discriminate if you are basing your discrimination on the quality of character, but not good to discriminate based solely on the color of skin. Yet some bandy about the word “discrimination” as if discrimination was one of the seven deadly sins.

The same is true of judging light-skinned people as all being scary and owning an invisible club they will clout you with, called “white privilege”, (even if they are dirt poor). Maybe they are good and maybe not. One needs to get to know them, and utilize a thing called “discernment.” Ignorance fuels racism, whereas knowledge ends it.

To judge people as bad, based on their skin color, tends to be frightening to the people being judged. Frightened people then tend to fight back. A society is pushed in a divisive direction, and a divided people are easier to conquer. This may in fact be a strategy being utilized by those who seek to destroy the United States. If they can stir up fear, they can stir up the self-protective instinct, and get people fighting among themselves.

The antidote to fear is faith. Times such as these actually strengthen faith. We are forced to stand up to bullshit. We need to assert we believe love is stronger than hate; we have faith. We need to assert that what is “systemic” in the United States is love, not hate, and that we intend to prove it. When people bandy about big words, attempting to shame the innocent with jargon, we need to laugh at them and say, “Do you even know what that word means? Don’t be such a dunce!”

Have faith. In God we trust.

A COUPLE OF SPRING SONNETS


I’ve seen the dawning of another spring;
The wearing out of winter; The surprise.
I should know by now: Frogs and birds will sing.
How do I grow ignorant? My old eyes
Gaze fondly on an old friend I forgot,
But how can I forget such a lover?
I think it is the newness; the sweet thought
That freshness is something you discover;
It’s ongoing. If you clutch it you fail.
Growing can’t stand still. I must get out;
Be part of greening. Indoors has grown stale.
Winter needs refuge: Walls that are stout
And warm fires, but walls become prison;
I must bust out and be newly risen.  

 

Please do not think I am shaming or blaming
The painters who seek to capture green gold,
But spring is a picture no framing 
Can capture; a rapture no painter's controlled.
I go to my garden to plan for my harvest;
Make ready for winter and woes
But my heart is singing. Such songs are best
Heard in a garden which no mortal grows.
I walk past my garden and head for the trees
To watch silver twiggyness fade
In a haze of hues that softly tease
The sunshine to growing some shade.
Paint me in this picture? The painter will claim
He saw me stroll past the edge of his frame.

Phatty Burgers –Part 3– The Appraisal

(NOTE: I changed the name of this rough draft to “Phatty Burgers” because I learned “Fatty Burgers” had already been used.)

After three weeks, I finally was going to get a day off. Phatty Burgers was closing down for Thanksgiving, which I gathered the Navajo called “Little Christmas.” I was surprised by how the city of Gallup emptied out and shut down, the day before.

In 1984 the day before Thanksgiving in Gallup wasn’t like Christmas Eve was in other places, where businesses might hope to snare some frantic, last-minute shoppers. The only thing anyone shopped for was food, and, while the lone Gallup supermarket stayed open into the afternoon, everyone else looked like they were hurrying to close after breakfast. Even when I drove from the campground into work before lunch I seemed to be the only car inbound on the dusty frontage road through the sagebrush, while there seemed to be an unnatural amount of cars leaving Gallup. Through windshields I saw smiling faces with dreamy eyes, as people left town for some gathering outside the city limits; even most bars in Gallup were closing.

This gave me something to ponder. As a Mutt-with-Puritan-heritage I’d always thought of Thanksgiving as a Puritan holiday.  Naively I thought it was only big in New England, or among transplants from the northeast. In fact, I’d assumed Indians would resent Thanksgiving, (thinking they’d gotten the raw end of the deal), but apparently around Gallup they’d embraced the day and made it their own, in a way I didn’t understand.

I’d become increasingly aware (with the help of Splendor) there was lots I didn’t understand and was ignorant of, but I didn’t have as much time to ponder as I would have liked, for two reasons. The first was that Fatty Burger’s manner of training ran me ragged. The second was that on the day before Thanksgiving Quincy Phlabutt grew cross, as the “efficiency number” produced by the cash register dropped from four to three after breakfast, even when Quincy put nearly all the employees on unpaid breaks. The public apparently wasn’t interested in fast food, just before a feast. When the “efficiency number” dropped below three Quincy began sending everyone home. The workers were happy, as they wanted to begin their festivities, but it didn’t please me much; it meant I had to do a lot of the clean-up alone, after we closed when no lunch rush developed at noon. (Quincy had become extremely crabby when the “efficiency number” hit zero).  But I attempted to look cheerful, for I knew the district manager Ike Weed was dropping by, and I’d undergo my “appraisal” after work. (“Appraisal” was the word Fatty Burgers used to describe whether they’d give me the boot or not.) I was fairly certain Quincy would bring up much I “needed to improve upon”, and I didn’t want to give him any extra ammunition, by being a sourpuss.

I wasn’t as worried about the appraisal as much as I was worried about whether I’d be able to get my paycheck cashed.  Phatty Burgers policy made employees wait for nearly a week before a check was issued for a prior fortnight’s “pay period”.  Consequently, it was possible to work a fortnight and then wait nearly a week, nearly three weeks in all, before seeing a penny. Fortunately, when I began working I’d worked three days of an earlier pay-period, and, (though I got no overtime despite working ten hour days), I still got a check for $135.00, minus $15.00 the government raked off for taxes. I had to wait a week for that $120.00, but a $50.00 advance from Ike Weed enabled me to eek by. Then I eeked by a further two weeks on $120.00, waiting for my big, fat paycheck to come rolling in. It was going to be nearly $600.00, (after taxes) with all the overtime I’d worked.

Getting by on what amounted to roughly $57.00 a week hadn’t been easy, especially as Raydoe remained absent and I had to pay the $25.00/week rent on his trailer at the campground. I practically lived on Triple Big Burgers, (as managers ate for free at Phatty Burgers) (but not other employees; other employees only got a 10% discount.)

If it were not for the free food, I could never have afforded the $40.00 I spent, returning to the gas station at the edge of town where I’d briefly worked, and having them weld my muffler back onto the tailpipe, one morning before work. That was as close as I came to splurging for 21 days. Cigarettes had been few and far between, but, even with rationing, my addiction had reduced me to removing the butts from my car’s stuffed ashtray and rerolling the rank tobacco. 

The three weeks had been rough, but poverty had its benefits. Not only did I smoke less, but I had to stay sober. Also I could barely afford the gasoline to drive to the campground and back each day, and therefore couldn’t drive to the ranch to see my ex, who I still wanted to make my exex. I was such a fool that I still thought of my pay as “our” money. My last decent paycheck, when I worked helping a lumberyard conduct its inventory, had enabled me to spend eighty dollars on new boots to replace my disintegrating sneakers, and I then drove to the ranch and gave my ex another eighty, so she could buy boots, because her sneakers had completely disintegrated and she was walking about barefoot. But for the past three weeks I couldn’t be a noble fool like that. My life was stuck on hold, on a treadmill of ten-hour shifts, day after day. The prospect of having hundreds in cash to ruffle in my hands was wonderful, but a problem lay in the way. Who would cash my check?

Even cashing the earlier $120.00 check had been a problem. The bank wanted to charge me $10.00, which sent me fuming out the door with the check uncashed. Quincy had agreed to cash that check from a Phatty Burgers register, but he balked at this far larger check. He said I’d have to ask Ike Weed.

I was actually, in some ways, hoping I flunked the “appraisal.” I wasn’t hoping to a degree where I stopped trying or sabotaged anything; I still tried to be a good trainee. But getting the boot would in some way have been a relief, as long as I got my check cashed. I could have gone back to writing poetry and working on my novel. At times pretending I was a management trainee and not a poet felt like I was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. But I had no time to ponder. I hadn’t written a poem in three weeks.

And now I was rushing about dealing with Quincy’s anxiety about Ike’s imminent arrival. Everything had to be perfect, and Quincy kept glancing searchingly through the front window, as if seeking the sight of Ike’s car pulling into the parking lot. The reason Quincy sent everyone home was apparently because he wanted the Wednesday’s “efficiency number” to look good for Ike, but that left him with no employees to make the place look spiffy for Ike, and therefore he harangued me. I was overworked to begin with, and very tempted to tell Quincy not to be such a pathetic brown-nose, but also felt a sort of pity, so I hurried about attempting to make everything spiffy, though I wanted to be a true manager and sit back with my arms folded in a commanding manner like Quincy did.

I nearly snapped when Quincy sent me out to chase down wrappers blowing about the parking lot and put them in the trash, as that was a job for the lowest of the low, but I also have always loved the outdoors, and I also relished the escape from Quincy’s haranguing. The lot was already clean, as we had few customers, but I policed the grounds, looking for the smallest bottlecap or cigarette, and it was while stooping to pick up an especially long, only half-smoked cigarette (which I frugally thought might be worth keeping) that I saw Ike.

Ike had parked by the Supermarket and was attempting to sneak up to the Phatty Burgers back door. I assumed he was sneaking to observe how we ran the place when we didn’t know he was watching. But I knew. I knew because Ike Weed had a jaunty and marvelous manner of walking, and sneaking only exaggerated his walk and made it into a walk like no other’s.

When most sneak they crouch forward and bring their hands up in front, like kangaroos, but Ike couldn’t do that, for his ordinary manner of walking was duck-toed and leaning backwards. Therefore, as he snuck, he actually leaned backwards even further, feeling forward with his feet with each step, as his arms pistoned simultaneously downwards behind him. It looked remarkable, and could be no one but Ike, but I pretended I didn’t notice. I adopted a stern, concentrating expression, as if cleaning parking lots mattered more than two beautiful women walking by. In fact I put on a performance, first glowering left and then frowning with a furrowed brow to the right, and then nodded to myself as if feeling approval, before I hurried in to warn Quincy.

Quincy was in no mood to be warned. He wouldn’t listen. He had noticed I hadn’t policed the far end of the parking lot and began to berate me for my neglect. I tried to interrupt, but he wouldn’t allow it, and then I saw the door behind him crack open.

I immediately changed my tone, and stated, with such brash intrusiveness Quincy was taken aback, “Of course you are absolutely correct. I had assumed I need not check that trash receptacle because the new one you ordered hadn’t arrived yet, after the local teenagers blew the last one to smithereens with cherry bombs and M-80’s. But you are quite right:  I should have checked.”

Quincy closed his astonished mouth, swallowed, nodded, and then, rather than just telling me to go back out and check, began to deliver a prissy lecture about how the public is so stupid they will throw trash into a space where a receptacle isn’t. I felt he should be interrupted, so I said, with an expression of gladness, “Hey! Who is that? It must be Mister Ike Weed!”

Quincy wheeled with his jet-black hair flying, and staggered backwards, his bronze face turning gray, as the door swung open and Ike walked forward in his jaunty, duck-toed, manner, smiling broadly, to conduct my “appraisal.”

It seemed a very odd appraisal. Quincy kept aiming the subject towards things I “needed to improve upon”, but over and over things exploded in his face, and turned into things Quincy needed to improve upon. I accidentally made things worse for Quincy by, early in the appraisal, mentioning I urgently needed my paycheck cashed and that the banks were all closed. This revealed the size of my paycheck, and the fact I’d worked ten hour days seven days a week for three weeks, which made Ike raise his eyebrows at Quincy.

The entire interview was conducted in a hurry because Ike wanted to go to his Thanksgiving, which was apparently going to be held in Las Vegas. He had three more Phatty Burgers to inspect, before he turned south at Flagstaff to zoom south to his holiday, and therefore every shortcoming he uncovered was a delay, and made him more impatient with Quincy than he needed to be.

His questioning revealed I had worked three shifts, over and over, but had never worked the shift that was most important. I had worked the lunch, dinner and closing shift, but not the breakfast shift. The breakfast shift was important because that was what I was going to be transferred to, across town.

This was all news to me. I wasn’t even sure I’d be accepted, as a trainee, and was steeling my nerve for the possible blow of learning I was not an acceptable prospect. Quincy kept bringing up my shortcomings, things I needed to improve upon, but over and over Quincy got dressed down for his failures to train me properly. As this continued, I found myself no longer so much the subject of the interview, and more of a bystander. I had the strange sense I had stepped back, and was no longer in the crossfire, but rather was watching two combatants go at it.

Of course, they didn’t know they looked like combatants. They were just two men utterly engrossed in their business, which happened to be Phatty Burgers. They were like baseball fans totally absorbed in batter’s statistics and pitcher’s ERA’s, who so enjoy the game that they aren’t even aware they are arguing as they argue. I was gifted with the detachment of an outsider, vaguely like a housewife who cares not a hoot for baseball.

One thing I noticed was how quickly Ike cut Quincy down to size. At first Quincy was a bit puffed up, seeing himself as an authority about to deliver an opinion, but, as Ike brusquely hurried through his own agenda, he dismissed Quincy’s opinions and wanted only facts. At first Quincy seemed to get defensive, and wheedlingly tried to explain certain things, but when Ike wouldn’t listen and hurried on to the next item on his agenda, Quincy seemed to become offended, and sat up taller and prouder, and even seemed to become slightly frosty. He opened a notebook and coolly took notes, only occasionally asking for a clarification.

Other things bewildered me. They raced through a discussion about a second Phatty Burgers across town, which was apparently just constructed and unbelievably successful. Quincy seemed prepared to start my training for the breakfast shift at that place the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, which caused my guts to lurch, as getting up at 4:00 AM didn’t fit in with my plans to be visiting my ex on a ranch over an hour to the south. But Ike said Quincy had to be present to oversee my training, and Quincy swiftly decided Monday likely would be better. I assumed Quincy wanted to enjoy a long weekend and anticipated getting up at 4:00 AM with an eagerness like my own.

Their hurried discussion made me feel like a pawn between two men playing chess. For the most part I sat back as a detached poet, mentally taking notes on the behavior of two men who had no idea they would someday appear in my novel. Only once was my opinion required, and it sprang upon me abruptly. I responded without thinking, and was sorry I did, for it made Quincy look less than wise yet again.

Ike abruptly turned and asked me what I would do differently if I ran a Phatty Burgers. I spread my palms, looking about, and said, “Most everything looks very good to me, except…maybe…for that.” I pointed at six-foot-high placard advertising “Phatty’s Phabulous Thanksgiving Pheast”, and showing a glossy family sitting down smiling at plates of turkey, green peas, and mashed potatoes with a small, perfectly circular, brown pool of gravy in the middle. I added, “I don’t recall selling a single one of those.”

Ike turned to Quincy and said, “I told you it was a stupid promotion.”

Quincy became more rigid and frosty, and jotted something in his notes.

I laughed, “Oh well, we only ordered twelve of those platters”, and then asked Ike, “Can I grab one of those things? They’re just sitting in the cooler, but I wasn’t sure they were included in the free meals Managers are allowed.’

“You might as well,” Ike sighed, “Otherwise they’ll just rot.”

“Thank you”, I said, which seemed appropriate for Thanksgiving, but the hint of baleful frost in Quincy’s glance towards me seemed less than thankful.

With what seemed to me amazing efficiency and rapidity the interview was over. In terms of what mattered most to me, (the cashing of my paycheck), Ike asked if the day’s deposits could cover the check. Business had been so slow the deposit was only a few dollars larger than the check, a fact Ike noted with a wry shake of his head towards Quincy. Then he opened the deposit bag and counted out the money, handing it to me and taking my check, and telling Quincy to rewrite the deposit slip. I felt a little guilty because I knew Quincy took great care over deposit slips, and also because I knew he wanted to be done and to go home to Thanksgiving. A new slip was extra work. I also felt sorry for Quincy, because Ike never asked for Quincy’s “efficiency numbers.” That might have made Quincy appear more praiseworthy, but he seemed to receive less than little praise from Ike. He received zero. As Ike stood up to depart I notice Quincy’s shoulders sagged slightly.

The cash I suddenly fondled in my hands included many ones and fives and made a beautifully fat wad, making me feel very rich. It included a single large bill, a fifty, and I held it out towards Ike to repay him for the advance he had given me.  He looked a little confused, gave me a sort of scornful glance, snapped his briefcase shut, and left without taking the bill, or even asking why I held it towards him. I felt like I had transgressed in some way, but was baffled about what my transgression might be. Quincy was regarding me suspiciously, as he gathered up the deposit bag and went back to the office to write a new deposit slip. I felt like holding out the fifty might have looked like some sort of bribe, and I wanted to defensively explain to Quincy I was only repaying a loan, but Quincy curtly stated, “You can punch out now”, over his shoulder. Something about his tone suggested I should just leave rapidly, so I grabbed a Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast from the walk-in cooler, and left.

I had a lot to think about, driving through the sagebrush to the campground. What’s more, I actually had some time to think. It was only three in the afternoon on Wednesday, and I didn’t have to work until just before noon on Friday. I had a whole forty-four hours! But I resisted the urge to swing into the one place still open, and buy a six-pack-of beer. Instead, I swung in and bought a carton of cigarettes for my ex, because part of the forty-four hours would involve my heading to the ranch and seeing if my ex had any desire to become an exex. I might have forty-four hours free from Phatty Burgers, but I wasn’t truly free. The lot I had to think about included things beyond Phatty Burgers.

As I pulled into the campground I was struck by how myopic my appraisal had been. It was all Phatty Burgers this and Patty Burgers that; nothing but Phatty Burgers. It seemed an ultimate atheism, as if there was no life after Phatty Burgers.

To me it seemed a strange denial to pretend people were so small, and to call it “businesslike”.  To me it seemed obvious there definitely was life after Phatty Burgers, beginning with the campground I was driving into, and continuing into an uncertain future of attempting make my ex be an exex. To try to see me only in Phatty Burgers terms was like attempting to judge an elephant by its ear.  In like manner, to try to see Ike and Quincy only in Phatty Burger terms was missing what I, as a poet, could see in both characters.

As I switched my tiny Toyota’s engine off in front of Raydoe’s trailer in the campground I had the urge to just sit in my car.  Not that I wanted to think. In fact I missed Raydoe, and the way he never gave me time to think. I missed the way he’d say, “Hey Stupid Gringo, why are you just sitting there?” But Raydoe was gone, and I had time to think.

The campground was wonderfully quiet. The barrage of Blue Northers we’d endured was over, and a calm had descended. Rather than from the North Pole, I think the wind wafted north via the Rio Grande from the Gulf of Mexico. It was milder, calmer, and much moister, though there was not a cloud in the sky. There was also not a tourist in the campground. I had time to think.

The tourists had seemed annoying when I was attempting to work on my novel, not many weeks earlier, because they’d invite themselves to the picknick table where I chain smoked and typed, and pretend they were interested in what I was typing, when they actually wanted to brag how far they’d driven. But now I wouldn’t have minded their interruptions, for I wasn’t sure I wanted to think.

Sometimes thinking was harder than working. Working ten-hour-shifts was relieving, compared to battling the banshees of thought. Thought could make me crazy, but work was therapy, like the basket weaving they make madmen do in mental institutions. I took a deep breath, as I sat in my car. I had survived Phatty Burger’s appraisal of me, but I wasn’t so sure Phatty Burgers was going to survive my appraisal of it.