LOCAL VIEW –Winter’s Wolves and a Slinking Mink–

How futile was my dreading. Winter comes
Like clockwork: Shorter days and longer nights,
Neatly ledgered by almanacs.
                                                                Volumes
Of prayers can’t prolong summer: Fall blights
And the north winds preaches, as it bites,
Of a snow-covered wolf pack slinking nearer
Until the bad manners burst. (Impolite’s
Uttering, with a mouth full of flakes.)
                                                                              Mirror
Lakes of new ice are dusted white by gusts
Of arctic malice, as winter wolves howl,
But life goes on.
                                 I abstain from my lusts
For summer-breasted days like a spooked owl,
For, though driving in snow’s straight from hell’s pit,
The unlicensed children aren’t bothered a bit.

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We got four inches Saturday night and four more today (Tuesday). No big deal, except it made a lot of work for me. I like work, when it is writing, and all other forms of work…well…I try to keep them at a minimum.

Running a Childcare involves keeping a parking lot clear of snow, (and clearing the walls of snow the town plows heap into the lot’s entrance and exit). Four inches is usually no big deal, as I have a snow-blower with a thirty-inch mouth, and I bothered to make sure it was running well, before the first storm hit. Usually, especially when the snow is a fluff of powder like the first storm’s was, I can jog behind the contraption with it set in sixth gear. And that is how things started out. But then the contraption spoke a word slowly in a deepening voice, and word was “Below.” After that it refused to run, despite all my mechanical knowledge (which you could fit in a thimble.) I then made a phone call to a local small-engine-repair genius, only to discover he was out of business (thanks to a former president I will not glorify with a name.)

This meant I had to resort to a primitive implement called a “snow shovel.”  Don’t laugh. I know most modern and civilized citizens think such objects are merely a matter of lore, but in my youth I was highly skilled at using them. At age 64 I have discovered knowing is not the same as doing. I get on fairly well, performing the ancient art of shoveling, for a rather short period of time, before I discover shovels are downright comfortable things to lean against, and clouds and stars are well worth observing.

I’d likely have the job done by April, but fortunately a couple of young whippersnappers were around (my youngest son and my son-in-law) and they were in the mood to humiliate elders they ought to honor. For every square foot I cleared in my pottering manner they cleared ten, a bit like tornadoes. In any case, the job was done with surprising speed, and I likely deserve carbon-credits and praise from believers in Global Warming for not utilizing fossil fuel….but don’t hold your breath….because they say I count as a fossil.

And that is just the snow-created work involved in my Childcare’s  parking lot. At my Childcare itself there is also a major change in how you deal with the active minds of children, once snow falls. (Some call this “curriculum”, which seems a bit absurd, when you are talking about four-year-olds.) They had great fun raking leaves and jumping in leaf piles, but the first snow means you have to put away the rakes and take out the sleds. But this means I have to remember where the heck I stuffed the sleds, in the barn, last April.

Lastly there is something called “rescheduling” that snow causes. School gets cancelled, for piddling amounts of snow, but parents still have to work, especially during the “Christmas rush”. Therefore all the parents of school-aged children, who ordinarily are only at my Childcare until the school-bus comes in the morning, and after the bus drops them off in the afternoon, become parents who beg and plead that we allow them to work, by watching their school-aged children all day long. Fortunately, the people who govern the Childcare of New Hampshire allow you break the legal limit, in terms of how many children you are allowed to shelter, in the case of an “emergency”. However this does not make it easier for my staff, who ordinarily see the older children depart before the younger children arrive, and the younger children depart before the older children explode off the school-bus in the afternoon. To have all these children at the same place at the same time is like mixing oil with water and expecting salad dressing.

Over the past decade I, and especially my wife, have gotten good at handling the chaos caused by cancelled school. However it made (and makes) me think. Ordinarily, by law, we each are allowed to handle six children under six-years-old, and, if we are two handling twelve, we are also allowed to handle five more children over six-years-old, for a grand total of seventeen. When school was cancelled we’d handle more, perhaps as many as twenty-five. This makes me think, because in the public school it is quite normal for a lone teacher to be expected to walk into a classroom and handle twenty-six, (not just in an emergency, but on a daily basis).

Obviously a double-standard is involved. The politicians and “teacher’s union” have enacted laws to keep me from getting rich. If I was allowed to watch 26, and my wife was allowed to watch 26, do you have any idea of how much money my Childcare could make?

We’d also would be dead by now. I have no idea how public school teachers keep their sanity. Furthermore, ex-Public-School-teachers, who have worked at my Childcare, inform me my place is heaven, compared to Public Schools. It is a real joy for them to actually focus on individual children, because they only have six, rather than being asked to govern a stampeding herd of twenty-six.

Former teachers  demonstrate amazing abilities, developed during their time in  Public Schools. Ordinarily, when one child has a “crisis” that demands the attention of a member of my staff, that employee deals with that child, and I am left in charge of the remaining eleven. I am then challenged, and feel tested, keeping control only eleven. But what if a child was having a “melt-down” in a Public school, and I was all alone with twenty six? (I’d be fired the first day, for re-instituting corporeal punishment; that’s what.) When I watch former Public School teachers deal with a group’s escalating enthusiasm at my Childcare, I feel a sense of awe. They seem far less challenged than I am, as if they thought, “Only eleven children? Piece of Cake.”

Don’t take this wrongly. I am in awe of the Public School teachers, not the Public Schools. (And as far as the “teachers union” is concerned, I think they are out to kill teachers, for they have insisted upon the awful working conditions teachers endure.)

In conclusion, snow creates a chaos at my Childcare slightly like the everyday situation at a Public School: IE;  We have what seems like too many children, without a truly clear routine. Where a Public School may welcome the time-off of a snow-day’s cancellation of school, it doesn’t cancel anything for me; it doubles my trouble.

But isn’t that typical, for winter? Winter doubles your trouble. Snow is stuff that just means where you once could walk you now must wade. Snow only means more work…..or does it?

When I look at nature, I seem to see most animals dislike winter. Few animals don’t take steps to avoid the season altogether. Birds and butterflies migrate, or hibernate like bears and woodchucks. The landscape can seem lifeless. But I like to take the children out to look for life in winter.

These are images from the only open water remaining on the flood control reservoir abutting my Childcare. My youngest son, after helping me with shoveling, took these pictures of a mink, fishing by the outlet to that reservoir.  (To get the pictures he crept up and hid behind the concrete outlet, and then poked the camera around the corner without revealing more than his hand.) Mink are less adapted to water than otters, but my son said this mink was only under the ice ten seconds before popping up with the sunfish.

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Winter doesn’t stop life. Life goes on.

(Mink photo credits: Israel Shaw)

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LOCAL VIEW –Thanksgiving For The Unrecognized–

Recently my wife and I took a weekend off, and basically turned off our cell phones so we would not need to face the people who demand our time, often without gratitude. Why are they not grateful? I suppose it is because people tend to be a bit egotistical, and feel we should feel privileged to even be dealing with them. For example, think of a little child agonizing about not making a grade school team. From their perspective making-the-team is important, and well worth our attention. If you are not careful, knowing about too many of these “important” issues, and arching your eyebrows in a sympathetic manner for each of them, can completely burn you out, so we took a break. Simply taking a weekend away was a sort of spiritual retreat, but there is a problem with such retreats: They must end. You must go back and face your worldly responsibilities.

I am always reluctant to return to humdrum reality, no matter how restful a spiritual retreat may have been. The simple fact of the matter is that a lot that is “worldly” is also petty. Pettiness is not merely in little children who agonize about things that will not matter, in the long run, but also pettiness is in supposedly adult people, like preachers and politicians, and in supposedly adult institutions, like churches and the U.S. government.

If I had my druthers, I druther would write poetry. When I look back to my school days, I see I was more interested in the clouds out the window than the chalk on the blackboard. The interests of schoolmarms were never as interesting to me as the interests of schoolboys.

Look at it this way:  If heaven is the goal of life, why should our focus be on the non-heavenly things called “the worldly”?

The people in the world who I am most thankful to meet are those who have a certain light in their expressions that suggests they are seeing something heavenly. True, in some cases the light is merely due to them thinking they are seeing an end to pain. For example, a poor person may buy a winning lottery ticket, and their face may then shine, because they think their problems are solved. But soon their eyes cease beaming, as they discover filthy lucre is not an end to problems, and often increases them.

The light I like more, in people’s faces, is more lasting, and is not associated so strongly with worldly desires for wealth, sex, power, popularity, and intellectual achievement. Instead it simply recognizes heaven as a reality that exists even if you are poor, sexually frustrated, powerless, ignoble, and suffering intellectual writer’s-block.

There are simply some people who see a higher Truth, and whose moods are not controlled by the worldly circumstances of their lives. Sometimes they are saints like Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta, but sometimes they are people who you might think are entrapped by material success, but can be famous and wealthy without seeming to deny heaven exists.

Back in the early and mid Twentieth Century some of these people made decent livings as commercial artists for magazines. They produced the covers. Although it is true that “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, the editors of books and magazines knew a good picture could interest the general public, and sought artists talented in that respect.

One of the greatest was Norman Rockwell. I’ve praised him often. But another great artist, when it comes to sketching heaven, was Maxfield Parish. Norman Rockwell actually idolized Maxfield Parrish, when young.

Maxfield Parish became rich, simply portraying mortal humans during the most heavenly moments of their lives. (From a box of chocolates:)

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His pictures were so beautiful that, as a commercial artist, he was an incredible success. At a time when a new house cost $2000, he made $100,000 a year. However all the money the public paid him apparently didn’t make him fond of the public. How can I say such a thing? Because, while his earlier pictures show a fondness for humans and their human nature, about the time he reached my age he stopped painting humans, and focused entirely on the beauty of landscapes. After around 1935 he painted landscapes which, in my humble opinion, have an amazing beauty, (surreal without Dali’s distortion), and yet they portray a world devoid of humanity. He painted right up to his death in 1966 at age 95, but did not seem to think humans were beautiful and worthy of being subjects within heavenly landscapes. He seemed to forget the way he saw when he was fifty years younger, in 1906, and painted “The Lantern Bearers” for Collier’s Magazine.

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It should be noted, as an alternative, that Norman Rockwell did not retire from humanity, even though he too was wealthy in his old age. He did seem to become less romantic, and more concerned with social issues of the time, such as school integration (retaining a hint of Romanticism).

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Which brings me around to the topic of myself. Which way will I go, as I approach retirement age?

When I was in my early twenties, and first noticed the difference between what Maxfield Parish and Norman Rockwell painted in their old age, I vowed I’d never become fed up with humanity. I would forever be optimistic, and never fail to see the beauty in my fellow man.

Well, I have failed. The first time I failed I was still in my early twenties, and I confess I have failed on multiple occasions since then. I have looked upon you, my fellow man, and seen nothing but rapscallions and self-serving mongrels posing as pure-blooded priests.  I mean, look hard at yourselves. Are you any reason I should feel especially hopeful about the future of humanity?

And do you know what saves you, more often than not? It is the fact I become aware I am looking in a mirror; I am projecting; the reason I am such an expert in bad behavior is because I practice it.

That isn’t any reason for hope. Rather it diminishes my faith in myself even as I lose faith in the world. What on earth is there left to have faith in? Am I not a complete pessimist? I, the very same man who once vowed to become an eternal optimist! Which brings me to the 1922 Maxfield Parrish cover for “Life” magazine:

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There was a contest to name the picture on the “Life” cover, and the winner was, “He is a rogue indeed who robs life of its ends, fostering doubt.” (Get it? “Life” becomes “If”.)

As a young man first learning this history I wondered if Maxfield Parish had such a trick in mind, as he painted the picture, or whether it was an accident, or perhaps subconscious. In any case, the winning title stuck with me, and any time I find myself becoming excessively pessimistic I think of the rogue in the picture above.

For the fact of the matter is that, even when we botch perfection, and all those we know botch perfection as well, there is a third Thing that you can have faith in, neither our self nor other humans.  Call “It” what you will, “It” saves us from plunging to complete ruin. Without “It” there would be no reason to call foul behavior “inhumane”, because in many cases foul behavior is very human. Whatever “It” is, “It” redeems us.

And how do we recognize “It”? We see “It” in what we call “heavenly”. “It” is in humor that allows us to laugh at our mistakes rather than curse. “It” is in the joy that lets us walk singing in the rain.

Gene Kelly, and Maxfield Parish, and Norman Rockwell, made very nice amounts of money simply hinting at the heavenly. However the people who have really been a great blessing in my life, and at times even have been life-savers, never charge the price of admission. They simply had, and have, joy in their hearts, and made me, and make me, smile on the gloomiest day.

More than money, more than sex, more than power, more than acclaim, more than inspiration, I value the smiles such people begrudge from my grouchy old face. For all the other things come and go, but remembered jests still make me smile even after fifty years. Those jesters, even if long lost,  are joys to remember, and be Thankful for, on Thanksgiving.

In the End of Ends a simple smile will crush the mighty, and defeat death itself.

Owen wrote, “I, too, have seen God in mud”
About the gruesome trenches, when men died
Like flies, (’cause two men, who shared royal blood,
King and Kaiser, saw war as sport, and tried
Out their new toys: Sputtering machine guns
And poison gasses).
                                         How could Wilford Owen
Write such guff? When Chlorine greened the sun’s
Rays and men writhed like sprayed wasps, men
He’d laughed with moments before, how could he
See God?
                    I suppose it was because God
Is everywhere. There is nowhere to flee
In life where Life isn’t. Beneath the sod
We do not know, until we go, but here
We delve no dark mines devoid of men’s cheer.

LOCAL VIEW –Hollywood Goes Prudish–

One odd coincidence my wife and I share is that our best friends were both born on November 21. Her friend is still alive, but mine passed away a decade ago. I always pause to remember him on November 21.

The day I first noticed him I knew he was a force to be reckoned with. It was in fifth grade, and teachers had decided we should be trained at an earlier age to avoid the old-fashioned idea of a “home room”. I’m not sure what was wrong with having a home, but instead some advantage was to be gained from marching from room to room to study different subjects. Not that the teachers were all that more skilled at different subjects. But likely they enjoyed teaching certain subjects more than others, and they thought such joy might infect the students. Wrong.

The simple fact of the matter was that my homeroom teacher was a beautiful young woman who I think was deeply in love (the next year her last name was different, and by June she was very pregnant.) By her very attitude she made learning be a joy. She could have taught a subject she knew nothing about, perhaps automobile mechanics, from an antiquated Model-T textbook, and the students would have been so enchanted they would have learned more than they would have learned from the most skilled automobile mechanic. I had the feeling her classroom was a cloud of love, and don’t think a single student disliked her; most seemed enchanted.

No other teacher stood a chance, and to be ripped from the presence of this joyous young woman, and placed in a classroom taught by a somewhat embittered old lady, who deeply resented that her favorite subject “history” was to be called “social studies”, was a very uncomfortable experience for me, as was the fact I was among students who I didn’t know, but whom were supposedly “at my level.” The old lady did catch my attention when she backslid and taught “history”, but when she attempted “social studies” it was apparent the subject was Pig Latin to her, and the entire classroom was confused, and my attention wandered.

For some reason these radical changes were not enacted at the start of the school year, but in late March or early April, when students are first hit by spring fever. Traditionally school ended at around this time, for children were needed back at the farm for spring planting, and all the wild energy would be put to good use. Instead, at this time, there was an attempt to “channel” the vital energy of youth in some sort of theoretically “socially constructive” manner. Eventually, decades later, they gave up and decided it was better to drug the dickens out of wild children, somehow thinking that frying their brains was better than tanning their hides, but, back when I went to school, education created a time-warp between corporal punishment and drug’s mind-control, when permissiveness and freedom ruled.

At this time my parents were still married, and I was an “untroubled” child, fairly obedient in my way, and making good progress in school. I hadn’t become the outlaw I later became (though I was no saint). As a good boy, I did stay away from the banned part of the playground in early April, where the mud was deep. However, as my attention wandered during Social Studies class, I saw the shoes of a boy who had broken this rule.

The shoes were so muddy they appeared about twice as large as they actually were. It was a most amazing spectacle. The mud was drying in the overheated classroom, and clods and flakes were shedding from the shoes. There was already enough dirt to plant carrots around the feet, and the shoes had only started shedding.

At this point the feet started moving about, as feet do when they are stared at for an overly long period of time. Instinct told me to glance up at the face the feet were attached to, and I met the glaring, challenging eyes of a boy just daring me to call him a pig. I didn’t. The thought didn’t even cross my mind. Instead I thought the eyes were as interesting as the huge feet. And, as I thought this, the eyes changed. When, rather than judgmental, I looked curious, they shifted from anger to surprise.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, though it was a stormy one. The fellow was never ordinary, but perhaps being born on the cusp of a water sign and a fire sign makes for billowing clouds of steam and thunderheads, and I’ve always thought thunderheads are beautiful.

He always tended to be more daring, while I was more prudish. At that time the “frontier” young men challenged involved the dangers of sex and drugs, and he paid a heavy price for being daring. I probably would have followed in his footsteps and paid the same price, had my stepfather not tricked me into attending a school about as far away from sex and drugs as it was then possible to find.  (Dunrobin, in northern Scotland.)

One thing we were always able to share was our minds. It is difficult to say exactly how we did this, other than to say our talks involved a lot of symbols, or images, or gestalts. At times a most rudimentary image would communicate more than you might think possible. We’d be talking about some esoteric topic and he’d say, “You mean, sort of like salsa?” and I’d reply, laughing, “Exactly!” An outsider would have no clue what we were talking about, yet we could talk for hours in a strange sort of complete understanding that also involved vehement disagreement.

Looking back, I think one thing he liked about me was that I could tell him what it was like to do what he had chosen not to do. I could tell him what it was like to be a virgin and still date the-girl-next-door. I could tell him what it was like to be off drugs for months in northern Scotland.

In terms of drugs, I was a prude compared to him. He had a zest for the entire world of hallucinations and unusual perceptions. I did too, but also had the sense we were on dangerously thin ice. But I will say this: If you are foolish enough to take such vile substances, don’t do it with small minds. Don’t do it with people who can say little more than, “Yowza. Am I ever wrecked.” Rather do it with a mind who can describe in great detail the various avenues it is going down. To “trip” with this individual was truly a journey so enjoyable that, were it not for the Grace of God, my brains would have become as fried as his became, because I enjoyed talking and laughing with him more than anything else.

When I went to school in Scotland he went to school in Boston, and, (in those primitive times before the internet), we exchanged two or three letters a week. Mine described a mind off drugs, plunged into the English literature necessary to pass “A” levels, and his blearily traced the wild scene in Boston, involving many women and parties and running a college newspaper even after he stopped attending classes. Then there was a horrible postal strike in England, and we couldn’t communicate.

When we reunited after a year we were able to compare our minds in a way, and on a level, that most people can’t. In a way most people can’t imagine I think he saw I had, by sheer luck, come out ahead.

It seemed unfair. He’d had more guts, was more daring, but wound up damaged, in some mental way difficult to describe. Call it frustration, for that describes it best. My mind was clear and produced answers, while his was muddy and produced frustration. However his honesty expressed where he was at. I liked his amazing poetry, though he produced less and less:

“When you’re in the mud
All you see is mud.”

I think one of the most awful tragedies of my generation was that the better minds were crippled. Hallucinogens were described by one Native American, (who left the Peyote Church), as “a trickster.”  They promise to expand consciousness, but retard it.

I can say this now, at retirement age, because I saw the danger and backed away from that frontier, like a person backing away from a volcano’s crater because he sees the expedition’s leader succumbing to poisonous gasses.  Not that I didn’t inhale and suffer some damage myself. But I survived.

People tell me, “I never quit and I can still do what I could do.” At age sixty-four that seems to me to be a terribly sad statement. It is like Beethoven at the end of his life stating, “I can still write the First Symphony.”  A mind is suppose to grow, and reach a Ninth Symphony.  To stay the same is to stay stuck, and involves a constant frustration, which eventually breeds a subtle antipathy.

I faced that antipathy in my childhood friend, especially when I renounced our adventure into the world of hallucination and turned to God. (And there can be no denying I was a naive pain, when I first sought a different “high”.) Yet we stayed in touch, despite the distance that had grown between us. I suppose, when minds have been as close as ours were, there is always a curiosity about what the other is seeing, and where it is going.

Eventually it became obvious to my friend that drugs indeed were a trickster, but his brains were by then only a shade of what they once were. He then accepted his predicament with class, and even dignity, though to think as a “straight” person was an exercise in frustrating futility. He actually sought to stop thinking, by doing a Yoga that made his mind blank, and it seemed to do him good. Nor did he ever stop believing in the “high” things he’d seen as a mere teenager blitzed on acid, even when he couldn’t see them any more.

He died of cancer of the esophagus, which cut him down in a matter of weeks. One thing I’ll always regret is that we never had a final talk. I hope he didn’t think I’d tell him, “I told you so”, or some such useless thing. Probably not. I think many who die without telling many friends just don’t want to cause others pain. I knew many artists who died of AIDS in the 1980’s who vanished without saying any good-byes.

What would I have liked to talk about, during a final talk with a dying friend? I think it would be the beauty we saw together, even in the process of making the wrong choices. If you focus too much on the wrong choices you only become bitter.

This brings me around to the peculiar agony currently afflicting the so-called “beautiful people” of Hollywood and Washington D.C.  Their raging seems downright demented to me, and a sort of spasm of guilt and a paroxysm of shame, manifesting as disgust and bitterness. Apparently being “beautiful” is not so beautiful, after all.

Harvey Weinstein was seemingly the pebble that started an avalanche.  Behavior which once was seen as “sophisticated” is now called what it always was, “sleazy”.

When I went drifting through California more than thirty years ago I found most people felt the ideas now manifesting were prudish. I know this for I expounded such ideas, and was told I was prudish, wasn’t a realist, wasn’t sophisticated, was naive, didn’t know how the world worked, would never get anywhere, was behind the times, wasn’t hip, and was in fact ugly. I wasn’t one of the “beautiful people.”

What changed things? I think the actual pebble that started the actual avalanche was the election of Donald Trump. Popularity means a lot, (and at times everything), to the Hollywood mindset, and such a mindset is horrified to see popularity shrink in any way, shape or form. To have Hillary Clinton lose,  (despite some glaring voter fraud assisting her), was a message no amount of explanation could deny. What was the message? “You are not popular. You are not seen as beautiful. You are not admired, envied, marketable.”

It is the strangest thing to see the facade crumbling. In some ways it looks like one of those “swings of a social pendulum” you read about, where people run like indecisive lemmings from one cliff to another, basically brainless and merely following the mob. However in other ways it seems like common sense rising up in “flyover country” to inform Hollywood and Washington nobody is really buying their bull.

I think our world has paid a terrible price due to the “trickster” of sex, drugs and greed. It is easy to become bitter, thinking of the pain and the people hurt, like my old best friend. However perhaps it is better to remember that, before the trickster tricked, people were speaking of “Love, Truth and Understanding”, and those things were and are and always will be beautiful things.

What will be interesting to watch is whether people behave like witless lemmings, running from extreme to extreme, or whether they have actually learned anything. For there is such a thing that people develop called “discernment”. I would like to believe that the 48 years since the “Summer Of Love” in 1969 has actually taught the USA a thing or two, and we are moving from producing a First Symphony to producing a Ninth.

In any case, Happy Birthday, to my old friend in heaven.

 

HURRICANE IRMA SONNET

Above it all, I ride a soaring satellite
And see below a hurricane’s symmetry,
And wonder over the awe and delight
I get, seeing chaos create, so clearly,
An order, like stars in a galaxy
Swirling.
                    Surely the Creator’s might
Is seen in such art lifted from what, (to me),
Was a mess. Surely He can also make right
All our distress.
                                Yet I also know beneath
Those white curves is grief; families afraid
And huddled; roofs ripped off. A clean white wreath
Hides shrieking winds and shrieking men. What’s made
By the Creator then? It seems so odd
That down there they are also are thinking of God.

9:00 PM AST Wed Sep 6
Location: 19.2°N 66.3°W
Moving: WNW at 16 mph
Min pressure: 916 mb
Max sustained: 185 mph

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From the “Guardian”:  “In Barbuda, where the monster storm first made landfall at 1.47am on Wednesday, according to the US National Weather Service (NWS), 90% of structures were destroyed. The report came from Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, in an afternoon press conference after he witnessed the damage first-hand. His visit followed a 12-hour communications shutdown from the island.”

So far there are no pictures I can find from Barbuda. I hate to admit I am slightly skeptical of Gaston Browne, who may be fishing for free funds. But the eye of the storm did pass directly over his island.  St. Kitts was to the south, at the edge of the hurricane force winds, but received the “storm surge”.

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People forget that even away from the eye of a super-hurricane, where winds are only at the strength of a “minimal” hurricane, you are talking about winds stronger than many have ever experienced. (Drive at 75 mph and then stick your hand out the window, for a rough idea.) Even without the flooding rains that made Harvey so devastating, the “Surge” can lift boats from safe anchorages, if their ropes are too short. Here’s another picture from St. Kitts. (Solar power didn’t save them.)

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Nothing to take for granted. Stay tuned.

 

LOCAL VIEW –Of Polar Bears And Rainbows–

Sometimes we so-called adults take our problems too seriously. We forget the story has a happy ending, as we climb the stairs to our personal gallows.

Even as a humorist I am guilty of bringing up so many things to laugh about that I forget joy. My sense of humor is based on the pathos of human bungling: The way we attempt to be gods, and wind up forgetting where we put our car keys. It is better to laugh about such things than to spit, but if you focus on such things too much you can forget that laughter can be quite different, and not founded upon stooges bungling, but rather upon joy.

As I care for children at my Childcare I see them laugh at all sorts of things adults have forgotten to laugh about. Sometimes it is for sheer joy: A bird lands on a fence-post and sings, and the child just laughs.

One time in the 1950’s Winston Churchill, despite his amazing efforts to save Britain from destruction, was plunged to despair by the writing he could see on the wall, which suggested the the British Empire was crumbling. An American preacher was visiting, and Churchill inquired how the man could have hope. The answer was, “I read the end of the Book.”

In other words, our Creator was not so ill informed that he created a creation where everything blew up in His face, as if our Creator was a mad scientist with test tubes. We mortals might achieve such an end, but the Creator has a slight advantage because He stands outside of time. (Even time is His creation.) We may be bound by time, like characters in a single frame of a comic strip, but the Creator, as “the Alpha and Omega”, stands outside the comic strip, and sees all the frames from beginning to end simultaneously. Considering He knew the ending before the beginning, he would have to have had a very odd sense of humor if He created a comic strip that made Him look like an ignorant buffoon, and a chump.

This is especially true if it is true that a fundamental and intangible quality of the Creator is: The only thing more spiritual than a sense of humor. Which is? It’s a thing called “Love.”

Science has yet to measure Love, but science also has yet to measure humor. But Love, I think, is what differentiates laughter over human bungling, from laughter for sheer joy.

One reason we mortals like to “get back to nature” when we are in a bad mood is because out in the landscapes of nature we see how amazing our Creator is. Even though I aggravate some of my fellow Christians by including “evolution” in the many examples of the Creator’s creative genius,  to me evolution is a reason to laugh in delight.

For example, consider the hoof of a horse. We have ancient skeletons to study, and can see that ancient horses had five digits like we do. Then they had three digits. Now they are running around on their middle fingers. When a horse rears around and attempts to kick my chin past my ears, it is “giving me the finger.” Is that not a reason to at least chuckle?

Evolution has a harder time explaining other examples of our Creator’s genius. For example, there is an orchid in the Amazon that is dependent on a certain species of wasp. Without these certain wasps it cannot be pollinated, and can’t produce seed, and would swiftly die out.  Therefore, to make sure that wasp comes to its flower, the orchid tricks the wasp into thinking it is a wasp. It achieves this by making a flower that not merely looks like the wasp, but smells like the wasp, so the male wasps literally attempt to mate with a vegetable, fooled into thinking orchids are female wasps.

It is hard to figure out, step by step, how evolution came up with such an arrangement. It is not as simple as five digits gradually becoming a hoof. But I’m working on it. It may help explain to me how Madison Avenue convinces some men they can successfully copulate by buying a Cadillac.

In any case, when you “get back to nature” you enter a world of wonder. I’m not talking about a city park, where everything grows because humans planted them there. I’m not even talking about well kept farmland, where the weeds are under control. I’m talking about lands where man has little to do with where things sprout, and things are sometimes more beautiful than man could ever devise.

It is there we perhaps find a hope beyond our own efforts, and a sign we are under the wings of a compassionate Creator. I have seen nature “cure” children psychiatrists can’t “help”. Children deemed “uncontrollable” and “in need of medication” become downright serene, if you allow them to throw rocks and smash the crystal surface of a pond, and pluck dandelions and puff the seeds to the winds. Furthermore, nature is not harmed by the young hooligan’s destructive behavior, and in fact nature seems to like it, and to incorporate it into a grander plan.

Pharmaceutical companies and psychologists will despise me for saying this, but the Creator kicks their butts. A walk in the woods and by a pond simply benefits boys more, and costs zero. (Financiers won’t like that either.)

In like manner, the entire “Global Warming” scam is people thinking the Creator cannot manage things, and they themselves are the almighty savior.

In some ways it is difficult to see the scam, for the con-artists pretend to be on the side of “nature,” like snake oil salesmen pretending to be “doctors”. However, just as snake oil salesmen are in a hurry to leave town before customers discover that their claims had no basis in fact, Global Warming Alarmists seek to muddy waters, oppress critics, hide their emails, avoid full disclosure, and, if need be, leave town.

This is typical human behavior and is laughable, but sometimes it reaches a degree where laughter is inappropriate. The people who claim they “help children” may become fat and rich, as the children themselves become increasingly skinny and afflicted by suffering. My humor then becomes increasingly bitter and sardonic, and drifts away from joy. In a sense I am drifting away from the very thing I stand for.

I am in need of rescue, but who can I turn to.? A psychiatrist? Forget it. A pharmaceutical company? Forget it. And so on and so forth. Forget it.

The so-called “helpers” of this world are so corrupted that I think I can see sanity in youth losing hope and preferring heroin and death.  In fact a lot of other so-called “adult” behavior isn’t all that different. Maybe death is deferred a little longer, but no rescue is hoped for. Life loses its appeal.

Fortunately, if you are keeping your eyes open,  a rare rescue will come to pass. It is called, “a day in June.” It is the single day each year wherein the Creator hints just how good things could be, “if only.” It knocks ordinary logic back on its ass.

Robert Frost pointed out this phenomenon when, (tongue in cheek), he created an amazingly long title for a relatively short poem. The long title was,  “Happiness Makes Up For In Height What It Lacks In Length.”

“O stormy, stormy world,
The days you were not swirled
Around with mist and cloud,
Or wrapped as in a shroud,
And the sun’s brilliant ball
Was not in part or all
Obscured from mortal view–
Were days so very few
I can but wonder whence
I get the lasting sense
Of so much warmth and light.
If my mistrust is right
It may be altogether
From one day’s perfect weather…

(You will have to research the end of his art yourself, because I stop at this point because he has made my point: One day a year has a huge influence.)

One such day defies science, for it is not replicated. It denies democracy, because it is out-voted by 364 other days. It is a single beam of love from the eye of One who can bring you to your knees.

And don’t tell me you have never experienced that. You may have called yourself a fool for becoming gushy, but we’ve all been there and done that. One glance, and everything changed.

When you are young the one-day-a-year-better-than-all-others may result in disappointment, for it often involves the glance of a potential lover. When you get to be an old grouch like myself you have not so great a hope for carnal gratification. The only gratification you want is one day the weather doesn’t suck. One fricking day that isn’t too hot or too cold, too snowy or too rainy, or too like a frying pan.

Guess what? I just passed through that one day a year.

It happened in all areas of my life. For example, my study of arctic sea-ice involves the potential extinction of polar bears, but O-buoy showed, between June 23 and 25, a couple of bears ambled by unconcerned about the summer thaw:

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The bears are alive and well, with populations increasing.

I’m well as well, after a perfect day, not to hot, not too humid, and, just when I was thinking that maybe I should water the garden, a benign evening shower watering the garden for me, with only a few contented grumbles of thunder,  which then made a spectacular double rainbow.

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I include the power-lines because I am a humorist, and wise to how even this evening’s gorgeous sunset can be lessened, if your focus is a sardonic joke:

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But that is not truly my focus. (To focus on a bully misses something nicer.) All one needs to do is walk fifty yards and there are no wires in the picture.

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I took a lot of pictures, and all failed to communicate how vivid the rainbow was.

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Nor can anything communicate what my 3-year-old granddaughter was communicating to me, as she rode my shoulders, as I snapped the shots.

You are just going to have to trust me, when I state it was my one-day-a-year, wherein the Creator trumps all other cards dealt out.

Pay attention to this lone card, when it is dealt out to you. Do not be seduced by the 364 other cards you are dealt. They only spoil the view.

Sometimes it takes a perfect day in June
To remind me that defeat is not the end.
Oh, it may end me, and it could come soon,
But today’s rare beauty was such a friend
It made morbid thoughts piffle. An old tune
Found its way to my lips, and I walked
With summer in my step. It could end soon
But life was no longer a thing I stalked
Like elusive prey, but was what I was.

How blue was the sky! How green were the trees!
The sun’s touch was perfect, as was the breeze,
And I felt free of desire’s cruel claws.

How can defeat ever torment and sting
When you see, owning nothing, you have Everything?

LOCAL VIEW –200,000 Views–

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, and for some reason extraordinary stuff always seems to happen on her birthday, no matter how much we try to keep it quiet. One year we chose to have a quiet take-out dinner on a beach on the shore of a lake, and as we ate there was not only a spectacular sunset with a thunderhead shooting forks of amazing lightning, but the obligatory double rainbow to boot, vivid against deep purple clouds.

Another year we were just about to leave for the beach, when a pipe burst in the cellar. (Not a usual thing in June). The miracle was that we found a plumber who showed up within minutes and had the pipe fixed so fast we still left for the beach before noon.

This year the problem was again in the cellar, and began the night before my wife’s birthday. The hot and humid weather had condensed water on cold pipes, which drizzled down into the pressure switch of the water pump, causing a shorting that filled the cellar with smoke, and melted the switch into the “on” position. Usually the switch clicks off when the pressure reaches 40 psi. Now it was increasing past 40 psi, past 45 psi, past 50 psi, past 55 psi…

I was oblivious, typing at this word processor.  I have developed this ability, because I have a granddaughter in the house, and if I don’t develop extraordinary powers of concentration I’ll never get a word written on this blog. This is especially true because any time my granddaughter demands attention my dog Elsie gets jealous, and Elsie has this weird response where she barks frantically and chases her tail. I can’t tell you how often this stuff is going on in the background, as I write the words you read.

Night before last my wife and daughter were attempting to convince my granddaughter to get into the bathtub, which my granddaughter was vehemently objecting to. The dog was chasing its tail and barking. The water was shooting into the bathtub with extraordinary power from the faucet, and a strange smell was arising from somewhere. And I was completely oblivious, concentrated as I was on details on a computer screen pertaining to sea-ice, and a critical comment made by a troll on my website.

My wife sweetly managed to get my attention by evacuating the house, including a naked three-year-old. As she departed she noticed I was looking down a cellar staircase filled with smoke, and inquired “Should I call 911?” I said, “No,” and headed down into the smoke, whereupon her advice was, “Hold your breath.”

In the cellar I could find nothing burning, and in fact after I opened the windows the smoke seemed to be dispersing. My daughter came down and helped me look for something burned, but we could find nothing. Then she mentioned the water coming out of the faucett more vigorously than usual, as she was filling the bath, which seemed odd, so I went upstairs and turned on the water in the kitchen sink. It shot out with amazing ferocity. So I went back down and looked at the water-pressure gauge, and saw it going from 110 psi to 115 psi to 120 psi…

It then occurred to me that maybe I should check the pressure switch, but it was in a dark area and I couldn’t see very well. so, with the cover removed, I gave it a nudge with the plastic handle of a tool. This produced a vivid blue ball of electrical arcing about the size of a turnip, followed by a smaller tongue of orange flame, at which point it occurred to me I should turn off the circuit breaker labeled “pump.”

Problem solved. I could get back to what I was writing. I mention this only because some young writers say they cannot write without a grant. And they are not even married, and run no business, and have no problems worth mentioning, (except maybe a bad choice for a girlfriend). I doubt they could stand five minutes in my shoes, dealing with the distractions I deal with, yet I do write, (and sometimes write too much, according to my wife).

Let this be a lesson to you young poets. You have no excuse for not writing. If you are going to whine, make a music of your blues. You can do it if you really want to write. If you want money, well, that is a different matter, and you probably should seek some other occupation.

Less artistic and more pragmatic readers will have noticed that, while I solved the problem of smoke in the basement, a new problem, involving no water in the house, had raised its head. This was no way to be beginning my wife’s birthday.

I planned to head off for a new pressure switch as soon as the closest hardware store, twenty miles away, opened in the morning. However company arrived early, to wish my wife happy birthday, and I had to smile and nod. As soon as I could enact a diplomatic escape I drove twenty miles, bought a $16.00 pressure switch, drove twenty miles back,  and went down into the cellar and replaced the fried switch myself. A plumber would have charged $300.00.

There was a lurid red warning on the pressure switch instructions that stated the switch should be rewired by a qualified electrician. Pish tush! What plumber heeds that warning? And if they don’t, why should I?

Not that either an electrician or plumber could figure out the wiring of a 250-year-old house, where electricity was an afterthought. In a modern house the wiring for the pump is right next to the pressure switch, and four wires are involved, but in my house the wiring for the pump is far across the room, and only two wires are involved at the pressure switch. It’s no big deal; just a different way of achieving the same end. But small-minded people and government regulators likely would freak out, because they insist there is only one way to skin a cat. They would likely tear the whole house down and rebuild it to “specs.” Me? I just put the switch in, adjusting for only two wires.

The pump worked and my wife got to shower before noon on her birthday. We saved $270.00, and I figured we could go out to some semi-classy joint and buy ourselves a fine meal with expensive drinks for $270.00, but instead we were invited to a special birthday late-lunch by friends who don’t drink. So we saved $270.00 twice.

I was slightly annoyed, because the way things were turning out I had no time for my art.  I’m not referring to this blog, for I did sneak in a few replies to comments here, but rather to another form of self-expression, which is my wood carving. You see, I am a small-town version of Michelangelo. Much smaller. More like a Mike. And I did want to find the time to finish a birthday present for my wife. I didn’t.

Now here is another lesson for young poets. You don’t need to despair when you don’t have time to finish a poem, and you don’t need to whine for a government grant that might allow you to finish. Just call your unfinished work “a fragment.” People who really love you will see where you were aiming.  They will give you the leeway to fulfill your promise.

For example, one year my wife gave me a scarf she was knitting me, though she had only the time to knit a third of it. The next year she gave me the same scarf, only two thirds completed. And the following year I got the finished scarf, and it means more than any other scarf to me. I still have it to this day, and still use it though it is tattered. In like manner, my wife was surprisingly pleased by the carving I hadn’t completed.

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I will admit it bugs me to have a carving uncompleted. (Not that Michelangelo didn’t leave some amazingly cool stuff only partly carved.) However the reason it bugs me is a reason that may scare the socks off some young poets. And the reason is this:  The only way a carving can get better is to lose more.

In any case, we headed off to our late lunch, and lingered long, and just as we were leaving that lunch at sunset we received a text from a neighbor stating our smoke detector had gone off. We texted back we were on our way home, and that the smoke detector could go off in humid weather, and they shouldn’t worry. But then my wife remembered the pressure switch I had put in, and we decided we’d drive a bit faster.

As we passed the fire station we noticed all the trucks were gone, but the place was lit up and around thirty people were happily milling about. When we arrived home we couldn’t see the house, because three firetrucks were in the way. There was also a police cruiser, adding blue lights to all the red lights.

I have to admit I was thinking about the pressure switch I’d replaced. Had I crossed wires?  Was my home, beyond the looming firetrucks obstructing the view, a pile of ashes?

Nope. That morning my daughter had set off the kitchen alarm, burning the toast, so she removed the alarm from the ceiling and put it on the window-sill, whereupon it went quiet. Why it chose a later time to blare out, I don’t know, but it was basically a false alarm.

The odd thing was, no one was annoyed. Life must get boring in my little town, for all these volunteer firemen had showed up, dressed in sixty pounds of fireman clothing, and they all seemed positively delighted they’d found an excuse to get out of the house on a warm summer night. Rather than anyone angry about a false alarm, it was a happy social event. We all laughed about smoke alarms, (apparently they’d been called out the night before because someone threw a smoke alarm away, and it went off in a dumpster,) It was the typically unusual event that always seems to happen, on my wife’s birthday.

Eventually everyone went home, and I entered the house, to meet a very guilty dog. Apparently Elsie felt she was to blame. Usually she barks her fool head off when anyone knocks at the door, (and I’d wondered why she was so silent with three firetrucks outside).

When I first entered I couldn’t even find her.  The poor cur was cowering in the bathroom. She barely poked her nose out when I walked in the neighboring room, and when I said, “Hey there, old dog, come here”, she didn’t rush out for reassurance, but rather slowly backed from sight. Why? You figure it out. Apparently dogs take responsibility for things we cannot comprehend.

The same is true for young poets, but I haven’t time to elaborate much on this idea.

Instead I chose to point out that I, at long last, without any government grants to free me from worldly distractions,  did sit down here at my computer to blog. The first thing I did was to check the WordPress “stats” page, which shows me how many people have visited, and what nations they have visited from. Also I can see how many “views” I’ve had since I started this blog in December, 2012. It said I’d been “viewed” 200,006 times.

I sat back to think about that number. Not that any particular view means more than another, but it was a bit like when your odometer rolls over in a car. It gives you pause.

My mind went back to when I was a young poet, and very much wanted to be noticed, but no one seemed to want to do it. In fact I had the ability to help people remember appointments they were late to, simply by clearing my throat, lifting my index finger, and mentioning I’d written a poem. The only people who would stay and listen required that I listen to their poems in return, and that was a pretty steep price to pay. In the end I became discouraged and decided the world could go to hell. If they refused to be lectured to, about a way to end all wars and make everything nice, they could just go get stuffed.  I became a hermit of sorts.

That got old. Not that I didn’t have some mystical experiences born of deep thought, but they were few and far between, and mostly I was lonely and felt like my brains were shriveling up. No man’s an island, and we need the input of others. Also if you never go out you wind up broke. Eventually I hit the road.

A while back I came across a folder of my letters that my mother had saved from my days as a drifter. She had a tendency to worry too much, so the letters were always upbeat, even when written from difficult periods in my life. One letter in particular made me laugh.

My mother was worried I was too isolated and too much a loner. I told her I thought God agreed, and therefore God had arranged for me to make 10,000 people smile, on an individual basis, one after another. It then listed the series of jobs I’d had in the prior six months, pumping gas, serving burgers, serving donuts and running the register at small markets, and explained how I took it upon myself to get customers to smile. (I didn’t mention the failures.) At the bottom of the list was the number 10, 242. I figured this would ease my mother’s worry about me being a loner. Also I added that I’d decided I wasn’t a poet; I was the American sort of writer called a “humorist”, a sort of modern Will Rogers, defying depression with a “I never met a man I didn’t like” attitude.

I then concluded that while some gain acclaim by making a crowd of 10,242 laugh, it is also great to create the same number of smiles by dribs and drabs, unnoticed by the crazy media, but perhaps smiled at by God.

I’m not sure this convinced my mother; she did seem to like to worry; but the important thing is that it convinced myself. Furthermore I became aware I was not alone. As I drifted through the heartland of America I became aware there was a vast body of people making smiles, even when it was raining. It was something I failed to notice when I was a hermit, and down on humanity, and, if I saw anything in society, it was the mentality of a mob. Not that such bad things don’t happen, but it is more than countered by the fact God is in everyone, and shines out from faces if you make the effort to cheer people up.

And this is my final bit of advice to young poets. Don’t be fooled by fame. It isn’t necessary, and judging from people afflicted, is actually a hazard. Also, for every singer who makes the big time, like the Beatles, there are thousands in small places, singing in remote church choirs or to children or with friends, and they make an enormous difference. Without them life would be stark.

Not that it isn’t nice to get 200,006 views. It was especially nice that it happened on my wife’s birthday.  She’s the one who has to put up with me when I get a far away look, and don’t notice the cellar is on fire. And when there isn’t a fire, she sometimes has to light a fire under me to get me moving. I wouldn’t blame her for wondering, at times, if I am wasting my time at this computer. 200,006 views is therefore a sort of reassurance.

And you never really see the effects of small and random acts of kindness. It only takes a grain of sand to start an avalanche, and our influences go onward even after we have left the scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOCAL VIEW –Some Pity, Please–

I didn’t heed financial advisers
So what I now own is my own fault.
I find I envy lonely old misers
Clinking their coins in a lonely old vault.
It’s not their coins I desire, but their quiet.

Quiet’s so rare I cannot conceive it.
In my house women rampage and riot.
Four generations! Can you believe it?

My friends who loved money gained fat pensions
And were without wives. All their cares were shed;
They should have known joy, without tensions.
Instead loneliness swiftly struck them dead.

Me? Don’t ask. I’ve no time to reflect.
I get no quiet. I get no respect.

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One interesting aspect of Rodney Dangerfield’s humor is that it is an appeal for pity, but rather than pity it earns laughter. (“I know I’m ugly. I’ve always been ugly. When I was born the doctor slapped my mother.”)

Within the laughter is a joy that laughs at our sorrows. It is a recognition that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, it is good to be alive. It sees the glimmer of God even in a devil of a day.

All the same, I wouldn’t mind some pity, at times. (Preferably cash.) However I have a bad habit of always comparing my lot to people who are worse off, and that spoils my ability to play the violins. I start out with the violins, and then have this strange urge to insert a tuba.

For example, as a writer I prefer quiet, but despite the fact all my children are grown I never seem to experience the so-called “empty nest.” I have taken to getting up in the middle of the night to write, for that is the only time it is really quiet. Consequently I often lack sleep, (even though I go back to bed, and get to sleep twice a night, whereas others only get to sleep once). When I get up to go to work I feel like death warmed over, and want some pity.

Then I compare myself to a person who actually was the most unfortunate person in the world, for a day. I’m referring to myself 33 years ago. I was spurned and broke and living in a desert campground, and wrote this unhappy song:

I think I am going to die soon.
I see a skull’s face in the full moon
And high in the sky hear a mad loon
Luting a lonely and sad tune.

Why am I staying here grieving?
Who do I think I’m deceiving?
Why am I staying here groaning?
Life’s just a way of postponing.

Some body some body
Ask me to stay.

All I need to do is remember the horrible loneliness of that mournful twilight and all the noise I experience now doesn’t seem so bad. However I figure that shouldn’t disqualify me from pity. Maybe I don’t deserve a whole concerto of violins, but a lone fiddle might be nice, once in a while.

Recently my mother-in-law deserved the pity because she couldn’t go to her warm place in Florida because she was recovering from an operation. I agreed that the sooner she went to Florida the happier everyone would be. Finally she was able to go, provided someone went along to help her open up her house. I was willing to sacrifice the beauty of snow for a bit, however I was too indispensable to my workplace to go. In the end my daughter took on the task, but that meant my wife and I had to watch our granddaughter, who is three.

My sleep was even more disrupted, for the small child had the habit of crawling into bed with my wife and I at all hours of the night. It was cute, the first time, but the little girl kicks a lot in her sleep. Also sometimes she’d wake before me, and seemingly decided my upturned face was a good road to drive her toy cars over. It was a strange thing to wake up to.

However it was a perfect thing, when it came to getting me some pity. When people asked me, “How’s it going?” I didn’t need to respond, “Fine, and you?” Instead I could answer, “Things are not good.”

This forces people to raise a sympathetic eyebrow, and ask “Oh?”

Then I could say, “I’m terribly run down. This morning I was run over by a cement truck.”

I would then look at them and wait for them to correct me, saying something like, “You mean you felt like you were run over by a cement truck,” but no one ever took the bait. Maybe they know me too well. Instead they tended to look curious, and wait.

So I’d add, “Can you believe it? An actual cement truck ran me over. I took a picture of it with my cell phone, and can prove it to you.  Here. Take a look:”

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