You are gifted, and though all the long year You give, and need no ribbons nor bows, So, when Christmas comes, should you feel a fear You are in any way lacking? God knows Who the true givers are, but exploiters Want to make you feel guilty if you don't buy Their trinkets. Just as bad salt grows goiters They smog up the clean, sweet, holiday sky Until stars aren't seen, but you're just such a star. When winter stunts daylight, and darkness looms, Some people glimmer. They catch from afar The Light Who long ago defeated cruel gloom's Attempt to slaughter all innocents. Light shifted The minds of men from theft, to being gifted.
Just a reminder to Americans:
– Protection from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.
Note the word “particularly”, and then compare that with the amazingly general and vauge description of what is to be seized in part “C” of the warrant.
Basically, the warrant allows the FBI to seize anything Trump wrote or received while president.
I’ll leave it to others to state whether this is a “fishing expedition” or not, and whether or not the possibility exists that evidence could have been “planted”, (especially as people were banned from serving as witnesses and onlookers), and whether or not the FBI has a shred of reliability left after it has been exposed as culpable to the processes that led to prior unfounded attacks on Trump.
Instead, I would like to address the question, “Why should Trump want to hide even a single paper?”
The simple fact of the matter is that we mortals are not perfect, and often need to go through a process of “feeling things out” before we arrive at a decision. During the “process” we may say things we would never say “in public”. We may stamp around and be wall-bangers. Those who love us wait until we are done ventilating, and then say something along the lines of, “You don’t really mean that.” And, speaking for myself, I tend to respond, “No, but it’s how I feel.”
Such emotional honesty is only possible with those who love you. It is a thing called “intimacy.” Such emotional honesty is not wise among those who hate you, and who want to harm you, for they will use such honesty as a proof you are a sinner.
The word “sin” has become politically incorrect, but the sad fact of the matter is that it is human to err. Saint John stated, “If we say we have no sin then the Truth is not in us.” It follows that our ability to confess our sin, in some safe space, is vital to our ability to grow, and even to exist, as humans.
This is not to say we accept sin as behavior we want to follow. After saving the adulterous woman from being stoned by telling the angry mob, “Let you who is without sin throw the first stone” Jesus told the woman who he had saved, “Go, and sin no more.”
There needs to be the recognition that sin is undesirable. If one attempts to justify sin and perpetuate sin, one faces a danger Saint Paul described as being “given to your sin.”
In fact, the good are as prone to sin as the bad, but the good fight what the bad promote.
To return to the subject of private papers, I have kept a diary since I was nine, and if the FBI wants to dig up evidence that I am not always sweet and saintly, or even sane, all they need to do is seize my private papers. In fact, just to tantalize them, here’s a page from 1965:
(The FBI might like to know why my older brother, who was 18 at the time, was coming home at two AM and entering the house through a third story window.)
I think it might do the FBI some good if they were forced to read my writing. All 60 years’ worth. If my poetry didn’t make them more sensitive, it might gag them, and either would be better than their current state.
But as far as your private papers are concerned, they are nobody’s business but your own. The U S Constitution defends your right to work things out in your own time and in your own way, and anyone who wants to limit or infringe upon that liberty can go take a flying leap.
It seems the United States is in a state of being denied, wherein what people want is not what they are getting. In a sense it is like fasting. People hunger and thirst for righteousness, but never seem to be fed.
Fasting is supposedly spiritual, when it isn’t done out of vanity, merely to improve appearances, but rather is done to break our addiction to worldly cravings.
I must confess I was never big on fasting. When young I had a revved-up metabolism and couldn’t put on weight even when I tried, (and I did try, attempting to increase my bulk for football.) Having this sort of metabolism makes you into a sort of eating machine at times, which doesn’t look all that spiritual. Yet then I might go a surprising period of time on nothing but coffee and cigarettes (and sometimes whisky) utterly indifferent to food, because I was “a writer”. (I will confess I learned to add lots and lots of powdered milk to my coffee, so I suppose the milk kept hunger at bay.) However, after one of these spells of being “a writer”, I’d be hit by a ravenous appetite and completely disgrace myself, in spiritual terms, by wolfing an entire large pizza like it was a cracker.
Therefore, I am no one to seek out as an authority on self-denial, and how it benefits the spiritual aspirant. To be quite honest, a lot of my “writing” is me complaining about how I don’t get what I want. (I am rather good at such complaining, if I do say so myself.)
Oddly, even though I never really sought self-denial, I did manage to wind up in some situations where I was a “suffering poet”. Largely this was because I was offensive. I didn’t mean to be offensive (most of the time) but there is something offensive about taking the attitude that you are special and should get what you want, especially when what you want is for everyone else to go to work nine to five as you stay home smoking and drinking coffee (sometimes spiked with whisky) being “a writer”. In any case, let it suffice to say I did not get what I wanted, and people made me feel less than welcome, when they didn’t just throw me out on my ear. This placed me in a position of self-denial even though that was the last thing I wanted.
One crisis I got myself into involved leaving New England in a sort of self-imposed exile, at age 27. I had offended just about everyone, including myself, and just packed all that seemed valuable into a tiny 1974 Toyota with a 1200 cc engine and headed off into the cruel world. I slept in that tiny vehicle fairly often, which I suppose is self-denial. And, (as even exiled Romans such as Ovid and Cicero admitted), exile had its benefits. Self-denial can uplift the spiritual seeker.
In any case, while thinking about the current suffering occurring in the United States, I recalled a poem I wrote before I left New England on my exile. In Rome people often accepted exile as a way to escape a more severe punishment, and the old poem was about the punishment (self-inflicted) I was enduring before I left. Something about America’s current suffering reminded me of that past, and I went searching for the old work in my yellowed papers.
Found it! It is an unusual poem for me, in that I reworked it several times. The first draft was from November 1978, the second draft from July 1979, and the final draft was from October 1980. In other words, this poem expressed the passion of a young man in his mid-twenties.
Anger's a sabre thrust into my heart; My heart is a scabbard of pain. I would draw out the long, bloody blade And see all my enemies slain, But blood is a terrible stain. My fingertips shake with the strain. Foolish men fawn for a dollar a day And artists are driven to hiding. Generals are riding fat horses that bray, And therapists yawn at confiding While counting up dollars deciding What beaches to ruin residing Within aluminum siding, Then they go back to their guiding. Where is the handle? I must draw the sword And see that the dragon is thoroughly gored, Yet how can I haul out that head-hacking blade When the charger you sold me so recently brayed? Sorrow, sweet sorrow, is clotting my throat With stabbing I never could swallow. I want to bail out. We're in the same boat. Excuses have always been hollow. Where is the scalpel a surgeon would use And where is the surgeon who knows how to choose? The enemy has to be slain But blood is a terrible stain. My fingertips shake with the strain.
Besides being a fairly good indication that I chose correctly, in deciding to depart a situation which was driving me bonkers over 40 years ago, the poem traces some depths of feeling one may experience, when the situation that is driving them bonkers is difficult to escape. And the current situation in the United States is driving people bonkers. It is also difficult to escape. People who are nowhere nearly as offensive as I was in my mid-twenties may be feeling like I felt, all those years ago.
This makes me wonder if there is any advice I can offer.
In one sense I have no advice. I have never figured out how to make the people driving me bonkers stop doing it. They are what they are. The only thing I can stop is to stop myself. I’m the only one I can change.
In 1980 the biggest change I made was to stop retreating to my mother’s basement, when I felt hurt, and instead to retreat in an outward direction. It seemed a very brave thing I was doing, but even little birds do it, when they leave the nest. My departure was actually retarded, when you consider I was in my mid-twenties, and few took it all that seriously, considering I had “left home” many times before. Few knew how serious I was, and that I was truly gone for good.
Leaving the nest is self-denial because one is denying themself the very real comforts offered by a mother. Such comforts are provided in a nigh instinctual way and can be addictive. For example, my dirty socks would vanish and then reappear cleaned in the top drawer of my bureau neatly balled. This may seem like a little thing, but it never happened again, and, after forty years, recalling such kindness makes me nostalgic. But at the time I took it for granted and it made me lazy, dependent, and disgusted with myself. Moving from my mother’s basement was like leaving a dank dungeon and soaring into the open sky. Where is the self-denial in that? (I suppose it is in the fact the open sky can get stormy, and then one wants to head home.)
In the above example it can be seen that self-denial is closely associated with freedom. It is part of a tension which forever exists between security and freedom, wonderfully portrayed by a couple of Saturday Evening Post covers by Norman Rockwell which appeared on consecutive weeks: (Notice the face is the same.)
In some ways this tension is as simple as the fact we get up in the morning and go back to bed in the evening. Life involves alternating desires. However, the factor I want to focus on is the self-denial.
In order to be a sort of yogi and to qualify as “spiritual” the self-denial must encompass both sides of an alternating duality; IE: when you want to get up you must stay in bed, and when you want to stay in bed you must get up. This sort of “fasting” is annoying as heck. It is a swift way to turn even bright spirits into sourpusses. It can only be done when the yogi involved is fiercely determined to reach some preconceived transcendental state, and, even then, is full of hazards.
I did try some of this self-denial when in my twenties and I learned something of the hazards. It is a bit like enduring the pain of jogging to get yourself in shape. One problem I ran into was that I tended to lose my desire and to see my resolution fade, and to in a sense “fall off the wagon”. (This was not like falling off a horse, wherein you get back on where you fell off, but more like the game of snakes-and-ladders; you go slithering down a slippery slope and have to start over from the very bottom.) Then a second problem was that the very few times I did bungle into the periphery of some sort of transcendental state it tended to scare my socks off; I wanted to run away and be normal again. Lastly was that, (most of the time), such self-denial wrung the joy from my life and left me a sourpuss, and a crank. This was so far from the nirvana I was seeking that it actually was what propelled me from my mother’s basement.
This brings me to the subject of what was propelling me. I felt as if I was to some degree out of control. This seemed irresponsible, but to some degree we cannot take control of everything. Some days the fish simply are not biting, and no amount of yelling at the water can change their minds. And the same is true of hitchhiking. Some days the traffic will not stop, and neither yelling nor smirking convinces anyone. It is at such times one finds themselves muttering to the sky, and to the possibility of a Power besides ourselves, who controls.
As a young intellectual I strove to be logical, and to doubt the existence of anything which could not be scientifically replicated, but my Atheism was troubled by a series of events which could not be replicated but could also not be denied, for they saved my life. Midst my “bad luck” were odd experiences of “good luck”. Eventually this led to a series of inner crises and I “got religion”, which made me in some ways even more offensive than before. I was even more likely to sit around writing as others went to work when I thought God would care for me. But eventually I became aware God didn’t automatically gratify my desires, and was as libel, and in fact more libel, to utilize self-denial. For example, the only time God washed my socks and put them in the top drawer was when God manifested as Mom. The rest of the time the socks stayed dirty.
It is upsetting to some when God doesn’t respond to prayers like He is some sort of vending machine, wherein you put in your prayer and the answered prayer plops out at the bottom. After such disappointment, one must take matters into their own hands. This is fine when the problem is dirty socks; one simply learns to wash their own socks. However, it is not so easy when things get out of control, and your best efforts come up empty.
In my case, (along the lines of fishing when the fish weren’t biting, and hitchhiking when nobody stops,) coming-up-empty often occurred when looking for a job. Many times, I was one of those fellows who waits outside an unemployment office hoping for spot labor. I didn’t feel in control of my destiny, especially on those days when there was no work, and, on those days, God heard a fair amount of grumbling.
I well know the temptation one then feels to be corrupted; God may say you’ll earn no money that day, but one is tempted to rob a bank.
To be honest I suppose I must reluctantly confess that I have succumbed to temptations to some degree.
As a teen I sowed some very wild oats, but once I “got religion” my moral failures never progressed much beyond smoking and drinking too much, a few failed romances, and some petty theft, (and I did repay the market I shoplifted cigarettes from). While I did feel the urges to be corrupt, they never won me over to the degree one sees among politicians in “The Swamp.” I tested the waters of corruption and was repelled.
I’m not sure why this was the case. It could be that I simply wasn’t deemed worthy of spending the time, by those who do the tempting. One good thing about being flat broke is that few see you as being worthy of seduction.
It also could be I was protected. After all, once I “got religion” I had given my life to the Lord (to some degree), which means I had admitted I couldn’t control life and needed help. And what happens next?
Once you have such a Superman watching over you, perhaps you get protected even when you don’t want to be protected, as was the case when certain gorgeous women walked by. When lonely I was not at all inclined towards self-denial, but had to endure it. The Good Shepherd was guiding his sheep, even if the sheep was a black sheep.
Eventually it sunk into me that a lot of the self-denial I was experiencing was actually good for me. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s I endured a fair amount of mockery from even my closest friends for being something of a prude. Then, starting around 1982, a lot of the fellow “writers” who had mocked me started dropping dead of AIDS (which was a reletively swift and unpleasant way to die back then, with no cure). Then self-denial didn’t seem like such a misfortune, and indeed more like a miracle.
Of course, I always wanted the miracles to be more pampering. One story I often tell involves a Christmas miracle. I was five dollars short on my rent and a green, rumpled piece of paper came blowing across a parking lot. As I stooped to pick it up, I could see it was money, and was fairly certain it was a five, which it was. Even though I felt a warm glow all over I felt comfortable enough with my Creator to joke, “Couldn’t You have managed a hundred?” But I’ve heard it said that when you are thirsty God gives water, not lemonade, and to me this has seemed true.
This brings me back to the subject of self-denial, and the fact I seemed to get more self-denial than gratification, which must mean that, if the Good Shepherd is in charge, there is more good in not getting what you want than in getting what you want.
Why should this be?
I think this is true because getting what you desire seldom satisfies. You usually just want more. We tend to be creatures of habit, and the way to freedom from addiction is not to get what you are addicted to. This is not to say some habits are not good habits: When a bad habit enslaves us we tend to call it “being stuck in a rut” however a better habit is described as being “in the groove”, but even good habits limit our freedom, and I think God wants us free.
It helps me to understand how habits enslave when I describe a “desire” as a “craving”. Craving sounds more beastly, and even undesirable (which is wonderfully ambiguous, as you are saying desire is not what you should desire.) People who can admit they “desire” are less likely to confess they “crave.” But, if you don’t think craving controls you, just hold your breath for sixty seconds. Soon breathing, which you ordinarily don’t even think about, becomes the only thing you can think about.
Craving can be seen as a distraction. It is like when you have a job to do, but just then a very attractive person walks by. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, nor what your sexual preference is, you are distracted. And from God’s perspective, humanity is a herd of distracted cats. He is the only One able to herd them.
One thing God seems to seek to do is to free us from our cravings. And it turns out that such freedom is far more likely to occur when we don’t get what we desire. For example, when even the most zealous suiter is disdained over and over, and is finally arrested as a stalker, the zeal must seek a different channel, even if it doesn’t completely fade like the final ember of a fire. Typically, the suiter settles for second best, and rather than a “lover” becomes a “friend”. If they can’t be number one in the beloved’s life, and can’t actually massage the beloved’s shoulders, they must settle for making this a better world for the beloved to live in, by uplifting other people they formerly wouldn’t bother with.
Having our desire frustrated is painful, but it frees us from needing to have a specific desire fulfilled in a specific way. One thing I have noticed in people who have been through great suffering is that they are less demanding and are more able to be happy with less. They are satisfied with water and don’t demand lemonade. Rather than restless they know more of peace. Rather than post-traumatic-stress they know post-traumatic-resignation.
I have had trouble being resigned because I am a battler and tend to be more inspired by pep talks, like Winston Churchhill’s famous “Never Surrender” speech when England was threatened by Hitler. I also liked the prophet Issaih’s defiance of the Assyrians when they besieged Jerusalem. I did not like the prophet Jeramiah’s advice when the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem a few decades later, for his advice was, “Surrender, for this time you are up against God’s Will. You must accept the punishment of captivity and exile.”
Surrender is a bad thing when it is a surrender to slavery, but God does not want us to be slaves. God is the only One worthy of surrendering to, for He knows best when our desires should be thwarted and when they should be gratified, and how best to move us to a point where our minds are unclouded by cravings, and our hearts are free to love.
One interesting thing about the relatively poor people who the “elite” call “deplorables” is that the poor seem more able to put their own desires aside. A factoid which never made sense to me is that the poor give more to charity than the rich, in terms of a percentage of their income. (In fact, some rich will not give to charity unless they themselves profit in some way, which is not charity at all.) How can this be true?
It has occurred to me that the poor, without the slightest wish to be yogis, have had to see their desires denied over and over again, until the habit of craving is worn down, and they no longer expect gratification. Then, because their minds are not clotted with cravings, they are more able to hear their hearts. The poor workingman’s heart defies his intellect’s banker’s-budget, when he impulsively hands half his sandwich to a hungry, onlooking child. In this and a thousand other small ways the so-called “deplorable” are not deplorable at all, and in fact are more loving than, and are spiritually superior to, the so-called “elite.”
Blessed are the poor. Because they do not require gratification to be happy, they are often happier than billionaires. They live in a world wherein quaint values the elite call “old fashioned”, but which are actually ancient and eternal, rule. So maybe not getting your desires gratified is a good thing.
The elite, who are constantly sating their desires for wealth and power and fame and sex and drugs, discover gratification does not lead to freedom, and instead become more and more addicted to their desires. In spiritual terms this insidiously matures into a colossal mistake, for even when they imagine they are enslaving others they in fact are enslaving themselves. Even when they think they are smarter they are in fact becoming increasingly ignorant. Even when they think they see clearly, they are blinded by desire. And even when they think they gain control they are losing self-control; in seeking power they become spiritually powerless.
Hopefully you see where my thought is leading. It is a complete contradiction of the values which rule the elite. It denies that which the American mainstream media attempts to say is the only sensible way to think.
The foxes push saints from pulpits to preach To the chickens, but their sly idealism Is cynicism. They actually teach The opposite of what they say. To them Hypocrisy's second nature. They don't know How fresh and clean Truth is. They cannot see How blind they are. They think it wise to sow Thistles, and create their own tragedy. See them now, puffed in pulpits, so sure that They're collecting dainties, like gamblers sweep Winnings from a table, chewing pure fat That drips from chins. Meanwhile chickens keep Their distance: In fact, the pews are now empty. The outfoxed fox snarls, for he can't tempt me.
Tired of this anger I'm carrying I turn to You, my Lord, and plead my case: Mankind creates divorces out of marrying And turns the sweetest blush into disgrace. Your generosity is met with greed. Your colossal kindness met with hate. They snatch away the milk that babies need And dream their tyranny will make them great. Am I to sit and turn the other cheek? Must goodness zip its lip as hellfires singe? How is it You in silence will not speak As bigmouths blare the bull that makes me cringe? I pray my suffering's like that of fasting. I hurt today for joy that's everlasting.
While being rolled down a hospital corridor in a gurney on a Thursday evening early last February, it occurred to me that sometimes avoiding stress can be a stress in and of itself.
It reminded me of when I was a kid and would try not to think of my tongue. The more I tried not to think of my tongue, the more I noticed it. The more I tried to position my tongue in a place where I wouldn’t feel it, the more I felt it. It would just about drive me mad, and it took a supreme act of distraction to break my mind free.
The same sort of thing can happen at my Childcare, when I get some children’s-song stuck in my head: “Good morning! Good morning! And how do you do? Good morning! Good morning! I’m fine. How are you?” To an advanced poet of vast learning like myself, having such drivel repeating over and over and over again in my brain blotched my sense of dignity. It required a serious antidote. Whisky got expensive, so I tended to resort to a sort of spider-solitaire on my computer that allowed one to reverse moves when losing became apparent, and to attempt a different course of action, and to eventually “win” the game, though on a few occasions I’d have to back up and try over again a hundred times, and “winning” took over a week. The intense concentration involved got my mind off everything. I called it “zoning out” and it had its benefits, but my wife could become exasperated when I “zoned out” too much. Eventually I decided “zoning out” had the traits of an addiction, and was as bad as whisky, and I erased the game from my computer.
Ever since I’ve been in a sort of withdrawal. I work too much. I can’t get my mind off what needs to be done next, and on a farm, especially an old rundown farm, the work is endless. A thing I call “the list” gets stuck in my head, like a song. The struggle then becomes to avoid burnout.
That is the point when “relax” starts to appear on “the list”. However, it is like writing down, “Don’t think of your tongue.” You can’t relax when you are uptight about relaxing.
This issue gets exacerbated by aging. On one hand you can’t work as fast, while on the other you are running out of time. When younger, “running out of time” meant I’d work faster, but when you get older there is no such thing as “faster”. When younger I would drive myself and chain smoke, but now I’m paying the price for all the smoking I did when younger. Due to compromised lungs, it takes little to make me huff-and-puff, and I’m forced to pause. I don’t want to sit down though. Another attribute of aging is that limbs stiffen up swiftly, and if you sit down, you may find it hard to get up again. Therefore, the trick is to “pace yourself”, and to simply stand and wait until you catch your breath, and then work until the huffing-and-puffing begins again. In other words, it is still possible to drive yourself. You’re just a lot slower about it. What this means is that, even when it looks like you are relaxing, you are not.
The thing you have to do, as you reach-your-limit at a point where less work is accomplished, is to do a wonderful thing called “delegate”. I always found delegating hard to do, as I am a do-it-yourself type of person. I found it hard to ask for help, (or even to ask girls to dance, many years ago.) (The only “asking” I managed when young was the now nearly-forgotten art of hitchhiking.) However, over the years I slowly learned how to ask for help, and to reward the good people who helped me, until (with much help from my wife) I became a small businessman with an actual “staff” of helpers.
But then a madness hit our nation, which is in some ways a fierce war everyone is pretending isn’t happening. I see it as a war between Globalists and those who believe in what the United States stands for.
If one bothers to read the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the United States is very clear about what it stands for. Globalists, not so much. But, as best as I can tell, Globalists feel there would be no war if there was only a single government, and even that there would be no disagreement, if there was only a single government. Preposterous, I think. It is like saying marriage wouldn’t have any arguments if there was only a single spouse. It might be intellectually true, but it is stupid all the same.
The stupidity of Globalism strikes me as similar to the stupidity of communism, which has brought great misery to beautiful people and beautiful lands, wherever it has been tried. I’ve studied those disasters, and I notice a great difference between the way the Founding Fathers of the United States and Communists regarded small businessmen like myself. Thomas Jefferson stressed the importance of what he called “independent small farmers and artisans”, while communists loathe such people and deem them a “counter-revolutionary petite bourgeoise” which must be purged to make society healthy.
To me it has seemed that the ridiculous pandemonium called the “coronavirus” has in some ways been aimed at ruining small businesses (as well as small churches and small schools). Nothing about the “lock-downs” made the virus less lethal, but it did bankrupt many businesses (and prevent worship and learning.) The intent of the “lock-downs” increasingly seems malevolent, and people who say so out loud no longer sound so much like crazy people lost in conspiracy theories, (which may be why the censorship of such voices is increasingly desperate).
I like to think I am one of the “small, independent farmers and artisans” that Thomas Jefferson liked, and also one of the “Kulaks” whom Stalin despised. This blog describes one man’s view of enduring (and hopefully surviving) what seems like an effort to irradicate individual effort and replace it with a sort of “collective” mentality. One element of this attack seems to be aimed at making it harder for small businesses to find help.
One frightening attack on the supply of labor is the problem of Fentanyl. Even when the Coronavirus closed churches I was part of a small group which went right on meeting, (sort of under the radar), and the purpose of this group was to be a sort of AA for the addicted, and at one these meetings a young man told me a story that shocked me. He said he had to comfort his mother, because she was upset when she had to attend her first funeral of a classmate, and she, in the blindness of her grief, had moaned, “You don’t know what it is like when the person who has died is not an old-timer but instead is your own age.” He responded, “Mom, I do know what it feels like, for I’ve been to thirty-two funerals for people my age.” This opened my eyes to the fact we are midst an actual war, with our youth actually dying.
Another attack on the supply of labor was to offer coronavirus “benefits” which made it more lucrative to be unemployed than to work. I’m glad such seductions weren’t around when I was young and loved leisure, for I found it hard enough to push myself to work as it was; (asking for a job was as hard as asking a girl to dance.) I don’t blame any young person for taking the higher-paying “job”. Why should a young person work a job that pays $300/week when the government pays $600/week for sloth? In a sense the young were being bribed from the world of “small farmers and artisans” to join the “collective”, and the Swamp could afford such a non-productive strategy by simply printing money, with all the inflationary dangers that entailed.
In any case, right when I needed help, help was harder to find. Right when aging increased my limitations, and I could do less, I had to do more myself. My wife and I, on a regular basis, talked about simply closing our Childcare, but we couldn’t really afford to. Also, I felt like I was in a war, and closing my small business would be letting the bad guys win. I had the desire to go down fighting. And so, during the two years we’ve been fighting the coronavirus war, this blog has inadvertently been a recorded history of how free people respond to tyranny.
For me the response of free people has been to find a way to keep right on doing what free people do, in a way under the radar (and under the table) of new rules and regulations. If school is outlawed, homeschool. If church is outlawed, hold many “small groups”. If church suppers are outlawed, hold smaller suppers. If restaurants are closed, find a way to order special food and tip highly. If choir practice is banned, record an online choir of a hundred, separate, “socially distanced” voices, and use virtual technology to combine all the voices and blast a mighty chorus, bigger and better than before. (Some of these “virtual choirs” are utterly amazing, and also represent a spiritual form of counterattack.)
The war we are within is a bizzarre war. It is an invisible war. It is a war that small businesses like my own may be winning. The communist mentality never expected such a pushback. They expected that when they shut schools, I would close my Childcare. My militant counterattack was to tell them “Go f— yourself” and remain open, without masks or vaccination mandates. I was very warlike, but why? Because I was and am kind to small children. (And they are not.)
However, some do die in a war. It is what makes war be war. Though people sung “When Johnnie comes marching home again” as soldiers marched off to our last Civil War, every graveyard in New England attests to the fact many Johnnies never came marching home. Their bodies are not in the graveyard. Their bodies are buried far away. But monuments covered in lichen attest to their sacrifices. Not only the bad guys die, in a war.
Usually, it is the young who are the cannon fodder, but in this bizarre Civil War it may also be the old. I thought of this when, rather than protecting the elderly, New York’s Governor Cuomo imported coronavirus patients into elderly housing, even when Trump made hospital ships available. The infected victims did not need to enter assisted-living facilities. The elderly should have been protected, but Swamp did the exact opposite of what should have been done.
This stupid choice shortened the lives of tens of thousands of senior citizens who deserved better. Some of these elders may have been senile and might have had little wisdom left to offer, but even these deserved better than they got. Other elders had many years left to live and were as sharp as tacks yet were banned from even seeing their own family. Meanwhile the Swamp saved a lot of money, because treating such goodly elders in the kindly manner (which elders had worked long and hard to pay for [and had in fact earned]) cost the Swamp at least $100,000/year. If you have 10,000 elders die of the coronavirus you therefore have saved the Swamp a billion dollars. When money talks, compassion walks.
Money has never been able to talk to me in that manner. I grew up in a wealthy town and know how hollow the core of wealth can be, and how marrowless is the bone. Not that money is evil, but love of money is evil. It takes the “love of money” to think that killing 10,000 of our smartest citizens (and depriving them contact with their loved ones even as they die), results in any societal “good”. It only “makes” a billion dollars from murder. What could be eviler? What could be more an “act of war”?
It wasn’t merely New York that “accidentally” imported coronavirus into the very places which should have been most protected. Massachusetts made a billion, New Jersy made a billion, and you could go on from there. Call it genocide or senior-ocide, I call it disgusting and an act of war.
What a joke it is that, in such cases, rather than the young being cannon fodder, it is the old geezers like myself who may go down, in this idiotic war. But there have been days I confess I don’t get the joke anymore and fear I myself may become a casualty. I’ll be just one more closed small-business. Just like the little, nearby restaurant run by a grandmother. Another empty store-front, killed by the Swamp. I’ve read that 40% of all restaurants in New England have closed, to prevent the spread of a virus by using a strategy which scientists knew from the start wouldn’t work, as the virus kept right on spreading.
My hope is that, with so many restaurants closing, there must be a lot of waitresses who might be inclined to work at a place like mine. I’ve always liked waitresses because they work for less than minimum wage, with the expectation “tips” will make up the difference. They believe if they are kind others will be kind in return. That is so much nicer than communism, and indeed is more Christian than some Christians I know, though many waitresses profess to being Atheists or at least Agnostics. In any case, I do have hope.
But in the meantime, I have to work with a depleted staff though I’m getting too old to be working so hard. And I confess I may not have what it takes. I do like the idea of dying with my boots on, and if it happens, I figure I’ll just be a battlefield casualty. Just a statistic in this invisible war.
Winters are hard this far north, and the past one tested me a lot with frozen pipes and failing heating systems and gloppy, heavy snows I had to remove from driveways and fire-entrances. With January past and the maples feeling the first stirrings of sap, I felt I’d done a decent job, for an old geezer, and gave myself a pat on the back. As February began, I thought I had, at long last, arrived at a morning where I could sit back and write poetry. All was ordinary at first, until I went to use the toilet and noticed the water in the bowl was not clear, but gray. I questioned my wife, “Why is the water gray?” She said, “I don’t know, but the toilet made a funny sound.”
I was very annoyed, and griped, “What the heck did you do?” As if it was her fault. When I turned on the bathroom sink faucet the water shot out like a firehose and shifted from clear to jet black to clear to jet black again. Foolishly I repeated, “What did you do?”
As I headed to the cellar she got in my way, inquiring “Why must you always blame me?”
I gently removed her from my path, apologizing, and saying “Something’s gone wrong.”
In the basement I brushed the spiderwebs from the pressure dial, and saw it pegged out at 120 psi, when the system is supposed to run between 40 and 60 psi. I hurried to the circuit breaker and shut off the well-pump. Then I went upstairs and ran the faucets until the pressure resumed normal levels. I decided the black water was because the extreme pressure cleaned the inside of the pipes, for it stopped happening when the pressure dropped. Then I went down to the cellar to look at the pressure switch, and saw it was burned out. Fried. Lucky the house didn’t burn down. It had melted into an “open” position, so the well pump didn’t stop pumping, and the pressure kept rising and rising.
Fortunately, pressure switches are easy to replace. You basically disconnect a couple wires, screw out the old switch from the pipe, screw in a new switch, and reconnect the wires. You can call a plumber, who will charge you $360.00 to do a ten-minute job, replacing a $20.00 part. Or you can do it yourself. As much as I would have liked to “delegate” the job to a plumber, it seemed once again I should “do it myself.”
This was not the stress-free morning composing-a-sonnet I had planned, However, as “relax” was on “the list”, I relaxed driving twenty minutes to the hardware store to buy the $20.00-part, relaxed chatting with an old friend at the store, and then relaxed driving twenty minutes back.
There are worse things to be stuck with doing than driving through snowy New England woods. I kept the car radio off, to avoid disturbing news, and instead had a private talk with God, involving some intimate things which are nobody’s business, but some things I feel free to make public. Namely, “Why, Lord, do you make Your creation so beautiful, and winter woods so full of poetic images, and yet never give me time to write poems?”
Back in the cellar, though the PSI gauge read zero, I shut the valve on the pipe leading upstairs to keep water in the pipes from flowing down to the cellar. Only then did I remove the pressure gauge. The instant it was removed a jet of water spurted into my face, and I struggled to screw it back in, which stopped the spurting. Then I had to think how there could be pressure when the well was shut off and no water could flow from upstairs. Coffee time.
My wife looked at me hopefully as I emerged from the dirty old cellar, and her face registered the fact I looked a little like a drowned rat. She wisely said nothing, and I didn’t look at her, because even a hint of a smile at the corner of her lips might have set me off. (Not that I failed to see the humor in the situation. I just wasn’t ready to laugh.)
I slumped morosely by the woodstove and sadly glanced at my open notebook. Not so long ago I’d been starting a sonnet, and at that time could see the entire thing even as I began. It was loaded with internal rhymes, and I had all the rhymes at my fingertips, as well as the rhythm. It began:
Lord, put Your foot down. But just not on me. I think it is best that You manifest And halt this world's insanity. Set free ......
You’ll have to trust me. There was more. However, the sonnet now was like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”. Coleridge saw the entire poem in a dream and arose to write it, but some bothersome interruption knocked at his front door, and when he extracted himself from the chitchat and returned to his writing, the vision was gone. Utterly. He couldn’t even pretend he could write another line. All we have is the fragment; a great start to a poem which is but a might-have-been. And the above is the start to a great sonnet which is but a might-have-been. Only in my case it was not an unwelcome visitor knocking at my door. It was a malfunctioning pressure valve, and water spurting in my face.
It is hard to concentrate on poetry when you get hit in the face by a jet of water. It is even harder when your wife can’t even use her kitchen sink. It should be obvious why I forgot the rhyme to “manifest.”
In any case, I did enjoy licking the wounds of irony. I’d asked the Almighty to put His foot down. I did request “not on me” but scripture states, “Those God loveth, He abuseth.” Therefore the foot apparently came down on me. Ha ha.
Irony didn’t solve anything. I took a deep breath and focused my mind onto the mundane. How could water spurt from pipes with no pressure? The pressure must come from uphill, where the well was. There was no way to stop water from running downhill, so I would have to devise some plug for the pipe when I removed the pressure switch. After considering how to make a quick plug, (whittling wood seemed like it would take too long), I asked my wife if she had a stub of a used candle. She provided one in a twinkling. I carved a plug of wax, and I headed downstairs to face getting water shot in my face a second time. Lots of water shot in my face, but the plug worked. Then I could work in leisure, but I knew that one final episode of getting water shot into my face lay ahead, when I removed the wax plug and put in the new pressure switch. Sobeit. I put in the new switch and my wife had a kitchen sink again. I was a wet rat crawling ashore, bedraggled and yet victorious.
However, I was seriously behind schedule. Not only did I have to rush off to work a shift at the Childcare, (because the staff has problems of their own, which I won’t go into), but also the forecast was for yet another storm of glop and freezing slush. I had to stock up the woodboxes at home, and also deal with my wife’s anti-Swamp activities.
Where the Swamp seems to want to ban people from visiting elders in old-age-homes, and to ban people from the schooling of their own children, my wife insists on “staying involved”. She is a grandmother who reads stories to grandchildren in Brazil, via computer magic, and who refuses to allow the family’s matriarch (her mother) to enter the hellish “retirement communities” the Swamp offers. And in this particular situation she didn’t want to face the fact the coming storm made travel seem inadvisable. By hook or krook, we were going drive to Maine for a flash-visit of three granddaughters. (A two-year-old and twins-aged-six-months.) But we couldn’t leave until after attending a middle-school-aged grandchild’s quarter-finals basketball game.
At the risk of sounding like a heartless cynic, at times it occurs to me that all this family-stuff does not help me write sonnets. Perhaps that is why many poets live alone. But I have to admit warm and fuzzy family-stuff is a counterattack, in the weird war we are midst. Therefore, I sometimes go along with her sentimental nonsense, figuring her feminine intuition is smarter than my masculine willpower. That is why I might be seen at a grandchild’s basketball game which barely resembles basketball, when I’d much rather be writing a sonnet which does resemble a sonnet.
However, there are times I must draw the line. Driving to Maine is a bad idea if you never arrive. I needed to heed the fine details of the forecast, even while preparing for the storm. But I had no time to sit at my computer to look at the details.
For an old geezer, driving to Maine or even attending a basketball game is stress. It was one more stressful thing on “the list” even though “avoid stress” was on the list. I found myself thinking it might be too much. I might fail to be as tough as I want to be. I might be a battlefield casualty.
My mind slumped into morbidity: Just as the above sonnet is unfinished, much that I have wanted to do in my life will never be done. Life is too short. But this is no different from what happened to my peers in the 1960’s and 1970’s when they became cannon fodder. In the Vietnam war, each young person who died sacrificed their “promise”. Each death was a promise unfulfilled. What might have been would never be. In like manner, the death of every old geezer in the current war is a half-century of wisdom lost, and its promise unfulfilled. War is hell.
As I had these morbid thoughts, I had no time to play my violins of self-pity and compose sorrowful sonnets. I had to gulp down some chili and hurry up and down the front steps, filling the wood boxes. Then I felt a burning in my chest.
I figured it was just heartburn, because I’d hurried to work after gulping chili. I think your suppose to siesta after chili. However, I was pushing myself, carrying a few more logs than was wise, and pulled an obscure muscle I’d never pulled before which must string between the chest and the middle of the back, and likely has to do with lifting shoulders to gasp for breath when the diaphragm isn’t enough. Yet it occurred to me it might be something other than heartburn and a pulled muscle. My heart might be quitting. And as I thought this I was bathed with sweat, which was likely due to collapsing in an armchair by a hot stove to catch my breath, yet such sweating also may be a symptom of a heart attack. Stress.
The stress-relieving thing to do in such a situation is to do what I did in California thirty-eight years ago: Drive to a hospital, explain that you are having chest pains, and have them run a quick ECG. (ElectroCardioGraph). Back in 1984 they’d tell you your heart was fine, and that the chest-pain was due to a binge, you moron, and your stomach was protesting the fact you had drunk something like two cases of beer in two days. In 1984 the diagnosis took thirty minutes and cost $110.00. But hospitals are different now, during this invisible war.
I have a unique perspective, when it comes to hospitals, for my father was a surgeon at the MGH (Massachusetts General Hospital) in Boston back in the 1940’s, 1950’s and early 1960’s, back when doctors actually ran the hospitals, and before lawyers and insurance companies ruined everything. Those were glory days, as antibiotics had just been discovered, people stopped dying of staff infections after operations, and people dying of things like syphilis and tuberculosis were learning they wouldn’t die after all. Doctors and nurses walked with a real spring in their step. (How far we have fallen.)
I figured I was probably being a hypochondriac, but I’ve known good fellows who died because they didn’t want to make a big fuss about why their chest hurt. So I figured I should make sure it wasn’t anything serious. I was 95% sure it was nothing, but 5% is stress, and I wanted to avoid stress. Of course there would be some stress because of the coronavirus nonsense. They might object to the fact I was not vaccinated. But what happened might be interesting. It might make a good blog post.
I put off deciding, choosing to instead go close down the Childcare, thinking maybe the chest pains would ebb and I could forget my worry, but, if anything, they grew sharper. I still was thinking it was a pulled muscle, but the worry was there. I then had to face the stress of telling my wife.
She wanted to call an ambulance and I said by the time an ambulance arrived we could already be at the hospital. She said she couldn’t do CPR while driving and I said she could do CPR on me as I drove. She said she’d drive. As she drove, she called ahead to the emergency entrance using her voice-activated car phone, and she answered a slew of questions including my date-of-birth, and then we continued our discussion alone as we drove through the darkness of late twilight.
I was attempting to remain calm and stress-free, saying I was 95% sure I was just being a worry wart, but, if the 5% was true, then, if I was about to die, a good wife would not want to have the last thing her husband heard be criticism. Criticism could exacerbate stress, which contributed to heart attacks, so likely the best thing was praise. I should be praised for remaining so calm when there was a 5% chance I was about to croak. And then we laughed, which is about the most stress-free thing there is.
We arrived at the emergency entrance, which seemed an unnaturally bright pool of yellow light in the darkness of evening, and I hopped out as my wife drove off to park the car. I walked in and introduced myself as the man who had called ahead with chest pains. The lady told me to put on a mask and asked me my date-of-birth and whether I’d been vaccinated. Obviously, the woman did not deserve to be called a nurse.
I have a unique perspective towards nursing, as my mother was a registered nurse at Children’s Hospital in Boston in the 1940’s, and at Brandais College in the mid-1960’s, and as a hospice nurse in the late-1960’s, and then an EMT in Maine in the late 1970’s, through the 1980’s, into the early 1990’s. My mom could remain cool in the face of blood, and boys in my boyhood neighborhood would go to her with a gory cut, because they knew their own mothers would freak-out and perhaps faint. My mom knew freaking and fainting wasn’t any good, so she would tend to the gore. (If I had a complaint as a child, it was that my mother was too cool and too detached and that she didn’t gush enough.)
The woman I was dealing with was not tending to me, the patient, but rather tending to the paperwork. It was likely a good thing I put on a mask, for it hid my expression, which was likely an odd mix between pity and sheer contempt.
For one thing, it took me about two hours of on-line research right at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to understand cheap masks were a dumb idea. As I recall, there were at least three peer-reviewed studies in the “New England Journal of Medicine”, and two more in the English journal “Lancet”, which stated ordinary masks were more or less useless when it came to preventing the spread of virus. At least one study ventured masks were harmful, because of problems other than the transmission of virus. In other words, “science”, as it was defined before the coronavirus, stated masks (other than expensive ones), were useless. However, “science” acquired a bizarre, new definition, once the war on Truth was declared.
In its new incarnation, “science” became whatever furthers a political goal. It doesn’t matter if the goal is low lusts, greed, and desires for power. Science must bow, must disregard its former affinity to Truth, and must be “politically correct”. In essence, science must agree to be false. It is for some “higher good.”
To me this claptrap is such a complete denial of the original definition of “science” that it cannot be borne. Science is supposed to be a study of Truth, just as poetry is a study of Truth. And, when I have studied history to seek examples of at least a single occasion when lies led to some “higher good”, what I see are examples of times such lies led to societal disasters. The ultimate lies were Lysenko’s, who had the distinction of precipitating terrible famines in both Russia and China, “for their own good.”
To put it mildly, I have thought using masks is a deed of rank stupidity for over two years now. Therefore, when I enter a hospital’s emergency entrance and a lady asks me to put a mask on it strikes me as a sure sign that she is ignorant. I pity her, because I know she is just doing her job, but her job is not a nurse’s, and she cannot claim to be one. She is in fact a bureaucrat in a white uniform.
I have an unspiritual inclination to rear back and give such people an uppercut to the snoot, but that would hardly help matters, even in an invisible war. Pity is better. And, as a man who runs a Childcare, I often watch small children struggle to put together simple puzzles, and know it is often better to allow them to figure things out for themselves. To be simply given an answer often involves no true learning, which may be why God, in His compassion, allows people to bungle along learning things. If people prefer falsehood to Truth for some queer reason, well, they will learn the hard way. Only if one, with all their might and main, seeks Truth midst all the fluff and balderdash, is one likely to see the Light.
I looked away from the bureaucrat clicking away at her keyboard to see if there was anyone else around. The news always makes it sound like hospitals are overcrowded with wheezing and gasping coronavirus patients, but this particular emergency entrance seemed downright serene, and understaffed. Even as I thought this a strong, young man dressed in white walked briskly around a corner and approached me. “Hi!” he said, “Are you the fellow with chest pains?” He held out a palm and we shook hands as I nodded, and then he continued, “My name is Zack and I’m your nurse. Follow me.”
As we walked further into the bright depths of the emergency entrance, I explained I was 95% sure I just pulled a muscle in my chest, and that I was just playing it safe, and Zack agreed it was better to be safe than sorry. I like agreeable people, and I took an immediate liking to him. We chattered away as if it was an everyday thing for me to strip down bare-chested and for him to start sticking small plastic sensors to various parts of my chest. For example, I stated there were a lot more sensors than there were in 1984, and he asked what happened in 1984, and I gave him the short version. When I mentioned the two cases of beer he laughed and stated that he had also learned two cases of beer in two days was not a wise idea, when he was younger.
My cellphone beeped and it was my wife texting. She said the hospital wouldn’t let her wait inside. She wondered if she should wait in the parking lot. I asked Zack how long the ECG would take, and he said besides the EKG there would be blood tests, and it would take at least an hour for the results to come in. I texted my wife it was going to take longer than I thought; over an hour; she texted back she’d wait in the parking lot until I had more news.
Zack clipped a thing onto my finger to measure my oxygen levels, and then stood back and regarded a computer display above the bed in satisfaction. It made efficient-sounding beeping noises, and besides a graph of my ECG had around ten other numbers. Then Zack hurried off, and swiftly returned, telling me the doctor said the EKG looked good, but that the doctor wanted to do other tests, including a cat scan. I asked how long it would take, and he said likely at least two hours, and maybe five. I texted my wife my ECG looked good, but there would be other tests, and she probably should wait at home. She sent an emoji of a relieved face.
Zack was swabbing the inside of my elbow, but rather than just drawing blood samples he was inserting an IV with a Y junction to allow saline in as well as to draw blood out. I asked why they had to do other tests if the ECG looked good, and Zack said an EKG wasn’t enough to prevent malpractice suits; if I had a heart attack in the next month the doctor could expect to have his socks sued off. Therefore, insurance companies required a whole slew of tests, to cover the doctor’s butts. I said it was all about money, and that lawyers and insurance companies were driving up prices, and Zack diplomatically shrugged.
From there we moved on and had a chat about why I said ECG and he said EKG. They mean the same thing, and I told him that as a writer I preferred English, and “cardio” began with a “C”. I wondered if EKG meant the machine was made in Germany, and Zack laughed. Then I asked him how long he’d been a nurse.
It turned out he’d worked eight years for a crew laying concrete foundations. The money was better than he made nursing, especially with all the cement-work overtime, but he was getting worn down. I told him cement work was rough on backs, and that I knew cement-workers who’d turned to Fentanyl to escape the pain. He adroitly avoided the subject of Fentanyl, but stated he indeed had worried about his back. I said nurses had to be careful not to hurt their backs as well; some patients could be pretty fat. Zack laughed and said this was true, but cement was heavier.
By this time I was all wired and tubed-up like a person at death’s door, and Zack hurried off to bring a couple blood samples to a lab, and a very tired-looking doctor came trudging in.
I’ll call him Dr. Robe because he struck me as being like a robot. He asked a long string of questions in a monotone yet hurried voice, as if he was asking them by rote and wasn’t interested in many of the answers. The questions seemed very much like the checklist of questions you have to answer on forms as you enter a doctor’s office, questions more aimed at malpractice lawyers than your health, questions that hold the echoes of some past court proceedings: “But did you inquire as to whether the patient was a pathological liar?”
Right off the bat Dr. Robe struck me as the sort of doctor my father would have railed should be disqualified. Doctors were not supposed to look so tired and bored and discouraged; they were supposed to radiate faith and hope and to activate the placebo-effect with their complete confidence. Their confidence was supposed to be reassuring and infectious; Dr. Robe looked infected by gloom; he had no spring in his step; he trudged.
I resisted the urge to rail at him as my father might have done, and instead prodded my slouching sense of pity. (Patients aren’t supposed to pity the doctors; it is supposed to be the other way around; but the weird war we’re within has things upside-down and backwards.)
It occurred to me it must be humiliating to be a doctor these days. Gone is the respect people once had. Where once doctors gave their opinions from a sort of pedestal, now they are told to keep their opinions to themselves. They receive orders from the Swamp, and if they beg to differ, they could lose their jobs. Rather than being treated like professionals they are treated like lackeys and flunkies. All their experience, all that they have learned over the years through actual contact with the hurting, all their success and failure, is disregarded, in favor of some Swamp commandment. Worst is the fact that the Swamp’s new definition of “science” is looking increasingly stupid, as it is confronted by its failures to be like true “science”, and to honor true Truth.
The Swamp is confronted by the failures of its “promises” to come true. Masks were supposed to stop-the-spread but failed. Social distancing was supposed to stop-the-spread but failed. Vaccines were supposed to stop-the-spread but failed. Those who trusted the Swamp, and complied, now can’t help but to increasingly feel disappointed and even betrayed. Me? My faith was trampled very early on, and I’ve been a Skeptic for nearly two years now.
I think what originally set off alarms in my head was my perception the Swamp did not like second opinions. My father was very big on getting second opinions. I could recall that, back in the glory days when doctors ran their own hospitals, doctors were always sharing what they had discovered, or asking if the other doctors had ever come across an unexpected complication they were confronted by. They were well aware every patient is different, “what is good for the goose may be bad for the gander”, and they had open minds that sought the insights of others. As a small boy I liked to hang about the periphery as they talked over drinks after work, for they all seemed excited to hear each other’s latest discovery.
The Swamp now seems utterly different. They seemed to epitomize the Globalist view that there should only be one view. And this sense was verified when the first news about hydroxychloroquine surfaced. To me it seemed very good news, and I was appalled when the doctors who sought to publicize the beneficial possibilities were censored on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. At that time there was no vaccine, so why repress a potentially good treatment?
And so it has continued, through numerous other helpful treatments including ivermectin. Second opinions are not allowed. Only vaccines and masks are allowed, even though they aren’t working. (Who doesn’t know at least one person who wore masks religiously and had both the vaccination and the booster yet still got the coronavirus?)
Despite the censorship of Free Speech, (and even of the last president of the United States), people still do communicate, and the second opinions of those doctors who dare speak out are disseminated from obscure websites across the globe. And sick people always have a propensity to try even the most crackpot cures, when their first doctor fails. And, when the supposedly crackpot cure works, though the Globalists scoff, the word spreads despite Globalists best efforts to quash the word. People simply want to be better, and no amount of malarky can deny that the impulse to be better is a truly good impulse in the mortal soul. If you repress the urge to get better, you are basically a complete jerk.
This returns me to my earlier point that Globalists feel this world would be a better place if there was only one view allowed. I asserted their idea is like saying marriage would involve less disagreement if there was only one spouse. True, but then it wouldn’t be marriage. And the fact of the matter is that the Creator created us different. We share our fingerprints with no other soul among the nearly eight billion currently alive on earth. This might make us feel alone, if it were not for the wonder of understanding.
That is what I remember most from the glory days of medicine. Doctors had no fear of second opinions, because their interest was understanding. They did not see a second opinion as a threatening disagreement, but rather as the wonder of another view. As impossible as it may seem to some, disagreement wasn’t disagreeable. It was the opening of a window to a new sky.
How far we have fallen. When I looked at Dr. Robe I did not see a brave doctor of the sort who would be banned from YouTube and Twitter, but rather a compliant yes-man, subservient to the Swamp. He feared losing his job, craving dollars. Yet as much as he makes, it is never enough. He must pay back three times what I make in a year just to pay for the “insurance”.
Back in the glory days, when doctors ran hospitals, my Dad didn’t worry about being sued. When he saved a fellow’s life, we’d get a “grateful patient” gift from where the fellow reclined in Florida, a big cardboard box filled with oranges, tangerines, and juicy grapefruit. Now? Now doctors spend $150,000 a year for malpractice insurance. You have pay for the “privilege” of saving some goofball’s life. How far we have fallen.
Actually, it isn’t so hard to pity Dr. Robe. For a third of what he pays just to avoid the vengeance of ungrateful patients, I happily subsist. I pay my bills and live a good life with children and grandchildren. I am not rich but feel blessed in many other ways. But maybe I too will face the vengeance. I may face the vengeance of a sort of Stalin, who loathed the Kulak, who I am sort of like.
To be blunt, I feel the Globalists are narrow-minded, and that they find it offensive that so many live outside their myopia. Where they are consumed by a lust for power, the powerless simply get by. The Globalists ask, “What right have the powerless to be happier?” (For indeed we are.)
The answer, (which they don’t want to hear), is that we simple bumpkins deal with Truth, which is Beauty, yet which they seek to deny. They think they have their reasons to deny the Truth about cures for the coronavirus other than their vaccine, but when their vaccine fails and other cures work, the “cure” is something called the Truth. At this point, they can either confess their error, or they can deny Truth.
At which point one wonders what low craving they are blinded by. They must know on some level that their so-called “science” has been made to look foolish. Why do they insist on stating they are not fools when, it is increasingly obvious, they are fools?
There are various theories about what motivates them, ranging from the simple pride of a person who doesn’t want to admit a mistake, to more elaborate conspiracy theories.
One theory states that the profits from vaccines are gigantic, as much as twenty dollars back for each dollar put in, and Globalists are deeply invested, and don’t want to face a crash. Another theory states all sorts of wicked results are the real intent of jabbing every person on earth. Some even state they want to reduce the world population to half a billion.
All I know is that vaccines don’t work. People get vaccinated and still get the corona virus. Back in the old days, this disqualified the jab from being even called a “vaccine.” But the new “science” decrees that the jab results in “milder cases”. How can they compare a case with what never happened? The question should be, “Have vaccinated people died?” Because some have, the vaccination failed to vaccinate. So why push it? And why push it on small children, who almost never suffer complications from the coronavirus? Especially as the vaccination has some side effects which have killed some people. This may be a “small” risk, but why expose a child to such risk at all? Simple question. Just answer the blasted question! Instead, they change the subject. For example, am I a racist?
The effectiveness of various cures are topics which, back in the glory days when doctors ruled their own hospitals, would have been freely and openly discussed after work while sipping an Old-Fashioned. Now you hear cures discussed behind the magazine rack at the local market, or on obscure uncensored sites on the internet. However, as I looked at Dr. Robe, it did not even occur to me to bring up the topic of alternative cures. He was not a brave doctor. He was just a poor man, poorer than me, striving to pay off fabulous college loans and incredible insurance costs, cursing whoever told him that being a doctor would make him respected and rich. Increasingly he is neither. Rather than respected, doctors are increasingly a laughingstock. Surely this must eat away at them. Some pity must be felt, (unless, of course, doctors seek revenge on the public.)
These may seem like odd thoughts to be drifting about my head when I had a 5% chance of meeting my Maker. But they say your whole life flashes before you, as you die, and the downfall of hospitals has been a part of my life. Also, I must say this about Dr. Robe: He did reduce my 5% worry I was dying to around 0.1%, simply by stating my ECG looked normal. This relaxed me greatly, and from then on, I was just going along for the ride, enjoying the views of how hospitals look now, compared to how they looked when I ran about the MGH in Boston as a little boy.
After asking me a robotic checklist of questions Dr. Robe droned that he wanted to be absolutely sure enzymes in my blood didn’t change in three hours, and also to make sure I didn’t have a blood clot in my lungs, by having me go through a cat scan.
I hadn’t seen the bill. ($6,402.77). I hoped insurance covered a lot, but knew somebody somewhere was making money from the nonsense. Should it cost so much to learn nothing is wrong?
In any case, Dr. Robe vanished, and I never saw him again. It was the end of his shift, and hopefully he went home to a nice wife and good backrub. But I could not go home, and texted my wife that things still looked good, but I couldn’t go to the basketball game or Bible study, because it would be at least three hours before they were done checking me over from top to bottom.
Right at this point a tiny, masked woman dressed as a nurse came to roll me off for a cat scan. This struck me as a little absurd, for it seemed a big, strong nurse like Zack should have done the rolling. But back in my boyhood men weren’t nurses. Zack would have been called an “orderly”, which may now be a sexist term. Who knows? All I knew was a tiny woman began detaching plasma bottles and saline bottles I didn’t need from a height she could barely reach on tiptoes and putting the bottles above my head on another rack she also could barely reach, attached to a bed she barely looked strong enough to roll.
Above her mask she looked a little stressed to me, and in a hurry, so I tried to think of some way to relax her. After all, as one approaches age seventy, scrawny young women one wouldn’t have looked twice at, when aged twenty, have a surprising beauty, even when you can only see their eyes and foreheads. And I know life is hard at hospitals, midst this invisible war. I evaluated her.
The little nurse seemed disinterested in conversation, only stating, “I’m taking you for your cat scan” before becoming very efficient, so it was up to me to break the ice. Something impish in me had me state, “I think I am going to like this. Will you mind it much if I squeal, ‘wheeee!’ as you roll me?”
She looked at me with severe surprise above her mask, and said, “Please don’t.”
I laughed and said, “OK I won’t, but, you see, I run a Childcare, and I am forever pulling wagons or dragging sleds full of children, and they say, “wheeee!” as I pull them, but they never pull me. So, this is a new experience for me. I think I will enjoy it very much.”
She met my eye, and the severity of the young face above the mask went through a lovely transformation. She laughed, and said, “I push strollers at home and gurneys at work.”
I replied, “Gosh! You never get a break! Well, I suppose my old age does have its advantages…” Her forehead vanished as she lowered her shoulders to push me, but I did hear a chuckle.
I must admit she pushed well, achieving speeds faster than I thought wise, and she also had an amazing ability to navigate through automatically opening doors even when she had to show some sort of badge to make them open. I didn’t say “wheeee” even once, but did at one point inquire, “National Guard?”
This was because, down from the emergency entrance, we passed the non-emergency entrance, which is not the “main entrance”, (which has been closed a long time due to the coronavirus). The non-emergency entrance is where they take your temperature and ask a slew of questions and make you put on a mask before you go to an appointment about a hangnail. And as we passed through a crossroads and I looked down towards that entrance, I saw not the usual nurses but big men in combat boots and camouflaged uniforms.
The nurse pushing me simply explained, “Yes. We’re understaffed.”
I said, “Those big fellows should be pushing the gurneys. You should be swiping the foreheads.”
“Maybe, but they can’t run the cat scan.”
“You do that too?”
“You must have to do a lot when you’re understaffed.”
“I know some nurses who quit.”
“So do I.”
“Strange times.” There seemed little else to say about the nurses who quit when ordered to have the vaccine or the booster, (or even other vaccinated nurses, who quit when ordered to order the unvaccinated to vaccinate). It was just part of the war. I suppose, given more time, we might have discussed the various reasons which the media never talks about, but we had arrived at the cat scan, and she had a job to do.
The cat scan was a futurist looking plastic donut covered with green lights and digital readouts, and a few red lights, with a table that shifted in and out of the donut. I had to shift my old carcass to the table, which involved rearranging various wires and tubes, and also the nurse had to add a “tracer” in my blood, which involved my answering a whole slew of questions, including my date-of-birth again. (I was patient with this stuff because both my mother and father had told me of outrageous mistakes made by hospitals that weren’t careful, such as amputating the wrong leg, or the right leg from the wrong person.) I did wonder a bit what the “tracer” was, and what side-effects it might have, and why they asked so many questions about allergies. The nurse mentioned I should tell her of various side effects, including heat in my crotch or anus. I was about to ask further questions, in a hopefully disarming voice, but just then I was hit in the face by a jet of water.
In order to inject the tracer, the nurse had to loosen the saline drip, and the little tube had jumped from her fingers. “Oh! I’m so, so sorry!” she exclaimed.
“Don’t worry. I’m getting used to it. It’s the fourth time today I’ve been squirted in the face.”
Her eyebrows raised above her mask as she dabbed my face with a white towel, which I found enjoyable. When was the last time a young woman dabbed my face with a towel? My mother? Sixty years ago? She brought me back to earth by asking, “What squirted you the other times?”
I gave her the short version of replacing the pressure switch in the cellar, and by the time I was done the “tracer” was in me, so I dismissed asking about side effects. Whatever will be will be. The ‘tracer” might cause cancer (or even have been the vaccine), but there are only so many conspiracy theories a man can handle at once, and these days I’m overwhelmed.
The nurse was shifting all the tubes and wires so they wouldn’t get hung up in the donut, and we were ready to roll. I rolled in, and the machine’s robotic voice (feminine) told me to hold a deep breath, and I did, and things clicked and whirred, and the machine said “exhale”, and things whirred and clicked, and then I rolled back, and there were more clicks and whirrs and a beep, without me needing to hold my breath, but then I rolled in again and had to hold my breath again.
As I rolled in and out of this “hole” I chuckled. It occurred to me the situation could have Freudian implications. It had some similarity to sex, or perhaps birth. But that idea was so utterly absurd that it made me think that all the time I spent fifty years ago, studying thought and psychology based on Freud, and even the thought and philosophy of those who rejected Freud by fighting Freud, such as Yung and Pearls (gestalt) and Lang, was a complete waste of my time. Fifty years ago, I thought I was seeking Truth, peering deep into the subconscious, but the fact of the matter is that, when you are rolling in and out of a hole, the Truth is that you are rolling and out of a hole. Psychologists make Truth complex when it is in fact simple.
The way this idea crossed my mind made me chuckle to myself, which made the masked face of the tiny nurse pop up and regard me studiously, even as the cat scan was completed. I’m glad she didn’t ask why I chuckled. It would have taken several hours to explain Freud, Jung, Pearls and Lang, (let alone Timothy Leary). Rather than asking me any questions she (I suppose) looked for “symptoms” and became satisfied my chuckle wasn’t a symptom. After this swift appraisal of my mental state, (especially swift when compared to Freud), the little nurse vanished as she bowed her shoulders and trundled me at great speed back to where I began by the emergency entrance. When we got there, I thanked her for the ride, just as I always thanked drivers who gave me rides when I hitchhiked fifty years ago, and, just as drivers then vanished and I never saw them again, she vanished.
So there I was, back where I started, when I arrived with the simple question, “Am I having a heart attack?” Maybe now they would let me go home? Not so fast.
No sooner had the little nurse completed the task of shifting various tubes and wires from my mobile and rolling situation to my static situation, when the new Doctor came ambling in. In fact, I’ll call him Doctor Amble, because he had the ease of a refreshed man just starting his shift, which was different from Dr. Robe, at the end of his shift. This difference alone should highlight the importance of second opinions. After all, our own opinions shift, from first thing in the morning to when we go to bed weary. However, the difference in opinion between Dr. Robe and Dr. Amble was more than that, and I found it interesting to see it manifest.
Not that Dr. Amble actually said Dr. Robe was wrong. He was in fact just telling me what Dr. Robe had prescribed. Much that was prescribed I already knew, (such as the cat scan), for I had already endured it. Yet, as Dr. Amble spoke of Dr. Robe’s prescriptions, he made telling noises. He never actually said, “Pshaw”, like an old time Yankee, but made odd noises that meant the same thing. For example, he seemed to feel the cat scan was a waste of time, for he made the slightest “puh” noise as he read that prescription. He also seemed to feel a sort of scorn for the first blood test and the second one three hours later. He had a better test. Not that he said a thing to me, but I am a surgeon’s son who grew up in a hospital, and I know a second opinion when I see one. I wondered what his second opinion was, but he just told me I seemed well, but they’d need to make sure with a few more tests. Then Dr. Amble ambled off, likely unaware I was scrutinizing him more carefully than he scrutinized me, and coming up with diagnoses all my own.
For one thing, I sensed his relaxed attitude was an act. An emergency ward is a stressful place to work even during peacetime, and he was working midst an invisible war, where political pressures had doctors forced to bite their tongues and keep their second opinions to themselves. Once again, I felt I, as a patient, should pity the doctor more than the doctor pitied me, especially as I’d already learned I was well.
Apparently Dr. Amble’s second opinion involved his own way of finding out if a chest pain was due to the heart. His way was to have the patient put a tiny pellet of nitroglycerine under their tongue. If the pain vanished, there might be a problem with the heart. If the pain failed to vanish, the problem might be a pulled muscle, or heartburn due to the sort of diet which invites an ulcer.
A nitroglycerine tablet costs less than a dollar, so you can see Dr. Amble’s approach might get him in trouble with those who see medicine as a way to make big money. For example, suppose Dr. Amble’s approach was more effective than a cat scan, which involves a machine which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and an entire staff of technicians. It might seem obvious a diagnostic tool that cost a dollar would be more attractive than a tool that cost a million, but that is not how the Swamp works.
The male nurse Zack came hurrying back to where I lay, holding a tiny paper cup and a tiny bottle of tiny nitroglycerine tablets. After asking me a few questions including my date-of-birth he very carefully shook a single pill from the bottle to the paper cup and told me to put it under my tongue and allow it to dissolve, and to quickly tell him if I felt any dizziness. I did put the pill under my tongue, and then asked him if it might cause a migraine headache.
Zack looked surprised asked me why I asked that, and I told him I once was watching a crew blast granite in Maine and they told me not to stand downwind of the blast, because even a whiff of nitroglycerine might cause an instant migraine headache. He said he had never seen that, but my blood pressure had already fallen ten points. Then he asked me if my chest still hurt. I shifted about and said, yes, it still hurt the same. He shook out a second tiny pill into the cup, and after I dissolved that one under my tongue, he shook out a third.
I noticed Zack was taking great care not to touch a pill, and asked him why, and he laughed. Still keeping his eyes on the electronic display above my bed, he told me that even without touching the pills his body was absorbing enough nitroglycerine to, if he went to the airport the next day, set off alarms. He would be pulled aside as a suspected terrorist. I said it was amazing airport sensors were that sensitive and Zack agreed. Then he asked me again if the pills lessened my levels of pain, and I said not a jot, and he nodded, and left.
Soon Dr. Amble came sauntering back into the room, shuffling through a sheaf of papers in a scornful sort of way, and he said I was likely fit as a fiddle and right as rain, and that my blood tests showed no unusual enzymes, but they’d have to give me another test in an hour to see if there were any changes, and then he heaved a sigh, as if he himself thought it was a big waste of time. Then he turned and ambled out, but I thought I detected a slight slouching, as if he was under a burden.
Then I had to sit for about for an hour, which can be a little stressful for a person like me. I entertained myself by holding my breath and seeing if I could make my O2 levels drop to where it made a little light blink, but that got old, and then I drummed my fingers and fidgeted. Even though I don’t smoke any more, I’m still addicted to an occasional nicotine lozenge, but they were in my shirt on a chair six feet from the bed. Reaching that chair without unplugging various tubes and wires became an interesting challenge. I thought I had succeeded and was sucking a lozenge and back to making my O2 levels drop, when Zack came hurrying in. I asked him if he came because my O2 levels had dropped, he replied no, he came because I was dead. Apparently, I had disconnected some wire that measured my pulse. After he reconnected me, he stated it was time to take my second blood sample. As he took the tubes of blood, I asked him how long it would take the results to come in, because I wanted to tell my wife when she could pick me up. He said around an hour, so that is what I texted my wife.
Then I had to endure one of those slow hours which remind me of math class in high school. (Math was my last class of the day. Waiting for the minute hand to reach twelve was like seeing time come to a complete halt.)
Actually, it is not a bad thing to have time slow down, at this stage of my life. Usually, it feels like things happen too fast and I can’t keep up with the craziness, and I’m left gasping for time to collect my thoughts. Now I had time. Strange that the place for such peace was an emergency ward.
I made good use of the time, thinking deeply about hospitals, doctors and nurses, and what I’ve seen in sixty years. For some reason my mind kept returning to Dr. Amble, and what I might say to him to uplift him. I had a clever insight I thought I might share, a witty and pithy statement which might be short, like a sonnet, but which he might find worth mulling over afterwards. Sadly, like Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”, it was not completely delivered.
Not that I didn’t try. The moment Dr. Amble reappeared I lifted an index finger and flashed a witty smile, but he never looked up from the papers he shuffled. He came in one door and ambled in a seemingly relaxed way through the room, and out the other door, shuffling papers all the way and never looking up once. I followed him the entire way with index finger raised and witty smile, but he never noticed.
In conclusion, I heard his conclusions, but he never heard mine. He said I was fine and could go home.
A young woman I’d never seen before entered after him and detached me from all the tubes and wires, I put my shirt back on, and then she looked scandalized when I put on my jacket and was about to leave. “Where is your mask? You can’t leave without your mask!”
I had forgotten all about masks. After searching we found it, crushed on the sheets I’d spent hours laying upon. Once it was back on my face, the nurse seemed very relieved, and I was allowed to walk out to the emergency entrance.
I was uncertain which door to exit by. The same woman who was there when I entered was still there, clicking at the same keyboard, and she was able to tell me what door was acceptable. Then, five hours after I entered, I walked back out into a pattering of raindrops, and towards my wife’s car I could see idling out in the parking lot.
Did this experience lower my level of stress? Yes, in terms of worry about my chest pains. But in terms of my levels of worry about hospitals? I’m not so sure. It’s not that the people who actually work there are bad, but rather that the absentee landlords who oversee hospitals are…. Deranged?
As my wife drove me home though the inky dark, I apologized for the fact my hypochondria had cost us five hours. I said my chest still hurt, and, if I hadn’t been reassured, I likely would have worried all night and all the next day, but at least now I knew I was OK. But it should have taken 45 minutes, like it did in California in 1984. She was very nice about it, simply saying her prayers had been answered. Then she promptly discussed driving to Maine.
This had the potential to immediately increase my level of stress, partially because it involved forecasting New England weather, which is inherently stressful if the outcome matters to you. The potential for being wrong is likely greater in New England than it is for most of the rest of the world. I avoided stress by exhaling slowly and deeply, and also by avoiding making a forecast. Often it is best to simply say, “We will see in the morning.”
The trip to Maine is another story, and this one has gone on long enough. Hopefully the trip to Maine will be “Part Two” of this description of how stressful it can be to avoid stress. However, I think it is good to stop “Part One”, at this point, for it is a sort of happy ending, and I do like happy endings. What can be happier, and more stress-relieving, than to find out your chest pains do not mean you are about to die?
But gosh! It sure can be hard getting that answer! Downright stressful!
Today was the sixtieth anniversary of the day I started my diary.
As I recall the inspiration which motivated the start of my “journal”, (which is what I called it once I discovered “only girls kept diaries”,) was a book I discovered on a shelf at home that was written in 1906.
March 24, 1962 was a Monday, and I assume it was the start of Spring Vacation because I wasn’t going to school. (Easter that year wasn’t until April 22, so we didn’t call it “Easter Vacation.”)
To fill in some background: “Dennis the Mennis” was a comic book character, (sort of a suburban Tom Sawyer, or a Calvin without a Hobbs, though he did have a dog named “Ruff”.)
My aim was to tell of my own impish boyhood. I wanted to have the tale be warm and fuzzy. At some point, (perhaps a few years later), my grandfather plaintively expressed how he wished he had kept a diary he could refer to, (being at that time 74, and fated to live to age 90,) and I recall being deeply impressed.
“The Short Stop” was a book by Zane Grey. I was an avid reader, for a boy just past his ninth birthday.
“Monkey Monster” was a game played in an enormous copper beech in front of the house. The tree had long, low branches. The person dangling from the branches was the “monkey”, and the person running around on the ground was the “crocodile” attempting to grab the “monkey.” My younger brother was four, so I had a distinct advantage.
The shoes I had left at school were my dress shoes, as opposed to my everyday sneakers. The school wasn’t locked, in those innocent times.
“The fencing match” is actually a trauma, which is why the diary did not continue the next day. (It began again when school let out for the summer.)
One trait of my boyhood diary is that it goes silent when things I really wish I’d written about occur. My parents were two years from the start of an extremely acrimonious divorce, and the “fencing match” involved an athletic woman my father was in the process of having an affair with. Watching him talk to her made me want to cringe. Even at the age of nine I knew “this isn’t right”, and I also knew it was wrong when my Dad stated to my older brothers, “Don’t tell your mother; she wouldn’t understand.” Incidents such as this didn’t fit my reason for keeping a diary, which was to speak of the joys of boyhood. Even the tribulations in “The Real Diary Of A Real Boy” tended to be misunderstandings which, when resolved, brought tears to your eyes. The tribulations of my boyhood were not resolved, and were things I simply did not talk about. Whenever the diary stops I know there was heartache too painful to mention, yet after a period of some sort of recovery the diary always restarts.
As the diary continues on into adolescence, I do start to talk about things which were formally unmentionable, but my responses were often “alternatives lifestyles” which now make me cringe. The damage done by drugs is painfully obvious in the pages, which at times are downright crazy. Then there is a getting-religion and going-straight period of psychology and parapsychology which becomes cultish, and after that there is a reaction to the cults which involves pages and pages and pages of dreary soul-searching. Eventually the diary becomes more sparce, at times little more than lists of chores, because I became more comfortable with writing actual letters to actual people. However now, with the advent of cancel-culture, there are times I revert to the safety of secret pages.
In any case it has been sixty years. Yikes!
If I am going to drop dead and die with my boots on it will likely be when I am doing something strenuous like splitting wood and hauling it up staircases, or shoveling snow, and not when kids sit around me as I tell a story, but the aggravating bureaucrats in the Swamp insist Childcare Professionals must get a physical, as if that can keep us from dropping dead on the job. So, I had to add “physical” to my list of chores. (As if I don’t have enough to do already.)
Consequently, this morning, before the sun was up, I had to rush off when it was two below (-19 Celsius) and drive twenty miles to have a “blood draw”, which is part of the “physical”. The blood draw itself was swift and efficient, taking only five minutes, but getting through all the coronavirus balderdash and into the hospital took longer. They had to take my temperature and issue me a mask, which was especially irksome because on my car radio on my way there I’d been listening to a doctor say masks were useless, and that all the other medical balderdash had done more harm than good.
To top it off, you have to fast before such blood draws. I often skip breakfast, but skipping my morning coffee makes me see the world through ash-colored glasses. I wasn’t rude, but was cold and silent with the nurses. My outlook was bleak. Then I had to hurry back to the Childcare, as I was late for my shift. My wife was covering for me, but I knew she had to prepare a beef stew for a church supper. Therefore, I shouldn’t stop at the market for a coffee. But I did. I rushed in and grabbed the biggest cup I could, to go, and clamped a lid on it and slapped down two dollars and rushed out without chatting with the girl behind the counter, who looked surprised.
Rushing in the door of the Childcare I still hadn’t had a sip of the coffee, and immediately the kids swarmed me. They treat me like a rock star, and, when I’ve had coffee, I can to some degree fill the role, but when I haven’t had coffee my attitude towards children is a little like W. C. Field’s. I could see the situation needed a remedy and began gulping the coffee down.
The coffee had absolutely no effect, and I sagged onto a couch, which immediately precipitated conflict and tears, about who would sit in my lap. I only have one lap, and one right hand and one left hand, and when six kids are involved the arguing and tears involved is absurd.
I had no patience. Ordinarily I can to some degree resolve such issues even when it involves seven kids, as I have a lap, left side, right side, left knee, right knee, and left and right shoulder. But I was achy from splitting wood and shoveling snow, and anyway, the flipping bureaucrats are so worried I might drop dead that surely it would break some balderdash law to be physically holding up five kids at once.
I obviously was in no mood to resolve issues, and the little children were especially contentious. Two were both in tears in a squabble over who should play with me with what puppets. They were on the verge of coming to blows over two puppets in particular.
My initial impulse was to clonk their thick, little skulls together, but then I recalled a certain State Mandated Childcare Professional Class suggested that in such situations one should “remove and distract”. I said, “Gimmie those puppets” and snatched them from the little children. That was the “remove” part. But the looks on their faces made me feel the “distraction” had better be a good one. The only problem was my mind was dull and blank.
The situation was bad, but I have heard God can make good out of evil, so I had hope, and looked about for help. All I could see was the two puppets I held. One was a rabbit, and one was a frog. I put them like gloves onto my hands, thinking that some crazy antics I made the puppets enact might stun my audience and make them forget their unruly unhappiness. After all, is not that what rock stars do? And in fact, as soon as I put the puppets on my hands, the little children seemed to hush and settle, expecting me to perform.
And right then, thank God, the coffee hit, and out the blue the following fable appeared and unfolded. The children liked it so much they had me tell it again.
Long, long ago, on the Ilse of Ease where the seven Snuggle sisters lived, there also lived a rabbit named Lepus Hopper. Lepus was hugged a lot by the Snuggle sisters, and a day came when he decided enough was enough. He was tired of being hugged all the time. Therefore, he attempted hiding.
He hid up on the hill, but they found him.
He hid behind the big tree, but they found him.
He even hid in the prickers, but they found him, and, after they found him, they put on gardener-gloves with long gauntlets to reach through the thorns and grab him.
Finally, Lepus went to the center of the island and hid in the ferns by Muddy Pond, and for a short while had some peace, but soon heard the baying of Gustav, the Snuggle’s farm-dog, and knew that soon they’d track him down.
Just then Lepus noticed a frog named Francis Frog sitting by the pond, looking very sad. Lepus said, “You think you’ve got problems? You ought to see mine.”
Francis stopped moping and looked interested. “Really? What’s your problem?”
“I get hugged too much,” explained Lepus. “The seven Snuggle sisters never let up. They hug me in the morning and in the afternoon. I’m squeezed so much my ribs are starting to ache.”
“Well, what an amazing coincidence!” exclaimed Francis, “My problem is that I never get hugged at all. The seven Snuggle sisters say I am icky.”
“Have you told them that if they kiss you, you’ll turn into a prince?”
Francis looked thoughtful. “No, that never occurred to me.”
Lepus suggested, “Give it a try. It seems to work, according to books I’ve read.”
“Will do. But, since you’ve given me your advice, would you like mine?”
Lepus cocked his long ears anxiously. He could hear the baying of Gustav coming over the hill and getting closer. “Yes! Tell me! Tell me! I’ll try anything!”
“Come down into the mud with me and get icky. They won’t hug you if you’re all icky.”
It seemed like a good idea at the time, so Lepus hopped to the side of the pond, and they smeared the rabbit’s fur with mud and algae, with a few dabs of scum for good measure. Francis looked at Lepus, evaluating. “Pretty icky, but something is missing.” Fransis thought deeply, stroking his lack of a chin, and then exclaimed, “I’ve got it! You need to eat a few bugs like I do. You need to have some insect-legs sticking from your mouth. Then they’ll never kiss you.”
Francis’s advice didn’t seem so good to Lepus anymore. He was cold and wet and had started shivering, but just then Francis exclaimed, “Oh, this is our lucky day! Look who’s coming!”
Down the shore of the pond came a grasshopper and an ant. The ant was talking about financial investments, IRA accounts, and the risks of buying gold, when Francis’s long, pink, sticky tongue hit him, and he was gobbled up. Then Francis looked cheerfully at Lepus, with a few legs waving from his lips, and said through a mouthful, “Your turn.”
Lepus looked at the nervous grasshopper dubiously. Then he stuck out his own little tongue and went cross-eyed looking down at it doubtfully. Then, for no apparent reason, he muttered, “I do not like green eggs and ham…” But finally, Lepus took a great, deep breath, stepped forward, and…
“Stop right there!” bellowed the grasshopper, with a surprisingly loud voice.
Lepus stepped back, and looked relieved, but asked, “Why?”
“You can’t eat me, and neither can Frog there.”
Francis stood taller. “The name is Francis, and why, pray tell, should I not eat you?”
“Because I hop. And you hop. And so does Rabbit there. We hoppers have to stick together. We’re practically brothers. If you eat me, it makes you a sort of a cannibal, does it not?”
Francis looked thoughtful. “You know, that never occurred to me.” Then he looked up. Gustav was crashing through the underbrush with the seven Snuggle sisters in hot pursuit. Francis looked at the grasshopper and said, “Well here goes nothing.” Then he hopped away from the pond to meet the oncoming throng.
“Hi there!” said Fransis to Gustav, who screeched to a halt so swiftly the Snuggle sisters nearly fell over him. They all looked at the big frog in surprise, as he continued, “Did you young ladies know that if you kiss me, I’ll turn into a prince? Who will be the lucky princess?”
All seven girls burst out laughing.
“Do you think we were born yesterday?” exclaimed Susie Snuggles.
“Just imagine, thinking we’d fall for that old ruse!” shouted Sarah Snuggles.
Sally Snuggles laughed, “Do you know how many frogs have tried that line on us?”
Sophia Snuggles said, “Even Sissy knew better than to kiss a frog by the time she was three.”
Sissy Snuggles agreed, “Yup.”
Only Samantha Snuggles was silent. Her face had become sympathetic, because the frog looked so sad.
Sissy looked around and asked Francis, “Seen any rabbits around here?”
Just then the grasshopper crawled out from under the ferns and exclaimed, “How about me? I can hop like a rabbit.” He jumped left and right a few times, to demonstrate, smiling, and then added, “And if you kiss me, I might turn into a prince!”
Sophia rolled her eyes, Sally heaved a sigh and shook her head, and Sarah put her hands on her hips and exclaimed, “Who ever heard of such a thing? A grasshopper turning into a prince!”
The grasshopper put his four front hands on its thorax’s side and challenged back, “How would you know, if you never tried it? I’ve heard of plenty of girls kissing frogs, but no one has ever experimented with a grasshopper, have they?”
Fransis said, “You know, that never occurred to me…” but Susie interrupted, scoffing, “We don’t want a prince. We want fur! Soft, strokable fur, that we can cuddle!”
“Well, you got me there.” admitted the grasshopper.
Sissy turned to Gustav, who was smiling with his tongue dangling out, and demanded, “Gustav! Where is the bunny!?”
Gustav turned to the ferns, lifted a paw, and pointed.
Lepus then came dragging out of the ferns, looking very sorry for himself. He was wet and slimy and smelled. The girls all exclaimed, “Oh! You poor thing!” and gathered about to tenderly clean his fur and dab it dry with a towel. Sarah hugged Lupus gently as they started home. Lupus looked back at Francis, winked, and silently mouthed, “I’ve changed my mind.”
Fransis looked grouchy, and then surprised. He saw Samantha Snuggles was lagging behind the rest. She paused, and then looked over both her shoulders, and then hurried back to him. After looking over both her shoulders a second time she stooped and gave Francis a kiss on his forehead.
Francis blushed, and he tingled all over. The tingling was so strong he looked down at his skinny arms to see if he was turning into a prince. He wasn’t. But Fransis did notice something odd. His green skin was swiftly growing out soft green fur. It grew longer and longer, and started to curl.
Once Francis was completely fluffed out, Samantha scooped him up and took him home with her.
The grasshopper laughed and hopped away, singing Zippidy Doo Dah.
Anyway, in case you are wondering, that why you will see, if you ever visit the Snuggle’s house, that Samanth’s bed has a big, green frog on it. The frog looks very happy, because it had never occurred to him but now has.
A few posts ago (in “Shutting Down”) I described a bit of my struggle to keep a small business open, as our area saw an “open winter” without snow give way to a whiter world, brought about by a mere three inches of snow. Three inches is nothing, this far north, yet schools were cancelled. I was scoffing over how soft modern people have become, which is unwise, as fate has a habit of making you eat your words.
After that snow the winds swung to the west, and then northwest, and then the north. The fresh snow cover, plus the fact Hudson Bay had frozen over to our north, plus the fact the arctic air no longer was moderated by passing over the unfrozen Great Lakes to our west, blasted us with sudden -20-degree windchills, (-29 Celsius). What was hard became harder. Things tend to break down more in cold weather, because the cold stresses out machines. The machines which made life easier abruptly make life harder.
Metal which likely was already fatigued is stressed just a bit more, and solid steel cracks. Big bolts break. When temperatures dip below zero (-17 Celsius) flexible fanbelts get stiffer and snap.
Even when belts don’t snap, they can slip from pullies they fit on when weather was warm, because everything has contracted. In essence the entire machine has shrunk. As improbable as it sounds, an old belt, stretched by usage, may work when the entire machine is warm, and also work when both the machine and belt have shrunk simultaneously (if the rubber shrinks to the same degree as the metal), but, when you start up the machine and the belt starts spinning, it will warm faster than the body of the engine (though not the depths of the engine, where firing occurs in pistons) and therefore the rubber will expand faster than the pullies, and the belt will slip off a pully. In conclusion, the engine you carefully tested to make sure it worked, when weather was still warm before winter, won’t work, when the cold clamps down and you need the belt to work.
This sort of mechanical failure infuriates me, because I took care to make sure the machine was running beforehand. I did not neglect my responsibility. But rather than praise and a pat on the back for being so good, the dratted machine breaks just when I need it.
In like manner I have been made aware, over the years, that having property which is over two hundred years old exposes one to all sorts of plumbing done back before bureaucrats existed to demand things be done “to code.” All sorts of ingenuity was involved, but such ingenuity involved knowing that certain maintenance also was involved. Because the original owners were long gone, I wasn’t instructed about the required maintenance and had to learn to do it the hard way. IE: the pipes froze, and I had to thaw them. I then learned to do a sort of preventative maintenance all my own, and put heating lamps in certain places, and taped heating-tape on certain pipes, set to turn on when pipes approached freezing. So here too I had not neglected my worldly responsibility. I had complete confidence pipes would not freeze. But they did.
Once again, I deserved praise and a pat on the back for being so good, but once again rather than rewards I received punishment. I had worked hard, and deserved time off, but instead had extra work to do. My livelihood depended on my response to a developing emergency. A storm was coming, and I ran a Childcare, but had no water and no way to remove the snow from the parking lot.
Such situations do tend to test our faith. We believe good behavior should earn good times but are confronted with bad things happening to good people. The violins of self-pity are in full chorus as we become “pluggers”, and face the violin’s music, and trudge to do what we do not want to do, in places we do not want to go.
What did I want to do? Well, I wanted to do what I am doing now. I wanted to write. About what? About how beautiful the way our Creator works is.
In this specific situation, before the belt slipped from the pulley and the pipes froze, I was fascinated by how a single frigid Arctic airmass was being split into two, by its passage over the Great Lakes. The southern part was warmed while the more northern part was no longer warmed by Hudson Bay, as Hudson Bay was frozen over. Therefore, downwind of the Great Lakes, there were two airmasses, separated by a front. To the north it was very, very cold, and to the south it was merely very cold. Yet the difference between the two coldnesses was an actual front, where no front had existed before, and it had actual pulses of weak low pressure on it, with weak warm fronts ahead of them and weak cold fronts behind them.
If my good behavior had earned me what I called a good result, I would have received a grant so I could study this meteorological phenomenon like an intellectual. Instead, I had to deal with a belt that slipped from a pully and with frozen pipes. This is not exactly desirable, because dealing with belts and pulleys in cold weather can make hands raw and knuckles bleed. Also dealing with frozen pipes in 200-year-old houses involves crawling and crouching in dirty places and getting dusty spiderwebs in your hair and beard.
At this point it is hard to talk about how beautiful the way our Creator works is. It is all well and good to marvel over how the Great Lakes split a single airmass into two, with a front appearing out of the blue between the two airmasses, and how the front has the meteorologists ripping out their hair because their computer models didn’t see the front appearing out of the blue. But when circumstances have your own hair getting ripped out by your own frustrations, the marveling over how the Creator works isn’t so enjoyable.
It is even harder when the energy-policy of nit-wit-politicians has precipitated a supply-chain-crisis which makes it impossible to obtain the new, tight belt that would make your snowblower work. It gets even worse when you have done all the old tricks that used to thaw your pipes, and they don’t work, and your pipes refuse to thaw.
When everything is going wrong to this degree, my weakness is always exposed. I only keep plugging because there is no alternative. I utterly forget to marvel over how beautiful the way our Creator works is, and instead, like a gnat badmouthing a galaxy, do a whole lot of faithless complaining to our Creator.
I should know better by now. I should know that, if you are a mostly decent person who mostly tries to be good, most of the time, when everything goes wrong it is to save you from some horror you were too blind to foresee.
Just last fall, the malfunction of the Childcare heater downstairs may have saved the lives of my daughter and granddaughter, who lived upstairs. At the time I found the malfunction extremely exasperating, especially because the replacement part was unavailable, due to the shenanigans of bigger corporations buying-out smaller corperations, and also the Biden supply-chain crisis.
Because my Childcare needed heat, I found the unavailable needed-part by stealing it from an identical upstairs heater, which was “backup” and almost never used because the upstairs was heated by wood. But this left the upstairs with no “backup” heat for when the wood fire went out. It would be irresponcible to leave that backup heater unrepaired. So, it then took time and all sorts of on-line-seeking to actually obtain the hundred-dollar-part to fix the upstairs heater, (the alternative being to spend nearly four thousand for the installation of an entirely new heater) but at long last the part came in. When the repairmen went to put it in upstairs, they discovered that, perhaps because the upstairs heater had been used so little, a 99-cent rubber hose had atrophied, fatigued, and failed. The purpose of that cheap hose was to vent carbon monoxide. If that back-up heater had been used, with that rubber pipe unreplaced, it could have killed my daughter and granddaughter.
Conclusion? How beautiful the way our Creator works is? Maybe? Maybe all these annoying breakdowns occurred because He likes my daughter and granddaughter? (I will not be so vain as to suggest I deserved the mercy.) In any case, the experience should have made me have faith that clouds do have silver linings.
Not that the cloud is not a cloud. When you turn on the heater in the fall, and it refuses to simply turn on, and instead of machines making life easier you are dragged into hours and days and weeks of your precious time being spent figuring out how to remedy the malfunction, it is definitely a cloud. Nor, when things are finally fixed, are your daughter and granddaughter awestruck and filled with gratitude. They are often not even aware of what happened; they are not changed. But maybe it occurs to you that, considering they might have been changed to corpses, it is nice that instead they are the same.
In any case, I should know better than to complain, when the machines which are supposed to make life easier fail. But I forget. And when, even when I keep on plugging, nothing gets better, I confess to a failure of my faith. Unspiritual words materialize on my lips. I find myself doing what my mother described as, “spitting snakes.”
I think the worst was last weekend. As I dealt with copper pipes in the sub-freezing, spider-webby bowels of 200-year-old structures, (both at home and at work) my wife was cooking for a lovely dinner for a lovely friend who deserved a lovely birthday party. Right from the start she was in a world of loveliness, and I was some sort of foul rat that appeared from the bowels of the underworld with frost on my mustache and spiderwebs in my beard, the epitome of filth when she was trying to clean house. But then she caught a bad cold, and these days everyone is frightened of sniffles, fearing the coronavirus. So, someone had to transfer the already-prepared food and flowers (but not the germs) for a lovely dinner to another abode. So, that someone was me, despite the fact I still had frozen pipes to fix, and spiderwebs in my hair.
My wife knows me well and is well aware when I’m about to completely lose it. She can see snakes writhing in my mouth which I do not spit. So, she decided to do the wise thing, which was to say, “I think we should pray.”
That was very nearly the last straw for me. A thousand snakes writhed on my lips. I didn’t want to pray; I wanted to complain.
What had I to complain about? Well, just about everything, beginning with the fact the weekend was passing and I had no time to write. But it would have sounded absurd if I had blurted that complaint just then, though it was on the tip of my tongue, “Screw frozen pipes! Screw your stupid party! Screw praying! I just want to write!”
God knows the talent I think he loaned me is, “writing”, and that I believe God will not be pleased if I “bury my talents”. So it is, I have persisted with my writing, even when friends have suggested my writing is a waste of time. Yet, at the same time, I have not “neglected my worldly responsibilities”, even when that makes writing hard. I have been tempted to “sell out” but have never completely done so. I might have become one of the “elites” but have preferred to be a “plugger.”
When the violins of my self-pity are at their loudest it seems very unfair that after more than a half century of effort, my reward is to crawl about among spiderwebs in a 200-year-old basement which is so cold my breath is freezing to my beard. Meanwhile my fellow writers of fifty years ago, who sold out to become whores and gigolos of the elite, not only have time to write, but get their drivel published, and never have to crawl in cobwebby 200-year-old basements. Their lives are so luxurious they have no reason to get down on their knees and pray, but I have every reason.
I hesitate to pray. Why? Because my prayer would be nothing but griping, devoid of praise and gratitude. Why? Because it seems unfair that the good get humbled while the evil get luxury. It doesn’t seem a good reason to pray: Only because you are driven by misfortune to do so. One should pray from a grateful heart. It seems evil people have more reason to be grateful and therefore more reason to pray (yet they are atheists.)
However, when push comes to shove, and I think of the lives those elite actually live, I know I am the lucky one. The elite have fame, but for what purpose? They have money, but for what purpose? They have power, but for what purpose? Their purpose always seems to be some ungodly, sleazy desire, some brief orgasm that will leave them jaded, and wondering if it was worth it.
I too wonder if was worth it, as I shiver in spiderwebbed cellars at age sixty-eight, but it is for a different “it.” When the elite (seldom) wonder if it was worth it, the “it” that they refer to is a sell-out. When I do so the “it ” I refer to is a loyalty.
In any case, when, within the immediacy of the present, my wife said we should pray, my immediate inclination was to sputter that she could take her prissy inclination and shove it where the sun don’t shine. (I confess that to show you I am no saint.) But, perhaps because I am a coward with my wife, I said no such thing, and agreed to pray. My prayer was a bit gruffly lame, something along the lines of, “Lord, you are King of kings. You’re not my plumber. But help me with these stupid pipes.” Then my wife prayed much more nicely. And then I gathered up stuff for a party at another place, and, after delivering the stuff, headed back to the cobwebs.
And right off the bat I noticed a difference, perhaps due to the prayer. The violins of self-pity had gone silent. Rather than all that maudlin emotion, I’d became pragmatic. (There are many who know me who would state that alone was an amazing miracle.)
To explain the situation, you need to understand the water for my Childcare must first come through a ruined farmhouse which once deemed the Childcare an “outbuilding”. (How an outbuilding can become a source of income as a farmhouse slumps to ruin is interesting. But don’t ask.) I had become dirty making the basement of that abandoned farmhouse warm despite the fact the place is unheated. Besides fixing the 500-watt heating lamp which had gone out (and which usually keeps the pipes from freezing) I’d added other lamps and heaters. The electricity bill was going to be through the roof, but I no longer could see my breath in that basement, and the spiders were coming out of hibernation. Yet over at the Childcare water still didn’t run. Why not?
My imagination dreamt up the worst: The frozen pipes had likely overstressed the well pump. I’d have to get the local well-fixer and we’d have to drag up ninty feet of plastic pipe and wiring from underground in the bitter cold wind, and it would cost a fortune, and the part we needed would be unavailable due to Biden’s supply-chain-crisis and…and…and calm down. Be pragmatic. First, check the power to the well. Does the well have power? Yes. The well has power.
Second, is it possible to check the water pressure here in the farmhouse cellar though the water is turned off in the farmhouse above? I followed pipes through spiderwebs and spotted a little spigot where the pipe went underground on its way to the Childcare. When I turned the spigot water gushed out. So…all the worry about the well was just imagination.
So…why was there no pressure over at the Childcare? I trudged out and across to that building, and turned up the heat, wondering if the pipes had frozen over there as well. It had never happenned before, but the sub-zero winds had really been blasting. And also there was no deep snow to cover the skirts of the house, and keep the wind from penetrating to places it seldom could go.
The pipes hadn’t seemed frozen. When I had opened the taps the water had flowed out, diminishing to a trickle, and then ceasing. But, checking the faucets a second time, I noticed that the cold-water tap wasn’t dry; water again flowed out and diminished to a trickle, but this time it didn’t stop; it kept dripping. It was a slow drip, but as I listened to the drops tap in the metal sink I thought the dripping was ever so slightly faster. I went to turn up the heat even higher, and when I returned the dripping was speeding up. The cold water was melting a channel through ice somewhere, but why didn’t the hot water work? The cold water became a trickle and then a steady stream. It then occurred to me that if I shut the cold water off the pressure might build throughout the system, so I gave that a try. After a pause there was a clunk up in the ceiling, and a sigh of air came from the hot water spigot. Then there was another clunk, and icy cold drips started to come from the hot water spigot, slowly becoming a dribble and finally a stream of water that slowly grew warm. Ta dah!
I was about to congratulate myself and call myself a genius, but remembered the genius only appeared after I had prayed, so I thanked God. It is easier to thank God when the water is running.
Just then my cell phone buzzed. It was my oldest son, telling me he could swing through the Childcare parking lot in the morning while doing other plowing jobs. So that solved my snowblower problem. We would be open for business, even though the schools would be closed.
Last but not least, I had to deal with the frozen pipes at home, where my wife likely huddled sniffling with quilts around her shoulders, sad about the lovely celebration she was missing. I had better get those pipes unfrozen at home, if I wanted peace.
As I trudged out to my battered jeep and drove down the icy road evening had descended and the full January moon (called the Wolf Moon by some natives, but I prefer those who called it the Mad Moon) was rising as a smear of light in the thickening cirrostratus of the oncoming storm. My weekend was shot, and I’d had no time to write. And I’d more to do, yet strange quiet filled me.
At home we’d figured out the pipes were not frozen under the 250-yeqr-old house, where I had heating tape along the pipes, but under the kitchen sink, where we did not have to deal with any cobwebs at all. This occurred because a stream of icy air gushed up there to replace air leaving the house through the woodstoves. With the cabinet doors shut the pipes froze at the level of our knees. I hoped we’d solved this problem because we put a heater under the sink, but as I entered the house my wife, huddled in quilts, informed me she had good news and bad news. The good news was that the pipe had thawed under the sink. But, besides producing cold water from the faucet, the pipe immediately started to spurt cold water under the sink.
I didn’t even curse. I still felt the strange quiet. I said we’d better shut the cold water off, and my wife said she’d already done so. I then did the pragmatic thing, which was to praise her for being so smart. Despite smiling brightly, I then felt a halfhearted urge to softly curse because I figured the copper pipe had split, and wearily wanted to just leave the problem for another day, but, perhaps due to the strange quiet, (or because I felt on a roll, in terms of problem-solving), I immediately crouched to look under the sink. Swiftly I saw that rather than a split pipe it looked like a fitting had been loosened by freezing, and just needed to be tightened, so I got a wrench and, sure enough, a couple twists stopped the leak. Ta dah!
Then I loaded both woodstoves with hot-burning oak and opened up the drafts so they roared, and even, (because my wife had a cold,) cranked up the thermostat of our propane heat, which we’ve hardly used this winter, due to Bidenflation. Only then did I sag, or perhaps collapse, into my armchair by the woodstove.
The weekend was over, and a Monday loomed. There was no time to write, or to study the truly interesting nuances of meteorology. Not that I couldn’t attempt to push myself, but over the years I have found that seldom pays.
Not that study and writing doesn’t involve pushing against limits. “Cansel Culture” is not really a new thing; it has merely become more blatantly obvious. All my life I’ve been pushing against a sort of power that wants Truth stifled, and when I’m writing well, one way I know I’m succeeding is when people tell me, “I’ve always thought that, but never dared say it.”
I know I’m failing when my brains hit a sort of wall of exhaustion, and the writing dissolves into incoherent non sequiturs, mixed metaphors and lines of logic that taper off into dead ends. While this can be fun, as a sort of self-research and exploration of my own subconscious, it is nothing most people want to read. It belongs in a diary, not a blog.
As I sat back in the armchair and felt the weariness seep out of me, I thought back over the decades to the times before I was married, when I could be much more irresponsible, and seek to avoid the exhaustion caused by working a Real Job by sleeping in a car or a campground or my mother’s basement. Oddly, even when I had far more time to write, I still produced garbled nonsense.
It was so frustrating seeing my writing was garbled nonsense, when I was trying so hard, that I would try even harder, in a sense banging my head against a wall, and becoming all the more garbled. Upon the borders of insanity, I needed to do some menial chore, such as once was prescribed for the insane in madhouses. I needed to take up basket-weaving.
Because I was not actually in a mental institution, (though this world does resemble one, especially in the Swamp where the elite live), rather than basket-weaving I would get a Real Job. This never failed to end the garbled nonsense in my skull. I discovered it was not such a bad thing to sit by a fire, too tired to study and too tired to write. For some reason it was better to be responsible, even though flipping burgers or shoveling manure seemed far less grand than poetry.
To young poets this seems to make no sense. Flipping burgers is better than penning poems? But, after years and years, I see a sort of sense in it. Worldly responsibility is to obey a given, and it is given by God. If you attend to your worldly responsibilities, you are obedient to the Creator, and blessings befall you. Peace descends upon you. Rather than garbled nonsense your thinking produces sanity so refreshing it is called “blessed assurance.” Such inspired thought is what poets long to have their poems hold, but they will not gain such inspiration by being irresponsible and disobedient.
After all, a writer’s gifts are given by God, so how could they be furthered by being disobedient? Perhaps this explains why so many artists who are gifted begin in brilliance, and then fail to improve, and instead slump into decrepitude.
Others do not slump. They begin in brilliance, responsibly obeying the demands of their gift, and then run into the demands of the corrupted, the Swamp, the elite. These demands are very different from God’s demands, and the demands of worldly responsibility, and certain artists defy the Swamp, and endure a crunch, and die young.
I obviously haven’t died young. I was spared such a fate by the fact I was never recognized as a writer, and never had to be a recognized speaker about art, before those who despise the inherent honesty of art. Instead, I am recognized as a slightly mad fellow who knows how to work hard, and who writes a garrulous blog which few bother to read.
I stretched, cracked my knuckles, and woke my laptop to look at the blood-and-guts reality of the oncoming Monday’s weather.
It looked about as bad as it could be. We’d get seven inches of snow, followed by drenching rain and then a flash freeze. What this does is turn snow into slush which freezes into rock. It involves a frantic time trying to remove the snow before it turns into slush, made very difficult by the fact the snow falls fastest just before it turns into rain, at rates up to three-inches-an-hour. Even if you have removed all the snow an hour before it turns into rain, there may be a swift three inches which is reduced into an inch and a half of slush. The slush is murder to shovel and impossible to budge with snowblowers and taxes even plows, and at times it would be best if people left it alone to freeze to a level and flat surface, rough and not all that slippery, but people can’t leave it alone. They drive through it, which will freeze to deep ruts, or walk through it, creating footprints which will freeze to deep divots, and these features can last for weeks before thaw comes, and can be annoying and inconvenient and such a royal pain that people who can afford it run away to Florida.
I can’t do that, so looking at those weather maps didn’t relax me as much as such gazing usually does. All I could see was that I had my work cut out for me. Yet the strange sense quieted me. I just faced a Monday, and Mondays return us to work, and I could see a lot of that lay ahead.
As I hunched over my laptop by the woodstove I noticed delicious odors began emanating from the kitchen. My wife had withheld a single lovely dish from the rest, as she sent the best far away to a lovey party. It was some southern dish called “shrimp and grits”, but the grits were much more like cream than any grits I ever ate when I lived down south, and the shrimp were swimming in a sauce I can’t describe, except to say every bite seemed to hold two hundred calories.
Between three and four thousand calories later I felt I’d made up for the two or three thousand calories I’d burned off in the sub-zero cold. I was also glad the Biden supply-chain-crisis hasn’t yet reached shrimp and grits or cream or butter in these parts. However, plonking between three and four thousand calories into my digestive system ended any inclination I may have had to do more than scrutinize weather maps at my laptop. Poetry was out of the question. Good poetry involves starving, and I was the opposite of that. I dragged my bloated belly about to put wood in fires, which I do because Biden supply-side stupidity has made using our propane heat so expensive. However, I was glad we have any propane at all, for it heats our hot water, and I needed a long hot shower to thaw my frozen fingers and feet and wash all the spiderwebs from my hair. I nearly fell asleep in that shower. But I did manage to make it to bed and slipped into slumber thinking that sometimes shrimp and grits and a hot shower is a better weekend than many of the Swamp’s “elite” will ever know.
Then it was Monday morning, and snow was swirling. I stumbled from my bed to coffee and my weather maps, hoping the snow would swiftly change to rain. Indeed, only fifteen miles to our south the rain-snow line rushed north, and they had only three inches of snow which was nearly washed away by the rain that followed. However, there is a reason people around here flee to Florida. We are the worst-case scenario, more often than not, and we got seven inches of snow with only enough rain to make a mess.
Ordinarily, I would have been snow blowing before dawn, striving to remove as much as I could, even as the snow fell, to reduce the amount of slush later. With my blower in the shop, awaiting a belt to make its way through the Biden supply-chain-crisis, I found my post-prayer serenity continued. It was assisted by the fact that rather than snow blowing before dawn, I was sipping a coffee and scrutinizing weather maps on my laptop.
It felt strange to drive to work and find my son had already cleared the parking lot. I only asked him to swipe through one time, so customers could drop kids off without parking, and depart without getting stuck. Instead, he had backed up and repeated the forward swipes many times, (despite many other jobs he had to do.) There was little left for me to do by hand, and I set about shoveling in the winter wonderland in a relaxed manner. The snow was so thick that for a while we had no children at our Childcare, with a staff of three. But eventually parents did arrive to a parking lot clearer than the roads. A single five-year-old chose to stay outside with me, as I shoveled paths to all the side doors, because the State insists all “fire exits” be clear, even when there is no chance of entrapment occurring. But as the snow changed to rain even that tyke preferred going indoors, as did I. I wanted breakfast and more coffee, for I knew what was next.
What was next was the war with slush. Worst is the simple fact the town plows want to remove slush from the roads, which piles slush across driveways to a height of a foot or two. If that slush-wall freezes, only jeeps will have the clearance needed to enter and exit, and smaller cars can’t pass. Therefore, people who know the cruelty of our climate make extraordinary efforts to remove such berms before they freeze. You witness people desperately attempting to attack such piles of wet, heavy slush with snow-blowers which can’t do the job. It is a great day for fellows with plows, for people with snowblowers will pay them high prices for the single swipe that removes what a snowblower can’t. But woe unto those who are so new and wet behind their ears that they do nothing. To remove the berm after it is frozen solid is beyond the power of a plow, and requires men with pickaxes, who are hard to find in these modern times. I’ve seen some newcomers walk out to the berm across the entrance to their driveway with a twenty-five-pound bag of salt and dump the entire thing onto the berm, and then scratch their heads, for it has no effect. Once temperatures drop below twenty (minus seven Celsius) salt loses its ability to melt ice. The war with slush is only won by attacking the slush before it freezes.
I’m a bit of a fossilized throw-back to the past, for I dodder out and remove the slush-berm with a shovel. I have developed a very slow way of working and know how to pace myself, so I never quite lose my breath. It gets the job done. But my Childcare has an intern, a girl not quite eighteen who was working because she got the day off from school, and she came bouncing out to help me shovel. Of course, she put me to shame. She didn’t need to pace herself. What’s more, she could chatter away as she out-worked me. I barely have the wind to speak, when I am “pacing myself.” It is humbling when the old work with the young, but we did get the job done, and I must say she did cheer me up a lot.
The rain had ceased, and the wind swung around to the north and began blasting, and patches of blue sky appeared between the ragged, hurtling clouds of purple. The slush was starting to freeze so I hurried home to tackle the berms there. One good thing about such work is that it keeps you warm, and I didn’t mind being out in the whistling wind, watching the silver linings of the purple clouds turn golden and pumpkin as the sun sank low. But as I worked my cellphone rang. I do mind taking my gloves off in the whistling wind to operate that danged, newfangled gadget.
It was my wife, concerned that the woodstove upstairs at the Childcare belched smoke each time the wind gusted. I asked her to look at the thermometer on the stove pipe and see what it read. She texted back “a hundred.” Diagnosing from afar, I said the stove was too closed-up and the chimney was too cool to develop a good draft. She should open up the stove until the thermometer rose to nearly five hundred, at which point the chimney would be nice and warm and draw well, whereupon she should close up the draft. Then I went back to shoveling.
After a bit I got a text, “What temperature did you say I should let it get to?”
I replied, “Five hundred”.
She said, “It’s eight hundred.”
I replied, “That is way too hot. Shut it down.”
She replied, “Should there be orange spots on the stove pipe?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me if that pipe glowed red, at that temperature.”
“No. Orange spots” and she sent me two pictures:
I replied, “Shut it down completely. Immediately. Be right there.” Three minutes later I was there, and the chimney fire was out. Fortunately, the fire apparently was only in the metal stove pipe and not the brick chimney. In any case, the stove was drawing extremely well, though there was no smoke to draw, for the intense draft created by the chimney fire had reduced the wood to a bed of smokeless, glowing coals. I didn’t trust the stove pipe, so we let the fire go out. So…it turned out it was good that I’d had the upstairs propane heater fixed, months before.
Tuesday saw me drive to buy a new stove pipe. Nothing like a nice drive on a clear winter’s day. Then I returned to fix the upstairs stove pipe. Even as I worked, I learned from my intern the downstairs propane heater made a strange “wuff” sound when it started up, and “smelled funny”, so I went down to check it. It started perfectly normally when I tested it, so I dismissed the problem and went home for lunch. While eating I got a text from work that the latch on the front gate was broken. It would not latch, and little children could push it open, run out into the parking lot, and get squished flatter than a pancake. It hadn’t yet happened but would, if the latch wasn’t fixed.
Sigh. No rest for the weary. Still, it was a beautiful day, with the icy wind dying and the cold moderating and the sunshine golden. This time it was me, and not my wife, who remembered to find time for a quick prayer. Then I was off on the three-minute drive to work, noticing the odd calm I felt. Rather than annoyed I felt serene, and I actually enjoyed fixing the latch. It only took a few taps of a hammer, and then I got the satisfaction seeing the gate swing shut and click securely closed.
That got me to Wednesday, “hump day”, when my wife mentioned she’d also heard the downstairs heater go “wuff” and make a funny smell. It refused to do the same thing for me, but with another blast of sub-zero air coming I felt I shouldn’t take any chances. The propane repairmen happened to be in the neighborhood, so I got them to swing by. Bad news.
They were going to have to “red tag” the heater, which had burned a hole in the heat exchanger. (A “red tag” means it is against the law to use it.) My wife exclaimed it worked perfectly well most of the time, and the repairmen stated it would begin to exhale more and more carbon monoxide inside rather than outside. I pointed out we had CO detectors right over the heater. The repairmen then showed me the hole in the heat exchanger, and I had to agree it was impressive. I stated the heater was only twelve years old, and the other fellow stated we get new cars before our old ones are twelve years old. I growled my jeep was twenty-two years old, and then asked if we could get a heat exchanger from the identical heater upstairs, and both young men shook their heads. The heat exchanger was the body of the furnace. You can’t transplant a body.
I regarded the young men skeptically. Were they trying to sell me a heater? So I asked them if they could sell me a heater. They said they couldn’t. Question answered.
I then asked them if they could put one in, if I could find one midst the supply-chain-crisis. They said they could. Then I asked them what brands were good, and we had a talk about the pros and cons of propane heaters, with a few knee-high children around us, looking up from face to face with great interest.
And the subject of propane heaters was interesting, as most things are when you talk with the fellows involved. Propane heaters involve a jargon all their own, just as poetry does. I had an interesting chat, as my wife got practical and moved electric heaters about to keep the place from freezing. When she asked me to shift a heavy one from the stables I bid my young friends adieu, telling them I’d get back to them when I’d located the particular X-brand propane heater, which we’d decided fit our Childcare best. I assured them I had a friend who knew about heaters, who likely would suggest a wood-pellet stove, but after that would be good at finding propane heaters in obscure warehouses, despite Biden.
Then, after shifting a big electric heater, I went out to the playground to see how my staff was handling the kids. It’s the first week in a long while when no employee has called in sick, or hasn’t needed to be quarantined, so I wasn’t needed. After fooling about with a couple children I headed off to deal with firewood, but just before I vanished around the north side of the building I noticed the two propane repairmen walking back from their truck and coming around the south side. Their truck was parked around the Childcare in the back driveway. I figured they’d gotten stuck in the deep, frozen ruts of slush, as that drive was never plowed. But what they said was that they had told their boss about the fix our Childcare was in, and he’d said he might know a warehouse that had X-brand heaters, and as they sat in their truck he’d checked on his phone and found one. Was I interested?
I asked about the cost, which would pretty much wipe out our January profits, but more importantly I asked about time. Was this going to be a situation where I’d have to wait weeks and even months for a supply-chain-crisis item? They stated they’d know by the next day, and if they got the heater, they could put it in Friday morning, as the arctic blast moved in. So that became the plan.
On Thursday the downstairs was heated with electricity, and by noon on Friday we were heated by propane again. I again bid adieu to the young repairmen with a joke they confessed they’d heard a hundred times, “Thanks, and I hope I never see you again.”
Meanwhile I was getting ready for the next crisis, which was a storm not even on the maps, but which had the media in a complete tizzy. I saw my newly repaired snowblower’s new belt worked as I used it to clear crusty snow from a few places, and I split and moved firewood to wood boxes and porches, and then collected the week’s payments and filled out the receipt book and made out the deposit slip, only to discover that the bank was caught up in the tizzy and was going to be closed Saturday morning. And this was for a storm which, even Friday evening, was barely a blip in the isobars off the Carolina coast.
On Friday night I once again sagged in my armchair, once again too weary to write. I glanced through the news and rolled my eyes. Thousands of thundering, protesting trucks rolled across Canada towards Ottawa, and the media said it was nobody. An amazing funeral procession for a young officer in NYC exhibited a “sea of blue”, and the media said it was nobody. The news seemed such “Fake News” that it reminded me of something I heard years ago about Meher Baba back in the 1930’s, as World War Two was a “gathering storm”.
The story was that Meher Baba would glance very briefly through only the headlines of the papers, before casting them aside, and when asked why he did this he stated he needed to stay abreast of the “bogus” news. That was around 1936. I suppose this shows that the more things change the more they stay the same.
The calm given by prayer persisted, and besides rolling my eyes I felt no inclination to rip out my hair, nor to rave into the night. I’d fulfilled my worldly responsibilities, and if it left me too tired to write, well, it could not be my responsibility to write. I just jotted a few notes in my diary, concluding, “I think I should just go to bed. If I write I will rave.”
But then something funny happened. I stayed up just a while longer. I liked how “If I write I will rave” rolled off my tongue, and playfully wrote a sonnet:
If I write I'll just rave, and so instead I'll just go to bed. It isn't my fault This world's gone nuts. I've banged my poor head Against the brick wall of wrongs, but can't halt The false belief crime pays. It sure appears That evil men prosper. The good seem fools Which makes me a fool. I'm past shedding tears For my sorry self. It seems old age cools The passion of youth, and desolation Hardens me into a man made of flint. I'll strike some steel, and spark this nation To fire for righteousness, or so dreams hint In the dark of this night which evil's bred, Where rather than write I just go to bed.
I awoke to a day of wonderful rest. I only went to the Childcare early to feed the goats, rabbit and chickens when the snow was only a couple inches deep on the roads, rejoicing in the world of whirling white, and then just snuggled in at home and ate and napped and dreamed by the fire and out the window at the dark day’s moody views. It was my responsibility to rest.
The storm did “bomb out” exactly as forecast:
This storm was no big deal in our hills. The storm a week ago was crueler, by changing to rain and making frozen slush. This is pure powder, and will be easy to remove, tomorrow. Also the deepest snow hugged the coast. Boston might get two feet, but we’ll get less than a foot. And even Boston ought not complain, for I recall big storms where the snow was heavy and sticky. But they will likely still have their tizzy, as I have a day off.
I have fulfilled my responsibilities. Unusual for a poet to be more responcible than a bank, but I chuckled that the local bank did not fulfill theirs, by closing down when the snow never got over three inches deep, during the hours when they would ordinarily be open on a Saturday morning.
And simply by fulfilling my responsibilities I have been given this day off, and feel rested, and able to write.
What should I write for? Well, partly to document what a poet deals with when he runs a small business, but also to demonstrate how power appears where you least expect it, in a storm. In the past fortnight I have changed from wanting to rip my hair out to serenity, from a tizzy to calmly watching the tizzy of the media. Just as the two maps above show a huge storm appearing from a calm, this post shows “time to write” appearing where least expected, in a storm.
Likely I should give credit where credit is due, and point out the pivot point was prayer, but also, I like to focus on how beautiful the way our Creator works is. Just as so-called meteorological “bombogenesis” is not a miracle, but a natural and scientifically explainable event, so too are some unexpected and remarkable shifts in human affairs.
Back in the age of sail “bombogenesis” used to catch even the most weatherwise fishermen off guard. Some of the most amazing descriptions of the explosive development of the Blizzard of 1888 are those of fishermen who sailed out on a tranquil spring-like morning, and barely made it back alive. Nor did fishermen always make it back alive. At the Glouster Fisherman’s Memorial there is a list of every man who died so that we might have fish on our tables, and it can be seen that one year a terrible “bombogenesis” decimated the fleet.
My conclusion is this: There are those who think they are weatherwise in terms of politics, and that they have everything figured out. They are like fishermen sailing out on a spring-like morning. They are like the first weather map above, where an innocent 1005 mb low floats off the Georgia coast. They are clueless to how swiftly things can change.
Such people think they themselves are the boss. If there is to be any bombogenesis they feel they will be the authors. They will control the “reset”. But they are not the boss. Truth is the boss.
P.S. despite all the media hoop-la, we only got around six inches. It was hard to measure because winds scoured some places right down to the ground while drifts were over a foot in other places. But it was light and flurry and easy for snow-blowers to handle. I doddered out and had the Childcare lot cleared as temperatures warmed from 2 to 10 (-17 to -12 Celsius) before church, and did the back drive after church, and the work was sort of like worship, and therefore allowed on Sunday.
How was it like worship? Oh, that’s a whole post for the future, if I live so long. What matters now is this: I am responsible in the small sphere given to me. That is enough.
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.
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.
(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.