Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Settle Down Now

Well, the first thing you know, our landlord gives us notice to vacate. Seems she’s ill, and it’s time to sell. So we loaded up the truck and we headed easterly...Wedgwood, that is. Fancy schools. Prius cars. Now that I'm a grandma* it’s time to settle down. I've traversed the country more than a few times. I’ve lived in New England, North Dakota, and Washington, where I make my home. When the time comes, my ashes will be scattered at Kalaloch or used as garden fertilizer. Ashes to ashes and all that.

The Jeffersons
We are now nestled in the woods, up on a hill. It’s a new way of life akin to the Waltons…or maybe it’s closer to the Jeffersons. It’s upstairs downstairs with a shared kitchen. Competition is fierce for baked goods that are pulled from the oven. All animals are relegated to the basement. It’s a matter of hierarchy. The neighborhood is full of dogs and their walkers, always with a friendly hello for fellow dog walkers, which makes me think that having a dog would be a perfect cover for a serial killer; but then again psychopaths usually torture their pets, so that wouldn’t work.

Settling down also means getting used to the what’s and wherefores of my new surroundings. It means finding a space and making it my own. In our last house, I was lucky enough to have an office. Here I am in the process of converting part of the garage into a Cynic’s Sanctuary. Sounds better than man cave, doesn’t it? There’s music, movies, reading space and a comfy chair to torture the unsuspecting that stumble into my lair. I’ve done all the necessary acoustic tests and I can without a doubt, turn the volume to 11 without fear of offending the neighbors.

I haven’t really addressed the third word in the title: Now. Mindfulness is very trendy these days, so most folks are aware of the fact that there is only the present moment. The past is gone (if it ever existed) and the future is yet to happen. (“What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!”) The time to settle down is now, not someday. Moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone and grass don’t grow on a busy street. Fish don't fry in the kitchen. Beans don't burn on the grill. That being said, if you kids don’t settle down back there, I will turn this car around right now!!

 *My grandson calls me grandma, because he calls my wife, who is -- of course -- his grandmother the Japanese term for grandma, which sounds like "Byjon." He's bilingual, but gender confused.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bonus Video

Weezer - (If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To


In Transit

We have moved. Just a skip to the left. And then a step to the right. The gang’s all here now. We brought over the harbor seal. Word is there’s actually a cat under all that blubber, so put your clubs down, boys. We have a new puppy in the house, thanks to my stepson jumping the gun, and bringing home a furry ball of cuteness the weekend we moved in. My only contribution is the name, Loki. So, if you’re counting, that’s three cats, one dog and a pony. Oh, wait. That pony was just visiting. He’s since moved on to parts unknown.

Our house cat, who looks remarkably like a harbor seal.
We are now in the very quiet neighborhood of Wedgwood, which sounds rustic, or like a really painful wedgie. We were blown out of our straw house and our stick house, so now we’re ensconced in a brick house. I’ve been enjoying the quiet evenings here, after previously using my iPod to drown out the sirens, buses, and other city noises on 15th street. Here at the brick house, I sit on the front porch and listen to the rainfall. I see neighbors, walking their dogs. I see trees of green and red roses, too. I see them bloom for me and you.

I walked to work today and it only took me thirty minutes. Apparently you can get there from here. It just takes a little longer. I took a zigzag route through a nice neighborhood, counting “Black Lives Matter” signs on the posh homes of rich white folks. Nice scenery though. I’ve been admiring all the wonderful holiday decorations, including the ten foot tall inflatable polar bear and the candy cane wielding stormtroopers. When my 23-year-old stepson found out that I was still walking to work, he said, “Wow. That sucks.” I have always enjoyed walking and being able to walk to work and back is a pleasure and a healthy one at that.

I’m not going to lie. It’s been tough these past few weeks, moving households while working in retail during the busiest time of the year. I’ve been packing books at home and unpacking books at work. Last Friday’s one day total at the bookstore blew away the previous record. December has been a bit of a blur and the end of this week is also the end of the year. There really is too much going on in my life for me to handle it all in any practical way, so I’m taking a step back emotionally, and trying my best to go with the flow. Over time, the water wears down the rocks, and carves its own path.

My young co-worker says, “The fun never ends,” but the truth is that it ends long before your remaining family members draw straws to see who pulls the plug on your life support. The fun is just beginning. My four-year-old grandson is now living with us. He still calls me grandma, so now not only am I the only atheist stoner in the house, but I’m apparently also the only transgendered grandparent in the house. I don’t bake, although I do get baked. Grandma is his own man.

"Do you know the muffin man? Girl, you thought he was a man, but he was a muffin." -- Frank Zappa

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

My Year in Reading -- 2016

It seems that I wasn’t really serious about my vow to watch more television. I still like to browse Netflix and I’m always adding things to my queue, but my viewing habits are not really habits at all. They are more like fits and starts. I work in a bookstore. I love books. I must since I am in the process of packing over two-thousand of my own books to move into our new abode. I have books that have outlasted my marriages and multiple moves across this ingrate nation of ours. Television just seems like a sugar rush with short lasting effects compared to the longevity of the written word.

Working a fulltime job and being a parent of a ten-year-old boy doesn’t leave me all that much time to pursue hobbies like reading, writing and supersymmetric string theory. I still probably read more than your average Joe, but not your average Josephine. Surveys consistently show that women read more than men and that’s just one of the reasons that they are smarter than men. The stereotypical male reader – if they read at all – will read Tom Clancy or John Grisham, but shy away from anything that might test their moral mettle or – heaven forbid! – cause them to do some research.

I haven’t made my annual reading goal since 2012! In the years since then I’ve learned to mix in a few graphic novels and children’s books to pad out the count. My goal this year is to finish 45 books before midnight on December 31st. I’m only competing with myself, so please…no wagering. I’m about a third of the way through a my 43rd book, which is a collection of short stories entitled Scary Old Sex by Arlene Heyman. She was a student of Bernard Malamud (The Natural.) It has a terrible title, but the stories are candid and memorable. My next two books will most likely be short books, novellas really, but they have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) so they still count as books.

So far, I’ve read two graphic novels: Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart. I read one book of poetry: Why God is a Woman by Nin Andrews. I read two books for younger readers: The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah Plain and Tall) and Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. I read thirteen books of nonfiction, including a couple about religion, one about a beef slaughterhouse and three books about husbands who died (The Iceberg, When Breath Becomes Air and The Light of the World.) I also read three Shakespeare’s. No, wait. That wasn’t me.

It’s not like I need the encouragement to read though. Being well-read is one of my positive qualities and you've got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative and don't mess with Mister In-Between. It’s all on my permanent record somewhere. You can look it up. Now let me just say before I present my Top Ten Reads of 2016, that I have no intention of reading anything better than these ten (eleven) books listed below before the end of the year. Some titles on the list may be better than others, but they are in no particular order. And now without further ado:

Most top ten lists are limited to ten items, but this goes to eleven.
  • The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam 
  • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead 
  • Miss Jane by Brad Watson 
  • White Rage by Carol Anderson 
  • Out of Sight by Erik Loomis 
  • Every Twelve Seconds by Timothy Pachirat 
  • Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume 
  • Strange Gods by Susan Jacoby 
  • Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans 
  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh 
  • Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Change of Scenery

We always bring along whatever emotional baggage we have to our new homes, but a lessening of stress allows us to open up that baggage and possibly start to remove of a few of the lesser appreciated items like low self-esteem, and lack of parental love. I don’t know why I keep hanging on to those with every move. It’s tough enough moving a couple of thousand books, but bringing along all of my sacks of woe makes for an even more difficult move. Like a starving refugee on the run, I need to learn to drop my belongings by the roadside and not look back. That being said, I moved about twenty boxes of books over the weekend.

Humans love to measure everything, and forget that every measurement is influenced by the one doing the measuring. Much of life is immeasurable, besides being subjective. Love. Pain. Stress. How do we measure stress? I can’t even manage it never mind measure it. I have lived here on 15th Ave NE for five years and the stress I endured here, will be noticeable by its absence at our new abode. Here the bus stop is across the street. Every full moon, some drunkard entertains us with songs, barks and other nonsensical shouts. We were always getting alerts about neighborhood break-ins. Our place was broken into once, but I suspect that the would-be burglars heard my stepson Collin downstairs and beat feet, leaving a mess in the kitchen, where they crawled through the window over the kitchen sink.

The first time I drastically changed my surroundings I was seventeen. I ran away and joined the air force. After six weeks of basic training in San Antonio, Texas, and six months of technical training in Rantoul, Illinois, I then spent four years in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I can tell you, I was ready for a change of surroundings after that stint in the winter wasteland. At the time I yearned to go west, where I had friends in Oregon. I had made a trip out there on leave, and I wanted to go back. Instead, I returned home with my proverbial tail between my legs. After living with mom and dad for a few years, I got married to my first wife, Betty Lou. She and I changed living spaces a few times, once moving in with her alcoholic parents, and once living above a sexually perverted priest.

After a few years of marriage, and the stress and strain of living with and near parents and in-laws, my first wife and I decided to move west. We were unsure whether we’d end up in Oregon or Washington, but our ultimate goal was Alaska. I still haven’t been to Alaska. I hope my first wife has made it up there, fulfilling half our dream anyway. I met the woman, who would be my second wife, and mother to our son Justin in Seattle. After being together for a while, we decided it might be better to move back to the east coast and closer to our families. We first landed in Maine, and then settled in the Berkshires of Massachusetts for about five years. It didn’t take us long to realize that our move was misguided and we returned to Seattle, which we now considered home.

Seattle is still better suited to me than my childhood environs, but it’s changing and not for the better. I’m still very happy to be back in the land of evergreens and smoking greens. Rain is plentiful; marijuana is legal; and there are still a few independent theaters and bookstores left, including the one where I’m employed. I was never meant for the cut-throat, rush-rush pace of the east coast. I was never meant for city life, but Seattle was my compromise. A city with quaint neighborhoods and just a stoner’s throw from mountains and the ocean. I now know that I will always feel at home on the left coast.

Location. Location. Location.

The house we found to rent is a brick house. It’s well put together, everybody knows. It’s mighty, mighty and it’s in a much quieter neighborhood, with lots of dogs and their walkers. The firewood is stacked and that’s a fact. It’s surrounded by evergreens, which provides some natural privacy, and the yard is fenced, so we’ve already started to shop for a family dog. Location is not everything, but having some quiet space to let my thoughts roam is vital, and I expect I’ll be able to transform the garage into some semblance of an office/man cave/getaway. My walk to work might be a tad longer, but longer walks means a longer life.

Lip sych much?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Call Me Ponyboy

‘Tis the season of stress and strain, financially and emotionally. With the holiday shopping season upon us—we just passed Black Friday – the days at the bookstore begin to whip by at a breakneck pace. I work like a dog in a retail environment during the time of the year when stores hope for their biggest sale days. It’s the end of the year. The last chance to catch up to, or surpass last year’s totals. Add to that mix the fact that I’m moving with my family to a new house in the next few weeks, and it becomes stress overload. At least for me it does. I’m just a man, not a superman, although kryptonite does not seem to bother me at all. Go figure.

I'm a celebrant of one.

Leave it to me. I must be addicted to feeling like an outsider. I’m an atheist and I married into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I feel like a Fish out of water. A square peg in a round hole. Like a dog without a bone. There are no holiday celebrations. No Christmas lights or birthday cakes. On Christmas Eve our house is always the darkest on the block, while the rest of the neighborhood is aglow. Having grown up on holidays, and continuing that tradition until marrying my current wife, I can say without equivocation that I miss celebrating the holidays.

It doesn’t do any good to get mad at the world, because the world is indifferent. All that anger just raises my blood pressure, hardens my arteries and chaps my ass. I don’t fall in for phoofy terminology, but my inner child is pissed off. Day one – at birth – I was given up for adoption; something about the wrong eye color. I was then raised by wolves for six months before being adopted by the hillbillies from the hinterlands. I never truly felt like a vital part of my family, which made it all that much more difficult to fit into the greater society at large.

I need to pause and reflect for a moment. Kiss my son’s forehead, and remember my breathing. My son is so kind and empathetic. He inspires me to be a better person. My parents never said the words “I love you” to us until we were grown and started saying it to them. I guess then they felt that it was okay to respond in kind. It was one of those households, where you knew you were loved, because you were fed and clothed and had a roof over your head. Beyond that, what? You want hugs, or something? How does it feel to want?

"I forgot my mantra."

The holidays come and go, and I just get older. I’m not a lapsed Catholic, but I do qualify as an Angry Buddhist. I can’t seem to muster up enough Zen to release my thoughts to the idiot wind. Life is short and my mean little old heart could give out tomorrow. Is this really how I want to spend my last days? Mad at the world? I rather spend it loving my son, hearing the birds sing and the writing inane blog posts like this one. I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. I’ve still got some fight left in me, but more importantly, I still have a lot of love to give, and it would be a shame to die without having given it all away. What else is love for, but to offer it freely, and without infection?

Instead of feeling like a fish out of water, I want life to be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Sense of Betrayal

This time it's personal...

Many of us are still walking around in an apparent state of shock after the recent election. Unless you’re lucky enough to be living in a cave, you are aware that Donald Trump has been elected president of these United States, which means that they may not be united much longer. Everything that is wrong with this country reached its nadir last week with the election of Donald Trump. Protests immediately sprang up in cities across the country. He was officially endorsed by the KKK and his new chief of staff has ties to white supremacy groups. Some say, give him a chance to prove himself, but he proved himself to be sleazy conman long before he was mistakenly elected president of these United States.

I feel betrayed by my country. I gave four years of my life to the government when I joined the Air Force at age seventeen. I pay my taxes and abide by the rules of the road. My country, ‘tis of thee, is starting to come apart at the seams. Our fragile social construct will soon be in the tiny hands of a reality TV star, who seems to have no concept of moral responsibility. He has over seventy lawsuits pending against him. He openly degrades women and people with disabilities. He wants to start deporting immigrants and yet all of his wives have been immigrants. He uses immigrant labor to build his towers, which are obvious substitutes for his feelings of sexual inadequacy. It’s all just so headshakingly stupid.

I feel betrayed by my family. I knew we had some serious haters in our country, but I didn’t realize that some shared my last name. Maybe in my parents’ case, voting for Trump was a case of accidental bigotry. They’re good people. I’ve never considered them to be racist, just uninformed and when you’re pushing a hundred it’s a little late to start. They eat what they are fed by the media without asking questions about the harmful ingredients. This will most likely be the last vote they cast in their lives. My parents have always voted republican, but this time is different. This time it’s personal.

I’m a white male – safe in this society – but I’m married to an African American woman, and I have a mixed race son. My cousin was finally able to marry her partner of many years. Many of us are worried for our immigrant friends and this whole idea of “extreme vetting.” Unfortunately, everything about this is extreme. Whites hate a level playing field. Rich white men pay pennies to starving brown children to make Air Jordans or iPhones, so that they can afford the best single malt whiskeys or that quaint little getaway in the Caribbean. Nobody ever got rich through hard work, but through exploiting the inexpensive labor of others.

I’ve struggled with this post since the election. It’s too soon to know what evil lurks in the hearts of these men, but Trump’s recent cabinet appointments do not portend well for the future of humanity. We’d better be prepared to fight for our rights, and the rights of our neighbors. Fascists do not give up power easily, but you fascists bound to lose. Yes sir, all of you fascists bound to lose.