Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Out Standing in His Field

Like clockwork, every day after school, I would walk through the fields and woods behind our house. There was the red barn and the lower barn. The horse pasture was behind the lower barn. The lower barn was grey and weathered, and the former hayloft was now home to mud wasps and barn swallows. There was a large swinging gate, constructed of scraps of lumber, from around the farm. It had to be patched when our beef steer, Charlie Brown, plowed through it. That's when my dad decided to butcher Charlie Brown. Our pony was probably glad to see him go.

Once through the gate and past the barn, I walked over a level section and then down a hill. There were two old dumps on the right. The first of the two dumps was filled with large rusty appliances, washing machines, stoves, and so forth. The larger dump towards the bottom of the hill was a miasma of all kinds of trash, but nothing burnable, or that would blow away. Just old scraps from living on a farm. This is what folks did before the town landfill opened up. I periodically crawled through that large dump heap, looking for tarnished treasures. It's a good thing that I stayed current on my tetanus (lockjaw) shots.

The field was partly bordered by Great Cedar Swamp. It was there that I found tadpoles for show and tell. It was there that our dogs wandered into the water, up to their necks to escape the heat and bugs. We tried out our second hand hockey skates on that small patch of water.  I never did get the hang of that whole ice-skating thing. Up the hill there was a tree, with a limb stump off the trunk that must have been just the right height for our pony to scratch her back. The nub of the broken limb became smooth and polished from all the times she rubbed her flank against the tree.

The horse pasture is also where I first got stoned. Of course, my friend and I didn't realize we were stoned until we stood up. And then, once standing, I had to deal with my angry father, who had just marched down the hill. Earlier in the afternoon we had been throwing rotten vegetables from the garden at the boys from next door. It was a water fight that we took to the next level. Just boys being boys. We then became familiar with the paranoia that often accompanies smoking weed. We walked in circles through the fields, wondering if my dad could tell that we had just smoked the evil cannabis. It was unlikely since my dad could only smell apple pie and gasoline, or so he claimed.

The fields also provided tea-berry leaves for snacks. Golden seal root for curing my re-occurring canker sores. Once in a while I'd scare a rabbit out of the brush, or spot a fat groundhog on the path ahead. These were the same woods where the Wampanoags evaded the bloodthirsty and double-crossing colonists, who were exercising their manifest destiny with firepower. I was walking in their footsteps, oblivious to the screams and cries of hunger that once echoed through these swamp-lands in Rehoboth.

Now there are houses and cul de sacs in that field. When I was a toddler, there wasn't a house north of us on Dean street. It wasn't long before our street was paved, and houses and duplexes were lining the street. I continued to find solace in the fields and woods behind our property until I grew restless and joined the air force at age seventeen, but that desperation move is a blog post for another time. When I glance on Google earth and see the homestead as it is now, I ache for the comfort of those natural surroundings. It's a nostalgic ache that I cannot afford to cultivate.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Man Without a Toolbox

A man without a toolbox, is like a shark without teeth. It's emasculating to have to knock on your neighbor's door and ask to borrow a lug wrench. Although, it's funny when she goes through the toolbox in her garage briefly, before turning, and saying, "I have to admit...I don't know what a lug wrench is." I wondered why she was looking in the toolbox, when she had just pulled the car in. I borrowed the lug wrench from the back of her VW Passat, but it was too small. The lug wrench stored in the back of my dilapidated Subaru was too small. I guess I've got big nuts. My wife's brother drove up and his lug wrench fit just right. I got dirty and sweaty, changing tires, while my wife and her brother cheered me on. "Turn that wrench! Hoist that tire!"

There are many times I could have saved the day, if only I'd had the proper Allen wrench, or a decent pair of needle nose pliers. Once upon a time I had socket wrenches, crescent wrenches and hammers, screwdrivers: common and Phillips head. I used to change the oil regularly in my vehicles. I changed the head gaskets in my pick-up truck and the belts on Cutlass Supreme. Now I can barely get my hand into the engines of the new cars. The jacks and wrenches that come included with cars would barely qualify as Tinker Toys.

Rigby hamboning.
If I had a hammer....actually, there are two hammers in the basement, so I'm good on that score. Somebody once said, and I've repeated it, the only tools one needs is a hammer, vise-grips and duct tape. Yes, duct tape qualifies as a tool. It could save your life...that and ham-boning. My dad had a great toolbox. In fact, he had an entire wood shop on the second floor of red barn. He had a band saw, and a table saw. There were planes, chisels, clamps, and vises, oodles of nails and a pinup girl framed with a wooden toilet seat.

I still have vices, but I don't get hammered anymore. Drinking doesn't agree with my stomach and aging brain cells. The only monkey-wrenching I seem to do these days is in my relationships. Wife number three has been very tolerant of me and my lack of proper tools. Having a toolbox is one thing, but I must fill that box with all the tools most needed for any occasion. An oil can to take care of my aching joints. ("Bang on my chest if you think I'm perfect!") Oh yeah, and a sewing kit to repair my heart, when it is torn in half.
At the end of the day, I'm still a few screwdrivers short of a toolbox. I have plenty of books and papers, but when the apocalypse arrives in all it's nuclear glory, my library will just be so much kindling. Everything is ephemeral but at the most minuscule level, it's all infinity as far as the mind can think. Here in the big world, I still have time to make lunch before heading down the road to my job at the best independent bookstore in Seattle proper.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Socialism Kills Fascists - Bonus Video

With all the Drumpf nuttiness going on, this song comes to mind.

"You fascists are bound to lose."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Hunger Pains

Anxiety by eduardo flores [ bayo ]
They say that you shouldn't go grocery shopping when you're hungry. I wonder if that same rule applies to writing when you're sad. Or course, that is when I most want to write, expunging the dark fluttering demons in my soul. Alternately, you wouldn't want to go shopping after a heavy five course meal. You wouldn't even feel like looking at food. So, if I'm happy, I'm not likely to want to run to my laptop, thinking, I must write about puppies and kittens; their soft fur and wet tongues. Not hardly. When the angst is knee deep, that's when I feel like opening my veins and bleeding all of that pain and sorrow onto the page.

When I started this blog over eight years ago, I thought the content would consist of my film and book reviews; but when I sit down to write, the topics are my inner angst, depression and general observations about the world. I suppose that blogs can and do serve as an online journal, and how revealing one makes it is a personal choice. It's much easier to write about sadness, and post it on a blog, when all I see in response are the number of pageviews. Once in a while, I'll get a comment. There's an old adage, Misery loves company, so maybe I'm just sharing my grief, and in the process try and unload some of this toxic emotional baggage, that won't even get through security at the airport anymore.

I don't want to fight no more. No mas. No mas. I'm losing strength and I end up being my own worst enemy. Yes, we have to live with the decisions we make, bad and worse, but are we really making those decisions freely? For me, it seems like life just keeps happening. One day follows the next, season after season. Maybe it's different for the planners in the world; the movers and shakers. The punchers and drinkers. Do I need to experience a horrible loss, before I can stop and smell the roses? Maybe. But one person's tragedy is not necessarily the tragedy of another. Life, for me, is a tragicomedy. If I didn't laugh at the current situation, I'd cry. There's a fine line between comedy and tragedy; tears of laughter and tears of grief.

Yes, I have so much to be thankful for, and everything is so beautiful. Tell that to the chemicals being zapped between the synapses in that thick custard known as my brain. I can easily refrain from running down the sidewalk in my underwear, waving a cleaver and babbling incoherently. I have at least that much self-restraint. But I can't seem to pull my head out of my anal cavity lately, and that may be why I end up being in the bathroom so long in the morning now.

Life is beautiful. If only we were independently wealthy -- instead of being in debt to the IRS -- we would be able to fully enjoy the very short time we have here on the blue planet; spending more time with our families; reading all those books we've been meaning to get to; enjoying both the sunshine and the rain. Instead, like most other folks, we scrape by, barely keeping our heads above water, while simultaneously trying to keep our humor about us.

Speaking of beauty, the sun is out, and that warmth and light will likely only last minutes, so I must get my gear together, gather my cares and woes, and carry all these chains I've forged in life with me as I walk to work. Come to think of it, our garbage gets picked up today. I think I'll throw all this dinged up and ratty emotional baggage right into the trash receptacle. Or maybe the compost bin is more appropriate.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Bonus Video

"Victims have got victim shit to do."

Two Book Reviews

Strange Gods: A Secular History of ConversionStrange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion by Susan Jacoby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The erudite Ms. Jacoby presents a comprehensive history of religious conversion from a secular viewpoint, which basically means that it's unbiased. Some notable conversions are covered, such as St. Augustine, John Donne and Muhammad Ali. She also gives a thorough look at the persecution of Jews through history, and covers why slave owners decided to convert their slaves. Strange Gods is fascinating and witty. I guarantee that you will walk away smarter than when you started the book.

 Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the TwelveApostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve by Tom Bissell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like Tom Bissell, I am an nonbeliever, who finds the study of early Christianity fascinating. This book is for believers and nonbelievers alike though, because it is not religious criticism, but a highly enjoyable historical travelogue. Each of the twelve apostles gets his own chapter, plus there is a chapter on Paul, the apostle "not of the twelve," and one on the historical Jesus. Bissell spent over fours years, traveling to the resting places of all twelve apostles and their relics. He also engages pilgrims he finds on his travels, which makes for some interesting and often humorous conversations. Thanks to Bissell's research and intelligence, we get not only a glimpse at the apostles, but a real view of the very beginnings of Christianity.

View all my reviews

Go Figure

I've got some people, thinking that I'm the meanest, nastiest person on the planet, and then I have old ladies, who tell me that they wouldn't shop in the bookstore if it wasn't for me. Who is the real Me?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Cuddly Curmudgeon

Curmudgeon:  : a person (especially an old man) who is easily annoyed or angered and who often complains. (Websters online.)
I have been jokingly referred to as an old man. My son loves to point out my white beard to his friends, which adds a few artificial years on to my otherwise youthful fifty-four. My wife likes to tell me that when we turn fifty-five this year, we will be qualified for a senior discount at the movie theater. I say, no thanks. I'm old school. I still believe you become a "senior citizen" at sixty-five years of age. 

Am I getting old and set in my ways? Well, that depends on what one means by set in my ways. I'm always open to new music. I stopped sweatin' to the oldies long ago. I tend to walk the same route to work every day, and order the same meal at Bagel Oasis. They just ask, "The usual?" Politically, I have not become more conservative as I've gotten older. In fact, my emotional investment in Bernie Sanders, as the democratic nominee in the upcoming presidential election is tantamount to a sports fan, anticipating the World Series.

Cuddly:  having the soft or appealing quality of a thing or person that you would like to cuddle. (Websters online.)

Good ole irascible me. Two anti-depressants coursing through my veins every day, and I still get low, but I get up and climb right back on top of Misanthropy Mountain. Most people know me as nice, even kindly. Old people and dogs especially, and really, when you come right down to it, they're the only ones that matter, right?

Maybe I don't qualify so much as cuddly. Since I walk to work, there is no extra poundage on my frame. I'm not teddy-bear-like, except for my hairy face. Maybe the title should have been The Cantankerous Curmudgeon or The Crusty Curmudgeon. Those adjectives are probably more appropriate. As an atheist, I often am seen as a hater, which is a little harsh, I must say. I sometimes refer to myself as a misanthrope -- a purple people hater -- but when it comes right down to it, I will always hold the door for the next person. After you, please. 

I was home from work sick yesterday. It's always a shame to waste a sick day actually being sick. I spent the day in bed, arising to consume some chicken soup and toast. Today is Tuesday, and besides being the day I put up my post, it's also the day when I go into the bookstore at two o'clock. I feel like I'm on the mend, but then there's always that pesky industrial disease...

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What Happened to Me?

I was adopted at six months of age, by a couple living in the country village of Rehoboth.  I was the first child of four to be adopted. My new parents had spent the early years of their marriage, living and working in Florida and Georgia, cleaning chicken coops and other animal husbandry duties. When I came along, they had a spread in New England with two barns, and a few riding horses. The horses had to go before the children started to arrive. Then went my dad's hunting beagles, although we always had a few dogs and cats around. There were a series of country pets and animals, including rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, two sheep, and a pony.

There was lots of room to roam. I walked in the woods behind our property every day after school. I would purposely get lost, so that I could find a new way back home. When one grows up with a little wilderness in your own backyard,  it's tough to feel as in touch with nature in a city park (also known as green space.) It wasn't long before a majority of the property had to be sold off, so that my parents could continue to afford the house, barns, pasture and four growing hooligans. Gone was the old stone foundation down the street with the relics of the past. Gone was the hidden patch of wild strawberries, within an afternoon walk from the house. Houses, and duplexes went up quickly. New neighbors moved in, and the old dirt road with only our house at the beginning was becoming a faded memory.

It was a life of hand-me-downs and dinners composed of vegetables from our own garden. Sometimes the meat was from our rabbits, steer, or possibly some venison that a friend dropped off. Like many families in those days (the late 1960's and early 70's), we had a large freezer in the basement, to store a side of beef, or packages of veggies. My parents resisted our pleas for name brand cereals and other highly promoted items. I remember our cupboards once being stocked with government cheese and those nasty instant potato flakes. There were the Cub Scouts, and Webelos, followed by a short stint in the Boy Scouts. I was not Eagle Scout material. In fact, I grew tired of the scouts pretty quickly. The boys in my troop just wanted to goof off at summer camp, playing strip poker and taking pictures each each others' pubescent penises, with someone's boxy Polaroid camera.

I was painfully shyness and quietly abstained from the usual youthful fun and hi-jinks. No long summer days spent on Horseneck Beach. No scary carnival rides. I was a bed-wetter and usually one of the last boys picked for any team play. I played a game or two of farm league baseball and even embarrassed myself once at flag football. I was more suited to piano lessons and curling up on the couch with my sketchbook. I was not social or gregarious in any way. No school dances. Not even the prom for me. I once went on a hay ride, but it was stopped short, because a few of the ruffians threw eggs at a passing car, not realizing that it was a police car. End of the ride. Back to the farm to call our parents.

I was just a skinny, quiet boy with only a friend or two to his credit. I had to find my own way, without a lot of guidance or encouragement. No mentors or neighborhood heroes to take me under their wing. I was just a growing package of disappointment for a father, who was hoping for a buddy. A boy who enjoyed not only the manly arts of hunting and fishing, but would happily assist him in his workshop, or alongside him in the garden, pulling weeds, and killing tomato bugs. He eventually gave up on me and tried to work with my younger brother, buying a hunting dog for him, and working with him on Saturday mornings, putting postage stamps in an album at the kitchen table.

It seems that being a wallflower was written into my DNA. I realize that it's hard to believe all this of now, because I've become such a rock star.