Worninshoes Store

Just a place where I store my stories, poems & columns. I wear a size 10-1/2.

The Front Door

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© 2011 – 2015 by Richard Kindervater and ~worninshoes.  All rights reserved.

 All the writing is original and therefore is protected by applicable copyright laws. Same goes for photos or illustrations (unless credited otherwise). Basically, please don’t steal my stuff; you may exerpt or link it elsewhere, but please give credit to the author, which is only a reasonable courtesy. I’d do the same for you. Enjoy what you find or find what you enjoy. All visits are free.                                                 ~shoes  

A lot of entries here are escapades of a gang of rambunctious youngsters known as The Backstop Kids. For introduction to the cast of  characters and the lay of the land go The Backstop Kids Page, or link to:

 http://wp.me/PBLbl-iF

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Apollo

August full small

Once full and bright…

The moon will be full for Christmas this year. There are rare, memorable moments in life that don’t happen very often like that.

We grew up across the street from each other – the lanky lad and the freckled red-haired girl. We went through early stages of tolerance, moved on to dislike, became academic adversaries, which led eventually to respect, admiration, curious interest, and, inevitably, these things develop into friendships.

Christmas night, 1968, we drove into the country and parked beside a glistening ice-covered lane. Frost crystalized in the sky. Distance sparkled in the moonlight. We huddled against the cold and sat enthralled by the nearness, and, too, by the bright orb’s silver-white reflection casting still, silent shadows on twinkling Christmas snow.

“It’s different now somehow,” I remarked. She nodded in consensus. And it was different. Forever and for always it would never be the same again. That Christmas night Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders had orbited the moon and captured the first image of Earth rising over the horizon of our celestial cousin. They lassoed history much like George Bailey in mythical Bedford Falls.

Every Christmas is magic. This next one, as it happens, includes a full moon with footprints. For nearly half a century no one has witnessed that surface without them.

Yes, the moon will be full for Christmas this year. There are rare, memorable moments in life that don’t happen very often like that.

Herons

At intersections along the turnpike
Where roads were bridged over,
Where earth was taken to raise hills
And water left behind to fill those holes,
Perfect little geometric lakes remain.
They stand like still statues there
Fishing for shadows in early evenings.
*****
Father, a young man then,
Used to point out the herons
Like they were gods to be admired.
He was a worshiper of ducks and geese,
Their flying formations in autumns
And circling of marshes each spring.
I think he wished he could fly among them,
As though they were closer to life
Than anything.
*****
But herons especially held wonder,
Significance, mystery, grace and perfection;
Calm, always solitary, stately,
Regal in their vigil;
Plumage matching the darkening heavens
In streaks gone grey and blue to silver.
“Look!” he would say. “A Great Blue Heron!”
And one would float across the sky
Low as mist, large as a cloud,
Or would fade standing motionless,
A silhouette in the shallows
Invisible to all but his sharp eye.
*****
He always saw them, herons.
I suppose they saw him, too.
Both were attuned to silent, hallowed places.
By their patience, a lesson of itself,
Is passed on to us this wisdom:
The way to see.

My father died recently. Gone West, stardust once more, anchors aweigh Dad.

heron

Photo by Casie Hartwick

Welllll, doggies

Sometimes I jot down a phrase or a metaphor or a simile that gives pause or a chuckle during the slow, daily race to nowhere. Some are thought provoking, some are absurd, and many are as humorous as a sheered-wool toupee.

What I enjoy most are Jed Clampett-isms:

  • Happy as a gopher in soft dirt.
  • Nervous as a grasshopper in a henhouse.
  • Tore outa here like a scalded cat.
  • Hard as trying to sneak daylight past a rooster.
  • Thirsty as a bullfrog in a dry well.
  • Prettier that sunrise on a frosty morning.
  • Madder than a barefoot centipede on a hot rock.
  • Happier that a butcher’s dog.
  • Scared as a snake in a room full of rocking chairs.
  • She’s got more curves than a goat path.
  • More racket than an empty wagon on a froze-over road.
  • About as much fun as watching ice melt.
  • Like trying to poke a kitten out from under the porch with a wet rope.
  • Thicker than crows in a corn patch.
  • Green enough to stick in the ground and grow.
  • It ain’t good to show up at Gloria Swanson’s house with a half-baked possum.

On that note, true story, a simile of my own applied to Ficktendorf officials (where the only scoop at an ice cream social is used to scrape up dog crap) who repeated the exact same mistake as they’d already been taken to court twice for doing. When they did it a third time I went off like a firecracker in a blast furnace, demonstrating all the diplomatic skill of a fed-up goose hounding a possum with yolk on its maw. Dumb as stumps; sore-toed as woodchucks in a granite quarry; they still don’t get it. Pitiful, just pitiful…

Waisting Away

I have a closet full of clothes and no use for them. It’s not so much that the suits, sport coats and slacks – I’ve always cringed at the concept of “slax” as a word – are retired now as a required wardrobe having left the sales life behind me, it’s that none of them fit. Except for the belts: I bought a leather punch and added two or three holes ahead of all the buckles.

I used to believe that summer sports jackets, trousers and suits, when left in a closet over winter, shrank by some strange unknown order of the universe. It happened every year, and the winter garments also got smaller in the closet over summer to a slightly lesser extent. Blue jeans were a real problem.

When I went to the gold fields of California in ’98-99 I still had a 32-inch waist. When I returned, those britches – as my slim waistline – were still that youthful size. The denim was stained red with the mountainside, the knees were worn through, but within a year the manufacturer of new ones had evidently changed its standards of dimension because I had to buy 33-inch waist replacements. Then 34, then 35, and belts consistent with the growth of a gaining protuberance. My first pair of 36-inch waist jeans required suspenders – there just was no butt below the belt to hold up the pants.

I found that a decent set of suspenders is not an easy thing to track down. It’s the springy snap things – they don’t hold up, functionally, with repeated use and when they fail they don’t hold up, literally, which can be embarrassing when, for instance, you’re mowing the lawn and one strap lets go. Horns honk when that happens.

When the doctor’s scales tipped over 185 the alarm went off. My lungs were already failing, so she suggested we might want to focus on my heart as the weakest link in the struggle to survive. I hadn’t thought of that until she brought it up. Then I realized my feet had disappeared from view and I couldn’t bring my knees to my chest enough to tie my shoes. Motivation takes odd forms.

I didn’t go on a diet. I’ve heard about hundreds of those, all with fancy names, and nobody seems to lose weight by “going on a diet.” But I did change what, and how much, I eat.

First thing, I stopped my daily run to the Quality Milk, Bread and Bakery store. No more donuts. I lost five pounds in four weeks. I didn’t give up cookies or ice cream, just moderated the intake. You don’t have to go overboard to keep the boat afloat.

Next – and this is the principal reason McDonald’s profits have plunged – I stopped all consumption of fast foods, French fries, fountain drinks, shortening and public television. Red meat all but vanished from my menu save a beef patty or steak or pork pot roast with carrots and parsnips a couple times a month. Parsnips are tastier than potatoes, anyway.

Food staples became fruits, berries, seeds and nuts instead of meat, potatoes and gravy. I was afraid I might morph into a vampire bat, but I didn’t.

Chocolate, being one of the seven basic food groups necessary to a healthy lifestyle and a balanced mind, remains a cornerstone. If you haven’t tried radishes and strawberries with a side of Nestle bar you might be surprised. I learned to listen to my stomach growling as a sign of thanks and just added water. No more of that high fructose corn sweetener, but cane sugar and nicotine remain indispensable, if not essential, to life.

From the start I also added a daily 7500 mcg dose of biotin to my intake. Biotin supposedly increases the ability of the digestive system to metabolize carbohydrates. You don’t want those things hanging around your belly above the belt. Unscientifically speaking, I’m convinced it is an effective supplement when combined with the change of chosen intake. What we swallow is, after all, a choice that has a direct effect on the size of our jeans. I can attest to this notion, now twenty-five pounds lighter and strong enough to go back to the demanding toil of those beckoning gold fields.

I don’t think the pretty widow across the street approves. She’s been offering to have me over and feed me dinners lately, which I courteously decline. Maybe she thinks I need (or want) a woman in my life – which I don’t! – or that I’m wasting away because nobody is cooking big fancy multi-course two-serving dinners with candles and ample desserts for me. Chances are that she mostly misses having someone to cook for, but it might also be that she’s lost the entertainment of watching me, from the shadows behind the curtains of her front room window, mowing the lawn. I don’t wear suspenders anymore and my pants stay up.

Maybe she just wants to butter my parsnip.

Happy Birthday Backstop Kids!!

 

 

 

 

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“You could smell the mock-orange blossoms outside…”

And with that first sentence of “Lanyards” were born the characters of Joey, and Ben, and Silly Jilly Johnson, in early June of 2011 (I think it was), four years ago – give or take. Happy Birthday, you knuckleheads!

The  mock-orange bush here shown was planted a year later. It’s six feet tall now, full of blooms, and its gentle fragrance wafts off like a cloud of perfume on the early-June evening breeze. Mock-orange is as wonderful as the heady bouquet of lilacs, more delicate than roses. It’s delicious. Mock-orange was the scent of summer when I was a tender Backstop boy, and later as a sinewy young man. In ’91 the bulldozers came and plowed out the entire hedgerow that was a hundred years old. What was left was nothing – except the stink of kerosene and tar.

Tonight I can return to happier memories: My nostrils are filled with the nectar and pollen of that fleetingly rare mock-orange flower once again. It’s been such a long time ago. To my chagrin, as I ecstatically passed the bush pushing the lawn mower, enjoying the olfactory flavor and aroma, I began sneezing.

But there’s an upside to allergy: Sneezing clears the sinuses and attunes the sense of smell to a higher degree of pleasurable indulgence. What’s a little asthma when mock-orange is in full bloom? As I explained in “Lanyards,” life is a walk to vacation Bible School: It’s ten blocks of sheer misery – defined as wearing a clean shirt – and uphill both ways. Why be freed of your innocence when you can live inside the glow among the shrubbery instead?

 

Climate change isn’t the problem: it’s the symptom.

“In the last 200 years the population of our planet has grown exponentially, at a rate of 1.9% per year. If it continue[s] at this rate, with the population doubling every 40 years, by 2600 we w[ill] all be standing literally shoulder to shoulder.”  Stephen Hawking.  

I wonder: Does that include all the rapidly enlarging areas of arid desert geography: the Sahara; the Gobi; the Arabian, Patagonian, Great Basin and Kalahari? What about the depopulating wastelands of Cleveland or Detroit? Will Yellowstone be designated a recreational mosh pit of writhing souls before shoulder-to-shoulder devolves into head-to head, or hand-to-hand?

Doubled. Squared. Cubed. Squbed? An eventual end of an immanently undeniable, exponentially unrestrained human overpopulation explosion is at hand. The Earth will take care of itself despite mankind. The future is grim, and yet our government bases a sound economy on an artificially-contrived measure of 2% inflation. How far can a balloon stretch before it bursts? Perpetual expansion cannot prevail. Unlimited growth over time is unsustainable. Even Walmart won’t last forever. Who remembers Montgomery Ward?

Reading obituaries gives some insight into the morass. Take John. He is survived by three children, eleven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild… so far. And his is a moderate list of progeny. Where there was one when he entered the count, there are now fifteen on his way out. (Okay, in the beginning there were two: John had some help siring his children.) Even so, that’s still over seven times as many alive today as when they were happily bouncing around on their honeymoon in New England. Thanks, John.

And, oh, by the way – not that it matters one iota – John, alone, had six siblings and a half dozen aunts and uncles. Do the math.

My own family line is small by comparison; in fact, chances are relatively (no pun intended) high that our branch will die off with the current crop of just two acorns. I’ve personally known five generations of us on just one limb. A sixth is possible, but I hope not, for their own sake. We’re all just nuts falling farther and farther from the tree.

Like everybody, I had four grandparents. Combined, they brought forth seven children (two of them being my parents, of course) who produced six offspring among them, those being myself and five cousins. My one blood aunt and three first cousins never had kids. Two of my currently-living generation adopted, one opted out, so that’s where those twigs terminate. They knew, I think, or at least had an inkling.

The actively fertile three of we unenlightened boomers (six, if you count spouses or whatever) have birthed but five children among us (a net result of minus one); and from those five have been added merely two more – so far. That we know of, anyway. In five generations of my immediate family tree, we today total only twenty. I say “only”….

Remember John? His tribe – brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews – their combined offspring and the two generations shooting off from those now account, conservatively, for multiple-hundreds, if not a thousand more organisms beginning with just the late-19th century appearance of his grandparents onto the scene. That was after kerosene replaced whale oil about 200 years ago.

Anyone over 45 years of age today has seen the population double in their lifetime. Those into or beyond their eighties have seen it double twice. In some parts of the world (places that can least provide diminishing food and water supplies to fill the mouths of too-often “fatherless” or abandoned, neglected, and/or orphaned children) that situation happens every 25 to 30 years: each generation literally doubling itself exponentially toward certain, inevitable oblivion.

Is it any wonder why so many immigrants are emigrating? They’re really just refugees futilely fleeing their own demise. They come from everywhere to drop their calves in a more-fertile plain once populated by 20 million roaming bison.

When my children were young, I predicted that in their lifetimes the world would see the extinction of elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, tigers, gorillas – to name just a few of the animal crackers – and that jungles and broad open spaces would all but vanish. So would agrarian family barns, as we knew them – which they have, for the most part, done now – and then frogs and butterflies and birds would begin to disappear, too. Forests wither and fall in the face of drought and wind. There aren’t any more tornadoes than there ever were — it’s just that not a single one touches down anymore without somebody nearby carrying a video camera to record the destruction of a trailer park, the event then Tweeted to every local news station and 150 or more “friends” on social media and tens of thousands on YouTube.

As a species we’re fast running out of room, while racing faster to deplete the limited vital resources necessary to sustain survival. Where’s the news coverage? When I was a kid my mother told me that sooner or later there would be only a square foot and a half of space for each person alive to stand in, and no place left to bury them. That was years before Stephen Hawking ciphered his first equation. Prophetic? Maybe that’s why they invented skyscrapers with garbage chutes and studio apartments in lofts just around the corner from Park Avenue’s view of the Hudson River.

Thirsty? For much of the planet’s population fresh water will be recycled sewage in less than a hundred years. At the present growth rate, there will be 16 billion mouths to feed worldwide, (twice what is sustainable even with petroleum-based everything, its subsequent flourishing societies and all their modern technology) however, most of them will be too hungry to do anything else than procreate a few more before they perish.

Hold Your Breath

There’s news on the climate front today that’s just a gas. For the first time (some reports say ever, others define it as a million, or two million years – take your pick) the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeds 400 parts per million.

I wonder how big a box it takes to hold a part?

Why don’t we ever hear about the real man-caused source of this problem? All problems are created by the presence and conditions brought about by humans, aren’t they? Here’s the point:

Deforest half the tropical and temperate regions of the globe. Wouldn’t that have a major impact on the absorption of carbon dioxide? There have been studies to quantify the effect of cow farts on atmospheric methane levels. Why don’t we hear about the sponge that soaks up the carbon dioxide? How many parts does just one mahogany tree digest, let alone a million?

And the really big picture: How much carbon dioxide is exhaled by 8 billion human organisms that there isn’t enough forest anymore to convert back to oxygen? It’s not just fossil carbons that fuel the self-destruction of the planet.

I never was sure about that meteorite theory of dinosaur extinction. As big as those buggers were, and as many of them as were walking around at one time, many of them devouring trees and grasslands, I wonder: Is it possible they simply respired themselves to death?

Hold your breath if you really want to make a difference. Leave some air to spare for the next billion or so innocent children being taught the evils of climate change as though it’s something that can be contained without a major change in population policy.. The earth will take care of itself over time. We’re just a temporary anomaly that thinks mighty highly of itself while procreating madly to our own demise… and doom.

We need a bigger box.

Chickens Have Rights – Children, Cages

Saturday morning. Scarce clouds in the eastern sky are orange and purple with dawn. Robins are singing. Lawns are green with early spring. I sip my coffee and open my browser to check the morning news.

http://www.citylab.com/crime/2015/04/the-murky-law-on-free-range-kids/390795/

Free range kids? When will the insanity end? When did it begin?

The Backstop Kids will be four years old next month. I thought, when they first appeared kicking me awake from a dream, that they were timeless. I was wrong. Their time has vanished; that world is gone.

They’re real, you know, every one of them. Those faces, the places, all the events: none of it is imaginary. Okay, so some of it is embellished, but not all that much.We actually carried jack knives and matches in our pockets. I know; I was one of them; we were there; it was real.

Helicopter parents hadn’t been invented, and never should have been, but they were. The biggest problem we faced between home and the Backstop was the bully at the corner known as an elementary school safety patrol guard. And we took care of that ourselves.

But that was three generations ago when the population of the United States was 175 million. Average life expectancy was less than seventy years. A pack of cigarettes was a quarter in a vending machine. Postage stamps were three cents. Detroit was the fourth largest city in America.

The population now is nearly 320 million; lifetimes approach 80 as a rule; smokes go for over $6 from a heavily-guarded fortress; sending a letter is pushing half a buck last time I looked; and the Motor City is 18th – with less than half the headcount of those days when Soupy Sales meant morning breakfast was on the table.

But that was before Kellogg introduced Pop-Tarts, and kids stopped walking to school… for their own protection.

Yummy Prunus persica

Happy Peach Cobbler Day!!!!

peaches

Ingredients

1 cup Original Bisquick™ mix

1 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

1 cup sugar

1 can (29 ounces) sliced peach, drained

  Directions

Heat oven to 375ºF.

Stir together Bisquick mix, milk and nutmeg in ungreased square baking dish, 8x8x2 inches. Stir in butter until blended. Stir together sugar and peaches; spoon over batter.

Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until golden.

Old Fish Seeks Youthful Mink

I keep waiting for my official retired guy membership card in the mail. Come to think of it, I never got an application form. Do you have to enroll online? Does it kick in when you apply for Social Security or pop up with Medicare?

What exactly qualifies one as being “retired” anyway? Do you have to wear out your last set of Bandag retreads to get there? That must be it! You fill out documents at an authorized Goodyear or Firestone shop with a new set of Michelin radials when your rubber gets thin.

I’ve been practicing retirement for twenty years on and off so maybe it goes unnoticed at the office. He’s just away on one of his adventures again, the receptionist probably says if my name comes up. She always had my back. The deferred commission checks keep coming though, so I’m obviously still in the system. Maybe they don’t know I’m gone yet. I should probably send somebody an email.

This tab-in-slot issue of employment status came to my attention while wrapping up my income tax return. I still use the paper ones. It actually works faster than electronic filing now, probably because everybody else uses clicks and cursers. Bored paper-pushers don’t get much postal mail anymore, so they must fight over an actual stamped envelope.

There’s a box on Form 1040 where you have to enter “occupation.” “Other” seemed awkward. I don’t have the necessary credentials to claim “retired” yet. So I wrote: Hermit. Which is befitting. I actually studied hermit as a career choice in ninth grade. It beat mortician. All the other boys had already checked out that morbid profession from the library anyway. They probably figured there was job security with a steady line of customers and no buyer’s remorse.

Come to think of it now, I never announced I was going to retire because I didn’t want a party or a shiny watch – never wore one anyway. Hermits aren’t all that gregarious. I just quietly stopped working. For ten years I seldom went to the office, infrequently showed up for holiday luncheons, and never once attended a mandatory meeting. I was the wild card, the loose cannon, the lone swimmer bucking the current. I was very successful as a salmon. The only drawback to being a retired salmon is you don’t get to spawn very often.

Farewell, Old Friend

Ed Buskirk

I lost a dear friend recently, as did we all. There weren’t many like Ed, and now there are none. Those of us who knew him can only reflect, and rejoice at the privilege it was to have encountered him in life. That’s all that really matters.

I was cutting up a chicken when the call came. Wipe your hands and sit down, our mutual chum told me somberly from too far away. I didn’t see it coming. Oh, cheese, I uttered as the air went out of me across the back of my hand. First reaction: I wondered what the cat felt curled up in an abruptly empty chair. It was all I could do.

In many ways Ed was probably the most intellectual man I ever met. I suspect those that saw the depth and breadth of his complex philosophical nature are scarce; few witnessed that side of him – the inside – because he kept that part remarkably well concealed behind twinkling eyes and a scruffy beard. He had an amazing mind.

That brilliant brain often rambled unquietly clattering while the world slept. During irregular intervals of manic insomnia we sometimes scoffed at subtle ironies hidden within the recesses of the mundane. Or heard the clamor of Chicago taxis in our imaginations. We identified with each other. It’s too still now.

Ed understood the elusive wit of sarcasm unlike no one else I ever knew, and yes, he giggled at most of it. He was a sharp cheddar. Whereas most stumble at significance, Ed never faltered. He grasped every detail of underlying meaning and definition in words. There were always wry laughs at the absurd; banter at ridiculous riddles, and inaudible chuckles aimed at improbable characters in impossible situations.

“He, he, he,” Ed often wrote back mischievously during our abundant, peculiar barbs exchanged at no one’s particular expense. There was an impishness about him. And a tenderness.

We never spoke of some things: our marriages, our children, our dreams. We seldom mentioned the realms of our past careers. It wasn’t that those subjects were off limits — there were no limits — they just didn’t seem germane. Maybe they were just too sensitive for either of us to rehash.

A quiet soul of simple wants and needs who cared untiringly for his small family, Ed was so very much looking forward to the annual Detroit Tigers’ opener, only a few days away when his great heart exploded. Darn his hide! Our little wager on whether snow would fall in the stadium during the first inning is moot. Now, clear or cloudy, it’s all the same sky. Whenever you hear the crack of a bat, remember him.

During all the years of our acquaintance Ed was a newspaperman. As a reporter he restrained any and all opinion. (Not that he didn’t have plenty of them.) His objectivity was unsurpassed, and surely it will be missed, if not lost, as he likely took the last scrap of that disappearing ability with him.

As a writer, though, not everything was as it seemed. His pen dabbled in the risqué from time to time. But it was his casual cowboy sentimentality that touched so many of his readers’ hearts. One of his last columns of “A Rambling Mind,” dealt with facing his upcoming 50th high school class reunion. Ed won’t hobble in for this one on the cane that supported a leg once riddled by flesh-eating microbes, but if you listen you might hear him bump a chair. Pay attention. I guarantee he’ll be there. Raise a glass to toast his memory. He, he, he was among us once and too-soon gone.

See you later, old buddy. Good night, my friend.

I’d Like To Buy A Vowel

A good friend of mine plays a mean game of Scrabble. He’s probably the letter “q” champion of all time, and runner up at every two-letter word nobody ever heard of or uses in a thousand years. If that weren’t enough, he has uncanny skill at double-letter and triple-word scores and — adding insult to injury — of combining several of those together in one play with the subtle plink of a single tile. Expletive! His vocabulary never ceases to amaze me. The unfamiliar multi-syllabic words don’t put me off like they do a lot of people because I have something the others apparently don’t: a dictionary.

The other night for some reason I needed to know how may words begin with “oo” in my dictionary. I have a restless mind. There are 83 of them. The top three — as far as frequency of use is measured – are as follows:

“Ooh.” As in, “Ooh, ooh child, things are gonna get easier…” Yeah, like that’s gonna happen any time soon. Ooh is an expression of surprise, or amazement; what you might feel when some jokers sitting around a table deal you a king-high straight flush in spades by stepping in the second most common one:

“Ooze.” That’s slimy stuff like toothpaste that gets pretty deep. The harder you struggle to pull out of it the deeper it sucks and stickier it gets. You really should avoid stepping in ooze. The third most-often used double-o word on the list is what you’d probably say when you do:

“Oops!” It’s a word used roughly twice in a million. It might be uttered more often if it didn’t imply having made a dumb mistake. People have trouble admitting flubs. They’re just too embarrassed or shy or proud or foolish or bull-headed to confess it. Irresponsible? Blame somebody else.

Reminds me of a story about the bumpkin who stepped in a bear trap. It took a lot of thrashing and oohing and a long time oozing out of it. He denied onus, insisting the snare didn’t belong in his way. It left a nasty scar. So a sign was posted — DO NOT STEP IN BEAR TRAP — in plain sight for anybody to see who could read it. Along comes the same rube again, hell-bent for leather, and oh-oh, what does he do?

Oops!

Back Door Action… When In Doubt: Don’t

The Michigan Open Meetings Act is intended to strengthen the right of the public to observe and know what goes on in their governments’ affairs. There are basically ten clauses that allow, within strict limits, for any sessions to be closed from oversight. Like the Ten Commandments, instructions are more about what not to do than how to bend or abuse the rules. Both are clearly hewn in stone.

Let’s say Snuffy Douter, a public lamplighter, according to inside gossip covets a neighbor’s wife. The man only sees a pretty dress and imagines birdsong. The woman notices, is flattered, but chaste, then one day wipes a cinder from her eye and blinks in the wrong direction. The vile act is witnessed by her husband, a local minister. Indignation leads to jealousy; retribution fills his heart; but avoiding embarrassment presents a problem. The reverend is tight with a deacon who serves on the village assembly. They agree: We’ll teach that cur to admire a few curls and curves! But no one must know why. At the next assembly meeting the deacon resolves to privately discuss the sinful situation. A deceptive decision is reached to purge the village of evil. Snuffy is discharged in darkness.

Had considering the matter been open, the innocent light tender — who wasn’t even present to hear unknown charges — and anyone else would understand the accusation was groundless. Had adultery been committed, he might have requested his transgressions be hushed. Law allows him that option. But why seek protection from oversight? Had truth been told for all to hear they might agree, or intercede; but are barred access, precluded any usefully informative written accounting to review by the self-aggrandized assembly.

Dismissal destroys the lamplighter’s reputation. His wife divorces him and takes their children to Toledo. His wick extinguished, the man becomes a drunkard.

A year later a constable stops to slake his thirst at a little girl’s lemonade stand. He gives her a dime, a tender smile, and a gentle pat on the head. Mother hovers at the kitchen window aghast. She doesn’t like the constable — he wrote her sister a speeding ticket once. So mother calls a neighbor, who calls her minister, who calls the deacon, who calls an emergency meeting of the assembly. Once behind closed doors, false witness is borne. Villagers hear only slander. The deacon’s cousin’s corner tavern profits nicely.

The Party’s Over

The first time I heard “It’s My Party” was on a radio spot called “Make it or break it” in 1963. I dialed and dialed and finally got through to tell the disc jockey “Make it!” It made it like 58 to 2 and went on to become #1. I signed up to be among the first of her fan club members. Over the years I’ve collected every record she ever made – and some of those were difficult to find.

Lesley Gore died this morning.

I flew to Philadelphia into the wall of Hurricane Isabel to see her perform in Howell, NJ. It was spectacular, something I’d always dreamed: to see her live in person. But the hour was late when she finished and the park was shut down before I could approach for an autograph. At least I got to see her. And take a couple pictures.Howell B3

 

I wasn’t able to buy a coffee mug from her souvenir selection, but I got that one. Wasn’t she beautiful?

Howell 9-20  14a

Anyone in the audience would believe she was singing right to them and them alone. They’d be right.

A few years later, Lesley came to a little club in Ann Arbor. I frantically ran for tickets – as I said, it was a very small club, seating was limited, and sold out in a day. But I got one. Front row. Ten feet away. What a thrill. I had to say good night to my blind date, so I was the last one in line to meet the star. She was a darling in person. I thanked her from the bottom of my heart – which was right about eye-level as she stood – for all the joy she’d given to so many for so long. “Yes, it’s love that goes on forever, forever, for ever, and never, never dies…”

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Thank you for all the joy, dear heart. You were, and always will be, my secret love…

Where’s My Oscar?

The Reverend Al is going to Hollywood. There’s a controversy going on out there over the finalists nominated for best actor, best actress, and best director. They’re all white. Al labels the lack of diversity appalling, so he’s called an emergency meeting – an emergency meeting! – with a task force – “a task force no less –  comprised of who knows who, to discuss possible action around the Academy Awards. Action probably means a picket line, or a demonstrative outcry. Maybe it means the indignation of an appeal to the Supreme Court to pick a winner from a more fairly chosen few. Whose choice? Again, who knows? But a good threat always achieves a generous measure of publicity. It’s almost as entertaining as judging charisma. And the award for best character in a pathetic role goes to….

Character does not necessarily imply a person.

According to “The Hollywood Reporter,” the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ ceremonies this year are being widely criticized. Widely? Pretty broad term. Such unintentional exclusions of skin color in the big three categories has happened only once in the last twenty years. Clearly then, it must be bias this year – what else could it be? Affirmative distinction – perhaps we do need a task force: they can decide.

Out of hundreds of performers, selections are culled to just a few. Happens every year. Happens about everything. Awards are about excellence. Not everyone can deliver even a fifth, a fourth, or a third place accomplishment. Do runners-up deserve an “exceptional, almost-crowning glory achievement category?” It’s about best; it’s not about black.

Al? Who would you deem racially qualified to be included on your own list of preferences?

 “Selma” – a highly acclaimed film the Reverend defines as a “Black movie” – made the short list for best picture. Not best black picture, best picture. Period. It’s a good one, maybe a great one. It isn’t the only one. Judging which is “as good as,” “better than,” or “best in category” isn’t divisive. Ballots are counted. There can only be one winner.

God help us if Al’s favorite – whatever production that might be – doesn’t triumph. What an outrage that would become.

Maybe everybody on the planet – even the Reverend – should get a statue. His trophy performance of racism surely merits some kind of recognition.

The Platypus

It was early autumn in Kilcoy and Adelle was excited about wearing her new pale yellow cotton dress with the white lace collar to Easter Sunday services down in D’aguilar with Gammy Ruth. The yellow accentuated her bright cerulean blue eyes and bronze curls, Adelle thought, gazing in the mirror at her fourteen-year-old reflection. She did a little spin, gleeful at the way the skirt billowed above her knees. Her little sister Bethany turned up her pug nose in disgust. Why’d anybody want to be a teenager? she wondered with a certain irritation, knowing she’d have to become one herself some day – no matter how hard she’d try to avert it. The short-cropped brown-haired, cornflower blue-eyed tomboy of ten turned, her head bobbling in disbelief: Adelle was going to the dingoes for certain; that was all there was to it and Beth was sad.

She was sad because only last December it had still been Adelle – a barefooted girl in dungarees, cuffs rolled calf-high – who was her constant companion on those summer afternoons going walkabout along the creek in Silky Oak Park. You don’t wade around in frilly frocks foraging for freshwater yabby. You go to dances in dresses. You flirt on the playground without knowing why. Beth shuddered at the notion; she felt the chill of losing her best friend – Lord! there’d be boys coming around this winter, no doubt – and there wasn’t anybody else to fill that empty place. It was disgusting. It was unavoidable. Adelle was turning insufferable as surely as the leaves were withering, and she couldn’t help it. Beth couldn’t save her. Maybe Jesus could save her while they sat in the sanctuary with Gammy Ruth, but even that seemed unlikely. Beth had tried prayer to no avail. No one answered, and Adelle was sprouting breasts faster than a ‘roo can run. Beth stomped out of the bedroom and hurriedly fled for the front door.

She didn’t make it in time. Gammy Ruth had arrived and was climbing the porch steps. There was no escape. Bethany was greeted with a grandmotherly smile; smothered in a thick stink of matronly perfume; taken gently, but firmly, in hand; dragged back to the bedroom; and pried into a starched white blouse and charcoal-gray cross-strapped pinafore. Bethany sneered at Adelle – who was oh-so too much enjoying the spectacle all the while – and stared sidelong at Gammy Ruth in utter consternation. It was futile to struggle against the gristle of Gammy.

“Now you girls stays put here pretty and primp,” Gammy directed, “whilest I go fetches a surprise from truck,” and she waddled out. She returned carrying two large round boxes with purple bows and inside each was a brand new bonnet with pink ribbons. Beth wanted to die right there. As if it weren’t bad enough to be all gussied up like a cut-out cardboard doll displayed on a tissue-paper flowered float in the dreaded Easter parade, there had to be hats, too. Even worse – oh Lord, take me now! – these hats were identical! Beth felt suddenly faint. It was the most dreadful morning of her entire life.

Paw was strolling in from the field when the three departed for church. A widower, he preferred the open sky to steeples and pews; he held little faith – and less patience – in preachers’ sermons. Nevertheless, out of respect for his late wife’s wishes, he allowed his daughters to be carted off twice a year by Gammy Ruth for questionable lessons about debauchery and benign (he hoped) attempts at unnecessary salvation. “Only them that knows what Sin is can commit it,” Gammy Ruth insisted, paraphrasing (unknowingly inverting) something written by some Irish-American Southern U.S. author she’d read once and probably shouldn’t have. Paw took no stock in such contrary foolishness, and quietly led the girls astray into Nature at every possible turn to protect them from the banal influences of clergy. He deemed such treks enough to counterweigh the credo of guilt so rife in the Word. The girls, especially Bethany, could see their way clear to fend for themselves beyond that. But, just to be on the safe side now that Adelle was shaping out, he’d thought maybe a little shaping up might not be a bad idea… just in case.

He waved to the girls as Gammy’s old truck sputtered past, backfiring out the drive and down the dusty road toward D’aguilar. Beth waved back in desperation, eyes pleading for rescue. It was no use: it was Easter. One can but implore forgiveness and beseech that sunset arrives early.

The morning was hot, the parade intolerable, the bonnet stiff and uncomfortable for Beth. Sunday school proved tedious and she resisted redemption of her miserable soul with all the tenacity of a Tasmanian devil. Adelle’s attention was diverted by the prying eyes of two boys; both seemed intent upon the goffered flounces at the bodice of her new dress. She beamed at the attention while she feigned indifference. Gammy Ruth scowled and harrumphed disapproval. All attempts to free the sisters of their innocence with teachings of resurrection met with failure. Gammy’s assertions foundered; the pastor’s message fell short; the boys would have their own shot another time, away from congregations and termagants.

When services finally concluded, and effusive appreciations were showered upon the rectors, Gammy Ruth joined several other ladies at picnic tables serving afternoon tea with Lamingtons. Adelle attended to slicing Pavlova topped with kiwi slices and distributing napkins, all the while keeping within sight of the lads who continued their furtive glances from not too afar, but just enough to allow swift retreat. Bethany scurried away to play on swings and slides. It was at the teeter totter she met Debra Hutchins for the first time, and the issue of Adelle’s advancing womanhood faded from her concern. Bethany had found a new best friend.

Debra was of similar age and size. She sported a fawn-shaded ponytail, a truly button-like round nose, gray-green oval eyes that sparkled whenever she blinked above her soft twin dimples, and a mere rosebud of chin. There was a certain charm about her, offset by a boisterous snort whenever anything struck her as funny, which was just about everything. An orphan, she had just recently arrived from Perth to live with a maiden aunt, Mathilda, near Stony Creek, midway between Kilcoy and D’aguilar. Their encounter seemed as though ordained. Both Debra’s aunt and Gammy Ruth noticed the immediate connection between the girls, and struck up their own conversation while sharing the contents of a full pot of Madura tea with lemon myrtle.

The women were immediately as comfortable with one another as the girls, and they agreed Gammy would take Debra home with Bethany for the afternoon. They waved the youngsters over to ask if they’d like to do that and both were eager to the point of jumping, bouncing and giggling uncontrollably. Debra could change into some of Bethany’s play clothes, Gammy suggested, and Aunt Mathilda might stay for supper when she came to fetch her niece – if she were so inclined. Gammy had ulterior motives concerning Paw; they would find each other fascinating, she thought, (without mentioning attractive) and so it was settled. Beth and Debra rushed off to collect Adelle.

By five o’clock Bethany had taken Debra exploring all along the turbid water of Kilcoy Creek from Anzac Park to Hopetoun Fields hunting for blue yabbies. The crayfish proved elusive, but they’d captured three good-sized ones and planned to boil them for supper. The April autumn light was growing smoky in the low west; the girls began to backtrack toward the farm. They stopped suddenly at the sound of splashing. A shadow rose from the water, rolled beneath the surface again, then emerged onto the far bank and scampered into the grass. Another lay prone and motionless on the mud.

Debra thought it was a beaver. Bethany said no, they didn’t have beavers in Queensland. A big snapping turtle then, except it had fur on its flat back instead of a shell, so it couldn’t be that. Besides, the snout was all wrong: it resembled a duck, but there were no feathers. The second one, that had lain motionless, abruptly jumped and disappeared into the murk. They didn’t see the creatures again – although they waited, spying from behind a bush for safety – and after a long delay into dusk they decided to race home. They ran with no slight reluctance to step too close to the water ever again lest they be seized, and consumed by the loathsome, formidable beast. Paw would know what it was. Paw knew everything about anything that breathed and most of what didn’t.

The yabbies tasted a little muddy, like a black bass hooked in the heat of summer from a brackish lake, but the girls had caught them of their own devices, so they were delicious delicacies nonetheless. Gammy Ruth cleared the dishes; Aunt Mathilda sensed the girls needed some alone time with Paw, so graciously retreated to the kitchen to help with coffee. She nudged Adelle in passing with a gentle elbow to the shoulder. The adolescent didn’t get the hint – what teenager does? Bethany cleared her throat looking sternly at Adelle, who seemed lost in thought about something – or someone. A second a-Hem! sent the elder sister upstairs in a huff. Paw waited patiently; the girls had something on their minds, that much was evident.

“Paw…” Beth whispered. “We seen something today don’t make sense.” Between their shy uncertainties, the unassuming naïveté of youth, and with a tinge of trepidation – and the ladies in the kitchen eavesdropping – the girls described as best they could the strange furry turtle with a flat beaver’s tail. Paw listened, then sat back in his chair with his fingers interlocked atop his head. He smiled knowingly. His eyes twinkled.

“First thing you got to know is, don’t try to pick them critters up,” Paw warned. “The back feet have a fang, with potent venom – for self-protection against wayward children, and their grownups mostly. Otherwise, they ain’t likely gonna bite or go chasing after you. They kind of keep to themselves, solitary-like, leastwise until somebody with a certain… spirit, happens along,” he told them. Paw always knew about these things when it mattered.

“Even then they don’t always reveal their existence,” he added. “So when you see them again – and you will because you already have – just look upon them as… a holy wonder; and behold, for what you girls seen today is the proof and the presence of almighty God.”

Gammy gasped and dropped a saucer shattering to the floor. Paw looked up at the crash, but all he saw – standing next to Ruth with a glow of breathless understanding – was the face of an angel.

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