Big Hands: No Small Feat

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Sometimes the matter before us is best and simply put: a “big hand, little hand” issue. At others, it’s a matter of getting one’s bucks, er-uh ducks all in a row. And even still, it’s occasionally an instance when it’s imperative to simply walk the straight and narrow. Sadly, I once had a co-worker, Fearne, who had issues with all three directives.

One dark winter morning, we had all arrived at the office just before eight to gather in the studio, lounge on upholstery (that none of us could otherwise afford), and enjoy a cup of coffee. Such was our way … to ease into the day, just as we eased into projects or meetings with clients. We would usually share tales of antics from the previous night or perhaps gossip in a “butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth” manner! If we were hard-pressed on a design project, we might discuss work. But, in our hearts and from our own experience, we knew that our workday rarely became substantive until afternoon.

That particular morning, our topic had oddly turned to politics, as we discussed the pending Gore/Bush showdown. We were all liberal in our bent and thus confidently mused on the realities of a Gore presidency. 
 Poor Fearne! She excused herself twice before ten, seemingly to use the “Little Designer’s Den”, which was what we called her bathroom, the Women’s Room. The rest of the staff was relatively male and shared the smaller facility on the far end of the third floor!

The conversation continued in such a manner, well beyond the third cup of java, well past eleven. At that point, Fearne abruptly stood up, pointed to the clock and blurted:
 “Oh my God! Look at the time. My husband will be furious. It’s late; I haven’t fixed dinner; and I didn’t even call!” She grabbed her handbag and scurried to the door, slamming it in her haste.

The rest of us, feeling slightly abandoned and definitely befuddled, looked at each other in amazement. Fearne was always rather ditsy, but this scenario would transcend that explanation. Granted it was abnormally gray outside, but certainly not like that of late night. I glibly suggested that perhaps Fearne had a “little hand, big hand issue” (as I often attempt to ease stress and confusion with feeble humor). To that, Robert replied: “oh, I am certain that Fearne has no such issues with hand size!”


And with that comment, we all proceeded to our desks and began our day … without Fearne.

The next morning, again we gathered as usual. Fearne stopped me by the coffee-maker and apologized for her outburst and swift exit: “Mark, I just can’t smoke pot anymore while I am at work!” That would explain her frequent trips to the “facilities”! I suggested that she tell everyone what happened but she declined. She confided to me that she would rather that we all think she was rather daft than admit to smoking pot publicly. Even if “publicly” meant for the benefit of four extremely liberal gay men.

Regrettably, she did get fired that day. My boss felt that he couldn’t really tolerate such stupidity … and that he could’ve understood if she had been on some medication or alcohol. I didn’t say a word, simply nodding in agreement. Fearne really was inept, I guess.

The irony here, my friends, is that Fearne would a few years later inherit two million dollars and set herself up in what would become a lucrative design business in a tony resort town. We ran into each other a year ago on the steps of a coffee shop at Furniture Market in High Point. I could’ve sworn she was stoned, and still not following a straight path.

Neither of us mentioned that incident that years ago led to her dismissal, although I did look at my watch!

As I left to continue my endless mission of futile showroom-hopping, I did notice that she ducked (or was it “bucked”?) into the Women’s Room. “It’s true. It’s true.”

For discretion’s sake and in fear of networking payback, I shall never reveal the details of a late September afternoon, Fearne, and an unfortunate computer transaction. Upon ringing up three aromatherapy candles for a Mrs. Halstead, she looked at the client squarely in the face and announced: “that will be $7,892, dear.” Fearne neither flinched nor caught her error. But I best not pursue further detail.

(Image: “Arm” by Ruth Marten, 2011.)

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The Real Housewives of Mykonos

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Alas, the tawdry franchise has gone global and now assembles five nubile housemaids in their Helvetic milieu. Each character promises to be even more consumed than the next with both hubris and the reveal of her roots.

In the premiere episode from the creators of “Myth & Order”, the Face of Boe has an unexpected and ageless guest turn as:

Demetria gets caught in flagranti with her sassy and hirsute oracle Del who has warned her of the tragedy of such “complex”misbehavior and errant stray.

Athena, the resident agoraphobe, is ejected curiously from Neiman-Markos, at once turning to the comfort of ouzo and the attention of her TroyBoy.

And Tina, an unscrupulous agent with Century 21BC, welcomes Helena and Melina, new arrivals and latest clients from the suburban safety of the insulated and well-landscaped island of Lesbos, with her special baklava.

Meanwhile the menfolk are neither amused nor bemused, as the “Five” increasingly direct their musings toward each other. In the spirit that indeed no one can ever have too much exposure, the premiere features rumored cameos by Dionysius, Malcolm McDowell, Betty White, and Paris Hilton.

The Real Housewives of Mykonos airs Tuesday nights at 9pm, immediately after “Grecian Idol”.

(Image: “5” by Michael Hutter.”

Whispers in the Crisper: A Perfectionist’s Self-Defense

I have spent the greater part of my life either trapped in the throes of my own perfectionism or indeed wallowing in the wake of those who seem to embrace (if not celebrate) imperfection. Unfortunately, the latter scenario has included lovers, partners, friends, co-workers and perhaps a parent or two. Finicky, obsessive, anally retentive, neat-freaky, compulsive, persnickety … all have been often used to describe me; and not always with fondness of intent and kindness in delivery. Sadly, admittedly, and voiced only in a whisper, I can no longer recall much of my earliest years or else my first mention of “greater part” would certainly be upgraded to “entire”.

Of course, my own analysis bears quite different results. I insist vehemently, although most often in private, that such tidiness is pragmatic, time efficient, and thrifty. A well-organized refrigerator yields fewer jars of moldy green olives; avoids cartons of expired milk; and is never stocked with unnecessary and duplicate, if not triplicate, jars of tasty coarse mustard.

When it is categorized, colorized, and tidily otherwise merchandised, there is little chance that any of its chilly contents will ever turn up as “long lost” or forgotten. In any preferred case, there is significant financial and, consequently, time savings. Further, grocery lists become near obsolete as one becomes more in tune with what is “on hand” just by peeking inside to note gaps or, as in my case, by a quick mental visualization.

The same organization process is true with closets, desk drawers, medicine cabinetry, nightstands, even glove compartments. Less time is required to locate most anything, unless of course one has a partner or spouse, as I do, who subscribes to the other school of thought. Understandably, now that I am fifty-five, it is no longer a preference but, instead, a way of life. It is the endless back-tracking in the behaviors of a “non-believer” that indeed waste time and money. Yet, those non-believers never change. They simply scoff and chuckle at what they call “neurosis” at what I, and my fellow enthusiasts, would simply call correct procedure. Oy.

As a designer both in inclination and by trade, I might plead the aesthetic value of my perfectionism. Bookcases are less-cluttered, with their contents always clustered by type and age, and alined by size and thickness. A three-hundred year old leather-bound manuscript simply isn’t placed beside a paperback copy of “Exodus”. A self-help tome might have issue with sharing real estate with a naughty Chatterly, in spite of its orientation and amorous leanings. And certainly some books and texts serve best from an unmarked and well-secreted box.

Kitchen cabinets are simply more appealing, dramatic, and (YES) efficient if glassware is arranged carefully by type and spices are alphabetized. T-shirt drawers are much more attractive if the t-shirts are all folded the same, correct way … and stacked in deference to color and degree of formality. Even the interior of a dishwasher is less of an eyesore if all the dishes are turned in the same direction and the flatware is separated by type and purpose, with sterling never permitted to co-mingle with stainless. As a child, I interpreted the phrase “like little soldiers” as a badge of honor, worthy of a warm and fuzzy moment.

I think you get my point, my friends, and agree that I plead a worthy argument. Of course, it is a losing one and always has been … at least in my humble world. It surely seems so even with my dear Jon, who consistently makes every effort to give me joy and to acquiesce wherever appropriate, worthwhile, and beneficial. He would argue that it really doesn’t matter where in the icebox that foodstuffs are indeed placed. I counter that world order is compromised if sodas are in the crisper or if condiments are askew.

But I do so detest the shallow argument and now see an alternative wisdom in a revised pragmatism. Now that time passes at such a whipping pace, I now through caution to the wind, label-makers be damned. I shall spend my last few (hopefully) decades just enjoying my life and my loves, though “cringe” may yet become a future “mot du jour”!

However, I shall have no explanation should I revert to ways of my childhood. Those memories seem now forever lost, and no witnesses remain who can attest to my youthful predispositions. I can only pray that my inclinations for such resolve are indeed innate … as I no longer have a back-up plan in place.

 

(Images by Alex Gross)

Agley: Wary of a New Bróg

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Whether it’s today’s tenuous teeter or the promise of a new totter, this weekend will certainly promise a needed intermezzo. This autumnal balancing act yet takes its toll. We quietly seek answers, keep hope well-tucked under our bed pillows, and share in each other’s flexibility of schedule.

There is a lesson to be learned, if only one of ancient parables, midlife follies, or those “best laid plans” of Mr. Burns. Tonight, however, I set aside any search for meaning. The Universe can surely spare us tonight and will urge us back to sport in tomorrow’s late September chill.

Jon has his Sci-Fi and I, some drama that justifies my urges to retreat and hide. Henry reminds me that, somewhere in this latest world of indulgence and demand, there is always an episode of “Law and Order” airing. Such a marathon can heal the wounded psyche, the throbbing flesh, and the whimpering soul. It is those very components that, at week’s welcome end, might very well “gang aft agley!”

Now, if only time could better pace its formidable unfold, and soften its tick. Perhaps, then, we’d have ample hours to ready for October, even in Jon’s beloved parallel universe.

(Image: “Barque” by Zamfir Dumitrescu.)

Dawn’s Last Light

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Long ago and once in Greensboro, I had a friend who had been trying desperately to quit smoking cigarettes. Dawn had tried everything! She tried yoga, hypnosis, various medications, and “low involvement” support groups. What she wasn’t able to do, and this had always been her downfall, was muster even an iota of willpower or determination.

And then one evening, after a rather robust and fulfilling carnal romp with her husband, she lit a mighty Salem. She puffed away in a rather seductive manner as befitting the mood, focusing on lip expressions and smoke formations. Mind you, I wasn’t present and she confessed all to me the following day! What she didn’t notice was that a cinder had strayed, landed on her sheet, and sparked a small fire. Before Dawn was aware of this errant ignition, the smolder had penetrated the sheet, the mattress cover, and finally the mattress itself.

Unfortunately, Miss Dawn and her dutiful hubby slept on a waterbed.

The burn ate through the synthetic casing just enough to weaken its fiber and, naturally, force a leak. A mighty geyser sprung forth … at that very moment. Dawn, in her rather dim yet charming manner, was rather relieved that the water extinguished any potential of further fire. Of course, that was until she realized that the ashes had probably washed into the hallway. The weight of two bodies was further forcing water out with such pressure that, within moments, almost half of the mattress’ filler had been “evacuated”. Dawn and her husband were on a king-sized island … about twenty feet from dry land.

That, my friends, was the day that Dawn knew she finally had to kick the nasty habit and quit smoking once and for all.

Mind you, Dawn’s sense of reason was not necessarily well-developed. After much forethought, she devised what seemed like the ideal solution … for her. She would simply smoke a joint whenever she craved a cigarette. Of course, she wouldn’t sublimate ALL of her nicotine urges in this manner, just the excruciating ones that made her restless and perhaps a little bitchy.

Within a few days, she was smoking nine or ten such hand-rolled delights a day, including one in the morning as she enjoyed coffee and Jane Pauley’s banter. And yet another on the way to work, I am certain!

No one was actually the wiser, except for a few confidants who were privy to her new regimen. Dawn, remember, was already a kooky, rather pixilated woman with a very slow, very Southern drawl. What did change were some of her habits:
She once took rubber bands to her pant cuffs and made harem pants. Sadly, she wore these to her office and was thus admonished.
She lost her car in a shopping center parking lot, took a cab home, and ultimately infuriated her husband. Again, she was thus admonished.
And she started going to lunch at 9:30 each day. She likewise was taking her afternoon break by noon. She not only had gained fifteen pounds within a month, but she had created an endless cycle in which afternoons at work were simply Hell. And it was those times at which she really craved a cigarette.

Poor Dawn! Within a few months, she realized the folly of her strategy to quit smoking. She resumed that awful habit, normal lunch hours, and her previous lifestyle. She was quickly smoking over a pack a day again, having the last one right before going to sleep at night.

But when Dawn and her husband turned off the lights, they would cuddle in their new sleigh bed. Dawn found it finely fitted with a more traditional mattress system, a Serta pillow-top!

Dawn confided in me once that they actually slept more soundly, but that their carnal romps were much less robust than those atop the waterbed.
But she never feared such a flooding again!

And yes, Dawn did finally quit smoking … about a year later when she found that she was pregnant. She never again resumed the habit, at least according to local gossip and reports of the local fire volunteers. That child is now in graduate school. And dear Dawn is president of a thriving software company.

She is also now fully aware that rubberbands are not appropriate accessories, and that harem pants are best worn behind closed and well-secured doors.

 

(Image: “Santa Maria” by Ray Caesar, 2007.)

Last Call at the Bar Nun

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Having relinquished my formative pre-pubescent years to parochial school instruction, perhaps the most authoritative images I can still recall are those of the Daughters of Charity and Sisters of Mercy. While their qualities indeed seemed strained at the time, the humor was always slow to unfold. I was well into my twenties before I was able to ever spin an anecdote about catechism class, the odd and unexplained customs, and the nuns who guarded my innocence. Of course, the more than four decades since I was paroled to public school have culled my memories and softened their edge.

I remember very little of the nuns that taught me … except that they all had steel-reenforced rosary beads, cavernous pockets that held all the booty they confiscated, and extended pointers that snapped like riding crops. Sisters Edward Patricia, Jane Raphael, Mary Joseph, and Mary Patrick each had singular and indelible quirks: distracting twitches, annoying catch phrases, or awkward pronunciations. I can still envision any of them and quickly smile.

Of course, I am forever grateful to these “women of perpetual indebtedness”. They were clearly instrumental in molding the overly obsessive and tidily repressed grammar maven that would permeate my essence yet today.

So if, by twist of fate or turn of providence, this post should find its way to any of those folks who knew me back then, please forgive me. I intend no disrespect. I am simply, at this late night hour, roasting the irony and absurdity in life’s many visuals. I was always one of those “best little boy in the world” types, which I later learned was often code for a certain latency, and would never risk a scold.

My next confession will surely be a doozie!

Meanwhile, if I should regret such a post come the clarity of morning, I will remember Sr Mary Patrick’s practical tips for processing the parochial pangs of guilt and remorse.

(Image: “Dialogue au Carmel” by Clovis Trouille, 1944.)

Channeling Devices

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“He who lives by the remote control shall perish by the remote control!”

That’s how I imagine that archaic less-then-lofty maxim might be scripted today. It might indeed be true even here at Marklewood as Jon, the connoisseur and enthusiast of all devices electronic, indeed cherishes and safeguards his vast collection of clickers. The latest such gadget is, of course, the most complex and offers the greatest features: his I-Phone, as transformed when initializing its new “remote control” application.

This new pseudo-software offers an upgraded manipulation of the more conventional remote’s world. Jon can change channels on the television while he is enjoying a Gruyère, sausage, and anchovy pizza at Lily’s at Five Points. He can adjust the volume of our bedroom television, while we are merrily tooling along the expressway to Chapel Hill. And he can determine what program I am watching while I am at home waiting for him … and he is dawdling at the market, playing with his I-Phone.

Admittedly, there are many practical aspects of this new application. He can arrange for recording an episode of “Doc Martin” while we’re caught up in traffic. He can scan the internet for information about a film, before changing to the requisite channel. And Jon is able to re-start a program, even after it is two-thirds through its broadcast.

So one might laud this groovy new remote that is trapped inside a sleek Apple-esque exterior. It does improve life a bit, gives Jon hours of joy and activity, and is free. Of course, there is a method to my musing and you, my friends, might suspect my intent. Okay. Okay. Since a reveal makes me the messenger (and neither perpetrator nor victim), I shall humbly confess upon Dear Jon’s behalf:
Late at night, Jon nestles in bed with the five indoor pusses: Pfluffer, Hermione, Henry, Claudja, and Sam. He has his sleepy-time provisions methodically arranged on his nightstand. There, in a grid of sorts are his bedtime medications, a glass of Silk, a glass of juice, a small berry dish of crackers … and his I-Phone, plugged into its charger. Next to Jon’s left thigh and resting atop the duvet and next to Henry are three remote controls: one for the television, one for the stereo system through which the TV sound is channeled, and the “universal” one that is supplied by Dish TV. Imagine that scenario with Jon propped against a sea of pillows while he blissfully watches “Golden Girls” or “Star Trek”.

Then at some point past midnight, I finally come to bed and squeeze under the covers and defying the obstacle course created by five sleeping pusses. I prop my head up and try with all my might to appreciate whatever Jon is watching but, after a few long minutes, turn to Jon and plead: “may we please watch something else?”

At that prompt, Jon ignores the remote controls that are inches away from his left hand. He stretches to reach his nightstand, grabs his spectacles, and procures his phone. He then has to turn the phone on, find the icon for the new application, wait for it to materialize, and then remember how to maneuver the various steps. After perhaps, ten minutes, he changes the channel from 127 to 132. He then returns the glasses and phone to their cradles. Meanwhile the three solely dedicated remotes remain unused and between us.

This has indeed become a component of our late night regimen. Of course, I rarely ever suggest that we change channels a second time, regardless of the programming or any disinterest I might have. I do, however, laugh. Mind you, I am never laughing AT Jon, but with him. I suspect, after the lights are finally turned off, those three remotes are laughing too.

What a cruel and ironic master this technology has become!

(Image: “The Angel of Innocent things” by Ray Caesar, 2003.)

A Wednesday Mull on Wednesdays Past

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Wednesday has always been my least favorite weekday, rooted in a summer swelter that rushed my parents from enjoying “Carousel” at Chapel Hill’s Varsity Theater, back in ’56. My mother spent the next full day in flailing labor. Then at a moment past midnight, I finally emerged, dazed and confused, and overwhelmed with questions. “Who are these skinny people?” “Why am I still naked?” And “what ever happened to that suddenly charming, misunderstood, and freakishly kindred baby that first appeared on screen as Hal and Margy were scurrying down the aisle?” 

I was born at 12:01 on a Wednesday, a day that no two people were ever able to recount with the same details and zeal. My mother, an excruciatingly reserved, demure, and proper woman of  twenty-five, endured 27 hours of labor without so much as an unkind word or expletive. My father, a confident and boldly dramatic man, likely slipped into endless German ravings and commentary, as I’d later find that he did whenever he got just a little too excited. By Saturday, we were quietly at home as I enjoyed my new crib and new-found privacy. I imagine that very day would’ve been a far more appropriate day to enter the world.

Yet I was born on an uneventful midweek day, Wednesday. Over the next fifty-seven years, I would endure over 2900 of them. All of the momentous chestnuts of my life have been on other days: weddings, funerals, graduations, parties, great first dates, lousy first dates, and Casey Kasem’s “American Top Forty” radio show. Wednesday was always a day on which I was cramming my energies into finishing a school project, staying late at work to meet a deadline, or compulsively planning the most elaborate of details for a dinner party.

 I can’t really recall any particular Wednesday, although with prodding and time, I might. There was one particular one, back in 1993, on which I went to sleep on a Tuesday and awakened on a Thursday. That medically-supervised and morphine enhanced stay in the hospital was, I am certain, blissful for both my sub-conscious and alter ego. They never, however, addressed such an admission.

So here I sit, on yet another Wednesday at my ever comfortable and increasingly dusty desk. The day has naturally been uneventful, although my “To Do” list is teeming with unfinished household missions. Surely, there will be nothing on television this evening to pique my interest. Every time there is indeed a compelling program that airs on Wednesday, it is promptly cancelled by the network; case in point: “Pushing Daisies”.

Mind you, I am being neither negative nor a fatalist, just an observant pragmatist. Wednesdays are, in my humble estimation, the best of “bridge” days. They link Tuesday to Thursday, both of which are days that are infinitely more interesting with historically more attractive TV viewing options.

I am, however, now fifty-seven. Time seems to pass, unravel, or tick away rather quickly, so Wednesdays are no longer consumed with dread. “Carousel”, however, is! For quite a while it was my parent’s favorite film as it was linked to the birth of their first-born. At age ten, when I finally first viewed it, I suggested that my parents had indeed exited the theater so quickly that night to escape the film’s idiocy, dripping sweetness, and insipid ploys. They rolled their eyes, as they often did that year, and Hal sang “My Boy Mark” in German, gently adapting Mr. Hammerstein’s original lyrics. I’ll always remember that night as my parents and I all laughed but for different reasons. Of course, it was a Friday night.

Turnabout is fair play, but Wednesdays still “suck apples through a chain link fence!”

(Image: “Royal Bath” by Martin Wittfooth, 2022.)

Over-Pruning the Family Tree

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The other day I toyed with the idea of updating the family tree my parents had so diligently compiled and outlined when I was a wee lad. But after a week’s consideration and an evening of brainstorming, I allowed myself to become distracted and simply retired the notion altogether. A great deal has transpired in the almost four decades since my parents divorced and that loving project thus became a painful reminder of broken vows and severed relationships.

The past few years have found me at home most days contemplating a litany of issues, recrimination, and withered dreams. While Jon was nestled in his bed convalescing and usually improving, I quietly either sat downstairs and read; explored the world via my anemic browser; or just drifted into obsessive thought while I engaged in the few household missions that seemed worthwhile.

It was at that time that my consciousness streamed rather specifically to creating a 21st century family tree. With Jon so sick, mortality seemed a constant issue. Further, I kept thinking how in my immediate family, there would one day be a morning on which only my nieces would remain to carry such a torch of lineage and ancestry. And I felt certain their memories would be sketchy, inaccurate, and rather gapped. I located a fresh legal pad, filled my trusty fountain pen from my old Mark Cross days, and sat at my desk to begin. Thus began chapter 1017 in my own litany of “best laid plans”!

Before long, I had gone back at least three generations, finding that a pencil with an eraser would have been the tool of preference. There had been at least ten re-marriages, not including those unions of mine that felt like marriages but were neither entitled nor simply thus titled. My mother’s family was a definite matriarchy, ironically producing only female progeny and surname bedlam.

The Siebers were primarily more patriarchal, allowing that surname to rather “colonize” the phone listings. The rough result after my first session was a tree that looked like it had either succumbed to some dysfunctional blight or been pruned my some cock-eyed woodsman. My father’s side was teeming with branches while my mother’s side, although tidily catalogued, was in serious need of genealogical Miracle Grow.

I placed the legal pad in the lower left drawer of my desk, which to a right-handed person often becomes the catch-all for forgotten papers … and went downstairs for a smoke. As I stared out the windows, I thought of my friends who were as close as siblings and how, by all right, deserved a branch or at least a leaf’s mention. I imagined the faces of relatives that sadly died before my nieces were born: my mother, for instance, died when my oldest niece Sara was yet a toddler and was now known to her only by name.

My well-intended family tree project had become a challenge, quickly associated ever further with lost relationships, or those that never were. And I had become melancholy over so many aspects of the daunting task. That, my friends, is where the “aft gang agley” adage surely becomes relevant.

Perhaps, ‘tis best to pursue some form of oral tradition … perhaps over a series of dinners with Sara, Sophie, and Aubrey. I owe that much to those that were long gone before the girls were even conceived. I also need to pay tribute to the Moores, Cavanaughs, Estrellas, Longs, Neubergers, and, yes, even the Liddy family.

Sadly, the concept of the family tree has become fodder for middle school projects and independent studies. It’s likely time I re-open that drawer again! Sense of family, as my grand parents knew it, is fleeting.

(Image: “Family Tree” by Norman Rockwell, 1959.)

Casting Thursday

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If I were indeed a week’s day, I would hope to be born or created as a windy Thursday. As I delight in championing the forgotten, overlooked, or under-appreciated, that day perhaps most readily meets my humble and simple requisites. Except for Tuesday, the others are the subject of countless songs; the choice date for special events or simple fête or frequent topic at the water-cooler. And, of course, that upstart Tuesday has had a slight surge, what with actress Tuesday Weld (human, “real” or otherwise)), Cat Stevens’ proclamatory anthem “Tuesday’s Dead”, or Wimpy’s trademark bartering for burgers.

Poor pitiful, unheralded Thursday! For most Western, although not necessarily civilized, folks, it is just another day … one of television line-ups and preparation for Friday. If indeed “every dog has its day”, then by all means, let it be mine … and not for sake of the underdog either.

I would be a proud Thursday: a day on which sprites dance around Marklewood’s ancient pines. A day on which I shall always wear a hat or a cap, but (mind you) never a bonnet. A day on which are meals are celebratory. A day on which notices from creditors remain unopened and similar phone calls, unanswered. A day that always commences with proclamations of love. And a day that always concludes with Red Velvet cake and vanilla bean ice cream.

I have always, in my own odd and eccentric manner, loved Thursday. It has been a day of denouements, footnotes, breathers, and randomness. And tonight, I shall open the door and release Thursday from the Green Room … as Friday thus becomes the “morning after”.

Turnabout is always fair here at Marklewood. I am Thursday ; Hear me roar. I shall maintain for many, many gusts.

(Image: “Les Masques et Les Personnages de la Comedie Italienne” by Umberto Brunelleschi, 1914)

The Good Neighbors

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In my over three decades since those grilled cheese college days, I have moved nearly a dozen times. With each new address, I rarely even met my neighbors, let alone made an effort to know them. That never bothered me: I was raised in a family of complicated drama and tormenting dysfunction. Communing with the “folks to either side” always meant relinquishing privacy and risking the reveal of damning family secrets. Neighbors seemed created simply to water plants and feed pets while on vacation or fill in gaps at holiday festivities. Of course, there is an exception.

In 1993, I returned to Greensboro, where I had spent my formative years … at least since age ten. I had been long gone since my young adulthood, and was at my once home. I was emotionally ravaged, nearly broke once again, and at yet another crossroads. However, I am (if nothing else) both scrappy and a survivor … in practical and creative measure. By that Christmas, I was general manager of an extremely popular and eclectic eatery, involved in a meaningful and rewarding relationship, and relearning how to receive the joys of the Universe. It was that very night, the grandest of holiday eves, that Michael asked me to move in with him. I did. And that’s where this neighborly tale begins, my friends.

Our neighborhood was a relatively Bohemian, diverse, and well-maintained enclave of primarily “twenties” homes. The street itself was sloped, lined with magnificent but overly-needy Pin Oaks, with a graduating view of the downtown skyline. The panorama at the street’s bottom was a lush and willow-dotted park, best suited for frolicking pups, children’s ball games, and the occasional festival. Our house was on a corner, leaving us really only one other family of any consequential proximity: Richard, Libby, and their daughter Bailey.

Michael was already friendly with the Smiths, but I was obviously new to the dynamic. Perhaps, because we were always having cocktails, entertaining, or reading mail on our porch (while they were engaged similarly on theirs), it was a natural and quick transition for me. By spring, we often shared pertinent details and intimacies of our lives as well as our latest gardening efforts. It seemed as though most everyone in Westerwood took spring plantings extremely seriously. Richard and I were no exception. Libby and Michael certainly appreciated our efforts, frequently assisting, but clearly had to acquiesce to our compulsive, creative, and sometimes convoluted craft.

Although Richard and I probably spent more time “communing” in our yards, it was probably Libby whom I really got to know. It was easy. While Richard seemed always pensive, reserved, and methodical, his wife was what I call a “gentle Type A”! Our outward sensibilities, love of witty naughty banter, and appreciation of pop and social cultures were beyond aligned. Further, truth be told, we were both more likely the household “diva” type to our jokingly “long-suffering” and patient husbands. I jokingly called her “Libbatory”, in that Southern manner that Michael savored and she despised. At his most casual, Richard was always “Dr. Smith”!

It wasn’t long before the Smiths became more than neighbors as we surreptitiously peeled any remaining layers of formality. They survived our various stays in the hospital, family dramas (usually in-law-inspired), and overall eccentricities, as we survived theirs. Of course, they managed to stay healthy, trading hospital stories for those of dealing with a pubescent, increasingly hormonal daughter … a situation that easily trumps most.

Our house occasionally became a haven, a safe house for teenage rebellion or similar squabbles … as I came to Libby rather often to report the latest misbehavior of Michael’s judgmental and often ill-intended family. Before long any family get together seemed hollow without the Smiths. Our lives had become gently intertwined. The phenomenon didn’t even dissipate when Michael and I had a picket fence built enclosing the front yard. We could rest our coffee cups on a picket while we chatted or, more often: Libby could balance her red wine glass upon that whitewashed apex, as I did my customary evening highball.

Life had definitely started to approach perfection. By the winter of 2000, Michael and I had renovated parts of the house with our slightly odd “stamp”; I was in my fifth year as the manager of a successful design and retail firm; and we had phenomenal next-door neighbors … the latter I had always viewed as some television-era quasi-suburban myth. Needless to say, change again loomed. The almighty forces of the Universe sat upon their billowy thrones, wreaking rhetorical havoc with our lives. Michael became extremely ill.

Shortly after the Bushes held their White House-warming fete, his doctor phoned me with the prognosis. I had to tell Michael, because his doctor was located three counties away and time was now a crucial factor. His brain was rapidly succumbing to tumors which would ultimately rob him of everything, every iota of cognition, and eventually life itself.

Over the next six months, the Smiths were there as Michael lost his ability to speak, remember, drive, dress, bathe, or do most anything that required cognition on any level. Naturally, Michael and I became increasingly isolated as he deteriorated, but I always knew that Libby and Richard were but a few feet away. I felt safer and less alone. Then Michael died.

Life was far from idyllic. I lost my job, my employer folded and moved to Charlotte, and I lost the house. Michael had refinanced our home when he was first sick and the mortgage was three times what I could afford. He didn’t have health insurance and the house no longer had equity. And I didn’t have Michael.

That next summer, many of my neighbors chipped in and helped me sort, pack, and load nine rooms and two lives of furniture, collections, and artwork into a large moving van. I was on the cusp of a spontaneous move to Raleigh.

As I drove up my street that balmy night, I sobbed and gasped like a young child being sent away. I knew what a blessing the Smiths had been to me. In retrospect, I figure the Fates knew that I was going to need such people in my life.

Today, order has once again been restored to my life and I rarely see them. But each day as I recount that last summer in Greensboro, I naturally think of them. I now view them as the only neighbors I have ever really had. The others, both before and since, were just “folks next door”!

If Dr. Smith should perchance read this humble recollection, I trust he’ll forgive my syntax and narrative digression. I fear he is aware of neither my disdain for proofreading, nor my alternate moniker … “Prometheus Unposted”!

(Image: “Tea Shop” by Patrick Hughes, 2012.)

Train of Thought

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1992 was undoubtedly the year that thrust the most change into my unsuspecting arms, forcing me to react in a series of knee-jerks and whimpers. Coach Leathergoods had dissolved my division with only a few days’ notice. The anti-Christ had finally crushed any foolish glimmer of reconciliation and we, to the relief of all of our friends, opted to “opt out”. And I took my meager severance package, packed several leather suitcases with clothing for all occasions, weather conditions, and sudden twists in fashion, and headed to Fort Lauderdale.

I’d like to say that I chose my destination in search of excitement, adventure, and to determine if the “boys really were there” but, years later, I can freely admit: my sister and her family lived there and I just needed to regroup and chill for an unspecified period. My nieces were one and three at the time (the third was yet born) and Polly and I both felt that the change and the vitality of such youth might just rejuvenate my lost spirit.

Although I do detest flying, I decided to take the train to give me ample time to meditate, and harness my intense emotionality. I wasn’t devastated by any means although my life seemed a-shambles. One month earlier, I had been traveling all over the country for work, supervising new store openings. I was fixing elaborate dinners six nights a week and usually hosting some creative, meticulous, and themed dinner party on the seventh. And I spent my free time cultivating gardens or exploring my next home improvement project at our home in Washington. However when I boarded the Southern Crescent on that balmy August night, all of that had disappeared from my reach. I was some clean-shaven yuppie hobo wearing Girbaud jeans, a Tag-Hauer chronograph, and round leather glasses. My world had imploded but at least I had a ticket.

I spent the first three hours of the trip in the club car which was fortunately deserted. Walkman firmly in place, I attempted various New York Times crossword puzzles while trying to prevent my cocktail from vibrating off the table. Instead, I soon found myself chain-smoking, imbibing rather enthusiastically, and finding some obscure element of sorrow in every song. When the Moody Blues’ “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” played, my reserve collapsed … and I simply started sobbing. That midnight drama, of course, scared the young couple on the other end of the club car right back to their assigned seats, leaving me completely alone to wallow in my “issues”.

Fifteen minutes later, I was re-composed and thumbing through my trusty book of crosswords when a young conductor came in and sat at the table next to mine. He was, as we say in the South, “hot as a biscuit”. He was swarthy, a few years younger than me, and obviously feeling chatty. Before I finished that cocktail, we had exchanged our nutshell bios and were actually engaged in meaningful conversation. Naturally, I amended some of the details of my life to make them more generic and mainstream. I discreetly alluded to the break-up, suggesting that it might’ve been with a woman, carefully avoiding certain details. We talked for a few hours and I eventually went to my cabin, which at its broadest, seemed a full foot shorter than I was tall.

I awakened the next morning, stiff and aching from the fetal position, made both mandatory by my quarter’s logistics as well as oddly comforting by my emotional duress. I readied myself for the day, my arrival in Fort Lauderdale, and the outpour of familial questions. By noon, I was bolstered with coffee and somewhat alert when I encountered the young conductor from the night before. We chatted for a few minutes when he was summoned to the clock. He politely said good-bye, wished me well, and said (if circumstances were different), he would want to invite me to dinner, as he was going to be in town for a few days for a holiday layover. He knew that it was presumptuous to mention it and that I obviously wasn’t gay, but that he did enjoy our connection. Flattered and caught off guard, I simply had to let that one go. The Universe seemed far too complicated to offer any explanation and to accept his invitation. But, yes, he was that hot and er uh fetching!

The Southern Crescent pulled into the Broward County Amtrak station just past one that afternoon. The non-descript brick box looked more like a carport with a small ticket office: a most inauspicious of inaugural sites for my visit. My sister, her husband, and little Sara and Sophie gathered around me and, for a short time, I completely forgot about the anti-Christ.

Scott suggested we take the long way home so I could see the newly-renovated beachfront and certain city highlights. I doubt I heard much of what anyone really said though. I just stared out the window, reflecting on the previous two days and the sudden turn of events. There I was in a new town, unemployed, single again, and left with only those memories I could stuff into my luggage. I abandoned all of my expectations in Washington. I stuffed any hope that I still mustered into a locker at Union Station.

Yet, I was still willing to give life another chance. I casually threw the dice into the air and when they finally hit the Florida dirt, life was rather different. I was the manager of a large art gallery, quite accustomed to wearing shorts everyday, and deeply involved with an Icelandic college student. My third niece Aubrey was born. Life was different for me than it had ever been, neither happier nor better … just not what I had ever envisioned.

Little did I then know that I would run into that young train conductor again that following June. I guess even the Fates have their “train sets”, enjoying the mischief, irony, and the unexpected. And if I am truly their acquiescent pawn, I thank them for the resilience … and my view from the caboose.

(Image: “Train Trip II” by MistakePS, DeviantART.)

Week-Hearted

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Sundays at Marklewood have always been those days that most embrace habit, custom, and regimen … usually by practice and often by design. I relish those customs, from my early rise cloaked in quiet and solitude to that last hour spent catching up on “Eastenders”. I savor my Sundays. But today was unlike any in quick recall. As I said, I love the day but, today, my fondness was for its surprise and its easy break of the mold.

I awakened today just past eight. Jon and Pfluffer were already in the office, in their second hour of checking email. The aroma of hearty java wafted through me, if only from the moment’s relive of life as it used to be. Jon hasn’t enjoyed coffee since last New Years. But the memories brewed with a pungent intensity. Jon and I traded ironic smiles of greetings, each of us knowing that I am usually up at dawn and he, by ten. Our clocks were askew but yet familiar.

The morning proceeded uneventfully, except that Jon had already eaten a hearty breakfast and I was nursing pangs of being made obsolete of my recent duties of clock-tending and bottle-washing. Jon was listening to NPR, foregoing his choice sacred music in lieu of talk and chuckle. There were no solemn hymns nor French horns nor even mention of Fortresses, Mighty or otherwise. It was oddly divine.

As the next six or seven hours unfolded, I oft found myself pausing with thoughts of such a day in my previous lives:

How, as a small child living in Chapel Hill, I found delight in the occasional relaxing of my bedtime restrictions. The brouhaha over the Fab Four, the antics of Topo Gigio, the crooked smile of Señor Wences … those were the very delights that could made me squeal indeed back in those unspoilt days.  And they were the gems of the eight o’clock hour and, tonight, I longed for them and Sundays nostalgic.

Or how, as I got older, Sundays came to be the day that I scurried through the house catching up on projects and fortifying myself for the week ahead. Busy! Busy! Busy! Even my day of rest was an overwrought orchestration of anticipation, timelines, and occasional dread. An idle moment at once meant waste, quite a credo for one as compulsive as I.

Or how, as recently as last Fall, this day would’ve been just another day … commuting, juggling, and answering to someone else. For a quarter century (yes, that long!), I have always convinced myself that I actually enjoyed working on Sunday: it was technically a shorter version of the grueling weekday and provided a solid jump-start on the upcoming week. Of course, it was years before I realized the obvious: that every day can indeed jump-start the next.

I muddled through the afternoon in such a manner, my friends, stopping every now and then to embrace some memory from a previous life. I visualized Hal and Margy when they were in their prime; My sister when she was a beaming towhead; and when I was a shy lad given to introspection, fantasy, and creative pursuits. Jon essentially napped; me-thinks his body was all askew from the mixed and uncharacteristic signals of the morning. Of course, that prompted me to float from one mental snapshot to another, surfing that cerebral photo album that I dare share with anyone. Except Henry.

That marmalade puss is privy to all those ramblings as he just purrs with understanding or rather tolerance, that most feline of feelings. And then the clock struck 8:00PM and Jon was hungry; the cats were all meowing (and not in unison); and both the dishwasher and washing machines chimed their completed cycles. The Sunday morning games had indeed finally begun and I was unprepared and caught off-guard. I scurried but met everyone’s expectations with a purr or a thank you.

And at 9:00PM, I realized that I actually missed Jon’s sacred music this morning and that it had come to define the day. Rather than look back years from now with a fondness and a warm tear, perhaps it’s best that I savor the day, just as it is.

These ARE indeed the good ole days. Thank you, Ms. Simon. I had to work my music in somewhere if even at the twelfth hour. Although a snowy Sunday, now that would be delicious. I remember one once.

(Image: “A Window or Small Box” by Victo Ngai, 2013.)

Tuesday Mourning Redux

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Like most everyone who was of school age or older, I too will always remember that morning, twelve years ago. True, it was a profound loss of any innocence onto which we collectively had always clung. For me, however, like many parents or folks entrusted with the care of someone precious, that feeling was exacerbated by an inability to shield or protect our loved ones from the phenomenal loss: of life, societal morale, and most traces of ingenuousness. We were all at once jaded, scared, and mortal.
My partner Michael was in his final stages of a dreadful cancer that had ravaged his cognitive abilities, rendering him unable to comprehend, remember, or for that matter, even talk. That morning, as every media outlet turned its focus to the terrorist attacks, I phoned home from work to make certain that the person caring for Michael (while I was at work that morning) shielded him from the television. I then quickly closed the studio, locked the door, and rushed home.

Neighbors had stopped by to discuss the tragic current state of events and had my friend occupied at the door. I greeted everyone in passing and proceeded inside to check on Michael. But, as fate would surely play out, he was standing in the den with the television on and turned to graphic news coverage. Somehow he had accidentally pressed the power button and there he stood, frozen, as CNN aired footage of panicked civilians plummeting to their deaths … choosing such a gruesome death over incineration.

Michael had no understanding of the attack or the various crashes. He no longer had an understanding of the world, nor politics, nor even hatred. He was essentially a 6’3” three year old, terrified by the horrific visual … and unable to turn off the television. It would have been too kind of the Universe to allow him a second mistake with the power control!

I turned off the television and put the clicker out of easy reach. The house was still, except for the silent whimper that had seized this grown man. I held Michael and tried to calm him down, painfully aware that he would never understand the turn of events and the implications and the change that would surely ensue.

About that time, my friend and two neighbors came in, well aware of what had so quickly transpired. They turned their attention to Michael for, at that very moment, he was our charge and priority. Upbeat, they engaged Michael in some menacingly silly “romp and play” that directed his confusion towards the present … companionship, safety, and love. Their forced merriment aptly did the trick as, before long, we were all on the porch eating homemade peach cobbler.

I smoked a cigarette as I realized that sometimes the Universe simply lets us down without warning, justice, or easy fix. Thank God for friends for they give us hope when all else fails.

Michael probably never again had another visual or memory of that morning. He passed away a month later. But for me, the most heart-wrenching memory of that September day was seeing Michael’s terrified and disoriented face as he absorbed that footage. Everything about that day had an inescapable realism — and it was shrouded in death. There were no answers ever to be found, only mourning.

None of us will ever forget.