Dawn’s Early 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.)

The Complexities of Speaking Simple French

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Michael was kind, witty, gentle, and given to endless amusing quirks. He’d wear his tortoise-shell reading glasses at the very tip of his nose and, often, drive the long route home, simply because it was more scenic. And he’d respond often in casual French, usually in idioms or “buzz” phrases. He was neither a scholar, nor French, content with interjecting “Mais oui!” or “Zut alors!” or the beloved catch-all, “Mon Dieu!”

In the summer of 2001, he was quite ill. His disease had robbed him of any cognition — his ability to speak, practical motor skills, and a lifetime of memories and friends. Essentially, all he was indeed able to do was eat and walk, although both activities need qualification here. He no longer sensed any taste, only temperature … and he could no longer chew. Walking was strained because he was somewhat paralyzed on his left side, which meant that he dragged one leg while he held one arm. He had just turned 49, but no longer understood the concept of birthdays or their celebration.

Usually, he was incredibly good-natured and resigned to what was happening, if he indeed had an inkling as to such. His frustrations were many but he was nevertheless easily distracted. You can only imagine, friends, what his days were like: empty and void of an ability to express. I would make him as comfortable as possible and just pray that any torment would stay dormant and that he not be in any pain.

However, one such late August day, Michael was restless. He painfully shuffled from room to room, knocking things over as he’d brush by. He found a tool box, mustered the strength to lift it, and hurled it against a window … breaking the window and scattering nails and gadgetry all over the kitchen tiles. He knocked over lamps, books, mementos, anything within his strained reach. Whether from intention or accident, his anger was spiraling into fury.

I was finally able to calm him down a bit: I held him tightly so he could feel my heartbeat and hear the timber in my voice. I never really knew at what point his understanding of my words stopped, for his stares were ALWAYS empty. But talking at least gave me some hopeful comfort. I gave Michael his afternoon dose of thorazine and prayed that it would soon take effect and his rage, subside.

He followed me into the bedroom where I cajoled him into getting into bed, with my hope that he would soon be able to sleep. After ten minutes or so, he’d close his blue eyes and I would head back to the kitchen to start restoring order to the chaos.

No sooner was I on my knees, scooping nails, he walked in and approached me with a reluctant tremble. I took his hand, led him back to the bedroom, and again was able to get him ready to nap. Again, I waited and then returned to the mounting “clean-up” tasks in the other rooms.

Perhaps, my optimism was unwarranted as we repeated those “steps one-through-three” at least a dozen times. At that point, I got in bed next to him, urging him to just stay still for fifteen minutes. That was all I asked. I felt certainly that was all the time needed for the medicine to calm him enough to grow drowsy and, at last, sleep.

But, no! Fifteen minutes later, he stiffly sat up and started to head into the next room. I was beside myself. The day of frustration, bedlam, and such agony had awakened an anger in me. Before I knew it, I had forgotten my role as a dutiful, compassionate care-giver. I grabbed Michael by the shoulders and just yelled (as if in an unleashed last attempt):

“You need to get some rest, dammit. Stay in bed! What, am I speaking French or something?”

Terrified at my outburst, he looked at me and simply said: “Oui!”

We looked at each other and I held him. I couldn’t cry for he’d have no comprehension of “tears!” I just held him, assuring him: “I love you, Michael!” He quietly replied: “love”. I might’ve imagined an intonation but desperately needed to hear it.

Somehow we both understood that moment: each with so much to feel, to express, yet couldn’t.Those were the only two words he spoke at all that day. On many a day, he uttered none at all. And with those two simple words (seven letters, total), he was able to finally sleep as I regained my focus and hope … for that very long day.

“Oui.”

That, my friends, is the moment of joy or hope that I offer you today. This anecdote was never intended to incite melancholy or sorrow, but rather to emphasize the power of a singular instant. And this instant with Michael was both timely and wondrous as it gave us each a craved morsel of hope, dignity, and humor.

Michael passed away eight weeks later, surrounded by the dearest of friends and loved ones. He wasn’t scared, but I don’t think he knew why.

(Image: “Loud Sing the Hours of Eden” by Joe Sorren, 2010.)

With Neither Maize Nor Wattle

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I was reminiscing this afternoon and sharing with Henry my most memorable Thanksgivings. It was a broad task for sure. But I tried.

Best Food? 2001 at my sister’s. No one can best her Prime Rib and Brisket. And that year, we also had turkey and oysters and a lot of people.
I was extremely emotional because Michael died just a month earlier.

Most Fun Thanksgiving? 1989 at the house I shared with the anti-Christ. The day stands out because everybody was happy and mingled well. We had moved in two days earlier and I was up all night organizing all our new kitchen. The weather was perfect.

We danced, listened to music, hung out on the deck, and threw a frisbee with our sheepdog.
After folks started to leave, three particular friends, my sister and her husband each fixed a cocktail and secured a seat for ROUND 2.

Most Forgettable?  1974 at my mother’s. My Father insisted on coming over. They had divorced 8 months earlier and he was living in Dallas and in a relationship that he rekindled from 1951. He showed no interest in my sister’s first year in Middle School or my freshman year at UNC. As soon as our utensils were gathered on plates, Polly and I left. It was all just so wrong

Most exotic Thanksgiving? 1958 in DC, but my mother was in Minnesota where she worked for Eugene McCarthy.

Legend has it that my father invited all of his friends who were from Germany, Italy, Kenya, and other points in between. After cocktails, everyone went into the dining room to eat. I was sound asleep on the sofa in the livingroom.

I woke up at some point … and crawled and toddled all around the room. As I advanced I looked into each glass and ate the garnishes. I happily dined on mainly cherries from Manhattans and olives from Martinis. I also finished each drink.

When dinner was over, my father and guests returned to the livingroom and found me sound asleep. Okay. Okay. I had passed out on the previously mentioned sofa.

The rest of the day unfolded as one would expect. Yes, my mother was livid when my Father confessed about a month later.

Finally, my most earnest and better prioritized Thanksgiving? 2011. Jon was recovering from a life threatening illness and I had recently had yet another heart attack.

Life had quickly become fragile. Nonetheless, we celebrated our union and found that, yes, we actually could afford a leg of lamb.

It is now four years later. Jon is much better but ridden with ailments of being almost 70. I’m still waiting for a heart. Henry is almost 13. He is your typically lazy tom but would even “turn pussy tricks” if it meant an entire turkey slice might fall to the floor. Since I am “projecting” with this post, we’ll just say He hopes that the turkey slice cascade to the floor. And that Claudja and Hermione are watching some football game.

We will share Thanksgiving with: my sister and her gentleman suitor, my niece Sara and her husband, my niece Sophie and her husband, and my niece Aubrey. My sister’s ex-husband, his wife, and young son will join us.

I will not try to understand the unfortunate inclusion of the latter nor will I let it interfere with the joyous part of the day. It may very well be the last time we are all together.

I am confidant to assume that we’ve each already endured a questionable, perhaps grossly dysfunctional Thanksgiving.

“Receive” will thus be Thursday’s Groucho Marxist “Word of the Day”. (К сожалению об этом.) I intend the word “receive” to invoke that 70’s and 80’s serendipitous suggestion for welcoming a positive karma.  We’re nonetheless surely due for a Cohen-esque Perfect Day.

And if not? Groovy. Bring it on, My Friend. Bring it on.

(Image: “The Small Village Torzhok” by Konstantin Ivanovich Gorbatov, 1917.)

Before We Had Friend Lists and Since

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I have four Facebook friends that date back to my elementary school years at St Pius X Elementary School.

Then with neither intent nor effort, my recall harkens back to junior and senior high school. There were about twenty students with whom I attended every class. Every one. Except, of course, Physical Education. We even all shared “les cours de Français” with the sad Monsieur Bright and the perky Mmes. Norris and Grady.

Of those, I have reconnected with maybe ten and, sadly, disconnected with another two or three.

And then there’s today. I can’t even fathom the number of folks who entered my life in the past forty years. Nor can I guess as to those who, just as quickly, left. I am just thankful that I was never lonely. I had good friends. I had good lovers. I had good partners, except for the anti-Christ.

Thank God, though, that my compulsion for statistics, data, and trivia orts has disappeared into a blur of age, medications, and ever-evolving and ever-dwindling priorities.

Today, on this very Tuesday, however, I can only think about kind and compassionate people. That’s all I have the energy for: in both my painfully ironic surreal “real” life and my social networking.

Further analysis scares me. It’s difficult to believe that I share the very same being with the fifth grader who read Statistical Abstracts before bed each night. Or read U.S. Census reports, for fun, the following year.

Conceptually, I keep coming back to those two grades and the few remaining relationships that I have from the Sixties. Henry suggests that, what once seemed infinite, now can only be readily managed at a meager count of four.

As an aside and on a terrifying level of social network mania, I have a Facebook buddy from my crayon days at Chapel Hill’s Little Red Schoolhouse.

When we were only five.

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. Although neither I nor my spirit was present, Dawn confessed all of the sordid and smoky details 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 and the comforts of Summerfield.

That, my friends, was the day that Dawn knew she finally had to kick the nasty habit and quit smoking once and for all. She “didn’t make no never mind” that she hadn’t yet determined the mystique of Eve cigarettes. Perhaps Emily Latella was correct and they did have tiny little breasts just below the filter.

Let us not forget: 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 full 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.)

Reconnecting with L: Recalling Her Exchange

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One evening, years ago in a previous life, as I opened Nigel’s door to head home, my cell-phone rang, displaying an unidentified number. I allowed the call to land into voice mail, only to realize that, yes, I did indeed know it. The exchange was one from my childhood neighborhood and the number, certainly familiar. I recalled the seven digits in the manner one might remember one’s address after a few too many martinis (so I hear). Instinctively.

I quickly returned the call, comfortable that it wasn’t some clever creditor or inane solicitor. When there was at last a voice to pair with the moment, I knew at once who it was: my friend Lorraine. We had not kept in touch since high school although she was always someone with whom I felt entirely comfortable to be myself.

The thirty-five years since had taken us both on quite different paths. She had married, had children, adopted, and raised step children while I was on an eccentric career track that led me to Chicago, New York, Boston, Charlotte, and Fort Lauderdale. The crazy thing was that for a good many years, in the broadest of Southernisms, we both lived in Washington, D.C., ultimately in adjacent suburbs, and all the while “unbeknownst”. God must relish such irony as it relieves stress from guiding the desperate and “talking” often with the maladjusted.

We caught up as best we could in a half hour. Her father had recently passed away from a debilitating cancer. My mother had died prematurely at age 59, over two decades ago. And my father succumbed last summer to a cruel mix of dementia, stroke, and (as they say these days) a “heart event”.

Lorraine’s parents had always been favorites of mine. Her father was witty, charming, and never unnerved by teenagers. Her mother was British, refined, and probably the loveliest person I had encountered (before I finally proclaimed myself an adult).

It warmed my cockles when she mentioned that her father always liked and respected me … in spite of my long hair and Bolshevik demeanor. Of course, he was always one of the most engaging and challenging adults: he relished both clever banter and testing limits (just shy of the bawdy). It indeed saddened me that he passed away in March and I, in my youthful folly, had allowed such nostalgia and connection to diminish.

Soon, I was again carefully maneuvering the potholes along the driveway into the humble Marklewood. Jon was waiting, after another long dreary day alone, so I needed to regain my focus and go inside. I quickly though told “L” (a nickname drawn from LaVerne’s bold embroidery) that she was one of the few people that completely put me to ease back then. She chuckled and said: “oh, that was your gift. You always made everyone feel special and important.”

I could say that her words put an easy smile on my face if, in fact, I weren’t already beaming. What a delightful and unexpected evening commute! As I locked Nigel and greeted the outdoor pusses, I suddenly remembered the “probably” thousand times I dialed 288-XXXX back in the early seventies.

As I hurried upstairs to Jon, I felt certain that such a reconnection would carry me through until bedtime. My worries could just wait until the following day. Neither they nor I were going anywhere. And yes! I have always named my automobiles. Nigel would honk, were he here.

A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

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Adults can certainly appreciate those teenage twists that accentuate puberty … even when two such “seniors” are an overly-driven mother and an uncle who is always at stand-by to offer a morsel from advice’s coffer.

Such was the case when one of my nieces returned from her first session of sleep-away camp some seven or eight years ago. For the sake of family unity and preservation of future holidays, I shall not mention which exact niece. Although I will admit she is married now and living blissfully in Boston.

The thirteen-year old had been gone for three weeks and, upon entering her familiar and familial domain, rushed to her room crying. Not just crying, mind you. She was sobbing uncontrollably. My sister (said girl’s mother) ran after her, intent on determining the issue, assessing the situation, and restoring order.

“Oh mother! It’s simply awful! I feel so guilty, but I have to … “ She stopped short in fear of shocking and offending her mother. “I can’t tell you. You’ll be so disappointed in me.” Even with her mother’s reassuring prod, the girl was unable to confess the reality of her troubles.

Later that morning, my niece emerged from her room, again sobbing but seemingly with more control. “Mother, I just have to tell you. If I don’t, it will haunt me forever.” Her eyes were puffy, her face flushed with anxiety and apprehension. “Oh, I can’t. It’s simply that horrible!” She ran back to her room and locked the door behind her. Her bold tears echoed throughout the house.

This scenario repeated four or five times over the next few hours. Certainly my sister’s fears were building to a crescendo. Had my niece consumed the forbidden alcohol? Had she partaken of a destructive cigarette? Or, worse yet, smoked the fabled marijuana? (Something neither her mother nor uncle would ever have done, despite their having come of age in the increasingly “un-groovy” 1970’s.)

Had she given in to carnal curiosity and teenage lust? Of course, my sister’s greatest fear was that whatever troubled my young niece involved perhaps a combination of all, creating a most regrettable trifecta.

My sister herself lit a calming smoke, poured a glass of wine, and began contemplating her next step. How could she at once reassure the girl, restore order, and re-ravel the teenage bliss of innocence (that surely had fallen awry)?

Just as my sister lifted her wine glass, my niece timidly peaked through the door. “Mother, I have to tell you. I just have to. That’s the only way the pain will go away!” My sister took a full and calculating breath as the girl continued, still trembling but numbed from all the crying.

“Mother, I shaved my legs and I am so sorry!”

Herself reassured, my sister hugged her daughter tight, relieved that the girl was yet a child of pubescent virtue. Saddened that she was absent at such a passage’s rite, she was nonetheless relieved that, once again, her worst parental fears had been averted.

“Honey, I have a terrific moisturizer. Let’s go upstairs.”

An hour or so later, my sister phoned me: “Mark, you won’t believe the afternoon I just had!” I could hear her exhale, could tell she was smoking, and
anticipated a “Life’s Semi-Precious Moments” tale.

Naturally with three teenage daughters, such afternoons of torment and anxiety were soon to become more frequent for her. With the angst-ridden whimpers of a teenage girl, “camp” thus became another four-letter word to be dreaded.

(Image: “Midnight! or The Fashionable Apartment”, Georges Barbier, 1920.)

Holiday Raids, Regrets, and, Sadly, No Reynolds Wrap

Most_Disturbing_Manipulated_Images_Ever__5Barry had always flown the six continuous shuttle taxis between Albany and Springfield. The airborne noise had finally eked his compliance. His days of fighting someone else’s ever-so-veiled pointed banter, alas, have found closure. At age 51, Barry was tipping his pilot’s cap one last time. His anxieties as an underplayed carrier, after-midnight errand boy, and a mute, blind, and deaf witness were humming their swan song.

His restless days worrying about the endless many projects requiring signatures and initials on court bound papers were dwindling: Barry’s replacement, his roommate Nippy, was to begin at 8am Monday and by week’s end, he’d be in Antigua nursing premium Mai-Tais and gorging on Rock Point oysters and Bay lump crab meet. He’d be alone but, at age 51.

Nonetheless the week passed in a healing, rejuvenating atmosphere. Except for the curiosity that was quickly building over Miss Smoot-Steins assurance that she’d redeem the roundtrip weekend ticket he had left for her. Between “romps”, they were to fantasize about the many parts to their redemptive stance. Again postponed yearnings had been stirring in both Barry and Deana’s loins. A pungent and greasy unfulfillment cloaked Barry’s ode and attempts be cheerful. His “Finger Lake” resilience had melted.

Curious and “stood up”, and numbed Barry unlocked the door to the emptiness of Albany, his dusty pre-War flat, and his yet unnamed puss who was nearly five. He fed the puss and turned on the television to catch his favorite shows. He walked into the the kitchen, recalling all the goodies he’d had roasted before his departure. Deana wanted to box the hot oil sesame noodles and take them home.

She left shortly thereafter, forgetting some of the tightly boxed “to-go” goodies. Barry searched the icebox hoping to stumble upon a marinading head roast he had been hungry for all week long. There on the top shelf squeezed between the spring mustards and 2% milk was a platter with a human head resting upon its optical center. What a perfect Sunday treat for Barry and Nippy to share if not devour!

Barry had realized that the head was uncovered and unprotected, naked on a chipped yet colorful Meisen platter, which Barry unearthed only on holidays. Anger and fury seized and redirected the words he was spewing: “Damnation. Let’s just go to Dairy Queen, Crackle Barrel, or even Denny’s. I’ll leave the tray outside. Perhaps the cats, dogs, coyotes, and raccoons will find satisfaction in the unexpected feast.

Nippy and Barry arrived home just after 10pm, unable to sip tea, inhale some amyl nitrate, or even slowly savor ons genteel and dainty peppermint truffle.

The outdoor brood, however, was still on the front lawn … nibbleless and still well-groomed from Barry’s attention that morning, Barry was facing another sad cranial roast, perhaps his last.

Nippy reached into the 50lb bag of Royal Canine food … healthy, easy to digest, and a rare opportunity to feel appointed, anointed, and sprung from the “jointed!” He dished a huge, if not “Pelican State” helping into their bow.

Barry quietly stormed inside — SLAMMING and bolting the door. (I readied for bed where I’d pray to the muse of syntax and spelling and nibble some Lorna Doones.)

A Gathering of Buds


Spring is definitely at Marklewood although there’s still a bit of apprehension in its stride. The azaleas are in bloom. The hydrangea is covered with buds. The Bradford Pears have already dusted the grounded pine needles with their spent petals. The season’s march on an overgrown and a quickly evolving landscape is well underway.

Although it can be lonely, some days here are glorious.

I sensed a new spring in my own step this morning as the countdown for my LVAD has finally begun. My daydreams as I lounged in bed with Henry, as we both luxuriated with space, drifted toward my impending 40th high school reunion. On that particular weekend, that silly marmalade puss will be turning eleven, and he is now the pride’s senior.

I’m sure that the turn-out will be sketchy, but there are some good friends that have “disappeared” from everyone’s radar. There are others with whom I’ve chatted via telephone or Facebook, but haven’t seen since college. The thought of such deep and dysfunctional nostalgia was just too rousing for my meager caché of morning oxygen.

That is, until I realized that my petals droop, my stem is brittle, my leaves are veiny, and my stamen is limp. My anticipation now approaches dread. I must plan.

If you should know where I can obtain some “Miracle-Gro”, please let me know. I shall cut back a bit on the diuretics to better hydrate. Perhaps, I’ll locate some non-judgmental co-attendee who might improve with a mutual pruning session. It would be refreshing to also have some glisten and confidence in my stance. Mind you, pollination is an activity of the past.

In the meantime, I shall sleep a little later and chant mantras as I ready each day. Not for the reunion but for me.

I’ll dance at the next garden party.

(Images: French Trade Cards, 1890’s.)

Easter Angels and Unwritten Laws

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Easter has always been a complex and inconsistent holiday for me. When I was a relatively wee lad, the day was filled with baskets of fine chocolates, books, and ensembles perhaps better befitting a young dandy. We would attend church service and return home to a celebratory meal and a day of family bonding. The imagery and explanations confounded me, however, as I struggled to link the Resurrection with a rabbit in a dinner jacket.

As I matured and approached puberty, naturally the treats were offered less frequently. We did, however, still go to Easter service which was always joyous and offered triumphant music. I realized at a young age that this day was the only one that, being Catholic, the hymns would be upbeat and melodic. We’d return home to again a special lunch, reminisce about relatives I had never met, and then I would revel in kickball or riding bicycles with my neighborhood cronies. I could always frolic until dark, since North Carolina was yet the only state that honored Easter Monday. The next day was another holiday!

As I became a young man, Easter became less of a special day, except that stores were closed and many folks either went to the beach or spent the day with relatives. I usually slept late, stayed in my robe, and spent the day reading or watching some Easter classic film that was hopefully not “The Ten Commandments” nor a chestnut that starred Jeff Chandler!

Then as I started my journey of drifting toward and away from serious romantic relationships, the day always meant some spectacular meal: a festive brunch or elegant dinner party with perhaps a dozen guests. Certainly it was a festive day but no one really thought of Easter, its history, or its intent. We made merry and indulged, and nursed a wretched aftermath.

Of course now I am in my reflective dotage and the day has further evolved. Like all my peers, I am prone to embrace nostalgia and share tales. Jon and I fix a special meal, nothing extravagant, but something out of the ordinary. 
Today we simply had a serene day with the windows open, snacking independently. We both have such fickle appetites and limitations, that “n’er the twain doth meet!”

Jon will play his sacred music most of the day as he swoons with the swell of the chords and the organ. We will savor a few treats. And we will reminisce about friends and lovers who have passed away and relatives that the other has never met or probably even heard mention.

It’s just the two of us, the cats, and of course the Easter bunny. I doubt I ever stopped believing in her. Yes, I learned long ago that the bearer of such sweet sentiment, gentle nostalgia, and special delicacies had to be a woman: a gentle, patient, and motherly type.

But alas and alack. I will sadly not be playing kickball this year, although it is not for lack of want.

Happy Easter, my friends. 
The Easter bunny is an angel; it’s an unwritten law of nature and divine order, at least at Marklewood!

Special prayers to Jean Sadler Markle, 

26.January.1925 – 18.April.2014
(Jon’s mother passed away in her sleep, joining his father who passed away a year ago. Jean had been a preacher’s wife and a gentle, patient, and motherly type. Her turkey salad was the best. )

March’s Hoopla

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I have been well aware of basketball, its art, and its less than subtle nuances since I was a wee child, growing up in the heartland of North Carolina. In fact, I likely went right from drooling to dribbling, as is the expected course for any red-blooded Tar Heel. By the time I was in fifth grade, the indoctrination was complete:

The various strategies, penalties, and rules of the game were second-nature. March no longer foremost meant refreshing and kite-worthy gusts, but suggested that the pungent air of tournament sweat was indeed looming. And those maverick UCLA Bruins had created a remarkable national frenzy of wide-eyed fifth graders who just wanted to see if Wooden’s wonders could do it “just one more time!”

My awareness of basketball was aptly timed by those umpires of divine providence. I went to a Catholic grade school in which there were only five boys in my grade. There were too few for either a football or baseball team and soccer was was still a recreational sport in the United States. By default, I landed myself on the school’s fourth tier basketball team, along with Ricky, Justin, Timmy, and Sidney. Mind you, each grade from fifth through eighth had a team and ours was no different, except that we had two dozen cheerleaders.

Our record that year was of no consequence. What did matter was our lack of any prowess in any tactical basketball skills. We were a solid handful of prepubescent awkwardness, social terrors, and an overwhelmingly irrational but seemingly justifiable fear of nuns. Sister Mary Ethel was our extremely focused and overly-competitive coach. I, of course, being reserved and a new transfer to the school, aimed to not just fit in, but blend in … as if to melt into the bleachers. Yet, being the tallest boy in my grade made me specifically the player that spectators watched. Fortunately, the stands were usually empty … since the boys all played and the girls, cheered. The other grades at least offered choice positions, those of alternates.

We went 1 and 9 that season. God threw us a bone one wintry Saturday afternoon. I’d like to say that we rallied and played our ten year old hearts out. The truth was, however, that our big advantage was that we had a larger squad of flouncy and pig-tailed cheerleaders.

So by early March, we were indeed primed for tourney time, as long as it wasn’t our own. We all knew from the church announcements, television news, and signs all over town that UCLA would likely have another opportunity to perhaps meet our beloved Tar Heels in a dream title match-up. My own teammates and I were rather relieved that we had deflected a disaster and that Sister Mary Ethel was now preoccupied with the various odds for the various college teams, and had retired our green and gold jerseys for the year.

Ultimately, the Bruins won yet another championship, as did the Saint Pius Xth eighth-graders. The fever, however, became both contagious and obsessive. Like my classmates, I followed all of the area teams, openly rooting for UNC but secretly rah-ing for Duke. Unfortunately, my friends didn’t have growth spurts until we transferred to public middle schools … so I endured a few more years of un-met expectations and inevitable losing seasons. My disdain for competitive sports became the bane of my school years, exceeded only by that for being an alter boy.

Each year come March, the buzz was always about basketball, college or otherwise … except for perhaps seventh grade. That was the year that two of my classmates discovered pubic hair and the course of scholastic scuttlebutt was indeed again altered. That was also the year that UCLA defeated North Carolina for the national championship, but my priorities had started the long climb toward adolescence.

(Image: “Fallalish” by Aaron Smith, 2013.)

Reconnecting with “L”: Recalling the Exchange

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Back when I could claim to own both a commute and a recall, I opened Nigel’s door to head home, as my cell-phone rang. As is my habit, since it displayed an unidentified number. I allowed the call to land in voice mail, only to realize that, yes, I did indeed know it. The exchange was one from my childhood neighborhood and the number, certainly familiar. I recalled the seven digits in the manner one might remember one’s address after a few too many martinis (a tidbit I oddly still remember). Instinctively.

I quickly returned the call, comfortable that it wasn’t some clever creditor or inane solicitor. When there was at last a voice to pair with the moment, I knew at once who it was: my friend Lorraine. We had not kept in touch since high school although she was always someone with whom I felt entirely comfortable to be myself. The thirty-five years since had taken us both on quite different paths. She had married, had children, adopted, and raised step children while I was on an eccentric career track that led me to Chicago, New York, Boston, Charlotte, and Fort Lauderdale. The crazy thing was that for a good many years, in the broadest of Southernisms, we both lived in Washington, D.C., ultimately in adjacent suburbs, and all the while “unbeknownst”. God must relish such irony as it relieves stress from guiding the desperate and “talking” often with the maladjusted.

We caught up as best we could in a half hour. Her father had recently passed away from a debilitating cancer. My mother had died prematurely at age 59, over two decades ago. And my father succumbed two summers past to a cruel mix of dementia, stroke, and (as they say these days) a “heart event”. Lorraine’s parents had always been favorites of mine. Her father was witty, charming, and never unnerved by teenagers. Her mother was British, refined, and possibly the loveliest person I had encountered.

It warmed my cockles when she mentioned that her father always liked and respected me … in spite of my long hair and Bolshevik demeanor. Of course, he was always one of the most engaging and challenging adults: he relished both clever banter and testing limits (just shy of the bawdy). It indeed saddened me that he passed away in March and I, in my youthful folly, had allowed such nostalgia and connection to diminish.

Soon, I was again carefully maneuvering the potholes along the driveway into the humble Marklewood. Jon was waiting, after another long dreary day alone, so I needed to regain my focus and go inside. I quickly though told “L” (a nickname “initially” drawn from LaVerne’s bold embroidery) that she was one of the few people that completely put me to ease back then. She chuckled and said: “oh, that was your gift. You always made everyone feel special and important.”

I could say that her words put an easy smile on my face if, in fact, I weren’t already beaming. What a delightful and unexpected evening commute indeed, and one of the last I ever attempted to drive! As I locked Nigel and greeted the outdoor pusses, I suddenly remembered the “probably” thousand times I dialed 288-XXXX back in the early seventies.

As I hurried upstairs to Jon, I felt certain that such a reconnection would carry me through until bedtime. My worries could just wait until the following day. Neither they nor I were going anywhere.

(Oooops. Jon’s Jeep is Nigel. Pardon my transgression. Still keeping tally, Sr Mary Patrick?)

(Image: Print of Design by Jules Helleu, Paris, mid-1860’s, for House of Charles Worth. Actually fabricated, constructed, and finally worn.)

Don’t Mess Around With Gym

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I was in Sr Mary Joseph’s fifth grade class when I first encountered the activity of which I had denied any previous ponder. It was a blustery October morning when the lanky blond gentleman first introduced himself: “Hello, boys. I am your new Phys Ed instructor, Mr Loflin. Steve Loflin.”

The nine of us looked at each other, some excited about the prospect of team sports, others (such as myself) terrified of the unknown. In my world, sports had always meant kickball, dodgeball, or bike racing. Of course, I knew better than to hinge my hopes on the familiar. It was indeed the very day that I was to begin my miserable failure in football, basketball, and baseball.

Conceptually, I had always attempted to understand this triumvirate of television sports. Baseball made sense; I just couldn’t hit the ball. Basketball had too many rules for me to process. And football completely escaped my ten year old “need for reason” when it came to scoring, penalties, and strategies. I had always been a competitive, driven lad and, as Coach Loflin distributed our new grey jersey gym clothes, I suddenly realized that the nuances would be far-reaching.

For the next two years, the nine of us changed into our uniforms, printed with a proud and somewhat daunting “St Pius X”. We twice weekly completed a regimen of calisthenics which was followed with whatever team sports that nine of us could realistically play. Because there were so few boys in my class, we had to all constantly play, never treated to a break on a sideline. We’d sweat, get filthy, and occasionally bleed. I also had always detested getting dirty so that “gym” actually pushed my limits into new territory.

When I completed sixth grade, I was relieved to be soon attending a “less stern” and oh-so-very public junior high school, although that optimism was short-lived. I was still markedly lacking in the fundamentals of school athletics, except for the universal celebration of a clean, pristine, and fresh uniform. Class size was somewhere near 35 and comprised of strangers, most of whom were far less sheltered and behaved as we Catholic school refugees. We had to shower en masse, and I learned to swear, albeit only among my peers, and usually after some wicked “towel” prank.

Seventh grade unfolded as you might have expected, my friends, especially if you witnessed firsthand my frequent agony. For five days a week, it was always the same. And for each nine week grading period, I received a B. It became the bane of my meager twelve year old existence and the taint of my otherwise unblemished report card.

That summer passed quickly. I turned thirteen, and got braces. On the first day of classes, I could barely control my glee, except for Phys Ed. As we gathered, my heart sank as I realized I’d be interacting with yet an entirely new group of boys. I was already visualizing the taunts, the names, and the disapproving looks, when the door opened. In walked Coach Loflin. He introduced himself, distributed our blue and white uniforms, and lectured us on his expectations. I knew I was doomed for another year, just shy of straight A’s.

The year went quickly, even eighth period with Coach Loflin. Although I hated Phys Ed, I wasn’t the worst in the class and, every once in a muddy track field, we’d engage in something fun: such as track, soccer, or that bizarre derivative “crab soccer”. Coach always referred to me as Mr Sieber, referring to my classmates with only their surnames. And when report cards were distributed, I finally received straight A’s, including my personal “Holy Grail” of eighth period. I was shocked but rushed home nonetheless. I found out the next day that my cronies had all gotten B’s and C’s, and that Mr Loflin was considered a tough grader.

My luck continued throughout that year and into the next, as he was my ninth grade gym instructor as well. I never enjoyed physical education but I learned to overcome the dread, at least of gym. The following year, I’d be enrolled in an even larger school, with an entirely new set of issues and fears.

Years passed, I finished my studies and went out into the real world, forging friendships with like-minded Bohemian types. When I was in my mid-twenties, my boyfriend and I were to join my “crazy”and exuberant friend Jackie and her husband whom I had never met. We had planned to go out for dinner, unsure of whether we’d make it to a dance club since the other couple was about fifteen years older. I answered my doorbell and laughed at the irony and unexpected sight. Yes, Jackie was married to Coach Loflin, although he now preferred “Steve”.

We had a great time, enjoyed a few cocktails, and “laughed ourselves silly!” By the time we asked for our check, we were all spent and well-poised for a drive home. As we stood in the parking lot, rallying for a final moment’s banter, I found myself finally asking him about the grades when I was in junior high school. He stumbled at first but admitted that I was one of the few boys who always acknowledged the feats of others … or reassured them when they fell short. (That, and my uniform was always laundered!)

I’ve since lost touch with Steve, Jackie, and even that nameless boyfriend. Sometimes when I smile, I am visualizing the world as I viewed it back then, the erosion of pubescent fears, and how Coach Loflin brought a few pleasurable moments and laughs to Phys Ed.

Don’t get me wrong. I would’ve much rather been in my Latin class with Mrs Foster, embracing the art of rapid declension. Years later, when Latin crept into my conversation or writings, it seemed yet another layer of that pubescent insulation. It was the whole “Gym thing” that had actually set me free.

(Image: “After School” by Catrin Welz-Stein.)

I Saw the Sign and It Opened Up My Eyes

Allegorical Portrait of an Artist, Probably Rachel Ruysch

Yes, it has been another one of those typical weeks that lately almost seem comfortable. I limit my java intake to one single cup per day and, in like vein, open the icebox door from time to time and say a few good byes. Of course, moderation will become the new key. Yet, Edy’s Grand Gourmet, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, pastrami, and marzipan pillow cookies might as well bypass the decrepit local buggy station and continue on to Swift Creek.

The postman continues to deliver letters from SSI, SSDI (Disability), and Medicaid that wholly contradict each other in intent, benefit availability. Apparently, my need for a new heart would be less complicated in 47 of the other states. They are now re-reviewing my need for medical and financial assistance. Yes, with the opening of each envelope, I became more indignant and frustrated.

Pfluffer is still sick and listless. Jon is still sick and listless. And so on. And so on. And so on.

To escape this morning’s dread, as I often do, I started cruising Art Gallery and Library sites across the internet, especially Russian, French, and Chinese ones. (I search using foreign keywords to broaden my the scope of my image results.) Somehow, I stumbled upon this 17th century painting by Dutch portrait painter Michiel van Musscher (1645-1705). I quickly became fascinated with the allegorical portrait for the less than obvious reasons: mainly the subject’s dour and sullen demeanor and expression. Of course, I was amused by the playful cherubs, reversed bust, tiny artist’s palette, chaotic floor setting, and the tiny barely visible spaniel and cats frolicking below the easel. The painting’s narrative was indeed a puzzle.

I looked to see what museum or gallery held such item, only to find that it is the North Carolina Museum of Art, here in Raleighwood, and about fifteen miles away. The Universe gave me a gift: a sign to “stop my sobbing” (Thank you, Miss Hynde.) and enjoy the day somehow.

And thus prompted the notion of a December haircut. Signs are signs.

(Image: “Allegorical Portrait of an Artist, Probably Rachel Ruysch” by Michiel van Musscher, 1685.)