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I don’t think we’ve ever held hands before. The thought didn’t occur until much later after our moment on Monday morning. In fact, an hour later. In the car, window rolled down, and Collin Raye full blast on the radio.
The station won’t stop playing that song.
For the time being I don’t mind the heavy rotation. But in a week or two, I’ll punch the preset button when it comes on. Time is strange. Two and half years since our first introduction. Two from when I actually noticed you. And one year ago, we’re silently infatuated with each other.
He comes screaming towards me at full pace. Paws furiously flying as he makes a leaping dive onto my desk. Papers, CDs and yellow stickies go scattering about. The sound of sharp claws digging into the wood desktop. He stops just short of the edge, nuzzles my face and purrs like never before.
Where has he been all these hours?
We all go away for a while. Sometimes to hide from our trouble or pain. Other times to avoid that certain someone. And then once or maybe twice, because we need a break from the ordinary routine. To become ‘obscure’.
Now I scratch my fuzzy head. It’s been over a week since I last raked a razor over it. That was before my lunch with Lori, but after the neighborhood barbecue. (You can tell who I care to look good for). I do it on an odd occasion to help cleanse my scalp. Otherwise, I’m hunched over in the bathroom. Head stuck in a garbage can and with electric clippers in my right hand.
I never feel more ridiculous.
At least no one can see me there. That’s my biggest fear. Getting caught doing something awkward and feeling incredibly stupid.
The aphids have returned. It’s been about four months since I last saw them. Flying and flitting in my front yard. Leaving a sticky web of cotton candy on the underside of the Hibiscus leaves. Those tiny bugs make an incredible mess.
I take out my aggressions.
Water nozzle in hand. Turn on the faucet full-blast. Aim and fire away at those critters. It reminds me of visiting Hutchinson and going to the State Fair. You know, the water game. Fill up the tube and win a stuffed animal. Only this game lasts 30 straight days. Until they’re finally obliterated.
Laughing out loud to no one. It’s another of those moments where my mind plays tricks on me. I see the silliness and humor in my thoughts. I chuckle for good reason and without regard to my surroundings. The bubble bursts. I realize I’m all alone, but within earshot of hundreds.
I might as well have been talking out loud to myself.
It doesn’t sound any less crazy. Though my friends have come to expect this from me. There’re even curious and ask where my head was the moment I opened up my mouth to let out that hardy laugh.
The list keeps piling up. I’m tackling all the little projects that I want to complete. Still, I find myself barely staying above water. It’s not serious trouble. The house won’t collapse. The car isn’t about to implode on the freeway. It’s just the annual cycle biting my butt.
Baseball season is over.
Commissioner Bart Giamatti wrote a poem about the cruelty of baseball. Beginning in the Spring, when all is new and hope eternal. And it goes away in the Fall, when we actually need it most. It’s been a good season: Ripken, Ichiro, Clemens, Gwynn, Henderson, Hampton, Bonds.
These last couple of months are going to blaze right by me. I'm already in negotiations with the family on my Christmas vacation schedule. I'm not sure who I have to haggle with more: my boss or parents. It's early October and it's the most important topic of their calls.
I’m not ready for Christmas.
Back in February I thought up a new plan. Each month, I’d purchase two Christmas gifts. That way, by the time December rolled around I’d practically be finished shopping. And my bank account wouldn’t suffer the typical Holiday crunch. I haven’t bought a single thing.
What's the frequency, Kenneth? I've got a dull headache. Dan Rather must have had one the other night. Reports are he pulled another of his grand gestures in the middle of ‘60 Minutes'. Tried to cut of Ed Bradley. Then gave way to let Ed ask another question. Meanwhile, he bows his head on camera and rubs the bridge of his nose.
Where is your Excedrin headache?
I still prefer Bayer. Though every once in a while Aleve has done wonders. Tylenol and Advil are rarely used. In fact, most times I tough it out. The exception is the headache.
The plan is to go to Hawaii in May. I don't know why I wouldn't be there. I can't think of one good reason not to go. In fact, that's exactly what I want to do. Travel. Swim. Indulge.
There’s lots to be done before then.
I haven’t written a list of goals in a long time. Those short term and long term ideals. Stuff to strive for. To focus on while the days pass and time fritters away. Without them, I’m apt to take a nap than spend time stretching. Double check the box scores than read a book.
I'm not a parent. It takes talent and courage to handle that life-long job. I don't have the courage, nor the responsibility to do it-- yet.
I took my cats to the vet for their annual physical.
I say ‘annual’ but that’s not accurate. They get their vaccinations when I remember to do it. The doctor scolded me: The boy is too fat. They shouldn’t go outside. And has it really been six years since their last shots? I have trouble taking care of myself, my cats and making sure the plants are watered. How could I possibly handle kids?
It's that time of year. Wildlife busy under the cover of night. Winter's aren't bad, still they're gathering food and preparing for months of cold and rain. Rats, squirrels, raccoons, possums and coyote.
Ever notice how skunk smells like burning pencil eraser rubber?
The ocean fog rolled in around midnight. The low cloud-cover disguised the Summer heat. There was skunk in the neighborhood. The smell was unmistakable. It’s nothing new to my nose. But for the first time, it was more pungent than before. Could it be a unique breed of skunk? Or my senses recovering from years of smoking?
I stood with my back to the fireplace, warming to the glow of her smile. Short hair. Short black dress. Short conversation about nothing. I gave her a house tour and showed her out back in the garden.
Suddenly my world changed.
She must be interested in me, right? Of course, otherwise she wouldn’t have spent all that time with me. I knew she was special. What puzzled me most was the line she left me with: “I can’t wait to spend afternoons digging in your garden. I’ll cook us dinner. And then I’ll sleep over in the guest room.”
She had to “pee like a race horse”. I don’t think that’s exactly what she told me when we first met. But that was the truth. And she always described her full bladder like that of a thoroughbred’s.
She was attracted by our Christmas lights.
We had them up year-round. And this night we had our French doors open wide. Cranking the Stone’s “Emotional Rescue” and the smell of weed wafting out on the sidewalk. That’s the night we first met. Our last one was spent tripping on mushrooms. But she never loved more than when we were doing coke.
Today, my face was hot and my lips chapped. I’ve felt like this before. Years ago, when I was a little boy and my sisters were in college. On weekends, we traveled hours to watch the football games. They never won anything. The only good player was the punter. That’s because every game he had 20 chances to kick.
My lips were always chapped.
Me, mom and dad sat on the aluminum bleacher eating popcorn and drinking Rondeau. That’s how I remember those fall afternoons in Lawrence. I hated them. Wishing I was elsewhere. My butt sore, my lips ached.
I watched the food chain in action. My cat, Declan, caught a grasshopper. He didn't completely devour it. Left the half-eaten carcass on the porch. I thought about sweeping it away. Within minutes a swarm of ants attacked.
They carried it like a pharaoh.
Thousands of tiny ants, with the might of Atlas, lifted the giant grasshopper. I’m not sure exactly where. I guess the same place where the nocturnal animal was searching. Sometime in the middle of the night, the unknown beast pawed his way into my lawn. Digging up divots in search of what. Ants? Worms? Grasshopper carcass?
Late in the season we went to the ballgame. These are my favorite days at the park: Low sun, cool breeze, lots of empty seats. Only die hard Red Sox fans make the trek to Fenway when they're 12 games out. But the players always gave the rabid fans an extra minute or two. Why not? The season's about over. The games didn't matter.
On the way home, he kissed me in front of the bus.
What a shock! For us, and for the screaming kids in back. Noses pressed to the glass. Laughs and shouts as our tongues wagged.
I’m not the sort of person who’s curious about what people have got. I don’t go snooping or peeking into windows. I’m always afraid the more I look, the more I’ll want. But I’ve changed my attitude after today’s treasure. Hit the jackpot.
I went dumpster diving today.
Found a 1961 Motorola console TV. Antenna still attached. Water stain on top. I haven’t plugged it in to see if it works. I don’t care. I’m using it as furniture, not an electronic entertainment device. It’s in the front hall. Now, I drive the neighborhood hoping to duplicate my good fortune.
The moon is waxing. Around Halloween it’s going to be a full one. I think it’s a blue moon this time. But what I notice is the turning of my oranges.
They’ll be ripe for Thanksgiving.
For six months, I’ve watched those green balls grow. Nurturing my tree. Adding fertilizer, a little potassium, lots of iron. And now my little green balls shimmer in the moonlight. They’re the brightest things in my backyard. Like nature’s own Christmas ornaments. The sun reflects off the moon, which reflects off my oranges. Watching the subtle changes in that tree is my second calendar.
My shoulders ache. The whole week we’ve spent swimming IM’s and stroke. Miles and miles in the water. And this morning, I feel the effects on my shoulders. What will it take to get the kinks out? I stretch… nothing. I over-extend… nothing. Flip over and do a little backstroke. It all aches.
So this is what it feels like to be in training.
I haven’t been here for a decade, maybe longer. It seemed easier in my younger days. I don’t think I ever hurt this bad and we did twice the mileage back then. No pain, no gain.
Yikes! Why did this happen today, to me, in my backyard? You were once a little fur ball. Playful and chasing after grandma’s yarn balls. You sat on your owner’s lap. Purring. Clawed their face in the early morning, asking for wet food out of the can. You brought home ‘gifts’ of birds, mice and lizards.
And you came to my backyard to die.
I shudder to think of how and why and when. All I know is in the middle of the day, I discover your stiff body. And the neighbors don’t recognize your black ears and black paws.
The weight is released. It’s been three years counting. Total avoidance. Until it was absolutely necessary to face my demon(s). Some days I woke thinking about my failures. Other times, weeks would pass, forgetting I’d never filed. And I’ve still been able to delay the inevitable for another two months. Hanging over my head as the penalties stack up.
And then I did the math.
Licked a stamp. Dropped it off at the Post Office. What had I been so worried about? An extra $300. That’s all it added up to. Seems crazy to let that amount control my world.
He’s the first thing I see in the morning. My man of strength. He arrives on cue, without variance. Always at the time I need him most: early fall. Shimmering down on me, telling me that all’s well as long as he’s in the sky.
My main man, Orion.
I walk out of the house at dawn, peer up and he’s over-looking my every move. It’s unclear when I first fell in love with him. Or exactly why. Except he’s easy to identify in a crowded sky of stars. And he’s brilliant enough to shine through the city’s light pollution.
I hang up the phone. Pissed at what I just heard. Angry that I’m too tired for his interruption. Of the crap he says. We’re polar opposites. He must love pushing my buttons. His late-night chat turns into a partisan diatribe at the evils of a President.
My impatience spirals out of control.
Hanging up solves almost everything. He’s gone. I can close my eyes again. Won’t have to listen to his ramblings. Except they still spin wildly inside my head. I argue all over again. Things I should have said. Wanted to say. And will, at the next opportunity.
Dear Mister Hummingbird,
What are you thinking? Hovering a foot from my face. Splashing it with your tiny turbulence. Checking out my red shirt? Eyeing me for a sugary snack? Thinking about stabbing me in the neck with that long beak of yours?
If you weren’t so darn cute, you’d be hated.
Surprising me at your sudden darts and shifts. Buzzing my ears like a crop-duster in a late summer afternoon. Sometimes, just hanging in the air, glaring at me with your beady black eyes. I’ve got a message for you: You’re much uglier than your ruby-throated cousin.
Another pint taken away. I gave it voluntarily. Made an appointment, ate a reasonable meal, drank lots of liquids. Showed up at the Red Cross prepared for the needle. They’ve readied a table for me. Laid out snacks and grape juice for afterwards. This is the least I can do. And feel good about it, considering I think my blood is pretty pure.
Give a pint by giving up the Pint.
It’s been years since my last smoke. Even longer from a drink. Exercise daily. Some lucky soul’s getting this top-shelf blood. It might be a shock to their system.
Painting Party was the height of fall during my college years. The night before the big Halloween party we all got together to help decorate the place. Hang the butcher paper, pour the sawdust, configure the haunted maze. And we always got crazy. Bags of stuff from foreign lands: Columbia, Jamaica, and Holland.
But the shrooms were American grown-- Iowa.
Chuck was our source for them. It took planning to get the order in with plenty of time for the delivery to arrive just before Halloween. And not too much before, or we might spoil our appetite with premature consuming.
I had dinner with a guy who I’m sure is mentally deranged. Nine people sitting around the table. The meal was delicious, pleasant, and enlightening until he arrived an hour late. Suddenly, he commands the table and hoards the leftovers. Spits out mean-spirited rebuttals to every statement. Food flying off his lips and onto his beard. Looks of utter contempt and disdain.
Have you ever looked squarely into the eyes of pure evil?
Steely, dark eyes burning holes into anyone willing to sit at the table and endure his constant rants. “Consumerism Corrupts”. All the while consuming that free food.
An anniversary of sorts: It’s the date of the first time I ever shaved my head. Never did it as a kid for my championship swim meets. I waited until Halloween when I was well into my adult years. Took clippers and a razor to it, with the help of Mara.
Arrived at the party a completely different person.
Gave me the confidence to be arrogant, bold and flirtatious. And that’s the night I met her. I walked away that night with a lover. I basically regret it ever happened. The warning signs were evident from our very first meeting.
I nearly lost my lunch. Standing at the edge of the 30-meter platform. The height was dizzying. Without a hand on the railing, I felt unbalanced and was afraid of falling off. The women stood below, anticipating my jump. Privately, my ego wouldn’t allow anything but a swift and confident leap. It wasn’t that easy.
Coach asked when was the last time I was that scared?
Losing my virginity? Learning to drive? My thesis defense? Probably all of these rate higher, but none so humiliating. I surfaced in the diving well with an incredible wedgie. Speedo way up my butt-crack.
Had coffee today with a former 15 minutes-of-fame. He said so himself. Those glory days are twenty years behind him. Now, he’s stuck polishing his letters of inquiry. He actually looked at his last (failed) job as a learning experience-- “something new to put on the resume”.
I sense his bitterness towards having to work.
Somehow it’s incredibly unfair. Others with sudden fame amassed great fortunes. That money lets them loaf for the remainder of their so-called careers. He’s left searching for the next gig. But all during our coffee, he strained his neck looking around for the next Mrs.
Sitting in a dentist’s chair, mouth wide-open, staring up at the blinding light with the putrid smell of plaque. Only a few days earlier this was just a figment of my imagination. I never even once expected an appointment so soon. I thought it’d be weeks.
But my teeth are getting cleaned.
It was less painful than I figured it would be. He worked quickly. Gently scrubbing, scrapping and polishing. While the assistant had the tube in my mouth, sucking out saliva. Occasionally it gave my tongue a hickey. That vacuum doubled as the drain for wash, rinse and spit.
The Tip Jar