Sunday, December 26, 2010

Do Whop

Imagine this ...

- a large, imposing stone building on a secluded hilltop
- a set of ancient iron gates and a long, serpentine drive leading up a hillside
- barred, curtainless windows, one after another
- inside ... a narrow hallway ... mirror-image, pale green doorways ... paint peeling
- inside ... a furnitureless room and stark, white padded walls
- inside ... a solitary figure methodically defining the room in a seemingly prearranged pattern of trodden squares, rectangles, circles and figure-eights
- inside ... every so often, the figure pauses ... hands lifted in a slight, but graceful gesture
- inside ... from his lips ... an almost inaudible murmur
- do whop do whop

from across the hallway ... na, na na, na na ... na, na na, na na

from down the corridor ... ba rump a bum bum

from the adjoining room ...doobie doobie

and ... bop shoo bop

and ...sha na na

then silence

and then, it begins anew.

Do Whop Singer
Must be able to work in dim lighting ... outside the spotlight.
Work primarily in teams of three.
Pleasant , but unremarkable appearance a plus.
Demonstrated ability to sing single-syllable, nonsensical words or phrases.

Anne and I listened to xmas music all the way from Vermont to Virginia ... 13 hours. We were overflowing with the xmas spirit. I did, however, make a slight observation. Xmas carols are notorious for inane filler lyrics. Ba rump a bum bum so to speak. It made me think. What would make someone decide, "I want to be a background singer"? How bad could their life have been? What must their futures be like, just outside the spotlight rim? What's it like to work your way to the top of the do whop profession and how might you know that you actually are at the apex of your career? Self actualization become surreal. It's not like you are enshrined in the Backup Hall of Fame, or asked to join the Mormon Tabernacle Do Whop Choir.

I thought about how one might interview candidates for the job. What would you ask? "Mr. Smith, how do you feel about being a nobody?" Or ... "Ms. Doe, I noticed the logo on your unassuming, gray blazer. It said, 2nd Banana ... Love the Peeling. Can you speak to that ever so briefly?"

I've racked my brains to think of the names of the great back up singers. The back up singers for James Brown was all I could come up with. Maybe their name says it best ...

Bitter Sweet.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I've been thinking about retirement lately and when and how it should occur. I sat down with my boss yesterday to discuss it. Without question, I have been treated well in my position and made to feel wanted and appreciated. When need be, my boss has stepped in to situations on my behalf. Our personal and professional relationship has steadily grown stronger over the years. My decision relative to retirement was whatever works best for my boss is what I am prepared to do. It was decided that I would officially leave on July 1 with possible per diem days to help train my replacement. After we talked, I sat down and tried to write a letter of resignation and after a few attempts realized that I could not do it. The letter seemed so boring and I could not see me going out that way. I seemed cold and in no way conveyed my feelings. Instead, I wrote a poem ... even though I am not a poet. When I finished, good or bad, it felt like me! So here it is!

A Conversation With a Friend

I find myself in a full tilt boogie!
a boogie, so vast and all-encompassing
that it cannot be contained
by walls
by schedules
by responsibilities.

that said,
I must clear my calendar for a new adventure!

over ten years ago,
I came here for a visit
and found a family instead.
I cannot begin to express how much I have loved working here.

one thing I know about myself
I work best
and am happiest
in situations with strong, visionary leadership
… with a leader who can make hard decisions …
… but, with a leader who has a heart…
thank you, Ingrid, for being that person for me.

with mixed emotion,
it is my intention
to resign my position
as Confidential Secretary
effective July 1, 2011.

I want to express my thanks to you personally
for allowing me to share in the experience that is BAMS
for being my support
for tolerating the oddities that make me who I am.

thank you BAMS for filling my plate
for caring for me
for letting me be a part of something great

I have feasted
taste buds aquiver – bitter and sweet
I am nourished.
And I am full.

Respectfully and with love,

Bruce Marshall
Confidential Secretary

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Every time I turn around these days, something else is giving out. My latest trial and tribulation is getting my new hearing aids. They fit nicely on the shelf beside the partial plate, the graduated lens, the prostate removal, and knee that continues to nag at me.

I feel like a 52 Ford in the breakdown lane. Every time I try to pull back into traffic for a ride, another part gives out. Much to my chagrin, the parts are now vintage and I either can't find a part to replace them or they are so expensive that I can't afford a new one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Who Am I?

At first, I thought “Why me”? But, I know it’s not just me. This is something that plays itself out over and over in every family. It should not be a huge surprise … but it is.

I call dad every week. Sometimes every two weeks. It is awful. His mind is going fast. It started with having a hard time with recent events and facts. It progressed to struggling, almost physically, to get something out … to the point of almost stuttering. Then came repeating himself. I don’t mean repeating the same story you told last week. I mean retelling a story 30 seconds after you finish telling it … over and over with no idea of what you said before. Twenty minutes on the phone with dad might mean hearing the same story up to ten times. This alternates with perseveration about things. For quite a while now it has been about Wayne not calling. He can’t figure it out … and it comes up numerous times every time I call him.

I thought, “Why me”? But, I knew it was coming. On my last call, dad had no earthly idea who I was, nor any of the other sons. He recognized my voice but was totally confused by it all. I don’t know yet if it was just a momentary lapse. I suspect instead that it is just a beginning. It is so sad! There is nothing I can do. I think is will only get worse.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Trail of Tears

Long since do I recognize the day or the time. It is enough to place one foot in front of another in an endless pursuit of the distant horizon. Rhythmically, the pains shoot across my buttocks and down alternating legs to ankles swollen and red and throbbing arches. Eyes, once glistening and alert, now arid deserts … lifeless and dull. My people call it the Trail of Tears, but the tears are no more. Only the story remains … and yes, the memory … yes, the memory … and the pain … yes, the pain. They remain.

Yet, again, I revert to old habits. I have begun at the end and proceed to the beginning. Although the real beginning may in actuality be some obtuse alignment of planets and stars and forgone conclusions of free will or destiny. Our plan was basically to drive to Richford, Vermont to spend the night with our friends, Pam and Rich. From there, we would cross into Canada and stop at a favorite bakery in Abercorn. We planned to work our way to Sherbrooke via several tourist stops along the way and then take in the sights of Sherbrooke for two nights. One more day of side trips would put us at North Hatley on the lake for rest and relaxation and some fishing for me. The last day was left open to accommodate more fishing before returning home.

The first day was going smoothly. We zigzagged our way the length of Vermont, stopping only for a quick picture of the bowling ball yard sculpture, and arrived in Richford late in the day. Incidentally, Rich works at a micro-brewery and also makes homemade beers and more recently wines. He couldn’t wait to break open several special beers for me to try and as many new wines. I thought that I said, “I don’t drink anymore”. However, from the look on Rich’s face, I must have said, “Santa Claus is dead” instead. I graciously agreed to taste each of the brews that he presented in the future when someone else opened them to drink. I will not forget that face … it was the Lindberg baby is missing face.

Lots to do that second day … an early start was essential to work it all in. Regardless of my need to be on the road, there were old stores to rehash and new ones to reveal. The 11:00 AM departure merely meant that a couple of stops might need to be eliminated from the itinerary. Even that would be soon forgotten as I stuffed the Abercorn shortbread cookies, one after another, into my gaping maw. We pulled into the parking lot of the bakery … not a care in the world of more consequence than what to eat first … shortbread cookies dipped in dark chocolate … sticky buns … the muffins … or a loaf of fresh-baked bread. The lot was uncharacteristically empty. It was Anne that I sent to the door. I did not allow myself to hear her message. Nevertheless, her mouth formed the words, “Closed on Wednesdays”. I was shameless in my grief.

We drove without speaking. On to the quartz crystal mine, Mine Cristal Quebec. The only one of its kind in Canada. My stomach and I took turns grumbling. The mine would snap me out of it. Of this, I was certain. The mine tour was in French. We had the English version on tape to follow along. The instructions for the tape player were in French. Anne and I had no difficulty understanding every 700th word. Maybe I am being nick-picky. Maybe it is just a matter of semantics. A mine is a hole deep in the ground where cool stuff is found – like gold, or silver , or quartz. This mine, however, was on top of the ground. I call that a “ditch”. On to UFO Land and the real world.

A little background might be helpful at this point. There is this guy in Saint-Adrien who claims to have been receiving messages frorm alien beings for years. He opened a tourist attraction called UFO Land. I say, “When things are going wacky … go wacky. It is the only sane thing to do”. We set our galactic GPS for Saint-Adrien and headed out. On the ride, we switched tours guides from the 2009 version to the 2010 version we had picked up at the tourist info building. UFO Land no longer exits. Apparently, the time for talking was over. On some dark and lonely night, the owner of UFO Land was sucked up on a beam of light into a glowing orb and whisked away … and for me, I too feel like I am receiving messages from an alien source. I flicked on the warp-drives and turned the car around.

Sherbrooke would be my refuse and my respite. We were booked at the Marco Polo B&B and I had selected the African-themed room. I am a suspicious person. It comes from having been a school principal. The last email from the B&B caused a slight rise in my eyebrow, I admit. “My English is not so good like my wife’s”. That said, we were graciously greeted at the door by a beaming, welcoming face. I believe the relevant phrase is “déjà vu”. “Welcome to the Marco Polo. There has been a slight problem with your reservation. You do not have the African-themed room. My English is not so good as my wife’s.” We did not head up the stairwell in front of us. Instead, we veered through the dog gate … though the dining room (lifting our bags over the table to get through the small opening) … though the owners’ den … though the kitchen … and up the narrow stairwell to the Indian-themed room. If nothing else, I am a flexible person. No problem. Life will go on! A mere seed tick in a world of parasites. A few more drops of my life-blood. Indeed, Sherbrooke proved to be a respite. So much so, that for the briefest moment, I thought that it was all over.

There is a natural order of things – chronological being one example. To understand what is next, you must understand what is not next, but was before … before it all began. My original idea was to go to a B&B around Parc Frontenac or Lac Megantic for a couple of nights on a lake. This would enable me to fish while Anne hung out on the beach. Rooms were scarce. I had one … but while I waited for responses from two other potential B&B’s, the room was booked. Instead , I found a place in North Hatley. There were ramifications. I had set my sights on a visit to a salvage artist. It was one of those events that you put the star by in your itinerary notes. Gone. The fishing was in jeopardy. The salvage artist was out of the question. Mentally, I drew a line through the star.

But, on a brighter note, the room I booked in North Hatley was at the Chocolatier B&B. Things were looking up! I put my disappointments aside and sped to North Hatley. Along the way, we did a short side trip to the Miellerie Lune de Miel, the honeybee farm. The brochures were beautiful and the tour sounded fascinating. Reality was slightly different … I never saw the first bee. The closest I came was the bee in my bonnet to leave. We still had a little more time before check-in at the B&B, so we stopped by Rose de Champs, the rose farm. I can only imagine how beautiful it must have been when the 200+ varieties of roses were still in bloom.

No more asides. To the Chocolatier B&B. It was gorgeous … we were greeted with chocolate. No we did not book a room with a private bath as we thought. We shared the bath down the hall. More chocolate si vous plait!

My memory fails me … did I mention the lavender farm, Bleu Lavande? I believe it to be the second largest in North America. No matter. I have seen the brochure and the farm is a sea of purple vistas and an ocean of old lady aromas. It was #2 on my must see list. I received the word from the Chocolatier B&B owner … in a casual aside. Like … “Oh, yeah! They mowed the lavender at Bleu Lavande. There are just rows of stalks now”. The message did not improve with a French accent.

So, there you have it … my Canadian vacation … one that Chevy Chase or John Candy would have been proud to have. There is more of course … like the five times Anne knocked herself silly by running in to my canoe hanging off the back of the car. On a positive note … it never rained … that being said, the canoe never got wet.

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Apologies to Roy Rogers

Fondue ismaking a comeback. That is one of the reasons that I chose Fondue Folie from the many restaurants in Sherbrooke , Canada to try. The other reason was the variety of menu choices. Here is how it works for the table de hote. First, you select a shared broth. Anne and I chose the beef and onion broth since we thought the other two choices might overpower some of our meat selections.

Step two is to select an entree for each of us. For Anne, it was escargot and brie. Snails ... great start to an eclectic meal. I had never tried tartare. Of the four kinds offered , I thought I would give wapiti a whirl. If you are wondering, that is elk. The taste was interesting, but I must admit I was not to enamoured of the texture.

On to the meats. There was about a dozen options. Anne decided on a seafood and fowl combination since each of us got to make two selections with our meal. She chose scallops and duck. I got to try two meats that I had never tasted before. Ostrich was my first choice ( thought it might taste like chicken ). My second choice was horse ( it did not taste like chicken). I was a little disappointed, however, since the guidebook we had read said they had alligator and kangaroo. But, I coped.

The sauces was step four. We each got to pick four. For Anne, the four included a Caesar sauce, a citrus mustard, Indian curry, and Italian tomato-based sauce. For me, it was a Montreal pepper sauce, a chipote sauce, kiwi and yogurt, and a Dijon mustard. I must admit, the sauces were the stars of the meal.

We were stuffed. Like Trigger. But, it was our job to eat dessert. Dark chocolate fondue for Anne and butterscotch for me with marshmallows and fruit.

My taste buds are exhausted! Roy and Dale ... sorry!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rock River Artists Open Studio -The Barbie Center

I can’t explain the fascination, if fascination is the right word, with Barbie. I cannot help but poke fun at the concept and why this would be the example to present to children escapes me. It must be the “oh so perfect” rich girl image that I imagine. Good for me, because sarcasm is right up my alley. And at the end of that alley, tucked neatly away in the corner behind the trash can is my imagination. I strongly disagree with those who imply that imagination is bizarre. My imagination leads me down a serpentine path to be sure … but one based on pure logic. At least, that is how I imagine it.

Nevertheless, the net result is a special section of my open studio devoted to Barbie creations. I set it up like a shadowbox. You know how Barbie loves pink. The black background should be perfect for her pink accessories.
Finding enough Barbie’s to do the pieces justice was a difficult task and required a great deal of thought and flea market bargaining . In the end, I acquired a box of Barbie’s for a reasonable price. By that, I mean cheap. I started with a piece I call “the Barbie Bouquet”. The first version contrasted the deep greens of the evergreen boughs with the golden Barbie locks. For the open studio, I redid the piece using bare branches in order to make Barbie the centerpiece of the work … and the perfect centerpiece for any table.

Several weeks ago, my boss gave me a pink box with a see-through plastic window that she thought I might be able to use. I thought immediately of Barbie. The shape and window on the box reminded me of old footage of a Houdini trick in which he was place in a box with limited air, chained shut, and lowered into a river to drown, give out of air, or escape. Hence, Houdini Barbie. With a few minor adjustment to her legs (chop, chop) she fit the box perfectly. I tied her hands. Given the oxygen situation, I decided a blue face was most appropriate. The box was wired shut and locked. Houdini Barbie.

I had another box in the barn. I thought about for a Barbie project months ago. It was in the shape of a coffin and had been used at school to pass around a stuffed squirrel to scare new teachers. The squirrel deteriorated and I got the coffin. I envisioned Barbie peacefully in state in the coffin and I thought … Dracula Barbie. Dracula always rests in his natural earth from Transylvania. Natural soil for Barbie would have to be pink … an easy fix. A quick trip to JoAnn's Fabrics in Keene and I had black, glossy material for the cape. Paint the top of the coffin pink … add some fangs … and Dracula Barbie was ready for the show.

I confess the next two pieces were not my idea. I saw them in a store window in Quebec City. One was canned Barbie parts … like heads, or arms, or legs. I made my version using antique canning jars with the wire tops. I added dried hot peppers to each jar (because Barbie is so hot and spicy) and called my creation Pickled Barbie. The second piece I saw involved Barbie and an old meat grinder. Input Barbie heads to the grinder and outcome fur. I assumed the fur was fox since Barbie is so foxy. In my version, the output was golden thread. I called the piece “Meatgrinder Barbie.

Don’t blame me for the next two pieces. Blame Charlton Heston. You may or may not know that Charlton Heston has invaded my dreams and is intentionally trying to make my life miserable with his clinched-teeth maniacal grin. I thought I had seen the last of him until the other night … 3:00 AM to be exact. He slipped unseen through the backdoor of my dream world and secretly eased a thought into my head. I had been thinking about what one does with leftover Barbie parts. Pull off a head and then what. I want to give credit where credit is due … even to my nemesis CH. In the movie that CH did about a futuristic, over-populated world struggling to feed the hoards, two wafer-like soy cakes were developed and feed to the people. The protein cake was called soylent green. The snoopy policeman in the movie (CH) discovered the secret … soylent green was made from reprocessed body parts and fed to the people. The perfect solution was those leftover body parts … Soylent Green Barbie.
The last piece in the series is also a result of the extra parts I had on hand. Again, what so you use them for. I thought about how we use our DNA to clone man-make versions of ourselves. Well, sheep for now mostly. I created a new cloned version of Barbie. Done on a pure white background (hospital sanitary conditions for this procedure), I created the Cloned Barbie from those leftovers.

For now, I am done with Barbie creations … but you never know … I still have to sleep at night.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

No Stray Dogs in Vermont

I was driving to work today and had a revelation. Before I go further, I want to make something clear. There was no shaft of light from above. I was not knocked from a donkey and blinded by a brilliant light. Any burning bushes I might have seen were strictly of forest fire origin. The revelation was this … there are NO stray dogs in Vermont.

When I was a child, I relied on stray dogs. They comprised the available pet pool. Around home, dogs were just dogs. Unless, of course, they were hunting dogs. Even a poor man would pay $300-$400 for a good hunting dog. Paying good money for a pet was unheard of … at least in my circle. Fortunately for me, I lived just outside the town limits. Every year, when the dog tags were due, miraculously, dogs would appear in our neighborhood. Great dogs, of mysterious ancestry. They would ramble into our yard with delineated rib cages, begging for scraps. Yes, they did turn over the trash barrel on occasion. I loved them all. My dad, however, did not share my universal acceptance of them. His instructions were not to feed them (which we did) and rock them to chase them away (which we did not). They did not stay for long … a few days … but for that brief time, they were mine. Understand, in my world a stray dog was an endangered specie. Stray dogs that turned over the trash barrel in their search for food got 120 volts on their second trip (Dad and the neighbor were both electricians). There was a particular mutt once that I really got attached to and begged Dad to let me keep it. Dad was walking out of the woods with his rifle at the time. He just smiled and told me that if it came back to the house again, I could keep it. It didn’t and I did not figure it out until I was much older.

Here’s my revelation. There are no stray dogs in Vermont because of the animal rights people and the animal-lovers. No such thing as the wild and care free life on the road for a dog here. You will never see a dog hopping a freight and there no hobo dog encampments under the bridges. Were a dog to strike out here, minutes later, he would be pounced upon by hoards of animal rescuers. Before he could learn to spit tobacco, the dog would be warm, fed and lounging in front of someone’s fireplace. He might even be wearing a new jacket. It is the demise of the Huckleberry Finn’s of the dog world. Greyhounds probably have it worse. People can’t wait to snatch them from the clutches of the dog tracks. Ironically, I have never seen a rescued greyhound running. It must be a no-no in the rescued world. Locally, the people raised about $250,000 to build a new facility for the ASPCA. Even in winter, people sleep under the bridge in Brattleboro and the homeless shelters overflow. Whoever said that every dog has his day must have lived in Brattleboro at some point..

As far as I am concerned, Brattleboro has gone to the dogs

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Chapters

I had an epiphany. I’m not sure what that is exactly though. I assume it to be some great moment of insight. I’m not so naïve as to believe that such instantaneous insight is an act of divine intervention into the lives of mere mortals. Frankly, my beliefs are more earthly. Blinding shafts of light viewed vertically, I generally assume to be meteors. Viewed horizontally, I take to be the headlights of a semi in the wrong lane. I try to hold the term “divine” in reserve for monumental situations like the taste of a HAP’s hot dog. Let’s say I had a thought and leave it at that.

A colleague of mine experienced a life-changing event – the loss of a spouse. We are not close friends in the usual sense. We don’t visit one another or even talk that much. But, I feel connected to her. I think I know her deep down inside. This may not be true, but it feels that way! It is like in Anne of Green Gables. When Anne looks at her reflection in the window pane at the orphanage, she knows the person she sees there … her kindred spirit. I feel this way with my colleague to some degree. Thus, her experience gave me pause. The situation reminded me of a book … and I thought, “Even old books have new chapters”. What if books had no end and were instead perpetually available for new chapters to be added. Who says the conclusion of a book is the purview of the author. Such audacity! To me, the classics are a perfect example of this idea. The classics have stood the test of time. They are read and reread … thought and rethought … imagined and re-imagined … over and over again. Can the story remain the same under these conditions or does the book become the cumulative experience of it all? In effect, new chapters are constantly being written. Are our libraries the accumulation of what has been or what will be?

Are our lives so different? When are the endings defined in our lives? Are they real or are we, like the reader, constantly reimagining what our lives have been or will be? Are we adding new chapters?

The End ( no strike this )

The Pause

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Breaking Bad ... heading out!

I was the nice kid in school. I was the poster boy for “do the right thing”. Mrs. Cardwell, my first grade teacher said … and I quote …”Why can’t you children be more like Bruce?” Miss Howard, my high school French teacher said … and I quote … “Who’s talking in the back of the room? I know it couldn’t be Bruce.”

The right thing … it is what I do. Me, the guy voted Mr. Congeniality on the football team. Sixty years of Mr. Right. Until today, that is!

Today, I threw caution to the wind.

Today, I pulled out all the stops.

Today, I let it all hang out.

Anne and I took a hike up Black Mountain today. Today … that’s right, today … I hiked without my hiking backpack.

I just said “no” to the emergency TP … so what, shit happens.

I just said “no” to the Deet … it doesn’t bug me.

I just said “no” to the compass … I’ll rely of my moral compass for direction.

I just said “no” to my knee and ankle braces … who knees them?

I think this was all due to the full tilt boogie. It was my downfall. I am sixty plus and on the way out. For the duration of the downhill slide, I intend to make the rules. I will hike without a pack if I choose. Let the chips fall where they may. I will drink regular coffee, make that espresso, at midnight. Even a piper has to make a living … I’ll pay. I will eat fish caught at the dam in Vernon. Tridium-dee Tridium-dum.

From here on out, I am living large. I don’t really want to live to a ripe old age … I know the smell. When the adventure and fun is gone, I want out. Don’t think that I don’t have a plan. On the coast of Portugal is a place called Cabo da Roca. The cliff overlooking the ocean there must be over 300 feet high. Straight down to a buttermilk surf. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Better still, there are no rails … like it should be!

When it is time … someone wheel me to the edge. Take the brake off of my chair. Don’t worry. I have always done the right thing.

…and I always will.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Flea Migration

I imagine myself standing at the intersection of Route 30 and the Brookline road. I gaze across a deserted field. Before me are a couple of overturned barrels, an abandoned truck, a few empty tables and the remains of a tent. The fleas are gone ... eradicated ... maybe by Billy the Exterminator ... maybe something else ... I wonder if ...

The vast grasslands extend in all directions, as far as the eye can see ... the horizon, a thin black line broken sporadically by indistinguishable tree shapes. Ever so slowly, the scene morphs into a blackened mass. Like India ink oozing onto white paper, the mass swells. The fleas are marching ... like lemmings to the sea ... miniature wildebeasts.

Inside the open cockpit, the pilot glances below as the ancient craft banks into its final turn. His silk scarf snaps wildly in the wind. The goggles and leather helmet are paradoxically apropos in that, in a sense, his target is an antiquity itself. Framed by the four red flags in the corners of his target, he levels the bi-plane a mere 15 feet from the ground and flips the lever. Powder streams from the nozzles, then, cloud-like, floats noiselessly to the ground. There is no escape now.

With the same certainty as the arrival of the swallows in Capistrano, the flea market is dying. It is inevitable. It is obsolete.

It saddens me to see it go. Not just because it is my habit to go on Sunday mornings. Yes, it was a habit ... and it had rules ... the ones that I created. Be there early. Get coffee (nothing else). Circle the grounds from left to right, one row at a time and then the field next to the parking lot. Scout potential buys first. The second lap is to haggle prices for selected items. I have my standards. I refuse to deal with certain dealers. Frenchie puts no prices on his stuff and, worse, chews tobacco. He's out. I will not patronize the guy who brought adult videos and let kids go through them. I tattled on him. No way will I deal with the guy who brought framed pictures of Holocaust abuses and claimed them to be historic art. It is not my intent to support those who profit from the sale of knives (not hunting knives) to kids and teenagers. Cigar smoking dealers are not for me. Never ... never ... never pay asking price.

There are some things I will miss. Where will I find the detritus I seek? Where can I go for the box full of Barbie dolls that I bought in order to get heads and arms and legs for a project I was doing? What store in town sells rusty metal? I will miss the guy who digs the dump for rusting pieces of metal that I buy. For years, I have purchased my garden tools at the flea market for half the price. What about the rusting segments of chain for my hanging stones? Who else sells used canvasses for painting? I need inexpensive, weird ornaments and hanging pieces to secret into hollow trees when I hike.

No question, the flea market will be missed. In it's place ... eBay, I guess. The age of the dinosaurs is over. Can I be that far behind?

Friday, April 30, 2010

What To Do With Dad?

They say what drives you crazy makes you strong. Don’t you believe it! What drives you crazy really does drive you crazy. Nothing short of that, unless it is merely near crazy. I am not a stronger person for the experience. At best, I benefit from the emotional nourishment gleaned from my fits of maniacal laughter. The relief is infrequent and short-lived.

Before I proceed, my apologies. Is it bad manners to conclude before you commence? Have I confused a push cart for the horse-drawn cart? In summary, I begin.

We are clearly the product of the post-WWII sperm flow … the baby boomers. We lapped up life like a dog on a hot day. Somewhere along the way, we lay down for a nap, and pods were secretly placed beside our heads as we slept. We are one of them now, and we recognize one another by the distant stares and vacant eyes. Our worlds have turned upside down. The child has become the man and the man has become the child. We are like a drop of water in an ocean of boomers ... all of us trying to figure out what to do with our parents. If you are not there already, you will be.

We are trapped in a classic lose-lose situation. Our backgrounds suggest that we are decision-makers … our approach is to take control. Logic says to make all the decisions and to tell dad what he can or can’t do, to take away the car, to take over the checkbook and to bring in someone to clean and watch over him. Logic says to do all the things that I would rather die than have done for (or is it to) me. The alternative is the nursing home. It’s the easy path. I believe the easy path would kill him. I know this sounds bad, but I will say it anyway. Sometimes, I hope for dad to die. I do not mean that I want to kill him. I hope for him to die doing. I am not ashamed of this . We have done my dad and millions of others a great disservice. We have chosen life over dignity for our elders. We are trying to keep dad at home as long as possible … a facade of independence. We all know it is not real. He can’t see. He can’t hear. He can’t remember. But, he thinks he can do all three. We stick red-hot pokers in our eyes and hope for blindness. But we can see. We make speeches about the sanctity and dignity of life. I fear that both cease to exist in the absence of choice.

For now, my role is to telephone and to visit. I try to call weekly, but dad doesn't always hear the phone. The short-term memory is gone so our conversations are tough. My strategy is to listen to each story over and over again as if I had never heard it before. The re-telling of the story may begin 30 seconds after the finish of the first telling. I pretend that we are having a real conversation.

Yesterday, it was the leaf story. Dad is a little obsessed with the leaves. The gist of the story is that he rakes, he piles them on a tarp, he hitches himself to the tarp like a mule, he drags the leaves to the edge of the yard, he sneaks out to burn them, Dean stops him and tells him he will compost the leaves, the leaves have not been composted yet, dad wants to burn them again. Repeat chorus.

I am weak. After seven tellings, I couldn't take it any more. "Dad, where is your tarp?" I retrieved the tarp from the well house, intent upon removing the cursed pile of leaves. I unfolded the tarp. Unfurled before me was a twenty year old tarp, tied together in no less than 8 places with wire and with a multitude of holes ranging from 1 inch to 15 inches in diameter. I burst into uncontrollable laughter. "Dad, this tarp is useless. Have you ever thought of throwing it away?" Dean listened, obviously amused, and knowingly smiled and rolled his eyes. Dad launched into the eighth retelling ... the ninth ... the tenth. I walked away and disposed of the leaf pile in fifteen minutes. I made a mental note to buy a new tarp.

I took a walk with Dean in the garden to regain my composure. On our way back to the yard, I spotted what may have been the worst leaf rake I had ever seen. I started busting on Dean, but his grin told me what I should have realized at the start. The rake’s broken handle was repaired with a nail and duct tape. The plastic rake itself was broken in half and had been bolted back together with large bolts. Every tine on the rake had been broken off. Shaking my head in bewilderment, I listened as Dean explained how dad had taken it out of the trash three different times. I made a mental note to buy a new rake and secretly threw the old one away.

I rejoined dad at his chair in the sun. I believe he is attempting to turn himself into a piece of leather and, in the process, is driving Dean insane. Personal care is a big issue now, and I noticed the new beard he seemed to be sporting. My question about it served as the catalyst for a new story, the retelling of which I would endure five times in the next 20 minutes. The electric razor pulled the hairs out and got so hot he could not put in on his face. No, he did not consider throwing it away or letting us know about it. I made a mental note to buy a new electric razor.

Like a new razor on a bearded face, we glide smoothly to the flower story. It is touching and sad at the same time. Dad walks twice a day and stops at mom’s grave and has a talk with her. As dad says, “She probably can’t hear me, but it makes me feel better”. Anyway, dad has beautiful azaleas. He picked a bunch, tied them with string and took them over to mom’s grave. He was astounded the next day when they were dead. The fact that they were left in the 80 degree heat with no water did not seem to register to him. He retold the flower story without interruption about eight times. I am weak. I excused myself to go to the bathroom. In the back door, out the front. I placed a bouquet of azaleas in a jar of water on mom’s grave and returned to the house.

It was time for me to go. By this, I don’t mean it was actually time to go. I needed to go! I drove straight WalMart. I bought an electric razor. I bought a tarp. I bought a rake. Tomorrow, I will go back to visit with dad.

Tomorrow, we will start over.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Full Tilt Boogie

Anne and I listened to an NPR program about a southern author named Lee Smith. On the program, she discussed her new book, Mrs. Darcey Meets the Blue-Eyed Stranger. She described her main character as being in a "full tilt boogie". I knew immediately that I had to read the book.

Curiosity killed the cat. I googled the phrase and read the Urban Dictionary definitions. They ranged from unbridled sex to out-of-control drug use to the feeling you get when you kill someone. I can't tell you how disappointed I was. I wanted it to be Lee Smith's creation alone. I didn't want it to be about sex. I didn't want it to be about drugs. I didn't want it to be about killing.

I don't care what the dictionaries say. To me, full tilt boogie is an exuberance and passion for life ... my life.

I want to be Mrs. Darcey.

I want the blue-eyed stranger to come to me in my dreams. [So long as it isn't Charlton Heston.]

I want to live life in a full tilt boogie.

Southern Diners

I have been fascinated by diners for years. No, I should say obsessed. I’m talking about southern diners, not northern diners. I have a history with southern diners. The food seldom tastes that good, but then again, it is billed as home cooking. Average home cooking, not great home cooking. It’s about what they serve. I always check the “sides” first. Like turnip greens, collards, field peas, butter beans, okra. Then the standards like hamburger steak or liver and onions. The technique of choice … fried, fried, fried. Next, I look around. Undoubtedly, there will be vinyl (probably red and probably ripped) and handwritten menus. Ancient, dirty menus are acceptable as well. The ultimate … if there are specials posted on paper plates and tacked all over the walls … then you are in the right place.

Eden, NC must be the Mecca of southern diners. We stopped at a new one on our way out of town on our last visit. It was called Nanny B’s. I think Nanny must be Aunt Bea’s sister from Mayberry. Louis took us there for the hot dogs. I got three (three for $2.89) for Anne and me, and Louis got three as well. He actually gave one to Anne, so I got to keep three for me. In addition, I ordered a thick-sliced bologna burger to go with it. (It goes without saying … sweet tea.) Do not confuse this with gluttony. It is behavioral research. Hot dogs rated high on the differential scale but the bologna came up short. First time customers at Nanny B’s get a free dessert. I thought that was a nice touch.

When you order hot dogs in the South, you need to know the lingo. In most places that means mustard and onions, or mustard onions and ketchup for the toned down version. “All the way” in the South is not the same as “all the way “ in the North. In the South, it generally means mustard, onions, and chili. “All the way and” includes slaw as well. Northerners have never heard of slaw on a dog and generally confuse it with the straw on a camel’s back. Notice that I did not mention relish … nor pickles … nor celery salt. These are abominations to the southern dog. Say those words in association with the words "hot" and "dog", and most likely you have unknowingly drifted across the Mason-Dixon Line. The absence of road kill possum should serve as a verification of this fact.

I have a little diner history. I love hanging out at a diner. When I was younger, I did it all the time. Never ate. Just drank cup after cup of coffee. Surely , the waitresses must have hated me. Here’s a thought … maybe the attraction wasn’t the food. Maybe it was the people! I love the fringes … and watching. I stopped in a diner late one night in a rough section of the town I grew up in. After a while, one of the waitresses asked me what I did for a living and I told her I that I was a teacher. Her reply was, “ That’s not what I heard. I heard that you are a narc”. So much for the merits of sitting alone and watching others. I vehemently assured her I WAS NOT!

I never went back there, but I have been to hundreds of other diners over the years. I never get enough of it … the food … the people … and yikes, the watching. I step through those doors and I am instantly back home. I pull up a stool and consume my past with gusto.

I love diners.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Who Needs London, Wales or Paris?

When I say who needs London, Wales or Paris the answer is me. Nevertheless our trip was canceled due to the volcano in Iceland. So be it. Instead, we took a trip to visit relatives in the South. I discovered that there was plenty to offer to replace those tourist sites we had hoped to see overseas. Here's what I mean.

The traffic at Piccadilly Circus is almost always zooming. Not quite so in Winchester,VA.

We were not so naive as to think we would see the Prince and Princess of Wales on our trip. However, we did run into the Prince and Princess of Whales in SC.

We had planned an excursion to see the Lloyd's of London building. Instead, we checked out Lloyd's of Simpsonville in SC.

I love to go to the zoo. We were quite satisfied when we found this zoo in Fountain Inn, SC to replace the visit to the London Zoo.

Winchester Cathedral would have been great to see. However, there are numerous interesting churches in the South.

Here in SC, we do not torture people in our towers, like they did at the Tower of London.

It would have been quite the treat to meet the Queen Mother. I was fortunate to meet the Queen Muther instead in Simpsonville.

We missed Buckingham Palace, but our visit to the Pooch Palace was quite interesting.

Too bad Louis and Susan did not get to Paris. However, I am pretty sure this clerk in the food store was named "Fifi".

You can see Big Ben in T.J.Maxx most any day.

If you think the London Eye is cool, check out this eye.

Conwy Castle was canceled, but we found a castle in NC anyway.

We had our hearts set on fish and chips. Lucky for us, we found a replacement restaurant in VA.

You know, I am not sure if I will ever travel abroad again. Why should I? It is all right here at my fingertips.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Never, ever get in a car without your camera. The minute you do you will happen upon something strange, or wonderful, or unbelievable that no one will believe unless you show them. The world is full of photo ops and strange resides just outside your door if you look for it. Here are a couple of examples.

There is a unique statue in Volens, Virginia near where I grew up. It has been there for years, however this year someone has clothed it. Not sure why. Volens is a rural tobacco growing area, not big enough to call a town or village. It is literally a signpost. I want a gorilla statue for my yard.

Anne and I were at Seagrove outside of Asheboro, NC. We made a trip there to check out the numerous potters in the area. By the way, we saw some great pottery there. We were not on any schedule and were just bumming around. We noticed a small
community nearby when we looked at the map. So we said, “Why not”?

There was another little town called Erect. Anne didn’t want to go there and I had a headache. We chose not to go there.

One of the potter’s we visited was a fisherman, I suspect. Took a pix of his mailbox. Later on I spotted a cool, 18-wheeler mailbox that was at least 12 feet long, but I did not have time to get a pix of it.

There was also this weird guy hanging a stone in a tree. I put one of my hanging stones in a tree at the entrance to my nephew’s housing development about four years ago. Just last fall, I replaced the feather on it. This time, I noticed that the stone had disappeared. It seems that several of the local kids had found it, and they had determined it was left by Indians. By the next night, the stone had vanished. None of the kids would admit taking it.
Quinn, Barrett and I went on a mini-adventure to hang another stone in a secret spot, although they were quickly distracted by dandelions they wanted to pick.