Tags: non-fiction

Fire Spinner

Some Like It Hot

ACCESSORIES

63 days...
   the vans have all gone
but the streets are still here

       they cry out for justice.

Though faded from sight
forgotten from mind
we have not fallen quiet...
We see you.

Moms and Dads
and Grannies and Vets
in a row, in a line, in a wall
of love and strength
and righteous wrath
  we stand...
    of this ends here and now —
  of take no more — we stand
of not on my watch
We see you.

Their masks their shields
their feet our steeds
our pen their sword
their images
our eagle eyes...
We see you.

1 if by land, 2 if by sea
3 if by unmarked van
We see you.


Attacks on the people
  don’t keep the peace
 Assaulting the public
    won’t make it secure
Crimes of war on
   domestic shores...
 WE are not the enemy.
We see you.


Where are the pitchforks
    of rage?
  Where are the minute men?
Where’s the armed militia
— the wardens of minutiae —
 to rise up
  against
the man

to protect
the oppressed
to defend the detained
   to check
     the overreach
of despotic
  tyrannic control
We see you.


Silence is violence
ignorance complacency
complacency complicit

bleach and bullets and *8_77$#!&*
diamond and silk and denial
demon seed and a reptile dysfunction

viral cult misinformation
intentional mass misdirection
commotion, confusion, conspiracy

alternative facts
  may be painful
...but stupid kills.
We see you.



LIES!!!
Lies.  Lies.  Lies.
   Lies.  LIES.  Lies.  L I E S.
WE
SEE YOU!


LIFE is essential
You are not expendable.
You’re not a hero —
        a hostage...
of economic impossibility
broken down trade
and busted up industry
a fiscal instability —
the inconvenience of
  a system that doesn’t
    care about you
  or anyone
who isn’t green
and dead.
We see you.

Labor for sale
Death for profit
The biggest boom
to the top
since the war
 ...well, this one
      or that one
  or the one before.
We see you.


When did truth
  give way to opinion?
Why was science
  demoted to optional??
How is dying now
  somehow political??!

What made compassion
  and decency, rational thought
    get thrown out like
stained dirty genes?

When did killing off
   the weak
 become the social norm?
And who gets to decide
who’s the weakest?

Who do we sacrifice next?
Who should be
  volunteered
    as tribute to
the esteemed
   elite?

Have we always
been so numb?
...or just since
we got so dumb?
When do we mourn
1 in 20 snuffed out?
When do stop
destroying
ourselves?


Whether we get to eat
or keep a roof on our heads...
a hotly contested debate —
if the jobless deserve
a fighting chance

Consider the loss on
investment — decades of
efforts negated
in collectively keeping
our lessers down...
  gotta make sure
    he knows his place
We see you.

Crawling from out
     of a bottle
  holding your sign
      on the corner
  there but for grace...
We see you.


Departed, deported,
deflated, depraved
We see you.

Irreparable, deplorable,
discreditable, debunked
We see you.


Families divided
Children in custody
Kids in cages
Camping with great
   concentration...
  No really — they love
the gardening!
We see you.


Fear
  is our national
       currency
Hate
  our national
      debt
Our legacy
    to have loved
       and lost.

The heart of our soul
    is up for grabs —
  on the block to
the highest bidder...
  sold for a bill of goods
    convincing the jingoist
  he’s a patriot.
We see you.


How did we come to be
  so overrun
by such impudent
      imprudent
zealots and freaks?

What’s in it for
     cronies
  and cohorts and fans
patrons and backers
bootlicking the clan?
We see you.


Forward progress
   Civil rights
The Rule of Law
  The Constitution
    our duty to
      the natural order...

mere casualties
of commerce —
 the cost of doing business
  with greased palm
     handshakes
 in back room deals

   restrictions, protections
     to safeguard the people
   just get in the way
 of the almighty dividend
We see you.


Polar bears, pandas
  and bees — oh my —
ice caps, clean water
    the dying breaths
  of the rainforests...
   1000 year storms
  — a smattering
       every season —
     our whole way of life...

We Stand on this Rock
    with our Flints at the ready
   to pass on a livable world
 to our young.
We see you.


Integrity succumbed
 to the power of the gun —
our babies sent home
    in body bags
our grieving minds
  made up for us —
the powers that be
  decreed:
    nothing to see here
  don’t get all uptight...
 go quietly back
to your lives.
We see you.




A saver of people
and pets and things
cast away and tossed aside
I love it because it’s trash!

...but maybe the cost
to foster the people
has finally gotten too high

The trailer park
    of the planet
a public beyond
    redemption
soon to be
   forgotten.



What can I do?
    What can I say?
So busy with... stuff...
   too much on my plate
I’ve nothing to add
  that can make
     any difference.
Surely my voice
   doesn’t matter.
We see you.

There are kids to raise
and bills to pay
mouths to feed
and hell toupee.
We see you.


We’re keeping our credit
in check because
some part of the world
  still cares
   what color
the kitchen is
.

I never have enough
  time to myself
   and the walls are  
  closing  in...
I’m   so...   tired.
    So  very    very tired.

I’m  losing...
  my mind
    myself
 this game
     losing  it

I can’t hold it back
  anymore
    ...can’t hold it in.
   I can’t keep it out.  
  I can’t keep it up.

I  can’t make this
  easy...
    or pretty
     ...it isn’t.


I can’t sleep at night
   ...can’t even think
          straight
     I can’t even...

 I   just...
   can’t.



The world is getting hotter...

   the water is boiling

our salted legs

   begin to twitch



>>--*CRICKETS*--<<
           sing


          THIS IS FINE.



...I

     can’t...

          breathe.



LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 28 - Topic: SAWUBONA
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Faceless

What is WRONG with you???

LEGACY

I don’t suppose I’ve achieved enough success in my life yet to consider mine a rags to riches story, but I can certainly say I’ve come a long way from having been a child ward of the state.  Those days were an almost forgotten other world from here, way back around that bygone era when DCFS destroyed the only family I’d ever known by then.  No, wait... that’s not fair...

In reality, it wasn’t the state that ruined us...


Untreated mental health issues shattered my Mother.

Acute self-centered overindulgence wrecked my father.

Abject poverty devastated us all.


Alcoholism, unchecked rage, violence, and abuse...

     ...sexual deviancy, moral depravity, molestation and pedophilia...

          ...willful ignorance, purposeful neglect, and parental abandonment...

...these are the evils that irreparably damaged the first family that formed the foundation of my life.  The state department of Health and Rehabilitative Services was just there to pick up the broken pieces.  I lost everyone I loved in one dire night — stolen away to “the system.”

Through the lens of maturity, and the perspective of time, I can see now that was the best thing for all of us.  But even if I could have understood so then, it wouldn’t have made it any easier to sleep alone in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers — thankfully, I can’t remember anymore how many nights I must have cried myself to sleep... these days I can only imagine.  In some respects, I became who I am today in that moment “they” came to our door and took us from our home... in other ways, I never fully recovered.


Before my world came crashing down around us, I had been raised on foodstamps, picking green bits off bread, learning to digest anything a goat can eat — a typical once-a-week dinner for our whole family was to sit down to a big pot of mac ‘n’ cheese with canned peas and weenies.*  Foodstamps alone were never enough, though — not so much we didn’t still have to hit up the foodbank twice a month.  And feeding isn’t all there is to caring for a family... there was the bookmobile, swap meets, toy exchanges, and free clothing drives — touring bi-monthly tri-state area flea markets were a regular staple of our routine. 


*(For anyone fortunate enough to not be in the know about such things, that’s boiled hot dogs sliced into smaller sections to spread further as fractions than as whole units... even in today’s economy, the total cost of that entire meal for the 5 of us would be around $2.17.  It wasn’t that good, but it was edible, and it kept us from going hungry.  If you’ve ever heard anyone speak of “po-folx fare,” this is what they meant.

If I hadn’t come to know her better later on, I might have wondered whether the reason my Mother became so fanatically religious (considering she’d been brought up on the rez) was to be close enough to local church organizations to take advantage of their donations and giveaways for the poor — or perhaps in the hopes that God would award her faithfulness with a better life.  I suspect, in Mother’s case, these two angles of zealotry were very likely not necessarily mutually exclusive.


My father was an over-the-road trucker.  He was often out-of-town for long stretches, and when he was back, he was generally irritable, with too much time on his hands, which — if we were lucky — he spent scouring local gun shops for gear to blow his paycheck on, drawing obscene images (the man was such a brilliantly talented artist, if not for the comic book character proportions, his work could have been mistaken for photography), or obsessively crafting WWII memorabilia.  While my mother at least claimed to pine over his dearth, we all got along fine without him when he wasn’t around, and learned to keep our distance from him as much as possible when he was — though that never worked out well enough for long.

Mother often toiled away, 2-3 jobs at a time, like she thought it would earn her extra jewels in her crown — including late night and swing shifts — so she wasn’t always around that much either.  But it wasn’t because she was so dedicated to supporting us she had to labor that hard just to bring in enough income for meeting our needs... no, that circumstance was mostly caused by her inability to ever find a way to hold down one job — something was always getting in the way of her success, and to hear her tell the tale (which she was only too eager to fire off at anyone who would listen), whatever “it” was, it was never her fault.  Her official diagnosis was PSD (paranoid schizophrenic disorder), but more accurately, I believe that conclusion probably resulted from the masking technique of BPD (borderline personality disorder), as this more comprehensive condition is wont to mimic others, and over enough time, I was able to identify recognizable symptoms.


My brother and sister and I pretty much raised ourselves for a few years — they would get themselves up and ready for school, with me crying as they caught the bus off to their 2nd and 4th grade classes, respectively, holding onto their clothes, begging them not to go.  (A favorite game of my brother’s was to pretend he didn’t notice when I threw myself on the ground and wrapped my arms around his legs to prevent him from leaving... he would pull one foot out, making a big production of going anyway — as if he hadn’t noticed me there, so he would have to end up taking me with him — walking towards the door for a few steps, dragging me along, until I couldn’t hold on anymore because I was giggling too hard.)  They would both shower me with hugs and tickles and smooches, promising to be home in the afternoon, “before you even know it!,” then wave and blow kisses from the windows of the bus as it carried them away, leaving me on my own until they returned.

He was 10, she was 8... I was 3.

I popped across the large lot over to the elderly neighbors who owned the land we lived on, snacking on kumquats from the bushes in their front yard, knocking on their door to be let in for an individual cereal box or a pop tart (which I feel pretty sure they probably kept around just for such occasions) and morning cartoons.  The 2BR/1Bath sharecropper’s shack we “rented” from them for the upkeep on it had been converted from a chicken coop when they’d become old enough to retire from active farm operations.  After breakfast, I took my dolls, and my books,* and followed my cat out into their orange groves, the two of us wandering together for the bulk of the day... it was easy to lose myself out there in the serene stillness and quiet beauty of nature. 


*(Mother had become overly ambitious about my pre-K home education once she’d recognized how smart I was as a young child, and had taught me to read before I could speak — though I was already talking up a summer storm by the time I reached 3 — but I almost never went anywhere without my favorite books.)

When I got hungry, I ate fallen fruit off the ground because those were the ones I could reach — I developed a strong, instinctive sense of what was too far turned, a taste for slightly rotten oranges, and an iron constitution — though sometimes my brother or sister packed me a bologna-n-cheese or PB & J to carry along, because if my father was passed out at home, it was never a good idea to be nearby when he came to.  Whenever I had to go, I would simply squat, making use of leaves and grass for hygiene materials.  On days he was on the road, though — which were preferable — I could hang around the house, watch Sesame Street, use the facilities, and make myself mac ‘n’ cheese, ramen, sandwiches, cereal, or toast (which about comprised the extent of my “cooking” skills in the kitchen, but that’s far more than can be expected of most 3-yr-olds).

My excursions out into the wild with my best friend came to an end, though, when my father murdered our cat — he grabbed him by the scruff, yanked him into his car and held him in his lap, got up to highway speeds, then tossed him out the window — I know about it, because he did this with my brother in the car.  I can only imagine how traumatizing that must have been for my brother — I think the intent was to intimidate my brother, to show what could happen to him if my father got too tired of him, as he was tired of caring for my cat.  I didn’t find this out from my brother until years later, after I’d spent weeks and months back then crying over missing him, calling outside and at night for my cat, never knowing where he’d run off to, wondering why he would leave our home, desperately hoping he would return.


My father was a drunk.  He routinely deliquesced into his knock-off lazy-boy, mostly naked, watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes, while scratching his balls... when I was little, I would have sworn he had three stomachs, and at least two necks.  To this day, the smell of cheap yellow beer takes me back to dark, sticky, sweaty places, with hot, rancid breath dripping off bristly whiskers, stumbling flab rolls, and fumbling fingers.

My father frequently beat us.  With his hands.  With his belt.  With the matchbox car racetracks my brother got for Christmas.  With a freshly cut twig from a young sapling skinned of bark to the bleeding green underbelly, until it whistled in the air like a pan-flute, cracked like a whip, and welted skin bloody with the barest touch.

Well, no... that’s not quite true... he beat my siblings — especially my brother, the only other male among us, a natural threat to my sire’s totalitarian authority.  For me, his only biological offspring — his darling prodigy, his perfect creation, who could do no wrong in his eyes — he spared the rod, and spoiled the child... he just “loved” me “a little too much.”  My sister’s role was so much worse, though, as he and Mother often weren’t home at the same time for too long, and, you know... a man has needs.


My brother took it upon himself to save us — he knew he wasn’t strong enough to confront all 400# of my beer-induced-rage-filled progenitor himself, so he determined to run away — his “grand liberation plan” to form a band along the lines of the then very popular KISS, earning enough money as a rockstar to swoop back in as the valiant returning jukebox hero made good, and bust his sisters out of that toxic environment.  Pinching together every penny he had, he hitched to a neighboring town, and got as far as a 24-hr highway truckstop diner, where he had just enough to buy a coffee, before passing out in a booth, exhausted from the road, and the stress of it all.  Waitresses changing shifts hours later discovered him numb to the world with his icy cuppa joe well past a gradeschool kid’s curfew, and when one sat down to hear his sad tale of two sisters trapped in the abusive clutches of a monster, DCFS was called, and the jig was up.

He was 12, she was 10 — I was 5.


I remember Mother calling us all to her and issuing a tearful farewell, explaining why she had to leave (I never recalled the details, other than frantically, angrily, desperately pleading against her retreat), and I remember the child welfare people being at the door to collect us... for the first half of my life, I’d believed this was one recollection of the same night — it wasn’t until decades later, in my 20s, my brother clarified for me those events had been 2 years apart.  Our mother had responded to being confronted by my brother about what my father was doing to our sister by first furiously accusing him of lying and beating him, then making herself the victim (because somehow, whatever it was, it was always about her), deciding she was too beleaguered to deal with it, and walking out on us all.  We’d already endured two years of fluctuating between either fending for ourselves on our own, or surviving abuse without any maternal buffer of protection before my brother made his drastic attempt at a heroic rescue.

I’d had memories of Mother being gone, of missing her, of wishing she was around — but my toddler brain had squeezed the gaps together, and I’d just since rationalized she’d always been working during those absences.  That revelation of the truth hit me with the kind of hard-knock shock to the system that reframed my entire perspective on much of my life up to that point.  My brother also shared with me, part of Mother’s argument during that heated confrontation was to explain to him, my brother “just didn’t understand” my father, as he had no idea what that man had been through... then she told him a sob story about the nightmare of his grueling tour in Vietnam, leaving my brother dumbfounded and appalled, not because of the horrific nature of the tale, but because he knew it to be total *8@77$#!%*.  Outraged, my brother cleared the air for our Mother, by informing her — that wasn’t my father — that was Chuck Norris in Missing in Action!

Mother subsisted her entire disturbed life in a dodgy relationship with the truth, but that was primarily due to the effect of a condition resulting from her psychopathy, because she was able to lie to herself so convincingly, she then believed her own lies, which thereby effectively became her truth.  The same cannot be said, though, of my father, who was merely an expertly opportunistic manipulator of her vulnerability and trusting, gullible nature — as he was with anyone whose convictions could be twisted to meet his ends.  I know there are some who would say he had a condition, too, as alcoholism is a disease — and, let’s not even go there with pedophilia — but I’m not one who is of the mind to slap a medical label on inexcusable behavior in order to wipe the slate clean... people still have choices to make... no one gets a free pass.


My father was a racist and a bigot — Archie Bunker, without the “charm.”  He was the first to introduce me to the term “light in the loafers,” and although I understood the gist of who was being referenced (that is, I got folks like Jack Tripper and Liberace without really knowing what that meant), it took me years to understand what a man’s choice in footwear had to do with any of it.  I remember once getting berated and cuffed for being “limp-wristed” as I walked into a Kroger — my short, stunted arms and hands carried in the position they fell most naturally then, like a kangaroo — because I looked “like a faggot,” and what would people think???

I recall retelling off-color jokes I’d heard from him, which never returned a word of dissent.  By the time I got into school, I remember absentmindedly doodling in the margins of coloring pages the swastikas I’d seen around our house on the model airplanes he built, because I thought they looked cool, but not one of my teachers raised an alarm — though a counselor bothered to call attention to pictures of bunnies I’d drawn... apparently, their clawed hands holding Easter baskets were somehow thought to possibly represent boobs.  (???!!)  That was Florida in the 70s, though — priorities, you know
by that time, thanks to foster placement, “the state” knew entirely too much about the world I’d come from, and they never let me forget it.


The family that adopted me a few years later turned my world around in a mostly positive fashion — at least by elevating my social status to a respectable middle class, anyway — though, while the potential for my future certainly became brighter for that reason, there were enough damaging issues and destructive conflicts of a different kind in my new family, it might be a stretch to say I was completely out of the fire at that point.  I do remain forever indebted for their willingness to take me in, sharing their home and their love, for becoming a permanent fixture of stability in my life, and for creating an environment in which I could thrive among them as one.  There isn’t any merit in comparing heartbreak, obviously — and yet, even so, the overall impact of my adopted family experience was not inconsequential enough to be overlooked on the roadmap of my life.


My mom was quick to inflict black and blue bruises up and down my arms with a lightning ninja pinch any time I disagreed with her — because she saw any argument from me as a personal affront, lacking respect for her authority.  She regularly slapped me in the face, or beat me with the belt I’d saved up my allowance to buy her for Mother’s Day (leather, ornately embossed with intricately dyed flowers, engraved “Mom”) until I was old enough to fight back, and strong enough to make her stop for good — I was 12 then.  No pre-adolescent should ever find themselves in a position to get into a knock-down, drag-out, blow-by-blow brawl with any adult, much less a family member, but after 5 years of assault, 3 years of administrative custody, and nearly 5 years of battery justified by “tough love Christian parenting,” I’d had enough of violence, and I was done with it.

Mom is the adult child of an abusive alcoholic, resulting in severe codependency issues, and an extreme lack of self-esteem, to the point she needed to impose her every meticulous whim upon every movement of every individual susceptible to her control, as she otherwise questioned their love and loyalty, because she had no belief she was worthy of either.  As a non-blood relation, I was less trustworthy than most in this regard from her perspective, as I had no genetic predisposition or contractual obligation to love her.  (After years of soul-searching, this is what she admitted to me about why her love for me was conditional for so long, and this personal epiphany was what allowed her to grow enough to finally build a healthy relationship with me.)

And, because I hadn’t grown up in that environment, I hadn’t yet learned — as my brothers and my Dad had — how to “handle” her by the time I came to them.  (To this day — as my husband came to conclude on his own through observation, before he even knew any of this backstory — my Mom now lives in a peaceful, comfortably placated alternate reality, partially because through a lot of personal growth on her part, she’s progressed enough to have put a lot of the need to control others behind her, but also not insignificantly because everyone associated with her life has been well trained in how to “handle” h
her.)  It took some time (and some distance) for me to also grasp the unspoken rules of “handling” my Mom, as well, but basically, it amounts to recognizing, with her, there are quite a few more sensitive subjects than most people have with the potential to result in a volatile reaction, so therefore these must be considered taboo, and kept off the table — stick to the general guidelines, and stay out of trouble zones, and things usually work out okay... also, the older she gets, the more she’s learned to let go, the more mellow she is, the less she cares about a lot of it, and the easier it has become to get along... which I’m so relieved by, and proud of her for.


My Dad
had been raised in a much more relaxed environment, which pretty much had effectively only a few general rules, more or less amounting to: Trust God, love others, don’t be stupid.  Mom claimed she resented his lack of hands-on involvement with raising us — and this was the singular constant sticking issue between them that frequently threatened to damage their relationship — but he remained emotionally unavailable throughout my preteens and adolescence.  I believe that has more to do with her overbearing attention to particulars about every tiny detail of my life, from what I thought to the way I breathed (I do really wish I could say I was exaggerating about this, but I promise I’m not), which left him so out of his depth, he had no idea how to be of any help, and so he left it all up to her — one less thing for him to “handle.”

Mom frequently challenged him to redress his level of participation in the corrective actions she imposed upon their kids.  But, if it had been up to him, there probably would have been about 20% of the total discipline enforced throughout our lifetimes for all five of us — at about 5% of the severity.  For that reason, I suspect all of this was just the song and dance acted out between them for the purpose of allowing her to play the role of the overworked, unappreciated martyr... although him being the type who avoided conflict at all costs and effectively “checked out” didn’t help the situation any, I’m sure.


Though nothing I experienced in this healthier setting compared in magnitude to what I lived through during my formative years, by far the worst injury was being disowned as their daughter, “for the good of the church.”  They would tell you it happened differently, I imagine, probably touting something about my “choices,” asserting I was the one who left them,* while downplaying it as irrelevant anyway, because, after all, they’ve since come around from that prolonged period of estrangement (around 8 years), and we’ve all moved on from there.  That is, as much as we are able to, anyway... some things are harder to get over than others.

In contrast, I can honestly attest with assurance, I’m quite certain nothing I could have done in this world would have ever made my original Mother not claim me as her own.  (She directly vowed as much, herself, which, although I believe her, is still ironic, coming from someone who didn’t have any qualms about deserting us, and who later in life told me she didn’t love me anymore because I refused to lie to a judge on her behalf when she was arrested for beating me, even though there were other witnesses — but that’s another story.)  There’s not much worth pining over in that world of “what if,” though, as I’m sure if I’d hung onto any more than incidental exposure to Mother’s world, I would have found it much more challenging to maintain any appearance of “normalcy” in this life.  But she was the one who’d stipulated, when signing away her parental rights, that I could only be adopted by a “Christian” family, though I later found out, she was apparently quite livid when she learned I’d gone to a “Protestant” home, and not a “Pentecostal” one — so, all things considered, I suppose it could have been worse, and I’m thankful the agency didn’t give too much weight to her wishes, as I probably dodged a bullet, there.


*(They sat me down for an “intervention,” in which my Mom did most of the talking while my Dad held his hands in his lap and kept his eyes on the floor, as she explained my actions had rippling consequences in association with him being an elder in the church — ordained according to scripture, in which the Bible clearly defines an elder as, “husband of but one wife and father of all God-fearing children.”  Since it was obvious to them and any casual observer from my way of life at the time I could no longer be considered a god-fearing child, my Dad would have to be disqualified from the eldership.  Because there were only two elders in the church at the time, that would dissolve the eldership, as one single man cannot put himself in a position of power over the church, and that would then leave the church without leadership, which was an unfair position to put the believers of that congregation in — and so, therefore, if I didn’t change my ways, they would have to disown me as their daughter.

For the record, I wasn’t living a particularly “sinful” life according to their religion at the time — that came later, after I discarded the institution of religion entirely as a result of this “threat,” and now no longer have the same concept of “sin.”  No, their assertion of my “non-god-fearing” nature was due to my willingness to be outspoken in my open questioning of certain elements about total indoctrination, because I’ve never been one to merely accept at face value everything I’ve been spoon-fed, no questions asked — that’s just not who I am.  I was 17.
)



I write the story of this firsthand knowledge, not at all in the slightest to re-experience any portion of the painful scarred wounds of these calloused memories, but to capture whatever benefit the study of such moments in our shared family history might harbor to offer my son, before the ability to recall any of it has escaped from my mind.  Proofreading out loud to my husband — as I do — I expressed surprise at finding myself choking in places, but Minion countered, wondering why I wouldn’t naturally expect that.  That answer is because I would have thought by the time I’m more than halfway closer to 50 than 40, none of this should be raw anymore... and my loving partner wisely and gently reproached me with, “It may be in the past, and you may have put it behind you — but you will never get over this.”


It’s really remarkable, how resilient children are... it’s truly amazing what we as humans can be capable of bouncing back from.  Most importantly, though, it’s critical to recognize how much kids pay attention to every specific detail and every minute aspect of each new life experience.  It’s crucial to notice not just what they’re learning, but how... especially during those moments when we’re not intending to teach.

Many folks who place gratuitous stock in their “credo” believe the best way to instill their own standard of principles in their young is the good ol’ fashioned way — by bible beating it into them — the “tried and true family values” of Judeo-Christian ethics, passed along through the teachings of the good book.  I may have spent decades around religion, but that’s not how I became who I am.  It took me getting to this week of rumination in my life to come to the realization, most everything I now consider an inseparable component of my integrity, I have learned by experience — through the mistakes of others — by vigilant observation, and by clinging tightly onto what not to do.


My family was poor; my father lacked self-control...

...so I’m slow to splurge, careful with spending, an unabashed bargain hunter and dogged deal finder, decent at home crafting, great with repurposing, always appreciate the value of materials, treasure lost and tossed aside things, cherish what we have, and have an ingrained understanding of how to let it all go when necessary, because after all, it’s just stuff.


Mother couldn’t keep a job, because she couldn’t get out of her own way long enough to tow the line and work for someone else.  I may be cut from the same cloth as she was, but I can make and honor a commitment to an employer.  So far, I haven’t found a permanent business partnership to settle down into, but I do regularly have clients asking to get me back into repeat contracts, because I know how to go above and beyond the parameters of the project laid out for me, to meet and exceed expectations, to fulfill my obligations, and to keep my promises — when I say I’m going to do something, I find a way to get it done.


Our parents left us to our own devices...

...so I became efficiently independent and self-reliant, and though I still crave personal space and require alone time, I learned to make the most of every quality moment I am able to share with those I care about.


I was shown kindness by people with no responsibility to me...

...so I try to extend random kindness to others as often as I’m able.


My father was a cruel to animals...

...so I have spent a lifetime rescuing those who needed the most care and love.


My father was a drunk... so I don’t partake — and neither does anyone I’m closely connected to.

My father was violent, and abused our affection... so I’m slow to strike, and quick to cuddle.

My biological parents were both wholly incapable of speaking with anything resembling even a kernel of truthfulness to it... so I can sniff out BS from 13 miles away, and I have a strong moral imperative to be direct, honest, and up-front in every interaction of my life.

Mother left us... so I never got good at walking out... even when I should have.

My father was a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist... but I believe people and places are made better by diversity in gender, culture, and identity, and I strive to paint my surroundings with the kind of varied tapestry that more deeply enriches my life and those peripheral to my world.

My father was a bully and a tyrant, and there was nothing any of us could do about it...

...so I learned to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, to protect the weak and defend the vulnerable, and to fight against abuse of power.


Mom beat me... so I learned to stand up for myself.

Mom was overwhelmingly domineering and crushingly high-handed...

...so I learned to prioritize the important things in life that can be controlled — like my thoughts, my words, my choices, my actions, and most anything related to myself — and to never lose a moment of my life over trying to control anyone or anything outside of myself, which about covers most of the rest of everything else.

My dad was emotionally unavailable and uninvolved in parenting me and my siblings...

...so I married a man who is committed to be an active figure in our son’s everyday life.


My parents disowned me over religious differences...

...so I learned to think for myself, and to seek and find my own purpose and direction in life, without the need for guidance from a loosely interpreted, cherry-picked set of rules that has been debated over for centuries.


I have experienced a lot of repeating patterns throughout my life — beginning with childhood, and bleeding into adolescence and my young adult days — I kept running into a lot of the kind of noxious “love” that hurts, that has no healing, no heart, and no hope, because that’s what I knew best.  I floundered for a while, trying to find something that worked, by “looking for love in all the wrong places” ...kissing too many frogs that belonged back under the rocks they’d crawled out from.  But through a long period of trial and error — including plenty of mistakes of my own — I have worked to break the cycles of dysfunction, and I’m so very grateful to testify, I finally got there... eventually.


The Vedas teach us, the questions asked of us feed into our internal programming, whether they are initiated by someone else, or whether we internalize them ourselves.  When a question is posed to the mind, the subconscious will find an answer for it, to solve for “X,” laboring in everything we do, whether we are proactively cognizant, otherwise occupied, or even while we are at rest.  If you wonder to yourself, “Why am I so ugly,” your subliminal self will decipher this puzzle for you, presuming, according to your inner guidance, that you are indeed ugly, it will give you an answer, showing you all the reasons why you are so ugly — just as you presented — to satisfy your inquiry.

For this reason, I take great care in what kind of programming my words and actions present to our son’s self image and sense of worth.  Every night since he was tiny and whenever he is overly flustered, I repeat to him a mantra of traits about his character that make him special and unique — it continues to grow and expand along with him, just as the nature of his essence does — these words have a calming effect on him, because he understands instinctively, these words together belong only to him, and to no one else.  I am careful never to ask of him, “What is wrong with you???,” because I never want him to wonder that about himself.

Whatever’s wrong with any of us, it had to begin somewhere.  “That’s just what I was taught,” is no excuse for holding onto ignorant, backwards ideals, because whatever gets passed on to any of us, we always have the choice in whether or not to accept it.  “That’s just what I was taught,” is merely where it starts... it’s our responsibility to choose where it ends.

Ignorance, intolerance, hatred, selfishness, bigotry, and greed are the flames of a fire that has been raging since the dawn of man... but it’s a fire that must be fueled and fanned to spark new life into itself — we have always had the power to snuff it out with every new generation.  What is wrong with me might be the result of just what I was taught, but may I never be so caustically costive as to rekindle a flickering ember and breathe a fresh glint into that blazing inferno of human frailty — may I have the strength to hold my ground.  And though I cannot hope to cure the ills of all mankind, I can cap the outward ripple from the tendril that has engulfed me... so for my part, at least, may just this strain of evil be stopped — here, and now, with me.



LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 27 - Topic: “VALUES ARE LIKE FINGERPRINTS…”
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Starry Eyed Mama

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

MISFITS

I’m not in the habit of going around saying I have “daddy issues,” though, while I haven’t looked into any sort of official diagnosis, I will admit a professional who focuses on such things might be willing to apply a more formal variation on the term to describe some of my impulsively developed coping mechanisms as a result of learning functional reactions to the dysfunctional behaviors of that particular parental figure... on multiple occasions.  My biological father was an individual about whom I can only be grateful existed because without him, I would not have — and while I imagine I could probably fill a small book on our history, in this forum, the less said, the better.  My Dad, though, is a good hearted man who loves me, so there’s a lot of wiggle room there for forgiveness of everything else — mainly, his emotionally reserved nature, and his tendency towards conflict avoidance which lead him to be more or less absent in the conventional actions of raising me.

Not being a psychoanalyst, myself, I probably couldn’t accurately speak to in how many different ways these childhood concerns have impacted my life, though for a while in my past, they did create a rather unique pattern related to the types of men whose company I have kept for any significant period of time.  One long-term housemate once pointed out that single fathers who’ve been granted sole custody are enough of a rare exception out in the wilds of humanity, it’s quite frankly bizarre that I have been either directly involved or closely associated with at least five of them.  I hadn’t ever really given it much thought until he called attention to it... from my perspective, that was just my understanding of what was normal in my world.

Throughout my prolonged single years, I held so strongly to the conviction that whether or not I was fulfilled in life would not be dependent upon whether or not I procreated, I can honestly say I was never intentionally seeking out “good father material” in a male companion out of personal interest or any sense of “nesting” instincts.  Also, I have certainly never once for a moment sought out a man to place himself in a position of leadership or control over any aspect of my life — and have in fact violently rejected any who’ve presumed to take on an air of authority over our interactions.  Problems resulting from lacking positive masculine paradigms can manifest in multiple ways, but, in my case, an Electra complex, I have never had; a Lolita, I have never been — I have preferred, rather, to instead lean on the internal strength derived from within the power of being a woman, and to forge my own path with the tools readily available at my disposal.

Maybe, though, having had such prolonged exposure to the kinds of characteristics that make up a poor male role model, my sense of the measure of a man came about more from knowing what traits to avoid.  Maybe it’s just coincidental that — thanks to a revolving bedroom door of trial-and-error over a longer period of years than I’d care to admit to — I’ve tried on more than my fair share of “types,” and the only ones who had any staying power with me also happen to be accountable with their children.  Maybe it was less that I was searching for good father figures, and more that I was unwilling to settle for negligent partners — perhaps it’s just more likely that finding oneself in the company of responsible fathers is merely a natural consequence of surrounding oneself with reliably dependable men... it isn’t automatically a given that being a decent human will necessarily make you a good parent, but at the very least, it’s a requisite starting point.


Minion had been a father for nearly a decade before we became connected, but I’d never had a ringside seat to this angle of his experience until a few years ago, when I delivered his progeny.  Bearing witness to the life of your friend and lover as a mentor to your son brings a whole new layer into expanding the ways you find yourself capable of loving — and in many respects completely changes the entire nature of the game.  I do my best to show my gratitude, but so often I feel I come up short.

Years down the road, I imagine there will be plenty of terrible ties and crazy socks and discount grooming kits with cheap cologne from our little one — maybe eventually graduating into a phone call from college or another state — but for now, on Father’s Day, Minion gets a card from his baby, one from his pets, one from his adoring bride, possibly takeout pizza, maybe some sugar free candy, and he gets to kick back and take it easy for the day... in theory.*  It’s really only a drop in the bucket to try and make him feel a little special, to share with him how much we love him, and to show our appreciation for everything he does for us.  (*I say in theory, because Minion doesn’t cool his jets very well — there’s always something he feels he should be doing.)

Since these activities generally comprise the extent of our customary practices, I wasn’t expecting to spend any portion of my Sunday educating ourselves with new details about a variety of animal types.  But, as Minion was in the kitchen last night baking me a quiche for my breakfast this week (see previous side note), I happened upon this year’s celebratory Google Doodle for the familial occasion, and as our boy looked on in wide-eyed wonder, I realized I was stuck moving forward with the process.  So, with his input, together we produced our own homemade digital
tribute to his Papa.

Presenting this offering, I pointed out to Minion the paternal archetypes from the animal kingdom — including seahorses, penguins, and bees (Bees?!  Who knew???) — which naturally prompted us, being the nerds we are, to exercise an or so hour of Google-fu, researching into which animal breeds have strong paternal figures.  It seems, in addition to those mentioned, there are a variety of other creatures whose fathers take on active roles in parenting — with avian, canine, and primate groups having the strongest showing:

•  Arctic Wolves, African Wild Dogs, Foxes, Golden Jackals

•  Marmosets, Mountain Gorillas, Owl Monkeys, Tamarins

•  Flamingoes, Great Horned Owls, Grey Catbirds, Jacanas, Phalarope Sandpipers, Ratites

(Hey, I took the time to learn these random things, so now you can know them, too!)


In some of these cases, the male is the predominant caregiver for the young.  For some, it’s a team effort between both parents.  A few make their contributions to the family unit through their support of the mothers.

The Great Horned Owl, for example, is the sole provider of all food his entire family will consume from the time his mate — who is 25% larger than he is — first nestles down upon their clutch of eggs in the dead of winter; she will not move from that spot until her brood is at least a month old, after the month long-incubation period required to hatch them... if not for the diligence of her partner, the proud Papa, they would all surely starve to death.

Ratite** fathers (**category of related breeds, including Emu / Ostrich / Rhea) are the poster birds for stepdads everywhere: classic examples of what it means to take on the care of parenting on behalf of another, and they also represent the epitome of self-sacrifice, losing over a third of their body weight while they incubate the eggs in a nest — at least half or more of which likely do not even belong to them — for nearly two months without food, water, or rest... and then aggressively defend the young as their own once they’ve hatched.

The Grey Catbird — a native of the Americas, named for its “mewlike” call — shares responsibility for the feeding of their hatchlings between both parents, but prior to their arrival, the male sets his mate’s roost on a kind of makeshift “throne” ...literally putting his female partner high up on a pedestal to perch from.


I made a point to confess earlier on that before Firebird was born, I had a strong emotional investment in the hope he would be a girl, because, while nurturing a girl to navigate becoming a strong, independent woman capable of thinking for herself without the need for a man to control her was not just a great responsibility, but a daunting challenge, I knew how to do that — I believed I would be singularly equal to that particular task.  My Mom was the one who helped to put a positive perspective on my expectations for bringing up a boy, but in so doing, she also forced me to take stock in how much greater a conundrum it would be to steer a young boy into the kind of man
who would always treat women with basic dignity and respect, and I realized then... I have absolutely no idea how or where to even begin taking the first step on the road to that seemingly insurmountable task.  Fortunately, I don’t have to do it alone.


The primary function of every parent is to make of one’s children successful contributing members to society, with the secondary expectation of roles being to in so doing, also promote one’s own values forward into future generations.  I recognize what that might end up looking like could take on many different kinds of forms, but I have to act under the assumption that my kid might one day want to attract a partner, and create a family, so I need to make sure he’s properly equipped for either outcome, or both.  One thing is for certain... if one would ever have any hopes of becoming a good father, he must start out by first being a good man.  And, achieving that baseline can come about in large part through having a good father as the pattern to model after (though certainly, this is not the only way, as my Minion is evidence to... his character is primarily the byproduct of his Mama’s rearing, while the obstacles of his temperament and complications of his disposition he constantly struggles to put behind him are a direct result of his father’s abuse).


My husband recently made the statement to me that he “doesn’t understand feminism,” which is ironic, considering he’s married to an outspoken advocate for feminism, and is in fact, himself, a faithful feminist, by his very nature.  I explained to him that the notion of feminism is nothing more than an idea — much the same as “Antifa” is shorthand for anti-fascism, or being against totalitarian government — where the concept represents the radical notion that all women deserve human rights equal to those of men, and social treatment with proper respect and basic dignity on the same level as what men experience as their customary standard.  When he responded with confusion about why the idea would need to put women forward, rather than simply calling for equal rights for everyone (which is in fact exactly what it is doing), I further clarified that common oblivious response is about as ignorant and useful as the follow-up to BLM that “All Lives Matter,” which immediately placed the position of feminism into a relatable perspective for him.

To be fair, though, Minion isn’t being deliberately obtuse — his myopia comes from a lack of perception — something we’re all guilty of, at times, and must actively work to overcome if we want to be empathetic to the lived experiences of our fellow humans.  But while his words suggest he doesn’t get it, his actions declare the reason it doesn’t make sense to him is because he can’t relate to the kind of person who wouldn’t automatically consider all genders to be on the same footing as a matter of course... and in that respect, he really doesn’t get it.  Through our relationship, though, my husband has become more aware of the common hardships all women face everyday just for being women, and as a result, he has become more informed and compassionate, because when Minion learns, Minion
grows.

It may be, then, that I won’t ever really have to do a whole lot to teach my son how to treat women properly... perhaps, all I really need to do is point to the example in his Papa.  I really can’t expect my boy to be decent to girls, or to become a young man who is respectful of women, if what he sees every day in his home life gives him the impression that females are not worthy of reverence, or that males have the right to consider themselves superior.  But I don’t have to worry about that, because the man in our house tells a far different story of how the world works, no discussions required, in the little things he does every day that point the way.

These
are just a handful of the best ways the first love of my life is a partner to me, who in his action demonstrates to our son on a daily basis what kind of man is worthy of being emulated.

•  He cooks all our evening meals and breakfasts once a week
•  He packs me a lunch to take to work every day
•  He turns down my linens every night to be cozy for crawling into bed

•  He
does all the dishes, runs the dishwasher, and puts all the clean dishes away
•  He picks our toddler’s playpen area every
night and organizes the toys
    so our boy
has a clear space to play in the next morning
•  He handles
the greater share of our household cleaning

•  He performs odd handyman repair jobs around our shoddily engineered rental home
•  He’s the first line of minor fix-it mechanics for our aging automobiles
•  He is willing to ask for directions and get help when he’s stumped or in over his head

•  He gathers up all the garbage in the house, takes it to the curb and brings it back each week
•  He keeps the lawn
mowed, hedges trimmed, weeds whacked, and leaves raked & bagged
•  He cleans the gutters, soffit & fascia clear of debris

•  He winterizes all the windows in the house and the three-season porch screens
•  He keeps the driveways and walks plowed, de-iced, and salted
•  He maintains a winter safety kit in each of our vehicles,
    and performs regular routine maintenance to keep them in proper working condition

•  He runs errands as needed
•  He works every day without fail like clockwork
    at a dead-end job that steadily sucks away a piece of his soul,
    to contribute the financial foundation that stabilizes our household budget,
    and to provide for our medical coverage

•  He never walks out the door without giving me a goodbye kiss
•  He always greets me with a smile and a smooch
•  He speaks to me kindly and treats me with respect
•  He shows me tenderness and affection

•  He shares with me the inner workings of his heart,
    and whatever random thoughts are on his mind
•  He consults with me on any and all major decisions, not just for all of us,
    but even for himself, because he acknowledges my general knowledge,
    he appreciates my wisdom (he says it’s the reason he married me! ;-),
    and he values my insights
•  He recognizes each of us a equal partners
    in the functions of our family and our household

•  He laughs often — he takes great joy in simple pleasures
•  He finds amusement and diversion in his own personal interests,
    and does not require his family to entertain him
•  He relishes his family’s company, whether we are engaging in activities,
    or doing nothing at all, so long as we are together
•  He is kind to all animals, and cares for our pets gently and tenderly

•  He changes poopy diapers, diaper genie liners, and dirty litter boxes
•  He hugs and holds, kisses and caresses our son, and engages in active play with him
•  He sets and enforces healthy boundaries to keep him safe, and to train him

•  He vocalizes his mind, even when it doesn’t conform to the accepted norm
•  He speaks to others with decency, whether or not they have shown they deserve it
•  He does all of this without complaint, whether he is tired, or sore, or busy, or
run-down


I realize
this is only an incomplete summary of things the man does, and certainly a man is so much more than a mere measure of the things he has done, but how do we judge a person if not by his action?  It is in action we show our true colors to others... indeed, it is only in our actions, we can truly teach.  Minion, more than most anyone I’ve ever known, so perfectly represents his own ideals, his way of life is a living testament to a simple truth commonly attributed to St Francis of Assisi...

In all things, preach.  If necessary, use words.

The Misfit Manor household is not by any stretch of the imagination religious.  Minion is a wholly committed atheist, and me... I’m not quite ready yet to let go of the idea that there’s something greater than ourselves in the universe — something beautiful and undefined — but I certainly don’t allow hanging on to that hope to influence my expectations of others.  Still, in my experience, I’ve found it is people who do not cling so tightly to the crutch of religion who seem to maintain the strongest holds on their own core beliefs — whatever they may be — and these are the principals we pass on to others as we encounter them throughout our lives.


Minion isn’t by any means perfect, nor, either, of course, am I.  Like any couple, we have our issues, but we weather them together, as a unified team. 
We may not be a village within ourselves, but are blest to have two well balanced companions who love and respect one another equally dedicated to the mission of raising our child in a healthy and loving environment together, offering him equivalent measures of the feminine and masculine essence of the human psyche, which he perceives in equal parts from both of us, as we have each found a kind of harmony to both of these aspects of our own nature within ourselves.  It is our hope that our Firebird will so too one day embrace every element of his own generative makeup.

Right now my three-year-old embodies the kind of sensitivity that can cause a particularly overwhelming work of music to bring him to tears — just this afternoon, Thomas crooning a soulful, apologetic ballad made him weep openly, until I had to scoop him up into a cuddle, singing along with the cheeky tank engine to help my son find comfort in the beauty of it.  He didn’t get that from Minion... his Papa hasn’t retained that level of emotional expression into adulthood, thanks to having it beat out of him by his own father, but I’m grateful he’s not the type of man who would seek to squelch it in our son.  Firebird comes by his emotional sentience honestly, through his Mama, and that is a minefield I do know how to help him not just to tiptoe through, but to tap dance upon, with poise and grace, and perhaps even some exhilaration.


By this point, though we both bear the brunt of the burden as a whole, Minion and I have fallen into a kind of rhythmic routine around our respective parenting responsibilities — as I imagine most couples do — based on the roles that come most naturally to each of us.  While we never set out to intentionally define, “You do this, I do that;” we were just willing, as we have been with much of our lives — whatever it may be, come what may — to take it as it comes, and let things work themselves out the way they are meant to.  And that seems to be functioning just fine for us so far.

I’m sure
it hasn’t escaped anyone how much of a control freak I can be about many things, and when it comes to the well-being of my boy, I surely haven’t made any exceptions.  And yet, in many respects, I feel like it can be counterproductive to squeeze too tightly.  What I believe is most important is the freedom to experience the flow of life on your own terms, starting from the comfort of a safe and nourishing atmosphere as the building blocks of a foundation upon which to construct your own path out into the world.


Minion and I are neither indifferent deadbeats nor helicoptering anxious
wrecks.  We cannot shelter our child in the comforting mantle of wealth or privilege, as we have neither to give, but I’m certain we will be able to provide him with everything he needs — because we are in this together, and because through our partnership, we have built our love nest high upon a throne of deference and devotion, in the hopes that will bestow upon our brood every advantage we can impart.  I’m confident that should be enough to allow him to bravely face anything life can throw at him and for everything else, as long as we’re able, we will be right there with a helping hand to lift him up with the support he needs to make up the difference whenever he calls upon us, because that’s what it means to put love into action... and to pass it on.


LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 25 - Topic: THE CATBIRD SEAT
This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on…
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Morning After

Nothing Lasts Forever

SEDATION

Around the turn of the latest century, I was in my mid-20s.  I wasn’t making great money, but it spent like plenty, for living as a single person with not so much in the way of family obligations or financial responsibilities (funny how that works).  In many respects, I had more disposal income then than I do now, even while pulling in barely more than a third what I bill out these days.

I’ve since had the occasional thought, “MAN!  What I wouldn’t give for that kind of throwaway cash now... and what do I even have to show for it from back then???”  I guess that means I’ve finally reached the age and stage of life to understand what folks mean when they say, “Youth is wasted on the young” (not that getting to this particular milestone does anything for me).  :-/  Though, to be fair, what I do have to show for it are a lot of avenues explored, as well an eclectic and educational collection of valuable memories, and many of the adventures (and misadventures) behind me which have helped me to become the person I am today — so I really can’t even afford to complain all that much.


I was single in the sense that I wasn’t married, but I was sort of casually coupled... Liam was one of my first semi-official male companions — I believe we even loosely referenced each other as boy/girlfriend — and I guess I didn’t know a whole lot about what a committed relationship was supposed to look like, but I’m pretty sure ours wasn’t it.  (If I’m being honest with myself, though, even if I’d had an idea of what was expected, I don’t guess I’ve ever been that great at going by the rules — least of all when it comes to following the standard playbook or doing whatever else is most often considered typical.)  He wasn’t my first roommate, but he was my first informal domestic partner, after I “accidentally” moved in with him (a tale for another time), so we sometimes shared space, but mostly didn’t.  I almost always kept my own place, even if I was hardly ever there, but I had a ton of time to myself, often using it to contemplate the voids in my life, and how to fill the gaps left by what I felt was missing from it (since Liam and I were clearly not so “right” for each other that our life together was any kind of focus for either of us in and of itself).


I yearned for an external creative outlet — in some more accessible media than the files on my computer — more specifically, for expressing myself through music.  A few years out of school, with the kinds of opportunities that had lead to soloing at the Headquarters of the United Nations becoming a more distant memory every day, I longed to reestablish the cooperative dynamic between artistry and alliance, discipline and talent I’d once known, that nourished the dramatic drive in my soul — and there wasn’t anything in my life holding me back from exploring my options.  Back then, the free classifieds section of our local weekly arts publication — the City Pages (our Twin Cities’ answer to “The Villager” of Greenwich Village) — was the best resource for connecting with other musicians seeking to form new gigs or restructure working collaborations.

Because it had been years by then since I’d actively played an instrument well enough to perform in public, so I had nothing to offer there; because I’d learned through experience what a cold shoulder having the wrong “equipment” got me with most players (thanks to the disproportionately miniscule window of prospects open for females looking to break into the music biz — even in go-nowhere local cover groups), and because I didn’t have the inclination to invent a new wheel, I focused my search primarily on working gigs with steady contracts seeking to add or replace a female singer.  There were usually a small handful; I’d periodically feel them out, sometimes get an audition.  During one such exchange, I set up an appointment, then had to cab it, because I was temporarily without wheels after a recent fender bender.


The taxi driver was old enough to be my grandfather, and he looked every bit like the kind of B-list has-been you’d expect to find in some Minnesota variation of a Wilford Brimley movie, not that I was judging... I don’t routinely harbor much in the way of demands from the transportation service providers I encounter.  He was a talker, though, as many are — I’d guess previously retired, by the looks of him... probably rejoined the working ranks on his own terms, less for the money, and more for the human interaction.  So you can imagine my surprise when the indignation he expressed upon finding out I was headed to audition for a band was not so much related to some generational old-timer’s offense over the indolence of kids these days, but rather, his feeling of having been slighted because I hadn’t responded to his City Pages music ad!

He had the weekly circular up front with him at the ready, open to the musicians seeking musicians section... he passed it back to me, pointing out the spot circled in red sharpie, which was odd enough I was inclined to wonder how many times he’d already done that this week with other passengers.  He’d come to figure out what I was up to because he not only recognized the address, but even knew the name of the band I was meeting — and felt compelled to offer his opinion on how “those yahoos” weren’t right for me, and didn’t deserve a gal as good-looking as me, which, considering the 40+ year age gap between us, came off a tad on the creepy side.  I don’t remember the exact verbiage he used, but the tone of his frustrated rant about not getting the kind of responses from talented, attractive young folks he’d anticipated made me half expect to hear the words “whippersnappers” and “tarnation!”

I reviewed the area he’d highlighted, which in only a few poorly structured run-on sentences of mostly incoherent babbling, managed to precisely showcase exactly the kind of emotional baggage I had a natural instinct to steer clear of with a 10 ft. pole.  I don’t recall what it said, specifically, but if you picture the character I described, then imagine Yosemite Sam published his post, you probably wouldn’t be too far off on your general impression.  The more relevant point, though, was, it didn’t meet either of my criteria — established groups in search of female singers — so that’s all I told him about my reasons as I handed the paper back to him, hoping that would be the end of it.  Sadly, it was not... he was doing most of the talking by that point, so I just held my breath and waited it out... fortunately, the ride wouldn’t be that much longer.

As he dropped me off, Art Carney the cabbie couldn’t resist the urge to make one more last ditch pitch at getting me together to “jam” with other potential band mates — using such hard-sell closing tactics, I started to suspect his last job had been as a used car salesman in one of those cheap, “BUY HERE / PAY HERE” lots for poor saps with bad credit, and that image suddenly somehow perfectly rounded out the entire persona, which explained a lot.  I might have said I’d have to see how things went here first — meaning in the meeting he’d taken me to — but I’d think about it, and maybe follow up if I was still looking.  As for that next encounter, well... the smell of ganga wafting from the house hit me so hard while I was still on the sidewalk, I almost thought about just getting right back into the taxi without even knocking on the door, til I realized I wasn’t willing to pay the price — which would surely be episode II of Grandpa’s woes on everything wrong with today’s music players, complete with a heaping helping of “I told you so...” so, on I went.


Inside, the entire main level had an open floor plan completely cleared out of any furniture except bean bag lounge chairs, and all the accoutrement of a regularly working band... drum kit, mic stands, etc.  The room was low lit except for a handful of overturned crates covered with Indian pashminas and tie-dyed serapes to hold lava lamps and incense burners — as if that helped — and there were actual beaded curtains separating sections of the space.  If I were to ever write my musical memoirs, I might devote half a chapter to my brief experience with that groovy collective of doped-out hippies whose frontman was a nearly identical doppelganger to Brent Spiner in Independence Day — if he dressed and spoke like Shaggy of The Mystery Machine Gang — but, suffice it to say, we were not a good match, and our association didn’t last long.


A few days later, I received an unexpected, out-of-the-blue call from Grandaddy Hackman, who’d apparently kept my number in his cell phone from when it was entered into the service dispatch as part of the process required to order the cab — so the driver can text upon arrival.   He let me know he was finally set up with enough responses from his ad for gathering a group of various instrumentalists to play together, and he wanted me to join them.  Now, mind you, I don’t know if chauffeuring practitioners have any sort of professional code, but if so, I would expect this surely would have violated it.  Still, as I wasn’t playing out anywhere yet, and I’d since sorted out my vehicle situation, I agreed to the meeting, and took down the address.


After a trek out to a suburb on the cusp of the outer metro ring from where I lived in Minneapolis — any further and I’d have declined on distance alone — I found Gramps hosting in the free-standing party room of an upper middle-class townhome community, which was clue #1 this wasn’t going to be the typical garage / basement try-outs.  I was the only female presence at this showing, but along with the mature coordinator, there was a drummer, a keyboard player, and a bassist, none of whom were kids, but even the oldest of them probably only had about 15 or so years on me, which still put them 25 or more behind him.  I was the last to arrive, apparently because I’d been given a different time to come than the rest... I guess Gramps had wanted them all to get a good rhythm going with each other before they brought in a singer.

I walked in the way I always did on such occasions in those days... dressed like I was ready to take the stage of an arena shared with Heart and Queen, and sauntering with the confidence of a rockstar who owns the place... back when I could feel every eye in the room on me, and soak it all in — when that kind of high felt right to me (man, I wish I still had that much swagger in my game!).  At the time, I was in-the-know enough to have a finger on the pulse of groups getting gigs in the cities — if you wanted to play the big clubs who paid out the big bucks (enough for a 6-piece to take home), you stacked your setlist with whatever music the primary demographic is nostalgic for, with a hard-hitting focus on the kinds of dance numbers that would get them out onto the floor — because dancers sweat, and sweaters drink, and all managers really care about is whether you can pack the house.  So, naturally, given the decade, I was anticipating heavy 80s rock, with a few classic 70s throwbacks, and one or two ballads, for the sweethearts to slowly fall in love all over again.

I was not expecting Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison — mainly, because I had an interest in working someplace other than VFWs and American Legions, preferably for audiences who hadn’t seen action in Viet Nam.  I realize that era was probably Grandpa’s heyday, but if that’s what he was going for, why bring in all the rest of us young guns?  Weren’t there others out there of the more senior variety he could have opted for, who would be better acquainted with and accommodating to such wistful stylings???


And when I say dude looked like someone’s Grandfather, I’m not intentionally trying to be ageist.  Don’t get me wrong, I realize there are plenty of our elders who can still maintain an incredibly commanding stage presence.  I mean, Neil Young looks like someone’s granddad, too — and very well could be, I suppose (but in fact, isn’t) — though nowadays he comes off less like a rocker, and more like he should be in a rocker on the front porch of a retirement home; Rod Stewart looks like he belongs in a wheelchair; Ozzy can barely form a coherent sentence anymore, and I’m pretty sure Keith Richards and Willie Nelson are probably long overdue for a private swordfight in an underground parking lot somewhere — but put a mic in their hands and an ocean of adoring fans in front of them, and you’ll believe folks who say you’re only as old as you feel... at least for 90 minutes a night at a few hundred bucks a head, anyway.


That kind of legend, though, this guy was not — he was hunched over like Quasimodo, as if his guitar strap held the collective weight of all the world’s stage fright jitters — creating a sympathetic ache in the bones for anyone who cast an eye in the direction of his slumped shoulders, only to become fixated on his abnormally twisted spine, which then naturally compelled one with an overwhelming urge to try and help him sit down, or at the very least grab him a walker.  This was certainly not the type of figure one expects to find at the front of any musical group, not even a bar band — this was the kind of silhouette you would expect to see in a Metamucil commercial.  But that wasn’t even the worst of it...

No, the worst of it was... Grandpa sucked. He worked his pedal like he was thought it would help him run a yellow light, with no real concept of its purpose; his guitar playing invoked the same feeling I would expect of most parents having to sit through second grade recorder concerts, and based on the pained expressions of the rest of the room, I’m sure it wasn’t just me who thought so — I suspect everyone gathered there were all busy calculating in our heads exactly how long we would have to stay to meet the requirements set by the social standards of “Minnesota Nice” before we could make our excuses and escape.  I’m positive from the time I showed up, that timeframe was actually less than an hour, but it felt to me when it was over like it had lasted for about a week and a half.


As I made my exit, trying to restrain myself from sprinting to my car, I was motioned over to where the drummer was hanging out on the patio with the keyboard player, both having a cigarette.  I explained I didn’t smoke, and I had a long drive ahead before an early morning, but he promised he would be quick, and there was a pleading kind of desperation in his eyes demanding attention, so I relented.  His first confession was, based on our host’s skill level — or lack thereof — he’d been ready to leave only 5 minutes after he’d got there, except for one thing... Gramps had told him a female singer would be stopping in later, and he knew a good one had the potential to be what he referred to as a “powerful weapon in any band’s arsenal;” and the reason he’d stayed after I came on the scene was because my presence had “upped the ante.”

His second confession was — as he said, “like any red-blooded American male” — he’d initially been unable to tear his eyes off my gigantic set of lungs... right up until the moment I opened my mouth to sing, whereupon I had changed everything about the name of the game for him.  He’d gone to audition for a band, but instead, a rudderless crew had materialized in front of him, and he was ready to take the reins, man the wheel, and run with it.  Together, we comprised a powerful front, an accomplished drummer, capable keys, and what he referred to as a “swinging dick” bassist — which was his way of saying, what the bass player offered would do for the time being, until we could get someone better — all we needed was a competent guitarist with some genuine sex appeal, and we’d be good as golden.  We caught the bassist on his way to load up his trunk, and we all agreed to continue the conversation at the nearest Denny’s, where we talked shop, and sealed the deal.


I broke my rule about looking for working groups, but the drummer seemed to know what he was doing —  he’d been a musician for Disney Studios (not that there’s much excitement in laying down the cymbal track for the theme to the “Duck Tales” cartoon, he admitted, but the money was good enough), and he’d toured with Brass Kitten back in the day (not that I’d ever heard of them).  More importantly, though, I’d be getting the chance to have an equal contribution to the functionality of our act, rather than just coming in as a hired gun to stand on my mark and do my thing — which was appealing to me on a whole new level, so long as I trusted we could get it done.  And I did... we had an organizer who was hungry to eat, literally — he had an 18-mth-old baby girl to feed, and drumming was all he did for a living... we were going to make some real money.  It was starting to seem like I was finally right where I needed to be to start making things go the way I’d wanted for what seemed like forever, and I was plenty good & ready — it was about damned time.


Flash forward a few months, and our fearless leader gave me a random call one night with a sense of urgency a touch more stressed than was normal for him, to ask if I’d been watching the news.  I hadn’t, because I didn’t (and still don’t), but even if I had, I probably wouldn’t have picked up on the before-we-go “final five” spot he was referencing... it seems there had been a terrible accident on the new light rail that had killed a taxi driver — the very same one who had originally brought us all together.  We harked back to how unimpressed we’d initially been with him (I think the term thrown out was “two-bit hack”) but he confessed even if he’d bad-mouthed the old man maybe a bit more than he’d deserved — because it was fun to be catty sometimes — he would never have wanted him to die... he would never wish that kind of end on anyone.

I had to talk my by-then good friend off the anguish ledge, to steer him from his overwhelming guilt, to remind him that people die every day, and most of the time, there’s not much we can do about it.  We aren’t capable of causing bad things to happen to others just by the power of our will, and even if we don’t always have the best thoughts about some folks, that still doesn’t produce an invisible cyclone of cosmic energy somewhere that can somehow bring about the ruin of those at whom we have directed negative thoughts — if it did, what a powerful weapon that would be, and what a different world we would all be living in.  The reality is, something bad happened to someone we’d both encountered briefly, and while that can certainly impact one with a profound reminder of our own mortality, it shouldn’t cause us to miss a step in our own lives, any more than to take a moment of silence, and be grateful for our many blessings — especially those who care about us.

That seemed to have the positive effect he needed to hear right in that moment, but I get where he was coming from... death has a way of shaking us all to our core — especially the abrupt, unpredictable kind.  It forces on us an immediate and intense, pinpoint-focused perspective of our very existence, like a magnifying glass on an ant, which can be pretty jarring on any given day when such a thing isn’t on your to-do list, particularly if you happen to be an ant.  In my case, it reminded me that, like sand through an hourglass, the moments we have for pursuing our own interests are always steadily slipping away from all of us every day, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.

I suspect this is what Grandpa cabbie must have been feeling when in his mid-late 60s he picked up a guitar — I’m guessing either for the first time, or the first time in ages — and determined there was no time like the present to form a band and play the music he’d always loved.  I don’t know what inspired him in that moment to tackle that particular mountain... I don’t know what else he’d achieved in his life by then, or what he felt was missing — but I know it seemed to me like a mirror was being put in front of my face, and I’d do well to take a good long hard look.  At the time, even though my dream of being a rockstar — or at the very least being able to call myself a professional musician — was still a distant image in a far-off place with a chasm between us I didn’t know how to get over, it still felt like working with this group had me on the right track, and maybe, finally, I was on the road to something else... something newer, brighter, more exciting, more rewarding than the everyday grind of managing property.


In that mythical musical memoir I may never get around to writing, my experiences with the band accidentally formed by a frustrated older taxi driver — which did not include said frustrated older taxi driver — would most certainly garnish a small collection of chapters, with a handful of engrossing tales.  But, in the end, we never went anywhere... eventually the drummer* abandoned us for what he referred to as “the bigger better deal” (*who for very different reasons I won’t get into here no longer haunts my friends list — but let’s just say there’s only so much “obsession” I will tolerate).  So, effectively, all but our illustrious ringleader got kicked to the curb, just as we had once done to a sad old cabbie with a new guitar, a lot of expensive equipment, no genuine artistic aptitude or real musical talent, and a rapidly dwindling dream of something more.


I hadn’t thought much about that experience in many years until recently, but, the older I get, the more I’m starting to understand what it might be like for one to find yourself in your twilight stages as no more than a frustrated cabbie, when maybe you’d had such greater, grander plans for your life.  I certainly never would have expected to find being the 46-yr-old mother of a toddler on my own personal bingo card.  These days, most of the music that comes out of me has an audience of one — but it’s a pretty special one — and it’s teaching him a profound love for the sound that soars, that soothes, that inspires... it’s teaching him to sing.

Maybe that isn’t what I’d planned to do with my life, and maybe 20 years from now, I’ll find myself in a cab wondering why no one responds to my ad.  Though I do hope, if so, that even then — I still know how to get attention when I want it, how to rock, and how to lead — because, until there isn’t, then there’s still time.  And, this... this moment, right here, right now — this has to be good enough for me, because it’s everything I have in this world to show for the whole of my life so far — so I’d better make the most of it.



LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 24 - Topic: LIVE YOUR HORN
This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.

This work represents one half of the collaborative effort put forth by “AlarmaSoulson,” the creative team of AlyceWilson and KarmaSoup.   The challenge was to choose a partner with whom to create an “intersection” of correlated entries.   As our fates are intertwined, please be sure to check out her contribution on this theme:

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

Please also give a warm shout out to my very accommodating cohort, whose willingness to reach deep into her own past and pull out a story with such eerie similarities to my own have resulted in the uncanny pairing we present here.

If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on…
                                                                                                         ...and thanks for stopping by.
Morning After

At Home On The Road — Common Sense Commuter Insights From My Sometime Alter Ego

DEFERENCE

There was a period in my very early 20s when I didn’t drive, for about four years or so, during a transitional phase after my first car died, but before I was in a position to get another vehicle.  In the interim, I got around primarily by bus.  The Twin Cities has a decent enough metro transit system scheduling is generally pretty reliable, even during harsh winter conditions, because Minnesotans know how to handle themselves in snow but there are pros and cons to public transportation.

For example, leaving the driving to the professionals, you won’t have to deal with the frustrations of rush hour traffic.  But the biggest drawback is, there’s not a lot of travel between stops on the outer rings of the metro area
most every route has to take you through the central hubs in either city, returning to internal ports like the spokes of a wheel, before transferring to a track that will go back out to the rim.  So, whereas the shortest distance between two points would be a straight line, a typical route might end up looking on the map more like an open angle bracket, involving at least two, and more often three different buses, with a layover between each, making total commute time pretty lengthy you can usually expect to spend bare minimum 60-90 minutes per trip one way, if not two hours or possibly even more.

Add to that the trip back, and that’s a lot of time to devote to getting from here to there on a daily basis.  If you’re working the typical 40 hours per week plus a one hour lunch, you’d best count on never seeing the sun between December and March, as the moon will be your guide for both sides of your routine journey back and forth.  Sure, the time suck alone
chipping away drip by drip at whatever chance you might have otherwise had of maintaining any semblance of a life could be enough to drive you mad, but let’s not also forget about the boredom, the weather, the cramped quarters, the strangers... it’s often a challenge to cope without letting it all get under your skin.

These days, most people just pop in a set of earbuds and tune everything else out, but this was the pre-smartphone, post boombox era.  Folks had all kinds of different methods for managing the monotony back then.  Me, I created an alter ego. 


Her name was Mickie Lee Macoy.  She was on an educational visa from Ireland, working on her BA at the U.  She hadn’t learned to drive the foreign cars of the states yet, as she’d never gotten used to the wheel and traffic being on the wrong side from her perspective, so she preferred to stick to the comfort of the bus.

It was an entertaining creative outlet for me, to throw on the accent and wear the external persona like a shield against the ennui of reality
not just for the fun of it, but partially as a defense mechanism.  Being a single woman out on my own in the big wide world for long periods of time left me vulnerable to creeps and predators and all sorts of unsavory types, though I was just as readily receptive to meeting people and making new friends, but even then, it’s still wise to exercise caution.  I learned to expect the unexpected, and always keep my guard up, but be prepared with a clever way of handling myself whenever I was approached — being Mickie Macoy gave me the adaptability to stretch my imagination, flex my improv skills, and respond in a variety of ways whatever the situation called for.

Many times, I could get through an entire day, sometimes several in a row, without ever being bothered or hassled, or even invited into a conversation, and I was okay with that.  I’m naturally fairly independent, and always have been
I’m pretty good at people watching, and great at zoning out, or just keeping my own company in my head.  But, sometimes, too, I might even be the instigator of an exchange, sparking up with someone who captured my attention for one reason or another.  Mickie was a great resource that way not that I’ve ever been shy but she gave me an excuse to reach for a level of pluck I might not have otherwise sought out, if left to my own devices.

It may have been that very manufactured nerve which once gave me the courage and the strength to speak up when no one else would.


It was a late Saturday morning in December, and I was on an express ride from my uptown boarding house studio out to one of the better suburban malls, I imagine for an afternoon of Christmas shopping.  There was snow on the ground, and though it wasn’t too cold, the sky was enveloped with a blanket of bright, heavy-laden cloud cover.  Minnesotans know these are the best days for getting out and about, because the accumulation holds the heat generated by urban life down over the cities like a warming dome keeps a turkey ready to serve from the oven to the table, whereas days with no protection from the bitter wind chills that can turn your nose hairs to icicles inside of a couple seconds flat leave you in danger of frostbite, and generally come with a broadcast warning everyone to stay inside.

So, us heartier folks take full advantage of opportunities to move about in winter whenever we get them — especially during the busy holiday season.  I know these are tough times for some
with over commercialization, greater expectations, tighter deadlines, social pressures, and family obligations, all happening in the darkest days of the year but I’ve always enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the holidays.  True, people can be at their most centrally focused, self-absorbed and stressed even depressed, but many are at their kindest, most lighthearted and carefree.  It could be a case of glass half-full vs. half-empty, but I prefer to give my attention to and keep the company of the latter group.

One time, though, when I encountered a curmudgeonly old scrooge, I found myself incapable of remaining silent
or rather, in that moment, Mickie Macoy wasn’t able to keep her mouth shut.


Express rides are usually faster because they have fewer stops, the bulk of the trip being on the freeway, but there are always a few scheduled pickups between their starting point and where they take the exit to higher speed limit zones.  There’s a 50 cent upcharge from standard fare for freeway travel, and for this reason, express passengers pay when they exit the bus, so that if you’re just going from point A to B within the city, it’s the regular rate, and full price at the end of the line.  But we hadn’t gotten onto the freeway yet, and we may have been a little off schedule, which happens sometimes.

I say might have, because while buses in the Twin Cities usually run like clockwork, even clockwork isn’t perfect, though, similarly, when they get off, most of the time it’s merely by minor degrees.  Buses run westbound on Lake Street every 10 minutes, so if you miss one, you shouldn’t have to wait too long before another comes by.  Sometimes, when it’s very busy, and the buses are running fairly full, a driver might skip a scheduled stop because there’s no room onboard, knowing there will be one right behind it in a matter of minutes to pick up the people still waiting there.

That could have been what happened to the old guy I ran into that day.  Maybe his own delays caused him to miss the one he wanted, but even if on top of that the next one skipped him, and the third was running behind, he still likely wouldn’t have ended up later to wherever he was going by more than 20 minutes or so.  I don’t know the man’s story... I only know he was outwardly grumpy, and doing his damnedest to make sure everyone else knew about it, and felt his pain just as acutely.

Have you ever seen those cartoons where a scowling character is walking around with a black cloud raining down on only him, and clearly fed up about it?  It was kinda like that, except, this guy was the image of whatever would be considered the opposite of a ray of sunshine
spreading his petulance outward around him like a rippling infection.  It wasn’t just the over the top crotchety body language that spoke volumes no, there was loud harrumphing, and heavy sighs, and muttering not quite under his breath... just enough to make certain no one nearby indeed, no one on that bus, even — could escape his overwhelming sense of exasperation.

I checked out the faces onboard, and took in the scene.  Everyone else had given him a wide berth
he pretty much had the entire section reserved for the elderly, pregnant, or handicapped to himself.  Minnesotans are generally too polite to invade someone else’s personal space, so most everyone was conspicuously “trying not to” show any outward expression of their discomfort with this situation, but, for one thing, Minnesotan culture is by nature passive aggressive, and passive aggressive people intentionally never hide their feelings well, and, for another... well, me I’m not from Minnesota nor, for that matter, is Mickie Lee Macoy.


I was polite for a while.  Once or twice I threw him a look that let him know I wasn’t taking any of his crap, and I could see from his reaction he was intimidated.  Too scared to address me directly, from that point on he avoided looking at me, but even so, there came a moment where I drew the line at enough is enough.


Public buses are equipped to carry wheelchair bound passengers, but there’s some external maneuvering involved in making it work.  When a passenger in a wheelchair is waiting at a stop, the bus driver moves back to one of two spots where the wheelchair will be anchored to put up the seat normally in that space into a locked position out of the way, then lowers the boarding stairs into a platform the wheelchair can roll onto, elevates the platform to aisle level, and once the wheelchair is in place, anchors it down with a built-in mechanical connection.  This process is incredibly efficient, but can take 2-5 minutes, depending on the driver and the passenger, and naturally adds some unscheduled delay to the timetable.

The moment we stopped to pick up a gal in a wheelchair, Mr. Sourpuss about lost his mind.  The Grinch amped his excessively overt display of displeasure to 11
no, 14.  I could see the natives were getting restless.

The other passengers had gone from pretending to try and ignore the grouch to being unable to hide their genuine concern rapidly growing into palpable terror.  You see, from the perspective of most Minnesotans, who are taught to stuff their feelings
but can’t anyone outwardly expressing actual emotion could be one dirty look or one bump in the road away from completely losing their *$#!%* and going off like a postal bottle rocket, taking out anyone in their general vicinity.  They’ve learned this, because they’ve seen it it’s the natural reaction to bottling yourself up... do it long enough, and eventually you’ll explode like Mentos in Coke.  (In this respect, Fargo wasn’t too far off.)

I saw a lot of kissed crosses and clutched pearls, but, more importantly, I wasn’t about to let the poor gal in a wheelchair have to bear the burden of an insufferable ride that day just because she’d dared to have the audacity to go out in a wheelchair at the same time some colossal killjoy needed to be somewhere.  I waited until we were back on the road, hoping getting back on track would settle him down — it didn’t.

So I let him have it.  In my thickest, most righteously indignant accent, I unleashed an outraged Irish scolding, in the form of the following tongue lashing.

               “Now, see here, Grandfather... I hope you don’t mind me calling you that, seeing as how I haven’t caughtchyer name, on accounta you hadn’t thrown it, but where I come from, I were taught to respect me elders.  Though in your case I wouldn’t guess it would make much difference, as I can’t see from your actions that anyone’s bothered to teach you respect for others at all.  From what I can tell, you’ve no sensibility for the feelings of anyone around you, grousing as you’ve been doing, like a spoilt child.

               “I haven’t the foggiest idea whatever kind of appointment you could be off to what’s got you so all-fired perturbed about being put off that you’re going off so.  I’ve no concept what kinda schedule an old feller like yerself might be keeping.  But what I do know is, everyone here ’as got hiz own agenda.  We’ve all got someplace to be.

               “The way I see it, you got two choices: You can be on this bus, or you could be off this bus.  It’ll get there when it gets there, and not before.  No one’s gonna snap their fingers to magically make it get there any faster, and you can be sure’n yer timeline won’t be helped any by all yer bitchin’ and bellyachin.’

               “So, if you’d like this driver to letchya off at the next roundabout, I don’t imagine any of us’d be any the worse if you caught the next one what’ll be along shortly.  But if do you intend to stay, since you can’t do anything else about your situation anyway, out of consideration for all the rest here, I’d highly recommend, ya sit still, shut up, and enjoy the ride.


I would say I don’t know what came over me, but that wouldn’t be true.  His behavior was a form of passive aggressive harassment, and I don’t suffer bullies well, but I especially have zero tolerance for entitled jerks imposing their insensitivity on the disadvantaged.  Sure, playing the character of Mickie afforded me the freedom to take on a brazenness I might not would otherwise have brought out in such a setting, but the wrath was all mine — Mickie’s accent would just help me get away with it, as Americans have an unhealthy obsession with coddling over such things.

What I hadn’t expected, was the reaction from the rest of the crowd.  I’d been so focused on boring my harshest “pissed-off-Mama-says-you’ve-forgotten-your-manners” stare straight into his soul, I’d lost track of the relief and delight of the passengers around me, who immediately erupted in spontaneous applause as soon as I finished speaking, some of them even standing up from their seats, complete with a few hoots and hollers. 


The bus driver spoke up to the entire group, asking, as if shocked,

              “Did I just hear the voice of reason?”

To which someone called out from the back,

              “Amen, sister!”

I chuckled, possibly even blushing, and watched as Crankshaft looked like he was searching for the nearest biggest rock to crawl under.  To his credit, he didn’t make a peep for the rest of the duration of the route... at least not while I was on the bus, anyway.  But when I went to get off, the next unexpected turn of events was the biggest surprise yet.

Upon arrival at the mall, I gathered up my external wear, hoisted my bag to my shoulder, and pulled out my wallet as I moved toward the exit, preparing to have ready the two bills and two coins needed to pay my way for my passage there.  Instead, the driver let the passengers in front of me make their payments, but as I reached him, he put his hand over the farebox, and shook his head.


              “No ma’am,” he said.  “This one’s on me.”

Then he printed out a 12-hour transfer, ensuring a free ride
home, as well, and passed it over to me, telling me to have myself a nice day, with a cheery, “Merry Christmas, young lady.”

              “And a very happy holiday to you as well, my good sire,” replied the very gracious Mickie Lee Macoy, with a mischievous wink and an Irish smile.  And so we both went on our merry way, with a renewed sense of the goodness in humanity, and the possibility for simple moments that make a difference.


LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 15 - Topic: BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY
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*Busman's Holiday – Mr. Spaceman
Bedroom Eyes

The Wake of the Walk

DEPARTURE

There’ve been so many problems in my life that could have been solved by walking. So many cases where it was the right thing to do.  And certainly more situations than I care to admit to about which at times since I’ve wished I’d done it sooner.  But it was always a hard decision to be faced with, and never the easiest option available.

Mother walked.  Her response to learning her oldest daughter was being raped and her son was being beaten was to abandon all three of her children in the care of the monster doing it.  But — as should be obvious to any respectable human capable of rational thought — finding a crime is being perpetrated under your own roof, and choosing not to participate in said crime by removing yourself from the scene, doesn’t actually stop the crime from happening, but in fact perpetuates it.  So I hadn’t grown up with the greatest impressions surrounding the aftermath of what is left behind by walking.

I was 3 years old.

...which is an impressionable stage of development for any interminable injury...  Young enough to acutely ingrain patterns that would impact my life for the majority, if not the remainder of it, but too young to properly understand, accurately interpret, or effectively process what was actually happening.  Somehow, the residual imprint left in the back of my unchanneled subconscious transformed into the amorphous sense that, “Good people don’t abandon the ones they love.”

So I learned not to.

It would be decades — and far too many additional wounds later — before I came to include myself in the list of people I love who shouldn’t be abandoned.  I lost at least 15 years of my life in doomed relationships hanging onto the misguided notion that, “Good people don’t abandon the ones they love,” meant I had to nobly, doggedly, selflessly remain at the behest of any irreparably impaired loved one’s beck and call, regardless of how one-sided that love was, or how that loved one’s actions affected me.  Even at great personal cost to my own well-being.

Apparently, for the first portion of my adult life, the rudimentary repeating theme, “Good people don’t abandon the ones they love,” somehow stunted my sense of self-preservation.  After all, the bastards I stuck by like Tammy Wynette to her man were only pathetically self-loathing, narcissistic, emotionally abusive, manipulating alcoholic gaslighters.  It seemed I just couldn’t get enough of them.  My Daddy,
though, was a violent drunk, a slob, a hoarder, a thief, a pet killer, a racist, a criminal, and a pedophile.

But Mother shouldn’t have left him.


Naturally, I didn’t conceptualize my circumstances that way on any sort of cognizant level.  The intellectual acumen of my adult brain could fiercely grasp that, in fact, abandoning an abusive alcoholic rapist — assuming doing so includes taking along the victimized children and any others in the household at risk — is exactly the first step of the correct response to Mother’s discovery... The remainder of the appropriate response steps being: 2. Call the police and have his ass thrown in jail.  3. Get immediate and ongoing help for your traumatized children.  4. Contribute to his prosecution to ensure he gets a proper sentence that would prevent him from ever preying on any others in the future.


But consciousness and intelligence aren’t always the only driving forces behind the way we grow as people.  Many of our emergent characteristic traits are developed based on deeply imbedded hidden habits from our formative foundation.  In time, I would come to realize, the things we do to save ourselves from harm can be a deterrent to undoing damage done, and, more importantly... love isn’t always enough.


It was a long strange trip getting to that place, though.  It took me far too many hard-headed missteps to earn the skills and experience required to be
fully able to consciously comprehend how that primitive, backward, half-baked, unevolved, germinal subroutine of my basal, abecedarian emotional narrative maintained at a subliminal level had been driving my relational behaviors well into adulthood.  Or, how its latent, vestigial power of immolation remained at the cruxt of their dysfunction.  But somehow, I figured it out.

And then, I grew up.

“Good people don’t abandon the ones they
love,” is just as undeniable for me today as it ever was, perhaps even more so, now that I have so much more riding on it.  This truth remains a fundamental guiding principle of my life; an inherent certainty that cannot be expunged.  But now I can better distinguish, expelling toxicity is not equivalent to abandonment.  And running away isn’t the same as walking out.


I can’t easily say in a few words how it finally happened, but I can encapsulate a habitually duplicated pattern of personal history by summarizing, like a howling dog on a nail, eventually I stayed too long, and it finally hurt enough.  In some respects, I was fortunate to have escaped.  Not everyone is so lucky.  But I never question or protest why anyone can’t or doesn’t do it sooner, because I have walked a mile in those shoes, and I understand what it means to have so many varying degrees of factors contributing to that struggle, with some roadblocks heavier than others, and some obstacles impossible to overcome.  I can just be there to support anyone who finds their way out, and makes it to a safer space.


Yes, I made mistakes, and not a few of them.  I don’t know if there was any way I was ever going to be able to avoid them.  Sure, I’ve been hurt.  I’ve probably hurt others, too.  I never intended to be the villain in anyone’s story, but really, who does?

I protected myself too much.  I didn’t protect myself enough.  I didn’t love enough.  I loved too much.  I kept too much too close to the vest.  I gave too much away.

Somewhere along the way, I lost myself.


But I found myself, too.

And I also found the love of my life.  Mostly because I wasn’t looking for him.  I was able to experience unconditional love for the first time when I became able to love myself the same way.  I realized then that everything else I’d known up until that point had only been just a mere shadow of what was
possible.

And, though I didn’t know it then, I was ready.  Maybe for the first time.  And when I was, he’d found me. 


I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out who I am.  And I do like me.  But for most of my life, I’ve liked myself most when I’m alone.  I related entirely too personally to the warning Ive often shared, “It’s better to be alone than to wish you were.”  I was stronger on my own.  The “loves” I would never abandon had always chipped away at that strength.  They were a cancer that had consumed it.  Until I finally learned to be able to resist letting anyone else take that strength from me again.


Minion
didn’t want to minimize any aspect of who I am, though.  He just wanted to be part of it.  Not to overtake me, challenge me, or compete with me.  But just to share in my life.  And as I came to respect and appreciate who he is, I knew I wanted to be a part of his life, too.  Now, we’ve made a life together.


I’ve never really had a debilitating problem with self-esteem.  Some occasional nagging self-doubt, maybe, as we all do.  But I’ve never had a disparaging sense that I’m not good enough to be worthy of love or happiness.  I’ve always believed I’m deserving of a great life.

So I’m working on building it.  It’s been a long and winding road, getting from there to here.  But for the first time in decades, I’m in the right company, and finally on the right track.  And though it took a little while longer for me than it does for most, any different steps along the path would have taken me in a different direction, and I would have ended up in a different
place.

I know where I’m going.  I know where I’ve been.

It’s time to enjoy the journey.


There’ve
been so many problems in my life that could have been solved by walking.  But I owe the life I have to being the kind of person who didn’t.  And I wouldn’t change a thing about it.


LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 6 - Topic: SOLVITUR AMBULANDO
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Rockstar!

Perception IS Reality

BLACK LIVES MATTER

I’ve been reading the “also” or “too” vs. “only” debate about the “campaign slogan” of this movement for several weeks now, across multiple sources online, and I haven’t weighed in, because I know that when I first heard of their tagline, my initial, knee-jerk, emotional gut reaction was to think, “Now, hey, wait a minute . . .  Blacks aren’t the only minority being marginalized in this country . . .

•  Women are still struggling to fight against proposed legislation
    that would set back rights for half the general population
    to a time before our grandparent’s generation, making us
    little more than indentured servants to our male counterparts,
    effectively reducing us to glorified baby-making factories,
    better seen than heard.

•  Native Americans in every corner of the nation are having
    the sacred ancestral tribal lands that support their culture
    and sustain their people stripped from them with the stroke
    of a pen, as if the ink on the treaties that “gave” it to them
    had dried up and disappeared, like dust in the wind
    with the passage of time.

•  Homosexuals who simply want to have the same freedoms
    the rest of the nation takes for granted are still having to fight
    for basic HUMAN rights, even after the passage of laws
    that have already granted it to them.

•  Latin Americans are disregarded as subhuman.

•  Jews are generally distrusted.

•  Asian culture is ransacked, twisted, and appropriated, as is
    anything else that white America finds shiny and somehow valuable,
    and nearly every person of non-anglo descent, with non-euro-
    heritage is expected to assimilate, homogenize, speak OUR language,
    blend in, melt away, and disappear into the collective “US.”

•  Most other cultures are barely given a grunt of recognition,
    and every religion — or even, a carefully chosen lack of religion —
    that doesn’t align with the majority is dismissed as irrelevant,
    while efforts of multiple controlling powers blatantly seeking
    to turn our government into a THEOCRACY — in order to thereby
    *legally* allow for mass discrimination of ALL non-conforming
    ideologies — are hurtling U.S. citizenry at an alarming speed
    toward our very own American
CRUSADES.

•  The middle class is disappearing as the working class continues
    to plummet towards or even over the poverty line, while our
    legislators — predominantly very old, mostly white, mostly male,
    mostly millionaires, who *cannot possibly* have ANY understanding
    of the common man — grow fat on the spoils of lying in bed with,
    and licking the boots of corporations whose leaders have put such
    a distance between themselves and the labor force that established
    their wealth, that they steadily drive us all to the brink of a
    modern day
French Revolution.

Surely the issues of all these downtrodden should be considered just as much of a priority?

Don’t ALL lives matter?”

... ... ...

Those WERE my first thoughts.

But then I thought of the position that the BLM movement was taking, the justification of their indignation, and the righteousness of their cause, and I dismissed my first response as the rumblings of insecurity bred from white-passable privilege (which isn’t quite the same as white privilege, but close enough in nearly every respect that makes a difference).  I considered that maybe, if even I, with my circular thinking, logical minded, generally objective perspective — having to skip a beat, take a breath and check myself before reaching a more supportive conclusion — could nearly find my own impressions lumped in with that of the ignorant masses, then maybe the phrase *COULD* benefit from a minor clarification in wording...?

You see, in my head, I knew the saying didn’t mean *ONLY* BLACK Lives Matter, but, to reach through to the hearts of people who need most to get this message, maybe it could use a touch of tweaking?  A bit of help to make certain that what it did mean came across effectively...?

Perhaps:


Black Lives Matter, TOO. ( ??? )

or maybe,


Black Lives ALSO Matter.   ( ??? )

You know?  Like, let’s go ahead and get the air cleared up front, in case, God forbid, someone not in support of this movement should mistakenly assume that people who want to be free to LIVE as the rest of us do are somehow asking for more than they deserve, or attempting to encroach on anything someone else already has.

... ... ...

Oh, I’m sorry, did that come across as ridiculous?

Maybe even a little bit racist???

Yeah, it did to me, too.  Even in my own mind, I couldn’t defend that thought, so I got to thinking about it even further, and the conclusion I came to, I can neither think, nor speak, nor even write about without a lump in the back of my throat, and tears swelling up in my eyes.

... ... ...

Once I got my head screwed on straight, I realized, there is absolutely NO value in anyone who is NOT black sitting around on any social media site with anyone else who is NOT black having any length of discussion about whether this saying can or can’t be misinterpreted, or should or shouldn’t be modified for the sake of clarity.

Because...


Black people KNOW what they mean.

And, more importantly...

THEY HAVE SAID IT.

The question should NOT be about whether or not this saying needs ANY further clarification.

It DOESN’T.

There IS NO **implied** “ALSO.” There IS NO silent “TOO.”

The word “ONLY” is only in your imagination.


Black people are standing together collectively, screaming at the top of their lungs like Whos on a speck of sand in a thistle, to TELL the world simply that BLACK LIVES MATTER.  Not because they matter more than anyone else’s.  Not even because they matter “just as much” as yours do.  But simply BECAUSE they matter.  And you and I, from a place of privilege, can debate til the cows come home what else surely *must* be subliminally included in that statement, or what other, additional message clearly must be either meant by it or derived from it, because we are so far removed from a world in which such a statement needs to be made that we cannot even relate to the concept enough to understand it.  The fact remains that, telling the world our lives matter is NOT, and never has been, a necessity.  It is a **foregone conclusion.**

Over the course of more than 4 decades of water under all my crossed bridges thus far, I have never had to INFORM *anyone* in my existence that MY LIFE matters, because everything about my 40-some years on this terrestrial plane has demonstrated to me, it’s just assumed, EVERYONE KNOWS.  And that is because,


I’M NOT BLACK.

You see, that’s why this issue can’t be compared with women’s rights.  Or gay freedoms.  Or religious privilege.  Or social injustice.  Or any cultural stigmatism.  Because they’re NOT the same.

... ... ...

People who’ve emigrated here from another way of life carried with them their shared history and their family name, their traditions and ethics, their hopes and dreams of a new world, and their intentions for what would be passed down from generation to generation after generation in this land of safety, asylum, freedom, opportunity, or whatever other promise of the American Dream brought them to our borders.  But the same can’t be said of blacks.  What is their shared culture heritage?  Slavery?  Oppression?  Marginalization?  Displacement?  DisenfranchisementSystematic, institutionalized injustice?


You can say all you want to that black people have fought for and won their civil rights.  Sure, we have an African American in the White House.  And we could probably even call him a Kenyan American, if he wanted us to, because we know where his lineage originates.  But his wife, Michelle, she’s from... what, Chicago?  If you take most any person in this country who is black and trace their family tree, where is it going to lead?  We throw a continent in front of the name “American” for people we identify as “black,” because the whole of that vast, expansive land mass across the ocean is the closest most of us can get to knowing who they are or where they’ve come from, as if labeling an entire group of people “African American,” will somehow provide unity and conformity, like it’s some sort of nationality or ethnicity — as if that would give them back the shared cultural heritage whites stole from them.  But the truth is, all “blacks” really can be certain they have in common is that they are darker than some of the rest of us.  As if that’s all that really matters.


We who like to think of ourselves as caring and compassionate, as understanding and objective, as loving, and liberal... we know that nothing about any human’s way of life should be boiled down to no more than a byproduct of a person’s skin tone.  But, we also know that, sometimes, it does.  More than anyone else in this country, it is “blacks” who have grown up never being allowed to forget that ugly truth, because of all the lifelong ramifications that automatically comes along with having that skin tone, despite *every* effort of every civil rights leader.  We stand beside those who would labor against this unfortunate reality, and we offer our voices to the outcry, and our efforts to the work that is still needed.  But we can’t know this need the way they do, because we haven’t lived the reality they have lived—the reality they must still face, every day of their lives.

That reality is, black people aren’t fighting for rights.  Or freedom.  Or privilege.  Or better wages.  Or justice.  Or equality.  These very basic HUMAN needs might ALL be desired, and even necessary.  But the luxury — the privilege — of being able to seek out those bare necessities is not right now priority number one on the agenda of most black people these days, because there is an even MORE *pressing* objective.  Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness can be discussed later, at such a time when the house is not on fire.

Black people are fighting to LIVE.  Black people are fighting just to SURVIVE.  Black people are fighting FOR THEIR LIVES, because they’re NOT being allowed just to LIVE as you and I do.  The first and foremost of those truths we hold to be self-evident, that our Declaration of Independence defines as endowed to us by our Creator, has not been achieved for Black people.  The right to LIFE — a Constitutional guarantee for ALL — is one that was never fully bestowed upon Blacks.

Black people are fighting to be able to walk out their door and NOT worry, just as you and I do not worry, that in the course of going about their everyday lives, that they might be KILLED — just for being black.  They are fighting to live in a world unrecognizable from our own — a world in which, if such a terrible tragedy were to occur, it would be such a rarity as to garner main stream media attention, and it would be met with both national outrage and
swift justice.

•  Black people cannot be certain, as you and I are every day,
    that they can walk down any street in this land of the FREE,
    and not be shot in the chest at point blank range, a mere
    few yards from their own door to safety, for the heinous
    crime of
“looking suspicious,” because of choice in wardrobe.

•  Black people cannot be assured, as you and I would be,
    that in the course of trying to intervene in a fight,
    they might not be accused of such a minor crime as
    would barely warrant so much as a ticket for a white man,
    presumed guilty on the spot, and subsequently
CHOKED to death.

•  Black people cannot go to work, as you and I would,
    confident in the knowledge that they will not be
   
SHOT IN THE BACK at their place of business because
    someone WHITE mistakenly had the idea that something
    about their job was not entirely above board.

•  Black people cannot drive an automobile, as you and I would,
    in their own familiar neighborhoods, to their family homes,
    knowing that they will arrive safely at their destination
    without being mistaken for someone else, SECRETLY followed,
    stalked by a PLAINCLOTHES officer in an UNMARKED vehicle,
    and shot
multiple times through the back of their own car.

•  Black people cannot, as you and I might, simply walk to the
    grocery store with their family and a handful of friends,
    without being
attacked without warning by a rogue battalion
    of NON-UNIFORMED police with military grade assault weapons.


•  Black people cannot peaceably live wherever they can afford to,
    as you and I do, if
where they can afford to live is public housing,
    without concern that their residential facility will be meticulously
    patrolled floor by floor, IN SEARCH OF A CRIME IN PROGRESS — a zealous
    pursuit assured to turn up perpetrators guilty of being black
    in the
unlit stairwell of their own tenement building, which of course,
    naturally provokes the instinctive reaction to shoot to kill.


•  Black people cannot hang out at the mall, as you and I might,
    or even
relax in their own homes, as you and I do,
    nor even
sleep in their own beds at night, as you and I will,
    satisfied that they can
answer their own front door,
suffer a life-threatening health condition, have a malfunctioning brake light,
walk down the street with a white person, or even just
go about their normal daily routine, without fear of being
searched, beaten, maced, smothered, tazed, bombed, or shot,
over a case of mistaken identity, bad information, because someone
 got the numbers on a house wrong, because some eager beaver is
showing off for the reality TV film crew, or because someone
happens to match a certain description — one that need not go
 any further than “black.”


And so, black people are resorting, in anger, in fear, and in desperation, to telling the world that:

***BLACK LIVES MATTER***

...because the realities black people must face every day suggest to them that

THE WORLD DOESN’T KNOW.

... ... ...


In just under 7 weeks, I will stand before my God, my family, my friends and loved ones, and I will promise my life to the man I love.  And when we raise our children, they will be Native American and Irish, as well as Moroccan, East Indian, and French.  But it doesn’t matter how many colors go into making up their skin tone, because to the rest of the world, all they will be is BLACK.

So I will have to train my son when he learns to drive, to never go above the speed limit, and to always keep his license valid, proof of insurance in the car, his tabs up to date, his headlamps and taillights functional, his muffler in good working condition, and wear his seat belt, in the hopes that he doesn’t go around with any avoidable reasons to get pulled over.  I will make sure he drives a car that isn’t too flashy, but not too rusted out, either.  And whether he is an athlete, a band geek, a mathematician, an artist, a musician, or a science nerd, I will teach him to dress in a manner that could never cause him to be mistaken for a common criminal.  I will train him for the inevitable day when he is pulled over for any reason, or, more likely,
for no reason at all, to hold out his empty hands, palms up, to show they are devoid of wallets, cell phones, pocket knives, pill bottles, or broom handles, and to be cooperative, deferential, and polite.

I will train my daughter to speak her mind, and to protect herself, but I will make sure that she presents herself in attire, in demeanor, in word and in deed respectably, and that she knows how to make her insights known without allowing for her intelligence, her personal pride, her sense of fairness, her understanding of what’s right, and her general grasp of basic human decency to be deliberately mistaken for belligerence, rebellion, or sass.  (This will be especially hard for ME to teach her, because she will be MY daughter, and I’ve never been very good at that, myself.)  I will teach her to show the proper deference — say Yes Ma’am, no Sir, etc. — in situations when she is vulnerable to persons in authority with the power to abuse her, and to smile so hard her teeth hurt, if that’s what it takes, even if she has to choke back tears.

I will do this for my family, not because I want them to get a good grade in class, or to be allowed onto the football team or the cheerleading squad or the band trip or the school play.  Not because I want them to get a leg up with their boss, or climb another rung on the corporate ladder.  And not even because I want them to be decent, respectable citizens, though if that’s an added bonus, I’ll take it.  But I will train my children to do what needs to be done to keep them safe in this world, because every time they walk out my front door — regardless of anything else I might desire for their future, and no matter what I may think of whatever they might do outside the realm of my protection — what I will want most of all, is for them to COME HOME.  I hope that everything I have been through in my life up until that point will have prepared me to be up to the challenge of raising black children.  And I pray, every day, that all members of my household will grow up in a world which will have at some point learned,

BLACK LIVES **DO** MATTER.



Trayvon Martin  |  Eric Garner  |  Ousmane Zongo  |  Prince Jones  |  James Brissette  |  Ronald Madison  |  Akai Gurley  |  Jordan Baker  |  McKenzie Cochran  |  Tarika Wilson  |  Aiyana Jones  |  Yvette Smith  |  David Washington  |  Walter Scott  |  Jeremy Lake  |  Shem Walker  |  Carlos Alcis  |  Robert Davis  |  David Washington  |  Luis Rodriguez  |  Dante Parker  |  Alberta Spruill  |  Aaron Campbell  |  Joseph Burke-Monerville  |  John Adams  |  James Blake  |  Amadou Diallo  |  Rekia Boyd  |  Freddie Gray  |  Rumain Brisbon  |  Abner Louima

Rockstar!

The Flame That Never Dies

Fire Within

Look to your left.

       No, not way over there, that’s too far.

Come back this way a bit.         Now, stop...

       Stay here, on your screen.

              You still with me?          Good.

Right there... just an inch or so over...

              a little to the edge, off to the side...

Yeah, there... you see the gal in that picture there?

The one with the giant set of lungs and the mouth stretched wide enough to absorb a grapefruit?  The one with long raven locks dewy and wild with the passion of performance glistening amethyst in the hot blue spotlight?  The one decked out in crimson velvet and ebony satin and leather?  The one positioned in a battle stance, thrust forward, bending to the crowd and writhing with the rhythm of the moment?

Yeah, that one.

That’s me.

I guess you could say I’m a closet
rockstar.  Or at least, I was, once... a lifetime ago.  That photo was taken a dozen years back, at the widely renowned Fine Line Music Café, and originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

That guy there in the background on guitar is
Mike Ruekburg, formerly of Rex Daisy.  He’s since gone on to doing bigger and better things out in L.A.  In the case of this event, where I was making a regular guest appearance, former members of the defunct foursome had come together with some other mildly crazy folks to create the slough band, “Two Tickets To Paradise,” because they just missed the stage.  Their one album, the only big name label record ever produced for the group, hadn’t given them quite the career in rock and roll they’d hoped for, but they were always a lot more fun live than in the studio, anyway.  Just feed them shots of Jagermeister, and watch the magic happen.

But I’m not writing about those guys.  We had some good times together, sure, but this is about me.


I’ll be honest, I’d always planned at some point in my life to come “out of the closet,” so to speak.  But I’m forty years old, now, and I haven’t found the door yet.  In fact, I’m not even sure I’m still looking for it.  If I’m being realistic, I don’t know that I ever really was.  There are people who spend their lives “chasing the dream,” and I guess I just never wanted to be that nuts.  I wanted some semblance of a normal life, in the meantime.  Making music has always been an integral part of what makes me who I am, but I try not to let it be the only thing that defines me.

I know it doesn’t mean that much to you for me to say here, but I am good at this.  Actually, it’s probably the one thing in my life I could say I’m great at.  I could downplay it somewhat, since you’d have to take my word for it in this environment, anyway, but, I didn’t come to that conclusion on my own.

In musical theater and choral environments, I’ve won every part or role I’ve ever auditioned for.  I was one of only 3 singers from my region to make All-State, 2 years running.  I was a featured soloist at
Dorian Festival, before several thousand of my peers – other highly trained, exceptionally skilled musicians.  I’ve soloed for an International Conference on Global Warming at the General Assembly in the Headquarters of the United Nations.  I once met Donny Osmond, whose mid 90s sendup of the title role in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat impressed me, and who graciously acknowledged me as a noteworthy talent for my performance as The Narrator in a local production of that same show.  He was so gracious, he made me blush.

I’ve had quite a few other accomplishments along those lines to my name... I could go on about them.  But it doesn’t really matter now.  That was decades ago, and back then, I was in my prime.  I was the vocal equivalent of an Olympic athlete.  But now, I’m vocally out-of-shape, like
Arnold Schwarzenegger pushing into his mid 60s.  Sure, you still wouldn’t want to mess with the former Governor in a back alley, but he’s certainly no Mister Universe anymore.  That ship sailed a long time ago.  Don’t get me wrong, just like “AH-nuhld” could still kick your ass, I can still belt out a tune.  Perhaps I might not quite hold my own anymore in the Die Fledermaus opera aria, Adele’s Laughing Song, as I once did, but I can still make people smile, and maybe even drop a few jaws.

These days, I don’t have a whole lot of outlets for expressing this aspect of my talent, and certainly not to the educated, cultured audiences I once commanded.  Now, when I get the chance to perform, it’s mostly for drunks in bars.  But, still, people who’ve heard me sing — mostly folks who don’t know me that well — even today — often ask me why I haven’t gone on shows like
American Idol.  The answer I give is easy enough to come by, and usually shuts most inquiring minds up, but it’s not entirely the whole story.

To strangers, I’m only willing to confess that, when that reality bomb first hit US broadcasts, the age restriction was limited to 18 – 24-year-olds only, and they were very specifically looking for a “pop” star.  But I’m not one of those sorts who mistakenly believes I can do anything.  I have my strengths, and in my element, I generally find myself at the top of my class, but I do know my limitations.  I am no Mariah Carey, nor would I want to be... that’s just not who I am.  Besides, by that time I was 27, and that sort of thing was not my cup of tea.  A few years later, it seemed they were more willing to consider other music genres, and they’d expanded their age limit from 14 – 28.  But, of course, by then, I was already 29.  That’s usually enough of a response to satisfy most drunks in a bar.

The reality, though, is a little more complex.  The thing is, when I do catch shows like that from time to time, I always see people regurgitating the same tired soundbytes.

“This means everything to me!”

“It would change my whole world!”

“Music is all I’ve ever been good at!”

“Singing is all I ever dreamed of!”

“I just want to be able to prove that dreams really can come true!”

It’s like someone gives them all the same script, and they have to be able to read from it, convincingly — preferably with tears — in order to land the job.  And I can’t help but to think, how sad for them that they couldn’t find a life outside this singular obsession... how tragic that they couldn’t be fulfilled in any other fashion.  But, still, I must admit, even so, I do understand that drive, that endless aching need, that hunger that cannot be assuaged with anything else.

And yet, somehow, it must be.  Because if we all only did the only thing we ever really wanted to do, then the whole world would be filled with ballerinas, firemen, astronauts, basketball players, actors, singers, and 314 Presidents of the United States... all at once.  (Plus maybe a few mad scientists here and there, thrown in for good measure... those 314 Presidents are going to need something to do to keep them busy.)

Of course, I’m not saying I’m going to abandon the notion of “making it” because I don’t think it’s a realistic possibility.  But at the same time, I also know, it’s never going to become a realistic possibility unless a make it one... so where does that leave me?


There was a time in my youth when I wanted fame and fortune under the spotlight.  I wanted it all, and I’d have taken it, if it had been handed to me.  I remember when I first watched that movie “Rock Star” in my mid-20s, and I initially found the ending wholly unbelievable.  No way!  No way would Mark Wahlberg just walk away from everything he’d ever wanted, after working so hard to get it.  And then, life happened to me.  Years rolled by, age came upon me, experience altered my perspective, and a different understanding changed my way of thinking.  I saw it again, some time later, and suddenly it all made sense, and for the first time, I finally “got” it.

That deeper comprehension of what that feeling must have been like to have given up the dream brought to mind a line from a U2 song,

          “I gave you everything you ever wanted... it wasn’t what you wanted.”


I could never handle going on some cheap network drama delivery vehicle as one starry eyed hopeful among thousands, desperate to be given a golden ticket that would make all my dreams come true.  I’m too much of a control freak for that.  I don’t want anyone to hand me a shiny wrapped package filled with their interpretation of everything I ever wanted, along with all the strings that would come attached with it.  Maybe when I was a kid, sure, when I knew I was that good, and that was all I knew.  Mind you, I'm not saying I’m not that good now, I’m just saying I know so much more now, and that’s not all that matters to me anymore.  I could have been handed everything I’d ever wanted, and I'd have become someone else.  And if I had, I wouldn’t have become someone I would have liked very much.  But I don’t want to be anyone else anymore.  I want to be me.  I’ve spent a long time figuring out how to be me, and how to like who I am.  And I'm hanging onto that.  If I’m ever going to do this, I want to have worked for it, and to do it on my own.


I knew by then that I had lost some portion of my younger days to trying to “be somebody.”  It was an obsession, and it was unhealthy.  At that stage in life, I didn’t care enough about so much of what was going on with me, so much of what was in front of me, because the future was my focus.  Some long distant mirage in the desert, across an empty, dark chasm of the unknown between my life in the now, and what I longed for.  I was writing (music) prolifically, then.  Probably 3 – 4 really incredible strokes of creative genius a week, at least... still some of my best work, to this date.  But I had no life, or what I had was falling apart.  And when it would get bad enough that I would have to fix it, because it was so in my face that I had no other choice, then I’d be forced to repurpose my attention into “saving” myself from whatever predicament my lack of attention had dragged me into.

But maybe that’s always how it has to be with great artists.  Maybe that’s what it means to have to “suffer” for your art.  In many ways, I think of that song as being sung by a man with a broken heart, but I don’t imagine the object of his unrequited affections to be a woman... it’s his art, his passion, his creative muse.  It’s said that one definition of insanity is continuously repeating the same patterns, expecting different results, right?  I realized, one day, eventually, in the course of growing up, when I finally recognized that repetitive condition in my own life, that I, like so many others before me, am forever ill-fated to suffer from what I came to know as what I call,


The Curse of the Artist.”

The curse of the artist, as I see it, is:

                              Either you can LIVE,

                                        — or —

                               . . .you can CREATE.

                              But you CAN’T do BOTH

                              until WHAT you create

                              is HOW you LIVE.


Until then, no real artist is every truly satisfied in life.


Once upon a time, when I was young and stupid, and I knew everything, as we all did once, I watched my best friend, 10 years my senior, begin to fade from the joy of the pastimes we once shared together, and I swore that would never happen to me.  I vowed to never lose the passion I had for the desires of my youth.  Because nothing should ever really change about what we want in life, right?

Well, I haven’t really lost it, I suppose.  I haven’t buried it so deep that it can’t be found.  The truth is, I couldn’t make it go away even if I wanted to.  It will always be a part of me.  And because of that, on some level, I will always be looking for it, over my shoulder, around the next corner.  But it isn’t haunting me anymore, and it no longer controls me.


I may not be on the fast track to getting there.  In fact, I’m not even sure I can see the track from here.  But, I don’t think it’s ever really completely out of my mind.  It’s a just a step away, right over there, just to the left.  I’ve got a fairly good idea how I’ll eventually get around to doing what I love, assuming I don’t get too cozy in my quiet life, sit on my haunches and twiddle my whole future away.  And when I do choose to set foot on that path, it’ll be on my terms.  Because I don’t feel like I’ve got to make it big to make it worthwhile.  I’m not dying to be famous.  I’m not trying to sell out standing room only shows in arena rock concerts.  I don’t have to be good enough for the voting public, or an audience of millions.  Someday, I just want to be able to answer the question, “What do YOU do,” with the facts of life about my dream.

I’m an artist.  That’s what I do.  It’s who I am.

And that will never change.



LJ Idol | Season 9 • Week 21 - Topic: THE MUSIC MADE ME DO IT
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Matching Rainbows

The Flame That Burns Brightest

Bottle Rocket Sendoff

Have you ever met someone who was so irresistible, that everyone who has ever come into contact with him instantly, instinctively, insistently, wanted to become closer, and felt honored just to have had the experience of a conversation with him?

I know, I know, if you know me, you’re probably confused... you might think it’s unusual for me to discuss such things... maybe you think I’m not the type for “hero worship.”  And, you’d be right... I’m not.  But this isn’t that.  This is a deeper respect; an ingrained admiration for those extraordinary souls whose lives truly “touch” everyone they touch.


A very special person in my life died this weekend.  Quite suddenly, and unexpectedly.  I’ll be honest, I don’t even know what he died of.  I know he’d struggled with the pain of Fibromiyalgia for many years, but I hadn’t thought the big FM was a killer.  Though, to be fair — and I could be speaking out of turn here... so please cut me a little slack, if necessary, as I’m still stinging from this — I believe so little is yet known about this disease that I sometimes wonder if in cases where patients suffer with inexplicable ailments and debilitations, Doctors don't just use it
indiscriminately as a catch-all misdiagnosis to otherwise mean, “we know you’re hurting, but we don’t have a frickgen clue what’s wrong you, and we’re just hoping at least some of the random drugs we’re going to throw against the wall of your condition might somehow manage to stick, and possibly ease your pain, or if we get really lucky, maybe we might just even accidentally cure you... so sit tight, keep your fingers crossed, and don’t be afraid to pray to whatever gods you believe in.”

Please feel free to dismiss that thought if I should need apologize for it... I promise I'm not trying to bring any offense, but the last couple of days have been a foggy blur that has included
a lot of crying, insomnia, difficulty thinking with a clear head, and certainly a listless motivation to write (I would have loved to have written on anything but this, and yet, I just... couldn't).

I just don’t feel like such a lustrous star should be gone from this world so soon, and I want to be angry because he’s not here anymore.  I mean it.  For him, and everyone like him.  It's hard not to be incensed on behalf of anyone who has endured years of undetermined physical torment without any relief, and for those who have no one in their Russian roulette of medical caregivers willing to admit there is no hope for reprieve or succor.  I've seen that be the case with my own Mom, who is caught in the torturous talons of this ferocious affliction.  I'm trying not to imagine now that it could take her from me.

But I digress.


I wish I could say he was a very good friend, but though I liked him very much, and he always enjoyed my company, we were very companionable — even downright chummy — occasional associates, who ran in correlating social circles, and who saw each other on a limited basis... far too limited for my taste, as every encounter with him was a reminder of why there should be a lot more of his company in my life.  But oh, how we could swap stories!  And it was his favorite thing to do, as much to listen to tales of my boisterous antics as to share his own.  It had been ages since we’d done so, though, and sadly, I had to find out about his passing through FACEBOOK, of all places, a day and half after he was already gone.

That was a painful discovery, both of this dismal news, as well as of the realization that we’d drifted so far apart in recent years.  While I am most certainly
still a hardcore nerd, changing circumstances of my life in the past few have caused me to pull away somewhat from the environments where I would previously have been most likely to find him (Renaissance Festival, Convergence, The House of No Pants, etc.), so our “bantering” had become reduced primarily to social network media exchanges of late.  I’d even watched “Frozen” last weekend because the very last post he’d ever put up there (just 10 days ago now) was to say that it was “cute as hell.”  (For the record, I was going to have words with him about that, as I found it trite and lacking “oomph,” though I could surely say that it was pretty, and, for Robert, well... I imagine that alone would have been enough to deem it “fabulous!”)  Our last IM chat on FB was recent enough (just a couple weeks ago) that his last message to me (a smiley face) is still showing up an the left side of my messages window.  So, every time I open the chat feature, I still see him there, his face (his avatar is the same as is in the final image pictured here, further down), smiling at me, with a smiley face.  I don't know whether to laugh or cry, or just delete it.

We still got together on the home-front from time to time, though.  He generally included me on the guest list when he was having backyard BBQs, or holiday celebrations, and he and his husband even once hosted a special dinner in his home for just me and my last long-term housemate... now that was a rare treat.  I don't remember upon what delectable culinary masterpiece we dined that night, or what poignant philosophical quandaries we deliberated over, but I was just delighted not to have to share his attention with so many dozens of others, as was so often the case, since he generally traveled through life with a veritable entourage of devotees.  His castle boasts the kind of interior elegance that leaves gaped jaws drooping on the floor, with a keener understanding what a luscious life of brilliance its inhabitants must have to be living to surround themselves with such a kaleidoscopic cornucopia of color and ornate adornment.  And it wasn’t just there that the splash of dazzle ended... oh, no... the man practically oozed swank, dripping glitz and glamour with every swashbuckling swagger.


The country farmhouse theme of my humble abode could never hope to measure up, but I do try to make it feel like me, with just enough “shinies” to give me a smile when I need one.  He’s visited me on occasions when I’ve held gala events, but, never in this space.  I held a “Just Because” party in my home earlier this month, only a few weeks back, and he sent me a text for the new address, but didn't make it in the end.  I am all the more saddened now that he wasn't able to swing by... I would have treasured that all-too-infrequent quality time even more today, knowing that I will never have another chance in this life.


To have ever met him was to become enchanted with him. To know him, was to love him.  The world is less colorful, less vibrant, less beautiful, without such a prodigious, festive, vivacious lover of life.

I will miss your twinkling eyes, your mischievous smile, your gregarious laughter, your scathing wit.

You will never be forgotten, luv.






(Following are a few excerpted selections from among the hundreds of messages which have continuously been pouring in over his Facebook page in the last 72 hours expressing heartfelt commiseration over his passing, mourning the brilliant light that has been extinguished.)


. . . What I remember most powerfully is walking along at Fest a few years ago and being stopped by him.  He looked at my threads and exclaimed, "Oh, Honey!"  ...and then proceeded to talk about how exquisite he found the boning on the front of my overdress, but I could hardly listen, as my brain went into overdrive thinking,

"ROBERT is talking to me! THE “Robert!”  Oh. My. God!"

I had seen him, listened to him, but never actually spent any substantial time with him.  I couldn’t help myself.  I just went all fangirl and got positively giddy, then gooey, and just stood there gawking.  He must have thought I was a complete moron, but to his credit, he just kindly said his piece, and continued on his merry way.  To this day I still couldn’t tell you which bit of garb he was going on about
.


Queens Court
[ Fig. 1: THE QUEENS COURT ]
Image of a gaudy, flamboyant, obviously bawdy band of medieval merry men bedecked in the habiliment of gentry and assorted courtiers in waiting. Most are standing, however, two are seated in the center of the photo. The first, to the left of center, garbed in black leather trousers and a black leather doublet, accented by pink interior padding, sports a black leather pirate hat ornamented by pink feathers, and black leather pirate bucket top boots. He sits with one knee folded atop a bent leg, holding a glass of red wine in one hand, and seems to be gesturing innocently to himself with the other, while wearing a slight smile behind a neatly trimmed short, thin, dark goatee. The other, seated center right, a fully mustached and bearded man with rounded cheeks, dark hair and features, and a slightly rounded belly, is bearing more leisurely attire of the era, complete with royal blue velvet leggings and silk slippers, stretched out in front of him, and gingerly crossed at the ankles. He wears a white gauze poets tunic, a navy and champagne brocade vest, a Shakespearean neck collar, and a pillbox cap. While everyone in the photo is evidently happy, smiling, or laughing, the "Blue Bard of Happiness" is clearly guffawing the loudest of all, his head thrown back, eyes squinted together, white teeth shining vibrantly to the heavens, one hand gripping the arm of the chair, the other gestured upwards, as if about to slap his knee.

The caption reads:
"The Queens Court."



. . . I admired the man's creativity, love of others, effervescent nature, generosity, sense of humor and kindness.  He left way too soon and now there is a hole in our hearts as a result... the loss is almost overwhelming.


[ Fig. 2: MARBLES IN THE FENCEPOSTS ]
Image of the snow covered backyard of a home, surrounded by a picket fence with marbles pressed into holes bored into the wooden slats. Radiant beams of sunlight are shining through the clouds, being refracted by the crystal colors of the marbles, and creating a prism, reflecting multi-hued streams of iridescent light being cast in all directions, in every tone of the rainbow.

The caption reads:
"Never miss an opportunity to sparkle, or to let your light shine through."

(It should be noted here that this is something Robert was known for doing for others, just to help anyone who wanted it to polish up their landscape with some added flair, because he believed everyone should always come home to a lavish environment, and he felt it was important to be able to either capture or create and express the hidden inner beauty from out of the everyday, the ordinary and the mundane.)



. . . He embraced everything about life and everyone in it with a charm and energy unmatched.

A Day at the Park
[ Fig. 3: A DAY AT THE PARK ]
Two images, side by side, of the man described in Fig. 1. as "The Blue Bard of Happiness," now a little greyer, a touch rounder, and certainly less dressed.  He is wearing purple from head to toe, but for his straw hat and Japanese heeled sandals.  His "getup" consists of very short shorts, a tank top bedazzled at the straps, and opaque purple sunglasses.  Duly accessorized, his "ornaments" include a purple handkerchief in one hand, and a purple lacy parasol in the other.  He wears a chain with a golden "navy anchor" pendant laying neatly center position against the middle of the tank top.  In both images, it is a bright summer day, with sunlight shining through the leafy overhead canopy onto the green grass, a park path behind him, and picnic benches off to the side.  In the second of the two images, there is a wicker picnic basket on a picnic bench.  In both photos, the man is hamming it up for the camera, posing in an overly exaggerated fashion, like a freshly preened and primped peacock, with just the same level of joviality seen in Fig. 1., taken several years earlier.

The caption reads:
"Just an Ordinary Day at the Park... Life is such a Picnic!"




Goodbye, my dearest “Shug
.

Shug
[ Fig. 4: ROBERT W. SCHUG ]
Stark image of a very attractive mid-fifties man with bushy black eyebrows curved into a mischievous arch; dark, smiling eyes with deeply defined laugh lines; wire rimmed almond shaped glasses slid down on the end of a long, thin, roman nose; a fuller salt and pepper goatee, the end of a handle bar mustache twisted into upturned curls topping the corners of a Mona Lisa smile; and round cheeks turned 3/4 profile to the camera, showing one ear adorned with multiple silver hoops. He is outfitted in a sharp black dress shirt with a crimson brocade vest, and a champagne silk cravat, decorated by scarlet and royal blue flowers, and adorned with a gold tie pin, as well as a Victorian beaver pelt top hat, lined with a black and purple leather and velvet studded ribbon.

The caption reads:
"Robert W. Schug, Creative Genius, Fashionista Extraordinaire, Costuming Superstar.
Beloved by all who knew him, Friend to all who loved him.
Forever in our Hearts. 8/23/2014
."



May the fireworks that brightened your path radiate upon us all from the stars,
and may your luminosity light our way with glitter and gloss.




LJ Idol | Season 9 • Week 19 - Topic: KINDLING
This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
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Cindy Homepage

A Cinderella Story

Once Upon A Time…

We all have our secrets.  Some, we keep to ourselves, either solely for our own amusement, or to save us from the shame of...

                    RECALL NO EVIL
[ Fig. 1: RECALL NO EVIL ]
Image of a chimp, looking, if possible, embarrassed, almost to the point of blushing, with a goofy wide-toothed grin, and one hand held over its eyes, as if laughing at itself.

The caption reads, "THAT AWKWARD MOMENT when you accidentally think of a random memory from your past and suddenly feel embarrassed all over again."



Some, we save up for special occasions, like for telling at parties.

INFANT WAR STORY
[ Fig. 2: INFANT WAR STORY ]
Image of a child, no more than 1 year old, looking half asleep, and seeming to be caught up in some sort of intense expression, with heavy eyelids, lilted eyebrows, and lips pursed as if in speech, like one caught in the middle of telling a wild tale. The child is sitting at a table on the knee of a woman who is mostly out of frame. On the table, in the forefront of the picture, so that it appears by perspective to be sitting in front of the child, is a large pint glass of beer, giving a humorous perception of the expression on the child's face, suggesting it is the result of inebriation.

The caption reads, "AND THEN I says to her, I says, NO, I got YOUR Nose!"



And some, we wait to tell until the statute of limitations on our culpability in said act has run out.

THE CULPRIT
[ Fig. 3: THE CULPRIT ]
Image of a Husky-type collared house-dog, looking as guilty as only a dog can look. Its tail is tucked between its legs, its back feet are pulled up under its haunches, all the way to its front feet, as if trying to cower into a smaller space. Its body is pressed, as if in attempt to be flattened, against the wall, and its ears are drooping as low as dog ears can go. Its mouth is turned down in a frown, and its remorseful, apologetic eyes are making every attempt to avoid looking in the direction of the person behind the camera, whose hand can be seen in the picture forefront, holding an open Greek Yogurt container, the majority of its contents licked mostly clean around the center, the remainder pushed up against the sides of the now nearly empty package, as if by someone without the use of opposable thumbs.

The caption reads, "Hmmm..... Well... I guess we'll never find out who did this, huh...?"




This is one such story, more than seven years in the making (or rather, in the holding of the tongue), of the one time I was “complicit” in the perpetration of a “felony.”

                                                                              *****

Anyone who knows me recognizes that I’m an animal lover, and even if we aren’t that well acquainted, it wouldn’t take you too long to figure it out.

Of course, I say that, and yet, recently, I was surprised a bit when I had guests over to my house the other day, and a friend I’ve known for nearly a decade mentioned that he hadn’t realized previously that I have pets.  That came as something of a shock to the system... I wouldn’t have supposed that particular incorrect assumption could have been possible for anyone to make about me... I’ve always imagined I leave a trail of airborn cat hair in my wake, like Witch Hazel leaves a smattering of bobby pins
.

(
Though, to be fair, I do carry a lint roller wherever I go, and keep an extra stashed away in secret compartments for every outfit, satchel, or vehicle, because, after all, those pesky little things do know how to cling, fluttering about the air around you in a hovering halo, just waiting to settle back down and grab on to whichever garment of fabric is most in contrast to their own color.  So, I guess, if I’ve managed to “fool” at least one member of my social circle, then perhaps that means my “rolling” obsession must have paid off?  Well, that, at least, is some good news!)


But, I digress...

          ...wait, where was I?

                    Oh, yes...!  As I was saying...



I’ve had pets most of my life, you see; some more “exotic” than others.

I am pleased to say, though, that I’ve never paid a breeder or retailer for any domestic creature to be brought into my house as part of my family; though I have made appropriate contributions to shelters and rescue organizations for the care and re-homing cost involved for some poor lost furred or feathered companion to become a lifelong friend.  I just don’t believe in feeding into the abhorrent cycle of abuse which comprises an inseparable sinister element of the dark underbelly that is the modern domestic animal trade.

I’d go into more detail on that, but that would be another post entirely, and I’m really not much of one for soap-boxing.  (If you have the interest and the stomach for it, a quick bit of Google-fu might make for an eye-opening education, though, if you also have a tender heart, I might recommend you should be sure to a have a box of tissues handy.)

No, that is not the nature of this story.  This story is about another chapter in my sordid “life of crime.”


Oh, excuse me...

          ...was I monologuing again?

                    Pardon me, getting back on track here...


Every non-human member of my household came to me because they had nowhere else to go.  I took them out of a miserable existence, and gave them each a “new leash” on life.  (See what I did there? ;)

I’ve even been privileged to be involved with a variety of foster agencies, where I would be party to “rehabbing” an animal with “issues,” such as separation anxiety, a need for a refresher on potty training, a fear of a particular gender, etc.  For these “issues,” many of these animals had been neglected, abused, abandoned, or worse.

And that’s how they found me.

People I worked with thought I was a miracle worker, because, in a short amount of time, I could turn a “problem pet” into a desirable domestic companion, when really, I was just doing what should have been done from the beginning.  To me, it was just common sense.

Unfortunately, though, it’s apparently not all that common.

The process of “rehabbing” one of these pitiful critters to be rehomed mostly amounts to nothing more than a modicum of attention given to a frightened, insecure beast, whilst showing a little bit of love, kindness, and a gentle nature.   I will admit, it does take a strong set of nerves to be able to provide this level of care and affection without turning at the thought of the lives these downtrodden few had all known before they found solace in the agencies I worked with, and ultimately, in me, or the homes they were adopted out to, but the reward is more than worth it, and far outweighs any cost.


                                                                              *****

And so it was with that perspective that I found myself, 7 years ago, in an association with an Education and Adoption Awareness organization for the rescue of exotic avian life.

Exotic pets are often particularly at risk, because there is a rampant epidemic of would-be owners who don’t bother to properly educate themselves beforehand to the requirements of owning an animal whose native home is accommodating to their needs, but which needs might prove cumbersome to provide for in the absence of that environment.  It's never an easy thing to take a creature not too displaced from the wild out of its natural surroundings and into a domestic setting, far removed from anything familiar to it.

Many don’t plan ahead well enough to realize how much it’s going to cost to feed them, what special provisions they may require, how long they’re going to live, or how challenging their behavior can be to manage for the untrained.  And as a result, these special animals often become collateral damage — victims of ignorance, arrogance, and overreach — and find their way to rescue groups such as the one I supported as a foster, because of neglect, abuse, and dereliction.


So when the organization heard through the grapevine about a flower shop in the Boundary Waters region of Minnesota* that was keeping several exotic birds in the most inhospitable of conditions, they were up in arms, and did everything they could to manage the situation.

*(If you’re not already familiar with the nature of that area, check your Google Earth maps: anything in such a location = very far North, and very, VERY cold)

Apparently, this “business owner” used this gorgeous flying quarry as no more than a “marketing” gimmick.  He would put out one or two at a time in the front window of his shop, as “conversation pieces,” in order to bring folks in to discuss them, whereupon he would attempt to ply his horticultural wares to his “customers.” He determined that each of the birds had a “season,” or a period in which their natural feathering best complimented the hues of the blossoming flora he was peddling at the time.  When their plumage was no longer “in season,” he kept them in a shed.

With no heat.

          In sub zero temperatures.

                    And greenhouse chemicals.

And, he fed them only enough food for them to barely survive, narrowly avoiding death by starvation.  In truth, he may actually have been starving them to death... just at a slow enough pace that it would only take off half their lifespan, rather than cutting their lives inordinately short.  After all, he was a “business man,” and needed to remain mindful of his “investment.”


Many of the birds were showing signs of abuse and neglect, in incredibly poor health as a result of his “care.”  The organization went to him and told him it was incorrigible for him to treat these animals this way.

His response was pretty much,

           “Oh yeah?  Well, so what?  What are you going to DO about it? 


            They’re mine... to do with what I want, as I see fit.  I own them, I pay for their care.”

You'd think a character like him would go on to add another two-word phrase that ends with “off, but, ever the “shrewd” business dealer, though, he instead went so far as to include the further statement (I imagine with a slithering smile dripping with venom),

           “If you want to take issue with how they’re cared for, I’d be happy to work out an arrangement whereby you can purchase them from me, and then you can care for them yourself.”

And, backed into a corner and feeling hopeless, that’s exactly what the organization did.


The collective pulled off a handful of “quick and dirty” fundraisers to put together the means to rescue his “marketing” campaign.  But when they brought him the money, they didn’t have enough for all of them. 
This “entrepreneur” charged the organization nearly double the cost they’d have to pay to a reputable breeder for a newly hatched pedigreed clutch.  For malnourished, ill-tempered, disabled, and otherwise damaged birds on the brink of death’s door.

But, what could they do?  He had them bent over a barrel, gripped in his grimy grasp by the short and curlies.  If they were going to rescue these maltreated angels, they were going to have to pay through the nose to do so, and so they did, exhausting their resources in the process.


The group triaged the worst of them, paying first for those who needed the most improvement.  They could afford only three; among them, a cockatoo, completely blind in both eyes.  (Its sight had been lost to the effect of greenhouse chemicals.)


Cockatoo
[ Fig. 4: COCKATOO ]
Image of a wide-eyed, white feathered, black-beaked, yellow-crowned cockatoo (large bird), its crown feathers splayed out, one black claw gripped around the bars of a cage set against a suburban house window, as if to climb up the side rungs, but caught mid-step by curiosity about the camera.


When the organization ran out of money to rescue the rest of them, the “savvy merchant” mocked them, saying if they wanted to come back with more of their “liberation fund,” he’d be more than happy to allow them to “save” the rest.  He clearly saw nothing wrong in what he was doing, and considered the group to be merely silly, tree-hugging liberals, undeserving of respect, and worthy of being “taken” for all they could be bled-dry.  The man had no concept of genuine respect, and certainly none for any creature but himself.


The group had already gone to the cops.

But the PD in that area had informed them that “their hands were tied.”  Apparently, according to the law, the regulations governing actionable matters of animal cruelty vary, dependent upon where the creatures are housed.  If an animal is kept in the home with a family, then it is considered a pet, and would be protected by domestic law, but, if it is kept in a barn, or say, as in this case, an outdoor shed, then it is considered “livestock,” and has no more rights than a chicken.

HOWEVER,

...the Police were not unsympathetic to the cause, and in their explanation of their position, they were sure to pass along, and very carefully, at that, a very important bit of added information...

           “You should know,” they told the group, “that, from OUR perspective, if these birds should happen to go MISSING, we are quite certain that we will be “too busy” to investigate.”


And that’s where I came in.

                                                                              *****

When I heard the story, I knew I couldn’t just sit by idly, wringing my hands and lamenting the fate of these winged wonders.  I had to DO something.

And so I did.

           I committed a crime.

                      I coordinated an “aggressive rescue.”

For the first (and only!) time in my life, I planned a heist.  I quickly put together a team, synchronizing with some folks I knew, a few good men of action and integrity, who were not content to permit such injustices to continue unobstructed, but would take a stand, and take a chance at righting an insufferable wrong.  It wasn’t easy to even know who I could ask to do such a thing, but, I felt fortunate, as every aim I took at a member of my sphere of influence hit the mark in finding a willing participant.


(I have such amazing friends!)


We got the details from the organization, did a hurried bit of shopping at Fleet Farm for some commercial strength work gloves and a few quick draw laundry bags (soft, so as not to hamper the frantic fluttering of frightened wings, but secure, so as not to be torn open by panicked, shredding talons), and a handful of black ski masks.  We borrowed a car from a “friend-of-a-friend,” so as not to incriminate ourselves with the licensing data from any of our own vehicles, and I shipped “the boys” off on a three hour tour drive in the dead of one dark winter night, then anxiously sat with baited breath by the phone until dawn, ready to unload any liquid assets as needed if called upon to bail the “perpetrators” out from jail.

Some part of me would have loved to have gone with them, but they insisted that someone had to be officially “uninvolved,” so as to take care of things on the other end if everything should go south.  There were legal teams that would need to be contacted, children that would need to be cared for, jobs that would need to be notified of a request for “unexpected time off,” etc., etc.  But, as it turned out, though, thanks to all that’s right with the world, no special measures were necessary.  The “brotherhood of bird bandits” returned home victorious, their pilfered prize in tow.

The unfortunate bit of news, sadly, was that we’d not been given enough information, and as a result, did not have enough materials to rescue all that were there.  It was a terrible tragedy to have to leave three of the smaller beauties behind, but the “reconnaissance mission” simply hadn’t delivered enough appropriate “intel,” and we were short in supply to carry away all that the “shed” revealed in its “stores.”


Despite that regrettable misfortune, though, my “partners in crime” managed to “capture” three of the largest birds... and delivered to my office two Blue & Gold Macaws,


THE ROYAL COUPLE
[ Fig. 5: THE ROYAL COUPLE ]
Image of two wide-eyed, curious young Blue and Gold Macaws (large parrots), cuddled on a perch together, almost as if in an embrace, one with a wing wrapped around the other, both leaning in to investigate the camera.

and a ruby red Eclectus,

*NOT* A CARDINAL
[ Fig. 6: NOT A CARDINAL ]
Image of a brilliantly plumed, bright-eyed ruby red Eclectus, hanging out in a household cage, checking out the camera.

...where the organization had provided a couple of cages to be set up until such time as they could be moved into a more permanent situation.  I’m sure it’s probably needless to say, that this precious cargo had been through a life altering trauma, but it would not be an understatement.  The office was an acceptable temporary respite, as it was warm and quiet at night, so they could relax, unmolested, calm their fragile nerves, and recover.

The Eclectus (whom we called Ruby, of course, because, why not?), as the youngest and smallest, was the easiest to shelter.  She was in the best shape, and after a veterinary checkup, she went into one of our foster homes right away, and was adopted within a week.


The younger of the two Macaws, a 5-yr-old male, had a mildly twisted beak, but adapted to his new life fairly quickly (ah, the advantages of youth!), becoming affectionate right away, and very attached to me.  So attached, in fact, that separation anxiety became a something of an issue, as he would scream his loudest whenever he knew I was in the building, but wasn’t in the room.  If you’ve never heard a Macaw scream, btw, you should know that “flock calling” is a natural defense mechanism to avoid being lost in the rainforest jungles of the Amazon, and these “calls” could be heard for up to TWO miles.  (Not a sound you want your business neighbors to be making complaints about to your landlord!)

The boys had named him Prince, because he’d been the hardest to take, as he’d had a lot of “fight” in him, they’d said.  We got him situated into a foster home fairly quickly, too, as he was in great shape, also, aside from that twisted beak, which would easily be manageable with the regular application of a dremel, used as a delicate trimmer.  He had to be adopted shortly thereafter, though, and went to a family for whom the noise was no concern, and last I heard, he was hearty and healthy, with a long and happy life ahead of him.


The last of the three was the older Blue & Gold, a 25-yr-old female, whom we named “Cinderella,” because as the guys said, she’d “lost a shoe.”  In reality, she’d lost most of her toes on one foot to frostbite, and nearly all of them on the other foot.  She was mostly blind in one eye, and so malnourished most of her muscles had atrophied to the point that she could barely move.

She was more of a hard case. 


      Not surprisingly, she didn’t trust people. 

                As if being mistreated for the whole of her life — the better part of a quarter century — wasn’t enough, then one night, while she slumbered, unsuspecting, a band of bipedal miscreants broke in and kidnapped her, stuffed her in a sack, and carried her to this unfamiliar place.

It took 6 weeks of hand feeding her pistachios (which were the only kind of nut she had the strength to open) to get her to allow any of us to touch her.


She did seem to respond better once we removed her “cage-mate,” Prince.  It sort of seemed the way she blossomed after he was gone that she may have never really liked him all that much, anyway... the age difference was likely more than she could handle, and they probably didn’t relate to one another all that well — he was a bit wild and impetuous — though they’d leaned on one another for support in those first few days.  Or rather, she’d been happy to let him eat up all the attention, while she clung to the side of the cage, shivering, panting, hoping we would just go away.

It was definitely going to take quite a bit longer to find her the right place to call home.

         More direct care, more personal contact, more one-on-one attention.

                 This was a complex case, and it would require all of our best training tools.


                                                                              *****

In time — as soon as we knew she was comfortable with who we are — Cinderella moved from our office to our home. The organization switched out the cage she was in, in favor of another, and she took to the second one well. We originally tried giving her a perch made from a wooden dowel running across the width of her cage, with the top of it planed down to a flat level, to be gentler on her mangled feet.

She ate it.

      No, seriously, this is a thing, apparently. 

                Birds, as it turns out — Macaws, especially — make short work of wooden things. 

                          (Do NOT let them on your oak furniture, or even your cedar fence!)

I watched her chewing on the perch, day in and day out for weeks on end, chipping away a little at a time, here and there, chewing it up and spitting it out, or sometimes chewing it down to nothing and just consuming it.  (Thankfully, it was untreated wood.)  I sat at my desk one day, observing her as she was close to chewing all the way through, and, amused, I told her,

            “You’re going to break that, and then you’re going to fall, and I’m going to laugh at you.”

She didn’t listen.

           She didn’t care.

                      And, sure enough, just like I said, she chewed herself right off the perch, right onto the bottom of the cage.  You should have seen the look on her face — she had no idea what had just happened!  Amidst fits of giggles, I helped her back onto the cage, and we switched to rope perches after that.  Turns out, she didn’t really need any special considerations after all.  You’d be amazed how this tiny, 9 oz. little gal can get around with two broken feet and limited depth perception.


                                                                              *****

I never intended to keep her.

           Truly I didn’t.

                      To do so would have meant that I’d been complicit in a felony* for my own gain...

...and that didn’t sit right with me. 


(*Technically, given the “cost” most likely claimed to the insurance company, my participation possibly could qualify as “grand theft” or “larceny,” but I’d like to see him try to sell those birds for that much to anyone who wasn’t making the purchase for the purpose of trying to better their lives.  But, no need to worry about me, though; Ive already confessed to my brother the cop, and he gave his support.  And besides, the time allowed for legal retribution on such matters has now long since passed.)


But, as time wore on, she had become attached.  After 6 months, she would step up to me, let me hold her, kiss her, cuddle her.  She discovered that she liked it.  Out of jealousy over the other bird in the house, she learned a few words, because she figured out she would get what that bird (the family pet) was getting if she said what that bird said.  She never developed the other bird’s extensive vocabulary (more than 700 words), but she has learned to say, “Hi!,” “Step Up?” (which for some reason is only ever spoken by her as a whisper, in an entreating manner), “Love You!” (also whispered, as if its a secret), and “Luv-Luv?” (this one gets her “head skritches”).  But her favorite, by far, and the universal catch-all to mean whatever she wants to communicate, is simply, “Hello!”


In our home, she came to show that she had personality.

Unlike the other bird, she wasn’t afraid to get down on the floor and wander around a bit.  (A trait that seems more characteristic of Blue & Golds than of Scarlets.)  She’s even been known to raise her wings to her full height and chase the 165 lb. Rottweiler out of the room.  She learned to trust ME, but she still hadn’t learned to trust people.  It was her way when someone got too close (which could be as much as five feet away... from her perspective, with only lights and shadows in half of her vision, it’s hard to tell how near or far anything is), she would lift her wings as if to take off in flight, and strike out in the general direction of the “offender,” in order to show them how “big and mean and scary” she is.

Frightening, no?

She’d like you to think so, anyway.

At full health, she could take your finger off in the snap of her beak, quicker than you could say, “Wait a second!”  Sadly, in reality, she barely has the strength to crack open nuts.  That doesn’t stop her, though, from trying to convince you that she “will end you!”

In our house, there was a certain irony to the fact there were two birds who could technically be considered dangerous.  The irony was, the one who could hurt you, wouldn’t (it isn't in her nature
), and the one who would inflict serious damage, can’t.  Which isn't to say that Cinderella couldn’t hurt you... her touch may be too light to break skin, but she can surely still let you know she was there, and make you regret it.


When we had people over to the house, invariably, folks wanted to ask questions about her, talk to her, touch her... but the results could be, well... mixed, at best.  We ended up hanging a sign on her cage that read,


                   “This creature is descended from Velociraptors.  Please respect her accordingly.”

That at least gave those who were less-inclined-to-think (especially if aided to that state by alcohol) some cause for pause (if for no other reason than to struggle with the thought, and thereby be forced to raise a question or comment that would result in harsh warning).


But, Cindy was high strung.  When there was too much activity, she would become easily agitated, and unsettled.  Yet, there was always too much activity in the house for her.  I longed to find for her someplace quiet where a loving owner with no other pets would devote all of his extra attention to meeting her needs.  That was a tall order, though.  Among animal lovers who want a bird, who are able to care for a bird, who are willing to accept a rescue — one that isn’t physically perfect and willing to put up with one who will take a fair amount of extra time to adjust to someone new... there just wasn’t enough room left in the demographic to start piling on additional qualification requirements.

And, she had become attached to me.

           If she had her way, she would spend the entirety of her life sitting in my lap, purring and being pet.

                     (Yes, birds purr.  Or at least, this one does, anyway.  It's the most endearing sound!)


Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone the torment of animals.  Not by any stretch of the imagination, not for any creature that walks, or crawls, or flies, or lives and breathes.  But, at least with animals that have a predatory nature, that have jaws that bite and claws that catch, one can at least understand how some misguided misanthrope might be inclined to take up a defensive posture.  But these birds, these vegetarian non-predators?  They don’t even understand the concept of violence unless a human teaches them.  And their response?  To harm themselves.

If you ever see a bird who’s plucked out all its feathers, or butchered its own wings...


DISTRESSED
[ Fig. 7: DISTRESSED ]
Two images, side by side.  On the left, an African Grey (large parrot), who has plucked out of all its front feathers (which protect its delicate, temperature sensitive core from radical thermal changes).  In the second, on the right, the African Grey is bending downward, leaning over the front of the perch, so that the viewer is looking at the back of the bird, from the top down, showing that it has destroyed the top layer of all its wing feathers, from the shoulder to the joint, rendering it flightless.

...you can be sure that someone, somewhere, has irreparably tortured it, and this is the resulting reaction of frustration, fear, and suffering.  I firmly believe there’s a special place in hell for the kind of person who would lead such a docile creature to this level of neurotic self-mutilation.


Cindy wasn’t like that, though, thank heaven.  It took two years before we felt that she was in a position to go to a new home, but, she had come so far by then, it was truly impressive how much life she’d gained... from a scared thing that couldn’t be pried away from the side of the cage, to one who would manipulate and maneuver her “minions” to get the maximum attention.

She groomed herself, but never more than necessary.  She was always polite, and gentle, never loud.  She’d even taught herself to be litter box trained.  I didn’t even try to teach her that... she was just never comfortable pooping anywhere but in her cage or on her perch.


We kept our eyes peeled and our ears to the ground in search for the promise of a holy grail — that perfect combination of the right owner with the right home — but months passed, and then years, and though we considered a few options, and even tested the waters of the idea to a friend or two, eventually the concept itself seemed more like a pipe dream than merely a long shot.  And, she had become so attached to me that I couldn’t imagine having to put her through the trauma of feeling that sense of abandonment that would come with having to say goodbye to me and learn to connect with someone else new all over again...

...it seemed like that would be just one more unnecessary cruelty at the hands of this human thing she in general had not much love for.


Then something happened I didn’t expect, about the time my last long-term housemate and I were making the decision to part ways.  In the conversation that transpired between us about why after sharing a cohabitation for (then) five years, a “dissolution of partnership” was the best course for all involved, I realized it was going to be tough walking away from so much that we’d shared together, but, at the top of my list, among the few things foremost on my heart, was that bird.  And I realized then, something that hadn’t occurred to me.  I had become attached to HER.

We mutually agreed then and there that she was mine, and that she had always been mine.  (I suspect she had been plotting towards that conclusion for some time, and that she knew it long before I did.)  It took another 2½ years for me to actually move out (my last long-term housemate had an occasional tendency to backpedal in big decisions such as the nature of our “family,” as he was often emotionally torn over matters related to our “relationship,” and had a history of changing his mind and asking me to stay, a month after asking me to leave), but during that whole time, everyone in our house recognized that Cindy was MY bird, and we all stopped seeking for to find anywhere else to call home.

Cinderella doesn’t need another home anymore... she has me now... and forever more.


                                                                              *****

Fast forward to four years after that, and today, Cinderella lives with me, in my house, with Minion (whom she’s adopted, with some semi-feigned reluctance), and I’ve never regretted a moment of my life with her.

She is, by far, the most loving and affectionate pet I’ve ever known. 


          She’s smarter than any non-human animal I’ve ever met. 

                    And I can barely imagine my life without her.

My Girl
[ Fig. 8: MY GIRL ]
Image of me with my bird, a Blue and Gold Macaw (large parrot), Cinderella, both smiling for the camera.


                                                                              *****

To have a Macaw is to knowingly accept an intelligence level equivalent to that of a 5-yr-old human child, coupled by the emotional maturity of a TWO year old.  So, one must learn to tolerate the very precocious “terrible twos,” for the better part of a hundred years.

Yes, she will outlive me.

           Yes, I must account for her in my will.


                Yes, it’s a long-hauled road, but it’s one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

My oldest nephew, the firstborn grandchild of my parents, the foremost of our family’s next generation, and an animal lover himself, who is getting married the day after tomorrow, has done some house-sitting for us, to care for her during a few of our trips, and still visits her from time to time.  The two of them are getting to know and like each other better every day.

I just hope, when the time comes, that he will be able to love her as much as I have.




LJ Idol | Season 9 • Week 17 - Topic: "SCARE QUOTES"
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