Saturday, January 28, 2012

Flushing Teeth

Hot summer days in Alaska were a rarity.  We had no air-conditioner, but simply opened windows after cutting through the paint with a razor-blade.   On one particular balmy day in Kodiak, my mother cooked some delicious chocolate chip cookies.  From the moment they started baking, my mouth watered as their sweet smell permeated every inch of our home.  My six-year-old tummy growled as I lay on the sofa, reading my favorite Dr. Seuss book.  The green eggs and ham did little to squelch the roaring cookie monster living in my belly.  I wanted cookies more than a fish wants water.  Without a thick, gooey, chocolate chipper melting in my frothing mouth, I was sure to die.
Finally the cookies were ready.  There were a dozen.  I counted them and tried to divide the amount I would be alloted by staring at the hot sheet.  Twelve divided by four people was not yet a part of my education.  Instead, I took the four rows and figured one of them was mine.  Therefore I had one, two, three.  Three!  Awesome, I would eat one now and save two for later.
"Mom, can I have a glass of milk with mine?" I asked, hoping she'd get the hint.
"Yes, when we have them for dessert tonight," she replied.  It was as if she hit me with a brick!  My expression dropped and I tried to think fast.
"Can I have one now and eat the other two for dessert?" I pleaded, trying to look like Oliver Twist.  My mother gazed down at my wretched bargaining attempt and took pity.
"OK, just one, but that's it." she said, smiling as she put a cookie on a small plate.
"Thank you, mom!  You're the best!" I shouted as I hugged her benevolent leg.  I bit into the cookie and all the joy ever experienced by humankind exploded in my mouth.  It was the best cookie ever!  Well, the last one I had was too, but still.
After eating the cookie with a small glass of milk, my mother insisted that I brush my teeth.  Normally, I would have balked at such a suggestion.  Cookie mouth is to be savored, not cleaned away with nasty mint.  However, we just got a new electric toothbrush and I was excited to go solo on it.  The night before, my mother brushed my teeth with it.  It tickled and I spit toothpaste down my shirt.  Today, I was going to do it on my own like my big brother got to.
A few minutes later, my mother heard the toilet flushing.  The first bowlful seemed normal enough, but the second and third caught her attention.  She rushed up to the bathroom to find me dropping another head of the electric toothbrush into the toilet.
"What are you doing?" she yelled.  "Are you crazy?" I snapped my head around in a start.  The toothbrush was not plugged in, so it did not work when I tried to use it.  I carefully reasoned that it was dead, just like my goldfish.  When it died, we did the same thing, so I simply told her what my father told me.
"We're a Navy family, mom.  When a sailor dies, you bury them at sea!"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Surfing Rage and Flaming Posts

If you've never seen someone "flame" another on the web, then you've never read comments.  Whether it is You-tube, Facebook, or some random forum, there will always be people who like to talk smack.  The phenomenon is not unlike road rage.  Put a normally unassuming person behind the wheel of a car and we can sometimes see a cross between a Tony Stewart wannabe and Norman Bates' lost sibling.  On the web, a person at a keyboard can start out surfing quite gingerly through pages, but as soon as they hit one with which they have a disagreement, WHAM!  They become Surf Demon- the spawn of evil incarnated through a modem.
Whenever I read comments, I can usually ascertain the age of the one posting by how they choose to be a jerk.  Young teenage boys usually call each other "faggot" or infer that in some way the other person is gay.  Older teenagers and men in their twenties will usually make some comment that is at least related to the actual material.  They will be insulting, but they try to disguise their own arrogant disdain by using the guise of helpful criticism.  If that fails, then they will show their true nature by slamming another person with various colorful put-downs.
Women usually don't "flame" on the net.  Instead, they nest as gatekeepers of their kingdoms.  The boys and man-boys chase the queens whilst the ladies keep them at bay, but offer them hope.  This works until one female gatekeeper has an unpleasant encounter with another gatekeeper.  Then an all out war begins.  Each one indicates to their subjected servants why the other gatekeeper is a horrible human being while they, themselves, are victims.  This splits their followers into groups and causes an inevitable breakdown in the overall enjoyment of the said blog, chatroom, game, etc.
What I find most fascinating is the way people rage against others on their blogs.  In order to get at the other person, they will write angry passages in hopes that the other person will read it and be effectively "told off."  It is as if the blogs and Facebook posts are encrypted messages of anger and bitterness.
I question the effectiveness of this passive-aggressive form of communication.  Not only does it drag in innocent bystanders, but it creates a negativity that surrounds the poster's communications.  Soon, people will stop reading the words of one who chooses to spew venom through posts.  Once that happens, the writer who chooses to "flame" will be left producing a "maniacal monologue by a moron to myself."
"Flaming" on the web is a sign of deep anger and bitterness.  If you ever find yourself wanting to "get at" someone, dig into your heart and find the real source of the pain.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Moment of Value

Comfortable in my easy chair
Out the window do I stare
Blue sky fills my focused eye
White clouds slowly drifting by

Peaceful in my secluded room
I cannot see the death and gloom
Which fills the days of a million souls
Bullets fly past empty bowls

My angst is ridiculously misplaced
Purely on me and mine, it's based
Why are my looks or fame imperative?
How are my funds even comparative?

I spend too much time on what is mine
The value of life I must redefine
It is what I give that makes this worthwhile
Not all the trinkets of worth I compile

Friday, January 20, 2012

Winter Bites

"I think my face fell off!" shouted my five year old son as he smacked his hands on his cheeks.  "I can't feel it!"  His mouth looked like a fish as he contorted his expressions to regain some sort of sensation.
"You'll warm up soon," I replied with a smile as I began to de-mummify Jake.  A snow day kept both of my kids home from school, so we took advantage and had gone to the park.
"I think I lost a mitten," said my eight year old daughter, frantically spinning to look around her.  "Here it is!"  She grabbed a pink mitten off the floor and held it up, smiling.  "No, wait.  That's the one I had.  Here, daddy, hold this."  Passing me the mitten, she resumed searching her clothing.  "Nope, I lost it."
"Did you check your pockets?" I asked.  She immediately inspected her right pocket.  It was not there, so she checked her left.  Not finding it, she again searched the right pocket.
"No it's gone.  Daddy, we have to find it.  Those are my favorite mittens!"  For my daughter, everything she currently wanted was her "favorite."  When we had a garage sale, all of her old toys, clothes, and toddler furniture were her "favorite" as well.  Still, nothing melts a father's heart quicker than a pitiful plead from his little girl.
"OK, you two sit and watch your Mother Goose video and I'll go look for it."  My wife was napping, but I presumed they would be fine while I walked the two blocks to the park and back.
"Thank you daddy!" exclaimed my daughter with a hug.
Warmed by the hug, I stepped back into the cold and trudged through the snow towards the park.  Looking carefully in each footprint, I diligently searched for the missing favorite mitten.  The wind stung my face and my nose burned. As the sun lowered in the sky, the temperature seemed to drop.  Not finding the glove on the snow covered sidewalk, I entered the park.  "It could be anywhere," I thought.
The playground was empty as all the sensible parents took their children inside when the chill hit.  I looked near the swings, but found nothing.  The see-saw yielded no results.  There was a green mitten near a snowman, which I promptly put on a fencepost to flag the next parent on a "favorite" expedition.  I searched every place that seemed reasonable and a few that were probably absurd.  My quest for the missing mitten would not go unrewarded.  For nearly an hour, I scoured the park, desperately trying to locate my prize.  When the sun began to set, I yielded to the cold.  Either the mitten was buried, or someone had stolen it.  "Maybe the one who lost the green mitten found my daughter's pink one and took it," I thought.  It seemed like a rational enough explanation to convince me to get out of the cold.
I plodded back to the house, but kept a close eye on the ground in case the mitten eluded me before.  Hope is a gift of mine that often comes with delusional wrappings.  Empty handed, I entered  my home to break the news to my little girl.  She and her brother were fast asleep on the bean bag chairs in front of the television.  Their Mother Goose tape had ended and the news was on.  Evidently, record lows were predicted for the night.  I slapped my face with my hands to get some sensation.  My wife entered the room and saw me.
"Cold enough for you?" she asked with a smile.
"I can't feel my face.  I think it fell off."
"You'll warm up soon."
"Leah lost her mitten and I went back to the park to find it."
"Now that's a good daddy," affirmed my wife.  "We found the mitten though.  It was stuck in her coat sleeve."  She pointed to the corner.  There, to my chagrin, was my new enemy.  The Holy Grail of mittens lay upon the radiator, mocking me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Memory Block

For some reason, I couldn't seem to remember what is was that I was going to say here.  Searching for some clue, I looked around my office.  Unfortunately, none of the pictures nor the misc. papers on my desk pried open the locked chamber in my brain.   I decided to assert control over my failing intellect and shot a jolt of caffeine into the door.  It did not budge. Instead, it quickly healed and stood before me more stubborn than ever.  I went for the more subtle approach by calming myself with soothing breaths.  The locked memory took advantage and swung open a door of distractions, causing me to forget why I was even trying to unlock the thought.  Just when I gave up and walked away from the computer, the door swung wide and revealed its contents.  Excellent, I thought.  Now I can post what I was thinking!  To my chagrin, the cruel door swung shut just as my fingers hit the keyboard.  So, basically, I have nothing to say today.  Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Yabuts and Low Carb

My friend, whom we shall call Greg, weighted nearly four hundred pounds and loathed seeing himself in pictures.  I suppose the mirror only gave him fractional glimpses, while pictures illuminated the full view.  On the ladder of self love, he was nearing the bottom rung.  While I do not like America's obsession with thin and think some padding looks healthy on both men and women, I could see that Greg's weight was beyond the realm of functional.  He often panted just walking to the refrigerator from his pillowed sofa.  Greg's heart palpitated and his knees and ankles hurt when he put weight on them.  He was slowly eating himself to death.

"I just don't know what I can do," he said, staring at the floor, "no matter what diet I try, I keep gaining weight."
My heart went out to him as he sighed deeply.  Years before, my own weight was nearing three hundred pounds. Sure I ate oatmeal and salads, but I binged on chips and cookies in the late evening.  I had gained the weight slowly, but a pound a week adds up quickly.  To lose the fat, I tried every diet that seemed reasonable.  Drinking dark chocolate Metamucil milkshakes did not make me slim fast.  Nor did watching my weight with a cumbersome point chart.  I was simply too addicted to food for any of these to create a lasting effect.  I was addicted to food.  Then my sister-in-law went on a low-carb diet and suggested I try that.  It was worth a shot.

The first three days of the diet were miserable.  No matter how much meat, eggs, and cheese I ate, I was still hungry.  When my kids made popcorn, I wanted to shove my face in the bowl.  Their pizza tormented me with its thick, gooey, delectably golden crust.  I needed a carb fix in the worst way.  My hands were shaking and my mouth tasted like steel wool.  Day four was different, however.  I woke up, hit the floor running and no longer shook.  My carb addiction was still there, but the bends were gone.  I was free!  Over the course of the next year, I dropped the extra weight and was down to the size I was in high school. 

"Have you considered a low-carb diet?"  Greg looked up at me and scowled.

"You mean where you only eat meat?"

"Well meat, eggs and cheese for the first two weeks.  After that you can add a few carbs, but not many."

My four hundred pound friend shook his head.  "Yeah but I don't think that's a healthy diet.  I heard it wasn't good for you."

"My cholesterol count is excellent, my blood pressure is right on the mark, and I have loads of energy.  I take a multivitamin every day and eat all I want of what I can have.  My doctor told me it's a healthy life style and was thrilled that I chose it."

"Yeah, but I don't think it's for me.  I like bread."  His face grew firm under the layers of chubbiness.  Greg's "yabuts" stopped him from seeing the truth.  Low-carb diets are for food addicts.  Unlike alcoholics, we cannot simply stop.  Eating is necessary.  The only thing we can do to have the kind of success that recovering alcoholic's have is to tee-total carbs.  In essence, what Greg was saying to me was, "I would give up drinking, but I like my beer."

Now Greg has diabetes.  He still refuses to eat a low carb diet, however.  I will miss him when he is gone.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reading Between the Lines

There is an old rock n roll song that says "paranoia will destroy ya."  It is unfortunate that many people do not heed those words.  They see hidden meanings behind the words of others and make presumptions that the words apply to them.  For example, if one says, "I like the dress that woman is wearing," then the paranoid will presume you mean that their own dress is ugly.  Should one tell the neurotic person that the lasagna he cooked the other night was fantastic, he will wonder what was wrong with the pot roast he cooked last night.  By presuming, they destroy the moment by twisting everything to fit into their own distorted view of the world.

I was about twelve when reality first struck me.  Two friends were talking and as I neared, I heard one say, "yes but he's always butting in."  I was hurt.  Did my friend really think that I was so intrusive?
Like a fool, I quickly replied, "I didn't realize you felt that way."  At first, my friend thought I was joking, then, realizing I was serious, hit me with reality.

"Not everything is about you, stupid!" he said laughing.  I then learned that they were talking about a student who kept interrupting the teacher and was told that if he did not raise his hand, he would not be acknowledged.  Their conversation had nothing to do with me, but the interaction taught me the truth of life.  No one spends their whole life thinking about me.  Even the closest of friends or lovers have other things that go on in their lives.  Therefore, they will speak about those things without regard to yours truly.

Reading between the lines comes from a place of paranoia.  "I know someone is thinking something bad of me and I simply have to find it."  Eventually, if one reads between the lines, they will most definitely discover the hidden messages, even if the speaker did not intend the meaning assigned to his/her words.  We fear being the fool who does not see the truth, when in fact we become the fool who saw what is not there.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reeking of Cheese

While he enjoyed the soft, smooth taste of cheddar or a good piece of Monterey Jack as much as anyone, Roy was curled his nose in disgust as he smelled a foul cheesy odor.   Vainly he searched through the kitchen trying to find the allusive morsel behind the stink.  Unable to find it, he eventually ceased his search and stormed into the bedroom looking for his wife.   Perhaps she knew the cause, he hoped.  Unfortunately, Roy's wife was out shopping, so he was left to find the source of his annoyance alone.
Suddenly it dawned upon him that the smell was as strong in the bedroom as it was in the kitchen.  He entered their guest-room and sniffed.  The cheesy odor was in every room in the house!  The only way that was possible, he thought, was if it was in the heater.  Perhaps his wife put a loaded mouse trap too close to the furnace intake.  As he walked down the stairs, his sock covered feet slipped on the carpet and he barreled to the bottom.  Grunting and murmuring his newfound hatred for carpeted stairs, Roy closely examined the furnace.  Finding no mousetrap, he pulled out the filter, promptly cutting his finger on a jagged piece of metal.  With his finger in his mouth, he inspected the filter, but saw no sign of cheese or spoiled milk.  Roy shoved the filter back in its slot and walked out on the porch to get away from the stench.
Breathing in deeply, he once again smelled the odor.  "Does the whole world stink of cheese?" he shouted.  Just then, his wife pulled up in their van with a load of groceries.  No sooner had she opened then door to her vehicle then Roy pounced off the porch and zipped to ask her why everything stunk.
"I'd give you a kiss," she said with a smile, "but you have a piece of cheese stuck in your mustache!  And why are you bleeding?"

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Shepherd Named Tammy

The Navy was going to kill a group of dogs.  That's the way I understood it when my father explained the situation to my mother.  Previously, the naval base in Virginia Beach used German Shepherds as patrol companions for the Military Police, but the military cut funds for the program.  "Put to sleep" was the phrase my father used, but even as a six year old, I knew it meant "kill."
There was a loophole for the K9's, however.  Someone could adopt them.  My mother's apprehension was quite evident.  She did not like the idea that a retired attack dog would be around her children.  Dad told her that he understood, but asked her to at least go and look the dogs over.  My brother, sister, and I promised that if we got a pooch, we would feed it and take it out for walks.  She looked at our pleading faces and reluctantly agreed, feeling sorry for them and their immanent demise.
When they arrived at the kennel, a group of dogs were lined up for their inspection.  All were well behaved and sat at attention.  My mom felt nervous around so many large German Shepherds, but felt safe as they were all restrained with leashes.  Her eyes landed on a black and golden haired beauty named Tammy.  As soon as my mother drew near to the dog, Tammy rose up, place her paws on my mom's shoulders, and licked her in the face.  While some women would have found this gross, my mother immediately knew this was the dog for her.  "It's the first thing that ever fell in love with me at first sight!" she exclaimed.
Tammy was adopted into our family and was our faithful companion for eight years.  There's never been a dog quite like her.  I often think about that day she met my mother and remember it as the day Tammy loved her way to life.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Taking the Plunge

Four foot tall snow drifts lined the parking lot of our Alaskan tenement also known as Navy housing.  My mother wanted us to get out in the snow, but she was worried that we might get sick in all the wet snow.  I still remember the plastic baggies she put under my mittens, thinking that would stop the wet part of snow from getting to my skin.  She is from Missouri, so we'll cut her slack on that one.
Venturing out onto my five foot tall porch, I surveyed the white snow dunes.  As a five year old adventurer, the possibilities seemed endless.  I could have made a snowman, a fort, a car, a mountain, or even angels.  But first, I thought, how cool it was that I could jump into that four foot tall pile of snow by my steps.  Being only three feet in height, it seemed like the ultimate plunge.  I raised my hands, shouted "Sitting Bull!" or some other Native American hero's name, and dove feet first into the soft white powder.  At least it looked soft.  In fact, it was thick and stiff.  The snow seemed to consume me. I tried to move my arms and legs, but could not budge.  At first, I wanted to cry for help, but that would have been to embarrassing.  Plus, my mom would probably not let me out again.  Perhaps the snow would melt, I naively thought, and I would get loose eventually.
Just then, four hands reached down and grabbed my jacket. My older brother and sister saw my pathetic plunge and came to rescue me.  Neither told my mother, but instead let me come play in the fort they were building.  I was often a loner as a kid, but that day, I was glad I had siblings.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Chain Jerking

Al Pacino's famous line in Godfather III was "just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in."  It's amazing how often that can be the case in life.  Young adults leave home only to find they are drawn into family arguments over the phone or email.  Others leave their unhappy workplace, but get calls from former co-workers needing to vent.  Sometimes moving is easy, but other times, it's quite difficult.

I see this too often with young persons and their relationships.  They break up, try to move on, and begin healing.  Just when they thought they were out, the other party, usually the one who instigated the break-up, pulls the other back in.  This rarely works out and causes even more pain.  Instead of moving on and healing, the injured party lets the other back in only to have their heart stomped upon.  It's sad to see this, because it often tears apart what little self-respect the injured party had left.

Unfortunately there is no easy answer for those who feel the repeated pain of break-up.  It's easy on the outside to tell them not to go back in, but they see the reunion as an answer to all the prayers into their tear-drenched pillows.  In spite of sound advice, they move right into the path of the oncoming train of sorrow.  The rip in their hearts is even worse now as the bandage of new hope is yanked away.

If you have broken up with someone, think twice about getting back together.  You may do more damage than good.  If this has happened to you, do not blame yourself or decide there is something wrong with you.  They came back because you are worth being with.  It was their inability to maintain a healthy relationship that caused the break-up.  You are worthy of someone who will love you securely, treat you with respect, and appreciate who you are.  Do not spend your time pining for someone incapable of giving you what you need.  Instead, pray for someone who will be there at your side though all circumstances.

Monday, January 2, 2012

An Honest Tale

I was eleven years old as I skinny dipped in the water trap on the golf course.  Antonio, Jimmy, some kid whose name I can't recall, and I knew we were not allowed to be there.  Yet, being thick skulled boys, we ripped off our clothes and jumped in anyway.  The thought that a golf ball might hit us in the head never bothered us.  If we saw golfers up at the tee, we'd simply swim behind the cat-tails  That way, we would be hidden and the golf ball would not get through.  Well, that is what we thought.  Fortunately, those who did golf there never landed one in the drink.

Unfortunately, we lost track of the time.  I glanced over and saw my brother barreling over the fairway.  He would not tell on us, but he had that "you're in trouble" look on his face.
"Get home now!" he said frantically.  "They (meaning our parents, who are always "they") have been looking for your for an hour!"
I quickly gathered my clothes and somehow dressed while running back to the house.  My father stood on the porch with a stern look on his face.
"Where have you been?" he demanded.  "We've got revival at church tonight and now we're going to be late!"  For an eleven year old boy, the word "revival" meant that it was time to be tortured for a few hours by a screaming man with cotton candy hair.  Normally, I tried to catch up on my drawing or sleep if possible.
"I was just playing, dad."  He studied me for a moment before commenting inquiring further.
"What exactly were you doing?"  Now here it could have been fuzzy, but when he used "exactly" I knew he wanted a direct response.  So I gave him one.
"We were wading in some water."
"Not swimming?"
"No, just wading..."
My father grabbed my wet hair and looked me in the face.  "Wading way over your head I see!"
That evening, I sat in revival like a statue.  My only prayer was that I would be able to sit in school the next day.  I learned something about lying as well.  It is better to be honest because you never know when your wet hair will give you away.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Worthy of Notes

I remember sitting through classes at school that were so boring, I wanted to curl up under my desk and nap.  It was not that the subject matter was necessarily uninteresting, but that the professor lacked passion.  Perhaps they found the subject enthralling at one time.  They might have believed it was important.  Yet they did not feel the kind of passion that ignited interest on the part of their sleepy-eyed pupils.

For anything story to be truly fascinating, it must have an impassioned teller.  If a writer lacks passion, then it is not his/her writing style that makes the pages of his/her book so dry.  Readers sense a lack of rage, warmth, love, or excitement.  Our pages must make them feel an urgency to know more or we writers are simply putting apathetic notations into the hands of readers seeking to be swept away by our passion.

I was once asked why I write fantasy books about Arthurian legend when it is not what is selling.  Simple, I love the genre and age.  If I felt passionate about vampires, I would write about them.  What is your passion?