Things I Only Think About Saying

Son: For my birthday, I wouldn’t mind having one of those kits.
Me: Given the relationship your mom and I had, there’s a fair chance you and I aren’t even related.

Cashier: I like your yellow car. Can I have it?
Me: I normally require a divorce decree first.

Co-worker: Any plans for this weekend?
Me: Yes, I’m taking a course in self-absorption. It’s self-taught.

Boss: What do you want to be doing in five years?
Me: Answering a different question.

Interviewee: What do you do most often in a workday?
Me: Despair

Friend: Do you still do that poetry blogging thing, or whatever it is?
Me: “Whatever it is” is actually a pretty good description.

Online friend: How is your workday day going?
Me: Like a porcupine working in a balloon factory.

Co-worker: What do you think my résumé needs to ensure I get that job?
Me: Cash. And maybe extra cash.

Reader: Where do your ideas come from?
Me: Thule, Greenland.

The Girl, The Surf, and Other Things

I always considered myself to have been a total disaster as far as dating went until I met my wife. Many of my ex’es however, have strangely fond memories of our time together. Not all, by any means: but a surprising number seem to have thought it time not entirely thrown away.

In a way, that shouldn’t surprise me, since most of the dating stories I have recalled or recounted over the years were positive ones. I know I dated some duds, and I know I was a dud to some of the people I dated, but the stories about dating I best remember were about good, nice experiences. In most things in life, the good and bad get all mixed up together, but sometimes, there is much more good than bad.

For instance…

I was nineteen years old, living in Florida, finishing my second year of college. Some old high school friends who then were at Auburn told me they had a friend they wanted me to meet. “She would be PERFECT for you,” they said. They brought her down during the Spring break when many of us would go back to our parents’ houses. So a bunch of us met up: my Auburn friend and his girlfriend, three other guys, this woman, and me. We started out going to a restaurant near the beach.

Well, my friends weren’t wrong, she did seem pretty cool to me: however, she seemed pretty cool to the other guys who were also there unattached. So, one by one, we would each talk to her, and I remember thinking as we walked out of the restaurant headed to a bar out on the beach that this was probably going to be another one of these occasions where this one of my friends, (we’ll call him “A”) would end up with the girl.

But that isn’t how it worked out.

While we were looking out of the bar window at the dark surf (you just see the white foam of the waves closest to the shore in the lights from the bar) she mentioned that she had always wanted to swim in Gulf of Mexico at night.  “Let’s go, then,” I said. “It’s still cold,” the other people chorused. I looked at her.

We went.

The others took their drinks onto the beach. She and I removed some (not all) of our clothes and got in the water. The Gulf of Mexico never gets terribly cold, but it was very bracing. She and I mostly just laughed at the silliness of it: bobbing up and down in the surf in the dark, trying to see each others eyes (it was a cloudy, moonless night). We were more-or-less invisible to our friends, but they could hear us laughing. Later, we found out that these same friends all thought we were doing something else out there.

We weren’t.

The decision got made thereafter (in the manner of inebriated people) to go to late-night miniature golfing. She and I sat on a bench, drying off with beach towels around us, while the others played mini-golf (also in the rather raucous manner of inebriated people). We sat and quietly talked for the forty minutes or so we were there. Since our two Universities were only about four hours apart, we left with the promise that I would come up and see her at school sometime soon.

And I did. But that would be another story, one that doesn’t have a happy ending. But about that night, there is a lot I remember:

I remember thinking she had an amazing smile.

I remember the shocked look on our friends faces that we would go swimming like we did (Floridians aren’t exactly Minnesotans when it comes to cold).

I remember sitting there at miniature golf, wishing the evening wouldn’t end.

I remember that I liked the sound of her voice, a musical kind of (cultured Tennessee) accent I had never heard before.

I remember us holding each other’s forearms in the surf for stability as we gently rode the waves up and down.

I remember the feeling I had getting back in my car, that I had someone to look forward to seeing.

I remember my friend “A” slapping me on the back and saying, “Good job, tiger.”

As it developed, that relationship went bad and it got bad, but it wasn’t bad, if you know I mean. Bad rarely cancels out good; it does sometimes, I realize.

That night was special to me. I don’t know if it will seem special to anyone reading this. But I liked her, and I had the nerve to go after her. And she chose me among that group of guys. Even if it was just for a night, and even if the night did not include any of the things people associate with adults dating. It was a night that mattered to me, and, in my twenties, those were few and far between.

It Feels Like Grief

“Jobs are merely leased, and leases get called.

But it feels like grief.”

— From my Instagram feed

She messaged me at work early Monday:

I am very likely getting fired today. I want you to know it was a true pleasure working with you, and thank you for all your support through the years.

She did get fired, later that day, although with some kind of financial package to aid with transition.

I heard from her later that night, having reached out to her through Facebook. She said she thought this meant she had a better future ahead of her somewhere else.

I told her I would miss her.

She messaged me at work the next morning, asking if I would help her replacement, a guy she had only recently hired. I said “of course.”

I first met her eight years ago. We had an immediate affinity. She changed jobs several times, all promotions. I changed jobs once and bosses multiple times. During all that time, we either worked together or stayed in touch.

Her last promotion had been to a very high position. One with a lot of responsibility and a lot of employees. One where a lot could go wrong.

It did.

She has a family, a husband and three kids. She has been the primary earner.

She just last month became a U.S. citizen. She’s been in this country since the mid 00’s.

As of this March, I will have worked for the same company for twenty-four years. I have seen a lot of people come and go. Some few of those who left did so involuntarily. I have come very close to being fired myself on two occasions.

The longer you live, the more grief you accumulate. It makes me rethink how wonderfully brave the old people of my youth were, although I was uncognizant of it at the time.

The respiration of life involves the inhalation of hope and the exhalation of grief, and like breathing, we do both automatically.

I wake up worrying about various issues to do with this company. Those are not concerns for her anymore.

Later, I walk up to a door and scan a badge. The door opens. She can’t do that anymore.

I walk to a desk and see pictures of my wife, my kids, and my grandkids. Her desk now lies empty.

My friend will be fine. She’s smart, she’s capable, and she’s no longer tied to this particular corporate millstone. I’m happy that she is finally free.

But it feels like grief.

The One Where I Fall On My Face Halfway Through Blogging About A Different Topic

(Originally Posted in 2013. – Owen)

Blogs: because I just wasn’t self-aggrandizing enough.

To be honest – I was a kind of a jerk as a kid, a sort of angry punk as a teen, a hapless, clueless libertine in college and a sickly, morose recluse in my twenties. Since then, I’ve mostly been insensitive and self-absorbed. That much variety has to be a resume enhancement, don’t you think?

Prospective Employer: It says here you have experience as a Wastrel?
Me: Yes, ma’am. I moved from there into Dissipation before doing a stint in Blaming Others.
Prospective Employer: Is there any sort of jerk you haven’t been?
Me: I don’t have much experience with Vituperation; if you have openings in Bitter Recriminations, I think I could learn very quickly.

I was walking down stairs this morning in the dark, and missed the last step. I fell on my knees and my face onto a hardwood floor. When I sat up I could see blood on my shirt and pants and more drops falling. So I did what any other 51-year-old man in my situation would do, I yelled for my wife.

Me: Honey!!!
Her: What is it?
Me: I kind of fell and I’m bleeding. Could you bring a cloth or something? I’m afraid to move without knowing how bad it is.
Her: (After a moment, turning on the light and coming downstairs.) What did you do?
Me: I missed the last step.
Her: Why didn’t you turn the light on?
Me: I don’t normally.
Her: I thought you did.
Me: I can see now that would have been wiser.

FACTOID: Putz and clutz rhyme, but aren’t used together that often by poets.

The dog seemed interested in the blood on my sleeping clothes, but declined to offer any assistance other than giving me a sort of canine “you’ll live” look.

I started a blog to make a difference.
I wanted to change the world.
I wanted people to see the real me.
But the me I show people is better than the real me.
Kind of like the great retorts you think of *after* that encounter with a jerk.
I’m probably the jerk a lot of people encounter.

I don’t know if realizing that will actually change the world, however.

If I wanted to be argumentative, I would say that depends on the definitions of “actually”, “change” and “world”.

I don’t want to be argumentative, I want the truth, which Jack Nicholson would no doubt tell me I can’t handle. He would be right, but then again, he’s Jack Nicholson.

Perhaps I fell down stairs as punishment for what I was like when I was younger, or for what I’m like now, or because my blog isn’t bravely revealing enough.

Perhaps you’re fishing for compliments, and you don’t have a license to fish here.

On an unrelated note, I think I’ve invented a sixth “love language”. It’s kind of a cross between Quenya and tlhIngan Hol.

You can do obscure jokes but you can’t obscure the truth.

The truth?

I should have turned on the light.

The Dirt In Our Choices

Your favorite little place, that so few people knew about. Somebody’s small business. A place that always felt like home.

You noticed things there, of course. When the floor started looking a little dirtier. When it took a little longer to get service, or those occasions when what you always liked to get there wasn’t available.

Then, one day, the “closing” sign went up. Not long after that, a “thank you for your business” sign was placed outside the now-locked door.

You think of all the times you went there; but more, you think of all the times you didn’t. When you chose other businesses, places that were a little newer, or maybe a little flashier. And you think back to that dirtier floor, and you wonder: did I put that dirt there? Was that dirt a result of my choices?

All our choices have dirt in them, I’m afraid. Those corrosive elements we carry with us that foster life in their original setting, but are inimical to life when transferred. The business we don’t visit. The family we don’t call. The friends we don’t reach out to when we think maybe we need to.

Even the better habits we never get around to forming.

Life is a cycle of openings and closings, starts and finishes, births and deaths. What makes life meaningful is what we do with the time in-between. We can’t stop the gears from winding down, but we can, maybe, not add quite so much dirt onto the gears.

Your favorite little place, that so few people knew about. Somebody’s small business.

And a choice that’s not there to make anymore.

A Once In A Lifetime Feeling

(First published August, 2015).

We are still in the process of clearing (i.e., giving away) possessions out of the house we moved out of last year. It got me thinking: memory is like a house – you fill it up with so much stuff, eventually, you have to start throwing stuff out. However, with memory, your brain throws stuff out for you, and doesn’t really ask you if you think you might still need those memories.

I want to write today about a specific memory I do actually still have about a “second date” and the once-in-a-lifetime feeling that went with it. Since this is an obvious subject for poetry, I’m going to write about it here – in prose.

= = = = =

I had my first real date and first real girlfriend at age 17. Both of the girls involved (I dated my “first real date” girl again after my “first real girlfriend”) were women I count among those I dated who I truly loved. I’ve written about both of them repeatedly on my poetry blogs, and on this blog most notably when one of them came through town here and we had lunch about five years ago.

The other girl, who was my first real girlfriend and first real love, was a complete surprise to me and everyone else who knew me. I went, within a few months, from a boy who had never been on a date to dating one of the five most popular girls in my school, which had, in those days, around 1,600 students. On top of her being beautiful and well-liked, she was both extremely smart and a state champion athlete.

I, arguably, had never had been any of those things, except, possibly smart. But I was trying to change my ways; to be nicer (although less nice in some ways), take more care of my appearance, and so on. Having quit piano lessons (which used up most of spare time) the summer before my senior year helped a lot. I had decided not to pursue music as a life work (I played professionally for decades, nonetheless) so I had more time; nevertheless, neither I nor anyone else was expecting me to end up with this girl, who I’ll call Gala for purposes of this article.

We had a class together the previous year, and I had seen her at the hospital during the summer; her foot was in a cast, which, considering she was a Florida ranked cross-country runner was a problem. Since I was waiting for my mom at the military hospital and we were going to be there for hours, I stopped to inquire as to her injury and chat to a familiar face. We talked for about an hour. I didn’t think much about it after the fact – but she did.

When senior year started, we were both in Calculus, and, somehow, we got to talking after class outside in the hallway. That morphed over a period of weeks into me walking with her down to her locker every day.

Understand, I had never been to a school dance, or any other social function, in my life, and only been on a real date for the first time a few months before. When she started talking about the Homecoming Dance, and who was going, and wondering if she was going to go, I was slow to get the hint. Excruciatingly slow; but somehow, one day, a small crack of light broke through my benumbed brain (we were halfway between her class and the locker) and I asked her if she wanted to go to the dance with me.

She said yes.

When I told my buddies that I was going with her, none of them believed me. To be honest, they didn’t believe I’d ever go to a school dance, period, let alone with her. However, within a day, it was all over school. Because I was (a) not one of the cool people; and (b) she was, this was considered a serious breach of high school etiquette; being the type of guy I was (am) I dismissed this as irrelevant. I asked her, she said yes, so, all was well. Except…

Except that I had never danced, in my life, period. Not once. Not in my bedroom when no one was looking, not ever, never. So I went to my cool best friend, who had been going to high school dances since he was twelve, to appeal for emergency assistance.

In the movies, I would have had friend who was a girl who would have (while secretly in love with me) showed me how to fast dance, and then we would awkwardly slow dance, and we would look into each other’s eyes, and I would start wondering why I wasn’t with this girl instead — but this, decidedly, was not the movies. Instead, my friend Andy told me to just watch what other people do and do that. He didn’t volunteer to show me, although he had a few tips on improving my jump shot.

If girls ever knew what boys really talked about, they’d die of boredom. But I digress.

We had the homecoming game on a Friday night, the dance was the next night. We didn’t go to the game, so the dance was whole thing. We went to it, it had its highs and lows, but it ended with highs, and that was abiding memory of the night. Even so, I was already in a place with a girl I had never been — which was someplace like reciprocated “love”.

I called her the next afternoon to talk. We talked for three hours, as I recall. The next weekend, she had a cross-country meet, so I was going to come watch the race (it was a Saturday morning event), then we would go have a picnic lunch afterwards. This post is about the experience we had that day.

Friday night (the night before) – she had a pre-race ritual to go through, so we said goodnight (on the phone) early. The nerves had already started with me. I tried (unsuccessfully) to go to bed early to make the morning come faster. I looked several times at the t-shirt I’d chosen to wear the next day. I wasn’t able to fall asleep until late.

Saturday morning (before the race) – I sprung out of bed and ate breakfast. I got in the shower. While in the shower, I started observing how happy I was. I decided, “remember this feeling”. No matter how long you live, remember it. I was so excited for the day. The thought of being with her made me somewhere well past happy.

When I got outside to get in my car, it was an absolutely, flawless, cool autumn morning in Florida. The sky was absolutely clear; the breeze was very slight. I kept thinking “this just can’t keep getting better,” but it did.

Saturday morning (the race) – I sat with her parents at the race (I had met them before the homecoming dance). She won, of course, the real challenge for her was how many guys she could beat. However, for spectators of cross-country, you spend most of your time sitting there, waiting for them to come back. On that particular day, that was no problem. The anticipation was delicious. When she rounded the corner into view (she beat all but about eight guys in a field of about a hundred) my heart had filled up pretty much my entire body. She of course stayed to cheer on her teammates, and they had duties to perform after the race. So, it was still a couple of hours before we left. The day had gotten even more beautiful.

Saturday afternoon (the park) – the image that accompanies this article is a photo I took of the park we went to that day. I had the picnic lunch planned. The park was virtually deserted; the two of us sat under one of the tall pines and ate the lunch. She jokingly said I should have brought wine; with the drinking age in Florida at 18 at that time, we weren’t too far from being able to do that legally.

For those of you who read the range of things I write: I know I write a lot about female beauty. One of the things I learned from the eighteen months she and I spent together as a couple (there were occasional ruptures) was the connection between beauty outside and inside. She was absolutely lovely, but it was her mind, her sense of humor, and the generosity of her spirit that captivated me. The physical side was important, but, truth be told, we were a physical mismatch, as I was nowhere near the male equivalent of what she was, physically. That obvious fact, as it happened, contained the seeds of much of what our eventual problems turned out to be, as I grew jealous and suspicious over time – but that was much, much later.

I learned from my time with her what it is to treasure time with someone – the anticipation, the prologues, the time spent supporting someone else’s passions, getting to know their family. She learned from me – I found out later – that she had a right to expect guys she was with (a) to support her and care about her; (b) to actually talk to her and listen to her; and (c) that frequent shared laughter can at least partially make up for other deficiencies in a relationship.

I also had to begin to re-examine my image of myself, as being with this girl in the closed world of a high school society took me out of the “loser” class and placed me with the “winners” — whether I wanted to be there or not. Eventually, of course, we realize that all these classifications contain no content whatsoever of a substantive nature, they’re just behavioral cues we were all expected to follow, only — some of us didn’t.

I have remembered that day many times, including the day last year I was back down there and took photos of the park. We never know when the last time will be that we do some thing that we love to do. It seems good, then, to remember fondly and with gratitude the good times, even more the great times, and most of all, the unrepeatably great times.

Seeking Ataraxia

Ataraxia is ancient Greek term meaning “the state of being free from stress or worry”.

Yeah. Who would want that.

Actually, I would.

Among the things that make life stressful are competitions. I am forever finding myself in competitions that I don’t remember entering.

Me:… and then they told me the back spasms were actually caused by my hip. It’s made a world of difference since…

Him: Oh, yeah? You think that hurts? When I was six, my father made me swallow an accordion. If I have to run, it sounds like the Lawrence Welk show.

Me: Umm…

Him: I’ve lived with this pain my WHOLE LIFE and you want to complain about your little feeble back spasms?

Me: I guess not.

It turns out back spasms don’t hurt.

Another friend and I were talking and it turns out I don’t really like music, either…

Her: How many songs do you know all the lyrics to?

Me: I don’t know… maybe 6 thousand?

Her: I know the words to one hundred and forty-seven thousand songs! You see, I REALLY like music…

Me: Sigh.

A stress free life would be one where conversations didn’t feel like competitions.

But for now, I’m merely seeking ataraxia.