Relating to The Wicked Witch

We’re in New York state now to see Ben and Becca and we’ve been looking forward to our time with them for a year now. We took a 2 1/2 hour train to from Beacon to Grand Central Station in Manhattan this weekend.

The irony of our three children living in the biggest cities of the United States is not lost on me. I don’t like big cities. I mean one of them actually graduated at U of M for crying out loud. But I’m not taking it personally. I am not an Angeleno or a New Yorker. I am at peace driving down country roads past farms, forests and cornfields while wearing my Tractor Supply hat.

We have just left weeks of living in the mountains and natural beauty in the West. Driving amidst rivers and waterfalls, forests, ranches and farms and distant towns. Where we processed distance and breadth of open spaces and skies.

Now we arrive at Grand Central Station, in the city where our visual perspective ranges 2-3 blocks between skyscrapers that hide the sky.

As we step out, the train platform is very hot and humid and it’s hard to breathe. I smell trains, grease, steam, garbage, dirty concrete, carbon, piss, body odor, perfumes and colognes. And that’s before we reach the throngs of travelers churning inside the building. I see Cops w automatic weapons. This does not calm me down.

Walking through the flowing rapids of people, I feel I have a sign on my forehead encouraging people to stop and stand directly in my path, crane their necks every which-way while looking like a dope. Oh wait. That was me pissing off the guy behind me.

There is too much going on for me. I feel an obligation to notice everything. I have no filters. I’m the inexperienced photographer using a wide lens for a close up shot. My mind is racing. Outside, there is no grass. No trees. I notice that beautiful woman passing on the sidewalk in a stunning dress with one leg and crutches. The homeless guy sleeping on the sidewalk next to his sign that says “Fuck Ice”. The noise of cars and bus engines, honking, tires screeching, boom boxes, demolition hammer drills and construction of roads, sidewalks and buildings. All the different languages.

In the car I’m looking out the window trying to find the fast lane of frenzy on “going nowhere faster” Avenue. This Uber smells so my window is open. It’s noisy. I turn off my hearing aids. Karen keeps talking to me, her voice drowned out by my shitty ears and the street noise. Her lips are moving, she’s smiling at me and I feel that annoying expectation to answer but I have no idea what I’d be answering to. Telling her for the third time that I can’t hear her. She’s still talking because this is what she does when she’s keyed up. While my response is shutting down and not talking as though I would fall over if I had one more thing to do besides deflecting the incoming barrage.

While quiet I wonder if I can adapt at 64 years old. Younger brains have more elasticity. Can I give up my need for control? Can I find my organic charity, my playfulness to embrace chaos, celebrate spontaneity as I did so easily as a young person and accept unpredictability and uncertainty? Am I too stubborn to accept this world as it is vs the world I want it to be? This is not my domain and I marvel at the faces of the natives who seem calm and accepting.

I came to the realization as a new parent that I would go through hell and back to be with my children. This is that.

I love you Ben and Becca. We’ll be back. But maybe I’ll have an edible first.

Old Fathers

If I were but a Ghost

I would leave this quiet room

enter unseen like a breeze

to hear your voice and laugh

Your footsteps cross the floor once more

If I were but a Thief

I would steal back

the time we lost

And hurtful things I said

we would fly the kite

And ride that City bus

I would take you to where the sun sets

As I promised

If I was but the Sun

My pride for you would shine

Light the countrysides

And dark corners

Until the end of time

I am your Father

On the day you were born

I rejoiced

Cradling the the Universe in my arms

And touched the hand of God

Thoughts of Yosemite

1. My soul will go where it goes. But I want my ashes spread in the Merced River in Yosemite. Fines to be paid out of the Estate.

2. This would be a great place for a Honeymoon. Toronto was great but …..

3. The roads in the mountains here are narrow. The white line on the right is 1-2 feet from certain death.

4. The center line has rumble strips. Our truck is a dually so our Kardashian is always rumbling.

5. Me: Karen, I think it’s unfair that I always have to drive.

6. Karen: stares at me

7. Me: you’re not saying anything.

8. Karen: I have nothing to say.

9. We saw a deer and two fawns. I saw a Coyote. Karen saw the ass end of a Bear running into the woods. That’s probably the best part of a Bear to see.

10. The throngs of people here seem like antimatter. You need Vaseline and a shoehorn to get through. But even in my most cynical and darkest mood I would not prevent them….Wait. Hmmm. Let me get back to you tomorrow.

11. If being small and insignificant centers your soul, you need to be here.

12. An argument can be made to visit when you’re young. You could go to all the trails that old out of shape farts like us cannot go. You would see views AARP members cannot see.

13. I don’t need more superlatives in my life. But I have upgraded my definition of Majesty and Grandeur.

14. God Bless Abe Lincoln in 1860 and Teddy Roosevelt in early 1900s for saving this just for me. It’s selfish but it’s meant to be.

15. If I would’ve grown up here w my buds Bill Moseley, Greg, Swede and Johnny, Doug Clark and Jack Anderson, we would’ve been dead or bad asses for sure.

Im doing fine.

I’m not claustrophobic. I’ve had MRIs before. But once inside I feel like I’m a 1/2 inch from batshit crazy. My brother Mike is claustrophobic. I found out when we were kids on a forced family fun camping trip to South Dakota where it was 110 degrees. We were in the playground crawling through a plastic tube. Half way through I stopped. He was having a meltdown using every swear word he knew. And I was laughing. That was our relationship back then, arch enemies. So today I had an MRI of my neck and this was the conversation in my mind:

“Open your eyes.”

“WHAT? Hell no.”

“You know you want to.”

“Nope. Not gonna do it”

OPENS EYES

“God Dammit. My nose is touching”

“You’re gonna die in here”

“It’s a medical device”

“It’s hard to breathe. They shut off the air”

“I’m doing fine”

DEEP BREATHING EXERCISES

“No one will find you”

“They’ll see my Berks sticking out”

“I think the electricity just shut off”

“I’m fine. Mike, is that you?”

“Remember South Dakota?

At Your Table

Raised in the crowds of maimed and tortured young men

Grieving mothers and fathers

Brothers and sisters

Amid shadows of flag-draped caskets

I pledged not to march

to spread democracy at the end of a gun

But to be first to defend our shores against our enemies

And now

Hearing drums and threats

Amid camouflaged patriotic shouts

Seeing waving flags and angry faces

I went to the shore to meet the enemy

And surveyed the horizon

But there were no ships

No enemy troops on our shores

I went home

To find them at my table

Feasting on the unrecognizable

broken and twisted carcass that was democracy

And they were satisfied.

Fun with Seniors

You can have fun a lot of different ways in a Senior RV Park. A friend asked where we got our propane and I told him Tractor Barrel. His face squeezed up while he was trying to figure out the connection between propane and Hash-brown casserole.

Telltales

I am in that time, after someone passes, in which the dirges are done, the cadence still, the calls, cards and casseroles quit coming and the work of grieving begins in earnest. Usually when you are alone with your thoughts. Maybe passing in public like a scar covered by a shirt sleeve. When the memories of that person light, like sparrows flitting amongst the leaves and grass vying for your attention. Many at once. A handwritten note, a saying, using her favorite frying pan which is exactly why you wanted it. That last hug of tiny frail bones upon which all of your love hung precipitously, defying gravity and inevitability. Until it didn’t.

It is a time when your ship has stopped in the doldrums and there are no waves or ripples or no one, and nothing moves except your mind. You feel paralyzed. Your length of stillness unrelated to anything you have done or should’ve done but just because it has and will always happen. Staying longer or shorter has no mathematical relation to the intensity of your love. There is no logic here. No rules. Your hopes vigilantly pinned as telltales on the sail for any wisp of wind. And there you sit until you are done. Maybe sooner, or maybe later, but some unseen force will lift you out. It is this that you wait for, when that endless stillness shrinks from days or hours to moments. When the sadness doesn’t take your breath away. When your vessel is lifted and your pain and sadness are carried off by the wind. That will bring the moments once again. I think you know what I mean, because such is love when someone dies.

What’s going on down here?

Karen and I have been driving down I-75 to Florida for most of our lives. But it’s just been recently that I’ve formed the judgement that Southern Georgians are perverts after reading their billboards. There’s research on that.

All along I-75 in southern Georgia are “spas”. These are not your Swedish Grandmothers spas. We know that SPA is a code word. There’s the Green Spa, the No. 1 Spa, the Peach Spa, and on and on. Then of course you’ll need to stop at “Loves” to fuel up your spark plug, or in my case, diesel, you have a glow plug. I kinda like that. Then you see “Adcock Pecans”. Code word. And you’ll see the little town called “Sparks”. And in the middle of this debauchery you’ll see two Jesus billboards (Jesi?). Because one is not enough for the spawn of Satan. Don’t even get me started on “Stuckeys” Restaurant. And then I notice a billboard for an AG Expo and I think ‘Dammit they’re into the vegetables’. About this time I’m thinking Karen and I should check out southern Georgia retirement communities. But then here come the Adult stores. An Adult Superstore “Central” so I’m thinking they have all points of the compass covered now. By the time I see the “Active Adult Community” I raise my fists and yell “I’M ALL IN DAMMIT I’M IN!!!”

Karen looks at me: “What?”

“Nothing” I say.

I can barely drive.

And I’m glad Tennessee is next and not Arkansas.

It’s About Time

My Mom has been at Vista Springs for some time now. We see her once a week and I feel sad and guilty when I go to see her, and sad and guilty when I leave. I think about her quality of life and am not sure it even applies. I know they do take care of her so I’m grateful that’s not a concern. She turned 91 this summer and now she sleeps about 22 hours a day. It’s hard now to carry on conversations. Her memory continues to slip so we try to tap into her long term memory by talking about older times and stories. We show her pics on our phones or a cartoon I stole on line.
Since Dad died years ago, she always said she missed being touched. That’s when Karen and I decided to give her two geriatric gift massages every year for Christmas. So when we’d visit, I would remember this and rub her head, arm or back which reminded me just how tiny and frail she is now. But that of course just puts her to sleep. Now I’ll sit on the couch with my arm around her shoulders and have her rub my arm. I’m really proud of this opportunistic self serving strategy. This keeps her awake for a while longer. When we’re getting ready to go I’ll rub her arms or back so she’ll go to sleep and is less likely to cry when we leave.
I have seen a lot of poignant moments at Vista Springs. The seven or so ladies in Moms “pod” take care of each other. It’s touching. There was an English woman there that hated my guts. She’d give me the stink eye from across the room or assail my integrity and reputation as I walked by. Sometimes I didn’t even understand the English phrases of her insults. She must’ve met Bad Santa many years ago.

I never heard Mom’s last roommate say a word. Her short silver hair was always askew and her eyes were rimmed red as though from tears. She always looked terribly sad which I could intuitively understand. Her husband Tom was always by her side. As faithful as the sunrise. I was in the hallway waiting for Mom one time when I saw them sitting side by side looking out the bedroom window at an unremarkable field. The Venetian blinds were down but angled open letting in the horizontal light that revealed only their silhouettes. She on the right with her unkempt hair and Tom on her left with no hair. I wondered what they were thinking. Was she remembering her wedding? Her children? A moment of intimacy or romance? Or was her mind a Picasso canvas of jumbled thoughts and images? Was he sleeping or thinking about life without her or how much he loved her? Then I saw his right hand raise and rest on her forearm as though to make sure she was still there. A powerfully intimate moment for such a simple gesture which made me ashamed I was watching. By the time Mom had returned I had tears in my eyes as I clenched my molars into dust as though that would stem the flow. This is what I do, why my masseter jaw muscles are so pronounced. This couple was living the vow of “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part”. She was gone shortly after that and I hope that someone would be there when her husband Tom needs it the most.
I’ve told Karen that I could never live like that. Not that I remotely expect to live that long. A friend once said regarding an impossibility “the chances are slim to none and slim just left town”. All of this has made me wonder about the impressive strides in medicine today. But no matter how advanced we get, there are no procedures or pills to alleviate the humiliation of sliding into incompetence or incontinence. Nothing to give you back that human dignity. It’s mean and it’s ugly.
I keep trying to convince myself that this “Mom stuff” is not about me. On the other hand, yes it is. I’m 62 now and so is Karen. It’s about all of my boomer friends and family. We are dealing with this more and more in our lives and I know others have gone through this already but it’s only novel when it happens to you.
At our age our survivability is a function of genetics and life style and fortune. I’m pretty sure few of us have illusions about this now. So what can we do as we move inch by inch? How do we maintain an enriched quality of life?
Not to long ago I read that studies showed that simple thoughts of being grateful were effective in elevating our spirits. This sure is true for me. It changes the way I think. It makes me humble. I have to remember this.
I have to be more Zen. Staying in the moment. Which takes a lot of training and discipline. It means not borrowing trouble from the future or the past. It means being optimistic against all odds. To be hopeful, which is the oxygen we breathe during difficult and tragic times. Take away hope and we can suffocate.
But most of all it means managing my expectations. None of the above are reflexive for me. I can’t be good at all of this all the time. I have to forgive myself. Again and again and again. And again for getting old. And remember that the good thing about the future is it starts again tomorrow.