Five Times Too Many

It’s a sad situation; a neighbor ran over their cat while parking, the fifth time in my life that a friend or neighbor ran over their cat. 

This victim was a cat, but it can happen with children, dogs, and other animals and people. The situation begins with a routine, complacency, and an assumption: “He/she is always there. I expected them to move. They always did.” That assumption is a killer.

His name was Buddy. He was a small, elderly black cat. Probably weighed seven pounds, but had the voice of a lion. He was sweet, trotting over to me for a treat and a scratch when I came out to do yard work or go check the mail.

I wasn’t present when Buddy met his demise. The woman’s three elementary school-age girls were.

The temp was in the nineties. Maybe Buddy was hot or ill, or deeply asleep. Like each of the other four situations, Buddy didn’t move as he usually does.

Such accidents and deaths can be avoided. Don’t assume. Get the visuals. Take the time to confirm the cat’s location. Confirm that he moved.

It’s already happened five times too many to my friends and neighbors during my lifetime. Please learn from Buddy.

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Something Fundamental

His head was down against the silvery sunshine heat. Walking along, he looked up to orient his course and spotted Doctor Frank further up the white cement sidewalk.

He literally froze where he was. His heart beat – he felt it – but a shocked stupor held him stiff. Doctor Frank had died two months before. This had to be a doppelganger. He’d heard or read that everyone has an exact replica of themselves elsewhere on the world. This was the most perfect one he’d ever seen. The man was just like Doctor Frank, the biologist, in every aspect from his impish, good-natured expression, gray and white beard, and slender-as-a-broom frame to the outdoor pants, boots, and vest that were Doctor Frank’s regular attire, including the forest green bush hat.

He snapped out of it. The result put him up the sidewalk past where he’d spotted Doctor Frank, as if he’d never stopped. His head swooned. Pausing to regain control of his senses, he saw Q across the street, waiting to cross.

Now that was fucking impossible. Q’d died four years ago. Like Doctor Frank, doppelganger Q was an eerie ghost of his deceased friend. As he wondered what the what, he saw his mother-in-law, Jean, dead for the last two years, off to the left, with her husband, Carl, who’d been dead since 1992. 

“Holy shit,” reverberated through his mind and came out his mouth. “What’s going on?”

In a blink, he realized all the color had deserted the world, as though he was watching a movie on an old black-and-white television. Closing his eyes to recover, he gasped; with his eyes closed, he could see everything taking place in color, except the dead folk that he saw weren’t there.

Slowly, he cracked his eyes open and took in the monochrome world. The sound differed from before. Swiveling his head, he saw more dead friends and relatives. It wasn’t his beloved hometown any longer, until he closed his eyes. With eyes closed, color was restored, and he was in the town where he’d been living and walking.

Keeping them closed, he resumed his walk. That seemed to work, but it was a temporary solution. Something fundamental had changed in his world.

He was going to have to open his eyes again sometime. And then…

He shook his head. He was going to keep his eyes closed until he was home. And then —

Well, he’d see.

The Thief

The thief isn’t death – we’re all going to die —

the thief is the decline that robs us of time.

The thief burgles memories

and steals our wit,

the thief is the disease that rots our bodies

and makes us sick.

The thief embezzles our energies and usurps our pride,

darkens our vision and makes hope a lie.

It takes our hearing and corrupts our senses,

builds up walls and creates new fences.

We look out from within and they look in from without,

both of us wondering,

does anyone know what life is about?

 

Escape

“Escape”, said big, gold letters on the window. 

Don had never seen the place. The turnover in this town… Yes, he needed an escape. The heat was over a hundred. How far over a hundred? Did it matter? It felt like his shoes on melted onto his feet. Sweat dropped from his face and dizziness spun his head. He needed immediate escape from this heat, He could get some by browsing through this place.

Blissful cool air gushed over him as soon as he stepped inside. The business was laundry room small and almost empty. One round, white table was to the left. On it was a display of brochures.

He wandered to them. “Hi, Don,” a woman said.

Don nearly jumped out of his skin. Finding her sitting in the corner across the room, he shook his head. “Were you there when I came in?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. I didn’t see you. Sorry.”

“That’s okay.”

“And…how did you know my name?”

She smiled. “That’s not important.”

“It is to me.”

“What’s important is that you realized that you need to escape and came in here.”

“Yeah.” Don flicked his gaze from the left to the right. “Right. Actually, I came in here because I needed to escape the heat.”

“Would you like water?” Unfolding from her chair, she gestured to her right where a round white table was home to a crystal pitcher of water and several glasses. Cucumber slices floated among ice cubes.

“I would, thank you.” While saying that, Don took the two steps to reach the table. She was there first.

A glass was being offered as he arrived. “Thanks. You’re quick. You never answered my question.” Drinking, Don watched her reaction. A dark green satin-looking top hung to mid-thigh, giving him the impression of a praying mantis. Young with skin like smoky honey, long black hair and a narrow face, she was an inch taller than him. She probably weighed ninety pounds. After a second glance, he changed that to eighty pounds. He could probably enclose her waist with his two hands.

“You didn’t ask, but I’ll answer. We’re an escape from anything and anywhere.”

Don lowered his glass. “I’m not certain what that means.”

“Yes, you do. Accept it. You know.”

Enough, Don decided. “Well, I’ve taken up enough of your time.” He put the glass down on the table. “Thanks for the water. I’ll be on my way.”

She nodded. “This way.” She slipped past him toward an archway that he hadn’t noticed. Strands of green beads hung over the doorway. She parted the beads with a long hand with glossy white fingernails. “Your train awaits.”

“My train. You’re saying that there’s a train in there?” Don stepped forward to see as she answered, “Yes.”

Don poked his head through the beaded divide. There was a train. It wasn’t a toy, but a full-sized train. “Holy smokes. There is a train in here.” Entranced, he approached the train. Modern looking, it was silver with blue and red stripes. “I love trains. I’ve never been on one, though. I mean, a real one, like this.”

He stepped closer to it. He was on a platform. The train went for hundreds of yards in either distance. Beyond it, a pristine countryside greeted his tired vision.

“So, what’s going on?” He looked back for the woman. Didn’t see her, nor the green beads.

A uniformed conductor approached. “Hi, Don. I’m Geoffrey.” He put a hand out. “You okay? You look confused.”

Don shook Geoffrey’s hand. “I guess I am. I don’t know how I got here. I mean, I know what I did, but what I did doesn’t fit the context of what I see.”

“I see.” Geoffrey laughed. “Sorry. That was unintentional.”

Don tilted his head to one side. “So. Let me be straightforward. Have I died?”

“No. You wanted an escape. We’re offering it to you.”

“This is real.”

“Absolutely.”

“What’ll happen if I get on that train?”

“You’ll escape, which is what you want. You’ll escape this life and this world.”

“Where will I go?”

“That’s completely up to you.”

Don smiled. “That’s not really an answer. Yes, those are words, but they’re not an answer to what I’m asking.”

“It is. You know it is. Let yourself think about it.”

Don shook his head. “I don’t like airy-fairy new age stuff. I fight wildfires. I like solid information.”

Geoffrey shrugged. “You need to get onboard now, if you’re going.”

“What if I don’t? Can I just go back?”

“Of course.”

“Is this a one-way ticket? Can I ever come back if I get on that train?”

“Of course. That’s completely up to you.”

Don had more questions but decided, take the train ride. See where it goes and what happens. He’d never been on a train. He giggled. “Okay, what the hell. Sold.”

Following Geoffrey’s gesture, he approached an open door and climbed aboard the train. Empty, comfy looking tan leather seats awaited him. A whistle blew as he settled into a seat. Looking down, he realized that he was a young man again.

“Well, what the hell.” The train pulled forward. Body sighing as he settled back, he watched the passing countryside through the window and wondered where he’d go, and what would happen to the people and places that he’d left behind.

Then he closed his eyes and let the train lull him to sleep.

 

 

For Her

The house was always silent except for his quiet and her cats. He was aware of how much he sighed, and the cats…the cats were always darting underfoot, jumping up onto the furniture, counters, and tables, and peering around corners.

Flowers and plants were everywhere. He’d told everyone to send money to her causes in lieu of flowers and that shit, but…well, here they were. Here he was.

She was always trying to get him to eat healthy. The ‘frig was lousy with salmon and salad ingredients. Sighing (but what else?), he prepared the salmon per the instructions, sharing some with the cats, who were enthusiastic in their enjoyment, and made a salmon Caesar salad and poured a glass of wine for himself. Eating, he told himself, for her, chewing and swallowing the despised flavors, washing it down with wine.

For her.

Days Like This

We all have them. For some, it’s a wretched slice of existence that never seems to end.

I feel for them, the people in war zones, and the disaster zones, or the immigrants hunting for safety and better lives, places where they can live without days like this.

For me, a day like this was planning to attend a friend’s memorial, reading the details via emails, then scooting off to another friend’s memorial service, and then returning to read another email that another friend passed away, ending her private war on cancer.

Too many days like this for me, but at least the people I’ve lost had long, productive, and successful lives. Not like they’re living in some terrible situation, starving for death, hunting for food and water, dodging explosions and shootings, or hanging on for life on some listing ship.

Just for the pleasure of it, here’s a video for the woman of today, Nancy, a music teacher since the late 1940s, playing her saw. She died late last year, well, on Thanksgiving. She would have been ninety-three today.

 

Friday’s Theme Music

How ’bout an Elton John favorite today. Let’s consider two. “Funeral for A Friend” and “Love Lies Bleeding” are often played together. They nicely complement one another. The first is an instrumental that starts with blowing winds. I can see the funereal procession of somber faces, and then the aftermath, thinking about what’s brought you to this moment. The music picks up as you think about what you’ll do next. It’s a bit chaotic, but then starts clarifying and rising, lifting your energy as you march forward, your decisions made.

“Love Lies Bleeding” begins like brisk fresh start. “Okay, this happened, but life goes on, and I’m going on.” But the words tell an unfolding story of betrayal, reflection, and exasperation.

Together, you end up thinking, “Yep, that’s life.”

Of course, the two songs came off of the fascinating 1973, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, an album about growth, change, and rock and roll’s influence on a young person’s life. Yeah, we played it a few times.

Just Mine

Debby told me and Emi a story when we were all visiting Mom for her birthday. This was about twenty-five years ago. Debby had a habit of making a coffee drink at home in the morning and topping it with whipped cream. She’d then go out into her Florida home’s backyard to enjoy it. Trying to rebuild her life, she’d started going to college while working at night, leaving her children up north for their grandparents to raise them.

A squirrel approached her during one of her early mornings. Debby thought the squirrel was interested in her drink. Debby put some whipped cream on a spoon and offered it to the squirrel. The squirrel hopped over to her and lapped it up.

That started a daily habit. Debby and the squirrel met every morning to share a spoonful of whipped cream. Their ritual continued for four years. Then, one morning, she went into the back yard and found the squirrel dead.

Debby’s life had been a struggle since a brutal assault in Jacksonville had taken place in her early twenties. She kept trying to rebuild, and kept getting knocked back. After a miscarriage, she endured a three year stretch that saw a business bankruptcy, personal bankruptcy, and divorce because her husband was unfaithful and a drug abuser. Then she learned that her husband hadn’t been paying taxes to the IRS for over three years. The squirrel had been a symbol of change. Now the squirrel was dead.

Debby cried when she told the story. Emi and I cried when we heard it.

Come forward to last week. Mom had passed away. Home to make her funeral arrangements, Debby, Emi, and I were remembering our lives with Mom. Debby recalled how her parents had taken her children in, so I mentioned the squirrel tale, because it was part of that same era.

Debby looked blank. “Nope. Wasn’t me.”

Emi said, “I don’t remember ever hearing that before in my life.”

Their response stunned me. I guess the memory was just mine.

It really makes me wonder.

 

TGIF

It’s been a week, hasn’t it? Peggy Lipton, Doris Day, and Tim Conway all passed away this week.

Losing stars isn’t anything new. Although I didn’t know them, they were part of the magic that we thought we had going for us after World War II. They helped us cope as the shit started happening. McCarthyism and the red scare. Korea. JFK’s assassination. Demonstrations and riots. Gulf of Tonkin incident. RFK and MLK’s assassinations. Vietnam. University of Texas shootings. USS Pueblo. Kent State. Watergate. Recessions and energy crises. Iran-Contra scandals. Iran hostages. John Lennon’s murder. Attempted assassination on Ronald Reagan. KAL 007 shot down. Beirut Barracks bombing. Challenger disaster. Operation Just Cause. Desert Storm. Oklahoma City bombing. Monica Lewinsky. Move On. Columbine. Hanging chads. Enron. 9/11. Hurricane Katrina. Virginia Tech University shootings. Housing bubble burst. Global banking meltdown. Umpqua Community College shootings. Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Global warming. Isla Vista, 2014 shootings. Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Wildfires. Sutherland Springs Church shootings. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings. Sante Fe High School shooting. Las Vegas shooting. Thousand Oaks shooting. Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting. Measles outbreak. College cheating scandal.

And that’s all just a small bit of America’s piece of it. To think of what’s happened in the rest of the world during those years is numbing.

Now, Conway, Lipton, and Day gone. What a week.

Thank God it’s Friday.

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