The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Category : Uncategorized

to Recieve Your Gift, Choose It


 

Fathers Day. Day of Choices.

In this western society of ours, it is a strange and perverted phenomenon that seems to give Fatherhood the element of Choice. Many times the exercise of choice to the shame of a man. Dude chooses to head out the back. Dude chooses to treat his children in ways unsuitable for pets. Dude chooses to hide himself in anything and everything he can find besides engaging with his offspring. Dude never understands the shame he’s brought on himself until it’s too late.

My own experience is nothing like any of those. When I found myself as an infant alone at my maternal grandparents’ house, it was my dad who chose to fly at a moments notice, in uniform, across several states to come pick me up, fly me home, dry clean the uniform whose primary battle that day was my penchant for motion sickness – and to establish by whatever means he could a home for me.

As I’m spending this Fathers day with my son in the hospital again, I was speaking with my dad about his condition, which at one point the other day was very grave. Dad wanted to encourage me by pointing out how over the years we have fought for Our son.

My blind response, “What else would we do?”

It took a moment, as it sometimes does when wisdom speaks through me instead of from me, to take in the significance of the mental process that had just transpired. I have done what I’ve done because that is what I’ve known.

And so, by extension, I hope to pass this experience on to others. Does it sound self-congratulatory to speak about my choices this way? I feel differently. Someone has given me a cup of nectar, and not only do I pass it on after I’ve taken my share, but I tell the next person how good it is in hopes they too will taste, and be nourished, and pass it on to the next.

Mothers Day is all about loving what you’ve been given, a God-given instinct that can’t be refused easily.

On the other hand, Fathers Day is a Day of Choosing. It is a day of choosing to love that which you could walk away from, hiding from your gift in the folds of society’s hedonism. Mothers Day is a celebration of our humanity. Fathers Day is observance of “that of God” in us.

If you have a father who has chosen to offer it, take that cup of nectar, drink of it deeply, and with personal humility share it with those who need it most – your children. It will sometimes confuse them. It will baffle them sometimes. If the child you have chosen was not born to you, it may raise in them suspicion sometimes, of ulterior motives, of somehow trying to take from them, instead of giving. It is hard to speak well of something you’re doing without sounding conceited – make sure you remember that the gift you give doesn’t come FROM you, only THROUGH you from another, greater source. Do your best to ensure that from this day of choosing forward, your child only knows this. Smother them in your choice so that when the day their child throws up, or disappears, or tantrums, or falls desperately ill, they don’t have to even think about the choice. Give them cause to boggle, “but what else would we do?”

The thing in fatherhood worth taking from it is, oddly enough, only possible by giving. There is nothing else. There is nothing your child has that you can have by taking. This requires faith. The blessing only exists by giving.

Fatherhood is among the greatest of gifts a man can receive.

Choose it.

Give the gift.

Then, and only then, receive it.

 

The Irish Whisky Song

I first saw Carl curled up with a guitar on his perch, a duct-taped metal bar stool in the shade of a cafe’s outdoor tables. I was turning in to the only place to stop for a hundred miles, nothing more than a village of stubborn desert-dwellers, and rolled the bike around to a stop just in front of him. he was momentarily perturbed at the acoustic intrusion. But I shut the motor off and the sound of his voice quickly reclaimed its territory.

I couldn’t tell you the name of the song he sang, nor could I have said what it was about. The words were mostly unintelligible. The guitar was wretchedly out of tune, and sounded like a apple crate strung with baling wire. Which is to say it matched perfectly the feeling of the song. The only thing in tune was Carl’s voice. Had he been singing anything else it would have likely invoked images of competing Tomcats with their tails tied together.

But in this place with an afternoon breeze blowing dust and tumble weeds along on their daily migration, with that guitar and this particular mumbly folksong, his voice was the most perfect choice. It was grudgingly beautiful.

He broke stride with his words to bid me a good afternoon, cramming an extra measure into the song with the guitar to catch himself up again. I nodded a hot, dusty, thirsty “afternoon” back. Carl seemed to have the thirst problem under control, with a small flock of empty Budweiser bottles on the table behind him, and one half full one in a place of honor beside his picking hand’s elbow. My response stopped the music, and he reached back to take a draw of the open bottle.

“This here’s a song about whisky”, he began, “it’s an Irish song”, and he set the bottle back down, string-hand already fingering chords, anxious to get on with things. The song he played was indeed about whisky. Or, at least, that’s what I had to surmise as every third or fourth word was, in fact, “whisky”. No idea what else he sang, but I presumed by the litter behind him that asking about the words was a fruitless exercise.

After placing my order inside, I returned with a glass of water to sit at an adjacent table. Inside places don’t agree with me well. Carl looked askance at my water glass, as one eyes a strange dog at the side of its master. Quelling the urge to brandish it at him just to get a rise, instead I asked him to sing the whisky song again. For a brief moment you could’ve knocked Carl over with a feather. I don’t think he was accustomed to having people request that he sing.

He recovered quickly though, and dove into it with performance-grade fervor. When he was finished, however, the Rant began.

I’ve been known to dabble in political ranting myself on occasion, but Carl threw his whole being into what can only be gently characterized as lunacy. he went on for way longer than it should have taken for my burger’s arrival to interrupt him. When finally it came, my head was buzzing and my gratitude to the waitress was effusive. I engaged her in banter for a moment to let the fever of his tirade fade.

As she departed, though, he turned back toward me, and I readied for another assault.

But his tone had changed. He’d noticed my jacket’s Navy patches, and was now keen on discussing our experiences. We fell to telling sea stories. His experience was during Vietnam, but he had some deep sea experiences to tell also. One eye narrowed in a glint that can only be taken seriously from a man who’s been drinking, and he asked me, suddenly serious, “you ever been topside in a storm at sea?”

As he recounted his tale, his eyes changed. A look I have seen before came over him, part-crazed, part-wild, and part baptized by the singular purity of truth known only to those who have been exposed directly to their own imminent mortality. There is no other look like it. It can’t be pretended. Those that understand it look at those who desire it’s knowledge as fools.

And in looking at those eyes, I was transported into a raging sea of foam, snow, swells and waves, standing on what looked like an insignificant speck of submarine. I was reaching for a falling mate who had been picked up by a swell that swept him into the water, and then we were both falling over the suddenly-exposed side of the boat as it heaved upward. I looked above me to see my lanyard being held by another mate, and down at the harness I gripped two-handed with all my strength to hang on to the man below me. Had it not been for the man still in deck, keeping my line as slack as he could to prevent it being snapped, neither of us would have ever been found in this storm.

The boat was thrown upward, and its sides of steel rose up beside me like a monster of The Deep. The waters sucked at us like a banshee stealing souls, and pulled back to form a chasm where the hull met the water. For a brief moment the swirling black maelstrom beneath us dwarfed everything else in my mind. We were dangling over the mouth of death, it seemed. The next wave smashed us both against the hull. But it also pushed us both back on top of the boat, and while we wanted to lay clinging to the life the boat gave us, we all realized we had only a few seconds before it began again, and we raced for the hatch.

Something similar was the tale Carl told, but my own look caught his eye. For a brief moment, our eye contact spoke what no words can pass. For that brief moment, Carl was sane – and sober. For a moment someone understood his pain. For that brief moment I could see the man behind the singing bum.

The locals clearly thought of Carl as a nuisance on a good day. And perhaps he is that. But there is more to be known about Carl than they can seem to fathom. There is a part of Carl that has spent more courage than any of them. There is a moment, now and again, when Carl can no longer forget, even if he wants to.

And in that moment, Carl is as much a man as ever walked this earth. He paid a heavy price. More, really, than he could afford.

I still don’t know the words to the Irish Whisky song he sang. But I know exactly what he was singing about.

Maybe we could all request a song about whisky from someone who knows it, now and again.

Leaving an audience dangling

So there I was at the gas station fueling up the Excursion while pulling a trailer down to the brother-in-law’s. I come out and the gas attendant informs me I’ve got a tail light falling out of the trailer.

We walk back together, adopting the folded arms stance of two men talking mechanicals, and sure enough…there it hung.

So I turn to him, and tell him the following tale:  

“When I was a wee lad of 17, I worked for a summer as a courier in a hospital. My job was to take stuff that was here but needed to be there. Usually it was supplies, or paperwork, or sample, etc but once in a while they needed a person pushed. I was the pusher.

So one fine morning they call me to the ER to push a bed with a patient in it. As it turns out, he was a motorcycle rider who had crashed into a brick wall. My job was to push while the emergency trauma team fixed and held him together on the way to the operating room.

So I started pushing. There was bustling, and beeping, and the strained chatter of professional tested to the limits of their skills working together. I sensed the import of the moment, hunkered down in determined silence and did my part. I pushed that bed.

When we got to the relative lull of the elevator, I took a moment to take in the moment before me. Slowly, as impossible scenes do, I realized that the patient’s eyeball was lying on the pillow beside him, dangling by what I could only assume was the optic nerve.

“Much as this tail light was hanging out now.”

I told the gas station attendant all this, and said “you don’t forget something like that easily”.

I had been looking dolefully at the dangling light during all this, but at this moment I looked back at him. His face was pale, his mouth agape. He stood transfixed, aghast with the horror he had not seen coming.

My work here was finished, it was time to travel on.

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Wild-life in Tennessee

So there I was, looking for a quiet place to pitch my bedroll. It was in May of the year, I had just ridden the Tail of the Dragon westbound, and it was getting on into the evening as I rode westward. I saw, for the first time since childhood in Indiana, fireflies along the darkening roadside. It was a fine evening of reminiscing.

Couple hours later I decided I wanted to find a campground for the night, so I looked on my map and saw Frozen Head State Park. Twenty easy miles off the interstate in Tennessee on a warm summer’s eve.  I headed out away from the known road, in search of the Perfect Spot.

That’s when things started to get sideways.

Got myself lost, went past 3 penitentiaries (I think, or went past one three times, hard to say) but finally found the place after a couple hours of backtracking in the dark. The gate was closed, and as it was about 1am by now, I parked in front of the gate to have a look around. I was hoping to find an empty park but NoOOooo, there was a whole bunch of tents – looked like a kids’ campout. So I eased the bike over the the side of the road alongside the wide area the entrance of the park created(see below) and pitched my bedroll on the starboard side away from the asphalt.

No sooner did I have my boots off but a set of headlights came up and parked over by the gate. I figured it was a park ranger. I waited. After 5 minutes of nothing but headlights and car running, I decided the ranger had probably called the Sheriff (or the boys at the penitentiary) and was waiting for backup. So I slung my boots on and emerged onto the road, crossed in front of the headlights with my hands clearly visible. Turned out it wasn’t a ranger, it was a mom whose daughter didn’t want to stay for the rest of the night. Mother was waiting for her husband to come since the gate was closed. As I crossed, she rolled her window down and in an obviously worried voice was profusely and fearfully apologizing to the big burly dude who had just emerged from the bushes – me. I eased her mind by offering to open the gate, and then did.

I went back over to the bike, and put my hand out on the bike to steady myself before laying down again. I saw a green dot on the back of my hand.

Now mind you, by this time it’s 2am and I’m a little groggy – my first thought was they had a danged laser security system. But I realized after a moment of trying to track my hand backwards up the beam path that there was no laser – that whatever it was, it was on my finger. I looked closer, and realized it was lightning bug guts. I happened to look in the mirror, and it somehow was smeared all over my face! Somehow I had smashed a bug while it was lit, I guess, and I had lightning bug warpaint on.

I Briefly thought about rolling through the kids camp to give them a Legend to tell for Generations of Tennesseean campfire stories, but hey, this is Tennessee, with three penitentiaries. These kids could be packing.

So I eased my way back into my bedroll. And dreamt of Indians and Frontiersmen.

This photo shows the bike the next morning.IMG_0049

TMV Card Back wBleedA few have asked me about my 2016 Presidential platform Thus far, I have this to say about that:

1. What is your stance on abortion?

I can’t for the life of me understand why this is such a popular
question to ask of a presidential candidate, given that the President has virtually no control over the issue.  But hey, since you’re asking, and this is my moment in the sun:  The issue is fraught with moral division, to the point where as a government of free people, we should not be legislating until we can argue more clearly the secular moral implications.  Meanwhile, the government should not be funding abortions either.  If groups want to raise money to support abortion clinics, more power to them.  If they want to use the platform of their personal religious beliefs to speak out against it, they should absolutely do that.

2. Do you support the legalization of same sex marriage?

Personally, No.  But as the President of these United States, my personal preference doesn’t serve the people of the country in this regard.  I would like to see the country come to view “Marriage”  in less of a theological cast, in regards to others.  If a person wishes to view Marriage as “God-ordained”, I think that is right and proper.  But to attempt to force others in a non-theocratic society to absorb their theocratic designs is wrong.  Proselytize if you wish, but force is out of line with the foundations of this country’s intent.

3.Should the government increase environmental regulations to prevent global warming?
It is possible to trace a path that shows the development of the “Global Warming” theory as a tool for other environmental concerns that could not hope to compete with Natural Resource Industry’s ambitions.  I believe that mankind has shown repeatedly not only the capacity but the ability to destroy local ecologies in the pursuit of profit.  I believe that one industry dominating public land  use and resource harvest through favorable laws written to subvert self-sustaining conservation and give that industry unfettered access to public resources is wrong.  I also believe that agonizing over individual toads, sparrows, lizards, owls, small rodents and non-adaptable flora is the mark of an obsessive movement built around an intentional over-reaction to these ecological abuses, in an attempt to  attain collateral conservation goals.  I believe, spiritually, in the “dominion over the earth” concept presented biblically, and through aboriginal traditions as well.  As humans, with the gifts of intellect that we possess, I think we have the opportunity and spiritual responsibility to find a way to combine sensible natural resource harvest with the responsibility to learn and apply techniques to help, rather than hinder nature.  To that end, the debate over the validity of  the “global warming” phenomenon is indeed one of power-mongering, with both sides vying for an unfair share of control over the disposition of earth’s resources.  I think there are studies being fronted who’s results were predetermined by the funding agencies’ subtle selection of institution.  In the end, a better rationale for self-control of Natural Resource Industry must be rooted in honesty, flexibility of sensible application, and the limiting of size and scope of harvest/recovery, which will be addressed in future questions regarding anti-trust and monopoly law.

4. Should national parks be preserved and protected by the federal government?

Absolutely.

5. Should producers be required to label genetically engineered foods (GMOs)?

On its surface, the underlying principles behind this question sound similar to the abortion question. The key difference here is that the People’s choice is dependent on accurate information.  The problem so far has been that by adopting a labeling standard, that standard becomes a target for corruption, where the intent of the law is fairly easily subverted with intentional loopholes lobbied for by unscrupulous businessmen.  If we tell people to trust the standard, and then the standard is perverted by lobbyists writing laws for lazy, unscrupulous lawmakers, it seems to me we’ve opened ourselves to liability.  So we either have to take the issue another step and require producers to provide more source information from which consumers can draw their own conclusions, or let people develop alternate sources of food from producers willing to provide this data at a economic premium.  If we certify something using government agency, then that should come with strict standards that the producer  and consumer pays a premium to receive documentation for.

6.  Should employers be required to pay men and women the same salary for the same job?

Yes.  The caveat being that there should be exemptions for jobs for which there is clear gender performance differences.  If, for example a physically demanding job can be done by a woman, but not at the same rate of production level as a man, a difference should be allowed to remain. The problem is this invites a rats-nest of never-ending quibbling over performance demands and levels.  Because of this, despite the obvious unfairness, government should not be making blanket, unilateral anti-discrimination except to address the most egregious discrimination.  Let the market reward equality.  Sub-note:  I do NOT think women should be sent to physical combat units.  Warfare is no place for social engineering experiments.

7. Should physically and mentally capable adults on welfare be required to work?

I think some sort of service should be engaged and offered to this group.  Presently, and for generations now, policy has encouraged a culture of deception and socially destructive tactics from people who see welfare as a “free ticket”.  Broadening the question, I believe that government support should not reward single mothers and larger families over two-parent families of modest size.  This of course is just as difficult to monitor and enforce as the current policies, and people seem to get some funny ideas – legends about how the system works emerge from these subcultures that drives a systemic misbehaviour from the population in general.  I would like to develop a civilian alternative to the National Guard, and develop policies that encourage pride in that force, but limitations to its financial reward to discourage dependence on it.  The National Guard weekend a month and two weeks per year paid service paradigm on a volunteer basis allows those with the drive to succeed to use the tool available to further their well-being, a rigorous screening process for true disability to steer those with diminished capacity into channels where they can make the most of what they have, while leaving those with chronic disregard for productive life free to choose poverty and hardship.

8. Should all welfare recipients be tested for drugs?

Let the states decide, based on the efficacy of testing using scientific data.  The best information I’ve personally seen to date does not support its efficacy, but if actual science says different, then it should be an option.  Again, this is a State issue.

9.  Should there be more restrictions on the current process of purchasing a gun?

No, not in general.  Proper writing and interpretation of current laws will be more effective. These laws should be local, not national.  I realize this creates problems for large urban areas where their local laws can be subverted with a little travel and subterfuge on the part of the purchasers.  I think the solution to the problems caused by gun violence are better addressed through social policy than direct firearm legislation.

10.  Should people on the “no-fly list” be banned from purchasing guns and ammunition?

Not without caveat.  The government does not have an especially good system for inclusion on this list.  These limitations subject otherwise good citizens who’ve been falsely targeted to unwarranted loss of rights.  The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” must prevail.

11. Do you support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?

No.  Requiring purchase of insurance on a national level is wrong.  I think the initiatives by some states have provided a good opportunity to understand the issues without what I believe to be an unconstitutional requirement to purchase a product managed by the government.  The effects on both the competitive market and the ability of individual citizens to conduct their business is damaging.

I do, however, believe that a state-level program that no one is forced to sign up for creates an opportunity to resolve some of the problems.

12. Should the federal government require children to be vaccinated for preventable diseases?

As long as public school attendance is required, vaccination should be required.  Private schools (I’m thinking of some religious movements here) should have the flexibility to refuse vaccination,

13. Do you support the legalization of Marijuana?

Yes. It should have similar controls to alcohol. 

14. Should a photo ID be required to vote?

Yes.  But two caveats:  first, the requirement must be created at the beginning of an election cycle to give people time in places where it isn’t a general requirement already, and second, assistance should be provided to create the documentation for people who do not have it.  There should be included in this system a review process that can grant ID with a hearing of evidence including anecdotal, and a judge to resolve the issue when simple documentation can’t be had.
15. Should the U.S. accept refugees from Syria?

Not en masse, no.  I’m not opposed to a stringent vetting system for limited numbers, but it is a problem for other parts of the world to resolve, not the US.  We have humanitarian projects of our own in our end of the world to attend to.

16. Should foreign terrorism suspects be given constitutional rights?

No.  They should be treated as enemy combatants, until in the process they can be proven otherwise.

17.  Should the government decrease military spending?

Formulating this into a blanket question/answer is an intentional trap based on a disingenuous premise.  Military spending seems, on its surface, to be a bloated self-sustained ecosystem that has become almost socialist in nature.  Standing armies were anathema to the Founding Fathers’ grand design.  It is impossible, however, in Modern Warfare to simply call Jim-Bob off the tractor to the call of a bugle and expect to defend the country effectively.  The military complex is top-heavy, as that is where the power to self-perpetuate resides, and it must be trimmed.  The military advancement system has become analogous to academia in its formulized system of performance evaluation, gratuitous expectation of retention, and the unethical interaction between military leadership and civilian contractor.

18.  Do you support increasing taxes for the rich in order to reduce interest rates for student loans?

No.  While I see taxation as a valid method of social engineering, it’s application must be with the lightest of hands.  There are already too many college graduates for a workplace that needs other skills that college isn’t designed to provide.  The most common problem for trade schools of any value is that business is loathe to train people because inevitably after the investment in professional development another company comes along and hires away the investment.  It could be argued that a tax for creating trade schools funded by that industry might be in order, but this should remain a State issue in order to take advantage of the State’s ability to attune itself to local issues more readily than the federal government. I do, however, support simplification of the tax code and fewer personal deductions available only to the wealthy.

19. Do you support Common Core national standards?

Not unless someone can explain to me in plain language why we’re using it and what good it does.  There is much made of the apparent idiocy of Common Core, but that isn’t my primary concern.  At issue is the federal government’s meddling in what should be a state and/or local issue.  My vision for the Department of Education is to function as a central advisory and resource coordinator to serve states, but to have no power to require states to do anything.  States are perfectly capable of being responsible governing bodies of their citizenry, as guided by good judgment and local conditions and traditions dictate.

20. Should illegal immigrants have access to government-subsidized healthcare?

No.  Illegal immigrants (as opposed to legal ones) have no rights beyond the basic human rights to be afforded them as they are escorted back to their countries of origin, or to incarceration as applicable laws dictate.

21. Should Muslim immigrants be banned from entering the country until the government improves its ability to screen out potential terrorists?

I think all immigrants should be prevented from entry until some sort of threat assessment can be conducted.  I don’t  if this is practical though.

22.  Should the government fund space travel?

Yes, as well as other scientific exploration.  I also believe in government-supported art, though I believe it should be in the form of supporting historic cultural art belonging to America, and the fostering of art community that in turn can choose for itself what actual art to support.

23. Should the government tax the wealthy at a higher rate?

I believe that a modest tiered system is valid to allow those working at the lower levels the ability to attain a healthy standard of living, but disagree with a dramatic percentage increase at the higher levels.

24. Should the government close loopholes and tax corporations at a higher rate?

This is, unfortunately, one of the classic misdirection questions that so often lead to political opportunism at the expense of actually addressing one of the most pressing issues in American Economics.  The real issue of unfair competition practices cannot be resolved with complex taxation schemes.  In fact, I believe that corporate taxation should be simplified and reduced – it is not the job of government to play economic engineer.  The singular role of government in business is to ensure that anyone who comes to the market with an idea can do so without harassment, or any one of the myriad anti-competition practices engaged in by the biggest competitors.  To that end, an examination of anti-trust, monopoly, and competition law needs to be made.  Small Business will always be at the core of a healthy, vibrant economy. To the extent that an economy suffers, it can often be shown that one player has gained dominance over others and has begun to operate aloof of the principles of free market.  Taxation schemes cannot fix this.

It Wasn’t My Intent

It wasn’t my intent to wake you

With stumbling around in the night

But now that you’re up

Can I brew you a cup

And sit with you here in the dawn’s gentle light?

 

It wasn’t my intention to burn

The potatoes and parts of the toast

But talking with you over morning news

I may have been somewhatly over-bemused

and held by your company over-engrossed.

 

It wasn’t my meaning to intervene

and fiddle and fret with your plans

The worry I express

is considerably less

than the fussing I spent on the burnt frying pan.

 

It wasn’t my meaning to overindulge

on the cookies you left on the rack

T’was not just the taste 

that made them erased

but thinking of you took me wistfully back.

 

To when I intended to wed you

and time with you ran at a prime

the things that you baked

became feelings that waked

the thought of you all of the time.

 

It wasn’t my aim to unload

these troubles at the end of the day

I was really just groping

for a way of eloping

just us two, together forever away

 

I certainly didn’t want to bore you

with singing and playing this guitar

I took your quiet to mean you want more

imagine my shock when you started to snore

But you’ve got to rest for tomorrow’s morning star

 

Which I certainly did NOT mean to wake you for.

So, while you were sleeping, there was this.

 

 

 

Must Not Remember.

I sat numbly against the concrete blocks rising up at an awkward, uncomfortable right angle to the concrete sidewalk.  I say, “sat”, but there was less energy than that in it.  My body was laying but my legs sat akimbo, situated by luck, gravity, and the curious fluidity a fifth of Rum gives the body.  And so the two halves of me argued themselves into a knot over the hours.

But there was nowhere else to be.  No hope to be found, no dream to pursue.  Sitting.  Breathing.  Thinking about the Dark Days when sobriety forced me to look, drinking the memory away when I could.

And then a man stopped in front of my inverted cap on the sidewalk beside me.  He squatted down, sympathetic yet sophisticated enough, and asks, “if I give you a Lincoln will you use it for a meal, or for rum?”, noting with a glance the bottle beside me.

I knew this routine. The man didn’t want to think himself party to the debasement of another alcoholic binge.  It seemed so unrighteous and wasteful to him, I’m sure.

I clutched, and clawed with unsteady hands a grip for myself on his scarf.  I pulled up and held myself until I could focus on his eyes.  He returned my tortured gaze squinting through a fog of still-liquored breath, bravely holding his righteous ground.

“Mister”, I croaked, the disuse of my voice from days of isolation in this sea of humanity covering my throat with a gravelly coating, “If you’d seen the horrors of the Deep that I’ve seen, if you’d crossed eyes with Davey Jones as have I, if you’d heard the screams of the men he carries below as their life force escaped their tortured, drowning bodies, you’d pray – not beg – pray, for your last meal to be of the strongest Rum.  A Happy Meal is of no use to me, it only fuels my mind – allows me to remember.  I must…not…remember!”

Much has been made in recent months of the plight of the homeless veteran, and of the suicide rates amongst them.  This post isn’t about rehashing the numbers, because to be honest, the numbers aren’t that helpful.  If I say, “there’s a lot”, I’ve said a little more than many people will ever process.  More to the point, there’s a reason these badly-dressed icons are there.  The guys that make jokes on their cardboard signs on the offramp of the freeway…you know, good for them, but there is more to it than those guys who are functional enough to create an effective marketing campaign.  The guys that I know who are or are very close to homelessness – if they could mount a campaign they would, but then they wouldn’t be homeless either.  If food were all they needed, they’d have figured that out by now.  If righteousness was their issue, well…by my beliefs, they stand forgiven already.

It is a dark place to be, someone who has seen and heard the weapons of war take a life, or many lives, and to look down and see your own hand on the trigger, or to have guided the targeting, to know it was YOU who killed.  It is darker still to walk among those whose existence will never come anywhere near that moment, to stand there on a street corner of sharp-dressed businessmen, elegant matrons, smart-dressed workers…and to see yourself in their midst with blood on your hands.   Many work through it a little worse for wear but still functional.  Why it affects some and not others in such violent spasms of insanity isn’t fully known yet.  Treatment exists, but many vets are so jaded they suspect everything – including the help given.  For different reasons, many reject the only interactions and relationships that will help heal them, and clutch desperately to the tree of forgetfulness.

And when that fails, they often commit suicide.  Numbers vary, and are explained differently by different groups.  But while they are busy counting, recounting, and sorting their numbers and working them around into logical order, another confused, paranoid, isolated, maybe homeless veteran dies in a place he doesn’t deserve to die.  So think about that one guy.  Just one.  Maybe you can find him.  Maybe someone you know can find him. Maybe instead of a $5-dollar bill you can sit there beside him, and listen.  Ask for a story.  Expect something crazy, something that doesn’t even seem real, something you doubt ever happened, and just listen anyway.  Hang with the craziness.

Because he never imagined it would happen to him either.

Showering the Brick Walkways

 I awakened to the last workday of the week, already occupied with the day’s worries.  A Man with five daughters has no shortage of cares, and my mind seemed determined on this day to give each one a good and proper fretting. I rolled towards my nightstand like a runner turning to the starter’s gun.

Three luminescent blue digits glowed dispassionately in an otherwise dark room.

2:07am.

Ready?  Go.

Worry #1: if I don’t go back to sleep I will be too tired to give the rest of my troubles my best.

(I’m nothing if not very, very good at lining up a long, nearly unbroken string of trifles to smooth the momentary gaps between major catastrophes)

But it was true, and the momentary distraction decoupled me from the matter that awoke me in the first place.  I realized that here in this quiet room I couldn’t conduct any of the day’s business and so could enjoy the moment without the niggling sense I should be doing…something.

So I just listened.

At first some of the day’s pressing matters threw words into the space where the night’s sounds gently breathed.  Quietly, the sound of rain on the brick below my bedroom window enveloped the room in its soft, persistent sound.  Rain on the brick.  Rain in the trees.  Rain on the roof, on the soil of my garden.  Rain, no single drop heard, but every drop counting.

I smiled like a child beneath a mothers blanket, smiling at the monsters rage.  I thought of my mother and the blankets she had made for me, the reassuring soft whoosh of the cloth landing against my chest, and the gentle voice reassuring me there are no such thing as monsters while hands tucked the sides in.  I knew there were monsters.  But I knew I had just been given Magic straight from the Queen herself, and that was as good as banishment to my foes.

In the adjoining room my son’s quiet breathing rose and fell.  His needs fill up most days, his comfortable respiration allowed me to move on, knowing the frequent pain he felt was at bay.  This watch-tower was secure, I patrolled on through the night.

I thought to sort through the business of the upcoming day.  In addition to my profession’s demands, Friday is a day to prepare, to put my house in order and make sure I am free to worship un-interrupted on my Sabbath.  I’m not a church-goer by any stretch, and my worship would probably not satisfy even the most liberal doctrine-minded of the saints.  But the act of Friday preparation is deeply engrained, a childhood tradition that connects me to a Greater Consciousness.  I cling to it like a lost sailor,  riding my galleon of gathered debris, picking up bedraggled mates amidst smoke and ruin.  But I prepare nonetheless.  A list of tasks was made and forgotten.  It would never keep till morning.

2:33am.

The glowing digits illuminate a few inches of the night stand’s edge.  One of the early log trucks broke the stillness, lumbering onto the highway a quarter mile away, and then waltzing its way through its gearing to fade into the upper valley, and eventually the hills themselves.  My eyes, drawn to the sound, think heavily on the faint glow through the slats on the blinds.  The full moon has broken through the clouds, a mother checking her child through a cracked door.  I pretend to be a sleep, and vaguely wonder why I am not asleep. The gentle voice of the earth repeats its quieting mantra – one that the light of day drowns out.

The rain returns, showering the brick walkway, and the garden soil, the lawn.  It showers my consciousness.

And it showers my unconsciousness.  Peace, watered and nourished, begins to grow, in a space otherwise forgotten and fertile in my head.

 

Storm-Riding

A narrow lane ends at the edge of the bay. Metal Signs suggest distant destinations to the left and right down a county road that parallels the sea. There are no near destinations.

Other signs suggest a storm. The wind smells of it. The grey sky portends it. The water dropping intermittently on my face whispers a challenge.

Perhaps it was the brashness of the gust of wind off the water, the challenge of the dark clouds spitting water, or maybe just my own mood, I don’t know, but the gradual twist of the throttle I had intended to calmly introduce my bike and myself to the morning’s ride through the storm became something sharper, more insistent. The sudden roar of the bike called to me in a way more than just the sound, more than just the physical surge of a powerful machine – something more than both simply added together. It was a wild call, and the thing inside me that answered was equally wild. It was the call of a wolf with quarry in its nose. It was a call to its pack, to the hunt. Something in my gut I answered.

With The surge of speed beneath me, I felt my gut tighten with millennia-old instinct, reaching out, pulling together my arms, my legs – all of me responded and pulled together on and around the bike into one centered, balanced unit. The wolf-pack gave one voice to the chase. The quarry, this strip of blacktop ahead, began to run.

To my right, the bay bounded along blocking the highway’s escape, nipping at its side with whitecappped teeth. The road raced forward into the hill that loomed ahead.   Cape Lookout’s land mass spilling out into the sea ahead of me and to the right. Winter wind buffeted, threatening rain pelted, futile against the oiled leather of my riding gear.  This was not their first storm.

The forest rose ahead, and the road dove into its cover, twisting, crashing, bucking over road-heaves where the rocks had held beneath, dropping where the winter rains had softened and eroded beneath and cracked the pavement, dropping it into sink-holes. Patiently the pack stuck to the track, into the gloom of the deep old-growth rain forest.

Last month’s storms had knocked down trees across the road. Logging debris – mud, bark, crushed needles and chainsaw oil – tried to hide the trail. I gingerly picked my way through the slick, and picked up the scent again where logs were stacked high in a newly cut clearing on the side of the road. Flushed from it’s hiding, the roars burst over the summit of the Cape.

We caught up the fresh scent again at the bottom of the lee side of the cape. The road panicked, And broke out in a straight run through the dunes.

The bike belled out its guttural howl and surged forward again. What the pack lacks in speed for the chase it makes up for in dogged persistence. The road ran across farmland, dotted with yellow spring daffodils, through bogs and mud flats, over bridges, through town where the dead moved about in shiny cars sullied by rain spray, insulated against weather and life, and finally joined the highway.

The buffeting wind only strengthened my determinationIMG_5870
The sting of rain pelting my face tightened my balance, perfected loping instinctive cadence.

The hills faded in my mind. The trees disappeared.

There was only this road, and my quarry.
It’s trail
It’s scent

And my hunger.

Dear automated toilet:

I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I was merely shifting my weight, not standing up.  Although now I clearly AM finished, I was here to leave something else behind besides my dignity.  That seems to have jostled loose somewhere between caroming off the inside stall wall and the sincerity of the high-pitched scream of terror I didn’t know I had in me.  Should my dignity come sniffing around looking for me, please let it know I had to go on without it, and that it will have to find its own fare home.
Dear automated faucet:
Yes, I agree, “recoiled in horror at the display of immaturity” of your associate is the only proper tone, might I remind you that I still have needs.  I have places my hands under the sensor several times now, and am failing to develop that “freshly-washed” feeling, or, even, a mild case of damp hands.  If you could collect yourself for a moment, perhaps we could put this whole sordid scene behind us.  Or, like Moses and his rock, will I have to resort to striking you with my staff to conjure water out of you.
P.S.  if you could talk to your little friend the automated soap dispenser, perhaps suggest he breathe once in a while.  The small squeak of product he currently produces strikes me as a bit uptight.
Dear automated paper towel dispenser:
I admire your restraint in the face of such calamity, but could we remember that you are dispensing drying towels, not postage stamps.  Please note that my hands bear no volumetric resemblance to those of, say, small raccoons.  Also, the measured solemnity with which you pause between cycles is impressive, but while it would be admired in, say, a palace guard your stoicism comes across as gruff reluctance, and does not play well to the service industry to which you are employed.