Did you ever have the urge to touch the handle of a shopping cart that someone just spent five minutes sanitizing?
I was starving, nursing a hangover and trying to get into Angelo’s before the lunch crowd when I, and a hundred or so others were ordered away from the barricades being erected across the sidewalk.
I heard a cop say something about a jumper.
Someone mumbled, “let him jump. I’m late already.”
I looked up, along with one or two others craning their necks to see a lone figure on the roof of my office building, six floors up. Even from the street there was no mistaking the tall lanky figure of an old Army buddy, Fred Warner.
The rest kept walking.
After Iraq we tried to keep in touch. You know, Christmas cards and every now and then, a phone call.
Come to think of it, I hadn’t heard from him for several years.
I knew that building like the back of my hand. Worked there for ten years. Same stuff, different day. Working my fingers to the bone just to stay in the middle.
After the top floor there is a short half-flight of stairs to a penthouse store room and then the roof. It’s always locked.
I stumbled out into the noon day sun and looked around but couldn’t find him. “Hey, you up here?” “Yeah I’m here,” came the muffled answer from across the roof. “It’s about time you showed. I was just going to do it -but thought I’d like to see you first.”
On the other side of the parapet I found my friend sitting on the narrow ledge, like he was fishing off the pier back home. “What’s up man?” “I’m trying to get something to eat and you’re up here acting stupid.”
“What’s it look like? I’m done, I’m tired man. Need to move on.”
“You’re the one who’s got it made. Wife, home, good job. You been here for how many, ten years? Me, I got nothing. After the war, Kate left me. Even the VA left me hanging. Said I was no longer a candidate for PTSD protocol. What bullshit.”
“I was good, though wasn’t I? Could pick off a towel head from a klick away and light up a smoke before he hit the dirt. Seventy-five confirmed. Quit counting after the second tour. I can still see their faces in the scope.”
” It hurts, man.”
“Two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. Not much good to me now.”
“But you, you always came out on top. Stayed out of the sandbox, got an education. Living the dream, just like we always thought we would. Why couldn’t I have just been more like you?”
What he said was true- except for the whole dream part. That died years ago, along with the promotion and my marriage.
The education I got though. Learned that loyalty and being good no longer counted. It’s just a matter of who you know and who you owe.
All I have left now is the booze and an old friend on a ledge.
How Dry I Am
What’s so tough about drying clothes?
In days past they were simply hung on a rope outside until they dried, or froze solid in the Wisconsin winter.
Then they were brought inside to be ironed, folded and put into dressers or closets only to be dirtied, stained and abused before starting the cycle all over again.
As you might have guessed, our clothes dryer recently died.
It really began this death spiral some months ago by exhibiting loud intermittent squealing sounds from somewhere deep inside. Then, one day as the wash was piling up, it simply gave up the ghost and quit completely.
Being the fugal (cheap) guy that I am, I stalled, ignored and otherwise procrastinated until it was too late and then had to scramble to replace the deceased appliance.
We also needed a new washing machine as the old one-although it still combined soap and water with clothing and mixed them up-only worked on one of the load cycles and I had to set that with a pair of pliers because the plastic control knob was broken.
Then there was the time I tried to reach something that fell inside the cabinet and had to pry it open with a screwdriver, resulting in the top not quite fitting right. So then I inserted said screwdriver in the space nearest the hinge and pushed down on the front to correct the problem.
The repair guy only shook his head, mumbling something about “somebody didn’t know what they were doing here.”
Again being frugal (insert “cheap”) I went to the local “Honest Bob’s Used Appliance Emporium” to purchase the set. It must be said that Bob’s had provided us, relatives and others with perfectly reliable machines in the past and there was no reason to think this time would be any different.
Bob doesn’t deliver any more-something about a bad back-so I enlisted the help of a buddy to remove and install the appliances in the basement of our home.
So, two old fat guys and a pickup went into the appliance delivery business for one whole day.
Two trips up the stairs with the old ones and then two more trips down with the new, used appliances.
After two weeks the timer on the dryer quit working. Not a big thing unless someone forgets to turn it off before our clothing reaches ignition temperature.
Bob has agreed to replace the timer when he can get a new one. That was three weeks ago.
My wife now says something about clothes coming out wrinkled or some such thing.
Now I will admit that she does look nice all dressed up in unwrinkled clothes that haven’t permanently shrunk from exposure to 400 degrees F. for three hours.
My wardrobe on the other hand, consists of a style somewhere between stained and slept-in.
There can’t really be much involved in mechanically drying clothes. It’s just a matter of blowing hot air across wet stuff until the moisture is gone.
I could probably rig something up with a torch, a fan, and some duct tape.
So now I am dutifully searching for a new (unused) fully automatic electric clothes dryer with a “wrinkle resistant” cycle and an intact washing machine-also unused.
In the mean time, Bob is still waiting for parts and my buddy doesn’t answer the phone.
All Things Creepy
Of all God’s creatures that slither, crawl or fly one has to wonder about the reason for earwigs.
Most other revolting critters can be justified as having a distinct purpose in the environmental scheme of things-but earwigs?
Mosquitoes for example, although annoying and carriers of disease around the world actually provide a food source for more advanced life like bats, which occupy their own place on the list of creepy.
Worms, grubs, and even leeches although ugly and slimy looking score considerably higher on my “good” list due to their position in the food chain and potential as fishing bait.
But why earwigs?
It seems they were a gift from our European ancestors, no doubt hitching a ride with the thousands of immigrants who arrived in the early 20th Century.
Their name comes from the belief that they burrowed into your brain through the ear canal while you slept and in the process, caused various degrees of madness. Not true of course but it could explain the state of European politics.
I’m usually pretty good natured about well, nature-even earwigs. They have the whole world in which to roam while I reign supreme inside the walls of 1400 square feet with a finished basement, close to schools and shopping. In other words-my home.
Other than providing a character for Disney movies and Eddie Murphy I see no reason whatsoever for these nasty, ugly, invasive creatures to exist.
They don’t knock or call ahead. They just crawl in-everywhere.
Nothing can be more surprising or disgusting than finding one of these little buggers appear suddenly at breakfast or to open a cabinet door and find one hiding inside.
Experts claim that they don’t bite but they do have those pinchers or scientifically speaking, “pincers,” and they do “pince” if you happen to be in their space which it seems, is everywhere.
They usually show up during the months of July and August like relatives at the cottage, moving in from the crowded mulch beds that we spent all that time and money to create around the house and gardens.
They hide in rolls of bath tissue, paper towels and under rugs.
When you least expect it one will be found “hanging out” on the shower curtain. Yeah, my wife hates ‘em too.
I’ve crushed ’em, flushed ’em, and sent them to bug heaven in the garbage disposal but their relentless pursuit of my contentment rages on.
While I dislike the use of chemical controls, that method of deterrent is still on the table-literally. Maybe I could encapsulate a half acre and fumigate the whole thing.
I have however, learned that earwigs have several natural predators that might be helpful. Birds, toads, lizards, assassin bugs, centipedes and spiders all find the disgusting little creatures to be quite the delicacy.
Maybe I’ll invite them in.
Father’s Day 2014
Of all the animal kingdom, with few exceptions, only the human species requires that the male stick around and take an active role throughout the life of the offspring.
It begins at birth when you hold that squirming, cone headed bundle of joy and realize that it recognizes you, the father. Everyone else, Mom, the nursing staff and all others who have been there know that the grimace you see as recognition is just gas but you continue on in the belief that you have become special in this little something’s life.
Your participation is limited during the first months, to feigning empathy during 2 AM breast feedings and trying without success to stay awake. You understand that the infant’s only interest at this stage of life is food, warmth and regular pooping and your involvement consists mainly of helping to clean up after each.
As a sidebar: These biological needs re-gain significance from time to time during the offspring’s life, particularly in that of a male. They become a priority during the teenage years and then again after college when hopefully he is living somewhere else.
You start to take the little one with you in your travels; to Fleet Farm, meetings or on a roofing job. Like a trophy or prize catch you matter-of-factly have him or her around just to show off, being careful not to go too far from home in case the child starts to smell or spits up in the truck.
It’s those times that involve dirt and sweat along with the possibility of injury or damage that your role begins to gain prominence in the child’s life. Soccer Moms notwithstanding, it’s the soccer, T-ball, Pop Warner, hook baiting, camping and learning to drive dads that take center stage. If anything, anything at all results in some liability, that’s all on you.
Tools, your favorite fishing pole, your recliner; all become fair game to these offspring who seem intent on destroying everything you hold dear. You cringe and soon understand that they are only six and trying to be you. Your perspective changes constantly.
It’s about this time in their lives that pride (yours) begins to swell as even the manliest left tackle in the audience sheds a joyful tear watching his child score an actual two-pointer in a game or play ‘Fur Elise’ with both hands on a baby grand piano.
Patience becomes not only a virtue but necessary for survival as you teach the young to drive a car. You hear your mouth calmly saying, “Always look first to the left, then to the right and back again to the left before pulling out into traffic,” while your brain is screaming, “Look out! Watch that car! You’re going to get us both killed! Pay attention!”
Then you beam just a little as they return from their road test and walk away with a probationary driver’s license having successfully reached another milestone. Ten minutes after being scared to death of driving, they now want to use your car by themselves-and of course, need some money for gas.
If you have done your job well or even just survived, there are soon to be more moments that make it all worthwhile. Those mostly involve walking; to the podium to accept their diploma whether high school, college or grad school, or walking down the aisle with a daughter on her wedding day. There’s a reason why dads get to do this. It allows you more tears.
Then one day while your son sits holding a bundle of wrinkled joy and exclaims to you, his dad, “see that, he recognizes me.” You just smile.
Happy Father’s Day.
‘Today’s Take’, Green Bay Press Gazette 6-24-2014
A True Calling or Just More Dirty Laundry
I once wrote a story about a college kid “staring intently into a bottle of Point Beer.”
Another was a feature article about the local humane society and its efforts to protect unwanted pets. The woman who started the organization was passionately dedicated and interesting to talk to. It turned into a perfect story.
The shortage of towels in the men’s athletic department was another assignment of “breaking news” that needed my attention.
As you might expect, I bombed on the towel story. Couldn’t see how dirty towels could possibly lead to a Pulitzer.
The kid and his beer never amounted to anything either which is just as well.
For the most part, writing for the college paper was the one thing that provided a purpose for my being there at all. That and money from the GI Bill.
I soon found that writing for a living was easier said than done, when the demands of the “real” world interfered. There was rent to pay, mouths to feed and obligations to keep.
I got a job, actually many jobs from emptying bed pans to driving a truck, finally finding security as a firefighter and investigator.
Business ventures came and went, fortunes made and lost and, made and lost.
Through that din of life I completely forgot what it was like to put words on paper and create something.
It took forty years but I fell in love again, with stories.
My family always told stories. With so many relatives surviving both the Great Depression and World War II, there was no lack of background information.
Their colorful stories were told and re-told at every occasion as if they had happened yesterday.
The ending was always the same- enjoyment.
No one cared if the facts had changed over the years or if they were even true to begin with.
They were a way of sharing our history and humanity. They were a families’ legacy to be passed on without special effects or musical scores.
These were ordinary people doing extra ordinary things.
Now, kids text each other while sitting across the room.
“WOMBAT, MEGO, LOL.”
We all have a passion for something, a calling if you will and I found mine by listening.
I listen when an idea appears at 3 AM demanding my attention. It sometimes approaches in a whisper, gently nudging. At other times it storms in like a drill sergeant banging trash cans. Try as I might, sleep is no longer an option.
Ideas rush in after attending a writer’s group meeting and I can’t wait to get back to the keyboard.
When I miss one, I start to have withdrawals.
An article in the morning paper gets me buzzing to the point of complete disruption of other activities. The reports due for my day job are put on hold as I wonder what to do with yet another new idea.
Energy flows like morning coffee and the hours fly by.
When I have a story that just needs telling and I know I’m the one to tell it.
- Missile batteries once formed a ring of defense around cities in the Midwest.
- Native Americans pilgrimage to ancient granite formations in Minnesota and New Mexico.
- Great grandmothers once flew B-29s as test pilots.
- There are defense attorneys, kids who start fires, cemeteries, and skunks.
- The ghost of Elvis might be seen riding a roller coaster in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
My list goes on.
When I become once again full of hopes and dreams and believe there is still time to make a difference.
When I’m ready to put my heart and soul out there for all to see-at ten cents a word-that’s a calling.
We each have one, that calling. It can manifest itself in any of a thousand ways but without a doubt, it’s a God-given gift that propels and sustains me, frustrates me to no end and makes me feel truly alive.
Born and raised in the small town of Wild Rose, Wisconsin, I was privileged to have grown up in a time and place where families were close and the pace was easy.
My life centered around school, church and the Milwaukee Braves. Fish and friends were plentiful.
The future was wide open and secure.
My resume under “Education” reads; “attended here and there with no defined major area of study and no advanced degree.”
I’ve worked at such occupations as; farming, truck driving, firefighter and investigator.
I’ve jumped out of airplanes and de-beaked chickens.
I’ve picked pickles and known the working end of a shovel.
I once got a job in a nursing home, not knowing the difference from a sphygmomanometer and a bed pan.
Now I do.
I’ve seen people die and helped a few to live.
I believe in God.