Blackmail

I have fairly simple tastes; I like oatmeal with raisins. Not the quick-oats though; I can’t stand that grimy slop. I like my oats with a dash of butter and lightly sweetened with maple syrup. But don’t ever dump Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima on my cereal. That crap messes my mind up. I sometimes fix myself eggs for breakfast. Very simple. Just two eggs over medium, fried in butter, a dash of salt. And for lunch, beans, like a bean soup. Simple, except I want Cheez-its with my beans, and I have a certain bowl I prefer to use when eating beans—my bean-bowl. It’s like those old diner bowls, the ones that had the buffalo on the bottom—heavy, thick sides, diner-white. Remember those? They matched the coffee mugs that the same restaurants used. I loved those mugs.

The other day, I cooked up a big pot of great northern beans. I minced some garlic, chopped a large onion, threw in a healthy dose of cumin, a little olive oil (my meat substitute)—

So, I’m sitting at the kitchen table, about to eat my beans and Cheez-its, when out of the blue I hear: “I know you’re planning to have an affair with a married woman.”

I jump halfway out of my chair, grab hold of the table, and gape at the bowl. “Did you say something?”

“Don’t play all blinky-eyed innocent with me. You heard what I said,” the bowl replies.

My jaw drops. I gaze intently at my bowl for a long, crazy moment, as though it might up and dance off the edge of the table. It just sits there, though—quietly, like a bowl of beans. And then it hits me: A joke! It’s a joke. I twist around, looking first over one shoulder, then the other. There’s no one there. I rub my chin, thinking something is not right here. I mean, I’ve told no one about my secret, except of course my sugar dumplin. Well, yes she’s married—it’s complicated. But, the thing is, she’s the only other person in the world that knows of our plan.

What is going on here?” I say.

“Nothing is going on here‘” the bowl says, “but I can tell you exactly where it will be going on, and when… and her husband’s cell phone number, which I’d be willing to share, at no additional costs.”

“What the…? You gotta be kidding!”

“Do you want it,” the bowl says, “to perhaps check in, make certain everything’s cool with the man?”

I see my face reflected back to me from the side of the toaster sitting a foot beyond my bowl—a distorted jungle of flesh with eyes, peering back—a confused, Scooby Doo kind of face. “Huh?”

“Hu…uh?” The bowl mocks.

“What is this?!” I glare at the bowl—my eyes emitting microwaves.

“An opportunity,” the bowl says.

“How so?”

“We both gain something from the deal.”

I raise an eyebrow. “The deal?”

Except for a single Cheez-it floating in the middle, the bowl of beans is expressionless. “Yeah, I make a few bucks, you get a few fu—”

“Why, you despicable bowl of…”

“Oh, Mr. Rodgers, Mr. Epitome of chastity—”

“What do you want from me?!”

“For a mere hundred dollars” the bowl says, “I won’t spill the beans.”

What choice do I have? What? I mean, this could very well spin out of control. It could explode into a Monica Lewinsky kind of thing. A big, ugly, humiliating international scandal. And my poor honey muffin; she’d naturally assume it was my fault. What a mess. Yes. No, no… no choice at all. I pay up—though that kind of cash is admittedly hard for an author to scratch together at a moment’s notice, like all of a sudden I have arthritis in the fingers grasping the bills. Nonetheless, I give my backstabbing, double-crossing bean bowl the hush money.

I take a moment to allow it all to settle, draw a few breaths, pick up my spoon—can I trust it? it seems all right—then shovel some beans into my mouth.

Advertisements

Misunderstandings

  …happen all  the time in relationships, especially those you have a strong emotional investment in. Misunderstandings in romantic relationships comprise some level of disconnect by one or the other persons involved. One or the other is offended by something said or implied, or perhaps something subtle, hidden (and, I might add, entirely imagined) within a misspoke word, phrase, or gesture. Ninety-nine percent of the time we jump to a conclusion triggered by some past hurt, which ninety-nine percent of the time is the result of a similar misunderstanding. What we so often fail to take into account is the fact that the person who we perceive as being hurtful, selfish, sarcastic or whatever, has no motive to be any of those things. Often, their motives or intentions are very much contrary to what is perceived.

“Oh, Honey, I like you a lot.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What?”

“I like you a lot? You used to love me. Now you just like me?”

“I didn’t say, I just like you; I said, I like you a lot.”

“You used to tell me you love me, all the time. You never say that anymore.”

“I do too!”

“I guess I should feel lucky to get an, ‘I like you’.”

“If you don’t like being liked then I’ll try not to.”

“So, now you don’t love me or like me? That might explain the generic anniversary card I got last month. You used to make them by hand, remember? You used to write clever and sweet things that you claimed came from your heart.”

“Well, I used to have a lot more time … ree-memm-bur? You used to be just a wee bit more grateful, too. But that was before I took this suck-ass slave job so I could afford the house-of-your-dreams and the pretentious Prius that you fill up at PB every chance you get, and then charge the gas on your Bank of America card!”

“Oh, like you’re Mr. Social Conscience with your cheap, plastic made-in-China Adirondack chairs that you bought at Walmart.”

“So sue me!”

“Maybe I will! Maybe I’ll sue you for abandonment, and meanness!”

“F@%K You!”

Wait a minute …

May I suggest that we assume the other’s innocence and love—that we perhaps stop for a moment, hit the reset button, and try reading the script through the filter of the admiration we feel for those people we’ve shared so much of ourselves with? the admiration we know lies just beneath the fear and self-justified suspicions lurking at the surface?

I mean, we might as well be happy.

I love you

These are nice words, don’t you agree?

Do you crave hearing them?

Do you feel compelled to say them?

I have puzzled over love my whole life. Perhaps this is a mystery we all share.

Recently, I met a woman. Well, it’s more like I re-met her after having not seen or heard from her in over a decade. In the few weeks since, I’ve experienced a familiar symptom: a ticklish pressure building up inside my chest and a compulsion to say (or write) those words. Should I say it? I love you?

I’ve given this a lot of thought and have decided against telling her how I feel. I mean, not like that, anyway—not a weak and worn, ‘I love you.’ I asked myself, is ‘I love you’ what I hoped to hear in reply? I love you? Yes, I wanted that, while at the same time I didn’t, I don’t.

I think I’ve had more than my fair share of romance. I’ve said ‘I love you’ a million times over—always ‘in love’ with someone. I would say it as though it might possibly convey the excitement, uncertainty, and anticipation crackling like thunder inside of me, like ‘I love you’ might transfer some of that energy to the person I loved and ease the crazy pressure. I’d say it as though I’d never said it before, like it was something unique and special—like a first kiss.

Say it again? Why? It’s just three words. Anyone can say I love you. Saying it would inevitably become a habit or even an addiction, and the words would in time lose their meaning. They’d become a substitute for the real thing. These three words are so often said out of a sense of obligation. That, to me, is sad. They’re often expected, craved—and sometimes requested, or even demanded. Everyone says I love you. It can mean a lot and it can mean nothing at all. Three words.

How much effort goes into writing three short words? None. They total eight letters for crying out loud!. Peck, peck, peck, peck … peck, peck, peck, peck … done. That’s how I feel? That, My Dear, is the laziest way of expressing admiration and respect and interest and joy and… No! I am not going to convey the baffling complexities of how I feel, and then hope to satisfy your curiosity with a cop-out eight letters!

No, I will push it to twelve.

I like you a lot.

News of the American Dream

I listened to NPR News while on my way to work, every weekday morning, through the late ‘80s and then the ‘90s − before the internet became convenient and accessible. I listened convinced I was hearing an alternate viewpoint to the propaganda and drama-laced news being offered through most other channels.  I paid particular attention to national, political, and US war news − always searching for signs of progress, believing that more and more people were becoming aware of the world’s problems and its causes, and were ready to support the right solutions.

In 2001 I quit my regular job and, since then, have rarely driven to work. No more NPR. I turned to the internet to feed my news habit. I started with Yahoo News, but quickly realized it was just a bunch of recycled, waffling BS with misspelled headlines and tons of consumerist plugs. Oh, no… How will this influence consumer confidence? Will it spook the stock market? Will energy prices rise on the fear of energy prices rising? Which famous brand names are likely to be hurt by this? Which famous movie star wore the same dress best?

Notice too how the political articles sound neutral, but then the photo of the politician who the article is about is often selected with a biased intent. Does the politician look stupid? angry? clueless? sad? happy? strong? sickly? handsome? ugly? brave? cowardly? conniving? honest? bigoted? compassionate? This, as I later realized, is a trick used by most other news outlets as well. So slick. The pictures often make a statement which is left out of the text. A lot of people get their news from the picture alone.

I then discovered Huffington Post, and thought, ‘Cool! Here’s reporting with a truly independent view of national news and politics. Well, maybe not ‘truly’ independent, but at least it had a more liberal spin than the heavily right-winged (or left, depending on where you stand in regard to the moral issues) mainstream media news.  Perhaps Huffington was giving me the same cleverly disguised left-over garbage that Yahoo offered. OMG! What happened to the American Dream? …the sacred fantasy of the three car family.

Huffington, in time, started looking like FOX News for liberals. Bought and paid for… the same as FOX.

I explored Alternet, Thinkprogress, Common Dreams, NPR, RT, ABC, CBS, CNN, Mother Jones, Truthout, The Guardian, and so on.  Most news sources are similar to the Republican and Democratic parties. Behind their thin, morally and righteously opinionated outer shell, they are really the same thing. They’re all owned by the same big banks, oil companies, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and possibly Walmart. We have a two party system that is really one party.  Fox News and Huffington post are giving us the same BS propaganda, covered over with opposing positions on the moral issues, while peddling fear and selling us the same shit (ipods, TVs, cars, health insurance, life insurance, cosmetics, and crappy food), distracting us from the massive corporate swindles, the greedy exploitation of our resources, and the snipping away of our human rights – all this, happening right under our noses.

The American Dream is a high credit rating, a fistful of plastic, a $75K job (which we look forward to retiring from), SECURITY and freedom… the freedom to buy the stuff we’re conditioned to want. The American Dream is a carrot dangling before us on a stick of phony campaign promises.

The blob

How old am I?

My grandson, Jory, celebrated his tenth birthday in June. He talked about nothing else for weeks prior to the momentous day − a recipe for disappointment, I believe – though, if that’s what it was, he seemed to take it in stride.

“What’s your favorite day of the year?” I asked, a week before the anticipated day.

“My birthday.”

Today, one month after his birthday, I ask him what he remembers about it. He thinks long and hard, then says:

“I went to Golden Corral.”

I ask, “How about your ninth birthday? Do you remember it?”

He searches his mind, then: “No.”

“Your eighth?”

More searching. “No.”

ect…

I can’t remember my tenth birthday. Are birthdays occasions one should remember? I know that while growing up, most every birthday was acknowledged with a special cake spiked with candles, and then ice cream, cards, a gift, and a song. I’m sure those occasions were enjoyable, and stood out from the days before and after, so shouldn’t I remember them?

Do you remember your tenth birthday? Your fifth? Fifteenth? Twentieth? Thirtieth? I don’t.

It doesn’t really matter to me that I don’t remember my birthdays. They come and go − no big deal. But this day (your birthday) comes once a year. It could potentially act as a marker, like those on a ruler, to provide you with a clearer sense of whom you are, where you came from, what happened when.

My life is one big blob, starting near the end of 1953, and extending to the present. I often find myself wrestling with a particular memory, trying to fit it into its proper chronological place. I want my past to be divided into neat, uniform increments that I can glance at and know where everything is and how it all fits together.  Birthdays should do this, but they don’t. They’re forgettable because they’re too predictable. If I don’t get a handle on this thing soon, it’ll become hopeless. It’s time to start living less predictably.

Wherever you go

I took the day off yesterday to be with family. My nephew, Derek, and his beautiful daughter, Leila, were visiting from Boston. And my grand-kids, Emele and Jory, had just arrived home after a few weeks of visiting their grandmother in Panama City. Unless I’m overlooking someone, thirteen of us (including my new buddy, Miles − not yet born, but giving it serious consideration), had caravanned to Conner Prairie, just north of Indianapolis, yesterday evening.

We had tables near the stage, thanks to my sister, Cindy, and her husband, Andy. Everyone had a blast, grooving to the ISO with Brody Dolyniuk singing Freddie Mercury’s parts, performing the music of Queen, cranked up to proper, rock-concert volume.

The massive crowd was civil and very well-behaved until a riot broke out toward the middle of the show.

FOOD FIGHT!

Fortunately the rebel-rousing was confined to just two tables − ours. There were no injuries (other than my niece, Kiley, being hit in the eye by a red seedless grape), and no arrests were made.

I’m pleading guilty anyway − of ignoring Queen for the last half-century. Not that I didn’t like them, more like I wasn’t paying attention. I have a perfect vinyl copy of A Night at the Opera in my collection, which I acquired at a garage sale in Buffalo, NY, back in 1996.

I’ve never once listened to it, until this past week. I put it on the turntable, cranked it up (to proper, rock-concert volume,) and was amazed at how varied and interesting the music was − not a dud on the LP. So, now I’ve added Queen to my list of favorites.

From Herman to Frank

The amazing crate of technology my dad brought home in ’63 arrived just in time for two hugely historic events. I remember staying home from school in late November of that same year, and watching JFK’s funeral on TV − so somber and slow − blanketed in whispered reverence. I remember my mom crying, and the strange empathy I felt for her and the mourners I saw on the small black and white screen. An image, very similar to the one below, is still within my reach.

And then, just a few months later, after dinner on a Sunday evening, my entire family sat down and watched the Beatles in their first televised US appearance. I don’t believe I even knew who the Beatles were at the time. We were watching The Ed Sullivan Show because this is what we did on Sunday evenings. Maybe it was Ed’s hype, prior to their performance, or the reaction of the audience every time they were mentioned or hinted at, but I recall having the impression that something really really big was happening. I was in the third grade then. The next day at school, all my classmates were asking:

“Did you see the Beatles?”

I believe everyone immediately understood the impact JFK’s assassination would have on the world. And everyone had a sense for their part in this history, like 9/11. But the second event was a birth rather than a death. A lot of people recognized that this was something new, and a lot of people connected with it instantly. It may seem irreverent to compare the arrival of The Beatles with the death of an iconic leader, but try to imagine what the world might be like without either of these. I suspect the world would be a better place today if the Kennedy brothers were allowed to complete their missions, and the world would be a less hopeful place had The Beatles not happened.

The Swiss Army TV-set was moved to New Castle, Indiana, in 1965. Then, in the late summer of the following year, my mom stunned her offspring by bringing home the album, Yesterday and Today. She loved Paul McCartney’s song, Yesterday, and bought the record specifically for it. But really, what was she thinking? I mean, did she expect us kids to keep our paws off her Beatles album. It didn’t last long. LPs were not designed to withstand the kind of abuse we heathen Jones kids believed was normal.

Baby you can drive my car… Beep beep’m beep beep, yeah!

Soooooo… what was the first record I spent my hard-earned cash on?

I paid 35 cents for the 45.

And my first LP purchase? This was the fall of ’66, as I recall. I could have bought, Rubber Soul, or The Stones’ Aftermath, Dylan’s Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, Pet Sounds, or any number of great albums, but I held out for Herman’s Hermits on Tour, a little know masterpiece.

I’m Henry the Eighth I am, Henry the Eighth I am I am. Whatever…

Notice the mystical message hidden within the lyrics? “I am I am.” Right, it slipped by me too, but I think it still managed to imbed itself into my psyche. That album woke something up inside of me… just for a fleeting moment, then fell back to sleep. But, hell, I feel like I completely redeemed myself with my next album purchase. You are going to say, “No way!”

But, way! It’s true. Ask my brother.

I was in Kreske’s Dime Store (they had a cool, old soda bar there), on Broad Street, in downtown New Castle, where I saw this on their tiny record display:

Kreske’s probably had no more than a dozen rock albums in their store. I bought Freak Out having no idea who The Mothers of Invention were. I thought the cover was the coolest thing ever, and of course I liked the title. This album really did wake something up within me. A couple of weeks after buying it (perhaps a hundred listens later) I threw away my Herman’s Hermits record.