Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words

While walking Jackson this morning I was overwhelmed by the creek in front of the house. Hopefully upon looking at it, a thousand emotions and thoughts will dance inside your head.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I am sorry this letter is so late. I’ve been trying very hard to get in the Christmas spirit. It’s not been easy, but I hope this reaches you in plenty of time and can forgive my procrastination.

Traditionally, I get my tree and decorate the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Things are so much different for me this year, but I am trying. I really, really am.

I didn’t cut my own tree this year. I ended up just buying one from Food Lion. It felt strange, but the weather has been so bad. It was of course covered in snow, so I just leaned up against the wall of the garage to dry out. Jackson, my dog, peed on it. (Don't tell Mom, she doesn't know. I hosed it off and used my blow dryer on it.)

We finally got around to decorating it last Saturday. Mom and I pooled our massive Christmas ornaments. We had fun, putting only the special ornaments on it and telling the little story behind each one. It was beautiful.

Note the was, about ten minutes after we finished and were off doing other things it fell over and smashed most of our ornaments. Not much we could do, but put it back up, pull out some more ornaments and redecorate it. Just it case, we tied the sucker to the window.

Mom and I lost most of our glass and antique ornaments. I’m just looking at it as another thing I have to let go of and move on. Seems this year; most every aspect of my life is seen through that attitude. Guess its just time for change, lots and lots of change.

Anyway, I’m not going to ask for lots of stuff. I have no place to put it and the way things have been going it would either get broken, fall over or Jackson would pee on it. So, instead I’m going to ask for things for other people. It will make them happy, and in return give me lots of joy, too.

First of all, could you make all my writer friends with new novels coming out all bestselling authors? Eric Arvin, Rick Reed, Carey Parrish and Jeff Young are dear people, all very different and all deserve success. They don’t all have to hit number one on the New York Times Best Seller List, but there are 52 weeks in the year…hint hint.

Then there’s my buddy Russ. Like me he’s become a professional Job Seeker. He’s been doing lots of Extra work in Atlanta for film and television. He’s had a pretty rough year. Please fill his Christmas stocking with joy, lots of warmth and a job, a really good one. He’s pretty much the only buddy that’s stayed in my life since we both were kids. He’s always been there for me. He deserves something special just for that alone.

And I got a little special request for two people I barely know. There are two young men that go to the church I am attending now, David and Thomas. Thomas wants to be a preacher. Santa, send him the means to a good education, prayerful support and a wise, loving heart. That will prepare him for what he wants to do.

Then there’s the other guy. His name is David. He’s young and wants to see the world. He’s in the same place and situation I was in at his age, so I know how he feels. Santa, send him forth. Let him live all his dreams and leave behind no regrets. He’s such a good young man. He deserves every dream he can come up with, without the mistakes that I made along the way.

Oh, and could you give the people in Washington a little more intelligence? They seem to be fighting like school kids, and letting the country they were elected to govern go to pot. If nothing else, ring the end of recess bell. I’m hoping that will snap them out of bickering like six year olds and buckle down to get some real work done.

Please give Lady Gaga whatever she wants and make her go away, far far away. Ditto, Miley Cyrus, Sarah Palin and that Beiber kid, they are annoying and very, very scary.

Could you also give the radio stations in this area some other Christmas music to play besides “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem”? It’s a wonderful old bluegrass carol, but the only people who seem to record it think harmony is flat, sharp, off pitch and loud. Please, at least make them sing through their mouths and not their noses. I’ll settle for Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” 24/7. I’ll still hate it, but at least Elvis is dead and I won’t feel the need to hunt him down and kill him.

Most importantly Santa please put something special underneath the tree of all those wonderful people that have been reading my blogs. I don’t know their real names, just the countries they are in. I’m sure some of them don’t celebrate Christmas, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve something special.

There’s Belgium and Switzerland. I’d avoid Chocolate for them. I understand they have access to the good stuff there. Also Greece, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal, they all have pretty awesome histories, so I was thinking something to make them kick back and relax. No Jonas Brothers CDs, I said relaxed not bored into coma.

Okay now, there’s France. I admit I did not like France the one time I visited. Of course, I was only in the airport, but still that’s no reason to be rude or call me a stupid American. I was just sitting in my seat waiting for my plane reading a book. There was no reason to hurl insults at me. But several people from there are reading all three of my blogs, and I’m sure they don’t cruise airports to hurl epithets at tourists. Please leave them something made in America just to show no hard feelings, if there is anything left that is actually made in America.

Which brings us to China, South Korea,the Philipines and Japan. How cool is it that the Orient is spending a little time cruising an inbred Redneck’s blogs? Please give them something that doesn’t break after one use or have lead based paint.

Now Santa, here’s a list of people/countries that have really impressed me. I never ever dreamed that someone in Croatia, Israel, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, South Africa, Russia, Iraq, Egypt and Brazil would ever be such a big part of my life. But I have watched a small handful of hits from each of those countries seemingly read every chapter of my novel starting with Chapter One. How great is that, Santa? Please give them all lots of love and maybe a car.

Now let’s move on to the English speaking, namely the US, the UK and Canada. I probably do actually know a few of these people, so please absolutely no fruitcake, unless it’s a rubber one, which will make them laugh and have the same taste and consistency of a real one.

Please do not forget the Scandinavians, Sweden, Finland, The Netherlands, Norway and my dear, dear Denmark. None of them made it to the family homecoming, but we’re a scary family so I’m not upset. The dudes and dudettes from that little pocket are my largest audience. Who would have thought that was possible? Please give them lots of music by the Carpenters, huge deposits in their bank accounts and big smiles across their hearts.

Please Santa, I know there aren’t a lot of them, but they have made me feel so special. I hope when they read my little nothings they find a little something; a laugh, a nugget of hope or a reminder of how wonderful they all are. It’s what they’ve given to me, so they deserve much, much more.

Finally, Santa, I ask for just three other little things. I’d like my Facebook friends to all know how much fun I think they all are. They are so diverse, so unique and all have kept me going during a tough, tough year.

Then there is Twitter. I know, I’ve become addicted. It seems so silly, but it’s such a lift to read the little thoughts and musings from so many different people, cast members of Days of Our Lives, some actors working hard at success, lots of common folk and Anderson Cooper. I’d like you to put a little something in their stockings from me, and a double helping to the twenty people who follow me. For those people, don’t let their lives be so dull.

Finally, make Kristin Chenoweth happy and find the one great true love that seems to have eluded her. She seems like such a great lady with a strong faith. It can’t be easy to be that successful and a Christian to boot. She keeps knocking our socks off, send her someone to keep her feet warm.

Thank you Santa. I appreciate your time and any effort made on my behalf. Have a great vacation and if you got time, I kinda need some socks.

Chicken Dancing

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Joseph's Song

To my surprise, I’ve been asked to sing at both services of church on Sunday. Not only has it been a long time since I sang, but I’m floored that my parent’s church has asked. Maybe they think I can’t decimate a Christmas song too much.

I’ve chosen “Joseph’s Song” originally recorded by Michael Card. It’s a simple little piece that I’ve always loved. It doesn’t stretch the range too much, but it’s so theatrical and that appeals to me.

It’s rare that we see or hear something from Joseph’s point of view. In fact, after the birth we know very little. His is an important part of the story, in some ways forgotten and disregarded. This little song makes up for that in so many ways.

As I have been rehearsing it, I have found myself getting emotional to the point of sometimes not being able to get through it. I’ve done this song many times during the holidays, back when I was singing regularly. It is one of a very small handful that I always got requests for.

Like a Stephen Curtis Chapman piece as it is deceptively simple. While not difficult to sing, I can actually do all three keys on the accompaniment track, which is rare. It’s the lyrics that make it complex, compelling and moving.

The song sings and listens like a stage play, with a defined three acts, each with its own conclusion. The words themselves roll easily off the tongue. As I’ve been rehearsing, They have struck chords of confusion, acceptance and love with subplots of anger, submission and faith.

I love the setting of the song. For those unfamiliar with it or the Judeo-Christian story of Christ’s birth, the setting of the song is Joseph, husband to Mary, holding the Christ child in his arms and talking with God. The song glides through all the emotions of a father holding his child and the first realization of all the responsibility that entails.

When I performed the song before, I always felt it was about Joseph’s choice, made months before the birth. Now I’ve come to realize that it is more about the moment, the conflicting emotions of that choice and how to carry on.

In oh so many ways, the legacy of Joseph is the realization of the circumstances of a life accepting the impossible and fearlessly forging into the strange unknown. In this song, he is at the very moment when everything he had been told, everything he believed in, waited for, prayed fervently for and had faith in has come to life, and is innocently sleeping in his arms.

For the first time, I think I understand the thoughts that had to have been running through his head. I’ve never totally comprehended the whole story in human terms. I've also found that when you can make a realistic connection the more mariaculous it all becomes.

Maybe it’s the maturity of my own faith. Possibly it’s the realization that there is a parallel, though in no way ‘supernatural’ with the point I now stand in my own life.

As I sang the words before, I had no real connection to the song, other than similar emotions of theatricality I could recall and use. Now as the words, hopefully in tune, come from my mouth there is now a common real emotion that breathes to life as I sing.

I understand the fear of being at a place in time so powerful I am not sure in which direction to step. I believe with no doubt that there is a reason why I have reached this point, but deal with the struggle of whether or not the whys of how I got here are important. I am overwhelmed with the responsibility of making sure the next step I take forward is done with confidence and direction.

And I know the confusion and hurt of being a fallible human and needing to know the reason behind it all. I feel the fear with every breath of not being prepared to be go through the moment I now find myself in. I am consumed by the moment itself, wanting to go back and change just a few things so that I can truly enjoy the moment, to absorb it more fully, understand it and use the knowledge to take on the next.

Like Joseph in this song, I also cling to the promise, the hope and protect the innocence of what I hold in my arms. For Joseph it was the baby who would become known as Jesus Christ, who would, no matter what your stance, religion or beliefs, in arguably changed the world.

For me, I only hold what’s left of my heart, my dreams and my life. I know there is something there worthwhile. I’m just not sure how to get all the pieces put together into the puzzle that will best fulfill the plan.

I am joyous that I have a chance to sing again, if only the one time. I am thrilled at a chance to do something creative and am blessed that such a simple little song can be used as catharsis for my own emotions.

While I doubt that my three minutes of warbling will change the world, I do look forward to the possibility that it will touch someone if only for a moment and make them understand whatever is deigned in their hearts they need to understand and carry on.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


It was a grand mish mash day. A little of this, a little of that and nothing done, nothing changed. My place is space wasn't moved.

Jackson doesn't seem to realize what a big dog he is. He is, after all, still a puppy. We are attempting to train him. Having been around another little dog before he came home to us last week, he keeps zipping across the creek into a neighbor's yard.

They have one of those little foofey things and Jackson beelines right over to him whenever he gets a chance. The neighbors don't want him there, so whenever he violates his perimeters we chain him up. Needless to say, he is currently spending a lot of time chained.

It breaks my heart, but it has to be done. Thank heavens, I never had children. Discipline and potty training would have sent me over the edge.

He doesn't bark much. At least not until the neighbors who live behind us walk their pig. Jackson freaks out whenever he sees Roscoe.

Roscoe can take or leave Jackson, but whenever he sees me, he comes oinking. Talk about not knowing your size. Roscoe jumps up on me like a puppy. He weighs, well he's a pig. I always end up on my behind and whoever's walking the unkosher, uncouth animal has to haul him off me.

My only problem with Jackson is he likes to sit in my lap. He's a border collie, shepherd mix. He is well past the sitting comfortably in my lap stage. I've been sitting on the steps the past couple of days and pushing his bottom half to the step. He doesn't seem to be catching on real quick.

I still feel he's awful lonely, but maybe I'm dealing with it better. It's nice to have that happy, waggy tail waiting for me first thing in the morning and when I come home from work.

Mom and Dad seem to be spending more time with him, too. Maybe it will all work out. Perhaps I should think about putting them on a chain when they extend their boundaries.

I may want to think about that one, though. What's good for the goose...

...the chicken dances on....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


All day long I've had a family Christmas tradition on my mind, one that I won't be a part of this year. It was always something I looked forward to every year for the last fifteen, since we started it. Alas, this year it's not meant to be.

The Saturday before Thanksgiving my two cousins in Maryland, Debbie and Diane, along with my Aunt Rachel and I gathered in Debbie's kitchen and spent the day baking Christmas cookies. It became known as Cookie Day. The four of us assembly lined homemade cookies until well after dinner, producing a hundred dozen or more.

There were certain types we made every year; cinnamon strips, oatmeal, peanut butter, sinful variations of chocolate. Every year we added a few new ones, recipes we'd found during the year we wanted to give a try. We took requests, too.

The rule was you had to submit your recipes to Deb by Halloween. She then coordinated everything. She'd split up the ingredients and arrange the baking order. She had two ovens, i.e. why her house was always the bakery, and she'd arrange the baking so the oven temps started at a lower temperature and went up as the day progressed.

It was a great day of fun, chat and chocolate, peanut butter, etc. Family members dropped in and dropped out all day long. We switched stations, mixing, cookie sheets and baking.

Then Sunday after church, we'd meet at Aunt Rachel's for lunch, whose house is between Debbie and Diane's. After a great meal, we'd trot back over to Deb's for any last minute touches to the cookies, i.e. drizzling icing and divide them up equally amongst everyone who pitched in.

Most of the family simply had them around the house until Christmas. I always took mine to work that Monday as my gift to my co-workers. I think I looked forward to that most of all.

So all day long, I realized that this Saturday was Cookie Day and I wouldn't be there. Maybe next year, I'll do the same thing in Tennessee or be able to travel to Maryland for the bake fest. Even if I just do it myself next year in my kitchen here, I will.

After thinking about it all day long, I came home and checked my messages. I was floored at the number to my email and on Facebook from former co-workers at Barnes & Nobel lamenting that they will miss me on Monday, because I will not be bringing in cookies.

I hate to sound "punny", but that is so sweet. It's good to be remembered for something. I think of all the jobs I've had, my job as newsstand lead in the Lancaster, PA Barnes & Nobel is the one I loved the most. The co-workers were all like family, and the customers to some extent even more.

Unfortunately, this year I will be giving my Lancaster family only cookies of the heart. I hope those that lament the lack of confections on Monday will at least remember me fondly and know that were it possible I'd be there encouraging them to ruin their waist lines.

I miss you all, and believe me I'll be missing Cookie Day more than you,

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Hulu has not been kind today. I hate it when it gets even more temperamental than usual. We have “The Dish” a.ka. “The Dump” and it is non-compatible with TiVo. So when I have time to watch tube I Hulu, when it’s in a good mood, which wasn’t today.

Mom and Dad spent almost the whole day in Boone, which was nice for me. I don’t often get a day of solitude. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad for me, but I take what I can get.

I didn’t pull a “Risky Business” or anything. It was just kind of nice to roam around the house and the yard knowing that I wasn’t going to get interrupted every few minutes. My parents mean well, but they aren’t real good at understanding the term “privacy”. I do my best not to violate theirs, but then I’m not sure they even understand the term. Maybe I don’t either.

Jackson and I took several long walks today. I have to admit; I am trying very hard not to get too attached to him. Even though a puppy, he’s a big dog, a border collie/shepherd mix. My parents just can’t handle him, so I fear that they will return him soon.

As much as it will break my heart, I think that’s probably best for him. He’s used to being around two children and another dog. Suddenly finding himself living with two old people, and another not that far behind, has got to be miserable for him.

I’ve told them if they are going to do it, to do it quickly. They seemed to be hesitating. I think because they think he makes me happy. He does, but I don’t want the lovely, lively creature to be miserable either. So whatever is best for Jackson, will make me happy. Apparently there was another family that wanted him, if they have kids I think it would make Jackson happy.

I also sang a little today. It seems like such a silly thing, but I got a couple of my old tracks out and warbled a little in the car. It made me feel good.

And I spent a few hours reading. For some reason all my life whenever my mother found me reading she always told me to stop wasting my time. “Go do something constructive like watch T.V.” So I don’t get the chance to do it unless they aren’t around.

My favorite way to read is to sit down with some hot tea and read a book from start to finish. That’s a rare treat. Today I got about halfway through Fannie Flagg’s new novel “I Still Dream of You”. I love her style and wit.

You probably read “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafĂ©” or saw the movie. That’s her most famous, and I think one of the worst. Oh, I adore it, but all of her other stuff is sooooo much better. I usually give copies of her “A Redbird Christmas” or Lee Smith’s “The Christmas Letters” as gifts. Two great suggestions for those of you looking for moving, funny family holiday reads.

Other than that it was a simple Tuesday. I like it when the days are just days. They don’t all have to be special. They just have to be lived. Today was one of those days.


I know it’s Tuesday, but this was the first chance I had to continue a week of daily blogging. I just felt that I wanted to document a week for myself. You know, one of those self-examination things.

It was a long day. The first time in a long time I’ve had to work non-stop, 11 am to 10 pm. It was a test of stamina and endurance. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that long popping in and out of freezers before. I had this image of my looking like “Lucy Ricardo” when she looked herself in that freezer on “I Love Lucy”.

Basically, I think, I’ll just be working on days the store gets a truck, Monday Wednesday and Friday. Monday is a two-truck day, regular frozen foods and ice cream. I hate ice cream now. Those cases are heavy and sometimes sticky. It’s not pretty when an anal retentive gets a fifty pound cardboard box of Moose Tracks stuck to his shirt.

Like working newsstand at Barnes & Noble, stocking frozen foods fits into my sense of order and organization. I found the most frustration with bags of broccoli florets. I can’t get them to lay pretty. I’ll figure it out.

And I am slowly getting the three aisles of freezers to look nice. I don’t have the time to just pull it all out and arrange it neatly, but since as I get stock I have to rotate it I am slowly getting it all “anal retentified”.

Now if I can just get my body used to the physical labor. The mountain air, and the recent rains are playing havoc with my joints and rotator cuff. I was pleased that when I got home last night at thawed out I hadn’t added any new cuts or scraps. That’s a good sign.

Of course, there are some bruises on my fingers, wrists, forearms and neck, but they weren’t my fault. Some ten year old kid thought it was funny to race away from his mother and kick the freezer doors closed on me. He’d slam the door on whatever body part I had stuck in there and race back to his Mom laughing like a maniac. Unfortunately, she thought it was funny, too.

She didn’t think it was funny though when the little a-hole pulled the full shopping cart over on himself. The kid wasn’t hurt, darn it. All I could think while the kid squalled and his mother blamed her undisciplined child's behavior on the store was “Karma, kid, karma.”

While the job is physical, it’s not mentally taxing. I’m still trying to figure out where specifics go, but that will come in time. It’s not like the newsstand where things were laid out in a logical order. I’ve learned the categories, but why aren’t all the different types of peas in on place, and all the Banquet Chicken dinners in one place instead of sprinkled through out? It drives me crazy, but I’ll live.

Everyday I always run into people I know or from my past. It’s kind of like having your life pass before your eyes but getting paid for it and confoundedly dull. It’s one of two grocery stores in the county, so I’m not surprising that eventually I’ll run across just about everyone.

Most of the people I don’t recognize until they tell me their names. Most don’t bother identifying themselves, assuming I remember them. Frankly, if I don’t recognize you either time is your enemy or I forgot who you were for a reason.

So far, I haven’t run across anyone who made my skin crawl. I’m kind of looking forward to running across them. I am anxious to see how I handle it. I’m ready for that band aid to get ripped off. Perhaps that means I’m getting better.

What does surprise me are the number of people I recognize and snub me. I really doesn’t bother me, but I do wonder about the snub. I have heard pretty much all about my life, behind me back, none of it correct.

Are people foolish enough to think I can’t hear them when they are less then five feet away? Sure I have my head stuck in a freezer, but there ain’t nothing wrong with my hearing. Most of these people who feel the need to tell their companions about me, I swear I’ve never met.

They always seem to substantiate their “facts” with “so and so told me". I usually am glad my heads in the freezer so they can’t see me laughing about the fact that I have no idea who “So and So” is either. Today alone I have been abandoned by my wife to raise my three kids, just gotten out of prison, once made a porno film now available on line and retired from the government.

I guess I should be flattered, but it makes me feel like Paris Hilton. I’m the Paris Hilton of Redneckia. It would be more flattering if I were thought of more like Ricky Martin. At least I’d been doing something brave and not just stupid.

People say not to worry about it. They’re just jealous. I could take it to mean jealousy if they were getting their gossip even remotely correct. Let’s just face it, there ain’t a lot about my life to be jealous of. I just find it ridiculously petty, and I get angry with myself for letting it bother me.

Face it; it’s the part of Southern charm that I find evil. Everyone is so sweet and kind to your face. I have learned, the hard way, the kinder and more friendly they are the better you are to stay as far off their path as possible.

I have come to terms with the fact that they think it’s unkind to be honest to your face if they don’t have something nice to say. What I see when they do a complete 180 when you turn around is shameful cruelty.

I try to convince myself that I don’t pay for their sins. However, I have learned that in small towns in the South, you may not pay for someone else’s sins, but you do pay a price for what others assume. Unfortunately that price is usually pretty high.

If nothing else, I'll end up with a nice collection of stories and characters for "Odd Rocks Across the River". I'm hoping Ryan Murphy will read it and decide to use it for the premise of the TV show he's developing for Kristin Chenoweth. Wouldn't it be great for my future wife to play all three of the female characters? A restraining order is kind of like an engagement, isn't it?

However, I don't want any one to think that all of the people in this area or patrons of the store are mean an nasty. The overwhelming majority are sweet, endearing and adorable. There are just of few pustules that stand out, loud mouths who think that every one agrees with them.

I had a wonderful conversation with a couple about my age concerning the fact that we never dreamed we'd live to be in our fifties. I don't think I knew them, but I look forward to seeing them again. And there have been a small handful of people who remembered me from a play I had been in years ago. That is always a jump start to the heart.

Regardless it was Monday all day long. I was deliciously worm out by the time I got home. The dog was wet. Dad was in bed. Mom was still hoping Bristol Palin would get voted off "Dancing With the Stars"

...and the chicken dances on...

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Sundays have always been a special day for me, even growing up. Now much, much later and still growing up, Sunday is the day I look forward to.

As a child it was church and family. The most vivid of my childhood memories took place on a Sunday. An only child, my mother had a brother and sister with five children between them, all of us living within a few miles of each other. I like to joke that we were raised commune style, the six of us cousins are more like brothers and sisters.

Regardless, on Sundays you could almost always find us all together at one house or another. We attended the same church then retired to our separate homes for lunch and by late afternoon we all ended up under one roof. The parents did whatever parents do while the six of us; three girls and three boys terrorized Mother Nature.

By dark, it was popcorn and all of us kids gathered together in front of the tube to watch “The Wonderful World of Disney”. Then we’d find some other innocent trouble to get into before being ripped to our separate homes for bed.

Even as we grew older, Sundays were still a time for worship services and visiting, either company at your house or going to visit someone else. Before I moved back to Tennessee, Sundays was still at time that a cousin or two, all but one and now myself, still in Cecil County, got together for snackin’ and chattin’.

I miss that. I miss the days when on Sunday you found your way together with someone you loved or a trip somewhere with family of heart or of blood that would bond a memory to your soul. I keep waiting for company. I should just stop making excuses, get off my duff and go visit someone.

Sundays have become so ritual these days. I got up this morning, walked Jackson then showered and went to church. At lunch, walked the dog and then watched what Hulu, which isn't always kind to my old computer, would let me.

I miss my church in Maryland. I had only been a member for a little over a year before I made the decisions that brought me here. I had been a member at the church I grew up in, but found another that ironically seemed more like family. I’ve never attended a church that had people walk up to you and when they said “How you doing?” honestly meant it.

I was just started to get really involved in it when I moved. My cousin Diane was a member there, and I served on the hospitality committee with her. This meant that I helped plan and “do” social events planned through out the year. I helped with the cooking and clean up. It was fun. Of course, I always loved being around Diane.

They had a great little Praise & Worship team that I got asked to be a part of. Any excuse to sing and I’m there. I loved it. Music is kind of the way I worship, although I’m sure some would prefer that I worshiped a little more quietly and little more on key.

I am now attending the church my parents go to. For a small country church it has enough attendance for two services. I enjoy sitting between my parents again, but to be honest, I am extremely uncomfortable there.

I do like the pastor, Lonnie. He’s intelligent and educated speaking with compassion and heart. He’s a good man. When it comes to pastors he’s got big shoes to fill when it comes to me. I worshiped under the guidance of two wonderful and powerful young men, Russ Reaves and Timothy J. Kraynak, but Lonnie does a fine job. He’s probably the closest thing I’ll find in East Tennessee to the sort of “Preaching” that speaks to my heart.

Now the music at the church is another thing. They do have a nice little Praise & Worship team; the members vary from week to week I assume depending on who’s available to rehearse. Almost always there is a woman by the name of Louise Johnson whose voice and demeanor remind me a lot of Southern Gospel legend Vestel Goodman.They do a fine job with more contemporary songs.

Then there is the choir itself. Let’s just say they are a “Shut up and Sang It” kind of group. There is nothing wrong with that. They do pretty much exclusively Old Time Gospel music, which I adore. I was even part of a Southern Gospel Quartet for years.

However the choir at this church doesn’t pay a lot of attention to rhythm, pitch, or harmony. There is nothing wrong with that, and the churchgoers seem to enjoy it. I say good for them. If someone is getting enjoyment or joy out of it, who I am I to stand up and say, “Excuse me, but could everyone at least sing the same words?”

I have to admit that today during the sermon that I realized something. I think the reason why I am here, and at that church particularly is that I have unresolved anger issues that I need to deal with. I thought that I had forgiven and moved on, but I think maybe I just shoved the anger in a box, labeled it forgiven, shoved it the back closet of my brain and moved on.

I’ve not been able to get Thom Bierdz book “Forgiving Troy” out of my head today. If you haven’t read this book, go grab a copy now and get ready for a moving rhapsody of success, horror and forgiveness. This is a stunning look at the other side of success, the struggle with self worth and mental illness and the imperfect perfection of letting go of pain to find the true meaning of "You" through forgiving the unforgivable.

Thom Bierdz and I exchanged emails for a few months about ten years ago, as he was just completing this book. At least I think it was Bierdz and I. For all I know it was a secretary or a stalker or something, regardless it was via his personal website. We are close to the same age, and I was just beginning to notice some cracks in my mental veneer.

At that time I was not aware of the tragedies that had disrupted him. I knew we were about the same age, I a few years older, and remembered him from “The Young and the Restless”. I saw an interview with him on “ET” or something and wanted to look at his artwork. I found his website and ended up sending an email and a brief exchange started.

Then I went to Africa for the first time, came home and had a car wreck and never got back into the email exchange. I did however purchase the book, by this time knowing the story of his courage courage, torment and struggle to forgive his brother. The power of it did more that resonate, it changed me.

I don’t think I understood why his story keeps popping back into the recesses of my head until maybe today. There is so little here in East Tennessee that gives me peace or happiness, because I have not really forgiven. Granted nothing happened as shocking or horrific as what Mr. Bierdz had to endure, but things happened that destroyed my trust, my faith and worst of all my hope.

They say that acknowledging the problem is half the battle. I fear that it is only the beginning, but I am ready to try. Some of the pain is so ingrained, like my bike scars from childhood; they will be difficult to remove. It’s not that it must be done; it is simply something that should be done.

I want to not feel looked down upon by the entire population of East Tennessee. I want the freedom to be myself in public without fear. I need to forgive the ostracism, the assumptions and in some cases the hateful lies that cause me to cower with a weak smile on my face until I can make it to my car and sob out loud in my car.

Until I am able to do this I will never be past this numbing depression. I will succeed. I will forgive…and be forgiven. I will be at peace. I will.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


When being interviewed for my current position, I was asked what kind of job I was looking for. My honest answer? Lounging by a pool while a myriad of blonds peel and feed me grapes for $100 an hour. It’s not quite worked out that way.

I am enjoying it. It keeps me busy, but it is much more physical than I am used to. My body must adjust itself. I was used to constant movement, but I am constantly lifting and moving boxes of frozen food fifty pounds or more. Between my age and the rotator cuff surgery I had a few years ago, it will take a while, if ever, that I don’t come home exhausted.

Plus there’s the added element of the freezing temps. Even with gloves, my fingers get cold and a little numb. I’m sure that too will ease in time. What I am surprised at his how much I am slicing and cutting my fingers without my knowledge. I don’t realize it until I get home and kind of thaw out.

I also need to remember not to lick my lips in the cold temps. My lips are dry, cracked and beet red. If anyone says anything, I’ll just fess up to finally having a torrid make out session with Kristin Chenoweth. At least then, they won’t think I’m a total dork.

Funny, one never thinks they will end up where they are. I don’t think I ever thought about where I’d be or what I’d be in my fifties, but here I am, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t what I expected. Not that I have regrets, this just isn’t at all what I expected.

Granted, while I am not blaming anyone but myself, my situation is a result of things totally out of my control. Now I did make the decisions that put me in the situations where I could be backhanded across the psyche a couple of times with no warning, but essentially I’m the one who said “Let’s give this a shot”. I just didn’t mean it literally.

Saturday nights used to be so much different for me. I was never a big party guy, although I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having done my fair share. I was also never big in the social pool. Maybe that was part of my problem.

Working, that’s what I used to do on Saturday nights. Opening up cases of Toaster Strudel and ripping the skin off my knuckles is not the kind of work I’m talking about. I have worked a number of jobs where I was scheduled, and probably because of the way my life was in my 20s & 30s, is why it never bothered me.

Saturdays in many ways are and will always be two performance days for me. There was something wonderful and satisfying knowing that you slept in on Saturdays and relaxed, because you knew you were going to being using every ounce of strength you had. By the time the evening curtain was down and the make up was off, you were still bouncing off the walls.

I miss that, dearly. I especially miss the days in Nashville, when I not only did a couple of shows, usually a musical, but also a late night Improv show. I loved that, finishing up very late at night/early in the morning sometimes knowing you had a great night, sometimes awed at the power of someone else on the stage or knowing that it just sucked.
Nothing can compare to that.

Off the record but up front here, I am not a singer, but I can fake it. I have three left feet and ten big toes, but be patient with me and I can fake being a dancer, too. Adding the bizarre range I have, a nice bass register, nothing in the middle and then a nice tenor range I never had a qualm about going out for musicals.

Being a character actor, I was happier when I had the chance to play a lot of different roles in one production. Now I didn’t mind nice juicy roles, but I always looked so young and I’m not your attractive leading man, so as I aged I was difficult to cast. If you were casting a musical where you needed one actor to be six different people in two hours, I was your man.

While I had my share of successes, I think I always excelled in shows that were either ensemble or multi storied; “The Good Doctor”, “Greater Tuna”, “Cloud Nine”. I think my record (other than ‘Tuna”) was either a production of “Annie Get Your Gun” where I think I was a different character in every scene and a production of “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” where I played seven different roles.

Now I love to sing, but it’s probably the hardest thing for me to do on stage when not part of the chorus or duet, blah blah blah. Solos terrify me, ironically after I leave the stage. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but usually after every solo, I throw up. Stage managers I work with just know this and are prepared.

I remember dear Margie, who stage managed a musical version of “Tom Sawyer” written and directed by Richard Kinter. I played Sid. I LOVED that role and that production, but I had this big time solo in the last act. After I finished it, I had to run around to the other side of the stage and make an entrance for another scene.

Margie would just be standing in the wing, calling cues as I ran off after the song and held up a bucket, which I promptly barfed in. She handed me a tissue and a squirt of Binaca as I dashed past her to hit my next mark.

Of course, I haven’t been on stage in over ten years. Ironically until about a year and a half ago, I was mostly singing to fend off my creative withdrawl, in church, for weddings and funerals. I always did my little Josh Groban imitation and quietly slipped out to worship the toilet as soon as I could.

Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not doing any of that anymore. I have Saturday night’s now to uhm…well…think about what I used to do on Saturday nights. Maybe that will change.

I always said I got out of theatre because I was tired of being in my thirties and still being cast as children. Now that my age is QUICKLY catching up to me, that decision will be rethought.

For now, I am content putting one foot in front of the other in a freezer smashing my fingers and chapping my lips so you can have Jimmy Dean Sausage Biscuits for breakfast. Just remember, in my mind I’m performing in public and throwing up after my big number.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Power of My Own Stupidity

A character in my novel says, “I enjoy the power of my own stupidity” in a chapter that I posted not long ago. Ironically that little quote has been bouncing around in my head non-stop lately.

I’ve started working again. Just a part time, minimum wage job stocking frozen food at a grocery store. It’s a fine job with nice people.

I feared working in public. I still battle being past the walls of my room, but the actor in me kicked in. As soon as I clock in this character I’ve created, known as me, kicks in.

The other day, as I was stocking ice cream a woman came to me and asked where all the “Nippelodian” flavor was. I smiled and told her I was unfamiliar with it but “Let’s look.”

Quickly she grabbed a carton and said, “Here it is. Right in front of you” with obvious disdain. She held it up to my face, pointed to the word “Neapolitan” on the carton and sounded it out phonetically for me as she pointed with her finger, “Nip-pul-oh-de-ann”. Finishing her lesson with “Can’t you read?”

I apologized and told her I had always called it Neapolitan.

She shook her head in disgust and said, “It’s French, you can’t talk the letters the way we do.” With that she tossed it in her cart smashing two loaves of bread to oblivion and was on her way. Probably to complain to someone about all the smashed bread on the shelves.

I just laughed to myself and continued to fill up the case with Blue Bunny. Not more than a half hour later a man came up and asked where all the “Nippelodian” ice cream was. Obviously, I’ve been wrong…about a lot of things.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’ve been having so much trouble shaking this depression. Oh, I’m functioning blindly and faking being normal real well.

That’s part of it. Trying to prove to the world that everything is fine, when you know that what few strings are left of the fabric in your mind are worn, frayed and snapped.

It’s so exhausting. I don’t want to function. I just want to lay flat out in a road somewhere and just let my mind and body throb.

The mental pain is hard enough. The constant ache of desperation takes its toll on me. The consistent clawing at my psyche to rid all the ache gives me headaches, robs my sleep and then plasters the scarring with guilt and shame.

The physical pain is even worse, especially in the last week since I’ve forced myself to become physical again by taking this much needed job. People don’t realize how physically painful severe depression is. Of course, most people aren’t even aware of others in depression, not a true malignant depression.

It is as though your body is trying to reject your mind. Every muscle of my being is sore and tender from the fight. My skin is covered in scratch marks from itching the rashes that come and go, mostly at night making what little sleep I get a nightmare.

I’m fighting, one foot in front of the other, and I am so tired of it all. I see pity or misunderstood disdain all around me. I am constantly battling tears; anger and the need to just pull inside my head, protecting myself from the hurt, the hurt I cannot control.

But I am getting better. I swear to God with every scratch of my fingernails, I am getting better. I am able to concentrate more, on other things beside the overwhelming desire to just stop and not move on. I am demanding that I concentrate on anything but the black vacuum sucking the life out of me.

I write a lot, obsessing about the novel. I know it’s not good, but I have to get it out. I keep fighting going back and starting from the beginning again. I’ve moved on to the second book of the trilogy, incorporating bits and pieces of what little of my mind is left into the main character.

The struggle to put into coherent words somehow gives me strength to deal with it. I avoid drugs, except aspirin and Tylenol PM. I can’t afford the medical/psychiatric attention I probably need anyone, so this is what I am doing.

But I continue. I have to. That’s have the battle isn’t it? It has to be. I pray minute by minute that I am doing the best that I can. That how I deal with this is intelligent and the right thing to do.

Then like Kellen in my novel maybe I am just holding on to the power of my own stupidity. But them, that power is really the only true defense any one has.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Sucks

I’ve never been big on sweets, unless of course its dark chocolate or cheesecake, and costumes always seemed to get me in trouble, so Halloween was never a really big holiday for me. However, with the changes in my life, I seem to be spending the day looking back wistfully.

When I was a tiny lad, still not that much taller, I think I enjoyed it. We were always quite poor, but on a couple of occasions a costume was purchased for me. I remember specifically a Magilla Gorilla costume that I wore several years. There are also pictures of me in a Deputy Dawg costume, but I only recall that through pictures.

In those days, shortly after the invention of the wheel and when telephones were just for listening to the neighbors on a party line, Halloween costumes consisted of a thin hard plastic mask, usually a cartoon character and this flimsy thing resembling a hospital gown, only black. Looking back, the “gown” usually had frosty white or silver writing on the chest proclaiming the name of the cartoon, as if anyone was dumb enough not to know who the character was.

The masks were flimsy with little holes cut in the nose to help you breathe. Needless to say, by the end of trick or treat time, you had a runny nose, the little rubber thread of the mask had slipped out of the staple and if it was cold the mask had cracked. Good times, mmm boy!

As I got a little older, I got creative with the costumes, making horrifyingly terrible costumes out of whatever I could make from my allowance of fifty cents a week. (That was good back then!) I don’t remember a lot of these costumes; I probably blocked most of them out as being nightmares that are better damaging my psyche subconsciously.

I do remember in the third grade I dressed up like Phyllis Diller. Yes, I was strange even then. My two first crushes were Lesley Gore and Phyllis Diller. I recall making that decision because part of her shtick was being ugly.

As a kid I always felt ugly, was called ugly and thought it was something I couldn’t ruin. So I used my allowance to buy a white fright wig, slipped on my mother’s gaudy housecoat and somehow found a long cigarette holder, her signature prop of the time, and went door to door gathering enough candy in my paper bag to make me puke until Christmas.

I mostly recall it was a time for all of us cousins to get together unreigned. The night to me was always more about laughter than fright. In the dark ages, shortly after the discovery of America, around the dawning of the age of Aquarius and before Madonna unleashed the downfall of music, everyone went door to door at every neighborhood they could possibly canvas. We collected hard candy galore, but just as often home made treats; cupcakes, candy apples and for those who wanted their houses toilet papered, fruit.

Then some bozo started putting razor blades in apples, and LSD in cupcakes. I always felt this started in Baltimore, but then as far as I knew the world dropped off around there. Regardless it kind of ruined the fun. For a few years we weren’t allowed to start eating our treats until an adult looked through it. Personally, I thought that was just an excuse for someone to pilfer the good stuff, but at nine what can you do?

Somewhere around that time I lost interest. When we moved to Tennessee, we lived, and still do, way up on the mountain and never had trick or treaters. I did indulge in costumes a couple of times, always leading to trouble.

Once I dressed up like a tube of Crest for a party in Abingdon. On the curvy mountain creek road between Mountain City and Damascus I had a flat tire. At that time I drove a 1968 Ford Maverick we had dubbed “The Titanic”. Needless to say, the spare was also flat, dry rotted more likely, and I ended up walking three miles in the dark knocking on doors until someone let the life sized toothpaste use a phone.

There was also a Homecoming incident that will forever live in infamy. Let me state emphatically here that I hated high school with a passion. I won’t go into detail, but I was an outcast and really didn’t care. However, I decided senior year that I would go ahead and just get involved in everything so if nothing else high school wouldn't be a total wasted memory.

So Homecoming week each class was given a theme and they had to come to school dressed in that theme. Ours was Longhorns of the future, Longhorns being the team name, whatever. So I went all out.

The night before I platted my hair with Dippity Doo, think slimy hair shellac that smelled like medically enhanced mint. I got up in the morning and let the multiple pig tails out, my long black hair now sticking up in five and six inch pieces all over my head. I put on a pair of yellow swim trucks and a pair of black faux leather knee boots my mother had. I wrapped my chest in Saran Wrap and painted everything that showed green. The crowning touch was a pair of fourteen-inch antennas Shane Moody had made for me.

I hoped in the car and drove to school…and promptly ran out of gas on the way. Fortunately for me, there was a gas can in the trunk, so I just grabbed it and walked to the nearest gas station and was back on my way. No big deal…HA!

First of all, I didn’t realize this was a costume contest. Didn’t know that until the school assembly, where I was announced as the overall winner for the week. I had to get up in front of the entire school dressed as a green saran wrapped red neck, not once BUT THREE EFFING TIMES!!!

Somehow I managed to get past the much too public trauma, until the following Thursday. Thursday is when “The Tomahawk” comes out, the county newspaper. That’s when I discovered as I filled up my car with gas, some one had snapped a picture and sent it in. So there I was, dressed for Longhorns of the future pumping gas with the headline, mind you, “Aliens Invade Johnson County Homecoming”.

Not been much for dress up since…wonder why. Of course, these days unless you get invited to or throw a Halloween party the only excuse for a costume is when you are “allowed” to for work. I never bothered. Usually people would ask what my costume was and I always told them I was dressed as someone who wanted to be there.

So this year, Halloween for me is “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. A few of my cousins will bring their kids by. Mom and I have made up a few little bags of treats. I actually got Mom started doing that.

When I lived in Rising Sun, I lived in a ground floor apartment that was literally in the middle of downtown. The first year I lived there, I was overwhelmed. I hadn’t had ghouls and Madonna ring my doorbell demanding wrapped candy ever. It made me think of being a kid when I enjoyed the holiday.

I decided after that first year to do what I could to make what rugrats and drunken teenagers who rang my bell relive a little fun. All year long I'd find little inexpensive toys and stock up. I bought those little Halloween bags and filled them with wrapped chocolates and what I considered really good candy.

No bags of mixed Dollar Store candy for my trick or treaters…no no no. I filled my treat bags with full size candy bars and made special trips to Campbell’s store in Oxford where I could still get things like candy necklaces, Pixie sticks and button candy. Each bag got one surprise, a Pez dispenser, a matchbox car or something bizarrely wonderful like toy reindeer that poop Milk Duds.

My house got to be popular, not only for the candy but because when I opened the door I had “Rudolph” running endlessly on the TV, and I put the speakers to my stereo on the porch and started playing Christmas carols. And the kids I knew got special super sized treat boxes, filled with candy, little toys I’d chosen just for them and a book, usually a paperback of a favorite when I was growing up.

I lived in that apartment for ten years. When I gave it up and moved in with my Aunt Irene, it was back to Halloween being nothing.

The first year I lived with her, the Saturday after Halloween I took her to the grocery store. A little boy I’d guess at being around eight kept pointing at me. Finally he ran up to me and says, “Hey, mister, you moved didn’t cha?”

I told him yes. His retort was, “Yeah, I figured. Halloween sucked.”

Come to think of it, maybe being an adult at Halloween isn’t so bad after all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

When A Stranger Smiles

I have to admit that I’ve always been wary of major miracles. Biblically whenever the Red Sea was parted or an arc was built, someone had screwed up royally somewhere. Maybe it’s my own personality flaw, seeing exactly where my life is now, and I should be demanding some major turning water into wine.

I am also keenly aware the pennies add up to dollars. To me, little non-essentials tossed on the ground pile up quickly into guarantees that life is so much more than a random series of events. I don’t know that I always see the glass as half full, but I have made it a point to wear down the square pegs until I can shove them, like it or not, into round holes.

Maybe it’s just that I haven’t noticed when I bend over in the road to pick up the shiny object that the truck would have plowed me down had I not. Maybe instead of finding the comment hysterical I should have been offended. Maybe I’m just more insane than even I imagined. Then again, maybe that’s not so bad.

These days, while admittedly struggling, I find such comfort in the tiniest of miracles. The fact that it is now the last week in October and my Dianthus are still in bloom makes me smile. Knowing most of the leaves have turned and fallen, and most mornings are so thick with frost it looks like snowfall, there are still bright red, purple and orange petals daring me not to sigh every time I step outside. I know it is egotistical, but those hardy little blooms are hanging on as long as they can, just for me.

It’s been too long a time that I haven’t had to have some sort of boost to get me through the day. They always seem to pop up just at the right time, like the lone slug of cool water in the middle of endless desert wandering, saving me from knee buckling surrender and strengthening me into questing further for the proper door. I never knew where they will come from, or what form they will take, but they are always without a doubt right there, in my face, daring me not to acknowledge them.

Not that long ago, driving to work from Rising Sun to Lancaster the day after we had buried my Aunt Irene I realized that it was Friday. Friday was the day she would always give me a ten dollar bill and have me bring home magazines for her to read. She was a hoot; you’d think she was the Ladies Home Journal and Southern Living type. No, Aunt Irene liked the Hollywood rags, not the real trashy stuff, but People, Us and OK.

Sometime between pulling out of the drive way of her home, I would now live in alone until it was ready for sale to strangers, and the 45 minute drive to downtown Lancaster it hit me that it was Friday, and she’d not be needing her weekly dosage of newsprint. I would not be heading home that night and listen to her tell me all that was going on in the world based on what she had just read. She was gone.

The drive to work was uncontrolled pain. I kept my foot on the gas, knowing I had no choice but to continue although my heart racked with pain to my very soul. I kept thinking just let it out. I’ve got a long drive and I’ll be fine by the time I pull in the parking lot. But the tears and the sobs kept coming, causing me more than once to pull to the side of the road just to be able to breathe.

By the time I made it to Lancaster Proper, I was still sobbing, throat and tear ducts raw and chest heaving for breath. I was in no shape for work, but determined to continue. I didn’t know how, as this Tsunamic wave of grief was unexpected and unexplainable.

Lancaster, a small wonderful town in Pennsylvania, is reminiscent of NYC in some ways. (Anyone from Lancaster reading this is probably laughing hysterically) I say this, as the town is made up of a series of very tight, almost familial boroughs. Each of the little divisions having it’s own unique landscape and personality.

My trip to work included crossing into and through what I dubbed “Penns-hispania”. It is my favorite part of the town, an old fashioned series of buildings reminding me of movies set in the city in the ‘50s. Kids played stickball in the street. Neighbors chatted with each other from stoops and the little shopkeepers swept the sidewalks and seemed to know all their customers by name. Of course, this was a Latino neighborhood, without subtitles, so it pressed me to pick up a few words here and there.

There was one traffic light in this neighbor that always caught me. This particular morning was no different. It turned red, and stepped on the brake and waited. As I sat, I continued to sob, crying deafening my ears. I suddenly realized that the crying I was hearing wasn’t my own, but that of a baby in a carriage on the sidewalk right outside my car.

I turned to look, spying a young woman, mid twenties, doing her best to calm the shrieks of a beautiful baby boy. She picked him up, patted his back and rocked him in her arms. The woman was frustrated, but carrying on. For some reason our eyes locked…and she smiled.

In that instant, the miracle of calm seized my body. In that moment the connection that had been broken reconnected enough to give me what I needed to go on. It didn’t make sense, but in those moments it isn’t sensibility that heals, but the warmth of human emotional touch.

I continued to travel that road, alone and broken, for almost a year. Three or four times a week, even when not caught by that traffic light, I would see the young woman and her son. More often than not, there was a brief exchange, the nod of a head, the tilt of a glance or a smile shared between strangers that seemed to give just that extra little tuft to the day.

As these letters form words on this page I struggle to shape into sentences why that story is as important for me to form as it is, I feel, for you to understand. I guess the best way to put it at this point is that you are my smile from a stranger and these words are my smile in return.

I have no idea who you are. We have little, if anything, in common other than we both read English and have access to Internet. But I am here and you are there and for one moment in time I trust that we connect. I hope that we connect.

There aren’t droves of you; just a few and one is all that truly counts. The fact that at one time or another my rabid prose have been looked at on every continent of this world amazes me. The only proof of each others existence are letters I’ve arranged in sequence on a screen, and you being the next higher number in sequence in a column. Some of you I do know or at least know of, but very, very few of you I have actually met in person.

Odd, don’t you think, how personal some of our relationships get with people we only know via cyber-space? There are people who have become such important fibers in the fabric of my world. Twenty years ago, I would have had no chance to brush anywhere near these people, and they do fade in and out. In today’s world, in my world of today, you whom I only know exist via a tick on a screen makes up a reason for me to breathe.

Dear Fabiana has moved back to Brazil, and I haven’t heard from her in two years, but I can still feel her thoughts and prayers for me, as I hope she feels mine. I still get emails from Belle and Carey. Jeff G, Otter and I still comment on each other’s blogs. It should boggle the mind how close and small this cyber world is, but instead it feels comforting, natural and encouraging.

And then, it can be frustrating. I found out a few weeks ago my cyber-buddy Eric Arvin was seriously ill. Having never met the man, not even sure exactly where he is, but it was frustrating not to be able to do anything to personally encourage him or comfort his family.

I felt silly putting notes on his “page” but I was powerless to do anything else.
It’s not like he could say, “Hey Doc, could you move the ventilator tube so I can check my emails?” Fortunately, he has recovered and is back in contact.

Eric is a gifted novelist. (What two, three new books coming out in the next year?) Although we have little in common, his wit and warmth are very much a part of my world. I kind of got to know him as his first book was published, so in many ways I’ve watched the child artist grow into a mature craftsman via cyberspace.

Like you, now reading this. I know nothing about you. You know nothing about me but whatever your mind may glean from these words. It’s not important. What is, is that we have shared an exchange. Although that may not bring forth the parting of the Red Sea in our lives, it has in someway placed another penny in that pile adding up to the next dollar.

I wish I knew your name. I wish I knew where you where. I wish I could add your face to the register of smiles in my head. I wish I could some how say thank you. I wish I could give just a small portion back of the monument that you have given to me.

Then again, maybe none of that is important because as strangers we have shared a smile.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dork 'n' Roll

Several weeks ago some cherished friends now Facebook faces, Stacy Quaid and Mike Kloppenburg to be exact, did one of those tag things on me. Time has escaped and I never responded until now. I apologize up front at the time lapse. When you spend the majority of your days in swirls of terminal boredom and primal fear, in Piscean double time, a straightforward time line is impossible.

This “tag” concerned the simplified over complication of listing 15 albums in your collection. Still unsure of exactly what the instructions were, most influential, most recently listened to, burned in effigy in the park, something along those lines. When completed it was supposed to be cut and pasted somewhere and the cooties were to be spread somehow on the Facebook playground at recess or during math class. Once again, I have forgotten the instructions.

For some reason, much of it embarrassment, remorse, and guilt, the thought never left my head. I can only say that obsessions led me elsewhere. As it seems all in my life always leads me back to things not picked up and put in their proper place, this particular pencil point down finally screamed sharpen me so I can be pencil point up, ready to use.

Confession is good for the soul. Put not off until tomorrow what can be done today. Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clear to the bone. Does a former drill sergeant make a bad psychiatrist? Here it goes, in my own psychotic manner:

First let me say, or is that finally, my musical choices are kind of my artistic privates. I don’t usually flash them to just anybody. When it comes to music, you are definitely Goldilocks and I am definitely all three bears, my choices ever the reflection of my refined Piscean Schizophrenic Obsessive Compulsive Chameleon with Southern Baptist tendencies personality.

The first song I ever remember being taught the words to was “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles in the back seat of a car driving somewhere with my neighbors Bonnie and Lonnie when I lived in Havre de Grace, MD. I remember, not quite fondly, the repercussions of singing said song on the pew in church the following Sunday. I was four maybe five, but learned swiftly that the Beatles and Southern Baptist worship services in the 60’s were a less than perfect blend.

The first song I ever chose to learn is still my all time favorite, Gale Garnet’s “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”, desecrated in the 70’s by Helen “I Am Woman” Reddy. We had just moved to a trailer park in Port Deposit, I had to have been six or seven at the time.

Our neighbor trailer always had the radio on and I could here it playing while I was playing in the yard. This is where I was really first exposed to music. Sandy Posey, Herman’s Hermits, Lesley Gore and, for some odd reason, Jerry Vale always evoke very distinct memories of that yard and my dog, Tippy.

As I grew up, my tastes grew eclectic and odd, much like me. My “dorkification” was cemented by either a sick day or a snowstorm, when I was stuck inside watching television, specifically the old Merv Griffin show. This particular day he introduced a new singer by the name of Gloria Loring. Even now, I feel goose bumps recalling her sing “The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener”.

Ms. Loring, most of you would now know as the mother of one Robin Thicke. Some will recall her turn as Liz Chandler Blah Blah Blah on “Days of Our Lives”. Some will remember her as the woman who sang (and co-wrote) the theme to “Facts of Life”, or from from #1 single “Both to Each Other (Lovers and Friends)”.

I recall her as the voice that made me stop in my hyperactive tracks and for the first time in my life be moved emotionally. Needless to say my musical choices all now are about a moment in time frozen by a chord. Each choice in my collection, like the endless notebooks or bits of paper scraps, recall a specific moment vividly recaptured for the time it takes to listen to it.

Like, Ms. Quaid, anything by the Carpenters floors me. Granted the last few albums were at best merely uses of vinyl. Karen Carpenter was my John Lennon. I actually wore black for three days when she died. Skipping the two first biggest hits, everything from “Rainy Days and Mondays” to “Solitaire” skipping lots of okay stuff to the final “Make Believe It’s Your First Time” (the one on her solo album, not the one her brother ruined for the posthumous album) makes my heart sigh.

I have to throw in here near the top “Katy Lied” by Steely Dan. This album was given to me as a Christmas gift by my high school girlfriend, Dawn Miller. (Dawn wherever you are thanks for the Steely Dan addiction) This is probably one of my few albums that doesn't read “dork” from miles away.

Now I guess I must admit my obsessions for the BBC. The two CDs I seem to play most often these days are the soundtrack to “Torchwood” and a collection of John Barrowman show tunes. Barrowman is no Sinatra, but I love it when he takes the actual stage show arrangements and just records them, which he tends to do like no other. As for the soundtrack, the Torchwood theme is my ring tone.

I am also stalking loving Kristin Chenoweth, her album “As I Am” a particular favorite. I love the fact that she’s a Christian, and this being her gospel tinged album, feeds a specific place in my heart and CD rack. “Borrowed Angels” makes me cry. “Upon This Rock” gives me faith. “The Song Remembers When” gives me hope and “Taylor, the Latte Boy” gives me giggles. Couple that with “Bernadette Peters Live at Carnegie Hall: Sondheim, etc.” And my stage diva quotient is happily filled.

(BTW Miss Chenoweth, I am the man of your dreams, you just haven’t met me yet and I fear the coming restraining order.)

Next, I must take my dork taste internationally. Anything from Tina Arena or Robbie Williams can be found, in alphabetical order then by release date thank you, in my CDs. I am particularly fond of Williams “The Ego Has Landed”. I know I’m one of the three Americans that buy his music, but good or bad (i.e. Carpenters) his music stirs me.

The character of London Chamberlain in my novel is patterned somewhat after him. I know, in the first part of the trilogy it’s a nasty character but later on he becomes a vibrant positive stroke on the canvas. Mr. Williams, you are my “Rock DJ”.

Bringing it back, I obviously have a large swath of Contemporary Gospel. Michael English’s “Gospel”, Jonathan Pierce’s “Sanctuary” and Jody MacBreyer’s (nee Avalon) self-titled CD are usually at hand. These collections as a whole just continue to supply strength and purpose. These are the one’s I sing along with. I love to sing, not very well unless you turn off your hearing aid, but the cuts move me and I can belt along badly with all my heart.

Then there’s Glen Campbell. I have much of his songbook. I think when more time passes, he will become the music historian’s Elvis Presley. (Throw stones here) From country to pop to gospel the man can just sing it all, and nail it every time. Ironically my favorite of his is “That Christmas Feeling”. Like watching “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” and “Rudolph”, the year is not complete until I’ve experienced it a dozen times.

Kudos as well to “The Best of Bubble Gum Volume One”. I’m a sucker for this bouncy, cavity inducing stuff. The Brooklyn Bridge, The 1910 Fruitgum Company and Lou Christie lead this pack of factory-produced confections. Volume One is my favorite because it contains the unforgettable bouncy “Simple Simon Says” (put your hands on your hips, let your back bone slip, Simon Says…)

Whatever happened to music like that? Fun bouncy stuff no deeper than candy bar wrapper but hardy enough to keep you smiling for hours. Yeah, yeah today’s music is superficial, too, but “Slap dah ‘ho” and explicative deletive repeated ten times to thump thump thump doesn’t make me smile for hours. I find it the equivilent of Rush Limbaugh and Christine O’Donnell having a child together. The thought makes me stop and then hurl until I can strangle myself with my large intestine.

Speaking of awful, I do love my REALLY bad albums. Burt Reynolds “Ask Me What I Am” is particularly so awful it’s fun. He does two patter songs “Slow John Fairburn” and “Room For a Boy Never Used” that are actually wonderful. The rest is a freight train speeding over a 4/4 time cliff. I always have much more confidence about my musical abilities after a listen.

Mac Davis, The Chi-lights, Jason Mraz, Billie Holladay, Gordon Lightfoot and Breathe (Whatever happened to them) all have earned spots on my rack. Along with such Who? Non-legends as The Kurth and Taylor Band, Dee Jones, Dr. Alban and Brian and the Nightmares have warranted shelling out some cash to fill my stash.

I haven’t bought any music since I left Maryland. In fact I think the last CD I purchased was either Robbie Williams “Rudebox” or Michael Buble’s whatever it was called. It’s Michael Buble for crying out loud! The dude may be an obnoxious jerk, but he can sing!

Even though most of you have died laughing at the revelation of my musical taste or shook your head in pity, one or more of these acquired tastes are a part of my world each and every day. Music and song are my bread and water. Okay, so I like peanut butter and butter instead of jelly. They’re my tastebuds.

I will end this wordy musical blog by thanking Ms. Quaid and Mr. Kloppenburg. Once again, maybe it’s only my taste, but I enjoyed chewing and swallowing these CD’s that have earned a place in my life.

As a thank you, I have decided to name my first son Quaid Kloppenburg. I will, of course, refer to him by his initials, making him QK Beebe. He will join myself and my fictional daughter Bobbie Pheobe Beebe and the three of us will listen to cringe worthy albums together forever.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Feed Santa

Earlier in the week I found a note, clearly displayed, in the kitchen. This is not uncommon, as my mother consistently leaves Post Its around as reminders to herself. Maybe they are for Dad and I, as when we see them, we usually get it done.

This particular note struck my eye, as it clearly stated “Feed Santa”. It was late for us, 9 PM, so my first instinct was to get out a plate of milk and cookies. Although according to that wonderful commercial they’ve run the last couple of years, you get a better haul if you give him cheese.

On second thought, knowing my mother’s handwriting is notoriously hard to interpret; I thought I’d better ask. There was a huge debacle with the word “Pepto” several years ago that still has retailers in Harford County, MD shaking in their boots.

So I saunter into the den, where Mom is enjoying her monotonous marathons of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and casually say. “Mom, what’s this note that says feed Santa?”

She gave me one of those ‘can’t you read’ looks she always gives and corrected me. I’m so glad I asked. Imagine my embarrassment of trying to open non-existent Christmas gifts under the non-existent tree in October, ruining perfectly good cookies and milk when all that needed to be done was “Feed Starter”.

I’ve said before, my mother makes bread and sells it as a hobby. It’s quite delicious and she makes any where from twenty to thirty loaves on average per week for friends, etc. It’s made from an old fashion ‘starter’ and twenty-four hours before you make the dough, you must feed the starter, which is, of course, the leavening.

Now I leave all this to Mom. She’s the bread maker; I’m the cheesecake maker. She don’t mess with my spring form pans. I don’t mess with the jars of mystery liquid in the fridge. All I know is you feed it with instant potato granules. Where the origin of this starter comes from I don’t know.

Mom doesn’t know either. You can make it, but she says she doesn’t know how and never has. My guess it is made from the remains of an original sour dough bread loaf back when the Indians occupied the territory we now live in. It’s definitely something “yeasty” and would probably set off an atomic chain reaction if dropped. Scary stuff, but the bread is worth the risk of toxic disaster.

This “starter” is one of those Southern things that seems to carry on no matter how hard you try to kill it or forget it. Like counting the fogs in August will tell you how many new snows there will be the coming winter. If your ears are burning someone is talking about you. Wrap tea in a cheesecloth and put it in a teething baby’s mouth to soothe them, general bizarre but dead on stuff.

Of course, the whole incident has me thinking. How many times in my life have a looked at something, as much as two or three times, determined the instruction and carried on, not realizing I had misread? Would my life be drastically different? Would the world?

Could I have altered the entire course of my life, simply by stopping and saying out loud, “What’s this note about feeding Santa?” Could disaster have been avoided if someone on the Titanic said out loud “What’s that white thing out there?” Could history have been changed if someone in Florida had asked “What’s a chit?”

Perhaps I’m over simplifying, but as I age I discover more and more that it is more often the tiny things adhering together that make up the big things. Often a smile from a stranger on the street has buoyed me into getting through the rest of the day. Knowing I reached the little goal I set for myself that day piles up to making a whole week go by.

I wonder what would have happened had I paid more attention to the details. I wonder how many wonderful friendships I could have had if I hadn’t dismissed someone because I didn’t bother to “Feed Santa”. I wonder what kind of career I would now be enjoying the benefits of if either myself or someone else had bothered to get just five seconds more of information?

I have lived my life with few regrets. It is not what I wanted or expected it to be, but I’ve been lucky. I’ve lived every dream I’ve ever had. Maybe not on the grand scale it was in my head but I have been to Africa. I have performed on a stage in front of thousands of people. I’ve had plays produced, my words read by strangers and had the chance to meet people that were my heroes and thank them for being that for me.

But I wonder now what more could have been. Could it have been richer? Could there have been less tears and frustrations? Could there have been someone that I could have helped?

Maybe the right question is how much better can whats ahead be? Perhaps, that’s what we all should be keeping in mind, especially now when the world seems to be so full of hate, loneliness and lies.

Feed Santa.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Reunion Recap

The 2010 Family Reunion has come and gone. It looked like rain, but held off until well after everyone left. The most eventful thing about the reunion was the fact that it was relatively non-eventful.

There was plenty of food. I won’t have to eat again until next reunion, and if I do it will definitely not be chicken. Lisa’s steak fingers went quickly, including the ones I hoarded. Diane bought a sinful amount of candy at the annual Mast General Store trek. There is still enough in candy bowls and containers all over the house to make us puke all over each other this Christmas.

Why is it when people leave a reunion they always leave food behind? Next year I’m going to request they leave stocks and cash behind. That way I could at least afford the dental work and maybe some liposuction.

All the families were well represented. My grandparents had eight children; seven of the eight still living were present. All but two procreated in ways to make the Amish blush. The baby, Mike didn’t marry until he was in his late forties and my Mom just had me. I have multiple personalities so I was probably enough. I used to like to tell people that I had a twin, but I’m the one who learned how to swim.

In fact of the second generation all but two were there. I was the youngest of the Maryland gang of grandchildren, and the oldest of the TN/NC gang. I spent most of the day being regaled with stories of the tortures my older cousins put me through.

You know, normal childhood stuff: being tied to things (trees, railroad tracks, anything stationary they could get a rope around) and forgotten for the rest of the day; being locked in the grading shed while the other cousins pawed on the door and played a recording of bears from episodes of “Daniel Boone”, constantly being thrown in the creek whenever anyone saw a snake, etc. etc.

Then the younger cousins whined about tortures I put them through. ?????????? I was too busy getting over psychological trauma to torture my younger cousins. Besides, they were the mean ones. I wasn’t messing with them.

Well, okay, Jeff and I used to turn the grading shed into a haunted house and lock his little sister in it. In our defense she was a screamer and a chicken. If we didn’t lock her in she wouldn’t have been able to enjoy our hard work and we’d have just wasted an entire Saturday. If she didn’t want to go through our haunted house, Mary Sue and Cleve should have had more children.

In years past, reunions have always brought about some memorable moment. Once my Uncle Mike rode a pig, then fell off and broke his arm. That was fun. Oh, and my cousin Bobby fell out of a tree one year and broke his arm. I’ve broken lots of bones, but never at a reunion, sharpening a pencil once, but never at a family event.

The third generation was also in full force. Although loud, they are a rather tame little bunch. They played Frisbee, ate candy they were told they’d had enough of and petted the neighbor’s potbelly pig. I think the problem is they stick too close to the house and have way too much parental supervision. None of them fell in the creek, got bitten by anything (not even another cousins) or broke anything. Today’s kids are just dull.

Usually the matriarchs are a pretty good source of entertainment, but this year they were all just kind of old. Neither Aunt Dessie or Aunt Ida were able to make it. They’re my late grandfather's sisters, both in their mid to late nineties. Dessie’s the one who’ll shoot through the screen if you ring her doorbell after dark and Ida’s the mean one. Maybe next year.

Last year there was kind of a pall over the whole event. We had just lost Aunt Irene, so there was an excuse for nothing really happening. I think maybe the family is in a rut. Eathen, now 4, is still the youngest family member. For a big group of procreator’s, don’t you think four years is a long time to not be popping out a kid?

Five members of the third generation are now married. I think it’s time they got off the pill and on the stick. They’re married now; let’s see some rug rats. Not that not being married ever stopped anyone from having kids before.

Note to Ryan in Oklahoma: you’re the musician stud in the family, how about knocking up some groupies, dude? I’m tired of being the black sheep in the family. I’m officially handing the mantle over to you. Let's see some descusting, shameful behavior young man!

And while I’m pointing fingers…Denmark? Excuse me? Where were you? You got a formal invitation. We had chocolate and my cousin Jeff’s daughter had pigtails. I have to say I’m a teensy bit disappointed.

Next year there had better be a little more Danish representation, other than the one’s from Hostess we ate for breakfast on Sunday, or a big group of rednecks hopped up on fried chicken and chocolate will be coming over there and dragging your sorry butts to Tennessee. It won’t be pretty!

Overall, it was a really nice time. The annual bike ride in Damascus went well. Personally, I always skip that. I grew up in Tennessee. Riding a bicycle down the side of a mountain with no brakes has lost its thrill.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to skip the annual “Let’s take group pictures until you want to kill your self” portion of the event. I hate having my picture taken. Kristin Chenoweth naked covered in chocolate and holding a freshly fried Taylor’s Pork Roll couldn’t entice me to enjoy having my picture taken.

Somehow my cousin Randy’s wife and two kids managed to get out of the picture thing. Next year, I’m gonna discreetly tell a few people I’m taking a walk and conveniently not show back up until I know all camera lenses have melted, all batteries in the county have been exhausted and I see children running into each other in the front yard blinded by multiple flashes.

The only thing we really needed at the reunion this year were potatoes. There weren’t any potatoes, just potato salad and I’m allergic to mayonnaise. Next year we need French Fries or a Potato casserole of some kind and more cheesecake. All the cheesecakes this year had pecans and caramel, which in my opinion is just a waste of a good cheesecake. (Are you taking notes, Denmark?)

Regardless, despite it being ordinary with loud but well behaved children it was a good reunion. I hope next year is pretty much the same. Just in case someone from the family is reading this (like people in my family can read) next year somebody needs to break a bone or have a baby or at least have a kid bite another kid to make it a little more memorable. And SOMEBODY from Denmark needs to show up!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hello, Denmark!

I have discovered, to my delight, via a little tab, that there are a surprising number of people reading both of my blogs from Denmark. I cannot put into words how this both warms and tickles my heart. The thought of people I don’t know, especially from outside the States, reading my haggard little words makes feel a lot less haggard.

Now I admit, I am a poorly educated Melungeon from East Tennessee. This means I do sometimes confuse Denmark with the Netherlands. You aren’t the people with little boys who stick their fingers in things; you are the people of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. I apologize for my metaphors. Please keep in mind I have to take my shoes off to count to eleven.

I realize that you all, or ya’ll where I come from, probably think by clicking on the URL you will be watching that strange polka dance we here in America do at ball games or when we are drunk, usually both. Instead you get a melancholy “Dan” who took his moniker from the Werner Herzog film “Stroszek”. This must confuse you terribly and I apologize again.

Perhaps you are like me and wake in the morning with the feeling you are supposed to be somewhere else and are searching the computer for life in a different chain of mountains. Personally I have always believed that I was switched with another baby at birth. While I pine for champagne and caviar for breakfast, I know in my heart there’s some guy in Manhattan who feels the need to milk cows and dip snuff at sunrise.

Regardless, whoever you are out there—thank you. I wish I had more to offer you than the words I battle with my old laptop to make sense. I hope sometimes you are touched, sometimes you are moved and I truly hope that sometimes I make you laugh out loud. That’s my point, like the little chicken in the aforementioned film whom at first you think is dancing but by the end you realize is just trying to keep his balance while the world spins out from beneath him. You are very welcome to my heart.

In fact, hop a plane and come on over this weekend. We are having a family reunion, and being the single guy I never have any “family” of my own to bring. You can be, heck, YOU ARE my family. It can’t be more than a ten, twelve hour flight from Denmark.

You can be here in time for dinner. Don’t worry about bringing anything or a place to sleep. There’s plenty a room and, oh God, way too much food. Mom and her sisters have been cooking and baking all week. There’ll be fried chicken, ham, Lisa made steak fingers, deviled eggs, cole slaw and enough Southern dessert concoctions to send the entire population of Denmark into diabetic coma until the next Olympics.

Don’t worry about a place to sleep. It’ll be just like Christmas when I was little around here this weekend. At night, the house will look like the battle scene from “Gone With the Wind”; everyone parked and plopped everywhere snoozing away. You are more than welcome to worm yourself a comfortable space anywhere.

I will warn you though do not; I repeat DO NOT, sleep on the floor by the couch if my cousin Robin is sleeping there. One Christmas, while sleeping on the couch, she threw up on her little brother Bobby, who was sleeping on the floor with his mouth open. This caused a chain reaction of vomit amongst all the cousins sleeping in the living room waiting for Santa than none of us care to repeat.

Oh, and if you see something you think may be a bear, it’s probably just a shadow. Believe me, when you see a bear, there will be no doubt it’s a bear. And don’t be silly and run to get your camera and run back out. If it’s a bear, just run in the house and stay there until he’s gone. ‘Kay?

Now you more than likely will see a huge snake I have named Hoser. (Read my previous blog “Critters” for more details.) My cousin Billy’s wife and several others have seen him. There is a debate going on as to whether he is a copperhead or a water moccasin. Personally, I don’t care. He’s huge, python huge and I’m pretty sure he ate a chipmunk for breakfast this morning which is just rude.

He pretty much lives by a big rock in the creek and I wish the family would stop trying to look at him. He may come to expect the attention and never go away. It’s not that I am unfriendly. It’s just that he’s a snake, a big effing snake and like Martha Stewart having an orgasm I know it’s possible, but I prefer not to be reminded.

Don’t worry about fitting in, you’re family. Here in the South, when you are family, it doesn’t matter. Most of us Southerners don’t even like our family, but we figure we’re stuck with each other and only have to see each other at Christmas, reunions, funerals and occasional birthday parties for matriarchs.

I think the best definition of a Southern family I ever heard came from my Aunt Mag. We had a surprise birthday party for her on her 80th birthday. I think that a surprise party for any one over seventy is kind of mean, but no one ever listens to me.

Anyway, there were easily over 200 people who showed up for Aunt Mag’s birthday. My cousin Bobby and I were sitting near her and he asked her if all the people were her relatives. Wise and wonderful Aunt Meg, smiled and pointed at a small group and said, “Well, them right there is my blood (Appalachian for relatives) everyone else is just family.”

Now if you decide to come, you can’t miss us. Just drive up the mountain to the Bloody Third. We’ll be the house by the creek with all the rednecks and cars in the front yards. You’ll be able to tell it’s us because none of the cars will be up on cinder blocks. You can see us from the road, probably with a small cluster of people at a big rock by the creek looking for a stupid snake.

I will remind you we are all natives of Tennessee, North Carolina and Maryland, and one Chickasaw from Oklahoma, but she’s harmless. We’ll probably be confused ask you a lot about Heidi and the Alps, neither of which you have. Just smile and nod, we won’t take offense. We are quite comfortable in our stupidity.

You can ask us about Elvis and Dolly Pardon. The former is dead and from Memphis, which to us mountain folk is another country. This other is a ninety-minute drive southwest and a completely different set of mountains.

Some may ask you about Hamlet and Shakespeare. Don’t panic. Just make something up. I’m the only one in the family that probably knows anything about Shakespeare and they are probably just trying to make me feel like less of the black sheep. When approached with a subject you don’t know about just ask about tomatoes, who made the chocolate pie or anything having to do with NASCAR. You’ll fit right in.

I would try to avoid anything about health. Some of the older members will try to out “sick” you. If you have a headache, they’ll have a migraine. If you have trouble with your knees, they’ve had their legs bitten off by bears. It’s a lose/lose subject. Avoid it.

Regardless, you’ll be welcome and have a great time. Afterward, we’ll be able to brag about the really cool family we have descended from Heidi who flew in from the Alps, and you can go home and say you spent the weekend with folks who eat fried chicken and throw up on each other for holidays.

Now, I do not mean to exclude to people reading from other countries. You guys from Portugal, UK, China, Spain, Greece and Australia are more than welcome to. Even you, the one dude from Germany that read “Let’s Talk About Your Underwear”, please come too. (Bring Baklava).

I don’t have to extend an invite to the people from the US. You should just know you’re welcome, unless of course, you are a Democrat. You can still come, but stay away from Bobby and the people from Maryland. Bobby likes to shoot stuff and well the people from Maryland are from Maryland—‘nuff said. (Bring ice.)

Even if you can’t come to the reunion, thank you for being a part of the family. Even though I don’t know you and probably never will, you have a special place in whatever may be left of my life. I hope some in some way; I can earn a place in yours.

Come to my blogs anytime. Leave a comment and say “Hi” if nothing else. You can always plan on coming to the reunion next year. It’s always the last Saturday in September. Mom says bring napkins.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Among the many things I find myself having to get used to again is the sudden arrival of creatures. Now matter what task I undertake, no matter how simple, it seems there has to be some kind of consideration or interruption of a critter.

This morning while my father and I sat on the front porch, he pointed out a large bear sauntering down the rock bank to the creek at the bend in the road. I keep forgetting that I am now deep in the mountains and not deep in the Amish country.

Somehow I prefer horses and buggies to mammals three times my size and, well, buggies. I have been back in Johnson County since the first week in May and have encountered more furry things than my entire 15 years on the Chesapeake Bay. I have seen more snakes, deer, bobcats, rodents and even something that looked like Bigfoot and Martha Stewart had a baby. Of course, the latter was in the check out line at Food Country, so I can only assume that it was a high school football player or the homecoming queen.

Granted I enjoy the hummingbirds, and the chipmunks and the squirrels, but I am not particularly fond of looking out my bedroom window at 3 A.M. in the morning to find a buck staring back at me. It makes me scream like a girl. My parents are in their seventies, they really don’t need that when they are trying to sleep.

The road we live on used to be called Forge Creek Road, because the road followed a creek, duh. They put a new road in 1970 that cut a straighter swath to Mountain City, but bits and pieces of the old road still exist, and we live on one of them.

It is quite beautiful, and visitors love the fact that they can hear the creek in the background of everything. It’s one of those things some of us take for granted and some of us ignore or go postal. They seem to forget that everything beautiful has an ugly side.

In living with a creek close enough to pee in from your front porch, the ugly side is snakes—in the creek, on the banks, in the road, in the yard, curled up on the riding mower seat… There are people who think differently, but I for one am not putting a red ribbon around a copperhead’s neck, naming it Seymour and kissing it on the head every night before I go to sleep.

They are slimy, temperamental and territorial creatures. They don’t like being disturbed or disrupted and if you’ve ever seen one eating they are in dire need of some table manners. And those suckers get BIG!

There is a water moccasin that lives near a big rock from my Dad’s “fishing bench” that would give our garden hose penis envy! He must be dining large on the trout and horny heads because he is grossly overweight. Then again, most creatures in this neck of he woods are.

Obviously Walt Disney never lived in the Appalachian Mountains. If he had Bambi’s mother would have been wearing a tube top barely covering 75 pounds of extra cellulite causing the audience to stand up and scream, “Shoot her again! Shoot her again!” I digress

And the bugs, Lord the bugs! I saw a “Jeopardy” question/answer that the population of the Earth was equal to the population of insects per square mile. I think that has to be per square yard here on Forge Creek. Everyday I sweep down spider webs, beetle carcass and dead insect of some kind. You’d think that since all the snakes are squatting the least they could do is eat more of the squirmy flying things in the yard.

At least the snakes and bugs don’t poop in the yard, unlike the rabbits, deer and the neighbor’s potbelly pig. Mom and Dad haven’t had a dog or a cat in years, but we still have to check our feet before we come in the house. You cannot imagine how difficult mountain critter feces is to get off your hardwood floors!

Oddly, we don’t have ticks. I think if you go way up in the ridges you’ll find some, but it’s not like in Maryland where you have to do a tick check after walking to the mailbox. (See my blog “A Good Old Fashioned Roll In the Hay” for more on tick checking.) This does mean that most in this area do not have the Lyme’s Disease excuse for everything. People here tend to blame everything on the Democrats, liberals, and Obama.

I don’t see many skunks or foxes either. We can blame that on the bears. Either that or the skunks and foxes being smart enough to move to the burbs. Now I do see more of those as you head down the other side of the mountain towards Boone. Perhaps this has something to do with ol’ Dan’l who wore a coonskin cap. Since it was made of raccoon, perhaps the foxes and skunks all migrated toward his settlement thinking it was a safer place to raise their young.

Boone also has ticks. Perhaps since Boone has become a university town, the tick is more intellectual. It makes sense. I can just imagine a couple of ticks discussing cyclical and linear configurations while chowing down on some college student/hiker thigh. Foxes and skunks are pretty smart, too. Hey, they’re smart enough to not be here.

In fact, personally I think skunks get a bad rap. If it weren’t for the whole stink bomb thing, I think they are pretty cool. I once had a litter of skunks born in a little fenced off portion of my yard when I lived in downtown Rising Sun. Of course, I thought they were kittens for a few days, but that was my mistake not theirs.

The babies were very sweet and extremely social. As long as I didn’t try to pick the babies up, the mother seemed to be cool. Of course, she liked the tuna fish I fed her every day, so that may explain her toleration. After about three weeks they all disappeared. I wonder if maybe I should look for them on my next visit to Boone?

As for the bear, they tend to be harmless, of course I’ve never gotten close to one either. I doubt they are cuddly and cute like, say Gentle Ben or that guy who answered the phones on “ER”. Bears always leave a rank smell behind as well. Obviously they have some hygiene issues. They don’t often come down from the mountains, but my assumption is our creek is like a Chinese restaurant to them. “Hmmm, I’m in the mood for some sushi tonight, how bout if I meander down to Forge and see if I can rustle up some?”

My mother thought she just saw that bear laying in the road. She came dashing in for her camera. Obviously the bear and I have something in common. If the poor bear is just laying down in the road, he is suicidal. Living here has just gotten to him. I dashed out with Mama hoping to do an intervention as Mom took pictures. Alas, it was just a shadow.

There tend to be more bear up at the cabin, which is on a very small bald knob on the mountaintop. My uncle has planted Christmas trees all around it and apparently bears love evergreens. Everytime we go up there is evidence of bears, rubbing on the trees, branches broken off and yes, bear poop; which is no picnic to get off hardwood floors either.

I actually saw less animal invasion in Africa than here in the Appalachians. I only saw monkeys, a very scrawny cat and lots and lots of lizards. That was disappointing. I remember being glued to “Daktari” as a child and imagined West Africa to have lots of lions, elephants and rhinos. Nope, just lizards and missionaries.

Well, it’s time to do some weed eating. Invariably I will run across a snake. The loud sound usually sends most of them slithering off, but being in inbred territory at some point during my chore one will decide to hold his ground and tangle with my weed eater. They never learn, snakes can’t win against a weed eater. Many have fallen and none survive.

My Walt Disney dreams of whistling a happy tune while all the woodland creatures join me in harmony are long gone. I have met most of the woodland creatures here and prefer they not join my glee club. I have no problem sharing space. I’m just tired of having to clean up after them.