Saturday, September 30, 2006

Heavy Glower Before My Shower

It’s early morning, more night than morning really, at least in any real sense of morning in the poetic sense, with all the attendant birds chirping and sun rays bathing the earth. There is not a hint of natural light anywhere, not a glint of the first fresh glimmer that will truly mean morning has broken through night’s defenses and serves notice that it intends to expose night’s fraudulence before vanquishing all reminders of darkness’ mien. As sure as death and taxes, I know morning will, in its inimitable way, soon make its presence known, robbing me of sullen, dour inspiration and forcing me to deal with reality’s starkness. So I bid adieu to the ebony demons even now begging me to stay in their midst, imploring me to give them voice before they sleep. But don’t expect me to embrace the fairies and nymphs of brightness… somehow their wholesome innocence tweaks my suspicion and I envision a world of door-to-door Jehovah’s Witnesses waiting to ring my bell as soon as I step into the tub.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Lessons Of A Ladle

The ladle isn’t pure silver, certainly, and may not be silver at all. Like as not, it’s some lesser alloy of tin, forged in the 1850’s or thereabout, close as anyone can remember, but it’s silver in color at least. It doesn’t matter, though. It manages to stay pretty clean, since I use it only occasionally, to dip water from a bucket when I get nostalgic for the old days. I rather enjoy the slight metallic taste it leaves in my mouth after I drink from it. It’s not a good taste or a bad taste, it’s just… there. Besides, it doesn’t last long, and I don’t stand there like a ninny thinking about it, but it’s there, nevertheless, and worth pointing out.

I think we tend to do that when we get older. All the little things mean more since we understand that there’s a certain finite quality associated with mundane events. Focus becomes centered upon the immediate rather than the far-reaching, and attention to detail reigns supreme. I think the kids would call that micro-management or microeconomics or some such micro-gobbledygook. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s the recognition that’s important.

Anyway, back to the ladle. This particular artifact is no ordinary hunk of metal. Countless sets of lips have enjoyed a cool drink of water while resting on one or another spot around the rim. Apparently, it’s home-made. The designer was careful to round the lip, curving it under around the outside, ensuring that the baby or drunk grandpa didn’t cut himself.

Plus, the metal yields to temperature. When dipped into a bucket of ice-cold spring water, it makes sure you pay attention and don’t drink too fast. This sort of thoughtfulness is rare among inanimate objects and should, rightfully, be acknowledged.

Even the handle is accommodating. Whoever pounded out the metal could have left it flat and sharp, and in all likelihood, no one would have complained. After all, it’s only a way to grasp the ladle, so why worry about how it’s shaped? I’ll tell you why. It’s because his granny, mama, daughter or granddaughter might have grabbed that handle, and he wanted to make sure it would be safe and easy to use. That’s why it’s concave, too, providing a spot to rest your thumb on top while dipping or drinking since the ladle itself can be a little unwieldy if filled too full or if hands are very small.

I came upon the ladle by way of inheritance. When grandma died, I was told that I could have my choice of anything on the porch by way of remembrance. We were all down at the farm, and the funeral was tomorrow. By the time a small boy got his turn to pick, all the pictures, antiques and ice cream churns had pretty much been spoken for, but I didn’t care; honestly, I had zero interest in any of them, anyway. As soon as I saw it hanging on the wall, on the same nail it had always hung on, I knew it was what I wanted. My only regret is that I couldn’t take the porch and nail along with it. Images of Dad and Grandpa sneaking out onto the porch rushed into my head, as Grandpa hurriedly grabbed his bottle of ‘corn’ from under a slat on the far side of the porch. I can still see his grin as he poured and offered Dad that ladle. They each shared a couple of sips, alternating until it was empty, then Grandpa would stare into it before swirling it in the air and shaking it to remove any evidence that may have inadvertently been missed. Then, he’d reverently hang it on the hook before heading back into the house… they couldn’t stay long or they’d lose their stealth capabilities and be picked up as a heat signature on Mom or Grandma’s radar.

Of course, I can’t prove it, but Grandpa told me stories handed down from his grandfather about Robert E. Lee himself drinking from that very ladle. It was during the early years of the Northern Aggression, and the general had bivouacked his troops in the woods adjoining the property. It was not an altogether wise move, Grandpa said, because our part of Missouri bordered Kentucky, and everyone knew those ridge-runners to be a treacherous lot; as many cow-towed to the Union as were loyal to Jeff Davis.

Even the cup has a personality all its own. The years have yielded a few bumps and dings and the outside feels rough and pitted, but the inner surface is smooth and glassy as a baby’s behind with only a tinge of white discoloration in a semi-circle along the section opposite the handle. I suspect it may be calcium left when water evaporated while it hung. If I was to compare it to humans, I would say it takes on the appearance of age spots; and as I look at it, I only wish I could age so gracefully.

Yea, it’s just a ladle. There’s no precision machining or coat-of-arms, not a trace of pretense. It contains nothing of intrinsic value to anyone but me and that alone makes it precious. For now, it goes back on the hook, waiting patiently to be of service. It’s not silver, it’s pure gold. Someday, I hope my grandson will understand.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Flatheads I Have Known and Loved

It’s just rain… The kitchen window offered me clear perspective through opaque glass; my mood, while somber, was nonetheless inspired for its bleakness. I came to understand that day, that a small boy seldom has control of his destiny. I remember sitting at Aunt Louise’s home-made kitchen table, looking out into the grayness and noticing that even the large sycamore trees in the yard had been transformed into shapeless monoliths. Somewhere past them, obscured by the veil of dull film currently enveloping the property, would sit the dilapidated old barn where Uncle Joe kept his worms, fishing tackle and seining nets. From time to time, as thunderclaps threatened and the crackle of lightning caused the lights in the parlor to blink, I’d mutter under my breath. It’s not fair…

Of course, I could have turned the kitchen lights on, and if I had, I might have been able to better read the Superman and Marvel comics strewn across the table top. Even though it was mid-afternoon, it was more dark than light in the room. I could still see the pages and somewhere deep inside me, I knew they were illustrated in color… but today, they were as gray as my mood. Why turn on the lights and ruin a perfectly good snit?
It isn't fair…

I mean, it could have rained two days ago while Uncle Joe was working, or yesterday when we all drove over to Glasgow to put the flowers on Grandma and Grandpa’s graves. Somehow, the rain would have offered some ambience to the occasion. But, no… it was not to be. As our station wagon went down the country lanes and crossed the creeks and rivers, in my mind I saw every flathead lying in every deep hole and I seined every creek for the crawdads which would enable me to catch those flatheads. Come get me, little man… All I could do was sit and look out the back window at where we had just come from; mentally I made a note to come back here someday and teach Mr. Flathead not to taunt me so.

Even as a boy, I knew the futility of wishing things were different. No one had to tell me that disappointment was part of the bigger picture— and no one tried. That didn’t stop me from feeling the despondency, however. After all, how many vacations does a small boy get? Hundreds of times I’d dreamed of putting on those huge rubber boots and wading into the creek with the seine, like I’d seen Dad and Uncle Joe do… I could do it perfectly, I knew I could… How many times had Dad and Uncle Joe promised me that next time, I get to hold one end of that seine? Today was going to be that day.
It just isn’t fair, I tell you…

Chocolate ice cream, when combined with a little whole milk and some powdered malt, can be blended into one of the tastiest treats a small boy can ever receive, and surely can take the edge off the most well-developed snit. I know this first-hand, because the sound of that blender triggered some deep-seated Pavlovian response inside me. Silently, I froze in my position, not daring to look around. Any time now, Aunt Louise would walk up behind me, Here, Sugar… I made you a little treat, squeeze my shoulders and buss me on the neck, causing me to smile, even though I didn’t want to. It’s hard to look pathetic when you’re grinning.

Eternity is a concept unfamiliar to a ten-year-old boy. However, that blender raged for what certainly must have been at least an eternity. I could hear her singing softly to herself, so I know she wasn’t paying any attention to me. The refrigerator door had opened and closed several times now… could she be adding fresh fruit, perhaps some ripe persimmons? What’s taking so long?

Then, my heart sank. Aunt Louise might be pureeing turnips or green beans for Mrs. Caulfield’s supper… I could barely breathe…the thought very nearly stopped my heart from beating. Yea, that was probably it, she was more concerned about an old woman who lived a mile down the road, than she was about her own flesh-and-blood nephew. It didn’t take this long to make a hundred chocolate malts! Mine is but to suffer…

I heard the clop of Aunt Louise’s shoes as she left the kitchen. Well, that’s it… Now, the sickly feelings of despair were gone, replaced by the adrenalin of anger. How dare they treat me like this? Can’t they see how miserable I am?

My ascent from that kitchen chair was meteoric. I’m sure I left a vapor trail of steam as I made my way to my bedroom. It was then I heard the voice.

“Where you off to, Bubba? The rain’s lettin’ up… I thought you wanted to go fishin’.” Uncle Joe’s voice resounded in my ears as loud as the voice of God.

“R-right now, Uncle Joe? You mean it?”
Don’t toy with me like this.

By now we were walking back into the kitchen. To get to the barn, we’d have to stop off in the mud room to get the rain gear.

“Well, in a few minutes, boy, but first…” he said, opening the refrigerator door, “you’d better drink this malt Aunt Louise made you… it’s likely to be a good while before you get to eat again.”

Through the walls I could feel my Aunt Louise smiling. To this day, I’ve never forgotten how it felt. The transformation was complete. Rain…? What rain?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Whirligig Destiny

I approached the scene slowly… carefully. Not having seen the sun in many hours, I couldn’t be certain of the time although dusk most certainly had to be approaching. The park’s canopy of hardwoods muted and filtered all but the most intrepid light rays that persevered to reach the ground, rewarding their efforts with pale gray shadows, sickly mutated twins of objects whose reflections they pitifully attempted to emulate. To harbor animosity toward the trees or, for that matter, the clouds, seemed ingenuous at best. It wasn’t their fault; really, they were just doing their job as best they could. But harbor I did, despite my realization that karma would eventually punish me, casting me headlong into the pit of eternal kismet with no hope of future self-determination. Such was the fate of wanderers and fools, and if I hadn’t yet been proven guilty of the latter, I most certainly had been convicted of the former and at some point would be charged with both.

Faded denim can look gray even in the brightest of lights, but today as I sat on the park bench, my legs blended in so well that briefly I thought I’d melted. When I raised my foot and pointed my boot at the far ridge, I detected a mournful mass that slightly distinguished itself from the surroundings in a pose that I recognized to be roughly the size and shape of my leg, thankfully reminding me that I had not melted at all and simultaneously making me wish I had. Suddenly, I realized that there could be no hell too severe for a man content to mortgage his existence for what might be.

I detected motion on that ridge and my purgatorial ministrations of self-pity temporarily tacked into the wind and rode the breeze, escaping, if only temporarily, their merciless captor. There could be little doubt that I’d soon go hunting for them, coercing them with traps of indulgence and snares of desire, ruthlessly haling them to do my bidding in the court of Purpose. But for now, they were free as my mood, weightless and bound for wherever. In the distance behind the ridge, suspended atop a moving object, a pennant fluttered and moved from left to right before disappearing. Then, another and another… Fascinated, I decided to investigate. As I walked closer, the ridge evaporated, exposing a landscape beneath; it was then that I first saw the carousel.

If I intended to remain cloaked in obscurity, my approach would need to incorporate all my skills attained during a lifetime of modified skulk. To show up uninvited and ostentatious would violate the ground rules of passive observation, immediately subjecting me to chance’s harshest penalty, scrutiny. No burglar ever traversed a victim’s backyard on lighter feet than my own as I made my way from tree to tree, pausing at each advancement to ensure that no one could see me. As I surveyed the remaining parcel, a complex formula emerged, a stratagem requiring me to make my way to and scale the trunk of the pin oak directly in front of the merry-go-round. There, I would satisfy all elements of the hunt and abound in the glory offered by concealment. Finally, with the blunted sound of the tired, over-used calliope grating upon my eardrums, I began my ascent, clumsily inching my way to a branch that offered me a veiled view of the whirligig’s aspects, the years of my life sourly reminding me of their accumulation and demanding acknowledgment.

Before my eyes, dull riderless horses and dolphins and unicorns whimsically danced up and down, impaled upon equally leaden poles, their vapid, staring eyes beholding the exact same panorama as the day before and the day before that, a scenario that would change only with the potential diversity of a rider. How many toddlers’ butts had occupied the sea horse’s back ahead of the unicorn’s dead stare? Why had grandma opted to watch as grandpa held Trevor in place? Did the menagerie ever wonder why the Philistines never offered a pat on the head or a soothing word or some grease-salve for the rash derived from decades of pole-burn?

It-no-longer-matters merged with pithy substance and one rider appeared in the outside row, an old man clad in denim jeans, boots in severe need of polish and a wide-brimmed hat that obscured his facial features, the type worn by gardeners and sailors and Ernest Hemingway, although I could conceive of no reason why Hemingway would ride this particular carousel. Alone, he straddled the back of a fine gray steed, apparently satisfied (judging from his lack of expression and movement) with his lot and oblivious to the potential of any perceived danger. He just sat… and with each revolution his features amplified until I discovered that he had a scar on his right forearm in precisely the same spot as mine. I watched as his broad back disappeared behind the elaborately mirrored and bejeweled gimbal upon which the device rotated.

After a brief sojourn behind the wheel, he appeared once again, this time with each animal occupied by his twins, each a bit larger than the last, and now each stared at my tree, their judgmental beams trained upon me and slowing the carousel under their weight. As it stopped, none moved but all craned their necks to keep me in view. Then I realized--I stared into my own eyes. The music slowed, then stopped and the lights dimmed perceptibly, finally going out with a squeal and grunt emitted from somewhere deep within the center column.

Discovered, I crawled down from the oak and joined the others, stepping up and onto the platform. Slowly, one by one, the riders left their mounts and without comment, walked away, not once looking back. With the departure of the last, the lights and music came back on and I began my destiny’s last ride, content that all the impostors were forever vanquished.


Jai guru deva…
Simple thoughts cruise slowly by,
Dropping in to just say hi,
Inciting and inviting me…
Nothing’s gonna change my world.

Lennon paid the price to say
His piece was peace for all to play,
A million eyes watched us dance our way
Just him and me across the universe…
Nothing’s gonna change my world.

Endless rain, a million tears fall endlessly,
Beheld by all, yet blind to see
As doubt and trouble swallow me,
A million suns play calliope…
Jai guru deva… Om.

Bob Church9/23/06

Saturday, September 16, 2006

May's Cruel Harvest

The snow mottled the Nebraska cornfield, a residual pockmark of white here and there contrasting the dull, uninspired rows of pale yellow stubble standing guard past the driveway, the ugly heads of misshapen children. Dreary winds of early March moved itinerant sagebrush slowly across the landscape, catching on stalks from time to time, pieces moving across a chessboard; Knight to Queen’s Bishop 4—checkmate.

Raw, today… Thelma Copeland peered out the peephole windows in the front door, stealthily checking out the porch. From the kitchen, she thought she heard Blackie barking on the front porch of the only home she’d ever known, so she’d made her way into the front room to investigate. Thelma’s husband, Luther Ray Copeland, had moved in the day after their wedding in the spring of 1918, the family farm a wedding present from Thelma’s father. Forty-eight years had passed and their ever-expanding family, seven children still living and grandchildren almost too numerous to count, had long since gone, but it was still home and it was all she wanted or needed. She glanced at the Co-Op calendar hung on the wall below the Crucifix. Below the photo of a tropical island cabana complete with palm tree, the words March 1965 jumped off the page and into her mind; an unnecessary reminder that time had become her enemy. Blackie’s harsh, dry, incessant yelps forced her back into the present. No one was visible on the porch, so she opened the door and surveyed the area visible through the screen door, the frosty breeze nipping at her bare arms.

A black Chevy sedan sat parked in their driveway, a four-door model unadorned except for the white markings painted on the front door, the ubiquitous seal of the great State of Nebraska. Seeing no one, she quickly made her way to the stairwell and opened the door to the cellar. “Bill… come upstairs, quick! We’ve got visitors!”

Luther Ray “Bill” Copeland bounded up the stairs, three at a time, the urgent tenor of his wife’s voice compelling him to hurry. Without speaking, he stepped into the mudroom adjacent to the kitchen and grabbed his hat and coat, quickly throwing his arms into the jacket and buttoning it up. “I already know who it is. They were in the south field yesterday. I’ll handle it, you just stay here.”

“But, I don’—“ As she stared at Bill’s large backside, she heard the back door slam shut. Thelma sighed deeply and walked back to her old wood stove, grabbing a kitchen towel along the way. Her bread needed to be checked, and as she opened the oven door, the cold fear emanating from her forehead evaporated in the welcome heat and aroma of baked goods.


“I thought I told you, I ain’t interested in selling my property.” Luther Copeland towered over the two smallish men, and although his hands were still sequestered in his coat pocket, his imposing posture left no doubt that he was not happy to see them.

The two officials from the Nebraska Highway Department glanced at each other briefly, deciding who would speak. “Well, Mr. Copeland,” the taller of the two offered, pulling his jacket collar up to cover his neck, “it’s gone beyond the point where there’ll be a sale, I’m afraid.”

“Fellas, you don’t seem to understand, I’ve lived on this land for nearly fifty years, and there ain’t no two government men going to make me leave. So unless you want the shit kicked out of you this morning, I suggest you get back in your fancy car and off my property.”

Resignedly, the tall man reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue-covered court document and handed it to Luther. “This here is a court order, Mr. Copeland. You have been ordered to vacate this property within thirty days. Your land has been condemned and will be sold at public auction, the proceeds of which will be credited to your account at the Gibbon Savings Bank. The U.S. government has dictated where the new freeway will be built, and has given us no discretion to change it. Since you refused to sell us an easement through your property, we were left with no choice except to take this action.”

Luther Copeland took the papers from the man and without stopping to read a single word, threw the document onto the ground at his feet. Then, without further hesitation, inhaled deeply, causing phlegm to pass from his nose into his throat, which he spit onto the papers. Rubbing his foot into them animatedly, he stared at the men. “This is what I think of your court order. Now get the hell off my property.”

Throwing up both hands in obeisance to Luther’s physical superiority, the men stepped towards their car. As the leader grabbed the door handle, he adjusted his glasses and paused to speak. “Okay, we’ll leave, I know better than to start trouble with you, but others will be back, I assure you. For whatever it’s worth, please know that I take no pleasure in this… I’m truly sorry.”

“Sorry’s ass… tell the sheriff that if he sends any more people out here, he better send body bags with them, because as of this moment, any son of a bitch that steps onto my property uninvited will need it. Today’s free, gents, but the next time won’t be.”

With that, Luther walked away at his slow loping pace, his eyes never once leaving the car with the seal of the great State of Nebraska inscribed on the door. Once it had cleared his property, Luther Copeland stepped back inside his house and calmly hung his coat and hat on the hook in the mudroom designated for that purpose. The scent of the freshly-baked bread cooling on the counter soothed him and reminded him of times when his children would have gotten their hands slapped for attempting to fondle it. Breaking off a hunk from the end, he popped it into his mouth without the enhancement of butter or jelly; Thelma’s bread simply didn’t need it.


The second week of May 1965, Thelma Copeland heard a knock at her front door at 128 5th Street, Kearney, Nebraska, where she now resided with her husband, Luther Ray. The smiling postman offered her a crisp, white envelope with her name and address in elegant, machine-printed lettering. One quick flick of a finger ripped the upper edge neatly, revealing an equally elegant, gold-embossed card requesting their presence at the high school graduation ceremonies of her grandson, Bobby Ray, in Aurora, Colorado.

What she couldn’t have known is that despite the joy she currently felt while thinking about the lad’s accomplishments, she wouldn’t be able to attend. Indeed, neither would Bobby Ray’s mother, Thelma’s daughter Betty, because another engagement would command their presence. What she also couldn’t have known is that her husband, Luther Ray, would die of a heart attack on June the 6th , precisely three days before the planned graduation.

The coroner’s report would list cardiac arrest as the cause of Luther Ray’s death, brought about by advanced diabetes. However, nothing on earth could have convinced Thelma Mae Copeland that the State of Nebraska didn’t murder her husband, a man who simply wasn’t cut out to live in town.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Everyman's Pasture Pastor

My senses are a little out of whack this morning. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but something isn’t right. Were I an alarmist, I might be hell-bent for a neurologist’s office, knocking down anyone lacking the brains or dexterity to get out of my way. But, I am not, so here I sit like a dog patiently and obediently listening as his master performs a card trick. Then, precisely at the right moment, just as he reveals the Queen of Spades that magically disappeared from the deck, I look into his approving eyes and say, “Woof!”

Everything smells of sheep. The dandelions are suddenly more sheep than flower, each petal reflecting wool and the sound of a bell ringing off the yellow. But the thing that smells the most like sheep, is the very sun itself. When the sun goes behind a cloud, the smell of the sheep decreases, like standing on some old guy’s hearing aid, and when the sun comes back out again, the smell of the sheep is loud, like a clap of thunder inside a cup of coffee.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tincup Filled With Cold Chowder

Shortly after I was born, and with my mom suffering from sundry complications I caused by my birth (read severe, uncontrollable depression here), Dad started taking off for the mountains to go fishing. Apparently, she was still too weak to kill him.

All my life I’ve known that there was a time every year during the autumn in which Dad disappeared for a week (or two) to go fishing on some hallowed grounds (hallowed waters?) in the very remote regions of America’s Icebox, a place so remote that you drove north (and west) from Denver until the paved roads ended and then you jumped on a freight train for another sixty miles before you jumped off at a mile marker, not a station, usually at an hour occuring before sunrise.

Like Gilligan, I envisioned my father with no phone, no light, no motor car; not a single lux-ur-yee. Then, on his return, he appeared as though he had just won an “I’m uglier than you” fight with Grizzly Adams. He’d walk up, expecting to hug me, with his face looking like it had been dunked in glue and then smacked repeatedly with a dead skunk.

Thinking back upon it, I doubt that Adam could have had the same relaxed demeanor and gleam about him after he got kicked out of paradise that Dad always had when he came home. His experiences in heaven he took to the grave with him, probably because he’d learned by then that the younger generation couldn’t understand the joys associated with crapping in the woods and not bathing for a week at a time. He would have been right, of course.

Dad went to this isolated island lake every year with his work buddies commonly referred to as “The Crew”. The Crew generation apparently had no problems with any of the vagueries of life in the wild, nor did they see anything wrong with “leech removal” as an expected après-bain experience. They drank and fished and played cards… not always in that order. From all indications, the only time that everything was finally all right with the world was that period of time when nobody could contact them and tell them to knock it off, enough is enough for Christ’s sake.

Okay, fast-forward about fifty years or so. Many (if not all) of The Crew no longer make the trip because of various disabilities including, but not limited to, being dead. But even twenty years ago, Mom was hesitant to let him go. I think she feared him dieing while in heaven and thus possibly escaping the judgment he so righteously deserved for abandoning her all these years.

As fate would have it, both of them went to their reward while in the company of civilized society. I’ve always thought this would have made Mother smile.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Litany of Punishment Too Bizarre To Escape Comment

I’ve given up my pursuit of learning the cello. Admittedly, what few attempts I may have made while an adolescent, while pluperfect, were less than vigorous. Frankly, the cello is an instrument whose tones I consider abhorrent if not totally repugnant, and any claims I may have made to attractive females regarding my interest therein were bald-faced lies designed to entice said attractive females to have sex with me. The fact that all such attempts were unsuccessful is beside the point.

No, the cello is no longer on my list of unaccomplished stratagems, but I’m still convinced that the ladies are suckers for musicians. With that in mind, I’ve decided to enroll in Banjo College. Wish me luck… with one finger missing on my left hand, I’m sure I’ll need it.

Olive Garden of Earthly Atrocities

So what’s up with breadsticks? Is it just too arduous a task to pick up a knife and cut a slice off a bona fide, full-sized bread loaf? You’re sitting at a restaurant, having been seated after the toy the teenager gave you finally started flashing and things start showing up, the gifts of vapid-eyed clones in white shirts. Glasses are soon filled with semi-clear liquid resembling water and a tri-fold, laminated document roughly the size of the original Declaration of Independence is offered before your eyes. Obligingly, you accept the tome in both hands, suddenly realizing that the colorful art-deco scrolling might better be understood with the aid of the spectacles parked neatly in your shirt pocket, a venue presently totally inaccessible without risking dropping the weighty menu across the elaborate place setting situated directly in front of you— to call attention to one’s self while still in the formative stages of meal-seating is definitely a social faux pas, an egregious assault upon the principles of decorum so laboriously drilled into you during the ubiquitous Be nice, God damn it! training received in one’s formative years.

At this point, having abandoned any hope of actually making an entrée choice, you opt to acquiesce to the server’s request, softly announcing in a voice loud enough for only her ears, “I’ll have what she’s having… without the onions”. Precisely at this moment—having successfully dispatched the server to the next position with your menu in hand— you survey the table, taking into account the plastic containers filled with blue, yellow and pink packets of sugar and quasi-sugar, lazy-Susan supplied with various salad dressing options, vase with faux-flowers only slightly more cheesy than the salad dressing, and a large sculptured-glass depiction of some un-named Greek or Roman god complete with arms hacked off above the elbows… when you see it. There, in plain view of a cross-generational audience, sat a basket of phallic symbols roughly the color of sunbathers after a week of relaxation on the nude beaches of St. Tropez—the breadsticks.

Worse, someone now picked up the basket and began offering the little dandies to the guests seated around the table. As I watched each person pick one off the pile, the basket approaching my position at a rate I found uncomfortably rapid, I had to decide whether to provender my love of all things doughy or acknowledge my repudiation of all things phallic not actually attached to my torso. It occurred to me that somewhere Dr. Freud was, no doubt, currently getting quite a laugh at my expense.

As the basket appeared before me, I merely smiled at the donor, a disinterested woman who expressed no aversions to the monsters having placed two upon her plate, and scotched back in my seat, allowing her the opportunity to pass the delicacies to the person seated to my direct left, even if I did have to nudge him to accept the basket without my intermediary assistance. If he was willing to touch them, that was his decision and I would accept it without comment, although I did lift my ass off the chair and move it slightly closer to the promiscuous harlot sitting to my right. Perhaps she understood my meager smile as I inched closer, but judging from the look of horror she emanated, I tend to doubt it.

Refusing to acknowledge my desire to ask the server for a slice of plain bread, I sat in silence and watched people spread butter on their somewhat-undersized erections and bite down, ripping a hunk off the stick and causing me to cringe in mercy-pain. Through it all, I maintained my poise although I did note those who seemed to take the most pleasure from the bread/penis-munching experience. In the future, I would take special care to avoid any situations involving shaking hands with them or standing at an adjoining urinal.

Apparently I do know what's up with breadsticks. Bon appetite!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Thoughts of You

To a phrase turned deep with thought,
And reveled more upon its death,
Sent fleeting into fevered moment
I salute its every breath.

For who but me is chance to learn
Thy graces placed at tribute’s breast,
Sacrificed as dual heartbeats
Come together— one beats best.

Eternal night shall too soon take us,
Robbing flesh of passion’s sprite,
Yet no death shall e'er overtake us,
Love’s beauty outshines darkest night.

To all the lovers in the world, I send my own.

May you never go a day without it.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Rainbows of Regret

This morning at 5:15 a.m., as I went outside to look for my damn dog, a vague hint of autumn filled the air. The slightest tinge of a chill hung in the air, the undeniable marker left by temperatures failing to achieve summer norms, the air in a room that just witnessed Billie Holiday sing Stormy Blues.

Immediately, memories cascaded across my horizon and I found myself huddled inside a cardboard box, the Colorado cool early morning air nipping at my neck. Feeling a hand on my shoulder, I opened my eyes in the offensive quasi-light offered by night’s cowardly retreat, revealing a shadowy form that would prove to be my father.

Piggly Wiggly, having not yet crawled out of the primordial ooze of merchandising, fell far short of its full eventual evolution into a 24-hour, full-service, supermarket/pharmacy/liquor store in late August of 1955. Therefore, apparently, any thoughts of an eight-year-old boy getting into serious trouble during a week of residence behind a dumpster at a food store in a town eight miles east of my own, only slightly impacted my father’s concerns for my welfare.

Admittedly, I was a bit confused as I stood there in my Cub Scout uniform, suitcase in hand, waiting for the bus to pick me up. Dad had dropped me off on his way to work, assuring me that if I were to be a man, I shouldn’t cry or get lonesome at Camp. Apparently, only a big baby or momma’s boy would express concern after being informed by an assistant store manager that he needed to move along, that the bus didn’t stop here anymore.

But, a couple of the stock boys took pity on me after a day or so and regularly brought me treats. Along with the older produce they threw into the dumpster, I managed to keep my belly full.

No, my week of 'adversity training' wasn’t a torturous experience. However, I did learn a few valuable life lessons that I shall take to the grave with me:

1) Never again will a raw carrot ever find its way down my pie hole.
2) One can learn to take a crap almost anywhere.
3) Brown paper sacks tend to further irritate an already tender bunghole.
4) If your father asks you if you want to go to Panhandling Camp, decline in a manner that cannot possibly be misconstrued as acceptance.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Study In Pastel

“For the love of God, Linda, turn down that damn jukebox! I like Pearl Jam as much as the next guy, but enough is enough… Jeeeez…”

Linda stopped washing glasses long enough to stare at the fortyish man in the simple dark sport coat and blue shirt. The guy had been coming in every day for the past week or so, and she couldn’t remember him ever speaking to anyone other than to order his Glenfiddich double-malt-- straight-up… never with ice or a splash of water. Doesn’t he have any other clothes? He always wears the same thing… strange duck.

The cute blonde bartender wiped her hands on a bar towel and adjusted the band holding her ponytail in place while sashaying over to the volume control knob directly behind the cash register. That cuts it. He doesn't get to tell me how loud to play the jukebox... A quick counter-clockwise twist bathed the area in total silence as Linda silently sauntered closer to the stranger’s position at the bar.

“I’m going to keep this real simple, Nimrod, because I know you’re a simple guy… this is a neighborhood bar. Take a look at the people sitting around you. Some of them are good people; others, like that fat loser, Cecil, sitting at the other end of the bar, are real assholes… but they all have two things in common. Know what those are, per chance?”

‘Nimrod’ cocked his head and pushed his hand out, palm up. “Oh, I don’t know, let me guess… abominable taste in clothing and music, perhaps?”

Linda broke eye contact with the man and looked around at the others sitting at the bar. Everyone suppressed grins and several looked away, avoiding eye contact lest they instantaneously be turned to stone by Linda’s gaze. “Well, I was shooting for having a good time and unquestioning loyalty to their bartender, but I’ll give you that one…”

Spontaneous laughter filled the room as people began to vacillate toward Nimrod’s seat, introducing themselves and shaking hands. Beaten at her own game, Linda took a five-dollar bill from her tip jar and placed it in front of the man. “Here… go play some music.”

For the next few hours, the bar more closely resembled a homecoming than an assortment of casual acquaintances, as new friends told eclectic stories and laughed in counterpoint to the Irish Rovers, always led by Nimrod’s singing and dancing.

Sometime after midnight, the small fortyish man in the simple dark sport coat and pastel blue shirt checked in at the Avis desk and surrendered the keys to the Ford Taurus. After a quick
walk to the ticket counter at Grand Central Station, shortly past one a.m., he sat down in his window seat and stared into the blackness beyond. Very soon, his brief interlude completed, he’d be en route to the real world.

Michael Patrick Flannery laid his head against the rest and closed his eyes. When next he awoke, Father Michael Patrick Flannery would greet the Abbot and once again enter his world of silence.

Bob Church ©

Friday, September 01, 2006

Breakfast, Launch and Supper

There is almost certainly a purpose and meaning to the universe, even if it is complex and beyond my ability to understand. I take solace in the fact that for one fleeting second right before I die, I might gain an infinitesimal spark of insight.

Until then, I'll keep doing what I do every morning. I'll go outside with a half-bushel of rotten fruit--apples, peaches, cantaloupes, etc.-- and spend an hour or so tuning my launch strategies on my medieval catapult. At first, a couple of the neighbors were a tad nervous, but I put their fears to rest by explaining that I couldn’t possibly hit anything that close.

After a week or so, a few would stop by when they heard the whoosh of the giant arm hurl the projectile of choice into a precise arc with destination unknown. On more than one occasion, Mr. Watson, my 80-year-old neighbor showed up petting and caressing a chihuahua or kitten, imploring me with his eyes to relieve his burden. To his credit, he didn't actually ask me to experiment with the little guys, but I did detect a note of disappointment in his demeanor as he departed. I finally had to discourage him from coming over when he showed up dragging Mrs. Watson. I explained to him that my catapult's tension spring could never handle a two-hundred-pound payload, and if he didn't want to spend the rest of his life in prison, he'd better take his wife back home, put her back in her wheelchair and get the hell off my property. Some people...

Well, the cops are here again. I'll have to explain to them that they can't prove that the projectile in question was launched on my machine. "You got any fingerprints on that watermelon, Officer Lynch?", I'll ask him as I stuff my gloves in my back pocket.

Well, I gotta go... I sure hope Lenny the Leper will pick up the phone before AAA Bailbonds opens at 8 a.m.