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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Dream (Once Again)

13 years now, same dream. Same freaking dream.

Somehow, I lose the job I have now. The job I love. And I have to go back to the golf course in Illinois. I go back as an assistant superintendent, mowing greens on the weekend and changing oil and writing up the job board. And the whole time, I'm thinking, "How the hell did I lose my job?"

And "This sucks."

I've had the dream so many times that now when I find myself clocking in at the shop, I'm thinking, "You know, I always had this dream, that I'd lose my job and end up back here. BUT NOW IT REALLY HAPPENED!"

Followed by, this sucks.

What does this mean?

So after 13 years, I had the dream again last night. Only this time, there was a twist. For the very first time in 13 years, a new angle. This time, as I'm driving in to mow on the weekend, I think something different. I think, "Maybe I'll stay in Charleston and find another job."

I'm a slow-grower. But I'm getting there.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fat Booth

I feel better already.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Just a Little Stick

Surgery sucks.

My daughter just consulted with an oral surgeon. In June, they're going to cut into her gums to extract a sunken tooth. Unlucky for her, the offending tooth never emerged. Instead, it drifted in the opposite direction beneath her other teeth like a buried treasure. She can't feel it, but the x-ray is messed up, man.

The surgeon, he's consulting with her and my wife, talking about cutting through muscle and bone, through skin and tissue, and my daughter, she's taking it all in. Not crying or shaking. Nothing. Like no biggie. She's 13.


I had my fair share of surgery when I was a kid. Tubes in my ears, three times. Adenoids removed, twice. Tonsils, once. I detested the smell of antiseptic. Despised the drafty hospital gown. The cold floor on my feet. The worst, by far without a doubt, were the shots. There were always shots.

The last surgery for me, I was 13. I was standing there with a grumpy nurse in a small room. Waiting. And Waiting. "Just a little stick," she said, when I asked. "To make your mouth dry."

Still young. Still trusting. I pictured a tongue depressor that would make my mouth dry. They must've invented something to replace the evil shot. The shot, surely created by the devil.

But then the needle arrived.

And I assumed the position.

The needle went in, like shooting rocks. I hunkered down and took it. Just like always. Not crying, not this time, just wondering why there had to be pain in the universe. Why can't it all be milk and cookies? Why can't everything feel awesome?

When she was done, when I was rubbing the dull pain in my ass and grumbling, moaning and maybe whimpering (maybe), she said, casually, "If you curl your toes, it doesn't hurt as much."

After. She said it after.

I know, if I live long enough, the days of poking and prodding, of curling my toes will be back. My daughter, she's got it ahead of her. And you'd never know it.

She's a heavyweight champ.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Black Squirrel

Deadline for this Sunday's column is today. I got nothing. It's winter. It's cold. Nothing much comes to mind.

Then this guy walks by. Odds of a black squirrel: 1 in 10,000.

Now I got a column.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Southern Pearl

Sunday. 8:15 am. Phone rings.

My wife hands it to me. Says it's Pearl. I don't know a Pearl.

Pearl says, "Are you the gentleman that writes the columns in the newspaper?" Imagine an old Southern drawl. Better yet, imagine Minnie Pearl from Hee Haw.

"Yes, ma'am." (I'm not Southern, but I know the ways.)

"Well, I have a Christmas cactus that's in bloom and you just got to see it. It's as big as a washtub."

I'm still sunk in the couch with a coffee cup hooked to my finger. Pearl, she's wide awake. She goes on. She wants to see her Christmas cactus in the paper. It's so big, she can't even get it all in the picture because she took a picture and it just wouldn't fit. People, they need to see this thing. Can I get it in the paper next weekend?

I tell Pearl that I might be able to run it next Christmas. It's just not topical this time of year. The drop in enthusiasm is palpable. Followed by another summary of said plant's size, color, and size. I tell Pearl to email me a photo.


I give her my mailing address, instead. Send me the photo, I'll see what I can do.

A week later.

Hi, There,

Here's the photo of my plant. Some of the blooms had started to close up by the time I got the picture made. As you can see, it is quite large. I couldn't get it all in. I've never seen one this big. I have several different kinds. I have pretty good luck with them. I wish I could have gotten it to you sooner. I would love to see it in the paper. Lord knows we need something in there besides bad news. I'm 85 years old. Just hope I make it until next December. 

Thanks so much,

Pearl's Christmas cactus. Big as a washtub.

Catch that?

Just hope to make it until next December.

A dying woman once wrote Stephen King about the Dark Tower series. How does it end? She just wanted to know before she passed. King hadn't finished the last book. He didn't know. Couldn't help her.

No pressure. None.

I'm not cut out for this.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sex on Trashcan

Anoles. Getting it on.

Busted. And yet, I couldn't look away.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shut down.

Dogwood (Cornus florida).
Charleston, South Carolina.

All work. Cancelled.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Would Glen Do? (WWGD)

What would Jesus do? I don't know.

I know what Glenn would do.

He's been doing fine carpentry on Kiawah Island for 30 years. If you own a house on Kiawah, it's not your only house. People out there are so butt-loaded with money, they sometimes buy TWO beachfront homes, bulldoze them both to build ONE megamillion dollar Goliath. Glenn's the one that builds the interior.

He knows what's up.

A house on Kiawah? You're filthy rich.
Here in the middle-class hood, our door frame was rotting. Not uncommon in South Cackalacky, especially on the shady side of the house. I can fix that. It won't be pretty, but I can get it to work. The door will shut when I'm done. There might be a gap, though. There probably will be a gap. But it'll shut. It'll lock.

I've seen  him work, he's like a superhero. Tools always return to their place while I drop them like two-year-old. If the cut is an 1/8" off, he'll walk out to the garage to square it off. I'll just pound it in. After hours of flashing, shimming, and shooting nails, we wrestled the door frame in place and hung the doors. We had a 1/2" gap at the bottom. Glenn took one look and shook his head.

"Take it down."

Take it down? Are you freaking kidding me? We just spent hours putting this thing up and now you want to... take it down? TAKE IT DOWN? Can't we just... attach a door sweep? Or something?

We took it down.

Much of the time, I watched him work. How he pays meticulous attention to detail. How even the simplest act of putting his tools in their proper place is done with care. Sanding down the most insignificant scuff. Squaring off the tiniest corner. Even when no one would notice, he did these things.

I avoid inconvenience. It's not even rational. I don't put the screwdriver away. I don't organize the workspace. I don't know why, or what my hurry is. Or where I'm going when I'm finished. But these details matter. It's paying attention when no one is looking. When no one will ever see.

It's the daily grind. The practice of being human.

Every moment of our life deserves complete devotion. It's fixing the gap at the bottom of the door. No matter how many times it has to come down.

Would Jesus fix the gap? I suppose. I know one thing. Glenn would.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

New Year Magic

Magic in a beer bottle.

Mom wanted to know how I got the pic.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Counted Breath

Allen died. About a year ago.

I didn't know him that well. He worked on the other side of campus. Occasionally, I'd stop by his office. Sometimes we'd talk publishing. Life. Mostly, it was football. He was a Bills fan. I'm a Vikings fan. Together, our teams are 0-8 in Superbowl history. We shared sportsfan misery.

One thing was always clear. Allen was a good man.

He had a tumor in his brain. Just one day -- boom -- a golf ball in the nugget. Cancer, the doctors  told him. Not even 60. And the odds not in his favor. The countdown started. His days now had numbers.

Every day, I wake up and take for granted the number of days I have. Maybe I've got 40 years x 365 days, whatever that is. Or maybe today I get hit by a bus. Point is, I don't think about. I get up, drink coffee, do my day, go to sleep. The next morning, rise and repeat.

Towards the end of Allen's sorted treatments, I stopped by his office. He'd been shaving his head because the radiated  half stopped growing hair. We sat and talked. Not about sports, this time. Quite frankly, he lost interest in that sort of thing. I don't know what we talked about, really. But we sat there for half an hour and talked about something other than the obvious. When I got up to leave, he shook my hand, cupped it with his free hand. So gracious that I stopped by.

Like I said, good man.

It was weeks later I saw him next. He was standing outside the building. I watched him and he didn't know it. I watched him looking around, at nothing in particular. He was just breathing. But not just breathing, he was taking each breath. Appreciating each one. Savoring. Or maybe I imagined it.

Some meditation practices count breaths to experience the present moment. To be aware. Just counting. Just here.  But what's it like when all your breaths have been counted? What it's like when they're numbered? I have 200 left. Now 199. Does the air taste different? Watching Allen, it seemed that way. But maybe I imagined that, too.

It was the last time I saw him. Standing there, just breathing.

It's been a year. Still haven't forgotten.