Those of you who have been reading me, here and elsewhere, for any length of time, know that I battle my tendency to sink low when something happens in my life that leaves me feeling lost and alone, even for a short time. During the past few years, several of my good friends, and one of my brothers, have died, leaving me to hope — but also wonder — if in some form, if in some way, I’ll once again be able to feel their friendship, not just today inside my heart, but also spirit-to-spirit, whatever shape, sound and size that ineffable reality might be. I miss those friends. I miss the warm, funny, silly, serious, sad and outrageous times we shared. Family and friendship really are the most valuable gems we can acquire in life. I have been fortunate to have shared parts of my life with many friends. Good people, all. I get to say those things and mean them now that I’m old, quite soon to be officially old in terms of certain of the USA’s societal rules. As well, in my oldest foggiest moments, while engaged in a conversation with a young person, I can say and mean things such as “Yes, but you have your whole life ahead of you.” The person whom I love most in this world scolds me whenever I talk like that. This morning, I told her my legs ached and my back hurt, and I felt old. She answered, “You need to get out of bed, take some Tylenol and get a move on, before I apply a pillow to your noggin.” I got up. She drove me here. Here is sitting inside this coffee shop in Arroyo Grande, CA, writing this longwinded, never get to the point, but always astute essay. The photographs featured with this article will show you what a pretty place this is. Now, I’m no genius, far from it, but for all my brutish mistakes in life, still, I remain a man of average intelligence (however that hoo ha concept of intelligence is these days defined by the high and mighty intellijudges who sit on the high intellicourts that in turn rule and devise academia-mania IQ tests.) When I was a working stiff, I had to pretend that I gave credence to such tests. I didn’t, but objecting out loud to such nonsense caused me further trouble. And during my younger years, I was loud, clear and articulate. I am physically a small man, so words quick became my weapon of choice. Several of my superiors throughout the years modified my divinely inspired name to include the epithet Firebrand. If I still hesitate, out of a worn-out sense of pride, to admit to the title Firebrand, I will admit that I was oftentimes a wise ass. Of course, in later years, Harvard Professor Howard Gardner designed a new outline of sorts to describe what he felt certain were seven kinds of intelligence. Apparently the Prof wasn’t initially so certain that he wouldn’t allow later high-class intellectual pedigrees to modify his outline. Sorta like the first ten ammendments to the USA’s constitution, followed by seventeen more, although one such amendment nixed another. I’m rusty where my Catholic theology is concerned, but I don’t think God allowed for any ammendments to his tablets of commandments. Correct me if I’m mistaken. Yes, I said mistaken, because we Sicilians are never wrong. Anyway, the expert academicians now list for us at least nine types of intelligence. I suppose there’s a lot of good thought involved in all that elitist rigmarole, but after thirty-seven years in the trenches, I still wouldn’t dare to try to define the concept of smarts. Feels too much like judging a human being based on my own definitions, or on someone else’s PhD thesis’ conclusions, when in truth each person owns the right to define his or her own smarts. *** And how in the woo woo did I manage to lead off with that mini-rant? It’s all the fault of a long ago friend with whom I recently reconnected. My writing drags, winds and curls into itself, whereas what my friend writes entertains his audience. I chuckle when I’m reading his work. I need that universal medicine, laughter, as much as the next person. I consider this friend from my distant past to be a master writer and entertainer for many reasons, not the least of which is that he just lets go with honesty and respect intact. I’m not the only one of his readers to say so. But I won’t here mention his name, because he claims to be shy about praise, and I believe him. I knew him many decades ago as a kind, insightful, comical and gentle man. If memory serves me at all well in my old age, then this friend of mine was, even way back then, a wee bit timid. Except . . . yes, except when he was acting as a teacher to young people. There and then he acted as a confident and relaxed master. I know this because I witnessed many of his performances. In some ways this long prologue (the word prologue holds more dignity than the term please get to the point nonsense) does indeed relate to the title of this article. See, as I thought about curling back up under the blankets, fetal style this morning, those deaths of friends, one of whom was just mentioned to me yesterday by the friend and writer I allude to here, along with the aches, pains and advanced-age associated physical limitations, left me feeling self-righteous about entertaining self-pity. And although my pretty partner booted my egotistical butt enough to encourage me to rise from the almost dead, once outside, where morning clouds let go to reveal afternoon sunshine, I felt obligated by a sense of honesty to admit that old or not, that having suffered loss or not, that with further loss and suffering to come included, this old world is indeed full of wonder. For all that I may feel is wrong with this world, and I do grow sad and sometimes angry by how mean we human beings can be to each other, there is plenty that is right with this world. I’ve just now tipped the one thousand word mark; nothing new for me there, but I’ll here on out try to limit the final paragraphs, to speak of just one right thing, one world wonder that I discovered in just the past few days. Let the photos associated with this article represent a few more bits of beauty I enjoyed today. About my friend, the talented, honest and humorous blogger. As I already mentioned, I knew him decades ago. He was a good man then, and from his writing and his photographs I now know that in spite of a long, dedicated but difficult career helping others in need, this guy hasn’t lost one bit of what was always good about him. And as justice sometimes does play itself out, this writer friend, I now discover, met and married a smart, pretty and talented woman. Together they share a son and two sweet grandchildren. That’s just perfect. That’s plenty enough to leave me with a smile today. This world is full of a lot of realities, some more sad than others. But whenever I discover a set of world wonders, I celebrate each and every one of them. Ciao, AVT
I’ve been traveling round the Internet since well before the World Wide Web became a public phenomenon. I remember the days when we curious geekatrons paid $12.00 an hour to the likes of Compuserve or AOL. Pioneer programmers helped us reduce the financial burden by creating software that allowed us to get on, grab the information we needed, and then get off fast to read while offline so as not to run up our tabs. All of these data running through a telephone wire, aided by a screeching, real modem (as in MODulate DEModulate the analog signal). I felt like a trailblazer who each day discovered more about where in the world one might travel while sitting on his bum da bum bum. One memorable morning, I found myself, by way of a program called gopher, perusing the stacks of a library in Sweden. I don’t read Swedish, but that didn’t matter. I was there! I had discovered something (i.e. the way) to reach something new (i.e. Information)! New information that entertained me, that stirred my bloody Sicilian brew, that urged me to call out to the person nearest me to say, “Hey, you have to see this! Perhaps you’ll even enjoy an adrenalin boost by way of reading it, no matter the lengua Swedish.”
I think it was John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, and creator of the term Scientifiction, which later evolved to become the term Science Fiction, who first spoke of that genre’s ability to elicit a “sense of wonder” in its readers. (If I’m mistaken about that please GoogleCorrect my lapse.) My early days as an Internet explorer oftentimes provoked that same reaction from me. This feeling regarding online excitement, the likes of which could raise even a Sicilian’s naturally sky-high blood pressure, might be difficult to imagine for the younger members of my audience (i.e. anyone who jumps out of bed in the morning without groaning).
Anyhow, and anywho, and also anyway, these days my hair is gray, my knees ache, and Google researchers have all but retired and replaced us paperback-book toting, hard-bound dictionary addicted, graceful disco darling old farts. Sure enough, through the Internet I learn new information. I gain knowledge, most of which sooner or later slips through the tired follicles on my head, and I’m glad to do so. Wisdom, no. Knowledge, often and for a while.
BUT . . . only on a rare occasion do I find myself supremely entertained when I come upon a blog for the first time. This happened to me a few days ago, and if you read further — that is if you’ll do my aging but stubborn ego the favor of reading this entire ramble — I’ll soon enough give you the link.
But first a little back story. I didn’t lead with it, so I’m allowed to wander, rather stumble, backward in time. I have a friend, a paisano as a matter of fact who calls himself Joey Fiorella (email@example.com ). Joey’s a sweet enough guy, and he’s — as youngsters are these days wont to say — hot. But that much is to be expected. After all, Mr. Fiorella is Sicilian. As is required of each and every one of us of the noble Sons of Italy, Joey has been trained from infancy to sing romantic ballads, to dance with a swan’s grace, to love with romance uppermost in his candlelit mind, and to recognize great writing, the kind of writing that is born of the minds of superior storytellers. I am but a wordsmith. The blog to which Mr. Fiorella recently referred me is written by a natural born ale, er . . . I mean tale spinner. Forgive my use of a perhaps overwrought expression, but this author, his apparent name is Dan Hen (maybe that appellation comes from his mother’s side), he will make you laugh, weep and whistle, all at the same time.
Now, as I binge read (that’s a modern expression to this old man), but as I scrolled, reverse scrolled, read and read again, something familiar regarding Mr. Hen’s writer’s voice struck my ear. I felt as if I could hear the man’s Irish brogue, see the devilish twinkle in his eyes, watch him mount the nearest rock there to exhort me to believe that a powerful force who ruled the universe would one day save me. Although sitting at my desk, staring through the tears in my eyes, and begging myself to read more, still I rose from that chair, stretched my arms and hands as if to reach the clouds above, and exclaimed, “Alleluiah! This guy is smart and funny!”
If you should heed my recommendation to visit Mr. Dan Hen, please don’t mention my insignificant name. That would do a disservice to my dear Sicilian compadre, Il Signore Fiorella. Instead, leave a comment there. Tell Dan Hen that Joey sent you.
HERE’S THE LINK TO Mr. HEN’S SITE:
Yesterday morning, when I first awoke, I set myself a goal: to find as many moments of holiday happiness as I could that day, no matter where I walked. No matter what I saw. No matter whom I met or how many people I passed along the way.
But I next reminded myself that the particular way that day would be somewhat unfamiliar to me. My kind and loyal chauffeur offered to take me Christmas shopping. I’m not much of a shopper at any time of year, but yesterday being the twenty-first of December, I figured that the stores’ aisles would feature a freeway’s worth of carts speeding at up to twenty-five miles per hour, bumping the fannies of folks who dared to block a certain lane while searching for that perfect present. As well, I imagined a few parking lot fender benders, agitated holiday elves exchanging insurance information, all the while staring off toward a particular shop’s wide windows, hoping that last techno-toy hadn’t yet been snatched by a competitor.
Holy manicotti! I woke up that morning of the twenty-first hugging optimistic intentions, but after a trip around the kinks and curls of my mind, I began to feel shaky and unsure of myself, as if I were yet asleep and unwilling to face the sunrise.
The script I’d created somewhere far behind my eyes, I realized, might make a decent horror movie. But where inside that unnerving story, I asked myself, might I enjoy a day filled with contentment and peace of mind if I’m to be surrounded by a frenzied herd of anxious consumers? Could I achieve my goal against such overhwelming odds? Might I discover holiday happiness in a parking lot full of frantic elfenfolk? I further considered the distinct possibility of acquiring a permanent, cart-shaped dimple in my otherwise pristine fanny and decided that such a wound would be unfair to an old man already scarred by life’s inevitable battles with oneself.
And then there’s to mention the fact that crowds leave me feeling closed into a tight corner and in need of enough free air to breathe in deep until my lungs fill like two balloons.
AVT’s Conscience Interrupts
No, Mr. AVT! No, you cannot find happiness if you imagine calamity before you leave the house. Remember all that writing you did just a few days ago about positive attitudes and starting out on the right foot? Have you forgotten what you said in those two articles?
Or worse yet, didn’t you mean what you wrote?
Try this. Remove the suit of armor you’re wearing. That’s right, get naked. No one’s watching, and no one cares. Now, allow the breeze to blow against your skin. Close your eyes and pay attention as the sweat evaporates and thus cools your vulnerable body. This is what it means to be human. You are indeed a human being, although you can — by force of stubborn will — deny your humanity and choose to see others as obstacles, which is tantamount to considering people as your enemies.
Or, by that same force of will, you are free to shed your defensive posture, bury your suit of armor, cross what you once perceived as the field of battle, shake hands with your compatriots, and join the club that requires no dues.
Those racing carts are pushed by enthusiastic people, people who are searching for gifts that might please the people they love. Can you see them smile when the gift they hold seems to match the friend or relative they’re thinking about? Can you hear the concern in their voices as they discuss the people they love? Are you listening?
And just who in that parking lot that you imagined feels frantic? Are you there to watch out for happiness, as you promised yourself, or are you too busy anticipating a fender bender that may never happen?
One more thing, Ebenezer AVT, before I leave you to yourself: Your fanny is as old as the rest of you, so it’s hardly pristine. Should someone’s shopping cart nudge your right or left cheek, I suggest letting that nudge tickle you there. If you think hard enough about what’s happening, you just might enjoy the experience. Remember when you were young, when your derriere was as smooth and tight as a peach? Back then I believe you would have given a lot to feel such a titillating touch.
Conscience, you make some good points. Yes, I remember what I wrote about adjusting my attitude, and stepping out on the foot that will lead me toward the greatest amount of pleasure.
The truth is that I can enjoy the refreshing cheerfulness of people during this holiday season only if I look for it. If I fail to open my eyes wide enough, then individual people can easily become a single, boisterous crowd. Better to listen to what people are saying to each other than to back away and so hear only noise. At this time of year, if I train my ears to hear happiness passing through the air, I’m likely to hear people greeting each other with wishes for a happy holiday.
Ebenezer AVT Enjoys Himself?
I should earlier have said that yesterday morning I awoke, set myself a noble goal, became possessed by the ghost of a crank named Ebenezer, paid heed to a fearsome apparition who resembled me, then reawakened a new and startled man.
Startled at first only because I found myself naked, and on inspection, in possession of a far less than pristine fanny.
Startled a second time, because nowhere — not even in the dusty corners of my chambers — could I find my suit of armor.
And startled thrice by the buoyant air of pleasure that filled my heart and swelled my gray-haired head.
Three startling occurences while I slept inside the cynical side of my mind.
Three. Is that biblical? Or is that evidence that Charles D. still wanders the netherworld, free of chains and generous with his good advice?
Whatever. Let it be.
Yesterday, after I awoke that second, wondrous time, my kind chauffeur told me that my eyes sparkled with apparent joy, and my voice nearly erupted with positive emotion.
We went Christmas shopping. My chauffeur parked the limousine. Long and luxurious though the vehicle is, and tight though was the parking slot, she survived without a scrape. I lept out from the passenger side and enjoyed a hearty, ho-ho-ho kind of laugh. Which evidence of happiness proved itself contagious.
As we walked toward the nearest shop, its windows aglitter with Christmas lights, not one, but several people addressed me with extravagant wishes for a Merry Christmas. I discovered that an unfamiliar spirit of delight inhabited my heart. I asked my chauffeur if we might not pick up our pace. I could hardly wait to enter the shop and grasp the handle of the first available shopping cart.
And yes, dear readers, I halted my voyage mid-aisle and bent a slight way over at the waist.
The nudge, or should I say the tickle, felt so good that I wanted to ask her to do it again.
Pristine or not, this old man owns sensitive parts.
Tickled or not, after all that Christmas shopping, I found myself in need of peaceful atmosphere. And so I and my chauffeur took a stroll through the woods.
I am an old man, and so too I am an old story. Some people tell me that my short tales too often look backward, into my long-ago years. These kind, tentative readers go on to say that immersing oneself in the nostalgic fantasy that the good old days were somehow better, more comfortable, easier to understand and so easier to negotiate is an intrinsically foolish notion. Further, they suggest evidence that contradicts the supposed good that defined the old days. They point out wars wherein evil dictators subjugated and murdered those they considered their lesser enemies. As well, these occasional readers remind me of the overt expressions of rank racism that were daily accepted, or worse ignored, by the folks who built the Twilight Zone town of Willoughby (Season 1, Episode 30). In short, my disappointed readers mention facts that indeed make it clear that not all was good back in the good old days. Far from it.
Nonetheless, I persist in traveling backward to the familial and societal practices that were truer, cleaner, more hopeful and yes, better than those practiced today. I also write about the fine and friendly traditions of my good old days that have today survived and thrived.
I LEARN TO LOVE READING
My mother, angry and depressed person though she was most of the time, recognized that I was a smart kid. She taught me to read well before I began grammar school, and with what little spare money she had after feeding and clothing four boys and a husband, she bought me a few books. Like most children who early on catch the reading bug, I would read whatever book she placed in front of me.
Heidi quick became one of my favorite stories. After completing my endless line of chores, I’d close myself inside my bedroom, lie belly down on my bed, wiggle my body close to the cool plaster wall, and enter Heidi’s world, a safe world, where her at first hesitant grandfather soon comes to love, guide and protect her. Back then, I couldn’t have arranged the words to explain what I felt while I read, but I felt more comforted and more protected in Heidi’s world than in my own. I wanted to travel to snowy Switzerland, there to meet Grandfather, Heidi and Klara.
I CRAVE COMFORT & ESCAPE INSIDE LIBRARIES
Most of my classmates mentally hopped about inside their maplewood school seats when June arrived. They dreamt of playing street football; of being a Little League Baseball hero; or of careening down the steep hill of Thompson Avenue, their feet snuggly keyed into metal roller skates. Bicycle races, too, were popular, especially the ones that often ended in crashes that warriors would recount for days afterward. For those boys and girls, all of that exertion of the body meant freedom. Freedom from the strict enforcement of school rules and a fresh-air break from the incomprehensible mysteries of mathematics.
But none of that dreaming was for me. I was a nerd, although the word nerd wasn’t one of those used by my mates to describe me, not way back then. Weirdo, retard, pussy, and sometimes faggot. The reason? Two reasons, actually. 1. I loved school. I wanted to learn more. I didn’t want the school year to end. 2. Summers spent at home with my mother meant that I’d be allowed no time for playing with my classmates; and I could not tell them the reason. The telling would only make things worse at home. Explaining further, even here today, would only spoil the heart of this article: Libraries are indeed an escape, especially for an intelligent but troubled child. I could not tell my classmates that I wasn’t allowed to play with anyone during the summer months.
My seventh grade teacher, Mr. Steven Bretcher, told us that we had to be twelve years old to be eligible for a public library card. Once I met Mr. Bretcher, I knew the true meaning of stern. The man never smiled. He wore the same, square-shouldered suit each day. He placed his desk at the back of the room, and from there he watched — and I imagine he hoped for — some dull but innocent kid to commit a sin, a slight infraction of the rules. Linda Williams, dressed in a prim, pleated skirt and a lacey white blouse, lit Mr. Bretcher’s fuse one morning by reading the morning bible passage too slowly. “Can’t you just say water fast like everyone else, fer chrissake?” he screamed. Linda started to weep. “Not that act again,” he yelled. “Just go sit down.”
I can say for sure that Mr. Bretcher was not one of the good things about the good old days. Nowadays, however, I feel sorry for him. At that time, not too many men taught seventh grade. I suspect that Steve Bretcher hated his job. Further I suspect that he felt trapped. I knew even then how being trapped feels. Maybe he should have tried the library.
The twelve-year-old rule sort of ruined my plans, or rather postponed them. My twelfth birthday that year wouldn’t arrive until Friday, August 10th. Summer birthdays were a drag for several reasons, one being that it was tough to get invitations out to kids who are off vacationing, while you’re home cleaning the toilet for the third time that week. On the positive side of nature, you could say I acquired a strong work ethic by way of my mother’s sick and strict rules regarding cleanliness and godliness.
I ARRIVED AND HUDDLED INSIDE THE PINK LIBRARY
That summer, I worked my chores without complaint. As well, I praised my mother for her attention to every detail, for her neverending hunt for the one dustball that escaped the vacuum tube, for her use of a magnified eye when checking the bathroom’s corners for a vagrant pubic hair.
And I intermittently thanked her for teaching me to read. I effervesced when I spoke of the books she had purchased for me. I enthused whenever I scrubbed the kitchen floor, the whole time quoting Robert Frost.
I’ll never be sure if my mother took my thanks to heart and melted, or if she just became so sick and tired of hearing my romantic poetry that she surrendered, figuring it might be better to imprison me inside the local library than to listen to me croak on about which road I’d take.
Whichever, or whatever. I today must be kind and realize that my mother, an avid reader herself, understood my craving for books. Books, and the stories within them, were to me more delicious than any food. I feel the same way today (although I admit that if one day I’m starving to death, I’ll beg for manicotti before even thinking about Richard Yates or Daphne DuMaurier).
On Saturday, August 11th, my mother and I walked the mile and a half up Main St., turned right on West Washington Blvd. and made our way to the local library’s front door.
The building was made of cinderblock walls, painted pink. Perhaps ten rows of blocks were piled one on top of the other, cement stripes between each row, before the walls gave way to wide picture windows. I stared through those windows at the rows of books that were lined up there. Here and there, between those lines of books vines of green philodendron climbed down from the ceiling.
We walked inside and approached the librarian’s desk. I’ll never remember her name, but the kindness inside her voice remains with me today. Library cards were filled out with typewriter and fountain pen. I held the card in my hand, stared at my full name on the top line, and something inside my chest swelled.
After a brief walkaround, the librarian explaining all the way the meaning of the Dewey Decimal System, and the way to use the card catalog, both ladies left me alone to browse. Alone for a time that felt endless and full of adventure.
I bent down and lay on my belly, wiggled my body close to the shelf of books that first took my fancy. I pulled out one book, scanned a few pages, then repeated the process many times over, until I realized that I could stay right there, that I could live inside that pink library and read there for the rest of my life. I was twelve just the day before. As such, I still ignored that nagging adult sense of practicalities.
After what might have been an hour, I walked out of that pink library, with two books in my right hand, and my mother’s hand inside my left. Eli Whitney, Master Craftsman. We Were There At The Battle For Bataan.
If God lay there with me that day, then perhaps He could explain my choice of books. I can say only — and yes, I repeat myself here — that back then, back in the good old days of my youth, if you handed me most any book, I’d find that book interesting.
Nowadays, near the end of my voyage along the river, I am more apt to put a book down if that book doesn’t take me away. But wouldn’t life as an old man be so much more wonderful if that man could reawaken his child’s sense of enthusiasm?
At the least, I am to this day in love with libraries. May they always exist to serve the great population of kind readers.
A kind, sweet friend sent me the photograph you see to the left of this text. I don’t recognize the man behind the oh-so-mod cranberry shades, but my friend assures me that he holds the same last name as I. Maybe, then, he’s a distant cousin. Certainly, as his surname indicates, he’s another highly intelligent and creative Sicilian artist.
This stud’s sveldt form and creamy smooth face lead me to believe that he is chronologically at that point along the rainbow spectrum that we often refer to as the prime of life. His salt-sprayed coiffure says to me that this artist to the stars has been around long enough to have acquired a wee bit of wisdom. Yet his relaxed, confident stance makes me wonder if he thinks he knows a whole lot more about the world than any one person can know. I mean, look at that lip-pursed whistle aimed at the camera (and for whom was this prideful young man posing?), as if he’s blowing away any tidbit of doubt about himself. Now combine that faux kiss aimed at the photographer with the non-chalant crossing of his arms. If I weren’t such an old, wise man, so fair and considerate of all my brothers and sisters, I’d be tempted to name this nubile namesake of mi famiglia an arrogant kid, wet behind his green ears, and so soon bound for a crash of great proportions.
But that kind of rude judgement would damage my current reputation as a man who offers a hug to everyone he meets. And yes, I admit that my Hug Line is oftentimes long. In consequence, I always carry with me a sporty, red, white and green plastic bottle of organic water. As well, I tuck into the pockets of my slacks a few All Natural energy bars.
In any event, I hope the whistling Sicilian survives his crash and then some, if for no other reason than that he carries a surname that is itself burdened with a great sense of responsibility to the world, at least to the part of the world known as Sicilia.
As usual, I’m sorry to say that, although I intended the meat — the filet — of this article to be about the importance of starting one’s day by setting off on the right foot, I began by writing about a mysterious man’s questionable personality and most assured fate.
So now to the setting, and to the right foot. I have no idea why one’s right foot should be associated with positivity, as opposed to one’s left foot. So, feel free to take your first morning step with your sinister foot. After all, so much of the military marches not to the tune of I had a good home and I right. That would sound silly.
Yesterday, I began my experiment with donning a positive attitude. This is not at all an easy suit for me to wear. I tend to see the gray sky of a cloudy day as an omen of grayer times to come. I have my reasons, most having to do with the frequent appearance of uninvited evil into my young life. I once in a while succumb to self-pity, close my eyes, and see the deepest shade of blue behind my lids.
Yet, of late I learned that once a person surrenders to the reality that he is not alone with the experience of suffering, that in fact he is a member of the human race, every member of which suffers to one degree or another, at one time or another in life. . . Rather, I should say that once I surrendered to that reality, I gained the ability to connect with other people. Not so much by talking about how much each of us suffers, although friendships often involve such sharing, but most of the time by talking about how, when and where each of us experiences joy. Joy is contagious. Joy buoys us.
Joy and suffering; one does not negate the other. And so today I continue to practice setting off on whichever foot will lead me to enjoy the warmth, beauty and joy inherent in most days. If I manage to see this practice through, I suspect that I’ll be better able to handle the bad times in my life, if only then to remind myself that I, along with my friends and lovers, have been the benefactor of this grand, mysterious gift we call life.
So how did I fare today?
Well, I began my morning at 6:30 by visiting the Vampire Clinic, there to have blood sucked from my veins and sent to Transylvania for analysis. Usually, I moan and complain to the air about the necessity of this journey. Today, instead, I reminded myself that the medicine men are fiddling with my blood so as to keep me alive. I then entered the chamber that smells of chemicals and chatted with the phlebotomist about her plans for Christmas. She always, by way of her smiling personality, makes my visits as pleasant as possible. (And please, don’t tell the world that she’s cute, because I never notice such things.)
Next, I attended a 7:00 AM meeting of friends, friends who — as I mentioned before — know their fair share of suffering and equal share of happiness. We spoke a bit about both, but most of all we laughed. I’ve always agreed with the research experts who tell us that laughter is good for the soul. I left that meeting with a smile on my face and a determination to write this article somewhere residing inside the heart of me.
The weather report for today calls for showers at some point during the afternoon, and certainly tonight. This kind of forecast usually settles itself inside that somber side of my mind. At 8:00 AM our meeting ended, and I almost decided to walk home. “No,” I told myself. “Take your machine to your favorite coffee shop, and there write this article.” I knew that if I traveled home immediately after that meeting, I’d head straight to my bed for an old-man nap. Old-man naps are healthy, perhaps even necessary. But old-man naps can, as well, quick become habitual excuses for accomplishing nothing on any particular day.
Before I retired from my career, tired or not, I each day remained awake and focused sufficiently to accomplish the work I was assigned. Sure, I was a younger man for most of those years. I no longer am able to maintain such long hours at an optimal level of energy.
Still, I’m not so old that I have nothing to offer to others each day. I write to please myself and to communicate with at least one reader.
So today I count myself successful. Should I credit my left or right foot?
One final photographic gift for today:
I awoke this morning at 4:30 AM. This is my common practice. Maja, my fluffy, feline companion, sits close to the foot of my bed about then and begins to shiver her neck, left to right in rapid fashion. This exercise sets her three metal tags to jangling. An insistent eight bars’ worth of jangling means, “Get up and feed me, Pop. I can’t open these dang cans on my own. You should know that by now.”
Now, I love my cat. Too many, although not all, muscled men say they can’t abide cats, and that they far prefer dogs. They further tell us that dogs communicate with men as friends-to-friends, whereas cats don’t give a hoot about anything but their food. I refuse to enter that conversational boxing ring, that figurative battle that can never be won. But I will say that I suspect that most men who drive dusty pickup trucks believe that a little cat sitting back in the bed would look far less than representative of their tough, tattooed owners, and even further less like friendly bodyguards. That statement might actually result in a sudden climb in hits to this website, as the battle rages on.
But to climb back onto the track my pretty cat travels. She’s black and sleek and oftentimes an accommodating, sweet puff of comfort. (e.g. She remains close by my side whenever I’m feeling lonesome or ill.) And, what the heck, I don’t mind rising from my bed at the early hour of 4:30 AM. After all, I’m retired. I can always return to bed, pull the straw blankets over my head and pretend to be a child for an hour or more.
But this day being Monday — I had to squint my eyes and look to my newfangled mobile phone to note the day and time — I decided to take a friend’s advice and don a positive attitude, and as my friend tells it, thereby ensuring that I make the most of my day. Now I admit that I know precious little about what folks mean when they say, “It’s all about attitude.”
Sure enough, if you’re standing on the wallflower sidelines of a barn dance, and gorgeous, sumptuous, delicious Becky Sue Patroni is standing nearby flicking her eyelashes in your direction. And your friend Bobby Joe Bataglia whispers that fact into your ear. And all you can say, over and over and maybe even over again, is “Aw shucks now, Bobby Joe. Becky? Everybody loves Becky Sue. She’d just tell me no, thank you, and then leave me all alone and sadder than before I asked.”
Well, even these days, when I admit to being the old Italian guy who lives down the street, and inside a house that smells like provolone and pepperoni. Even nowadays I know better than to hold such a negative attitude as I held that night at the barn dance. I sure lost a lot of Italian loving that way. I hear tell that Becky Sue Patroni moved from the marshlands of South Jersey, from where we all hail, and straight into the Big City of Trenton. Today, yes this very Monday, right smack dab in the center of that metropolis sits Patroni’s Pizzeria. Someday, maybe I’ll wander up that way and try a slice. Sure enough, I’ll have to ask Bobby Joe if he’d drive, because I never got my driver’s license. Don’t much need one unless you’re planning to move from The Land of Reeds and Mosquitoes.
Like I said at the head of this article. Here’s how best I thought I might don a positive attitude today. First, I cooked a hearty breakfast of scrambled egg whites, one slice of unbuttered toast, one scoop of tasteless yogurt plopped over one-half of a sliced banana. Not the same as your traditional South Jersey morning meal of eggs cooked in bacon grease poured from an old coffee can, fried potatoes, two fat links of fried sausage, and a side of buckwheat flapjacks. Certainly not that hearty, no. But, you see, I’m diabetic, so salt and anything carbohydrate — turns fast to sugar — is taboo. Oh woe is I! I should move to Sicily; my ancestors know how to eat and stay healthy longer.
When I was a little kid of seven or eight — a skinny, brainy runt of a human being, I remember a rainy day when Dad and I took a bus to visit my Grandmom’s house. There my Dad and I congregated with my Sicilian aunts and uncles. I sat in an overstuffed chair that smelled of the sweat of laborers. Across the room was a staircase that led to the house’s second floor. Hanging all along that staircase’s railing were pairs of my aunt’s under panties. Today I realize that back on that stormy day in 1957, an aunt couldn’t expect her lacy garments to dry outside. Gas dryers weren’t yet a reality, at least not for poor Sicilians.
I clenched my fists around the mahogany arms of the stuffed chair where I sat, and with my fingernails I scraped off years’ worth of wax applied one coat on top of another. I squeezed and scraped because my nerves buzzed and spit fire through my neck and upper back, then down through my arms and legs. My grand famiglia was busy shouting, and this upset my little boy emotional equilibrium. Uncle Johnnie, always a cigar stub between his lips, raised his voice higher than that of his wife, Rosa. Rosa wept and begged someone, anyone, to lend her a handkerchief. Johnnie, I decided, acted as if the more air you shot from your lungs when you spoke, the more righteous your statement must be.
In the meantime, my Uncle Antonio, one of my namesakes they told me, screeched his opinion of President Eisenhower at my Dad, Rosario. Antonio’s spit flew through the air so far and fast that it hit one of my aunt’s pair of panties. I didn’t think my aunt would notice, but I jumped up from my chair, held my tiny fists high, approached Uncle Antonio and challenged him to a fight. Of course, I was defending my Dad, but somewhere deep inside my underdeveloped mind I understood that by being around this famiglia sostenendo, I was becoming one of them.
All the boisterous voices became too much to bear for me. And it wasn’t just the volume that offended me and hurt my ears. Not at all, because at that young time in my life, I understood my famiglia’s native tongue. I knew who was insulting whom and in what manner. I didn’t yet know the word jugular. But I knew that their words felt like knife stabs between relatives. When my Dad asked me to come with him to visit Grandmom, I said yes, and I felt excited by the prospect. Even the most lonely child realizes that family should be a place where a positive attitude is shared by all.
I still cherish many of the memories I today associate with mi famiglia. I can even chuckle at the distant sound of their shouting matches. Letting off steam, Sicilian style.
But I don’t enjoy that kind of behavior today. Too much negativity became a part of me as I was a part of them. I did not become a screamer, but I did become — for a long while — a believer in the notion that every argument must be won. These days, I try to avoid seeing differences between me and another person. Instead, I try to see the things we hold in common. That’s how friendships are built.
As usual, I’ve veered off the straightaway and turned deep into a tangent. So, let’s return to my proposed positive attitude.
I told you that this morning I arose early and fed my baby cat. I hoped that after a 7:00 AM meeting, I’d be able to take a walk, and along the way snap some pictures. My hope was dashed, and so too was my pre-determined insistence on maintaining a positive attitude. The weather report informed me that rain would fall, beginning late this afternoon. For a while, I sulked. But this time not for long. Instead, I cleaned myself into a presentable state, picked up my camera, and walked through the gray clouds, and eventually through the beginning sprinkles. My goal: To find a and snap photos of beauty common in my neighborhood on a rainy day. I found plenty, and through the process of looking for and finding beauty, I acquired a more than positive attitude. I feel grateful to have had this day. Grateful for this rainy day.
I’m here again, at The Poet’s Hall of Fame. Quite a few authors, masters of the craft, once sat inside this eclectically decorated room and penned soon-to-be-published books. The name of today’s most popular, talented and successful such author to have written his masterpiece here is oftentimes whispered by members of the international literati.
But today not one master of the craft is here. Today is Saturday, so the crowd includes a few older folks. Weekdays bring a throng of university students, dressed to impress and equipped with flashing laptop computer screens that turn The Hall of Fame into a distorted image of one of the houses of congress, minus the pressed suits and gridlocked conversations.
Today’s group of wise and earnest senior citizens, however, earlier this morning swallowed their prescribed pills and vitamins to the tune of fresh-squeezed, organic orange juice. That much is apparent by way of the peachy pink flush that colors their soft, lined cheeks. They next pulled out from their closets plaid flannel shirts, faded 501 jeans, and fatigue jackets with frayed cuffs. Add a few pair of wire-rimmed glasses and gray beards (including my own), and there you have us.
Sipping bitter coffee. Munching on vegan muffins that no doubt contain great spoonfuls of granulated sugar that will send our glucose levels into the stratosphere. But what the heck, if you can’t cheat on Saturday, then when can you cheat?
Some of us cheat and eat while studying old-fashioned, paper newspapers. Which habit taunts us till we begin to spout and spit political philosophy. Yes, the tall man sitting at the table in front of me — I know his frequent presence here well enough to understand that he’s a lawyer. A suave-mannered lawyer whose wife must listen to his wisdom born of white hair and long exposure to the fumes emitted by oak-panelled courtrooms. I sometimes stretch my elephant ears beyond their normal limits, and thus intrude in silence on their one-sided conversation. My goal: to count the number of times a female voice joins the conversation. That number, it turns out, is statistically insignificant. Frequent, though, are female head nods, which may indicate either constant agreement or represent a non-verbal way of saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
And so I feel embarrassed, because I own the same insulting habit. Even when I was a young child, just out of diapers, I scoped out the least little breathing break in a conversation, and then dived into that slip of air to tell you what little AVT thought. After all, I was impressed by my articulate opinion, so it stood to reason — to my reason, that is — that my opinion would impress you. I ignored the wrinkled noses and wayward glances that oftentimes came as responses to my speeches.
Somewhere, a long time ago, I read that writers are not the talkative type, that most of them prefer to express themselves on the page. So either I’m not a writer, or the adage is flawed. Or I’m an example of a flaw in an otherwise reliable adage? Could that type of flaw be yet another medical condition common to the old and frail? I’ll have to ask one of my nine doctors. Likely is the need for an additional bottle of giant pills, another set of visits to the Vampire Clinic to have more blood sucked from my sagging veins. And if I’m lucky, I’ll have to buy a ticket for another exciting ride through the scan the damned body tube. We’ll see. Like my Philadelphia friend reminds me, “Whataya gonna do?”
Nowadays, in the winter of my life (as Frankie S. might say), I try to curb my interjections. My tongue is stippled with teethmarks to prove my assertion. Still, I’ve discovered that the best way to avoid committing this mortal sin is to make myself scarce when such conversations occur. To do otherwise requires frequent trips to the confessional. That proposition unsettles me, because as a serial interrupter I suspect that God must have imposed a limit on such transgressions, after which absolution must be refused.
Interruption #1: Baby Girl, Please Remain Young
A healthy bit of innocent comic relief in the form of a baby girl now attends this time-honored gathering of weathered hippies. Complicated, multi-syllabic, poly-paragraphed apologies for the twisted state of global politics fly around her pink-cheeked head. Yet, she walks back and forth from her parents’ table to the corner bookshelf, each trip choosing a different book to deliver to Mommy, who reads the story with her. Eventually, baby girl appears to tire of walking, and so she gets down on all fours and crawls the round-trip distance from Mommy to bookshelf. I smile to myself and wonder why we old folks at some time, and for some odd reason, decided that it was more noble to walk, even when our legs cramp and our feet burn, than it would be to crawl and thus gain greater mobility and muscular relief. Society’s rules are sometimes a matter of nothing more than false pride.
Interruption #2: So What’s The Point Of This Lengthy, Wrinkled Whine?
Older folks, as in the group to which I belong while holding on to the tail end of my youthful years inside my dreams.
I cannot yet settle with this new reality — new for me, that is — of being old. At what precise point in my life did I become old? On what day, month, and year did my deterioration begin?
1981: I remember driving one of those bullet-shaped Toyota tanks westward, along a nighttime Venice Boulevard in Southern California. For most of the east end of that highway, the streetlamps and vehicle headlights sprayed a white, diffused light, offering just enough illumination to allow a driver to negotiate traffic.
But when I reached the intersection of Venice Boulevard and Lincoln, the traffic signal turned red in front of me. I stopped and noticed that all four corners of this intersection were so brightly lit by billboard advertisements, fast-food lollipop signs, and gasoline station fluorescence that I needed to squint my eyes. Seeking a slither of darker air, I stared into my car’s rearview mirror. There I noticed that I had a bad case of dandruff. Not an uncommon occurence back then; my hair was full and thick. I reached my right hand up to the top of my head and began to use my fist as a hairbrush, desperate to whick away most of the dandruff before I reached my friend’s beachside cottage.
Long story, made shorter:
I repeated this redlight fist-brushing exercise at each of several successive intersections, only in gradual fashion admitting to my arrogant self that dandruff was neither inside my rearview mirror, nor in my bushy hair.
I had acquired a broad speckled spray of white hair, that speckle just beginning to mingle with my darker bush, but bound eventually to overtake and conquer what for so many years had been my Samson’s pride.
I mark that night in 1981 as the first time I took note of my mortality. Yes, I am strange. But I think I’m not alone.
I’ve been coming to this Poet’s Hall of Fame to write since the days when my hair was brown and my hopes were high for one day publishing a book that would make me feel relevant. Of course, because I was young and not a genius, I found out soon enough that my goal might not be reached for many years, or might never be reached. I was a green writer. Back then, I thought too much about how fast my writing would mature.
Well, this year is 2014. I never, when I was a young buck run through by copious amounts of testosterone, thought I’d live to see the year 2000, much less 2014. As well, I never imagined the truth about AVT the scribbler. Although I’m old, gnarled and withered, as a writer I am still green. And green, my friends, is to me a refreshing color.