Accidental Perfection

 

TatoosDad&Girl

I am going to do something that is so wrong, I can’t believe I’m even contemplating doing it.  There is no law that I know of that is against doing this, but it runs against the grain of logic and decency.

I am going to speculate about a man’s life.  I do not know this man.  I’ve never met him and I have absolutely no clue about his inner life.  But, I’m going to speculate about it anyway.

I need to make a point, and I have to use him to do so.

Let me repeat, I have never met this man, don’t know his name, kind of job he has, anything about his home life, marriage, upbringing, education, religious beliefs or the kind of dessert he likes after eating the kind of meal he loves (which I have no idea about).

So, lacking real information, I am forced to provide my own.  I always say: never let the facts interfere with a good story.

Let’s think about this guy’s life for a minute.  He looks fairly healthy.  He wears cool sunglasses so he is clearly aware of the value of UV protection of his retina.  He is dressed less than casual, he is not wearing a shirt.  His lip is pierced and I notice that nearly all exposed skin from his neck down is heavily tattooed.  These days, that’s not such a big whoop, but I’m an old guy.  My out-dated concept of sporting a tattoo is rife with innuendoes.  When I was young, the only people you heard about who sported tattoos were sailors and guys who walked across the floors of Texas bars, holding the skinny end of a pool cue and about two minutes away from beating some poor fellow to a bloody mess and leaving him in the floor like the killing room of an Omaha cattle processing plant.

This fellow sitting in front of me may well have done just that, in another time of his life.  Perhaps he put a needle in his arm at a cheap motel in Kansas City?  Maybe he had spent more than one night in the ‘tank’, drying out from a week-long binge drinking trip with a pal he just met in a bar in Toledo who sold Bibles, house to house.  Possibly he existed for years on a diet of peanut butter and saltines, or Dinty Moore Beef Stew?   Or, when he felt like having a gourmet meal, he would empty and slice an entire can of Spam and make a sandwich with Wonder Bread.  Maybe he went to a clinic for shots of penicillin because of a misspent weekend with a hooker from Key West. Maybe he did all these things.  Maybe he did none of them.  Maybe he ate granola and yogurt and passed on the desert of dried dates.

Perhaps he flossed every night.

So, what’s my point in inventing a possible life of unsavory actions for a guy I never saw before?

The answer is in the eyes of his daughter.  That’s the miracle of life.  That is Nature functioning and firing on all six cylinders.  What ever this guy did with his life, at the moment of conception and during the next nine months, Nature forgave him his sins and biology worked its magic.  The result is this little being of perfection that was being lovingly held in his artistic arms.

I am aways in awe of how the human body can repair, restart and move on after suffering through neglect and abuse.

Really, though.  This guy probably lived a good honest and true life.

I wouldn’t know this, however.  I never met the man.

 

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Cause and Effect: My Front Porch Dilemma

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Today, on my front porch, I was faced with a dilemma.  I was a witness to an act of nature, an act that is repeated a billion times each minute here in the North Woods.  If you factor in the endless variations on this particular situation that occur world-wide, then the number is incalculable.

But I was allowed a peak of only one such entanglement.  And, that is what it was.  An entanglement.  As I stepped off the porch onto the ramp leading to the new stone walkway, something caught the corner of my left field of vision.  It was under the cornice of the roof, you know, where the giant icicle grows from November until late April.  The mass of this ice, building drop by drop, grows into something large and frightening as a homegrown glacier.  Take a portion of Niagara Falls..drop the temperature to -75 degrees and you have an inkling of what drapes itself off the corner of our roof.  I’ve considered renting it out to ice-climbers for weekend workouts and crampon practice.

Thank heavens it’s over the guest room.

But I digress.

What caught my eye was a rather large dragon-fly.  We have hundreds of them on our back deck.  I, who have a revulsion to mosquitos, black flies, spiders, snakes and larger-than-mouse-size rodents (I can’t bring myself to even utter the word), find dragon flies beautiful and non-threatening.  It’s about the only flying insect in the entire Adirondacks that is non-threatening (you can’t count moths and Monarch butterflies).  The dragon-fly mates while flying and the males is upside-down and backwards, but delicate eyes and minors might be reading this blog so I can’t go into details.  One sat on my knee a few days ago.  It was so passive and friendly, I almost gave it a name and thought about taking it for a walk.  They don’t make leashes that small, however.

My appreciation for the dragon-fly increased 1,000 % when Mariam told me she saw one eating small gnat-like things in mid-flight.  Now, there’s a bug I can like.

So, here’s the problem: this particular fly was caught in a single strand of spider web material.  As I stood looking at it, I didn’t notice the gossamer web and I thought the fly was levitating.  I knew they were really cool, but still…

I had forgotten about seeing the spider’s web a few days before.  I asked Mariam if I should swipe it away…not a good thing for visitors to see as they approach our front door.  We thought for a moment and decided to leave it unmolested.  After all, you don’t have to be Charles Darwin or John Muir to know that spiders eat insects.  (Remember, I don’t like insects…or spiders, so that was a whole other dilemma for another blog).

Back to the imprisoned dragon-fly.  I hadn’t noticed the web so I tickled it ever so slightly.  It jumped to life and tried to fly away.  But it was caught by the spider.

That’s the moment when the enormity of the situation hit me like a lug nut flying off a truck on 7th Avenue.  Should I walk away, not interfering with the cycle of nature and let the spider feast on the fly?  Or, should I deprive the spider of its honestly won reward of good home-made fly goo?

I couldn’t help but to insert the human factor (mine) into this picture.  “Take Nothing But Pictures & Leave Nothing But Footprints” is what all the signs tell us when we are in an area of great natural beauty.  And, this scene on my porch was natural beauty.

My choices were simple: do nothing and let nature “happen” i.e., the fly gets eaten, or free the fly.  Now if I interfered by freeing the fly, said fly would, hopefully, go off to eat more insects that annoyed the hell out of me.  I win.  The dragon-fly wins.  The spider loses.

Before I raised my hand, I considered further ramifications.  If the fly dies early for lack of food, he/she may not have a chance to reproduce, thus lessening the overall number of spider in the future.  If I let the fly die, there may not be time to reproduce, thus lessening the future generation(s) of dragon flies.  Therefore, more annoying insects.

I tried to project this dilemma into the distant future.  One pair of dragon flies can, conceivably, be responsible for millions of future generations of their species.  The same goes for the spider.  My actions, in the real natural world, would have far-reaching consequences.

I decided to take a moral leap into the unknown.  I freed the dragon-fly.  It didn’t hang around long enough to thank me.  Probably because it had some time in the web contemplating its short term future.  They’re not that stupid.

What made me decide to do what I did?  I think it was, while I was mulling the situation over, I was attacked by a mosquitos.

I deprived the mosquito of future generations by smashing it into a bloody spot on my forearm.

Gabby Hayes and the Mouseketeers? I Don’t Think So

One of my childhood playmates was a pathological liar.  The things he told me went well beyond fibs and bragging that is so common among boys of about eleven years of age.  I mean I once told my girlfriend that if she closed her eyes, I would take her to the far side of the moon.

She didn’t go for it.

When I was in sixth grade, I told the nun that my dog, King, ate my homework.  She looked bored and told me that if King didn’t cough it up by the next morning, I was gong to get an “F”.

I talked to King about the situation I was in and he just looked at me with those big dog eyes.  They were brown, but so are most eyes on a dog, except a husky, of course.  Their eyes are different colors.  I tried to tell my girlfriend that huskies have one blue eye and one brown eye.

She slapped me for acting like she was stupid and I got the “F” from the nun.

I learned early on that it didn’t necessarily work out well when you lie.

But, my playmate never picked up on this fact.  And, (all joking aside) his compulsive prevarications would get him in trouble with me…and years later, with the law.  So, here’s how it all played out:

One summer afternoon in 1958, my friend, Clyde (not his real name, but that doesn’t make me a liar) and I were climbing the apple tree in my back yard.  He lived several houses away, on Front Street, in Owego, NY.  It was while we sat on the third branch that faced the garage my dad built in about 1954 that he told me the first blatant lie that I can recall.  We were all, the whole neighbor, the entire town, all of America was caught in the grip of The Mickey Mouse Club.  I think it was aired on Sunday evenings, but I may be wrong…I’m not lying about it!  My brother joined the Club and got a real cap with real mouse ears.  This was the real thing, not some knock-off, the actual cap with ears.  My brother used the money he made mowing lawns to pay the $1.00 dues.  I mowed lawns too, but I figured that Harvey’s Grocery needed my money more than Disney Studios.  After all, back then five cents would get you a Mars bar or a Snickers.  That’s not to say that I didn’t want a mouse-ears cap too.  It’s just my mother wouldn’t give me the money.

But I digress.

All of us in the neighbor had our favorite mouseketeers.  There was cute little Karen and Cubby (he still plays the drums).  There was Jimmy Dodd, the father figure.  Roy was the big mooseketeer.  There was Cheryl, Tommy, Larry, Sherry, Eileen, Lonnie, Doreen, Jay-Jay and Bobby (who went on to be a professional dancer on the Lawrence Welk Show).  There were others.  But, (oh, be still my beating heart), there was also the one and only Annette.  ALL, repeat ALL the boys were hopelessly in love with Annette.  I would guess it was because she was the most developed…talent on the show.

Clyde and I sat talking about the show.  It was on that warm afternoon that he told me he had lived in California for several years.  He also told me that he walked Doreen home from the studios every day.

MouseketeersI looked at him, wanting to believe him, but even my eleven year old brain told me that it was highly unlikely that one of the famous mouseketeers would be walking home from Disney Studios with a “regular’ guy like Clyde.  I did want to believe him.

But, about a half-hour later, he told me that Gabby Hayes gave him a pair of cowboy boots.  It was then that I dropped my willing suspension of disbelief.

“I don’t think so.” I said.  “Can you show them to me?”

“Umm, we left them in California when we moved here,” he said, after some quick thinking.

After that more amazing tales came forth.  Clyde told me his father had won the RCAF Medal of Honor.  Clyde, you see, was originally from Canada.

The tales continued and I continued to shelve them in a box called “Outright Fabrications.”

Then Clyde moved back to California and I didn’t hear from him again, until…

Flash forward to high school.  It’s the early 1960’s.  From out of nowhere, Clyde shows up for a visit in Owego.  I think he stayed with a friend of mine.  By this time he was a blonde surfer dude.  And because he was a blonde surfer dude, he had the girls of OFA all wondering about him and wanting to get to know him.

I was jealous.  My main female interests were now taken with this blond guy from the west coast.  Things got out of hand when a jealous boyfriend of one the girls wanted to take Clyde outside during a sock hop at the gym.  It nearly came down to a fist fight until I broke it up and my friend and I removed Clyde from the scene.  He left for California two days later.

Good riddance, I thought, when I heard he had gone home.  Now the girls could get back on track to adoring us home boys.

Flash forward to the mid-1970’s.  I’m a full-time teacher living and working in the Scranton area.  I miss my hometown so I find lame excuses to spend a weekend in Owego at my parents’ house.  My mother asks if I remember Clyde.  I tell her that I certainly do.  Well, she says, he called a few times in the last few days and wants to stop by for a quick visit.  I told her that if he called again, I would like to have a talk with him.

A week later, I make the turn into our driveway at Broken Arm Curve and there’s a car I don’t recognize parked on our lawn.  I see it has California plates.  There’s a blonde guy standing beside the car.  It’s Clyde.  We chat about old times.  I don’t bring up the lies he told me for years…what’s the point?  I do notice that he looks nervous and keeps checking the cars on the street.  About thirty minutes later, my older brother pulls in the driveway.  He teaches in Virginia and is stopping for a brief visit with us before he heads to the Adirondacks where he loves to canoe and camp.  But, before he can get out of his car, Clyde says a quick good-bye to me and in a moment, he’s gone.

Strange, I thought, but then I remember how strange Clyde can be.

Flash forward to the late 1970’s.  I’m sitting in our dining room eating a speedie from John’s Grocery on North Avenue.  I’m drinking a Coors Gold.  The phone rings.  I answer it and a woman’s voice asks if it’s Pat Egan.  I said yes.

“You might not remember me, but my name is Judy Smith Jones (not her real name).  I used to play in your backyard when I was a child.  I’m Clyde’s young sister. I’m calling from California.”

“Yes, I remember you,” I said, very surprised to hear her after so many years.

“Have you seen Clyde?” she asked without any more comment.

“Not in a few years, Judy.  I saw him maybe three or four years ago.  He stopped by for a brief visit.”

“Pat, are you sure?  Has he tried to call you?

“Not that I know of.”

“Well, it may come as no secret to you, but Clyde has difficulty telling the truth about a lot of things.”

“Yeah, I guessed as much when he told me about Gabby Hayes.”

“Well, he’s told some people some very serious lies…and now he’s missing.  The police in at least two states out here are looking for him.  We think he may have headed back to see you and be in Owego again.”

“What the hell did he say, Judy?”

“I can’t tell you…now.  But if you hear from him in any way, please call me.  We’re very worried.  He’s in over his head.”

“Of course, I will, Judy.”  She gave me her phone number and hung up.

That’s the last I heard about Clyde.  I often wonder what happened to him.  What could he have done or said to get into so much trouble?  Why was he possibly heading in my direction…coming to Owego?

I’ve reflected on this many times since that afternoon.  I began to feel pity for this poor soul, who, even as a boy, had to build up a false life, with false friends, to make him look better.  Or to feel better about himself.  Or to create a world where he was somebody important.

As his childhood friend and playmate, he didn’t need to tell tall tales to do this.  I really liked him anyway.  He didn’t need to walk a mouseketeer home or take cowboy boots from Gabby Hayes.

I’m sure that, as a young man, his life would have been interesting enough without building a wall of lies around himself.  A wall that would end up being his own personal prison.

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This is Gabby Hayes.  It is not my playmate who told lies.

 

 

The Ball: A Fable

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So you want to hear a story, is that right?

Yes.

Okay, then I’ll tell a story to you…even you, over there in the corner.  Come closer.

The boys did as they were told.

A story?  Well, if you don’t mind I’d rather call it a Fable.  That is if you don’t really mind.  Fables are more interesting.  They’re more…scary.  They’re sometimes more difficult to understand because they often have a “moral” at the end.

Moral?

Yes, a kind of lesson that you are to take away from the Fable.

You mean like don’t go into gingerbread houses where old witches live?

Something like that.

So tell us a Fable!

Once upon a time, long ago and in a distant land, a boy was born.  When he was very very young, his parents gave him a ball.  In some stories the ball is made of pure gold.  In my telling, the gold is not the important thing.  This boy’s ball was silver.  But, really, it doesn’t matter what the ball was made from.  It’s what the ball meant to the boy.  His parents told him that the ball was made of all the special little things inside the boy that made him happy…gave him pleasure…gave him assurances that this world was the best of all possible worlds and that Right and Goodness will always prevail over the Evil, Decay and Sadness that lurks all around.

When the boy played with the ball, he always felt warm and happy inside.  On days when the ball was difficult to find, the boy was sad and bewildered.  But, the ball hardly ever left the boy’s side.

He grew up and became a handsome, strong man and true.  He met a beautiful young woman.  The boy fell deeply in love with her and when the time was right, they married.  Their life together was full of joy and happiness.  All their dreams and plans they made when they courted, began to come true.  The boy (now a man) felt the pure inner peace of mind and heart that only few young men experience.

One night…one profound night of bitter and evil luck, the man dropped the ball.  It broken into 10,000 shards of crystal.  There was no hope to ever reconstruct the ball.  It was broken.  It was gone.

Beginning on that very night, the man began to feel that his life was less than whole.  That his happiness was to be short-lived.  His view of the world took on a dark hue.  He never was again able to find the joy and pleasure in the simple things of life.

His spirit of discovery and curiosity began to wither and die.  He rarely laughed.  He began to seek out pleasure where no God-fearing man should go.  He longed for the joy of youth.  He despised himself for losing it and the ball.

He spent the rest of his life seeking the ball.  He tried to recover what he had lost.  But it was not to happen.

Did he die young?

No, he lived to be quite old.  But he never stopped looking for that ball.

And, all this time, his beloved wife was declining as well.  She too took on the sadness of someone who loses something they love.  But, it was not losing her husband that gave her the dark feelings.  On their deathbeds, they confessed to each other.  The young man knew why he suffered but he never understood why his wife did as well.

You see, children, she was given a ball when she was young.  She broke the ball by accident about the time the man broke his.  And, together they spent most of their lives looking for that ball.  The ball they never found.

That’s the moral?

I guess so.  Do you all have your secret little ball tucked away safely?  If you do, take care not to break it.  Because, as long as you possess that ball, you won’t see the things that make you unhappy.  Your curiosity and wonder of life will remain with you always.

 

Reflections on Father’s Day [My Split Personality]

My wife showed me the mirror.

“Shall I toss it?”

I looked at the brass Art Nouveau frame, just enough Erte to grab my eye.

“No way,” I said.

I was standing on the deck and I held the object d’art up and found my reflection.  The glass was broken in several places.  My face was distorted, like when I gaze upon a beautiful woman on the Coney Island beach, who happens to be on break from the “Freak Show”.  She is covered in tattoos.  Or, distorted like when I gaze at the rotting carcass of a king crab on the sand of a lonely beach on Grand Manan Island in Maine.  Or, distorted like when I am forced to listen to a CD by Miley Cyrus.  Or, distorted like when I hear someone say that Bob Dylan can’t really sing.

Get the idea?

But, as I looked closely at the broken mirror, I saw several very different versions of myself.  One part of me was the old man I had changed into when I closed my eyes for a nap a few years ago and woke up in late middle age.  I’ve had gray hair most of my life, but what was that white on my head?  (My son told me that I had that Phil Donahue look…and that was twenty years ago).  Another part of me shows the fear I always felt about getting old and facing my own mortality.  Behind that part of my head, I could see the chaos that was the universe…and I remembered all that I did to keep that terror of history at bay.

But there was yet another portion of my visage that I saw…more clearly now.  It was one of contentment and peace.  One of thankfulness that I’ve made it this long, seen so much and, hopefully, affected more than one life.

Yes, I was a father.  Twice.  Now, I’m a grandfather.  A tiny bit of my DNA is residing inside of a little boy living in Orting, Washington.  Another little molecule or two lives in some mitochondria of my daughter, also of Orting.  What did she inherit from me?  A love of travel? An insatiable love of books?  And, a trace or two dwells inside the boy who was once so shy, fearful and gentle.  Now, I see him as a man who outsizes me like I’m Y. A. Tittle and he is Bronco Nagurski.

I put the mirror down and went into the dining room where, in a small frame, is a photo of my father standing proudly beside his 1950 something Sunbeam Alpine.  I took the picture in our driveway of our house in Owego, NY.  Next to that is a another photo of him taken in the early 1930’s.  I looked at that picture for years before I realized it was a “selfie”.  Perhaps one of the first.  I can see a thin white string leading from his hand toward the camera.  He had it rigged so that he just tugged on the string and his image would be frozen forever on a sheet of silver-coated paper.

What did I have inside me that was part of him?  His love of reading?  His Irish heritage?  His restless nature?  His curiosity of nearly everything (even ABBA when he was in his late 80’s).

It’s a funny thing to think about.  How we are all parts of a jigsaw puzzle the size of which would overwhelm your brain if you stopped to consider the random choices, history, a right turn here, a left turn there.

A broken mirror gives me, as a father, so many choices.  To look back on my own dad.  To look at myself.  And, to look at the life I helped to bring into this world.

The store in Saranac Lake called yesterday.  The broken glass of the brass mirror is fixed now.  No more split personalities.

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At The Hound Tor

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This is the place of legends.  Arthur Conan Doyle saw these rocks and promptly went home to write The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Our walk was five miles, beginning in the car park on the north side of Hound Tor.  We were to end our day climbing up and over and between the rock outcrops, then down to the waiting Fiat.  We walked past Bowerman’s Nose.  The legend: A hunter, Bowerman, accidentally came upon a coven of witches performing their incantations.  To silence him they turned him into a column of rock.  He had seen the forbidden, like Lot’s Wife.  He still stands on the Tor.  If you listen, you may hear his cries for mercy…or is it the wind and the spell that the moors can bring upon the mind?  We stopped and placed a flower on the lonely grave of Kitty Gray.  It is a haunted place.  Deemed a “whore”, she hanged herself and was buried in unconsecrated ground…at a cross roads.  It is a haunted place…or is it the wind and the spell that the moors can bring upon the mind?  We walked over pastures and wooded paths.  I held the gate for two teenage girls who were out riding their horses.  “Thank yew”, one said.  We sat for a sip of water and an apple.  There was a church steeple in a small village in a small valley.  The bell was tolling.  A wedding? A funeral? An Angelus?  We passed by the ruins of a medieval village.  Why did they chose this particular valley?  Why did they abandon the site?  Our legs became tired.  There was a steep uphill path, a lane with a tall hedge row.  I stopped to examine a flower.  I brushed against a thorn of some kind. My thumb turned red and began throbbing.  We came to the pass between the tors.  “At the top we’ll see our car,” I said.  My wife looked tired.  We reached the height of ground…our car sat in the lot below.  A small white Fiat.  A place to change our shoes, sip our water and drive to the nearest pub.

Legends and ghosts often have a tiny grain of truth buried within the story.

Humans have walked these hills for well over a thousand years.  No one can convince me that a seed from the distant past isn’t laying dormant under a lichen-covered stone…beneath the moss, the heather, the gorse and the years.