Love At The End Of The Tunnel

[My photo. Elias leaves pre-K.]

The longest and most uncomfortable, painful and seemingly endless flight I ever undertook began at 4:00 am on Monday, November 20 when I forced myself out of the bed.  I forgot our wakeup call was for 4:15 am.  Our flight was scheduled for 7:00 am.  It was going to be a long day.

We were at a lower level Marriott about two miles from Logan Airport.  Our shuttle picked us up at 5:00 am, on time and the driver was even awake and courteous.  I was numb with lack of sleep.

The first leg of our flight required a stop-over in Chicago.  Time to breathe real air and stretch our legs for an hour.

Then we boarded American Airlines flight #1239 for Seattle.  I bought one of those neck pillows but it did nothing but keep me upright with my head forced into one position, much like you see in the photos of the poor souls in the electric chair..  Everything in my body hurt when we finally landed.

We were on the first segment of our winter vacation.  First stop was to visit and spend Thanksgiving with my daughter, Erin, husband Bob and, my one and only grandson, Elias.

From their home in Orting in Washington, we were due to fly to LA and then spend the month in Joshua Tree in the Mojave desert of California.

But, I digress.

We called Erin who was waiting in the cellphone lot.  Within a few minutes, she pulled up in front Pick-up Station #1.

We loaded her 2013 Hyundai Accent.  We drove south for about forty-five minutes and we were at her home in Orting.

I had been awake since 4:00 am and was drugged with Valium and Dramamine so I was grateful when every one else left to do some shopping, I drifted on the sofa, the large black cat, Guinness, sleeping on my lap.

Everyone returned from shopping.

Then the real fun began…Elias began to remember his grandpa and Emmy.

It seemed to me to be the longest and most painful flight I’ve ever made.  But the love at the end…made it all disappear.

[My photo]

Postscript: Guest proofreader for this post is my daughter, Erin.]

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The Pink Flamingos of the Pacific Northwest

Flamingos

I asked my daughter, Erin, about her opinion of pink flamingos.

“They have their place,” she answered, without taking more than five seconds to think it over.

That place was in a front yard, several blocks from her home in Orting, WA.

My wife and I were walking back from a brief shopping trip to Safeway.  I was carrying a whole pineapple in the plastic grocery bag, it’s spiky leaves poking holes through the word “Safeway”.  The pineapple had me in a reflective mood about the tropics.  I thought of Keith Richards falling out of a coconut tree on a  Caribbean island several years ago.  He was a grandfather.  I’m a grandfather and I was thinking what it would take to climb a pineapple tree.  I wasn’t even sure they grew on trees.  Maybe they grew like really large odd grapes on a rather large vine.  (I’d have to look that up later.)

We were here to visit Elias, my adorably cute grandson, my daughter and her husband, Bob.  My grandson had just turned two a month before.  I’m not going to post a picture of him because he’s so gosh darn cute, I would lose my readers who would just go straight to the photo and then make comments about him.  I didn’t want to use his unbelievable cuteness to simply grab your attention and beg you to follow me on WordPress.  I’ve been accused of similar tactics using a photo of Fluffy the lamb. But a child? Never!

When I mentioned pink flamingos to Erin, she knew exactly what property I saw them standing on.

“Oh, he’s the local “neighborhood watch guy”…”a sort of vigilante”.

I thought of Clint Eastwood.

Then I fully realized the implications of vigilantism and its consequences.  I was thankful I didn’t step off the sidewalk and onto his yard.  I may have been blasted by a pump-action 12-guage shotgun.  I know enough about guns to realize that even an indirect hit would do some spectacular damage to my appendix.

That’s alright.  I never had mine removed as a child like my brother, Dan, who had his appendix operation sometime in 1956.  Everybody in my family doted on him.  They lavished tons of attention on him.  I was left alone, sitting behind the sofa, staying out of the way…me and my intact appendix.  I was the youngest of four boys so nobody really paid much attention to me anyway.  When I was a young boy, my father was too tired to teach me to play catch.  I often stood in the backyard with my mitt and ball…me and my healthy damn appendix.

But I digress.

I stood looking at the pink flamingos.  There were two of them, as tradition dictates.  But both heads of the birds are bent to the lawn as if mucking about in the muck of a shallow swamp.  I thought about what I was seeing, in this yard, in this little town in the Pacific Northwest.  I began to remember all that I had learned about flamingos in school.

There are only four species of these beautiful pink birds that are native to the Americas.  I assumed I was looking at a pair of Phoenicopterus ruber.  I mean, when you think about it, it was an obvious choice.

I leaned closer to the pair and noticed that each one had a black stick supporting its body.  They were perfectly still.  I wondered.  Were these two pink flamingos really alive?  Perhaps the black sticks were meant to create the illusion of life.  I’ve heard of unsavory pet shop owners who have done this very thing.  I recalled the incident of one owner who nailed a dead parrot to the perch and insisted it was just sleeping.

Then again, maybe these flamingos were alive?  The owner (remember, he’s a vigilante) may have doped them and kept them from completing their annual migration.  But, migrating from where? And, more to the point, to where?

At this point I remembered taking my sixth grade science class to the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey on a field trip.  We were all in the IMAX theater watching a film about…I know it had to do with science and there were beautiful scenes of the Grand Canyon, an Ultralight flying into a sunset and herds of elephants (filmed from the same Ultralight) creating clouds of dust on the Serengeti Plains of Africa.  Just before I fell asleep, I remember a scene at a lake somewhere in Kenya where tens of thousands of flamingos were taking flight.  (Most of them were pink, by the way.)  It was very impressive.  Not as good as the opening moments of Miami Vice, but still pretty colorful.

Just before commercial breaks at the Master’s in Myrtle Beach, there were pink flamingos there also.  But, here in the Pacific Northwest?

I began to question my very own sanity.

It all began to add up.  Real live flamingos were Tropical birds and Orting, WA was in the Temperate Zone.  Granted, the temperature on this day was in the mid-40’s F with a near consistent rain.  My eyes narrowed into furrows that depicted suspicion.

I picked a crumb from a Granola bar that had fallen apart in my coat pocket.  I tossed it to the bird that looked like it was foraging.  Nothing.

I’ve been to college so I knew a thing or two about deductive reasoning and junk like that.  I came to the conclusion that this pair of flamingos were made of plastic.

The black sticks were holding them up because otherwise they would fall over.

It all came back to me in a rush as I thought about one of my favorite movies, Pink Flamingos by John Waters.  Seeing the movie drove me on a quest to catalog lawn kitsch.  I knew that the classic design I was looking at was first designed by a Don Featherstone in 1957 when he was working for Union Products.  I was ten years old.  Another company bought the molds and copyright in 2007 and continue to manufacture them.  BUT, you can tell if you have an “official” pair…Featherstone had his signature put on the rear underside of the birds.

I was not going to step on this guy’s lawn and look at the rear underside of his pink flamingos.

There are certain things even I won’t do.

My wife and I continued our walk back to my daughter’s house.  Elias would be up from his nap by now and, if I was lucky, he’d be asking: “where’s grandpa?”  I wanted to be there.

So, when we come back for our next visit, maybe in about a year, I’m going to take a walk with Elias to look at the pink flamingos.  He’s a smart child and will surely know that they are not native to the Pacific Northwest.

But we’ll walk hand in hand…a big grandpa hand holding a tiny 3-year-old boy hand.  If he asks me about my opinion about pink flamingos in the Pacific Northwest, I will answer truthfully: “They have their place.”

“OK, grandpa,” he’ll say.

Then he’ll point into the distance over his parent’s house at a large snow-covered peak.  Or, perhaps, the peak will be covered, like a bashful maiden, in clouds.

But he will know where to point.

“Mount Rainier is over there!”

“Yes,” I’ll say. “It has its place too”

EliasDrums

[Did you really think I wasn’t going to put a photo of Elias in this post?]

RainerLenticularClouds

[Lenticular clouds over Mount Rainier. Photo: Bob Goldstein (Son-in-Law)]

 

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.

Image

Travels: Part 2 Stuck Inside of Stroudsburg With the Orting Blues Again

The question is quite simple.

Were you ever stuck in a small Sunoco station in a town in Pennsylvania, after filling up the tank of a car that was drinking petrol like a politician during Prohibition, while pulling a trailer that you, for a moment forgot you were pulling, with only .8mm of space between the fuel pumps and the side of your RV, and your tires wedged against a curb-like thingy, so hard pressed that you could not move forward or backward…at all?

Well, I have.

A black sedan was parked against the stone wall.  I couldn’t make a forward-and-to-the-left move, so I cut too sharp and found myself unable to go anywhere.  I stood in the parking lot and stared at the fuel pumps, trying to use my telekinetic powers to will them away when a kindly gentleman with a soft mid-southern accent came up and asked if I needed help.  I nearly dropped to my knees while wiping sweat and tears away.  There is a God.  He’s six feet tall and from South Carolina.  He knew the obscure ways to make a car and trailer move as one.  It must be some sort of Secret Brotherhood of Travelers.  He possessed the key and he made it happen (along with three guys who looked like they were fullbacks for Penn State).  We had to disengage the car and RV and these guys, these supermen, these regular Joe’s rolled up their sleeves and MOVED AN RV THREE FEET TO THE RIGHT.  They may as well have displaced the orbital path of the planet.  I felt guilty about leaving that extra box of Facial Tissues in the R-Pod.  That kind of extra weight can be a killer.  I reconnected and moved away from the pumps.  I prayed again after decades of feeling sure God wanted no part of my life on His earth.  I was free.  I wanted to ask the guys if they wanted to join me at the bowling alley down the road later…for a game and a beer…on me,  of course,  but they were gone before I could shift into neutral and get out of the car.  Were they even real?  And where was the gentleman from South Carolina?  He had driven off with his wife in a car, just a car without a trailer.  I could just hear this God telling Mrs. God that gray-haired guy was never going to make it to Tacoma.

So, off we drove…westward and deeper into the Keystone State.  The urban scape of New Jersey got smaller through the rear-view mirror.  Now we’re talking.  Countryside.  Dried cornfields and real barns and tall silos, with plenty of split-rail fences.  But no farm girls were sitting on those fences.

But, not to worry.  It’s the Autumnal Equinox today.  The first day of Fall.  People say that the red-cheeked farm girls drop like leaves from oak trees, like acorns onto the fences of their farms…this time of year, and sit and watch the migration of the gray-haired guys heading west.  They’ll giggle and say: Now there’s a guy who’ll never make it to Orting…not the way he’s looking at us all, as we line the fences across the fly over states.

Well, they’re going to be wrong.  I can multi-task.

Are these the rail fence goddesses that will monitor my westward odyssey?  Are these the sirens of the corn mazes?

Are they?

FenceGirlA FenceGirlB

To be continued.