Bobby and Me (a short story)

Riding the bus hasn’t changed much since I was a kid but I don’t have to straddle the race line in the middle of the bus with my friend Bobby. People of different backgrounds, colors, personalities and gender walk through the folding doors, pay their money and take any seat in that economical ride to the next stop in their life.
The young girl sits across from me. She is pierced in numerous places on her face and ears. Her stark white skin is framed by her hair streaked in the colors of the rainbow. Arms crossed and almost asleep her head lolls from left to right and back again with the rocking of the bus as it bounces over uneven roads. She must be deep asleep because she makes no attempt to hold her head upright.
A soft conversation is being held in the back of the bus about how to sell on E bay. One of the older women in the conversation comments that this is how she stretches her Social Security check. Her friend laughs that one day she may make enough to give the damn pittance back to the government…claiming she will be rich beyond her wildest dreams. Her entrepreneurial companion joins her in the reverie and they return to the serious nature of descriptions to get the most from their E bay posts. Whoever says that the ambitious don’t ride the bus hasn’t ridden in a long time.
A woman reading a book wearing an oversize bike helmet for whatever reason rounds out those riding the bus with me; Hemingway, “Farewell to Arms”. I never could understand ‘highbrow’ books or the need for reading them but embarrassed, I tuck my detective paperback deeper into my jacket pocket. At each stop we sometimes gain new riders and sometime loose passengers to the darkness of the night and the next stop in their life.
My ride is taking me to my night security job at the shopping center…it pays the bills and keeps me off the streets. I sit with my lunch tucked close to me, my book in my jacket pocket and loose my battle against sleep as the road and bus gently rock me into unconsciousness. I join pierced girl across from me in the fog of dreams.
Bobby and I are kids again riding the bus through the streets in the ‘burbs of St Louis Mo., headed to the bridge that crosses the Mississippi. This is our favorite hangout away from the dirt and hectic life of the city. At the bridge we discuss the state of the nation, mathematics, religion, and the news in the papers. Well Bobby does. He’s the one that always has a stack of books with him. All I want to discuss is basketball and my chances of making it to the pros. I’m the one with the ball under my arm, always shooting at an imaginary hoop during the imaginary game that is taking place wherever I am. And I always…always hit the game ending, game winning shot from half court.
Sometimes Bobby gets political and talks about the injustice of having us, one black and one white having to sit in the middle of the bus, one in the “back of the bus” and one in the “front of the bus.” I say, “That’s the way it is and us talking about it ain’t gonna change it.” Bobby says, “It still isn’t fair,” and ads, “I don’t much care for the way people look at us.” It’s been years since that black lady refused to give up her seat on the bus but something’s never change is some parts of the world.
We sit on the bridge and carry on talk like this for hours on end. Me, with my second- hand shirt tucked into my too short coveralls and feet in sneakers full of holes hanging off the bridge and Bobby sitting clean and neat as the professor he hopes to be one day. Sometimes I’m blinded by the shine on his leather shoes. The fact that I’m from the projects and poor doesn’t keep him from hanging out with me. He even says that my race isn’t a problem, “we’re like brothers,” he says.
Bobby always brings lunch on our trips to the bridge and a bottle of milk, both of which he shares with me. He don’t even wipe the bottle off after I take a drink. I take a bite of the ham sandwich his ma sent along with him and start in again on how I’m going to make it to the pros. Bobby jokes with me once again, “Your color might be a problem. You know that…” and I cut him off as I always do,  “It won’t.”
The years raced by and the days at the bridge continued until we graduated from high school and he headed off to some private college up north. I feared for Bobby up there, with his smarts and all he ways, always to outspoken for his own good about prejudice in America.
Me, I went off to junior college with hopes of making the leap from there to a big college with a scholarship for basketball and on to the pros. But Bobby was right, my color made a difference. They didn’t want my type at college I went to. And now, without the proper education, the schooling I should have taken advantage of instead of dreaming about the pros, I only qualify for a night watchman’s job.
The bus hits the bump that comes before my stop to wake me from my dreams and memories. I grab my lunch, thank the driver for the ride and step into the damp, cold night, stretch to wake up and begin to think more on things and times of me and Bobby.
I wonder how he made out up north and if he had as much trouble being accepted as an intelligent black man as I did  being a white man who couldn’t jump.

Couldn’t Be Simpler

 

I had a difficult time falling, and staying, asleep the night before last. I tossed and turned attempting to shut down my mind. Reading did not help do anything except keep my mind active on something I actually wanted it to remain active on. So I put the book down and “Bang, Bang Out goes the lights!” and I settled in to once again attempt the impossible for the night.

I have idea how long I lay there practicing all the tricks I have learned and used to encourage the night to wrap me in its warmth and send be off to dream land but, self hypnosis learned in Viet Nam, deep breathing land counting backwards learned from who knows where and several other tricks must have worked because I eventually fell asleep.

Last night, determined not to repeat the night events before, thinking that exhaustion alone would not allow a restful night’s sleep, I was not going to take a chance. Even though the sheets on the bed had been changed about three days ago I striped the bed, found new sheets, stretched them military tight, spread and re-tucked the covers, changed the pillow cases and brushed my teeth, combed my hair…never know who you might meet in a dream and you only have on chance to make a first impression…climbed into bed, smoothly spread the covers over me and drifted off to sleep.

Whether or not it was all the preparations or the exhaustion of the previous sleepless night I fell fast asleep and remained there except for the occasional waking period between dreams.

The dreams came in fits and starts and this morning I began to wonder if a rest full night’s sleep will ever be in my future. Why can’t I sleep like I did when I was younger?; lack of melatonin, lack of exercise, lack of purpose in my life? This morning I began to think, what could be the problems as I use to be able actively avoid this process, and came up with a possible solution to my failed excursions into the nocturnal realm of dreams. I can control my day dreams, why not my night dreams and came up with the knowledge that I can’t. Day dreams are controlled by my conscious self and my night dream are controlled by my subconscious self. And I have a terrible time controlling my conscious self so attempting to control someone I have no hope of controlling will not grant me the serenity of pleasant dreams.

When my daughter was young she would have me kiss her goodnight on the corner of her left eye. Each kiss representing the dreams she would have during each hour of her night. If I messed up I would have to kiss the corner of her right eye, breathe deeply to remove the previously placed kisses, kiss the corner of her right eye to seal the drain hole, and repeat the kisses on the corner of her left eye. It seemed to work as she always woke happy, rubbing the sleepy bugs from her eye, smiling at the day. I don’t think I could repeat this process on myself, but I would like to replicate the blissful mornings I saw her enjoy.

Ok…what can the problem be and what can the solution be?

I have given it much more thought and have come up with the greatest possibility to the problem and the solution…it’s my pillows. When we travel my wife and I pack our pillows so that we have the comfort of home the pillows that bring a restful night. On our trip to visit her parents for Christmas, I forgot to bring my pillows home and they are giving someone else a great night of dreams at the Air B&B where we spent our vacation. It’s the only plausible explanation! They were fairly new and the dreams they held were only partially used. Dreams encased within, being slowly released through the down feathers and soft Egyptian cotton cases; the way they caressed my face in warmth and comfort…like kisses at the corner of my left eye.

I have not purchased new pillows to replace the ones lost to travel, but have replaced them with the pillows that had occupied the bed in the guest room. Down substitute pillows, filled with the used dreams of others. That has to be the dream problem. Older used pillows have lost all the happy dreams they once held! Unused dreams no longer there to comfort the sleeper, me, through the long cold restless nights. I now have the solution! Once the pillows have been replaced, no more sleepless nights…no more nights filled with incomprehensible dreams! I will have no need to self hypnotize, to endlessly count backwards, to find some way to control my uncontrollable subconscious. I need only to resume the quest…to find the Holy Grail of a good…nah…a great night’s sleep!

I’ll just go out and find down filled, dream filled replacement pillows…the solution…couldn’t be simpler!

Mischievous Spirit

Sometimes you feel that you have the whole world in you’re the palm of your hands. Nothing could be better…there is no way you could feel more like you are on top of the world more than you feel at this very moment. There is nothing that could happen that could bring you down or up higher than where you are in your emotional Nirvana…ever! Then It happens. It doesn’t have to be big, or disastrous, or even bad. Hey you could have met the one of your dreams, got a better job, a promotion, or just had someone smile at you on the street when you were having a bad day! Sometimes the smallest thing can change you day or your outlook.

My first real It came when I went to Viet Nam… hadn’t planned for that one. Once back It was over. I had survived and no Purple Heart. No lingering effects to worry about. Love and marriage were the next It and a lifetime of lingering effects…to enjoy. Five years later my wife informed me that we were pregnant…this was a big It. Life would change as I knew it forever. I was ecstatic and for the next nine months I was a pile of jitters…filled with anticipation and jitters. Worries about being a father for the first time and how I would measure up to my expectations of how I would handle all the responsibilities. According to my son Lucas, I met those expectations and then some; a truly nice compliment.

My daughter Elle produced the next big It by showing up two and one half years later, on time, and quite and a mouse…  Lucas was two weeks late and not all that quiet. The quiet as a mouse condition continued until she first rolled over…at six months…then the world, and I, had a new and highly active little girl. How was I going to deal with her? I had no idea. I was a boy, a man, with no idea what to do with a baby girl. How do you raise a fragile, tender, heart stealing, catch you off guard with a smile, bundle of female charms. I just cradled her and loved her like I thought a father should love his brand new daughter. I later learned that, although this was acceptable to her on one hand, she was, how should I put this, a wild child.

She had a mischievous streak that was adorable. Once during the search for the perfect pumpkin in the pumpkin patch, she held one up, put this crooked smile on her face, ignored the parental “Don’t you dare,” dropped the pumpkin and took off in a sprint with laughter bubbling up from deep within her chest. I caught her, but how could I punish that spirit. How could I do anything but laugh with her? How could I do anything but love that person who captured my heart the day she was born.

Many more spirited events filled our lives, some filled with laughter, some marred by tears, but none so outrageous we couldn’t get through them…I have been so blessed.

This little It in my life is now presenting me with a new It…she is getting married. He’s a wonderful guy and I am happy for them both. I guess I’ll just have to deal with, and enjoy, this new reality and wait around, prepared this time, for the possibility of a new It that may enter my life in the form a new fragile, tender, heart stealing, catch you off guard with a smile, bundle of charms…time will tell.

In the meantime, I wish Ben well in his duties of handling his chosen fragile, tender, heart stealing, catch you off guard with a smile, bundle of female charms and mischievous spirit that is my daughter.

Seal Eyes

My wife and I are dog lovers…and not to leave out their nemeses, we also share our lives with two cats; Anna, a calico and Molly, a tortoiseshell. They have been around for quite a while and have put up with numerous dogs we have taken in to invade their territory. The dogs have proven to be as curious about the cats as much as the cats have been curious about everything else in the world. Our dogs have learned that getting too close to this creature, able to increase its body size by two or three time and that resides under the bed until night time, is not something to do; get close enough and they begin to leak air, which could be toxic, through a vicious set of teeth; making them all the more interesting and confusing. But, being cats, they do have other defensive mechanisms they present to the dogs when they get too curious as to what the cats actually are.

We had a dog named Zoey; huge and as tender as a newborn…well kitten. She was always curious and would snuffle Molly whenever Molly would sit still long enough for her to get close. Although not cuddle buddies, there was an understanding. Anna on the other hand had an effect on Zoey that was truly humorous. One hundred and ten pounds of dog would turn into one hundred and ten pounds of stone whenever Anna climbed on to the bed near her, expelled a little air to announce her presence and commence to stretch out and secure three quarters of the bed that Zoey wasn’t occuping and give Zoey a look that said “Mine…. Yours.” Zoey, frozen to her spot would sit in an uncomfortable position for extremely long periods of time, with the look of a baby seal on her face, only her eyes moving keeping Anna in view and looking for an exit.

At the same time we had Zoey we had another dog, Wiley and they both adored trips to the coast. The cats enjoyed these trips just as much. Large bowls of food and water were placed around the house and the cats wandered about freely and slept wherever they felt without the worry they were going have to scratch the air around the faces of other animals who invaded their space…they were content.

Zoey on the other hand was glad to be rid of the cats and able to run and play at length, playing chase with lizards and ground squirrels…playmates who didn’t leak sounds of warning and toxic air and did not have retractable claws to shred the air around her face.

On one such trip to the coast, Zoey ran and played chase with her new playmates, sprinted up and down hills of sand, rolling and tumbling with Wiley. A rest in the dune grass, a bowl of water and off they would both go on another adventure. Always…well almost always…on voice command they would never wonder far. But, well, naturally the fun and excitement of the day led us deep into the dunes and away from our camp. With aching bones and feet from chasing the dogs at play, the setting sun painting the sky and a chilly breeze blowing in from the ocean, we headed back. Zoey lay down for what we thought was a much needed rest, but refused to get up. With encouragement she got to her feet and began to walk and limp in the sand…all legs and paws giving out on her. We checked her for stickers and grass cuts on her feet but there were none. More encouragement and she tried again but only traveled a few feet.  By manipulating her paws, we discovered that she should have been wearing orthopedic doggie shoes; especially made for an all day romp in the sand…she wouldn’t budge another inch as long as the sand pushed and spread her paws and caused pain with every step. She lay in the sand with her ‘seal eyes’ imploring us to run to the store and purchase doggie shoes, but preferably a human powered doggie sled, to get her back to camp. Of course at this hour, all the stores lining the sand dunes providing such products or rent-able services were closed. She looked at me with eyes that asked “What were you thinking, bringing me all the way out here in the sand without giving a thought to my welfare?”

Only one solution presented itself…pick her up and carry her through the remaining half mile of sand to the hard dirt path through the woods bordering the dunes.

Carefully bracing my arthritic knees and weak back I hoisted her dead weight – 110lbs of black and tan, dobie-shepherd, lap-dog mix into my arms and carried her back to camp. She would periodically look over her shoulder and give me those “baby seal eyes”, a lick of gratitude on my cheek and let out a sigh of contentment.

When we came home from the trip Anna gave us the questioning look asking, “What! You couldn’t have just left her?”

Zoey climbed to her place on the bed for a much needed several days of convalescence being sure that she kept her seal eyes on that cat, kept to her one quarter of the available space and dreamed of chasing, lizards, squirrels and her buddy Wiley.

When I or my wife would check on her, Zoey would give us those eyes, lick our hands in gratitude, let out a sigh of contentment, and ignore the cat and return to dream land.

I myself think she was faking it all…but what the heck…girls can always melt the resolve of even the strongest man with those “seal eyes.”

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Concentration and Time

 

Last night I awoke to the sound of rain…a fairly heavy rain. Rain made of heavy drops and the happy sounds of the drops splashing on objects impeding their travels to the earth. Tucked in my bed under winter covers I was warm and happy…but I had no idea where I was.

Since my heart surgery 3 years ago this happens fairly often, but I have learned how not to panic. Seriously, not knowing where you are can be alarming to say the least but I have found that, with concentration and time, I can figure it out so no sweat. I have also found that just laying there not knowing where I am and sometimes not knowing who I am, I am able to create a scenario of being anywhere in the world…within limits of course.

Last night my inner self pushed to solve the mystery of my location, but my outer self rebelled…I just wanted to enjoy the moment of being able to be anywhere in the world I wanted to be.

I envisioned that the rain was a warm, heavy drop type of rain and  it was falling on the giant leaves of a tropical forest. No need to cloak myself in any type of water proof fabric to remain dry or warm. The warmth of the tropic air kept me more than comfortable and the rain was warmed by the same warm air it fell through.

I was able to hold onto this trip to the warmth of the jungle for several minutes. I conjured the vision and a feeling of serenity; listening to the small rivers the rain created on its travels to where ever it was going. I caught the warm water as it dripped from large leaves that fanned over head protecting me from the heaviest of drops.The comfort I felt was unexplainable and I felt no desire to rush back to the reality of where I wasn’t.But my pleasant trip became much too short.

My inner self became the stronger and I was unable to hold back the flood of reality the rain brought with it. The realization that it was cold outside my man-made cocoon and the fact that I needed to make a nocturnal visit to nature told me I was still in Medford Oregon. Much needed rain was falling through the cold night sky and filling the reservoirs with much needed reserves for the dry summer ahead…and I was not in the tropics.

I begrudgingly took the chilly walk to the bathroom and the return walk to bed kept me lying awake for some time. I dwelt on the thought of how heart surgery has given me the gift of life, and the gift of an invented life, created out of the fear of the unknown. I found that both are equally as valuable and that both are equally as fleeting.

I slowly drifted off to sleep, once again in the warmth of my blanket cocoon, and the realization that I have the ability to turn fear into comfort and the unknown into an adventure…once again I traveled to the warmth of the tropics…Once again I found that concentration and time can take me away when necessary and when necessary, return me to her and now.

Re-soled Hiking

The Autumnal Equinox is still standing off in the corner waiting to be asked to dance but I can still feel the chill on the dance floor of the hiking trails. So lately, Angie and I have been going to the half mountain that overlooks our city and walking…well hiking. It’s pretty steep and the roads and trails are rugged enough to give me a heavy breathing work out and it is high enough to give us a breath taking view of the sunset over the valley and the mountains on the other side. My knees are coming around and I am hiking enough and pulling my out of shape body along with me to wear out the soles on my boots.

Speaking of that…what ever happened to those soles on boots and shoes that would stand the test of time and would wear the ground out from under you sooner than the ground would wear out the boots? Those boots which were so durable you would out grow them before they were worn out and you could pass them on to the next small foot hiker. Or the ones you bought when you  were old enough your feet stopped at size 11 and you purchased a boot that you would tend to misplace in the closet and find still ready to use after the years you had already used them and only replaced them because they took a trip to Narnia.

I can remember…oh boy, here he goes again…no no listen…I remember when I was young and my parents had five boys to feed, clothe and shoe, that everything except the food would become hand-me downs until they were worn out…like my favorite cowboy boots. And if the soles or heels of the shoes wore out, well off the cobblers I would ride to get them re-healed, soled or half soled and they would be ready to pick up two weeks after the cobbler said they would be.

On one trip home from the cobbler I had three or four pair of shoes hanging from my bike handle- bars and was pedaling like the wind. I speed past a yard and caught sight of the giant dog that lived there leaving the porch at a ferocious clip to take a chunk out of my leg. Never would I be caught, my speed would increase and I would outdistance the dog…only I didn’t count on my pedaling faster causing the shoes to slide on the handle bars, begin to swing and end up falling into the spokes of the front wheel and getting wedged against the front fork. Yes that immediate braking action sent me propelling over the handle bars leading me into a head first (long before bike helmets were required or even invented) encounter with the pavement…and I still had the dog to contend with.

Chunk! The hound of Baskerville reached the end of it’s chain and let out a howl of dismay and I was spared the indignity of a dog bite to accompany the knot forming on my forehead.

But back to the boots and the question of, have we become such a soft, wasteful society that we need cushioned soles that only last one season on our hiking boots that we just toss them and replace them or are there still truly sturdy and re-sole able hiking boots still available? I’ll keep looking and if you know of a durable pair let me know.

But rest assured, when I go to get them re-soled, I will hang them by the boot lace from my shoulders instead of my handlebars…and yes mom I will wear my bike helmet.

Marriage and Time

I’m glad to see that viewers continue to come to my blog and read my words even in my absence. Thank you all for you continued ‘VISITORSHIP’.

I have been spending the last two months in Portland OR helping my son remodel his new house from a 1950’s track type home to a spacious, “This is more of what I wanted,” vaulted ceiling, recycled timber counters and tile that, with a cast iron tub, bay windows and all that stuff, that will cause the visitors to his new home go “wow” when they walk in the front door (which also needed to be upgraded of course). And, as usual this all has to be done on a limited budget and time crunch that would cause any contractor to walk off the job before it began…any contractor accept his father of course. To top this all off, last weekend, in the middle of the remodel, he got married and preceded to take off for a honeymoon. Thankfully it will be short and his wife’s mother is taking care of their 8-month old baby.

I have been living in their spare bedroom/office for the time I have been here and have been enjoying helping take care of the baby and enduring the middle of the night cries for diaper changes, bad dreams, teething and the general “I don’t want to be awake alone,” cries from Ingrid. Of course she is the most beautiful and smartest baby in the whole world and of course my wife is envious that I get to be involved in the early stages of her development, but I’m worn out. All this is meant for the young.

Now I may be young at heart but really that is not enough. So after the wedding I sent my wife back south to Medford wishing we could have had a little more non- hectic alone time to get reacquainted and simply enjoy a breakfast alone together reading and watching the sun rise one more time, and am spending some me time taking pictures and writing. As time grows shorter in life each sunrise brings on the feeling of the urgency to enjoy the simple things in life, time with loved ones, each moment of personal time, and those special moments with my wife. Of course I may change my mind in a year since my wife has decided to retire from the University and once again take up the challenge of changing me. Of course she cannot leave a job unfinished my resistance to change has worked in my favor and has kept her trying and me resisting for almost forty years.

My son requested that I make a “short” speech at the wedding dinner…no I mean that he asked me at the wedding dinner giving me no time to prepare any remarks what so ever and then asked me to keep it below two minutes. I began to appreciate the years I spent in college earning a communication degree and getting over the universal fear of pubic speaking. And that I had taken a 400 level course in story telling… “Think on your feet and embellish,” was the class mantra.

Of course I was also admonished by my, “I’ll change you if it kills YOU,” wife that I was to not tell any embarrassing stories. And my daughter knowing me as well as she does just gave me “the look” of pre-disapproval, knowing that something she would not approve of would spill uncontrollably from my mouth.

Undaunted by all the pre-speech limitations and preconceived thoughts of disaster I put the speech writing portion of my brain into the highest gear I could find and wrote, memorized and performed the following flawlessly:

Lucas, the first secret to a long and happy marriage is to first choose the right woman to spend your life with, as I did with your mother. And look we have been married for almost forth years.

The second secret is to realize that you actually did not the do the choosing but were the one that was chosen.

Third never, never go to bed angry, and never, never let your lovely bride ever, ever go to bed angry. Always, always turn to her before you nod off to sleep, cup her face in the palms of your hands and softly say the well known phrase of the long time married man, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

Bur seriously…(yes I can go there)…

May your wealth be measured by your happiness,

 May your happiness measured by your love,

And may your love be beyond measure.

(Clink your imaginary champagne glass here and toast the bride and groom.)

Now I returned to my seat to find both my wife and daughter wearing a look of astonishment…well under two minutes…a tasteful joke…and words of wisdom undoubtedly stolen from some sentimental wedding card found in the Hallmark store while I was patiently waiting for one of them to purchase one thing or another.

My wife was lost for words when she asked where the quote came from and asked me to repeat them so she could write them down. I was doubly proud when she was again astonished when I told her the words were mine and when my daughter said that I did a great job.

Me? I was not too astonished at my ability to come up with a speech on such short notice; and one that was approved of by both my wife and daughter…after all I have  a BS (stress the meaning of BS) in journalism and have been under the pressure or the master, the woman who choose me as a project forty years ago, to change my ways for.

But please keep my secret…otherwise she might begin to expect I have changed my ways, has completed her mission and may decide that it is time to move on to someone more challenging, not so decrepit and much, much younger.