Friday, October 31, 2008

Little Gifts from the Night

I feel very connected to my past. I hope I'm not so connected that it's unhealthy, but in any case, I suspect a lot of creative people mine the past frequently.

Sometimes, I'll have dreams about something that happened with Dylan or Rhonda, almost like a video replay. They're almost always about happy times, and they usually happen when I'm away at work, sleeping alone.

Those dreams are usually brief, and they're like little gifts. When I have them, I wake up feeling happy. I've had dreams about the day Rhonda and I got married, or about when we met again after seventeen years apart, or about just walking in the woods, holding hands.

Our wedding day, 1994.

This last hitch at work, I had a replay dream about Dylan. He was three, and we'd just driven back from the park. I picked him up out of his car seat, held him close, and kissed his head. "Thank you Daddy," he said. "Will you still kiss me when I'm thirteen?" I laughed, surprised by the question. I answered, "Yeah, Punkin', but you know, some kids don't want to be kissed by Daddy anymore when they're thirteen. I might have to chase you down, tackle you and wrestle you before I can kiss you." Dylan giggled. "That sounds like fun."

I had to pick Dylan up from school yesterday because he came down with a mild fever. I carried him to our bed early to watch TV, and he ended up sleeping with us through the night. I woke up at four, like I often do. I watched Dylan and Rhonda sleep for a while, and I thought right then that if I have to wrestle him to the ground to kiss his head when he's thirteen, then I'll do just that. I guess I'd best keep working out.

Last night I had a dream about a particular day in the first grade. I was walking down the hallway when a group of older boys ran by. One of them intentionally swept my lunch box from my hands. It fell to the floor, and the contents spilled out. The boys stood laughing at me as I tried not to cry. I began to gather my lunch when a pair of girls' shoes appeared on the floor. A tall sixth-grade girl bent down and gathered my lunch for me, then carefully, almost tenderly, put in back in the lunchbox. "Your lunch is okay. Don't pay attention to those boys; they're just mean. Enjoy your lunch and stay away from those boys." She had a face like an angel. She patted me on the shoulder, then walked away.

I hadn't thought of that episode in many years. This morning, I sat in the dark sipping tea, wondering about how that sixth grade girl's life turned out. Had she kept her kindness? Had she had a happy life? Where is she now?

Forty-six years ago, she helped me gather the contents of my lunchbox. She comforted me, and helped me feel better about the day. Forty-six years after that morning, I sat in the dark, sipping tea, petting a dog and a cat. "Thank you," I said aloud, softly, and wondered if somehow, in some way, she could hear me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ifs of Og

After a few months on hiatus, Mike at Ifs of Og is back. Check him out, if you haven't already.

He's a great writer. He may also be somewhat twisted, but hey, I admire that in a person.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Welcome Irritation

A few days ago, I saw a coworker for the first time in a few years. I asked where he'd been, and he answered, "I had cancer." He told me about the special issuance process he went through with the FAA to get his medical certificate. We talked a few minutes, and then he walked away.

I've known the guy since the early eighties. I've always taken him to be a nice guy, but sheesh, he likes to talk. And talk. And talk. People have feigned having to pee to get away from him. Yep, me too. But that doesn't always work. When we worked at the same base in the eighties, he'd actually follow me into the bathroom. Yep. I'd be standing at the urinal, and he'd stand behind me, continuing his story.

The guy has been, safe to say, one of the most notorious motormouths in our company.

On the day I saw him again, though, he didn't have much to say. He walked around slowly, and didn't seem interested in starting a conversation. His motormouth spirit seemed severely dulled.

It made me sad to think cancer had done that to him. I wanted him to be a pain in the ass again, to drive folks crazy again, and to be the same ol' motormouth we'd all loved and avoided.

A couple of days ago, he sat down by me as I checked my email. Just like his old self, he seemed oblivious to the fact that I was engaged in something other than talking. Just like his old self, he went on and on and on. Just like his old self, he crammed a remarkable number of words into one breath.

And, just like before, that silly little smile of his was back.

After the better part of an hour had gone by, and I'd given up on the idea of doing anything involved on the computer, I decided that I needed to use the restroom.

He didn't follow me.

Walking to the restroom, I felt irritated as hell, and damned happy to feel that way.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fourth Friday in October

I'm taking four days off on vacation, so I'll be home in time for Halloween. I think Rhonda and Dylan are happier about that then if I were to tell them I'll be home for Christmas. I won't be home for Christmas. But hey, it's easy for a family to have a make-up Christmas, while it ain't so easy to have a make-up Halloween. Folks would surely look at us funny if we went out trick or treating in November.

Maybe we could start a new tradition, and trick or treat the day after Thanksgiving. Think of all those unwanted leftovers. Best bring a cooler, though.
Damn. It seems that Debby's life has gone from dread to relief to uncertainty, and now, to top it off, her husband has to have his gall bladder removed. Sure, having a gall bladder out isn't as big a deal as cancer, but sheesh, couldn't the timing have been a little kinder?
In Algernon's blog, he writes that he's lately been asking his elementary school kids to hold hands because it challenges them. "It's amazing to see the aversion in some of them, as early as kindergarten," he writes.

Years ago, I was driving down Interstate 5 when an interview with a sociologist aired on NPR. She talked about how the United States has a "culture of isolation," and how an aversion to touching is a manifestation of that culture.

She talked about how touching is accepted differently in different cultures. For example, if two British acquaintances meet each other on the street, they'll touch each other an average of four times in a half-hour conversation. Americans? Eight times. Italians? One hundred and eleven.

If I'd heard that in my twenties, I might have made fun of those touchy-feely Italians. But now, I think of the Italian culture as, well, more natural. And, something else occurs to me: Italians have a low rate of alcoholism, despite having a high rate of alcohol consumption. I think it's safe to say that Italians aren't imbued with a culture of isolation. How many folks turn to alcohol abuse to fight feelings of isolation?

I could delve into this further, but I'd need a couple of beers to fuel the delving, and doggone it wouldn't ya know, I'm on flight duty. Besides, if I had a couple of beers, I might want to touch you a hundred and eleven times. (Not anywhere blatantly inappropriate, mind you.) I'm not Italian, but hey, I'm married to a half-Italian woman. I guess it just, y'know, rubs off.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Son, Our Sun

I tend to build on what I like about loved ones and friends, and minimize what I don't like. Nothing unique there, really. Holding to that habit is one key to having harmonious relationships.

I write about my son Dylan often. I was a late-in-life dad when he came into the world, and eight years later, he's still a fascinating little creature.

Dylan is a good kid. More than that, he has the makings of a guy who will be a good person as an adult. He's not perfect. He can't eat anything without ten percent of it ending up on the floor. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get him to do his homework. Sometimes he knees me in the privates when we're wrestling. I think it's accidental.

But yeah, in my heart and mind, Dylan shines in many ways. Still, Uncle E's post today in which he mentioned Dylan surprised me, and left me with a big lump in my throat. There's something about hearing or reading good things about my son from someone else--especially when that someone else is as thoughtful and perceptive as Uncle E--that just makes my heart swell anew.
I don't mention my wife Rhonda as often as I do Dylan. That largely has to do with Rhonda's desire for privacy. She's fairly well known in our community, and she doesn't like the idea of her life being an open book. So, I respect her feelings, although the woman has had a fascinating life: heck, someone should base a novel on her experiences.

The three of us went out boat camping on Lake Shasta on my last break at home before Dylan commenced going to school again. We had a wonderful time, but two days into the trip, Rhonda had pressing matters to attend to at her office, so Dylan and I dropped her off at the marina and headed back to camp. Dylan, at the age of eight, had spent a total of two nights away from Rhonda in his life. He was brave about the idea of two "dudes only" nights at the camp, but on the second morning without Mom, after we finished breakfast, I could tell that something was on his mind.

"Dad, if I tell you that I miss Mom, will it hurt your feelings?" I chuckled. "Of course not. I've had a great time with it being just the two of us, but I miss your mom too."

Dylan said, "I've had a great time too, until now. Now, it seems boring without Mom. She's always so cheerful and funny; she always makes me feel like every day is a special day. She's like the sun."

She's like the sun. Dylan's words, and the look on his face, hit me with a wallop. Dylan had offered a poetic essence of what I've always loved about Rhonda, from the day I first saw her and heard her talk in our high school cafeteria, thirty-six years ago.

She can show a tough-as-nails exterior, but inside lies a marshmallow heart. She has an irreverent, bawdy sense of humor, but a little girl's sense of wonder. She's one of the bravest, kindest, and most compassionate people I've ever known.

She's like the sun.

I'm one lucky dude.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Good News from Debby

From Debby's blog, Life's Funny Like That:

"We left the office with our good news: My cancer was moderately aggressive, stage II, had begun to affect the lymph ducts, but had not made it to the lymph nodes, which is why he removed a lot, a lot of tissue. He explained that if anything felt funny at all, he took it out, which explained how it came to be that he took 17 lymph nodes instead of the 'couple' he planned to. I don't care, really, I just want the cancer gone. I sure as heck was not going to be weeping over missing lymph nodes. But all of the lymph nodes biopsied 'clear'. The PET/CT scan showed no cancer anywhere else. I had cancer. They think they got it all. I will have chemo. I will have radiation. I will have estrogen suppression therapy, and the good doctor thinks that I have a very good chance that this will not recur. All good news."

Debby still has a battle ahead of her, but obviously the news could have been much worse. I'm really happy for Debby, her husband Tim, and the rest of her family. Also, since I'm a selfish bastard, I'm really glad to learn that she'll still be on this earth so I can read her writing. She seems to share her soul, that woman. Damn, I'm having a happy morning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dad Gets Stern

If you remember my post in May about our cat having five kittens, here's a little follow up.

I wrote, "Dad worries about whether he can convince Mom and Son to keep just one of the kittens."

There seemed to be a consensus from my dear blogging buddies in the comments: "Dad, you're screwed."

Well, sometimes a dad just has to put his foot down, however unpopular that might be for the rest of the family. Sometimes, a dad has to stand his ground for the greater good. Sometimes, a dad has to be tough, even in the face of tearful protest.

So, yep, when those kittens got old enough to leave the mama cat, I put my foot down.

We no longer have five kittens. Nope, now we only have four kittens. They sure want to eat a lot.

Okay, so apparently Rhonda and Dylan misunderstood my intentions: they thought I meant that we were only giving away one kitten, not keeping only one of 'em. But hey, sometimes, in the interest of family harmony, a dad has to show a little flexibility.

The one that got adopted lives close by, and Dylan has regular visitation rights.

Heh. Showed y'all, didn't I?

Monday, October 13, 2008


I took Dylan to a birthday party yesterday afternoon. The party was for two twin boys he goes to school with, and it was held at a gymnastic facility. I ran into Uncle E there, so naturally, we talked about music, writing, and stuff, while we watched the kids play down below. We never mentioned the election.

Uncle E invited me to an upcoming poker get together with a bunch of his former coworkers. He got a little gleam in his eye when I mentioned that I haven't played "real" poker in about twenty years. I just knew that guy had an evil streak in him. It figures, y'know: Uncle E is half Canadian. Have you seen what those people do to each other on the hockey rink?

Uncle E and I have planned to meet for a beer at a real-live tavern, but when we've had a beer together, it's always been with the families along. That's sort of the best of both worlds, since we enjoy talking about stuff, we both get much smarter with a couple of beers, and that way, we don't have to be away from our families. I have to be away from my family because of my job, so I'm not much inclined to get away from them during my breaks, except when Dylan jumps in my lap and knees me in the nuts.

Debby will be going in for a PET scan tomorrow, to find out if she has any remaining cancerous tissue. If you're into praying, or even just sending good thoughts, please remember her.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Two Cajuns and a Turtle

When I first started flying out of my employer's Louisiana bases in 1979, the Cajun culture enchanted me. As a southern California boy, it was a little like going to a different country. I attended a Cajun Music Festival at Girard Park, and had a great time. I dated a local schoolteacher, and was fascinated to learn that her grandmother did not speak English, only the Cajun dialect of French.

But the oil industry was booming in 1979, and that made for a bursting-at-the-seams atmosphere, and in some quarters--mainly bars and taverns, it seemed--outsiders experienced resentment from the natives.

In Morgan City, where I began my civilian flying career, it seemed that trash was everywhere. It was probably unfair of me to blame that on the locals, since so many outsiders were living and working in Morgan City, but I blamed the locals anyway.

I hung out in bars a lot during my time off, and it seemed that Cajun guys my age were awfully provincial in their outlook on life. They were suspicious of new ideas, judgmental of anyone deemed "different," and apparently interested in little besides hunting, fishing, drinking, and fighting. I suppose sex must have fit in there somewhere, but it seemed that most young Cajun guys were more interested in kicking another guy in the nuts out in the parking lot than making love with a woman.

My initial enchantment with Cajun folks became, well, tarnished.

I was driving to work at our Intracoastal City base one day when I came upon a pickup with two young Cajun guys in the cab. They were drinking beer--Louisiana had no open container law at that time--and throwing the empties back to the pickup bed. A couple of times, they missed. They were speeding up and slowing down, and had no stretch of road on which to pass. I was in a bad mood already, since a woman I'd been dating had broken off with me due to my "fear of commitment." (Smart girl, she.) The Cajun guys were pissing me off.

Then they came to a stop ahead of me. "Great," I thought, "they've seen my California plate in the front, and now they want to screw with me." The driver started to get out of the cab. The passenger didn't move. I got out and began walking toward the driver. If he felt determined to provoke a fight, I wanted to be standing.

Only the driver wasn't walking toward me. He was walking away, beyond the front of the pickup. Curious, I walked out into the other lane to see what was going on.

There was a turtle on the road, lying on his back, helpless. The guy picked him up.

One of the first things I heard from older pilots when I started working in the Gulf of Mexico was that Cajun folks didn't have much respect for Fish and Game regulations. They cited a statistic: a game warden in Louisiana had six times greater chance of being killed on duty than an FBI field agent.

"Great," I thought, "Mr. Cajun Stud's gonna eat the turtle."

But he didn't. Instead, he walked with the turtle to the bayou a few yards from the edge of the road. He was holding the turtle's face toward his, and speaking Cajun French to it. I had no idea what he was saying, but his tone made me think it was a gentle admonishment. He bent down at the bayou's edge, and set the turtle free.

I walked back to my car, then turned back toward the pickup as I reached the door. The driver said something to his passenger in French, and they both laughed. He reached into the cab to retrieve his beer, then looked at me.

"Hey Mr. California, ya wanna beer?" I chuckled. "I'd love one, but I gotta go talk to my boss in a few minutes." "That's a damn tragedy," he replied. "That silly turtle will live to see another day, huh?" "Yep," I replied, "maybe his family will have a dinner in your honor." We all laughed.

I drove the remaining fifteen minutes to Intracoastal City, laughing with a lump in my throat.

Sadly, evidence of the Cajun culture seems to have faded over the decades. Few kids grow up bilingual anymore, and seldom do I hear middle-aged folks speaking French in public.

In any case, I'm thankful that those two Cajuns and the turtle prompted me to abandon my budding cultural prejudice. I'm sorry I didn't have the chance to have a beer with the three of 'em.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Insomnia as a Gift

I woke at a quarter before three this morning. I tried to go back to sleep for a few minutes before deciding it was a lost cause. I got up, went outside, and was surprised that the temp was only 41F/5C. So far, we're not having much of an Indian Summer.

I had trouble getting to sleep big time throughout my childhood. I could seldom seem to stop my mind from racing. Often, I'd turn to reading. I discovered reading for pleasure in earnest during the third grade, thanks to Mrs. Goodrich, who helped me discover its joys.

My insomnia got better when I turned fifteen. It never went away entirely, but the torturous nights of my childhood were more or less left behind.

In recent years, I've had a different kind of insomnia now and then: I'll wake up early. That never happened during my childhood.

I've never liked getting up early in the morning, but I've always enjoyed being up before dawn. I sit here now at my laptop, while Rhonda and Dylan sleep away, and I feel like I'm watching over the world. I remember being eleven years old on Sunday mornings, delivering newspapers before dawn. I felt much the same way. I felt like I was watching over the world from a bicycle.

There is a spiritual feeling that comes over me when I'm awake before dawn, like I'm hooked into life more intensely. Life's secrets seem barely out of reach before dawn, instead of somewhere over the horizon. The joys of life crowd out the burdens and the sorrows. And always, there's the feeling that I've been tasked with, well, watching.

Maybe that spiritual mandate doesn't include watching over the trash. I was lazy last night, and didn't take the trash out all the way to the trailer. (We live kind of "out in the sticks," y'know.) The raccoons managed to tear into the trash between the time I first got up and now, and I didn't hear a thing. Maybe they have a spiritual mandate to punish me for being lazy.

Sneaky bastards.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Treading Water in a Sea of Sadness

I guess I'm known as a fairly upbeat, cheerful guy. I try to be an upbeat, cheerful guy. But lately, sadness seems to have me by the ass.

It seemed to start just before I flew off to work last time. My break at home had been abbreviated, because I'd stayed extra time in Louisiana to help out with the evacuations for hurricanes Gustav and Ike. I usually give Dylan two days warning before I leave for work, but we'd had a great time for the mere week I'd been home, and I suppose I was thinking that I didn't want to put a damper on the time we had left. The evening before I left--I had to start driving at two in the morning to make it to Sacramento--I told Dylan that I'd be leaving before he woke up.

Sheesh, I was an idiot. We were out by the barn, and Dylan and I were talking while I unloaded hay from the trailer.

"You're leaving tomorrow?" The look on his face stabbed me. "Yeah, Punkin', I have to leave tomorrow." Usually, Dylan is fairly stoic about my pending departures. He might get a little teary, or he might just give me a hug and calmly say, "I'm going to miss you, Dad," before going back to whatever he was doing. (Sometimes I chuckle when he's like that, and mentally finish his response with, "Don't let the door hit you on the ass, Dad.")

But this time, Dylan started crying, and crying hard. I sat on a hay bale with him in my arms, and held him for a good fifteen minutes while he cried.

It killed me. As a baby and a kid, Dylan has probably cried as often as any normal kid, but seldom has he ever cried for very long. It really shook me that he was so upset. When he finally quit crying, I looked in his eyes. "Dylan, when I'm away, I think about you and Mama from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep. Do you feel it?" He took a deep breath. "I think so," he answered.

The drive to Sacramento the following morning really, really sucked.

And then I found out about Debby. Debby writes one of my very favorite blogs, Life's Funny Like That. She has a wonderful ability to relate the poignancy, tragedy, humor, and beauty of everyday life. She writes a newspaper column, and seldom misses a day of posting to her blog. She does that while holding down a job, taking care of her family, and being active in her church. I think she's a treasure.

Folks like Debby really make me feel humble. I mean, gosh, if I go to the bank and the supermarket in the same day, I need a nap.

Debby recently learned that she has breast cancer. I've often pondered the distinction between on online friend and the sort of friend that's actually seen and heard. If there is a distinction, it now seems meaningless. Debby's situation has shaken me no less than hearing such news about a seen-and-heard friend. I've never met her in person, but to me, she's a shining soul. I wish I could give her and her husband Tim a hug.

I want to be positive, I really do. But damn it, sometimes life really pisses me off.

I've focused on sadness a lot lately. I saw an obviously homeless man cross the street yesterday, as I took Dylan to school. We were singing along to "La Grange," by ZZ Top, waiting at a stoplight. I was pondering whether I'd go to hell. That is, I was wondering if I'd go to hell for singing along with a song about a whorehouse with my son.

Then I saw him crossing in front of us. He couldn't have been older than nineteen. He was someone's son, but he had no home. It stabbed me.

Sometimes I envy folks who seem to simply ignore sadness. I can't. I feel the need to face it. That way, it won't devour me. That way, I keep the hope alive that someday, somehow, it will all make sense.