Monday, January 30, 2012

Scary Ailments in the Mystique of Summer

     For a child in elementary school, a day in the middle of summer is an invincible island surrounded by both wonder at the unknown and disregard for anything unpleasant.   The last day of school was weeks ago and is little more that a quickly dismissed memory.  The beginning of the next school year is in the future.  The future meant flying cars and Mars Colonies.  September was invisible and unknowable.  If it wasn’t happening right now or as soon as the cool of the coming evening, it didn’t exist.  Yet while the unpleasant was never considered, any type of wondrous possibility could happen.  Evil robots may have replaced the neighbors in the house with the surrounding eight foot wall.  A lightning bolt could have almost hit one of us had it not been for a quick dive onto a rubber inner tube.  And we all wanted to believe that a giant squid had actually come up out of the local lake and sat on our friend’s face.  If he told us its butt stank, we had to believe.
     One afternoon while reveling in nothing to do, a friend came into the yard and announced to us that he had found a dead bird.  I don’t think I had ever seen anything dead before and didn’t know if any of my friends had either.  We were all about 7 or 8 years old.  When we played dead in pretend games we copied how actors in the movies did it, splayed out, eyes closed.  But most of the time we couldn’t keep our upturned faces from grinning.  Of course we all wanted to go see the dead bird.
     I think there must have been 5 or 6 kids that set off from the green backyard, teaming with drifting cottonwood fluff, for the quiet afternoon street.  There was at least one girl, an older sister.  The sun was bright and no-one wore baseball caps back then unless they were in a game.  I was the last in the group.  Maybe I was a little scared of looking at something dead.   We all followed our friend to a vacant lot.  Nothing grew there, and at one corner everyone gathered and made a little circle.  Dust rose with everyone footsteps.  I moved into the circle and looked down.  There was a little dead sparrow.
     Its eyes were open to the bright daylight.  I don’t remember seeing blood or anything broken looking.  The only true sign that this bird was dead was that it was lying motionless on the hot dusty ground.  I didn’t feel frightened.  There was a little sense of awe and something else.  Seeing something dead wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.  I felt just a little relief at this.  I thought how uncomfortable the bird would be if it were alive.  It must be really dead.
     Apparently, however, the bird didn’t look dead enough for another boy and he reached forward to touch it.
     “No!” the girl shouted.  “Don’t touch it. You’ll get Fizzy-Whiz.”
     Now I felt a little frightened.  Dead things weren’t supposed to be scary, right?  But what was Fizzy-Whiz?
     Part of the group of kids looked shocked or as frightened as I felt.  The boy with his hand stretched out to the bird, however, looked doubtful.  His sister leaned in.
     “Mom got Fizzy-Whiz once,” she said. 
     The boy withdrew his hand.  At that moment of our hot dusty afternoon the magic of summer that made anything possible also made very real the condition known as Fizzy-Whiz.  The circle around the dead bird widened.  Perhaps for each young mind there was a different image of this syndrome.  I think the more vivid someone’s imagination, the worse it could be.  The boy who had been sat on by a squid almost leaped back. 
     Second grade started months later.  Cavernous corridors and polished wooden floors replaced the infinite expanse of outside.  The magic of summer and trepidation of dead things faded to sentence diagrams and word problems.  And in the structure, security, and school bells, not everything was possible anymore.  Everything must have a rule or reason.  But sometimes the most awe-inspiring ideas cannot be squelched even there in the confines of a public education.  Because the mystique of summer never completely faded that year.  No-one ever even thought about touching a dead thing again.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Pushing the truth.

     I must have been one of the easiest kids to buy presents for.  I loved cars more than anything.  I had three sizes of toy cars.  The Matchbox ® and Hotwheels® were the small ones and probably my favorite.  The medium size cars were the least in number.  TootsieToy® made a lot of them as well as large sized Matchbox and small Tonka toys.  Then there were my big cars which were mostly Tonka.  Other big cars were made by smaller toy manufacturers including my Cadillac.  I remember owning a toy Cadillac that was a plastic hollow shell of an early sixties model car. 
My only real memory of it is taking it on an overnight somewhere.  I may have been sleeping in a trailer or camper and I was on a top bunk.  My dad was below.  In the middle of the night I woke up and found the car next to me.  Suddenly I was irritated at it.  The car had no floorboards.  It was a cheap single piece with two axels clapped on.  I wasn’t in my regular bed with my little alarm clock with the sweeping second hand that got stuck every sixty seconds.  I was in the dark in an unfamiliar bed and it was this awful car’s fault.   In a single thrust I pushed the car from the top bunk and as it clattered to the floor it made the most amusing sound that I can still hear in my mind today.  The sound went, “black plastic cadillac.”   
Before I could revel in amusement at the wonderful noise my dad’s head slowly rose up.  Right away, it wasn’t funny anymore and I also felt it was time to sleep.
I enjoy telling stories like this from my childhood and everything I’ve told so far is absolutely true.  There is one incongruity, however.  The toy Cadillac that said “black plastic cadillac” was actually blue.
My point is this:  As I tell these stories from my life, I’m a little reluctant to embellish even the least detail even if it makes the story better.  Maybe it’s a moral code or maybe it’s that I’m afraid that I might get tangled into a web of untruths.  Take for example this story of Naomi at the hospital in Los Angeles.  One of the countless medications Naomi was requested to take was milk of magnesia.  Naomi of course between her wonky hearing and confidence in repeating how she thought words ought to be said never said the name of it right.  Her nurse that week was named Miesha.  It would be a perfect story if Naomi called it Milk of Miesha, but she didn’t.  She called it milk of my-neejah. Now if I ever write a memoir, which I really want to do, how much do I indulge the story to where I think it ought to go? 
There are all kinds of guides to writing memoirs out there now.  They are one of the more popular genres today.  I can look up all kinds of guidelines that will tell me one way or another whether or not to create composite characters and how much to make up.  But in the end, this is my story and I am the writer and it will be up to me how much to bend the truth.
Rest assured, every story on my blog so far is true.  And now that I have realized that it’s no more than part of my weekly writing regimen, I think I would like to go back and re-write at least a few of my older entries.  I think that some of my stories can be better.  They will still be truthful, I just don’t like them when I look at them right now. It’s like this, I have woken up to find annoying little things that are not well crafted and they are sticking to me.  I want to give them a firm push and see what kind of noise they make.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Read the signs and Grow Wise

I stood and stared at the little sign.  It was the only thing on the wall to read and there was nothing else to look at.  But even if there had been a fire engine blasting past, my 11 year old mind still would have been mesmerized by the message printed.
     I was intrigued by the image I had of someone in the men’s room.  Perhaps all the stalls were full.  He would drop his pants and turn sideways to the wall.  A few practice swings with an anxious count up to three.  Then with a little jump he would fling his posterior into the urinal.  My young imagination conjured someone walking in moments later to see this poor soul evacuating where he had thrown himself.  The newcomer would say “Hey, can’t you read,” and point to the sign.
     I finally brought my dad into the men’s room to show him the sign.  He told me it meant cigarette butts. 
     Oh.  Throw butts in… oh.  I got it.  Throwing cigarette butts into the urinal made a lot more sense.  But the erroneous image I had was considerably more entertaining.  Sometimes it’s more fun to not know the truth and carry on, if not in blissful, at least in amused innocence.  Sometimes when faced with the truth I back away like it’s a draft of cold air first thing in the morning.  I would rather be warm under the covers and dream of what isn’t real.  You might think that I don’t accomplish a lot living in denial.  And I will step forward and say that denial is an unhealthy state to remain in.  But I also can get a lot of writing done.
     I started My Roadwalker blog on May 11th 2010 with an entry called Navel Gazing. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to accomplish or prove writing a blog.  But I likedto think that I’m a writer and that something writers can do.  I wrote a lot about myself and a lot of stories from my past.  The early entries may be good stories, but I had not found my voice yet.  I don’t like how they’re written. I wish I could go back and re-write a lot of them.
     Less than a year ago, Prajna encouraged me to write more about what God was doing in my life.  That is when my blog began to take a more spiritual turn.  Some of my favorite blog entires are there.  But for each time I hit it out of the park there are several more grounders, and even some swings and misses. Sometimes they are self indulgent. Sometimes I wince at how much proselytizing I was doing.  I never wanted this blog to read like that.  All the while I was living in this blissful and amused ignorance that I had a blog read by people around the world. 
     But I am aiming too high.  The truth is obvious.   Roadwalker is a writing exercise.  I love to write.  This blog is a discipline that I do and then, just for fun, I share it.  Keeping track of my pageviews, I learned that all of my readers from Russia come from a spammer that leaves URL’s for people like me to click on.  So much for a worldwide readership.  I know I liked it better when I didn’t know the whole truth.
     I am going to back off on the proselytizing.  I am going to continue to post Roadwalker every Monday.  But it is part of a writing regiment that I keep to because writing is my hobby.  It kind of hurts to admit that.  The innocent image is a lot more fun.  But the truth is the right thing.  This is post number 175.  Thanks for sticking with me.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Dissolving Motes in the Wake of Time

It’s what we older folks wish we had more of.  Young children, especially last month were lamenting its slowness.  Their parents felt it rushing like the wind in the wake of something massive passing by with unmatched speed and power.  Despite its motion through space, it has no mass.  It has been called God’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.  Of course I’m ranting about time.
     I can’t say for sure what time is made of, perhaps memories.  But if that is true then time might be very feeble indeed. Three days ago I was considering what to blog about.  I have grown weary of the lecturing and ranting about how December made me edgy.  I have been dealing with what I considered to be the highest possible themes and imagining that my musings are an essential beacon at the beginning of everyone’s week.  Truth be told, Roadwalker is a writing exercise that I share and other people are kind enough to indulge me by reading.  So while I was vacuuming three days ago and considering what to write about I tried to check what time it was and then gave a frustrated huff.  My watch battery died several days ago and I haven’t worn it since. 
I thought then that I would blog about how I’ve always had the ability to keep track of time in my head but still how much I love wearing a wristwatch and how vital it was at the radio station to know precisely what time it was to catch the ABC network feeds.  I thought about Peter Fonda in Easy Rider throwing away his wristwatch in his iconic and rather lame film as a symbol that he was no longer tied to established society.  I had an idea for a blog and I had some building blocks to hold it up.
     The next day I was wrapping up another vacuuming job.  I remembered vacuuming the previous day.  I remembered what room I was in and that I had thought of a blog topic.  And that was all I remembered.  The topic, the wristwatch that I still wasn’t wearing, motorcycles and good rock music, all gone.  I began to compose a new blog in my head right there about how my memory was going the way of the brown pigment in the hair on my head.  What had happened to my past?  Once forgotten, did it exist anymore?
     I don’t know when the first blog topic came back to me, but probably when I when I tried to check the time on my bare wrist.  And then did time re-establish itself?  I don’t know.  Memories are a funny thing.  I can still hear the school bell in my head from kindergarten almost 40 years ago.  I can remember the words to songs my class sung in elementary school.  I remember insignificant details about all kinds of things I’ve done all my life.  But I can’t remember how many times I’ve asked one of my kids the same question or told Prajna the same lame joke.  And I am pretty sure that I used to be able to think of a writing idea and be confident that I would not forget it.  Now, I’m not so sure.  I have been jotting notes down more often lately to preserve ideas.  Sometimes I lose the notes though.
     If all my past is made of is my memories then my past is dust motes in a shaft of light.  Lucky for me I can record silly little memories here on this blog.  If you read back to when I first started blogging a year and a half ago a lot of it is little snippets of my past.  I might go back to telling stories like that some more as long as I can tie them into what is happening today.  I want those dust motes to form little bricks and not be lost as time blasts on.


Monday, January 2, 2012

What will remain after our worlds collapse

            I had no idea of the devastation that I was capable of.  I stood by the metal detector in the Hawaiian Airlines departure terminal in the late afternoon.  I had made it this far from Burlington, Vermont with at least one or two stops along the way.  There was just one more plane ride to go.  I had spent time at my grandparents’ house including America’s Bicentennial celebration that July.  I had seen President Ford ringing the cracked Liberty Bell on TV.  I enjoyed exploring the rooms of the house that my mother and her siblings had grown up in.  It full of old treasures including one I was carrying in my pocket at that moment.  I must have slipped it in from my carry-on earlier that day because only now I had set of the metal detector.
     A young security guard bent down and smiled at me.  She asked me if I had a toy car made of metal in my pocket.
     “Or maybe,” she sounded excited. “You have a candy bar wrapped in foil?”
     “No,” I answered.  “I have this.”  And I took out of my pocket a small metal object.  It was an empty CO2 container.  This is what powers air rifles even today.  But the one I had was very old and looked like a miniature version of the kind of bomb dropped from airplanes.  And part of that security girls world fell apart.  She recoiled and called her partner who was another girl about her age and they called the airport police.  Moments later a man was handling my treasure and examining it.
     “It’s an empty CO2  container for air guns or toys,” he said dismissively.  “Let the kid keep it.”
     The poor frightened girls let me go on my way.  But I don’t know if they would ever look at a nine-year-old boy the same way again.  Their image of childhood innocence was destroyed the moment a sweet little candy bar became what looked like a bomb.
     Without warning parts of our worlds can come crashing down.  Regardless of the material, everything of the worlds we build collapses eventually.  The great old barn at my grandparents’ house stood for maybe a hundred years.  I was never allowed in it and it stood empty.  And one day it just fell.
     Even what is strong can’t last.  A little part of my world fell down when I learned that a friend I knew on Maui was killed in an accident last week. He had been a pillar of strength and warmth when I knew him in the Boy Scouts.  The idea of a strong and courageous man like him being killed in an accident was a bitter reminder that nothing, no matter how strong lasts in this world.
     Sad as I was to hear of his passing, right away I thought back to the memories of this man being an inspiration.  He taught me things I passed on to younger scouts.  And right there is something that maybe won’t last forever, but still is stronger than the idea of childhood innocence or a solid wooden barn.  I was inspired to model courage and integrity.  My friend is gone, but what he taught has remained in me and every person I taught. 
     The worlds we build will collapse.  But if we can inspire others, maybe new worlds can be built upon them.