Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

I was in the clubhouse of the apartment complex minding my own business and watching the World Series when I felt the tug on my arm. 

"You've got to come outside!  You've got to help! Please hurry!" a fellow guest at the party yelled  as she pulled me to the patio. 

I had seen them together earlier in the evening.  Some of the folks had come to the party in Halloween attire.  She was dressed like some kind of cat. A really good looking cat.  Like me, he was in civilian dress.  Unlike me, he was in her face.

" Fuck you," he yelled.  He was obviously drunk.  He had her by the arm.  She was struggling to get away.

At this point in the narrative let me make something abundantly clear.  If there is a bravery gene in my family makeup I did not inherit it.  Similarly speaking, the word "gallant" has rarely been bandied about in any discussion about me insofar as I know.  But this was trouble.  And something had to be done.  And for some reason, I was the instrument chosen by Catgirl's friend to try to get this turned off.

I stepped in between them.  I put my hip into her body and blocked her away from Prince Charming.

"Hey, you stay out of this!" he screamed at me. 

I pointed my finger at him.  "You have to leave," I said in as calm a voice as I could muster.

 Catgirl's head was buried between my shoulder blades.  I put my left arm around her from behind me.  All those years playing basketball turned out to be surprisingly useful at that moment. 

"Fuck yooooou!" he screamed.  His fists were balled up.  His face was crimson and contorted by rage.  It occurred to me that he resembled a child throwing a tantrum.  So this is why we don't let children drink whisky.

"You have to leave," I said again.  By this time, the only sound on the patio was from the television in the clubhouse.  People were staring.  He noticed.  He also noticed that he was outnumbered. And so he stomped away, F-bombs dopplering off in his wake.

I sat Catgirl down.

"Are you OK?" I asked.

"Um-huh," she said as she took a badly needed sip of her wine.

"Do you need a place to stay tonight? I know a place you can go if you have to."

"No.  I'll be OK.  He won't come back. "

Her Android buzzed.  She looked at it briefly and set it down.

"Guess who?" she said through a thin smile. " I'm not talking to him."

"Would you mind telling me just what the HELL happened here?" I asked although I had a pretty good idea. 

"He was mad at me to begin the evening because he didn't like my outfit.  He thought it was too revealing, she said. "That and he has been drinking."

"Well," I said.  "So has everybody else at this party tonight.  But not everybody is acting like an asshole.  You need to pay attention to this.  I'm not kidding."

She took another sip.  She smiled.  She squeezed my hand. 

"Thank you," she said. "I really appreciate it."

Her phone buzzed again.

I went back into the clubhouse to get my self a glass of the amber liquid.  The woman who had summoned me minutes earlier came up and hugged me.

"God that was awful," she said.  " Weren't you scared?"

"Of course I was scared," I said. "Absolutely I was scared."

"This isn't the first time he's gone off on her.  She'll let him come back."

"I'm not surprised, " I said. "Trust me.  I'm not surprised."

I didn't stay much longer after the evening's amusement.  I didn't think that I needed to be hanging around in case our hero returned with a gun to settle the score.

It is said, as a matter of statistics, that a woman has to leave 5 times before she makes the final decision to escape an abusive relationship for good.  I've never really understood that.  But people that have studied these matters say that dynamics of abuse are more complicated than folks are generally aware.

Maybe so.  Maybe no.  I used to help run a women's shelter.  I just think that there are some things that we aren't meant to understand. 

This much I do know.  I've never gone off on a woman. And I don't know any woman that I've ever been involved with who would tolerate such behavior out of me.  I also know that this incident is proof that abusive behavior crosses all lines and stratas.  After all, this didn't exactly go down in a biker bar.

I'm just glad that I was able to successfully intervene and slow this jerk down long enough for him to realize that all the eyes of the party were on him.  And that he was making a big mistake.  I guess he realized it.  In any event, he left and nobody got hurt. 

I'm also glad that he didn't have a gun.  Really, really glad.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

The literary world may lift a sigh toward Heaven but there will be no MSF today.  Between Miracle League, Race For The Cure and covering something for a buddy today I ain't got time. 

Will be back next week.

Talk among yourselves.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Vox Populi: Message In A Bottle

Yesterday I got a card from a lady friend I haven't heard from in awhile.  The outside of the card said "When was the last time you did something for the first time?"  Inside, she described the piece I did for the paper about retirement as "a major housecleaning."   She went on to write:

"The best way to predict your future is to create it."

"Sometimes the hardest role to play is yourself."

"You can't get to a place that you don't believe exists."

"Do or not do.  There is no try.  Yoda said that."

Finally, "Don't close the door completely.  Just find another one to kick in."

Do or not do.  Find another door to kick in. 

The lady knows me. 

And I know that I am very fortunate that my universe still has people like her in it while I "clean the house."

Very fortunate.  And humbled beyond measure by all of this kindness. 

I'm lucky.  I know it.  I do not take it for granted.

And I think I owe somebody lunch. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Indeed?

I was invited to attend services at a church in the neighborhood by a friend of mine.  Inviting a friend to church is a lovely tradition here in the South.  As for me, I have always found that it does me good to hear Mass said now and again.  I'm playing golf tomorrow with the Senior Pastor of the Baptist church down the street tomorrow.  Haven't heard Bro. Randy preach yet but first things first. 

I really have been irregular in my church attendance for the past 6 months or so.  A nominal Methodist at my most fervent, I seem to have spent most of my recent Sundays here at home or off doing something else.  So I was pleased to receive the invitation if for no other reason than I had never set foot in this particular church.

Once I found my friend I sat down and scanned the program.  It was clear from the Order of Worship that this congregation is a little more evangelical than what I am used to and I am no fan of so-called "praise music." But it pleased me to be sitting with a friend at a different church on a beautiful Sunday morning.  And I looked forward to the service.

But what I really looked forward to was singing the first hymn which was the stately old Baptist(not Quaker as is it is widely misidentified)  hymn "My Life Flows On" otherwise known as "How Can I Keep From Singing?"  The hymn tune sprang immediately to my mind as I read the program.  After all, God knows I have sung them all. If you will pardon the expression.  But to paraphrase a very famous Methodist, my heart grew "strangely warm" as the pianist played the first bars. 

Hymns can have that effect on people.  And there is no accounting for taste in this area.  While there are any number of hymns that I love, my Mother's favorite was the dreadful "In The Garden."  Which alongside "Are Ye Able?" are two of the worst hymns in Christendom, much less the Methodist hymnal.  But I digress.  The congregation started the first verse.

"My life flows on in endless song,
above earth's lamentations,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation."

Then came the refrain.  Draw near.

"No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?"

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I'm clinging.  The word "inmost" is voiced with alternating half-steps while the word "calm" goes down a major third.  No where else but in the refrain are words set to music in such a declarative fashion.  Boy.  That's heavy stuff. 

Some folks have a mojo.  I have an inmost calm.  Or I did.  My friend Jennifer Imbro once told me, "You know what I like about you?  You're quiet."  It is good to be liked by the Jennifer Imbros of this world. 

But quiet ain't calm. 

Somewhere along the way I have lost my rock.  I need to find it again.  Or another one to replace the one that evidently has disappeared.

There are worst places to began the search than singing a wonderful old hymn with friends old and new as sunlight streamed through the stained glass. 

This is do-able.  After all, love is lord of heaven and earth.  How can I keep from singing? 

For some reason, Blogger won't let me upload youtube videos.  So I have attached a link to a performance of this wonderful old hymn by the Los Altos High School choir in Palo Alto, California.  The arrangement is not as tricked out as some I found.  And these kids really sing well. Here it is: 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

I recognized the number in the Caller ID as being one of the "Tall Building" law firms here in town.  I figured it was probably one of lawyer buddies from the world of work.  Probably wanted to get some lunch.  I was wrong.
"I swear. You are the hardest son of a bitch to find in Little Rock," said the voice of an elderly man.

"Well, there's no longer any particular need for anybody to find me," I said.  "To whom do I have the pleasure of talking to?"

Turns out that the voice on the other end belonged to a much beloved gentleman who is greatly prominent in banking and the legal community around here.  I know him just a little.  But he is the kind of guy that knows everybody.  And how to find anybody. 

"I read your essay in the paper about you retiring from the government.  I thought I would try to get in touch with you.  See how you're doing."

" Well, it's kind of surreal," I said.  "I don't know what to make of it right now."

"And you can't.  Not right now.  How old are you?"

"See, that's young.  I retired 3 times in my career.  I'm proof you can have more than one career in your life if you keep your health.  Anyway, they let me have a little office up here.  But they don't let me stay very long during the day on account of I have a terminal illness."
"Oh my God.  I am so sorry.  I had no idea.?"

"Yeah.  Old age.  I'm 88.  Anyway, 55 is nothing. You'll be OK.  You'll find something to do.  I don't want you to have a worried mind."
"I won't," I bravely replied. " I mean, I got a job offer just last week."

"Don't take it."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I said don't take it."

"Well, I only brought it up because it's an encouraging sign."

"Of course it is.  But don't take it."

"Oh.  Well, I didn't.  Although I was quite flattered."

"You aren't married are you?"

"No sir."

"Didn't think so. There are 3 things you don't need to be doing right now while your trying to get your bearings. You don't need to get married.  You don't need to buy real estate.  And you don't want to take a job just yet.  Not unless it's something that you really, really want to do. And I would think long and hard about it before I committed to it. But in general, this is not the time to make any big decisions."

"I don't plan on doing any of those things any time soon, Sir."

"I want you to call me next week.  I want to buy you lunch and we'll have a good talk about your next step."

"I would like that very much.  I will call you next week." 

And with that we hung up.

As I have written, I don't know what the future holds.  But I think it's going to be OK.  All I know is that although I have stumbled here and there I have been supported and nudged along by the best friends a man can possibly have.  I am truly blessed far beyond what I either expected or deserve. 

I look forward to lunch next week with my crusty old friend.  I am fortunate beyond measure to still have a wise elder with whom I can confer. 

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  It's going to be OK.
"Oh hell yes it is, Paul," my friend said. "Hell yes.  It's going to be just fine."

The student is ready. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I'm The Best

I am taking pictures at the fashion show that closes out Harvest Fest in Hillcrest Saturday night.  This afternoon the lady in charge of the production was called away by a phone call while explaining the drill to me in her shop.

"Excuse me," someone said.

I turned to behold a tall young white kid resplendent in tattoos and dreadlocks.  And I do mean tall.  He had to be at least 6' 7".

"Excuse me," he said again. "I hate to eavesdrop. But did I hear correctly that you are the photographer for the fashion show?"

"I'm one of them," I said while looking up at him.

" Do you have a makeup artist?"

"Do I have a what?"

"Do you have a makeup artist?  Because I'm the best," he said with an offhand gesture, palm up to the sky.  Replete with slight curtsy and eyes cutting to ceiling to emphasize what passed for his point.

"I do events.  I don't do fashion," I said.

"So you wouldn't have one."


"Does she-she being the lady running the show-have a makeup artist?"

"I have no idea."

"Well, I'll go ask her.  Because she needs to know that I'm the best."

Back when I worked for the government was disseminated on a "need to know basis."  It was never information like this and I have my doubts that I will ever need to actually use it.  And while I don't know much about this young man's industry,  even if he's not the best makeup artist in the business, I would wager that he has got to be the tallest.

I also know that you just can't make this stuff up.  And that obviously there's a slice of life out there that I never much encountered while sitting in a law office all day during my previous incarnation.

Saturday will be interesting.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Vox Populi: Don Checks In

My law school buddy Don called yesterday to see how my new and interesting legal problems were going.  As usual, the conversation devolved into slanderous commentary.

Don:  You know, you having all of this free time nowadays is worrisome to those of us that know you best.

Me:  How so?

Don:  Well, Grandmother used to say that idle hands are the devil's workplace.  We are all waiting for you to do something stupid.

Me:  Actually, idle hands are the devil's tools.  An idle mind is the devil's workplace.

Don: So, that would mean that you have a "two-fer" going for you.

Me:  I guess so.  Yes. 

Don:  This is hardly reassuring. 

Me:  Don't you have anything better to do than to pester me?

Don: Not at present, no.

Me:  Well, I do.  I'm going to use these idle hands in the service of a round of golf. 

Don:  Even you can't get in to too much trouble out there.  I will be able to sleep tonight.  Bye.

Me:  Bye.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

Is there anything more dignified than a burial with military honors?  And Edward Erxleben was nothing if not the very essence of the word.  His final commendation by a Color Guard of his beloved United States Air Force was a fit and appropriate send off for an extraordinary gentleman.

An age in which a Chaz Bono or an Alex Rodriguez can gain some measure of national spotlight is neither dignified nor is it modest.  When an Ed Erxleben departs this life, some cosmic scale tips a little closer toward the profane. 

To use Leonard Cohen's expression, I was only permitted a fleck of Ed Erxleben's life.  His health, not much good in the last 10 years, had begun to fail him.  I loved one of his daughters.  We had a falling out.  So I was not around much toward the end of his life.  But the times I was blessed to have been in his presence will never be forgotten. 

I don't have extensive experience with military men.  Or women for that matter.  My father was a Seabee in World War II.  I worked with a man who was in every deployment since Viet Nam.  One of my best friends was sent to Iraq.  What all 3 guys had in common was that they really didn't talk much about their service.  And if they did, the talk never much centered around them.

They also had mutual disdain for those that would inflate their military deeds so as to make them appear like unto the second coming of Audie Murphy.  I am told that there are any of a number of guys that hold themselves out as Navy Seals despite have nor more military experience than I do. This is amazing to me. 

Ed only told me a couple of stories about his service.  One was an absolutely fascinating tale of how the VC (he never lapsed into racial epithets)  were in awe of the Buddhist Monks in South Viet Nam.  They referred to the monks as "ghosts."  Ed told me that while the monks were basically apolitical, they leaned toward assisting  the wounded and the escapee.  They could also be counted on for intelligence.  Ed Erxleben's war stories-or at least the ones he shared with me-were highly nuanced and ego-free.  And he told them very simply and quietly and without extraneous detail. 

The positive attributes of military service informed Mr. Erxleben's life.  Words like honesty.  Integrity. Duty.  Words which were spoken often during the service today only to hang in the air like sparks upon their utterance.  To those wondrous attributes I would add "modesty" and "dignity."

These attributes may be undervalued in this loud and profane world.  But despite my unfortunately all too few encounters with the gentleman I could see that they were the core of his essence.  Our society is all too full of guys that are equipped with levers they don't know how to use.  Edward Erxleben was a fulcrum. 
I hugged his grandsons after the service.  To my beloved Jack I said, "He was a helluva man."
And perhaps I should leave it at that. 
Your grandfather was a hell of a man boys.  He loved you all.  He loved his wife and he loved his girls.

 And they don't much make them like Edward John Erxleben anymore.  A helluva man.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Vox Populi: The Catholic Educator

I was out taking a walk early this morning when my buddy Steve pulled over.  I noticed he was not in his usual uniform: khaki pants and golf shirt. 

"Nope," he said. " Heading for Chicago.  Going to tour Notre Dame and watch a game Saturday."

"And who are the Irish scheduled to lose to on Saturday?" I asked.

"Air Force," he said.


" Well, how's retirement going?" he asked. " It looks like you're still sober.  Frankly, I'm surprised."

"No, I haven't started my days with orange vodka yet."

" This is just your 4th day.  Give it time. Ease into it. I have faith in you." 

"Hey!  Thanks for caring!"

" No problem," he said as he pulled away. "Will call you when I get back.  I got you on the sub list at the school."

" Great!" I said. 

"Go Air Force!"

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Vox Populi: Top This Bob Ueker

One of my Miracle League kids is a kid named K.  She is aphasic, which means that things that come from her little highly intelligent brain, turn out to be something else when they get to her mouth.

Anyhoo I was up taking  pictures at the "First Thursday" up  on Kavanaugh.  K and her folks were there.

K hugged me around the knees

" Love you baseball, " she said.

" I love you too," I said as I hugged her before she ran back to her folks.

Her doc Mom looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and laughed.  Her educator Dad did  much the same.

Great to have  you around little K.  Great to be hugged,. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Vox Populi: The Country Banker

CB:  So, how's retirement so far?

Me:  Scary.  I'm used to being busy.  It's just surreal.  I'm not used to the phone not buzzing or e-mails flying in.  I am going to have to find something to do.

CB:  So what are you doing now?

Me:  Just got through playing golf.

CB:  Put this on the list of things to do.  Kiss my ass.

Me:  Noted. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

First Steps

The alarm clock didn't wake me up this morning.  The sound of text messages did.  Text messages from the working world and one e-mail from my old office.

Today is my first day cut loose and left utterly to my own devices.  And you should see my devices sometime. 

The technical term is retirement.  But I don't like that word.  The word "retirement" connotes receipt of the gold watch, a white belt to match white patent leather shoes and moving to Arizona.  I still consider myself to be a young person. I still have lots of energy and most of my marbles still.  I will do something else with my life.  I just really don't know what that "something else" is at this point. 

Which is kinda scary.  I won't lie to you.  At least not about this.

We are creatures of habit and structure.  Men in particular.  And as one of my friends-one armed with a license to commit social work-told me, I am a fixer.  As she said, I have experienced a lot of loss in the past year or so.  Maybe work kept me from dealing with it.  So I guess now there's nothing much left to fix but me.  At least for right now. 

I am a guy.  Goddamn I hate this.

But it's going to be OK.  It's just going to be different.

I talked to a lot of people about whether I should take Uncle's offer to retire early.  One of the people I talked to was my old friend Linda.  Linda's health is not the greatest in the world.  Whatever it is they can't seem to figure it out over at the med school.

" Just think of getting up on a beautiful morning in October," she said. " Think how wonderful it would be not to have to put on clothes and fight the traffic.  Think how great it would be to get up and take a long walk.  To breathe the cool air and see the beautiful colors.  Me, I have to go to the Mayo Clinic.  I like your prospects better."

Perspective is a bitch is she not?

Early this morning, I took Linda's walk for her.  And she is right.  It was great.  The first steps of Act II. 

The e-mail from the office said, "I miss you already."

I miss you too, baby.  But the Federal Government survived the assassination of Lincoln. It will survive without me.

Everything is going to be OK. 

I'm not retired.  I am changing. 

It will be different.  See?  Already I am overindulging in one sentence paragraphs. 

Everything will be OK.  I just have to figure it out. 

As Mr. Frost said, "You come too."