Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is It Ever Good When the Phone Rings in the Middle of the Night?

You know, I started this blog a few months ago to exorcise any creative demons that I have...attempt to be witty, and give me an outlet other than photography.

I didn't realize it would take such a personal turn; allowing me to give abject strangers a window into the mind and heart of a middle-aged guy.

My friend Rox is doing better. She had an emergency surgery yesterday morning to inject oxygenated blood into her body and give her a chance to regain her strength and come out of this Hell. She almost died twice. Her oxygen levels were so low that the doctors feared brain damage.

I got the five ay-em telephone call and my heart jumped into my throat as the cell phone's ringer nearly scared me out of my bed.

I hate those calls. God knows that I've been the recipient of WAY too many of those over the years. My dad. My grandma. My grandpa. My uncle. My aunt. BOTH of my family's closest friends. Others that weren't family but close enough to elicit a tear...

And, every time, it went the same way. No variations on a theme. No SIKE! moments. Each and every time it was bad news. And within a few days I was donning a suit and tie and carrying a casket or an urn to its final resting place.

I got yesterday's call and within an hour I was in the Surgical ICU at University. On the drive to the hospital two things ran through my head: How to console her mother when it happened and the formation of a eulogy that I knew I was going to be giving sometime before the weekend.

How cynical. How middle-aged of me.

I guess rules exist so there can be exceptions.

It's only fitting that Rox would, again, prove me wrong. As she has so many times over the years, Roxanne showed me that I couldn't accept things as they appeared to be.

The emergency infusion worked. She's far from being out of the woods, but the doctors are confident in her recovery.

The medical staff was ready to call it quits and let her succumb to this mystery illness. They don't have a reason as to why she got sick, but now they at least have a name for it: ARDS. She is suffering from Acute Respiratory Disorder Syndrome.

With a diagnosis is a cure. Her mom hugged the doctor after he came out of surgery to tell her it was successful. The doctor, a burly older man, choked up and got misty-eyed at Freda's honesty and emotion.

I am happy that my friend is still with me. I have put away the pen and paper. The suit still lies in my closet in its plastic bag.

And I am so grateful that, as always, Rox was able to prove me wrong.





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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Roxanne.

I sit here, in the man cave, right after my lazy Saturday dinner of ramen noodles, PB&J sammies, and a cool glass of filtered water, trying to put last week's events into perspective.

One of my oldest and dearest friends is in intensive care at University Hospitals, one of the best facilities in the Midwest.

We have been friends since college; we were roommates in Hawai'i. I was her "man of honor" when she was married and am godfather to her daughter.

She is extremely ill and they have no idea what's wrong with her. She has a collapsed lung and pneumonia; conditions that were spurned on by whatever mystery illness is causing her to slip further and further away...

I went to the hospital every day this week except yesterday; she was being life-flighted from Community to University and was getting settled in to her new digs last night.

She was intubated and put under Thursday night. She isn't getting better.

She's getting worse.

And no one, as of yet, knows what the hell is going on.

As an atheist I don't pray. But this last week I've been looking skyward and trying to find a reason, or hope that someone will find the answer.

She's been my friend for years. I can't imagine life without her. Her advice about women, children, and life has gotten me through some rough times over the years.

Your kids need you.

I need you.

If I ever get married you owe me.

You better be there so I can collect.






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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Zone System



The greatest landscape photographer of all time, Ansel Adams, perfected what he called the "zone" system. He shot in black and white and knew how to capture all the shades of grey in between pure white and ink black.



Look at any of his images and the nuance, shadow, and detail are amazing.

Why is it called "black and white" photography? It's anything but...Have you ever seen a black and white picture or painting? I saw one once. It was a painting; the canvas was half black and half white, connected at the middle. I suppose the artist was making a statement about the simplicity of it, or the duality, or something seemingly profound...

My buddy Dan made a statement the other day about life and used photography as a metaphor.

He said that "all the magic is in the grey."

How profound.

Think about it. How many things in life are absolutely black and white?

Over the past few election cycles pundits tried to paint politicians and their supporters totally as red or blue.


Were they really? I wasn't. I am a Democrat, a firm-believer in helping people out, love the party's social programs but have a few concerns with many of the platforms that my party clings to. Does that make me a B&W, die-hard Democrat? What about Catholics that voted for Obama? I know many; they defied their church because of Obama's belief in birth control and abortion.

Does that mean they're going to Hell? Or will Heaven forgive them?

Rarely does someone or something line up squarely in the grey. When someone spouts their rhetoric and KNOW that they are 100% right, they aren't talking grey...they're talking crazy and scare the hell out of me.
They see things in black and white and to hell with any nuances.

Grey areas exist everywhere. In relationships, politics, and in our everyday decisions.

A contrast ratio is the opposition of black against white. Any photographer or television technician can tell you how important that ratio is.

We need contrast in our everyday existence. How else do we find meaning?

If it's been raining for two solid weeks, isn't a beautiful summer day with deep blue skies, punctuated by puffy, cotton clouds amazing?

Without grey there is no contrast. I think most of the greatest experiences in my life involved some type of contrast. Befores and Afters, Days and Nights, Withs and With-Nots all taught me something.

The image above is my attempt to ape Mr. Adams. He traveled to Canyon de Chelly in Northeast Arizona in the 1930s with God knows how much gear and took his famous shot of the White House Ruin. It's an excellent shot, showcasing his zone philosophy. My attempt was shot digitally, and played with in post-pro.

I guess I was in the zone...for a moment. What can an old tattered Adams retrospective book teach me?

Or an off-the-cuff quote from a good friend.




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Friday, July 17, 2009

An Atheist Says Count Your Blessings...

Yep.

Count 'em. Look in the mirror and realize how goddamn lucky you are to be standing in front of that reflective glass, drawing breath into your lungs, and standing on your own two feet.

I've had a rotten day. It started off good; I sold three units today and the boss seemed happy. I patted myself on the back, pumped my fist in the air Rocky Balboa-style, and grinned ever so eloquently.

Recently, I had a psychological profile done. I was told I was an "empath." My only experience with that word as a noun were some aliens on a "Star Trek" episode. I guess it means you absorb other people's emotions and place their feelings, in many cases, above your own. Sounds kinda cool...but, in practice, not really.

My girlfriend had a rough night with her family. Teenagers...

We talked on the phone a bit and, over the course of the night, I got two texts. Assuming they were from her, as she's truly embraced technology and has become a texting fiend extraordinaire, I picked up my phone and saw that they were from two different people. And they were both bad news...

A good mother, college roommate, confidante, Hawai'ian roommate, sister, and one of my dearest friends is in the hospital with pneumonia and a collapsed lung.

The second text dealt with another friend whose wife is young, vivacious, and cancer-ridden. It doesn't look good.

Why?


I ruminate. I wonder why good people face such hardships. If there is a God, he is a cruel, mean son of a bitch who laughs at his children's pain.

Another friend's life is consumed by his children's special needs. He is a loving, doting and wonderful father who is tasked every day by challenges I can't imagine.

I wish I truly were a Star Trek empath. I wish I could absorb all their pain, cast it into the sun and watch it explode with a finality.

I wish I could tell them all that everything will be alright.

I can't. All I can do is hope, and, yes, have faith that things may get better for them.

I ruminate some more. What are my insignificant little problems? Nothing. Will I be happy in life? Who knows? Does it matter?

I'm standing and looking in the mirror with my eyes and under my own power. The breath that I draw into my lungs is sweet, clean and filling.

The mirror looks back and I realize every fucking day is a miracle.

So says an atheist.





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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Do I Unleash Hell upon Best Cuts?


I'm kind of a pushover...


I admit it. I generally try to see the best in people and not be too harsh on them. Case in point: the lady who cuts my hair is a sweet lady, is always gregarious and has a kind word when I sit in her chair.

I went in two days ago for a haircut; nothing too radical. A mid-July touch up to lighten some of the hirsute weight off my skull. I point-blank told her to just lose a little of the length.

Now, when someone says "finger length" I take that to mean the length of your fingers...ya know, like three inches long? I guess in the hair-cutting world that really means the width, or fatness, of your fingers.

The haircut I got?  

Semper Fi, mo-fo.

Marines look like hippies compared to me. I was born with more hair than this. My boss said "Hail Caesar" this morning and gave me the Legionnaire Salute.

Ya know Russell Crowe's 'do in Gladiator? Kinda like mine, but only his was cool. Mine looks like a German U-Boat commander crossed with Olivier's Hamlet and spun together with a dash of Mr. Spock. I think I made a reference to a Bataan Death March survivor but that may have been too cryptic for the Facebook crowd.

My girlfriend wasn't too optimistic; the look I got from her when she saw my Colonel Kurtz head was interesting. You ever give someone a birthday or Christmas present and they're expecting something totally different? They totally think they're getting X and you swoop in with Y? They're taken off guard and have a quizzical "WTF?" look on their face?

That's the look she gave me the other night when she saw me...

Oh well, it'll grow back and I'll look cool in a few weeks. I hope...

In the meantime, I can walk around the condo and quote Maximus.

My cat looks at me with a feline WTF when I scream "Unleash Hell!" and "Are you not entertained?" into the bathroom mirror.

Oh, and I forgive the stylist. She's cool and has a great heart. Maximus won't toss her into the gladiator pit.

This time.



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Sunday, July 12, 2009

You're on the deck of the Titanic...what do you do?


I love history. I've read countless biographies, battlefield descriptions and historical "fictions" detailing events long past about people long dead.

I've visited battlefields, talked to survivors of events, and stood in historic spots where presidents have been felled, unknowns have been slaughtered and countless others have made their mark on us in ways that we haven't jotted down for posterity.

Memphis, April 4th, 1968...saw the motel where King was murdered.

San Antonio, The Alamo...saw the musketball holes in the limestone facade.

Pearl Harbor, Hawai'i...stood on the memorial spanning the ghost of the U.S.S. Arizona while a bugler played taps on Memorial Day.

Dallas, Dealey Plaza, the Grassy Knoll...there's a black "X" on the street where the fatal shot hit JFK.

Gettysburg, Little Round Top...stood where Chamberlain and his men fought off the Rebel tide.

Ground Zero at the World Trade Center site...smelled the smoldering pile of rubble and human remains.

Plymouth, Appomattox, Fredericksburg, Sharpsburg, Manassas, Saratoga...

And so on, and so on...

Seeing these sites makes me ruminate over these sacred places; I gaze at the epic and think about the intimate. So many lives, families, and futures changed forever by a single split-second.


*******************



I especially love the RMS Titanic. I don't know why. When I was younger I was fascinated by the story of a big boat that hit an iceberg and sank, killing a lot of innocent people who were in the wrong boat at the wrong time.

Since that first read of Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember" in 1979 I have talked to three Titanic survivors, met descendants of survivors (and victims) and visited dozens of memorials, graves, and Titanic-related sites to feed this fascination that has consumed my intellect since the seventh grade.

Since my adolescent fascination, the story of the Titanic, and more importantly, its meaning, has morphed with me as I have grown older. It's taught me lessons and asked me that question that begs an answer from everyone: What would I have done on that night?

I think James Cameron's huge Oscar-winning movie put the whole disaster into perspective for me. I had read several books detailing the sinking but was never able to put a face on the human toll. There's a scene in the film right after she takes the final plunge and Jack and Rose are struggling in the water. The camera pulls up and back and shows the sheer amount of humanity struggling in the freezing water. That brief shot really put it all into focus for me.

It was always about the people.

Not the sinking, this huge ship with her ass up in the air, plunging to her death while the heroic men stood by to accept their fates, or the captain ignoring his forty years at sea and rushing straight into a known ice field. Not the temperance of the brittle steel being affected by 28 degree ocean water, not the lifeboats being sent out at half capacity, or the steerage passengers denied entry to the boats.

The millions of endless facts mean nothing to those who were there, slowly succumbing to the icy water.

It was always about the people and what they experienced. Horrors that most of us will never, thankfully, have to live through.

Recently, I turned forty. (Well, a few years ago anyway.) It came and went without much fanfare. Friends took me out to dinner. My girlfriend at the time took me to Blake's Seafood and got me a book on Shackleton's doomed expedition.

Time passed...

I met someone a several months ago and thought my life had changed. We spent every waking moment together and planned for a future. More kids, vacations all over Hell's half-acre. Growing old together...

She was amazing in every sense of the word: amiable, drop dead gorgeous, intelligent, effervescent, and fun, all punctuated by a million-watt smile that could drop a stampeding elephant with one gaze.

I felt like the poor Irish immigrant departing on a voyage to the New World, full of hope, promises, and a destiny yet to be fulfilled.

Then, whatever happened happened. Just like the Titanic, a proverbial iceberg slammed head-on into our relationship. Sunk. Gone.

I became the movie's fictional Jack, hanging on to a piece of driftwood and slowly succumbing to the elements. I died a little bit every day, and thought that things would never be the same.

Our romance reminded me of the Titanic. Hundreds of people purchased a ticket, left their homelands for a better shot at life here in America. Countless dreams...expectations...all shattered.

Most of them ended up at the bottom of the ocean, their bones slowly dissolving in the calcium-deficient waters of the deep North Atlantic. The lucky ones ended up in Halifax, in a proper grave overlooking the sea. Few of them lived past April 15th, 1912, and got to live their dream.

My story, hopefully, hasn't ended in an unmarked, salty grave.

After several weeks apart, she and I talked ten days ago. One thing led to another and I find myself talking with her every day...

It seems that Lookout Frederick Fleet will gaze through the darkness from his berth in the crows nest. He'll spot that berg fifteen seconds earlier. The ship will swing hard-a-starboard and port around that iceberg and everyone will sleep sound. New York will be seen right on schedule because a wise Captain Smith will have the foresight to heed the ice warnings.

I still don't know what I would have done on the deck of the Titanic. But I know what I'm going to do now. I am there for her; sharing, talking and fighting for the woman that I would give up my seat in a lifeboat, willingly and without hesitation.

Life can change in an instant.

I hope my story has a happy ending; I don't mind the occasional iceberg but I hope I have the knowledge, wisdom and experience to get them out of my...or rather...our path.





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Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Latin Word for "Breathing" is...


I sit here in the man cave, my faithful companion at my side...well, not really by my side. That would imply some Norman-Rockwellish painting: Pipe in my mouth, Christmas tree in the background and my hunting dog sleeping at my feet.


No, he's in his chair, on his back with his spindly legs up in the air and his floppy left ear dangling off the chair. Snoring away in that canine way; oblivious to the keyboard tapping and Clapton blaring from the i-Pod.

More Norman Bates than Norman Rockwell...


Anyway, here I sit...trying to find some inspiration, or rather, Spiritus. Latin for "breathing," it is what drives each of us to do what we do best. I'm not saying I'm a great writer; not even a good one. But it allows me to put my world into order and see things the way they should be. Or at least how I want them to be.


Having just toured the largest museum complex in the world, I saw untold works of spiritus. The Wright Flyer, Whistler paintings, the original Kermit the Frog muppet. The creators of each of those were inspired by something deep within them...unfathomable to others but deeply resonant within themselves. What inspires a grown man to create a green frog puppet? Look at his legacy. Do you have something on permanent display at the Smithsonian?


What moves me to do something different, unique or creative? I wish I knew.


I used to marvel at a bald eagle flying overhead in free flight, fifty feet over my head. The idea of seeing that endangered bird swooping over a local marsh and majestically catching a fish moments after dawn was enough to get my ass out of bed before sunrise, hike two miles from the parking lot and hope, just hope, to catch a glimpse of such a rare occurrence.


Not so much anymore.


I wish I knew.


I've hiked to parts of this country that most of my friends would never even consider, let alone doing. I was in west Texas by myself, smack dab in the middle of mountain lion country, hoping to photograph a verdant spring. It was windy, I was alone, and I thought it was cool as hell.


I think back at it and wonder: Why?


What was I searching for? Peace of mind? A glimpse of a mountain lion?


I don't remember...


Spiritus, it's fleeting. Writer's block, artist's block, lack of imagination...and so on.


But, when you get it, maybe just for a moment, it can be wonderful and make you hike by yourself, at dawn, into mountain lion country. You hope that, maybe, for a brief second that cougar will peek out from behind a boulder or from the relative safety of a tree and you'll see something as rare as a T-Rex in Times Square.

Then it occurs to me:


Magic.


That's what breathing is all about.





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Monday, July 6, 2009

The Hiccups of Life...





You know, happiness isn't terminal. Neither is it a condition that inhabits our lives on a daily basis. I think that we, as children, are spoon-fed this idea that we all must (or eventually will) live in a state of catatonic happiness all Stepford-Wife style.

I've learned that it comes and goes, kind of like hiccups. The cool thing is that we must recognize when something makes us laugh, shiver or quiver with anticipation, and never let go of that feeling.

I forget who said it, but I read a quote when I was younger that said most men "lead lives of quiet desperation," or something like that.

Why?

I've been lucky, and blogged a few weeks ago about the English measurement system that defined something as intangible as a "moment."

This past weekend I spent a wonderful 48 hours with my whole family. We haven't been under the same nine-story, $375 a night roof since 2000. Our Washington D.C. trip gave me time to relax, reflect, and see some things that I've never seen before.

I saw a panda bear gingerly eating an apple. He picked it apart slowly and the juice dripped all over his black stomach and attracted every fly in the greater D.C. metropolitan area.

My American History inner-geek was jonesing at standing on the same stage that John Wilkes Booth stood as he yelled "Sic Semper Tyranus!" and limped away after mortally wounding Abraham Lincoln.

Twenty minutes later I was gawking at the one-shot derringer that Booth used to change the course of our country's history.

I gazed at a komodo dragon from less than five feet. Never saw one of those before; all that ran through my mind was that he had one of the longest goddamned tongues I'd ever seen and I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of a reptilian smack down...

I saw the most amazing fireworks display ever. The percussive explosions echoed in my chest.

At the National Aquarium I saw a loggerhead turtle seemingly floating in space.

I sat with my son on the steps of the Capitol Building and talked about the intricacies of the fairer sex, much to the bemusement of a D.C. policeman.

We walked up the stairs at the Supreme Court and wondered how many millions of lives have been changed by the decisions rendered in this building.

I met a man from Lynchburg, Virginia and talked about life....never even got his name but he had a death-grip handshake and grew up in Detroit.

Sat at the hotel bar with my sister where we each drank a glass of wine. My eyes bugged out when I got the bill...two glasses of (house) wine...$28.00.

I said goodbye to my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephews with a renewed zest for family. I hugged each one of them and realized how important family is; even though they live a hundred miles away and our visits are becoming less frequent as the kids get older.

I then drove the impossibly-short distance of 35 miles to Baltimore to show my son and mother Fort McHenry, the site where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write our National Anthem. It was my 68th national park site in the last four years; we bought a magnet to put on our fridge between the Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, and Great Smoky Mountain National Park official magnets.

Prior to heading back to Cleveland we stopped for lunch at the Inner Harbor. What a great meal: three generations of my family sitting at McCormick and Schmick's, enjoying crab cakes and lobster tail as a generous breeze made its way in from Chesapeake Bay.

I made my way home, dropped my mom off in Boardman, took my son home and came back to my very excited dog. As we crawled into bed, he flopped his head on my chest, his ears cascading out on my stomach. He was content and very glad to have me back where I belonged, and it was a perfect way to end a fantastic weekend.

The hiccups started on Friday morning and I'm still giddy with them now, twenty-four hours after being home...

They'll go away, eventually, but I anticipate their return. Hopefully someday soon.






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Thursday, July 2, 2009

My eco-story...

Let's try another stab at writing, eh? I wrote this one a long time ago as a children's story. I guess it has an environmental bent to it; this was way before Al Gore and any truths, however inconvenient they may be.

I don't feel like thinking too much tonight so I thought I'd be lazy and post this instead...Please excuse some of the prose.





"A Piece of Green"




Once upon a time there was a mountain. It wasn’t the tallest in the range, nor was it the steepest. But yet it stood, piercing the clouds and standing broad and firm against the eons of wind, rain and snow. How long it stood no one knew; it had been here since before the first moose grazed its meadows, or before the first hawk ever landed on one of its trees. The mountain was rich with resources, easily feeding its inhabitants with the many streams that were replenished every spring by the melting rain waters that cascaded down its slopes.

In turn, the water nourished all the pines, pin oaks, and maples that grew tall, old, and blotted out the mountain’s face due to their enormous size. Many animals, from the stealthy mountain lion to the tiny field mouse, called this mountain home. They thrived from birth on this pillar; never fully realizing that this gigantic piece of granite was what sustained them, and to that they owed their very existence.

Then one day, like in any good fairy tale, a dragon flew past the mountain and saw the lush greenery of the trees. He heard the rushing water and could smell the presence of small animals: lunch! Although his walnut-sized brain couldn’t understand why, he knew that all that green was a good thing!

He blinked twice, thought for a moment, and decided that this should be his new home. He pointed himself downward, flapped his mighty wings and descended upon a wooded alcove—shaded by day and near a stream that made a rather nice sound as the water bubbled over the glasslike rocks.

The dragon heard a rumbling noise from elsewhere and sharply looked behind him. He expected to see another of his kind but quickly realized that the rumbling was emerging from the pit of his enormous green belly! He was very hungry and realized that in order to keep those big wings flapping he needed something to quiet the continuing churning coming from inside. Looking to ferret out some food, his big nostrils fluted up into the air; the smell of flowers danced in his nose! The fresh scent of plumeria almost overcame him. He was swimming in the sweet smell. Then suddenly, another smell replaced the wonderful flowers: it was the inviting odor of a small animal…

Food! The dragon thought. Up went the nose, sniffing out the smell. Getting closer and closer to the buffet, directly below him was a warren of bunnies. He swooped down, grabbed all seven of them and gobbled them up in one giant gulp. However, his ravenous hunger wasn’t displaced by seven bunnies and he quickly searched out other food…

We all know that the trouble with dragons is they are always hungry and bunnies, squirrels, and mice are mere appetizers for such an enormous, five-ton beastie. Within minutes, every animal within sight of the dragon was furiously running for its life! The moose and elk bolted from the meadows, taking refuge in the dense thicket of the forests. The field mice cowered in the prairie grasses, not uttering a single squeak in fear of giving away their hiding place to this green eating machine.

It didn’t matter…The mice ears were no match for the pin-point sharpness of the dragon’s ears. The stealth of the mountain lion was no match for the speed of the dragon’s wings. The owl’s keen eyesight could not compare to the dragon’s purple eyes that could see in utter darkness. Within weeks the chirping of the songbirds was gone, the prancing of the playful antelopes through the meadows was no more, and the plentiful bounty of fish that would jump high in the mountain’s streams ceased. The dragon ate well and soon grew enormously fat. His belly stretched to such amazing proportions that his thin wings could no longer support his immense weight. Unable to fly, he was now forced to walk everywhere. He crashed through the forest on his search for more food. His spiked tail took down the pin oaks as he lumbered through them. The pines were no match for his huge butt as he wiggled through the undergrowth of the canopy.

It seemed fruitless. Where was all the food? He had scoured the entire mountain looking for it, and because he was unable to fly he had to walk everywhere, and that was a chore. Although he was incredibly fat, he was always hungry. Soon, he crawled and foraged through every available nook, cranny and crag. Quickly, the berries were all gone and not one single field mouse scampered from log to log…

As the food dwindled down to nothing more than shrubbery and dried undergrowth, so did the dragon’s belly. Within a few weeks he was thin enough to fly again and smiled at his regained mobility. The belly rumbled for the umpteenth time (that day) and it was speaking that special language that even someone as dim-witted as a dragon could understand: It was time to move on and find more food.

But, he liked this home! It was beautiful and had provided him with shade on hot days, lyrical music from the bubbling streams of water accompanied by the litany of chirps from the songbirds. He looked around and what he saw surprised him. Where had the shade gone? It was here a few days ago…Come to think of it, where were the songbirds? He hadn’t heard their song in a while now. He looked at the brook below his feet. It was dry; very little water ran across the parched rocks that were no longer glasslike. Where was the green? Everything had a dull gray tone to it with little patches of brown here and there.

The dragon blinked twice, thought for a moment and decided that he needed to find a new home. He wanted to live somewhere pleasant: shady alcoves, green trees and a chorus of birds to lull him to sleep in the early evening hours. With a thrust of his mighty wings he pointed his massive green body skyward and took off, never to be seen again.

The mountain, not the tallest in the range (nor the steepest) was now nothing more than a pile of rock. Its granite face would weather harsh winters, beating sunlight, heavy winds, and whatever else nature would heap upon it. But the beauty that sustained it was gone, once and for all during the time of the dragons.





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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Help! "The Old Man" Needs an Ending!!

One winter night, a few years ago, a creative spark struck and I fanned those flames. I started writing a story. "Started" being the keyword. I can't think of an ending; every so often I revisit my keyboard and attempt to plunk out a few words to give the old man some peace.

Any one have any ideas? It's long but let me know what you think...




The Old Man


The dust, like the old man, had firmly settled into the cloth of the easy chair. It would cascade end over end, dancing on the breeze that would blow itself through the south window, the one facing the old corner store, and then daintily come to rest in between the furrows of cloth on the faded yellow chair. There the dust would sit, until disturbed again, either by a random cleaning or by the occasional hand that would come down hard on the arm of the chair, thereby starting the cascading process all over again.
The old man called this chair home, more so than the neighborhood filled with decaying street corners and houses that got musty with age, not neglect. The mills he had labored at for more than forty years were closed now, and much of the surrounding neighborhood seemed to wither just as the mills had, victims to “progress,” or whatever the mill owners had called it. Geographically, the neighborhood had changed little in the past fifty years. A few of the old trees had died or been cut down and been replaced with saplings, and now even those were getting too tall. The liquor store inhabited the same spot since FDR’s days. The grocery was still there, yet no one really shopped there anymore. Even the bus station still ran the buses every day (and mostly on time) but the route designations were sprayed over in day-glo graffiti. Most of the older folks were still around; Herb still mowed his lawn every Saturday, Joe Batich ran his poker game on Tuesdays every week since 1955 (“Only missed twice,” he lamented in deference to John Kennedy’s assassination and what happened on 9/11), and Larry Krepsky kept watch over the junkyard to keep away the kids who routinely stole parts to sell on the internet. Some of the faces in this neighborhood were new, but mostly, life lumbered on from year to year with the same resignation burnt into the same faces.
The old man kept his daily routine pretty simple: He would get up, read the paper in his faded yellow easy chair, make some coffee and toast, and then feed Buster. This kept him pretty well-occupied until mid-morning. He knew it was time to put the paper down when Buster sat under the table and let out an anemic little bark. This signaled to the old man that it was breakfast and that the dried kibbles of dog food would go down better if a little of his jelly-smeared toast made its way into Buster’s bowl. This was a well-honed routine developed over several years of breakfasts and various assortments of jellies. Buster didn’t care for any other types of jelly and would stick his nose up at anything other than grape.
They would then go for the obligatory walk that over the years had become the highlight of their day. On most mornings it was a joy for the pair of them, but recently the old man wasn’t feeling too well and the morning walks were more of a discomfort than an enjoyment. Yet, Buster needed walking or there would be a mess to clean, and a shamed, cowering dog under the couch for most of the afternoon. Neither one of them wanted that embarrassment.
This bedraggled assortment of fur that lived under the old man’s bed wasn’t the first dog in this house named Buster. Many years earlier, (1950? 1951? The recollection had eluded him) he and his new bride, Eve, had found in the alleyway a puppy that someone had thrown out of their moving car. They took this wayward mottled pup out of the rain, bandaged him up, and had all the intentions of placing him with a good home. Somehow, maybe because of that little bark and cocked head, he had become a part of their household. Days turned into a week, and then into a month. Soon, Buster (the first) was just a much a part of him as his wife was. She loved that dog, and Buster had kept her company on those nights when the old man worked a double at the mill.
That first Buster lived for almost sixteen years. A long life, the old man proclaimed, because Eve had loved him so much. Eve lasted another twenty-three years, and then she too joined Buster, leaving the old man with a house, impending retirement, and a fading yellow easy chair.
After Eve’s passing, he got into what would become his “routine,” and eventually became fairly content with it. The years had stretched on; most of the kids he knew when they first moved onto Jones Avenue were now in their early forties and had kids of their own. On occasion they would bang on the door and ask if the old man was okay. He remembered most of them, but once in awhile a face that he didn’t recognize would ask him if he remembered a now adult stranger whom the old man hadn’t seen in damn near two decades. The most startling meeting of this kind was Tommy Pasznak. He was now thirty-three and stopped by once a month or so, whenever he was at his folks’ house with his two sons. The old man, upon first seeing the adult Tom, was flabbergasted when this six-foot-four stranger reminded the old man who he was. Tommy Pasznak, in his mind, was still this little tow-headed kid who weighed about sixty pounds and stood no more than four foot tall.
The old man’s routine was golden; rarely was it broken, and if it was, there was a good reason. He always kept the same pace, and neighbors said that you could set your watch by him every morning. His walks with Buster began precisely at 8:15 and lasted till 9:00. Buster knew every tree, fireplug, and bush on their circuitous route around the neighborhood. Occasionally, the little canine would sniff furiously and the old man reminded his companion that it must be a new dog on the street. That, however, didn’t stop Buster from sniffing any less hard.
When Eve was alive, the old man was used to a much different life. His eggs, toast and coffee were on the table early every morning and a kiss would accompany him on the way out the door. It was a short walk to the mills, and Eve’s scent lingered on him as he made his way down Jones Avenue and across the tracks. His walks still took the same path and from time to time his mind would wander back to those cold walks to the mills. The bitter wind was somehow less bitter with his sweet Eve; now, as he and Buster made their way, the winter winds seemed twice as cold as they were all those years ago.
As a rule, the old man didn’t like to linger on the past. What good was thinking about things that were done? He figured that those events were done with him and laboring on them did no good. But, sometimes, as he wandered down this street with Buster in tow on his brown leather leash, he caught himself thinking of Eve, their life together and the way things used to be. He looked down at Buster, smiled, and saw the small dog wag his tail in appreciation of the glance. He thought of that first month after Eve’s passing, and how he knew he would never get through without her. He thought of the morning that this little dog came to be his.



It was an unbearably hot summer and the fans did nothing but move hot air around each room. He had every window in the house opened and was planning on walking down to the cemetery with a bouquet of fresh flowers to put on Eve’s just-finished headstone. From the back of the house he heard a dull noise, like a car hitting its brakes and then taking off rather quickly. As he approached the front of the house, he heard the excited mumblings of several of the neighborhood children. Eager to see why they were all gathered in his front yard, he opened the heavy front wooden door and peered into the street. A group of six or seven kids milled about chattering and questioning each other about what they should do. The old man interrupted, and they told him to come down and take a look for himself. Maybe, they said, he could help out. He lumbered down the creaky wooden stairs to the tree lawn and then into the street.
There, before him, lay a dog lying on her side, very pregnant and saddled with the first stages of labor. The children had never seen anything like this before, and had no idea what was happening. The old man was somewhat taken by surprise when he saw this dog. She looked just like Eve’s Buster, but only a bit larger. Her left ear was bent, and a trickle of blood was coming out of her mouth. The old man looked around the street and saw a set of telltale skid marks near where the dog lay in the street. It shocked him that someone would callously hit an animal and then just keep on going. Especially when the dog was pregnant, and even more so, when the dog looked so much like his Eve’s little dog.
The old man called the local veterinarian and he came as fast as he could. In the meantime, several of the children had gotten an old blanket and a bowl of water for the stricken animal. The vet arrived and asked the old man if this was his dog. No, he replied, and asked if she was going to be all right. The vet’s face tensed up, and he shook his head with a simple look that said, “I don’t know.”
The children were asked to stand back and the vet bent down over the stricken animal and gently placed his hand on her head. She barely moved and hardly even acknowledged his presence. She tensed a bit as he put his left hand under her belly. Instinctively, she flinched as the vet put his other hand over her short snout. The old man saw the dog flinch and wondered what kind of home she was from. He then noticed a small mark over her left eye. Had she been abused by her owners or was it a cut from the car accident? He shook his head in disgust and then asked the vet what he could do to help out. The vet told the old man to go inside and call his office. He wanted his assistant to bring some more supplies—towels, antiseptic, and perhaps a basket to ease the puppies into this world. Puppies? The old man thought, as he walked as briskly as he could up the creaky wooden stairs and into the house. He doubted she would live for another hour or so, let alone have the strength to give birth.

He quickly dialed the office and asked the assistant to bring the supplies and a small basket for the puppies. Not realizing how many little dogs would be born, he amended that to a large basket with a few blankets. He hung up the phone and then went back outside; this disruption was almost too much. When he got back to the street the vet looked up at the old man. His face said it all: the situation was fairly grim. He hoped she would last until his assistant got here. The blood flow from the wounded dog’s mouth was consistent and the ground was soon covered with the red substance. It started to pool under the dog’s ear and would have flowed into her eye if the blonde-haired kid hadn’t told the vet to move her head. He did so, gingerly, and placed the folded, old blanket under her head. She winced at the craning of her neck and then stared ahead with resignation, almost knowing what her fate was to be. The neighborhood kids all ran to the aide as she slammed her car door shut. A few of them ran across the street and helped her with the towels and medications. The old man simply stood there, thinking of Eve, Buster, and this poor dog who lay in a heap at the foot of his curb lawn.



Eventually, the puppies did come. Seven were born within an hour or so of the assistant’s arrival and, as expected, the mother did not survive the ordeal. Three of the litter came into this world, took a few breaths, and then joined her. The others, two females and a male, seemed to be alright and after several weeks of close attention and midnight feedings would be placed in loving homes. The seventh, a bloody, tangled mess of fur, was the litter’s runt and barely the size of the old man’s thumb. The vet thought the pup wouldn’t last the night and was preparing for his demise as well. The old man was shocked at how much this little runt reminded him of Buster. Even with his eyes closed and steadily whimpering for breath, the resemblance was undeniable. There, on the dog’s head, was a patch of brown fur mottled into black at the neck; continuing down its back was white and brown and the ticked gray spots that betrayed its half-pointer heritage.

The vet packed up his supplies, comforted many of the crying and shocked children, and then put the blanket over the mother and her dead pups. It was intensely hot that afternoon, so the vet wanted to get the children dispersed to their homes so he could clean up the scene. The old man couldn’t bury the dogs himself, so the vet said he would take care of the situation. Just before the vet left, the old man asked him what was to become of the runt. “He’ll probably join his mother tonight,” the vet said in response. He thanked the vet, turned toward the house and wiped a tear from his left eye.

The next day the old man called the vet and expected to hear the worst. The thought of this runt kept him up most of the night and the old man couldn’t understand why he was affected by it so much. He thought about the pup just lying in the bloody blanket, trying to move and not being able to muster any strength to pull himself an inch from where he lay.

To his utter surprise, the vet said the runt was doing better and had taken several feedings since getting back to the vet’s office the night before. As a matter of practice, the vet’s wife and two girls would stay up with all the wayward animals and feed them every few hours. The practice, the vet thought, was good preparation for his young daughters’ own children years from now. The old man asked the vet if he could stop down and see the pup. Of course, the vet said over the phone, and within a few minutes the old man had put his cap on, locked the door and was walking as briskly as his legs could take him to the vet’s office.

As he walked into the vet’s office he was greeted by the vet’s secretary (his wife) and thanked for calling them to take care of the puppies. She said their daughters were attending to the majority of the pups and it filled their days with excitement and a sense of responsibility. He asked if he could see the runt. She took him back to the cages where the ragamuffin lay. His eyes were still closed but he was cleaned up; no longer bloody and sleeping on a fresh blanket. He was breathing better and now that he was no longer covered with fluid and blood the resemblance to Buster was even more apparent.

For the next three weeks the old man was a fixture at the office. Each day the puppy grew a little stronger and on the sixth day he opened his eyes. The first thing the puppy saw was the old man. Tiny, blackish eyes parted for a few moments, peered up at the white moustache of the old man, and then closed. The old man smiled and wondered for a moment if this runt thought that he was its mother.

On the seventh day the pup’s eyes stayed open. He was affixed on the old man and, carefully, was picked up. The pup’s left ear was bent as he looked at the old man inquisitively. The old man tucked the pup under his left armpit and stroked him under the chin. A bottle then came to the runt’s mouth. At first, he resisted the rubber tip but then realized what he was ignoring. The dog took the bottle and drank as much as he could, downing the bottle until it was empty. His face was covered with milk and he half-heartedly sneezed as the white fluid covered his nostrils and eyes. The old man took out his handkerchief and carefully wiped away the milk from this orphan’s face. As he put the white kerchief back into his pocket he grinned at the realization that they were both orphans. It then occurred to him that maybe this runt’s mother was hit directly in front of his house for a reason…





The daily walks to the vet’s office were becoming easier on the old man now that the unbearably hot weather had finally started to abate. The radio said that this had been the longest hot streak on record. Most of the older folks in the neighborhood hadn’t remembered a time where the heat popped above ninety degrees and had stayed there for almost a month! Twenty-seven days of blistering afternoons and breezeless nights had taken its toll on the old man. He thanked God that today was better. As he made his way around the corner a slight breeze picked up. The last few hundred yards of sidewalk went by a little quicker due to the warm, yet comforting, breeze that flowed through his short-sleeved shirt and long slacks. As he reached the stairs of the office, it was soothing and made his joints feel a little relief. The door creaked shut behind him as a cold gust from the air conditioning met the old man. He was here to check on the pup, which he had named Buster for lack of a better name. After all, the first Buster was a crackerjack of a dog and this little guy had the resilience and tenaciousness of any dog he had seen, hell, even more than Rin-Tin-Tin or Lassie. He had grown stronger over the last few weeks; he’d never be a show dog due to his pedigree (of which he didn’t actually have) but the old man knew that a mutt was more loyal, smarter, and a better companion than any expensive “breed.”

Buster barked, anemically, yet furiously at the old man’s presence. He couldn’t wait for him to arrive and every time he heard the door creak shut his little ears would pop up in anticipation of the old man and the treats that he always bought to him. Today, however, would be different. The old man had spoken with the vet several days before and they both agreed that the pup was old enough and strong enough to go home with the old man. He took a seat next to the vet’s desk and took a brown leather leash out of a bag. After taking the tags off with a pair of scissors he promised Lily and Megan, the vet’s daughters, that they could come see the pup whenever they liked. He thanked them for their attention and kindness and told the girls that he knew they would both make fine mothers. If they could bring Buster back from death’s door, they could undoubtedly mother any old human baby. The girls giggled and demanded reassurance that they could come visit Buster whenever they wanted. The old man smiled with an “of course” look and told him as long as they called ahead of time they could come as often as they liked.






Arrrrrrggggghhhh!!! Here endeth the story!!! Now what???






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