D-Day Plus Four

We’ve got so many grand ideas to keep track of, we’d all be nearly bursting if such vessels as our minds could be contained. If each of us could manage to remember just a little piece of our ambition and intent, and not necessarily just his own, then together we’d have a good collection of what we wanted to do after the war.

For example, Harrigan wants to expand his pop’s barber shop back home. Seems his little town in Arizona has a lot of ladies’ stores on Main Street, and Harry reckons the fellas there could use a place of their own. Not just another barber’s chair; that was too predictable. Harrigan, we need clarification– pronto!

“Tobacco,” he shouted, as we walked behind an M4 on D-Day Plus Four– that is, four days after we’d stormed the French coast to fight the Germans. Harrigan waved his hand in frustration, as if to say, “Let’s not talk about this right now.” We riflemen, that is, Harrigan, Kendall, Jimmy and me, were passing a knocked-out German pillbox gun emplacement and had to keep alert. Harrigan was itching to lay out his personal post-war plan but kept it to himself as we inched behind the slow-moving Sherman tank.

He didn’t have long to wait for his opportunity to tell us. Our commanding officer passed down word that the immediate area was clear, and we were to pause. Supplies were being brought forward, and causalities brought back.

“Look,” Harrigan said, as we gathered in a small circle not too far from the pillbox. “My hometown Avondale’s got nice shops, girl’s shops, hats, shoes, all that stuff. I’ve spent a long time studying this. The men don’t want to tag along with their women all the time they’re shopping. Sure, the younger guys are lovestruck, they’ll stick with their lady through hours of all that frilly, dreadful stuff,” he said.

“Not me,” piped Kendall, a big soldier at the ripe old age of thirty-three. “Right!” Harrigan agreed. “You older guys have no need of hanging around while your gal shops. Heck, she don’t even want you around.”

“My Mary wants me there, I mean she’d not mind my company,” Jimmy stated. Jimmy The Kid was a bit too big in pride, and a bit too small in uniform. He and Mary had just married last year. He was eighteen years old, with an undented thin gold band on his finger. I’d see him all the time, using his thumb to gently touch that ring, perhaps to make sure it was safely in place. Maybe he felt for the ring to remind him of the day in 1943 when they’d made their vows. I could understand why he’d want to keep her close, on a sunny shopping day.

His dream was her. And starting a family.

“Right,” Harrigan was quick to agree with the kid. “You and Mary will be spending your afternoons together and that’ll be just fine. She will need your strong goofy arms to carry her stuff. She’ll want to talk to you, without having to turn around, without wondering if you’re really there.”

Without worrying that you’re not there. If Harry had been the reckless type, he might have put it that way, but he kept himself just on this side of the line of decency. The good guys don’t destroy their kid soldiers. The good guys want their kid soldiers to survive the wars, as far as wishes can carry.

Harrigan continued: “Guys like Dave and Kendall, you know, older guys, can slip away. Older gals actually don’t mind if their fellas go somewhere. While they are spending money.”

“They don’t want you to know how much they’re spending!” Jimmy said.

“Exactly. So what’s a guy to do, read a newspaper? Nah. We done that in the morning. We done that at night. I’m talking one PM, mid day. You’ve just boughtten her lunch. She’s got the wandering eye, you know, store fronts. I ask again, what’s a guy to do?

“Well fellas let me tell ya. Come to Avondale’s oldest and finest barber shop. My pa knows how to cut your hair and whiskers just right. He has the skills, and he has the tools. Guy talk, we all need it, but where’s the room to gather?”

We huddled closer to hear Harrigan’s plan.

“All right. Pa has exactly one chair, which will soon be two when I get back home. Because I’ve scouted the storefronts to our left, and to our right, and behind us, and even above us. We’re going to expand in one direction, perhaps two. We will make the most opportune choice– when I can assess. And charm. And canoodle. When this war’s over.”

“What’s this all gotta do with selling cigarettes?” Kendall complained.

“Ah!” Harrigan smiled. “Not just cigarettes. I’m talking, fine tobacco. I’m talking– cigars.”

“Oh I like this turn of events!”

“Yes my friend. Cigars. Specialty stuff. Im-ported. Here, Kenny,” Harrigan extended two empty hands. “Let me open the box for you. Let me do you the honor sir. Take a whiff. Umm! You got it, the aroma’s the perfect pitch, even unlit.”

Kendall closed his eyes and nodded. “I like it.”

Harrigan smiled. “A fine cigar, a glass of bourbon, and some friends. A fellow takes that appeal. He wants it. This moment is becoming of him. That aroma, and heck the sight and presence of him with the cigar completes his desired state of being. He relaxes, and he thinks, ‘I am the man I’d set out to become.'”

“Oh!” we murmured in unison. Harrigan was on a roll!

“And then there’s pipe tobacco,” Harrigan continued. “When that flavored stuff is lit, you are smelling sweet, boys!”

“I like it, too.” Jimmy was sold, and he wasn’t even the customer!

“Guys, listen close,” Harrigan said. “There ain’t no such shop within ten, twenty, thirty miles of pa’s place. No sir. We will be the ones. I’ve got the idea, the whole thing planned out. I’ve written to pa. He is slow to understand but he is slow even when he gets a speeding ticket. So he’ll be okay with this. He wants me to stick around town. You know, wants me close to home when I get back. He writes to me, ‘Please boy don’t leave me.’ Okay then poppers, you want that, I want this. I’ve outlined my plan. This is the future for us. This will position us well for the 1950’s.”

The guys sighed. To a man, swear to God. The 1950’s? We were going to love every minute of those years! We’d never given a thought to that decade till now!

Kendall nodded. “It’s a good plan Harry. Of merit.” Then: “This war’s gonna settle the world for sure. There ain’t no way we’re going to leave it open for any more of this mad nation crap. Dictator fascists, no more. We’re making a clean sweep of it boys, is all. I’ve never seen such advanced mobilization to wipe these louses out. The whole world’s involved. They are with us. The side of Good has said, ‘No More’. We are doing this nasty bit now, disrupting everyone’s lives, and people are going to learn from it. We will never allow it again.”

“Amen,” Jimmy said, his thumb working fast on the base of his ring finger. He said, “So Kenny, what do you want to do when the war’s over?”

“What do I want to do?” Kendall spoke quickly, then paused. He spoke fast and stopped to reserve the air. He was commanding the moment as his and his only, as was granted to him by the kid nearly half his age. I took Kenny’s pause as something quite special. Because him unfolding before us was going to be immense.

Most things Kenny did were that way. We were the ones who were going to hear his plan for the first time.

“I’m a rifleman in France,” he started. Not one of us said, “Well, we all are.” No one was on par with Kenny.

“I’m a United States Army rifleman in France and after this war I am going to do something that no one that I know has conceived of doing. Which is, I want to rebuild this country.”

“Come on,” Harrigan joked. “I was expecting something bigger.” But Kenny was serious.

“I want to help, just like I helped–” Kenny choked up and stopped. Then the good soldier plowed forward: “Five days ago I was tapped to be advanced eyes, directing fire to a bridge and then a line of buildings. I was so good at spotting, battleship gun crews and artillery captains wouldn’t release me. I called fire on French structures, all of them, but we of course called them German targets. Which was the truth. Make sense of that, boys. Can’t be done.

“In essence, I destroyed those structures. We can say, I helped destroy them. They’d been around for ages, and now they are rubble.”

Harry wanted something bigger from Kendall, and he was getting it.

“I spent D-Day Plus Three breaking more shop windows than the Hurricane of ’38. Davey you know all about that one,” Kenny said to me. He knew I was a Massachusetts guy, and that storm killed us.

“And I spent this morning doing the worst thing I could do to men. I looked them in the eye.”

That was too much for our Jimmy; he cupped his hand over the upper half of his face and wept, without a sound. I’ve seen him do it before and it tore me up each time. The kid thought that by hiding his eyes, he was covering ours too.

I didn’t say a word. Kendall reached over and touched the kid’s arm, and continued: “Y’all did it too, when we passed those farmers and their wives. And when we passed those kids. You looked them square in the face. Toughest thing you could do. Why do I say that? Because you’re moving on. You’re a change agent. You’re in control. You are part of a working system. They are not.

“You looked at the young Frenchies. Kids whose body movements were slower than their grandpa’s. How was that possible? The answer is– this is Upside-Down World. We, the four of us, looked at those wrenched people and they looked at us and what did we do next? We kept advancing. Not to make it better. To make it worse. Upside-Down World.

“That ain’t right. This ain’t right. What am I doing here? I’ll tell you. What I’m doing is not what my mother birthed me to do. And I ain’t gonna go back to the States– forgive me Harry– and resume my Main Street life. The tobacco smells sweet and I hope you sell a ton. Forgive me Jimmy, start your family, and get back to your life just as fast as you can, kid. You too Dave. This is no disrespect to you three.

“And it’s all the respect to the French people. DAMN IT ALL, I cannot, I will not leave this land as it is. If we have the strength and fortune to march thru to Berlin, by God’s will I’ll come back right that moment to right this moment. Meaning, to right this destructive moment in time. To work with the French to rebuild what’s been done here. Fix what we’ve done. What I have done.”

We were silent. Our circle of four.

Nobody asked me what I wanted to do when the war was over and that was fine with me. Kenny kinda shut down the mood. As I said, that was okay. He had a goal like the others. His was the last stated, and the most noble. We sat with our thoughts.

I was sure that one day I would tell them that I wanted to paint. Well, maybe not paint exactly, but to convey the beauty I couldn’t help but see in everyday life. To share what I perceived, to those who just saw what was in front of them.

Because everything I’ve ever seen, since I was a kid, has come alive as something artful. I happen to view my surroundings in brushstrokes, and I hear in musical tones. Even this battlefield we’re resting in, has a beauty– forgive me, a certain happiness– that only I can see.

I wish others had the opportunity to appraise the world in this way.

Where the guys see a knoll, that’s been ripped jagged with shellfire, I see a hill that’s a patchwork of many colors. Not necessarily a wide-range mind you, but a sympathetic pallet with a focus of theme. A quilt of sort, that I can use as a cover. I can take what’s being presented and register it in a soothing way.

I don’t just see wonderful things, I can spread this wonder, too.

I can sit with someone who’s done damage to their life, or gone astray, and I can begin to see courage. The person may still be on the down, but now there’s something growing inside, just from us talking. This is not something that’s shared, but given.

Maybe one day I’ll tell the guys.

We four soldiers sat in a circle. Our plans have been added to the war gear we carry with us. Our dreams are the lightest of things. They ask nothing of us. In fact, the thoughts we carry actually lighten our load.

It’s D-Day Plus Four and our commander is calling our group to action again. It’s D-Day Plus Four and the Germans have much fight left in them. Harry, Kenny, Jimmy and me, the casualties continue to mount, casualties, killed by a mortar shell, dead center in our circle. Casualties plus four, because it’s D-Day.

CAPTION: We remember the service dead on Memorial Day.
Posted in Fiction, The Literate War, WWII | 2 Comments

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Imagine the pleasure of being greeted with a smile and a hello, as you take a walk near your home. Imagine strangers welcoming you, simply because you’re passing by. Picture living where most of the people are open to conversation from their street-side porches, if you want to engage. They might ask your name, and it feels right to respond in kind. It may occur to you that this is a good way to make some new friends. This is the place I live.

I have never known a neighborhood like this. I’ve waited a long time, and traveled a long way, to get here.

It seems to me that significant power can be had from the unity of similar types of people. I’m not talking about those of us who look alike. Not the same gender, or education. Not the same nationality, nor common language. I’m not even talking about the same faith, or political party.

What do I mean, exactly? Well, if our consistencies happen to be the values we hold– for example, the manner in which we treat others– then men and women can create something wonderful. The phenomenon translates to home turf if the majority of our neighbors share one more common thing.

Where I live, our unity is this: Absolutely everyone from street to street, three-miles wide, have moved here within the last six years. That’s it. We’ve decided, one family at a time, and without a coordinated plan, that we’re starting over, right here.

A forest was cleared, and we came, and we built.

We left what we had, from all corners of the country, to make a better life. Everyone’s starting over, since about 2016.

Let me tell you what it’s like. I set out each day for a brisk 40-minute walk. The sidewalk starts right outside my apartment door, and I make a beeline for the street next to the park. A woman is walking her dog, and she says hello. A jogger smiles and opens his fingers in a tight, right-angled wave. I respond in kind.

I pass the central pond with its automobile-sized island, until recently home to a family of eight geese. I’m in the thick of the houses now. Below me, neat white sidewalk squares separate front lawns of homes from the small sections of grass that abut the street. Tiny centipedes, thin as a pencil lead and one-half inch long, walk this cement path too. In fact I step over centipedes on the average of one per second, which translates to over two-thousand of these curious creatures during my two-mile routine.

Innocent enough and quite cute, they too are excited to be here.

The scent of Confederate Jasmine is sweet and plentiful. This plant is something like a wild vine, with white flowers emitting their fragrance. Believe me, the aroma is one that you’d never get tired of.

Porches are typically about ten feet from the sidewalk, and are adorned with signs. “Life Needs More Friends and Front Porches”, reads one. “Welcome to the O’Neil’s”, says another, in carefully-painted script. With all this, and more, the thoughts that rise to my mind are natural, and soothing. Hello neighbors, hello people I haven’t met yet.

I don’t force this. I don’t pursue the bond out of a need to fit in. The environment simply makes it easy for this group.

Here’s the secret. People are happy because they know how fortunate they are to be here. They’ve escaped. From where did they come?

Perhaps their former states’ politicians didn’t represent their interests. Maybe neighbors never glanced up from years of car-door-to-front-door. No matter what anyone says, or thinks, or writes about, people don’t truck to a new neighborhood across the country, just for better weather. It takes a massive push to get people to move from the state of their origin.

The secret, part two: People from across the United States got tired of a certain way of life, got tired of a way that wasn’t going to change for the better, and did something about it.

They had to work to get out, and to get here.

This is not Utopia. This is not a commune, nor a gated community. There is crime; we lock our doors, and keep aware of what’s going on around us.

Recently a fire alarm was pulled and the residents of my building filed out into the night. As we stood, in no particular grouping, just waiting for the fire truck to investigate and let us go back to sleep, I heard a woman say to no one in particular: “Well, this is one way to meet your neighbors!” I didn’t even bother to look up.

A few days later, a lady was waiting outside for her husband. I stopped and asked her, “Were you part of that fire alarm last week?” She said yes. Was she the one I’d overheard? It was. We introduced ourselves, and in the end, she had been right that night. And if she hadn’t said it then, I wouldn’t have had anything to mention now. We’d have remained strangers.

I have met others. Not just in saying hello, but exchanging phone numbers as well. Does that sound strange to you? It does to me. Mainly because I’ve only lived here six months and old attitudes die hard.

A few weeks ago my family was invited to a new friend’s home for dinner. What a wonderful time we had! Not only was the food delicious, but we got to know a little more about someone new to us, someone who would text and ask how we were holding up in the latest wild rainstorm raging outside.

That kind of connection is a beautiful thing. Because the only way a full life works, is with friends. Welcome to the neighborhood.

CAPTION: Welcome to the Neighborhood. Come take a walk with me, miles of friendly people await.
Posted in non-fiction | 2 Comments

Flower in An Empty Lot

Near where I live, there’s a flower growing in an undeveloped commercial lot. It’s a wildflower, and not a variety that people desire to own and maintain. This flower– let’s call it Flower One– is a weed. Not just that, but it’s growing in a place that no plant should ever endeavor to live.

A living thing with no long-term plan— is that really true? Is there a grand universal scheme of existence, or is life a matter of scatter, where the start and stop is distinct and rational, measured by what can be seen?

In garden shops around the world, in all the retail places where Million Bells are carefully watered, pruned, and priced, Flower One is excluded. Flower One may be pretty, but it’s nowhere near the class of the Bells. Flower One may look good at one particular moment of its cycle, but there are other flowers with longer moments, and pedigree names.

Flower One, single and pure in Hansa Yellow. Five petals in the arrangement of the star of life, universal from the starfish to the human hand. Flower One. When there’s only one to look at, it looks the best in the lot; tough with a stick for a stem but there’s a reason why tough things are tough things.

I’d be tough too, if I had to stand alone.

Flower One may look decent in a certain photograph, but there’s another floral bunch that’s just unbeatable. They don’t go by one particular species name, let’s just say they are on a team. And Flower One will never be on that team, not ever. It will never be invited to the Beautiful Bouquets, never asked to join up. It will never be on that court, nor allowed in the arena of play. Instead, Flower One is destined to be stepped on, in the patron’s trek to the stadium.

I love Flower One. I want to go to the wind-swept construction site and scoop it up, gather the dirt, preserve the rootball, and coax that plant like the fool that I am. I want to give Flower One water, even though it’s built for long draughts and days of rainy deluge. I want to give it real soil, full of nutrients and free of bugs, even though it’s growing just fine in the wastes of worse than third-rate beach sand.

Would Flower One be okay in my living room? Would the comfortable temperature control suit it? Would a dedicated pot encourage its growth, preserve its life? How could it not thrive with the certainty of environment, and the care of attention, and the regularity of kind, spoken words?

Why would it not thrive with me?

Because it belongs outside.

Because it throve on no words, ever. Because it’s alive solely due to the harsh world, that is its normal condition.

Oh, I’ve got inklings of the damage I’ve done, and I’ve not moved an inch.

I’ll never venture to remove Flower One as I’ve wished, I could never break and subject that plant to the possible miss. That which it knows is something I know far too well. There is so much stacked against it, how could I slog out to rescue a perfectly free and healthy being?

One of trillions of such beings! Why just one, and why just it?

Flower One isn’t just battling the lack of love. It’s flourishing in the wrong place. You see, my home is scheduled to be built on the spot it grows.

The plant is going to be stepped on, by workers carrying sheetrock. The tractors driving over it will be grading my waterway slope. This is what happens in the world.

I pity Flower One.

Pity is the deadly shot that rushes out of a man’s pores, with no preparation to present to the jury. The jury sits in my judgement, and I plead nothing, on the effects of my discharge. I offer nothing but admit that the pity, indeed came from me. I couldn’t stop it. I can’t take it back, and I can’t take it away. My pity is what really slaughtered Flower One.

My pity diminished the natural course of that plant’s life, long before the workmen came to the build site.

My lawyer wanted me to plead that my pity was assigned to me, that it came from a good place. I waved him away. It’s all on me.

My lawyer wants me to stop talking, now. If it pleases the court, I’ll continue. I’ll talk to whomever will listen, this has to be said.

There has to be a long-term plan, far beyond mankind’s comprehension, because the jury that’s tasked to me is going to need more than a rational measurement of what can simply be seen. I destroyed a life that no one regarded but me, no one knew about but me, no one knew where it lived but me. Where, is here. My heart. That lot.

My crime: I considered the construction-site weed to be something that required my involvement. And I believed that the plant was to be felt sorry for, and a candidate to be interfered with, in order for it to be made “right”. All that was my mistake.

I have a few requests. To the long-term plan: Will you watch out for me? Would you please take away the crush I feel? Because that plant’s place and purpose were not valueless, no life’s is, and my flaw again and again is forgetting that lesson, so patiently shown to me. By you.

Dear Flower One: A long-term plan can set this right. Because it’s not just one. And not just you. If my crime was not a transgression at all– as my lawyer and others argue– then there were many plants and forms of life that could have, should have been considered saving, on an equal basis as you. And that would have been maddening to conceive and impossible to execute. At this moment I understand that your life, all life, has the course of independence. You grow, and you’ll go, on a timetable away from my wristwatch and calendar. I did you a disservice, not by my building a home where you live, but by thinking I knew better than what put you there.

A photograph and some awkward writing are but two open hands, vainly searching to come together but never shall, here on Earth. The long-term plan can account for this by spreading a greater understanding, a guide through the pain and loss that can’t be resolved, by any man.

CAPTION: Flower in An Empty Lot.
Posted in Photography | 5 Comments

I Am Open to New Opportunities

I am open to new opportunities. I am seeking a new opportunity. These are similar thoughts, and the passive and active differences have something to do with the degree of urgency. A question for you: If you too are open, or are seeking, have you let your thoughts be known? Not necessarily as a public statement, but privately, as an admission to yourself?

“I am open to new opportunities”: What is lacking with what you have now?

“I am seeking a new opportunity”: What’s the minimum that will satisfy you? What do you have to offer, that will satisfy them, the opportunity holders?

Let’s explore the depth off this dock. You can always step back to shore, if you don’t trust that your keel will clear the bottom.

Picture this. Someone’s carrying a bunch of groceries from her car to her home, and in the middle of handling her keys, and the apartment door, and five bags, she drops a carton of eggs. Let me ask you, did it matter how much care those eggs received prior?

The woman could kneel at the broken mess and say, “Oh I shouldn’t have carried so many bags at once!” or “Why didn’t I just carry the eggs and open the door? And come back for everything else a minute later?” She could say all that, and it wouldn’t matter. Just like it didn’t matter how carefully she’d chosen the eggs in the market, had checked their date, and opened the carton to examine for cracks in the shells. All the care, intentions and actions meant nothing if the eggs were dropped.

Before we continue, let me ask you two questions that will help us a bit further along. Which of the following yes/no questions indicates the most value to you? One is quite broad, the other is specific. First statement: Are you open to a new opportunity? Second statement: I have an extra postage stamp; would you take it for free?

I ask that you choose one. Pick the question that you rate as being worth the most to you. Just park your answer for now, we’ll re-visit it later.

All right, picture this. A charitable non-profit organization had sent a mailer to all shareholders and stakeholders, thanking several donors–all of them truly deserving thanks. By this action, what has the board communicated to the donors that were left off the list?

The implied message to the un-acknowledged donors can be perceived in a few ways. Here’s one: “You haven’t been as generous as those who made the list.” Or perhaps it’s this: “We haven’t given much thought about how your being left off the list may affect your continued philanthropy with us.” Let’s also consider the possibility that the charity had understood that the donors who were left off the thank you list were in fact not interested in public recognition and would not be bothered by the list at all.

The non-profit had better be careful with their eggs. The understanding can’t be an assumption. It doesn’t matter the care the charity had afforded to the off-list donors in the past. It doesn’t matter the plans the charity and those donors had made together, including the donor’s generosity and the good that was in the works for the community. The charity doesn’t want to be in the position of kneeling at their mess on the floor, thinking how absolutely stupid they were, in one thoughtless moment.

Remember how we talked about the two yes or no questions? Do you have your answer about which you value most? Do you think it’s a fifty-eight cent choice?

Chances are, of course you’re open to a new opportunity. It would have to be the one just right for you– your choice. In fact, I’d bet that if most people considered the two questions, they’d acknowledge that the right opportunity taken on their own initiative would be worth more than mailing an envelope.

What do you think would happen if we put the question to the man on the street? I would never want to try to ask him. Why do I say this? Because while uttering the first offer, I would feel as if I was belittling myself–and the other person, too. I would be shrinking as I spoke, losing six inches per word, because it would seem to me, and to him, that I was trying to sucker him into something he didn’t want or need.

This is because the question must come from within ourselves. If the offer of “Are you open to an opportunity” comes from someone else, even from a loved one in a private setting, it would take us by surprise. We would be flustered, right? It would show our vulnerability, an implied mismanagement of ourselves. And no one wants that presumptive lack of planning brought to light, unless it’s our finger on the light switch.

We want to be the one to decide if it’s time for a new direction. And then we’d arrange a chat with our loved one, and say something like “Hey, I want to tell you. I’m open to a new opportunity. Let me tell you what I have in mind.” And maybe they could help you with it.

The awkwardness of this coming from someone else: If your boss said, “Are you open to a new opportunity?” you could see this as a way to a promotion, or new responsibilities that could lead to valuable skills. You might say “Yes!” and she could then say, “Well then I think you should pursue it.” Ouch. No, um, I’d like to stay. If that’s okay?

The confidence of this coming from yourself: If you ask for a meeting with your boss, and during the appropriate time you told her, “I would like to learn more about certain aspects of the job, that would help me with my speed and accuracy. Can I tell you about it?” You might find that your boss’s answer could only help you get more solid in your work. And then lead to valuable skills, and responsibilities, and a promotion. See how the shift could work?

What does the egg-dropping story, and the charity donor story have to do with personal opportunities, aside from demonstration analysis?

If the egg-drop woman is open to new opportunities, she can plan for four new meals this week. Instead of her tried-and-true meatloaf, meatballs, scrambled eggs, and an egg-and-cheese sandwich, she’ll have to work on something else. Maybe it’s a new soup recipe. Maybe it’s beef prepared a different way than she’s always known to do it. Or maybe she picks up the phone and calls four different pals and incorporates friends into her mealtimes. This week. And maybe that could be the start of a new tradition?

The non-profit charity had better be careful with their bulletins. They can’t assume donors don’t want to be recognized, especially when said donors are the type of rich people who enjoy helping out–and expect to be known to be helping out. Even if they prefer to be listed as Anonymous. Believe it, they will be looking for their newsletter nod, under the As. You don’t want those donors to Be Seeking A New Opportunity… to donate elsewhere!

CAPTION: I am open to a new opportunity.
Posted in non-fiction, Photography | 4 Comments

STOP

War is the world’s antibodies, rushing to defeat one man. War is not one person in place, who is brave enough to stop the man. War is the shining demonstration, of what’s not to be done.

I imagine being on the battlefield, standing between you and your enemy, I have one hand on your shoulder, and one hand on your opponent’s, and I say, “This Is Not What We Want To Do With Our Neighbors.”

And you two make eye contact; you both agree. It cannot be just my imagination, when I see it clearly so.

If you put down your weapon and go home, you say you will face severe consequences; your superiors will prosecute you, officials will hunt and imprison you, your family will be in danger, and one man cannot stop a nation’s push to fight.

I say, better to wage those battles than this one.

Better to fight on the domestic front than through invasion.

This war. You are being ordered to kill, by a man who does not value your life. You are going to war for that man.

This war is not for your country’s noble defense. You are on offense, an invasion, killing someone whom you do not know. If I say that you don’t know how you could enrich your enemy’s life, you should call me a liar. Because in your heart you know exactly how it goes when two strangers get to know each other. You have done it, you have seen it, it has been demonstrated to you over and over in your life: There’s a flood of good feelings when a lifetime of friendship begins.

Two groups of people can decide to have it the good way. This is not just the privilege of historically peaceful lands.

Your “enemy”. Disregard your superiors for a moment and think about the person you’re to kill. He is your brother. You should be doing everything you can to hold him in high regard. Your “enemy” would love to greet you as a friend. He would love to share stories with you. Love to travel with you, with your only care being, who else can we include?

Men can build great bonds, starting with you. He would love to trust you, and to have earned your trust.

You two should be working together, shaking hands at a tradeshow, buying coffee on a street corner, exchanging points of view on a life lesson that you’ve both held back until now.

Stop the war. Start something else. It can be better.

War is, This Is Not What We Want To Do With Our Neighbors. I’m holding you both in my hands, and I can see the change come over you.

Posted in The Literate War | 2 Comments

The But Eraser

I love my cousin Fredrickson, but he is so arrogant at the family reunions. How can we possibly be related? He acts like a pig, and please don’t tell me who you voted for. He has poor manners and honestly, everyone is sad when he arrives, and happy when he leaves. My cousin wears so much cologne, his car interior has changed color. Twice.

I love my country, but the three thousand years of pro-neo tribal sequentialism speaks for itself. I am in the process of sending most of my money to the anti-country committee foundation, who are drafting a new national charter where all the people on top will be placed on the bottom. By most means necessary. Proudly flying my flag upside down, until everything changes.

I love my job, but there are a million other things I’d rather do. Have you seen how confusing the vacation policy is? Just tell us in plain English which days we don’t have to be here. And is anyone in management actually paying attention to the hallway temperatures? Newsflash: People spend a lot of time walking around. And please stop telling us about setting attainable goals. If you want me to attain a goal, you’d better put a stick in my hand, and a net in front of me.

I love my town, but the people smell rancid. I mean, there’s a four-letter word every townie needs to get re-acquainted with: B-A-T-H-S. And once you’re not stinking, how about getting to cleaning up the trash in the streets? Don’t make worse the city’s already dreary landscape. Pick up our garbage– I don’t want to see it! This place is an embarrassment and I never admit to living here, except of course when I get my license renewed.

I love America’s Statue of Liberty, but it completely ruins a straight path across the harbor.

I love soda, but it costs too much and there are so many better alternatives.

I support freedom of speech, but if you’re going to insist on saying offensive and hateful things, I’m going to insist you be punished or edited or restricted.

I love classical music, but it can be boring and too long.

I love Roxanne, but it sounds like Joe Pesci is singing the chorus, “Put on the red light!” And Stewart Copeland should concentrate on tuning his drums if he’s going to ruin the verses with those wallowy tom fills. Drop the stupid stick grip and serve the damn song!

I hate to dumpster dive, but I’ve acquired most of my home furnishings from the trash and have in fact made quite a bit of money re-selling tossed items. With a nice gift bag (hold the item by the tissue) they make great presents as well.

I love the word but, but it tends to diminish, and often completely reverse, the sentiment that precedes it.

PICTURE CAPTION: It’s time to kick some buts!
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Defeating the Divide

How can we possibly span the obvious gap between us? You are on one side, I’m on the other, and our separation is long enough, and deep enough, to forever cause our split. The fact is, we happen to be mixed in among many others, some of whom are over here, and over there.

Go ahead, look at our situation in clear light. We will never be close, not like those who are truly in proximity.

You and I can’t be that kind of neighboring company.

Can closeness come another way?

Will you try with me?

The divide. There is a gap, and there we are. It’s an attitude, a religion, a nationality, an ethnicity– name it. All, and more, can separate us. It’s surprising to think that the divide is natural, and exists for good reason. On a grand scale, division is important for organization, and for community. This is our neighborhood block, let’s take pride in it; it’s not so big that we can’t manage it. It’s not such a span that we get lost, or forgotten as we make our home here.

This is our bed, let’s keep it behind our bedroom door. Our refrigerator is best be separated from the counter and the couch apart from the sink. This is our faith, let’s not betray it. These are our values, let’s not stray from them.

I believe in grand scale division. It’s a plan that keeps everyone and everything from moving in the same direction.

On a personal scale, division is isolating. Personally, it hurts us deeply when anything– anything! keeps good people apart.

Why do I want to close the gap with you, when you and I are so different? Because I don’t think we’re so different as to make a restriction. Because I happen to think your differences are fascinating. Not for me to change into you, nor you to change into me. Rather, if people can manage to get closer, and form a bond, we can grow to understand something outside of our sphere.

We can challenge the divide by going easier on each other. We can develop a personal regard, where we shift focus from our roots, perhaps for the first time. And then oh, how I can see you!

That’s how we begin to diminish the divide. If we want you and I in each other’s lives, this is one way to do it.

The fact is, our roots ground us. We can’t change them. We wouldn’t want to. If we lose our roots, we die.

Together we learn that rooted beings can lean. If we do that, then our flex is how we can manage to move. If I have to bend without the help of the wind, I will do it– to be closer to you. Maybe our limit isn’t where our feet are planted, but where our arms can reach. And our eyes can see. And our voices can land.

Let it not be just one of us. Our true reach is the sum of two efforts. We can make a connection, without betraying who we are, if you and I choose to defeat the divide.

PHOTO CAPTION: Look to the treetops to see how nature defeats the divide. Once again, the Summerville pines provide material for human interest.
Posted in non-fiction | Leave a comment

The Agreeable Man

Several years ago, I would visit my mother-in-law at a Massachusetts elder residence center. She lived on the memory care floor, which was for those with dementia, or other severe memory loss associated with age.

The residents required constant looking after. Each had their own room–this was a $10,000 per month facility. There were common areas for sing-alongs, TV, and simple games. The hallway walls were filled with photographs of the residents from when they were in their youth.

One day I met a new resident. He was loud and animated, and he repeated over and over: “Yes! Right! OK! Will do!” Over and over, to no one in particular.

In the course of several visits to mom, I’d happen to hear him, and see him. He’d say his bit when he was with a caregiver. He’d say it in the common area at lunch. He’d say it in the hallways, and say it when he was by himself.

Yes. Right. OK. Will do.

I came to think of him as “The agreeable man”. Sometimes his voice would be lowered. Sometimes he’d be as loud as I’d ever heard him. And sometimes, he’d be quiet, looking defeated, and sitting alone.

One afternoon a nurse stopped me in the hallway and pointed to a photo. It was the agreeable man, when he was in his 20’s. He was a serviceman; apparently he flew in B-25s in WWII.

Someone, a son, a daughter, grandkid, friend, niece or nephew, had set up two photos. One picture was the typical service portrait– a smiling guy in a uniform. The other photo showed two B-25s in flight, with the agreeable man’s unit superimposed on the sky background. He was in some sort of Air Intelligence group. I don’t remember the specifics. I’m angry at myself for not allowing that detail to register.

I should have taken a photo of his montage. Unfortunately, I have a faulty tendency; when I happen across a sensitive situation, such as bringing to light a human interest story, I can hesitate at the opportunity.

I need to get better at fighting my resistance. Sometimes I’ve dared to fight, and have won. My hesitancy was what I struggled with, partly, in the hall with the nurse, as we stood outside the agreeable man’s room.

The man deserved his privacy. If I didn’t piece something together, the story would be lost, and then how would it be carried along?

He’d flown to defeat tyranny. Or he was a part of a group that flew. Maybe he was a ground officer. Or a powerplant man. My impression was, he was a flier.

John, is the ship ready?

“Yes!”

We’ll need these photos developed to see where they’ve dug in.

“Right.”

Hey, get some chow and sleep, we’ll need you fresh for pre-dawn.

“Ok.”

Hey John. Take the men to that London pub and buy a round of drinks, on me. No need to talk about the old man. Get them to loosen up about themselves. If I do it, I’m afraid I’d be cutting in on their time to let loose. Come back and tell me about it, ok?

“Will do.”

Most likely, the agreeable man had a group of war buddies in the 1940’s. They were in service overseas where death happened on a momentary basis. He was a functioning part of a system that was necessary to keep good men alive, and to stop the enemy.

Planes are gone, tyrants are gone. Buddies are gone. Wives, sweethearts, sisters and mothers, their care has led him to the 6th floor. Their care, one after another after another, shepherded him along, and gave him something to work towards, years and years after the war.

Perhaps the agreeable man said the positive exclamations because that’s what got him through his days. Those words served him. They served him when he was scared. Served him when he was talking to someone who was more scared than he. Perhaps he said those words when he was happy to help someone out, a neighbor, co-worker, or friend, in the six decades post-war. His very good years.

Think about the agreeable man and dare you waste your day. Think about his kind and dare you complain of what you have the power to change. Think about what he’s limited to. On your worst day, you are nowhere near him.

Agreeable man, you are us, further along in time. You are someone we love, in current or expired time. You’re there, and we’d love to sit with you. Agreeable man, we can reduce the complex world to something very simple for you to surround yourself in. We can be gentle on your terms. Yes, it can be us you’re speaking to. We hear it, and it’s all right.

Posted in non-fiction, The Literate War, WWII | 1 Comment

No One Told the Forest to Grow Flat

Joy is a shared discovery. Picture this, thirty-six years ago. An art history teacher showed his class a series of photographic slides he took during a trip to Mexico, and afterwards a student went home and thought about what she saw. The next day she asked the teacher to compare one of the slides to an image buried in a forgotten 1930’s magazine her dad had hoarded forever. See it there? This carving compared to that decoration, and the class was the first to see the match.

Joy is when people find out, together, what no one had correlated before. A fifty-year-old, and a bunch of twenty-year-olds, shared a moment of elation, in the spring of 1986.

He wouldn’t get this emotion from his fellow teachers. And the students didn’t inspire eagerness talking about this at the dorm party. The unobtanium moment was theirs, only, when the light came on in the classroom. Those minds, with a mixture of concentration, innocence and eagerness, were led to the mental equivalent of a lock popping open in their hands.

I loved that classroom elation.

I was there. I saw it, I felt it, I want to bottle that feeling and keep it with me, spill it when I need its scent on my life when I’m out and there’s a discovery with no one to share. As what tends to happen, in my adventures today.

I was there when Dr. Mahoney, chair of the North Adams State College art department, set up his slides for our class. He wanted to present not an overview but a study of good depth; he loathed overviews that spread Ancient American art like thin butter on bread.

He chose me to help pick his slides because on the previous weekend, we’d gone to an artifact exhibit. He had invited the class to come on the Saturday morning trip, and he’d offered to pay for admission. His truck, he said, could take perhaps five or six students, first come first served. No extra credit for coming, and no demerit for staying home. I was the only one who showed. We made it worthwhile that day.

We saw a near-hidden symbol on an artifact that not only meant the museum’s display was mis-identified, but the item was being presented sideways. A shared discovery, complete with the classroom-like elation, between two men.

Dr. Mahoney was a sight to see! He pulled out his notebook and his large magnifying glass, fulfilling all the visual cliches of an absorbed archeologist. I couldn’t offer anything but support, but to be honest, I think my companionship made it work for him. I’d like to believe that was true.

In those days I remember thinking that a college education was like an afternoon at a river bank. We students were of free will, and with equal opportunity to use the resource. How many of us were going to access the water, and how much use would each of us choose?

At this river, you could spend your time sleeping– many did.

Or you could get yourself to that river and take a good long drink. You could put your hands on the rocks, get close to the water and get your body and self immersed– you chose the limit. How did that invigorate you?

How did the sensations, unique to this place, react with your being– all that you brought there? Where did this river’s experience take your thoughts? What did you in turn show others, later and now, when you were motivated to lead and create? From here, where?

If you came this far to sit still, you came this far for very little. If you parked yourself on the river bank’s grass and didn’t really explore the left and the right, you took a space that another young adult would have wanted.

Today, I’m far from that old-school, decidedly-analog classroom at Bowman Hall. The building’s still there but the place is gone; our sounds are dead, but our waves still ripple, a long way off. Our experiences were dismantled and packed up decades ago. I mourn that loss. I mourn all good things gone.

I have had to pocket Dr. Mahoney, as well as my classmates. That’s right, I’ve miniaturized and transported the girl from Adams, Massachusetts, who’d pushed her evening further, when she’d dug through dad’s magazines. The girl who rushed into class one day, eager to tell us her hunch, gave a lesson all herself.

My class– disparate, many of us, united, all of us. We were young adults who looked different from each other but were homogeneous in our curiosity about that river. We were one sweeping force in our acceptance to learn from what this man introduced to us that semester. We started out seeking a good grade, and ended up working to our own satisfaction.

My classmates, you didn’t have to show up in the parking lot that Saturday to get the full river experience, because the full river experience didn’t require you to drink from it 24/7. The essence of the river analogy was to take advantage of it, as much as you could. I didn’t read textbooks as deeply as some of you did, or explore other avenues like some of you did. How did we make up for those independent moments where we didn’t fully engage?

Here’s what I did. I listened to those of you who’d done the deep reading. I listened to those of you who sought off-the-reading-list materials. I got your excitement. Respected what you’d done with your time. I was open to changing, which at its heart, is simply to aspire.

And you listened to me, when I told you about what we got straight at the museum exhibit. Because I was the one who spotted and identified the symbol.

As with all the great schoolrooms, learning was accomplished at levels. We learned what was told to us, on one level. And we learned to change ourselves, when we saw examples that our peers set, when those students made efforts to enrich the studied material.

My class is still with me.

My pocket class has transformed itself over the years. Dr. Mahoney is in my head, of course, and with a broader capacity to reciprocate outside of the interest of the Art of Ancient Americas. What I mean to say is, when I’m alone, and make a discovery, I imagine my teacher getting excited about it too, no matter the subject. Because in the day, he was informing me of many things. His voice would say something like this: “What we are learning is transportable. The subject matter will change. The moments of our exposure will change. What remains constant is the joy we experience, the shared discovery of a given circumstance.”

“Don’t worry about writing it down,” said Dr. Mahoney, “this won’t be on the test. We’re talking about a resonation that will carry long and far, that will sound loud sometime down the road even though you can’t hear it now.”

I’m in a forest. It’s 12:45PM, January 24th, 2022. The pine trees deep in South Carolina are plentiful and precious.

Many people drive past this forest. A few walk past it. Nearly no one ventures inside. It’s sunny, I’m going in.

The floor is soft and lumpy, and I wonder, what is each hump? Red-brown pine needles cover these large masses, in hundreds of years of accumulation. As I walk, my arms, face and neck break bonds, I can feel thin vines pulling and snapping, invisible until confounded by me. Dr. Mahoney, what do you think? Because here’s my thought: I’m not supposed to be here; I’d better be making this worthwhile.

Dr. Mahoney, see this. I think– yes! Take a look. These heavy ridges underfoot are fallen pines, with nothing to break them down, and no one to take them away.

I stop and other ideas race into my mind. Pocket class, I need all of you with me.

When things aren’t right in one place in my life, I feel off in all places, other aspects of my life that aren’t unbalanced. When I’m not producing at work, at my job, it pushes everything else out of kilter, and there’s no recompense for that.

Class, does the light go on, for any of you?

In the forest, the thoughts continue. I’m unexpectedly filled with gratitude, I want to say to the good people of the world who have touched my life, “Thank you for making it so easy to get to know you.” Thank you for the unexpected Teams video call, just to see how I’m doing. Thank you for the handwritten card in the mail, which I keep by my desk and look at frequently.

And to the indifferent I say, “There are way too many of you around.” You did not do yourself any service, at your chance by the river.

Dr. Mahoney’s voice tells me: “There’s a big sign in the center of town that reads, ‘Honor The Pines.’ Did you see it?”

“Yes,” I say, “I’m honoring them.”

“Set yourself aside. Who wrote that sign? Why did they write it, and when? Those are the questions to ask. Is the message still a value to the people who live here? What has changed, and don’t tell me simply, ‘the progress of time’. What started, and what remains? This is all part of our investigation. As we examine what’s here.

“This was what we prepared you for. Back in class we gave you such a concentration of work, because we knew time would dilute most of the lessons. You have carried a tiny speck of that concentration. See how it can flourish, several decades forward? It’s enough to work for you.

“In our classroom, no one told you to grow up. So your grew as you did. You are seeing, and linking, what’s here, to what’s in your life. Keep digging! Keep looking.”

Around me, fallen trees are leaning on live ones. Here’s a fallen tree, let me get close. It’s bending the live pine quite a bit. How long will it be a burden? Will the living tree ever be free, to be straight again? What has it missed, pushed crooked this way? Or maybe, what has it gained, with its apparent obligation?

Adams girl, can you relate? You were great at thinking outside the classroom. Great at bringing in other evidence to shore up something else that was presented to you. The visible burden is what’s evident, right? Is it a burden, or was it a save? Saving another, a weaker one of its kind, from the great fall to the forest floor. Is that the missing piece? Saving a sick or dead mate from a hundred years covered in pine needles, and a dreadful endurance away from the sun?

Adams girl, you’re smiling. Dr. Mahoney, come see what we’ve discovered!

Opening up expression for those who’ve been closed to it, is what I’m close to when I trample about. The state of matter I stumble across in these pines can best be understood if I have the human experiences to relate them to. Class, this is why I’m here. This is what we were being prepared for.

Trees are rubbing in the wind, making bulky sounds as they chafe each other. Their voice is not a complaint, but a proclamation: “Tell them the trees are talking and tell them what we are saying to you!”

I can only write in one moment but can reach many moments in time. No one told the forest to grow flat. So it grows as it does.

Posted in non-fiction, North Adams State College | 2 Comments

Rationale For a King

I despise hardcopy dictionaries. With today’s technology and language changes, looking up words can be easily done online. Language evolves, paper does not. Ideas shouldn’t be held at a disadvantage as definitions advance.

Not when technology can improve life.

What can we enact to bring this interest to the people? And not just to me, your King?

Culture exists as we are, today. Language helps distribute these unique details of us. Culture is stratified by money. People can most easily-access opportunities, and pursue wealth, with continuous knowledge built of carefully shaped bricks– that is, words and definitions. Definitions controlled via the internet are as current as can be. Let it be understood: The right to a free benefit is an easy sale.

Paper dictionaries are dead knowledge. When paper books become out-of-date– sometimes instantly, immediately after printing– there’s no recall process. We can’t get those books back. The “facts” continue to present themselves as truth. As this happens, paper books carry information we now know is misleading, harmful, and sometimes deadly. I don’t want anyone I care about reading printed dictionaries, or paper books of any kind.

Not when there’s a risk of harm.

Dear people, glow in this: There is no cause more noble than serving the greater good. Citizens, each one of you, can make a personal choice to destroy every dictionary you come across.

How far would that get you? And how well would our society be carried forward?

If the greater good is served with our individual actions, why can’t we amplify this virtue? The political side that wants to defend “book choice” are like people at the playground who want to play catch with a hand grenade. Newsflash: Your chosen entertainment does not legitimatize putting others in danger. Nor should you be allowed to put yourself in danger.

Not when we must bear the costs of your injury. Or fall ill at the sight of your disgusting wounds.

Dictionaries are even worse to handle than grenades. I say this because the reader doesn’t realize the harm in old pages. You must not use outdated words, and you must not carry-over obsolete definitions to terms still in use. This is why society is best suited when a noble group acts on the people’s behalf.

We can order retailers and distributors to stop the sale of paper dictionaries. We can flood social media at the used-bookstore level. We can allow protests, boycotts, and looting. For our good purpose, and not necessarily in our name.

If you are against this initiative, you are put on warning. Old words hurt. Outdated definitions scar. We know better. I’ll take it further. We know better than you.

Everything evolves. By your acceptance of those two words, you’d best come to another understanding: You own nothing.

You don’t own your electronic files. You have to gain several permissions just to open any one of “your” documents. You’re just not aware of those consents. You’re not even aware the documents in question aren’t stored on your computer at all, not anymore. They have been shifted to the cloud under our umbrella concern.

Let’s examine these permissions.

Open your laptop, press the power button. Permission number one occurs as you wait for your operating system to fulfill, or to not fulfill, your request to turn on. Enter a password and wait for permission number two as a program considers the validity of your keystrokes.

Open a file folder, wait for permission number three as the computer reviews your selection.

Now open the document of your choice. Permission four: The operating system will consider your annual paid software license status, and upon approval will proceed to grant you provisional access to what you consider your words. Finally, the computer will indulge in a longer study– permission five– to determine your eligibility to fully edit, insert, select or copy text.

Those are the five gates you must pass before you start writing. You’d better think long and hard about how you conduct yourself on such a pastime.

My government deems the following. Paper is unchanging and is out. All printed material including but not limited to books, newspapers, periodicals, magazines and letters will be placed in a sunset phase where they will be collected and recycled for non-informational use. Details of these actions will be forthcoming. Volunteering your custodial items would be appreciated and you will be granted considerations.

Each book we destroy will be made available online for everyone. That is a promise from your King.

Back to my initial imperative. It shall be mandatory for all people to check the approved online dictionary on a regular basis. To enforce this rule, which simply verifies you have fair-warning access to non-harmful words, we will work with the software company to examine what people are writing. Your access to said words is your acknowledgement of immediate use.

We seek a simple answer: What are you composing? If the content’s harmful, then the public, or their representatives, should know about it, or at least, be protected from it. Problematic passages will be flagged– change your words or we will. Objectionable sentences, pages and even chapters will be deleted or edited for appropriateness, perhaps even as you write, as necessary. The representatives will have a warning system, with a three-strikes policy, your punishment to be determined.

Yes, it is our job to keep you safe. We share the burden of your self-preservation. I’ll go further than that. We carry the sole burden.

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