An Open Letter To My Foe/s

To whom it may concern,

I have tried to be respectful of your space and your needs.  I understand, although I don’t like it, when the deer eat my tomatoes. When the skunks come up and eat the cat food, I do realize that I should have brought it in at night.  Raccoons, you look cute, but I know you have a mean streak as you growl at me from a tree top and then you use my rooftop for your unsightly fecal habits. Possums, you are sneaky, very, very sneaky. Mr. Red-Tail Fox, I saw you in my driveway staring at where my dear chicks were brooding. Neighborhood ferocious dog that hates adult females with dark hair, I know your owners are just too stupid to figure out how to keep you behind a fence. Yes, Mountain Lion, I know the neighbors down the street have seen you twice up in a tree in the early morning.  Why do you think I bring out 2 flashlights while constantly scanning the treetops at night when our puppy  says “take me to Pottyland so I can chew up a sock  and NOT go potty.” (By the way Mountain Lion, I hope you might still consider eating alive the thieves up the street.  They continue to roam the streets of our town without fear of consequences.) Finally, Hawks, I see you lingering on the top of  the tall pine tree across the street pretending not to be staring in the direction of my chicks –  which I am now so heavily invested in that I might have to postpone my retirement for years to come.

I have prepared for all of your selfish behaviors by buying and fortifying the best chicken coop I could find.  I even dug deeply around the coop to bury expensive 1/4 inch hardware cloth so that you unethical rascals might not dig under the coop, even though the coop has a very well built wooden floor. I have read every book I could get my hands on in order to prepare for that big day when the chicks become chickens and move from the brooder box in the garage to  the $800 chicken palace. I had decided this weekend was the time.

Last night, however, you escalated our little game called Chicken Survival. You invited the big boy to the party in a brazen attempt to humiliate me.  You told  him, “Go into their trash can and spread a week’s worth of rotting garbage all over his place.” Ok, I will give you credit. Well played. The neighbors all watched as I dug through Easter’s rotting garbage. Embarrassing. You won Round One.

Let me tell you something though. While your species spent all their time plotting how to kill chickens, my people have invented things such as electricity and flush toilets.  Hah, you can do these things when you have opposable thumbs. Don’t ask me how; we specialize in things. I am not sure how electricity really works or how 100 ton steel ships float on water for that matter. I do know, from reading –  oh yeah, we can also read and write although we prefer Facebook and Netfix – that an electrical wire around the chicken coop will hurt, but not harm you, and it produces an associated fear. You see we also invented operant conditioning…thank you B.F. Skinner. He was one of us, but he wouldn’t admit it.

So bring it on. Go ahead , send that big ass bear to right below my bedroom window in the middle of the night. Let him stroll by our Toyota Prius -that gets gets 55 miles to the gallon – like he is the king of the jungle. You ever hear of Tarzan, my friends?  I am way in front of you.  I will defeat you.  You will be humbled. This is not the Zoo. No, I promise you that Round 2 will be much different.

Yours truly,

Gary

p.s. It just dawned on me, you probably can’t read a letter.

Winds of Faith

Here is my favorite blogger in the whole wide world. I have posted his music before, but with this poem he  expresses my feelings, especially those in my most recent blog, so very well. I highly recommend you consider following his blog site titled ‘The Sea’ Plus, he is just a really nice guy too!

Well, actually it is lyrics to a song (you can see the chord changes.) Great song!

Here is the musical link to his song, Winds of Faith.

A Calling

It has happened to me twice.  The first time it happened, I was about 25 years old and another time it happened when I was around 40 years old. I guess I am overdue for another visit.

I was lying in a bed, in my grandmother’s house, trying to take a late afternoon nap. I was in a double bed, turned on my left side, with my face toward the wall.  I took a deep sigh to relax and then suddenly, slowly, consistently, the mattress behind my back sunk as if someone had just gotten into the bed with me. I froze. I knew the bedroom door hadn’t opened. I knew no one had walked in. I also knew that no human could control themselves in such a manner as to get in bed.  The pressure came directly from above, not like someone rolling into the bed. I couldn’t turn over to look, I was too frightened.   I just took my right arm and slowly swung it over to the mattress behind me to feel if someone was in bed with me. If I had touched someone, I would have both pissed and shit the bed instantly. I probably would have thrown up too.  I felt nothing, no one.  I never felt the presence leave the bed, but I certainly did.

My grandmother said, “That was a short nap.” “Yeah, I am not tired anymore.” “Well, sometimes a catnap is all you need.”

The second time was exactly like the first time, only I was in my own bed in my own house twenty years or so after the initial visit.  However, after conducting the arm swing test, I stayed in bed as I figured someone really wanted to take a nap with me. I was not comfortable with the situation by any means, but I was older and more open to the unseen possibilities of life and beyond.  I did say out loud, “Please don’t touch me.”

There were other strange occurrences  in my life that make for some good stories around the campfire. I will save them for a later time. However, I have experienced one constant oddity in my life – a female voice, and never ever the same female voice, gently calling out my first name, often just as I laid down to sleep.  This calling continued for many, many years. I would say it happened maybe six times a year for close to 40 years. I looked it up once and there was actually a term for it. I now only hear it rarely and I have come to miss her gentleness. It seemed as if she knew me very well.

Strange stuff, I know, but one day I was listening to Jason Mraz sing a Muppet song titled the Rainbow Connection. I had heard the song many times before, but I wasn’t aware of the lyrics. I was shocked to hear Jason sing –

Have you been half asleep
And have you heard voices
I’ve heard them calling my name
Is this the sweet sound
That calls the young sailors
The voice might be one and the same
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it
It’s something that I’m supposed to be
Someday we’ll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me  

(written by Paul Williams ((one of my all-time favorites)) and Kenneth Ascher)

Apparently, I was not the only person with this experience. It was somewhat comforting to know that Kermit, the frog, and I shared this calling.  I suspect Carl Jung and I also have a few things in common – but, again, a story for another day.

This year I am working on recording a 2nd album and, just as with this blog site,  it has much to do with the mysterious women’s voices.  In fact, it has everything to do with those callings. I guess, the lovers, the dreamers, and me might say it perfectly.  I am working on a new song for this next cd.  This particular song is different though because it consists of several different, short songs all rolled up into a 5 minute mini-opus. One set of lyrics goes like this:

I feel you breathing, on the back of my neck                                                                                                           I turn to see you, you’re not there

You call my name, in the middle of the night                                                                                                         I rise from bed, I’m all alone

Spirit Lover, I’ve always known – you’ve been walking next me                                                             Spirit Lover, I’ve always known – you’ve been watching over me

I know it is fashionable nowadays to say, “I am not religious. I am spiritual.” Honestly, I am deeply confused about these matters. I don’t have the answers and I do not trust anyone who claims to have them either.  I think possibly that Faith begat Hope and Hope begat Charity.    I think of them as three holy sisters.  And, in the beginning, before the three sisters, there was Love.  For me, Jesus, represents Love the very best in the human form, but I also embrace how others experience Love and learn much from their experiences…and in the end, just like explaining that presence in my bed – I just don’t know…anything.  “Hello Love, is Faith home? I need some Hope which will create a heart of Charity.”

We just concluded the Easter weekend. I was surrounded by family love. I watched little ones run around the yard looking for treats. I listened to and enjoyed the laughter about all sorts of appropriate and inappropriate things. I drank a celebratory beer as the new chicken palace took shape with the help of everyone present, that is until the new puppy knocked the beer bottle over and sipped its contents very quickly.  I thought she might stumble over to me, put her paw on my shoulder and say with slurred speech, “I love you, man.” The Spirit Lover is still very much present in my life, in our lives. I cannot deny this.

I share all of this with you for reasons I don’t understand, but I do wish all of you, in the 25 countries or so who read this blog,  Faith, Hope, and Charity and the Love that begat them. Maybe all this will make sense to you, somehow, someway.  Or, maybe I just needed to acknowledge it?  Maybe that is why she kept calling my name. “Acknowledge me. Respond and I will stop calling.”

Here is Kermit in fine voice, The Rainbow Connection.

 

Simple Truths

Abraham Lincoln gave, what is in my opinion, the greatest American speech… ever.  It was called the Gettysburg Address. He spoke only 272 words and the entire speech barely took two minutes to deliver. However, in that speech, he captured the complexity of the American Experience up to that moment in American history.

That is the thing about Truth, it doesn’t take long to express itself.  Some confuse the brevity of a truth speaker with being the thoughts of a simpleton, but they are seriously wrong. Give it a try yourself.  Take a complicated issue, like global warming, or terrorism, or the HIV crisis on the African continent and try to capture it in 272 words or less.  I have already used 135 words at the period in this sentence – about half of Lincoln’s allotment. Or, maybe take a look at the lyrics of your favorite ‘musical’ song.  You might be very surprised at how few lyrics are actually in that song. Once the truth is said, there isn’t much left that needs to be said.

Maybe it is that search for the simple Truth that keeps our ancestors’ proverbs alive today.  Instead of suggesting that the next time we decide to change the water in the bath, maybe we take the infant out first instead of tossing her in the air and watching her crash to the ground and then scream her little head off while the neighbors shake their heads at our absent mindedness – we could just use the old German proverb ‘Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.’ Of course the proverb refers to something else, such as throwing out the good with the bad…which is another proverb now that I think about it!

Our world today seems to be in need of the simple Truth.  Maybe we should all write our own version of the Gettysburg Address?  Better yet, maybe we need a global Gettysburg Address, not from an American perspective, but from a global citizen’s perspective.

So here is my 272 word attempt. I don’t pretend to be Abraham Lincoln.

We, inexplicably and regardless of where we might live on this planet Earth, are all connected. My fears will become our fears, your pain will become my pain. We have spent centuries trying to ignore this Truth and we have suffered greatly for it. Examples abound where solutions that harmed others have returned in some form, in some age, to harm those who imposed the original harm… or upon their descendants.

Today we find ourselves constantly and brutally being invited to participate in a global civil war, a conflict defined by its intolerance for Life itself.  Many innocents have become casualties of this war. All who oppose this hateful intolerance are viewed as the enemy regardless of a lack of uniform. We may choose not to recognize this, but be assured, we are recognized as soldiers by the other side. The battlefields are our tall buildings, busy airports, joyful concerts, and any other place where the human spirit is celebrated through toil, achievement and prayerful communion.

We face the challenge of defeating – utterly and completely – those who want to destroy the human spirit while at the same time not using tactics that destroy our spirit. To become like the aggressor is to introduce a new enemy… ourselves.  If that were to happen, we would be the defeated. Future generations depend upon us meeting our challenges with a deep respect for human dignity. For many this will seem impossible.

Hateful, harmful actions must be halted but in a manner that allows for a common joy to be shared by all humanity… or so that is my prayer. Our connectedness is our greatest strength.

I would really love to read your speech.

 

Lesson Learned: Part 2

  1. Puppies wake up with more enthusiasm than I do.
  2. Puppies’ paws digging into the top of your bare foot, as they prepare to leap up on you with pure joy in their hearts, really hurts.
  3. While on the last trip in the evening and the first trip in the morning  to ‘puppy potty land’,  you might see a full moon playing hide and seek with the passing clouds, which is visible through the pine trees – and in the morning you might see the sunrise change the colors of the clouds from light pink to brilliant orange with never a moment the exact same color –  and then you might remember that the very best things in life are absolutely free.
  4. Chicks grow at an incredible rate.IMG_1096
  5. Children love to hold chicks.
  6. Most animal predators prefer the darkness, just like most human predators do too.
  7. The more expensive the shoe, more likely the puppy will try to chew it up.
  8. There are a lot of people who would like to be around puppies and chickens.
  9. I discover God in far more of the simple things that I see and do than in the more complicated and ritualistic things of my life.
  10. If I could write a song that captured the essence of any of the points above, it would be a very good song.

Speaking of good songs, my buddy Chuck Aaron just posted a really neat original song titled Heaven Knows on Soundcloud. Check it out.

A Day In The Life

5:10:59  a.m.  Sound asleep

5:11 a.m. “Sonuvabitch, oh, oh, oh…shit, that hurts, can’t move my leg, f%#k, that hurts, oh, oh…”  Woke up to a leg cramp that was  not in the calf, but off to the side of the lower leg. I couldn’t find a a leg position that would release the cramping. “Breathe, just breathe….Oh no, can’t breathe, oh dear mother, I think I am having a baby out of my calf.  My gender is too weak for childbirth.”

5:14 a.m. “Do you want to try that natural leg cramp stuff you got at the hardware store?”   “Yes, I do.” (Who in the hell buys leg cramp stuff at a hardware store? I guess, I do.)

5:15 a.m. Leg still cramping as I swallow a teaspoon of leg cramp stuff in a cup of water. “This tastes like shit. It is as bad as the leg cramp.” “Yeah, it is supposed to work in 2 minutes. It has vinegar in it.” “Well, I apparently hate vinegar then.”

5:18 a.m. Leg cramp gone. What a sissy man I am.

5:35 a.m. Sitting outside in a plastic chair, stars are still bright, moon winking at me.  “Go potty, Gracie.”  The puppy would rather lay down and chew on a stick for 20 minutes. “Hmm, I wonder what kind of day this will be?”

6:00 a.m. Ironing khaki colored pants and striped shirt and digging through drawer to find a pair of matched socks. I have to carefully examine the socks. Last week I paid two granddaughters .25 cents for every pair of socks they matched up for me.  One earned 10 dollars, the other one earned 4 dollars.  (Do the math, I have way too many socks.) The reason I have to carefully examine the socks is that at least one grandchild, I suspect the 4 year old, was more interested in the money than the quality of her work… or she needs a comprehensive eye exam.

6:08 a.m. Putting on the khaki colored pants which might  break a world record for consecutive days wearing the same color pants  to work.  I wish we just wore a uniform.

6:31 a.m. Non-fat yogurt with a tablespoon of granola followed up with a high protein chocolate like diet drink.

7:00 a.m. I sure am hungry.

7:14 “Go potty Gracie.”

7:25  Morning potty report.

7:30 “I have to change the chicks water.”  While I am at it, I try to feed the chicks by hand.  The two New Hampshire Reds are hungry little buggers who don’t peck, but kind of pinch your skin.  If they catch the tips of your fingers,  it can hurt. “Ouch, you little crapheads!”  Obviously they haven’t heard the phrase, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Even so, I have to do this because I read last night on the world wide web that you can train chickens to obey your commands but it requires hand feeding them.  I want a well behaved flock. Hell, I want a chicken circus.   The website said to use a different tone of voice for each command because chickens are smart enough to recognize the different tones. Also, it said, don’t ever use an angry voice. “Whoops, too late. I will try again tonight after the craphead comment has long been forgotten.”

8:06 a.m. Open my office door. Emails, computer issues, paperwork, looking at grade reports, more paperwork, more emails.

10:57 a.m. A wonderful student drops by my office, and with tears in her eyes, she tells me goodbye. I am shocked.  We worked really hard on getting her here and trying to support her.  She came to the U.S. as a 3 year old with her parents when they came to search for a better life, and a safer life, from their home country, Honduras. She is undocumented and the life struggles have just worn her out.  She can’t legally work, can’t get federal aid for college, can’t get adequate medical care.  She went through our entire educational system,working hard to prepare for college – just as all her teachers told her to do.    The only country she has known is the United States of America.  She speaks better English than I do.  She is just one of thousands upon thousands of students in the very same situation in the United States.  They have worked hard.  They make positive contributions to our towns and cities and our culture.  We have invested thousand of dollars in their education.   She said, “I don’t like being called an alien.”  She is leaving the only country she has ever known. She will work at a non-profit organization serving the elderly and the poor in Honduras.  Yep, just the kind of riffraff (not the rapper) we need to get out of our country.

I am not for building a physical wall between Mexico and the United States, but not for reasons I have heard stated.  If the current political trends continue, I don’t want to have to scale a twenty foot wall to get out of here.  In my younger days, regardless of the differences of opinions – common, humane solutions could be found to our problems.  I get and understand the arguments on both sides of the immigration issues, but come on.  This could become, if it hasn’t already, the next great American scar, like slavery and the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II (slavery), and  the treatment of the First Peoples of our continent (slavery). It is way too sad. It sickens me.

12:37 p.m. Eating lunch at favorite local Chinese restaurant.  The owner, who speaks very broken English,  always sits down with us as I chew the fat (literally).  For some unknown reason the topic turns to eating placenta soup in China and how it makes “the man strong” as he curls up his biceps to demonstrate.  “Oh yeah, well I had a baby out of the side of my calf this morning.” “Huh?” I lose my appetite from all the placenta soup talk and return to work.

1:08 p.m. Office mates return to office and ask, “How was your lunch?” “Well, did you know that Chinese men eat a placenta soup to make them strong?”  “Yes,” replies the new worker, “New mothers are eating it here too, in the United States, but it is usually in a pill form.”  Oh my God, I have lived too long. I remember in our day it was pretty hippie just to use it to plant a tree.

5:15 p.m. Guitar lessons – which is really just a weekly recording session of my original songs.   Working on something different that includes 4 unique songs in one track.  It will either be really cool or really bad. We laid down a bass track, drum track and two vocals for the first part. I sang with a sleeping bag over my head to cut down on any reverb in the room. It was dark under there.  It wasn’t my sleeping bag and I started wondering if it had been washed since last used? Yuk.

6:30 p.m. Stopped at Costco on the way home to buy coffee, asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and a big bottle of Tums, an antacid.  I love living in California!

6:45 Stopped at Tractor Supply store and I bought an orange tree that is about to blossom. I love the fragrance of orange blossoms! Also, I bought a small package of dried meal worms because the world wide web said that chicks love meal worms and that will help you train the chickens quicker.

7:11 p.m. Called Gavin, our 15 year old grandson to tell him Happy Birthday.  When he was 3 years old or so, he was in the back seat of my car as I drove up our driveway. “Boppa?” “What Gavin?””Where is Darby?”  Oh,oh. Darby was a loving and kind black, labrador retriever who was lost to a tumor when she was only 5 years old and only a week from Gavin’s question. What do I tell him? Death is such a difficult topic. Oh well, just tell him the truth. “Well, Gavin, you see…uh, um,…well,… Darby died.” Gavin quickly replied, unemotionally, “Oh.”  Well that went better than I thought it might. Two weeks later, I am pulling into the driveway again with Gavin in the back seat. “Boppa?” “What Gavin?” “Boppa, where is Darby?”  What? I told him already. Be patient, just tell him again.  “Well Gavin, Darby died, remember?” Only this time Gavin said quite exasperatedly, “Again?!”

7:23 p.m. Held meal worms out to the chicks.  I think they clucked, “What the heck is this stuff?” They were very underwhelmed. Also, a bag of dried meal worms is not a pretty site. The chicks did take the opportunity to bite my hand again,  harder than this morning.  “You stupid crapheads.”  Whoops, back to square one on the training. Now, I know some men make a living riding 2,000 pound bulls on the rodeo circuit. Apparently I couldn’t handle a rodeo consisting of all chickens, if such a thing existed.

8:15 p.m  Outside under the moon again.  “Go potty, Gracie.” “Good girl,” but you have to draw out the url part of ‘girl’ and raise your voice a pitch higher at the end so your neighbors are certain you’ve gone bonkers.

9:10 p.m.  “It says here that if you want to prevent leg cramps, you should drink it before going to bed. Do you want some?”  “Ah, I guess…so. What’s in that crap? Vinegar and what else?”  “It doesn’t say.”  I take a capful of the hardware store leg cramp remedy (holding my nose) and then slam down a bottle of water. The smell is putrid. If I wake up tomorrow morning with another leg cramp, I am going to be really disappointed. If I don’t wake up with leg cramps and this stinky stuff really worked, I am going to be equally disappointed.

10:02 p.m. Final potty run for the night. I hope.

Goodnight and God Bless ya.

Gary

 

 

I am not a god

Lately, I have said, in a high pitch motherly tone, the phrase, “Go potty, Gracie” much more than I thought could be possible.  After 3 weeks with our new puppy and our all out efforts with housebreaking, I think I am actually more yard broken. We are constantly monitoring Gracie’s actions in an attempt to read her mind in order  to get a running start (literally) on her next need to take ‘care of business’.

Last weekend, the weather was very wet and very windy.  As I quickly grabbed up Gracie and headed out into the dark night with a flash light in one hand and a fat puppy in the other , Gracie looked at me like I was out of my mind.  As I put her in her caged area, I found myself trying to encourage Gracie to pick up the potty pace as the wind howled in the tall pine trees above our heads.  In the middle of all this chaos, I suddenly found myself with my own potty urge.  Thinking it was dark, I was among the trees, it was raining, and I couldn’t leave Gracie outside by herself as I ran back into the house to use the civilized approach to these matters, I decided to keep it natural and use the fresh outdoors myself.  In the middle of my ‘relief’, I suddenly could feel Gracie’s intense focus on me and my actions. As I looked at her, she looked shocked and disappointed and disgusted with me. It seemed as if she was saying, “You are a fake. You are not a god. You are no better than me.” I actually said out loud, “What? Yes, I have to do that stuff too.” It was clear, however, that our relationship would never be the same. Yes, Gracie, I am an animal too.

I am an animal too.  Those words hit me as I said them.  I picked up Gracie and returned to the warmth of the house, not as her god, but as another animal – but one with a sense of responsibility for the other animal brothers and sisters. And, the responsibility wasn’t just with Gracie, the golden doodle puppy either. At the same time, I have been spending a lot of time caring for the eight chicks as I make sure to handle them everyday so that they may become friendly hens.  When I hold them gently in my hands, I feel something that is hard to explain, but I see it when my grandchildren also hold the chicks.  A sense of calmness, kindness, and responsibility can be seen on the young human animal’s face.

Then there is the interaction within my family as we engage with these animals.   Another bond is created, another strand in a loving relationship is developed, and another common moment is shared during these interactions. Case in point, this afternoon my oldest daughter came over with her two boys and we spent time putting together a new chicken coop. While being focused on creating a safe environment for the basically helpless chicks, we spent time laughing, talking, and just being around each other. Undoubtedly, we were creating family memories that will be discussed long from now.

IMG_1351

(grandson playing the role of a chicken in the new coop)

IMG_1354

The chickens, just like Gracie, seem to be able to teach me something very important. I am not a god, even though I act like one sometimes.  With that understanding, for some unknown reason, I end up feeling closer to God, Spirit, Creator, Grandfather, Mother Nature, Energy, whatever inadequate name you want to use for that life force that is in all living things.  You wouldn’t think that is how it would work, but for me it certainly does.

As I write this blog, a documentary on the Carpenter’s has been on the tv in our living room. I heard this wonderful old song, Bless the Beast and the Children, that I haven’t heard in years.  It seemed so appropriate to this blog. Check it out.

Gotta run now. It is potty time. Won’t tell you for which animal.

Bless the beast and the children!

Gary

 

 

 

 

Who Am I?

During my childhood, every adult seemed to ask little children the very same question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  The earliest answer I can remember providing the inquiring big people was “I want to be a fireman!”  I loved playing with the toy firetrucks.  However, it wasn’t very long before I started doubting my answer.  It all started with a fashion crisis.  I didn’t like the way the  fireman’s hat sat on my head.

fireman's hat It was big and it was clunky and as far as I was concerned, it was pointed in the wrong direction.  This simply was not going to work for me in the long run. Plus, it kept falling off my head whenever I jumped out of a burning building (our living room couch) and had to do a tuck and roll after landing hard from a daring rescue.

So I had to come up with another answer to the question of my “being.” It is a slippery slope once you’ve changed your initial answer.  I was going to “be” a baseball player, an astronaut, a police office, a store owner, a cowboy, a doctor, a lion trainer, and an ice cream man to name only just a few.  I could sense from the old folks that some of my declared occupational goals were held in higher esteem than others.

Now looking back, I realize two things: 1) For much of my life I have wrestled with that occupation question – even today, when I think about someday moving on from my present wonderful job. How might I spend my time in the future?  Would I like to do something completely different?  2) I think to ask a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is really not the right approach.  Doing and Being are not the same thing.  My  sense of “being” should not be dependent upon my “doing.”  My “being” is certainly much bigger than any job or occupational classification code, or so I dearly hope.

I think many artists confuse what they are doing with their being.  They assume the role of the highly sensitive, misunderstood (or simply too damn enlightened for the rest of humanity to understand) artist, musician, or singer/songwriter.  They are “being” an artist when they are acting out. This mix up can lead to a case of full blown celebrity-disease where neither being or doing is all that important. Not just artists struggle with occupational identity issues. When I graduated with a Master’s degree in accountancy, I had a mini-crisis thinking  I didn’t want to “be” an accountant.   I had an image in my mind of an accountant.  The truth was I didn’t want to do accounting work all day long. I had mixed the two things up though, being and doing.

What I do, is not what I be. Thankfully, that is so or I would be in big trouble.  Here is a partial list of jobs I have done and I have been paid for since I was 17 years old and out of high school:

My Doings

  1. Working at a Dairy Queen serving ice cream treats
  2. Cleaning tables at a restaurant
  3. Installing burglar alarms
  4. Installing carpet and linoleum
  5. Loading and unloading furniture
  6. House painting
  7. “harvesting” (picking) worms on a worm farm for a fishing bait business
  8. Selling shoes
  9. Janitor and custodial services (several different times)
  10. Gardener
  11. Working at a rock yard and cement yard
  12. Working at a paint store
  13. Selling life insurance
  14. Selling vacuum cleaners
  15. Building houses in the deserts of Arizona
  16. Working at a convenience store
  17. Working at a group home for autistic adults
  18. Working at a radio station (including giving those most important weather updates)
  19. Working at a television station where I accidentally made Bing Crosby’s wife cry – no, closer to sob, just before she was about to go on live television. The producer was not happy with me.
  20. Freelance videographer  (no, not that kind – get your mind out of the gutter!)
  21. Produce Stand Owner (and nursery plants too!)
  22. Social Worker in Child Protective Services
  23. Training specialist at a high tech company
  24. Substitute high school teacher
  25. College instructor (accounting)
  26. Director of a college program
  27. Singer/Songwriter (thanks to my friend Mark’s recent purchase of my album on bandcamp.com !)

Wouldn’t it be great if I could go back in time and when asked that occupation question again, I could answer with that list above?  I am sure someone would respond with, “Son, you are so screwed. You can’t be all those things.”  Well, I wasn’t.  I just did them

Today I read a wonderful article on Yahoo about the late George Martin, the so-called 5th Beatle and, perhaps, the most talented one too or at least tied with Paul. (Yahoo article)  He was quoted as saying:

“I tend to look at people and think, ‘Are you a good human being?’ That’s what impresses me most rather than what they’ve achieved.”

I think he was saying, “It is not what you do, it is what you be.”   Maybe that is why his musical productions transcended all the individual parts of a composition.  He brought his everlasting “being” into what he was doing and this produced such an authenticity in the sound that it compelled so many of us to listen again and again and again.  His “being” was not limited by the boundaries of his “doing.”  I can imagine he is in a rehearsal for the heavenly angel choir, suggesting, perhaps, a string quartet might sound really good right now with a particular section of music just as he suggested for Paul’s incredible song, Yesterday.

I guess “doing”with your whole “being” is what I really should be considering.  I think I will go and ponder that for a bit. Maybe I will put on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band too!

 

My Hero

(This is a long one. Please don’t start reading it unless you have the time to spare.)

He was not a big man. He didn’t appear to be rich.  He was soft spoken.  I do remember him having a bit of a wry smile.  My memories of his physical characteristics have faded through the years, but his spirit I remember as if he was standing right in front of me.

I met my hero when I started sixth grade as a ten year old, probably the youngest in my class.  My experience with formal education was not so good up to that point.   I had difficulties being “quiet and not disturbing others” or so it always said on the citizenship side of my report card.  In other words, I liked to socialize.  As a four year old in kindergarten, this trait got me in trouble.  I easily can remember my kindergarten teacher putting me in a dark coat closet, isolating me from the other children, because I was being noisy.  Unfortunately, she forgot that I was in there until she retrieved her coat to go home for the day.  She found a quietly, sobbing little boy in the dark.  I had been in there for hours. The school bus had taken everyone home already.  I guess I was lucky the day required a coat or I might still be in there.   Apparently, however, solitary confinement did not break my social spirit.  I continued getting “Needs Improvement” marks on the citizenship side of the report card throughout all the early grades. My academic marks weren’t very stellar either, except in Physical Education.

I had a really nice 1st grade teacher, but then my luck turned bad for four years in a row. I had teachers who didn’t seem to like little boys with poor penmanship who wanted to be outdoors more than indoors.  I tended to get sick a lot. I was very skinny. My ears were large and they did not lie politely next to my head. This became the focus of some pretty serious childhood teasing.  By the time I reached 6th grade, my emotional state was not very good.  In school,  I lived for recesses , Physical Education, and a wandering minstrel, the kind and lovely Mrs. Paye, who taught our music lessons. As the last day of fifth grade came, there was only one big question: Who would be lucky enough to get Mr. Ali (pronounced Al- Lie, not Ah-Lee) as their sixth grade teacher?

Mr. Ali was a small town hero.  He went to school in our town.  He was easily recognized as the best athlete to ever grow up in our area.  After high school, he signed a professional baseball contract.  However, his very promising career quickly came to an end when he was diagnosed with a very severe type of arthritis.  He found his way back to college, even attending the same college that I have worked at now for 20 years, to earn a teaching credential.  From sports hero, to elementary school teacher, Mr. Ali had to deal with dramatic changes in his life.  However, his passion for sports never was compromised.  He would get those students, like myself, who loved playing games with balls, enrolled in his class. He would spend countless hours coaching these children in after school sports programs.  He often would give me a ride home in his old (even for that time) Jeep.  When he did, I felt like the most important person on earth. I was certainly the luckiest.

In the classroom, I continued to have problems concentrating on my assignments, but I didn’t want to disappoint Mr. Ali.  Once he made me sit next to him up front in the classroom as he went around the room asking in an orderly manner what the answer was to Arithmetic Problem #1, #2, #3 and so on.  When it came to be my turn he said, “Gary, what is the answer to number seventeen?” He ever so slightly pointed his finger to the answer  out of his Teacher’s Manual for me so that nobody else would notice.   I read and said the correct answer.  He replied, “Yes, that is correct.”

He also could be a tough disciplinarian as he had a wooden paddle with holes drilled in it to reduce the wind friction.  He used it on me once.  You see, I was on the schoolyard basketball court and I spit on the court while I was playing in a game. It felt manly at the time.  In Mr. Ali’s eyes, I had disrespected the honorable court of competition. I had to bend over and “Whap.” I never spit again on any surface that a game was played on.  To this day, I find it disgusting and disrespectful.

Sixth grade was going very well for me.  I rarely missed school. I started getting interested in the academic subjects too. I played sports constantly and,at times, in certain sports I was as good as anyone.  I had a nice group of boyhood friends who would spend weekends on the schoolyard playing whatever sport was in season.  Mr. Ali would even check in on our informal pick-up games – “How many hits did you get? How many points did you score?”  In October, he would bring in his transistor radio and we would all quietly work on our assignments while listening to a World Series game. I was never happier nor ever would be happier in an educational setting. I loved Mr. Ali and so did everyone else.  In fact many years later, some of those boyhood friends got together lovingly recalling those days.  I said, “Well, I was Mr. Ali’s favorite.” Spontaneously, everyone else said they were his favorite.  In truth, he had this incredible ability to make all of us feel special.

It couldn’t get any better, and it didn’t.  Mr. Ali started missing work.  We had a lot of substitute teachers coming in. Finally he was missing so much work that we ended up with a permanent substitute teacher. As a class, we were not kind to her. To be fair, nobody could replace Mr. Ali, but she used the more traditional approaches to behavior modification.  It failed and my school year went back to being more like the previous years.  We deeply missed Mr. Ali.

By the springtime, it was time for that, previously mentioned, wandering minstrel, Mrs Paye, to present the annual musical performance.  She chose from Mary Poppins, Supercalifrailisticexpialidocious, as our song to sing in the auditorium/gym to all the invited guests.  She put me at the center of the top row of our children’s choir, a very visible position.  Unfortunately, I spent so much time learning to say “Supercalifrailisticexpialidocious” that I never bothered learning the rest of the lyrics, but I had a plan.  I would lip sync the rest of the words and I would do it convincingly too.  When it came time to perform, I nailed Supercalifrailisticexpialidocious, but for the rest of the song I was “lip’ing” for sure but I was not synced.  I was simply guessing, and guessing very wrong, what the next lyrics might be.  Poor Mrs. Paye looked horrified as she directed us through the song.  I knew I was sinking so I decided to double-down and put even more of myself into the lip syncing portion. Mrs. Paye looked absolutely overcome with shock and dismay by the end of the/my performance.  I knew I blew it and that there might be some hell to pay.   However, suddenly and spontaneously everyone ran off the stage.  At first I thought that they were trying to get as far away from me as possible in order to avoid becoming collateral damage from Mrs. Paye’s wrath. (In honesty, Mrs. Paye was not capable of wrath.  She was a very kind person.)  I came to understand the sudden choir departure when I heard someone say, “Mr. Ali is here!”

He was surrounded by adoring sixth graders, lots of them, not just our class.  I couldn’t even see him, even from the top row of the stage, so I came down off the stage.  Now I swear to you, this is just how it happened… As I came closer to the center of the circle of students, still about 15 feet away, the crowd of students opened up and I could look directly at Mr. Ali.  His eyes focused clearly on me and he waited for me to come to him, but I didn’t because I couldn’t.  I was frozen.  My hero was now quite thin, and worn, and he was in a wheelchair.  I don’t know what the look was one my face, but I was in deep sadness. We continued to stare at one another and, in a very loving moment, Mr. Ali broke his gaze from me as he started interacting with all those happy kids around him.  I left the auditorium and I never saw Mr. Ali again.  A few years later, the disease that ended his baseball career, also ended his life.  He was a very young man with a very young family which he adored.  Even now as I am an old man, I wish I could run up to Mr. Ali, lay my head on his shoulder and tell him thank you.  I so much wish I could have done that the last time I saw him.

The lessons that he taught me have lasted for 52 years, so far.  I use those lessons nearly everyday as I am someone who works closely with college students. My fondness is great for those college students especially those who have decided to be a school teacher. Caring enough about someone’s well being that you are willing to break the rules for them is an important part of my professional strategy.  Understanding that the little things are really the big things and that personal values should not be compromised, such as spitting on an outside athletic court, are deeply embedded in my perspectives on people and life.  I am just one of his former students.  Mr. Ali’s lessons have been amplified by hundreds of his former students. I am certain, to this day, they too still love Mr. Ali as much as I do.  As I said at the beginning, his physical attributes have faded from my memory, but his spirit lives just as strong today, through his loving lessons on life, as they did back then… maybe even stronger. Mr. Ali was a hero for a lifetime.

Thanks for reading,

gary