2021: Reunion

(This is actually a year late. I started work on in the late August of 2021 but then we all started trading Covid and writing slipped a few notches down my list of prioriites.)

Despite the focus my work requires, it often gets a bit lonely in my studio, so I usually have either music or a movie running while ‘making stuff’. My choices in video skew towards old favorites like the epic historical dramas of the 1960s/70s, but every so often I find something of more recent vintage as was the case when I watched The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw last week. Starring Kenny Rogers as professional gambler Brady Hawkes, the film is one of five made-for-TV westerns built on the storyline and success of Kenny’s 1978 hit single The Gambler and tells the story of Hawkes’ efforts to make his way to a high stakes poker game in San Francisco scheduled to be played on the night before the enactment of the Street Betting Act of 1906 that will ban gambling and eliminate Hawkes’ way of life.

Luck of the Draw includes plenty of horses and gunfights, but it also includes newer technology such as internal combustion engines and semi-automatic firearms that highlight changes in the way of life on the frontier as it closes. More interesting to me though were the frequent reunions with old friends Hawkes meets up with during his odyssey, a group made up of actors and characters from the classic television Westerns I’d grown up watching on our little black and white Zenith three decades earlier. Some of the stars like Hugh O’Brian (Wyatt Earp) and Chuck Connors (The Rifleman) had weathered those thirty years in good shape while others like Clint Walker (Cheyanne) had – in the patois of the movie’s time frame – ‘been ridden hard and put away wet’. As the members of that second group came and went on the screen I had to wonder if it wouldn’t have been kinder to avoid replacing our collective mental picture of them from their glory days

It brought to mind a recent reunion of my own, that of my high school graduation. It was the first such reunion I was able to attend. I was a first lieutenant and a company executive officer midway through a field-training exercise when the first one happened and the second came up while I was attending graduate school 4000 miles away. After that I was too caught up with being a dad, teaching college, running a business and in general living life to catch the next three, but somehow everything fell together in August of 2021 to make it possible for me to attend the 50 year reunion of the Kenai Central High School graduating class of 1971.

Kind of.

At first it seemed as though history would repeat itself as a series of unforeseen events and minor disasters prevented my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I from attending in person, but the blessing/curse of technology allowed me to attend via ZOOM hook-up – and even with that miracle of modern technology I came close to missing out, having lost track of days on the calendar. That confusion continued even after making the connection as I watched a parade of what I took to be the parents of my classmates introducing themselves, but when I glimpsed the reflection of my own grizzled features in my laptop’s screen I realized that those equally grizzled figures were not my classmates’ parents, but were in fact my classmates themselves. There were one or two trim individuals who looked like they’d been sleeping in Tupperware for every one of the 18,250 nights since commencement but most of them were packing as many extra pounds as me, and what hair they had left was as white as mine.

I didn’t care – I was just happy to see them all, even if it was via technology. Attending a school on the ass-end of the world comes with a social awareness different than what you pick up in most schools; it seemed like I was sitting in classes next to cousins rather than strangers with all the of fighting, arguing, and bickering you’d expect in an extended family, but upon closer scrutiny it’s obvious the peculiar social cohesion goes beyond that. There’s been discussion that there are actually two parts to the Baby-Boom generation: the stereotypical, student radical Big Chill group born right after World War II and a second smaller wave made up of those of us born in the first half of the fifties. There’s even been a name suggested for that second group – the Jones’s – but the discrepancies between the two wavelets involves much more than names. There are several factors involved in the formation of the Jones’s mini-boom, formative events quite different that those that molded our older siblings:

  • Their cultural milepost was Woodstock while ours was Watergate.
  • They entered a red-hot war-based economy with decent wages and reasonable mortgages while we dropped into an economy crippled by ‘stagflation’ and the oil-embargos of the Seventies.
  • Most tragically, they saw the British invasion transform popular music while we had to endure the musical travesty known as disco.

All of which made the KCHS class of 1971 appear out-of-step with our older and younger class mates starting in the fall of 1967 with our freshman year faculty sponsors throwing their hands up in the air at our first class meeting (“we’ve never seen a class with such an attitude”) to comments by former upperclassmen in the 1980s (“your class was just funny that way – not funny “ha-ha” but funny-“yeesh”). Maybe that “collective individualism” is why I’ve felt a fraternal attachment to my classmates even though I hadn’t attended any of the earlier reunions – the fact that something about being born in 1953 has us all marching to our own drummers.

We still seem to be marching to those drummers though that cadence has taken us over some rough existential terrain:

  • We’ve taken a beating – out of 150 that walked across the stage only 120 are still alive.
  • We’ve taken a beating – most of us have been married for a LONG time.
  • We’ve taken a beating in that we have a higher than average number of veterans.

You could also read the effects of those difficult journeys in the lines and worn expressions of the faces I could see via the ZOOM hook-up. Even though we are relatively young and yet to reach the biblical allotment of ‘three score and ten’ there was a moment when I began to rue the use of the video link that, as was the case with The Luck of the Draw, it would have been kinder for some to be only remembered from their glory days…but in the end I was glad for the link. Despite those lines I could still see that:

  • Carey is still gracious and beautiful.
  • Jim is still quick on the uptake with a wickedly funny comment.
  • Rick still looks like he could bench press an engine block.

…and I was glad to have had the chance to see my cousins one more time.

2022: “…like a breath of fresh air!”

As the clock flashes 0230 in the inky blackness of my bedside table I hear a “whooshing” across the room and feel an unfamiliar pressure in my nostril. My thoughts are jumbled but then quickly coalesce into the following thoughts:

  • I’m Commander Kit Draper, deputy commander of Mars Gravity Probe Three.
  • I’ve found coal that I can burn to make oxygen.
  • Batman’s ghost should be showing up any time now.
See the source image

Then I roll over at which point I detect a plastic tube of some kind trailing down the back of my neck and over the edge of the bed. My nostrils itch, but as I absentmindedly scratch my nose I find a round plug, which could be the biggest booger ever or –


“Shai Hulud”
the oath explodes as I blink against the persistent darkness  “I’m wearing a Fremen still-suit !” and as I reach for my maula pistol  I instinctively shudder as I recall the memory of the size and voracity of the Arakeen sandworm.

…then I blink yet a third time into full consciousness and ruefully admit that I really do need to make better late night entertainment choices than Robinson Crusoe on Mars or DUNE. At the side of the bed I spot the oxygen therapy set-up my doctor has prescribed for me, the neat little compressor politely chugging out a symphony of what my grandson Jayden describes as “factory noises” as it dutifully works to keep my blood oxygen level at a more therapeutic level.

Like many other medical devices I initially thought of an oxygen tank as a white flag in my battle to beat the reaper. My older sister (and fellow spondylitis inflictee) won’t carry a portable unit as she feels it “shames her”, but to be honest, if I were her I’d feel much worse about how she “sweats out” our nephew Zac into hauling the heavier base unit from place to place in the house for her.

…but in the last two days I’ve made some interesting discoveries.

  1. First off – it’s not an oxygen tank, but rather an oxygen concentrator, so It’s not something I have to worry about running out of – as long as we have power…and given he innate misery of an un-air-conditioned Tennessee summer a reduced oxygen level is the least of my worries if we lose power for an extended period of time.
  • Secondly, I’ve learned first-hand the connection between anoxia and depression, albeit in a backwards sort of way. I’ve been living my life against a backdrop of sadness which I’d assumed was part and parcel of life with chronic pain…but within an hour of the first gulp of additional O2 my wife began eyeing me with suspicion and muttering things like, “Who are you and what have you done with my husband” and “Keep smiling like that and your lips will crack and fall off!”
  • …and thirdly – Mars Gravity Probe ONE was the site of all the phantasmal mischief brought on by COL Dan McReady (as portrayed by Adam West!)

…hands

In November of 2018 I wrote a post entitled I Wish I’d Written That containing a list of written passages that (obviously) I wish I’d come up with first. While making a long (and very slow) recovery from COVID-19 I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on that post and I’ve come up with one more item I’d like to add.

It’s from an essay written by Tom Bodett – always a favorite for the way it captures the quirky blend of cultures and technology (dogsled vs. limousine/urban vs. rural) so typical of Alaskan life. This particular essay addressed the change in lifestyles that came about with his success as a writer and leaving construction as a means for earning a living for his family.

“…I miss the way my hands would ache after swinging a hammer all day.”

Chronic pain aside I live a life a lot of men aspire to, with most of my days spent sitting in a recliner while reading or watching TV. Unfortunately, I’m one of those odd people who actually likes physical labor and at this point in life the closest I can get to doing any kind of work is picking up a book or tapping something out on the computer. It makes my life a sort of upholstered purgatory that was difficult enough when I was dealing with just the pain and stiffness of ankylosing spondylitis and age, but even after recovering from Covid I am weaker than the proverbial kitten. I long ago tired of staring at the four walls of my bedroom so it’s all too easy to get lost in memories of my life as a younger man and thinking of all I left behind.

In addition to the aching hands that Mr. Bodett wrote about, I miss:

  • The pungent smell of a sun-warmed two-by-four I’ve just cut on my table saw
  • The reverse spasm in my shoulder that came with setting down a bag of horse-feed
  • The crunch of my boots while I’m walking down a gravel road

I readily admit that I am richly blessed with a strong emotional support system starting with my Beautiful Saxon Princess and do what I can on my own to cope with my situation in the here-and-now by writing, making art, lifting barbels and getting in as many steps walking as the discomfort will allow me.

… but the prognosis for A/S is not a cheery one, and sometimes living in the past is the only way to catch a break.

KCHS Class of 1971: 50-year Reunion

(I’ve never been able to attend any of my high school class reunions. It wasn’t a deliberate choice – it just always seemed work or teaching issues got in the way. I thought that we’d make it this year for sure but then a late-breaking medical situation ruled the trip out and all I could do was give thanks that we hadn’t bought our airline tickets yet.

I’m still trying to stay involved by working on the preparations to include composing the text  below which will be used for the main invitation. They’re going to set up an online presence so at least I’ll be able to see everyone, but for now I’m just hoping the horse will sing and we can make the trip in August)

1971

  • The Rolling Stones were playing sold-out concerts.
  • Star Trek re-runs were playing on TV.
  • The nation was involved in controversial conflict in Asia.
  • I was looking forward to the future and my own jetpack.

 2021

  • The Rolling Stones are still playing sold-out concerts.
  • Star Trek re-runs are still playing on TV.
  • The nation is involved in controversial conflict in Asia.
  • …and I’m still waiting on that jetpack.

Fifty years went by in a flash leaving us all with the feeling that there is an eighteen year-old trapped inside our sixty-eight year-old bodies screaming “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED”. Fortunately you will have the opportunity to compare notes with other “trapped eighteen year-olds” by attending the 50-year reunion of the KCHS graduating class of 1971.

  • When is it happening?   Saturday August 7th 2021 from noon until dark
  • Where is it happening?  Jeff & Carey Matranga’s place on Forest Lane, Soldotna
  • Who’s invited?               You and your families
  • What’s going on?          Potluck dinner, yard games, water games and socializing

Plans are brewing for a ZOOM/on-line presence and more information about food will follow. We also need help in getting the word out. In those fifty flashing years we’ve scattered all over the country and right now we’ve only reached about one-fourth of the class. Feel free to forward this notice or reply with the information and we’ll handle it here from reunion central.

Please RSVP to careylfoster@outlook.com or (907)252-4640

It’s A Good Morning

I am of a generational vintage that encouraged its members to alter reality, when in  addition to weed and alcohol many of my peers experimented with LSD, peyote, and even dried banana skins in an effort to “get outside their heads”.  That concept had little appeal to me – I may have a inherent twist to the way I view life, but it’s my twist (thank you) and I’ll keep it the way it was issued to me.

However, there are times when my reality has been changed without my intent, and it hasn’t been pleasant, to include ta miserable session I’ve just gone through. In an effort to more effectively deal with the symptoms that accompany ankylosing spondylitis one of my prescriptions was changed to a medication I hadn’t used in almost fifteen years, a medication that had disastrous side effects. To simply say that it brought on depression would be like saying the Great Chicago fire was a weenie roast. I would end up in a pit of despair so dark I didn’t want to just die – I wanted to be erased, and what was maddening about it all was I could think of no reason why I should be feeling so extraordinarily bad.

Fortunately, there was a light at the end of this particular tunnel. My Beautiful Saxon Princess literally (and lovingly) hovered over me and a miracle in scheduling got me in to see the doctor to get a change in medication. Once the change was made I was able to “dial it back” from soul-crushing despair to the regular day-to-day ennui that accompanies life as a sixty-seven-year-old with a chronic illness and I’m back to scribbling, sculpting and writing stuff like this.

…and I’ve also walked away with some very valuable insights:

  • I’ll never, ever take this particular medication again
  • Looking back I’m wondering if particularly bleak periods of my life may have been the result of this drug  more than the craptivity of the situation itself.

Marking Time

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a look at this page, and I was surprised to see that the last time I posted anything was the 28th of last month – and while I long ago came to grips with the way time sprints even faster with each year, I was saddened that I haven’t been able to keep up with the race. I always figured that whether I was sitting at my desk in the studio or balancing a keyboard on my lap while curled up in my papa chair I would always be able to write.

Well, it looks like I may have been a little overoptimistic, but then I’ve had my share of distractions, with most of them involving health issues to include:

  • An upcoming Mohs treatment to deal with a trace of basal cell carcinoma on the tip of my nose.
  • An upcoming  second injection of Covid-19
  • A change in pain management for my never-ending battle with ankylosing spondylitis is not going well.

…all of which means  a marked uptick in pain, anxiety, and depression. I’m hoping that I will make my way through this particular rough patch, but I always wonder if this is the point at which I become bed-ridden or worse. I try to fight the fear but sometimes it gets ahead of me and all I can do is drift through the day and continue trying…which includes typing out something out like this.

In the same way marching a unit soldiers requires “marking time” – keeping step in the same place – to keep the parade running properly writing notes like this will hopefully keep me functioning until better days.

Thanks for your support

david

Fiction: Move On

The First Night

“I’m going to have to pass on this one Brandon.”

“Whaddya mean? Gus! Baby!  (Sniff) – Its pure gold. Emmy material.”

“Maybe, but it’s not for me. I had to struggle just wading through the series treatment.”

“What’s not to like?”

“Are you kidding me? “COP ROCK 2025.” The original series was so bad that I can’t unsee it, but you’ve managed to make something so tasteless that I doubt even Fox would run it!”

“(sniff) Are you going to start whining about seeing Dennis Franz’ ass again?”

“For the record that was “NYPD Blue” – but I’d still take that image over suffering through Justin Bieber as Frank Furillo Jr.  Holy hell Brandon, that’s yet another classic you’re butchering. I can’t work – I WON’T work on crap like this.”

A very unbrandonlike pause gave me just enough time to worry about the effect this conversation was having on my already troublesome blood pressure, but then he continued at a lower volume and slower rate.

“Yes, yes you can…and you will. (sniff) May I remind you that we have a contract and you still owe us a script?”

I knew at that point there was no getting through to this broadcast wunderkind any time soon so I mumbled something about time zones and headaches, hung up and slumped at my desk disgusted. Actually at this point “disgusted” was an understatement, but I wasn’t sure who I was more disgusted with – Brandon for his patently offensive series proposal, or me for prostituting my talents by working on the aforementioned offensive material.

  • What happened to the novel I was going to write?
  • When did I become such a whore?
  • Is there a word for what I’d become? Writer-whore? Wr-hore? Whorter?”

…I longed for (much) earlier days – university days when I wrote for myself and enjoyed what I did. I doffed my glasses and pinched the bridge of my nose as I wrestled with the fact that I was getting more depressed by the minute and needed to distract myself, so after replacing the lid on the container of mixed nuts that fueled my creative efforts, I grabbed the mouse and started clicking through websites. In most situations this would be every wife’s nightmare – it’s late at night and her husband is hunched over a computer, his attention riveted to images on a flickering screen, but in my case it wasn’t pornography fueling my imagination and causing my heart to race – it was Alaska creating the fantasies. At my age porn holds far less appeal than the thrill of vicariously revisiting the mountains, forests, and paths of my youth, but unfortunately the after-effects of this type of digital dalliance are just as debilitating as any erotic addiction.  When I finally shut down my computer I was feeling so flat that Gina didn’t even notice when I crawled into bed beside her.

The Second Night

I forget the precise label to my geographic enabler – Google Earth, MapQuest, or one of several other virtually identical services providing a satellite’s-eye view of the earth’s surface so precise that instincts lingering from a previous incarnation as an intelligence officer screamed “Who the hell cleared this?” When I finally convinced myself that what I was seeing was not a breach of national security I started digitally exploring the various scenes of my youth, but then as is the case with all addictions, my gateway drug began to pale, and I graduated from the alleys of my Anchorage childhood to the “hard stuff” – close-up views of Fairbanks and the University. I don’t remember when I first found the camera aimed down Cushman Avenue but I do remember the thrill that came over me when I took in that modest skyline for the first time in five decades. The intersections had changed slightly, and captions told me that most of the buildings had changed owners and names several times, but as long as the Immaculate Conception Church was still on the east side of the road the scene was just familiar enough to make my heart skip a beat the same way it did the day Debbie helped me unpack my bags for my first year at the university.

My early childhood as a service brat meant that unlike some of my former high school classmates, moving five hundred miles away from home held no terror for me. If leaving home for college equated to some sort of symbolic death of adolescence, I’d been resurrected to an eighteen year old’s idea of heaven with plenty of beer every weekend, cool music playing all the time, a stone-cold fox for girlfriend, and no parental supervision.

The Third Night

While the task was far from easy, I was able to hammer the beginnings of a script out of Brandon’s craptacular concept. Unfortunately the task required ingestion of caffeine far in excess of any recommended levels so by the time I hit control-S I had a splitting headache bad enough to preclude any more cashew-crunching for the night…but as tired as I was I still felt drawn to the webcam aimed down that particular stretch of pavement in downtown Fairbanks. Getting a good day’s worth of word-crunching was always a mixed blessing: I was thankful I had an income, and if pressed I had to admit that what fame I did enjoy was …well, enjoyable, but I couldn’t help feeling that I could have done something better with my life. I rubbed my eyes, replaced my glasses, and looked back at the screen as the scene changed slightly – even though it’s referred to as a real-time view, it’s actually a series of still photographs that change almost imperceptivity, giving you something more like flipping through a sequence of still photos than live photography.

Half aloud I wondered, “How many times had I walked past that church?” – Which was followed immediately by the equally quasi-vocalized, “More times than I care to remember” – The long hair, boots, and tattered surplus parka made hitchhiking in subzero a hard sell no matter how innocuous the inane smiley face embroidered in yellow on the left shoulder. I’d walked down that street countless times because the university bookstore’s stock of girlfriend-getting ammunition was extremely limited, requiring frequent trinket runs into town, which in turn meant that I got to know that stretch of Cushman like the back of my hand…or mitten as the case may be. From what I could see on the screen, not much had changed over the years as there was no lack of scruffy people walking along under the gaze of the sub-arctic webcam, but I passed that off as yet another quirk of life in the Last Frontier. College kids down here in the lower 48 came surprisingly well equipped with cars, laptops and smartphones, but judging from what I saw, current Alaskan students would fit right in with us back in the day… even down to the long-haired figure in an Army surplus parka, blue jeans, and work boots that was crossing the screen as it powered down.

A cacophony of popping joints accompanied me as I slowly stood up from my chair and stepped over the now unused outdoor gear that littered the floor of my office towards the bedroom and my sleeping sweetheart. I felt the slightest twinge of guilt when I realized my memories of this patch of frost-heaved cement were substantially clearer than those of the streets around Gina’s first apartment, but driving an air-conditioned Trans-Am through Pawtucket in 1980 didn’t have nearly the same impact on my life as hitchhiking along a highway just three degrees south of the Arctic Circle ten years earlier….

The Fourth Night

The door was ajar, so I peeked in, assuming she’d been asleep for hours, but I’d figured wrong. An improbable “Hey G.I!. Me so horny love you long time!” hissed through the doorway followed by a throw pillow. I walked in, sat on the edge of the bed and whispered back: “…and here I’ve been thinking all along that it was student loans that paid your way through college!”

Gina elbowed her way up from reclining to semi-reclining, her long raven-colored hair spilling down across the pillows. She kissed me, then said “You’ve been spending a lot of time with that machine lately. Is there anything I need to be worried about?” I kissed her forehead then looked at her. In forty years I’d never done anything to cause those eyes to view me with reproach. I loved my wife more than life itself, but late-night digital forays came from a world that she never was a part of and knew nothing about.

“Naw. It’s no big deal. It’s just some barbarian warrior stuff Bernie and I have cooked up. Still trying to write our own version of Conan without Arnold Swartznegger. Bernie just wants to get my feedback on what he’s come up with so far.

“Gus!” It was long and drawn hiss out like a dying inner tube. “I don’t think any of you guys ever emotionally matured past nineteen. Still daydreaming about guys in fur jockstraps swinging swords and rescuing bimbos in metal underwear.” She planted a kiss on my cheek. “Just don’t stay up too late – you’re supposed to see the cardiologist tomorrow – remember?”

I left the room and headed towards my laptop. I thought: “Oh my God – I’ve just lied to Gina. I have never lied to Gina. Never. Ever!”

“What the hell is the matter with me? I’m acting like an addict hiding away his habit.”

Unfortunately as is the case with any drug used to excess, nostalgia can bring on unexpected damage. I can readily detect the warning signs for excessive use of alcohol or drugs, but reliving both the joy and pain of that time so long ago was doing more damage than anything I could have snorted, injected, or ingested, and by now it had brought on an elevated pulse and blood pressure that worried my doctor, but how could I explain that 2021’s heart issues had their origin fifty years earlier?

Without warning, the clock in the hall started to chime… eleven times. It was late, and the mild annoyance at meeting with my cardiologist so early in the morning wasn’t nearly as bothersome as the cold sweat brought on by just the mention of the word “stint,” but as I reached for the power button something showed up on the left side of the screen that stopped me mid-yawn. As the web cam image refreshed, a faint figure progressively became closer and clearer until it was distinct enough for me to make specific details:

  • Long hair
  • Blue jeans and work boots
  • An army surplus parka with a yellow happy face embroidered on the shoulder.

The Fifth Night

It was a favor guaranteed to put a strain on any friendship – even a friendship a half century old – but there were compelling reasons Bernie was the only person I could call for help. For starters he had the insight brought on by the (slight) difference in our ages. When my primary goal in life was to meet William Shatner he had well-mapped out plans for a career in local government. While he and his girlfriend were exploring the Kama Sutra I was still wondering if Debbie’s new retainer would make French-kissing her taste metallic. Most importantly for this situation he was the only one of us to end up back living in Fairbanks, and by default, the only person I could call on to verify what I thought I was seeing. It was a tribute to his character that he agreed to help me out by waiting at the site of the web-cam and verifying what was visible over the Internet.

I started this latest legume-fueled session just as I had the previous four nights but when his red SUV was nowhere to be seen in the foreground of the web-cam’s image my ears began to boom with the trip-hammer heartbeat that always came with blood pressure climbing.  Fortunately a panic-fueled volley of text messages established that he was in fact parked down in front of the office building, so close that upon inspection I could see that a thin red line – the front of his SUV’s hood – poked into the image area.

The rotating illuminated sign across the river first read a balmy -26o then announced that the appointed time had arrived. I tapped out a “see anything?” text on my phone which was answered almost immediately with a terse “Nope”. I screwed my eyes shut, pinched the bridge of my nose out of habit, and thought to myself “I’m going fricking crazy,” as my pulse and blood pressure went into a roller-coaster ride that couldn’t be doing me any good. A couple of key strokes gave me a slightly more distinct image …and a better view of a figure now moving past the church on the left, a hooded figure in the grey-green parka moving down the left side of the screen, passing Immaculate Conception Church in screen-refresh intervals. The harsh street light illumination and fog coming up off the river obscured details, but I definitely could see the damning yellow happy face grinning like a jaundiced maniac from his left shoulder.

Me: “Do you see him?”

Bernie: “Who?”

Me: “A young guy in an old army parka.”

Bernie: “WTF?”

Me: “The way I used to look. Me. Him. Screw it.”

Our text-message badminton was abruptly cut short by an incoming FaceTime call from Bernie showing absolutely NO ONE walking along the sidewalk next to the church, while the continually refreshing web-cam showed the figure in the parka continuing to walk down the street and past the Immaculate Conception Church, until the last image when he/me turned, looked straight into the lens and flashed the peace sign.

The Sixth Night

I’m going to die tonight. I’ve lied to my wife and now I am mixed up with something right out of Twilight Zone – no, not Twilight ZoneNight Gallery because this is a whole lot scarier than Twilight Zone at this point, but I can’t pull myself away from my laptop, and now God is going to strike me down for lying to Gina.

My phone chirped out an incessant summons. but when Bernie’s number showed up on caller I.D., I sent the call directly to voice mail and reflected on my self-made bastard status. He was genuinely concerned after last night’s fiasco and knew better than most the toll it had taken on me and my heart…but there was no way I was going to walk away without at least a few questions answered. In purest cinematic fashion He/me appeared right on time and started walking down Cushman Avenue just like he had for the previous nights. I had ceased trying to make any sense of the situation but found it impossible to look away even though I could feel my pulse thunder in my ear and there was something terribly wrong with my left arm.

“Dammit! Not now. Not when I’m so close”

He/me slowed a bit before passing off screen to the left then he abruptly stopped, looked up into the webcam camera and pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket. He smiled and opened the sheet up to reveal neat block printing:

IT’S OK.

IT’S BEEN A GOOD LIFE, EH?

IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON.

…then he/me tucked the paper into his pocket and the he/me image started to break into pixilated shards, but as he walked past the church and out of view I found I couldn’t breathe. My inner Cro-Magnon howled at the merciless irony of a heart attack robbing me of closure to a half-century of heartbreak…then there was a kind of “huff” sound and I could breathe again. What I’d thought of as cardiac arrest was in fact a piece of Brazil nut that had gotten temporarily lodged “in the wrong pipe,” …and it turned out that the pain in my arm was brought on when the day pack slung on the back of my chair slid down with the strap catching and eventually numbing my arm.

I took a deep breath and felt a wave of warmth spill over my shoulders while the pins and needles in my arm slowly faded. It had been too easy to let the advancing years send me mentally and emotionally fleeing to that simpler and easier time in my life – and whether it was an episode of Night Gallery I was experiencing or not, I couldn’t take up permanent residence. If I’d been able to freeze the calendar at 1971 I’d have missed so much in my life: Gina, the kids, my career, the first time we saw Full Metal Jacket in Sensurround– hell, even After The Love is Gone by Earth, Wind and Fire, which had been inexplicably playing in my internal mix-tape since I first heard it five years after I left Fairbanks.

Whatever this anomaly may have been , it made me realize something I needed to accept: as comfortable and carefree as 1971 seemed from the vantage of the 21st century I would have been a much poorer man had there really been a way to break the dial of the cosmic TV set of life and just stayed in that place forever. After putting the lid back on the mixed nuts I clicked on the Arctic-Cam URL, deleted it, and went to bed.

______________________________________________________________________

(another “fictional” break in the creative non-fiction that I usually write…)

LCHR 1954-2020

She was the girl with multiple nicknames:

  • Samantha (Stevens)
  • Honey (West)
  • (Doctor) Venus

Golden-haired girls were in short supply at Sterling Elementary in the mid-Sixties so it seemed like anytime a blonde would show up on television she would be tagged with the character’s name the following week…but for the other fifty one weeks of the year we knew her as Linda Christine, third of four children in the Hansen family living diametrically opposite from my home on that great circle made up by Robinson and Scout Loops in Sterling, Alaska. 

I carried a torch for her for most of 1966 but as time went by and my Napoleon Solo/U.N.C.L.E.- inspired swagger failed to win her heart our relationship morphed into that often more valuable state known as Good Friend. We’d bounce ideas off each other, share new music, deliver post-mortems on our respective romantic entanglements and just before I left for college in 1971 I lived my seventh grade dream when we went out on a pleasant albeit very platonic date.

I went on to my life and three-fold career while she went into nursing and family life with one of the finest men I have ever known. We would touch base from time to time over the next fifty years and every meeting was equally warm, as if no time had passed, but sadly the time for base-touching is past as she passed away a few days ago. With anyone else I would be ranting about the cruel timing of her demise but if you knew Linda you’d appreciate the symbolism. She is/was one of the most sincere women of faith I have ever met and given the nature and rapid progress of her illness It doesn’t surprise me that she left this mortal plane so close to the anniversary of the birth of our Savior.

She was that nice.

Let me put it this way: you know that stereotypical fundamentalist Karen character that the popular media keeps throwing at us? The narrow-minded, judgmental harridan warping scripture in twisted attacks on just about everyone else?

Well, that wasn’t our Linda.

Linda Christine Hansen Robinson was the anti-Karen, and such a fundamentally good woman that we will all be poorer for her going, but at the same time we are that much richer for having known her.

1969/2020 “Bah, Humbug!”

(This is one of two Christmas-themed stories I re-run every year. This time around it’s a little different in that I’m not nearly the Scrooge I’ve been in years past, I don’t know if it’s my age or a reaction to the insanity that has been 2020 but I’ve found myself really enjoying the tree, the cars, the scriptures and the music.)

Have I already mentioned that I hate Christmas?

My enmity to this time of year has little to do with the actual day but rather the personal history that surrounds it. Name a personal disaster or heartbreak in my life and odds are the event happened either in December or within 2 weeks north or south of that month. I’m not going to produce an itemized list but if you really want to know why I dread the twelfth month of the year, and why I am miserable to live with during that time send a private message. If I get enough a large enough response I’ll elaborate a bit and then you’ll know why my dear sweetheart deserves a six-figure cash bonus, the Victoria Cross and immediate translation for simply enduring my presence during the holidays, much less talk or interact with me in any way.

Christmas wasn’t always miserable for me. There have also been some very happy times associated with the holidays, but they are totally overwhelmed by the number and intensity of the negative stuff. That contrast is no doubt fuel for the fire as well; I’m like the hungry homeless man with his nose pressed against the window of a four-star restaurant tormented by the sights and smells of food he can only imagine.

Even when thinking back as objectively as possible I cannot understand how I survived some of those times.  However those Yule seasons that seemed to be even more Yuseless than usual also happened to be times when I was blessed with an “adjunct angel” an individual whose words and deeds were vitally important to my continued mental health ( at one time to my life)– yet probably had no clue of the service they rendered.

There have been many such individuals ranging from a college instructor whose timely letter of praise and understanding drew the venom out of a heartless betrayal in a rebound relationship following the most crushing break-up of my life to a flight school buddy that refused to shun me when my medical disqualification made me invisible to the rest of my classmates (maybe they though vision problems were contagious). However, one of the most heart-warming may have not been a person at work – but rather circumstances; what we call “tender mercies”

.  It was Christmas Eve 1969; my sister Holly and I were up in my attic bedroom listening to some distinctly un-holiday rock music on my stereo and commiserating about how there was no “joyeux” in the “noel” when you weren’t a little kid. There was a lull in the music as the changer dropped another LP onto the turntable – and that’s when we heard the footsteps. Yes, footsteps on the roof just 10 inches on the other side of the ceiling of my attic bedroom.

We couldn’t tell exactly what kind of footsteps they were – there was a chinook (mid-winter warm front passage) going on which always brought on a chorus of humming, whining and moaning as the wind ran past the T.V. aerials, their supporting masts and guy-wires. It didn’t matter though – we looked at each other in wide-eyed shock, then Holly shot down the ladder to her bedroom while I shut off the light and dove under my covers.

There were no hoof-sprints or skid marks on the roof the next morning – but there was also very little snow after the warm winds of a Chinook.

 Had our cats running around the attic?

Had my dad on the roof adjusting the living room TV antenna?

 Did a sleigh park on our roof that night?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, just like I don’t know why selected friends over the years have chosen this time of year to perform life-changing acts of kindness for me.  While footsteps-on-the-rooftop didn’t have the heavy emotional weight of some of the other incidents I’ve shared, the event did have a life-changing, softening effect on my personality at a time when as a sixteen year old I was making important choices about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do with my life. The timing was perfect.

…and as I was thinking about this post it came to me that timing has also been very effective with this whole holiday curse mindset. It’s cleverly turned my expectations about what should be a happy time into a subtle but non-stop attack on my faith.  I’m just very fortunate that at the same time those little attendant holiday miracles have been just as clever and even more effective in bolstering my faith.

Merry Christmas!

2020: Early Morning Ritual

4:00 AM

It was a whisper so quiet I almost missed it for the hum of the ceiling fan and the wind in the trees outside our bedroom window.

“Papa, I want to be down here with you and Nana” –  followed almost instantly with, “Can I use your tablet?” signaled the arrival of my grandson Jayden. I mumbled the usual assent mixed with admonitions about excess noise then drifted into my never-ending quest for more sleep.

Microseconds later a strident BEEP-BOOP-BEEP-BRRRRRT!! startles me into an (almost) sitting position while simultaneously triggering a semi-intelligible URK!1 The wee little voice with the endearing lisp calls out in the dark, “Torry Papa. I will turn it down,”  and instantly dispels my expected growly response and I roll back over to drift off as well as I can with patterns of light from the aforementioned tablet dancing across our ceiling.

“VROOOOMMMMM”

I stagger-stumble out of bed, visions of out-of-control vehicles heading for our front porch filling my imagination only to find my grandson with my tablet in hand, transfixed and terrified by his grandfather-turned-grizzly-bear careening around the bedroom floor and bouncing off bedroom walls while his grandmother struggles with the polyethylene clasp of her CPAP mask in an effort to sit up as well.

“JAYDEN!”

“Sorry Papa. Sorry Nana”.

At this point the tablet is turned off and put away before I once again embark on my fitful journey to Slumberland, but just as Little Nemo takes my ticket…

BA-THUMP…THUMP! BA-THUMP…THUMP!

“Hey Papa! I can jump reawy high! Watch me!”

My inner Cro-Magnon starts a growl rumbling deep in my chest but chokes it off when I note the time on my phone AND the growing light of dawn through the curtained window. I take comfort in the fact that if nothing else Jayden’s early morning calisthenics do not include PLFs2 off the dresser or a dive, tuck and roll over the bed with the two of us curled up comfortably and still sleeping…but mostly the knowledge that his predawn antics are a small price to pay for sharing this time in his life.

I’ve lived almost ten times as long as Jayden has and in all those years I’ve treasured my steadily evolving caretaking role as elder brother, uncle, father, and grandfather. I was never the type of dad who lived and longed for the day he would become an empty nester and the departure of each child was a little death for me. I suspect it will be the same when Jayden and his parents finally get a place of their own, but for now I will keep my tablet charged up and tuck the covers a little tighter when I turn in at night.

_______________________________________________________________________

Notes

1.  Which in my mind is perfectly understandable as “ See here young man what is this untimely commotion?”

2. Parachute landing fall.