All will be illuminated

imagesWe are waiting in the shadows. Kept in the dark. Blind at the break of day for a few moments as we blink around for a sliver of light that isn’t there. We long for the thin beams that used to signal daybreak. Some ray of promise that won’t arrive this hour.

All of Manhattan rises in the dark. My wife and I pine for the sun remembered dimly from sunnier southern climes. I trundle down into the further darkness of a subway platform to take a crowded subway train uptown or a less populated downtown express train to Brooklyn for work depending on the day. Make a dark descent before the sun creeps past the tall buildings. I live on the west side, and my horizon line to the east is unnaturally high due to cathedrals, towering office buildings and highrise apartments crowding out the sun. So it’s that much harder to soak in some elusive winter light.

This darkness is all made brilliantly clear in a warm, well-lit corner of Fraunces Tavern in the oldest part of Manhattan. It happens after the Hot Spiked Cider arrives and before the largest pot pie you can imagine is produced. I’ve just asked the dinner party why we seem to be on such thin rations of sunlight here in the North, and my wife’s colleague breaks it down with the patience of a sixth grade science teacher explaining elementary planetary alignments to a slightly dim pupil. Continue reading “All will be illuminated”

All will be illuminated

The music in me

images“You have the hands of a drummer.” One of my supervisors at work says this to me. It’s a fairly curious and intimate thing to say to someone you don’t know very well who is not a drummer and has never drummed. I look at my hands. I have always thought I had music in me. But if there is music inside me, the music is having a very hard time getting out. Not bursting out eagerly like the head of a ferocious beast from the body of an unwilling host in the movie “Aliens.” The music inside me is blocked up and choked off like gridlocked traffic on a busy New York City intersection during rush hour where no one can move in any direction and all that is left to do is to honk your horn irritably – a sound signifying nothing in particular to no one at all.

I don’t have the temperament of a drummer. I’m not loud enough. Not terribly daring. Not in-your-face enough. I’m quietly subversive like a kazoo. If my supervisor had told me I had the hands of a triangle player that would have been more believable. Maybe the triangle player hits his instrument delicately three times or so during an entire orchestra piece. The triangle player is not going to get wrapped up in his playing and take off on an unscheduled solo. He’s not going to have to worry about groupies gathering backstage who have fallen under his spell. He’s just adding to the chorus of life in his own quiet, peculiar way.

My first questionable contribution to the world of music was in the children’s choir in First United Methodist Church in Salisbury, North Carolina. It’s hard to imagine this was my idea at the age of ten. But I enjoyed being a part of something. And I liked the sound of the other children’s voices even as I hated the sound of my own voice. To hear more of their voices and less of my own, I often simply mouthed the words to the hymns. It’s not uncommon. I’ve seen a group of a dozen singers perform at school functions and in churches with only five children actively singing. The rest were rolling their eyes, examining the floor or just mouthing the words mutely. Most of the lip-synchers I’ve noticed are boys. That’s why most children’s choirs have a very high, girly sound. I’m just saying.

Continue reading “The music in me”

The music in me

Survival of the fittest

indexI’m bloated and cold like a toad. Not inclined to go anywhere at the moment that isn’t heated. Sitting in my cool pad – not in a pond, but in an apartment on the vertical urban island of Manhattan – and blinking into the distance with no particular place to go. The most substantial difference between me and a toad is that I snatch up pastries and bagels from street vendors as instant meals on the go instead of catching errant flies with my tongue.

I can blame the long northern winter for putting on a little extra fat like whale blubber.  The more you eat, the warmer you feel. Your body produces heat as it burns up food. That’s true, but that’s too easy.

I do walk a lot for my work, helping people with disabilities integrate the larger community. This summer, I was forever experimenting with free classes in Pilates, yoga and tai chi. But these days, I am stuck in the pose of the Slouching Toad. Instead of moving through graceful poses and impressive stretches, I mostly scurry around like a rat from one warm place to another warm place.

I can tell you exactly what a rat looks like when it scurries because my wife and I had an encounter with a scurrying horde of rats just yesterday.

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Survival of the fittest

Ninja warriors with stinky feet

indexWhat’s cooler than a ninja? It’s a trick question because nothing is cooler than a ninja. Little boys want to break wooden blocks with their bare feet and yell things loudly as they do. They want to flip someone high in the air. Disappear in a puff of smoke. They want to walk confidently down the halls of their school knowing they can take out three bullies coming from three separate directions at once.
I never took karate lessons when I was a kid. But I was intrigued by the television show “Kung Fu” and the extreme patience and pacifism the lead character showed, enduring all manner of personal insults and degradation before finally becoming a lethal whirlwind of feet and hands to take down a bully and his gang of henchmen. I was dismayed to learn much later that Bruce Lee was considered for the part, but David Carradine got the lead role after producers felt Lee was too Chinese-looking to play a Chinese Kung Fu master/monk in the Old West, according to Lee’s widow.
Avery took martial arts classes when he was five. We were living in Alabama at the time, and the Florence YMCA was the center of our recreational lives. I was taking beginner yoga classes, and that was going pretty well. I was the only guy in the class, but I was determined not to worry about that. I was more worried about the fact that all the women in the class could bend double like pretzels with no apparent effort. My range of motion was more modest. I could almost touch my toes with my knees straight while the women put the palms of their hands flat on the floor beside their feet, displaying the casual flexibility of Gumby.

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Ninja warriors with stinky feet

Total drama island

indexMy eyeball is going to explode. That might be a slight exaggeration. My left eye is blood red on one side. Which makes me think a blood vessel has already erupted in my eye. Apparently, you can sneeze or cough violently, and a blood vessel pops in your eye and you look like you’re going to die. You are not going to die. The internet has a word for this condition. It’s a subconjunctival hemorrhage. The internet says this condition requires no treatment and goes away on its own within ten days.

Ack ack ack! Every time I look in the mirror at my eye, I’m pretty sure the internet is wrong. My eyeball is going to explode. I should rush over to the emergency room, stat, and have someone with a stethoscope and medical degree look it over. The internet doesn’t always know what its talking about. There’s room for doubt. Where there’s doubt, fear and confusion are sure to follow. If my wife were here and not on a business trip to Los Angeles, she’d look me in my bloody eye and tell me the truth. She doesn’t mince words. If she had bad news, she’d give it to me straight.

“Honey, I’ve looked your condition up online on some very reputable medical websites, and your left eye is going to explode. Now, I don’t want you to worry. You will still have the use of the right one. I have already ordered you a very tasteful patch for the empty socket you will soon have. It’s fashionable. You won’t look like a pirate. Or a gypsy. You just have to trust me on that. I want to hug you right now, but there’s a slight danger that eye shrapnel might come flying at me any second now from your exploding left eye. I will be over here if you need anything. Across the room. I am blowing you a kiss. I am. Squint with your good eye. The one that’s not about to explode. See. I really am.”

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Total drama island

Bachelor life

imagesMy Uncle Charles has no wife or children. For many years, he had no television before he got a small black and white television he mostly keeps in the closet in his apartment in Maryland. This can be dragged out. It’s rabbit ears extended. You can get PBS and the local signal from one one network affiliate fairly clearly. The rest is snow.

When we come to visit him, my family is like a team of amateur archeologists exploring a strange tribe that has existed primitively apart from the rest of mankind. He has milk in the refrigerator. But it’s from a previous presidential administration. He has bread, but it has to be thrown out because it is moldy. He doesn’t know how to work the oven. He has a doctorate degree in science from Duke University, but a basic understanding of kitchen appliances was not a part of his curriculum.

When he drags out the television for us and places it on a chair in front of the couch, we sit in confusion after finding he has such limited viewing choices. “How can you live like this?” we ask him. My sister and I can watch an amazing variety of channels on our cable television back home in Salisbury, North Carolina. “I don’t watch much television,” he explains. He’s more of a radio listener. He has it set on an NPR station that plays classical music when the news is not being delivered in a soothing monotone. It sets a certain dreary mood, we suppose. Sitting at home alone, listening to a radio. We can’t imagine living like that, but we guess it’s alright if he enjoys that kind of thing.

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Bachelor life

Mathematically impossible

imagesNo point in lying. I have no angle here. It’s a given that I hate geometry. My hatred for geometry goes on in both directions for infinity in a straight line with no end points. It’s not perpendicular to anything. It can’t be bisected. Or triangulated. I’m not going off on a tangent when I say it just is what it is and always will be.

My postulate of perfect hate for geometry was forged in the tenth grade of high school when I was sweaty and nervous and doodled absently as my teacher drew imaginary three-dimensional objects on a chalk board and conjured up endless applicable theorems as dry as ghostly chalk dust powder hovering briefly and beautifully in the air after you bang two erasers together.

I was going to go to college. A pretty bright guy. Everyone thought so. Didn’t I read a lot? I mean, an awful lot for someone not a librarian or serving a life sentence in jail. But the geometry teacher didn’t care a whit about any of my prodigious reading. If I was putting on airs, cloaking myself in the ways of smart people to fool my fellow students at West Rowan High School on the outskirts of historic Salisbury, North Carolina, known as the former site of a large overcrowded Confederate prison for captured Union soldiers, then math was the chink in my armor, and she saw right through me.

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Mathematically impossible