Bells

His mother picked up his sister from our house. She said he’s not answering his phone we have to go.

His mother, young enough to be my daughter, cut him down.

His sister ran to the neighbor, my friend: he’s dead he’s dead.

My friend knelt over him in the hallway for two hours doing CPR until the paramedics came. Two hours.

The paramedics worked for two hours before they gave up.

My friend texted me. He just didn’t have the strength for the phone call.

I told my wife. She cried.

We talked. We told our daughter. She cried. Her first death.

My wife said I have to be there. We went over.

We hugged everybody. Everybody hugged everybody.

There was no crying left.


Three months later I wrote this song.

I finally cried.

Bells

I really don’t blame him he chose not to call
he’d been there for hours crouched in the hall
he sent me the message my heart tore in two
said someone was dead he said it was you

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go

Why didn’t I see you were so lost?
Would have done anything, paid any cost
But I never asked, and you never said
And some days I wish, it was me instead

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go

no matter how black there’s always hope
but it’s hard to see at the end of your rope
in the middle of love now there’s a hole
silence so loud taking its toll

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go


Gratitude Journal

Last summer I started journaling my gratitude in earnest; three things, every day, I appreciated. My goal has been to come up with three new things every day, so after the initial ease of listing my wife and daughter, friends, food, shelter, spirituality, it became a bit more challenging. Not that I don’t have plenty to be thankful for, but focusing on the moment, what am I grateful for right now? as opposed to one time there was this good thing and I think I remember it.

With almost 600 entries so far, it runs the gamut from “vinegar” (I love cooking) to “the coolest spring since we’ve lived in Arizona” while passing through “no more finger wrap for my arthritic finger” and “finding the patch kit for Sue’s bike tire.”

I’ve also mentioned over 60 people by name, endless features of nature right outside our windows, and things I try not to take for granted like indoor plumbing, air conditioning, reliable internet access, and working from the comfort of our own living, especially the part about working with my Best Beloved.

Thinking our gratitude isn’t as effective as writing it down. Writing has power, for ourselves, and to share with others.


600 Short Sentences About Writing

I’m struggling through a book on writing with a title very much like the title above.

There are some real gems.

They are obscured by the style.

The entire book is composed of short sentences, sometimes fragments, sometimes intentionally split across two lines to appear as two short sentences when it is, in fact, one.

If this were fiction, I might find it avant garde.

Instead, I merely find it hard.


Arthritis Finger

I’ve had some flexible squishy tape wrapped around the last joint of my left index finger for over 5 weeks. The doctor is treating a symptom of the severe arthritis in that joint.

On the surface, that sounds like typical old guy stuff.

Let’s dig below that surface.

First, a conundrum: the same joint on my pinkie finger on the same hand has the same severity of damage, yet feels no pain, no discomfort of any kind.

Next, the deeper issue: as a musician, the top joint of my index finger is vital to playing any instrument. You use your left hand to choose the notes you’re playing, and it has to be strong and flexible. Arthritis is neither of those.

The damaged joint affects me physically, and concern about its future affects me emotionally.

There’s good news. The pain and swelling has been exacerbated by a cyst at the end of a bone spur. The bone spur is quite small; the cyst was growing. And painful. And causing swelling and pain in the joint.

Large doses of anti-inflammatory meds plus a 6-week regimen of light pressure (thus the wrap) has almost eliminated the swelling, and reduced the pain, even when I’m playing an instrument, to negligible levels.

Videos of Les Paul, a great enough guitarist to have the most famous guitar in the world name for him, show his aged hands twisted with arthritis, the knuckles swollen.

He was still Les Paul, still one of the greatest jazz guitarists in the world, ever.

I’m gonna hang on to that image.


Binge Reading

Since October 1st I’ve read 120 books. That’s 4 books a week, every week, for 7 1/2 months.

a pile of booksI’m a big reader, but even for me that’s some serious binging.

Part of it was discovering a new author (John Lescroart) who falls squarely into the category I like to read. And part of that was that I re-read the entire works of Robert Crais and Michael Connelly. There were a few one-offs, a little nonfiction, things like that. There were some I started but didn’t finish; I’m not counting those.

During the same time period I’ve dealt with some emotional trauma, financial concerns, very special events, a big business upswing, starting a new story series with a character who’s been waiting ages to see the light of day, and finishing a book I start long, long ago.

Over the past two months I’ve been shifting, physically. Taking on more projects that require shopping at the home improvement store, sawing and hammering, digging and planting and whatnot. After a year and a half of extreme fatigue, getting my energy back has been highly motivating.

Most of that reading time is going to be spent on my own writing, and on a little more physical activity now that I can do that again.


wading naked into my stream of consciousness

the sky is grey instead of blue that’s one thing here, the sky is almost always blue but that’s because it’s too hot for clouds they burn away before they’re born borne on the wind to somewhere else past the mountains snagging on the peaks leaking leaks we do get rain maybe even some later this week but it’s a desert after all so not much eh and let’s face it july through october it’s just too hot seriously any time the temperature is over 120º that’s not okay and the ac chugs and chugs but hey it still costs less than it did in Sacramento eight years ago half as much if only we could balance the upstairs and downstairs the music room is too too hot and it’s not good for the instruments but if I shower four times a day and we keep the air on and now that I have shades for the three hottest windows maybe four hottest windows and I’ll do the fifth maybe this summer it’ll be better because one way or another I’ll make it better we’ll make it better together


Molotov Brothers

Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)

My brothers discovered Molotov cocktails when we were teenagers. In case you don’t know what they are, as my brothers discovered it’s just a little bit of gasoline and a little bit less oil in a glass jar with a rag stuffed in the top. Wet the rag with the gasoline in the jar, light it on fire, and throw it. When it lands and explodes it creates a smoky fire that, in battle, or riots, disrupts the enemy, adding confusion and a smokescreen and fire and broken glass and all kinds of mess and nonsense.

I’m the middle brother, one brother 18 months older, the other 18 months younger, so we went through life almost like triplets—except one of us didn’t go around making Molotov cocktails. We lived right at the bottom end of San Diego Bay. There were disused railroad tracks right across the street and quarter of a mile away, a railroad bridge. Down below the bridge, 20 feet away, was a tiny stream and rocks where my brothers experimented with their Molotov cocktails. First a baby food jar with a tablespoon of oil and a quarter cup of gasoline which exploded, made a nice boom and burned till the water washed it away.

Then mayonnaise jars. Finally, when that wasn’t exciting enough, a quart of gasoline and a pint of oil in a glass gallon jar.

They lit it on fire, leaned over the edge of the railroad bridge, and dropped it on the rocks below. The explosion fluttered their pants and took all the hair off their faces and some off their heads. They were half way home before they realized they were running, and in their bedrooms studying for some imaginary school quiz when the police and fire department showed up to see what the explosion was out there in the estuary where all the protected wildlife lived.

I’ve always assumed they hadn’t blown up any California least terns or other endangered species but I wasn’t there so I don’t know. My father found out virtually everything they ever did (we discovered later because he’d also done the same things) but I’m not sure that the experimentation with blowing things up ever came to light. But I also know that after they almost blew themselves up and removed all their facial hair in the process, they never experimented with blowing things up again.


Aging Squared

My dad was 26 when I was born. I was 26 when he died in a traffic accident.

My mom was 18 when I was born. As I approach 60 this year, she just turned 78.

When Dad died at 52 he was riding his bike 20 miles each way to work every day.

Mom has never been quite so active. These days, she’s bedridden and uses a wheelchair to get around—except when she doesn’t.

She’s started falling down. A lot. We’ve reached that point where we’re having the difficult conversations about her care and her living conditions. She’s mentally competent, so it’s her decision, but we worry about her living in a regular apartment instead of somewhere there’s onsite help when she falls.

I’m too old for this. Also too old to have a 15-year-old daughter excited about learning to drive later this year.

Maybe I’m just too old, period.

(Nah. Saw a short video about a wonderful lady who’s 108 and still chugging along, happy as Moses and loved by so many people. Here’s to my next 49 years!)


Massive Mustard Mess

Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)

When the Texas economy crashed in 89 I loaded my pregnant wife and 3 small children into our tiny little Isuzu and drove cross country to San Diego California where I knew people, had family and friends and hoped I could find work in construction.

We had no money of course so we packed food in the trunk and in coolers and planned on driving straight through and fixing food along the way.

Late afternoon somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona we stopped to make some sandwiches. As I got the mustard out I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the bottle was swollen to twice its normal size, having been in the trunk, in the summer, driving from Texas through the great southwestern desert.

When I opened the mustard about half of the bottle came out, part fine vinegar mist and part messy mustard spray. All over the roof of the car, the windshield, the driver’s window, and every part of the front of my body from my waist up including my glasses and my hair.

It took a while to clean everything up. I chose not to have mustard on my sandwiches after that. When I sold the car years later there were still mustard stains on the headliner.

And the happy ending? Sorry. When I got to California construction crashed but it boomed in Texas. And we’d already moved. Eventually I found work in information technology, working with computers, so maybe there is a happy ending after all because that’s the work I really love.

See you next week.


Not the Longest Joke in the World

You’ll find that elsewhere by Googling that phrase, ‘the longest joke in the world.’ That version, though an interesting story, is nearly 11,000 words long, most of it unrelated build up, not joke setup. Mine is 203 words, or about 2% of the original length. For this punchline, it’s still too long.

Coming down the dune in his SUV he sees something strange at the bottom: a huge snake coiled around a long pole.

He slides to a stop and looks through the window at the snake, which looks back, then, to his surprise, asks him to lower his window.

“I won’t bite,” it says.

Must be the heat. He puts the window down. “What’s the deal? Why are you out here?”

“My name is Nate. I’m the guardian of this switch. Move it, all mankind dies.”

“That seems dumb.”

“True. I know some not dumb things. Stick around and I’ll teach you the secrets of immortality, unending wealth, and how to put a USB stick in the right way the first time.”

Curiosity gets the better of him. But hunger gets the best of him.

“How about I run to town and get snacks first?”

“Thataway,” pointing with its tail.

He races off, gets his stuff, comes back. Barreling down the dune, his brakes fail. He’s headed for the switch of doom. As he fights the steering wheel he realizes that he can pass the switch on the left.

The snake is sunning itself right there.

He keeps going, figuring, better Nate than lever.