The Girls

Standing in Line at the Blank Slate Creamery

The lines get long but they move quickly, Em says 
as we join the expectant tail 
and tongues wagging from the door to the street.
Bourbon Turtle” I say aloud,

not to anyone really,
but because Bourbon Turtle …
and it’s the greatest of all the commandments
on the tall black slate scroll near the front.

I’m nothing but another, the nameless next
come to lick from these holy vessels,
dropping all defenses and pretenses at this altar call.
Salted Chocolate Truffle

Stop saying everything out loud, Em pleads in vain,
trying to contain her teenage embarrassment,
falling sad as a scoop on hot pavement
just before the ants come.

But her words can’t bruise my unadulterated, un-adulted joy
as everything melts — in front, behind, at the picnic tables,
even the demon voices in my head, haunting.
Take a number, I say, and surrender.

Vietnamese Cinnamon

I am nine and alive and summertime,
mesmerized by the lo-fi blare of Pop Goes the Weasel
waiting for the communion waffle cone from the Goody Man’s hand.
It, too, was a long line, and moved far too quickly. 

I fold my hands together over my nose and mouth, 
whisper so Em can’t hear, but God still can
Browned Butter Cookie Dough
ascend the steps, raise my hand, step into the light …

As the bell rings, my angel beckons
I reach for a sample of Bourbon Turtle
just to taste it on my tongue.
But in my heart I’ve always known my true calling.

Peanut … Butter … Cone … Crackle

Amen 
Amen 
Amen 
Amen 

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Letters for Maggie

The Return

So the day started with a trip to a doctor about this thing that has overstayed its welcome on my person, though I’ve given it several months to politely excuse itself (rude). When the doctor took a look at the thing, she pointed to these other things that were in the same general area code and asked me, “What about these?” In my head, I said something like, “Oh, those? Old friends of mine. Been around for a long time. Don’t worry about those. I’m here to talk about this relatively new thing.” She then broadly waved her hand. “These are all the same thing,” and then said the multi-syllable, multi-word medical term for the collective thing.

“Really?” I said, taken aback.

While I was still mentally working my way back from aback, she rattled off the three options for dealing with the thing (all-encompassing hand gesture goes here), discouraged two of them, and offered her rationale for the one that remained, which evidently involves an hour long application of something followed by a shorter interval of something else, followed by a period of seven to 10 days where you really don’t want to be out in public, for fear of frightening the children.

“I see this a hundred times a week,” she told me reassuringly yet dismissively, and informed me the office would call me in 7-10 days after checking on the “pre-auth” — an abbreviation I’d never heard before, but which I’ve been liberally using ever since, because it makes me sound like I possess an understanding of how “the system” works (though I’m not clear on precisely what “system” is being referred to). Then the person at the desk told me the pre-auth would take “3 to 4 weeks” … prompting me to ask how the pre-auth grew 18 days in the 18 steps from the exam room to the front desk (a question I’d probably know the answer to, if I knew more about “the system”).  In response, the front desk person said she’d bump me to the “top of the list,” which she probably says as often in a week as the doctor sees the thing, and which meant that, at minimum, I was at the bottom of that week’s hundred.

I then headed home to work remotely for the day.

Within 20 minutes of plugging in, my house lost all internet and phone service.

I unplugged and plugged the stuff back in. Pressed the re-start buttons. Nada.

Instantly Amish, I threw work stuff into my backpack, hopped in the car and parked outside the coffee shop down the road so I could place a distress call to the demon Comcast.

Took me a good 30 minutes to ‘navigate’ their automated answering machine, the last 25 of which I spent alternating between screaming, “Representative!” into the phone and “F*ck!” into the crook of my arm.

When I finally got to a human, she was the kindest, most understanding, most compassionate, most helpful person, and should immediately be put in charge of everything in the world rather than having to troubleshoot with distressed individuals made into deranged a**holes by Comcast’s dehumanizingly inhuman automated system. She quickly diagnosed that my problems were not self-fixable and scheduled a technician to come to my house “between 12 and 2.”

So I went inside the coffee shop for a shot of caffeinated wifi and re-started my work day. I had a call at 11, by which time the shop was filling up for lunch … so I returned to my car to field the meeting in quiet. I put the call through to my bluetooth so I could take notes on my laptop. The call wrapped at noon, so I had to hustle back home to meet the Comcast tech. When I went to start my car, nothing happened. Evidently, in my haste to field the call from my car, I’d twisted my key in the ignition a half turn too far … and completely drained the battery (‘natch).

At this point I drew liberally from my surprisingly deep Bucket of F*cks left over from yelling at the automated Comcast system. By the time I was done, I’d completely fogged my front window with expletives.

A big, deep breath later, I snatched my backpack, abandoned my car and began the approximately 25-minute walk home in hopes of catching the Comcast technician in time. I’d made it to the really big hill that fronts our neighborhood when I spied the Comcast van turning onto the street. I waved my arms wildly to flag down the driver, who slowed and rolled down his window. I explained that I was his appointment, and asked for a ride up the big hill. He said he’d meet me at the house. “I’d give you a ride, but I’d get in trouble.”

I rolled up my sleeve, reached to the bottom of my Bucket of F*cks for a final fistful.

The walk up the hill is so steep that it commandeered my meager stores of energy, resulting in a detoxifying effect … which is exactly the medicine (both) I (and the Comcast technician) needed. By the time I got to the top, I came to appreciate the logic of Comcast’s ‘anti-hitchhiker’ policy. If one assumes that the majority of tech support customers are distressed individuals made into deranged a**holes by Comcast’s dehumanizingly inhuman automated system, I wouldn’t have scooped me up, either.

Arriving home, I let the tech into the house, showed him the router and the splitter, and turned him loose. He was a flurry of purpose … zooming up and down steps inside, climbing up and down a ladder outside at the pole, hopping in and out of his van. In about 15 minutes he returned to inform me … of my second completely incomprehensible diagnosis of the day. I so wish I could’ve recorded his explanation, which ran a good 3-4 minutes. It was glorious. You could tell he loved his job, and appreciated the rare opportunity to share passionately with an interested party. He said something to the effect of how “that’s a 23 value tap up there,” and I was “pulling 51” at my router, so I was “almost 10 db off,” … and “by the time, length and split, well ….” he let it hang in the air, as if to imply, “Do I even need to finish the sentence?”

Yes, yes, he did. 

“You’re right on the edge.” The problem, he kept saying, was “the return,” and, as evidence, he shared with me another category of numbers he recorded at the pole. “I’ve run all the math,” he said and then spewed the full sequence of data he had meticulously captured and logged, looking for affirmation and understanding in my face, apparently not at all distracted by the thing that has evidently been grazing, free-range-style, across my countenance for years. “So, you see … you’re right on the edge.”

Assuming he meant something other than The Edge of Comcast Hell, I asked, sheepishly … “The edge … of what?”

His face deflated. I could tell I’d let him down. A moment earlier he’d been thinking, “Finally, someone who gets me.” At my philistine question, he proceeded to cut his losses. Let me know that the problem’s outside, not inside, and that he’d already called in a line technician.

Me: How ….

Him: Within the hour.

Me: (letting it all sink in). Oh … so you called in the pre-auth?

Him: What?

Me: Never mind.

Evidently, it’s a different system.

Two hours later (‘natch) the line technician showed up.

I’d bore you with the complete technical explanation of the fix, but suffice it to say, he addressed The Return, and, you know, um, yanked me back from The Edge.

When Karry got home from work, she drove me back down to my car so we could jump the battery. When we arrived another car was parked in front of mine, preventing us from getting close enough for the cables.

“We’ll have to come back tonight,” she concluded and started to pull away.

Wait, I said. Let me see if it’ll turn over. I got out of hers, hopped into mine, pressed the brake and winced as I twisted the key. It gave a Heimlich-like cough before sluggishly returning to life.

I bowed my head on the steering wheel, humbled by the day’s turn of events. Told Karry I’d swing by McDonald’s for a couple drive-thru Cokes to give my battery (batteries?) a chance to recharge.

That night, while draining my bucket of McDonald’s Coke to a dry slurp and savoring the two grilled cheese sandwiches that I’d gratuitously buttered, perfectly griddled and then generously topped with layers (layers, I say) of sweet pickles and BBQ kettle chips (judge me at your own peril), I was mindlessly scrolling through the day’s news, when a byline by the wife of a friend of mine caught my eye. A local high school student with Ukrainian roots put together a website of a bunch of organizations providing humanitarian services in and to Ukraine. She knew a lot of people who were looking for ways to show support and wanted to honor the memory of her great-great grandfather who immigrated to the U.S. a century ago.

Struck between bites of a good grilled cheese sandwich, I finally grasped the concept of The Return.

By receiving a signal strong enough to overcome the noise of one hundred years and 4,858 miles to connect a great-great grandfather who fled his homeland and a great-great granddaughter re-connecting him from hers. A teenager cupping her hands and exhaling the name Dimetro Buriak … so the embers glow again … inviting others around their campfire. An undiminished signal between those we never met, will never meet. The signal still connected. Still connecting. A signal strong enough to connect me … us … in each other’s stories.

We receive. We respond. We return. 

I took stock of all the microscopic graces over the past 12 hours responsible for pulling me back from the edge. A straight-shooting doctor. The compassionate phone support person. The unplanned walk up the hill under the gift of a blue sky. The competent technician who loves running the math. Karry giving me a ride back down the hill to retrieve my car. Drive-thru McDonald’s Cokes. Grilled cheese sandwiches that always make me think of Mom. A local journalist, and a teenager whose heart is exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Humbled once again, I bowed my head on my metaphorical steering wheel.

Was reminded that, despite the eff bombs I may occasionally scream into the crook of my arm … my bad days are not bad days at all … and precious little of it is self-fixable. 

And we all possess the capacity to make someone else’s bad day a little bit better.

We receive. We respond. We return. 

As the good doctor might say, we are all part of the same thing.

(all-encompassing hand gesture goes here)

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Righteous riffs

Meeting My Brother For Saturday Lunch ….

I’d like to thank Billy Collins for writing Aimless Love (you should totally look it up) and Ben Folds for saying, “At its most basic, making art is about following what’s luminous to you and putting it in a jar, to share with others. ”

Meeting My Brother For Saturday Lunch

Meeting my brother for Saturday lunch, I take the scenic route along Route 40,

though the toll road on the interstate is much quicker,

because I love driving through all the small towns along the National Road,

passing the new donut shop at the light in Beallsville that’s supposed to be really good

and that I will probably never stop at 

because I think sometimes the wishing is better

past Scenery Hill’s Century Inn, so I can imagine smell its old insides, 

hear its fire place spit and crackle the echoes of two hundred years of thousands of conversations 

and how I’d like to go and sit at the bar sometime with any good friend, have the bartender soak a cherry in an old-fashioned for me

so our warm words can waft to the rafters, too

across the bridge that bypasses Brownsville 

and that place somewhere below with the allegedly best wings that I’ve earmarked

for a reunion with my best friend growing up, 

how good a cold beer with Dan will taste,

and finally into town …. 

but first, I have to pee, so peel into the Sheetz and, 

avoiding the guilt of a pee-and-flee, stand and squeeze just $9.75 into the tank

to save a full-fill-up for Sam’s Club so much cheaper, 

the stupid cold, whipping wind, me leaving my coat in the car, 

I catch site of filled squeegee buckets for the first time in two years since the pandemic emptied all of them, 

and, euphoric, can’t resist drawing one and sloshing it across

my salty-slushed back windshield (take that, winter) 

wiping the slates clean, back then front, before inside for a proper pee,

so my bladder is empty when my big brother gives me the biggest bear hug in his lobby before we retire to his office, 

and I sit across and soak in his shrine to everything he loves: 

overflowing his shelves, adorning his walls, saving his screens, disordering his desk, 

his kids as kids, their wide smiles tracing bigger and bigger over years in their rainbow of uniforms, 

now adults and their kids, still uniforms to come

and we talk like big and little brother

and remind each other of the only things that matter.

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T.I.N.P.O.B.D.N.R.

T.I.N.P.O.B.D.N.R. Episode 2 — Entrapment

Building on the catapult-like momentum of last episode’s proof-of-concept, our hero returns, and figures out how to add whimsical music to his intro, and one transition sound effect.

Why does he do this, you ask? Absolution? Perhaps. Vindication? Maybe. To avoid shoveling snow from the driveway? Undoubtedly.

In defense of his family’s honor, our hero takes up his mallet and goes-a-smite-ing … leaving a trail of carnage in his wake, slaking his unquenchable thirst for victory at the expense of all who dare meet him on the field of battle.

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T.I.N.P.O.B.D.N.R.

Proof of Concept: Things I’m Not Proud Of, But Don’t Necessarily Regret

So, in a spasm of poor decision making, I got a microphone for Christmas. I’m fully confident the family will come to regret the decision. I started messing around with it. Still very much figuring stuff out, but it seems that one can embed audio content into WordPress. So, just, um, testing out the emergency broadcast system here. It’s occurred to me that I’ve accumulated a number of experiences in my life that fall into a very loose, and very large category of things I’m not necessarily proud of, but don’t necessarily regret. Thinking of unburdening myself of some of the poorer decisions in my life … maybe as a companion to “the blog that no one reads” as my daughter likes to refer to it. Totally just testing out the premise and the hardware here, proof of concept style, after which I’ll explore adding, um, you know, actual production value (music, etc.). I mean, who has the time for that? Anyway, as I’ve conditioned my family for decades now, set your expectations very very low.  But, let me know what you think … Pete

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Righteous riffs

First Cuts ….

In the sobering light of the new year, we’ve forced ourselves to begin reckoning with our clutter. Less a resolution than a survival tactic, more akin to scooping water from a sinking ship. 

I refer to it as ‘editing.’ 

This makes Karry angry. 

We’re throwing shit out, she informs me. 

To equip you with the appropriate measure of tension in the present exercise, picture me chaining myself to a tree while Karry, in hardhat and chomping a cigar, is revving a bulldozer, committed to getting a good parking spot at happy hour.

After building confidence with my sock drawer (the sock drawer of a man who should have more than two feet), I was assigned a neglected set of shelves in our laundry room. Behind jars of canned tomato sauce and a crate of all the crayons accumulated over my children’s lifetime (an obscene number), I stumbled upon shoeboxes and cases containing old audio cassettes. 

My teenage and early 20-something music library.

I lift the lid on a shoebox like John Travolta opening that case in Pulp Fiction. 

There’s my older brother. My Dad. 

Ha, my college girlfriend. 

My altar egos. My heart. What used to pass for my confidence.

I heard a feint whisper, “Rest here awhile.” 

At least that’s what I think it said. Was kinda’ hard to hear over the bulldozer upstairs.

In any case the ensuing editing was going to be slightly more nuanced than my sock drawer.

Speaking of cases, close your eyes and listen. 

Remove. Insert. Press Play. 

Rewind. Fast-forward. Flip. Eject. Remove. Replace. 

The hard-plastic hands-on ritual. The tangible tethering between you and the experience.

I used to commandeer the back room, listen for hours. Gather with friends around their family’s hi-fi system like a campfire. Still remember the time Jeff Hughes hopped on top of his dining room table to air guitar to Ratt’s Round and Round. Can still hear his Mom’s voice instantly drowning out Stephen Pearcy’s with a rafter-rattling, “Jeffrey!” 

Pretty much until middle school, music was a purely stationary exercise. You in proximity to the console, headphone jack if privacy was required (i.e. whenever I raided my brother’s Steve Martin albums, eventually committing each and every bit to memory. ). 

Until that one summer afternoon shooting hoops at Areford Playground, when JonJon McCoy announced his presence from afar, appearing at the top of Garard Avenue, gratuitously sized boom box perched atop his shoulder, gloriously blasting Mr. Roboto from the new Styx album.

He was the modern man. 

For context, JonJon was not the tallest in our village, and he lived on Carnation Street, which was a three-block straight hill climb to the playground. Coupling his diminutive size with the enormity of his ‘portable,’ he was proportionally half-man, half-blaster.  I imagine he had to shift shoulders multiple times en route. Upon arrival on the court, he set the radio down behind the basketball pole, a conquerer from a far off land planting his flag, and proceeded to ball out (his game had sauce). 

Domo arigato. 

___

So much of the experience was born of expectation. 

Waiting for Friday night and a pilgrimage to the National Record Mart. If you were lucky, enough in your pocket for one good one. Heat-seeking the selections on sale for $5.99, weighing whether a $7.99 or, gulp, a $9.99 was worth the risk. 

What risk? In the days when music was doled out by the machine with an eye dropper, usually the one song they played on the radio was your only clue. Got burned often enough to make the cassingle, the cassette-ization of the classic 45 record (A and B sides), a safer, though lamer, surgical strike (I never grew tired of rewinding Real, Real Gone by Van Morrison or Every Time I Roll the Dice by Delbert McClinton). Spending precious dollars on musical roulette is also why so many of our early collections were stuffed with greatest hits. More bang for the buck. Who didn’t have the Eagles, Skynyrd, Steve Miller, the Beatles, Stones (Hot Rocks)? Homogenized like so much of our diets growing up.  

At times, though, the decision was made prior to arrival. Word of mouth was immutable law in junior high. I don’t remember a thing about a particular middle school dance, only that we gathered at Jerry Rehanek’s house first, where he played the new Quiet Riot before we walked up the hill to the school. We were all banging our heads by week’s end. And I still contend that Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry was the best $5.99 (on sale, yes!) I’ve ever spent in my life.

The cover alone made unwitting art collectors of teenage boys.

The final confirmation, though, came when you stepped to the counter to hand your money over to Bill, the big, bearded, long-haired, dark-glasses-wearing manager, whose approval we courted and counted as much as our teachers’.

As I type this I can summon any song I want without lifting a finger. 

Meant a whole lot more when you had to wait for Friday night, make your one choice count, and big Bill affirmed your selection.   

Real, real gone.

___

True music liberation came with our driver’s licenses. 

Or in my case, my friends’ driver’s licenses, as our family’s 1980 Mercury Monarch was equipped with only an a.m. radio. 

That a.m. radio was tuned to the cosmos, though. After picking up my rented tux for the prom, I was sitting at Five Corners waiting for the light to change when “Everybody Plays the Fool” came on (sigh). And when the Monarch finally died in front of our house, I sat, sad, in its front bench seat and tried unsuccessfully to turn it over one last time. I gave the radio dial one last twist, and it played, “Don’t Worry, Baby,” by the Beach Boys. 

Truth be told I wouldn’t have loved that car any more had it had an enviable cassette deck. 

The absence of one added more novelty to riding with friends. 

I first experienced Dave Brubek’s Blue Rondo A La Turk riding cramped in the backseat of Lenny Baron’s VW Rabbit. Take 5 made driving familiar streets feel like discovering a new planet. 

So much of my friends’ music just sounded better on cassette over noisy engines and piped through thin car audio systems with the heater full blast in the middle of winter. Exhibit A – The Violent Femmes. 

I forget what 8 was for.

___

When music became portable, and (cue angel chorus) recordable, everything changed, as evidenced by the time capsule in front of me.

Run DMC’s eponymous first album, courtesy of Jeff Hughes’ dual-cassette deck. 

No better baptism for one’s boom box than Reverend Run. 

Your weekly $5.99 suddenly stretched a heckuva lot further (‘ … spreadin’ … just like the flu….’). 

A lot more of your allowance went into Scotch, Maxell, TDK, Memorex. Your portfolio diversified exponentially. More shoeboxes required to collect your treasure. 

Still, you remained so tethered to the experience. Who remembers sitting with your finger ready on the record button waiting for the radio to play that song? Who is now not smiling at that recollection? Shoot, I remember calling into Jesse Thurman’s radio show in college and snatching “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” on request. 

It was the teenage equivalent of calling in a prescription to your pharmacist. 

___

And when She was really going out with Me, the tectonic plates of sonic existence shifted once again. 

Um, I’d forgotten how hard I mix-taped. 

Hard not to laugh now — a lot of extra cheese sandwiched between those playlists. Some questionable choices, yes, but not a single regret (which is how I choose to remember my college years). I’m not sure I took anything more seriously in my life at that time. When ceding your heart to surrogates, you not only agonized over each selection, but their precise sequencing. The whole experience such a sweet meditation. 

Love letters to a much smaller and simpler world. 

Poring over the fossils I note we had friends play a couple of those songs live at our wedding. After all they were our soundtrack.

Ha, and staring back at me now — the last mix-tape I ever made her. 

Last played April 3, 2001. 

I’d forgotten that the birthing suites at St. Clair Hospital had some bitchin’ retro sound systems back in a day. 

If memory serves our firstborn came into the world to the strains of Running on Faith by Clapton.

“… what else can a poor boy do?” 

Cue the closing credits of our couplehood. 

___

As I wade into the task at hand, I feel for the fine line between careful Editing and the blunt force trauma of Throwing Shit Out. 

I text a couple friends who share similar relationships — with music and with gracious wives whose patience, um, occasionally wears thin. 

I ask them what they ever did with their old cassettes. 

Andy: I still have a bunch of them here. 

Doug: I’m embarrassed to say I still have most of them. They’re stored in various places around the house — the basement, under my bed, etc.

I ponder Doug’s squirrel method for a moment, then quickly realize I’d probably end up having to ask him if there’s enough room in his basement for me and my collection.

So I end up making two piles, the larger one honoring the task at hand, and the request of the girl who I now drive mad, but who once drove me to make mix tape after mix tape. I say goodbye to casual acquaintances I hadn’t heard from in decades. Thank them for keeping me such good company when I needed them, for helping me process, escape, remember, hope. So good to catch up. I snapped pix of a couple I may want to look up again somewhere down the road.  

The second pile I neatly consolidated amongst the shoe boxes. Will make room in some attic corner.

Because I’ve learned that sometimes it’s OK for us to leave bread crumbs. 

So we can find our way back to the campfires of our youth… 

… for when there just aren’t enough adult socks in the sock drawer to keep us warm. 

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Postcards

Thin Slices of Life ….

Early for a Saturday afternoon grocery pick-up, Karry suggests a quick lunch. I offer Panera, among the few destinations one of us likes and the other at least tolerates. 

En route the big hat catches her eye, and in a spasm of poor decision making, she audibles. 

“What about Arby’s? You’re always talking about it.” 

This is true. I talk a lot about Arby’s. Even though it’s been years since I visited one. 

I don’t give her the opportunity to reconsider, and we almost screech tires into the parking lot. 

We. Are. Home. — my adolescent brain whispers. 

Note: I don’t keep my adolescent brain tucked away somewhere, like, in a box in the attic, next to my before-and-after middle school orthodontic molds. No, my adolescent brain has its mail delivered to my middle-age skull, much like a man-child still living at home with his parents. Incidentally, I don’t keep my before-and-after orthodontic molds in the attic, either. I keep them on my bookshelf that leads upstairs.

Karry makes me put them away every time we have company. 

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Letters for Maggie

The Picture of Kindness ….

Got to chat with my oldest sister yesterday morning … something we’ve been making more time for on our Saturdays the past few months. We’re not religious about it, but it’s something I think we’ve both grown to appreciate a lot (I know I have). We catch up on each other’s worlds and weeks, compare notes on what we’re both reading or watching, stuff that’s caught our attention, recent updates on our other siblings, our occasional health dust-ups, our erratic sleep habits, etc. Yesterday she mentioned looking into a volunteer program (she’s done a ton of volunteering over the past several years) that visits with veterans, just to listen and chat, and, if they’re up for it, to have them share their stories. I told her she’d be perfect for that program. She’s a veteran herself, having joined the marines out of high school, which to this day makes me so proud and in awe of her. And she’s always had a heart for spending time with older people. This past week she visited with the mom of one of her oldest friends to help with eye drops for cataracts. As has become part of our conversational ritual, I had a smile on my face by the time we said our good byes and I Love Yous. 

I was running errands when she called me, and as we wrapped our conversation I pulled into a parking spot outside the tiny little coffee shop off North Main Street. I’ve been dropping in Saturday mornings for a here’s-to-the-weekend espresso, and the accompanying smile and kind word from whoever’s working behind the counter. When I walked in, an older gentleman with a Hemmingway beard was warming himself by the fire with a tall to-go cup of coffee. A shopping cart with his belongs sat next to him. After placing my order I sat down at the table across from where he was, taking the chair near the wall, putting the table and its other chair between us. 

He let me know I could move his cart if it was in my way. 

“Totally fine,” I said. 

“I refer to it as my portable RV,” he said, with a soft laugh. 

After a couple seconds, he added, “Sometimes in life it’s important to know how to improvise,” and, after a few more seconds, “One thing I’ve always believed is that you never stop learning, no matter how old you get.” 

For the record I am awkward and awful at small talk in all its forms, and generally avoid it at all costs. So much so that in my prior visits to the coffee shop I’ve carried a book with me to fill the few minutes it takes for the barista to make my to go order. Yet ….

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Postcards

Whispers and Remembering

Spent the past seven days in isolation after realizing, embarrassingly after the fact, that my taste and smell had abandoned me.  I was sitting around a fire in our backyard when it occurred to me I couldn’t smell the fire. Was really taken aback that it took me that long to notice. Then it occurred to me in retrospect that I couldn’t remember tasting my dinner. I think I was tricked by my stuffed nose to believe congestion was the culprit. A positive test the next morning sobered me to the reality. 

__

I spent most of the day after my positive test sitting alone in one half of our garage, isolating. I’d backed out my car for space so I could sit and catch some fresh air from the gray rainy Sunday. Set up a little white folding table and the red camp chair the kids had gotten me for Father’s Day.  Lawn equipment and our overstuffed garage pressing in on either side of me. Couldn’t help but think what a sad spectacle I made. I could see through to the woods between our parked cars in the driveway. Spent the entire afternoon in the garage, first listening to the rain, then when it got dark, the crickets. I was listening contentedly to their Sunday night chorus when I caught a glimpse of the damndest thing — a lone lightning bug dancing in front of the woods. Couldn’t believe my eyes. Here it was October, and there he was. Still had some business to tend to, yet and still. Both of us all by our lonesome. One of us oblivious to the other. The other suddenly caring about nothing else in the world.

Made me remember the time I dragged Emma to a theater performance of a Sherlock Holmes play being hosted on Pitt’s campus. I remember little about the production itself (it was pretty awful). What I recall is Emma, in her theater best, spending the entire intermission chasing lightning bugs across the lawn outside the hall as the fireflies danced among the old oak trees. We were both so enchanted I remember us cursing the building’s flashing lights that beckoned us back to our seats when it was time for the second act. 

All alone in my red camp chair peeking out from our overstuffed garage, all I had was time. 

So as long as the season’s last lightning bug wanted to dance to the crickets, I was staying for the entire encore. 

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Letters for Maggie, The Girls

Speed Dating 25 ….

I figured we had about an hour’s drive to make our 7:15 reservations. 

I had the car out of the garage and air-condition-cooling by 6 p.m. 

Married twenty-five years, she knows how much I hate to be late. 

I hold the car door and she lowers herself into her seat … at promptly 6:35 p.m. 

Married twenty-five years, I know she’s never ready on time. 

She: Wait a minute. Forgot my cheaters. Can’t read the menu without ‘em. 

I get back out to hold the door a second time, and give the bridge of my nose a deep tissue massage until she returns and floats once again into her seat. 

As we pull out of the driveway, we Google Map our drive to check traffic. 

ETA: 7:37 p.m. 

My chest tightens. 

“Don’t drive like a maniac or you’ll make me sick.” 

Ah, the sweet nothings of anniversary date night. 

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